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 resident freeholders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 62 in 1702; at least 64 in 1710.


8 Mar. 1690Hon. Robert Russell   
 Sir Francis Drake, Bt.3939 
 Ambrose Manaton3634 
29 Oct. 1695Lord Robert Russell   
 Lord James Russell29  
 Ambrose Manaton70  
 Manaton vice Lord James Russell, on petition, 12 Mar. 1696   
10 Nov. 1696Sir Francis Drake, Bt. vice Manaton, deceased31  
 Henry Manaton57  
29 July 1698Lord Robert Russell   
 Sir Francis Drake, Bt.   
9 Jan. 1701Lord Edward Russell   
 Lord Robert Russell   
 James Bulteel   
29 Nov. 1701Lord Edward Russell   
 Lord Robert Russell   
 James Bulteel   
24 July 1702Lord Robert Russell60  
 Lord James Russell39139 
 Henry Manaton2544 
26 Nov. 1703James Bulteel vice Lord Robert Russell, deceased   
 Henry Manaton vice Lord James Russell, on petition, 21 Dec. 1703   
18 May 1705Henry Manaton   
 James Bulteel   
10 May 1708Sir John Cope   
 Henry Manaton   
12 Oct. 1710Sir John Cope372813 
 Henry Manaton396454
 James Bulteel394547
 Christopher Harris2222 
 James Bulteel vice Manaton, on petition, 3 Feb. 1711   
5 Sept. 1713Sir John Cope   
 James Bulteel   

Main Article

The chief interest at Tavistock was that of the Russells, earls and (after 1694) dukes of Bedford, the lords of the manor. The returning officer was the portreeve, who was chosen at a court leet by 24 freeholders selected by the lord’s steward. The Russells enjoyed the support of fellow Whigs such as Sir Francis Drake, 3rd Bt., who owned nearby Buckland Abbey and property in the borough itself. On the Tory side the leading interest was that of the Manatons of Kilworthy (just over a mile from Tavistock), who were trustees of the parish lands. In 1690 Hon. Robert Russell, brother of the Earl of Bedford (William Russell†), shared the representation with Drake, defeating Ambrose Manaton, who petitioned on 24 Mar. 1690, alleging partiality by the portreeve. The case was finally reported on 8 Dec. 1691, when the House resolved in favour of Drake, despite accusations that his majority included 19 unqualified voters. Drake stood down in 1695, informing Sir George Treby* on 31 Aug. that ‘the High Tories and Jacobites of this town are mostly at Manaton’s devotion. But I am told his party is not so considerable as it was.’ Drake nevertheless believed it would be difficult to defeat Manaton ‘unless some pretty considerable person is brought forward’, adding that ‘my lord of Bedford’s interest will be needful’. At the election Lords Robert and James Russell were returned. On 29 Nov. Manaton petitioned against Lord James, who declined to offer any defence (presumably because he had also been returned for Whitchurch) and was therefore unseated on 12 Mar. 1696. Manaton died shortly afterwards and Drake was returned at the ensuing by-election, defeating Manaton’s brother, Henry, who petitioned on 25 Nov. The poll by which Manaton claimed to have won the election included numerous freeholders who had not been formally presented at the court leet. His counsel attempted to validate this franchise by citing the previous decision of the House in favour of Ambrose Manaton. It was argued for Drake, however, that the former ruling was not binding (not least because in 1695 the unseated candidate had offered no defence), and the House voted by 196 to 86 in favour of the narrower franchise and Drake’s election. Lord Robert Russell and Drake were unopposed in 1698.4

At the two 1701 elections, Lords Edward and Robert Russell were returned, defeating on each occasion James Bulteel, a young Tavistock attorney, whose father and grandfather had been prominent citizens. No decision was taken on either of Bulteel’s petitions (18 Feb. 1701 and 3 Jan. 1702), despite the fact that in both Parliaments Lord Edward had also been returned for Bedfordshire and never chose between his two seats. Lord Robert was re-elected in 1702, this time in partnership with Lord James Russell. Henry Manaton petitioned against the latter on 24 Oct. 1702. Two resolutions were reported from committee on 19 Jan. 1703. The first confirmed that presentment was a necessary qualification to vote, but this was rejected by 118 votes to 101. The second resolution, in favour of the sitting Member’s election, was thereupon recommitted. No further report emerged in this session. Following the renewal of Manaton’s petition on 10 Nov. 1703 and the submission in evidence of another poll, it was resolved on 21 Dec. that, with Lord James offering no defence, Manaton should be seated.

At the 1705 election there was no Russell candidate, perhaps owing to a rift with Drake. Manaton and Bulteel were returned without opposition. In 1708 Sir John Cope, a young Whig outsider, was returned on the Bedford interest, and apparently in connivance with Manaton, as Drake wrote to (Sir) Peter King*, ‘I think tis agreed by all sides that Bulteel is dropt at Tavistock and that the Duke’s interest is revived again and Manaton safe’. In May 1710 the Tory interest received a boost from a visitation by Francis Atterbury, in his capacity as archdeacon of Totnes, accompanied by Dr Sacheverell. Prior to this event it was already being reported that the Bedford interest would ‘not go forward’ at the 1710 election. However, Cope stood again (as the only Whig), and most of Manaton’s voters also voted for Cope, suggesting that the alliance with the Russells was still in being. Cope also drew support from Bulteel, who was in effect challenging Manaton for the second seat. A third Tory, Christopher Harris*, also stood, all his voters backing Bulteel. According to one Tory newspaper, Bulteel received considerably more votes than Manaton, but ‘the portreeve at the instigation of persons of his own sect (who have a great aversion to Mr Bulteel, a gentleman of eminent zeal for the established Church of England) declared and returned Sir John Cope and Mr Manaton’. Bulteel petitioned on 1 Dec. 1710 against Manaton. In the report on 3 Feb. 1711 the right of election was agreed simply to be in the resident freeholders, with no mention of their having to be presented at the lord’s court. Witnesses for Bulteel testified that the portreeve had added two unqualified votes for Manaton and disallowed 17 good votes for Bulteel; that he had personally canvassed for Manaton, offering money (£3 to £5 a vote), places, leases or extension of leases, and declaring that he would not return Bulteel even if he had 40 votes more and that ‘Mr Manaton would indemnify him, if it cost £1,000 for returning him’. After the election the portreeve was said to have tampered with Bulteel’s witnesses, offering one of them 20 guineas not to go to London to testify before the elections committee. Without a division Bulteel was seated in Manaton’s place and the portreeve declared guilty of a breach of privilege and sent for into custody. Sir Arthur Kaye, 3rd Bt.*, wrote in his diary that bribery and corruption had appeared just as ‘flagrant’ on the part of Cope as Manaton. A motion was made to appoint a day for Cope

to answer that charge, which might be brought against him from those proofs that appeared upon the report . . . but the question [was] not put . . . The only argument against it was that no gentleman’s seat there ought to be called in question, after the time directed for presenting petitions, and then of those only of whom the petition takes notice. And the debate dropped, though against the opinion of most of the experienced Members. I believe upon the reason of being willing not to be thought too severe.

There was no contest in 1713, Cope and Bulteel sharing the representation.5

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Portreeve's poll.
  • 2. Portreeve's poll: BL, Althorp mss, Drake pprs. M3.
  • 3. Post Boy, 21-24 Oct. 1710.
  • 4. Trans. Devon Assoc. xliii. 371–6; R. N. Worth, Cal. Tavistock Par. Recs. 52, 105; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 33–34.
  • 5. Info. from Dr J. Triffitt; Devon RO, Drake mss 346M/F59, Sir Francis Drake to (Sir) Peter King*, [27] May 1710; Trans. Devon Assoc. 373–4; Speck thesis, 263; Post Boy, 21–24 Oct. 1710; Cam. Misc. xxxi. 331.