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 inhabitant householders paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 14,000

Number of voters:

7,237 in 17081


 Philip Howard   
 Charles Godfrey   
9 Nov. 1691SIR STEPHEN FOX vice Pulteney, deceased  1266
 Thomas Owen  2232
29 Oct. 1695CHARLES MONTAGU   
 Sir Walter Clarges, Bt.   
22 July 1698CHARLES MONTAGU  2836
 Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt.  2026
21 Jan. 1701JAMES VERNON  2646
 Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt.  2057
 Sir Walter Clarges, Bt.  1177
 Charles Bonython  10403
9 Dec. 1701JAMES VERNON  2997
 Thomas Crosse  1649
 Sir John Leveson Gower, Bt.  16234
6 Aug. 1702SIR WALTER CLARGES, Bt. 29322909
 Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt. 26052829
 Lord James Cavendish 2298523716
30 May 1705HON. HENRY BOYLE  3746
 Thomas Crosse  24247
21 Feb. 1708HON. HENRY BOYLE, re-elected after appointment to office   
7 July 1708HON. HENRY BOYLE4410844289443010
 Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt.372437913856
9 Oct. 1710THOMAS MEDLYCOTT  4153
 James Stanhope  1870
 Sir Henry Dutton Colt, Bt.  150911
15 Apr. 1713THOMAS MEDLYCOTT, re-elected after appointment to office   
24 Aug. 1713SIR THOMAS CROSSE, Bt.   

Main Article

The city and liberty of Westminster presented a significant contrast: a prestigious constituency with a plebeian, often violent, electorate. Encompassing the seat of both monarch and Parliament, the borough was frequently contested by ministers, who recognized its potential impact on elections throughout the country, and took advantage of the Court’s influence over local tradesmen and victuallers. The propinquity of the palaces of Whitehall and St. James had inevitably established the area as a fashionable residence for the peerage, and several lords played an active part in elections, most notably the Earl of Clare (John Holles†), subsequently Duke of Newcastle, who wielded considerable local influence and served as lord lieutenant of Middlesex between 1689 and 1692, and briefly in 1711. The influence of the dean and chapter of Westminster was also significant, for it chose the city’s highest official, the high steward, and nominated the high bailiff, who acted as returning officer. Moreover, local clerics did not hesitate to campaign in the name of rival parties, thereby making the Church interest a key element in electoral calculations. The general weakness of the Westminster corporation encouraged such intervention, although leading inhabitants were apt to use the court of burgesses and the local quarter sessions as political platforms.

Despite the presence of these powerful patrons, the voters acted in a very independent manner, and the candidates displayed little control over their supporters when assembled at Tuttle-Fields, where the elections often degenerated into pitched battles. The sheer size and broad social composition of the electorate made it particularly difficult to manage, and even a secretary of state admitted that ‘in such a multitude one ought not to think it certain till the election be over’. Although one estimate suggested that as many as 30,000 householders might have the vote, there were generally reckoned to be ‘above 14,000’ electors. Thousands attended the election, and the disorderliness of the poll helped to magnify the importance of the high bailiff. Furthermore, it was not simply at election time that popular involvement was encouraged, for mass subscriptions were often promoted for political ends, such as the loyal Association in 1696, which was signed by 37,389 local inhabitants. The competitiveness of the polls also prompted the repeated canvassing of several key local groups, most notably a sizable community of Huguenot refugees, which played a controversial role in several contests.12

The election of 1690 saw a keen party struggle, with the Tories Sir Walter Clarges, 1st Bt., and Sir William Pulteney contesting the seats against Whigs Captain Philip Howard† and Colonel Charles Godfrey*. By courtesy of his father Sir Thomas*, Clarges could bring a considerable proprietorial interest to bear, as could Pulteney, who had helped to develop St. James’s Westminster in partnership with Clarges snr. Their rivals also had strong local connexions, especially Howard, who was said to have received the backing of the Earl of Bedford (William Russell†). However, the Tory cause was significantly advanced by the dean and chapter, which directed its campaign against Godfrey. On 22 Feb. James Vernon I expressed his fears that Godfrey might lose, ‘tho’ he drinks hard for it every night’, but others thought he might beat Pulteney. The election began on 3 Mar., and by the next day Whig observers were already resigned to hopes for a double return, as the Tories proceeded to dominate the poll. The Whig candidates gave up on 11 Mar., when one report suggested that they were ‘about 700 or 800’ votes behind, although another suggested the deficit to be only 400. Significantly, the support displayed by local French refugees for the Whigs was already a matter of controversy, antagonizing Anglican supporters.13

The death of Pulteney in September 1691 ensured the Westminster electorate had little respite from the polls, with feverish electioneering leading up to the by-election on 9 Nov., when the contest resolved into a straight fight between Treasury lord Sir Stephen Fox and the Nonconformist Thomas Owen*. Prior to polling day several candidates made interest to be returned, including local steward and former Member for Westminster Charles Bonython, who was promoted ‘upon a pure Tory interest’, but failed to appear at the election. A ‘Mr Bridgeman’, probably Under-Secretary William†, was also said to have put up, and received the support of Lord Lieutenant Clare, but he also withdrew, ‘having submitted to a signification given him not to pretend to stand if Lord Cavendish (William Cavendish*) did’. The emergence of Cavendish as a candidate, backed by his powerful relation, Bedford, threw electoral calculations into confusion. Bedford’s daughter-in-law, Rachel, Lady Russell, wrote to Owen to ask him to step down in favour of Cavendish, appealing to his party loyalties, and erroneously asserting that Fox had given up the contest on hearing of Cavendish’s candidacy. Owen had been keen to solicit Bedford’s support, but resisted such overtures and maintained his resolution to stand. Fox also was unwilling to desist, and their resilience was sufficient to deter Cavendish from standing, although one report suggested that but for their candidacy the young peer ‘would have had it without a contest’.14

The poll at Covent Garden proved a rumbustious affair, with supporters of the Treasury lord crying ‘Fox and the Church; no tub preacher; no Owen’, and dismissing their rivals as ‘but shoemakers and tailors’. Owen’s party countered with the taunt that Fox had sworn ‘that the Prince of Wales was a lawful son to the late Queen’, but early forecasts predicted that Sir Stephen would win, especially since he was regarded as ‘the King’s choice’. Fox had certainly been thorough in his canvass, spending £630 in treating voters in the weeks leading up to the election. His efforts paid off, for he opened a clear lead on the first day of the poll, and by the end of the second day had an advantage of over 1,000 votes. Owen finally gave up on 12 Nov., on which occasion he graciously acknowledged the superior abilities of his opponent. He even insisted that he would not have put up had he known of Fox’s desire to stand, and had only contested the poll so as not to disappoint his supporters. Indeed, his greatest concern was for their safety, since he did not wish to expose ‘my friends to so great a trouble and hazard to press and crowd at the bar, even to death’. In turn, Fox aired his willingness to serve his supporters ‘either for the public community, or in particular capacity’, a pledge possibly in response to a petition submitted to him prior to the poll, which pointed out the electoral value of satisfying the interest of local tradesmen and shop-keepers. However, it was the Tory Clarges interest which performed such constituency work in the session of 1691–2, with Sir Thomas and Sir Walter acting as the main sponsors for bills to remedy the defects of the Act to build the church of St. Anne’s Soho, and to recover small debts in Westminster.15

Despite such attention to local needs, the Tories faced a considerable challenge at the 1695 election when Fox stood alongside Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Montagu, the latter’s candidacy being reported as early as 24 Aug. The ministers received the full backing of the court, and Princess Anne was said to have directed her servants to support them. Moreover, in early October the Westminster corporation and the grand jury of the local quarter sessions waited on them to request their candidacy should an election be called. However, Fox was still careful to cultivate his interest, spending £601 on treating the electorate. His rival, Clarges, was reported to have spent £2,000 on his campaign, which was also bolstered by the vigorous support of Bishop Compton of London and the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Despite these efforts, Tory prospects remained grim, and Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) appeared content with the mere fact that Clarges was prepared to make such a defiant stance, wistfully recalling a time when ‘a moderate honest keeper could have influenced as many shopkeepers as Mr Montagu’. Montagu himself appeared very confident on 8 Oct. when thanking Bedford (recently raised to a dukedom) for his aid, opining that Clarges’ activity would ‘only draw a greater disgrace upon him’. There was also a report that the death of Sir Thomas Clarges on 4 Oct. would cause Sir Walter to retire, ‘since he has lost his interest’. Nevertheless, some observers still thought that Clarges was ‘not without reasonable hopes’ of being chosen, in spite of signs that the interest of Fox and Montagu ‘seems to improve daily’. Bonython was again touted as a candidate, but appears not to have joined with Clarges, and withdrew before the poll.16

On election day, 24 Oct., some 4–5,000 voters attended the contest on horseback, arraigning themselves behind each of the three candidates. The supporters of Fox and Montagu denigrated their rivals as Jacobites, while the Tory mob hurled accusations of corruption at the two Treasury lords. Not surprisingly, blows ensued, and Clarges’ outnumbered allies were subjected to attack. According to an observer, Fox and Montagu had ten supporters to Clarges’ one, and were duly declared to have the majority on view. Undeterred, Clarges insisted on a poll, but relented on 28 Oct., when he trailed Fox by 700 votes. His task had been a daunting one from the outset, but it may have been handicapped by the desertion of ‘some leading men who had promised his father, Sir John Thompson, [1st Bt.*], and others, that he should have their votes, [but] had come to other resolutions’. Jubilant Whig supporters celebrated by carrying Montagu aloft from Westminster Abbey to Whitehall. The contest sparked several pamphlets from both sides, most notably A Lampoon upon the Election of the Hon. Charles Montagu, which satirized the efforts of Leeds to procure votes for Clarges from local tradesmen.17

Despite the onerous duties of office, Montagu did not neglect the concerns of his new constituents, sponsoring a bill in the 1695–6 session to enable the parish of St. James to discharge debts incurred in the building of its church. Another Member seeking to build an interest at Westminster was just as keen to manage local legislation in that Parliament, for in the second session Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt., was heavily involved in the passage of a bill to repair the streets of Westminster. At the election of 1698 he emerged as the principal opponent of the Court party, which was represented by Montagu and Secretary of State Vernon. Colt’s motives for standing were probably personal, centring on his failure to achieve preferment, and to receive reward for the information which he had passed to Vernon’s office concerning Jacobite conspiracies. However, his campaign against government corruption was calculated to appeal to a far wider audience, and he sought to undermine courtly influence by mobilizing local artisans in his interest. Despite considerable efforts, his task was still formidable, Montagu having dominated the political stage during the preceding Parliament, while Vernon could count on the support of Fox, and claimed ‘a fair encouragement both from Churchmen and Dissenters’. The secretary boasted no proprietorial interest, and over the preceding year had endured a difficult relationship with Montagu and his Junto allies, but his office was adequate recommendation to local voters. As a sign of this, in mid-July the Westminster grand jury attended Montagu and Vernon to entreat them to represent the borough. A confident Vernon ridiculed Colt’s efforts, noting that ‘he rails at courtiers, and sets up for a national interest till he makes it a jest’, but Colt maintained his stance, and reportedly received support from Sir Walter Clarges, who did not put himself forward despite ‘some appearance’ that he might do so. Bonython was again cited as a likely candidate, but declined the contest before the election.18

As usual the competing parties carefully orchestrated the appearance of their supporters on Tuttle-Fields. Vernon and Montagu arrived with a troop of several thousand horsemen, a formidable force which contrasted with the ‘great number of the rabble on foot’ who came to support Colt. It was even reported that a potential running-mate of Colt’s withdrew on the day when he saw the inconsiderable number of his own allies. The recalcitrant candidate may have been Edmund Godwin, a recent sheriff of Essex, whose readiness to stand was reported only three days before the contest, when he was promoted as ‘an ancient inhabitant’ of Westminster liberty. Colt’s party endeavoured to make up for their size by denouncing their opponents as partisans of the Court, and by calling for an end to high taxation. Violent scenes again ensued, with Vernon delighting to note that his supporters had ‘run down his [Colt’s] men at a strange rate, and cudgelled them into ditches full of water, and yet we say they were the aggressors’. On the other hand, he also thought that Colt ‘was glad his fellows were banged, that he might have a pretence to petition the House’, thereby anticipating further trouble. The disorder did little to alter the expected result, with the high bailiff declaring in favour of Vernon and Montagu. Although outnumbered by a reported 20 to one, Colt demanded a poll, much to the chagrin of the two ministers, who were forced to spend the next five days at Westminster Hall. Colt’s stubbornness was then vindicated by a strong performance at the poll, where ‘almost every one’ of his supporters cast their votes ‘singly’. However, he still fell over 600 short of Vernon, permitting the relieved secretary to celebrate victory with ‘an eloquent speech’ to the electors, in which he promised ‘to serve them to the utmost of his power’. Vernon was quick to dismiss Sir Henry’s support as ‘the very scum of the town – victuallers, porters and chairmen’, but Colt was sufficiently encouraged to petition. Worryingly for the ministers, he was reported to have compiled a list of some 300 to 400 electors denied the vote by the closure of the books, and to have canvassed ‘the Tories and Jacobites’ to gather support for his cause in the House.19

Colt’s petition to the Commons on 14 Dec. complained of the ‘manifest partiality’ of the high bailiff, and of the ‘votes procured by entertainment and menaces, and of others not qualified’. Moreover, he also sought to question the eligibility of Montagu to sit in the House since his appointment as a lord justice, the commission having begun the day before the result was declared. The case was referred to the elections committee, which reported their verdict only eight days later. During the inquiry Colt’s counsel had styled the election a battlefield, alleging that amid the ‘great disorders’ at Tuttle-Fields a Colt supporter had died from wounds inflicted by a cavalry charge of rival voters, some of whom were off-duty grenadiers. It was even reported that Colt had himself been threatened at pistol-point, and surgeons were summoned to testify to the injuries suffered by his party. Less dramatically, Montagu was accused of procuring favours to win votes, especially by obtaining a replacement bell for St. Margaret’s Church, and by opening access to St. James’s Park. As expected, there were further objections to the manner in which the poll had been closed, whereby it was claimed that many Colt supporters had been denied the vote. Although such a catalogue of irregularities appeared convincing, the elections committee was not impressed, and ‘almost unanimously’ ruled the petition ‘frivolous, vexatious and scandalous’. Vernon’s allies delighted to see Colt ‘laughed at’, and even an opponent of the Court, John Grobham Howe*, expressed regret that ‘it was not proper to add that he [Colt] should be incapable of ever sitting in Parliament’. Counsel for the sitting Members could take little credit for this victory, for they had merely dismissed the violence as a common feature of Westminster contests, with one of their witnesses claiming that it was the fairest election he had seen in 25 years.20

Although the Commons gave their assent to the committee report, with only Sir Bevill Granville, the presenter of Colt’s petition, opposing, adversaries of the ministry could not pass up the opportunity to attack the Court. Following the vote to agree with the report, Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., tried to ‘divert’ condemnation of the petition by questioning whether unnaturalized foreigners had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Ever since the election Colt had complained of the support his rivals had received from Huguenot refugees, but in committee it was shown that even though his opponents had gained around 150 votes from ‘strangers’, he had himself been backed by ‘above 50’ such electors. Despite a speech in support of the Westminster Huguenots from Montagu, on this issue Colt was vindicated, with the House unanimously backing a resolution that the committee on the elections bill be instructed to deny the franchise to unnaturalized foreigners. Moreover, during the debate Howe had ‘ingeniously ridiculed the Court party for falling so heavily on a man who had so constantly adhered to their interest in former Parliaments’, and such support enabled Colt to survive an attempt to have him imprisoned for his petition. The bitterness of this feud was still evident at the time of the debates on the standing army, during which Colt maintained that Montagu would not have won his seat but for Huguenot voters. However, Colt’s outspokenness was to rebound on him in July 1699, when, at the request of the Commons, he was removed from the Middlesex commission of the peace, something his rival Vernon had hoped for some seven months before.21

Colt was again the great antagonist of the Court at the Westminster election of January 1701, a newspaper advertisement declaring that he would ‘poll to the last’. The strength of the Court party was less assured, for Montagu’s elevation to the peerage on 13 Dec. 1700 robbed Secretary Vernon of a partner, and early speculation suggested that Fox would stand, although only with an eye to securing a seat for one of his sons. However, on 21 Dec. Sir Stephen was reported to have withdrawn from the contest in favour of a less contentious return at Cricklade. At that time it appeared that Vernon was prepared to stand on his own, but he eventually decided to join with the Tory Thomas Crosse, a surprising choice which may have reflected recent ministerial changes in favour of the Tories. Crosse possessed great local influence as a major brewer, and it was said that he had ‘all the victuallers on his side’. Pitted against them were the familiar figures of Colt, Clarges and Bonython. Pre-election debate predictably centred on the likely voting preferences of naturalized Huguenots within the city and liberty, estimated by one source to number ‘above 2,000’. Continuing controversy over this issue was highlighted by publication in the press of the Commons’ resolution against unnaturalized voters. The intensity of the pre-election campaign resulted in a closely fought poll, with all five candidates gaining over 1,000 votes. However, backed by ‘the King’s servants’ and the ‘plus considérable’ members of the electorate, Vernon and Crosse managed to surpass Colt by a comfortable margin, thereby sparing themselves the trouble of a contested return in the Commons.22

In mid-October the Court party received a boost when the Westminster grand jury and justices presented a loyal address against the Pretender. Such public support put the sitting Members in a strong position for the second election of 1701, but the upheavals of the year had a significant influence on the configuration of interests which contested the seats. Vernon and Crosse stood together again, but the former confessed great reservations about the latter, and only joined with him to honour a prior promise of support. Having been recently restored to the Middlesex commission of the peace, Colt put up again, and wisely cultivated the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle (formerly Earl of Clare), whose interest in the borough Colt obsequiously described as ‘so deservedly great’. The fourth candidate, the Tory Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, had no obvious source of support at Westminster, but received the backing of notables such as Lord Chamberlain Jersey, and pinned his hopes on gaining votes as ‘the tradesman’s friend’, having in the preceding Parliament sponsored the Act to ease Members’ creditors. On election day, 25 Nov., Vernon and Crosse were reported to have had ‘very considerably the greater appearance’, but ‘the rude behaviour of the mob’, which led to ‘near 200 broken heads’, confused electoral calculations, and it was still thought that Colt might take one of the seats. Significantly, the ‘King’s helping hand’ was seen as an important aid to the Whig cause in elections throughout the capital, and the Westminster poll was subsequently regarded as a triumph for the Court, with Vernon and Colt leaving their adversaries over 1,300 votes adrift. During the poll, thousands of subscriptions were taken for an instruction to the winning candidates, which on 10 Dec. was presented to the victors. Such popular involvement differentiated the Westminster instruction from those produced by other constituencies at this time, but it did reflect the Whiggish opinions expressed by the majority of these addresses.23

As was the common experience of their party, the accession of Anne spelt electoral difficulties for the Westminster Whigs. The corporation and the commission of the peace both presented loyal addresses to the new monarch in March 1702, but such unanimity dissolved as the general election drew closer. It soon became clear that the Court favoured the Tories, for in May Vernon was removed as secretary of state. This was a bad omen for the Whigs, particularly as Vernon declined to defend his seat. In his place the Whigs selected as Colt’s partner Lord James Cavendish*, a younger son of the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†), hoping that such prestige might compensate for the loss of the Court interest. The Tories predictably chose Crosse and Clarges, both of whom had tasted previous electoral success. The only other touted candidate was the Tory courtier Sir Benjamin Bathurst*, but he ultimately settled for a less contentious return at New Romney. After weeks of energetic canvassing from both sides, it was the Tories who made the greater appearance on election day and were deemed to have the majority on a view. A poll was demanded, and proved a close affair between Clarges and Colt, but on 23 July the two Tories emerged triumphant. The Whiggish Post Man suggested that the difference between Clarges and Colt was as little as 80 votes, although other surviving accounts record a margin of over 300. Convinced that papists had been allowed the vote, Colt demanded a scrutiny, which found ineligible voters on both sides, but did not alter the result and only succeeded in delaying the return for a fortnight. Observers saw the outcome as a victory for the Church party, with ‘much owing to the industry of Dr Lancaster, minister of St. Martin’s, and the other clergy in town’.24

During the succeeding Parliament the corporation, justices and grand jury all appeared Tory in outlook, submitting addresses in October 1704 which praised the victories of both the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Sir George Rooke*. The preceding year there had been serious concern in Tory circles for the health of Clarges, who subsequently made a temporary recovery, but did not fight the general election of May 1705. Crosse therefore stood singly, and was opposed by Colt and Chancellor of the Exchequer Hon. Henry Boyle, a moderate Whig, who, although previously amenable to Tory ministers, had refused to back the controversial Tack. On election day there was the customary disorder when papists supporting Crosse were maltreated by the crowd. However, such allies were insufficient for Crosse to make any impact on the contest, and after two days of polling he ‘gave it up, the other candidates having a much greater number of votes’. Local Tories were clearly undermined by their portrayal as Catholic sympathizers, and in January 1706 it was reported that at a ‘late’ Westminster election one wag had

published the banns of matrimony between the Church of England and the Church of Rome (believing the candidates of the other well-affected to popery), whereupon a witty rogue started up and cried ‘Hold, I forbid those banns, for they’re too nearly related already.’25

Most despairingly for its supporters, the Tory interest did not even attempt to unseat Boyle in February 1708 when he sought re-election after appointment as secretary of state, thereby allowing him to be returned ‘without any opposition’. However, at the general election only a few months later a challenge was mounted to the sitting Members from Thomas Medlycott, deputy-steward of Westminster and a client of the high steward, the Duke of Ormond. Such local authority helped him to exert pressure on Colt, and after the first day of polling he led Sir Henry by over 650 votes. The influence of the Court was against Medlycott, however, and among Colt’s many aristocratic backers were Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), and the 2nd Duke of Bedford, lord lieutenant of Middlesex. Medlycott also had noble patrons such as the dukes of Beaufort and Buckingham, and Lord Rockingham (Lewis Watson†), but it was Colt’s supporters who rallied over the next two days, so that at the closing of the books Colt was declared victor alongside Boyle, who had dominated the election. With only 29 votes separating Colt and Medlycott, it was no surprise that a scrutiny was demanded by the Tories, and on the recount Medlycott was declared to have beaten Colt. A third count on 12 May, however, revealed an error in these calculations, and restored Colt to second place. Nevertheless, the high bailiff chose to ignore this final tally and returned Medlycott. Although the poll books do not survive, it was reported that 7,237 inhabitants voted on this occasion, which, when taken with the final poll figures, suggests that nearly a third of local electors cast only one vote, presumably plumping for Medlycott, who stood alone.26

Colt petitioned the new Parliament on 24 Nov., alleging that high bailiff John Huggins had refused to tender the oath of abjuration to Catholics, and that Medlycott had colluded with Huggins to ensure his return through ‘undue and arbitrary proceedings’ at the scrutiny. After the presentation of the petition, the House resolved to hear the matter at the bar, and on 16 Dec. counsel for both sides appeared. The Commons first turned its attention to Huggins, who in a close division was ruled to have committed ‘a high crime and misdemeanour’ by neglecting to administer the Abjuration to Catholics, a resolution interpreted for a recent Scottish Member as a victory for ‘the Court Whigs . . . against the Tories, flying Whigs and most of your countrymen’. A motion to commit him to Newgate was then passed by a single vote. Two days later the House returned to the matter, and, in a surprising reversal of fortune for the Tories, voted that Medlycott was duly elected. Almost blanket opposition from Scottish MPs was seen as a key factor in Colt’s failure, ‘he having appeared vehemently formerly’ against their interest. Furthermore, Whig managers could be blamed for having allowed so many of their Members to leave early in the debate to attend the opera. In contrast to Medlycott’s success, Huggins remained in Newgate until 2 Feb. 1709, when, having petitioned the House for his release, he was reprimanded by the Speaker and then allowed his freedom.27

In March 1710 the eastern part of the liberty was rocked by the riots sparked by the trial of Dr Sacheverell, which was held in Westminster Hall. These disturbances were quickly suppressed, but the political passions that had given rise to them were less easily controlled. In early April it was reported that ‘a Low Church address’ was being promoted in Westminster, which can be plausibly identified as that subsequently rejected by the local quarter sessions. A public subscription was then launched to lend authority to the Whig initiative, although this only prompted the high bailiff to gather signatories for a rival address ‘grounded upon old principles of hereditary right’. Neither appears to have been presented at court, but ensuing preparations for the October general election were clearly the most thorough of the period. The Tories once again turned to Medlycott and Crosse to head their campaign, but the Whig effort was hampered by the retirement from politics of Boyle. Colt put up, but finding a running-mate proved a less than easy task. To add to Whig problems, by mid-August another Tory, Lieutenant-General John Richmond Webb*, the acclaimed victor of Wynendael, had emerged as a candidate, pledging support for the Hanoverian succession and toleration. However, Webb’s war injuries prevented him from actively canvassing for votes, and rumours soon spread that he had withdrawn. At first he sought to rebuff such reports through the press, but in early September stepped down, reportedly to preserve the unity of the ‘High Church’ interest. Such reasoning must be regarded with some suspicion, for the lure of an easier return at Ludgershall or on the Isle of Wight, over which he had been recently appointed governor, may well have been a greater influence on his decision to retire. Perhaps in response to Webb’s campaign, in the same month ‘several noble gentlemen and a great many inhabitants of the liberty’ put forward as Colt’s running-mate Lieutenant-General James Stanhope*, currently on campaign in Spain, but ‘whose glory is fresher in the minds of the people than Webb’s’.28

Subsequent electoral manoeuvring reflected the importance which national politicians attached to the Westminster result. Stanhope’s absence did not help the Whig cause, and his allies had to post advertisements in the press to quash reports that he would not return to England until after the winter. For electioneering purposes, he was ably represented by his cousin Major-General Sherrington Davenport, and could count on the backing of such influential figures as his ‘fast friend’ the Duke of Somerset, as well as that of the dukes of Newcastle, Devonshire (formerly Lord Hartington) and Bedford. In response, the Tories fought a vigorous campaign, their supporters particularly eager to frustrate the hopes of Stanhope, who had acted as one of the managers of the trial of Dr Sacheverell. However, in mid-September Tory scribes sought to play down religious tensions, stressing that their candidates ‘have shown on all occasions such temper towards Protestant Dissenters, and so tender a regard for the liberties of their fellow subjects’. Displaying similar anxiety, later that month Crosse and Rev. George Smalridge published A Detection of A Falsehood, which sought to combat allegations that Tory Members (Crosse included) had voted in February 1703 against the Lords’ amendments to the bill to extend the time for taking the Abjuration, on account of which they had been labelled Jacobites. Such charges had been given great publicity through a paper, An Account of the Test, which rebutted Tory claims and accused Crosse of seeming

principally to intend his own service at the ensuing election of Westminster, and that he may be the better able to oppose his negative merit, or the merit of having not given the worst vote that ever was, except that for the murder of King Charles I.

The Whig Examiner also sought to vilify Crosse, portraying him as a common brewer who dared to challenge the conqueror of Spain. In addition, Whig agents were most active in their canvass, with Davenport visiting local Huguenot leaders to solicit support. Most encouragingly for the Whigs, their rivals feared ‘a world of mischief’ after hearing that the Queen had rebuked a lady of her bedchamber for making interest against Stanhope, a report which led them to believe that the French would vote ‘to a man’ for the general. The Harley ministry made considerable efforts to win Huguenot votes for the Tories, and at least two pamphlets appeared to urge the refugees to vote for Crosse and Medlycott, but subsequent accounts suggested that they could not be induced to relinquish support for Stanhope.29

Despite their preparations, the Whigs ‘made but a small appearance in the field’ on election day, and the Tories were declared victors upon view. One observer remarked that supporters of Crosse ‘were for the most part common folk’, who made ‘crosses with their hands (in allusion to his name)’, and decried Stanhope as a ‘gamester’ and ‘pulpithisser’. Predictably, violence ensued, accompanied by popular effusions of party propaganda, with shouts of ‘No Pretender’ being met with ‘No managers, etc., but for Queen and Church’. A poll was called, but gave the Whigs little hope, for after the first day they trailed Crosse and Medlycott by at least 1,400 votes. Interestingly, Stanhope and Colt received unexpected support from a group of prebendaries from the Abbey, who ‘were labouring tooth and nail in making interest with the Dissenters against the Church’, but such efforts were insufficient to turn the tide against the Tories. Indeed, during the poll the Tories received a further boost with the appearance of A Dialogue between Captain Tom and Sir H-y D-n C-t, possibly penned by Dean Swift, which proclaimed that

          Brave St-nh-p for fighting
          Will have his reward,
          And the Queen, when she pleases,
          Can make him a lord.
          But we are true friends
          Of the Church and Sacheverell;
          And vote for a manager
          Surely we never will!

Swift had encountered the disorderliness of the election at first hand, and another account graphically captured the contention of the poll, which was taken at Covent Garden:

In front of the main door of the church . . . they had placed a table, on which lay two great books in which each man wrote his name. One book was for General Stanhope and the other for Cross. Now when it happened that two went up together, one writing in this, and the other in that book, they would be sure on their way down to fall together by the ears. In fact it rained blows right and left.

Despite the defiance of their supporters, the Whigs quickly realized that their cause was lost, and gave up after only three days of polling, ‘in consideration of the danger they were in of being insulted and abused by the mob’. More soberly, James Lowther* realized that the opposition of the Court was the root cause of Whig defeat, remarking of Stanhope, ‘now the Court sun does not shine on him, [he] can make nothing of it against a brewer’. It was reported that the defeated candidates would petition the House, but no such challenge was mounted.30

The superiority which local Tories had displayed on this occasion was maintained for the rest of the reign. In 1711 the cause of the High Churchmen was advanced by the creation of the commission to build 50 new churches in London and Westminster, and Crosse subsequently distinguished himself as a major force behind the construction of St. James’s, Millbank. Moreover, in November of that year Whig plans for a pope-burning procession through the City and Westminster were dashed by pre-emptive action by local magistrates. The following summer addresses from the quarter sessions and the corporation gave thanks for the Queen’s willingness to communicate peace terms, the latter of which was signed by ‘many thousand hands’. Tory dominance was also demonstrated on 15 Apr. 1713 when sitting Member Medlycott gained an unopposed triumph at a by-election, called after his appointment as an Irish revenue commissioner. Only two days before, in his capacity as chairman of the Westminster sessions, he had presented an address at court congratulating both Queen and ministry on the peace, and promising to suppress ‘those blasphemous and seditious writers (who have so justly given offence to your Majesty)’. Soon afterwards the corporation prevailed on both Members to submit an address of a similar refrain, which was said to have been ‘subscribed by many thousand hands’. Even though a pope-burning had been recently held at Charing Cross, on 29 May, High Church influence was manifested in an even more spectacular fashion during local celebrations for the anniversary of the Restoration, on which occasion Dr Sacheverell was attended by ‘a vast concourse’ after preaching a sermon at St. Margaret’s in favour of non-resistance. The controversial appointment of Francis Atterbury as dean of Westminster in June also bolstered the local authority of the Church party, and during that summer the ministry may have helped to consolidate Tory power by issuing a new commission of the peace for the liberty of Westminster, which resulted in the removal of 18 justices. It is difficult to gauge the impact of this purge, but it was subsequently predicted that no opposition would be mounted to the sitting Members at the August general election, and they did gain an uncontested return.31

Local Tory dominance still appeared intact when Dean Atterbury entertained the court of burgesses in November, on which occasion toasts were drunk to wish ‘prosperity and health to the Church and our sovereign’. However, the Hanoverian succession had an immediate impact on Westminster politics, since the vital Court interest reverted to the Whigs. In the latter part of 1714 their supporters seemed on the offensive, with allegations appearing in print that local Huguenots had been deliberately maltreated for supporting Stanhope at the election of 1710. Nevertheless, Whig politicians still thought it prudent to secure an accommodation with Crosse in order to regain one of the seats at the general election of 1715. The Whigs benefited from the influence of Whitehall thereafter, but the city and liberty continued to attract opposition candidates, eager to inflict a defeat on the government in this important constituency. The enduring independence of the local electorate encouraged such campaigns, and also helped to maintain the notoriety of the Westminster poll as a scene of violence and disorder.32

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. British Mercury, 6–9 Oct. 1710.
  • 2. Dorset RO, Fox-Strangways mss D124, box 236, bdle. 5, acct. of election expenses, Nov. 1691.
  • 3. Post Man, 16–18 Jan. 1701.
  • 4. Add. 7078, f. 53.
  • 5. BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 50, Thomas Bateman to Sir William Trumbull*, 24 July 1702; Daily Courant, 24 July 1702.
  • 6. Post Man, 23–25 July 1702.
  • 7. Flying Post, 10–12 May 1705.
  • 8. 1st poll: Daily Courant, 7 May 1708.
  • 9. 2nd poll: Supplement, 14-17 May 1708.
  • 10. 3rd poll: Ibid.
  • 11. British Mercury,6-9 Oct. 1710
  • 12. Add. 40771, f. 236; DZA, Bonet despatch 4/14 Oct. 1695; Post Man, 28–30 Apr. 1696.
  • 13. Bodl. Carte 79, f. 300; Add. 70014, Edward* to Sir Edward Harley*, 4 Mar. 1690; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 14, f. 269; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, Cary Gardiner to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 12 Mar. 1690; Bonet despatch 11/21 Mar. 1690.
  • 14. Letters of Lady Russell, 291–3; Add. 70015, f. 244.
  • 15. SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/40/5/30, Countess of Caithness to Mrs Campbell, 10 Nov. 1691; Add. 51319, ff. 101, 107; Fox-Strangways mss D124, box 236, bdle. 5, acct. of election expenses, Nov. 1691; bdle. 25, speeches of 12 Nov. 1691.
  • 16. Add. 70018, ff. 30, 91; 17677 PP, ff.3 87, 406–7, 410–11; 46525, f. 55; 51319, ff. 116–17; 70257, William Snowe to Robert Harley, 26 Sept. 1695; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 537; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletters 21 Sept., 3, 5, 19 Oct. 1695; BL, Althorp mss C10, Weymouth to Halifax (William Savile*), 21 Oct. 1695; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Montagu to Bedford, 8 Oct. 1695; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 8 Oct. 1695.
  • 17. Add. 17677 PP, ff. 406–7, 410–11; 70018, f. 96; Verney mss mic. 636/48, Elizabeth Adams to Verney, 29 Oct. 1695.
  • 18. Add. 30000 B, ff. 178, 180–1; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss, box 20, Yard to William Blathwayt*, 26 July 1698; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/49, 52, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 25 June, 2 July 1698; Post Man, 14–16, 16–19 July 1698; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 126, 135.
  • 19. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 365; Add. 17677 SS, ff. 326, 332; 30000 B, f. 178; Post Boy, 16–19 July 1698; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 135–7, 139–40, 142–3; Luttrell, iv. 405; Huntington Lib. HM 30659, newsletter 77 [c. July 1698].
  • 20. Cam. Misc. xxix. 368; Add. 70305, Westminster election case 1698; Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/122, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 20 Dec. 1698; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 430.
  • 21. Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/122–3, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 20, 22 Dec. 1698; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 368; Add. 40773, ff. 36–37; 70305, Westminster election case 1698; 30000 C, ff. 42–43; Cam. Misc. xxix. 368–9; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 130–1.
  • 22. Post Man, 24–26 Dec. 1700; Carte 228, ff. 341–3, 349; English Post, 23–25 Dec. 1700; info. from Prof. H. Horwitz; Add. 17677 WW, f. 124.
  • 23. English Post, 13–15 Oct. 1701; Glassey, 148–9; Add. 70501, f. 29; 28887, f. 386; 70075, newsletter 25 Nov. 1701; info. from Prof. Horwitz; Post Man, 13–15, 22–25 Nov., 2–4, 9–11 Dec. 1701; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 25 Nov. 1701.
  • 24. London Gazette, 16–19, 26–30 Mar. 1702; Post Man, 23–25 July 1702; Daily Courant, 24 July 1702; Trumbull Alphab. mss 50, Bateman to Trumbull, 24 July 1702; Add. 17677 YY, f. 178; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, folder 1, bdle. 5, newsletter 23 July 1702.
  • 25. London Gazette, 9–12, 16–19 Oct. 1704; Trumbull Add. mss 134, Bateman to Trumbull, 20 June 1703; Add. 17677 AAA, f. 286; Post Man, 10–12 May 1705; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 220.
  • 26. Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 347–8, 354; Newdigate newsletter 4 May 1708; Add. 17677 CCC, ff. 454–5; Luttrell, vi. 324; Daily Courant, 7 May 1708; Post Boy, 15–18 May 1708; Supplement, 14–17 May 1708; Post Man, 13–15 May 1708; British Mercury, 4–6 Oct. 1710.
  • 27. SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD205/34/4, John Pringle* to William Bennet*, 18 Dec. 1708; P.W.J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 118–19; Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 80–81; Add. 17677 DDD, f. 7; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 289.
  • 28. Add. 70421, newsletters 8, 18 Apr. 1710; Daily Courant, 17 Aug., 13 Sept. 1710; Wentworth Pprs. 137, 140, 143.
  • 29. Daily Courant, 19 Sept., 5 Oct. 1710; Bull. John Rylands Lib. 53, pp. 408–10; Add. 17677 DDD, f. 595; Wentworth Pprs. 145; Acct. of Test Offered to Consideration of Electors of Great Britain [1710]; Detection of Falsehood [1710]; Add. 70315, J. K. to Dr George Smalridge, 4 Oct. 1710; HMC Downshire, i. 903–4; Boyer, Pol. State, i. 15–18.
  • 30. Add. 70421, newsletter 7 Oct. 1710; London Life in 1710 eds. Quarrell and Mare, 146–8; Bull. John Rylands Lib. 397–427; British Mercury, 6–9 Oct. 1710; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/1/43, Lowther to William Gilpin, 7 Oct. 1710.
  • 31. London Rec. Soc. xxiii. 26, 169, 171; G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 257; London Gazette, 28 June-1 July, 22–24 July 1712, 11–14 Apr., 26–30 May 1713; Post Boy, 30 May-2 June, 15–18 Aug., 22–25 Aug. 1713; G. V. Bennett, Tory Crisis 1688–1730, pp. 168–70; Glassey, 221–2; Add. 17677 GGG, ff. 317–18.
  • 32. Westminster City Arch. Centre, WCB4, 24 Nov. 1713; HMC Downshire, i. 903–4; Add. 61161, f. 43.