Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freeholders and freemen
Number of voters:
|1 Feb. 1715||CHRISTOPHER HARRIS|
|26 Mar. 1722||ROBERT PITT|
|21 Aug. 1727||WILLIAM NORTHMORE|
|3 May 1734||WILLIAM NORTHMORE|
|28 Mar. 1735||GEORGE LYTTELTON vice Northmore, deceased|
|8 May 1741||THOMAS PITT|
|4 Jan. 1745||LYTTELTON re-elected after appointment to office|
|1 July 1747||THOMAS PITT|
At George I’s accession the principal interest at Okehampton was divided between the proprietors of the barony, notably the Mohuns, their relations by marriage, the Harrises of Hayne, who had some interest of their own, and the Northmores, a town family,2the last two sharing the representation in 1715. In 1717 Governor Thomas Pitt began to purchase the Mohun estates, including their property at Okehampton, for which in 1722 he was able to return his son Robert Pitt, at a cost of £2,500, five times more than he had expected to pay.3 After Robert’s death his son, Thomas, shared the borough with William Northmore till the latter’s death in 1735, when his Okehampton property was purchased by the Luxmoores, like the Northmores, a town family. At the ensuing by-election and again in 1741, Pitt nominated his brother-in-law, George Lyttelton, thus securing both seats. In an account of the state of the borough in the autumn of 1740, when he visited it to prepare for the next general election, he writes:
The corporation consists of 16 persons, two of them were sick, one of them was run away for debt, and one had declared against us, the remaining 12 came to me. After supper I proposed Mr. Lyttelton to them as a candidate at their next election, they unanimously and heartily declared for him. I waited on the two sick members, who both of them promised me their votes and interest for him. Having 14 out of 16 of the magistrates, I desired them to dine with me the next day, and to go round the town, and solicit votes for Mr. Lyttelton, which they did, and out of 124 freemen, 114 declared themselves for him. I stayed in the town two days longer to cultivate and confirm his interest, and I observed, whilst I stayed there, that Mr. Luxmoore seemed to have the town very much at his command, for if any man hesitated about giving his vote, a word from Mr. Luxmoore determined him. Besides the votes in the town, there are a great number in the county, at least 170, who were formerly created freemen to carry an election, and have still a right of voting.
Discussing the possibility of a contest, Pitt observes that for every vote bought by an opponent, the corporation had ‘declared that they will make two new ones, who shall be in Mr. Lyttelton’s interest’.4
By 1747 Lyttelton, having entered the Government as a lord of the Treasury, was no longer acceptable to Pitt, who had gone into opposition with the Prince of Wales. He therefore proposed to replace Lyttelton by Charles Montagu, a candidate sponsored by the Prince. On 19 June 1747 he wrote to Dr. Ayscough, the Prince’s clerk of the closet:
As to myself I am very secure, but must not venture directly to set up any one with me. I find Luxmoore does not quite heartily give in to it; and believe that a person in the Treasury is agreeable to them, and therefore am apprehensive that if Lyttelton should offer himself, it would not be easy to turn him out. If he does not, something may be done. I speak very uncertainly for I came here but last night and have not had time to talk John [Luxmoore] over. You know he is not very open; perhaps the argument of £1,000 may be convincing.
In the event Luxmoore, in alliance with John Harris, who had inherited his family’s interest in the borough, proceeded to nominate Lyttelton, much to Pitt’s mortification:
For Okehampton [he wrote to Ayscough] ... I feel great resentment ... I suppose you expect nothing but that the villainy must succeed. I had a letter from that rogue Luxmoore in answer to a strong one I had wrote; he is all submission, but Lyttelton is to be chosen there with myself ... I am disappointed, vexed and fatigued.5
A fortnight later Lyttelton writing to his father explained his election by ‘the unanimous resolution of the whole borough to adhere to me’.6 It seems doubtful whether that resolution was quite so spontaneous. On 8 June Henry Pelham had written to the Duke of Bedford, a very big Devonshire landowner, suggesting that he should try to make ‘an impression on the new governing interest at Okehampton’.7 Behind Lyttelton were apparently the Treasury and Bedford, opposing the Prince and Pitt.
Author: Shirley Matthews
- 1. State of the Borough of Okehampton, Oct. 1740, by Thos. Pitt, Chatham mss.
- 2. Lysons, Mag. Brit. Devon, ii. 371-2; W. Bridges, Okehampton, 85, 87.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, i. 66-69; PCC 88 Plymouth.
- 4. State of the Borough of Okehampton.
- 5. HMC Fortescue, i. 114, 119.
- 6. M. Wyndham, Lyttleton’s Corresp. i. 253.
- 7. Bedford mss.