Bury St. Edmunds


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 corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:



6 Mar. 1690SIR ROBERT DAVERS, Bt. 
 Sir John ?Morden, Bt. 
 John Wildman 
31 Mar. 1694JOHN HERVEY vice Goldwell, deceased 
1 Nov. 1695JOHN HERVEY37
 William Maynard131
28 July 1698SIR ROBERT DAVERS, Bt. 
8 Jan. 1701SIR ROBERT DAVERS, Bt. 
29 Nov. 1701JOHN HERVEY34
 Sir Robert Davers, Bt.9
27 July 1702JOHN HERVEY31
 Sir Robert Davers, Bt.42
22 Nov. 1703SIR ROBERT DAVERS, Bt. vice Hervey, called to the Upper House20
 Joseph Weld16
9 May 1705SIR THOMAS FELTON, Bt.37
 Sir Dudley Cullum, Bt.173
1 Dec. 1705AUBREY PORTER vice Davers, chose to sit for Suffolk 
9 Dec. 1708FELTON re-elected after appointment to office 
26 Mar. 1709JOSEPH WELD vice Felton, deceased 
9 Oct. 1710JOSEPH WELD 
30 Feb. 1712SAMUEL BATTELEY vice Weld, deceased 
2 Sept. 1713HON. CARR HERVEY31
 Jermyn Davers12
 Gilbert Affleck3

Main Article

A notable beneficiary of the late 17th-century ‘urban renaissance’, Bury St. Edmunds was predominantly a ‘leisure town’, ‘the Montpellier of Suffolk’ in Defoe’s memorable phrase, whose most visible industry was the recreation of polite society. Its resident ‘pseudo-gentry’ and upwardly mobile professionals, like the apothecary Thomas Macro, owner of the finest house in the town, formed a comfortable and pretentious oligarchy, who kept the parliamentary franchise firmly within their grasp. Although the corporation, consisting of an alderman (the returning officer), capital burgesses and common council, deferred to the traditional influence of local landowners, the nature of the relationship suggests a sense of equality. The borough was ‘a coy mistress’, requiring to be courted.4

For much of the Restoration period the representation had been shared between the two principal landed proprietors in the vicinity, Sir Thomas Hervey† of Ickworth and Thomas Jermyn† of Rushbrooke. Both men were Court loyalists and Tories, and had co-operated until 1688 when the Jermyns became involved in James II’s campaign to pack Parliament, provoking retaliation from Hervey at the election to the Convention, in which he put up a second candidate in the person of his Whiggish son John to challenge Jermyn’s son-in-law and the heir to Rushbrooke, the Tory Sir Robert Davers, 2nd Bt. Possibly there was also some personal resentment against Davers, who, as a recent arrival from the West Indies, may well have been thought of as an intruder. Whatever Hervey’s motive, the failure to dislodge Davers on this occasion appears to have had significant repercussions a year later, when the Herveys did not participate in the election at all. Davers was re-elected alongside another local Tory squire, Henry Goldwell, having been assisted by the admission of seven new common councilmen (almost a fifth of the entire corporation electorate), six of them in the fortnight before the poll. There was opposition, but not from the Herveys. Instead, John Wildman† (presumably not the Member for Wootton Bassett but his radical Whig father) stood on a popular interest, together with a partner whose name was variously spelt in the Journals as ‘Sir John Morden’ and ‘Sir John Mordaunt’, and who is more likely to have been the Essex Whig Sir John Morden, 1st Bt.*, a man moreover with Suffolk connexions, than the Tory Sir John Mordaunt, 5th Bt.*, who had no such local associations. They were reviving a claim for a wider suffrage raised unsuccessfully at the Restoration and again during the Exclusion crisis, when what was being pressed was the right of inhabitants, although their own case was for a franchise extended no further than the freemen. In part at least, the Whig cause may have drawn sustenance from the substantial Dissenting communities in the town (Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist and Quaker). But success in capturing more freemen votes counted for nothing against the Tory ascendancy in the corporation, which returned Davers and Goldwell. A petition, introduced on 25 Mar. 1690 and renewed on 18 Oct., fell before it could be adjudged and reported.5

The by-election which ensued upon Goldwell’s death in 1694 saw a resurgence of the Hervey interest. With his father close to death, John Hervey came into his political inheritance early. He was returned unopposed, and unanimously, by the 32 corporators present at the election, a sign of the personal esteem in which his father was held, and which he was himself to cultivate until in due course he became the borough’s sole patron. A keenness to oblige local interests, without appearing to dictate or to patronize, marked his behaviour almost throughout his parliamentary career. The tone was set by the acceptance speech of his first election: ‘Mr alderman and you gentlemen of the corporation’, he began,

give me leave to observe that (for ought I know) it might have made [me] near as proud as I am wrongly thought to be, could I with justice have appropriated this honour you have done me to any merit of my own. But I am yet too rightly conscious of my wants to think I hold your confidence by such a title, knowing how equally so groundless a presumption would taste of ignorance and vanity. I am therefore full as well content (for all our sakes) to owe this great expression of your kindness to the grateful sense you still retain of your good friend and my dear father’s past services . . . whose good example . . . in this, I feel such powerful motions of zeal and emulation successfully to imitate . . . A choice concurred in with such an unlooked for unanimity that the very manner wherewith you have reposed this most important trust in me is no less acceptable to me than the matter of it; because it gives so promising an earnest of that future good intelligence I shall endeavour to restore among you. For which or any other office I may hereafter be useful to you in, your love and approbation will most abundantly requite me. And such returns alone I ought to wish might pass for current payment in exchange for favours done, since I have nought at present but my naked thanks to offer you. But they are tendered with such sincerity and hearty gratitude as you’d do well to afford a satisfied reception to.

These promises were amply fulfilled over the years, at the cost to Hervey himself of ‘much trouble, thought, expense and uneasiness’. The councillors and other officials were regularly entertained and feasted at Hervey’s expense, and not simply at elections; judicious financial assistance relieved the borough’s corporate debts; gifts of plate and portraits to the corporation and contributions to schools and other charities confirmed his status as a public benefactor; while in Parliament he energetically pressed the borough’s interests, promoting legislation at the corporation’s behest over river navigation and similar issues of local concern, and taking care to explain himself fully whenever political loyalties or public duty required him to vote for fiscal or other measures which might produce adverse effects on the town’s industries; and always his correspondence with corporators was elaborately courteous, the flattery unstinted. Interference in the internal affairs of the corporation, in its choice of officers or in the framing of its addresses, was kept to a minimum. In consequence Hervey acquired a general popularity among the councillors, as well as the devotion of his own party, headed by a group of influential capital burgesses who in practice acted as his managers in the constituency, though they would have denied any implication of service. For his part Davers too worked hard at maintaining good relations with the corporation, and though his bluffer and more peremptory manner was less well attuned to local sensibilities it was some time before this became an electoral liability. In the 1695 general election Davers defeated a third candidate, William Maynard, eldest son of a Court Tory, Lord Maynard (Banastre†), but himself evidently in the Whig interest by at least Queen Anne’s reign. Hervey had not only topped the poll but had received the acclaim of the freemen. There was no contest at either of the two succeeding elections, and in January 1701 Hervey was returned alongside Davers without even having to attend.6

Personal relations between the two Members were already deteriorating, however. The rift may have begun in 1697 when Hervey, still inexperienced in his new role as borough patron, for once overstepped the mark in pushing the borough into making a loyal address on the Peace of Ryswick. The corporators complied, but sent the resulting address to Davers to present. Two years later, when Davers had been slow to fulfil his part in a joint enterprise to arbitrate between parties in a local dispute, Hervey showed no compunction in seizing the chance to blacken his colleague’s name. The intensification of national party animosities in the 1701 Parliament completed the process of alienation, and by November of that year Hervey was determined to ‘put [Davers] out if possible’. After some difficulty in procuring a candidate from his own party to stand against his erstwhile colleague, Hervey eventually nominated his father-in-law Sir Thomas Felton, 4th Bt., and the two Whigs registered a surprisingly easy success, Hervey securing all the 34 available votes. Their margin of victory was even wider at the general election the following summer, when Hervey was again elected unanimously, with Davers receiving a mere four votes. In adversity, Davers also descended to character assassination, encouraging wild charges of treason that had been levelled against Hervey by a mentally unbalanced local squire.7

Hervey’s ennoblement in 1703 was the occasion of a remarkable, if temporary, recovery in Davers’ interest. Sir Robert’s return at the by-election, albeit by a relatively narrow majority, at the expense of an ally of Hervey’s, the borough recorder Joseph Weld, is not easy to explain, though it may reflect the fact that Hervey’s influence over the borough was essentially personal, so that in the absence of any family nominee the voters felt unconstrained. Occasional conformity having come to the fore as an issue in parliamentary politics, and the Dissenting community constituting a substantial presence in Bury, Davers could play upon the Tory sympathies that some of the older corporators had traditionally harboured, and which were also to be found in a good many of the more recent recruits: of the 14 members elected to the corporation between 1694 and 1703, nine recorded votes in the county’s polls of 1702 and 1705, and of these six plumped for Tory candidates while only two voted a straight Whig ticket. Once the Tack had been defeated, and the Court had sided publicly with ‘moderation’, the High Church card became less valuable. Davers put up for the borough again in 1705, but as an insurance in case he was unsuccessful in his simultaneous candidacy for the county. This attitude in itself dismayed and angered the Bury electors, and cost Davers popularity. Felton, moreover, had shown the same intelligence and tact as Hervey in fostering the corporation’s goodwill. Just before the election his prospects received a further boost when, in a clear demonstration of loyalty to Hervey, three Court Whigs and a Tory friend of Hervey, (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II (4th Bt.)*, were granted the freedom of the borough. Hanmer’s inclusion in the number was probably an especially sharp blow to Davers. Felton was duly afforded a unanimous return, but once more it proved difficult for the Whigs to find a second candidate in order to make full capital of their advantages. Their eventual choice, Sir Dudley Cullum, 4th Bt.*, proved a weak vessel for he, like Davers, was a candidate in the county election as well, and therefore liable to the same criticism. Despite standing singly, Davers scraped re-election. In fact, he was doubly successful, being chosen at the same time as knight of the shire, and this effectively undid him at Bury, where he had been warned beforehand that if he persisted in standing for the county ‘they would never more choose him’ for the borough. The reaction was immediate: on his resignation in December the corporation chose Hervey’s brother-in-law Aubrey Porter to the vacancy, and re-elected Porter and Felton unopposed in 1708. On Felton’s death in 1709 Hervey left the choice of successor to the borough, once he had failed to interest Felton’s brother (and heir) in the seat and it had become clear that the new Member would have to be a local man. Joseph Weld was returned without opposition. Such was the solidity of the Hervey interest that even in 1710, in an atmosphere generally favourable to Tory revival and after Porter had offended the corporators by his carelessness in discharging his responsibilities to them, Davers did not think it worthwhile to mount a challenge on behalf of himself or his son. Between 1705 and 1712 a further nine vacant places were filled in the corporation, and six of these new voters polled for the Whigs in the county elections of 1705 and 1710. Hervey’s followers were indeed now becoming markedly Whiggish in their politics, as exemplified in the corporation’s loyal address in 1708, brimming with enthusiasm for ‘this holy war’ against Louis XIV and for ‘that renowned hero, the great Duke of Marlborough [John Churchill†], that is at once the world’s wonder, delight and terror’.8

Still Hervey did not consider his interest wholly impregnable. Davers, though he had affected to shake the town’s dust from his feet with the declaration that ‘he shall never concern himself with them again as long as he lives’, none the less continued to lurk. Weld’s death in 1712 caused some fluttering at Ickworth. The vacancy had come too soon for Hervey’s son Hon. Carr, who was not yet of age and besides was abroad on his grand tour. Hervey hoped to postpone the by-election until Carr came back to England, and to this purpose advised ‘friends’ in Bury to unite publicly behind a single local candidate, whomsoever that might be, in order to deter Davers from moving the writ. When they went further, not only agreeing on a nominee but actively canvassing, Hervey modified his strategy and acquiesced in an election, his decision no doubt facilitated by the corporation’s choice of Samuel Batteley, who was one of his own most loyal henchmen. Batteley then fell ill, which prompted further anxious conferences, but the new Member hung on until the dissolution, and by the time of the 1713 election Carr was of age. He was, however, still on the Continent. Thus to Hervey himself fell the duties of visiting voters and presiding at entertainment, upon which he spent some £40, as compared with a mere £13 at his own unopposed return with Davers in January 1701. The reason for this expense was that Davers was at last mounting an opposition: his son Jermyn† and a Tory nabob, Gilbert Affleck†, took up the forlorn cause of a freeman franchise, thereby completing the inversion from the 1690 election, when the Tories had been the party of oligarchy and the Whigs the populists. The claim now was that the vote lay with resident freemen paying scot and lot. The corporation returned Carr Hervey in absentia, alongside Porter, and confirmed their satisfaction with their young representative when he was formally introduced to them at a dinner hosted by his father in December. Their poll, recorded in the borough’s court book, shows that only three corporators voted for the two Tories. Of Davers’ remaining supporters, no less than eight gave their second vote to Hervey. On 27 Apr. 1714 the House heard a petition from Davers and Affleck, supported by documentary evidence that would not stand up to scrutiny and contradicted by the testimony of a witness who had been acquainted with the borough for 30 years and by the Commons’ own previous determination. It was summarily dismissed.9

Author: D. W. Hayton


Unless otherwise stated, this article is based on the detailed account of the constituency provided in Murrell thesis, esp. pp. 133–7, 249–84.

  • 1. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Hervey mss 941/46/12/1, John Hervey’s pocketbk.
  • 2. Hervey Diary, 37.
  • 3. Hervey mss 941/46/12/1, John Hervey’s pocketbk.
  • 4. P. Borsay, Urban Renaissance, 7, 143, 155, 245; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 152; Percival Diary 1710 ed. Wenger, 65; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 49, 51–53; G. Holmes, Augustan Eng. 12, 139, 229.
  • 5. Bull. IHR, iv. 188–203; Hervey Diary, 214–17; Calamy, Life, i. 106; Journeys of Celia Fiennes, 152; Compton Census 1676 ed. Whiteman, 237.
  • 6. Hervey Diary, 21, 24, 30, 33, 96–97; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 106–7, 139–40, 164, 244; Speck thesis, 275; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 49; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 83; 1699–1700, p. 81; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 153–4; Bull. IHR, liii. 84.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iv. 27; Hervey Diary, 35, 37; Hervey Letter Bks. 172, 174–7.
  • 8. Hervey Letter Bks. 185, 216–17, 238, 244, 273; HMC Portland, 136, 272; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Bury St. Edmunds bor. recs. EE500/D4/1/3(a), p. 216, ct. bk.; W. Sussex RO, Shillinglee mss, Sir Edmund Bacon, 4th Bt.*, to Sir Edward Turnor*, 20 Mar. [1705]; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss corresp. 442, R. Short to Robert Walpole II*, 25 Oct. 1705; Hervey Diary, 43, 47–48.
  • 9. Hervey Letter Bks. 243, 309–10, 316–17, 319, 325, 327–8, 381, 385–6; Hervey Diary, 59–61, 96–97; Speck, 152; Bury St. Edmunds bor. recs. EE500/D4/1/3(a), p. 306.