Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|15 Feb. 1715||ADOLPHUS OUGHTON||687|
|SIR THOMAS SAMWELL||670|
|Sir Christopher Hales||541|
|Sir Fulwar Skipwith||539|
|3 Apr. 1722||SIR ADOLPHUS OUGHTON||106|
|Sir Fulwar Skipwith||5|
|Election declared void, 20 Nov. 1722|
|11 Dec. 1722||JOHN NEALE||953|
|SIR ADOLPHUS OUGHTON||951|
|Sir Fulwar Skipwith||871|
|24 Aug. 1727||SIR ADOLPHUS OUGHTON|
|14 May 1734||SIR ADOLPHUS OUGHTON||820|
|15 Feb. 1737||JOHN NEALE vice Oughton, deceased||900|
|Fulwar Craven||over 500|
|George Fitzroy, Earl of Euston||under 100|
|Election declared void, 22 Mar. 1737|
|12 Apr. 1737||GEORGE FITZROY, Earl of Euston|
|12 Apr. 1737||JOHN NEALE vice Bird, appointed to office|
|5 May 1741||GEORGE FITZROY, Earl of Euston||1299|
|29 June 1747||WILLIAM Stanhope, Visct. Petersham|
|28 Dec. 1747||SAMUEL GREATHEAD vice Petersham, chose to sit for Bury St. Edmunds||922|
The chief interest in Coventry was that of the corporation, which was dominated by the nonconformists,
a close and self-elected body, powerful from their position and the possession of magisterial authority, influential from the considerable revenues over which they exercise an irresponsible control, and from the distribution of extensive charities which they assume a right to dispense as a matter of personal patronage. Presiding over a commercial city, subject to the influence of no individual patron, it became the leading object of the corporation to secure to themselves the nomination of the Members of Parliament for this city. To the attainment of this object all the functions of the corporate authority have been rendered subordinate.
There was a strong Tory party among the freemen, but until 1741 the corporation managed to control the sheriffs, who were the returning officers. In a memorandum by a French government emissary in 1743 the Tory leaders are represented as stating that Coventry was one of the few large commercial cities under government control, and that there had been no proper counting of votes since the accession of the House of Hanover, as the Whigs would have been outnumbered three to one.1
In 1715 Sunderland, who was recorder of Coventry, put up Adolphus Oughton and Sir Thomas Samwell to oppose two Tories, Sir Christopher Hales and Sir Fulwar Skipwith, the previous Members. According to a local Tory,
the Whig magistrates used threats and violent methods, and several persons were taken to gaol until after the election for crying ‘Hales and Skipwith’. The sheriffs rejected 211 votes of Tories (said to be good) because they would have polled for Hales and Skipwith, and admitted 67, who had no right whatever, in order to make up the numbers in the books and return their men Oughton and Samwell, having no further freemen to poll unless they made them ... their party openly boasting that Parliament would justify their proceedings.2
Hales and Skipwith petitioned but the petition was not heard.
In 1722 Sunderland proposed Sir Robert Raymond to the corporation, who replied:
We are so sensible of the obligations we are under to your Lordship for the repeated favour you have conferred upon us and the constant protection you have honoured our city with, that we shall be always ready to express our gratitude to them by shewing our utmost deference for your commands ... At the same time ... we humbly beg leave to represent to your Lordship that before we had any notice of it, we had all unanimously engaged ourselves to our present representative Sir Adolphus Oughton from which engagement we cannot consistently either with honour or with gratitude recede, and indeed could we be induced to act so unworthily, it would not be very practicable for us to do it with success. That gentleman’s behaviour both in town and country having acquired him so fixed and established a personal interest as cannot be defeated. So that if Sir Robert will be pleased to do us the honour to represent us we desire it may be in conjunction with Sir Adolphus Oughton in which case we shall not doubt of carrying them both.3
In the end, warned that it might ‘occasion a splitting of the Whig interest and the loss of the election’, Sunderland decided ‘not to intermeddle with this affair’ and John Neale, a local Whig, stood with Oughton. The Tories, Skipwith and Fulwar Craven, a brother of Lord Craven, the leading Tory in the county, were also confident of victory.4 According to a Whig account of the election,
the Tories endeavoured to return their men using violence; sticks and clubs were provided from Warwick and elsewhere and whole horse loads of them were brought into Coventry before the election or taken to Coombe Abbey where many persons were armed ... On the last day, Lord Craven and his friends marched into the city at the head of 2000 men, horse and foot, with green twigs and leaves in their hats, armed, colours flying, drums beating and trumpets sounding. They began rioting, smashed many windows, stayed those who had no colours and cried ‘Down with the Rump! Down with the King’s Head [the Whig headquarters]! No Hanoverians! No seven years Parliament!’5
William Bromley reported, 6 Apr. 1722:
The election at Coventry began on Tuesday, when there were polled about one hundred for Sir [Adolphus] Oughton and [John] Neale, and six for Craven and Skipwith. There were about a thousand voters in the street, when, upon pretence of adjourning for an hour, the former, with the magistrates, carried away the sheriffs. They would not suffer any but their own creatures to come near them - not even their wives - kept them up all night, and would not let them go until they had forced them to make a return which was not signified to the freemen till all was over. The sheriffs were two poor scoundrels, but they durst not trust them. Oughton had brought all the freemen serving in the troops in Great Britain and Ireland and living in Chelsea Hospital to the election, and they appeared in their regimental clothes and swords.6
On 20 Nov. 1722 the House declared the election void owing to the ‘notorious and outrageous riots, tumults and seditions at the late election’. At the same time, in a resolution on the right of election, it gave the corporation the power of swearing in freemen. At the new election in December 1722, a Tory commented:
The corporation having the full power of swearing, they would admit but very few except those in their own interest; but so many deceived them, that Skipwith and Craven would have been chosen had they not acted every evil scheme that could be thought of.7
Oughton and Neale were returned. The power of the corporation was further strengthened in 1723 when they regained control of Sir Thomas White’s charity, one of the principal city charities, of which they had been deprived for defalcations in 1711. In 1727 the two corporation candidates were returned unopposed.
In 1734 Neale, who had voted for the excise bill, despite a petition from Coventry against it, was defeated by an anti-excise candidate, John Bird. After Oughton’s death in 1736 Neale was re-elected but on petition the seat was voided, and at the ensuing by-election taken by Lord Euston, whose father, the Duke of Grafton, had succeeded Sunderland as recorder. At the same time Neale came in on a vacancy caused by Bird’s acceptance of a place incompatible with a seat in the House ‘for the peace and quiet of the city of Coventry’.8
The corporation lost one of the returning officers in 1741, when William Grove, an influential local Tory, was returned with Lord Euston, defeating Neale.9 Grove was unopposed in 1747 with Lord Petersham, the son-in-law of the Duke of Grafton. On Petersham’s choosing to sit for another constituency, the corporation put up Samuel Greathead, a West Indian, on the recommendation of Lord Archer, who had lent £3,000 to them in 1734.10 He was opposed by Bird’s nephew, Robert Bird:
Never [wrote a local observer] did the gentlemen corporate shew themselves more assiduous than at this time, for they got a number of their friends in the mayor’s parlour, and built a pinfold round the booth seven or eight feet high and blocked up both ends of the women’s market, and when it was too late got fire-hooks and heated them hot and pulled down the pinfold. They then said it was a riot and closed the poll, declaring Mr. Samuel Greathead elected. On Mr. Bird demanding a scrutiny it was granted, but the corporation finding they were losing ground closed the proceedings.11
Greathead was returned. The 2nd Lord Egmont wrote in his electoral survey, c.1749-50, ‘Coventry - Lord Archer one, the town the other’.
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Report from the Commrs. on Coventry Corp. (1835); AEM & D Angl. 82, ff. 4-23.
- 2. T. W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 142-3.
- 3. 30 Nov. 1721, Sunderland (Blenheim) mss.
- 4. Chandos to Geo. Treby, 1 Dec. 1721, Chandos letter bks.; Stuart mss 65/16; HMC Portland, vii. 318.
- 5. Whitley, 146.
- 6. HMC 10th Rep. IV, 344.
- 7. Whitley, 149.
- 8. Letter from John Bird to Ld. Sydney Beauclerk concerning Mr. Bird’s election for the City of Coventry (1741).
- 9. Whitley, 154.
- 10. Ld. Archer to Pelham, 11 June 1753, Newcastle (Clumber) mss; Report from the Commrs. on Coventry Corp.
- 11. Whitley, 157.