Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 3,400 in 1679


22 Apr. 1660THOMAS MERRY 
21 Mar. 1661JOHN MANNERS, Lord Roos 
27 Feb. 1679JOHN MANNERS, Lord Roos2585
 BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard2389
 Sir John Hartopp1831
  Election of Lord Roos declared void, 15 Apr. 1679 
 John Coke II 
14 Aug. 1679BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard 
24 Feb. 1681BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard 
19 Mar. 1685BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard 
14 Jan. 1689BENNET SHERARD, Baron Sherard 

Main Article

A county like Leicestershire, with only one par liamentary borough, might have expected to experience severe competition for the honour of knight of the shire. But only in 1679, at the height of the Exclusion crisis, was there a serious contest. Perhaps the territorial prestige of the Earl of Rutland and the personal reputation of Lord Sherard, who represented the county in six Parliaments from 1679 to 1695 deterred potential rivals. It fell to George Faunt, a strong Royalist, to conduct the general election of 1660. When it was reported that the republican John Lambert, who had escaped from the Tower, was only 14 miles from Leicester with a troop of horse, ‘all the electors left the high sheriff, Colonel Faunt, save, all he could get to stay with him’. Among this fearless remnant presumably were Thomas Merry, whose eligibility as a Royalist’s son could have been questioned, and Matthew Babington, a Presbyterian whose brother had engaged himself in Booth’s rising. Faunt declared these two minor country gentlemen elected, and they sat in the Convention as county Members. He was returned himself in 1661 with Rutland’s heir Lord Roos.1

Faunt was proposed for re-election as court candidate at the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, but his financial difficulties were overwhelming, and he retired, apparently into a debtors’ prison. Roos and Sherard were accordingly approved at a gentry meeting. But on 22 Feb. 1679 they wrote to their friends:

We hear, and are satisfied that several persons are making their interest against us, on the behalf of Sir John Hartopp, a person that liveth out of the county, and [is] no friend to the Church of England. We do therefore request you to take all such care to make good your interest on our parts with your neighbourhood as you shall think convenient. We have taken care for your accommodation at the White Lion and Crane in Leicester; and for your neighbours divers other inns are there provided, the names of which your neighbours, when come to Leicester, may have an account from Mr Carter, Mr Gee and Mr Palmer at the Crane, and your kindness in this will be thankfully taken by your assured friends to serve you.

An observer reported:

The poll being removed from Leicester to Loughborough to Hinckley, Melton Mowbray and at last to [Market] Harborough on Ash Wednesday between the two Lords Roos and Sherard, who joined together against Sir John Hartopp, who, though having an estate in Leicestershire, stood for to be one of the knights for that shire as resident in London, being invited by the fanatic party, lost it by 4,000 votes [sic]; but there was great confusion and knocking at Harborough, many hurt, one man since dead.

Several freeholders petitioned on Hartopp’s behalf complaining ‘of many undue and illegal practices in the sheriff, and other persons of quality’ at the election, without which Hartopp would have been returned. The petition was heard at the bar of the House with Hartopp giving evidence on his own behalf. On Apr. Sherard’s election was unanimously confirmed, but the other seat was declared void by 116 votes to 78. It was also resolved that ‘the miscarriages touching the election’ should be investigated, but no further action was taken, probably because Roos had been given a peerage. Hartopp defeated John Coke II at the ensuing by-election. The court party prepared an impressive mass of evidence for the elections committee. The sheriff was accused of ‘partiality and miscarriages’; the names of almost 300 allegedly ineligible voters for Hartopp were listed; and it was asserted that

many persons armed with clubs and staves assembled themselves at the polling place, crying out: ‘A Hartopp, a Hartopp! If the King has no need of a Hartopp, we have no need of a King’, to the great terror of Mr Coke’s party and others.

The petition was referred to the elections committee on 9 May, but no report was made. Both Members voted for exclusion, and were re-elected to the second and third Exclusion Parliaments, probably unopposed.2

Before the general election of 1685 Lord Ailesbury (Robert Bruce) wrote to Roos, who had succeeded his father as Earl of Rutland and lord lieu tenant:

Let me know who you think the most proper persons to serve in Parliament for both the town and county of Leicester, that I may join my interest with yours.

Sunderland told Rutland by the King’s command that

he would have you take care of the Leicestershire election, so as to prevent all intrigues and disorders which ill-affected persons may endeavour to set on foot, and therefore his Majesty thinks it necessary you should be present at the county election, ... and to take all possible care that persons of approved loyalty and affection to the Government be chosen.

Coke had intended to stand again, but desisted, ‘being desired at Derby town’. John Verney, though a comparative newcomer to the county, was recommended by Ailesbury as ‘fit in all respects’, and returned unopposed with Sherard, one of the few Whigs to sit in James II’s Parliament.3

Rutland was succeeded as lord lieutenant by the Whig collaborator, Lord Huntingdon, in August 1687. He recommended Sir John Hartopp as court candidate, but by September 1688 the only opposition to be feared by the sitting Members came from Lord Cullen and Sir Beaumont Dixie, ‘but I suppose that of Sir Beaumont is but discourse, for I know he will not spend any money about it, neither will it suit his temper’. All four had given negative replies on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. Cullen died of smallpox on 30 Dec. and Verney apparently scrupled at standing for the Convention. He was replaced by another Tory, Sir Thomas Halford.4

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. CSP Dom. 1659-60, pp. 335-6; 1675-6, p. 178; EHR, xix. 376.
  • 2. 2BL, Loan 29/182, ff. 312-13; Nichols, Leics. ii. 60; Northants. RO, IC1168b; CJ, ix. 597, 616; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 49-50; Melbourne Hall, Coke mss; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 3 Mar. 1681.
  • 3. HMC Rutland, ii. 85-87.
  • 4. Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 103-4; HMC Hastings, ii. 187.