Double Member County

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

Number of voters:

about 20,000


1 May 1754Henry Pleydell Dawnay, Visct. Downe
 Sir Conyers Darcy
3 Jan. 1759Sir George Savile vice Darcy, deceased
9 Apr. 1761Sir George Savile
 Edwin Lascelles
29 Mar. 1768Sir George Savile
 Edwin Lascelles
19 Oct. 1774Sir George Savile
 Edwin Lascelles
27 Sept. 1780Sir George Savile
 Henry Duncombe
1 Jan. 1784Francis Ferrand Foljambe vice Savile, vacated his seat
7 Apr. 1784Henry Duncombe
 William Wilberforce

Main Article

Yorkshire was the largest constituency in Britain, and its size ensured its independence. Of the three Ridings the West was the most considerable, containing about half the number of voters in the county. The leading aristocratic interest, that of the Marquess of Rockingham, was located for the most part in the West Riding; but no one interest alone could return a Member for Yorkshire: it had to win the support of the independent country gentlemen and the woollen manufacturers of the West Riding, already by 1754 a powerful electoral force.

In the first half of the 18th century Thomas, 1st Marquess of Rockingham, had aspired to found a parliamentary interest in Yorkshire. He had been opposed by other aristocratic interests and had not succeeded in winning the confidence of the independents. At the general election of 1734 one of his candidates was defeated, and Rockingham had been accused of attempting to dictate to the county.1 He died in 1750, his ambition only partially fulfilled; and the task was taken up by his son Charles, the 2nd Marquess.

At the county meeting of July 1753, held to nominate candidates for the forthcoming general election, Rockingham made his first bid for the leadership of the county by trying to secure the nomination of his friend, Sir George Savile. Rockingham was then aged twenty-three, and this was the first general election since he had come of age. Of the sitting Members, Lord Downe was a protégé of the Pelhams; and Sir Conyers Darcy, who had first represented Yorkshire in Queen Anne’s reign, was the uncle of Lord Holdernesse, secretary of state. Both were of the North Riding. Rockingham, on the other hand, was lord lieutenant of the West Riding and Savile’s estates lay mainly in its manufacturing areas. ‘The East and West Ridings are offended’, wrote John Yorke to his brother Philip, 30 Aug. 1753,2 ‘that they who make so considerable a part of the county should have no representative of their own in Parliament.’

All three candidates, being Whigs, applied for the support of Administration. Henry Pelham was for the sitting Members, but Newcastle wrote to Lord Irwin, 3 July 1753:3

I have long lamented the appearance of disagreement ... between the greatest and most considerable friends to the King and his government in the first and most zealous county in England ... I love, honour, and esteem the three supposed candidates; and more deserving men there cannot be ... and I wish they could all be chose.

The King, ‘as anxious about it as about the election of a King of the Romans’, was ‘solicitous for peace and unanimity’;4 and it was the general opinion at court that this could only be preserved if Savile withdrew.

The meeting at York on 16 July 1753 was described by Holdernesse as ‘the most numerous that had ever been held on the like occasion’.5 Over 250 gentlemen attended; the peers present included Carlisle, Fauconberg, Huntingdon, Holdernesse, Irwin, Northumberland, Rockingham, and Scarbrough; and the manufacturing towns of Halifax and Sheffield sent delegations.6 The sitting Members were proposed by Sir Ralph Milbanke and Sir Robert Hildyard; Rockingham proposed Sir George Savile.

Rockingham began with the customary lament that the peace of the county should be disturbed.7 But he continued: ‘Since I came down I find from all parts of the county, and particularly from that populous part in my neighbourhood that unless Sir George Savile is one of the Members, there must be a contest.’ He hinted that Darcy was too old to represent the county, and could always find a seat at his borough of Richmond; and concluded with an appeal to Holdernesse: ‘A seasonable concession (if one would so call it) made to the obstinacy of friends in order to avoid a rupture, is more honourable and wiser than persevering when victory itself on either side is a thing to be feared.’ ‘Lord Rockingham I understood laboured hard for Sir George’, wrote Henry Pelham to Newcastle, 18 July,8 ‘and his friends think was a little indiscreet.’ The sense of the meeting was against Savile, who agreed to stand down. A so-called compromise was then concluded, by which Holdernesse promised to give his interest to Savile on the next vacancy.

Rockingham soon regretted having withdrawn. ‘We lost carrying our point only from our unhappy timidity’, he wrote to Savile, 18 July,9 ‘... We were all mistaken miserably in our calculations, and could we have that work forgot, you would be victorious and they routed.’ He was in a belligerent mood, quarrelled with Holdernesse about the advertisement to be inserted in the York newspaper, and was half inclined to bring Savile forward again. William Murray, Rockingham’s uncle, advised him not to make too much of this setback:10

I wished your conduct such that you might seem not to lead but to follow your friends, and especially to go to the meeting apparently open to conviction by the general sense of the country. ... The language I find in the country is that you fancy to give yourself the air of nominating.

But once having taken the lead, Rockingham should have persevered: the compromise ‘really is no compromise at all, as long as either Lord Downe or Sir Conyers have a mind to stand Sir George is not to come in’.11 Rockingham should bring in Savile for Higham Ferrers at the general election, ‘always understood that upon a vacancy for the county his seat is to be vacated ... It will mark him more particularly as your man when he comes in for the county.’ At all events he should bear his disappointment with temper:

The King has expressed great satisfaction at there being no bustle in Yorkshire, and would be much piqued at so wantonly raising the ferment again. ... Wait for the chapter of accidents, it will set things right again. If you lose your temper now you hazard your character and power hereafter.

It was good advice, and Rockingham accepted it. When Darcy died in December 1758, Savile was returned unopposed.

To follow, not to lead, the sense of the county, became Rockingham’s rule in Yorkshire; and he soon enjoyed an authority in the county never achieved by his father. His interest was firmly based on his alliance with the independent country gentlemen; Savile was their idol, and Savile’s friendship brought Rockingham their support. Rockingham remained in the background, and discreetly guided county opinion: he never forced the pace, and never urged it against its will. He was very proud of being a Yorkshireman, and the primacy in his own county was his first aim in politics.

Downe died in December 1760. It was agreed that as the general election was so near, no new writ should be issued; but canvassing began almost immediately. Savile’s seat was not in question; but for the other, two candidates came forward: Charles Turner from the North Riding; and Edwin Lascelles, from the West. Rockingham favoured Lascelles, but wrote to Newcastle, 8 Jan. 1761: ‘I think Lascelles has lost much time, and if I find that the case is not very clear I shall be very prudent.’ On 14 Jan. he wrote again:

It is difficult in the short time I have been in Yorkshire to make out a very clear state how affairs stand upon the present occasion, but I do believe that Lascelles will be very warmly supported and will carry it very clear. In the West Riding of Yorkshire his interest will almost amount to a unanimity. ... The sweep at Leeds will be great for Lascelles and indeed in all the trading towns. I am told that Mr. Turner has met with some success in the East Riding. In the North Riding the opinion still prevails that he will meet with many opponents.

At the county meeting on 19 Jan. Savile declared that ‘he was determined to join the candidate for whom he found that the major part of his friends and connexions inclined to’. He asked Lascelles and Turner to show him their lists of supporters. ‘Mr. Lascelles produced his list [but] Turner did not choose to show his ... and ... Savile, after some consideration, declared he joined Mr. Lascelles.’ When Turner’s father complained of Rockingham’s influence and said that his son stood on ‘independent principles’, Rockingham answered: ‘That men of such fortunes as either Lascelles or Charles Turner were surely independent, but that there was times when it would have appeared strange to hear a candidate recommended for his independency when there appeared in his favour a secretary of state [Holdernesse] and a master of the horse [Huntingdon].’

The event at York [he wrote to Newcastle] ... has given me great satisfaction. ... I have experienced by it that the friendship which many do me the honour to bear towards me in this county is proof against the clamour that was attempted to be raised personally against me, as desiring to dictate to the county, and which cry, though your Grace knows the principles and independency of Yorkshire gentlemen, did not affect the decision of any one person whom I ever reckoned my friend.

At the general election Savile and Lascelles were returned unopposed, and again in 1768.12

The Yorkshire petition of 1769 shows the way in which Rockingham handled the Yorkshire independents. The idea of a petition to Parliament against the seating of Luttrell first took rise in Surrey; and on 29 June 1769 Rockingham wrote to Burke: ‘I think I see plainly that there is a desire in this county that something should be done. ... I think that an address to the county Members would be the mode most approved.’ Burke wanted something stronger, and urged Rockingham to take the lead in promoting a petition.

Burke was an Irishman, with little understanding of the temper of English freeholders. Rockingham knew that Yorkshiremen could not be hustled, or made to serve as the instrument of a party at Westminster; and he would only hint his wishes, without taking an active part. On 11 July he wrote to Stephen Croft, one of his friends at York:13 ‘I almost foresee that the time is probably not far distant when the still aggravating conduct of this Administration ... may occasion the necessity ... of this county’s meeting and petitioning.’ At York races in August 1769 Rockingham refused to join in the demand for a county meeting without due notice being given. He wrote to Burke on 1 Sept.:

I told the persons who were eager that I thought the best use to make of the concourse of Yorkshire gentlemen at the races would be to try to find if there was a general inclination sufficient to authorise a number of gentlemen to apply to the high sheriff for a county meeting at some weeks hence; and that as to myself I would neither moderate their zeal nor foment it, and should leave the determination whether there should be a meeting or not according to their discretion. ... I would not give any handle in Yorkshire for Yorkshiremen to say that my politics had led them beyond their intentions, or that I had checked their well-founded ardour.

He wanted what was done at the meeting to be ‘the cool, prudent, firm, and dignified sense of the county’. ‘We hardly understand in the south’, replied Burke, 13 Sept., ‘the scruples with which you are affected more northwards.’ But Rockingham persisted in his attitude, and when the meeting was called would not attend. He wrote to Croft on 20 Sept.:

I have ... little ... notion of any opposition forming against the proceedings of the meeting. ... I think therefore my being at York is unnecessary, and it might even take off from the weight of the proceedings, as they might be attributed in some degree to personal friendship when in truth the genuine spirit of the county is the fundamental cause. I shall not at all events be above 40 miles from York, and I can easily be with you all if an army in ambush should be drawn out.

His presence was not needed. Almost 1,000 free-holders assembled at York, and the petition was voted with hardly any opposition.14

The Yorkshire petition of 1780 owed nothing in its origins to Rockingham: it was the work of ‘a few private country gentlemen of the North Riding, who were totally free from all party influence, and equally unconnected with the leaders of Administration and their opponents’.15 The initiative in summoning a county meeting was taken by the Rev. Christopher Wyvill, of an old Yorkshire family in the North Riding.

Rockingham welcomed the idea of a county meeting, yet was apprehensive about the contents of the proposed petition. On 12 Dec. 1779 he wrote to Croft:16

I earnestly wish that at a county meeting the objects of the petition were confined to stating the ruined situation of this once great country, to stating a reprobation of the measures by which it has been brought into such peril and weakness, to stating the propriety of inquiries into the causes, and stating the necessity and loudly calling for a reduction of the power and influence of the Crown.

I much wish speculative propositions might be avoided. Short parliaments, or more county members, or diffusing the right of voting to every individual, are at best but crude propositions whereof at best no man can well ascertain what the effects may be.

In short, he wished the petition to reinforce the line his party was taking in Parliament.

Rockingham attended the county meeting of 30 Dec. 1779. ‘Upon the whole’, he wrote to Lady Rockingham, 2 Jan. 1780, ‘I very well like what has been done. The meeting was exceedingly respectable and numerous, and those who are and who have ever been my friends in fact composed the great bulk of the meeting.’ About Wyvill he wrote:

He came to York with a plan of proceeding and a petition ready prepared, and from any part of which it was a matter of no small difficulty to get the least departure. He conceived that to give weight and efficacy to the proceedings it was necessary that nothing like party should appear to have pointed out the proceedings. My interference was wished to be kept out of sight.

Still, the petition would have more weight if it came unconnected with party; and Rockingham was pleased because, ‘for the sake of unanimity’, it did not condemn the American war. Neither did it contain any of those ‘speculative propositions’ which he had feared. It simply complained of the ‘growing burthens’ of the war, and requested Parliament to ‘inquire into and correct the gross abuses in the expenditure of public money’.17

A committee was appointed ‘for effectually promoting the object of the petition’, and thus the Yorkshire Association was born. Most of Rockingham’s chief supporters in the county were on the committee, yet Members of Parliament were excluded and an organization had been set up which could challenge Rockingham’s authority in the county. Nor could Rockingham control the Association. On 21 Jan. 1780 the committee agreed to propose to the county meeting that candidates for Parliament should obtain the Association’s support only if they promised to vote for shorter Parliaments and parliamentary reform. This was taking the lead out of Rockingham’s hands, and, too late, he tried to marshal his friends in the committee. To Pemberton Milnes, one of the leading Dissenters in the West Riding, he wrote on 28 Feb.:18

I think most seriously that if the county of York at their next proceedings adheres to the great objects of enforcing frugal expenditure, and striking at the root of corruption by reducing the ways and means of influence in the Crown, success will attend their endeavours; but if various speculations are gone into, even though they might be partly well founded in principles ... I am certain ... that a general confusion and disagreement will ensue.

And on 23 Mar., to the Rev. Henry Zouch:19 ‘I by no means presume to dictate, but I do earnestly wish that I may not be included as a tacit assenter to the propositions on which I have expressed doubts.’

At the county meeting on 28 Mar. the Association’s programme was unanimously adopted: it comprised bills to ‘correct profusion in the expenditure of public money’, to add 100 representatives to the counties, and to shorten the duration of Parliament ‘to a term not exceeding three years’. After Wyvill had introduced the programme, Savile spoke: he ‘did not particularly object’ to the increase of county Members and said triennial Parliaments ‘were the people’s right’, but ‘with these articles in it he could not sign the Association’. However, he made it quite clear that if they were the wish of his constituents he would support them in Parliament.20

Rockingham believed that the Association’s programme would frighten off many counties who had intended to petition, and disunite the Opposition. But many of his friends belonged to the Association and had adopted its policy; it had attracted the support of the Yorkshire independents; and Savile, though not a member, would not oppose it. Rockingham dared not force a break with the Association, but he did not want it to interfere in election affairs.

‘I can scarce guess what may happen in this county’, Rockingham wrote to Portland, 1 Sept. 1780, after having heard of the dissolution of Parliament.21 ‘The associating gentlemen are quite wild.’ He wanted to replace Lascelles, who had gone over to Administration on the outbreak of the American war, by a candidate favourable to the Opposition; but did not care to see one named by the Association. What steps he took, if any, are not known. On 8 Sept. he received a letter from Henry Duncombe offering himself a candidate, and immediately promised Duncombe his interest. ‘Duncombe has acted very well’, wrote Rockingham to his wife that evening, ‘and you know has long been a favourite with me.’ He was a leading member of the Association, and his adoption as joint candidate with Savile brought the Association and Rockingham into line. Over £12,000 was subscribed to an election fund in support of Duncombe and Savile, and Lascelles, after consulting his friends, withdrew.22

Rockingham’s death in July 1782 broke the alliance between Wentworth Woodhouse and the Yorkshire independents. Lord Fitzwilliam, who succeeded to Rockingham’s estates, tried to assume his position in the county; but lacked his prestige and esteem—Rockingham had been greatly respected in Yorkshire, while Fitzwilliam was almost a stranger. The Association, deprived of Rockingham’s moderating influence, began to move in a direction which made a breach with Fitzwilliam almost inevitable. At the county meeting of 19 Dec. 1782 a petition was adopted calling for parliamentary reform. This the Association clarified to mean the abolition of at least 50 rotten boroughs, the addition of 100 knights of the shire, the repeal of the Septennial Act, the admission of copyholders to vote at county elections, and a reformation of Scottish representation—a much more radical programme than any hitherto put forward.23

The retirement of Savile in November 1783 was a great blow to the Wentworth Woodhouse interest. The leadership of the county was thrown open, and the Yorkshire Association was only too ready to step into the gap.

In place of Savile, Fitzwilliam suggested F. F. Foljambe. Foljambe was hardly of the stature of a county Member, but two facts recommended him to Fitzwilliam: he had married Savile’s niece, and he was a member of the Association. About his candidature, Fitzwilliam wrote to Portland, 25 Nov. 1783:24 ‘I certainly should not have the smallest objection to making the proposal to Foljambe, had not the awkward circumstance of a strong suspicion of his intriguing with Wyvill rendered it desirable if it can be well managed that the request should come from him.’ ‘I find Foljambe is no great favourite’, wrote Perry Wentworth, one of Rockingham’s closest associates, to Fitzwilliam, 16 Dec.;25 but the support of Savile and Fitzwilliam and the countenance of the Yorkshire Association ensured him an unopposed election.

In January 1784 Wyvill came out strongly in support of Pitt; and Fitzwilliam, who had been closely connected with the Coalition, took up the challenge. A county meeting was called for 25 Mar., and it was known that Wyvill wished to procure an address in support of Pitt. Meanwhile similar addresses were sent from the manufacturing towns of the West Riding, where Savile’s interest had been predominant. Fitzwilliam’s agents were despondent. ‘People ... have no idea’, wrote John Carr, 11 Mar., ‘but that Mr. Fox wants to get the better of the King and be the Lord Protector, and therefore he and all his abettors ought to be opposed.’ And F. Wood, 18 Mar.: ‘The trading part of the county are almost unanimous for the present minister, and ... against taking from the King what they look upon to be necessary in him for the preservation of the true constitution.’

The address proposed at York on 25 Mar. condemned Fox’s East India bill and justified the dismissal of the Coalition as ‘a just exertion of your Majesty’s prerogative’.26 The debate which followed stated the issues over which the forthcoming general election would be fought. Most of the Yorkshire M.P.s and politically important peers took part, including Fitzwilliam, Duncombe, W. S. Stanhope, Lord Carlisle, Lord Surrey, Wilberforce, and Lord John Cavendish. The struggle between the Association and the Wentworth Woodhouse interest was merged into that between the supporters of Pitt and those of Fox. Lord Fauconberg, who had hitherto denied the claim of the Association to represent the freeholders of Yorkshire,

spoke with great warmth in favour of the Address, [and] arraigned aristocracy in opposition. Who, said his Lordship, is the original, the head of it? CHARLES FOX. Did I think to see an oriental aristocracy removed from Brooks’s to the Castle Yard of York! Whether is George III or Charles Fox to reign? ... God forbid the patronage of India should go to the Crown, but shall it go to Charles Fox? Is he a man of such virtue?

The address was carried, and was followed by a secession from the Association of over thirty of Fitzwilliam’s friends. Fitzwilliam proposed privately to Wyvill that there should be a compromise for the general election, but this was refused; and the supporters of Pitt set up Duncombe and Wilberforce. Foljambe and Weddell were the Fitzwilliam and Foxite candidates.

Over £18,000 was subscribed towards an election fund for Duncombe and Wilberforce, who were requested to subscribe nothing. The organization set up by the Association for petitioning was now used at an election: in each wapentake a committee was appointed to conduct the canvass, with an attorney to advise on legal questions. Fitzwilliam had no such organization, nor could one be easily improvised. Moreover, in the event of a contest, he would have to shoulder the major part of the expenses incurred by the Foxite candidates. Lastly, neither Weddell nor Foljambe were of the same stature in the county as Duncombe and Wilberforce. The canvass undertaken on behalf of Duncombe and Wilberforce gave them over 11,000 votes against only 2,500 to their opponents; and on the evening before the poll was due to begin, Weddell and Foljambe declined.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. On the 1st Mq. of Rockingham in Yorks. politics, see articles by C. Collyer: ‘The Yorkshire Election of 1734’ (Proc. Leeds Philosophical Soc. 1952); ‘The Yorkshire Election of 1741’ (ibid. 1953); Yorks. and the Forty-Five’ (Yorks. Arch. Jnl. 1952); ‘The Rockinghams and Yorkshire Politics, 1742-1761’ (Thoresby Soc. Misc. 1954).
  • 2. Add. 35374, f. 99.
  • 3. Add. 32732, ff. 158-9.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam to Lady Fitzwilliam, 17 July 1753, Fitzwilliam mss, Northants. RO.
  • 5. Add. 32732, f. 280.
  • 6. A broadsheet was printed giving the names of those present.
  • 7. There are two drafts of this speech in the Rockingham mss.
  • 8. Add. 32732, ff. 301-4.
  • 9. Rockingham mss.
  • 10. Murray to Rockingham, 24 July 1753, ibid.
  • 11. Murray to Rockingham, 2 Aug. 1753.
  • 12. Add. 32917, ff. 187-8, 313-14, 449-50; 32918, f. 47.
  • 13. Rockingham mss.
  • 14. Collyer, ‘The Rockingham Connexion and Country Opinion in the early years of Geo. III’, Proc. Leeds Philosophical Soc. 1955.
  • 15. Wyvill’s speech at the county meeting, 30 Dec. 1779, Wyvill, Political Pprs. i. 9-10.
  • 16. Rockingham mss.
  • 17. Wyvill, i. 7-9.
  • 18. Rockingham Mems. ii. 399-400.
  • 19. HMC 13th Rep. VII, 138.
  • 20. Wyvill, i. 147, 153-5.
  • 21. Portland mss.
  • 22. I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 1780-2, pp. 114-15, 121-4.
  • 23. Wyvill, ii. 38-71.
  • 24. Portland mss.
  • 25. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 26. Wyvill, ii. 325-55.