A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Parliamentary Representation and Politics after 1660
After the Restoration the widespread fears of a republican rising, political tensions, and watchfulness against a threat of invasion in wartime produced only occasional alarms in Beverley. In 1662 the watch was set as a safeguard against plotters and the militia was alerted; in 1666-7 the trained bands were again embodied locally before being moved to Hull in case of a Dutch attack there, alarm was expressed about horsemen riding by night, and a man was pilloried for spreading false rumours; and during the third Anglo-Dutch war soldiers were billeted on householders, provoking the usual resistance and complaint. (fn. 1) The Popish Plot revived the sense of insecurity in the town: Beckside, Norwood, and the three bars were watched at night in 1678, fears were again expressed about mysterious horsemen, and in 1679 precautions were taken against a threat to release men from gaol. (fn. 2)
Those episodes were not enough to provoke government interest in either the security of Beverley or its parliamentary representation. The town remained a gentry borough, its seats monopolized until after 1689 by the Hothams and Wartons. Their position was apparently unchallenged by strangers or ambitious townsmen and was not weakened by the government's manipulation of the membership of the corporation. (fn. 3) Sir John Hotham, Bt. (d. 1689), and Michael Warton (d. 1688), the town's M.P.s in the convention parliament, were again elected without a contest in 1661; on that occasion Warton was evidently regarded as the senior member, but the order was reversed when they were re-elected to the three parliaments of 1679-81. (fn. 4) Both members were by then identified with the parliamentary opposition. Hotham, who became an active M.P. during the 1670s, was a vigorous opponent of Danby's ministry; a sympathizer with the dissenters, he was one of Shaftesbury's 'worthy men' and a Whig Exclusionist. Warton seems originally to have been more moderate and was friendly with Sir Joseph Williamson, secretary of state, but he moved into opposition during the later 1670s, was marked 'worthy' by Shaftesbury, and voted for the first Exclusion Bill. (fn. 5)
During the 1680s political excitement in the town evidently grew. In 1683 two members of the corporation allegedly refused to subscribe to an address congratulating the king and his brother on their escape from the Rye House Plot, in which Sir John Hotham had been implicated; the king's ministers were informed by anonymous letter of a store of arms and saddles at Hotham's house. It was also alleged that in collusion with Hotham Edward Grey, a governor, had entertained burgesses and the 'fanatic party' and organized secret meetings with nonconformist clergy, in order to provoke feelings against popery and promote the candidature of Sir John for the next election. Another governor, John Dymoke, perhaps the anonymous informer, reported that he and others had been abused over the loyal address and that he disapproved of Grey's activities. (fn. 6)
Political divisions among the governors may also be reflected in a dispute with Hotham about parliamentary wages. At their first election in 1660 both Warton and Sir John agreed to serve at their own expense, but in 1681 they were asked to release the corporation from any obligation to meet their past expenses. (fn. 7) They probably refused, for in 1683 the corporation sought from them an aquittance of wages; Warton showed no resentment at the request, but Hotham replied testily, alluding to his 20 years' service and putting the blame on trouble makers. Ill feeling continued: early in 1684 the corporation refused a gift of bucks from Hotham and Warton, and more than a year later it agreed to indemnify any member sued by Hotham for monies due to him as M.P. (fn. 8) Besides that quarrel there were three other influences on the election of 1685. One was the intervention of Jeffreys, the Lord Chief Justice, who had visited Beverley in 1684 and wrote to the corporation on the eve of the election, probably to advise against the return of Hotham. The second was the action of Sir Ralph Warton, a deputy lieutenant, who rendered various services to the corporation; he was offered his freedom gratis and used his interest against Hotham. (fn. 9) The third was the removal from the corporation of known Whigs and nonconformist sympathizers, whose loyal address to James II on his accession did not save them from displacement under the newly issued charter. (fn. 10) Hotham was defeated and Michael Warton was returned with his brother Sir Ralph, whose political sympathies were Tory but who, like his experienced colleague, opposed James II's regime. Hotham unsuccessfully petitioned against the result; he was already suspected by the authorities and fled abroad in 1687. (fn. 11)
The Revolution of 1688 was politically uneventful in Beverley, although soldiers were on guard in the town in February. (fn. 12) James II's agents reported that in a parliamentary election Beverley would choose the two Wartons and that no other names had been mentioned. Michael Warton, who had not answered the notorious Three Questions, died during the summer, however, and his interest passed to his son Sir Michael Warton, who had already sat elsewhere. Sir John Hotham returned to England in the entourage of William of Orange, who appointed him governor of Hull. He was reconciled with the corporation and was returned as M.P. with Sir Michael Warton at the abortive election of 1688. Both men were again elected in January 1689 to the convention parliament, as Prince William's nominees. Hotham died in March, however, and was succeeded as M.P. by his son Sir John Hotham, Bt. (d. 1691); parliamentary wages were no longer in dispute. (fn. 13)
Another question affecting local parliamentary representation was also settled by 1689. The imprecise terms of the charter of 1573 had allowed the franchise to become confined to the corporation. During the 1660s the matter was raised publicly. Following the election of 1661 the corporation and the commonalty ordered that in future M.P.s should be chosen by the burgesses at large, who were also to assume the role in the government of the town of the 13 selected burgesses. The changes were evidently disputed; they were referred to the M.P.s and two East Riding gentlemen, whose recommendation is unknown, and the following year the order was annulled. The wording of the new charter of 1663 seems to have left the franchise with the corporation, by then purged of those whose views were deemed hostile to the restored monarchy and who may well have favoured a larger electorate less susceptible to government influence. (fn. 14) No further discussion of the franchise was recorded but the involvement of the burgesses as a whole may be indicated by references to a general assembly during the elections of 1679-81. The unusually large number of 37 new burgesses sworn on the eve of the election in 1685 suggests an expectation of voting rights for freemen. It seems clear, moreover, from the more explicit reference to a general assembly for the election of 1688 that by then Beverley had ceased to be a corporation borough. (fn. 15) Possession of the vote became more attractive after the passing of the Triennial Act in 1694, and from then to 1700 no fewer than 143 new freemen were admitted. (fn. 16) The character of the representation did not change, however: Sir Michael Warton sat in all six parliaments elected from 1689 to 1701, his brother Sir Ralph in three, and Sir John Hotham (d. 1689) and his son Sir John (d. 1691) in one each. A kinsman of the Hothams, William Gee of Bishop Burton, was also returned twice. Those elections set the seal on two dominating family interests. In all 12 parliaments between 1660 and 1701 Beverley was represented by a Warton and in four both of the town seats were held by the family; during the same period a Hotham sat in six parliaments. The patronage which they exercised undoubtedly reduced the opportunities for electoral contests and, although the keener partisanship and perhaps the wider electorate of the 1690s ushered in a period when contests would be more frequent, the interests of the two families lasted into Hanoverian times. (fn. 17)