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 freemen

Number of voters:

about 60 in 1754, increasing to 250 by 1774


19 Apr. 1754Thomas Duncombe 
 Robert Ord 
29 Nov. 1755Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh vice Ord, appointed to office 
28 Mar. 1761Thomas Duncombe31
 John Stewart, Visct. Garlies26
 John Ord25
 Robert Mitford20
21 Mar. 1768Peter Beckford51
 Sir Matthew White Ridley29
 Francis Eyre26
13 Oct. 1774Francis Eyre162
 Peter Delmé150
 William Byron140
 Thomas Charles Bigge132
 Byron vice Eyre, on petition, 27 Jan. 1775 
16 July 1776Gilbert Elliot vice Byron, deceased 
20 Feb. 1777John William Egerton vice Elliot, vacated his seat 
11 Sept. 1780Peter Delmé 
 Anthony Morris Storer 
26 July 1781Storer re-elected after appointment to office 
5 Apr. 1784Peter Delmé 
 Sir James Erskine 
22 Feb. 1785Erskine re-elected after appointment to office 
14 Sept. 1789Francis Gregg vice Delmé, deceased 

Main Article

At Morpeth there were seven trade guilds, each of which had the right to elect a certain number of freemen. These were then admitted at the court leet of Lord Carlisle, who owned the manor. To an increasing extent during the eighteenth century the Carlisle family exercised control by restricting the number of freemen, and in 1747 the fourth Earl persuaded the guilds to pass a resolution that no freemen should be elected without his consent. But the Carlisle interest still needed careful management and goodwill, and during the minority of the fifth Earl, who as a boy of nine succeeded his father in 1758, opinion in the borough was alienated by the high-handed actions of his guardians. A legal brief drawn up after the election of 17611 relates that some of the family, having come to regard the borough as part of their private property,

treated the freemen de haut en bas and in such manner as they judged tyrannical and an insult upon their liberties, the whole corporation, and those who wished well to it were in uproar. ... To such a height had this political contest inflamed the minds of the freemen that any opponent of the family of Carlisle would have been received with open arms.

And at the general election of 1761 Lord Garlies was returned in opposition to the Carlisle interest. Though Garlies immediately abandoned his supporters, their numbers increased when the Carlisle agents began interfering with the ownership of common lands and later admitted at the court leet freemen not elected by their guilds. In 1764 a group calling themselves ‘the friends of liberty’ determined to reject the agreement of 1747 and secure the admission of genuinely elected freemen. They were advised to bring an action in King’s bench. In 1767 they persuaded Francis Eyre, a London attorney, to support the struggle and stand at the next general election. At Eyre’s expense they brought a successful action, but the court leet having already been held, the new freemen were sworn in at Newcastle in the steward’s house. This gave the pro-Carlisle returning officers an excuse to reject the votes of the new freemen and return the Carlisle candidates; and on the same grounds the return was confirmed by the House of Commons and Eyre’s petition rejected.

During the next few years, while both sides prepared to renew the struggle at the general election, the Carlisle agents by judicious bribery and coercion succeeded in winning over many of Eyre’s supporters among the freemen. The ‘friends of liberty’ received a final setback when certain guilds ran out of members eligible for election, and as the other companies continued to elect freemen, the balance was upset, thus casting doubts on the legality of their votes. In 1774 this provided a further pretext for the returning officers, who once more elected the Carlisle candidates, but were forced by a riotous mob of Eyre’s supporters to substitute his name. Eyre was, however, unseated on petition, and financial difficulties prevented him from continuing the struggle at Morpeth, where the Carlisle control remained virtually undisturbed during the remainder of this period.

Author: Mary M. Drummond


J. M. Fewster, ‘The Politics and Administration of the Borough of Morpeth in the later 18th Cent.’, Durham Univ. Ph.D. thesis.

  • 1. Quoted by Fewster, p. 81.