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Party Organization at the Local Level: The Norfolk Sheriff'S Subscription of 1676*

  • James M. Rosenheim (a1)



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1 Contributions to the emerging picture of party in later Stuart society include J. H Plumb, The growth of political stability in England, 1675–1725 (London, 1967); G. Holmes, British politics in the age of Anne (London, 1967); G. Holmes, The electorate and the national will in the first age of party (Kendal, 1976); W. A. Speck, Tory and whig: the struggle in the constituencies, 1701–1715 (London, 1970); H. Horwitz, Parliament, policy and politics in the reign of William III (Newark, Del., 1977).

2 See for example Witcombe, D. T., Charles II and the cavalier house of commons, 1663–1674 (Manchester, 1966); Lacey, D. R., Dissent and parliamentary politics (New Brunswick, 1969); The history of parliament: the house of commons, 1660–1690, ed. Henning, B. D., 3 vols. (London, 1983), 1, 29–44.

3 The definitive account of the elections to the Exclusion parliaments is Jones, J. R., The first whigs: the politics of the exclusion crisis, 1678–1683, rev. edn (London, 1970).

4 Jones, First whigs, chapter 7.

5 Reinmuth, H. S. Jr, ‘A mysterious dispute demystified: Sir George Fletcher vs. the Howards’, The Historical Journal, 27 (1984), 289307.

6 Ibid. pp. 306–7.

7 Jones, J. R., ‘Parties and parliament’, in The restored monarchy, 1660–1688, ed. Jones, J. R. (Totowa, N.J., 1979), p. 58.

9 Jones notes that party functioned ‘when elections were being prepared or contested’: ibid. p. 70.

10 Plumb, , Growth of political stability, pp. 43–4.

11 Jones, , ‘Parties and parliament’, pp. 48–9. In 1680, a Norfolk gentleman spoke of a meeting at a Norwich tavern which was ill taken ‘in these jealous tymes as a note of distinction & forming a party, now when there appeares no occasion’, i.e. when no election was in the offing: T. Townshend to Lord Townshend, 24 June 1680, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘1st Viscount – Felton et al.’ I am grateful to the Marquess Townshend of Raynham for his kind permission to examine this and other papers at Raynham. Reinmuth, , ‘A mysterious dispute’, p. 298, quotes Sir John Lowther of Whitehaven's concern in 1681 about ‘runing ye country into Parties’.

12 The text found in Historical Manuscripts Commission (hereafter HMC), Lothian (Blickling), pp. 122–4, dated there 12 January 1675 (i.e. 1675/6) differs slightly from an undated copy (endorsed by Horatio Lord Townshend, ‘The subscribers in 76’), Raynham Hall, uncatalogued lieutenancy papers. The Raynham copy lacks original signatures and provides only twenty-three names, all included in the printed text, which has forty. Aside from minor differences, the Raynham text contains a sentence (replaced by ellipses in the HMC text) explaining that subscribers listed in the first column would attend winter assizes, those in the second, summer assizes. Also, the Raynham, copy supplies a critical ‘not’ to the printed sentence on HMC, p. 123, which should read that the sheriff ‘shall at the Assizes…dine at an ordinary and [sc. not] make any Invitation of any Person whatsoever nor keep any undersheriff's table…’. The original text calendared by HMC has not been located among the Blickling manuscripts in the Norfolk Record Office. All quotations from the subscription have been taken from the printed text.

Beyond addressing the issue of the sheriff's expenses, this document attacks the illegal but common practice of sheriffs' farming out to bailiffs the rights of jurisdiction over the county's administrative divisions, the hundreds. This practice had reportedly ‘led to the prejudice and oppression of the Country’ (p. 122). The Webbs note the common practice of bailiffs using their authority for profit, by charging high fees and accepting bribes to exempt men from service on the hundred juries: S. and B. Webb, English local government, vol. 1, The parish and the county (repr. London, 1963), pp. 289, n. 3, 458–59. The agreement also noted that subscribers would take no profit ‘by themselves or undersheriffs for the Ballywick of the severall hundreds of this County’ (HMC, p. 123). Similarly, they promised to select carefully their undersheriffs, the professionals who performed the sheriff's non-ceremonial tasks for him. These provisions receive little space in the document, which is primarily concerned with sheriffs' expenses. There is at least one published reference to this agreement, but it understandably ignores the local political context: Minutes of proceedings in quarter sessions held for the parts of Kesteven in the county of Lincoln 1674–1695, ed. Peyton, S. A., The Lincoln Record Society, 25 (1931), xviii–xix.

13 Reinmuth, , ‘A mysterious dispute’, pp. 292–3 and also below p. 717 for the case of John Pell.

14 A letter from the council to the judges on circuit, c. 10 February 1578 is reproduced in Proceedings of the Lancashire justices of the peace at the sheriff's table during assizes week, 1578–1694, ed. Quintrell, B. W., Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 121 (1981), 171. It accuses sheriffs of ‘keaping of Tables of great charges’ ‘for a little vain reputation’, and it calls for several remedies. The Lancashire sheriff and J.P.s drew up nine orders governing expenses at assizes, similar in some provisions to the Norfolk agreement of 1676: ibid. pp. 65–6. See the statute ‘For preventing the unnecessary Charge of Sheriffs and for ease in passing their Accompts’, 14 Charles II, c. 21.

15 C[ommons] J[ournals], IX, 298–9 (26 January 1674). The bill was entrusted to a committee of forty-two M.P.s, one of them the Norfolk M.P. Sir John Hobart; the committee reported on 19 February, and the bill was ordered engrossed but was apparently lost at the prorogation: CJ, IX, 311–12. A deputation of nine M.P.s was instructed to attend the Lord Chief Baron in 1668 to learn what had been done ‘as to the Ease of the Charge of Sheriffs, and Discharging them, in the Exchequer, upon the Accompts’: CJ, IX, 52 (17 February 1668). I am grateful to Professor Norma Landau for drawing my attention to this parliamentary activity.

16 Henning, , House of commons, 1, 320.

17 Ketton-Cremer, R. W., Norfolk portraits (London, 1944), pp. 37–9; Owen Hughes to Sir Robert Southwell, 20 November and 2 December 1674, Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b. 305, ff. 24–5. The deterioration in the 1670s of Norfolk's political harmony is described in Rosenheim, J. M., ‘An examination of oligarchy: the gentry of restoration Norfolk, 1660–1720’, Princeton University Ph.D. dissertation, 1981, chapter V.

18 Henning, , House of commons, 1, 320; (copy) Sir J. Holland to Mr. Bernard, 1 April 1675, British Library (hereafter B.L.), Add. MSS 27447, fo. 342; Sir W. Cooke to W. Sancroft, 12 May 1675, Bodleian Library, MS Tanner 42, f. 148.

19 Henning, , House of commons, 1, 328; 11, 101–2; Browning, A., Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, 3 vols. (Glasgow, 19441951), 1, 206; Strange, H. Le, Norfolk official lists (Norwich, 1890), p. 4; Calendar of State Papers, domestic (hereafter CSPD) 1682, p. 55.

20 Le Strange, , Lists, p. 23; CSPD 1675–76, p. 424. In July 1675, Lord Danby wrote the judges for the Northern circuit about his concern over opposition to the excise, especially in Norfolk where J.P.s connived with brewers' attempts to elude the statutes: Calendar of Treasury books, IV, 784–85. It may be suggested that this kind of behaviour also reflected ill upon Townshend.

21 Sir John Hobart, Sir Peter Gleane, Sir James Johnson and Sir John Holland, respectively.

22 The identity of deputies and officers can be found in Norfolk lieutenancy journal, 1660–1676, ed. Dunn, R. M., Norfolk Record Society, XLV (1977), passim, and the precedent book of Edward L'Estrange, lieutenancy clerk, Norfolk Record Office (hereafter N.R.O.), NRS 27275, 372x7.

23 Nomina ministrorum for summer assizes 1675 (which numbered eighty-one non-noble J.P.s), Public Record Office (hereafter P.R.O.), ASSI 16/30/4. Cf. for dismissals the nominae for lent assizes 1676 and summer assizes 1676, ibid. ASSI 16/31/3 and 16/32/3, as well as crown office doquet book 1660–78, P.R.O., C231/7; HMC, 11th report, II (House of Lords MSS 1678–88), 185–6; and , S.N., A Catalogue of the names of all his majesties justices of the peace…according to the late alterations. To which is added, the names of all those formerly in commission, now left out (London, 1680), pp. 1415, 31.

24 Sir J. Holland to Lord Townshend, 27 March 1676, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘1st Viscount – Felton et al.’.

25 Below p. 721 for the selection of Thomas Bransby as sheriff in 1681. Grand jury lists survive for Norfolk assizes in unbroken sequence from lent assizes 1667 to summer assizes 1685 (except for lent assizes 1669 and summer assizes 1680), in P.R.O., ASSI 16/13–16/49 and in N.R.O., quarter sessions rolls, C/S3, boxes 47–56, passim.

26 Of the fifteen J.P.s purged, seven of the nine still alive at the Glorious Revolution then returned to the commission of the peace (of the other two, one came back in 1684 and one fell into obscurity). Three subscribers reappeared on grand juries after 1688; two more were first made J.P.s in 1689.

27 O. Hughes to Lady Yarmouth, 17 January 1676, N.R.O., Bradfer-Lawrence, ic, ‘Historical Original State Letters’, v. I (hereafter Paston letters). This correspondence is unfoliated. The calendared account of this letter in HMC, Sixth Report, Part I (Ingilby MSS), p. 374 merely notes that Hughes discusses an attempt by the county's ‘Grandees’ to lessen the influence of king and court ‘by a combination with a view to the future choice of Sheriffs’.

28 O. Hughes to Lady Yarmouth, 17 January 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters, vol. 1.

29 Ibid. Almost two years later, Hughes noted a subscriber's unsuccessful attempt to threaten the jury in a Norfolk Admiralty court case, ‘having had good successes by such kind of arts upon the Couvenant’: same to same, 14 December 1677, ibid. vol. 2.

30 Same to same, 17 January 1676, ibid. vol. 1.

32 Hughes' difficulties can be followed in his correspondence with Sir Robert Southwell, July 1672–July 1675, Folger Library, V.b. 305, fos. 2–38. Shortly after the sheriff's agreement was drawn up, Lord Townshend sued Hughes for libel on an action of scandalum magnatum, winning £4,000 in damages at summer assizes in 1676, largely as a result of a packed jury. Judgement was temporarily stopped, but Hughes' effort in Common Pleas during Hilary term 1677 to win a new trial or to have the judgement set aside was unsuccessful. Thereafter, Townshend apparently remitted the award; at least, there is no evidence he collected it. O. Hughes to Lady Yarmouth, 17 January 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters, vol. 1; A. Briggs to [? S. Philips], 29 November 1676, filed with sheepreeve's account, Raynham Hall, uncatalogued MSS, estate accounts 1676; Modern reports, 11, 150–67.

33 M. Peckover to Lord Yarmouth, 1 March 1676, B.L., Add. MSS 27447, fo. 354; H[enry] B[edingfield] to same, 13 March 1676, ibid. fos. 503–4; R. Doughty to same, 6 March 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters, vol. 1; same to same, 25 August 1676, ibid.

34 J. Gough to Lady Yarmouth, 17 July 1676, B.L., Add. MSS 27447, fo 364; R. Doughty to same, 15 September 1676, N.R.O., Paston Letters, vol. 1.

35 Lord Yarmouth to Lady Yarmouth, 21 January 1678, ibid. vol. 2.

34 R. Doughty to Lord Yarmouth, 25 August 1676 and same to Lady Yarmouth, 15 September 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters vol. 1. Lord Yarmouth to Lady Yarmouth, 7 November 1677, discussed his intention to have one signer made sheriff of Suffolk, which would ‘make all that party tremble & give my Lord Treasurre [Danby] & mee a formidable reputation heere’: B.L., Add. MSS 28621, fo. 30.

37 R. Doughty to Lord Yarmouth, 22 September 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters, vol. 1.

38 Sir Neville Catelyn to same, 26 January 1677, ibid. vol. 2.

39 (Copy) Lord Yarmouth to [Lord Danby], 20 February 1678 and same to Lady Yarmouth, 21 January 1678, ibid.

40 J. Gough to Lady Yarmouth, 19 July 1676 and R. Doughty to Lord Yarmouth, 15 September 1676, ibid. vol. 1. In December 1678 one of Lord Townshend's tenants was allowed £6 off his rent for livery he supplied in 1676 by Townshend's ‘particular order’: R. Walpole to P. Tubbing, 8 December 1678, filed with sheepreeve's account, Raynham Hall, uncatalogued MSS, estate accounts 1678.

41 J. Doughty to Lady Yarmouth, 16 October 1676, ibid. vol. 2.

42 Strange, Le, Norfolk lists, p. 23. Jones notes that until the discovery of the popish plot forced his hand, the earl of Danby sought by all means to avoid a general election: ‘Parties and parliament’ p. 53. For manoeuvres concerning the appointment of sheriff for 1678, see Lord Yarmouth to Lady Yarmouth, 7 November 1677, B.L., Add. MSS 28621, f. 30.

43 The sheriff Thomas Bransby's insertion in the commission of the peace in February 1680 suggests that the tories, who influenced this appointment, thought him reliable: HMC IIth report, II (House of Lords MSS), 185–6. His dismissal in March 1682 is witness to their error: Crown office doquet book 1679–1699, P.R.O., C231/8, entry for 11 March 1682. Bransby was not among the forty original signers, which indicates that new subscribers were recruited after 1676 as occasion demanded.

44 (Copy) Sir C. Calthorpe to [T. Bransby], 14 July 1681, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘1st Viscount – miscellaneous’, Henning, , House of commons, 11, 3–4. Calthorpe was Lord Townshend's cousin, and his acceptance of a deputy lieutenancy under Yarmouth, despite the dissuasive arguments of his ‘mother, brothers and all the machines in the world’, was considered by Yarmouth as a singular coup. It also provides an example of politics overriding family ties: Lord Yarmouth to Lady Yarmouth, 19 April 1676, N.R.O., Paston letters, vol. 1.

45 Sir J. Hobart to W. Windham, 2 February and 6 March 1681, N.R.O., WKC 7/6/56–7, 404x1; Sir J. Holland to Lord Townshend, 7 March 1681, Raynham Hall, box files, ’1st Viscount – Felton et al.’.

46 T. Bransby to W. Windham, 9 July 1681, N.R.O., WKC 7/11, 404x1; R. Wilson to same, 7July 1681, ibid, notes that he cannot attend assizes, but ‘for the liveryman…he shall be there’. Lord Townshend, although not a subscriber and in disgrace, apparently kept some of the livery at Raynham Hall after spring assizes: T. Felton to Lord Towshend, 31 March 1681, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘1st viscount – Felton et al.’. Lord Yarmouth to E. L'Estrange, 2 August 1681, comments on the packed jury at summer assizes: B.L., Add. MSS 27448, fo. 38.

47 Letters of Humphrey Prideaux…to John Ellis…1674–1722, ed. Thompson, E. M., Camden Society, n.s., XV (1875), 167.

48 Plumb, J. H., Sir Robert Walpole, 1, The making of a statesman (London, 1956), 48–9; Lord Townshend to R. Walpole, 6, 8, and 20 November 1704, 22 and 26 October 1705, 14 October 1706, 8 November 1707, Cambridge University Library, Cholmondeley (Houghton) correspondence.

49 Strange, Le, Norfolk lists, p. 23.

50 Evidence about the machinery for gathering whig campaign contributions is tantalisingly vague. Sir Peter Gleane, writing in 1682 of his electoral expenses in August 1679, refers to ‘the Contribution of the Country’: same to T. Townshend, 27 February 1682, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘1st Viscount – miscellaneous’. Sir J. Hobart to W. Windham, 2 February 1681, N.R.O., WKC 7/6, 404x1 mentions ‘the Subscription’ in a context which refers to elections, not the shrievalty. Sir J. Holland to Lord Townshend, 19 February 1681, explains that the ‘gentlemen’ at a whig meeting in Norwich had resolved ‘upon a subscription’ ‘in relation to the Election’, to which Holland pledged £20; Raynham Hall, box files, ‘ 1st Viscount – Felton et al.’.

51 Jones, R., ‘The first whig party in Norfolk’, Durham University Journal, n.s., XV (1953), 19. In 1666 the Norfolk lieutenancy under Townshend met at the White Horse: Dunn, , Norfolk lieutenancy journal, p. 82. Throughout the late 1670s and early 1680s, it was the Norfolk whigs' primary gathering spot: see, for example, numerous references in Sir J. Hobart's correspondence with W. Windham, N.R.O., WKC 7/6, 404x1 or Sir J. Holland's correspondence with Lord Townshend, Raynham Hall, box files, ‘ 1st Viscount – Felton et al.’.

52 Glassey, L. K. J., Politics and the appointment of justices of the peace, 1675–1720 (Oxford, 1979), chaps. 2 and 3.

* I am grateful for the suggestions and close readings of R. J. Q. Adams, Dale Knobel, Norma Landau, Claire Preston, Andrew Rosenheim, Edward Rosenheim and Patricia Stranahan Several conversations with Anthony Fletcher have particularly helped me to understand the significance of the sheriff's agreement.


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