Appendix IX: The 1597 House of Commons

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Effective dates of sessions: 24 Oct.-20 Dec. 1597 11 Jan.-9 Feb. 1598


Speaker:(Sir) Christopher Yelverton 
Clerk:Fulk Onslow


Privy Councillors in the Commons:

(Sir) Robert Cecil (Sir)

John Fortescue I

(Sir) William Knollys


Total number of Members elected 472

for counties 92

for boroughs 380

at general election 462

for counties 90

for boroughs 372

at by-elections 10

for counties 2

for boroughs 8


Number of Members known to have left before end: 8, of whom 4 sat for counties, 4 for boroughs


Residential qualification. Borough Members

resident in borough 89

resident in county 136

resident in adjacent county etc. 14

strangers 127

no information 14


Electoral qualification. Borough Members returned through

own or family interest 89

wife’s family interest 11

corporation interest 101

‘natural’ influence 28

influence of a great man 122

duchy of Lancaster 11

no information 18


Number of Members with


central office local office
major 3lord lieutenant 3
minor 73deputy lieutenant 31
legal 9custos rotulorum 14
duchy of Lancaster 12j.p. 201
diplomatic/agent abroad 6other county 102
military/naval 20mayor 20
ecclesiastical 9recorder 23
 other municipal 75
 no office in this Parliament 142


Experience. Members who

had sat in previous Parliament 32%

were to sit in next Parliament 36%



very active speakers 3%

very active committeemen 11%

with any recorded activity 58%

with any recorded speeches 12%

with any recorded committees 57%

served on religious committee 8%

spoke on religion 2%

served on subsidy committee 17%

spoke on subsidy 1%

served on a social/economic committee 54%

spoke on a social/economic matter 8%

served on a legal committee 30%

spoke on a legal matter 3%

served on a committee concerned with monopolies 26%

spoke on monopolies 2%

served on a committee outside above five classifications 22%

spoke on a subject other than the above five 5%


Notes on Procedure

The quality of Hayward Townshend’s 1597 journal is lower than that of the 1593 anonymous journal or the diaries of Thomas Cromwell for some earlier Parliaments, but it is nevertheless invaluable. Over half the Members are known to have served on the dozens of bills framed by the Commons committees on social and economic matters, compared with a quarter on the main grievance of the Parliament, monopolies. Compare for example the speeches of Henry Finch in 1593 with his committee work in 1597. The emphasis was on constructive reform. A grand committee chaired by another key figure, Robert Wroth I, was appointed on 22 Nov.1 which handled 11 bills on the poor so comprehensively and efficiently that they not only passed their remaining stages easily but remained the basis of the poor law of this country until the nineteenth century. However, the most important procedural advance must surely be seen in the entry in D’Ewes for 15 Nov. 1597, when the subsidy committee was appointed thus:

All the Privy Council being members of this House [3] all the knights returned for the counties unto this present Parliament, and all citizens for cities returned unto this House ... and any other of this House then to come to them also at their pleasures that will.

Here is the arrival, in all but name, of the committee of the whole House, and perhaps there is even no need to quibble about the name, for as Wallace Notestein stated as long ago as 1924 ‘... the committee of the whole House [was] at its beginning so little different from the "general committee" of late Elizabethan days that its appearance [under its later name in 1607] excited little comment’.2 Further notes on this institution appear under 1593 and 1601.

Mention must also be made of ‘they in the rebellious corner in the right hand of the House’, i.e. the Speaker’s left hand, the traditional place of the ‘opposition’. A. F. Pollard saw this as the earliest reference to ‘His Majesty’s Opposition’.3


Favoured committee meeting places.

Exchequer chamber 38%

Middle Temple 34%

House of Commons committee chamber 10%

Serjeants’ Inn 8%

Guildhall 2%

Inner Temple 2%.

Committees also met in the Treasury chamber, Star Chamber, Sir Thomas Cecil’s house, the council chamber at court, the court of wards and Gray’s Inn.


Sources for the names of Members (unless an individual reference is given)


OR with add. and corr.

PRO T/S list of supplementary returns.

Bodl. Tanner 234.

A list of the 1597 Parliament, drawn up before the Kent by-election of 16 Jan. 1598, in the Folger Library V. b. 298.


Sources for the proceedings of the Commons


Hayward Townshend’s journal for this Parliament, printed by A. F. Pollard and Marjorie Blatcher from Stowe ms 562, ff. 1-27 in the Bull. IHR, xii. no. 34 (June 1934). Another text from Cotton Titus F. ii was compared and collated by Miss Helen Miller. Other sources transcribed by Miss Miller include extracts from Harl. 75, 6842; Lansd. 85, 105; Inner Temple Petyt ms 538/54; House of Lords ms 19 Jan. 1598; Add. 4712, 11055, 48109; Hatfield 176.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler

End Notes

  • 1. D’Ewes, 561.
  • 2. Winning of the Initiative, 37.
  • 3. Bull. IHR, xii. 20.