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 he corporation, 1673; in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, 1677-81; in the corporation, freemen and freeholders 1685

Number of voters:

13 in 1673; about 300 in 1698


 Peniston Whalley
  Election declared void, 21 Mar. 1677
19 Apr. 1677HENRY SAVILE
 Peniston Whalley
8 Feb. 1679ROBERT LEKE, Lord Deincourt
26 Mar. 1685HENRY SAVILE
8 Jan. 1689WILLIAM SAVILE, Lord Eland

Main Article

The Earl of Rutland sought to make Newark a parliamentary borough in 1579, but the clause was struck out of the charter by Queen Elizabeth. The town was one of the principal Cavalier strongholds during the Civil War, and at the Restoration petitioned for enfranchisement and an enlargement of its boundaries in recognition of its loyalty. There seems to have been little pressure behind it, for not until three years had passed was it referred to Lord Treasurer Southampton. William Harbord entered a caveat on behalf of Sir William Hickman, presumably for fear that the Gainsborough fairs might be adversely affected, and no progress was made for another five years. On 18 Dec. 1669 the petition was referred to the attorney-general and the commissioners of the Treasury. This time Arthur Stanhope, whose property at Overhall might have been taken into the borough, entered a caveat. A further three years elapsed until the petition was again referred to the attorney-general on 26 Nov. 1672. Probably Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury hoped to push an election through during the recess, so that his nephew, Henry Savile, and his business partner, Sir Paul Neile, should take their seats in the next session, along with the 15 Members returned at by-elections. If so, the slowness of the administrative machine thwarted him; the warrant for the charter did not issue until the day after Parliament reassembled, to a storm of protest over the irregular by-elections. The charter itself, sealed during the next recess, incorporated only three of the five neighbouring townships in the borough (thus excluding Stanhope’s property), gave the franchise to the mayor and 12 aldermen, and provided for crown approval of the recorder and town clerk. The Speaker (Edward Seymour) refused his warrant, and the writ issued on the lord chancellor’s sole authority. Of the two court candidates, Savile was born in the county and his family enjoyed a natural interest in Newark, but Neile, an outsider of unsavoury reputation, encountered opposition:

The freemen and freeholders, being unwilling that Sir Paul Neile should be imposed on them, importuned Mr Peniston Whalley to repair to Newark on the day appointed for reading the King’s writ and to accept of their choice to one of their burgess-ships. Accordingly he went to Newark and was in August 1673 with the Honourable Henry Savile chosen one of their burgesses by the major part of the freemen and freeholders present, though at the same time the mayor and aldermen, pretending the power of electing was invested in them chose the said Mr Savile and Sir Paul Neile and returned them accordingly, and refused a poll for Mr Whalley, though demanded.

Neile tried to take his seat early in the next session, but William Sacheverell objected, and though the election was defended by Lord Ogle (Henry Cavendish), he was forced to withdraw from the House. On 31 Jan. 1674 Savile and Neile asked to be heard by counsel at the bar of the House, but a petition was presented from the freemen objecting to the limitation of the franchise to the corporation and the extension of the borough’s boundaries, though they could find no more plausible grounds than their hypothetical liability to pay parliamentary wages. Sacheverell was on surer ground when he asserted: ‘This charter was gained in a strange way, and many others, he hears, are granting’. Sir William Coventry, another uncle of Savile’s, spoke in favour of allowing them to take their seats, but the House decided to refer the whole matter to the elections committee, which did not report. Rival petitions were again presented in the spring session of 1675; both were originally referred to the elections committee, but on 14 May the petition from the three townships was transferred to the committee of grievances. It was not until 1677 that the case was settled. On 26 Feb. the proposal to refer it again to a committee was defeated by 147 votes to 98, Sacheverell and Andrew Marvell acting as tellers for the ayes, Coventry and Henry Guy for the noes. After hearing the case argued at the bar, the House found for the charter on 21 Mar. by 125 votes to 73, Sacheverell and Sir Thomas Meres telling for the minority. Another division followed, in which the election was declared void by one vote; if the tellers’ names are correctly recorded, the decision was not made on party lines. A new writ was ordered accordingly, but apparently Seymour took no action until the 1673 charter had been withdrawn. On 28 Mar. a warrant was issued for a new charter omitting all the objectionable clauses and extending the franchise to all inhabitants paying scot and lot. Lord Ogle (now Duke of Newcastle) was appointed recorder, and on 7 Apr. Seymour was again authorized to issue his warrant for a new writ.1

With the withdrawal of the 1673 charter the constitutional significance of the Newark case comes to a close. Never again would the Government attempt to enfranchise a borough without parliamentary authority, and indeed no new English constituencies of any kind were to be created till the Great Reform Act. But the 1677 by-election, as described by Savile’s witty, shameless pen, provides perhaps the clearest picture of the mixture of venality and interest which must have prevailed in most of the smaller boroughs in the period. Neile had now dropped out, and all four candidates were local men, though two of them came from the neighbouring areas of Lincolnshire, evidence that it was not the Nottinghamshire gentry who had pressed for Newark’s enfranchisement. Savile was now partnered by Sir Robert Markham, while against them stood on separate interests the rather colourless Sir Richard Rothwell and the persistent Whalley, who had represented the county in the second Protectorate Parliament. Although he was the nephew of the major-general and cousin to the Protector himself, he was a strong Anglican who had been haled before the Council and bullied by the Duke of Lauderdale for asserting the unconstitutionality of the Declaration of Indulgence. Moreover, he was seriously in debt, and needed parliamentary immunity. Savile’s campaign got off to a bad start when he found that the Newarkers ascribed the recent resolution forbidding excessive treating to Coventry’s anxiety to reduce his nephew’s election expenses:

Sir Richard Rothwell had been at so great an expense before we came that we found it impossible to hope for a voice in this town if we stuck to the new order of the House of Commons, and not to the old customs of England; nay, we were fain to double our reckonings to them. We were not the contrivers of that damned vote, as was particularly laid to my charge; but I hope I have pretty well convinced them of the contrary, but at so dear a rate that I doubt, whether I succeed or not, I have quite broken my back, and shall do my heart if I return unsuccessful to London, after pains and trouble taken that I would not undergo again to be an emperor instead of a burgess ... I have been all this day sick to agonies with four days’ swallowing more good ale and ill sack than one would have thought a country town could have held; and this worthy employment must be begun again tomorrow though I burst for it. Therefore, pray for me and pity me, for I would gladly change my next three days with any slave in Algiers.

At a more serious level of campaigning, Savile employed a judicious mixture of stick and carrot. If he were defeated, he threatened, his brother Lord Halifax would by-pass the town on his future journeys, but the aldermen who supported him would be made welcome at Rufford. At a humble level, a promise of the great house’s custom could be effective:

all Newark men who voted for me being employed by you in their several vocations may turn some day to account for yourself, besides being a present obligation to me. ... I am much obliged to you for having retained my cooper, nor shall be much less for my pewterer, who, according to the court phrase, did me a great deal of secret service.

Besides ready money, the election cost Savile at least £100 in bills, and even then he might have lost had not Markham ‘most handsomely obliged’ him by standing down. ‘Pray remember to tell Pen. Whalley not to play the fool’, he wrote to his brother, but the unsuccessful candidate presented a petition on 31 Jan. 1678, only to have it rejected as time-barred. So all ended happily except for Whalley, who was flung into a debtors’ prison, where he died.2

Much less is known about the remaining elections of the period. The returns to the Exclusion Parliaments are all completed as being ‘by the unanimous assent and consent’ of the inhabitants paying scot and lot. Savile was overseas, but his friend Lord Deincourt, another courtier, replaced him at the first general election of 1679, while Markham unseated Rothwell. In August Halifax wrote to Savile that Deincourt was not prepared for any expense in the next election, which made his prospects uncertain,

for I doubt your noble friends there will not much approve a dry election, as a thing of ill example and tending to introduce presbytery by the way of small beer, besides the detriment it may bring to his Majesty’s revenue of excise.

Markham and Rothwell were returned, and held their seats in 1681, though Halifax told Savile that if he were in England he might still be chosen ‘preferably to any other pretender’. In December he was urged to send ‘to your corporation of Newark’ in anticipation of another election. The corporation’s loyalty was confirmed in their addresses approving the dissolution of Parliament and expressing abhorrence of the ‘Association’; but they did not save their charter, which was surrendered on 18 Aug. 1684. A warrant for a new charter, the third of the period, was issued at the end of the year. Lord Lexinton was nominated recorder, and the officials were declared removable by order-in-council. ‘The burgesses to serve in Parliament’ were to be elected ‘by the mayor, aldermen, and freemen of the borough and freeholders of 40s. p.a.’ The new electorate returned Savile, who had been made an alderman, and Philip Darcy, an army officer, whose elder brother had married the recorder’s only sister. In February 1688, the mayor and five aldermen were purged, and in September the King’s electoral agents reported:

The town is generally inclined to liberty of conscience. They propose to choose Mr Stringer and Robert Sherbrook, two right men. The lord president’s letter is here likewise desired to the Duke of Newcastle to recommend these two to the choice of the town.

Both court candidates were local country gentlemen. It is not known whether either stood in 1689, when Savile’s nephew Lord Eland and Nicholas Saunderson, possibly relying on the Pierrepont interest, were returned ‘according to our ancient rights and customs’; nor is it clear how or why Saunderson, a moderate Whig from Lincolnshire, replaced Darcy, a moderate Tory from Yorkshire, unless the borough, at this delicate juncture, preferred not to put all their eggs in one basket.3

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. Jnl. Br. Studies, x. 46-68; C. Brown, Hist. Newark, ii. 142-3, 234; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 45; 1664-5, pp. 44, 60; 1669, p. 621; 1670, p. 138; 1672-3, pp. 208, 520; 1677-8, pp. 41-43, 59; Thoroton, Notts. i. 349; K. H. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 212; Grey, ii. 188-9, 368-71, iv. 297-304; CJ, ix. 318, 334.
  • 2. A. C. Wood, Notts. in the Civil War, 172-3; Grey, ii. 237, E. Calamy, Nonconformists’ Memorial, iii. 98; Thoroton, i. 250; Savile Corresp. (Cam. Soc. lxxi), 45-48, 52, 54; CJ, ix. 322, 437.
  • 3. Savile Corresp. 118, 179, 248; London Gazette, 23 June 1681, 20 Feb. 1682; Brown, 148; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 123, 268; 1687-9, p. 273; SP44/335/409; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 246; PC2/72/616.