Cambridge University


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 doctors and master arts

Number of voters:

about 350


3 Apr. 1660GEORGE MONCK341
 Oliver St. John1571
22 June 1660HON. WILLIAM MONTAGU vice Monck, chose to sit for Devon 
8 Mar. 1667SIR CHARLES WHELER, Bt. vice Fanshawe, deceased118
 Christopher Wren112
22 Feb. 1679SIR THOMAS EXTON244
 Sir Charles Wheler, Bt.85
22 Aug. 1679SIR THOMAS EXTON182
1 Mar. 1681ROBERT BRADY110
17 Mar. 1685SIR THOMAS EXTON186
17 Jan. 1689(SIR) ROBERT SAWYER125
 Edward Finch1172

Main Article

Cambridge was as devoted to Church and King in this period as the older university, but somewhat less prone to elect ‘gremials’, though all the successful candidates except George Monck and James Vernon had been educated there. Monck’s return in 1660 was due solely to the determination of the electorate to reject the unpopular Cromwellian chief justice, Oliver St. John, who had been installed as chancellor of the university in 1651 in place of the 2nd Earl of Manchester. Manchester’s cousin Edward Montagu I learned with pleasure that ‘as a thriving man’ he himself enjoyed considerable support in the university; but the junior seat in the Convention went to another kinsman, Thomas Crouch, the most genuine ‘gremial’ of the period, whose horizon appears to have been bounded by the university and its interests. When Monck chose to sit for Devon on 22 May, there was some alarm lest St. John should stand again, and William Gore, a lawyer who had just resigned his fellowship at Queens’, was said to have collected considerable support. Dr Thomas Sclater, an ejected fellow of Trinity who had represented the university in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, was also mentioned as a possible candidate. But four days later the House of Lords ordered Manchester’s restoration. Edward Montagu had already found himself a seat; but another cousin, William Montagu, was nominated for the vacancy and returned apparently unopposed.3

Crouch was re-elected in 1661, but Montagu preferred to stand for Stamford on his own interest. With the influence of the Presbyterian Royalists on the wane, it is probable that Manchester took no part in the election. The new Member was the royalist diplomat Sir Richard Fanshawe, whose wife wrote that the electors

chose him of their unanimous desire, without my husband’s knowledge, until the vice-chancellor sent him a letter. He had the fortune to be the first chosen and the first returned Member of the Commons House of Parliament in England, after the King came home; and this cost him no more than a letter of thanks and two brace of bucks and 20 broad pieces of silver.

On Fanshawe’s death the seat was contested by Sir Charles Wheler, sometime fellow of Trinity but now an army officer, and Christopher Wren, nephew of the bishop of Ely, who had recently completed the building of Pembroke College chapel. Although an Oxford man, the great architect failed by only half-a-dozen votes, a clear indication of Wheler’s unpopularity.4

Although the Duke of Monmouth was chancellor of the university throughout the Popish Plot, he had only a very limited success in persuading the electorate ‘to express their affection and respect’ by returning exclusionists. He nominated his secretary, James Vernon, as one ‘devoted to the Church and the Protestant religion’ and sent him to Cambridge ‘to solicit there his own business in person’. The correspondence of the vice-chancellor, Francis Turner, with Archbishop Sancroft, who hoped that the sitting Members would be re-elected, shows that there was no lack of rival candidates. In particular Sir Thomas Exton, master of Trinity Hall, enjoyed strong support, and Sclater, a lavish benefactor to the university, was canvassing briskly. Turner, who cynically described his gifts as ‘hooked’ to catch votes, admitted that most of the heads of houses were for Sclater, though he professed himself equally amazed that ‘a man of ease’, so ‘vastly rich’ and ‘in his old age’, should ‘put himself into the new world and sea of business which he understands not at all’, and that the electors should consider sending up ‘such a dumb burgess’. Turner failed to persuade Sclater to transfer to the borough or to prevent Wheler from pressing his candidature, backed as he was by Bishop Gunning and a letter of recommendation from the King. According to Turner, Wheler would make no impression ‘unless to serve some people’s turns that vote for Mr Vernon only for fear of adding to the numbers of the other two, and should fling away their other vote on Sir Charles Wheler and laugh in their sleeves’. Sclater and Crouch apparently withdrew before the poll. Finally, Turner and the heads of the colleges decided to accept Monmouth’s nominee despite their doubts about his politics. Exton had a comfortable majority at the poll, and Vernon defeated Wheler by 73 votes.5

Exton retained his seat for the rest of his life, but after Vernon’s vote for exclusion there could be no question of his standing again, and Monmouth took no further part in university politics. The King nominated Sir William Temple, a distinguished writer and diplomat, but unfortunately a reputed atheist and somewhat lukewarm in his attitude to the Duke of York. Bishop Gunning still preferred Wheler; but Turner thanked God ‘that we are yet so well affected in the university that nobody I hear of expresses himself dissatisfied at his Majesty’s interposing on this occasion’, and believed that ‘my Lord of Canterbury will heartily engage’ on Temple’s behalf. Nevertheless by the end of July a further candidate had appeared in the person of Dr Robert Brady, master of Caius. The most learned constitutional historian of his time, he was allegedly prepared to petition Parliament on the illegality of any outsider’s election in preference to a ‘gremial’. In response, Sir Robert Sawyer, a government lawyer and former fellow of Magdalene, offered to stand with Temple as court candidate, though Turner considered that the probable result would be the election of neither. However, Temple’s visit to Cambridge apparently turned the tide. Brady and Sawyer desisted, and on 18 Aug. William Harbord wrote that he had done Temple ‘all the good I can at Cambridge, and I do not doubt that he will be chosen’. Temple for his part had not enjoyed the experience of electioneering, but, as he wrote to Hon. Henry Sidney:

I had what I proposed to myself by it, and in the best manner that could be, without a voice against me, and with all the honour and compliments that could be upon it from the university.

A brother of Sir John Reresby expressed his satisfaction at the return of court candidates for county, borough and university, ‘which may be imputed chiefly to the influence of the university with the concurrence of the gentry’.6

On the King’s advice, Temple told the university that he would not seek re-election in 1681. Dean Tillotson recommended Sawyer but the candidature was not pressed, and for the first time two ‘gremials’, Brady and Exton, were returned, apparently unopposed. After the end Duke of Albemarle (Christopher Monck) replaced Monmouth as chancellor in 1682 the university sent loyal addresses abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. Exton and Brady offered themselves for re-election in 1685, but Albemarle nominated his secretary and kinsman Arthur Farwell, who had been given an honorary degree by royal mandate. ‘Whereas among other stories he is reported an Oxford man’, wrote Albemarle indignantly, ‘he was of no foundation in Oxford, but a fellow-commoner, and never took any degree there, nor was, as he remembers, ever matriculated there.’ Albemarle conceded that one Member ought to be a ‘gremial’, but the other ‘should be a person ever near the chancellor and the Court’. He could scarcely believe that some of the colleges would engage themselves, or that any university men would ask them to do so without the prior consent of their chancellor. If he was to be their head, then he also expected the privileges of that office. ‘I should be much surprised’, he wrote in a pointed reference to Vernon’s election, ‘to have that denied to my nearest relation which my predecessor obtained for an ordinary servant.’ Nevertheless Exton and Brady were re-elected unopposed. Shortly afterwards, on 25 Mar. the vice-chancellor and senate presented a loyal address congratulating James II on his accession and thanking him for his defence of the established Church.7

Cambridge was less affected than Oxford by James II’s attempt to intrude Roman Catholics into the university. But in 1687 the senate rejected a royal mandate to admit a Benedictine monk to a degree without taking the oaths, and its members were summoned to explain their action before the ecclesiastical commission. Lord Chancellor Jeffreys pronounced the vice-chancellor contumacious, and removed him both from his office and his college; but his successor was no more complaisant, and the monk never received his degree. Nothing is known about court candidates in 1688. On 17 Sept. Sawyer, who had led for the defence of Sancroft and his six suffragans, asked the archbishop to approve his candidature if ‘the choice may be possible without much difficulty’. He declared that his ‘affection to serve the university and in them the established Church’, was as great ‘as any persons in my sphere’, but he was ‘loath to raise disputes between ‘gremials’ at a time when the greatest unity and concordance in elections ought to be throughout the nation. For nothing can more dishearten the enemies of our religion than a unanimous choice of Members to serve in Parliament’. As Exton died shortly afterwards, and Brady had disqualified himself by publishing a defence of the ecclesiastical commission, it was expected that the ‘gremial’ seat would be taken by one of the brothers of the Hon. Heneage Finch I who had assisted Sawyer in the defence of the Seven Bishops. No doubt Sawyer expected to be nominated by Sancroft, who had been invited to succeed Albemarle as chancellor, but refused to act. By the New Year there were two ‘gremial’ candidates in the field, Edward Finch, fellow of Christ’s, and Isaac Newton of Trinity, who had made a name for himself in Cambridge as one of the delegation representing the university before the ecclesiastical commission. Sawyer, though assured that two out of three voters were for him, began to fear lest the vice-chancellor might yield to pressure

either to omit me out of the return upon presence [that] I am no resident ... or otherwise to make a double return by returning three, whereby the university would be deprived of any representation [in] this Convention.

The result showed that Sawyer had overestimated his support, the votes being almost equally divided among the three candidates; but Newton narrowly defeated Finch. No attempt was made to challenge Sawyer’s qualification, but on 20 Jan. 1690 he was expelled the House as the prosecutor of Sir Thomas Armstrong. A new writ was ordered three days later, but Parliament was prorogued before the by-election could be held.8

Authors: E. R. Edwards / Geoffrey Jaggar


This article is based on M.B. Rex, University Representation in England, 1604-90.

  • 1. C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 477.
  • 2. Camb. Univ. Registry, 50/2.
  • 3. Wood’s Life and Times (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xix), 311; N. and Q. (ser. 1), vii. 427; HMC 2nd Rep. 115-16; Bodl. Carte 73, f. 400; CJ, viii. 40; Pepys Diary, 15 Apr. 1660.
  • 4. Fanshawe Mems. 211.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 53, 55, 59, 70; Cooper, iii. 577; Bodl. Tanner mss 39*, f. 171.
  • 6. Temple, Works, ii. 527-8; Sidney Diary, i. 33, 59, 79, 105; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 197; Tanner mss 38, 57, 62, 64, 65; HMC 2nd Rep. 114; Leeds Pub. Lib., Mexborough mss 17/41.
  • 7. Temple, ii. 555; HMC 2nd Rep. 114; London Gazette, 6 Apr. 1682, 26 July 1683, 26 Mar. 1685; Cooper, iii. 608-10; E. F. Ward, Christopher Monck, Duke of Albemarle, 69, 181-2.
  • 8. 9 Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 322, 323; Tanner mss 28 ff. 178, 316; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 293.