Four Members Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the livery

Number of voters:

about 7,000


29 Jan. 1715ROBERT HEYSHAM3499 
 Sir John Cass2884 
 Sir William Withers2879 
 Sir William Stewart2828 
 Sir George Mertinns2774 
9 May 1722RICHARD LOCKWOOD4235140252
 Humphry Parsons35933393
 Robert Heysham35733441
11 Dec. 1724SIR RICHARD HOPKINS vice Godfrey, deceased3332 
 Charles Goodfellow2911 
24 Nov. 1727SIR JOHN EYLES3643335394
 Sir John Thompson33403244
 Richard Lockwood30862977
 Sir John Williams30172914
 Sir Richard Hopkins30102921
10 May 1734HUMPHRY PARSONS3932 
 John Barber2381 
 Robert Godschall1078 
13 May 1741SIR JOHN BARNARD3769 
 Micajah Perry1713 
 Sir Edward Bellamy1312 
 Edward Vernon1175 
13 July 1742WILLIAM CALVERT vice Godschall, deceased  
10 July 1747SIR WILLIAM CALVERT3806 
 Sir Daniel Lambert2530 
 Sir Robert Ladbroke1986 

Main Article

Elections in London were comparatively democratic, owing to the size and character of the electorate, which consisted mainly of small merchants, shopkeepers, and master craftsmen. The Government had a certain amount of influence through the number of voters who were

in some degree or other employed by, or under obligation to, and dependence upon the Bank of England, the South Sea Company, the East India Company, the custom house, the ordnance, the excise office, the post office, the victualling office, the navy office, the salt office, as well as several other powerful companies, offices and men in authority.

The government interest was managed in 1715 by the elder Craggs, the postmaster general, who, though not a Member of Parliament, acted as ‘minister for the city’, where his official residence was situated.5

The stronghold of the Opposition was the corporation, consisting of an executive council, the court of aldermen, whose 26 members were elected for life; and of a legislative body, the court of common council, consisting of the lord mayor, the aldermen, and 236 common councillors elected annually. The Whigs had a majority in the court of aldermen, many of whom held directorships of the great public companies or were given government contracts; but in the common council the Tories had a majority throughout the period. Jacobitism was rife in the city, which the Jacobites looked upon as ‘a treasury of arms, men and money’; in 1715-16 it was the scene of repeated Jacobite riots; and an essential feature of the Atterbury plot was an armed rising there.6

At the accession of George I the new Whig Government clashed with the Tory common council when the lords justices banned them from riding before the King on his entry into the city on the ground that it might occasion ‘great confusion and disorder’.7 The council refused to vote the money to pay for the King’s entertainment by the city.8 Three Whigs, Scawen, Heysham and Ward, and a moderate Tory, Godfrey, who had all stood in 1713 on the anti-French commercial treaty platform, were returned in 1715, defeating four high Tories.9 Apart from continuous friction between the court of aldermen and the common council over the claim of the former to veto the latter’s decisions on disputed elections in the wards, there was comparative peace in London until the end of 1721, when the common council complained that a Quarantine Act, passed to prevent the spread of the plague from France, affected ‘not only the rights, privileges and immunities’ but also the ‘trade, safety, and prosperity of the city of London’. Another grievance was the bill for building a bridge at Lambeth, which, according to the common council, ‘would greatly prejudice this city in general and would also very much obstruct the navigation of the river Thames’.10 In view of the impending general election the Government were expected in Tory circles to offer

the city to drop the quarantine and the bridge bill on condition that they will choose such Members as the Court shall recommend. But such offers are likely to have little effect on them in their present disposition.11

Not only did the Government give way over both measures, but before the 1722 election George I made a personal intervention by telling a nonconformist minister that

he took us dissenters for his hearty friends and desired me to let my brethren in the city know that in the approaching election of Members of Parliament he depended on them to use their utmost influence.12

However, three Tories, Lockwood, Godfrey and Child, were returned with a Whig, John Barnard, who usually voted with the Opposition.

The conflict between the aldermen and the common council over disputed elections in the wards was brought to a head by a resolution of the common council that

the right of making laws and orders for the good government of the city in general and the regulating the elections of aldermen and common councilmen for the respective wards of this city had been and still is uncontested in the court of lord mayor, aldermen and commons in common council assembled;13

whereas the court of aldermen claimed ‘a negative voice in matters propounded and making of laws and orders and admitting of officers in common council’.14 In these circumstances the Government decided to take the opportunity to cut the claws of the common council. Lord Townshend wrote to the King:

A very great change has been wrought in favour of your Majesty in the city of London, whose influence and example is of so great consequence to the whole nation, as has appeared in two successive elections, in opposition to the utmost efforts and most indirect practices of the united party of Jacobites ... But however promising these appearances are, yet your Majesty must be sensible, that the Jacobite party is still very strong, and their views only suspended in expectation of a favourable opportunity ... Your Majesty’s friends in the city will not only carry everything during the summer, but by the help and assistance of your servants, will be prepared to lay before the Parliament, such bills as may for the future secure the government of that important place entirely in the hands of those who are zealous in your Majesty’s interest.15

In February 1725 a private bill was brought in, giving the aldermen a power of veto over the decisions of the common council and disfranchising the poorer freemen. This, the Jacobite Duke of Wharton wrote, ‘entirely destroys the city charter, by abolishing the power of the common council.’16 According to an opposition Whig:

If they reduce the government of the city to only the lord mayor and aldermen’s power, the Court can at any time gain their worships. Such a set ... of ignorant, proud fellows and mercenary souls, I believe, was never seen anywhere else than in the city.17

In spite of petitions from the common council to both Houses of Parliament, the bill passed.18

The power of the lord mayor was illustrated by another controversy which arose over the city’s address on George II’s accession. On 9 June 1727 the common council appointed several leading Jacobites to draw up a loyal address, which reflected on the foreign policy of the Government and the state of the national debt and public credit. The lord mayor, Sir John Eyles, who had succeeded Craggs as the manager of the government interest in the city, refused to present it as it stood, informing the court of aldermen that as he

was unwilling that this city should be the only place that neglected to pay their duty to his Majesty on his accession to the throne, therefore his lordship, together with several aldermen and common councilmen had agreed upon a dutiful and loyal address suitable to the occasion and that they had subscribed the same together with a great number of other eminent citizens and merchants and that the same lay in several public places to be signed by such other aldermen, common councilmen, citizens and merchants as approved thereof.19

Till 1739 the lord mayors were chosen in strict rotation in order of seniority. Unfortunately for Walpole during two critical periods of his Administration, the agitations against the excise scheme and for war with Spain, Tory lord mayors were in office.

At the general election of 1727 each side again won two seats: Barnard, now an opposition Whig, Humphry Parsons, an extreme Tory, and two government Whigs, Perry and Eyles, of whom Perry soon went over to the Opposition. The Tories claimed that

the carrying of two in the city, under the present circumstances, is a great victory. Had all that were influenced by Bank, South Sea and East India, by custom house, excise, post office, etc. and all that did not vote at all, been left to themselves, it must have been carried by at least 4 to 1.20

The great trial of strength between the city and Walpole came over the excise scheme. At a meeting of the common council on 15 Feb. 1733, when John Barber, a Jacobite printer, one of the most influential members of the corporation, was lord mayor, a motion was passed to prepare an instruction to the city members to oppose the proposed excise. According to a Jacobite,

this affair was managed by the lord mayor with so much secrecy, that the minister knew nothing of it till it passed the city council, and what was never known before, it passed nemine contradicente.21

Barber also managed to procure an advance copy of the actual bill, against which the city duly petitioned, asking to be heard by counsel. A government spokesman opposed this on the grounds

that it ought not to be presumed the House were not masters of all the knowledge necessary for taking their resolutions, without the help of the city’s advice; that this petition should rather be called the advice of the citizens than the humble petition, and what would become of the authority and respect due to Parliaments, if the city should pretend unasked to give their advice to the legislature? It was setting the city up to be a sort of co-ordinate power, and a middle branch of the legislature between the House of Commons and the people.22

The request was rejected by so small a majority that next day Walpole withdrew the bill. All four London Members, including Eyles, voted against the excise, and were thanked for their strenuous opposition to the bill by the common council.23

At the general election of 1734 two Tories were returned with two opposition Whigs; and in 1737 the Government lost their majority on the court of aldermen. According to a government pamphleteer, in 1738 the corporation was run by a ‘junto’:

Here representatives for the city in Parliament are picked down, as also sheriffs, aldermen, governors of hospitals, treasurers, stewards, beadles, nurses etc.; and here the various city committees are pitched upon and multiplied and the most profound measures pursued to uphold and maintain the interest of this public spirited junto, which ... deals out the loaves and the fishes.24

On 20 Feb. 1739 the common council drew up a petition to Parliament against the Spanish convention, despite an attempt on the part of Sir John Eyles ‘to put a negative upon it’ in the court of aldermen.25 At the election for lord mayor by the livery in September 1739, George Champion, the alderman next below the chair, was rejected, contrary to precedent, because he had voted for the convention. The livery adopted the unusual procedure of drawing up instructions to the city Members to press for better protection for shipping and to make a place bill ‘a previous step to the passing of any money bill whatsoever’. George Heathcote, one of the sheriffs, reminded them

with how general a concert the common council had agreed to the late petition against the convention, two only of that body dissenting, that notwithstanding this almost unanimous concurrence, there were those amongst the aldermen who had presumed to move that it might be crushed by the negative vested in their court, and this attempt to deprive the citizens of the most valuable of their rights, that of addressing themselves to the legislature, or the throne, had so filled him with apprehension of the fatal use that might one day be made of that power, that he had then resolved to lay hold of the first opportunity to endeavour at the repealing of that clause, by which the concurrence of the majority of the aldermen present in common council, is necessary to the acts of that body.26

Commenting on these proceedings, Walpole said that ‘the disaffected are endeavouring to get the city into declarations and addresses that may distress us’, which

did its mischief at once, in that such a thing as this came to the court of Rome and other foreign courts as the sense of the people for the Pretender, and that they want nothing but a standard and 5,000 men to begin with.

Walpole also said

that if the city of London showed their inclinations against him in this public manner there was no standing against it, and he should think himself bound to yield, or to that effect. He told me the true way in Parliament to oppose these people’s violent measures was not to act on the defensive so much as to carry the war among the enemy and attack them. When they say you are corrupted by places above, they are corrupted by the want of them.27

At the general election of 1741 the city again returned four anti-government candidates, all Tories except Barnard. On 25 Jan. 1742 the common council drew up a petition to the House of Commons complaining that

we have seen a powerful and well provided fleet remaining inactive in our ports, or more ingloriously putting to sea without the appearance of any enterprise in view or even the possibility of meeting an enemy worthy of its attention, whilst our trading vessels have been daily exposed. ... to the privateers.

The petition concluded by demanding a ‘vigorous prosecution of the war’ in order to secure ‘the freedom of navigation to our latest posterity’. The day before Walpole’s resignation, the common council instructed the city members to

strenuously promote salutary laws ... such as a place bill, a pension bill, and the repeal of the Septennial Act, in order to restore the ancient freedom of our constitution, and secure it against all future attempts either of open or secret corruption, or of any undue influence whatsoever.

And more particularly they recommend that you will persist with unwearied diligence to make the earliest and strictest inquiry into the causes of past mismanagements and exert your utmost endeavours to prevent the like for the future, and they further expect that you will extend such inquiry to all persons who in their respective employments have contributed to the complicated evils, which have so long oppressed this nation.

In the following autumn, at a meeting with George Heathcote in the chair, the common council expressed great indignation at ‘the late astonishing example of unprincipled treachery and corruption’, alluding to Pulteney, Carteret, and their followers, and entreated the London members

to postpone every other consideration, particularly the supplies for the current service of the ensuing year till you have renewed the secret committee of inquiry, procured an effectual bill to reduce and limit the number of placemen in the House of Commons, restored the frequency of elections, and restrained the abuse of power in returning officers. Yet after those salutary provisions when you shall think fit to grant the supplies, at the same time have some regard to their application. A nation burthened with taxes, oppressed with debts and almost exhausted by one lavish administration, can but ill undergo a fresh profusion of its treasure in the parade of numerous land armies and the hire of foreign forces without the appearance of any security in the behalf of his Majesty’s British dominions.28

Thomas Carte, the historian, reported to the Pretender on 22 Dec. 1742 that

the elections of common council men yesterday have still more than ever lessened the inconsiderable number of Whigs in that body and those of aldermen in every ward are like to take the same turn;

and in May 1743 that in the aldermanic elections ‘in the Whiggish wards of the city that party dares scarce to make any opposition’. In the summer of that year, a personal envoy from the King of France, sent to concert measures for a restoration of the Stuarts with the help of a French invasion, met several leading common councilmen. According to a list of the corporation given to him there were only ten Whig aldermen out of 26 and 66 Whig common councilmen out of 236. He reported to Louis XV that the city, which had been the stronghold of the Whigs since the Revolution, was now their weakest point. During the Forty-five, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn ‘talked with the leaders of the city of London and found them as well disposed as ever ... The city is ready to receive the Prince in its bosom ... exclusive of those concerned in the funds’; and George Heathcote with several other aldermen went to Wynn to assure him ‘that they will rise in the city of London’ as soon as French troops landed. Nevertheless, largely through the efforts of Sir John Barnard, the city voted a loyal address upon the rebellion, without factious amendments, despite frantic efforts on the part of Heathcote to prevent it.29

The collapse of the rebellion, followed by that of Jacobitism in England, led to a complete change in the London political scene. The process was assisted by Pelham, who now set out to placate the city. On 23 Feb. 1745 the common council had petitioned the Commons for a repeal of part of the Act of 1725, on the grounds that

the exercising the negative power thereby given to the mayor and aldermen has occasioned great jealousies and dissensions among the citizens of London, highly obstructed the proceedings of the common council, and tended greatly to destroy the peace and good order of the said city. That by this law the commons in common council (though composed of no less than 236 citizens) should they be unanimous, may by the negative votes of the mayor and two or three aldermen be restricted from making any act, order or ordinance, however advantageous or beneficial to the said city. That your petitioners humbly conceive that so great a power lodged in so few hands may in time prove subversive to the rights and privileges of the citizens of London and destructive to the very essence and being of common council.30

A bill for implementing the petition was rejected, but next year it was allowed to pass into law. At the end of 1746 Pelham removed another grievance by acceding to Barnard’s demand that government loans should be raised by public subscription, instead of confining the underwriting to a small circle of ‘monied’ men and institutions.31 The result of these concessions, combined with the anti-Jacobite reaction, was shown at the general election of 1747, at which London returned four Whigs, two of them, Barnard and Sir William Calvert, being now classed as government supporters. ‘Places where friends to the Government were never chosen before,’ wrote Newcastle, ‘are now the foremost in their demonstrations of duty and loyalty to the King ... even the city of London.’32 The retirement of George Heathcote as alderman in January 1749 marked the final extinction of Jacobitism, though not of opposition, in the corporation.


  • 1. Poll
  • 2. Scrutiny
  • 3. Poll
  • 4. Scrutiny
  • 5. Craftsman, 28 Oct. 1727; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 511.
  • 6. Stuart mss 132/186; Pol. State, x. 579-83; xi. 643-4, 743-4.
  • 7. Court of aldermen rep. 118, 14 Sept. 1714.
  • 8. It was not granted until 1724, jnl. of common council, 20 Apr. References to this journal are to vols. 56-59.
  • 9. Pol. State, vi. 286; ix. 87.
  • 10. Jnl., 5, 21 Dec. 1721.
  • 11. HMC Portland, vii. 312.
  • 12. E. Calamy, Hist. Own Life, ii. 447-50.
  • 13. Jnl., 15 June 1720.
  • 14. Rep. 128, 20 Feb. 1724.
  • 15. Coxe, Walpole, ii. 297-9.
  • 16. To the Pretender, 3 Feb. 1725, Stuart mss 79/131.
  • 17. HMC Var. viii. 384-5.
  • 18. Jnl., 29 Jan., 22 Mar. 1725; 11 Geo. I, cap. 18.
  • 19. Rep. 131, 30 June 1727.
  • 20. HMC Portland, vii. 453.
  • 21. Stuart mss 160/21.
  • 22. Jnl., 9 Apr. 1733; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 359.
  • 23. Jnl., 18 Apr. 1733.
  • 24. City Corruption and Mal-Administration Display’d, 1738.
  • 25. Jnl.; Pol. State, lvii. 164-5.
  • 26. A Narrative of what passed in the Common Hall for the Election of a Lord Mayor, 29 Sept., 1, 2, Oct. 1739 .
  • 27. Sir Dudley Ryder’s diary, 6 Oct. 1739, Harrowby mss.
  • 28. Jnl., 10 Feb., 21 Oct. 1742.
  • 29. Stuart mss 246/72, 249/113, 254/154, 261/114, 269/191; AEM & D Angl. 82, ff.4-23; Marchmont Pprs. ii. 341-8.
  • 30. Jnl., 23 Feb. 1745.
  • 31. See BARNARD, John.
  • 32. To Cumberland, 3 July 1747, Add. 32712, f.24.