Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
before 1701 in freeholders, burgage-holders and freemen; after 1701 in freeholders, burgage-holders and freemen paying scot and lot
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
at least 336 in 1701
|27 Feb. 1690||ROBERT BURDETT||246|
|Sir Michael Biddulph, Bt.||991|
|7 Nov. 1695||SIR MICHAEL BIDDULPH, Bt.|
|11 Aug. 1698||RICHARD DYOTT|
|SIR MICHAEL BIDDULPH, Bt.|
|23 Jan. 1701||RICHARD DYOTT||179|
|Sir Michael Biddulph, Bt.||150|
|27 Nov. 1701||SIR MICHAEL BIDDULPH, Bt.|
|6 Aug. 1702||SIR MICHAEL BIDDULPH, Bt.|
|Sir Henry Gough|
|10 May 1705||RICHARD DYOTT|
|SIR HENRY GOUGH|
|13 May 1708||JOHN COTES|
|SIR MICHAEL BIDDULPH, Bt.|
|26 Oct. 1710||RICHARD DYOTT||287|
|Sir Michael Biddulph, Bt.||51|
|27 Aug. 1713||RICHARD DYOTT|
Lichfield had been made a county in its own right by a charter of 1553, hence the inclusion of a freeholder franchise. The government rested with two bailiffs, a sheriff and 21 brethren, although the cathedral close, effectively separated from the town by ‘pools’, was outside lay jurisdiction. Contemporary observers seem to have disagreed about its condition, Sir John Perceval, 5th Bt.†, noting in 1701 that little was manufactured there except for woollen caps, whereas Defoe detected a flourishing cloth trade 20 years later. Certainly, Lichfield was losing its impetus as a manufacturing centre, but it remained the main market for a thriving agricultural region and its amenities attracted many neighbouring landowners to reside within its boundaries. Not surprisingly, therefore, its parliamentary representation was dominated by powerful members of the local gentry. Candidates, however, had to be wary of offending certain interests capable of wielding electoral influence. Among these were the ten city companies; the trustees of the Conduit Lands Trust, who collected rents, dispersed money and were only replaced once every 20 years; the cathedral interest with its courts, property and administration of charitable benefactions; and, of course, the corporation itself.3
At the general election of 1690 the intervention of the young Richard Dyott, with the intention of turning out Sir Michael Biddulph, 2nd Bt., forced a contest. Dyott came from a local Tory family with a long tradition of representing the city in Parliament and clearly had a legitimate claim to a seat. Biddulph’s response seems to have been to try to undermine the position of Robert Burdett, the other sitting Member, whose local connexions were not as strong. He must have hoped to benefit from the distribution of two pamphlets which blacklisted Burdett as one of those Members who had opposed the offer of the crown to William and Mary. This worried the town clerk sufficiently for him to inform Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), a pillar of the Tory interest at nearby Tamworth, but the neighbouring gentry’s commitment to the Church party saw Biddulph defeated comprehensively. The same three candidates appear to have made an agreement to avoid a contest in 1695 because Biddulph and Burdett were returned with no intervention by Dyott. Whether this marked merely the reassertion of the Biddulph family’s traditional interest in the seat, or was a response to other factors, such as the translation of the Whig Bishop William Lloyd to Lichfield and Coventry in 1692, is unclear. However, in July 1695 the corporation had neatly side-stepped the bishop’s desire to nominate the senior bailiff of the city (and hence returning officer) by putting forward Dyott’s name as an alternative which Lloyd accepted. A committed Whig intervention was threatened by a ‘Mr Combes’ who informed the Duke of Shrewsbury of his candidature in October 1695, although there is no evidence of a poll being taken. In 1698 Burdett retired and Dyott joined with Biddulph. The Whig challenge to this cosy arrangement came from Humphrey Wyrley, a Staffordshire justice and deputy lieutenant from Hamstead in Handsworth, who forced a poll and, following his defeat, petitioned the Commons, claiming intimidation and illegal actions by his opponents, but to no avail.4
At the general election of January 1701 Dyott and Biddulph were opposed by Wyrley and William Walmisley, chancellor of the diocese. The corporation was clearly alarmed by this challenge, for as early as May 1700 they had ordered that no further freemen be created until the King had decided the fate of the Parliament. The senior bailiff, Edmund Hector, was then removed for committing that offence. In December the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield’s heir, Lord Stanhope, was approached as a possible candidate but declined on grounds of ill-health. The corporation then agreed to back Dyott and Biddulph, providing the latter made a personal appearance. Despite this official backing the campaign was extremely hard fought, judging by the result which saw only 30 votes separating the four candidates, and the return of Dyott and Walmisley. In consequence the defeated candidate from each partnership petitioned against the return of the victorious candidate on the other. The two sides had begun campaigning in earnest in October 1700, with Walmisley, in particular, spending heavily with the intention of buying votes. This led to accusations of bribery and, more specifically, of using church funds to finance his activities, to the tune of £200. Walmisley claimed that he had administered the charities under his control to non-voters. As chancellor, Walmisley also received help from the Church hierarchy, especially Bishop Lloyd (now of Worcester) who intervened in an attempt to prevent a damaging legal suit between William Baker, rector of St. Mary’s, and Walmisley from splitting the cathedral interest and thus having severe electoral ramifications. The corporation continued its commitment to Dyott and Biddulph, with the town clerk, Robert Wakefield, particularly active on their behalf, and the bailiffs later being accused of partiality in admitting voters to the poll. Both sides alleged intimidation of the voters and manipulation of the franchise, although the decision to limit it to freemen paying scot and lot did not prevent Wyrley from pressing his case in the committee of elections. Biddulph appears to have had the reluctant support of the neighbouring gentry, after appeals by Dyott and Lord Stanhope for their support: nevertheless, as the corporation had feared, he seems to have been a less than enthusiastic campaigner, only arriving in the city two weeks before the poll and spending little money. Informed opinion suggested that Walmisley would lose his case in the Commons and a new election be ordered. With this in view many Tories thought Thomas Coke* a worthy replacement, particularly given his family ties to the Stanhopes. However, Biddulph had also prepared for such an eventuality by treating the voters and securing Dyott’s support by promising always to vote with him in the Commons. To one local observer even gentry intervention would not outweigh lavish expenditure, especially in a town where ‘every tinker has a vote’. The committee proceedings were protracted, James Lowther* reporting on 17 Apr. that the previous night was ‘the second night the committee has sat upon this cause and have not half gone through the evidence’. On 10 May 1701 the committee of elections reported its resolutions: Dyott was declared elected, and Walmisley and Biddulph not duly elected. Fortunately for Walmisley, before the House could confirm the decision of the committee the Members voted to adjourn in order to attend the King at Kensington Palace. When the report was resumed in a thin House three days later, the motion to declare him not duly elected was lost by 15 votes. However, Biddulph’s electioneering in the hope of a favourable vote in the Commons was not without its reward, nor was the renewal of his partnership with Dyott, for at the election of November 1701 both were returned unopposed.5
By the 1702 election Biddulph’s position at Lichfield had been weakened by a debt he owed to the crown as a surety for a defaulting receiver-general of taxes. Furthermore, he had alienated some important local Tories, such as Lord Stanhope, by not always voting with Dyott. Thus Sir Henry Gough emerged as a Tory challenger for his seat after failing to maintain an interest at Tamworth. Dyott remained loyal to Biddulph, and Gough was defeated after forcing a poll, although the latter retained hopes of replacing Biddulph if his financial predicament worsened. This hope may have been magnified by the news that the corporation’s magistrates had gone to Stafford ‘to demand him [Biddulph] for their member of the sheriff’. Indeed, at one stage before the new Parliament met Gough’s prospects seemed bright, as Biddulph found himself imprisoned for the debt. However, his designs were thwarted upon Biddulph’s release which was in large measure due to the efforts of another Tory, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, the newly appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who probably felt that Biddulph would be more amenable than Gough to the promptings of the ministry.6
Gough planned his assault on Lichfield more meticulously in 1705. In early March he approached Leveson Gower, now Lord Gower, for his backing, and stressed the extent of his support from the surrounding countryside as well as asking Gower to ‘secure the chancellor, for that interest will go far’, and to recommend him to the corporation. Most important, he begged to know Biddulph’s intentions, for ‘if he cannot appear I am certain there will be no danger of me and Dyott being returned’. This was an accurate prediction, as both were elected unopposed in May. The apparent revolution in the representation of the borough, which saw Biddulph and John Cotes replace Dyott and Gough at the 1708 election, merely substituted men of the same stamp.7
The election of 1710 was preceded by the visit to the city of Dr Sacheverell, the Tory hero, who had once held a Staffordshire living presented to him by the dean and chapter of Lichfield and been ordained a priest by, of all people, Bishop Lloyd. Over 400 horse escorted Sacheverell into the city, and bells, bonfires and illuminations celebrated the occasion. The Whigs responded by putting up the chancellor of the diocese, Walmisley, who had been persuaded to stand by Bishop Lloyd. Despite the bishop’s efforts on Walmisley’s behalf, including a letter to Archbishop Wake to obtain support from other clerics, Cotes and Dyott ‘had a very easy game from the chancellor’, with Biddulph making hardly any impact at all. Although the cathedral interest continued to be at odds with the city authorities, the chancellor refusing to allow the city magistrates to proclaim the peace in the close in June 1713, there was no contest in 1713 when Cotes and Dyott were again returned. It was not until the 1715 election that the Tory stranglehold was broken.8
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 170.
- 2. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 110.
- 3. Staffs. Rec. Soc. 1950–1, pp. 174, 141, 186, 191; Willis 48, f. 1; Add. 47057, f. 54.
- 4. Harl. 7001, f. 350; Thynne pprs. 24, ff. 154, 170; Lichfield RO D77/5/1, p. 59v; Add. 40771, f. 61; Staffs. Peds. 1664–1700 (Harl. Soc. lxiii), 259–60.
- 5. Lichfield RO D77/5/1, pp. 97–98, 101; BL, Lothian mss, Robert Harding to Coke, 21 Oct. 1700, Stanhope to same, 15 Mar., 8 Feb. ; T64/302 (Horwitz trans.); HMC Cowper, ii. 419, 421, 424, 425; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C9/9, Stanhope to [James Stanhope*], 22 Mar. 1701, same to Chesterfield, 26 Apr. 1701; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 17 Apr. 1701; Cocks Diary, 121–3.
- 6. HMC Cowper, ii. 451; Add. 29579, f. 407; Lothian mss, Ld. Stanhope to Coke, 12 Oct. 1702.
- 7. Staffs. RO, Gower pprs. D593/P/13/4, Gough to Gower, 3, 31 Mar., 16 May 1705.
- 8. G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 10–11; Add. 70421, newsletters 17, 20, 22 June 1710; Glos. RO, Hardwicke Ct. mss Lloyd pprs. box 74, Daniel Tottie to Dr [William] Lloyd, 8 July 1710; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 17, f. 266 (Speck trans.); 2, f. 62; NLW, Ottley mss, C.B. to Adam Ottley, 1 Nov. 1710; Post Boy, 2–4 June 1713.