Double Member County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 6,000


8 May 1754George Townshend 
 Armine Wodehouse 
1 Apr. 1761George Townshend 
 Sir Armine Wodehouse 
11 Apr. 1764Thomas de Grey vice Townshend, called to the Upper House 
23 Mar. 1768Sir Edward Astley2978
 Thomas de Grey2754
 Sir Armine Wodehouse2680
 Wenman Coke2609
26 Oct. 1774Sir Edward Astley 
 Wenman Coke 
8 May 1776Thomas William Coke vice Wenman Coke, deceased 
20 Sept. 1780Sir Edward Astley 
 Thomas William Coke 
14 Apr. 1784Sir Edward Astley 
 Sir John Wodehouse 

Main Article

There was no dominant aristocratic interest in Norfolk, but the choice of the knights of the shire was made from a few leading families. At the beginning of the period Whigs and Tories compromised the representation, and in 1754 and 1761 Sir Armine Wodehouse, a Tory, and George Townshend, a Whig, were returned unopposed. On Townshend’s succession to the peerage in 1764 three candidates came forward: George Hobart, Thomas de Grey, and Sir Edward Astley; and de Grey, with the support of the Townshend and Walpole interests, was returned unopposed.

Astley had withdrawn his candidature with reluctance, and Lord Buckinghamshire, Hobart’s brother, had yielded his claim only in the face of Townshend opposition, which he greatly resented. After 1761 the old Whig-Tory alignment was breaking down in Norfolk, as in other parts of the country; and new forces were shaping which made for a contest at the general election of 1768. At the county meeting on 8 Oct. 1767 four candidates were nominated: the sitting Members, Wodehouse and de Grey; Astley; and Wenman Coke of Holkham. The candidates paired up on political lines: Wodehouse and de Grey, both of whom had supported the Grenville Administration and had opposed that of Rockingham, joined interests; as did Astley and Coke, who were known to be well disposed towards the Rockingham party. Moreover the issue of general warrants, though long since settled, figured prominently in election propaganda. ‘It is impossible for me to explain to you the nature of the contest in Norfolk’, wrote Wodehouse to Grenville on 2 Nov. 1767, ‘any more than it appears Lord Rockingham’s faction is supported here and your measures exploded in general.’ Yet the Rockinghams and Grenvilles were collaborating in other counties (e.g. Cumberland and Westmorland), and American policy, which divided the two groups far more than ever general warrants had done, does not seem to have been an issue in Norfolk. Moreover Lord Buckinghamshire, though a friend and political ally of Grenville, came out in favour of Astley and Coke. Local allegiances counted for more than national politics; and the result of the poll—one candidate from each side was elected—seems to indicate that general warrants was not the decisive factor in this election. Still, Norfolk was one of the few counties where this issue appeared at the general election of 1768.

The elections of 1774 and 1780 were quiet affairs. Norfolk was not greatly stirred by the American war nor did the county respond enthusiastically to the petitioning movement of 1780. But the issue of Pitt v. Fox was decisive at the general election of 1784. Thomas William Coke, M.P. for Norfolk since 1776, seemed certain to be re-elected—‘Mr. Coke’s connexions carry him dead’, wrote John Robinson. Coke was a close friend of Charles James Fox, and had proposed the motion for Pitt’s dismissal in February 1784; and when at the county meeting Sir John Wodehouse was put in nomination, the cry was ‘No Fox! No Coalition! Pitt and the King for ever!’ Here was a real political issue, not a dead one as in 1768. Yet once again local feeling counted for a good deal. Astley, though he had opposed the Coalition and was reckoned a follower of Pitt, joined his interest to that of Coke; which did not save Coke, who, after a three days’ canvass, declined the poll.

Author: John Brooke


B. D. Hayes, ‘Politics in Norfolk, 1750-1832’, Cambridge Univ. Ph.D. thesis.