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:

at least 300 in 1685; 820 in 1722


13 Mar. 1690JOHN RAMSDEN
 Sir James Bradshaw
 Charles Osborne
 Sir James Bradshaw

Main Article

In the late 17th century Hull was developing into one of the most important and prosperous towns in Yorkshire. The strategic importance of Hull had been demonstrated during the Civil War, so that it was natural that the town should have one of the strongest garrisons in England. However, Hull’s growing importance in the late 17th century was primarily due to an economic revival in the locality. With a significant shipbuilding industry and the developments in river navigation, as with the Aire and Calder after 1699, Hull’s merchant community was able to expand its international and internal trade. Greater access to the textile areas of the West Riding increased export opportunities, and allowed for larger quantities of imports, such as iron for Sheffield. Defoe was so impressed by the town that he compared it with ‘second rate cities abroad’ such as Rotterdam, Hamburg and Danzig, ‘which are famed for their commerce’. Hull ‘is indeed not so large as those; but, in proportion to the dimensions of it, I believe there is more business done in Hull than in any town of its bigness in Europe’. He went on to state that ‘they have a very handsome exchange here, where the merchants meet as at London, and, I assure you, it is wonderfully filled, and that with a confluence of real merchants, and many foreigners, and several from the country’.2

This developing prosperity was reflected in Hull’s political life, with the leading merchant families, such as the Maisters, dominating local government and the town’s parliamentary representation. However, various bodies at least had the potential to exercise political influence in Hull. The garrison and the customs house and excise office provided the government with sources of influence, as did the positions of governor and high steward, especially when held by the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Trinity House, originally a society for the care of local merchants’ widows, also tried to influence elections in the early 18th century. However, the corporation, comprising a mayor, 12 aldermen, two chamberlains and a sheriff, who was also the returning officer, held the most significant interest. With the franchise being in the freemen, complete control of the electorate was not possible due to the number of voters and the ongoing creation of new freemen, though Hull did not seem to suffer as severely as York from the blatant creation of freemen for political ends. The domination of the corporation by merchants may account for the greater restriction on politicized creations, and certainly for the fact that Hull’s parliamentary representatives were concerned first and foremost with looking after the interests of their constituents, regardless of their political affiliations. The other main influences in the town ensured that it was also considered to be in part a government borough. Other factors aided moderate, mercantile politics in Hull that were supportive of William III, Anne and the Hanoverian succession. Although there was a significant number of Dissenters in the town, by the 1690s they seem to have been a settled and prosperous part of the community, and did not disturb the balance of local politics. Hull’s support for the parliamentary cause in the Civil War, and the Protestant cause under James II, also made the Glorious Revolution an attractive prospect. In 1688 Hull defied James II’s instructions when electing its two MPs, which resulted in a military occupation under the command of the Catholic Lord Langdale, until the corporation ordered a ‘revolt’ on 3 Dec., which was later celebrated as ‘Town-taking’ day.3

Prior to the 1690 election Sir James Bradshaw of Risby, who had been recommended by Langdale to the corporation for election to James II’s proposed Parliament, wrote to the master of the Carpenters’ Company, explaining that ‘a considerable number of my fellow burgesses of Hull’ desired that he stand for election. Ostensibly his reason for writing was not to canvass support, but to clear his name ‘from those false aspersions cast upon me when I offered to serve you in the late King’s time’. He denied that he had been in favour of ‘taking off the Penal Laws and Test against papists’, and emphasized his adherence to the Protestant religion. However, the main intention of his letter was to undermine the corporation’s influence over the forthcoming election:

you are wise enough to know who are fittest to serve you, and therefore will not suffer any to be imposed on you either by great men above or by your aldermen, for though there be a measure of respect and submission due to them in the administration of the power committed to them, yet in the business of choosing Parliament men they ought to use no authority over the burgesses whose interest in the choice is far greater than theirs. And your representatives ought to esteem it their [choicest?] duty to restore and maintain the rights and privileges of the commons of your town. And possibly the reason why your Members have not eased the burgesses of those inconveniencies they have and do still labour under is, because your [magistrates] have appropriated the election of Parliament men to the power and artifices of their bench which makes your Members believe they owe their election to them chiefly and will therefore act according to the directions of the aldermen, forgetting that the greatest trust is reposed in them by the greatest body of burgesses. I wish these advantages your corporation has lost of late years might be retrieved again.

Bradshaw’s endeavours to gain support probably failed, as he did not stand. Carmarthen, who had been made governor of Hull in 1689, recommended the deputy-governor, his brother Charles Osborne, to the corporation, which agreed to admit Osborne as a freeman a week before the election. Osborne was returned unopposed with John Ramsden, the son of a local merchant, William Ramsden, who had sat for Hull in 1678–9. Osborne’s relationship to Carmarthen did not preclude him from having to do the corporation’s bidding in Parliament, though it was reported to the mayor on 16 Oct. 1690 that Osborne and Carmarthen were already ‘very zealous in any matter that may be for the service of Hull’. Although ‘a stranger’ to Hull, Osborne’s interest was increased further in February 1691 when Carmarthen was chosen by the corporation as high steward. During the following years Osborne and Ramsden communicated with the corporation on a regular basis, sending parliamentary news, and addressing various issues, such as the ongoing problem of quartering soldiers in the town, and the pressing of seamen.4

At the 1695 election Osborne and William St. Quintin, a Whig alderman and local merchant, were returned, defeating Bradshaw. St. Quintin’s election, with the support of the corporation, represented the continued significance of the local elite in Hull’s parliamentary representation. Bradshaw petitioned, arguing that since Hull was a county the election should have been held at the next county court after the receipt of the writ. A witness deposed that 25 new freemen had been created before the election, yet because ‘the great doors into the market place’ were kept closed on the day of the election, access was restricted to ‘the back stairs’, so that under 500 freemen were polled instead of the existing 700. Osborne and St. Quintin were declared elected, but a motion that Bradshaw’s petition had been ‘frivolous and groundless’ was defeated.5

The parliamentary activity of Osborne and St. Quintin remained concentrated on local concerns. The corporation continued to write to both MPs about issues such as the quartering of soldiers and the bill for making the Derwent navigable. The MPs in turn sent regular reports with parliamentary news. The most significant task they were set was the promotion of a poor bill. As a garrison town, Hull suffered from abandoned wives and orphaned children. In early 1698 it was reported that ‘the poor in . . . Hull do daily multiply, and through idleness or want of employment and sufficient authority to compel them to, become indigent and disorderly’. Osborne and St. Quintin were instructed to bring in a bill for erecting workhouses and houses of correction in the town, which was to be administered by the corporation and 24 others, with a 2d. per week poor rate aimed at raising £2,000 for the workhouse. Their failure to secure the passage of the bill met with dissatisfaction in the corporation, though not to the extent that it jeopardized their re-election. On 11 June the mayor and corporation wrote to Carmarthen (now Duke of Leeds) thanking him for his letter recommending the two outgoing MPs for re-election, and informing him that his letter had been circulated to the wardens of the several companies in the borough and read to the burgesses. They also thanked him for ‘promoting our charitable bill in the House of Lords’, and informed him that the burgesses ‘seem unanimous in electing our late Members’. With this comprehensive support, it was not surprising that Osborne and St. Quintin were unopposed at the 1698 election.6

During the 1698–9 session Osborne and St. Quntin succeeded in getting the poor bill through Parliament, despite its meeting with some difficulty in the Lords. They met the expense of the bill themselves, though this ‘gift’ to the town appears to have been in response to pressure from the corporation. At the same time events started to turn against Osborne. In March 1699 it was reported to the corporation that Osborne ‘understands not their own laws’ and that therefore the town’s efforts to get redress for allowances for fee-farm rents would come to nothing. In May Leeds wrote to Lord Lonsdale (Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II*) wishing to know the King’s pleasure in relation to the governorship of Hull and the lieutenancy of Yorkshire:

in case he intends my remove from these, I pray that . . . unless his Majesty’s displeasure reach to every branch of my family . . . my br[other Charles] Osborne may be continued in his place of lieutenant governor, who hath been a thorough voter always for the Court in Parliament and to whom heretofore the King promised a compensation for his remove from the place of a riding surveyor in the customs house.

However, Leeds was removed in the summer from both posts, being replaced as governor by the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), while by the autumn Osborne had also been removed as deputy-governor. While Newcastle and Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) began to replace Leeds as the influential magnates in the locality, the corporation’s continued control of affairs, and its concern to be represented in Parliament by local men, was demonstrated by the election of St. Quintin as mayor of Hull in October 1699, along with William Maister, another local merchant and Whig, as sheriff.7

By the first 1701 election, circumstances were very unfavourable for Osborne. Unsurprisingly, St. Quintin and Maister were returned with the support of the corporation, defeating Osborne and the ever-optimistic Bradshaw in a contested election. Osborne petitioned, alleging bribery and treating on the part of St. Quintin and Maister. Bradshaw petitioned on 25 Feb. against the return of Maister, on the grounds that ‘unqualified voters’ had been polled and that the mayor had denied him a scrutiny and an examination of the register of the freemen’s names. He also accused Maister and St. Quintin of bribery. The petitions were never heard, though it is evident that 41 freemen had been admitted over three days in September 1700, in what had the appearance of an electoral manoeuvre.8

With the corporation exercising the greatest influence, the two local MPs, St. Quintin and Maister, were returned unopposed at the next six general elections. On occasion this consensus was threatened, most notably by the activities of Newcastle, who also maintained contact with the two MPs. In October 1704 St. Quintin fell foul of the corporation for leaving Hull without paying his respects to the mayor, and in early 1705 he annoyed them again by supporting Newcastle’s candidate for the post of town clerk in opposition to the corporation. For a time it even looked as if he would be denied the corporation’s support in the forthcoming election (though this threat came to nothing). However, relations with Newcastle were not always contentious. In 1706 he addressed the ongoing problem of the army in Hull, reporting to the government on ‘the miserable condition of troops garrisoned at Hull, who are lodged in the citadel without fire and half-starved’ since their wages had remained unpaid for many years. For their part, the MPs continued to keep in contact with the corporation, and early in 1710 brought in another poor bill, in order to authorize a higher assessment for the support of the workhouses, which they managed successfully. At the same time the strength of the corporation’s influence in Hull ensured that there was no Tory challenge to the sitting Whig MPs, even in the 1710 election, and despite a hint of dissatisfaction with the two MPs around this time, both continued to represent Hull until their respective deaths in 1716 and 1723.9

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Quinn thesis, 62; R.C. Ward, 'Political correspondence relating to Kingston-upon-Hull, 1678-1835' (Leeds Univ. Ph.D thesis, 1989), 18.
  • 2. Quinn, 61; R. Davis, Rise of Eng. Shipping Industry, 39; G. Jackson, Hull in 18th cent., 7–9; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 651–3; William and John Blathwayt Diary 1703 ed. Hardwick, 13; J. Taylor, A Journey to Edinburgh, 66.
  • 3. Quinn, 29, 35, 62–64; Jackson, 288–9, 300–3, 307–9; Ward, 4–7, 14–16, 18, 27; Bodl. Willis 15, f. 103; Add. 47057, f. 27.
  • 4. Egerton 3347, ff. 1–2; Ward, 45; Quinn, 62; Hull corp. recs. L.1114, L.1118, L.1121–2, L.1142; Cal. Hull Corp. Recs. 281–4, 362; HMC Var. viii. 72–76.
  • 5. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Quinn, 62–63; Ward, 46–47, 239.
  • 6. Cal. Hull Corp. Recs. 286–7, 363; Hull corp. recs. L.1171, L.1173, L.1179; Jackson, 321; Ward, 149; Quinn, 63–64.
  • 7. Hull corp. recs. L.1184–5, L.1192; Cal. Hull Corp. Recs. 287–8; Tickell, Hull, 776; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/L1/1/41, Leeds to Lonsdale, 19 May 1699; Post Boy, 19–22 Aug., 4–7 Nov. 1699; Flying Post, 24–26 Aug. 1699; Bodl. Carte mss 228, ff. 321–2; Ward, 47.
  • 8. Quinn, 63; Ward, 47–48.
  • 9. Add. 70501, f. 43; London Gazette, 9–13 Apr. 1702; Hull corp. recs. L.1195, L.1216; Cal. Hull Corp. Recs. 289, 290–1, 293; Quinn, 63–65; Ward, 48, 110; HMC Portland, iv. 330; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 225; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 122.