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 and freeholders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 1,315 in 1698


4 Mar. 1690Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.  
 Christopher Bale  
12 Nov. 1695Edward Seyward  
 Joseph Tily  
 Sir Edward Seymour,  Bt.  
 John Snell  
16 Aug. 1698Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.751755
 Sir Bartholomew Shower743745
 Sir Edward Seyward564560
 Sir John Elwill56115572
28 Jan. 1701Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.1206 
 Sir Bartholomew Shower723 
 John Cholwich5703 
2 Dec. 1701Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.  
 Sir Bartholomew Shower  
27 Jan. 1702John Snell vice Shower, deceased  
11 Aug. 1702Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.  
 John Snell  
30 May 1705Sir Edward Seymour, Bt.  
 John Snell  
13 Apr. 1708John Harris vice Seymour, deceased  
 Nicholas Wood  
11 May 1708Nicholas Wood  
 John Harris  
24 Oct. 1710Sir Coplestone Warwick Bampfylde, Bt.  
 John Snell  
4 Sept. 1713John Rolle  
 Francis Drewe  

Main Article

With its population of some 13,000 in 1689 and its prominence in trade and woollen manufacture, Exeter was one of the four or five leading cities in the kingdom. Politically, it occupied a key position in the south-west. As Lord Poulett, a sometime lord lieutenant of Devon, commented in 1705, ‘the spirit of that city does not only in a great degree influence Devonshire, but Cornwall also’. There was a strong tradition of Whiggish politics in the city, dating back to the Civil War and underpinned by the influence of the powerful Presbyterian minority who provided in the region of 500 votes. The chief Whigs were wealthy merchants, financiers and city tradesmen who made their way through the ranks of the corporation and who after 1698 also exercised considerable power through their involvement in the newly founded Corporation of the Poor. The Tories, however, had the stronger bases of power and support in the city. Before the upheavals of 1687–8, the corporate body had been a predominantly Tory institution, guided since 1683 by their recorder, the foremost west-country Tory Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., who had also represented the city himself since 1685. An attempt to balance the parties when the chamber was reconstituted at the end of 1688 was short-lived and during 1689–90 most Whig councillors were weeded out and replaced by Tories. The other key influence on the city’s Toryism was the cathedral chapter, presided over by the forceful personality of the bishop, Seymour’s cousin Sir Jonathan Trelawny, 3rd Bt., a moderate Tory who in the eyes of his detractors treated the city much as if it were one of his Cornish boroughs.4

In 1690 the sitting Members, Seymour and his protégé Christopher Bale, a merchant and alderman, were accorded an unopposed return. The next election, in 1695, however, witnessed a determined Whig onslaught on Seymour, whose credibility had lately been undermined by accusations in the Commons that he had taken bribes from the East India Company. Misgivings, too, about Tory reluctance to prosecute the war wholeheartedly and the attendant danger to trade had so far taken hold in the minds of the corporation men that they invited Joseph Tily, a lawyer-turned-projector and a well-known Whig of local origin, to stand as a candidate. He was joined by Edward Seyward, a surviving Whig member of the aldermanic elite. Tily’s wide appeal lay in his ambitious scheme to reinvigorate Exeter’s economy by promoting a project which he had laid before the Treasury by which the city’s clothiers would be employed in ‘a linsey woolsey manufactory for the clothing of a hundred thousand people annually’. Seymour fought the Tory campaign in partnership with John Snell, a High Church alderman, but for most of the time the odds were against them, every commentator noting the likelihood of Seymour losing his seat. The Dutch resident reported that ‘a large party has arisen against Seymour’, while the Whig candidates were said to be backed by ‘a mob’ set on making ‘all strangers equal to English merchants’, and they were supported by John Elwill*, a wealthy local merchant and a Dissenter who acted as ‘factor for the foreigners’, i.e. the Dutch in the city. The election campaign lasted five weeks, at enormous expense to both sides and attended by outbreaks of violence, each side using ‘fisticuffs and sticks’. Some 312 new freemen were created, over 200 of them in one day. The election was due to have been completed on 12 Nov., but without warning the sheriff adjourned proceedings until the 18th, just four days before the session was due to open. As Seymour surmised to Robert Harley* on the 13th, this was either ‘to make me gone and hazard the election here’, or to prevent him from attending the opening of Parliament and the election of Paul Foley I as Speaker. Much as expected, Seyward and Tily defeated their Tory opposers, although in their petition on 2 Dec. Seymour and Snell claimed ‘a majority of voices’ and that the sheriff had acted with great partiality. Seymour, who gained a seat at Totnes, sought legal advice on the eligibility to vote of freemen enrolled under James ii’s charter (i.e. Dissenters), but the case was not reported. The new Members accepted from their constituents an address praising them for their ‘great zeal and affection for his Majesty’s service’ and recommended them to vote for a generous supply, for improving the coinage, for a free trade in woollens and for better convoys for textile ships.5

In 1698 Seymour made a come-back. He stood with Sir Bartholomew Shower who, despite his past as a Whig collaborator of James ii, and having an elder brother who was a leading Dissenting minister in the city, was now a High Tory and counsel to the corporation. Though he had been one of the prosecuting counsel in the trial of the Seven Bishops, one of whom had been Trelawny, he now had the bishop’s full blessing. It was reported that Shower was ‘very industrious to strengthen his party and the bishop and the Churchmen were sticklers for him’. Indeed, the cathedral clergy were ‘very zealous’ for Seymour and Shower. Their Whig opposers, Seyward and Elwill (both of whom had been knighted in 1696), almost certainly maximized support from the Dissenting community, particularly in view of Elwill’s own background. The Tories, however, gaining a majority of ‘about 200 each’, did better than was expected in government circles. When the proclamation for dissolving Parliament was read in December 1700, the chamber ‘met with a considerable number of the most substantial citizens’ and nominated the two outgoing Members. They were opposed, however, by a single Whig candidate, John Cholwich of Farringdon, whom they easily outpaced on the day of election. Seymour and Shower retained their seats in December 1701, although in Shower’s case only momentarily since his death occurred just two days after the return. At the by-election in January 1702 Alderman Snell, Seymour’s partner of 1695, was adopted by the corporation without challenge, and both were chosen at the general election in the summer.6

By 1705 it was widely hoped by influential Tories that the elderly and ill Seymour might soon be replaced as their western leader by Francis Gwyn*. Gwyn, as Lord Poulett told Harley early in May 1705,

has been the firebrand of all this side the kingdom in the elections, and many gentlemen of Dorset, Somerset and Devonshire count him as Lord Rochester’s (Laurence Hyde†) representative and Sir Edward Seymour’s successor . . . There almost wants nothing but Sir Chuffer’s [Seymour’s] death for the management of Mr Gwyn’s to take effect at Exeter.

It was certainly hoped that Gwyn might become Exeter’s recorder in Seymour’s stead. However, in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of Parliament Seymour and Snell were hugely popular figures in Exeter, having the previous November supported the Tack, and any thought of setting up another Tory in Seymour’s place had to be set aside. Snell received an ‘honourable reception at Exeter’ and was met several miles outside the city by a cavalcade of

above 500 horse and several thousand foot, composed of the neighbouring gentry, with the clergy, aldermen and principal citizens who conducted him to his own house with the city music playing before him, the streets echoing with these acclamations, “God bless the loyal Tackers and send the Sneakers more honesty and courage”.

The government’s determination to purge the Commons of Tackers wherever possible was pointedly displayed at Exeter where opposition was mounted by Hon. Francis Godolphin*, son of the lord treasurer (Sidney Godolphin†), and John Harris, an Exeter merchant. Bishop Trelawny, who had invariably given his support to Tory candidates, now found himself in a peculiarly difficult situation, and there was speculation as to how he would act. His close connexion with the lord treasurer imposed natural obligations on him to support the government candidates. In addition, his moderate Toryism made him an enemy of the more extreme elements in the party and he was currently at loggerheads with the High Church members of his cathedral chapter over elections to Convocation. At the same time Trelawny jealously regarded his electoral influence in Exeter, especially the customs officials, all of whom were said to be ‘his creatures’, and was reluctant to have to submit to the government’s intention of defeating Seymour. The possibility that he might openly throw in his lot with the Godolphin candidate even raised criticism against him in Cornwall. Seymour and Snell were receiving strong support from two of the cathedral’s most prominent High Church clerics, Dr Francis Atterbury and Dr Edward Drewe, but upon a report that as Tackers the Tory candidates might be dropped, Sir Richard Vyvyan, 3rd Bt.*, was said to have declared ‘if there was a want of clergymen to oppose my Lord [Bishop] there’ he would ‘come up himself for that purpose at the head of 80 of them from Cornwall’. Up to a point, Trelawny did indeed set himself against Seymour and Snell. He was later to recall how he had stripped one rector of his parish for acting

in a violent contradiction to the measures which I was taking in this diocese for her Majesty’s service and particularly . . . the opposition which was made to the nomination of my Lord Rialton [as he became in 1706] for a burgess-ship in that city in favour of Seymour and Snell.

However, Godolphin may well have been forewarned of the long-term political dangers of pressing his son’s candidature on Trelawny, and never did so. Godolphin and his fellow contestant dropped quietly from the scene, and in reporting this outcome the Tory journalist Dyer rejoiced that this ‘loyal city would not be put upon by the University’s refuse’, an allusion to Godolphin’s rejection by Cambridge University. It had become clear that in Exeter the administration could not afford to risk serious upset and damage to the Tory party. As Defoe commented on visiting the city a few months afterwards, ‘all agreed there, had my Lord Treasurer given his letter to the Bishop to have set up his son, Sir Edward Seymour had lost it there; if that had happened, the party had received such a blow they would never have recovered’. In fact, Trelawny’s authority over his clergy was now greater than ever; ‘the conquest the Bishop made over his clergy and the further improvement his lordship makes of his victory, render him formidable, and exceedingly chagrins the party’. The one consolation was that despite his tyrannical intransigence he still supported the occasional conformity bill.7

Trelawny was translated to the bishopric of Winchester in June 1707. With some relief, Lord Poulett complained that Trelawny’s ‘warmth of temper’ had prevented him from seeing that Exeter ‘was too great a city to be treated at the vile rate of a Cornish borough’. His attempt to keep on good terms with Dr William Wake, his Whig dean, as well as with Atterbury and Drewe, became an increasingly difficult balancing act and his clergy ‘preached nothing but the Church being now in the greatest danger’, naming their bishop as ‘an enemy of the Church’. His removal to Winchester eased the tension in Exeter politics and Queen Anne’s promotion of the High Church Offspring Blackall as bishop, directly against the wishes of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Godolphin, gave great pleasure to the local Tory clergy. Seymour died in February 1708. At the by-election in April the candidates were Nicholas Wood, a High Tory local merchant with ‘an absolute interest’ in the corporation, having been mayor the previous year, and John Harris, who had canvassed in 1701. The city Tories, however, did not exert their full force and no effort was made to enlist support from Bishop Blackall. Although the exact results were not recorded, Wood ‘polled above 700’, while Harris achieved ‘above 800 and carried it by 60’. At the general election a month later Wood’s patron Lord Poulett took the precaution of asking Harley to prevail on Blackall to give Wood his support, noting that Wood had ‘lost his last election by so very few’ that a letter from the bishop ‘will effectually do the work’. No other Tory was put up, and Wood was returned unopposed alongside Harris.8

The acquittal of Dr Sacheverell was greeted with bonfires and illuminations in Exeter and heralded the return to Tory monopolization of the city’s parliamentary seats. In September 1710 the bishop, canons and other dignitaries drew up a ‘very loyal address’, but the dean, who refused to sign, was ‘labouring tooth and nail to promote the interests of a notorious Whig against the next elections’. Appropriately, the leading Tories adopted the young Sir Warwick Coplestone Bampfylde, 3rd Bt., whose estate at Poltimore was just four miles from the city, and Alderman Snell, by now a veteran figure in the city’s affairs. Both were returned unopposed. Snell’s vote in favour of the bill confirming the treaty of commerce with France in June 1713 after the city had petitioned against it, may well have antagonized Tory businessmen and cost him his seat in the September election. Bampfylde was guaranteed one of the county seats, but Snell was dropped. The previous summer the county’s ‘regulating gentry’, who usually confined themselves to planning the rotation of the county seats, also expressed a preferred choice of candidates for Exeter and one or two other Devon boroughs. Significantly, they named senior members of the gentry for both seats, Sir William Drake, 4th Bt.*, and John Rolle I, one of the knights of the shire, though neither had noticeably strong ties with the city. In the event, only Rolle, standing down from the county, was nominated. His partner in the 1713 election was Francis Drewe, an Exeter barrister and son of one of the cathedral canons. Though not a member of the corporation, Drewe had made himself useful through his financial assistance.9

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Correspondentie ed. Japikse, ser.1, ii. 91; Post Man, 20–23 Aug. 1698.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 381.
  • 3. Trans. Devon Assoc. lxii. 203.
  • 4. R. Newton, 18th Cent. Exeter, 3, 11, 13–16, 51–54; HMC Portland, iv. 177, 420.
  • 5. Macaulay, Hist. Eng. 2561; Sloane mss 2717, f. 47; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, newsletter 19 Nov. 1695; Hants RO, Jervoise mss 44M69/C8, James Hooper to Thomas Jervoise*, 2 Nov. 1695; Add. 46525, f. 60; 17677 PP, f. 430; 70256, Seymour to Harley, 13 Nov. 1695; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, ff. 307–8; Newton, 54, 56; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Halifax pprs. box 4, bdle 12 [opinion of Sir Francis Pemberton]; Flying Post, 5–7 Dec. 1695.
  • 6. Add. 40772, ff. 7–8; 17677 XX, f. 151; Newton, 57; Flying Post, 20–23 Aug. 1698.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iv. 176–7, 213–14, 420; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 72, bdle. 4, newsletter 5 May 1705; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 26 May 1705; Newton, 57–58; EHR, xlv. 260–72; Bodl. Ballard 21, f. 222; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 44; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F173, ff. 25–26, Trelawny to William Cowper*, 4 Sept. 1707; Bodl. Rawl. D.863, f. 90.
  • 8. HMC Portland, iv. 420; EHR, lxxxii. 735; Newton, 59; The Supplement, 23–26 Apr. 1708; Add. 70252, Poulett to Harley, 24 Apr. [1708]; London Gazette, 23–26 Apr. 1708.
  • 9. Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletters 5 Sept., 26 Oct. 1710; 17677 DDD, f. 468; 70220, George Courtenay* to Harley, 29 July 1712; Newton, 60–61.