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 5,798 in 1710


24 Feb. 1690SIR JACOB ASTLEY,  Bt.1738
 Sir Henry Hobart,  Bt.1370
 Charles Paston, Ld. Paston7801
28 Oct. 1695SIR JACOB ASTLEY,  Bt. 
3 Aug. 1698SIR WILLIAM COOK,  Bt.3107
 Sir Henry Hobart, Bt.2244
 Charles Paston, Ld. Paston1987
15 Jan. 1701HON. ROGER TOWNSHEND2064
 Robert Walpole1347
 Charles Paston, Ld. Paston1000
17 Dec. 1701SIR JOHN HOLLAND, Bt.2863
 Sir Jacob Astley, Bt.1778
29 July 1702SIR JOHN HOLLAND, Bt.2702
 Sir William Cook, Bt.2662
 Sir Edward Ward, Bt.2650
30 May 1705SIR JOHN HOLLAND, Bt. 
26 May 1708SIR JOHN HOLLAND, Bt. 
27 Apr. 1709HOLLAND  re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Oct. 1710SIR JOHN WODEHOUSE, Bt.3216
 Ashe Windham2783
 Robert Walpole2397
9 Sept. 1713SIR JACOB ASTLEY, Bt. 

Main Article

At the beginning of this period the principals in the county were the Whig Sir Henry Hobart, 4th Bt., of Blickling and the Tory Sir Jacob Astley, 1st Bt., of Melton Constable. The other leading interests were in eclipse or decline: among the Whigs the Townshends were represented by a minor, while Sir John Holland, 1st Bt.†, of Quidenham, the veteran Parliamentarian, had by now retired from politics; on the Tory side Lord Yarmouth (Hon. William Paston†) had refused the oaths and was in any case sinking under his debts. The lord lieutenancy was held by the 7th Duke of Norfolk, who enjoyed some influence in the county. The Members returned in 1690 were Astley and his kinsman Sir William Cook, 2nd Bt., a Tory gentleman who had topped the poll in 1689 when Astley was unsuccessful. They defeated Hobart and Lord Paston, Yarmouth’s son, who probably stood as a Whig. Prior to the 1695 election it was being predicted that Hobart and another Whig would be returned. The Tory camp was ‘at a loss’ because Cook had declared that ‘he would not serve in Parliament any more’. After a ‘general meeting’ with the Duke of Norfolk, at which ‘his grace absolutely refused’ to take responsibility for nominating candidates (‘he would be concerned no further than to desire them to choose two men that would be true and faithful to the King and government in Church and state’), a solution emerged whereby Hobart and Astley were to share the representation. The candidates were returned without a contest.2

In 1698 the same four candidates put up as in 1690. Hobart’s popularity had suffered because of his involvement with the Court party, and possibly because of his repeated failure to obtain protective legislation for Norfolk woollens. Astley too had lost support, and received fewer votes than his partner, but, with the help of a large contingent of clergymen who accompanied them and their supporters to the election, the two Tories repeated their previous triumph. Lord Paston, who did not enter the contest until late, was again bottom of the poll.3

Shortly after this election Hobart was killed in a duel, and the way was left clear for Lord Townshend, who had by now attained his majority, to reassert his family’s position in the county. In December 1699 Humphrey Prideaux noted the existence of a ‘caballing design’ and expected that ‘neither of the old ones’ would be re-elected. He was unsure who would emerge as replacements, but speculated that one of the candidates would be Ashe Windham, Townshend’s cousin and friend. In fact it was Townshend’s brother, Hon. Roger, who put up against Astley in January 1701, together with the young and ambitious Robert Walpole II*, whose father Robert I* had been Lord Townshend’s guardian. The Walpole estates, in the vicinity of King’s Lynn, were far from the seat of the election at Norwich. Whether for this reason or because of the appearance of a third Whig candidate in the person of Lord Paston, Walpole was defeated even though Townshend topped the poll. Walpole’s role was taken at the next election by Sir John Holland, 2nd Bt., who had just succeeded his grandfather at Quidenham. Roger Townshend was assured some time before the election by Cook that he and Holland would hardly meet with opposition, their joint candidacy having been approved at a meeting of gentlemen at Norwich, but Astley subsequently put up, upon which Cook out of ‘respect’ for his relation withdrew his support from the Whigs and resolved on a position of neutrality between Astley and the Townshend interest. Nevertheless, the combined influence of the Townshends and Holland, and the deference shown even by Tories to Lord Townshend (who had recently been appointed lord lieutenant of the county) enabled the two Whigs to romp home. Astley’s defeat might have been even heavier. ‘There were between three and four, and five hundred single votes of both sides’, wrote a friend of Holland,

and I am morally sure abundance of them by mistake, and neglect of the clerks. I spoke but yesterday with three [voters] . . . who promised both Sir John and me to vote doubly, and are not entered in Mr Townshend’s books, and asking them about it they assured me faithfully . . . that they did poll for Mr Townshend, were sworn at his poll and as they thought saw their names entered . . . I question not but that there are many the like neglects on both sides, and one of Mr Townshend’s polls was managed by a clerk and swearer that did not serve him faithfully.4

This lack of co-operation between the two interests gave rise to suspicion and animosity. Although Townshend and Holland voted together in the Commons they did not renew their compact. Before the dissolution there was talk of ‘little misunderstandings’ and of the possibility that Ashe Windham would put up next time. At a conference of ‘several gentlemen’ at Norwich during the quarter sessions at the beginning of May a letter from Townshend was read in which he announced his intention not to stand. This move had been made without reference to Holland, but the latter was prepared and himself sent a letter to the meeting offering to step down ‘if the gentlemen who lately did me the honour to entrust me shall think it for the advantage of the county’. Two of Holland’s henchmen proposed that he be accepted as a candidate there and then, but no decision was taken. (Sir) Charles Turner* reported the outcome to his friend Robert Walpole II:

I find Houghton, Sir Edward Ward, [4th Bt.] and Neville Catelyn† violent against Sir Jacob and very inclinable for Sir John Holland. They want only an assurance of being backed by us two and the town of Lynn. I was pressed very often to declare my opinion, but very cautiously avoided it (telling them that I came only to see what was done and submit to what they should impose upon us) for indeed it was my real belief that the great end of Mr Townshend’s declining was to pull down Sir John Holland, and this was confirmed to me by a letter I saw at Norwich. Therefore, considering how kind my Lord hath been to us, but in a more particular manner to yourself, I think we ought to consider how we proceed in this matter . . . Mr Windham was named there, but immediately it was affirmed that he would not stand, so that went off. You were named by a great many, who very briskly offered to engage for you, but I affirmed the same thing on your part. At last they talked of Colonel [John] Harbord and Sir Edward Ward, and some gentlemen were desired to learn Col. Harbord’s resolutions in case it be offered to him, and to press him to it . . . I must tell you that it is my opinion truly that if Sir John Holland could be prevailed upon to decline standing this time for the county, and would join with us, we might easily choose two honest gentlemen for the county, and it will be the only means to keep the country quiet, but if he doth persist, I am afraid the feuds will run higher than ever, and Sir Jacob in all likelihood will get in in the scuffle. I do not speak this out of any disrespect to Sir John Holland, but purely from what I met with at Norwich.

Holland and Ward put up together, presumably without Lord Townshend’s support, and although the Townshend stratagem failed, Holland being returned at the top of the poll, the division among the Whigs did enable Astley to come in to the second seat. The Tory interest temporarily revived, and the county address which Astley presented to Queen Anne in November 1704, congratulating her on the successful prosecution of the war, had a distinctly Tory flavour.5

The Townshends had settled their differences with Holland by 1705, however, and at that election Roger Townshend and Holland stood together, Sir Edward Ward having been persuaded with difficulty not to put himself forward. There was on this occasion no opposition: Astley, ‘the only person can oppose that interest’, had alienated some Tory support by having opposed the Tack, and had moreover lost valuable ground among the Yarmouth voters by attacking the town’s monopoly of the coal trade in that part of Norfolk. Astley would not risk a contest, and Cook, who had come close to being elected in 1702, was no longer active. ‘Several had threatened they would set up somebody on the election day’, reported Townshend’s sister, ‘but their hearts failed them when they saw our side so well prepared, for my brother came into Norwich at the head of the greatest number that was ever seen there’. It was the same story in 1708: Holland and a Townshend candidate returned unopposed. Roger Townshend, who was mortally ill, made room for his understudy of the previous year, Ashe Windham. ‘Lord Townshend flourisheth much among us’, wrote Humphrey Prideaux, now dean of Norwich, ‘for the whole county is absolutely at his beck, and he had got such an ascendant here by his courteous carriage that he may do anything among us what he will’.6

When Holland was obliged to resign his seat in 1709 on being appointed comptroller of the Household he was re-elected without opposition, but in the following year things were very different. Although Lord Townshend was reassured in April that there had been ‘no rebellious riots within his lieutenancy’ on the occasion of Dr Sacheverell’s trial, there was sympathy in Norfolk for the doctor, and in July the grand jury was said to have prepared ‘one of those Mr Dyer calls very loyal addresses’. Moreover, Holland had by now entirely ‘lost his interest’ through neglecting his duties as knight of the shire, and was resigned to having to seek a borough seat. The leading Whigs in the county settled at first on Windham and Robert Walpole II to stand against Astley and Astley’s nephew Sir John Wodehouse, 4th Bt. Walpole failed, however, to arrange an ‘accommodation’ in the county through his Tory uncle, and the Whigs selected John Harbord of Gunton instead. Then Harbord died suddenly and Walpole took his place again as candidate. After a hard-fought election the Whigs lost both seats by a clear majority. Townshend’s absence in the Netherlands had hindered them: although he had ‘done all that he can for the support of our friends in Norfolk by writing’, none the less ‘people had been very industrious to give out that his excellency would not concern himself’. An attempt had been made to give the lie to these rumours, by pressing Townshend’s brother Horatio†, a London merchant, to ‘go down to Raynham, and kill a sheep or two . . . lay aside the merchant, and spend and speak like a gentleman’. Horatio, however, was ‘not the best manager in affairs of this nature’ and was ‘a little impracticable’. Furthermore, Holland, while answering with ‘fine florid letters’ Whig requests for assistance, had done little or nothing to help. At the poll the Tories had made much of the Sacheverell issue and had concentrated their fire on Walpole. According to Dyer the Tories

had Dr Sacheverell’s picture carried before them and the cry was ‘No Manager’, ‘No Scaffolder’, but that was not all for they pelted Mr Walpole with dirt and stones and drove him out of his tent, spoiling his fine laced coat which they told him came out of the Treasury.

Walpole finished some way behind his colleague: his offence in having been a manager of the impeachment was greater than Windham’s in only having voted for it, and in any case, despite his prominence at Westminster, his position in the county constituency was the weaker of the two Whig candidates.7

Afterwards Walpole’s uncle Horatio claimed to have had the lion’s share in the defeat of his nephew and in overturning the Whig supremacy in Norfolk and its boroughs. ‘’Tis evident’, he boasted to Robert Harley*, from whom he was soliciting a reward, ‘that the last county election but one when I stood neuter . . . the rest did so and they chose two knights of the shire without opposition which by opposition last time we turned both out’. At the same time he urged that ‘there must be care taken and some people encouraged that dare look Lord Townshend in the face, who is now very active and very expensive’. In September 1712, still without office, he wrote that he found the county

in greater ferment than ever I knew it in, and the Whigs not only very noisy but active in stirring and treating, and I heartily wish I could raise the same zeal in our friends, who depend too much upon the justness of their cause, and love their money too well to be roused by me; until I can give them an assurance from you they shall have a head to govern them, and it would be no small addition to their satisfaction to have the present severed.

Early in 1713 Townshend was replaced as lord lieutenant by the Duke of Ormond and Horatio Walpole was given a post in Ireland as a token of his high standing with the ministry. After this the Whigs abandoned their ‘new project for a county election’. At the general election the Tories easily retained both seats, Astley being re-elected without opposition in partnership with Sir Edmund Bacon, 6th Bt. Bishop Trimnell of Norwich had written beforehand to Townshend: ‘I know not whether I should congratulate or no upon the quiet you are likely to have in the country tho’ it may be better than striving to no purpose’.8

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bean’s notebks.
  • 2. R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Norf. Portraits, 49–56; A. Browning, Danby, iii. 182; Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 156; Suffolk RO (Ipswich) Gurdon mss mic. JC1/37/2, ‘A Short Account of Some of the Most Remarkable Proceedings in the County of Norfolk’, n.d.
  • 3. HMC Downshire, i. 740; East Anglian, n.s. v. 65–68.
  • 4. Norf. Arch. xxxvii. 321–3; Gurdon mss mic. M142(1), Ld. Townshend to Cook, 17 Dec. 1700; Prideaux Letters, 193–5; HMC Townshend, 329; HMC Portland, iv. 26–27; Add. 9092, ff. 2–3; J.M. Rosenheim, Townshends of Raynham, 194–200.
  • 5. Add. 9092, ff. 2–3; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, (Sir) Charles Turner to Robert Walpole II, 7 May 1702, Hon. Roger Townshend to same, n.d., Holland to [–], n.d.; London Gazette, 2–6 Nov. 1704.
  • 6. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Ld. Townshend to Robert Walpole II, 6, 8 Nov. 1704, John Turner to same, 19 Feb. 1705; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/853, Sir Edward Bacon, 4th Bt.*, to Sir Edward Turnor*, 21 Feb. 1704[–5], Thomas Peirson to Turnor, 9 Mar. 1705; Add. 33084, f. 177; Norf. RO, Ketton-Cremer mss, Katherine to Ashe Windham, 24 Feb., 2 Mar. 1705; Prideaux Letters, 200.
  • 7. HMC Townshend, 64, 339; Bodl. Ballard 4, ff. 105–6; Norf. RO, Bradfer-Lawrence mss, Windham to [Ld. Townshend], 8 June 1710; Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Horatio II* to Robert Walpole II, 24 June, 4 July, 18 Aug., 12, 19 Sept. 1710; Add. 38501, f. 129; Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Horatio I* to Robert Walpole II, 27 July 1710; Cal. Le Neve Corresp. 189; J.H. Plumb, Walpole, i. 163–4; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 252.
  • 8. HMC Portland, iv. 685; v. 137, 228; Add. 70262, Horatio Walpole I to Harley, 1711, n.d.; 38507, f. 84; Boyer, Anne Annals, x. 388; R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Felbrigg, 92.