Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen and householders paying scot and lot
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
at least 935 in 1705
|7 Mar. 1690||LAWRENCE CARTER I|
|SIR EDWARD ABNEY|
|23 Oct. 1695||SIR EDWARD ABNEY|
|27 July 1698||SIR WILLIAM VILLIERS, Bt.|
|LAWRENCE CARTER II|
|3 Jan. 1701||SIR WILLIAM VILLIERS, Bt.|
|LAWRENCE CARTER II|
|24 Nov. 1701||LAWRENCE CARTER I|
|20 July 1702||SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|Lawrence Carter II|
|15 May 1705||SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, Bt.||685|
|Lawrence Carter II||592|
|4 May 1708||SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|5 Oct. 1710||SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|4 Jan. 1712||BEAUMONT re-elected after appointment to office|
|28 Aug. 1713||SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|22 Apr. 1714||BEAUMONT re-elected after appointment to office|
In 1682 Thomas Baskerville had bluntly described Leicester as ‘an old stinking town, situated upon a dull river, inhabited for the most part by tradesmen, viz.: worsted combers and clothiers’. Celia Fiennes, visiting in 1698, was more complimentary, noting the spaciousness of streets and market-place and the presence of ‘a great many Dissenters’. In fact the town’s Nonconformist community was small in comparison with other midland centres of Dissent, and accounted for approximately 100 parliamentary votes. Economically it was heavily reliant on its woollen manufacture and specialist hosiery trade. When Parliament threatened to curb illicit wool exports and to tax finished wool products during 1696 and 1697, a period when the industry was depressed, the local implications were quickly seized upon and petitions submitted to the Commons. Civic authority was exercised by a corporation of 24 aldermen and 48 common councilmen. Although this had been a preponderantly Whiggish body after the restoration of the old charter in October 1688, by 1690 one observer was referring to ‘the Churchmen, the majority and best party’ in the corporation. There may have been some preference within the corporation for Tory Members, but the franchise extended far beyond its personnel and field of patronage, and suitable Tories, not least with the means to ‘treat’, were probably in short supply. Consequently, during the ten years that followed the 1690 election, only Whigs were returned, strongly recommended by the local Whig grandees the earls of Rutland (John Manners†) and Stamford. As it was, of the town’s Whig dignitaries only the Carters were persuaded to put up for election, the other candidates tending to be gentlemen of the county.1
The 7th Earl of Huntingdon’s interest, formidable during his period of collaboration with James II, suffered irreparably with his imprisonment in 1688, but this fall from grace did not automatically sever his links or his influence with the corporation. There were continuing elements of obligation which made his recommendation of Sir Edward Abney at the 1690 election perfectly acceptable. Huntingdon’s blessing, communicated by the mayor to the aldermen, ‘came in very good time and was kindly received’. Earlier, Abney’s Nonconformist background appears to have clouded his chance of success, but he had clearly allayed any residual suspicions by the time he reported his progress to Huntingdon: ‘there seems to be fairer hopes of my success than formerly’. Abney had additional backing from Stamford, but he was under no delusions that in an open constituency such as Leicester, aristocratic wire-pulling was insufficient to secure a seat:
nothing is certain till done, that depends upon the suffrage of the unstable vulgar. Last night I treated most of the companies of trades of this town visiting all of them myself at ten several houses wher[e] I entertained them. As the custom is I spoke a little to every company. Many aldermen went along with me and most of them declared for me . . . I propose to treat the mayor and aldermen and common council next week and stay here till the election shall be finished.
At the poll it was the Rutland interest which received a setback, the Earl having recommended to the corporation the losing Tory Thomas Babington. Huntingdon’s comeback was nonetheless only temporary. Whatever his political intentions in 1690, he restricted himself thereafter to providing advice and moral support when it was sought by intending candidates, but he warned Geoffrey Palmer*, who considered standing in 1698, ‘as to myself I have been since the Revolution altogether a stranger to the corporation who are not that body of men that I was recorder to’.2
In 1695 Abney and Archdale Palmer were returned, apparently unopposed. Though Rutland sought the corporation’s support for John Verney for the county, he showed no interest in the borough election, leaving it to Stamford to claim credit for ensuring both town and county were ‘so well disposed’. However, in 1698 Geoffrey Palmer, a local Tory gentleman, was approached by senior townsmen following the refusal of Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt., once more to consider standing for the town, and applied to Rutland knowing his ‘interest is great in the town’. Huntingdon had heard of several other gentlemen ‘who have already offered themselves to the corporation’ and who presumably included the successful Whig candidates, Sir William Villiers, 3rd Bt., and Lawrence Carter II. No evidence of a contest is apparent, however, and it is possible that Palmer was unable to secure adequate assurances from Rutland whose backing he considered vital.3
There are unmistakable indications that during the years 1700–2 the Tory faction within the corporation gained an ascendancy over their Whig rivals. This development is strongly implied in the return of first one and then, by 1702, two High Church Tories, Beaumont and James Winstanley, who were subsequently returned at every election in Anne’s reign, though in the later years not without opposition. Furthermore, the Rutland interest was forced out of the limelight and resigned itself hereafter to skirmishing over the county seats; the continued aristocratic gifts of venison and the corporation’s raising of glasses to Rutland at the mayoral feasts denoted no more than polite goodwill. In November 1701 he appears to have been caught off guard when he endorsed Winstanley’s candidature, initially oblivious to the fact that Winstanley was soliciting the Tory vote, while in July 1702, when the Whig Lawrence Carter II stood with Rutland’s support and failed to gain re-election, the badly affronted Earl purposely omitted the winning Tory gentlemen, Beaumont and Winstanley, along with other Tories from the reconstituted lieutenancy and resolutely refused to give way on the issue. His son-in-law, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, a close ally of Secretary of State Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), urged him in December ‘to alter your resolution before I speak to my Lord Nottingham. In whatever term it is expressed, whatever reasons you give, the Queen will suspect the true one to proceed from your unwillingness to employ the gentlemen who are recommended by her to you’. Rutland clung to his resolution until resigning his lieutenancy in 1703.4
The mass admission of freemen during 1702, 1705 and 1713 is a measure of the increasingly combative mood in which the Tory corporation ventured upon electoral contests, and bespoke a strengthening determination to return Members of their own orientation. On 5 Jan. 1705 the corporation set up an inquiry into ‘the best method to form all those that exercise any trade, art, mystery or occupation within this borough not being freemen to take their freedom’; its recommendations, if any were made, are unknown, but the intention of recruiting more freemen was clear. Over 350 townsmen were made free in the months leading up to the 1702 and 1705 elections, a large proportion of them at the charge of candidates. No record of a poll in 1702 has been found, although it seems certain that Carter’s opposition to Beaumont and Winstanley did result in one. Facing a narrow second defeat in 1705, Carter’s decision to petition against the Beaumont– Winstanley return also represented a protest at what obviously appeared to him as systematic and questionable efforts by the corporation and its officials to guarantee the return of two Tories. Carter’s detailed allegations, made in a petition presented on 2 Nov. 1705, covered intimidation, bribery and treats by the mayor, his bailiff and other minions, preferential treatment of Tories at the poll itself, irregularities in calculating the result, and the sealing of the return before the poll books were properly cast up. Even before the case came up in the Commons it had unleashed strong party passions in Leicester, Defoe informing Robert Harley* early in October of ‘a monstrous story here about the elections, and the contending parties here [are] daily together by the ears’. When the elections committee began its proceedings on 16 Jan. 1706, Carter’s counsel declared that only Winstanley’s return was disputed. Each side sought to reduce the size of its opponents’ poll by discounting votes from unqualified townsmen. The largest category voided were the votes registered by freemen enrolled at the candidates’ expense, 54 in Winstanley’s case and 64 in Carter’s. The antagonism between the town’s minority Whig Dissenting groups and the High Church was much in evidence during these months, for the Dissenters were jubilant at news of the committee’s judgment against the hated ‘Tacker’ Winstanley when it finished on 29 Jan., dividing in Carter’s favour by 113 votes to 107. But on 8 Feb., when the report was made, the House rejected the crucial resolution by 190 votes to 150, and declared Winstanley duly elected, ‘to the great mortification of the Presbyterians and the friends of that knavish and rebellious crew’, as noted by the Oxford Tory, Thomas Hearne. In the remainder of Anne’s reign there was no other serious assault on the Tory ascendancy in the corporation, and Carter did not represent Leicester again until 1722.5
There has been a tradition among historians of Leicester that its corporation was ‘thoroughly disaffected towards the Revolution’. Jacobite gestures were reported and reached government ears throughout the period. But such occasions would also have been given inflated publicity by Whig detractors eager to preserve an identity against Tory dominance. It was thus in the interests of the corporation men, among them many suspected Jacobites, to respond swiftly to the French invasion scare of February 1708 by meeting to decide the terms of an address to the Queen, which was duly presented at court in March by Beaumont and Winstanley. Besides the borough contests, party antagonism within the town was buttressed by county election campaigns, the town being the venue for polling. Swift observed that the by-election following the death of a knight of the shire, John Verney, early in December 1707 roused the usual party rivalries:
There is a universal love of the present government, and few animosities except upon elections . . . They have been polling these three days, and the number of thousands pretty equal on both sides: the parties as usual High and Low, and there is not a chambermaid, prentice or schoolboy in this whole town but what is warmly engaged on one side or the other.6
There is no surviving record of a poll in 1708, although the outgoing Members appear to have been opposed for a while by a Mr Osborne, presumably a Whig. The administration, so Edward Harley* was informed, ‘is like to meet with very considerable opposition at Leicester from Mr Osborne who has already made about 100 votes and treats very liberally’. The 1710 election seems to have been a peaceable unopposed affair, but by 1713 the Beaumont–Winstanley hegemony was under threat. Beaumont, recently brought into the administration, was the principal target of attack owing to the vote he had given in the Commons for the commercial treaty with France. As in other cloth-producing centres, there was grave concern that the treaty signalled a large influx of French wool to the detriment of local prosperity. Captain Henry Tate, a failed Tory candidate in several county elections, accepted an invitation to stand. Another Tory, Thomas Noble†, who had previously refused to put up on his own against Beaumont and Winstanley, was prepared to partner a challenge, and prospects were serious enough for the outgoing Members to undertake door-to-door canvassing. The corporation too was preparing for a poll, admitting 100 new freemen in the three days which culminated in the return of the sitting Members. At a meeting between Beaumont and Tate, however, on the bowling green at Market Bosworth, the politically seasoned Sir George successfully persuaded the captain to desist and the return was unopposed.7
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. HMC Portland, ii. 308; Journeys of Celia Fiennes, 162–4; info. from Dr D. L. Wykes; CJ, xi. 475, 744; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss HA10245, Thomas Piddocke to Huntingdon, 2 Feb. 1690.
- 2. Hastings mss HA8, Abney to Huntingdon, 1 Mar. 1690; HA6107, Huntingdon to Palmer, 1 June 1698; Leicester Bor. Recs. ed. Chinnery, v. 8.
- 3. BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 30, Stamford to Dr Kingston, 7 Oct. 1695; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, John Pares to Rutland, 4 Dec. 1695, Verney to same, 28 May 1698; Hastings mss HA6107, Huntingdon to Palmer, 1 June 1698.
- 4. Rutland mss, Sir Ambrose Phillipps to Rutland, 18 Nov. 1701, Ashby to same, 19 Nov. 1701; HMC Rutland, ii. 167, 171, 173.
- 5. Leics. RO, Hall mss BRII/18/39, 1701–9, f. 144; Reg. Freemen 1196–1700 ed. Hartopp, 185–200; Defoe Letters, 112; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 10–11; Hearne Colls. i. 182–3.
- 6. VCH Leics. iv. 120; J. Thompson, Hist. Leicester, 23–24; Swift Corresp. ed. Ball, i. 38–39.
- 7. HMC Portland, iv. 483; Bodl. Carte 117, f. 441; Ballard 18, ff. 49–50.