Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
?in the inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
at least 20 in 1628
|26 May 1628||PHILIP DIGBY|
|SIR NATHANIEL NAPPER|
Situated in south-eastern Somerset, Milborne Port was recorded as a substantial borough in the Domesday book, and returned Members to the Commons five times under Edward I. It declined thereafter as nearby Sherborne, Dorset, grew. By the time Leland visited Milborne in the 1530s, its market was defunct, although it ‘retaineth privileges of a franchised borough’. A century later a local man observed that ‘there remains nothing but a straggling town’, the population of which was probably around 400-500 in the seventeenth century.1 Milborne was governed by a corporation of two stewards and seven assistants, which had evolved from the medieval merchant guild.2 By 1702 the parliamentary franchise was vested in the town’s ratepayers, but in 1628 the return was signed by only 20 men, among whom were the deputy bailiffs and the town’s constables.3
Milborne probably owed its enfranchisement in 1628 to its neighbour, the 1st earl of Bristol (Sir John Digby*), who was anxious to secure the passage of legislation to confirm his grant of the manor of Sherborne under letters patent of 1616. This bill was necessary because Carew Ralegh*, whose brother Sir Walter†, had forfeited the estate for his part in the Main Plot of 1603, had a tenuous legal claim to the property. In 1621 Ralegh’s draft restitution bill had included a proviso safeguarding Bristol’s title, but similar legislation in 1624 and 1626 had attempted to exploit the earl’s fall from favour by omitting this guarantee.4 Ralegh reintroduced his restitution bill in the Lords on 1 May 1628, but Bristol managed to replace it with a draft which preserved his own interests on 5 May. Furthermore, on 20 May, the earl tabled another bill confirming his letters patent, which was swiftly passed and sent to the Commons two days later.5
Bristol, who himself attended the Lords to promote his bill,6 already had a substantial party of supporters in the Commons, including his stepson Sir Lewis Dyve, Sir John Strangways (Dyve’s father-in-law), Sir Robert Phelips, who had served with him during the time he was ambassador in Madrid, and Edward Kirton, who had helped to defend him against the attacks of the duke of Buckingham in 1624 and 1626. However, Bristol was keen to increase his following to secure the passage of his private legislation, and therefore must have prompted one of his allies, all four of whom were members of the committee for privileges, to propose the re-enfranchisement of Milborne Port. The borough’s case, which strongly resembled that of Ilchester (enfranchised at Phelips’s behest in 1621), was upheld in committee on 29 Apr., and confirmed by the Commons on 1 May.7 The fact that Bristol did not present the Sherborne bill to the Lords for two weeks after his draft of the Ralegh restitution bill was committed on 5 May suggests that he initially intended to wait until the Members for Milborne had taken their seats before sending both bills to the Commons.
On 26 May the borough returned Bristol’s brother Philip Digby, together with a local man, Sir Nathaniel Napper, who owned property in the town.8 However, the return arrived too late to allow Digby to take part in the passage of the Sherborne bill, which received two readings in the Commons on 23 May and was assigned to a committee which included Phelips, Dyve and Kirton. The bill was reported by Hakewill on 31 May, who informed the House that three unnamed knights, ‘Members of this House’ (conceivably Phelips, Dyve and Strangways) had signified that the bishop of Salisbury, who had exchanged Sherborne with the Crown in 1592, approved of the measure. Ralegh’s restitution and the Sherborne bill both received the Royal Assent at the end of the session without any known intervention on the part of the Milborne MPs.9
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. S.G. McKay, Milborne Port in Som. 1-6, 31-2, 113-14; J. Leland, Itinerary ed. L.T. Smith, v. 109-10; T. Gerard, Particular Description of Som. ed. E.H. Bates (Som. Rec. Soc. xv), 153
- 2. J. Collinson, Hist. and Antiqs. of co. Som. (1791), ii. 352-5; McKay, 22-5.
- 3. McKay, 117-18; C219/41A/68.
- 4. For the complex provenance of Sherborne, see Kyle thesis, 442-8.
- 5. Lords Procs. 1628, v. 367-8, 376, 473-4.
- 6. C66/2093/2; 66/2115/2; Procs. 1628, vi. 210.
- 7. CD 1628, ii. 28-9; iii. 154, 185; Procs. 1628, vi. 107-9.
- 8. C219/41A/68; E179/172/403.
- 9. CD 1628, iv. 36, 503-5; Lords Procs. 1628, v. 706.