Cinque Port

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:

201 in 1697; at least 360 in 1713


6 Mar. 1690THOMAS PAPILLON219 
 Sir Charles Hedges59 
 John Wildman531 
29 Oct. 1695SIR BASIL DIXWELL, Bt.  
15 Dec. 1697MATTHEW AYLMER vice Chadwick, deceased111 
 Philip Papillon902 
19 July 1698SIR BASIL DIXWELL, Bt.  
 ? Philip Papillon  
 ? Philip Papillon  
21 Nov. 1701MATTHEW AYLMER  
 Francis Wyvill  
 ? Sir Charles Hedges  
17 July 1702MATTHEW AYLMER  
2 Dec. 1709AYLMER re-elected after appointment to office  
28 Aug. 1713SIR WILLIAM HARDRES, Bt.197200
 Matthew Aylmer181180
 Henry Watkins12831224

Main Article

The Court had various means to influence parliamentary elections at Dover: through the number of officials based in the port; as an employer of labour and services, chiefly shipping and victualling; and through the influence of the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, and his deputy, the governor of Dover Castle. However, the warden’s authority had to be exercised with care, and the Court’s position could be damaged by non-payment of bills, a decline in naval-related employment, or even a failure to respond positively to requests for funds to maintain the harbour facilities. Another complicating factor was the presence of a vigorous Nonconformist community within the town, the result of Dover’s position as an entry point into the kingdom.5

The essential background to the 1690 election was the failure of the Convention Parliament to pass a bill abrogating the right of the lord warden to nominate to one seat in each of the Cinque Ports. The question of Court influence was thus a live issue during the campaign, especially as the government candidate, Sir Charles Hedges*, an Admiralty judge, was an outsider who relied heavily upon ministerial contacts. Sir John Knatchbull, 2nd Bt.*, seeking re-election as knight of the shire for Kent, was influenced by Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, an Admiralty lord, ‘to use my interest’ on Hedges’ behalf. Likewise, Secretary of State Shrewsbury, while denying any intention of meddling in the election, felt he should support the recommendation of Hedges by the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†), a former Dover MP. Finally, Colonel [Hon.] John Beaumont*, the lord warden’s deputy, whose activities had done much to ensure that the bill limiting the warden’s influence had been brought forward in the first place, let it be known that ‘I understand by some of the great ministers that his Majesty expects that if he thinks fit to recommend a person that may be useful to the public service in the House that what port soever he recommends, he hopes they will comply with him’. Ranged against Hedges were Thomas Papillon, one of the outgoing Members, who had extensive support among the Dissenters and many commercial connexions, and James Chadwick*, who had the backing of the other outgoing Member, Sir Basil Dixwell, 2nd Bt.*, and Major John Wildman†, the postmaster-general, who no doubt hoped to use local postal officials to influence the electorate. A pre-election meeting was held between the candidates, to agree on a method of treating the freemen after the election, and on the day of the election itself an impromptu hustings took place. Hedges addressed the crowd, claiming that the mayor had not properly represented to the town his letter offering to stand, sought to dispel accusations that he was a Jacobite, and put forward his own credentials, which consisted of a recommendation ‘by eminent persons’ and a statement of his support for the government. Papillon took umbrage at this, delivering a speech in reply in which he noted that the freemen had a free choice and appealed to hs audience to ignore recommendations from any quarter. Papillon topped the poll, with Chadwick in second place, clearly ahead of Hedges, who barely beat Wildman, even though the postmaster-general was an absentee.6

In 1695 Papillon transferred his electoral ambitions to London, leaving the way open for Dixwell to regain the seat, in partnership with Chadwick. The death of Chadwick in May 1697 initiated a prolonged campaign for the vacancy, because a new writ could not be moved until Parliament met. Potential candidates were not slow to announce their intentions: on the very day of Chadwick’s death, Philip Papillon, son of Thomas, entered the fray with a letter to the mayor offering his services. By mid-June Papillon had become so worried by the intervention of Admiral Matthew Aylmer that he launched a pre-emptive strike against Aylmer for being a ‘foreigner’, utilizing the attempt by the Commons in the previous session to pass an act to ensure that MPs should have a ‘visible estate’ in their constituencies. July brought rumours of interventions from Sir George Rooke*, a ‘Mr Herbert’ [presumably Philip*], and Sir Henry Ashurst, 1st Bt.*. In October, as the meeting of Parliament drew closer, David Polhill* emerged as another likely contender. Despite his connexions with ‘the castle’, most of Polhill’s support seems to have come from outside notables with little real influence on the freemen, and he withdrew before the poll. Indeed, one of his advisers, perhaps aware of Hedges’ fate, warned explicitly against ‘too great use of my Lord Romney’s [Hon. Henry Sidney†] recommendation among the common people’. In order to cope with the town’s religious divisions, Polhill’s adviser felt he should follow the ‘maxim of kings, qui nescit dissimulare nescit imperare’, and that in general ‘a just mixture of the Italian reservedness with the French air of a free address is the true character of a perfect statesman’. Probably crucial to Polhill’s failure to make an impression was his inability to coax Dixwell away from a promise of strict neutrality which Papillon had extracted. That alone was not enough to secure Papillon’s election, for in a straight fight with Aylmer he lost by 21 votes. Papillon’s defeat may have owed much to his difficulties in ensuring that the Exchequer paid the debts of Dover’s victuallers and tradesmen. Despite having discovered evidence of illegal treating, Papillon decided that to petition against Aylmer would merely inflame passions, so he let matters lie in the full knowledge that, under the Triennial Act, 1698 would bring another election.7

If Papillon hoped to benefit at the next general election by this magnanimous gesture, he miscalculated. As early as January 1698 he expressed alarm that agents of both ‘Mr’ or ‘Colonel’ Austen [Robert II* or Sir Robert, 3rd Bt.*] and Polhill had ‘set up the trade of drinking again’. Despite this he agreed with Dixwell that they should not follow suit, but rely instead on ‘the chief gentlemen of the town’, who had always been for ‘my father and Sir Basil’. There followed much discussion about the role of employment in the government service, chiefly the victualling, and its influence on the voters, but Dixwell (still lieutenant of Dover Castle) and Aylmer were returned, both no doubt having ensured that their efforts to secure Treasury funds for the repair of the harbour were well known. Following the passage of a bill for repairing the harbour in the 1699–1700 session, both MPs should have been in a strong position to retain their seats. However, in November 1700 it was reported that Dixwell had written to the corporation indicating his reluctance to stand, and his preference for retaining his office as auditor of the excise. Moreover, he had recommended Secretary Hedges, now secretary of state, as his successor. The corporation wrote thanking Dixwell for his recommendation, but the same day thanked Papillon for his alternative offer to serve. With Aylmer also standing, a contest was in the offing and Hedges nearly surrendered his strong position through negligence. John Macky, who controlled the packet-boat service at Dover, suggested that pressure was being put on Papillon to desist, but that even if he did not Hedges would find it ‘impossible’ to lose the election. However, by 1 Jan. 1701 Macky had changed his view, writing to Under-Secretary John Ellis* that his master’s ‘election here began to be very dubious, purely for want of somebody’s appearing for him’. Fortunately for Hedges, Dixwell’s arrival remedied this defect and the ‘King’s officers’ were shown letters indicating official approval for Hedges. Macky also felt that Aylmer, ‘being secure himself’, favoured Hedges over Papillon, evidence which should suggest scepticism over the claim advanced by a correspondent of Robert Harley* that ‘young Papillon’ would oust Aylmer. It is uncertain whether in the end there was a contest, but Aylmer and Hedges were returned.8

By the election of November 1701, Hedges had completely ruined his interest by ignoring the borough. As Macky put it, the packet-boat interest was overwhelmed, ‘for the whole corporation is disgusted that since the last election he [Hedges] never came or sent among them to thank them’. Only the interest of Mr Breton (customer of Dover, and later a customs commissioner) remained firm to Hedges. Captain Francis Wyvill appeared to be standing in order to ensure that the interest of his brother Edward (a prominent victualler and mayor 1697–1700 and 1707–9) was used against the secretary. In Macky’s opinion the only way to turn the situation round was for Hedges to launch a vigorous campaign to win over some important men in the corporation, perhaps through a personal appearance, which might bring over Wyvell’s interest to him. Hedges took no action, leaving Papillon and Aylmer to be returned. Hedges’ defeat was considered in some quarters a blow to the Court, but in terms of numbers it was merely the replacement of one man with ministerial connexions by another. Anne’s accession saw a change in personnel at Dover, with Prince George taking over as lord warden. Hedges had clearly not given up hope of re-establishing an interest at Dover, for before the 1702 election he enlisted the aid of the new lieutenant-governor of the castle, the Earl of Winchilsea, who reported to Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) that unfortunately ‘there reigns such a spirit of obstinacy among the bench, they will not admit of any application to remove either of the old Members’. Even the threat that such men were ‘obnoxious and can do them no service’ had left the town unmoved. ‘All arguments are out of reason with them, while they are under the power of their benefactors and Mr Wyvell continues in such an influencing employment as victualler to that port.’ No doubt the sterling work of Aylmer and Papillon over the harbour, and, in particular, Aylmer’s in obtaining for the corporation the power to appoint to the office of water bailiff and keeper of the prison, had instilled a sense of loyalty into the town’s leading men, and the outgoing Members were returned without a contest. During the 1702 Parliament relations between the Earl and the town seemed to have improved, at least to the extent that Winchilsea promoted the petition of the harbour commissioners for a new harbour bill. In February 1705 Robert Harley’s jottings preparatory to the general election indicated that Aylmer and Papillon were likely to see off a challenge from Sir Thomas Hales, 2nd Bt.* In any case the removal of Winchilsea at the end of March strengthened the position of the sitting Members, as did the creation of 24 freemen (at £3 a time). Indeed, the corporation minutes only record letters of application for the seats from Aylmer and Papillon, who were returned unopposed.9

The appointment of the Earl of Westmorland to succeed Winchilsea, as Prince George’s deputy, strengthened the grip of the Whigs on Dover. Although there was some controversy over patronage and the harbour, there were no political repercussions and at the 1708 election Aylmer and Papillon were returned unopposed. Even the death of Prince George at the end of October 1708, and Westmorland’s subsequent refusal to serve under his successor, the Earl of Dorset, failed to shake Whig control. Indeed, when naval promotion forced Aylmer to seek re-election in December 1709, he was returned ‘unanimously’ by the borough. Similarly, in 1710 Hon. William Vane* took it for granted that Papillon would carry the election at Dover, and sure enough Aylmer and Papillon faced no opposition. In response to activity elsewhere, Papillon began his preparations for the 1713 election well in advance, and clearly envisaged standing jointly with Aylmer. Papillon may have been fortunate in starting his campaign early, for in June Dorset was removed from office and replaced by the Tory Duke of Ormond, whose brother, Lord Butler of Weston, was made lieutenant of Dover. One consequence was to signal a challenge to the long-serving partnership of Aylmer and Papillon. In July rumours reached Papillon that a Mr Butler (presumably a relative of Ormond) would stand, and in August Sir William Trumbull* was told that ‘Jones is recommended in lord treasurer’s name to the Duke of Ormond for his grace’s interest at Dover’. In the event Papillon was able to hold his seat, but Aylmer was beaten by Sir William Hardres, 4th Bt., whose distant cousin, John Hardres*, had recently been reappointed captain of Sandown Castle. A fourth candidate, Henry Watkins,* had also recently been appointed by Ormond to the office of registrar of the Cinque Ports. September 1713 saw a Tory attack on Whig control of Dover corporation when Robert Daines claimed that he had been elected mayor by a majority of freemen and caused a mandamus to be served on the corporation. Papillon organized excellent legal advice, consulting Philip Yorke† and (Sir) Peter King*, and advised the mayor to ‘consider of some proper persons to fill up the vacancies in your bench, as also in the common council, that may not give you such trouble for the time to come’. The cause was heard in February 1714, with Daines being defeated, his case being weakened by the fact that the jurats had not nominated him for the mayoralty.10

With the death of Queen Anne, Papillon was quick to alert his friends in Dover that he would be contesting the impending election. In the early months of the new reign there were rumours that Papillon and Aylmer would be challenged by Hardres and Watkins, and possibly by Francis Wyvill or Abraham Jacob. Certainly, Daines, the defeated mayoral candidate from 1713, ‘gives you encouragement that there will come two gentlemen down to spend money amongst the freemen’. The appointment of Dixwell as governor of Dover Castle in October strengthened the Whig interest and when the election was finally held in January 1715, Papillon and Aylmer appear to have been returned unopposed.11

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Centre Kentish Stud. Papillon mss U1015/O24/6.
  • 2. Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, i. 443.
  • 3. Bean’s notebks.
  • 4. Post Boy, 8–10 Sept. 1713.
  • 5. Compton Census ed. Whiteman, 34.
  • 6. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 86; Add. 33923, f. 476; 42586, f. 81; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 484; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, ff. 180–1; Papillon mss U1015/O24/6.
  • 7. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Papillon mss U1015/C44, pp. 20, 28, 33, 46–47, 49, 51, 53, 60–64; Post Boy, 10–13 July 1697; Sevenoaks Pub. Lib. Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/C13/1, S. Mead to Polhill, 28 Oct. 1697; C13/2, Dixwell to same, 27 Oct. 1697.
  • 8. Papillon mss U1015/C44, pp. 66–70; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 140, 157; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 65, 70; Northants. RO, Chibnall (Thorpe Malsor) mss C (TM) 107b, newsletter 9 Nov. 1700; Add. 28037, f. 80; 28886, ff. 119, 200; HMC Portland, iv. 11.
  • 9. Add. 28887, f. 374; 28883, f. 96; 29588, f. 93; 28037, ff. 82, 85; 70334, Harley’s notes 14 Feb. 1704–5; 17677 AAA, f. 214; CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 455, 514, 524; Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Heinsius 730, Robethon to Heinsius, 2 Dec. N.S. 1701 (Horwitz trans.).
  • 10. Huntington Lib. HM 774, Westmorland’s letterbk. Westmorland to Ld. Godolphin (Sidney†), 10 July 1706; Add. 42650, ff. 102–4; 28037, ff. 99, 101; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 538; Post Boy, 3–6 Dec. 1709, 11–13 June, 23–25 July 1713; Papillon mss U1015/C53/1, Vane to David Papillon†, 23 Sept. 1710; U1015/C45, pp. 12, 76, 99. 110, 113–19, 143, 202, 226; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 51, Bateman to Trumbull, 19 Aug. 1713; Newman thesis, 278.
  • 11. Papillon mss U1015, pp. 294–5, 300, 314, 321, 325–6, 328, 332, 336–7, 339, 351–2.