Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 5,000


2 Feb. 1715Sir Thomas Cave 
 Sir Geoffrey Palmer 
 Thomas Bird 
 George Ashby 
 No return 
 George Ashby1630
 Thomas Bird1630
17 Dec. 1719LORD WILLIAM MANNERS vice Cave, deceased2691
 Francis Mundy2684
5 Feb. 1734AMBROSE PHILLIPPS vice Noel, deceased 
16 Feb. 1738HARRY GREY, Lord Grey, vice Phillipps, deceased 
20 Dec. 1739HENEAGE FINCH, Lord Guernsey, vice Grey, called to the Upper House 
7 May 1741EDWARD SMITH2722
 Waring Ashby1744
6 July 1747EDWARD SMITH 

Main Article

The chief interest in Leicestershire was in the country gentlemen, most of whom were Tory.1 The heads of the Whigs were the Duke of Rutland, Lord Sherard, later Earl of Harborough, and the Earl of Stamford. In 1715 the sitting Members, two Tory country gentlemen, Sir Thomas Cave and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, were opposed by a Whig, Thomas Bird, who was said to be

supplied with money from above, for to be sure he has it not of his own, his interest is the Duke of Rutland’s and Lord Sherard’s so they must support him.

Cave, in a letter to his brother-in-law, Ralph Verney, describes the contest with Bird, who had been joined by another Whig, George Ashby:

The week preceding the election Sir Geoffrey Palmer and I met [the] sheriff and our opponents at Leicester several times, to agree how many places to poll at, which we desired might be six, for the county’s ease and quicker despatch; but the sheriff would not comply and objected against all methods we two proposed, so at the last ... he would poll at but one place and ... make it last a fortnight ... Our parade was this. I set out from home with what I could collect in these utmost limits of the county, and before we came to my partner (within two miles of Leicester) we might possibly amount to near 600. He likewise there attended with another strong body of men, and the mayor and aldermen ... with kettle drums and trumpets met us, in which state we went to the castle ... To our great surprise after the sheriff cast up his books that night we surpassed our adversaries by 360.

On this the sheriff, ‘a rank Whig’, refused to make a return, pretending that there was a riot, though ‘there never was a more quiet election known’.

A fresh election was held two months later at whic

Ashby and Bird obstinately stood a poll of 3 days continually buying off our votes at three and a half crowns, £1 15s. 0d. and 5s. per vote ... We kept ourselves very quiet (though frequently provoked) and free from bribery ... Lord Keeper Wright [Sir Nathan Wright, formerly recorder of Leicester and grandfather of George Wrighte] heard we were in town and lest tricks should be played came to Leicester ... and stayed during the whole contest. He protests to spend his blood and estate before this country shall be nosed by any Duke in Christendom, and sure the Duke of Rutland and Harborough must think us very stubborn.2

Cave and Palmer were successful. On Cave’s death in 1719 Lord William Manners, a son of the Duke of Rutland, was opposed by a Tory, Francis Mundy, though

the gentlemen of the county in general, both Whig and Tory, last year agreed to make a compliment to my Lord Duke of choosing his son whenever a vacancy should happen.3

Returned by seven votes, Manners was re-elected unopposed with a Tory, Edmund Morris, in 1722. On this some Leicester bakers, brewers, and butchers presented a petition, complaining that the sheriff had refused their demand for a poll to enable them to vote for a third candidate, Thomas Wrigley, who in that event, it was claimed, would have been elected instead of Manners. A motion that the petition should be heard at the bar of the House was made but the House decided to refer it to the elections committee

in the usual course, for it appeared there was a compromise for the county and so no poll, and those people were angry at it, and petitioned because they had no money spent, and they alleged when they demanded to be polled that the sheriff bid them kiss his arse.4

The petition was shelved by the elections committee.

Manners shared the representation with Tories till 1734, when ‘to the great annoyance of his friends’ he declined to stand,5 leaving two Tories to be returned without a contest. At a by-election in 1738 the vacancy was filled by the Earl of Stamford’s son, Lord Grey, an opposition Whig, who on succeeding to the peerage next year was replaced by Lord Guernsey, a Tory.

In 1741 Sir Thomas Cave, son of the former Member, was asked to join with Edward Smith, another Tory, in opposition to Waring Ashby, son of the Whig candidate at the 1715 election. Cave objected to the expense, but agreed to stand on being assured that a county subscription would be raised to support him. When the Duke of Rutland tried to arrange a compromise between Cave and Ashby, Cave told the county meeting at Leicester that

if the gentlemen approved of a compromise, I desired I must be excused from standing jointly with an interest that formerly opposed my father so violently, and had occasioned him the expense of a very considerable sum.

Rutland then supported Ashby single, but Lord Harborough, being related to both Ashby and Cave and a near neighbour of Smith’s, decided to remain neutral. On the Tory side, Lord Huntingdon and Lord Gainsborough supported Smith and Cave. Cave, a martyr to the gout, being unable to ride the county with Smith, Wrightson Mundy deputised for him, taking ‘prodigious pains’ on his behalf. The two Tories were successful. At the general election of 1747, Cave, whose health had deteriorated, withdrew in favour of Mundy.6 The 2nd Lord Egmont in his electoral survey, c.1749-50, described Leicestershire as ‘totally in the Tories, the Duke of Rutland having lost his interest there’.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Stuart mss 65/16.
  • 2. Verney Letters of 18th Cent. i. 324-8, 332-3.
  • 3. Stair Annals, ii. 130-2.
  • 4. CJ, xx. 39; Knatchbull Diary, 24 Oct. 1722.
  • 5. HMC Hastings, iii. 19.
  • 6. City of Leicester Mus. Braye mss. 23D57/3025-79, 3126-7.