Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen
Number of voters:
30 in 1680
|1 Apr. 16601||HERBERT MORLEY|
|6 May 1661||HON. RICHARD SPENCER|
|Sir John Jacob|
|23 Nov. 1661||(SIR) JOHN ROBINSON I vice Spencer, deceased||12|
|24 Oct. 1667||SIR JOHN AUSTEN, 2nd Bt. vice Morley, deceased|
|15 Feb. 1679||(SIR) JOHN ROBINSON I|
|4 Oct. 1679||SIR JOHN DARELL|
|10 Mar. 1681||SIR JOHN DARELL|
|3 Apr. 1685||SIR THOMAS JENNER|
|15 Jan. 1689||SIR JOHN DARELL|
|Sir John Austen, 2nd Bt.||16|
|AUSTEN vice Frewen, on petition, 1 Apr. 1689|
Rye was a small, decayed fishing port with a tradition of religious radicalism derived from Walloon and Huguenot refugees. During the Interregnum Herbert Morley had established a strong interest there, and at the general election of 1660 the freemen duly returned him with his neighbour and kinsman William Hay. The candidature of William Penn, recommended by Vice-Admiral Lawson, seems to have been ignored, though both men had stood on the extreme left of the religious spectrum, whereas the successful candidates had both become Presbyterian Royalists. Hay’s political career ended with the dissolution of the Convention, but Morley offered his services again in 1661. Sir John Jacob, who had sat for Rye in the Long Parliament until expelled as a monopolist, invited the corporation ‘to renew your old affections’, but received no encouragement. But they could not ignore a letter from the Duke of York, lord warden of the Cinque Ports, recommending Richard Spencer, ‘an ancient Parliament man’. Though he had never sat for a local constituency, he had property in the neighbourhood. The corporation wrote to him on 9 Mar: ‘Although you are a stranger to us, yet we presume his Highness would present none to us but a person of honour and merit’. Perhaps encouraged by the inability through ill health of both Morley and Spencer to attend the election, Jacob renewed his application, but without success. The electorate had been reduced to 15, but during the summer eight new freemen were created. On Spencer’s death, the Duke of York recommended as a colleague for Morley Sir John Robinson, who had succeeded him as lieutenant of the Tower at the Restoration. Against him the nonconformists (as they may be called by anticipation) put up Samuel Gott, who had lost his seat at Winchelsea at the general election. Gott expressed some reluctance to oppose his ‘noble friend’, as he described Robinson; but with Jeake, the town clerk, and II of the freemen behind him, his return seemed assured. Robinson, however, was well equipped to deal with such a situation. Descending on Rye in Gott’s absence with an injured knee, he wined and dined the freemen to the tune of £100. According to Samuel Pepys he was ‘good for nothing else’; but it was enough. The mayor was his friend, two of the freemen changed sides, two more abstained, and Robinson was returned. But in view of the narrow margin of his success, it is hardly surprising that the corporation was drastically purged by the commissioners, and on 11 Mar. 1663 the Privy Council ordered the issue of a quo warranto against the corporation, ‘of whose disaffection to his Majesty and his government hath been particular information given’. Nothing is known of the upshot, except that Rye did not lose its charter. On Morley’s death Henry Savile was nominated by the Duke of York. Against him stood Sir John Austen, who had property nearby, and ‘Mr Ersfield, a Sussex gentleman’, presumably Edward Eversfield. ‘To the dissatisfaction of his Majesty’s friends’, Austen defeated Savile by one vote: ‘this he had not done, but one of his friends fell sick’, so that the mayor was unable to give a casting vote.2
Rather surprisingly it was Austen and not Robinson who lost his seat at the first Exclusion election. It is not known whether it was contested; the other successful candidate, Thomas Frewen, ‘as honest a gentleman as any in the county, and of a plentiful estate’, was of uncertain politics, but came to oppose exclusion. Robinson was a dying man before the next election, when he was replaced by a strong exclusionist, Sir John Darell, ‘recommended as a burgess by the fanatics of Canterbury’, and probably also by his neighbour Edward Dering. The political balance was now tipped against the Court by an adroit move on the part of Tourney, the town clerk, possibly suggested by his predecessor Jeake, who had become a nonconformist preacher. Supported by three of the other six jurats, a bare but sufficient majority in the corporation, he persuaded the illiterate mayor to accept the votes of the seven freemen turned out by the commissioners for corporations. On the dissolution of the second Exclusion Parliament, the local court supporters reported a determined effort to oust Frewen. First, a certain John Tedman. who had witnessed the persecution of the Huguenots in France, from where he had only recently returned, gave a treat for the ‘factious’ party and declared his intention of standing. Two days before the poll Dering came to Rye to meet Darell, and canvassed the freemen on behalf of William Jephson; but the collector of customs, speaking for the government interest, persuaded him that it was impossible. Tedman, however, was not to be deterred.
Had not Colonel Dering persuaded five freemen that stood neuters to be against Tedman,... they had carried it. But Mr. Frewen carried it by four, so that Tedman and his ragged regiment quickly marched out of the town with a heavy heart and a light purse, hooted out of the town by all the rabble.
Six of Tedman’s 11 voters had been removed under the Corporations Act, which the Government was urged to enforce. The result was municipal turmoil. In two successive mayoral elections, both parties claimed a majority, and rival mayors were installed. In May 1682 Tourney, who had been displaced as town clerk, with dubious legality, by the King, broke into the town hall at the head of ‘a rabble of over three hundred’, and took possession. In August he was chosen mayor for the second time, refusing to surrender the seal and records of the borough even when the Privy Council declared his opponent elected. With some justification Sir Leoline Jenkins wrote:
In truth the height of disaffection and contumacy that appears to be in the generality of Rye is the greatest scandal I know of in the whole government; but I hope a legal means will be found to bring it to reason.
The irreconcilable Whigs, however, were very few in number, and aided by the reversal of national sentiment after the Rye House Plot, the Government were able to regain control by other means, though no loyal address was presented until the accession of James II. On 18 Feb. 1685 the corporation ‘freely and heartily’ acknowledged the right of the lord warden to nominate one Member.
But because we owe our present established unity and freedom from malcontents (and from factious, seditious persons) to the very great both industry and expense of Mr Thomas Frewen and Mr John Shales, we account ourselves in justice and gratitude obliged to pray that one of them be nominated and recommended for our election.
The King nominated Sir Thomas Jenner, an ‘obscure lawyer’ of Sussex origins, with whom the freemen returned Frewen for the fourth time. But this did not save their charter, which was surrendered in September. Under the new charter, issued in March 1686, the franchise was limited to the corporation, consisting of the mayor, 12 jurats and 24 common councilmen. John Strode II was nominated recorder, and among the jurats were Frewen and Sir Denny Ashburnham. Meanwhile Jenner had been raised to the bench, and in April James ordered Edward Hales II to inform the corporation that they were to elect Richard Morley, a brother of Francis Morley and a friend of Frewen, ‘to serve in the next Parliament’, though the 1685 Parliament was not dissolved until 2 July 1687. The new corporation was regulated in September 1688, when the mayor, the town clerk, and two of the jurats were removed. Apparently Morley did not stand at the general election of 1689, which was contested on the freeman franchise. The Whig vote was split between Gott’s son Peter, Austen and Darell, and it was the latter who was returned with Frewen. Austen petitioned on the grounds that nine of Frewen’s voters had obtained their freedom from the mayors put in by the Privy Council in 1681-3. The House did not decide on this point, but by confining the franchise to resident freemen, disallowed enough of Frewen’s votes to reverse the result.3
Author: Basil Duke Henning
- 1. Bodl. Carte 223, f. 196.
- 2. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 235-43; Adm. 1745, ff. 61, 168v; Suss. Arch. Colls. ix. 57-59; Pepys Diary, 20 Oct. 1663; PC2/55/338; CSP Dom. 1667, pp. 539, 543.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 526, 534; 1680-1, pp. 173-4, 202, 209-10, 422, 444, 583; 1682, pp. 226, 354; Jan.-June 1683, p. 147; 1685, p. 24; 1686-7, pp. 59, 112-13; SP29/413/168; W. Holloway, Hist. Rye, 48; SP31/1/27; London Gazette, 26 Feb. 1685; PC2/72/733; PCC 77 Pett; CJ, x. 73-74.