Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of voters:

at least 1,2001


8 Jan. 1605SIR GAMALIEL CAPELL vice Denny, called to the Lords
by 17 Mar. 1614SIR ROBERT RICH
6 Jan. 1629ROBERT RICH, LORD RICH vice Barrington, deceased

Main Article

Described by Norden as ‘fat, fruitful and full of profitable things’, Essex was one of the richest counties in England. The south-eastern corner was famed for its dairy farming, particularly its huge cheeses, ‘wondered at for their massiveness and thickness’; corn production thrived in the north-west; and the area close to the Suffolk border abounded in hops. The cloth industry, concentrated at Colchester, Witham, Coggeshall, Braintree, Bocking, Halstead and Dedham, was also well represented, forming a sizeable part of the county’s economy. In 1629 Essex’s clothiers claimed that as many as 50,000 of the county’s residents were dependent upon the cloth industry. Modern research puts the true figure at around 29,000, but even so this represented around 30 per cent of the shire’s estimated population.2 Coggeshall reputedly made the best white cloths in England, while the new draperies manufactured at Colchester were renowned for their quality throughout the seventeenth century.

The greatest and wealthiest landowners in Essex were the Rich family, earls of Warwick from 1619, whose principal seat of Leez Priory was situated in the centre of the county. In 1619 the 2nd earl (Sir Robert Rich*) inherited a total of 64 Essex manors. The only other family to hold as many as 30 manors in the county were the Petres of Ingatestone Hall.3 Despite their landed dominance, the Rich family rarely achieved electoral success at county level under Elizabeth, their path being frequently barred by the Petres and, between 1584 and 1593, by Sir Thomas Heneage† of Copt Hall. However, in 1595 Heneage died without direct male heir, and after 1597 the Petres rendered themselves ineligible for election by their recusancy. The only remaining obstacle to the Rich family’s electoral ambitions was Sir Henry Maynard of Little Easton, former secretary to the Cecils, who, in 1601, took the senior county seat. However, in 1604 Maynard was prevented from standing, having been pricked to serve as sheriff.

At the beginning of James’s reign the longstanding ambition of the 3rd Lord Rich (Robert Rich†) to achieve control of the county’s elections received added impetus. A well-known puritan, Rich probably helped to organize the survey of the Essex clergy compiled shortly after James’s accession, which detailed the unfitness of a majority of the county’s ministers.4 This survey was intended for presentation to the king, but as its conclusions were also to be made available to the Commons it was important that Rich should exercise his electoral influence.5Rich backed his estate steward, William Wiseman, at Maldon, and perhaps also Wiseman’s colleague, Sir Edward Lewknor I. So far as the county election was concerned, his choice for the senior seat settled upon his puritan neighbour, Sir Francis Barrington. The junior place was to be left to Sir Gamaliel Capell, a middle-ranking member of the county’s gentry, unconnected with either Rich or Barrington.

Shortly after Parliament was summoned on 31 Jan., Rich apparently consulted several of the county’s leading figures, and secured their agreement to return Barrington as senior knight.6 However, sometime before 11 Feb., Barrington learned that Sir Edward Denny of Waltham Abbey also wanted this place, presumably to further the financial interests of his neighbour, Sir Christopher Hatton* of Ilford, the heir of his wife’s late brother-in-law, Sir William Hatton alias Newport†. Denny was the son-in-law of Sir Thomas Cecil†, later 1st earl of Exeter, and so was related by marriage to the master of the Wards, Sir Robert Cecil†. Barrington was in London when he learned that Denny intended to stand, and consequently in early February he held a meeting with the chairman of the Essex bench, Sir Thomas Mildmay† of Moulsham, at the Inner Temple. Mildmay, however, refused to reaffirm his support, but asserted instead that he would neither ‘be led nor driven for any man’s pleasure, but where I had liking to give my voice, there I would give it’.7 Mildmay was presumably piqued that Lord Rich’s steward wanted the seat at Maldon that the borough’s corporation had previously promised to his son Thomas†.8 Fearful that Mildmay was now considering switching his support to Denny, Barrington subsequently expended considerable energy attempting to persuade Mildmay to honour his original promise, but without success.9

Barrington probably left for Essex on 11 Feb., when he left a letter at Mildmay’s London residence. He was followed from the capital shortly thereafter by Lord Rich. En route, Rich visited Sir Anthony Cooke† at Gidea Hall, who pledged Barrington his wholehearted support. On reaching Chelmsford, where the election was to be held, Rich reserved two hostelries in Barrington’s name in case of a contest. From there he also contacted many of the county’s leading gentry and the corporations of Maldon and Colchester. This was partly to advertise them of the correct date of the forthcoming election (6 Mar.), which had been misreported, and partly to gauge the extent of the support for Barrington. By 15 Feb. Rich had returned to Leez Priory, where he compiled an optimistic report for Barrington. So far as he could learn, all the freeholders of Hinckford Hundred apart from Sir Thomas Gardiner ‘stand firm with us’, while the voters of Rochford and Dengie hundreds, where Rich held extensive lands, ‘will not cross us much’. Thanks also to the efforts of Lord Darcy, ‘all the divisions between Braintree, Witham and Harwich’ had also assured Barrington of their support. Rich, moreover, had suborned the officer of the 5th earl of Sussex, the county’s non-resident lord lieutenant. This official had sent out a letter in Sussex’s name regarding the election which had not met with Rich’s approval, but Rich now caused him ‘to write a new letter to my liking’, which he had drafted. Matters were apparently proceeding so smoothly that Rich, anxious to avoid unnecessary expenditure on provisions for their supporters, advised Barrington to ‘send somebody to listen’ in case their opponents decided to throw in the towel.10

Lord Rich’s satisfaction was, however, a trifle premature. On 20 Feb. Barrington protested that Mildmay, the dominant landowner in the Chelmsford area, had taken up most of the town’s inns on behalf of Denny, thereby preventing Barrington from accommodating his own supporters. Mildmay retorted that the inns he had reserved were intended to be used by himself and his friends rather than by Denny and his followers, and he indignantly demanded to know ‘who hath any [au]thority to except against me in so doing in mine own town’. He also chided Rich and Barrington for threatening to cause a contest in a county not noted for them. His reminder that it was their duty ‘as good patriots’ to avoid factional behaviour came close to a demand that Barrington withdraw.11

Barrington’s electoral prospects received a further setback a few days later. On 23 Feb. the Privy Council informed the sheriff and the county’s magistrates that the king was dismayed to learn that, despite a recent Proclamation which prohibited canvassing, his wishes had not ‘in any part of the realm been less regarded and obeyed than in … Essex’, where the voters had ‘divided themselves into parties’. The Council deplored the fact that ‘some persons do seek to be elected by soliciting their friends and writing letters to most of the towns and principal freeholders of the county to favour and prefer them to be elected knights of the shire’, seeing in this behaviour the likely cause of ‘great disorder at the time of the election’. They also disapproved of the candidates’ practice of compiling ‘calendars’ of voters’ names to identify the strength of their support. Maynard and his colleagues were therefore ordered to report offenders, and to notify the county’s freeholders of the king’s displeasure ‘as soon as possible’, so that they might then proceed to ‘a free election’.12 Although neither Barrington nor Rich were mentioned by name, it was clear that the letter was primarily directed at them. Indeed, when Rich learned of its contents he concluded that Denny’s supporters had been ‘forced to seek for letters to the lords’.13 He was undoubtedly aware that Denny, through the Cecils, was well connected at Court and enjoyed the open backing of at least one signatory to the Council’s letter, the lord chamberlain, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, whose seat of Audley End lay in the north-west of the county, close to Saffron Walden. The day after the Council penned its missive, Suffolk wrote menacingly to Saffron Walden’s leading citizens, most of whom were his tenants, rebuking them for promising their support to Barrington ‘without my privity’. Suffolk demanded that they transfer their ‘free consents and voices to my good friend Sir Edward Denny’ or else ‘I will make the proudest of you all repent it, be you well assured’.14

The Council’s intervention may have prompted several voters who had previously promised Barrington their support to transfer their allegiance; on 29 Feb. Rich referred to several former supporters who had ‘retracted’ as a result of the activity of their opponents.15 These desertions undermined the confidence of the members of Barrington’s inner circle, among them Barrington’s steward, whom Rich found to be ‘somewhat more dismayed than there was cause of doubt’.16 Consequently, Rich kept a tight grip on the election campaign, even when he was forced to travel to Newmarket to consult his physician at the end of February. However, it was easy to exaggerate the threat posed by Denny, who was, after all, not a major Essex landowner. In the first place, Rich and Barrington retained the loyalty of the majority of their supporters, including Sir Anthony Cooke, who wrote to Rich signifying his ‘firm resolution in this business’.17 Secondly, the Council’s intervention on behalf of Denny was a sign of desperation, as Rich himself clearly understood: ‘they knew themselves the weaker side, that have used this means’.18 Indeed, by 28 Feb. it would seem that, for all their ‘great boasts and brags’,19 Denny and his supporters were staring defeat in the face. Led by Mildmay, and probably also by Sheriff Maynard, a former client of the Cecils, Denny’s followers now bent their efforts towards finding a way to prevent their candidate from being humiliated. Fortunately for them, Rich and Barrington were prepared to help Denny save face rather than force a contest which Barrington would easily win.

On 28 Feb. Rich and Maynard wrote separately to Sir Gamaliel Capell, the sole candidate for the junior seat, asking him to withdraw. At around the same time Maynard, prompted by Mildmay, summoned an emergency meeting of the county’s magistrates for 10 o’clock the next day (the 29th).20 This created the illusion that the solution which subsequently emerged sprang from the magistracy as a whole rather than from the initiative of one individual.21 Maynard also wrote to Rich suggesting that Capell should be pressed to support Barrington, as Maynard feared that a fourth candidate might emerge if Capell complained that he had been badly treated.22 The next morning, perhaps while the justices were still sitting, Capell signified by letter to Barrington that he would stand aside as Rich and Maynard had requested, declaring himself pleased to be spared his share of the election costs, which is ‘likely to be extraordinary’.23 Meanwhile, Maynard and 11 of his fellow justices met at Chelmsford. Apparently ignorant that Capell, who was absent through illness, had already agreed to withdraw, they penned their own letter asking him to stand down. Having done this, Maynard suggested that Barrington and Denny should draw lots at Brentwood on the day before the election (i.e. the 5th) to decide which of them should occupy pride of place. Barrington, who had now arrived, agreed to this proposal, but as Denny was not present he continued to gather supplies for his supporters at Broomfield Hall, the seat of Lord Rich’s receiver of provision rents, John Pake, which lay just outside Chelmsford.24 Surprisingly, Barrington failed to relay news of the magistrates’ proposal to Lord Rich, who was in Cambridgeshire, so that as late as 1 Mar. Rich fully expected that there would be a contest for the first place.25

The threat of a contest was not finally lifted until 2 Mar., when Barrington learned that Denny had accepted the magistrates’ proposal.26 The reason for the delay probably lies in a letter written by Maynard to Barrington after the magistrates met on 29 February. By then both Barrington and Denny were now assured of a seat, but Maynard evidently still hoped to achieve the prime place for Denny, even though the idea of drawing lots had been his. He therefore wrote to Barrington offering to meet both candidates for dinner sometime over the weekend to resolve the matter of precedence amicably and spare the county’s freeholders from journeying to Chelmsford.27 However, Barrington, who must have been aware that Maynard was partisan, had no intention of allowing himself to be talked into conceding first place. On 1 Mar. he therefore declined the offer, claiming that he had some private business that required urgent attention.28 Barrington’s refusal to meet Denny earlier than 5 Mar. forced Denny’s hand. He now had to agree to draw lots or face losing the battle for first place at the hustings. He chose wisely, as it was Barrington who ultimately drew the short straw. Ironically, Denny served in the Commons only briefly, being elevated to the peerage in October 1604. His replacement was the previously disappointed candidate, Sir Gamaliel Capell, who apparently stood unopposed.

It was not until 1614 that Lord Rich finally achieved his ambition of securing control over the premier seat. Following a quiet election, the senior knighthood of the shire was conferred on his eldest son Sir Robert, now old enough to take over from Barrington, who was left without a seat. The junior place went to Sir Richard Weston, the wealthy owner of a large Essex estate.29 Lord Rich died in 1619, but his eldest son, now the 2nd earl of Warwick, tightened his family’s grip on the county election. This was traditionally held at Chelmsford,30 but in December 1620 it was moved to Braintree, where Warwick owned the principal manor.31 There the senior county seat was conferred on Barrington, while the junior place was awarded to a prosperous member of the north Essex gentry, Sir John Deane, whose way was cleared by the absence abroad of Sir Richard Weston. Although not directly connected to Warwick, Deane was a puritan, whose circle of friends included the puritan Winthrops, who were loosely connected with Warwick through an earlier marriage between the elder John Winthrop and the daughter of one of the 3rd Lord Rich’s bailiffs.32

Warwick’s control over county elections continued unchallenged until 1628. Barrington was returned for the senior seat at every election during the 1620s, and was replaced after his death by Warwick’s eldest son, Robert, Lord Rich. As for the junior seat, this was made available by Warwick to his son-in-law Sir Thomas Cheke in 1624, and to his tenant Sir Arthur Herrys in 1625. In 1626 and 1628 Warwick allowed it to be occupied by Sir Harbottle Grimston, whose energy as a deputy lieutenant during the invasion scare of 1625-6 may have impressed him. Grimston was so closely identified with Warwick that he was among the principal victims of the purge of the commission of the peace and the lieutenancy after Warwick fell out with the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, in 1626.

Buckingham’s earlier friendship towards Warwick had helped to ensure the uncontested election of the earl’s clients in 1625,33 but his enmity placed in jeopardy Warwick’s control of the county election in 1628. As in 1626, Warwick intended to bestow his favour upon Barrington and Grimston, both of whom enjoyed great popularity for having refused to subscribe to the Forced Loan. However, Buckingham’s allies in the county moved swiftly to thwart his plan. Soon after Parliament was summoned, the king’s surveyor-general (Sir) Thomas Fanshawe I*, and the privy councillor Sir Thomas Edmondes*, ‘privately procured the writ for Essex and the sheriff to come to Stratford [Langthorne]’, a small town situated in south-western Essex close to the country estates of both Fanshawe and Edmondes and away from Rich influence. There they evidently intended to hold the election in secret, and either to return themselves jointly or to ensure that one of them was returned alongside Sir Richard Weston, who certainly contemplated standing. Warwick’s supporters got wind of this plan, however, and descended in such large numbers on Stratford Langthorne that the sheriff claimed that he had yet received the writ and could therefore not hold the election.34 This outcome represented a humiliating reverse for Warwick’s enemies, but Warwick was also damaged, as the episode highlighted his own earlier behaviour in transferring the county election to Braintree. By the end of February he had conceded that, for the first time since 1620, the election would be held at Chelmsford.35

After the failure of the pre-emptive strike launched by Fanshawe and Edmondes, the leaders of the anti-Warwick faction in Essex canvassed energetically on behalf of their candidates, ‘both by their letters and otherwise’. However, Fanshawe and Edmondes themselves were careful to secure seats elsewhere. On 1 Mar., a few days before the election was scheduled to take place, three members of this group, exercising their authority as magistrates, issued a circular to the county’s high constables implying that they were acting on the orders of the Privy Council. The constables were to bring as many freeholders as possible to Chelmsford, where the latter were to be instructed to vote for such candidates ‘as shall be agreed upon by the more part of the justices of the peace of this country there assembled’. This letter so alarmed the high constable of Tendering Hundred that he showed it to his neighbour, Sir Harbottle Grimston, but like the conciliar letter procured by Denny’s supporters 24 years earlier, this circular was a symptom of its authors’ desperation. Moreover, Warwick had already taken steps to ensure that support for his candidates was artificially swollen, having arranged for various poor men to become voters by purchasing sufficient amount of freehold land on a temporary basis.36 Barrington and Grimston were consequently returned without even a token contest. In the aftermath of the election, the Council punished two of the three magistrates responsible for the letter to the constables, the crypto-papist Sir Thomas Wiseman and his friend Sir William Maxey, for their presumption.37

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. Procs. 1628, vi. 146-7.
  • 2. J. Norden, Speculi Britanniae Pars: An Historical Description of Essex ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. ix), 7-9; VCH Essex, ix. 81; Maynard Ltcy. Bk. 1608-39 ed. B.W. Quintrell, 252-5; W. Hunt, Puritan Moment, 3, 11.
  • 3. Hunt, 15, 161.
  • 4. Rich had helped draft the 1586 Dunmow petition to Parliament protesting against Abp. Whitgift’s replacement of godly ministers for non-subscription: M.E. Bohannon, ‘Essex Election of 1604’, EHR, xlviii. 396. Extracts from the Jacobean petition are in HMC 8th Rep. ii. 27-8; the original is in LPL, 2442. We are grateful to Christopher Thompson for drawing the petition, and its significance, to our attention.
  • 5. Add. 38492, f. 62, appears to be the strategy document under which the Essex survey was conducted: ex inf. C. Thompson.
  • 6. Eg. 2644, f. 130.
  • 7. Ibid. f. 131.
  • 8. Essex RO, D/B 3/3/205/1.
  • 9. Eg. 2644, ff. 130-1.
  • 10. Ibid. f. 128.
  • 11. Ibid. f. 131.
  • 12. Ibid. f. 135.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 149.
  • 14. Ibid. f. 138.
  • 15. Ibid. f. 149v.
  • 16. Ibid. f. 151.
  • 17. Ibid. f. 151v.
  • 18. Ibid. f. 149v.
  • 19. Ibid. f. 149.
  • 20. Ibid. ff. 134, 149v, 153; C. Thompson, Parlty. Selection and Election of 1604, pp. 7-8.
  • 21. For the view that the magistracy prevented a contested election through collective action, see M.A. Kishlansky, Parlty. Selection, 67. For a detailed demolition of this case, see Thompson, 7-8.
  • 22. Eg. 2644, f. 149.
  • 23. Ibid. f. 143. Capell sent the letter to Barrington rather than Rich because he was temporarily unaware of the latter’s whereabouts. Barrington then forwarded the letter to Rich, who, on the 29th, acknowledged its receipt ‘this morning’: ibid. f. 149.
  • 24. Ibid. f. 153. For the identification of Pake, see Thompson, 9.
  • 25. Eg. 2644, f. 151. Kishlansky believes that Rich was present at the justices’ meeting of 29 Feb., but the Robert Rich who attended was a namesake of Stondon Massey: Kishlansky, 69, n. 65; Thompson, 9.
  • 26. Eg. 2644, f. 153.
  • 27. Ibid. f. 145.
  • 28. Ibid. ff. 147v-8.
  • 29. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 518.
  • 30. APC, 1588, p. 298.
  • 31. C219/37/98 (ex inf. C. Thompson); C. Thompson, ‘New Evidence on John Winthrop of Groton’s Essex Connections and the colonization of Massachusetts’, Suff. Review, n.s. xxvi. 25. Warwick had also bought up a considerable amount of commercial property at Braintree a few years earlier: Harl. 3959, f. 12 (ex inf. C. Thompson).
  • 32. Thompson, ‘New Evidence’, 25.
  • 33. Procs. 1625, pp. 682-3.
  • 34. Procs. 1628, vi. 146-7. Quintrell asserts that Fanshawe and Edmondes twice attempted to hold the election at Stratford Langthorne, a perception arising from the fact that the two accounts of their stratagem are dated 13 days apart. The author of the second of these accounts made it clear that he was conveying old news (‘I make no doubt but you have already heard …’): B.W. Quintrell, ‘Gentry Factions and the Witham Affray, 1628’, Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), x. 122.
  • 35. Procs. 1628, vi. 147.
  • 36. Ibid. 147-8; Quintrell, 123,
  • 37. APC, 1627-8, pp. 350, 352, 354, 358-9, 361. Wiseman had previously been assured by Warwick that the matter would not be reported: Add. 34679, f. 61.