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 populacy’ (in practice, inhabitants paying scot and lot)

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

61 in 1710


23 July 1698SIR WILLIAM THOMAS, Bt. 
31 Dec. 1698WILLIAM CAMPION vice Thomas, chose to sit for Sussex 
31 Jan. 1701SIR WILLIAM THOMAS, Bt. 
24 Nov. 1701SIR WILLIAM THOMAS, Bt. 
27 Jan. 1702THOMAS CHOWNE vice Thomas, chose to sit for Sussex 
21 July 1702SIR WILLIAM THOMAS, Bt. 
12 Dec. 1706GEORGE NAYLOR vice Thomas, deceased 
 Thomas Chowne 
 George Naylor261

Main Article

In 1671 the Commons had determined that the right of voting in Seaford lay in ‘the populacy’, those who presumably paid scot and lot, but unless the leading local influences found themselves in conflict, the formalities of election were completed behind closed doors by the corporate assembly, an elite comprising a bailiff, two jurats and up to 17 freemen. Only twice in this period was the electorate called upon to vote. Nomination was exercised by two Whiggish pro-government influences in the locality, those of Sir William Thomas, 1st Bt., and of the Pelham family. Both Thomas and Sir John Pelham, 3rd Bt.*, owned substantial amounts of property in the town and in its immediate vicinity, in addition to which Thomas’ seat was in the neighbouring parish of Folkington, while Pelham owned an estate nearby at Bishopstone. By the early 1690s, Thomas’ clear monopoly over one of the seats was the more deeply rooted of the two interests. It was only during this period that the Pelhams evolved what was to be a lasting supremacy in the borough.2

In 1690 Thomas, seeking re-election as knight of the shire for Sussex, allowed his seat to be retained by William Campion, a Kentish squire whose cousin was married to Thomas. To the second seat Pelham nominated one of his younger sons, Henry, in succession to his half-brother, Sir Nicholas*. As the corporation book records, the returns complied with a ‘precept’ issued by the deputy lord warden, Hon. John Beaumont*, the Court’s principal agent in the Cinque Ports, specifically requesting the return of Campion and Pelham, presumably with the full agreement of their respective patrons. In 1695 Campion was returned again, while his partner Henry Pelham transferred to Lewes, which was becoming another Pelham stronghold. The vacancy was filled by William Lowndes, the recently appointed secretary to the Treasury, whose recommendation came, almost certainly, from Sir John Pelham’s eldest son Thomas I* who had served as a member of the Treasury board from 1690 to 1692, and was to do so again from 1697 to 1699. Lowndes would of course have been known to Pelham in the early 1690s as a senior Treasury clerk, and though Pelham had since lost his place on the board owing to his occasional ‘independence’ in the House, he was perhaps anxious to give proof of his general goodwill towards the administration by fulfilling Lowndes’s need for a parliamentary seat.3

At the 1698 election Campion stood down, apparently by arrangement with his patron, in order that Thomas might have the benefit of his borough seat if he failed in the county. On succeeding, however, Thomas resigned his Seaford seat which, presumably in accordance with the original agreement, reverted to Campion at the by-election in December. Lowndes, meanwhile, retained his seat on the Pelham interest, and was to do so until 1715 when he transferred to a government-controlled Cornish borough. He developed a strong relationship with the corporation, who were doubtless appreciative of the ease of access he afforded to the very heart of government in securing various favours, and in later years he arranged for Christmas gifts of wheat and ale to be distributed among the poor. On his offering himself for re-election in December 1700, members of the corporation replied that they were ‘well satisfied you have very faithfully discharged the trust we have reposed in you, for which reason we thankfully acknowledge the kindness and readily comply with your inclination to be our representative’. He was also willingly excused the trouble of attending the election in person. The other Member, Campion, stood aside for Thomas, who had this time chosen not to contest for knight of the shire. At the November election, however, Thomas was returned for both the county and Seaford, opting to sit for the former. However, Campion was no longer available to take on the borough seat, having himself been elected knight of the shire for Kent. Thus in the by-election held in January 1702 the corporation returned a local gentleman, Thomas Chowne, who as well as owning an estate a few miles away at Alfriston, also held property in the town itself. It is not clear, however, whether Chowne, who had only just come of age, stood of his own volition, or whether he came in on Sir William’s interest. But since his family enjoyed some kinship with Campion’s, his election probably met with Thomas’ approval. Certainly, when Thomas stood down from the county seat in the general election he was able to reclaim his old seat from Chowne without difficulty. It is interesting that the incoming Tory ministers made no attempt to interfere at Seaford in 1702 as they did in Sussex’s three other Cinque Ports. This may have had much to do with the desire of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) to retain the services and expertise of William Lowndes at the Treasury. Although Chowne, having revealed his Tory colours, would have been regarded by the new ministry as more suitable for the second seat than the staunchly Whig Thomas, it was the latter who was returned alongside Lowndes, without any hint of ministerial disapproval.4

Lowndes and Thomas were returned once again in 1705, but Thomas’ death in November 1706, leaving no heir to maintain his interests, precipitated a contested by-election. Chowne put himself forward, presumably regarding himself as Thomas’ electoral successor. However, the Pelhams now saw an opportunity of extending their control to the second seat, and determined to press their own candidate. Thomas Pelham I, now Sir Thomas, 4th Bt., and head of the Pelham interest, put up his son-in-law George Naylor, a wealthy London barrister. As the corporation minutes record, a poll was ‘demanded’ in which Naylor defeated Chowne, though by what margin is not known. In 1708 Naylor was again returned with Lowndes. In 1710, however, the advent of a Tory administration encouraged Chowne to try for his former seat once more. With Lowndes virtually guaranteed re-election, the contest focused upon Naylor and Chowne. At the ensuing poll, there was a unanimity of voices for Lowndes, while second votes were split between the two contenders, 35 for Chowne and 26 for Naylor. The renewal of Chowne’s candidacy weakened the Pelham interest and prevented Naylor’s return to the second seat. As the by-election contest of 1706, the eight ‘honorary’ or non-resident freemen in attendance were declared ineligible to vote. These included two close relatives of Lord Pelham (as Sir Thomas had been created in December 1706), his younger brother Henry, and his uncle, Sir Nicholas, both former MPs for Seaford. Only the town clerk successfully challenged the ruling, insisting on his right as a corporation official. It is not clear, however, whether this exclusion of non-residents was engineered on purpose to disadvantage Naylor. At the next election in 1713 Chowne was initially resolved to stand in opposition to Naylor, who had the support of his young brother-in-law and ward, the 2nd Lord Pelham, the future Duke of Newcastle. Lowndes had given out that he would be making ‘all the interest he could’ for Chowne, although his chief corporation allies privately felt that ‘it will not be at all proper for Mr Lowndes to meddle either way’. Chowne’s withdrawal shortly afterwards was probably due to the pressure and scale of Naylor’s aristocratic backing, and on his doing so he concentrated instead on supervising a series of election ‘treats’ on Lowndes’s behalf.5

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Add. 33058, ff. 197–8.
  • 2. E. Suss. RO, SEA 7 Seaford ct. bk., p. 65; Horsfield, Sussex, i. 279; S. H. Nulle, Newcastle, 40.
  • 3. Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 4, ii. 264; SEA 7 Seaford ct. bk., p. 56; Add. 42586, ff. 81, 86.
  • 4. The Gen. n.s. xxiv. 78–79; T48/20, Seaford corp. to Lowndes, 23 Dec. 1700, Lowndes to corp., 18 Dec. 1712; Add. 29588, ff. 102–4.
  • 5. Add. 33058, ff. 197–8; SEA 7 Seaford ct. bk., pp. 91, 102; T48/20, Edward Pollington to Charles Harrison, 16 Aug. 1713, same to Lowndes, 22 Oct. 1713.