Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


 (d. 1529/30)
 (not known)
1545(not known)
by 23 Jan. 1552JOHN SAYER vice Gates5
1553 (Mar.)JOHN ESTON
1554 (Apr.)JOHN ESTON
1554 (Nov.)JOHN ESTON 8

Main Article

To prevent criminals evading arrest and trial in London merely by flight across the Thames to Southwark, Edward III had given the bailiwick to the City in 1327. Although the City’s jurisdiction was repeatedly challenged, it obtained a confirmation in 1406 from Henry IV who empowered its officials to make arrests within the borough and to try the arrested: he also conceded the return of writs, precepts and mandates to its agents

so that the sheriff of Surrey who now is or who for the time shall be or any of our officers or ministers may not intermeddle nor do execution of that which to his office appertains or should appertain within the aforesaid town, unless in default of the ... mayor or commons or their ministers and deputies ... or of their successors.

In 1444 Henry VI amplified his grandfather’s charter and in 1462 Edward IV confirmed the City’s privileges.10

The City’s authority in Southwark was questioned with increasing frequency during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In 1539 the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex was advised of the City’s charters, and five years later his successor had to be persuaded to direct his mandate to the bailiff when process was to be executed within the bailiwick. In September 1540 the bailiff reported that the inhabitants led by Sir Richard Long were claiming certain privileges to the detriment of the City. Earlier in the same year Long’s activities had persuaded the aldermen to approach Cromwell for ‘the book for the city of London for Southwark’, but nothing had come of this before the minister’s fall. The City then instructed its steward for the borough, John Eston, to obtain a pronouncement on its franchises, and a committee made up of (Sir) John Baker I, (Sir) Christopher Hales, (Sir) Nicholas Hare and William Whorwood considered the matter unavailingly. On 7 Apr. 1541 it was therefore decided to present a bill to the King, and doubtless this was the one considered by the Privy Council in the following month when the problem was thought to be so contentious that no judgment was made.

The records of the Exchequer and elsewhere were searched so that the City’s case might be strengthened, and in 1545 Eston was authorized to enter a suit for the recovery and maintenance of the City’s liberties. The King’s steward for Southwark, Sir John Gage, was lobbied during 1542 in the hope that he would favour the City’s ‘book’ when it was submitted to Parliament. Little had been achieved by these means before the death of Henry VIII save that in 1545 the return of writs and the execution of process had been assured to the City’s steward. In 1547 and 1548 two further petitions were made to the Council without success. Long’s death in the autumn of 1546 did little to ease the situation as he was succeeded by John Gates as spokesman for Southwark.

In November 1549 the City approached Edward VI with an offer to buy the manor, and its offer was accepted, sums of £647 being agreed for the lands and of 500 marks for the liberties. The new charter issued on 23 Apr. 1550 rehearsed the sale, confirmed all earlier privileges, allowed London jurisdiction and procedure to include the borough generally, established the City’s recorder and aldermen as justices (with only the King’s bench and the Marshalsea excluded from their authority) and provided for the life interests of several household officials of whom only Gates was named.

This charter implied complete integration, and at first it seemed that Southwark would be incorporated within the City as a separate ward in which the inhabitants would have the same rights as those of the existing wards. In May 1550 Sir John Aylyffe was chosen as the first alderman of Bridge Ward Without, but he was elected by the court of aldermen, not by the burgesses. Two months later the intention to establish a new aldermancy was confirmed; the question of common councilmen was ignored but the inhabitants were given the right to nominate four men from whom an alderman would be selected. This plan was afterwards shelved, and from June 1558 it fell to the aldermen to propose the four candidates.

In so far as the purpose of the integration had been to reduce the criminal element it failed, since Southwark’s notoriety as a haven for malefactors and outlaws continued undiminished despite the presence in the borough of four prisons, the Cage, the Clink, the King’s Bench and the Marshalsea. The link between crime and the stews had long since been recognized. Henry VII had reduced the number of licensed centres of prostitution, and Henry VIII suppressed them altogether in 1546, but to no avail. The area with its traffic, travellers, inns, town houses, large alien population and numerous crafts offered unmatched opportunities for such as chose to advance themselves dishonestly.

Until the Dissolution many religious houses owned property in Southwark, some of it designed to accommodate the heads of the houses while attending court or Parliament, but most as an investment. The bishop of Winchester owned the palace of the Clink: at Wolsey’s fall this passed briefly into the crown’s possession, but in 1531 it was given to Stephen Gardiner as Wolsey’s successor. Until his death in 1555 Gardiner championed the interests of the burgesses, and it was he who with Long bought the priory church of St. Mary Overey on their behalf. The most important figure of the early 1530s was not, however, Gardiner but the King’s brother-in-law Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. After the Dissolution much of the former monastic property and rights were acquired by courtiers and lawyers; Cromwell obtained the advowson of St. Olave’s and Sir Anthony Browne the claustral buildings of St. Mary Overey, which his son, Anthony Browne I, later redeveloped as Montague Close, a nest of popery under Elizabeth.

In 1536 Suffolk exchanged his Southwark house for the bishop of Norwich’s former residence on the Strand, then in the hands of Henry VIII, and this was assured by an Act (27 Hen. VIII, c.39) passed during the last session of the Parliament of 1529. In May 1536 the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem also exchanged its manor of Wyles in Paris Garden with the King for the site and lands of Kilburn priory, and in the following month Bermondsey abbey conveyed its property in Paris Garden and in the parishes of St. Margaret and St. George to the King. These royal acquisitions were assured to Queen Jane Seymour in an Act (28 Hen. VIII, c.38) passed during the Parliament of 1536. Two years later the King obtained the archbishop’s manor by yet another exchange. Why Henry VIII created a royal lordship in Southwark remains unexplained for, unlike his other projects, it was not associated with a palace which he either liked or rebuilt. In 1536 Long was made the first steward of the crown’s possessions in the borough and at his death he was succeeded by Gates: both men achieved some of their local pre-eminence by virtue of their stewardship.

On 14 Jan. 1540 St. Thomas’s hospital surrendered to the royal commissioners. Long, who since 1538 had been keeper of the hospital, in 1543 became its master. This was another of Long’s offices secured in 1546 by Gates, who held it until the City bought the premises from the crown to refound the institution under a charter of 12 Aug. 1551. John Sayer was several times made governor of the hospital by the City.11

In the mid 1530s the parishioners of St. Margaret’s bought the site of Ferrers’s Place to enlarge their graveyard, and one of their churchwardens, Thomas Bulla, used his Membership in 1536 to secure the Act (28 Hen. VIII, c.31) covering the purchase. The acquisition of the priory church of St. Mary Overey, following its suppression in 1539, allowed the union of St. Margaret’s parish with that of St. Mary Magdalene under the name of St. Saviour, and thus the redevelopment of the sites of the two churches: the Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.65) passed during the last session of the Parliament of 1539 facilitated these changes. Until the Dissolution the rectories of the two parishes had been impropriate to the priory and in 1543 the churchwardens of St. Saviour’s took out a lease of their own rectory, thus allowing them a freer hand in their own affairs.

Throughout the earlier part of the period the marshal of the King’s bench was a leading figure in Southwark. The Marshalsea had been held by successive members of the Brandon family since the mid 15th century, and probably on account of it they had established themselves in the borough and become the parliamentary patrons. Suffolk retained the office until his death in 1545, when he was succeeded by Richard Fulmerston, then a servant of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk whose Mowbray forbears had once recommended the Brandons to the office. Fulmerston was evidently deprived after the coup d’état against the Protector Somerset, whose comptroller he had become, and the less significant William Naunton was appointed while the new charter was being negotiated. Neither Naunton nor his successors wielded the influence of their predecessors.12

After the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex had sent the precept (called ‘a warrant’ in the London records) to the City’s bailiff and the jurats of Southwark, the court of aldermen fixed the date of an election at Southwark in the presence of the master of the Bridge and several of their own number. The attendance of these representatives seems to have been counter-productive, for until 1550 men hostile to the City were often chosen. Indentures written in Latin survive for the Parliaments of 1542, 1545, March 1553 and for the last three of Mary’s reign: all are in poor condition. The contracting parties are the sheriff with the mayor and the commonalty of London and the bailiff and the burgesses of Southwark, some of whom are named. Following the by-election of John Sayer to the last session of the Parliament of 1547, the court of aldermen agreed, two weeks after the start of the session, that ‘Robert Christopher, secondary of the Compter, should engross and return the election of the burgess of Southwark and deliver it to the sheriff of Surrey to be certified with speed’.13

The names of those chosen to sit in the earliest Henrician Parliaments have not been discovered; the election for the fourth was held on 19 Mar. 1523 and a writ de expensis was later issued for payment of £10 12s. to one of the Members. In 1529 Suffolk secured the return of both Sir John Shilston and Robert Acton: Shilston was the duke’s brother-in-law and Acton the King’s saddler. Following Shilston’s death Cromwell noted on a list of vacancies in the House that Southwark was Suffolk’s preserve. Whom Suffolk nominated is not known, but it was perhaps Thomas Bulla, a yeoman of the guard resident there, who was to be returned in 1536 when the King asked for the reelection of the previous Members. In 1539 Long, a client of Cromwell, kinsman of the Seymours and keeper of Southwark palace, sat with Acton. By the following Parliament not only was Cromwell dead but Long had so incensed the City that if his duties in the north had not intervened he might not have retained his seat. As it is, the return for 1545 is so damaged that only the name of one Member is legible: William Gyllam was a clockmaker, presumably employed at Southwark palace and elsewhere. The men returned in 1547 doubtless had official backing; Gates was the King’s bailiff in Southwark and Fulmerston was in the service of the Protector as well as marshal of the King’s Bench. At the by-election following Gates’s election as one of the knights of the shire for Essex, John Sayer, a local merchant and innkeeper, was returned. Sayer epitomizes the Members preferred for the remainder of the century. He was to be re-elected four times, on three occasions with John Eston, the City’s steward. Eston himself sat six times, the last occasion being after the accession of Elizabeth. The other two Members returned before 1558 were Humphrey Colet, the wealthy tradesman and the owner of the George, and Robert Freeman, a dyer; Colet was the nephew of Bulla.14

Author: A. D.K. Hawkyard


  • 1. Greater London RO, P92/SAV/25.
  • 2. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. C219/18C/117; OR suggests Gyllot.
  • 5. Hatfield 207.
  • 6. Bodl. e Museo 17.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Only Easton's christian name survives on the indenture, C219/23/122; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 9. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.
  • 10. This survey rests on D. J. Johnson, Southwark and the City and I. Darlington ‘Reformation in Southwark’, Procs. Huguenot Soc. London, xix. 65-81.
  • 11. W. K. Jordan, Charities of London, 190; VCH Surr. iv. 159; Stow, Annales (1631), 608.
  • 12. HP, ed. Wedgwood 1439-1509 (Biogs.), 102-3; CP; LP Hen. VIII, i.
  • 13. City of London RO, Guildhall, rep. 4, f. 146v; 12(2), f. 451; C219/18B/86, 87, 18C/117, 19/97, 20/122, 23/122, 24/154, 25/110.
  • 14. City of London RO, rep. 4, 146v; bridge accts. 1509-29, f. 290v; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.