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 inhabitants paying scot and lot 1660-81, 1689; in the corporation 1685

Number of voters:

300 in 1660-81, 1689; 25 in 1685


 Walter Yonge
 Sir William Waller I
17 Feb. 1679SIR WALTER YONGE, 3rd Bt.
 Samuel Serle
 ?Edmund Walrond
2 Oct. 1679SIR WALTER YONGE, 3rd Bt.
 Edmund Walrond
21 Feb. 1681SIR WALTER YONGE, 3rd Bt.
16 Apr. 1685SIR THOMAS PUTT, Bt.
  Putt's election declared void, 15 June 1685
3 Oct. 1685SIR THOMAS PUTT, Bt.

Main Article

Honiton, which was restored as a parliamentary borough in 1640, had no municipal institutions. It was a market and postal town, and the centre of the English lace industry. The returning officer was the portreeve, appointed by Sir William Courtenay as lord of the manor. Courtenay owned the market and the principal inn, but the Yonges of Colyton were the leading property owners in the borough, and rivalry between the two families was unhelpful to the country interest. The court interest was maintained by the Poles of Shute, who had been chiefly responsible for the restoration of the franchise to the town. Except for the townsman Samuel Serle and the old parliamentary general Sir William Waller I, all the candidates in this period were country gentlemen resident in the immediate neighbourhood. In 1660, Sir John Yonge, a Presbyterian, and Serle, a Baptist, were returned. Serle did not stand for the Cavalier Parliament, but Yonge’s son went to the poll in the Presbyterian interest with Waller, Courtenay’s father-in-law. Their electoral agents were the vicar of Honiton (who after Bartholomew took shelter at Powderham) and Richard Levermore, who held the lease of the market weigh-beam. The court candidates were Sir Courtenay Pole, an old Cavalier, and Sir Peter Prideaux, who ‘had lost two sons in the late King’s service’. Levermore asserted that their supporters were all ‘alehouse-haunters and poor beggarly rogues, and that if they should come to the parish to be relieved by it, they should have no more but only to keep them alive’. He was less generous with the carrot than the stick, for he promised one supporter 15s., provided he brought some more voters with him. Informations were taken against Levermore after the poll closed, but no action seems to have followed. Before the return was completed Sir Peter Prideaux stood down in favour of his son, and to facilitate this the date was altered to 26 Apr.2

At the first general election of 1679 Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt., and Serle stood as country candidates. They were opposed by Sir Thomas Putt ‘a high churchman, but a near neighbour to the town, and spares no cost’, and perhaps by Edmund Walrond on the Pole interest. ‘It is an intolerable mischief if a pot of ale must make our Parliament men’, complained the nonconformist ex-vicar, already resigned to Serle’s defeat. Nevertheless Putt, like Yonge, voted for exclusion. Walrond stood again, but the sitting Members were re-elected to the second and third Exclusion Parliaments. The people of Honiton had petitioned against a dissolution in January 1681, and the Government determined to regulate the borough. A petition for incorporation was approved at the summer assizes of 1684, Courtenay was persuaded to acquiesce, and the charter was rushed out just before the general election of 1685. Putt, who had gone over to the Court, was nominated as mayor, and the rest of the corporation comprised the recorder, 13 aldermen and ten assistants, who were to serve for life or during good behaviour. ‘All just rights and privileges which Sir William Courtenay has in the borough [were] to be preserved to him.’ Putt appointed a deputy to conduct the poll, and was returned with Walrond unopposed. No petition was lodged against the election; but when similar returns were challenged, Putt wrote to the Speaker to ask for a new writ. He resigned his mayoralty in favour of John Pole and was duly returned at the by-election. It is alleged that only the corporation voted in 1685; however, the indentures for the general election were made out on behalf of the deputy mayor, aldermen, free burgesses, assistants and commonalty of the borough ‘and other electors thereof’, and signed by Sir Courtenay Pole as recorder and 35 others. At the by-election John Pole and 26 others signed as ‘mayor, aldermen, assistants, common council, freemen and other electors’.3

The dominance of the Pole interest was symbolically expressed by the town clerk, who claimed parliamentary privilege as John Pole’s menial servant. The corporation was ordered to be purged in November 1687, but this does not seem to have happened. So ruthlessly were its powers of economic control wielded against Courtenay’s adherents that the market was almost deserted. In April 1688, James II’s electoral agents reported:

The corporation is composed of country gentlemen perverse to your Majesty. The town earnestly desire a regulation, otherwise their market will be ruined. The election is popular, consisting of about 300, only the last, without precedent, was by the body corporate. The majority of the town are dissenters, and the whole town against their magistrates, and unanimous to choose right men. They propose as such Sir Walter Yonge, Edmund Prideaux and Edmund Walrond. If they find Walrond to be right they will choose him and Sir Walter Yonge. Mr [John] Beare offers to undertake for Members but will not name them.

In June, when the purge order was renewed, the town was said to be ‘in great disorder and distraction about the new regulation’, and by September it had been transferred to Beare’s electoral management. Beare, the new mayor, was one of James’s few Tory collaborators in Devon, but he had little time to mature his plans for Honiton before the charter was withdrawn. Yonge and Walrond were still in the lead, but the former’s compliance with James had disgusted the electorate. When Richard Courtenay returned from Holland with the Dutch army, an observer wrote: ‘It is reported that Honiton will choose Lt.-Col. Walrond and Capt. Courtenay (Sir William’s son), and that they reject Sir Walter Yonge’. Yonge had to take refuge in Ashburton, and Walrond and Richard Courtenay, Tory and Whig respectively but both moderates, were presumably returned unopposed by ‘the portreeve, burgesses and other electors’.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Return dated 26 Apr. 1661.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 90, 298; A. Farquharson, Hist. Honiton, 8-9; L. Magalotti, Travels of Cosmo III, 133; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. ii. 306; Devon RO, QS Recs. 6 Apr. 1661; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 387-8.
  • 3. J. P. Carswell, Old Cause, 54; Luttrell, i. 61; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 82, 159; 1685, pp. 69-71.
  • 4. PC2/72/534-5, 681; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 232, 241; E134/4 Jas. II Mich. 38; Churchill Coll. Camb. Erle-Drax mss, Henry Florey to Thomas Erle, 21 Dec. 1688.