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 inhabitants not receiving alms before, and in the inhabitants paying scot and lot after 1711

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 408 in 1705; at least 112 after 1713


1 Mar. 1690Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
28 Oct. 1695Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
27 July 1698Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
9 Jan. 1701Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt.191
 William Courtenay18
 John Sanford 
1 Dec. 1701Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
27 July 1702Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
18 May 1705Sir William Drake, Bt.254
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt.235
 Sir John Elwill163
 John Blagdon1641
11 May 1708Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt. 
 Sir John Elwill 
23 Oct. 1710Sir William Drake, Bt. 
 Sir Walter Yonge, Bt.34
 James Sheppard43
  Double return of Yonge and Sheppard. SHEPPARD declared elected, 17 Feb. 1711 
5 Sept. 1713Sir William Drake, Bt.65
 James Sheppard70
 Sir William Courtenay, Bt.42
 Sir William Pole, Bt.402

Main Article

Celia Fiennes found Honiton ‘a pretty large place, a good market, near it a good church’ and ‘a very large meeting of Dissenters’, its principal industry being the making of ‘fine bonelace in imitation of the Antwerp and Flanders lace’. The representation was shared between Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt., a Whig and a Dissenter, who had much property in and nearby the borough and Sir William Drake, 4th Bt., Yonge’s Tory relation, who owned one of the local manors. They were unopposed at the first three elections of King William’s reign.3

In 1697 Sir William Courtenay, lst Bt.†, of Powderham obtained a re-grant of his rights as lord of the manor of Honiton (including nomination of the returning officer) which he had been forced to surrender preparatory to James ii’s incorporation of the borough. For the time being there was no threat to the sitting MPs; Yonge made no objections since ‘no more was to be granted than Sir William formerly had’, and in any case, with the approach of the general election, he had been able to strengthen his own interest and popularity by obtaining, with Drake’s support, an act which substantially protected Honiton’s staple lace industry by preventing Flemish imports into England. His re-election together with Drake was therefore achieved without obstruction. However, in December 1700 Courtenay chose to exert his proprietorial rights, and on the 26th notified the corporation that ‘I have given the management of the interest I have in my tenants and friends to the neighbouring gentlemen for Sir William Drake and any other they shall nominate’. Accordingly, these gentlemen, headed by Sir John Pole, 3rd Bt.*, issued a declaration that ‘we have desired John Sanford* to serve for the borough with Sir William Drake for the same borough, and with great difficulty have prevailed with the said Mr Sanford to accept the same’. By the time of the contest early in January 1701, Sanford, who had lost his Minehead seat in 1698, found himself competing against Yonge with another Tory in the shape of Courtenay’s grandson William Courtenay*, who was additionally standing for the county. Drake and Yonge were returned following a poll, but Sanford, though his votes were said to have been ‘near’ Yonge’s, declined to petition. Courtenay did petition, however, on 14 Feb., accusing Yonge of bribery, despite having afterwards been elected unopposed as knight of the shire for Devon, though clearly his family’s overriding priority was to use this opportunity to destroy Yonge’s interest in the borough and establish their own through ‘the strength of the party’ in the Commons. The report, made on 28 May, agreed that the right of election was ‘in the potwallers not receiving alms’. Courtenay’s counsel produced many witnesses who testified that voters had been drunk in the streets at Yonge’s expense on the day of the election, that one voter had been offered a customs place for his brother by Yonge, and others given 7s. or 8s. each. Between £200 and £300 was said to have been spent by Yonge on treating at 20 inns. A central argument by Yonge’s counsel, however, was that Yonge ‘had such an undoubted interest that there was no need of spending or treating for him’, and that any incidence of such activity had been due primarily to the fact that a Mr Glanville, a lace merchant, had ‘come accidentally from London upon his own occasions . . . and what money was spent was out of the imprudent zeal of such persons as had a respect for their old burgesses for the services they had done for the town, especially with relation to the Lace Act’. It was further claimed on Yonge’s behalf that on the morning of the election some 180 of Yonge’s voters had foregathered on ‘the Cornhill’ but a snowstorm had obliged them to take shelter at several inns and that their consumption of beer had not been preconcerted. During ‘a pretty long debate’ on the report, Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., ‘took a vast deal of pains’ to turn out Yonge on the ground that he had infringed recent legislation forbidding treating after the teste of the writ, but lost it by 146 votes to 121.4

At the next two elections Drake and Yonge were unopposed. There was a fierce contest, however, in 1705 when (Sir) John Elwill*, a staunch Whig, stood with Captain John Blagdon, a local resident who was probably a relation of George Blagdon, the portreeve. The intensity of party feeling was manifest the day before polling when, according to one observer,

the two parties were very nicely distinguished . . . Buff was the symbol of the Whigs. These had box in their hats, doors and windows; the other [Tories] had laurel leaves; and on the day of election the gentlemen who came in with Sir William Drake had a little knob of shoemaker’s thread in their hats to show that they were Tackers.

This was not reflected, however, in the alignment of candidates since the electors had prevailed on Drake and Yonge, despite their party differentiation, to stand jointly. There ensued what Defoe described as ‘a terrible mob election’ in which Elwill and his partner were ‘vastly distanced’, after which their friends ‘sneaked away’. Elwill did not petition, being too ‘cowed’ by Drake and Francis Gwyn*. He was defeated again in 1708.5

The fall of the Marlborough–Godolphin administration in August 1710 provided local Tories with a new opportunity to dislodge Yonge. He was opposed by James Sheppard, a young Tory barrister whose family owned the nearby manor of Watton. It became clear during the course of the campaign in October that Sheppard was determined to make the franchise the issue whereby he would secure Yonge’s downfall. At one point, as was later disclosed in the elections committee, Yonge endeavoured to tie Sheppard down to an agreement over who had the right to vote, having himself always acknowledged that it lay with the inhabitants paying scot and lot, rather than with the householders or ‘potwallers’, and that if ever confronted with opposition ‘he thought himself safe if he had the majority of them’. Sheppard, however, refused to be drawn into making any commitment ‘and said that such agreement could not determine the right’. Both sides therefore continued to solicit support from the inhabitants at large, and only at the scrutiny did Sheppard make his objections to the ‘potwallers’. The portreeve proceeded to make a double return, one for Drake and Sheppard as having gained the majority of scot-and-lot voters, the other for Drake and Yonge as chosen by the ‘populacy’. Yonge and Sheppard submitted petitions on 2 Dec., and a third was delivered from the inhabitants claiming their right of participation in elections, and that at the election ‘the portreeve polled all such potwallers without making any distinction in his poll book who paid scot-and-lot, and who did not’, and that neither had any objection been made to their ‘right’. By this subversion of their ‘ancient and uninterrupted rights’, they stated, Yonge had been debarred from his seat. Sheppard’s counsel presented the case that none but scot-and-lot men had ever voted, and that householders had only been admitted to poll ‘for peace sake’ following an ugly incident at the 1679 election when upon a report that their votes would be refused, they had angrily demolished the hustings. Yonge’s case in response was that the ‘potwallers’ had voted in every election since 1661, and that he and Drake had been returned on this franchise since the beginning of William iii’s reign. The elections committee, however, resolved that the franchise lay both in the scot-and-lot voters and in the inhabitants, and declared Yonge duly elected, but when this was reported on 3 Feb. 1711 the Tories took issue with this pro-Whig outcome and eliminated the householders from the franchise in a division, which they won by 179 votes to 89. The report was then recommitted in order to ascertain the vote. Yonge claimed, however, to have obtained a majority of scot-and-lot men, but on 17 Feb. the committee reported a majority of nine for Sheppard, whom the House thereupon declared elected.6

At the 1713 election Drake and Sheppard were opposed by two other Tories, Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Bt., the 1701 candidate who had since succeeded his grandfather as baronet and lord of the manor, and his kinsman Sir William Pole, 4th Bt.*, whose interest in the borough arose by virtue of his nearby estate. Courtenay and Pole were defeated, but though both were returned elsewhere, they petitioned on 4 Mar. 1714, complaining that the precept, which should have been sent to the portreeve, had been misdirected to one Richard Gill who had proceeded to conduct an election in which those of doubtful qualification were admitted in favour of Drake and Sheppard. Moreover, the sheriff had accepted Gill’s return for Drake and Sheppard, but had discountenanced the portreeve’s return in favour of themselves. The case, though referred to the elections committee, remained unreported, so that Drake and Sheppard kept their seats.

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Flying Post, 24–26 May 1705.
  • 2. Daily Courant, 10 Sept. 1713.
  • 3. Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 214; A. Farquharson, Honiton, 9.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 90, 116, 298; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 3244, Courtenay to [–], 26 Dec. 1700; Cocks Diary, 154; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 29 May 1701; Farquharson, 15.
  • 5. Bodl. Ballard 21, f. 222; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 72, bdle 4, newsletter 22 May 1705; Protestant Reg. 26 May–2 June 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 270.
  • 6. The Case of Sir Walter Yonge; The Case of James Sheppard (1710).