Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the nine burgage tenants and in the inhabitants paying scot and lot1

Number of Qualified Electors:

56-73 in 17122

Number of voters:

63 in 1696; at least 51 in 1701


  Double return. WENTWORTH and TANCRED declared elected, 7 May 1690 
Sept. 1696HON. HENRY FAIRFAX vice Wentworth, deceased 
 Arthur Kaye 
  Election declared void, 21 Dec. 1696 
27 July 1698SIR GEORGE COOKE, Bt.39
 Cyril Arthington25
 Christopher Tancred103
 William Jessop304
29 Nov. 1707JESSOP re-elected after appointment to office 
31 Aug. 1713HON. JOHN DAWNAY 
 William Jessop 
 Edward Wortley Montagu 

Main Article

In the 1730s Browne Willis described Aldborough as ‘a scattered village’ of about 100 houses, of which 85 were ‘borough houses’, though it is probable that there were only 50 such houses in the early 1690s. There was no town hall and elections took place in the church. All the borough houses appear to have been owned by the lord of the manor, Sir Michael Wentworth of Woolley, at whose court leet the bailiff, who acted as returning officer, was chosen. Although the main interest in the town lay with the Wentworths, who were a junior branch of the Wentworths of Wentworth Woodhouse, both Sir George Cooke, 3rd Bt., and his brother-in-law, Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt.*, had interests with which they could influence the outcome of elections. Copley was also related by marriage to the Wentworths. In terms of parliamentary representation, both Willis and Defoe pointed out that Aldborough was exceptional, because it lay in the same parish as Boroughbridge, which also returned two Members to Parliament. Such a circumstance was unknown anywhere else in England, Scotland or Wales.5

In 1690 there was a double return, with Wentworth and Christopher Tancred returned on the scot and lot franchise and Hon. Henry Boyle* and John Vandenbendie by the holders of eight of the nine burgages, who had monopolized the franchise before 1679. The latter two candidates were said to have been returned in ‘an alehouse with a bailiff they had chosen that morning’. At the hearing of the double return on 17 May 1690 the main question was whether the right of election was in the select number of burgesses who were burgage holders, or in ‘the inhabitants paying scot and lot’. Counsel for Boyle and Vandenbendie produced several indentures, from Elizabethan times through to the Restoration period, which showed that the nine burgage holders had made the returns. Counsel for Wentworth and Tancred countered with the argument that ‘though only a few might join in the return, which was an uncertain number, yet others might be concerned in the election’. They also referred to a resolution of the House in 1679 in favour of the inhabitants paying scot and lot. It was further claimed that three of the nine burgage holders were receiving alms and that the rest were very poor. The House resolved that the right of election was ‘not only in the select number of burgesses holding by a burgage tenure’ but also in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, so that Wentworth and Tancred were seated.6

In 1695 Wentworth and Tancred were returned unopposed, but the death of Wentworth the following year allowed for a renewed contest in a by-election in September 1696. The two candidates were the Tory Arthur Kaye*, son of Sir John, 2nd Bt.*, who was one of the knights of the shire, and Hon. Henry Fairfax, brother of Lord Fairfax [S] (Thomas*), a leading Whig peer in the county and the head of the Dissenting interest in Yorkshire. Fairfax reported that

the news of Sir George Cooke going to Aldborough was very uneasy to me till I found the freeholders were resolved to stand to their words, they very unanimously having promised me their votes. Cousin Wentworth’s tenants promised theirs too, when I was there before though some would not own it, others very generously told Sir George that they were engaged and could not be off, so that of 63 I had above 40, if I go upon account of the populace, if upon the old custom of the nine, I have seven.

However, after the election a petition from ‘several of the inhabitants’ of the borough was presented to the Commons, stating that Kaye had been duly chosen, but that the bailiff, Richard Sutton, had returned Fairfax, who had ‘spent great sums of money in treating the electors’. A long debate ensued, with witnesses being called, as Fairfax’s actions were said to be directly in breach of the Act for preventing bribery at elections passed the preceding year. It was eventually resolved that Fairfax be ‘disabled’ from sitting for Aldborough, but a motion to declare Kaye seated on petition was defeated, with Tancred and Sir John Kaye telling for the minority. The election was then declared void. However, the issuing of a new writ was postponed, and appears to have been avoided for the remainder of the session. This was evident a year later, on 17 Dec. 1697, when Sir John Kaye found it necessary to propose that a new writ be issued. However, this motion was ‘warmly opposed’. A new writ was eventually issued, but only after a petition of the ‘electors’ of Aldborough was presented on 30 Dec., setting forth that

They, lying under the misfortune of being unadvisedly misled to transgress the late Act of Parliament made for preventing disorders and abuses in elections, and to their great grief incurring the displeasure of the House, of which they are so deeply sensible that they resolve never to suffer any irregularities in any future election for their borough, but strictly and faithfully to observe so good and beneficial a law, and praying to be received into the favour of the honourable House, by being allowed to go to an election to fill up the present want of a Member in this borough.

Fairfax went to see the sheriff of the county and to weigh up his chances in the borough, but did not stand again. William Wentworth of Woolley was unopposed at the new by-election. The only related incident involved Edward Morris, vicar of Aldborough, who had intercepted letters sent to Tancred in connexion with the by-election. Morris’ actions caused him to be summoned to the bar of the House. However, the House found in his favour, and ordered Tancred to pay his costs.7

The general election of 1698, in which four candidates stood, was the most bitterly contested of the period. Cooke stood with the support of Lady Wentworth, who also gave assistance to Sir Abstrupus Danby, a Yorkshire squire who was a stranger to the town. Tancred defended his seat, though he no longer had the support of Lady Wentworth, whom he had offended by ‘making it his brags at the Duke of Leeds’s [Sir Thomas Osborne†] table that he got to be Parliament man for Aldborough by his own interest and was not in the least beholden to Sir Michael Wentworth’. The other candidate was Cyril Arthington, a Yorkshire squire, standing with the support of his close friend, Copley, who had been looking to extend his own interest in the borough through land purchases. Despite the fact that Copley was the brother of Lady Wentworth, he was unable to persuade her to support Arthington. While Tancred and Arthington were reported to be ‘at knives’ with one another, the efforts of Danby’s agents, which included giving free coal to the borough men as well as six treats at a cost of £82, proved successful, and Danby was returned with Cooke. However, during the autumn of 1698 information started to come to light relating to possible bribery and corruption in the election, as a petition became more likely. William Garbutt, one of Copley’s tenants, gave information about the election, presumably to Danby, in which he claimed he had been approached for his vote by Arthington’s agent, one Mr Barraby, who took him to see Copley. Copley had pressed him to vote for Arthington and offered him a lease of six acres at 8s. per acre, an abatement of 20s. on his rent, and ‘a dunghill of about 60 loads of dung’ free of charge. However, Garbutt claimed that he voted for Arthington and Danby, and that because of the competition between the two men, Copley’s promise had not been fulfilled. Thomas Hill, another of Copley’s tenants, stated that he had also been asked by Barraby to vote for Arthington and to throw away his second vote. In return Hill had asked for, and been given, the ‘apples in the orchard at the Garth end’. Thomas Hutton, although not a tenant of Copley, also claimed that he had been offered a bribe. However Danby was warned by Morris that Arthington intended to petition against the return, on the grounds that Danby had used bribery to secure his election, and that ‘Copley declares he values not to disfranchise the borough; your colleague [Cooke] ought to join with you on that behalf, if he were useful in anything’. Morris appears to have been involved in preparing Danby’s case, but requested that Danby did not call him as a witness, as he was still on good terms with Arthington. Copley’s endeavours to increase his interest in Aldborough led Morris to suggest to Danby that ‘you would gain a great point . . . by proving what extravagant rates . . . Copley has given for houses to multiply tenants’. Both Arthington and Tancred petitioned against Danby’s election, and renewed their petitions in November 1699. Cooke’s election was unchallenged. Tancred’s case focused on Danby’s present of tickets for two loads of coal for each borough man, and his promise of other entertainment. It was also claimed that Danby’s steward offered some voters 5s. each. Danby maintained that the tickets for coals and the sums of 5s. had been issued before the dissolution, and pressed for Tancred to be obliged to pay the costs of the case, ‘as before was done against him in Parson Morris’ case’. Arthington eventually withdrew his petition, though Tancred’s petition was reported. His efforts were to no avail, as the House found in Danby’s favour.8

During the next two years, political manoeuvring continued in Aldborough, as Copley endeavoured to extend his interest for the benefit of Arthington. However, Copley’s activities attracted the attention of Danby’s correspondents. It was reported that Barraby ‘hath bought George Lawson’s house and eight acres of land for Sir Godfrey and is to pay £340 . . . Barraby went for London about a week ago on receipt of a letter from Sir Godfrey’. John Warcupp advised Danby that it would be ‘feasible to bridle’ Copley and gain him to Danby’s interest, by obliging Ralph Bell*, on whose interest Copley stood at Thirsk. In December Morris informed Danby that he believed Tancred had sold ‘his all’ in Aldborough to Copley. Tancred was daily expected to ‘give possession’ to Barraby, who continued to disoblige many in the area. Morris also reported that the price paid by Copley for Tancred’s property was £16,000, and that ‘Sir Godfrey’s term there is not for life, and is shorter by Barraby’s stewardship’. Two months later Morris wrote that Barraby had attempted a land purchase but had been disappointed, much to Morris’ relief, as a successful deal would have strengthened Copley’s interest significantly. However, Barraby was still boasting that ‘he intends to multiply tenants, and talks of nothing less than assurance for the future’. In March Morris reported that Arthington was to visit Aldborough in order to give each ‘burgess’ 10s. ‘towards his charges for the church lays’. The activities of Copley and Arthington began to worry Morris, who wrote to Danby, warning that Copley, Arthington and Tancred were all joined together, and seemed to have control of about 34 votes. He also believed they would far outdo the Wentworths at managing any forthcoming election, and included the news that Danby would not have the support of the Wentworth interest at the next election. The only note of optimism for the future was that Barraby was now perceived as being a dead weight, as he was hated in Aldborough. During the summer Morris began to fear that Danby was considering not contesting any future election due to his failure to secure a significant interest in the borough. Such concerns were temporarily allayed, when Danby entered into negotiations with Lady Wentworth for the purchase of the Aldborough estate. However, the negotiations collapsed because Danby objected to the asking price. Lady Wentworth acknowledged this was high, but pointed out, ‘where such an interest goes along with [the estate], there can be no great fear of wanting a purchaser’. Danby’s failure to secure an interest in the borough may in part account for Copley’s assessment of the prospects for the next election: ‘[Sir George] Cooke gives over, and I think . . . Danby at Aldborough, . . . [though] I have a young nephew, a younger brother too, one Godfrey Wentworth, who my sister sets up there, and opposes Arthington as she did before’.9

With Cooke and Danby choosing not to stand again, and Tancred looking elsewhere for a seat, the prospects looked brighter for Arthington prior to the first election of 1701. The threat of Lady Wentworth putting up new candidates was also removed when she sold the Aldborough estate to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) for £7,000 following the death of her son John Wentworth, who had inherited it. The upshot was that Robert Monckton, a professional placeman and a Newcastle protégé, although a stranger to the borough, was warmly recommended as a ‘true lover of his country’, and returned unopposed with Arthington, who enjoyed Copley’s interest. Prior to the second 1701 election, Sir John Kaye noted that Newcastle was setting up William Jessop, his legal adviser, as well as Monckton, and that Copley was supporting Arthington once again, thereby ensuring a contest. Copley’s interest was still strong enough to prevent Newcastle from controlling both seats, so that Arthington was successful again, being returned with Monckton. The margin of Arthington’s victory over Jessop had been very small: just three votes. By the time of the 1702 election Copley appears to have ceased taking an active part in Aldborough affairs, as Arthington did not defend his seat. In view of the fact that Copley sold his landed interests in Aldborough to Newcastle in 1703 for £3,997, it is possible that the land deal was preceded in 1702 by Copley allowing Newcastle’s two candidates to be returned in an uncontested election. The purchase of Copley’s interest gave Newcastle control over both seats, and it was no surprise that Monckton and Jessop were unopposed at the next three general elections. This was at some financial cost, for the Duke’s agent, Charles Wilkinson, felt it prudent not to press tenants for rent in election years. Newcastle’s interest was now so strong that in 1710 Monckton was able to conduct his election campaign by correspondence from London.10

The status quo was disrupted following the death of Newcastle on 15 July 1711. By his will he made his nephew Thomas Pelham his heir, provided he took the name of Holles. While this was readily agreed to by Pelham (2nd Lord Pelham in 1712), the dowager Duchess contested the will on behalf of herself and her daughter, and declared she would nominate candidates agreeable to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*), whose son Edward* married the Holles heiress in August 1713. In this struggle Jessop adhered firmly to Pelham, denying the Duchess access to legal papers belonging to the late Duke. The Duchess further complained that tenants were being threatened with ejection by Pelham if they did not vote as directed. Jessop also advised Wilkinson, the late Duke’s agent in the borough who had come over to Pelham, to be careful about treats, thinking he could give a pair of gloves to his friends ‘safely’, but that ‘giving the party a present of meat or drink at his house . . . would be determined bribery’. Tancred took the Duchess’ side, petitioning the master of the rolls to have Wilkinson discharged as collector of the rents on the Holles estates, on the grounds that Wilkinson had misapplied the money he collected. The ubiquitous Morris, on the other hand, heartily supported the Pelham cause. Jessop reported to Wilkinson:

As for Monckton, I think there may be reason to let him come in, as things stand now . . . He hath certainly an interest with my lord treasurer, and for that reason I apprehend that if he should stand with me at Aldborough, it would prevent my lord treasurer from making any violent efforts to oppose me. And in case the next should prove a Tory Parliament, it might prevent a petition from those set up by the Duchess, to alter the right of election and put it into the freeholders or the old number nine, which might be a great prejudice to my Lord’s interest for the future.

Pelham insisted on dropping Monckton for deserting the Whigs, and bought all the property he could acquire in the borough, undertaking to protect Wilkinson and other tenants from the Duchess’ anger. At first Pelham wanted to put up one of his guardians, William Monson*, as Jessop’s partner, but Monson declined because of the gout. Edward Wortley Montagu*, a relation of Pelham, was finally selected as the candidate. An outsider, Wortley Montagu spent the summer of 1713 at Aldborough in preparation for the election. The Duchess, on her side, put up Paul Foley II, a young lawyer and the cousin of Lord Treasurer Oxford’s first wife. There were questions asked as to whether Foley had enough property qualifications to stand, but it seems that his elder brother came to the rescue with a temporary conveyance. Hon. John Dawnay*, the son of Lord Downe (Henry Dawnay*), was the Duchess’ second candidate. Morris had veered towards Foley and Dawnay, and, despite Pelham visiting Aldborough in person, a bailiff in the Duchess’ interest was chosen. At the election Dawnay and Foley were returned, defeating Jessop and Wortley Montagu, though their victory had cost a great amount in financial terms. Pelham’s displeasure at the defeat of his two candidates was evident when he ejected three of his tenants who had voted for Dawnay and Foley. However, once Pelham reached his majority in 1714, and made good his claim to the Newcastle estate, he was able to exercise complete control over Aldborough elections. He wrote to the borough burgesses, pointing out that now that he was ‘in quiet possession of the estate devised to me by my late uncle . . . I hope I shall meet with no opposition in your town’. He then recommended Jessop and James Stanhope* as candidates for the next election. Both men were duly returned in 1715.11

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Quinn thesis, 85.
  • 2. N. Yorks. RO, Lawson-Tancred mss ZUH, list of 'boroughmen' [1712], alphabetical list of 'burgesses' [1712]
  • 3. N. Yorks. RO, Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, Aldborough poll, 1698; Bradford Central Lib. Cunliffe-Lister mss, bdle. 23, Aldborough poll, 1698.
  • 4. Lawson-Tancred mss, ZUH, Aldborough poll, 24 Nov. 1701.
  • 5. Bodl. Willis 15, f. 128; Quinn, 84–85; Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, particulars of the several interests in Aldborough [n.d.]; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 627.
  • 6. HMC Var. ii. 404–5; Sir Thomas Lawson-Tancred, Recs. of a Yorks. Manor, 215–16; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxiv. 28–34.
  • 7. Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxvii. 346–50; Lawson-Tancred, 216–20; Stowe 747, ff. 68–70; Lawson-Tancred mss. ZUH, Robert Byerley* to Andrew Wilkinson, 18 Dec. 1697, Morris to same, 9 Feb. 1698; Add. 17677 RR, f. 149; Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ‘the case of Mr. Morris’, [1698]; Chandler, iii. 356.
  • 8. Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, John Wentworth to Danby, 12 May, Thomas Johnson’s disbursements, 24 May–9 July, copy of the poll notes, 27 July, Danby to Lady Wentworth, 5 Aug., info. of William Garbutt, Thomas Hill and Thomas Hutton, 29 Sept., 1 Oct., Morris to Danby, 23, 26 Oct., 2, 6, 27 Nov., 4, 9, 14, 20 Dec. 1698, 14 Jan. 1700, Danby’s election case, [n.d.]; HMC Cowper, ii. 414; HMC Portland, iii. 598; Lawson-Tancred, 220–3.
  • 9. Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, Robert Stanley to Danby, 19 May, John Warcupp to same, 18 Aug., Morris to same, 1, 9, 17 Dec. 1699, 25 Feb., 15 Mar., 5 May, 26 July, 4 Aug., 2 Sept., Lady Wentworth to same, 7, 21 Sept., 10 Oct. 1700, Danby to Thomas Johnson, 28 Sept., 3 Oct., same to Lady Wentworth, [n.d.]; Stowe 747, f. 116; HMC Cowper, ii. 414.
  • 10. Quinn, 84, 86; Lawson-Tancred, 226–7; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 48; Add. 24475, f. 134; 29584, ff. 87–94; Lawson-Tancred mss ZUH Aldborough poll, 24 Nov. 1701, Monckton to Andrew Wilkinson, 5 Oct. 1710; Notts. RO, Portland mss DD3P, 10/2/2, Newcastle acct. bk. 30 June 1703; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 224–5; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 299, Charles Wilkinson to Newcastle, 2 Aug. 1708.
  • 11. Quinn, 87–93; Add. 70242, Duchess of Newcastle to Oxford, 27, 29 Aug. 1711; 22238, f. 121; 70331, notes on elections, 27 July 1713; Lawson-Tancred, 232–73; Holmes, 181, 312; Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ed. Halsband, 184, 189; Lawson-Tancred mss ZUH, names of the tenants ejected for voting against the Pelham interest, 1713; Speck, 26.