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 corporation 1662; in the freemen 1688

Number of voters:

31 in 1662; about 400 in 1688


3 Apr. 1660JOHN GURDON 
  Double return. GURDON and BRAND seated, 3 May 1660 
  Double return. WALDEGRAVE and APPLETON seated, 17 May 1661 
24 Mar. 1662SIR ROBERT CORDELL, Bt. vice Appleton, deceased 
28 May 1677SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. vice Waldegrave, deceased 
24 Feb. 1679SIR ROBERT CORDELL, Bt. 
 Sir William Spring, Bt. 
 Samuel Grimston 
6 Sept. 1679SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
 Sir Robert Cordell, Bt. 
15 Feb. 1681SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
15 Apr. 1685SIR JOHN CORDELL, Bt. 

Main Article

Before the Civil War the franchise at Sudbury seems to have been confined to the corporation, which under the charter of 1554 consisted of the mayor, six aldermen, and 24 ‘burgesses’. But the freedom of the borough was easily obtained, either by birth, service or purchase at the standard charge of £5 in 1662; and the freemen claimed the vote at most elections of the period. With no dominant interest, contests were frequent, especially between the Cordell and the Elwes families in the latter half of the period, and a local attorney named John Catesby acquired considerable importance by his influence with the corporation and the dissenters. These last were numerous, and it is clear that Sudbury was no constituency for Cavaliers or courtiers.2

At the general election of 1660 Robert Cordell, who was probably returned on the freeman vote, had no political record, but doubtless favoured the Restoration. He was opposed by two Presbyterians, John Gurdon and Joseph Brand. All were local landowners, but only Gurdon had inherited a strong interest in the borough, which his father had first represented in 1621. Gurdon and Brand were seated on the merits of the return, and on 18 May their election was confirmed on the recommendation of Edward Turnor. Neither stood in 1661, when Cordell, who had been given a baronetcy, was partnered by Sir Thomas Barnardiston, the head of the leading puritan family in the county, and again elected by the freemen. Their opponents, who had a comfortable majority on the corporation, had both held county office during the Interregnum. William Waldegrave belonged to the Protestant branch of the family that had secured Sudbury its first charter, while Isaac Appleton had married the widow of Sir Robert Crane, who had sat for either the borough or the county in every Parliament from 1614 to his death in 1643. Job Charlton reported on 17 May that they were returned by the proper officer, and the House resolved that they should be allowed to sit. But the merits of the election were not decided until 7 Feb. 1662, after Appleton’s death, when the committee declared against the ‘common burgesses’, and the House agreed. A new writ was ordered for a replacement for Appleton, and Cordell was returned by the mayor, aldermen, and capital burgesses. A new charter was granted on 27 July 1664, depriving the freemen of the vote in municipal elections except for a select body and requiring crown confirmation for the recorder and town clerk.3

Catesby was appointed town clerk in 1669, and on Waldegrave’s death in 1677, secured the return of his patron, Sir Gervase Elwes. According to Shaftesbury there were four ‘worthy’ or ‘honest’ candidates at the first general election of 1679. Elwes moved up to the county, leaving his son Gervase to contest Sudbury in alliance with Samuel Grimston. Cordell stood for re-election with his son-in-law Sir William Spring. The successful candidates were Cordell and the younger Elwes, who both voted for the first exclusion bill. Nevertheless there was bitter rivalry between the two families. In the autumn election Spring was returned for the county, and the Elwes family took both seats at Sudbury, presumably on the freeman vote, for 36 ‘burgesses’ are named on the indenture. It was later stated that

Sir Robert Cordell had been for a long time Member for the borough, and the corporation had declared that they would vote for him, but were overpowered by the continued entreaties and wheedles of Mr Catesby. ... The said John Catesby hath declared he hath made such an interest for Sir Gervase Elwes in Sudbury as all the gentlemen in the county could never destroy.

Catesby’s most successful ‘wheedle’ was to persuade Elwes to present the corporation with a loving-cup that had once belonged to Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, bearing his arms and an inscription commemorating his services in London during the plague. An opposition newspaper printed a report, presumably inspired by Cordell, implying that the Members for Sudbury owed their success to bribery. But in the next issue a most humble retraction was published, accepting that Elwes and his son had been elected

without any extravagance or charge to themselves upon the inhabitants, notwithstanding the false and spiteful information that was sent us from some unknown person in that town, who has endeavoured to scandalize both their persons and reputations, which we unwarily published in our last intelligence, these two gentlemen (as we have been since informed) being persons of known loyalty and affection to their King and country, and earnest asserters of the Protestant religion.

Cordell died early in 1680, and the sitting Members were re-elected to the Oxford Parliament, unanimously, according to another newspaper, though the indenture mentions the mayor, the aldermen, 40 ‘burgesses’, and ‘many others, being the greater part’.4

No corporation could have produced a more loyal address after the Rye House Plot; the ‘fanatics’ were condemned and the hereditary succession upheld. Nevertheless Waldegrave’s son believed Sudbury ‘the most factious place in the world’, and tried to obtain a private writ of quo warranto. Sir Leoline Jenkins was willing to comply immediately, but Lord Arlington, as lord lieutenant of Suffolk, advised consultations with the clerk of the peace. Meanwhile Waldegrave and his brother-in-law Sir John Cordell obtained a warrant to search for seditious papers in the houses of Catesby, who was serving as mayor, and three of the aldermen. Presumably nothing was warranto proceedings began, and the corporation decided to surrender their charter ‘with design to continue the government ... in the same hands it now is’. They were part successful, since Catesby was confirmed as a mayor in the new charter and another of the family approved as town clerk. But Cordell, Waldegrave, and another Tory country gentleman, Sir John Poley, were nominated aldermen, and at the general election in the following month Cordell was elected to James II’s Parliament with Sir George Wenyeve, who was recommended by Lord Keeper Guilford (Sir Francis North).5

In March 1688 Cordell, Waldegrave and Poley were removed from the bench by order-in-council, and in the next month the royal electoral agents reported:

Sudbury is a corporation, the election popular, consisting of about 400. A further regulation is here requisite. The dissenters’ interest here is considerable. The mayor [still Catesby] is a very right man, and of great interest. The Churchmen and dissenters are agreed to name Members so soon as their regulation is passed, and to send up their names for your Majesty’s approbation.

Two more aldermen and five of the common council were displaced, and the corporation produced a loyal address on the birth of the Prince of Wales, promising to elect Members who would concur with the Declaration of Indulgence. In September the King was told: ‘They propose to choose Sir Gervase Elwes, in case he be not chosen in the county, and Mr Catesby, their present mayor, or some other good man in his room’. At the general election of 1689 Cordell was elected for the county, but it is not known whether Elwes stood. Sudbury returned Poley and the Whig Philip Gurdon, son of the 1660 Member.6

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Sudbury corp. order bk. 1658-81, f. 30.
  • 2. C. F. D. Sperling Hist. Sudbury, 33-34; CSP Dom. 1670, pp. 287, 303.
  • 3. CJ, viii. 9, 35. 253, 360; Sperling, 34-36.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 426; Sperling, 74; Suff. Inst. Arch Procs. viii. 7; Dom. Intell. 9, 12 Sept. 1679; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 21 Feb. 1681.
  • 5. London Gazette, 2 Aug. 1683; CSP Dom. 1683-4, pp. 157-8, 164, 169; 1684-5, pp. 48, 213; 1685, p. 68; North, Lives, i. 335.
  • 6. PC2/72/627, 654; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 228, 247; London Gazette, 17 Sept. 1688.