Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 200


9 Apr. 1661ROBERT BERTIE I, Lord Willoughby de Eresby
  Double return of Irby and Thory. IRBY allowed to sit, 16 May 1661
26 Oct. 1666SIR PHILIP HARCOURT vice Willoughby, called to the Upper House
23 May 1679SIR WILLIAM YORKE vice Ellys, appointed to office
16 Apr. 1685ROBERT BERTIE II, Lord Willoughby de Eresby
10 Jan. 1689ROBERT BERTIE II, Lord Willoughby de Eresby

Main Article

During this period the dominant interest at Boston passed from the Puritan Irby family, which had regularly represented the borough since 1554, to the Anglican Berties. Not only was Sir Anthony Irby returned at every election from 1628 till his death, except that for the first Protectorate Parliament, but he frequently secured the other seat for a kinsman or a friend. He was doubtless assisted by his fellow Presbyterian, William Ellys, who was recorder from 1639 to 1662. In 1660, however, Ellys preferred to contest Grantham on his property interest, and Irby was accompanied by Thomas Hatcher, also a Presbyterian. In 1661 Lord Willoughby, whose father was head of Lincolnshire’s leading royalist family and high steward of the borough, agreed to share expenses with Irby. Another Cavalier, Colonel Henry Heron of Cressey Hall, ten miles from Boston, was recommended by the Duke of York, but does not seem to have gone to the poll. More serious opposition was offered by a wealthy resident, Thomas Thory, who revived the claim of the ‘commonalty’ to the franchise. The result was a double return, with Willoughby, who had spent £153, including a distribution of £5 to the poor and £9 4s.6d. on an election dinner, appearing on both indentures. Irby was elected by the freemen and Thory by the ‘inhabitants’. On 14 May the House seated Irby on the merits of the return, and confirmed the narrow franchise on 15 May 1663. Meanwhile the commissioners for corporations (of whom Thory was one) had removed Ellys as recorder, besides the mayor, nine out of 15 aldermen, and eight out of 18 from the common council. Nevertheless, when Willoughby succeeded as Earl of Lindsey in 1666, his seat was taken by Sir Philip Harcourt, whose only connexion with the borough was as Lady Irby’s nephew, and the efforts of Col. John Butler, once Monck’s quartermaster-general and now collector of customs in the port, to undermine the Irby interest were clearly less successful than he claimed.1

Lindsey and his brother-in-law Lord Treasurer Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne) faced strong local and personal hostility at Boston during the Exclusion crisis, not only from the recorder, Sir Robert Carr, but from his predecessor Ellys, who had been displaced as a judge in 1676. Irby and Ellys were returned at the first general election of 1679, and when the latter was restored to the bench he was replaced by another exclusionist, Sir William Yorke, and the same Members represented the borough in the second and third Exclusion Parliaments. Lindsey procured a loyal address from the corporation abhorring the Rye House Plot, which he presented in 1683; but this came too late to save their charter, which they agreed to surrender on 14 Nov. 1684. Under the new charter of 9 Mar. 1685, Lindsey’s eldest son was appointed recorder, and three other Berties appeared on the corporation. The usual power to remove officials by order-in-council was reserved. In the following month the new recorder and his brother Peregrine were elected unopposed. They both volunteered for service against Monmouth, but lost their commissions in December for opposing the issue of dispensations to Roman Catholic officers. In January 1688 Butler reported that:

the town entirely consists of Church of England men and of Protestant dissenters. The Church of England men are the greater number, and have the ruling power wholly in their hands. I cannot say but that they all express great loyalty to the King, and although they do differ in opinion in matters of religion, yet I am of opinion they will so far agree, in case there be a Parliament called, to choose moderate gentlemen.

It was expected that Yorke would be returned with a moderate Tory, Sir Edward Hussey. In an effort to reduce the power of the Church, the corporation was forbidden to impose any oath on its members, except for the execution of their places. In February Peregrine Bertie I, four other aldermen and three common councilmen were removed, and three more aldermen and five common councilmen soon followed them. Under the new charter of September, Lord Willoughby, whose loyalty was suspect, was replaced as recorder by his father, and the placeman Charles Bertie was the only other member of the family to remain on the corporation, to whom the franchise was to be confined. Sunderland recommended Butler as court candidate, but on 29 Oct. the old charter was restored and the officials displaced in 1684 resumed power. Before the election to the Convention Butler had taken flight, and Lord Willoughby, again recorder, was returned unanimously with Yorke.2

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. HMC Ancaster, 480-2; Adm. 1745, f. 31v; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 489; (lii), 991; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1972; CJ, viii. 251, 484; Eg. 2541, f. 362; P. Thompson, Boston, 93; Eg. 3329, f. 38.
  • 2. HMC Lords, ii. 299-300; London Gazette, 6 Sept. 1683; Thompson, 94-95; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 148-9; PC2/72/618, 636; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 275; 1689-90, p. 4; Eg. 3336, f. 145.