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

Number of voters:

c.900 in 16401


c. Mar. 1614(SIR) HENRY CAREY
14 Dec. 1620SIR HENRY CAREY I , (Visct. Falkland [I])
28 Apr. 1625SIR JOHN BOTELER , bt.

Main Article

Few counties saw more of royalty than Hertfordshire, especially during the reign of James I. Royston, amid the unenclosed downlands of the north, was James’s favourite centre for hunting and hawking, and to it he added Theobalds, by exchange with his chief minister the 1st earl of Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) in 1607, thereby acquiring a palace within easier access of Whitehall.2 The frequent presence of the Court had a marked effect on local food prices; purveyance was a major grievance, especially the commandeering of malt, post-horses, carts and provender, and it is probably no coincidence that the Commons’ most outspoken critic of the practice, John Hare*, was a commuter from Totteridge.3 Another unpopular consequence of the royal presence was the supersession of local courts by the newly established Court of the Verge under the knight marshal.4 Constant reminders were issued to the local authorities for repairing the highway to Royston, which was also the principal route by which heavy wagons of Norwich-ware came to London, and the village constables were ordered to ensure that no obstacles were left in the fields after harvest to impede the royal sport.5 Main routes to Ireland and the North also passed through the county, which was ‘blessed with excellent channels of communication to London’, though water transport was probably more important to its economy.6 Barges on the rivers Colne and Lea (improved in Elizabethan times) sent hay and malt to London, returning with loads of manure to improve the fertility of ‘our small and barren shire’. In this trade the corporation of London was seen as the principal enemy, with its levies of metage and portage for use of the city wharves.7 Malt was the staple industry, and the new draperies never took root, apart from a small fustian venture at Hatfield.8 Although from the outset of the reign it was recognized that Hertfordshire springs must be tapped if London were to secure an adequate supply of water, the county played little part in the New River project, except for the grant of way-leaves.9

Patronage in Hertfordshire’s county elections was dominated by the Cecil earls of Salisbury.10 Seats were shared out between the old and well-connected local families, such as the Careys – based at Aldenham, Berkhamsted, Hunsdon, and later Moor Park; the Lyttons of Knebworth; and the wealthy and prolific Botelers. The remaining Members, Sir Ralph Coningsby, Sir Charles Morrison, and Sir Thomas Dacres, all inherited competent estates in the county. Contests were not unknown under Elizabeth, but seem generally to have been avoided during the early Stuart period, and as a result the size of the electorate is unknown.

Although Hertford was the assize town, the sheriff customarily summoned the county court wherever he chose. During the Tudor period parliamentary elections were held usually, but not exclusively, at Hertford, and occasionally at various alternative locations including Waltham Cross.11 In 1604 Sir Henry Boteler of Woodhall Lodge consulted his own convenience by summoning the electors to Hatfield, at that time still a royal manor; Sir Rowland Lytton and Sir Henry Carey I were returned. Lytton took a prominent role in the Commons’ debates about the grievance of purveyance, and shortly after the dissolution of the first Jacobean Parliament, lord treasurer Salisbury, in his capacity as lord lieutenant of Hertfordshire, invited the county to agree on terms of composition. By this time, the adjoining county of Middlesex having already compounded, purveyance cast an even greater burden on Hertfordshire than before. After consulting ‘the principal freeholders and yeomen of the county’, the justices of the peace replied in April 1611 expressing a ‘fearful doubt how they may stand secured’, given the ‘daily breach of the former compositions made with this county, in that the purveyors and officers do of late usually send warrants to high constables to make such takings without showing forth any commission, contrary to the law’. The delegation that presented this uncompromising document was headed by Sir Ralph Coningsby, the ranger of Enfield Chase, and also included Lytton and Hare.12 Coningsby’s local standing seems to have been enhanced by his stance against purveyance, as he won the second seat at the general election in 1614, while Henry Carey, described in a contemporary list of Members as ‘son of Lord Hunsdon’, was returned in first place.13

On 7 Dec. 1620 Sir Henry Carey I, by that time a privy councillor and courtier who had recently purchased a Scottish peerage, wrote to the 2nd earl of Salisbury (William Cecil*) announcing his intention to stand in the forthcoming election, and begging him to ‘afford me your defence and favour for the place, which I am determined to pursue’. He also canvassed his kinsman Lord Hunsdon, and wrote again to Salisbury on 11 Dec. that he had heard ‘some alarums … [that] Sir Richard Lucy†, (Sir) Henry Capell†, or some of the Botelers purposed to stand, though I do not much believe it, and your declaration of affection makes me the more secure’. In a postscript Carey confided that he had joined interests with Sir Charles Morrison, ‘and it is both our desires the country should not be troubled without cause’.14 To achieve this laudable aim the sheriff held the election at St. Albans, a location almost equally convenient for Carey and Morrison, and unsuitable for the other candidates mentioned. Salisbury, perhaps wisely, did not attend in person, though the mayor erected a private enclosure for the gentry, and Carey (now Viscount Falkland, though he chose to conceal the honour from the electorate) was returned, with Morrison in second place.15 Exception was taken against Carey in the Commons, not, it was emphasized, on personal grounds, but because Members were wary of setting a precedent that would admit naturalized Scottish lords to sit. The privileges committee, and indeed the whole House, were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution, however, and although Carey never took his seat, no new writ was issued to replace him.16 Morrison was briefly suspended for quarrelling violently with Clement Coke* on the Parliament stairs; after being readmitted, on 12 May he drew attention to his county’s grievances over purveyance.17

Morrison was re-elected, again at St. Albans, as the senior Member in 1624. He was joined by Lytton’s son William, who had Salisbury’s full support, and was knighted later in the year, albeit apparently ‘sore against his will’.18 Morrison continued to attack purveyance in the last Jacobean Parliament, bringing complaints from the constituency against an officer of the green cloth, Sir Simon Harvey.19 The election in 1625 was held at Baldock, in the north of the county, close to the homes of the candidates Sir John Boteler 1st bt., who was married to the duke of Buckingham’s half-sister, and his cousin and namesake, John Boteler, the head of the family. On Salisbury’s behalf Christopher Keightley* wrote to Coningsby’s son Thomas† that the freeholders of Cashio hundred and St. Albans should be brought ‘to Baldock upon Thursday come sennight … to give their voices there for Sir John Boteler, knight and baronet, and Mr. John Boteler to be knights of the shire for Hertfordshire’.20 Both men were duly returned. The latter was re-elected the following year, again with Salisbury’s support, and received the order of the Bath at the coronation. Salisbury’s choice for the second seat was Sir Thomas Dacres.21 The election was held at Hertford, where there may have been a contest, since the indenture records that Boteler and Dacres were ‘freely and indifferently elected by … the greater part of the freeholders’.22

Hertfordshire was the first county to reply to demands for the Forced Loan, the commissioners (including both Botelers) writing to Secretary (Sir) John Coke* on 1 August that the unanimous answer from six Hundreds was that ‘they are all most willing to contribute for the defence of the kingdom and for the supply of His Majesty’s wants in that behalf by way of subsidy in a parliamentary manner even beyond their abilities’.23 In the hundreds of Braughing and Hertford, Thomas Fanshawe II* and his fellow commissioners had little better success, where ‘only some few yielded to give small sums, nothing answerable to His Majesty’s occasions’.24 Dacres and Sir John Boteler, 1st bt. were sent for by the Privy Council, and warned that they ‘must look to have soldiers lodged on them’ if the county maintained its long list of defaulters.25 Resentment of arbitrary government was clearly expressed at the hustings in 1628, which saw the return of both Dacres and Sir William Lytton, who subsequently declared at ‘an open assembly of the county’, according to one of his tenants, that the Privy Council had no authority to compel parishes to find further funds ‘for the binding out of apprentices and providing for the poor’.26 The location of the 1628 election is unknown, as neither the indenture nor any letters of nomination survive.

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. L. Stone, ‘Electoral Influence of the 2nd earl of Salisbury’, EHR, lxxi. 387.
  • 2. VCH Herts. ii. 346-8, 363-4; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 452; 1611-18, pp. 109, 488; 1619-23, p. 416; Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 108.
  • 3. SP14/63/1; Bowyer Diary, 33.
  • 4. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 284.
  • 5. C193/6/188; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 219, 225, 624.
  • 6. Agrarian Hist. Eng. ed. J. Thirsk, iv. 50-52.
  • 7. CJ, i. 919b, 926b.
  • 8. VCH Herts. iv. 242-3; APC, 1615-16, p. 464; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 525; 1619-23, p. 143.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 93
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 358; Stone, EHR, lxxi. 385-6; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, ii. 543.
  • 11. C219/18C/50; 219/19/39, 42; 219/20/57; 219/21/74; 219/24/77.
  • 12. SP14/63/1.
  • 13. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 451, 465.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 136-7.
  • 15. D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 113.
  • 16. CJ, i. 512b-13a.
  • 17. CD 1621, iii. 235; CJ, i. 616b.
  • 18. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 188; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 574-5.
  • 19. CJ, i. 685a, 702a.
  • 20. HMC Hatfield, xxii. 205.
  • 21. Ibid. 209-10.
  • 22. C219/40/203.
  • 23. SP16/33/8.
  • 24. SP16/36/41.
  • 25. SP16/44/37; APC, 1627, pp. 23-24.
  • 26. APC, 1630-1, pp. 386, 401-2.