East Retford


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 resident freemen

Number of voters:

about 50 in 1701


8 Nov. 1670SIR EDWARD DERING, Bt. vice Clifton, deceased

Main Article

No contested elections are known to have occurred in this period, and all the Members, except John Millington, seem to have retained their seats, once elected, until they died, left the country or chose another constituency. But the Retford freemen, if politically unsophisticated, were well able to set a value on their votes. Sir William Hickman, son of a local Royalist, had established a strong personal interest in the borough even before the Restoration. His colleague in 1660, Lord Kildare, was a stranger to the county who had married into the Holles family. They were elected ‘according to the custom and privilege of the said borough by one consent and assent’. The bailiffs tried to have things both ways by returning Hickman as senior Member but without his title, a Civil War creation, and therefore prohibited by the Long Parliament. The Clifton interest, dominant before the Civil War, re-established itself in 1661 when (Sir) Clifford Clifton replaced Kildare. On his death the Duke of Newcastle proposed his ‘menial servant’ Millington before agreeing to make the seat available to a government official, Sir Edward Dering, who was ‘totally a stranger’ to the borough. Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) ‘utterly renounced the naming of anybody’, much to the disgust of his brother Henry Savile, who was ‘pretty sure the court commendation for Sir Edward Dering would not stand in competition with such an interest as I am certain is in your power to procure for me’. Dering, accompanied by his son-in-law Sir Robert Southwell, attended the election and was returned unanimously.1

For the Exclusion Parliaments, Hickman was partnered by Millington’s brother-in-law, Sir Edward Neville, another moderate court supporter. On 24 Jan. 1679, Lord Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne) asked the 2nd Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish) and Sir Ralph Knight to use their interest for his son Lord Dunblane (Peregrine Osborne), and there was a suggestion that the 3rd Earl of Clare (John Holles) might intervene, besides ‘many little designs of some other’, but there is no evidence of a poll. For the second election of 1679, Halifax was confident that ‘without extraordinary industry he [Hickman] cannot be put by at Retford’. So it proved, though Neville, who probably provided most of the sinews of war, was ill and unresolved whether to stand, and Hickman, hastening down to his constituency after voting against exclusion and accepting office, was temporarily disabled by a carriage accident on the Great North Road. ‘I do not find any competitors appear’, he wrote to Halifax on 15 Aug., ‘though there has been much industry used and papers dispersed with designs to reflect on me, but I think it is all from above, and does not much impose upon my neighbours that know me.’ There was an attempt to put off the election till after that for the county, presumably in the interests of Gervase Pierrepont but on 29 Aug. Hickman and Neville were returned in their absence unopposed. Hickman feared that Millington was trying to make an interest for himself, but on 24 Feb. 1681 Halifax wrote that the sitting Members were sure to be chosen at East Retford without any opposition. Later in the year it was said that Neville enjoyed the ‘constant assurance not only of being a Parliament man during his life, but the great influence he hath upon the place for which he serves to make whom he please with him’.2

Hickman proved unable to transmit his interest to his son, and in 1682 John Thornhaugh—like Neville the son of a Long Parliament recruiter for the borough, but of very different politics—began to build up an interest by lavishly treating the electors. Neville, assisted by Millington, procured not only a loyal address abhorring the Rye House Plot, but also the surrender of the charter, which he carried up to London a few days before the death of Charles II. Under the new charter he was named deputy to Newcastle as recorder of the borough, and his cousin and heir Charles town clerk. Provision was made as usual for the removal of officers by order-in-council. But the new charter seems to have had little effect on the general election of 1685.Millington wrote to Halifax:

I hear Thornhaugh hath bribed so at Retford that without a letter to the Duke to use his interest and appear for me, my election will be doubtful ... Without his appearance I shall have the hardest pull of anybody, my purse not being equal to Mr Thornhaugh’s.

But Millington’s apprehensions were groundless, he and his brother-in-law being elected without opposition. Neville died at the end of the year, leaving debts of £20,000, the price, it may be presumed, of five uncontested returns. Francis Sandys, who had long helped to manage the borough for him, ‘proposed Mr Evelyn Pierrepont to be their burgess in Parliament, which the town very readily agreed to, and yesterday they were very nobly and frankly entertained at Worksop Manor’, the residence of the Roman Catholic Lord Thomas Howard. Millington, who had succeeded Neville as deputy recorder, hoped to retain his seat, and obtained a promise from Newcastle ‘to write in my behalf to Retford, but he saith he will first recommend Mr Stringer, who, I hear, will refuse’. To Newcastle’s questions on the Penal Laws, the corporation would go no further than to recall their constant fidelity and loyalty and to undertake that ‘when his Majesty shall be pleased to call a Parliament, it shall be our utmost endeavour to choose such Members as we think shall be the most ready to serve his Majesty’. Although Millington’s signature stands first under this evasive answer, he and Newcastle in July 1688 were reported to have threatened the corporation with a regulation unless they promised to elect candidates opposed to the Test. In September James II’s electoral agents reported:

They propose to elect Mr Taylor and Mr Thornhaugh, two right men. It is desired that the Lord Sunderland would write to the Duke of Newcastle to recommend these two to the choice of the town.

Thornhaugh’s seven years of political preparation had their reward at the general election of 1689, when he and Pierrepont were returned, and the Tory grip on the borough at last broken.3

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. Dering Pprs. 112; Savile Corresp. (Cam. Soc. lxxi), 25; CSP Dom. 1670, p 522.
  • 2. HMC Portland, ii. 153; Spencer mss, Hickman to Halifax, 5 Feb., 15, 27, 30 Aug. 1679, 10 Feb. 1680, Millington to Halifax, 1 June 1681; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 180; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 15, f. 22, Halifax to Sir Thomas Thynne, 24 Feb. 1681.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Millington to Halifax, 10 May 1682, 16, 18 Mar. 1685, 4 Dec. 1686, 20 Sept. 1687; Luttrell, i. 272; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 86; 1687-9, p. 273; Foxcroft, i. 508; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 127, 246.