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 freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

738 in 17031

Number of voters:

944 in 1699; 709 in 1703


27 Feb. 1690PHILIP GURDON 
14 Oct. 1690SIR THOMAS BARNARDISTON Bt. vice Gurdon, deceased 
6 Feb. 1699JOHN GURDON vice Barnardiston, deceased498
 Sir Gervase Elwes, Bt.4462
16 Feb. 1700SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. vice Kekewich, deceased 
8 Jan. 1701SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
 John Little 
1 Dec. 1701SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
28 July 1702SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
 George Dashwood 
 HASKINS STILES's election declared void, 19 Jan. 1703 
 George Dashwood344
 DASHWOOD vice Haskins Stiles, on petition, 6 Dec. 1703 
10 May 1705SIR GERVASE ELWES, Bt. 
 George Dashwood 
16 Dec. 1706SIR HERVEY ELWES, Bt. vice Elwes, deceased 
 Thomas Canham 
11 Oct. 1710JOHN MEAD478
 Philip Skippon327
 Sir Hervey Elwes, Bt.3263
4 Sept. 1713SIR HERVEY ELWES, Bt. 

Main Article

The fact that ‘the Sudburians’ were regarded as ‘a beggarly and mercenary sort of people’ often attracted wealthy outsiders to put up, but in 1690 the borough’s representatives were both local Whig country gentlemen, Philip Gurdon of Assington and John Robinson, son-in-law of one of the knights of the shire, Sir Gervase Elwes, 1st Bt., who had sat for Sudbury in Charles II’s reign and still enjoyed a strong interest there. Sir Thomas Barnardiston, 2nd Bt., who came in later in 1690, on Robinson’s death, was also a Suffolk gentleman, although he had numerous family connexions with the commercial world of London. In this instance he may have been returned by Elwes, to whom he shortly afterwards resigned the stewardship of the honor of Clare. When Robinson stepped down in 1698, possibly on health grounds, his replacement was Samuel Kekewich, a London merchant. Kekewich was perhaps not altogether a stranger to Sudbury, however, since the principal area of his trading operations, Spain and Portugal, was also the chief market for the cloth manufactured in and around the town. Another vacancy occurred with the death of Barnardiston in October 1698, and this time there was a contest. Elwes, himself thrown out of his county seat in 1698 and obliged to fall back on the borough, was opposed by John Gurdon, nephew of Philip and heir to his estate, but unlike his uncle a staunch Tory. The Tories were first to canvass, but a delay in the election caused by the death of the county sheriff was said by Gurdon’s supporters to have given Elwes ‘great opportunities’ to ‘debauch the electors’ with bribes. There were reports that ‘he is very free of his money that way’ and that ‘money, nay guineas, have drawn over many’, including ‘divers in Colchester’. Gurdon was nevertheless chosen by a clear majority. He wrote to his father-in-law the next day:

At last our troublesome election is over. They have had so long time that abundance of our loose men were drawn off by his money, which they did not spare to throw about even the election morning. Just at the latter end of the time, when they found we bore hard upon them, they proffered people what they would have if they would but come over.

There remained the threat of a petition. Elwes seems to have intended to present one himself but according to Gurdon was ‘ashamed to appear’. Instead, five or six of his supporters prepared a petition, ‘suggesting bribery and other undue practices’, but there was no chance of this being heard before the end of the session, and Gurdon regarded its objective as simply ‘to buoy up an interest’ for Elwes ‘in the town’. In any case Kekewich died in January 1700, leaving a convenient opening for Elwes. At first it looked as if Elwes would face opposition from Sir John Cordell, 3rd Bt., a Tory whose candidacy appeared so promising that Gurdon wrote of Elwes putting up, ‘I shall think he is mad if he does’. Cordell may have withdrawn, but whether he did or not Elwes was chosen. In the following general election Cordell took Gurdon’s place and he and Elwes were returned together. A third candidate, John Little, said to be ‘of London’ but in fact the owner of an estate, Ballingdon Hall, in the immediate vicinity of Sudbury, stood independently. Several of the freemen who were his supporters petitioned on his behalf, alleging that the mayor, the returning officer, had refused to poll ‘great numbers of legal voters’ for Little whereas ‘the same votes were allowed good when they offered to poll for Sir Gervase Elwes and Sir John Cordell’; and that ‘many were admitted that had no right to vote’. The petition was not heard.4

In December 1701 Cordell stood aside in favour of his Whig father-in-law, the wealthy merchant Joseph Haskins Stiles, who was returned with Elwes, unopposed. The 1702 election, by contrast, saw a vigorous and close contest for the second seat between Haskins Stiles and a fellow outsider (though again, possibly, one with some local connexions), the Tory George Dashwood. Both men were said to have brought in freemen from as far afield as Colchester and London, and to have spent money with a will: Haskins Stiles, through his agents, Sir John Cordell and one Samuel Golding, a London barber, was accused of mass bribery, offering sums of between 5s. and £1 each to more than 300 voters; Dashwood, though he treated the freemen and bribed some individuals, went about his task in a different way, promising ‘£200 towards making the river navigable, and £200 more for a workhouse’, and remarking, ‘the town is poor, and let us make the best of it’. When it was objected to him that this too would constitute bribery he is alleged to have said, ‘if he got into the House, let them get him out if they could’. In fact it was Haskins Stiles who was elected, by a majority of 15. Dashwood’s petition, besides detailing the various accusations of bribery, claimed that he had been the victim of ‘partial and arbitrary proceedings’ on the part of the mayor, who had refused legal votes for him, even ‘striking and abusing’ some of his supporters and threatening them with gaol, and accepted illegal votes for his opponent. ‘When the poll was over, the mayor put his hat on a stick, and cried, “An Elwes”, “A Stiles”!’ Such was the evidence of bribery on both sides that the House declared the election void, though the mayor, Benjamin Carter, was pronounced guilty of ‘great violence, and many indirect practices’ and was taken into custody. The ensuing by-election was more or less a repeat performance of the general election. Dashwood’s petition alleged ‘bribery and other indirect practices’ against Haskins Stiles’s agents (one of whom was again Cordell), it being admitted that Haskins Stiles himself ‘was invited to stand, and was so indifferent, he was not present at the election’, and ‘threats and indirect practices’ against the mayor, Carter’s successor. The petition, having been reintroduced at the start of the 1703–4 session, was heard on 6 Dec. 1703. The one new element in the case was an attempt by Haskins Stiles to establish that, as well as the sons of freemen, seven-year apprentices and those ‘made free by redemption’, ‘those who have served as clerks to attorneys within Sudbury, by virtue of such service were free of Sudbury and had a right to vote’, which the House resolved against. It is not clear whether this would have had any effect on the poll. This time Dashwood was seated, a decision which gained some notoriety as an instance of mere ‘interest of parties’ swaying the decisions of the House in election matters. By 1705, however, the party balance in the Commons had changed, and when Dashwood once more petitioned, against the return of the Whig Philip Skippon with Elwes, on precisely the same grounds as before (the mayor on this occasion being Catesby Cook, Elwes’ foremost supporter in February 1699), he withdrew before the petition could be heard. In December 1706 Sir Hervey Elwes, 2nd Bt., replaced his grandfather without a contest. After the 1708 election the successful Whig candidates, Skippon and Elwes, faced yet another petition, alleging ‘divers unlawful practices’ on their part and ‘undue and arbitrary proceedings’ by the mayor, the formerly disgraced Benjamin Carter, but this too was dropped.5

The defeat of Elwes and Skippon in 1710 by two Tories, John Mead, a London banker, and Robert Echlin, an Irish soldier with an estate in Essex, a result which may have been affected by the financial retrenchment which inherited indebtedness had imposed upon Elwes, was followed in 1712 and 1713 by addresses of congratulation on the peace from the borough corporation which were notable for a sharp Tory flavour: the 1713 address recorded satisfaction at Queen Anne’s having overcome ‘that violent and long opposition which has been so artfully made and carried on against the peace’. But at the same time local cloth-manufacturing interests were deeply uneasy at the effects of the peace on trade with Spain, Portugal and Italy, on which much of the town’s prosperity depended. In 1711 Sudbury ‘factors’ had petitioned against the French wines importation bill; in 1713 there were two petitions to Parliament from the corporation, pleading that French imports not be given an advantage over Spanish and Italian. Both Mead and Echlin appear to have supported the French commercial treaty in 1713 and it was perhaps for this reason that Mead, at least, did not put up again in the 1713 election, when Elwes was returned with Echlin.6

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Sudbury bor. recs. EE501/4/3.
  • 2. E. Anglian, n.s. v. 34.
  • 3. Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710.
  • 4. E. Anglian, 33–34; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Gurdon mss mic. M142(1), Sir William Cook, 2nd Bt.*, to Thornhagh Gurdon, 9, 16 Feb., 3 Mar. 1698[–9], John Gurdon to same, 25 Jan. 1699[–1700]; C. F. D. Sperling, Hodson’s Hist. Sudbury, 208–9.
  • 5. Sperling, 154, 212–13; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. 5; E. Anglian, 34.
  • 6. London Gazette, 31 July–2 Aug. 1712, 2–6 June 1713; HMC Lords, n.s. ix. 109; x. 129; CJ, xvii. 348.