East Retford


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



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East Retford did not receive a charter of incorporation until 1607, being governed during Elizabeth’s reign, as for many years past, by two bailiffs. The borough began to send Members to Parliament in this period in 1571. Elections were held in the moot hall in the presence of the bailiffs and an unknown number of burgesses. None of the Elizabethan MPs lived in the town.

The list of Members leaves little doubt that the powerful Manners family, earls of Rutland, was behind East Retford’s representation in the Parliament of 1571, although Edward Manners, the 3rd Earl, only came of age in July 1510: he may have needed the support of his uncle George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, or of another relative, Sir William Cecil, whose ward he had been. A favourite with the Queen, Shrewsbury, whose grandfather had been granted the manor of East Retford by Henry VIII, may have been high steward of the borough; he was also lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, at least until 1569, and the owner of extensive estates in the area. The East Retford Members were challenged in the House on 6 Apr. 1571, along with other boroughs who had not previously returned MPs during the reign, and the matter was referred to the returns committee.

East Retford sent Members to four Parliaments during the 3rd Earl of Rutland’s lifetime, and his influence is to be found on every occasion. Thomas Broxholme of Lincolnshire, elected in 1571, was for many years a legal adviser to the Manners family. His colleague, Henry Draycot, was escheator for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire until early in 1571 and owned property in both counties: his patron is not known. George Delves (1572) was a friend of Rutland, his father having been steward to the 2nd Earl; he was also related, through his first wife, to Lord Burghley. Job Throckmorton, the noted puritan, secured the senior seat in 1570. He was a distant relative of the Earl, and this probably explains his return to East Retford. Denzil Holles (1584 and 1586), of Irby, Lincolnshire, was the son of Sir William Hoiles of Haughton, near East Retford, a leading Nottinghamshire gentleman; he may not have required a patron, though his family was friendly with both Shrewsbury and Rutland. Thomas Waad, Holles’s colleague in 1584, was a lawyer resident in London. His name may have been suggested to Rutland by his brother William Waad, clerk of the Council, who is known to have corresponded with the Earl. Alternatively, William may have asked Burghley to use his influence. In 1586 Rutland asked the East Retford authorities for both seats. They were happy to satisfy him ‘in that and any other much weightier thing’, but asked that Hoiles might be re-elected. The Earl agreed and chose as the second representative John Conyers, a former Manners servant who was now one of Burghley’s officials in the Exchequer.

By the time of the next parliamentary election the situation in East Retford had changed. The deaths of the 3rd and 4th Earls in quick succession left as heir to the earldom a young boy whose minority lasted until 1597. Surviving correspondence suggests that those most influential with the borough authorities were now Sir George Chaworth, a Manners kinsman and follower, who acquired the high stewardship; Lord Burghley, who once again secured Rutland’s wardship; the Countess of Rutland, widow of the 4th Earl; and Roger Manners of Uffington, Lincolnshire, a younger brother of the 1st Earl, who helped to preserve some continuity in the family’s patronage when its nominal head was unable to do so. Chaworth must have secured the return of his kinsman and namesake in 1589, while Burghley presumably nominated his nephew Anthony Cooke in 1593. Alexander Radcliffe (1589) was a lawyer resident in London who seems to have done some work for the Countess of Rutland. Both 1589 Members lived in Gray’s Inn. The young 5th Earl became high steward of East Retford early in the 1590s but his family’s interest in the borough seems for the moment to have waned. As a result, two local gentlemen, Roger Portington (1593 and 1597) and John Roos (1597), may have been able to win seats there without additional support. Portington lived a few miles away, just across the Yorkshire border, and Roos, probably distantly related to the Manners family, had connexions of his own with the borough.

The 5th Earl came of age two days after the 1597 East Retford election, but any patronage which he began to exercise was cut short by the failure in 1601 of Essex’s rising, in which he was involved. Roger Manners of Uffington, who seems to have taken over the family’s parliamentary influence that year, probably nominated his relative and namesake from Derbyshire, while the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury acquired the other seat for his servant Robert Kydman. With Rutland in disgrace, the high stewardship of East Retford returned once more to the Talbots.

J. S. Piercy, Hist. Retford, 16 seq., 31-49; A. C. Wood, Hist. Notts. 159; CJ, i. 83; C219/29/99; 31/123; 33/142; HMC Rutland, i. 208, 280, 303.

Author: M.R.P.