Norwich

Borough

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 freemen and freeholders

Number of Qualified Electors:

unknown

Number of voters:

at least 1,952 in 1698; at least 2,401 in 1713

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
3 Mar. 1690THOMAS BLOFIELD  
 HUGH BOKENHAM  
3 Dec. 1694JOHN WARD vice Bokenham, deceased  
4 Nov. 1695THOMAS BLOFIELD  
 FRANCIS GARDINER  
10 Aug. 1698ROBERT DAVY1357 
 THOMAS BLOFIELD1212 
 Robert Cooke983 
 John Ward3521 
22 Jan. 1701THOMAS BLOFIELD  
 ROBERT DAVY  
26 Nov. 1701EDWARD CLARKE1112 
 ROBERT DAVY1042 
 Peter Thacker1041 
 Thomas Blofield759 
5 Aug. 1702ROBERT DAVY1318 
 THOMAS BLOFIELD1260 
 Edward Clarke955 
 Charles Paston,  Ld. Paston933 
22 Dec. 1703THOMAS PALGRAVE  vice Davy, deceased1129 
 Edward Clarke1040 
23 May 1705WALLER BACON1281 
 JOHN CHAMBERS1267 
 THOMAS BLOFIELD11361164
 THOMAS PALGRAVE107410722
 Double return. BACON and CHAMBERS declared elected, 6 Dec. 1705  
19 May 1708WALLER BACON1521 
 JOHN CHAMBERS1412 
 Thomas Blofield1189 
 James Brogden289 
18 Oct. 1710ROBERT BENE1315 
 RICHARD BERNEY1298 
 Waller Bacon1107 
 Stephen Gardiner1073 
16 Sept. 1713ROBERT BENE1282 
 RICHARD BERNEY1272 
 Waller Bacon1141 
 Robert Britiffe1107 

Main Article

Norwich was still the second city in the kingdom, with a population of some 30,000. Celia Fiennes found it ‘a rich, thriving, industrious place’. There was a very large Dissenting interest: ‘every sect is represented here’, wrote another visitor. This, coupled with the fact that the weavers, by far the most numerous body among the freemen, were predominantly Whig, ensured that the High Tory faction in the city, although it had regained control over the corporation by 1690, could not monopolize parliamentary elections. In 1690 Thomas Blofield, a High Tory alderman, was indeed returned, but his partner was Hugh Bokenham, a moderate and a member of the ‘middle group’ that had taken a neutral position in the party conflict in Norwich in the early 1680s. Another former moderate, John Ward I, was elected in Bokenham’s place in 1694, without a contest, although to a Whig observer this appeared as a success for ‘the hot party’, who themselves believed Ward to be ‘according to their own hearts’. In the general election the following year it was yet another veteran from the 1680s ‘middle group’, Francis Gardiner, who was returned with Blofield.3

Two petitions to Parliament from the city in 1696 against the importation of East Indian cloth were the first signs of the short-term depression in the wool trade that was to endanger local prosperity, ‘many thousands’ of people in Norwich being involved in the manufacture. In the first instance it was the Whigs who were able to capitalize on this. When in April 1696 the Tory majority in the corporation voted to subscribe only to a modified version of the Association, Sir Henry Hobart, 4th Bt., Whig knight of the shire, who was sponsoring a bill to restrict East Indian imports, persuaded the weavers, as ‘a distinct corporation of themselves’, to sign the original, more forthright, version and to send it up separately: ‘this they chiefly did because they were made to believe that the more zeal they showed on this occasion the better they would carry the bill’. The only effect was to expose the action of the corporation, which thus received widespread and unwelcome publicity. In May 1696 a Tory candidate lost the election for the Norwich mayoralty. But by 1698, the depression having deepened, the defeated ‘Jacobite’ of two years before was chosen mayor, and in the parliamentary election Blofield and another ‘hot’ Tory, Robert Davy, easily defeated the Whig Robert Cooke, ‘the wealthiest man in the city . . . a weaver . . . and also a conventicler’, who had been a prime mover in the weavers’ alternative Association. Ward, possibly standing as Cooke’s partner but more likely as an independent candidate, came a poor fourth.4

In January 1701 Blofield and Davy were returned again unopposed. However, a few months later, it was reported, albeit by a hostile source, that the two men had ‘mightily lost the good opinion of the city’ by voting against war. The resurgent influence of the Townshends was also now being felt, the 2nd Viscount Townshend having reached his majority not long before, and having been granted the freedom of the city in August 1701. Two Whig aldermen, Edward Clarke II and Peter Thacker, challenged Blofield and Davy in the November general election, assisted, or so the Tories said, by the creation of 200 new freemen by the mayor ‘on purpose to turn them [the sitting Members] out’. Clarke topped the poll but Thacker lost the other seat to Davy by one vote. One of the sheriffs, Matthew Nall, who was a Tory, declared Clarke and Davy elected; the other, Thomas Havers, a Whig, supported by the mayor and several Whig aldermen, first asked for a scrutiny and then, after some hesitation, made out a rival indenture for Clarke and Thacker. Havers claimed to have proposed to Nall that they sign each other’s indentures and make a double return but that Nall refused, sending his indenture secretly to London so that it would be filed in the Crown Office first. Havers’ efforts to file his indenture were unsuccessful, for although it was eventually accepted it was not attached to the writ and therefore did not stand. Both Thacker and Havers petitioned on 5 Jan. 1702, principally on the grounds that Nall had refused the demand for a scrutiny. When the case was heard in March Nall justified himself on this point, and an examination of the poll satisfied the House that Davy had a majority. Lord Paston (Charles*) replaced Thacker as Whig candidate in August, but Blofield and Davy were still re-elected by a convincing margin. At this election Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) canvassed his friends to use their influence for Blofield. One such was Dean Humphrey Prideaux, who, true to form, claimed all the credit: ‘my endeavours in his behalf have had that success that he is elected, and I reckon he doth in a great measure owe it to the votes which I procured him’. The by-election brought about by Davy’s death in 1703 was another triumph for ‘the Church party’, Thomas Palgrave, a local brewer, defeating Clarke after a ‘very great contest’. According to Dean Prideaux,

there were great indecencies practised on both sides by way of treat, by which they made the whole city drunk for above a fortnight together, notwithstanding there is an express law against it, but both sides evaded this by saying it was their friends not they that did this. All the officers and members of the Church were for Mr Palgrave.

Some of the minor canons in particular had ‘disgraced themselves . . . by running after Mr Palgrave’s chair and hallowing and flinging up their hats among the mob’, acts of enthusiasm which drew upon them a solemn admonition from their dean.5

By the time of the 1705 election Norwich ‘had become a byword for “all the excess of party fury run up to seed”’. ‘Never’, wrote one newspaper, ‘was [a] city in this miserable kingdom so wretchedly divided . . . never were divisions carried on with such feud, such malice, such magisterial tyranny and such defiance of laws and government’. The cause was a disputed municipal election. One Thomas Dunch, ‘so staunch a Whig as to be accounted the head of that interest here by the Tories’, was elected an alderman by ‘a great majority’ in the face of considerable opposition from the mayor, William Blyth, ‘a sturdy Tory’. However, ‘the mayor and his party in the court of aldermen’, claiming that Dunch’s supporters had been guilty of bribery and intimidation, ‘declared . . . that Dunch was not a fit person to be admitted . . . and therefore . . . refused the nomination’. According to their opponents, who denied that there was any such ‘right of approving’, they gave as their reasons only ‘that he was a turbulent, malicious man of uncivil behaviour in conversation’. A second election was ordered, in which Dunch’s voters would not participate, ‘insisting on the former election for him’, so that it was the Tory candidate who was declared elected and subsequently sworn. Dunch then ‘served a mandamus on the mayor out of the Queen’s bench’, while at the same time his voters sent up, via Lord Townshend, a petition to the Queen and Privy Council ‘against the mayor and aldermen, for depriving them of their rights’. This dispute arose just before the parliamentary election, and Dean Prideaux feared that Blofield would ‘certainly be flung out for being of the mayor’s party . . . I was apprehensive of it some time since, and took notice to Blofield of it, but his over-confidence in his party made him neglect the advice’. Lord Townshend was active against Blofield and Palgrave and on behalf of the two Whigs, Waller Bacon and John Chambers, while Blyth ‘omitted nothing’ that could be done for the Tories. Although the Whigs won an undisputed majority at the poll the sheriffs filed a double return. Their excuse for doing so was that it was possible that Bacon and Chambers were not eligible to stand, as they were not freemen: this had been the Tories’ contention throughout. In the interim before Parliament met, the petition to the Council against the mayor and aldermen was rejected, to Townshend’s disgust, but when the parliamentary election came to be judged he had his revenge. Bacon and Chambers, who petitioned on 2 Nov., had custom on their side plus the fact that the franchise itself was not confined to freemen; the Tory candidates, who entered their own petition the following day, based their case on a bye-law of 1640 by which the electors were to be fined if they voted for other than freemen. Copies of this bye-law had been printed and distributed before the poll to intimidate the voters, a stratagem the Whigs had countered by themselves publishing an ‘advertisement’ announcing ‘that a contract was made, to indemnify such as voted for Mr Bacon and Mr Chambers’ from any ‘inconveniencies’ resulting. The House not only decided for Bacon and Chambers on 6 Dec., but voted that Blyth, in publishing the 1640 bye-law, had been guilty of ‘illegal and arbitrary proceedings’. He spent a week in the custody of the serjeant-at-arms. The following April Dunch won his case in Queen’s bench.6

The Whigs repeated their success in 1708, Blofield and another Tory putting up seemingly at the last minute. By 1710, however, fortunes were reversed again. A clear victory for ‘the High Church’ in a ‘terrible contest’ for mayor in May pointed the way, and by midsummer Tories were confident of winning both seats at the next election. Townshend, who was inconveniently abroad, and the other leaders of the Norfolk Whigs failed to persuade Chambers to stand again, even after promising him ‘something for an encouragement’. Humphrey Prideaux, now supporting the Whigs, tried in vain (as indeed he had in 1708) to convince his clergy that they had no right ‘by virtue of their houses, to vote as freeholders’, and on this occasion added an equally hopeless plea that ‘those of you who have a proper vote, by other tenures’, might poll for Waller Bacon. In September two Tories were chosen as city sheriffs. One sheriff in Norwich was always elected by the aldermen, the other by the freemen, and in the latter constituency the Whigs put up a candidate, ‘one Clarke, a weaver’, but according to Dyer ‘could make nothing of it, scarce polling half a score’. At the parliamentary election a month later the Tories Bene and Berney won their expected triumph. Two years more and Toryism was still the dominant spirit in the corporation, the common council addressing the Queen to congratulate her on the peace terms and deprecating ‘the close conspiracy and the secret artifices of an ill-designing and factious party, both at home and abroad’. In 1713 they again addressed, to thank her for the ‘glorious’ peace itself, and referred in passing to ‘the dark designs of a restless faction’ in opposition. In contrast the Norwich weavers were disturbed by the provisions in the commercial treaty with France, but despite this Bene and Berney held their seats in 1713 against Bacon and the Walpoles’ ‘family lawyer’ Robert Britiffe†, in an election in which the Whigs were said to have paid £4 ‘for votes’, ‘brought down runaway weavers from the Mint’ to poll, ‘adorned their outsides with wool’ and even to have driven sheep through the streets of the city in their procession.7

Author: D. W. Hayton

Notes

  • 1. Bodl. Carte 233, f. 74.
  • 2. Flying Post, 26–29 May 1705; Post Man, 26–29 May 1705.
  • 3. Crisis and Order in Eng. Towns ed. Clark and Slack, 263, 266–7, 276; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 148; Add. 47057, f. 9; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 21, 119–20; J. T. Evans, 17th Cent. Norwich, 252–3, 316; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Rich mss Xd.451 (214), William Weddell to John Aldr