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

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

rising from 2,188 in 1695 to at least 3,758 in 1708


6 Mar. 1690Sir Thomas Pope Blount, Bt.  
 Ralph Freman I1415 
 Sir Charles Caesar1368 
  Double return of Freman and Caesar. FREMAN declared elected, 30 Apr. 1690.  
7 Nov. 1695Sir Thomas Pope Blount, Bt.  
 Thomas Halsey1428 
 Hon. Robert Cecil1412 
 Mr Freman  
30 Dec. 1697Ralph Freman II vice Blount, deceased1311 
 Hon. Robert Cecil8771 
11 Aug. 1698Thomas Halsey1565 
 Ralph Freman II1699 
 John Plumer1239 
 Silius Titus10842 
17 Jan. 1701Ralph Freman II  
 Thomas Halsey  
27 Nov. 1701Thomas Halsey  
 Ralph Freman II  
6 Aug. 1702Ralph Freman II  
 Thomas Halsey  
10 May 1705Sir John Spencer,  Bt.1697 
 Ralph Freman II1681 
 Thomas Halsey1640 
 Sir John Bucknall15553 
6 May 1708Ralph Freman II20462046
 Thomas Halsey19451955
 Sir John Bucknall18361733
 John Plumer17814 
19 Oct. 1710Ralph Freman II  
 Thomas Halsey  
1 Sept. 1713Ralph Freman II  
 Thomas Halsey  

Main Article

Although contested six times in the period, Hertfordshire was, after the by-election of 1697, firmly in the grip of the Tories, who monopolized its representation in Parliament for the next 30 years, with only a single seat being conceded to the Whigs in 1705. This situation may appear surprising given the county’s strong Dissenting interest, but Tory control owed something to the large number of absentee freeholders, many of whom lived in London, and to superior organization by the gentry, especially in the northern and eastern districts. Although the parts of the county adjoining Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were reported to be Whiggish and ‘full of Dissenters’, the areas bordering Cambridgeshire, Essex and Huntingdonshire were said to be so full of High Churchmen that ‘the gentlemen of the Royston Club settle all the affairs of the county and carry all before them’. The club, which had existed at least since 1683 and which had ‘built a large handsome square room’ hung with full-length portraits of the Stuarts, possibly began life as a social meeting-place where members ‘used to drink excessively and do a thousand extravagant things’, but by the early 18th century it met soberly once a month to promote an Anglican Tory piety. It levied money for charities and may have been behind the 1692 sessional order to suppress profaneness in the county. The Tories may also have been aided by the interest of the duchy of Lancaster, which was thought to have ‘some influence’ in the county. The Whigs, by contrast, suffered a crisis of leadership. Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), whom the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) noted as influential over the county’s MPs, died in 1696 and although the Whig Earl of Essex was lord lieutenant from 1692 to 1710, and was succeeded by Lord Cowper (William*), who was also able to use his authority as Lord Chancellor to purge some Tory justices from the bench, they proved unable to convert their official authority into electoral power. In Cowper’s case his family’s standing was seriously damaged by scandal and consequent estrangement from the influential Quaker interest.5

The battle for Tory supremacy at the polls was won in William’s reign. Although Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1st Bt., retained his seat in 1690, and Carmarthen’s son Lord Danby (Peregrine Osborne†) apparently disappointed predictions by his failure to stand, the first success for the High Tories came when Ralph Freman I defeated Blount’s brother-in-law, and a moderate Churchman, Sir Charles Caesar†. Caesar had received support from 72 Quakers, whose votes were disallowed on 30 Apr. 1690 when the House debated the double return and seated Freman. By the 1695 election the Whigs had found a new running mate for Blount in Hon. Robert Cecil*, uncle of the young 5th Earl of Salisbury, whose family had once held great sway in the county but whose political fortunes were now in decline. ‘Honest Mr Freman’ (almost certainly Ralph Freman snr. rather than jnr.) stood with Thomas Halsey, who had been his partner in the 1685 Parliament. They attracted the support of what one Tory described as ‘the good men of our country’, but as early as September Freman’s chances had been considered slim, and Blount and Halsey were returned, Cecil’s quarrel with his brother, the 4th Earl (d.1694), probably having undermined what remained of the shaky family influence. Once again, support from outside the county and superior Tory organization may have been the reason for the rejection of Cecil’s petition presented on 25 Nov. against Halsey, for Sir Edward Turnor* of Great Hallingbury, Essex, busied himself in the matter. Thus on 16 Jan. 1696 the House spurned Cecil’s plea that many of his opponents’ voters had been ineligible, and resolved that it could not hear evidence to disqualify men who had sworn themselves at the time of the election. Cecil then tried desperately to argue that a number of his Quaker supporters had been turned away from the poll, but the Commons did not even need to repeat its previous resolution about them for there were no more than a dozen such votes, insufficient to overturn Halsey’s majority. Halsey had in any case prepared a list of 232 names of men who had voted either for Blount or Cecil jointly or for Cecil singly, but who possessed only a dubious right to poll. The representation of the county therefore continued to be split between the parties.6

Blount’s death in 1697 allowed the Tories to secure the second seat at a by-election in which Freman’s son, Ralph II, defeated Cecil. Poll books show that although Cecil had been able to muster the support of Blount, William Gore*, Joshua Lomax*, Sir William Cowper, 2nd Bt.*, and Cowper’s two sons, William and Spencer*, Freman had an even more impressive array of influential voters, including Sir William Leman, 2nd Bt.*, Edward Bullock*, Turnor, Charles Caesar*, Montagu Drake*, Sir Robert Marsham, 4th Bt.*, and Richard Goulston*. Perhaps shocked into action by the defeat, the Whigs tried to attack the Freman–Halsey combination at the general election the following year. Although Cecil had turned his attentions elsewhere, his electoral interest may have been lent to his neighbour John Plumer (or Plomer) of Blakesware, Hertfordshire, who had served as sheriff in 1688 and had voted for Cecil in the by-election. Plumer was joined by the veteran Member, Silius Titus*, but neither was able to oust the sitting MPs, who were returned unchallenged at the next three elections. Able to represent their views as those of the county, in October 1704 they presented an address of congratulation on the successes of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Sir George Rooke*, which referred to the ‘mild and gracious administration’ of the Queen’s government, and praised her firm adherence to the Church ‘under all its pressures’.7

Halsey’s and Freman’s grip on the county was loosened in 1705, when opposition to the Tack re-animated the Whig spirit. They were also able to take advantage of a temporary slackness of Tory discipline. Richard Goulston, MP for Hertford, observed in February that

if our old knights take no better measures than they have done hitherto, I fear the [Whig] party may force us to exchange one. Some people set so great a value upon themselves, that they are above asking their friends, and this gives the Dissenters great opportunity to make their advantage.

The two candidates put up against them were Sir John Spencer, 4th Bt., who was tolerant of Nonconformity in his own parish, and Sir John Bucknall*, who had been sheriff of the county in 1693 and had been restored to the lieutenancy in 1691 because the King was satisfied of his ‘good affection and loyalty’. Notice of the contest was given in the press, which also whipped up public interest by printing a story about a parson who swore ‘the Devil take me if it be not a greater sin to poll against the Tackers than to murder my own father’. Such coverage may help to explain why ‘there were 450 more polled than ever was known at any former election’. It was suspected by the Tories that ‘there were a great [many] freeholders made by the opposite party by collusion on purpose to vote for this election’, for at the ‘great poll’ Spencer defeated Halsey, the weaker of the sitting Members, even though Robert Harley* had thought that Halsey might attract the support of the Cecils, and Freman had been the more prominent Tacker. Having suffered the indignity of losing one of their seats, the Tories redoubled their efforts at the 1708 election, perhaps beating their rivals at their own game, since the poll recorded one of the highest turnouts for the county in the 18th century. The Whigs were also weaker because, although Bucknall stood again, Spencer seems to have made way for Plumer, the defeated candidate in 1698. Despite Lord Chancellor Cowper’s arrival in the middle of the law term ‘to advance the Whig interest’, the ‘Church people’ were able to ‘rejoice’ in carrying the election, and the clergy were reported to have had ‘very good entertainment with what passed at the election’. Lady Cowper felt grief for her friend and neighbour Plumer, whom she believed to be

in an agony for the disappointment, yet it hath this alleviation, that he had the best appearance of the gentry, the others most[ly] mob, popular noises and the undiscerning suffrages of the people, who are contingent judges of good and evil.

A poll book confirms this judgment, for apart from John Gape* and Sir George Warburton, 3rd Bt.*, Freman and Halsey failed to attract so many high-ranking voters as their rivals, who were supported by the local Whig gentry, including Spencer and Henry Killigrew*, the latter’s vote an indication perhaps of ministerial support. To the delight of Lady Cowper, Bucknall and Plumer planned to petition, though their resolve seems to have weakened, for a complaint was never lodged in Parliament.8

With the Tories having reasserted their hold on both seats, Freman was unsettled to learn of the appointment in August 1710 of Cowper as lord lieutenant, remarking that ‘Lord Salisbury must of course think himself neglected, and our gentlemen will look upon this as the greatest support of a different interest, that we were now in hopes would be lessened’. Cowper used his authority to ensure that only about a third of the Tories he had purged between 1706 and 1709 were reappointed as justices, but his own replacement in 1712 by Salisbury ended any attempts to use central authority to undermine local Tory strength, which had been demonstrated emphatically at the election in October 1710 when Halsey and Freman had been returned ‘without opposition’. In July 1712 Salisbury introduced the pair at court to present an address which praised the ministry, and attacked opponents of the peace as men who were ‘restless through ambition, and turbulent by principle, whom no goodness nor condescension from the throne can oblige to common respect and duty to it’. The Tories were re-elected unopposed in 1713, and although Freman’s long tenure of the seat and his accommodation with the Court under Anne created dissatisfaction among the members of the Royston Club – in October 1714 even Goulston said he would vote against Freman – it is testimony to the submission into which the Whigs had been beaten that they were unable to exploit the situation, and failed to win either seat throughout the reign of George I.9

Author: M.J.K


  • 1. Herts. RO, Q/PE/1–2, pollbks.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 381.
  • 3. Essex RO, D/Dkw/02.
  • 4. Bodl. Willis 9, f. 163; marked copy of 1707–8 list of MPs in possession of R.B. Freeman Esq. A poll book containing most of the voters, but lacking the last few pages is at Herts. RO, D/EX/294/Z1.
  • 5. Add. 32057 (unfol.) J. Thompson’s list of Dissenting congregations; VCH Herts. iv. 224; HMC Portland, iv. 153–4, 563; Browning, Danby, ii. 182; L.K.J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 175, 189–90.
  • 6. BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, John Verney* to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 18 Feb. 1690; 636/48, same to same, 12 Sept. 1695; VCH Herts. iv. 356; London Gazette, 7–11 Mar. 1695; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/834, M. Blurke to Turnor, 16 Oct. 1695; 454/836, Turnor to [?], 30 Nov. 1695; Essex RO, Winterton (Turnor) mss D/DkW/02/30, list of voters; Add. 33581, ff. 106–114.
  • 7. Herts. RO, Q/PE/1–2, pollbks.; London Gazette, 23–26 Oct. 1704.
  • 8. Bodl. Rawl. lett. 92, f. 297; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 351; Post Man, 3–5 May 1705; W.A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 89; HMC Cowper, iii. 61; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 226; Add. 70335, Harley’s list of constituencies, Feb. 1705; HMC Downshire, i. 857–8; Bodl. Ballard 21, f. 77; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F32, p. 201, Lady Cowper’s diary, 8 May 1708; Herts. RO, D/EX/294/Z1, pollbk.; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 3.
  • 9. HMC Portland, iv. 563; BL, Lothian mss, J. Coke to Thomas Coke*, [1701]; Glassey, 202, 206, 208; Boyer, Pol. State, iv. 42; Panshanger mss D/EP F53, f. 38, John Boteler* to Cowper, 10 Oct. 1714.