Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 6,000


12 July 1802JOHN BULLOCK 
7 Nov. 1806ELIAB HARVEY 
11 May 1807JOHN BULLOCK 
16 Feb. 1810 JOHN ARCHER HOUBLON vice Bullock, deceased2519
 Montague Burgoyne811
 Montague Burgoyne339

Main Article

A compromise between the leading interests of the two opposite parties was maintained in the county from 1774 until 1810. Bramston was the Member inclined to government, and Bullock the representative of the ‘old Whig’ interest, though he rallied to ministers during the French revolutionary war. This irked such Foxite Whigs as Charles Callis Western*, Samuel Whitbread II* and William Smith* who requisitioned the county meeting critical of the war in May 1797.1 They had recently secured the election of a cuckoo in their nest, Montague Burgoyne of Mark Hall, as verderer of Waltham forest, against Samuel Bosanquet, a contest that had been regarded as a rehearsal for the county.2 A county contest was expected in 1802, when Bramston retired. Burgoyne addressed the county, 23 May 1802, to the effect that he would not stand as he could ill afford it, but he promised to expose the fact that ‘the respectable county of Essex has had no weight in the political scale for the last thirty years, a period the most momentous that this country has ever known’, and to prove ‘that the unfortunate contest between the two parties of Whig and Tory has eventually reduced you to this humiliating situation’. He reserved his right to come forward, ‘should any difficulty occur in finding candidates unconnected with that system of influence of which we have so much reason to complain’. On 10 June he repeated this reservation, promising to be ‘the tool of no party’ and to be ‘at no expense whatever’. Meanwhile, the candidature of Eliab Harvey of Chigwell and of John Conyers of Copped Hall had been expected and might have satisfied Burgoyne; but Conyers demurred and John Henniker Major* declined to stand. Then John Bullock denied, on 2 July, that he had any reason to retire. A week later the candidates duly nominated were Bullock, Harvey and Burgoyne, and Burgoyne declined a poll when the show of hands went against him. This was regarded as a vindication of the compromise, Harvey having received the blessing of the retiring Member.3

In 1806 Burgoyne was expected to renew his challenge. Harvey was on naval service and his wife solicited support for him: ‘the first time a lady ever put her name to an election advertisement’. Bullock again dispelled illusions that he meant to retire, after what he termed such a short Parliament. Burgoyne denounced the compromise, but was attacked for disturbing the peace, and withdrew. He published a letter to the freeholders (1807) complaining of the ‘unnatural coalition’ that had dictated Essex elections for the last 35 years.4

It was not until Bullock died, 28 Dec. 1809, that Burgoyne came forward: he had recently published a pamphlet in favour of parliamentary reform, addressed to the county (23 May).

It was hoped that Charles Western would have stood for Essex but unless Burgoyne could have been prevailed upon to desist nothing was to be done, and he being wrong headed, importunate and persevering, Houblon will be chose.

Houblon was the son-in-law of Bramston, the former Member, and was supported by the friends of government. Burgoyne, who solicited Whig support, expected opposition from the Tories, whom he had offended ‘in no small degree’. Western, who thought the Hon. Richard Neville*, Lord Braybrooke’s son, the best Whig candidate (putting himself out of the question), complained to Whitbread of Burgoyne’s obduracy: ‘He has played his cards so ill that he has no possible chance in any case, and if he does get any support from the party, it will be for want of any other person in opposition to Houblon’. He concluded, ‘we shall fall under the dominion of the Tories’. Houblon’s friends put it about that Burgoyne would not persevere. In fact he was resolved to persevere in the poll, but not to ruin himself.5

‘A freeholder’ addressing the county on behalf of Burgoyne, 12 Jan. 1810, described Houblon as ‘a good sort of county fox-hunting gentleman’, sponsored by his friends ‘the tools of the present minister’, and Burgoyne as a reformer, advocating economy and opposed to the conduct of the war. Burgoyne, sporting Orange ‘as an emblem of my attachment to the King and the liberties of the people’ against the Blue of his opponent, sent 100 guineas to his London committee and invited subscriptions to his committee at Chelmsford. It does not appear that more than £600 was spent on his behalf, and not even all of that was covered by subscription. Relying on electors going to Chelmsford at their own expense, Burgoyne found them reluctant to do so when they saw how badly he fared at the poll. On the first day of the election he was described by John Conyers, proposing Houblon, as one of ‘the senate of the Crown and Anchor tavern’. He confirmed that he favoured parliamentary reform and Catholic relief. His sinecure (he was chamberlain of the Exchequer) was, as he realized, a ‘stumbling block’ to his pleas for public economy: he promised to resign it if elected. He complained of clerical hostility to him and that, with a few exceptions, the Whigs were either neutral or hostile: but he had refused to parley with a junta who made conditions. Houblon had little to say on the hustings, though he complained of being misrepresented as a foe of the dissenters, and declined to answer Burgoyne’s questions as to his political intentions. On the thirteenth day Burgoyne asserted that 247 Members had places, 108 for themselves only, 75 through relatives, and another 64 ‘had places themselves, and their relatives also’. He claimed that the prime minister had places worth £38,574. He also alleged that 327 English Members were returned by individual patrons. He denied that he was a Burdettite. At the close, he was bitter against the Whigs, particularly against Western: he had been prepared to co-operate with them if they adhered to their principles (his attachment was to measures, not men), but, as he explained in his preface to his pamphlet on the Proceedings of the election in Essex (1810): ‘One thing the Whigs must not expect from me. I will never become a party in reviving that compromise which for near forty years has disgraced the county of Essex.’ In taking leave of the freeholders, 17 Feb. 1810, Burgoyne concluded that the independence of the county had taken root: ‘A third of the freeholders have not polled. The leading Whig interests have not moved. Hundreds of my friends did not give their votes, because they thought that there was no chance of overtaking my opponent.’6

Shortly before Bullock died, Burgoyne had admitted to his friend Thomas Holt White of Harlow that he needed a club and publicity ‘to propagate reformation’. On 16 Mar. 1810 his friends met at Chelmsford to form an association to counter the Tory interest, to be called the Essex Freeholders Club. On 18 Apr. at their inaugural meeting they resolved to end the political compromise in Essex and pay the expenses of their candidate, who was to advocate parliamentary reform. Burgoyne, Holt White and Peter Du Cane were the leading lights. Before the year was over, Burgoyne’s friends were admitting that he would not do. It seemed likely that the sitting Members would offer again and that Western, if he offered on the Whig interest, might succeed alone; but that Burgoyne, joining him, would divide the independent interest, though Peter Du Cane might do (Burgoyne had no objection to this, but it was doubtful if the ‘big wigs’ would agree). The problem remained expense: Essex had no Whig grandee as useful as Earl Fitzwilliam in Yorkshire. On 1 Jan. 1811 Burgoyne published a reply to an attempt by John Conyers to discredit him in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 11 May 1810. Conyers had charged him with being a renegade Tory placeman, who wished ‘to form a democratic ladder, on which he hopes to raise himself to eminence’. He retorted that he was Whig by choice and inheritance, of a family longer established in Essex than Conyers’ and who had done more for patriotic defence. Nevertheless the Essex Whig Club of London (guided by Western) rejected overtures from Burgoyne’s Freeholders Club for a joint interest and Burgoyne again failed to find two gentlemen in the county to stand on his principles.7

In 1812 Western offered for the county with the support of the Whig leadership and on ‘the old Whig interest ... supported by all the old families of the county who maintained this principle’; he insisted that he was ‘unconnected with any other candidate entirely’, a snub to Burgoyne, who again proposed submitting the county to a 15-day poll. As the Members were offering again, there would be an all out contest: but despite the division in the opposition, Eliab Harvey dreaded the expense, and finding that Houblon would not share it with him was not fond enough of Parliament to risk it, so he withdrew unconditionally. This was a boon to Western, though it was thought that many Tories would have supported him anyway, ‘as an agriculturalist and independent principled man’. Burgoyne now hankered after a coalition with Western, appealing to Whitbread to forge one and to his friends to give their second votes to Western for the sake of ‘the good old cause’; but apart from Honeywood, Member for Kent, he found the Whigs unresponsive and complained of the renewal of ‘that compromise which is subversive of the rights and franchises of freeholders’. On nomination day he again attacked compromise and pledged himself to renounce his sinecure (worth £1,500 a year), if elected.8

Burgoyne gave up after seven days, trailing miserably: he claimed Whitbread’s advice for his renunciation.9 On 20 Feb. 1813 he addressed the freeholders, as a preface to an edition of the poll book which proved ‘that there was an understanding between the friends of the Whig and Tory party, and that they were determined to renew the disgraceful compromise which was adopted in the time of Luther and Conyers’. Thus, he alleged, Western owed his election to the ‘forbearance, and (I think I might say) the assistance of the Tories’:

Look at the Appendix, and you will see that Mr Houblon had 885 single votes, Mr Western only 439 of which number 176 voted for me in 1810, and were persuaded to desert me in 1812. Observe, gentlemen, that 400 freeholders who voted for Mr Houblon, gave their second votes to Mr Western. I am proud to say that in the whole poll, I had only 18 of Mr Houblon’s second votes.

The opposition shown to me by the Whigs, was exactly in the proportion of Mr Western’s and his friends’ influence. In the hundred of Hinckford, fifty freeholders who voted for me before, deserted me, and in Witham and Lexden 84. The Club at Maldon which always supported Mr Western in that borough, voted against me almost to a man.

As 1,348 freeholders who had voted for Houblon in 1810 had not voted in 1812, including some of his nearest connexions, Burgoyne concluded:

If the Tories had started another candidate, on the resignation of Admiral Harvey, Mr Western would have had no more chance of being seated for this county, than he would have had at Maldon, if he had not retired from that borough.10

Burgoyne promised to fight on, but there was no further contest until 1830. In 1816 when Western’s health was poor, Joseph Holden Strutt* informed Lord Liverpool that he would be well supported in place of Western, ‘though a Tory’. In the spring of 1818, Western being again ill, William Waldegrave* received some Whig encouragement to look to Essex, but he satisfied himself that it was a bid to divert him from Bedford, where his candidature embarrassed the Duke of Bedford’s interest. There was no change in 1818, and Western made it clear, 15 Sept. 1819, in a letter to Thomas Barrett Lennard, who had hopes of succeeding him as Whig Member, that he did not mean to retire yet; and warned him against radical company, if that was what inspired Lennard’s wish to call a county meeting after Peterloo:

this is to volunteer an attack when defeat is certain ... There is a gradually improving disposition towards Whiggism amongst us, but our Essex men would soon take alarm, they must be coaxed into Whiggism and care taken not to frighten them.11

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Morning Chron. 20 May 1, June, The Times, 6 June 1797.
  • 2. The Times, 31 Mar., 3, 21 Apr.; Morning Chron. 1 Apr.: Oracle, 10 Apr. 1797.
  • 3. The Times, 17, 29 May, 12, 26 June, 3, 7, 10 July 1802; Essex RO, Gepp mss D/DG g 11, election addresses; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 85; Essex RO, Strutt mss micro. T/B 251/5, Strutt to Addington, 27 July 1802.
  • 4. Grey mss, St. Vincent to Howick, 6 July; NLW, Aston Hall mss 417; Ipswich Jnl. 1 Nov.; Gepp mss D/DG g 11, ‘An Essex freeholder’, 3 Nov. 1806; Essex RO Lib. Burgoyne, Procs. of the Election in Essex (1810), 138.
  • 5. Lincs. AO, 3 Ancaster 494, Molland to Heathcote, 10 Jan. [1810]; Add. 35648, f. 273; 38244, f. 160; Whitbread mss W1/1912-14.
  • 6. Essex RO, Burgoyne mss 19/2, Burgoyne to Hodgson, 24, 26 Jan.; Tabor to Du Cane, 3 Feb. 1810; Burgoyne, op. cit.
  • 7. Wakes Mus. Selborne, Holt White mss 406, 410; A letter from Montague Burgoyne esq. of Mark Hall to John Conyers esq. of Copped Hall: in the country of Essex (Harlow, 1811); Burgoyne mss 19/5.
  • 8. Add. 35650, ff. 336, 344, 350, 363; Burgoyne mss 19/8; NLW, Aston Hall mss 453, 1735a, 2570, 2847, 7197; Grey mss. Goodwin to Grey, 29 Aug., Tierney to same, 26 Sept.; Morning Chron. 8 Oct.; Whitbread mss W1/1915; Creevey mss, Creevey to his wife, 17 Oct. 1812.
  • 9. Waldegrave mss, Waldegrave to his wife, 19 Oct. [1812].
  • 10. Essex Poll 1812 (Harlow, 1813).
  • 11. Add. 38263, f. 256; Waldegrave mss, Waldegrave to his wife, 7, 17 Apr., [May], replies 8, 15 Apr. 1818; Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DLC 60.