Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

64 in Mar. 1628


21 Dec. 16201SIR JOHN SELBY
23 Jan. 16242SIR ROBERT JACKSON , alderman
29 Apr. 1625SIR JOHN SELBY
23 Jan. 16263SIR ROBERT JACKSON , alderman
by 6 Feb. 16264RICHARD LOWTHER
29 Feb. 16285(SIR) EDMUND SAWYER
1 Oct. 1628SIR ROBERT JACKSON , alderman vice Sawyer, expelled the House

Main Article

Originally a Scottish burgh, Berwick was a key border fortress during the medieval Anglo-Scottish wars, changing hands nine times in barely 300 years. Under permanent English control from 1482, it achieved parliamentary representation at Westminster by 1512, but was not formally incorporated into England until the nineteenth century.6 Berwick’s status as a principal customs post for trade with Scotland was confirmed by Parliament in 1483, when its merchants were also granted the privilege of unrestricted overseas exports. However, successive sieges, sacks and occupations had permanently damaged the local economy, and by the late Tudor period the town depended heavily on the Tweed salmon fisheries and the trade generated by the substantial garrison. Thus, while James I’s accession brought with it the prospect of a lasting and beneficial peace in the Borders, the king’s decision to reduce the garrison in 1603 and then dissolve it eight years later had serious repercussions. With the soldiers either relocated or downgraded to pensioners, the government’s financial input fell from around £15,000 p.a. at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, to £4,925 in 1610, £1,905 a decade later, and just £928 in 1630.7 Simultaneously, the borough found itself responsible for up to 7,000 extra people, formerly dependant on the garrison, and now without a livelihood; in 1622, the corporation informed the Privy Council that Berwick’s population now largely consisted of the widows and orphans of dead soldiers. Already in 1607 the town was reported to be ‘much decayed since the discharge of the garrison’, and the situation continued to deteriorate. Berwick was hit hard by the 1614 ban on wool exports, and an attempt to compensate by introducing cloth manufacture during the following decade failed. The local fishing and coal industries also experienced difficulties during the early seventeenth century.8

Although Berwick’s merchants traded as far afield as Spain and the Baltic, the volume of cargoes from overseas was relatively small, the Crown’s customs revenues coming mainly from the goods which crossed the wooden bridge over the Tweed. When this structure partially collapsed in 1607, the town was unable to fund even temporary repairs, and the government was persuaded to pay for a stone replacement. Construction finally began four years later, on an estimate of around £8,500, but by 1620 nearly £10,000 had been spent, and the bridge was still unfinished. A Privy Council inquiry cleared the builders of malpractice, but the project was placed under the supervision of the bishop of Durham, Richard Neile, before further funds were released. The bridge finally opened to traffic in 1624, having by now cost the Exchequer £13,000, though minor works continued for another decade.9

Until 1603 Berwick was run by the governor’s council, primarily a military body, though with a small civilian presence. However, the management of local trade was entrusted to the guild of burgesses, the origins of which lay in the Scottish burgh more than three centuries earlier. The guild, which considered itself to be a corporation, already possessed most of the features associated with conventional English boroughs, including a mayor, recorder, bailiffs, aldermen, and an inner council known variously as the Twelve, the ‘fering men’ or the ‘private guild’.10 These officials received around £50 p.a. from the Exchequer towards their expenses, but this subsidy was withdrawn when the garrison was dissolved. The guild’s other principal source of income was the rent from roughly two-thirds of the land in and around Berwick, to which the town’s burgesses enjoyed a customary claim. As a precaution the guild began lobbying the government in September 1603 for confirmation of its title to this property. The situation became more urgent in January 1604, when the king granted Berwick castle and the other remaining lands to Sir George Home (later earl of Dunbar), the lord treasurer of Scotland. Fortunately Home, who shortly afterwards became the new governor, proved to be a generous benefactor of the town, and helped to procure a new borough charter in the following April.11 Under its provisions the guild’s corporate status and structures were confirmed, as were its trading privileges, and its ownership of the lands not already granted to Home. The charter also guaranteed the borough’s exemption from payment of subsidies, tenths and fifteenths, and awarded the mayor the custody of the town gates. The corporation took formal possession of its new property a few months later, though it finally secured the town keys only in 1611, when the residue of the garrison was absorbed into the borough, and full civilian rule was finally achieved. The land grant brought the borough a welcome financial boost, as it included some property formerly occupied by the garrison, but without the supplementary Exchequer funding the corporation’s expenses generally outstripped its revenues. In 1624 Sir Robert Jackson was offered a gift of £10 for services to the borough, possibly in Parliament, but three years later he was still awaiting payment.12

Berwick’s parliamentary franchise was vested in the freemen. In February 1628 almost half of the eligible voters definitely participated in the borough’s election of Members to the third Caroline Parliament.13 The 1604 election, unmentioned in the guild’s records, was presumably managed by the governor’s council, as the return described the voters simply as ‘burgesses’ and ‘freemen’. However, by 1614 the corporation had taken full control of the borough, and subsequent returns referred to the ‘mayor, bailiffs and burgesses’. Berwick’s unique administrative status as a territory independent of any English county ruled out the standard format for parliamentary returns, this being an indenture made between the borough and the local sheriff. Instead, during James’s reign a declaration of the election result was sent to Westminster, bearing the town’s common seal and, in 1604, the mayor’s signature. In 1625 a new approach was adopted, and thereafter the returns took the form of indentures, with the mayor and bailiffs as one party, and ‘those burgesses of the said borough who were present at the election’ as the other. These indentures were signed and sealed by the returning officers, the mayor and bailiffs, and, at the two 1628 elections, also signed by the other participating freemen. The change of style probably reflected a desire for greater formality, since the indentures in 1625 and October 1628 were in Latin rather than English.14 Such concern with presentation did not, however, reflect a punctilious observance of electoral law. A draft text for the 1625 return, complete except for the days on which the election was proclaimed and held, was entered in the corporation minutes, with marginal instructions for the clerk: ‘put in the day of election’ and ‘put in the day that Proclamation was made if there were as many days between the Proclamation and the day of election as the statute requires, otherwise antedate’.15

On the grounds of the corporation’s poverty, Berwick looked to its representatives in the Commons to cover their own expenses. Specific assurances on this point were sought in 1620, 1624 and 1625, and no record of parliamentary wages has been found. Surprisingly, there is little evidence that external patrons sought to exploit this situation by offering to supply the borough with candidates free of charge.16 In the late Elizabethan era the borough normally returned one soldier and one civilian. This pattern continued in 1604, with the fifth consecutive election of Sir William Selby I, the recently retired gentleman porter of Berwick garrison, alongside the town’s recorder, Christopher Parkinson. A decade later, military government had ended, though a few former garrison members found places in the corporation. These included Sir John Selby, Sir William’s nephew, a local landowner with a house in Berwick, who served briefly on the council of Twelve, and represented the borough in 1614, 1621, and 1625. His partner in the Addled Parliament was Meredith Morgan, secretary to the 1st earl of Suffolk. A complete outsider, Morgan probably owed his election to the fact that Suffolk’s eldest son, Theophilus Howard*, had married Sir George Home’s daughter and coheir, and obtained his Berwick estates.17

For much of the 1620s the construction of the new Tweed bridge was one of the town’s most pressing concerns, and not surprisingly it seems to have influenced the choice of Members. Sir Robert Jackson, a senior alderman who was regularly employed to receive the Exchequer’s disbursements towards the bridge, sat in every parliamentary session during this decade except for 1628, when his status as mayor of Berwick rendered him ineligible. His partner in 1624, Edward Liveley, was secretary to Bishop Neile, the bridge project’s supervisor, and the borough employed him several times between 1622 and 1625 to help Jackson collect money from London. As Neile was also acting as Berwick’s patron at Court, it is possible that Liveley’s election was intended as a favour to the bishop, though it is equally likely that the borough opted for a man it felt it could trust to represent its interests at Westminster. There was apparently some confusion over the nomination process in 1624, probably linked to the fact that neither Jackson nor Liveley was actually in Berwick. Although the election was held on 23 Jan., an instruction for Liveley to be sworn in as a freeman by proxy was not issued until 2 Feb., and the election return was dated to 7 February.18

A similar situation in 1626 was more fully recorded. Jackson was elected as senior Member on 23 Jan., with the second place falling to Sir Edmund Sawyer, ‘if he be pleased to accept thereof’. Sawyer, an Exchequer auditor, was probably known to the borough due to the annual ritual of passing the bridge accounts. He had apparently not requested a seat, and, as some voters observed: ‘it might be Sir Edmund was already chosen a burgess for the Parliament in some other place, and in that respect could not stand to the election of this borough’. Accordingly, a letter was sent to Jackson, asking him to inform Sawyer that a seat was available if he wanted it; if not, then Edward Liveley was to be approached instead. In the event, neither man entered the Commons that year. By 6 Feb. the borough finally settled on Richard Lowther, an obscure Yorkshire gentleman with no obvious ties to Berwick, possibly nominated by his kinsman, Henry Clifford, Lord Clifford*, lord lieutenant of Northumberland. The corporation assumed that Lowther would head straight to London, and made plans for him to take his oath as a freeman there, but on 8 Feb. he unexpectedly arrived in the town to thank his electors in person. For the sake of appearances, he was recorded in the corporation minutes as having been elected with Jackson 16 days earlier. Regrettably, that year’s election return, which Lowther delivered to London, does not survive.19 In 1628 the nomination process ran more smoothly. With Jackson unavailable, the borough secured the services of both Sawyer and Liveley, the latter being deputed to admit the former as a freeman, and the parliamentary indenture was dated only three days after the actual election. Unfortunately, Sawyer was then expelled from the Commons on 21 June for attempting to subvert the inquiry into the new books of rates. By the time the by-election writ reached Berwick, Jackson’s term as mayor had expired, and he was promptly chosen to fill the vacancy.20

Until February 1628 the borough always returned at least one senior member of the corporation, no doubt to ensure that Berwick’s interests were being properly represented in the Commons. The instructions drawn up when two outsiders, Sawyer and Liveley, were elected in 1628, give a good sense of the borough’s priorities:

1. Get your appearance recorded.

2. It will not be amiss to make your acquaintance with the Speaker and with the clerk of the Parliament House.

3. Then not only to be acquainted, but also associate yourselves with the burgesses of other boroughs, and to have often mutual conference with them, or as many of them as conveniently can, about the bills preferred; and whether the passing of any bill may be prejudicial to this borough or not, as if [by] any bill preferred to be read any staple ware, as well skins, as wool fells, hides or like [is] to be prohibited to be transported.

4. Or the transporting of white cloths out of this country be forbidden.

5. Or any tenths, subsidies, or fifteenths granted.

6. Or privy seals, or any other things in your judgments that may be prejudicial to the good of this place or against our ancient liberties, that you speak yourselves, and procure other burgesses to speak, for a proviso for this place, as ever hath been accustomed, requesting their kindness with a like return on any their like occasions.21

The frequency with which Berwick features in the Commons’ records during this period suggests that its Members took their responsibilities seriously. Following the grant of the 1604 charter, the borough moved swiftly to have the charter confirmed by statute. A bill was introduced into the Lower House on 11 May, and Selby and Parkinson were both named to the committee on 16 May. The measure proceeded smoothly through both Houses, and became law at the end of the session. Simultaneously, bills to naturalize Sir George Home and confirm his grant of Berwick lands were also going through Parliament. It is not known whether the Berwick Members were asked to help out, but both were nominated to the committees for each bill (18 and 30 May). Some disquiet was voiced in the Commons on 4 June at Berwick Castle being granted to a Scot, but with minor amendments this measure also successfully completed its passage, as did the naturalization bill.22

On the wider aspects of Anglo-Scottish relations, only one speech by Christopher Parkinson on cross-border law enforcement survives (28 May 1607), but Berwick naturally featured in discussions of the Union. On 19 Feb. 1606, lord treasurer Dorset (Thomas Sackville†) reminded both Houses that the king’s accession had made significant economies possible through the reduction of the garrison there. However, as Nicholas Fuller observed on 7 May 1607, the town’s peculiar status as an adjunct to England would complicate any formal dismantling of the border, while the next day an anonymous speaker complained that the Scots would benefit unfairly from the abolition of hostile laws, since, among other things, they would now be allowed to victual Berwick.23

Although the 1604 charter and its confirmatory Act enshrined the principle that Berwick was exempt from extraordinary taxation, the accession of a Scottish king effectively removed the justification for this privilege. When the 1606 subsidy bill included the customary exemption for the four northern counties and for Berwick and Newcastle, Sir Edwin Sandys tried on 9 May to insert a proviso which stated that no precedent was being set for the future. This manoeuvre failed, but the 1610 subsidy bill reduced the exemption specifically to Berwick, and then only after a proviso was successfully moved on the town’s behalf (14 July). The battle resumed in 1621, when the draft subsidy bill again scrapped the town’s exemption, and Sir Robert Jackson had to plead the borough charter in order to get it reinstated (12 March).24 The issue appears not to have generated debate in the next three parliaments, and the usual proviso appeared in the 1624 and 1625 subsidy Acts. However, in 1628 Sir Robert Pye’s complaint that Berwick’s exemption had been rendered obsolete by the garrison’s dissolution carried more weight than Sir Edmund Sawyer’s trumpeting of the borough charter (10 June). That year’s subsidy Act finally scrapped the proviso, albeit by arguing that the current financial crisis justified the temporary waiving of charter privileges. Nevertheless, the borough apparently continued the fight outside Parliament, since on 17 July Berwick was discharged from paying the newly granted taxes.25

The corporation was less successful at protecting its trading privileges. The 1614 ban on wool exports badly affected Berwick, prompting strenuous efforts to get it lifted. In 1621 Sir Robert Jackson collaborated with his Newcastle counterparts in a bid to get both towns exempted from the bill against wool exports, but this manoeuvre was defeated on 26 May, while a proviso for Berwick alone, tendered by Jackson on 30 Nov., was also rejected.26 The ban was renewed by Proclamation in the following year, and in December 1623 the corporation agreed on a two-pronged response, namely that a delegation would be sent to London and a bill introduced in the next Parliament to restore Berwick’s privileges. However, neither tactic seems to have been carried through, and a petition to the government in September 1624, requesting permission for the town to resume wool exports, also failed to find favour.27 A final attempt was made to resolve the issue when a new bill against transportation of wool was debated in the 1626 Parliament. A proviso for Berwick was tendered and rejected in the Commons on 14 March. Jackson then wrote to the corporation, requesting that its members draft a petition, presumably on the same subject. At about this juncture the borough borrowed £10, which was spent on ‘some business … nearly concerning this town’ in Parliament. The outcome of this activity was probably the proviso submitted when the wool exports bill reached the Lords, but this too was thrown out on 20 April.28

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Berwick RO, B1/8, p. 109.
  • 2. Ibid. B1/8, p. 162.
  • 3. Berwick RO, B1/8, p. 198.
  • 4. Ibid. B1/8, p. 201.
  • 5. Ibid. B1/9, f. 24v.
  • 6. J. Scott, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 6, 9-10, 25, 43, 56, 78-9, 84, 94-5, 99; HP Commons, 1509-58, i. 162; S.J. and S.J. Watts, From Border to Middle Shire, 15.
  • 7. SR, ii. 475; Scott, 101; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 56; 1611-18, p. 21; Watts, 159; F.C. Dietz, English Public Finance 1558-1641, pp. 109, 429.
  • 8. HMC Hatfield, xv. 351; xix. 146; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 381; 1619-23, pp. 384, 419; Stuart Royal Procs. ed. J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, i. 317-19; Bodl. Add. C.259, f. 140; Scott, 194-5; Watts, 52.
  • 9. E190/161/1, 3-4, 12-13; HMC Hatfield, xix. 137, 146, 153-4; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 358, 431; 1611-18, pp. 24, 33; 1619-23, pp. 127-8; APC, 1619-21, pp. 123-4, 170-2, 254; Dietz, 429; Scott, 415.
  • 10. Scott, 245, 257; Berwick RO, B1/7, ff. 17-18v, 24v; B1/9, f. 134.
  • 11. Scott, 189-90, 195, 256, 312-13; Berwick RO, B1/7, ff. 9v, 16, 21; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 64, 87.
  • 12. Scott, 192, 267-8, 314-27; Berwick RO, B1/7, f. 28; B1/8, p. 246; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 36.
  • 13. Out of around 140 freemen, 64 signed the indenture: C219/41B/114; Berwick RO, B1/9, f. 7.
  • 14. C219/35/1/19; 219/38/181; 219/38/179; 219/39/151; 219/41B/114, 125. The returns for 1614 and 1626 are lost.
  • 15. Berwick RO, B1/8, p. 183.
  • 16. Ibid. 109, 162, 184.
  • 17. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 220; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 125; Watts, 66, 183, 252, 262; Scott, 190; Berwick RO, B1/8, pp. 9, 96.
  • 18. Berwick RO, B1/8, pp. 133, 146, 162-3, 166-7, 185; B1/9, f. 11v; C219/38/179.
  • 19. Berwick RO, B1/8, pp. 198, 201-2; Vis. Cumb. and Westmld. ed. Foster, 83-4; T.D. Whitaker, Hist. Craven Deanery, 311.
  • 20. Ibid. B1/9, ff. 24v-5, 36v; C219/41B/114; CD 1628, iv. 404.
  • 21. Scott, 473 (the original ms appears to be lost).
  • 22. CJ, i. 207b, 211b-212a, 213b, 217b, 224b, 228b, 231b, 985a; LJ, ii. 306a, 308b-9a, 311b; SR, iv. 1057-8; HLRO, 1 Jas.I, c. 46-7.
  • 23. CJ, i. 1047b; Bowyer Diary, 374, 380, 382.
  • 24. CJ, i. 307a, 450a, 550b; SR, iv. 1124-5, 1201; CD 1621, v. 23; Anno XVIII Jacobi Regis. An Act for the Grant of two entire Subsidies, granted by the Temporality (1621).
  • 25. SR, iv. 1260; v. 20-1, 51; CD 1628, iv. 221, 231; CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 216.
  • 26. CD 1621, ii. 394-5, 478; iv. 380; CJ, i. 628a, 653a.
  • 27. Stuart Royal Procs. i. 545-9; Berwick RO, B1/8, p. 161; HMC Cowper, i. 171.
  • 28. Procs. 1626, i. 292; ii. 278; Berwick RO, B1/8, pp. 204, 211.