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:


Number of voters:

about 3,200 in Dec. 17011


20 Feb. 1690Sir Gilbert Clarke503  
 Henry Gilbert454  
 Sir Philip Gell, Bt.2792  
24 Oct. 1695William Cavendish, Mq. of Hartington   
 Sir Gilbert Clarke   
28 July 1698William Cavendish, Mq. of Hartington   
 Thomas Coke   
9 Jan. 1701William Cavendish, Mq. of Hartington152515191594
 John Manners, Ld. Roos141614121472
 Thomas Coke130231303413595
11 Dec. 1701Thomas Coke1659  
 John Curzon1581  
 William Cavendish, Mq. of Hartington1562  
 John Manners, Ld. Roos12916  
23 July 1702John Curzon   
 Thomas Coke   
24 May 1705John Curzon   
 Thomas Coke   
20 May 1708Thomas Coke   
 John Curzon   
16 Oct. 1710John Curzon   
 Godfrey Clarke   
3 Sept. 1713John Curzon   
 Godfrey Clarke   

Main Article

The leading magnates in Derbyshire, the Cavendish earls and dukes of Devonshire, had been lord lieutenants for most of the 17th century and regained the post after 1688. However, they were not the only resident members of the aristocracy as the Earl (from 1703 Duke) of Rutland (John Manners†) and Earl of Scarsdale also lived on their Derbyshire estates. Many more peers had estates in the county including the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) and the earls of Chesterfield and Stanhope. The Whig predilections of many of these aristocratic (and often absentee) families was matched by a strongly Anglican gentry, the richest of whom could aspire to a seat in Parliament.

The general election of 1690 saw a division between the exponents of county unity and the proponents of a move to restrict the representation to a more exclusive Anglicanism. The first group, personified by the Clarke–Gell partnership, was formed in 1688 to counteract the possibility that James ii would press unacceptable candidates on the county and secure victory because of divisions among his opponents. The second group wished to replace Gell with Henry Gilbert, thus removing a man acceptable to the Dissenters through his Presbyterian antecedents and sympathies. Evidence from the poll book shows that, although several prominent Whigs such as Hon. Anchitell Grey* wished to continue the compromise and duly voted for Gell and Clarke, the vast majority of Gell’s supporters were plumpers. Conversely, well over 400 of Gilbert’s supporters cast votes for Clarke, thus ensuring them a comfortable victory.7

By 1695 the Cavendish heir, the Marquess of Hartington, was old enough to enter the fray. His father smoothed the passage to his election by soliciting the interest and advice of various Whig grandees, including the Duke of Newcastle, and by ordering entertainments at Derby for the voters. Initially, the plan was to join Hartington with William Eyre of Holme, ‘a very fit person, [who] has a pretty good interest with the Church party from whom the opposition (if any) is likely to come’. After Eyre declined to stand, Devonshire decided that the safest course was to disclaim any intention of influencing the second seat ‘because he would not disoblige the country gentlemen, and therefore wishes that they would meet and recommend one that there may be as little contest as may be’. The gentry’s choice remained Clarke, which left the mercurial George Vernon I* as the only threat to the peace of the county. Vernon was campaigning fiercely for the borough of Derby and there was some fear that ‘he will make all his freeholders appear in order to put a trick upon my Lord Hartington and Sir Gilbert Clarke in case they should have but a slender appearance’. In the event the election passed off without incident, ‘though many are of the opinion a better disposed man might have been pitched than Sir Gilbert’ and despite a bill for expenses of nearly £500 which displeased Devonshire.8

The peaceful distribution of the shire representation between the Whiggish son of a peer and a Tory squire survived the retirement of Clarke in 1698. A potential contest was averted by the intervention of Clarke and others who sought to unite the Tories by arranging for the interest originally made on behalf of John Curzon of Kedleston to be transferred to Thomas Coke of Melbourne. The election passed off quietly, even Hartington failing to attend because of the gout, which left Sir Edward Coke (uncle of Thomas) to foot the bill for the election-night dinner.9

The sharpening conflict in the ensuing Parliament over a number of contentious issues saw relations between Hartington and Coke deteriorate. They clashed over the Irish resumptions bill and the conduct of William iii’s Whig ministers and this may have prompted a decision by the Cavendish interest to join Lord Roos, eldest son of the Earl of Rutland, to oust Coke. Initially, Rutland was diffident about committing himself to the venture, although his son was noticeably enthusiastic. While Rutland’s doubts were being assuaged, there followed a period of intense speculation and much confusion over Roos’s candidacy. Since Hartington and Coke were the sitting Members and early in the field, many people began to make interest on their behalf, assuming a joint return, only to be surprised by the news that Roos had joined with Hartington. Despite an attempt at mediation by Sir John Leveson Gower, 4th Bt.*, neither Coke nor Roos would withdraw, thus setting in train a bitterly contested election full of mutual recriminations and accusations of treachery. Coke felt betrayed, believing that he had insured himself against the intervention of a Manners candidate by offering Roos his interest in 1698. Roos, on the other hand, claimed to have received assurances that Coke would withdraw if he decided to stand. In the case of Roos, the danger to which he was exposed by a late declaration was offset by the support he could attract in harness with Hartington; Coke, however, was left vulnerable, having insufficient time to find a partner after both Sir Gilbert Clarke and John Curzon had declined to join him. Faced by such a powerful combination, Coke accepted the logic of his situation and solicited for single votes, with election agents scurrying to all corners of the shire, and beyond, in search of voters. Surviving poll books indicate the divisiveness of this election and just how near Coke’s strategy came to delivering success. At the close of the poll he trailed Roos by not much more than 100 votes, with the vast majority of his supporters plumping. Crucially, he was out-polled in Derby (which had over 300 eligible voters), where resentment over his ambivalent attitude to the Derwent navigation bill, promoted by the borough in the previous Parliament, was exploited in the interests of ‘the Lords’ by some vigorous canvassing by the town’s recorder, Thomas Parker*, who upbraided Coke for Jacobitism and enticed ‘those that have promised to break their words telling them he supposeth they promised upon consideration of the navigation and therefore may break it for that it cannot be done by Mr Coke’. Likewise, in Appletree, Morlaston and Scarsdale hundreds, Coke’s interest was damaged by allegations that he had failed to press their case for a review of their land tax assessments. The refusal of the Commons to countenance such a move was blamed on Coke and at one point threatened to have serious electoral ramifications. Samuel Pole called a meeting of Appletree freeholders and put forward the proposal that they ‘should be unanimous and not to give their votes to any person except he would promise them to free the hundred from being taxed after a pound rate’. Fortunately, for Coke, those present were opposed to pressing candidates for such engagements before their election to Parliament. The state of the poll was also a reflection of the organizational talents and resources of both sides in getting a far-flung electorate to Derby in order to vote. On 31 Dec. 1700, Hartington wrote to his wife that he required money from his father for ‘without we shall not get the poor freeholders to the election’, and noting that Roos had been given £500 ‘for the charges of the election’. According to one surviving account, Hartington spent £264 4s. 5d., which probably represents a minimum figure. Lord Stanhope saw the result of this activity as the determining influence in the contest,

for my brother Coke had a hundred gentlemen that attended him to his election at Derby and all gave single votes for him; and though the two lords had not eight gentlemen on their side, yet Mr Coke lost it, merely by the multitude of the rabble that came out of the Peak against him.

Finally, the Lords had one other source of support which could not be discounted: Protestant Dissent. One of Coke’s correspondents saw the Dissenters’ influence as crucial: ‘I believe they have a great dependence upon the Presbyterians all over the county’.10

In defeat Coke proved lukewarm to suggestions that he seek a seat elsewhere, plotting revenge instead. Events in the 1701 Parliament provided some succour to Coke in his attempts to undermine ‘the lords’ interest’. A group of five clergymen, backed by some influential landowners including Sir Philip Gell, 3rd Bt.†, promoted a bill in the Commons for settling and ascertaining lead tithes in Derbyshire and for preventing vexatious suits relating to such payments. The bill caused a storm of protest from ‘the mineral party’ (the lead merchants and miners) particularly in Wirksworth hundred, previously a stronghold of the lords. Furthermore, Hartington and Roos were suspected of clandestinely supporting it, although in reality Hartington at least had refused to present the clergymen’s petition and attempted to dissuade them from continuing with the project. However, the bill found favour among some Anglicans, which meant that Hartington had to be discreet in his opposition, a position his opponents could twist to their advantage. Unfortunately for the lords, Roos’s position was even more vulnerable as his father had attempted to secure a clause exempting his Derbyshire manors from the bill. According to Thomas Bagshaw, ‘the malaffected gentry and all Mr Cooke’s [sic] party ruminate with reflections upon these malcontents at the bill who were heartily and unanimously your lordship’s friends’. Indeed, Bagshaw estimated that the link between his family and the bill ‘will lose us three parts in four of the votes we had at the election’. By August 1701, Coke had strengthened his position by joining with John Curzon and so added to his cause a formidable interest, which may previously have held aloof from active electioneering. Conversely, ‘the lords’ appear to have neglected their interests ‘having been so long off the spot’. Moreover, ‘the lords’ were in disarray over Roos’s decision to stand for Leicestershire for fear that his father’s removal from Haddon to Belvoir made his position untenable. After much effort by Hartington, Roos was persuaded to stand for Derbyshire as well, but he could not withdraw from the Leicestershire contest. This handed their opponents an effective weapon, as Roos was constantly asked which county he would sit for, if elected for both, a question he could not answer satisfactorily without giving offence to someone. The opportunity was seized with some glee by supporters of Coke and Curzon, who had already made political capital out of the resentment felt by some voters at being represented by two lords. Roos, in an attempt to extricate himself from a deteriorating situation, sought an accommodation whereby he would withdraw if one of the other side would do likewise. Samuel Pole was an early exponent of such a proposal in the interests of a peaceful election. Not surprisingly, this offer did not recommend itself quite as strongly to Coke and Curzon as it did to Roos. They saw it as a move to split their interest, since, in Lord Scarsdale’s words, it would ‘entirely alter the interest which is now made for you both’. As in the previous election, organization and finance were important: ‘the lords’ spent over £600 yet Roos (already elected for Leicestershire) suffered a comprehensive defeat and Coke and Curzon emerged triumphant, although the latter’s margin of victory over Hartington was a slender 19 votes. Despite Hartington conceding defeat at the poll and declining ‘to give his friends the trouble of a scrutiny’ immediately afterwards, the Cavendish agents were instructed to take copies of the poll books and examine them for fraudulent votes while at the same time collecting reports of other illegal acts in readiness for a petition to Parliament. They were also instructed to engage the freeholders for Hartington and an unnamed partner in case the Commons ordered a new election. News of this activity predictably sparked a similar investigation by their opponents. On 3 Jan. 1702 Hartington’s petition was read in the House alleging that he had

the majority of legal votes but divers unqualified persons were admitted to poll for Mr Coke and Mr Curzon and many who were duly qualified were not permitted to poll for the petitioner, or were kept from polling by force, threats, bribes and other violent practices.

However, before it could be dealt with, the petition was withdrawn on 3 Feb. 1702 at the instigation of several influential Whigs, once Hartington had secured election at Castle Rising.11

Significantly, the forces making for county unity appear to have re-exerted themselves in 1702 to avoid another damaging contest. In March 1702, John Fisher reported to Coke

that Mr Eyre refuses to stand upon which Mr Pole proposed to have another gentleman whose name I could not conveniently learn but he is one of the Swarkeston Club [possibly Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt.] to join with the Lord Hartington. But Sir Philip Gell and Mr Eyre have been so far from encouraging it that there is a letter come up to the Duke [of Devonshire] to let him know that if the Lord Hartington joins with that gentleman they shall be obliged to make interest for their cousin Curzon and that their opinion is that a single interest will not carry it. Therefore as his Grace was pleased to adhere to them about withdrawing the petition so they hoped he would not think of the Lord Hartington’s standing the next election for the county.

Thus, despite some preparation by his supporters, and Devonshire according to one report keeping ‘an open house’, Hartington declined to contest the county in 1702, preferring to sit for Yorkshire. With the Cavendish interest in abeyance, the Coke–Curzon partnership went unchallenged until 1710. Nevertheless, behind the apparent tranquillity of county politics, a growing tension developed between Curzon’s independent Toryism and Coke’s increasing identification with the Court. Early in 1705, after the two Members had adopted different positions on the Tack, a rumour began to circulate in the county that Curzon would not stand again, thereby opening the door for a renewed partnership between Coke and Hartington. This was dismissed as ‘a contrived story to create a misunderstanding between Mr Curzon and you to break your interest if possible’, but it seemed plausible enough to cause some unease at Kedleston. Similarly, after the 1705 election Lady Pye reported that Coke ‘is not so revered by the High Church, because he had so much declared against it. It is thought they will endeavour to oppose him against next choice.’ Not surprisingly, it was a religious issue, Coke’s support for Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment, which split the dominant interest. During the summer of 1710, Coke was detained in London by his attendance on the Queen and thus had no opportunity to repair the damage done to his interest. Conversely, the Tory gentry and Lord Scarsdale were able to scheme, unhindered, for his removal. After several preliminary meetings, at the Swarkeston Club, a meeting of gentry at the assizes agreed to set up Godfrey Clarke with Curzon. Coke decided to defend his interest and solicited support from the new Tory ministry, but in the opinion of his sister his presence was needed to galvanize his supporters into action. Any support he gained from the ministry was offset by the Duke of Devonshire’s (formerly Hartington) actions in throwing his interest against Coke ‘for no other reason but his [Coke] being in the Queen’s service’. At length, after arriving in the county, Coke assessed the situation for himself and withdrew a few days before the poll to seek refuge at Grampound. Clarke and Curzon remained in tandem until the latter’s death in 1727.12

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Derbys. RO, D208/Z, poll Dec. 1701.
  • 2. Derbys. RO, Chandos-Pole-Gell mss D258/48/27/a.
  • 3. BL, Lothian mss, poll.
  • 4. Chandos-Pole-Gell mss D258/48/27.
  • 5. Sheffield Archs. OD1181 (Horwitz trans.).
  • 6. Derbys. RO, D208/Z.
  • 7. Chandos-Pole-Gell mss D258/41/31, John Gisborne jnr. to Sir John Gell, 2nd Bt.†, 4 Aug. 1688; D258/29/14, Robert Coke to Mr Ogden, 10 Feb. 1687[–8]; D258/29/48, ‘Mr More’s bill’; D258/48/27/c pollbk.
  • 8. Add. 70500, Devonshire to Newcastle, 21 Sept. and Newcastle’s draft reply, 23 Sept. 1695; 70037, Lady Pye to Abigail Harley, 4 Nov. 1695; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. Aaron Kinton to James Whildon, 5 Oct. 1695, John to James Whildon, 25 Oct. 1695, 3 Mar. 1695[–6]; O.R.F. Davies thesis, 351.
  • 9. Lothian mss, Sir Gilbert Clarke to Coke, 21 July 1698; Whildon pprs. Kinton to Whildon, 30 July 1698; J. More to same, 3 Aug. 1698 (Horwitz trans.).
  • 10. HMC Cowper, ii. 396–7, 408–17; iii. 160; Lothian mss, Duchess of Newcastle to Coke, n.d. ‘Friday’ [1700], Robert Harding to same, 21 Oct., 6, 15, 23, 25 Nov., 20 Dec. 1700, ‘Sat. night.’, ‘one o’clock Friday’, 1 Jan. 1701, J. Akrode to same, 16 Nov., 8, 13, 16 Dec. 1700, John Fisher to same, 20 Nov. 1700, John Beresford to same, 14 Dec. 1700, E. Cunleff to same, 21 Dec. 1700, William Franceys to same, 23 Dec. 1700, copy of Harding to Samuel Pole, 26 Dec. 1700, [? ] to Harding, 26 Dec. 1700, H. Gregson to ‘bro. Gregson’, n.d.; Derby freeholders’ votes Jan. 1701; Chandos-Pole-Gell mss D258/48/27; Devonshire mss, Ld. to Lady Hartington, 31 Dec. 1700; Davies thesis, 270; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/9, Ld. Stanhope to ‘my lord’, 26 Apr. [1700].
  • 11. Add. 6685, ff. 22–25; 21553, f. 56; Davies thesis, 253–5, 350; Sir G. Sitwell, Letters of Sitwells and Sacheverells, ii. 72–73; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, Ld. Roos to Rutland, 13 Nov. 1701; HMC Portland, iv. 181; Lothian mss, Gilbert to Coke, 18 Nov. 1701, J. Bakewell to same, 20 Nov. 1701, Franceys to same, 23 Nov. 1701, Capt. Tate to same, 25 Nov. 1701, Beresford to same, 25 Nov. 1701, 19 Jan., 25 Apr. 1702, n.d. ‘Monday 3 o’clock’, Sir George Beaumont, 3rd Bt.* to same, 26 Nov. 1701, C. Jennens to same, 3 Dec. 1701, Robert Jennens to same, 3 Dec. 1701, Akrode to same, 13 Dec. 1701, 17, 21, 24 Jan. 1701[–2], J. Sherratt to same, 29 Dec. 1701, 10, 13, 20, 23 Jan., 10 Feb. 1701[–2], S. Heathcote to same, 20 Dec. 1700, John Fisher to same, 5, 14 Jan. 1701[–2], Harding to same, 10, 17, 31 Jan. 1701[–2], M. Burton to same, 20 May 1702, John Wilkins* to same, n.d., John Verney* to Rutland, 20 Nov. 1701, Leics. freeholders to Verney, n.d., Mr Pole’s ppr. n.d.; HMC Cowper, ii. 440–53; Devonshire mss, Ld. to Lady Hartington, 26 Nov. 1701; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 159; Derbys RO, 513m/ZC2, Whildon memo. 20 Jan. 1701[–2].
  • 12. Lothian mss, Fisher to Coke, 28 Mar. 1702, Harding to same, 26 Feb., 5 Mar. 1704[–5], Edward Coke to same, 9 Sept. 1710; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, newsletter 7 July 1702; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D368/6/21a, Jane Hyde to Lady Gower, 15 June 1710; HMC Cowper, iii. 2–13, 29–30, 84–98, 170–1; HMC Portland, iv. 212, 572, 591, 612; Add. 70421, newsletter 8 Aug. 1710; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, William Bromley II* to James Grahme*, 13 Aug. 1710.