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 7001


 Samuel Reynolds1302
 Sir Walter Clarges, Bt.2183
26 Mar. 1685SIR WALTER CLARGES, Bt. 
 Samuel Reynolds 
 Sir Walter Clarges, Bt. 

Main Article

Within a notoriously Puritan county, Colchester had a reputation for political and religious turbulence. As a port close to the Netherlands, its sizeable nonconformist element was largely the result of an influx of Dutch weavers from the 16th century onwards. These had played an important part in developing the cloth industry as manufacturers of Colchester bays and says, but a strong rivalry still existed between them and the native clothiers. The town had been badly damaged by the siege of 1648. Colchester was a borough by prescription under the charter of 1635, with a corporation of 42 who controlled admission to the roll of freemen. In particular, the mayor’s right to admit ‘foreigners;’ or non-residents, was open to challenge. But the Cromwellian attempt to exclude freemen altogether from the franchise under the charter of 1656 had been of short duration, and throughout the period the returns were made in the name of the ‘commonalty’.4

In 1660 Colchester returned the recorder, John Shaw, together with his much more distinguished predecessor, Sir Harbottle Grimston, both Parliamentarians in the Civil War, but now committed to a Restoration. With Grimston acting as Speaker in the Convention, it fell to Shaw to take the chair on the bill to confirm the authority of the Dutch Bay Hall in the town. The sitting Members were reelected in 1661, and under the new charter of 1663, which increased the size of the corporation to 48, they were confirmed as high steward and recorder respectively. But during the later sessions of the Cavalier Parliament their politics diverged. Grimston rejoined the country Opposition, while Shaw remained uncritically loyal and fell out with the corporation. In 1677 he began legal action to recover £238 6s. for parliamentary wages due to him for 16 years’ service. On 3 Mar. Grimston introduced a bill to nullify such processes. He was warmly thanked by the mayor, who was so troubled by Shaw’s claim that he was ‘ready to sink under the burthen of the thoughts thereof’. But the bill never achieved a second reading, and Shaw, who also claimed arrears of wages as recorder, extracted over £350 from the corporation before handing over office to the Duke of Albemarle (Christopher Monck).5

Grimston was re-elected to the Exclusion Parliaments. His partner in both elections of 1679 was Albemarle’s cousin, Sir Walter Clarges, an army officer. As an opponent of exclusion Clarges was challenged in August by Samuel Reynolds, who was heavily defeated. Grimston asked the corporation in 1681 to excuse him from further service on the grounds of age and infirmity, and did not attend the election. Clarges, backed by the Earl of Oxford, the county magistrates, and many of the clergy, had every confidence in his ability to fend off a renewed challenge from Reynolds; but a dramatic last-minute intervention by Titus Oates, who accused him of Popery, undermined the Albemarle interest.

Our mayor manifested himself in the whole proceedings inclinable to Sir Walter, by encouraging those that were for him, and calling for the officers of the town that he knew were against Mr Reynolds to come to poll, and did frequently treat those that offered themselves for Mr Reynolds with reproachful language and put queries upon several of the electors.

Grimston, despite his professed reluctance to serve, was elected almost unanimously, apart from about a hundred voters who plumped for Reynolds. The bulk of the non-resident vote, which by one calculation may have totalled more than 80, went to the opposition candidate. Reynolds was enjoying a comfortable lead over Clarges when the mayor adjourned the poll, as he later explained to Grimston, to compare it with the roll of freemen. But after four days he was compelled to seal an indenture for Grimston and Reynolds, who had accepted an exclusionist address from their supporters.6

Notwithstanding the defeat for the Court, the corporation produced a few months later an address, though couched in moderate terms, accepting the King’s reasons for dissolving Parliament, and, on Grimston’s urgent advice, another abhorring the Rye House Plot in 1683. Nevertheless the 1663 charter was doomed. The ‘loyalist’ minority on the corporation hoped to expel their opponents, whom they accused of encouraging dissent. But Nathaniel Lawrence, an occasional conformist who was mayor in 1683-4, avoided this by a timely surrender, and six of his followers were renominated as aldermen, though the crown reserved the usual right to remove officials. Albemarle, who brought the new charter down in triumph in June 1684, remained recorder, but Lord Oxford replaced Grimston as high steward. The number of aldermen remained the same, but the assistants and common councilmen were each reduced from 18 to 15. Lawrence was returned with Clarges to James II’s Parliament; Reynolds petitioned, but no report was made. The corporation sent an address in 1687 thanking James for the Declaration of Indulgence and liberty to exercise their religion. A preliminary regulation in January 1688 removed from the corporation the mayor, Lawrence and three other aldermen, seven assistants and seven common councilmen. In a further purge the following month, Reynolds, who initially managed the government interest, replaced Albemarle as recorder, and a further two aldermen, the chamberlain, three assistants and five common councilmen were removed. In their first report in April, the King’s electoral agents recommended as court candidates John Eldred, a dissenter, and either Reynolds or his deputy, both of whom ‘have fully declared themselves’ on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. Already a new quo warranto was threatened, to the consternation of the corporation, who sent Reynolds to London to find out whether the King was aware of the proceedings. The result was the reinstatement of Shaw as recorder under the Roman Catholic Lord Petre as high steward. In September, however, the electoral agents reported that ‘the regulation was made at the instance of Capt. Reynolds, who on further inquiry hath no interest here’. The dissenters, who were described as considerable both for interest and numbers, proposed ‘to choose Sir John Shaw, and to name another right man as soon as their regulation is amended’. Presumably they were unaware that a warrant had already been granted in August for a new charter, under which the number of officials was again reduced, and they were absolved from taking the oaths. Albemarle replaced Lord Petre as high steward, and Petre became recorder in place of Shaw. Three candidates are known to have contested the election to the Convention which was held under the 1688 charter. Reynolds was returned with Isaac Rebow, a clothier of Dutch descent and a strong Whig. Clarges petitioned but in turn failed to obtain a report. In the confusion of Revolution politics Colchester did not directly revert to its old charter granted by Charles II. As a temporary measure the corporation was directed to act according to that of 1688, and not until 1693 was the old one restored.7

Authors: Gillian Hampson / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Eg. 3329, f. 115.
  • 2. Election of Sir Harbottle Grimston and Capt. Reynolds (1681).
  • 3. HMC Verulam, 81.
  • 4. VCH Essex, ii. 331-2, 395-7; Colchester Charters ed. Benham, 84; Morant, Essex, Colchester, 100-1.
  • 5. Colchester Charters, 115-16; EHR, lxvi. 46-47; Leics. RO, Finch mss, f. 32; Grey, iv. 177; HMC Verulam, 80; Colchester Castle, Colchester assembly bk. 2, f. 173.
  • 6. Manner of the Election; HMC Verulam, 81, 82; Jones, First Whigs, 164-5; Bodl. Carte 222, f. 256.
  • 7. London Gazette, 28 July 1681, 13 Aug. 1683, 20 Oct. 1687; Stowe 835, ff. 37v-44, 55v, 58-59, 63-65v; Bodl. Rawl. Essex 1, ff. 113-17, 120-2, 126-8; Colchester Charters, 127, 131-2, 144, 151-2, 162-3, 170-5; VCH Essex, ii. 398; CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 216; 1687-9, p. 259; CJ, ix. 726; x. 11; PC2/72/581, 608, 651; Colchester assembly bk. 2, ff. 293, 295; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 410.