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:

about 18,0001

Number of voters:

4,910 in 1707; 7,995 in 1710


17 Feb. 1690THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] 
18 Nov. 1695THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] 
27 July 1698HENRY DAWNAY, Visct. Downe [I] 
 THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] 
 Sir John Kaye, Bt.2 
8 Jan. 1701THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] 
10 Dec. 1701ARTHUR INGRAM, Visct. Irwin [S] 
 THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] 
22 July 1702WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Mq. of Hartington 
23 May 1705WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Mq. of Hartington1331
 Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth8943
1 Jan. 1707THOMAS FAIRFAX, Ld. Fairfax [S] vice Kaye, deceased2503
 Henry Dawnay, Visct. Downe [I]24074
3 Dec. 1707HENRY DAWNAY, Visct. Downe [I] 
 CONYERS DARCY vice Hartington called to the Upper House, and Fairfax ineligible to sit as a peer of Scotland 
19 May 1708HENRY DAWNAY, Visct. Downe [I]4737
 Sir Arthur Kaye, Bt.3136
 Conyers Darcy3257
 Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth9585
18 Oct. 1710HENRY DAWNAY, Visct. Downe [I]6659
 Sir William Strickland, Bt.29196
2 Sept. 1713HENRY DAWNAY, Visct. Downe [I] 

Main Article

The largest English county, Yorkshire demonstrated over five contested elections that its political awareness was as keen in the late 17th and early 18th centuries as in the 1730s, 1770s and 1780s. The county grandees tended to be Whigs, with the exception of the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), who had led the northern rising at the Revolution and in 1690 was chief minister to William III and lord lieutenant of all three ridings. However, many of the gentry appeared to favour Toryism.7

At the general election of 1690 Lord Fairfax and Sir John Kaye, 2nd Bt., both of whom were considered to be Tories, joined interests and were returned unopposed. The following year, Carmarthen strengthened the Tory interest by dismissing some ‘Whiggishly inclined’ gentlemen from the militia. As Carmarthen’s influence waned from 1694 onwards, further changes were made in the lieutenancy, this time in the Whig interest, which led a local Whig to conclude that ‘the King will incline to Whiggish counsels’. However, such moves towards the Whigs did not appear to affect the 1695 county election: a correspondent of Robert Harley* pointed out that there would be no opposition to the outgoing MPs, who in the event, were returned unopposed once more.8

The consensus was broken in 1698 when Lord Downe, a Tory, stood. Fairfax moved first, telling his agent on the day of the dissolution to apply to the gentry for their votes. He had promised Kaye that he would not partner anyone, but during the poll he joined with Downe. Walter Calverley, a local squire who had previously supported Fairfax and Kaye, attempted to do so again, but when he arrived at York for the election on 27 July, with ‘a great resort of people’, the high sheriff, William Lowther II*, took a poll which continued only until the 30th, when Fairfax and Downe were declared elected. Kaye objected that he still had ‘a great number to come in’, though he did not petition Parliament. During the next two years the waning influence of Carmarthen (now Duke of Leeds) was seen in his replacement as lord lieutenant of the Yorkshire Ridings, to the advantage of the Whigs. The 2nd Earl of Burlington (Hon. Charles Boyle I*) was appointed lord lieutenant of the West Riding, Viscount Irwin of the North Riding, and the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) of the East, all of them Whigs. However, if these changes were expected to cause a swing to the Whigs at the next election, then the activities of some of the county gentry suggested otherwise. In the summer of 1699, at a county meeting at the York assizes, it was proposed that the Tories Fairfax and Kaye should be unopposed at the next election. A contemporary commented that there ‘was so small a number concerned in it that the gentry have reason to look against it as an affront to them all, and a great presumption in those that did it, so that if it be managed with application it may come to turn to my Lord Downe’s advantage’. At the same time it was reported that ‘they are taking subscriptions in Yorkshire for Lord Fairfax and Sir John Kaye to exclude Lord Downe’. Downe, however, announced that he would not stand, designing instead ‘for a country retirement’. In this he was yielding to the sense of the gentlemen of the county, most of whom wanted Kaye. At the election Fairfax and Kaye were returned unopposed.9

In August 1701 it was reported that Irwin intended to stand, owing to the fact that many Yorkshire gentry felt that Kaye was too ‘lukewarm’ for their liking. Irwin proceeded to canvass votes from the gentry, peers and the archbishop. Though he was a considerable landowner, Irwin’s family had not represented Yorkshire before. Some of the clergy objected to him as ‘having no religion’, but he received strong support from the Whig grandees to whom he had applied. Hartington undertook to make all the interest he could among his family’s tenants, as did the Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*). Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) endeavoured to secure support in his part of the county, though he found some pre-engaged to Kaye. Newcastle also actively supported Irwin, getting Robert Monckton* and William Jessop* to campaign on his behalf, while the Duke of Somerset ordered his servants and tenants to obey Irwin’s orders. Burlington was pleased to countenance one whose ‘character agrees so well with my principles, that I can never serve a fitter man to represent our county’ and one who would support ‘the true interest of England’. Lord Carlisle (Hon. Charles Howard*) and Downe also undertook to support Irwin. Lord Thanet (Hon. Thomas Tufton†), a Tory, declined, as did Lord Fauconberg, who replied that he never meddled in elections ‘but always let my tenants go as they please’. Fairfax had not declared as yet, to the concern of Ralph Thoresby, the Yorkshire antiquarian. Fairfax’s absence was also giving rise to an expectation that Kaye would be returned with Irwin. However, in November Fairfax at last began to apply to Newcastle and others for their support, saying he had not expected so sudden a dissolution. At the same time Kaye decided against standing, on the grounds of ill-health, writing to his son Arthur that, if he had stood, ‘it would have been a hard contest’. Although there was now no threat of a contest, a potential problem arose on 1 Dec. when it was reported that Fairfax had told several of his friends that he intended ‘to poll for precedency’ in the official return, though it was felt that the sheriff was a man ‘not to be troubled’ by Fairfax’s tactics, and knew ‘the quality and . . . may give precedency to whomsoever he will without a poll and not to be liable to a false return’. It appears that this was true, and in the official return Irwin was named ahead of Fairfax.10

On the death of King William in March 1702, preparations began for an election which by law would have to be held within six months. Tempers were running high over debates in the 1701–2 Parliament on the Yorkshire petition sponsored by Sir William Strickland, 3rd Bt., to which 5,000 Yorkshire Whigs subscribed, asking for a dissolution and condemning, in violent terms, the proceedings of the 1701 Parliament. Fearing a change of policy on the part of Queen Anne, Yorkshire Whigs met at their club in London and agreed to make an interest at once for Fairfax and Irwin, despite both men being associated with the Tories. The London Yorkshire Tory club then met, expressing concern that some gentlemen of the county should make an interest for the two lords without acquainting the rest of the gentlemen, and adopting Kaye to stand single. Irwin, however, fell ill and died on 21 June, only a month before the election, which left the Whigs hastily trying to find another candidate. At first they considered Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth*, who had the support of Burlington, Newcastle and Somerset. Fairfax, who was in deep financial trouble, had not come to Yorkshire nor agreed to stand as yet. Hartington was then invited to come to Yorkshire to stand in the room of Irwin. He was urged to act with haste and resolution as ‘such great pains’ were being taken by Kaye’s party, because many in the county wished to see the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†) out of the administration of affairs, and because he himself was not personally known to the voters. Hartington, who had the interest of ‘all the great lords’ in Yorkshire, was only prevailed on to stand after being assured that Wentworth would not be a candidate. In the end, Hartington carried the election only because Fairfax desisted in his favour. Thoresby, who travelled to York for the election, reported that ‘vast numbers’ came to vote, many in the hope that Fairfax would be prevailed upon to stand. Fairfax claimed he had arrived too late to make his application, ‘though people generally apprehend, if he had but appeared this morning, he would have been one’. There was ‘general discontent visible in the countenances and expressions of all persons’ over the fact that Fairfax had desisted in favour of Hartington.11

In May 1703, so as to be prepared in case of a sudden dissolution of Parliament, Wharton went to Yorkshire ‘to strengthen the brethren’. Soon afterwards, Wentworth, who drew his support from the West Riding, the most populous part of the county, began to travel around the county apparently canvassing. However, neither Hartington nor Kaye made a move. Some Yorkshire Whigs complained that the two knights ‘are never on one side in any trying case’ in Parliament, particularly objecting to Kaye’s support of the second occasional conformity bill. At the general election of 1705 Hartington and Wentworth joined against Kaye. Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt.*, wrote on 19 Feb.:

upon second thoughts it will be but good manners to obey the Duke of Somerset’s commands and give my Lord Hartington and Mr Wentworth my interest, being not engaged to any but my Lord Hartington and I must give two votes, so I may as well give Mr Wentworth one as any other, which will oblige the Duke.

At the poll, Kaye and Hartington were so far ahead that Wentworth gave up on the second day. Kaye’s triumph was short, for he died the following year. John Aislabie*, who in April 1706 had declared his intention to oppose Hartington at the next election, did not stand at the by-election. Wharton wrote to Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), asking him to see if Fairfax, who by now was considered to be a Whig, would be prepared to put up at the by-election. Newcastle, on the other hand, proposed Conyers Darcy, brother to the Earl of Holderness, and sought support for him from Somerset, who was not yet engaged. Sunderland told Newcastle that Fairfax was ‘extremely willing to do whatever his friends would have him’ but was disinclined to be ‘in a great deal of trouble and expense without some reasonable prospect of success’. This persuaded the Whigs to put up Fairfax instead of Darcy. John White* urged his friends ‘to appear for the Lord Fairfax, who I hear will have the lesser number of gentlemen but we hope the greater of the middle sort of freeholders’. Although Hartington did not accede to Sunderland’s request to go to Yorkshire to help Fairfax, the latter defeated Downe by ‘a great majority’. Later that year both seats fell vacant as Fairfax became ineligible as a peer of Scotland after the Union and as Hartington succeeded his father as Duke of Devonshire. At the ensuing by-election Downe and Conyers Darcy were unopposed.12

Early in 1708, with a general election due later in the year, Carlisle wrote that Downe’s friends did not ‘seem inclinable to join anybody to him, but look upon my lord as secure if they all stand singly’, and suggested that Darcy and Strickland stand jointly as the only way of defeating him. Sir Arthur Kaye, son of Sir John, came forward rather late in the day, while Wentworth also announced his candidature. With five candidates standing, this was the fiercest contest of the period, when over 9,000 voters came to York. The city was ‘crowded with vast multitudes’, people sleeping three to a bed in the inns. Thirty-eight freeholders were persuaded to travel 77 miles from Sedbergh to vote for Darcy, while Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle trekked over ‘29 of the longest and worst miles in Yorkshire’ to be polled. Sir John Bland, 4th Bt.*, wrote that when he left York after voting:

we were then for my Lord Downe 1,500 before Strickland and Sir Arthur Kaye was 450 before him, but I fear Sir Arthur will lose it and that the city votes will cast the scales, but ’tis a wonder how we fought it so hard as we did considering how late he declared and how indifferently he managed, but ’tis now plain in our power to bring in two for the county at any time, though they bribe to the tune of 20s. a man as they did now.

The West Riding mostly supported Kaye, but the East and North Ridings supported Strickland, the victorious Whig candidate. Kaye was said to have been defeated ‘through my Lord Downe’s folly and want of generosity’, as Kaye had given Downe ‘2,500 votes which he could have commanded singly for himself’, whereas Downe had ‘accepted of the odd votes of the Whigs’.13

By 1710 the political situation had changed dramatically. ‘This wretched ferment’, as the Whigs called the backlash which followed the trial of Dr Sacheverell, was to alter the focus of attention in the election of that year. As early as March John Stapylton* was pressing Kaye to stand. Initially Kaye did not seem keen. Stapylton pressed him to declare soon, as he believed that Downe could now be convinced to join interests privately, and that some who had voted for Strickland at the last election would now vote for Kaye. However, Kaye needed to overcome his ‘dubious irresolution’ in order to pre-empt Darcy from deciding to stand once again. In April Stapylton reported that Wentworth had declined standing, and that Darcy was certain not to come forward either, so that it was even more essential that Kaye declare. In the same month Downe wrote to Kaye in order to deny that his family had originated a popular report that Kaye and Darcy had joined interests, and instead Downe offered to unite with Kaye, though not publicly. By July Kaye appears to have decided to stand, at which time Strickland, whose prospects were undermined by the fall-out from the Sacheverell trial, noted that Downe and Kaye were canvassing votes together. During the summer the potential for a keenly contested election was heightened at the York sessions. Bishop Nicolson described the events to Bishop Wake:

Sir William Strickland managed the point so well at York that he got to be foreman of the grand jury himself, and carried an address in the Kentish phrase. To balance this, the sheriff and some gentlemen subscribed one in common form, and prevailed with several of the clergy to join with them. Some of the most eminent members of the cathedral church refused to give their hands, because of the paper’s declaring the ‘unlawfulness of resisting on any pretence whatever’.

A few weeks later Nicolson wrote again, explaining that the events at the sessions had caused a further rift:

[the] city magistrates and common council (in opposition to their lord mayor who had subscribed with Lord Downe, &c) set a counter address on foot; to which his annual lordship refused to put the common seal. This occasioned terrible heats; which were for the present suppressed (though far from being yet wholly over) by dropping of both papers.

When Parliament was finally dissolved, Downe and Kaye sent around a circular offering their services for the county and canvassing votes, while Kaye also appeared to send a form of circular to the leading Dissenters, emphasizing his loyalty to the Protestant succession and denying rumours that he was an enemy to Dissenters and in favour of the Pretender. Although at first either Hon. Henry Boyle* or Conyers Darcy was mentioned as likely to be joined with Strickland, in the end he stood alone. Leaving nothing to chance, Kaye’s agent canvassed the county. Thus, at Middleham, it was reported ‘all this town are Sacheverellians and value themselves mightily upon it’. Mr Thornton of Redmire ‘knows nothing of Sir Arthur but by the letter believes him a companion of Lord Downe and a good Churchman and will give him a vote (as all good Christians should do for Churchmen), but will give one for Darcy if he stands’. Roger Talbot of Wood End, on the other hand, told Kaye’s agent he ‘was come to the wrong place, for they were all Low Church men thereabouts and engaged for Strickland and he hoped for Mr Boyle’. The mayor of Ripon undertook to vote for Sir Arthur, but he had already promised the dean his second vote for Darcy, if he stood. Wharton came down in person to campaign ‘with new vigour’ against Kaye. At the poll, Downe and Kaye stood jointly, this time in opposition to Strickland. On the last day of the poll the dean of York

went at the head of a great body of clergy and gave their votes [for Downe and Kaye] . . . the schoolboys with a great number of other boys of the city appeared and paraded in the Castle Yard with Dr Sacheverell’s picture made into a flag and approached the bar, where the candidates were, crying ‘a Downe, a Kaye’ waving the same towards Sir William’s face, which seemed to give him a little uneasiness.

According to a Whig account, Strickland thereupon showed his contempt for the doctor by turning his backside towards his picture. Another report noted how that, during the polling, ‘most gave one vote for Sir William Strickland, and the other either for the Lord Downe or Sir Arthur Kaye; many others gave single votes for the first, who yet, by the joining of the other two, was vastly outdone’.14

In 1713 Downe and Kaye were returned unopposed. They appear to have developed a good relationship, for in December 1714 Downe looked to Kaye to help him secure his election in 1715, writing that ‘my dear friend you are safe, therefore you must take a little pains pour moi’. Unlike in 1710, Kaye now seemed to have the greater interest. The two were returned unopposed at the first two elections under the Hanoverians.15

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Quinn thesis, 299–301.
  • 2. Yorks. Diaries (Surtees Soc. lxxvii), 75-76.
  • 3. Post Man, 26–29 May 1705; Yorks. Diaries, 104; Quinn, 311–12.
  • 4. W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Vyner mss 5781, ‘contested elections’.
  • 5. Bodl. Willis 6, f. 163; Yorks. Diaries, 119; Post Man, 25–27 May 1708.
  • 6. Evening Post, 24–26 Oct. 1710; Quinn, 323.
  • 7. W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 66.
  • 8. Egerton 3337, f. 168; Stowe 746, f. 124; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 109; Thoresby Letters, 153; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95.
  • 9. Bodl. Fairfax mss 33, f. 85; Yorks. Diaries, 75–76; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss, D/Lons/L1/1/41, Leeds to Ld. Lonsdale (Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II*), 19 May 1699; BL, Althorp mss, Gervase Eyre* to Mq. of Halifax (William Savile†), 19 Aug. 1699, Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) to same, 28 Aug. 1699; Add. 30000 C, ff. 173–4; 70019, f. 312; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(1), pp. 17–18.
  • 10. Add. 40775, f. 67; 70501, f. 31; 24475, ff. 134; Glos. RO, Sharp mss 4/B39, Irwin to Abp. Sharp, 5 Sept. 1701; W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Temple Newsam mss, TN/C9/72, Sir Charles Hotham, 4th Bt.*, to Irwin, 28 Aug., TN/C9/48, John Ramsden* to same, 30 Aug., TN/C9/84, Francis Neville to same, Sept., TN/C9/83, William Evan to same, 3 Sept., TN/C9/87, Sir William Hustler* to same, 4 Sept., TN/C9/93, 114, Thomas Lumley to same, 8, 29 Sept., TN/C9/100, Daniel Lascelles* to same, 11 Sept., TN/C9/113, John Hutton to same, 28 Sept., TN/C9/134, Thompson to same, 13 Nov., TN/C9/143, Thomas Pulleine to same, 15 Nov., TN/C9/148, William Lowther II to same, 17 Nov., TN/C9/160, James Blythman to same, 1 Dec., TN/P010/4, Hartington to same, 31 Aug., Bolton to same, 6 Sept., [Wharton] to same, 21 Sept., [Newcastle] to same, 1 Oct., Fauconberg to same, 2 Nov., Somerset to same, 13 Nov., Burlington to same, 13 Nov., 1 Dec., Downe to same, 16 Nov. 1701; HMC Foljambe, 142; Speck, 37.
  • 11. HMC Foljambe, 142; Ranke, v. 289; Quinn, 305–9; Add. 70445, ff. 67, 72; 29584, f. 93; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, folder 1, bdle. 2, newsletter 19 Feb.; bdle. 5, newsletter 7 July 1702; Glos. RO, Newton mss D.1844/C10, Timothy Kiplin to Sir John Newton, 3rd Bt., 23 May 1702; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 110; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. Robert Revell to James Whildon, 3 Apr., William Grosvenor to same, 21 July 1702; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/E22, Newcastle to Somers (Sir John*), 4 July 1702; BL, Lothian mss, William Bromley II* to Thomas Coke*, 28 July 1702; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, no.38, Lady Russell to Lady Rutland, 30 June 1702, same to Earl of Rutland, 7 July 1702; HMC Rutland, ii. 172–3; Thoresby Diary, i. 373.
  • 12. Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Weymouth to James Grahme*, 1 May 1703; Quinn, 310–11, 312–13; Add. 10039, ff. 8, 57; Thoresby Letters, i. 436; Yorks. Diaries, 104; London Post, 30 May 1705; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss C9/31, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.* to James Stanhope*, 2 Apr. 1706; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 232, Strickland to Newcastle, 20 Aug. 1706, Pw2 37, Ld. Holderness to same, n.d.; Rutland mss, no. 64, Lady Russell to Rutland (John Manners†), 18 Aug. 1706; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 7 Jan. 1707; M.H. White, Mems. House of White of Wallingwells, 20.
  • 13. Quinn, 315–17; Speck, 7; Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. xxxv. 95; Bagot mss, Bland to Grahme, 25 May 1708; Yorks. Diaries, 119; Thoresby Diary, ii. 6; Bodl. Carte 130, ff. 225–6.
  • 14. Add. 24475, ff. 137–8; 22238, ff. 34, 37; 24612, ff. 13–16; 70421, newsletter 4 May 1710; 70278, Aislabie to Harley, 10 Oct. 1710; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 17, ff. 259, 265; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 48, 153–4, 159–60; Banks Letters 170460 (Lincoln Rec. Soc. Pub. xlv), 13; Speck, 24, 42; Thoresby Diary, 69.
  • 15. Add. 24475, f. 139.