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:

at least 4,827 in 1708


13 Mar. 1690BENNET SHERARD, 2nd Baron Sherard [I] 
14 Nov. 1695JOHN VERNEY 
 — Bird 
21 July 1698JOHN VERNEY 
2 Jan. 1701JOHN VERNEY 
 Bennet Sherard, 3rd Baron Sherard [I] 
 George Ashby 
4 Dec. 1701JOHN WILKINS MANNERS, Ld. Roos 
 BENNET SHERARD,  3rd Baron Sherard [I] 
16 July 1702JOHN VERNEY2457
 Bennet Sherard, 3rd Baron Sherard [I]2054
 John Manners, Ld. Roos20201
17 May 1705JOHN VERNEY 
4 Dec. 1707GEORGE ASHBY vice Verney, deceased2230
 Geoffrey Palmer20922
20 May 1708GEOFFREY PALMER2494
 George Ashby2319
 Henry Tate24003
5 Oct. 1710JOHN MANNERS, Mq. of Granby 
22 Feb. 1711SIR THOMAS CAVE,  Bt. vice Granby, called to the Upper House 
3 Sept. 1713ROBERT SHIRLEY, Visct. Tamworth 
5 Aug. 1714SIR GEOFFREY PALMER, Bt. vice Tamworth, deceased 

Main Article

Many of Leicestershire’s freeholders were engaged in what Defoe termed ‘country business’, centring on the county’s market towns. Beyond the borough of Leicester, pockets of Dissent and Whiggish opinion were particularly well entrenched in areas about the shire’s eastern flank, in the north centring on Melton Mowbray, and in the south around Market Harborough; in the latter area many were said to frequent ‘conventicles’, and another correspondent advised a prospective Tory candidate to canvass the area thoroughly in order that the Dissenters be ‘laid asleep’. The years 1701–2 mark the transition between an earlier period when the Whig aristocratic Manners and Grey families were leading influences in the return of county Members, and a later one when this influence was superseded by that of the gentry. At various times other noble families deployed their interests but never equalled the influence of the earls of Rutland (John Manners†, Lord Roos) and Stamford in William III’s reign. Chief among the lesser nobles were the Sherards, whose considerable influence, exercised in the decades following the Restoration, was now waning; the elderly 2nd Lord finally stood down in 1695, and on his death in 1700 was succeeded by his son, a young man with little of his father’s political energy. Others such as the 1st Earl Ferrers and the Earl of Huntingdon, son of the disgraced 2nd Earl, interested themselves in elections no more than fitfully. The gentry, certainly their upper ranks, were inclined to Toryism, though of a moderate consensual kind personified by the MPs John Verney and John Wilkins. There were strong traditions of Tory consultation and agreement among the gentry, and in Anne’s reign meetings to decide important matters concerning the county would often take place in London. The Tories’ titular leader, the 4th Earl of Denbigh, served twice as lord lieutenant, in 1703–6 and 1711–14, but made no attempt to impose candidates of his own choice. Although in the earlier period there were outward signs of a working relationship with Rutland and Stamford, the gentry were probably never enamoured of aristocratic interference; while they had some success in William’s reign in returning candidates of their own, it was not until 1702 and thereafter that they were able to operate unimpeded. Initially, the moderate Tory partnership of Verney and Wilkins, the most enduring choice among the electorate, harmonized with the Rutland interest, but by the new reign both had fallen foul of the Earl in quick succession; they defeated the candidates he set up against them, and the humiliation was enough to keep him from active intervention in county elections again. In the same year, Stamford lost favour at court, and in the county.4

Opposing Lord Sherard and Sir Thomas Hesilrige, 4th Bt., in 1690 was Sir Ambrose Phillipps, a wealthy and eminent Chancery lawyer of Garendon Park, Leicestershire, who was put up by the gentry. The initial impression was that Phillipps would stand in Sherard’s place but it later emerged that he ‘designs to stand in opposition to the fanatics’. Phillipps professed reluctance about shouldering responsibility that would be ‘contrary to mine own interest’ but reconciled himself with the thought that ‘it is a time that all men that love the governm[en]t and the Church of England ought to take a more particular care of the choice of their representatives in Parliam[en]t’. Whether or not a poll took place is unclear, but it was the original Whig contenders, Sherard and Hesilrige, who were returned. There is no sign of aristocratic participation in the election, although Stamford’s prominence can be measured by the strong Whig message he addressed to the county in 1691 at the Michaelmas quarter sessions:

I hope all men (I am sure all that have a hearty love and value for liberty and property) will be satisfied that K[ing] William and Queen Mary are our rightful and lawful King and Queen of these realms; and that what hath been done in relation to the late King James, and the placing this present King and Queen upon the throne, is nothing more than what hath been oft times practised in former ages in this and other kingdoms.

In 1695 both outgoing Members retired. John Verney was put up by, and received full backing from, Rutland who, though himself a Whig, accepted Verney’s moderate Toryism. Rutland’s promotion of Tory candidates in the 1690s can best be explained by his isolation from the political mainstream. After 1689 he never set foot in London and led a valetudinarian existence first at Haddon, Derbyshire and then at Belvoir, Leicestershire. His absorption in prosecuting a personal rivalry with Stamford made him quite prepared to challenge Stamford’s Whig candidates with men of Tory views. Thus, in 1695, Stamford’s candidates were George Ashby and a Mr Bird. So confident was Stamford of his electoral preparations in both county and borough that he expected ‘without much contest to carry both’. The poll, of which no record survives, satisfied both peers with the election of Verney and Ashby. Party lines had clearly been drawn, however, as was demonstrated on the night of the election by a group of euphoric Tories, ‘well affected to ye ch[urch] and monarchy’, who expressed their ill will towards ‘the contrary faction, chiefly managed by the Lord S[tamford]’. At the time of the Assassination Plot revelations in 1696, there were reports that sympathizers within the county had established a correspondence with James II; even Rutland’s loyalty was for a while under suspicion. In 1698 Verney was joined by the gentry nominee, John Wilkins, who though gaining backing from the Tory gentry had formerly been a Whig ‘creature’ of Stamford. Huntingdon, for one, seriously questioned Wilkins’ political probity, warning Verney that ‘if there should be competitors you will find the fanatical party will be for Wilkins against you’. Opposing them were Stamford’s men, Ashby and Bird. Verney had intelligence that Stamford would insist on a poll, but it is uncertain if any such took place: however determined, the outcome was the return of Verney and Wilkins.5

With the onset of the first 1701 election, Rutland entertained thoughts of setting up his son Lord Roos. Early in November he was reported to have reserved the votes of his ‘friends’ in Leicester pending his future resolution. Wilkins was much troubled by a move that threatened to complicate an electoral line-up settled at least since early October; the gentry were ‘mostly’ for himself and Verney while Stamford was active for Lord Sherard and George Ashby. A late accommodation of Roos was more likely to displace himself than Verney who continued to enjoy Rutland’s goodwill. Wilkins eased his predicament by encouraging Roos’s preference for accepting the invitation of his kinsman, the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†), to stand in Derbyshire alongside his son, Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*). This he had to accomplish without offending Thomas Coke, a sitting Member for Derbyshire who was seeking re-election, and upon whose Leicestershire interest Verney depended heavily. Under pressure, it seems, from Coke’s man of business, Robert Harding, Wilkins was forced at a late stage to refrain from assisting Roos in Derbyshire, though in fact Coke’s position was already beyond repair and he lost his seat to Roos, attributing his defeat at least in part to Wilkins’ interference. In Leicestershire the poll was close, and though the results are now lost, Sherard and Ashby were stated to have been within 40 votes of Verney and Wilkins. The assumption that the return would be disputed when Parliament met reached Coke’s ears later in January and he declared his intention to petition, an intention in which an element of revenge cannot have been absent. Rutland’s reaction to Wilkins’ refusal to promote Roos in Leicestershire is unclear, but by the end of March Wilkins knew that he had irretrievably ‘disobliged’ him.6

The slight which Rutland suffered in his own county in January 1701 prompted him to throw his strength against the Verney–Wilkins partnership in the election at the end of the year. This was met by a deepening aversion among the gentry to the kind of aristocratic imposition in county elections witnessed in recent elections. In November 1701 Roos declared his disinclination to stand again for Derbyshire, convinced that his father’s transfer of the family’s principal seat from Haddon to Belvoir would prejudice his chances of re-election, and so obtained Rutland’s approval to stand for Leicestershire. He was joined by Lord Sherard, whose former running-mate, Ashby, willingly stood aside, recruited his acquaintances to act for Roos, and received from Rutland a generous gift of venison. The ‘other party’, the Tories, had already set up Verney with Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*, and pre-engaged the votes of many gentry. An agreement existed between Verney and Rutland, from more congenial days, that whenever the latter should wish to run his son and heir for election, Verney would bow out in deferential acknowledgment of the past assistance he had received from Rutland. But relations had deteriorated to the point where Verney was not even made aware of Roos’ candidacy in November until the mayor of Leicester’s feast, at which he was a guest, when Rutland’s secretary arrived to announce the fact to the assembled company. Though he felt himself ‘ill-used’, Verney assured the Earl, ‘I do very readily comply with your lordship’s desires as I told you I would’, adding ‘I cannot foresee that there will be any opposition or division in the county’, and promising to serve Roos if there was. His embittered feelings led him to cast aspersions on his former well-wishers as he saw them pledge themselves to Roos. Beaumont did his best to play down Verney’s utterances: ‘none that know him will suppose he would ever design them any prejudice’, and that his resignation to Roos was ‘moved by gratitude to that family who had so unanimously for a long time together appeared with zeal for him’. A group of Verney’s old supporters among the county freeholders, disappointed with his decision, expressed their annoyance that Roos still sought a Derbyshire seat, and from his ‘frequent assurances’ made it plain that he was prepared to serve there if chosen: ‘[it] makes us think he slights or commands us’. The young lord had indeed made such a promise privately to Hartington, but he was defeated in the Derbyshire contest and was returned unopposed with Sherard for Leicestershire. For a brief interlude the Manners interest was ascendant.7

Determined to brook no further obstruction from Rutland, Verney immediately set himself up following William III’s death in March 1702, having warned the Earl ‘when I last waited on you’ that he would do so at the next opportunity. He even asked for Rutland’s interest, though perhaps more as a polite gesture than in any real hope. He was joined by Wilkins, and the pair received considerable backing from the gentry. Against them Rutland fielded Roos and Sherard, making ‘a great contest’ inevitable. While Roos characteristically languished in the capital, his agents fought a losing battle in the county, the balance of favour visibly tipping against the aristocratic front and especially the Manners interest. The benefit of Stamford’s influence on behalf of the Whig candidates was not to be had. His dismissal from office in May was accompanied by rumours of an impeachment, and he was not, as Wilkins contentedly observed in June, a source of opposition. One notable scene of Whig opposition was the Melton area, where in March ‘the Presbyterians’ had already been reported ‘very busy’. As Verney and Wilkins had hoped, Thomas Coke, the owner of considerable estates in those parts placed his interests at their disposal; though later able to secure ‘a great many persons towards Melton side . . . the power of the two lords has carried off from us all the gentry of that part of the country’ and left Verney with no option but to entreat Coke, an outsider, to lead the freeholders into Leicester to poll. The anti-Manners interest gained the upper hand and Verney and Wilkins were returned, although it was no triumph, as shown by the difficulties experienced in the north-east. Rutland suffered defeat in town as well as county, and later in the year, humiliated and unforgiving, he refused to countenance the inclusion of several Tories ‘of great quality’ in the new county lieutenancy. Rutland held to his resolution and eventually resigned the lord lieutenancy in March 1703, and was made a duke. His replacement, the Tory Earl of Denbigh, oversaw a thorough weeding of deputy lieutenants; by June ten of Rutland’s 15 had been removed, and among the 11 new appointees were eight of the county’s most prominent Tories: Sir John Chester, Beaumont, Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt., Wilkins, Thomas Boothby, James Winstanley*, Geoffrey Palmer and Henry Tate*. Rutland never again exerted himself in a county election. Even though he was restored to the lord lieutenancy in 1706, Denbigh’s commission remained largely intact.8

There was no contest in 1705. Roos, now Marquess of Granby, had vague notions of stepping into a seat should one of the sitting MPs retire, but was deterred when Verney and Wilkins joined again. Verney’s death in October 1707 ended a partnership which had represented the county with only one brief interruption for almost a decade. Neither had become deeply-dyed Tories, and in 1704 both had been opponents of the Tack. The subsequent by-election was contested on the Whig side firstly by Sherard, who soon withdrew on account of ‘extraordinary business’, then by Ashby; and on the Tory side by Geoffrey Palmer. Jonathan Swift, visiting Leicester at the time of polling, saw that ‘the number of thousands [were] pretty equal on both sides: the parties as usual, High and Low’; slightly ahead of Palmer, Ashby was returned. Within four months the 1708 general election was in prospect. True to form, Granby vacillated, his early enthusiasm paling into reluctance. Rutland’s man of business, Thomas Sawbridge, hoped to galvanize him into early action, mindful of his lethargic conduct in past elections, and directed some blunt advice via Lady Granby:

Though noble born and not used to trouble he must undergo the drudgery of asking what the people should rather desire; servants if careful and industrious may do something, but a line or two from a person of quality is far more prevalent. I know it would be a great piece of slavery and what his Lordship is very averse to; to address himself to the several largest towns by sending letters, but so it must be.

The effect of such goading was to ward Granby off. Ashby came bottom of the poll, while the return was split between the Tory Palmer and a Whig, Sir Gilbert Pickering, 3rd Bt. The polling was much closer than in 1702, all four candidates finishing within 175 votes. Ashby’s friends and supporters petitioned against Palmer, accusing him of corrupt practices, but no report was made. Following the dissolution in 1710 some early Tory canvassing gave way to a general desire to avoid a contest. A meeting of gentlemen in July accepted Granby’s offer to stand, and Pickering was glad to resign his place to him ‘so honourably’. The arrangement met with the acquiescence of ‘the other party’ as Sawbridge informed Lady Granby:

I satisfied them that it was the peace of the county that induced his Lordship to leave his borough [Grantham], and stand for the county . . . they assured me that they would give all possible demonstration and let all the freeholders know this and testify their consent and that his Lordship shall be chose, tho[ugh] he do not appear in person, and truly I find all people of all parties are mightily glad that matters are thus accommodated.

Palmer, the Tory candidate, was likewise re-elected.9

When Granby succeeded to his father’s dukedom in January 1711, the Tories saw their chance to capture the second seat. A London gathering of about 20 Leicestershire Tory gentlemen and four peers settled the candidacy on Sir Thomas Cave, oblivious that another candidate, Henry Tate, defeated in the 1708 contest, had already been put up. The former Member John Wilkins assumed the organization of Cave’s campaign. Despite assurances from Wilkins and others that Tate, whose ‘interest is nothing’, would soon withdraw, Cave remained apprehensive about sundering the ‘Church interest’. There was also alarm in the minds of other leading Tories, such as Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, and Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), who predicted ‘ill consequence in future elections’. A crisis was not averted, however, until Tate withdrew within a few days of the poll. Only then was Cave able to inform Isham that arrangements to mobilize the ‘remote votes’ in strong anticipation of a close poll were no longer necessary, and he was returned unopposed. Financial straits prevented Palmer from standing again in 1713, and a decision was taken in January of that year to field Viscount Tamworth, grandson and heir of a local Tory aristocrat, 1st Earl Ferrers, whose preference in 1711 had been for Tate rather than Cave. The selection of Tamworth provoked a ‘flying report’ that an opposition would be mounted by the Whigs in the person of Sherard and Pickering, but by August all signs of possible opposition had been extinguished. Recalling this election in October 1714, Beaumont told how the Whigs for a long time lay quiet, launching a campaign which was effectively dampened when they were ‘ply’d’ with cash by Tamworth and other ‘friends’, and the return of Cave and Tamworth was unopposed. Following Tamworth’s sudden death in July 1714, Palmer regained the seat he had surrendered the previous year.10

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Post Boy, 8–11 Aug. 1702.
  • 2. Bean’s notebks.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 408–9; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 160, 317; HMC Cowper, ii. 418; iii. 3, 86; Leics. RO, Braye mss 2846, Denbigh et al. to Cave, 6 Feb. 1710–11; 2843, John Wilkins to same, 5 Feb. 1710–11; 2858, Palmer to same, 10 Feb. 1710[–11]; Davies thesis, 265; Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, Wilkins to Rutland, 4 Apr. [1702].
  • 5. BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, Lady Gardiner to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 19 Feb. 1689–90; Add. 17677 QQ, ff. 345–6; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 4419, 1445, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 25 Feb. [1690], 11 Mar. 1689–90; Bodl. eng. hist. c. 478, ff. 238, 244; Ward thesis, 97; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 114; Rutland mss, John Pares to Rutland, 4 Dec. 1695, Sawbridge to same, 22 Nov. 1695, Verney to same, 28 May 1698; Davies thesis, 133–4; HMC Downshire, i. 560; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss HA6107 (letterbk.), Huntingdon to Verney, 18 Apr. 1698.
  • 6. HMC Cowper, ii. 408, 418–19; iii. 160–1; BL, Lothian mss, Wilkins to Coke, n.d. ‘concerning Ld. Rosse’s standing’ [c.Oct. 1700], Hardinge to Coke, n.d. ‘Wednesday night’, n.d. ‘Saturday night’, n.d. ‘1 o’clock, Friday’, 1 Jan. 1700[–1].
  • 7. Rutland mss, Roos to Rutland, [postmk. 13 Nov., endorsed ‘1701’], Phillipps to same, 18 Nov. 1701, Ashby to same, 19 Nov. 1701; HMC Rutland, ii. 168; HMC Portland, ii. 181; Lothian mss, Tate to Coke, 25 Nov. 1701, Beaumont to same, 26 Nov. [1701], Verney to Rutland, 20 Nov. 1701 [copy, endorsed ‘Mr Verney’s answer to the Lord Rutland’], ‘A Copy of a Letter to Mr Verney from some freeholders of Leicestershire’ [Nov. 1701].
  • 8. HMC Rutland, ii. 169, 173–4; HMC Cowper, iii. 3, 10, 13; Davies thesis, 244–5, 270; Rutland mss, Wilkins to Rutland, 4 Apr. [1702]; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 279.
  • 9. HMC Rutland, ii. 182; Bodl. eng. hist. c.478, f. 251; Swift Corresp. ed. Ball, i. 38–39; Verney mss mic. 636/53, Cave to Ld. Fermanagh (John Verney*), 29 Feb., 5 Apr. 1708; Rutland mss, Sawbridge to Lady Granby, 3 Mar. [1708], 12 July 1710, same to Rev. Abel Ligonier, 4 Mar. [1710].
  • 10. VCH Leics. ii. 123; Leics. RO, Braye mss 2843, Wilkins to Cave, 5 Feb. 1710–11; 2846, Denbigh to same, 6 Feb. [1711]; 2852, Wilkins to same, n.d. [7–9 Feb. 1711]; 2858, Palmer to same, 10 Feb. 1710–11; 2868, Nottingham to same, 17 Feb. 1710–11; 2864, 2890, Beaumont to same, 14 Feb. 1710[–11], Oct. 1714; Verney mss mic. 636/54, Cave to Fermanagh, 11 Feb. 1710–11, 26 Jan. 1712–13; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2431, Sir Justinian to Justinian Isham, 17 Feb. 1710–11; IC 1746, Justinian to Sir Justinian Isham, 20 Jan. 1713; IC 4441, Cave to same, 19 Feb. 1710–11; Bodl. Carte 117, f. 441.