Cinque Port

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 jurats and resident freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 90 in 1710


 Thomas Mun 
25 Oct. 1695JOHN PULTENEY 
22 July 1698JOHN PULTENEY 
 Robert Austen35
24 Nov. 1701JOHN PULTENEY 
 Hon. William Ashburnham 
10 Feb. 1710HON. JOHN ASHBURNHAM, vice Ashburnham, called to the Upper House 
 John Pulteney341
18 Mar. 1714MARTIN re-elected after appointment to office48
 John Offley182

Main Article

Hastings was a small port whose economy was heavily dependent upon its fishing fleet and associated trades. The traumas of war were dramatically impressed upon the town in 1690 when it suffered bombardment by the French, and in the aftermath of the battle of Beachy Head when it was used by the Dutch as a landing point for their wounded. The construction of two small forts in the early 1690s served as a reminder of the town’s exposure to enemy attack, and similar fears were prevalent in 1707–8. Throughout the period, the needs of local defence, the incidence of French abductions in the Channel, and the impressment of mariners were all subjects of concern to the borough’s MPs, requiring them to intercede frequently with central authorities. Against the background of war, however, there were the more mundane concerns of politics and patronage. The town’s civic body consisted of the mayor, 12 jurats and around 70 freemen. Although by the late 1680s there had been a good deal of resistance in the Cinque Ports to Court interference in elections, the corporation of Hastings had no qualms in choosing as one of its Members Hon. John Beaumont, the crown’s principal electoral agent in the ports. The town elite was a particularly self-seeking body, and expected to benefit from the contacts with central government which office-holding MPs could provide. The most salient feature of Hastings’ electoral history in this period was the manner in which the borough’s aristocratic patron, the 1st Lord Ashburnham (John Ashburnham†), achieved an ascendancy in the town’s affairs that lasted for a decade or so after 1700. The Ashburnham family held property and estates all around Hastings, and had provided MPs for the town throughout the 17th century. During the 1690s, however, Ashburnham, who himself had been Member for the town until his ennoblement in May 1689, showed little interest in pursuing this tradition, and avoided direct involvement in local affairs. He may have seen little point in doing so at this stage as his sons, who would have been obvious nominees, were not yet of age. But when thereafter the corporation succumbed to his attentions and elected an Ashburnham as their MP, they did so primarily because of Ashburnham’s government connexions and his potential value in serving their interests. Ashburnham was never in a position to exercise in Hastings the kind of overbearing aristocratic influence found elsewhere; it was instead a relationship of mutual convenience.3

In 1690 Beaumont, the Tory governor of Dover Castle, was returned with Peter Gott, a local Whig ironfounder, whom Beaumont had narrowly defeated in a by-election of August the preceding year. The losing candidate was Thomas Mun, the other outgoing MP. Mun was scandalized at the way Beaumont had assumed direction over the elections in several of the Cinque Ports, including Hastings, by sending out ‘mandatory letters’ to their corporations, and the ‘menaces and threats’ by which he had procured his own return. The substance of Mun’s complaint, outlined in a petition to the Commons, reflected the views of many local gentry, but it was not reported on. It may have been Mun’s, inactivity in the Convention, however, which led the town’s electors to turn to Gott, a man whose interests were much closer to Hastings’ than Mun’s, whose domicile was in Kent. Neither Beaumont nor Gott stood for re-election in 1695. The appointment of the Earl of Romney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) as lord warden in 1691 ended Beaumont’s electoral pretensions; in 1695 the Earl brought in his own nominee, John Pulteney, a senior Whig official in the Ordnance (where Romney was master-general). Robert Austen II, another Whig, was returned for the second seat. Although he came from a Kentish family, Austen’s father was MP for nearby Winchelsea, and, more importantly, a lord of the Admiralty, thus providing the corporation with useful access to government patronage. The conduct of the election evidently caused dissatisfaction among the electors, for in September 1696 one freeman was disenfranchised for alleging that his fellows had been ‘all foresworn’. Gott reappeared at the election of 1698, possibly encouraged by the fact that Austen’s usefulness to the town had lessened following the death two years previously of his father. Backed by Romney, Pulteney was secure, but a contest developed between Austen and Gott. As both were Whigs, this seems to have been a purely factional rivalry played out among the freemen. Gott polled just one vote more than Austen and the election was declared in his favour. Austen petitioned, but failed in his endeavours to eliminate some of his opponent’s votes on the basis of non-residence, Gott’s election being endorsed by the House on 20 Jan. 1699.4

Pulteney and Gott were re-elected in January 1701 without opposition. At this juncture they stood high in the town’s esteem for funding the rebuilding of the town hall at a cost of £300. As the election approached, however, the first signs were visible of Ashburnham’s reawakening electoral ambitions. Ignoring the town’s new sense of obligation to the sitting Members, Ashburnham had tried to clear the way for his cousin Edward Southwell* by having Gott transferred to Lewes. His scheme was that Gott might be prevailed upon to desist at Hastings by ‘some friends in power’, principally Romney, who was able to control the flow of Ordnance contracts to him, and who was also uncle to the Pelham brothers, Thomas I* and Henry*, who were standing down from the borough they controlled at Lewes. Writing to the corporation in favour of Southwell, Ashburnham evoked ‘remembrance of the trust in Parliament so often reposed in me’, stating that he could give no greater demonstration of his ‘particular esteem and sincere kindness’ than by ‘recommending to you a fit person to serve you as one of your barons’. On this occasion Ashburnham had to acknowledge the corporation’s obligations to Pulteney and Gott, explaining to Southwell that ‘gratitude is urged and pleaded in favour of the builders’.5

In the second election of 1701 Pulteney continued to enjoy the support of his patron, Romney, and the acquiescence of Ashburnham, who wrote to Pulteney on the eve of the election, ‘your person and services are so well understood and gratefully valued and acknowledged at Hastings, that I find your election there will be certain and without difficulty or dispute’. Gott, however, declined to stand, turning his attention instead to Winchelsea. This gave Ashburnham a better opportunity to offer a candidate of his own choosing, and this time he nominated his heir, Hon. William. He procured the co-operation of key local figures such as his young kinsman Sir William Ashburnham, 2nd Bt., Sir Nicholas Pelham*, and the former MP for the port Robert Austen II, and arranged for letters of goodwill signed by his son to be sent to the seamen and freemen of the town and the mayor and jurats. He also embarked on a more purposeful exploitation of his connexions with the corporation. The immediate object of his attention was the mayor, Thomas Moore, for whom he set out to obtain a boatman’s place in the customs. Despite the ‘regard to my son’ which Ashburnham felt he was due, opposition soon began to surface. Vague murmurings reached him that Gott was about to reassume his interest and was considering partnership with the outside candidate, John Mounsher of Portsmouth, who was busily enlisting votes among the freemen mariners. Mounsher, whose rope-making business involved him in Admiralty work at Portsmouth dockyard, seems to have been intended, along with Pulteney, as another government nominee. Ashburnham dismissed Gott as ‘entirely sunk and excluded’ and Mounsher as a socially inferior ‘tradesman’, and tried, though to no avail, to convince Pulteney of the desirability of a joint arrangement with his son. As a government Whig, Pulteney was understandably impervious to these blandishments. Though on previous occasions he had been fully prepared to co-operate with Ashburnham on matters of local patronage, to have struck a deal with a Tory in the present election when an Admiralty candidate was already in the ring would undoubtedly have annoyed his political masters. Ashburnham could scarcely contain his indignation when by four votes the election was declared for the ‘rope-maker’ rather than his son, and almost immediately declared his intention to dispute the result on the grounds that three-quarters of all Mounsher’s votes had been corruptly obtained: ‘I doubt not but by God’s blessing and the assistance of our friends, we shall be able to bring about and recover this affair for the honour of my son and of the corporation.’ Mounsher, it was alleged, had gone about ‘promising the seamen of Hastings ropes for their ships, gratis or at under value’. Some 16 electors, originally pledged to Ashburnham jnr., had been ‘taken off by evil practices’. In London Ashburnham worked assiduously in marshalling evidence against Mounsher and persuading MPs of the justice of his son’s cause. To lend weight to the case he recruited the High Church spokesman Hon. Heneage Finch I* to present the petition on 3 Jan. 1702. At the end of the month he confidently reported the formation of ‘a very great party for us’, and claimed that his son had dined with 150 Members ‘who every man drank his good success with as much and more civility and kindness than he deserves’. At Hastings Ashburnham left nothing to chance and initiated preparations for a new contest in the expectation of the election being declared void. Writing from Westminster on 27 Jan., he urged his agents

to be careful and to avoid all distinctions of parties notwithstanding we may have at present a majority, yet I would not shut the door upon such as may and perhaps will be our friends; therefore to increase their number ought to be our principal study and application, so that by all means I would have you work up those that are leaders and in power in the town to spread amongst our friends such a spirit of agreement as may consolidate our interest with as many of the freemen as possible.

The opposing party also made preparations and amid reports of dirty tricks busied themselves on behalf of Gott, whom they intended as a running-mate for Mounsher, and, much to Ashburnham’s disgust, promoted them both as ‘benefactors to the town and patriots to the country’. Ashburnham counted on the mayor to create additional freemen if necessary, to which end he continued to lobby Whitehall for the boatman’s place promised to the mayor just prior to the last election. Interference in this process by the opposing party, who tried to raise difficulties about the mayor’s suitability, involved Ashburnham in ‘extraordinary’ trouble, and even when the appointment was finally approved, the Whig customs commissioner, Arthur Maynwaring*, tried to ensure that the credit went to his government colleague Pulteney rather than Ashburnham. As the weeks passed, however, and as the ‘Country’ MPs whose support had been recruited began to drift away from Westminster, so the chances of success began to dim, and it came as a relief to Ashburnham in the first week of March to hear of the Commons’ decision to hear no more election cases in the current session. ‘I think it will be much to my son’s advantage’, he wrote, ‘that the cause comes not on in a thin House.’ The accession of Queen Anne just days later, and the subsequent reconstruction of the ministry along Tory lines, promised to strengthen Ashburnham’s electoral position in the sense that he would now have governmental backing for his activities in Hastings, and would have far better access to Whitehall for the purposes of local patronage. In the town, however, anxiety over his interference in corporation affairs was demonstrated in a prompt rejection of the draft of a loyal address which he had submitted for their approval. With thinly disguised pique, he made it clear that his own concerns were above mere faction, and cautioned against the use of addresses purely for the political benefit of representatives: ‘I designed yours’, he wrote, ‘for the benefit of the represented on which bottom I could have pressed some things for the town’s advantage, with success, I believe.’6

Despite this affront, Ashburnham continued to cultivate his interest in preparation for his son’s candidacy at the forthcoming election. In particular he mediated with his Whitehall contacts on behalf of master-mariners who required Admiralty protection, and local fishermen who, under the threat of impressment, needed exemption from service. In the event, Mounsher was prevented by ill-health from seeking re-election and this time left the way open for young Ashburnham. A week or so before the election the Earl of Winchilsea, the deputy lord warden, informed Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) that Ashburnham’s chances were ‘very fair’, no opposing interest having appeared. Pulteney, while no longer deriving support from Romney, lately dismissed from the lord wardenship, was well-entrenched in the good opinions of the freemen, chiefly, it would seem, as a result of his earlier munificence. On the day of the election a general consent was accorded both candidates although Southwell observed that ‘it went heavily’, and that had Ashburnham tried to propose a second Tory he would undoubtedly have failed. In 1705 the replacement of Winchilsea with the Earl of Westmorland as deputy lord warden, part of the new influx of Whigs into the administration, presaged a greater Whig bias in the representation of the Cinque Ports and threatened William Ashburnham’s position at Hastings. This certainly seems to have been Robert Harley’s* prediction for, in an aide-mémoire he compiled as early as February 1705, Pulteney was partnered with his former Whig colleague Gott. However, it may subsequently have proved too difficult to override the Ashburnham interest and the old Members were re-elected unopposed.7

From 1706, Ashburnham seems to have wearied of attending to the needs of the constituency, and spent an increasing amount of time on his Bedfordshire estate at Ampthill Park, leaving the management of his interest to his son William. It was from Ampthill in April 1708 that Ashburnham benignly addressed the mayor and jurats on the occasion of the general election, assuring them that ‘by choosing him [i.e. William] you will choose me also and have three strings to your bow as we used cheerfully to debate those matters together when I had the happiness of your good company’. Shortly before this, the election of a hostile mayor seemed to threaten William’s prospects and his father warned him to ‘use a double precaution’, for this setback ‘your adversaries will look upon as a leading card against you’. Whatever adversarial feeling there was towards the Ashburnhams at this time, it failed to make its presence felt at the election and the representation remained unchanged. In October 1708 steps were taken to prevent a recurrence of what appears to have been a larger than usual admission of freemen in the winter months of 1707, an order being made to the effect that only two townsmen could thereafter be made free in any one year. Ashburnham died in January 1710 after a prolonged illness, and was succeeded in the peerage by William. At the by-election the following month the new Lord Ashburnham’s younger brother John was returned without challenge. However, William died suddenly in June leaving no issue, and the title devolved upon John who was thereby obliged to vacate his seat. New arrangements had therefore to be made for the approaching general election. Pulteney stood with two newcomers, Sir William Ashburnham, 2nd Bt., and Joseph Martin. Ashburnham, whose father, Sir Denny Ashburnham, 1st Bt.†, had sat for Hastings in the 1680s, was second cousin to the new Lord Ashburnham, and it was almost certainly at his behest that Sir William stood. Sir William had co-operated with his cousins in past elections and his Whiggish outlook suited that of Ashburnham whose political views had recently undergone conversion from Toryism. The other candidate, Joseph Martin, was a Tory merchant of London, an outsider who may have been put forward with government encouragement in a bid to displace the long-serving Pulteney. For some time Martin had been building up an interest in the town through the agency of Thomas Gyles, a prominent townsman related to several freemen, for whose nephew Martin had obtained a clerk’s place in the South Sea Company. Ashburnham, in a well-calculated act of aristocratic munificence, ensured the corporation’s acquiescence in both new candidates through a handsome presentation of two maces three weeks before the election was due. Accordingly, at the contest, the first since November 1701, Pulteney was easily outvoted.8

In the election of 1713, only Martin, who had been knighted the previous year, stood for re-election. Ashburnham stood down, evidently to enable Lord Ashburnham’s father-in-law, the Duke of Ormond, the newly appointed lord warden, to nominate Archibald Hutcheson, one of his legal advisers. Both Hutcheson and Martin were returned unopposed. Martin had to face another contest in March 1714 when his appointment as a commissary for commercial negotiations with France obliged him to seek re-election. His opponent, John Offley, was possibly a relative of the Joseph Offley who had sat for Rye between 1698 and 1702. After the Hanoverian succession, the zealous young Earl of Clare, shortly to be created Duke of Newcastle, sought to exert his interest as owner of the lordship and rape of Hastings. Although able to secure the election of his cousin Henry Pelham† in 1715, Clare was in fact forced to retain Hutcheson on account of the interest the latter had established both through his own munificence in the town and the assistance of Lord Ashburnham, and at the request of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), with whom Hutcheson was on good terms.9

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Post Boy, 10–12 Oct. 1710.
  • 2. Evening Post, 23–25 Mar. 1713.
  • 3. VCH Suss. ii. 159, ix. 5; HMC Portland, viii. 304, 309; Southern Hist. ix. 51–70.
  • 4. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 100; Hastings Mus. Hastings ct. bk. C/A(a)2, 20, 22 Sept. 1696.
  • 5. E. Suss. RO, Ashburnham mss ASH 843, pp. 159–60, 164.
  • 6. Ibid. 373–5, 377–9, 381, 388, 391, 395, 401, 404, 407, 409, 411, 415–16, 425–31, 444–5, 452; Southern Hist. 64, 69–70.
  • 7. Ashburnham mss ASH 843, pp. 459, 466; Add. 29588, ff. 93, 102–3; 70334, Harley’s note ‘Kent, 14 Feb. 1704–5’.
  • 8. Southern Hist. 65, 69; Ashburnham mss ASH 847, Ashburnham to mayor and jurats of Hastings, 17 Apr. 1708, same to William Ashburnham, 27 Apr. 1708; Hastings Mus. Hastings bor. recs. B/F(a)7, freemen roll 1707–10 (fragment); ct. bk. f. 355; S.H. Nulle, Newcastle, 47, 179, 181; W.G. Moss, Hist. Hastings, 133.
  • 9. Horsfield, Sussex, i. 455; Add. 32679, f. 19.