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 corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:



27 Feb. 1690Charles Cheyne, Visct. Newhaven [S]15
 Sir Thomas Middleton25
 Sir Philip Parker, Bt.141
22 Oct. 1695Sir Thomas Davall I23
 Sir Thomas Middleton23
23 July 1698Sir Thomas Davall I28
 Samuel Atkinson19
 Sir Thomas Middleton13
25 Feb. 1699Sir Thomas Middleton vice Atkinson, expelled the House18
6 Jan. 1701Sir Thomas Davall I31
 Dennis Lyddell17
 Samuel Atkinson15
25 Nov. 1701Sir Thomas Davall I28
 Dennis Lyddell19
 Samuel Atkinson13
16 July 1702Sir Thomas Davall I24
 John Ellis24
10 May 1705Sir Thomas Davall I24
 John Ellis24
3 May 1708Sir John Leake29
 Thomas Frankland26
 Sir Thomas Davall I82
6 Dec. 1708Sir Thomas Davall I16
 Kenrick Edisbury vice Leake, elected to serve for Rochester16
 Double return. Election declared void, 13 Jan. 1709 
24 Jan. 1709Kenrick Edisbury30
5 Oct. 1710Kenrick Edisbury 
 Thomas Frankland 
31 Aug. 1713Sir Thomas Davall II 
 Carew Hervey Mildmay16
 Thomas Heath16
 Double return of Mildmay and Heath. MILDMAY declared elected, 6 Apr. 1714 
17 May 1714Thomas Heath19
 Hon. Benedict Leonard Calvert vice Davall, deceased 
 CALVERT seated on petition, 29 June 1714 

Main Article

‘A town of hurry and business, not much of gaiety and pleasure’, Harwich was noticeably busier during war than peace. Its deep harbour, protected by Landguard Fort, made it ideal for shipbuilding and the transport of passengers and mail to and from the Continent. Considerable trade for the 22 inns in Harwich came from the soldiers and sailors stationed there, and from passengers detained by adverse winds. But the concomitant influx of poor or sick troops created problems for a town where begging was not allowed, and where ‘they who cannot provide for themselves are distributed among the abler sort who are obliged to maintain them’. In 1695 the corporation complained of the ‘ill management’ of the commission for the sick and wounded, and noted that some prisoners of war had escaped from the local gaol, causing over £300 worth of damage. By 1703 there were so many casualties of the war that it was feared ‘the town will be ruined’. Although a recommendation was made to set up a fund in order to alleviate the distress, a fresh complaint was sent to the secretary for war in 1710, pointing out that his agent had refused to act because of a lack of money. In electoral matters the government possessed considerable sway, especially since ‘there were not many (if any) gentlemen or families of note either in the town or very near it’, with only the manor of Dovercourt, owned by the Davall family, carrying any interest. The eight contests, nevertheless, illustrate that disputes and rivalries were rife even in this small and easily influenced constituency. In part these testify to the proud and somewhat insular nature of the borough, despite, or perhaps because of, the flow of strangers through it. The honour of being one of the town’s council was such that from 1699 each officer was to receive ‘two wholesome live lobsters’ from the freemen who were fishermen, and civic sensitivity was apparent not only in the speed with which James ii’s remodelled charter was declared void, but also in the long-running attempt to transfer the customs house from Ipswich, as well as the issue of the payment of wages to MPs. Formal waivers of fees were extracted from at least two of the successful candidates during the period in order to avoid the type of troublesome lawsuit experienced in 1679. Jealousies within the corporation were also provoked by the figure of Thomas Langley, whose prominence was recognized in May 1691 when King William lodged at his house on his way to Holland. Langley was the ‘commander’ of the packet boats until 1694, when the government took over their provision, and ministers had used his naval experience for espionage work in 1672; but James ii had prevented him from becoming mayor in December 1686, an indication of Langley’s rigid Anglicanism. Prosecution of Dissent in the early 1680s had also left a degree of religious animosity, with a High Church element fostered by the town’s minister Hippolitus de Luzancy (who may have been a former Jesuit) in confrontation with the two Dissenting congregations that were registered in 1690. On the other hand, the godliness of most of the town’s inhabitants should not be over-emphasized: on at least one occasion the parson at Dovercourt ‘refused to preach because there was no body in the church but himself, the sexton and an old woman, saying he would not hang God’s word on the wall like a cobweb’.3

In February 1690 Samuel Pepys† thought ‘the corporation modelled very differently’ from the time when it had returned him as Member in 1685. Sir Thomas Middleton and Sir Philip Parker, 1st Bt.†, the pair that had represented the borough in the last two Exclusion Parliaments, stood again (though not on a joint interest) in a contest with two other candidates. The first of these was John Wildman†, postmaster-general, who sought to exploit the influence offered by his office by writing a ‘kind letter’ to the corporation about settling the custom house there. He was reported to have ‘lost his election’, and does not appear to have pushed his nomination to a poll. A more serious challenger was Viscount Newhaven (invariably known as Lord Cheyne). He was a strong supporter of the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), and thus the most obvious Court candidate. Since a pre-poll calculation concluded that Middleton had been ‘accepted of all hands’, the contest was in fact between Parker and Cheyne, the latter supported by Sir Thomas Davall I, Sir Edward Turnor* and Arthur Moore*. Parker was vulnerable in any case because of his ailing health and financial situation, but could rely on 14 capital burgesses, including Daniel Smith, the steward, leaving him only two behind Cheyne’s projected total. Cheyne had therefore to guard against attempts to persuade two of his own voters ‘to give their second hands’ to Parker, a plan that was castigated as ‘a trick of the fanatics’. Five of Parker’s voters can be identified as Dissenters, but their number was not sufficient to defeat Cheyne, who was backed by the mayor, Robert Seaman, a man known for his ‘steadfast love and reverence to the Church of England’. Cheyne won the election by one vote, but it was thought he might prefer to sit for Newport, Cornwall, where he had also been chosen. Harwich’s minister feared that if he declined the seat the Church interest there would be ruined, ‘for presently Sir Thomas Davall, Sir Philip Parker, Mr [Isaac] Rebow* of Colchester, and Wildman will put in . . . whereas if my lord do not decline, we are masters of the choice of our common councilmen’. Turnor, who may have seen an opportunity for his own election, was advised by Thomas Langley that if Cheyne ‘relinquishes this place you do desire to consult with Sir Thomas Davall, which is true policy, for by that if he stand not his friends will be made ours’. Yet all this speculation and preparation proved to be unnecessary. Langley had reminded Turnor that he and his colleagues had taken ‘great pains and care to settle my Lord Cheyne, and I do see Mr Mayor and several [others] would be loath to lose him so soon’, and it was perhaps because of this feeling, and the fact that he knew that ‘the dregs of the last choice’ had not settled, that Cheyne decided to represent Harwich. Even so, the reverberations of the contest were felt for some time after. On 27 Mar. 1690 Parker, who it was feared was still ‘hot’ in the electors’ minds, petitioned the Commons to complain about the mayor’s impartiality, and although a report was never made, the dispute continued to rage in the locality. On 15 Apr. the corporation met to pass their past year’s accounts, but objections were made to the large sums which had been spent by Langley during his mayoralty in 1689 ‘without the consent and approbation of the rest of the aldermen and capital burgesses’, and further controversy that summer centred around the election of a recorder to replace the Duke of Schomberg, also 1st Earl of Harwich, who had been killed at the battle of the Boyne. The mayor wrote to Turnor, who was apparently working with him and Langley, to mobilize the Church interest, possibly in favour of the 6th Earl of Dorset (Charles Sackville†), who owned property in Essex, or Secretary of State Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). Mayor Seaman believed that a letter from the Duchess of Albemarle, the widow of the penultimate recorder, and Lord Cheyne was necessary, because ‘the addition of a great name or two’ would ‘barrack and baffle most of the opposition’, but on 10 Nov. the local lord of the manor, Sir Thomas Davall, was elected and sworn into office. He may well have been a compromise candidate since, although he was later listed as a High Churchman, his wife was a member of the Dutch Church in London.4

In contrast to this early strife, the mid-1690s were relatively stable with local issues at the forefront of the corporation’s concerns, such as the establishment of the custom house, plans to restore the highway to London, and the abuses committed by press gangs. Indeed, the town now strove after unity, as an address of condolence on the death of Queen Mary illustrates: in order to placate and involve all interested parties the corporation ordered it to be sent first to the new recorder, Davall, who was to pass it to the town’s two MPs, who in turn were to deliver it to the Earl of Oxford, the lord lieutenant of Essex. There was an absence of party discord at the election in October 1695, when Middleton and Davall were returned without opposition. Cheyne had decided to concentrate his efforts at Newport, Wildman was dead, Rebow sat for Colchester, and Turnor had abandoned his designs on the borough. In 1698, however, a degree of internal conflict was again apparent. With Davall heading the poll, support for Samuel Atkinson, a commissioner of transports who had been a freeman of the corporation for over ten years, reduced Middleton’s vote to what was essentially a bedrock of Dissenters, and even though Sir Thomas was returned in February 1699, after Atkinson’s expulsion from the House, his paltry 18 votes suggests that support, which nevertheless included the vote of the steward, was merely lukewarm. The agent of the packet boats at the port observed that Middleton’s interest had declined so far by December 1700 that his friends

finding themselves too few to choose him again, because Justice Atkinson . . . hath a much stronger party than they could make for Sir Thomas Middleton, joining themselves with some others of this corporation, have sent to Mr [Dennis] Lyddell to desire him to accept of it if they can carry it for him, which they believe they can do.

Indeed it was ‘the judgment of some discerning men . . . that the two late Members, Sir Thomas Middleton and Sir Thomas Davall, will be rejected’. It was also believed that should Lyddell, a commissioner of the navy who had harboured thoughts of standing in 1698, side with Atkinson, the pair’s success would not be in doubt. Despite such clear signs of success, Lyddell’s intention to stand was at first in doubt. Under-Secretary of State John Ellis, who like Atkinson was the son of a clergyman and who no doubt knew him well from their joint experience in the commission of transports, was informed that Lyddell declined the nomination. Ellis consequently drafted letters to Atkinson and the agent of the packet boats at Harwich asking for their assistance, only to discover a few days later that Lyddell had accepted ‘the offer of his friends’ after all, and that it would ‘be to no purpose’ for him to press his candidacy any further. Lyddell did not, however, join with his fellow navy official, causing a split in the government interest, and the prediction that Davall would be elected ‘by consent of the whole corporation’, and that Lyddell’s party was slightly stronger than Atkinson’s, was proved correct at the poll. This result was repeated almost exactly at the second election in 1701, except that Lyddell, who had been backed on both occasions by the steward, increased his majority over Atkinson, even though he had the consistent support of the mayor, Simon Sandford.5

After the tensions of 1698–1701, the corporation reverted to a period of peacefulness between 1702 and 1707, possibly because the burdens of war once again united the community in the face of external pressures. The administrative requirements of the navy may also explain why both Atkinson and Lyddell declined standing in 1702, making way for Ellis. Having received the latter’s offer of service, the mayor replied that he was

making all the interest that in me lies to serve you, and make no doubt but it will prove according to your desire . . . I am in great hopes that with Sir Robert Cotton’s [postmaster-general], Mr Lyddell’s and Captain Atkinson’s friends it will take effect.

A second letter sent soon after confirmed that there was ‘now no appearance of any opposition’ to Ellis, though the mayor repeated his plea that since the under-secretary was ‘so much a stranger’ at Harwich it was ‘absolutely necessary’ that he should appear there in person. This was sound advice, given Defoe’s observation that ‘the inhabitants are far from being famed for good usage to strangers’, and Ellis, who was made a freeman on the day of his election, was duly returned unopposed with Davall. In both this and the subsequent poll the unanimous vote of the corporation totalled only 24, the number fixed by the restrictive charter issued by James ii. Yet even in this time of unity there was pressure on Ellis to perform the duties expected of him by his constituents. Luzancy informed him, only a month after the election, of

a complaint against you, which though silly and ridiculous in itself, yet it is industriously improved by some people; and that is, that the corporation had not had one single word from you since the choice, which shows, to speak in their own style, that you value very little, or have soon forgot, the honour conferred on you. I answer to this that the short but excellent speech which you made them as soon as they had chosen you, was worth all the letters in the world, and that I doubt not but that whenever there is an occasion to serve them they will be convinced that you are in no ways forgetful. However . . . I am apt to think and humbly presume to advise that it would not at all be amiss to send them a compliment directed to the mayor to be communicated to their body.

Ellis returned a ‘highly satisfactory’ answer which Luzancy showed ‘to them whom some did endeavour to work upon. They are now of another mind and sensible that they were imposed on’. His diligence was nevertheless sharpened by a rumour in 1704 that Lyddell, Atkinson and Thomas Frankland II, the son of the postmaster-general, might stand at the next election, and Ellis made renewed efforts ‘in relation to the sick soldiers’ at the town; he was consequently able to boast of his activity on behalf of the corporation when offering himself again in 1705, at which time he and Davall were again returned without opposition.6

By 1707, however, the position of both MPs had become highly vulnerable. In March Luzancy wrote that

Admiral [Sir John] Leake* of one side, and Thomas Frankland [I]* of the post office of the other, are already making interests . . . the last makes it for his son. I am given to understand that Sir T[homas] D[avall] seems to be in some fear for himself, for these two interests will be very considerable. The captains of the packet boats will do what they can for the one, and the sailors who have votes are like to espouse the other.

A month later Harwich’s steward could offer Ellis ‘no encouragement’ to pursue his candidature because of the two new interests, and observed that Leake had personally ‘treated’ some of the corporation when made a freeman. By August one report suggested that Ellis had as good as lost it:

Leake will be chosen without any opposition. The interest of the town, which consists of mariners, his father having been a Harwich man by birth, the navy and the transports, all speak for him. He is sure of 24 of the 32 votes. The great struggle will be between Sir Thomas Davall and Sir Thomas Frankland’s son, of the post office. The interest of the latter has been and is managed with a great deal of secrecy.

Since Thomas Frankland II was already ‘sure of 19 votes’, the only hope for the sitting Members was to join together and rely on the support of the town steward, but by 1708 Ellis’ interest was far too weak to contest the seat, and the voters were by then reported to be resolved ‘to sink’ Davall, both as MP and as recorder. A month before the May election Frankland jnr. went down to the borough, but, despite differences in political outlook, ‘found the necessity of joining with Sir John Leake’s interest’, and at the poll this combination heavily outvoted Davall. Three days later Kenrick Edisbury*, a commissioner for victualling whose brother-in-law, John Phillipson, was the town’s mayor that year, wrote to Leake, who had also been chosen at Rochester, suggesting ‘that of the two evils you take the least and that will lead you to Harwich’. When Leake disregarded this advice and opted for his other seat, Edisbury sought to take over the navy interest at the resulting by-election in December, in competition with Davall. The mayor made a double return; each therefore petitioned the House, Davall on 18 Dec. and Edisbury two days later. Davall claimed a majority of one, as Phillipson had voted for his kinsman in order to draw the numbers level. However, on 13 Jan. 1709 the Commons ruled the election void on account of the tie, thereby forcing a second by-election at which the corporation evidently decided to rally unanimously behind Edisbury, perhaps because an imminent survey of land necessary for constructing new fortifications for the port strengthened the navy interest.7

Although Frankland and Edisbury were again returned unopposed in 1710, the last two years of Anne’s reign witnessed a Tory onslaught for control of the corporation, spearheaded by Viscount Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*), who was elected recorder on Davall’s death in December 1712. Bolingbroke had already introduced Edisbury to the court in July for the presentation of an address endorsing the peace policy, and in May 1713 the conclusion of hostilities was ‘proclaimed with great acclamations at the market place’ of the borough. Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, Davall’s son, Thomas, who had inherited the manor at Dovercourt, presented an address of thanks and was rewarded with a knighthood. Although a Tory, Davall may have allied himself with, or at least been neutral towards, Thomas Heath*, a Whiggish East India merchant who may have stood on the Parker interest. The mayor, Thomas Langley, was anxious to see if Bolingbroke ‘would recommend any Member to them or not’, and duly used his influence in support of Carew Hervey Mildmay, Bolingbroke’s eventual nominee, who allegedly ‘knew nothing of his coming to Harwich till his Lordship bid him go and assured him the business was done’. At the election Davall was elected and Mildmay and Heath tied with 16 votes each and were subject to a double return. Both candidates petitioned on 6 Mar. 1714, and the resulting case centred upon the residency requirements for capital burgesses. On 6 Apr. Heath’s counsel argued that a specific order of disfranchisement was necessary even if a burgess was not resident, but, with the aid of the town steward who seems to have deserted his earlier allegiances, Mildmay was able to end the argument by pointing to the corporation’s charter. Three of Heath’s voters, two of whom were said to live at Davall’s London house in Burr Street, were deemed to have voted illegally, and Mildmay was returned. The controversy at the national level had been matched by disputes in the corporation itself. Three weeks after the election, Maddison Hunt, the only packet boat captain who had voted for Heath, was turned out of his place to make way for one of Mildmay’s supporters, and the ground for the hearing at Westminster was prepared by the formal disfranchisement of two of Heath’s voters. Yet only three days after this resolution, Hunt assumed the office of mayor, and immediately questioned the legality of the disqualifications by having the charter read publicly. Moreover, on 21 Jan. 1714, in addition to censuring Langley’s conduct at the time of the election, Hunt mustered 11 burgesses to lodge a complaint that their brethren had been deprived of their rights despite a request ‘by several of the members of this corporation that they might be satisfied whether it was lawful that those two members should be removed or not’. The corporation’s internal divisions were fully exposed when a move to have Langley dismissed from the commission of the peace and the aldermanic bench provoked a counter-petition from 14 other burgesses who complained of Hunt’s own ‘illegal proceedings’. Hunt nevertheless successfully turned the tool of disfranchisement back on the Tories on 15 Feb. 1714 when Charles Smyth, one of Langley’s most consistent allies, was removed from the council for non-residence.8

The storm might have blown itself out had not Davall died at the end of April, only a few weeks after the Commons’ resolution about the previous year’s double return, leaving the Whiggish Hunt presiding over the by-election in May. Hunt was later alleged to have made the most of his influence, ‘allowing several to vote for Mr Heath who had no right to poll, and refusing persons to vote’ for Bolingbroke’s new candidate, the Hon. Benedict Leonard Calvert*, who was sworn a freeman on the day of the election, together with his proxy and representative, Nathaniel Witham. Calvert petitioned on 25 May, and the case became a trial of strength in the Commons between the two parties, possibly because the weakness of the Tory evidence encouraged the Whigs to press hard against a government reluctant to risk defeat over insubstantial proof. A motion on the 25th to hear the dispute at the bar of the Commons was defeated, and the matter was referred to the committee of elections. Three days later, the House voted to hear the case in a fortnight’s time, but on 8 June information was received that the solicitors for the two sides ‘had but yesterday delivered to each other the lists of several names whom they intend to object against upon account of their not being qualified according to the Corporation Act’. The hearing was therefore postponed, but on 16 June a motion was passed instructing the committee to proceed to examine the matter. On 23 June the committee was ordered to report, but it was not until the 29th that it finally did so. Calvert objected that the disfranchisement of Smyth on 15 Feb. had occurred at a meeting of the corporation at which neither the recorder, steward or deputy-steward was present, and argued that 13 of Heath’s voters were illegally qualified, claiming that six of these, including Hunt, had failed to comply with the Corporation Act; but the attempt to insinuate that his opponents were Dissenters misfired when the new vicar of Harwich admitted that they were ‘all constant Churchmen’, and Heath was able to show that ten of Calvert’s voters were similarly disqualified. More serious was the charge that Heath had bribed a number of the burgesses, although it rested on the hearsay testimony of an ‘outlaw’ whose revelations provoked seven voters to travel to London ‘at their own expenses to confront this villain and purge themselves of the unjust aspersions he had laid on them’. Nevertheless, the elections committee had resolved firstly against Heath and secondly in Calvert’s favour. A motion to recommit the first resolution was defeated by 107 votes to 90, and another to adjourn the debate was similarly lost; Heath’s unseating was then upheld, and the second resolution, to replace him by Calvert, was passed by 119 votes to 76. The three divisions reflect not only the bitterness of the struggle, both at a national and local level, but also concern at Bolingbroke’s underhand and partisan methods. The victory in any case proved pyrrhic. Heath and another Whig were returned to the first Parliament of George i.9

Author: M.J.K


  • 1. The following poll figures are taken from Essex RO (Chelmsford), Harwich bor. recs. 69/16 (1690); 69/14 (1695); 69/10 (1698); 69/12 (1699); 69/9 (Jan. 1701); 69/5 (Nov. 1701); 69/3 (1702); 69/1 (1705); 68/7 ((1708); 68/6 (1709).
  • 2. Add. 5443, f. 25.
  • 3. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 62; Percival Diary 1701 ed. Wenger, 48; L. Weaver, Harwich Packets, 7; L. Weaver, Harwich Story, 65, 68–9, 71; S. Taylor, Hist. and Antiq. of Harwich, 218, 239, 250–1; Harwich bor. recs. 68/1, f. 4; 98/4, f. 204; 98/5, ff. 4, 102; 126/2–3; 127/12; Add. 28891, f. 277; 28948, f. 50; 34788, f. 30; CSP Dom. 1671–2, pp. 286–7, 601–2.
  • 4. Bodl. Rawl. A.170, f. 114; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/816, Luzancy to Turnor, 17 Mar. 1690; Harwich bor. recs. 98/4, ff. 154, 161, 163, 165, 167; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 14, f. 265; Essex RO, Winterton (Turnor) mss D/DKw/02/23; Taylor, 38, 42; Shillinglee mss Ac. 454/811–2, Seaman to Turnor, 10 July, 12 Sept. 1690; 454/813–6, [–] to Turnor, 17 Mar. 1690.
  • 5. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 244; Harwich bor. recs. 98/5, f. 4; 98/4, f. 200; 69/10, 12; 69/9, 5; Luttrell Diary, 411; CJ, xi. 374, 452; Add. 28886, ff. 158, 172, 185, 195–6.
  • 6. Add. 28889, ff. 8, 13, 20, 30, 35, 38, 103, 116; 28927, ff. 176, 178, 180; 28893, f. 75; Defoe, 61; Harwich bor. recs. 98/5, f. 47.
  • 7. Add. 28891, ff. 241, 245, 278, 318, 322; 5443, ff. 19, 21, 23; Harwich bor. recs. 98/5, ff. 72, 82; 68/7; CJ, xvi. 169.
  • 8. London Gazette, 24–26 July 1712, 16–20 June 1713; Harwich bor. recs. 98/5, ff. 125, 127, 129, 131, 133, 134–8.
  • 9. Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 29 June 1714.