Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation 1660-9, 1685; in the inhabitants paying scot and lot 1679-81, 1689

Number of voters:

24 in 1660-9, 1685; about 380 in 1679


3 Nov. 1669(SIR) FRANCIS ROLLE vice Tynte, deceased13
 Peregrine Palmer12
 PALMER vice Rolle, on petition 7 Dec. 1669 
14 Feb. 1679SIR HALSWELL TYNTE, Bt. 
 William Clarke 
  Double return. TYNTE declared elected, 1 Apr. 1679. ROLLE seated by 20 May 1679 
20 Sept. 1679SIR HALSWELL TYNTE, Bt. 
 William Clarke 
 Sir Francis Rolle 
26 Feb. 1681SIR HALSWELL TYNTE, Bt. 
 Ralph Stawell 
8 Apr. 1685SIR FRANCIS WARRE, Bt. 
 John Prowse 
12 Jan. 1689SIR FRANCIS WARRE, Bt. 

Main Article

Bridgwater, the chief port of Somerset, had suffered extensive damage in the Civil War as a royalist garrison under Edmund Wyndham. It became a Presbyterian stronghold, remarkable for the acrimony between churchmen and dissenters. Moreover ‘it hath always been disputed by the magistrates and the populace who should have the right of choosing burgesses’. All the Members were Somerset landowners.1

At the general election of 1660 the corporation returned two Presbyterians, the recorder Sir Thomas Wroth and Francis Rolle. They were replaced in 1661 by two Cavalier colonels, Wyndham and John Tynte, and Wroth was among those removed from the corporation by the commissioners in the following year. On Tynte’s death in 1669 Rolle regained his seat, but held it for only just over a month. Twelve of the corporation had voted for his Cavalier rival Peregrine Palmer, and only 11 for him; but the mayor first made it a tie by voting for Rolle, and then voted again for him to resolve the deadlock. Palmer petitioned on the grounds that

some of those who took upon them to give their voices for Sir Francis Rolle were not elected [capital] burgesses; neither were they in a capacity to be made burgesses, being debarred by the Act for Regulating Corporations; and three of them by practice and design brought in the very day of the election, though not qualified according to the Act for Corporations; and being all persons holding conventicles in their houses, and resorting to them in others; and refusing to conform or resort to the service of the Church, or receive the sacrament, as the Act does enjoin; and one of them being at the time of his being elected burgess actually excommunicated.

Job Charlton recommended from the elections committee that Rolle should be unseated in Palmer’s favour, and the House agreed by 167 votes to 80, the dissenters Henry Henley and Andrew Marvell acting as tellers for the minority.2

Another vacancy was expected even before the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament because of Palmer’s ill health. Ralph Stawell resolved to stand for the court interest against Tynte’s son, whose political position was as yet undefined. He depended largely upon his command of the local militia regiment, and had all his officers sworn freemen of the borough. William Clarke of Sandford and the Middle Temple could command only one-tenth of Stawell’s resources; but he had a useful connexion through his cousin Edward, a milliner in Fleet Street, who was one of Lord Shaftesbury’s family trustees. Shaftesbury had a territorial interest at Bridgwater, as lord of the manor of Pawlett Gaunts, a few miles downstream, and Clarke hoped for a letter of support as country candidate. With two vacancies on the corporation, he had been promised the votes of 15 out of 22; but three of them were bought over by Stawell, and he resolved to rely on the wider franchise. He wrote to his cousin:

The common burgesses, who are near 100 in number, offer me all their interest, and at their importunity, that my Lord Shaftesbury may espouse their right with his great interest in the Commons House, I have sent this enclosed.

Unfortunately Clarke had fallen out with Shaftesbury’s bailiff, one of Stawell’s militia officers, over some land reclamation that threatened his own modest property across the river, and the reply was far from what he had hoped. On 11 Feb. 1679 he wrote that, in compliance with Shaftesbury’s commands:

I am quitting all my interest in Bridgwater to Sir Francis Rolle, so that he may be chosen thereby. This I hope will justify me with my lord, since I have at this time above one-half for me, and in all likelihood should carry it. Yet since my lord seems more willing for Sir Francis Rolle than myself, I will sacrifice my interest to serve him.

Perhaps Clarke changed his mind when Wyndham and Palmer desisted, for he not only went to the poll, losing by three votes, but petitioned against the result. ‘Sir Halswell Tynte is chosen on all sides’, he wrote, ‘Col. Stawell by the capital burgesses, and Sir Francis Rolle by the common’; and a great contest was expected in the elections committee between Stawell and Rolle, who had been promised the support of Edward Seymour, Sir William Portman, and John Trenchard. The mayor signed a return for Tynte and Rolle ‘with the assent and consent of the commonalty’; he also attached a single return, unsigned, for Stawell in the name of the aldermen and capital burgesses. There was apparently a third indenture returning Tynte singly ‘under the larger common seal of the borough’. Accompanied by William Harbord he tried to persuade the sheriff and the clerk of the crown to accept it, but was told that it was too late. On 1 Apr. Sir Thomas Meres reported from the elections committee in favour of this return, and Tynte was declared elected. Presumably the House later resolved in favour of Rolle and the wider franchise, for he had taken his seat by 20 May, though he was absent from the division on the exclusion bill. Tynte, like Harbord, voted with the noes on this occasion, but before the autumn election he probably changed sides. Rolle, on the other hand, would ‘never be chosen at Bridgwater till people forget that by his prosecution the hundred of North Petherton are eased in their taxes, and these laid on that borough’. Moreover, he had good grounds for hoping for a county seat in Hampshire. Nevertheless all the four candidates of the February election stood again, with the addition of the recorder, (Sir) John Malet, a strong exclusionist who was no longer acceptable to the patron of Minehead. Clarke’s first canvass was encouraging. He wrote on 30 July:

We have now numbered the people of Bridgwater, and, if we may believe their promises, there are for Col. Stawell 310, for me 225, for Sir Halswell Tynte 121, for Sir Francis Rolle 103, and for Sir John Malet 000.

Again Clarke was to be disappointed, for Tynte and Stawell were returned, and his petition was never reported. Before the next election Malet had strengthened his interest through the agency of Humphrey Steer, the controller of customs and an ‘abettor of fanatics’, and defeated Stawell on a poll ‘by the poor book’. Even after the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, he and ‘his cabal of fanatics’ were active in Bridgwater, where ‘the loyal party’ were ‘few and poor’. Stawell set himself to destroy the Malet interest by persuading the corporation to surrender their charter. While its replacement was awaited, the majority produced an address abhorring the Rye House Plot and demanding the enforcement of the Conventicles Act. Nevertheless Stawell proposed that half of them should be displaced, and that parliamentary elections should be ‘by the common council and not the mobile’. Sir Robert Sawyer, however, rejected three of Stawell’s nominations, and qualified the alteration to the franchise by alleging ‘the ancient usage of the borough’ in its support. The new charter was issued in November; Malet, who had opposed surrender, was replaced as recorder by Sir Francis Warre, and the usual power of dismissal was reserved to the crown.3

At the 1685 election Stawell was intent on defeating Tynte, but he had difficulty in finding a second Tory candidate to join with Warre. He was no longer eligible himself, having been rewarded with a peerage, and Wyndham and Palmer were both dead. The latter’s son, Nathaniel Palmer, preferred the easier borough of Minehead. Eventually the ‘truly loyal’ party chose John Prowse of Compton Bishop, an officer in Stawell’s militia regiment. But even with the aid of the mayor, who had succeeded Steer as controller of customs, he was unable to dislodge Tynte. The strength of the Whigs in Bridgwater was emphasized a few weeks later by the support given to the Duke of Monmouth before Sedgemoor. In December 1687 the royal electoral agents noted the disputed franchise, and declared that ‘Sir John Bawden, lately made alderman of London, hath a sufficient interest to be chosen here’. Bawden, the uncle of the Whig historian Oldmixon, came from a Bridgwater family, and was connected through his wife with the Whartons. ‘This corporation must be totally altered’, the King was warned. But the purge was curiously half-hearted. Warre was left undisturbed, and only six of the capital burgesses were replaced. In April 1688 a second electoral report was made, accepting the wide franchise.

The election is popular to about 240. They do propose to choose Sir John Bawden and Sir Halswell Tynte. The first is undoubtedly right, the other not doubted by the dissenters. It is requisite for Sir John Bawden to appear at the election; else Sir Francis Warre, who is a very ill man, will be chosen. He industriously makes an interest for it.

In September it was repeated that Bawden would only be elected ‘if he appears upon the spot’, a condition that he was unable to meet, for his will, dated 30 June, was proved before the election. Clarke had died during the summer, and the alternative court candidate was George Musgrave, formerly Malet’s deputy recorder, who had already been approved for Barnstaple. ‘Sir Francis Warre, a violent Churchman, labours [for] his own election’, the report concluded apprehensively. These forebodings were fully justified, for Bridgwater was represented in the Convention by two Tories. Prowse had also died in 1688, and Warre’s colleague was Henry Bull, who had represented Milborne Port in the last three Parliaments.4

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Collinson, Som. iii. 75-76; J. R. Jones, Revolution of 1688, p. 156; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 16.
  • 2. CJ, ix. 118-19.
  • 3. Som. RO, Sanford mss 3109, Wm. to Edward Clarke, 29 Dec. 1678, 29 Jan. 7, 11, 14, 26 Feb., 23 July, 6 Aug. 1679; CJ, ix. 572, 578, 579, 580-1, 639; Som. Wills, iii. 34; Prot. Dom. Intell. 4 Mar. 1681; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 514; 1682, p. 97; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 322-3, 387; July-Sept. 1683, pp. 119, 246, 401-2, 440; 1683-4, pp. 9394, 108; London Gazette, 20 Sept. 1683.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 54; HMC 3rd Rep. 319; Duckett, 16-17, 229-30, 243; Som. and Dorset N. and Q. xxx. 357-61; PC2/72/555; Som. Wills, iii. 34-35; vi. 45; Collinson, iii. 583.