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:

over 200 in 1678


13 Apr. 1660THOMAS SKIPWITHc.140 
 William Bury201 
  Double return of Newton and Ellys. NEWTON declared elected, 18 May 1660  
17 Apr. 1661JOHN NEWTON  
12 Mar. 1678SIR ROBERT MARKHAM, Bt. vice  Thorold, deceased104 
 Sir William Ellys, Bt.11192
5 Feb. 1679SIR WILLIAM ELLYS, Bt.  
21 Aug. 1679SIR WILLIAM ELLYS, Bt.  
10 Feb. 1681SIR WILLIAM ELLYS, Bt.  
 Sir William Ellys, Bt.  
 John Newton  
8 Jan. 1689SIR JOHN BROWNLOW, Bt.  

Main Article

Under the charter of 1631 the corporation of Grantham consisted of an alderman, who acted as returning officer, 12 ‘comburgesses’, and 12 ‘second burgesses’. It controlled the freeman roll, and hence the franchise. The medieval Thorold family was resident in several of its branches in and near the borough, but their interest did not predominate in this period owing to widespread recusancy and to financial difficulties in the senior branch. More persistent interests were exercised by two families of comparatively recent origin. William Ellys, solicitor-general during the Interregnum, and his great-nephew, the second baronet, were consistently hostile to the Stuarts, while John Newton, savagely fined for a purely technical delinquency in the Civil War, gradually moved from court to country under the influence of Sir Robert Carr. At the general election of 1660, when his candidature must have been dubious under the Long Parliament ordinance, he probably stood with Thomas Skipwith, a lawyer of royalist leanings who had observed an impeccable neutrality till returned for the borough to Richard Cromwell’s Parliament. They were opposed by Ellys and William Bury, a Cromwellian ‘knight’ who had sat for Grantham in 1654. The result was a landslide for the Royalists, with Skipwith at the top of the poll and Newton obtaining twice as many votes as his two opponents combined. Ellys, who may have feared for his life when the Cavaliers returned to power, is said to have offered the town £100 p.a. if he were successful, and procured another indenture for himself and Skipwith. But on 16 May the House declared Newton elected.2

At the Restoration the queen mother regained her manorial rights in Grantham, and on her behalf her attorney-general Sir Peter Ball and her treasurer Sir Henry Wood were recommended to the corporation in 1661. In reply they denied that it was ‘in their power to make a choice of a burgess without the consent of the whole borough’, and proceeded to take advantage of the keen interest in the election with a fund-raising drive to rebuild the famous steeple of the parish church, the names of the contributors being posted in a public place. Positive financial response on the part of the neighbouring gentry coincided with a marked increase in the number of royalist freemen created by the corporation, and a new place of election was sought, ‘the electors being more numerous than heretofore’. Although Ellys’s worst fears had not been realized, his supporters must have been intimidated when Newton and the most prominent local Cavalier, Sir William Thorold, were ordered to certify to the Privy Council the names of the disaffected in Grantham. At the election there was probably no opposition to Newton, who was returned as senior Member, despite Thorold’s age and status. A new charter of 1664, which cost the corporation £170, may have been designed to further weaken the Ellys interest by requiring confirmation for the recorder and town clerk.3

Thorold was not a young man when he was elected, and as early as 1669 Lord Roos (John Manners), whose father was recorder of the borough, was asked by his sister to reserve a seat ‘for a good friend’, apparently Thomas Waller. Though Thorold lingered on till within ten months of the end of the Cavalier Parliament, canvassing for his seat began in the spring of 1677. With the assent of the Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie I) Roos proposed Sir Edmund Turnor of Panton as court candidate. But Lindsey’s rival Carr had for some years vigorously asserted an interest at Grantham, which he regarded as ‘my own stage’. In association with Newton, whom he had brought over to opposition, and Ellys, a judge since 1673, he backed the latter’s great-nephew, Sir William Ellys, Bt. as country candidate. He advanced £1,000 to the corporation, and Ellys offered a similar sum, interest-free, for ten years, even hinting that he might ‘burn the bonds’ if he were chosen. He also ‘began to drink and make entertainments in the town’ and to spend ‘great sums of money extravagantly’. Tumor may not have been able to match him financially, but there is no reason to suppose that any of his potential supporters remained thirsty for long in the ensuing months. As Lindsey was not only lord lieutenant of Lincolnshire, but also brother-in-law to Lord Treasurer Danby, the election assumed national importance, especially when the ‘ancient’ Thorold very inconveniently chose to die in the middle of a heated session, on 4 Mar. 1678. Turnor’s priority was the writ, and on 7 Mar. Charles Bertie wrote that he would leave for Lincolnshire with it on the following day. But Ellys had taken advantage of his absence to consolidate his position, and on the eve of the poll Turnor desisted, to be immediately replaced as court candidate by Sir Robert Markham. Although Markham was the sole candidate in this period from outside Lincolnshire, and had arrived in the constituency only on the previous day, Lindsey mustered the militia in his support, and among the ratepayers he had a majority of 76 to 66; but if non-residents and other freemen were included Ellys could claim 111 votes to 104. Nevertheless the alderman returned Markham ‘with the unanimous assent and consent of the freemen and commonalty’. Presumably he justified his action by disallowing the votes of four paupers and of 15 other freemen whom Ellys had bribed. Roos, who had been elected and confirmed as recorder to assist the court candidate, was urged to ‘countenance’ Markham and to counteract Carr’s influence with the Leicestershire Members by attending the committee to hear Ellys’s petition. If Markham were unseated, Lindsey argued, ‘the King will then observe that, notwithstanding he hath lately conferred upon your lordship the recordership of Grantham and the lieutenancy of Leicestershire, yet that Sir Robert Carr hath a greater interest’. Though Ross disregarded this plea, few election cases can have attracted more attention. Sir Robert Southwell reported to Ormonde the ‘great indignation’ of the country party

that his Majesty should himself speak unto all he met, and set up his servants to solicit this matter, which in the bottom is a high contest of that country between the Lord Lindsey and Sir Robert Carr, each drawing in all their strength and relations to support it, and so growing up in the House as a case for trial of strength to decide the fate of the session.

The elections committee was as well attended as a full House, with 281 Members dividing on a motion for candles. At one o’clock in the morning Markham’s friends gave up, and Sir Thomas Meres, another Lincolnshire Member who was in the chair, was instructed to report in the petitioner’s favour. His report was rejected in the House by 179 votes to 167 after a long debate. The real loser was Carr, who was struck off the Privy Council, yet blamed by the country party for not playing their trump card by attacking Lindsey’s muster of the militia, which ‘would have sounded very ill in the House of Commons’.4

For the Exclusion Parliaments Markham transferred to Newark, leaving the field clear for Newton and Ellys at Grantham, though their indentures claim only ‘the assent and consent of the major part’. Both Members voted for exclusion, and snubbed the Duke of York on his way through Lincolnshire to Scotland in the autumn of 1679. Carr was more cautious, and retained his interest in the borough. His hand can probably be seen in the wording of the address of August 1681 ostensibly approving the dissolution of Parliament, but strongly Whiggish in tone. Only after his premature death did the corporation produce a frankly Tory address, abhorring the Rye House Plot. In 1684 the corporation surrendered its charter, requesting that the style of ‘alderman’ and ‘comburgesses’ should be changed to ‘mayor’ and ‘aldermen’ respectively. Among the new aldermen were Thorold’s youngest son John, who lived in the town, and a totally unscrupulous country gentleman from the neighbourhood, Thomas Harrington. The usual clause empowered the crown to displace officials by order-in-council.5

It was John Thorold who presented the address from Grantham congratulating James II on his accession; but the real power in the borough, under the nominal supervision of Roos (now Earl of Rutland), lay with Harrington. On 16 Mar. 1685 Lindsey wrote to Rutland:

As to Grantham, I hope your lordship being recorder, and Captain Harrington having it in his power to make an addition of freemen, there will be no difficulty, but only in the choice of such freemen as will be firm to your lordship’s interests, and who really have a dependence upon you. A more acceptable service the crown cannot receive than the exclusion of the excluder, nor your lordship and myself a most honourable revenge.

A clear indication of the real situation in the borough is the total failure of the outside candidates who applied to Rutland, Markham and Richard Graham, who was recommended by the King. The result was a straight fight between the Tories, Harrington and Thorold, and the Whigs, Ellys and Newton’s son John. As Lindsey had expected, the latter were outvoted by the great numbers of new freemen, and their separate petitions never emerged from committee.6

In January 1688 Lindsey, still lord lieutenant but increasingly cool towards the Court since the reversalof James’s ecclesiastical policies, reported:

The borough of Grantham (according to the best information I can have) consists of Church of England men and some dissenters; and in that borough Sir William Ellys has such an interest that he will not only be chosen himself, but his interest will also choose any other. This account I have from some persons who do very well understand that corporation.

The explanation of this surprising assessment is no doubt a rebuff administered at Harrington’s instigation to the candidature of Lindsey’s brother, Peregrine Bertie I. It was at once contradicted by another report recommending the adoption of the sitting Members as court candidates. Whatever the Government believed, the response was a quo warranto, which the corporation resisted in vain. The charter of September 1688 not only abolished the sacramental test, but restricted the franchise to the corporation. Thorold was too staunch an Anglican to be any longer acceptable to the Court, and Sunderland recommended Harrington, who had been transferred from the militia to the regular army, to the snobbish disgust of the Berties. Both the 1684 and 1688 charters were withdrawn during the Revolution, and at the abortive election of 13 Dec. Ellys was indeed successful, though it is improbable that the Tory Sir John Brownlow was the partner of his choice. Although Brownlow was serving as sheriff of Lincolnshire he was ‘unanimously’ reelected to the Convention with Ellys.7

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/11/50.
  • 2. G. H. Martin, Royal Charters of Grantham , 19; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. 1), 213; Huntington Lib. Q. vii. 181; CJ , viii. 35.
  • 3. Grantham corp. minute bk. 1, ff. 343-6; PC2/55/139; Martin, 21; B. Street, Notes on Grantham , 109.
  • 4. HMC Rutland , ii. 11, 48; Huntington Lib. Q. vii. 180-2; BL Loan 29/88/83; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 2; 1676-7, p. 259; 1677-8, p. 520; 1678, p. 205; HMC Buccleuch , i. 328; Lady E. C. Cust, Recs. Cust. Fam. i. 220; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 1015; minute bk. 1, ff. 409v, 632v, 656; E. Turner, Grantham , 14; HMC Ormonde , n.s. iv. 429, 431, 433-4; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 86; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, ii. 229; CJ , ix. 492-3; C. Holmes, 17th Cent. Lincs. 241-2; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 166.
  • 5. Lincs. N. and Q. xviii. 147-50; CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 8, 466; 1682, p. 514; London Gazette , 23 Aug. 1681, 13 Sept. 1683; Street, 109-11; Martin, 21-23.
  • 6. London Gazette , 23 Mar. 1685; HMC Rutland , ii. 86, 87-88; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 24; Monson mss 7/12/43a; CJ , ix. 721, 726.
  • 7. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 146, 147; HMC Rutland , ii. 115; PC2/72/681; Martin, 22, 178; Monson mss 7/12/62; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 275; Univ. Intell. 26 Dec. 1688.