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 burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

153 in 17081


30 Oct. 1691JONATHAN JENNINGS vice Sir Edmund Jennings, deceased 
26 Oct. 1695JOHN AISLABIE 
28 July 1698JOHN AISLABIE 
24 Nov. 1701JOHN AISLABIE86
 Sir Abstrupus Danby422
20 July 1702JOHN SHARP 
14 Nov. 1705JOHN AISLABIE 
7 May 1708JOHN AISLABIE135
 Sir Roger Beckwith423
11 Oct. 1710JOHN AISLABIE 
2 Sept. 1713JOHN AISLABIE 
15 Mar. 1714SHARP re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

The lord of the manor of Ripon was the archbishop of York, while the corporation, consisting of a mayor, 12 aldermen and 24 assistants, greatly influenced elections. A contemporary described Ripon as being ‘in a great measure dependent upon the archbishop of York, and influenced by the collegiate church there, which is wholly at his disposal’. Living in the town and with a natural interest for one and sometimes both seats were the Jennings family. Sir Jonathan Jennings had opposed the revival of the archbishop’s borough court after the Revolution, but did not at first clash with that lord’s influence. In normal circumstances Archbishop Sharp refused to intervene in elections, but made no scruple about Ripon where he had a temporal jurisdiction.4

In 1690 Sir Jonathan Jennings and his brother Sir Edmund were returned unopposed, both of them Court Tories attached to the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). On the death of Sir Edmund, his son Jonathan was returned unopposed with the support of the archbishop and Carmarthen. Sir Abstrupus Danby*, who had thought of standing himself, desisted in view of Jennings’ backers. During the following years Sir Jonathan Jennings became increasingly troublesome to Ripon corporation and the archbishop. As a result, he was turned out of the commission of the peace. His behaviour may also have accounted for a report prior to the 1695 election that he would be replaced at Ripon by John Aislabie, a man whose political affiliations ‘defy classification’, but who represented both a logical choice for the borough as he had an estate nearby, and a poignant choice as his father had been killed in a duel by Sir Jonathan some 20 years before. On 10 Sept. 1695 Carmarthen, now Duke of Leeds, wrote to Archbishop Sharp urging him to seize the ‘chance of doing good’ at Ripon:

Mr Jennings, the son of Sir Edmund, will be sure of the first with a little of your Grace’s countenance, so with your Grace’s help Mr Aislabie may be the other Member at Ripon where I hear the town is much disgusted with Sir Jonathan.

At the election Aislabie was returned unopposed with Jonathan Jennings, with the archbishop’s support. During the following years the conflicts between the corporation and Sir Jonathan Jennings continued. However, despite the fact that Jonathan Jennings took his uncle’s part, this did not hinder his electoral prospects, as he continued to receive the backing of the archbishop, and was returned unopposed with Aislabie at the 1698 election. Following the election the two MPs were made aldermen of the corporation.5

Prior to the first 1701 election the Ripon burgage holders wrote to the archbishop, requesting that he allow his son, John Sharp, to be elected as their ‘first burgess’. The borough men promised to elect a second MP who would also be true to the Church and loyal to the King. The letter was signed by Jonathan Jennings, though it is not evident whether he or Aislabie was prepared to forgo defending his seat. Any conflict between the two outgoing Members was avoided, as Sharp did not stand, and they were both returned unopposed once more. However, a new situation was created by the death of Jennings before the second 1701 election. In July Jennings’ fellow MP, Aislabie, wrote to Danby, complaining of the latter’s early electioneering for Ripon following Jennings’ death:

you must give me leave to pay that decent respect to the dead, as not to be seen publicly to treat about his old shoes ’ere he is well laid in his grave . . . besides it must have the ill face to appear to the town as if we were making a bargain for them without their consent, who being most of them gentlemen and of good sense and fashion, are not to be treated like other boroughs. This I believe you will find to be true when you come amongst them.

However, Danby’s desire to replace Jennings was complicated by the decision of Archbishop Sharp to put forward his son for election. Following the news of Jennings’ death, the archbishop wrote to the mayor of Ripon stating that

I do not doubt but upon the news of the death of Mr Jennings (for whose loss I am hearty sorry) there will be some that will be making application to your borough to succeed him in the place of your representative in Parliament. This makes me give you this early trouble to acquaint you and to desire you to acquaint the borough-holders that if they have no exceptions against my son, I do design to recommend him to their favour against the next election.

Initially the burgage holders seemed willing to accede to the archbishop’s recommendation. Sharp wrote to the mayor, thanking him and ‘those gentlemen that concurred with you in the favourable construction of the request I made’. On the basis of this ‘intimation’ from the Ripon electorate, the archbishop sent his son to ‘pay his respects’ to the ‘burough-holders’. However, Sir Jonathan Jennings actively opposed John Sharp’s candidature, denouncing what he perceived as the archbishop’s attempt to take over the borough, and stating that Jennings and Aislabie had been returned previously only because of the archbishop’s influence. Although Jennings’ views eventually saw the light of day in ‘The borough holders’ answer’ (to the archbishop’s letters), and in a pamphlet called Naked Truth, his opinion was known by the Ripon corporation as early as mid-July. By the 15th Aislabie had heard of the accusations being levelled against the archbishop, and by association against himself. On that day he wrote to the mayor, stating that he would not presume to recommend anyone to replace Jennings, but pointed out the divisions a contest was likely to make in a town ‘that has been distinguished for their unanimity on these occasions’. He took offence at the insinuation that he had been elected only because of the archbishop’s influence, and that this was being used as a reason to reject the candidature of Sharp. Danby, having been informed of Aislabie’s letter, and of the latter’s apparent decision not to support Sharp’s candidature, began campaigning for his own election following the likelihood of the dissolution which eventually overtook the by-election. On 6 Sept. the archbishop wrote to the mayor once again in what appeared to be an attempt to counteract the accusations made by Jennings:

I could never have imagined that my writing a letter to you, to offer my son’s service to the borough-holders, upon the death of Mr Jennings, could have been thought an invasion of their liberties. Or that my desiring their favour to him, in case upon enquiry they found him worthy of it, could have been interpreted a claiming a right to nominate a burgess to them. And yet I understand such has been put upon this action of mine, and occasion has been taken from thence to alarm the borough-holders, as if their liberties were in danger to be lost, did they not now vindicate them. I must confess this proceeding, as it was surprising, so has it made me uneasy; who never had a thought but to leave the borough-holders to their free election; nor ever pretended to any thing more, than their favour and kindness.

Despite Danby’s endeavours to win votes and his probable attempt to reach some form of accommodation with the other candidates, the archbishop’s appeal had the required effect, and Sharp was returned with Aislabie, defeating Danby by 33 votes.6

At the 1702 election the situation was complicated not by a contest but by the fact that Aislabie had been elected mayor of the town in January, which appears to have prevented him from representing the borough in Parliament. It seems that an accommodation was reached between Aislabie and one of the outgoing MPs from Northallerton, the Whig Sir William Hustler, who stood on Aislabie’s interest at Ripon, while Aislabie stood alongside Hustler at Northallerton. When both men were returned at the election, Hustler chose to sit for Ripon, freeing up a seat at Northallerton. The deal was probably brokered by Aislabie’s brother-in-law, the Whig Sir William Robinson, 1st Bt.*, upon whose interest Hustler stood for Northallerton. While mayor of Ripon, Aislabie strengthened his interest in the borough, donating a silver cup to the corporation for the use of future mayors, and making other significant financial gifts to the town. By gradual purchases Aislabie acquired 40 burgages at a cost of £5,000. Sharp also strengthened his interest during this time, eventually obtaining 11 burgages of his own in the borough, while the archbishop also kept a close eye on the family interest. This domination of Ripon by the Aislabie–Sharp interests resulted, not surprisingly, in these two men being returned unopposed in 1705. However, in 1708 a contest was ensured by the candidature of Sir Roger Beckwith, who had the backing of the Earl of Wharton (Hon. Thomas*). The Aislabie–Sharp combination proved too strong for Beckwith, whose defeat was described in a satirical verse written at the time:

          This poor pretending colt is almost dead,
          Besides his stable above and keeping are unpaid.
          Thus the aspiring fools are whipped and spurred
          To gratify some proud insulting Lord
          Who to their sores and galls, no balsam will afford.7

There were no contests in 1710 or 1713, with Aislabie and Sharp being returned unopposed on both occasions. However, in August 1714 Heneage Dering wrote to Aislabie expressing his concern that the forthcoming election would undermine the ‘peace and quietness’ of Ripon:

I suppose you have heard what steps the old doctor takes to breed disturbances, by publishing a letter from Dr [F]ownes written by my Lord Castlecomer’s [Christopher Wandesford*] order and intimating his lordship’s intention to stand here at the next election, upon the encouragement of your interest and assistance. If it be so, then there will be an end of all that friendship and good neighbourhood, which this town hath so long enjoyed, and our neighbours at Richmond have so long miserably wanted. You may prevent our divisions if you please, by quite discouraging all attempts that way. My brother[-in-law] has an interest which with yours can make all opposition look little.

Aislabie, in keeping with his fluid party allegiances, supported the candidature of the Whig Castlecomer at the 1715 election. Sharp was defeated at that election, and subsequently sold his burgages to Aislabie, who went on to gain ownership of enough burgages to be able to control both Ripon seats in the Hanoverian period.8

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. W. Yorks. Archs. (Leeds), Vyner mss 240/3, Ripon poll, 7 May 1708.
  • 2. Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, ‘Persons to be elected’ at Ripon, 24 Nov. 1701; Quinn, 186–7.
  • 3. Vyner mss 240/3, Ripon poll, 7 May 1708.
  • 4. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 620; Journeys of Celia Fiennes ed. Morris, 83–84; William and John Blathwayt Diary 1703 ed. Hardwick, 23; Bodl. Willis 15, f. 111; Add. 27440, f. 171; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxvii. 264–6; T. Sharp, Life of Abp. Sharp, i. 124–5; Quinn thesis, 131–2.
  • 5. Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, Sir Abstrupus Danby to Carmarthen, 2 Nov. 1691; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Speck thesis, 97–98, 254; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. 264, 266; Glos. RO, Sharp mss 4/K27, Leeds to abp. of York, 10 Sept. 1695; Sharp, 124–5, 127; Quinn, 132; Ripon Millenary ed. Harrison, 81.
  • 6. Swinton mss, Danby pprs. ZS, Jonathan Jennings to abp. of York, 1 Jan., Aislabie to Danby, 11 July, same to mayor of Ripon, 15 July, Robert Bayne to Danby, 22 July, 30 Aug., 30 Sept., 13, 14 Nov., Thomas Brooke to John Hardy, 11 Aug., estimate of voters, 14 Sept., ‘The borough-holders’ answer’, 18 Sept., ‘Persons to be elected’, 24 Sept., Sir Jonathan Jennings to Danby, 28 Sept., John Wastwell to same, 16 Oct., John Forster to same, 14 Nov., Henry Thorpe to same, 16 Nov., Samuel Beckwith to same, 18 Nov., ‘Persons to be elected’ at Ripon, 24 Nov. 1701; Vyner mss 244/9–10, abp. of York to the mayor, [8], 27 July, 6 Sept. 1701; Quinn, 132–3.
  • 7. Fountains Abbey (Surtees Soc. lxvii), 238; Ripon Millenary, 83–86; Vyner mss 5744, abp. of York to [?], 22 June 1706; N. Yorks. RO, Dawnay mss ZDS/X/2, ‘An epistle . . . about the election race’, 1708; Quinn, 133–5, 186–7.
  • 8. Vyner mss 5782, Dering to [Aislabie], 13 Aug. 1714; Quinn, 135–6.