East Grinstead


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 burgage-holders 1660-78, 1685-9; in the burgage-holders and inhabitants paying scot and lot 1679-81

Number of voters:

under 100 in 1679-81; 48 in 16831


28 Mar. 1661CHARLES SACKVILLE, Lord Buckhurst 
21 Apr. 1675HON. EDWARD SACKVILLE vice Buckhurst, called to the Upper House 
25 Oct. 1678THOMAS PELHAM vice Sackville, deceased 
14 Feb. 1679THOMAS PELHAM 
 Henry Powle 
 William Scroggs 
 POWLE vice Sackville, on petition, 7 Apr. 1679 
19 Apr. 1679SIR THOMAS LITTLETON, 2nd Bt. vice Powle, chose to sit for Cirencester 
 John Packer50
 Henry Powle282
11 Feb. 1681SIR CYRIL WYCHE 
19 Mar. 1685SIMON SMITH 
 John Conyers 
17 Jan. 1689SIR THOMAS DYKE, Bt. 
 John Conyers 

Main Article

In East Grinstead, a borough by prescription, the franchise was in dispute between the burgage-holders and the scot and lot payers. A rental of 1683 enumerates 48 burgages in the borough, held by 32 tenants. The returning officer was nominated by the Earl of Dorset as lord of the borough, who easily controlled the narrower franchise, especially since the establishment of a magnificent set of alms-houses under the 2nd Earl’s will; but the town valued its position as seat of the Sussex assizes, which gave the judges on the home circuit an interest. The 4th Earl of Dorset had attended Charles I at Oxford during the Civil War, and no Sackville apparently felt free to stand in 1660. The family interest went to Marmaduke Gresham, while George Courthope, who despite strong royalist sympathies had avoided involvement in the Civil War, took the other seat. He was re-elected in 1661 with the 5th Earl’s heir, Lord Buckhurst. When Buckhurst was created Earl of Middlesex in 1675, his father was abroad, but the voters obediently elected his next younger brother, Edward. On Edward Sackville’s death in 1678, the 6th Earl considered nominating another brother, Richard, but eventually gave his interest to Thomas Pelham, a cautious opponent of the Court. Ralph Montagu, desperate for parliamentary immunity, tried to assert an interest in the borough as step-father to the Earl of Northumberland’s heir, but met with no response. Sir John Pelham gave his son £20 before the election, and spent £3 11s. on the day itself, which seems to have sufficed.3

Both elections of 1679 were contested. There was no opposition in February to Pelham, whose election cost his father no more than in the previous year, but three candidates stood for the junior seat. The Sackville interest split, owing to a dispute between Dorset and his mother. Dorset nominated his cousin Edward Sackville, an army officer, but the dowager countess recommended to the inhabitants Henry Powle, a leader of the country party whom she was to marry a few months later. The fourth candidate was the son of Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, at this date still in the good graces of the Opposition for his handling of the Popish Plot trials. Sackville was returned with Pelham on the votes of the 36 burgage-holders, but expelled the House for publicly expressing disbelief in the Plot. Although he blamed Scroggs for his expulsion, Powle, who had produced a single indenture in the name of the inhabitants, was the beneficiary. With about 60 votes to 18 on this franchise, he was declared elected, the House refusing to hear Scroggs, because he had not petitioned against Pelham. When Powle chose to sit for Cirencester, Sir Thomas Littleton, his political ally, was returned in his stead.4

By August Dorset and his mother had patched up their differences, and the Sackville interest united behind Powle, who had voted against the exclusion bill, and William Jephson, a strong exclusionist and Dorset’s confidant in his amorous exploits. The widening of the franchise permitted the reassertion of the Goodwin interest, which had returned one Member from 1626 to the Restoration. Robert Goodwin was now in his late seventies and long retired from Parliament, but through his sister-in-law’s second husband, John Clayton, he (or rather his daughter) promised Jephson their interest. Jephson was also a close friend of the Hon. Thomas Wharton, who shared his political views, and may have been the means of introducing to the borough Goodwin Wharton, who, despite his name, does not seem to have been related to the Sussex Goodwins. John Packer of Groombridge, whose motto was ‘For king and country’, probably stood as a court supporter. Plans were laid carefully to prevent the bailiff from conducting a poll confined to the burgage-holders, and, with the assistance of Titus Oates, the exclusionists triumphed, though Jephson defeated Packer by only two votes. Powle finished a bad fourth, but the electors apologized to his wife and assured her that they would accept her nomination next time. A protest from the burgage-holders did not emerge from the elections committee. In 1681 Powle was duly returned with Sir Cyril Wyche, one of Dorset’s more respectable friends and a firm believer in ‘moderate counsels’ and a ‘perfect understanding between the King and his Parliament’.5

Dorset’s candidates in 1685 were Simon Smith, a placeman of a family long dependent on the Sackvilles, and Thomas Jones, another judge’s son. They were opposed by John Conyers, a Tory lawyer, who had acquired property in the town by marrying Goodwin’s granddaughter. It was later said that Jones bought up votes promised to Conyers at 20 guineas a head, but the defeated candidate’s petition was never reported. The King’s electoral agents wrote in 1688 that Dorset would bring in Sir Thomas Dyke, while Conyers, ‘of whom we can give no good account’, would stand on the Goodwin interest. A newspaper report in September complained of very unfair practices at East Grinstead ‘to lessen the reputation of such gentlemen as in probability may be put up, if but suspected of moderation, or to be any ways favourably inclined towards dissenters, although otherwise of known loyalty, and constant Churchmen’. At the general election of 1689 the bailiff returned Dyke and Thomas Sackville as ‘duly elected by such persons as according to the ancient laws and customs of the borough aforesaid ought to choose Members for Parliament’, and rejected a second indenture in favour of Conyers and Sackville which had been signed by 42 out of the 60 inhabitants paying scot and lot. John Birch reported from the elections committee in favour of Conyers’s petition and the wide franchise, but the House rejected the report without a division, and the period closed with the Sackville interest for the first time in control of both seats.6

Author: B. M. Crook


  • 1. W. H. Hills, Hist. East Grinstead, 38-39.
  • 2. Kent AO, U269/E178.
  • 3. Kent AO, U269/C38/3, 4; C118/2,33; Browning, Danby, ii. 376; Add. 33148, f. 201.
  • 4. Add. 33148, f. 204; C. J. Phillips, Hist. Sackville Fam. i. 423-4, 427; Kent AO, U269/C98/17; CJ, ix. 587-8.
  • 5. Savile Corresp. (Cam. Soc. lxxi), 130, 221; Bodl. Carte 130, ff. 221-2; Thorpe, Reg. Roff, 810; Kent AO, U269/C98/17; CJ, ix. 645; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 604; State Trials, x. 136.
  • 6. Memorials. in the Church (Walthamstow Antiq. Soc. xxvii), 18: Kent AO, U269/C133/65; CJ, ix. 717; x. 67; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 441; Pub. Occurrences, 11 Sept. 1688.