Newtown I.o.W.


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 burgage-holders 1660-1; in the corporation 1666-89

Number of voters:

33 in 1660-1; 13 in 1666-89


 Daniel O'Neill
8 Nov. 1666SIR ROBERT WORSLEY, Bt. vice Worsley, deceased
17 Feb. 1677SIR JOHN HOLMES vice Worsley, deceased
 Sir William Meux, Bt.
 Hon. Henry Fanshawe
3 Apr. 1685THOMAS DONE
12 Jan. 1689RICHARD JONES, Earl of Ranelagh

Main Article

Newtown alias Frankville consisted, by one account, of only three or four thatched cottages; but it was a borough by prescription. The corporation consisted of a mayor, whose name was drawn out of a that every year, and 12 ‘chief burgesses’ or aldermen, who had to be chosen from the burgage-holders. There was also a body of ‘free burgesses’ whose qualifications are uncertain. At some time after 1661 a by-law was passed restricting the franchise to the corporation, and this was soon followed by the transfer of the borough from gentry to government control, with the by-election of 1677 marking the turning point. At the general elections of 1660 and 1661 Sir John Barrington and Sir Henry Worsley, both supporters of Parliament in the Civil War, were returned by the ‘burgesses and freeholders’. Worsley resided in the island, and Barrington as lord of Swainston manor was the principal landowner in the district. A letter from the governor, the 2nd Earl of Portland, in 1661 on behalf of the courtier Daniel O’Neill was ineffectual, and in the following year the commissioners for corporations removed four ‘chief burgesses’, including Barrington and his steward, and four ‘burgesses’, replacing them with prominent local gentry.1

The effects of the purge were seen at the by-election occasioned by Worsley’s death in 1666. Probably no opposition was offered to his son, Sir Robert, but the unnamed mayor made out the return in the name of the ‘burgesses’ only, thereby following the by-law and setting a precedent that was to obtain for the remainder of the period. Sir Robert Worsley died in December 1675, leaving his sons too young to stand, and owing to the long recess over a year elapsed before a new writ could be issued. The government interest was now in the vigorous hands of Sir Robert Holmes, who desired the seat for his brother Sir John. He suspected a design of the country party

to bring in an ill man, one [Henry] Whithed, that has been lately turned out of the commission of the peace, having been actually in service against the late King, to be burgess of Parliament for that borough, which I am endeavouring all I can to prevent. All the active people of Hampshire have been here about it, but I think to no purpose.

Although Whithed suffered from the disadvantage of being a mainlander, the selection on 30 Oct. 1676 (by chance or arrangement) of Sir William Meux as mayor for the ensuing year encouraged the country party to hope for a well-disposed returning officer; Meux’s grandmother had been Barrington’s aunt, his mother Sir Henry Worsley’s sister, and his first wife the sister of Robert Dillington. But he immediately gave Holmes the handle he needed by removing the corporation charters, records and seal to his own home at Kingston, some nine miles away. From the security aspect this was not unreasonable; there was no town hall, and Meux argued that valuable records should not be kept in a chest with a defective lock in a thatched cottage. When some of the freemen protested, he left hurriedly for London, presumably to take counsel’s opinion. In his absence, only four days later, Holmes called a meeting of the corporation, ostensibly to bring about a reconciliation. But the outcome was that Meux, for his misdemeanour, was stripped not only of the mayoralty but the freedom of the borough. He appealed to the Privy Council, which ordered him to return the corporation property. Notwithstanding his compliance, he was not restored to office, and on 15 Dec. his predecessor, a wheelwright, was elected mayor (probably without using a hat). Meux next petitioned the King ‘for fear anything in his case being made public in Parliament or elsewhere might make too great a noise’. In fact his only hope now lay in a resolution from the House deferring the writ until a decision had been reached over the rightful returning officer. Once again, Holmes was too quick for him, and on 16 Feb. 1677, the second day of the session, a writ was ordered for Newton (among 27 other constituencies where a vacancy had occurred). Two candidates at once left for the island. The first to arrive was the Exchequer official, Henry Fanshawe; he was unable to produce the writ, but apparently went through the form of an election. The proceedings of the other party were described by Meux in more detail:

Sir John Holmes, with one employed by the under-sheriff of Southampton [Hampshire] for the purpose, went down on Saturday 17 Feb., and by himself and his own party returned himself burgess for Newtown, and on Thursday morning following sat in the House, no notice being ever given of the writ either to Sir William or to the major part of either the old or new burgesses.

According to A Seasonable Argument, Holmes was ‘chosen in the night without the head officer of the town, and but one burgess present’; but in fact his indenture was signed by the mayor and 13 burgesses. Three petitions were presented to the House, one from Fanshawe, one from the mayor and in-burgesses, and one from Meux, ‘attested by none but himself’. All were rejected without reference to the elections committee.2

Sir John Holmes was re-elected to the Exclusion Parliaments, each time with a different government nominee. In February 1679 his partner was John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough, who was unable to take his seat owing to his attendance on the Duke of York, and was replaced in August by the revenue farmer Lemuel Kingdon. Kingdon in turn transferred to Yarmouth in 1681 to make way for Daniel Finch of the Admiralty board, with Sir Robert Holmes acting as returning officer. Like Newport, the corporation produced addresses approving the dissolution and abhorring the ‘Association’, with a promise to elect loyal men to the next Parliament. Sir John Holmes died in 1683, but Sir Robert apparently hoped to reserve one seat at Newtown in 1685 for a local Tory, perhaps his nephew Henry Holmes, the mayor. Finch and Churchill both sat in James II’s House of Lords, and Kingdon was returned for Bedwyn. Holmes may have himself proposed Thomas Done, an Exchequer official, but another stranger, William Blathwayt, the secretary-at-war, was forced on him by the Government. The royal electoral agents reported in September 1688: ‘Newtown has been undertaken by Sir Robert Holmes and so not visited by our agents. Your Majesty is desired to recommend two.’ Sunderland accordingly wrote to Holmes on behalf of the sitting Members, but the Revolution enabled him to drop Blathwayt in favour of another outsider, Lord Ranelagh, the paymaster-general, an old associate of Kingdon.3

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. VCH Hants, v. 268; CSP Dom. 1676-7, pp. 431, 578; Hants Field Club Pprs. ii. 98-99; Worsley, Hist. I.o.W. 157.
  • 2. Bath mss, Coventry pprs. 105, ff. 72, 83, 84; CSP Dom. 1676-7, pp. 578-9; PC2/65/369, 371, 382, 432, 435; CJ, ix. 391; Add. 28091, f. 36.
  • 3. London Gazette, 23 June 1681, 4 May 1682; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 97; 1687-9, p. 276; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 432.