Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
over 300 in 1685
|c. Apr. 1660||MICHAEL BIDDULPH I|
|MINORS vice Watson, on petition, 27 June 1660|
|2 May 1661||JOHN LANE|
|SIR THEOPHILUS BIDDULPH|
|(Sir) Henry Vernon|
|5 Dec. 1667||RICHARD DYOTT vice Lane, deceased|
|21 Feb. 1678||SIR HENRY LYTTELTON, Bt. vice Dyott, deceased|
|Michael Biddulph II|
|27 Feb. 1679||SIR HENRY LYTTELTON, Bt.|
|MICHAEL BIDDULPH II|
|7 Aug. 1679||HON. DANIEL FINCH|
|MICHAEL BIDDULPH II|
|10 Feb. 1681||HON. DANIEL FINCH|
|MICHAEL BIDDULPH II|
|George Rodney Bridges|
|9 Apr. 1685||THOMAS ORME||243|
|Sir Francis Lawley, Bt.||193||185|
|14 Jan. 1689||(SIR) MICHAEL BIDDULPH II|
The corporation of Lichfield consisted of 21 ‘brethren’ of the common council, who elected two bailiffs and a sheriff annually. However, the bishop claimed the right, if in residence, to nominate the senior bailiff. The sheriff acted as returning officer. Canvassing the ten city companies formed an important part of the electioneering process, which was further aided by the number and excellence of the inns derived from Lichfield’s prominence on the stage-coach routes to Ireland and the northwest. In 1664, 296 households were declared liable to hearth-tax, but it is clear from the 1685 election that there were enough non-resident voters to swing the poll. Hence the corporation played a key role; but, although persistently hostile to the Biddulphs, whose estate lay just outside the city, the family could not be prevented, except in James II’s Parliament, from holding one seat throughout the period. The cathedral interest was also worth cultivating, once it had recovered from the devastation of the Civil War, when the city had been a royalist stronghold. At the general election of 1660 the senior seat was taken by Michael Biddulph, who had been restrained only by parental authority from taking up arms for the King. The two other candidates had both been parliamentary supporters, and both enjoyed a good interest on the corporation. Daniel Watson, a rising lawyer of humble extraction, was returned, but Thomas Minors, a prosperous draper from an ancient gentry family in decline, petitioned. He had been denied the poll by the returning officer, who claimed that ‘Mr Watson had made such a party at the committee for privileges that, though Mr Minors had a thousand witnesses, he should not carry it’. Nevertheless the committee accepted a presumably unofficial poll, on the strength of which the House reversed the result and ordered the offending sheriff into custody.1
In 1661 all the candidates were Royalists. Biddulph gave way to his brother and heir Theophilus, an eminent London merchant, who apparently joined interests with John Lane, a country gentleman and one of the heroes of Charles II’s escape after the battle of Worcester. Against them stood Anthony Dyott, head of a Lichfield family with an unsurpassable record both for loyalty and parliamentary service, together with (Sir) Henry Vernon, cousin and friend to Lord Treasurer Southampton, who wrote indignantly to the corporation that his predecessors as high stewards had usually been gratified in the election of a ‘burgess’ at Lichfield, but ‘I understand you endeavour to obstruct the good inclinations of the most valuable and sober persons by the interposition of the numerous’.When Lane produced the writ at the common hall he was greeted with so loud an acclamation that the sheriff was willing to return him for the senior seat without more ado, but Dyott, the only other candidate present, insisted on a poll. He finished 60 votes behind Lane and 17 behind Biddulph, while sobriety and value could only produce 55 for Vernon. A correspondent of the lord lieutenant was troubled ‘to see so worthy a personin this so great concernment so much neglected’. A new charter was granted in 1664, giving the crown the right of veto over the recorder and town clerk. When Lane died in 1667 Dyott’s brother Richard took his place, apparently without a contest.2
Dyott died prematurely in 1677, leaving a child of ten as his heir. During his last illness Biddulph, now temporarily in opposition to the Danby administration, began canvassing on behalf of his son Michael, though he failed to arouse much enthusiasm on the corporation ‘for two in one family to engross a town’. The court candidate was Sir Henry Lyttelton, whose two sisters resided in Lichfield, and ‘made a strange interest for their brother with several tradesmen to whom they are customers, living very genteelly and doing many acts of charity’. But he had no estate in this part of the county, and his intrusion was resented by the local gentry. On the other hand it would clearly be imprudent for the electors to ‘lodge all their kindnesses in one family’. It was doubtless these considerations that lay behind his invitation, even before Dyott’s death, to Elias Ashmole, the comptroller of excise, to stand for his native city. As a local boy who had made good, he had presented a magnificent wine cup to the corporation in 1666. ‘At the last sessions dinner at Lichfield’, wrote one of his supporters, ‘I held it up and asked who could find of their heart to vote against it, both our contestors being at the table.’ Unfortunately the candidate found it necessary to consult his stars, whose predictions varied from week to week. Meanwhile a new interest made itself felt when Thomas Thynne I recommended his kinsman, Sir Robert Shirley, who had inherited the Chartley estate. Rawlins, the town clerk, whose chief concern was to preserve ‘a quiet, loving corporation’, could probably have engineered his unopposed return. But Shirley preferred to accept a peerage as Lord Ferrers of Chartley, recommending in his stead the thriftless inventor and courtier, Sir Samuel Morland. Although Morland was supported by letters from Lord Treasurer Danby, who had just been chosen as high steward of the city, and the Duke of Monmouth as lord lieutenant of Staffordshire, he made no impact, and the candidatures of Lane’s son and Sir Walter Bagot were equally shortlived. Ashmole, who ‘might have had it once for a whistle’, never quite abandoned hope, even after his chief canvasser ‘fell into a frenzy’ and died raving. The candidate attributed this tragic incident to the influence of Biddulph’s ‘Hectors’, but his own astrological irresolution would have agitated the most phlegmatic temperament. With the field thus narrowed to the two original candidates, ‘the greater part of the magistrates were for Sir Henry Lyttelton’, to whom Rawlins had transferred his support at an early stage, but Biddulph had ‘a great interest with the common sort’. The campaign was prolonged by repeated parliamentary adjournments, which prevented the issue of the writs, but the turning-point came when Thynne threw his interest behind Lyttelton. Even then a judicious observer predicted ‘a very difficult and sharp contest’, in which ‘not many grains’ would turn the balance. Unfortunately the poll has not been preserved, but Lyttelton was successful, and Biddulph’s petition was not vigorously prosecuted. A £20 bill covered Ashmole’s costs with something in hand, but the two other contestants were undoubtedly ‘at vast expense’.3
The corporation invited Lyttelton to stand again at the general election, but he was loath to comply until assured that there would be no contest. Danby’s candidate, Sir Charles Wheler, again received no support, and Lyttelton was returned with the younger Biddulph, probably unopposed. They apparently paired for the division on the first exclusion bill. On 28 July 1679 Thynne wrote to his cousin Daniel Finch that he had nominated him at Lichfield as a constituency ‘most befitting your quality’. He added:
Your presence is absolutely necessary; for the prejudices against courtiers are pretty strong, and all my old stock of mutiny was little enough to oversway their prepossession. [John] Swinfen, who is next neighbour to it, had a mind to have shuffled in there, and possibly may yet attempt it, but I assure you, you are safe if you come down immediately and bring the writ with you, or if that cannot be, it may meet you here. ... I have fixed the sheriff, and a few days will end the business.
As the lord chancellor’s son, Finch was in a good position to secure expedition in the issue of the writ, which was also desirable in order that he might attend the Bedwyn election on his brother’s behalf, and he and Biddulph were duly returned ahead of the other Staffordshire constituencies. Again there was probably no contest, though Thynne was severely rebuked at a gentry meeting ‘for surprising the county’. In 1681 it was reported from Lichfield that Finch and Lyttelton were both too wise to stand again. This seems to have been true of the latter, who was reputed ‘dry and illiberal’. On the other hand Sir Charles Wolseley offered ‘very bountifully’, and Colonel Edward Vernon, a servant of the Duke of Ormonde, was anxious to secure a seat. ‘We think Sir Francis Lawley puts in as fairly as any, and it may be as hopefully, except Mr Biddulph domineer’, wrote one observer. Lord Ferrers wrote on Lawley’s behalf, but the whole corporation favoured Finch and agreed to canvass the city companies on his behalf. When Biddulph consented to join interests the way seemed clear for another unopposed return; but at the last moment an avowedly exclusionist candidate appeared in the person of George Rodney Bridges, who had acquired an interest as ‘husband or gallant’ to the notorious Lady Shrewsbury, and was supported by Sir John Bowyer. Thynne was told:
Mr Biddulph hath lost his interest mightily in Lichfield. Bridges pretends he will stand the poll. It is said the dean and churchmen are all for him; if so, it may go hard with Mr Biddulph.
Bridges, however, appears to have concentrated on unseating the other Member, by laying ‘a base assertion on Mr Finch, affirming before the bailiffs and town that he gave his vote in the House for Irish cattle coming in’. He was defeated by at least 150 votes, but petitioned ‘against the whole election, as obtained by menaces of Rawlins and the magistrates, and carried on by force at the poll’. He offered to withdraw the petition if Finch would assist him to a seat in the Isle of Wight, but in any case the Oxford Parliament was dissolved before a report could be made.4
Loyal addresses from Lichfield approved the dissolution of Parliament and abhorred the ‘Association’, though neither bore the common seal of the corporation. A quo warranto was ordered on 13 Sept. 1684, and on 17 Dec. the charter was surrendered. The intention, Thynne believed, was to bring the borough under the control of Lord Dartmouth ( George Legge), one of the prime favourites at Court, who had married a Lichfield heiress. ‘There is a little physician, one Floyer, who has married my Lady Dartmouth’s sister, who to ingratiate himself is endeavouring to frame that corporation anew by leaving out some of the best men in it, that it may solely depend on that family.’ The new charter was in draft by January, but Rawlins,acting secretly on Thynne’s behalf, delayed its issue for another 14 months. When James II ordered a general election Biddulph declared that he would not stand, and it was reported that all were secured for Lyttelton and Lawley. The corporation continued to function, despite the loss of the charter, and Ashmole’s former clerk, Marten, was acting as junior bailiff. Presumably Lyttelton splenetically declined to stand, for on 2 Mar. Ashmole received letters from Marten and from Dean Addison (father of the Whig essayist and statesman) offering him the corporation and cathedral interests. No horoscopes survive for this election, which appears to have been attended with less trauma on the part of the candidate than in 1677-8. As Windsor herald he was too deeply involved in the arrangements for Charles II’s funeral and the coronation of his successor to attend the election himself; but it was understood that Lawley would bring down the writ and bear at least half the expenses, while Floyer would act as campaign manager in the constituency. Nevertheless Thomas Orme, a local gentleman with a place at Court, set up his own interest. Marten complained of ‘five pounds profusely lavished outby Captain Orme, who hath, I presume, but little cause to spend much money, both as a pensioner and a man much indebted’. Nobody seems to have suspected that Orme’s expenses had been guaranteed by a fourth candidate, whom Floyer in due course nominated at a common hall. He produced letters from two peers, presumably Dartmouth and Ferrers, recommending Richard Leveson, a groom of the bedchamber. Leveson of course was a Tory like all his rivals, and heir to a Staffordshire estate; but his family had been tainted with recusancy in the not so distant past, and the bailiffs replied with formal expressions of regret that it was not in their power to serve him. Orme’s Protestantism at least was not in doubt, and his position became impregnable when Biddulph announced his support. Taunted as ‘a pitiful exciseman’ by his opponents, Ashmole hinted in reply at his powers of patronage, adding that ‘my office (if rightly considered) should rather gain me the good esteem of the people than calumnious reproach’. By 24 Mar. Orme’s canvassers were claiming 250 votes, putting their man 40 ahead of Ashmole. Worse was to follow, for Lawley ‘openly declared that for his part he did resolve tostand upon his own legs, and would not join his interest with you [Ashmole] nor any man else’. On the same day Leveson’s campaign got under way; while his father was canvassing the constituency, he himself called on Ashmole ‘to see if he could prevail with me to join my party with his’. Dartmouth added that ‘the King, to let in Mr Leveson, had caused Lord Grandison [captain of the yeomen ofthe guard] to write to Captain Orme to desist’. If any such directions were sent, which seems unlikely, Orme ignored them, and the pressure was transferred to Ashmole. Leveson, and even Dartmouth, he could resist; but when the King himself ‘was pleased to say he had given encouragement to Mr Leveson to go down, and if I would decline the election, he would look upon it as a particular service done to him’, Ashmole’s principles of obedience obliged him to comply. Rawlins and the majority of the corporation thereupon transferred their support to Leveson, though Marten suddenly discovered that urgent business required his absence in Derbyshire all week. With Orme still forging ahead, Lawley’s position began to look precarious. Complaints were heard that he had not been ‘in town amongst us here above two days since his coming down into the country’. It was explained that he was assisting his friends in other constituencies, but the electors believed that his aim was ‘to save his purse moderate expense. ... He will want many persons at a time of need whom he takes to be sure to him.’ Leveson, on the other hand, ‘buys his friendship at a very great rate, for he treats companies at several houses, and at each house he expends 40s. a house in ale, besides his expenses for the better sort of people at the tavern and feasting of them’. When Lawley at last arrived on 4 Apr. he expressed disbelief in Ashmole’s abandonment of his candidacy, and on the morning of the poll his party employed seven canvassers ‘going about very briskly’ to procure votes for Ashmole at Leveson’s expense. Some were actually cast before Marten could convince the electors that his man had really desisted. Two versions of the poll exist, but Marten’s is more likely to be official. He gave Leveson a majority of 26 over Lawley:
but Captain Orme as it is guessed was before either of them at least sixty voices, so that Sir Francis Lawley hath lost the day; but had he had common justice done him, [so] that the sheriff had consented to a prorogation till the next day [at] 8 in the morning, Sir Francis would have had such a supply of votes as would certainly have prevailed against Mr Leveson.
Another correspondent wrote that Lawley ‘was very ill dealt with and many of his votes rejected, and Mr Leveson’s, several of which had no votes, admitted’. Before leaving the city, Lawley gave out that he would ‘appeal from the election and complain where he hopes to have redress’, but his petition was never reported. Ashmole took his disappointment with a better grace; he settled his modest election bill of £15 5s. and sent his supporters £10 more for a treat on coronation day, ‘which addednot a little to the solemnity thereof’. But Orme died 30 years later still owing £300 for his expenses, as Leveson had failed to keep his undertaking.5
The warrant for the new charter was at last issued on 15 Mar. 1686. The new corporation was to consist of a mayor and 12 aldermen, and the bishop was to retain his power to nominate the mayor. Dartmouth was nominated as recorder, Floyer as j.p., and a new sheriff and town clerk were appointed; presumably the former was intended to continue as returning officer. Powers were as usual reserved for the King in Council to remove any officer. It was not long before they were exercised. In March 1688 the mayor and half the aldermen were removed, they were followed by three more aldermen and the town clerk in June, and in August the sheriff, three aldermen and Floyer were all displaced. It is not surprising that the King’s electoral managers reported in September that ‘the town is greatly divided in faction’, and that the court candidates were not yet settled. The Whig collaborator Lord Brandon (Hon. Charles Gerard) had been chosen for the next mayor, but the town clerk was ‘a very unsteady man’. The King reiterated the instructions for his removal, and Sunderland ordered Leveson to stand for re-election, together with ‘Major Bagot’, presumably Richard Bagot of a cadet branch of the family who was serving in Prince George’s Foot. The Dartmouth interest collapsed at the Revolution, and the 1686 charter vanished into limbo. At the general election of 1689 Biddulph was returned ‘unanimously’ with Robert Burdett, a Tory long in search of a cheap seat who had joined Princess Anne’s escort at Nottingham.6
Author: A. M. Mimardière
- 1. T. Harwood, Hist. and Antiqs. Lichfield, 344-8; CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 73; Lichfield: Growth and Function (Staffs. Rec. Soc. 1950-1), 183, 189; CJ, viii. 76.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1561; Harwood, 438; Staffs. RO, D260/MF1/6/76; P. W. U. Ward, ‘Elections in Derbys., Leics, and Staffs. 1660-1714’ (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959), 218; HMC 5th Rep. 298; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 641.
- 3. C. H. Josten, Ashmole, 1495-1590; Spencer mss, Thynne to Halifax, 29 Dec. 1677; CJ, ix. 484; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 174.
- 4. Hatton Corresp. 174; Jones, First Whigs, 105; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 179; HMC Finch, ii. 54-55, 104; iii. 420; HMC Dartmouth, i. 56; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 17, ff. 163, 171, 188, 190; Bodl. Carte 243, f. 383; CJ, ix. 707.
- 5. London Gazette, 28 Nov. 1681, 1 June 1682; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 141, 255; 1685, p. 121; Spencer mss, Thynne to Halifax, 10 Jan. 1685; Thynne pprs. 22, f. 123; 27, ff. 80, 82; Ashmole, 1759-95; PCC 14 Whitfield; CJ, ix. 718.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1686-7, pp. 72-73; 1687-9, p. 277; Harwood, 350-1; PC2/72/636, 693, 724, 733; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 251.