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 burgesses

Number of voters:



c. Mar. 1604HUMPHREY WINCH , dep. recorder
 THOMAS HAWES , alderman
30 Nov. 1606SIR CHRISTOPHER HATTON vice Winch, appointed chief bar. [I]
 RICHARD TAYLOR , dep. recorder
 RICHARD TAYLOR , dep. recorder
 RICHARD TAYLOR , dep. recorder
 RICHARD TAYLOR , dep. recorder
 RICHARD TAYLOR , dep. recorder
 Sir Henry Astry

Main Article

A Saxon foundation sited at one of the main crossing points on the upper Ouse, Bedford was sufficiently wealthy to build a stone bridge in the twelfth century, paid the surprisingly large sum of £40 for its fee-farm from 1190, and returned two Members to Parliament from 1295. The fee-farm was reduced in 1440 on the ground that a new bridge five miles down river at Great Barford had affected its road traffic, but the town revived under the Tudors, and had a population of about 1,500 by 1603.1

Bedford was an assize town and a significant social centre: corporation accounts record regular visits from the bishops of Lincoln and local magnates such as the earls of Kent, Bedford and Sussex, Lords St. John and Mordaunt.2 The town was also the focal point for local trade in grain, wool and livestock, and its corporation was dominated by maltsters, tanners, glovers and drapers. In the early 1620s the Ouse navigation was extended from St. Ives, Huntingdonshire to Great Barford, which ultimately allowed Bedford’s merchants to monopolize the riverborne trade to King’s Lynn in coal, grain and hides, although the benefits of this trade did not become fully apparent until the second half of the century.3

A borough by prescription, Bedford’s corporation included a mayor, an aldermanic bench consisting of all former mayors, two bailiffs and a recorder. Two chamberlains and a host of minor officials were also appointed annually, and in 1610 the corporation established a common council of 13 burgesses to ratify agreements which had formerly been referred to the jury of the court leet.4 Trading privileges were shared by the burgesses, who were eligible for municipal office, and the ordinary freemen, who were not. The two groups were estimated to number between 100-200 in 1600, but a census taken in 1647 gave a total of 83 burgesses, including a dozen non-resident gentlemen, and 13 freemen.5 The parliamentary franchise was not questioned during the early Stuart period, and remained ill-defined: surviving indentures are signed by the corporation and Common Council alone, but claim ‘the assent and consent of the rest of the burgesses’, which presumably excluded the ordinary freemen. It was not until after two bitterly fought elections in 1640 that Parliament awarded the franchise to all male inhabitants.6

At the 1628 parliamentary election Richard Taylor, then deputy recorder, insisted that ‘I know not of any precedent in the time of the memory of any man when the recorder of this corporation hath been passed by without his own consent’.7 The custom of returning the recorder apparently become established during the 1580s under Serjeant Thomas Snagge†, and was continued under his successor, Oliver, Lord St. John†, who nominated his deputy, Humphrey Winch.8 St. John possessed sufficient influence as a local landowner to lay claim to the other seat, securing the return of his cousin John Pigot in 1589 and 1593, and his nephew Sir Oliver Luke* in 1597.9 The only other neighbouring gentleman with any electoral influence was William Boteler†, who sat in 1586 and doubtless secured the return of his wife’s nephew Thomas Fanshawe I* in 1601. Boteler was succeeded by his under-age son Thomas in 1602,10 which must have temporarily diminished the family’s influence at Bedford, and St. John’s eldest son was returned for the county in 1604, leaving the second borough seat open to the town’s wealthiest inhabitant, alderman Thomas Hawes, whose recently deceased stepmother had been St. John’s first cousin once removed.11

Winch’s appointment as chief baron of Ireland in November 1606 caused him to be deprived of his Commons’ seat.12 His successor as deputy recorder, Edward Rolt, had no known parliamentary ambitions, which left the seat open to Sir Christopher Hatton, a London neighbour of Lord St. John. Hatton was married to one of Fanshawe’s sisters and could have been recommended either by William Boteler’s widow Ursula, or by Sir Edward Coke*, lord chief justice of Common Pleas and one of the assize judges at Bedford, who was closely involved in his affairs.13 In 1614 Hatton transferred to Huntingdon, where Lord St. John also had influence, leaving a vacancy at Bedford for one of St. John’s younger sons, Sir Alexander. Hawes was by this time an old man, and in the absence of any interest from Rolt, the second seat went to John Leigh, a resident of nearby Caldwell Priory, whose father had represented the borough during the 1550s.

Lord St. John died in 1618, and was succeeded as recorder by his heir Oliver St. John I*, an energetic parliamentary patron who nominated his brothers Sir Alexander and Sir Beauchamp St. John at the next five elections. Rolt was also dead by the time of the next election, and his replacement, Richard Taylor, who was both St. John’s deputy recorder and brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Boteler, sat throughout the 1620s.14 This division of the electoral spoils was challenged in 1628, when Thomas, 1st earl of Cleveland, recently appointed joint lord lieutenant of the shire, recommended his neighbour Sir Henry Astry.15 Cleveland’s service as a Forced Loan commissioner in 1626-7 contrasted sharply with the fate of Lord St. John’s brother Sir Beauchamp, who was imprisoned for refusal to pay. The Loan also divided the Bedford corporation, several of whose members, including Stephen Luxford, mayor at the time of the 1628 election, had refused to contribute towards the second half of the Loan in the summer of 1627.16 Cleveland’s support for such a divisive measure is unlikely to have been popular, even among the townsmen who collected the Loan, and in a speech at the hustings in 1628 Taylor implicitly invited the voters to compare Cleveland’s stance with that of his patrons, the St. Johns, warning that ‘if I be not one that shall be made choice of … the honour of the honourable lord whose servant I am in this place may … suffer’.17

Bedford MPs were not conspicuously active on their constituents’ behalf, although they expressed some interest in issues relating to the town’s industries. Hawes, whose eldest son was a tanner, was named to the committee for a bill to regulate the industry (28 June 1604). Sir Alexander and Sir Beauchamp St. John were both named to the committee for the bill to prohibit malting in times of dearth (9 Mar. 1626), while Taylor, who complained about purveyance levied on malt in London (2 June 1626), was appointed to help scrutinize a petition about London’s charges for portage of malt (25 June 1628).18 On 24 Mar. 1621 Taylor spoke at the committee for the bill to prohibit the importation of corn in years of plenty, and he was later named to the committee for a bill regulating coal measures (20 Feb. 1626), which was of significance to the town’s merchants, who shipped substantial quantities of coal up the Ouse.19

The corporation showed little interest in sponsoring legislation: they were apparently not tempted to seek statutory confirmation of their title to St. John’s hospital during a lengthy dispute at the turn of the century, although Taylor may have promoted a proviso to include advowsons in the bill modifying the 1624 Concealments Act (14 Feb. 1626) to prevent any recurrence of this dispute.20 The town offered to pay for the passage of a bill to make the river Ouse navigable from St. Ives, Huntingdonshire to Bedford in April 1628 as a means of reducing tolls on locks which had been built several years earlier.21 No such bill was read in the House, but Taylor may have hoped to add a suitable proviso to the Medway navigation bill in committee (added 17 May 1628). The town did not obtain statutory control over the Ouse until 1665.22

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. J. Godber, Hist. Beds. 52-6; VCH Beds. iii. 1-3; W.M. Wingfield, ‘Recusancy and Nonconformity in Beds.’, Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xx. 159.
  • 2. Beds. RO, Bor.B/D6/1.
  • 3. D. Summers, Gt. Ouse, 47-50; M. Carter, ‘Town or Urban Society? St. Ives, Hunts. 1630-1740’, Societies, Cultures and Kinship, 1580-1850 ed. C. Pythian-Adams, 121-2.
  • 4. VCH Beds. iii. 17-19; Beds. RO, Bor.B/B6/7; Bor.B/B7/16.
  • 5. STAC 5/W34/36, answers to Q.6; Bedford Corp. Min. Bk. ed. G. Parsloe (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxvi), 1-2, 149-50.
  • 6. C219/38/19, 219/39/17; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 99-100.
  • 7. Beds. RO, Bedford bor. uncat. box 60, Richard Taylor file, pp. 53-4, repr. in G.D. Gilmore, ‘Pprs. of Richard Taylor of Clapham’, Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxv. 105.
  • 8. Winch’s appointment as deputy can be inferred from Beds. RO, Bor.B/F2/4; Bor.B/F11/4a, p. 70.
  • 9. Vis. Beds. (Harl. Soc. xix), 194; Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 2.
  • 10. Vis. Beds. 84-5; C142/268/153.
  • 11. Vis. Beds. 53-5; Sharnbrook ed. F.G. Emmison (Beds. Par. Reg. xxiv), B38; PROB 11/98, f. 299.
  • 12. CPR Ire. Jas. I, 95a; CJ, i. 323-4.
  • 14. PROB 11/128, ff. 304-5; Vis. Beds. 84-5.
  • 15. Vis. Beds. 77; VCH Beds. iii. 440.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1626-7, p. 44; 1627-8, p. 312; APC, 1627, p. 439; 1627-8, p. 217; Beds. RO, Bor.B/A4/4; SP16/75/89.
  • 17. Gilmore, 105.
  • 18. CJ, i. 247b, 833b, 919a; Procs. 1626, iii. 345; CD 1628, iv. 472.
  • 19. CD 1621, v. 320; CJ, i. 545a, 820a.
  • 20. E112/1/93, 112, 131, 132; 112/68/32, 34; STAC 5/M30/28; 5/W29/28; 5/W34/36; SP16/124/84 (dated 1608-9); CJ, i. 819a.
  • 21. Gt. Ouse Navigation ed. T.S. Willan (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxiv), 29-37.
  • 22. CJ, i. 893b; Summers, 47-50.