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:



 Sir John Pulteney* 
31 Oct. 1605SIR WILLIAM HEYRICKE vice Beaumont, deceased2 
19 May 1610HENRY RICH vice Skipwith, deceased 
2 Apr. 16143(SIR) HENRY RICH 
16 Jan. 1624(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY 
 WILLIAM IVE , alderman 
 (Sir) George Hastings 
3 May 16254(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY 
 William Ive , alderman20
 Arthur Hesilrige†55
22 July 1625THOMAS JERMYN vice May, chose to sit for Lancaster39
 William Ive , alderman17
 James Ellis36
13 Jan. 1626(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY 
 James Ellis87
29 Feb. 1628(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY 

Main Article

Leicester, the only parliamentary borough in Leicestershire, had returned Members since 1301.8 The population at the beginning of the seventeenth century was about 3,500. In the late 1620s the corporation described the borough as ‘consisting principally of manual trades … very populous … [with] many poor and standeth far from the sea or any navigable river is maintained chiefly by the fairs and market’. Trade in wool and textile production were important elements of the local economy.9 Although historically part of the duchy of Lancaster, civic institutions had gradually evolved in the Middle Ages which were confirmed in the charter of 1589. This established a corporation consisting of 24 aldermen, from whom a mayor was annually elected, and 48 councilmen chosen by the aldermen from among the burgesses. Together the aldermen and councilmen constituted the common hall, whose members exercised the franchise.10 Elections were held at the town hall. Of the six surviving indentures from this period, three were signed by the mayor alone; the others were also signed by between six and nine prominent members of the corporation.11 Despite the 1589 charter the duchy of Lancaster remained a powerful electoral interest in this period. Another important influence was the earl of Huntingdon, head of the Hastings family, the most powerful in Leicestershire. He habitually filled the offices of the lord lieutenant and steward of the duchy lands in Leicestershire.12 There is no evidence that any of the Members were paid in this period, although Beaumont and Skipwith were given wine and sugar after they returned from Westminster in 1604.13

Leicester obtained a further charter in 1599. Ostensibly it gave the corporation the right to appoint the steward and bailiff of the borough, previously duchy appointees.14 However, in August 1603 one Christopher Tamworth presented the Leicester aldermen with a patent issued by the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Fortescue*, appointing him steward of the borough. Although Tamworth was supported by the 4th earl of Huntingdon (Sir George Hastings†) the aldermen were understandably unwilling to accept his patent. This episode undoubtedly soured relations between the borough on the one hand and Huntingdon and Fortescue on the other, and helps explain why the borough refused to accept Huntingdon’s nominee Christopher Cheney as recorder after John Stanford† died in December 1603. A further factor was that Cheney was ‘a gentleman unknown’ to the aldermen. Realizing that Cheney was unpopular, Huntingdon’s kinsman, Sir Henry Hastings*, stepped in and offered himself as an alternative, but he was ignored and, on 14 Dec., the aldermen voted by 15 to eight to elect Augustine Nicholls instead. Two days earlier Tamworth initiated legal proceedings to compel the corporation to accept his patent.15

Given these circumstances it is hardly surprising that when Fortescue wrote to the corporation on 20 Jan. 1604 nominating his under-age son-in-law Sir John Pulteney for one of the borough’s seats the reaction was unfavourable. Fortescue reminded the corporation that it had acceded to similar requests made by previous chancellors, and he assured the aldermen that Pulteney, who lived about 12 miles south of Leicester, would serve without payment.16 However, the corporation had already promised one of its seats to Sir Henry Beaumont of Gracedieu in Leicestershire, a student at the Inner Temple who had recently emerged from the wardship of his kinsman Sir Henry Beaumont I*, one of the most influential members of the Leicestershire gentry. When it did so is uncertain, but it must have been before Michaelmas 1603, as Beaumont was made free of the borough in preparation for his election during the mayoralty of James Ellis, which finished at that date.17 The corporation offered the remaining seat to Augustine Nicholls, its newly appointed recorder, who accepted on 25 Jan. but added that Sir William Skipwith, a Leicestershire gentleman who had a house in the town, wanted one of the borough seats for himself. Unaware of the promise made to Beaumont, Nicholls asked to ‘be joined with so worthy a gentlemen’ and stated that, had the borough not offered him the seat, he would have proposed Skipwith rather than himself.18

After the rejection of his candidate for the recordership, Huntingdon initially chose not to nominate any candidates himself. However, prompted by Fortescue, he wrote to the corporation on 31 Jan. urging it to accept Pulteney, although he added that he did ‘not know how you will accept of my judgment herein, because I have found you stand off and on with me, … in other causes’. He also urged the borough to offer Fortescue the nomination of the other seat.19 Later that day the aldermen replied that they could not proceed to the election because they had not received the writ. However, in the same letter they admitted that they had summoned a common hall regardless, which had failed to hold an election as it had been inquorate. On 14 Feb. Beaumont wrote to the corporation reminding it of its previous promise. With this confirmation of his continued interest in the seat, the borough was now unwilling to proceed with the election of Nicholls and Skipwith, and it is possible that when Nicholls came to the borough on 28 Feb. to be formally sworn in as recorder he agreed to withdraw his candidacy in Skipwith’s favour. Two days later Beaumont and Skipwith were elected, Skipwith having now become a freeman like Beaumont, for which privilege he and Beaumont paid £6 each.20

Huntingdon died in the following December, but relations between the corporation and his 18-year old successor, Henry, 5th earl of Huntingdon, remained poor. The 5th earl was not immediately appointed lord lieutenant because he was underage, but he did secure his predecessor’s stewardship of the duchy of Lancaster properties in February 1605. Perhaps because the stewardship was his only significant office, he seems to have attached considerable importance to it. Consequently, he was alarmed to learn that the borough of Leicester was endeavouring to obtain a new charter that would rectify the defects in its earlier grant of 1599, particularly in relation to the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster. In early 1605 he wrote to the attorney of the Duchy to protest that the borough’s proposed new charter undermined the authority of the duchy of Lancaster and was therefore derogatory both to himself, as the Duchy’s local representative, and to the king. As Huntingdon’s mother-in-law was the wife of lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) he managed to block the new grant until 1609.21

Sir Henry Beaumont died in July 1605 and consequently a by-election was held on 31 October. Neither Fortescue nor the new earl of Huntingdon are known to have made any nominations, presumably because of continued poor relations with the borough; consequently Robert Heyrick† was able to return his brother Sir William, a wealthy London goldsmith and the king’s jeweller, who had previously represented the town under Elizabeth. Relations between the borough and Huntingdon further deteriorated as a result of the Midlands Rising, the wave of anti-enclosure riots that affected several Midland counties in May and June of 1607. Huntingdon, having recently come of age and been appointed lord lieutenant of Leicestershire, ordered the corporation to erect a gibbet in Leicester, but the rioters had widespread support in the town, where the inhabitants had common rights in the surrounding fields and nearby royal forest. Consequently, the gibbet was torn down by the rioters. Huntingdon blamed the aldermen for failing to keep order and placed the mayor and Robert Heyrick (in whose ward the gibbet had been situated) under house arrest.22

The Midlands Rising marked the nadir of relations between Huntingdon and Leicester’s corporation. However, things soon began to improve and in the autumn of 1607 a compromise over the question of the charter began to be hammered out, although agreement was not finally reached until the following year. Huntingdon promised to withdraw his objections to the new charter, and in return the corporation agreed to allow him to appoint the borough steward in alternate years. The charter was issued in April 1609 and by the end of the year the new arrangements for choosing the steward were in place.23

Sir William Skipwith died on 3 May 1610. That same day, capitalizing on his improved relations with the borough, Huntingdon wrote to the corporation nominating as Skipwith’s replacement his kinsman Henry Rich, the younger son of Robert, 3rd Lord Rich (Robert Rich†). The aldermen replied that they were willing to elect Rich, but first they wanted him to visit the borough in order to confer the freedom on him and brief him on their affairs. Huntingdon, however, claimed that Rich was too busy to make the journey and asked for a copy of the freeman’s oath to be sent to London so that the oath could be administered to him in the capital by Sir William Heyricke and the recorder. The aldermen acquiesced and consequently Rich was made free before his election but took the oath in London.24

When the next Parliament was summoned, in 1614, the corporation was in the process of seeking a patent to bring the hospital in the suburb of Newarke under its control. Consequently the aldermen were especially sensitive to the need to maintain good relations at Court.25 On 21 Feb. Sir Thomas Parry*, who had succeeded Fortescue as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in 1607, wrote to the borough nominating Henry Felton, the grandson of the Leicestershire peer, Henry, 1st Lord Grey of Groby (Sir Henry Grey†). However, his letter was not received until 5 Mar., by which time there were other candidates on the scene.26 Huntingdon, whose position at Leicester had been strengthened in 1612 when he successfully nominated his kinsman and counsel Francis Harvey† to succeed Nicholls as recorder,27 felt emboldened to nominate not only his brother George Hastings* but also Henry Rich, who had now been knighted. In response Robert Heyrick, who may have remained bitter that Huntingdon had had him imprisoned seven years earlier, proposed an alternative combination, consisting of his brother, Sir William, and the recorder. This was almost certainly intended as the first step in a process of bargaining with Huntingdon, for if, as Heyrick correctly believed, Harvey refused the offer of a seat the way would be opened for a compromise arrangement, whereby Sir William Heyricke would be elected alongside one of Huntingdon’s nominees. However, Robert Heyrick’s plans were thwarted by the belated arrival of Parry’s letter of 21 February. Acting on the advice of Harvey, common hall agreed on 14 Mar. to offer one seat to Huntingdon and the other to Parry. This proposal was acceptable to Huntingdon because, by this stage, he was hoping to secure his brother’s return for the county. On 17 Mar. the corporation notified Parry that it had decided to elect his candidate Felton, who should come up to be sworn in as a freeman, although it pointed out that previous chancellors ‘have neither always written unto [us] about the choice of our burgesses neither always prevailed when they did write’. In the same letter the corporation also complained that the town was ‘very much distressed by the former decay of tillage and depopulations and do see just cause to fear a daily increase of their misery’. However, before the borough’s messenger reached London a further letter was received from Parry, withdrawing Felton’s nomination and substituting another man in his stead, who was not named. This new nominee was presumably Sir Francis Leigh I, a Warwickshire gentleman who was elected with Rich on 2 April. Leigh was made free before his election but took his oath in London.

On 9 May 1614 the corporation wrote to Rich and Leigh at the house of Rich’s father-in-law Sir Walter Cope*, requesting their support for all measures designed to prevent ‘depopulation and decay of tillage’ and to suppress the ‘brewing of strong ale and beer’. However, there is no evidence that either Rich or Leigh displayed any interest in measures on these subjects while they were serving in the Commons.28 With Heyricke’s active assistance the following year the corporation secured the incorporation of the hospital. Heyricke also assisted the borough to become a staple for the wool trade three years later, enabling the town’s wool merchants to become members of the Staplers’ Company, which had recently been given a monopoly of the trade.29

In 1620 the borough again received two nominations from the earl of Huntingdon. Those named were Sir Richard Moryson, the lieutenant of the ordnance and one of Huntingdon deputy lieutenants, and Moryson’s brother-in-law Sir William Harington*. On 17 Nov. the aldermen wrote to Huntingdon stating that they believed that the common hall would elect one of his nominees. The corporation again wrote to the earl on 16 Dec. agreeing to elect Moryson but insisting that the latter come up in person to be sworn a freeman. Huntingdon seems to have accepted that only one of his nominees would be elected but in his reply he insisted that Moryson could not be spared from his official duties and might be sworn in at London. The corporation tried to insist that it would not elect Moryson unless he appeared in person but whether it succeeded is uncertain. On 8 Jan. the common hall ‘by the greater number’ agreed to admit Moryson to the freedom and on the same day he was returned to Parliament.30

Leicester also received nominations from the countess of Devonshire, whose husband had recently purchased Leicester Abbey from Sir Henry Hastings*, on behalf of one of her sons, probably Edward Wortley*, who was made free of the borough in 1620, and from its recorder, Francis Harvey, on behalf of his son Stephen. Both were rejected in mid-December, although there is no evidence of a contest. Moryson’s colleague was Sir William Heyricke, but why he should have prevailed in 1621 when he had failed in 1614 is unclear. It may be that he decided to follow the advice suggested by his brother Robert in March 1614, who wrote that ‘if ever I live for to see another Parliament summoned, and that you have intention to be one of the House, we will take no other course, but have you speak to Mr. Chancellor to write but two lines to our town, that you may be one; it will be as sure as any Act of Parliament…’. Robert had died in June 1618, but in the previous March Sir William’s brother-in-law (Sir) Humphrey May* had been appointed chancellor of the Duchy. Consequently it is possible that Heyricke was elected on the Duchy interest. No letters of nomination from May to the corporation survive, and when May stood for election for the borough himself in 1624 he was sufficiently unsure of his influence to seek Huntingdon’s support. However, when the corporation wrote to its recorder on 16 Dec. rejecting his nomination of his son they asked him ‘to give us leave to choose two burgesses’ nominated by the borough’s ‘honourable friends’. The use of the plural here surely points to May.31

Heyricke’s connection with the borough made it natural for the townsmen to turn to him, rather than Moryson, to conduct their business at Westminster. The corporation requested his assistance in nominating the town’s commissioners to assess the subsidies granted by the 1621 Parliament.32 In addition, on 29 Apr. a group of Leicester wool merchants wrote to Heyricke concerning the Commons’ proceedings against the Staplers’ Company monopoly of the wool trade. They claimed that they had been forced to purchase the freedom of the Company for £111 each in order to continue to practice their trade but were now worried that they would lose the benefits of membership without compensation. They asked Heyricke to advise them whether they should ‘exhibit a bill for this grievance into the Parliament House’, or if one had already been preferred then to ensure that they would be included in any concessions won.33

After the 1621 Parliament was adjourned on 4 June Heyricke wrote to the mayor to report the Commons’ proceedings. In addition to celebrating the bellicose Protestation passed by the Commons on the last day of sitting, and claiming that there were 95 bills ‘almost perfected for the good of the Commonwealth’, he stated that he had delivered a petition from the borough ‘concerning the abuse in the execution of the office of alnaging’, the official inspection and measurement of woollen cloth, but added that ‘as yet there is no time for the regulating of it’. He also acknowledged the receipt of the letter from the Leicester wool merchants, but claimed ‘I cannot do them no good’ because the Commons had declared the Staplers’ monopoly a grievance.34

In 1624 May himself sought election at Leicester but was sufficiently uncertain of the Duchy interest to write to Huntingdon on 4 Jan. requesting his support. Five days later Huntingdon recommended that the borough should elect May ‘for his own sake’. Interestingly, Huntingdon did not regard the chancellor as his candidate, and was waiting to see how his nominees at the county election fared before he decided who to recommend at Leicester. However, William Ive, a wealthy Leicester alderman, wanted a place, and persuaded his colleagues to try to hold the election before Huntingdon had a chance to send in his nomination. Consequently the corporation badgered the sheriff to send the writ as soon as he received it. The sheriff would have none of this, and on 10 Jan., after receiving the writ, he informed Huntingdon of the pressure he was under and of the corporation’s intention to hold the election the following afternoon. On receipt of this information, Huntingdon immediately wrote to the corporation asking them to delay its election until after the county day. Faced with this direct request the aldermen were unable to refuse, and on 12 Jan. the mayor, James Ellis, agreed to the delay. However, he also stated that they would elect May on Huntingdon’s recommendation, and in so doing he perhaps intended to suggest that were going to treat May as the earl’s candidate. The county election was held three days later, on which day Huntingdon wrote to the corporation. He first tried to emphasize that May was not his candidate, arguing that ‘in regard of the many favours the corporation hath received from him and his continual friendship to you, you could not deny to satisfy so honourable and courtly a gentleman’; he then proceeded to nominate his brother Sir George Hastings. At the election, which was held the following morning, Huntingdon’s letter was read first, but it was Ive who was elected alongside May. Writing to the earl later that day the mayor stated that ‘we are sorry that your honour is unsatisfied in your request’, but he emphasized that Huntingdon had in fact nominated May, who had been chosen ‘at your honour’s request’. He also pointed out that Ive was ‘a free burgess of our town, which by the laws and statutes of the realm we ought to chose’. May was made free before the election and, perhaps inadvertently, rubbed salt into Huntingdon’s wounds by writing to thank the earl: ‘I assure myself that I am more beholding to your favour for my election than to any interest I have of my own there’. In 1624 the corporation asked May for his aid in procuring the appointment of their nominees to the borough’s subsidy commission.35

On 2 Apr. 1625 May wrote to Leicester announcing the summoning of Charles I’s first Parliament and seeking re-election, offering to do ‘any good office I may do to your corporation in general or to any particular member thereof’. Seventeen days later Sir Thomas Hesilrige, a prominent Leicestershire baronet who had sat for Leicestershire in 1624, nominated his eldest son Arthur†, claiming that this was ‘the first request that I ever yet made to your society’. In fact he had written to the corporation in support of a suitor for a place at Newarke hospital seven years previously, but it seems clear from this that Hesilrige had not previously had close connections with the borough. Huntingdon initially intended that his brother Sir George Hastings should stand for the county, but in the event he substituted his heir Ferdinando, Lord Hastings, leaving Sir George free to contest the borough again, along with Ive. When the election was held on 3 May Sir Humphrey May was elected for the first seat unopposed. The record of the votes cast for the second is unclear, but Hastings seems to have garnered either 36 or 37 votes, Ive 21 and Hesilrige four. The election therefore represented a resounding victory for the Hastings interest in the borough, although this was more pronounced among the aldermen than among the common councillors.36

As well as securing the Leicester seat, May was elected for Lancaster. On 10 July he announced that he intended to represent the latter, a decision, he assured the members of the Leicester corporation, that ‘does not proceed out of any disrespect of you, for I profess you have made me so much beholden to you that I do prefer no Duchy town in my care and affection before yours’. As his replacement he offered a kinsman, Thomas Jermyn, who was accepted by the mayor despite being ‘altogether unknown to any one of us’. A substantial minority on the corporation was less compliant, but failed to agree on an alternative candidate. Ive found himself competing with a woollen draper, James Ellis, the 1624 mayor, and was defeated two to one by Jermyn. The day after the election the mayor wrote to May announcing that Jermyn had been elected and made a freeman. Once again the Member was asked to come to the borough in person to take the freeman’s oath, but there is no evidence that he ever did so.37

In 1626 Ive was mayor of the borough and therefore ineligible for election. On 2 Jan. May wrote to the borough again asking for a seat, promising that he would ‘accept of no other place’. Huntingdon again waited until the day of the county election before nominating Sir George Hastings but was nevertheless successful. May was re-elected unopposed while Hastings secured an overwhelming victory over Ellis, by 54 votes to eight.38

There is no evidence that a townsman sought election in 1628. May was again returned for the first seat while the second went to Huntingdon’s nominee Sir John Stanhope II, of Elvaston in Derbyshire, whose wife had been a lady-in-waiting to the earl’s wife. Stanhope was made free before his election and was sworn on 8 Mar. at the town hall.39 On 5 May the corporation agreed to send one of its number to Westminster to lobby Parliament in opposition to the deforestation of Leicester forest, which had been initiated under the supervision of Sir Miles Fleetwood* the year before. The borough chose not to take its protest to the Commons, possibly because it was counting on the support of Huntingdon, who had been the chief forester but had not been compensated for his loss of office. On 23 June petitions from the corporation and the inhabitants of the forest were submitted to the House of Lords and referred to a committee. However, when these were reported back three days later the only comfort the borough received was an order to move the king that a suit, which had been initiated in Star Chamber against the corporation after riots in opposition to the disafforestation, should cease. It is possible that the petition from the glaziers of Leicester, read in the Commons on 17 Feb. 1629, was on the same subject, as the corporation claimed that fuel from the forest was necessary for the local economy. The petition was referred to the committee for grievances but there were no further recorded proceedings. The corporation’s opposition proved unavailing and the disafforestation went ahead.40

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Nichols, County of Leicester, i. 418.
  • 2. Ibid. 417.
  • 3. Ibid. 425.
  • 4. Ibid. 426.
  • 5. Leics. RO, BRII/18/15, f. 557; information from Dr. Catherine Patterson.
  • 6. Leics. RO, BRII/18/15, f. 598; information from Dr. Catherine Patterson.
  • 7. Leics. RO, BRII/18/16, f. 7; information from Dr. Catherine Patterson.
  • 8. OR.
  • 9. VCH Leics. iv. 76, 78; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester ed. H. Stock, iv. 240.
  • 10. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 193; C.F. Patterson, Urban Patronage in Early Modern Eng. 196.
  • 11. C219/38/105; 219/39/130; 219/41A/104.
  • 12. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 26; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 179, 182.
  • 13. Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 32.
  • 14. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 193.
  • 15. Nichols, i. 418; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 5-6; Patterson, 201; J. Thompson, Hist. Leicester, 327; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 435-6; Leics. RO, BRII/18/8/405.
  • 16. Leics. RO, BRII/18/8/289.
  • 17. Leics. RO, BRII/18/8/440; Nichols, 418.
  • 18. Leics. RO, BRIII/18/421.
  • 19. Leics. RO, BRII/18/8/431; Thompson, 326.
  • 20. Leics. RO, BRII/18/8/428, 440; Nichols, 418.
  • 21. Patterson, 202-5; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 194.
  • 22. Nichols, i. 420; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 59-64.
  • 23. Patterson, 206-7; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. pp. xxxvii, 91, 240.
  • 24. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), p. 435; Thompson, 342; HEHL, HA5458.
  • 25. Nichols, i. 339-40.
  • 26. Leics. RO, BRII/13/3; Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 148.
  • 27. Nichols, i. 424; Patterson, 195; W. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 367.
  • 28. Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 140.
  • 29. Ibid. 169, 171, 173; Nichols, i. 339-45, 425; Thompson, 344.
  • 30. HMC Hastings, iv. 203-4; HEHL, HA5458; Leics. RO, BRII/18/14/7.
  • 31. Leics. RO, BRII/18/14/20-1; Nichols, i. 341; HP Commons, 1558-1603, ii. 309-10.
  • 32. Patterson, 188.
  • 33. Nichols, i. 345.
  • 34. Thompson, 347-8.
  • 35. HEHL, HA387, 1725, 5472, 5479, 5481, 8524, 9221-2; Leics. RO, BR2/18/15, ff. 274, 279; Patterson, 188.
  • 36. Procs. 1625, pp. 688-91; Leics RO, BRII/18/15, f. 557, information from Dr. Catherine Patterson.
  • 37. Procs. 1625, pp. 690-1.
  • 38. Leics. RO, BRII/18/16, f. 4; Procs. 1626, iv. 244.
  • 39. Procs. 1628, vi. 154.
  • 40. Recs. of Bor. of Leicester, iv. 240-1, 244; T. Cogswell, Home Divisions, 162, 206; Lords Procs. 1628, v. pp. 689, 704-5; CJ, i. 931a; Thompson, 353.