Plympton Erle


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:


Number of voters:

at least 86 in 1702


11 Mar. 1690Richard Strode 
 George Parker 
 Sir George Treby 
 John Pollexfen 
  Election declared void, 14 Apr. 1690 
26 Apr. 1690Sir George Treby 
 John Pollexfen 
 George Parker 
 Richard Strode 
 Peter Fortescue 
9 Nov. 1692Sir Thomas Trevor vice Treby, appointed to office. 
29 Oct. 1695Sir Thomas Trevor 
 Courtenay Croker 
29 July 1698Courtenay Croker 
 Martin Ryder 
11 Jan. 1701Courtenay Croker 
 Martin Ryder 
 Richard Hele 
 George Parker 
1 Dec. 1701Courtenay Croker 
 Richard Hele 
25 July 1702Richard Edgcumbe52
 Thomas Jervoise46
 Richard Hele41
 John Williams27
 Richard Strode5
 Richard Hele vice Jervoise, on petition, 28 Jan 1703 
21 May 1705Sir John Cope 
 Richard Edgcumbe 
 Richard Strode 
12 May 1708Richard Edgcumbe 
 George Treby 
14 Oct. 1710Richard Edgcumbe 
 George Treby 
3 Sept. 1713Richard Edgcumbe 
 George Treby 

Main Article

‘Plympton’, reported Defoe in 1705, was ‘a little town, all Low Church and very well united, but a poor place’. The recorder, Sir George Treby, possessed such a strong interest that Defoe described the borough as ‘Treby’s town’. Property in the borough, castle and manor was subdivided, however, between several individuals, including Treby, George Parker and John Pollexfen. There were also other prominent local families such as the Strodes, Heles, Drakes and Fortescues.1

In 1690 the Whigs, Treby and Pollexfen, were defeated by the Tories, Richard Strode and George Parker. The return was made by John Avent, an alleged Jacobite, who had acted as mayor under a charter of James II. The legal mayor, John Tozer, petitioned on behalf of the corporation on 24 Mar., complaining that Strode had ‘surreptitiously’ given the precept to Avent, who ‘was in no ways interested or concerned in the said borough’. The case was heard at the bar on 14 Apr. According to Roger Morrice, the Nonconformist chronicler, the House determined that

Plympton was a borough by prescription; that the mayor, the burgesses and freemen had always chosen Members to serve in Parliament; that . . . Strode had got the writ from the under-sheriff, and privately came to Plympton one evening with a little rabble, not above three or four, if any of them being either burgesses or freemen of that town, and went in an evening through the streets and there said the election would be tomorrow, and tomorrow they came out of the alehouse again into the street and did choose Mr Strode and Mr Parker.

The House declared the election void and that the charter of James ii was ‘illegal and destructive to the constitution of the government’. A motion to adjourn further consideration of the case was lost by 137 votes to 130, and Avent was ordered into custody by 144 votes to 124. At the ensuing by-election Tozer returned Treby and Pollexfen. On 2 May there was a petition of ‘freeholders, inhabitants and burgesses’, protesting that, contrary to the custom of the borough, a number of non-resident freemen had been allowed to vote. Two of the defeated candidates, Strode and Fortescue, also petitioned on the same day. They complained of illegal and arbitrary practices on the part of Tozer, whom they dubbed ‘the pretended mayor’. No decision was taken by the elections committee, although Strode twice renewed his petition, finally withdrawing on 5 Dec. 1691. The following year Treby obtained a new charter for the borough. Treby vacated the seat in 1692, upon appointment as lord chief justice, and at the ensuing by-election, Sir Thomas Trevor, his successor as attorney-general, carried the seat without opposition.2

In 1695 Trevor was returned with Courtenay Croker, a local man and a cousin of Treby’s. Croker was re-elected in 1698, this time in partnership with another of Treby’s kinsmen, Martin Ryder. Tory hopes in the borough were boosted by Treby’s death in December 1700. Shortly afterwards Bishop Trelawny of Exeter wrote that ‘Ryder and Croker will be swingingly kicked out of Plympton by Hele and Parker’. In fact the outgoing Members were re-elected at the first 1701 election. Hele and Parker petitioned on 14 Feb., alleging that the sitting Members had treated voters at public houses and distributed several sums of money to them. No report on the case was forthcoming. At the second 1701 election the Whig monopoly was broken, Croker sharing the representation with Hele.3

In 1702 there was a fierce contest, following which Tozer returned two Whigs, Edgcumbe and Jervoise. In expectation of a petition the corporation prepared its own defence, which denied any irregularity in allowing non-resident freemen to vote. The town ‘being of late years much fallen and decayed . . . the mayor and aldermen could not think of a better expedient . . . than to invite some gentlemen of the city of Exon [Exeter] unto their society, thereby to . . . procure a good correspondence in that opulent and trading city’. The defeated candidates petitioned on 24 Oct., insisting that none but the sons of freemen aged 18 and over ought to be made free. Allegations were also made that voters for Edgcumbe and Jervoise had been given two guineas each. Following the report on 28 Jan. 1703, four resolutions divided the House: that Edgcumbe was duly elected (157 votes to 84); that Jervoise was not duly elected (138 votes to 104); that Hele should be seated in his place (131 votes to 72); and that the recent making of freemen was ‘illegal and contrary to the rights of the said corporation’ (95 votes to 48). In an analysis of the poll in the light of these decisions a member of the corporation recorded that Hele had gained nine votes, making his total 50, and that the disfranchisement of the Exeter freemen had reduced the votes of Jervoise and Edgcumbe by 16 and 17, respectively. Edgcumbe was left with only 35 votes, whereas John Williams had been allowed a further 11 votes, giving him 38, which ought to have seen him seated. But it was surmised that the committee had resolved in favour of Edgcumbe because this would ‘establish a sort of right in freemen’s sons’.4

In 1705 Edgcumbe was returned with Sir John Cope, another Whig, defeating Strode, whose petition on 14 Nov. was not reported and was finally withdrawn on 31 Jan. 1707. At the next three general elections Edgcumbe shared the representation with George Treby, Sir George’s son. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no Tory challenge even after the ministerial revolution of 1710.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. HMC Portland, iv. 270; Willis, Not. Parl. ii. 333–6; J. B. Rowe, Hist. Plympton, 177.
  • 2. Rowe, 136–51, 182–5; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, pp. 127, 134–5, 182; Derbys. RO, Treby mss, box 1 (pkt. iii), Ryder to Treby, 14 Oct. 1692.
  • 3. Treby mss, box 1 (pkt. ii), Ryder to Treby, 6 Sept. 1700; Devon RO, Exeter dioc. archs. Bp. Trelawny to Adn. Cook, 21 Dec. 1700.
  • 4. Rowe, 186–90, 196.