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

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants

Number of voters:

8 in 1624; 12 in 1628


12 Dec. 1620JOHN HOLLES 172
  GRESHAM and BLUDDERvice Holles and Britton, seated on petition, 7 Feb. 16217 
 Jerome WESTON 
  Double return. OWFIELD and HOWARD seated, 26 Mar. 1628 

Main Article

Situated two miles from Reigate in east Surrey, Gatton was described by William Camden in the late sixteenth century as ‘scarce a small village’. Camden also stated that Gatton had previously been ‘a famous town’, but there is no evidence that the village was considered a borough until it started to return Members to the Commons in 1450. Never incorporated, it had no borough officials and consequently the returning officer was the high constable of Reigate hundred.8

The manor of Gatton was in the possession of the Copley family by the early sixteenth century. In 1547 the Members were elected by Sir Roger Copley as ‘burgess and sole inhabitant of the borough’.9 However Sir Roger’s son Thomas†, his widow, and his son William, were Catholics, and spent much of the reign of Elizabeth in exile. In their absence, parliamentary patronage was exercised by Lord Burghley (Sir William Cecil†) and Lord Howard of Effingham (Charles Howard†), subsequently 1st earl of Nottingham, the latter being lord lieutenant of Surrey and part owner of Reigate manor.10

William Copley returned from exile and took possession of his lands shortly after the accession of James I, but his prospects of exerting electoral influence were compromised by his continued recusancy.11 Both the Members elected in 1604, Sir Thomas Gresham and Sir Nicholas Saunders, were Surrey gentlemen. Saunders may have had the support of Nottingham, with whom he had served on the Cadiz expedition of 1596. He may also have enjoyed the backing of Copley, for although he conformed to the Church of England he had strong Catholic connections.

Gresham was re-elected in 1614, along with Sir John Brooke, who was connected to Nottingham by marriage.12 Brooke was returned for Oxford at the next election, but may have recommended to Nottingham John Holles, the son of his friend the Nottinghamshire peer Lord Houghton (Sir John Holles*), in his stead.13 At the request of the high constable the rector of Gatton announced from the pulpit that the election would be held on 13 December. But on the previous day Copley called to his house six of his tenants, ‘inhabitants and no freeholders’, where they elected Holles along with (Sir) Henry Britton. The latter was a Surrey recusant who was involved in a number of patents and was presumably Copley’s candidate. Copley may have hoped to get Nottingham’s support by securing the election of Holles. The indenture was sealed at Reigate, an irregularity made much of in the resulting dispute, and was returned by the sheriff. Meanwhile, at the meeting held on 13 Dec. ‘one or two inhabitants [of the borough] and divers other possessors of freehold land … but not inhabitant’ re-elected Sir Thomas Gresham, along with Sir Thomas Bludder, another local gentleman. An indenture was drawn up, which named about ten parties, but was rejected by the sheriff.14

On the first day of business, 5 Feb. 1621, Sir George More, who had been returned for Surrey, preferred a petition against the return of Holles and Britton and moved for a committee for privileges.15 The case was heard at the committee the following day, and on the 7th More reported back to the Commons, recommending that the election be overturned. Britton was allowed to attend both the committee and the House while the case was under discussion, and defended his patron very ably. He maintained that all but one of the freeholders ‘dwelt out of the town’, and were therefore, from a dozen indentures dating back to the reign of Henry VIII, disqualified. However, he failed to convince the House, presumably because of suspicions about his religion. Sir Edward Montagu moved for a fresh election but was opposed by Sir Henry Poole ‘in respect of the danger from Copley’, and consequently the Commons agreed to seat Gresham and Bludder.16 On 23 Feb. More reported that the privileges committee had received a petition ‘against the burgess of Gatton’, but this was rejected.17 None of the four candidates ever sat for Gatton again. Gresham and Bludder withdrew to Bletchingley and Reigate respectively, and Holles to East Retford, Nottinghamshire, while Britton disappeared into obscurity.

At the election of 1624 a new interest made its appearance, that of Samuel Owfield who had purchased the manor of Upper Gatton.18 He was elected with Sir Edmund Bowyer, who was connected to both the earl of Nottingham and William Copley. Copley himself and the rector signed the indenture with six others of the ‘burgesses and commonalty’.19

Nottingham died in December 1624 and was succeeded by his son, Sir Charles Howard*.20 The following year the latter’s cousin (Sir) Charles Howard took the senior seat together with the Speaker-designate (Sir) Thomas Crewe, with the consent of Owfield, who signed the indenture together with Copley and the rector.21 In 1626 ‘the commonalty of the borough’, seven men headed by Copley and the rector, returned Howard and Owfield.22 The following August Howard, a Surrey deputy lieutenant, clashed with Owfield over musters for the county militia, but the two interests continued to co-operate in the borough, and they were re-elected in 1628, though in reverse order. Twelve ‘inhabitants’ of the borough signed the return,23 although they did not include Copley, who made a last effort to regain control by sending up a separate return. His candidates were Sir Thomas Lake II*, the son of the former secretary of state Sir Thomas Lake I*, and Jerome Weston*, the son of the chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Richard Weston*, both of whom were probably crypto-Catholics. William Hakewill reported from the privileges committee on 26 Mar. that Copley, citing the 1547 return as a precedent, claimed to be able to elect the borough’s Members as ‘sole inhabitant’, despite having conceded the right of his tenants to participate in elections in 1621. He also reported that Copley claimed that the borough was limited to the area ‘within the castle and a certain precinct’. The House, however, took the borough to be coterminous with the parish of Gatton, which included Upper Gatton, and found that previous returns had been made in the name of the inhabitants. Copley argued that these returns were irrelevant, as they had been made when he was living in exile, but this claim was presumably only true of the Elizabethan elections. Following Hakewill’s report the return of Lake and Weston was declared invalid and was ordered to be taken off the file.24

Author: Alan Davidson


  • 1. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 20.
  • 2. CJ, i. 511b.
  • 3. Nicholas, i. 20.
  • 4. CJ, i. 511b.
  • 5. C219/37/249.
  • 6. C219/37/249.
  • 7. CJ, i. 512b.
  • 8. VCH Surr. iii. 196-7; W. Camden, Britain, trans. P. Holland (1610), p. 29; Nicholas, i. 20.
  • 9. VCH Surr. iii. 197-8.
  • 10. Letters of Sir Thomas Copley ed. R.C. Christie (Roxburghe Club 1897), xli-xliii; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 252.
  • 11. Letters of Sir Thomas Copley, xliii.
  • 12. CP, iii. 349.
  • 13. G. Holles, Mems. of Holles Fam. ed. A.C Wood (Cam. Soc. ser. 3. lv), 111-12.
  • 14. CJ, i. 511b; CD 1621, iv. 24-5; vi. 356-60; C219/37/249.
  • 15. CJ, i. 507b.
  • 16. CD 1621, ii. 34-5; iv. 24-5; vi. 359-60, 443-4; CJ, i. 512a-b; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 73-74.
  • 17. CD 1621, vi. 4.
  • 18. VCH Surr. iii. 199.
  • 19. C219/38/236.
  • 20. CP, ix. 786.
  • 21. C219/39/203.
  • 22. C219/40/223.
  • 23. C219/41A/17.
  • 24. CD 1628, ii. 112, 119-20, 136.