Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 650 in 1710


3 Mar. 1690Hon. Anchitell Grey  
 Robert Wilmot  
30 Oct. 1695Lord Henry Cavendish  
 John Bagnold  
 George Vernon  
26 July 1698Lord Henry Cavendish298 
 George Vernon272 
 Sir Charles Pye, Bt.2411 
7 Jan. 1701Lord Henry Cavendish  
 Sir Charles Pye, Bt.  
27 Nov. 1701John Harpur305 
 Lord James Cavendish280 
 Thomas Stanhope279 
 Sir Charles Pye, Bt.2772 
18 July 1702John Harpur  
 Thomas Stanhope  
12 May 1705Lord James Cavendish325325
 Thomas Parker321319
 John Harpur304207
 Thomas Stanhope25532254
3 May 1708Lord James Cavendish  
 Sir Thomas Parker  
27 Mar. 1710Richard Pye  vice Parker, appointed to office337 
 John Harpur2005 
9 Oct. 1710Sir Richard Levinge, Bt.368 
 John Harpur365 
 Richard Pye287 
 Lord James Cavendish2796 
27 Dec. 1711Edward Mundy vice Levinge, appointed to an office of profit  
25 Apr. 1713Nathaniel Curzon vice Harpur, deceased  
1 Sept. 1713Nathaniel Curzon  
 Edward Mundy  

Main Article

Derby was a prosperous town, noted in 1701 for its newly built houses. Its chief trading interests were lead, tin and malt, a fact reflected in the borough’s petitions to Parliament for private legislation to make the Derwent navigable to the Trent with the aim of cutting the transport costs of these bulky items. The navigation project produced a consensus in the town, but was opposed by various landowners and hence became an issue in county elections, not least because of the large number of freeholders resident in the borough.7

The election of 1690 saw the return of the long-standing Member, Hon. Anchitell Grey, plus the local landowner, Robert Wilmot. The withdrawal of both men from politics caused a flurry of campaigning in the 1695 election. The Cavendish family had often tried to influence elections in the town and on this occasion the 1st Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†) decided to put up his second son, Lord Henry. He had the support of the corporation and the wealthier burgesses, but laboured under the disadvantage of declaring his intention to stand only after two other candidates were in the field. He was also under instructions to join with neither of them. With ground to make up, Cavendish agents spent freely, an expensive decision given that George Vernon I’s main tactic was to shower the ‘meaner’ burgesses and the mob with ale and money. The third candidate, John Bagnold, had neither a great estate nor great financial resources, but as town clerk was reported to have a substantial interest in the borough. Bagnold approached Lord Henry Cavendish to join interests, and evidently the logic of an alliance brought Devonshire to agree, with the result that the two men easily defeated Vernon.8

Bagnold’s death in 1698 caused a spate of activity with attempts being made to block the writ ordering a new election in order to prevent Vernon winning a by-election and thus gaining an advantage in advance of the elections due to be called shortly under the Triennial Act. Although no by-election was called, Vernon’s interest proved strong enough to triumph in the subsequent general election. Indeed, almost 70 per cent of his voters plumped for him. This solid support was sufficient to defeat Lord Henry Cavendish’s partner, Sir Charles Pye, 2nd Bt., whose reluctance to spend money probably explains why he finished bottom of the poll. Immediately following the election Vernon attempted to mend any broken fences with Devonshire, but this election was still causing acrimonious exchanges in the corporation over a year later, when a group of aldermen avowed to the Duke that their conduct had been misrepresented. They repudiated the claim that they had voted against Cavendish, explaining that they had undertaken to vote for Cavendish and Vernon and that only when the former was safe had a few plumped for Vernon. This contest saw the germs of a party conflict with Cavendish as yet secure, but the other seat being fought over by a ministerial Whig and a Country supporter.9

The election for the borough in January 1701 was a quiet affair, with most attention being focused on the struggle for the county seat. Lord James Cavendish replaced his recently deceased brother and was elected along with Pye. Vernon, torn between the two elections, withdrew in favour of Lord James. In December 1701, an entirely different situation obtained, possibly provoked by the partisanship of the previous county contest, but owing something, too, to the entry into the fray of two gentlemen with impeccable Tory credentials, John Harpur and Thomas Stanhope, who may have been the two candidates who had given up without polling in the previous January. The two Tories were well prepared, plying the voters with ale three months in advance of the election, and were confident of victory. However, the Cavendish interest proved remarkably resilient. Harpur topped the poll but Cavendish pipped Stanhope by just one vote, with Pye only adrift by a further two votes in what Lady Pye described as ‘the nearest poll was ever seen in Derby’. She put her husband’s defeat down to the creation of burgesses specifically for the occasion. Both Pye and Stanhope petitioned the Commons on 3 Jan. 1702, but in a move which reflected some sort of compromise both petitions were withdrawn on 16 Feb.10

In the election of 1702 Harpur and Stanhope were returned unopposed, despite Tory fears of a hiccup caused by local disappointments over the disposition of largesse by Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt., during his shrievalty. In late November 1704 Lord James Cavendish and Thomas Parker, recorder of Derby, declared their intention to challenge the sitting Tory Members. Although Lady Pye thought it a quiet election campaign, Harpur was perturbed by Parker’s early and enthusiastic solicitation and dismayed by his partner Stanhope’s lack of application to the task of securing re-election. This failure to produce a united effort probably cost the Tories the election, with Stanhope well adrift at the bottom of the poll. Harpur threatened to petition but thought better of it upon observing the political complexion of the new House. The 1708 election witnessed a contrast between a highly organized Whig group which met in late March ‘and there went over the poll and set down those we feared and others that we thought we could prevail with and we had a very good account of those that undertook them’, and the Tories, who were in disarray over their choice of candidates. Rumours abounded that Harpur and Stanhope would once again join forces, but after a few days, it was reported that Nathaniel Curzon and Charles Stanhope† would stand. Finally, ‘Jack’ Statham* was suggested as a Tory candidate. In the event, Parker and Cavendish were returned unopposed, the only cloud on the horizon being the possibility that the latter would not attend his election and thus disoblige some of his constituents.11

The appointment of Parker as lord chief justice, for services rendered at the trial of Dr Sacheverell, necessitated a by-election at Derby in March 1710. The borough had seen some rioting during the trial, with a meeting house destroyed, which may have provoked a backlash and thus may account for the surprising ease with which Parker’s nominee, the young Richard Pye II (son of Sir Charles), defeated a renewed challenge from John Harpur. The general election early in October promised to produce a more heated affair. Despite the intervention of Parker at the assizes in August, and again at the sessions in Derby on 25 Sept., together with much expense, Pye and Lord Cavendish were well beaten by Harpur and Sir Richard Levinge, 1st Bt. [I], a former recorder of Derby and until 1709 solicitor-general in Ireland. Although there was a possibility that Pye might petition in the hope of using his relationship with the new head of the ministry, Robert Harley*, to overturn the election, nothing came of it. Indeed, so strong was the grip of the Tories that the Whigs failed to contest the two by-elections which occurred in the ensuing Parliament, which resulted in the election of first Edward Mundy and then Nathaniel Curzon. At the general election of 1713 James Stanhope* was suggested as a possible candidate in conjunction with Lord James Cavendish, with pressure being brought to bear on Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 2nd Bt., on account of his distaste for contested elections, to withdraw his son. However, the Mundy–Curzon interest proved too entrenched to succumb to the blandishments of various members of the Stanhope family and even the optimistic Richard Pye desisted before the poll. It took the accession of a new monarch and another turn in the political pendulum to see a revival of Whig fortunes in Derby.12

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Sheffield Archs. EM1286 (Horwitz trans.).
  • 2. Info. from Prof. W.A. Speck.
  • 3. Flying Post, 15–17 May 1705.
  • 4. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 17 May 1705.
  • 5. Scots Post Man, 11–13 Apr. 1710.
  • 6. Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710.
  • 7. Add. 47057, f. 105; CJ, xi. 449; xiii. 509; xiv. 35; BL, Lothian mss, ppr. on Derby freeholders’ votes Jan. 1701.
  • 8. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. John to James Whildon, ‘Monday afternoon’ [bef. 22 Oct.], 25 Oct. 1695, Aaron Kinton to same, 30 Oct., 9 Nov. 1695; HMC Portland, iii. 573.
  • 9. Add. 70019, Lady Pye to Harley, 11 May 1698; 40771, ff. 296, 323; Sheffield Archs. EM1286 (Horwitz trans.); Whildon pprs. George Gregson to Whildon, 19 Sept. 1699.
  • 10. Lothian mss, Robert Harding to Thomas Coke*, 20 May 1700, ‘Saturday night’, Samuel Fosbrooke, jun., to same, 21 Dec. 1700, Edward Coke to same, ‘Sunday 12’, William Francys to same, 23 Nov. 1701; Add. 70149, Lady Pye to Abigail Harley, 1 Feb. 1700[–1]; HMC Portland, iv. 27, 29.
  • 11. Lothian mss, Francys to Coke, 18 Mar. 1701[–2], Harpur to same, 11 Apr. 1704 [sic 1705]; G. Sitwell, Letters of Sitwells and Sacheverells, ii. 83; Whildon pprs. Kinton to Whildon, 27 Nov. 1704; HMC Cowper, iii. 53–56, 60; HMC Portland, iv. 177, 185–6; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Mellish pprs. Me144–83/57, Edmund to (Sir) Thomas Parker, 3 Apr. 1708.
  • 12. G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 79, 63; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 59–60; HMC Portland, iv. 591, 612; v. 328; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, newsletter 3 Oct. 1710; Add. 70254, Lady Pye to Harley, 14 Oct. 1710; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/28, John Gisborne to James Stanhope, 11 Apr. 1713; U1590/C9/9, Ld. Stanhope to same, 15 Apr. 1713; U1590/C9/14, Thomas Stanhope to same, 2 May 1713.