Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in householders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 8,000


24 Jan. 1715EDWARD WORTLEY  
 William Lowndes2215 
 Sir Thomas Crosse2197 
  Election declared void, 6 Nov. 1722  
3 Dec. 1722CHARLES MONTAGU4835 
 GEORGE CARPENTER, Baron Carpenter4515 
 John Cotton3485 
 Sir Thomas Clarges2827 
8 May 1741SIR CHARLES WAGER3686 
 WILLIAM CLAYTON, Baron Sundon3533 
 Edward Vernon3290 
 Charles Edwin3161 
  Election declared void, 22 Dec. 1741  
31 Dec. 1741JOHN PERCEVAL, Lord Perceval  
1 July 1747GRANVILLE LEVESON GOWER, Visct. Trentham2873 
 Sir Thomas Clarges544 
 Sir Thomas Dyke514 
15 May 1750TRENTHAM re-elected after appointment to office4811141032
 Sir George Vandeput46543933
16 Jan. 1753EDWARD CORNWALLIS vice Warren, deceased  

Main Article

Westminster, wrote the 2nd Lord Egmont, who sat for it as Lord Perceval,

consists of the greatest number of votes in the whole kingdom, excepting only the county of York; for it contains above 16,000 houses, which are of such a rent as to be charged to the church and poor, and consequently to entitle the possessors to vote. It is true, that many of these being untenanted, inhabited by women, or by persons not qualified, or able, the number is reduced to about 9,000, who may be presumed to vote at any contested election.

In 1715 Sir Thomas Crosse, a Tory, was returned unopposed with Edward Wortley, a Whig. Before the next general election, Atterbury, who as dean of Westminster had ‘considerable influence’, secured the appointment of his son-in-law, another Jacobite, to the office of high bailiff, i.e. returning officer. At the general election of 1722 Crosse, who had gone over to the Government, stood jointly with Lowndes, secretary to the Treasury, against Archibald Hutcheson and John Cotton, two Tories supported by Atterbury. A Whig, Lord Molesworth, was also put up, but withdrew on finding Hutcheson and Cotton ‘in possession of the populace’. On the day of the election there were

such riotous and tumultuous doings; and when they came to polling there was such hollowing, huffing and huzzaing, and such seditious outcries on one side, as they went along by troops, with drums beating, and colours displayed before them, while many on the other side could not any way get access without being rudely insulted, and running a manifest hazard of their lives, that the rebellion that was intended [the Atterbury plot] seemed to be already actually begun.

Hutcheson and Cotton were returned, but on petition their election was declared void and at the ensuing by-election two government candidates were returned.3

In 1727 and 1734 government Whigs were returned unopposed.

Such has been the weight of power that the minister, [Egmont wrote] by his employments, by his dependants, by the assistance of the church of Westminster (which is attached in most times to the court), by the infinite number of officers, ecclesiastical, judicial, civil and military, and by the servile expectations of those who furnish necessaries of all kinds to the King’s palace, had so strengthened his interest in this city, that for twenty years no man was hardy enough to undertake an opposition and the election always went, without contest, in favour of some great officer of the Treasury, Admiralty, or Army, whom the Court had pleased to nominate. This had passed in such a manner that it was commonly called the King’s borough.

But in 1741, when the Government ‘dreamed of no opposition’, Admiral Vernon was put up against the ministerial candidates, Lord Sundon and Sir Charles Wager. ‘Mr. Edwin, a gentleman of Wales, of good fortune, appearing accidentally at the meeting held for the purpose of the Admiral’s nomination, was joined with him.’ During the voting, the high bailiff, seeing the numbers for Vernon and Edwin rising, ‘arbitrarily closed the poll’ and ‘sent for a body of regular forces, consisting of 50 men headed by officers, under whose protection [he] declared the Lord Sundon ... and Sir Charles Wager ... duly elected’. On this

the independent inhabitants, highly resenting the treatment they had received, formed a committee of ... thirty-one, of the principal inhabitants, lawyers and gentlemen, to prosecute the offenders, and to prepare all matters for an application to Parliament.

The House unseated Wager and Sundon, resolving that

the presence of a regular body of armed soldiers, at an election of Members to serve in Parliament, is a high infringement of the liberties of the subject, a manifest violation of the freedom of elections, and an open defiance of the laws and constitution of this kingdom.

The House also ordered that the high bailiff, who it later appeared had received £1,500 of secret service money for his use, should be taken into custody. At the ensuing election the Government were unable to get anyone to stand for Westminster. Lord Perceval, a member of the committee of the independent electors, was chosen candidate with Edwin, who ‘were attended by no less than 6,000 voters, of all denominations, from their own houses to Westminster Hall, where the election was made, without any opposition’.4

At the general election of 1747 the Duke of Bedford, first lord of the Admiralty and one of the largest landlords in Westminster, successfully put up his brother-in-law, Lord Trentham, with a sailor, Sir Peter Warren, against two Tories. At the election, Bedford’s ‘bruising militia’ procured ‘the utmost tranquillity by the happy expedient of driving the pollers for Clarges and Dyke [the Tory candidates] entirely from the hustings’. Trentham and Warren shared the cost of the election, amounting to £4,400.5 About 1749 Egmont wrote in his electoral survey:

the interest of Westminster lies in this manner, or at least pretty near in this proportion

the Court dead influence about2000
the moderate and independent4000

the Jacobites and those who will follow them less considerably than

which are as many as probably will vote at a common election. The rest are houses inhabited by women, or by tradesmen who out of policy will vote on no side to disoblige no party. From whence it appears how necessary it is, if a contest is apprehended or in times of great heat, to set up men of character - for the real independent interest (of which the few Jacobites assumed the title, after the others had done the work and left contending) are the great interest in Westminster - and when the Court is very obnoxious can clearly carry it. As, on the other hand, when the court is not, they will throw all their weight into it, and so carry an election for the Crown by prodigious numbers.

When at the end of that year Lord Trentham had to seek re-election on becoming a lord of the Admiralty, Bedford expected the election to be carried without trouble by his interest, joined to that of Lord Gower, Trentham's father.6 Instead of spending money he antagonized his tenants by requiring them to vote as directed merely because they were his tenants. Trentham's family was loathed by the Tories, owing to Lord Gower's desertion of their party. He had also made himself unpopular by his recent intervention on behalf of the players of a French theatre which had obtained a licence, whereas English establishments had been suppressed under Walpole's Act regulating playhouses. At a general meeting held shortly afterwards by the independent interest, at which Egmont represented the Prince of Wales, it was decided to put up George Cooke, who declined. Sir George Vandeput, a Huguenot of considerable fortune, was then chosen, all those present, including the lord mayor of London who promised £12,000 as well as other sums from the city companies, undertaking to subscribe to his expenses. Public opinion against Bedford was inflamed by his threatening tenants who voted for Vandeput with eviction or an increase in rent. At this stage, the Government went into action at the instance of George II, actuated less by regard for Bedford and Gower than by indignation at being flouted in his own parish. Treating was started and a pamphlet campaign was launched, charging the independents with having 'opposed all subscriptions or levies for suppressing the late rebellion, their suspected correspondencies, and the indecent [treasonable] healths so often proposed, and so publicly drunk in their meetings and assemblies'. At the poll it was said that inmates of prisons and debtors in the Fleet owing less than £10 were released to vote for Trentham, and that 'several persons [were] detected in voting five, six and even nine times each'. Trentham was declared elected by the high bailiff, but Vandeput asked for a scrutiny, which continued into the late spring of 1750. In April, Egmont wrote to the Prince of Wales:

Mr. [George] Cooke acquainted me that there is a necessity for more money for the scrutiny, and that the sum requisite is £300 of which he begged me to inform your Royal Highness. The last money was all consumed in paying the bills then due ... the expense runs at above £20 a day ... I represented to him the great charge that had fallen upon your Royal Highness, and the unparalleled generosity you had shown, and I also questioned him very strictly whether there was no wantonness or profusion in their proceedings. He said they were all most highly sensible of your Royal Highness's goodness and therefore hurried on even with prejudice to Sir George  to contract the time to the lightest burthen. He protested that everything was carried on with the strictest economy.

'The Duke of Bedford', Horace Walpole wrote (to Mann, 31 Jan. 1750), 'paid the election, which he owns to have cost £7,000, and Lord Gower pays the scrutiny, which will be at least as much'. On 15 May 1750 the high bailiff declared Trentham to have a majority of 170 on the scrutiny. A petition was prepared

by the independent electors, headed by Lord Elibank, Murray [Alexander, an agent of the young Pretender] ... and one or two gentlemen. Sir John Cotton and Cooke ... discouraged it all they could, and even stifled the first drawn, which was absolutely treason. However, Cooke at last presented one [28 Jan. 1751] from the inhabitants, and Lord Egmont another from Sir George Vandeput, and Cooke even made a strong invective against the high bailiff.

The petition accused the high bailiff of allowing many votes by people who did not pay scot and lot and refusing those of others who did, and of having declined to produce the parish books showing who the legal voters were. But at the bar of the House the high bailiff brought charges of 'menaces and seditious behaviour' against Alexander Murray, and thus 'the accused became the accuser'.

On 6 Feb. Murray, appearing at the bar, defied the orders of the House by refusing to kneel, and was sent to Newgate a close prisoner. Six days later the two Westminster petitions were withdrawn. In June, as soon as Parliament was prorogued, the two sheriffs of London, on their own authority, went to Newgate to release Murray. Accompanied by Vandeput and Lord Carpenter, they took him in procession to his house 'preceded by a vast concourse of people ... with a standard ... whereon was inscribed "Murray and Liberty".' On reassembling, the house discussed measures to punish the sheriffs, who absconded. Thus ended one of the most fiercely contested elections in the first half of the eighteenth century.7

On the death of Warren in 1752, Edward Cornwallis was asked to stand by George II,8 with the support of Bedford, who wrote to him, 8 Dec.:

Though the treatment I met with from both parties at the last election for Westminster, might naturally have induced me to have declined interfering in any shape at present, yet out of personal regard to you and my opinion that it will be agreeable to his Majesty to see one of his Bedchamber a representative for the city of Westminster, I have determined to use my interest with all my friends and tenants (who by my desire have till this time kept themselves unengaged) to serve you in case you shall be nominated a candidate at the intended general meeting of the inhabitants of that city and liberty.

He was returned without opposition in January 1753.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Poll
  • 2. Scrutiny
  • 3. House of Yvery, ii. 459; E. Calamy, Hist. Own Life, ii. 348-9, 453-4; Nichols, Corresp. Bp. Atterbury, v. 298, 403; Whitehall Evening Post, 13-15 Mar. 1722; Post Boy, 10-13 Mar. 1722; HMC Var. viii. 334.
  • 4. House of Yvery, ii. 459-60, 461-3; Vernon Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xcix), 237; HMC Carlisle, 197; CJ, xxiv. 37, 297; Walpole to Mann, 29 Dec. 1741.
  • 5. The Case of the Hon. Alexander Murray (1751); Add. 15955, f.149; 15957, ff.219, 222; ex inf. Julian Gwyn.
  • 6. House of Ivery, ii. 459-60, 461-3; Vernon Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xcix), 237; HMC Carlisle, 197; CJ, xxiv. 37, 297; Walpole to Mann, 29 Dec. 1741.
  • 7. AECP Angl. 427, ff.301-7; Genuine and Authentic Account of the Proceedings at the late election for Westminster (1749); Egmont mss 47035 (b); Westminster elections 1741-50 (1750); Gent. Mag. 1747, p. 150; 1750, p. 233; 1751, p. 283; HMC Du Cane, 203-4; A. Lang, Pickle the Spy; Walpole to Mann, 9 Feb. 1751; Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 17, 26-31, 32, 208, 211; The Case of Alexander Murray; CJ, xxvi. 18-20.
  • 8. Edw. Cornwallis to Bedford, 7 Dec. 1752, Bedford mss.