Weymouth and Melcombe Regis
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The two boroughs were united by Act of Parliament in 1571, and returned four Members
Right of Election:
in the freeholders
Number of voters:
202 in 1667
|9 Apr. 1660||EDWARD MONTAGU I|
|Double return of Middleton and Bond. MIDDLETON declared elected, 5 May 1660|
|22 June 1660||BULLEN REYMES vice Montagu, chose to sit for Dover|
|27 Mar. 1661||SIR JOHN STRANGWAYS|
|(SIR) WILLIAM PENN|
|25 Jan. 1667||SIR JOHN COVENTRY vice Strangways, deceased||143|
|Double return. COVENTRY declared elected, 20 Nov. 1667|
|7 Nov. 1670||HON. ANTHONY ASHLEY vice Penn, deceased|
|31 Jan. 1673||JOHN MAN vice Reymes, deceased|
|Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673|
|17 Feb. 1673||JOHN MAN|
|14 Feb. 1679||ANTHONY ASHLEY, Lord Ashley|
|SIR JOHN COVENTRY|
|22 Aug. 1679||SIR JOHN COVENTRY|
|(SIR) JOHN MORTON|
|11 Nov. 1680||HENRY HENNING vice Browne, deceased|
|1 Mar. 1681||SIR JOHN COVENTRY|
|(SIR) JOHN MORTON|
|26 Mar. 1685||(SIR) JOHN MORTON|
|11 Jan. 1689||MICHAEL HARVEY|
|(SIR) JOHN MORTON|
|SIR ROBERT NAPIER, Bt.|
During the Civil War neither Royalists nor Parliamentarians could claim a monopoly of support in Weymouth. The main features of the Restoration period were the increasing strength of the country party and of government influence. These apparently conflicting tendencies were both reconciled and fostered by Shaftesbury (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper), first in order to undermine the interest of his local rivals, the Strangways family, later for broader political purposes.
In the general election of 1660, the poll was topped by two ex-admirals, Edward Montagu and William Penn. Montagu’s election was procured by his flag-captain, Cuttance, son of a Weymouth merchant, and apparently a republican sympathizer. George Monck wrote on behalf of Penn. On one indenture he was followed by two merchants, the Weymouth alderman Henry Waltham and the Londoner Peter Middleton, whose grandfather had been a great benefactor to the borough; on the other the recorder Samuel Bond, son of a well-known Cromwellian, took Middleton’s place. A local Puritan gentleman, John Browne, and a locally born London merchant, Samuel Mico, brought up the rear. On 5 May the committee of elections found that ‘Middleton had more voices of those that had the right to elect’, and the House seated him. At the by-election which followed Montagu’s decision to sit for another constituency there were originally three candidates. But Mico’s supporters succeeded in blocking the election of the Hon. Edward Montagu, only to see their own man defeated at the poll by a local gentleman and courtier, Reymes. Reymes’s success marks the re-entry of the Cavaliers, who, with their new recruit Penn, nominated by the Duke of York, swept the board at the next election. There was, however, a marked distinction between Weymouth’s senior Member in the Cavalier Parliament, Sir John Strangways, a country cavalier of the old school, and the other three. Reymes and Penn were both placemen, and Winston Churchill was soon to join them.1
This cleavage came into the open on Strangways’s death. Reymes was now managing the court interest, a happy circumstance since the mayor, Pley, formerly an ardent Commonwealth man, was his partner in the supply of sailcloth to the navy. The sheriff, Browne, on the other hand, was one of the unsuccessful candidates of 1660, and plainly a partisan of the dissenter Michael Harvey, set up by the country party. Browne’s letter to the late Member’s son (Giles Strangways) implies that he expected the support of that pillar of the establishment; and Harvey’s return was in due course signed by George Strangways, who managed the family interest in Weymouth. The court candidate Coventry, on the other hand, was provided with a letter of support from his uncle and former guardian, Ashley Cooper, who as chancellor of the Exchequer was able to bring pressure to bear on the customs officials. Sir John Strangways had been incapacitated for many months, and Harvey, ‘having many young attorneys in his company’, had used the time to good purpose in creating faggot votes. The court party were handicapped in the earlier stages of their campaign by uncertainty about Coventry’s intentions. Pley held back the elections ten days for this reason, and meanwhile a Dutch prize, laden with wine, was brought into port. The fleet was in, drink was cheap, and the election uproarious:
The poll began, and continued not above a quarter of an hour before a dispute arose about a freeholder, whether he were so or no; this occasioned the first heat, but afterwards many exceptions of that kind were taken on both sides, in so much as there was great noise and horrid confusion, as enforced the mayor several times to stop the poll until it was appeased, which lasted not long, for every now and then they would be up in arms, whooping and bawling and affronting the magistrates with opprobrious language as they sat on the bench, in so much as there was just cause to fear all the company would have gone by the ears.
Pley—though, as he afterwards related, feeling excessively unwell—continued the poll till Coventry was leading by 77 to 59, but the rowdiness increasing he adjourned the election for three days, because ‘the town being full of seamen belonging to men of war [which] were to set sail the next evening, and the town full of prize wine, one [day] might not have been enough to have appeased the difference’. After a few minutes Browne sent his under-sheriff to the mayor to demand a resumption. On meeting with a refusal, he replied: ‘Since you refuse to go on with the poll, the high sheriff is resolved he will’. Forty-two more votes were collected for Harvey
allowing every voice to be a lawful freeholder that voted for Mr Harvey, which is since most evident they were not, five of them being made freeholders the last law-day, in order to a new election (as is reported) ... They shut up from the poll and proclaimed Mr Harvey their burgess, who, riding upon people’s shoulders from the hall to his inn, he himself shaked his own hat for joy.
When the legal poll was resumed on Monday, 66 more votes were recorded for Coventry.
But not one voice presented or offered itself for Mr Harvey, at which Mr Mayor asked aloud if there were not any voices more that would be polled for Mr Harvey, and it was likewise asked whether any could make exceptions against any of the freeholders that had then voted for Sir John Coventry, to which one Mr Collyer (a great stickler for Mr Harvey, and he that affronted the magistrates) replied ‘No, we except not against your voices, but your proceedings, for we know you will carry it by the majority of voices’; at which all the people laughed.
The corporation having completed the return immediately recorded in their minute book that
divers inhabitants of this town ... have by indirect means endeavoured to promote the interests of their friends by a new and unknown way of making freeholders contrary to the custom of the town ... savouring very highly of deceit and collusion.
They declared that freeholds created since the date of the writ did not carry the right to vote in that election, nor could it be exercised by children under the age of 14. A double return was sent up, but the House saw no reason why Coventry should not take his seat. Harvey presented a further petition in the next session. Evidence was given for Coventry of rather trivial corruption and intimidation. Cuttance, now an alderman, said that he ‘saw some of Mr Harvey’s company wink and nod their heads to some of his party, and doth believe it was to whoop and bellow and make disturbance, for so it fell out presently after thereupon’. Harvey’s petition was rejected (20 Nov. 1667).2
Ashley Cooper proceeded to consolidate his position. Nothing is known of the next election, in which his son was returned, probably unopposed. But the next vacancy produced an all-out battle with the Strangways interest. Ashley Cooper, now Earl of Shaftesbury and lord chancellor, issued the writ, with 33 others, just before Parliament reassembled. Strangways first put forward his son-in-law James Long (son of Sir James Long). But when it became apparent that Thomas Strangways faced defeat at Poole at the hands of Shaftesbury’s brother, George Cooper, Strangways dropped Long in favour of his own son. Meanwhile Shaftesbury’s candidate, John Man, had been adopted unanimously by the corporation, though he had no known connexion with the borough. His campaign, managed by Pley, was strictly orthodox for this thirsty constituency. One of Man’s own voters wrote to him:
I do assure you that I have not hitherto touched of yours or any other’s Canary, wherewith one of your pretended friends (as I was informed) swilled himself so the day my lord’s letter was read that he wanted supporters, and I am told he continues to drink your health daily at your charge with whomsoever he can get to accompany him, and for the Pleys’ parts, their brew-houses have full employment to furnish beer to their alehouses, whom they give liberty to cozen and cheat what they please on your account. ... I humbly conceive they have abused my lord chancellor and yourself by intimating to some of their schismatical crew that his lordship was a great and main instrument in procuring them liberty. ... Colonel Strangways would not, as I believe, [have] proceeded had they kept themselves civil, but a person of that honour to bear the threats [to] be thrown on his back was what he could not [do].
Strangways refused to give up, though his son was defeated at the poll. When Parliament met he succeeded in having all the by-elections declared void on the grounds that the writs had been issued during the recess without the Speaker’s warrant. He then reached a compromise with Shaftesbury, by which his son was returned at Poole in exchange for Man’s uncontested election at Weymouth. Nevertheless the Strangways interest had been out-manoeuvred, leaving Shaftesbury controlling three of the Weymouth seats in return for a shadowy claim to Poole.3
With Shaftesbury’s intriguing cousin, John Harrington of the many aliases, at least intermittently resident in the town, there could be no doubt that the fourth seat would fall into his lap as soon as it became vacant, and in fact there is no evidence that Churchill stood in 1679. Only country candidates were returned to the Exclusion Parliaments. In the first the senior seats were again occupied by Ashley and Coventry. Man doubtless made way for Thomas Browne, who was supported by his cousin Thomas Strangways in order to facilitate his own return for the county, and the Strangways interest can hardly have opposed Harvey, despite his exclusionist politics, for the remaining seat. In the autumn Shaftesbury replaced his son by one of his most unpleasant henchmen, Sir John Morton, who had been displaced at Poole, and when Browne died he was succeeded by another local gentleman, Henry Henning. The sitting Members were probably returned unopposed in 1681, and it was not until August that the corporation produced a loyal address approving of the dissolution. Even then it was in strikingly moderate terms. They ignored the ‘Association’ ascribed to their patron, but dutifully abhorred the Rye House Plot. Perhaps Henning was an unexceptionable candidate in 1685, since he could not be accused of voting for exclusion, but his senior colleague was none other than Morton, and the Tories had to be content with the defeat of Harvey. George Strangways was at last rewarded for his long and rather disheartening service as family election agent, and the fourth seat went to a Cavalier squire, Francis Mohun. For the first time in the period all the Members were resident in the county.4
It was not until the Hilary term of 1688 that a quo warranto was issued against Weymouth. The corporation had prudently retained Henry Pollexfen, the successful prosecutor in the Bloody Assizes, as their counsel, and the charter was never forfeited, the royal electoral agents reporting in April that:
the dissenters are the majority, and will choose right men. They propose Nathaniel Bond, who is unquestionably so, and have promised to pitch upon three others, but would not name them until they were sure they were such.
By September they had further agreed on Harvey and his cousin William Harvey, and the former was one of the few court candidates in Dorset to achieve success in the 1689 election. The unobtrusive Henning took the other senior seat, while Morton had to be content with third place. The remaining seat went to a strong and vocal Tory, Sir Robert Napier. Again the Members were all resident in the county, and this time they were all landowners.5
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Pepys Diary, 4 Apr., 2 June 1660; Bodl. Carte mss 73, ff. 384, 479; Weymouth Minute Bk. (Dorset Rec. Soc. i), 107; CJ, viii. 13; Adm. 2/1745/30; Weymouth minute bk. 1617-95, f. 267.
- 2. Dorset RO, D 124, Browne to Strangways, 12 Jan. 1667; CSP Dom. 1666-7, pp. 472-3; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 435-6.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1672-3, pp. 300, 304, 323, 510, 572; Dorset RO, D124, letter dated 18 Jan. 1673.
- 4. K. H. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 425-6; Dorset RO, D124, Strangways to Weymouth corp. 29 Jan. 1679; Prot. Dom. Intell. 22 Feb. 1681; Luttrell, i. 118; London Gazette, 29 Aug. 1681, 8 Oct. 1683.
- 5. Weymouth minute bk, ff. 393, 398; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 222, 242.