Corfe Castle


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 freeholders and leaseholders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

51 in 1679


16 Apr. 1660RALPH BANKES  
4 Apr. 1661(SIR) RALPH BANKES  
5 Apr. 16771EDWARD OSBORNE, Visct. Latimer, vice Bankes, deceased  
 PEREGRINE OSBORNE, Visct. Osborne2115
 Sir Nathaniel Napier, Bt.2036
 NAPIER vice Osborne on petition, 12 Apr. 1679  
11 Jan. 1689RICHARD FOWNES  
 William Culliford  

Main Article

Corfe Castle, a small town in the Isle of Purbeck, was inconsiderable apart from its castle, slighted in 1646. As a legacy from its past it retained, in proportion to its population, a large number of resident gentry, including branches of the Okeden and Dackombe families. The Bankes family, as lords of the manor, constables of the castle and lieutenants of the island, controlled the borough. In 1660 and 1661 Sir Ralph Bankes retained the seat which he had won in 1659, although his father had been one of Charles I’s leading counsellors during the Civil War. At each election he was returned with a lesser Purbeck landowner, John Tregonwell. By 1677 Bankes was in acute financial difficulties, and it is possible that Anthony Ettrick, the most active of the family trustees, took the initiative in offering a seat to Lord Treasurer Danby for his son Lord Latimer. Bankes’s death on 25 Mar. 1677, while his son was still under age, seemed to clear the way for Latimer. But in fact Ettrick, with the connivance of Dackombe, the mayor, adopted a tortuous and legally dubious course, probably because Latimer was a stranger to the constituency. Ettrick stood himself against an opponent whose name has not been recorded and won the poll, whereupon he immediately resigned the seat to Latimer and caused his name to be inserted on the indenture.2

Danby now sought to improve his interest by procuring a new charter for the borough, confirming their ancient privileges. This did not affect the franchise, though it gave Latimer a seat on the corporation. However, in the general election of February 1679 he transferred to Buckingham, leaving his brother Peregrine Osborne to contest his former seat. Dackombe was again mayor, but Ettrick did not appear; the government interest was managed by William Culliford, a younger son of Robert Culliford and registrar of seizures in the customs service (not perhaps a post calculated to gain him popularity in a maritime constituency). There was no opposition to Tregonwell, but Sir Nathaniel Napier stood against Osborne. Dackombe, by refusing to take the votes of leaseholders, reduced Napier’s electors to 20, against 21 for Osborne, some of whom, including Culliford himself, ought to have been disqualified as not paying scot and lot. There were the usual allegations of bribery and intimidation, neither on a very impressive scale, but none of fraudulent creation of qualifications, though Dackombe tried to exclude five of Napier’s voters, no doubt the trustees for a local charity. But the decision of the committee of elections turned on the rights of leaseholders, which were really beyond dispute; Dackombe himself had admitted one of them, a blind beggar, to the poll in 1677. It is notable that Napier’s witnesses—Sir William Portman, George Savage, Thomas Erle—were no more in opposition at this period than he was himself. The return was ordered to be emended in his favour, and Dackombe was sent for in custody and severely reprimanded.3

Dackombe was still mayor in the following September, and there was probably another contest, for Culliford later admitted to ‘being on the place’. This time Napier was returned with the exclusionist Nathaniel Bond, but no other townsmen signed the indenture, probably from fear of the consequences should the return again be questioned. Culliford took no part in the next two elections, when Bond was replaced by the Tory Richard Fownes, though it had been reported that no opposition to him was intended. The corporation produced a loyal address in December 1681.4

In April 1688, James II’s electoral agents noted that the franchise at Corfe Castle was popular and the dissenters influential. ‘They will choose William Culliford, if he will be on the place, and Sir Nathaniel Napier. It’s supposed they are both right men. There’s none can stand against them if Mr Culliford improves his interest.’ Culliford was less certain; he told Sidney Godolphin I that ‘he was well informed the country gentry would approve at every election, which would make the charge extravagant’, but was answered that ‘the King would take care of that’. Thus fortified, Culliford reported on 22 Sept. that he was sure of his own seat, but the corporation jibbed at Napier and proposed Fownes, who had been removed from local office for his attitude to the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. At the general election Napier migrated at considerable cost to Poole, and the borough was contested by three Tories, Fownes, Culliford, and William Okeden, of whom Culliford finished so far behind that he did not think it worth his while to petition.5

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Anthony Ettrick elected, but resigned the seat to Latimer.
  • 2. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 472, 510, CJ, ix. 594; CSP Dom. 1677-8, p. 80.
  • 3. Browne Willis, Not. Parl. ii. 500; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 41; Hutchins, i. 471-2; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 401; Cal. Treas. Bks. vi, 34; CJ, ix. 594, 620.
  • 4. Prot. Dom. Intell. 22 Feb. 1681; Luttrell, i. 152.
  • 5. CJ, xii. 637; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 143; Ellis Corresp. ii. 20, 207.