Method

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

These volumes, in accordance with the practice of the History of Parliament, consist of an introductory survey with appendices, accounts of the constituencies, and a biographical dictionary of all those returned to the House of Commons in this period, whether or not they took their seats. Seven Parliaments are covered, which are frequently referred to as the Restoration Convention (1660), the Cavalier Parliament (1661), the first and second Exclusion Parliaments (March and October 1679), the Oxford (or third Exclusion) Parliament (1681), James II’s Parliament (1685), and the Revolution Convention (1689). Full dates appear in Appendix I. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized in quotations, and the dates are given in old style, except that the year is taken as beginning on 1 January.

 

INTRODUCTORY SURVEY

It was decided in August 1964 to computerize the data in each biography. We are grateful to Mr Thomas Watson and Mr T. C. Hudson for making the services of IBM available in the initial stages, though the code frame produced by Mr J. S. Biggs and Mr Paul Davis at their London offices, with the schedules based on it, had to be discarded for technical reasons at a later stage. A new one was devised by Miss C. A. Restall, substantially on the same principles as that used in the Elizabethan section of the History. The data on the old schedules were transferred to the new, put on punch cards and computer analysed by Mr Charles Clunies-Ross, assisted by Mrs Priscilla Congreve.

It will be noticed that the total number of Members in the general tables (which deal with MPs’ social, economic and family backgrounds) is higher than it is in the political tables. This is because in the general tables the totals for each Parliament comprise those returned at any time between the general election and the dissolution, including those who died or succeeded to a peerage before Parliament met; whereas in the political tables the totals are for Members who were at least theoretically able to sit in the respective Parliaments. The figures for Members returned at general elections may also differ from the number of seats available. Where an election was declared wholly or partially void by the House, or a Member was obliged to choose between two or more seats, the resultant by-election is taken to be part of the general election process. In the case of a double return (where indentures were submitted bearing names exceeding in total the number of seats available in the constituency) only those whose names appear on all the indentures, those who were allowed to sit by order of the House, and those who were later declared elected are counted as Members. If a Member was unseated by the House in favour of another candidate, both are regarded as successful at the general election. It should also be noted that the rounding up and rounding down of some percentages in the tables, and, more significantly, the overlapping categories in such tables as those dealing with occupations on pages 10, 11 and 24, cause some totals to deviate from 100. An asterisk in the tables indicates less than one half of one per cent.

(i) Age. For the great majority of Members (97%) an exact or approximate year of birth has been given. Family records, inquisitions post mortem (where crown wardship was involved) and parish registers provide the best evidence for exact dates of birth or baptism. Where this is lacking the age at matriculation at Oxford or Cambridge has been used. This has been taken as accurate to within a year, unless there is evidence to the contrary. A similar assumption has been made for ages given in heralds’ visitations and legal depositions and at death. Marriage licences and (very occasionally) school records have also been used, though with less confidence, and in normal circumstances it has been assumed that entry to the inns of court occurred at the age of 18. Early nominations by a reader or treasurer were of course possible, and late entries occur with solicitors or agents seeking to improve their legal qualifications. The former (e.g. Ralph Hawtrey) will be obvious from the record of entry, and few Members in this period belong to the latter class.

(ii) Activity. This has been measured principally in relation to committees. Five grades have been used in the tables: very active, active, moderately active, inactive and no committees. Numerical limits have been assigned to each category, though in borderline cases a certain weight has sometimes been given to the quality of the activity under consideration. Proportional reductions have been made for those who entered a Parliament late, or left it early, but not for ill health or absence in the King’s service. The following table gives minimum figures necessary to qualify for the three higher groups:

Parliament Very active Active Moderately active
1660704213
1661-7835521467
1679 (Mar.)24144
1679 (Oct.)17103
1681---
168516103
1689613712

 

These figures are based on the number of committee references to each Member in the Journals of the House of Commons for the period, ignoring such matters as applications for leave, defaults in attendance, or the hearings of election cases. Only those committees are included to which the Member was specifically appointed by name or office. The very numerous collective appointments of such groups as ‘the gentlemen of the long robe’ and ‘the Members that serve for the seaports’ have not been allotted to individuals. Still less would it be possible to include the open committees, to which ‘all who come shall have voices’. Where a Member reports to the House (and therefore may be presumed to have taken the chair, at least for a time) but was never named to the committee in question, this is mentioned in the biography. Each report counts as a separate activity, thereby giving proper weighting to such important Members as the chairmen of the elections committees, supply committees, and committees of ways and means. Other activity includes tellerships, the carriage of bills and messages to the Lords, the reporting of conferences, and the presentation of addresses to the King. For the eight-day Parliament of 1681, three categories only have been used: ‘no committees’, ‘inactive’ (appointed only to the elections committee), and ‘active’ (appointed to other committees). Most of the ‘very active’ Members were or would have regarded themselves as constitutional experts without whom no business could be satisfactorily completed, an attitude carried to a ludicrous extreme by William Prynne. Others were government spokesmen like Heneage Finch, or reformers with an arduous legislative programme like Sir George Downing, or busybodies like John Birch. The ‘active’ category comprises largely junior ministers or committed politicians who formed the backbone of their respective groups. ‘Moderately active’ Members would be conscientious back-benchers with a good record of attendance. For the ‘inactive’ a seat in Parliament was clearly an end in itself, carrying with it no further responsibilities or functions. They ranged in respectability from the country gentleman taking his turn at representing his county to the bankrupt evading his creditors. The scanty committee appointments of such Members can usually be explained by personal, local, or family concerns. But the technically ‘inactive’ Member, such as John Fitzjames or Christopher Philipson, might be most diligent in attendance or an energetic lobbyist, like Sir Thomas Crew. No attempt has been made to establish exact numerical criteria for activity as a speaker. The classification of ‘frequent speaker’ has been awarded only to those Members who might be expected to take part in every major debate. Any other Member recorded as speaking at all during the Parliament in question is tabulated as ‘spoke’. The estimated number of recorded speeches is given in the narrative.

 

CONSTITUENCIES

The constituency accounts follow the same plan as those of the eighteenth-century volumes of the History. Where known, the exact date of each election is given on the left, dates of by-elections (as previously defined) being italicized. All known candidates for each election are shown, round brackets indicating divergence from the style at the head of the relevant biography, usually caused by the acquisition of a title. The use of capital letters for a candidate denotes that the sheriff and the clerk of the crown in Chancery (but not necessarily the Commons) accepted an indenture in his favour. Decisions by the House which affected the result of an election are shown, with the names of the successful candidates again in capitals. Italicized figures denote dubious or unofficial polls; some are merely estimates, others were disallowed by the Commons as produced by irregularly appointed returning officers or with the inclusion of unqualified voters. Figures in roman type were either unchallenged or accepted by the House as authentic. The articles concentrate on parliamentary elections, but some attempt is made (where evidence is available) to explore the struggle for control of corporations in this period, which reached its peak in the quo warranto campaign, and to suggest economic issues likely to influence voters. The rich and continuing political life of London, and of such provincial centres as Norwich and Northampton, requires ampler treatment than our terms of reference allow. In the constituency articles a raised asterisk* is used after a Member’s name where it would not otherwise be clear that a biography appears in these volumes; a raised dagger† indicates membership of the Commons outside the period.

 

BIOGRAPHIES

(i) Headings. Members are styled at the head of their biographies according to their status at the time of their first entry into Parliament in the period 1660-90. If an MP was subsequently knighted or created a baronet he is referred to elsewhere in the text as, for example, ‘(Sir) John Smith’ in order to indicate to the reader that he is biographed as simply ‘John Smith’. Where two namesakes had exactly the same style on first entering the Commons, the device of labelling them I and II in order of age has been used to distinguish between them. This does not necessarily imply any family relationship, and as an aid to identification its usefulness is limited to this section of the History. Irish and Scottish peerages have been indicated by the use of [I] or [S] and cross-references have been given from all titles borne by Members of the Commons. Cromwellian honours, which became void at the Restoration but were sometimes used at the general election of 1660, are not indicated in the heading, nor in the genealogical paragraph; but if a Member was ‘knighted’ or created a ‘baronet’ by the Protector, or called to the ‘Other House’, this is mentioned in the narrative. The absence of an address usually implies that the Member was an unmarried younger son or serving in the forces during his parliamentary career. Lodgings, as opposed to town houses or chambers in the inns of court, are not given. Removals, either seasonal or permanent, are shown by multiple addresses; but where several homes were maintained for a single household, only those required to explain electoral interest or local office are mentioned.

(ii) Parliaments. All the constituencies for which a Member sat at any time (including the Barebones and Protectorate Parliaments) are listed in chronological order. If the year only is given for a particular Parliament (followed where necessary by a month in brackets), this indicates that he came in at a general election. If a Member came in at a by-election or on petition, or left the Commons early, whether by death, elevation to the peerage (including the ‘Other House’), disqualification by appointment to judicial office, expulsion, or disablement, this is shown by an exact initial or terminal date. Disablements during the Civil War are treated as final; those created by Pride’s Purge, or the exclusions of 1656, are explained in footnotes. If no terminal date appears, this indicates that the Member was eligible to sit for the remainder of the Parliament in question. If the date on which a Member left the House can only be inferred from the issue of the Speaker’s warrant for a by-election, this is indicated by appending the phrase [new writ]. In the case of double returns or petitions, a Member’s service is dated from the passing of the necessary resolution in his favour, unless other evidence proved conclusively that he had, in fact, already taken his seat. Where a Member failed to choose between constituencies for which he had been elected, both are named.

(iii) Genealogy and education. Age is given after a matriculation entry or a marriage licence only when it has been used to calculate date of birth; or sometimes with quotation marks to imply inconsistency with more reliable evidence. Duration of education is usually given only for travel abroad, where it is assumed that the usual three years’ licence was exploited to the full. County names are not repeated from the heading unless confusion might otherwise occur in the addresses. The number of children credited to the Member’s wives or mistresses should be regarded as minimal since contemporary records may omit those who died at birth or in infancy. No attempt has been made to compute the number of daughters who died in their father’s lifetime.

(iv) Offices have been recorded, so far as possible, for the whole of the Member’s career, and divided, where appropriate, into (a) national, (b) military and naval, and (c) local. The order of the paragraphs depends on the date of the first appointment in each group. Within each paragraph appointments are also given chronologically, except where excessive repetition would result, and described as briefly as possible. Dates of appointment to the Privy Council and those judgeships that disqualified a Member from the Commons are given in full. For other offices it was considered sufficient to give the year, except in 1660 and 1688, when an effort has been made to cover the rapid changes by supplying an approximate month. Irish and Scottish offices are again distinguished by [I] and [S].

(v) Narrative. The aim has been to explain how 2,040 men came to be elected to Parliament between March 1660 and January 1690, and what they did in the Commons. Thus, certain limitations arise. The first is temporal: the Member’s parliamentary career outside the period will be treated in other sections of the History, and is thus only lightly sketched in here. The second is topical: extra-parliamentary activities are also only touched upon, though it is hoped that sufficient personal details have been included to remind readers that a very small (and in many cases very inconsiderable) part of life was lived on the hustings or within the walls of St. Stephen’s. Administration or underground radicalism must bulk larger in the biography than religion, poetry, sex or war, and this is particularly unfortunate for a period when the Commons succceeded in attracting an unusually high proportion of men from fields other than the political. But for an evaluation of Andrew Marvell as poet, of Samuel Pepys as diarist, of Sir Edward Spragge as seaman, of John Churchill II as soldier, of Sir Christopher Wren as architect, or of Isaac Newton as scientist the reader must look elsewhere. Furthermore, for many of the leading political figures of the age the most significant part of their careers was spent in the House of Lords. But the biographies in these volumes are of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, not of the Earl of Shaftesbury; of Sir Henry Bennet, not Lord Arlington; of Sir George Savile, not Lord Halifax; of Sir Thomas Osborne, not the Earl of Danby; of Sidney Godolphin I, not Lord Godolphin. The activities of English peers are covered only in so far as they influenced elections or the conduct of the Commons.

The reader will find that parentage has been established for all but a handful of Members, enabling the article on the senior member of the family to start with a brief statement of family age and parliamentary experience, and an assessment of political and religious attitudes in the immediately preceding period (for which material is particularly abundant, if not infrequently conflicting). Details of the elections which the Member fought will be found in the constituency articles. Except in cases of doubtful identity, the reader is given, for every Parliament, the total number of references in the Commons Journals, and recorded speeches. The session is regarded as a unit, within which there may be some rearrangement of the order of events to facilitate exposition; otherwise the treatment is chronological. In this way a connexion can be established between a Member’s speeches or votes, a comment on Danby’s list or in an opposition pamphlet, an entry in the Calendar of Treasury Books, and a change of attitude. The biography ends with a notice of the Member’s death and burial, or the last known notice of him, and any interesting provisions of his will. There may follow a contemporary assessment, more often than not from Burnet, whose psychological insight gained from his pastoral experience atones for his evident bias. Finally, where it is stated that the Member’s descendants sat (or did not sit) in the Commons the statement refers only to the male line.

A raised asterisk * after a Member’s name is used to indicate that he has a biography in this section of the History ; a raised dagger† shows that a man was a member of the Commons outside the period.

It may be useful to provide notes on four episodes frequently mentioned in the biographies.

The Case of the Four Lawyers. This stemmed from a dispute concerning the jurisdiction of the Lords over commoners, especially Members of the Lower House. In May 1675 Dr Thomas Shirley, after long litigation with (Sir) John Fagg I*, appealed from an unfavourable decision in Chancery to the House of Lords. An order by the Lords for Fagg to appear and answer Shirley’s petition was regarded with suspicion by the Commons as an attempt to by-pass their privilege, and they forbade Fagg to proceed in the case without their permission. He did appear before the Lords, however, and was promptly sent to the Tower by the Commons, who also ordered their under-serjeant to arrest Shirley; but his attempts to do so in the lobby of the House of Lords infuriated the Upper House. The Lords took the Speaker’s warrant from him and sent it back to the Commons with an insulting message. On 28 May the Commons resolved ‘that there lies no appeal to the judicature of the Lords in Parliament from courts of equity’. Despite this resolution four prominent lawyers (none of them Members at the time), ventured to plead before the Lords in a case involving Thomas Dalmahoy*. The Commons ordered them to be committed to the custody of their serjeant, but they ‘escaped’, and were re-arrested and sent to the Tower. It became clear to Danby that with passions aroused in both Houses, no business could be transacted, and consequently on 9 June Parliament was prorogued to October.

Coleman’s Letters. Edward Coleman, a Roman Catholic convert and secretary to the Duchess of York, was engaged for several years in a correspondence with personages abroad, including Father la Chaise, Louis XIV’s confessor, about means of extirpating heresy in England. He was accused of treason by Titus Oates on 28 Sept. 1678, and the Privy Council ordered his arrest. He had warning, but by a fatal blunder destroyed only part of the correspondence. The Commons asked the King for his letters, and a committee was appointed to translate them from the French. While there was nothing in them implicating Coleman in a plot to assassinate the King, they were so interpreted by the lord chief justice, Sir William Scroggs, and by the jury. He was found guilty of treason and executed on 3 Dec. 1678. The effect of his letters on the Commons was to bolster their belief in the Popish Plot.

The Meal-Tub Plot. This sham plot was constructed by Thomas Dangerfield, a shabby adventurer and a convicted coiner. At the end of 1679 he was in prison for debt, but he was released through the good offices of Mrs Cellier, ‘the Popish midwife’, and brought to the notice of Lady Powis, whose husband was in the Tower. Dangerfield provided a written account of a ‘Presbyterian plot’ to assassinate the King and the Duke of York and set up a commonwealth, and Mrs Cellier hid it in a meal-tub where it was discovered by Sir William Waller II*, the notorious priest-catcher. Dangerfield maintained that the account had been dictated to him by Lady Powis, but he was such an unconscionable liar that it is difficult to believe any of his statements. He was eventually convicted of perjury, flogged and pilloried.

The Appointment of Commissary Shales. John Shales, the unsuccessful candidate at Kingston-upon-Hull in 1678, had served James II as commissary-general. Re-employed after the Revolution and given responsibili