Gloucester, 1640-60: City government and politics

Pages 98-99

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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City Government and Politics

The English Revolution caused less internal dissension and instability at Gloucester than in many other English towns. Despite the vicissitudes of war and upheavals of national government, Gloucester's civic leadership showed a striking continuity in its personnel during the period. There were only five recorded dismissals and retirements from the corporation in the years 1640–6. Unlike other towns, no purges took place in the late 1640s and the 1650s. (fn. 1) Death not political manoeuvring was the principal cause of changes in membership. In the early 1640s royalists and neutrals comprised only a small minority on the corporation. (fn. 2)

Civic government, as in the years before 1640, was dominated by the inner caucus of aldermen. In 1647 the city's rulers heard a paean to oligarchic rule on the mayoral election day. (fn. 3) The authority of the bench was underlined by parliament's appointment of most of the aldermen as deputy lieutenants at the start of the war. (fn. 4) Aldermen also played a leading part in the civic committee of defence which was established in August 1642 and in the more shadowy council of war which advised the governor. (fn. 5) Aldermen used their powers as J.P.s to maintain order and to intervene in most aspects of local administration. (fn. 6) Though a number of minor conciliar reforms were introduced, as in the leasing of city lands, (fn. 7) there is no evidence to suggest any significant liberalization of Gloucester's government during the period. Nor was there any opening-up of the narrow parish vestries.

So far as can be judged, civic administration underwent only limited dislocation in 1642 and 1643. (fn. 8) Quarter sessions and most of the other courts seem to have continued to function during the siege, though the volume of business was negligible. (fn. 9) The most pressing administrative problem, as before 1640, was finance. The city entered the revolutionary era with a debt of nearly £700. (fn. 10) Military preparations, the siege, and the garrison imposed tremendous burdens on the chamber. In the years 1642–3 over £4,000 was borrowed by the city, including £1,000 from Bristol, (fn. 11) £200 from a Manchester man, (fn. 12) and the rest locally at 6 or 8 per cent interest. (fn. 13) In 1644 parliament repaid £1,000 owed to the city and in 1648 granted it sequestered lands which raised £1,800 when sold. (fn. 14) In 1655–6 the accumulated debt still stood at about £2,000 and there was extra borrowing for military purposes in 1659. (fn. 15) The basic problem was that the city's usual sources of revenue barely covered ordinary expenditure, even less the exigencies of war. Annual deficits were recurrent throughout the period. Even so the corporation aggravated the financial position. In 1642 the corporation invested £200 in the Irish Adventure. (fn. 16) Though the city received a grant of Irish land, it never recouped any of its money until well after the Restoration. (fn. 17) Another heavy expense was on lobbying parliament for the union of parishes. (fn. 18) In 1649–50 Gloucester spent about £700 buying the fee farm from the government. (fn. 19)

On numerous occasions the financial situation was critical. In 1643 a number of councillors refused to serve in the post of steward. (fn. 20) Ten years later there was a scheme to sell off city houses and land. (fn. 21) Struggling to maintain control, the corporation appointed a salaried assistant to the stewards (fn. 22) and from 1650 the committee of auditors conducted a rigorous annual inspection of the stewards' accounts, putting forward proposals for reform. (fn. 23) No less important, the magistrates endeavoured to redeem their plight by heavy exactions on the inshire, which was made to pay at a much higher rate than the city towards parliamentary levies. (fn. 24)

As in other provincial towns, there was considerable friction between the city authorities and the governor. In 1644 Massey clashed with the local committee of safety appointed by parliament under the leadership of Alderman Pury. (fn. 25) Relations with Massey became acrimonious and other jurisdictional disputes broke out. (fn. 26) More serious, however, was the continuing conflict with the county gentry. In the 1640s the city had exploited its political credit with parliament after the siege to harass its enemies in the inshire. (fn. 27) Excessive taxes on the inshire led to serious opposition. In 1654 the county committee with the gentry dominant retaliated and proposed a draconian monthly assessment on Gloucester. (fn. 28) Four years later the shire gentry threatened a frontal attack in parliament on the city's jurisdiction over the inshire. (fn. 29)

In order to resist the challenge from the county and also achieve some of its cherished projects for the 'godly city', the magistracy did its best to keep on good terms with parliament and the army commanders. Relations were helped by the city's heroic defence in 1643 and by the support of William Lenthall, the city's recorder and Speaker of the Long Parliament. Despite persistent lobbying London never provided more than limited compensation for the losses of the Civil War. In other respects, however, Gloucester received favoured treatment. There was no interference in civic government or personnel; (fn. 30) the inshire was left under city control; and a number of religious reforms close to the city fathers' hearts was approved.


  • 1. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 72; G.B.R., B 3/2, passim.
  • 2. Above, city and Eng. Revolution.
  • 3. Dorney, Certain Speeches, 31.
  • 4. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 75.
  • 5. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 222; Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 67–8, 76, 102.
  • 6. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 102.
  • 7. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 587.
  • 8. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 97 sqq.
  • 9. G.B.R., G 3/SIb 1; SO 2; Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 97–100.
  • 10. G.B.R., B 3/2, p. 146.
  • 11. Ibid. p. 222, et passim.
  • 12. Ibid. F 4/5, f. 346v.
  • 13. Ibid. 6, p. 142.
  • 14. Ibid. B 3/2, pp. 317–18, 477, 499, 514–15, 519.
  • 15. Ibid. F 4/6, pp. 142, 336 sqq.
  • 16. Ibid. 5, f. 176; B 3/2, p. 214.
  • 17. Below.
  • 18. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 176.
  • 19. Ibid. f. 408v. Payment of the farm was resumed at the Restoration: Cal. S.P. Dom. 1660–1, 66; cf. G.B.R., F 4/6, p. 386.
  • 20. G.B.R., F 4/5, f. 235.
  • 21. Ibid. B 3/2, p. 744.
  • 22. Ibid. p. 378.
  • 23. Ibid. F 4/5, ff. 414v.–415v. sqq.
  • 24. Ibid. G 3/SO 2, f. 187.
  • 25. Trans. B.G.A.S. lxvii. 78.
  • 26. Luke Letter Books, ed. Tibbutt, 31–2, 382; Dorney, Certain Speeches, 4.
  • 27. Autobiography of Thos. Raymond and Memoirs of Fam. of Guise, ed. G. Davies (Camd. 3rd ser. xxviii), 124–5.
  • 28. G.B.R., F 4/6, p. 18; B 3/2, pp. 759, 769; Hist. MSS. Com. 27, Glouc. Corp. p. 509.
  • 29. G.B.R., F 4/6, pp. 298 sqq.
  • 30. Apparently there was no action by the cttee. for corporations in the 1650s against Glouc.: B. L. K. Henderson, 'Commonwealth Charters', Trans. R.H.S. (3rd ser.) vi. 129–61.