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 1660-3; in the inhabitant freeholders not receiving alms after 1664

Number of voters:

under 500 in 1661; over 600 in 1678


 Sir John Norwich, Bt. 
 NORWICH vice Harvey, on petition, 21 June 1660 
29 Apr. 1661SIR JAMES LANGHAM331
  Double return of Harvey and Norwich. HARVEY seated, 22 May 1661 
  Election declared void, 13 June 1661 
21 Feb. 1662SIR JAMES LANGHAM vice Compton, deceased 
 Sir William Dudley, Bt. 
  Election declared void, 26 Apr. 1662 
 Hon. Christopher Hatton 
 HATTON vice Dudley, on petition, 9 Apr. 1663 
31 Mar. 1664SIR JOHN BERNARD vice Rainsford, appointed to office 
 Sir Henry Yelverton, Bt. 
 YELVERTON vice Bernard, on petition, 26 Apr. 1664 
31 Oct. 1670SIR WILLIAM FERMOR, Bt. vice Hatton, called to the Upper House 
 HENRY O'BRIEN, Lord Ibrackan vice Yelverton, deceased 
31 Oct. 1678HON. RALPH MONTAGU vice Ibrackan, deceased482
  Double return. MONTAGU declared elected, 10 Nov. 1678 
10 Feb. 1679SIR HUGH CHOLMLEY, Bt. 
9 Mar. 1685SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, 4th Bt. 
 Francis Morgan 
10 Jan. 1689SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, 4th Bt. 

Main Article

Few constituencies had a more turbulent history than Northampton, at least in the opening years of this period. This was partly due to the existence of an ‘obstinate and numerous’ body of sectaries in the town, partly to the efforts of the corporation to retain the exclusive franchise which they had arrogated to themselves early in the 16th century. This body fluctuated somewhat in number, but in 1674 consisted of 13 aldermen, 26 bailiffs and 48 ‘burgesses’. None of the candidates resided in the borough, but all were landowners in the county, except Sir William Temple and Sir Hugh Cholmley, who were nominees of the Earl of Northampton. The two Members returned in 1660, though of gentry families, were both lawyers professionally connected with the affairs of the corporation. Richard Rainsford was an Anglican and a cautious Royalist, but Francis Harvey, the deputy recorder, may have opposed the Restoration. Sir John Norwich, a Presbyterian Royalist, petitioned against Harvey, claiming a majority of the freemen. Harvey, seeing no hope of success, tried to have the whole election declared void on the grounds that the precept had not been read, which would have deprived the House of the indispensable services of Rainsford as chairman of the land purchases committee. On 9 June the elections committee rejected Harvey’s contention, and agreed on a freeman franchise. The corporation, alarmed at this news, resolved, presumably with Leicester in mind, to join ‘with any other corporation of the neighbourhood’ in defence of the narrow franchise. This move may have been partially effective, for when the elections committee reported two days later, no reference was made to the freemen, though Harvey was duly unseated.1

Soon afterwards Harvey seems to have been replaced by Rainsford as deputy recorder. At the general election Rainsford and Norwich stood as court candidates against Sir James Langham and Harvey, ‘persons that have the love and affection of the generality of the sober and discreet party’. Furthermore Langham’s father had been a considerable benefactor to the poor of the borough, and the mayor was a warm partisan who had been outraged by Rainsford’s injunctions for the restoration of the Prayer Book. The elections committee found that he

used menaces to such as would not give their votes to Mr Harvey, and had fraudulently, in the morning when the election was, made infants free, to the end they might vote as he pleased; and had caused several persons to be put by that would not vote as he desired; and had released Quakers out of prison, and put halberds in their hands, to keep back and discourage such as would have voted contrary to his intention; and adjourned the taking of the poll into the church; and got upon the communion table, and there behaved himself in a very profane and indecent manner.

Rainsford withdrew before the poll, and the mayor declared Harvey and Langham elected. But the sheriff (Sir William Dudley) suppressed the return, on the grounds that it was not accompanied by his precept, and forwarded another in favour of Langham and Norwich, not authenticated by the seal of the corporation. Both mayor and sheriff rushed into print to justify themselves; but Dudley had second thoughts and sent in the other return before Parliament met. He escaped censure, but the mayor was not so fortunate, though 50 of Harvey’s supporters attended to give evidence that ‘there was no miscarriage of the mayor’s worth speaking of’. After a week in custody, which cost him over £40 a day, he ‘received a grave reprehension from Mr Speaker’ upon his knees. The House agreed by 185 votes to 127 to declare the election void; from the tellers’ names, the division does not seem to have followed political lines. It may be judged that the lesson was effective, for Rainsford and the Cavalier Sir Charles Compton were returned to fill the vacancies unopposed. Unfortunately Compton died in a riding accident before the month was out, and the next by-election was contested by Langham and Dudley. The conflict of two such experienced politicians, with a large and newly-enfranchised electorate, virtually guaranteed chaos. ‘Contrary to all expectation’, Langham was elected; but on Dudley’s petition ‘the matter was so intricate that the [elections] committee could not determine what the number was of those who had the right to give voices and were denied the poll’, and accordingly the election was declared void. But it was the best part of a year before the next by-election was held, during which the defences of Northampton were slighted, and the corporation purged, losing 46 of its members. The dissenting interest was so far disheartened by these measures that Langham did not stand again, but determined to ‘baffle’ Dudley by setting up a moderate Royalist against him. His third choice, Christopher Hatton, accepted, and the ‘secluded members of the corporation’ promised their support. He was ‘recommended by the Duke of York and several other noble persons’, while Lord Montagu of Boughton gave him cautious encouragement: ‘If Sir James can put over most of his voices to you, I suppose you may carry it, if the mayor deal fairly with you, who some think will do anything that Sir William will have him’. Harvey was active on Hatton’s behalf, though the candidate feared that this might prejudice his chances, but Rainsford declared himself pre-engaged for Dudley. On 9 Feb. 1663 Salathiel Lovell, Hatton’s election agent, wrote to him:

Sir William Dudley, coming to the town on Wednesday night last, made it his work Thursday and Friday with six or seven of his new advanced creatures to go from inn to inn and from one alehouse to another, and send for men, and court some with flattering promises and pints of wine, and some with pipes and pots of ale, and others with ranting and threatening language.

Hatton’s supporters withdrew from the town hall when it became clear that the mayor intended to return Dudley on the corporation franchise, and polled over 400 for their man at the market cross. The mayor ‘armed 38 desperate persons with halberds, who, he said, would fight to the last man’, and ordered them to ‘strike down Hatton men’. Dudley was duly returned, but the House ruled against the corporation franchise and unseated him in favour of Hatton. In July a new charter was issued, reducing the quorum ‘because refractory aldermen do not attend’ and requiring royal approval for the recorder and town clerk. Nevertheless, when Rainsford was promoted to the bench in November, there followed yet another disputed election. Sir John Bernard, one of Hatton’s supporters, stood against the Anglican controversialist, Sir Henry Yelverton. The new mayor was in Bernard’s interest, and the Christmas alms were distributed accordingly. Both spent lavishly, but Bernard had a majority of 30 on the poll. On Yelverton’s petition, however, the House awarded the franchise to the inhabitant householders not in receipt of alms. An attempt by the mayor to avenge his defeat by expelling Yelverton’s supporters from the corporation was frustrated by Rainsford, who procured a direct letter from the King. In 1665, however, Dudley’s henchman, Alderman Friend of the Black Boy coffee-house, overreached himself; information was laid that he had encouraged the fanatics and publicly scorned the King’s letter of recommendation for a new steward of the town. He was bound over to good behaviour; and in the same year his patron was removed from the commission of the peace, probably through Lord Montagu’s influence. A period of calm followed, not broken even by the 1670 by-election. When Hatton succeeded to the peerage, the Duke of Ormonde wrote to Rainsford in favour of ‘Mr George Digby’ (probably a mistake for Francis, the younger brother of John Digby), ‘who is of extraordinary parts, and those always rightly applied’. But this commendation could not outweigh the predilection of the constituency for local men. The Langham interest was probably at the disposal of the moderate Lord Ibrackan, and there was the prospect of another contest with Sir William Fermor, a Cavalier’s son. But on Yelverton’s death soon afterwards they were both returned unopposed.2

Calm should not be mistaken for apathy. The borough was threatened with a quo warranto in 1672 because of its disrespectful attitude towards the Roman Catholic Earl of Peterborough, who had ‘honoured’ them by accepting the recordership. When six-sevenths of the town was destroyed by fire in 1675, with losses estimated at over £150,000, remarkable energy was shown in obtaining contributions for rebuilding, from the King downwards. The Earl of Northampton subscribed £120, while Fermor and Langham’s brother, Sir William, headed the list of commoners with £100 each. When Ibrackan died unexpectedly on 1 Sept. 1678, there was so much opposition to the nomination of his 15-year-old son, recently married to the daughter of Lord Treasurer Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne), that the court party had to look urgently for a new candidate, especially when it became apparent that Lord Montagu’s son Ralph was standing to secure parliamentary immunity for his revelations of the government’s duplicity towards France. On 17 Oct. a traveller found the town

very busy about the election of a burgess ... Mr Montagu is the only man who treateth, and they say it hath cost him £1,000 in ale, let who will believe it. But certain it is, as the townsmen themselves say, both he and his father spend £100 per week; but they say to no purpose, for whomsoever the King will recommend they are resolved to choose, and there coming a letter in favour of Sir William Temple, he, it is thought, will be the man.

Temple’s campaign began much too late, and he was overwhelmingly defeated, in spite of the Earl of Northampton’s interest. Although Montagu was duly returned by the mayor, the sheriff, following Dudley’s example, suppressed the indenture and forwarded another in favour of Temple. The House was so outraged by these proceedings that it did not refer them to the elections committee but examined them at the bar. The result was reversed, and the sheriff committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms.3

At the general election every effort was made to secure Montagu’s defeat, with such success that he transferred himself to Huntingdon, and Fermor was re-elected with another court supporter, Sir Hugh Cholmley, an outsider who had been encouraged to stand by the Earl of Manchester (Robert Montagu) and Yelverton’s son, Lord Grey de Ruthin. Such a tour de force could not be repeated, and at the next two elections Montagu and Sir William Langham were returned unopposed. The election of Lord Montagu as recorder in December 1681, allegedly at the cost of £500, provoked violent scenes and was disallowed by the King under the powers reserved to him in the 1663 charter. The corporation, aware of their danger, hastily submitted and asked the King to nominate; but it was clear that Northampton was booked for early treatment under the quo warranto proceedings. A convincing assessment of the corporation was addressed to the Government on 2 Dec. 1682:

There are a considerable number of loyal men, who have a good interest and are active, and among those some who profess loyalty, but are apt to be violent, and have thereby disgusted many, and been unsuccessful in several of their undertakings. The factious party are diligent and united, but not very many. The rest are following men, but are most in number, and they incline the balance as they are disposed.

Contradictory directions from the local Tory leader, Sir Roger Norwich, and the courtier Griffin (father of James Griffin) were blamed for the failure to elect a Tory mayor for 1682-3. But Norwich procured an address abhorring the Rye House Plot and the surrender of the charter. The warrant for a new charter was signed on 6 Aug. 1683, under which two Tories, Sir Justinian Isham and Rainsford’s son, were returned to James II’s Parliament, though it was alleged that their opponent had five times their votes. In 1688 the Earl of Peterborough proposed a townsman Charles Fleetwood, half-brother of Miles Fleetwood, and Major George Lyttelton, youngest brother of Sir Henry Lyttelton and Sir Charles Lyttelton, as court candidates; but only one ‘burgess’ would promise to vote for them, and Fleetwood’s canvass of the town proved little more encouraging. Despite an address of thanks for the Declaration of Indulgence, the corporation had to be drastically and repeatedly purged; between February and September two mayors, eight aldermen, the attorney, 18 bailiffs and 23 burgesses had to be removed. On 25 Sept. the town was packed with Peterborough’s troops, and the corporation met to elect the court candidates. But a new difficulty arose; the sheriff (Thomas Andrew) ‘would not yield to break open the writ that they might have the precept’. According to the spirited account of the local chronicler, at this juncture orders arrived for Peterborough’s troops to march away to face the Dutch invasion. The nominated mayor quietly surrendered his office, and the 1689 election was held under the old charter. Isham and Sir William Langham were probably returned unopposed by arrangement with the Montagu interest.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Add. 34222, f. 16v; J. C. Cox, Northampton Bor. Recs. ii. 18, 498; CJ, viii. 70-71; Northants. RO, FH 3496.
  • 2. Northants. RO, Baker mss 712; IC 512, Gaydon to Isham, 23 Feb. 1662; Add. 29551, ff. 1, 5, 8, 9, 12, 18, 33; CJ, viii. 269-70, 276, 414, 469, 550; Grey, vi. 37; Cox, 498-9; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 425, 434; 1663-4, pp. 204, 223, 603; 1665-6, p. 15; HMC Portland, ii. 289; Adm. 1745, f. 87; Bodl. Carte 219, f. 110.
  • 3. HMC Le Fleming, 98; CSP Dom. 1675-6, pp. 302-3, 318, 327; Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 47; Cox, 250, 499; HMC Egmont, ii. 76-77; Browning, Danby, i. 301; CJ, ix. 533, 537-8; Grey, vi. 186; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 471.
  • 4. BL, M636/33, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 11 Aug. 1679; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 14; Sidney Diary, i. 76-77; Prot. Dom. Intell. 15 Feb. 1681; CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 633 4, 641, 648; 1682, pp. 207, 244, 558-9; July-Sept. 1683, p. 259; Cox, 476-7; Northants. RO, Baker mss 712; PC2/72/616, 640, 672, 730; London Gazette, 6 Sept. 1683, 14 May 1688.