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:

over 2,800 in 1681


 William Strode II 
31 Mar. 1662HON. JOHN POULETT vice Stawell, deceased 
6 Nov. 1665SIR JOHN WARRE vice Poulett, called to the Upper House 
 Sir John Sydenham, Bt. 
1 Nov. 1669SIR JOHN SYDENHAM, Bt. vice Warre, deceased 
10 Feb. 1679(SIR) HUGH SMITH 
 Maurice Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge 
 Edward Phelips I 
7 Mar. 1681SIR WILLIAM PORTMAN, Bt.1681
 Sir William Wyndham, Bt.1394
 Sir John Sydenham, Bt.1195
30 Mar. 1685SIR JOHN SMITH, Bt. 

Main Article

Somerset had been a notoriously factious county both before the Civil War and during the Interregnum. But once the euphoria of the Restoration was past the electorate showed a marked preference for candidates of moderate views. At the general election of 1660, however, in the words of the indignant republican Edmund Ludlow, the knights of the shire were ‘chosen entirely by Cavaliers, the Lord Poulett’s interest having such sway’. It was carried against William Strode II because his father had been in arms against the King ‘by a double number of voices for Mr [Hugh] Smith, whose father died in the King’s service, and Mr [George] Horner, who always showed himself affected to that interest’, despite serving as a recruiter for the county until Pride’s Purge. Smith’s eligibility may have been dubious under the Long Parliament ordinance, but the prominent Royalists did not stand until after the Restoration. None of them had suffered more severely than Sir John Stawell, who was elected in 1661 with Edward Phelips. A poll is unlikely on this occasion, though an obscure member of the Sydenham family later boasted that he could have carried it, and they were returned by ‘the greater part of the whole county’. Stawell died within a twelvemonth, and two Cavalier families threatened to contest the vacancy. John Poulett was too young even to remember the Civil War, but both his father and grandfather had been in arms for the King. Lord Hawley (Francis Hawley) came from an older generation. His modest estate would scarcely have given him the status usually required of a county Member, but he enjoyed the support of Sir William Portman and hoped for that of his fellow-courtier Edmund Wyndham. When this was clearly not forthcoming he ‘laid down the cudgels’ and Poulett was returned unopposed. Three years later he succeeded to the peerage, and, with the heads of the more prominent royalist families already seated in the Cavalier Parliament, Hawley’s son-in-law Sir John Warre stood as court candidate. As a kinsman and former ward of Francis Wyndham, he no doubt enjoyed the family interest. His opponent, Sir John Sydenham, came from as strongly royalist a background as any of the previous Members, but may have stood in the country interest. Warre was successful, and Sydenham’s petition was not reported till over a year later. On the recommendation of (Sir) Job Charlton the House resolved that Warre was duly elected. He died in 1669, and was replaced by Sydenham without a contest so far as is known, though again the indenture only claims ‘the greater part of the whole county’.1

Both sitting Members offered themselves for reelection in 1679, but not jointly. Sydenham stood with Smith as a country candidate, while Phelips was partnered by Lord Fitzhardinge (Sir Maurice Berkeley). The country candidates were successful, but gave little satisfaction to the exclusionists; Smith voted against the bill and Sydenham abstained. Their successors in the August election were Portman, who continued to support exclusion at Westminster while expressing grave reservations about it in the country, and a newcomer, George Speke. Speke, another Civil War Royalist, had gone into opposition in the early years of the Restoration, and was now a member of the Green Ribbon Club. Intense political activity continued in Somerset during the 14 months that elapsed before the second Exclusion Parliament. Petitioners and Abhorrers collected signatures, and the Duke of Monmouth conducted a well publicized progress through the county. The sitting Members divided their interest in 1681, Portman joining with (Sir) William Wyndham and Speke with Sydenham. The result was a triumph for Portman’s moderation; Speke retained his seat, over 250 votes behind, and Sydenham was a bad last, though the nonconformists endeavoured to palliate his defeat by giving out that ‘for some reasons’ he had been prevailed on to desist in Portman’s favour. His petition was not received until the last day of the Oxford Parliament. Electoral activity continued after the dissolution in the expectation of another Parliament. Sydenham was reported to be ‘much on horseback soliciting the gentry to be one of our knights’, while Portman, now an open adversary to exclusion, was engaged in a more discreet canvass.2

Before the general election of 1685 Ralph Stawell had ‘pretty confident hopes’ of ‘sound and loyal Members’ for Somerset. But the electorate, with a symbolism too marked to be accidental, chose the sons of the two Members of the Healing Convention, turning their backs alike on Speke’s radicalism, on the ultra-Toryism of Fitzhardinge and the younger Phelips, and even on the ‘trimming’ Portman. Only a few months later Monmouth’s rebellion produced in Somerset the most massive demonstration of popular hostility ever given to a Stuart monarch. The sanguinary reprisals that followed scarcely affected the gentry, though one of Speke’s sons was hanged. The reversal of James II’s ecclesiastical policy provoked a violent reaction from the Tories. In December 1687 it was reported that Sydenham and another of Speke’s sons, John Speke, ‘intend to stand for the county, but it is uncertain whether they will be chosen’. But by the following April no less than four Whigs were in the field:

The county intend to choose Sir John Sydenham and George Speke, or William Strode and Sir Thomas Bridges; these are all right. Sir John Sydenham and George Speke have great interest. The sheriff desires to know your Majesty’s pleasure which of these you would have chosen.

It is clear that the royal electoral agents preferred the first pair, and named the second only as a sop to the hard-pressed sheriff, who was Strode’s brother. His partner Bridges, once a Cavalier and court candidate for Bath in 1661 and 1669, is unlikely to have added much support. The problem was still unresolved in September, when the King was told: ‘They have not pitched upon who [sic] they will elect. The sheriff and the dissenters there will do their utmost to secure a good election’. There is no evidence that any of the four stood in 1689. Two moderate Tories, Horner and Edward Gorges, who had been quick to rally to William of Orange, were returned to the Convention.3

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. Voyce from the Watch Tower, 108; HMC Popham, 173; Bodl. Carte 33, f. 665; Bristol RO, AC/C76-79; CJ, viii. 647.
  • 2. Som. RO, Sanford mss 3109, Wm. to Edward Clarke, 11 Feb. 1679; CSP Dom. 167-80, p. 425; 1680-1, pp. 152, 514, 688-9; Grey, vii. 371; A. Fea, King Monmouth, 96; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 14 Mar. 1681; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 302; CJ, ix. 712.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 33; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 19-29, 228, 243; E. Green, March of Wm. of Orange through Som. 57-58.