Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the burgage holders
Number of Qualified Electors:
12 until 1698; 36 after 16981
Number of voters:
|27 Feb. 1690||Richard Jones, Earl of Ranelagh [I]|
|31 Oct. 1695||James Worsley|
|26 July 1698||James Worsley|
|9 Jan. 1701||James Worsley|
|29 Nov. 1701||Thomas Hopson|
|20 July 1702||Thomas Hopson|
|12 May 1705||James Worsley|
|6 May 1708||James Worsley|
|7 Oct. 1710||James Worsley|
|2 Jan. 1711||James Worsley re-elected after appointment to office|
|28 Aug. 1713||James Worsley|
The right of election at Newtown lay with the burgage holders, who were also freemen. In practice this had usually meant that anyone who owned a burgage could automatically become a freeman, but in the reign of Charles ii a new bye-law had been passed limiting the number of freemen to 12, who were thenceforward referred to as aldermen or capital burgesses. This restriction of the franchise enabled the governor of the Isle of Wight to exert considerable influence over elections. The other chief interest lay with the Worsley family of Appuldurcombe.2
In 1690 Sir Robert Holmes*, governor since 1667, who had established a controlling interest, secured the return of two Court Tories, the Earl of Ranelagh [I], paymaster-general of the army, and Thomas Done, auditor of the imprests. On Holmes’s death in 1692, the governorship passed to Lord Cutts [I] (John*), who as a soldier, was able to spend comparatively little time on the island, leaving the detailed management of affairs to his lieutenant-governor, Colonel Joseph Dudley*, his close friend and protégé. This, however, did not prevent Cutts, as part of a scheme to bring the boroughs of the Isle of Wight under stricter government control, taking an active part in the manipulation of electoral affairs. His plans brought him into conflict with the local gentry, headed by the Holmes and Worsley families, whose traditional influence at Newtown and Yarmouth was being challenged. Cutts’s view of Newtown was:
The corporation . . . consists of a mayor and twelve aldermen, and the present governor is master of this corporation. The gentlemen (encouraged by the Marquess of Winchester [Charles Powlett I*] and Major [Anthony] Morgan*) are endeavouring to get the constitution of this corporation altered, but (if his Majesty’s servants don’t sacrifice his interest to their own) it may be prevented.
The opposition group hoped, by changing the franchise back to the more broadly based burgage tenure, to maintain the influence of the local gentry. Both parties attempted to win the support of a majority of the aldermen and in 1694 Cutts secured his own election as mayor. On 14 Sept. he wrote to Dudley:
I send you here enclosed a deputation to discharge for me (in my absence) the office of mayor of Newtown, with a clause in it to recommend you to be elected mayor for the ensuing year; I need say no more but only desire you to prepare and order things so that it may have its desired effect.
On 31 May 1695 Cutts informed Dudley that at the next election he intended to set up as candidates ‘the rich (ingenious) Mr [Anthony] Henley*, and some country gentlemen of figure with him’. Henley was a Whig and Court supporter from a prominent Hampshire family. To achieve his ends Cutts instructed Dudley to reassure one Alderman Hales of his good intentions and:
You may tell him (as a dead secret) I have laid a scheme that will, in a little time, by God’s help blow up all our enemies. And all I do now is but to cast a mist before their eyes. I would have you exert your utmost interest and mine, to have Sir Robert Worsley [4th Bt.†] chosen a capital burgess of Newtown. Do it, formally, as my careless compliment to his figure and quality; but I mean it (intentionally) to a particular aim, which in due time will produce a good effect. Carry it very civilly to him and (between you and I) I have assurances that in due time he’ll be ours. You must not let the enemy suspect this of him; for they don’t dream it; nor must you let him suspect you know it. But I would very fain have him a burgess.
Sir Robert Worsley was the head of the Worsley family, but Cutts’s attempts to win him over were not at this time successful and at the election Henley stood alone while the other side supported Worsley’s cousin, James Worsley, at this point a man of no party affiliation but apparently a Country supporter. The third candidate was the sitting Member, Done, a Tory who had been a Court supporter for at least some of the last Parliament but who was out of favour with the government by the time of the election. That Done had an important interest in the borough had been revealed in 1693 when he had appealed to Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) to speak to his son-in-law, Sir Robert Worsley, in order to influence his ‘particular friends’ Sir William Stephens and Mr Holmes in case there was an election. Henley was defeated and petitioned against both Worsley and Done on 5 Dec. 1695, but the petition was never reported. Henley’s failure was something of a rebuff for Cutts, but he continued the battle for control of the corporation, writing to Dudley in September 1696: ‘I wonder how [Alderman] Captain Philips comes to be cowed by Sir R. Worsley. I beg of you to talk with him; and if good words, promises or money will do, secure him and pray don’t omit this a moment. And let all things be done with calmness and gravity.’ The Worsleys continued with their attempts to have the franchise changed and, to strengthen their case, secured on 21 Apr. 1697 a royal directive to the mayor and aldermen of Newtown to admit Sir Robert Worsley as an alderman,
it having been the custom, time out of mind, that anyone holding any messuage or lands adjacent to the town by what is commonly called burgage tenure or holding any free tenement in the town and paying . . . town rent should be counted a capital burgher of the said town; and it appearing that Sir Robert Worsley, Bt., holds the land called ‘Pentons’ adjacent to the said town, yet that you, the mayor and capital burghers refuse to admit him to his due rights and privileges, we hereby require you to admit the said Sir Robert as a capital burgher, with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining.
Finally, in alliance with other leading gentry, the Worsleys drafted a petition to the House in which they complained of the arbitrary and illegal interference by Lord Cutts in the three Isle of Wight corporations and particularly complained that he had encouraged the mayor of Newtown to expel two aldermen, ‘on pretence of their being rendered uncapable to act as burgesses for not having signed the Association, notwithstanding their burgesship is in right of borough lands and no office within the Act of Parliament’. It was further alleged that he disposed,
the trust of the forts belonging to the said Island as rewards to such as serve his interest in elections, and who are unskilful and unable to discharge their offices, by which means he has now a third time made himself mayor of Newtown, though not rightfully a burgess there.
They further complained that Cutts had threatened voters ‘that if they do not serve his interest, he will use his power over them as enemies to the government’; arbitrarily quartered soldiers ‘to overawe the corporations’; imprisoned a clergyman for two months for voting against his wishes; and turned militia officers ‘out of their commissions for voting against his interest’. Before this petition could be laid before the House, Cutts reached a compromise with the local gentry, headed by Sir Robert and James Worsley, Anthony Morgan* and Henry Holmes*, and signed an agreement on 17 Mar. 1698 at a meeting at Westminster, wherein they agreed to lay aside all ‘quarrels, lawsuits and animosities’. All future elections in the island’s three boroughs would be conducted with ‘calmness and good nature’, and the governor’s candidates would be preferred over any recommendations of outsiders. The Worsleys specifically promised to support the governor’s nominees at the ensuing parliamentary election for Newport in return for the agreement:
that the governor shall before the 1st of May next ensuing (by himself or lawful deputy) call a hall at Newtown, examine witnesses concerning the ancient method of choosing Members to serve in Parliament for that corporation, and effectually restore the said corporation; and all who have a just pretence to be members of it, to their ancient rights of burgage tenure, provided always that the said governor be first put in possession of a qualifying burgage tenure, sufficient to enable him to be a member and elector of the said borough.
This meeting was not in fact held until 20 Sept. 1698 when, with Cutts presiding as mayor, he and the aldermen resolved ‘that the restraint of the chief burgesses of this corporation to the number of 12, or any less number than are freeholders of borough lands is against law and contrary to the ancient usage of this corporation’, and that ‘whosoever shall prove himself to be a freeholder of any borough land . . . shall upon demand be sworn a chief burgess’. This in effect restored the franchise to the burgage holders, who now had an automatic right to become aldermen and to vote in elections. The decision came after the 1698 election, but the new harmony was reflected in the return of James Worsley and Admiral Thomas Hopson. The latter, a Court supporter and probably a Tory, although born in the Isle of Wight, was undoubtedly Cutts’s nominee.3
These two held the seats in January 1701, but on 21 Nov. following, Sir Robert Worsley wrote to Dudley,
to show you how ready I am to serve you, when it lie[s] in my power, meeting with my cousin James at Winchester this day, he assured me of his resolution not to stand, and I proposed you. He readily assented to it and told me he had mentioned you to Colonel [William] Stephens* for supplying his [James Worsley’s] place, who will be also your friend, but there are some others we are doubtful of, therefore if you value the service, I desire you will take horse and be here . . . Sunday night, for a’ Monday I would by all means have you in the Island, though I think it necessary you call here that my cousin Worsley and you and I may settle some matters for securing the election. My cousin leaves me Monday, and our election being probably the middle of next week, you must not lose an hour’s time . . . You must not defer taking horse Sunday morning, for the whole success will depend on the quickness of our management.
He added in a postscript: ‘We are much solicited for another, but since our old Member lies down, nothing shall make us quit your interest, though we shall not compass it without you hasten.’ Dudley, identified as a Tory, was duly returned with Hopson. James Worsley was still reluctant to stand for the seat in 1702 and as Dudley had departed to take up the governorship of Massachusetts, Hopson was returned with John Leigh of North Court, a neighbouring landowner and probably also a moderate Tory and Court supporter. The Worsleys took both seats in 1705, when James Worsley was returned with Sir Robert’s younger brother, Henry. These two held the seats for the rest of the period, supporting whatever administration was in office and co-operating with the Whiggish 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), who became governor on the death of Cutts in 1707, and then with his Tory successor in 1710, General John Richmond Webb*.4