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:



22 Oct. 1605(SIR) THOMAS THYNNE vice Sir John Thynne, deceased
11 Feb. 1606SIR WALTER VAUGHAN vice Thynne, disqualified as he was already a Member
17 Jan. 1626WALTER LONG II

Main Article

Wiltshire can be divided into two main regions: the chalk downlands of the Marlborough Downs and Salisbury Plain, dominated by sheep-corn husbandry; and the cheese district of the northern and western parts of the county. There was also a separate ‘butter’ region in the south-west, and two royal forests, Savernake in the north, and Clarendon in the south-east. Wiltshire was a major centre for cloth manufacture, concentrated in the west of the county and along the Wyley, Avon and Nadder valleys in the south.1

By 1604 Wiltshire contained 16 parliamentary boroughs, more than any other shire except Cornwall. The larger boroughs sometimes returned inhabitants, but most were amenable to the influence of neighbouring gentry such as the Thynnes of Longleat, Hungerfords of Corsham, Bayntuns of Bromham, and Pophams of Littlecote. This tended to reduce the pressure on the county seats, where election contests were usually avoided before the Civil War. The fact that no candidate was returned at two consecutive elections during the period suggests there may have been an informal agreement to rotate the shire seats among the leading families. The county court was held at Wilton, the ancient shire town in the south of the county, yet it is worth noting that 10 of the 13 men returned as knights of the shire in this period came from families based in the north of the county.2

As might be expected, resident peers enjoyed considerable influence over the shire seats: in 1604 Sir Robert Stapleton* advised one of the candidates that whatever he was promised by the freeholders, they would ‘observe the dispositions of my very good lords, the earls of Hertford and Pembroke’ before making their decision.3 As Stapleton claimed, the shire’s chief aristocratic patrons were William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke, based at Wilton, and Edward Seymour, 1st earl of Hertford, and his grandson William Seymour*, the 2nd earl, whose seat at Great Bedwyn lay in the north of the county. The only newcomer who had a significant impact on the shire elections was Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, whose marriage to Catherine Knyvett had brought him large estates in the county. His patronage was chiefly restricted to the boroughs of Malmesbury and Cricklade, but in 1614 he secured a county seat for one of his younger sons, Thomas Howard*, later 1st earl of Berkshire.

Under Elizabeth the Herberts had dominated Wiltshire politics, but the balance of local power shifted when Hertford succeeded the 2nd earl of Pembroke as lord lieutenant in 1601. Sir John Thynne, the wealthiest commoner in Wiltshire, had a good claim to Hertford’s patronage, as the latter’s grandfather, Lord Protector Somerset, had set the Thynnes on the path to prosperity. However, in 1601 his quest for a county seat was undermined by Hertford’s nomination of two other candidates, while in 1604, when Thynne sought to pair with Sir Edmund Ludlow*, the senior seat went to Sir Francis Popham, son of chief justice Sir John Popham†. The main Popham estates lay in neighbouring Somerset; but as Sir Francis was a Wiltshire deputy lieutenant he was quite possibly endorsed by Hertford. Thynne took the junior county seat, but Ludlow had to content himself with a seat at Hindon, in partnership with Thynne’s son Thomas. The Hindon return was dated to the day before the shire election, which probably allowed Ludlow to withdraw from the county contest without losing face.4 Thynne died in November 1604, and at the ensuing by-election held in October 1605 his son Thomas was returned in his stead. This result was overturned by the Commons on 9 Nov., on the grounds that Thynne was already sitting for Hindon and could not, therefore, be returned for the county.5 A fresh election held on 11 Feb. 1606 saw the return of Sir Walter Vaughan, who was presumably a Pembroke nominee, as his great-uncle Charles Vaughan† had served the Herberts in the previous reign.

In 1614 the senior county seat went to Sir Thomas Howard, whose family were then at the height of their influence at Court; one of his kinswomen had also recently become Sir Thomas Thynne’s second wife. Howard was paired with a local landowner, Sir Henry Poole. Suffolk’s fall in 1618 precluded Howard’s re-election, but a similar combination of gentry and aristocratic influences occurred in 1621, when Sir Henry Bayntun was returned along with Hertford’s younger grandson Sir Francis Seymour – whose elder brother William Seymour*, Lord Beauchamp, had stood unsuccessfully for a county seat in Somerset. At the next election in 1624, the county seats were shared by two half-brothers, Sir Edward Hungerford and Sir John St. John. The latter’s sister was married to Sir Edward Villiers*, half-brother to the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, whose stock was then riding high as leader of the anti-Spanish ‘patriot’ cause, a consideration which may have assisted their election.

The 1625 election saw the return of Sir Francis Seymour once again, paired with Henry Ley, son of the lord treasurer, Lord Ley (Sir James Ley*). Seymour apparently dissuaded (Sir) Thomas Thynne from standing by claiming that his elder brother, now 2nd earl of Hertford, and the earl of Montgomery (Sir Philip Herbert*) ‘would give their assents for none but myself’.6 Seymour’s efforts in wrecking royal attempts to secure a large grant of supply during the parliamentary session persuaded the king to prick him as sheriff of Wiltshire in November 1625, thus ensuring that he could not stand for Parliament in the election which followed shortly thereafter. He approached Sir Thomas Wentworth* for a nomination in a northern constituency, in order to evade the prospect of having to return himself, but nothing came of this scheme, and rumours that he had been returned for Wiltshire proved equally unfounded.7 In his stead was returned Walter Long II, a landowner of rather lesser standing than was normal for a shire knight, who was also in financial difficulties. His cause was doubtless promoted by his stepfather Henry Sherfield*, recorder of Salisbury, and seems to have been supported by the earl of Pembroke, who found Long’s brother-in-law, Sir John Evelyn, a seat at Wilton at this election. Long repaid his patron by vigorously promoting the earl’s anti-Buckingham agenda in the Commons. The junior knight on this occasion was Sir Henry Poole, who consistently doubted the wisdom of attempting the duke’s impeachment.

In 1628 Long was sheriff, while Poole, who had served as a Forced Loan commissioner in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, seems to have decided not to stand for election at a time when the Loan was a divisive political issue.8 This allowed Seymour to resume the senior county seat, paired on this occasion with Sir William Button, 1st bt., whose family had long been tenants of the Herberts.

Authors: Henry Lancaster / Simon Healy


  • 1. D. Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion, 73-105; G.D. Ramsay, Wilts. Woollen Industry, 1-30, 122-38.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. iii. 111-13, 117, 123-4.
  • 3. Longleat, Thynne pprs. (IHR microfilm), vii. f. 310.
  • 4. Ibid. vii. ff. 212, 310.
  • 5. C142/290/110; CJ, i. 257a.
  • 6. Longleat, Thynne pprs. (IHR microfilm), viii. ff. 121-3.
  • 7. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 154; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 29-31.
  • 8. List of Sheriffs, 154; C193/12/2, f. 20.