Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen not receiving alms
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
286 in 1693, 383 in 17151
|6 Feb. 1690||Sir Thomas Darcy, Bt.|
|7 Dec. 1693||Sir Eliab Harvey vice Darcy, deceased||159|
|7 Nov. 1695||Sir Eliab Harvey|
|Dr George Bramston|
|21 July 1698||Sir Eliab Harvey|
|14 Mar. 1699||John Bullock vice Harvey, deceased|
|3 Jan. 1701||Irby Montagu|
|26 Nov. 1701||William Fytche||147|
|20 July 1702||William Fytche|
|7 May 1705||William Fytche|
|3 May 1708||Sir Richard Child, Bt.|
|5 Oct. 1710||John Comyns|
|30 Apr. 1711||William Fytche vice Richmond, deceased|
|28 Jan. 1712||Thomas Bramston vice Fytche, appointed to office|
|24 Aug. 1713||John Comyns|
Described even by those who lived nearby as ‘a remote and almost forgotten corner of the kingdom’, Maldon was a small market town with some maritime trade, principally the importing of coal. One of the most prominent merchants involved in this trade, William Coe, was a Congregationalist who in 1696 leased property for a meeting house, and whose family championed the strong Dissenting presence in the town. According to an estimate made during the reign of George I, almost half the population (thought to be about 1,100 in 1700) were Presbyterians, of whom just over 100 voted in elections. The number of freemen, in whom the vote had been vested by a charter granted in the reign of Henry II, almost doubled during the period, mostly, and controversially, as a result of admissions made in the 12 months prior to elections. Fifty-six admissions were made between 1701 and 1702 alone. With over two-thirds of the freemen non-resident in 1690, the percentage of inhabitant freemen fell even further over the next 25 years, from about a third to a quarter, with a corresponding rise in the number of gentry and noble admissions. The borough was thus increasingly vulnerable to the influence of the gentry who owned nearby estates, such as the strongly Anglican William Fytche, John Comyns and the Bramstons, who were usually able to control one of the seats, and to the Earl of Oxford, Charles Mildmay, 19th Lord Fitzwalter, and Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Bt.*, who sympathized with the borough’s Dissenters. In 1689 Oxford had written to the corporation on behalf of Charles Montagu, who ‘by caressing the freemen . . . had gotten some interest’ there. Henry Mildmay*, a vigorous opponent of the Church party at the county level, had backed both Montagu and Sir Thomas Darcy, 1st Bt., who were consequently elected to the Convention.4
In 1690 the corporation again chose Montagu and Darcy at an uncontested poll, but any illusion of unity was dispelled by the by-election caused by the latter’s death in April 1693. The battle for Maldon was fought between Sir Eliab Harvey, who had espoused the Church party but twice failed to be returned for the county, and Richard Hutchinson, a Dissenter, large stockholder of the East India Company, and ally of Sir Josiah Child, 1st Bt.†, who was to back him ‘with all his power’ at the county by-election the following year. According to Sir John Bramston†, the borough’s high steward and a supporter of Harvey, Hutchinson was ‘backed by the Earl of Oxford and Sir Francis Masham, and all the fanatic and discontented party, I mean by discontented a party always averse to the governors of the town . . . and amongst them, by Mr William Atwood’. Atwood was a Nonconformist who had collaborated with James ii and had briefly supplanted Bramston as high steward in 1688, thereby adding a personal and more overtly religious angle to the dispute. At the poll, allegedly a scene of some violence, Harvey had a majority of 22 votes, but Atwood was said to have persuaded Hutchinson to petition the House on 13 Dec. 1693. He alleged that the election had been deliberately delayed by the town’s two bailiffs, who were the returning officers, so that they could create enough freemen to ensure Harvey’s return. ‘Some of the freemen of the town also, by the instigation of the aforesaid persons, petitioned’ ten days later, backing Hutchinson and complaining ‘that of late years many gentlemen have had honorary freedoms’, which, it was claimed, did not confer voting rights, and ‘whereby the interest of the freemen by the ancient constitution has been overbalanced [and] the said town has not been truly represented’. The controversy provoked a pamphlet war. Hutchinson published a broadside in which he argued that Harvey had only 86 legal votes because many had not paid the admission fee that a Restoration bye-law required. He further alleged that as many as 16 clergymen had voted for his opponent, and that the bailiffs had granted freedoms only to those who promised to vote for his rival. The poll, Hutchinson suggested, had been ‘called over according to a list contrived to serve’ Harvey, and a scrutiny denied, ‘though demanded and insisted upon’. Sir Eliab published a reply which insinuated that Hutchinson was merely a puppet to other interests, and denied the charges of corruption. This in turn provoked an answer from Hutchinson, ridiculing Harvey’s defence and observing that
Sir Eliab did very prudently not to deny that there is such a bye-law as is urged against him, because, though it is not to be found in the books, he cannot but believe that the examining into the tearing it out of the book, will not make for his cause.
The issues raised in these heated exchanges were investigated by the committee of elections on 16 Jan. 1694. Atwood produced a copy of the medieval charter, the passage of the relevant bye-law was confirmed, and the town clerk admitted that it had been removed from the official records. But Bramston spoke for Harvey,
and gave account what practice had been in all elections since the return of King Charles ii . . . that these [honorary] freemen of the country, both lay and clergy, had ever voted without any exception taken [and] that the bye-law was made in favour of the poorer sort of tradesmen in the town.
As Bramston himself noted, his evidence ‘gave so full satisfaction (the town clerk affirming much the same) that there was not one negative when the question was put whether Sir Eliab was duly elected, and on 18 Jan. the House supported the resolution’.5
The support of Bramston was again crucial in determining the outcome of the 1695 election, though this time he felt tricked in his endorsement of Harvey. Charles Montagu had been elected on 29 Oct. at Westminster, but assured Harvey that ‘he would, if chosen, serve for Maldon’, an intention also noted by Paul Foley I*. Harvey in turn relayed the message to the Bramstons, who ‘giving too much credulity, gave Sir Eliab assurance we could not oppose either Mr Montagu or him’. Montagu duly went down to Maldon ‘and treated very high’, inviting the bailiffs and others to Leighs Priory, the seat of the Earl of Manchester, who was also electioneering in the locality. It became apparent, however, that Montagu intended the seat not for himself but for his brother, Irby, who, together with Manchester and Hon. Heneage Montagu*, had been made a freeman in July. George Bramston, Sir John’s nephew, who had campaigned for Harvey at the by-election, approached Charles Montagu,
who did not deny it, and would have had George to give his interest that time to his brother, and promised at [the] next election not to oppose, but let George be chosen; which George refused, and declared he would stand, and sent down and treated the freemen.
Bramston, however, ‘lost it by a great majority’.6
Having been duped once, the Bramstons sought to avoid another humiliation. The Rev. William Bramston, brother of George, suggested an alliance with the Montagus, and in December 1697 wrote to Charles to inform him that
his faithful servants, Captain Robjent and Mr Straight, are of opinion it may be [for] the security of your interest to join with us, which if your honour approves of you may depend upon my sincerity and readiness in making all our friends your servants. There is a great leader become a deserter from you, and driving a new interest against the next Parliament for Mr [Edward*] Bullock’s brother [John*] . . . by accepting of our strength you will infallibly defeat all new pretenders as well as thrust out Sir El[iab] Ha[rvey], who as he is in a different interest from you, so I am absolutely resolved to give him all the opposition I am able, and I question not to disappoint him at Maldon. I have not yet been altogether open in the discovery of my intentions otherwise than in declaring against Sir E[liab] H[arvey].
Montagu’s reply is not known, but must have been negative, since although nothing came of the Bullock interest, William Fytche, whose mother was a Bramston, set up to oppose Irby Montagu. Sir John Bramston nevertheless admitted his ‘folly’ in aiding Harvey again, and perhaps as a result of the divided Church interest, Fytche was defeated by a single vote. He petitioned the House on 23 Dec. 1698 on the grounds that the bailiffs of the borough had been ‘prevailed upon’ to return Irby Montagu, and also hoped to show that one of his supporters had made a mistake in casting his vote, ‘and would have retracted and altered’ it, had he been allowed. Fytche must have believed the odds to be overwhelmingly in his favour, since he did not seek to fill the vacancy left by Harvey’s death in February 1699. The successful candidate at the by-election was John Bullock, who was chosen, in the absence of any other candidates, after writing a ‘civil letter, submitting to the freemen’. Sir John Bramston suggested that Bullock had appealed to the ‘good nature’ of the townsmen, though it is more likely that he was swept into Parliament through the influence of the Child family of Wanstead, into which his brother Edward had married. Bullock had also offered to join with the corporation ‘in any other choice’, presumably a reference to the outcome of Fytche’s election petition, which had still not been heard at the time. Indeed, Fytche was forced to resubmit it on 16 Nov. 1699. The elections committee considered the matter on 8 Dec. and decided in Montagu’s favour, a verdict which the House endorsed on the 14th in what was no doubt a display of his brother’s power at court. The report from the committee of elections had nevertheless provided disturbing evidence not only of Montagu’s own unscrupulous electioneering techniques, but also of peers overawing the election of commoners. Fitzwalter had been present at the election, and the Earl of Manchester had actually voted, prompting a resolution which established a standing order against the right of peers to poll.7
A power struggle had meanwhile been taking place in the borough itself. The formal swearing in November 1695 of Sir Charles Barrington, 5th Bt.*, the Tory knight of the shire, to his freedom of the borough seems to have marked the start of a campaign to gain control of the corporation’s offices. Perhaps with the aid of Henry Compton, bishop of London, who was himself a freeman, the local clergymen were mobilized in August 1696 into lobbying some of Maldon’s prominent citizens, though their precise aim is unclear and the initiative produced no apparent result. But in 1697 Thomas Gibson, who was later to act as Fytche’s election agent, became an alderman and Fytche himself became a capital burgess. These Tory manoeuvrings appear to have alarmed the Whigs into precipitate action. Thomas Coe, who had testified to the Commons election committee in favour of Hutchinson in January 1694, together with William Coe, snr. and jnr., and Peter Robjent, all Nonconformists and supporters of Montagu, drew up a petition early in 1698 ‘praying his Majesty to grant them a new charter, and to remove the present magistrates as disaffected to his person and government’. At the quarter sessions in March these same magistrates heard that the petition also complained ‘of the expending the corporation’s revenues and giving away freedoms and against illegal elections’. In response, Fytche and his allies drew up a declaration, to which the borough’s seal was to be attached, to the effect that the petition was ‘surreptitious’, that it had been promoted by ‘clandestine and illegal means’, and that its allegations were false. The straitened financial circumstances alluded to by the petition nevertheless increased tensions. On 2 Jan. 1699 the debt was said to be about ‘to swallow up the revenues of the corporation’, and an order was passed forbidding further municipal entertainments and preventing bailiffs from handling any of the borough’s money. In May John Comyns, a lawyer and devout Anglican, was elected as recorder, and this victory for the Tories may have incensed the Whigs to counter-attack in June with a peremptory mandamus to force the election of an alderman. Abel Hawkes was chosen, a kinsman of James Hawkes whose house had been registered in 1692 for Nonconformist meetings, but the Whig victory had evidently produced a bitter atmosphere that was too much for the presiding bailiff. ‘Being very much dissatisfied at the late violent and unneighbourly proceedings of some of our brethren in subpoening [sic] and disturbing the peace of their fellows upon malicious and slight grounds, and not being of a temper to consort with such men’, he resigned his place. The Whigs seem to have obtained another mandamus to force an election for his replacement, but their challenge collapsed when Hawkes died soon after taking the oaths, and in September Fytche was elected alderman and bailiff. It was probably in retaliation that Charles Montagu gave orders for corn to be distributed among the poor, ostensibly as charity, but evidently in order to boost flagging Whig fortunes and to influence elections. In January 1700 Comyns handled the return of the mandamus, which had been checked by Sir Bartholomew Shower*, but warned Maldon’s town clerk that ‘it must be expected all possible opposition will be made against it and if there be any room for a favourable construction on his side Mr Montagu will reckon of it’. Although Fytche refused to continue acting as bailiff after the new year, the Tory cause was bolstered by the succession of Anthony Bramston to the office of high steward in February 1700 after the death of his aged father, Sir John.8
It was in this tense, and to some extent confused, atmosphere that the elections of 1701 took place. In December 1700 John Bullock seemed resolved to join with Fytche against Irby Montagu, who appears to have bolstered the number of his supporters with more freedom admissions, but either because this made success impossible, or because of his close ties with the disliked Old East India Company, or even pressure from Fytche, he again withdrew from the contest. Bullock’s neutral politics meant that his loss was not a serious blow to either party, though it did allow the Whigs to induce the borough to address against the Prince of Wales in October 1701, but at the second election that year the defeat of Irby Montagu by John Comyns brought the provincial grievances to a head. The case also attracted national attention because Montagu’s defeat was a slight to his brother Charles, now Lord Halifax. Montagu presented his petition to the House on 3 Jan. 1702, and six days later the committee of elections resolved to hear the case on the 16th, ‘about which the committee divided and it was carried by a very great majority’. At the hearing Montagu claimed that the bailiffs and town clerk had refused to poll 30 of his voters, though Comyns argued that most of them had been in receipt of alms, in the form of Montagu’s wheat, and were hence unable to vote. William Coe explained to the committee that ‘several neighbours’ had written to Charles Montagu in 1699 to warn him that ‘corn, being dear, by reason of the exportation thereof, there were like to be tumults in the town by the poor people’, and that the last of the corn had been distributed in April 1700. It was further alleged that one of the bailiffs had said that if Comyns ‘had but six votes, he would return him’, and that the other had threatened an innkeeper with the loss of his licence if he voted the wrong way. Comyns was nevertheless able to show that although the supply of corn had stopped the previous year, several voters had refused to vote against Montagu ‘saying, they were under obligations to [him], having eaten his bread and drunk his wine, and were bound in conscience to be for him’. The Whigs were hoist by their own petard, since in 1699 Fytche’s petition had been rejected partly because Montagu had argued against the qualifications of a number of his voters who were in receipt of charity. It was also proved that, from the day Parliament was dissolved until the election, Coe, who had acted as Montagu’s agent, had wined and dined voters in order to extract promises to plump for his patron, even though ‘most of them declared they would have voted for Mr Comyns if it had not been for this treating’. There had been enough liquor on offer at some of the town’s 16 inns for several freemen to carry off ‘drink by pailfuls sufficient to serve them for a week or two’. The committee went against Montagu by a majority of 28, an outcome that seems to have prompted a correspondent of Sir Edward Turnor* to ‘rejoice greatly to hear what brave Britons you all were in Maldon[’s] election’. According to James Lowther*, who remarked that it had been the ‘fullest committee that I ever saw’, Montagu had such a bad case that Members did ‘not look upon it to be decisive of the strength of parties’, but the four-hour debate in the House on 27 Jan. shows that the case was still highly contentious. In a very full chamber, where ‘there was not one man that could get out of bed absent on either side’, 226 MPs voted to support the committee’s resolution (for which Barrington acted as teller), and 208 against. To add insult to injury, Coe, whom Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, described as ‘a scoundrel to look at’, was ordered to be taken into custody. The result must have come as a shock to Halifax, who had apparently been sure of his brother’s success, and in view of the allegation that ‘greater endeavours’ had never been used to obtain victory, one observer believed ‘that the late ministry will scarce get a majority this sessions’.9
Anne’s accession and Montagu’s defeat, both at the poll and in the House, were a turning point in Whig fortunes at the borough because they marked the last appearance of any patron of standing in national politics. Between December 1701 and July 1702 at least 25 Tories, including Turnor, were made freemen, and for the next five years the combination of Fytche and Comyns in Parliament, with Barrington in high municipal office, dominated corporation politics. In 1703, in what was probably an attempt to deter further recourse to law by the Whigs, Barrington and Fytche signed a memorandum that all prosecutions against the corporation’s office-holders were in future to be defended by the town clerk at the borough’s expense. High Anglicanism now held sway, strengthened in 1704 by a new crop of freemen admissions, and by the provisions of the will of Maldon-born Dr Thomas Plume, archdeacon of Rochester. An address to the Queen in 1702 referred to her ‘unparalleled goodness’ in parting with some of the civil list for the good of the public, and another two years later praised her concern for the suppression of vice and immorality. As late as 1706 Fytche and Comyns were ‘rejoicing’ at the ecclesiastical visitation of Essex. But although the two Tackers were returned in 1705, to the joy of the newswriter John Dyer, Lord Halifax explained that their success had been hollow and artificial. Nobody had stood to oppose them, nor, he added, could any Whig ‘pretend to stand till the humour is much altered in Essex, for they have made all the parsons and creatures of the bishop of London free of the town’. The bishop had indeed given his support to Sir Richard Child, 3rd Bt.*, at the 1705 county election, and it may have been again with his help, and further creations of Tory freemen, that Child was seated at Maldon in 1708. But by then the political ‘humour’ had indeed altered. Fytche and Comyns withdrew, leaving the field open for Thomas Richmond, one of Montagu’s former election agents. The corporation had ordered in 1663 that no one was to represent it in Parliament unless he had been resident there for seven years; clearly this had not been enforced, but Richmond may have been able to exploit his local credentials, since he was even able to keep his seat in 1710, despite the national swing to the Tories, and the interest expressed by another Whig of higher social status, Samuel Tufnell†, who had bought Langleys, near Chelmsford. Richmond’s second success was partly due to the fact that although Comyns was re-elected when Child was returned for the county, his partner Fytche was playing a political game of his own. Despite the fact that the latter’s interest was said to be ‘so absolute at Maldon that it is easy for him to be chosen without opposition’, Comyns explained Fytche’s failure to stand with the weak excuse that ‘there was not time to take other measures, and his generosity would not permit him to make any attempt’. In fact Fytche was angling for a lucrative commission incompatible with a seat in Parliament, somewhat ironically in view of his election agent’s promise in 1698 that he would not prove to be a pensioner. But, as Fytche himself explained to Robert Harley*, Richmond’s death in April 1711 forced him
to go to Maldon and call the corporation together, who unanimously agreed to choose me in his room; but having applied to you to be commissioner of the salt, and being seconded by Secretary St. John [Henry II*] in my request, I would not move further until I had your directions, the post not being consistent with a seat in Parliament. The people are in so good a humour that I dare say they would choose any honest gentleman I should name; and Sir Charles Barrington (who is the most proper person though otherwise averse to the service of the House) has out of pure friendship that I may not be disappointed, promised to keep my place in case I may be assured of the above employment.
Harley may not have liked the proposition, or given any assurance of a place, since Barrington did not stand and Fytche had himself elected in April, only to resign in January 1712 on his appointment as comptroller of the Two Million Lottery. He was replaced by Thomas Bramston of Waterhouse, the younger brother of Dr George and the Rev. William Bramston. Thomas had given evidence at the committee of elections in 1699 and again in 1702 on behalf of Fytche and Comyns, and this trio presented an address to the Queen in the summer of 1712, praising the ministry and the endeavours to end the war. Bramston’s election as alderman in April 1713 tightened the Tory stranglehold on the borough’s offices, and the following month the three men presented an address of thanks for the conclusion of peace. Comyns and Bramston were re-elected, unopposed and unanimously, at the 1713 election, and the tightly-knit group of Anglican gentry continued to dominate Maldon until Anne’s death.10
- 1. J. R. Smith, ‘Bor. of Maldon 1688–1768’ (Leicester Univ. M.Phil. thesis, 1981), 112.
- 2. L. Inn Lib. MP100/171, The Case of Richard Hutchinson.
- 3. N. and Q. ser. 8, iii. 63.
- 4. BL, Dept. of Printed Bks. 226 f. 16 (20); Smith thesis, 6, 9, 95; Essex RO, Maldon bor. recs. D/B3/3/136; Dr Williams’ Lib. mss 34.4; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 345.
- 5. Add. 22185, f. 53; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/560, Sir John Marshall to Turnor, 15 Feb. 1694; Bramston Autobiog. 375–6; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F101, ff. 3–4, petition; L. Inn Lib. misc. tracts, The Case of Richard Hutchinson; The Reply of Richard Hutchinson.
- 6. Bramston Autobiog. 390; Add. 70018, f. 96; Maldon bor. recs. D/B3/1/24, f. 61.
- 7. Add. 15903, f. 114; Bramston Autobiog. 404, 406.
- 8. Cambridge Univ. Lib. Add. 2, f. 164; Maldon bor. recs. D/B3/1/24, ff. 87, 112; D/B3/1/29, 21 Mar. 1698; D/B3/1/23; D/B3/3/75; D/B3/3/555; Add. 70305, case of the election of Maldon.
- 9. Essex RO, Barrett mss D/DL C48, C. Clarke to Dacre Barrett, 5 Dec. ; Maldon bor. recs. D/B3/1/29; D/B3/1/24, ff. 132–4; Bodl. Ballard 6, f. 35; Add. 40803, f. 4; 24475, f. 135; 70305, Maldon case; 17677 XX, f. 188; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac 454/852, William Betts to Turnor, 19 Jan. 1702; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/5, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 22, 27 Jan. 1701[–2]; BL, Lothian mss, folder of election pprs. case of Maldon; Cocks Diary, 187–9; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/iv/23/a, William Brydges* to Francis Brydges, 27 Jan. 1702.
- 10. London Gazette, 20–23 Apr. 1702, 11–14 Sept. 1704, 28 June–1 July 1712, 26–30 May 1713; Maldon bor. recs. D/B3/3/155/6; D/B3/1/3, f. 47; D/B3/1/24, ff. 160–68, 194–95, 236–57, 319; D/B3/3/523; VCH Essex, ii. 380; HMC Portland, iv. 328, 676; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 102; Add. 70197, Comyns to Harley, c.Oct. 1710, Fytche to same, 31 Oct. 1710; 70278, Fytche to Ld. Oxford (Harley), 10 Nov. 1711.