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 'burgesses' and freemen

Number of voters:

about 360 in 16401


12 Apr. 1660HON. HENRY CAPEL
11 Nov. 1673SIR FRANCIS RUSSELL, Bt. vice Dowdeswell, deceased
 Charles Dowdeswell
17 Feb. 1679(SIR) HENRY CAPEL
8 Aug. 1679(SIR) HENRY CAPEL

Main Article

Elections at Tewkesbury seem to have been successfully managed by the corporation, which consisted of two bailiffs, 24 ‘principal burgesses’, and 24 assistants. The surviving returns are in the name of the ‘burgesses’, presumably the corporation, and freemen, but never carry more than 35 signatures. The representation of the borough was monopolized by the Dowdeswell family, Sir Francis Russell, and Sir Henry Capel. Russell and the Dowdeswells lived in the neighbourhood, while Capel held the Barton manor. The only probable contest was in 1673, when Russell ousted the Dowdeswell interest, which reasserted itself in 1685 at Capel’s expense.

The Quaker Fox described the Tewkesbury election of 1660 as notable for drunkenness, perhaps because the Long Parliament ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers or their sons was defied. The borough was accordingly represented in the Convention by Capel, whose father had been executed for his support of Charles I, and Richard Dowdeswell I, who had been at least a crypto-Royalist. The corporation quickly mended and repainted the royal arms, and voted an address of loyalty to the King, ‘declaring their joy on his return’, which was carried up by Dowdeswell. In October six former members of the corporation who had been displaced for royalism under the Protectorate were restored at the ‘desire’ of the Privy Council. Although Capel and Dowdeswell were re-elected in 1661, again apparently without opposition, the commissioners (who included Dowdeswell) removed 13 of the corporation and nominated nine others (several of them former Cavaliers) to take their place.3

In 1672 Dowdeswell obtained, not without difficulty, an exemplification of Tewkesbury’s charter of 1610, which had been lost in the Civil War. His son Charles naturally aspired to succeed to the seat on his death in the following year, but was opposed by Sir Francis Russell. Both candidates tried to obtain the writ ‘clandestinely’ from Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury, but with the heated debates of February on irregular elections fresh in his mind he preferred to send it to the sheriff of Gloucestershire. Russell, a Cavalier’s son, enjoyed the support of the bishop of Worcester, and was elected. Next year he gave ten almshouses for widows to the borough. Both he and Capel had gone into opposition by 1677, and they were re-elected to the Exclusion Parliaments. No other candidates are mentioned, though Capel, who had initially opposed exclusion, thought it necessary to revive his interest in September 1680 with a ‘noble gift’ which the corporation devoted ‘to the repair of our church and for the benefit of a minister there’. The subsequent election was uncontested.4

The corporation sent loyal addresses abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. Richard Coote hoped that Thomas Mariet might be induced to contest the borough at the expected election with the support of Henry Collett, a local Baptist, though he had to admit that ‘Sir Francis Russell’s interest is so riveted in Tewkesbury that ‘tis impossible to remove him. ... They have routed Mr Collett out of that town by excommunicating and persecuting him.’ But Capel, he thought, was ‘likely to be laid aside’ as one of the ‘men that of late have had the cry in this nation of being good patriots, and afterwards have forfeited that esteem by shamefully quitting their principles of honesty and duty to their country’, presumably in his case by refusing to countenance the allegations that his brother, the Earl of Essex, had suffered foul play in the Tower. Threatened with quo warranto proceedings by the Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset), the corporation hastened to place much of its property in the hands of trustees, and on 28 Oct. 1684 agreed, by seven votes to six, to surrender the charter; but no action was taken. On the accession of James II the corporation presented a congratulatory address, and begged the new King not to insist on the surrender, pleading lack of funds to defray the cost of a new charter. These Fabian tactics were successful, and the old charter was still in force at the general election of 1685, when Russell was returned with Dowdeswell’s grandson, another Whig. Neither Capel nor Mariet stood. On the following day the charter was at last surrendered, but no warrant for its replacement was issued until 19 Feb. 1686. Beaufort was appointed high steward, and the parliamentary franchise was restricted to the new corporation, consisting of the mayor and 12 common councilmen, who could be removed by order-in-council. This fate duly befell half of them, together with the mayor and town clerk, in the closing months of 1687. Their successors, who for the most part seem to have been dissenters, sent a loyal address in February 1688 thanking James for his Declaration of Indulgence and promising to elect Parliament men who would vote for the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. In July Sunderland recommended as court candidates ‘Mr Brown’ (doubtless Henry Browne, later 5th Viscount Montagu, a Roman Catholic kinsman of Beaufort’s who had just been appointed commissioner of customs) and Collett, who had ‘a great stake in the town’. But there was apparently some recalcitrance in the remodelled corporation at this conjunction, for it was rumoured that the voters would be reduced to three.5

In fact, in 1689 Russell and Dowdeswell were returned by the two ‘late bailiffs ... (having right to make returns ... according to the ancient usage before the surrender of the charter)’ and 39 burgesses and freemen. Russell was to vote against the transfer of the crown, and Dowdeswell, who was to represent the borough in the next eight Parliaments, voted for the disabling clause of the bill restoring corporations.

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. D. Hirst, Rep. of the People, 224.
  • 2. Prot. Intell. 15 Feb. 1681.
  • 3. Jnl. of George Fox ed. Nicholls, 369; PC2/55/21; M. F. Redmond, ‘Bor. of Tewkesbury, 1574-1714’ (Birmingham Univ. M.A. thesis, 1950), 51, 52-54; EHR, xlv. 239; J. Bennett, Tewkesbury, 209.
  • 4. Bennett, 252-3; Glos. RO, Tewkesbury archs. A1/3, p. 111; VCH Glos. iii. 168; Redmond, 55, 56; Prot. Intell. 15 Feb. 1681.
  • 5. London Gazette, 6 July 1682, 6 Sept. 1683, 2 Mar. 1685, 1 Mar. 1688; Add. 34730, f. 91; Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 125; Redmond, 55-57, 59, 62; Bennett, 383-6; PC2/72/534, 561; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 24; Glos. N. and Q. ii. 190; Macaulay, 485.