Durham County


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

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

over 1,500 in 1698; at least 947 in Dec. 1701


10 Mar. 1690Sir Robert Eden, Bt.  
 William Lambton  
11 Nov. 1695Sir William Bowes  
 William Lambton  
3 Aug. 1698Lionel Vane13711344
 Sir Robert Eden, Bt.967954
 William Lambton80917782
15 Jan. 1701William Lambton  
 Lionel Vane  
3 Dec. 1701Lionel Vane850 
 William Lambton689 
 -- Hulton3543 
29 July 1702Sir Robert Eden, Bt.  
 Sir William Bowes  
16 May 1705Sir Robert Eden, Bt.  
 Sir William Bowes  
5 Mar. 1707John Tempest vice Bowes, deceased  
12 May 1708Hon. William Vane  
 Sir Robert Eden, Bt.  
11 Oct. 1710Sir Robert Eden, Bt.  
 William Lambton  
9 Sept. 1713John Eden  
 John Hedworth  

Main Article

Durham elections were dominated by the influence of the county’s major gentry, many of whom possessed interests in the county’s coal industry in addition to their landed estates, with no single family having a dominant or pre-eminent interest. The county was contested only twice in this period, a fact which may point to a lack of political conflict within Durham but which probably also owed a great deal to the tendency of the county’s gentry to resolve their differences prior to the poll.

In 1690 Sir Robert Eden, 1st Bt., and William Lambton, both Tories who had previously sat for the county, were returned unopposed. At the following election a contest was expected between the outgoing Members and Sir William Bowes, a wealthy colliery owner, and Lionel Vane, cousin of Christopher*, one of the county’s leading landowners. It appears, however, that an accommodation was reached between the two sides, as Eden and Vane withdrew before the poll to allow the unopposed return of Bowes and Lambton. At the 1698 election, however, Vane was unwilling to stand aside. Christopher Vane, now Lord Barnard, wrote to Bowes of his determination to secure his cousin’s election, and Bowes quickly withdrew from the contest. Eden and Lambton, however, were unwilling to be so obliging, Lambton specifically rejecting the suggestion that he stand aside in the expectation that his desisting would ensure his return at the next election. The contest was taken to a poll, described thus by one observer:

The poll began on Wednesday morning and was carried on with great zeal on both sides. . . . The next morning at the Palace Green, a most formidable party consisting of about 900 freeholders conducted by Mr Eden [?John*], Mr Mayor and your Lordship’s commissioner Mr Proud and Otway expected that Mr Lambton would thereupon have made a retreat, but such is the resolution of that gentleman that he is resolved to fight it out to the last man. Last night when the books were closed, Mr Vane had arrived at such a majority as put him beyond all danger and Sir Robert Eden had about 140 votes more than Mr Lambton. This morning the poll was resumed and continued till 11 o’clock when the books were by consent closed, Mr Vane having 1,371, Sir Robert 967 and Mr Lambton 809 votes, so that the election fell upon those your Lordship was pleased to favour. This election has made me very sensible of the great advantage of an early application.

This lesson was also heeded by Lambton, who initiated an early and vigorous campaign for the first election of 1701 and by December 1700 had gained the support of Robert Byerley* and, it was thought, Eden and Bowes. Bowes declined requests for him to stand, and Vane and Lambton were returned unopposed. Both men offered themselves for re-election in December 1701, comfortably defeating a third candidate of whom little is known. Following the poll Vane and Lambton were presented with instructions to support the war with France.4

At the 1702 election both outgoing Members appear to have stood aside to allow the unchallenged return of Eden and Bowes. These two were also unopposed in 1705, Bowes reporting

my election was without any opposition and I had a great appearance of gentlemen and freeholders with me, but some of the prebendaries of this church and, by their example, several of the clergy appeared with my colleague Sir Robert Eden, which I expect that saucy scribbler Dyer will take notice of (as he has done in like cases) with some reflection on me . . . I wonder he is not punished for it.

At the by-election of 1707 caused by Bowes’s death, John Tempest, a High Tory, was returned unopposed, but at the following year’s general election the county’s Whigs were unwilling to see the re-election of the county’s two outgoing, Tory Members. Lord Barnard’s eldest son Hon. William Vane was forwarded as the Whig candidate, and he was returned unopposed with Eden. At the following election, however, Barnard was ‘persuaded to drop Mr Vane’, despite the Duke of Newcastle’s (John Holles†) offer to pay Barnard £1,000 to ‘defray his son’s election’, a decision which may have been due to national political developments, as in August a Durham Tory wrote of the county’s support for the removal of the Whigs from office, stating that the county as a whole ‘now think their Church out of danger’. Vane’s failure to stand allowed Lambton to regain a county seat, and he was returned unopposed with Eden. At the 1713 election, however, the county’s representation was again split between the parties. Eden made way for his son, and fellow Tory, John, who was returned with the independent Whig and leading colliery owner John Hedworth, who enjoyed the support of (Sir) Henry Liddell (3rd Bt.)*, like Hedworth a Whig coal owner.5

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Durham Dean and Chapter Lib. Sharp mss 82, Bowes to [Bp. Crewe], [Aug. 1688].
  • 2. Mems. of Dean Comber (Surtees Soc. clvii), 252.
  • 3. Bean’s notebks.
  • 4. Six N. Country Diaries (Surtees Soc. xxviii), 53, 57; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; 47047, ff. 37, 41; 70019, f. 312; Mems. of Dean Comber, 251–3; Sharp mss 82, Bowes to [Bp. Crewe], [Aug. 1688]; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(1), pp. 17–18; The Electors’ Right Asserted (1701) (Horwitz trans.).
  • 5. Add. 28893, f. 137; 70278, Robert Price* to Robert Harley*, [Aug. 1710]; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 1–2; HMC Portland, iv. 570, 575; Herts. RO, Cowper mss D/EP F72, almanack, 3 Mar. 1712.