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 and the inhabitant freeholders

Number of voters:

about 360


4 Apr. 1660JAMES COWPER 
25 Mar. 1661(SIR) EDWARD TURNOR 
3 Feb. 1673SIR THOMAS BYDE vice Turnor, appointed to office 
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673 
11 Feb. 1673SIR THOMAS BYDE 
28 Apr. 1675EDMUND FEILDE vice Fanshawe, deceased 
 Sir John Gore 
28 Feb. 1677SIR JOHN GORE vice Feilde, deceased 
1 Sept. 1679SIR THOMAS BYDE228
 Henry Dunster220
21 Feb. 1681SIR THOMAS BYDE 
 Sir William Leman, Bt.23

Main Article

Hertford, an open borough throughout this period, was conspicuous for the number of its dissenters. But strong interests were enjoyed by the Cowpers of the Castle as well as by the Fanshawes of Ware Park, until they sold out to Sir Thomas Byde in 1668. At the general election of 1660 the Fanshawes were ineligible as Cavaliers, and they probably supported Arthur Sparke, a kinsman by marriage and former town clerk. The senior seat was taken by James Cowper, who had sat for the borough in the last two Parliaments, though the son and brother of Royalists. These somewhat obscure and colourless Members made way in 1661 for Thomas Fanshawe and Sir Edward Turnor, steward of the borough court and Speaker designate. Shortly before he was appointed a judge in May 1671, Sparke, who had succeeded to his municipal office, wrote:

There will be a vacancy as to a burgess for Hertford, which Sir Edward desires may be supplied by his son. It will be a long time ere this election will be, but fearing there may be a pre-engagement in the town I thought it not unfit to give you this timely information to communicate to the mayor and burgesses and whomever you think fit. You know the obligations of the town to Sir Edward, both old and new, and what I have communicated to you that he intends further as to the fee-farm rent.

The election was held on the day before Parliament reassembled on one of the writs issued by Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury without the authority of the Commons. (Sir) William Turnor had been sarcastically described as the ‘ingenious son’ of the late Member, who, being ‘married to the blood royal of Scotland, ought to vote for his portion’. It is not known whether he went to the poll, but Byde won the seat for the country party, and the result was confirmed a week later after all Shaftesbury’s writs had been declared void. A contested election followed Fanshawe’s death in 1675 in which Byde supported Edward Feilde, whose son married his daughter. Feilde was elected, but, while a petition from Sir John Gore was pending, Byde did not dare to send the town the £6 which he had promised, ‘for fear lest I should have done my friend’s cause an injury by having it thrown in my face as bribery in the Parliament House’. Feilde did not survive his success for long, and the court supporter Gore took his place without a contest, so far as is known.1

At the first general election of 1679 Byde was returned with Sir Charles Caesar, a moderate member of the country party who was to abstain from the division on the exclusion bill. On 12 July Caesar wrote to William Hale:

Yesterday I received the news of the dissolution of Parliament. I went in the evening to Hertford and found Sir William Cowper, Sir Thomas Byde, and Mr [Henry] Dunster soliciting their interests there. I offered them my service, but whether I shall go on to make an interest there I am not fully resolved.

In the end both the sitting Members for the borough contested the county, leaving the field apparently clear for Cowper, a strong exclusionist, and Dunster, a London merchant who had married a local heiress and probably shared Caesar’s ‘trimming’ views. However, Byde, defeated in the county, stood for re-election in the borough and narrowly defeated Dunster, Cowper courteously conceding to him the senior seat. Byde and Cowper retained their seats in 1681, with over 300 votes apiece besides 100 ‘outliers’ unpolled. The court candidate, Sir William Leman of Northaw, son of a recruiter MP for Hertford, obtained a mere 23 votes. Nevertheless the corporation was strongly Tory, producing loyal addresses in approval of the dissolution of Parliament and abhorrence of the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. Large numbers of non-resident freemen were admitted and the election indentures of 1685 were signed by three knights, 18 esquires, and three clergymen. Byde, a less active exclusionist than Cowper, retained his seat, and was accompanied by Sir Francis Boteler, an elderly country gentleman of distinguished family and unimpeachable character who had never been a politician, though a loyal subject and a zealous churchman. In November 1687 the corporation thanked James II for his Declaration of Indulgence and promised to maintain his princely prerogatives, and in the following month the ‘inhabitants’ promised to elect adherents to his religious policy. Nevertheless quo warranto proceedings were taken, and the new charter limited the franchise to the 25 crown nominees on the corporation. It is not clear whether the 1689 election was held under the new charter or the old. There was probably no opposition to Cowper and Byde, who were returned by the Whig mayor (the only signatory) and the ‘burgesses’.2

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. L. M. Munby, East Anglian Studies, 121; Hertford corp. recs. 23, ff. 32, Sparke to Burgess, 16 May 1671; 37, Byde to Lawrence, 27 Nov. 1675; CJ, ix. 366.
  • 2. Add. 33573, f. 127; HMC Lindsey, 30, Dom. Intell. 5 Sept. 1679; HMC 7th Rep. 582; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 24 Feb. 1681; London Gazette, 20 June 1681, 5 Jan. 1682, 23 Aug. 1683, 24 Nov., 5 Dec. 1687; Munby, 123; HMC Downshire, i. 280; SP44/338/51.