Weymouth and Melcombe Regis


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


1576MOYLE FINCH vice Bedell, deceased
30 Jan. 15761LAURENCE TOMSON vice Hussey, deceased
1586EDWARD BACON vice Francis Bacon, chose to sit for Taunton
26 Oct. 1588WILLIAM MILL
24 Sept. 1597JOHN RANDALL
 Two returns. SWAYNE, LEIGH, MOCKETT and BROOKE declared elected, 8 Nov. 1597

Main Article

In both boroughs the most influential parliamentary patrons were the lord lieutenant of the county the 2nd Earl of Bedford, and the first two earls of Pembroke, stewards of the royal manor of Weymouth, of the encompassing manor of Wyke and of the manor of Portland. In the later years of this period Bedford’s son-in-law the Earl of Warwick, (Sir) Walter Ralegh and Viscount Bindon all exerted some influence.

Fitzwilliams, the senior Weymouth Member in 1559, has not been identified. However, both the likely candidates had connexions with Bedford. Fowler had associations with, and was probably nominated by, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, though his later seat at West Looe was obtained through Bedford. In 1563 Eyre came from Salisbury, and is likely to have been brought in by Pembroke, while Grey was a neighbour and distant relative of Bedford. In 1559 Bedford thanked his ‘loving friends’2 at Melcombe for one nomination and supplied Moynes, a Bridport man. The junior Melcombe seat was filled by Richard Shaw, possibly a lawyer and probably nominated by Sir John Rogers. In 1563 Melcombe returned two Bedford nominees: Thomas Colby, a puritan lawyer, and William Mere, whose family held a manor from the Russells.

Before the next election, disputes between the two boroughs (probably originating in Weymouth’s jealousy of its expanding rival) had ‘wearied’ the Privy Council and Burghley recommended amalgamation. This was accomplished by letters patent in 1570 and confirmed—at the instigation of the Melcombe men—by statute during the course of the 1571 Parliament. The two boroughs were incorporated as the mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, burgesses and community of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis.3 The election returns for 1571 had been made separately, the senior Weymouth seat being taken by one Richard Tomlinson, who has not been identified, the junior seat by Thomas Hussey I, brother of Bedford’s second wife. Melcombe Regis returned Ralph Browne, a duchy of Lancaster official from Frampton in Dorset, whose family later had dealings with Bedford. The junior Member, Owen Reynolds, a former mayor of Melcombe, and later mayor of the combined borough, may have been elected to supervise the passage of the bill to confirm the union by statute.

After 1571 the election return contained four names, usually (but not always) without distinction as between Weymouth and Melcombe: the statement4 that the two leading names were those from Weymouth does not stand up to investigation. The first name on the 1572 return5 is that of Thomas Hannam, who probably owed his office as recorder to Pembroke influence. The next two names—those of Hussey and John Wolley, the Latin secretary—were entered on the indenture each by the same hand, but different from that which recorded Hannam’s name. Finally, the name of Richard Bedell, a likely Bedford nominee, was inserted by a third hand. Bedell died late in 1572 and was replaced by Moyle Finch, whose father had been an intimate of Bedford. Thomas Hussey died in 1574 or 1575 and, in January 1576, Bedford wrote6 I am heartily to pray you that as I had the naming of the last, so I may now put in another in the place of him who is dead; and that upon the return of your indentures you will send the same unto me with a blank for the name.Laurence Tomson, later Walsingham’s secretary, was returned.

Dissension between Weymouth and Melcombe increased throughout the 1570s and there were many minor incidents. In 1581 the Weymouth men attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the union voided. A strong Weymouth faction had been organised by Hugh Randall and the brothers Richard and John Brooke. In 1584, after some ‘debates’ between the bailiffs of Weymouth and the mayor of Melcombe, an agreement about the shared use of the port was made. In the election of that year there was an unsuccessful attempt to return John Brooke for Weymouth at a separate election. The first place was left blank for a Pembroke nominee, the second filled by Brooke, and the other two names were Laurence Tomson and Richard Swayne, future recorder of the joint borough. What happened to this return is not known: probably it was rejected by the sheriff. Of its four names only Tomson’s appeared on the accepted return, and he had insured against not being elected by obtaining a nomination at Poole. Francis Bacon and George Grenville presumably owed their seats to Bedford, and Penruddock his to the 2nd Earl of Pembroke. By the election of 1586 Bedford was dead. Weymouth again made a separate return (presumably naming Brooke) which was rejected by the sheriff. On hearing of this the mayor and his associates promptly offered Bedford’s son-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, the nomination to the first seat, and besought him to end the controversies, ‘which do daily rise among us’.7 The Earl thereupon nominated Francis Bacon,8 who preferred to sit for Taunton and was replaced at a by-election by his half-brother Edward. William Sprint’s election was probably due to Hannam the recorder; Tomson was re-elected to the third seat;9 Edward Phelips was one of Pembroke’s lawyers. Of the 1589 Members, the patron of William Mill, clerk of the Star Chamber, is unknown; Robert Gregory and William Hody were local men; Arthur Massinger was nominated by Pembroke.10 In 1593 Massinger and William Weston, the new recorder, appear to have been returned for Weymouth. Weston may have been responsible for the return of another Middle Temple lawyer, Stephens, for Melcombe, while Stafford, also returned for the Melcombe ‘side’ appears to have come in through Sir Walter Ralegh’s influence.

The 1597 election is of interest in parliamentary history as an early example of a practice that was later to become common—the sending in by the sheriff of a double return, leaving the House of Commons to determine which Members were to be seated. The Weymouth diehards, though deserted by John Brooke, who seems to have made his peace with Melcombe, sent in a separate return naming John Randall, deputy vice-admiral for Dorset and son of the earlier Weymouth leader, Hugh Randall, and John Wolridge, a local Admiralty official. The choice of these two may well have had something to do with the renewal of an old squabble over Admiralty jurisdiction. From a Star Chamber suit which Randall later brought against the mayor, William Waltham, it emerges that at a crucial stage in the election the mayor’s period of office terminated. After receiving the warrant from the sheriff, he had appointed the election to be held on 23 Sept. But on the 21st John Pitt was elected mayor and in the afternoon the Weymouth faction took the opportunity to elect their two candidates for Parliament, without Waltham being present and without any warrant. Waltham refused to recognise this election and required a new choice to be made. Despite pressure applied by him on behalf of the Earl of Pembroke, the same men were again elected together with Melcombe’s representatives: Richard Swayne, who had succeeded Weston as recorder, and John Mockett, a merchant and alderman. Randall claimed that Waltham accepted this election but subsequently refused to return the warrant. Swayne, as recorder, now wrote to the sheriff for a new warrant on the ground that Pitt, who had assumed the mayoralty, had not been named in the previous warrant. The subsequent election went against the Weymouth faction who, however, still sent in an indenture with the names of Randall and Wolridge. The sheriff forwarded this to Chancery, and the House of Commons after some consideration declared it to be invalid, 8 Nov. 1597. Those accepted were Swayne, Mockett, Francis Leigh (nominated by Pembroke) and John Brooke. Subsequently, Swayne gave his formal opinion that the four burgesses for the combined borough could not be chosen in two separate elections.11

The 1601 election was not disturbed. In several Dorset boroughs Viscount Bindon—who as Thomas Howard had earlier been mayor of the combined borough—collected nominations which he offered to Sir Robert Cecil. By this means the names of Sir John Peyton, who had held the Tower during the Essex revolt, and Walter Cope, a follower of Cecil, appear first and second on the return and were inserted in a ‘blank’.12 Swayne, the recorder, came third, and fourth was Edward Reynolds—a local man who had made good in London.

Evidence for parliamentary expenses at Weymouth and Melcombe Regis is fragmentary. Bedford, when he nominated John Moynes at Melcombe in 1559, released the borough from payment of wages. In 1571 Reynolds received his wages and ten years later Thomas Howard, writing from London, had much to say about general expenses. For the Parliament of 1597, the mayor’s accounts show that in addition to paying £28 5s.0d. to its burgesses for 113 days, the combined borough paid £4 10s.6d. for ‘the establishing of the burgesses in the Parliament House’.13

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. Sherren pprs. 60.
  • 2. Neale, Commons, 198.
  • 3. Weinbaum, Charters, 33.
  • 4. HMC 5th Rep. 580.
  • 5. C219/28/41.
  • 6. HMC 5th Rep. 579; Weymouth Docs. ed. Moule, 97.
  • 7. Weymouth Docs. 39-40.
  • 8. C219/30/21.
  • 9. Weymouth Docs. 40, 49.
  • 10. C219/31/59.
  • 11. C219/33/72, 73; St. Ch. 5/R 38/3; R40/10; R27/34; D’Ewes, 554.
  • 12. C219/34/26.
  • 13. HMC 5th Rep. 580, 582, 585; Weymouth Docs. 129, 131.