Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

less than 30


17 Apr 1754Edwin Sandys
 Edward Wortley Montagu
15 Apr. 1757Sandys re-elected after appointment to office
30 Mar. 1761Edward Wortley Montagu jun.
 John Richmond Webb
19 Jan. 1765Webb re-elected after appointment to office
24 Jan. 1766John Stuart, Lord Mountstuart, vice Webb, deceased
18 Mar. 1768John Stuart, Lord Mountstuart
 Henry Lawes Luttrell
24 Apr. 1769Sir George Osborn vice Luttrell, vacated his seat
23 May 1770Osborn re-elected after appointment to office
10 Oct. 1774John Stuart, Lord Mountstuart
 Henry Lawes Luttrell
20 May 1776Charles Stuart vice Mountstuart, called to the Upper House
11 Sept. 1780Charles Stuart
 Henry Lawes Luttrell
3 Apr. 1784Charles Stuart
 Bamber Gascoyne
4 May 1786Matthew Montagu vice Gascoyne, appointed to office

Main Article

Bossiney had no charter and the right of election had never been determined by Parliament. According to most authorities it was in the resident freemen, but in fact Bossiney behaved as a corporation borough. A titular mayor existed, associated with a number of so-called freemen, who exercised the franchise to the exclusion of their fellows. Though little is known of the method of recruitment, they appear to have constituted a self-perpetuating oligarchy. Their number varied: the highest known in this period was 28 in 1767;1 but after 1782, when Crewe’s Act disfranchised the revenue officers, it fell to 10.

About 1741 Bossiney was disputed between Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc and Richard Edgcumbe (created in 1742 Baron Edgcumbe). A few years later Edward Wortley Montagu had established an interest in the borough, and in 1752 an agreement was concluded between Edgcumbe and Wortley Montagu to share the representation and election expenses.2 They enjoined on their successors ‘to observe and perpetuate the above written agreement, as a lasting monument of the family friendship now between us’. This was faithfully adhered to, although the contrary was repeatedly alleged by interested third parties. Moreover their respective supporters within the borough were engaged in a struggle for the mayoralty and preferments, and anyhow disliked a union between the patrons as apt to reduce the importance and the benefits of the electors.

In 1754 Edgcumbe and Wortley Montagu chose one Member each. But on Edgcumbe’s death, 22 Nov. 1758, the borough turned against his son, Richard, and Baron Edgcumbe. He had never been there, he told Newcastle on 20 May 1760, but he was persuaded that had his father lived ‘they would equally have flown off him’. His agent, Thomas Jones, wrote about the borough in June 1760:

Mr. Wortley is promised his man by a great majority of electors. The other is intended to be put up to the best bidder. But with proper means used there is a good chance of securing this borough in the interest of Lord Edgcumbe and Mr. Wortley. Though in any event an adventurer will find encouragement.

Edgcumbe was of two minds. He wrote to Newcastle on 12 Oct. 1760:

With regard to Tintagel [i.e. Bossiney] I have frequently explained that I had no design of meddling there farther than as your Grace might choose. They had quarrelled with my father, and at his death abjured me. They threatened Mr. Wortley that they would not stand by him if he joined me, and solicited him to join someone else. I am still told I have 10 votes of 26, and that others may be brought over.

And on 16 Dec.: ‘It was my father’s advice in his last illness that I should not put myself to any expense nor to much trouble about it ... and that the most I should do should be to lend my name to anybody who might think it would give sufficient ground to stand upon.’ On the other hand, to yield without a struggle would be to invite attacks elsewhere. ‘I am convinced that an exertion at Tintagel ... will strengthen me in other places.’ He therefore asked for certain dismissals and appointments, ‘to strike a kind of terror and to make [it] appear that I have an interest with Government’.3

But soon a new situation arose. Edward Wortley Montagu died on 26 Jan. 1761, leaving his enormous fortune and his interest at Bossiney to his daughter, Lady Bute. The mayor, an Edgcumbe nominee, ‘hawked about the borough’; while Thomas Pitt (who was its recorder), in a last fling at electioneering, also made a bid. Robert Andrews, his trustee, advised him to do everything in his power to oblige Lord Bute. On 28 Feb. Andrews wrote to Newcastle about a conversation with Pitt:

I find from him that he has one Member there certain and has engaged with somebody for it; the other he says he could carry, but will certainly join my Lord Bute in choosing Mr. Wortley [Montagu jun.].

The person to whom Pitt was engaged was John Richmond Webb, whom Bute himself wished to see in Parliament: he was returned at the general election, apparently without any reference to Edgcumbe, who by that time was a dying man. The expenses of the two Members amounted to about £2,500.4

Webb, who, to secure his own seat for the future, wished to keep the Edgcumbes out of Bossiney, wrote to Bute on 11 Apr. 1761:

The present divisions arise fundamentally from an attempt of the late [i.e. the 1st] Lord Edgcumbe by a disposition of preferments in the customs and excise to secure the mayor and town clerk and a majority of the jurors in his interest, by which he would have had the entire command of the borough. These posts were in number ten. ... It is a notion in the borough that if Lord Edgcumbe’s schemes had not been broken, Mr. Wortley would in the end have been attacked. Mr. Wortley supported his interest there by lodging money in the hands of the corporation, to be lent from time to time to the freemen on mortgage bonds and notes without any interest (from the body of the 17 there was due to him at his death £317), and by defraying the cost of the schoolmaster and of the holding of the two courts at Easter and Michaelmas, amounting in the whole to about £35 per annum. The continuance of which bounty, with the disposal of the preferments according to the enclosed paper, and not attempting a union with the mayor and town clerk, will I should think secure this borough to your Lordship at easy terms for the future.

On 4 Aug. 1763 he wrote to Charles Jenkinson, lately Bute’s secretary: ‘You know ... that all attempts have been made by the friends of Lord Edgcumbe to gain the mayor from us.’ But on Webb’s death in January 1766 Edgcumbe agreed to the election of Bute’s son, Lord Mountstuart, to the seat which was to have been his under the original agreement.5

In view of Edgcumbe’s unpopularity with a majority in the borough, Bute’s restraint in leaving him the nomination to one seat is remarkable. On 9 May 1767 Cory Carpenter reported to Lady Bute a meeting at Bossiney, ‘when it was agreed that the care and management [of the borough] should be committed to me as being Lord Bute’s agent, that the nomination of Members should be in the noble Lords at an equal expense, and that it is to appear to the people to be Lord Bute’s nomination’. And on 15 Mar. 1768 he reported a conversation with William Masterman, Edgcumbe’s agent, in which it was agreed ‘to prevent any suspicion of a junction’ that Masterman was to go to Bossiney only after the election was over. And on 9 Apr. 1769:

I asked ... what made the people angry with Colonel Luttrell. He told me Arthur [an elector] had reported that he was Lord Edgcumbe’s Member. Now although these people are never to be had without the perquisite, they are sometimes so obstinate as not to be had with it, and the manner in which Lord Edcumbe manages the little interest he hath ... is the most probable for introducing a third person who may run away with the whole.

At the by-election of 24 Apr. 1769 the electors asked £40 each, but finally accepted 25 guineas; for Sir George Osborn’s re-election on taking office, 23 May 1770, they had ten guineas. On 30 Aug. 1771 Carpenter wrote to Lady Bute:

The junction between your Ladyship and Lord Edgcumbe was thought to be prudent, but that these people might still indulge themselves with the passion of serving their respective patrons it was thought right that none of ’em should be acquainted with it. However, the management of the elections and the negotiations of the materials passing all through my hands, as well to your Ladyship’s friends as to the friends of Lord Edgcumbe, gave them a strong suspicion that matters were amicably settled by the principals. This led them frequently to inquire of me if it was so or not. I have hinted to them that you were on good terms ... they being thus circumstanced have had no opportunity of raising a quarrel with either your Ladyship or Lord Edgcumbe, but some mischief may still be going on.

The election of 1774 cost each patron about £1,630. Jonathan Elford, Lady Bute’s agent since 1777, wrote to her, 25 Aug. 1780, that if her son Charles Stuart was to be elected ‘it would certainly be a great gratification to the voters to see him down’, but if inconvenient to him his presence was not essential. On 30 Jan. 1783 he informed her that the electors of Bossiney were ‘under dreadful apprehensions’ lest a measure of parliamentary reform should be carried, which would mean ‘their civil dissolution’. Early in 1784 there was danger of opposition from Sir Francis Basset; and Elford wrote to Lady Bute, 22 Jan.:

The interest hath certainly been injured greatly by Mr. Crewe’s bill ... as your Ladyship is deprived of all the votes of all the staunch corporators, and the election, now being in fewer hands, each individual feels greater consequence. I will however venture to assure your Ladyship that your interest is not in the least danger. ... We have still seven to three, which I think a pretty decent majority.

In the end the election was once more uncontested.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Cory Carpenter to Lady Bute, 22 Nov. 1767, Wharncliffe mss, Sheffield City Lib.
  • 2. Wortley mss, Royal Inst. Cornw.
  • 3. Add. 32906, ff. 184-5; 32913, ff. 75-76; 32916, ff. 90, 123-4; Namier, Structure, 301.
  • 4. Cory Carpenter to Lady Bute, 17, 24, 31 Mar., 26 July 1761, Wharncliffe mss; Add. 32919, f. 340.
  • 5. Wharncliffe mss; Jenkinson Pprs. 175, 177-8; Add. 38201, ff. 84-85.