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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 500


15 Apr. 1754George Keppel, Visct. Bury 
 John Page 
15 Jan. 1755Augustus Keppel vice Bury, called to the Upper House 
25 Mar. 1761Lord George Henry Lennox 
 John Page 
26 Jan. 1767William Keppel vice Lennox, vacated his seat 
18 Mar. 1768William Keppel 
 Thomas Conolly 
7 Oct. 1774William Keppel 
 Thomas Conolly 
12 Sept. 1780William Keppel 
 Thomas Steele 
11 Mar. 1782Percy Charles Wyndham vice Keppel, deceased247
 Bryan Edwards239
1 Apr. 1784George White Thomas296
 Thomas Steele295
 William Smith174

Main Article

In 1754 the chief electoral influence at Chichester was divided between the Duke of Richmond, three miles away at Goodwood, and John Page, M.P. for Chichester since 1741; and as Chichester, being a port, had a number of customs officers, the co-operation of the Treasury was desirable. Richmond’s trustees (the 3rd Duke did not come of age until 1756) and Page managed the borough in close association with the Duke of Newcastle, and usually in harmony with each other.

In 1754 Page and Lord Bury, Richmond’s cousin, were returned unopposed. When in December 1754 Bury succeeded his father as Earl of Albemarle, Newcastle suggested his brother, Augustus Keppel, for Chichester; Richmond’s guardians wrote ‘a proper letter of recommendation’ to the town; and Page undertook to go down ‘to keep the people’s minds from rambling’. He told his friends that they should accept Keppel ‘not only because he was recommended by Richmond’ but also because he was ‘a good officer and a rising man in the navy, where he would be able and ... willing to serve the sons of his friends who should go into the sea service’.1 Keppel was returned unopposed.

Richmond himself was not satisfied with this condominium. In 1754 he had written to Newcastle: ‘It is absolutely necessary for my interest that I should have the sole nomination to the places depending on the Custom House and Treasury at Chichester’; and when he came of age began vigorously to press his claim. This was recognised in 1756, when Devonshire was at the Treasury; and on Newcastle’s return to office Richmond hastened to have it confirmed.

Chichester [he wrote to Newcastle on 26 Aug. 1757] is the only place I mean to have any interest at ... I shall be very willing to take the recommendation of any of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood, but let me have the doing of it. Mr. Page should I think come into this, as he can have no desire to establish an interest for himself at Chichester, having no family to leave it to. He will equally get his friends served and may then be secure of having no opposition from me.

Richmond was young and naive, and had little respect for his elders. Newcastle, knowing that Page would never agree to surrender his interest in this manner and not wishing to see a breach between the two, made no reply. In October 1758 Richmond told Page ‘that he believed it was the general custom with ministers to make that compliment to the person of the highest rank in the country and living near the place in which he cultivated an interest’, and claimed this right in regard to ecclesiastical as well as civil preferments. Page urged his thirty years’ service in Parliament and the money he had spent on elections, and said that Henry Pelham had promised him a share in recommendations at Chichester. Newcastle now supported Page, and there for the time being the matter rested.2

Page wished to retire at the next general election, but not if his doing so would throw the borough into Richmond’s hands. In September 1760 he had a conversation with Richmond, in which Richmond said that if Page did retire he would try for both Members.

But [wrote Page to Newcastle] now that Commodore Keppel was to be brought in by the Duke [of Cumberland] at Windsor, he did not think of opposing me at the next general election ... but he would not engage to me for any future election ... all this was ... said in a way as if I was to understand it as an act of kindness that he permitted me to come in quietly, even at the next general election.

Page warned Richmond that if he tried to bring in two Members he ran the risk of losing both, and refused to say whether or not he himself would stand at the general election. Finally, Richmond demanded that if Page did not stand he should make interest for Richmond’s candidates—which left Page fuming with anger and determined to teach him a lesson. ‘It was necessary to do something’, Page wrote to Newcastle, ‘to show him how much he was mistaken in the high notions he entertained of his interest at Chichester.’3

Accordingly Page arranged for a motion to be made in the corporation, which Richmond believed was attached to the Goodwood interest, against creating new freemen; and was defeated by only one vote. Richmond replied by trying to win over the most prominent of Page’s supporters, Sir John Miller and his son Thomas. He suggested to Thomas Miller, who he knew was anxious to enter Parliament, that he should stand as his candidate at the general election; and when Miller refused, ‘endeavoured to make him see how much more wise it would be in him, being a young man, to side with him and his friends. Page, says he, is old; the Duke of Newcastle and the King are old’.

Newcastle, anxious always for peace and reconciliation, urged Page to stand, and thus ensure that there would be no contest. Instead Page suggested that young Miller should come in, but as his candidate, not Richmond’s. This Richmond refused. ‘I shall never consent’, he wrote to Newcastle, 8 Oct. 1760, ‘to have another person as young as myself saddled upon me as second Member for life.’ Page, he alleged, was ‘sly and artful’; his attempt against Richmond’s interest in the corporation was ‘nothing less than dirty’; and Richmond threatened that if Newcastle did not support him he would ‘look for assistance elsewhere’.4

Somehow Newcastle succeeded in pacifying them. ‘Your Grace knows’, he wrote to Richmond, 28 Jan. 1761, ‘how much pains I took to prevail on Mr. Page to stand again in order to keep things quiet.’ But on the eve of the general election everything was once more in confusion. Richmond refused to join with Page and even threatened to oppose him, while Page determined to retire and put up Miller to fight Richmond. Newcastle saw both men again, and called in the Duke of Devonshire to help find a settlement; and on 21 Mar. drew up with Richmond an agreement to be submitted to Page. Two alternatives were proposed: that Page and Lord George Lennox (Richmond’s brother) should stand as joint candidates, canvassing and entertaining together; or, if Page did not choose to stand, Richmond would support Miller, provided Miller agreed that Richmond should recommend to all Custom House vacancies at Chichester.5

Newcastle in his anxiety ‘to keep things quiet’ had sponsored an agreement which virtually handed over the borough to Richmond. He himself seems to have been aware of it, and in his letter to Page recommending the agreement tried to put the best construction on it: ‘If you choose to come in rather than acquiesce in the conditions of that paper, you would do it upon an honourable and easy foot.’ Similarly he tried to tone down the clause about the Customs recommendations: it was ‘not much, and what you or anybody would have made much dispute about’ (but he admitted that ‘these conditions may seem hard at first’). If Page should choose to allow Miller to have the seat—‘He will probably keep it against all attempts to the contrary, and then you and your friends will have the end they proposed from the beginning.’6 If Page felt hurt that Newcastle had not stood by him he did not show it. He chose to stand himself, and he and Lennox were returned unopposed.

Page went into opposition with Newcastle, but Richmond supported the Bute and Grenville Administrations and strengthened his interest at Chichester with Treasury support. About the Customs recommendations, he wrote to Grenville on 14 Apr. 1764:7 ‘Since my father’s death ... every lord of the Treasury has given me the disposition of these employments.’ Whether Grenville did is uncertain, but in his papers there are a number of recommendations from Richmond which apparently were accepted. Presumably Richmond was granted this privilege also by the Rockingham Administration; but he must have lost it in 1766 when he went into opposition.

After the agreement of 1761 Page abandoned the struggle, and in 1768 left Parliament. In September 1767 Richmond’s candidates, William Keppel and Thomas Conolly, were unanimously adopted for the coming general election. About that adoption meeting William Clarke, one of Newcastle’s Sussex agents, wrote to him on 30 Sept. 1767:8

Some of the lower people in the town who love oppositions seemed to be dissatisfied, and did not appear in such numbers upon this occasion as might have been expected. But this is a point of no moment. The Duke of Richmond could never have had a more favourable opportunity of recommending two members; there is nobody here disposed to engage in opposition. When the gentlemen of this city who are above any pecuniary influence are unanimous it will always prevent such practices.

Conolly and Keppel were returned unopposed, and again in 1774.

Robinson in 1780 wrote about Chichester: ‘The Duke of Richmond would it is apprehended be difficult to attack here, at least no good person is known for it as yet’; and at the general election Richmond’s candidates were again returned unopposed. But his influence was declining. Headstrong and tactless, he was ill-suited for managing a borough; from 1766 to 1782 he lacked Government support; his candidates were, with the exception of Thomas Steele, complete outsiders; and about 1780 the borough began to grow restive at his having for so long recommended both Members. As the champion of parliamentary reform, he had no moral right to dictate to Chichester whom they should elect. All this stimulated the growth of an independent party, whose candidate at the by-election of 1782 was defeated by only eight votes.

In December 1783 Robinson wrote about Chichester:

Whether the present Members will be again elected here is very difficult to say. The last contest was severe and near run, although fought under disadvantages. It is most probable there will be an opposition again.

At the general election of 1784 there were three candidates: Steele and William Smith (treasurer of the Ordnance), standing on Richmond’s interest; and George White Thomas (who had married Page’s daughter), standing on the independent interest. Smith had no chance and was heavily defeated. The borough was getting more and more out of Richmond’s control, and towards the end of this period Page’s warning seemed on the verge of being fulfilled.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Add. 32737, ff. 495, 509; 32852, ff. 7-8.
  • 2. Add. 32735, ff. 244-5; 32873, f. 293; 32885, ff. 507-8; Richmond to Devonshire, 21 Dec. 1756, Devonshire mss.
  • 3. Add. 32912, ff. 90-92.
  • 4. Ibid. ff. 464-5.
  • 5. Add. 32918, f. 105; 32920, ff. 384-5.
  • 6. Add. 32920, ff. 402-3.
  • 7. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 8. Add. 32985, f. 292.