Bere Alston


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgage-holders

Number of voters:

about 30


  Double return of Howard and Drake. HOWARD seated, 27 Apr. 1660 
26 June 1660RICHARD ARUNDELL vice Howard, chose to sit for Tavistock 
13 Apr. 1661(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I 
  Double return of Howard and Crymes. HOWARD seated, 16 May 1661 
29 Jan. 1662RICHARD ARUNDELL vice Howard, chose to sit for Tavistock 
4 Nov. 1665JOSEPH MAYNARD vice Arundell, called to the Upper House 
29 Mar. 1679SIR JOHN TREVOR vice Maynard, chose to sit for Plymouth 
6 Sept. 1679SIR JOHN TREVOR 
16 Apr. 1685(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I 
19 Jan. 1689(SIR) JOHN MAYNARD I 
31 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN HOLT vice Maynard, chose to sit for Plymouth 
21 May 1689SIR JOHN TREVOR vice Holt, appointed to office 

Main Article

Serjeant Maynard, the great lawyer, bought the borough of Bere Alston together with the manor of Bere Ferrers from the Cavalier Earl of Newport in or before 1654. The portreeve, who acted as returning officer, was chosen in his court leet, and he controlled one seat throughout the period. In 1660 and 1661 his candidates were involved in contests with the Drake interest; but, having established the burgage franchise, he was willing to lease some of them to Sir Francis Drake, 3rd Bt. and share the patronage. He sat for the borough himself only in the Cavalier Parliament and James II’s Parliament; but he nominated both his sons in turn and his son-in-law Sir Duncombe Colchester. When it became clear that he would have no male heirs, he was prepared to find seats for two distinguished fellow lawyers, the upright Sir John Holt and the knavish Sir John Trevor, and for the courtier Sir Benjamin Bathurst. Radicals or court toadies would not have been welcome, but these candidates represent a wide spectrum of political moderation.1

At the general election of 1660 Maynard himself was returned for Plymouth and Exeter. At Bere Alston there was a double return, with Maynard’s son on both indentures. On one, which was signed by the portreeve and about 17 ‘burgesses and freeholders’, he was returned with George Howard, on the other with Sir Francis Drake, 2nd Bt. Drake’s electors were merely described as freeholders, and his indenture, with 12 signatures, presumably represents an attempt to challenge the narrow franchise. Howard was seated on the merits of the return, but opted to sit for Tavistock when it was clear that Drake, who had been elected for Newport, did not intend to pursue the matter further. He was replaced after the Restoration by the Cavalier Richard Arundell. Drake was re-elected for Newport in 1661, but his brother-in-law, Elizeus Crymes (who had represented Bere Alston in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament) doubtless stood on his interest. Drake signed a return for Sir John Maynard and Crymes, together with 35 other named ‘burgesses’. But Maynard and Howard were returned by the portreeve and allowed to take their seats. On 20 Jan. 1662 Job Charlton reported from the elections committee that Crymes had failed to attend to make good his petition, which was accordingly dismissed. Howard was absent ‘upon urgent occasions’, but he had requested three other Members to inform the House that he desired to opt for Tavistock again. A new writ was ordered accordingly, and again Arundell succeeded him. Howard himself was the returning officer, and Crymes was one of the 19 ‘burgesses’ who signed the return. When Arundell was raised to the peerage three years later Maynard’s only surviving son Joseph was ‘unanimously’ elected. But the return was detained for the better part of 12 months by the under-sheriff of Devon, who was sent for in custody on 22 Oct. 1666.2

Joseph Maynard, who was not distinguished for his intellectual powers, did not stand again after the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament. At the first general election of 1679 his father and Sir William Bastard were returned on separate indentures, both witnessed by Drake’s nephew and heir, who had married Bastard’s sister-in-law. Maynard was also successful at Plymouth, and Shaftesbury correctly expected him to be replaced by Trevor. Maynard abstained on the exclusion bill, but Bastard and Trevor voted in opposite lobbies; nevertheless they were re-elected on the same indenture in the autumn. The returning officer for the 1681 election was no less a person than Sir William Courtenay, the leader of the country party in Devon. Neither of the sitting Members was successful; Trevor transferred to his own county of Denbighshire, but Bastard, so far as is known, never stood again. He was replaced by John Elwill, a rich Exeter merchant who had married another of Lady Drake’s sisters; Colchester sat on the Maynard interest. In 1685 Maynard was returned for Bere Alston himself and brought in Sir Benjamin Bathurst, a merchant who became one of James II’s courtiers and financial advisers. The indenture was witnessed by 28 ‘free burgesses’, the greatest number recorded in the period. In April 1688 the royal electoral agents reported: Bere Alston is a borough that elects by prescription of burgess tonmen [sic] that belongs to gentlemen in the county, and will certainly choose Sir Benjamin Bathurst and Sir John Maynard; one, if not both of them are right.But in June they would go no further than to describe the borough as ‘at the devotion of Serjeant Maynard and Sir Francis Drake’. Sunderland ordered Bathurst to stand for re-election, but it is unlikely that he did so. At the general election of 1689 Maynard and Elwill were returned ‘according to the manner before surrender of charters’. Maynard once again chose to sit for Plymouth, and was immediately replaced by Holt. On 17 Apr. Holt was appointed chief justice of the King’s bench, and a second by-election became necessary. Trevor regained his seat, not attempting to conceal from the Commons during the debate on the Stockbridge election that ‘I have the honour to serve for a borough in Devonshire, for which I am obliged to a Member of the House and to the gentlemen of that country’.3

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Cal. Comm. Comp. 3212; Trans. Devon Assoc. xli. 154-9; E. F. Eliott-Drake, Fam. and Heirs of Drake , ii. 109-10.
  • 2. CJ , viii. 3, 251, 348, 639.
  • 3. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 381; (1883), 233; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 276; Grey, ix. 424.