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 corporation

Number of voters:

13 or 14


by 3 Mar. 1610Sir John Digby vice Constable, deceased
  Election of Digby declared void, 26 Mar. 16101
7 Apr. 1610SIR JOHN DIGBY vice Digby, return rejected by the House

Main Article

Hedon was founded in the twelfth century on a haven two miles from the Humber, as a convenient point for the export of produce from Holderness. The town boasted an imposing chapel known as the ‘King of Holderness’, but in 1540 Leland noted ‘the haven is very sorely decayed’, and by the 1620s the town’s modest remaining trade was being unloaded a mile downstream at Paull. With a population of only 400 by the 1670s, the town lacked any significant manufacturing base: a handful of merchants dealt in corn, cloth and coal, and a leather industry developed during the seventeenth century.2

The town possessed a well-developed corporate structure: the charter of 1348 specified a mayor, two bailiffs, a coroner and ‘other fit officers’, which included a recorder and ten aldermen by 1603.3 Like many Yorkshire boroughs, Hedon had returned Members to Parliament in 1295. However, it was not properly enfranchised until 1547, when the right to return Members was almost certainly obtained at the behest of Sir Michael Stanhope†, groom of the stool to Edward VI, who had been granted chantry property in the vicinity of the town. After his execution in 1552, Stanhope’s lands and electoral interest were transferred to the Constable family, who owned vast estates in Holderness. Their influence explains why, as the mayor stated in 1609, Hedon’s MPs ‘have always been gentlemen of the best sort and esteem in the country about us’.4

In the absence of electoral contests the franchise was ill-defined: the 1604 and 1610 indentures, which cite the ‘community of the burgesses’ as the electorate, bear no signatures, and are validated only by the town seal; while those from 1624 were signed by corporation members alone. Although after the Restoration the franchise was exercised by the burgesses, during the early Stuart period it was probably restricted to the corporation. Members are unlikely to have received wages or expenses: in 1609, the corporation asked that the nominee for the forthcoming by-election should be ‘such a one as shall in every respect defray his own charges and in no ways be burdensome unto us’.5 The surviving returns for the period are in Latin, perhaps an indication of the corporation’s self-esteem, and all include a clause giving their MPs powers to assent to all that was done in their name in the Commons, a standard phrase elsewhere, but rarely found in Yorkshire indentures.

Sir Henry Constable’s return for Hedon in 1604 was a sign of political rehabilitation: although a conformist in religion, he had been removed from local office and missed the last three Elizabethan parliaments after his wife and brother, both obdurate Catholics, had been arrested for their involvement with priests connected to the exiled 5th earl of Westmorland. The earl’s affinity was regarded with particular suspicion during the 1590s because of their support for a Stuart succession, a threat which James could obviously indulge in a way that his predecessor could not. The junior Member in 1604 was Sir Christopher Hildyard, a local landowner representing the borough for the fifth time. He had recently inherited a substantial Holderness estate from his uncle, also Sir Christopher Hildyard†, whose wife had been Constable’s aunt.6

Constable died in December 1607, but no by-election was moved until November 1609, shortly before the Parliament reassembled, when Lord Treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), wrote to the mayor asking for the right of nomination. The corporation, ‘thinking ourselves greatly blessed of God and highly graced by your honour in having a patron so worthy who hath such a special care of us and our poor corporation’, volunteered to send a blank indenture, ‘although we had partly promised it before to another’. This may refer to Constable’s son, also Sir Henry, a crypto-Catholic who had recently conformed to avoid recusancy fines on his estates, although Sheffield might have preferred the return of Constable’s brother-in-law Sir Thomas Fairfax II, one of the vice-presidents of the Council in the North.7 For some reason the by-election had not been held by the time Parliament reassembled in February 1610. Salisbury, clearly impatient, sent another letter to the mayor via (Sir) William Gee*, secretary of the Council in the North, at the end of the month. On 3 Mar. the corporation insisted that they had already sent their return up to Hildyard (who was presumably then at Westminster) ‘which assuredly will be speedily returned to your honour when it shall come to his hands’. This indenture, which returned Sir John Digby, a courtier who was clearly Salisbury’s nominee, reached the Commons on 26 Mar., but was rejected upon a motion from Sir George More*, the chairman of the committee for privileges. The reason for this decision went unrecorded, but the committee may have objected to the use of a blank indenture. A new writ was dispatched, and Digby was eventually returned on 7 Apr., by which time the corporation had clearly been informed of Salisbury’s choice, as Digby’s name was entered on the indenture at the time of the election.8

None of the obvious candidates was returned at Hedon in 1614. Constable may already have reverted to Rome; he had certainly done so by 1626, when the Commons complained that his conviction for recusancy was being delayed by removal of the prosecution into King’s Bench. He compensated for his removal from political life by purchasing the Scottish title of Viscount Dunbar in 1620. Digby lost his patron when Salisbury died in 1612, but he was in any case unavailable as a candidate in 1614 as he had become resident ambassador in Spain.9 Hildyard’s absence is curious, as this was the only Parliament of his adult life in which he did not sit. Neither of the Members returned in 1614 had any traceable links with the Constable interest. William Sheffield was distantly related to the lord president; his great-aunt, Magdalen Frodsham, had served Sheffield’s mother; and in 1615 he married the widow of one of Lord Sheffield’s sons. The other Member, Clement Coke, was one of the sons of lord chief justice Sir Edward Coke*, whose legal advice had saved Constable’s estates from wardship. Coke, however, opted to sit for Clitheroe, where he had also been elected, on 14 May; no by-election is known to have taken place at Hedon before the dissolution on 7 June.10

The matrix of Yorkshire politics was changed in January 1619, when Constable’s second cousin Emanuel, 10th Lord Scrope replaced Sheffield as lord president. At the general election of December 1620 Scrope volunteered Fairfax as a partner for Secretary of State (Sir) George Calvert*. Fairfax, reluctant to contest the county seats against Sir John Savile*, resigned his interest to Sir Thomas Wentworth* and saved his pride by obtaining a seat at Hedon.11 Hildyard, who was returned at Beverley, may have been moved at short notice to accommodate Fairfax. The junior Member for Hedon, Sir Matthew Boynton, was probably sponsored by Henry Alured of Sculcoates, who was married to Boynton’s first cousin. Although Boynton and Alured were both puritans, and thus unlikely allies of the Constable family, Alured was Dunbar’s third cousin and owned a farm on the outskirts of Hedon.12

Boynton, having inherited his estates in 1617, probably only sought election in 1620 to enhance his local status; having achieved his aim, he is not known to have stood again until 1645. Hildyard was thus able to return to Hedon from 1624.13 Fairfax, who was returned as Hildyard’s partner until 1626, was prevented from standing in 1628 by his appointment as sheriff of Yorkshire. Henry Alured probably intervened to secure the election of his brother Thomas in 1628, although the latter may also have received official support from (Sir) John Coke* and Lord Brooke (Sir Fulke Greville*), a relative of Dunbar’s who had sat for Hedon himself in 1584.14

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. CJ, i. 414b.
  • 2. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), v. 168-77.
  • 3. Ibid. 178-9; G.R. Park, Hist. Hedon, 25-33.
  • 4. A.D.K. Hawkyard ‘Enfranchisement of Constituencies, 1504-58’, PH, x. 20; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), v. 174; SP14/49/25.
  • 5. C219/35/2/146, 155; 219/38/275; 219/39/212; 219/40/125; 219/41B/36; SP14/49/25.
  • 6. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 51, 57-8.
  • 7. C142/310/79; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 438; HMC Var. ii. 111.
  • 8. SP14/53/2-3; CJ, i. 414b; C219/35/2/46-7.
  • 9. DCO, ‘Parl. Procs. Chas. I, 1625-6’, unfol.; Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 258.
  • 10. Coke, 8th Rep. Sir Henry Constable’s case; CJ, i. 485b.
  • 11. R. Reid, Council in the North, 488; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. iii. 304-6; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 10.
  • 12. Vis. Yorks. ed. Foster, 57-8, 120-1, 144; C142/452/42; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), v. 188, 192.
  • 13. C142/367/59; DCO, Prince Charles in Spain, f. 34.
  • 14. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 163; THOMAS ALURED.