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 freemen 1690-1712; in the resident freemen paying scot and lot after 1712

Number of Qualified Electors:

220 in 17111

Number of voters:

185 in 1711; 140 in 1712


27 Feb. 1690ROBERT BERTIE, Ld. Willoughby de  Eresby 
8 May 1690PEREGRINE BERTIE vice Ld. Willoughby de Eresby, called to the Upper House 
26 July 1698RICHARD WYNN 
21 July 1702EDWARD IRBY 
14 May 1705SIR EDWARD IRBY, Bt. 
 Hon. Peregrine Bertie 
7 Oct. 1710RICHARD WYNN167
 Sir Edward Irby, Bt.912
20 Dec. 1711WILLIAM COTESWORTH vice Bertie, deceased125
 Hon. Philip Bertie60
  Election declared void, 20 Mar. 1712 
 Hon. Philip Bertie60
31 Aug. 1713RICHARD WYNN130
 William Cotesworth613

Main Article

In 1690 one of two strong interests at Boston belonged to Sir William Yorke, a Whig and Presbyterian, who had first been returned in 1679 with the support of fellow Presbyterian and Whig, Sir Anthony Irby† and the town’s sizable Dissenting community, and henceforth had represented the borough in every Parliament, except for that of 1685. Yorke had obviously built up an interest of his own and seems to have inherited the remaining influence of the Irby family, which had been further weakened by the deaths of Sir Anthony Irby and his eldest son, leaving only his relatively inexperienced grandson, Edward as head of the family. The second interest at Boston belonged to the powerful Bertie family, Tories whose influence in the borough had reached a high point in 1685 when two members of the family were returned. After the Revolution, the Berties, by virtue of their support for William of Orange, retained considerable influence. The 3rd Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie†), was lord lieutenant of Lincolnshire and his eldest son, also Robert, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, continued to act as recorder of Boston, but they found it impossible to dominate the borough as before.4

In 1690 Yorke was returned with Willoughby de Eresby. Although one was a Whig and the other a Tory, both men supported the current mixed administration in Parliament. When Willoughby was summoned to the Lords in his own right in November, his place was taken by his brother, Hon. Peregrine Bertie II, another courtier, who had been a Tory but now inclined towards the Whigs. In 1694 a report reached James II that Boston was ‘a very loyal town’, but there is little further evidence of support for the exiled king. The sitting Members held the seats in 1695, but in 1698 two newcomers, both Tories, were returned: Richard Wynn, the son of a London merchant who had recently bought estates in Lincolnshire and was connected by marriage to one of the leading Tory families in Lincolnshire, and Edmund Boulter, a wealthy London merchant. Why the two former Members stood down is unclear. Political differences between Bertie and his father Lindsey, and Yorke’s ill-health, may have been factors. Further, Bertie and Yorke may possibly have felt intimidated by Boulter’s wealth and feared an expensive contest.5

Wynn did not stand in the first 1701 election and a correspondent wrote to Robert Harley* on 29 Dec. 1700, ‘Boulter meets with opposition at Boston from Sir William Yorke and Mr [Edward] Irby yet hopes to carry the election’. Presumably Yorke and Irby were standing on a joint interest, but it is not known whether Irby went to a poll. If he did, he was unsuccessful as Boulter and Yorke were returned. Before the second election of 1701 Willoughby succeeded his father, and now combined the offices of recorder of Boston, lord lieutenant of Lincolnshire and lord great chamberlain. Presumably the new Earl supported his brother Peregrine, who now reappeared in Boston, although he was still a Whig, while elsewhere Lindsey helped Tory candidates. The second seat was held by Yorke.6

In April 1702 it was Lindsey and Bertie who presented Boston’s address to Queen Anne. Yorke’s absence was probably because of ill-health, and this, combined with advancing age, would also explain his standing down at the ensuing election in favour of Edward Irby, who was returned with Bertie. Irby (now a baronet) held the seat in 1705 but Bertie was defeated by Wynn, who demonstrated his gratitude to the corporation with a gift of £30 towards building a town cross. Wynn had now established a strong enough interest to hold one of the Boston seats continuously until his death in 1719. The 1708 election, when Bertie replaced Irby, seems to have marked the end of any significant Irby influence. Wynn held the other seat. In the 1708–9 session Boston corporation was planning to petition Parliament for a bill to finance the repair of the church. The church tower, described by Defoe as ‘without doubt the largest and highest in England’, was used as a landmark by ships out at sea, but its foundations were constantly threatened, the petition declared, by ‘the violent ebbing and flowing water of the haven, only 16 yards from the church’. Before proceeding, on 30 Nov. the mayor sought the support of the bishop of Lincoln, sending him a draft bill and describing the corporation’s failure, despite great efforts, to force one of the parishioners to pay the assessment and assuring him that the town would always acknowledge his support and interest in Parliament ‘as a very great obligation’. The petition was presented on 11 Jan. 1709, when both Wynn and Bertie were appointed to the resultant drafting committee, but it failed to pass the House.7

The 1710 election was contested by Irby but Wynn and Bertie held the seats. Burrell Massingberd, who evidently had designs to sit for Boston, was cheered by the passage of the landed qualification bill in April 1711 and his hopes were further increased on the death of Bertie in July 1711 which necessitated a by-election. For some months Massingberd had a potential rival in a Mr Amcott. In July it was reported to Massingberd that Amcott was undecided whether to stand, being ‘apprehensive of the fatigue and expenses of burgessing four months’. Lindsey (now a marquess), moreover, had resolved to bring in his brother, Hon. Philip*, ‘if money will do it, and has begun to entertain the town accordingly’. On the other hand, Amcott

has a very great interest there and if he had declared at his coming down from London, certainly had a very easy prospect, but as things now stand, it will not be done without some money, and the danger will be at last from the low party, who may possibly tip a third person upon them when the church interest is divided . . . and I understand that either Sir Edward Irby or Mr York will be very ready to take advantage of such an opportunity.

‘Mr York’ was presumably a son or kinsman of Sir William Yorke. In September Massingberd’s sister was sure he would be chosen and by October Amcott, ‘after all the encouragement he met with’, had decided not to stand. In the event, Massingberd also desisted and Bertie was opposed not by Yorke or Irby but by a new Whig candidate, William Cotesworth. A wealthy London merchant, Cotesworth fought several successful campaigns in the corrupt borough of Grimsby, but having been defeated there in 1710 now turned his attention to Boston where, by widespread bribery among the poorer voters, it was alleged, he defeated the traditional Bertie interest.8

Bertie presented his petition against Cotesworth on 14 Jan. 1712, and it was reported from committee on 20 Mar., when the Commons heard that his counsel had insisted that the franchise lay in the resident freemen paying scot and lot rather than all the freemen, as Cotesworth maintained, and that he objected to 84 of Cotesworth’s voters – 46 for not paying scot and lot and the rest for bribery. Witnesses were produced to give evidence of corruption, one of whom alleged that Cotesworth

was not known in town, till he came thither a week before the election: upon his coming, he petitioned for freedom; ’tis usual on such occasions, to make an entertainment, but, the precept being come down, he told the corporation his hands were tied; but that he had brought down with him his bankers, Mr William and John Brassey [a Quaker and father of Nathaniel Brassey†], two goldsmiths in London, who would do it for him; that there was afterwards in the town a great plenty of a new liquor, they never had there before, called whistle jackett; it was brought from Grimsby by the carrier, and was made up of brandy and treacle; and that they had so much of Queen Anne’s money that there was not a poor fellow in the town, who voted for Mr Cotesworth, but had twenty shillings of it; they said it was Cotesworth’s money, and that the Brasseys had brought it; but the witness neither saw any of it given, nor knew who gave it.

For Cotesworth, evidence was produced of treating and bribery among the freemen, carried out on the orders of Lindsey, still the town’s recorder. One witness alleged that

most of the freemen in town were treated promiscuously; but when the sitting Member came down, they changed so of a sudden for him, that, the witness said, he had reason to believe the sitting Member had infatuated them with love powder; though he could not tell of what mineral ’twas made.

The same witness also claimed that ‘the poll was closed by consent, the sitting Member having polled 125, and the petitioner but 50, of 220, which was computed to be the whole number of voters in the town’. The committee accepted the narrowing of the franchise to the resident freemen paying scot and lot, and resolved that Cotesworth had not been duly elected and that Bertie had. The full House, however, after accepting the first two resolutions, rejected the third by 102 votes to 81 on the grounds that Lindsey had intervened on his brother’s behalf, contrary to a resolution of the Commons preventing peers and lord lieutenants from concerning themselves in elections. Undeterred, Cotesworth and Philip Bertie contested the ensuing by-election with Cotesworth again winning. The effect of restricting the franchise was apparent at this election, only 140 votes being cast. Bertie petitioned on 17 Apr. 1712 claiming ‘ill practices’ by Cotesworth and objecting to 16 of his opponent’s votes. On 3 June the committee reported its resolutions that neither candidate was duly elected: once again the House disagreed, and by one vote Cotesworth retained possession of the seat.

Meanwhile Wynn was strengthening his own interest by successfully piloting through Parliament during March and April 1712 a bill to improve the town’s freshwater supply. He also presented Boston’s address of thanks to the Queen for revealing the terms of peace in July 1712, and for the peace itself in July 1713. Cotesworth, as a Whig, may have refused to be associated with these addresses. The Berties, perhaps tired of contests, left the Tory interest in 1713 to be upheld by Wynn and Henry Heron, a member of an old Lincolnshire family. Heron had been involved in unsuccessful attempts in 1701 and 1711 to recover allegedly inherited rights to a large fen drainage scheme, claims opposed by, among others, Richard Wynn. At the 1713 election, Heron rather disingenuously circulated a printed handbill to the effect that he had

executed a deed unto the mayor and burgesses of the borough of Boston . . . of all the rights, title and interest of, in, or into all the common fens, which I or my ancestors had, by virtue of any grant or law of sewers made in the reign of our late sovereign lord King Charles I or at any time since in trust for all the freeholders and commoners having right of common in the said common fens.

Before the election, Wynn and Heron each gave £100 towards building an organ for the church. They succeeded in defeating Cotesworth, whose subsequent petition was referred to the elections committee and then withdrawn, leaving Wynn and Heron to sit for the rest of the reign.9

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. CJ, xvii. 145.
  • 2. UCNW, Lligwy mss catalogue 828, pollbk.
  • 3. Post Boy, 12–15 Sept. 1713.
  • 4. Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 148–9.
  • 5. Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 473.
  • 6. HMC Portland, iii. 641.
  • 7. London Gazette, 27–30 Apr. 1702; Boston Corp. Minutes ed. Bailey, iv. 747; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, ii. 494; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 1, f. 178.
  • 8. Lincs. AO, Massingberd mss 20/93, Sir William to Burrell Massingberd, 1 Apr. 1711; Massingberd (Mundy) mss 2MM/B13, J. Toller to Burrell Massingberd, 28 July 1711; 2MM/B9, Anne Massingberd to same, 21 Sept. 1711; 2MM/B11, W. Massingberd to [?same], 5 Oct. 1711.
  • 9. London Gazette, 24–26 July 1712, 30 June–4 July 1713; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 215–19; ix. 911–13; P. Thompson, Boston, 187, 636.