King's Lynn


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:



18 Feb. 1604THOMAS OXBOROUGH , recorder
11 Mar. 16141MATTHEW CLARKE , mayor
15 Dec. 1620MATTHEW CLARKE , alderman
 JOHN WALLIS , alderman
22 Jan. 1624JOHN WALLIS , alderman
25 Apr. 1625THOMAS GURLYN , alderman
 JOHN COOKE , alderman
16 Jan. 1626THOMAS GURLYN , alderman
 JOHN COOKE , alderman
25 Feb. 1628SIR JOHN HARE

Main Article

Situated on the south-east corner of the Wash, King’s Lynn is ‘flanked to the east by the dry sandy loams of Norfolk, and bounded to the south and west by marsh and fen’.2 Lynn derives the second part of its name from ‘Lun’ or ‘Lena’, an ancient British word meaning lake.3 The town was principally founded by the bishop of Norwich in the eleventh century,4 when it was known as Bishop’s Lynn. It continued under episcopal control until 1536, when Henry VIII seized control, and in July 1537 the town was formally renamed King’s Lynn.5 Despite the change of name, Lynn’s form of government, by a mayor, 12 aldermen, and 18 common councillors, remained unaltered. The mayor was chosen annually by those aldermen who had not served as mayor themselves in the last five years, while the aldermen were appointed by the councillors, and vice versa. The corporation also had a recorder, town clerk, and various other officials.6

In the early seventeenth century Lynn may have had as many as 6,000 inhabitants.7 Its economy was dominated by trade, and in particular the import of coal from Newcastle and the export of corn, mainly to London. Traffic with Scotland increased dramatically during James’s reign,8 and following the peace with Spain, Lynn joined the reconstituted Spanish Company, which enjoyed only a brief existence. However, intercourse with southern Europe formed only a minor part of Lynn’s trade.9 Lynn owed its prosperity to the fact that its hinterland was ‘opened up by the most extensive system of navigable rivers in England’.10 It sent its goods into ten counties, and acted as an important conduit for goods travelling to Stourbridge, which hosted one of England’s largest annual fairs.11

Lynn’s corporation boasted an annual income of over £1,000 from its lands alone.12 Mayors received the town plate, an allowance of 200 marks, and the lease of the dovecote at Whitefriars.13 The corporation was the guardian of the town’s prosperity, and often sent its members to London, Norwich, and the Norfolk assizes to watch over the borough’s interests. It also actively encouraged Dutch manufacturers of the new draperies to settle in Lynn,14 and had water piped into many houses for use in brewing.15 It was alarmed by the levy of 2d. per chaldron of coal imposed upon Lynn merchants by the Newcastle Hostmen, but in 1609 after much legal wrangling the Hostmen agreed to drop the charges.16 Lynn readily contributed £100 towards the Palatinate cause in 1622, but four years later pleaded poverty when it was required to provide two ships for the war effort, claiming that it had spent heavily on its defences against the Dunkirkers.17

Lynn elected its Members by vote of the corporation. Election indentures were signed by the mayor and various other corporation members. Those chosen were usually selected from within the corporation itself. Indeed, only two outsiders, Robert Hitcham in 1604 and Sir John Hare in 1628, were elected during this period. Hitcham, Anne of Denmark’s attorney-general, was probably returned on the recommendation of Lynn’s high steward, Lord Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton I†). Hitcham was required to travel to Lynn to take the oath of a freeman, as previously, only residents of the town had served as Members.18 The second seat in 1604 went to the town’s recorder, Thomas Oxborough. Hitcham applied to the corporation again in 1614, as did Sir Henry Spelman*. Faced with a difficult choice, the corporation decided to reject both candidates on the grounds of non-residence, and stood resolute despite a second appeal from Hitcham.19 Instead, the first seat was bestowed upon the mayor, Matthew Clarke, while the seat went once again to Oxborough. When the Parliament assembled, Sir Robert Cotton*, hoping belatedly to find a seat for himself, tried to challenge the validity of Clarke’s election, as mayors were not permitted to sit. He arranged with a Member named Byng (there were three then sitting) to raise the issue, but the Commons was swayed by ‘an eloquent oration’ made by Clarke, who protested that he would ‘rather continue to be a scholar in this school of wisdom than governor of the best town in the realm’.20

During the 1620s Lynn continued to return townsmen. In 1621 Clarke was joined by the borough’s largest merchant trader, John Wallis. The latter served again in 1624 with his fellow alderman, William Doughty. In the first Parliament of Charles’s reign, Lynn was served by Thomas Gurlyn and John Cooke, both of whom were aldermen, and the same pair sat again in 1626. It was not until 1628 that Lynn once again broke with tradition, by electing the non-resident Sir John Hare to the first seat. Hare, an influential wealthy landowner whose estates at Stow Bardolph lay about seven miles south of Lynn, was sworn a freeman four days after his election.21 Hare’s partner, however, was alderman William Doughty.

Lynn corporation usually contributed to its Members’ daily expenses, and also paid the costs of travelling to and fro.22 Rates of payment were apparently negotiable. Hitcham agreed to serve without wages, but received a gratuity of £20 in July 1610 in recognition of the length of the Parliament.23 In 1614 and 1621 the corporation paid 10s. a day, but in the following three parliaments cut the rate back to 5s. a day.24 The Hall Book also records instances of Members being paid for ‘parliament writings’.25 Sir John Hare was the only Member not to have received payment at all.

Lynn is not known to have promoted any particular objectives in Parliament during this period. However, in November 1605 its Members were invited to give evidence to a committee concerning the newly reconstituted Spanish Company (to which Lynn was affiliated), before being added to the committee when Parliament reconvened the following year.26 Neither Hitcham nor Oxborough are recorded as having spoken against the free trade bill, which ultimately abolished the Company, and indeed Hitcham supported the cause of free trade in 1604. This cannot have endeared him to his constituents, and may help to explain why the borough decided not to elect him again in 1614.27 In February 1606 Lynn’s Members were named to consider a bill to prevent the erecting of cottages, and in May 1614 they were appointed to examine a measure to restrain brewers from serving as magistrates.28

Author: Chris Kyle


  • 1. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, f. 54.
  • 2. V. Parker, Making of King’s Lynn, 3.
  • 3. F. Blomefield, Hist. Norf. viii. 476.
  • 4. Parker, 1.
  • 5. SR iii. 608-9, Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C2/48.
  • 6. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C2/46.
  • 7. H. Clarke and A. Carter, Excavations in King’s Lynn, 431-2.
  • 8. G.A. Metters, ‘Rulers and Merchants of King’s Lynn’ (Univ. E. Anglia Ph.D. thesis, 1982), pp. 122-4, 129-35, 198; E190/434/7-13.
  • 9. P. Croft, Spanish Co. (London Rec. Soc. ix), 24, 28.
  • 10. T.S. Willan, Eng. Coasting Trade, 125.
  • 11. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), Mart Bk. 1618; Parker, 9, 12; F.W.B. Gras, Corn Market, 62-3; HMC Ancaster, 350.
  • 12. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C39/97-101.
  • 13. Ibid. KL/C7/9, ff. 41v, 348.
  • 14. Ibid. KL/C7/8, f. 456v; C7/9, f. 55.
  • 15. Ibid. KL/C44/8, C39/97, ff. 42, 56.
  • 16. Ibid. KL/C4/17; J. Hatcher, Hist. of Brit. Coal Industry, 509-25.
  • 17. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, ff. 173, 249v, 255, 260v; APC, 1626, pp. 48, 137-8, 177; SP16/61/81, 50/46, 58/14.
  • 18. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/8, ff. 295, 300v, 301v.
  • 19. Ibid. KL/C7/9, ff. 52, 53v.
  • 20. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 103, 107.
  • 21. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, f. 282.
  • 22. Ibid. ff. 214v, 249.
  • 23. Ibid. KL/C7/8, f. 465.
  • 24. HMC Southampton and King’s Lynn Corp. 177.
  • 25. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), KL/C7/9, f. 260v, C39/100, unfol.
  • 26. CJ, i. 257a, 261a.
  • 27. Ibid. 985b.
  • 28. Ibid. 269b; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 394.