Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1545(not known)

Main Article

Midhurst provided a market for the district, and its inhabitants lived by weaving, dying, tanning and other crafts required in a predominantly agricultural area. The manor of Midhurst, sometimes called Cowdray, had passed into the ownership of Sir David Owen on the death of his father-in-law in 1492. Owen sold the reversion of the manor to Sir William Fitzwilliam I for £2,000 in 1529, the original agreement of sale being modified to alleviate the financial difficulties of Owen’s son, and the property was conveyed on 7 Nov. 1529 to feoffees to the use of Owen who resided at Cowdray until his death in 1535. Fitzwilliam, created Earl of Southampton in 1537, rebuilt the house at Cowdray and was a frequent visitor there until his own death in 1542. Under a settlement of 1538 the Countess of Southampton received a life interest in the house and manor, but by 1545 she had waived this in favour of the earl’s half-brother Sir Anthony Browne, on whose death three years later the house and manor passed to his son Anthony, created Viscount Montagu in 1554. Until the Dissolution the Augustinian priory nearby at Easebourne and the knights of St. John of Jerusalem both owned property in the town outside the jurisdiction of the borough. In 1536 Fitzwilliam acquired the priory with its estates and in 1541 the liberty of St. John; they made him and his heirs undisputed masters at Midhurst.2

The borough had a common seal. Its administration was that of a manorial borough, although with some unusual features. The chief officer, the King’s bailiff, was chosen each year by the ‘homage’ or jury at the capital court baron in late August: he collected tolls from fairs and markets and acted as returning officer at elections. The lord’s bailiff, appointed at the same time, collected the burgage rents and levied the profits of the court baron and the court leet or view of frankpledge. The townsfolk paid 40 s. a year to the lord of the manor for the right to hold the two courts. No borough records survive from the period.3

The parliamentary franchise was vested in the owners of burgage tenements, who were not obliged to be resident. Indentures survive for the Parliaments of 1542, 1547, March and October 1553, November 1554 and 1555: those for the reign of Edward VI are in Latin, the others in English. No two are in the same form, but the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex was always one of the contracting parties: the sheriff in 1552-3 was himself lord of Midhurst. The indenture for 1542 is between the sheriff ‘and burgesses of the borough’; it testifies that ‘we, Thomas Colbrooke’ [presumably the King’s bailiff] and 15 to 17 named burgesses have elected ‘our well beloved Nicholas Dering and John Bourne’, whose names seem to have been inserted in a different hand, and the election is said to have been carried out ‘by the virtue of the liberty of our said borough’. The numbers of electors on the other indentures vary from about nine to 13; they are described as burgesses, burgesses and freeholders, or burgesses and inhabitants; sometimes all three designations appear. In 1542 they include two weavers and a tanner. The name of one of the Members in 1555, that of Henry Heighes, is in a different ink and almost certainly in a different hand from the remainder of the indenture.4

The election to the Parliament of 1529 took place while the sale of Midhurst by Sir David Owen to Sir William Fitzwilliam was in progress and the patronage then exercised is not clear. George Gifford’s return could have been the work of Owen or Fitzwilliam, at the prompting of the 5th Earl of Northumberland whose house at Petworth lay six miles away. His fellow-Member James Bassett lived at Singleton, some five miles to the south-west, and was a servant of another Sussex magnate, the 11th Earl of Arundel. In 1539 Fitzwilliam assured Cromwell that ‘for the burgesses of Midhurst I shall not fail to do the best to furnish ... honest men and such as shall be meet’, but in the absence of an indenture their names are unknown. Of the two men returned in 1542, Nicholas Dering was married to a granddaughter of Owen and in the service of one of his wife’s kinsmen still influential in the locality, the 9th Lord la Warr, and John Bourne, the future secretary, was a clerk in Fitzwilliam’s household. All the Members for the reigns of Edward VI and Mary were nominees of the Browne family, usually kinsmen, servants or dependants of theirs. Only Sir Thomas Lovell cannot be shown to have had a personal link with the Brownes, who in September 1553 presumably acted on a recommendation, perhaps from the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Midhurst did not comply with Mary’s call for the return of residents in the autumn of 1554, unless William Denton, with a home two miles away at Stedham and chambers for his use at Cowdray, qualified as such: his fellow-Member Thomas Harvey certainly did not.5

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Bodl. e Museo 17. The indenture (C119/21/157) is defaced and Denton's surname is missing.
  • 2. This survey rests on R. J. W. Swales, ‘Local Pol. and parlty. rep. of Suss. 1529-58’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964). W. H. St. John Hope, Cowdray and Easebourne Priory , ii. 17-21; LP Hen. VIII , vi, g. 105(25); xi, g. 202(37); xvi, g. 947(56); Cowdray Archs. ed. Dibben, i. pp. xix-xxi, 9, 28-31; VCH Suss. iv. 84-85.
  • 3. VCH Suss. iv. 74-77; Horsfield, Suss. ii. 92-94; Cowdray Archs. i. pp. xviii-xxi; ii. 281.
  • 4. C219/18B/94, 19/110, 20/134, 21/157, 23/130, 24/159.
  • 5. LP Hen. VIII , xiv(1), 520 citing Cott. Cleop. E4, f. 209v.