Nostalgia: Hoby and his relationship with the leading town’s burgesses

Hobys mace pictured in Scarborough Town Hall was presented by Hoby as a peace offering in 1636.
Hobys mace pictured in Scarborough Town Hall was presented by Hoby as a peace offering in 1636.

Far from silencing malicious gossip and cruel innuendo, Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby’s success in Star Chamber against the Eures, Cholmleys and Dawnays served only to intensify local hostility towards him. There were jokes about his lack of height: “the little knight who useth to draw up his breeches with a shooing-horn”; about his mercenary marriage to Margaret: “he came over the water with his coch and three horses butt all scante worth sixpence”; and his relentless pursuit of Catholic recusants: “the sauciest little Jacke in all the countrie, and wold have an oar in everybody’s boat”.

Even before his Star Chamber victory, as early as 1597, only a year after he had arrived as the new lord of the manor of Hackness, he succeeded in annoying some of Scarborough’s leading burgesses. Having failed to find support for one of Yorkshire’s two shire seats, he then offered himself to Scarborough’s electors, the 44 members of the Common Hall on Sandside.

But he demanded more than just one place for himself: with characteristic assertive self-importance, he insisted on naming his partner to represent the borough. And when the Common Hall chose Walter Pye, a complete outsider, instead of John Mansfield of Huttons Ambo, Hoby’s preference, he wrote a peevish, ungrateful note to the bailiffs:

To be plain with you, I can promise no more than lieth in one to performe, which is half the assistance due unto the place... wanting the help I looked for, I cannot do that for which I had once in my mind contrived.

He was so furious with Scarborough’s “disobedience” that he refused to travel to the town to thank his electors, as was the custom, but instead went straight off to London. The parliament of October 1597 was dissolved the following February. Previously, when representing Appleby in 1589 and 1593, he seems to have done and said nothing, but now he had gained from experience and sat on several Commons committees, on penal laws, forgery, relief of the poor and patents.

However, when Queen Elizabeth called a new parliament for October 1601, Hoby could not find a seat in it. Perhaps he was too busy furthering his complaint in Star Chamber, yet he must have been less than pleased to surrender his place to William Eure, who had grievously insulted him and his wife.

Nevertheless, when the new monarch, James I, summoned his first parliament which met in March 1604, Sir Thomas was back in his old place, this time sharing with Francis Eure. He did not like Francis but this time he consented to a celebratory feast with the bailiffs before he left for London. It seems that after Eure’s humiliation at Hackness Hall, Hoby was now more concerned to continue his feud with the Cholmleys.

Also, he was now enjoying and exercising a widening area of authority in his district. In 1601 he had made his first appearance on the North Riding justices’ bench; in 1603 he was given a place on the Council in the North at York and two years later won promotion there to the vice-presidency; and finally, in September 1610, he was chosen senior of Scarborough’s two elected bailiffs.

Still, Hoby’s abrasive, haughty, dictatorial manner was not welcome on Sandside, any more than it was at York or Westminster. On numerous occasions, he did not show respect for the proud and ancient traditions of Scarborough’s oligarchy and almost always failed to win the argument. As justice of the peace and deputy-lieutenant in the North Riding, he attempted to win over control of Scarborough’s militia or trained band. Eventually, the bailiffs complained to the lord president of the Council at York, Thomas Wentworth, about Hoby’s unwarranted interference. Wentworth took their side. Sir Thomas was told bluntly that the trained band there was a borough not a county responsibility because Scarborough was “a place of danger on the sea”.

In 1610, Hoby had probably taken the post of senior bailiff as a first step towards ousting the existing oligarchy, in particular the Thompson clan and their followers. The dominance of this one family in the government and commerce of the borough was extraordinary. William, the founding father of the dynasty, was elected bailiff a record number of eight times. He had a mansion house in St Sepulchregate, which became the residential headquarters of the Thompsons, several shops in Merchant Row, a lease on the royal manor of Northstead and freehold of Scarborough castle. Along with Hugh Cholmley of Whitby, he represented Scarborough in 1625, the first parliament of Charles I, a rare distinction for a mere merchant.

By this time Hoby had no longer an interest in Scarborough’s seats in the Commons since he had acquired a safe one for himself at Ripon; but when the Thompsons attempted a coup by changing the borough’s constitution in their favour, he was quick to stop it. As usual, he brought an action in Star Chamber against five Thompsons – William, his sons, Francis and Richard, his nephew Timothy, and his grandson, Stephen. The case dragged on for two years, but this time Hoby lost because the whole of the Common Hall united behind the Thompsons and against him. They even paid William’s colossal legal fees.

On other matters, regarded as less than vital to their corporate authority, the burgesses let Hoby have his way. Though he had no right to a pew in St Mary’s, his endorsement was sought for their allocation. He was permitted to choose lecturers for the Thursday sermon in St Thomas’ church and have a say in the appointment of Scarborough’s grammar schoolmaster. Indeed, there is some evidence that Sir Thomas and another puritan gentleman, Henry Darley of Buttercrambe, re-endowed and re-founded the school in the 1620s.

The final stand-off came in 1636 when Hoby presented a peace offering in the form of a great silver mace. The two bailiffs, William Foord and Roger Wyvill of Osgodby, thanked him by letter, but the reply from Hackness was typically tetchy and tart: it was addressed to “Mr Bailiff Foord” alone because Mr Wyvill was a non-resident and therefore disqualified for the office. This was an astonishing argument since Hoby himself had been a non-resident when elected in 1610. The truth was that Roger Wyvill was a suspected “papist”, a disqualification in itself! Hoby conceded defeat after Scarborough’s old charters were brought to Hackness for his inspec-
tion.

Four years later, in the words of the Hackness parish register, Sir Thomas died of “a fit of cold palsy”.

In the end, by his own terms, Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby was a failure. Lady Margaret had died childless. His oldest enemies, three generations of the Cholmeys, had prospered, at least until the Civil Wars. The Thompsons continued to dominate Scarborough borough’s parliamentary politics for another century. On the other hand, Hoby’s egotism has maligned his reputation. His knowledge of the law was incomparable; in the House of Commons and on the magisterial bench he was the acknowledged authority on precedent and procedure; and no one of his time was a more industrious and conscientious public servant. Even history has done him an injustice: the fortuitous survival of a fragment of his wife’s diary has rewarded Lady Margaret with an historical fame denied to her third husband.