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

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 2,800


26 Apr. 1660HENRY CAVENDISH, Visct. Mansfield 
 John Gell 
 Robert Eyre 
28 Mar. 1661WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Lord Cavendish1803
 Sir John Curzon, Bt.747
2 Nov. 1665JOHN MILWARD vice Frescheville, called to the Upper House 
24 Nov. 1670WILLIAM SACHEVERELL vice Milward, deceased1759
 George Vernon1116
6 Feb. 1679WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Lord Cavendish 
21 Aug. 1679WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Lord Cavendish 
3 Mar. 1681WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Lord Cavendish 
26 Mar. 1685SIR ROBERT COKE, Bt. 
 Hon. Anchitell Grey 
Jan. 1689SIR JOHN GELL, Bt. 
 William Sacheverell 
18 Apr. 1689(SIR) PHILIP GELL vice Sir John 
 Gell, deceased 

Main Article

At the general election of 1660 the middle ground was occupied by Robert Eyre of Highlow, a recent convert to the Stuart cause, and John Ferrers, a loyalist who was too young to have taken part in the Civil War. On one flank they were opposed by John Gell, ‘the most rigid Presbyterian in the county’, on the other by Lord Mansfield, son of the Cavalier general in the north, and so debarred from standing under the last ordinance of the Long Parliament. A compromise was suggested, ‘though certainly that cannot consist with Mr Gell’s principles’. A gentry meeting agreed unanimously to nominate Mansfield for one seat, leaving the other open. Eyre urged Ferrers, who normally lived at Tamworth Castle, not to delay his appearance in the county, ‘for if you do, you’ll find the country people strangely wrought on through your absence’. He himself told Mansfield’s cousin, the Earl of Devonshire, that he was ‘resolved to try it out, though Sir John Curzon or any other in Derbyshire should stand against me’; but there is no other suggestion that Curzon, accounted a great enemy to the King as knight of the shire in the Long Parliament, thought of standing in 1660. Mansfield was ‘elected by a trick of returning the writs; but the election was held void’, not surprisingly since he had received less than 500 votes. The Anabaptists threatened to burn Mansfield’s house and to take him, dead or alive; but ‘at Nottingham he got a troop of horse and marched to Derby to be chosen again’ on the day appointed for the assembly of the Convention. Ferrers, who had maintained a low profile throughout the election, took the second seat. The House ordered an inquiry into the miscarriage of the original writ, but no report was made.1

In 1661 Mansfield migrated to the Northumberland constituency, where he could be sure of election without showing his face, and Ferrers did not stand. This time the gentry meeting nominated two candidates, John Frescheville, a prominent though not entirely steadfast Cavalier, and the young Lord Cavendish, whose father signified his acceptance of the honour. Curzon’s offer to join interests with Cavendish was rejected, and despite an energetic canvass he was heavily defeated at the poll. There appears to have been no fourth candidate, although a number of Curzon’s supporters cast their second vote for Eyre. When Frescheville was raised to the peerage in 1665 he apparently designed Hon. Anchitell Grey as his successor ‘to avoid the pretence of so many competitors that will undoubtedly start up’. When it became clear that Grey preferred to sit for the borough, Frescheville reported that George Vernon was ‘very inclinable to serve the country’. He was however prepared to stand down in favour of John Milward, another Cavalier colonel of unsurpassed ‘loyalty and discretion’, who may have been returned unopposed. No doubt Vernon expected to be rewarded for his forbearance at the next vacancy, but Milward’s death in 1670 was followed by the most fiercely contested election of the period. Vernon was warned that ‘if Mr [William] Sacheverell will stand you will have all the Presbyterians against you’. Devonshire advised him to ‘keep yourself close with yourself and show that even and unconcerned temper that you can do’. Vernon described himself as being ‘forced to labour day and night for all the votes I can to preserve his Majesty’s interest in this county ... though all the nobility, all the deputy lieutenants, most of the justices and gentry with some hundreds of freeholders do join me’. It seems that Sacheverell, one of the ablest politicians of the age, was able to rely not merely on the antipathy of the nonconformists to the Conventicles Act and those who had tried to enforce it, but also on a revolt of the ‘greycoats’ against the nomination of Members by the county magnates. Lord Scarsdale’s agent wrote to Vernon:

Your adversaries have been very diligent, for no sooner have we persuaded some of our neighbours but they are cheated from us by the enemy so that we are forced to go often to keep them in their right understanding. I am almost ashamed to send you an account of so small a number. I doubt we shall not be above 30, but I persuade myself that they will balance those that speak a great deal louder on the other side, for I am sure that the ill ways and unpleasant weather considered, with the arguments we have used, will discourage very many that were engaged against us from a dirty journey. I wish I had more power. I would employ it wholly to prevent the triumph of a fanatic rout.

Despite the excitement, it was not a disorderly election. Sacheverell had a majority on the view, but Vernon demanded a poll. Some 30 of his voters were questionable, as being only ‘copyholders in ancient demesne’, but they could not affect the result, and Sacheverell was returned by a substantial majority. Vernon lodged a petition on the ground of ‘miscarriages’, but later withdrew it on Devonshire’s advice.2

Cavendish and Vernon both went over to the Opposition under Danby, Vernon was elected for the borough, and the sitting Members were returned unopposed for the county to the three Exclusion Parliaments, in the first ‘without spending a penny’, in the second ‘with little dispute’, though Grey expressed some doubt about Sacheverell’s acceptability, and in the last ‘though neither of them appeared’. Cavendish succeeded to the peerage in 1684, and before the next general election the gentry meeting, with six dissentients, agreed to vote for the Tories, Sir Robert Coke and Sir Gilbert Clarke, who were warmly supported by Mansfield, now Duke of Newcastle. Sacheverell, however, laughed at these proceedings, and announced that Grey had agreed to stand with him in the Whig interest. At the poll, however, Sacheverell was declared ineligible

as not being resident in the county at the date of the writ; so that after a great dispute and contest among them he was forced to resign his interest to another gentleman of the county ... after which they did proceed to a poll with a design to go from hundred to hundred through the whole of the county.

No details of the poll have survived, but the Tories were victorious. Coke died early in 1688, and James II’s electoral agents wrote:

They intend to choose Sir John Gell, who they account very right, and Sir Gilbert Clarke, who is very contrary. It’s very probable that if Mr Cornelius Clarke can be prevailed with to stand they will prevent Sir Gilbert’s choice.

Gell and Cornelius Clarke, a wealthy lead-merchant who was not related to his namesake, were approved as court candidates. At the general election of 1689 Gell was returned with Sir Gilbert Clarke, a popular constituency Member, while Sacheverell, who had been one of the leading Whig collaborators, trailed by 600 votes. Gell died in London in the opening weeks of the Convention, and the Cavendish interest proposed William Eyre, son of the 1660 candidate. Sacheverell had found a seat at Heytesbury, and Eyre stood down in favour of his brother-in-law, Sir Philip Gell, who was probably returned unopposed.3

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. The Reliquary, n.s. vi. 112; Stowe 185, ff. 145, 180; Cal. Cl. SP, v. 1; CJ, viii. 42.
  • 2. Add. 31306, ff. 11, 46v; HMC Hastings, ii. 141; Chandos-Pole mss 60/5; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 174; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 233; Jnl. Derbys. Arch. Soc. xviii. 48; Vernon mss 18/17, 24, 27, 28; Add. 6705, f. 100; CJ, ix. 181, 197.
  • 3. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 13; Devonshire mss 260, Grey to Cavendish, 14 July 1679; Spencer mss, Hickman to Halifax, 15 Aug. 1679; Prot. Dom. Intell. 15 Mar. 1681; HMC Rutland, ii. 86-87; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 105; 1687-9, p. 273; Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/14/131; The Reliquary, n.s. vi. 113; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 168, 440; Fam. Min. Gent. (Harl. Soc. xxxviii), 553; Chandos-Pole mss 48/27, 50; 60/6.