Durham County


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:

about 1,750


21 June 1675JOHN TEMPEST1034
 Sir James Clavering, Bt.747
25 Oct. 1675CHRISTOPHER VANE vice Thomas Vane, deceased 
24 Feb. 1679SIR ROBERT EDEN, Bt.1338
 Christopher Vane921
25 Aug. 1679WILLIAM BOWES1048
 Christopher Vane803
 Sir Mark Milbanke, Bt.671
21 Feb. 1681WILLIAM BOWES1186
 Christopher Vane6811

Main Article

As the bishop’s palatinate, Durham had never been represented in the Commons before the Protectorate. A bill for its enfranchisement was introduced into the Convention by Sir Thomas Widdrington, who had acted as chancellor of the county during the Interregnum. It passed the Commons with one amendment on 8 Aug. 1660, and was carried to the Lords by Robert Ellison, but there it was rejected, even though the bishops had not yet resumed their seats. Bishop Cosin expressed satisfaction that the winter sessions of 1662 ‘were persuaded to pass over that business for knights and burgesses so quietly’; but in October 1666 the bench, by a majority of 11 to five, endorsed a petition for representation from the grand jury, who pointed out that it was

no small dishonour and disadvantage to be subject to those laws in the making of which we have not an equal or any vote with our fellow subjects; to pay all taxes and impositions whatsoever laid upon us without our consent (contrary to so many Acts of Parliament and the Petition of Right); to be liable to suffer deeply by the debates in Parliament, both in point of trade and other frequent emergencies, having none to speak for us in these cases to inform the House and prevent the damage.

John Tempest, a country gentleman of irreproachable loyalty, carried the petition to the bishop in London. It was, of course, rejected; but the triumphal reception accorded to Tempest on his return alarmed Cosin. Under pressure from Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet), who was looking for a seat for his under-secretary, Joseph Williamson, the bishop became

more inclined to yield than formerly to the desires of the county for sending up knights and burgesses to Parliament, on condition, however, that they will hearken to his recommendation in the choice of persons.

But when the bill was introduced on 13 Dec. 1667 he complained to Tempest:

I do not find in your bill the saving of any rights and privileges proper to the bishop ... nor do you keep your first offer and promise in assuring him that the bishop for the time being shall have the choosing of one knight and burgess.

Sir Thomas Strickland reported on 9 Mar. 1668 that the committee ‘found no cause to make any alterations and amendments’, but it ran into serious trouble on third reading. It was objected that the north of England was already over-represented; but the most effective speech was made by Thomas Burwell, spiritual chancellor of the diocese, who pointed out that:

If this bill should pass, all the bishop’s tenants (which were a great part of the county) would be excluded from having voices, they being copyholders, and so the free-holders, which are not a tenth part of the county, should only be the electors.

In a thin House the bill was lost by 65 to 50, Burwell and Cosin’s son-in-law, Gilbert Gerard II, acting as tellers for the majority.2

No further action was taken till Cosin’s death left the see vacant. A bill was ordered on 28 Feb. 1673, steered through committee by (Sir) Thomas Clarges, and received the royal assent at the end of the session. It provided for the writ to be sent to the bishop or his temporal chancellor, who were to issue a precept to the sheriff. But complications arose over the procedure to be followed in the borough; and it was not until 14 May 1675 that the Speaker was authorized to issue his warrant. The court candidates, who ‘had the best interest of the gentry’, were Tempest and Sir James Clavering, one of the knights of the shire in the second Protectorate Parliament. But they were opposed by Thomas Vane with the support of ‘all the sectaries in the county generally’. Williamson, who had found a seat at Thetford, was told that:

Sir Robert Eden and Mr William Belasyse jun. were the only two persons in the county that stickled for him, and few or no gentlemen besides themselves, but most of his party within the lordship of Raby and Barnard Castle, who have many of them houses about 40s. p.a. and farm land under the Vanes.

Tempest and Vane were returned, but the latter died of smallpox only four days later. Sir Francis Anderson wrote:

Had Mr Vane lived, the election would have been disputed by Sir James, but, Mr Vane being dead, it is here the sense of most people that there will be no need of a new writ, but that the sheriff may make a return for Sir James on a motion in the House.

However, it was already known that Vane’s brother Christopher intended to stand, and no such motion was made. Crew, the new bishop, who came from a Presbyterian family, supported him, and with most of the gentry on his side he was returned unopposed.3

The exclusion crisis produced a realignment of forces. At the first general election of 1679 Tempest and Eden joined interests as court candidates against Vane. Clavering, who was regarded as ‘base’ by Shaftesbury, soon desisted, and Gerard, who had been dismissed as sheriff after his defection to the Opposition, apparently failed to find a second country candidate. Eden and Tempest were returned; but Vane petitioned, complaining that the new sheriff had released ‘a great number of popish recusants’ in order to secure the return of the successful candidates. His petition was referred to the elections committee, and a further committee, which included both of Vane’s opponents, was appointed to investigate the allegations against the sheriff, but neither reported before the dissolution of Parliament. However, the scandal was sufficient to deter the sitting Members from seeking re-election in August. Though Vane was reluctant to leave his wife in Kent and travel to Durham, he stood again in the country interest with Sir Mark Milbanke, the current sheriff of Northumberland. They were defeated by William Bowes and Thomas Fetherstonhalgh, who enjoyed the support of Bishop Crew. Before the 1681 election Dean Granville exhorted his congregation at morning service to vote for their former Members as sound churchmen. He was rudely interrupted by a local nonconformist who objected that they ‘were neither Protestants nor enemies to Popery’. In Vane’s absence on election day, his friends demanded a poll, but he was again defeated and the sitting Members returned. At the assizes in August an address from the grand jury approving the dissolution of Parliament, and thanking the King for his resolve to stand by the Church and govern according to law, as well as for passing the Irish Cattle Act and preserving Tangier, was signed by Crew and the whole bench, except for Gerard and John Parkhurst.4

In expectation of another general election in the autumn of 1683, Bowes solicited government support. Sir Leoline Jenkins deprecated electoral speculation, but wrote to Crew on behalf of Bowes and Sir Richard Lloyd II, ‘two worthy friends of mine [who] have had your countenance and protection on such occasions and, I hope, will still deserve it’. Crew duly recommended Bowes and Eden to the sheriff but neither stood in 1685, and Lloyd was returned for Durham city. For the county two Tories, Robert Byerley and William Lambton, were returned unopposed.5

Crew, one of the most servile of James II’s bishops, signed an address of thanks for the Declaration of Indulgence and suspended those clergy who refused to read it in their churches. Moreover he was blamed for a clerical version of the three questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws devised by Granville. The lay version was refused by six of the ‘prime justices’, including Eden and Byerley. After the Dutch invasion Crew somewhat belatedly demanded a free Parliament and the withdrawal of the King’s protection from ‘Romish chapels’; but he was soon forced to go into hiding. An abortive election was held in December 1688, presumably by the Hon. Charles Montagu, who was both sheriff and spiritual chancellor. Lambton and Byerley were re-elected, and the result was confirmed by the coroners in the following month, probably without a contest, though this time Lambton took the senior seat.6

Authors: Gillian Hampson / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. C. Sharp, Parl. Rep. Dur. (1831), 15-17.
  • 2. CJ, viii. 88, 108, 122; ix. 259, 269, 445; HMC 7th Rep. 126; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 394; 1667-8, pp. 64, 73; Cosin Corresp. (Surtees Soc. lv), 86-87, 212, 215; Hutchinson, Dur. i. 540-7; Trans. R. Hist. Soc. (ser. 4), xxx. 31; Grey, i. 120; Milward, 322-3.
  • 3. The Gen. n.s. xxii. 20; Sharp, 15; CSP Dom. 1675-6, pp. 184, 288, 340, 362.
  • 4. HMC Astley, 41, 42; CJ, ix. 576; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 20; C. E. Whiting, Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, 116-17; CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 369, 386; True Prot. Mercury, 12 Mar. 1681.
  • 5. CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, pp. 50-51, 434, 435; Durham Cathedral Lib. Sharp mss 82/10; Hutchinson, i. 549; The Gen. n.s. xxii. 21.
  • 6. Whiting, 172-5, HMC 3rd Rep. 273; HMC Kenyon, 189; HMC 7th Rep. 504; Luttrell, i. 449, 451; HMC Le Fleming, 210; Durham Univ. Lib. Mickleton-Spearman mss 46/237.