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:

over 4,000 in 1702


c. 22 Apr. 1660JOHN CREW
21 Mar. 1661SIR JUSTINIAN ISHAM, 2nd Bt.
 Richard Knightley
29 Apr. 1675JOHN CECIL, Lord Burghley vice Isham, deceased
28 Feb. 1678MILES FLEETWOOD vice Burghley, called to the Upper House
 Sir Roger Norwich, Bt.
 Miles Fleetwood
 Edward Harby
13 June 1689SIR THOMAS SAMWELL, Bt. vice Harby, deceased

Main Article

‘Northampton, a town and country of very eminent disaffection to the King throughout the war’, could only be induced to return court candidates with extreme artifice throughout this period. For the general election of 1660 the gentry selected two Presbyterians, John Crew and Richard Knightley. But as early as 5 Apr. it was reported that ‘Northamptonshire hath resolved to choose none of the Long Parliament’. Crew’s royalism was so well known and long established that he was not opposed on the day of election; but the moderate Anglican Sir Henry Yelverton stood, with the support of the 2nd Earl of Manchester, against Knightley.

Some gentlemen came to Mr Knightley and in discourse among other things told him they hoped he would be instrumental to the bringing in the King, and that it should be honourably. He replied, ‘Will you have him brought in on horseback?’ This being bruited about the field, such offence was taken at the answer that his whole party immediately deserted him, and chose Sir Harry Yelverton.

It is not known whether Knightley went to the poll. In any case the electors scattered in panic when the republican General John Lambert, who had escaped from the Tower, was reported only 14 miles away at the head of a party of horse, and the sheriff was presumably able to make what return he pleased.1

Preparations for the next general election got under way weeks before the dissolution of the Convention. Indeed from the government side the first step was the pricking of the wealthy and unscrupulous Sir William Dudley as sheriff for 1660-1. It soon became known that Crew would accept a peerage in the coronation honours. Dudley entertained the gentry nobly at the assizes, and at the first dinner proposed Sir Justinian Isham and George Clerke, both of royalist antecedents.

Mr Knightley stood up, openly declaring how heartily he wished the good agreement of the country that there might be no strife or heartburning at the election as heretofore, and thereupon freely desired them all to take notice how well he approved of the two gentlemen already proposed ... But immediately after dinner Mr Knightley’s agents, both in the town and castle yard, were very active to gain voices for Mr Knightley, and have so continued at all markets and meetings, sending men from town to town and man to man in particular ... Sir Justinian Isham and Mr Clerke, notwithstanding the expression at table made by most of the gentlemen the first day for having no invitation or expense at the election, and of what very ill consequence it might be to them all in general, yet finding what way Mr Knightley and his agents went with large promises, put both themselves and purses into the gentlemen’s hands, to manage the business as they should see cause, and thereupon inns were taken up immediately for Sir Justinian Isham and Mr Clerke, in case the election should be at Northampton. Now by this time you may judge what an heat there is already [?] begun in the country, most of the nobility and gentry on one side, all the Presbyterian clergy and tough body of yeomanry on the other, with (’tis said) the late buyers of King’s and bishops’ lands.

It was reported that the Roman Catholic interest, headed by Henry Howard, had been promised to Knightley, who also won over the Quakers and Anabaptists with the promise of toleration, and at one point Isham even suggested that he and Clerke should stand down. However, Dudley was too wily for the opposition. His first attempt to carry the election ‘in a private, clandestine way’ was thwarted, because ‘the country had notice of it and came to Northampton by 6 o’clock the next morning’. A poll was demanded, whereupon Dudley adjourned the election to Oundle, and ‘there was chosen (but not freely) Sir Justinian Isham and Mr Clerke’. Isham claimed a majority of 3 to 2; but in all the circumstances it is not surprising that he saw cause to lament that ‘the sectaries are so obstinate and numerous’.2

On Isham’s death in 1675, Lord Burghley was returned unopposed; but his succession to the peerage three years later was followed by the closest contest of the period. Sir Roger Norwich was commended as a candidate who ‘will serve the King very faithfully’. Against him the country party selected Miles Fleetwood; his fortune was modest compared with the Knightleys and the Crews, but, with political passions again on the increase, he was clearly a strong candidate. ‘After the greatest poll [that] hath been known many years in Northamptonshire’, he carried the election by 190 votes, ‘and many went away of his side unpolled, being dissatisfied.’ The same candidates stood again at the general election. Lewis Watson was proposed by his ambitious mother as ‘a right Englishman, well affected to church and state’, but soon desisted, in face of ‘several considerable competitors’. On the day of the election, Norwich carried the first seat easily on a show of hands, but the second seat was contested by two Whigs, Fleetwood and John Parkhurst:

The people being so numerous that the castle yard would hardly hold them, they removed unto the field and divided into extraordinary great parties, so it was hard to distinguish by the view which had the most, but at last, to prevent the charges which such an infinite number of people would have cost, it was yielded to Mr Parkhurst, who required a poll.

The election cost the victorious candidates not above £40 apiece. In the autumn Parkhurst and Fleetwood were returned ‘in a quarter of an hour’, and in 1681 Norwich withdrew after a canvass. An intelligent Tory clergyman commented:

It is too sad a truth that the anti-monarchists’ principles have been so diffused here that I believe no part of the nation has been more deeply tainted. They have wrought an incredible change in the generality of the gentry, as well as the commonalty.3

Although the two Whigs were elected without opposition, the scene at the hustings had serious consequences. Sir Thomas Samwell in the name of the freeholders presented them with a strongly Whiggish address, which Fleetwood caused to be read aloud. Norwich at his own cost prosecuted them for a seditious libel. The case was still pending during the 1685 election, and inhibited them from standing. The Whig cause was represented by Edward Harby, who chose as his running-mate the moderate Tory Edward Montagu II. Christopher Hatton, anxious to engage his tenants for the court candidates Norwich and Sir John Egerton (the elder brother of Sir Philip Egerton), found most of them pre-engaged for the opposition. A peremptory letter from Sunderland failed to induce Montagu to stand down, and by 30 Mar. Egerton had withdrawn. The sheriff showed himself quite as ready to stretch his legal powers to the limit as Dudley had done 24 years before, although he was restrained by the lord lieutenant from calling out the militia. It is not hard to read between the lines of Norwich’s letter of 21 Apr.

The faithless and untoward generation of viperous Whigs, believing the sheriff like themselves, would not take his word. But, although he had assured Montagu and Harby that he would not proceed to an election the next county court day (which was held at his own town for his own ease), and that the county should give him thirty days’ notice of the time and place (being not well), yet Montagu and Harby got together near a thousand men, though not half free-holders, and by break of day beset the sheriff’s house, and would not be satisfied without a poll, and, as I am credibly informed, intended to pluck down his house in case he gave them not satisfaction.

The sheriff followed precedent by adjourning the poll to Oundle, and then finally to Rothwell, where Norwich and Montagu were returned. Harby of course petitioned, but the elections committee did not report. Montagu and Harby were probably returned unopposed in 1689, Isham’s son (Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.) preferring to stand for the borough. Harby died in May, and was succeeded by another strong Whig, Samwell.4

Authors: E. R. Edwards / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Clarendon, Rebellion, iv. 212; EHR, xxxiii. 376; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 12, ff. 162-3; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 178; HMC Buccleuch, i. 312.
  • 2. Northants. RO, IC 499, 503a, 510, 515; Diary of Thomas Isham, 12-13; Add. 34222, f. 16v.
  • 3. Northants. RO, Baker mss 712; CSP Dom. 1677-8, p. 630; 1680-1, p. 529; HMC Montagu, i. 328; Add. 29556, f. 363; HMC Var. ii. 393; Northants. RO, IC 1076a, 1385; BL, M636/32, Edmund to Sir Ralph Verney, 3 Mar. 1679, Dom. Intell. 16 Sept. 1679; Prot. Dom. Intell. 15 Mar. 1681.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 203; 1685, p. 115; Add. 29561, ff. 95, 97, 119; Northants. RO, IC 1383, 1384, 1388.