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 700 in 1688


29 Oct. 1660SIR FREDERICK CORNWALLIS, Bt. vice Nathaniel Bacon, deceased 
9 Nov. 1670JOHN WRIGHT vice Sicklemore, deceased 
22 Jan. 1674GILBERT LINDFIELD vice Blois, deceased 
14 Dec. 1680SIR JOHN BARKER, Bt. vice Lindfield, deceased 
4 Feb. 1681SIR JOHN BARKER, Bt. 
16 Mar. 1685SIR JOHN BARKER, Bt. 
12 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN BARKER, Bt.170
 Sir Henry Felton, Bt.581
28 May 1689SIR CHARLES BLOIS,  Bt. vice Ventris, appointed to office111
 Sir Samuel Barnardiston, Bt.942

Main Article

The right of election at Ipswich lay with the freemen at large, who usually preferred a politically balanced representation. Of the Members returned in this period, seven resided in the town, and most were connected with the corporation, consisting of two bailiffs (who acted as returning officers), 12 ‘portmen’ or aldermen, and 24 ‘chief constables’ or common councilmen. The resistance of Ipswich to the Laudian practices of Bishop Wren had earned it the reputation of a ‘godly and holy town’, and dissent flourished, though it did not dominate.3

At the general election of 1660 the recorder, Nathaniel, Bacon, was returned with his brother Francis. Both were lawyers, both had houses in Ipswich, both supported Parliament in the Civil War and held central government office during the Interregnum, and together they had represented the borough throughout the Protectorate. Nathaniel Bacon died a few months after the Restoration, and was replaced by the courtier Sir Frederick Cornwallis, whose mother had remarried into a West Suffolk branch of the Bacon family. He was elected in his absence and without a contest. But he was given a peerage in the coronation honours, and the Court was unable to repeat its success at the general election. Both Members returned to the Cavalier Parliament had sat for Suffolk under the Protectorate, and it is not known whether the court candidate, Sir Robert Broke of Nacton, went to the poll. One seat was taken by the new recorder, John Sicklemore, who had married a niece of the Bacons, and the other by William Blois, whose family had long held a footing both in the Ipswich mercantile world and, as squires of Grundisburgh, in county society. Nor did the town show much enthusiasm in its preparations to celebrate the coronation. On 25 Apr. 1661 a local Royalist wrote:

Such rejoicing we hear in all towns about us, only that godly and holy town of Ipswich who had but one poor garland, and that I think was hardly the garland of goodwill. It had been a great expression if they had hanged out one of their burgesses, in hopes their next choice might have been better.

Nevertheless the Suffolk commissioners for corporations used their powers with discretion in Ipswich; there were only six displacements, and in 1665 the borough applied for a new charter. On Sicklemore’s death in 1670 he was replaced in an uncontested election by John Wright, a newcomer from London who owned a shipyard and already occupied a prominent position in municipal life. Much trusted by the Admiralty, he was elected as a government supporter, but later moved into opposition. Blois died in November 1673, and was succeeded by another leading member of the corporation, an innkeeper named Gilbert Lindfield, who was a much steadier adherent of the Court.4

The sitting Members were successful at both elections in 1679, with Lindfield returned for the senior seat. They voted in opposite lobbies on the first exclusion bill, yet early in 1680 the corporation resolved to pay Wright £60 and Lindfield £20 for their services in Parliament. Lindfield died during the second Exclusion Parliament, and was replaced by another court supporter, Sir John Barker, a country gentleman who preferred to live in Ipswich. He was re-elected with Wright to the Oxford Parliament.5

The corporation sent but a moderate address approving the dissolution, and only its Tory members were prepared to abhor the ‘Association’. But after the Rye House Plot a majority was found to condemn ‘fanatics’. Nevertheless complaints of undue leniency towards nonconformists led to the appointment of Broke in December 1683 to investigate the municipality. With the co-operation of the town clerk, Peyton Ventris, he was to ascertain whether the Corporations Act had been enforced, whether the officials were complying with the law in taking the sacrament, whether any infringements of the charters had taken place, and whether the administration of justice needed reforming. Secretary Jenkins wrote that recent events in the town had made ‘his Majesty more than ordinary solicitous that his friends at Ipswich be not overpowered by a restless faction that leave nothing undisturbed that it can give trouble in’. In February 1684 Broke reported: ‘I hold it essential to the King’s interest that ... if possible, after a due modelling of the 12 and 24, the elections to be placed in them, and the rabble, who are numerous and sufficiently factious, wholly excluded’. Christopher Milton, a Roman Catholic lawyer who lived in the town, produced grounds for a writ of quo warranto against the corporation. He alleged that:

the major part of the portmen and four-and-twenty, being of fanatic principles, in matters relating to the King’s service, band against and over-vote the loyal party. ... For the last two years, and before, few or more of those attending unlawful meetings or absent from Church have been punished or proceeded against, and the constables and informers have not only been discouraged but many times imprisoned on feigned actions.

The writ was duly issued, and proceedings began in King’s bench; but in April the corporation surrendered their charter. Broke was appointed recorder in the replacement, with Milton as his deputy, and Ventris was removed from office; but the suggested alteration of the parliamentary franchise was ignored, although the freemen were to be excluded from the annual election of bailiffs. The corporation was flooded with gentry; almost all the portmen were changed and replaced by such local Tories as Barker, his father-in-law Sir Nicholas Bacon, and Sir Henry Felton. The power of displacing officials was as usual reserved to the crown.6

Broke was returned for the county at the general election of 1685, and Barker was re-elected for Ipswich with Bacon, a nephew of the two Members returned in 1660. In April 1688 the royal electoral agents wrote:

Ipswich is a corporation. The election is popular, consisting of about 700. A regulation is requisite to secure the election, which will also oblige the whole town. The dissenters are numerous here and many of them of great interest. They will choose Sir Robert Broke and Sir Philip Skippon, who are very right. They have also had thoughts of Sir Henry Felton.

Barker and two other portmen, with one of the bailiffs, the town clerk and six ‘gownsmen’ of the common council were removed in the same month, and three portmen and ten councilmen in May. But even thus remodelled, the corporation would address neither for the Declaration of Indulgence nor for the birth of the Prince of Wales, and in July it was dissolved. Another charter was issued in September which reduced the number of portmen to ten, all new appointments. Of the 18 nominated to the common council, only one had appeared in the 1685 charter. ‘A good election will be secured’, the King was told; but the charter had to be withdrawn in the following month. At the general election of 1689 the Tory Barker and the Whig Ventris received practically the same number of votes, with Felton a long way in the rear. Many of the freemen seem to have abstained, and the poll at the by-election caused by Ventris’s promotion to the judicial bench was even lower. Blois’s grandson won the seat for the Tories, defeating another country gentleman, Sir Samuel Barnardiston.7

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. G. R. Clarke, Ipswich, 64.
  • 2. Add. 25335, f. 10.
  • 3. R. Canning, Principal Charters of Ipswich, 30-48.
  • 4. East Anglian, n.s. vii. 38; Add. 25335, f. 60; 27396, f. 248; 32324, f. 53; Clarke, 47-48.
  • 5. Add. 25335, f. 9.
  • 6. London Gazette, 16 July 1681, 13 Apr. 1682, 6 Aug. 1683; Clarke, 55-59; CSP Dom. 1683-4, pp. 143-4, 258-9, 263, 291-2, 399; 1684-5, p. 53; Add. 25334, f. 113; Canning, 48-68.
  • 7. Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 226-7, Duckett, Penal Laws 246; PC2/72/654, 673, 723; Canning, 79-85; Add. 25334, ff. 113-19.