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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 195 in 1705


12 Nov. 1695THOMAS PELHAM I 
26 July 1698THOMAS PELHAM I 
21 Nov. 1701THOMAS PELHAM I 
15 July 1702THOMAS PELHAM I 
24 Nov. 1702SIR NICHOLAS PELHAM vice Pelham, chose to sit for Sussex 
19 May 1705THOMAS PELHAM II148
 Thomas Fagg107
 John Spence6
 Nathaniel Trayton41
3 May 1708PETER GOTT 
6 Dec. 1708SAMUEL GOTT vice Gott, chose to sit for Sussex 
 Nathaniel Trayton 
5 May 1712JOHN MORLEY TREVOR  vice Gott, deceased 

Main Article

Lewes did not have a charter, the borough being governed by a self-selecting body of the wealthier citizens, known as ‘the twelve’ or the ‘fellowship’, although it often consisted of more than 12 members. They were supported by an inferior council of ‘the twenty four’, although this also often comprised more than 24 members. The constable, who acted as returning officer, was usually selected from among ‘the twelve’ by the jury of the court leet and by the end of the 17th century ‘the twelve’ had largely been supplanted in importance by the jury, although this may have been more of a change in title than personnel.2

The dominant interest at Lewes in this period belonged to the Pelhams, whose seat was at Halland, some six miles from the borough, and who owned extensive property in the town itself. They could always control one seat and frequently both, and their influence, combined with a strong Nonconformist tradition in the town, ensured that Lewes returned only Whig MPs in this period. In 1690 Thomas Pelham I, eldest son of Sir John Pelham, 3rd Bt.*, who had represented the borough in every Parliament since October 1678, was returned with another Whig, Richard Bridger, whose seat at Coombe Place was two miles away and who had also represented the borough since 1679. Shortly before the next election, John Freke wrote to Robert Harley* that at Lewes ‘Pelham and Bridger have the best interest’, but Bridger decided, or was persuaded by Pelham, not to stand, leaving Pelham to be returned with his brother Henry, also a Whig. Henry Pelham’s seat at Stanmer was six miles away and he also owned property in the town. These two retained the seats in 1698, but during this Parliament Thomas Pelham was dismissed from the Treasury for opposing the Court in the Commons. In the first 1701 election, possibly with a view to gaining favour from the new administration, Pelham seems to have persuaded his brother to stand down in favour of Sir Thomas Trevor, the attorney-general. After their return, Thomas Pelham received his reward and was reappointed to the Treasury commission. In the second election of 1701 Thomas was again joined by his brother Henry, who had lent the town £200. It was rumoured that Secretary Hedges (Sir Charles*), having been rejected at Dover, would stand at Lewes but no challenge materialized.3

For the first Parliament of Queen Anne’s reign Thomas Pelham was returned as usual and the second seat went to a local Whig, Richard Payne, doubtless with Pelham’s support. When Pelham chose to sit for Sussex, his place was taken at Lewes by his Whiggish uncle, Sir Nicholas Pelham. The 1705 election was contested. Thomas Pelham II, a Whig and son of Thomas I, stood with Payne. They were opposed by Thomas Fagg, from a prominent Sussex family, who had represented Rye from 1701 to 1705, and by John Spence of Balcombe in Sussex, a kinsman by marriage of both Fagg and Sir John Trevor†. Both Fagg and Spence were Whigs, voting for the Whig candidates in the county election of that year. A fifth candidate was Nathaniel Trayton, a local man who was steward to the Duke of Norfolk at Steyning and Horsham, and who was undoubtedly a Tory, voting for the Tory candidates in the county election. At the poll Fagg came a creditable third, but Spence and Trayton only managed to secure a derisory share of the votes. Fagg died before the beginning of the Parliament and there was no petition from the other candidates.4

Thomas Pelham II was returned again in 1708, when the second seat was taken by another Whig, Peter Gott, a neighbour of Henry Pelham at Stanmer and a former director of both the New East India Company and the Bank of England. When Gott opted to sit for Sussex, his seat at Lewes was taken by his son Samuel, also a Whig. Thomas Pelham II and Peter Gott were returned again in 1710, defeating Nathaniel Trayton, who in 1709 had purchased the manor of Southover which formed part of Lewes township, perhaps in a vain attempt to improve his interest there. Trayton presented a petition against Gott, alleging bribery and illegal practices, but was granted leave to withdraw. At the by-election in 1712 caused by Gott’s death, the seat was taken without opposition by another Whig, John Morley Trevor, nephew of Sir Thomas Trevor, who had inherited the neighbouring estate of Glynde from his mother and had married a sister of Thomas Pelham I. Trevor was returned again with Thomas Pelham II in 1713 and they represented the borough into the next reign.5

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. W. H. Hills, Parl. Hist. Lewes, 22.
  • 2. Ibid. 19; P. Dunvan, Hist. Lewes, 209–11; Town Bk. of Lewes 1542–1701 (Suss. Rec. Soc. xlviii), pp. xviii, xx–xxi; VCH Suss. vii. 25–26.
  • 3. VCH Suss. 17; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Town Bk. of Lewes 1542–1701, 128–9; Town Bk. of Lewes 1702–1837 (Suss. Rec. Soc. lxix), 4; ARA Heinsius 730, Robethon despatch, 2 Dec. 1701 (Speck trans.).
  • 4. Hills, 20, 22; J. Comber, Suss. Gen. Lewes, 277–8, 288–91; VCH Suss. 35–36; Dunvan, 408; Suss. Poll 1705 (Suss. Rec. Soc. iv), 43.
  • 5. VCH Suss. 48; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 1 May 1712.