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 inhabitant householders before 1708; in the burgage holders afterwards

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 164 in 1708


11 Mar. 1690Sir Richard Reynell, Bt. 
 William Stawell 
24 Oct. 1695William Stawell 
 Richard Duke 
27 July 1698William Stawell 
 Richard Duke 
13 Jan. 1701William Stawell 
 Richard Duke 
2 Dec. 1701Sir Thomas Lear, Bt. 
 William Stawell 
24 July 1702Sir Thomas Lear, Bt. 
 Richard Reynell 
17 May 1705Richard Reynell 
 Gilbert Yarde 
 Sir John Elwill 
 John Elwill 
21 Jan. 1708Roger Tuckfield vice Yarde, deceased 
 Andrew Quick 
14 May 1708Roger Tuckfield91
 Robert Balle91
 Richard Reynell74
 Andrew Quick711
16 Oct. 1710Roger Tuckfield81
 Richard Lloyd80
 Richard Reynell69
 George Courtenay64
 REYNELL and COURTENAY vice Tuckfield and Lloyd, on petition, 17 Mar. 1711 
30 Mar. 1711Andrew Quick vice Courtenay, chose to sit for Newport 
8 Sept. 1713Roger Tuckfield 
 Richard Reynell 
 Andrew Quick 
 Richard Fownes 

Main Article

Ashburton, which consisted ‘chiefly of one long street’, was the principal town in south Devon and was dominated by the woollen industry. Elections were mainly under the control of the gentry owners of the two moieties of the manor, although the extent to which they might exert such control was often determined by the inclinations of the ‘independent interest’ within the town, an important element of which was the Dissenting tradesmen (indeed the portreeve and leading inhabitants petitioned in December 1696 against the landed qualification proposed in a bill regulating elections). The joint lords in 1690 were William Stawell, a High Church Tory, and Richard Duke, a Whig. Duke’s son had briefly represented the borough during the Exclusion years, but his father’s interest had subsequently been put at the disposal of his equally Whig cousin Thomas Reynell of Ogwell. Previously, the party difference between the two lords of the manor had resulted in electoral conflict, while it was presumably as a result of a strong pro-Whig reaction in the town that in 1689 Stawell did not seek re-election or nominate another Tory in his place. Throughout the 1690s, however, there was compromise and quiet, the seats being held at each election by both lords or their connexions, which ensured the borough retained a balanced Whig–Tory representation. From the end of William III’s reign, however, such harmony was overtaken by party conflict.2

In 1690 Stawell regained his seat, and was joined by the Irish judge Sir Richard Reynell, 1st Bt., whose elder brother had stood down. When Reynell withdrew in 1695 the seat was taken back by the younger Richard Duke, and he and Stawell were re-elected in 1698 and January 1701 without opposition. The political equilibrium established in the 1690s was upset at the December 1701 election when Duke was ousted and replaced by a second Tory, the wealthy West Indian Sir Thomas Lear, 1st Bt. Stawell, having initially agreed on the usual compromise with Duke, was later prevailed on by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, to set up Lear and contest both seats, the Tories being promoted ‘very industriously’ by Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Bt.* A parallel move appears to have been planned by Bishop Trelawny of Exeter, who had ‘recommended’ Richard Hele* of Flete and ‘made it a point of canonical obedience in the clergy to solicit for him’. Hele’s chances were greater at Plympton Erle, however, where he was elected. Despite the threatened Tory assault, Duke was ‘assured that his friends are the most considerable party’ and with a view to setting up a Whig opposition campaign approached Sir John Elwill*, a well-known Dissenting businessman in the area. There is no indication of a poll having taken place. Duke, perceiving that ‘injustice and deceit may prove too hard for honesty there’, may have withdrawn, enabling the unopposed return of the two Tories, Lear and Stawell. Shortly before the election in the summer of 1702, however, Stawell died and although the interest of the Duke family prevailed in gaining the election of their kinsman Richard Reynell, son of Thomas Reynell and nephew of Sir Richard, their political views were not at all represented by the new MP, whose anti-Whig opinions were soon apparent in Parliament. Stawell’s share of the borough lordship was purchased in 1704 by Sir William Davie, 4th Bt., of Creedy, acting in his capacity as kinsman-guardian of Roger Tuckfield of Raddon Court. At the 1705 election, however, Davie, himself a Whig and a friend to Dissenters, made no attempt to take advantage of his newly-acquired electoral interest. Reynell sought re-election in partnership with another local Tory, Gilbert Yarde, whose cousin Edward had represented the borough in the 1685 Parliament. They were opposed by Sir John Elwill and his son and namesake, who were defeated in a poll.3

At a by-election in January 1708, necessitated by the death of Yarde, Roger Tuckfield, having lately come of age, successfully took command of his interest as a joint lord of the manor and defeated Andrew Quick, a Tory whose wife’s family had a local interest. Quick petitioned on 4 Feb., alleging partiality by the portreeve and was supported by a petition from several inhabitants. The hearing at the bar of the House on the 26th resolved that the right of election was ‘in the freeholders having lands or tenements holden of the said borough only’, and on this basis declared Tuckfield duly elected. This ruling on the right of election had the effect of turning Ashburton from a freeholder into a burgage borough. At the general election later that year a contest was fought along party lines between Tuckfield, in association with Robert Balle, a wealthy Whig merchant from a prominent Exeter family, and the Tories Reynell and Quick. A poll placed the Whig Tuckfield interest only a little way ahead of the Tory Reynell interest. Petitioning on 24 Nov., Reynell claimed that a majority for Tuckfield and Balle had been procured by their agent, who had persuaded the portreeve to engineer the admission of voters in their favour. The case was heard at the bar on 22 Feb. 1709, when Tuckfield was declared duly elected without a division, and Balle after a vote, by 151 votes to 58.

At the general election of 1710 Tuckfield was returned with another Whig, Richard Lloyd, defeating Reynell and his Tory partner, George Courtenay*, the uncle of one of the county’s knights. The losing candidates petitioned on 1 Dec., as did a body of townsmen whose votes had been ignored by the portreeve. A report was made from the elections committee on 17 Mar. 1711. Although the overall franchise was not itself in dispute, the petitioners’ counsel were at pains to prove the legality of votes cast by freeholders of the manors of Halshanger and Halwell within the parish of Ashburton. The sitting Members claimed that the two manors constituted a single burgage and as such ‘only one vote ought to be admitted for them’. The elections committee, steered by its strong Tory bias, resolved that these freeholders did indeed have full electoral rights, whereupon the Whig sitting Members indicated their intention not to insist upon their election and Reynell and Courtenay were declared duly elected. Two days later, however, Courtenay announced his intention to sit for Newport, for which he had also been returned in 1710, and at the ensuing by-election on 30 Mar. the vacancy was supplied by Andrew Quick, one of the Tories defeated in 1708. In 1713 the seats were recaptured by the Whigs Tuckfield and Reynell against opposition from Quick and Richard Fownes*, another local Tory, the defeated candidates petitioning on 4 Mar. 1714, without result.

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Post Man, 15–18 May 1708.
  • 2. Trans. Devon Assoc. xciv. 206–19, 450–3; Westcote, Devonshire, 68.
  • 3. Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 3068, Elizabeth Duke to Elizabeth Clarke, 2 letters, n.d. [c. Dec. 1701]; Dyer’s Letters (1706), 9; Trans. Devon Assoc. 451.