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 corporation

Number of voters:

did not exceed 30


19 Apr. 1754Francis Godolphin 
 John Evelyn 
31 Mar. 1761Francis Godolphin 
 John Evelyn 
4 Feb. 1766William Windham vice Godolphin, called to the Upper House 
1 July 1767William Evelyn vice Sir John Evelyn, deceased 
23 Mar. 1768William Evelyn 
 James Hamilton, Earl of Clanbrassill 
11 Oct. 1774Francis Godolphin Osborne, Mq. of Carmarthen24
 Francis Owen24
 Francis Cockayne Cust6
 Philip Yorke6
 CUST and YORKE vice Carmarthen and Owen, on petition, 15 Mar. 1775 
12 Sept. 1780Philip Yorke3
 Jocelyn Deane3
 Thomas Villiers, Lord HydeO
 William EvelynO
 Double return. YORKE and DEANE declared elected, 19 Feb. 1781 
12 Mar. 1781Richard Barwell vice Deane, deceased 
30 June 1781Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde, vice Yorke, vacated his seat2
 Robert Tilson Deane, Baron Muskerry1
5 Apr. 1784Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde 
 John Rogers 
1 Apr. 1786Roger Wilbraham vice Rogers, vacated his seat 
27 Jan. 1787James Bland Burges vice Hyde, called to the Upper House 

Main Article

No determination about the right of election existed, and it was assumed to be in the corporation. This consisted of a mayor, four aldermen, and an unlimited number of freemen. The right to create freemen was assumed to be in the mayor and alderman. From 1754 to 1768 the Godolphin family, whose seat was five miles from Helston, had almost undisputed control over the borough. On the death of Francis, and Earl of Godolphin, in 1766, the interest at Helston passed to his grandson Francis, Marquess of Carmarthen. Divisions in the corporation following the death in 1768 of John Rogers, who had managed the Godolphin interest, seriously weakened it.

In 1769 legal action was begun to test the validity of the election of freemen, and in 1772 the House of Lords decided ‘that the election of freemen could not be exercised by the mayor and aldermen exclusive of the commonalty’. Judgments of ouster were obtained against some members of the corporation, and the Godolphin party found themselves in a minority. They petitioned for a new charter which was granted in September 1774 and seemed to give them back control of the borough: the right of electing freemen was expressly stated to be in the mayor and aldermen only; and the new corporation, appointed by name in the charter, contained a majority in the Godolphin interest. John Rogers, grandson of the John Rogers who had died in 1768, and leader of the Godolphin party, was elected mayor.

A fortnight later Parliament was dissolved. The anti-Godolphin party, now reduced to six, invited Francis Cockayne Cust, a prominent Chancery lawyer, to contest the borough, on the understanding that if defeated he would petition. To him was joined his brother-in-law, Philip Yorke of Erthig. The Godolphin candidates were Carmarthen and his relative, Francis Owen. The result of the election was inevitable, but it was in the House of Commons that the real decision lay.

What happened next was farcical. The committee of the House of Commons unseated Carmarthen and Owen; set aside the new charter; and in effect declared that the six freemen who had voted for Cust and Yorke were the only legal voters of Helston. By the general election of 1780 their number was reduced to three, but in 1781 another committee of the House of Commons confirmed the decision of 1775. The bizarre character of elections at Helston was shown by the contest of 1781 (when the three electors divided about whom they should elect); and by the return in 1784 of Rogers, leader of the Godolphin party, and in 1787 of Bland Burges, a close friend of Lord Carmarthen.

By 1784 the electors were reduced to two, and in 1785 the corporation took the opinion of counsel (John Lee) about the position should one elector die. The answer was: ‘I think if one of the present freemen should die the survivor will have the power to elect the Members.’

Carmarthen felt bitter about these events. When a vacancy was expected in 1786 he wrote to George Rose:1

Could I suppose that the two gentlemen who have at present the power in their hands of returning a member would listen to a recommendation of mine I would name my friend James Bland Burges Esq. ... It might perhaps be worthwhile for the two electors to think of this as their ages may render it not inconvenient for them to consider the present Government as more worthy their attention than a future one. Any obligation to me personally I cannot flatter myself would have much weight with them. However they may be assured I should not be ungrateful for such a mark of their friendship to a family they once did not think unworthy their attention.

Author: John Brooke


Sylvester Douglas, Controverted Elections, ii. 1-53; H.S. Toy, Hist. Helston, 200-76.

  • 1. Add. 28061, f. 82.