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 bailiff and burgesses

Number of voters:

24 in 1620


10 May 1625Sir Francis Leigh , bt.
1626Sir Francis Leigh , bt.
3 Apr. 1628FRANCIS LUCY vice Puckering, chose to sit for Tamworth
  Both elections declared void, 31 May 1628

Main Article

Warwick’s strategic location on a ‘rocky ascent’ above the Avon made it an important military and administrative centre from Saxon times. As the county town of seventeenth-century Warwickshire, it played host to the quarter sessions and assizes, and housed the local militia’s magazine. However, although it possessed a thriving market in local agricultural produce, it lagged behind both Coventry and Birmingham in terms of commercial and industrial development. The growing population stood at around 3,000 in 1600, but poverty levels were relatively high.2 Social tensions were exacerbated by the oligarchical character of Warwick’s corporation. Under the terms of its 1554 charter, executive power was vested in the bailiff and 12 principal burgesses, the common council. The wider population was allowed little say in the borough’s affairs beyond the choice of bailiff. Assistant burgesses were initially recruited purely at the common council’s discretion, and their numbers were intermittently reduced when they proved too unmanageable. A revised charter in 1613 finally guaranteed a role for the assistants, but allowed for only a dozen rather than the more usual 24. This routine stifling of dissent within the corporation simply encouraged other forms of popular protest, including occasional riots and, in 1615, the erection of a mock ‘court’ which summoned the principal burgesses to account for their abuses of power.3 At the same time, the common council’s chronic financial weakness left it vulnerable to the attentions of the local gentry, who might themselves stir up trouble in the town if the corporation resisted their demands. After Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh failed in his bid to become recorder in 1610, he encouraged complaints of financial malpractice, then persuaded his kinsman, lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) to order an inquiry into the allegations. As a result, in 1615 the corporation was ordered to increase its provision for the poor, and to allow the sheriff of Warwickshire to inspect its annual accounts.4

Warwick’s parliamentary history stretched back to 1275. The 1554 charter awarded the franchise to the bailiff and burgesses, which was at first interpreted to mean the common council alone, although in 1573 the corporation conceded this privilege to the 12 assistant burgesses. Elections became another focus for popular dissent, and in 1586 the commonalty put forward their own candidate, the puritan Job Throckmorton. The corporation, unable to ignore this development, eventually agreed to endorse him themselves rather than acknowledge the precedent for a broader franchise. In the early seventeenth century, elections were held in the Court House at the shire hall. Once the bailiff, principal and assistant burgesses had voted, the whole corporation formally consented to the outcome, and the borough’s common seal was applied to the election indenture. In 1620 the indenture was drawn up on the day after the vote.5

For the last two Elizabethan parliaments the corporation returned two of its senior members, John Townsend and William Spicer, and it did so again in 1604. A few months later, however, Warwick Castle was granted to Sir Fulke Greville*, who became recorder in 1610 and acquired significant amounts of property in the town. Although Townsend again secured a burgess-ship in 1614, that marked the last gasp of corporation independence during this period.6 Greville commanded at least one seat in every election from then until 1628. His nephew, Greville Verney, was returned both in 1614 and 1620. In the latter year, the second place went to John Coke, Greville’s former secretary. Two more distant kinsmen, Sir Edward Conway II in 1624 and Sir Francis Leigh in 1625-6, were followed in 1628 by Sir Fulke’s cousin and heir, Robert Greville. However, from 1624 the corporation also accepted nominations from another leading Warwickshire figure, Sir Thomas Lucy* of Charlecote, whose brother Francis represented the borough continuously from 1624 to 1626. The Lucy interest was so strong that Sir Fulke felt unable to request the second seat for Sir Edward Conway in 1626.7 Given this apparent stranglehold, Prince Charles’s Council failed to obtain a place in 1624 for Sir Francis Cottington.8 Several local gentlemen proved equally unsuccessful during this decade when they appealed to the commonalty. This tactic was first attempted in 1620 by Sir Bartholomew Hales of Snitterfield, one of the town’s j.p.s, and Sir Clement Throckmorton*, son of the 1586 Member. When the common council produced their charter as proof of the narrow franchise, Hales and Throckmorton withdrew.9 A more determined candidate emerged in 1625. Sir Thomas Puckering, who lived at the Priory, just outside the town, had fallen out with the corporation in the previous year over tithe payments, though it is debatable whether he stood for election out of a desire to cause trouble, or because, as a firm puritan, he genuinely favoured a broader franchise. Although the corporation’s records are ambiguous, he probably sought a seat at Warwick in both 1625 and 1626. As his overtures were rejected, he sat for Tamworth on each occasion. On 21 June 1625 he tendered a petition from the borough of Warwick, which was referred to the committee for privileges, but no more was heard of it.10 Puckering presumably also presented a second petition about Warwick on 9 Feb. 1626. This time the privileges committee pursued the matter of the franchise, summoning witnesses from both sides, but the final verdict, which allegedly favoured the corporation, was never reported to the House.11 In 1628 the corporation tired of this harassment, and actually returned Puckering, but he promptly opted for Tamworth again and resumed the struggle. This time, even though the privileges committee acknowledged the common council’s customary monopoly over voting, the verdict went in favour of the wider franchise. The elections of both Greville and Puckering’s replacement, Francis Lucy, were declared void on 31 May. However, no writ for a fresh election was issued until the following January, by which time Greville’s succession as 2nd Lord Brooke had rendered him ineligible. This allowed Lucy to resume his seat, the other burgess-ship going to Puckering’s friend Anthony Stoughton.12

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. Black Bk. of Warwick ed. T. Kemp, 411.
  • 2. W. Dugdale, Antiqs. of Warws. (1730), i. 372; VCH Warws. viii. 418; A. Hughes, Pols. Soc. and Civil War in Warws. 9, 17; APC, 1626, p. 77; P. Clark and P. Slack, Eng. Towns in Transition, 83, 121.
  • 3. CPR, 1554-5, pp. 18-20; C66/2141/17; Black Bk. of Warwick, 56-7, 60-1, 104-6, 360; VCH Warws. viii. 493; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 210-11.
  • 4. Clark and Slack, 130; VCH Warws. viii. 495-6.
  • 5. CPR, 1554-5, p.21; Black Bk. of Warwick, 106, 409-11; HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 492; VCH Warws. viii. 478.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 264; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 128; 1611-18, p. 444; VCH Warws. viii. 493.
  • 7. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 25, 29; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. lxii), 9, 93; HMC Cowper, i. 26; PROB 11/154, ff. 286-90; Procs. 1625, p. 703; CSP Dom. Addenda 1625-49, p. 94
  • 8. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 34v.
  • 9. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 207, 210; Black Bk. of Warwick, 409-10.
  • 10. W. Cooper, Hist. Lillington, 19; PROB 11/175, f. 295; Hughes, 92 n. 143; Procs. 1625, pp. 206, 703.
  • 11. Procs. 1625, p. 703; Procs. 1626, ii. 7, 16, 105-6, 281, 300; iii. 190, 377.
  • 12. CD 1628, ii. 169; iv. 37-8, 46; Procs. 1628, vi. 169-70; C231/4, f. 263.