Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
Number of voters:
at least 28
|5 Mar. 1604||SIR RICHARD LOVELACE|
|24 Mar. 16141||SIR ROBERT KNOLLYS II|
|18/19 Dec. 16202||SIR ROBERT HYDE|
|10 Jan. 1624||SIR ROBERT KNOLLYS II|
|3 May 1625||SIR ROBERT KNOLLYS II|
|9 Jan. 1626||SIR ROBERT KNOLLYS II|
|23 Feb. 1628||JOHN STONHOUSE|
The shire town of Berkshire, Abingdon lay astride a major north-south trade route and was regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in England by some. As well as being a noted centre of the malt trade, it was also an important market for horses, and despite economic decline in the mid-sixteenth century it remained a centre of the cloth trade.3 In 1556 it received a charter which established a common council consisting of a mayor, two bailiffs, nine other principal burgesses and 16 secondary burgesses. Incorporation did not result in good government, however, for by the early 1590s Abingdon’s governors were at loggerheads with each other. In 1599 the corporation ejected three of its members for non-residence and threatened three more with expulsion unless they attended the next meeting. It also repealed all the borough’s ordinances as ‘many are perished and defaced for lack of good custody of the register wherein they were written’ and because ‘some [are] holden contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm’. New ordinances were subsequently passed, but by 1605 the municipality was again in turmoil, this time over the annual elections of the mayor and bailiffs, which had degenerated into ‘mutinous tumults’. The corporation attempted to limit to 40 the number of ordinary freemen who were entitled to participate, but by January 1614 elections had become so chaotic that the borough’s government was ‘in danger to be utterly subverted’. Peace was restored in the short term after the corporation ruled that in future the office of mayor should be filled on a rota basis.4 However, in 1628 a fresh dispute erupted over a secretly held election to the recordership, leading the Privy Council to conclude that the town remained ‘troubled with faction, by means whereof things are not carried in so direct and fair a manner as were fit’.5 Moreover, in 1630 several leading townsmen complained that ‘some factious persons’ had overturned the ruling of 1614, ‘whereby divers inconveniences more mischievous than the first are like to ensue’. Four years later Abingdon was again engulfed in conflict over a mayoral election.6
The charter establishing Abingdon’s corporation had also granted the town the right to return one Member to Parliament. The franchise was vested in the ‘mayor, bailiffs and burgesses’, an ambiguous form of wording which was echoed in the borough’s election indentures.7 It left unclear whether freemen who were not members of the corporation were entitled to vote. The election indentures of 1625 and 1628 suggest that they did in practice, as they were made by the ‘mayor, bailiffs and burgesses of the borough of Abingdon with the whole assent and consent of all the burgesses there’.8 On the other hand, the borough minutes reveal that in 1614 at least the franchise was exercised solely by members of the corporation.9 None of the Members returned between 1604 and 1628 were townsmen. This followed a broad pattern which had been established in Elizabeth’s reign but which had been temporarily abandoned in the last three Tudor Parliaments. The exclusion of townsmen suggests that the corporation, and perhaps also the community at large, wished to avoid contests by keeping the town’s increasingly bitter politics out of parliamentary elections.
Abingdon was represented in the first Jacobean Parliament by Sir Richard Lovelace. Although from Berkshire, Lovelace was seated some distance from the borough, at Hurley, four miles north-west of Maidenhead. He must therefore have owed his election to a two-fold connection with the borough: his sister had wed the son of Richard Beake, the Member for Abingdon in 1576, while he himself had married the widow of William Hyde, whose uncle Oliver Hyde had represented the seat in 1558 and 1553 and whose son, (Sir) George Hyde†, dwelt at South Denchworth, nine miles or so from Abingdon. In 1614 Abingdon made its seat available to Sir Robert Knollys II, who had been too young to stand for Parliament at the previous election. Knollys was seated at Stanford-in-the-Vale, nine miles west of Abingdon, but he probably owed his return to his uncle, William, Lord Knollys (William Knollys†), who since about 1601 had been the borough’s high steward. Sir Robert had almost certainly been raised in the household of his uncle, who later adopted him as his heir. At the following election Knollys was elected junior knight of the shire for Berkshire, thereby clearing the way for the Hydes to reassert their interest at Abingdon. Their representative was Sir Robert Hyde, the stepson of Sir Richard Lovelace and brother of Sir George Hyde. Seated near Wantage, roughly eight miles south west of Abingdon, Hyde was certainly known to the borough, having been one of the commissioners who, in March 1618, had conducted an inquiry into the property belonging to St. Nicholas’ church.10 At the subsequent three general elections Abingdon was again represented by Sir Robert Knollys II, but in 1628 the latter was returned for Wallingford on his uncle’s interest. His departure from the scene enabled John Stonhouse, the eldest son of Sir William Stonhouse of nearby Radley, to fill the vacancy.
At Abingdon, any Member not previously chosen was sworn a freemen on the day of his election.11 Before 1624 the town’s election indentures were all written in Latin. None of the surviving indentures for this period bear any signatures, except that of 1604, which was signed by the mayor, the bailiffs and nine other burgesses. Instead they were authenticated by the town’s common seal.12 Between 1597 and 1609 an Abingdon resident, Sir Thomas Smith†, served as clerk of the parliaments.
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. A.C. Baker, Historic Abingdon, 70.
- 2. The indenture is dated 18 Dec., but the bor. mins. record that the election was held on the 19th: C219/37/64; Berks. RO, TF41 (microfilm), f. 152.
- 3. C.G. Durston, ‘Berks. and the County Gentry, 1625-49’, (Univ. of Reading Ph.D. thesis, 1977), i. pp. 4, 17, 22; Travels through Stuart Britain: the Adventures of John Taylor, the Water Poet ed. J. Chandler, 161; VCH Berks. iv. 441; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Mod. Eng. 21.
- 4. Selections from Municipal Chronicles of Abingdon ed. B. Challenor, 2, 5 and app. pp. x-xii, xvi-xviii; Baker, 50-1, 53, 59.
- 5. APC, 1628-9, pp. 226-7, 230-1; Municipal Chronicles of Abingdon, 140.
- 6. APC, 1629-30, p. 358; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 217.
- 7. Municipal Chronicles of Abingdon, 7.
- 8. C219/39/14; 219/41B/46.
- 9. Baker, 70.
- 10. A.E. Preston, St. Nicholas, Abingdon, 212.
- 11. Baker, 70, 72; Berks. RO, TF41 (microfilm), f. 152.
- 12. For the 1604 indenture, see C219/35/1/196. For the other indentures, see C219/37/64; 219/38/15; 219/39/14; 219/40/157; 219/41B/46.