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

Number of voters:

75 in 1626


25 Feb. 1604JAMES KIRTON II , recorder 
13 Nov. 16061EDWARD FORSETT vice Stapleton, deceased 
8 Mar. 1614THOMAS SOUTHWORTH , recorder 
21 Dec. 16202THOMAS SOUTHWORTH , recorder 
24 Jan. 16243THOMAS SOUTHWORTH , recorder 
26 Apr. 16254SIR THOMAS LAKE II 
 ?John Paulett 
 Henry Southworth 
13 Jan. 16265SIR THOMAS LAKE II62
 John Baber* , recorder39
 Hugh Mead3
 Virtue Hunt , mayor3
 Bartholomew Cox2
 Henry Baron1
25 Feb. 16286RALPH HOPTON 
 JOHN BABER , recorder 

Main Article

Wells had long been dominated by the bishops of Bath and Wells, lords of the manor, liberty and hundred. In 1201 a royal charter vested municipal authority in an annually elected master (or steward) and a council of Twenty-Four. Successive bishops aimed to erode this independent jurisdiction, forcing the cancellation of the town’s first two charters of incorporation (1341 and 1574). Nevertheless, the burgesses re-confirmed their privileges in 1577 and secured a fresh charter in 1589, which established a corporation composed of a mayor, seven ‘masters’, and 16 capital burgesses, assisted by a recorder (often one of the ‘masters’) and a town clerk. The parliamentary franchise was initially restricted to the corporation, but freemen were later given the vote.7

Payment of the 40s. entry fine for freemen was occasionally commuted or remitted altogether, as with Sir Edward Rodney* whose father, Sir John*, had been ‘a great friend of the city’.8 Such fines, and market tolls, were the borough’s principal source of income. Salaries were restricted to the mayor and recorder (40s. each); the 12d. per day formerly paid as parliamentary wages had been discontinued by the 1520s. The first mention in the Act Books of such a payment thereafter was in August 1607, when James Kirton, having served in Parliament ‘to his great charge’, was reimbursed £5.9

Wells had first sent representatives to Parliament in 1295. By the sixteenth century the seats were usually shared between borough officials, episcopal nominees and the local gentry. The extent of the diocesan interest depended upon the interests of the individual bishop: no such nominations seem to have been made between 1593 and 1604, but in 1614 the borough returned Sidney Montagu, brother of Bishop Montagu, while in 1625 Bishop Lake secured the election of his nephew Sir Thomas Lake II. Other outsiders included Sir Robert Stapleton, from whose estate at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, the corporation drew a small income; he was perhaps recommended by Sir John Thynne*, who had solicited his support for the Wiltshire county election.10 The corporation preferred such men to have some local connection. In 1628 the non-resident Ralph Hopton* obtained a seat because his father was a freeman,11 and following Stapleton’s death in October 1606 the corporation accepted Edward Forsett on condition that he was sworn a freeman beforehand. Forsett, a client of secretary of state Robert Cecil†, 1st earl of Salisbury, was nominated for the place by his patron and by lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†). The swearing-in ceremony was performed in London before Ellesmere and several existing freemen.12

From 1601 the senior seat at Wells was reserved for the town’s recorders, the lawyers James Kirton II and Thomas Southworth. At the 1625 election, however, Southworth chose not to stand, probably because of ill health – he died only four months later. In the absence of suitable alternatives, two councillors were nominated, one of whom, Southworth’s frail elder brother, Henry, was to die within the month.13 Under these unusual circumstances, the corporation invited Bishop Lake to ‘commend some discreet and sufficient worthy burgess’, and duly returned his nephew, together with the local magistrate Sir Edward Rodney.14 In 1626 Southworth’s successor as recorder, John Baber, was one of five councillors to contest the election, among them the mayor and town clerk. Sir Thomas Lake comfortably topped the poll, with Rodney, who received the votes of 36 of Lake’s supporters, coming second, which enabled him to beat Baber by the narrow margin of five votes.15

At the 1628 general election, neither Lake nor Rodney stood again, which allowed Baber to be returned along with another local man, Ralph Hopton. Baber’s success was somewhat marred by complaints made in the Commons in April 1628 about his role in the billeting of troops upon the town a few months earlier. When it emerged that he had advised the corporation to ‘yield to necessity rather than law’ in admitting the troops without proper warrant or means of payment, there were loud calls for his expulsion from the House. This did not happen, but Baber was suspended for two months, while his constituents took advantage of the ruling to evict the soldiers from their houses.16

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Wells Convocation Acts Bks. 1589-1629 ed. A. Nott and J. Hasler (Som. Rec. Soc. xc), 194.
  • 2. Ibid. 333-4.
  • 3. Ibid. 378.
  • 4. Ibid. 407.
  • 5. Ibid. 429.
  • 6. Ibid. 469.
  • 7. Ibid. 1-5.
  • 8. Ibid. 333.
  • 9. Ibid. 200.
  • 10. Ibid. 22-3 Longleat, Thynne Pprs. (IHR microfilm), viii. f. 310.
  • 11. Wells Convocation Act Bks. 1589-1629, p. 469.
  • 12. Ibid. 193-4.
  • 13. J. Collinson, Hist. Som. i. 219; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 102.
  • 14. Wells Convocation Act Bks. 1589-1629, p. 407.
  • 15. Ibid. 427-9.
  • 16. CD 1628, ii. 370-1, 374-5; iv. 124-19, 345; T.G. Barnes, Som. 1625-40, pp. 256-8.