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 and inhabitants 1690-95; in the freemen after 1695

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 600 until 1695; 226 in 1713

Number of voters:

453 in 1695, 79 in 1696, at least 98 in 1713


3 Mar. 1690Edward Russell 
 Nicholas Hedger 
 Henry Slingsby 
1 Nov. 1695Edward Russell 
 Nicholas Hedger 
 Edmund Dummer 
19 Dec. 1695vice Russell, chose to sit for Cambridgeshire
 Matthew Aylmer234
 John Gibson
 Double return. Election declared void, 24 Jan. 1696. 
1 Feb. 1696John Gibson47
 Charles Sergison321
21 July 1698Thomas Erle 
 Sir George Rooke 
7 Jan. 1701Thomas Erle 
 Sir George Rooke 
28 Nov. 1701Thomas Erle 
 Sir George Rooke 
27 Jan. 1702John Gibson vice Erle, chose to sit for Wareham 
18 July 1702Thomas Erle 
 Sir George Rooke 
31 Dec. 1702William Gifford vice Erle, chose to sit for Wareham 
10 May 1705Sir George Rooke 
 William Gifford 
6 May 1708George Churchill 
 Thomas Erle 
14 Dec. 1708Sir Thomas Littleton, Bt. vice Erle, chose to sit for Wareham 
23 Jan. 1710Sir Charles Wager vice Littleton, deceased49
 Henry Norton302
7 Oct. 1710Sir Charles Wager66
 Sir John Jennings64
 Sir James Wishart51
 Sir William Gifford51
  WISHART and GIFFORD vice Wager and Jennings, on petition, 3 Feb. 1711 
21 Feb. 1711Wishart re-elected after appointment to office 
29 Aug. 1713Sir James Wishart95
 Sir Thomas Mackworth, Bt.53
 Sir William Gifford48

Main Article

Before 1689 the electorate at Portsmouth had been confined to the freemen, but in that year the inhabitants at large were allowed to vote and they continued to do so in 1690 and 1695. The strongest interests lay with the governor of the military garrison and the Admiralty through the dock, naval and victualling yards. The corporation, consisting of the mayor, who acted as returning officer, and 12 aldermen, was less important while the franchise extended to all the inhabitants, but became vital after 1695, when their right to create an unlimited number of new freemen gave the corporation control over the composition of the electorate.

In 1690 the Admiralty interest went to the Whig Edward Russell, admiral and treasurer of the navy, who was returned unopposed. The second seat was contested between a Tory, Henry Slingsby†, who had represented the borough in the 1689 Convention, and another Whig, Nicholas Hedger, a local man, who resigned the mayoralty in order to fight the election. Slingsby petitioned against Hedger on the grounds that his resignation as mayor was illegal. The petition was referred to the committee of elections but no action was taken. In 1695 Russell was again returned, while Hedger held the seat successfully against Edmund Dummer, a naval commissioner and at this time a Whig. Dummer, who had been returned for Arundel, did not petition, but on 5 Dec. 1695 a number of the inhabitants paying scot and lot did, claiming that although they had the right to vote, they had been prevented from polling for Dummer and that ‘many ill practices were used in behalf of’ Hedger

by shutting up the gates of the town to prevent those from voting that live without, who would have polled for Mr Dummer; by threatening many of the petitioners with corporal punishment for offering to poll for Mr Dummer; and, in a hostile manner, by keeping a guard of soldiers, drawn from the main guard of the town, to threaten and discourage Mr Dummer’s friends from voting for him.

This petition likewise was referred but never reported. The by-election in December 1695, caused by Russell’s choosing to sit elsewhere, produced a contest between the garrison and the Admiralty interests in the persons of Colonel John Gibson, the lieutenant governor of Portsmouth and Admiral Matthew Aylmer*, who stood on the recommendation of Russell. Both were Whigs. A double return was made and Aylmer petitioned on 28 Dec. 1695 while a number of aldermen and freemen petitioned on Gibson’s behalf on 6 Jan. 1696. The report of the elections committee came before the House on 24 Jan. 1696. The question turned on the right of election, since both admitted that Gibson had the majority of the freemen. Indentures were produced which showed that since 1689 the inhabitants at large had voted but that previously returns had generally been made by the freemen only. Witnesses for Aylmer testified that one of the aldermen had spoken to the inhabitants and told them they had

all a right to vote, and that both the candidates declared they would stand by the poll; and accordingly the town clerk was about to make a single return for Admiral Aylmer; but the mayor snatched it from the town clerk and said he would make another return.

One witness alleged that Gibson had come to his house ‘with the master gunner, and trumpets sounding before him, and bid them turn the rogue upside down; and the rabble broke his windows’. Another claimed that the master gunner threatened to take all business away if he voted for Aylmer. Finally Hedger, the sitting Member, and Richard Holt* both alleged that they had been at elections before 1689 and that the inhabitants had always claimed their right to vote. For Gibson four witnesses gave evidence that letters had been written to Russell, just before the election, to the effect that the corporation ‘had used Admiral Aylmer ill’, whereupon Russell wrote to two of the aldermen that if they

slighted his recommendation of Admiral Aylmer, he would take such measures as might make them repent it; and that if Admiral Aylmer was not returned, and there was just ground for a petition, he would spend £10,000 to do Admiral Aylmer right.

After hearing all the evidence the committee resolved first that the right of election lay in the corporation and freemen only and second that this particular election was void. The House agreed without a division. The subsequent by-election was contested by Gibson and the Tory naval commissioner, Charles Sergison*, the former being successful.3

With the franchise restricted, the electorate fell from around 600 to under 300, although a proportion of these were eminent outsiders who would not be expected to vote. The chief interest in the borough reverted to the corporation and while it remained harmonious elections were fairly uneventful, usually returning one Whig and one Tory. In 1698 General Thomas Erle, the Whig governor of the garrison, and Admiral Sir George Rooke, one of the Tory lords of the Admiralty, were returned ‘without any opposition’ and they held the seats for the next two elections. After November 1701 Erle chose to sit for Wareham and his place was taken by his lieutenant governor, Gibson, who was unchallenged. In the 1702 election Rooke and Erle were returned as usual but when Erle chose to sit for Wareham, the two-party approach was altered and a Tory, William Gifford, the resident commissioner of the navy, took his place. In 1705 Erle apparently chose not to stand for Portsmouth, Rooke and Gifford being returned that year, although by this time Rooke had fallen out of favour and in the 1708 election he stood down to make way for the leading member of Prince George’s Admiralty council, George Churchill, the Tory brother of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). Gifford also stood down in 1708, while Erle was returned and as usual chose to sit for Wareham, being replaced by Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., the Whig treasurer of the navy. The by-election caused by Littleton’s death in 1709 was contested by the Whig vice-admiral, Sir Charles Wager, who successfully held off a challenge from one Henry Norton.4

By this time a split on party lines had developed in the corporation which, starting in 1703, came to a head in 1710 with the election of the mayor. During the previous two years the Whigs had gained the upper hand in the corporation and in 1709 a Whig mayor had created six new aldermen and 41 freemen in preparation for the 1710 election. The result was described in Dyer’s newsletter of 21 Sept. 1710:

We have an account from Portsmouth that on Monday last commenced the annual election of a mayor for the town – candidates were Alderman Seager, a banker by trade and a rigid Dissenter, whose interest was supported by the Duke of Bolton [Charles Powlett I*], Sir George Byng*, Sir John Jennings*, Mr [Thomas] Jervoise* and others; the other was Mr Alderman [Henry] Maydman, an honest loyal Churchman. After long debates (which the Dissenters managed with great noise and heat) they in a tumultuous manner declared the first mayor elect, though many of the votes for him had no right so to do.

The former mayor, a Whig, swore in Seager, who was then ready for the parliamentary election in October, which was a naval affair, contested by two Whigs, Wager and Admiral Sir John Jennings, and two Tories, Admiral Sir James Wishart and William Gifford, now knighted and promoted to the Navy Board in London. With this in mind the new lord lieutenant, the 2nd Duke of Beaufort, lobbied the ministers hard for the removal of the resident commissioner of Portsmouth whom he saw as influencing voters in the Whig interest. In the event, Seager returned Wager and Jennings. This result did not unduly perturb Gifford, who wrote that it was ‘occasioned by an illegal number of 38 burgesses made by an unqualified mayor . . . which you will hear of in the Parliament House’. Wishart and Gifford petitioned on 1 Dec. 1710 on the grounds that Seager,

was not legal mayor, nor qualified, he being elected mayor at a court summoned by one Joseph Whitehorne, who never was a lawful mayor of the said borough, he having not taken the sacrament of the Church of England within one year next before his election.

This meant the election of aldermen and freemen during Whitehorne’s term of office was illegal. The report of the elections committee on 3 Feb. 1711 upheld these charges and declared Wishart and Gifford duly elected. The House agreed and at the same time ordered an address to be laid before the Queen for the attorney-general to settle the affairs of the borough. This he did by issuing writs of quo warranto against Whitehorne, Seager and three of the newly elected aldermen. Verdicts were given against them at Hampshire assizes, but objections being raised to some of the evidence, the case was referred to the Queen’s bench, which upheld the decision of the lower court. Meanwhile the resolutions of the Commons were read at a council meeting on 14 Feb. 1711, attended by the town clerk and the three Tory aldermen, including Maydman, who decided that as the decision of the House disqualified Seager, Maydman was the legal mayor. He was sworn in, the aldermanic vacancies were filled and the writ for the by-election caused by Wishart’s appointment to office was handed to the new mayor. Despite protests from Seager, who insisted that until the case was settled in court he was still legally mayor and, therefore, should have received the writ, the election went ahead on 21 Feb., when Wishart was re-elected without opposition. The ceremony took place in the open because Seager refused to surrender either the town regalia or the keys of the Guildhall, the usual venue for elections.5

Canvassing for the next general election began in the autumn of 1712 when both Wishart and Gifford indicated their intention of standing, with the support of the mayor for 1712–13, William Smith. Some of the aldermen, headed by the previous mayor, Charles Bissell, were unhappy with Gifford, and when in September Thomas Erle was replaced as governor by William North, 6th Lord North and Grey, Bissell took the opportunity to assure North that Gifford was unacceptable to the majority of the corporation and requested him to nominate another candidate. North recommended another Tory, Sir Thomas Mackworth, 4th Bt., who had no local connexions. Gifford refused to stand down and a contest developed between him and Mackworth for the second seat. The mayor, after some hesitation, promised before witnesses to support North’s interest by voting for Wishart and Mackworth, but in June 1713 he with four other aldermen unexpectedly created a number of new freemen, probably in order to vote for Gifford. Immediately Bissell and the remaining six aldermen displaced Smith as mayor and elected Robert Reynolds, a North supporter, in his stead. North responded to an intervention on Smith’s behalf by the lord lieutenant, Beaufort, who threatened to lay the matter of Smith’s removal before the Queen and Council, with a veiled threat to invoke the Commons’ resolution against electoral interference by lords lieutenant. Other problems remained: the North faction was too small to ensure Mackworth’s return without the creation of at least 30 new freemen, but North’s agent informed him on 1 Aug. that there were not enough suitable candidates to be made freemen and that it would be ‘absolutely necessary’ to strike a deal with the Whigs. He wrote again on 17 Aug. to warn that the writ would be sent to Smith who would conduct the poll and would prevent any freemen created by the rival mayor, Reynolds, from voting. Eventually a bargain was struck with the Whigs, who agreed to support Mackworth in return for two aldermanic places. The combined Whig–North interest proved sufficient to secure Mackworth’s return with Wishart, and Gifford did not petition. After the election North’s interest was rendered more effective by the election of his nominee for mayor in September 1713 and the removal from the roll of the 14 freemen created by Smith. North’s agent wrote to him, ‘this last stroke, I think, has settled your lordship’s interest on such a foot as that no one for the future will attempt opposing it’. Wishart and Mackworth remained the borough’s representatives for the rest of Anne’s reign.6

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Add. 70224, Dummer to Robert Harley*, 2 Feb. 1696.
  • 2. Flying Post, 24–26 Jan. 1710.
  • 3. Add. 70224, Dummer to Harley, 2 Feb. 1696.
  • 4. Portsmouth RO, CE1/10; Post Man, 21–23 July 1698, 29–31 Jan. 1702.
  • 5. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 207–15, 218–20, 762–72, 773–81; Portsmouth RO, newsletter 21 Sept. 1710; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Shrewsbury, 23 Sept. 1710, same to Harley, 23 Sept. 1710, same to Henry St. John II*, 25 Sept. 1710; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1632, Gifford to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 9 Oct. 1710; CJ, xvii. 56.
  • 6. Bodl. North b2, ff. 9, 20, 51; c8, ff. 173–4, 179, 187–9; c9, ff. 7, 9–11, 13–16, 18–22, 24–34, 46–48, 88–89; d1, ff. 132–3; East, 376; Portsmouth RO, PE8, pp. 78–79.