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:

about 1,150 in 1710


23 Dec. 1693JOHN PROBY vice Montagu, deceased 
 Silius Titus 
4 June 1698ROBERT APREECE vice Montagu, deceased 
30 July 1698JOHN PROBY 
8 Apr. 1699JOHN DRYDEN vice Throckmorton, deceased 
11 Jan. 1701JOHN DRYDEN 
13 Dec. 1701JOHN DRYDEN 
25 July 1702JOHN DRYDEN 
26 May 1705JOHN DRYDEN 
31 Jan. 1708JOHN PROBY vice Dryden, deceased 
22 May 1708JOHN PROBY 
 Sir John Cotton, Bt.5311
30 Dec. 1710SIR JOHN COTTON, Bt. vice Proby, deceased 
5 Sept. 1713ROBERT PIGOTT608
 Nicholas Bonfoy462
 Edward Richard Montagu, Visct. Hinchingbrooke2852

Main Article

In terms of its landowning elite, Huntingdonshire was a small pond containing two very big fish, both of them Montagus, the Earl of Manchester at Kimbolton and the Earl of Sandwich at Hinchingbrooke House, which lay adjacent to the county town itself. Yet there was always sufficient independence among the greater gentry and the freeholders to prevent either or both of the magnates from engrossing the representation had they been able to attempt it. Indeed, the Sandwich interest seems to have participated as a principal in county elections only intermittently, in part because of the mental incapacity of the 3rd Earl and the rivalry for control of the estate between his Tory Countess and his Whig trustees. But even when Sandwich’s heir came of age, and sought to exercise the family’s influence more directly by standing as a candidate himself, he made embarrassingly little headway. Manchester, lord lieutenant of the county throughout the period, was a more formidable presence and was often able to secure one seat for his nominee, though prolonged absences as an ambassador abroad, between 1697 and 1701 and again between 1706 and 1708, temporarily reduced his effectiveness. Such resistance as there was to Manchester’s influence did not take the form of opposition to aristocratic interference, as was the case with Sandwich in the borough, nor necessarily of opposition to Manchester himself. Nor were partisan enmities especially strong. Instead, what seems to have occurred was a collective assertion of gentry opinion in favour of an agreed candidate or candidates, possibly through the medium of a county meeting. One of the characteristics of Huntingdonshire politics was the successful avoidance of conflict for the most part, with contested county elections kept to a minimum.

At the 1690 general election Hon. Robert Montagu, Manchester’s brother and, like the Earl, a Court Whig, was returned with a Country Whig squire, John Dryden. On Montagu’s death in 1693 another ‘old Whig’, John Proby of Elton, was chosen to fill the vacancy. His relationship to the Manchester interest is unclear, though his readiness to stand down in 1695 when another of the Earl’s younger brothers, Hon. Heneage, wished to put up suggests that he was willing to defer to Manchester’s wishes. The 1695 election in fact probably saw the single instance in this period of direct competition between Kimbolton and Hinchingbrooke for a county seat. Heneage Montagu was returned without difficulty, but the second place was disputed by Silius Titus, a veteran Whig, and Anthony Hammond, an up-and-coming young Tory. Though both had Huntingdonshire properties, neither was in the front rank of local landowners. Titus had sat as knight of the shire in the first two Exclusion Parliaments, but had since become a carpet-bagger, and was now becoming a desperate one; Hammond was later to be a recurrent visitor to Hinchingbrooke and a favoured candidate of Lady Sandwich in the borough: it seems most likely, therefore that each had at least the backing of one of the magnate interests. If so, it is perhaps surprising that Hammond defeated Titus, albeit after a stiff contest, the more so since he was in the position of the single Tory challenging two Whigs.3

In Manchester’s absence abroad in 1698, the county began a succession of elections of semi-independent country gentlemen, Whiggish in their politics but not committed party men, whose returns, presumably settled in advance at a county meeting, were unopposed. The last election for some years of a Manchester nominee was probably that of Robert Apreece at a by-election in June 1698. He had barely time to take his seat before the Parliament was dissolved a month later, and at the general election Proby was once again chosen, having as his partner a Huntingdonshire squire and former colonial planter, Robert Throckmorton, of whose politics nothing is known except for pronounced ‘Country’ leanings. Hammond, meanwhile, had transferred his attention to the university constituency in Cambridge. Throckmorton’s tenure of the seat was not much longer than Apreece’s had been. He died early in 1699 and was replaced by Dryden, who, according to his cousin the poet, was an archetypally worthy ‘Country’ Member. Dryden and Proby were re-elected unopposed in the two elections of 1701, but in 1702 Proby gave way to a Tory, William Naylor, a connexion, through Naylor’s niece’s marriage, of Sandwich. Naylor’s election may perhaps be attributable to the renewed enthusiasm with which Lady Sandwich had again taken up Huntingdonshire politics. But he was by no means a dynamic character, and was easily brushed aside in the 1705 election by Manchester’s protégé, John Pocklington, a Whig lawyer and previously MP for Huntingdon, who was early with his canvassing and secured such an advantage as to deter Naylor from polling. That the general inclination of the county at this time was Whiggish is evident from the tone of the congratulatory address presented on the occasion of the military triumphs of the previous year. Not only were Pocklington and Dryden returned unopposed in 1705, but when Dryden died Proby succeeded to the vacancy without a contest. Matters were initially complicated at the 1708 general election by the intervention of two other candidates. Both were Tories, but this did not mean a straightforward party battle. Hammond, making a reappearance on the county scene, had forfeited Lady Sandwich’s favour by going over to the Court while Sir John Cotton, 4th Bt., though almost as high a Tory as the Countess, none the less stood on his own interest with no help from Hinchingbrooke. With the passage of time Proby had become even more independent-minded, and it was conceivable that he now had more in common with Cotton than with either of the other two. Certainly Hammond was prepared to seek an alliance with Pocklington to fight the election on a pro-ministerial platform, but this was effectively scuppered by Proby’s refusal to commit himself to Cotton, or indeed anyone else. A friend of his, visiting Huntingdon in January 1708, reported:

I found Mr H[ammond] making interest for himself and was informed by [the] landlord that he had expressed a design of staying some time in town, and the same time I found the report of your joining with Sir John had been industriously spread abroad and credited by many of your friends, and I am apt to believe that the hopes of its being true was the greatest inducement to Mr Hammond to offer himself, expecting Mr Pockl[ington] upon such an occasion would be ready to join with him, and I am the more confirmed in that opinion by Mr H[ammond]’s motions for two or three hours after when I had undeceived many that believed the report and confirmed others that credited it not there was a visible alteration, Mr H[ammond] called for his reckoning and declared . . . that he believed his standing would be to no purpose, so that Sir John is the only enemy you have to fear and he is by no means a dangerous one, if you make haste down for a quick flourish would in all probability make him desist and I find his friends look next towards you, and such a conjuncture would take away all pretence of joining you with Mr P[ocklington], which if you should ever do, though it would strengthen your interest about this town, yet I am satisfied it would weaken it in other places, and I suppose you are not ignorant that your own single interest seems to be leaning another way, and by such a conjunction if that should be much impaired it will force you to stand and fall by a party, which, as I know it is contrary to your professed inclination, so I believe it will not be improper to consider whether it be consistent with your truest interest . . . Nobody proposes or expects your joining with Mr P[ocklington] . . . except a few warm men, whereof Mr Ald[erma]n Clerk and Monsr. Carcassonet are the chief, and I am satisfied that your speeding appearing here would set all things right.

Following this advice, Proby did indeed secure an unchallenged return, while Manchester’s agents managed the same for Pocklington.4

Cotton made a more determined effort in 1710, presumably expecting to ride the wave of Tory sentiment set in motion by the Sacheverell affair. Against him, however, was the predominantly Whiggish bent of the greater gentry of the county, reinforced by a recent addition of Whigs to the commission of the peace, and the popularity of the outgoing Members, Proby on his own account and Pocklington as Manchester’s man. Recently the two men had courted the further favour of the local community by sponsoring a bill for establishing a public registry of deeds in Huntingdon. Moreover, Manchester took steps to engineer an alliance between the two Whigs in the face of the threat of a Sacheverellite backlash. It was reported in August 1710 that:

Manchester and most of the gentlemen agreed the two old Members . . . should join next election, which they consented to, and we have heard of no opposition till last week, then Sir John Cotton resolved to stand and is now making interest, but I believe to no purpose, because most of the gentlemen were pre-engaged before he declared.

The evidence of the poll book for this election reveals a polarized electorate. Over 90 per cent of Pocklington’s voters and almost as high a proportion of Proby’s supported both Whig candidates, while of Cotton’s 531 votes no less than 371 were plumpers. The higher number of split votes on Cotton’s side (160, as opposed to 97 for Pocklington and 68 for Proby) suggests that his single candidature was an important, though not all-important, factor in his defeat. The difference between his total and Proby’s, the next highest, would have been reduced by less than half had all Cotton’s split-voters plumped instead. None the less, this was a good showing from one so late in the field, and an opportunity soon arose for Cotton to compensate himself, for Proby died even before the new Parliament met. Hastily withdrawing a petition against the general election return on 1 Dec. 1710, Cotton resumed his candidacy at the by-election in December and was elected unopposed. Manchester had considered putting up Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Bt.*, but was apparently discouraged from doing so, either by the apprehension of local resistance to an outsider, or a consciousness that in nominating both knights he would be stepping beyond the bounds of what had come to be accepted propriety. Following Cotton’s election the Tories in Huntingdonshire enjoyed a false spring. Further commissions of the peace added unusually large numbers to the bench, though without purging Whigs, and in 1712 a minority of justices, clergy and other gentry drew up an address of thanks for the communication of the peace terms, which Cotton was able to present, enshrining the loftiest loyalism. After praising ‘the wonderful proceedings of your Majesty’s present Council’, the address went on:

And we beg leave to assure your Majesty, that notwithstanding we are part of that county which gave birth to that grand traitor and usurper Oliver Cromwell†, we are not all abandoned to those rebellious principles, or such other as have of late been too industriously and impudently advanced.

For some reason, Cotton did not stand for re-election in 1713, a loss that was to prove very serious for the Huntingdonshire Tories, though at first their prospects seemed bright. For once they were able to put up two candidates, Nicholas Bonfoy of Abbot’s Ripton, whose principal seat was in Hertfordshire but who does not seem to have suffered in local reputation for that fact, and, more impressive still, the young Lord Hinchingbrooke, Sandwich’s heir, who had recently come of age and had grown up ‘a strenuous Tory’. The Hinchingbrooke interest had been united in support of his candidature, Sandwich returning to Huntingdonshire amid great pomp (according to reports in the Tory press) after being delivered from the restraints imposed on him by his trustees (see HUNTINGDON). At the election Sandwich loyalists, especially the clergy, were active but, contrary to the national trend, the two Whigs, Proby’s heir Robert Pigott and a Northamptonshire gentleman, Sir Matthew Dudley, 2nd Bt., scored an even more decisive victory than Pocklington and Proby had registered in 1710, and this despite the fact that Pigott was new to the county and Dudley properly speaking an outsider. They enjoyed the backing of Manchester, of course, and Dudley’s Northamptonshire connexions were of some help since a substantial number of voters lived in that county, but the real explanation for the result lies with the Tories. The most striking feature of the election was the weakness of the Sandwich interest, as indeed one contemporary had predicted. Bonfoy collected more votes, including a significantly higher number of plumpers (49 against Lord Hinchingbrooke’s two, one of whom was Bonfoy himself), largely because he had begun canvassing much sooner. In any case, Hinchingbrooke was also a candidate in the borough, where his election was safe because unopposed, a point which at the very least robbed his campaign in the county of any urgency. Both he and Bonfoy had been obliged to make their own interest. The turnover of voters (274 freeholders polled in 1713 who had not done so in 1710) was partly to be accounted for by widespread abstentions among Cotton’s interest. Of the 531 plumpers who had constituted the core of Cotton’s voting strength in 1710, no less than 214 failed to vote at all three years later. A further 21 split their votes between the parties, and 43 actually voted a straight Whig ticket, leaving a mere 93 (just over 16 per cent) who polled for both Tories or plumped for one of them. Such a wholesale desertion of those who had constituted the core of the Tory support in 1710 was too great a handicap for Bonfoy and Hinchingbrooke to overcome. It may also demonstrate the extent to which Cotton’s adherents had been motivated by personal rather than by partisan considerations.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bodl. Gough Hunts. 3, pollbks. 1710, 1713.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. VCH Hunts. ii. 34; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 10; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 503; A. Browning, Danby, iii. 182; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 544; Add. 70018, f. 83; Bodl. Rawl. A.245, ff. 59, 66, 68.
  • 4. VCH Hunts. 36; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, John Turner* to Robert Walpole II*, 19 Feb. 1704–5; London Gazette, 2–6 Nov. 1704; Lincs. AO, Massingberd (Mundy) mss 2MM/B/5, Burrell Massingberd to Proby, 14 Jan. 1707–8; Massingberd mss 20/78, same to Sir William Massingberd, 19 May 1708; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 283.
  • 5. L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 193–4, 201, 225–6; Add. 70201, E. Lawrence to Robert Harley*, 8 Aug. 1710; 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 23 Nov. 1710; 70331, ‘T. C. about elections’, 27 July 1713; 5838, f. 25; CJ, xvi. 283, 298; Bodl. Gough Hunts. 3; Bodl. Ballard 18, f. 49; London Gazette, 6–9 Sept. 1712; VCH Hunts. 38; HMC Buccleuch, i. 359–60; Post Boy, 7–9 July, 27–29 Aug. 1713.