Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

rising from at least 794 in 1698 to about 1,550 in 1710


 Sir John Delaval, Bt.4081
 Bertram Stote 
31 May 1705THOMAS FORSTER I823
 Sir Francis Blake6462
28 May 1708ALGERNON SEYMOUR, Earl of Hertford 
8 Dec. 1709HERTFORD re-elected after appointment to office 
23 Oct. 1710ALGERNON SEYMOUR, Earl of Hertford882
 William Ogle7843
29 May 1711HERTFORD  re-elected after appointment to office 
17 Sept. 1713ALGERNON SEYMOUR, Earl of Hertford 

Main Article

Northumberland elections in the 1690s were dominated by the county’s Tory interest, no Whig being returned until 1701. The strength of Toryism lay in the widespread support it enjoyed among the county’s gentry, Northumberland being regarded by many contemporaries as a hot-bed of Jacobitism. The two aristocratic families who could have been expected to provide leadership of the Tory interest, the earls of Derwentwater and lords Widdrington, became non-jurors following the Revolution and have left no evidence of activity in county elections. In contrast, the Whig interest, which gained one of the county seats in 1701 and maintained its hold on at least one during the remainder of this period, appears to have drawn its strength primarily from the aristocracy. Among these peers the Duke of Somerset, whose interest was based upon his marriage to the heiress of the Percy estates, and the 3rd Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard*) were pre-eminent, but there is also evidence that Lord Grey of Warke (Hon. Ralph*) lent the Whigs support in at least one election, and in 1705 Robert Harley* ascribed an interest in the county to the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†). There is no evidence that the Earl of Scarbrough, lord lieutenant from 1689 until 1712, took an active part in elections, but his staunch Whiggery has led one modern historian to attribute to his influence the lack of a pro-Tory regulation of the Northumberland commission of the peace between 1701 and 1704. The presence of large Dissenting and Catholic minorities probably fuelled the county’s political divisions, though their influence is difficult to quantify. The extent of this electorate was small relative to the size of the county. This was because freeholders resident in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the county’s largest town were excluded from the county poll due to the borough’s status as a county in and of itself, and even though in 1711 a circular letter requesting support was sent to ‘freeholders at Newcastle’, it is unclear whether this indicates a disregard for the law or that Newcastle inhabitants voted for freeholds held outside the borough boundaries.4

The 1690 election saw the outgoing Tory Members elected unopposed: William Forster, head of a long established Northumberland family, and Philip Bickerstaffe, who had acquired property in the county by marriage and purchase during the 1670s. By 1695 both had encountered financial difficulties, Forster’s estates having become heavily encumbered with debts while the estate that Bickerstaffe had enjoyed at Chirton during his wife’s lifetime had, upon her death in 1694, passed to Sir William Blackett, 1st Bt.* These problems seem likely to have been the basis for the opinion of a correspondent of Harley’s that ‘anybody that might stand might carry it against Forster and Bickerstaffe’. The same observer was also convinced that no one would take advantage of this situation and stand, but by the end of August Somerset and Carlisle had resolved to support the candidacy of the Durham mine-owner Hon. Charles Montagu* and were considering naming a partner for him. It was suggested that Francis Bowes of Thornton, county Durham, cousin of the Whiggish Delavals of Seaton Delaval, would enter the lists, but neither Montagu nor Bowes pursued their candidacies and Forster and Bickerstaffe were returned unopposed. The fundamental weakness of Bickerstaffe’s interest was emphasized in 1697 when one observer wrote of his belief that it was ‘only so far valid and lasting as it meets with no opposition’, and of his conviction that if Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt., whom he described as ‘of a very good nature and honest principle’, stood he was likely to succeed. Blackett did allow his name to go forward in 1698 and was joined in the contest by Forster and Sir John Delaval, 3rd Bt., who had recently inherited his family’s Northumberland estate and was to prove to be a consistent Whig. Blackett easily headed the resulting poll, with Forster comfortably defeating Delaval for the second seat. This Tory dominance ended following the death of Forster on 1 Sept. 1700. The day prior to Forster’s death Carlisle was said to be considering promoting his brother Hon. William Howard at the next Northumberland election, but for the following two months Carlisle appears to have equivocated as to whether his brother would stand at the by-election. As rumours grew of an imminent dissolution, however, it became clear that Carlisle and Somerset intended to break the Tory control of the county representation, for by the beginning of October Somerset had pledged his support for Delaval. After much prevarication it was decided that Howard, despite his unwillingness to return to England from France, would stand for Northumberland, and, following Blackett’s decision by December not to stand again, the unopposed return of Howard and Ferdinando Forster, younger brother of the deceased William, was being forecast. Forster and Howard were indeed returned without a poll, though the latter was also elected for Morpeth. Howard had failed to return from Paris by 7 Mar. 1701 when his letter to the Speaker making his election for the county led to the appointment of a committee to investigate the precedents for Members elected while abroad. Consequently Howard’s choice to sit for Northumberland was not recognized by the House until 19 May, by which time he had returned to London. The deaths of Howard and Forster, in July and August respectively, threw county politics into flux. By the beginning of September three Whigs, Delaval, Sir Francis Blake, the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and William Loraine, were all thought likely candidates, and an attempt in November to have Blackett stand against them failed. The Tory interest was therefore left in the hands of Bertram Stote, member of a wealthy Newcastle family. Delaval appears to have withdrawn, being returned instead for Morpeth, a borough dominated by Carlisle, but Blake, Loraine and Stote were unable to reach any understanding. Stote was defeated at the poll, and his petition alleging ‘illegal practices’ against Loraine, his agents and the sheriff, and claiming that unqualified men had been allowed to vote, was heard by the House on 7 Jan. 1702. The petition was referred to the committee, but no report was made.5

Loraine chose not to stand in 1702 so that Stote and Blake were returned unopposed, but three years later no such compromise was effected. In February 1705 Harley forecast that the Tory Stote would be returned with the Earl of Hertford, the Whig son of the Duke of Somerset, but this assessment proved wide of the mark. Neither Stote nor Hertford appears to have canvassed in readiness for this election, but Blake’s interest was active by early 1705, one of his agents in the county informing him that ‘your election is sure and beyond all doubt’. Attempts to persuade Blackett to stand were unsuccessful, but Blake was joined in the contest by Delaval and Thomas Forster. Local and family historians have recorded that it was Thomas Forster senior, brother-in-law of William and Ferdinando Forster, rather than his son and namesake, who contested the 1705 election. A Tory newsletter reported the candidacy of ‘Tho[mas] Forster, Esq: Jun[ior]’, though no other contemporary account of the election has come to light to confirm or contradict the newsletter report. This account continued that although Blake and Delaval

were supported with the interest of the D[uke] of S[omerse]t, the E[arl] of C[arlis]le and the Lord G[re]y in person, and all the Whigs in the county, by promises and threats; and [Forster] . . . only by the clergy and true Church men: yet he carried it for one by a great majority, as you’ll see by the poll, viz. Forster 823, Sir John Delaval 775, Sir Francis Blake 646. Besides the first had 300 freeholders more, that were ready to have polled, but the knights threw up.

The return of one Tory and one Whig was arrived at without a contest three years later when Hertford replaced Delaval, being returned with Thomas Forster junior. The by-election of 1709 caused by Hertford’s appointment to a colonelcy was uncontested. Initially the 1710 election seemed likely to repeat that of two years before, as it was reported that Forster had agreed, despite ‘difficulty to get his friends to engage’, to support the continued return of Hertford. This agreement appears to have been contingent upon Somerset supporting Harley’s ministerial revolution, as the Durham Tory Thomas Conyers* wrote to Harley of his fear that ‘Somerset is now against us’ and offered to set ‘up another to throw out Lord Hertford . . . with no expense to honest Tom Forster’. Harley’s response is unknown and the Northumberland election became fiercely contested on party lines. Hertford stood alone but Forster was joined on the Tory ticket by William Ogle of Causey Park, probably the man who had sat for the county in 1685 rather than his son and namesake. Forster and Ogle received the support of such local Tory notables as Blackett, and the Whig Lady Cowper forecast that Somerset would ‘have the mortification to have his son thrown out in Northumberland’. However, Hertford topped the poll, assisted by 612 ‘single votes’, with Forster claiming the second seat ahead of Ogle. Ogle petitioned against Hertford’s return, alleging ‘bribes, treats and threats’ by his agents. The petition was referred to committee, but proceedings were complicated by the appointment of Hertford as governor of Tynemouth and his consequent need to seek re-election. Canvassing against a by-election had begun in January 1711 despite Ogle’s apparent determination to prosecute his case, evidenced by Commons orders of 24 Jan. and 14 Feb. fixing dates for hearing the petition. On 17 Feb., however, Ogle, having ‘writ[ten] to several of his friends in the House’, withdrew his petition. At the by-election, Hertford was returned unopposed. Though the regulation of the county’s commission of the peace in July 1711 generally favoured the Tories it also added Hertford to the Northumberland bench, and in 1713 no challenge was made to either of the outgoing Members. This compromise did not, however, inaugurate a period of calm. The county’s Whig and Tory interests frequently clashed at parliamentary elections in the reigns of the first two Hanoverians, and it was not until 1754 that such a period of peace was entered into following the establishment of a dominant position by the Whigs.6

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Northumb. RO (Newcastle), Delaval (Horsley) mss 1De/7/119, poll bk.
  • 2. Bodl. Rawl. D.863, f. 90.
  • 3. Northumb. Poll Bk. 1710.
  • 4. L. Gooch, The Desperate Factions? 16–19, 21–26; Northern Hist. xxviii. 169; Rawl. D.863, f. 90; Add. 70334, list of constituencies, 7 Feb. 1704–5; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 161–2; G. Holmes, Electorate and the National Will, 30; Northumberland mss at Alnwick Castle, ser. Y division V, Hertford to Newcastle freeholders, 12 Jan. 1710–1 (Speck trans.).
  • 5. Add. 70118, ff. 94–95, 217; 70019, f. 285; 28887, f. 263; Howard mss at Castle Howard, Somerset to Carlisle, 30 Aug. 1695; Surtees, Durham, iii. 385; Thoresby Letters (Thoresby Soc. xxi), 45; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/3, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 31 Aug., 1, 19 Oct., 7, 9 Nov., 19, 21 Dec. 1700; D/Lons/W1/29, Sir John to James Lowther, Sept. 1700; D/Lons/W1/20, same to Carlisle, Sept.1700, 14 Sept. 1700; D/Lons/W2/3/7, Carlisle to Sir John Lowther I, 25 Oct. [1700]; D/Lons/W1/21, Sir John Lowther I to Carlisle, 18 Nov. 1700; D/Lons/W2/2/4, Joseph Reed to James Lowther, 26 Dec. 1700, James to Sir John Lowther I, 2 Jan., 20 May 1700[–1]; Howard mss, Somerset to Carlisle, 2 Oct. 1700; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(1), pp. 17–18; Northumb. RO (Newcastle), Blackett (Matfen) mss ZBL, Bp. of Norwich to Sir Edward Blackett, 13 Nov. 1701; Newcastle Univ. Lib. Montagu pprs. 1692–1704 misc. mss 85 II, f. 733.
  • 6. Add. 70334, list of constituencies, 7 Feb. 1704–5; 70278, Robert Price* to Harley, [Aug.] 1710; 61643, f. 77; Northumb. RO (Berwick), Black Gate Deeds B25/VI/94, Joseph Barnes to Blake, 25 Feb. 1704[–5]; Blackett (Matfen) mss ZBL, Somerset to [Blackett], 15 Mar. 1704–5; ZBL 189, Blackett to Thomas Forster II, 8 Oct. [1710], same to Ogle, 8 Oct. 1710; ZBL 190, Blackett to [?], 24 Sept. 1713; Rawl. D.863, f. 90; HMC Portland, iv. 575; Northumb. Poll Bk.; Northumberland mss ser. Y division V, circular letter of Joseph Barnes, 2 Jan. 1710–11, Hertford to Newcastle freeholders, 12 Jan. 1710–11, Edward Ward to Barnes, 19 Feb. 1710[–11] (Speck trans.); Glassey, 211; Northern Hist. 169–76.