Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
85 in 16591
|3 Apr. 1660||WILLIAM MILBORNE|
|21 Aug. 1660||FRANCIS WYNDHAM vice Milborne, deceased|
|3 Apr. 1661||MICHAEL MALET|
|Double return of Wyndham and Milborne. WYNDHAM seated, 17 May 1661|
|26 Feb. 1677||JOHN HUNT vice Wyndham, deceased|
|12 Feb. 1679||JOHN HUNT|
|27 Aug. 1679||JOHN HUNT|
|23 Feb. 1681||JOHN HUNT|
|19 Mar. 1685||JOHN HUNT|
|9 Jan. 1689||JOHN HUNT|
|THOMAS SAUNDERS II|
By Jacobean times Milborne Port could be described by a local antiquary as the mere ‘carcase’ of a once flourishing town. Nevertheless it was restored as a parliamentary borough in 1628, and provided surprisingly easy seats for the neighbouring gentry. It seems to have been a perfect oligarchy controlled by the owners of the nine capital burgages, in whose court leet the two bailiffs, who acted as returning officers, were elected. One of these properties was in the hands of the absentee Milbornes, who had moved to Monmouthshire before the Civil War; another provided the only resident Member, Thomas Saunders in 1689. The other Members were either younger sons, like Michael Malet and Francis Wyndham, or heads of families in the second rank of Somerset society.2
The general election of 1660 returned two young Templars, William Milborne and Malet, who had been brought up in the adjoining parish of Poyntington. Both supported the Restoration, though Malet probably had reservations. Milborne died during the Convention, and the writ came into the hands of his uncle Henry, a Roman Catholic. He kept it for three weeks, ‘drinking with the inhabitants to strengthen his party’. On 13 Aug. he was ordered to attend the Commons to answer for his misdemeanour, and the by-election was held eight days later. Milborne had perhaps underestimated the hard-headedness of the electorate, for he was defeated by the royalist Wyndham, who had acquired by marriage the neighbouring property of Trent, where Charles II had sheltered during his flight in 1651. Milborne again opposed the sitting Members at the general election. The result was a double return; but the sheriff noted that he received one indenture, returning Wyndham and Malet and signed by the deputy bailiff, on the day of the election, whereas the other, which was unsigned, reached him ‘on 11 Apr. 1661 and not before’. Malet was allowed to take his seat, since his name was on both indentures, and on 17 Apr. Wyndham was seated on the merits of the return. No further proceedings followed.3
Wyndham died in July 1676, but owing to the long recess no writ could be authorized until 16 Feb. 1677. In more sophisticated or more corrupt constituencies this long interval would have produced several candidates and an expensive contest. But there is no record of any opposition to John Hunt, the son of a neighbouring landowner, whose interest was sufficient not only to return him also to the next five Parliaments, but, with the disappearance of Malet from the political scene, also to give him the nomination to the second seat. At the first election of 1679 he was joined with his brother-in-law William Lacy junior, who voted for the exclusion bill. Hunt, who had abstained, replaced him with Henry Bull, another brother-in-law of different political outlook, in the next three Parliaments. A potential new interest was introduced with the purchase of the Toomer estate by Sir Edward de Carteret. As Black Rod he was one of the few commoners unable to sit in the Lower House, but his son, Sir Charles Carteret inherited the property in 1683, and even before he came of age manifested a disposition to contest the borough. An army officer, he was high in favour at the Court of James II after marrying one of the Queen’s maids of honour. In December 1687 the royal electoral agents wrote:
Sir Charles Carteret hath the best interest of anyone to be chosen in this borough, and believes himself able to hinder anyone to be chosen with him who will not comply, especially if John Hunt and Henry Bull be put out of the commission of the peace, which was the only interest that made them to be chosen there last Parliament.
Hunt and Bull were duly removed from the county bench, but the effect was counter-productive. According to a further report in April 1688:
The election is popular. Mr Bull and Mr Hunt, two very ill men, have made interest to be chosen on promise that they will oppose the taking away of the Test. A quo warranto is requisite, on which it is supposed they will, rather than lose their charter, consent to choose Sir Charles Carteret and William Strode [II], who are both right men.
As a borough by prescription, however, Milborne Port was not vulnerable to the method proposed. The Whig collaborator Strode was warmly backed by his brother, the sheriff, as a potential knight of the shire, and the electoral agents had to look out for another court candidate for the borough, without much assistance from the patron. In September they reported:
Sir Charles Carteret will be elected, and he hath interest to influence the election of another fit person. He is to be spoke with about it. William Lacy esq. is proposed as fit. Mr Hunt and Mr Bull, their two last Members, endeavour to be elected, but supposed will be fruitless.
Carteret evidently lay low during the Revolution and the general election of 1689, but Bull may have realized that his interest could not be kept at bay indefinitely, and transferred successfully to the apparently more difficult borough of Bridgwater. Hunt’s colleague in the Convention was another Tory, Saunders, who sold out to Sir Thomas Travell before the next election.4
Author: Irene Cassidy
- 1. Northumberland (Alnwick) mss 552, f. 71,
- 2. T. Gerard, Particular Description of Som. (Som. Rec. Soc. xv), 153-4, Collinson, Som. ii. 353; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 5), iii. 138, iv. 65.
- 3. Bowman diary, f. 134; CJ, viii. 118, 232; ix. 468.
- 4. Feet of Fines, Som. Trin. Term 31 Chas. II; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1524; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 15, 18, 230, 244; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 409; Som. RO, Travell mss, DD/BR/fc33.