Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
over 900 in 1670; over 1,200 in 1679
|30 Mar. 16601||RICHARD HOPKINS I|
|Election declared void 31 July 1660|
|14 Aug. 1660||WILLIAM JESSON|
|RICHARD HOPKINS I|
|15 Apr. 1661||SIR CLEMENT FISHER, Bt.|
|(Sir) Richard Hopkins I|
|1 Nov. 1670||RICHARD HOPKINS II vice Flynt, deceased||643|
|Sir Robert Townshend||2942|
|11 Feb. 1679||RICHARD HOPKINS II|
|26 Aug. 1679||RICHARD HOPKINS II||790|
|Simon Digby, Baron Digby||2783|
|8 Feb. 1681||RICHARD HOPKINS II|
|17 Mar. 1685||SIR ROGER CAVE, Bt.|
|SIR THOMAS NORTON, Bt.|
|Richard Hopkins II|
|9 Jan. 1689||SIR ROGER CAVE, Bt.|
Coventry, always an important industrial centre, had been separated administratively from Warwickshire in 1451, and held aloof from the county. Except in 1661 and (for one seat) in 1685 it invariably elected residents. Under the 1621 charter the corporation comprised the mayor, two sheriffs (who acted as returning officers), ten aldermen and 25 common councilmen. The franchise was in the freemen at large, although after the very confused general election of 1660 the Commons decision implied that it should be confined to the ratepayers. The city had long been a stronghold of puritanism, and after the Restoration perhaps one quarter of the population were dissenters, with Presbyterianism predominating.4
At the general election of 1660 Richard Hopkins, the steward of the borough court, stood with his brother-in-law William Jesson as supporters of the Restoration. Among the other candidates was the Cromwellian Robert Beake, who was returned with Hopkins. But on 31 July Sir Edward Turnor reported from the elections committee:
that the persons concerned in the said election were very numerous; and that divers names were doubly polled; and some names entered of strangers and persons unknown, as also of almsmen and others that paid not scot and lot; and the cases were found so various and perplexed that after several sittings the committee could make no considerable progress therein.
It was agreed to declare the election void. The by-election was also contested, but Jesson and Hopkins were returned by ‘the greater part of the whole city’. They stood for re-election in 1661, but were defeated by a royalist country gentleman, Sir Clement Fisher, and a lawyer, Thomas Flynt, who had bought an estate just outside the city. But republican sentiment was by no means dead; the mayor elected for 1661-2 was an Anabaptist and a henchman of General John Lambert. The oaths required by the Corporations Act drove him out of office, but his successor had to take a firm line with tumults in the city, and in the following year the walls were demolished by the lord lieutenant of Warwickshire. The corporation was purged by the commissioners, and the charter was confirmed in 1663. Hopkins survived Flynt, who died in 1670; but it was his son who stood as country candidate at the by-election. Alderman Joseph Chambers, probably the strongest Royalist on the corporation, and Sir John Hales, a resident gentleman, desisted, and eventually Sir Robert Townshend emerged as court candidate. But he was unpopular in the borough as tenant of Cheylesmore Park, a crown estate which the corporation had used for common pasture during the Interregnum, and he also withdrew after three days’ polling, when it became obvious that he would be defeated.5
Coventry consistently returned opponents of the Court to the three Exclusion Parliaments. Fisher never stood again, and it was probably after the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament that the lord lieutenant recommended Sir Charles Wheler, only to have him rejected by the corporation as a pensioner. The court candidate in 1679 was the disreputable gamester and fortune-hunter, ‘Beau’ Feilding, who claimed kinship with one of the leading Warwickshire landowners, the Earl of Denbigh. He was defeated by Hopkins and Beake in February, and his petition was never reported. Both Members voted for exclusion; but Beake was replaced as country candidate in the August election by the industrialist John Stratford. When Digby arrived with Lord Coventry as the poll commenced, ‘the townsmen, it is said, refused them entrance, alleging that they were not at all concerned in the election, and therefore desired them not to interest themselves therein’. The sheriffs adjourned the poll till the next day, when it was announced that Digby would stand jointly with Feilding. But they were heavily defeated by Stratford and Hopkins, who were re-elected to the Oxford Parliament, apparently without a contest.6
Loyal addresses were obtained approving the dissolution of Parliament, abhorring the ‘Association’, and upholding the legal succession; but they were signed only by the deputy lieutenants and the freeholders. Monmouth was rapturously received in 1682, both during his progress and on his return to London in custody, and 18 people were indicted for riot as a result. It was the election of Lord Brooke (Fulke Greville) as recorder, though initially opposed by the Government, that seems to have turned the tide with the corporation, who not only abhorred the Rye House Plot but blamed the dissenters for it. Brooke was popular with them for his father’s sake, and they accepted his advice to surrender their charter rather than risk the loss of their independence. It was also on his advice that the Government refrained from naming any outsiders in the new charter of 10 Oct. 1683, though Townshend was urging a drastic purge. Subsequently Brooke provided Sunderland with a shrewd assessment of the city:
I am not confident of the citizens of Coventry in so high a measure as I wish, and yet I think it is his Majesty’s interest not too much to take notice of some things which are not so well amongst them as is to be desired. I am sure there have been just causes of exception at some of them; but it is too apparent that the indiscreet carriage of some men who owe more obedience to his Majesty, and profess more regard to his interest, hath given too great occasion in mere opposition to do what is not to be justified. In particular the weak actions of some there in standing for Parliament men hath more formed the city into a party than could have been done by those who most desired it, if that action had been let alone. When the charter was to pass I largely wrote to your lordship why I thought it not fit to put the government out of the citizens and why I thought it ... for his Majesty’s interest to make as little alteration as might be. I am still of the same opinion, and though I wish some men out, yet I think under the check they now stand by the new charter they can do less hurt by being continued upon their good behaviour than to be put out, though they have formerly deserved it. ... In general I think that, if they can be drawn to throw off their last Parliament Members and choose honest country gentlemen upon any new summons ... nothing can do his Majesty more service nor more break their faction. This, my Lord, can never be done by turning any who have great influence upon the poorer sort out of their offices. Some of those persons who have been sticklers for Mr Hopkins and Stratford are, I think, at present disengaged; more I hope will be so in a short time; but to break in upon them will, I doubt, not be the most effectual means, for certainly my Lord, some of his Majesty’s true friends there have not, nor ever can have an interest to manage the multitude till their leaders are a little more divided among themselves.
Nevertheless a number of those named by Townshend as Monmouth’s partisans were in fact removed from office by order-in-council.7
Brooke was expected to manage the government interest in the 1685 election. In accordance with his preference for ‘honest country gentlemen’ he selected Sir William Craven of Combe Abbey and Sir Roger Cave, a Northamptonshire baronet who had married into the Bromley family of Baginton. But Craven refused to stand, and Brooke substituted a Coventry resident, Sir Thomas Norton, whose father had represented the city in the Long Parliament. Both candidates, he hoped, would be
honestly loyal, that we may if possible shut out Mr Stratford, who, though he has not yet appeared, has sent £40 to be drunk among his friends, as it was on Shrove Tuesday, but all disorders and noise stopped by the magistrates, who will, I hope, hinder his further proceedings.
The court candidates defeated Stratford and Hopkins, but the displacement of three aldermen in June suggests that the Government was alarmed by the strength of the opposition. The King’s visit to Coventry in August 1687 heralded the reversal of government policy. Instead of lodging with the Tory Norton he chose to stay in Hopkins’s house in the centre of the city, and he advised the corporation ‘to choose such Members for the ensuing Parliament as would take off the Penal Laws and the Tests; but they made no promise’. Accordingly four aldermen, one of the common council, the steward, and one of the sheriffs were removed in November, and the other sheriff followed two months later. Both the newly appointed returning officers were dissenters. But the old corporation resumed office during the Revolution, and it is probable that the general election of 1689 was uncontested, Cave and Stratford agreeing to divide.8
Authors: A. M. Mimardière / Virginia C.D. Moseley
- 1. T. W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 100.
- 2. Ibid. 105.
- 3. HMC Lindsey, 31.
- 4. VCH Warws. viii. 263-5; Trans. R. Hist. Soc. (ser. 5), xxxi. 54; Midland Hist. iv. 15-47; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 145.
- 5. Whitley, 100-5; CJ, viii. 106; Coventry RO, A43, f. 22v; CSP Dom. 1660-1, pp. 247, 290; 1661-2, pp. 91, 185, 424; 1663-4, p. 154; 1670, p. 477; VCH Warws. viii. 266.
- 6. Whitley, 102; DNB; CJ, ix. 571; Dom. Intell. 5 Sept. 1679; HMC Lindsey, 30-31.
- 7. London Gazette, 27 June 1681, 15 May 1682, 16 July 1683; Coventry RO, A48, ff. 53v, 54v; council bk. 1635-96, ff. 294, 304; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 8, 19, 35, 429; 1683-4, p. 158; Add. 41803, ff. 33, 39, 45-46, 49-53.
- 8. SP31/1/56; Whitley, 110-13; PC2/71/103; 72/542, 569; Coventry RO, council bk. ff. 342-4; A48, f. 56v.