Weymouth and Melcombe Regis
Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freeholders
Number of voters:
at least 22 in 1604
|1 Mar. 1604||THOMAS BARFOOT , mayor|
|SIR JOHN HANHAM|
|ROBERT WHITE , alderman|
|12 June 1610||WILLIAM CECIL Visct. Cranborne vice Barfoot, deceased|
|16 June 1610||BARNARD MICHELL vice White, vacated his seat|
|c. Mar. 1614||SIR CHARLES CAESAR|
|21 Dec. 1620||MATTHEW PITT , alderman|
|19 Jan. 1624||JOHN FREKE|
|MATTHEW PITT , alderman|
|THOMAS GIEAR , alderman|
|10 May 16241||SIR THOMAS MYDDELTON II vice Pitt, deceased|
|22 Apr. 1625||SIR JOHN STRANGWAYS|
|SIR THOMAS MYDDELTON II|
|Aug. 16252||GILES GREENE vice Myddelton, chose to sit for Denbighshire|
|20 Jan. 1626||SIR JOHN STRANGWAYS|
|BARNARD MICHELL , alderman|
|27 Feb. 16283||HUGH PYNE|
|SIR LEWIS DYVE|
|SIR ROBERT NAPIER|
|HENRY WALTHAM , alderman|
Melcombe Regis received its earliest known charter in 1280, and returned Members to Parliament from 1319. Weymouth, which lay just across the estuary of the River Wey, was a somewhat older settlement. However, it developed municipal structures more slowly, and did not regularly achieve a voice at Westminster until Richard II’s reign. The two boroughs were united by Act of Parliament in 1571, and incorporated under a mayor and two bailiffs, six aldermen, and 24 common councilmen. This arrangement was elaborated by a new charter in 1616, which somewhat restricted the role of the wider freeman body in the corporation’s affairs. The parliamentary franchise lay with the borough’s freeholders, and in consequence of the Elizabethan merger, the combined borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis was the only constituency other than London to boast four Members.4
In the early seventeenth century, the two towns prospered from trade with Newfoundland, ‘where they have had 80 sail of ships and barks’, and France, from whence their merchants returned ‘laden with wine, cloth, and divers other useful commodities’. By the end of this period customs revenues were thought to have reached the impressive annual figure of £3,000. The corporation kept in touch with Exeter and Dartmouth over matters of common interest, and periodically displayed considerable self-confidence, for example rejecting the government’s proposal in 1609 for a new, unified French Company. Nevertheless, the wars of the later 1620s inevitably disrupted trade, and in 1627 the borough claimed that it was unable to supply the king with two ships.5
Ordinarily, the corporation reserved two places in each election for its own Members during this period. Thomas Barfoot in 1604 was actually the serving mayor, and therefore returned himself in breach of parliamentary convention, though this irregularity went unremarked in the Commons. He was partnered by a future mayor, Robert White. Similarly, John Roy (1614), Matthew Pitt (1621 and 1624), Thomas Giear (1624), and Henry Waltham (1628), all held this office at some point in their municipal careers. Barnard Michell (1610, 1614, 1625, 1626) and Giles Greene (1621, 1625, 1626) both held the lesser post of bailiff, and accordingly also returned themselves in 1610 and 1621 respectively, again without sanction.6 In 1625, for reasons which remain unclear, the corporation resolved to elect just one local resident, though in the event the normal quota was restored a few months later when Greene was returned. Otherwise, the 1628-9 Parliament was the only occasion when the corporation had just one representative in the Commons. It appears that only Weymouth residents could expect parliamentary wages. No evidence survives prior to 1624, when Pitt and Giear both received 3s. 4d. a day. In the following year Michell was awarded the same daily rate, though Greene was obliged to agree prior to his election to cover his own expenses. The corporation’s financial reserves were presumably reduced by 1626, for Michell was paid only 2s. 6d. a day for that session. The arrangements made in 1628-9 are not known.7
Weymouth’s remaining seats went to outsiders, though many of these men possessed close ties with the town. Robert Myddelton in 1604 and Robert Bateman in 1614 were former residents who had married into the same local family, the Mounsells; Thomas Barfoot was their wives’ stepfather. This connection still held good a decade later, presumably helped by Myddelton’s generous bequest of £100 to the town in 1616. His nephew, Sir Thomas Myddelton, was returned in 1624, while the latter’s brother-in-law, Sir Robert Napier, secured a seat in 1628.8 Links to the corporation were also an advantage. Hugh Pyne owed his election in 1628 to his status as the borough’s recorder, and had already on that basis secured a seat for his son Arthur in the previous two Parliaments. Similarly, Christopher Earle in 1621 may have approached the corporation through his colleague in King’s Bench, Giles Greene.9 Nevertheless, such ties were no guarantee of success. Edward Reynolds, who had already represented the borough in 1601, was originally a local man, but found himself rebuffed in 1604, Mayor Barfoot apparently regarding him as too ‘factious’ to qualify for a seat. Admittedly, Reynolds did not help his own cause by endlessly vacillating over whether or not to stand.10
Comparatively few of the local gentry became Weymouth burgesses in the early Stuart era. Sir John Hanham, the son of a former recorder, probably secured his return in 1604 through the influence of near kinsmen resident just outside the borough. John Freke, who sat in 1621 and 1624, lived just four miles from Weymouth, while Sir John Strangways, senior Member in 1625 and 1626, had a seat seven miles distant. One of Dorset’s most prominent gentry figures, Strangways also arranged the election in 1628 of his son-in-law, Sir Lewis Dyve.11 Thus the corporation was relatively unaccustomed to approaches from outside the borough, which helps to explain the confusion that ensued when the government made a nomination in 1610. Two places at Weymouth had just fallen vacant, through Thomas Barfoot’s death and Robert White’s incapacity, and when the writ was sent down for a by-election to replace the latter Member, it was accompanied by a letter from Sir Julius Caesar*, requesting the borough to elect William Cecil, Viscount Cranborne. At first the corporation demurred, responding on 13 June that Caesar’s message had arrived too late, and that the borough had already settled on an alternative candidate. However, within three days the inadvisability of rejecting the son of lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†) had been recognized. Accordingly, the corporation wrote again to Caesar, explaining that Cranborne’s anonymous rival had now withdrawn, and that the voters had agreed to elect the young viscount instead. Realizing that Cranborne might already have made alternative arrangements, they left their options open by sending up Barnard Michell with two blank indentures, dated 12 and 16 June, so that the matter could be resolved in London. The final outcome was that Cranborne took one seat, and Michell the other. Confusingly, though, the viscount was officially returned in place of Barfoot, rather than White, and his name was therefore entered on the indenture of 12 June, creating the impression that he was actually returned the day before the corporation confirmed that he had been rejected. Having achieved his objective on this occasion, Caesar presumably intervened again in 1614 when his son, Sir Charles, was returned.12
Weymouth pursued a specific agenda in Parliament only intermittently during this period. In 1604 the borough promoted a bill to convert the chapel-of-ease at Melcombe Regis into a full parish church. This would save the congregation from having to resort for major services to the less convenient church at Radipole, which would simultaneously lose its parochial status. Two of the borough’s Members had a direct interest in the measure. Thomas Barfoot undertook to provide a house to serve as the new parsonage, while Sir John Hanham was presumably concerned to guard the interests of his young cousin, James Hanham, who owned the advowson of Radipole. In the event, no Weymouth Members were included when the measure’s committee was appointed on 27 Apr., though the bill and committee list were delivered to Barfoot four days later. Amid concerns that this legislation did not provide adequate financial security for the rector of Radipole, the bill was rejected on 17 May. However, a revised version was brought in on 25 May, and this passed smoothly onto the statute books. The rector, who had sought to block the bill, remained unhappy with the outcome, and in the 1605-6 session a new measure ‘for the relief of the parson of Radipole’ was brought into the Commons, but lost in committee, apparently without the direct intervention of the borough’s representatives.13 In 1626 a further bill to establish a further church or chapel in Weymouth was introduced. Sir John Strangways was named personally to the committee on 25 Feb., though the borough’s other Members were also entitled to attend. The bill was ordered to be engrossed on 23 Mar., but it then proceeded no further.14
In 1624 Matthew Pitt and Thomas Giear provided the Commons’ grand committee on trade with a letter from Weymouth complaining about the new imposition on groceries. Pitt further informed the committee on 6 Apr. that his constituents were being overcharged by the collectors of the pretermitted custom on cloth. Moreover, Giear supplied evidence that was used against lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*), testifying on oath that Weymouth merchants were prevented from landing cargoes unless they paid the composition for purveyance of groceries.15 Giles Greene was doubtless also relaying complaints from his constituents during the 1626 Parliament, when he repeatedly protested against the government’s failure to protect merchant shipping in the English Channel.16 During this same session, the mayor of Weymouth, Henry Russell, was summoned before the Commons on 20 Feb. for breaching parliamentary privilege by arresting a servant of Richard Bushrod*.17 In general, however, the borough’s affairs attracted little attention at Westminster, to the extent that when Hugh Pyne died during the recess of the 1628-9 Parliament, no known steps were taken in the House to fill the vacancy.18
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Paul Hunneyball
- 1. Eg. 784, f. 41.
- 2. Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Min. Bk. ed. M. Weinstock (Dorset Rec. Soc. i), 9.
- 3. OR.
- 4. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 430, 449; HP Commons, 1386-1421, i. 375-6, 386; M. Weinbaum, British Bor. Chs. 33; Not. Parl. ii. 436
- 5. T. Gerard, Survey of Dorset, 35; E134/5 and 6 Chas.I/Hil. 29 (deposition of John Bond); Dorset RO, Weymouth corp. order bk. ff. 45, 73, 88; SP14/45/95; SP16/50/58.
- 6. C219/35/1/115, 121; 219/37/91.
- 7. Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Min. Bk. 7, 9-10; Dorset RO, corp. order bk., f. 93.
- 8. Dorset RO, P243/RE1; J.E. Griffith, Peds. Anglesey and Caern. Fams. 285; Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 184-5; PROB 11/127, f. 514.
- 9. Vis. Som. ed. Weaver, 67; Hutchins, iii. 502; STAC 8/295/30.
- 10. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 286; SP14/1/48; 14/6/74, 82, 85, 96.
- 11. Hutchins, ii. 440, 478, 662-3; The Ancestor, x. 198-9.
- 12. SP14/55/20, 23; C219/35/1/119, 121.
- 13. Hutchins, ii. 478; iii. 231; H.J. Moule, Docs. of Bor. of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, 192-5; CJ, i. 187b, 212b, 259a, 962a, 980a; SR, iv. 1059; Dorset RO, Weymouth bor. mss S58, S189.
- 14. Procs. 1626, ii. 86, 125, 349.
- 15. Cobbett, Parl. Hist. vi. 265; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 194; ‘Nicholas 1624’, ff. 115v-16.
- 16. Procs. 1626, ii. 97, 105, 108, 137, 142-3, 260.
- 17. Ibid. ii. 72-3 (the mayor is misidentified here as being Henry Michell).
- 18. WARD 7/78/139.