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:



2 Nov. 1609HENRY CAREY vice Sackville, called to the Upper House
5 Feb. 1624ALGERNON PERCY , Lord Percy
28 Apr. 1625(SIR) THOMAS PELHAM , (bt.)

Main Article

The notoriously bad Wealden roads meant that Sussex was more isolated from London than its geographical proximity would suggest and ensured that the assizes were usually held at East Grinstead, near the Surrey border. For most administrative purposes the county was divided between its eastern and western parts. In accordance with an early sixteenth-century statute, the county court met alternately at Chichester, in the west, and Lewes, in the east, and although in theory there was a single commission of the peace the county bench only met at midsummer; at Epiphany, Easter and Michaelmas separate sessions were held for the western and eastern divisions.1

Of the surviving indentures, those that are legible suggest that the elections were usually held at Lewes. Perhaps as a consequence, the eastern division, which was both more populous and more puritan, provided ten of the 13 knights of the shire returned in this period. A 1603 petition from the Sussex gentry against the enforcement of ceremonies and calling for a further reformation attracted widespread support in east Sussex, the subscribers including Sir Walter Covert and Sir John Shurley. In addition, at least half of them had interests in the Wealden iron industry, then at its apogee.2

In the Elizabethan period the county possessed an abundance of peers, ‘more’, according to Richard Curteys, bishop of Chichester, ‘than one shire can well bear’.3 The Jacobean Members included three heirs to peerages, three younger sons, and one (Sampson Lennard) married to a peeress in her own right. The pattern changed in the next reign, but less dramatically than might at first appear, since there had been much intermarriage between gentry and peerage families. Despite the profusion of powerful families there were no known contests in the period. Friendship and intermarriage, which crossed religious barriers to an unusual degree, may have kept families from fighting over the county representation. In particular the Sackvilles and the Howards, the two most powerful noble families, were closely related following the 1580 marriage of Robert Sackville to Margaret Howard. Moreover, those disappointed of a county seat could fall back on no less than 18 borough and six Cinque Port seats.

For most of this period Sussex had three lords lieutenant. In 1604 these were lord treasurer Buckhurst (Thomas Sackville†), soon to become 1st earl of Dorset and the major magnate in the east of the county; Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland, who lived at Petworth in west Sussex; and Charles Howard†, 1st earl of Nottingham, whose estates lay chiefly in Surrey. Nottingham had probably been appointed as a proxy for the senior branch of the Howard family, important west Sussex landowners, whose interests were in abeyance after the attainder of Philip Howard, earl of Arundel in 1589. Nevertheless, he remained in office until his death in 1624. Northumberland was omitted from the commission in 1608, having been imprisoned following his kinsman, Sir Thomas Percy’s, involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. His replacement was Philip Howard’s son, Thomas, who had been restored in blood and to his father’s titles in 1604. The same commission also added Robert Sackville, who had recently succeeded his father as 2nd earl of Dorset. However, Robert died the following year, and as his son, Richard, was still a minor the latter was not appointed to the lieutenancy until 1612. Richard himself died in 1624 and was promptly succeeded as both earl and lord lieutenant by his brother, Sir Edward Sackville.4

In 1604 the county’s representation was monopolized by the sons of the lord lieutenants, just as it had been in the last Elizabethan Parliament, although their places on the return were reversed, possibly as the result of an agreement reached in 1601. Consequently, Robert Sackville took the senior seat, while Sir Charles Howard, Nottingham’s younger son, took the second. The latter had acquired a modest stake in the county by marrying an ironmaster’s widow and, like his colleague, lived in the eastern part of the county.

Sackville succeeded as 2nd earl of Dorset in April 1608, but a writ to replace him was not issued till 13 Sept. 1609, by which time he had been dead six months.5 The replacement, Henry Carey, the son of a Hertfordshire peer, was probably recommended by Nottingham, whose first wife had been Carey’s great-aunt. Despite being an outsider, Carey was probably generally acceptable in Sussex, as his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Pelham†, was an important east Sussex landowner who had sat for the county in 1586. Sackville’s son, Richard, 3rd earl of Dorset, was still under-age at the time of the election, which presumably limited the influence of the Sackville interest. Nevertheless it is notable that Pelham’s mother had been a Sackville.6

Carey was returned for Hertfordshire in 1614 while Howard sat for New Shoreham. Instead the county returned two septuagenarian brothers-in-law, Sir Walter Covert and Sampson Lennard, both of whom lived in the eastern part of the county. Covert had already sat twice for the county, and over 30 years had established himself as the most effective of the deputy lieutenants and an energetic county administrator. Lennard, on the other hand, was a newcomer who had acquired Hurstmonceaux, through his wife, Baroness Dacre of the South, and had only just been appointed to the Sussex bench.

The poor response of the county to the Benevolence, initiated following the failure of the Addled Parliament to vote supply, brought a stinging rebuke in July 1615 from the Privy Council. It informed the bench that ‘the backwardness of yourselves and the rest of the inhabitants by your example will be interpreted as a measure of your affections’ to James, and that only three people had ‘expressed their love and duty’ in a ‘reasonable proportion’. In total only about £875 was raised, significantly less than the nearly £1,400 which a single subsidy yielded in the mid-1620s.7

Lennard died in 1615, and as Covert showed no interest in seeking re-election, this left both seats in the third Jacobean Parliament to a younger generation. Robert Sackville’s second son, Sir Edward was returned alongside Christopher Neville, Lennard’s nephew and the younger son of Lord Bergavenny (Edward Neville†). Neville maintained a house in Lewes, but lived mostly in London. Sackville and Neville were connected by marriage, the latter’s elder brother, Sir Henry Neville II*, having wed the former’s aunt. Sir Thomas Bishopp* headed the list of electors named in the indenture, who included two later representatives of the county, Pelham’s son Thomas and Richard Lewknor, and at least five other Members, among them the earl of Northumberland’s former steward (Sir) Edward Fraunceys.8

The 1622 Benevolence initially faced considerable resistance in Sussex. Twenty-three members of the county gentry, mostly from the eastern part, were ordered before the Privy Council for failing to subscribe, including Sir Walter Covert, Sir John Shurley and Sir Alexander Temple. Nevertheless, about £1,300 was eventually raised.9

Sackville was overseas at the time of the 1624 election, and shortly afterwards succeeded his brother as 4th earl of Dorset, while Neville was returned for Lewes. This meant that both seats were available. The senior place went to the 22-year old Lord Percy, heir to the earl of Northumberland, and the first Member to be returned from the west of the county since 1593. His colleague was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Pelham†, who came of an old Sussex family, with extensive iron interests and strong Protestant connections. Having succeeded to his father’s estates and baronetcy in late 1624, Pelham took the senior place in the return in 1625. His colleague was Sir John Shurley, his cousin and fellow-puritan, was also the father of Covert’s second wife.

The following year two nominees were agreed at a general assembly of the county gentry at the Epiphany sessions held at Lewes on 17 January. This was the only occasion on which a pre-election meeting is known to have taken place during this period. The day before John Peers, Arundel’s steward, wrote that Covert, now in his eighties, was seeking re-election, apparently without opposition. He was unsure who would get the other seat but thought that, if Pelham and Shurley did not want to stand again, Sir Alexander Temple would be nominated. Temple, a younger son in the Buckinghamshire family, had acquired property in east Sussex and a connection with the Sackvilles through his recent third marriage. On the 18th Covert wrote to Arundel and Dorset announcing his nomination and tactfully asking for their approbation. Pelham and Shurley having presumably declined re-election, Covert was subsequently returned with Temple.10

The Crown’s attempt to raise a fresh Benevolence in August 1626 aroused widespread hostility in Sussex, the deputy lieutenants recording that ‘the whole county … did crave a Parliament by general consent’.11 In a letter subscribed by Covert, Pelham, Shurley and Temple among others, the bench informed the Council that the inhabitants had answered that ‘they are not willing to give as is required’ because of ‘their wants and poverty occasioned by the late great expenses in many public charges’, although they were willing to ‘strain themselves beyond their abilities’ in ‘a parliamentary course’. Only £120 had been raised, which they thought was ‘not worthy the presenting’.12 Nevertheless the Forced Loan, initiated towards the end of 1626, proved relatively successful in Sussex, yielding the equivalent of at least three subsidies. This was largely due to Dorset, who obtained permission for the county to pay the cost of billeting soldiers out of the receipts. Nevertheless the Loan exacerbated political tensions in the county, and the concession on billeting was initially greeted with widespread scepticism, causing Dorset to write to the commissioners indignantly denying that he had been ‘made the instrument of deception’, and to say that he was ‘sorry that any of the country should apprehend His Majesty’s would by me have promised the thing which he had not first fully resolved to perform’. He also announced that he had instruction to billet soldiers on refusers, which no doubt hastened compliance.13

Neither Covert nor Temple sought re-election in 1628 when, for the only time in the period, both Members came from West Sussex. Richard Lewknor, a country gentleman, had sat in the four previous Parliaments for Midhurst. Though untitled he took precedence over the less experienced Sir William Goring, bt., a second cousin of the courtier Sir George Goring*, who had married the daughter of (Sir) Edward Fraunceys*, the steward of his neighbour the earl of Northumberland.

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. A. Fletcher, County Community in Peace and War, 3, 5, 134-6; SR, ii. 665.
  • 2. C219/35/2/74, 91; 219/39/205; Fletcher, 3, 17, 61; T.W.W. Smart, ‘Extracts from the Mss of Samuel Jeake’, Suss. Arch. Colls. ix. 45-7.
  • 3. R.B. Manning, Religion and Soc. in Eliz. Suss. 222.
  • 4. Sainty, Lords Lieutenants, 34-5.
  • 5. C219/35/2/75.
  • 6. CP, ix. 786; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 194.
  • 7. Harl. 703, f. 115v; E351/1950; Fletcher, 196.
  • 8. C219/37/256.
  • 9. Fletcher, 213; SP14/127/81; 14/135/62.
  • 10. Arundel, Autograph Letters 1617-32, Peers to Spiller, 16 Jan. 1626, Covert to Arundel and Dorset, 18 Jan. 1626.
  • 11. E.S. Cunliffe, ‘“Booke Concerning the Deputy Leiuetennantshipp”’, Suss. Arch. Colls. xl. 20.
  • 12. SP16/33/109.
  • 13. Fletcher, 195-6; E. Suss. RO, LCD/EW1, f. 40v.