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 9,000


30 June 1790SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 8th Bt.4285
 Hon. Charles Marsham2724
16 June 1796SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 8th Bt.5211
 Filmer Honywood4285
13 July 1802FILMER HONYWOOD4761
 Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bt.3933
11 Nov. 1806WILLIAM HONYWOOD1854
 Sir William Geary, Bt.828
13 May 1807SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 8th Bt. 
13 Oct. 1812SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 8th Bt. 
27 June 1818SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 8th Bt.3417
 Sir William Geary, Bt.934
16 Nov. 1819 SIR EDWARD KNATCHBULL, 9th Bt. vice Knatchbull, deceased 

Main Article

The balance of forces in Kent between ministerial and independent interests was upset when both Members, Honywood and Marsham, more especially the former, inclined to opposition in the Parliament of 1784. To remedy this, Pitt’s government, with a Kent resident at its head and supported by its dockyard and maritime dependants and aristocratic clients from the lord lieutenant the 3rd Duke of Dorset downwards, put up Sir Edward Knatchbull against Honywood, a committed Whig, in February 1790. In doing so they were making a bid for east Kent, where both Knatchbull and Honywood resided, and according to the custom of territorial division, Marsham, representing the west, would be undisturbed. Initially the competitors agreed to let their supporters give their second votes to Marsham, but as the contest grew warmer, they both angled for a coalition with him. He would not budge from a neutral stance. Subsequently it became clear that Honywood could not overtake Knatchbull, and to make sure that he beat Marsham his friends persuaded a number of Knatchbull’s to give their second votes to Honywood. Marsham protested in vain against this tactic, which was reinforced by another whereby Honywood’s supporters plumped for him, to Marsham’s disadvantage. A perspicacious contemporary analysis of the poll showed that of 6,979 voters (3,239 in the west and 3,304 in the east, the rest outvotes), 2,273 plumped for Honywood, compared with 1,511 for Knatchbull and 63 for Marsham. Moreover, only 360 Honywood supporters voted for Marsham as well, compared with 470 who split their votes between Honywood and Knatchbull and 2,302 who did so between Knatchbull and Marsham. In west Kent, 722 out of 1,202 votes for Honywood were plumpers, as were 606 out of 2,208 votes for Knatchbull, while Marsham had only 53 plumpers among 1,687 votes. In east Kent Honywood had 1,348 plumpers among his 1,645 votes, Knatchbull 859 out of 1,882 votes and Marsham only four out of 869 votes; while the cross-votes were only 72 for Honywood and Marsham compared with 227 for Knatchbull and Honywood and 794 for Knatchbull and Marsham. Marsham had been ‘tricked’.1

In 1796 the ailing Honywood was confronted with Sir William Geary, offering as representative for west Kent. Although Geary’s politics were doubtful, he denied that he was an opponent of the ministry like Honywood. Knatchbull, having spent £15,000 in 1790, was aided by a subscription and informed Pitt that he stood alone, but was keen to throw Honywood out. The result was an unavowed coalition between Geary and Knatchbull, the former taking on most of the expense, supposed to be nearly £20,000, in a poll of nine days in which 8,921 votes were cast: ‘every voter’ was ‘hunted up throughout the kingdom’. Honywood received 3,346 plumpers out of 4,285 votes; Geary shared 4,054 of his 4,418 votes with Knatchbull, 2,091 of them in west Kent and 1,697 in east Kent. This ‘combination to destroy the independence of the county’ was alleged, together with bribery and corruption by Geary, in Honywood’s friends’ petition against the return, supported by a Whig Club subscription instigated by Fox himself. Despite much evidence in its favour, the petition failed, 5 May 1797. Honywood announced his retirement from politics next day.2

In 1802 Honywood’s friends induced him to make a come-back but he was not found a running partner, despite a report to that effect. The Addington ministry supported Knatchbull and Geary, both of them aided by subscription, and the former stood to benefit most from it. Geary, perceiving this, formed an alliance with Honywood against Knatchbull, obtaining the former’s votes. Knatchbull therefore appealed for plumpers. Geary denied the alliance after he had defeated Knatchbull, but an analysis of the poll shows that there was one; indeed, Honywood had been secure of his return when he began to convey more supporters to the poll so that Geary could benefit from their second votes; and Geary’s failure to foot the transport bill was subsequently a matter of litigation between them. Of 8,848 votes cast in nine days, 2,795 plumped for Honywood, 1,502 for Knatchbull and only 621 for Geary; but Geary shared 1,490 votes with Honywood as well as 1,962 with Knatchbull.3

The circle of revenge was completed in 1806 when Knatchbull defeated Geary. Knatchbull, having declared before Honywood retired in favour of his nephew and heir, who had ministerial backing, was prepared to withdraw in the face of a coalition of Honywood with, for the west, Viscount Marsham, son of the defeated candidate of 1790, now the lord lieutenant and Earl of Romney. This coalition, engineered by George Finch Hatton, would have halted the expense of Kent elections. Geary, who had already spent £24,000, relied on a subscription and his hopes of renewing the alliance of 1802 to defend his seat. Once it was clear that he would do so, Marsham withdrew and Knatchbull returned to the fray. Geary had some unexpected friends, such as Lord Camden, but he was very much embarrassed by his failure to honour his agreement with Honywood’s agents in 1802 and by confrontation with his former victim Knatchbull. The only issue that all three candidates agreed upon was the abolition of the slave trade. After two days Geary gave up, ill-supported.4 Honywood and Knatchbull shared 737 votes out of 3,263; Knatchbull received 1,009 plumpers and Honywood 689. Geary received only 294 plumpers, shared only 428 votes with Honywood and 106 with Knatchbull.

The sitting Members were unopposed in 1807 for the first time since 1784, representing a political compromise; but in 1812 Honywood withdrew for health reasons. The Whigs did not risk putting up his son, nor could they find another candidate. The new lord lieutenant Camden (Geary’s friend) was asked by the prime minister Lord Liverpool to suggest a ministerial candidate for west Kent, but could not oblige. He reported Knatchbull’s friends as saying that, if a west Kent candidate started,

Honywood’s party will also start another and that Sir Edward Knatchbull’s seat will be thereby endangered, and ... the gentlemen in this county are tired of contests and all say, though many are loyal to the greatest degree, that the pressure of the times is such that they can be at no expense whatever.

In any case, Sir Thomas Dyke would not stand; Sir Henry Hawley was too old; Mr Woodgate too new; Sir John Gregory Shaw not wealthy enough and Col. Stratford regarded as too Irish. The latter, Camden pointed out, was Geary’s brother-in-law. The Whigs swallowed Geary, so as not to be ‘worse off than we were’. Thus it was Geary who stepped into the vacuum, unopposed.5 How accidental his return was he had to learn in 1818 when Honywood’s son and heir, overcoming competition from his cousin Sir John Courtenay Honywood, 5th Bt., set up against him. Geary had walked the political and electoral tightrope too long. He kept the poll open the full 15 days in the hope of a subscription to meet his expenses, but could not squeeze more than 934 votes out of the county.6 Knatchbull’s son and heir succeeded him unopposed on his death in 1819. Nothing came of a report that the radical Henry Hunt would stand.7

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Kentish Chron. 23 Feb., 2, 9, 23 Mar., 18 May, 29 June; Add. 38458, f. 165; NLS mss 11138, f. 1; Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 2 July 1790; Som. RO, Dickinson mss DN264, Sloane to Dickinson, 21 Aug. [1792]; Webster Gillman, The Poll for Knights of the Shire (1791).
  • 2. Camden mss C124/1; PRO 30/8/149, f. 253; Morning Chron. 16 Apr., 17, 24, 26 May, 18, 22, 28 June 1796, 9 May 1797; True Briton, 26 May, 13, 15, 16, 18 June; Blair Adam mss, Fox to Adam, Wed.; Essex RO, Strutt mss micro. T/B 251/4/5, Rev. Bate Dudley to Strutt, 9 June 1796; CJ, lii. 46, 539.
  • 3. St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 88; Sidmouth mss, H. to J. H. Addington, 5, 18, 21 July; The Times, 22 June, 12, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28 July 1802, 25 Feb. 1808; Norf. Chron. 24 July 1802; Webster Gillman, The Poll for Knights of the Shire (1803).
  • 4. Kentish Chron. 3, 7, 11, 14 Nov.; Morning Post, 8 Nov. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 401; HMC Lonsdale, 215, 219; Spencer mss, Finch Hatton to Spencer, 5 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Honywood to Grenville, 7 Nov., reply 8 Nov. 1806.
  • 5. Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 29 Aug., Thanet to Grey, 24 Sept.; Morning Chron. 28 Sept. 1812; Add. 38578, f. 62.
  • 6. Morning Chron. 4 June; Kentish Chron. 30 June 1818.
  • 7. Add. 35652, f. 265.