Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|1 Mar. 16041||RICHARD LYFFE|
|SIR GEORGE CAREW I|
|20 Oct. 1605||SIR EDWARD HALES vice Carew, called to the Upper House|
|JAMES LASHER I vice Lyffe, deceased|
|7 Mar. 1614||SIR EDWARD HALES , (bt.)|
|JAMES LASHER I|
|25 Dec. 1620||SAMUEL MORE|
|JAMES LASHER II|
|24 Jan. 1624||NICHOLAS EVERSFIELD|
|c.1 May 16252||NICHOLAS EVERSFIELD|
|21 Jan. 16263||(SIR) DUDLEY CARLETON|
|31 May 1626||SIR THOMAS PARKER vice Carleton, called to the Upper House|
|29 Feb. 1628||JOHN ASHBURNHAM|
One of the original five members of the Cinque Ports, the ancient coastal town of Hastings can trace its history back to the early tenth century. By the early modern period the town consisted of two parallel streets that met at the upper end. A stream, known as the Bourne, divided the two roads, which were connected by several small lanes.4 During the early medieval period Hastings enjoyed great prosperity owing to its natural harbour, and from 1369 it claimed to be chief among the Cinque Ports.5 However, subsequent coastal erosion reduced the town to little more than a fishing port. The local fishing industry nevertheless prospered, despite competition from French trawlers and the danger of piracy. In 1587 the town could muster 106 mariners and 15 vessels of between 20 and 50 tons.6 In 1621 the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, Lord Zouche, threatened to withdraw the town’s special privileges after he discovered that its fishermen were illicitly exporting its best fish to France and slighting the authority of the king’s purveyor.7
Hastings first received a charter in about 1155, and in 1589 it was incorporated.8 From 1603 elections took place in the Ancient Court House, beside the Bourne stream,9 and were conducted by the mayor, who replaced the bailiff under the Elizabethan charter. The franchise was held by the borough’s 12 jurats and all the freemen, of whom there were about 30 at any one time, but attendance at the hustings naturally varied. Perhaps not surprisingly, the by-elections of 1605 and 1626 were relatively poorly attended, by 26 and 24 voters respectively. The best attended elections of the period appear to have been those of January 1626 and February 1628, when 38 and 37 voters respectively turned out. However, it is not known how many of the electors voted in 1604. Townsmen occupied one seat until 1621, and except at the by-election of 1626, the lord warden’s nomination was accepted for the other.
Outsiders chosen to sit were normally expected to take the oath of a freeman. In so doing, they promised to bear ‘faith and truth … to the mayor, jurats and commonalty of the town and port of Hastings’ and to uphold ‘the charters, liberties and franchises and customs and usages’ of the Cinque Ports, and ‘specially of the said town of Hastings’. However, as strangers chosen by the borough were rarely willing to travel to Hastings take their oath, it was not unusual for the corporation to make arrangements for them to do so in London. In 1625 the mayor travelled to London for the express purpose of administering the oath to Sackville Crowe, while in 1620 authority to tender the oath to Samuel More was granted to More’s fellow Member, the London resident James Lasher II, and to the lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir Henry Mainwaring*. In addition to taking the oath of a freeman, all Members chosen by the borough were issued with a commission under the common seal of the town whereby they were assigned ‘full power and authority … to do and consent unto such things and matters as at the said Parliament (by God’s permission) shall happen to be ordained’. However, the granting of such a commission was made conditional on the taking of the oath of a freeman.10
For the first election of the period the newly appointed lord warden, Lord Henry Howard, soon to be created earl of Northampton, recommended the queen’s vice-chamberlain, Sir George Carew. However, at a meeting of the corporation on 14 Feb. some of those present, mindful of the recent Proclamation for the election of residents (and also of a similar decree issued by the Brotherhood of the Cinque Ports), and resentful of Howard’s minatory tone, jibbed at the nomination. ‘We paused to proceed to any such election’, the corporation’s minute book records, ‘till we might understand how other places of the Ports resolve to do’. Faced with this threat to the lord warden’s patronage, the lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir Thomas Fane†, wrote to the corporation at the end of February. After insisting that there was no need to heed either the Proclamation or the decree of the Brotherhood, Fane warned of the inconveniences that might follow unless the borough complied with Howard’s request. An identical letter addressed to the corporation of New Romney, which like Hastings had also threatened to break ranks, succeeded in its objective on 29 Feb., and the following day Hastings, too, yielded, ‘being in some sort persuaded that his lordship rather requested than challenged de jure’. Four days later Northampton sent a letter of thanks.11
Carew’s colleague was the septuagenarian townsman Richard Lyffe, who had a long record of municipal and parliamentary service. At the time of the 1604 election he was serving as mayor for the second time. After the first session he asked to be paid parliamentary wages, which he had received in 1597 and 1601. Affronted by this request, the corporation declared that Lyffe ‘ought not to have challenged any fee or wages … but to have served gratis’. However, in return for agreeing to waive his rights, Lyffe was allowed £5 as a present, of which sum 20s. was to be levied on nearby Pevensey and 10s. on neighbouring Seaford (both towns being ‘members’ of Hastings).12
Shortly before the next session a double by-election was caused by the elevation of Carew to the Lords (May 1605) and the death of Lyffe (August 1605). The lord warden recommended Sir Edward Hales, a Kent gentleman, who was chosen ‘sed non jure’, while Lyffe was replaced by James Lasher, a prominent jurat. Hales and Lasher were re-elected in 1614, and the corporation ordered that Lasher was to be paid both wages (at 7s. 6d. per day) and riding expenses (at 5s. per day).13
At the next general election the corporation broke with tradition by failing to return a townsman. Instead, its choice for the second seat settled upon Lasher’s eldest son. An amateur soldier with a stake in the Sussex iron industry, the younger James Lasher had retained his links with Hastings despite living in London, and consequently was now captain of the town’s militia. The first seat was bestowed upon Samuel More, the servant and kinsman of the new lord warden, Lord Zouche. In his letter of nomination to the borough, Zouche praised More’s ‘honesty and soundness in religion’.14
It is not clear why Hastings failed to return a townsman to the 1621 Parliament, but the answer almost certainly lies in the state of the borough’s finances. From at least 1611 the corporation had been trying to repair the town’s pier, upon which the continued prosperity of the port depended but which periodically suffered destruction by the sea.15 In 1619 matters had become so desperate that it was decided to petition the king, and to approach the new lord warden, Lord Zouche, for support.16 Faced with the prospect of a large bill for the repairs, it seems likely that the borough decided that it could no longer afford to pay parliamentary wages. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the borough opted to return the younger James Lasher, whose residence in the capital meant that he might serve without cost. However, Lasher may have subsequently blotted his copybook, for once in the Commons he proposed that a bill to prevent trawling be committed. Although the fishermen of Rye and Hythe were opposed to the use of trawl nets, those of Hastings were most emphatically not.17
Shortly before the 1621 Parliament opened, the corporation succeeded in obtaining letters patent from the king authorizing it to raise money for the pier by means of a collection. These evidently proved so successful that repairs began later that year, and though the corporation was forced to petition the Privy Council in February 1622 after the collectors held back half the money raised, work continued into the summer of 1622.18 One of those who helped the borough obtain the letters patent was Nicholas Eversfield, whose seat at Hollington lay two-and-half miles from the town. The borough was evidently grateful for his assistance, as at the next general election in 1624 it chose him rather than the younger Lasher, whose father was now dead, to serve in Parliament. It also re-elected the lord warden’s nominee, Samuel More. The corporation, fearing that the 1621 bill against trawl fishing would be reintroduced to the Commons, ordered that all its manuscript books concerning its right to fish with trawl nets were to be delivered to Eversfield.19
Eversfield was re-elected to all the remaining parliaments of this period, but More lost his interest on Zouche’s resignation as lord warden in the autumn of 1624. Shortly before death of the king, an irritated corporation learned ‘by common report, not by writ or other ordinary course anciently used’, that the duke of Buckingham had succeeded as lord warden. Nevertheless, at the next election, which was held at the end of April or beginning of May 1625, it accepted without demur Buckingham’s nomination of Sackville Crowe, a member of his household of Sussex origin. It also returned Buckingham’s choice in 1626, this being the vice-chamberlain of the king’s Household, (Sir) Dudley Carleton. However, during the course of the Parliament Carleton was raised to the Upper House to avert the wrath of the Commons. On 22 May, the day before a new writ was issued, Buckingham thereupon wrote to the corporation, nominating Walter Montagu, who had been unsuccessful at New Romney, and may have relied on the local influence of John Ashburnham.20 Although the mayor and the three jurats who were present seem to have been willing to accept Montagu – the corporation’s minute book, which they controlled, describes the duke’s letter to them as ‘very kind’ – the freemen were not. On the contrary, ‘by means made to some of them by Mr. Eversfield’ they chose instead a Sussex gentleman from an ancient family, Sir Thomas Parker, although Parker himself had never requested the seat.21 At the next election Ashburnham stood himself, though the estate that had been in the family since at least 1166 had been sold in 1611, and he relied principally on his kinsman and master, Buckingham.22 He replaced Parker, and established an interest in the port that only negligence could undermine.
Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush
- 1. Dates of election, 1604-24, taken from E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, ff. 89v, 107v, 174, 221; HAS/DH/B98/2, f. 15.
- 2. The date given in the corporation minute book, 19 Jan., is clearly a clerical error. The borough dated its return 1 May: E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/2, ff. 19v, 20v.
- 3. Dates of election, 1626-8, taken from ibid. f. 24v, 31, 38v.
- 4. VCH Suss. ix. 5, 8.
- 5. K.M.E. Murray, Constitutional Hist. of Cinque Ports, 18.
- 6. W.D. Cooper and T. Ross, ‘Notices of Hastings’, Suss. Arch. Colls. xiv. 86-7.
- 7. Add. 37818, f. 59.
- 8. CPR, 1587-8 ed. S.R.R. Neal (L. and I. Soc. ccc), 8.
- 9. VCH Suss. ix. 5.
- 10. E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, f. 221; HAS/DH/B98/2, ff. 20v, 38v.
- 11. E. Suss. RO, HA/DH/B98/1, ff. 88v-90. For Fane’s letter, see Murray, 98-9.
- 12. E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, f. 94; J.M. Baines, Historic Hastings, 41.
- 13. E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, ff. 107v, 174.
- 14. SP14/118/50.
- 15. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 360; E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, ff. 151, 197v; A. Fletcher, A County Community in Peace and War: Suss. 1600-60, p. 20; VCH Suss. ix. 10.
- 16. Baines, 203.
- 17. CJ, i. 558b; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 457.
- 18. E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/1, f. 211v; Cooper and Ross, 90; APC, 1619-21, p. 346; 1621-3, p. 136.
- 19. CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 208.
- 20. Procs. 1626, iii. 312; iv. 237.
- 21. E. Suss. RO, HAS/DH/B98/2, f. 31.
- 22. VCH Suss. ix. 127.