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 ratepayers


7 Feb. 1610WILLIAM MAYHEW vice Cownden, deceased
 ?John Marshall
c. Mar. 1614EDWARD COXE
 Robert Bromfield
  Double return of Myngaye and Bromfield, whose election was declared void, 2 Mar. 1624

Main Article

Southwark owed its existence to its situation at the southern end of London Bridge. Its major highways linked the metropolis to Kent and Surrey, and made Southwark a prime location for shops and taverns. Indeed, writing in the late Elizabethan period, John Stow wrote of its ‘many fair inns’.1 The borough was also a convenient location for industries officially discouraged within the City of London itself, such as leather-dressing, tanning and the theatre. It also housed many breweries, soaphouses and dyehouses.2

Of the four Southwark parishes, the most southerly and least urbanised was St. George’s, which contained the prisons of the courts of King’s Bench and Marshalsea and the Surrey county gaol called the White Lyon. The smallest and wealthiest parish was St. Thomas’, which centred round the hospital of the same name. Along the river to the east of the bridge was St. Olave’s, which, as Stow remarked, contained many foreigners and poor inhabitants. Textiles, especially felt-making, played an important part in the parish’s economy as did shipbuilding and seafaring. To the west of the bridge was the parish of St. Saviour’s, created in 1540 by Act of Parliament from two former parishes. Only one part of the parish, the eastern district of Boroughside, was officially within the borough, but this area, which included the market, was the second wealthiest part of Southwark and its inhabitants dominated local office-holding in the borough as a whole. The local economy was dominated by the production and retailing of food and drink. The western part of the parish, consisting of the Paris Garden and Clink liberties, contained numerous bear gardens and theatres, and there were many watermen among the inhabitants. The population of Southwark, including the liberties outside the borough proper, grew from about 19,000 in 1603 to over 25,000 in 1631.3

Southwark enjoyed borough status from at least the twelfth century and returned Members to Parliament from 1295,4 but its proximity to the City of London stunted the development of urban self-government. From 1326 London’s corporation began to acquire jurisdiction over its southern neighbour, a process consolidated and confirmed by the charter of 1550. Shortly thereafter Southwark became the twenty-sixth ward of the City, called Bridge Without, and was given its own alderman. However, the residents received no representation on the court of common council, and from 1557 the corporation appointed the alderman who, though active in the borough’s government, was not a Southwark resident and seems never to have played any part in its parliamentary elections. The alderman, who for part of this period was Sir Maurice Abbot*, was assisted by three deputies, all of whom were evidently local inhabitants, but the London corporation clearly felt the need of a resident justice and, in 1606, the Court of Aldermen agreed to exercise their long standing, but previously unused, right to nominate a Surrey justice. To ensure that the justice would reside in the borough and remain under corporation control he was given free accommodation in the Bridgehouse and an annual salary of £20.5

Those borough institutions as Southwark did possess, such as the borough court, were firmly under the control of the corporation, which appointed the steward, who presided over the borough court’s proceedings, and the bailiff. Corporation control was widely resented; John Donne* remarked on the residents’ ‘scorn’ of the lord mayor’s authority, though this was far from complete, as Southwark remained under the jurisdiction of Surrey’s lord lieutenant, sheriff, and justice of the peace. Moreover, while many London livery companies had the right to search in the borough they could not prevent non-freemen trading and working there. Both the Surrey and London justices held sessions in the borough, using the former parish church of St. Margaret’s at Hill.6

The evidence for the impact of the unpopularity of corporation control on elections is ambiguous. It may have contributed to the opposition to Francis Myngaye, the justice resident in the Bridgehouse in 1624, but George Rivers, steward of the borough court, was elected in 1604 despite being a corporation appointee. Moreover, Edward Coxe was returned in 1614 even though he was one of the alderman’s deputies, and both he and at least two other Members, his son William Coxe and Richard Yearwood, were freemen of the City. In addition, Robert Bromfield, elected in 1624, was the son a deputy alderman and brother of the future lord mayor.

In the absence of independent borough institutions the Southwark parish vestries, particularly those of St. Saviour’s and St. Olave’s, played an important role in the government of the borough. In the late Elizabethan period both parishes employed salaried officials to search for lodgers who might prove a burden on the poor rates if allowed to settle, and the vestries supported the Crown’s efforts to restrict new building and sub-division of properties.7 In St. Saviour’s the vestry was a tightly knit self-selecting oligarchy of 30 wealthy parishioners, mostly from Boroughside, who, according to their critics, spent large sums feasting together and granted each other valuable leases of parish property at low rates; as a consequence it became known as the ‘sharing house’.8 They constituted the dominant electoral influence in Southwark. Four Members in this period, William Cownden, William Mayhew, Richard Yearwood and Robert Bromfield, were St. Saviour’s vestrymen resident in Boroughside. Only Rivers and the Coxes were from outside this circle, the latter being members of the equally oligarchical St. Olave’s select vestry.

It is likely that elections were held at the former parish church of St. Margaret’s at Hill, although this location is specified only in the indenture for the 1610 by-election.9 It was probably the bailiff who supervised the elections, just as he had in the Elizabethan period, as the 1625 indenture specifically states that the election took place by virtue of a warrant to the bailiff. However, the bailiff was a party to only one of the surviving indentures, that of 1628.10 Elections were made by a show of hands, a procedure described as being of ‘ancient usage’ in 1624, and generally between 15 and 20 electors were named in the returns.11 The extent of the franchise is uncertain. The indentures were usually made in the name of the burgesses, but that for 1625 was drawn up in the name of the burgesses and inhabitants. By the late-seventeenth century the vote lay with all the inhabitant householders, but before the Civil War it may have been restricted to ratepayers, at least in theory. In 1624, however, it was alleged that ‘divers watermen and others’ who had not been eligible to vote had been present at the election, and the privileges committee ruled that a formal poll should have been held to identify those who legitimately had the franchise.12

In 1604 the borough elected George Rivers and William Cownden. Both men were inhabitants of Boroughside, and the latter was a member of the St. Saviour’s vestry. The former may have secured his election despite his employment by the corporation because he was a client of the 1st earl of Dorset (Thomas Sackville†), the lord treasurer. The St. Saviour’s vestry probably wanted Dorset’s favour as they then rented the rectory of their parish from the Crown and their lease was shortly due for renewal.13 During the 1604 session the borough members were appointed en bloc to consider bills for the true making of hats and felts (31 Mar.), alehouses, inns and taverns (23 May) and the leather industry (28 June), all measures with important implications for the local economy. In addition they were instructed to consider the bill concerning new building, lodgers and subdivided tenements on 27 Apr. and another measure concerning lodgers on 2 July, measures which presumably had the support of the vestries of St. Saviour’s and St. Olave’s.14

Far from being renewed, the lease of the St. Saviour’s rectory was bestowed in May 1605 on a Scotsman, and the vestry did not regain control until 1611, when it purchased the fee-farm for £800.15 In the 1605-6 session the Southwark Members were appointed to consider a bill ‘to reform Multitudes of unnecessary and inconvenient Buildings in or near the City of London, and to avoid the numbers of dangerous Inmates and Lodgers within the same’ (24 Jan. 1606). They were also appointed to consider measures concerning watermen (28 Jan. 1606), while the brewers of the borough were presumably interested in measures to prevent the haunting of alehouses (11 Feb.), to stop brewers from selling beer to unlicensed alehouse keepers (3 Apr.), and to naturalize a brewer resident in the Middlesex suburbs of London (17 April).16

During the session opposition to the St. Saviour’s vestry came to a head. This seems to have originated in a dispute about pews in the church but widened into an attack on the structure of the parish government, and on 2 Apr. 1606 the vestry decided to seek counsel over its right to elect the churchwardens. According to the vestry itself these critics were no more than ‘some ten or twelve’ malcontents who thought that they themselves should have been chosen vestrymen. The dispute resulted in a Chancery case in which the vestry was accused of misappropriating parish funds and the following October the court ordered Rivers and Sir Edmund Bowyer*, who lived near Southwark and sat for Surrey, to audit the parish accounts. However, the critics of the vestry clearly thought this unsatisfactory as they prepared a bill for the third session of the first Jacobean Parliament.17

The bill, ostensibly ‘for the strengthening, explanation, and enlarging’ of the 1540 Act which had created the parish, was intended to enlarge the vestry to 40 members, who would be elected by the wealthier subsidymen, and open the churchwardens’ accounts to public scrutiny. The vestry naturally denied the charge of misappropriation, and defended its ‘sociable meetings’ as ‘more profitable to the encouraging and drawing men together about the parish business than chargeable to the parish’. It justified its oligarchic constitution on the ground that election would lead to disorder and, since ‘every one will covet to name and elect his friend’, the choice of men unworthy of office. As for the opening of the accounts, this would lead to ‘a dissembled poverty in the idler sort of people’. The proponents of the bill countered that throughout the realm civic officers were chosen ‘by the inhabitants and commonalty’, unless otherwise ordered by charter, and Members of Parliament ‘by the freeholders, which in most places consist of greater multitudes’. The bill received its first reading on 21 Feb. 1607 and four days later was referred to a committee whose members included Rivers. Reported on 12 May, the Commons completed its passage in the Commons four days later but failed to progress in the Lords.18 During the third session the Southwark Members were appointed to consider another bill concerning building in and around London, and also measures concerning the Court of Marshalsea and the curriers of London’s suburbs.19

Cownden died shortly before the opening of the fourth session in 1610, and was replaced by his friend and fellow-vestryman William Mayhew, a brewer. It is possible that there was a contest as, three weeks after Cownden’s death, Mayhew and John Marshall both appear to have been anxious to win vestry support as each offered to build galleries in the transepts of St. Saviour’s parish church to increase the seating. These offers were accepted and the galleries built, but there is no evidence of a poll. Edward Coxe* was the first named of the 15 ‘burgesses’ on the indenture.20

In 1614 Rivers was elected for East Grinstead and Coxe, who was a member of the London Clothworkers’ Company, secured the senior seat. Mayhew having died in 1612, Coxe was accompanied in the Addled Parliament by Richard Yearwood, a Grocer and a member of the St. Saviour’s vestry. Coxe died in 1618, and Yearwood moved up to the senior place in 1620. His fellow Member in the third Jacobean Parliament, Robert Bromfield, was also a vestryman of St. Saviour’s and seems to have had interest in the timber trade. By 1624 he held a position in Star Chamber. A further bill to regulate building around London, which specifically included Southwark, was prepared by the corporation of London and received a first reading on 12 May 1621, but progressed no further.21 In the following November Yearwood, who had an interest in the drinks trade, spoke forcefully in favour of a petition of the London Brewers’ Company against a composition for purveyance which its members were forced to pay.

Yearwood and Bromfield stood again in 1624, but faced a challenge from Francis Myngaye, a nephew to Sir Edward Coke*. According to John Glanville’s subsequent report from the committee for privileges, Yearwood was re-elected unanimously, leaving Bromfield to face Myngaye alone. Myngaye subsequently produced two witnesses who stated that he received a majority of the votes cast, but a third witness declared that Myngaye only won the initial show of hands. He added that when Myngaye got on a table to make a speech of thanks the assembled voters cried ‘for what?’ and then ‘No Myngaye! no Myngaye! a Bromfield! a Bromfield!’ The witness further stated that Bromfield was judged to have had the most support after a second show of hands. However, an indenture was subsequently drawn up in which Myngaye was returned first with Yearwood taking the second place. A rival indenture was also drawn up which named Yearwood first and Bromfield second. Both documents were dated 22 Jan., but that for Bromfield was apparently drafted after the election. Accusations of malpractice soon flew back and forth between the two sides. It was alleged that Myngaye had obtained possession of the key to the building in which the election was held and prevented voters from gaining access, while his side claimed many of those present had not been eligible to vote and that a demand for a formal poll had been denied. Myngaye was also accused of having altered one or other indenture. Neither accusation against Myngaye was ever proven, whereas the committee for privileges agreed that the failure to hold a poll made the eligibility of the voters impossible to judge.22

Following the election Bromfield agreed to relinquish his claims to Myngaye who, perhaps believing that the settling of his election in his favour was now only a formality, raised the matter at the privileges committee on 26 February.23 However, to his undoubted dismay, the committee ruled that it was not possible for Bromfield to waive his election. After confirming Yearwood’s return, the committee divided equally between seating Bromfield on the one hand and declaring his election void on the other. This was reported by Glanville on 2 Mar. to the Commons, which agreed to seat Yearwood. Moreover, on Coke’s motion, a writ for a fresh election to fill the other place was issued the following day. Bromfield was subsequently returned, but whether Myngaye opposed him is unknown.24

Neither Bromfield nor Myngaye are known to have subsequently sought re-election. In the Caroline parliaments Yearwood’s colleague was Edward Coxe’s son William. Like his father, Coxe was a vestryman of St. Olave’s, but he had connections with St. Saviour’s as he was soon to be related to Yearwood by marriage, and would remember one of the ministers of St. Saviour’s in his will. In 1625 Coxe moved to have Southwark included in the bill against petty larceny.25 The following year the borough was again included in another unsuccessful bill to regulate building, first read on 24 February. The Southwark burgesses were also appointed to consider a bill concerning the London Apothecaries’ Company (4 Mar.) and to help draft a measure to prevent the spread of the plague (29 April).26

Authors: Alan Davidson / Ben Coates


  • 1. J. Boulton, Neighbourhood and Soc. 62-4, 69; J. Stow, Survey of London (1598), p. 238.
  • 2. Boulton, 62, 78-9; CD 1621, vii. 154; L.A. Clarkson, ‘Organization of the English Leather Industry in the Late Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, EcHR, n.s. xiii. 256.
  • 3. Boulton, 19, 62-5, 69-71, 265, 267; Stow, 340.
  • 4. VCH Surr. iv. 139.
  • 5. Ibid. iv. 136-8; D.J. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 147-51, 229-30.
  • 6. VCH Surr. iv. 138-9; Johnson 317; CD 1621, vii. 155.
  • 7. I. Archer, Pursuit of Stability, 184-5.
  • 8. Boulton, 142-3, 265, 267; J. Stow, Survey of London ed. J. Strype, ii. bk. 4, pp. 9-10; LMA, P92/SAV/787-98.
  • 9. C219/35/2/73. The 1624 election was said to have taken place at ‘usual place for such purposes’: J. Glanville, Reps. of Certain Cases (1775), p. 7.
  • 10. C219/39/201; 219/41A/16; HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 254.
  • 11. Glanville, 8; C219/35/2/73; 219/39/201.
  • 12. CJ, x. 119; Glanville, 8.
  • 13. VCH Surr. 153-4.
  • 14. CJ, i. 160b, 188a, 222b, 247b, 251a.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 218; VCH Surr. iv. 154; LMA, P92/SAV/450, p. 436.
  • 16. CJ, i. 259b, 260b, 266b, 292b, 299b.
  • 17. Archer, 73; LMA, P92/SAV/450, pp. 398, 400; C33/112, f. 21.
  • 18. CJ, i. 339a, 340b, 372b, 374b; LMA, P92/SAV/787-98; Johnson, 229-30, 320-1.
  • 19. CJ, i. 328b, 329a, 365a.
  • 20. LMA, P92/SAV/450, p. 425; C219/35/2/73.
  • 21. CJ, i. 619a; CD 1621, vii. 272.
  • 22. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 31r-v; CJ, i. 724b; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 18.
  • 23. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 31r-v.
  • 24. CJ, i. 724b; C219/38/231.
  • 25. Procs. 1625, p. 411.
  • 26. Procs. 1626, ii. 113, 194; iii. 97.