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 1,500 in 17151

Number of voters:

rising from 415 in 1694 to at least 960 in 1710


4 Mar. 1690RICHARD SAVAGE, Visct. Colchester 
4 Dec. 1694THOMAS BROTHERTON vice Savage, called to the Upper House15
 Jasper Maudit4002
 MAUDIT vice Brotherton, on petition, 11 Jan. 1695 
 Hon. Charles Zedenno Stanley 
 William Clayton 
14 Jan. 1701SIR WILLIAM NORRIS, Bt. 
 Sir Cleave More,  Bt. 
 Richard Norris3903
 William Clayton 
 Richard Norris447
 William Clayton4394

Main Article

Prior to 1660 Liverpool’s elections had been dominated by the influence of the Mores of Bank Hall, who were the largest landowners in the borough, the Catholic Molyneuxs of Sefton who were the the lords of Liverpool Castle, and the earls of Derby, but during the Restoration period the corporation became the dominant interest. Local patrons played a diminishing role in elections, which became dominated by rival groups within the corporation. Following the recall of the 1685 charter in October 1688, the borough was governed by a charter of 1677. This had been a subject of controversy within the borough since the 1670s, as it had transferred the right of electing the mayor, bailiffs and common councillors from the freemen to the members of the common council, and the division between advocates of the popular and closed methods of election was central to the borough’s political development throughout this period, being of such importance that for one observer ‘the old cause’ at Liverpool was that of the 1677 charter rather than the Whigs. By the early 1700s the advocates and opponents of popular elections were headed by, respectively, Whigs and Tories, and the rival interests were referred to in such terms by the 1710s. Far more common, however, are references to new and old charter interests, thereby emphasizing their local origins. It should also be noted that Dissent was strong in and around Liverpool, and that by 1702 a number of Dissenters were members of the common council. Dissenters were identified as an important constituent of the advocates of popular election to the corporation, a judgment borne out by the existence of 164 Dissenting freemen by 1718, over 10 per cent of the electorate, and religious antagonism was undoubtedly an important part of borough politics.5

Both outgoing Members were returned unopposed in 1690, but the 1694 by-election saw a fierce battle to replace Lord Colchester, on his summons to the Lords as Earl Rivers. Sir Cleave More, 2nd Bt.*, had been canvassing for this election as early as seven months before the death of Colchester’s father, but his attempts to assert the influence of his extensive landholdings came to nothing. Thomas Brotherton, a local Tory, had been accumulating support from February 1694, with the support of the 9th Earl of Derby, and by October was said to have the support of ‘all the aldermen’. At this stage Brotherton’s main rival was the mayor, Alexander Norres, who was said to have the support of ‘all the common people’. The advocates of the popular election of mayors had failed to garner significant support for ‘Alderman Clayton’, either Thomas or his nephew William, or Robert Molesworth*. By the time the writ was issued in November, however, Norres had withdrawn and thrown his support behind Brotherton, and the populists, assisted by Rivers and the Earl of Macclesfield (Charles Gerard*), had persuaded Jasper Maudit, a local merchant and mayor in 1693–4, to stand. A local Anglican cleric alleged that Maudit’s support was based upon ‘the body of Dissenters . . . together with a deal of inconsiderate churchmen’ and that Maudit was standing in the name of ‘the mis-called good old cause’. The election proved to be heated and controversial. As mayor, and therefore returning officer, Norres refused to take a poll of the freemen despite ‘their cry and clamours’, claiming that as borough coroner Maudit was ineligible to stand, and therefore returned Brotherton. A number of freemen petitioned on 21 Dec. against Brotherton’s return and on 11 Jan. 1695 the House found for Maudit, declaring that Brotherton’s return ‘violated the rights of the Commons of England’ and ordering Norres to be taken into custody. Brotherton’s name was replaced on the Liverpool writ by Maudit’s the following day, and it was not until 21 Feb. that Norres, having received a reprimand ‘upon his knees’ from the Speaker, was released.6

This election brought to a head the conflict between supporters of the 1677 charter and advocates of popular corporation elections. In January 1695 the latter group began a campaign for a new charter to restore popular elections, petitioning the Privy Council in April. Supporters of the 1677 charter opposed these moves, engaging the assistance of Roger Kenyon*, and the overwhelming majority of the common council signed a motion condemning the moves for a new charter and indemnifying those who incurred any charge in defending the charter. Despite their best efforts and the support of the Earl of Derby, however, the advocates of popular election successfully argued that the failure to surrender the charter of 1626 invalidated that of 1677, and in May the Privy Council ordered a ‘charter of renewal and confirmation’ which established that corporation offices should be filled according to the custom prevailing before 1677, which had been popular election. The new charter, issued on 26 Sept., removed from the common council many of the supporters of the 1677 charter, and six of those nominated by the new charter refused to accept office. Passions ran high in the borough in the months before the 1695 election, and the wish expressed by one observer that ‘the burgesses may be prudently chosen without heats and in love’ was to prove naive. Charles Stanley described the prospects for the election in a letter to Roger Kenyon on 28 Oct.:

William Norris of Speke and Mr Maudit of this town being set up by the Dissenting party (who with their friends are very numerous) to be MPs, my brother Derby has put me up and Captain Clayton against them. We have the principal persons here on our side but ask you and those named below to be here for the election on 1 Nov. Pray fail not to be here on Thursday night because the poll will begin on Friday morning and our adversaries having the mayor on their side will take all advantages.

Derby and Kenyon canvassed for Stanley and Captain William Clayton, but an Anglican clergyman in Stanley and Clayton’s interest complained that ‘we have the whole Presbyterian party, to a man, engaged against us, and unless the country burgesses come in, we are in some danger of losing’, fears which were realised at the poll.7

The 1698 election passed with little incident. Norris was returned with the merchant William Clayton, not the man who had stood in 1695. Clayton the merchant had been excluded from the common council in 1695 for opposition to the new charter, but by the late 1690s appears to have been on good terms with the Norrises and, by implication, the supporters of the 1695 charter. The first election of 1701 was far more controversial. Norris (now Sir William) had been in India as ambassador of the New East India Company since 1699 and the management of his interest at this election was left in the hands of his wife, his brother Richard, and Clayton. Lady Norris wrote regularly to Richard Norris to encourage him in his efforts for Sir William, whose imminent return to England she promised repeatedly. Norris’ absence led More to stand again, but he was comprehensively defeated by Clayton and Norris. More quickly let it be known that he intended to pursue the matter, and, though Clayton wrote to Richard Norris that most of the Members he met when going to Parliament thought ‘it is a jest’, a petition was presented to the Commons on 17 Feb. 1701. More alleged that as returning officer Richard Norris had used ‘several indirect practices’ for Sir William, including ‘threatening the ruin of many freemen’ if they voted for More, that Norris had denied More’s agents the opportunity to inspect the poll, and claimed that Norris was not ‘capable of being chosen’ due to his absence in India. These claims were supported by a petition presented to the Commons on 27 Feb. from some Liverpool freemen echoing More’s complaints. Writing to Richard Norris, Clayton outlined the counter-case which denied these allegations and complained of the bribery of, and threats made to, voters by More’s agents. He alleged that More had obtained the support of the port’s customs officials via threats, and that customs house officials had pursued a policy of ‘not employing those that voted for us’. Clayton also suggested that this support had been motivated by one of the East India companies though he did not know whether it was the ‘Old or New Company, it is all the same to me’. The involvement of the Old Company at the January election is certainly plausible. Sir William Norris’ Indian embassy had been undermined by the actions of the Old Company and their officials since its outset, and it is possible that More was supported by the Old Company in order to reduce the New Company’s influence in the Commons. It may be that More had obtained the assistance of Liverpool’s customs officers by threatening them with the prospect of the Old Company using its influence to remove the officers from their posts if they refused More support. This is made more likely by the extensive involvement of More’s distant relative Sir John Moore† in the Old Company and More’s heavy indebtedness to him. It is difficult to see how else More could have obtained the support of these officials. More promoted his cause vigorously through March and April, but the committee of privileges and elections did not report on the petition before the prorogation.8

By the December 1701 election the supporters of the 1695 charter at Liverpool realized that the return of Norris was impracticable and, despite several cutting letters from Lady Norris to Richard Norris bemoaning the ingratitude of the Liverpool electorate, this interest switched to the prominent local merchant Thomas Johnson. Clayton’s transfer of loyalties in the first Parliament of 1701 from Whig to Tory led some members of the new charter party to question whether his return should be challenged, and concern was expressed lest More stand again, but Clayton and Johnson were returned unopposed. Dissatisfaction with Clayton’s new parliamentary stance continued to cause unease among the new charter party, and when rumours of Parliament’s imminent dissolution arose in March 1702 Lady Norris, still irritated at the dropping of her husband, expressed the hope that Liverpool ‘will make a better choice for some that will be more good for the Queen and nation, than you have done of late’. Richard Norris, one of the leading members of the new charter party, considered standing and in the face of this challenge Clayton talked of withdrawing, which was dismissed as dissembling by Johnson. Johnson was still on good terms with his fellow Member, and his offer to stand aside rather than see a contested election between Clayton and Norris may have persuaded Norris not to stand. Lady Norris continued to lobby hard for Sir William to replace Clayton, but Clayton and Johnson were returned unchallenged. That Clayton’s changing political stance brought to the surface latent tension between the advocates and opponents of the 1695 charter is evident in the fiercely contested mayoral election of October 1702, with Johnson leading the efforts of the new charter party.9

The challenge mooted by Richard Norris in 1702 was mounted three years later. Again Johnson offered to stand down to prevent a contest between Norris and Clayton, and endeavours were made by Norris’ allies to find a partner who would stand with him against Clayton. Eventually, however, Johnson decided to stand, and Norris concentrated his campaign against Clayton, who fought back vigorously, even enlisting a London merchant in an attempt to persuade Norris to desist. The poll was accompanied with a great deal of ‘noise and hurry’ with the town hall’s balcony ‘filled with female spectators’. Clayton comfortably defeated Norris, a Tory observer commenting that the former had the support of ‘the best quality’ while the latter relied upon ‘the meaner and fanatics’. As in 1702, the 1705 election was followed by a mayoral election contested between advocates and opponents of the 1695 charter, with the latter gaining victory despite the strenuous efforts of Johnson on behalf of the former.10

The election of the 10th Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*) as mayor in October 1707 led in 1708 to rumours that ‘my Lord Derby will force Members upon the corporation and that he recommends Mr [Arthur] Maynwaring*’, but these proved to be false and the contest was a repeat of that of 1705, save that Norris defeated Clayton. The 1710 election was contested by Johnson and Norris for the 1695 charter men, and Clayton and John Cleiveland for their opponents. Several pamphlets, allegedly written by the rector of Liverpool, Henry Richmond, attacked the advocates of the 1695 charter, alleging that they constituted ‘a corrupt majority’ of ‘a packed [common] council’, but the representation was shared, Johnson and John Cleiveland emerging victorious.11

The antagonisms raised by the 1710 election brought to a head the conflict over the charter. Supported by Clayton, Richmond initiated a challenge to the legality of the 1695 charter upon the grounds, as Clayton described it to Robert Harley*, that the 1677 charter was set aside ‘without any due proceeding by law’. A petition requesting the right to try the 1695 charter was presented to the Privy Council on 17 Apr. 1711, and the supporters of the existing charter, still in the majority on the common council, ordered Johnson, Norris and Maudit, with the assistance of the borough’s future MP Thomas Bootle, to arrange the defence of the charter. In May 1711 the corporation minutes noted that this challenge was the consequence of ‘the corporation being greatly divided into parties of High Church and Low’, and the religious aspect of the conflict was confirmed by the efforts of the opponents of the 1695 charter in June to have the naval victualler at Liverpool, a supporter of the 1695 charter, replaced on the grounds that he was ‘a known Dissenter from the Church of England’. Given these tensions, the mayoral election of October 1711 was bound to be controversial, and a bitter battle between the supporters and opponents of the 1695 charter resulted in a victory for the latter. The 1695 charter party was led by Johnson and said to consist of ‘Whigs, Dissenters and the meanest people’, while its opponents were supported by the presence of the Tories Thomas Legh II* and Sir George Warburton, 3rd Bt.* The supporters of the 1695 charter attempted, unsuccessfully, to indict Richmond in the borough court for neglect of his duties, and for stirring ‘up so many heats and dissentions as in all appearance tend to distract and destroy all manner of Christian society’, but in 1712 the opponents of the charter succeeded, with the support of the Duke of Hamilton, in having a writ of scire facias against the charter issued from the chancery court of the duchy of Lancaster. The depth of hostility is indicated by the opponents of the 1695 charter having the Tories Thomas Legh II and Hamilton present an address in favour of peace to the Queen, thanking her for submitting the terms of the peace to Parliament. During 1712 the challenge to the legality of the 1695 charter became entangled in legal problems, and the election of 1713 was not contested. This may have been the consequence of the combined opposition of both advocates and opponents of the 1695 charter to the French commercial treaty. The treaty was thought to be harmful to Liverpool’s commercial interests, and in June borough inhabitants were observed to be adorning their hats with tobacco leaves, rather than with wool as elsewhere, to show their opposition to it. Johnson and Cleiveland both voted against the 8th and 9th articles of the bill to confirm the treaty, and in the election later that year Cleiveland stood aside to allow the return of Clayton with Johnson. The challenge to the legality of the charter continued until George I’s accession, but the case lapsed in September 1714, thereby ending this phase of the dispute over corporate government in Liverpool.12

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 36.
  • 2. Liverpool RO, Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4, p. 700.
  • 3. Post Man, 17–19 May 1705.
  • 4. Willis 51, f. 74.
  • 5. Willis 51, f. 74; Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs and Cheshire, cxxiv. 31–56; R. Muir and E.M. Platt, Hist. Mun. Govt. of Liverpool, 199–203, 247–54; Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 2/238, Johnson to Richard Norris, 5 Feb. 1701[–2]; 1/288, Samuel Done to same, 19 Oct. 1705.
  • 6. Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4, pp. 522, 688, 700; HMC Kenyon, 284, 320–1; Add 70117, f. 319; HMC Portland, viii. 43; Lancashire RO, Kenyon mss DDKe/HMC/980, Thomas Wilson to Roger Kenyon, 11 Nov. 1694; DDKe 9/68/9, Richard Richmond to same, 4 Jan. 1694[–5]; Portledge Pprs. 192.
  • 7. PC 2/76, ff. 104, 124, 139; Kenyon mss DDKe/HMC/945, 949, Alexander Norres to Kenyon, 16 Mar. 1694–5, 5 Apr. 1695; DDKe 9/68/85, Charles Stanley to same, 20 Oct. 1695; Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4, pp. 346, 700–3, 712, 715–16; Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, ix), 25–30; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 4 June 1695; Muir and Platt, 247–54; HMC Kenyon, 385; Norris mss 920NOR 2/71, Thomas Patten to Richard Norris, 30 Oct. 1695; Add. 28879, f. 264.
  • 8. Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4. p. 794; Norris mss 920NOR 1/60, 57, 70, Elizabeth to Richard Norris, 9 Nov., 17 Dec. 1700, 25 Jan. 1700[–1]; 1/75, Joseph Yates to same, 3 Jan. 1700[–1]; 1/86, 83, 94, 95, 45, Clayton to same, 22, 28 Feb., 6, 18 Mar. 1700[–1], 8 Apr. 1701; Norris Pprs. 53, 55, 57, 65.
  • 9. Norris mss 920NOR 1/140, 142, 158, 172, 174, Elizabeth to Richard Norris, 4, 11 Nov. 1701, 24 Mar. 1701[–2], 2, 7, July 1702; 1/176, same to Thomas Bickersteth, 11 July 1702; Norris Pprs. 74, 94–100.
  • 10. Norris mss 920NOR 1/257, Alexander and Henry Cairnes to Norris, 17 Feb. 1704[–5]; 1/226, Samuel Shepheard ?I* to same, 27 Mar. 1705; 1/285, William Squire to same, 30 Sept. 1705; 2/595, Johnson to same, 5 Oct. 1705; Norris Pprs. 142–5; Prescott Diary (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cxxvii), 44, 48.
  • 11. Add. 61619, ff. 42–44; J. Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. 1700–1835, pp. 9, 66–67; Norris mss 920NOR 1/353, Johnson to Norris, 5 Feb. 1707[–8]; Norris Pprs. 169; Parl. Rep. Lancs. 195.
  • 12. Picton, 4–6, 66–67, 151; HMC Portland, iv. 673; PC 2/83, ff. 240, 352; Hamilton mss at Lennoxlove bdle. 4407, George Tyrer, John Cleiveland and Clayton to Hamilton, 1 June 1711; Post Boy, 1–3 Nov. 1711; NLS, ms 8262, ff. 89–92; London Gazette, 24–26 July 1712; Speck thesis, 395; J. Touzeau, Rise and Progress of Liverpool, ii. 389–93.