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 burgesses

Number of voters:

under 100


 THOMAS HETLEY , recorder
28 Jan. 1624SIR HENRY ST. JOHN

Main Article

A Saxon foundation, sited on Ermine Street where it crossed the River Ouse, Huntingdon was a thriving centre of perhaps 2,000 people in 1086. Chartered in 1205 and served by 16 churches in 1291, its prosperity was eroded by the rise of nearby St. Ives and St. Neots, which took over the local markets in livestock and grain respectively, so that by 1603, with only four churches and a population of about 750, the borough was of little consequence. However, its situation on the main route to London brought custom to its inns, and it remained the venue for quarter sessions, assizes and sewer courts. The town grew by about 50 per cent during the early Stuart period, chiefly because of improvements in the Ouse navigation, but perhaps also due to the regularity of the Court’s visits to Hinchingbrooke House, just outside the town.1

Under its 1484 charter of incorporation, Huntingdon was governed by two bailiffs and a council of 24 burgesses.2 Little else can be said about municipal government, as few records survive. By 1702 the parliamentary franchise was vested in the inhabitant householders, but this cannot have been the case in 1621, when three Cromwells, none of whom was a resident, were included on the indenture. This return mentioned 17 named voters and ‘other burgesses of the same town’; with a population of less than 1,000 the total number of burgesses is unlikely to have exceeded 100.3

Although a duchy of Lancaster borough, Huntingdon is only known to have elected a duchy candidate in 1593. The town had previously returned Members at the behest of other government figures, but either in 1597 or 1601 Sir Robert Cecil’s† request for a nomination was apparently rejected.4 Townsmen were occasionally returned during the Elizabethan period, but representation increasingly fell into the hands of the local gentry, the most influential of whom were the Cromwells of Hinchingbrooke. A rival interest emerged in 1601 when William Beecher† was returned through the influence of his father-in-law Oliver, Lord St. John†, who was both lord lieutenant and a substantial landowner at Ripton and Houghton, a few miles north of the borough.5

At the general election of 1604 the senior seat went to Henry Cromwell, who was returned on the family interest, while the other was bestowed upon the town’s recorder, Thomas Hetley.6 In 1614 the Cromwells focused their efforts on the hotly contested county election, and Hetley does not appear to have stood, leaving the borough open to other influences. One seat went to Lord St. John’s relative Sir Miles Fleetwood, the other to Sir Christopher Hatton, whose uncle lord chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton† had been one of the borough’s patrons during the 1580s. Most of Hatton’s inheritance then lay in the hands of lord chief justice Sir Edward Coke*, who was acquainted with the Huntingdon corporation from his time as a judge on the Norfolk circuit and may have recommended him.7 Hatton had sat for Bedford in the previous Parliament, and his move to Huntingdon may also have been encouraged by Lord St. John, who was then able to insert one of his sons, Sir Alexander St. John, at Bedford.

In 1621 Oliver St. John I*, an energetic parliamentary patron who had recently succeeded his father as both Baron St. John and lord lieutenant of Huntingdonshire, secured a seat at Huntingdon for his brother Henry. The other seat went to the Cambridgeshire landowner Sir Miles Sandys, bt., whose estates, which lay along the Ouse between St. Ives and Ely, may just have given him sufficient local influence to secure his own return. He was supported, perhaps, by his neighbour Sir Oliver Cromwell, whom he met regularly as a sewer commissioner. St. John retained his seat in the next two parliaments, but Sandys was replaced by Sir Arthur Mainwaring, a courtier whose wife was a second cousin to Cromwell.8 In 1626 St. John’s place was taken by John Goldsborough, a local man who owned Huntingdon’s largest inn, the George. This gave him an independent interest within the borough, but he may also have been backed by Lord St. John, to whom his wife was distantly related.9

Huntingdon’s municipal politics were irrevocably altered in the summer of 1627, when Sir Oliver Cromwell’s mounting debts forced him to sell Hinchingbrooke to the Montagu family.10 The house went to Sir Sidney Montagu*, but the electoral interest was initially used by Montagu’s brother lord president Manchester (Sir Henry Montagu*), who secured the return of his son James Montagu as Huntingdon’s senior burgess in 1628. The junior seat was acquired by Oliver Cromwell, who is usually assumed to have been nominated by his uncle Sir Oliver. However, Cromwell had served as one of the borough bailiffs in the previous year,11 and while his return may have provided some comfort for the senior branch of the family, it was probably secured on the basis of his personal standing in the town.

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. M. Wickes, Hist. Hunts. 35-51; M. Carter, ‘Town or Urban Society? St. Ives, Hunts. 1630-1740’ in Societies, Cultures and Kinship, 1580-1850 ed. C. Pythian-Adams, 80-1, 123-5.
  • 2. CPR, 1476-85, p. 443.
  • 3. C219/37/121.
  • 4. R. Carruthers, Hist. Huntingdon, 164.
  • 5. C142/249/56.
  • 6. C181/1, f. 87.
  • 7. J.S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 268-9; SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON.
  • 8. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 280; Vis. Hunts. ed. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xliii), 79-80.
  • 9. C142/610/115; SIR ROBERT PAYNE.
  • 10. Hunts. RO, D/DM50/1, 7.
  • 11. Ex inf. Christopher Thompson.