Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in burgage holders

Number of voters:

about 250


15 May 1754Philip Honywood121
 William Lee121
 Fletcher Norton108
 Sir John Ramsden108
 Election declared void, 10 Feb. 1756 
4 Mar. 1756Philip Honywood 
 Fletcher Norton 
8 Apr. 1761Philip Honywood 
 John Stanwix 
20 Jan. 1767Charles Jenkinson vice Stanwix, deceased 
4 Dec. 1767Jenkinson re-elected after appointment to office 
21 Mar. 1768Philip Honywood 
 Charles Jenkinson 
1 Jan. 1773Fletcher Norton jun. vice Jenkinson, vacated his seat 
15 Oct. 1774Philip Honywood 
 George Johnstone 
18 Sept. 1780Philip Honywood 
 William Lowther 
8 Jan. 1781William Pitt vice Lowther, chose to sit for Carlisle 
5 Aug. 1782Pitt re-elected after appointment to office 
3 Jan. 1784Pitt re-elected after appointment to office 
9 Apr. 1784John Leveson Gower 
 Richard Penn 

Main Article

In 1725 Henry, 3rd Viscount Lonsdale, and Sackville, 7th Earl of Thanet, made an agreement for their joint lives whereby each was to nominate one Member, the mayor in turn, and the aldermen and councilmen pari passu; neither to buy burgages without notice to the other. On Lonsdale’s death in 1751 Mrs. Lowther, mother and guardian of Sir James Lowther, 5th Bt., renewed the agreement. But in 1752 the Thanet party filled up some vacancies in the corporation to the prejudice of the Lowther interest, and Mrs. Lowther retaliated by buying six burgages. On Thanet’s death in December 1753 his son offered to renew the agreement, but this was refused without a renewal of the status quo ante in the corporation; and both sides now started buying burgages.

Sir James Lowther had inherited 67 burgages, and Mrs. Lowther had bought 6; in the first three months of 1754 a further 21 were acquired, at a cost of £7,800. Thanet had succeeded to 41 burgages (but 28 of these, in the Castle park, were hitherto deemed not within the bounds of the parliamentary borough); he now purchased a further 65 at a cost of over £18,000. On 23 Mar. 1754 Thomas Carleton, who owned burgages at Appleby, wrote to Lowther about these purchases:1

2Every one must own his Lordship’s ill usage, for all his pretended friends have obliged him to buy burgages at most exorbitant prices, so his friends made the breach and make him pay for it.

Thanet later admitted to Lowther3that he had

been made a prey of by a parcel of designing avaricious scoundrels, who, whatever specious pretences they make to the contrary, have no other interest at heart than that of enriching themselves.

It seems clear that it was Thanet’s supporters in the corporation who precipitated the dispute, and that Thanet was obliged to defend them. Equally clear, it was the followers on both sides who profited.

At the general election Thanet’s candidates were Honywood and Lee, Lowther’s Norton and Ramsden. Not a single vote was split between the two sides, and the merits of the candidates had nothing to do with the voting: it was simply a contest between Lowther and Thanet; and Thanet won because the mayor (the returning officer) and the recorder were in his interest. The poll lasted 21 days. 132 votes were offered for Thanet’s side, of which 11 were rejected; 131 for that of Lowther, of which 23 were rejected. All Thanet’s 28 Castle park votes were admitted. Lowther’s belief that he had been cheated of his right by the mayor was probably correct.

Lowther petitioned against the return, and a major political battle developed. Henry Fox undertook to manage the petition, which, after many delays, was finally ordered to be heard on 20 Jan. 1756. By then Fox had become secretary of state; and the case was embarrassing to him, for both sides were Government supporters. Thanet, who considered his chances of success diminished by Fox’s new status, favoured a compromise, and proposed that the agreement of 1725 should be revived. Lowther refused; but offered to ‘divide the present election’, and to give Thanet £20,000 ‘for the purchase of the borough for the future’. This was followed by a counter proposal from Thanet to divide the borough during their joint lives.

On 12 Jan. 1756 Lord Bateman, who had pledged his support to Lowther, wrote to him about Thanet’s proposals:

These terms are so reasonable that I am afraid you will be very much hurt if you do not accept of them. I do assure you on my honour Lord Thanet’s friends think themselves as secure of carrying it in the House of Commons as you can, and I believe when known that you have refused terms that are so very reasonable the persons who are not absolutely engaged will think you are obstinate and depend too much on the support of some of your friends, and will be very apt to incline to the side that offers so reasonable a compromise.

Thanet gave a copy of his proposals to the King, who had taken an interest in the affair and had expressed the wish that a friendly settlement should be concluded. The King told Fox he thought Thanet’s proposals ‘very reasonable’, and ordered him to try to mediate between the two sides.4 On 18 Jan. Fox warned Lowther:

I have heard last night ... from good intelligence so much as makes it my duty to advise you to compromise this election for one and one this Parliament, and stop there. It is my belief that we shall lose it if we go on. ... The Tories, the Scotch, are so much against you, so many will stay away, and give what they unjustly call your obstinacy as a reason for it ... that I fear you risk too much by persevering. I am so unwilling to give this advice that nothing but that the thinking it might be deceiving you or letting you deceive yourself if I did not should make me venture at it.

Lowther expressed his willingness to negotiate a settlement of the present dispute, but would not yield his right to try for both seats in the future. While the Commons were considering the petition, proposals passed between the two sides; until Fox, exasperated by the delay, wrote to Lowther:5

You are losing ground during these delays which cannot be denied to proceed from our side not Lord Thanet’s. I must own I have not since the offer of £20,000 seen anything that looked like a real intention in you and your friends to compromize this matter. It is better to say then ‘We are determined to try it out in the House of Commons’, and go on. I own I think you much in the wrong if you do, because if you think the bare admission on the poll of the Castle votes gives an advantage, what will a determination against you in the House of Commons do? And do not, dear Sir James, flatter yourself; for indeed that is most likely to be the case. Lord Thanet’s desire to compromise does not proceed from his weakness in the House of Commons but from your superiority in the borough.

At last, on 9 Feb., the following agreement was signed:

That the present election be declared void. ...That the corporation be immediately put upon an exact equal footing.

That Lord Thanet and Sir James Lowther recommend the mayor alternately and that each fill up the vacancies on their own side in the corporation as they shall become void ...

That Lord Thanet and Sir James Lowther shall each recommend one for this and the next Parliament.

That the Castle park and hospital votes be upon the same footing as before the last election, and not in any future contest to receive any additional sanction from being admitted upon the last poll, or prejudice by the present election’s being declared void, or by this agreement.

And that the votes offered in Sir James Lowther’s interest at the last election and rejected by the mayor shall not receive any prejudice by such rejection.

The Duke of Grafton agreed to serve as an alderman in the corporation ‘as a common friend to both’; and on his death in 1757 Hardwicke accepted the office, with a view to preserving union ‘between two such good friends to his Majesty and his Government’; and on his death in 1764 was succeeded by Lord Northington.

In 1757 Thanet approached Lowther about making the agreement permanent, but Lowther would not agree; a similar approach at the time of the Westmorland by-election in 1759 was treated by Lowther with scant courtesy, and provoked Thanet to interfere against him in the county.

The election of 1761 was a formality; but on 21 May 1767 Lowther informed Thanet he now considered the agreement at an end. Thanet protested: the agreement did not end until the Parliament was dissolved; but Lowther took no notice, and in September 1767 an alderman in his interest was elected mayor. Obviously he intended to renew the fight; and having secured the mayor it was certain that he would at least carry the election. But when it became clear that there would be contests in Cumberland, Carlisle, and Westmorland, even Lowther felt it would be too much to add to their number. On 7 Mar. 1768, four days before Parliament was dissolved, a fresh agreement was signed dividing the borough ‘till the end of the Parliament after next’. Lowther, in return for giving up the advantage he had gained by securing the mayor, was compensated by a promise of Thanet’s neutrality in Westmorland.

In 1773 Lowther and Thanet extended this agreement for the duration of their joint lives. In 1780 the situation altered to Lowther’s disadvantage when Thanet purchased the burgages of Honywood and John Robinson. Thanet died in 1786, but the compromise was maintained until 1796.

Author: John Brooke


B. Bonsall, Sir Jas. Lowther and Cumb. and Westmld. Elections, 1754-75.

  • 1. Lowther mss.
  • 2. Lowther mss.
  • 3. 6 Sept. 1757, ibid.
  • 4. Fox to Lord Ravensworth, 14 Jan. 1756, ibid.
  • 5. Copy of Fox’s letter, docketed ‘February 1756’, ibid.