Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number of voters:
did not exceed 30
|19 Apr. 1754||Francis Godolphin|
|31 Mar. 1761||Francis Godolphin|
|4 Feb. 1766||William Windham vice Godolphin, called to the Upper House|
|1 July 1767||William Evelyn vice Sir John Evelyn, deceased|
|23 Mar. 1768||William Evelyn|
|James Hamilton, Earl of Clanbrassill|
|11 Oct. 1774||Francis Godolphin Osborne, Mq. of Carmarthen||24|
|Francis Cockayne Cust||6|
|CUST and YORKE vice Carmarthen and Owen, on petition, 15 Mar. 1775|
|12 Sept. 1780||Philip Yorke||3|
|Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde||O|
|Double return. YORKE and DEANE declared elected, 19 Feb. 1781|
|12 Mar. 1781||Richard Barwell vice Deane, deceased|
|30 June 1781||Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde, vice Yorke, vacated his seat||2|
|Robert Tilson Deane, Baron Muskerry||1|
|5 Apr. 1784||Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde|
|1 Apr. 1786||Roger Wilbraham vice Rogers, vacated his seat|
|27 Jan. 1787||James Bland Burges vice Hyde, called to the Upper House|
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.