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 120 in 17101

Number of voters:

at least 98 in 1713


4 Mar. 1690CHARLES HOWARD,  Visct. Morpeth 
24 Nov. 1692GEORGE NICHOLAS vice Morpeth, called to the Upper House 
 Henry Lumley39
30 July 1698PHILIP HOWARD 
31 May 1701SIR RICHARD SANDFORD, Bt. vice Howard, chose to sit for Northumberland 
 Richard Belasyse 2 
 CHRISTOPHER WANDESFORD, Visct. Castlecomer [I] 
8 Sept. 1713SIR JOHN GERMAIN, Bt.93
 Christopher Wandesford,  Visct. Castlecomer [I]193

Main Article

Though located in a county where both Jacobitism and Toryism were popular, Morpeth returned only three Tories among the 14 Members who sat for the borough during this period. Whig dominance of parliamentary elections had its roots in the influence of the lords of the manor, from 1692 the Whig 3rd Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard, Viscount Morpeth), an interest derived from the borough’s corporate structure. Borough government was carried out primarily through courts leet and baron held under the authority of the lord of the manor, and these courts were conducted by a steward, appointed by the lord of the manor, who was empowered to alter the juries of both the manorial courts. The importance of this lay in the power of these juries to elect the nominees from whom the lord of the manor had to choose the bailiff, who acted as returning officer in parliamentary elections. In addition, the lord of the manor was also able to control the creation of freemen, the borough’s voters. Morpeth’s freemen were divided into seven guilds, each of which contained the lower office of ‘free brother’ in addition to that of freeman, with each guild allowed to elect a fixed number of freemen allocated according to the guild’s perceived status in the borough. Each guild conducted annual elections of a single alderman, and the aldermen determined when and if the election of new freemen should take place. Freemen and ‘free brothers’ voted in both aldermanic and freeman elections, and once freemen were chosen their nominees had to be sworn before the court leet. The lord of the manor appears, however, to have operated a right of veto over the choice of freemen, as in 1730 the corporation acknowledged in writing that the granting of freeman status was at the discretion of the lord of the manor and was not automatic upon the popular election of new freemen. This power was used by Carlisle to prevent any substantial growth of the freeman body. Various local notables possessed less influential interests which were utilized only occasionally, and it also seems that the corporation exerted an influence in Morpeth elections. However, the interest of the earls of Carlisle was dominant at Morpeth, always returning one Member, occasionally capturing both seats, and nearly always ensuring that the second Member shared the Earl’s political beliefs.4

In 1690 Viscount Morpeth was returned on the interest of his father, the 2nd Earl of Carlisle (Edward Howard†), and was joined by Roger Fenwick, a Tory whose seat lay just four miles outside Morpeth and was close to Carlisle’s estate at Naworth. The death of Carlisle in April 1692 led to Morpeth’s summons to the Lords, and the 2nd Earl’s widow offered to support the candidacy of George Nicholas, the surveyor-general of the customs who had been appointed trustee of the deceased earl’s estate, at the consequent by-election. The relationship between the 2nd Earl and Nicholas is unclear, though it may have originated from contact made at court as Nicholas had married the daughter of Charles II’s physician. Nicholas accepted the offer to stand at Morpeth. Reports that Hon. Ralph Gray* intended to oppose Nicholas came to nothing and Nicholas was returned unopposed in November 1692. This electoral calm was disturbed, however, in 1695. In August John Verney* (Lord Fermanagh) forecast that Nicholas would again stand on the Carlisle interest and that ‘my Lord Carlisle names one and the corporation must choose him, and he lets them choose the other Member who they please’. The second seat was not as easily settled as this forecast suggested. By October it was known that Sir Henry Belasyse, a soldier from a Durham family, would stand, and his return was confidently forecast. However, during the summer of 1695 reports had begun to circulate that Belasyse was disaffected. In August the alleged instigator of these claims denied before the lords justices that he had spread such rumours, but the reports may explain why the Whig Henry Lumley*, brother of Northumberland’s lord lieutenant the Earl of Scarbrough, contested the Morpeth election. Nicholas comfortably headed the poll, but Lumley was defeated for the second seat by only 12 votes and petitioned against the return of Belasyse. The report was considered by the Commons on 9 Mar. 1696. Lumley’s case rested upon the claim that the franchise extended to both the freemen and ‘free brothers’, but the committee’s opinion was that the right to vote was limited to the freemen. This judgment was based on returns dating back to the 16th century made in the name of the bailiffs and freemen, and evidence that the only previous involvement of ‘free brothers’ in parliamentary elections had been their joining the freemen in a shout of acclamation at uncontested elections. The committee’s decision that Belasyse had been duly elected was confirmed without a division. Further light may be shed upon the causes of the 1695 contest, in view of the nature of Lumley’s petition, by two documents dating from 1696 and 1697. The first was a petition from the bailiff, aldermen and burgesses to the King complaining of attempts to admit a number of men as freemen, and the second was an application to the court of King’s Bench for a mandamus. This application claimed that ‘every person who has served as apprentice for seven years with a freeman of the said borough might claim the liberty and privilege . . . [to be] sworn into the place or office of one of the free burgesses’. Both documents imply that in the mid-1690s there existed at Morpeth a body of opinion frustrated by the restriction of freeman numbers, and it may be that Lumley’s candidacy and the attempt to have the franchise widened to include ‘free brothers’ was made at the instance of this group. No conclusive evidence confirms this interpretation, and in 1698 Belasyse, who had proved himself a supporter of the Whig ministry in the 1695 Parliament, was returned unopposed with Philip Howard, cousin of Carlisle. The following election was less clear cut owing to Carlisle’s uncertainty in the later months of 1700 as to whether his cousin Philip and his brother William Howard should stand at Morpeth, Northumberland or Carlisle. James Lowther* suggested that Carlisle would forward the candidacy of a ‘Mr Featherstone’ at Morpeth, but in December Lowther reported Carlisle’s decision that Philip Howard would stand at Carlisle and William Howard at Northumberland and Morpeth. Lowther also stated that in the event of William Howard succeeding in both constituencies he would sit for Northumberland, allowing Carlisle to return the Whig Sir Richard Sandford, 3rd Bt., should Sandford’s campaign in Westmorland prove unsuccessful. This was indeed what happened in January 1701 following Howard’s unopposed return with Belasyse. Howard made his election to sit for Northumberland and Sandford was returned unopposed at the by-election. Neither of the outgoing Members stood at the second 1701 election. Sandford successfully contested Westmorland and Belasyse transferred to Durham, having shifted his party allegiance from Whig to Tory during the previous Parliament. In September 1701 James Lowther reported that Carlisle ‘will hardly countenance him any more at Morpeth’. Lowther’s suggestion that Philip Howard stand at Morpeth to allow the resolution of Lowther’s difficulties at Carlisle came to nothing, as did the report that the Durham Tory Thomas Conyers* might stand at Morpeth, and instead the Whigs Sir John Delaval, 3rd Bt. (a Whig Northumbrian squire and kinsman of Carlisle who appears to have had a small interest in the borough in his own right) and Emmanuel Scrope Howe were returned unopposed. Carlisle’s association with Howe appears to date from Carlisle’s appointment in June 1700 to a post in William III’s household, Howe having served since the Revolution as groom of the bedchamber, and his support for Howe would perhaps have been further encouraged by the willingness of Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) to meet Howe’s election expenses.

Delaval and Howe were opposed by Richard Belasyse at the 1702 election, the Tory nephew of Sir Henry Belasyse. Belasyse was defeated at the poll, but neither Howe nor Delaval stood at the 1705 election. On this occasion Sandford was returned with Edmund Maine, a Tory army officer who had been appointed governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1702. Maine was also a protégé of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and the Court’s support for his election is clear from later reports that Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) had ‘answered the expense’ of Maine’s election. Sandford and Maine stood again at the 1708 election, but on this occasion a third candidate entered the field, the Whig lawyer Sir John Bennett. Bennett stood on the interest of the Junto Whig 2nd Lord Ossulston, who in 1706 had succeeded to Chillingham, Northumberland. Whether it was this inheritance or Ossulston’s acquaintance with Carlisle that encouraged him to forward Bennett’s candidacy is difficult to say, but by April Ossulston was writing in support of Bennett. It seems that initially Maine hoped to defeat Bennett but came to view his own interest as insufficient to justify taking the contest to the poll, it being noted on 11 May, two days before the election, that ‘General Maine has desisted at Morpeth to Lord Ossulston’s friend’. By the following election Carlisle’s influence at Morpeth had reached such a height that in September 1710 Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt.*, attempted to lay a number of bets, totalling up to £30, that Carlisle’s nominees Sandford and Lord Castlecomer would be returned. Blackett was unable to find any takers, but local notables were less intimidated by the Carlisle interest. In September 1710 the Tory Thomas Forster II* informed Robert Harley* that, there having been an ‘intimation’ that Harley ‘desired to have as many of your friends in the next Parliament as you could possibly procure’, it had been intended that Delaval and William Dobyns, lieutenant-governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed, join forces to oppose Carlisle’s candidates. Once it became apparent that Delaval’s interest ‘would do us no good’ he had begun canvassing the borough for ‘one of my friends’ and had obtained the support of 50 voters, and Forster requested that Harley name a candidate who could contest the election and petition against the result, Since he was sure that ‘we can prove direct bribery upon the other candidates who are named by Lord Carlisle’. Forster suggested Maine as a suitable candidate, and though Harley’s response is unknown, by October Maine had begun canvassing at Morpeth and was writing to Harley with news of his prospects. When he and Forster had arrived at Morpeth it became clear that their hopes rested upon ‘the consent of Sir John Delaval’, a prospect Maine claimed to find distasteful as he described Delaval as a man ‘whose character and principles I could never abide’. He nevertheless overcame these feelings and concluded an agreement with Delaval whereby he would repay Delaval’s canvassing expenses in return for which Delaval would have half of his supporters vote for Maine. Delaval, however, discovered that 20 of his voters were unwilling to acquiesce to such an agreement, Maine noting that several of these dissentients were ‘Presbyterians’. Maine left Morpeth, returned a few days later to find his cause hopeless, and on 18 Oct. reported to Harley that Sandford and Castlecomer had stood on Carlisle’s interest and ‘it being [h]is own town his interest was so very strong they carried it without opposition’. The 1713 election developed along less partisan lines. On this occasion Castlecomer was joined on Carlisle’s interest by another Whig, Sir John Germain, 1st Bt. They were joined in the lists by Oley Douglas, son of a Northumbrian lawyer and landowner, who took the second seat at Castlecomer’s expense. A petition was presented to the House in which ‘several free burgesses’ alleged that Douglas had been guilty of ‘many notorious bribes’ at the election, but no report was made by the committee. Douglas proved himself to be a Whig in the 1713 Parliament, and it appears that his candidacy at the 1713 election had been an attempt, perhaps on behalf of an independent faction within the corporation, to prevent Carlisle securing both seats. Despite Douglas’ victory in 1713, the Carlisle interest remained dominant. Both Carlisle’s candidates were successful in 1715.5

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. HMC Portland, iv. 598.
  • 2. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 190.
  • 3. Evening Post, 10–12 Sept. 1713.
  • 4. P. Monod, Jacobitism and the Eng. People, 169; EHR, lxxxi. 236–55; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/45, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 19, 22 May, 19 Nov. 1692; 636/48, same to same, 21 Aug., 28 Sept. 1695; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Thoresby Letters (Thoresby Soc. xxi), 44–5; CSP Dom. 1695, pp. 39–40; Northumb. RO (Morpeth), Morpeth Collectanea VI, petition, 1696; IV, f. 20; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/3, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt I*, 19 Oct., 7 Nov., 19 Dec. 1700; D/Lons/W2/2/4, same to same, 2 Jan. 1700[–1], 13, 20 May, 18, 27 Nov. 1701; N. Yorks. RO, Worsley mss ZON13/1/248, J. Gibson to Lady Strickland, 14 Dec. 1701; Howard mss at Castle Howard, Carlisle to Nicholas Ridley, 26, 30 [Jan. 1701].
  • 5. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 190; Add. 70315, [?Erasmus Lewis*] to [Harley], 15 Aug. 1710; 70248, Maine to same, 14, 18 Oct. 1710; Parlty. Hist. x. 165, 171–4, 177; C104/116, 21 Apr. 1708 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); Arch. Aeliana ser. 4, xxxiv. 17; Northern Hist. xxviii. 165; HMC Portland, iv. 598.