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:

6,304 in 1702-51

Number of voters:

4,786 in 1705


28 Feb. 16902SIR ST. ANDREW ST. JOHN, Bt.  
14 Nov. 1695SIR ST. ANDREW ST. JOHN, Bt.2080 
 John Parkhurst18453 
21 July 1698SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, Bt.1698 
 Thomas Cartwright1224 
14 Jan. 1701SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM,  Bt.  
4 Dec. 1701SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM,  Bt.18521654
 John Parkhurst12161200
 Sir St. Andrew St. John, Bt.114341164
29 July 1702SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, Bt.2325 
 Charles Spencer, Ld. Spencer2210 
 Sir St. Andrew St. John, Bt.2015 
17 May 1705SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, Bt.2483 
 John Mordaunt, Ld. Mordaunt2303 
 Sir St. Andrew St. John, Bt.2176 
26 Oct. 1710SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, Bt.  
27 Aug. 1713SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, Bt.  

Main Article

‘This is certainly the greatest fanatical and Whig county in England, and now the contrary party have bestirred themselves the Whigs have lost it prodigiously.’ However, the writer of this verdict on the decisive Tory victory in Northamptonshire of December 1701 appears to have overstated the pervasiveness of Whiggery in the shire during the preceding decade, since what is much more apparent is an even balance between the parties. The second election of 1701 saw a rather more adversarial climate in county politics which continued to intensify in the next two elections. After 1705 the Tories began to establish a monopoly over the two seats which with the passage of time became increasingly difficult to challenge. The party depended for its organization on a conglomeration of aristocratic and squirely interests, though few were particularly extensive and none paramount. Of the two Tory knights, Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt., thoroughly epitomizing the values and outlook of his kind, commanded particular and widespread respect, although his hatred of confrontation made him alarmingly negligent in elections. By the last years of Anne’s reign both he and his fellow knight, Thomas Cartwright, were very much the focal points of the Tory cause in Northamptonshire. The single most important proprietorial interest was that of the 6th Earl of Exeter (John Cecil*), whose sprawling influence throughout the remote soke of Peterborough became a valuable asset in the eastern division, an area where the Tory vote was generally thinner and more vulnerable than the west. Although a Tory at heart, Exeter, perhaps resentful of Isham’s growing influence, was capable of making petty difficulties, by insisting that deference be paid him by the Tory candidates, and that they seek his interest in person at elections. His close neighbour, Hon. Charles Bertie* of Uffingham, near Stamford, a devoted adherent of Isham, often interceded on his behalf to soften the Earl’s caprices. The Whig gentlemen might have evolved a similar system of collective interests but for the regular intervention of the earls of Sunderland, who directed campaigns from their principal seat at Althorp. At the summit of county society throughout the period was the largely titular figure of the lord lieutenant, the 3rd Earl of Peterborough. His only intervention in an election was in 1705 when his heir, Lord Mordaunt (John*), stood as a Whig candidate. Otherwise, as Isham observed in 1714, ‘the Lord Peterborough has little or no interest in our county, yet being lord lieutenant ’tis but a compliment he may expect to be asked’.5

The Tories were ill-prepared for the 1690 election. The year before, a strong initiative among the gentry to avoid disunity had been carried into effect with a compromise between the Whig Edward Harby† and the moderate Tory Edward Montagu†. But partisan sentiment had only been temporarily suppressed and surfaced again in 1690. The Whig choice of candidates had settled on John Parkhurst and Sir St. Andrew St. John, 2nd Bt. The Tories, however, were in a state of disorganization. Montagu was late in declaring his intentions to stand again, and when he did so, much confusion lingered into the second and third week of February over who his partner was to be. Thomas Andrew* was thought of as ‘the best’ choice but was already ‘safe’ at Higham Ferrers. After him, the most appropriate nominee was considered to be Isham, currently seeking re-election for Northampton, although he was by no means regarded as a perfect choice. Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), a friend of Isham’s, privately expressed his feeling that Isham’s prospects had been blighted by his having recently stood bail for a Jacobite neighbour, the 1st Lord Griffin, and, more seriously, for being remembered and unforgiven as the grand jury foreman who had presented no fewer than 52 of the county’s ‘men of quality’ on charges of disaffection in August 1683. An understanding seems to have existed between Isham and Montagu whereby Montagu would for the time being campaign singly for the county on the Tory interest until a suitable moment arose for Isham to declare for the county. Such an arrangement had obvious drawbacks, however, not least that Isham was to be kept waiting on Montagu (who at the time was in London) while at the same time running his campaign for the town. On 12 Feb., Montagu confidently apprised Isham that ‘I have very good hope Sir St. Andrew will give over, and then Mr Parkhurst will have two stand against him and may have a hard bargain, but keep this to yourself’, and in the same letter gave Isham detailed canvassing instructions. Continuing rumours that Isham would stand for the county remained unclarified. One of his supporters, Sir Roger Norwich, 2nd Bt., wrote to him on the 15th: ‘your friends on this side, not knowing your resolution to stand for knight of the shire or burgess of Northampton, sometimes hearing you intend for the one, and another time for the other, we cannot determine what to do and lose time wherein what might be serviceable to you’. In a letter to Viscount Hatton (Christopher†) two days later, Isham was slightly disingenuous in explaining that this situation had been due to his ‘being uncertain whether Mr Montagu would join with me’, and not divulging that his arrangement with Montagu in fact awaited on adverse developments in the Whig campaign. Declaring his decision to stand for Northampton, Isham may well have surmised that prevarication by Montagu had put his chances, even of a borough seat, too much at risk. Nottingham, monitoring the campaign from his seat in neighbouring Rutland, thought the candidature of a single Tory candidate no bad thing in view of the distinct possibility of Whigs capturing both county seats. ‘Many that will vote for Mr Montagu or Sir Just[inian]’, he wrote ‘will give their second vote to Parkhurst . . . [but] by dividing the votes between Sir Just[inian] and Mr Montagu, Sir St. Andrew St. John may chance to prevail too.’ All these calculations suddenly collapsed, however, with news from London that Montagu was dying. On notifying Hatton of this on 20 Feb., Nottingham admitted it would now ‘be fruitless’ to set up a new candidate in opposition to Parkhurst and St. John, both of whom were well ahead in engaging votes. After his defeat at Northampton, Isham was entreated once more to stand; on the 25th he was informed that the vicar of Bugbrooke had been ‘all over the west division’ where he found ‘the generality of the gentry’ willing to provide support if he appeared at the election due in a few days. But with time running out Isham was not tempted and both Whigs were returned unopposed. In Tory ranks it was not conceded that the Whigs had triumphed in numbers; Lord Hatton’s son, Christopher†, expressed relief to his father ‘that the Whigs are not so numerous in Northamptonshire as I feared’, but lamented that both seats had been lost by default.6

Well in advance of the 1695 election the 2nd Earl of Sunderland set up his son, Lord Spencer (Charles*), but withdrew him when it became clear that Thomas Cartwright, the new young Tory contender, was prepared to spare no expense in opposition. There seems to have been some initial co-operation between the Spencers and John Parkhurst, who sought re-election, but this ceased when in the course of canvassing Parkhurst overreached himself in some way, leaving Lord Spencer ‘justly nettled’. Cartwright had made an early start in canvassing, but by 10 Aug. it was clear that Spencer was unwilling to ‘set his pocket at stake against Mr Cartwright’s’. None the less, Spencer was not prepared to forget Parkhurst’s ‘usage’, and ordered his would-be supporters not to support Parkhurst any more, but cast their votes instead for Sir St. Andrew St. John, the outgoing Member who had set up in Spencer’s place, and Cartwright. With reference to Spencer’s paradoxical declaration of support for Cartwright, it was observed that ‘he has no great opinion [of Cartwright], but of the low men of the west, he is adjudged the least evil’. Parkhurst persisted with his campaign singly, a situation which was later remembered to have ‘put Sir St. Andrew to an extreme hazard’ presumably in view of their common Whiggery. Desirable though such a partnership might have been on party-political grounds, St. John would clearly have done untold damage to the Whig interest in Northamptonshire had he flouted the obligations imposed upon him from Althorp. In the November election Cartwright topped the poll, having expended a total of £1,320, while St. John took second place. A scrutiny, probably held at Parkhurst’s desire, verified St. John’s lead over him.7

In 1698 the Tories made an ill-concerted appeal to the electorate. At the March assizes, although there had been ‘mighty banding’ for the Tory candidates, no decision had been taken. Parkhurst, aiming to recover the seat he had lost in 1695, was already ‘mighty industrious’ among the freeholders. The Tories’ chief concern was to find a candidate who could breach Parkhurst’s interest before he had ‘perfected’ it. An obvious choice was Isham, but it was known that he intended to ‘stick to Northampton’, where despite tough opposition, the gamble involved far less expense. In his stead Toby Chauncey, a gentleman seated at Edgcote, volunteered to stand, not necessarily to win but to ensure Parkhurst was displaced. By the beginning of July, with the election just weeks away, no decision had been reached and Cartwright campaigned alone. The outgoing Whig Member, St. John, had also entered the lists at an early stage, but at the beginning of July there was talk of the gentry prevailing on him to withdraw. Probably he lagged so far behind Parkhurst, or Parkhurst had so much impaired his interest, that he stood little or no chance of a successful poll. The Tories had good reason to hope for this possibility as it was believed that the electoral isolation of Parkhurst would enable two Tory candidates to outmanoeuvre him. At a ‘general meeting’ of gentlemen at Northampton on 17 July, with the poll four days away, Isham accepted a renewed invitation to stand. It was probably at this point too that St. John retired from the campaign. Having reluctantly sacrificed a ‘fair prospect’ in Northampton, Isham could only hope, as he confided to Lord Hatton, that the gentlemen ‘will make up in diligence what we have lost in time’. Unusually, it was Cartwright and not Parkhurst who was this time defeated at the poll, Isham’s brother John attributing this result to Cartwright’s failure to join with Sir Justinian in the final days of the campaign, though his heavy loss of support, in comparison with his impressive capture of votes in 1695, suggests, too, that there had been serious inadequacies in the scope of his canvassing. His initial refusal in 1696 to take the Association may also have been a serious factor.8

The general desire to minimize the expense and exertion of a contest was powerful enough to avert a poll in the first election of 1701. Not the least reason for this was the severe weather conditions that had set in by early January. At first it seemed likely that the Tories would respond purposefully to Parkhurst’s efficient canvassing. The extent of this activity was painfully apparent to one of Isham’s local Tory confidants, Henry Benson, who reported that Parkhurst’s agents had been ‘in all places, towns and markets, very importunate with all people for their votes’. A preliminary meeting was fixed ‘to make some proposals for a general meeting’ at which a partner for Isham could be nominated and a campaign mobilized. A senior Tory, Sir Matthew Dudley, 2nd Bt.*, was just one of those who felt that ‘a certain resolution’ was necessary in order to clear confusion about who the candidates would be since he had heard that Parkhurst, Cartwright and Chauncey all intended to stand. The gentlemen, meeting towards the end of December 1700, settled for a party compromise and nominated Isham and Parkhurst. Dudley found his neighbours ‘very inclinable generally to acquiesce in the resolutions of the gentlemen as well as very unwilling, unless there be occasion, to take a journey to Northampton’ for the poll. Isham’s compact with Parkhurst was not, however, greeted with unanimous acceptance by the Tories; some gentlemen wished that an ‘honester’ man than Parkhurst had been found, and in some parts of the shire Chauncey was ‘much solicited’ as a second Tory candidate and was reported to be ‘making interest’. As late as 7 Jan. St. John promised to devote his interest to Isham rather than to his old rival Parkhurst. However, the inclement weather chilled the ardour of any who still wished to challenge the nomination, and Isham and Parkhurst shared the county seats for a further term.9

The spirit of compromise was set aside during the second election of 1701. The fervid political climate of the previous six months or so, in which the Whigs had relentlessly branded their opponents as pro-French and anti-war, had been felt in Northamptonshire. In mid-October, one of Isham’s correspondents, John Allicocke, declared: ‘This dissolution as it has surprised some so it has inspirited others that generally grumbled at the proceedings of the last Parliament and given them new courage.’ For these reasons he ventured that if Isham had any thoughts of re-election ‘no time should be lost considering the prejudices of the people’. Both Parkhurst and St. John had begun soliciting for support covertly in advance of the dissolution of Parliament, having received ‘good assurances’ of this eventuality. Dudley noticed that already ‘by their false representations’ they had ‘mightily deluded the well-meaning men’. It was not until 15 Nov. that the Tory gentlemen convened at Northampton and agreed upon Isham and Cartwright. Despite the anti-Tory smears, the Whig cause in Northamptonshire had been undermined by the accusations of corruption cast upon Parkhurst during the recent parliamentary session for his management of the prize office. His incarceration in the Tower for failing to satisfy the commissioners of accounts caused deep offence within the county, and the audacity of his subsequent appearance at the hustings outraged Tories. Charles Allestree, a Daventry clergyman, remarked, ‘for any person to appear now that lies under a public infamy is to scorn his electors, and to suppose them to have lost not only their honesty, but their reason too’. None the less, Parkhurst still commanded considerable loyalty in the county. Allicocke told Isham that he had ‘as many friends as ever who are openly so and some others who are afraid or ashamed to own it’. St. John, the other Whig candidate, stood at the behest of ‘several gentlemen and freeholders’, but was determined not to be thought, even by local Tories, in any way associated with Parkhurst. Isham soon found that his partnership with Cartwright did not meet with the approval he had expected. Thomas Ekins* communicated his reservations the day after the gentry had met: ‘I am afraid the measures you have taken in joining interest with Mr Cartwright will not prove of that advantage to you as some friends imagine and could heartily have wished you would have ventured the election upon your own’. Whereas Isham considered himself ‘as strong as ever in the west division’, his campaign in the east made little progress. Early on, Dudley, whose seat was at Upton, cautioned, ‘you can hardly imagine how people are divided here’. Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth*, of Harrowden, was set up in mid-November by the Whigs in a deliberate attempt, as Isham understood, to split his vote and prejudice his position among the eastern hundreds: the ‘small encouragement’ Wentworth found elsewhere could suppose no other intention. The intensity of Tory effort and organization in the final days of campaigning was particularly evident in the vast concourses of people that converged on Northampton. ‘Never were the [voters] so hotly engaged on both sides’, wrote one observer, ‘all that could possibly be done was done by both.’ The prospect was certainly gloomy by the end of the month. Sir Charles Shuckburgh, 2nd Bt., knight of the shire for Warwickshire, wrote to his fellow knight, Sir John Mordaunt:

it is feared here that Mr Parkhurst will throw out Sir Jus[tinian Isham], for I am privately informed that party bribes very high. I have worked very hard myself in Northamptonshire for Sir Jus and Mr Cartwright and by what I can find it will be a very hard pluck and some that has come over to me has confessed the last election that Parkhurst’s party gave them a crown a man and all charges borne, so that I have little hopes of keeping Parkhurst out.

Vast companies of freeholders and ‘most of the gentlemen of the county’ joined a cavalcade led by Isham and Cartwright. It was supposed their entire crowd of supporters numbered some 10,000; but even if this seems an exaggeration, the same witness remarked that ‘never was seen in this county such a vast body of men together before’. In contrast, the numbers attending St. John and Parkhurst, as they arrived separately at the polling venue, a field just outside the county town, were but a modest few thousand and comprised only a handful of gentry. Lord Spencer’s eleventh-hour solicitations for the Whigs proved ineffectual. St. John gave up halfway through the following day ‘finding himself so vastly behind’, while Parkhurst held out until the evening. There were ‘some hundreds more’ who were ready to vote for Isham and Cartwright, but the Whigs had ‘polled all’. St. John afterwards joined convivially with the other gentlemen in the celebrations that followed, but Parkhurst was forced to leave the town in haste; the mob was ‘so enraged against him’ that had he remained he would almost certainly have been lynched. In his absence an effigy was hawked around the town ‘on men’s shoulders’ and abused by the populace. The anonymous eye-witness, an obvious Tory, whose full report seems to have been intended for Peterborough, the lord lieutenant, concluded on a note of triumph and optimism:

I suppose now things are as we desired, the unmannerliness of the other party and the hellish lies and stories they raised will be passed by. But I verily believe it will be some years before the gentlemen who were for St. John and Parkhurst will have any civility or respect showed them by the others. Friday night and all Saturday the bells rung continuously in all the churches round about. The Church party did not know their strength till now, but this has cemented them together as one man, and I am persuaded that this election will make the Whigs odious in this country. I have sent you this particular account because we think it very extraordinary for this county.10

Preparations for the hard-fought 1702 contest opened in April amid speculation promoted by Parkhurst ‘and his emissaries’ that Isham would stand down, but this was repudiated by him in an open letter read to the grand jury and ‘dispersed abroad’. For the Whigs Lord Spencer joined company with St. John, and lost no time in ‘sending to all towns’. Party acrimony had recently erupted over the county’s address to Queen Anne on her accession. This had been the work of a group of local Whigs headed by St. John and Sir Robert Hesilrige, 5th Bt., of Noseley Hall, Leicestershire (the latter a candidate for the county town in the forthcoming election). Isham was warned in advance that he would find its substance ‘foolish’, while Dudley scorned the ‘base insinuations’ of its authors in reflecting against all the Queen’s possible intentions. As the campaign unfolded the signs for the Tories were very encouraging: Dudley’s reports to Isham were enthusiastic, and in the soke the Earl of Exeter was ‘hearty’ for them. By July the parties were drawn level. Whig morale ran too high for Tory comfort, and their ‘indefatigable zeal’ in all quarters instilled confidence. Dissenters had organized themselves effectively, and were ‘to a man united in their interest and openly espoused their cause’. The Tories made anxious arrangements to maximize attendances of outvoters: Shuckburgh, for example, promised ‘another squadron of horse’ provided he was not himself forced to a poll in his own county of Warwickshire, while Bertie was prepared to equip with horses some 30 freeholders of his neighbourhood on the Lincolnshire border, but asked that they be polled as quickly as possible ‘that they may return to their hay harvest and not be discouraged to serve you again’. The polling was close, but a decisive part was probably played by John Wingfield, a gentleman of Rutland, whose arrival with some 200 Tory supporters as the poll was about to close may well have fractionally swayed the narrow result more conclusively in favour of the Tories. Even so, the Whigs were outpolled by the closest of margins, with less than 100 votes separating Isham in second place and Spencer in third. Commenting to Robert Harley* upon the tone of the Midlands’ contests as the results were declared, Robert Price* singled out Northamptonshire: ‘I do not see but the fire of parties is pretty well extinguished save in Northamptonshire, which shows most heat.’11

The 1705 election was the last time the county’s freeholders polled before the by-election of May 1730. It was another highly charged affair with issues of national concern well to the fore. In Northamptonshire Tory support for the Tack was being interpreted as a new sign of their extremism, and Tories generally were derided by the Whig campaigners as Jacobites. Charles Allestree reported a conversation that was supposed to have occurred after the election between a Whig, a clergyman named Edwards, and Lady Cartwright, aunt of the newly returned MP Thomas Cartwright. Edwards made a point of telling Lady Cartwright that in opposing the Tory candidates ‘I voted for those men that I was sure would please the Queen’. And when she reminded him that neither of the knights had in fact supported the Tack and could thus on no account be considered disloyal, he retorted, ‘No. They were sneakers, and that’s worse. Their mind was the same way, but they had not courage to own it.’ Apart from the need to dispel prejudice of this kind, many senior Tories felt particularly awkward in the midst of an election about the provisions of the recent occasional conformity bill. It was understood that defence of the Established Church had to be tempered with a formula that was least offensive to Dissenters and their sympathizers on the one hand, and High Churchmen on the other. Tory gentlemen were anxious to obtain printed copies of the bill that they might see for themselves, and assure others, that the measure was milder than Whig propaganda portrayed. Isham’s friend and near neighbour Sir Robert Clerke felt that of all issues ‘nobody boggles but at that’, and had made a point of assuring county acquaintances that the measure was ‘only designed to keep men of no real religion out of employments, and I am told it will appear so by the bill’. In the second week of February Clerke alerted Isham, who was still in London laid up with gout, that ‘the Presbyterian party’ in the capital had instructed local preachers to oppose both himself and Cartwright. This was perhaps meant to bring into line local Dissenters who had of late shown some disposition towards Cartwright; ‘they think his inclinations are very much to their liking’, Clerke informed Isham, ‘but you keep him from acting as he would’. Isham was obliged to quell a degree of confusion about his own and Cartwright’s abstention from the Tack division. When on 22 Feb. he belatedly sent copies of the occasional conformity bill to his wife for distribution, Isham emphasized that it would prove to the Dissenters that no infringement of their existing legal status had been meant by it, but had been directed specifically at ‘a sort of profligate people that have no religion or conscience at all’. The Whig candidates were St. John and Peterborough’s heir Lord Mordaunt, both of whom were proposed by the 3rd Earl of Sunderland, who had succeeded his father shortly after the 1702 election. At first St. John declined the nomination on grounds of ill-health and his desire to avoid expense. Since Mordaunt was expected to concentrate in the eastern division, it was necessary to find a suitable replacement who could cover the west. One possibility suggested to Sunderland by Hesilrige was Dudley, the outgoing Member for Northampton. As recently as February 1704 Dudley, not long turned Whig, had strongly denied to Isham rumours that he was establishing ‘underhand’ an interest with which he designed to oppose Isham at the next election. As a man of the eastern side of the county he was an inappropriate choice, but it was perhaps also felt among Whig sympathizers that a candidate with a turncoat reputation would do no service to their cause. Another suggestion was Parkhurst who, quite apart from his disgrace in December 1701, was remembered for his ‘indefatigableness’ at elections; the main problem, as Hesilrige appreciated, was to ‘bring him to a bearing among the gentlemen’. However, the task of finding a second Whig to stand with Mordaunt was shortly resolved when St. John changed his mind and decided to stand. The Whigs’ principal objective was to ‘break’ into the dominant Tory interests in the west. As shown by a contemporary analysis, they had reasonable ground to hope for success; of the two divisions, the west contained much the larger population of freeholders, but in the last contest the Tory superiority there was only marginal. The Whigs thus sought to split Isham’s vote between Cartwright and Mordaunt. Isham, possessing the stronger reputation for High Churchmanship, was the more obvious target for the reduction of the Tory supremacy, if its outright defeat was impracticable. In these circumstances, Mordaunt was the ideal Whig candidate, cutting a perfect figure of heroism; the 3rd Lord Fitzwilliam (William†), whose main interests circuited Peterborough, and who was one of the first to declare for Mordaunt, told his steward:

He is a person that has deserved so well from the nation, that nobody can in reason refuse; he has been in our armies all these wars: and in these two famous battles this last summer, has been so wounded, that he has lost the use of one of his arms; besides his family has lived in our county with great honour and reputation.

Early in January senior Tory gentlemen had been surprised by news of Mordaunt’s candidacy, promising the active and unwelcome participation of Peterborough. Clerke considered framing a letter to the Earl advising him to refrain from stepping into the election ‘because I fancy I could have satisfied him the necessity of his affairs would require positively that he must disoblige no party’. But Peterborough had begun seeking votes in the Soke region even before St. John had a chance to turn down Sunderland’s invitation to stand. The Tories were thereby spurred into action while the Whigs were momentarily disarrayed as they pondered over a successor to St. John. Towards the end of January, Isham’s man of business, Edward Morpott, toured the refractory eastern side where he found his master’s situation generally stable, but at the same time it was apparent that the Whigs were ‘everywhere as hard at work as possibly they can in all places’. Isham could derive assurance from the reports he received that he was gaining new support in the west. Before long, Peterborough’s assiduous canvassing, which extended to gentlemen of Tory as well as Whig persuasion, began to assume an arbitrary guise: Henry Benson, a former county sheriff, complained bitterly to Isham on 5 Feb. of Peterborough’s veiled allegations of bribery against him and of a threatened ejection from the magistracy. Insisting that he was ‘wrongfully accused’ and prepared to ‘stand trial’, Benson wondered if the Queen might not be petitioned ‘to let her see the arbitrary proceedings of a lord lieutenant who makes use of his powers to influence electors’. Later in the campaign Peterborough’s wrath turned upon another Tory magistrate, Thomas Thornton, who was struck out of the commission for ‘having spoke reflecting words’ against the peer. In Isham’s absence from Northamptonshire during February, his campaign was largely supervised by his wife. Lady Isham grew particularly concerned about the success both St. John and Mordaunt were finding in ‘Mr Cartwright’s corner’, the area around Aynho and Brackley in the south-west. Cartwright’s ‘remissions’ in his own sphere of influence were noted by several of Isham’s correspondents, but in a letter of 17 Feb. Cartwright stiffly defended his conduct to Isham:

It is some time since I desired you would send a servant on this side the county who might have gone with one of mine and have made our interest together, which if you had pleased to have done would have prevented the wrong accounts you have had. I return you thanks for taking care of my interest on your side the county, and hope you don’t think for that and many other reasons I can be negligent of yours here. I always have had an equal concern for it with my own and have frequently neglected that to serve you.

Northampton and several surrounding towns were persistently troublesome to the Tories; Peterborough’s steward had made an early point of treating lavishly in the county town. Daventry and Rugby, on the other hand, responded encouragingly. In the former town in mid-May a ‘grand party’ of prominent county Whigs from Sunderland downwards processed through the main streets seeking votes, but gained only a handful. Isham’s reluctance to journey into the eastern division, and in particular to solicit Exeter’s interest in person, certainly handicapped the Tory campaign in those parts; a large number of the inhabitants of Peterborough who had voted for Isham and Cartwright in 1702, abstained in 1705. On 5 Apr. Fitzwilliam told his steward that in London ‘everybody believes he [Isham] will lose it and so will not come to a poll’. The seriousness of the situation confronting the Tory candidates in the Soke was reported to Isham on 21 Apr. by (Sir) Gilbert Dolben (1st Bt.)* who warned that Exeter had restricted his efforts to a general declaration of support, whereas ‘if he had had the favour of a visit from either of the old knights he would have done them the utmost service by sending to every one of his freehold tenants a positive order to vote for them’. By the same token, it was feared that the Tory candidates’ failure to appear among the freeholders resident in and around Peterborough, as the Whigs had done, would cost them crucial votes. It was even reported at one stage that Exeter had ordered his steward to make interest for Mordaunt and St. John. There is no indication as to whether Isham actually visited, but on 13 May Hon. Charles Bertie informed him that with the poll due to begin in a few days, the Earl ‘has commanded his servants to ride from town to town through all the Soke for your service . . . and has put new life into our cause’. Assured of success in the west, the Tories were compelled to strain every nerve in the east to achieve a decent turnout of freeholders. Bertie urged Isham to waste no time in polling the supporters whom he had despatched to Northampton from the Peterborough area ‘by reason of the Stamford market’, while John Wingfield of Rutland this time prepared to bring in some 300 men. In a letter to his father, Thomas Carte wrote that ‘Mr Tryon and all the gentlemen about Stamford and Peterborough were never so zealous in their lives as now’. Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, another of Isham’s acquaintances whose estate stood on the Leicestershire–Northamptonshire border, rallied enthusiastically to a late call for more ‘recruits and supplies’ but found the poll ‘given over’ before he reached Northampton. The Tories outpolled the Whigs once more, but very narrowly. After a strenuous contest Mordaunt had failed to split the Tory interests, trailing Cartwright by a mere 175 votes, his election expenditure reported to have totalled £2,000. The Whigs had increased their numbers in the east, while the Tories had done the same in the west, but in neither were these gains very remarkable.12

Party animosity within the county was rekindled in the summer of 1706 when a meeting of Whig gentlemen at Wellingborough set up a fresh choice of candidates on the pretext that Isham and Cartwright would retire at the next election. The move was probably a direct result of a Tory attempt in July to thwart Whig interference in framing the grand jury’s address to the Queen on the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) victory at Ramillies which had been drafted by Isham. On 3 July Viscount Hatton had cautioned Isham that

all possible care must still be taken to get into the grand jury as many of your friends as can be and to procure them diligently to attend that they may use all their endeavours and skill to prevent any other matter to be grafted upon this draft of yours wh[i]ch must be produced with such caution as nobody may pretend to be jealous of being imposed upon. The assistance of other gentlemen of the county who are not of the grand jury may contribute much to your design at present.

When towards the end of August Hon. Edward Watson*, heir of the 3rd Lord Rockingham (Lewis Watson†) and George Montagu* (of Horton) were nominated to contest the next election, Cartwright swiftly organized a meeting of ‘our friends’ at Northampton, but in doing so disclosed to Isham his own reluctance to stand: ‘my appearing always giving the country a great deal of trouble and there being others more capable of serving them, I hope they will excuse me’. The Whig scare reverberated well into September. To Isham’s consternation Rockingham’s circularization of peers and gentry in the north-east of the county included Exeter, and he grew particularly anxious when the written professions of goodwill he subsequently addressed to the Earl went unanswered, forcing him to contemplate a visit to Burghley. Bertie, promising, as he was accustomed, to be ‘your advocate to Lord Exeter’, reassured Isham that ‘he loves not writing but is your true friend without the formality of any compliment’. There is nothing on record to show how the episode was resolved, but it is conceivable that Exeter could have wished to keep Isham a little in suspense on account of the latter’s undeferential behaviour in the late election. It was certainly indicative of the protectiveness with which Isham had come to regard his now well-established standing in the foreground of the county’s political elite.13

But for a final attempt by Parkhurst to return to Parliament, the county remained tranquil during the 1708 election. A month before the election, Cave briefly remarked to his father-in-law, ‘North[amp]tonsh[ire] is quiet’. Cartwright was evidently able to sink his earlier misgivings. By 1710 the bellicosity of the Whigs had resurfaced. A ‘great cabal’ was held at Althorp in the third week of September, attended by Whig grandees, including the Duchess of Marlborough, Lord Rialton (Hon. Francis Godolphin*) and his father Lord Godolphin (Sidney†). Dr Stratford of Christ Church, Oxford, reported that ‘upon a great council it was resolved that the old Members could not be thrown out but by breaking the Tory interest’. The need for a pliant, popular candidate who could attract both Whig and Tory voters was clearly evident in the decision to set up Nicholas Breton of Norton, ‘a young man, half mad’, ambitious, but not wealthy, and who had acquired ‘a great interest in the common people by an extravagant expense . . . always in the Tory interest’. The other candidate was to be Sir Erasmus Norwich, 3rd Bt., a Whig, who had been sheriff during 1704–5. Henry Benson had commented upon Breton’s penchant for treating ‘all the mob’ back in 1707, and was ‘credibly told’ that he had designs on a county seat. More recently he had ‘disobliged’ Isham by challenging the more orthodox Tory Sir Caesar Child, 2nd Bt., sheriff in 1702, in an election for the verderership of Rockingham Forest in April 1709, in which all the county freeholders were entitled to vote. Isham was contemptuous of ‘the bustle this foolish verderer’s place makes in our county’ and was annoyed ‘to have friends fall out’ over such a trivial post, but he was probably not aware at this juncture that Breton was pandering in the most obsequious terms to Sunderland for interest and support. It is quite possible that the occasion enabled Sunderland to appreciate Breton’s value to the Whig cause in the forthcoming parliamentary election. Consequently, at the Althorp meeting in September 1710 the Whigs agreed to finance Breton’s campaign to the tune of £1,000, and his acceptance of their nomination and largesse ensured he would be their tool:

Messengers were despatched with great joy from Althorp, to give notice in every town in the county. Breton went home, and his brother it is said, prevailed with him to desist . . . he sent word the next morning to Althorp that he would not stand. Upon this the cabal there are become the jest of the county.

Whig zeal for a concerted campaign rapidly disappeared, although almost until the eve of the election ‘Whiggish devices’ and ‘underhand’ attempts to disrupt a peaceable chairing of the old Members were in evidence. Isham had warned adherents and retainers to be on their guard, but no mischief occurred and the re-election of Isham and Cartwright was conducted peacefully. On subsequent occasions the Tory Members expected backing from the exclusively Tory administration in supporting their local sources of influence, but on one notable occasion were quite unsuccessful in obtaining their ends. They jointly petitioned Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) in August 1711 to prevent the appointment of the 2nd Duke of Grafton, a Whig, to the chief rangership of Whittlewood Forest in the south of the county, in view of the sway the Duke would then have over ‘a great number of freeholders that have right of common within the precincts of the forest’ in county elections. However, the greater needs of high politics prevailed, and Grafton received the office in 1712.14

In 1713 the Whigs made another futile attempt to break the Tory supremacy by weaning Cartwright from Isham, and joining him with a Whig, Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth, who had been used for a similar purpose in the first election of 1701. The initiator of the design may have been Wentworth’s elder brother, Lord Rockingham, soon to be advanced to an earldom, who was canvassing early in June, but there is no sign that any of the other Whig members of the county’s aristocracy were drawn in. Cartwright was approached several times to stand jointly with Wentworth, but his inevitable refusals confounded Whig hopes. At this time Isham’s least concern was his electoral fate, being anxiously preoccupied with his wife’s declining health. News of his unopposed re-election just five days after her death, and the prospect of a further period of public duty, only added to his overwhelming despair. He languished hermit-like at Lamport in a state of emotional collapse for almost a full year, and it was with the utmost difficulty that in August 1714 he was induced to stand in the election necessitated by the Queen’s death; a Whig victory looked certain if he did not. Isham’s eventual resolution by mid-September received the gratitude of the Tory faithful throughout the county, not least his partner Cartwright, who quickly offered him the assurance that ‘it will prevent the unhappy disputes that your declining to stand would have occasioned; your appearing will be a great inducement to me likewise to offer my service again’.15

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


There is an earlier account of elections in this period in E.G. Forrester, Northants. Elections and Electioneering 1695–1832.

  • 1. Northants. Past and Present, vi. 262.
  • 2. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1436, Henry Lee to Sir Justinian Isham, 25 Feb. 1689[–90].
  • 3. Northants. RO, Cartwright of Aynho mss C(A)7575 ‘Notes on Elections’.
  • 4. Post Boy, 6–9 Dec. 1701.
  • 5. Northants. Past and Present, 30, 261; HMC Portland, ii. 307; vii. 18–19; Isham mss IC 1804, Sir Justinian to Justinian Isham, 20 Sept. 1714.
  • 6. Isham mss IC 1443, Hatton to Sir Justinian Isham, 17 Feb. 1689–90; IC 1434, Edward Montagu to same, 12 Feb. 1689[–90]; IC 1435, Sir Roger Norwich to same, 15 Feb. 1689[–90]; IC 1436, Lee to same, 25 Feb. 1689[–90]; Add. 29594, ff. 194, 196, 198; 29564, f. 268; 29568, f. 60; 29573, f. 394.
  • 7. Isham mss IC 1575, 1525, Benson to Sir Justinian Isham, 21 Mar. 1698, 10 Aug. 1695; IC 1425, John Isham to same, 29 Aug. 1695; Cartwright mss C(A)7513/2, poll for 1695 election.
  • 8. Isham mss IC 1575, Benson to Sir Justinian Isham, 21 Mar. 1698; IC 1578, Sir Bryan Johnson to same, 5 July 1698; IC 1584, John Isham to same, 14 July 1698; IC 1586, Dolben to same, 17 July 1698; IC 1589, Hatton to same, 18 July 1698; IC 1588, Nottingham to same, 19 July 1698; Add. 29567, f. 93; Bodl. Tanner 22, f. 107.
  • 9. Isham mss IC 1638–9, Benson to Sir Justinian Isham, 5, 14 Dec. 1700; IC 2708–9, Dudley to same, 20, 26 Dec. 1700; IC 1622, Ekins to same, 8 Jan. 1700[–1]; IC 1643, Thomas Tryst to Francis Arundell*, 31 Dec. 1700.
  • 10. Ibid. IC 4706, Allicocke to Sir Justinian Isham, 16 Oct. [1701]; IC 2935, Hatton to same, 14 Nov. 1701; IC 2716, Ekins to same, 16 Nov. 1701; IC 2719, Dudley to same, 18 Nov. 1701; Add. 27440, f. 320; Warws. RO, Mordaunt mss CR 1368/iii/37, Shuckburgh to Mordaunt, 29 Nov. [1701]; Northants. Past and Present, 29–31; Post Boy, 6–9 Dec. 1701.
  • 11. Isham mss IC 2720, Edward Stratford to Sir Justinian Isham, 18 Apr. 1702; IC 2721–2, Dudley to same, 21 Apr., 11 May 1702; IC 2938, Hatton to same, 22 June 1702; IC 3022, Shuckburgh to same, [July 1702]; IC 2723a, 4221, 2724, Bertie to same, 27 July (two letters), 8 Aug. 1702; Add. 29568, f. 114; 27440, f. 137; Bodl. Carte 244, ff. 58–59; Fam. Min. Gent. (Harl. Soc. xxxvii), 311; HMC Portland, iv. 321.
  • 12. Add. 27440, ff. 75–76; Isham mss IC 2734, 4717, 2737, 4758, Clerke to Sir Justinian Isham, 7, 23 Jan. 11 Feb., n.d. [c.Feb. 1705]; IC 2728, Dudley to same, 22 Feb. 1703[–4]; IC 2736, George Dixon to same, 7 Feb. 1704–5; IC 1665–6, Elizabeth Isham to same, 12, 17 Feb. 1704–5; IC 4986, Morpott to same, 26 Jan. 1704–5; IC 2736, Thomas Thornton to same, 27 Jan. 1704[–5]; IC 3706, 3072, 4990, Benson to same, [postmk. 5], 22 Feb., 11 May 1705; IC 2745, Dolben to same, 21 Apr. 1705; IC 2749, Bertie to same, 13 May 1705; IC 1667, Sir Justinian to Elizabeth Isham, 22 Feb. 1704–5; IC 4985, Rev. Charles Palmer to [–], 24 Jan. 1704–5; Northants. Past and Present, 261–2; Northants. RO, Fitzwilliam (Milton) mss 1376, 1389, Fitzwilliam to Francis Guybon, 25 Jan., 5 Apr. 1705; Northants. Poll Bks. 45; Bodl. Carte 244, ff. 58–59; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/52, Cave to Ralph Verney†, 22 May 1705; A Coll. of Several Paragraphs out of Mr Dyer’s Newsletters, 9; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 546.
  • 13. Isham mss IC 2943, Hatton to Sir Justinian Isham, 3 July 1706; IC 2754–5, Bertie to same, 29 Aug., 25 Sept. 1706; IC 2944, Cartwright to same, 31 Aug. 1706; Add. 28932, f. 378.
  • 14. Verney mss mic. 636/53, Cave to Ld. Fermanagh (John Verney*), 5 Apr. 1708; 636/54, same to same, 30 Oct. 1710; HMC Portland, v. 75; vii. 18–19; Isham mss IC 1707–8, Sir Justinian to Justinian Isham, 22 Feb., 19 Mar. 1708–9; IC 2780, Clerke to Sir Justinian Isham, 16 Sept. 1710; IC 3759, John Isham to same, 7 Oct. 1710; Post Boy, 5–9 Apr. 1709; Add. 29599, f. 117; 61655, f. 112.
  • 15. Isham mss IC 4101, Thomas Peach to Sir Justinian Isham, 3 June 1713; IC 1760, Justinian Isham to same, 11 June 1713; IC 3010, 2800, Cartwright to same, 22 June [1713], 14 Sept. 1714; IC 2135, 1803, Sir Justinian to Justinian Isham, 13 June 1713, 15 Sept. 1714; IC 1802, IL 3806, Vere Isham to same, 28 Aug., 6 Sept. [1714].