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:

131 in 17021


14 Dec. 1697FRANCIS WORTLEY MONTAGU vice Montagu, deceased 
 John Pedley 
20 July 1702HON. CHARLES BOYLE91
 Francis Wortley Montagu41
 John Pocklington342
15 May 1705SIR JOHN COTTON, Bt.73
 John Pedley64
 PEDLEY vice Cotton, on petition, 22 Jan. 1706 
28 Aug. 1713EDWARD WORTLEY MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 

Main Article

Huntingdon was a pleasant but inconsiderable town, physically overlooked and politically overawed by Hinchingbrooke House, the ‘noble’ and ‘ancient’ seat of the Montagus, earls of Sandwich. Such electoral contests as occurred in this period arose from divisions within the Montagu interest itself rather than any challenge from outside. The extent of the franchise, though giving scope for bribery and intimidation, did not render the borough wholly corrupt and thus offered comparatively little encouragement to strangers. After a period, from 1663 to 1685, in which voting was confined to the corporation, consisting of mayor, aldermen and 12 capital burgesses, it would appear that the election to the Convention had seen a return to a wider franchise, but to the freemen at large rather than, as before, to the inhabitant householders. This is to be inferred from the fact that the return in 1689 was made by the mayor, aldermen and ‘burgesses’, without the voters being named. Certainly, in the disputed election of 1705 both sides accepted that the right of voting lay with the freemen.3

At the root of the political divisions in the borough was the mental incapacity of Edward Montagu, 3rd Earl of Sandwich. ‘Of very ordinary parts’, if not feeble-minded, he was a prey both to his strong-willed and domineering wife (Elizabeth Wilmot, a daughter of the 2nd Earl of Rochester) and to the trustees who managed for him the estate depleted by his grandfather’s extravagance, in particular his uncle, Hon. Sidney Wortley Montagu. At various times Sandwich was confined to his chamber by his wife, or kept under restraint at his uncle’s house in Yorkshire. Because Lady Sandwich was a High Tory, who eventually professed herself to be a Jacobite, and Wortley Montagu was a Whig, their tug-of-war for control over the Earl’s person and estate was inevitably tinged with partisan rivalry. To begin with, the parliamentary representation was kept closely within the Montagu family, Sidney Wortley Montagu himself and Sandwich’s younger brother Richard being returned together unopposed in 1690. Although Richard Montagu was later to show dissatisfaction with the Whig ministry of the Junto, this does not mean that he was a Tory; it suits equally well the Country Whig proclivities of the Wortley Montagus, and it is clear that Richard was on intimate terms of friendship with his uncle, whom he named the executor of his will. In 1695 Wortley Montagu stood down, perhaps involuntarily, but not for any Tory nominee of Lady Sandwich: instead, his replacement was a local Whig lawyer, John Pocklington. As recorder of the borough, Pocklington would have some influence of his own, but, more importantly, he was also a protégé of the other Whig magnate in Huntingdonshire, the 4th Earl of Manchester, head of the Kimbolton branch of the Montagus and lord lieutenant of the county. Manchester did not often meddle in the borough, and since he was a figure of some standing in national politics it is possible that Wortley Montagu was willing to defer to him in this instance. It was with Manchester’s help that in 1697 Pocklington successfully pursued to the Privy Council the grievance of Huntingdon townsmen against the billeting upon them of King William’s Dutch guards. Not that this helped Pocklington retain his seat in 1698, when the Members returned were Wortley Montagu’s eldest son Francis (who had succeeded the deceased Richard Montagu at a by-election the previous year) and his nephew, Edward Carteret, Wortley Montagu himself having found an alternative seat elsewhere.4

It was at the general election of January 1701 that Lady Sandwich first disrupted the comfortable harmony of borough politics. In the preceding December Matthew Prior* had reported to Manchester that ‘my Lady Sandwich is gone to Hinchingbrooke, I fear, in order to set up Charles Boyle against Mr Wortley Montagu’s interest at Huntingdon’. He had added cheerfully, and almost prophetically, ‘Vive la guerre!’ Hon. Charles Boyle II, a distant marital connexion of the Countess, was a bright young man who as an Oxford undergraduate had been taken up by the circle of High Tory wits at Christ Church, and who was confidently expected to step into a brilliant political career. Against him, for the second seat, Wortley Montagu put up a somewhat colourless local lawyer, John Pedley, who was in politics an old-fashioned Whig. How much significance these party labels had for the generality of the voters is not clear. Huntingdon contained only a small Dissenting community, and was not bedevilled by religious strife; while accounts of the electoral contests that did take place, admittedly compiled in connexion with petitions, indicate wholesale bribery and intimidation. On this occasion the petitioner was Pedley, who had been defeated so comprehensively by Boyle that he had in fact given up ‘before the poll was over’. Capitalizing on the Commons’ current suspicion of the peerage, and its attempts to influence elections, he concentrated his accusations against Sandwich, who

with the assistance of others, with swords and clubs, did menace, assault and strike the recorder of the . . . borough [now Francis Wortley Montagu], and others of the petitioner’s voters. Some being wounded, others were carried under a strong guard to give their votes for Mr Boyle, but were not permitted to give their second votes, which they would have done, for the petitioner, nor his friends, could speak with them.

The petition, presented on 15 Feb. 1701, was ordered to be heard at the bar of the House, but after a series of adjournments on 13, 15 Mar. and 7 Apr., Pedley was given leave to withdraw on 25 Apr. In the meantime Boyle and Wortley Montagu had fought a duel, presumably arising from a quarrel over the election, which left Boyle victorious, according to his biographer, but seriously wounded. Boyle’s surviving papers contained a speech relating to the petition, which, if it was ever given, must have been heard at the first presentation. In it he disparaged his opponents’ witnesses: one who claimed to have been ‘beaten’ was in fact only ‘weatherbeaten’; and if the man had received any ‘affront’ he had drawn this upon himself by seeking to ‘set people together by the ears’. By contrast, Boyle’s own witnesses were men of unimpeachable reputation: they included one gentleman who ‘might be, and I think fairly was, chosen knight of the shire, and I believe he is the only gentleman in England, that had all the voices in a county, and was not elected’. But the burden of the speech was a defence of Sandwich. Boyle freely admitted that his own candidature was dependent upon the Sandwich interest (as, in an indirect way, was Pedley’s) and in his vindication of the peer left little room to doubt the identification. His lordship had refused the compliment of the freedom of the borough, which would have enabled him to involve himself directly in the election, but had only exercised a customary and legitimate influence: ‘I . . . must submit it to the equity of the House’, declaimed Boyle,

how far they will think it inconsistent with their order or privileges, that a gentleman who has the ill fortune to be a peer, and the good fortune to have a considerable estate about a borough, a noble and ancient seat just by it, and a firm and a large interest in it, should give himself the trouble to appear there at the election of one whom he is pleased to esteem his friend, and has the honour to be his relation.5

Wortley Montagu did not repeat his attempt to engross both parliamentary seats at the second election of 1701, when the representation was shared between Boyle and Francis Wortley Montagu, but a full-scale contest arose a year later. Lady Sandwich nominated Boyle again, and along with him Anthony Hammond, who in the previous election had been displaced from his seat for Cambridge University. She may have considered putting Hammond up in November 1701, for he and his wife had visited Hinchingbrooke beforehand, perhaps to discuss electoral prospects. Hammond was a Huntingdonshire man himself, and, by the time of the next election at least, was a freeman of the borough. One contemporary reported before the 1702 election that he expected Hammond and Boyle to carry it, Sandwich’s interest ‘being much increased since the last election’. On the Whig side the candidates were Francis Wortley Montagu and the former recorder, Pocklington. After a poll showing a remarkable polarization of the voters (only eight of whom split their choice between Whig and Tory), Lady Sandwich was triumphant. By the next election, however, she had lost both her nominees: Boyle, now Earl of Orrery in the Irish peerage, seems no longer to have had much interest in sitting in the House, while Hammond had accepted a minor office and thus alienated himself from the Countess. Moreover, Lady Sandwich’s Tory supporters in the corporation seem to have lost some of their former vigour, for the borough’s congratulatory address on the military successes of 1704, presented by Orrery, was anodyne and politically balanced, thanking the Queen for her care both of the Church and succession. There was some difficulty in finding a suitable candidate to oppose Wortley Montagu’s interest. Edward Carteret was even considered, since he had proved himself insufficiently Whiggish for his uncle’s taste, but at last a meeting of about 40 freemen at the Bull inn, in Huntingdon, ‘pitched upon’ Sir John Cotton, 4th Bt., of Conington, the head of a family whose Toryism had been as high as that of Lady Sandwich. Cotton stood alone, while Wortley Montagu, to find a partner for his younger son Edward (Francis having died in 1702), resorted once more to Pedley. This time the contest was close, and the electorate deluged with bribes. Cotton and Edward Wortley Montagu ended with an equal number of votes, only nine ahead of Pedley. Both sides were probably aware of their vulnerability to accusations of bribery, so the petitions that were entered came from various sets of corporators, presumably with the intention of having the election of the sitting Member in question declared void. The mayor, several aldermen and the bailiffs petitioned on behalf of Pedley against Cotton; the ‘late mayor’, other aldermen and freemen counter-petitioned on behalf of Cotton against Wortley Montagu. The committee and the House were in due course regaled with stories of ‘single votes’ bought for a guinea each; of interest-free loans of £40; of the votes of labourers acquired for £15; of one of Cotton’s petitioners being paid seven guineas for his signature. In what appears to have been a straight partisan division at the report, the verdict went to Wortley Montagu and Pedley, while Cotton’s principal agent was taken into custody for ‘corrupt practices’.6

Perhaps the most significant piece of evidence to emerge in the hearing of the 1705 election dispute was that one of those offering money to voters to poll for Pedley and Wortley Montagu was a gardener at Hinchingbrooke, which suggests that Sandwich had already been removed from his wife’s jurisdiction and that the administration of his property had been taken over by Sidney Wortley Montagu. In fact the Earl was in due course persuaded to reside at Wortley Montagu’s house in Yorkshire, possibly under actual physical restraint, a state of affairs that was reflected in the two following general elections. In 1708 Edward Wortley Montagu was returned unopposed with the London lawyer Francis Page, like Sidney Wortley Montagu a trustee of the Sandwich estate; and in 1710 these outgoing Members were safely re-elected despite the efforts of Cotton’s younger brother Thomas, who, probably backed by Lady Sandwich, mounted a canvass but withdrew before the poll. On 5 Dec. 1710 Cotton’s supporters petitioned for a void election, on the novel grounds that ‘bribery, threats and other undue practices’ by his opponents had deterred him from standing a poll. Even in the Tory heyday this made little impression and the petition was eventually let fall. Matters changed, however, when Sandwich’s heir, Lord Hinchingbrooke, came of age in July 1713. ‘A strenuous Tory’ in his mother’s image, he was determined to be chosen for Parliament at the first opportunity, and moved rapidly to secure his father’s person. The Earl’s deliverance from captivity was magniloquently reported in the Tory Post Boy:

They write from Huntingdon, that on Wednesday the first [of July] . . . the Right Hon. the Earl of Sandwich, who has for about three years past resided at Wortley Castle in Yorkshire, returned from thence to his lordship’s seat at Hinchingbrooke . . . in perfect health, being met upon the borders of the county by his son, the Lord Hinchingbrooke, attended with near 1,500 of the loyal clergy, gentry and freeholders, and others on horseback, to welcome his lordship in that country again; and was received upon the road, and at Huntingdon, with the utmost joy and satisfaction of all people, except some part of the corporation, who did not meet his lordship, notwithstanding he is their lord high steward. The road was strew’d with greens and flowers for near a mile from the town’s end, and the whole town like a garden. Two of the aldermen did meet his lordship on the way.

Hinchingbrooke’s name was added to the county commission of the peace just before the election, though he scarcely needed any such assistance in the borough on his own account. He was not, however, able to uproot the Wortley Montagu interest completely, and at the election both sides settled for one seat, without troubling the freemen to go to a poll.7

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Cambs RO (Huntingdon), Huntingdon bor. recs. H26/19, pollbk. 1702.
  • 2. Ibid.; Bodl. Rawl. A.245, f. 68. The figures for the poll given in Post Boy, 21–23 July 1702, transpose the totals for Pocklington and Wortley Montagu.
  • 3. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, ii. 509–10; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 66–67; William and John Blathwayte Diary 1703, ed. Hardwick, 10; Holmes thesis, 2–3, 199; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 22.
  • 4. CP, xi. 434–5; HMC Bath, iii. 351, 354; HMC Stuart, vi. 234; vii. 416; VCH Hunts. ii. 34–35; Add. 70018, f. 83; Post Man, 22–24 Oct. 1695; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 192, 201.
  • 5. VCH Hunts. 36; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 85; HMC Cowper, ii. 415; Compton Census 1676 ed. Whiteman (Recs. Soc. and Econ. Hist. n.s. x), 319; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/w2/2/4, James*, to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 15 Feb. 1700[–1]; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 33; E. Budgell, Mems. Earl of Orrery and Boyle Fam. (1732), 198–202.
  • 6. Rawl. A.245, ff. 66, 68; Magdalene, Camb. Ferrar mss F.P. 300, Edward Ferrar to [?], [c.July 1702]; Huntingdon bor. recs. H26/19; London Gazette, 23–26 Oct. 1704.
  • 7. VCH Hunts. 37; HMC Buccleuch, i. 359; Add. 70331, ‘T. C. about elections 27 July 1713’; Post Boy, 7–9 July 1713; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs. 218; Bodl. Ballard 18, f. 49.