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:



27 Feb. 1604ROBERT BERRY , alderman
 RICHARD BENSON , high bailiff
7 Dec. 1609RICHARD FISHER , high bailiff vice Benson, deceased
 (Sir) Francis Eure*
 John Leveson
26 Mar. 16141SIR HENRY TOWNSHEND , recorder
 ROBERT BERRY , high bailiff
 ?Richard Tomlyns
 ?Sir Edward Foxe*
11 May 16142ROBERT LLOYD vice Berry, unseated on petition
11 May 1614?Sir Edward Foxe*
 ?Richard Tomlyns
 ?Sir Robert Harley*

Main Article

Ludlow Castle was built at the end of the eleventh century on high ground by a crossing of the River Teme, and the town first appears in Exchequer records in 1169. A borough by prescription, municipal government was established over 150 years before the first surviving charter, of 1449, which confirmed the existing structure of two bailiffs, drawn from a corporation of 12 aldermen and 25 common councillors. Edward IV, who inherited a moiety of the borough, granted the townsmen parliamentary representation in 1461, and a Council of the Marches decree of 1553 settled the franchise in the corporation, although election returns habitually defined the franchise in more evasive terms as ‘all the burgesses of the said town to whom the said election doth appertain’.5

Ludlow probably reached the peak of its prosperity in about 1580, with much new building, a population approaching 3,000 and a flourishing economy. Good connections to Wales and the Severn along the Teme valley offered it a substantial natural hinterland, and its cattle and horse trades acquired a regional significance by the early modern period. However, the town’s chief economic asset was its easy access to the local fine quality wools, from which 400-800 ‘Ludlow white’ broadcloths were produced annually by the mid-sixteenth century.6 Ludlow’s success was boosted by the presence of the Council in the Marches at Ludlow Castle, which served as its main base. Law terms in the Marches Court were only a few weeks long, but they attracted several hundred officials, lawyers and litigants, and the Ludlow corporation lobbied hard and spent around £20 a year on gratuities to Council officials (far more than any of its rivals) to ensure that their town reaped the benefit of these sessions. The corporation also co-opted a number of Council officials onto the town corporation.7

For all its success, Ludlow was not without its problems. In the 1590s the corporation was riven by a feud between an ‘inner circle’ accused of monopolizing access to municipal office and lands, and a loose coterie of those excluded from power. This dispute was only resolved after a decade of litigation, a new and controversial charter in 1596, a rigged parliamentary election return in 1597 and several expulsions from the corporation. One of the first signs of settlement came in October 1602 when Robert Berry, newly elected high bailiff, and one of his erstwhile enemies, Alderman Edward Crowther, were delegated to seek advice about the town charter. In January 1604 Berry, Crowther, the then high bailiff Richard Benson and coroner Richard Bayly were ordered to petition the king for a new charter. Plans changed upon the arrival of the writ for a parliamentary election: Berry and Benson were returned to the Commons and instructed to secure a new charter while at Westminster, thus enabling the corporation to secure both its aims for minimal expenditure. Berry had served as MP six times previously, but Benson, who had never sat before, presumably owed his election to his office. Neither man left any trace on the Commons’ proceedings, although the corporation did later acquire a copy of the Act for settling the Queen’s jointure, to which the Ludlow fee-farm had been assigned. The new charter was acquired at a cost of £66 9s. 1d., while both MPs were allowed parliamentary wages of 2s. a day.8

Benson died of the plague in November 1609, and a number of rival candidates were nominated in anticipation of the ensuing by-election. Before the writ was issued the corporation resolved to follow the precedent of 1604 in returning their high bailiff, Richard Fisher, but matters were complicated by lord president [Ralph] Eure†, who put forward his brother Sir Francis*. The latter, who had been returned for Scarborough in 1604, had no need of another seat, so it is possible that the president was merely aiming to establish the Council’s electoral influence in principle while allowing the corporation to prevail on this occasion. The townsmen certainly went out of their way to placate him, sending a delegation to Bewdley to explain their decision, and giving him a sugarloaf shortly after the start of the parliamentary session. Lord treasurer Salisbury (Robert Cecil†), who was attempting to bolster his own following in the Commons in anticipation of the Great Contract negotiations, accompanied the election writ with another letter of nomination, for John Leveson, heir to Sir John Leveson*, a Cecil client with substantial estates at Lilleshall, Shropshire. This request was similarly rejected, and Fisher was returned on 7 December.9

The sudden invasion of outside influences in 1609 was probably linked to the town’s declining economic fortunes. Whereas peace with Spain had led to a nationwide boom in the cloth trade in 1604, Ludlow’s industry faltered and then collapsed: in 1609-10 only 61 cloths were sealed by the town’s alnager, representing less than ten per cent of pre-war production. While Salisbury nominated to every vacant seat in the autumn of 1609 regardless of local circumstances, Eure timed his bid at Ludlow to coincide with the precise moment at which the town was most dependent economically upon the continuation of Council patronage. He may even have been offered some influence at the next election in return for waiving his nomination in 1609. This would explain the corporation’s unusual behaviour on 26 Mar. 1614, when recorder Sir Henry Townshend, one of the justices in the Marches, was elected a common councillor and returned as MP together with Berry, while a resolution was then passed barring non-members of the corporation from election. This allowed the townsmen to rebuff an overture from the Ludlow-born Richard Tomlyns, and, more significantly, to reject Sir Edward Foxe*, another Council member who was probably Eure’s nominee, who owned property in the town, and whose forbears had been MPs in the early sixteenth century.10

If Eure was annoyed by the corporation’s behaviour, a means of retribution lay ready to hand: Berry, then high bailiff, had committed a technical offence in returning himself at the election, as was quickly pointed out to the Commons’ privileges’ committee. When this was reported to the House on 9 Apr., the London lawyer Nicholas Fuller* called for Berry’s expulsion, citing precedents for the removal of mayors who had returned themselves. The parallel was not exact, as Ludlow had two bailiffs rather than one mayor, and was thus able to continue its business in Berry’s absence, while the fact that Ludlow had returned its high bailiffs in 1593, 1604 and 1609 without demur was ignored. Yet at Fuller’s insistence Berry, who had admitted the circumstances of his return, was ejected on 14 April. Foxe’s family, perhaps lobbying in anticipation of the ensuing election, were entertained at Ludlow in the same month, and Foxe himself was admitted a freeman on 28 April. However, the corporation bestowed the seat upon Robert Lloyd, a member of the queen’s Household. Anne’s influence stemmed from the fee-farm of £33 6s. 8d. she received from the town, a sum which represented approximately one-quarter of the town’s annual expenditure. Nevertheless, in choosing Lloyd the corporation delivered a second snub to Eure’s nominee.11

At the time of the next parliamentary election in January 1621 only three of the town’s former MPs were still alive. Of these Townshend, although still active as justice and recorder, was over 80; Lloyd’s patronage had lapsed with the death of Queen Anne; and Alderman Fisher showed no signs of wishing to stand again. The shortage of candidates was exacerbated by the fact that the election of a serving bailiff was now out of the question. Furthermore, the town’s economic dependence on the Council in the Marches remained acute, as its cloth industry showed no signs of revival. Yet with the demise of both Berry and Eure minimizing any lingering animosity from 1614, the townsmen suspended their ban on the election of non-corporation members in order to return Spencer, Lord Compton, son of lord president Northampton. The second seat went to Richard Tomlyns, who had been rejected at the previous election, but had gained his freedom in July 1614. He renewed his suit in November 1620 with the support of the town’s London attorney, George Holland. Tomlyns’ residence at Westminster Abbey allowed him to serve without expenses, and even more attractively, he offered to assist with the purchase of the town’s fee-farm, recently put up for sale by the Crown at over £400. This sum, representing about three times the town’s annual income, was way beyond the corporation’s means, and Tomlyns, having no family, undertook to bequeath the fee-farm to charitable uses within the town after his death.12

Tomlyns initially aspired to be a diligent MP, sending the Ludlow bailiffs a lengthy account of proceedings during the Easter recess, promising to give the corporation a gold cup, and undertaking to ask Lord Compton to speak with his father about an unidentified dispute, perhaps the town’s claim to jurisdiction over Ludford, south of the Teme. During the summer he completed his purchase of the fee-farm, but quickly found himself frustrated by his inability to collect his dues from the corporation. Tomlyns had originally told the corporation that he might assign the fee-farm to them ‘in part while I live, but sure after my decease, if it please God’, an undertaking the townsmen had clearly interpreted in an over-optimistic light. The discovery that Tomlyns intended to enjoy a lifetime’s income from his purchase helps to explain their hesitation, as does the Exchequer’s incompetence in failing to forward the necessary paperwork to its local officials, who continued to harrass the town for payment of the fee-farm for at least a year after the sale had taken place.13

Tomlyns and the corporation grudgingly resolved their differences shortly before the 1624 election, which explains the peremptory tone in which he canvassed the corporation:

I do hear it is with you as with most towns of this kingdom (the more to be lamented) that Ludlow grows very poor, partly occasioned by reason of the Council’s uncertain and seldom abode there. I could wish with all my heart that you could subsist without them and that you would settle yourselves to your old trade of clothin[g] or some such profitable trade, that so you might not depend upon them, and leave this victualling and tippling whereon the inhabitants now chiefly liveth.

This was hardly diplomatic language, and Holland was forced to step into the breach to quash rumours that Tomlyns ‘is inclinable to popery, and will (if he be chosen) expect or sue for his charges of attendance in Parliament’, which sufficed to secure his election. Lord Compton did not stand again, and was replaced by his father’s secretary, Ralph Goodwin, who was admitted as a burgess and, like Compton, had the rule barring election of non-corporation members suspended in his favour.14

Relations between Tomlyns and the corporation improved considerably once the fee-farm issue was resolved: he assisted Holland in securing an Exchequer decree waiving Ludlow’s liability to parliamentary fifteenths at Easter 1625; and in the following year he assisted the town clerk in lobbying for a new charter. Both Tomlyns and Goodwin were re-elected in 1625, 1626 and 1628, although in 1628 Tomlyns, then 64 years old, confessed,

I had resolved with myself, being now grown into years and sickly, not to have been in any more Parliaments, nevertheless some gentlemen of worth and others my familiar friends have persuaded me once more to be of this Parliament in hope of better success, which God grant that the king and his people may accord to the glory of the Almighty and the public welfare and good of the Commonwealth.

This was unfortunate for Sir Robert Harley, who, being doubtful of a seat in Herefordshire, appealed to Ludlow for succour in February 1628. After some debate the corporation decided that Northampton’s institutional influence and Tomlyns’s ownership of their fee-farm trumped Harley’s reputation as a godly commonwealthsman, obliging him to seek relief at Evesham.15

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 103v.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 104.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 142.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 147.
  • 5. M. Faraday, Ludlow 1085-1660, pp. 1-31, 44; Ludlow Castle ed. R. Shoesmith and A. Johnson, 5-35; C219/35/2/31.
  • 6. Faraday, 103-8, 114-27, 157-63; P.J. Bowden, Wool Trade in Tudor and Stuart Eng. 29-30; E. Kerridge, Textile Manufactures in Early Modern Eng. 20-1; P. Edwards, Horse Trade of Tudor and Stuart Eng. 30-5, 62; P. Edwards, ‘Cattle Trade of Salop’, Midland Hist. vi. 72-94.
  • 7. Faraday, 96-102; Ludlow Castle ed. Shoesmith and Johnson, 68-82; P. Williams, Council in Marches of Wales under Eliz. 187-9.
  • 8. Faraday, 31-7; Salop RO, LB2/1/1, ff. 43, 45, 49v-51; LB8/1/128/3; LB8/1/129/4.
  • 9. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, ff. 80v-2v; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 566.
  • 10. Faraday, 124-5; Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 103v.
  • 11. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 38-9, 80; Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 104; LB8/1/136/4-7; LB8/2/57-74.
  • 12. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 131; LB7/1677; LB8/2/89.
  • 13. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 131v; LB7/1677-8, 1680-91; LB8/2/87-8.
  • 14. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, f. 142; LB7/1692; LB8/2/94.
  • 15. Salop RO, LB2/1/1, ff. 151v-2, 157v; LB7/1693-5; LB8/2/93.