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

Number of voters:

over 2,800 in 1678; about 1,500 in 1688


c. Apr. 1660THOMAS RANT 
8 Apr. 1661CHRISTOPHER JAY1071
 William Barnham562
 Bernard Church4361
10 Feb. 1678HON. WILLIAM PASTON vice Jay, deceased2163
 Mark Cockey6722
13 May 1678AUGUSTINE BRIGGS vice Corie, deceased 
1 Sept. 1679WILLIAM PASTON, Lord Paston1415
 Adrian Payne958
 Thomas Bacon8383
14 Feb. 1681WILLIAM PASTON, Lord Paston1509
 Adrian Payne919
 John Hobart8294
 Thomas Blofield 

Main Article

A large, open constituency, Norwich appears to have shared the moderate political and religious views of its most celebrated resident, Sir Thomas Browne, and his friend and neighbour Augustine Briggs, whose only handicap as a candidate was his reluctance to ‘ride’ in the procession which local custom required before as well as after the election. Briggs, like his successor Thomas Blofield, was a clergyman’s son; with a cathedral and an exceptional number of parishes in the city, the Church interest was clearly important, while the more conventional deference vote obtained by the Pastons of Oxnead, seven miles away, failed to survive the Revolution.5

At the general election of 1660, however, all this lay in the future. The cathedral had escaped demolition at the hands of the triumphant Puritans only by the exertions of the royalist draper Christopher Jay, and the Pastons were in no position to exert any except the most discreet influence, which was doubtless enjoyed by Thomas Rant, a lawyer of royalist sympathies whose epitaph commemorates his membership of the ‘Healing Parliament’. The corporation doubtless nominated for re-election the hosier William Barnham, one of their number who had represented the city in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. No contest is recorded. Rant never stood again, and all four candidates in 1661 were members of the corporation. Barnham stood with Bernard Church, a clothier who was trying to regain the seat that he had held in the first and second Protectorate Parliaments. But they were soundly defeated by Jay, a kinsman of Secretary Nicholas, and the recorder, Francis Corie. Barnham was among the Presbyterians removed by the commissioners for corporations in 1662. A new charter was granted in the following year, though after prolonged negotiations the requirement for crown approval of recorder and town clerk was dropped. Jay seems to have been the bête noire of the city’s nonconformists, of whom Roger Pepys constituted himself spokesman. On 11 July 1663 he wrote that he had nominated five of their number to the assessment commission:

I am told by the Member that I have infringed the liberties of the city; ... but he is resolved to have another bout at the passage of the bill. ... The recorder was very fair in the business, but was not at the debate.6

On the long-expected death of Jay in 1677, Sir Neville Catelyn of Kirby Cane, son of the royalist Member of the Long Parliament, was ‘much noised to be the person that would stand’; but he gave his interest to the lord lieutenant’s son, Col. William Paston, who wrote confidently to his mother on 2 Sept.: ‘I think there will be no dispute at all of it ... for we have not only prevailed upon the right party, but also upon the heads of the fanatics’. However, no writ could be issued until Parliament met again, and the long delay gave the corporation time to find another candidate. Their first nomination was Briggs; but their enthusiasm promptly evaporated when he told them that ‘he will not part with sixpence to entertain them, nor abate them the allowance for maintenance of a burgess’, though no parliamentary wages had been paid since the Long Parliament. More formidable opposition was to be expected from Sir Horatio Townshend and Sir John Hobart, who had been driven together by common hostility to Yarmouth, and could count on the new mayor Richer, ‘the impudentest fanatic in the world’. The Paston agent urged that their candidate should hasten to Norwich, ‘his presence being absolutely necessary that he may tell the city he depends upon their kindness’; and on 21 Dec. it was reported that:

My Lord Townshend sent his secretary Phillipps to Norwich this week to blow the coals, who is as much railed at as can be wished, a true reward for his modesty. The mayor has been very false and base, as well as one of his brethren. ... The common people are in a rage against them both for it.

Townshend apparently hoped for an invitation from the city to his brother-in-law, William Windham of Felbrigg, who ‘looked a little blue ... to find his pretence flouted’. The corporation preferred John Hobart, known as ‘old Commonwealth Hobart’, the last of a cadet branch of the family, who had sat for the city under the Protectorate. Though his estate was in Suffolk and his religious orthodoxy suspect, he lived at the Deanery with his son-in-law, who had expectations. But he refused to stand, and eventually one of the aldermen, a Presbyterian clothier named Mark Cockey, was prevailed on to oppose Paston. Richer proceeded to justify his reputation for impudence by creating 362 new freemen in a single month, an all-time record, and by spending £500 in treating during the last week of the campaign. On the day of the poll

Alderman Cockey rode, and with his hand, as if he had been saying grace, invited the company to his side; but not a man at all stirred, but instead of doing so, they hissed and clapped their hands at the contrary party in so great a degree that we could not hear their noise. At length we came to the poll about 10 o’clock, and it went on some time with a great deal of scorn to the faction; but when Cockey got into the chair again there was a bold honest fellow that faced him to the booth, with a Holland cheese and a blue apron upon a pike staff, which so daunted his fanatic impudence that he durst appear no more. The villainous party was at the first coming headed by the mayor and Mr Hobart; but all of them deserted their booth before twelve in the noonday. The colonel’s poll held till near five in the afternoon, and he has carried it above three to one.

After this crushing victory Yarmouth might have been best advised to let well alone, but, having already used his power to drive Townshend’s adherents from county office, he could not resist the temptation to apply the same methods in the city. On 15 Mar. he wrote to (Sir) Joseph Williamson:

I beseech you to inform his Majesty with all speed that the mayor and most of the aldermen at Norwich are actually out of their employment by not subscribing according to the Act for Regulating Corporations. This put an opportunity into my hands to make that city the loyalest in England. I only desire a speedy order from you to communicate to the freemen to proceed to a new election, which will weed out 10 or 12 notorious ill-affected men to the Government, and confirm the honest ones, and make such a supply as will be highly for his Majesty’s service and an excellent example to this country.

New municipal elections were held to fill the vacancies caused by these displacements, despite all that Richer could do to obstruct them, and resulted in a qualified success, with court and country each predominating in two wards. It was perhaps unfortunate for Yarmouth that Corie died during this episode; he was succeeded as recorder by Francis Bacon (whose son was to sit for the city as a Whig for nearly a quarter of a century) and as MP by Briggs. Despite the difference in their politics, both were resolute champions of civic independence. At this juncture, and in view of Briggs’s conduct at the previous election, he could not be denied the support of the Paston interest, and he was returned unopposed.7

Yarmouth would no doubt have pointed to the results of the exclusion elections as justifying his attack on the ‘ill-affected’ in the corporation. Although both Members opposed the bill, they retained their seats in all three Parliaments, an exceptional record in a popular constituency. So powerful was the combination of the Paston territorial interest and Briggs’s corporation interest that no country candidates appeared at the first election of 1679. On 29 Jan. Yarmouth wrote to his wife: ‘My son’s business is so fixed at Norwich as I believe there’s none will oppose him. If they should it will be in vain.... The expense this way cannot exceed £100.’ Before the autumn election the country party gave out ‘that there would be no opposition, thinking thereby to have surprised my lord’ (i.e. Paston, who now enjoyed a courtesy title as the result of his father’s well-earned promotion). Their next ploy was an attempt to disqualify him for election by appointing him as one of the sheriffs, who acted as returning officers; ‘but his friends took good care to prevent that’. Their original candidates were Windham, who had been defeated in the Norfolk election a few months before, and Robert Long of Reymerston, a moderate country gentleman who had held county office during the Civil War and Interregnum. The campaign was managed by Bacon’s brother Thomas, also a lawyer, and an aspiring haberdasher called Adrian Payne, described as ‘the most impudent and troublesome fellow in the whole corporation’ until he was displaced in 1678. Neither of their candidates attended the election; ‘but when Mr Payne and Mr Bacon came into the Market Place and saw their party so strong, they resolved, since they were like to have the trouble, that they would have the honour, and declared for themselves, and accordingly demanded a poll of the sheriffs’. The result would have humiliated Windham and Long, but must have given some satisfaction to their substitutes, who reduced Paston’s vote by one-third and substantially improved on the figure obtained by Cockey at the last contested election. The chief sufferer was Francis Bacon; in May 1680 the city assembly dismissed him from the recordership, promoting a more compliant figure, John Norris. Briggs, always a reluctant candidate, was taken ill in London while attending the second Exclusion Parliament, and it was suggested that Norris might replace him in its successor. In any case the court party was confident that there would be no opposition. In this they were mistaken, for on the morning of the poll ‘there appeared a considerable body of men crying out for Hobart and Payne’. According to a competent medical opinion:

Mr Payne ... is but of a bad state of body, and so hath been all this winter, and I heard him lately say that he had rather give £100 than stand, yet by vehement importunities they got him out. Mr Hobart, a man now in his 77th year, withdrew himself out of the town, yet they set up one to ride for him.

The court candidates were returned with increased majorities, although Paston did not attend in person. But, as the local sage concluded:

'Tis probable there will always be some opposition, though without success; the people delight in it and say it will be the better for the town, as causing more concourse of persons and more money to be spent.8

In the following summer a new member of the cathedral chapter, Humphrey Prideaux, found the city bitterly divided between Whigs and Tories. ‘The former are the more numerous’, he wrote, ‘but the latter carry all before them as consisting of the governing part of the town, and both contend for their way with the utmost violence. I do not believe any place can afford of either part more vehement votaries to it than this town.’ A more detailed and penetrating analysis survives in the State Papers:

In Norwich the people are distinguished into three parties, the violent Tories and the violent Whigs, as they are called, and the moderate, who are for the present government in church and state, but go soberly to work. The chief leaders of the Tories ... really drive more from the King’s interest by their loose behaviour and insolence than all the acts of the seditious can do. The disaffected notwithstanding are but an inconsiderable party, and have little influence. ... Of the moderate party the most considerable is Alderman Briggs, an honest old Cavalier and a very understanding man. ... The lord lieutenant of the county has had a great interest in the city, and the choice of Members is much influenced by him.

Although Yarmouth was now permanently resident in London for his health, he was chiefly responsible for securing the surrender of the charter. The aldermen, led by Briggs, resisted, pointing to the firm Tory control of the corporation shown by the loyal addresses approving the dissolution of Parliament, abhorring the ‘Association’, and upholding the Duke of York’s rights to the succession. But the majority of the common council were on Yarmouth’s side, and on 21 Sept. 1682 the city assembly voted for surrender. The new charter reserved to the crown the usual power to remove officials, and named Paston as recorder, an infringement of the corporation’s patronage which was much resented, though the remodelled corporation dutifully presented addresses abhorring the Rye House Plot and congratulating James II on his accession.9

Neither Briggs nor Paston was available for reelection in 1685; Briggs was dead and Paston had succeeded to the peerage as 2nd Earl of Yarmouth. His brother Robert took the senior seat, accompanied at last by Catelyn, though to the horror of some of his supporters he was opposed by Blofield, a prosperous Tory hosier. This was the only Parliament in the period in which Norwich was represented by two non-residents. In March 1688 ten aldermen and 19 of the common council were removed by royal command. Their replacements included Barnham’s kinsman and apprentice John, whose house had long been used for a Presbyterian conventicle under the guidance of Dr John Collinges, the Hobarts’s man of business. The King’s electoral agents reported that the electorate now totalled about 1,500, who would choose Barnham and, ‘if left to themselves’, a clothier named Cooke, ‘a right man, and one in whom the city has great confidence; but if your Majesty interpose for Mr Robert Paston, ’tis presumed they will choose him instead’. In July the King succeeded in uniting Churchmen, Presbyterians and Congregationalists against him by demanding the admission of 38 Quakers to the freedom. It was objected that many were qualified neither by residence, service, nor status. In the face of this recalcitrance, it had to be recognized that ‘a good election’ for the Government could only be achieved by another new charter, which was issued in September, naming Barnham as mayor; but Bishop Lloyd was confident that the city would return only churchmen. His forecast was confirmed by the municipal elections that followed the restoration of the 1663 charter in the following month. This event also terminated the Paston interest; Yarmouth was replaced as recorder by Robert Davey, and received a most discouraging report from his brother on a canvass of the constituency:

I find so great a change I can hardly think myself in Norwich. ... I will ride, to show how false and ungrateful Sir N. [Catelyn] and Davey are, and that I may distinguish my friends from my enemies. I find they have been undermining me these six months, and that impertinent fellow Milburne of Yarmouth has been over here to assure them that I will be for the repeal of the P[enal Laws] and T[ests], the apprehension whereof makes me lose all my friends. Besides they declare against trusting anyone relating to the Court.

His last hope was to persuade the new mayor, ‘who has the best interest in town, to declare for himself or Blofield to join with me; for Mr Barnham’s interest must not be espoused’. It is unlikely that Paston or Barnham went to the poll; on 7 Jan. 1689 Catelyn and Davey were elected on the King’s writ, but four days later the latter was replaced by Blofield in another election held in accordance with the Prince’s letter. The Anglican triumph was complete, and during the next few months the leading nonconformists on the bench, including Richer and Cockey, followed Barnham into private life.10

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Wilkin, i. 8.
  • 2. HMC 6th Rep. 385
  • 3. Add. 27447, f. 427.
  • 4. Browne, i. 306.
  • 5. Add. 36998, f. 151 v.
  • 6. R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Norf. in the Civil War, 247; Norf. Arch. xxiii. 290; Reg. Norwich Freemen ed. Millican, 59, 86, 171; Blomefield, Norf. iii. 404-9, J. T. Evans, 17th Cent. Norwich, 238-43; Bodl, Tanner 47, f. 37.
  • 7. HMC 6th Rep. 382-5, EHR, lxvi. 37; Add. 27447, ff. 387-9; 28621, f. 32; Browne, i. 305; Reg. Norwich Freemen, xvi. 167; Blomefield, iii. 415; Evans, 256-66; CSP Dom. 1678, pp. 45, 76-77, 106, 131-2.
  • 8. Add. 27447, f. 387v; 28621, f. 39; 36988, f. 151; J.R. Jones, First Whigs, 40, 97, 163, CSP Dom. 1682, p. 56; Grantees of Arms (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 193; Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. lxxxvi), 126, 161; Blomefield, iii. 416; iv. 284; Browne, i. 257, 303, 306.
  • 9. Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 90; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 54, 274-5, 423-4; Jan.-June 1683, p. 71; July-Sept. 1683, pp. 256-7; Add. 27448, f. 63; Blomefield, iii. 417-19; Evans, 282-305; London Gazette, 13 Feb. 1682, 9 July 1683, 5 Mar. 1685.
  • 10. Add. 27447, ff. 494-5; 27448, f. 304; PC2/72/640, 729; Reg. Norwich Freemen, 87, 180, 187; Grantees of Arms, 16; Norf. Arch. xxxiii. 15; Blomefield, iii. 423-5; information from Mr K. I. Milne; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 313, 314; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 270; Evans, 313-16.