Examples of each form of populism can be found in several provincial boroughs. Oligarchy came under attack in Chester, where the Whiggish faction headed by Roger Whitley attempted in the early s to establish annual, popular elections to the common council; in Liverpool, where the freemen sought to overturn the charter of , which had deprived them of a say in the election of the mayor and common council; and in Lancaster, where Lord Macclesfield instigated moves for a new charter which would incorporate more companies of tradesmen. But party politics was always a factor. In these examples party faction was commonly sharpened by religious animosities.
A lively political culture can be found in some freeman boroughs, reflecting not only bitter religious animosities but also a level of political awareness among ordinary voters. Passions ran high enough for violence to be a feature of political life. Rival claimants to the mayoralty scuffled for precedence in Devizes parish church. An election for town clerk in Cambridge in resulted in a stabbing. In Thomas Colepeper arranged for the distribution at Maidstone of the squib A Letter to the Freeholders and Freemen of England , presumably to help his own cause.
Another characteristic of the more substantial freeman boroughs, and especially those in which the resident freemen were a significant presence, was that a Member would be expected to attend conscientiously to constituency interests in Parliament. Quintin, enhanced their standing with the members of the corporation and the townspeople in general when they brought in and carried at their own expense a bill for erecting workhouses and houses of correction in the town. River navigation compelled the attention of the Members for Derby and Hereford, the repair of the parish church the Members for Boston, and the depredations of billeted soldiers the Members for Berwick; while the freemen of Maidstone expected their representatives to ensure that the borough retained its privilege and dignity as the county town of Kent.
Again, it must be emphasized that this figure is probably an inadequate, and may even be a seriously misleading, indication of electoral activity. In Monmouth, for example, although no poll was taken in this period, a great deal of jockeying for position went on between the rival proprietorial interests, Williams of Llangibby, Morgan of Tredegar, and the dukes of Beaufort. Nevertheless, some broad generalizations can be derived from calculating the percentages of contested elections.
For example, if the freeman boroughs are differentiated according to the size of their electorates, the results show predictably enough that the smaller boroughs polled much less frequently. London was contested on every occasion in this period, whereas among the smallest boroughs Hedon and Liskeard went to the polls only once, and Grampound and West Looe not at all.
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Counting the number of voters is only one of several ways in which freeman boroughs may be differentiated. Of the constituencies whose electors were polled most often that is to say on average at least once every other election , a few Colchester and Coventry, as well as London had more than a thousand voters, but the majority Carlisle, Devizes, Evesham, Ipswich, Ludlow, Maidstone, Preston, and Sandwich had electorates of medium size, and several more East Retford, Great Grimsby, Marlborough, Orford, Rye, and Wigan , were at the lower end of the scale. Again, as with the more highly contested of the corporation boroughs, it is difficult to see what these constituencies had in common.
Some were notoriously corrupt, which would have been an encouragement to a potential candidate and might have attracted predators.
This was certainly true of Grimsby contested eight times out of 11 , Marlborough 12 out of 15 , and East Retford six out of In other cases the cause might be the persistent rivalry of well-matched proprietorial interests, as at Ludlow contested six times out of seven under its freeman franchise , or Preston 10 out of 12 ; prolonged factional strife within a divided corporation, such as occurred in Ipswich 10 times out of 12 , and Orford five out of seven ; or the rumbling antagonism of Church and Dissent, which was to be found underlying party political conflict in boroughs like Colchester seven contests out of 14 and Rye six out of But just as the candidates in freemen boroughs were predominantly country gentlemen, so, in general, competition between landed families was by far the most frequent precipitant of contested elections.
In 15 boroughs it is possible to trace serious internal divisions within the corporate body Cambridge, Chester, Colchester, Devizes, Gloucester, Ipswich, Liverpool, Liskeard, Maidstone, Maldon, Orford, Portsmouth, Plympton Erle, Wigan, and Winchester , but in several of these examples the root cause of conflict between corporators can be found in external interference: from the likes of Josiah Diston at Devizes, Sir Edward Turnor at Orford, and Sir Roger Bradshaigh and his various rivals at Wigan. There were only two kinds of real property which conveyed a right to vote in borough elections: freehold and burgage.
In five boroughs which were also counties in their own right, Bristol, Exeter, Lichfield, Norwich, and Nottingham, the freehold qualification meant a 40 s. In only five constituencies was the franchise confined to freeholders: Haslemere, Newton, Northampton, Tavistock, and Weymouth with Melcombe. Technically the right to vote in Reigate may have been in the freeholders Browne Willis described it as such , but in practice elections were the preserve of the burgage owners, and for present purposes Reigate will be treated as a burgage borough.
On the other hand, Tamworth, where freeholders voted alongside scot-and-lot payers, will be discussed together with other constituencies in which there was a modified inhabitant franchise. Finally there were nine boroughs in which the electorate comprised freemen and freeholders: the five county boroughs, and the smaller constituencies of Guildford, Lyme Regis, Okehampton, and Tewkesbury.
With the exception of Northampton in which nearly 1, electors went to the poll in and Weymouth with voters in , the number of voters in each of the freeholder boroughs including Great Bedwyn and Cricklade was relatively small, as few as 70 in Newton and Haslemere, and no more than in Cricklade. In such circumstances one would expect close control by a proprietorial interest, but this was not the case. The least active of the manorial boroughs was Newton, where the Leghs of Lyme were lords of the manor.
At the beginning of this period the Leghs were made conscious of an awakening opposition. Legh adjusted his response to the petition accordingly. Elections in the other manorial boroughs were much livelier. In Tavistock there were as many as seven contests out of a possible 12 in this period, for although the Russells, earls of Bedford, who were lords of the manor, generally controlled one seat, they faced stiff opposition from a local Tory family, the Manatons, who could command a popular following on the basis of their High Churchmanship.
The Haslemere electors, on the other hand, were neither obviously corrupt nor incipiently rebellious, yet the borough suffered prolonged instability in this period, and three out of thirteen elections were contested. The root cause was the eclipse of the power of the lords of the manor, the Mores of Loseley. Among neighbouring landed families, the Onslows of Clandon and the Oglethorpes of Westbrook were potentially the strongest, and could have divided up the representation, had they not disagreed in their politics. In competition, neither was able to get the upper hand for long, the Whig Onslows having to struggle against the Toryism of the Haslemere freeholders, while the Oglethorpes were suspected of Jacobitism and handicapped by the unwillingness of other Tory interests to join them.
Only in the election did rival Whig and Tory interests put up candidates for both seats, the other contests being three-cornered. Yet the vulnerability of the poorer freeholders to financial inducements, and the presence of a strong vein of sectarian animosity in the populace, always raised the possibility that this genteel consensus might be disrupted.
The most frequently contested of the freeholder boroughs was, however, Cricklade, which went to the polls no less than nine times out of 13, its peculiar franchise making the borough resistant to domination by any of the surrounding territorial interests. In all, the voters of Norwich were polled eight times out of 12 possible occasions; those of Nottingham seven times out of The situation in Bristol, where the number of voters was even greater, totalling around 3,, presented strong similarities to Norwich although the outcome, in terms of parliamentary elections, was for much of the period rather different.
In the corporation was split into Tory and Whig factions, and among the inhabitants, including freemen and freeholders, tensions between Church and Dissent ensured considerable popular attachment to the political parties. There were at least as many Nonconformist congregations in Bristol as in Norwich, and Dissenters may have made up as much as a third of the freeman body. For a decade and a half these Whig aldermen effectively controlled parliamentary elections, partly through their domination of the borough corporation, and partly because they could count on the solid support of the Dissenters in the city.
When Toryism eventually revived there, it was as an immediate consequence of the Sacheverell trial, which aroused High Church sentiment among the populace. In a genuinely popular contest the Tories triumphantly carried the election, largely owing to a number of new voters whether freemen or freeholders is unclear , and retained both seats in High Church mobs, and interfering clergymen, were very much a feature of the election, although it is interesting that in choosing as one of their candidates the philanthropist Edward Colston II, the Tories touched the same vein of municipal paternalism that had been a feature of Whig politics in the city.
But the economies of the two cities were significantly different. Bristol depended on trade, and threw up wealthy merchants like Sir William Daines and Sir Thomas Day; whereas Norwich was a regional capital, albeit with a strong manufacturing base, whose more prominent citizens like those of Great Yarmouth bought country estates and enjoyed an amphibian existence as urban merchants and rural squires. On three out of a possible 12 occasions in this period the borough was contested as far as a poll. It differed from the two largest county boroughs, however, in the extent to which country gentlemen participated in elections.
Only four of its 11 MPs were local merchants. They claimed that the local clothing industry could be revived by the greater involvement of Dutch merchants, and promised, if elected, all kinds of economic benefits for the city. More to the point, perhaps, they also enjoyed the underhand assistance of the sheriff, as returning officer, and the favourable opinion of the Whig-dominated House of Commons when Seymour petitioned.
By the time of the next election, however, the Exeter voters had returned to their natural Tory bent. The two remaining county boroughs, Lichfield and Nottingham, were entirely the preserve of landed gentlemen, despite the size of the Nottingham voterate, which numbered some 1, Lichfield was much smaller, with no more than This is not to say that the landed proprietors necessarily had everything their own way. Each borough corporation had a sense of its own importance: aldermen required to be courted, rather than simply taking direction, and in Nottingham the Members were expected to look after the economic interests of the citizens.
Party divisions were also much in evidence, stoked up in Lichfield by the clerical interest centred on the cathedral close, and exacerbated by the failure of the gentlemen to agree among themselves. In consequence, both constituencies were contested with remarkable frequency: Lichfield on average at every other general election, and Nottingham on as many as seven occasions out of a possible The importance of the freeholder element in these larger boroughs is unclear.
Their electorates always contained far more freemen than freeholders, and the possibility of wholesale creations of new freemen for tactical purposes, as happened in Norwich in , meant that the freeholders were liable to be swamped at any time. Although the influx of new voters into Bristol in has not been satisfactorily explained, it is unlikely to have been made up of new freeholders. But this did not mean that in practice the county boroughs operated in exactly the same way as those boroughs in which the franchise was confined to the freemen alone.
The freeholders formed a separate element in the electorate, and in Exeter in they seem to have taken up a distinct political position, supporting Sir Edward Seymour against his Whig opponents. As a group, freeholders were usually of a higher social status than mere freemen, and for that reason were assumed to be more independent. The situation in the four smaller boroughs in which freeholders voted alongside freemen, Guildford, Lyme Regis, Okehampton, and Tewkesbury, can be compared much more closely with the freeman boroughs.
The franchise at Lyme was disputed throughout the period, and it was only in that the freeholders established their right to be polled alongside resident freemen.
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Otherwise, all three tended to follow the lead of the local gentry, the Northmores and Harrises in Okehampton, the Dowdeswells and Capells in Tewkesbury, and the Onslows in Guildford. The experience of the election suggests that Toryism may have been stronger among the inhabitants of the town than among the members of the corporation, for it was to benefit the Onslows that the Commons then restricted the franchise to those freemen and freeholders paying scot and lot.
At the outset elections in Newtown I. In Saltash members of the corporation were also polled, but since the corporation was composed entirely of burgage-holders this made no practical difference. The boroughs varied in size from the smallest, Old Sarum, which in polled only ten burgage-holders, to the largest, Richmond, with over In fact just over half the boroughs 16 in all had under a hundred voters each; and four Cockermouth, Pontefract, Richmond, and Reigate possessed electorates of around or more. Until , when some burgage-holders were disfranchised for refusing to contribute to the cost of enclosing common land, the Richmond electorate had been even larger amounting to in all.
Just as splitting burgages produced an expansion in the electorate, akin to the inflation in freeman boroughs caused by mass admissions of non-resident freemen, so the perpetual and indissoluble nature of the burgage preserved borough representation and borough electorates despite economic decline. By their very nature, burgage boroughs could fall easily into proprietorship. Ownership of a burgage meant control over a vote or indeed several votes, if the burgage was divided up , and usually this ultimate ownership would be retained in one pair of hands, while the title of burgage-holder, and with it the franchise, was entrusted to another, by granting long leases at low rents or by temporary conveyances.
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Cockermouth contained two very big fish indeed, in the persons of the Duke of Somerset and Earl of Wharton Hon. It did not of course, deter either Somerset and Wharton from seeking to establish control, through the purchase of more and more burgages. In boroughs with no clearly defined patron the market in burgage property was buoyant.
Buyers would sometimes intervene simply as a precaution, to stop votes falling into the hands of their opponents. The financier Sir Charles Duncombe also spent hard, but concentrated his efforts in one borough, Downton, as did John Aislabie at Ripon. The cost of burgages varied considerably, governed by local market-forces, which had more to do with political relationships than with the intrinsic value of the property.
A burgage was always a sound investment, as the Yorkshire landowner Sir William Chaytor was informed by his agent him in , in relation to a purchase in Richmond: Where competition for burgages was prolonged, the ultimate cost could be immense. Only rarely did the kind of opportunity arise, as at Boroughbridge or Reigate, where a one-off payment would effectively secure control of the borough.
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Thus, for reasons of economy, patrons, or would-be patrons, did not always buy burgages themselves. They might encourage their more trustworthy supporters to do so. Newcastle began to buy property for himself in about , but for several years worked happily in partnership with the Wilkinsons, until in he decided to unite the two interests under his own direct control, and offered to lend Andrew Wilkinson money to buy out the Stapyltons.
Estate agents were always the most convenient proxies.