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


1 Feb. 1581ROBERT ASKEWITH vice Paycock, sick
26 Sept. 1597JAMES BIRKBY
19 Oct. 1601JOHN BENNET

Main Article

York is fortunate in having records sufficient in quality and quantity to permit a more detailed constituency account than is usually possible for this period. With an estimated population of over 10,000,4 it was the second city of the realm, and its representatives sat in the House of Commons, with those of London, next to the Privy Councillors.5 For all this, it cannot be said to have added to the stature of the Elizabethan House of Commons. None of its Members made a significant contribution to debate or committee, perhaps because the city regarded its Members as delegates rather than representatives.

As York ranked as a county in itself, writs for parliamentary elections were directed to the city sheriffs, and the elections took place on a different day from the county court of the shire, thus enabling adjustments to be made, as convenient, between the representation of county and city. York was governed by a lord mayor, himself an alderman, 12 other aldermen, 24 common councilmen, two sheriffs and a recorder. There was also a council representing the guilds. Before 1581 the MPs were chosen by the whole city assembly, and their names declared

by my lord mayor in the full county upon Ouse Bridge before the aldermen, sheriffs, coroners and others the freeholders of the said city then and there assembled.

On 30 Jan. that year, however, the assembly ordered that 40 ‘of the best commoners’ should join in the by-election to take place on the next Wednesday, and in 1584 a new system of electing MPs in two stages was adopted. The city records report

freeholders of this city did now personally appear and ... did privately give their voices as appeareth by a paper of their said voices; they did choose [four named aldermen] and brought the same before this assembly, who, one after another, did give their private voices to the election of two of the said aldermen to be burgesses and Mr. Recorder with a clerk taking their voice, by the most voices of [those present, the two successful candidates] are now nominated to be burgesses for this city [to be] nominated ... in the county court.6

Some voting figures are known for the election of 31 Oct. 1588. There were 50 named freeholders and 24 of the common chamber. This second group was composed of the lord mayor, recorder, 10 aldermen, two sheriffs and 10 of the 24. The freeholders voted as follows, for

Robert Askewith50
William Robinson47
Robert Waterhouse41
Thomas Harrison40
Andrew Trewe19
Robert Brooke7
William Hilliard4
Thomas Appleyard3
Thomas Jackson2
Hugh Graves1
Christopher Herbert1


The second group, 'the lord and mayor and aldermen', voted for

William Robinson
Robert Askewith
Thomas Harrison
Robert Waterhouse0


In 1593 only 27 'commons freeholders' were named, and are stated to have voted as follows, for

Mr. Birkby
Mr. Moseley
Mr. Trewe
Mr. Brooke
Mr. Jackson
Mr. Robinson
Mr. Appleyard1


And the lord mayor and aldermen, for



Thus the totals cannot be reconciled with the number of voters.7

On 26 1597 the system was simplified, the city assembly and the commoners

all joining together in one election, viz. every one first of the Commons and afterwards of [the assmebly] to name and choose two whom they should think mete to be burgesses at their full liberty, and that those two which should have most voices in that election should be burgesses.

Whereupon 'all together in one election' the votes cast were, for

James Birkby
Thomas Moseley
William Robinson
Andrew Trewe
Robert Brooke
Thomas Jackson


and three other candidates one each, total 122 votes. The names of 37 commoners are given, and 24 of the chamber were present, making 61 in all, i.e. two votes per man. Birkby and Moseley were then formally elected in the county court.8

It was stated in 1597 that this 'matter of election shall always hereafter be observed', and in 1601 it was. On 10 Oct. 37 named commoners appeared, whose votes, with those of the assembly (noted as present were the lord mayor, recorder, 10 aldermen, two sherifs and 12 of the '24') were taken by the sheriffs and the common clerk 'all in one election'. Mr. Recorder having commended Dr. Bennet' the voting went, in favour of

Dr. Bennet
Christopher Concet
Mr. Moseley
Henry Hall
Mr. Robinson
William Grenbury


one short of the possible figure if there were two votes each. Mr. Concet now excused himself, rather late in the day, it might be thought, on grounds of health, 'and voices were taken again for election of another to be burgess and the said Dr. Bennet. And voices were given as followeth':

Mr. Hall
Mr. Moseley
Mr. Grenbury
Mr. Herbert
Mr. Robinson

one short at one vote each. 'And so the said Mr. Dr. Bennet and Mr. Henry Hall are thought meet to be burgesses [and] the said commons are ... to be at the next county court to perfect the same election'. This Dr. Bennet, an ecclesiastical lawyer who was chancellor of York diocese and unable to secure return at a more 'natural' borough, Ripon, where the seats were already pre-empted, was the only York MP in this period who was not a member of the assembly, though he was made a freeman six days after the election and three days before the date of his return. The recorder, William Hilliard, was elected in 1586. All the other MPs were city aldermen.

The same consideration that led the York assembly to forgo electing one of their number in favour of Dr. Bennet in 1601 had no doubt also applied at the beginning of the reign over the country gentleman Sir Thomas Gargrave, whose case is interesting. He was not actually returned for York in this period, though twice, as it were, elected.

Upon Monday 7 Dec. [1562] ... after knowledge had of the will and pleasure of Sir Thomas Gargrave, knight, it was agreed that if the said Master Gargrave fortune to be chosen one of the knights of the shire.

at the shire county day, when Watson and Hall would be returned for the city 'and so it was openly declared by my lord mayor ... upon Ouse Bridge', a nice example of a conditional election, rare or unique in this period. Next time, in 1571, Gargarve wrote to 'his very loving friends the lord mayor and his brethren the aldermen of the city of York':

I do most heartily thank you that it pleased you to elect me one of your burgesses for the Parliament, and do take myself therefore besides many other your gentleness much bounden unto you, and I shall be willing and ready as occasion may serve to do you and every of you that pleasure I can. And for that I am now, as I am sure ye hear, chosen knight for the shire, I cannot serve both the rooms, and am therefore sorry I have thus troubled you.9

After their election the York MPs were always given a letter (or 'warrant') of attorney sealed with the common seal, as evidence of their status, presumably a relic from past procedure, but there was more significance in another outmoded attitude on the part of York. While it was by no means uncommon for cities such as London, Exeter and Worcester to further their own interests by instructing their Members to promote certain bills, York went further, in that the instructions given to the MPs were so worded as to embrace the interests of the city alone. The Members cannot have regarded themselves as potential contributors to the business of the House of Commons at all. The 1559 men were told to obtain exemption for the city from new measures of taxation, a demand repeated in ensuing Parliaments. In 1563 the assembly

with a good part of the common council [was to] devise what they think meet for the weal of this city ... and to put in the same in articles ... to be ... sealed with the common seal.

These were:

1. 'To sue forth such like proviso concerning the act against taking of apprentices for the city of York as is for London and Norwich'.

2. Concerning the 'search and sealing of cloths of this city'.

3. 'To get our charter of the liberties of this city newly confirmed ...'

4. 'To sue for abatement' of 'any tax to be granted'.

5. To establish 'godly devise' instead of 'superstition'.

6. 'To get a standing post at York ... in time of war and of other weighty affairs in the north parts'.

7. With 'Master Gargrave better advice' to settle a question concerning the city and county boundary.

8. To try to purchase for cash certain lands then rented.

9. 'To advertise ... the present decay of ... late chantry tenements in York for lack of reparations, to the great defacing of the city and yearly loss to the Queen ...'

and in 1571.

1. To sue 'to have all the Queen's majesty's land within the city ... by fee farm for the maintenance of the city'.

2. 'To remember the coverlet weavers bill'.

3. Concerning the 'search and sealing of cloth.'

4. 'If any tax be granted to sue for abatement thereof as hath been heretofore accustomed'.

Similar 'rembrances' were given to the MPs in 1572 (including the injunction to 'remember all your former instructions that you had at the last Parliament), 1584 (including the items about tax abatement and chantry lands), 1593, 1597 and 1601, when the city authorities were still noting a long list of 'instructions' for their burgesses, including the hardy perennial of tax abatement. Nor were these instructions a matter of form. When Watson and Hall returned to York after the 1563 session they narrowly escaped being fined £5 each for failing to report 'immediately ... to my lord mayor according to civility and ancient custom', and on 20 Feb. 1585 the lord mayor wrote a letter of reprimand to 'Mr. William Robinson and Mr. Robert Brooke, aldermen of the city of York', the MPs than at Westminster, his letter reading in part as follows:

... in considering of your letters I cannot well tell what to think, for that you write severally, and in one letter more showed and imparted than in the other, which several writing maketh me think that either there is some great disagreement between you or else you think I am not worthy to be partaker of your news and proceedings, and by that means you will not join to write together. But whatsoever you think I cannot think well of your several writing and not I alone but the rest of my brethren doth the same, which thing I would not wish to be so, for if you do not agree together I and my brethren shall have small hope that you will obtain your suits and causes that you go about for this city.

There are other examples of York's priorities as between the rival claims of national and civic affairs. William Watson, one of the time 1563 MPs who happened to be lord mayor at the time of the second session of that Parliament, in 1566, was instructed on 17 Sept. that year not to go up to Westminster, but to 'remain at home', which he did. If he should be fined for not attending Parliament 'then it is to be borne of the city's charges'. Again ten years later the York assembly was for sending only one Member to the forthcoming session of Parliament, but this time the man instisted on going because he had personal business to transact.10

The York Mps were all paid, but it has proved impossible to reconcile accounts. However, here are some amounts stated to have been paid them for the various sessions of Parliament.


 SessionAmount paid to MP(s) on setting out to Parliament
 Amount paid to MP(s) on return
 Daily rate to be paid
Remarks Source
1559£5 ea. and £1 6s.8d. for servants' liveries
8s.* i.e. 4s. ea.
*Expressed as 'charges of the high court of Parliament', so presumably for the 2 MPsCh. accts. 5, f. 69; YCR, vi. 2.
 6s.8d. ea.
 Daily wages rate increased because of 'the present dearness of all things necessary'
YCR, vi. 49
 1566  Ralph Hall 'citizen of the Parliament' gets £11 2s. 'residue of his diets ... according to his bill'  Only one MP sent this session
YCR, vi. 123.
 1571 £10 ea. +£1 6s.8d. for servants' liveries
 Their 'charges' came to £51 16s.8d. inc. £20 taken on setting out, and another £20 pd. later. They were now paid £11 16s.8d.
  YCR, vii. 23, 32.
 1572 £10 ea.
  6s.8d. ea.
 Projected session.YCR, vii. 114, 115-16, 120; viii. 22, 44, 45; house bks. 28, f. 5.
 1576 30 Jan. Graves gets £10 towards diets and charges + 6s.8d. servant's livery
 30 Mar. Decided to pay Paycock as 'part' of his charges £10. 27 June. Decided to pay Paycock in full.
 6s.8d. Ibid. Ibid.
 1579 £20 ea. and men's liveries
 1581 £20 for the two +13s.4d. for two servants' liveries
 5 Apr. Graves £8 16s.8d. Askewith £22 6s.3d.
 1584-5 £21 6s.8d.
 £42 4s.6d.  Includes 'their servants' liveries'
 Ch. accts. 5, f. 64.
   £42 4s.6d.  'For their diets and certain other charges by them disbursed as appeareth'. Ch. accts. 6, f. 61.
 1586-7 £10 £22 4s.10d.  'To Mr. Alderman Brooke towards his charges at his going to the Parliament in Febr.' 1587
   £22 4s.10d.
  'For his charges and diet at the sessions of the Parliament as appeareth by his bill'
   £19 13s.4d.
    6s.8d. ea.
 Mr. Hilliard's charges, diet and 'reward'
 YCR, viii. 148.
   £20 13s.4d.
  Mr. Hilliard
   13s.4d.  Mr. Hilliard's two men's liveries
   £3 6s.8d.
  Mr. Hilliard's 'reward'
  £10 £19 13s.4d.
  Total expressed to be paid him 'the £10 paid to him at his going up ... to be accounted no parcel thereof'
 1589 diet and men's liveries 'as the last burgesses had'
  6s.8d. ea.
   £52 12s.
  'For their charges' as by their 'particular bill'
 House bks. 30, ff. 79, 118.
 1593 £10 ea. and 13s.4d. ea. for men's liveries 'as the last burgess had'
 4 Nay their bill amounts to £43 14s.6d. of which they have received £20
 6s.8d. ea.
 House bks. 31, ff. 2, 12, 14
   23 May £21 11s.2d.
  To be paid them, residue of their bill
   £21 6s.8d.
  26 June actually paid them for 'diet and men's liveries'
 Ch. accts. 7, f. 52
   £10 ea.
  for 'parcel of his bill'
 1597/8 £21 6s.8d. to Birkby and Moseley for diets and servants' liveries
  6s.8d. ea.
 Ch. accts. 9, ff. 51, 119 and House bks. 31, f. 298.
  £10 to Birkby 'at his second going'
 £20 to Birkby 2 June 1598 due to both for their charges at Parliament.
  £20 to Moseley at his going in Jan. 1598
 Another to him £1 1s.4d.
  Nearly £70 between them - see note (a).
 1601 13s.4d. for each man's servant's livery and £10 ea. on account i.e. £21 6s.8d.
 £33 14s.8d.
 6s.8d. ea.
 The house books have a breakdown of the account submitted by the 1601 Members—see note (b.)
 House bks. 32, ff. 170, 192
   £33 14s.8d. pd. on 9 Mar. 1602
   Ch. accts. 10, f. 52; 11, f. 58.


Note (a)

By 1597

... victuals and horsemeat are generally in all places at double rate or more than in former times the same have bee, by reason whereof it is a great deal costlier ... at London upon charges than in former times hath been ...

and so it was agreed that the burgesses at their return from Parliament should have some 'further gratification' but only of benevolence and not as any ordinary allowance'. (House bks. 31, f. 298).


Note (b)

£. s. d.
Charges for 62 days 26 Oct.-26 Dec. inc. @ 13s.4d. p.d.41. 6. 8.
Pd. to clerk of Crown Office for entering the return
8. 0.
For 'entering our names when we were sworn'
5. 0.
'To the serjeant'
4. 0.
Doorkeeper2. 0.
Poor10. 0.
Deputy clerk
2. 0.
'For writing the privy seal and for Mr. Lake [Thomas Lake II*] his hand being the clerk of the signet
15. 0.
Clerk of the bag
2. 0.
Mr. Smythe the privy council clerk to be paid to the master of requests when he got her Majesty to assign the privy seal for the tax
10. 0. 0.
 Total53. 14. 8.
Less £20 given them in advance
20. 0. 0.
They claimed on return, and this was the amount the chamberlain's accts. shows as agreed and paid on 9 Mar. 1602

£33. 14. 8.           

Author: P. W. Hasler


  • 1. These dates are supplied from the York records.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. VCH York, 122.
  • 5. Neale, Commons, 365.
  • 6. York Civic Recs. vi. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxii), 48; viii. id. ser. (cxix), 43, 80.
  • 7. York House bks. 30, ff. 64, 378. The house books and chamberlain's accounts used in this article were transcribed by Miss N. M. Fuidge.
  • 8. Ibid. 31, ff. 297, 298.
  • 9. Ibid. 31, f. 170; 32, f. 169; York Civic Recs. vi. 48; vii. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. cxv), 22-23.
  • 10. York Civic Recs. vi. 2, 49, 50-51, 56; vii. 22, 114; viii, 94; house bks. 30, f. 378; 31, f. 304; 32, f. 173.