Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitant householders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 288 in 1713


25 Sept. 1690JOHN SANFORD  vice Palmer, chose to sit for Somerset  
18 Oct. 1690ALEXANDER LUTTRELL vice Luttrell, deceased  
27 July 1698JACOB BANKS  
 John Sanford  
5 May 1708SIR JOHN TREVELYAN,  Bt.  
12 Oct. 1710SIR JOHN TREVELYAN, Bt.  
3 Sept. 1713SIR JOHN TREVELYAN, Bt.21211362
 William Benson84157
 James Milner771423

Main Article

The controlling interest at the port of Minehead lay with the Luttrells of Dunster Castle, strong Tories, who, as lords of the manor, had the right to appoint the returning officers, the two constables. In 1690 Colonel Francis Luttrell, then head of the family, was returned with Nathaniel Palmer, a Tory landowner, who had represented Minehead since 1685. On Palmer’s choosing to sit for the county, his place was taken by another Tory, John Sanford, a wealthy merchant with estates in Somerset. At a second by-election in 1690 caused by Luttrell’s death, he was replaced by his brother, Alexander, who, although a serving army officer, managed the family interest during the minority of his nephew, Tregonwell. Sanford and Alexander Luttrell were again returned in 1695, probably without a contest. Palmer had considered standing, but almost certainly desisted and was returned for Bridgwater. In 1698 there was a contest. Alexander Luttrell stood himself and for the second seat put up Jacob Banks, a naval captain of Swedish birth, who in 1696 had married his brother’s widow. Banks was opposed by Sanford, who had secured the support of one of the constables, although the Swede was standing on the Dunster Castle interest. After his inevitable defeat Sanford petitioned, accusing Banks of bribery, but his case was never heard.4

In 1701 the Luttrells were instrumental in getting a bill through Parliament enabling them to make necessary repairs to the pier at Minehead, a project on which over the next few years they lavished a good deal of money, thereby healthily sustaining their interest. Alexander Luttrell and Banks, now with a knighthood, retained the seats for the next four Parliaments. Towards the end of 1702 a report was made of the ‘extraordinary rejoicings there [Minehead] upon account of the glorious success of her Majesty’s arms at Vigo. Sir Jacob Banks, who has presented that town with her Majesty’s statue in marble, gave them two braces of does and several hogsheads of beer and cider to drink her Majesty’s health.’ Luttrell, who had succeeded his nephew to Dunster Castle in 1703, retired at the 1708 election, and in his place returned Sir John Trevelyan, 2nd Bt., a friend and neighbour, one of whose daughters was later to marry Luttrell’s eldest son. Banks continued to hold the second seat and in May 1710, at the height of the tumult over Dr Sacheverell, presented an address from the borough, which asserted their belief in the Queen’s ‘undoubted title to the crown of these realms, . . . and here, out of abundant concern for your Majesty, we cannot omit to observe how this republican principle of resistance is of late taught and maintained’. Banks and Trevelyan were re-elected in 1710, but the death of Alexander Luttrell in 1711 and the minority of his son led to a revolt against the Dunster Castle interest by a section of the voters. In 1711 William Benson†, a wealthy Whig iron merchant with an estate in Wiltshire and, opened a polemical offensive against Banks, publishing two attacks against his declared support for the doctrine of passive obedience, thereby posing as a prospective opponent at the next election. A reply to Benson was published in the same year, although not from Banks’s pen. At the 1713 election Benson stood against Banks and Trevelyan with another London Whig merchant, James Milner†. The debate on the benefits of the peace settlement to English trade was vividly reflected in the Minehead contest and gave a sharp edge to the ensuing party contest. Benson’s earlier skirmish with Banks had not been forgotten by the town’s trading community and, as the Whig Flying Post newspaper reported, ‘several of the most considerable tradesmen’ now invited him to stand. A fortnight before the election was due, Benson arrived at the town attended ‘by most of the chief merchants and dealers in the woollen manufacturers of Bristol, Taunton and Tiverton’, and was met two miles outside by ‘about 30 horse, and afterwards by all the weavers and woolcombers dressed in fine wool caps of all sorts of colours, who accompanied him into town’. They ‘thanked him for the honour he did them, and assured him that nothing should prevent them from doing their utmost to procure the town the advantage and satisfaction of being represented by one who is so well known to be a zealous friend to liberty and trade’. In a long account of the poll the Flying Post reported that the tythingman, who acted as returning officer, had made known his determination not to return Banks or Trevelyan as ‘gentlemen who had voted against the trade of England’, whereupon the constable set out to deny him any share in the execution of the precept. It was claimed that the constable, ‘who sat as sole judge’ on the side of the sitting Members, had the assistance of ‘a couple of itinerant undertakers for elections’, one a stamp officer, the other an inn-keeper from Taunton, and, despite being unacquainted with most of the townsmen, directed him as to which votes to allow or disallow. As a result, votes were accepted from customs-house officials, excise men, and salt and leather officials, none of whom had ever been permitted to vote in previous elections. However, it was not so much this, the Whigs claimed, as the intervention of the Church which had tipped the scales against them. During the poll each voter was required to prove his right to vote by producing a parish certificate kept in the church chest. But, as was alleged, the vicar ‘and one, Joseph Alloway, a Quaker and overseer of the poor . . . upon the poll produced only such certificates as were for their advantage and suppressed all those which would have disqualified any of their voters’. On the Whig side, the tythingman was stated to have acquitted himself irreproachably, even refusing ‘a great many votes’ for the Whigs Benson and Milner on hearing that they were not legally qualified. The constable, ‘without casting up the votes’, immediately declared Banks and Trevelyan elected, while the tythingman declared for Benson and Milner. A month later, the Tory Post Boy poured scorn on this account as ‘false, malicious and scandalous’ and published the constable’s poll showing a comfortable majority for the two Tories. The defeated candidates did not trouble to petition the Tory-dominated House.5

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Constable's poll
  • 2. Tythingman's poll
  • 3. Post Boy, 5–8 Sept. 1713; Flying Post, 8–10 Sept. 1713.
  • 4. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; 28879, f. 227; 28883, f. 70.
  • 5. Post Man, 19–21 Nov. 1702; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 171; W. Benson, Letter to Sir J.B.; A Second Letter to Sir J.B.; Answer to a Late Pamphlet Entitled a Letter to Sir J.B.; E. Handasyde, Granville the Polite, 130; Flying Post, 27–29 Aug., 8–10 Sept. 1713; Post Boy, 1–3 Oct. 1713.