Copley's Gatton 1486 - 1626

The House of Commons was significantly enhanced at the start of Tudor period with the addition of the Welsh seats and new boroughs. The royal attention to the Commons was not political since the Tudor monarchs had a stronger control of the country’s governance compared to their predecessors. Rather their intent was as a way of binding in those newly wealthy landed gentry who didn’t owe allegiance to members of the House of Lords. The political risk of this new power block emerged only later.

The Copley family was wealthy from its City businesses and well connected. Sir Roger Copley, High Sherriff of Surrey and Sussex, inherited Gatton from his brother Richard in 1518 and his family were to make it their country seat for the next 140 turbulent years. For Henry VIII’s parliaments, Sir Roger “elected” suitable fellow members of the Surrey establishment for Gatton. He died in 1548 and his heir, Thomas Copley, was under age throughout Edward’s reign, and was still under 21 at Mary’s accession. So, when Mary I summoned her first Parliament for March 1553, Lady Copley signed the returns, electing her son-in-law, Richard Southwell and a neighbour, Leonard Dannett of Merstham, as MPs for Gatton, which makes her the first woman voter by hundreds of years! It was not contested since (a) it was not made formally illegal until the 1830 Reform Act and (b) that parliament had been called by England's first woman queen for centuries.

The following year, Thomas Copley returned himself as one of the members for Gatton, and was known to a bit of a young rebel. However, marriage to a Luttrell daughter in 1558 seems to have tamed him and at Elizabeth’s accession he became a responsible member of her new team. His firstborn, Henry, became one of Elizabeth’s few godsons. For the 1563 parliament, which was responsible for the greatest output of economic legislation that had ever been passed at a single session, Thomas Copley shared his Gatton seat with the friend of his youth, Thomas Norton. But thereafter the two Thomases, Copley and Norton, went different ways:

Norton subsequently became MP for the City of London and an ardent anti-Catholic campaigner and activist. Indeed, his propensity to torture Roman Catholic prisoners earned him the nick-name 'Rackmaster-General'. His extreme Calvinist views, in particular his disrespectful comments on the Anglican bishops, led to his house confinement in the London Guildhall in 1582 and finally to his imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1584. His health broken, he died at liberty in his house in Bedfordshire, on 10 March 1584.

Copley held to the Catholic faith (his lands did not originate from the dissolution of the monasteries) but then found it increasingly difficult to serve his Queen when the new Pope stupidly excommunicated her in 1570. He went into self-imposed exile and Gatton was ransacked by his neighbour Howard of Effingham. Curiously he died the same year as his former friend, Thomas Norton, in 1584.










As an exile, Copley had no say in the parliamentary elections after 1570 and the Gatton returns were made under Privy Council instruction for suitable friends of the establishment. Not that it mattered much at this stage: Queen Elizabeth was probably the most absolute monarch Britain ever had: She forbad their discussing affairs of state, denied them any freedom of speech and had members imprisoned for presumption. She refused no less than 10 bills passed by both houses in 1598.


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