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 corporation

Number of voters:



29 Oct. 16052JOHN PANTON vice Browne, deceased
aft. 11 Apr. 16144SIR CHARLES MONTAGU vice Mansell, opted to sit for Carmarthenshire
27 Apr. 16258(SIR) EDMUND SAWYER
20 Oct. 16289HARBOTTLE GRIMSTON vice Herrys, deceased

Main Article

In 1614 the author of England’s Way to Win Wealth described Harwich as ‘a royal harbour’ and ‘a proper town’, whose dry beach made it an ideal location from which to put to sea fleets of fishing busses to compete with the Dutch, ‘there being no place in all Holland comparable’. However, this potential remained unexploited, local fishing activity being limited to three or four vessels which caught cod and ling off Iceland every year. The town’s principal trade was the shipping of coal from Newcastle to London, but an attempt to erect a staple for seacoals in the port was scotched by the Privy Council on the advice of Newcastle’s aldermen in 1616.10 In 1618 the newly appointed navy commissioners briefly considered developing Harwich as a naval base, only to be advised that it was ‘not a fit port except for ships on special service’,11 and in 1629 the captain of a large naval warship denounced Harwich as ‘that dangerous harbour’ after his vessel almost ran aground there. Nevertheless, two smaller royal ships were successfully repaired at Harwich in 1627, and three ships of 250 tons or more were built there between 1625 and 1638.12 Moreover, for a century after 1665 the port served as a naval building yard.13

Its limited economic activity meant that Harwich during the early seventeenth century was far from prosperous. In 1610 the town, together with the neighbouring village of Dovercourt, boasted only 40 subsidymen, whose total contribution to a single subsidy amounted to just £8 2s.14 Faced with the demand for a Forced Loan in January 1627, the corporation not surprisingly pleaded penury, ‘having neither any common lands to maintain the ordinary charge thereof, and very small in comparison of [sic] other places, [there being] no personal estates of lands or goods, whereof our subsidy books, though over-rated, may give assurance’.15 The Crown was eventually forced to admit the force of these arguments, and in 1637 Harwich was required to provide only £20 in Ship Money, compared with the £300 and £70 demanded from Colchester and Maldon respectively.16 Yet, despite its poverty, Harwich was of considerable strategic significance. Following the outbreak of war with Spain in 1625, (Sir) John Coke* drew attention both to its suitability as an enemy landing site and the inadequacy of its defences. His concern, coupled perhaps with a visit to Harwich by the duke of Buckingham in November 1625, prompted the partial repair of the town’s fortifications and a lengthy mobilization of the Essex militia.17

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Harwich remained an unincorporated, unfranchised borough, although its earliest charter was dated 1318.18 In 1601, however, the town was granted its own commission of the peace, and that same year it attempted, unsuccessfully, to return Members to Parliament.19 By the beginning of James’s reign Harwich had acquired powerful allies: lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton I†), was custos rotulorum of its newly created bench, and the attorney-general, Sir Edward Coke*, brother-in-law of the local lawyer Serjeant Robert Barker*, was the town’s recorder.20 It was doubtless with the help of Ellesmere and Coke that, on 18 Apr. 1604, Harwich was granted a fresh charter. Previously it had been governed by a portreeve, but now it was empowered to form a corporate body consisting of a mayor and common council, comprising eight aldermen (from whom the mayor was to be chosen annually) and 24 capital burgesses. In addition, the town was permitted to return two burgesses to Parliament.21

The cost of the new charter was considerable, for although the king waived all charges his servants were less generous and lawyers’ fees had to be met. At least £72 was raised, though the only surviving account of expenditure records payments of just £13 4s., including 8s. ‘bestowed at times on Sir Richard Browne’s men and Mr. Serjeant Hay’.22 Browne was a former clerk of the peace for Essex with family ties in the county, and his help in procuring the charter undoubtedly explains his subsequent election to Parliament by a grateful corporation. He had taken his seat by 26 Apr. 1604,23 although the writ authorizing the holding of an election was only issued the day before. His fellow burgess was Thomas Trevor, a recently qualified barrister from Denbighshire. Trevor may have been loosely connected with Ellesmere, whose many offices included that of steward of the lordship of Denbigh. If so, then his election was perhaps the corporation’s way of rewarding Ellesmere for allowing their charter to pass the great seal. The lord chancellor’s assistance was certainly acknowledged following Browne’s death in May 1604, for Harwich chose as Browne’s replacement Ellesmere’s secretary, John Panton. The record of this by-election in Harwich’s minute book is revealing, because it demonstrates that the corporation, unused to parliamentary electoral practice, thought that it was also re-electing Thomas Trevor, who had not been unseated by Browne’s death.

Gratitude for services rendered may well explain the corporation’s decision to elect Sir Robert Mansell in 1614. Mansell was treasurer of the Navy, and enjoyed considerable influence over the lord high admiral, the 1st earl of Nottingham (Charles Howard I†). Shortly before a new Parliament was summoned, in January 1614, the corporation instructed two of its members ‘to travel to Sir Robert Mansell, knight, about the business of the town’.24 The nature of this business was unspecified, but at around the same time Alderman Gooding was paid £7 ‘at his going to London about the vice admiral’, and an additional 36s. was laid out ‘about the Admiralty’ on his return.25 From this it would seem as though Mansell was enlisted by the town to help it acquire the right to Admiralty jurisdiction, which it did not enjoy under the 1604 charter.26 These rights had originally been conferred by Edward IV on the duke of Norfolk (d.1476), but by the beginning of the seventeenth century they had passed to the town’s recorder, Sir Edward Coke who, perhaps as a result of Mansell’s mediation, authorized the town to exercise them on his behalf in December 1614.27 Mansell preferred to represent Carmarthenshire at Westminster rather than Harwich, a mere borough. His place was taken by Sir Charles Montagu, whose wife was the sister of Sir George Whitmore, a London alderman who had purchased the manor of Harwich from the Crown in 1604.28

Montagu’s fellow burgess was Sir Harbottle Grimston, bt. Elected at the same time as Mansell, Grimston was settled at Bradfield Hall, situated just over three miles from Harwich. During the 1620s his local standing gave him control of one of the borough’s seats, although he himself did not represent the town again until the Long Parliament. His eldest son Edward was returned there in December 1620, while his son-in-law Christopher Herrys took a seat at each of the four subsequent parliamentary elections. When Herrys died in 1628, he was replaced by Grimston’s second son, Harbottle.

From 1620 the remaining seat was usually in the gift of the 2nd earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*), the principal landowner in Essex and also the county’s vice-admiral. In December 1620 Warwick thanked the corporation for electing his brother-in-law Sir Thomas Cheke.29 Evidence from the corporation minute book, in the form of a crossing out, suggests that the town set aside an earlier decision to return their former Member, Sir Charles Montagu, who had already been elected for Higham Ferrers. Warwick’s interests were represented in 1624, 1626 and 1628 by his cousin and man of business, Sir Nathaniel Rich. Only in 1625, when the corporation chose the Exchequer auditor Sir Edmund Sawyer, did Warwick’s interest waver. Sawyer probably owed his seat to a former business association with (Sir) William Whitmore*, brother of Sir George and relative by marriage of Sir Charles Montagu. His election occurred on the day after the town chose Christopher Herrys to be their other burgess, which suggests either that his was a late application or that the members of the corporation initially disagreed among themselves regarding his suitability.

Most of the town’s financial records are now lost, but the surviving chamberlain’s account for 1613-14 does not record the payment of parliamentary wages. The expenditure of 5s. on crayfish sent to Sir Harbottle Grimston that year may have been a courtesy bestowed annually on a local gentleman of standing rather than a gratuity in lieu of wages.30 None of the Members returned to Parliament by Harwich appear to have voiced concerns of special interest to the town apart from Herrys. In February 1626 he declared, during a debate on the neglected state of the country’s coastal defences, that Harwich ‘had neither bullets, guns nor powder’, and that the newly erected fort on Landguard Point lacked both gunners and munitions.31 Herrys was almost certainly speaking to a brief prepared by his father-in-law, who had recently been put in charge of repairing Harwich’s defences.

Author: Andrew Thrush


  • 1. No indenture survives; this is the date of the writ: OR.
  • 2. OR. Harwich bor. ms 98/3 f. 6 conveys the impression that the election was held on the Feast of St. Andrew (30 November).
  • 3. Harwich bor. ms 98/3, f. 26v.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 27. This is the date of the warrant. The date of the election is wrongly given in the corp. minute bk. as 24 Mar. 1614, a clerical error compounded by the fact that the year date has been crossed out and replaced with ‘1615’.
  • 5. OR, but see below n. 27.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Harwich bor. ms 98/3, f. 42.
  • 8. OR. This is the date on the indenture, which records the election of both Herrys and Sawyer.
  • 9. OR.
  • 10. Printed in Harl. Misc. iii. 401; Trin. House of Deptford Trans. ed. G.G. Harris (London Rec. Soc. xix), 55, 100; APC, 1615-16, p. 537.
  • 11. BL, uncatalogued ms (formerly Derbys. RO, Coke ms C95/42); Jacobean Commissions of Enquiry ed. A.P. McGowan (Navy Recs. Soc. cxvi), p. xxii.
  • 12. SP16/147/18; BL, uncatalogued ms (formerly Derbys. RO, Coke ms C160/12); VCH Essex, ii. 282.
  • 13. P. Morant, Hist. and Antiqs. of Essex (1768), i. pt. 2, p. 500.
  • 14. E179/111/572.
  • 15. SP16/52/13.
  • 16. SP16/358, f. 1v.
  • 17. CSP Dom. 1625-6, pp. 89-90, 93, 96, 101-4, 106-8, 112, 115, 125, 138, 226, 229, 371, 452; VCH Essex, ii. 282.
  • 18. Morant, i. pt. 2, p. 500.
  • 19. L.T. Weaver, The Harwich Story, 33; Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. ed. T.E. Hartley, iii. 324; C193/32/13.
  • 20. C181/1, f. 50.
  • 21. Anon, Charters Granted to Bor. of Harwich (1798), pp. 7-8, 29-30.
  • 22. Ibid. 40-1; Harwich bor. ms 109/3.
  • 23. CJ, i. 185b.
  • 24. Harwich bor. ms 98/3, f. 24.
  • 25. Harwich bor. ms 99/1.
  • 26. Weaver, 26.
  • 27. B. Carlyon Hughes, Hist. Harwich Harbour, 26; Harwich bor. ms 144/2.
  • 28. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxix), 499; Weaver, 27; M. Gray, ‘Exchequer 0fficials and the Market in Crown Property’, in Estates of the Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 125.
  • 29. Harwich bor. ms 109/1. It is puzzling that the letter was written eight days before the corp. minute bk. and the returned indenture suggest that Cheke was actually elected.
  • 30. Harwich bor. ms 99/1.
  • 31. Procs. 1626, ii. 136, 140.