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 16


4 Oct. 1666ROBERT AUSTIN vice Crisp, deceased9
 Baptist May6
2 Feb. 1678SIR JOHN BANKS vice Finch, deceased7
 Cresheld Draper6
 Sir Nathaniel Powell 0
 DRAPER vice Banks, on petition, 7 Mar. 1678 
14 Mar. 1681SIR STEPHEN LENNARD, Bt.10
 Robert Austen8
11 Apr. 1685CHARLES MIDDLETON, Earl of Middleton 
17 Jan. 1689ROBERT AUSTEN 

Main Article

In 1660 Winchelsea returned a local Presbyterian, Samuel Gott, who had sat as a recruiter for the borough, together with William Howard, an Anabaptist who had become a royalist plotter and was connected with the Ashburnhams. In 1661 the electorate accepted Sir Nicholas Crisp, a great London merchant, as the lord warden’s nominee. Returned with him was Francis Finch, a distant relative of the Earl of Winchilsea, the lord lieutenant. When Crisp died in 1666, Lord Arlington tried to promote the candidature of Sir Edward Dering, but the Duke of York had already promised it to Baptist May. The electors, however, rejected May and returned Robert Austen, a local gentleman who was to become an opponent of the Court. Of the 16 voters, ten never came to church ‘for indeed it seems that the allowance is so small they have seldom a minister there’. On 9 Jan. 1667 the elections committee reported on May’s petition that, since the mayor had not taken the sacrament, his return of Austen was void under the Corporations Act; but on the next day the House after ‘a great debate’ voted by 138 to 63 to reject the committee’s report, and declared Austen duly elected.2

On Finch’s death Sir John Banks stood with Admiralty support, though John Strode II, as lieutenant-governor of Dover Castle, usually managed the government interest in the Cinque Ports. Against this unpopular parvenu, Austen put up Cresheld Draper, a neighbour of his brother Sir John Austen. The third candidate, Sir Nathaniel Powell, was nominated by Sir Vere Fane, a Kentish rival of the Banks interest. Although the Duke of York had been forced to resign by the Test Act his influence was still great, and Samuel Pepys wrote to Banks on 1 Sept. 1677:

If you meet with no stronger opponents than those which yet appear (who I dare say are not likely either of them to borrow any interest from the Court) methinks our success ought not much be doubted, especially if the [lieutenant] governor of Dover can be secured, which I will endeavour to do something with the Duke in, with all speed.

He assured Lady Banks that the Duke was committed to her husband’s support having been

informed by him that Mr Browne, the gunfounder, had been to him on that errand, to whom his Highness gave for answer that he was already engaged for Sir John Banks. ... I am confident he will be fast to us. And this I would soon make known to Col. Strode (though I don’t think his inclination of much moment in the case) could I find where he is.

The good offices of the lord lieutenant were also solicited. Pepys wrote to him, at the Duke’s command, thanking him for his past efforts;

and such is his Royal Highness’s opinion of the integrity and ability of Sir John Banks to serve both his Majesty and his country. ... that he does not only authorize me to give your Lordship his thanks for what you have already done, but to make it his desire to your Lordship that Sir John Banks may continue to enjoy the full benefits of your Lordship’s kindnesses towards his obtaining the same.

On the same day Pepys wrote to Strode to ‘give furtherance for his highness’s inclination’. Strode was annoyed that he had not been consulted earlier, and both Pepys and Banks wrote letters of apology, the former using ‘a much more subtle style’ than usual. On 22 Sept. he wrote to Banks telling him of a meeting with William Chiffinch, ‘above stairs at Whitehall’ where Chiffinch informed him that ‘one Sampson’ had offered him the seat at Winchelsea and said that Sampson’s offer was supported by a letter from the mayor and jurats.

This Sampson (as Mr Chiffinch tells me) is a wretched, poor fellow, but pretends to have a mighty interest in the commonalty of that place, and if the letter of the town be authentic, I have reason to believe he has so. But whether he has or has not, I have got Mr Chiffinch to promise to direct him to me, together with Mr Barker, a trumpeter, who seems to have a mighty stroke at Winchelsea too, and what I shall learn from them you shall speedily have an account of. ... If these fellows have any interest, Mr Chiffinch has promised to make it yours, and rather that you shall want one to drink to you at the election, he’ll do that good office for you himself.

At about this time a petition was presented to the Earl of Winchilsea signed by Fane and 15 other Kentish gentlemen, including such future exclusionists as Sir John Darell and Edward Dering, asking that he should not

by the persuasion of one or two particular persons, use your interest in recommending Sir John Banks of this county to serve as a burgess for Winchelsea, his person and principles being so obnoxious to the whole county.

Pepys, having seen the letter, wrote to Lord Winchilsea that

as far as I can judge from the manner and matter of the application to your Lordship by those malcontented gentlemen in prejudice to Sir John Banks, I cannot but judge it a proceeding chargeable at once with indiscretion and ill nature to so scandalous a degree as to render it impossible for your Lordship’s honour to receive any stain, or Sir John Banks’s pretences the least prejudice, but on the contrary that both your Lordship in the asserting of your just authority and Sir John Banks in his prosecution of his right must be advantaged in the opinion both of his Majesty and his Royal Highness, as it has been of everybody else (even friends of the subscribers) with whom I have been yet led to have any discourse with.

Pepys’s last effort seems to have been a letter of 24 Oct. to (Sir) Denny Ashburnham:

To the request I made to you yesterday in my name, I have since received the leave and command of his Royal Highness to deliver you in his in favour of Sir John Banks and his election at Winchelsea, wherein the kindness of you and your family may greatly bestead him.

At the election the mayor ruled that non-resident freemen such as Austen were not eligible to vote. When Banks and Draper tied at six votes each (Powell receiving none), the mayor claimed as an ‘ancient custom’ the right to cast the deciding vote, i.e. to vote twice, and declared Banks duly elected. Both sides preferred charges and counter-charges of bribery; Banks’s final allegation was that

Col. Austen, having invited all the electors to his home for a treat, he there offered Francis Sampson, one of the electors, thirty guineas, and afterwards at Mr Martin’s house [at] Winchelsea, he offered him 100 guineas to vote for Mr Draper, and offered him 250 guineas and £50 for his wife for Mr Draper, and if that would not do, £150 to be absent at the election.

In fact, Banks’s ledgers indicate that he may well have spent close to £4,500, while years later it was alleged that Draper had spent £10,000 The committee of elections reported on 7 Mar. 1678 in Draper’s favour, to which the House agreed after a division.3

Draper and Austen were successful at both elections of 1679, but in 1681 Austen was defeated by Sir Stephen Lennard, who was Draper’s commanding officer in the militia and later his trustee. A newspaper account stated that the

election was done in the absence of the persons elected, without one penny charge, and the inhabitants are resolved for the future that true merit shall be the only standard which shall guide their choice.

The address presented to the new Members contained, besides the standard fulminations against Popery and the Plot, a curious clause which seemed to foreshadow the idea of a land bank.

You will endeavour, as far as in you lies, that a law may be made for putting our free lands and houses under a voluntary register, that thereby the kingdom may be a just and honourable fund, whereby monies may be taken up upon all urgent occasions, and prevent the great ruins we now are obnoxious to for want thereof.

In March 1684 Winchelsea agreed to surrender its charter, and in the election to James II’s Parliament returned Lord Middleton, the court nominee, and Draper, who by this time had become a Tory. The corporation was purged in 1687 when the mayor, the town clerk, one of the jurats and three freemen were removed. In 1689, free of government interference, the port returned two Whigs, Austen and Samuel Western, whose father had considerable iron interests in the neighbourhood.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Bodl. Carte 73, f. 371.
  • 2. Stowe 744, f. 144; Milward, 60.
  • 3. Nat. Maritime Mus. 9646, pp. 782, 785-6, 790, 791-4, 796, 798; Pepys Further Corresp. 306; Stowe 180, f. 79; Kent AO, SN2/4; Bodl. Rawl. A191, ff. 168-9; Defoe’s Tour ed. G. D. H. Cole, i. 130-1.
  • 4. True Prot. Merc., 26 Mar. 1681; PC2/72/561.