Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 2001

Number of voters:

178 in February 1710


19 Feb. 1690Sir John Cotton, Bt. 
 Granado Pigot 
23 Oct. 1695John Pepys 
 Isaac Watlington 
6 Nov. 1696Sir John Cotton, Bt. vice Pepys, deceased 
25 July 1698Sir John Cotton, Bt. 
 Sir Henry Pickering, Bt. 
 Isaac Watlington 
8 Jan. 1701Sir John Cotton, Bt. 
 Sir Henry Pickering, Bt. 
26 Oct. 1701Sir John Cotton, 
 Sir Henry Pickering, Bt. 
18 July 1702Sir Henry Pickering, Bt. 
 Anthony Thompson 
17 May 1705Sir John Cotton, 92
 Anthony Thompson88
 Sir Paul Whichcote, Bt.862
5 May 1708John Hynde Cotton125
 Samuel Shepheard101
 Thomas Bendyshe80
  Shepheard’s election declared void, 9 Feb. 1710 
22 Feb. 1710Samuel Shepheard109
 Thomas Bendyshe69
5 Oct. 1710John Hynde Cotton 
 Samuel Shepheard 
18 July 1712Cotton re-elected after appointment to office 
27 Aug. 1713Sir John Hynde Cotton, Bt. 
 Samuel Shepheard 

Main Article

For a freeman borough Cambridge was furnished with a relatively small electorate, amenable to management by an entrenched oligarchy of aldermen and senior common councilmen, who were, however, generally content that the parliamentary representation should be left in the hands of neighbouring squires. Such political passions as did occasionally arise stemmed from squabbles within this civic elite or between the country gentlemen who were jockeying for the corporation’s favour. Rarely is there evidence of plebeian involvement in elections, or in borough politics generally.

The corporation in 1689–90 was essentially that established by Charles ii’s charter in 1684, which had been purged in April 1688 but restored by King James’s proclamation the following November. Sir Thomas Chicheley†, a staunch Churchman, held the high stewardship, but some balance had been achieved by the election in 1689 of the 5th Earl of Bedford (Sir William Russell†), a veteran Whig, as recorder. The two Members returned at the 1690 general election were Sir John Cotton, 2nd Bt., of Madingley, and Granado Pigot of Bassingbourn, both High Church Tories, who had opposed James ii’s policy of indulgence but had acquiesced in the Revolution settlement. Another characteristic the two men seem to have shared was an aversion to parliamentary attendance, and it may well have been in response to their neglect of duty to the corporation that they were replaced in 1695 by two Tory aldermen, John Pepys and Isaac Watlington. This outcome was predicted ten days before the election took place, which helps to confirm the evidence of the borough’s ‘common day book’ that there had been no effective contest. When Pepys died, a year later, Cotton regained his seat at the ensuing by-election, again apparently without opposition. However, the borough’s response to the discovery of the Assassination Plot earlier in 1696 shows that the political complexion of the court of aldermen and common council, though still preponderantly Tory, was by no means extreme. A loyal address congratulated King William on his ‘happy preservation’ from ‘that horrid and detestable conspiracy formed and carried on by Papists and other wicked and treacherous persons’ and reaffirmed that he was the ‘rightful and lawful’ King. At the same time only one member of the corporation, a common councilman, was deprived of office after refusing to subscribe the Association. At the 1698 election there was even something of a Whiggish resurgence. Sir Henry Pickering, 2nd Bt., of Whaddon, father-in-law and close business and political associate of the Whig knight of the shire, Lord Cutts, ousted Watlington after a contest, and although the defeated alderman was soon afterwards elected as mayor of the borough, perhaps in compensation, the choice of Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) as high steward in place of the deceased Chicheley in January 1699 constituted a party political statement of an altogether more definite, and public, kind.3

Shortly after Orford’s election to the stewardship, Tories in the corporation seem to have made a counter-attack, first passing a bye-law to enforce a six-year wait before an outgoing mayor could hold the mayoralty again, and then in July 1699 removing five common councilmen for failure to receive the sacrament in the Established Church. This purge encountered a robust opposition. After a writ of mandamus had been obtained to restore the victims, and had been ignored by the corporation, three of the excluded common councilmen ‘intruded themselves into the seats appointed for the common council’ in February 1700 and were duly fined. Presumably with these events in mind, the mayor, aldermen and common council petitioned Parliament on 18 Mar. 1700 against a clause in the bill to prevent disputes in corporations arising from members having refused the Association, which would have indemnified those failing to qualify themselves under the Test Act. They claimed that the clause

will not only encourage the disobedience to that law, by reinstating such as have been displaced thereby, and turning out those that have been admitted by the due qualification thereof; and may in time tend to the making that law useless, which was, in late times, known to be the great bulwark and support of the Protestant religion and nation against the oppression and tyranny of all its enemies.

At the general election of January 1701 Cotton and Pickering were returned ‘by a general consent of the mayor, bailiff and burgesses’, as was recorded in the ‘common day book’. At one stage it had been rumoured that ‘one Smith stands on his own legs’, but whoever he may have been, he probably withdrew before the poll. The formula employed for the election in October testifies more directly to there having been a contest: ‘by a consent of the majority of the burgesses here present’. Subsequent manoeuvres indicate the strength of both Whig and Tory opinion in the borough. In November 1701 Orford presented a loyal address to the King on the occasion of Louis xiv’s recognition of the Pretender, which had been subscribed by over 1,000 of the inhabitants. But while the populace at large seems at this stage to have been Whiggish in sympathy, the corporation’s traditional allegiance was evident in the election of Cotton to the vacant recordership in May 1702. The address of condolence on the death of King William and congratulation on the accession of Queen Anne gave few clues to political orientation, being studiously moderate in its phraseology, but it was presented by Pickering only, rather than by both Members. Cotton, in fact, was not returned in the 1702 election, and almost certainly did not put up. His replacement was a Whig, Anthony Thompson of Trumpington, whose family connexion with the recently deceased Watlington (his brother-in-law) may have rendered him generally acceptable, and would at least have given him some initial leverage within the corporation.4

The 1705 election witnessed a very close contest. Possibly expoiting the popular loyalism engendered by Queen Anne’s visit to the town and university prior to the election, and the mood of High Tory revanchism associated with the poll in the university constituency, Cotton made an electoral comeback, securing one of the seats alongside Thompson. The defeated candidate was a Whig squire; not Pickering, who had died earlier in the year, but Sir Paul Whichcote, 2nd Bt., of Quy. A year later the death in office of the then mayor provoked a political crisis in the corporation. Fearing that the existing deputy (clearly a Whig) would try to act up for the remainder of the municipal year, a group of Tory aldermen moved swiftly to secure the election of a replacement, who successfully took office and obtained the town’s seal from the reluctant deputy. Under the stop-gap mayor ‘honorary freemen’ began to be admitted in numbers, a strategy continued by his two Tory successors, until some 16 new freemen in all, most of them ‘Londoners’ or country gentlemen, had been added to the electorate, a small but not insignificant accretion to Tory voting strength. This development coincided with the arrival in the town of a new political interest, working in close co-operation with the Cottons: that of the financier Samuel Shepheard I*, whose son Samuel II was in fact the first of the batch of honorary freemen to be sworn, in August 1706. Shepheard senior purchased the Rose tavern in Cambridge, which under the management of his agent, Alderman Thomas Rumbold, became a hive of Tory activity. A new level of political excitement was rapidly attained, both in municipal elections, where in April 1707 a contest for town clerk ended in a fracas at the Rose in which the victorious Tory candidate stabbed his opponent with a penknife, and at the parliamentary hustings, where in 1708 there was not only a contest but a subsequent petition. The candidates were Samuel Shepheard II and Sir John Cotton’s heir, John Hynde Cotton, standing on a Tory interest, and another country gentleman, Thomas Bendyshe of Foxton, putting up as a Whig. Even before the election took place the two Tories were acting as though they had already been returned, presenting in March 1708 an address from the corporation to the Queen, and, after a considerable expenditure on both sides, in money and drink, they duly took their seats in the House. Doubtless encouraged by the overall Whig majority in the new Parliament, Bendyshe petitioned on 25 Nov. 1708 against Shepheard’s election, persisting with his efforts when the first petition lapsed, and introducing another in the second session on 23 Nov. 1709. On 9 Feb. 1710 the committee reported to the House: Bendyshe’s first tactic had been to object against the ‘honorary freemen’ who had polled for his opponent, which would have reduced the difference between them to only five votes, but his claim that the franchise was restricted to freemen by right of birth or service, or admitted through redemption or purchase, was based on flimsy evidence that the sitting Member’s witnesses and supporting documentation comprehensively demolished. Committee and House agreed that the franchise was in all freemen, not receiving alms. As only three of Shepheard’s voters could be excepted against on these grounds, as almsmen, Bendyshe was obliged to fall back on allegations of bribery and treating, which were both extensive and colourful. Small gratuities, promises to repay debts, and in one case a complete outfit of clothes, had been freely distributed by Shepheard’s agents, while the town clerk and various magistrates, most of them aldermen, had been promising leniency or threatening rigour in the exercise of the law against potential voters. The town had evidently been awash with drink, one hapless freeman admitting that he had been ‘plied so hard with hotpots, that, when they brought him to the election, he polled for the sitting Member, contrary to his former intention’. The nerve centre of Tory operations had been the Rose, ‘where a club is kept of a majority of the aldermen, and common councilmen, who had the sole power of the corporation, and make whom they please honorary freemen’. Shepheard was unable to do much to rebut this evidence, but replied with counter-accusations of his own of bribery and treating against Bendyshe, one of which pointed to the existence of a rival club to the Tory gathering at the Rose: one Jones, an innkeeper, was promised, if he voted for Bendyshe, ‘to have the custom of the Falcon Club’. Whereas the committee had found for Shepheard, Whigs in the House succeeded in overturning this judgment in a close division. They could not, however, carry a vote that Bendyshe had been duly elected, so a by-election was required. Once more Shepheard inflicted a defeat upon Bendyshe; indeed with an increased majority, and this despite the fact that since the 1708 election several prominent Tory aldermen had been removed from the commission of the peace for the borough and replaced by Whig outsiders. On this second occasion Bendyshe refrained from petitioning, nor did he put up at the general election later that year, possibly because his previous efforts had left him financially exhausted and also, no doubt, because Sacheverellite fever had spread to Cambridge. In May 1710 the corporation had sent up a high-flying address which expressed abhorrence of ‘the seditious notions of the people’s power and of governors being liable to the censure and coercion of their subjects’, principles that ‘naturally tend to undermine the fundamentals of government, and shake the thrones of princes’, and promised to continue to elect to Parliament men who

by their known regard for the rights of princes are thoroughly qualified and resolved to oppose the violent attempts of the enemies of royal power, and to restrain those bold encroachments upon the prerogative, which if not timely prevented will under the pretence of liberty introduce a fatal licentiousness and disorder.

Cotton and Shepheard, who remained the Tory candidates, were assisted by some prior remodelling of the local bench on the part of the incoming administration, but scarcely needed help and were returned unopposed.5

Cotton’s dominance over the corporation was clear from its willing acceptance in 1712 of an address he had drafted to thank the Queen for her communication of the peace terms and to denounce ‘restless and factious’ opposition: ‘may faction be buried and loyalty flourish’. When he had to seek re-election that year after accepting a place on the Board of Trade, no one stood against him. The address of thanks for the peace itself, prepared by the newly elected recorder Samuel Gatward, a Tory, praised the Queen’s ‘consummate wisdom in the choice of an able and faithful ministry’ and prayed that ‘factious and party rats will either entirely quit your Majesty’s peaceful dominions, or be at a loss to contrive new matter for groundless fears and suspicions’. A hint that Cotton’s parliamentary colleague did not enjoy quite the same popularity in the corporation came in August 1713, when Shepheard’s father was proposed for admission as a freeman but only accepted after a vote in common council, and by a narrow majority. But at the general election there was again no Whig to challenge the outgoing Members. The political forces in the borough had settled into a configuration that would only be altered after the Hanoverian succession by a radical change in the composition of the electorate, achieved through an infusion of nearly 120 new freemen between September 1714 and January 1715, which increased its size by over 60 per cent.6

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Willis, Not. Parl. i. 186.
  • 2. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 19 May 1705.
  • 3. Cambs. RO (Cambridge), Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, pp. 161, 165, 262, 287, 294; D. Cook, ‘Rep. Hist. of Co. Town and Univ. of Camb. 1689–1832’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1935), 109, 111–12; Add. 70018, f. 83; C.H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iv. 32–33, 41; HMC Astley, 86, 92.
  • 4. Cooper, 42–43, 51–52; Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, pp. 325, 337, 343; Univ. of Chicago Lib. Walpole mss, Horatio Walpole II* to [Robert Walpole II*], 3 Jan. [1701].
  • 5. Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, pp. 377, 396, 404, 406, 420, 425, 467, 478; Cook, 113–14, 119; Diary of Samuel Newton (Camb. Antiq. Soc. xxiii), 116–18, 122; Cooper, 80–81, 98–99; A. Grey, Town of Cambridge, 136–7; HMC Portland, iv. 579–80; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 189.
  • 6. Cambridge bor. recs. common day bk. 1681–1722, pp. 496–7, 503, 505, 510–11, 531–52; Cooper, 109–10, 112.