Cambridgeshire

County

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

Number of Qualified Electors:

unknown

Number of voters:

1,849 in 1693; rising to at least 3,238 in 1710

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
20 Feb. 1690Sir Levinus Bennet, Bt. 
 Sir Robert Cotton 
21 Dec. 1693John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] vice Bennet, deceased928
 Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt.921
24 Oct. 1695John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Edward Russell 
17 Dec. 1697Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt. vice Russell, called to the Upper House 
 Granado Pigot 
28 July 1698John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I]1375
 Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt.1320
 Granado Pigot980
 Hildebrand Alington, Baron Alington [I]700
9 Jan. 1701John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt. 
11 Dec. 1701John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt. 
28 July 1702Granado Pigot 
 Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt. 
24 May 1705Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt.1326
 John Bromley I1293
 Sir Roger Jenyns1283
 Granado Pigot12631
4 Dec. 1707John Bromley II vice Bromley, deceased 
20 May 1708Sir Rushout Cullen, Bt. 
 John Bromley II 
26 Oct. 1710John Bromley II1973
 John Jenyns1912
 Sir George Downing, Bt.1311
 David Rowland12802
3 Sept. 1713John Bromley II 
 John Jenyns 

Main Article

The larger landowning interests tended to dominate the political landscape of Cambridgeshire, just as the county’s economy was dominated by agriculture. The urban populations of the university town and the smaller cathedral city of Ely seem to have played little part in elections for knights of the shire, which, when they were contested, were generally decided by a strenuous application of the ‘natural’ influence of landed property. Among the greater gentry party loyalties were evenly divided, though Whiggism came to enjoy something of an ascendancy in King William’s reign, when local Whigs benefited from the powerful and vigorous leadership provided by members of the Russell family, most notably the 5th Earl (and later 1st Duke) of Bedford (Sir William Russell†) and his nephew and son-in-law, Admiral Edward Russell, a national political figure of the first rank, who in 1689 had been appointed respectively lord lieutenant and custos. But the Russells, even at the apogee of their influence, were never able to claim more than one seat for their nomination, and the rise of a Tory interest among the freeholders in the 1700s, followed by the emergence of a rival aristocratic magnate on the Tory side, in the person of William, Lord North and Grey, ultimately reversed the balance of forces in the county.3

There seems to have been an uncontested return in 1690, though both outgoing Members, Sir Levinus Bennet, 2nd Bt., and Sir Robert Cotton, had been included in a published ‘black list’ of those who in the Convention had voted against the transfer of the crown, and the publication shortly before the poll of a pamphlet vindicating them from charges of disaffection and declaring them to be men ‘firm to the established government in Church and state’ may have been necessary to guarantee their re-election. However, at the by-election occasioned by Bennet’s death in 1693, party divisions became apparent. The two candidates were themselves both men of Whig principles, but while Sir Rushout Cullen, 3rd Bt., enjoyed the backing of the Russells, his opponent, Lord Cutts, had attracted support from ‘moderate’ Tories, prepared to overlook Cutts’s profession as a soldier, and ignore rumours of the unorthodoxy of his religious opinions, since he represented a long-established county family and, more to the point, was acting in opposition to Bedford: in the absence of a ‘better barrel’ to ‘fire’, Cutts was, in the Tory view, preferable to a Russell nominee. With this support, and his own personal and family interest, he scraped home in a low poll. The closeness of the result, with Cutts’s majority given as between seven and 14 in the various accounts kept of the poll, encouraged Cullen to present a petition to the Commons on 4 Jan. 1694, alleging various ‘illegal practices’. Nothing could be substantiated, however, and the evidence produced by Cullen’s counsel before the elections committee was to the purpose of disqualifying some 32 of his opponent’s voters, one of whom was said to be ‘a madman’. Cutts in his turn excepted against some of the votes on the petitioner’s side, and was able to show that some of his own supporters, legitimately enfranchised, had been unable to register their votes. Although the committee upheld Cullen’s petition, this decision was in due course overturned by the House at the report on 12 Feb., without a division.4

At first it looked as if the Whig interest would again be divided in the 1695 general election, since Cutts was challenged by Edward Russell himself, with, naturally enough, strong support from Bedford. The two outgoing Members joined together, and reports were that Cutts had a ‘better interest’ than Russell. However, pressure seems to have been brought to bear on Cotton, who shortly before the election ‘was generously pleased to resign his great interest in favour of Admiral Russell’, and the two Whigs were returned without a contest. Following up this success, Russell sought to use the Association of 1696 as a means of purging Tories from local office and strengthening his own position in the county. His leverage with the ministry enabled a thorough revision of the county lieutenancy and the commission of the peace (from which 11 Tories were removed in 1696). As one Tory wrote in August of that year, ‘Admiral Russell [has] been pleased to ease us all our troubles and attendance at sessions or assizes and deputy lieutenants’ meetings; that is, all that did not sign his first voluntary association’. He then added, ‘Friday next is our doom, when the Admiral comes to the assizes . . . to take all our deputations and commissions, and to hear us left out of the peace’. The temporary effectiveness of this action, and the depth of Tory resentment it provoked, were made clear the following year, when, on Russell’s elevation to the peerage as Earl of Orford, the resulting vacancy in the county representation was contested by one of the Tories recently removed from the bench, Granado Pigot of Bassingbourn. This time the Whigs were united. Cutts and his father-in-law, Sir Henry Pickering, 2nd Bt.*, actively canvassed alongside Russell on behalf of the latter’s nominee, who was once more Sir Rushout Cullen, and indeed Cutts attended the polling himself and brought his very considerable personal influence into play. Locally the contest was depicted less as a party battle than as a struggle ‘betwixt the Court and the Country’, but the underlying significance was clear. At the election itself there was considerable confusion. Polling began at 11 a.m. on 6 Dec. and after various delays and relocations carried on until 5 p.m., when it was adjourned, with Pigot holding a distinct but not overwhelming advantage. At this point it appears that many of Pigot’s voters returned home (his own estates lay in the south of the county, on the borders of Hertfordshire) and that Pigot sought to have the polls closed, but the sheriff retorted that he himself ‘was an Isle of Ely man, and he knew it impossible for the people of that side to come a day before’; indeed, the reason given for the adjournment on the 6th had been ‘that several could not come that day, because the waters were out’. When Cullen was returned, 18 freeholders, headed by Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Richard Bennet, petitioned on Pigot’s behalf on 23 Dec. 1697, alleging not only that polling had been improperly adjourned on the first day but that ‘some great men had browbeaten and threatened some of the freeholders, and used indirect means for gaining votes for Sir Rushout Cullen’. Cutts and Pickering were specifically named, and reference was made to unsigned circular letters purporting to come from Orford which had recommended Cullen to the electors ‘as a person well qualified both in understanding and estate’. There were widespread allegations of bribery and treating against Cullen’s agents and supporters, and it was claimed that ‘most of the money’ paid to various innkeepers for treating on his behalf ‘came from Newmarket’, which Orford had made his headquarters. One of the petitioners’ witnesses testified that the Whigs had openly made use of the King’s name in an attempt to sway the voters, and had referred back to Pigot’s refusal of the Association and his removal from the commission of the peace: ‘Should we elect a man the King hath set a mark of disfavour upon? The King is for having Sir Rushout Cullen chosen.’ It was impossible to prove, however, that such talk had actually influenced anyone. The committee reported on 4 Feb. 1698 and, in the event, both the committee and the House rejected the petition, though the House would not, on a division, declare it to be ‘vexatious and frivolous’.5

At the general election in 1698 the Tories tried again to upset what had become a Whig ascendancy in Cambridgeshire politics, but Pigot and Lord Alington (brother of a former Member for the borough of Cambridge) were easily defeated by Cutts and Cullen. Cutts had hedged his bets by securing his own simultaneous return for a borough in the Isle of Wight, of which he was governor, but insurance of this kind proved quite unnecessary, not only in 1698 but at the next two elections. Pigot evidently contemplated standing in January 1701, after he and the other justices purged in 1696 had been reinstated by order of the Privy Council, but in the end thought better of the idea. County opinion in the autumn of 1701, as revealed by an address of loyalty to King William occasioned by the French recognition of the Pretender, favoured whatever military action was deemed necessary to defend William’s ‘person and government’ and also hoped for ‘unanimity’ in all ‘counsels’ of state: ‘that all private animosities may be laid aside, and that there may be no more contention among ourselves, but in striving who should be more zealous to oppose our common enemy’. At this time even Lord North and Grey, later to take over the leadership of the Cambridgeshire Tories, was willing to give ‘what interest I can make’ to Cullen, and presumably Cutts as well, for North and Grey too was a military man. Moreover, Cutts had, if anything, drifted away from his former Whig allies during the 1701 Parliament. Such was the emphasis on unanimity, produced by a temporary quiescence, or balance, in local party conflict, that Cutts was not only re-elected unopposed with Cullen in November 1701, but in absentia, since he was on active service abroad at the time. By July 1702, however, there had been a significant increase in party animosity, or at least in Tory aggressiveness. Cutts abandoned Cambridgeshire for good, politically, retiring to a safe seat on the Isle of Wight. In his place Pigot was elected. It appears that no opposition was mounted on this occasion, but in 1705 there occurred a full-blown contest, partly owing to a raising of the national political temperature after the defeat of the Tack, and partly because of the local intervention of a returned West Indian planter, John Bromley I, who had purchased Lord Alington’s estate at Horseheath and entertained ambitions to establish his family in the forefront of the Cambridgeshire gentry. As befitted a man who had once been turned off the council in Barbados for failing to take the sacrament in the Established Church, Bromley joined forces with Cullen in the Whig interest, and with the guarantee of Lord Orford’s continued endorsement. Against them stood Pigot and one of the larger proprietors of fenland, Sir Roger Jenyns of Bottisham, whose energetic style of canvassing was a source of some public amusement. One commentator observed that Jenyns ‘hath contrived a new way for making interest for knights of the shire, for he rides with a boy after him through the fens kissing the farmers’ wives and begging their recommendation to their husbands’. It was thought that this practice would ‘avail him little’ and that Pigot ‘appears more formidable’, but in a close contest it was Pigot who came bottom of the poll, possibly because of the odium he had incurred as a ‘Tacker’, and Jenyns who narrowly failed, by a mere ten votes, to catch Bromley in second place.6

The beginnings of the Tory revival in Cambridgeshire may be traced back to Pigot’s return in 1702, and the creditable performance of the defeated Tory candidates in the 1705 election indicates a greater confidence among partisans in the county, but the decisive breakthrough came not as a result of national political trends or even shifts of fortune within the county itself, but because of a generational change within one family. When John Bromley II succeeded to a county seat in 1707, after an unopposed return, he was expected to follow his father’s Whiggery. To the Whigs’ surprise, he took quite the opposite line in the Commons, and by the next general election, in 1708, they looked on him as one who had ‘fallen off from’ Whig principles, though they were unable to do anything other than lament the fact, and Bromley and Cullen were re-elected without a contest. Two years later Cullen had stepped down, but the Whigs were represented by two candidates, (Sir) George Downing* (3rd Bt.), of East Hatley, and David Rowland of Haddenham. On the Tory side Bromley was joined by Sir Roger Jenyns’s elder brother John, also a prominent landed proprietor in the Fens and a member of the company for the drainage of the Bedford level, although until recent years not a participant in the political life or local government of Cambridgeshire. The Tories may well have been in difficulties when it came to finding a suitable partner for Bromley, but in the heated atmosphere generated by the affair of Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment they were able to carry the day comfortably in what was by some way the largest turnout of voters in this period. ‘John Bromley and John Jenyns, esqs., for the Church’, exulted the Tory newswriter Dyer, ‘carried it gloriously . . . by a majority of almost 700 voices’, and this despite the ‘assistance’ their Whig opponents had ‘met with from the great lords at Newmarket’. He claimed that ‘the body of the gentry appeared almost unanimously’ for the Tories, and that one unfortunate Whig, a militia captain and a ‘professed Dissenter’, who had unwisely aroused the anger of the mob by ‘stabbing’ a portrait of Dr Sacheverell, was subjected to various indignities involving the ‘powdering’ of his wig with dirt, and the loss of his trousers. In the aftermath of this victory, Lord North and Grey manifested himself as the figurehead of the revived Tory interest in the county, in opposition to Orford and Bishop Moore of Ely, who had between them sought in vain to mobilize Whig forces in 1710. The lord lieutenancy passed from Russell hands in 1711 when, on the death of the 2nd Duke of Bedford, North and Grey was appointed in his place. The one flaw, as far as Tories were concerned, was not that Orford remained as custos, a fact which, while it annoyed them, did not now threaten their control of nominations to offices in the local administration, but the increasingly ‘whimsical’ conduct of Bromley in Parliament. He opposed the French commercial treaty in 1713 and in Anne’s last Parliament seems to have acted as a Hanoverian Tory. There was some local resentment at this weakening of party loyalty, and different viewpoints may be detected in the Cambridgeshire addresses on the peace in 1712 and 1713: the first, drawn up by the grand jury and presented by Bromley, expressed gratitude for the communication of the peace terms and pointedly concentrated on the continued English possession of Dunkirk and the security of the Hanoverian succession; the second, subscribed by the gentry and clergy generally and presented by North and Grey, was more pronouncedly partisan in tone, referring to previous military victories as ‘burthensome and expensive till the end was obtained for which you fought’, hoping for an end to internal political divisions and expressing assurance of ‘a perfect friendship’ between the Queen and the house of Hanover ‘despite ill endeavours’ to the contrary. In some quarters, therefore, there may well have been High Tory suspicions of Bromley, and by extension Jenyns too, who was closely associated with his parliamentary colleague and in 1713 married his eldest son to Bromley’s sister. To the Whigs, on the other hand, the two Members rema