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 400-500 in 1597


 William Lenthall
20 Apr. 1675HENRY NORWOOD vice Massey, deceased
 William Cooke
18 Feb. 1679EVAN SEYS
 William Cooke
15 Feb. 1681SIR CHARLES BERKELEY III, Visct. Dursley
 CHARLES SOMERSET, Lord Herbert of Raglan
 Evan Seys

Main Article

Gloucester’s resistance to Charles I under the governorship of Edward Massey may well have turned the tide of the Civil War, and made the city an object of particular suspicion after the Restoration, when its walls were razed. Elections were largely under the control of the corporation, and usually at least one alderman was returned. No opposition was apparently offered in 1660 to Alderman James Stephens, a zealous Parliamentarian who had represented the city in the two preceding Parliaments. But the recorder, William Lenthall, notorious as the pliant Speaker of the Long Parliament, was opposed by the local war-hero, Edward Massey, who had been an active royalist agent since 1649. His appearance in Gloucester, where he had commanded the parliamentary garrison in the Civil War, produced a riot. On the day after his arrival, as he was leaving church, he was attacked by a group of soldiers. Aroused by news of this, the citizens took up arms and ‘had not great pains been taken, and much mediation been used, there had not been a foot soldier left alive in the city’. After the riot had abated, the council met and made Massey a freeman of the city. Summoned to London to appear before the Council of State, he was acquitted of provoking the ‘late tumult in Gloucester’, and was returned with Stephens during his absence. He was re-elected in 1661 with the new recorder, Evan Seys, who had been a Welsh judge under the Protectorate.1

Among the measures of the first session of the Cavalier Parliament was the Act severing the adjoining hundreds of Durston and King’s Barton from Gloucester, which was also singled out for severe treatment under the Corporations Act. Although the Cavalier Sir William Morton had already replaced Seys as recorder, the commissioners further removed 36 of the corporation, including ‘almost all the wealthier citizens’, as even a strongly loyalist mayor admitted. After some difficulty the charter was confirmed in 1664, but by 1671 it had become unworkable owing to the shortage of loyalists capable of office, and was declared forfeit when the mayoral election was not held. The Government were told that:

If it shall stand as at present, there will be an uninterrupted succession of froward and perverse people, for we must call into the common council men of mean degree and factious principles.

The disfranchisement of a prominent alderman, the leader of the ‘adverse’ party, provoked a crisis. The corporation refused to elect a replacement until the King’s letters were procured in favour of Henry Norwood, a retired army officer who had recently settled in the neighbourhood. It was intended that he should become the next mayor, but while the ‘loyal’ party were at church the opposition met separately and ‘elected’ a certain Alderman Bubb. Under the new charter the numbers of the corporation, which had fluctuated, were fixed at between 30 and 40, to be removable by the King at pleasure.2

It was probably the by-election of 1675 that stimulated Lord Worcester (Henry Somerset) as high steward of the city to take a keener interest in its electoral affairs, though both the candidates were local gentlemen who had been nominated aldermen in the new charter. Henry Norwood, an old Cavalier, obviously enjoyed the support of the senior sheriff, and according to his rival, William Cooke, one of a notable Puritan family, the election was marked by grave irregularities:

Four indifferent gentlemen were chosen, who by mutual consent were to methodize and order the proceedings ... but Col. Norwood and the elder sheriff refused to conform to them, but proceeded in a disorderly manner to a poll, which occasioned so great a confusion, that Robert Atkyns and some other gentlemen interposed; and then a more regular way of proceeding being agreed upon: that Mr Cooke should poll five and then Col. Norwood five, and so continue until one side should poll out their whole number ...

At 11 o’clock Norwood and the senior sheriff left ‘abruptly’, but the junior sheriff continued the poll for Cooke, who claimed, when he had a majority of more than 50, that he considered the election concluded and departed. An hour later, however, the senior sheriff and Norwood returned and proceeded to poll again. Cooke objected, but the senior sheriff, claiming to be ‘much tired and spent’ adjourned the poll and said that he would hear ‘exceptions’ at three o’clock in the election chamber. But there he refused to hear Cooke’s ‘exceptions’ and sealed the indenture for Norwood. Cooke, or his partisans, petitioned, but Norwood was seated on the merits of the return, though it was not until 7 Mar. 1678 that the House declared itself satisfied by 122 votes to 95 on the merits of the election.3

At the first general election of 1679 Seys, now an exclusionist, was re-elected, but Norwood was replaced by Cooke, both having received the unanimous approval of the corporation. Although the latter absented himself from the vital division on exclusion, Worcester apparently regarded him as a personal enemy, and succeeded in September in replacing him with Lord Berkeley’s son. The Court cannot have been much pleased by the result, for Seys retained his seat, and Worcester himself admitted that he was disappointed in the conduct of Berkeley, now Lord Dursley, when the second Exclusion Parliament met. He was re-elected in 1681, but Seys was at last replaced by Worcester’s own son Charles Somerset. The corporation produced a loyal address in May, approving the dissolution, and in August Thomas Thynne I was informed that he might have Dursley’s seat in the next Parliament ‘without either the trouble or expense of a journey’. But four months later Worcester was told that the corporation intended to extract from Dursley a signed declaration ‘that he will behave himself well to the King in the things in controversy, and be in favour of the opinions they have declared themselves, or else they will not choose him.’ Further loyal addresses followed, abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot, and congratulating James II on his accession, and it is unlikely that Dursley stood in 1685. Worcester, now Duke of Beaufort, asked the corporation in March to re-elect his son, which they agreed to do; but the freemen were less compliant, electing John Powell, the town clerk, with John Wagstaffe, another of the aldermen nominated in the 1672 charter. Powell was dismissed in September, no doubt at Beaufort’s instance, but reinstated in 1687, when the King was assured in a loyal address that the city considered the dispensing power ‘an inherent prerogative of your imperial crown’, and promised to elect Members of Parliament ‘who would confirm by their votes the whole scope’ of the Declaration of Indulgence. Nevertheless, James ordered the corporation to re-elect the mayor, John Hill, who had proclaimed himself a Roman Catholic, and in November removed the recorder ( (Sir) William Gregory), three aldermen and ten common councilmen. A further address in January 1688 promised the prayers of the corporation for the birth of a son. Beaufort considered that Wagstaffe and Powell were the only supporters of the King’s religious policy ‘that either have credit enough of their own, or are in any probability to be chosen Parliament men by the assistance of their friends’, and Sunderland accordingly recommended them as court candidates. After William’s landing, the Roman Catholic mayor Anselme Fowler resigned, Cooke was chosen in his place, and in 1689 was returned unopposed with a local squire, Sir Duncombe Colchester. Although Colchester had been nominated to the corporation in 1672, he now voted for the disabling clause in contrast to Cooke, who voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. A letter from an Eminent Person in Gloucester; Cal. Cl. SP , iv. 643, 656.
  • 2. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lviii. 257-74; CSP Dom. 1671, pp. 411-12, 419, 429, 456-7, 475-6, 492, 504, 521-2, 531, 587; HMC Le Fleming , 85; Atkyns, Glos. 51, 61; PC2/63/96.
  • 3. The Case of Mr William Cooke .
  • 4. HMC Ormonde , n.s. iv. 346; Gloucester Guildhall, council bk. 1656-86, pp. 218, 878; London Gazette , 19 May 1681, 29 Feb. 1682, 16 July 1683, 16 Mar. 1685, 27 June 1687; Spencer (Althorp) mss, Thynne to Halifax, 13 Aug. 1681, Beaufort mss, Ld. to Lady Worcester, 11 Dec. 1681; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 171; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 288; PC2/72/534; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 24.