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:

271 in 1698; 420 in 1708; nearly 600 by 17151


28 Feb. 1690SIR JOHN BARKER, Bt.143
 Charles Whitaker103
 John Hodges59
 Sir Charles Blois, Bt. 
 Samuel Barnardiston 2 
10 Nov. 1696RICHARD PHILIPS vice Barker, deceased 
 Charles Whitaker1053
9 Jan. 1701JOSEPH MARTIN201
 Richard Philips984
 John Bence1265
29 July 1702JOHN BENCE 
 Richard Philips 
11 May 1705HENRY POLEY 
21 Nov. 1707WILLIAM CHURCHILL vice Poley, deceased188
 Sir William Barker, Bt.182
 Charles Whitaker157
19 Oct. 1710SIR WILLIAM BARKER, Bt.258
 William Thompson235
 Orlando Bridgeman172
 Orlando Bridgeman218
 Richard Richardson204
 BRIDGEMAN and RICHARDSON vice Thompson and Churchill, on petition, 1 Apr. 1714 

Main Article

There were no significant outside interests at Ipswich, the state of parties within the corporation proving generally the determining influence in parliamentary elections. The town itself, though well situated as a port, had the appearance of being ‘a little disregarded’: commerce was ‘entirely neglected’ and there was no industry to speak of. One notable feature, however, was the number of Dissenters there: according to one visitor in 1701, ‘Quakers and Presbyterians’ constituted ‘a great proportion’ of the inhabitants, the latter having recently ‘built a fine meeting-house large enough to hold 1,500 people’. In 1690 the outgoing Members, Sir John Barker, 4th Bt., and Sir Charles Blois, 1st Bt., both Tories, were opposed by two candidates ‘set up’, according to one local Tory, by ‘the medley of Dissenters of our town’: John Hodges and Charles Whitaker, a barrister who was to serve as recorder of the borough and possibly had already been elected to that office. There was some delay in the arrival of the precept, the Tory explanation being that it had been ‘detained on purpose to hinder us from election, until the county be over, that in case the rabble and their associates be worsted, that worthy patriot Sir Sam[uel Barnardiston, 1st Bt.*] may be set up again for us’. But in the event Barker and Blois were both safely returned, ‘in spite of all opposition, viz. Independents, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, etc.’.6

In the years following, the Whig interest gathered considerable strength. Not only was Whitaker recorder, but a Whig peer, the 3rd Lord Cornwallis, was chosen high steward in 1691, and in 1693 King William himself paid a visit to the town. In 1695 Whitaker managed to defeat Blois, although his Whig partner Samuel Barnardiston, nephew of Sir Samuel, was unable to take the other seat from Barker. The death within a year of Barker presented, to the eye of Archdeacon Humphrey Prideaux, an opportunity to ‘reconcile the town and bring them all again to be of a piece, which hath been in perpetual feuds for these seven or eight years past’. Prideaux’s preferred candidate for the vacancy was the Tory Lord Huntingtower (Lionel Tollemache*) but in fact Barker’s replacement was a local merchant, Richard Philips, a Tory who may none the less have been generally acceptable. The 1698 election saw a new coalition of forces as Philips and Barnardiston, a Country Whig, combined to ‘throw out’ the Court Whig Whitaker, Barnardiston’s erstwhile ally. Barnardiston may have been helped by his uncle Sir Samuel’s substantial contribution to the recently opened subscription for the building of a shire-house at Ipswich, while at the same time Whitaker had become personally unpopular: a mass abstention of his supporters seems to have cost him the contest, and soon afterwards Prideaux could report that he ‘hath so far lost himself in that corporation that he will scarce ever recover himself there again’. The successful alliance of Tory and Country Whig did not, however, outlast this Parliament. In the January 1701 election Ipswich became a battleground between the Old and New East India Companies, when two London ‘moneyed men’ were returned, Joseph Martin for the New Company and the Tory Sir Charles Duncombe for the Old. Philips trailed in a poor third. Afterwards he may have come to terms with Whitaker: in the second election of 1701 Whitaker and Philips were chosen, with a clear majority over another Tory, John Bence.7

At the 1702 election Whitaker and Bence were returned. Philips had also canvassed, but ‘went out of town in the morning before the election, so did not appear; yet the poll was demanded for Philips, but Bence carried before it the other two by 40 votes, and Whitaker next’. In the same year Philips was fined for neglecting his service as a portman, and subsequently excused; and in 1703 he and the other outgoing bailiff, Cooper Gravenor, were ordered to be given security to indemnify them in their disputes with the corporation. It was recorded that ‘many gentlemen in the town and neighbourhood were, about this time, presented with their freedom, and the disputes in the corporation were carried to great lengths’. At four great court meetings held in May, June and August 1703, 66 Suffolk gentry were voted in as honorary freemen, including a number of prominent Tories. In June 1704 the Whigs instigated a ‘mighty contest’ in an attempt to bring a halt to the Tory creations. On 9 June Whitaker tabled a motion at the great court as to ‘whether any more gentlemen honorary freemen should be made or not’, but this was defeated by 158 votes to 96. Just over half of the majority on this vote were themselves honorary freemen admitted over the last 18 months. The Tories continued to exercise their power of creating honorary freemen, but did so more moderately, presumably because they felt themselves to be in a strong enough position already and that further large-scale creations might prompt a backlash. They contented themselves therefore with the removal of one of Whitaker’s friends as town clerk for various ‘misdemeanours’, some of which arose from an election, and Whitaker himself was required to answer accusations of misconduct on pain of being discharged as recorder. No satisfactory reply being received, he was subsequently replaced in the recordership by a local Tory, Leicester Martin*. That the Tory faction was now in the ascendant was shown by the tenor of the corporation’s address to Queen Anne in November 1704 to congratulate her on the military successes of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Sir George Rooke*. Tory control was sufficiently strong to deter any Whig from standing in 1705. There was no opposition to the return of John Bence and Henry Poley, a stranger to the borough though of a Suffolk family. The election did not go without comment in the London press, however. The Whig Observator reported that ‘no honest true-hearted Englishman is employed in the public offices of the town’ and lamented the strength of the ‘Tacking cause’, also making allegations about electoral malpractice. From the Tory perspective, the Rehearsal praised the conduct of the Tackers and rebutted the Whig charges. The candidacy of Poley excited particular interest, as evidenced by a report in the London Post:

So rank was the spirit of the high party . . . that having but one honest gentleman chosen before at Ipswich . . . rather than he should be in the House again, they send up to London for one of the rankest Tackers [Poley] . . . though they never saw him before in their lives.

Meanwhile Whitaker had obtained a writ of mandamus against the corporation, to be restored to his office. His opponents were obliged to comply but managed to defeat the intention of the writ by discharging him again in May 1707 immediately after his restoration. Probably in order to prevent any further action from Whitaker, his successor this time was a Whig, William Thompson III. With Thompson’s assistance, and possibly also through the intervention of (Sir) Thomas Felton* (4th Bt.), the Whig placeman William Churchill stood as a candidate at the by-election the following November, and was successful by a very narrow margin against Barker’s son, William, a Tory like his father, who was taking the first opportunity to put up after coming of age. Of Barker’s votes, 72 were from ‘honorary freemen’, while Churchill’s support came entirely from resident or ‘town’s freemen’. Churchill held his seat at the 1708 election, in which Barker was also returned and Whitaker made his last appearance in Ipswich politics as the defeated candidate. In return for making way for Churchill, Thompson had been promised his and Felton’s help at Orford, a plan which very nearly came unstuck when he suffered a humiliating defeat there. He was ‘pleasantly laughed at’ by Tories who claimed he had been fooled and had been ‘turned off’ from Ipswich to a constituency ‘where they knew he could have no prospect of success’. Face was saved, however, when he was brought in for Orford on petition.8

A reconstructed Whig faction in Ipswich, now apparently without the encumbrance of Whitaker, and with Thompson and Churchill at its head, began to make ground again in the corporation. In September 1708 a Tory ruefully reported that

we are entirely routed at Ipswich, for in spite of us [Cooper] Gravenor is got to be bailiff again, and no question but he will make enough of his own [?crew . . .] to outvote the honest part of the town and the gentlemen; ’tis impossible to express the honest dissatisfaction which the gentlemen show.

An indication of the height to which party animosities had risen came in the following March, when Gravenor and his fellow bailiff were publicly accused by the former recorder Leicester Martin and four other Tory gentlemen, at a meeting of recruiting commissioners in the town, of ‘mismanagements’ and abuses of power in the business of recruitment. ‘A great deal of abusive language’ was exchanged, and Martin and his confederates took it upon themselves as justices of the peace to discharge the recruits who had been enlisted. Encouraged by Thompson, Gravenor then complained to the Privy Council and succeeded in having the five Tories removed from the commission of the peace, though three of them were eventually restored. Gravenor does not seem to have taken the opportunity of his time as bailiff to make many Whig freemen, as his enemies had feared, though two notable honorary freemen were admitted, the Duke of Marlborough, who visited the town and was officially entertained, and the Duke of Grafton. Before the 1710 election, in which Thompson and Churchill stood for the Whigs, and Sir William Barker and Orlando Bridgeman (one of the ‘heroes’ of the attack on the recruiting commissioners) put up for the Tories, a complaint was made by a group led by one of Whitaker’s former associates against allowing honorary and other non-resident freemen the right to vote. Despite Tory fears that Barker would ‘meet with a very great opposition’ he was returned at the top of the poll, though his partner Bridgeman finished at the bottom. Thompson, the unsuccessful Whig candidate, claimed a majority over Barker among the resident freemen, the 50 or so ‘honorary-freemen outlyers’ having all voted for the Tories, and petitioned on these grounds, but without any supporting evidence that ‘outlyers’ had ever been excluded from voting. There were subsidiary allegations that Barker’s supporters had offered inducements to the electors, and that one of the bailiffs, Francis Coleman, had favoured him, the latter being countered by the Tories with accusations of ‘indirect practices’ on Thompson’s behalf committed by the other bailiff, Gravenor. The burden of Thompson’s case, however, rested on his contention about the franchise, and when the House resolved against him on this point his counsel admitted that Barker had a majority. The petition was voted ‘frivolous and vexatious’ and Thompson was ordered to pay costs. Sir William Barker was reported as having stated, prior to this vote, that ‘he was satisfied and he was not for going to the summum jus, for it might happen that those who had the majority last Parliament may come to have it again and moderation now might induce them to the same when in power’. This comment had precipitated a heated debate, during which numerous instances were given of harsh proceedings on election cases in the previous Parliament.9

Not long afterwards Barker was admitting that ‘by some management’ he had ‘so disobliged his friends in Ipswich that if he should now vacate his election’ by taking office ‘it would be difficult for him to be re-chosen’. The Tory interest sustained several further blows in 1711, as the Whigs set about redressing the imbalance among the freemen, in the light of the Commons’ decision over the parliamentary franchise. At a great court held in June 1711 a mass admission of Whig freemen was proposed; six portmen and 24 common councilmen, together with some of the freemen, withdrew; whereupon the 150 or so freemen remaining voted themselves a legal great court and admitted more than 50 new freemen, most of them country gentlemen and some from as far afield as London. On 7 Aug. four portmen and several common councilmen protested in vain against the illegality of these proceedings, and a further 35 honorary freemen were admitted. Protests were repeated at the great court on 8 Sept., when a majority both of the portmen and of the common council declared against the mass admissions of the previous two courts. There was then a very close contest in the election of the bailiffs, and after a scrutiny both Whig candidates were declared elected. Subsequently more admissions of freemen took place. In the 1713 general election Thompson and Churchill were opposed by Bridgeman and a London lawyer, Richard Richardson. Robert Monckton*, a Court Whig, had hoped to stand against Thompson and Churchill with the assistance of the Tory knight of the shire, Sir Robert Davers, 2nd Bt.*, but this came to nothing. Before the election Bridgeman and Richardson protested against the disputed freemen of 1711 being allowed to vote; the Whigs retaliated with a counter-protest against the votes of all honorary freemen admitted during the previous ten years. There was a stalemate, and after some struggle it was agreed that each candidate should appoint one non-freeman to see fair play at the poll. Not surprisingly, the return of the sitting Members brought a petition from the defeated Tories, which was heard at the bar. Bridgeman and Richardson concentrated on the events of 1711, and succeeded in establishing that the freemen who had been admitted then either at great courts from which Tory portmen had withdrawn or at petty courts without having previously ‘manifested their rights’ at a great court, had been admitted illegally. The central point was whether the presence of the portmen was necessary for a great court to be properly constituted, and the House ruled that this was so. A Whig observer commented sourly:

Ipswich: no court allowed to be good at which none of the portmen were present, although the bailiffs were so, and it was proved the portmen were of late institution by themselves. So 500 freemen shall be hindered by 12 portmen absenting themselves from doing any act.

Once the new freemen of 1711 had been voted illegal Thompson ‘said, he would not give the House any further trouble; for that, since the freedom of those persons had been disallowed, he admitted the petitioners had the majority of votes’. He and Churchill ‘walked out’ and Bridgeman and Richardson were seated in their place. The Whigs in Ipswich had their revenge, however. After the Queen’s death, at which Whigs allegedly ordered churchwardens in the town to ‘ring their bells’, two of the more prominent of the Tory portmen were removed, for their ‘misbehaviour’ in withdrawing from the controversial great courts of 1711; and some 38 Whig country gentlemen were presented with the freedom of the borough, in advance preparation for the next election.10

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Murrell thesis, 152, 156.
  • 2. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 2 Nov. 1695.
  • 3. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Ipswich parlty. bk. K.15/2.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 143–4; Add. 47057, ff. 4–5; Camb. Univ. Lib. mss Sel. 3.237/26, 31.
  • 7. G. R. Clarke, Hist. Ipswich, 67, 68, 70–71; Prideaux Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. xv), 181, 191; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss, John Hooke to Sir Edward Turnor*, 26 July 1698; Ipswich parlty. bk. K.15/2.
  • 8. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Winterton (Turner) mss ERO D/DKW/02/10; Murrell, 150–4; Clarke, 71–77; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 54; Press in Eng. Soc. ed. Harris and Lee, 54; Daily Courant, 28 Nov. 1707; Winterton (Turner) mss ERO D/DKW/02/10; Shillinglee mss, Turnor to mayor of Orford, [?11] May 1708.
  • 9. Shillinglee mss, Clement Corrance* to Turnor, 15 Sept. [1708]; Bodl. Rawl. B.428 passim; Clarke, 78–80; Murrell, 154–5; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2948, Dysart (formerly Huntingtower) to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 27 Sept. 1710; Post Man, 26–28 Oct. 1710; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/9, Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.* to Lord Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 3 Feb. 1711.
  • 10. HMC Portland, iv. 689; v. 377, 489; Clarke, 80–83; Douglas diary (Hist of Parl. trans.), 31 Mar. 1714; Bull. IHR, xxiv. 212; Murrell, 155–6.