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 freeholders and freemen

Number of voters:

150 in 1677


4 Apr. 1660EDWARD WISE102
  Double return. WISE and CALMADY seated, 27 Apr. 1660 
3 Apr. 1661EDWARD WISE 
2 Jan. 1671ARTHUR HARRIS vice Hele, deceased 
14 Mar. 1677HENRY NORTHLEIGH vice Wise, deceased102
 Josias Calmady II481
 Henry Northleigh 
8 Sept. 1679(SIR) ARTHUR HARRIS 
25 Feb. 1681(SIR) ARTHUR HARRIS 
18 Mar. 1685SIR SIMON LEACH 
11 Jan. 1689WILLIAM CARY 

Main Article

Under James I’s charter the corporation of Okehampton consisted of eight ‘burgesses’, eight assistants, the recorder and town clerk. The franchise was restored in 1640 on the initiative of Lord Mohun, who took his title from the town; but the family was royalist in the Civil War, and the borough was deprived of both seats in the Instrument of Government. At the general election of 1660 there were three candidates, and, with little experience of parliamentary elections, some of the voters seem to have believed that there was only one seat to be filled. The ‘mayor, burgesses and commonalty’ returned Edward Wise, who had sat in 1659, on one indenture with 87 signatures ‘and several others which made at the election 102 voices’, and on another Josias Calmady with 79 signatures and a total of 97 votes. The 2nd Lord Mohun, attempting to reassert the family control over the borough, gathered the votes of his tenants for his own candidate, Robert Reynolds, and submitted an indenture with about 64 signatures but without the hand or seal of the mayor. On 27 Apr. 1660 the House seated Wise and Calmady until the merits of the election could be determined; but no further action was taken. Wise was re-elected in 1661, but both his colleague Sir Thomas Hele and Hele’s successor Arthur Harris probably owed their seats in the first instance to their Mohun connexions. During the long recess which followed Wise’s death in November 1675, Henry Northleigh, who owned property in the town, the Exchequer official Hon. Henry Fanshawe, and (Sir) William Bastard offered themselves as candidates, while Calmady’s father sent seven bushels of wheat to be distributed among the poor. On 31 Oct. 1676 Sir William Courtenay wrote that there was ‘some other person started’, presumably a reference to Josias Calmady II, nephew and heir to the Convention MP. In the following month the balance of forces was altered by Mohun’s fatal injury in a duel while acting as second to the leader of the Opposition, William, Lord Cavendish, and by the pricking of Bastard as sheriff of Devon. For the latter Fanshawe was presumably responsible, but he too desisted before the poll. With the field reduced to Northleigh and Calmady, both of the country party, Courtenay could safely declare his intention of ‘leaving people to their own dispose as they think fit’, though both he and Bastard attended the election, the latter in his official capacity. Northleigh made sure of the seat by creating 50 new freemen and running up tavern bills to the extent of £460 on the day of the poll. It was reported that Calmady only had the votes of his father, the vicar, three of the assistants, and ‘the poorer sort of freemen’.2

At the first election of 1679 Harris and ‘Josias Calmady junior’ were returned on separate indentures, the latter reversing Northleigh’s victory in the by-election. Shaftesbury classified all three candidates as exclusionists, and the sitting Members were re-elected in the autumn. It is not known whether Northleigh stood again, but in 1680 his agent Shebbear tried to codify the franchise:

Freeholders are those that have 40s. per year lands of inheritance, or otherwise 40s. per year by indenture or copy for term of their life within the borough of Okehampton. All free tenants that are owners of inheritances within this town and borough of Okehampton are acknowledged to be freeholders, and thereby good voices at an election. ... No gentleman abroad or at home ought to be made free in order to an election. It is no ways convenient to admit many foreign gentlemen to be made free at any time.

An opposition newspaper reported before the next election that

Sir Arthur Harris received a letter from some of the inhabitants of Okehampton that they had unanimously pitched upon him in the first place for one of their representatives, but desired to be excused from giving their voices for Josias Calmady, Esq., they having pre-engaged themselves to another. But Sir Arthur Harris, being convinced of the faithful service of Mr Calmady in the last Parliament, this morning took coach for Okehampton, ... and for his security upon the road was attended by twelve persons on horseback and the coach lined with two blunderbusses and other firearms.Harris’s private army, however, made no impression on the electors, and his colleague in the Oxford Parliament was the court supporter Sir George Cary, who shortly afterwards replaced him as recorder of the borough.3

Okehampton remained loyal and co-operative for the remainder of Charles’s reign. In June 230 residents of the borough signed an address thanking the King for his declaration upon the dissolution of the Parliament, and about 200 signatures were obtained for abhorring the ‘Association’. These protestations of loyalty, however, did not prevent an order being issued in October 1682 for the surrender of the borough charter, which occurred in May 1683, and in September the corporation petitioned for a replacement to give Cary life tenure and to extend the jurisdiction of their court throughout their whole parish. These conditions, however, were rejected on the advice of Sir Robert Sawyer. The new charter with the usual proviso ‘that his Majesty may displace any mayor, recorder, alderman, or town clerk’, was welcomed in Okehampton on 4 Sept. 1684 by ‘nigh 200 horse, four drummers, two trumpeters, and three weight players’. Cary died soon afterwards, and his brother William was chosen to succeed him as recorder by only ten votes, with six of the junior members of the corporation voting against him. Nevertheless he was elected to James II’s Parliament with another Tory, Sir Simon Leach, nephew to the Earl of Bath.4

In reply to the Roman Catholic Sir John Southcote in January 1688 only one of the corporation supported the repeal of the Penal Laws. But when Lord Bath visited the town in the following month he expressed himself ‘well satisfied with the proceedings of the magistrates’. In April the King’s electoral agents reported that

Okehampton is a borough that chooseth by prescription; the election is popular; there are few dissenters. Sir Simon Leach hath the greatest interest in this town, who will choose him. Josias Calmady hath also an interest here and is a right man, and if Sir Simon Leach be a right man, and will engage his interest for Mr Calmady, this election will be safe, otherwise may be in hazard.

By September the agents recognized that ‘the whole town is a united knot, not through [sic] in Your Majesty’s interest’. Their only hope was that Leach, ‘will have an influence for the election of another fit man, though the election is popular’, and Sunderland wrote to him to that effect. Although the election to the Convention took place according to the ‘ancient usage’ before the surrender of the charter, the borough again returned two Tories, Cary and Northleigh.5

Author: J. S. Crossette


  • 1. E. H. Young, Okehampton Par. Hist. 73.
  • 2. W.K.H. Wright, Hist. Okehampton, 79, 99-103; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 297; CJ, viii. 3; Eg. 3330, f. 39; R. L. Taverner, ‘Corporation and Community of Okehampton’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis 1969), 77.
  • 3. Young, 72; Prot. Dom. Intell. 8 Feb. 1681.
  • 4. Wright, 104-5; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, pp. 423-4; 1683-4, pp. 17, 217.
  • 5. Wright, 106; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 231, 241; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 276.