Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 1,100 in 1701


4 Apr. 1661HENRY CAVENDISH, Visct. Mansfield
15 Mar. 1677(SIR) RALPH DELAVAL vice Mansfield called to the Upper House
 SIR JOHN FENWICK, Bt. vice Sir William Fenwick, deceased
13 Feb. 1679SIR JOHN FENWICK, Bt.
 Hon. Ralph Widdrington
28 Aug. 1679SIR JOHN FENWICK, Bt.
24 Feb. 1681SIR JOHN FENWICK, Bt.
2 Apr. 1685SIR JOHN FENWICK, Bt.

Main Article

Although faction flourished in Northumberland, especially under the inept lieutenancy of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, only one contested election is known. Sir William Fenwick was returned as senior knight of the shire in 1660, and he and his son held one seat until the Revolution, while his junior colleague, Ralph Delaval, was almost as successful. Both families had supported Parliament in the Civil War, and in 1661 Delaval had to give way to Lord Mansfield, son of the Cavalier general in the north. ‘The county of Northumberland hath been exceedingly infested with thieving of cattle’, and the Border Act of 1662 established the office of country-keeper for five years at a salary of £500 to recover stolen property and to compensate the victims. Though the system was open to abuse, it was described as a popular measure and regularly renewed. On the death of Sir William Fenwick in 1676, the 1st Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard) began a canvass on behalf of his son-in-law, Sir John Fenwick, who was serving in the Dutch army. Opposition from Delaval may have been expected, but Mansfield succeeded to the peerage as Duke of Newcastle a few months later, and the double by-election was probably uncontested. Fenwick received £200 from the Treasury for his expenses. Mansfield’s ill-judged defence of his recruitment of Roman Catholic officers during the third Dutch war had disposed the House to regard Northumberland as a hot-bed of Popery. The new Members were anxious to oblige the committee of inquiry into the growth of Popery, but could only produce one j.p. who had refused the oaths. They were also instructed by the grand jury to present the import of Scotch corn and cattle as a grievance. The import of refugee conventiclers was equally troublesome; in an affray near the border in September 1678 a militia captain was killed, and clergymen had to ride armed for their own protection.1

At the first general election of 1679 the King and the Duke of York asked Fenwick to use his interest on behalf of Ralph Widdrington for the second seat. But, conceiving Widdrington to be ineligible as a servant of the Duke of York and a suspected Papist, he not only supported Delaval, but paid £1,000 towards his expenses. A reported ‘conjunction’ between Widdrington and Ralph Grey, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, came to nothing, and the sitting Members were re-elected to all three Exclusion Parliaments. But as the reaction gained force, the court party dissolved into faction, producing ‘a dangerous crisis’ in the judgment of Sir Leoline Jenkins. Newcastle sent to the summer assizes a draft address approving the dissolution, but Fenwick ‘would do nothing but in open court, and would not sign anything but what the grand jury approved’, and they could not be brought to condemn exclusion. According to Sir John Reresby, Widdrington, who produced a rival address in the desired terms, ‘hath been too hard for the other interest, and it seems gained the Duke absolutely from Fenwick and that party; but his grace is jealous that they both contrive in that bottom to set up their own interest for the prejudice of his’. Newcastle’s suspicions were well-founded, for Widdrington was soon to prove that he had ‘the greater interest at Court’ by procuring the choice of a sheriff for 1682-3 who promptly released 74 Papists from detention, and by embroiling the entire bench in a dispute over the country-keeping. The parties were fairly evenly divided, especially as Fenwick was absent in London; but Delaval was backed by the Whig justices, such as Francis Blake, and emerged with a narrow majority of 12 to ten. He paid for his victory by the loss of his seat in 1685, when his place was taken by William Ogle, one of Widdrington’s henchmen, though Newcastle refused his support. The sitting Members, both serving officers, were approved as court candidates in 1688, but it is unlikely that they stood for the Convention. They were replaced by Philip Bickerstaffe, a courtier of the Widdrington group but an unimpeachable Anglican, and a country Tory, William Forster.2

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Hodgson, Northumb. i. 393-4; North, Lives, i. 178-9; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 431; 1678, pp. 411-12, 416; 1682, p. 144; Jan.-June 1683, p. 107; Blackett (Matfen) mss, Carlisle to Blackett, 9 July 1676; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1217, 1330, 1332; Grey, ii. 75-76; CJ, ix. 469; Lauderdale Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxxviii), 160-1; HMC Buccleuch, i. 334.
  • 2. Add. 47608, f. 183; HMC Astley, 42; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 321; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 72, 98-99, 101, 264, 268-70, 303-4; 1687-9, pp. 273, 277; Sloane 2724, ff 125, 127; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 129.