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


30 Jan. 1576SIR ROBERT STAPLETON vice Waterton, deceased
 Sir John Stanhope
 (Sir) Thomas Posthumous Hoby

Main Article

Yorkshire in Elizabethan times had one resounding election contest, in 1597. For the rest, the sources are silent and we are left to speculate whether peace prevailed on all other occasions. Perhaps it did. Geographically the county was very large, and to get freeholders from distant areas to the county court at York by 8 a.m. must have presented great problems. And yet, once a candidate had committed his social prestige to the trial of a contested election, he was compelled to recruit every voter he could. In other words, the mere size of the county must have operated as a strong inducement to agree about the two candidates beforehand. A second moderating factor was the council in the north, centred at York. Its business was to preserve peace within its jurisdiction, and it must have viewed election contests as a social evil. Its authority was great in Yorkshire. Most of the county Members were drawn from its ranks, and the scandal of a public quarrel among two or more councillors was not a prospect that the dignity of the lord president could tolerate. Then again, though the number of Yorkshiremen in a Parliament might exceed the number of seats available in the county—in 1586 there were 26 Members resident in the county and 24 county and borough seats—the sort of gentlemen eligible as knights of the shire (and some were of only middling status) do not seem to have been very parliament-minded. Westminster was a long way from home. Seventeen individuals—possibly 18 if there was a by-election for the 1581 session—sat for the county in Elizabeth’s reign. Of these only five ever sat for Yorkshire more than once—only two, if the computation be strictly limited to this reign: a very high incidence of change. Even if we include their borough seats, few of the 17 could be described as inveterate parliamentarians.

Of these few, the most outstanding was the distinguished lawyer Sir Thomas Gargrave, who had been made a member of the council in the north in Henry VIII’s reign, became its vice-president in 1560, and did more for the early development of the institution than anyone else. He had represented the county in the last Edwardian Parliament, sat twice again for it in Mary’s reign, and then secured the senior seat in each Elizabethan Parliament till his death in 1579, being Speaker in Elizabeth’s first Parliament. The re-election of such a man went without saying: it was the equivalent of the consistent election of Privy Councillors in some of the southern counties. But this virtual reduction of the county seats to one during four successive general elections is not known to have resulted in any contests.

Sir Henry Gates was another fairly persistent parliamentarian; but he was a southerner by origin, a dependant of the Dudleys and involved in Northumberland’s plot to establish Lady Jane Grey on the throne. When he resumed his public career, after the accession of Elizabeth, it was in Yorkshire that he settled, where he was made a member of the council in the north. As a newcomer, he probably found his parliamentary ambitions restrained. At any rate, in 1559 he had to be content with a borough seat at Bramber, Sussex, while in 1563 he had recourse to Scarborough, where he could rely on a safe seat. Then in 1571 he secured a county seat as junior to Gargrave, reverted in 1572 to Scarborough, and for his last Parliament, in 1586, won the senior county seat. Ill-health—he died in April 1589—may have prevented an answer to the interesting question whether he could now have emulated Gargrave by sitting consecutively for the county. The electoral wanderings of another newcomer to Yorkshire, (Sir) Ralph Bourchier, seem to point, with even greater emphasis, to the moral of Gates’s career. Though sheriff of the county in 1580-1, it was not until 1589 that he managed to become a knight of the shire; and that was the last out of five Parliaments in which he sat. His senior partner was (Sir) Henry Constable of Burton Constable, a loyal but undoubted Catholic, whose wife was ‘a most obstinate recusant’.

The junior 1559 Member was Henry Savile I of Lupset, a ‘favourer of religion’ and one of the council in the north ‘bounden to continual attendance’. His son and heir (Sir) George Savile I sat for the county in 1593. Sir Nicholas Fairtax (1563) of Gilling Castle, had already sat for the county in Edward VI’s reign. He was the head of the senior branch of his family, and his son Sir William, of whom more later, was one of the successful 1597 candidates. Sir Thomas Fairfax (1586) and his son (Sir) Thomas Fairfax I (1601) were of the Denton and Nun Appleton branch of the family, and it must have been because of his marriage into this family that John Aske, an obscure man and (at any rate later) a rogue, was elected in 1593. Thomas Waterton (1572) also owed his election to his marriage connexions. His daughter Anne married Sir Thomas Gargrave’s son Cotton. Waterton died before the second session of the Parliament and the unfortunate Sir Robert Stapleton of Wighill came in at the ensuing by-election. Who, if anyone, replaced Sir Thomas Gargrave, who died in 1579, has not been ascertained; no by-election is known. The two 1584 knights for Yorkshire were Ralph Eure, later 3rd Lord Eure, and Sir William Mallory of Hutton Park. The latter was a supporter of the Stanhope/Hoby faction in the contested election of 1597, which is now to be considered.

The candidates first in the field were Sir John Stanhope and (Sir) Thomas Posthumous Hoby. Unlike the normal southern county, where the news of a Parliament in prospect was calculated to produce a buzz of activity, there seems at first to have been no one else known to desire election: an interesting point, conforming to the pattern of the reign in this county. Even Savile, who was to ruin the peaceful prospect, had no wish to stand: or so he told Archbishop Hutton, head of the council in the north, when asked a few weeks before the election. It promised to be a normal Yorkshire election: two gentlemen ‘nominated’ by their fellow-gentlemen, with the head of the council’s blessing. Unfortunately, the two chosen were such as would divide, not unite, opinion. Hoby was a southerner who had married into the county only a year earlier. He was young—31; diminutive in height, a zealous, rather humourless puritan, married to an equally zealous puritan wife, and probably already a cause of friction among neighbours. Though a nephew of Lord Burghley and cousin to Sir Robert Cecil, backed by their authority and by that of the council in the north, he must have seemed to many an arrogant interloper. Worse still, the powerful Yorkshire clothing interest believed that his brother, Sir Edward, had sponsored an Act in the previous Parliament which was harmful to their interests; an Act they stubbornly refused to obey. Even Archbishop Hutton, in retrospect and writing with due circumspection to Cecil, obviously thought him a poor choice as candidate.

But the main cause of the contest was Stanhope. He was about 52 years of age at this time, held two royal offices, and was on his way to higher place. Though, in the words of Hutton and others, he was ‘born in this county, custos rotulorum of the North Riding, and a large landowner’, and though a brother was a member of the council in the north, he was in fact something of an alien. His territorial affiliations were really with Northamptonshire and most of his time was spent at court. His opponents were not entirely captious when, at the election, they got the under-sheriff to quote the law concerning residential qualifications for candidates. In any vigorous county two such candidates as Stanhope and Hoby would have provoked instant opposition from old-established families; and perhaps only court initiative, operating through the council in the north, could have secured the backing with which they started.

It was the name and family of Stanhope that made opposition certain. Stanhope’s eldest brother, Sir Thomas—recently dead—had waged a prolonged and notorious feud with Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury in Nottinghamshire, which dominated the factious county election there in 1593. The Earl, as it happened, was a Yorkshire as well as a Nottinghamshire magnate, with followers among the leading Yorkshire gentry, including (Sir) John Savile II, mighty in voters because of his interests in the clothing industry, and from a different branch of the family from the Saviles of Lupset already mentioned. Sir John Savile’s racy boast during the election that ‘no devices could carry’ the election for Sir John Stanhope ‘nor to never a Stanhope in England’, reflects the spillover into Yorkshire of passion engendered in Nottinghamshire.6 Apparently it was Shrewsbury who, hearing of Stanhope’s candidature, induced Savile to stand against him, whereupon the Shrewsbury party set about organizing an opposition. There is a letter from the Earl to William Wentworth of Woodhouse, written at Worksop, the Earl’s Nottinghamshire house, on 30 Sept., giving

best thanks for your most friendly dealings with your neighbours for their voices, which I take in very kind and thankful part and am right glad of your purpose to go to York, where I shall wish you all good success.

In later years, recalling past services, Sir William Wentworth noted that

at his Lordship’s earnest request [he] went to York with all the freeholders he could possibly procure, for the choosing of Sir John Savile one of the knights of Yorkshire.

The occasion remained outstanding in Wentworth’s memory, and probably in the county’s as well.7

In a letter, written to Sir Robert Cecil after the election, Archbishop Hutton opined that if the under-sheriff, who conducted the proceedings, had followed the archbishop’s advice and held a separate election for each of the two seats, then Stanhope would have secured one, ‘for he is generally well thought on in all this country’; while ‘Sir Thomas Hoby, a gentleman of very great hope, is not as yet so well known’,8an opinion that ignores or conceals the outstanding fact of the election—that the Earl of Shrewsbury, through Savile, was determined to prevent the election of a Stanhope, thus inflicting humiliation on an enemy.

The election took place on 3 Oct. 1597. Savile had decided to stand only about a fortnight before, and it was not until the morning of the election that he found another person willing to pair with him in Sir William Fairfax, already mentioned, who, only the night before, had promised to support Stanhope and Hoby.9 Both the Privy Council in London and the council at York anticipated trouble with the appearance of Savile as a candidate, and a letter from the former and action by the latter were meant to prevent disorder. Savile, both at this time and later, treated the northern council with disdain.

The prospect at York on election day must have seemed ominous to the authorities. On Stanhope and Hoby’s side there were present—according to their party’s statement—‘86 knights, justices and esquires and many more gentlemen and freeholders, numbering about 3,000’. Savile had the support of ‘the clothing towns in the West Riding, which yield the greatest number of freeholders’. His side claimed to have two or three hundred more than their opponents; and what with citizens of York and ‘women and children and other strangers, not having lawful voices’—so their opponents alleged—they no doubt exceeded the other congregation. The northern councillors reported that on the night of 2 Oct. ‘Sir John Savile came to York with a few gentlemen and a great multitude of clothiers, woolmen and other freeholders of the West Riding’.10 Close on 6,000 is a reasonable estimate of the number—qualified and unqualified—present at the election; and as many of these must have come to York the day before, it is easy to appreciate why Yorkshiremen as a rule preferred an arranged election.

Whether or not Stanhope and Hoby’s followers had already agreed to ‘pair’, Savile, by his tactics and with the collusion of the under-sheriff, forced this upon them. At first, three candidates were nominated: Stanhope, Hoby and Savile. Savile then got the under-sheriff to read the statutes regulating parliamentary elections, in order to emphasize that candidates should be resident in the county at the date of the writ. Thereby he bolstered up his argument that Stanhope was disqualified. Next, to furnish himself with a partner against the other two—and evidently not as yet sure that Fairfax would play his game—he asked the assembled crowd, ‘Will you have a Mauleverer or a Fairfax?’. At this juncture five candidates were presumed to have been nominated: Sir William Fairfax and Sir Richard Mauleverer, as well as the first three. However, Mauleverer, though not himself present, was supporting the candidature of Stanhope and Hoby,11 and his name was presumably withdrawn as soon as Fairfax agreed to stand. Thus, when the contest proceeded to the vote by voices, it had become—as Savile wished it to be—a struggle between two pairs—Stanhope and Hoby on the one side, Savile and Fairfax on the other. It must have been during the hubbub at this stage of the election that Savile called to the opposing crowd: ‘Fie, fie! You shame your country to choose strangers: turn to us’. The vote by voices continued for about two hours. At the first it seems that the Stanhope/Hoby voices outnumbered their opponents; but this becoming doubtful, it was agreed to proceed to a ‘view’. For this purpose, the rival companies were separated and seven of the leading gentlemen on each side went with the under-sheriff to an upper chamber in the castle to assess the numbers. All appear to have agreed that the Savile/Fairfax supporters exceeded the others by at least 200. However since the former included many non-voters—said by their opponents to number five to six hundred—the Stanhope/Hoby managers demanded a poll. At first, the under-sheriff conceded this, as indeed he was obliged to do by law; and preparations were accordingly made. But then Savile came riding up, asked the under-sheriff what he was about, and angrily declared that he would not submit to a poll, but would hold what he had: ‘Though they would make you an ass, they shall not make me a fool’. He ordered the gates of the castle yard to be opened and forced his way through, taking the under-sheriff with him and so breaking up the proceedings.

The Stanhope/Hoby party remained in the castle yard for about two hours, awaiting the return of the under-sheriff. But this gentleman was at dinner with Savile, and when he came back it was to read out the indenture, returning Savile and Fairfax. No doubt the day was by now ‘far spent’, and the under-sheriff deserves a little sympathy for shrinking from the wrath of Sir John Savile as well as from the prospect of polling thousands of voters. But he was obviously a willing tool of Savile’s: ‘We are aware’, wrote the council in the north to the Privy Council, ‘that the under-sheriff, in spite of our express warning, has "dealt very affectionately against Sir John Stanhope and Sir Thomas Hoby"’.12

In a letter sent to Stanhope at court, two days after the election,13 15 Yorkshire gentlemen, his supporters, indicated their reaction to events:

We count this an indignity to you and a disgrace, not only to us whose names were in the note sent to you to stand, but also to those who, being absent, from sickness or age, sent their heirs and officers with their assent and their freeholders—as did Sir William Mallory, Sir Christopher Hilliard, old Sir Thomas Fairfax, Sir John Dawney and Sir Richard Mauleverer; and also to the noblemen of the shire, the Earl of Cumberland, Lord Scrope and Lord Darcy, who likewise sent up their freeholders to vote for you and then for Sir Thomas Hoby.

In these two lists there was something like a roll call of the great of Yorkshire. There can hardly be a doubt that the majority of the leading gentry sided with Stanhope and Hoby, as did the council in the north. According to his opponents, Savile had the support of ‘only eight other gentlemen of any reckoning’. His strength lay in the clothiers and artificers of the West Riding, estranged from authority by the 1593 statute against northern cloths and ready to follow their champion. Though Stanhope and Hoby both belonged to the North Riding, the gentry were not, as one might have suspected, split along geographical lines. Of four pre-eminent gentlemen of the West Riding present at the election, two were on Stanhope’s side and two on Savile’s. The great divide, as already noted, was the Shrewsbury/Stanhope feud; and it is significant that one of Stanhope’s chief supporters was Edward Talbot, a younger brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, towards whom the Earl was as hostile as he was to the Stanhopes.

When the Privy Council in London received reports and complaints of the election, they acted in a statesmanlike way. Savile’s behaviour at the election they described as ‘a matter de facto’, and suspended censure until after enquiry; but as he had treated the council in the north with contempt, they ordered the council to imprison him, ‘for example’s sake’, taking care to release him in time to attend Parliament, should the sheriff return him as a Member. Savile prudently took himself off to London before the northern council could act; but there the Privy Council caught up with him and, on the Queen’s personal instructions, imprisoned him in the Fleet on 23 Oct., the day before Parliament opened. Compromising between the farce of a day’s imprisonment and their desire not to interfere with his attendance, the Council released him on 13 Nov., and he presumably then took his seat in the Commons. The Privy Council also announced their intention of investigating the facts of the election; but what, if anything, happened, is not known.14 As for Stanhope and Hoby: the former found an alternative seat at the duchy of Lancaster borough of Preston, while the latter had a re-insurance arrangement of his own at Scarborough. Writing to his ‘loving friends the bailiffs’ the day after his failure at York, Hoby remarked, ‘Now I must rely upon you’.15 He was returned for Scarborough five days after the county election.

There might have been a postscript if the evidence had survived; for by a curious fate Sir William Fairfax, who had betrayed his promise to Stanhope and allowed Savile to sweep him unexpectedly and unscrupulously into the second seat, died on 1 Nov., eight days after the opening of the Parliament. It is just conceivable that amends may have been made to Stanhope’s feelings by transferring him to the county seat for the last four weeks of the Parliament, though probably the authorities let sleeping dogs lie. We can be fairly certain that the Savile party was not permitted to bring off another coup, and that the proceedings were carried through by agreement, according to earlier precedent.

When the next general election came round in 1601, Sir Robert Cecil’s brother, the 2nd Lord Burghley, was lord president of the council in the north, displacing the weak-kneed Hutton; also, the political atmosphere, after the abortive Essex rebellion, was not conducive to contemptuous behaviour like Savile’s in 1597—especially when directed against clients of the Cecils. The county seats went to two of Sir John Stanhope’s principal supporters in 1597: (Sir) Thomas Fairfax I of Denton, and (Sir) Edward Stanhope I of Grimston, Sir John’s brother. Both were members of the council in the north. A Stanhope sitting for Yorkshire! That must have riled Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his aide, Sir John Savile. As for Sir John Stanhope, in 1601 he found a more appropriate seat as senior knight for Northamptonshire, where his principal residence was situated. He was by now the Queen’s vice-chamberlain and a Privy Councillor.


  • 1. This is the date of the Yorkshire county day in York Civic Recs. vi. 48. The context necessitates the reading of the month as December.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Browne Willis.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vii. 416.
  • 7. Sheffield City Lib., Wentworth Woodhouse letter bk. 20(a), items 85-89.
  • 8. HMC Hatfield, vii. 435-6.
  • 9. Ibid. 416; Hatfield 139, f. 76 (BL microfilm M485/33).
  • 10. HMC Hatfield, vii. 417, 436.
  • 11. Ibid. 416.
  • 12. Ibid. 411.
  • 13. lbid. 416.
  • 14. Ibid. 426-7; APC, xxviii. 46, 114.
  • 15. Scarborough town hall, Scarborough recs. bdle. C.1.