Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen and freeholders
Number of voters:
at least 12 in 1628
|25 Feb. 1604||SIR GEORGE SOMERS|
|24 Feb. 1610||SIR FRANCIS RUSSELL vice Somers, employed abroad|
|GEORGE JEFFERY vice Hassard, vacated his seat|
|c. Mar. 1614||SIR EDWARD SEYMOUR , (bt.)|
|16 Dec. 1620||JOHN POULETT|
|5 Feb. 1624||SIR JOHN DRAKE|
|c. Oct. 1624||WILLIAM WYNN vice Hassard, deceased|
|19 Apr. 1625||JOHN DRAKE|
|23 Jan. 1626||(SIR) WALTER EARLE|
|25 Feb. 1628||CHRISTOPHER EARLE|
Located in the extreme west of Dorset, Lyme Regis received its first charter in 1284, and sent Members to the Model Parliament. In the early seventeenth century, notwithstanding the town’s frequent pleas of poverty, it was a flourishing community of nearly 2,000 people, ‘well-built, and enriched by the conveniency of the Cobb, which is an harbour that the inhabitants with much industry and charge have built in the sea’. The charges levied for maintenance of the Cobb were confirmed by statute in 1585. Although its merchant ships rarely ventured much beyond the English Channel, Lyme’s economic hinterland included the Somerset town of Taunton, and it boasted the highest average customs revenues of all the Dorset ports.1
Lyme was incorporated in 1559, the charter providing for a mayor, recorder, and up to 16 capital burgesses. By the early Stuart period the mayoralty had become a major financial burden, and on two occasions the post had to be filled by a customs official. In municipal elections the vote was exercised by the corporation, freemen, and freeholders, a total of 56 people in 1606. The precise nature of the parliamentary franchise is less certain, as the surviving parliamentary returns mention only the ‘burgesses’. However, the freeholders are said to have participated in 1614, while the mayor, 11 other capital burgesses, and 12 freemen took part in the preliminary election of George Jeffery in December 1609.2 In the early years of James I’s reign there is evidence of factionalism within the corporation, much of it apparently stirred up by John Geare, who arrived in Lyme as a schoolmaster and ‘unbeneficed preacher’, and from 1609 held the local living. However, it is unclear to what extent this impacted on the town’s politics.3
In 1604 the borough had important business in Parliament, namely the provision of funds for the repair of the Cobb, and accordingly opted for two Members with strong local ties. Sir George Somers was the son of a Lyme Regis merchant, as well as being a distinguished mariner with useful contacts. John Hassard was the most senior member of the corporation. Although neither Member was recorded as speaking during the 1604 session, and extension of the Cobb Act was opposed on 5 June by Richard Martin*, the statute was duly renewed by Parliament for another ten years.4 Meanwhile, Hassard also used his time in London to arrange the renewal of the borough charter, which was re-granted in June 1604. However, the new provisions failed to win the approval of the corporation, which accused Hassard of departing from his instructions, and of introducing a clause which made him, de facto, a magistrate for life.5
At the opening of the next session Somers announced that his colleague was disabled by gout, but on 9 Nov. the House resolved that Hassard should continue to serve.6 Although Hassard seems to have attended thereafter, he apparently absented himself from the 1606-7 session, and was again ill in early 1610. By now Somers was overseas on Virginia Company business, leaving Lyme, in effect, unrepresented. The borough took matters into its own hands, and on 30 Dec. 1609, without waiting for a writ of by-election, selected as Hassard’s replacement George Jeffery, the son of a local landowner, and himself a ‘very good friend’ of Lyme’s searcher of customs, Arthur Gregory.7 When the Commons reassembled Jeffery’s father, Sir John*, presented a petition on the borough’s behalf, whereupon Hassard’s disability was finally accepted. Moreover, after much debate about Somers’ absence, both seats were declared vacant on 14 February. This outcome may not have been intended by the corporation, which on 15 Feb. resolved to acknowledge Jeffery as ‘the sole and only man for burgess of the Parliament for our town’. Nevertheless, he was duly elected nine days later, along with Sir Francis Russell, an outsider whose ties with the borough have not been established. At the same time the corporation took steps to renew the charter in a form more to its liking, the principal change being the vexed question of who could exercise magistrate’s powers.8
In 1614 Lyme awarded one of its seats to the borough’s recorder, George Browne. The other Member, Sir Edward Seymour, may have been nominated by John Drake*, lord of the manor of Lyme Abbots, who was possibly clearing the way for his own election as a Devon shire knight by providing an alternative seat for Seymour, one of his principal rivals. Predictably, it was Browne who spoke for the borough in the Commons, on 21 May successfully opposing the bill introduced by (Sir) Walter Earle* to develop a rival harbour at Axmouth, Devon.9
The election of 1620 may have been contested, but if so no firm details have emerged. On 18 Dec. the corporation resolved that:
if Mr. Anthony Ellesdon, mayor, shall be in any sort questioned or put to any expenses at any time hereafter concerning the election of the burgesses or any one of them which were chosen upon Saturday last to serve at the next Parliament, … the said Anthony Ellesdon’s charges shall be borne and defrayed at the general charge of the whole corporation.10
On this occasion, the senior seat went to John Poulett, owner of the nearby manor of Marshwood, who had become a freeman of the borough in the previous year. The other place went to Robert Hassard, great-nephew of the 1604 Member, but now a London resident. Hassard was re-elected in 1624, by which time he was recognized in Dorset as a ‘courtier’, but Drake’s son, Sir John, replaced Poulett. The Cobb Act was again renewed during this Parliament.11 Hassard died in the following September, while the Commons was still technically in recess, and a new writ was issued by Chancery. At the consequent by-election, for which the return does not survive, the borough bestowed the vacancy on William Wynn, a servant of lord keeper Williams, but he never took his seat, for the Parliament was dissolved by the death of James I.12
In 1625 John Drake himself was returned for the senior seat, alongside Thomas Paramour, a servant of his kinsman, lord treasurer Marlborough (Sir James Ley*). Thereafter, Lyme’s patronage was divided between Drake and Sir Walter Earle, who owned an estate five miles away at Bindon, Devon. Paramour retained his seat in the next two Parliaments. In 1626 Earle himself took the other place ‘with unanimous assent and consent’, having clearly been forgiven for his Axmouth project. Sir Walter stepped up to represent Dorset in 1628, but instead nominated his brother Christopher, who would succeed Browne as recorder of Lyme Regis three years later.13
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 41, 65; OR; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 19, 35, 156; 1627-8, p. 46; C2/Jas.I/G10/38; T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 10-11; SP16/138/11; Dorset RO, DC/PL/B/7/1, f. 107.
- 2. G. Roberts, Municipal Gov. of Lyme Regis, 22, 24, 27-8, 369; C219/41A/38; Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, p. 33.
- 3. Procs. Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxii. 125; Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, pp. 26, 29, 36, 42.
- 4. CJ, i. 986a; SR, iv. 1051.
- 5. Roberts, 71-2; Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, pp. 21-2, 40.
- 6. CJ, i. 256a-7a.
- 7. Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, p. 33; Lansd. 91, f. 129.
- 8. CJ, i. 392a-3a; Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, 34; Roberts, 72-4.
- 9. C142/444/76; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 313-14.
- 10. Dorset RO, B7/D1/1, p. 61.
- 11. Hutchins, ii. 262-3; Dorset RO, B7/B6/11, p. 13; William Whiteway of Dorchester (Dorset Rec. Soc. xii), 58; SR, iv. 1235.
- 12. C231/4, f. 170.
- 13. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 74-5; C142/251/169; C219/40/215; Hutchins, iii. 502.