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:

about 300 in 1688


12 Apr. 1660PETER PETT 
2 Nov. 1667RICHARD HEAD vice Batten, deceased 
19 Feb. 1679SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt.214
 Sir Francis Clerke132
16 Aug. 1679SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt. 
3 Feb. 1681SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt. 
7 Mar. 1685SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt. 
8 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt. 

Main Article

The proximity of the Chatham shipyard gave the Government a strong interest in Rochester, and in normal times the cathedral chapter had considerable influence, in 1686 estimated at 50 votes. In 1660 Peter Pett, navy commissioner at Chatham, who had represented the city in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, and John Marsham, a neighbouring country gentleman, were returned. Marsham had been a Cavalier and Pett was trying to live down his record of support for Commonwealth and Protectorate. In 1661 Sir Francis Clerke, another active Royalist, reasserted his family interest and was elected ‘nemine contradicente’. The election of Sir William Batten, surveyor of the navy and a Presbyterian Royalist, may have been contested. He was strongly opposed on behalf of the cathedral interest by the mayor, who swore in the dean, the archdeacon and ten clergymen as freemen shortly before the election. Batten was the only Member during the period who did not live in or near the city, but as surveyor of the navy, he enjoyed the Admiralty interest, and through his son’s marriage to the daughter of a wealthy citizen he must have been well known to the electors. In 1662 the corporation was thoroughly purged under the Corporations Act, ten aldermen and almost 100 freemen being removed. Late in the next year a writ of quo warranto was served on the corporation but the mayor, Richard Head, succeeded in obtaining confirmation of the charter, with the addition of the usual clause requiring crown approval of recorder and town clerk. Perhaps in gratitude for his efforts, Head was returned in 1667 at the by-election occasioned by Batten’s death. His politics are uncertain, but he was the only Rochester Member who was neither a placeman nor an outright court supporter.1

Before the first election of 1679 Samuel Pepys campaigned vigorously for Sir John Banks. He wrote to the navy commissioner at Chatham, soliciting his interest in the neighbourhood and ‘more particularly in the navy’, to the governor of Upnor Castle, and to the clerk of the cheque at Chatham, returning him

infinite thanks for your great kindnesses in what (when so unfit for the pains of it) you did at my request in favour of Sir John Banks, whose misfortune under the general ill will I find him labouring under among his countrymen, I cannot tell whether I more lament or am surprised at, his common residence in London being an occasion plain enough for his having the fewer of them his friends, but his known inoffensiveness and justice leaving me wholly at a loss to what to impute for his having so many of them enemies.

Banks, who was to represent the city in the next four Parliaments, was returned with Head. Clerke’s petition against Banks’s return never reached the House. On 4 Aug. 1679 John Verney wrote that

Sir John Banks is like to carry it again for Rochester; and Sir Richard Head, who brought him in there by his interest last Parliament, will now be turned out. Mr Hales is like to be the other Member there, though every one confesseth Sir Francis Clerke to be wiser by much than all the other candidates, but his fault, as they call it, is that he votes for the Court, as if Sir John Banks will not, but this last hath the better way of guinea kissing.

It is not in fact known whether Head and Clerke went to the poll. The local exclusionist, Edward Hales I, to whom Verney presumably refers, was successful for Hythe, and Banks was returned with the recorder Francis Barrell. On Barrell’s death in the following month, it was reported that Head intended to stand, though Clerke was confident that Sir Charles Lyttelton, an army officer and governor-designate of Sheerness, would be elected. The new writ was ordered on 20 Oct. 1680, but on 4 Nov., on the receipt of a petition on behalf of the inhabitants of the city, the House resolved ‘that the Speaker do forbear to issue out his warrant for such writ until the matter contained within said petition be determined’. No more appears in the Journal. In the next two elections Clerke was returned with Banks, whose elections to the Exclusion Parliaments cost him almost £2,000. In 1681 the corporation presented a loyal address to the King, approving the dissolution of Parliament, and again in 1682 and 1683 addresses were sent expressing abhorrence of ‘traitorous conspiracies’ and of the Rye House Plot.2

The lord lieutenant was confident that Rochester would ‘make loyal Members their representatives’ in 1685, and in fact Banks and Clerke were returned. The latter died after James II’s Parliament was prorogued, but before it was dissolved, and Sir Phineas Pett, his cousin’s successor at Chatham, decided to stand at the anticipated by-election. On 12 Dec. he wrote to Pepys:

I received yours of the 6th instant, and return most hearty thanks for the continuance of your kindness in acquainting his Majesty, and my noble lords you mention, with what I wrote the 2nd instant touching my election at Rochester by communicating my said letter. I am very glad his Majesty was so graciously pleased to declare his satisfaction in continuing my pretence to this election, and leaving you to give what furtherance you could, by recommending it in his name to the mayor and his brethren, and to those officers and servants in the yard that are in a capacity of giving me any furtherance. My lord treasurer and Lord Dartmouth were pleased to promise honouring me with their tokens of friendship on this occasion when I should desire it.

Having very lately received an invitation by several of the aldermen of that city, on purpose to return me their thanks in the name of the city for the late kindness I had done them by using my interest in the business of Chatham Market, which they did in a very hearty manner, assuring me of their standing by me in this affair, at the same time they acquainted me that Sir Roger Twisden had very lately made applications for their favours, who were pleased to give him a very cool reception, plainly telling him the services I had done and might do their city. The small countenance he met with on visiting the place was only from some few of the rabble. Not finding things ripe, I most heartily pray your favour in giving me what further assistance you can, which you kindly promised. I humbly propose the following method:

1. Your letter, recommending it in his Majesty’s name, to the mayor and his brethren.

2. Your particular letter to Mr Mayor, an ancient officer of the navy, though at present unconcerned therein.

3. My lord treasurer’s letter to the mayor and aldermen.

4. Lord Dartmouth’s letters to Governor Myners, and Mr Cheltenham, storekeeper of the ordnance here.

5. That his Majesty would speak to my lord bishop of Rochester for his letter to the dean and chapter which, I am assured by my friends here, will be of very great importance to me, by at least fifty voices.

6. Sir John Banks’s letter to the mayor and aldermen; as also his distinct letter to Mr Mayor and Mr Alderman Cobham.

7. Your letter to his Majesty’s officers and servants of the yard and navy here.

Which being done, I pray that all the said letters may be sent under cover to me, in order to my delivering them with my own hands, and with the speed that conveniently may be.

I was advised, at my last attending the aldermen, that the common sort of freemen (I having before treated the aldermen) expect the same kindness, which I intend some time in the Christmas holidays, as may best suit Sir John Banks’s occasions, who, I hope, through your favour, may be prevailed with to countenance me with his company, which will greatly conduce to my advantage. Therefore, I pray you to make known my humble request for his favour therein and that he will appoint the time most proper for his conveniency, of which I should be glad to have notice, in order to providing venison for the freemen. If your weightier affairs would permit your gracing us with your good company, I should be more happy.

In a postscript Pett added:

I think it will be convenient, with humble submission to your more knowing judgment, to have my letters with me before I treat the freemen.

The by-election was never held, Parliament being dissolved on 2 July 1687.3

Quo warranto proceedings against Rochester were again brought in 1688, and on 20 Jan. the corporation instructed the town clerk to go to London and consult the proper authorities. On 9 Feb. the corporation decided to surrender the charter, but the King returned it to the mayor and restored to the city all its privileges, whereupon the surrender was formally cancelled, and the Roman Catholic lord lieutenant, Lord Teynham, reported that:

There are here about 300 freemen; Sir John Banks the most prevailing interest. Sir Roger Twisden has been for some time endeavouring the good opinion of the freemen, and it is believed Sir John Banks will assist him in what he can, but it is not judged Sir Roger will carry it against Sir Phineas Pett.

The same reason that appears for Sir Phineas Pett’s interest (if carefully and timely managed) may possibly disappoint Sir John Banks, for it is judged that what with the dissenters, and such as belong to the dock and navy, who eat of the King’s bread (and must be timely forewarned of losing it) half the number may be for choosing such as the King shall recommend, especially if what has been said of disbursements in Canterbury be observed here.

In June the corporation promised to choose such Members ‘as we doubt not will fully answer your Majesty’s expectation’, but three months later the King’s agents could only report that:

the generality of the city incline to choose Sir John Banks, and if your Majesty please to recommend Sir Phineas Pett, it is very probable he will be elected with Sir John Banks.

Sunderland, however, nominated Pett and Sir Henry Selby, a lawyer of Kentish origins who was steward of the court of Chancery of the Cinque Ports, and instructed Teynham to assist their candidature. The King personally canvassed the corporation, recommending Pett as their neighbour, and Selby ‘as fit to speak for them’ in Parliament. But, as Pett wrote to Samuel Pepys:

After his Majesty went hence, on debate with the mayor, aldermen and other friends, my Lord Teynham present, it was thought advisable (for better securing my interest) for Sir Henry Selby to relinquish, which he accordingly did.

Pett hoped that Bishop Spratt would recommend him to the cathedral chapter, but at the abortive election Banks and Twisden were returned. They were re-elected unopposed in 1689, and sat in the Convention as Tories, both voting to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Rochester Guildhall mss, RO/AC2, ff. 44, 53, 54, 66, 71, 87, 90; Shrubsole and Denne, Rochester, 60; C8/249/47; P. H. Bartlett, Rochester Charters, 76.
  • 2. Nat. Maritime Mus. mss 9646, pp. 871-4; BL, M636/33, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 4 Aug. 1679; D.C. Coleman, Sir John Banks, 107; Rochester Guildhall mss, RO/AC2, ff. 204, 210, 218; London Gazette, 23 Apr. 1681, 27 Apr. 1682, 12 July 1683.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 26; Pepys Corresp. ed. Smith, ii. 55-57
  • 4. London Gazette, 4 June 1688; Bartlett, 77; F. F. Smith, Hist. Rochester, 56-57; CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 274, 276; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 362-3, 365; Pepys Corresp. ii. 148; Rochester Guildhall mss, RO/AC2, f. 260.