Kent

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:

5,027 in 17131

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
10 Mar. 1690HON. SIR VERE FANE 
 SIR JOHN KNATCHBULL, Bt. 
16 Nov. 1691SIR THOMAS ROBERTS, Bt. vice Fane, called to Upper House 
 Robert Smythe 
11 Nov. 1695HON. PHILIP SYDNEY 
 SIR THOMAS ROBERTS, Bt. 
 Sir John Knatchbull, Bt. 
27 July 1698SIR JAMES OXENDEN, Bt. 
 SIR STEPHEN LENNARD, Bt. 
8 Jan. 1701SIR THOMAS HALES, Bt. 
 THOMAS MEREDITH 
10 Dec. 1701SIR THOMAS HALES, Bt.2488
 WILLIAM CAMPION2326
 William Colepeper16252
22 July 1702SIR THOMAS HALES, Bt. 
 SIR FRANCIS LEIGH 
22 May 1705WILLIAM VILLIERS, Ld. Villiers2180
 SIR CHOLMELEY DERING, Bt.2391
 Sir Robert Austen, Bt.2114
 William Colepeper14023
19 May 1708SIR THOMAS PALMER, Bt.3446
 SIR STEPHEN LENNARD, Bt.2936
 Percival Hart1735
 Sir Cholmeley Dering, Bt.15474
11 Jan. 1710DAVID POLHILL vice Lennard, deceased 
17 Oct. 1710SIR CHOLMELEY DERING, Bt.3413
 PERCIVAL HART3609
 Sir Thomas Palmer, Bt.2807
 David Polhill25705
13 June 1711SIR WILLIAM HARDRES, Bt. vice Dering, deceased 
2 Sept. 1713SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, Bt.
2841
 PERCIVAL HART2808
 Hon. Edward Watson2182
 Hon. Mildmay Fane21926

Main Article

Although Kent had numerous resident peers, none had sufficient estates to domineer their gentry neighbours. Indeed, what differentiated the Kentish aristocracy from the greater gentry was merely their access to estates and wealth drawn from outside the county’s borders. The chief aristocratic players in Kentish politics were those who occupied the lord lieutenancy and lord wardenship of the Cinque Ports in this period, namely the Fanes, earls of Westmorland, the Finches, earls of Winchilsea, the Watsons, earls of Rockingham, the Sydneys, earls of Leicester (although mainly through Henry†, successively Lord Sydney and Earl of Romney), and the Sackvilles, earls of Dorset. On the other hand, Kent boasted large numbers of gentry and hence possessed a large reservoir of potential knights of the shire. This fact alone may well explain the rapid turnover of county Members, which saw 17 achieve parliamentary honours between 1690 and 1715. The other characteristic of Kentish elections was the maintenance of a balance between the east and west of the county (1695 excepted). Generally this followed the administrative organization of the shire, the quarter sessions being split into an east and west division, and there were even suggestions that there should be two lord lieutenants in order to correspond to this dichotomy. That said, the dual lieutenancy of Sydney and Westmorland for 20 months from April 1692 was probably more a response to Sydney’s other duties than a response to pressure for this reform because both families were from west Kent. The intrusion of party into this custom of geographical balance merely ensured that each party put an east–west ticket before the freeholders.7

The 1690 election threatened to be a re-run of the contest for seats in the Convention of 1689. Then Sir William Twisden, 3rd Bt.*, had failed to sustain his candidature owing to his unwillingness to sign the Kentish Association in support of William of Orange. Despite encouragement from Tories such as Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), Twisden again demurred from pressing his candidature because of this same objection which even his erstwhile defenders, like Sir John Knatchbull, 2nd Bt. recognized as a bar to his election. Twisden did not attend the poll. The chief threat to Knatchbull and Fane (after the premature death of Sir Edward Dering, 3rd Bt.†, in October 1689) was the possibility of a challenge from Sir Stephen Lennard, 2nd Bt. Knatchbull felt uneasy about such a challenge because he had recently accepted office and had no formal agreement with Fane to stand jointly. Knatchbull used meetings of the ‘3s. commissioners’ in both Ashford and Canterbury on consecutive days early in March 1690 to canvass opinion and arrived at the election on the 10th with a large party which promptly joined Fane and Sir Thomas Roberts, 4th Bt., to make ‘not less than 2,000’. Lennard had only 300 followers and did not force a poll. Expectations of a poll had caused a document to be drawn up for presentation to Knatchbull and Fane, commending their conduct in the Convention and seeking to exact a pledge that ‘there be such regard had to the motives of his present Majesty’s expedition for our deliverance as strictly to pursue the ends of his declaration’. However, ‘the election going over without dispute there was not time for promoting the design’.8

The death of the 3rd Earl of Westmorland (Charles Fane†) in September 1691 saw the elevation of his half-brother, Hon. Sir Vere, to the peerage. Roberts was early in the field as his replacement, canvassing the lord chamberlain, the 6th Earl of Dorset (Charles Sackville†) in the first week in October. The by-election was fought in November between Roberts, ‘set up by the country gentlemen and Mr Robert Smith [Smythe] by the courtiers’. Smythe’s courtier connexions were impeccable, he being the ‘nephew’ of the lord warden Lord Sydney (actually Sydney’s step-grandmother was Smythe’s great-grandmother), and half-brother to the Earl of Sunderland. Most important, he came from an old Kentish family, was the lieutenant of Dover Castle, a post in Sydney’s gift, and possibly that family’s choice to protect their interest in the county. Despite an appearance of four to one in favour of Roberts, a poll was ordered, the freeholders to ‘bear their own charges on both sides’. Roberts was elected.9

According to Dr Richard Kingston, writing from New Romney in July 1695, the corporations in Kent were becoming politicized again, ‘which has caused as great animosity upon the old topic of Whig and Tory as in the reign of Charles II’. Kingston’s further comment that the Church party ‘either gain their point or balance the scales’ was not borne out in the county election where Knatchbull eventually withdrew from the contest on the eve of the poll, Roberts and the Hon. Philip Sydney (although under age) being returned unopposed. The clear import of one newsletter was that Roberts and Sydney had joined against Knatchbull, the latter’s withdrawal upsetting the east–west balance of the representation. Sydney made full use of his aristocratic and governmental contacts, Sir Basil Dixwell, 2nd Bt.*, introducing him in the pre-election canvass as ‘son to my Lord Lisle, grandson to my Lord Leicester [the 3rd Earl, Philip Sydney†] and nephew to my lord warden [Sydney, now Earl of Romney]’, adding ‘he is by principle and extraction so much a friend to this present established government, that I hope all well-wishers to it will think him fit to serve it in Parliament’. There is some evidence that Romney was able to use his official position to help his nephew, the Kentish commission of the peace receiving ‘alterations that were more than just routine’ in the run-up to the election. There is no evidence of a contest in 1698, with Sir Stephen Lennard and Sir James Oxenden, 2nd Bt., being returned. Philip Papillon* may have foreseen the possibility of a contest when he wrote in April: ‘I hope our East Kentish men will stand fast to Sir James Oxenden who is of clean reputation and of good estate and well deserving of his neighbours among whom he generally resides and studies their welfare’. Papillon’s comments are a good example of the tendency of Kentish gentlemen to think in geographical terms, and may be especially significant given that this election saw the reversion to a split representation along traditional lines. Likewise, the election of Sir Thomas Hales, 2nd Bt., and Thomas Meredith, two new Members, in January 1701 evoked no disagreement and bears all the hallmarks of a decision to rotate the county representation among shire gentry.10

Any predilection towards peaceful co-existence between the parties was shattered by the Kentish Petition, itself symptomatic of growing division within the political nation at large. At the quarter sessions held at Maidstone on 29 Apr. 1701 a petition was circulated and signed by the grand jury and 23 justices, plus freeholders. In content the petition was concerned to ensure a speedy supply to enable the King to forge alliances to counteract the French threat to the peace of Europe. On 6 May five Kentish gentlemen (William Colepeper, chair of the bench, David Polhill*, Thomas Colepeper, William Hamilton and Justinian Champneys) arrived in London to deliver the petition. On the 8th Thomas Meredith* presented it to the Commons, who took offence at its terms, voting it ‘scandalous, insolent and seditious; tending to destroy the constitution of Parliaments, and to subvert the established government of the realm’. As the five men were proud to own their petition, the Commons ordered them to be taken into custody by the serjeant-at-arms. Further controversy followed when Thomas Colepeper absconded from custody, and the other prisoners were reported to the House for disorderly behaviour, for which they were ordered confined to the Gatehouse. For promoting such Whig views, and seemingly victimized for merely exercising their constitutional right to petition the legislature, the five became Whig martyrs. On their release they were fêted in the City and escorted into Kent on horseback. Such a cause célèbre was bound to have an impact on Kentish politics.11

The Kentish Petitioners were not prepared to let matters lie, Polhill taking out a prosecution against the serjeant-at-arms for refusing to show him a warrant for his committal into custody. The election for the county in December 1701 was made the focus of attention by William Colepeper’s decision to stand. Many Whigs felt that Roberts would have made a better candidate and that Colepeper should have stood aside for him. Indeed, in early December it was vigorously denied that Roberts had declined to stand and the freeholders were urged to ignore ‘whatever a few gentlemen may have privately agreed upon’. Colepeper was subject to a concerted Tory campaign. Sir George Rooke*, for one, wrote letters against him, spawning a notable feud which produced a minor pamphlet war. Much play was made in the Tory press of the overwhelming support of the gentry for Sir Thomas Hales, 2nd Bt., and William Campion, with the prevalent election slogan being ‘no petitioner’. Colepeper’s defenders pointed to his 1,200 single votes, ‘a number never yet brought into the field in that county by one single gentleman against two united’ and the preponderance of gentry in his own ‘division’ proffering Colepeper support. Colepeper in fact claimed later that his opponents had only joined on the day of election and that his interest (in terms of single votes) was superior to that of his opponents.12

With the death of William III, Colepeper again made an interest for the county. Recorded in a commonplace book is a letter from Colepeper of 28 May 1702, defending his decision to stand again and refuting accusations that he was a Dissenter. Further he railed against the practice of meetings of the gentry to select candidates because it deprived the freeholders of a real say in such decisions. According to the Earl of Winchilsea on 12 July, ‘Colepeper holds it out still for the county, but in my opinion will never reach as many as he polled last time’. This assessment was evidently shared by Colepeper himself, for on the 22nd Edward Southwell* reported that ‘the county election is this day but nobody sets up against’ Sir Thomas Hales and Sir Francis Leigh.13

The prorogation of Parliament in April 1704 apparently led to speculation of a dissolution, and some interesting comments survive from Lord Lieutenant Winchilsea on the state of the county. He was evidently remodelling the lieutenancy in the Tory interest, although mainly through the expedient of enlarging the number of deputies rather than by a purge. Of more pressing concern was his assessment that the ‘division among the west Kent gentlemen (which cannot yet be healed) will be of great prejudice whenever it comes to a county election’. The Whig Sir George Choute, 1st Bt.* (a notable supporter of the Kentish Petitioners), had given up his ‘pretensions’ to a seat, but Winchilsea foresaw that this was merely ‘with design to favour another [that] will be as unacceptable to the best part of the gentry’. Winchilsea was still trying at the assizes in August to ‘reconcile the differences among our west Kent gentlemen’. Further evidence of conflict came in May with the conviction of Mr Denew, ‘a Kentish gentleman’, and Richard Bretton, collector of customs at Dover, for assaulting William Colepeper. As late as February 1705 Robert Harley* was predicting that Choute would contest the forthcoming general election with Sir Robert Austen, 3rd Bt.*, although he surmised correctly that the Whigs would not succeed in defeating Sir Cholmeley Dering, 4th Bt., and Lord Villiers, the Earl of Jersey’s son. In the event Choute gave way to William Colepeper, the latter only agreeing to stand after the dismissal of Winchilsea from the lieutenancy and his replacement by the Earl of Rockingham, an alteration which Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) believed, ‘if that had been done sooner, and followed with a good spirit, not one ill man had been chose in that county, which has ever [been] well disposed till Sir George [Rooke] and Lord Winchilsea were allowed to spoil them’. It would seem that the change was delayed, for at the end of March Harley had been told that Rockingham desired the lieutenancy to be divided into two, one for east and one for west Kent. However, one result of Rockingham’s eventual appointment in April was the addition of 14 to the commission of the peace in July, too late to influence the outcome of the election. Villiers and Dering won the election for the Tories but Austen came a close third, Colepeper trailing badly. Defoe noted of this election that over 250 of the 318 clerical voters had supported the victorious candidates, ‘in conjunction with the papists, non-jurors and Tackers’.14

The extent of party divisions within the county was shown in the controversy which arose in 1706 over the address from the county congratulating the Queen on the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) success at Ramillies. Rooke refused to sign, prompting calls for him to be dismissed from the Privy Council, and the Earl of Thanet (Thomas Tufton†) entered a protestation on the grounds that it was not ‘for the ministry’. August 1707 saw an attempt at Maidstone assizes by the Tories to ‘carve us out two knights of the shire’, with some wishing to replace Lord Villiers with Percival Hart, as in fact happened at the 1708 election. The Whigs were reported to have met and settled on Sir Thomas Palmer, 4th Bt., and Lennard, but to be dismayed by the lack of a thorough purge of their opponents from the bench and the militia and the continued presence of George St. Loe* as resident commissioner at Chatham. Nevertheless the Whigs easily won the 1708 election. According to contemporary newspaper reports ‘the utmost efforts were made by the contending parties’, 9,664 votes being cast, ‘the greatest that ever was known there’. Palmer and Lennard for the Whigs apparently ‘stood single’, against Dering and Hart who ‘joined interest’. The death of Lennard in December 1709 precipitated a by-election which initially saw Polhill and Hart as the likely candidates, although in the event Polhill was returned unopposed. Polhill’s accounts reveal expenditure of £77 19s. ‘on and before my election for the county, ringers, music, bailiffs, sheriff, clerk of the peace and Parliament officers, poor, horses, lodging’.15

The prelude to the 1710 election saw rival addresses obtained from the Maidstone assizes held at the end of July. The Tory address had the sanction of the sheriff, Sir Thomas Styles, 4th Bt.†, and the ‘packed’ grand jury, under the foremanship of Sir Thomas Twisden, 3rd Bt.† It professed loyalty to the Queen, her hereditary right and the ‘doctrine of obedience taught by our Church’, while denouncing the critics of this message as ‘restless spirits’ intent on destroying ‘all forms of government’. This address was presented to the Queen by Styles after he had been introduced by the 2nd Duke of Beaufort, a Tory grandee. The Whig address, which boasted signatures from 26 deputy-lieutenants and 52 justices, concentrated on detestation of the ‘turbulent spirits, those fomentors of sedition’ who suggested that the Church was in danger, and defence of the Revolution of 1688. It was presented by Palmer and Polhill, the county MPs, introduced by the lord warden, Dorset. The lord lieutenant, Rockingham, later bewailed to Polhill the fact that he ‘could not have my hand to an address which I approve so heartily of’. However, Rockingham’s failure to attend the assizes, or sign the address, may have reflected his precarious position as lord lieutenant, rumours having already been in circulation by mid-July that he would be replaced by Lord Guernsey (Hon. Heneage Finch I*). Nevertheless, Rockingham’s retention of the lieutenancy until his death in 1724 is evidence of a political antenna sharp enough to avoid association with partisan measures at an inexpedient time. The assizes also saw the adoption, ‘at the unanimous request of the grand jury and a great number of the principal gentry and freeholders’, of Hart and Dering as the Tory candidates for the election.16

As early as 10 July 1710 canvassing for knights of the shire was reported to be in full swing, with the Tories expressing confidence in Hart’s ability to carry the election. Local government appointments clearly played a large role in the srategic thinking of both camps. Before June Polhill had sent Rockingham a list of names to be added to the Kentish bench, but in August Rockingham was unable to report that they had been added, ‘the uncertainty of affairs’ preventing action from being taken by Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*). Likewise Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) believed voters in the Cinque Ports to be ‘much guided’ by the lord warden, as well as those in the county being influenced by the lord lieutenant; Lord Jersey concurred, advising Secretary of State Dartmouth at the end of August of the necessity of removing Dorset, because his actions were encouraging ‘the choice of those who are entirely against the Queen’s measures’. An assessment of Tory strength in September 1710 hoped that the ‘late alterations at court’ would turn to the advantage of the Church, for the ‘very great majority of our gentry’ were for Palmer and Polhill: indeed Styles had only with great difficulty found 40 to make up the grand jury at the assizes and he thought there were between 70 and 80 ‘on the wrong side for ours is one of the worst counties in England’. Even in south Kent (the Weald) there would be more supporters for Hart and Dering than in 1708, but the two parties were ‘about a par’ on Canterbury ‘side’, with the Tories having a majority in Ashford ‘side’ and the Isle of Thanet. On a general point, Styles felt that Dering had declared too late to unseat Palmer, but that Hart would defeat Polhill. Both sides made elaborate preparations for the contest, notices being inserted in the London press informing voters of assembly points where supporters could meet in order to march in a body to the poll. Dyer’s initial report feared that in the struggle between ‘Churchman and Whig’ the former would lose out, ‘the lieutenancy, the commissions of the peace and the Cinque Ports being all against them headed by a great man in post’. In the event the Tories triumphed, despite, as Jersey put it ‘the power and zeal of a lord warden and lord lieutenant’. Even Winchilsea did his part, in marching to the poll at the head of 1,000 freeholders. Polhill’s accounts reveal expenditure of £393 12s. and that he went through the whole county to the ports and chief towns. Dyer reported that the Tories had votes to spare, the Whigs giving up the poll when Sir William Hardres, 4th Bt., arrived with 500 freeholders, and he also noted the solid clerical backing for Hart and Dering. According to Archbishop Tenison’s son, Edward, the Whig clergy were derided as ‘chaplains to the Calves-head Club’ and as ‘Mr Polhill’s chaplains’. The Whig response to defeat was to question the validity of the Tory votes, since Polhill and Palmer had ‘the greatest number of gentlemen, both for quality and estate, that ever appeared at any election there’. In their view the increase in the voterate must have come about through Tory malpractice, with some men voting ten times for Dering and Hart. More plausibly, as Dr John Harris, canon of Rochester, later averred, ‘we all believe that the docks and the cathedrals lost us the last election for this county’.17

The death of Dering in a duel with a neighbour on 9 May 1711 saw both parties move quickly to set up candidates for the ensuing by-election. On the 12th it was reported that Sir Thomas Hales, 2nd Bt., would stand for the Whigs. The ‘loyal party’ had fixed upon Colonel Diggs or, if he refused, Sir William Hardres. By the end of the month the press was announcing Hardres’ candidature. No contest occurred, Hales withdrawing rather than face defeat. According to one Tory, the Whigs ‘could not have acted with greater zeal and vigour, if it had been to save their own lives, or even the life of their cause and party’, yet found the Church interest gaining ground.18

As early as August 1712 the Earl of Sussex was writing to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) informing him of his political activities ‘on this side’, which consisted of a dinner to ‘concert matters for the next election, which the Whigs begin to be very busy about’. The spring assizes in 1713 saw both parties settle upon candidates. As usual the Whig caucus had the more prepossessing appearance, over 60 ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ to ‘very few more than 30’ for their Tory opponents. Less than a week after the assizes it was reported that every parish had received some solicitation about the election, Philip Papillon, for example, firing off half a dozen letters in late March soliciting support for Hon. Mildmay Fane and Hon. Edward Watson. Edward Tenison portrayed the type of electioneering involved, Sussex’s promise of a market for Brasted being countered by Whig plans to distribute anti-Jacobite tracts to places canvassed by the Tories. Moreover, there is evidence that the Whigs attempted to exploit commercial grievances by wearing wool in their hats and thereby alluding to the recent controversy over the French commercial treaty. Possibly because of the advantages enjoyed by the Tories, as enumerated by Harris, in the naval dockyards and the Church, Hart and Sir Edward Knatchbull, 4th Bt., triumphed over their aristocratic opponents, ‘which is a deadly blow to the Whiggish interest in this county’. Modern analysis has born out Harris’ conjecture, in comparison with the 1715 poll. The Tory advantage lay in the dockyard parishes and in naval towns of the county. The change of government in 1714 saw these townships and parishes switch decisively to the Whigs in the 1715 election, making a decisive difference to the county’s representation.19

Author: Stuart Handley

Notes

  • 1. Hist. Jnl. xxii. 563.
  • 2. Post Boy, 13–16 Dec. 1701.
  • 3. Post Man, 26–29 May 1705.
  • 4. Bodl. Willis 9, f. 163v.
  • 5. Willis 51, f. 53.
  • 6. Hist. Jnl. 565.
  • 7. N. Landau, JPs, 37, 182, 240–1, 296–8; Egerton 2985, f. 204; HMC Portland, ii. 189.
  • 8. Add. 33923, ff. 468, 470, 477–80; 42592, f. 94.
  • 9. Centre Kentish Stud. Sackville mss U269/C119/2, Roberts to Dorset, 6 Oct. 1691; Add. 70270, Robert to Elizabeth Harley, 17 Nov. 1691; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 224, 381; Hasted, Kent, ii. 349–50; Collins, Peerage, i. 406.
  • 10. HMC Downshire, i. 512; Add. 70081, newsletter 16 Nov. 1695; 70018, ff. 94–95; 33512, f. 147; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 116; Centre Kentish Stud. Papillon mss U1015/C44, p. 91.
  • 11. Somers Tracts xi. 242–54; Cocks Diary, 114–15, 125–6; HMC Portland, viii. 90–1; Liverpool RO,