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 burgesses and inhabitants

Number of voters:

at least 13 in 1625


c. Mar. 1614SIR MILES SANDYS , 1st bt.
17 Apr. 1614SIR SIMEON STEWARD vice Sandys, chose to sit for Cambridge University
6 Mar. 1621PERCY HERBERT vice Beecher, chose to sit for Leominster
 RALPH HOPTON vice Sheppard, expelled the House
16 Feb. 1626SAMUEL TURNER vice Thorowgood, chose to sit for Derby
20 Feb. 1628SIR JOHN CROKE

Main Article

Shaftesbury received its first charter in 1252, and sent two Members to the Model Parliament. A survey of 1615 described the borough as lying between ‘a deep country full of pasture, yielding plenty of well-fed beeves, muttons, and milch-kine, and … a high champion country, yielding store of corn, sheep, and wool; so the town is made a great vent for the commodities on either part’. Another contemporary observer, Thomas Gerard, noted it as ‘a fair thoroughfare, much frequented by travellers to and from London; governed by a mayor, well inhabited, and accommodated with a plentiful market on the Saturday’. Gerard lamented the total disappearance of the abbey, once the richest nunnery in England, which left ‘a fair turreted house’ of the 1st Lord Arundell of Wardour as the town’s ‘greatest ornament’.1

Shaftesbury was the normal venue for Dorset’s summer quarter sessions, and three resident lawyers, John Boden, Thomas Sheppard and William Whitaker, represented the borough during this period.2 Religious divisions within the town must have been quite pronounced. The local vicar, Thomas Cooper, who was described as ‘a favourer of popish-affected persons’, was presumably acceptable to the Catholic Lord Arundell. Conversely, Shaftesbury was also home to a separatist church, whose members regarded Anglican worship as being insufficiently Protestant. At least three of them served on the borough’s corporation, and endorsed parliamentary election returns during the 1620s. These indentures were normally made out in the name of the mayor and burgesses, though the ‘inhabitants’ were also mentioned in 1604 and 1625. In the former year, Members were returned ‘with the assent and consent of and for the whole borough’.3

Shaftesbury’s principal electoral patron was the 3rd earl of Pembroke, the lord of the manor, at whose court leet the mayor had to be sworn in.4 However, Lord Arundell was almost certainly able to exert influence occasionally, and the borough was independent enough to accept nominations from other quarters as well. In 1604 the first seat was taken by Robert Hopton, heir to a great Somerset estate and presumably Pembroke’s nominee.5 He was partnered by John Boden, who had already represented Shaftesbury in 1601, and who enjoyed longstanding ties to Arundell’s family. Boden probably also enhanced his own local standing by offering to return to the borough its guildhall and other municipal property, which he had held since 1585. A month after the election, most of these buildings and lands were conveyed to trustees, who subsequently transferred them to the borough. Meanwhile, Shaftesbury was granted a new charter in July 1604, which established a corporation of the mayor and 12 capital burgesses, and named Boden as recorder.6

In 1614 the borough returned three outsiders. The junior seat was awarded to Henry Croke, whose brother, Sir John*, had married the heiress of Payne’s Place, Motcombe, around two miles north of Shaftesbury. The first choice as senior Member, Sir Miles Sandys, 1st bt., was a Cambridgeshire man, and when he opted to sit for Cambridge University, he was replaced by Sir Simeon Steward, another landowner from the same county. They were probably both recommended by the 1st earl of Suffolk, who was lord lieutenant of Cambridgeshire as well as Dorset.7

At the 1620 election patronage was probably shared between Pembroke and Arundell. The latter presumably helped secure the first seat for the local lawyer Thomas Sheppard, who was later described by Simonds D’Ewes† as a ‘base, jesuited papist’. The junior place was taken by the diplomat William Beecher, whose extensive connections at Court may well have included Pembroke. However, Beecher then opted to sit for Leominster, while Sheppard was expelled from the Commons for ridiculing a bill on Sabbath observance. At the ensuing election, Pembroke doubtless nominated his cousin Percy Herbert, and probably also Robert Hopton’s son, Ralph.8

At this juncture a long-standing dispute between Pembroke and the borough over market dues came to a head. Although a new charter, drafted by the earl in 1620 to strengthen his influence, failed to pass the great seal, the corporation was technically dissolved at Michaelmas 1621, when his steward refused to swear in the newly elected mayor. The corporation, now £200 in debt, appealed to Arundell for assistance, but eventually had to come to terms with Pembroke, who enjoyed unquestioned patronage over one parliamentary seat for the rest of the decade.9 At the next four elections the borough returned the earl’s secretary, John Thorowgood, and when in 1626 the latter chose to sit for Derby instead his place was filled by an alternative Pembroke client, Samuel Turner.10 From 1624 to 1626 the other seat went to another Shaftesbury lawyer, William Whitaker, who seems also to have enjoyed ties to Pembroke.11 In 1627 Whitaker became the borough’s recorder, but he probably squandered his local popularity by promoting the enclosure of the nearby Gillingham forest, a project which allegedly much impaired the town’s market ‘by reason of the straitening, diverting, and stopping of ways’. At the 1628 election, he was replaced by Sir John Croke, who had recently headed a commission to hear complaints against the enclosure.12

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Brit. Bor. Charters 1307-1660 ed. M. Weinbaum, 32; OR; Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 7; T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 91-2.
  • 2. Dorset Q. Sess. 1625-38 ed. T. Hearing and S. Bridges (Dorset Rec. Soc. xiv), 25, 47, 98.
  • 3. Som. and Dorset N and Q, xiii. 160-2; C219/35/1/116; 219/39/94; 219/40/214; 219/41A/37.
  • 4. SP14/130/128.
  • 5. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 57.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, vi. 161; C.H. Mayo, Shastonian Recs. 6-8, 53; Hutchins, iii. 14.
  • 7. Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 189; Wilts. Vis. Peds. (Harl. Soc. cv-cvi), 209; E112/71/158; Vis. Cambs. (Harl. Soc. xli), 11; CP, xii. pt. 1, p. 464.
  • 8. D’Ewes Diary, 1622-4 ed. E. Bourcier, 142; J.K. Gruenfelder, Influence in Early Stuart Elections, 126, 146; CJ, i. 525a; Vis. Som. 57.
  • 9. Mayo, 9, 44-8, 52; SP14/130/128.
  • 10. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 113.
  • 11. Procs. 1626, ii. 12.
  • 12. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, p. 205; E178/5256; Hutchins, iii. 649.