A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The political history of Wiltshire in the 16th and 17th centuries, like that of other English counties, falls naturally into two phases. The dividing-line may be drawn, somewhat arbitrarily, at 1629. During the century 1529–1629 Wiltshire politics were dominated by the fortunes and relationships of the families which composed the county's society. That society, partially reconstituted during the early 16th century, underwent little change thereafter until the Great Rebellion. Although some of the families concerned took an active part in national affairs, only a handful achieved eminence in the state and by so doing exposed the county to the direct impact of national politics. Wiltshire thus enjoyed a large measure of the political and social tranquillity of a stable age. By contrast, the 60 years between 1629 and 1689 were a time of prolonged upheaval. The national crisis of 1640 was foreshadowed in Wiltshire by the troubles which broke out during the period of Personal Rule: and its consequences, in the refashioning of county society and the beginnings of party politics, provide the background of the Restoration period.
Our starting-point is the circumstance which long made Wiltshire unique among English counties, namely, the size of its parliamentary representation. From the middle of the 15th century until 1832 the number of Wiltshire members of Parliament remained unchanged. (fn. 1) There were two knights of the shire, two citizens representing Salisbury, and two burgesses apiece for the county's 15 parliamentary boroughs: a total of 34 members. Thus in the Reformation Parliament, Wiltshire had nearly twice as many borough seats as its nearest rival, Sussex, which had 18, and more than twice as many as Cornwall (14), Devon (14), and Surrey (10), the next three counties in order. Of particular interest is the comparison between Wiltshire and its neighbours: Berkshire, Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset, and Gloucestershire could muster between them only 40 borough seats against Wiltshire's 32. It is easy to see why Wiltshire was one of the few counties to receive no increase in its borough representation after 1529. But as other counties had their boroughs multiplied, Wiltshire lost its pre-eminence. By 1689 it was Cornwall which headed the list with 42 borough seats (Cornwall had passed Wiltshire's total by 1563), while Yorkshire (28), Devon (26), and Hampshire (24) followed Wiltshire closely in the table. Wiltshire's five neighbours now disposed of 74 borough seats all told, Hampshire and Somerset having been the chief gainers.
The over-representation of Wiltshire, especially marked during the 16th century, might have had one or both of two results. The Wiltshireman of the time, provided he were socially and occupationally eligible, might have stood a better chance of being returned to the House of Commons than his counterpart in any other county. This is to assume that there was not a countervailing abundance of competitors arising from a dense local population. But nothing that we know, or can surmise, about the relative populations of, say, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire will serve to diminish the discrepancy between the one's 32 borough seats and the other's four. Alternatively, the greater pressure for seats prevailing elsewhere might have communicated itself to Wiltshire and both native and stranger alike have enjoyed a diminishing chance of success. That there was such mounting pressure and that it sought every outlet, these are commonplaces of the 16th-century electoral scene: and no county was better qualified to be a reception-area for parliamentary migrants than Wiltshire.
It is with such hypotheses in mind that we may turn to the facts of Wiltshire's parliamentary representation during this period. (fn. 2) The Wiltshire townsman of the period certainly appears to have enjoyed no greater prospect of sitting in Parliament than his fellows elsewhere. Four of the county's boroughs had either acquired (Heytesbury, Westbury, and Wootton Bassett) or recovered (Downton) the right to return members at a time, the second quarter of the 15th century, when the country gentleman was beginning to invade the boroughs, an offensive which their enfranchisement was designed to assist rather than to arrest. Of the remaining eleven, few were of the size or standing essential to the preservation of parliamentary independence. One, Old Sarum, had virtually ceased to exist: several others were no more than villages. The city of Salisbury and the boroughs of Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury, and Wilton, these could rank as effective urban communities: but Great Bedwyn, Cricklade, Downton, Heytesbury, Hindon, Ludgershall and Wootton Bassett had no rational claim to representation in preference to thriving communities like Bradford, Trowbridge and Warminster. Not only was Wiltshire over-represented, but its representation was ill distributed.
It is therefore not surprising that the ousting of townsmen from the borough seats to which they alone were entitled was all but complete by the opening of this period. In the Reformation Parliament Salisbury alone returned two resident citizens; Calne, Chippenham, and Malmesbury returned one resident and one 'outsider': and all the rest were represented exclusively by 'outsiders' of one sort or another. Fifty years later, in 1584, the process had been carried a stage further. Salisbury remained in splendid isolation with two resident citizens, while Calne, Downton, and Malmesbury had one. But of these five persons not one was, so far as we can discover, engaged in business, a fact which the inclusion among their fellows of two bearing names familiar in our economic history, Stumpe and Midwinter, does little to offset. Before the 16th century is out, it seems, the county returning the largest contingent of members of Parliament cannot find room for a single practising merchant or manufacturer among them.
This is the more striking since Wiltshire's greatest industry, the manufacture of cloth, had earlier furnished a number of its members. Among the handful of 'men of trade' who sat in the Reformation Parliament one name stands out, that of William Stumpe, elected for Malmesbury with Thomas Edgar, a gentleman. Stumpe probably sat in several later Parliaments for the borough (we know that he did so in 1547–52), while under Mary, Malmesbury four times returned Matthew King, another leading clothier. Here might have been the basis for a tradition of representation: and a community which owed its livelihood to these captains of industry might have preferred them to local squires. Yet from the beginning of Elizabeth's reign Malmesbury only once returned a clothier, William Stumpe's younger son John, who sat in 1584: all its other members were gentlemen. Other cloth towns did the same. With the exception of John Scott (Chippenham 1571 and 1572) and the late example of John Noyes (fn. 3) and William Swaddon (Calne 1604), clothiers were no longer to be found in the House of Commons. Their presence there in the forties and fifties, and their disappearance thereafter, were alike doubtless connected with the state of the industry. Swept into the parliamentary ranks by the rising tide of prosperity, they were liable to be sucked out of them when that tide receded. But there are not lacking signs of hostility of the part of the Wiltshire gentry towards these nouveaux riches, and this may well have had something to do with their exclusion from the House of Commons. Even those second and third generations of great clothing families which became assimilated to the gentry—Sir James Stumpe, for instance, or John Winchcombe (II) and (III)—had all but run their parliamentary courses before Elizabeth I came to the throne. (fn. 4)
The disappearance of clothiers had its counterpart in the replacement of businessmen by gentlemen even in those towns which adhered to the residence qualification. This process may be illustrated by two examples, those of Salisbury and Devizes. Salisbury (fn. 5) was the one Wiltshire town which, with very few lapses, restricted its choice of representatives to members of the city council and the recorder. (fn. 6) On at least two occasions— in 1593, when the city's high steward, Sir Thomas Heneage, asked for a nomination and in 1625, when both the Earl of Pembroke and the Attorney-General did so (fn. 7) —the mayor and council stood firm against these threatened encroachments. Throughout the 16th century the city continued to return members of prosperous business families (the names of Webb, Chaffin, Hooper, and Allen recur continually), with an occasional resident gentleman like Giles Estcourt. But from the opening of the 17th only one seat was usually so filled, the other going to the recorder. Since the recorder was a lawyer who, although he might spring from a local family, spent his terms in London and perhaps visited the city only for the assizes, he was a different type of member from the resident businessman. At Devizes one seat usually went to a gentleman and the town laid claim only to the other. Whereas in the earlier part of the period Devizes had more than once returned its mayor, from 1597 the two local dynasties of Drew and Kent, which supplied the borough with more than one coroner and town clerk, also monopolized this second parliamentary seat.
Of the mixture of motives which induced Tudor boroughs to forgo their parliamentary independence one element, the financial, is well illustrated in Wiltshire. The statutory obligation to pay their members meant wage-bills ranging from a few pounds for short parliaments to some £90 for the Reformation Parliament, and a total bill for the 29 Parliaments between 1529 and 1629 of no less than £800. How serious a drain these continual demands were upon the resources of even a large urban community may be seen in the case of Salisbury. In 1534 that city escaped payment of Thomas Chaffin's bill of about £30 by the device of exempting him from its mayoralty for the following year; but in 1535 payment of his fellow-member Webb's bill of £43 8s., less the £3 8s. which he remitted, had to be spread over three years. (fn. 8) Twenty years later the city chamber found itself quite unable to meet a similar bill for £36, which therefore had to be covered by a special levy upon the four wards of the city. (fn. 9) During the first half of Elizabeth's reign the city obtained some relief. In 1560 the Webbs remitted more than half their bill of £24 16s., (fn. 10) and in 1587 Giles Estcourt in his will forgave his fellow citizens his arrears of wages, which may have reached back to 1563. (fn. 11) But in 1589, 1593, and 1601 Salisbury was again called upon to pay both its members. (fn. 12)
A burden which weighed so heavily upon Salisbury must have been crushing for smaller communities, (fn. 13) and the prospect of escaping it a cogent argument in favour of electing members who would serve for nothing. The tendency for the larger boroughs to elect their recorders doubtless owes something to this situation, for a recorder would not expect to be paid for residing in London during term. But for the rank-and-file of Wiltshire boroughs the only way out was to return gentlemen. Whether any of them took the prudent course of indemnifying themselves against wage-claims does not appear. But Marlborough at least must have wished that it had done so when in 1577 Nicholas St. John, one of its members from 1572 to 1581, sued the borough in Chancery and extracted from it 8 guineas, a sum which the Earl of Hertford, who as Marlborough's patron had doubtless recommended St. John, felt called upon to refund in 1584. (fn. 14)
Townsmen members, then, already a vanishing race in the early 16th century, were a virtually extinct one by the early 17th: and all but a handful of the borough seats were now available for a different type of member. But the regime of local monopoly did not give place to one of laissez-faire: for instead of the 'proprietary interest' of the independent borough there appeared that of the parliamentary patron. Three such interests can be seen operating in the county, those of the Seymours, the Herberts, and the bishops of Winchester. All three were based upon land-ownership. The Wiltshire estates of the Seymours and Herberts were largely a creation of the second quarter of the 16th century, with ex-monastic land as their foundation. Before that time the chief secular landowners in Wiltshire had been the noble families of Hastings, West, Willoughby de Broke, Hungerford and Stourton. (fn. 15) Of these the first three all had large landed interests elsewhere, whereas the Hungerford and Stourton estates were concentrated within or on the borders of the county. Walter Hungerford, created Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury in 1536, possessed lands worth £543 per annum at the time of his execution as an adherent of Thomas Cromwell. His Wiltshire lands clustered about Heytesbury, the borough which his family had had enfranchised in 1449. Charles Lord Stourton, whose trial and execution for murder in 1557 were the cause célèbre of the time, had his patrimony on the borders of Somerset and Dorset. Both families survived these disasters. But neither wielded any parliamentary patronage, although we meet with many Hungerfords among Wiltshire members in the course of the next century.
The decline of these old-established families smoothed the rise of the new. (fn. 16) It was the Seymours who made the most sensational advance. Between 1529 and 1549 the two sons of Sir John Seymour amassed vast properties in Wiltshire. (fn. 17) Edward Seymour, from 1537 Earl of Hertford and from 1547 Duke of Somerset, concentrated his lands in the north-west, around Marlborough, and it was at Savernake that he set about raising a great mansion to replace the family house of Wolfhall. (fn. 18) It was here too that he founded the long-standing Seymour interest in the boroughs of Marlborough and Great Bedwyn. A Seymour group is already discernible in the Reformation Parliament, which contained at least six members or clients of the family. The paucity of returns makes the fortunes of this group difficult to trace until 1545, when it is taking its final shape. In the Parliament of that year the first knight of the shire was Sir Thomas Seymour (the second was Sir William Herbert, founder of the great rival interest); Bedwyn returned as one of its members the John Seymour who in 1547 was to begin his clerkship of the House of Commons and with it the Commons Journal; and Marlborough was represented by Sir John Thynne, Hertford's steward and right-hand man, and John Berwick, his receiver. Then there were the members for Heytesbury, Sharrington and Chamberlain, two of Thomas Seymour's following, and one of the members for Salisbury, Robert Keilwey, Hertford's legal adviser. Two years later Somerset himself summoned a Parliament as Protector, and in this assembly the family interest attained its peak. (fn. 19) Of the Protector's immediate circle seven members sat for Wiltshire boroughs: his son John for Wootton Bassett; Sir John Thynne for Salisbury; Sir Thomas Smith, the Secretary, for Marlborough; Ralph Pickerell (fn. 20) and John Young, two of Somerset's household officers, for Ludgershall and Old Sarum; William Turner, his chaplain, for Ludgershall; and John Walshe, whose daughter Somerset's son Edward had married, for Cricklade. (fn. 21) Other clients of Somerset's or of Thynne's bring the total of Seymourites among the Wiltshire members of this Parliament to not less than a dozen. (fn. 22)
The execution of Somerset and the minority of his heir temporarily extinguished the Seymour interest. But under Mary it made a limited recovery. Richard Fulmerston, who after serving the Duke of Norfolk had made a timely transfer of allegiance to Somerset, sat three times for Bedwyn, where his fellow-members were local gentlemen. He was followed in 1555 by David Seymour. And in 1559 we find Francis Newdigate, a gentleman of Somerset's household who married his widow, sitting for Bedwyn and John Young for Marlborough. Before the next election, that of 1562–3, a fresh disaster overtook the Seymours. This was the secret marriage of the young Earl of Hertford with Lady Catherine Grey, a mesalliance which earned Hertford several years in the Tower and a fine which crippled his estates. But his parliamentary interest seems scarcely to have suffered. True, Sir John Thynne's election in 1562–3 for Bedwyn might be construed as a retreat after the rumpus of 1559: (fn. 23) but his fellow member Christopher Hales, nephew of the Protector's faithful supporter John Hales, must have owed his seat to the family. And thereafter Bedwyn regularly returned Seymourites. They included one of the family, John Seymour (1589); two of Hertford's lawyers, Wheler and Puleston (1584 and 1586); his steward and one of his receivers: and, in 1601, Levinus Munck, Robert Cecil's secretary, to whom Hertford owed £500. Hertford also seems to have disposed of at least one of the Marlborough seats, which was occupied successively by his solicitor, Edward Stanhope, his counsel, Wheler, and his auditor, Lawrence Hyde. (fn. 24)
The 2nd Earl of Hertford survived until near the end of James I's reign, dying an octogenarian in 1621, and during his later years the Seymour fortunes prospered. Even the secret marriage of William Seymour, the heir, to Arabella Stuart did not permanently damage them: the errant William made his peace with the king in 1618 and three years later succeeded to the earldom. The Seymour ascendancy was reflected in local politics. On the 2nd Earl of Pembroke's death in 1601 the lieutenancy of Wiltshire, a Herbert preserve since its institution, (fn. 25) was transferred to Hertford, thus stamping him as the first man in the shire. The electoral history of these years echoes the theme. In 1621 Sir Francis Seymour, the old earl's grandson by the Grey marriage, inaugurated his twenty-year career in the Commons by being chosen first knight of the shire, an honour which fell to him again in 1625 and 1628. In the same Parliament the heir, Lord Beauchamp, sat for Marlborough until called to the Lords, when he was replaced by his brother-in-law, Sir Walter Devereux. And the customary procession of servants, lawyers, and at least one creditor—Sir Giles Mompesson, who was sitting for Bedwyn when expelled the House in 1621—continued to reach Westminster by way of the two boroughs.
The founder of the Herbert fortunes in Wiltshire, Sir William Herbert, himself sat as knight of the shire in the Parliaments of 1545 and 1547. On his creation as Earl of Pembroke in November 1551 he was succeeded by Sir William Sharrington, owner of Lacock and former confederate of Thomas Seymour, who thus signalized his transfer of allegiance to the new ruler of Wiltshire. For 1551 set the seal upon Herbert's supremacy in the county. Established at Wilton since the early forties, he now emerged with his earldom and more land, and with no more serious rival than the demented and doomed Stourton. Pembroke had two further crises to weather, the advent of Mary in 1553, which he survived to become her husband's confidant and comrade-in-arms, and his suspected implication in the Norfolk intrigue of 1568. Unshaken by political misadventure, his local supremacy lasted until his death: and it was symbolized by the naming for fiscal purposes of his part of Wiltshire 'Pembroke's division'. (fn. 26)
The beginnings of a Herbert group in the Commons can be traced from at least 1553. Wilton, in the heart of the Pembroke country, early passed under the earl's control. Its members in Northumberland's Parliament were two officials of the Court of Wards, Damsell and Wightman, perhaps two of the government nominees who abounded on that occasion. Under Mary the borough began by returning two townsmen: was this a shadow from the cloud under which Pembroke began the new reign ? But in Mary's later Parliaments we meet with at most one townsman, while the second seat—and on occasion the first as well—goes to a client of the earl's. With the coming of Elizabeth I his control seems complete, both members in 1559 and in 1563 being his nominees. These two Parliaments appear, indeed, to have marked the climax of the 1st Earl's influence. In 1563, for example, besides the two members for Wilton, we find Edward Herbert and Henry Compton, Pembroke's younger son and stepson, sitting for Old Sarum, his steward Nicholas Snell for Chippenham, and two other probable clients for Calne and Devizes.
The 1st earl died in 1570. His son Henry, the 2nd earl, who lived until 1601, was a leading figure in Elizabethan politics and one of the most vigorous parliamentary patrons of the age. His role in the county is illustrated by the part he played in the selection of knights of the shire. (fn. 27) But of the boroughs into which his father's influence had penetrated only Wilton continued to return Herbert nominees. Between 1584 and 1597 one of the Wilton seats went to different members of the Penruddock family of Compton Chamberlayne, who had long served the Herberts; the other was filled by a variety of people, including Thomas Cavendish the explorer (1588) and Sir Thomas Morgan the warrior (1593). In 1601 both seats went to direct dependents, Sir Edmund Morgan and Hugh Sanford, the earl's secretary. At Old Sarum, however, at least one of the seats seems to have fallen under government control, with such members as Topcliffe the Catholic-baiter (1584 and 1586), Giffard the queen's physician (1584 and 1588), and Anthony Ashley, clerk of the Privy Council, and Edmund Fortescue, whose father was Chancellor of the Exchequer (1593). Any specifically Pembroke influence is as hard to discern here as it is at Calne or Devizes.
The reign of William, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, lasted from 1601 to 1630. At the election of 1604 the new earl had to contend with the full strength of Sir Robert Cecil's campaigning in the Herbert country. Even at Wilton he had to be content with one seat, which went to his secretary Sanford and, on Sanford's death in 1607, to Thomas Morgan, the major-domo at Wilton: the other went to Cecil's protégé Sir Thomas Edmondes. Cecil also took over one of the seats at Old Sarum, where he shortly afterwards acquired the castle. But after Cecil's death in 1612 Pembroke had more elbowroom, and during the next twenty years he built up his interest in a remarkable way. (fn. 28) Within Wiltshire it included a monopoly of Wilton, where Sir Thomas Morgan, his steward, was elected seven times in succession and had as fellow-members Sir Robert Sidney, the earl's nephew (1614), Sir Percy Herbert, a cousin (1624), and Sir John Evelyn, whom Attorney-General Heath had vainly tried to place at Salisbury (1626). Old Sarum, too, yielded largely to Pembroke's influence. Between 1623 and 1628 his secretary, Michael Oldsworth, enjoyed the same security there as did Morgan at Wilton, and his colleagues included two well-known figures in Sir Robert Cotton (1624) and Sir Benjamin Rudyard (1626). To these two traditional spheres of influence the 3rd earl added a new one, the borough of Downton.
The boroughs of Downton and Hindon belonged to the bishop of Winchester and in each his bailiff was the returning officer. It is this which explains the markedly ecclesiastical flavour of their representation during most of the 16th century. But on the eve of the Reformation Parliament the bishopric had just been surrendered to the Crown by Wolsey, and the four members returned in 1529 were all of the legal carpet-bagger type. Downton returned Nicholas Hare, a future judge, and William Horwood, an attorneyturned-gentleman of Putney, Hindon two future judges in John Hynde and John Baldwin. In 1531 Stephen Gardiner began his long tenure of the see of Winchester. The absence of returns makes it impossible to trace his use of the patronage during the first sixteen years: and when, from 1547, the members for Downton and Hindon re-emerge, Gardiner is on the point of translation to the Tower. When Somerset's Parliament met Gardiner was already in prison. He himself was excluded from the Lords, and he also complained that those whom he 'was used to name' had been excluded from the Commons. (fn. 29) One of these was presumably the future Catholic martyr, John Story, member for Hindon, who was excluded and imprisoned by the House for opposing the new Prayer Book. But neither Story's fellow member, John Sturgion, a London haberdasher, nor the members for Downton, William Moryce and William Grene, can have been clients of Gardiner's: Moryce, whose brother was Cranmer's secretary, is most likely to have owed his seat to the archbishop, who may have taken advantage of Gardiner's difficulties to assume the patronage, as one of his successors was to do.
Gardiner's restoration in 1553 brought a natural reversion to the 'professional' system. John Bekinsau, the divine and scholar from neighbouring Broad Chalke, sat twice for each borough, and on three occasions his fellow member was Thomas Martyn, the bishop's chancellor. Gardiner died in November 1555, to be succeeded in the following year by John White. Under White's patronage Hindon returned two civilians to Mary's last Parliament and again to Elizabeth's first, one of them being William Aubrey, a Wiltshireman and grandfather of the antiquary. But at Downton the ecclesiastical element was confined to a single member, John Story, who sat again in 1559, the others being local laymen. Bishop White was deprived in 1560, and it was his successor Home who wielded the patronage at the next three elections. Home began in great style, for at least three of the four members in 1563 were drawn from his entourage. They were John Foster, a lawyer who looked after the Winchester estates, and George Acworthe, Home's chancellor and one of his three sons-in-law, the two members for Hindon: and Henry Kingsmill, a Hampshire puritan, whose brother John was soon to succeed Acworthe as chancellor, one of the two for Downton. Only Kingsmill's fellow-member, Tristram Mathewe, strikes a different note: he was a 'considerable copyholder' in Downton. (fn. 30) But this near-monopoly did not last. In 1571 and 1572 Downton was represented wholly by gentlemen, a Penruddock and a Darrell among them, and not even all the Hindon members reveal obvious connexion with the bishop. (fn. 31)
Home was dead before the next election. Between his death in 1580 and Bilson's appointment in 1597, Winchester had four bishops, only one of whom, Martin Marprelate's butt Thomas Cooper, held the see for any length of time. This rapidity of succession may explain why from 1586, and perhaps from 1584, what remained of the episcopal patronage came to be wielded, not by Winchester, but by Canterbury. Whitgift succeeded Grindal as primate in 1583, and from 1586 one of the four seats concerned went regularly to a dependent of Whitgift's: in 1586 and 1588 to his chancellor, Richard Cosyn, in 1593 to his secretary, Abraham Hartwell, and in 1597 and 1601 to his comptroller and future biographer, George Paule. The three remaining seats were now filled by gentlemen or lawyers—although Edward Barker's return for Downton in 1601 bespeaks the archbishop's influence (fn. 32) —with an occasional outside influence apparent in such returns as that of Thomas Wilkes, clerk of the Privy Council, for Downton in 1584 and of Lawrence Tomson, Walsingham's secretary, for the same borough in 1588. (fn. 33) Whitgift died in 1604 and with him disappeared the nomination. From the beginning of James I's reign there is hardly any ecclesiastical element in the Downton and Hindon returns. Apart from John Ryves, of the well-known Church family, and Sir Edwin Sandys, son of an archbishop, the names are indistinguishable from those attached to neighbouring boroughs: there are Raleighs, Ludlows, Thynnes, and the like. And then from 1624 the Herbert interest intrudes itself into Downton. By 1629 all trace of the original patronage has disappeared.
The 'proprietary interests' in the Wiltshire boroughs accounted for the recruitment to the House of a substantial number of men who would otherwise scarcely have appeared there: and to some extent it was not merely other individuals, but men of another type, who were returned. Thus the members for Downton and Hindon included a number of civil lawyers, among them such well-known ones as Story, Cosyn, and Aubrey, who went to augment the small but distinguished body of civilians in the Tudor House of Commons. Until the establishment of the university seats by James I, the three Winchester boroughs (the third was Taunton, between which and the two Wiltshire ones there was regular interchange) afforded these specialists their most likely parliamentary opening. Similarly, the secular interests of Seymour and Herbert were responsible for some well-defined types of member, in particular the gentleman-servant. Such men as Richard Pallady, Somerset's architect, Richard Fulmerston, his steward, or Hugh Sanford and Michael Oldsworth, secretaries to successive Earls of Pembroke, fall into this category.
Table 1: Composition of the House of Commons and Wiltshire Members
|Analysis of members||Wiltshire members||House of Commons|
|Soldiers and sailors||0||6|
|Doctors of medicine||1||2|
Neither the civil lawyer nor the nobleman's servant—or indeed any of the other types of Wiltshire member—was peculiar to the county. On the contrary, their inclusion in the Wiltshire ranks makes those ranks a microcosm of the House of Commons. Take, for instance, the Parliament of 1584, which has been made the subject of careful analysis. (fn. 34) Of the eight groups into which the members of 1584 have been classified all but one are represented among the Wiltshire members: and there is a broad correspondence in size between the local and national groups. If Wiltshire had rather more than its share of gentlemen-servants, ecclesiastical officials, and lawyers, and rather less of government officials, the proportion of townsmen tallies almost exactly with the national figure. So does the proportion of gentlemen, a fact which also reflects the rise of the proprietary interests. For these involved a limitation of the number of seats open to that 'free' competition in which the gentry predominated. The extent of the 'enclosures' thus established is revealed by the accompanying table, from which it appears that, out of the 32 borough seats, between 7 and 14, and on the average 9 or 10, were filled by the operation of these interests. The number open to 'free' competition was thus reduced to about 22, or if we add the 2 county seats, to about 24. Even this reduced total was an extremely large one, and if all these seats had been available to Wiltshiremen they would have been privileged indeed. But this was no close competition. The two county seats were certainly reserved for natives: (fn. 35) but the boroughs, once the residential qualification had broken down, could be invaded from both near and far, by neighbours as well as strangers. Bearing in mind Wiltshire's wealth and her neighbours' poverty in borough seats, it is not surprising to find a number of immigrants from these adjoining counties. Of the 37 members for Cricklade (fn. 36) between 1529 and 1629, fourteen were Gloucestershire men, and eight of them sat in other Parliaments for seats in that county. But Cricklade was exceptional in the number of members it drew from across the county boundary: at the other boroughs—Heytesbury, Ludgershall, Malmesbury, and Wootton Bassett were those chiefly concerned—such members appeared much less often. These visitors included some interesting figures. From Gloucestershire there came Sir Nicholas Poyntz of Iron Acton, prominent courtier of Henry VIII; Sir Nicholas Arnold of Highnam, a Lord Deputy of Ireland; several members of the Bridges family of Sudeley; and Sir George Snigge, Recorder of Bristol and judge. From Berkshire came John Winchcombe (II) and (III), son and grandson of the great clothier of Newbury, and Edmund Plowden, high priest of the common law; Hampshire contributed several Kingsmills; and from Somerset came the greatest of all, John Pym of Brymore, who began his parliamentary career as member for Calne in 1621 and 1624. Remarkable for their variety and distinction, these immigrants from neighbouring counties can scarcely have furnished one in ten of the Wiltshire members. Their infiltration was therefore only a mild threat to the native aspirants, who for their part from time to time found seats in the counties concerned.
Table 2: 'Proprietary Interests' in Wiltshire Borough Representation
|1529||3(4) (fn. 97)||6||4||13 (14)|
|1554 (ii)||4(6)||1||1||2 (4)||8 (12)|
|1555||7||1||1 (2)||2 (4)||11 (14)|
|1558||5||1 (2)||4 (5)||10 (12)|
|1559||3||2||2 (3)||3||10 (11)|
|1563||3||2||5 (7)||3 (4)||13 (16)|
|1572||4||2||3||1 (2)||10 (11)|
|1588||2||3||1 (2)||1||2 (3)||9 (11)|
|1593||2||2||1 (2)||1 (2)||2||8 (10)|
|1597||3||2||1 (2)||1||7 (8)|
|1604||3||1 (2)||3||7 (8)|
|1614||2||1 (2)||3||1||7 (8)|
|1624||3||2 (3)||4||9 (10)|
|1625||3||2 (3)||5||10 (11)|
|1626||3||1 (2)||5||9 (10)|
Numerically more significant—although to the history of Wiltshire even less germane —are the strangers proper, the men who hailed from beyond the five counties. Between 1529 and 1629 there were about 100 of them, and they occupied Wiltshire seats on some 120 occasions. Of these 100 men we can list 82 who, besides occupying one or more Wiltshire seats, were returned on other occasions for counties and boroughs farther afield than Wiltshire's five neighbours. Many of them were carpet-baggers—so much is clear from the names of the boroughs for which they sat. 'Pocket' and 'rotten' boroughs like Aylesbury, Gatton and Newton-in-Makerfield, Duchy of Lancaster boroughs, Cornish boroughs, Cinque Ports boroughs—these hunting-grounds of the peripatetic member crop up regularly in the parliamentary records of our 82. (fn. 37)
Every Wiltshire borough at some time accommodated strangers. Those which did so least often were Calne (twice), Devizes and Marlborough (three times), Malmesbury and Salisbury (four times), and Bedwyn and Wilton (five times). (fn. 38) Calne, Devizes, and Malmesbury long contrived to retain one of their seats for a resident, and with the other reserved for a local gentleman there was little opening for an outsider: while Salisbury, with rare lapses, managed to keep both seats. The other three were 'proprietary', Bedwyn and Marlborough belonging to the Seymours and Wilton to the Herberts. Boroughs which offered a slightly better chance than these were Heytesbury and Hindon (six times) and Downton and Westbury (seven times, including in each case both seats on one occasion). Here again, there were local claims to contend with, at Hindon and Downton the Bishop of Winchester's, at Heytesbury the Thynnes': only Westbury afforded regular, if infrequent, opportunity for a stranger. The remaining five boroughs were more amenable. Chippenham elected a stranger nine, and Old Sarum ten times, and each on one occasion had two strangers as members: Cricklade returned one stranger eleven times (but never two), and Ludgershall and Wootton Bassett also reached a total of eleven strangers each, both returning two on two occasions. The frequency of strangers is most readily explained at Old Sarum, where a period of Herbert domination was followed by one of governmental influence inaugurated by Robert Cecil, and Ludgershall, which, once a Bridges preserve, (fn. 39) afterwards became a haven for wanderers, especially lawyers. Chippenham, although a manorial borough, strove for a measure of independence which may have prompted its periodic preference for a stranger to a local squire: (fn. 40) while Cricklade and Wootton Bassett were both 'frontier' boroughs which, accustomed as they were to members drawn from two counties, may have taken them the more readily from farther afield.
In Wiltshire history these stranger members are of collective rather than of individual interest. Fully one-half of them belonged to the official-courtier group, with offices or connexions ranging from secretaryships of state (Sir Thomas Smith under Edward VI, Sir Thomas Lake under James I) or ambassadorships (Sir Edward Stafford and Sir Thomas Edmondes) to minor posts in the Exchequer or the Duchy. Next come about a dozen lawyers. The legal carpet-bagger is a familiar figure in Wiltshire from the early sixteenth century. (fn. 41) Our names include several judges, two Speakers (Sir John Pollard and Sir Christopher Wray), and two luminaries in Sir William Fleetwood and John Selden. There is a small—perhaps half a dozen—but interesting group of merchants and financiers, all from London, including two governors of the Merchant Adventurers (John Marsh and Edward Chamberlayne). And finally there is a handful of men best described as careerist parliamentarians, among them Sir Edwin Sandys and Sir Robert Pye.
The largest element among Wiltshire members was the native gentry. The number of gentle families in Wiltshire may be taken, on the evidence of the Heraldic Visitations, as about 200 in 1565 and as not much below 300 in 1623. (fn. 42) Between 1529 and 1629 84 of the families recorded in either or both of these Visitations contributed to the parliamentary representation of the county: they supplied 167 individual members, and these members were returned, all told, on 334 occasions. But these figures need to be augmented by the inclusion of members known to be local although omitted from the Visitations, some of them belonging to families with a Wiltshire connexion but whose origin or chief affiliation lay elsewhere, (fn. 43) others to families which either could not or would not claim gentility—there are two instances of families 'disgraded' in 1565 and yet producing members. (fn. 44) When these names are brought into the reckoning, the number of families contributing members rises to 115, the number of individual members to 219, and the number of times that they were returned to 440. Thus Wiltshire families, or families having an interest in the county, supplied between one-third and one-half of the county's membership and fully one-half of the total returns.
These families differed widely in their parliamentary experience. More than half (63 out of the 115) produced but a single member during the century, and again in more than half of these cases (37) the member sat in only one Parliament and in a further quarter (17) in only two. These families account for most of the minor gentry concerned —such names as Anketill, Blake, Bulkeley, Earth, Grubb, Martyn, Moody, Rives, Sotwell, and Tutt are in point here—as well as for most of those which, by the test of the Visitations, were sub—gentle. (fn. 45) In the annals of these families the occupancy of a seat in the Commons was a rare, often a unique, event; and none of them attained to the knighthood of the shire. The few cases of individual longevity can usually be explained in terms of personal or professional standing. Richard Digges, who sat for Marlborough in nine successive Parliaments, was the town's legal adviser, while Sir Henry Knyvet and Sir Francis Popham, who each sat six times, were both leading men in the shire.
It is among the families furnishing two or three members that we recognize the majority of the Wiltshire landed families of the period. The 28 with two members to their credit included Brouncker, Dodington, Gawen, Ludlow, Maynard, Mompesson, Raleigh, St. John, Vaughan, and Wroughton, and the twelve with three Darrell, Danvers, Duckett, Eyre, Ley, Willoughby, and Zouche. In this combined group the individual member was returned on an average twice (165 returns of 92 members), an average which it shared with the 'one member-per-family' group (124 returns of 63 members); but its higher standing is reflected in the fact that on 13 occasions it furnished a knight of the shire. There remains a group of twelve families which had more than three of their members in the Commons during this century. Of these families or their various branches Bayliffe, Button, Howard, Mervyn, Poole, and Thynne had 4, Baynton and Penruddock 5, Bridges and Long 6, Hyde 7, and Hungerford no fewer than 11. These dozen families were the Wiltshire parliamentary dynasties of the period. Not only was the average parliamentary 'life' of their members appreciably longer than that of either of the previous groups (151 returns of 64 members), but between them they produced a knight of the shire 21 times, an average of nearly twice per family.
Table 3: Parliamentary Record of Leading County Families and their various Branches
First place among these families may go to the Bayntons of Bromham. If their preeminence would yield the Bayntons the knighthood of the shire with some regularity, they were also well-placed for borough seats. From Bromham, fringing the Vale of Avon, they overlooked Calne and Devizes, with Chippenham and Westbury near at hand and Malmesbury, Wootton Bassett, and Marlborough within reach. It thus came about that in four successive generations the head of the family was elected for the shire and that during the century from 1529 there were only five Parliaments in which no Baynton sat, three of them during the reign of Mary, when this strongly Protestant family was under a cloud. If it is added that only once did a Baynton sit for any but a Wiltshire seat, (fn. 46) its claim as the county's leading parliamentary family becomes indisputable.
The Bayntons' nearest rivals were the families of Hungerford and Thynne. Between 1553 and 1629 members of the different branches of the Hungerford family sat in 18 out of the 24 Parliaments summoned: on 4 occasions they supplied 2, and on 2 occasions 3, members, and their total of 23 seats exceeded that of either Baynton or Thynne during that period. Of the Thynne family the first three generations in the county all enjoyed long parliamentary careers. In two of these three generations the head of the family attained the county seat (although on the first occasion by means foul rather than fair), and between 1536 and 1629 its members occupied 23 seats, one more than the Bayntons. Excluding the reign of Mary when, like the Bayntons, the Thynnes were out of favour, there were only two Parliaments in which the family was not represented. Under Elizabeth I it entrenched itself in Heytesbury, and later it also acquired an interest in Hindon, then passing from ecclesiastical to lay patronage.
Of the remaining families of this group, that of Hyde exemplifies the parliamentary proclivities of a race of lawyers. The founder of the family, Lawrence Hyde of West Hache, his four sons, and three of his grandsons, all successful lawyers and one of them a future Lord Chancellor, were returned at different times between 1559 and 1640. The Longs of Wraxall, Draycott Cerne, and Whaddon got into their stride only under the Stuarts, when they produced, among other members, the celebrated Walter Long. The families of Mervyn and Penruddock had by that time run their parliamentary courses: but the Pooles of Oaksey threw up in Sir Henry Poole an outstanding figure in the Parliaments of 1597 to 1626.
If in the boroughs the gentlemen of Wiltshire had to face sustained competition from strangers, for the two county seats they had only to compete among themselves. Only once did the shire elect a man who had no real stake in it: that was in 1601, when Sir Edmund Carye was returned. (fn. 47) The list of knights of the shire between 1529 and 1629 throws some light on the conditions governing the award of this most coveted prize. Including two by-elections, we have 45 returns (14 being lost). These returns comprise 36 individuals drawn from 28 families. Of the individuals, 31 were elected once only, 4 twice, and 1 three times: and of the families, 22 were represented by a single individual, 5 by 2 individuals, and 1 by 4. There is scarcely any hint here of a monopoly, either in an individual or in a family: with the exceptions of the three returns of Sir Francis Seymour between 1621 and 1640, and the four returns of a Baynton, the honour passed from person to person, and from family to family, in steady rotation.
That this result was, at least in part, and at least for a time, the product of design appears from a letter of 1580 from the 2nd Earl of Pembroke to Sir John Thynne:
Upon understandinge by Mr James Mervyn and Mr Escourt of the talkes of some gentlemen of the shere as towchinge the chusinge of the knights for the same, wherunto they would have my consent and goodwill I have thought it good this much to imparte unto you: that in deade before I heard any thinge therof, I had graunted my good will, and these were my consideracions: that is, I would have all gentlemen to have their due reserved unto them, which is from tyme to tyme as Parliaments fall owt to be chosen: nowe somme, and then somme, as they are fytte, to thend they may be experimented in the affaires and state of their Countrey, not thinking that you ment to be one, for that you were last and latelie, and if I had knowen your mynd therin I cold have ben well contented to have yeldid to you as soone as to any. Therfore I signifie this much unto you because I wold not have youe conceave it otherwise then I meane it, and if you have a liking to be of the howse I shall willinglie further youe to any place I have or can gett for you. (fn. 48)
Bearing in mind the 2nd earl's pre-eminence in the county we cannot doubt that the pattern of its representation during his 30-year 'reign' reflects his enlightened policy. That policy seems to have set little store by age or previous experience, since of the eleven knights of the shire presumably concerned, six had not sat in Parliament before. (fn. 49) But the irregularity of Parliaments combined with the vicissitudes of families would have defeated over-systematization. The relative smoothness of the resulting elections is a measure of the success of Pembroke's supervision, and the occasional troubles which did arise are a measure of its value. One source of trouble was the Thynnes. The first Sir John Thynne had established himself in Wiltshire during the ascendancy of his master Somerset. When Somerset's overthrow left Thynne masterless, and the seat of power passed from Wolfhall to Wilton, he set about establishing an independent position in the west of the county, based upon wide lands and reflected in the glories of Longleat. It was a programme calculated to lead to friction with the Herberts: but as prosecuted by Thynne it plunged him into the earliest of the feuds which were to mark the first three generations of his house. (fn. 50)
One of the first repercussions was the disputed county election of 1559, when Thynne challenged the choice of George Penruddock, Pembroke's steward, for the second place and got himself returned in open defiance of the result of the poll. Although the sheriff whom Thynne had suborned was fined and imprisoned for his scandalous behaviour, Thynne's election held good and Penruddock could not even be consoled with a borough seat. (fn. 51) It is probable that Thynne was returned (and it is to be hoped this time honestly) for a second time in 1571, (fn. 52) and he was evidently planning to do so again when Pembroke wrote him the letter printed above. But his death only a month or two later cast his aggressive mantle upon the shoulders of his son, another John. Although John Thynne (II) got on better with Pembroke, he was involved in a long and bitter feud with Sir James Mervyn. (fn. 53) This did not prevent his election as knight of the shire in 1588 and again in 1604. But his death after the first session of the Parliament of 1604 was the occasion of another piece of sharp practice whereby his son and successor, Sir Thomas Thynne, who was already sitting for Hindon, had himself returned for the vacant county seat. This time the trick did not come off. Sir Thomas's election was disallowed on the ground that, being already a member, he was ineligible, and Sir Walter Vaughan was by-elected in his place. His attempt may also have cost him his chance in the future: for, although he sat in five more Parliaments, Sir Thomas Thynne never attained the knighthood of the shire. (fn. 54)
It is time to draw this survey of Wiltshire members of Parliament to a conclusion. Over the century 1529–1629 the four main categories of members—townsmen, nominees, strangers from near and far, and native gentlemen—accounted for a tenth, a fifth, a quarter and a half of the returns respectively. The contingent of 34 Wiltshire members was thus normally made up of 3 townsmen, 7 nominees, 8 strangers to the county, and 16 of its native gentlemen. Of the county's excessive endowment of seats little more than half was thus available to Wiltshiremen. But the men who competed for these 'unreserved' seats were drawn from a long list of families: 115 families all told, or nearly half the armorial families of the county, could point to at least one member during the century. Since this total far exceeded that of most other counties, and perhaps of them all, (fn. 55) it is likely that the Wiltshire members reached a good deal lower down the pyramid of wealth and social standing than their fellows, a conclusion which is borne out by their inclusion of some men of sub-gentle status. This numerous rank-and-file was headed by two groups of leading families, the larger of them, some 40 strong, comprising the families of the second order of importance, and the smaller, a round dozen, the governing families par excellence. The supreme parliamentary honour, the knighthood of the shire, seldom strayed beyond the confines of these two groups, and generally remained within the more select of them.
The matters which were to occupy the Wiltshire members, in common with their fellows, when they reached the House of Commons were, broadly speaking, of two kinds, the first local and personal, the second general and public. Between these two classes of business and the parliamentary activity of the several kinds of Wiltshire members it is possible to discern a rough correlation.
This is most evident in the case of the townsmen. It was the prime duty of a borough's representatives in Parliament to handle its business and to promote its interests there: and the larger the borough the weightier this duty was likely to be. When in 1626 the Salisbury corporation refused the Attorney-General a nomination, one of their reasons was that they needed two of their own number in the approaching Parliament to handle their projected bill for a municipal brewhouse. (fn. 56) To serve such a community adequately in the House was no sinecure, whereas to sit for an Old Sarum or a Ludgershall certainly was. The difference may explain why Thomas Wilkes, a clerk of the Privy Council, in 1586 first declined an invitation by Southampton, on the ground that he was to be despatched on a diplomatic mission, and then let himself be returned for Downton. (fn. 57) The interests of a leading seaport might have suffered from an absentee member: those —whatever they were—of a rural township would scarcely be affected.
It was, then, local affairs which preoccupied the few townsmen in the House. Whether Wokingham and district should be ceded by Wiltshire to Berkshire, (fn. 58) whether the streets of Wilton should be paved, (fn. 59) how the Bishop of Salisbury's manor of Damerham should be leased, (fn. 60) such questions doubtless held more interest for Wiltshiremen than for their fellow members. Then there were personal matters like the settlement of a property dispute between William Hyde and William Darrell (fn. 61) —'wild' Darrell who set the whole county by the ears (fn. 62) —or the sale of Mompesson lands for the discharge of debts (fn. 63) in which local townsmen as well as gentlemen may have been interested parties. And we may be sure that such exciting episodes as Gabriel Pleydall's implication in forgery while sitting for Wootton Bassett in 1563 (fn. 64) and Thomas Long's bribery of the Mayor of Westbury to secure his election for that borough in 1571 (fn. 65) set all Wiltshire parliamentary tongues wagging.
The allegiance which the townsman owed to his borough or district the nominee owed to his patron: and what the welfare of an urban community was to the first the fame and fortune of a great man were to the second. The services which a nobleman's servants and followers could render him in Parliament were of diverse nature and value. Tembrochian Oldsworth, that made the Earl his master's wise speeches' (fn. 66) presumably did so the more readily for having himself sat in the Commons for 30 years. Noble reputations thus erected in the Lords might also need buttressing in the Commons, as was shown by an episode of 1606. In April of that year Sir Henry Poole, the vigorous member for Cricklade, supported by Alexander Chokke (Westbury) and others, accused the Earl of Hertford, Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire and Somerset, of imposing a tax upon those two counties for the upkeep of the militia, a tax which was moreover payable to the muster master, Josias Kirton, an officer of the earl's household. The House gave Poole leave to present this as a grievance and some weeks later debated the matter. On this occasion it was a client of Hertford's, Sir John Holies, who led for the defence by reading a letter from Hertford (fn. 67) denying the charges and declaring (which was untrue) (fn. 68) that Kirton had been appointed muster master before he became a dependent of the earl's: and when Poole persisted it was James Kyrton (Ludgershall), another of Hertford's officers and a cousin of Josias, who intervened on behalf of his patron and his relation. The two were so far successful that, so far as the House was concerned, the matter ended there, although the local enmities which had prefaced and provoked this parliamentary démarche were doubtless not allayed by it. (fn. 69)
But it was not only a nobleman's honour which might need advocacy in the Commons: from time to time his material fortunes would be at stake there and in moments of crisis his liberty or even his life. The Seymour and Herbert heritages, being alike founded upon the spoliation of the Church, shared the modest risks involved in that origin, but they differed widely in their exposure to the graver consequences of political and marital misadventure. The 1st Earl of Pembroke was the most eminent among a group of purchasers of the lands of the see of Winchester who had to meet an attempt at their recovery by its first Elizabethan bishop, Home. When a bill to assure these lands to their lay owners came into the Commons it was committed to Richard Kingsmill, a Puritan member whose brother was Home's first chancellor. But neither this sponsorship, nor the bishop's appearance in person, availed in the bishop-hating Commons, and the bill passed. The presence of Pembroke's nominees cannot have hindered its progress: although on the other side the faithful Story's appearance as counsel for the bishop was pardoned by the House only at the price of his apology. (fn. 70)
The Herberts were soon out of the wood: the Seymours found the going much harder and longer. The impact of the political disasters of 1552 and 1561 upon the Seymour patrimony did not come within the purview of Parliament. But the Protector's two marriages gave rise to a conflict between the 2nd earl, his son and heir by the second marriage, and Edward Seymour of Berry Pomeroy (Devon), his grandson by the first, which became a matter for the Commons when a bill settling the Seymour lands came into that House in April 1604. (fn. 71) Edward Seymour was himself a member, (fn. 72) and when on 12 June 1604 the bill came to be debated he was asked to withdraw as a party to the case. Whereupon, in the words of the Journal, 'This Motion was made by Mr Kyrton, Servant and Officer to the Earl of Hertford; and pursued with another, that all my lord of Hartford's Officers might go forth also; but not urged, nor assented,' to which the clerk added in the margin the explanatory afterthought, 'No Parties themselves'. (fn. 73) The proposal itself (was it disingenuous?) and its rejection by the House are an interesting commentary upon the position of such dependents. On this occasion the matter did not come to issue, for the bill does not appear to have got beyond a committee which included Kyrton among its members. But in March 1624 a bill was introduced to enable the 3rd earl to sell lands in order to pay debts, and this time there was no hitch: the bill went to a committee on which sat several local gentlemen as well as the loyal Kyrton and was eventually passed. (fn. 74)
What was the value to a nobleman on such occasions of trusty supporters in the Commons it is impossible to estimate. But we can point to one episode where their absence may have told against success. This was the attempt of 1576 at the rehabilitation of Lord Stourton. John, Lord Stourton, son of the nobleman hanged for murder in 1557, having come of age and been summoned to Parliament in 1576, the queen signed and the Lords passed a bill for his restitution in blood. But when the bill came down to the Commons it ran into difficulties which Stourton himself aggravated by tactless efforts to engineer its passage. The matter blew up into a notable dispute between the two Houses which doomed the bill to extinction. If Stourton had had an Oldsworth or a Kyrton in the House to smooth its progress, his bill might have been spared his clumsy interference and have succeeded, as such pacificatory bills usually did. (fn. 75)
The local and personal matters which were the 'professional' concern of Wiltshire townsman and nominee members would not have lacked interest for the county's gentlemen. But for these there were larger topics which increasingly engaged attention. One such, at once local and national in scope, was the cloth industry. With the virtual exclusion of clothiers from the House under Elizabeth I the fortunes of their industry were committed to the gentlemen who had supplanted them and their own share in its regulation was confined to lobbying outside the House. The cloth bills which abounded during this period thus afforded the Wiltshire members as a whole their main field of activity. They helped to man the committees concerned and from time to time one of them took the initiative. Thus in the parliament of 1621 Sir Henry Poole brought in a cloth bill and in the course of a debate upon fuller's earth George Mynne (Old Sarum) reported his observations of the Netherlands cloth industry. (fn. 76)
Of the role of Wiltshire members in the great issues of the time we know little before the mid-sixteenth century. Thus their attitude towards the Reformation under Henry VIII and Edward VI can be illustrated only by individual examples. But with the reversal of national policy under Mary it becomes momentarily possible to discern politicoreligious affiliations among the Wiltshire members as a whole. Of the thirty-four who sat in Mary's first Parliament five were designated by a contemporary as 'of the true religion', that is, as convinced Protestants. Since three of these five were strangers to the county (Richard Fulmerston, Sir Nicholas Throgmorton and John Throgmorton) and only two were local men (Henry Crede of Wilton and William Badger, the younger, of Prestbury (Glos.)), Wiltshire's contribution to the dissident element in this Parliament was an extremely modest one. (fn. 77) Twelve months later it was much more substantial. As is well known, opponents of the Roman reconciliation and the Spanish marriage in the Parliament of 1554–5 staged an organized withdrawal from the Commons by way of protest four days before the session ended. These 'seceders' numbered 106 all told: and this time no less than 12 of the 30 known Wiltshire members were among them. Of these 12, moreover, all but two were natives, the local gentry furnishing seven and the urban business world the remainder: a London gentleman and a Bristol merchant made up the total. Both members for Cricklade, Salisbury, and Wootton Bassett, and one of the two for Devizes, Ludgershall, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Westbury, and Wilton were involved. They were to pay for their contempt, with their fellows from elsewhere, by prosecution in the King's Bench. (fn. 78)
During the early years of Elizabeth I both politics and religion were, for not a few Wiltshire members, closely interwoven with the fortunes of the house of Seymour. The parliamentary group which had crystallized during the years of Somerset's ascendancy was clearly an integral part of the Seymour 'power', and if it did nothing to check its leader's fall, that fact can scarcely be unconnected with Northumberland's care to break it up and to forestall any attempt at rescue by having Somerset executed the day before Parliament reassembled. It was ten years before the Seymour group, partially reconstituted, was again called upon to help redeem the fortunes of its house. The Parliament of 1563 met when, following the disclosure of their secret marriage, the 2nd Earl of Hertford and Lady Catherine Grey were both in the Tower. It was a situation calculated to bring together Seymourites, Greyites, and Puritans in support of the Suffolk claim and the two prisoners, and in such an alliance the key-figure was likely to be John Hales, once a member of Somerset's circle and since then a Marian exile. Hales himself sat for Lancaster, a Duchy borough (where he had as fellow-member the rising lawyer William Fleetwood, who acted for Hertford and had previously sat for Marlborough); but his nephew Christopher sat for Bedwyn with Sir John Thynne. Pursuing the Seymour side of the combination, we find Francis Newdigate, the earl's stepfather, sitting for Chippenham, and Nicholas St. John, for Cricklade. Hales's friends on the Puritan side are to be sought among those 43 members whom a contemporary lampoonist dubbed 'our choir' and nicknamed, Hales himself being called 'the hottest'. (fn. 79) Of the Seymourites already named, 'Fleetwood the pleader' and perhaps 'Newdigate the crier' (fn. 80) were numbered among the 'choir': while three of its other leading lawyer-members, Norton, Bell, and Yelverton, are known to have been counsel for Hertford in his suits. (fn. 81) Two others with Wiltshire associations were John Foster, a connexion by marriage of Hales's, and Henry Kingsmill, members for Hindon and Downton.
Here, it may be conjectured, were the makings of a pressure-group in the House on behalf of the imprisoned pair, and it is against this sympathetic background that must be set the one known effort to promote Catherine's claim, John Hales's manuscript treatise on the subject. Although composed during the session and cast in the form of a speech, this was not delivered as such. But Hales showed it to at least two of his friends, Fleetwood and Foster, and he and others may well have said the same things in the House. The parliamentary campaign on the succession question was to bear no result, either in 1563 or later. But the amelioration of the lot of the two prisoners in the course of this year may have owed something to their friends' efforts. It was during the session, in February 1563, that the earl received his sentence from the Star Chamber, a fine of £15,000. For an offence of such gravity it was not severe punishment. And six months later, when the session was over, he and Catherine were given the half-liberty of private custody by relatives.
Early in the following year Hales's treatise came to official notice and with it some fresh intrigues centring on Catherine. Hales expiated his presumption with several years' imprisonment, and Hertford had to exchange his family's custody for that of a trusted councillor. It was without Hales, therefore, but with everyone else present, that the House reassembled in September 1566 and resumed its attack. Once again, we may be sure, there were the informal talks as well as the formal speeches, the canvassing of names and the calculating of chances. The queen herself, in a speech to a joint delegation on the dangers of public discussion, in effect described what was going on in private: 'For if you should have liberty to treat of it, there be so many competitors— some kinfolks, some servants, and some tenants; some would speak for their master, and some for their mistress, and every man for his friend. . . .' (fn. 82) Kinsfolk, servants, tenants, the Seymour following was built up of all three: and with the powerful support of the puritan 'choir' they might well have drowned the rest. But by 1566 the Seymourites had already had their day as a political group to be reckoned with. The death of Catherine early in 1568, if it paved the way for Hertford's recovery of his inheritance and position, also robbed him of his adventitious importance in high politics. The remainder of his long life saw him advance in dignity but decline in significance; and it was left to his younger kinsman Sir Francis Seymour to bring that famous name back into parliamentary pre-eminence.
If the Seymour following had its heyday in the thirty years after 1536, the Herbert interest only came into its own three-quarters of a century later. The 3rd earl of Pembroke's ascendancy in national politics dated from his appointment in 1615, at the age of 35, to the office of Lord Chamberlain, a post which also answered to and augmented his influence as a patron of poets and dramatists. Pembroke's advancement coincided with the rise of the king's favourite, Villiers, soon to be given the earldom of Buckingham, and it was his steadily growing hostility to Buckingham which was the Leitmotif of Pembroke's political career for the next dozen years. Himself an active member of the Lords, (fn. 83) he also gave the lead to his ten or twelve supporters in the Commons, letting them have their heads at the time of Buckingham's impeachment but afterwards holding them back when he and Buckingham effected their reconciliation in 1628. (fn. 84) In this great issue, as in matters of less moment, can be traced the operation in national politics of an interest based upon local ascendancy.
Such were the things most likely to stir the Wiltshire members into parliamentary activity. But even they were incapable of rousing the majority out of their accustomed silence. For most of the men who sat for Wiltshire seats were mute if not inglorious members. The point may be illustrated from the well-documented Parliament of 1621. The House of Commons of 1621 included 36 members for Wiltshire seats (there were 4 by-elections during the session), of whom 13 find no mention of any kind in the documentation of the Parliament and a further 8 yield no indication of any activity in the House itself. (fn. 85) There is no one explanation of these members' passivity. Social inadequacy will not carry us very far; for if the only townsmen left among Wiltshire members, the two Salisbury representatives, are among them, all the rest are gentlemen born. Youth and inexperience certainly enter in. Nine of these 21 had not sat in the House before and another six had sat only in the brief and unhappy Parliament of 1614. Moreover, the majority of those who thus lacked a parliamentary past were to have little parliamentary future: eight would not sit again and three would sit only once more. Such brief and simple annals were not the stuff of parliamentary fame. But the silent ones of 1621 included some who had sat three times already and two whose memories of the House reached back to before 1603. The conclusion to be drawn, that parliamentary experience and eminence were no more identical then than they are today, is borne out by a consideration of those Wiltshire members who did leave some trace of themselves in this Parliament. True, this group exhibits greater continuity than do its silent colleagues: its members enjoyed an average 'life' of five Parliaments, and for only two of them was this their sole appearance. But of its three outstanding figures only one, Sir Henry Poole, had seen long service—he had first been returned in 1597; the others, John Pym and Sir Francis Seymour, were both fresh to the House. Those who played a subordinate role, manning committees and speaking from time to time, represented a similar mixture of parliamentary age and youth.
There is no reason to doubt that these characteristics of the Wiltshire members of 1621 were shared by their fellows in other Parliaments. We have to think of the Wiltshire contingent as divisible into three sections of diminishing size. The first and largest, accounting for upwards of half the total, comprised the silent and inactive members, many of them making their sole appearance in the House and all of them content to follow where others led. A smaller group would have the necessary qualities of experience or temperament to take a limited part in debate and perhaps to be active behind the scenes. And finally there would be a handful of acknowledged leaders who, with their peers from other shires and boroughs, would dominate the proceedings.
Of the parliamentary 'giants' already named the greatest, John Pym of Brymore, was not a Wiltshireman, and he early exchanged the borough of Calne for that of Tavistock. It was Sir Henry Poole of Oaksey who was the outstanding Wiltshire parliamentarian of the reign of James I. An Oxford man, he sat in every Parliament between 1604 and 1626, twice as knight of the shire for his native county. A frequent and—to judge from the nickname 'our merry' given him by a diarist in 1621 (fn. 86) —an amusing speaker, he seems generally to have wielded a moderating influence when tempers rose. He died in 1632, (fn. 87) leaving a son and heir, Sir Neville Poole, to carry on the family tradition. From 1621 Poole was joined, and soon rivalled, by Sir Francis Seymour, a great-grandson of the Protector and grandson of Catherine Grey. Seymour sat in every Parliament save one between 1621 and 1640, four times as knight of the shire and on other occasions as one of the members for Marlborough, where he lived in the house which afterwards became the nucleus of the College buildings. Seymour came at once to the fore as an opponent of the Court, and his conduct in his first Parliament earned him a summons before the Council. (fn. 88) Persisting in his opposition in the next two Parliaments, he found himself excluded in 1626 by the current device of his appointment as Sheriff of Wiltshire: he was also put off the commission of the peace and his place as custos rotulorum was given to his uncle Hertford. Chosen knight of the shire again in 1628, he took a leading part in the tumultuous scenes which closed that fateful Parliament, and he returned to his country resolved to carry on the struggle with the weapons available there.
Closely associated with Seymour was that other doughty parliamentarian, Walter Long, one of the Longs of Whaddon. Like Seymour, Walter Long distinguished himself by his opposition during the closing years of James I and the early years of his son. Like Seymour, too, Long found himself threatened with exclusion from Charles's third Parliament by being pricked sheriff of Wiltshire in November 1627. But he got himself returned, at the election of 1628, for Bath, which lay outside his bailiwick, and he was one of the prime movers in the events of March 1629 which culminated in the passing of Eliot's three resolutions. (fn. 89) Already in June 1628 Long had been sued in the Star Chamber for absenting himself from his county while its sheriff. (fn. 90) Upon the dissolution of Parliament in March 1629 he was imprisoned as one of the nine members selected for punishment (another of them, John Selden, had been member for Ludgershall). In March 1630 he was censured and fined in the Star Chamber for 'his presumption in quitting the personal service of sheriff, whereunto he was obliged by oath, to play the busybody in Parliament'. (fn. 91) Remanded to the Tower, Long appealed for clemency, but he was at first only given leave to visit his dying wife. (fn. 92) He was eventually liberated in 1633. (fn. 93)
Long was not the only Wiltshire member to pay dear for his intransigeance. Henry Sherfield was a Puritan lawyer who as Recorder of Salisbury was four times returned for the city between 1624 and 1629. He, too, took a leading part against Buckingham and the alleged pro-Catholic policy of the Court, (fn. 94) and he was one of Walter Long's counsel. (fn. 95) His record was certain to weigh heavily against him if he got into trouble, and when in October 1630 his puritanical conscience moved him to smash a painted window in his parish church at Salisbury he gave his enemies their chance. For his act of sacrilege he was tried in the Star Chamber in February 1633 and sentenced to pay a fine of £500, to do public penance before the bishop, and to replace the window at his own expense. Sherfield's case was the talk of the day, and perhaps only the recorder's death within a year of his disgrace denied him the immortality which others were to earn by their further deeds of resistance. (fn. 96)