Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 1,700


28 June 1790PETER LUDLOW, Earl Ludlow [I] 
 JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 
15 May 1792 LANCELOT BROWN vice Hinchingbrooke, called to the Upper House 
3 June 1794 GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke, vice Brown, vacated his seat 
 GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 
10 July 1802GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 
5 Nov. 1806GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 
 JOHN PROBY, Lord Proby 
13 May 1807GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke751
 John Proby, Lord Proby458
13 Oct. 1812GEORGE JOHN MONTAGU, Visct. Hinchingbrooke 
22 June 1814 JOHN PROBY, Visct. Proby, vice Hinchingbrooke, called to the Upper House 
 William Wells466

Main Article

The uneasy coalition by which the Montagus of Hinchingbrooke, earls of Sandwich, and the Montagus of Kimbolton, dukes of Manchester, shared the representation of the county derived its force from mutual fear of the expense of a contested election rather than from cordial agreement. Their principal challenger, John Joshua Proby*, Lord Carysfort, seated at Elton, who had aspired to the county in 1774, his father having represented it on the Sandwich interest, renewed his ambition in September 1787. He informed his brother-in-law Lord Buckingham that he hoped to secure government support and with it Sandwich’s, being confident that the ducal Member Lord Ludlow, a Portland Whig, would consequently ‘go to the wall’, since Sandwich’s heir Viscount Hinchingbrooke, the other Member, hated Ludlow and would probably be glad of an excuse to join Carysfort. At the same time, however, Carysfort made it clear that he was anxious to be in Parliament as soon as possible and was prepared to buy a seat; and on 1 Sept. 1788 the Marquess of Exeter informed his friend Sandwich that he need not worry about Carysfort’s pretensions, as he had accepted Exeter’s offer to come in for his borough of Stamford ‘on the first vacancy’.1 But Carysfort did not give up: on the death of the Duke of Manchester next day, he applied to Pitt for the lord lieutenancy, Manchester’s heir being a minor,2 and at the same time he began to canvass the county, alleging boldly that as Hinchingbrooke took the same line in politics as himself, their interests would be mutual; a handbill issued on his behalf even implied that he had the Manchester interest.3

Sandwich who, unlike his heir, espoused opposition politics at this time, was nevertheless indignant that Carysfort should aspire to the lieutenancy, which he wished for, and he was confident that it would be of no help to Carysfort at a county election: the fact was that nearly all local government employees owed their places to him. He admitted that the death of the duke was a blow to Ludlow and that all now depended on the attitude of the dowager duchess. The duchess professed neutrality at this stage, but Ludlow entered the field, hoping to secure the Kimbolton votes. Sandwich told his son to inform ministers that if he secured the lieutenancy, he would not support Ludlow, who was not a friend of government, but would be impartial between Ludlow and Carysfort: he believed that Ludlow would in fact give up the fight, but he would not allow his friends to split their votes, in case Hinchingbrooke chose an ally at the end of his canvass, such as John Heathcote I* of Conington or William Henry Fellowes* of Ramsey.4

Carysfort was disappointed; on 29 Sept. 1788 he wrote to Pitt that the bishop of Lincoln’s suggestion of working on Sandwich by holding out the lieutenancy in return for his support (was this the original intention?) had misfired, as Sandwich, whatever his friends might say to the contrary, clung to the Manchester interest ‘which is certainly declared in favour both of Lord Ludlow and Lord Hinchingbrooke’. He therefore renewed his application for the lieutenancy and government support, seeking to obtain the second votes of government employees indebted to Sandwich and claiming to have the support of Sir Robert Bernard of Brampton, a former county Member, whose interest was ‘one of the best’. Carysfort got nowhere, despite a plea from Lord Buckingham to Pitt to promote the return of two friends of government: in May 1789 Ludlow got the Duke of Portland to appeal to Sandwich to discourage the opposition to his friend and in October 1789 the Montagu coalition was renewed.5 Carysfort gave up and was appeased with an Irish earldom, a borough seat in February 1790 and another, on Lord Exeter’s nomination, for Stamford, at the general election.

When Sandwich died in 1792, his protégé Lancelot Brown came in as a stopgap until young Hinchingbrooke was of age in 1794, which, according to Earl Spencer, amounted to treating the county like a borough. In 1794, Francis, Duke of Bedford, who acted as manager of the Manchester interest during the minority of the 6th Duke, apparently contemplated putting up his brother Lord John Russell I*, but thought better of it, concluding that his political differences with the duke’s family should not be allowed to disturb the Montagu coalition in the county. Carysfort did not oppose either, being satisfied with the security of Exeter’s support for him at Stamford and urged by the latter not to interfere. In 1796 Ludlow made way for the Duke of Manchester’s younger brother and again Carysfort acquiesced. He informed Sandwich, however, that, though his opposition had been ‘the most passive imaginable’, he wished to protest against ‘a system which has no object but the absolute exclusion of every other family, and mine in particular, from the representation of the county for ever’. He hoped that there would at least be a nomination meeting, and reserved his heir Lord Proby’s future right to the support of those gentlemen ‘who have not addicted themselves to the exclusive system of which I complain’. Sandwich’s friend, Lord Cornwallis, took quite a different view, writing to Pitt, 10 Oct. 1797: ‘Lord Sandwich has by far the best interest in Huntingdonshire, and he behaved very handsomely at the last election by sacrificing one of the seats for the borough to secure Lord F. Montagu’. From this it appears that William Henry Fellowes of Ramsey, whom Sandwich brought in for the borough, had looked to the county; and he could have referred to a pledge made to his father in 1774 for Sandwich’s support. In 1800 an alarmist letter from Cornwallis to Dundas alleged, ‘My old friend Lord Sandwich thinks that Mr Pitt wishes to ruin his interest in Huntingdonshire, which he does not feel that he has deserved’. The pretext was that Lancelot Brown had long been demanding an ecclesiastical living for his brother and would, if disappointed, ‘undoubtedly endeavour to stir up an opposition in Huntingdonshire at the next general election’.6 This particular threat was averted, if it was ever serious; but there was another in 1802. The Times reported, 1 June:

The county of Huntingdon is threatened to be contested at the general election. Mr Sparrow, heir to Sir Robert Bernard’s estates, is joined by Mr Fellowes, in overturning Lord Frederick Montagu’s interest. It is said Lord Carysfort’s influence goes with Mr Sparrow.

This was ominous, though no contest materialized. ‘Mr Sparrow’ was Robert Bernard Sparrow.

The Montagu coalition was broken in 1806, when Lord Frederick Montagu retired on grounds of ill health. The Manchester interest was now engaged to William Henry Fellowes, previously kept at bay, who had continued to sit for the borough since 1796 on the Sandwich interest. To his disappointment, Sandwich, on whose backing he had counted, supported the pretensions of Carysfort’s son, Lord Proby, who through his family connexion with Lord Grenville, had the support of the ministry, as well as that of Earl Fitzwilliam, to whom Carysfort could offer his interest in county Wicklow in reciprocity. Fellowes was not happy with the consolation of a seat for the borough on condition of pledged support to government, but did not pursue his candidature.7 The situation was reversed in 1807. Despite Proby’s continued absence on active service, he was credited by his father, in a grandiose address, with the outgoing ministers’ views on the Catholic question and Sandwich dropped him in favour of Fellowes. Moreover, Fellowes canvassed jointly with Hinchingbrooke (they shared 627 votes out of 1,094 cast) and Proby was largely dependent on plumpers (295 of them). One of his friends, Lord Hardwicke, was obliged to support Fellowes in exchange for past support in Cambridgeshire. Consequently, after three days, Proby was heavily defeated. Expenses of over £4,575 were shared by Sandwich and Fellowes.8 Carysfort had written to Fitzwilliam, whose support he could rely on, 27 Apr. 1807:

I have much reason to think that Mr Fellowes will be brought forward with all the support of government and that everything has been arranged with Lord Sandwich. In that case, I shall certainly be beat, but I mean to put the best countenance upon it.9

He had thought of declining next day, but went on with the contest and spent between £4,000 and £5,000.10

In 1811, in the aftermath of the Cambridgeshire by-election, a fresh source of opposition to the Montagu coalition arose: George William Leeds of Croxton, Cambridgeshire, issued an address in August on behalf of the ‘great body of interest’ which he claimed was ‘unconnected with the ruling powers’. He announced the formation of an independent freeholders’ association, to counteract the present system, which did not permit of public meetings. Leeds denied any disrespect to the old families, or any intention to secure a monopoly, but wished to preserve the purity of county representation against ‘a combination of the two branches of the house of Montagu’ which had reigned since the defeat of Sir Robert Bernard in 1769. His plan for association excluded party politics and provided for a subscription to cover candidates’ expenses and an open committee to run the campaign. This movement perturbed the Whig grandees: Lord Grenville was in favour of it, but was reminded by the bishop of Lincoln that Leeds did not live in the county and that most of his property was in Cambridgeshire: ‘I should have thought Lord Proby a much more likely person to succeed, but Lord Carysfort seems to have a great objection to his standing’. Carysfort’s view was that as a peer he could not set his name to the association, but his sons subscribed and he had no thought of pressing Lord Proby, once Leeds addressed the county. The Duke of Devonshire and Lord Fitzwilliam also supported Leeds. The Duke of Bedford, on the other hand, wished Leeds had stuck to Cambridgeshire, since he felt obliged from his close connexion with the Duke of Manchester to adhere to the Montagu coalition, even at the risk of losing Leeds’s interest in Bedfordshire. He informed Samuel Whitbread, who was active on behalf of Leeds, that he did not agree ‘that party or political considerations should entirely supersede all feelings of private friendship, or family connexions in election politics’. Leeds was, in any case, reluctant to alienate the duke by activating his Bedfordshire friends against the duke’s interest there; and the best he could secure was the duke’s neutrality. His canvass in October 1811 revealed favourable response among the lesser gentry and yeomanry, especially the dissenters, but he feared the expense of a contest against Hinchingbrooke and Fellowes, though he was prepared to spend up to £3,000 if he thought he stood a chance. His friends of the association urged him to stand in any case, promising to pay his expenses, but Leeds declined on the eve of the election.11

In May 1814, when Sandwich was expected to die, opposition to the Montagu coalition came from another quarter: Lord Aboyne, who on 19 July 1812 had written to Lord Liverpool boasting of his influence in the county and protesting that ‘Lord Sandwich and the Montagu interest assume more than their property entitles them to’, applied to the minister for support for his son Lord Strathaven’s pretensions, though the latter was abroad at the time. Liverpool replied that he was in favour, but Aboyne must secure the Manchester interest; he apprehended no opposition from Carysfort. Aboyne found the Manchester interest elusive, the duke and his brother being abroad and the dowager Duchess unwilling to commit it. He gave up the attempt when Carysfort, after making sure that Lord Frederick Montagu was not interested, decided to sponsor Proby’s candidature after all and was able to rely on Sandwich’s concurrence in preventing a new family from being introduced into the representation of the county while his own heir was a minor.12

Proby and his father subsequently became estranged and the former’s incipient insanity became public knowledge. Carysfort’s son-in-law Capt. William Wells now acted as a mediator between his father-in-law and those Whigs of the association of 1811 who were anxious to preserve the footing they had gained: in September 1816, Wells informed them that Proby ‘would never be able to stand again’, and that neither he nor Carysfort could afford a contest. He did not think Sandwich would like one either and suggested that the Whigs find a candidate acceptable to Sandwich, such as John Heathcote II* of Conington, thereby forestalling any attempt by Aboyne to gain Sandwich’s support. It was feared, however, that Sandwich, who ‘certainly was not pleased at Lord Strathaven coming forward before’, might have received ‘a ministerial hint’ to favour his pretensions. Heathcote was sounded, but feared the expense of a contest, especially when he might be ousted in a few years by Lord Mandeville, the Duke of Manchester’s heir. Other country gentlemen were approached, namely John Rooper of Abbot’s Ripton, Lawrence Reynolds of Paxton Hall and Henry Poynter Standly of Paxton Place, but were too timid to offer themselves. Lord John Russell II* was suggested in January 1818, by which time Carysfort had given up all hope of Proby’s recovery and was urging the promotion of a substitute; but the Duke of Bedford, after forewarning Earl Fitzwilliam, informed Lord Frederick Montagu that, differing as they did in politics, he would not disturb the established interest. At the same time it became clear that Aboyne would not offer his son, and after one Cockerell had made a show of offering as a friend of government, Lord Liverpool clinched matters by inducing a reluctant Lord Frederick Montagu to come out of retirement and keep the seat warm for his nephew.13

Lord Frederick’s candidature dished the Whigs, demoralized as they had been by ‘the apostasy of Leeds and inertness of Lord Proby’ and now by the lack of an obvious candidate. William Wells was again approached and again refused and, on renewed applications to Rooper, Standly, Reynolds and Heathcote, only Reynolds showed any disposition to come forward: such, complained one staunch Whig, was ‘the inertness and timidity of our country gentlemen’.14 It was hoped that the death of Sandwich abroad in May 1818 would enable them to ‘take courage’, but while the wisdom of bringing forward Charles Compton Cavendish* was being debated—and doubted—the initiative passed into other hands: Samuel Wells, radical attorney of Huntingdon, advertised in the county Gazette the candidature of Capt. William Wells (no relation of his). Samuel Wells was regarded with distaste by the resident gentry and Lawrence Reynolds, writing to Lord Milton, 7 June, thought it better to abstain from intervention this time and disavow Wells, rather than start a candidate who would need Samuel Wells’s assistance. He reported a disposition among his fellow Whig gentry (such as Sir James Duberley) to ‘preserve the quiet of the county’. Milton disagreed: ‘If a Member is to be carried against the Montagus, he must ride on the shoulders of the yeomanry’. Moreover, Fitzwilliam was prepared to provide William Wells with £2,000: but Carysfort reported that his family were against his standing and that he himself could not recommend him to stand, ‘till he has a better income’. When Lord Frederick Montagu and Fellowes, who had joined forces, inquired of William Wells whether he had authorized Samuel Wells’s advertisement, he denied it, but ‘in no way precluding himself from availing of any favourable circumstance’. Samuel Wells then appealed to Milton, whom he clearly regarded as the efficient leader of the Whig gentry and who had written him a ‘dissuasive letter’, for support for his namesake, insisting that ‘the middling class of the freeholders’ were behind him and revealing a marked animus towards Fellowes.15

Lord Milton’s friends advised him to endorse Samuel Wells’s initiative, as there was a chance that Lord Frederick Montagu might withdraw: William Wells could always give up on a show of hands against him, if it came to a contest. An attempt to get John Bonfoy Rooper of Woodbury to join William Wells as candidate failed, because Rooper’s father would not risk the expense. As it was, Fellowes, indignant at demonstrations of hostility towards him among the lesser freeholders, demanded a poll and the onus of expenditure fell on him. William Wells, in his absence, was defeated after a four-day poll in which he obtained 322 plumpers, but Samuel Wells boasted ‘The spell is broken’ and refused to let the Whig grandees pay his modest expenses. The yeomanry had offered to subscribe for Wells.16 The Whigs recommenced the quest for ‘an efficient candidate’. Some of them, including Carysfort, believed that, had they presented a united front and not allowed Samuel Wells to take over, they might have come to a compromise with Fellowes on the county representation and averted the junction against them; and they were concerned to regain respectable support lost in 1818.17 The candidature of Lord John Russell in 1820 proved to be the solution: he was a candidate the country gentlemen could support, and as Dr Edward Maltby pointed out to Lord Milton, 26 June 1819: ‘You will not suppose that I despise the yeomanry, but I believe you must be aware that they cannot carry the county even with the assistance of your lordship and Lord Carysfort’.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/8/117, f. 41; Hunts. RO, Sandwich mss 11G.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/121, f. 107.
  • 3. Sandwich mss 11G, Exeter to Sandwich, 9 Sept.,Sandwich to Hinchingbrooke, Wed. morning [Sept. 1788].
  • 4. Ibid. Sandwich to Hinchingbrooke, 22 Sept., 12 Oct.; PRO 30/8/234, f. 96 (list of government employees with a vote for Hunts.); Fitzwilliam mss, box 39, Sandwich to Fitzwilliam, 19 Sept. 1788.
  • 5. PRO 30/8/121, ff. 132-4; 325, f. 163; Sandwich mss 11G, Portland to Sandwich, 12 May, Ld. F. Montagu to Sandwich, 20 Sept., 12 Oct. 1789.
  • 6. Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 3 May 1792; Hunts. RO, Manchester mss, 21 a/8, Bedford to Ld. F. Montagu, 13 Jan. 1818; Sandwich mss 11G, Exeter to Sandwich, 28 May 1794, Carysfort to Sandwich, 23 May 1796; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 729/5; SRO GD51/1/331/22, 23.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Hardwicke, 3 July (copy); Sandwich mss 11G, Fellowes to Sandwich, 14 July, Carysfort to Sandwich, 15 July 1806; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 54; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/63.
  • 8. Sandwich mss, 11H, bdle. of canvassing letters, May; 11G, election acct., May; Fitzwilliam mss, box 71, Fitzwilliam to Hinchingbrooke, 5 May; Fortescue mss, Hardwicke to Grenville, 3 May 1807.
  • 9. Fitzwilliam mss, box 71.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, ix. 136; Fitzwilliam mss, box 93, Pears to Milton [30 June 1818].
  • 11. Fitzwilliam mss, box 79, Leeds to Fitzwilliam, 25 Aug.; Fortescue mss, bp. of Lincoln to Grenville, 21 Aug., Carysfort to same, 25 Aug. 1811; Whitbread mss W1/1930-35, 1937, 1941/1, 1942-43, 1945, 1949, 1950.
  • 12. Add. 35644, f. 301; 38458, ff. 186, 188-90; HMC Fortescue, x. 387-8.
  • 13. Fortescue mss, Carysfort to Grenville, 8 Feb. 1815; Fitzwilliam mss, X1607, Maltby to Milton, 4 July, 16 Sept. 1816, 10 Jan. 1818; Reynolds to same, 25 Jan., 11 Dec. 1817; Plumer to same, 6 Jan., Rooper to same, 12 Jan., Standly to Adam, 14 Jan., Tavistock to same, 18, 29 Jan. 1818; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F64/106; Manchester mss 21 a/8, Bedford to Ld. F. Montagu, 13 Jan. 1818.
  • 14. Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, W. Wells to Milton, 21 Feb., Maltby to same, 25 Feb.; X1607, Reynolds to Milton, 15 Mar., Maltby to same, 14 Feb., 17, 23 Mar. 1818.
  • 15. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/62; F64/135, 139; G1/10; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Milton to Fitzwilliam, 9 June, S. Wells to Milton, 14, 18 June 1818.
  • 16. Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Maltby to Milton, 19, 29 June, 10 Aug., Pears to same, 19 June; box 93, Milton to Lady Fitzwilliam, 2 July, S. Wells to Milton, 5 July 1818.
  • 17. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F64/136; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Maltby to Milton, 30 June; box 93, same to same [27 June 1818].