Newport I.o.W.


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 corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

22 in 1699


10 Mar. 1690Sir Robert Holmes 
 Sir William Stephens 
13 Dec. 1692Richard Leveson vice Holmes, deceased 
5 Nov. 1695John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Sir Robert Cotton 
2 Dec. 1695Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt. vice Cutts, chose to sit for Cambridgeshire 
25 July 1698John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Sir Robert Cotton 
9 Jan. 1699Henry Greenhill vice Cutts, chose to sit for Cambridgeshire12
 John Acton10
8 Jan. 1701John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 Samuel Shepheard I 
 Henry Greenhill 
3 Mar. 1701Henry Greenhill  vice Cutts, chose to sit for Cambridgeshire 
28 Dec. 1701John Cutts,  Baron Cutts [I] 
 Edward Richards 
7 Mar. 1702James Stanhope vice Cutts, chose to sit for Cambridgeshire 
21 July 1702John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 William Stephens 
11 May 1705John Cutts, Baron Cutts [I] 
 William Stephens 
3 Mar. 1707Sir Tristram Dillington, Bt. vice Cutts, deceased 
7 May 1708Sir Tristram Dillington, Bt. 
 William Stephens 
6 Oct. 1710John Richmond Webb 
 William Stephens 
22 Dec. 1710William Seymour  vice Webb, chose to sit for Ludgershall 
18 July 1712William Stephens re-elected after appointment to office 
26 Aug. 1713John Richmond Webb 
 William Stephens 

Main Article

In the early 18th century it was estimated that Newport contained about 400 houses and about 2,000 inhabitants, but the right of election in the borough was confined to the corporation, which consisted of 12 aldermen and 12 common councilmen. The mayor, chosen annually from among the aldermen, was the returning officer. Of the three Isle of Wight boroughs Newport was the one most closely under the control of the governor of the island, who could always nominate one and frequently both Members.1

In 1690 the governor was Sir Robert Holmes, a Court Tory who had held the post since 1667 and through long residence on the island had established a personal interest. In the 1690 election Holmes had himself returned with his lieutenant governor, Sir William Stephens, a neighbouring landowner and also a Court Tory. On the death of Holmes in 1692, the secretary at war William Blathwayt*, previously MP for Newtown, declined an invitation, apparently from the corporation, to stand for the seat and instead recommended his kinsman, Richard Leveson, an army colonel and Court supporter, probably of Tory inclinations. Leveson was duly returned, his election having taken place before the appointment of a new governor in 1693, Lord Cutts [I], a professional soldier. Although handicapped by frequent absences abroad and acute financial difficulties, Cutts was determined to bring all three Isle of Wight boroughs more closely under the governor’s personal control, and one of his first actions was to replace Stephens as lieutenant governor with the outsider Joseph Dudley*. Cutts’s behaviour led to a clash with the local gentry whose influence at Newtown and Yarmouth was being challenged. Newport, however, remained the governor’s preserve; Cutts wrote of it in 1693 that ‘by good management (if supported by the state)’ the governor ‘may always secure the majority’, adding ‘this corporation is at present upon a good foot with regard to his Majesty’s governor’. Although himself usually identified as a Whig, in this period Cutts was frequently on bad terms with leading members of that party, including the influential dukes of Bolton, lords lieutenant of Hampshire, and in Newport he put up both Tories and Whigs as candidates, though all were Court supporters. On 31 May 1695 Cutts informed Dudley, who carried out much of the detailed electoral management on the island, that he intended to stand himself for Newport, ‘intending afterwards to be chosen myself elsewhere and slip in a friend in my room’. As the election drew nearer, Trumbull was accommodated elsewhere and Cutts instructed Dudley to put up Sir Robert Cotton, a Court Tory, who had previously represented Cambridgeshire. Cutts’s own estates lay in that county, which he had successfully contested in 1693, and his arrangement with Cotton may well have been part of an agreement whereby, in return for the seat at Newport, Cutts received the support of the Cotton family in Cambridgeshire. In October one report stated that Stephens would also stand but he appears to have withdrawn and Cotton and Cutts were returned unopposed. Cutts had also been elected for Cambridgeshire, which he chose to represent, and in the subsequent by-election at Newport Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt., a Court supporter and Whig, was returned, doubtless on Cutts’ recommendation.2

By 1698 Cutts had settled his differences with the island gentry, who agreed to support his candidates at Newport in return for his agreeing to a broader franchise at Newtown. He again nominated himself and Cotton, but before the election he received directions from the secretary of state to support Colonel Stanley, presumably Hon. James Stanley*, to which he replied:

I beg you to assure the King that my interest and credit in the Isle of Wight is (as it ought to be) totally at his Majesty’s disposal, and if (as you know) I excused myself once upon a request of my Lord Orford’s [Edward Russell*] I had such particular reasons for’t that the King was pleased to hearken to them. I believe Colonel Stanley so well qualified and inclined to serve the King, that I only wish he had many such . . .
When I have said this, ’tis my duty to acquaint his Majesty that having not received any directions from Court, I did about a month since give my credit to Sir Robert Cotton to stand for Newport in the Isle of Wight, desiring Sir R.C. to apply himself to my Lord Marlborough [John Churchill †] in my name that his Majesty might be acquainted with it for his approbation and having heard nothing more of it, I concluded it was approved on.
Now all that I here beg of his Majesty is that he will be pleased to move Sir R. Cotton in this matter so far that I may not appear to do a dishonest thing by him, in which if his Majesty authorises you, you may be very instrumental, besides that the addition of Sir R.C.’s interest there will be of service to Colonel Stanley.

In the event Stanley did not stand and Cotton did. Cutts had also offered an Isle of Wight seat to the Earl of Ranelagh (Richard Jones*), paymaster-general of the army, but when the latter learned that Cutts intended

to be chosen there yourself first, and that you can then the easier transfer it to me; so that I find I am not to be chosen till Parliament hath met, and that you have there declared you will serve as knight of the shire for Cambridgeshire, and thereupon a new writ must go for Newport, when it may be, I may come in.
This being the case, as it appears plainly by your letter, I must confess I am not only surprised but troubled, for though vanity is none of my faults, yet I cannot but think that a man who hath served so long in Parliament, and in the post I am in, must be thought a bankrupt, both in his reputation and favour to come in at the second bound; and, therefore, if I am not to be chosen, but under a mask, I must think myself very little obliged to your lordship’s favour, and I shall never desire to be a Sir Harry Colt, or to be put under hatches when Sir Robert Cotton, who hath as little interest in the Island as myself, shall by your favour, appear openly chosen. This pray, my dear lord, consider and if you will oblige me, let it not be in a way which will be very disagreeable.

Cutts did not change his plans and Ranelagh withdrew. Consequently Cutts decided to put up his brother-in-law, John Acton, whom he had failed to get in at Yarmouth in 1695, at the by-election which would be forthcoming when Cutts himself chose to sit for Cambridgeshire. This caused irritation at Court: James Vernon I* wrote to the Duke of Shrewsbury on 4 Aug. 1698 that he was afraid Hon. Harry Mordaunt* would not get a seat, adding:

another reserve was in the Isle of Wight, in the place of my Lord Cutts. But it seems he has already recommended one Acton, his brother-in-law, or otherwise my Lord Orford had likewise writ to him on behalf of Mr [Henry] Priestman*.

Two days later he wrote again:

My Lord Cutts does not so much as think of Sir Harry Colt; he has already recommended to his borough in the Isle of Wight, one Acton . . . He is thought too quick in it, since it might have been a provision for a more useful man.

On 24 Dec. Vernon informed Cutts that the King,

being desirous to do what he can towards bringing Mr [Harry] Mordaunt into the House, would have him proposed at Newport. His Majesty hopes your lordship may prevail and carry the election for him, but if it should happen otherwise, he had rather Mr Mordaunt should fail in the attempt than miscarry for want of making it.

Cutts did not propose Mordaunt and at the election in January his candidate was still John Acton. His attitude may have been influenced by growing disillusion with the Junto-dominated administration and possibly other candidates were deterred by the fact that the election was contested by Henry Greenhill, a naval commissioner at Portsmouth, a man with no strong party identification. Cutts wrote anxiously to a friend on the island:

I pray you to use your best endeavours with the corporation of Newport to secure the return of my brother, Mr Acton, as it would look very strange to the eyes of the world if the corporation of Newport, which showed me so much kindness when almost all the gentlemen opposed me, should now be unkind to me when all the gentlemen of the Island are on my side.

Cutts was in a weak position. His financial difficulties meant he had little to spend on the voters, whereas Greenhill, who won the contest, was able to dispense the patronage of the Portsmouth dockyard. Acton petitioned on 28 Jan. 1699 and again on 29 Nov. The elections committee reported on 11 Jan. 1700 that counsel for the petitioner had alleged that Greenhill ‘being but little known in Newport’, made use of one Smith, clerk of the ropeyard in Portsmouth docks, to act as his intermediary with the corporation. Smith, who had been present at the election of Cutts and Cotton, immediately the result was announced came into the town hall, and told the voters ‘it was believed the Lord Cutts would make his election to serve for Cambridgeshire; and therefore he desired their votes for Mr Greenhill’. Smith then obtained support for Greenhill by ‘promises of places and by sending great quantities of junk [old ropes and cables] to be made into oakum [loose fibre for caulking ships] by the poor people of Newport’, thus providing work for the poor and easing the charge on the poor relief. Witnesses testified that the junk had in fact been sent and that members of the corporation had been bribed by promises of places in the navy or the dockyard for themselves or their relations, including the mayor, whose son was made purser of a third-rate. Counsel for Greenhill ‘insisted that . . . the promise of junk being made before the vacancy [i.e. before Cutts had chosen to sit for Cambridgeshire] it was not within the words of the Act of Parliament, nor within the meaning of the same, it not being given to the voters’. He also contended that, ‘what Mr Smith did was without Mr Greenhill’s privity’. It was further alleged that Cutts had pressed one voter for his support for Acton by ordering the payment of money Cutts himself owed him. Both the committee and the House declared Greenhill duly elected.3

Possibly as a result of his annoyance over this defeat, Cutts became involved in a dispute with the corporation over the mayoralty in the autumn of 1699. The candidates were Edward Webb, one of the aldermen accused of voting for Greenhill on a promise of a place for his grandson, and Francis Searle, a gunner of Carisbrooke Castle. Cutts’s nominee, Searle, was appointed, but on 27 Nov. 1699 Webb presented a petition to the House which was considered the next day wherein he claimed that despite having 11 votes to Searle’s five, Lord Cutts’s steward had sworn in Searle.

And the petitioner brought three mandamus’s, to the third of which the Lord Cutts, though the steward was served with the process, returned, that the petitioner was not duly elected; upon which the petitioner intended to bring his action to try his right; but the Lord Cutts insists of his privilege; whereby the petitioner is like to lose the benefit of this term.

After hearing Cutts, the House resolved that no Member ‘acting as a public officer, hath any privileges of Parliament touching any matter done in execution of his office’.

The first 1701 election was contested. Cutts and Greenhill, who now seemed to have reached an understanding, both stood. The third candidate was Samuel Shepheard I, a wealthy London merchant and one of the leading members of the New East India Company. He intervened in a number of elections to secure the return of the company’s supporters while Newport he selected for himself. On 3 Jan. 1701 a correspondent wrote to James Grahme*, ‘it is fancied Shepheard will carry it at Newport . . . even against the interest of Lord Cutts’. Shepheard did defeat Greenhill, but on 18 Mar. 1701 he and his agent were declared guilty of ‘notorious bribery’ at Newport. Shepheard, whose corrupt practices in other boroughs were also exposed, was sent to the Tower and expelled the House on 15 Apr. 1701. Meanwhile Greenhill had been returned at the by-election caused by Cutts’s choosing to sit for Cambridgeshire. No new writ was issued after Shepheard’s expulsion. In the last election of William’s reign Cutts was returned with a local Whig landowner, Edward Richards of Yaverland. When Cutts as usual chose Cambridgeshire, his seat was taken by the Whig army officer James Stanhope.4

In 1702 Cutts was returned with William Stephens, a local Tory landowner and son of the 1690 Member. For this election Cutts did not stand for Cambridgeshire and so retained his Newport seat, as he did in 1705 when he and Stephens were again returned. Cutts died in January 1707 and was replaced as governor by the 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), a supporter of the Junto. The seat at Newport was taken by a local Whig landowner, Sir Tristram Dillington, 5th Bt. Dillington held his seat in 1708, presumably with Bolton’s support and so, more surprisingly, did the Tory, Stephens. Probably Stephens had by this time built up a strong personal interest in the Newport corporation, which Bolton did not feel able to challenge. In 1710 Bolton was replaced as governor by General John Richmond Webb, a Tory, who took one seat in 1710 while Stephens retained the other. When Webb chose to sit elsewhere another soldier, William Seymour, previously a colonel in Cutts’s regiment and also a Tory, was returned. In 1712, after Stephens had been appointed to the victualling commission, he was re-elected unopposed. Webb and Stephens held the seats in 1713 and remained the borough’s representatives for the rest of the period.

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 414; HMC Astley, 77.
  • 2. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Blathwayt mss, box 5, Blathwayt to Newport corporation, 6 Dec. 1692; HMC Astley, 77; Mass. Hist. Soc. Procs. ser. 2, ii. 180–1; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 87; Flying Post, 26–29 Oct. 1695.
  • 3. HMC Astley, 93, 95; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 145–6; Add. 40773, f. 56.
  • 4. Bagot mss at Levens Hall, [?] to Grahme, 3 Jan. 1701; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/1, Alexander to James Stanhope, 23 Jan., 20 Feb. 1702.