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 freemen

Number of voters:

30 in 1690


14 Jan. 1689RICHARD COOTE, Baron of Coloony

Main Article

The corporation of Droitwich, consisting of two bailiffs elected annually and an unspecified number of ‘burgesses’ or freemen, enjoyed an enviable freedom from financial constraint owing to its control of the most important salt-works in England. Only owners of at least a quarter-share in one of the recognized salt-houses could claim the franchise, and except for the eldest sons of freemen this required the unanimous vote of the corporation. Only three outsiders were elected freemen in this period, Henry Coventry (who bought a quarter-share from Sir John Pakington, 2nd Bt.), Thomas Street, the recorder, and Samuel Sandys I. Efforts by other proprietors, such as Thomas Foley I, to claim the freedom as of right, led to constant litigation during the period. But these disputes were not reflected in the political history of the borough. No contested elections are known; either Sandys or his son was returned to every Parliament, and until 1685 the other seat was held equally securely by the Coventry interest, as it had been before the Civil War. At the general election of 1660 the Long Parliament ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers or their sons was blatantly defied by the return of Sandys. Thomas Coventry’s royalist sympathies were hardly less obvious, but at least he and his father had been officially cleared of delinquency. George Monck wrote on behalf of the civilian, Dr Walter Walker, to which the corporation replied that ‘they would most cheerfully have endeavoured to elect Dr Walker’ if the letter had come even ‘one hour before the election’. Sandys moved up to the county in 1661 and was replaced by his son, while Coventry gave way to his uncle Henry, who had been associated with the Court in exile. Droitwich was able to pay parliamentary wages to Sandys and to promote two bills steered through in the first session of the Cavalier Parliament by Street. The first was to unite two parishes in the town, and the other to revive a Commonwealth scheme ‘for the making navigable of a certain river running from the said corporation of Droitwich into the river of Severn called Salwarp brook’, which ‘would be of extraordinary advantage to the said borough in reference to the trade of salting’. With admirable impartiality the corporation obtained a plan from the republican engineer Andrew Yarranton at the cost of £50, and agreed to pay £550 by instalments to the ultra-loyalist lord lieutenant, Lord Windsor, for the execution of the work. However, after Windsor had finished five of the six locks required, it was recognized that ‘all endearours that could be used to make the said brook or river navigable’ were ‘likely to prove ineffectual’. The sitting Members were re-elected in 1679, though Coventry experienced some alarm before the autumn election on hearing that his colleague’s father wished to stand for the borough instead of the county. This actually occurred in 1681, but it was the younger Sandys who gave way. The candidature of (Sir) John Talbot, who had bought the fee-farm rent of the borough, came to nothing.1

The loyalty of the corporation was not in doubt, for they sent addresses approving the dissolution and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. When they refused to admit a servant of Coventry’s to the freedom, despite the King’s recommendation, Sir Leoline Jenkins wrote: ‘His Majesty knows how to dispose of his favours better than to put a single person in the balance against a well-affected corporation and their ancient franchises’. There was no Coventry candidate in 1685, as Henry had retired from politics and Thomas was returned for Warwick, and the second seat was designed for Windsor’s heir. But he died shortly before the election, whereupon Windsor wrote: ‘The corporation have agreed to choose my son that now serves his Majesty’ despite his tender years. Renewed pressure from the unenfranchised proprietors may have prompted an address of thanks for the Declaration of Indulgence from the corporation in April 1688, but the distinction which they drew between the Church of England and ‘all other subjects’ is unlikely to have pleased James II, and they were ordered to surrender their charter to Sir John Trevor, the master of the rolls. In September the King’s electoral agents reported:

There is great contention in this place about their salt-works, but all interests agree to choose right men. But neither side have proposed their Members; your Majesty is desired to recommend them.

This report appears to have produced some confusion in Sunderland’s office. On 15 Sept. he wrote to Trevor ordering him to stand jointly with John Somers, a local Whig who had made his name as junior counsel for the Seven Bishops. But six days later he sent a letter to the corporation recommending Trevor and his own under-secretary William Bridgeman. None of these candidates stood for Droitwich in 1689, when the Sandys interest as usual took one seat. But the Coventry interest seems to have lapsed, despite Henry Coventry’s munificent bequests to the little town, and the other Member in the Convention was Lord Coote, an Anglo-Irish Whig who had taken a prominent part in the Revolution and may have been returned on the Earl of Shrewsbury’s interest. Neither Member was appointed to the committee for the bill to regulate the salt-works which Sir John Trenchard reported on 5 July. It was designed to break the corporation monopoly, but this was only achieved later, and then at great cost.2

Author: Edward Rowlands


  • 1. VCH Worcs. ii. 259-60; E. Gillan, ‘Droitwich and the Salt Industry’ (Birmingham Univ. M.A. thesis, 1956); Worcs. RO, 261/4/679, 697-8; HMC Popham, 174; G. D. Squibb, Doctors’ Commons, 178; Nash, Worcs. i. 306; CJ, viii. 266, 371; Bath mss, Coventry pprs. 6, ff. 25, 27.
  • 2. London Gazette, 15 Aug. 1681, 17 Apr. 1682, 19 Sept. 1683; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 402, 481; 1685, p. 23; 1687-9, pp. 177, 186, 209, 275, 279; 1690, p. 275; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 442; VCH Worcs. iii. 88; CJ, x. 203, 205.