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

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 945 in 1708


 Henry Lee  
 Herbert Randolph  
25 July 1698GEORGE SAYER  
6 Jan. 1701GEORGE SAYER  
24 Nov. 1701GEORGE SAYER  
30 July 1702GEORGE SAYER  
31 May 1705HENRY LEE  
6 May 1708HON. EDWARD WATSON 605
 John Hardres 395
 Henry Lee33013552
5 Oct. 1710JOHN HARDRES569 
 Hon. Edward Watsonc.400 
 Thomas D’Aethc.4003 
17 Dec. 1711LEE re-elected after appointment to office  
24 Aug. 1713JOHN HARDRES  

Main Article

Canterbury was probably the largest town in Kent in the later 17th century, boasting a population of about 7,000 in 1670. It was a county in its own right, the lord lieutenant usually being given jurisdiction over the city by virtue of his patent of office. The large freeman franchise made it difficult for any one interest to control, although there were many groups enjoying some say in elections. The archbishop exerted little electoral power, since his main residence was at Lambeth: if any clergyman could aspire to a political role it was the dean, though there is no specific evidence of his involvement in this period. On the other hand, Dissent played an important role in the city, owing to the waves of immigrants who had settled there since the 16th century. Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Walloon and Flemish communities were joined by Huguenots, to compose a flourishing community whose economic contribution lay chiefly in the silk industry. Another factor in elections, at least in the 1690s, was the King’s habit of visiting Canterbury each year on his way to the Continent, though against any boost which Court party candidates might thereby have derived from the royal presence must be set the detrimental effects on the local economy of wartime quartering and the subsequent demobilization of troops, and of the requirements of victualling the armed forces.4

The 1690 election saw the return of the outgoing Members, Sir William Honywood, 2nd Bt., and Henry Lee. They were thanked for their services and issued with instructions in which their constituents pressed for protection for the Protestant religion and for an adequate supply to be granted to the King. The account books of the corporation for the following decade reveal much hospitality being dispensed and received upon the visits of the King, Queen Dowager, lord lieutenant and even militia officers. On occasion this courting of the corporation and freemen must have been aimed at the maintenance or extension of an interest in the borough. Barely three weeks before the poll in 1695, one of Robert Harley’s* correspondents reported a challenge to the outgoing Members, although he named only ‘Diggs, a lawyer’, presumably Leonard Diggs, who was a deputy-lieutenant residing at Chilham Castle, six miles south-west of Canterbury, and who, in September 1695, was granted the freedom of the borough. In the event the challengers were the recently appointed recorder, Herbert Randolph, and George Sayer, an official in Queen Mary’s household. The King visited Canterbury on 10 Oct. 1695, and just before the poll the corporation’s accounts show that public funds were spent when the mayor and aldermen ‘went to meet Mr Sayer at his coming to town’, a gesture which may indicate official support for Sayer’s candidacy. This was also the first election to witness a prior bulk admission of freemen. Honywood and Sayer were returned, and on 30 Nov. Lee petitioned against Sayer, although he withdrew his complaint on 5 March 1696. Lee appeared determined to regain the seat, courting the corporation by dining them in June 1697. In 1698 Honywood stood down, with the result that Lee and Sayer had the field to themselves. A large number of freemen were admitted in advance of the election. Lee and Honywood were then returned unopposed at the next three general elections. Only in 1702, when Diggs was reported to have been solicited to challenge Sayer ‘by 200 Canterbury men’, was there the hint of a contest.5

In 1705, Harley expected Lee to be joined in the representation by John Hardres, following the retirement of Sayer. A possible challenge from Diggs failed to materialize, while the lord lieutenant, the Earl of Rockingham, paid a visit to the corporation shortly before the election. The customary influx of freemen occurred in the pre-election year, and again in 1708, when the city records reveal that Hon. Edward Watson and Thomas D’Aeth were admitted to the freedom, ‘having offered themselves to serve this city as Members of the ensuing Parliament’. When the election took place on 6 May these two Whigs defeated the outgoing Members. Canterbury used the excuse of economic decline in its two staple industries, silk-weaving and wool-combing, to resist the appeals of the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to the town in June 1709 to take Palatine refugees. Controversy in the city in 1710 was thus not caused by the Palatines, but by the aftermath of the Sacheverell trial. On 2 May the corporation ordered an address to be presented to Queen Anne in which their loyalty was affirmed as due ‘by principles grounded on that apostolical doctrine which is the sure foundation and glory of the Church of England’. Furthermore, the address identified the Queen’s enemies as those ‘who seditiously revive positions fatal theretofore to your blessed grandfather and destructive to this church and nation’, as well as ‘all promoters of atheistical, immoral and republican tenets’. To this end the corporation pledged to choose Members who acknowledge their duty to ‘God and your Majesty as his viceregent’. Such a heady expression of High Toryism did not go unanswered, particularly as the address constituted a thinly veiled attack on the sitting Members. On 13 May the Flying Post printed ‘the protestation of several aldermen of the city of Canterbury against the pretended address’, the substance of which was that the address had not been properly voted on in the burghmote, that the aldermen had only been afforded a ‘transient’ view of it, and that it had failed to mention the Revolution of 1688, ‘our glorious deliverer’, the Union, or the recent successful military campaigns. Instead it had demonstrated a dislike of the current MPs, men of whom the author of the ‘protestation’ approved, not least for their role in discovering ‘the intended rebellion of the Cheveralites [sic], tho’ cunningly concealed in the doctrine of passive obedience’. Despite the burning of the ‘protestation’ by order of the burghmote, one alderman, John Lee, persisted in promoting it, and, through the agency of Lord Rockingham, a copy was presented to the Queen. For this act Lee was expelled on 25 July from the aldermanic bench and prosecuted at the sessions. Thus the general election of 1710 took place in a fevered atmosphere, with John Hardres and Henry Lee defeating the outgoing Whig Members.6

In 1711 the corporation was obliged to defend its action against John Lee, who in July of that year obtained a mandamus for his restoration. He was then expelled again a month later for refusing to withdraw while the burghmote discussed the publication of the ‘protestation’ and ‘other misdemeanours by him committed’, only to be reinstated in February 1712. The corporation’s address on the peace in April 1713 still criticized the Whigs as ‘malicious and ill-designing men’ and denounced as ‘false and groundless’ suggestions that the Pretender would be brought in. The following month saw corporate sponsorship of the declaration of the peace. Henry Lee illustrated the need to pay constant heed to the susceptibilities of his constituents when he confessed in July 1713 that the corporation expected the ‘civility’ of a visit from him before the election. At the 1713 election Hardres and Lee were returned, evidently in the face of Tory opposition of some kind, for John Johnstone, rector of Cranbrook, reported a contest in which ‘two Churchmen were over-voted, but not by the Whigs’.7

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 51, f. 56.
  • 2. Daily Courant, 11 May 1708.
  • 3. Ibid. 7 Oct. 1710.
  • 4. C. W. Chalklin, 17th-Cent. Kent, 31–2, 126–7; Newman thesis, 200–1; Canterbury Cathedral Archs. CC/FA 30, acct. bk. 1690–1700, ff. 34v, 79.
  • 5. Add. 42592, f. 100; 70018, ff. 94–5; 29588, f. 103; Canterbury Cathedral Archs. CC/FA 30, ff. 33v, 36, 79–81, 121, 159v, 184v, 222–6, 241, 283v, 305–10; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 19–20.
  • 6. Add. 70334, Harley’s notes 14 Feb. 1704–5; 61652, f. 150; 61649, f. 74; 42587, f. 253; Canterbury Cathedral Archs. CC/FA/31, ff. 180–192v, 211, 319–25; CC/A/C 8, burghmote min. bk. 1695–1744, pp. 382, 428–30, 434–6; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Addresses (1711), ii. 162.
  • 7. Canterbury Cathedral Archs. CC/A/C 8, pp. 454, 459, 461, 469, 488–9; Post Boy, 26–28 May 1713; Add. 70201, Lee to Ld. Oxford, 23 July 1713; Bodl. Ballard 15, f. 107.