Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of Qualified Electors:
|12 Mar. 1604||HENRY FLEETWOOD|
|SIR JOHN TOWNSHEND|
|c. Mar. 1614||SIR HENRY NEVILLE III|
|18 Dec. 1620||ARTHUR GOODWIN|
|2 Feb. 1624||HENRY COKE|
|16 Apr. 1625||HENRY COKE|
|28 Jan. 1626||HENRY COKE|
|23 Feb. 1628||(SIR) WILLIAM BORLASE|
Chipping Wycombe was a small town located in a sheltered, well-watered valley on the important route between Oxford and London, and was linked to Great Marlow.1 Its long-established market, particularly in corn, drew in traders from the capital, Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, as well as from Buckinghamshire itself. Cloth-working and lace-making provided employment for a significant section of the population.2 The architectural record, the presence of a large number of alehouses and inns and the construction of a new ‘Gildhall’ in 1604, all suggest a period of urban prosperity in the later sixteenth and early years of the seventeenth centuries.3
This economic growth may partly explain the granting of successive charters in 1558, 1598 and 1609.4 Under their provisions, the free burgesses were given a monopoly of trade within the corporation’s boundaries, and responsibility for internal government was place in the hands of a mayor, aldermen, bailiffs and the principal burgesses, who were emerging as a common council. When the steward was replaced by a recorder in 1609, this oligarchical structure was complete. By then, however, the cloth trade was about to begin its long-term decline and efforts were already being made by the corporation to exclude ‘foreign’ blacksmiths and collarmakers, hatmakers and tailors. Butchers were later barred from trading from stalls anywhere other than in the newly erected ‘shambles’.5 Mortality rates doubled in 1617 and almost did so again in 1624-5 as a result of the plague.6 From 1623 onwards, meeting the costs of caring for the poor and unemployed became of increasing concern to the corporation and the local magistrates.
The right to return Members lay in the hands of the corporation’s resident burgesses. Like many other boroughs, Chipping Wycombe had chosen to send to Westminster members of local landed families well before the end of the Tudor period. The Windsors of Bradenham, the Fleetwoods of Chalfont St. Giles, the Fortescues of Whaddon and the Goodwins of Wooburn had all provided MPs.7 As steward of the borough, Henry, 5th Lord Windsor, claimed the right to nominate both Members in 1601, and may have done so again in 1604. Certainly Sir John Townshend, a man based in Wales and the Marches, is likely to have been Lord Windsor’s nominee. However, Henry Fleetwood, being domiciled in London where he pursued a legal career, may have owed his selection to the first Jacobean Parliament to his connections with the king’s chief minister, Lord Cecil (Robert Cecil†). Neither man appears to have raised local matters in the Commons.
Lord Windsor died in April 1605, and though his son Thomas, the 6th Lord Windsor, had attained his majority by the time of the 1614 Parliament there is no evidence that he succeeded his father as steward of Chipping Wycombe. It was therefore the case, perhaps, that the borough was left free to choose both its Members. William Borlase of Bockmer and Little Marlow was the son of an active county administrator with recent parliamentary experience. Since he was in his mid-twenties at the time of his election, it may have been intended that his return would form part of his education in public affairs. His partner, Sir Henry Neville III of Billingbear in Berkshire, had no more than the closeness of his father’s estate to Chipping Wycombe and, presumably, a willingness to bear his own charges to recommend him. Their relative silence in 1614 was by no means unique.
In 1620 the corporation’s choice fell upon Arthur Goodwin of Upper Winchendon, Buckinghamshire and Richard Lovelace of West Drayton and Hillingdon, Middlesex. It is impossible to be certain but Goodwin’s position as the son and heir of Sir Francis Goodwin, probably the wealthiest landowner in the county, suggests a desire to win Sir Francis’s favour at a time when the latter was serving as a justice for the town. It is doubtful whether anything more was expected of Arthur Goodwin since he remained almost, if not entirely, silent during the Parliament. Similar motives may be suspected in the case of Richard Lovelace, whose daughter had married Henry Coke, the third surviving son of Sir Edward Coke, the great lawyer. Sir Edward lived at Stoke Poges, not far from Wycombe, and may have been the town’s honorary high steward.8 It seems likely that he was responsible for nominating his son’s father-in-law to the borough.
Once established, the Coke family’s connection with the town endured for the next three parliaments. Henry Coke, who lived in a farmhouse at Stoke Poges in 1622, was again returned for Chipping Wycombe in 1624, 1625 and 1626, even though he had probably moved to his estates in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk during this period and proved a resolutely silent participant in the proceedings of the Commons. If Wycombe’s local rulers expected anything more, they left no trace in the surviving records. Arthur Goodwin sat again in 1624.
There was, however, a change when Goodwin failed to sit in 1625. Thomas Lane, who had served as the town’s recorder since 1620, replaced Goodwin. Lane had been more active in Wycombe’s affairs than any of his predecessors and seems to have been on good terms with Sir William Borlase* rather than Sir Francis Goodwin. This is almost the only clue to local tensions within the town’s oligarchy and with local magistrates in this period. Even so, Lane was no more loquacious in 1625 than Henry Coke. Edmund Waller, who sat with Coke for the borough in 1626, could claim better local connections. His father’s family resided only a few miles away at Coleshill and his mother was the sister of John Hampden*. Waller, moreover, was educated at High Wycombe grammar school between about 1618 and 1621. Exactly how he came to be chosen is not clear but, like many other Members for Chipping Wycombe, he seems to have observed an almost Trappist vow of silence in the Commons.
In 1628 the corporation again chose men who had previously served. William Borlase, who had sat in 1614 and had since been knighted, reappeared alongside the recorder, Thomas Lane. Borlase was appointed to no committees and was apparently completely silent in the House. By contrast, Lane’s legal skills were deployed but not on any matter directly relating to Chipping Wycombe itself.
Author: Christopher Thompson
- 1. VCH Bucks. iii. 113.
- 2. L.J. Ashford, Hist. of Bor. of High Wycombe from its Origins to 1880, pp. 123-6.
- 3. VCH Bucks. iii. 114-16.
- 4. J. Parker, Early Hist. and Antiqs. of Wycombe, 46-76; VCH Bucks. iii. 118; The First Ledger Bk. of High Wycombe ed. R.W. Greaves (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xi), 100.
- 5. First Ledger Book, 104, 107, 114, 117, 119-20.
- 6. J. Skinner, ‘Plague Mortality in Bucks. during the Seventeenth Century’, in Bucks. Recs. xx. 454-9.
- 7. Ashford, 109.
- 8. HMC 9th Rep. ii. 374.