Launceston (Dunheved)

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 the resident freemen

Number of voters:

less than 30


19 Apr. 1754Sir George Lee 
 Humphry Morice 
19 May 1757Morice re-elected after appointment to office 
30 Dec. 1758Sir John St. Aubyn vice Lee, deceased15
 Peter Burrell14
 Burrell vice St. Aubyn, on petition, 21 Feb. 1759 
31 Mar. 1761Humphry Morice 
 Peter Burrell 
3 Jan. 1763Morice re-elected after appointment to office 
18 Mar. 1768Humphry Morice 
 William Amherst 
10 Oct. 1774Humphry Morice17
 John Buller12
 Richard Bull8
 John Arscott1
8 Sept. 1780James Cecil, Visct. Cranborne 
 Thomas Bowlby 
28 Nov. 1780Charles George Perceval vice Cranborne, called to the Upper House 
31 Jan. 1783Sir John Jervis vice Bowlby, vacated his seat 
3 Jan. 1784Perceval re-elected after appointment to office 
5 Apr. 1784Charles George Perceval 
 George Rose 
18 June 1788Sir John Edward Swinburne vice Rose, appointed to office 

Main Article

Thomas Jones, Lord Edgcumbe’s agent, wrote about Launceston in 1760:1

Mr. Morice’s interest seems at present the prevailing one in the borough for both Members. Sir John St. Aubyn hath many friends in the town but in appearance he declines being further concerned. The Duke of Bedford hath also some friends there. A junction of those gentlemen might give Mr. Morice’s interest a great shock, if not entirely overturn it.

Morice had inherited the parliamentary interest at Launceston from his cousin Sir William Morice, M.P. for Launceston from 1734 till his death in January 1750.

At the general election of 1754 the Duke of Bedford challenged Morice’s interest at the adjacent borough of Newport, but did not interfere at Launceston. In October 1758 Lord Tylney, a relative of Bedford, approached Morice about a seat in Parliament; and Morice asked in return that Tylney would try to dissuade Bedford from giving him any further opposition at Newport or Launceston.2 ‘I did venture to tell him’, wrote Tylney, ‘I wondered he would not make a compromise. His answer was: “That is really not in my power if it was ever so much my inclination, I should lose my interest entirely by doing so.”’ Bedford’s unpopularity may have been due to the methods of his agent, John Butcher, thus described by Samuel Martin to Henry Pelham in a report on Camelford, 8 Oct. 1753:3 ‘I found by many concurrent accounts that Mr. Butcher hath laid it down as one rule to promise whatever shall be asked of him; and as another rule, equally inviolable, not to fulfil any one promise he should make.’

When a vacancy arose at Launceston through Sir George Lee’s death in September 1758, Morice had to face the opposition of Sir John St. Aubyn. There was now manoeuvring on Morice’s part from which it is not easy to disentangle the truth. On 19 Dec. he wrote to Newcastle:4

As your Grace seemed unwilling that Lord Tylney should represent the borough of Launceston ... I entirely laid aside all thoughts of it, although by making choice of his Lordship I have a prospect of settling matters for the future between the Duke of Bedford and me.

He would try to carry Newcastle’s candidate, Dr. Simpson, but doubted success. And next, 28 Dec.:

I sent Lord Tylney to Launceston as I told your Grace I proposed to do; but the people there are so averse to him upon account of his being related to the Duke of Bedford and the connexion they imagine to be between them, that it is impossible to get him chose, so he was prevented going further than Exeter.

But as there was strong opposition, and Simpson was not to be put to ‘uncertain expense’, he returned Peter Burrell, assuring him that he was Newcastle’s choice. The election was lost by one vote and Burrell seated only on petition.

Borough patrons were apt to screen themselves behind their electors when it suited them. But even in constituencies which seemed completely under their sway, they had in fact to count with whatever voters there were. When in 1767 two men were condemned to death at the Bodmin summer assizes for wrecking, Humphry Morice interceded for them with Lord Shelburne, then secretary of state, stating that the people in his two boroughs, Launceston and Newport, wished the men to be saved. ‘I need not explain to your Lordship’, he added, ‘the situation one is in with voters of boroughs, just before a general election, and how apt they are to fancy one has not done one’s utmost if one fails of success in a point they have set their hearts upon.’5

The election of 1768 was, however, uncontested at Launceston. In 1774 John Buller jun. attacked Morice’s interest and carried one seat. (Morice seems to have felt uncertain of the result from the very outset—as a ‘hedge’ he and Richard Bull stood for both Launceston and Newport.) After this Morice, who for some time seems to have thought of parting with his boroughs, sold them to the Duke of Northumberland, whose nominees were returned unopposed in 1780 and 1784.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32907, ff. 361-2.
  • 2. Tylney to John Butcher, Bedford’s agent, 13 Oct. 1758, Bedford mss.
  • 3. Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 4. Add. 32886, ff. 397-9, 505.
  • 5. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1766-9, pp.