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

Right of Election:

in freemen and freeholders worth 40s. p.a.1

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

1,350 in 17102


 William Pierrepont  
9 Dec. 1695WILLIAM PIERREPONT vice Hutchinson, deceased  
29 Nov. 1699ROBERT SACHEVERELL vice Slater, deceased  
 George Gregory  
 Robert Sacheverell534 
 Sir Scrope Howe5003 
 SACHEVERELL vice Gregory, on petition, 10 June 1701  
 George Gregory  
28 July 1702GEORGE GREGORY  
23 Dec. 1706JOHN PLUMPTRE vice Pierrepont, deceased  
12 May 1708JOHN PLUMPTRE776 
 Robert Sacheverell5344 
25 Oct. 1710JOHN PLUMPTRE728 
 Roby Sherwin675 
 Borlase Warren5785 
4 Sept. 1713ROBERT SACHEVERELL778773
 John Plumptre626620
 George Gregory53265327

Main Article

Nottingham at the end of the 17th century was generally esteemed a pleasant town. In 1697 Celia Fiennes remarked that it was ‘the neatest town I have seen, built of stone and delicate large and long streets, much like London and the houses lofty and well built’. In her description she referred to the homes of the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), the Earl of Kingston (Evelyn Pierrepont*) and Sir Thomas Willoughby, 2nd Bt.*, thereby inadvertently identifying three of the most important political interests in the borough. However, as Nottingham was renowned for the number of its gentry residents, the process of selection and election to Parliament was not confined to these three great houses. Moreover, the economic interests of the town could not be ignored by any aspiring Member, for the corporation expected its representatives to defend and promote their concerns in the Commons. Chief among these interests were the defence of the Trent’s position as a navigable waterway and of the town’s main industry, the manufacture of stockings. The considerable Presbyterian presence also made an impact on elections.8

In 1690 the corporation was still in turmoil as a result of the rapid changes in royal policy towards the borough since 1682. Strictly speaking there was no charter in operation in 1690, although those appointed by James II in the charter of September 1688 remained in office. Legally, these men had been displaced by the royal proclamation of October 1688 which restored corporations to the status quo ante 1679, but as many were Whig ‘collaborators’ they were able to remain in office. Their major justification for doing so seems to have been to facilitate the restoration of the pre-1682 charter without admitting those responsible for its surrender. To this end they claimed that the pre-1682 charter was superseded by its successors; that the 1682 charter was void because it was dated before the surrender of the old one had been enrolled; and that the 1688 charter had never been entered. Thus, a new charter was required. As a first step the Whigs approached Parliament on 19 Dec. 1689 for a bill to settle the corporation ‘in respect of some particulars wherein the case of that corporation differs from others’. No action was taken, but the Whigs retained a sufficiently strong grip on the town to ensure the unopposed election of two of their number to the Commons in the election of February 1690. However, in May of that year, the Tories counter-attacked when several old officers, led by Gervase Wild, mayor in 1682, served mandamuses on the corporation to restore them to office. This attempt was defeated in the law courts, but the Tories then sought to discredit the corporation by convincing the lord lieutenant (and recorder of Nottingham), the 4th Earl of Kingston, that the mayor, Charles Harvey, was distributing arms as a prelude to a rising on behalf of James II. Kingston ordered the militia to confiscate the weapons, prompting an immediate petition to the Queen for their restoration. Kingston was then asked for evidence of Harvey’s intentions and responded with a diatribe against the mayor which owed much to the Tory view that Whig ‘collaborators’ were the major threat to the new government on the grounds of loyalty to King James and sympathy with republican principles, a point with a certain plausibility in Harvey’s case as he had been a groom of the bedchamber to Oliver Cromwell†. The town’s MPs, Hutchinson and Slater, organized the defence of the corporation’s rights, although the dispute seems to have been resolved through the intervention of the Earl of Devonshire (William Cavendish†), whom the corporation asked to become recorder on Kingston’s death later in 1690. Renewed attempts to obtain a new charter were successful in October 1692 when one was granted which explicitly accepted the Whig interpretation of the events of 1682, installed the displaced mayor of that year, William Greaves, in office and ordered new elections for the common council.9

The election of 1695 may have been a close affair as ‘upon a scrutiny Mr Slater .?.?. carried it against Mr Pierrepont’. However, no sooner had the election finished than the other Member, Charles Hutchinson, died, necessitating a by-election in which Pierrepont was returned unopposed. The representation was now shared between a Whig ‘collaborator’ and a member of a family with a traditional interest in the borough. In the 1696–7 Parliament, Nottingham corporation showed its determination to defend the right of the borough to elect townsmen by petitioning against legislation which proposed a property qualification for burgesses that failed to take account of personal as opposed to landed estates. It is unclear whether this bill, unamended, would have affected either sitting Member, both of whom were re-elected unopposed in 1698. The by-election caused by the death of Richard Slater in November 1699 was portrayed by Robert Harley* as an extension of the Court–Country divide prevailing at Westminster in which the Country party, in the person of Robert Sacheverell, emerged victorious. Sacheverell’s election saw the re-emergence of another local family interest (he was the son of the old Whig hero, William*). His support for the Country platform gradually transformed itself into a committed Toryism, which, nevertheless, remained attractive to some of his father’s supporters. Gregory’s petition against his opponent’s return never emerged from the committee of elections, but he had the embarrassment of being called to explain why he had failed to pay the charges of some of his witnesses in travelling to London.10

The election of January 1701 saw a more typical contest with two candidates from each party putting up in tandem. Pierrepont appeared to have the best organized interest as he held an entertainment to celebrate William III’s ‘happy landing’ in November 1700, where free ale was dispensed and the gentry treated to a ball. Both Pierrepont and Sacheverell were fêted on their return from London, presumably because they had thwarted the bill to make the Derwent navigable. Pierrepont topped the poll, but even the backing of the majority of the corporation was insufficient to secure Sacheverell’s election. He was narrowly beaten into third place by Gregory, who presumably enjoyed Newcastle’s support. The other Whig candidate, Sir Scrope Howe*, came bottom of the poll in his only venture as a candidate. Sacheverell petitioned against Gregory’s return, alleging a whole series of electoral malpractices, ranging from bribery to the collusion of the returning officers in the polling of non-qualified voters. The Commons declared Sacheverell duly elected, with Pierrepont acting as one of the tellers for the majority. In December 1701 Gregory clearly had Newcastle’s interest, but his position was weakened by his inability to find a ‘proper person to join with me’, although he attempted to counteract this disadvantage by using the name of Julius Hutchinson, son of Charles Hutchinson. Not surprisingly, Pierrepont and Sacheverell were returned, a feat they repeated, this time without a poll, in the more propitious circumstances of 1702.11

Little is known about the 1705 election but it is clear that it was contested with more than usual bitterness as the whole weight of the Whig interest was mobilized in an attempt to deny Sacheverell (a Tacker) his seat. Although the names of the Whig candidates are unknown, they were backed by Newcastle, the Earl of Kingston and Howe, now Viscount Howe [I]. Nevertheless, Sacheverell emerged victorious, ‘due in a great measure to the neighbouring gentry, and in a more particular manner to the honourable gentleman Sir Thomas Willoughby’. Defoe’s comment in October 1705, that ‘this is a violently divided town’ is indicative of the extent to which partisan politics had come to dominate elections. Somewhat surprisingly, the death of Pierrepont in August 1706 did not lead to a renewed outbreak of strife as John Plumptre, almost certainly backed by Newcastle, was elected without a contest. In 1708 it was Sacheverell, who, handicapped by the failure to find a partner, had to stand singly against Plumptre, and another Whig, Roby Sherwin, went down to defeat by over 100 votes.12

In December 1709 Gregory was able to report to Newcastle that the Whigs had a majority in the corporation. However, the trial of Dr Sacheverell revived the Tories to such an extent that they were able to carry a loyal address to Queen Anne which was presented by Robert Sacheverell, although he was then out of the House, after he had been introduced by the elder statesman of Anglican Toryism, the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†). This provoked a counter-address from the Whigs, two months later, which ‘had many dangerous words in bordering upon treason’ and to which the mayor was forced to affix the corporation seal for fear of provoking a riot if he refused. Not for the first time, however, the 1710 election saw a partisan contest with two candidates from each party, but a split result with Plumptre and Sacheverell being returned. Sacheverell’s victory was attributed by the Whigs to the mob intimidating their voters and to ‘mushroom’ votes that sprang up ‘for this being a county as well as a town, every one that has 40 shillings a year in it, is as much entitled to vote as a burgess’. More importantly, an analysis of the 1,350 voters in the poll book shows that the Whig ticket of Plumptre and Sherwin outpolled the Tories Sacheverell and Warren by over 50 votes. What made the difference was Sacheverell’s ability to attract nearly 140 cross-votes from the Whigs, 91 from Plumptre which may have been the preferred option of Newcastle, given his commitment to Harley’s ‘moderating’ scheme, whereas Sherwin attracted only 51 from the Tories. Warren managed a paltry ten cross-votes. In an election in which the two parties were so finely balanced, personal votes may have been crucial in determining the outcome of the contest.13

By 1713 the Newcastle interest was placed more firmly behind the Tories due to the close association of the widowed Duchess and Robert Harley (now Lord Treasurer Oxford). In January 1713 Matthew Brailsford informed Oxford that the Duchess had recommended Sacheverell and Warren for Nottingham, but that the former was holding himself aloof, probably in the hope of attracting ministerial favour and, to give himself an extra lever, was threatening to join with Plumptre. To William Levinz*, Sacheverell was vital to the Tory cause: ‘I know of no one can give any turn there but Mr Sacheverell’. In the event Sacheverell and Warren were returned by a comfortable margin, after spending about £600; two days later the Tories tightened their grip on the corporation by electing four of their party to the common council. Just before the election, Oxford’s heir Lord Harley (Edward*) had married the Newcastles’ daughter, prompting Lord Middleton (as Willoughby had become) to write that after the recent success the ‘corporation will now soon be on so good a foot that my Lord Harley will have little trouble for the future in bringing in whoever he recommends’. By 1714, however, Tory morale had collapsed following an agreement between the Pelhams and the Harleys over the disputed inheritance to the Newcastle estates (the Duchess had contested the will), which eventually gave a substantial estate in Nottingham to the young Lord Pelham, a staunch Whig. Indeed, Pelham was busy in the Whig interest in September 1714, pressing Sir Francis Molyneux, 4th Bt.*, to persuade Gregory to stand once more with Plumptre. By November, the Whigs were investing money ready for the forthcoming dissolution and even before his death in December, Sacheverell was reported to be ‘giving it up’. The Tories did not regain a share in the representation of Nottingham until 1727.14

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. CJ, xiii. 611
  • 2. Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts. 1710 (Thoroton Soc. Rec. Ser. xviii).
  • 3. Add. 70305, ‘breviate for George Gregory’.
  • 4. A True List of . . . the First Parl. of Gt. Brit. . . . (1708) in possession of Mr R. B. Freeman.
  • 5. Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts. 91.
  • 6. Daily Courant, 8–10 Sept. 1713.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Centenary Hist. of Nottingham ed. Beckett, 114–21; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 86–88; Add. 47057, f. 240; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 547–50; J. Taylor, Journey to Edinburgh, 39–41; HMC Portland, ii. 308–9.
  • 9. Bodl. Carte 81, f. 782; Nottingham Bor. Recs. v. 87, 89, 91, 365, 368, 375–7; Nottingham Miscellany (Thoroton Soc. Rec. Ser. xxi), 21–27; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 64; BL, Althorp mss C7, Ld. Eland (William Savile*) to Mq. of Halifax (Sir George Savile†), 11 Aug. 1690; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Cavendish pprs. Charles Harvey et al. to [Devonshire], 20 Sept. 1690; D. Gray, Nottingham Through 500 Years, 107–11.
  • 10. Add. 70018, f. 104; 70019, f. 143; CJ, xiii. 275–6.
  • 11. Post Boy, 7–9 Nov. 1700; Flying Post, 12–14 Dec. 1700; Add. 70305; HMC Portland, ii. 182.
  • 12. G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 105–6; HMC Portland, iv. 272.
  • 13. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss Pw2 73, Gregory to [Newcastle], 28 Dec. 1709; Add. 70421, newsletters 30 May, 20 July 1710; 17677 DDD, f. 545; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Addresses, ii. 207; Flying Post, 31 Oct.–2 Nov. 1710; Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts.
  • 14. Add. 70373, Matthew Brailsford to Ld. Harley, 31 Jan. 1713; 70247, Levinz to Oxford, 23 June 1713; 70380, Ld. Middleton to [?Edward Harley*], 23 Sept. 1713 (enclosure); 70388, Levinz to same, 11 Sept. 1714; 32686, ff. 25–26; R. A. Kelch, Newcastle, 29–36; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Molyneux mss 27, Pelham to [Molyneux], 9 Sept. [1714].