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:

1,778 in 1698; 3,718 in 17101


27 Oct. 1691JOHN WHITE vice Sacheverell, deceased 
29 Oct. 1695SIR SCROPE HOWE 
18 Aug. 1698SIR THOMAS WILLOUGHBY,  Bt.1102
 Sir Scrope Howe757
 John White6472
10 Dec. 1701SIR THOMAS WILLOUGHBY,  Bt.1128
 Gervase Eyre833
 John Thornhagh5373
22 July 1702GERVASE EYRE1207
 — Savile868
 Sir Thomas Willoughby, Bt.6944
29 Mar. 1704JOHN THORNHAGH  vice Eyre, deceased 
18 Oct. 1710SCROPE HOWE, Viscount Howe [I]1159
 Sir Thomas Willoughby, Bt.920
 John Thornhagh5125

Main Article

Nottinghamshire was reputed to have a small population relative to its size, though more than its share of resident peers. Chief among these was the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), who held the lieutenancy between 1694 and 1711 and also the electorally significant wardenship of Sherwood Forest with its local patronage. However, the county was certainly not the preserve of a single family, but one in which many could legitimately aspire to play a role in parliamentary politics. In addition to the Newcastle interest, Evelyn Pierrepont*, successively Earl of Kingston, Marquess of Dorchester and Duke of Kingston, usually supported the Whigs. On the Tory side could usually be found Robert Sutton, Lord Lexington, and Sir Thomas Willoughby, 2nd Bt. (Lord Middleton after 1712). More independent, and perhaps less inclined to enter the fray of partisan politics, was the Savile interest. Furthermore, there were a number of gentry families actively engaged in the party struggle, from whose ranks the representatives of the shire were drawn.

Until 1698 the representation was uncontested, being shared by Sir Scrope Howe and William Sacheverell and, after the latter’s death, John White. All three had been prominent Whigs in county politics since the Exclusion crisis. By 1698, however, there was considerable discontent among the gentry over the conduct of the knights of the shire at Westminster. Gervase Eyre summed up the popular mood at the beginning of 1698:

I fear our people will think they are deceived with the name of a peace, for the taxes were the main burden that they felt of the war. Peace indeed is a fine thing and worth paying something for, but whether our county think their Members so valuable or no I can’t tell: they took care to send news into the country that they were all against a standing army but I think we are grown so wise as not to believe a word they say.

The Earl of Huntingdon, in campaigning for Eyre and Willoughby, echoed these sentiments, believing that the candidates he supported would not give 'unnecessary taxes but . . . inquire how what has been already given is disposed of’. The result was a resounding victory for Eyre and Willoughby. They clearly out-polled their opponents in the northernmost hundred of Bassetlaw (which had three divisions) and also in Newark hundred. Only in Bingham hundred did Howe top the poll. Eyre performed very strongly in the north of the county, as he had predicted with some confidence: ‘the gentlemen that are now of this side the country are all pretty certain for us, and where they cannot sway, I believe we may in most places be sure of the parson’. Willoughby’s standing was such that he could counterbalance Howe’s influence in the south. In addition Eyre had been very solicitous of important interests within the county, particularly the Marquess of Halifax (William Savile*) and Viscount Castleton [I] (George Saunderson*), as well as Huntingdon.6

Although a Whig challenge to the new Members was probably mooted in the first election of 1701, there was no contest. That the county was, nevertheless, becoming increasingly polarized can be seen from a letter Newcastle wrote to Thomas Pelham I* in March 1701, in reference to a parliamentary scrutiny of deputy-lieutenants. Newcastle was keen to explain why Sir Thomas Parkyns, 1st Bt., Willoughby and Eyre were not among his deputies. He had attempted to reinstate the first two, but Eyre’s offence was more personal, ‘for countenancing his servant in committing a trespass upon me and saucy language, he avoiding coming to acknowledge the offence’. In August 1701 it was reported to John Ellis* that ‘a numerous assembly of gentlemen’, including ‘15 or 16 peers (among which were four dukes)’, had attended Nottingham races, ‘all upon the same course of disposing the people to that [Whig] interest’. Similarly, a Whiggish grand jury set forth an address aiming at securing a dissolution of Parliament which Eyre did not feel able to sign. Presumably, by November 1701 this electioneering had helped to create a considerable body of opinion which was opposed to Eyre’s re-election. Pressure was brought to bear on Willoughby to declare that he would not join with Eyre, forcing him to write to Newcastle to dispel a rumour that he had promised the Earl of Kingston that he would do so. Despite this, Willoughby still hoped for Newcastle’s support. The Whigs decided to put up Sir Francis Molyneux, 4th Bt., and John Thornhagh to oppose them. However, a considerable body of moderate opinion found a Willoughby–Molyneux ticket more effective, including Sir Scrope (now Lord Howe), Julius Hutchinson (son of Charles*) and William Savile of Oxton. Thus, although the Willoughby–Eyre partnership out-polled that of Molyneux–Thornhagh by 785 votes to 511, nearly 350 votes were polled for Molyneux and Willoughby, thus allowing Molyneux to defeat Eyre by a narrow margin.7

A similar situation obtained at the 1702 election. However, on this occasion Molyneux stood with a ‘Mr Savile’, either (Sir) George Savile (7th Bt.†), or William Savile of Oxton, against Eyre, who topped the poll. Willoughby finished bottom of the poll because he ‘all the time refused to stand a candidate’. The death of Eyre in February 1704 was seen by many as an opportunity to heal the divisions which had plagued local politics. However, this feeling did not preclude several candidates from making interest to succeed him. Initially it seems that George Savile was regarded as the ideal candidate to unite the county, but he declined to stand partly because of the heat engendered by such local conflicts and the complexity of national political issues. The Whigs, including Newcastle, proposed Thornhagh, who had been unseated on petition at East Retford following the 1702 election. In response the Tories suggested Robert Sacheverell* as an opponent. At this point, Willoughby, who had been away in Lincolnshire, intervened to pose as the moderate candidate acceptable to both sides. Willoughby tried to make his candidacy attractive to Newcastle by offering to stand down in favour of either Thornhagh or Savile at the next election. Newcastle neatly turned this proposal on its head by suggesting to Lord Lexington that Willoughby stand down in Thornhagh’s favour in return for a clear run at the next election. This seems to have been the outcome of the negotiations, for Thornhagh was returned, ‘no person being named but himself’, while both were elected without opposition in 1705.8

The Whig interest came under severe strain in the years following 1707, owing to the destructive tendencies of the deer in Sherwood Forest. Newcastle, as warden of the forest, attempted to block proposals for parliamentary redress, for fear of offending Queen Anne, but succeeded instead in alienating several prominent Whigs, including Thornhagh (see EAST RETFORD). Although the electoral implications of this dispute were confined to East Retford in 1708 (the sitting Members being unopposed in the county), George Gregory* warned Newcastle that Willoughby was using the issue of the deer ‘to break the honest interest’ in the county as well as at Retford. The repercussions of this dispute probably help to explain the strange alignments of the 1710 election. Although there were four candidates, two Whigs and two Tories, all four were reported to be standing ‘as some say all on their own legs’. Newcastle’s failure to support Thornhagh is revealing: not only had they fallen out over the local issue of the deer, but in the changed national circumstances of 1710, the Duke was probably attempting to carry out Robert Harley’s* scheme of ‘moderation’ by ensuring Lord Howe’s election (possibly in tandem with the more moderate of the two Tories, Willoughby). Further evidence of this is provided by Robert Monckton* who wrote to Harley in August 1710 criticizing Willoughby for breaking his original plan at the behest of the ‘rigids’, which otherwise could have gone according to Harley’s wishes. Certainly, a conjunction between Howe and Willoughby was proposed during polling with the object of defeating William Levinz, but Willoughby chose instead to ensure Levinz’s election by ordering his supporters to poll singly for his fellow Tory. This in turn prompted Howe’s voters to poll singly for fear of inadvertently defeating their own candidate. Not surprisingly, the more committed partisans were keen to support party tickets, with the result that a whole series of alliances were significant in the outcome of the election. The highest number of votes cast for any partnership was 680 for Willoughby and Levinz; next came the 489 single votes for Howe, followed by 328 for the Whig ticket of Howe and Thornhagh. However, it is significant that the Howe–Willoughby partnership polled 212, Levinz on his own 166 and the two extremes, Thornhagh and Levinz 145. The last figure is not as surprising as it seems given the co-operation between Thornhagh and Levinz to defeat Newcastle’s candidate at East Retford in 1708, and the rumours of a division of the seats by their fellow candidates. Clearly, without the Howe– Willoughby votes, Thornhagh would have been in a much weaker position, and Levinz’s single voters could have ousted him without endangering Levinz himself if they had also voted for Willoughby. Also, Newcastle, by refusing to endorse Thornhagh (as the Marquess of Dorchester wished him to), and thereby alienating Willoughby, was guilty of falling ‘into intrigues for bringing in Tories’, which he had denounced to Lord Cowper (William Cowper*) in August as ‘the underhand assistance of those infatuated Whigs’.9

By 1713 the balance of electoral forces had shifted significantly to the Tories. The death of Newcastle in 1711 had left Harley (now Earl of Oxford) with a strong influence over the Duchess of Newcastle and the disposal of the Holles interest. Indeed, just a few days before the county poll in 1713 he married his son Lord Harley (Edward*) to the Holles heiress. The shire representation was shared in 1713 by Levinz and Hon. Francis Willoughby, son of Willoughby, now Lord Middleton. In the absence of a Whig challenge, the main issue in the months before the election was whether Willoughby was eligible to take his seat in the event of being chosen before he came of age. The Levinz–Willoughby combination was sufficiently entrenched to be returned unopposed again in 1715 despite the vigorous efforts of the chief local beneficiary of Newcastle’s will, Lord Pelham (soon to be Duke of Newcastle), to persuade Molyneux to oppose them by using the argument that upon ‘a good Parliament . . . the fate of Europe depends’.10

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Harl. 6846, f. 306; Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts. 1710 (Thoroton Soc. Rec. Ser. xviii.).
  • 2. Harl. 6846, f. 306.
  • 3. Notts. RO, Foljambe mss DDFJ11/1/9/3, pollbk. counted.
  • 4. Ibid. DDFJ11/1/9/3, f. 32; Flying Post, 20–22 Aug. 1702 has 2207.
  • 5. Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts.
  • 6. [Bull. I]HR, lxix. 230; BL, Althorp mss, Eyre to Mq. of Halifax, 8 Jan., 9, 26 Mar. [1698]; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss HA 6107, Huntington to Mr Davyes, 14 Aug. 1698; Harl. 8646, ff. 306–40.
  • 7. HMC Cowper, ii. 414; Add. 33084, f. 165; 28887, f. 225; 40775, f. 72; 70501, ff. 41, 45; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 295; Foljambe mss DDFJ11/1/9/3.
  • 8. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. William Grosvenor to James Whildon, 7 May 1702; Flying Post, 20–22 Aug. 1702; Foljambe mss DDFJ11/1/1, ff. 10–12, Savile to St. Andrew Thornhagh, 24 Feb. 1703[–4]; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 301a, Willoughby to [Newcastle], [1704]; Pw2 242a, St. Andrew Thornhagh to same, 1 Apr. 1701; Add. 70501, ff. 64–65.
  • 9. Portland (Holles) mss Pw2 72, 74, Gregory to [Newcastle], 8 Aug. 1708, 20 Aug. 1710; Pw2 187, John Plumptre* to same, 20 Aug. 1710; Pw2 138, William Jessop* to same, 4 July 1710; Sir G. Sitwell, Letters of Sitwells and Sacheverells, ii. 86; Add. 70026, f. 110; 70502, f. 351; 70314–5, William Wenman to [?Newcastle], 19 Oct. 1710; Notts. RO, Portland mss DD4P/68/32, [?] to Newcastle, n.d. [1710]; Pollbks. of Nottingham and Notts.; Davies thesis, 115.
  • 10. Add. 70242, Duchess of Newcastle to Oxford, 27 Aug., 29 Sept. 1711; 70236, Edward Harley* to same, 26 Sept. 1713; 70373, Matthew Brailsford to Edward, Ld. Harley, 26 Dec. 1712; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Molyneux mss 27, Ld. Pelham to [Molyneux], 9 Sept. [1714].