Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 1,000


16 Apr. 1754Sir Charles Howard 
 John Stanwix 
31 Mar. 1761Raby Vane 
 Henry Curwen 
 John Stanwix 
23 Mar. 1768Lord Edward Bentinck383
 George Musgrave381
 John Elliot307
 George Johnstone305
7 Oct. 1774Fletcher Norton319
 Anthony Storer310
 George Musgrave153
 Robert Milburne133
31 May 1775Walter Spencer Stanhope vice Norton, vacated his seat 
18 Sept. 1780Charles Howard, Earl of Surrey 
 William Lowther 
14 Apr. 1783Surrey re-elected after appointment to office 
10 Apr. 1784Charles Howard, Earl of Surrey 
 Edward Norton 
10 Apr. 1786John Lowther vice Norton, deceased568
 John Christian422
 Christian vice Lowther, on petition, 31 May 1786 
29 Nov. 1786Edward Knubley vice Surrey, called to the Upper House554
 Rowland Stephenson405
 Stephenson vice Knubley, on petition, 26 Feb. 1787 

Main Article

Carlisle was traditionally the scene of contest between the Howards, Earls of Carlisle, the Musgraves, and the Lowthers; and there was also a strong independent element among the freemen, always prepared to encourage candidates.

In 1761 the Howard interest was declining and the Lowther interest was getting stronger; and Sir James Lowther, taking advantage of Lord Carlisle’s minority, made his first attempt to capture the borough.

Several of the old and patriotic freemen, indignant at the all-grasping and monopolizing spirit of the baronet, had an article drawn up and signed offering to support the interest of any neighbouring gentleman ... who would offer himself as candidate. Their unanimous choice was fixed upon Henry Curwen ... who acquiesced without hesitation.1

On polling day John Stanwix, one of Lowther’s candidates, judging his chances to be hopeless, withdrew; and Curwen and Raby Vane, the other Lowther candidate, were returned.

This defeat led Lowther to believe that to carry both Members he must secure control of the corporation. In October 1761 his friend Humphrey Senhouse was elected mayor, and proceeded to fill up the vacancies in the corporation with Lowther’s followers. In the next few years Lowther strengthened his grip on the city and secured for friends of his the places of lieutenant-governor of Carlisle, recorder, and dean of the cathedral.

In 1764 the Duke of Portland, now the leader of opposition to Lowther in Cumberland, began to intervene at Carlisle. He had no natural interest, and claimed that he wished only to prevent the borough from being dominated by Lowther. He could not break Lowther’s hold on the corporation, but cultivated the ‘lower sort of freemen’ and won considerable support.

Lowther’s candidates in 1768 were both Scotsmen, neither of whom had any connexion with Carlisle; Portland’s were his brother, and a member of an old Cumbrian family who had frequently supplied Members for Carlisle. 694 freemen voted, only five of whom split their votes. Lowther spent about £4,000 on drink for the freemen, besides an undetermined figure on bringing voters to the poll and direct bribery; Portland’s expenses were about £8,000, but since 1763 he had also spent a considerable sum on cultivating the borough. Lowther, despite his grip on the corporation, had failed to find a method of controlling the freemen. Of the 270 admitted since 1761, 142 voted for Lowther’s candidates and 126 for Portland’s—an advantage more than cancelled out by Lowther’s unpopularity and unwise choice of candidates.

In 1769 Lord Carlisle came of age, and set about reviving his family interest. Suggestions were made for an agreement between him and Portland, but nothing had been done by March 1774 when Portland and Lowther reached a compromise by which Lowther was to have one Member at Carlisle.2 This was unfavourably received in the town, especially by ‘the publicans and the ragged band’;3 and Lord Carlisle delayed giving his assent. Portland, who had often declared that he had intervened only to prevent Lowther dominating the city, assured Carlisle that he would co-operate with him and would not himself put forward a candidate.

On 3 Oct. Joseph Nicolson, a close friend of Lord Carlisle, wrote to Portland about the nomination meeting:

Young Mr. Norton is put in nomination by Sir James Lowther and a Mr. Storer by me on the part of Lord Carlisle, and were both received by the corporation cordially enough, but the common people was making a very great bustle and will kick up an opposition if possible.

And Thomas Benson, Portland’s agent, on 4 Oct.:

The cry of freedom echoes through the streets, associations and subscriptions have been entered into at the guilds, and I am informed this afternoon that upwards of 200 names have been got to a written instrument in favour of a third man.

Such was the city of Carlisle, even when the three principal interests were in agreement.

Invitations to stand were sent to five persons, and the first two who came to Carlisle were adopted as candidates. They were supported by many of Portland’s friends, who claimed that the compromise with Lowther did not permit Lord Carlisle to offer a candidate. Had Portland himself done so there is little doubt that his interest would have proved much stronger than Lord Carlisle’s.

Carlisle’s weakness was shown at the general election of 1780. Both Lowther and Portland were prepared to maintain the compromise, but the position was complicated by the intervention of the Howards of Greystoke Castle, now the senior branch of the Howard family. Lord Surrey, recently converted from Roman Catholicism, was bent on developing his interest at Carlisle; and claimed to be standing with Portland’s support: his letters to Portland at this time are full of such phrases as ‘our friends’, ‘our future interest’, ‘your Grace’s and my interest’, etc. But Portland was ‘little inclined ... to approve all Lord Surrey’s conduct’,4 while Rockingham thought that Surrey had made ‘a strange embroilment’ at Carlisle.5 They both feared that Surrey’s intervention might be regarded by Lowther as a breach of the compromise of 1774. But in the face of Surrey’s activity, Lord Carlisle ‘quietly abandoned’ the borough;6 and in 1780 and 1784 Lowther and Surrey divided the borough without a contest.

The situation after 1784 resembled that between 1763 and 1768, with Surrey in the part Portland had then played. Without a strong natural interest, Surrey put himself at the head of the anti-Lowther party; and Portland and Carlisle did not intervene on their own account. Lonsdale (as Lowther must now be called) had as his main asset control of the corporation, which he now proceeded to use on a large scale. Between September 1784 and February 1785 the corporation created over 1,400 new freemen, twice the number already existing, ‘nearly the whole of whom were entirely unconnected with, and unknown in, the city of Carlisle’.7 According to Oldfield,8 they were ‘mostly selected from the collieries and estates of Lord Lonsdale’. At the time of the by-election of February 1786 over 800 had been sworn to their freedom and were eligible to vote. With these faggot votes Lonsdale carried the election against the independent candidate, John Christian; but Christian was seated on petition.

Six months later the same manœuvre was repeated with the same result. On neither occasion did the committee which considered the petition pronounce on the right of election. It was only in 1791, after Lonsdale’s third attempt, that the House resolved that the franchise was in the resident freemen only.

Author: John Brooke


B. Bonsall, Sir Jas. Lowther and Cumb. and Westmld. Elections, 1754-75.

  • 1. F. Jollie, Pol. Hist. Carlisle, 9.
  • 2. See CUMBERLAND constituency.
  • 3. Thos. Benson to Portland, 1 Apr. 1774, Portland mss.
  • 4. Portland to Rockingham, 3 Sept. 1780.
  • 5. Rockingham to Portland, 1 Sept. 1780.
  • 6. Geo. Selwyn to Carlisle, 11 Sept. 1780, HMC Carlisle, 443.
  • 7. According to the petition presented to the House of Commons from Carlisle, 3 May 1786.
  • 8. Boroughs (1792), i. 195-6.