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 1660-85; in the inhabitants paying scot and lot 1689

Number of voters:

under 50 in 1679; over 100 in 1689


31 Oct. 1670THOMAS KNOLLYS vice Legge, deceased  
4 Nov. 1678BENJAMIN NEWLAND vice Ford, deceased  
5 Feb. 1679THOMAS KNOLLYS3634
 Sir Charles Wyndham70 
 ?Sir Charles Wyndham  
25 Nov. 1689EDWARD FLEMING vice Brett, deceased  
 Sir Charles Wyndham  
 WYNDHAM vice Fleming on petition, 31 Dec. 1689  

Main Article

The corporation of Southampton consisted of the mayor, two bailiffs, and an indefinite number of ‘select burgesses’or freemen. There were also the aldermen, supposed to be six but in practice variable in number, the recorder, the town clerk, and the sheriff, who had acted as returning officer in parliamentary elections since Southampton had been granted county status in 1447. All the candidates in the period were court supporters, and only three contests are known; but the form of the indenture varied. The scot and lot payers first asserted their right to vote in February 1679, but were unable to make good their claim till the Revolution. Although the town was far from prosperous, it succeeded throughout the period in reserving one seat for a merchant, but only William Stanley based his business ventures wholly or chiefly on the town. His colleague in the 1660 Convention, Robert Richbell, though active like him in Southampton municipal life, had at least one foot in London; while his successor Sir Richard Ford was a stranger who took out his freedom only on the eve of his election. The other Member returned in 1661 by the mayor, aldermen, and ‘burgesses’ was the lieutenant of the Ordnance, William Legge, another stranger recommended to the corporation by the Duke of York. The dissenters do not seem to have been numerous, though one particularly loud-mouthed republican was removed from the corporation by the commissioners in 1662; but they were ‘the thriving part of the town’, and could not be prevented from infiltrating the roll of freemen. On Legge’s death the mayor, bailiffs and ‘burgesses’ elected Thomas Knollys, who had previously represented the borough in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. Described on the indenture as a merchant, he was head of a recognized Hampshire gentry family with a seat five miles from the town; and, perhaps more important, he had married the chancellor of the Exchequer’s sister. When Ford died during what proved to be the last recess of the Cavalier Parliament, ‘endeavours’ were reported on behalf of the diplomat Sir William Temple. But in spite of the increased political tension Richbell’s son-in-law Benjamin Newland appears to have been returned unopposed by the ‘burgesses and inhabitants’, the latter being mentioned for the first time. The new Member hailed from the Isle of Wight, but his business career had been based in London, where he served on the common council, the lieutenancy, and the board of the Royal Africa Company. He was to retain his seat till his death more than 20 years later.1

Contested elections began in 1679 with the arrival of a new interest in the constituency. Sir Charles Wyndham, a courtier who had married a local heiress, could not shake Newland’s interest, but in the February election he outpolled Knollys by almost two to one among the scot and lot payers. Although the sheriff again made out the return in the name of the burgesses and inhabitants, it is clear that he allowed only the votes of the freemen. Wyndham’s petition was not reported. Knollys died before the August election, and in the second and third Exclusion Parliaments Southampton was represented by Wyndham and Newland. Despite the strongly Tory politics of the corporation, Giles Eyre was elected recorder in 1681. A loyal address from the mayor, aldermen, sheriff and bailiffs approved the dissolution of Parliament and demanded the retention of Tangier, and the corporation as a whole joined in abhorring the Rye House Plot. On 23 Nov. 1683 Newland wrote to Sir Leoline Jenkins to express their willingness to surrender their charter, but protesting that owing to the exactions of the Interregnum, the plague, the Dutch and the prohibition of French imports they could not pay the charges. They were told that they could have a new charter gratis if they would abandon their claim to exemption from the jurisdiction of Hampshire, and on 8 Sept. 1684 they unanimously resolved on surrender. Negotiations for a new charter lapsed on the death of Charles II. A congratulatory address was at once presented to the new King, and the sitting Members were re-elected. But the corporation were thrown into consternation by a quo warranto dated 28 Nov. 1687. On 9 Feb. 1688 they informed the attorney-general that they would make no defence, but in April the King was told:

Southampton seems as uncertain in what to do about its charter as it has been in its methods of choosing its Members for Parliament, sometimes having chosen them by the mayor and burgesses, sometimes by the whole town as in Sir Charles Wyndham’s case. Sir Charles Wyndham [and] Sir Benjamin Newland served in the late Parliament and design to stand for the next. Sir Benjamin, it’s thought, will not comply, but may probably give his interest to Mr Richbell, if the King thinks him fit to stand in his place. This corporation will likewise require a very great alteration.

The new charter, confirming Southampton’s county status and making the usual provision for the removal of officials and freemen by order-in-council, passed the seal on 15 Sept. and about the same time the King’s electoral agents reported: ‘They incline to choose Sir Charles Wyndham, and, except your Majesty recommend another, Sir Benjamin Newland is like to be chosen’. Eyre had been displaced as recorder, and it was supposed that his cousin Samuel, another lawyer ‘of whom we are not very confident’, would stand for another constituency. Most of the 13 aldermen and 12 ‘burgesses’ named in the charter were dissenters, but it never came into force, and on the day that William of Orange landed Eyre was desired ‘to see that a nolle prosequi be entered upon the quo warranto’.2

At the general election of 1689 Newland and Richard Brett, an old courtier who had acquired a small estate in Hampshire, were declared ‘duly chosen by the majority of voices’. There was evidently a contest since it was later shown that the scot and lot men had been allowed to poll, and it can scarcely be doubted that Wyndham was an unsuccessful candidate. He stood again after Brett’s death in November, and was defeated by another local gentleman, Edward Fleming, who was returned by the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses. It is a striking testimony to the breadth of Wyndham’s appeal that evidence was given in support of his petition by a Congregational deacon, the father of the hymn-writer Isaac Watts. Hon. John Grey on behalf of the elections committee recommended the wider franchise, and the House unseated Fleming in Wyndham’s favour.3

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. J. S. Davies, Hist. Southampton, 158, 209; CJ, x. 320 Adn 2/1745; f. 31; Speed’s Hist. Southampton (Southampton Rec. Soc. 170; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 480; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 10.
  • 2. Davies 160-3, 204; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 147; 1683-4, pp. 100, 105-6, 151; 1687-9, p. 263; CJ, ix. 569; London Gazette, 16 May 1681, Aug. 1683, 17 Mar. 1685; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 428, 432
  • 3. CJ, x. 320-1.