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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 200


7 Apr. 1660JOHN BIRCH
 Fitzwilliam Coningsby
10 Feb. 1679JAMES PYTTS

Main Article

In 1668, 224 houses paid hearth tax in Leominster, of which 35 were held by women; presumably the numbers on the scot and lot roll were similar. At the general election of 1660, John Birch, the intruded high steward, enjoyed the best interest, and defeated the efforts of Edward Massey to prevent his election. The other Member, Edward Pytts, was lord of the neighbouring manor of Ivington. At the Restoration Fitzwilliam Coningsby regained the stewardship and the Duke of Buckingham the lordship of the manor. It was explained to (Sir) Edward Harley just before the 1661 election: Three interests are promoted. [For] Mr [Ranald] Grahme, the bailiff and several others correspond, with the Duke’s letter on his behalf. Mr Humphrey Cornewall hath engaged a great party, and the better to promote him some of the deputy lieutenants, other gentlemen and two or three companies of the train-bands were there two days last week ... Mr Cornewall hath agreed that Mr Coningsby and he be chose, and so to oppose him whom the Duke desires.But the bailiff, who was both returning officer and the Duke’s agent, had the last word. He denied the poll to Coningsby on the ground that he was in prison for debt, and the House on the recommendation of (Sir) Job Charlton as chairman of the committee of elections upheld his return of Grahme and Cornewall.1

Shortly afterwards, Buckingham began to sell off the manor piecemeal, and never again exercised any interest in the borough. There is no record of any changes under the Corporations Act, though dissenters were so numerous that according to Thomas Coningsby the town was known as ‘Little Amsterdam’. The new charter of 1666 had no political significance. On the death of Fitzwilliam Coningsby a month or two later, the chancellor of the diocese was elected high steward. No by-election was held during the Cavalier Parliament, but the false report of Grahme’s death in 1670 produced a flurry of electoral activity that well illustrates the local interests. Buckingham was no longer mentioned, but agents for the new high steward, Dr Timothy Baldwyn (uncle of Charles Baldwyn) were very active. Cornewall’s brother Edward, supported by Herbert Aubrey, John Booth, and Pytts’s son James, seemed likeliest to prevail ‘by the help of the innkeepers and the meaner populace who are influenced by them’. Cornewall and Aubrey ‘spent some days in hearing complaints about fire-hearths, and returned to many those moneys which were said to be unduly extorted’. A third court candidate, Fabian Philipps the antiquary, was reported to have engaged 100 votes or more, but withdrew. Meanwhile the country party was in difficulties for a candidate; Harley suggested that his brother Thomas might stand, but he begged to be excused. Birch tried to revive his old interest on behalf of Paul Foley, ‘extolling his wealth and bounty in works of charity; but I cannot understand that it prevailed anything’. Dr Williams (later Sir Thomas Williams) seemed a better prospect, as his position at Court would have enabled him to ‘fortify himself with all recommendations from above’. Grahme, however, obstinately refused to create a vacancy, and nobody benefited from all this activity except the electors, who were lavishly feasted by Cornewall and Baldwyn. None of the six candidates ever sat for Leominster.2

A new interest was established when John Dutton Colt took up residence in the town and was elected to the corporation in 1673. John Wildman I took over the royalties of the manor from Buckingham in 1675 and made Colt his steward. James Pytts and Sir Herbert Croft were originally proposed by the country party in 1679, but when Croft was elected for the county in February, Colt took his place. The two Members voted opposite ways on exclusion. Pytts, who opposed it, lost his seat at the second election of 1679, when Thomas Coningsby succeeded in re-establishing the family interest. He was to retain his seat in the following 11 Parliaments ‘whether absent or present, without trouble or expense’. As he was the junior Member in this Parliament there was presumably no contest. Coningsby, his father-in-law Ferdinando Gorges, and Colt were reported to be ‘the only sticklers against the Court in and about Leominster’. Colt and Coningsby were re-elected unopposed in 1681; the former was bailiff, but did not act as returning officer. Although the 14 ‘fanatics’ on the corporation outnumbered the 11 ‘loyalists’, addresses were produced approving the dissolution of Parliament and abhorring the ‘Association’, and by June 1683 they were reported as ready to surrender their charter. Colt led a dogged resistance until disabled by an action for scandalum magnatum, another ‘fanatic’ died, and a third signified his intention of assisting the other side ‘so far as he was now able without appearing barefaced or a deserter’. The ‘loyalists’ then boycotted the meetings of the corporation so that no quorum could be formed, thereby bringing Leominster within the scope of the quo warranto proceedings. Under the new charter of 15 Jan. 1685, the corporation was reduced to 15 and the Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset) named high steward. A loyal address congratulated James II on his accession, but at the general election Coningsby retained his seat. He had given Robert Harley II some reason to expect his support, but the second seat went to Cornewall’s son Robert, a courtier.3

The next election campaign began as early as October 1687, and in the following month the bailiff, ten aldermen and the town clerk were removed by order-in-council. However, Coningsby’s interest was regarded as unshakeable, and Harley’sname was mentioned as another candidate. But in April 1688, six aldermen and the new town clerk were removed, and a further four aldermen in the following month, after which a loyal address was procured, thanking the King for the Declaration of Indulgence. The Earl of Sunderland asked Beaufort to support as court candidates Cornewall and Sir William Dutton Colt, who had been master of the horse to Prince Rupert, and was no doubt expected to woo the dissenters, since his brother John resolutely refused to stand. Coningsby’s seat can never have been in serious doubt, and by September it seemed as if the second seat lay between Harley and Croft. The Revolution restored Colt’s interest, though it appears that the returning officer in 1689 was the bailiff elected in the previous year. The indenture was made in the name of the burgesses, freemen and inhabitants, and refers to ‘a majority of the voices’. Coningsby remained senior Member, but there was probably a contest for the second seat. Although Colt was elected, he seems to have taken the first opportunity after the settlement of the new regime to produce the old charter and expel the nominated aldermen. William III is said to have asked him by what law he acted, to which Colt replied: ‘By that same law by which your Majesty wears your crown’.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 140-4; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 604; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Edward Harley, 18 Mar. 1661, 29/82, Shilton to Harley, 8 Feb. 1661; CJ, viii. 392.
  • 2. J. Price, Hist. Leominster, 63, 87; Townsend, 134, 291; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), ii. 135; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 5 Dec., 27 Dec. 1670, 12 Jan. 1671.
  • 3. Price, 88; Townsend, 157, 288; CSP Dom. 1675-6, pp. 460-1; 1682, pp. 576-7; Jan.-June 1683, p. 323; July-Sept. 1683, pp. 179-80; 1683-4, pp. 169, 280; 1684-5, pp. 168-9; Add. 29110, f. 141, BL Loan, 29/163 Coningsby to Harley, 27 Aug. 1681; Luttrell, i. 178; London Gazette, 2 Feb., 20 Apr. 1682, 16 Mar. 1685.
  • 4. BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 4 Oct. 1687; Townsend, 152-6; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 24; HMC Portland, iii. 417; PC 2/72/543, 651, 666, 678; London Gazette, 21 June 1688.