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Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in inhabitant householders
Number of voters:
|20 Apr. 1754||Charles Whitworth||283|
|28 Mar. 1761||Henry Shiffner||287|
|Percy Wyndham O'Brien, Earl of Thomond||226|
|James Hamilton, Earl of Clanbrassill||69|
|7 Dec. 1761||Thomond re-elected after appointment to office|
|18 Mar. 1768||Henry Fownes Luttrell||307|
|8 Oct. 1774||Henry Fownes Luttrell|
|John Fownes Luttrell|
|31 Dec. 1774||Thomas Pownall vice Henry Fownes Luttrell, vacated his seat|
|9 Sept. 1780||John Fownes Luttrell|
|Francis Fownes Luttrell|
|11 Mar. 1783||Henry Beaufoy vice Francis Fownes Luttrell, vacated his seat|
|2 Apr. 1784||John Fownes Luttrell|
|19 June 1784||Charles Phipps vice Beaufoy, chose to sit for Great Yarmouth|
|15 Dec. 1786||Robert Wood vice Phipps, deceased|
Throughout this period the natural interest at Minehead belonged to Henry Fownes Luttrell, who, through his marriage to the heiress of the Luttrell family, had inherited Dunster Castle, an estate in Somerset, and the lordship of the manor of Minehead (with the right of appointing the returning officer). But that interest had been much neglected, and at the general election of 1747 Luttrell had failed to secure the return of his candidate. In 1753, to clear off heavy debts on his wife’s estate, he advertised the manor of Minehead for sale; but would-be purchasers carefully inquired what interest the manor would give them in the borough and whether its tenants were disengaged for the next election. ‘I wish’, wrote Conand Prowse to Luttrell, 13 Aug. 1753, ‘you had or would soon make a personal experiment of your strength in the borough.’ On 26 Feb. 1754 Henry Shiffner, a complete stranger to Luttrell, applied to him for his interest at Minehead. ‘Had he thought proper to become a purchaser of the manor before he had offered himself for the borough’, wrote Luttrell to his attorney, ‘you might then have given him greater hopes of succeeding.’ Luttrell would only promise to support ‘a purchaser or a particular friend’.1
Two other candidates were in the field: Daniel Boone, on the interest of Lord Egremont; and Charles Whitworth, one of the sitting Members. ‘My Lord [Egremont]’, wrote James Gould to Luttrell, 6 Mar. I754, ‘says he’ll spend ten thousand pounds; and Whitworth says he’ll sell his estate in this part of the world to supply his friends if they’ll stand by him this once. He writes prodigiously in favour of Mr. Shiffner and I believe would be glad to join him.’ Luttrell now relented, and, to prevent his interest being cut out, declared his approbation of Shiffner’s candidature, provided he did not join either of the other candidates without Luttrell’s consent, who moreover reserved his right to switch over to a purchaser should one turn up.
Meantime Egremont pressed Newcastle for Government support, apparently complaining of Whitworth’s favourable attitude to Shiffner. On 21 Mar. Newcastle noted in his election memoranda: ‘To speak to Mr. Whitworth to espouse Mr. Boone at Minehead to the utmost’; and the next day wrote assuring Egremont that these two interests ‘shall be most heartily and zealously supported by the Government’. Whitworth applied for help to finance his election: he himself was willing to spend £1,500, but asked for £1,000 of the King’s money; and assured Newcastle that he was not entering ‘into measures or with people’ he had opposed, but was acting on ‘Whig principles’. On 5 Apr. he received £1,000 from secret service money. Thus fortified, Whitworth came head of the poll, Boone making a bad second.2
Shiffner petitioned; questioned Boone’s qualification; quoted Newcastle’s letter to Whitworth asking him to support Boone, which, shown about at Minehead, constituted interference by a peer in a parliamentary election; and brought charges of bribery against Egremont’s steward. Boone replied by counter-charges of bribery. The case was carried on both in Parliament and in the law-courts. Shiffner was extremely eager, and wrote many long letters on the subject to Luttrell; but the experience of the Oxfordshire petition showed how such matters were treated in the House, and on 30 Nov. James Sheer wrote to Luttrell: ‘I should think if we could get those fellows of Minehead (Boone’s voters) to petition you to desire Mr. Shiffner to drop all prosecutions ... it will make peace, make friends, and save money. And as there will be a necessity for a courtier to be one of the Members for that borough [to secure places in the port from Government] I could wish that you and my Lord [Egremont] were to settle this, as you easily can keep out Whitworth and all mankind.’ This was what happened in the end: the prosecutions were dropped; Luttrell and Shiffner carefully nursed the borough; and in November 1757 Luttrell and Egremont agreed to return one Member each at the next general election. In 1761 Whitworth did not stand for Minehead; Luttrell again put up Shiffner and Egremont his brother Lord Thomond; against whom the candidature of Lord Clanbrassill was hardly serious—probably engineered by some enterprising voters in search of a ‘third man’ to create expense.
But the search for candidates continued. Some time in 1765 a number of Minehead voters planned to enlist under Lord Egmont’s banner; and in November 1766 Dr. Richard Brocklesby, a distinguished London physician and a native of Minehead, wrote a letter to the Rev. Leonard Herring, vicar of Minehead, which soon became a matter of conversation in the town. ‘The letter has hitherto remained unanswered’, wrote Herring to Luttrell, 29 Nov., ‘and ’twas my intention it ever should; but as some of the principal inhabitants approve of the scheme, and are determined to apply to Charles Townshend, I must beg that you will give me instructions how to act in this affair.’ Luttrell, who had meantime declared his intention to stand himself for Minehead but not ‘to ask for more than one vote, or even countenance another candidate at the next election’, in December addressed ‘the Minehead gentlemen’ on the subject.3
I have been told you are going to enlist under Mr. Charles Townshend’s banner ... I presume neither of you have any personal acquaintance with Mr. Townshend, and therefore I conclude it is his interest and not his merit which you wish to be connected with, and a very prudent step to be sure it would be was he certain of remaining in his present station. But for God’s sake would you engage yourselves so long before the election to a man who may be stripped of all his employments and divested of all power long before that time comes. Should that be the case (which I don’t think very improbable, considering the confusion Administration affairs seem to be in at present) will it not be catching a shadow and losing the substance?
Shiffner, though no longer supported by Luttrell, was determined to stand; similarly Whitworth announced that he would, together with ‘an eminent merchant’; Thomond too meant to seek re-election. And when Townshend died, signatures were collected for a petition at Minehead asking the Duke of Grafton ‘to patronize our borough by sending a gentleman to be a candidate among us’.4 Thereupon Luttrell, ‘acting with unwonted energy, went up to London’, and obtained from the Government ‘the immediate patronage of all offices at Minehead’.5 In the end Thomond did not stand; Luttrell came out easily head of the poll; and Whitworth beat Shiffner for second place. Luttrell’s total expenses, from April 1767 to October 1768, amounted to £1,868 5s. 9d.6
After this election Luttrell decided in future to try for both seats, and in 1774 stood jointly with his eldest son. Whitworth still threatened opposition, the common people being ‘made to believe that they shall have 20 guineas at least a man’.7 But he was warned off Minehead by Lord North who had conceded to Luttrell the complete patronage of Minehead appointments and expected to fill one seat with a candidate of his own. The two Luttrells were returned unopposed, 8 Oct. 1774, but two months later Luttrell vacated his seat in favour of North’s candidate, Governor Thomas Pownall. A draft of his conditions stipulates for £500 down, and £2,500 or £3,000 after being returned; Pownall was not to recommend for any place belonging to the borough, nor in future offer himself or a friend without Luttrell’s approbation.8 For the remainder of this period Luttrell named both Members, generally choosing one of his sons for one seat and selling the other.
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Luttrell mss at Dunster Castle.
- 2. Newcastle to Egremont, 22 Mar., 9 Apr. 1754, Wyndham mss at Petworth; Add. 32735, f. 38; 32995, ff. 114, 134; Namier, Structure, 419-21.
- 3. Draft in the Luttrell mss.
- 4. Francis Bastone to H. F. Luttrell, 6 Sept. 1767.
- 5. Maxwell Lyte, Hist. Dunster, i. 249.
- 6. In the Luttrell mss are three annotated poll books, an alphabetical list of canvass and poll, and ‘lists of voters, behaviour before, how polled, with remarks’.
- 7. Rich. Cox to Luttrell, 29 Aug. 1774, Maxwell Lyte, i. 253.
- 8. Ibid. 257.