King's Lynn


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:

496 in 1675


c. Apr. 1660SIR RALPH HARE, Bt. 
10 Apr. 1668ROBERT WRIGHT vice Walpole, deceased173
 Thomas Greene100
10 Mar. 1670JOHN COKE I vice Hovell, deceased 
27 Jan. 1673SIR FRANCIS NORTH vice Coke, deceased 
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673 
 Simon Taylor 
21 Apr. 1675ROBERT COKE vice North, appointed to office291
 Simon Taylor205
5 Feb. 1679JOHN TURNER 
 Henry Ferrour 
19 Aug. 1679JOHN TURNER 
16 Mar. 1685(SIR) SIMON TAYLOR 
11 Jan. 1689(SIR) JOHN TURNER 

Main Article

The flourishing port of Lynn served as regional capital for the conservative Marshland of West Norfolk. Its confidence and prosperity in this period are attested by such buildings as the Exchange (now the Custom House) and the Duke’s Head, and further by the return of at least one townsman at every election after the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament. The town had suffered severely at the hands of the parliamentary forces in 1643, and the franchise had been restricted to the purged corporation under the Protectorate. But the freemen reasserted their rights in 1660, and retained them. At the general election they elected Sir Ralph Hare and Edward Walpole, two local magnates who had married sisters. Both had held local office during the Interregnum, and Hare had sat for Norfolk, but they supported the Restoration. Hare regained the county seat in 1661, but Walpole was re-elected for Lynn, this time as senior Member. The other seat was taken by a much more obscure country gentleman, Sir William Hovell, whose qualifications seem to have been that his father had held a command in the royalist garrison in the Civil War and that he had himself married the daughter of a Lynn merchant.1

On Walpole’s death in 1668 Robert Wright, an unsavoury lawyer from the Marshland, stood as court candidate. There was no opposition until the day of the election, when some of the freemen put up without his consent a leading alderman, Thomas Greene, who polled 100 votes against 173 for Wright. But there seems to have been no opposition to John Coke of Holkham, another Norfolk magnate, after Hovell’s death in 1670. Coke died on 1 Aug. 1671, and the long recess gave the Court time to select Lynn as a suitable seat for the new solicitor-general, Sir Francis North. A younger son of the Cambridgeshire peerage family, he had built up an ‘eminent practice’ on the Norfolk circuit and served as a commissioner for the apportionment of the Bedford level. In the words of his brother Roger North:

He was not only esteemed, but popular in those parts; and there was yet more to complete his interest there, for this vacancy happened during the Dutch war, and the town had need of a court interest to procure convoys and guard-ships for them.

He entertained the corporation ‘with a very handsome treat, which cost him above £100’, and they thanked him for his assistance over convoys and expressed their readiness to serve him. He was elected unanimously; but this election, like all those for which Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury had issued writs during the recess, was declared void on 6 Feb. 1673. North stood again, his agents hoping to control expenses by resolving ‘to take but one house, and there allow scope for all taps to run’. There was no sign of opposition until the night before the election, when Simon Taylor, a wealthy wine merchant produced ‘a potent adversary’ in the shape of a butt of sherry. During that night, North’s agents spent £300 on drink for the freemen, and the members of the corporation ‘appeared with great zeal and activity for him’. At the poll the next day, North was elected ‘by about 100 or six score voices at least’. Taylor, ‘on his own knowledge of the people’s names, satisfied that the election was against him, called for the indenture and signed it with the rest, an act of generous integrity scarce ever heard of before or since’.2

Taylor no doubt reckoned on the government interest at the next vacancy, which occurred when North became a judge on 13 Dec. 1674. Unfortunately this seemed to Lord Treasurer Danby an opportunity to provide a seat for his son-in-law Robert Coke, who had inherited Holkham from his cousin. The corporation granted him the freedom to qualify him as a candidate, but reminded Danby that ‘the way of election in this place for some years hath passed among the commons at large, all the freemen of the borough’. Coke’s agents ‘let loose the tap all over that large town, and made an account of £7,000 or more’, and Danby rather ironically advised the corporation ‘to choose persons of great fortunes, whose interests will necessarily oblige them to protect the laws’. The note of confidence is struck with dignity in their reply, when they thanked the lord treasurer for ‘not imposing upon them, but nobly leaving them their freedom in electing, ... without which they cannot be said to send representatives to Parliament’. As first one and then the other candidate drew ahead interest deepened among Danby’s enemies; Sir Horatio Townshend, the high steward, Sir John Hobart, and Sir Robert Carr all visited the borough to canvass for Taylor. On 12 Apr. 1675 Coke came to Lynn, ‘being met two miles out of the town by above 200 freemen’, and remained there until the election nine days later, when he was elected by a majority of 86. Taylor petitioned, but withdrew when Danby undertook that Coke should pay the whole cost of the election for both candidates, amounting to some £10,000.3

Coke died of smallpox shortly after the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, and the contemptible Wright was not to be thought of in the political excitement of exclusion. The borough was at last free to choose two townsmen. Lord Yarmouth (Robert Paston) reported as lord lieutenant of Norfolk:

For Lynn stands the mayor, Captain [John] Turner, a very honest man, and a Mr Taylor, a merchant of this place, not so much a fanatic as I suspected. I am told he will prove right, and I shall be bold to advise him to do so.

There was a third candidate, Henry Ferrour, the recorder, who may have represented a more uncompromising attitude to the Court; but he was not successful. Turner was absent from the division on the first exclusion bill, but Yarmouth’s advice could not prevail with Taylor, at least for the present. The sitting Members were re-elected in the autumn, and must have shortly afterwards gone over to the Court, for they were denounced in the second Exclusion Parliament as Abhorrers for inspiring an address from the corporation congratulating the King on ‘your courageous conserving the regalities of your crown against insolent petitions, and ... in the return of your royal brother, the Duke of York, to your Majesty’s most gracious presence’. In 1681 Hobart’s son Sir Henry succeeded in ousting Turner, and the loyal address in response to the King’s declaration of his reasons for dissolving Parliament was moderately Whiggish in tone. But the corporation followed with conventionally Tory addresses abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot.4

In May 1684 Taylor and Turner surrendered the charter to the King at Windsor, and received the honour of knighthood. The new charter replaced Townshend as high steward by the Duke of Norfolk, who employed Turner’s brother as his legal adviser. The corporation congratulated James II on his accession for ‘defeating all designs and attempts of your enemies’, and in the following month Taylor and Turner were elected unopposed. But in April 1688 the royal electoral agents reported:

Lynn Regis is a corporation. The election is popular, of about 700. ’Tis necessary the regulation be passed for influencing the election and strengthening the interest of the dissenters, who are numerous in this place. They will choose Sir Simon Taylor, who is right by inclination and interest; the other is not yet named, but so soon as their regulation is passed, they will pitch upon one that is right, and return his name to us.

In the same month Henry Baldock was appointed recorder and approved as the other court candidate. In June the mayor, town clerk, five aldermen (including Turner), and eight common councilmen were replaced. The purged corporation produced an address congratulating the King on the birth of an heir, and promising to elect ‘such Members as shall make your Majesty happy and your subjects easy’. Nevertheless in September he was told:

Some have disputed your Majesty’s late mandate in order to obstruct the election intended of Sir Simon Taylor and Henry Baldock. The mayor is a very right man, and active for your Majesty’s service. ’Tis humbly proposed the corporation may be dissolved, and a new charter granted for securing this election.

Before this advice could be followed the imminent invasion forced a change of policy. The charter of 1684 was withdrawn, to the accompaniment of bells and bonfires. Taylor never sat again, but Turner was re-elected to the Convention as a Tory with Sigismund Trafford, an obscure local gentleman serving as a stop-gap.5

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. W. Richards, Hist. Lynn, 1202.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 335, 339; 1672-3, pp. 485, 555; North, Lives, i. 110-13, 121.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1673-5, pp. 468, 485, 517, 532, 560, 586; 1675-6, pp. 42, 61, 73; Eg. 3348, ff. 68, 70.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 66, 75; Richards, 799, 845; London Gazette, 23 May 1681, 27 Mar. 1682, 9 Aug. 1683.
  • 5. London Gazette, 23 Feb. 1685, 9 Aug. 1688; Richards, 842-3; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 313, 314-15; PC2/72/678; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 272.