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:

under 2,000


26 Mar. 1660GILBERT HOLLES, Lord Houghton
25 Mar. 1661ANTHONY EYRE
 Hon. William Pierrepont
29 Oct. 1666SIR FRANCIS LEKE, Bt. vice Clifton, deceased
24 Mar. 1673SIR SCROPE HOWE vice Eyre, deceased
 Gervase Pierrepont
14 Jan. 1689JOHN HOLLES, Lord Houghton
14 May 1689JOHN WHITE vice Houghton, called to the Upper House

Main Article

Nottinghamshire was not yet entitled to be called ‘The Dukeries’, but for a small county it was already remarkably well favoured with resident peers. The Cavendishes of the junior line (successively marquesses and dukes of Newcastle) held the lieutenancy and enjoyed the principal interest for all except the opening and closing months of the period. Their steadfast royalism, with that of the Byrons, the Chaworths and the Suttons (Barons Lexinton), was counterbalanced by the Holles earls of Clare and, less consistently, by the Pierreponts. The 2nd Earl of Chesterfield showed only an intermittent concern with politics, but his interest was usually with Government till 1688. The great ‘trimmer’ Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) was perhaps too subtle to command a local interest proportionate to his ability, or even to his wealth, and he seems never to have attended an election. Some of the greater gentry families, like the Cliftons, were more ancient and hardly less wealthy than the peers, and might have shown more jealousy of them had there not been borough seats enough and to spare. Geographically, it has been noted that virtually all the parliamentary leaders in the Civil War had come from the south-west corner of the county, within eight miles of the county town, and there is evidence that as late as 1679 the northern parts still strongly supported the Court. But there must have been considerable erosion of traditional loyalty to the crown for Nottinghamshire to be described by its own lord lieutenant in 1685 as ‘the most factious county in England’.1

Little is known of the 1660 election, which returned the Cromwellian statesman William Pierrepont and his son-in-law Lord Houghton. Mrs Hutchinson seems to imply that there was a poll, but her husband stayed away from the election, and no other candidate is mentioned. Pierrepont stood again in 1661, but this time the Cavalier tide was flowing strongly and, coupled perhaps with some resentment at ‘the conjunction of several lords’ in his favour, swept him away. No doubt the royalist Sir Gervase Clifton could not have been beaten, on the score of character, age and family alike, but his colleague Eyre was an insignificant young man whose Nottinghamshire connexions were few and comparatively recent, and whose modest means soon made him a court dependant. Sir Francis Leke, returned at a by-election in 1666, was even less credible as a county Member; a professional soldier, he was a placeman throughout his parliamentary service. But at the time of the next vacancy; Anthony Gilby wrote:

Though the writs, as I think, cannot go out till the meeting of Parliament, yet all means are used to get votes for Mr William Pierrepont. ... Perhaps some contrivements may be used by uniting other pretenders to give him a considerable opposition, if not wholly to prevent him.

Pierrepont, who was in poor health, did not stand, but the country party found a good candidate in Sir Scrope Howe, a genuine county magnate (though of recent vintage) and an effective mob orator. Though he was later to be associated closely with Shaftesbury, it does not seem that the lord chancellor tried or needed to rig the election in his favour. Against Howe, Newcastle put up another unconvincing candidate, Francis Sandys, who resigned his commission in his son’s regiment to fight the election. He had an estate at Scrooby, but it was only a leasehold held under the archbishop of York, and nothing remained of the house above ground level. Churchmen vied with dissenters in anti-Papal demonstrations, and Howe was returned, possibly without a poll.2

At a meeting of the gentry at Mansfield before the next general election, three candidates presented themselves: Howe, Pierrepont’s son Gervase and John White, all presumably of the country party. Sir William Hickman, who represented Halifax at the meeting, had instructions to promote White’s interest, and he naturally expected his patron to support Pierrepont, whose sister he had married. Hickman alleged that he did not know that Howe was standing again. To his dismay he found that he had backed the wrong horse, and determined to ‘meddle little further’, taking himself off to Lincolnshire in support of his friend Lord Castleton (George Saunderson). Halifax presumably was unwilling to face the odium of ousting a popular Member like Howe for purely family reasons, especially for so unattractive a candidate as Pierrepont. It is not known whether Pierrepont pressed his interest so far as a poll; but he certainly did in the second election of 1679. Thomas Thynne I had hoped that Halifax’s son would succeed White, but nothing more was heard of this, and the same three candidates stood. Pierrepont’s strength lay mostly in the northern part of the county, but at the poll ‘the difference was very great’. Supporters of the sitting Members bore most of their expenses for them, but Pierrepont—who for all his faults had not inherited the stinginess of his family—spent ‘a considerable sum’. In 1681 Howe and White were returned unopposed.3

The Tory reaction did not fail to affect Nottinghamshire, but under Halifax’s influence the loyal addresses were less extravagant than elsewhere. The growing eccentricity and desire for seclusion of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish) left the field clear for Halifax at the general election of 1685, and he nominated his rebellious eldest son, Henry, Lord Eland, together with Reason Mellish, an obscure country gentleman, but (unlike Eyre and Leke) no court dependant. Halifax’s handling of the election does not in general suggest great aptitude for this aspect of politics. Howe and Richard Slater stood in the opposition interest, and they seemed certain to take one seat when Eland refused to stand. Sir William Clifton, a follower of Newcastle, who had been carefully nursing the borough constituency for at least two years, was prevailed upon with Sunderland’s approval to transfer himself to the county. Unfortunately he showed signs of preferring Howe to Mellish as a partner. During the assizes the judges reminded Howe that he was still liable to a charge of scandalum magnatum for words ‘highly reflecting upon the Government’ spoken some two years previously, and he gave Clifton a signed undertaking to desist. Clifton was now safe, Slater promising him all his second votes, but the latter seemed in a very fair way to defeat Mellish, of whom Clifton wrote rather superciliously to Halifax:

I take him to [be] a man without exception, and, was he personally a stranger to me, I know he is a friend and humble servant to your lordship, which would sufficiently encourage me to serve him; it was the opinion of the Duke of Newcastle ... when Sir Scrope Howe desisted that I should join with nobody, so I have not solicited anybody to be for Mr Mellish, but ... I am ready to declare for Mr Mellish at the election.

The issue was settled by the decision of the Pierrepont interest to support both court candidates. William Pierrepont’s grandson, the 4th Earl of Kingston, ‘coming into the country two days before the election, and hearing his freeholders were for the factious, he sent to them to be for Sir William Clifton and Mr Mellish, which hindered a poll’. Presumably Kingston’s timely appearance was due to his uncle Halifax, who had not hitherto taken the opposition seriously. The election, usually held in the county town, had been arranged for royalist Newark. Nomination day was enlivened by a party of Lord Lexinton’s tenants who brought in upon a long pole ‘a black box and great piece of parchment like a banner upon which was writ in a large character: ?No Black Box, No Bill of Exclusion, No Association? ... Slater did appear in town, but having but a few men desisted.’ Clifton and Mellish were returned unopposed, and ‘the box and the parchment was burnt in Newark market place before all the people’.4

On Clifton’s premature death in May 1686, canvassing began in the county, Slater and White approaching Newcastle, whose jealousy of Halifax was well known. But James II’s Parliament did not meet again, and no writ was issued. Newcastle reported on 3 Feb. 1688 that ‘there is no gentleman but such as goes to Church and hears Common Prayer’, and only one j.p. could be found to give his assent to the repeal of the Penal Laws. At the Retford quarter sessions in 1688, Newcastle and John Millington are said to have threatened the county with the King’s displeasure over the burning of bonfires to celebrate the acquittal of the Seven Bishops. Nevertheless James’s electoral agents recommended Nathan Wright, deputy recorder of Nottingham, who had been junior counsel for the prosecution, as one of the court candidates for the county, the other being the leading Whig collaborator, William Sacheverell. Though Sacheverell, a newcomer to the county, asserted that they enjoyed the support of ‘several persons of quality that yet concealed themselves’, little confidence was felt in their success: ‘’Tis advisable that the choice for the county be in the first place, that if these two should miss it in the county, they may be chose in the town.’ Howe took a prominent part in the Glorious Revolution, and regained the county seat in the Convention. He and Lord Houghton, a firm opponent of James II, were returned by one of the coroners ‘having given five days notice at the least ... to such person and persons within the said county as are qualified’. When Houghton succeeded to the peerage, White resumed his partnership of exclusion days with Howe.5

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. A. C. Wood, Notts. in the Civil War, 129; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 105.
  • 2. Hutchinson Mems. 321; HMC 5th Rep. 160; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 83; 1672-3, p. 550; 1673, p. 49; Thoroton, Notts. iii.439.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Hickman to Halifax, 5 and 8 Feb., 15 Aug., 6 and 13 Sept. 1679; Sidney Diary, ii. 12, 39; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 175, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 15, f. 22; Prot. Dom. Intell. 4 Mar. 1681.
  • 4. Spencer mss, Sir John Reresby to Halifax, 20 Aug. 1681, John Millington to Halifax, 16, 18 and 23 Mar. 1685, Clifton to Halifax, 21 Mar. 1685; Savile Corresp. (Cam. Soc. lxxi), 291; CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 104, 105.
  • 5. Reresby Mems. 217, Spencer mss, 23 May 1686, Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 508; Duckett, Penal Laws, ii. 244-5; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p 273.