Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

over 500


c. Mar. 1660HUMPHREY ORME 
 CHARLES FANE, Lord le Despenser 
  Double return of Lord le Despenser and St. John. ST. JOHN allowed to sit.1 
  LORD LE DESPENSER declared elected, 26 May 1660 
2 Apr. 16612CHARLES FANE, Lord le Despenser 
12 Apr. 1666EDWARD PALMER vice le Despenser, called to the Upper House1383
 William Fitzwilliam, Baron Fitzwilliam240
 Sir Vere Fane162
 WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Baron Fitzwilliam vice Palmer, on petition, 8 Nov. 1667 
22 Mar. 1671SIR VERE FANE vice Orme, deceased 
24 Feb. 1679WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Baron Fitzwilliam 
28 Aug. 1679FRANCIS ST. JOHN 
15 Feb. 1681WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Baron Fitzwilliam 
28 Dec. 1689WILLIAM BROWNLOW vice Fitzwilliam, deceased 

Main Article

The nomination of the returning officer for Peterborough was in dispute between the Earl of Exeter, as lord of the hundred of Nassaburgh, and the dean and chapter, as lords of the city. The latter interest was replaced during the Interregnum by those of the St. John and Orme families, who occupied most of the property in the soke and the city, respectively. At the general election of 1660 Humphrey Orme was returned unopposed, but for the other seat there was a double return of Lord le Despenser, heir to the principal landowner in the eastern division of Northamptonshire, and Francis St. John. The St. John tenants refused to vote for their landlord’s son, and it was only with the aid of massive irregularities in the voting roll that the bailiff managed to make out a plausible return in his favour. On 26 May Edward Turnor recommended from the elections committee that 83 votes should be subtracted from St. John, and a net 57 from le Despenser, which gave the latter the majority, and the return was amended accordingly. In 1661, Prebendary Gunton declared the right of the chapter to execute the sheriff’s precept, and the sitting Members were returned, probably unopposed.4

There was a three-cornered contest when le Despenser succeeded as Earl of Westmorland in 1666. His brother attempted to retain the seat for the Fane interest. But he was opposed by Lord Fitzwilliam, who had recently come of age and revived an interest in the constituency that extended back almost unbroken to 1553. Palmer, the third candidate, was the attorney-general’s son, and Secretary Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet) had written on his behalf. Lord Cardigan, although a Roman Catholic, wrote to warn Fitzwilliam (correctly) that the election would be held on the morning of a great horse-match ‘which will take away several interested persons, as my Lord Exeter, my Lord Westmorland, and several others. ... I will not fail to be at Peterborough that morning so soon as your lordship yourself.’ Whatever its effect on the local opposition peerage, the race failed to distract the electors from the other contest. In a poll of 540, Palmer came a poor third to Fitzwilliam and Fane. But after it had been taken and agreed, the city bailiff, assisted by two of the overseers, altered the poor rate books so as to give Palmer the majority of the scot and lot payers, and declared him returned. Fitzwilliam drew up another indenture, signed by his 240 voters, and presented it to the sheriff and the clerk of the crown in Chancery who both refused it. Accordingly Fitzwilliam, having exhausted the alternative procedure, petitioned the House when it met in September, on the grounds that the precept should have been addressed to the bailiff of the hundred. Fane also petitioned and Sir Thomas Osborne admitted that Palmer only retained his seat because witnesses from Peterborough could not be summoned to attend the elections committee while the plague raged in that city. Palmer died in the following summer, but Henry Williams, citing the case of Sir Humphrey Hooke at Bristol, advised Fitzwilliam to avoid the expense of a fresh election by confining himself to the irregularities in the poll. What happened next seems to have confused both John Milward and the clerk of the Commons, who treated the case as a straight fight between Fitzwilliam and Fane. On 8 Nov. 1667 Sir Job Charlton reported from the elections committee ‘that the Lord Fitzwilliam had the majority of the voices, though Sir Vere Fane were returned by the bailiff of the city’. Fitzwilliam’s claim to a majority of the votes was clearly established, and the House, anxious to proceed to next business, the impeachment of Clarendon, was in no mood to quibble. The city bailiff was reprimanded for an undue return, and, according to the Journal, Fitzwilliam’s name was substituted for Fane’s. This must be a mistake, since the altered indenture bears the date of 12 Apr. 1666, on which date, all parties agreed, Palmer was returned.5

Fane’s disappointment was not of long duration, for on Orme’s death he succeeded to the other seat. This is the first return in the period to be signed by the bailiff of the hundred, who also seems to have officiated at the first election of 1679. Fane, whose main political interests lay in Kent, was returned for that county, and was succeeded at Peterborough by St. John. It was reported ‘as a great truth’ that Cardigan’s son, an army officer who had recently turned Protestant, would stand with Fitzwilliam, but there is no evidence of a poll. At the next election Fitzwilliam was replaced by the high Tory Charles Orme, but he regained his seat in 1681; both elections were conducted by the city bailiff. In July a moderate address was obtained by the bishop, approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments, and another abhorring the Rye House Plot in 1683. Fitzwilliam’s brother was returned with Orme to James II’s Parliament. The writ was executed by the bailiff of the hundred, and the dean and chapter petitioned against this infringement of their rights, though it is not clear whether the election was contested. In 1689 the city bailiff returned Charles Fitzwilliam and Gilbert Dolben, a local Tory who was doubly acceptable to the clergy as son of the late archbishop of York. On Fitzwilliam’s death, William Brownlow, the well-endowed younger son of a Lincolnshire baronet, was elected.6

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Inferred from the amending of the return on 26 May 1660 (CJ, viii. 46).
  • 2. Northants. RO, F(M)C 410.
  • 3. Northants. RO, F(M) 1259.
  • 4. Bridges, Northants. ii. 539; Milward, 12; Clarendon SP, iii. 705; CJ, viii. 45; Northants. RO, F(M)C 410.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 313; Northants. RO, F(M) 1259-66, 2359; F(M)C 409, Cardigan to Fitzwilliam, 8 Apr. 1666, 415, Williams to Fitzwilliam, 26 July 1667; CJ, viii. 626, 627; ix. 17; Milward, 6, 12, 118; Browning, Danby, ii. 14.
  • 6. Add. 29557, f. 27; Luttrell, i. 115, 272; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 375; London Gazette, 28 July 1681; CJ, ix. 721.