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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

386 voters in Nov. 17011


8 Mar. 1690WILLIAM SAVILE,  Ld. Eland 
6 Jan. 1693SIR FRANCIS MOLYNEUX, Bt. vice Saunderson, deceased 
 Sir Richard Earle, Bt. 
8 May 1695SIR GEORGE MARKHAM, Bt. vice Eland, called to the Upper House 
 Sir Richard Earle, Bt. 
22 Oct. 1695SIR GEORGE MARKHAM, Bt. 
 John Rayner146
 RAYNER  vice Molyneux, on petition, 11 Jan. 1700 
9 Jan. 1701JOHN RAYNER 
 Hon. James Saunderson 
 John Rayner1712
 John Rayner1673
12 Oct. 1710SIR THOMAS WILLOUGHBY,  Bt.290
 Richard Sutton217
 Hon. James Saunderson1394
28 Jan. 1712RICHARD SUTTON vice Willoughby, called to the Upper House339
 John Digby 
31 Aug. 1713RICHARD SUTTON382
 Sir Matthew Jenison1815

Main Article

Newark was exposed to influence from several quarters. Magnate influence was represented by Lord Lexington, whose residence at Averham overlooked the town, and later by the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) who gradually increased his property in the borough. The gentry from the surrounding area, including neighbouring Lincolnshire, dominated the representation of the borough, although their manoeuvres were carefully watched over by the corporation. In addition the electorate could not be taken for granted because the voters quickly discovered that the franchise was a valuable commodity.

In 1690 these emerging interests were only dimly perceived, for the election of that year saw the unopposed return of the old Members from the Convention, Lord Eland and Hon. Nicholas Saunderson. The latter’s death, at the end of 1692, broke this spell of electoral harmony. The ensuing by-election was contested by two young baronets. Sir Francis Molyneux, 4th Bt., was probably backed by the Whigs, who dominated elections in the county until 1698, although his opponent, Sir Richard Earle, 4th Bt., came from a Parliamentarian family. After Molyneux’s election, both Earle and a group of inhabitants petitioned against his return on the grounds that the traditional franchise had not been followed. The petition was not proceeded upon, for on 24 Feb. 1693 it was put off until the last Friday in March, ‘the petitioner and sitting Member both being agreed’. This was possibly a tacit move to drop the matter as the session ended on 14 Mar. and the petition was not reintroduced. A second by-election was held during this Parliament, following the elevation of Lord Eland to the Lords as Marquess of Halifax in succession to his father in April 1695. The new marquess seemed relatively unconcerned to promote a candidate in the election for his successor, politely noting that the corporation’s choice, Sir George Markham, 3rd Bt., was ‘well qualified for your service’. Reports sent to Lexington from the recorder of Newark, George Cartwright, indicate that several other men had designs on the borough. In Cartwright’s opinion, if Mr Saunderson (presumably Hon. James) had ‘appeared at Newark he had been chose without opposition’. His failure to do so left Markham unopposed because Earle also declined to stand ‘being afraid to go to London for the danger of the smallpox which is rife’. In the event, some of Earle’s supporters forced a poll in his absence which cost Markham £500–600 in expenses. Further evidence of Newark’s reputation for expensive contests appeared in a letter from John White* to his cousin, Lady Rokeby, which explained why he had not put up his son, Thomas II*, at the general election of 1695: ‘My son is not like to stand at Newark unless you can help me to £1,000 or £1,500 to throw away upon that debauched borough which is not otherwise to be opened.’ This left Markham to be returned unopposed with Molyneux.6

Markham appears to have stood down at the 1698 election, although he wrote letters, possibly on behalf of John Rayner, to several prominent voters. One of these men, Alexander Clarke, also received a request for support from the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish†). Clearly the Whigs were opposed to Rayner and probably backed Saunderson and Molyneux, the successful candidates. Rayner petitioned against Molyneux’s return, claiming illegal practices by the mayor, a petition supported by another from some of his voters. Rayner’s petition was reintroduced on 16 Nov. 1699 and in preparation for the hearing, Newcastle appealed to Robert Harley* to attend the committee on Molyneux’s behalf. Notwithstanding these efforts, after a long sitting the committee of elections voted Molyneux not duly elected. When the committee reported to the Commons the House resolved that the right of election lay in the inhabitants paying scot and lot, thus implying some manipulation of the franchise, and declared Rayner elected. Three candidates, Rayner, Markham and Saunderson, contested the election of January 1701. The last was unsuccessful and promptly petitioned against Markham’s return, alleging manipulation of the franchise and undue practices by his agent, Bernard Wilson. The petition was not heard before the Parliament was dissolved. The election of November 1701 saw the first appearance of Sir Matthew Jenison, who topped the poll. Jenison held extensive property in the borough and was deeply involved in local land transactions which must have had political implications, although these cannot be clearly explained (see JENISON, Sir Matthew). Saunderson was also elected, paying fulsome thanks to Newcastle for ‘your extraordinary favour and zeal in my behalf to which I owe my success’. On this occasion, Rayner came bottom of the poll. Not surprisingly, he petitioned, fixing upon Jenison as his target, and accusing him of treating after the receipt of the writ in order to procure votes for himself and Markham (who did not stand). Parliament was again dissolved before the petition could be heard. Nothing is known about the 1702 election apart from the poll itself, which show the same three candidates, recording very similar figures to the previous election, an indication that the balance of forces had changed little.7

By 1705 both Jenison and, to a lesser extent, Rayner were heavily involved in legal suits relating to the purchase of Newark’s tithes and the enclosure of land in the town’s fields. Consequently, there was no real opposition to the return of Saunderson and John Digby, although Rayner was forced to appear personally in Newark ‘to declare to all his friends he would not stand’. The new Members were both acceptable to Newcastle, who had just purchased the manor of Newark from Rayner, and presumably to Sir Thomas Willoughby, 2nd Bt.*, who was given the credit for managing the election by the Tory newsletter writer, John Dyer. The election of 1708 also appears to have been uneventful, with Saunderson being partnered by the Whig soldier, Richard Sutton, a relation of Lord Lexington, and a client of Newcastle. Yet another interest appeared in August 1710 when Thomas Newdigate, a local gentleman of some wealth, wrote to inform Newcastle that his son Richard would stand at the forthcoming election, and asked for ducal support. Newcastle’s non-committal reply stressed that he could make no promises in case it damaged the interest of those to whom he was already engaged. The Duke’s prime concern was for Sutton, on whose behalf he spent a reputed £1,200, although he probably backed Saunderson as well. However, in September it was reported that Saunderson’s ‘temper does no ways suit with such entertainments as you found practising at Newark’. Originally, Digby seems to have been the other Tory candidate, but he was forced to desist when his leading patron, Willoughby, decided to seek insurance at Newark in case the county election went against him. In the event, Willoughby topped the poll at Newark, thus allowing himself the luxury of ensuring William Levinz’s election as knight of the shire at the expense of his own. Sutton petitioned on 5 Dec. 1710 against Newdigate’s return, alleging bribery, intimidation and other ‘undue practices’, but given the political complexion of the new House, it was never heard.8

Willoughby’s elevation to the peerage in January 1712 as Lord Middleton provided Digby with the opportunity to reclaim the seat. He certainly enjoyed Middleton’s support for at the end of December he wrote to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) to recommend Digby to the Duchess of Newcastle (the Duchess being the guardian of the Holles interest after the death of her husband in 1711). In Middleton’s opinion a declaration by the Duchess would deter Saunderson from standing, although Digby thought that ‘a party of violent people are resolved to set up Mr Saunderson’, possibly with Jenison’s backing. However, the Duchess was unable to deliver the Newcastle interest to Digby for although he thanked her for her ‘signal favours to me’ after the election, he also noted that ‘if your Grace’s orders to your agents had been obeyed’ he would have been returned. The result was a triumph for the erstwhile Whig, Sutton. It seems probable that Sutton had made his peace with the new ministry and that Oxford’s influence outweighed that of the Duchess, or persuaded her to support Sutton. Furthermore, the Tory, Lexington, probably felt no scruples in supporting his relation now that he had switched his party allegiance. At the general election of 1713 Sutton and Newdigate easily defeated a challenge from Jenison, who, in 1715, was reported to have the best interest of any Whig in the borough. By that date, however, Lord Pelham had become the clear beneficiary of the Duke of Newcastle’s will, at least in Nottinghamshire, and Sutton was about to return to his original Whig allegiance. As a result two Whigs were returned in 1715.9

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Notts. RO, Foljambe mss DDFJ11/1/9/3, f. 32.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Post Boy, 14–17 Oct. 1710.
  • 5. Evening Post, 29–31 Jan. 1712, 3–5 Sept. 1713.
  • 6. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. l), 320; Luttrell Diary, 446; BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. Mq. of Halifax to ‘gent. of Newark’, 25 Apr. 1695; Add. 46553, ff. 52–3; A Brief Memoir of Mr Justice Rokeby ed. J. Raine, 55 n., Miscellanea (Surtees Soc. xxxvii).
  • 7. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. Alexander Clarke to James Whildon, 4 June 1698; Add. 70019, f. 154; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 596; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss Pw2 220, James Saunderson to [Newcastle], 4 Dec. [1701].
  • 8. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Middleton mss 3/108/36, Sir Willoughby Hickman* to Sir Thomas Willoughby, 8 May 1705; Notts. RO, Portland mss DD3P/10/2, Duke of Newcastle’s banking accts.; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 106; MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 757; Portland (Bentinck) mss Pw2 170a, Thomas Newdigate to [Newcastle], 21 Aug. 1710; Pw2 170b, William Wenman to Thomas Newdigate, 21 Aug. 1710; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters, i. 224–5; Add. 70026, f. 110; N. Yorks. RO, Worsley mss ZON13/1/309, Sir Thomas Frankland I* to Thomas Worsley I*, 9 Sept. 1709[–10].
  • 9. Add. 70263, Willoughby to [Oxford], 31 Dec. [1711]; 70502, f. 496; Portland (Bentinck) mss Pw2 48, Digby to Wenman, 14 Jan. 1711[–12]; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters, 223–5.