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 1660-Jan. 1689; in the freemen and freeholders June 1689

Number of voters:

about 550 in June 1689


  Double return of Maynard and Ford. MAYNARD declared elected, 4 June 1660 
16 Apr. 1661ROBERT WALKER 
 Sir Richard Ford 
20 Nov. 1673THOMAS WALKER vice Robert Walker, deceased 
25 Feb. 1679WILLIAM GLYDE 
 (Sir) Thomas Carew I 
 William Sanford 
9 Sept. 1679WILLIAM GLYDE 
22 Feb. 1681(SIR) THOMAS CAREW I 
17 Mar. 1685JAMES WALKER 
6 June 1689CHRISTOPHER BALE vice Pollexfen, appointed to office526
 Hugh Speke25
 Thomas Bampfield 

Main Article

As the entrepôot of the Devonshire cloth trade Exeter ranked third or fourth among provincial towns in population and wealth. The city had long been established as a fulling centre; but mill-owners were second in economic standing to the larger merchants, who profited from the great expansion of the port after the extension of the Exeter ship canal in 1676. Robert Walker was probably the wealthiest inhabitant at the beginning of the period, and John Elwill at the end; but the latter, as a dissenter, refused municipal office, and could sit in Parliament only for the pocket borough of Bere Alston. Bishop Sparrow was particularly alarmed at the strength of dissent in the city, but by the end of the period the cathedral interest was recognized as dominant, even in the election indentures. The city had been separated from Devon by Henry VIII, and was governed by a corporation consisting of the mayor, the sheriff (who acted as returning officer), the recorder, town clerk, chamberlain, four bailiffs and a common council of 24, of whom the seniors bore the title alderman. This body controlled admission to the freedom, and hence, under the charter of 1627, to the franchise. The large numbers of new freemen admitted before the elections of 1660 and 1673, and again in August-September 1688, suggests that this privilege was already more valued for political than economic reasons. The freeholders also claimed the right to vote, and achieved it after the Revolution; but from the 18th century poll books it has been suggested that they did not amount to more than one-fifth of the enlarged electorate. Exeter was usually content to be represented by local worthies who were prominent in municipal affairs but made little impact at Westminster; but for the Conventions of 1660 and 1689 the city was able to command the services of two outstanding Devonians of radically opposed political outlook.1

At the general election of 1660 there was a ‘tumult’ and a double return. The recorder Thomas Bampfield, a Presbyterian and republican who had served briefly as Speaker of Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, was re-elected without opposition. The other candidates both supported the Restoration, though John Maynard, the eminent lawyer, had been a Parliamentarian in the Civil War, when Richard Ford, then a Merchant Adventurer in Rotterdam, was regarded as a ‘desperate malignant’. Exeter-born, he was now a leading London Royalist, but the freeholders made him their second choice, while the freemen preferred the cautious Maynard. The corporation authorized the expenditure of up to £ 100 on witnesses attending the elections committee on Maynard’s behalf. In accordance with the report of Edward Turnor the House found that the ‘tumult’ had not been such as to prevent the sheriff from taking the poll, and confirmed the freeman franchise. Bampfield lost his recordership in October, and did not stand again for 29 years. In 1661 Maynard retreated to Bere Alston, but Ford procured a letter of support from the Duke of York. The successful candidates, however, were much better known in the constituency. Sir James Smyth’s grandfather had represented Exeter in the first Jacobean Parliament, while Robert Walker had sat in the Long Parliament until disabled as a Royalist. Both were kinsmen of the first Duke of Albemarle (George Monck), and Smyth in particular was well-placed to secure favours for the city. Ford was successful at Southampton, and no petition was lodged.2

Both Members were paid for the first session of the Cavalier Parliament, when two matters were raised of special consequence to their constituency. On 22 June 1661 a petition from the merchants and clothiers of Exeter against the London Merchant Adventurers was read. But their monopoly had become so ineffective as far as Exeter was concerned that the motive was probably only to embarrass Ford, the company’s most articulate spokesman in the House. This was doubtless the petition which Bampfield had drawn and printed in London before the general election at the cost of £2 19s., which he recovered from the corporation. After the recess a bill was introduced to prevent abuses in the manufacture of serges in Exeter, especially perpetuana, the hard-wearing cloth that had become its staple export. The committee was given power to extend the regulations as far afield as Taunton and Bristol, but the bill was never reported. In 1663 the Exeter merchants petitioned against violations of the Navigation Act, and there was a clothiers’ petition in 1668, but in neither case have details survived. At the request of the corporation, and after consultations with the chapter, Smyth tendered a bill on 19 Mar. 1673 to unite some of the diminutive parishes in the city. Edward Seymour, as Speaker, was ‘ery instrumental’ in promoting the bill, but it made no progress in this session. Walker died during the recess, and was succeeded by his son Thomas; no contest is recorded, though the admission of over 300 new freemen suggests that opposition was expected. The Exeter parishes bill was reintroduced on 22 Jan. 1674, and immediately rejected because ‘brought in without leave, and to levy a rate on the subject’. Two days later the corporation wrote to Thomas Walker, to desire him ‘to assist in procuring two Acts of Parliament’, and on 5 Feb. a revised bill received a second reading. Notice was to be given to the inhabitants so that they might give evidence to the committee if they pleased; but the bill made no further progress.3

William Glyde, a brewer who had been elected to the common council on Albemarle’s recommendation, began to prepare for the general election at least as early as 1677. According to the recorder, Sir Thomas Carew, a pillar of the Church, he ingratiated himself with the nonconformists by allowing 15 or 16 seditious conventicles to flourish in the city during his mayoralty. But his campaign really took off at the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament. He insinuated to the commonalty that the city chamber had encroached upon their rights, which he promised to restore, as well as (for good measure) abolishing the hearth-tax. It seemed that there might be no opposition to Glyde and his running-mate, Malachi Pyne, a sugar importer who had started life as Ford’s apprentice and had married his niece. Smyth withdrew to a safer seat at Camelford, and only on the Wednesday before the election could the ‘loyal party’ persuade two court candidates to stand, in the persons of Carew and the mayor, William Sanford, a grocer. This ‘made all the fanatics as one man join for Glyde’s election, as if their cause lay at stake’. Reports were spread that the court candidates were Papists, and non-voters of ‘the inferior sort’ were encouraged to attend the election and cause disorder. Outside the hall where the election was held, court voters were threatened and beaten by Glyde’s rabble, who cried out: ‘Down with the Church! Down with the chamber!’, and asserted that none but rogues would give their voices for the mayor and the recorder. The disorder spread to the hall, and after polling in difficult conditions until nightfall the sheriff declared an adjournment till the next day. Thereupon

Glyde gets on the table among the clerks that took the poll, seizes some of the poll books, kicks the mayor in the shins and assaults the sheriff, and much doubt there was lest murder might be committed. The mayor and sheriff go out of the hall, Glyde goes into a house adjoining to the hall, puts his head out at window, and there thanks the rabble rout for standing by him, desires that they would meet him again the next morning and tells them that he would save the city from ruin. His rabble threaten to burn me [Carew], run up and down the city, being well heated with drinks, threaten they would fight it out and they would pluck down the hall if Glyde were not returned.

A further adjournment to Saturday only served to increase the ferment in the city. Glyde and Pyne were returned, but as the former was still a city magistrate Carew felt justified in complaining of his conduct to the lord lieutenant, Albemarle’s son, Christopher Monck, who brought the letter to the notice of the Privy Council. The Council condemned Glyde’s ‘seditious and factious proceedings’, and ordered the nonconformist ministers in the city to be suppressed. Glyde was sufficiently frightened to vote against exclusion, with Pyne in the opposite lobby, but after the sitting Members were re-elected in September, with no recorded contest, he took part in the petitioning campaign organized by Sir William Courtenay for the sitting of Parliament. But it was Pyne who received a vote of thanks from the corporation on 16 Nov. 1680 for his care of the city’s interests in Parliament. A breach between the two country candidates may have assisted Carew and Walker to win Exeter for the Court in 1681. A petition from the citizens and freemen touching the election was ordered to be heard at the bar of the House, but the Oxford Parliament was dissolved before this business was reached. It is probable that the election had been rigged in some way, for the town clerk was ordered not to disclose the freeman roll to members of the public. In May Walker presented a loyal address from Exeter approving the dissolution, and others followed abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot.4

Exeter surrendered its charter in August 1684. Under pressure from Bishop Lamplugh its replacement included a proviso to preserve the privileges of the Church and to confirm ‘all former agreements made between the Church and the city of Exeter’. Walker’s brother James, a Caribbean planter, was nominated mayor and Seymour recorder. Together they represented the city in James II’s Parliament, their return being officially attested by the dean and chapter. Both were Tories, but Seymour at least was in opposition from the outset of the new reign, and in 1686 the Earl of Bath, his local rival as manager for the Court, contrasted Exeter unfavourably with Plymouth in point of loyalty. It was one of the first major corporations to be regulated; on 27 Nov. 1687 the Privy Council ordered the removal of the mayor and 13 of the common council (including James Walker, who had returned to the West Indies). In the following month the corporation was dissolved, and the charter surrendered by the newly nominated mayor, Thomas Jefford, a wealthy dyer of dissenting sympathies who was new to municipal office. He was knighted for his pains, and at his request the clause guaranteeing the privileges of the Church was eliminated from the new charter of March 1688. The new corporation promised the King to elect those who ‘will readily concur in the establishment of such your Declaration [of Indulgence] by a perpetual law’, and the royal electoral agents confidently forecast success for Jefford, and Sir Bartholomew Shower, an Exeter-born lawyer whose brother ministered to an exiled Presbyterian congregation in the United Provinces. Both supported the King’s ecclesiastical policy, ‘and will undoubtedly carry it’. In June, however, it was recognized that ‘the chief interest in that city is in the bishop, dean and chapter, and their tenants, and other Church of England men, notwithstanding the late regulation there’. Shower’s role in the prosecution of the Seven Bishops can have scarcely improved his prospects; but in September the local court managers still had ‘no doubt of carrying the election, notwithstanding the opposition of the bishops’ party’. On 9 Oct. Bath reported to Sunderland:

Exeter is our London, which gives laws to all the rest, but it is so miserably divided and distracted that I dare affirm there is not a place in the King’s dominions that wants more speedy or serious consideration. It is the bishop’s seat, the residence of the dean, canons and prebendaries. The great interest of the place consists of churchmen, and it has always been true to the Church and consequently loyal to the King. Its motto is Semper fidelis. You may easily imagine it to be a great mortification to them to see the most substantial, rich, loyal citizens turned out of the government for no offence, and never so much as asked any questions by the regulators, and this in such a hurry that they destroyed their charter for very haste. It cannot but be grievous to them to be domineered over by a packed chamber of dissenters, and to see the sword, which was never known in the memory of man in this city, carried every Sunday before the mayor in state to a conventicle. ... I am of opinion, if his Majesty will have this mayor and chamber continue, Exeter must be made a garrison merely to defend them, and they cannot render him any service to countervail such expense. His Majesty has restored London to her ancient privileges, to the great joy of the whole kingdom. It would be no less rejoicing to these western parts if Exeter might partake in like manner of his royal favour.

The King reluctantly accepted this advice, and on the same day that William of Orange landed in Torbay news reached the city that the deed of surrender had been cancelled. The corporation produced an address abhorring the Dutch invasion; but eight days later William entered Exeter unopposed. Lamplugh fled to London, and Jefford went into hiding. Seymour, one of the first to rally to William, was appointed governor, and elected to the Convention, together with Henry Pollexfen, an accommodating Whig lawyer who bore a responsibility for the Bloody Assizes second only to Jeffreys’. Nevertheless he was soon elevated to the bench, when it was reported from his constituency that ‘many of the magistrates and people of condition ... drink to Lord Chief Justice Pollexfen’s confusion’. Before the by-election the sheriff announced that no freeman admitted under either of the charters of 1684 or 1688 would be allowed to vote. Bampfield was the original Whig candidate, but after five or six hours’ polling he acknowledged defeat by the mayor Christopher Bale, a merchant later described as Seymour’s ‘creature’. His place was then taken by a far less reputable candidate, the younger son of John Speke, who partially controlled admission to one of the local almshouses and had been appointed standing counsel to the corporation. The result was almost a walk-over, but Speke, whose fertile imagination had produced the ‘Irish Alarms’ in the Revolution, complained that many of his voters ‘went away for fear of murder’. A further petition from the inhabitants and freemen, a month later, laid the blame on a number of butchers, who filled the gallery and ‘made continual clamours at the time of the election for the said Bale, threatening and abusing those that gave their voices against him’. They further complained that non-resident freeholders and the cathedral staff had been allowed to vote for Bale, but not for the Whigs, and that some of his freeman voters should have been disqualified because they did not pay scot and lot. But on 6 Aug. John Birch reported evidence given to the elections committee ‘that it was a very peaceable election’, and the petition was dismissed. Thereby the right to the franchise of the freeholders and the cathedral staff was tacitly accepted.5

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. W. B. Stephens, 17th Cent. Exeter, 3-7, 85, 96-97; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 350; Devon and Cornw. N. and Q. xxii. 44, 48; Exeter Freemen (Devon and Cornw. Rec. Soc. extra ser. i), p. xxvi; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxi. 196.
  • 2. CJ, viii. 55; Exeter corp. act bk. 10, f. 132; Adm. 2/1745, f. 33.
  • 3. CJ, viii. 361, 375, 521; ix. 79; EHR, lxvi. 36-37; Exeter corp. act bk. 10, f. 143; 11, ff. 128, 130, 139.
  • 4. HMC Montagu, 174-5; Som. Wills, vi. 57; PC2/67/123; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 566; Exeter corp. act bk. 11, f. 211; Exeter Freemen, p. xxvi; CJ, ix. 707; London Gazette, 2 June 1681, 9 Feb. 1682, 26 July 1683.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 147, 170; 1686-7, p. 95; 1687-9, pp. 158, 160-1, 305; PC2/72/541, 561, 785; A. Jenkins, Hist. Exeter, 181-2, 189; DNB; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 231, 240; (1883), 381; Exeter Freemen, p. xxvii; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 570; Lysons, Devon, 223; Exeter corp. act bk. 13, f. 41; CJ, x. 188, 224, 254.