Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the corporation 1660; in the inhabitants paying scot and lot 1661-89
Number of voters:
72 in 1660; over 900 in 1705
|13 Apr. 1660||HON. JOHN GREY||631|
|Sir Arthur Hesilrige, Bt.||20|
|29 Mar. 1661||SIR WILLIAM HARTOPP|
|SIR JOHN PRETYMAN, Bt.|
|HON. JOHN GREY|
|Double return of Pretyman and Grey. PRETYMAN declared elected, 17 July 1661|
|2 Mar. 1677||HON. JOHN GREY vice Pretyman, deceased|
|Hon. Heneage Finch I|
|19 Feb. 1679||HON. JOHN GREY|
|SIR HENRY BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|13 Aug. 1679||HON. JOHN GREY|
|SIR HENRY BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|22 Feb. 1681||HON. JOHN GREY|
|SIR HENRY BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|13 Mar. 1685||SIR HENRY BEAUMONT, Bt.|
|Sir Edward Abney|
|10 Jan. 1689||THOMAS BABINGTON|
Of the four interests that had dominated Leicester before the Civil War, only one survived intact. The town had suffered so severely at the hands of the Cavalier army in 1645 that popular support vanished for the Hastings family (headed until 1667 by Lord Loughborough, royalist general and conspirator). There was a revival after the 7th Earl of Huntingdon came of age in 1671, and allied himself with Sir Henry Beaumont of Stoughton and the country interest, until it was undermined by his vagaries as a Whig collaborator. Attempts were also made to revive the duchy of Lancaster interest, but in vain. Hence for most of the period one seat was at the disposal of the Presbyterian earls of Stamford, whose principal residence at Bradgate was just outside the town, though they were increasingly challenged by the more distant Belvoir Castle interest of the earls of Rutland. The corporation, consisting of 24 aldermen and 48 common councilmen, included a republican element strong enough, even in the last days of the Commonwealth, to resist pressure from George Faunt as sheriff of Leicestershire to join in the county petition for a free Parliament. Before the general election of 1660, 200 gentlemen of the county rode into the town and threatened to boycott it, both personally and officially, if the republican candidate, Sir Arthur Hesilrige, were elected. The demonstration was successful, Hesilrige receiving only 20 votes. Although Stamford’s eldest son, Lord Grey of Groby, had been the chief architect of Pride’s Purge, Stamford himself had declared for the King during Booth’s rising, and his youngest son John was elected to the Convention almost unanimously. Sir Thomas Beaumont, compromised by his acceptance of a Cromwellian ‘baronetcy’, retired from politics, and Grey’s partner, Thomas Armeston, came from a minor gentry family without parliamentary experience.2
Before the general election of 1661 Loughborough, as high steward of the borough, demanded the nomination of one Member; but the mayor would not engage himself without knowing the identity of the candidate, and desired that ‘some gentleman who is not altogether a stranger to this town be chosen’. Henry Neville of Holt, the country gentleman nominated by the chancellor of the duchy, presumably met this requirement, and the mayor had to shift his ground. He explained:
Some active spirits hereabouts, taking advantage of popu lar elections made in some neighbouring corporations, have invited all the freemen and commons [i.e. the inhabitants] here to claim a right to vote in the election of our present burgesses; and we, having notice thereof, and advising with their counsel, were discouraged from insisting on the validity of our said charter in it, and so enforced to give way to what we could not hinder, and so to take the votes of all the freemen and commons here for the present election, which hath wholly disabled us at present from complying with what your lordship commended to us. And it much troubled us to see how we were opposed in our intentions, and with what height and noise it was carried against us. We must apply ourselves to your lordship and our other good friends for some redress of the disorders which such popular elections will introduce here.
Nothing more is heard of the Neville candidacy, and the corporation re-elected Grey with Sir William Hartopp, who came from a strongly parliamentarian family. But the inhabitants elected Hartopp and a Royalist, Sir John Pretyman, who had earned great popularity by his demands for a wider franchise. On 16 May Pretyman and Grey were ordered to forbear from sitting until the merits of the election should be determined. Some of the corporation travelled to London to give evidence to the elections committee on Grey’s behalf, but on the report of Job Charlton the House found in favour of the wide franchise and declared Pretyman elected. In the following year no less than 40 of the corporation were removed by the commissioners. Quo warranto proceedings were threatened, and a new charter was issued in 1665. Nevertheless the corporation continued to receive accounts of proceedings in Parliament from the representatives of the borough, even from the self-seeking Pretyman, whose career did no credit either to the electors or Parliament. So scandalous was his abuse of privilege that in June 1670 it was confidently expected that the Commons would expel him. Rutland recommended his son-in-law, James Annesley, Lord Annesley, as a replacement, while another attempt was made to revive the duchy interest. The mayor replied that with the power of the corporation so reduced he could not oblige; and in any case Pretyman kept his seat till his death in a debtor’s prison in 1676. Grey stood again with Rutland’s support against the outsider, the Hon. Heneage Finch I, who had been recommended by the Hastings interest. The recorder wrote that the corporation would not engage for either candidate, and went on to deplore the consequences of the wider franchise. ‘As for the expense of a noble treat to the whole corporation upon the election no man will deny it, but to hire or engage votes unduly by drinking on any side is so great a crime ’tis not to be suffered.’ Grey’s notions of criminality were presumably different, since he was returned after spending nearly £800 on the day of the election.3
There was probably some opposition at the first election of 1679, when Grey and Beaumont’s son Sir Henry were elected by ‘the major part of the burgesses’. If Hartopp strove to retain his seat, he was soon driven from politics, and from the county, by his debts. Beaumont abstained from the division on the first exclusion bill, but both Members were re-elected to the second and third Exclusion Parliaments. A Tory group on the corporation produced loyal addresses approving the dissolution, and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot; but the Whigs must have predominated, since none of the addresses bore the common seal. In October the Government was informed that Grey’s nephew, the 2nd Earl of Stamford, ‘with several others of the said gang had a great meeting at Leicester, and ... is using endeavours to promote one for a burgess there that may be serviceable to the party’. This steadfastness to the Whig cause was not shared by Grey himself and Beaumont, still less by Huntingdon, who advised the corporation to surrender their charter. They tried to insist on the restoration of the old narrow franchise, but gave way when Lawrence Carter, Huntingdon’s lawyer, produced a writ of quo warranto. Under the new charter of 10 Dec. 1684 Huntingdon became recorder, the common council was reduced to 36, and all officials were made removable by the crown. It was specified that ‘the election of burgesses to serve in Parliament is only by such as pay scot and lot’. Huntingdon presented a loyal address from the purged corporation to congratulate James II on his accession and promising to elect Members who would ‘support’ the crown. Grey did not stand in 1685 and soon afterwards left the county and the party; but Beaumont was re-elected with Rutland’s support. The other Tory candidate, Thomas Babington, who was recommended by both Huntingdon and Rutland, defeated Sir Edward Abney†, a civilian from a family prominent on the corporation.4
In February 1688, 30 of the corporation were removed by order-in-council. Their replacements included several who had opposed the surrender of the charter. Beaumont deplored the extrusion of ‘loyal, complying persons’, including some of his friends and tenants ‘entirely to be governed for his Majesty’s service’, and Huntingdon reported to the regulators: ‘There are none of the members of the corporation of Leicester proper to stand for Parliament men, either for quality, fortune, or interest, especially in a county where there are so few elections’. He recommended Beaumont and Sir William Villiers, 3rd Bt.†, then serving as a captain of horse in the Queen Dowager’s Regiment. At the spring assizes ‘the judge in his charge told the people the King would call a Parliament, and recommended to them the choosing of such men as would comply with the King in taking off the Tests’. But it was clear that this objective could only be achieved by dissolving the corporation and confining the franchise to its successor, as Beaumont suggested. The new charter was issued in September, and Sunderland wrote to Huntingdon, confirming Beaumont and Villiers, ‘persons of undoubted loyalty and fidelity’, as court candidates. But the old charter was restored in the following month, and neither is likely to have stood at the general election of 1689. Huntingdon was imprisoned at the Revolution, and Rutland and Stamford probably agreed to divide the borough. The Tory Babington was re-elected with the moderate Whig Carter, who had successfully distanced himself from his former patron, and thus became the only townsman to represent Leicester in this period.5
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning
- 1. J. Thompson, Hist. Leicester, 419.
- 2. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881) 438; EHR, xxxiii. 396.
- 3. Thompson, 421-2, 429, 435; Leicester Bor. Recs. ed. Stocks, iv. 470-1, 478-9, 501, 545-6, 606; CJ, viii. 251, 304; HMC Rutland, ii. 35, 40.
- 4. Luttrell, i. 97; London Gazette, 1 June 1682, 20 Aug. 1683, 9 Mar. 1685; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 50; Huntington Lib. Q. xv. 376-7, 383; Grey, ix. 367; Leicester Bor. Recs. iv. 559-69, 576; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 440; Thompson, 437-8.
- 5. PC2/72/616, 653, 654; VCH Leics. iv. 117-18; Thompson, 439; HMC Hastings, ii. 183-7; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 105; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 273.