The City of Chichester: Parliamentary history

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

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, 'The City of Chichester: Parliamentary history', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935) pp. 98-100. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

. "The City of Chichester: Parliamentary history", in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935) 98-100. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

. "The City of Chichester: Parliamentary history", A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935). 98-100. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,


The PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY of the city forms perhaps the most important part of the story of Chichester during the 18th and 19th centuries. The list of members of Parliament begins in 1295 with William de Eartham and Clement de Adsdean, two well-known citizens. William de Eartham had apparently been reeve in 1279, (fn. 1) bailiff in 1283, (fn. 2) mayor in 1290, and burgess in 1295; (fn. 3) in 1296 he paid £4 14s. 5d. towards a subsidy, his payment being the largest contribution. (fn. 4) Clement de Adsdean was perhaps the son of Thomas de Adsdean, reeve of Chichester in 1260; (fn. 5) he was assessed at only 4s. 4d., (fn. 6) and he and Eartham were jurors on the Inquisition post mortem of the Earl of Cornwall in 1300; (fn. 7) he acted as burgess again in 1311, apparently in two parliaments.

Throughout the 14th century most of the members appear to have been drawn from the merchant class, and to have had some direct connexion with the administration of trade. Between 1334 and 1366, they included four who had acted as controllers of customs, two who had been in charge of tronage, three deputy-butlers, one collector of 2s. per tun on wine, and one concerned with pesage of wools. Between them they served at least thirty-seven times; that is, that on an average one or other of these nine 'official' citizens must have been in office in each Parliament. Only one of them is known to have served as mayor, but the names of mayors are scanty for the 14th century. In one case, in 1346, father and son, both John Wyn, seem to have served as burgesses in the same Parliament. John Sherer appears to have been returned twelve times between 1379 and 1394.

Although the law providing that members for boroughs should be resident burgesses was not strictly enforced, most of the members for Chichester from the end of the 14th century were citizens, judging from their names. The Poll Tax returns of 1380 (4 Richard II) include six persons whose names appear as members, some of whom had four or five servants. Several members had property and business connexions in London. John Hilly, who was Mayor of Chichester in 1452, sat seven times between 1427 and 1453. (fn. 8) It was during his mayoralty that the city received the important charter of 1451 (q.v.).

In the 16th century the representation of the city began to feel the effects of outside influence. Unfortunately the records are very incomplete. There is a hint of political feeling in a Star Chamber case of 1540, which reports considerable intrigue as to the election of a mayor. The object of the intrigue seems to have been to secure the election of Robert Bowyer (M.P. in 1529) as mayor, because he would be favourable to the 'poore commons of Chichester.' (fn. 9) In 1572, however, a sharp change seems to have occurred. The two representatives of the city were Valentine Dale, LL.D., and Richard Lewknor, of the Middle Temple, (fn. 10) both of whom continued to represent the city until 1592. Dale was Master of the Court of Requests in 1588, and Lewknor in the same year is noted as Recorder of Chichester. It is during this period that the city obtained two Acts of Parliament, (fn. 11) one for paving the city, (fn. 12) the other for bringing the harbour by a new cut to the suburb of the city. (fn. 13)

Possibly a certain amount of influence was brought to bear on the Chichester elections by the appointment of the Earl of Arundel as high steward under the charter of James I in 1618. This influence no doubt was lost during the disturbed conditions of the Civil War and Commonwealth periods. After the Restoration, the patronage became more extensively exercised and passed to the owners of Petworth and Goodwood. The Earls of Northumberland at Petworth, as lords lieutenant of the county and near neighbours of the city, could not fail to have an influence. This influence increased after the marriage of Charles, Duke of Somerset, with Elizabeth, heiress of Josceline Percy, last Earl of Northumberland. Somerset was appointed high steward of Chichester by the charter of James II in 1685. (fn. 14) He died in 1748 and Charles Lennox, second Duke of Richmond, of Goodwood House, was appointed high steward in his place. As Earl of March, the Duke had sat as member for Chichester. (fn. 15) The office of high steward was held by the Dukes of Richmond down to the death of the fifth duke (d. 1860), when the Reform Act had largely destroyed parliamentary patronage.

Lennox, Duke of Richmond. Quarterly: 1 and 4, France quartering England; 2, Scotland; 3, Ireland, all within a border gobony argent and gules charged with eight roses gules and over all a scutcheon gules three buckles or.

By the distribution of favours and the grant of many substantial benefits to the city, the Dukes of Richmond obtained control over the Common Council. According to the Municipal Corporations Report of 1835 the Lennox family had been connected with the corporation as far back as the corporation books went. The head of the family had been for several generations high steward, and in one instance served as mayor. 'Occasionally,' the report adds, 'he has been asked whom he wished to be elected into the Common Council; when this has not been done, care has been taken not to appoint anyone who was not considered likely to support the family influence.' There were at the time of this report five members of the family in the corporation: the duke was high steward, one brother was bailiff, and two others common councillors. (fn. 16)

According to the contention of one party in the city the parliamentary franchise was in the citizens, represented by the Common Council and the freemen, who were either relatives of the chief citizens or eminent persons, unconnected with the city, admitted to the freedom of the merchant gild, as a compliment. The other party maintained that the franchise was in the Common Council, freemen and commonalty. The mayor was elected by the Common Council, but in effect was the nominee of the high steward, (fn. 17) and as he was the returning officer, it was to his interest and that of his patron to maintain the city as a close borough. This state of affairs led to frequent disputes and contested elections. In 1660, however, the mayor, evidently a roundhead and leader of the popular party, returned William Cawley, the regicide, to the Convention Parliament by the votes of the freemen only. John Farrington, the other candidate, the number of members having been temporarily reduced by Parliament to one, declared that the mayor had refused the votes of the commonalty which had been tendered for him. The Committee reported that the commonalty of the said borough, together with the free citizens, had the right of election, and that John Farrington, gentleman, had been accordingly duly elected, and ought to sit. The Mayor of Chichester, for his refusal to regard ancient precedents and the advice of the recorder, was committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms and obliged to amend his return; he was then called to the Bar of the House, and, kneeling there, received a reprimand from the Speaker, and was returned to custody: three days later, however, he was set at liberty. (fn. 18)

To overcome the difficulty of obtaining the return of the candidates of their patron which this decision entailed, the mayors from time to time nominated numerous freemen who were elected by the common council. In 1673 and 1689 there were further disputed elections, in the latter case with an accusation of bribery and ill practices. Disputes continued throughout the reign of William and Mary, and Queen Anne; the mayor is said to have 'managed' both the polling and the scrutiny. In 1710 it was asserted in a petition that the mayor returned two members, upon polling four or five persons only, 'although there are as many Hundreds who have Right to vote.' Only four days' notice of the election had been given. (fn. 19)

In July 1707 a curious agreement (fn. 20) was made between whigs and tories for preserving the peace of the city of Chichester. Sir Richard Farrington and John Farrington, Esq., of South Street, on behalf of the whigs, and Sir John Miller of Lavant and Captain Thomas Carr of the Pallant, on behalf of the tories, agreed that at an election for Parliament each party was to nominate one candidate only, and the two thus nominated were to be elected by consent of both parties. Alternate nominations of mayors, bailiffs, and high constables, as well as churchwardens and overseers, assessors and collectors of taxation were also agreed. The citizens, however, immediately nominated an independent candidate, and by 1713 seem to have broken away entirely from the bargain.

In 1722 Charles Lennox, Earl of March, represented the city, and in 1761 Lord George Henry Lennox was member. Throughout the latter part of the 18th century, the Dukes of Richmond regularly nominated one member, and the independent party nominated the other. (fn. 21) In 1782 (fn. 22) a notable dispute arose as to the contested election between Bryan Edwards, an independent candidate, and the Hon. Percy Wyndham, the brother of the Earl of Egremont, standing under the Richmond auspices. Edwards secured 239 votes, and Wyndham 247. Edwards and several of the residents of the city presented a petition, complaining of the mayor's action in admitting the illegal votes of many non-residents, styling themselves freemen of the city, 'of whom fifteen had polled.' Edwards shortly afterwards withdrew his petition, but brought an action in the King's Bench as to 'the right of the corporation to admit non-residents to the honorary freedom of the gild or corporation.' The Court of King's Bench, two years later, 'under the influence of ignorance,' decided in favour of the corporation. (fn. 23)

The history of this election is extremely confused, and the decision of the King's Bench has not been traced. (fn. 24) In the city Minute Books, however, under the date 13 March 1782, seven freemen are noted as having been personally admitted to the freedom of the merchant gild, and an entry follows, in a hand different from that of any other minute, recording that the Hon. Percy Charles Wyndham on the 11th, 12th and 13th days of March was elected and declared in the Gildhall, to serve for the city for the present Parliament. It seems impossible not to connect these seven personal admissions with Wyndham's majority of eight. It was perhaps after this election that careful and separate records (fn. 25) were kept of the meetings of the Common Council at which admissions were made to the offices of portreeve and customer of the city, and to the freedom of the city, in the form of admission to the merchant gild. These records run from 1784 to August 1830, when they were inspected; they were resumed in March 1835 to October 1835. Apart from freemen, the franchise appears to have been on a scot and lot basis, and some ratepayers appear on the books for stables or pigsties in their fathers' gardens. In 1835 the citizens paying scot and lot numbered 886. (fn. 26) The inhabitants of the Close had only the county franchise. It is interesting to note that in November 1789 William Pitt, Chancellor of His Majesty's Exchequer, was admitted to the freedom of the merchant gild, but 'William Pitt being absent, swearing of him was postponed.'

The influence of the Lennox family continued into the 19th century to the advantage of the city and satisfaction of the family. From 1812 until the Reform Act of 1868, when the representation of the city was reduced to a single member, one of the burgesses was usually drawn from that family. After the Act of 1868, Lord Henry G. C. Gordon Lennox, who had held the seat since 1845, continued to represent the city as its only member until 1885, and his nephew Lord Walter Charles Lennox from 1888 to 1894. Under the Representation of the People Act of 1918 Chichester city was merged into the Chichester division of the county.


  • 1. Cat. Anct. D. (P.R.O.), B 3191.
  • 2. Assize R. 924, m. 73.
  • 3. Ret. of M.P.'s.
  • 4. Subsidy R. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), p. 82.
  • 5. Cath. Doc. Lib. B, fol. xliv.
  • 6. Subsidy R. loc. cit.
  • 7. Chan. Inq. p.m. 28 Edw. I, no. 18.
  • 8. Ret. of M.P.'s.
  • 9. Star Chamb. Proc. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), pp. 4, 17.
  • 10. Ret. of M.P.'s.
  • 11. Ballard, op. cit. pp. 60, 61.
  • 12. Stat. 18 Eliz. c. 19.
  • 13. Ibid. 27 Eliz. c. 22.
  • 14. Hay, Hist. of Chich. 583.
  • 15. G.E.C. Complete Peerage, vi, 364.
  • 16. Munic. Corp. Com. Rep. App. pt. ii, p. 719. The name of the Duke of Richmond is suppressed in the report, but there is no doubt that it is he who is referred to. The position of the fifth member of the family is not stated.
  • 17. Hay, op. cit. 392, 398.
  • 18. Commons Journ. viii, pp. 40, 44.
  • 19. Ibid. ix, 290, 313; x, 352; xi, 343; xv, 26; xvi, 18, 420; xvii, 136–7, 485.
  • 20. Ballard, op. cit. pp. 77–8, quoting Bromley's Parl. Papers, ii, no. 119 (Bodleian Library).
  • 21. Horsfield, Hist. of Suss. ii, 36; cf. W. D. Cooper, Parliamentary Hist. of the County of Suss. 1834, p. 15 et seq.; cf. Namier, Structure of Politics, i, p. 153, where the Duke's right or power is somewhat overstated.
  • 22. Commons Journ. xxxviii, pp. 905, 939, 953; Cooper, loc. cit.; Oldfield, Representative Hist. 1816, v, p. 10; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. xv, App. v, p. 591.
  • 23. Cooper refers to Mr. Cullen's Speech, June 12, 1826. An account of the proceedings, etc. published by W. Mason, 1826, p. 163. This decision of the King's Bench cannot be traced; Cooper asserts that it only determined the right of the corporation to admit nonresidents as freemen, but that it did not determine the right of these honorary freemen to vote; cf. Ballard, op. cit. 79–80; Willis, Rec. of Chich. p. 340.
  • 24. Ballard's reference to Edwards v. Wyndham appears to be incorrect.
  • 25. In the city archives are a number of sheets, apparently part of a book, recording nothing but these admissions, sealed with blue seals.
  • 26. Ballard, op. cit. p. 79, quoting Somers Vine, Engl. Municipal Instit. p. 77; in 1816 it had been 620 (Oldfield, loc. cit.).