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:

400 in 16881


28 Mar. 1664WILLIAM ALINGTON, Baron Alington [I] vice Compton, deceased
19 Feb. 1679WILLIAM ALINGTON, Baron Alington [I]
 Sir Thomas Willys, Bt.
 Roger Pepys
15 Aug. 1679WILLIAM ALINGTON, Baron Alington [I]
2 Feb. 1681WILLIAM ALINGTON, Baron Alington [I]

Main Article

Cambridge was an open constituency during this period. The only borough in the county, it chose its Members exclusively from the local gentry. The influence of the university was probably indirect, but helps to account for the failure of the country candidates during the exclusion crisis. It was at this time that manipulation of the freeman roll for electoral purposes began, and control of the corporation, consisting of the mayor, 12 aldermen and 24 common councilmen, became essential.2

In April 1660 Sir Dudley North and Sir Thomas Willys, whose lukewarm attitude to the Restoration had led to defeat in the county election, were hastily granted the freedom of Cambridge to qualify them to represent the borough in the Convention. They did not stand again, and in 1661 Sir William Compton, a much respected Cavalier, was returned

with all the ceremonies as could be, and more, a great deal of joy to him would have been showed but his entreaty with the gentlemen prevented. But he was brought back with all the town music, and [the] mayor with his maces, and all the gownmen in great order.

His colleague, however, Roger Pepys, the recorder, was clearly no friend to the Court, and in 1662 the puritan corporation was drastically purged. The mayor, seven aldermen, and 13 of the common council were removed. When Compton died in the following year, he was replaced by Alington, his step-son, who was equally loyal to the Court.3

At the first general election of 1679 Willys and Pepys stood as country candidates. They were opposed by Alington and Sir Thomas Chicheley, high steward of the borough, who had stepped down from the county seat. Great pressure was applied to ensure his return. The mayor went from house to house ‘to awe the electors’, and some freemen were warned that they would lose university custom and would be debarred from the charitable loans administered by the corporation if they voted the wrong way. Open house was kept at various inns owned by freemen, and the mayor was reported to have made ‘all the neighbour gentlemen free of the town’. Pepys defied the corporation and lost both election and recordership, to which office Alington was appointed. Pepys and Willys petitioned, alleging abuses at the election, but no report was made before the first Exclusion Parliament was dissolved. Alington and Chicheley were again returned in August. On the day of the election, the freedom was granted to seven non-residents, including Sir Levinus Bennet, 2nd Bt., shortly to be returned for the county. The sitting Members were re-elected in 1681. Neither of these elections was contested.4

Between 1681 and 1683 the corporation sent loyal addresses thanking the King for dissolving Parliament, and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. The town’s charter was surrendered on 11 Nov. 1684 and the council resolved to borrow £200 towards the cost of a replacement, which was obtained with the assistance of Alington, Chicheley and (Sir) Robert Wright the deputy recorder. Only two aldermen and five common councilmen were replaced, but the crown reserved the usual right to remove officials. Alington died shortly afterwards, but Chicheley continued as high steward, and was returned to James II’s Parliament with another Tory, Sir William Wren, who was Wright’s brother-in-law.5

In September 1687 the corporation refused to rescind the election of the new mayor in favour of the King’s nominee. In the following April the mayor, five aldermen and 12 common councilmen were removed. Less than a fortnight later the King’s electoral agents, who gave an estimate of about 400 voters in the borough, reported the need for a further

regulation of the present magistracy, for they are wholly under the influence of the University, and such as cannot influence the electors; nor are the University wanting to improve their interest.

The town proposed to choose Willys’s son John and Hugh Underwood of Whittlesey, who was connected to the Russells of Chippenham by his marriage to a niece of the Whig, Gerard Russell. Both were thought to be ‘right’, but ‘the dissenters before their election will further discourse them’. On 27 Apr., a further six aldermen and 12 councilmen were removed, soon after which the corporation sent an address thanking James for the Declaration of Indulgence. Nevertheless, further purges were necessary before the King was satisfied with the remodelled corporation. Chicheley was dismissed as high steward and replaced by the Roman Catholic lord lieutenant, Lord Dover, on 14 May, and in the same month the town clerk was removed. During the summer the corporation granted the freedom to 85 inhabitants and 65 non-residents, most of the latter being friends, tenants or dependants of Dover. Five more councilmen were removed in September, and the King’s agents reported that the town then proposed as candidates Sir Marmaduke Dayrell of Shudy Camps, recently made a deputy lieutenant, and Underwood. ‘They have likewise in their eye Gervase Disney’, of the same Lincolnshire family as William Disney, who was executed for his part in Monmouth’s rising. But the old charter was restored in October and it would seem that the newly constituted freemen were not allowed to vote. When Dover accompanied James into exile, Chicheley regained the office of high steward and was re-elected for Cambridge in 1689. He was joined by John Cotton who established a firm Tory interest in the borough.6

Authors: E. R. Edwards / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 322-3.
  • 2. C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 245-6; VCH Cambs. iii. 68-70.
  • 3. Cooper, iii. 477, 503; Pepys Diary, 20 Apr. 1660, 19 Oct. 1663; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 657; Add. 32324, f. 53.
  • 4. Case of Many Protestant Freeholders (1680); Cooper, iii. 577-9, 582; VCH Cambs. iii. 48, 70; CJ, ix. 579.
  • 5. London Gazette, 6 June 1681, 27 Mar. 1682, 13 Aug. 1683; Cooper, iii. 602-5.
  • 6. Cooper, iii. 634-41; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 322-3; London Gazette, 31 May 1688; PC2/72/730; VCH Cambs. iii. 70.