A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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POLITICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY, 1545-1835
IN a memorandum dated February 1545 Sir Edward North, Treasurer of Augmentations, noted beneath the particulars of property of the dissolved college of St. Mary that, in order to receive some of these lands, the town of Warwick would have to be incorporated. (fn. 1) Incorporation was costly, and some time after March in the same year, the Guild of Warwick sold land for nearly £40 'for the obtaining and establishment of the King's Majesty's foundation of the parish church of Warwick and the King's new school within the same town'. (fn. 2) The first charter to the town was granted in May 1545, whereby the inhabitants were incorporated under the name of the 'Burgesses of the Town of Warwick'. (fn. 3)
Under this charter the corporation was permitted to acquire property to the value of 20 marks. Again the guild intervened, granting to the corporation its hall and about a third of its property in the town and neighbouring villages. (fn. 4) The role of the guild in these transactions is of some importance: its members were presumably the leading men in the town, the men likely to be responsible for the administration of the newly acquired property. Certainly the last two wardens of the guild before its dissolution, Thomas Roo (fn. 5) and Thomas Oken, (fn. 6) played important parts in the subsequent activities of the corporation. Further, of the nine men who witnessed the grant, and who may be presumed members, three became leading members of the new regime. (fn. 7) One of these, John Ray, under-bailiff of the town, represented continuity from the dissolved college, where he had been sub-treasurer and receiver-general. (fn. 8)
In the formative years of municipal government the two elements of college and guild were clearly present. The charter provided the corporation with an income of nearly £80 (fn. 9) out of which they had to find stipends for the Vicars of St. Mary's and St. Nicholas's in Warwick and for the Vicar of Budbrooke, together with salaries for the assistant clergy and staff at St. Mary's, for the schoolmaster of the King's School, and other charges. (fn. 10) To this extent, therefore, the charter of 1545 may be regarded as setting up a trust for a limited purpose, and not as establishing a corporation to govern the town. The clause which permitted further acquisitions of property, however, by implication permitted the corporation to undertake any further obligations which might be attached to them. The interest shown by the guild in obtaining the charter strongly suggests that such a contingency had been considered; and the grant of guild property so soon after incorporation, expressly stating the permissive clause in the charter, underlines this. The members of the guild were attempting to ensure some kind of continuity of purpose when their own organization was threatened. Their 'public services' of repairing the Castle Bridge and other highways (fn. 11) were continued by the corporation which, for example, repaired Emscote Bridge in 1548-9 and Castle Bridge two years later. (fn. 12) In this connexion, the burgesses were also granted in 1547 a rent from a burgage and other property in Smith Street to be taken after the death of the donor and his wife, for repairing the Castle Bridge and highways. (fn. 13) The rent was first paid to the town in 1552. (fn. 14) In this sense, therefore, the corporation was heir to the guild.
All this property was considered by the burgesses as part of the original endowment, and was accounted as a single unit even after the second charter. It was differentiated from later additions as 'the rents due to the town by the first corporation' (fn. 15) or as the 'burgess account'. (fn. 16) Subsequently it has become known as King Henry VIII's Estate. This income was administered on behalf of the corporation by a 'capital burgess', chosen by his fellows after the annual audit in the Guildhall. (fn. 17) It is not clear how far the administration of the town had developed before 1552; but, according to the terms of Willington's Charity (fn. 18) of 1549, (fn. 19) loans thereunder to be made to poor tradesmen were to be administered by an elected body of twelve burgesses. This probably indicates the existence of a formal governing body. Certainly at some date between 1549 and 1554 the 'governors' of the town were able to overrule a decision of the leet. (fn. 20) The accounts for 1549-51 are signed by six, and for 1552 by nine individuals, indicating, again, some kind of formal audit. (fn. 21) By 1552 the pattern of government, as set down by charter two years later, seems to have been established : at the election of the capital burgess Richard Brookes was chosen by twelve burgesses and 24 'commoners'. (fn. 22)
This body of burgesses was still technically subject to the manorial officers, though the overruling of a leet decision suggests that they had a large measure of autonomy. Thomas Martyn and John Ray, respectively manorial under-steward and underbailiff, were themselves townsmen whose interests must have coincided with those of the burgesses. Martyn was paid a fee 'for his pains taking for the corporation' in 1549, and again in 1551. (fn. 23) He signed the audited account in 1550. (fn. 24) The burgesses had, as yet, no town clerk in the formal sense, but Philip Sheldon, formerly a guild chantry chaplain at St. Mary's (fn. 25) and a lawyer, received regular payments for engrossing corporation documents and drawing up accounts. (fn. 26) References to formal meetings other than the audit are rare; but the burgesses certainly met in August 1549 to seek evidences to prevent Thomas Fisher, possibly in his capacity as bailiff, (fn. 27) from buying their hall. (fn. 28) A local gentleman and four times M.P. for the town, Clement Throckmorton of Haseley, was called in, and induced Fisher, for a consideration, to grant a release. (fn. 29) This attack on their title to the hall, an attack which might call in question the validity of the whole guild grant, must have caused general anxiety. There were certainly moves in 1548 and 1549 to secure another charter: a burgess went to London 'about the renewing and exemplifying of the charter' and later 'about the suit of the corporation . . . and for exemplifying of the same corporation'. (fn. 30)
In 1554 the burgesses succeeded in obtaining a new charter, (fn. 31) which remained the governing charter of the town, after renewal in 1560, (fn. 32) until 1613. The town was incorporated as a free borough under the title of 'Bailiff and Burgesses of the town of Warwick'. The area of the borough was defined and divided into eight wards, and its government was vested in a bailiff and twelve principal burgesses to form the common council, together with a recorder. The first holders of these offices were named in the charter, and provision was made for future elections. The bailiff and principal burgesses were allowed, further, to appoint assistants at their own discretion, and other borough officials including a town clerk were provided for.
No reference was made in the new charter to the original corporation, but it is evident that the administrative structure outlined was based on already existing practice. The new bailiff and ten of the principal burgesses had already held office in the town: Humphrey Hethe, the first bailiff, had just left office as capital burgess; Thomas Martyn, lately manorial under-steward, recalled the old corporation; Thomas Oken, the last master, recalled the vanished guild. Thus, in terms of personnel, the two corporations merged, though in terms of financial administration they continued separately. (fn. 33)
According to the charter the bailiff was to be elected each year at Michaelmas. The retiring bailiff with the principal burgesses nominated two of their number, from whom one was chosen by 'any other inhabitants of the town then and there present'. (fn. 34) In practice this gave the vote only to the assistant burgesses nominated by the common council. Counter-claims for election 'by the multitude being all burgesses' were rejected in 1579, (fn. 35) but in 1581 the bailiff was said to have been chosen by the twelve assistants 'before all the rest'. (fn. 36) In 1582 'the multitude being present' was said to have elected the bailiff. (fn. 37) The matter remained at issue, and in the following year the Earl of Leicester, in sympathy with the popular, and probably Puritan, (fn. 38) faction in the town, intervened by appointing a commission of enquiry. (fn. 39) The commissioners heard claims that the election 'ought to be done by the whole multitude', (fn. 40) rather than that 'a few sometimes not past six or seven claiming the whole power to themselves have made elections'. (fn. 41) Counsel for the burgesses declared that elections 'have been usually made' according to the charter, and cited the last election when the bailiff had been chosen by 'the other burgesses and inhabitants'. A final decision was submitted to judges chosen by each party, and as a result this point was dropped. (fn. 42) The Earl of Warwick wrote in 1584 that the burgesses had 'with care made good choice of their bailiffs' (fn. 43) and this seems to have settled the matter. James I's charter of 1613 merely confirmed existing practice in this respect. (fn. 44)
The form of the bailiff's oath reveals the dual aspect of his office as magistrate and administrator. In the former capacity he was a justice of the peace within the borough; he presided, with the recorder or town clerk, at the weekly court of record for civil cases and at the view of frankpledge twice a year; and as clerk of the market he was responsible for the assizes of bread and ale. (fn. 45) As administrator he presided over the common council of the borough and had the return of all royal writs to the exclusion of royal officers. Thus at the queen's visit to the town in 1572 the sheriff was not permitted to carry his rod of office into the town, (fn. 46) nor, later, could he make an arrest there because 'it is within a corporation'. (fn. 47)
The bailiff was also a financial officer in the early years of the corporation, answerable to the principal burgesses for so much income as was given to the corporation under the 1554 charter, and for later additions. (fn. 48) On at least five occasions between 1558 and 1581 the bailiff also accounted for the income arising from the first charter, together with the former guild property. The bailiff was, further, responsible for the administration of charities vested in the corporation. (fn. 49)
The office was, therefore, an onerous one. Several bailiffs incurred personal debts in the discharge of their official duties, and not until 1617 was it decided to pay the bailiff £20 a year. (fn. 50) But even at the end of the century this was regarded as an allowance for hospitality. (fn. 51) As a result refusals to serve were not uncommon: in 1565 William Hill declared that 'the want of a wife to govern his house and family was such a maim unto him' as to prevent him from executing the office. (fn. 52) His refusal was accepted but was immediately followed by refusals from three other principal burgesses who, in consequence, suffered removal from the common council. Richard Roo apparently refused with impunity in 1578, (fn. 53) but Richard Townsend was fined four years earlier, as prescribed by the 1554 charter and the Book of Orders. (fn. 54) The charter of 1612 increased this fine to £20 (fn. 55) but half the fine was restored to one man in 1637. (fn. 56) Yet it was an office of some dignity: the principal burgesses were required to obey the bailiff's instructions; (fn. 57) they were to follow him in procession; (fn. 58) and were to report anyone who slandered him. (fn. 59) As the queen's procession approached the town in 1572, Mr. Bailiff, dressed in scarlet, with his mace, walked with the sheriff next before the queen. (fn. 60)
To assist the bailiff, the charter of 1554 nominated twelve men as principal burgesses, who, together with him were to form the common council of the borough. Vacancies were to be filled within eight days by the choice of the council from among the inhabitants of the town. This in practice meant choosing from among the ranks of the assistant burgesses, and, like the method of electing the bailiff, was attacked by the popular party. (fn. 61) They should be elected, it was claimed, not by the choice of the common council, but by 'the whole multitude'. (fn. 62) Finding support from the Earls of Warwick and Leicester, the popular party attempted in 1585 to procure the resignation of the council and force an election before other preparations could be made. (fn. 63) This attempt was frustrated by the corporation, and a body of some eighty inhabitants, hastily gathered, expressed themselves contented with the existing system 'and knew no cause why they should think otherwise'. (fn. 64) The Earl of Warwick was still not satisfied, (fn. 65) but counsels' opinion supported the corporation's case. (fn. 66) Perhaps as a result of continued uncertainty, the choice of an assistant by the common council in 1586 to fill a vacancy was set aside in favour of a nominee of the assistants themselves. (fn. 67) The 1613 charter allowed principal burgesses to be chosen either from among the assistants or from other inhabitants of four years standing. (fn. 68) This may well reflect an increasing reluctance on the part of assistant burgesses to join the common council, a reluctance suggested by the sharp increase in the fine for refusal, from £1 in 1573 (fn. 69) to £10 in 1612. (fn. 70) This fine was reaffirmed in 1614, (fn. 71) but refusals to serve remained common up to the end of the century. (fn. 72)
Meetings of the common council were convened by the bailiff through the serjeant at mace. The burgesses usually met in the Guildhall until 1571, and then in St. Mary's Church, probably either in the chapter house or the sextry over the vestry until the Court House was acquired in 1576. (fn. 73) The common seal seems to have been kept at St. Mary's, in the corporation chest together with cash, documents, and plate, and occasional meetings continued to be held there when the seal was required. (fn. 74) The Court House then became the usual meeting place, apparently in a room later known as the Mayor's Parlour. (fn. 75) After 1590 the Shire Hall was also used for certain corporation business. (fn. 76)
The charter of 1554 empowered the bailiff and principal burgesses to add to their number tantos alios burgenses de inhabitantibus proboribus burgi from time to time according to their discretion. (fn. 77) This permissive clause was interpreted in the creation of a body of 24 'assistant' burgesses, sometimes called 'commoners', who had appeared in the government of the town by 1552. (fn. 78) The corporation regarded this body as representative of all the inhabitants of the town, the 'mouth of all commoners', a more convenient arrangement 'than if every rude fellow should have his speech'. (fn. 79) But it was made quite clear that the assistants could be dismissed if necessary, and that they existed, indeed, 'more of courtesy than for any necessity'. (fn. 80) Yet the common council recognized that the assistants minimized the danger of popular claims for a share in the government of the town.
The assistants, led in 1571 by their own prolocutor, attempted to make their position more secure. (fn. 81) They had already established themselves as electors of the bailiff and of parliamentary burgesses. (fn. 82) In 1565 they had claimed some control in financial matters, and in protest a few had refused to take the oath to the bailiff. (fn. 83) In 1571 their case was better presented: they declared they were 'greatly restrained' in their choice of bailiff, and that, although they were allowed to be present at the audit, they had no control over spending, but were 'as ciphers not to be reckoned of'. (fn. 84) The bailiff and burgesses, however, rejected these claims and the assistants, having withdrawn, were suspended from office. (fn. 85)
The burgesses evidently felt that a smaller body of assistants would be easier to deal with. (fn. 86) Thus two years later twelve assistants, described as 'the inferior sort of the dwellers and inhabitants', (fn. 87) were called to hold office. They were to give advice to the bailiff and principal burgesses which the latter could 'use upon such causes as shall be thought necessary', namely at the election of the bailiff, and of parliamentary burgesses, at all fairs and at 'such other notable times as cause shall require'. (fn. 88) It was further laid down that any assistant misusing his office should be expelled within fourteen days; that an assistant chosen to be a principal burgess should forfeit 20s. for refusal; and that refusal to take office as an assistant involved a fine of 10s. (fn. 89) In 1613 these fines were increased to £10 and £5. (fn. 90) Refusals to serve as assistants remained extremely common.
Despite fears, expressed during the crisis of 1571, that a large number of assistants might eventually overwhelm the common council 'and so should it come to pass that the foot shall govern the head', (fn. 91) the number of assistants was increased in 1587 to the original 24, (fn. 92) each ward, later, being represented by three. (fn. 93) The reason for this increase seems to have been the growing power of the assistants themselves, who, in 1586, had been able to reject nominees of the common council and substitute two assistants of their own choice. (fn. 94) In that year, too, the corporation had been faced with considerable popular support for Job Throckmorton in his candidacy for Parliament. (fn. 95) A few days before the decision to increase their numbers, one of the assistants had also been appointed to collect corporation rents under the first charter, an office hitherto performed either by the bailiff or one of the principal burgesses. (fn. 96)
In 1611, (fn. 97) however, the number of assistants was again reduced to twelve. This was confirmed by the charter of 1613, which, further, declared that the choice of new principal burgesses was no longer to be restricted to candidates from the body of assistants. (fn. 98) By this time the bailiff seems to have resumed the burden of accounting for corporation rents, though in 1629 and 1632 individual assistants deputised for him. (fn. 99)
The assistants continued occasionally to attend the weekly meetings of the common council in a subordinate capacity. When, in October 1631, the question of increasing the stipend of the Vicar of St. Mary's arose, the principal burgesses first decided the matter, and then 'the assistant burgesses being called and acquainted with this agreement, do think well and approve of the same and willingly consent thereunto'. (fn. 100) While some assistants refused to take office as principal burgesses, others seem to have resented their subjection. In 1636 an assistant, by 'scandalous words' complained that 'lawyers and haylers' were chosen to be principal burgesses, and the assistants passed over. (fn. 101) Perhaps as a result of further criticism of this kind, it was agreed in 1639 that if there were sufficient suitable assistants, then the principal burgesses should henceforth be elected from them and not from the inhabitants at large. (fn. 102) This was, in fact, no advance at all, and the principal burgesses continued to veto the promotion of individual assistants, (fn. 103) though the assistants themselves now more frequently produced a short list to fill vacancies in their own ranks. (fn. 104) Yet their subordination was still very apparent: while elections were being held in 1659 to choose a principal burgess, the second company had to wait in an outer room, to be called in later to hear the result. (fn. 105)
A recorder was provided under the 1554 charter, (fn. 106) to hold office during the pleasure of the bailiff and burgesses. He was to be ex officio a justice of the peace within the borough, and, with the bailiff, was to hold the weekly borough court, and the leet and view of frankpledge twice a year. In practice the recorder exercised his office through his deputy, the town clerk, and only twice, apparently, did he preside over the leet in person during the 16th century. (fn. 107) Although the terms of his oath of office required him to give his 'best advice and counsel in all such matters and causes as you shall be made of counsel', (fn. 108) the recorder was rarely consulted by the corporation. (fn. 109) Nevertheless Fulke Greville's aid was sought when the burgesses wanted a new charter in 1610. (fn. 110) The recorder's fee of 26s. 8d. was little more than nominal, and when Edward Aglionby remained in the town to give the charge at the leet in 1581 he received an extra payment. (fn. 111)
Quite early in the history of the corporation, the recordership lost most of its legal character and became political. The election of James Dyer in 1587 was made on the recommendation of an outsider, Sir John Harington, though the corporation afterwards informed the Earl of Warwick of its action. (fn. 112) The choice of his successor, Mr. Serjeant Puckering, in 1590, was made, apparently, without reference to outside interests, partially explained by the death of the Earl of Warwick a few months before. (fn. 113) But Thomas Cartwright, the Puritan minister, (fn. 114) saw Puckering's appointment as a 'singular mean of doing much good unto the town'. (fn. 115) The appointment of Sir Fulke Greville (d. 1628) in 1610, (fn. 116) the first of a long line of his family to hold the office, (fn. 117) offended Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, who proceeded to attack the corporation. (fn. 118) Apart from notices in council minutes when one recorder gave place to another, few other activities of these men are noted. Once an assistant burgess was allowed to decline his election as a principal burgess with a remission of fine and promise not to be elected again, as a result of letters from the recorder at the time. (fn. 119)
Most of the recorder's duties in the borough were carried out by his deputy, the town clerk, a fact recognized by the 1613 charter, which required him to be learned in the English law. The town clerk sat at the weekly court of record, and often presided over the leet as borough steward. (fn. 120) John Fisher (town clerk ? 1569-70 until after 1588) was also auditor and surveyor of corporation lands, for which he received a fee of £5. (fn. 121) Fisher's highly personal accounts of his activities in the Black Book of Warwick and the Book of John Fisher indicate the role which could be played by the town clerk in corporation affairs as legal adviser, advocate, and member of Parliament. (fn. 122)
The earliest recorded town clerk, Roger Edgeworth, was in office by 1564, (fn. 123) and had been steward of Stratford-upon-Avon from 1553 to 1559. (fn. 124) He left Warwick for Coventry in 1569. (fn. 125) He was followed by John Fisher, probably a native of the town, who represented the most conservative elements in the corporation. It was largely through his efforts that the corporation rode the storm of popular pressure in the seventies and eighties. (fn. 126) William Spicer (town clerk at his death in 1611), was member of Parliament for the borough three times. (fn. 127) He was succeeded by John Norton (1611-28), apparently a member of Greville's staff. (fn. 128) By this time the town clerk needed an assistant, and Ralph Townsend was appointed Norton's deputy. (fn. 129) By 1619 Edward Rainsford had succeeded Townsend as deputy, and in that year both he and Norton were required by the common council to advise the recorder and other lawyers to take steps against Lord Ellesmere's Decree. (fn. 130) Rainsford probably succeeded Norton in 1628, and was probably the author (fn. 131) of the Remonstrance, a spirited defence of the corporation and a history of the 'many suits and troubles of the town'. (fn. 132)
The only other borough officer established under the 1554 charter was the serjeant at mace, whose duty was to execute orders of the bailiff, including summonses to attend the common council. (fn. 133) By 1580 the serjeant was also acting as collector of rents from shops in corporation property. (fn. 134) His annual fee of 26s. 8d. was doubled in 1622. (fn. 135) The 1613 charter provided him with a yeoman as deputy. It was decided in 1653 that the serjeant should summon the common council, and the yeoman the second company. (fn. 136) There was a town beadle by 1580, receiving livery of 11s. (fn. 137) Each of the eight wards of the town elected a constable and thirdborough to keep the peace. (fn. 138) These were not corporation employees, but were occasionally paid for particular services. (fn. 139)
The administration of justice was in the hands of the bailiff and recorder who were, ex officio, the only justices of the peace within the borough. There seems to have been some ambiguity about their status, however, and it was found necessary to have the bailiff, two principal burgesses, and the town clerk appointed under special commission. (fn. 140) The charter of 1613 was intended to clarify this position by creating the bailiff, recorder (or his deputy), and the two senior principal burgesses who had passed the chair, as justices within the borough. The court continued on these terms for the next 220 years, until its value was called in question after the passage of the Municipal Corporations Act. (fn. 141)
A weekly court of record was established within the borough by the 1554 charter to hear pleas of debt, account, and other personal causes not exceeding £10. It was presided over by the bailiff and the town clerk, and two principal burgesses could be called in to assist. (fn. 142) More than half of the cases brought before the court, informally recorded by John Fisher between 1580 and 1587, (fn. 143) were concerned with vagrancy and theft. (fn. 144) By the end of the 18th century the court had almost fallen into disuse. Between 1785 and 1792 only four cases were heard, but the rate thereafter increased slightly. (fn. 145) By 1832 pleas involving amounts up to £40 were being heard by the town clerk, who then normally acted as the judge. 'Respectable tradesmen' formed the juries at the court, and the inquiry commissioner of 1835 found that the court was not without some use. (fn. 146)
The establishment of the borough in 1554 created a new unit of local administration distinct from the ancient manor of Warwick. A court leet and view of frankpledge were thenceforth held for the borough alone. The view was held twice a year before the bailiff and recorder, though the latter usually appeared by deputy. (fn. 147) The leet was held by the steward of the borough (the town clerk) in the absence of the recorder. (fn. 148) Even before the borough was formally established by the 1554 charter the leet, then presumably having jurisdiction over the manor, was making orders for the regulation of trade. (fn. 149) This function continued, partly through orders to particular trades, and partly through the appointment of bread weighers, fish and flesh tasters, ale tasters, and leather sealers. (fn. 150) The leet also exercised its jurisdiction through the appointment of constables and thirdboroughs in each ward, of the chamberlains of St. Mary's Common, and of the surveyors of pavements. Thus the leet issued and supervised orders concerning prices and public health, fire precautions, and poverty at a time when the corporation had ceased to interest itself in such matters. (fn. 151) But at some date after the middle of the 17th century and before the end of the 18th century the authoritative tone of court leet orders to townsmen gave way to often timid recommendations made to the corporation. Constables, thirdboroughs, and other officers continued to be appointed but until 1827 they were evidently nominal. (fn. 152) In that year, when the assistant burgesses were restored to the corporation, the leet decided to put its own house in order. Some of its own officials who had been in office for eighteen years were replaced, and the recommendations made to the corporation in that year took on a more authoritative tone. Questions of public health were raised again, though with little success, but the leet managed to obtain control over the fire brigade, and to some extent over the night watch and the police force.
The original endowment of the town under the first charter provided an income of nearly £80, the fixed charges from which amounted to just over £59, together with unspecified outgoings for the wages of subordinate staff at St. Mary's, for the upkeep of St. Mary's chancel, and for the necessary expenses of management and repair. (fn. 153) To this property the Guild of Warwick added its hall and lands and tenements in the town and surrounding villages which in the years, 1545-69 produced between £10 and £12. (fn. 154) Together with offerings at St. Mary's and other small gifts to the corporation, the average annual income under the first charter in the years 1545-69 was nearly £97. The average annual expenditure for the same period was nearly £87. (fn. 155)
Under the 1554 charter further properties were given to the corporation, but were separately accounted for, the bailiff being responsible for these while the other, known as the 'burgess account', was the responsibility, first of a principal burgess and, after 1587, of an assistant burgess. (fn. 156) The new property comprised the rents of shops in the Booth Hall and Court House, (fn. 157) estreats, and market and fair dues. (fn. 158) From this source had to be found fees for corporation officers, expenses of members of Parliament, rewards, and presents. The bailiff's account for 1580-1 showed an income of over £12 together with several strays, and outgoings of over £22. (fn. 159) This was not typical, it seems, for the previous bailiff had a credit balance of £6.
There is ample evidence that the financial state of the corporation was by no means secure. The stipends of the clergy and schoolmaster under the 1545 charter were considerably increased up to 1568 (fn. 160) but were still considered inadequate and provided the excuse for a plea to the Earl of Leicester for more property. (fn. 161) Uneconomic leasing was thought to be the cause of such an insecure situation, (fn. 162) but the property so held was by long leases which could only be increased when they came to be renewed. (fn. 163) The weakness seems to have centred on the bailiff's account: it was, by itself, hardly adequate to support the charges which might normally be laid upon it, but the corporation was obliged to give presents not only to judges and other royal officials but, more liberally, to the Dudleys. In 1564 a local rate was levied for the Earl of Warwick; (fn. 164) in 1571 the corporation presented him and the Earl of Leicester with a yoke of oxen costing £10, which had to be taken from the reserve. (fn. 165) About 40 per cent. of the outgoings in 1580-1 were spent in this way. (fn. 166) Thus it was impossible to build up a reserve for emergencies, and in a crisis plate had to be sold, a local rate levied, or cash borrowed from the burgess account. (fn. 167) The corporation certainly sought to alter leases where possible, and levied entry fines where appropriate, (fn. 168) but they were, nevertheless, subject too easily to the effects of non-payment of rents and tithes. Powerful neighbours were able successfully to challenge the corporation's title to some of its properties: Sir Thomas Puckering (d. 1636) and Lord Brooke were able to withdraw their tithes with impunity, (fn. 169) and in 1638 the right of presentation to the churches of Rushock and Stone was lost after nearly a century. (fn. 170)
The weakness of the corporation was further exemplified in its inability to take advantage of increasing property values. (fn. 171) The Court of Chancery, not the inhabitants, had to decide on additional expenditure, and while evidence of mismanagement can certainly be found, complainants were often inspired by personal motives. Sir Thomas Leigh of Stoneleigh, offended that Greville was preferred to himself in the office of recorder, encouraged several local attorneys to complain of misappropriation. Leigh used his influence with his friend and kinsman, Lord Chancellor Egerton, first to withhold the Great Seal from the town's new charter for five years, (fn. 172) and secondly to give countenance to the complaints by appointing a commission of county justices to enquire into corporation finances. The result was Lord Ellesmere's Decree of 1615, (fn. 173) which ordered that accounts should in future be submitted to the high sheriff - an office then held by Sir Thomas Leigh. The rent of properties held by some of the burgesses was increased, and the corporation thenceforth had to distribute £16 to the poor each year and provide £100 in stock to find work for the poor. The complainants were rewarded with leases of corporation tithes. Further charges were established in the Decree of Lord Keeper Coventry in 1638, when the corporation lost the advowsons of Rushock, Stone, and Chaddesley Corbett. (fn. 174)
The position of authority held by the corporation within the town contrasts markedly with its relationship with the Dudleys, the Grevilles, and local gentry. The corporation was conservative in religious matters. Philip Sheldon had been a chantry chaplain at St. Mary's before the dissolution of the college, (fn. 175) and in 1564 the bailiff and six principal burgesses were labelled 'adversaries of True Religion' by the Puritan Bishop of Worcester. (fn. 176) In contrast, under the patronage of the Dudleys in the town and of the Throckmortons in the locality, a strong Puritan element developed, (fn. 177) and it is likely that the popular faction in the town which challenged the exclusiveness of the corporation was directly inspired by its growth. In 1586 a widespread campaign was launched by the Puritans in the country to secure the election of a number of their leaders to Parliament. (fn. 178) Job Throckmorton, probably the author of the Marprelate Tracts, presented himself as a candidate in Warwick although two nominations had already been received. Despite the fact that he was not even technically a burgess, the size of his popular following forced the corporation to drop their candidate and make Throckmorton a burgess. It was better to lose face than to allow an election by popular acclaim. (fn. 179) The Grevilles succeeded the Dudleys as patrons of dissent, (fn. 180) but the movement in Warwick ceased to voice its political claims against the corporation. The violent anti-Stuart opinions of Robert, second Lord Brooke, 'fanatic Brooke', secured the castle for Parliament in 1642, and the corporation was persuaded to raise money towards the cost of the war. (fn. 181) Before fighting began a parliamentary troop entered the town, broke down the market cross, and defaced the Beauchamp Chapel. (fn. 182) A Royalist force soon afterwards entered Warwick and the castle withstood a short siege, (fn. 183) but thereafter the town became the centre from which the parliamentary forces secured their hold on the rest of the county. Both during and after the war there is little evidence of enthusiasm within the corporation for either side. The loan to Parliament was evidently given grudgingly and was a considerable burden on the finances. Robert Morell, an assistant, was passed over for election as a principal burgess 'being refractory to the presbyterian government and forbearing to come to the public assembly for worship of God in the public congregation'. (fn. 184) In June 1660, on the other hand, Edmund Frankton was removed from office as a principal burgess for speaking against the king and his mother. (fn. 185) These are the only traceable political ejections before 1662.
The parliamentary history of Warwick in the period 1541-1662 graphically illustrates the changing position of the borough and the corporation within the county. The period may be divided into four phases, the first ending in 1560 with the creation of Ambrose Dudley as Earl of Warwick in 1561. (fn. 186) During this period the Throckmorton family of Haseley dominated the scene, Clement Throckmorton sitting four times (1541-2, 1547, 1552-3, 1553), Kenelm twice (1545, 1555), and John (1552- 1553), George (1554 April), and Thomas (1559), once each. (fn. 187) They probably owed their elections to their local influence with the burgesses, rather than to their court connexions. During the same period Thomas Fisher sat in five successive Parliaments (1554 April and November, 1555, 1557-8, 1559); originally appointed by the Duke of Somerset to be bailiff and collector of rents in the manor of Warwick, (fn. 188) Fisher is said to have been a follower of the Duke of Northumberland, and from 1545-53 was keeper of Warwick Castle. From 1546 Fisher was also owner of St. Sepulchre's Priory. (fn. 189) William Webbe (1541-2) and William Pynnock (1545) lived outside the town, but had connexions there, the latter as rent collector in the manor 1530-36. Ralph Brome, or Brown, (1554 November) of Woodloes had property in the town; John Butler (1557-8, 1572-3) was a burgess; Edward Ferrers (1553) may have owed his return to family influence, his grandfather having been bailiff of Warwick 1509-1535. William Pykering (1547), the only real outsider, probably owed his return to Northumberland.
The new powers given to the corporation by the 1554 charter meant only a little more independence in parliamentary elections, for the corporation found it 'meet and necessary' (fn. 190) to allow the earl to control one of the seats. Thus Thomas Dudley, a member of the earl's family, was returned in 1572, 1584, 1586, and 1588-9. Walter Haddon (1562) was probably one of the earl's men, and Edward Aglionby, later recorder, was chosen in 1571 on the earl's recommendation. (fn. 191) The other seat went to John Fisher, burgess and town clerk, in 1571, 1572, and 1584, and to James Dyer, the recorder, in 1588-9. Only in 1586, when the Puritan pressure was at its height, were the burgesses obliged to accept a man not of their own choosing, Job Throckmorton. (fn. 192)
After Ambrose Dudley's death in 1590, the burgesses were able, for a short while, to exercise their full rights. For the Parliament of 1592-3 they choose John Huggeford, a local gentleman, and William Coombe, their legal counsel. In the next three Parliaments John Townsend and William Spicer, both burgesses and the latter town clerk, represented the borough.
From 1614 until 1826 (fn. 193) townsmen of Warwick were completely excluded in favour of local gentry and their connexions. While the Grevilles, the Lucys, or the Throckmortons could not claim exclusive rights of nomination, at different times they exerted considerable influence. In the third decade of the century Sir Thomas Puckering, of the Priory, enjoyed a very strong position. For the Parliament of 1626 he expected to be elected by the town, but the corporation, considering his 'natural malignancy' and that he was 'but a stranger in the country and not so commodiously sending corn to the market for the general good of the people . . . nor a man of such noble hospitality ...' inclined rather to 'gratify' Francis Lucy and their recorder, who supported Sir Francis Leigh. (fn. 194) 'Willing to obtain the favour' of Puckering, however, the corporation elected him for the next Parliament, no doubt hoping thereby to induce him to withdraw a lawsuit against the town. (fn. 195) Puckering, however, chose to sit for Tamworth, and his seat was taken by Francis Lucy. (fn. 196) Despite these overtures from the corporation, Puckering renewed his case before the Committee of Privilege, which in 1628 declared that 'the right of election for this town belongeth to the Commonalty'. (fn. 197) The subsequent voidance of the election allowed Puckering to use his victory to the full by securing the election of Anthony Stoughton, of St. John's, although 'the corporation conceived little worthiness in him'. (fn. 198)
The effect of Puckering's successful suit was, however, not to diminish the corporation's control, but rather to force contending parties to bid higher for their support. (fn. 199) In a by-election in 1641 the town clerk incurred the displeasure of the recorder by attempting to induce the bailiff to grant votes to all inhabitants in favour of Mr. Spencer Lucy. (fn. 200) Interpretation of voting rights, it seems, at times lay with the corporation; but by the end of the century, payment of scot and lot was the accepted qualification. (fn. 201)
For the thirty years after 1664 the history of Warwick corporation, as of many others, reflects successive attempts by the Crown to establish political control in the borough, largely through the impositions of religious tests. At Warwick in 1662 the commissioners to receive the oath and declaration under the Corporation Act found only three members who refused to subscribe, the bailiff himself, one principal, and one assistant burgess. (fn. 202) These three were consequently removed from office. Thus purged the corporation then petitioned for confirmation and extension of its liberties. (fn. 203) The new charter, dated 13 October 1664, (fn. 204) reconstituted the corporation as a mayor, twelve aldermen, and twelve assistant burgesses, the latter forming an integral and essential part of the governing body. The assistants seemed to have equal powers with the aldermen in everything except corporation appointments and the administration of justice. In practice they seem to have enjoyed no more power than their predecessors; their names are almost completely omitted from council minutes (fn. 205) and vacancies in their ranks were not regularly filled. In 1675 a revolt of the assistants against attending the mayor to church on Sundays as they had long been obliged to do suggests that their status had changed little from a century before.
In structure, therefore, the corporation was little altered by the new charter. Crown control was established in other ways by providing that the corporation's choice of recorder and town clerk was subject to veto and that all members of the corporation had to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. As some kind of compensation the corporation was given two extra annual fairs. (fn. 206) Together with the clause in the Corporation Act requiring members to take the sacrament within a year of appointment, these measures effectively barred nonconformists from office. Occasionally it appears that some were elected in order to obtain the fine for their refusal, 44 elections being needed to fill 34 vacancies between 1664 and 1684. These refusals, significantly, occurred during the two noticeable periods of intolerance, the years of the Clarendon Code (1664-6) and in the Tory triumph after the Oxford Parliament (1682-3). (fn. 207) In the intervening years a few dissenters held office, partly as a result of a slight modification of the Declaration against the League and Covenant Oath required under the Corporation Act. (fn. 208) This loophole was barred after a Privy Council enquiry in 1680, together with any attempts at occasional conformity, though the burgesses seem to have resisted Crown intervention. (fn. 209)
The purges of the years 1682-3 following the dismissal of the Oxford Parliament, and two loyal addresses to the king, (fn. 210) suggest that the attempt to gain greater control over corporations in order to obtain a submissive Parliament was supported in Warwick. The corporation probably petitioned for a new charter in the summer of 1683, and Lord Brooke, the recorder, and his deputy, James Prescott, were active in negotiations with Sunderland, then Secretary of State, and the Attorney General. (fn. 211) The warrant for the new charter was issued in November 1683, (fn. 212) and the charter itself, (fn. 213) dated December 18 was received by the corporation on January 21, 1684. (fn. 214)
The new charter 'with certain restrictions and reservations for the better government' of the borough, placed further limitations on members of the corporation. The number of assistant burgesses was reduced to eight, (fn. 215) fines for refusing office were doubled, and the oaths of allegiance and supremacy were to be taken not only by members of the corporation but also by members of the trade companies. (fn. 216) To ensure even stricter control, the Crown was enabled to displace any member of the corporation or its officers by Order in Council. (fn. 217) It appears, however, that dissenters were restored to office again, a practice continued until the members of the corporation were removed in 1688. (fn. 218) The popular fear of Popery, which in Warwick in 1666 required a troop of horse to restore order after a boy gathering blackberries had found what was pronounced a Popish fireball, (fn. 219) became a greater force under James II. The dispute between the corporation and William Eades, Vicar of St. Mary's, arose at least partly from his Popish tendencies, and the intrusion of George Weale, possibly a relative, as an alderman, was probably made by the government for political motives. (fn. 220) The appearance of troops quartered in the town is evidence of the government's awareness of opposition there. (fn. 221) Such pressure proved unsuccessful; the quarrel with Eades was continued even more vigorously, the mayor being promised repayment of all money he should spend on vindicating the corporation's rights. (fn. 222) Three months later the corporation took the further precaution of vesting the revenues of King Henry VIII's Estate in trustees, 'for the preservation thereof in such manner as hath been by counsel advised'. (fn. 223) Some three weeks later an Order in Council removed all the members of the corporation from the recorder to the beadle. (fn. 224)
Plans were immediately put in hand for the grant of a new charter, Warwick's being among those which in the same month were 'thought fit by the right honourable the committee for regulating corporations to be forthwith renewed at his Majesty's charge'. (fn. 225) A warrant was accordingly issued in September under which a new corporation of recorder, mayor, and twelve aldermen was nominated. (fn. 226) The new corporation (fn. 227) was to be headed by Francis, Viscount Carrington, as the new recorder, with John Eades as mayor. At least nine of the aldermen were members of families having no apparent connexion with the town, but living in that area to the south and west of Warwick which was the home of most of the county's Roman Catholic families. (fn. 228) These nine were themselves Roman Catholics and several of them had but recently been appointed to the commission of the peace. (fn. 229) Together with the recorder, also a Roman Catholic, the new mayor, John Eades, probably the father of the young Vicar of St. Mary's, (fn. 230) and the Roman Catholic Vincent Oakley, the town clerk, the suggested new corporation was in violent contrast to its predecessor. The only surviving member of the old regime was Thomas Stratford, a justice for the borough, who had been appointed an assistant burgess before 1655. (fn. 231)
The warrant for the charter, given in abbreviated form, (fn. 232) stated that 'the clause about election of Parliament men' had been omitted. As in the case of several other parliamentary boroughs at this time, this probably indicated an attempt to restrict the franchise to members of the corporation only, thus ensuring complete control in parliamentary elections. The almost immediate reversal of James's policy in October 1688 left Warwick in a position shared only by Droitwich. (fn. 233) The proclamation suspending certain 'obnoxious' charters which was issued in October did not cover Warwick's case, since no new charter had actually been issued. In this confusion, the members of the ejected corporation resumed their functions in December 'to keep the inferior people in awe who were then tumultuous', but 'expecting to have been settled by some general Act of Parliament'. (fn. 234) But the legal position was confused and precarious. Nevertheless the corporation continued to govern the town, and also resumed its dispute with William Eades. Such uncertainty, however, could not be prolonged indefinitely, and in September 1689 the town clerk and Edward Willes were desired by the recorder and corporation 'to draw and obtain a new charter' by 'the best and speediest way they can for the settling the same'. (fn. 235) This or a later petition was referred to the Law Officers in December 1690 (fn. 236) and a further request was made in December 1691. (fn. 237) Before this attempt the leading men of the borough seem to have tried to force the issue by ceasing to act in September 1691, since when there had been 'no face of a corporation' in the town. Not until June 1692 was a warrant issued for a bill of incorporation. (fn. 238) No council minutes have survived for these critical years and it is not known how the town was governed until the new charter was received, (fn. 239) dated March 1693. (fn. 240) This remained the governing charter of Warwick until 1835.
The charter of 1693 marks a return to the years before the Crown attempts to control the borough, for although the oaths and declarations were still for a time required, they soon became a formality and were couched in terms acceptable to dissenters. (fn. 241) No longer did the Crown claim the right of veto over appointments, so that the corporation, in effect, shed all controls and as a result was restored to its preeminent position in the town. Further, the new charter restricted the power of assistant burgesses by removing them from the common council of the borough, a position they had enjoyed since 1664. They disappeared a few years later as a result, it is said, of supporting a parliamentary candidate in opposition to the rest of the corporation in 1698. (fn. 242) This is unlikely, but in 1699 the mayor and aldermen restated the inferior position of the assistants, and declared that they could not carry out their functions adequately if they held any administrative office in the borough. (fn. 243) The removal of the assistants did not occur immediately; three were appointed in 1700 though two of these refused to take the oath of office and may well have been dismissed. (fn. 244) A new alderman was chosen from among them in 1704, and his fine on refusal to take his oath a year later is the last direct reference to the second company until their re-appearance in 1827. (fn. 245) Their seats in St. Mary's were referred to in 1706. (fn. 246)
The position of the mayor and aldermen, without even the theoretical brake of the assistant burgesses, established an oligarchy in Warwick which was heightened by several other factors. The magnitude of the fire in 1694 required outside aid from the beginning, and the resulting activities of the commissioners for the rebuilding seems to have had the effect of isolating the corporation. (fn. 247) A council minute of 1695 noted that there was a greater need for full attendances at meetings as a result of the fire, and a fine for non-attendance was established. (fn. 248) On the other hand, meetings were to be held monthly instead of weekly, a reversion to 16th-century practice. Two other factors contributed to the growing isolation of the corporation. One was the final disappearance of the trade companies which left the corporation as the sole governing body of any kind within the borough, though the companies had long ceased to exercise any economic function. (fn. 249) The exclusive character of the corporation, accentuated by the oath of secrecy imposed on its members, made it susceptible of direct control only on financial matters, and then only by recourse to an expensive suit in Chancery. Influence might, nevertheless, be brought to bear in other spheres, more particularly in parliamentary elections.
The sympathy of the corporation and the Grevilles with Crown policy under Charles II resulted in a pattern of parliamentary representation during the reign unchanged from the earlier years of the century. The Castle influence was there and a Greville sat from 1664-77. (fn. 250) The names of other members, Throckmorton, Puckering, and Lucy echo those of former members. The pattern remained unchanged after the election to James II's only Parliament, the result, perhaps, of government precautions to prevent a contested election. (fn. 251) Colonel Archer was offered a seat at Tamworth for his eldest son so that Simon, Lord Digby, and Thomas Coventry might be returned unopposed. (fn. 252) Digby's death in the following year found the government again anxious, Sunderland asking Lord Brooke not to engage his interest until he should hear from him further. (fn. 253) Brooke replied that he had already resolved to nominate Sir John Mordaunt, and hoped Sunderland would approve the choice. (fn. 254) In the event that Parliament, which then stood adjourned, never met again, so that a trial of strength was avoided. Opposition to James II's policies within the corporation and from the castle which caused the removal of both recorder and borough officers and their projected replacement by a majority of Roman Catholics remained unexpressed in electoral terms. The same pattern of representation was continued after the Revolution until the turn of the century.
This stability in the face of attempts to widen the franchise in 1680 and 1690 (fn. 255) had been possible through that co-operation between castle and corporation by which each had control of one seat. The attempt by Lord Brooke in 1698 to secure acceptance of two candidates, Robert Greville and Sir Charles Rooke, even with the co-operation of the mayor and aldermen, provoked opposition in the town strong enough to defeat Rooke. (fn. 256) In 1701 the corporation offered Brooke both seats for his two sons, Francis and Algernon. (fn. 257) Their 'free offer' he took 'very kindly' and both were elected. Grevilles filled both seats at the next four elections, though not without opposition, (fn. 258) but on the death of Francis soon after his return for his sixth successive Parliament in 1710, Charles Leigh defeated Algernon Greville in a by-election.
The personal influence of Fulke, Lord Brooke, may help to explain castle predominence during this period. It is noteworthy that Lord Brooke's death occurred after the general election at the beginning of October 1710 but before the by-election caused by his son's death. Until 1727 Dodington Greville held one of the seats, but there is evidence of growing opposition to the castle interest during these years. (fn. 259) The contested election of 1715 showed a substantial Whig interest in the borough, and at a by-election on the death of William Colmore in 1722 the contest was close. This may be explained at least partly by the castle claim to nominate both members, for Dodington Greville already held one seat, and William, Lord Brooke (d. 1727), also made a recommendation for the other. (fn. 260) He wrote to Thomas Newsham, the deputy recorder, enclosing a letter to the corporation in which he put forward the name of Sir William Keyte. When the corporation had met, Newsham was told, they were to wait on Sir William directly with their opinions. (fn. 261) Keyte apparently proved acceptable to a majority, although it was thought prudent to make Newsham's brother, William, an alderman, perhaps to stiffen their resolve. The opposition candidate, Henry Delves, was powerfully supported in the town, notably by Lady Bowyer of the Priory and by three aldermen. Brooke himself was away in Hampshire, but was quite prepared to come to Warwick to ensure a favourable result 'for there's nothing I would not do for success this time which I take to be the critical one ...'. (fn. 262) Bribery was practised by both sides: 'I never would have such notorious bribery and corruption ever to succeed', wrote a Tory supporter castigating the Whigs, (fn. 263) and another wrote of £2,500 spent on 25 votes, probably by the castle party. (fn. 264) Local bitterness continued after Keyte had won. Lady Bowyer paid off tradesmen and turned out tenants for voting against Delves, and it was feared that the receiver and others might lose office. (fn. 265) The castle party also feared that Delves's petition against Keyte might have succeeded. Its failure, after wide support had been found, was due to its claims for a change in franchise and not against election irregularities. (fn. 266) The opposition in Warwick was finally successful in 1734 when Thomas and Henry Archer unseated Sir William Keyte and William Bromley on petition, the mayor having extended the franchise to secure a Tory victory. (fn. 267) In May 1740, when another election was imminent, Thomas Newsham wrote that the Archers 'have done more injury to the inhabitants of the town than they will be ever able to compensate ...'. (fn. 268) This was written during the greatest crisis which had hitherto occurred in Warwick's affairs, the Chancery suit brought against the corporation for misuse of their income which may directly be attributed to the Archers.
Increasing land values throughout the 17th century had materially augmented the income of the corporation. Since the Chancery Decree of 1638 (fn. 269) the income from King Henry VIII's Estate had been regulated to take advantage of such an increase. Stipends and other charges had been laid down but the surplus had to be managed for the 'general good' while allowing for reasonable discretion on the part of the corporation. As a further safeguard the estate accounts were to be submitted annually to two county justices of the peace. In order to enforce this Decree these revenues should have been separated from all other corporation income, but it is evident from the accounts of 1693-1733 that income from the estate was not differentiated from that from other sources. It is evident, too, that the audit by the justices was perfunctory. A further control was created in 1688 when, in face of the threat to its charter, and of possible confiscation of its property, the corporation granted all its estates for 100 years to trustees, only one of whom was a member of the corporation. (fn. 270) This arrangement lasted until about 1717 and, despite some friction between the two bodies, there is evidence that the estate was managed better during this period. (fn. 271) This improvement was not continued: Thomas Newsham, the deputy recorder, was said to have remarked that the members of the corporation were 'not so honest as they should be' because although revenues had doubled since the time of Coventry's Decree, payments to corporation employees had not increased. He was said, further, to have called them 'a pack of, dishonest boobys' for wrongly selling land. (fn. 272) Such a report was probably made to stir up trouble, but even one of Newsham's friends admitted that he was entirely averse to acting against the corporation 'unless to endeavour to compel them to execute the trusts fairly in respect of the charities'. (fn. 273) Certainly the corporation estate was badly managed; small properties were ill-maintained and arrears accumulated. Some security was found in the use of forehand rents to ensure payment but no general attempt was made to raise rents. It seems clear, however, that complacency not dishonesty was the cause of much of the trouble. (fn. 274)
In 1737 when the Chancery suit (fn. 275) brought by Henry Wise, Thomas Archer, and the churchwardens of St. Nicholas was heard, the annual income from King Henry VIII's Estate was estimated at £640, and that from market rents, tolls, and other sources granted under the charter of 1554 at about £120. (fn. 276) Lord Coventry's Decree had fixed certain stipends to be paid from this amounting to £240. These were not quite paid in full in 1693, though the matter was soon regulated except in the case of the mayor who, instead of £20, received in 1727 a salary and hospitality allowance amounting to £60. (fn. 277)
Four other objects were established by the Decree, of which two, the binding of apprentices and relief of the poor, seem to have been entirely neglected by the corporation. Repairs to the bridge and to St. Mary's chancel were made as required, and money was also spent on maintaining corporation buildings. Apart from fees and taxes and certain charitable gifts, one other item of expenditure was feasting. The mayor's increased hospitality allowance was not enough to pay for wine drunk at meetings of the corporation or on occasions for public rejoicing. (fn. 278)
Total income and legitimate expenditure summarized over the period 1693-1733 leaves a balance of over £3,000, which with hospitality gives an average annual surplus of just under £50. (fn. 279) This could well have been used for all the requirements of the Decree which had been ignored, given reasonable economy and careful management. The position from year to year, however, was much less satisfactory, and the accounts themselves often mask deficits. A great deal of expenditure was nonrecurring, but a temporary default in revenue would have made budgeting difficult and investment of capital nearly impossible. Extraordinary capital expenditure in the 16th and 17th centuries had often been met by local benefactions or by subscription, but now was financed by loans, and mortgages either on property or bond. (fn. 280) Between 1693 and 1733 over £3,000 was raised in this way for repairing property, acquiring St. Mary's College, and building the Court House. (fn. 281)
In the eyes of opponents of the corporation the most flagrant example of excessive spending was the erection of the new Court House, costing over £2,250, nearly half of which was raised by borrowing, and which proved a considerable strain on finances. (fn. 282) The success of the Whig election petition in 1734 against an attempt by the mayor to alter the franchise in favour of their opponents, not unnaturally left the corporation open to attack, and the affray was opened in the following year by a Chancery suit accusing the mayor and aldermen of corruption. Part of the case was dismissed as being outside the competence of the court, and corruption, strictly speaking, was not found. The Lord Chancellor, Hardwicke, found 'no evidence of their putting any part of the money in their own pockets', and that 'misapprehension' of Coventry's Decree had been in existence for too long to allow that any special blame should attach to the present members. (fn. 283) Thus accounts only as far back as 1727 were to be examined and judged in the light of Coventry's Decree. A Master in Chancery, Robert Holford, was appointed in 1737 to control borough finances and to consider any proposals for improved management.
After working for a year Holford found that the corporation had misapplied over £3,500 in the past ten years, and although this was later reduced, the bill of costs brought the total liability to over £4,000. (fn. 284) This sum was to be discharged by Hilary 1741. John Howe, the recorder, secured a stay of execution for three months, 'but that is only putting off the evil day'. (fn. 285) Meanwhile, plans for future administration of revenues were submitted to Holford. A Whig proposal of 1738 provided for joint control by the corporation and the churchwardens of St. Mary's, with public auction for letting property and public submission of accounts. Opposition from the corporation whittled down most of this popular control, and by a Decree in 1739, Lord Coventry's Decree was confirmed. Stipends were raised but the corporation remained subject to Chancery; the old system was thus fundamentally restored. (fn. 286) One important change was to be made in financial administration: after the debt had been paid off, the corporation was to appoint a receiver. The practical result was that finance became exclusively a matter between the receiver and the county justices. In 1835 it was found that he rendered no account to the corporation, whose members, apparently, cared very little about the matter. Minor Chancery suits in 1779 and 1818 indicated that there remained some control over spending. (fn. 287)
Lord Hardwicke's Decree may be said to have marked the failure of the Whig opposition in Warwick to bring about the destruction of the corporation. Yet the effect of the sequestration of its assets was serious. Not until 1769 was the corporation finally free to resume its property, though the costs of the suit had been discharged eight years earlier, and meetings had been resumed in the Court House. (fn. 288) The political effect of the suit was disastrous. The corporation had first turned to the castle for help, but Lord Brooke, not yet of age, was burdened with debts of his own. (fn. 289) The little help their recorder, John Howe, could give, was gratefully acknowledged by his deputy, Newsham: 'they show more patience and temper in submitting to the iniquity of fortune and the prevalency of party that I could have imagined', and as evidence they wished to elect Howe to the next Parliament. Newsham feared that the corporation members had lost so much face that their position as magistrates might be seriously affected, but 'let Mr. Archers make the best of their victory; give them rope enough and they may hang themselves'. (fn. 290)
The position of the corporation was further weakened by the political conversion of Lord Brooke, by his own admission a change engendered by ambitions for advancement in the peerage. (fn. 291) At first there was considerable uncertainty about the effects on the borough seats. Newsham, on behalf of the corporation, offered one seat to Howe, the recorder, (fn. 292) but he declined because Sir William Keyte 'has all along entertained thoughts, and I have all along done what I could to recommend him to my Lord . . .'. (fn. 293) Newsham replied, begging Howe to reconsider his decision, but admitted that he suspected that Brooke might support the Whigs, although 'twill be a difficult point even for his Lordship to prevail for Henry Archer'. (fn. 294) From the election of 1741 Brooke and Archer were able to share patronage until 1768, Brooke reporting in 1752 that 'no opposition can of any consequence happen at present . . .'. (fn. 295) Henry Archer retained one seat until his death in 1768, and the castle candidates, drawn from a wider circle than hitherto, were Wills Hill (Lord Hillsborough), John Spencer, Hamilton Boyle (Viscount Dungarvan), and Paul Methuen.
The death of Archer after representing the borough since 1734 marked the beginning of increased castle influence over the corporation. Brooke, created Earl of Warwick in 1759, refused to entertain ideas of supporting the corporation in 1760 when they appealed for help to discharge their sequestration. (fn. 296) A poor and powerless body was more satisfactory for the exercise of his parliamentary patronage. The discharge of the sequestration for the bill of costs in 1761 marked the first stage of its recovery and it is likely that the appearance of a number of 'gentlemen' as new members of the corporation in the 1760s was to retain the earl's influence. (fn. 297) The appearance of this 'Gentlemen's Party', not necessarily all castle nominees, as opposed to the shopkeepers and craftsmen who had been members ever since the borough was first incorporated, had a significant effect on the course of borough history.
The second earl succeeded to the title in 1773, and promptly had his younger brother, Charles Francis Greville, elected an alderman. (fn. 298) In the following year, Greville and another brother were elected to Parliament. (fn. 299) Despite the growth of the 'Gentlemen's Party', the earl's claim to nominate to both seats was strongly challenged. An Independent Party under the leadership of Dr. Walter Landor contested the election, the first contest since 1734. Robert Ladbroke, a City banker with an estate at Idlicote, was returned at the head of the poll. (fn. 300) This was a vote less against Toryism than against undue influence of the castle, and an analysis of the poll indicated a rough balance between what Charles Francis Greville described as 'the gentlemen of greatest weight, with some respectable persons connected with my brother's affairs . . . and a proportion of the most respectable tradesmen'. (fn. 301) In 1782 this balance was upset by the withdrawl of the earl's interest in the borough, the effect of which was to increase the strength of the 'Gentlemen' in the corporation, men equally hostile to undue castle influence and to the Independents. They were hostile, too, to Charles Francis Greville's ideas for reforming the government of the town, (fn. 302) but were prepared to support him at the next election. Accordingly a compromise was arranged with Ladbroke, whereby each should be returned, and the respective parties should have equal influence in corporation appointments. (fn. 303)
The agreement between 'Gentlemen' and Independents did not last long. Changes in national politics brought Greville and Ladbroke together in opposition to the Pittites, whom some of the corporation favoured. Without support from the earl, however, the corporation was unable to prevent the re-election of Greville and Ladbroke in 1784. The Regency crisis four years later found the earl ready to renew his interest in the borough, and he accordingly offered both seats to Pitt. Greville and Ladbroke thereupon withdrew from the contest, and two complete strangers, Charles Perceval, Lord Arden, and Henry Gage were elected in 1790. Yet it was only with the solid support of the corporation that the earl had been able to dispose of both seats.
The cleavage between Church and dissent from which the English party system emerged, did not appear in Warwick until the late 1780s. (fn. 304) The differences became marked in the controversy surrounding the proposed repeal of the Test Act, and culminated, as a result of the Birmingham riots, in conflict between the High Church party and the Unitarians in the summer of 1791. (fn. 305) The 'Gentlemen's' corporation, firmly High Church, was now at the height of its power, but George Lipscomb, the deputy recorder, wrote of 'eternal contentions between the interests of different parties, some peculation and a manifest want of public spirit', which had left 'scarcely any traces of a corporation'. (fn. 306) There was much truth in the accusation: there were no elections of aldermen between 1789 and 1799, and Charles Gregory Wade, in defiance of the charter, had served as mayor for seven years in succession, no election having been held in the meantime. Such was the power of these men that they, prominent administrators of the county as well as the borough, (fn. 307) could remain in office with impunity. This may be attributed largely to the alliance of the 'Gentlemen' with the earl in support of Pitt. This alliance assured the return of a Tory, George Villiers, at a by-election in 1792, although the Whig candidate, Robert Knight, received as many as 160 votes, indicating that the Independent party was not inactive. (fn. 308) At the general election of 1796 Villiers and Samuel Gaussen were returned unopposed, but in the following year, Pitt's proposals for heavy taxation caused much opposition throughout the country. At a town's meeting in Warwick, resolutions condemning the taxes as 'most glaringly unequal, extremely burdensome to the middle and inferior classes' were carried by large majorities, with some support from the 'Gentlemen'. (fn. 309) Pressure from the earl, however, induced most of the corporation to oppose the resolutions, and signatures were obtained by his influence for a protest, submitted to Parliament in place of the resolutions. The effect of the earl's interference was to unite opposition to the war with resentment at the influence of the castle.
An anonymous pamphlet produced in 1798 which expressed this resentment against castle influence may not be unconnected with moves made by the earl in 1799 urging the reform of the corporation. (fn. 310) As a result of his pressure new aldermen were appointed, but the 'Gentlemen' were reluctant to hold a mayoral election. Therefore, in a formal letter addressed to the burgesses at large in September 1799, (fn. 311) the earl rehearsed his efforts to reform the corporation and threatened legal proceedings. His ideas for reform included greater publicity over expenditure, the restoration of the assistant burgesses, and the ending of the policy of excluding tradesmen from the corporation. The effect of this letter was to end the supremacy of Charles Wade, the 'Seven Years' Mayor', and within the next two years most of the members of the 'Gentlemen's Party' had disappeared. Reform of personnel was as far as the earl wished to go: a letter he wrote to the mayor in 1802 indicates his interest in obtaining a place on the corporation for one of his own nominees. (fn. 312) He promised not to oppose the corporation's candidate, Thomas Weston, at the next vacancy, if it would forthwith choose his own man, Ford Naish. It appears that what the earl aimed at was some kind of balance within the corporation which Charles Francis Greville had advocated some years earlier. In the event such a scheme proved a failure due to the industrial expansion of the town which brought new elements into play. (fn. 313) The reformed corporation could not retain its predominant position against an Independent party whose basis became broadened by an alliance of nonconformity and the manufacturing classes in the town.
The strength of the Independents was indicated in the general election of 1802 when the castle nominee, Gaussen, abandoned the contest in favour of the Independent candidate, Charles Mills of Barford. Mills was later described as 'a Tory of high tone and temper', and thus hardly represented a victory for popular freedom. (fn. 314) Nevertheless he retained his seat with Independent support until 1826, when he was succeeded by John Tomes, a Warwick banker, Whig agent at the 1792 election. The candidate unofficially supported by castle and corporation received only fourteen votes. (fn. 315)
In face of the growing strength of the Independents the corporation became more isolated. In place of the aristocratic oligarchy destroyed by the earl, a new one arose, effectively in the hands of a few families with a majority owing allegiance to the castle interest. (fn. 316) A working balance was maintained until about 1810, but the record tenure of the office of mayor by John Bohun Smyth from 1811 until 1819 signalled a return to the situation of twenty years earlier. A repetition of the practice in the case of John Wilmshurst (1823-6) produced strong protest, and a mandamus from King's Bench was obtained for the re-election of a mayor. (fn. 317) It was at the same time agreed to restore the assistant burgesses, though their functions as before were nominal. Yet the success of the Independent cause in the election of Tomes, combined with the mandamus proceedings, was regarded as a victory for the 'Blues' in the party struggle against the 'Orange' men, despite the fact that the majority of the new assistants was in sympathy with the corporation. (fn. 318)
The election of the Whig government, pledged to parliamentary reform, in 1830 increased the party conflict in Warwick. The Orange party gave ground slightly by electing two 'Blues' to the corporation, but Charles Greville's decision to vote against the government on the Reform Bill produced a strong reaction. The Independents decided to support a second candidate to fight Greville, and adopted Edward Bolton King of Umberslade. In the election parliamentary reform became the platform of the 'Blues', town meetings were held, the Warwick Political Society became active, and a spate of pamphlets appeared in its support. Such excitement was aroused that a troop of dragoons was required to stand by. The result of the election was a resounding victory for the Independent candidates Tomes and King. The passing of the Reform Bill was celebrated in Warwick by a dinner in the Market Place to 2,500 people, but the Orange party, undeterred, organised a monster petition asking Greville to stand again for Parliament. (fn. 319) The next contest was marked by further riots and troops were needed to protect property and to clear the streets. The Tories, some of them members of the corporation, seem to have hired fighting mobs and their opponents brought in Political Unions from nearby towns. Greville was returned at the head of the poll but a petition was lodged on behalf of the Whigs. A parliamentary enquiry (fn. 320) revealed such gross bribery on the part of Greville's agents that, although personally not involved, he resigned his seat. Tomes and King therefore again occupied the two seats, though Greville returned in 1835 in place of Tomes.
The select committee enquiring into the allegations of bribery recommended the enlargement of the borough for parliamentary purposes to include the parish of Leamington Priors in an attempt 'to prevent the recurrence of the . . . corrupt and illegal practices, and to secure the purity and freedom of election . . .'. (fn. 321) Petitions 'numerously and respectably signed' were presented by the inhabitants of Leamington, both for and against the scheme, (fn. 322) but not until after a government Bill had been passed by the House of Commons in 1834 was a petition presented from Warwick opposing the measure. (fn. 323) The Lords proceeded to examine witnesses, and finally refused to support the Bill. (fn. 324) The parliamentary boundary remained unchanged in 1837. (fn. 325)
The disrupted state of the town during this period must not hide the otherwise creditable record of the corporation. Advances had been made in public services in the previous thirty years in which the corporation took a considerable share. (fn. 326) Not only were its own properties adequately maintained; the 'general good' of the community which under the Chancery Decrees had been the aim of surplus corporation spending, had been advanced by lighting and paving schemes, poor relief, and the provision and maintenance of police and fire services. Over £2,000 was spent between 1791 and 1830 on various road improvements: in 1805 the streets from Hog Hill to the Saltisford and from West Street to the Market Place were widened; in 1809-11 the roads around the East Gate were improved and culverted; in 1816-18 those around the West Gate were widened and paved; and in 1825 the top of Church Street was altered. Between 1828 and 1830 the top of West Street and the west end of High Street were macadamised. Similarly money was provided from King Henry VIII's Estate for lighting the streets, from 1803 by oil lamps, and from 1822 by gas. By the 1830s the annual cost was well over £400. Between 1819 and 1830 the charity provided £100 each year to finance the watch, and from 1826 a further £100 annually to Thomas Bellerby as superintendent of the watch and peace officer. Five fire engines and equipment were provided from the same fund between 1787 and 1834 at a cost of nearly £400, and the annual sums paid in poor relief were frequently supplemented for the provision of soup kitchens and cheaper bread. Although the income of the corporation rose to over £2,770 in 1834 its financial position was very insecure; the market rents were mortgaged three times between 1824 and 1827 to meet immediate demands, (fn. 327) and the receiver claimed that the difficulties of collection of current rents and arrears absorbed more than £1,000. (fn. 328)
The report of an obviously unsympathetic commissioner of inquiry into the borough was not unfavourable. (fn. 329) While the connexions between the Earl of Warwick and members of the corporation were stressed unduly and shortcomings of officers were given prominence, these contributions to public service did not go unrecorded. Thus it was noted that it had been the practice to elect the same man to the office of mayor for several years in succession, that at least one alderman was elected while he was abroad, and that the magistrates were old and incapacitated. The court of record only opened when there was any business, 'though not altogether disused or without its utility . . .'. The leet had become the excuse for an annual dinner given by the mayor. It was particularly noted that juries at quarter sessions and at the court of record were composed of 'respectable tradesmen' but the leet jury consisted of professional men and 'the higher order of tradesmen'. The commissioner was forced to admit, however, 'that the administration of the funds has on the whole been creditable to the corporation', though he attributed this rather to the control exercised by the Chancery Decrees than by any positive reform by members of the corporation.
In his concluding remarks the commissioner came to the heart of the problem: that, 'notwithstanding . . . the absence of any serious defects or abuses in the practical working of the local government', the existing corporation, with its exclusive character, possible subservience to the castle interest, election irregularities and secrecy of proceedings had 'produced a feeling of unmixed aversion and distrust in the minds of a large proportion of the inhabitants'. It was the 'mischievous tendency' of the corporate system at fault rather than its particular expression in Warwick. Only those inhabitants of the town who were corporation tenants had any kind of stake in the government of Warwick. The corporation was, in fact, inadequate to deal with the routine functions of local government at a time of social and political change.