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:

about 130


20 Jan. 1662CHARLES CORNWALLIS I vice Charles Cornwallis II, called to the Upper House  
3 Nov. 1675ROBERT REEVE vice Cornwallis, deceased 73
 George Walsh 56
8 Nov. 1678SIR CHARLES GAWDY, Bt. vice (Sir) George Reeve, deceased  
 ?George Walsh  
20 Feb. 1679SIR CHARLES GAWDY, Bt.  
22 Aug. 16791CHARLES FOX5864
  Double return. Fox and WALSH declared elected, 8 Dec. 1680  
26 Feb. 16812SIR CHARLES GAWDY, Bt.5068
 Sir John Duncombe8163
 George Walsh8163
21 Mar. 1685SIR CHARLES GAWDY, Bt.  
 SIR JOHN ROUS, 2nd Bt.  
10 Jan. 1689THOMAS KNYVETT  

Main Article

Eye (Heya) was governed by a corporation consisting of two bailiffs, ten ‘principal burgesses’ and 24 ‘common burgesses’. The bailiffs acted as returning officers, and possessed large powers of control over the roll of freemen. Although correctly described as a venal borough, Eye remained faithful to local territorial interests throughout this period. The Cornwallis family of Brome aspired to complete control of the borough, but at the general elections of 1660 and 1661 they shared the representation with another royalist family, the Reeves of Thwaite, despite the Long Parliament ordinance. George Walsh, although a stranger, acquired an interest in the borough in the right of his wife, who brought him ‘a little manor in and about the town, the site of the castle, half the tithes of the parish and a windmill’. It was more important that he should own the advowson, and shortly before the general election of 1661 prevailed on the two claimants to the living, one ‘debauched’, the other ‘a fanatic’, to give place to an unexceptionable nominee of his own. The grateful corporation, which had enthusiastically welcomed the Restoration, were already engaged to Cornwallis and Reeve, but promised Walsh the next available seat. However, when Cornwallis went to the House of Lords in the following year, they broke their promise, ‘Mr Walsh being in a country remote’, and returned another Cornwallis. At the next vacancy in the living, Walsh presented a vicar ‘that was the most deserving of any that ever had come into their town’ (though Sir George Reeve called him ‘a kind of Presbyterian minister’), and in 1674, hearing of Cornwallis’s ‘sickly condition’, he renewed his application to the corporation, who unanimously promised him the seat. But Cornwallis lingered on for another year, which gave Reeve time to organize the candidature of his own son. The Cornwallis interest had apparently no candidate of their own, but the head of the family ‘expressed great disgust’ at Walsh’s intrusion. Both the corporation and the roll of freemen were adjusted to exclude Walsh’s friends. The senior bailiff, Thomas Deye, a brewer, who had offered Walsh the seat in the name of the corporation, went over to Reeve, and when Walsh required fair notice of the election day, ‘it a heinous matter to use the word ?require? to a magistrate’, urging the people not to elect ‘so insolent a person’. A party of grandees, including Lord Huntingtower ((Sir) Lionel Tollemache) and Sir Charles Gawdy, assembled in the court house for the election, though Walsh ‘conceived it unequal that many of his suffrages (being poor men) should be exposed to the frowns of the great men of the country that appeared to countenance the other party’. Reeve was elected by a substantial majority, although a complaint was made that the sheriff unduly delayed the return. Walsh petitioned, but nothing illegal could be alleged against Deye. On 12 Feb. 1678, the elections committee reported against him, and were confirmed by the House on a division by 142 to 91. Reeve’s father died a few months later, and Gawdy, whose residence Crow’s Hall was some ten miles distant, was elected in his place. It is probable that Walsh stood again, and that the hopes of Gawdy’s friends for a costless election were not realised.3

On the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, Reeve and Gawdy stood as opponents of exclusion, agreeing to share expenses. Lord Cornwallis, who had broken with family tradition by joining the country party, now gave his interest to Walsh and to his cousin William Duncombe. He was offered one seat, but demanded both. His candidates withdrew on the eve of the poll, by which time Gawdy was said to have expended a whole year’s income. The next election was fought to a finish. Cornwallis replaced Duncombe by a courtier, his brother-in-law Charles Fox, and declared his determination to oust Reeve and Gawdy, whose interest remained in Deye’s capable hands. The Cornwallis interest was managed by the recorder, Thomas Edgar, ‘the most considerable man in the town’, who was indiscreet enough to remark: ‘Iwonder any man will vote for Sir Charles Gawdy, who is a Papist, and voted for the Duke of York, who is a rank Papist, and the King is little better’. Inducements offered, or at least displayed to the electors, varied from a trunkful of gold to a leg of mutton. One witness later told the elections committee how he

perceiving a faction and disturbance in the town, hid himself in a hay chamber, and that he might give no offence resolved not to vote at all. But his father, John Todd, with a pitchfork in hand, and some others, pursued him and brought him away by plain force and compelled him to vote for Sir Charles Gawdy and Sir Robert Reeve.

The outcome, inevitably, was a double return, the senior bailiff declaring Gawdy and Reeve elected, while the junior bailiff sealed an indenture for Fox and Walsh. At the next municipal election, Deye and Edgar stood for the senior post, and both claimed success. But Deye obtained an order from the Privy Council forbidding Edgar to meddle with the office and, on the Todds’ information, prosecuted him at the assizes for seditious words. He was fined 500 marks, most of which went to Gawdy for expenses; but it was not until June 1680 that his henchman yielded up the assembly book and corporation seal. Since neither indenture was complete, one lacking the seal and the other the signature of the proper returning officer, it is probable that none of the candidates took their seats until the House decided on the merits of the election. The allegations of intimidation and corruption do not seem to have been pressed, but the elections committee found that Walsh and Fox had a majority of the freemen qualified to vote, and the House agreed. A committee was ordered to examine the abuses in the election, but did not report. The contest was renewed in 1681, Duncombe replacing Fox as one of the Cornwallis candidates. But by this time Deye had ‘garbled’ the corporation and

most enormously and scandalously increased the number of alehouses there from seven or eight to twenty and upwards, which are his freemen at command when he pleased. By their means he hath the absolute rule of the town, and Sir Charles Gawdy and Sir Robert Reeve are sure for the future to be burgesses at any election while they live.

Nevertheless Duncombe and Walsh claimed a majority of the votes, but their petition had not been reported when the Oxford Parliament was dissolved.4

After these excitements, little is known about the last two elections of the period. The corporation was strongly Tory, sending up loyal addresses on the dissolution of the Exclusion Parliaments, the ‘Association’, and the Rye House Plot, and voluntarily offering to surrender their charter. But no quo warranto proceedings or regulations followed. Reeve was still alive in 1685, but apparently did not contest the seat, for Gawdy was returned with Sir John Rous, whose family owned property in the neighbourhood but had not previously sat for the borough. The Cornwallis interest presumably abstained. On 19 Apr. 1688 the King’s electoral agents ungratefully described Eye as:

a mercenary place that usually chooses those that spend most. They intend to choose the Lord Cornwallis and Sir Charles Gawdy that are supposed to be right. We hear the Lord Dover hath undertaken for this election.

Presumably the writers were unaware that Cornwallis was an English peer. Five months later they named Deye as Gawdy’s partner, adding: ‘’Tis supposed they will go right. Though their principles cannot be depended on, their circumstances will engage them.’ Neither is known to have gone to the poll in 1689, when Dover’s brother-in-law Henry Poley was returned with Thomas Knyvett, Lady Rous’s cousin. Both were Tories.5

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. BL, M636/33, Framlingham Gawdy to Sir Ralph Verney, 21 Aug. 1679; E. Suff. RO, EE2/D4/1.
  • 2. E. Suff. RO, EE2/D4/2.
  • 3. E. Suff. RO, EE2/D5/1; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 535; SP29/392/15-16; BL, M636/32, Lady Gawdy to Verney, 6 Feb. 1679; CJ, ix. 371; HMC 7th Rep. 494.
  • 4. Dorset RO, D124, box 236 bdle. 8 Deye to Fox, 23 Feb. 1679; BL, M636/32, Lady Gawdy to Verney, 6, 27 Feb. 1679; Sir Ralph to Edmund Verney, 27 Feb. 1679, 33, Lady Gawdy to Verney, 12, 27 Aug. 1679; E. Suff. RO, EE2/D4/1, 2; HMC 7th Rep. 495; PC2/68/248, 270, 275,278; 69/11, 21; CJ, ix. 672.
  • 5. London Gazette, 9 June 1681, 27 Mar. 1682, 20 Aug. 1683; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883) 228, 247.