Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 8,000 in 1708


26 Mar. 1660THOMAS, 3rd LORD FAIRFAX
21 Nov. 1670SIR THOMAS SLINGSBY, Bt. vice Goodricke, deceased
3 Mar. 1679CHARLES BOYLE, Lord Clifford
 HENRY FAIRFAX, Lord Fairfax
15 Sept. 1679CHARLES BOYLE, Lord Clifford
 HENRY FAIRFAX, Lord Fairfax
 Sir John Kaye, Bt.
28 Feb. 1681CHARLES BOYLE, Lord Clifford
 HENRY FAIRFAX, Lord Fairfax
23 Mar. 1685CHARLES BOYLE, Lord Clifford
14 Jan. 1689THOMAS, 5th LORD FAIRFAX

Main Article

Yorkshire was the largest constituency in England, and this made election contests so expensive that there was a marked reluctance on the part of candidates to go to the poll. Seven of the nine Members who sat as knight of the shire in this period were drawn from the West Riding, which predominated both in population and wealth. On 26 Mar. 1660 Sir George Savile (later Lord Halifax) was told by his agent that ‘the election for the county is this day concluded for my Lord Fairfax and Mr Dawnay by a very great appearance of freeholders, especially upon your account; but there was not any opposition made by any, though it was suspected’. Fairfax, the great parliamentary general, had cleared the way for the march of General George Monck to London, and he and Dawnay had promoted and signed the Yorkshire declaration for a free Parliament. In 1661 Dawnay transferred to Pontefract, offering his interest in the county to Savile and Sir Thomas Osborne (later Lord Treasurer Danby); but the former declined outright and the latter would only stand if guaranteed there would be no contest. Fairfax also hesitated until six days before the election, when he sent word to his Presbyterian chaplain, Edward Bowles, to use all honest means to secure his return. But it was too late; a gentry meeting at Doncaster had agreed on Sir John Goodricke, a Cavalier, and Conyers Darcy, a Cavalier’s son from the North Riding, and they were returned. On the death of Goodricke, Sir Thomas Slingsby, whose father had been executed for treason under the Protectorate, was returned by ‘the greater part of the county at York Castle’.1

Slingsby disappointed the electors by his adherence to the Court, and Goodricke’s son Sir Henry Goodricke wrote to Fairfax’s nephew and heir on 25 Nov. 1675:

Many of the Yorkshire nobility and gentry have thought it very conducible to the public benefit (in case of a new Parliament) to present their desire by me to your lordship to use your interest, which is very great, in your own behalf, and to receive my Lord Clifford, who is really an excellent patriot, as your partner as knight of the shire for Yorkshire; on which account Mr Darcy engages to my Lord Clifford his interest in the North Riding, the Earl of Burlington [Clifford’s father] will be active on the East, and my Lord Halifax assures you both of his in the West Riding.

Before the first general election of 1679 Goodricke had gone over to the Court, and recommended Danby’s son Lord Latimer (Edward Osborne), ‘a good man of our West Riding’ as Lord Fairfax’s partner: ‘It would be a great endearment of our whole county to my lord treasurer’. Latimer did not stand, but a correspondent of Sir William Frankland reported from York on 3 Feb.:

Sir John Kaye desired my assistance, but I told him honestly that I had engaged all the friends I could for Lord Fairfax and Lord Clifford, and believed the whole country [i.e. county] was so resolved for them that it was not possible to shake their interest. He seemed not very pleased, nor willing to desist, but I am confident all his striving will be in vain. He wishes to make the country believe that my Lord Fairfax waives it, and it is so far very right he does not seek it, but desires to be excused, and yet I am assured he will accept it.

Kaye, who stood against Clifford, was believed to be seeking the interest of ‘many of the West Riding gentry’ through Latimer. Frankland wrote 40 letters on Clifford’s behalf, and Lord Fauconberg, lord lieutenant of the North Riding, sent a large party of his neighbours to accompany Clifford and his East Riding supporters to the election, so as ‘to make the name of Clifford sound as loud as formerly it has done in Yorkshire’. At the gentry meeting held at the George inn in York on 7 Feb. Kaye ‘generously retired, in order to save the confusion, charge and trouble of a contest’, and Fairfax was returned unopposed with Clifford. Both Members voted for exclusion.2

At the York assizes in July 1679 Kaye was again proposed as a candidate. But ‘the activest sort of people’ were ‘averse to any change’, though this time Clifford was a reluctant candidate. Sir John Reresby reported:

I went for York to choose knights of the shire, and had ordered my friends that went from this side and would vote for Sir John Kaye to meet me at Tadcaster. There appeared about 500 freeholders, but the whole number from several parts that accompanied him into York that day were believed to be near 6,000. Finding the next day that the polling of so many persons as appeared on all sides would prove very tedious and most chargeable to Sir John Kaye, who stood single against the two lords, who joined purses and interests together, I proposed that they should all return home, and the poll to be adjourned to the next market town that lay most convenient for them.

According to accounts of the election in the opposition press, the poll at York had lasted three days, after which the sheriff adjourned it to eight places: Pontefract, Wakefield, Skipton, Knaresborough, Richmond, Thirsk, Beverley and Pocklington, but this proved unnecessary as Kaye desisted when it was threatened that the citizens of York would claim the vote. Clifford went over to the Court in 1680, but was re-elected unopposed with Fairfax in the following year, when Kaye stood for Pontefract. They were presented with an address from the freeholders thanking them for their services in the last two Parliaments, and asking them to grant toleration to Protestant dissenters and to continue their support for the exclusion bill. Of this address Reresby said, ‘it was only some six or seven factious persons that had managed the business, though it passed for a more general thing’.3

Clifford and Kaye, two Tories, were returned unopposed in 1685, and on 30 Sept. 1688 about 6,000 voters gathered in York to re-elect them to James II’s abortive second Parliament. ‘We have no account yet whom the county intend to choose’, wrote the royal electoral agents. Fairfax had died in April, and on Christmas eve his son, a Whig, was elected for the county with Darcy’s son John, a Tory. After the issue of the prince’s writs Danby tried to dissuade Kaye from standing for the Convention, lest it might ‘beget great heats and animosities therein amongst friends and neighbours’. But Darcy died a week before the election, and Kaye stepped into his shoes as Tory candidate. He was returned unopposed with Fairfax.4

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Notts. RO, DDSR221/95, Osborne to Savile, 19 Feb. 1661; 96, Turner to Savile, 26 Mar. 1660, 17, 27 Feb. 1661, CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 536; Gooder, Parl. Rep. Yorks. ii. 87.
  • 2. Gooder, ii. 136, 171-3; HMC Astley, 38, 39; HMC Var. ii. 166-7, 393; Jones, First Whigs, 44-45.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Hickman to Halifax, 20 Aug., 6, 13 Sept. 1679; Reresby Mems. 185-8, 276; True Dom. Intell. 26 Sept. 1679; Dom. Intell. 26 Sept. 1679; Gooder, ii. 173-4; Sheepscar (Leeds) Pub. Lib. Mexborough mss 14/172, Kaye to Reresby, 14 Oct. 1679.
  • 4. HMC Astley, 59; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. x. 161, 162, 164; Thoresby Diary, i. 191; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 102; Camb. Hist. Jnl. v. 249.