Great Grimsby


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 50


c. Apr. 1660WILLIAM WRAY  
6 Nov. 1666SIR HENRY BELASYSE vice Scrope, deceased 28
 Edward King 22
24 Oct. 1667SIR PHILIP TYRWHITT, Bt. vice Belasyse, deceased2617
 Sir Frescheville Holles 23
 HOLLES vice Tyrwhitt, on petition, 22 Nov. 1667  
25 Feb. 1673WILLIAM BROXHOLME vice Sir Frescheville Holles, deceased 29
 Charles Pelham 22
25 Apr. 1675SIR CHRISTOPHER WRAY, Bt. vice Gervase Holles, deceased 41
  Double return. WRAY declared elected, 5 May 1675  

Main Article

Grimsby, formerly a flourishing port, had by the Civil War ‘but one poor coal-ship and scarce mariners to man her’, according to one of her representatives. The corporation were usually happy to sell the freedom of the borough, which carried with it the franchise, at £10 a time, though a parliamentary candidate might have to pay four times as much and the constituency was beginning to acquire a reputation for venality. Nevertheless all the Members were Lincolnshire men by birth, residence, or property; but they were drawn from no less than ten different gentry families. Samuel Pepys correctly dismissed the claim of Sir Frescheville Holles that his forefathers had been Parliament men for Grimsby for 140 years as ‘romantic lies’, and in any case the local branch of the family became extinct in 1675, while the degeneration of the Wrays eclipsed the other established interest.1

All the candidates at the first two elections of the period had fought in the Civil War, three of them as colonels. In 1660 two ex-Parliamentarians were returned, the recorder Edward King and William Wray, from the younger branch of the family. Neither opposed the Restoration, and King vigorously supported the Court, at least for the first session of the Convention. But in 1661 they were replaced by two royalist veterans, Adrian Scrope, who had fought at Edgehill, and Holles’s father Gervase, who had been in exile during the Interregnum and now held a minor place at Court. King stood again on Scrope’s death in 1667, but was defeated by Sir Henry Belasyse, the son of the Roman Catholic governor of Hull. The assertion that the election cost the successful candidate ‘£300 in ale, and £52 in buttered ale’ was also dismissed by Pepys, perhaps too hastily, as ‘devilish lies’. Belasyse was killed in a duel in August 1667, and the resultant by-election was contested by Sir Philip Tyrwhitt, a crypto-Catholic who doubtless enjoyed the support of the Belasyse interest, and Sir Frescheville Holles, a swaggering naval officer who initially espoused the country interest. Tyrwhitt was returned, but unseated on petition. In the elections committee, according to John Milward:

Sir Philip’s cause was very ill managed by himself and his agents, but especially by his counsel, or else it might have gone better with him. Sir Philip had 26 voices and Sir Frescheville had but 23, but they proved nine of Sir Philip’s to be bribed and threatened into the election, and so Sir Frescheville Holles carried it, as having the greater number of legal votes.

Job Charlton accordingly reported that Holles was duly elected, and for the next five years he shared the representation of Grimsby with his father.2

The younger Holles was killed in the battle of Sole Bay on 28 May 1672, and on 2 Sept. (Sir) Joseph Williamson was informed that ‘at Grimsby great interest is making by feasting and caressing the townsmen’. There were three candidates for the vacant seat, of whom Charles Pelham of Brocklesby stood in the country interest. Henry Fanshawe, whose brother had married the widow of Sir John Wray, 3rd Bt., and lived on her dower at Glentworth, soon desisted; but more serious opposition was offered by William Broxholme, ‘a true son of the Church of England ... and a loyal subject to the King’, whose loyalty was further guaranteed by a huge debt to the crown. Gervase Holles came down to Grimsby ‘to settle his estate there’, but after some protestations of neutrality doubtless gave his interest to Broxholme. No writ appears to have been issued until Parliament met again in February 1673. The election was described to (Sir) Edward Harley in the following terms:

You cannot but know that Mr Broxholme (now sitting in your House) carried the election at Grimsby from your worthy kinsman and my very good friend Mr Charles Pelham by a few voices of the meaner sort .... I believe he spent more to obtain their votes than three parts of four of the men were worth ... whereas Mr Pelham (though his purse was free) was not at all disposed to such compliances.

On the death of Gervase Holles in 1675 the Court was less successful. Their candidate was Charles Bertie, secretary and brother-in-law to Lord Treasurer Danby. But so unpopular was his family in Lincolnshire and in the Commons that he obtained only 14 votes against 41 recorded for William Wray’s son, Sir Christopher, and the double return which he procured was received with such indignation that the compliant sheriff was lucky not to be sent for in custody.3

Wray, who died in August 1679, did not stand for re-election, and Grimsby was represented in all three Exclusion Parliaments by Broxholme and Pelham’s brother George, a lawyer who became high steward of the borough. There was no contest in February 1679, but after both Members had abstained from the division on the first exclusion bill it was reported that ‘they set up against Mr Broxholme’ at Grimsby. In 1681 Broxholme succeeded King as recorder, and presented a loyal address from the corporation approving the dissolution of Parliament. Another strongly Tory address abhorred the Rye House Plot in 1683. On Broxholme’s death in 1684 George Pelham succeeded him as recorder, while his brother Charles became high steward. Nevertheless neither stood in 1685. Sunderland recommended Scrope’s half-brother, St. Leger Scrope of Louth, but he did not go to the poll. The two Members for Grimsby in James II’s Parliament were Sir Edward Ayscough, whose family had regularly represented the borough in early Stuart Parliaments, and Sir Thomas Barnardiston, who had inherited another ancient interest, that of the Armines. The corporation petitioned for a new charter, which was issued in 1686. The crown reserved the usual right to remove officials, and Ayscough and Barnardiston succeeded the Pelhams as high steward and recorder respectively. In January 1688 the lord lieutenant reported: ‘The borough of Grimsby are most Church of England men, and few dissenters. By the information I have ... they will choose the same Members as before.’ Ayscough, who consented to the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, was initially approved as court candidate, with King’s son. By May, however, the regulators had taken a hand, and were threatening Grimsby with a quo warranto. A new charter was issued on 15 Sept. retaining Ayscough and Barnardiston in office. Five aldermen and one common councilman were removed, and the mayor, William Brasse, was new to municipal office. On the same day Sunderland recommended two new court candidates, both apparently outsiders. One was Edward Cooke, presumably a kinsman of the mayor of 1660-1, the other the rising lawyer John Darnall, whose father had been clerk of the Parliament under the Protectorate. The old charter was restored in the following month, and the sitting Members re-elected both at the abortive election in December and to the Convention.4

Author: Paula Watson


Polls from E. E. Gillett, Hist. Grimsby, 134-5.

  • 1. Gillett, 120, 140; Pepys Diary, 28 Sept. 1667.
  • 2. HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 285; Pepys Diary, 28 Sept. 1667; Milward, 134; CJ, ix. 24.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1672, pp. 555, 619; Gillett, 135; BL Loan 29/74, Doughty to Harley, 29 Mar. 1673; CJ, ix. 330.
  • 4. Gillett, 135; Spencer mss, Hickman to Halifax, 9 Aug. 1679; London Gazette, 24 Nov. 1681, 17 Sept. 1683; CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 100, 326; 1686-7, p. 223; 1687-9, pp. 264, 275; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 864; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 147, 148; DNB; HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 286, 291; IHR Bull. xlvii. 42.