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 freeholder

Number of voters:

114 in 1689


3 Apr. 1660JOHN MAYNARD I  
  Double return. MAYNARD and FOWELL seated, 27 Apr. 1660. MORICE and TRELAWNY declared elected, 9 June 1660  
19 Apr. 1661(SIR) WILLIAM MORICE I  
28 Sept. 1666SIR GILBERT TALBOT vice Trelawny, deceased  
10 Mar. 1677JOHN SPARKE vice Morice, deceased  
15 Feb. 1679(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I  
16 Sept. 1679(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I  
3 Nov. 1680SIR WILLIAM JONES vice Sparke, deceased  
18 Feb. 1681(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I  
 RICHARD JONES, Earl of Ranelagh  
17 Jan. 1689(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I  
10 July 1689HON. JOHN GRANVILLE vice Herbert, called to the Upper House6185
 Martin Ryder5389

Main Article

Plymouth’s corporation consisted of mayor, recorder, 12 aldermen, and 24 assistants. Until the Restoration the franchise was restricted to this body, and even after the decision of 9 June 1660 to extend it to the ‘commonalty’, corporation interest was strong enough to secure the return of the recorder, Serjeant Maynard, at four of the next six general elections. Although the importance of Plymouth Sound as a naval base was long established, there was as yet no dockyard; but a garrison was kept up throughout the period, with the Citadel, constructed in 1666-70, as much for defence against domestic as foreign enemies. Plymouth had been strongly parliamentarian during the Civil War, but under the influence of the Earl of Bath it was usually amenable to the Court in this period.1

At the general election of 1660 the corporation chose two Parliamentarians, Maynard and Edmund Fowell, the former town clerk. Another indenture signed by 84 freemen returned William Morice, who had been appointed governor at the instance of his brother-in-law George Monck, together with Samuel Trelawny, whose father had represented Plymouth in the Long Parliament until disabled as a Royalist. Maynard and Fowell were seated on the merits of the return; but after the former had been declared elected for Exeter Edmund Turnor reported from the elections committee that at Plymouth ‘the mayor and commonalty have right of election’. The House agreed, and Morice (now secretary of state) and Trelawny were declared elected. They were re-elected in 1661 by an unnamed mayor who claimed to be acting in the name of the commonalty; but the return bore no signatures. In August 1662 the commissioners for corporations removed the mayor, town clerk, six aldermen, and 13 common councilmen. When Trelawny died in 1666 he was succeeded by an official, Sir Gilbert Talbot, who was a stranger to the borough, but was nevertheless elected, according to a government informant, ‘freely and unanimously by the mayor, aldermen and freeholders in the presence of the Earl of Bath’, who had succeeded Morice as governor in 1661. Again the vague description ‘commonalty of the borough’ was used on the indenture. The charter was confirmed in the following year, but the bishop of Exeter complained that no effort was made by the municipal authorities to control conventicles. When Morice died several years after retirement from office he was succeeded, probably without a contest, by a merchant, John Sparke, believed to be ‘very loyal’.2

Talbot retired at the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, and Sparke and Maynard were successful at both elections of 1679. Despite his loyalty Sparke voted for exclusion, and was rewarded by the corporation ‘for his faithful and diligent service’, while the cautious Maynard abstained. Sparke’s death on 8 Oct. 1680, shortly before the second Exclusion Parliament met, was seized on, probably by George Treby, to find a seat for Sir William Jones, the former attorney-general and potentially one of the most persuasive advocates for exclusion. Certainly no time was lost, though curiously enough no order for a new writ can be found in the Journals. But it was received by the undersheriff of Devon on 1 Nov. and a precept despatched to Plymouth on the same day. Two days later Jones was elected, though he had no connexion with the borough, and on 8 Nov. his indenture was lodged with the clerk of the crown. Next day Jones was appointed to his first committee, and on 11 Nov. he delivered his maiden speech, with appropriate modesty. He and Maynard were reelected to the Oxford Parliament. Nevertheless the corporation presented addresses approving the dissolution and abhorring the Rye House Plot. This attitude may have sprung from their own internal differences. On 17 Apr. 1683 the aldermen passed by a narrow majority a resolution to exclude the common councilmen from municipal elections because they persistently chose candidates of ‘meaner condition’. Maynard wrote to the corporation ‘to dissuade them from complying with the King’, but after a visit from Judge Jeffreys in March 1684 they surrendered their charter. The replacement reserved to the crown the usual power to displace officials, halved the size of the common council, and replaced Maynard as recorder by Bath; but it did not mention the franchise. The proceedings cost the borough nearly £500.3

Bath’s reception at Plymouth in the following November was described as ‘very extraordinary, the mayor and aldermen waiting on him to all places’. Their servility continued with an address congratulating James II on his accession, and the election of Bath’s brother Bernard Granville and Lord Ranelagh, who by his own admission ‘did not know one person in that town’. They were returned by the corporation ‘without freemen or freeholders, though both protested against it’; but presumably no Whig candidate stood, for no petition was lodged. In 1686 Bath could assure the King that ‘the town of Plymouth is now become as loyal as the garrison’, and when Lord Arundell of Trerice (Richard Arundell), who claimed the harbour rights, tried to launch quo warranto proceedings against the corporation, the attorney-general entered a nolle prosequi. Nevertheless in January 1688 five aldermen, five assistants and Bath’s deputy recorder were removed by order-in-council. The royal electoral agents reported in April:

The election was always popular until the last, and then the body corporate elected, which if they should do again, the election will be disputed. A regulation is much desired. The dissenters here are very numerous; ... they are not inclined to choose their last Members, but if your Majesty will require that of them they will not dispute it.

The proposed court candidates, ‘both right and men of great interest in the town’, were John Coplestone, probably of the Bowden branch, and Hugh Fortescue. By June the management of the borough had been transferred to Bath, probably on condition that he used his interest for Fortescue in the county, and Sidney Godolphin I ordered Ranelagh, now paymaster, to stand for re-election. When he protested his lack of local contacts ‘it was answered the King’s interest should supply that’. Bath reported that:

The mayor and corporation promise to elect their two old Members for the next Parliament, or two such other Members as their present recorder shall recommend, provided they are of the Protestant religion and their countrymen.

The loyalty of the garrison and the town may have remained all that Bath had claimed for it during the Revolution; but his own did not. The early defection of Edward Seymour threatened his future as court manager in the west; and, with the support of George Churchill and the Dutch fleet under Arthur Herbert, Bath put the Popish officers in the garrison under arrest and declared for William of Orange. At the general election of 1689 Maynard and Herbert were returned by the mayor, burgesses, freemen and freeholders ‘according to the ancient usage’. Bernard Granville was returned for Saltash; but when Herbert was raised to the peerage for his ‘victory’ at Bantry Bay, Bath put up his younger son John, who was returned in a yet more explicit formula by the mayor, the commonalty, the present free burgesses, and the resident free-holders. A petition was presented by the Whig Martin Ryder on 20 July, and renewed after the autumn recess, claiming a majority of four on the combined votes of freemen and freeholders and of one on the freehold vote alone. Granville claimed that in a borough by prescription the franchise could not be in the freemen, ‘though of late they had interposed in elections’, but in the freeholders only. The official poll gave the sitting Member a majority of eight, and the House, on the recommendation of John Grey from the elections committee, eventually declared him elected without pronouncing on the franchise.4

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. L. F. W. Jewitt, Hist. Plymouth, 220, 226-9; Lysons, Devon, 397.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1659-60, p. 406; CJ, viii. 3, 59; Cal. Plymouth Mun. Recs. ed. Worth, 5, 6; CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 165; 1677-8, p. 17; HMC 9th Rep. pt. 1, p. 216; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxii. 143.
  • 3. Trans. Devon Assoc. xv. 473; London Gazette, 25 July 1681, 2 Aug. 1683; Jewitt, 236; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 328; 1684-5, p. 25; Cal. Plymouth Mun. Recs. 24.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 199; 1686-7, p. 95; 1687-9, pp. 364-5, 371; London Gazette, 26 Feb. 1685; Ellis Corresp. ii. 19-20; Jewitt, 224, 265; PC2/71/400, 72/588; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 380; (1883), 231, 240; DNB; CJ, x. 230, 276, 320.