The History of Tewkesbury

By James Bennett

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2015



THE Lady Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry the eighth, and afterwards Queen of England, appears to have spent her Christmas at Tewkeshury in 1525. The following letter from the council for her household to Cardinal Wolsey, (preserved in the British Museum, and recently published by Mr. Ellis, in his interesting and highly valuable work, "Original Letters illustrative of English History"), reminds us of "the long train of sports and merriment which formerly made Christmas so cheerful to our ancestors":-

"Please it youre Grace, for the great repaire of straungers supposed unto the Pryncesse honorable householde this solempne fest of Cristmas, We humbly beseche the same to let us knowe youre gracious pleasure concernyng aswell a ship of silver for the almes disshe requysite for her high estate, and spice plats, as also for trumpetts and a rebek to be sent, and whither we shall appoynte any Lord of Mysrule[44] for the said


honorable householde, provide for enterluds, disgysyngs, or pleyes in the said fest, or for banket on twelf nyght. And in likewise whither the Pryncesse shall sende any newe yeres gifts to the Kinge, the Quene, your Grace, and the Frensshe quene, and of the value and devise of the same. Besechyng youre grace also to pardon oure busy and importunate suts to the same in suche behalf made. Thus oure right syngler good lorde We pray the holy Trynyte have you in his holy preservacion. At Teoxbury the xxvij day of November.

"Youre humble orators, 
 "John Exon.[45]"John Salter.
 "Jeilez Grevile."G. Bromley.
 "Peter Burnell."Thomas Audeley.

"To the most reverent Father in God the Lord Cardinall his good Grace".[46]

In 1574, Queen Elizabeth, through the intercession of her favourite, the celebrated Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,[47]


granted a charter of incorporation to the borough. Why this nobleman should have interested himself so much in favour of Tewkesbury, we have not been able to learn. He had been, the year previous, presented with a silver cup, of the value of sixteen pounds, by the inhabitants of the town. When the charter was obtained, his lordship was complimented by the corporation with the office of high-steward; and a very fine fat ox was sent to him, at Kenilworth, as a present from the townspeople, who were rated fourteen pounds for the purchase of it. In 1582, the earl, whilst on a visit at Twyning, was also presented with a barrel of sack and two sugar loaves, which cost the borough £.3. 15s. 4d.[48]

For several years subsequent to this grant, there appear to have been repeated contentions between the queen's clerk of the market and the bailiffs of the borough, the latter claiming to be clerks by virtue of their charter, and treating the interference of the former clerk as an infringement upon the privileges of the body corporate. The queen's clerk came to Tewkesbury in 1577, and charged the bailiffs with neglect of duty in disobeying his precepts; he afterwards amerced them and the constables, which was attended with considerable expense to the town. In the next year, a process was sent to the sheriff of the county respecting these amercements, which had been respited; and the disputes were not adjusted till the following year, when the charter was pleaded in the exchequer, in order to get the fines discharged. It would appear that the claims of the old clerk were in part grounded on the non-enrolment of the charter, and that he no further molested the bailiffs in the exercise of their office as clerks of the market, after the enrolment was effected in 1579.

Queen Elizabeth, in 1580, at the same time that she granted customs by letters patent to the city of Gloucester, made Tewkesbury an independent port, for the "loading and discharging of ships with merchandize to and from the parts beyond the seas", which was thought at that time to be a


privilege of no ordinary kind. Previously, all the ports on the Severn, from Berkeley to Tewkesbury, were considered as belonging to the port of Bristol, and were under the controul of the officers of customs for that city. The corporation of Bristol became jealous that so many places should participate with themselves in the advantages of a free trade, and presented a petition to her majesty's council, in 1582, praying for the repeal of the grants to Gloucester, Tewkesbury, &c. In this petition it is stated, that "your highness's said city of Bristol, and the trade of merchandize there, is impaired, the citizens impoverished, and a general dearth of corn, grain, butter and cheese, thereby arisen, as well within the same city, as also in the countries thereabouts". What effect this petition had upon her majesty's government is not recorded, but the Tewkesbury grant appears to have been soon afterwards either revoked, or its privileges considerably lessened.

On the 4th of July, 1580, the assizes for the county of Gloucester were held at Tewkesbury.[49]

In consequence of the threatened "perils of foreign invasion throughout the realm", in 1587, a lieutenant was appointed for Tewkesbury, suitable arms and accoutrements were procured, and the town put in a state of defence. From a minute in one of the corporation books, it appears, that "there was also imposed upon the town, besides the first charge for armour in common, which cost forty marks, and the second imposition upon particular persons which cost £.26, another charge to furnish all the forty-seven armours with swords, daggers, belts, and all other necessaries, and to buy fifteen bows, which cost £.28. Also afterwards, upon a new survey of musquets and armour, a greater supply being wanted, there was laid upon the town for that purpose £.4. 18s. and for provision of shot and powder to lie in store £.5. 8s. which was also gathered".


A letter from Queen Elizabeth, dated Greenwich, 12th of May, 1588, was received by the bailiffs, requiring them, jointly with the mayor of the city of Gloucester, to furnish the expenses of "rigging up, manning, and setting forth", a ship of eighty tons, stored with victuals for three months, to join the naval armament then preparing to encounter the Spanish armada. In lieu of this composition, the inhabitants of Gloucester and Tewkesbury offered to furnish, at their own cost, a ship of seventy-five tons burthen and a pinnace of twenty-five tons, and to man it with their own people, which tender her majesty's government accepted. A dispute subsequently arose as to whether Richard Webb or John Niccolls should have the command of the said ship; but the privy council decided in favour of Webb, and directed that the city of Gloucester and borough of Tewkesbury should pay him the sum of £.300 for his services. The records of the corporation state that, on this occasion, Tewkesbury was charged with £.37. 2s. being the seventh part of the amount of the subsidy for the two places; but, by reason of "suits and troubles", further charges, amounting to £.19. 12s. were incurred; so that, for this service, the town furnished £.56. 14s.

When the Spanish armada was descried off the coast, in 1588, forty-seven men from Tewkesbury, who had been raised and equipped at the expence of the town, were hastily marched off to assist in opposing the expected invasion, and the inhabitants collected £.120 for their support. The borough also, in the same year, furnished nine men for the Portugal service, and provided them with arms and apparel. At the same time, the armour belonging to the town, which had long been kept at Winchcomb, by order of the lord lieutenant, was brought home.[50]

In 1589, the privy council commanded the bailiffs to provide 6 cwt. of powder and 1251b. of match, and to keep these


in readiness for one year, in expectation of an invasion. The costs of ammunition and arms amounted to £.46.[51] In the same year, the mariners belonging to the port were mustered by the justices.

In the following year, £.16 was imposed upon the town for the Irish service, but, upon a remonstrance being made, it was reduced one-half, in consequence of the large amount previously collected for the Portugal service.

When Queen Elizabeth, in Sept. 1592, made her celebrated progress to Sudeley Castle, the inhabitants of Tewkesbury presented Lord Chandos with a hogshead of claret, valued at £.6.

In 1638, the county assizes were a second time held at Tewkesbury, in consequence, it is supposed, of the gaol fever rendering it dangerous for the court to sit at Gloucester. They began on the 2d of July, before Sir Humphrey Davenport, lord chief baron, and Sir William Jones, one of the judges of the king's bench. The nisi prius court was held in the then town-hall; a temporary building was erected within a few yards of it, in the Barton-street, for the crown court; and the grand jury sat in the council chamber.

[44] "In the feaste of Christmas there was in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or master of merry disports: and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honor or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. These Lordes, beginning their rule on Alhollow eve, continued the same till the morrow after the feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas-day: in all which space there were fine and subtle disguisyngs, maskes, and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails, and points in every house, more for pastimes than for game". - Stow.
[45] John Voysey, alias Herman, Bishop of Exeter, who had the government of the Lady Mary, Princess of Wales, was also her godfather, and was highly in favour with King Henry in the early part of his reign. In 1549 he surrendered his bishopric into the king's hands, and was succeeded by the celebrated Miles Coverdale, the translator of the bible into English. On the accession of Queen Mary, bishop Coverdale was deprived of the see, and Bishop Voysey restored to it, though he was upwards of a hundred years of age; but he died shortly afterwards at Exeter, and lies buried in the church of Sutton-Colfield, Warwickshire. - Izacke's Exeter.
[46] No record is preserved of the answer which was returned to this letter; but that the Cardinal allowed the sports of Christmas to be played is more than probable. - Ellis's Letters.
[47] The Earl of Leicester was son of John Duke of Northumberland, who was beheaded in 1553 for rebelling against Queen Mary. In 1563 he became high steward of the university of Cambridge, and in 1564 was chosen chancellor of Oxford. In the latter year he was created Baron of Denbigh and Earl of Leicester, with great solemnity at Westminster, the "maiden queen" herself helping to put on his ceremonial investments, he sitting upon his knees before her with great gravity. But she could not refrain from putting her hand in his neck, smilingly tickling him, the French ambassador and Sir James Melvil standing by. Then she turned and asked Sir James "how he liked him". - (Melvil's Mem.) The name of the Earl of Leicester has recently become familiar with the public, from the character given of him by Sir Walter Scott, in his romance of "Kenilworth".
[48] Corporation Records.
[49] The bailiffs, in their account with the chamberlain, charged thirty shillings for erecting scaffolding for the court, eleven shillings for wine given at the assizes, and thirteen shillings and four-pence for seneschal money, i.e. the steward's fee in holding courts leet. - Corp. Records.
[50] It required £.6. 3s. to replace the armour which had been lost by negligence at Winchcomb, and twenty marks were laid out in the purchase of new armour. - Corp. Rec.
[51] The town armour was inspected in 1589, and consisted of eight corslets, eleven pikes, six muskets (all private property), nine calivers, fifteen bows and arrows, and thirty-six swords and daggers; besides which, there were charged upon the town, in private men's keeping, seven corslets and six muskets, all furnished with swords and daggers. - Corp. Rec.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2015.

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