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 burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 47 in 1698


 Sir Brian Stapylton, Bt. 
 STAPYLTON vice Vane, on petition, 18 Nov. 1690 
26 July 1698SIR HENRY GOODRICKE, Bt.30
 Thomas Harrison212
24 Nov. 1701SIR HENRY GOODRICKE,  Bt. 
21 July 1702SIR HENRY GOODRICKE,  Bt. 

Main Article

Writing of Boroughbridge, Defoe noted that ‘there is something very singular at this town, and which is not to be found in any other part of England or Scotland, namely, two borough towns in one parish, and each sending two members to Parliament’. The other borough was Aldborough, the original parish town. Browne Willis* described Boroughbridge as ‘a poor-built town of about 90 houses, of which 68 are borough houses and have votes for Members’. Another description stated that the franchise was ‘confined to some 64 burgage tenants, but great doubts seem to have existed as to which were the ancient burgages, and who the returning officer should be’. Officially this post was held by the borough bailiff, and the holder was appointed by the crown, but in practice the returning officer was chosen by the burgesses on the eve of each election. This practice ensured that contested elections could result in double returns, if each party had elected their own returning officer. The evidence of burgage lists demonstrates the confusion over voting rights. A list from 1690 included 65 burgages, though noted that at least five were not legitimate, being ‘pretended’ burgages. An undated list from the period accounted for 60 burgages, while one from 1714–15 included 67. Ownership and control over the burgages was concentrated in three main interests, which are most clearly demonstrated by examination of the undated list. Sir Brian Stapylton, 2nd Bt., of Myton, owned at least 16 burgages at one point, and may have further extended his ownership during the period. The other major interest was that of a minor gentry family, the Wilkinsons, who lived at Boroughbridge Hall, leased a significant part of the bailiwick from the crown, including the tollbooth, and at one point owned at least 23 burgages. Thomas Wilkinson controlled the family’s interest at the outset of William III’s reign, though by Anne’s reign his eldest son, Andrew, managed their affairs, with the assistance of his younger brother Charles, the agent of the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†). Newcastle represented the third significant interest portrayed in the undated list, though he owned only eight burgages. Nine burgages were owned independently, while Richard Gowland, who gravitated towards the Stapylton interest, held four.3

In 1690 Sir Henry Goodricke, 2nd Bt., a Tory parliamentary manager for the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), was returned with a Whig, Christopher Vane, in a contested election. The defeated candidate, the Tory Sir Brian Stapylton, 2nd Bt., petitioned on the grounds that Sir Christopher Wandesford, 2nd Bt.†, the sheriff, had returned Vane ‘by directing the precept to an illegal bailiff . . . who suffered many to poll, who were not qualified’, while the majority of legal voters had voted for Stapylton. Although a contemporary list recorded 42 burgages for Vane and 23 for Stapylton, the committee report stated that no poll was produced on Vane’s behalf, only the return, and that Stapylton had 37 good votes and was therefore duly elected, to which the House agreed. In January 1693 a bill was presented by Sir John Kaye, 2nd Bt., for discharging the payment of tolls for cattle passing over Boroughbridge and ‘other places upon the high road in Yorkshire’. Kaye, one of the county MPs, was possibly acting on behalf of local agricultural trading interests. He presented a similar bill in November when orders were issued for the Queen dowager’s counsel and all other persons concerned to be heard. The Queen dowager had the right to the tolls at Boroughbridge, which were leased to the Wilkinsons, who would therefore have been opposed to this threat to their income and the influence associated with control of the toll booth. Neither bill emerged from committee.4

Prior to the 1695 election it was reported to Robert Harley* that ‘Goodricke will be [chosen], but a contest between Wilkinson and [Thomas] Harrison, with . . . Stapylton left out’. It is not evident which of the Wilkinsons was considering standing, but the return of Goodricke and Harrison, a lawyer, seems to have been unopposed, there being no evidence of a poll or a petition from Stapylton. The withdrawal of the Wilkinson candidate, coupled with Harrison’s election, suggests that an accommodation had been reached between these two parties, and that both Goodricke and Harrison came in on a combination of the Wilkinson, Newcastle and independent interests, which were too strong for Stapylton. In 1696 Andrew Wilkinson tried to strengthen the family interest further through an unsuccessful offer to buy ‘Mr Hamerton’s burgage’. At the 1698 election Stapylton regained the seat, being returned with Goodricke and defeating Harrison. On this occasion Stapylton had the lion’s share of the vote with 43, suggesting that he had reached an accommodation with one of his rivals, most probably the Wilkinsons. In 1699 a new prospective candidate entered the scene when it was reported that Christopher Tancred, a Tory, was giving up his interest in Aldborough, where he had been unseated the previous year, in order to throw in his lot with Stapylton at Boroughbridge. In 1700 Edward Morris reported to Sir Abstrupus Danby* that the agent for Sir Godfrey Copley, 2nd Bt., was almost as active in Boroughbridge for Tancred as he was in Aldborough for Copley. However, Tancred’s involvement at Boroughbridge seems to have met its demise following a quarrel between himself and Stapylton at the summer assizes ‘with pipes, and glasses, and stormy words, concerning the latter’s purchases at Boroughbridge, and they say their feud is irreconcilable’. Around the same time Morris also told Danby that the Wilkinsons had procured votes for him at Aldborough ‘on my doing as much, or more, for Sir Henry Goodricke at Boroughbridge’. By the end of the year the Wilkinsons and Stapylton seem to have come to a temporary accommodation for the forthcoming election. Stapylton informed Andrew Wilkinson that the calling of a new Parliament was generally expected, adding, ‘I send you my thanks for the kind assurance you lately gave Richard Gowland to assist me at the next election, and to excuse my coming into the country, which at this season of the year would be a great advantage to me’. Further correspondence followed from Stapylton to Wilkinson, including the transmission of ‘a letter to the borough’, with his expressed belief that he could not ‘doubt of their compliance to my request, with your father’s and your own kind assistance at the ensuing election’. Stapylton also apologized for being ‘at such a distance as at this time not to be able to give you further demonstrations (than by writing) of my sincere friendship, yet I am confident Richard Gowland in my absence will supply that defect, and be very active, steady, and firm to you to the instructions I have given him’. At the election Goodricke and Stapylton, the only candidates, were returned unanimously in their absence. Although Stapylton had made it clear he would be absent, Goodricke had meant to attend, but was indisposed. Stapylton wrote to Andrew Wilkinson:

I am glad to hear the election was so friendly and unanimously carried in the borough on Thursday last, and that the point of precedency (mentioned by my kinsman) was so amicably composed; the last contest making it my right was I believe the occasion of my friends’ zeal therein; had I thought or known in time that there would have been the least dispute of that nature, I would have writ to have put a stop to it, for where there are only two candidates it is better to avoid a poll than upon the account of such a nicety to have made a fraction and difference in the town, which I am glad was prevented . . . I have deferred my thanks for your kind letter and offer of supplying my room, which I should readily have accepted, had I not apprehended Sir Henry Goodricke’s indisposition might have prevented his being at the election, which made it necessary for my nephew Robinson to be there.

At the second election of 1701 Goodricke and Stapylton were again returned unopposed. Around this time Stapylton offered to sell all his burgages to Newcastle ‘at a price of 22 years’ purchase’. Newcastle was to regret his refusal, having to purchase burgages singly and much more expensively in subsequent years. Despite this, the following years saw the Newcastle interest growing steadily within both Boroughbridge and Aldborough.5

Goodricke and Stapylton were returned unopposed once more in 1702, though at the next election, in 1705, two new Members were returned unopposed. Goodricke had died in March, leaving a vacancy that was filled by the Whig Craven Peyton, a Newcastle nominee, while Staplyton stood aside in favour of his son, John. In 1708 Sir Brian resumed his seat, being returned unopposed along with Peyton. In 1710 Newcastle was notified that Peyton had taken steps to secure his interest in the borough, including giving ‘the whole town a great treat’. It was believed ‘that not only will the Wilkinsons befriend him but even Sir Brian, which is the Tory interest and is pretty strong in that town’. In keeping with such developments, Stapylton and Peyton were unopposed at the 1710 election, even though the Whig Junto lords had pleaded with Newcastle to drop Peyton ‘in favour of a sounder man’, as he had not toed the party line. However, at the same time the peaceful accommodation between Stapylton and the Wilkinsons began to disintegrate. It was pointed out to one of Newcastle’s agents in 1710 that if the Duke purchased Stapylton’s burgages and those of Robert Gowland ‘it would not be in the power of any to give his Grace the least disturbance here; and to have the disposal of two boroughs in one parish is what no man in the kingdom has’. Newcastle’s agent Charles Wilkinson and his legal adviser William Jessop* tried to achieve the same end by endeavouring to unite the Wilkinson and Newcastle interests so as to gain control of both seats, to the detriment of Stapylton. The motivation appears to have been Stapylton’s continued extension of his ownership of burgages. Newcastle sent word to Charles Wilkinson in relation to the proposals:

As to the subject of your letter my Lord says he shall be very willing to support your brother’s and your interest in Boroughbridge as far as just reason requires it. But my lord says what your brother sees now, his Grace discovered from the intimates of Sir Brian many years ago. That if Sir Brian did not sell his estate to my lord, he did intend at what price so ever to overthrow the Wilkinson interest in Boroughbridge. And my lord says the fundamental mismanagement was when Sir Brian offered my lord his estate at 22 years purchase that your father and brother did not fright Sir Brian into the conclusion of the bargain, as they might have done. And since that the buying little single burgages at such extravagant rates has given the townsmen a handle to enhance their prices beyond measure; for it is certain that a great many boroughs in England may be bought for half the rate that is now at your borough. And land about London and all other parts of England is fallen at least four or five years purchase upon that great difference of advantage between money and land.

It was now too late to consider buying out Stapylton, as his ‘party are now so uppish that it cannot be imagined he will sell my lord his estate at any price as will make amends for paying so dear for other purchases’. Newcastle put forward a proposal that he believed was the only option for preventing the Wilkinsons’ interest from ‘sinking entirely’:

my Lord will be willing to give 26 years’ purchase for [George] Henlock’s and any other burgages you can buy, according to such rents as you will undertake to take them at, and his Grace will not buy upon any other condition: And though it can hardly be supposed at this time a-day they are to be bought at that price, therefore your brother may take it under his consideration whether he will lay down four or five years purchase on the remainder of the price you can agree for until so many are bought as will secure an undoubted majority for two. And when that is done there may be methods found out for making your brother no loser. And to show the utmost goodwill he can to your brother my Lord says if your brother have not money enough to go through with this matter, his Grace will accommodate him, and be very easy in the interest of it, having good security.

In order to settle the matter the Wilkinsons were to go to Welbeck to discuss the issue with Newcastle, but his death six days later put an end to these plans. It also created a new dimension in Boroughbridge politics.6

After Newcastle’s death his estates went to his nephew and adopted heir Thomas Pelham, who became 2nd Lord Pelham in 1712, and who did not reach his majority until 1714, when he made good his claim to the Holles estates. However in the meantime the will was contested by the widowed dowager Duchess, which created a temporary conflict of interests in the borough. The Wilkinsons, being unsure which side of the Newcastle family to join in order to protect their interests, were courted by both camps. Peyton encouraged them to side with the Duchess, while Jessop argued Pelham’s corner, on one occasion informing Charles Wilkinson that if Pelham became

master of my Lord Duke’s estate you may depend upon it that yours and your brother’s interest at Boroughbridge will be better supported than ever it hath been yet, and therefore I could wish your brother would not make any promises for the next election . . . till we see a little further.

By January 1713 the Wilkinsons appeared to have decided to adhere to the Pelham interest, at which time Jessop sent instructions to Charles Wilkinson from Pelham’s brother-in-law, Lord Townsend, and guardian, George Naylor*, for buying George Henlock’s burgages, which were worth £27 6s. p.a., for a maximum price of £810, approximately 30 years’ purchase. This represented a return to the earlier negotiations of 1711, but with a more substantial financial outlay than the late Duke had originally intended, and at a time when the market price for land ‘had dropped appreciably below the normal rate of 20 years purchase’. The purchase was to be made in the Wilkinsons’ names so as not to alarm Stapylton ‘over much’. In the lead-up to the 1713 election Jessop continued to reassure Charles Wilkinson that the Pelham interest was the only way of securing his own family’s interests, and that offers from the Duchess were ‘only wind’. The purchase of the burgages was completed, and by June the combined Wilkinson and Pelham interests were such that Jessop confidently informed Charles Wilkinson that

there can be no difficulty in managing your election at Boroughbridge in what manner you think fit, since no one can dispute your nephew’s [Thomas Wilkinson†, son and heir of Andrew Wilkinson] title to his burgages there, since you are willing to let Sir Brian Stapylton in there, who will undoubtedly be glad to come in quietly, lest he should provoke you to set up two.

Once again the Wilkinsons and Stapylton had come to an accommodation, and the Duchess was concentrating her attention on the Aldborough election. However, it was still necessary to choose a candidate to stand with Stapylton. Peyton, because of his support of the Duchess, was out of favour with Pelham, who instead proposed another Whig, Edmund Dunch. Charles Wilkinson initially struggled with this rejection of Peyton, who was a personal friend, and was warned by Jessop that ‘trimming is a game that can never hold and is generally the way to lose the friendship of both sides’. However, he soon returned to the Pelham camp, and, along with his nephew, Thomas Wilkinson, who ultimately controlled the family interest in Boroughbridge, promised Pelham that he would support Dunch. On 18 June Jessop advised that ‘another treat’ would be in order in Boroughbridge, at which Dunch could be named ‘to the borough’, while Pelham informed Charles Wilkinson that he was ‘very sensible of the favour you do me in continuing to support Mr Dunch’s interest in your borough for the next election’. The following month Pelham wrote to Thomas Wilkinson expressing similar sentiments:

I cannot but take very kindly your so zealously continuing to espouse Mr Dunch’s interest, and particularly the late step you have taken in joining him with Sir Brian, which will most effectually avoid all manner of dispute. As the success of the election is entirely owing to you, so your and all other favours shall be acknowledged.

Despite some concerns over Stapylton’s manoeuvres, which prompted a letter from Jessop to Charles Wilkinson stating that Stapylton ‘must be told roundly that if he will not stand to his promises and agree to come in with the person you nominate . . . two will be set up against him and his son’, Pelham’s forecast proved accurate, and Dunch and Stapylton were returned unopposed. Although Pelham had still required the support of the Wilkinsons and a form of accommodation with Stapylton in 1713, a list of burgages for 1714–15 showed Stapylton’s strength at 19 burgages, the Wilkinsons’ reduced to 18, and Pelham’s (now Earl of Clare) risen to 13, with 17 others independent of the main interests. After 1715 Pelham, as Duke of Newcastle, extended this control so far that, first with the help of the Wilkinsons and then on his own after 1739 following the purchase of the Stapylton burgages, he could nominate both MPs for Boroughbridge.7

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Defoe, Tour, ed. Cole, 627; Bodl. Willis 15, f.128; T. Lawson-Tancred, Recs of a Yorks Manor, 200; Northern Hist. iii.96.
  • 2. Nottingham Univ. Lib. (Holles) mss Pw2 209, poll, 26 July 1698.
  • 3. Defoe, 627; Willis 15, f. 128; Lawson-Tancred, 155, 191, 197–200, 213–14, 224–6; N. Yorks. RO, Lawson-Tancred mss ZUH, a list of all the Burgages in Boroughbridge c.1690; ‘Sir Brian Stapylton’s houses [and others] that have right of voting [n.d.]’; Boroughbridge burgages, 2 Feb. 1714[15].
  • 4. CJ, xii. 66; Lawson-Tancred, 155, 213–14.
  • 5. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Lawson-Tancred mss, ZUH, [Corke?] to Andrew Wilkinson, 5 May 1696, Stapylton to same, 14 Jan. 1701; Lawson-Tancred, 223–8; Swinton mss, Danby pprs ZS, Morris to Danby, 5 May, 26 July, 4 Aug. 1700; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 48; Speck thesis, 271–3.
  • 6. Lawson-Tancred, 228, 231–2; Quinn thesis, 86, 93–94; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 225, 311; Notts. RO, Portland mss, DD4P/68/32, [?] to Newcastle, [1710]; Speck, Tory and Whig, 48; Lawson-Tancred mss ZUH, William Wenman to Charles Wilkinson, 8 July 1711.
  • 7. Lawson-Tancred, 228–9, 232–71; Speck, 48; Holmes, 44; Quinn, 87–89, 94–96; Lawson-Tancred mss, ZUH, Boroughbridge burgages, 2 Feb. 1714[15]; Northern Hist. 98–99.