In January of 1506, Philip and Joanna of Castile, returning to Spain from the Netherlands, were driven by the stress of weather into Weymouth Bay. They landed and were entertained by Sit Thos. Trenchard at Wolveton and subsequently spent some time in London where they arranged with King Henry VII a marriage between his son (later Henry VIII) and Katherine – sister of Joanna.
Henry VIII’s insistence on a divorce from Katherine of Aragon as, perhaps, one of the early causes of the English Reformation, in any case it undoubtedly was the cause of his apprehending a Spanish attack, and the building of Sandsfoot Castle in 1539 together with other defences including Portland Castle, along the coast. It is said that stones from Bindon Abbey were used for this purpose.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) the disputes, often violent, between the two separate towns of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which had erupted several times in the past, came to a head. The central bone of contention was control over the shared harbour and the profits to be made from it.
A treaty of peace, signed by 66 persons, dated 1570, between the two rival boroughs still exists. However the quarrels still continued. Eventually, after the intervention of the Queen and her Privy Council, Parliament passed an act in the Spring of 1571 uniting the two towns administratively. This seemed to be the only solution. A copy of the Act was made in June 1571 and sent down to the town. It still exists. “The Mayor, bailiffs, burgesses and commonalties of both towns represented that for 35 years great controversies had arisen between the inhabitants of both boroughs concerning the rights to the profits of the haven running between both, the hearing of which has caused much trouble to the Queen and those who have governed before her and a great decay and impoverishment to the town; the Lords of Her Majesty’s Privy Council having required them, because it was hard to be understood in whom the rights was, to agree that the said boroughs might be made one corporation and to be reputed only one borough and town……to be called Weymouth and Melcombe Regis……….Bernard Major, one of the burgesses to be the first Mayor, Thos. Samways and Hugh Randall the first bailiffs, that six burgesses to be chosen Aldermen from time to time, and twenty-four burgesses or common councilmen to assist the Mayor by their counsel and advice. That they should have power to make bye-laws and the town to enjoy all liberties fairs markets and lands which the several towns had before they were united together.”
Despite the Act of Union of 1571, peace did not immediately break out. It was the building of the first wooden bridge in ca.1594 that brought about a greater degree of harmony, and gradually the older quarrels faded.
In 1586 letters patent under Elizabeth’s signature quote Doomsday book regarding Weymouth properties. In a further grant, May 6th 1598, the Queen appointed the Mayor as the principal officer for Her Majesty a justice of the peace for the town and to enjoy all the profits that the late Mayor of Melcombe Regis and the late Bailiff of Weymouth did before the same act. The single borough was to have the privileges of sending 4 members to Parliament. Except London, no other town in England had this privilege, which continued until the Reform Act of 1832.
In the Minute Book of the Borough – July 29th 1586 is the shadow of a coming peril. Two men, Nicholas Abraham and J. Lambert came before the Mayor and said they had been in prison for 12 months at Bilbao in Spain and had heard there were 700 ships, galleys and pinnaces with 280,000 men setting sail for England.
A petition was sent to Parliament asking for help in the defence of the town. Two years later, 1588, the Invincible Armada set sail from Spain equipped for the conquest of England. The Royal Navy then consisted of 38 ships ad among towns Weymouth provided ships and men for the defence of their country. Six ships, The Galleon, The Catherine, The Heath Hen, The Golden Rail, The Sutton and The Bond went from Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. There were beacons at Sutton Poyntz, Ridgeway, Blackdown and there is a spot still called Beacon Hill on Buxton Road.
Out of 139 ships that left Spain only 53 returned. One captured ship yielded its treasure chest which is still in the possession of the Corporation. The Revenge, a ship of 60 tons sent by Lyme lay in Weymouth Bay and for some months in 1586, fought 53 Spanish ships at Flores in the Azores for a day and a Night, and her gallant commander, Sir Richard Grenville was killed there.
About 1594, a timber bridge with 17 arches, costing £1500 was built across the harbour, and Elizabeth gave remission of harbour dues owing to the heavy cost of the bridge.
On May 1st 1592 Robert Cooke principal Herald of Arms gave the town the coat of arms which is still used – a ship with 3 masts tackled and rigged. The Corporation seal was given at the same time.