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|1558/9||WILLIAM DENTON 1|
|HENRY HEIGHES 2|
|1566||JOHN FENNER vice Denton, deceased3|
|1572||THOMAS HOLCROFT I|
|2 Nov. 1584||EDWARD MORE|
|12 Oct. 1586||THOMAS LEWKNOR|
|23 Sept. 1597||LEWIS LEWKNOR|
|14 Oct. 1601||RICHARD BROWNE I|
Throughout the Elizabethan period, and for 200 years afterwards, the lords of the manor and borough of Midhurst were the Browne family, Viscounts Montagu. The first Viscount, though a Catholic, remained loyal to the Crown and was a prominent figure both at court and in Sussex. His grandson, who succeeded him in 1592, was not so judicious in the exercise of his religion and was later implicated in the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes had, in fact, been one of the 1st Viscount’s servants at Cowdray, the family seat adjoining Midhurst.
The influence of the 1st Viscount Montagu is apparent in parliamentary elections at Midhurst throughout his life. The parliamentary electors were the owners of burgage tenements, but there is no evidence that they had any influence on elections. For the first two Parliaments of the reign Montagu chose adherents of his own faith. William Denton was his steward and had already sat for the borough six times before Elizabeth’s accession. The John Fenner who replaced him for the 1566 session has proved difficult to identify. Henry Heighes (1559) was also a servant and accompanied his master on his embassy to Spain in 1560. Edward Banester, another Catholic, was a neighbour living just across the Hampshire border.
From 1566 onwards, by which time Members had to take the oath of supremacy, Montagu seems to have been less anxious to secure the election of his own nominees, preferring to leave the choice of a number of MPs to his friends and acquaintances. His hand may still be seen, however, in the returns of his neighbour Richard Porter in 1571, and Thomas Churcher, his lawyer, who sat in four consecutive Parliaments from 1584. Montagu seems to have given the nomination of the senior seat in 1589 to his future son-in-law, Thomas Heneage, who returned Samuel Foxe, his servant and son of the martyrologist.
An unusual incident in Midhurst’s parliamentary history occurred in 1572. George Gascoigne, the poet, was nominated, almost certainly by Lord Montagu, with whom he is known to have had later contacts, but objections were raised to his election. An anonymous, undated petition, which survives in the State Papers, accused him, among other things, of manslaughter and atheism. Either because of this attack or for some other reason, Gascoigne’s nomination was apparently withdrawn and Thomas Holcroft, one of Lord Burghley’s dependants, was elected in his place. The poet’s name does not even appear on a Crown Office list of the Members of Parliament which has been tentatively dated to the week before the opening of Parliament, while on another list, probably drawn up originally at about the same time, his name has been crossed out and replaced by that of Holcroft. The first of these lists, at least, strongly suggests that Gascoigne did not take his seat in the Commons, and this is confirmed by an entry in Thomas Cromwell’s diary, dated 9 June. On that date Gascoigne was ‘brought in’ to give evidence to the House in a debate concerning his father. It seems most likely, therefore, that Gascoigne’s candidature was withdrawn shortly before the House met and that Holcroft, who was probably bailiff of the city of Westminster by this date, was the last-minute choice of Burghley and Montagu.
Five of the Midhurst Members between 1571 and 1597 owed their returns to Richard Lewknor, a Middle Temple lawyer and Montagu’s legal adviser. Lewknor, who was of some importance in west Sussex in his own right, could always find a seat for himself at Chichester, but it is clear that Montagu and his grandson allowed him to secure the election of several of his relatives and Middle Temple connexions at Midhurst. These included his brother Thomas in 1586, his nephew Lewis in 1597, Thomas Bowyer in 1571 and 1572, and John Boys in 1593. Edward More, the senior Member in 1584, was a Sussex gentleman who probably knew Montagu, but it is more likely that his nomination was due to his friendship with Lewknor.
The part played in parliamentary elections by the 2nd Viscount Montagu is not easy to determine. He was still under age in 1593, but he may have chosen James Smyth, the junior Member in 1597, about whom nothing is known. Richard Browne, the senior Member for the last Parliament of the reign, was a distant relative from the Betchworth branch of the family, and was an experienced Parliament man. His fellow-Member in 1601 was Michael Haydon, who, though a servant of Lord Buckhurst, Montagu’s father-in-law, owned land adjoining several of the Viscount’s Surrey estates, and may have had a more direct link with him.4