King's Lynn


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:

about 450

Number of voters:

435 in February 1712


6 Mar. 1708WALPOLE re-elected after appointment to office 
4 Feb. 1710WALPOLE  re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Feb. 1712WALPOLE  re-elected after having been expelled the House285
 Samuel Tayler150
7 Apr. 1712JOHN TURNER vice Walpole, declared  incapable of being re-elected 

Main Article

Politics in King’s Lynn were dominated by the Turners, a local family of merchants and lawyers, who provided the corporation with five of its mayors between 1691 and 1707. Sir John Turner, then a Tory, was returned in 1690 with another local Tory, Daniel Bedingfield, the recorder. However, Sir John’s nephew, Charles Turner, had in 1689 married the daughter of Robert Walpole I* of Houghton, and the Turners soon aligned themselves behind this powerful new connexion, supporting the Walpoles locally and the Whigs nationally. In 1695 Charles Turner took the place of Bedingfield. The family’s position was consolidated still further, so that in 1702 Charles, now Sir Charles, was able to bring in his brother-in-law, Robert Walpole II, when old age compelled Sir John to step down. The Walpoles had a little influence themselves in the borough, and young Robert had already made himself agreeable to the voters by carrying through the Commons, in the enforced absence of its promoter, Turner’s bill to establish a workhouse at Lynn. Walpole had been obliged to give up his own seat at Castle Rising in 1702 to his Tory uncle Horatio Walpole I*. After his candidature at Lynn had been decided upon, but before it had been declared, he received from (Sir) Charles Turner’s excitable and impetuous brother, John Turner, an assessment of the prospects. (Sir) Charles was certain to be chosen, ‘unless he puts some disgust upon them’, and, it being the accepted opinion that Sir John would not stand, ‘people’s thoughts begin to ramble upon some other’. The Dissenters seemed to favour Walpole’s uncle James Hoste†, ‘but they know their interest [is] too weak to undertake it without us, and [I] am convinced they will not part interest with us’. Lord Townshend’s brother Horace, a London merchant, would have been a very strong candidate but had declined to stand. Lord Townshend had recently been elected high steward of the borough, and Horace might have been ‘unanimously chosen, if he had been inclined, for my Lord Townshend’s quality and the goodwill they bear him outweighed all other considerations’. As it was, the opposition would come from one Bell, an alderman, the candidate of those who preferred ‘a townsman’. In Turner’s view, Walpole might easily persuade Bell not to stand, or defeat him in a contest. The only real difficulties were that ‘a great many . . . grudge and repine at our governing here (as they are pleased to call it), and want an opportunity to show dislike’; and that Walpole’s arrangements at Castle Rising had given rise to some Whig resentment at Lynn:

It is easy for those that wish us ill to say they are made properties of, and tools only to serve a turn, and everybody knows what is done at Rising (it being so near) as well as if it were here, and what objections one side may make of our turning with the wind, contrary to former pretences. Others will allege we impose upon them because they desire but one townsman, and we have Boston, Peterborough and Huntingdon treating round about us, so that some . . . long to have a fellow feeling of the good creature, which they think to be but neighbours’ fare, but we tell them it is downright bribery and selling their birthrights for a mess of pottage; however, if there were opposition nature would prevail.

Walpole was therefore urged to take every care, and to

write a civil letter to Mr Bell, and let him know that you are satisfied of his just pretensions and interest to represent our corporation in Parliament but that being informed he was very indifferent upon that point, and your uncle, having an interest as well as yourself in Rising, was resolved to stand there, so that to avoid any opposition with your uncle, and being encouraged by some of your friends, you intended to offer your service to our corporation, and that you did not doubt success, in case he continued his favour and friendship to you in his concurrence and assistance in the said affair, but give him no room to doubt but that you will stand whether he will or no.

John Turner may have been unduly worried about Bell, on account of a promise he admitted having made, ‘without the consent of his friends’ and before Walpole had emerged as a candidate, that ‘if Mr Townshend stood not and he [Bell] declared in time that I would be for him if my friends would agree to it’. John’s cousin, another Charles Turner, was able shortly afterwards to reassure Walpole that ‘I am very positive I have made your calling and election sure, and I cannot forbear to tell you that I have exceeded my commission in declaring for you . . . I believe I may tell you it will be nemine contradicente’; and after the declaration John Turner reported with some relief that ‘since my last, your standing here being made pretty public, we have had better opportunity of feeling people’s pulses . . . and I am glad I can tell you, that everything squares even better than I could have expected’. Bell had announced ‘that he absolutely declined any pretensions of standing and that he would contribute all he could for your interest and service’. At the election Turner and Walpole were returned unopposed.1

Walpole built up his own influence, using his standing in the Commons and with the ministry to further the interests of the town as a whole and secure jobs for individual townsmen, and he and his colleague kept their seats without a challenge in three succeeding general elections, though some time before the 1705 election a local merchant, Samuel Tayler, the son of a former Member, was reported to have been ‘drunk these ten days making a canvass’. That neither Walpole nor Turner resided in the town was something of a grievance. This had recently been accentuated by Walpole’s appointment to office, which kept him in London for longer than the parliamentary session, and by Turner’s second marriage, which had brought him a large estate on the other side of the county. Turner felt obliged to pay a visit to the town in 1706 to show his face: as he explained to Walpole, ‘some were complaining that they had not seen any of their representatives of a very long time, and barely know whether they were dead or living’. The majority of freemen were still resident: in 1712 only some 135 voters were ‘out-freemen’.2

In 1710 Walpole put up for the county, and considered bringing in his younger brother Horatio II*, also a strong Whig, at Lynn. However, the fear of defeat in the county election, which proved well founded, led to him retaining the seat himself as an insurance policy. Walpole’s expulsion from the Commons in 1712 was followed by the only contest for the borough in this period, when Samuel Tayler at last stood, probably as a Tory. Walpole, with the aid of various friends and agents at Lynn, successfully organized his re-election campaign from the Tower. After the election he wrote to his principal agent that ‘if Mr Tayler should proceed by petition to take away the rights of the corporation, I must desire you will take upon you the trouble to manage my cause, and be preparing matters for recriminating upon their illegal proceedings’. Tayler petitioned on 23 Feb., giving the Tory majority in the House the chance to declare the election void on 6 Mar. on the grounds that Walpole was unable to be re-elected to the same Parliament from which he had been expelled. John Turner carried the ensuing by-election, deputizing for Walpole until the next general election. The Commons’ treatment of Walpole cemented his popularity at Lynn. Defoe, who visited the town in September 1712 on behalf of Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) was horror-struck at what he found there, ‘the spirit of parties in its highest extraction’. He felt as if he was

out of her Majesty’s dominions, and in the capital city of the territories of King Walpole . . . How her Majesty is treated . . . would fill any man who makes loyalty and duty to his sovereign a principle with indignation . . . You cannot doubt, but where a party with such a temper seem to prevail and have what they call a leading interest, the people . . . suffer a general inflammation, and are made lunatic with the madness of their leaders; what strange things they are made to believe . . . is incredible, and but for the novelty of them are not worth repeating. Such as, that the Queen is for the Pretender, the ministry under the protection of France.

In 1713 Walpole and Turner were once again returned unopposed.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, John Turner to [Walpole], 8, 18 May, 3 June 1702, George Slee to Walpole, 11 May 1702, Charles Turner to same, 17 May 1702, (Sir) Charles Turner to [same], 7 June 1702.
  • 2. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, John Turner to Walpole, 10 Oct. 1704, 19 Feb. 1705, (Sir) Charles Turner to same, 24 Oct. 1706; 68/2/17.
  • 3. Norf. RO, Bradfer-Lawrence mss, Ashe Windham* to [Ld. Townshend], 8 June 1710; Norf. RO, Rolfe mss, Walpole to Edmund Rolfe, 18 Jan., 13 Feb. 1712; HMC Portland, v. 224.