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 resident freemen not receiving alms1

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

19 voters in 1690; 55 in 17152


20 Feb. 1690SIR JOHN BANKS, Bt.18
 James Herbert I6
 ‘Jeremiah’ [?Gerard] Gorenil3
28 Oct. 1695CALEB BANKS 
 Mr Herbert [?James I] 
28 Oct. 1696THOMAS KING vice Banks, deceased 
 Robert Crawford 
6 Oct. 1710THOMAS KING 
 Sir John Jennings 
25 Aug. 1713THOMAS KING40
 James Herbert II184

Main Article

A small port on the south-west point of the Isle of Sheppey, Queenborough was described by Defoe as ‘a miserable, dirty, decayed, poor, pitiful, fishing town’. Even worse from Defoe’s point of view, it was one of a number of rotten boroughs ‘who send up gentlemen to represent beggars, and have had more money spent at some of their elections, than all the land in the parishes would be worth if sold at a hundred years’ purchase’. The key influence on Queenborough was the fortress of Sheerness, two miles away on the north-western point of the island, strategically placed to guard the entrance into the Medway. In 1690 the lieutenant-governor of the fort, Robert Crawford, who also held some local property through his wife, was returned along with the wealthy financier and landowner Sir John Banks, 1st Bt. The majority of the voters, 13 of them, opted for this winning ticket. Another large landowner, this time on the island itself, James Herbert I*, lost out, as did ‘Jeremiah’ (probably a mis-rendering of Gerard) Gore†, who polled no votes at all. Six days before the 1695 election John Freke informed Robert Harley* that the likely victors at Queenborough were Crawford and ‘Mr. Herbert’ (who had the personal support of his ‘grandmother’, the Duchess of Leeds). Presumably, this was a reference to James Herbert I, who was in fact the Duchess’s son-in-law, as his children were all under ten at this date. However, Crawford seems to have joined with Caleb Banks, son of Sir John, to defeat Herbert, or force his withdrawal.5

The most well-documented election at Queenborough during the period was the by-election held at the end of October 1696, following the death of Caleb Banks. Most of the surviving correspondence was generated by the efforts of Admiral Sir George Rooke* to obtain the vacant seat. However, in the crucial months before the death of the ailing Banks, Lord Romney (Hon. Henry Sidney†), lord lieutenant, custos and vice-admiral of Kent and lord warden of the Cinque Ports, sought to distract Rooke with the prospect of succeeding Robert Austen I* at Winchelsea, ‘being very desirous to remove all his impediments from his blockhead at Queenborough’. Meanwhile, Romney’s ‘blockhead’, his own regiment’s lieutenant-colonel and lieutenant-governor of Sheerness, Thomas King, was treating the freemen, as was Philip Herbert*, brother of James Herbert I. Thus, by the time Banks had persuaded Rooke to try his interest at Queenborough, the admiral had lost much ground. Worse still, neither Banks (who was ill), nor Crawford (who arrived too late) was able to attend Rooke when he visited Queenborough on 1 Oct., flanked by four members of the Navy Board, Edmund Dummer*, Sir Richard Haddock†, Dennis Lyddell* and Charles Sergison*, together with Sir Edmund Gregory, resident commissioner at Chatham and thus the official in charge of Sheerness dockyard. Despite this array of naval worthies, and expenditure of £200, Rooke could not shake King’s interest, who having ‘so insinuated himself in the poor people[’s] hearts by encomiums on his own virtues and detracting from all others that I believe they will fix their choice on his shallow capacity for their true representative in Parliament’. Even so, Rooke hoped to contest the election and then petition the Commons, a tactic weakened by his own admission that, like his opponent, he had ‘broke into the Act of Parliament for reforming expenses in elections, which positively says there shall be no such thing after the teste of the writ or after any such vacancy shall happen’. Alternatively, others looked for intervention from King’s superiors, ordering him to desist: James Vernon I*, for one, was confident of such an ‘intimation’ as late as 24 Oct. In the event King was elected unopposed, ushering in almost a decade of stability in which he shared the representation with Crawford. The two military men were helped by something akin to a purge within the corporation, for, according to an entry in the borough’s court book for 14 Apr. 1697, Sir John Banks, James Herbert I, Gerard Gore and six other freemen were disfranchised for non-residence and non-attendance to corporation business. In effect, this removed from the ranks of the freemen the most significant opponents of the ‘fort’ interest. By the time of the 1698 election, the governor and his deputy were seemingly secure, Sir John Banks reporting that ‘the two chief officers of the fort overawed the freemen to return themselves’.6

Although such an arrangement might seem to have furnished ‘ground enough’ for a petition in the climate of 1698, it took a national political event to prise open the grip of the fort’s officers. Crawford’s vote for the Tack in 1704 left him exposed, since Queenborough was susceptible to pressure from alternative spokesmen for government, particularly naval men. He was ousted by Sir John Jennings, in a bitter contest notable for the murder of a Scotsman who, having ‘exposed the list of the Tackers, and been very active against Colonel Crawford’, was beaten to death for his temerity, allegedly at the instigation of the fort’s major, Winsley, although the latter was acquitted at Maidstone assizes. King, whom the Whigs had hoped to defeat in 1705 if ‘a good governor had been put in’ to replace Crawford, did not stand in 1708, relinquishing his seat to another soldier, Henry Withers. The position was reversed in the changed circumstances of 1710, with Withers leaving the field free for King to be returned along with James Herbert II, ‘by the great majority of votes’. Jennings, the defeated candidate, petitioned on 4 Dec. 1710 against the ‘gross bribery and other undue practices’ of his opponents, but no report ever emerged from the committee of elections. Similar accusations were levelled after the 1713 election, when Herbert petitioned on 3 Mar. 1714 against the return of a naval captain, Charles Fotherby, only to withdraw on the 6th. Over this 25-year period the number of voters increased, largely owing to the pressure of regular electioneering. Compared to the 19 freemen voting in 1690, 46 voted in 1713 and 55 in 1715. By 1728 the number voting had risen to more than 70.7

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 344v.
  • 2. Centre Kentish Stud. Qb/RPp, pollbks. for 1690 and 1715.
  • 3. Qb/RPp, 1690 pollbk.
  • 4. Post Boy, 25–27 Aug. 1713.
  • 5. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, i. 110; Defoe, The Freeholders’ Plea Against Stock-Jobbing (1701), 18; Arch. Cant. ci. 248; Qb/RPp, 1690 pollbk.; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs., Crawford to Mq. of Halifax (William Savile†), 24 Oct. 1695.
  • 6. Halifax pprs., Rooke to Halifax, 27 Aug., 3, 15, 26, 27 Sept., 3, 9, Oct. 1696; Crawford to same, 22 Aug., 19 Sept., 1, 10 Oct. 1696; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/11, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 24 Oct. 1696; Centre Kentish Stud. JMs 5, Queenborough ct. bk. 1661–1728, p. 147; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. Banks to Hon. Heneage Finch I*, 26 July 1698.
  • 7. Althorp mss, Halifax pprs., Banks to Finch, 26 July 1698; Bodl. Rawl. 40, f. 215; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 561, 577, 582; Add. 61458, ff. 160–1; JMs 5, p. 183; Qb/Rpp. 1715, 1728 pollbks; Post Boy, 25–27 Aug. 1713.