Bury St. Edmunds


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 corporation

Number of voters:



  Double return. CHAPLIN and CLARKE seated, 3 May 1660. CROFTS and DUNCOMBE declared elected, 14 May 1660
10 Feb. 1673WILLIAM DUNCOMBE vice Poley, deceased
 Sir Thomas Cullum, Bt.
 John Rotherham
 John Rotherham
12 Jan. 1689SIR ROBERT DAVERS, Bt.
 John Hervey

Main Article

Bury St. Edmunds was enfranchised by charter in 1614, the right of election being confined to the corporation, consisting of an alderman (who acted as returning officer), 12 capital burgesses, and 24 common councilmen. The narrowness of the franchise and the proximity of Newmarket ensured that in normal times the borough was controlled by a small host of local families with court connexions, chief of which were Crofts of Little Saxham, Hervey of Ickworth and Jermyn of Rushbrooke. The two latter families were excluded from standing at the general election of 1660 by the Long Parliament ordinance against Cavaliers and their sons, and there was a double return. The royalist candidates were Sir Henry Crofts, who had observed a strict neutrality, and Sir John Duncombe, who had been too young to fight, and was connected with the Herveys by marriage. But the alderman returned two Bury tradesmen, John Clarke and Thomas Chaplin, who had represented the borough in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, and they were allowed to sit on the merits of the return. Crofts and Duncombe had allegedly been returned by the coroner, though this worthy official is not named on their indenture; 11 days later they were declared elected on the merits of the election. ‘Disorders and divisions’ were reported from Bury on 1 Feb. 1661, but so far as is known they were not reflected in the election. Crofts retired, and his son had been raised to the peerage; but he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Sir Edmund Poley of Badley. John Hervey and Henry Jermyn preferred to make their careers at Court, and thus there was no obstacle to Duncombe’s re-election. The commissioners for corporations in the following year found it necessary to remove only one of the common councilmen, who refused to renounce the Covenant. A new charter was issued in 1668. On Poley’s death Duncombe, who was now chancellor of the Exchequer, secured the return of his son William. Both father and son moved into Opposition in the later years of the Danby administration.1

For the Exclusion Parliaments Bury returned two court supporters, Sir Thomas Hervey and Thomas Jermyn, but not without opposition. In February 1679 they were challenged by Sir Thomas Cullum of Hawstead and John Rotherham, a rising lawyer from Essex chiefly notable for his hatred of episcopacy. Hervey’s son wrote many years later:

Some persons (who had a considerable share in the government of that corporation in the time immediately preceding the year 1660) upon some general notions that all elections by a select number alone were derogatory to the freedom of Parliament ... prevailed upon some of the inhabitants to assume to themselves a right of electing burgesses to serve in Parliament, who proceeded thereupon to elect Sir Thomas Cullum and Mr Rotherham in opposition to Sir Thomas Hervey and Mr Jermyn ... who were elected by the select body alone.

Cullum and Rotherham petitioned that they had been returned by the sheriff of Suffolk and the ‘major part of the inhabitants of the town’; but no further action was taken. Rotherham again opposed Hervey and Jermyn in the autumn election. In the elections committee it was argued that no franchise could be conferred by charter, or, alternatively, that such a grant could not be confined to the corporation. Such arguments were of no avail, even to unseat court supporters; on 24 Dec. 1680 Sir Richard Corbet reported from the elections committee in favour of the sitting Members, and the House agreed. They were re-elected unopposed in 1681.2

The majority of the corporation presented an address abhorring the Rye House Plot, and on 12 Apr. 1684 the charter was surrendered. Its successor raised the alderman to the dignity of mayor, a promotion which Hervey marked by the presentation of a ceremonial sword, and contained the usual provision for the removal of officials by order-in-council. Jermyn succeeded to his uncle’s peerage in 1684, and Hervey was returned to James II’s Parliament ‘unanimously’ with Croft’s nephew William.3

In 1688 the management of Bury was assigned to Jermyn’s brother, Lord Dover, who had married Poley’s daughter and become a Roman Catholic. On 23 Jan. the corporation was informed that he was very ill-satisfied with them, and a letter was drafted undertaking to elect two ‘gentlemen of the county of the Church of England’ from a list to be submitted to them by the Jermyns. But action was postponed, and on 16 Mar. the mayor, five aldermen, and ten common councilmen were dismissed. The new mayor, John Stafford, a silk mercer, and at least three of the new aldermen, including the future Jacobite conspirator Ambrose Rookwood of Stanningfield, an army officer, were Roman Catholics who could be relied on to support Dover up to the hilt. Stafford was urged to ‘make no ceremony’ in removing the ‘ill members’ of the corporation who remained, but even some of the newcomers had qualms about accepting office, and Dover found the tone of the address prepared by the new body ‘odd and very trimming’. A second purge followed on 14 May removing ten of the old corporation and two of the newcomers; but the revised address was no more satisfactory than its predecessor. Dover had to redraft it himself, with a promise ‘to elect such Members for Parliament as shall comply with his Majesty in all his gracious intentions’. He was particularly anxious to find some means of compelling Hervey to sign it; but even though two-thirds of the corporation were now royal nominees, there was a substantial minority in favour of an amendment incorporating the assurances of the dissenters in the Declaration of Indulgence. Infuriated at this reflection on his handiwork, Dover proposed a third purge, but the amended draft was approved at an ill-attended meeting on 11 June, and he was satisfied with the removal of the town clerk and the deputy recorder. Support for the King’s ecclesiastical policy was steadily narrowing, and by September one of Dover’s original choices for court candidate, his niece’s husband, Sir Robert Davers of Rougham, had excused himself ‘upon the account of his presence being so very necessary now he is pulling down his house’. The other was Sunderland’s under-secretary, William Bridgeman, who had an estate in Suffolk. Stafford was now empowered to open negotiations with the dissenters, and produced Samuel Baker, leader of the Congregational church at Wattisfield, whom the royal electoral agents approved as ‘a thorough right man’. A further purge of two aldermen and five common councilmen should have secured their election, although it is significant that two vacancies had to be left on the corporation. In the following month the old charter was restored, and, shortly after the landing of William of Orange, Stafford was publicly accused of implication in ‘an horrid Popish Plot for the burning, blowing up, and destroying’ of the town. Dover went into exile, leaving the exultant Hervey with the prospect of carrying both seats. All the candidates at the general election were Tories, but the residual Jermyn interest enabled Davers to defeat Hervey’s son John. He was returned as senior Member by the unnamed ‘alderman’ and burgesses on an unsigned indenture.4

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. CJ, viii. 9, 25; Parl. Intell. 21 Apr. 1660; PC2/55/122; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 143, 146.
  • 2. DNB; John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, Diary, 214-17; CJ, ix. 576, 638, 692-3; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 149.
  • 3. London Gazette, 2 Aug. 1683; CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 25; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 150.
  • 4. IHR Bull. liv. 188-206; DNB; PC2/72/627, 651, 654, 702, 705, 730; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 150-2; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 247; Norf. Arch. xxxiii. 31.