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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

between 700 and 800


(1801): 3,283


 William Smith352
 John Pardoe332
30 Oct. 1806(SIR) JOHN COXE HIPPISLEY, Bt.546
 Emanuel Felix Agar124
 Charles Wetherell12
 Broom Phillips Witts245
 John Pytches174
6 Oct. 1812(SIR) JOHN COXE HIPPISLEY, Bt.489
 (Sir) Emanuel Felix Agar363
19 June 1818WILLIAM HEYGATE151
 Charles Marsh85

Main Article

Sudbury had defied long-term management by a patron, despite repeated attempts to bring it under control. Since 1747 the borough had been contested at every opportunity and had acquired a reputation for venality. The most obvious local interest was that inherited by Philip Champion Crespigny from his brother-in-law Thomas Fonnereau in 1779; but, unlike his heritage at Aldeburgh, it suffered a setback when Crespigny was unseated in 1781 and his nominee defeated in 1784. ‘As open as the day and night too’, according to John Robinson*, Sudbury fell to the Treasury nominees William Smith and John Langston at that election. Before the next one a plan to undermine them was devised by William Windham for the Whig opposition. Claiming a ‘natural’ interest, Windham reported confidentially 15 Mar. 1789,1 ‘We have tried the ground at Sudbury, and found it ... sufficiently firm, to encourage the progress of a person’. His candidate was John Coxe Hippisley, a nabob who disappointed him by his apprehensions about the expense and ‘both as to vigour and address’, being ‘as helpless in the conduct of the business as a country gentleman’. This vexed him all the more ‘because I think with Crespigny that success in this attempt might secure our interest there, perhaps in perpetuity and that failure will, as probably, establish the opposite interest’. A canvass of the town showed a clear majority over ‘the opposite interest’, even if hostile and doubtful votes were combined, and the uncanvassed London voters were expected to reinforce that majority. The foundation of success was of course a secret alliance with the Crespigny interest, also opposed to Pitt’s administration. Crespigny’s optimism proved better founded than Windham’s pessimism. Hippisley persevered, was chosen recorder at Windham’s instigation, procured the writ, and in alliance with Crespigny’s son Thomas carried the day against Smith and his new partner John Pardoe*. It cost him £6,000, so he claimed, though he was supposed to have shared the expenses with Crespigny. Among those endorsing Hippisley’s election were Charles Hurrell of Brundon Hall, a local East India proprietor, and Sir James Marriott, a former Member, who appealed in vain for a compromise whereby one candidate on either side withdrew to avert a contest. A merger between Hippisley and Smith was at one stage suspected: political issues were not raised. Smith’s petition against the return failed.2

By 1796 the scene was transformed. Following Windham’s political line, Hippisley went over to government and from 1792 to 1795 was their unofficial agent at Rome, having gone abroad for health reasons. On 14 Mar. 1795 he informed Alderman William Strutt, his principal ally on the corporation, that he intended to stand again. He claimed that even if he had remained at home he would not have been well enough to attend Parliament; abroad, he had distributed samples of Sudbury wool — and become a friend of Catholic relief. He addressed the electors from Vienna, 25 July 1795, and returned to England in the autumn. Meanwhile his colleague Crespigny had remained in opposition and on 3 Dec. 1795 they clashed in the House on a petition from the borough against coercive legislation. Hippisley, who had tried to frustrate it, questioned its respectability and referred to the ignorance of the lower orders of freemen, the distress of the woollen manufacturers and the dissenting element in the borough. He had previously noted apathy even in the corporation when, as recorder, he instigated a loyal address in favour of the royal proclamation against sedition. Before the election of 1796 Crespigny decided not to seek re-election, but into his shoes stepped William Smith, now a convert to the opposition. (In his victory address to the freemen he announced his support for ‘a total change in the system of administration’ with particular reference to the war and coercion at home.) It looked as if, by a compromise, Hippisley and Smith would be unopposed.3

The outcome was unexpected. On 23 May Arthur Blake, whose family had previously been involved in borough elections, issued a provocative address from London claiming that Sudbury chose Members ‘for their opulence, not their principles’, in the midst of suffering caused by ‘this disgraceful war’ and the decline of manufacturing. He wished an end to coalitions, a free constitution and the repeal of the Septennial Act. The only sequel was that a group of electors dragged the veteran Sir James Marriott from Twinstead Hall to Sudbury and on 24 May he was adopted. Hippisley withdrew in a huff, referring in a letter to the mayor the same day to

a liberal translation of a declaration made by the same gentleman to me, by letter, as far back as yesterday viz. ‘My presence here has had one good effect, the prevention for the present of any third person being introduced to oppose you both and trouble the peace of the town’.

Marriott in his speech of thanks likened himself incongruously to a young maiden abducted from Twinstead, for which he was lampooned:

Take me, as the ladies say,
Take me, take me, while you may.

In his address he referred complacently to his long acquaintance with the borough and to ‘the connection between the patroni and clientes in the Roman republic’, which had ‘the happiest effect in protecting and preserving the rights and privileges of the people’. Hippisley assured Pitt that Marriott’s conduct towards him would find ‘few to commend it’.4

Marriott intended to retire from office in 1799 to sponsor William Wynch, son of a former governor of Madras and a relative of Lord Liverpool, as his successor at Sudbury; but Hippisley was determined to regain his seat. On 30 Nov. 1800 he wrote:

although from the extraordinary conduct of Sir James Marriott, I thought it prudent to decline a contest at the last general election, I have since found on visiting Sudbury in my capacity of recorder that there is an unanimity in my favour, being always assured of my own seat upon the corporation interest.

Soon afterwards he assured Windham that he was sure of his return ‘without opening a house. The interest of Crespigny is extinct, and my hold on the corporation, as recorder, has its weight, as they consider me a parcel of themselves.’ On 16 Dec. 1801 Marriott made public his intention to retire at the dissolution.5

Between then and the dissolution at least six potential candidates were talked of at Sudbury. In view of the expense of a sure contest, Marriott discouraged Wynch from standing. In March 1802 John Pytches, described by Marriott as ‘a violent republican’, canvassed. He was joined briefly by George Bowyer*, on the assumption that they would do battle with William Smith and Hippisley. But only Pytches persevered, entertaining the freemen lavishly. It was as well for him that there was no contest. Smith went off to contest Norwich. Two hundred London freemen tried to induce Richard Bateman Robson* to stand; he was believed to have £4,000 to spend. Two opportunists made no impression on the freemen. One of them, Robert Fergusson, a lawyer formerly associated with the Corresponding Society, withdrew quietly; the other, John Macnamara, with a flourish, directed at Pytches:

The outrages committed last night would, to a timid man, be cause sufficient to quit your town ... I entertain no personal fear of you ... I pity your candidates, I commiserate your recorder, I deplore the situation of the honest men amongst you, I remain a determined friend to the freedom of election, and a detester of cowardice, of infamy, and of corruption. Yours as you merit ...

Marriott refused to reconsider his decision and Hippisley and Pytches were unopposed. Nothing came of an electors’ petition against Pytches, alleging bribery and treating. In February 1803 the more discreet Hippisley offered two guineas to every resident freeman who would accept it and a guinea to those disqualified by taking poor relief. Nearly 400 were reported to have benefited.6

The sitting Members retained their seats in 1806 without difficulty, though there was a petition against them for treating. Capt. Agar, who with Charles Wetherell* was unsuccessful, had issued the following address, 31 Oct. 1806:

I came to you late, such was my misfortune, but I came to you a known, and I trust a bottomed Englishman ... Gentlemen, I am a soldier, a Briton in arms to defend the best of kings, the noblest, the highest work of human genius, the British constitution, and the land under heaven cherished ... I never will forsake you ... and you shall prove me, though a chicken, game ... nay I will become the game cock of Sudbury ... To the fair, the lovely women of Sudbury, who have won my virgin heart, I am all gratitude. I will defend them as long as I live, as long as I can peck ...7

In 1807 Agar was returned in second place after Hippisley, who had been obliged to discourage William Windham from joining him. The latter’s agent reported:

Mr Windham had indeed some thoughts of trying it, but found, on enquiry, that Mr Agar had since the last election gained such interest in the borough as to render his return secure. Sir John Hippisley’s election was certain, and he ... is Mr Windham’s particular friend and standing partly upon Mr Windham’s interest at Sudbury.

Hippisley ventured to explain his support of the late ministry’s proposals for Catholic relief. Pytches and a newcomer, Witts, were heavily defeated.8

Pytches intended to avenge himself. He hoped to take advantage of the unpopularity of Hippisley’s stance on the Catholic question, which was apparent in October 1811 when he paid a canvassing visit, and of his own conversion to Perceval’s government. But he did not go to the poll in 1812. Hippisley, who continued to humour the venal freemen and to meet numerous requests for patronage, retained his lead; and Agar was beaten for second place by another officer, Charles Wyatt, whose background was Indian. He was described, 10 Oct. 1812, as ‘a gentleman unknown to the borough till Monday sennight’. Agar’s petition against him for treating failed. Nothing came of a Whig plan to revive Windham’s interest in the person of his heir-at-law Capt. Lukin.9 In 1818 Hippisley and Wyatt were challenged by John Broadhurst* and Alderman William Heygate of London. In May Hippisley wrote from Rome to announce his retirement from his seat, though not from the recordership. Heygate secured the corporation interest. Wyatt retired, 17 June, and Charles Marsh*, a last-minute opportunist acquainted with Hippisley, stood for only three hours against Heygate and Broadhust. The Bury Post commented: ‘Never was there in the history of this borough an election carried on with so much unanimity and good order as the present’.10

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. NLS mss 11137, f. 2; Fitzwilliam mss, box 71, Windham to Fitzwilliam, 26 Apr. 1807.
  • 2. Add. 37848, ff. 75, 77; Ginter, Whig Organization, 192; W. Suff. RO, Hippisley mss HD 744/188, 192; CJ, xlvi. 41; xlviii. 18, 432.
  • 3. Add. 37849, ff. 97, 156; Hippisley mss HD 744/194; Oracle, 7 Sept. 1795; PRO 30/8/234, f. 84; Morning Chron. 3 June; True Briton, 21 May 1796.
  • 4. Morning Chron. 24, 27 May, 6 June 1796; PRO 30/8/145, f. 84.
  • 5. PRO 30/8/156, f. 55; Add. 37849, ff. 234, 245; The Times, 24 Dec. 1801.
  • 6. Add. 19190, f. 56; 38236, ff. 40, 103; The Times, 8, 22, 26 Mar., 26 Apr., 30 June 1802, 21 Feb. 1803; Edinburgh Advertiser, 6-9, 27-30 July 1802; CJ, lviii. 66; lix. 110.
  • 7. CJ, lxii. 28, 145; NLS mss 11195, f. 255.
  • 8. Norf. RO, Colman Lib. mss 632/44, Amyot to Browne, 2 May; Bury Post, 13, 20 May 1807, which gives Hippisley 350 votes and Agar 327.
  • 9. Add. 38247, f. 134; 38571, f. 139; Ipswich Jnl. 10 Oct., 14 Nov. 1812; Hippisley mss HD 744/61, 63, 69-160; CJ, lxviii. 199; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 19 Dec. 1812.
  • 10. The Late Elections (1818), 323; Bury Post, 27 May, 3, 17, 24 June 1818.