Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the burgage-holders 1660-78; in the inhabitants paying scot and lot 1679-89
Number of voters:
9 in 1660-78, 66 in 1679
|c. 20 Apr. 1660||SOLOMON SWALE|
|4 Apr. 1661||(SIR) SOLOMON SWALE|
|8 Nov. 1673||SIR JOHN RERESBY, Bt. vice Goodricke, deceased||5|
|Double return. RERESBY seated, 24 Apr. 1675|
|12 July 1678||RUISSHE WENTWORTH vice Swale, discharged from sitting|
|Sir Thomas Mauleverer, Bt.|
|28 Feb. 1679||HENRY ARTHINGTON II|
|SIR JOHN RERESBY, Bt.||38||19|
|Sir Godfrey Copley, Bt.||26||24|
|COPLEY vice Reresby, on petition, 15 May 1679|
|25 Aug. 1679||SIR BRIAN STAPYLTON, Bt.|
|SIR GODFREY COPLEY, Bt.|
|19 Feb. 1681||SIR GODFREY COPLEY, Bt.|
|SIR JOHN RERESBY, Bt.|
|24 Mar. 1685||SIR MICHAEL WENTWORTH|
|SIR ROGER STRICKLAND|
|10 Jan. 1689||SIR MICHAEL WENTWORTH|
The right of election at Aldborough originally lay in the holders of nine burgages, which at the outset of the period were each owned separately. John Wentworth of Woolley had bought the manor in 1653, and the bailiff, who acted as returning officer, was chosen in his court leet; but he did not own any of the burgages, and much of the history of the borough in this period is concerned with his attempt to establish electoral control by widening the franchise. Sir John Reresby’s Memoirs, written after the events described, give a detailed account of this struggle. Together with the numerous contemporary letters in the correspondence of Reresby and Wentworth they combine to give a full picture of electioneering in a small, corrupt borough. The absence of any controlling interest meant that candidates had to build up support at the alehouses. Reresby was advised ironically ‘not to treat the burgesses with above a tun of ale a man’, and later commented:
In most of these mean little boroughs, which consisted for the most part of mean and mercenary people, one had no man sure longer than you was with him, and he that made him drunk or obliged him last was his first friend.
At the general election of 1660 two supporters of the Restoration, Francis Goodricke and Solomon Swale, were returned by eight of the burgage-holders, ‘though Mr Barrington Bourchier, a worthy gentleman had laid his business for the purpose’.1 Both were practising lawyers and minor landowners in the county. But whereas Goodricke was a younger son of an established family, Swale was largely a self-made man. Although their royalist sympathies were obvious, they were probably beyond the scope of the Long Parliament ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers. Goodricke had succeeded in maintaining neutrality, and demonstrated his good affection by sitting in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. The truth about Swale is impossible to establish, owing to the contradictory accounts that he put out at various times; but he had never been convicted of delinquency. The sitting Members were re-elected in 1661, their indenture being signed by all nine burgage-holders.2
Goodricke’s death in 1673 occasioned a hotly contested by-election, in which Wentworth made his first attempt to gain control of the borough by expanding the number of burgages to 25. The additional 16 voters were all employed in his collieries. His candidate, who was also ‘the great favourite’ of Lord Treasurer Latimer (Sir Thomas Osborne) was Robert Benson, an attorney who had risen further than Swale from humbler origins. The country candidate was Reresby, who was encouraged to stand by Latimer’s local rival Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile), but seems to have felt that his appearance in a borough ‘so remote from my own house’ required explanation. As chairman of quarter sessions he could claim to be known throughout the West Riding; but his greatest obligation was to Goodricke’s nephew, Sir Henry Goodricke, who was simultaneously standing for the twin borough of Boroughbridge in opposition to Sir James Long, while Long’s son came forward as a third candidate for Aldborough. Halifax tried to gain possession of the writ on Reresby’s behalf from his first wife’s kinsman, Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury; but that virtuous minister, whose days in office were in any case numbered, had been severely mauled by the Commons in the previous session for alleged irregularities in the issue of writs. ‘To get a writ delivered into the power of anybody that standeth’, wrote Halifax regretfully, ‘I find is not to be done.’ Reresby’s brother obtained some practical advice from Sir William Wentworth, who allowed his personal hostility to Benson to outweigh family solidarity. Having failed with the writ, Ramsden must make sure of the return, no easy task in the absence of municipal institutions at Aldborough and with the bailiff of the manor in his opponent’s pocket.
Let any one of your borough men write and style himself borough bailiff ... which at most is but £20 fine. ... Endeavour privately to gain some of the borough men by depositing money into other hands for them (as their wives’); and if you have a trusty borough man, let him seem wavering, and try if they will offer him money. ... If there be any missteads or spots of ground where borough houses have stood, that can be proved by witness or writing, buy them for the time as freehold, and put your friends in them.
Three other candidates, Sir John Hewley, a dissenter, Sir Jerome Smithson, probably a Roman Catholic, and Wentworth’s nephew, Richard Aldborough, desisted. Of the nine burgage-holders, one was a child of eight, but the remainder all pledged their votes to Reresby on the first canvass. Three were ‘taken off by the threats or rewards’ of Wentworth and Aldborough, who acted as Benson’s agents; but the ‘borough bailiff’, with four others, duly signed a return for Reresby. One of them was the manorial bailiff, who ‘was haled out of the court by Mr Aldborough and persuaded to subscribe [another indenture] for Mr Benson, though he gave him not his vote’. Goodricke was later prepared to attest that this indenture, as accepted by the sheriff, bore no more than four signatures, but later 11 others were added, mostly by Wentworth’s miners who had been installed as faggot voters the night before the election. Long, relying on the scot-and-lot franchise, was reduced to petitioning in the next session, and the case continued until the final session of the Cavalier Parliament. Reresby and Long both desired the merits of the return and of the election to be considered together, and the House so ordered on 23 Jan. 1674; but nothing further could be done before the prorogation. Benson was busy in Westminster Hall ‘making what friends he can, and misinforming the Members’ with suggestions that Reresby was ‘affected to Popery, and not much concerned for the good of that country’. But Reresby gained the decisive advantage by winning the friendship of the chairman of the elections committee, Sir Thomas Meres. When the House met again in April 1675 Benson blundered badly by petitioning for the reversal of their previous decision, and Goodricke, who had established himself in the Boroughbridge seat, gave evidence to the committee about the alteration of the indenture. Reresby was declared well returned, and he took his seat. Long gave up after the autumn session, and Benson died in July 1676; but Wentworth was determined to obtain a favourable decision on the franchise. On 19 Feb. 1677 a petition was brought in from the ‘burghers’; but Reresby now enjoyed the full support of the Court, and it had to be withdrawn on the grounds that it ought to have been presented by a Yorkshire Member. It was introduced again a week later, and committed; but the King and the Duke of York ordered their servants in the House to attend the committee and assist Reresby, and no report was made that session. Swale’s conviction for recusancy suggested an acceptable compromise, since the other seat would become available; but Wentworth rejected it, and secured a favourable resolution in the elections committee on 21 Apr. 1678 by 96 votes to 94. Another prorogation saved the day for Reresby, but the Wentworth family had reunited since Benson’s death, and Sir William obtained a hearing for the petition in the next session. But he became convinced that the superior discipline of the court party would eventually prevail, even if Reresby ‘had not one voice, and all the bribery in the world proved against him’. Swale was discharged from sitting on 19 June, a new writ was ordered, and Ruisshe Wentworth stood on the family interest against Sir Thomas Mauleverer. In return for the abandonment of further proceedings Reresby undertook to remain neutral and to persuade a possible third candidate, Sidney Wortley Montagu, to desist. Consequently ‘the day of the election ended in the choice of Sir Thomas Mauleverer by the major number of the nine, and of Mr Wentworth by the majority of the 24, who was also solely returned’. But the lord treasurer’s agent had been active on Mauleverer’s behalf, and when his petition was presented on 22 Oct. the Wentworth interest became convinced that Reresby had instigated his friends in its favour. They considered the agreement broken and renewed their petition against the 1673 return. But with the attention of Parliament taken up by the Popish Plot neither case was reported.3
Ruisshe Wentworth accepted an invitation to stand for Liverpool as a country candidate in the Exclusion elections, and the family interest went to Sir Godfrey Copley. Mauleverer migrated to Boroughbridge, and ‘the five ancient burgesses of the nine’ offered to elect Reresby and his partner Henry Arthington ‘with little expense’. In fact he spent about £40, but he estimated that the election cost Copley over £200. No opposition was offered to Arthington, who was ‘chosen both ways, both by the majority of the nine and the freeholders at large.’ Although Copley’s indenture was signed by 48, and Reresby’s by only five, the sheriff, ‘a timorous man’, was persuaded ‘after a debate of almost two hours’, to accept the latter. Copley of course petitioned, and Reresby took a leaf out of Benson’s book by spreading a rumour that his opponent was a Papist. The case came before the elections committee on 11 May 1679. In deference to Wentworth’s wishes, Copley originally tried to prove the extended burgage franchise of 25, but Reresby’s counsel
told us plainly that they insisted upon the popularity, and the humour of the House ran so clearly that way that there was no prudence in leaving the cause upon the issue of the 25. So being forced to join issue with them at their own weapon, we found they [the committee] would not allow the popularity at large, but thus restrained, that is to all inhabitants in the town paying scot and lot.
On this franchise Reresby claimed 38 votes, but half were disallowed, while of Copley’s 26 only two failed to qualify. Meres reported accordingly, and the House resolved in favour of the scot and lot franchise. Copley voted for exclusion, but Arthington was absent from the division, and never stood again. Reresby was encouraged to contest the next election on the wide franchise in conjunction with Christopher Tancred, ‘who has a great party of tenants in our town’. He visited Aldborough on 30 July to canvass the electorate. ‘It cost me £20 to entertain them, and they gave me hopes to choose me, saying it was a just return for being the author of this popular way of voting.’ His agent had already spent £21 in treating, and believed that of the 66 voters he had gained about 35. Tancred, however, refused to stand, and the third candidate, Sir Brian Stapylton, though an opponent of exclusion, eventually decided to join with Copley, who refused all offers from Reresby. Reresby withdrew on the eve of the poll, but William Roundell of Hutton Wandesley stood on his interest in the mistaken confidence that he could ‘baffle one of the knights [sic]’. Through the good offices of Stapylton’s father-in-law, Sir John Kaye, Reresby was able to reach an understanding with the Wentworth interest before the next election. Copley had not cleared his election expenses, and on 11 Feb. 1681 Kaye wrote to Reresby:
I writ again to Woolley for you, and you will find the old gentleman not to be so very zealous for whom he used to be as formerly, nor to give you that opposition, for he owned he had no prejudice to nor disbelief of you, and might probably leave the other to stand on his own legs.
One reason for Wentworth’s compliance may have been his knowledge that the sheriff, Sir Richard Graham of Norton Conyers, was a particular friend of Reresby. Despite pressure from Copley, he refused to send the election precept to the bailiff until the other candidate had arrived, and they were returned without a contest, at a cost to Reresby of £43.4
Wentworth’s son, Sir Michael, a Tory, succeeded to the Woolley estate in 1683, and declared his intention of standing for Aldborough at the next election, while reports that Reresby’s electoral ambitions were now fixed on York, of which he had become governor, caused Tancred, Mauleverer, Stapylton and other supporters to adopt Sir Roger Strickland, a crypto-Catholic naval officer who had recently acquired a local estate. It was reported that Wentworth might lose the votes of his tenants if he denied ‘a request by them made to him of stinting their common pasture’, but nothing more is heard of this. On the accession of James II Wentworth procured a loyal address of congratulation, promising to elect Members opposed to exclusion, which was presented by Goodricke and Strickland. Wentworth and Strickland were elected a few weeks later, probably unopposed. When the royal electoral agents visited Aldborough in September 1688, Strickland had been recalled to active service with the fleet, and they reported that the electors would choose Wentworth and Reresby, unless the latter were successful at York, in which case they would substitute for him Sir Roger Beckwith, another local Tory landowner ‘who [sic] they account right’, and had indeed agreed to support the King’s new ecclesiastical policy. Reresby disastrously misjudged the situation, and was taken prisoner at York during the Revolution, while Strickland fled to France. Wentworth was re-elected to the Convention with Tancred, another Tory who had played a prominent part in the Revolution.5
Authors: Paula Watson / Virginia C.D. Moseley
- 1. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxiv. 30, Northern Hist. iii. 101-2.
- 2. Notts. RO, DDSR221/96, Turner to Savile, 21 Apr. 1660.
- 3. Reresby Mems. 88-116, 130-55; HMC Var. ii. 385-91; SP29/369/220, 404/40; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 245; Sheepscar Lib. Leeds, Mexborough mss 1/82; 6/2, 4, 6, 23, 26; 7/1, 2, 4, 8, 11; 10/30; 12/10, 79, 140; CJ, ix. 290, 323, 485, 522; Huntington Lib. Q. xxviii. 157-78.
- 4. Reresby Mems. 169-86; HMC Var. ii. 392-6; Mexborough mss 1/50; 12/59; 14/13, 75, 110, 167; 15/26, 50, 78, 90; 18/45; CJ, ix. 622.
- 5. Reresby Mems. 326, 356, 359-60; Mexborough mss 24/28, 29; 25/1, 8, 9, 26; 26/2; London Gazette, 12 Mar. 1685; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 103.