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:

at least 4,299 in 1705


24 Feb. 1690GEORGE SAUNDERSON, Visct. Castleton [I] 
28 Oct. 1695GEORGE SAUNDERSON, Visct. Castleton [I] 
 Sir John Bolles, Bt. 
10 Feb. 1702LEWIS DYMOKE vice Dymoke, deceased 
30 May 1705GEORGE WHICHCOT2492
 Lewis Dymoke1990
 Sir John Thorold, Bt.17421
26 May 1708PEREGRINE BERTIE,  Ld. Willoughby de Eresby 
11 Oct. 1710LEWIS DYMOKE3147
 PEREGRINE BERTIE, Ld. Willoughby de Eresby2977
 George Whichcot13332
9 Sept. 1713PEREGRINE BERTIE, Ld. Willoughby de Eresby 

Main Article

Although having few serious rivals as the most powerful interest of the county, the Berties of Grimsthorpe did not dominate the representation of the shire. They held the lord lieutenancy for the whole of the period, but successive earls of Lindsey had to rely on the boroughs for returning their kinsmen to the Commons. The eclipse of Viscount Castleton by 1702 bolstered their position, and they were fortunate that the earls of Exeter and the earls (later dukes) of Rutland did not seek to extend their electoral influence further than Stamford and Grantham respectively. Party pressures, and especially religious controversy, helped to promote the Berties in Anne’s reign, but it took several changes of allegiance for them to maintain their ascendancy. Matters of local significance may also have had an important effect on the political orientation of the shire, most notably the question of fen drainage, which had an enormous potential impact on the county’s predominantly agricultural economy.

At the election of 1690 the sitting Members, Lord Castleton, and Sir Thomas Hussey, 2nd Bt., gained an unopposed return. They could be broadly classed as political rivals, the former Whig and the latter Tory, but their subsequent activity in the House revealed a mutual suspicion of the Court, and in May 1691 it was rumoured that Castleton and other Country Whigs, such as Sir Edward Hussey, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir William Ellys, 2nd Bt.*, were to be removed from the lieutenancy. It is unclear whether this purge was carried out, but it would certainly have accorded with the wishes of the current Tory lord lieutenant, the 3rd Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie†). The most divisive local issue in the life of the 1690 Parliament was the question of fen drainage, which had caused bitter divisions since the 1630s, and in September 1693 was held to have polarized many of the shire’s leading gentry. Current Members such as Ellys, Hussey, and Sir William Yorke were reportedly keen to promote the matter in Parliament, but they faced opposition from Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt.*, Sir John Thorold, 4th Bt.*, and others, who held a meeting at Ancaster to discuss the submission of a petition to block any such project. The matter did not come before this Parliament, but continued to arouse strong feelings in the shire.3

The impact of such controversy on the general election of 1695 is hard to discern. However, the royal progress through Lincolnshire, which aimed to influence local voters, had little apparent effect on the result, for the sitting Country Members emerged victorious. They did face a challenge on this occasion from the eccentric Tory Sir John Bolles, 4th Bt., who petitioned the House against Hussey on 5 Dec., alleging that ‘several illegal and undue practices’ had been employed to gain victory for Hussey. However, the elections committee never reported on the matter. Under pressure from Hussey’s cousin, Sir Edward, 3rd Bt., to justify his own return at Lincoln, Bolles may have withdrawn his petition in an electoral compact. Within a year a Lincolnshire curate had noted ‘great strivings now to get interest and votes’ in anticipation of another general election, with the Tory Charles Dymoke and the Whiggish George Whichcot declaring their intention to stand. Such activity may have been prompted by news of the Assassination Plot and the Association, in the wake of which 15 local justices of the peace were removed. During this Parliament the issue of fen drainage was broached at Westminster, several undertakers successfully petitioning on 31 Mar. 1698 for a bill to drain the Lindsey Level. However, their opponents prevailed, and the measure did not even get a first reading. Later that year the long-term planning of Dymoke and Whichcot paid off, with their unopposed return at the August election. Castleton may have at least made an initial canvass to secure a county seat for the tenth successive time, since one observer expressed surprise at the result, believing that the peer ‘could not be mistaken in his application’.4

During the 1698 Parliament the county was the scene of serious rioting, as a mob of some 1,100 attacked drainage works and enclosures in the Deeping Level in January 1699, reportedly inflicting damage amounting to £100,000. The Privy Council intervened, and thereafter the most noteworthy bout of disorderly behaviour came from Bolles, who caused scandalous scenes at the summer assizes of 1699. In March 1700 Lindsey’s son, Lord Willoughby de Eresby (Robert Bertie*), was appointed lord lieutenant of the county, but his promotion did not herald political change, for at this stage the new incumbent shared his father’s Tory principles. Electoral machinations were well under way the following month with the Country Tory Thorold declaring that he would run for the county. Thorold’s boldness appears to have worked in his favour, and even though interest was made for Whichcot, Sir John was returned alongside Dymoke without a poll. John Hervey*, who had pressed Whichcot to put up, also made an exploratory canvass for Castleton, but ‘met with great disappointments whenever I could not pretend immediately to direct and influence’.5

Despite recent unrest, orders were given in the new Parliament on 19 Mar. 1701 for the drafting of a bill to drain Deeping Fen. However, no such measure was presented to the Commons, probably for fear of sparking more disturbances, rumours of which were circulating the following May. In the same session the Lords were considering another bill to drain Lindsey Level, which was rejected after great opposition, the leaders of which included Thomas Lister I* and Richard Wynn*. Undeterred, the undertakers subsequently launched further campaigns to win legislative backing, thereby ensuring that the issue continued to divide the shire. Prior to the second election of 1701 it appears that Whichcot thought Castleton might put up, since he wrote to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) to acknowledge

your Grace’s interest with Mr Gaile, who declares he will bring me in 300 or 400 votes, which would effectively do my work were they single, or given to my Lord Castleton. My friends are much nigher Lincoln than theirs, which will be a great advantage to me, and would my circumstances allow me privately to bear their charges I am sure they would all come to a man.

Financial aid was evidently unforthcoming from Newcastle or any other source since Whichcot did not stand, and a Castleton challenge also failed to materialize, allowing the sitting Members to obtain an unopposed victory. Lord Lieutenant Bertie, now 4th Earl of Lindsey, considerably aided their interest by hijacking the Whig-inspired campaign of protest against Louis XIV’s recognition of the Pretender, and was ‘very zealous in encouraging loyal addresses to his Majesty from all the corporations’ in the county.6

Thorold and Dymoke gained another uncontested return at the general election of 1702. Dymocke died in January 1703, but still the Tories predominated, he being replaced by his brother Lewis without opposition. By the time of the next election their leader Lindsey had switched party allegiance and ‘taken up the profession of a Whig’, an apostasy welcomed by former rivals such as the Marquess of Granby (John Manners*). However, although Lindsey’s personal politics were of undeniable importance, it was the Tack which preoccupied the county electorate in 1705. The significance of religious issues was most dramatically demonstrated by the travails of Samuel Wesley, rector of Epworth, who was persecuted by local adversaries for writing tracts against Nonconformity. He had initially agreed to support Whichcot, but changed his mind, and informed the Whig Member that he found

the face of things mighty altered. Moderation furiously pressed on one side, but none at all on the other. The Church, the clergy, and the university openly insulted, at least with impunity, if not encouragement. The Martyr’s memory affronted and the usurper Oliver’s vindicated by those from whom one would least expect it . . . I saw plainly that the Jacobites were not now our only enemies, nor did many worthy persons deserve that character who were so represented. I knew that though things were bad enough already, yet worse was to be expected, the faction having plainly declared their assurance that the next House of Commons would be full for their purposes and then they’d call all those to account who had presumed to affront them.

Whichcot escalated the dispute by circulating this letter around the county, suggesting its contents to be treasonable. Wesley suffered the indignities of a Whig mob, which harangued him at church and home, and eventually he was thrown into jail for debt, at the behest of one of Whichcot’s kinsmen. By early February Whichcot had put himself forward as a Whig candidate, running alongside Lindsey’s brother, Hon. Albemarle Bertie. Although the Tack remained the key issue, they found themselves attacked on several fronts, their rivals upbraiding them for being ‘as great Tories’ as the sitting Members, and for lacking financial independence. However, judging by the calculations of Robert Harley* on 7 Feb., there was some uncertainty concerning the Tory platform. He predicted that Thorold would stand, but thought that Dymoke might have to be ‘persuaded’ to put up. Moreover, he speculated whether an Ellys (probably Sir William) and an unspecified peer (possibly Lord Willoughby de Eresby) would make a challenge. In the event it was Dymoke and Thorold who carried Tory hopes, but the Whigs gained a comfortable victory. Following this bitter struggle, Harley endeavoured to heal local divisions, halting the order for Lord Cowper’s (William*) reform of the county benches.7

At the 1708 election Albemarle Bertie stood aside to allow the return of his nephew Peregrine, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, whose candidacy was touted alongside Whichcot as soon as a dissolution seemed likely. Willoughby exhibited a firmer attachment to Tory principles than his father Lindsey, but it was the latter’s continuing alliance with the Lincolnshire Whigs which ensured an unopposed return for Whichcot and the young peer. Two years later the Sacheverell trial re-ignited religious passions within the shire, Whichcot observing in March 1710 that local clerics were ‘in greater heats here than the Oxonian parsons in London’. The controversy also sparked ‘a loyal address’ from the Lindsey division in June, which attacked resistance theory as identical to the principles of 1641. Even more worrying for the Whigs, Whichcot found himself fighting a lone battle against his former ally Willoughby and Lewis Dymoke. In early July Willoughby was asked whether he would stand with Whichcot, but revealed that there had been no correspondence between the two sitting Members, and the rift between them soon became public. Confirmation of Willoughby’s switch to Tory ranks came at the Lincoln assizes on 25 Aug., when the sheriff and over 50 gentlemen publicly declared for Willoughby and Dymoke. The following month Whichcot expressed grave concern over the funding of his campaign, but he did persevere. Clerical support for the two Tories was a key advantage, and on polling day it was reported that some 300 churchmen had appeared to vote for them, while only ‘about 15 or 16 Hoadlean clergymen’ turned out for the Whig cause. The defeated Whichcot revealed that all his votes were ‘single’, and claimed that he had another 500 supporters who arrived too late to cast their votes, although such extra assistance would still have left him trailing. Limited finances had clearly undermined his candidacy, and he looked to Newcastle and the Marquess of Dorchester (Evelyn Pierrepont*) to pay his £160 expenses. However, even though he bemoaned the impact of the ‘frenzy . . . heightened by the black coats’, he was not unhopeful of an upturn in Whig fortunes. On the other hand, the confidence of his High Church rivals was clear from their concurrent campaign to elect Samuel Wesley to convocation.8

Even though there were reports in January 1712 of in-fighting among the Berties, which led to forecasts of there being ‘a schism in a certain county’, the Tories retained control. The county address of October 1712, which thanked the Queen for communicating peace terms, was very much a Tory diatribe, lambasting the ‘unequal, expensive and bloody war’, and expressing joy that Dunkirk was in royal hands. The following July another address celebrated the signing of ‘a glorious peace’, and the Tories duly secured the return in September 1713 of Lord Willoughby and Sir Willoughby Hickman, 3rd Bt., the latter having headed the clerical delegation at the previous election. The Tory interest remained strong into the succeeding reign, before faltering under George II.9

Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci


  • 1. Post Man, 2–5 June 1705.
  • 2. Post Boy, 14–17 Oct. 1710.
  • 3. Add. 70015, f. 86; Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/12/80, [?] to Sir John Newton, 2nd Bt.†, 17 Sept. 1693.
  • 4. Boyer, William III, iii. 106–7; Diary of Abraham de la Pryme (Surtees Soc. liv), 109; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 119; BL, Spencer mss, Halifax pprs. box 4, Francis Gwyn* to Halifax (William Saville*), 10 Aug. 1698.
  • 5. K. Lindley, Fenland Riots and Eng. Revolution, 232; Glassey, 122; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, Sir William Ellys to Rutland (John Manners†), 17 Apr. 1700; Hervey Letterbks. i. 153–4.
  • 6. Lindley, 232–3; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 215–19; ix. 111–13; HMC Portland, ii. 181; Flying Post, 30 Oct.-1 Nov. 1701.
  • 7. Lincs. AO, Massingberd mss 20/51, Bussell to Sir William Massingberd, 1 Feb. 1705; HMC Rutland, ii. 165; Bodl. Ballard 34, ff. 90, 93, 96; Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/13/8, Sir John Newton, 3rd Bt., to [?], 1 Feb. 1705; Add. 70335, list of constituencies, 7 Feb. 1705; Glassey, 177.
  • 8. Massingberd mss 20/76, Sir William to Burrell Massingberd, 19 Feb. 1708; HMC Portland, ii. 210; Add. 70421, newsletters 4 July, 8 Aug., 19 Oct. 1710; Oldmixon, Hist. Addresses, ii. 347–8; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2/138, 290–1, William Jessop* to Newcastle, 4 July 1710, Whichcot to same, 12 Aug., 17 Oct. 1710; Post Boy, 14–17 Oct. 1710; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 1, f. 259.
  • 9. Lincs. AO, Massingberd Mundy mss 2MM/B/5, ‘T. Nameless’ to Bussell Massingberd, 24 Jan. 1712; London Gazette, 18–21 Oct. 1712, 14–18 July 1713.