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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 700 in 1688


 Edmund Prideaux
9 Sept. 1679SIR JOHN CUTLER, Bt.
 Edmund Prideaux
 PRIDEAUX vice Cutler, on petition, 8 Dec. 1680
 John Trenchard
 Edward Clarke
 John Trenchard
 Edward Clarke

Main Article

Taunton, as a result of its resolute defence in the Civil War, was notorious for its hostility to the Stuarts, a reputation that was confirmed by its cordial reception of the Duke of Monmouth in 1685. Dissent flourished, counterbalanced by the prestige and charity of the Anglican Sir William Portman, who lived just outside the town; though even his great wealth was not equal to the demands created (perhaps deliberately) by redundancies in the serge industry.1

At the general election of 1660 Taunton reelected two Presbyterians, William Wyndham, the head of a great county family, and the recorder Thomas Gorges. But while Wyndham accepted a baronetcy after the Restoration, Gorges abandoned politics and left the county. In 1661 he was replaced by Portman, a Cavalier’s son and still under age. On the sheriff’s report of seditious behaviour, a quo warranto was ordered. Almost the whole corporation refused to take the oaths, and it was dissolved. The town was further threatened with the loss of the assizes in 1669, whereupon the two Members, supported by the judges of assize, petitioned for a new charter. But it was not granted till 1677, and then hedged round with stringent precautions. Not only were the recorder and town clerk removable by the crown, but there were always to be six county magistrates authorized by the lord chancellor to act as justices within the borough.2

Both Members offered themselves for re-election on the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, but Wyndham soon desisted. The country party had two strong candidates, John Trenchard, already an experienced conspirator, and the wealthy Edmund Prideaux. With no conventional interests in the borough, they depended entirely on the local political activists. It was reported that Portman, ‘being not thought fanatic enough’, had lost to Trenchard by one vote. However, it was Prideaux who was defeated. Portman represented the county in the next two Parliaments, putting up his father-in-law, Sir John Cutler, for Taunton. On 28 July 1679 William Clarke wrote to his cousin Edward Clarke:

I was Saturday at Taunton, and find that Mr Prideaux hath given over there. He is promised at Lyme. (Sir) Francis Rolle makes no party, being set upon Bridgwater. Sir John Cutler nor Mr Syderfin [see Minehead] have no interest. Mr Jennings, a young gentleman of Curry Rivel, puts in; but I should think you by the strength of my Lord Shaftesbury might put very fair for it.

Prideaux’s hopes of Lyme Regis proved illusory, and he joined again with Trenchard as exclusionist candidate. On 6 Aug. Clarke wrote:

Mr Trenchard will certainly be chosen one of their Members at their own expense as long as he votes well, which I believe will be as long as he lives. They will choose neither of the three Sir William Portman proposed to them, for such a one (say they) will serve him, not us. ... For this reason Mr Trenchard will not propose you, because he can do you no good; but there is a way by my Lord Shaftesbury his interest to make your election as sure as Mr Trenchard’s.

Although Edward Clarke was one of Shaftesbury’s trustees, he does not seem to have been able to command his interest for this election, and the country candidates were as before Trenchard and Prideaux againt Cutler. Prideaux had the wooden spoon again, but petitioned. Cutler’s nerve broke, and before the elections committee could report he informed the House that he was ‘satisfied that he is not duly elected’, and he was unseated. In 1681 the sitting Members were re-elected unopposed, despite the mayor’s efforts. Prideaux did not attend, but Trenchard accepted an address thanking them for their eminent services to the nation, when ‘you did with such inflamed zeal, with such undaunted courage and resolution, endeavour the security of our religion, liberty and property against the accursed Popish faction who were the invaders of them’. But the corporation produced an address in July approving the dissolution of Parliament. Trenchard and Sir William Waller II visited ‘Taunton and other fanatic places of trade’ in the autumn, with the result (it was alleged) that the ‘discontented’ employers in the serge industry declared 500 workers redundant ‘so that they begin to be mutinous’. The mayor ‘showed a great deal of good conduct as well as zeal in putting the laws against fanatics in execution’, and the address abhorring the Rye House Plot expressed great hostility towards them.3

For the 1685 election Portman found a new and competent partner in John Sanford, a younger son who had retained his mercantile interests after succeeding to the family estate. Prideaux did not stand, and Edward Clarke was set up by the ‘damnable crew’ as Whig candidate, together with Trenchard, who had strengthened his interest by marrying into the Speke family. But they were unsuccessful and did not petition. Their election agent, a serge-maker, was hanged after the suppression of the Monmouth rebellion, Prideaux was savagely fined, and Trenchard fled abroad. His pardon was passing the seals when the first report on Taunton of the royal electoral agents for James II’s abortive Parliament was written in December 1687:

The burgesses are chosen by the whole town. Edward Clarke of Chipley may be probably chosen here. If John Trenchard be pardoned, he and whom he shall propose to stand with him for the town will be chosen. This corporation must be totally altered.

Eight ‘burgesses’ were removed from the corporation of 24 in the following month, but according to a further report in April 1688 this was insufficient:

Taunton is a corporation; the election is popular and consists of about 700. A new charter is requisite, for till then the inhabitants are awed by the country gentlemen, who are the magistrates. A quo warranto is sent, on which their charter will be delivered. The greatest part of the town are dissenters, and do propose to choose John Trenchard and Edward Clarke, both right; but if your Majesty be not satisfied in Mr Trenchard, they will choose William Clarke or who [sic] your Majesty will name or Mr Brent recommend.

The last proviso by the local Whig collaborators was unfortunate, particularly because William Clarke, who had stood for Bridgwater in the exclusion elections, died a few weeks later. Distrusting Trenchard, with good reason, either the King or the ‘Popish solicitor’ pitched on Sir Humphrey Mackworth, the high Tory scion of a Shropshire family. In September they were told bluntly:

Taunton will choose John Trenchard and Edward Clarke. Sir Humphrey Mackworth is a stranger and hath no interest there, and if they shall endeavour his election they may hazard the whole. For Sir William Portman and Mr Sanford, their last Members, a party are [sic] making in that town, but will fail if the two first stand.

The new charter was issued in the same month, restricting the franchise to the nominated corporation, but lapsed on the Dutch invasion. ‘By his early and hearty promoting the Prince of Orange’s service’, Sanford improved his interest; and Portman endeavoured to avoid a contest at Taunton, where ‘the major part have formerly declared for Mr Sanford and myself’, by asking Thomas Erle to find a seat for Trenchard, ‘a useful man’, somewhere in Dorset. Although the two families were closely connected, Erle was unable to comply, nor would Portman agree to abandon his colleague, and the general election of 1689 was contested. Again the Whigs had overestimated their voting strength, and the sitting Members were re-elected, a disastrous result since Trenchard was earmarked for high office under the new regime. His petition claimed that numbers of his supporters had been prevented from voting by men with ‘great cudgels or clubs’ from the Three Cups, ‘which was a place where Sir William Portman’s and Mr Sanford’s servants and friends were’. Many of the rioters, it was alleged, were soldiers in the regiment of Francis Luttrell II, presumably in mufti and without arms. The Whig headquarters, the Angel, was attacked, the innkeeper knocked down, windows broken to the damage of 20s., and the customers ‘forced ... over a wall for their escape’. The petition was heard at the bar of the House at the height of the constitutional crisis, and rejected by 230 votes to 132.4

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. J. Toulmin, Taunton, 278; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 114; 1680-1, p. 515; J. R. Jones, Revolution of 1688, p. 156.
  • 2. Toulmin, 279-81; PC2/55/229, 56/182; CSP Dom. 1668-9, pp. 420-1; 1677-8, pp. 260-1, SP29/266/55.
  • 3. Som. RO, Sanford mss 3109, William to Edward Clarke, 14 Feb., 28 July, 6 Aug. 1679; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 13; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 77; 1680-1, pp. 211, 515; 1682, p. 545; CJ, ix. 639, 672; Prot Dom. Intell. 15 Mar. 1681; London Gazette, 18 July 1681, 23 July 1683.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 54; 1687-9, p. 268; E. Green, March of Wm. of Orange through Som. 6-7; Toulmin, 313; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 17-18, 229, 243; PC2/72/567; Blakeway, Sheriffs of Salop, 138-9; Churchill Coll. Camb. Erle-Drax mss, Portman to Erle, 19 Dec. 1688; Sanford mss 1084 (petition of Trenchard and Clarke, 1689); CJ, x. 20-21.