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 536 in 1710


6 Mar. 1690SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 3rd Bt. 
16 Dec. 1694SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 4th Bt. vice Mackworth, deceased 
28 Oct. 1695JOHN CECIL, Ld. Burghley 
10 Aug. 1698JOHN CECIL, Ld Burghley 
 Bennet Sherard 1 
15 Jan. 1701SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 4th Bt. 
8 Dec. 1701SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 4th Bt. 
27 July 1702SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 4th Bt. 
16 May 1705SIR THOMAS MACKWORTH, 4th Bt. 
12 May 1708PHILIP SHERARD285
 Edward Horseman2012
16 Oct. 1710HON. JOHN NOEL290
 DANIEL FINCH, Ld. Finch268
 Richard Halford263
 Philip Sherard2503
 HALFORD vice Noel, on petition, 23 Jan. 1711 
9 Sept. 1713DANIEL FINCH, Ld. Finch312
 BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard [I]300
 Richard Halford2404

Main Article

Elections for England’s smallest county did not become occasions for open dispute involving its electorate until the middle of Anne’s reign. After the Convention Parliament, the Tory Sir Thomas Mackworth, 3rd Bt., of Normanton and the Whig Bennet Sherard of Whissendine were re-elected. On Sir Thomas’ death in 1694 his seat was taken by his son, the 4th baronet. The Sherards’ close kinsmen, the 2nd and 3rd lords Sherard [I] (Bennet Sherard*, 2nd Lord Sherard, and Bennet Sherard*, 3rd Lord Sherard) of Stapleford, Leicestershire held the county lieutenancy from 1690 to 1712, but in the 1701, 1702 and 1705 elections there were no Sherard candidates to benefit from this prestigious source of support. In 1695 the Tory 5th Earl of Exeter (John Cecil†) brought the Cecil interest to bear so effectively that his son Lord Burghley was returned unchallenged, the younger Mackworth retiring quite possibly in deference to Exeter’s requirement; the Whig Bennet Sherard was elected for a further term. The 1698 campaign was the first in the county in which the 2nd Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) ventured, having steadily accumulated an estate centred at Burley-on-the-Hill where from 1694 he began to supervise construction of a handsome new country residence. Initially, when Mackworth signalled his continuing reluctance to stand again, Nottingham resigned himself to Bennet Sherard’s unopposed re-election, but soon afterwards began operating with the Tories to promote Richard Halford, a Tory with an estate at Edith Weston. The weakness of the Whig interest was apparent at the poll, which Sherard had demanded but given up after scraping 128 votes. Nottingham observed that ‘if my Lord Burghley had joined with him [repeating the arrangement of 1695] he might probably have helped Mr Sherard to better success and have thrown himself out, of which his friends were very hard to be convinced till just before the election’. At this stage, however, Nottingham had only a participatory stake in the county’s Tory interest, while it was not until 1710 that he had the powerful incentive of a son old enough to bring into Parliament. On Burghley’s succession to his father’s earldom in 1700, his seat was re-assumed in the January 1701 election by Mackworth, without challenge, and both he and Halford, jointly representing the Tory faction, were returned unopposed at the next three elections.5

Mackworth’s retirement from politics in 1708, owing probably to a need to devote more time to failing business commitments, caused a reshuffling of interests. By then Nottingham had emerged as chief in the direction of the county’s Tory interests, and he set about organizing the return of another Tory, Edward Horseman, alongside Halford. The Whigs fielded a single candidate, Philip Sherard, whose father had been knight of the shire in the 1690s. In anticipation of an arduous campaign, Nottingham urged contacts such as the Northamptonshire MP Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt., to mobilize all the out-voters over whom they had influence: ‘I doubt we shall want all the assistance we can get.’ Horseman was defeated, however, and within weeks Nottingham was reported to have inflicted retribution by turning out all his tenants and holders of local office who had voted for Philip Sherard, the Whig victor.6

In 1710 Nottingham came under greater pressure from the Whigs, who this time fielded two candidates, Sherard, the outgoing Member, and Hon. John Noel. The strong current of Whig sentiment healthily displayed just two years previously was certain to have encouraged on their side a forthright campaign. For the Tories, Nottingham’s heir Lord Finch (Daniel), by now of age, was an automatic choice of candidate to run with Halford, even though he was on tour abroad when Nottingham declared his intentions in April 1710. The Tory campaign was lavishly inaugurated on 5 Apr. when most of the county elite turned out to greet the Earl on his return from London, ‘giving him thanks for the great good services he had done the Queen, the Church and Dr Sacheverell’, and afterwards accompanied him to Burley where they were entertained. In a move clearly aimed at reducing Nottingham’s dominion over Rutland, the secretary of state, the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), had lately arranged for the authority of the Whig land tax receiver for Northamptonshire to be extended to Rutland. Finch himself did not materialize either during the campaign or on the day of polling in mid-October, but was probably still travelling on the Continent. Once more, Nottingham failed to carry both his candidates, Finch being returned with Noel, although the Earl resolutely maintained that this had been chiefly due to Whig perfidy. As he informed his son on 20 Oct., the various Whig interests had created over 100 freeholders in the course of the previous year, to offset which Nottingham himself had made more than 300 in the week immediately preceding the election, and Exeter and others 50 or so more. So staggered were the Whigs when these and many ‘true freeholders’ began pouring into Oakham to poll, led by Halford and one of Finch’s younger brothers, that they readily accepted Nottingham’s proposal to discount all new freeholders, on both sides, from the poll. It was clear, however, certainly to Nottingham, that in securing Noel’s return the Whigs had reneged on the agreement, and he immediately began organizing petitions against Noel’s return, assuring his son, ‘I shall not want a committee of elections for favour and there is no reason to doubt of justice, and Mr H[alford] must be brought in.’ Petitions from Halford and a group of freeholders who had been barred from voting were heard at the bar on 16 Jan. 1711. The first day’s proceedings were distinguished by a six-hour dispute over whether freeholders’ qualifications might be verified or not through ‘parol’ evidence ‘by witness’. The sitting Member, Noel, was shown to be at a particular disadvantage in having no foreknowledge of which of his voters were to be objected against and of the impossibility of his having the requisite documentation ready to hand in order to prove the entitlement of those whom the petitioner’s witnesses had testified against. Upon this, an unidentified Member informed the House of his understanding that ‘a certain person’ had offered Noel the opportunity ‘to make known mutually to one another their several cases by which he might have known the persons to be objected against and the objections themselves’. A furious exchange ensued when Noel got up

and owned that a certain peer (meaning Nottingham) had made him that offer, but that he was so often ill-treated by him he could not rely on him. Upon this Mr [Heneage] Finch [II], a relation of Nottingham’s, said he knew for certain that the offer was made with a great deal of candour, honour and sincerity, and rejected by Mr Noel without any.

Before proceeding, the House was obliged to extract promises from both Members that they would not prosecute their disagreement further. The objections initially made by Noel’s counsel against ‘parol’ evidence ‘by witness’ of a freeholder’s status were not upheld. The hearing continued until 23 Jan., Nottingham attending on at least one occasion, concluding with a judgment for Halford.7

Any expectation that the Finches’ break with the Tories in 1711 would affect their influence within the county was dispelled at the 1713 contest. When the government procured peace terms in the summer of 1712, the county was conspicuous in failing to address its congratulations to the Queen. The rector of Edith Weston, a friend of Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*), informed Oxford of the high degree of antipathy towards Nottingham and his son in the county: ‘we are chiefly swayed by some great men who are enemies to peace who though they agree not so well among themselves, yet can agree in their dislike and opposing that which the generality of the gentry, clergy and common people esteem a most valuable blessing’. In October 1712 the Tory Lord Exeter was appointed lord lieutenant in place of the Whig Lord Sherard, seemingly with the object of replacing Nottingham’s leadership of the county’s Tory interests. The certainty of a tough contest in which the younger Finch would be called to account ‘to justify his own and others proceedings last winter’ sent him around the county on an expensive canvassing mission in January 1713. Nottingham was now determined to oust Halford, whom in past elections he had been so anxious to sustain. He tried at first to campaign independently of Lord Sherard, but quickly accepted the merits of a pooled effort. Sherard at first proved a difficult partner with his own ideas on managing the campaign, but Nottingham eventually imposed his own strategy. Halford stood singly and was backed by Exeter. Veiled reference to Nottingham’s perfidy appeared in the unequivocally Tory address on the conclusion of the peace, which was presented in August, but by Lord Guilford rather than by either the county’s Members or its lord lieutenant: ‘it is astonishing to find at this time groundless jealousies fomented, and some designing and discontented men, upon the force of selfish and bad principles’. In the same month Nottingham expressed himself entirely confident of the result. Sunderland obtained for Finch one of the key interests in the county, that of the Duke of Rutland (John Manners*), who attended the election at Oakham and was guest for the while at Burley. Finch and Sherard’s return in September was a major triumph for Nottingham, who, despite his transferred political allegiance, had succeeded in carrying the electorate with him. Close analysis of the 1713 poll book and comparison with that of 1710 leads to the conclusion that freeholders voted for Finch and Sherard not so much from a sense of obligation as from unhindered choice. It was early and effective canvassing that probably lay at the heart of the Finch success. The behaviour of the Anglican clergy in the poll indicated that at local level in Rutland they were not a solid bulwark of the Tory party. The clergy’s votes were splintered, showing the disruptive effect on them of the Finch apostasy. Not surprisingly, the Whig interest, whose representative, Hon. John Noel, had been displaced in 1710–11 by Nottingham, did not join the Finches’ cause, whereas the Sherards, who had acted against Daniel Finch in 1710, now appeared wholeheartedly for him. William Bromley II* diagnosed the Tory failure in Rutland as due to ‘supiness, and bec[ause] they would not be at any expense’. Concluding a lengthy account to his brother, Lord Guernsey (Hon. Heneage Finch I*), of the pre-contest scramble to capture votes, Nottingham viewed his newly confirmed position in the county with evident pleasure:

It is manifest that my interest in this little county is much the greatest, except my son’s who by his behaviour has gained their affections and is their darling so that if an election were to be made by balloting I verily believe he would have 400 of the 500 that are in this county.8

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. Nottingham to Ld. Halifax (William Savile*), 4 June 1698.
  • 2. Post Man, 13–15 May 1708.
  • 3. Leics. RO, Finch mss box 4969, Rutland 2(ii), printed pollbk.
  • 4. Ibid. mss pollbk.
  • 5. Camb. Univ. Lib. Add. 2, f. 151; Halifax pprs. Nottingham to Halifax, 4 June, 13 Aug. 1698; H. Horwitz, Revol. Politicks, 145, 150; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 151.
  • 6. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2945, Nottingham to Isham, 5 May 1708; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxxviii), 5.
  • 7. Horwitz, 223; Add. 70421, newsletter 13 Apr. 1710; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/54, Ld. Fermanagh (John Verney*) to Ralph Verney†, 18 Jan. 1710–11; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 26; Isham mss IC 2949, Nottingham to Isham, 3 Oct. 1710; Finch mss, same to Ld. Finch, 21 Oct. 1710; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/6, Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 16 Jan. 1711.
  • 8. Add. 70251, Thomas Peale to Ld. Oxford, 16 Aug., 29 Oct. 1712, 27 Jan., 15 July 1713; Horwitz, 237; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. Nottingham to Guernsey, 26 Aug. 1713; Finch mss, same to same, 13 Sept. 1713, same to Sunderland [draft, Sept. 1713]; Bodl. Carte 117, f. 441; Ballard 38, f. 162; London Gazette, 18–22 Aug. 1713; Bull. IHR, xlviii. 77–82.