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 50


15 Apr. 1661SIR EDWARD SEYMOUR, 3rd Bt.
3 Feb. 1673SIR THOMAS BERRY vice Clifford, called to the Upper House
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673
14 Feb. 1679SIR EDWARD SEYMOUR, 3rd Bt.
27 Aug. 1679SIR EDWARD SEYMOUR, 3rd Bt.
22 Feb. 1681JOHN KELLAND
17 Mar. 1685SIR EDWARD SEYMOUR, 3rd Bt.
16 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN FOWELL, 3rd Bt.

Main Article

The Interregnum dealt severe blows to the two dominant interests in Totnes, the Seymour family and the cloth trade. The former sold their property in the town, including the castle, to pay off their fines as Royalists, but still from their residence at Berry Pomeroy, just outside the town, enjoyed a deference vote which was only once seriously challenged throughout the period. The latter, over-specialized for the Spanish market, never recovered from Cromwellian foreign policy. The freemen included non-residents; as many as eight esquires out of 42 voters returned the Seymours in August 1679.1

The Seymours were too cautious to defy the Long Parliament ordinance against Cavaliers and their sons by standing at the general election of 1660, but their influence secured the return of two high Anglicans, Thomas Chafe and Thomas Clifford, both of whom distinguished themselves in the Convention. At the beginning of August they presented the King with 100 pieces of gold from their constituents and a petition asking above all things for peace with Spain; the settlement of Church and state they were prepared to leave to the King. Anglican dominance remained unchecked through the political vicissitudes of the period; on Calamy’s testimony, the Anglicans showed remarkable tolerance in the face of considerable provocation by the dissenters, and the credit for this should no doubt be shared by Clifford and Edward Seymour.2

There was apparently some opposition to Clifford in 1661, but he obtained a letter of recommendation from the Duke of York, and was returned with Sir Edward Seymour. Clifford’s meteoric rise to power and his talent for party organization threatened to introduce a new interest to the borough. A curious episode in 1665, when the charter was confirmed, probably bears some relevance to this: on 29 Apr. the attorney-general was ordered to draft a clause continuing the recorder (John Maynard I) in office, but with the usual proviso that recorder, town clerk and high steward should in future hold office during pleasure. On Clifford’s return from sea two months later his first concern was to obtain the grant of a Dutch prize from his patron Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet); his next the cancellation of this proviso. When Clifford was raised to the House of Lords he was succeeded by his wife’s brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Berry. Berry was one of the 36 Members whose elections were declared void at the beginning of 1673 because the writs had been irregularly issued during the recess by Clifford’s colleague in the Cabal, Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper); but he was reelected without known opposition a week later. It was not apparently the Seymours’ policy to acquire a monopoly of interest in the borough; Sir Edward Seymour’s signature, absent from the indentures of Berry’s first return, appears on the second. Nor did he take advantage of the collapse of the rival interest on Clifford’s conversion to Rome. At the next general election, he could have reserved one seat for his son in case of a mishap in the hard-fought contest for the county; instead he acquiesced in the choice of the exclusionist John Kelland. Only in the second Exclusion Parliament did the Seymours occupy both seats, to be overtaken by nemesis in 1681; after the son’s impeachment they lost them both to the Kellands.3

The Tory reaction was swift and strong, as might be expected from the prominence of Edward Seymour in the Government at this time. A loyal address approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments was presented in October 1681, to be followed in the succeeding years by two more expressing abhorrence of the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. No drastic modification of the charter was thought necessary under Charles II, but opportunity was taken to replace Maynard by Sir Edward Seymour and to appoint the Duke of Albemarle (Christopher Monck) as high steward. A bitter little dispute between Kelland and the local patron of dissent, Dr Richard Burthogge, over ‘a piece of land of very small value’ further weakened the Whigs at this time; though with their customary moderation the Seymours allowed John Kelland to retain his seat in James II’s Parliament.4

Totnes produced a remarkable demonstration of loyalty to the Seymours on 12 Dec. 1687, when the corporation was ordered to elect the Papist Sir John Southcote as recorder; 33 of them refused to do so, two abstained and only four voted for compliance with the King’s letter. Naturally this defiance was followed by a purge; three aldermen and 14 assistants were dismissed on 23 Dec., and Burthogge, who had become one of James’s most valuable collaborators among the dissenters, entered the corporation. Next month the mayor, seven aldermen (including Kelland) and six assistants were removed, and on 23 Apr. 1688 John Beare was sworn in as alderman. The difficulties caused by the heterogeneous nature of James’s support are illustrated by the reports of his electoral agents. In April they declared that the majority of the voters were now dissenters, who would

choose Dr Richard Burthogge and William Savery, both undoubtedly right and of great interest in the town. Sir John Southcote expects to be chosen. It’s supposed that it will not be for your Majesty’s interest that he stand.

Southcote’s ‘hot-headed zeal, with that of his party, by the good providence of God, did ruin their cause at that time in this country’. In June another alderman was removed, and the town was reported to be in ‘a great disorder and distraction about the new regulations’, while by September it had been consigned to the management of the high Anglican Beare. At the general election of 1689 the returning officer was the mayor displaced in the previous year: Burthogge and the other freemen appointed under James II’s charter did not apparently claim the vote, and two Tories were returned.5

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Lysons, Devon, 533; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxxxvi. 229; W. E. Hoskins, Devon, 127.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 5; Merc. Pub. 2 Aug. 1660; Calamy, Contin. 286; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 103.
  • 3. Adm. 2/ 1745, f. 36; CSP Dom. 1664-5, pp. 439, 452; SP 44/22/128, 201-2; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 106.
  • 4. Luttrell, i. 134, 192, 276; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 136, 137; HMC 3rd Rep. 342; C5/145/62.
  • 5. Trans. Devon Assoc. viii. 363-7; Pub. Occurrences, 28 Feb. 1688; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxxi. 75; PC2/72/581, 681; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 240.