The City of Coventry: Parliamentary representation

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


'The City of Coventry: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick, ed. W B Stephens( London, 1969), British History Online [accessed 13 July 2024].

'The City of Coventry: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Edited by W B Stephens( London, 1969), British History Online, accessed July 13, 2024,

"The City of Coventry: Parliamentary representation". A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Ed. W B Stephens(London, 1969), , British History Online. Web. 13 July 2024.


Coventry was among the towns from which members were summoned to the Parliament of 1268. The city is known to have returned members in 1275 and again to the Model Parliament of 1295. (fn. 2) Coventry representatives were also returned to Edward I's Parliaments of 1298, 1301, 1302, 1305, and 1306, but apparently not to that of 1307. (fn. 3)

The city's members in 1295 - the first whose names are known - were Anketil de Coleshull and Richard de Weston; the latter was a merchant and both had been bailiffs. Men of similar standing were frequently chosen: the members in 1298, Robert Russell and Robert Kelle, were both Coventry merchants; those of 1301, Thomas Ballard and Lawrence de Schepey, were citizens of Coventry; and those of 1302, Ralph Tewe and John Russell, were a city merchant and a city justice. It is likely that Henry Bagot and Peter Baron in 1305 and Alexander de Moubray and Henry Bagot in 1306 were also prominent citizens. During Edward II's reign Coventry apparently sent special representatives to several 'Parliaments of merchants', but few names of its M.P.s are known. Richard de Spicer and a merchant, John de Langley, were returned in 1315, John de Percy and Nicholas de Hunt, a bailiff and merchant, in 1346, and Nicholas Michel and Richard de Stoke, both several times mayor, in 1353; thereafter, Coventry sent no members until 1450. During this lapse of representation, the 'unlearned' Parliament met at Coventry in 1404.

The support given by Coventry to Henry VI and the king's own apparent liking for the city (fn. 4) probably account for the reappearance of members in Parliament and for the new charter. Coventry seems to have elected her recorder, Thomas Lyttelton, (fn. 5) to the Parliament of 1450-1, (fn. 6) though the name of his fellow has not survived. The charter, the result of the king's visit to the city in 1451, seems to have been granted on the king's own initiative. (fn. 7) Subsequently the court resided in the city in 1456-7, and the Parliament which met there in 1459 was an arranged Lancastrian assembly.

The names are known of four other Coventry members returned during Henry VI's reign. (fn. 8) In 1453 one was William Elton, a royal servant; the name of his fellow is missing. Henry Butler, recorder from 1455 to 1490, (fn. 9) sat in the Parliaments of 1460-1, 1467-8, 1470-1, 1472-5, and 1478 and possibly those of 1461-2 and 1463-5. His two known colleagues were the merchant Richard Braytoft, who had four times been mayor and sat in 1460-1 and 1467-8, and the draper John Wildegryse, mayor in 1460 and M.P. in 1472-5 and 1478. It has been suggested that John Brown, a Warwickshire man and a royal servant, sat for Coventry in 1455-6 and 1459. (fn. 10)

During the 15th century the election indentures were witnessed in full county court at Coventry by from 20 to 40 burgesses; the electors thus sometimes included burgesses who were neither aldermen nor common councilmen, and the franchise may already have been enjoyed by all freemen as it was at a later period. (fn. 11) The writ of summons to Parliament was from 1459 sent direct to the sheriffs of Coventry and not to the sheriff of Warwickshire. (fn. 12)

In the absence of official returns to the Parliaments of 1482-1523, several names of Coventry members may be supplied from other sources, and it is possible that on some occasions the city followed its custom of sending the recorder. (fn. 13) Sir Robert Onley, woolman, twice mayor in the 1480s, was returned in 1485; Richard Cook, mercer, a former sheriff, was accompanied by John Smith, goldsmith and lawyer, in 1491 and by Henry Marlar, mayor in 1496, in 1495. (fn. 14) The recorder, Ralph Swyllyngton, and Richard Marlar, mayor in 1509, were the city's members in 1523; they were thanked in 1524 for relating the business of the Parliament to the city council. (fn. 15) Two of Swyllyngton's successors as recorder (fn. 16) also sat in Parliament: Roger Wigston, a Leicestershire gentleman who had previously represented Leicester, in 1529 and 1542, and Edward Saunders, serjeant-at-law, in 1542. Wigston was a prominent merchant of the staple and also, as a lawyer, an influential royal servant: it is on this last account that he may have secured election at Coventry. Wigston's colleague in 1529 was John Bond, draper, mayor in 1520, whose name appears in a parliamentary list of 1533. (fn. 17) In Edward VI's Parliament in 1547, Coventry's members were Christopher Warren, draper, mayor in 1542, and Henry Porter, the city steward; and in 1553 they were James Rogers, vintner, mayor in 1547, and John Tallants (Tallons or Talontes), goldsmith, mayor in 1545 and 1562.

It was the recorder and former M.P., Edward Saunders, who advised the mayor to proclaim Mary and not Jane in July 1553. To Mary's first Parliament Coventry sent two drapers - Thomas Bond, son of the former member, and John Nethermyll, draper, mayor in 1557, and a committed Protestant who had benefitted from the dissolution of the chantries. (fn. 18) In 1554 the members were a shearman, Thomas Kyvet, mayor in 1548, and a pewterer, Edward Davenport, who had been mayor in 1551. (fn. 19) Coventry then once more returned its recorder: Saunders's successor, John Throckmorton, sat in the Parliament of November 1554 and again in 1555 and 1558. His colleagues were successively John Harford, tanner, mayor in 1546 and 1568, and the former members Porter and Tallons.

The recorder did not sit for Coventry during Elizabeth I's reign. (fn. 20) In 1559 one of Coventry's M.P.s was Richard Grafton, chronicler, printer, and London merchant, and the other was again John Nethermyll. (fn. 21) In 1563 the city returned Grafton and one Thomas Dudley. Dudley was probably the local draper who had been mayor in 1558, but may have been the Thomas Dudley who was a servant and kinsman of the Earl of Leicester. Leicester is anyway known to have influenced elections in Coventry in the early part of Elizabeth's reign. He secured, for example, the election of Grafton in whose work he appears to have had a deep interest. Grafton was, nevertheless, probably well-known in the city through being related to the Onleys of Coventry. In 1571 one member was Edmund Brownell, mayor in 1565 and a clothier and merchant of the staple; the other, Henry Goodere, related to Leicester, was a Warwickshire gentleman and sheriff in 1570. (fn. 22) Goodere had been an active supporter of Mary Queen of Scots but was knighted by Elizabeth and became a noteworthy speaker in Parliament.

Brownell was chosen again in 1572 but soon after died and was replaced by Bartholomew Tate, a member of an old Coventry family and a county landowner. Tate's colleague, Thomas Wight (or Wright), mercer, who was also at that time mayor, was returned again in 1584. With Wight in 1584 was Edward Boughton, a county gentleman and Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1580, who was a servant of the Earl of Leicester and probably elected under his patronage. (fn. 23) After Leicester's involvement in the Netherlands his influence in Coventry appears to have waned. For the remainder of Elizabeth's Parliaments Coventry's M.P.s were unequivocably local men. In 1586 and 1588 Coventry sent Thomas Saunders, grazier, mayor in 1579, and Henry Breeres, draper, mayor in 1583. (fn. 24) Saunders sat again in both 1593 and 1597; with him in 1593 was John Myles, draper, mayor in 1580, and in 1597 Henry Kervyn, mercer, mayor in 1567. Saunders and Breeres were together again in 1601 in the last Parliament of the reign.

James I was proclaimed at the Cross in Coventry in July 1603. At the election of 1604 Breeres was again returned, along with John Rogerson, draper, mayor in 1597. Rogerson, however, was too infirm to attend Parliament and the recorder Sir John Harington took his place. (fn. 25) Harington died in 1613 and was succeeded as recorder by his son, but he too died in 1614. The new recorder was Lord Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke, and in the Parliament of that year one of the city's members was Coke's son, Sir Robert. With him sat Sampson Hopkins, draper, mayor in 1609. (fn. 26) In the Parliament of 1621, Hopkins was joined by Henry Sewall, another draper and mayor in 1606. Hopkins several times met the king who later in 1621 granted the city a new charter regulating the election of council members. Hopkins nevertheless gained himself the reputation of constantly opposing the king's affairs in Parliament. (fn. 27) In 1624 Sir Edward Coke himself was returned for Coventry together with Henry Harwell, mercer, mayor in 1619; the unsuccessful court candidate was Sir Thomas Edmonds, treasurer of the royal household.

After Charles I's accession in 1625 Coke was re-elected but chose to sit for Norfolk instead. Harwell may have been returned with him, (fn. 28) and was chosen again in 1626 along with Isaac Walden, draper, mayor in 1620. In 1628 the court party lost control in Parliament. In a strongly-contested election at Coventry, two Warwickshire gentlemen, William Purefoy of Caldecote and Richard Green of Wyken, were opposed by Walden and Alderman Thomas Potter, court candidates put forward by the city council. The sheriffs made a double return but a Commons committee found in favour of Purefoy and Green. This dispute reveals that about 600 electors may have been present at the election - a number which it is thought few boroughs could have equalled. (fn. 29)

At his death in 1633 Coke was replaced as recorder by Thomas, Lord Coventry, and when the Short Parliament was summoned to meet in 1640 Lord Coventry recommended his son-in-law, Henry Thynne, as a parliamentary candidate. The recorder died early in 1640, however, and Spencer, Earl of Northampton, succeeded him. The city council then secured the return of two aldermen, William Jesson and Simon Norton: both were dyers and had been mayors, Jesson in 1631 and Norton in 1633. As dyers, the members assisted in defeating the ends of a Coventry weaver who petitioned Parliament against the bringing in of Gloucestershire cloth to be dyed in the city. Norton was chosen for the Long Parliament later in 1640 together with John Barker, draper, mayor in 1634; Norton died in 1641 and Jesson, who was related to Barker, took his place.

Although considered to be under the court influence at this period, Coventry was thus one of those boroughs which returned M.P.s of their own choosing. (fn. 30) It seems likely, however, that Norton would have been a royalist had he lived, and Jesson, though not excluded at the purge of 1648, does not appear to have sat between then and his death in 1651. (fn. 31) Barker was certainly a staunch parliamentarian. Jointly with Norton he gave a bond for £1,000 for the loan of November 1640, and promised to supply £50 for the defence of the city in 1642. He became a colonel and governor of Coventry during the war, and mayor in 1644 when George Monck, though elected mayor for the second time, was not permitted to fill the position because of his coolness towards Parliament. Worthy of note, too, are the successful efforts made by Barker, supported by Norton and Jesson, to reduce the city's ship money rate. (fn. 32) The city's former member William Purefoy, then a parliamentary colonel, commanded a troop of horse raised in Coventry, and when the royalist recorder Northampton was killed in 1643, the parliamentary general, the Earl of Essex, was chosen in his place.

In 1645 Parliament ordered that M.P.s should give up any civil or military offices that they held; Coventry, however, unsuccessfully petitioned that Barker should remain as mayor and governor. (fn. 33) Essex resigned his commission and died later in 1645; Basil, Earl of Denbigh, succeeded him as recorder. As has been noted above Barker was one of the members excluded at the purge of 1648, and Jesson, too, does not appear to have remained in the Rump. The city's support of Barker was again shown by rioting against his exclusion. Purefoy, at this time M.P. for Warwickshire, remained and played a prominent part in Charles's trial, eventually being one of the signatories to his death warrant; under the Commonwealth he became a member of Cromwell's Council of State.

Barker was among those members readmitted to the Rump in October 1649. He was still at work in Coventry in 1652. Purefoy was constantly concerned in the city's affairs and by 1652 appears to have replaced Lord Denbigh as recorder. In 1650 he enquired into the proclamation of Charles II in Coventry. (fn. 34) The city was not represented in Barebones' Parliament, summoned in 1653, but in the following year Purefoy and Robert Beake were returned as its M.P.s. Beake, a Presbyterian alderman and draper, had been commissioned in the parliamentary army and became mayor in 1655. (fn. 35) Both were soon busy as commissioners for the ejection of ministers in Warwickshire. Purefoy was returned again in 1656. (fn. 36) When the protectorate was ended and the Rump recalled in May 1659, Barker was refused readmission.

In May 1660 Charles II was proclaimed in Coventry at the Cross apparently to the enthusiastic reception of both council and citizens, and the steward led a deputation to London with presents for the king. The steward, Richard Hopkins senior, was an active supporter of the Restoration and was later knighted; in March he had been chosen M.P., along with Robert Beake, and he was chosen again at a new election in August after a parliamentary enquiry had declared the earlier return illegal. Beake, though probably not now antagonistic to a limited monarchy, lost his place to William Jesson who had first sat for the city in 1640 and as Hopkins's brother-in-law was probably a more enthusiastic royalist. (fn. 37) At the trial of the regicides in May 1660, William Purefoy's life was spared but some of his estates were confiscated. The Restoration also brought the replacement of the recorder, Lord Chief Justice St. John, who had been chosen early in the year, by the Earl of Northampton, son of a former recorder.

The events of 1661-2 illustrate the lack of unanimity in Coventry's welcome for the Restoration. When candidates were being put forward for the election of 1661, the council refused Sir Charles Wheeler, proposed by Northampton, on the grounds that he was a royal pensioner. Consequently Sir Clement Fisher, of Packington, and Thomas Flynt, of Allesley, represented the court party and unseated Hopkins and Jesson. The Corporation Act (fn. 38) prevented the elected mayor, Thomas Hobson, an Anabaptist, from taking office in 1662 since he would not take the oaths. It is not surprising that the government felt that a strongly fortified Coventry was a threat to security and in the same year its walls were largely destroyed by order of the king. (fn. 39)

Although the more extreme dissenters had been deprived of power in local government by the Corporation Act, their influence was still to be discerned and Coventry during most of Charles II's reign was represented by Whigs. Flynt died in 1670 and his seat was taken by Richard Hopkins the younger; Sir Robert Townsend opposed him in the court interest but was unpopular in the city for not leasing Cheylesmore Park to the citizens. (fn. 40) In February 1679 another court candidate, Robert Feilding, was beaten, this time by Hopkins and the former member Beake. Hopkins and Beake voted for the first Exclusion Bill. (fn. 41) In the Parliaments of 1679 and 1681 Hopkins was joined by another Coventry man, John Stratford. The corporation likewise in 1681 refused to accept a royal nominee as recorder and elected Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, to succeed the Earl of Northampton. Hopkins actively opposed the king. He urged on the Coventry crowd which enthusiastically greeted the captive Monmouth in Coventry late in 1682, (fn. 42) and he is said to have been marked out as a malignant after Sedgemoor. (fn. 43) The council, however, was careful to send to the king in the following June an address concerning the conspiracy against him. (fn. 44)

Not unnaturally regarded as ill-affected, Coventry was forced in 1683 to surrender its charter and a number of officials and council members were removed. (fn. 45) The court also secured more acceptable M.P.s in the election of 1685 when the Tories Sir Roger Cave, of Stanford Hall (Leics.), and Sir Thomas Norton, son of the member in the Long Parliament, defeated Hopkins and Stratford. The successful candidates had enjoyed the support of Lord Brooke, (fn. 46) perhaps a moderating influence between the extreme royalists and the extreme Whigs. The council favourably impressed Lord Clarendon in December 1685: his report to court declared that despite its ill reputation the city was behind none in the kingdom in its loyalty. (fn. 47) The council spared no effort to impress James when he visited Coventry in September 1687, but more officers were replaced by royal nominees in the following year. (fn. 48) James had stayed at Hopkins's house and bestowed favours upon him, but failed to secure his support. The old charter was restored in 1688, but Hopkins was to be a firm adherent of William. (fn. 49)

In the Convention Parliament called in January 1689 Coventry was represented by the former members, the Tory, Cave, and the Whig, Stratford. At the election for the Parliament of 1690, however, Cave withdrew and Hopkins and Stratford - Williamites and Whigs - were unsuccessfully opposed by the Tory Thomas Geary, supported by the Jacobites. Later in the year William was welcomed in the city and portraits of the king and queen were bought for the council chamber.

The Tories secured the chief civic offices in 1691 and the parliamentary seats went to the Tories Geary and George Bohun in 1695. Both were local men: Geary the son of an alderman, Bohun from Coundon. The Tories maintained a strict control of the council, and prominent in their partisan disposal of favours was the use of charity money for party purposes. The purchase of the poorer freemen's votes with charity money (fn. 50) was to be a common feature at elections in the 18th century, and on several occasions the payment of such money was delayed after hard-fought elections so that the corporation might avoid imputations of bribery. (fn. 51) Since it was also able to enfranchise new voters before elections, the corporation was frequently - though by no means always - able to secure the return of 'corporation candidates', and elections were fought without much reference to national affairs on corporation and anti-corporation lines. (fn. 52)

The Whigs engineered their opponents' removal from civic office in 1695-6 and in the Parliament of 1698 the seats were shared by the two parties: Sir Christopher Hales, Bt., a Coventry man, retained one for the Tories but Geary lost the other to Richard Hopkins. This division of seats continued at the next two elections: in January 1701 with Hales and Thomas Hopkins, Richard's brother; and in November 1701, after a loyal address had been sent on William III's accession, with Hales and Edward Hopkins, Richard's son. Thomas and Edward Hopkins were both money-lenders and both members of the Kit-Cat Club; Thomas held several posts in the Whig party, and Edward was a member of the junto connexion in the House. (fn. 53) The November election had been bitterly fought and only after two false returns by the sheriffs and petitions to the House did a Commons committee declare that Hales was elected: the sheriffs had returned Henry Neale. (fn. 54)

After Anne's accession in 1702 the Tories, favoured by the queen, gained a large majority in the House which included Hales and Geary at Coventry. Hales and Geary were again chosen at a riotous election in 1705, but the Whigs gained a majority in the House and sympathetically considered petitions against the result at Coventry. Early in 1707 Edward Hopkins and Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Bt., were returned instead and a Tory petition was left unconsidered by the Commons. (fn. 55) Bridgeman was a member of a Warwickshire family. He and Hopkins were returned again in 1708.

No Whig candidates were put forward for the election of 1710; Edward Hopkins, indeed, severed his connexion with Coventry at this time and later sat elsewhere. Geary and Robert Craven were returned unopposed but within a year deaths caused two by-elections: Craven was replaced by Clobery Bromley, son of the Speaker of the Commons, and he by Sir Christopher Hales. Hales and Sir Fulwar Skipworth, Bt., a Warwickshire landowner, held the seats for the Tories in 1713. During this period of Tory ascendency the Coventry Whigs maintained an interest in Parliament through Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, who, then a Whig Secretary of State, had been chosen as Recorder of Coventry in 1710.

On his accession George I removed the Tories from power, and in a strongly-contested election at Coventry in February 1715 Hales and Skipworth were defeated by Sir Thomas Samwell, Bt., and Colonel Adolphus Oughton, two friends of the recorder. The court secured the corporation's support and corruption was widely used at this election: the poll had hitherto taken place at the Gaol Hall but was on this occasion moved to a booth erected near the Mayor's Parlour in Cross Cheaping where the corporation gave preference to Whig voters. The new members were cousins; Samwell came from Upton (Northants.) and Oughton from Fillongley. Oughton had a distinguished military career, was created baronet, and long sat for Coventry; the corporation expressed appreciation of his services to his son in 1757, 21 years after his death. (fn. 56)

In 1722 Oughton and John Neale, of Allesley, retained the seats for the Whigs in an election marked by corruption and rioting. (fn. 57) The return was declared void but a second poll did not reverse the result. A case in the King's Bench concerning the riots was still unsettled in June 1724. (fn. 58) Also in 1722 the Whig corporation chose another prominent Whig, Charles Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, to succeed Sunderland as recorder. Oughton and Neale were returned unopposed in 1727, but in 1734 Neale lost his seat to John Bird, a Coventry man whose family had introduced the silk trade into the city. Neale tried persistently to show that Bird was unqualified to sit, but in 1736 Oughton died and Bird resigned upon his appointment as Commissioner of Stamp Duties. Neale was then returned unopposed together with George Fitzroy, Earl of Euston, son of the recorder. The Whig control of Coventry's seats was weakened in 1741, however, when only Euston was re-elected; despite corruption in the swearing-in of freemen, Neale was ousted by a Coventry man, William Grove, for the Tories. (fn. 59)

Neale died in 1746 and Lord Euston in 1747; in the election of 1747 Grove was returned with a new Whig and corporation candidate, William Stanhope, Lord Petersham, without opposition. Petersham, son-in-law of the recorder, chose to sit elsewhere, however, and in the by-election the corporation used corrupt methods to secure the return of Samuel Greatheed, of Guy's Cliffe. The corporation failed to regain the second seat at the election of 1754 when Greatheed and Grove were re-elected, and the second, unsuccessful, Whig candidate was James Hewitt. Another Whig recorder, Thomas, Lord Archer, was chosen in 1757, and it was he who in 1759 conveyed to the king a corporation address on the success of the army. (fn. 60)

In 1761 the corporation candidates, Hewitt and Andrew Archer, took both seats for the Whigs. Archer was the son of the recorder, and Hewitt, son of a former mayor of Coventry, later became Lord Chancellor of Ireland and Viscount Lifford. (fn. 61) In 1766 the members were congratulated by the corporation on their conduct in the House: they had, it was said, supported the Bill for the repeal of the American Stamp Act, and upheld the principles of liberty, the constitution, and British commercial interests. (fn. 62) Hewitt was raised to the bench in 1766 and the corporation sought the help of the Earl of Hertford in finding a candidate: his son, Henry Seymour-Conway, was elected. Conway, a distinguished soldier and politician, was at this time Secretary of State and Leader of the House. (fn. 63)

Archer and Conway, the corporation candidates, defeated the Tory and anti-corporation candidate Walter Waring in 1768. (fn. 64) In the same year the recorder, Lord Archer, died and the corporation regretted the loss of 'so worthy and valuable a friend to the interest of the Whigs in general and of this corporation in particular'; he was succeeded by his son who was asked to recommend someone to replace himself as M.P. (fn. 65) Lords Grafton and Hertford were also asked for help but the corporation had difficulty in finding a candidate. In the event Sir Richard Glyn, Bt., a banker and lord mayor of London in 1759, (fn. 66) and a Tory, easily beat Thomas Nash, a London linen draper in the by-election at the end of 1768. The corporation met Nash's expenses and apparently indulged in illegal enfranchisement at the election. (fn. 67) Nash was also supported by the Duke of Portland. (fn. 68)

The corporation's influence was now on the wane. At Glyn's death in 1773 Walter Waring was returned unopposed by the Whigs, and at the election of 1774 the corporation again could get no influential support. Lord Hertford, who became recorder for a short time in 1768 before being replaced by Andrew, Lord Archer, was unwilling to help, and it may be noted that his son, Henry Seymour-Conway, this time successfully stood for Bury St. Edmunds. (fn. 69) The only eventual corporation nominee - Thomas Green, a city councillor - was easily defeated by Waring and Edward Roe Yeo, of Normanton Turville (Leics.); but the corporation had many election bills to pay. (fn. 70) Yeo was a nominee of Lord Craven. When Waring died in 1780 his seat was filled by John Baker Holroyd, who commanded a regiment then quartered in Coventry. Holroyd subsequently had a distinguished career, becoming 1st Earl of Sheffield and Viscount Pevensey in 1816, and was a leading authority on commerce and agriculture. (fn. 71)

Before the election of 1780 the corporation unsuccessfully sought the candidature of the Earl of Hertford's son, (fn. 72) who was again elected for Bury St. Edmunds, (fn. 73) and presumably the new recorder chosen two years before - the prominent Whig politician, Augustus Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton - was unable to help. Eventually Yeo and Holroyd, the anti-corporation candidates, faced two London bankers, Sir Thomas Hallifax and Thomas Rogers, in an exceptionally corrupt and violent election. (fn. 74) The corporation swore in many ineligible freemen, known as 'mushroom voters' in allusion to their appearance overnight. The return of Hallifax and Rogers was called in question and a Commons committee of inquiry appointed: the 'mushrooms' were ordered to be removed and Yeo and Holroyd were declared elected. (fn. 75) The corporation still had not met all its election expenses in January 1786, (fn. 76) and heavy expenses had also been incurred by the court party: in April 1779 £2,000 had been paid towards expenses at Coventry. (fn. 77)

As a result of the abuses at this election, the Coventry Elections Act was passed in 1781. (fn. 78) The franchise had long been reserved to freemen who had served a seven-year apprenticeship and received neither alms nor charity, and this principle was reaffirmed by Commons committees in 1702, 1709, 1710, and 1722. In 1722 the corporation had also been given the exclusive right of swearing in new freemen, a right abused at subsequent elections. In 1772 an Act was passed to enable all eligible applicants to obtain their freedom, (fn. 79) but the Act of 1781 dealt more thoroughly with enfranchisement and the conduct of elections.

Yeo died in 1782 and in 1783 William SeymourConway, son of the Earl of Hertford, was returned unopposed in his place. At the general election of 1784, however, Whig and corporation candidates regained the seats. Both sides spent heavily to gain votes and Sir Sampson Gideon, Bt., and his brotherin-law John Wilmot were narrowly successful. (fn. 80) Gideon, a Jew, was the son of a wealthy London capitalist and financier; he became Lord Eardley in 1789. Wilmot was the son of a chief justice of the common pleas and himself a master in Chancery. (fn. 81) Again supported by the corporation, Gideon and Wilmot were re-elected in 1790, but they did not stand in 1796 when an independant and a Tory took the seats. The corporation candidates retired before polling began, and William Bird, a Coventry silk merchant, and Nathaniel Jefferys, a London jeweller and goldsmith, were returned.

In 1802 Bird and Peter Moore were narrowly beaten by the Tories Jefferys and Capt. Francis Barlow, who were given corporation support. (fn. 82) Barlow was a magistrate in Yorkshire. A Commons committee found, however, that Jefferys was not properly qualified and Moore won the seat at a by-election. Moore had made a fortune in the service of the East India Company and spent about £25,000 at this election; he became a prominent Whig M.P., was known as the most adroit and successful manager of private Bills of his time, and was an active promoter of public works. (fn. 83) At Barlow's death in 1805 Moore was joined by William Mills, supported by all parties in the city, and Moore and Mills were returned again in 1806 - when they were unopposed - and 1807. Mills withdrew in 1812 and was replaced by Joseph Butterworth, a London bookseller, who gave an independent support to the government of the day. (fn. 84)

Butterworth was soundly beaten in 1818 when Moore was joined by Edward Ellice for the Whigs. (fn. 85) Ellice still represented Coventry at his death in 1863. He had worked for the Hudson's Bay Company, eventually becoming its deputy governor, and became prominent in Parliament where he was Secretary at War in 1833. He was given much political latitude by his constituents and received the second votes of Radicals and Conservatives as well as Liberal support. (fn. 86) Ellice and Moore easily held their seats in a riotous election in 1820 against William Cobbett who had just returned from America with Tom Paine's bones; the corporation with difficulty found a candidate but he had little support. Cobbett later alleged that employers threatened to discharge freemen who voted for him. (fn. 87)

Ellice temporarily lost his seat when in 1826 he and Moore, unpopular with the silkweavers over the import of foreign goods, were beaten by the Tories Thomas Fyler and Richard Heathcote, who were strongly supported by the corporation. (fn. 88) A Commons committee found that there had been much rioting at the election and that the magistrates had neglected to keep the peace; it proposed, therefore, to bring in a Bill to give the magistrates of Warwickshire concurrent jurisdiction in Coventry with those of the city. The Bill passed the Commons but was eventually withdrawn. (fn. 89) Fyler, an army officer, was the son of a London barrister; Heathcote came from Longton Hall (Staffs.). Heathcote withdrew before the election of 1830 and Ellice and Fyler were little troubled by the nomination of a Birmingham Radical who retired after polling four votes. In 1831, however, Fyler was replaced by a member more firmly pledged to support parliamentary reform - Henry Lytton Bulwer - and two Whigs were again in office. (fn. 90) Better known as Sir Henry Bulwer, the new member was later prominent in the diplomatic service. (fn. 91)

After the franchise had been extended by the Reform Act of 1832, Coventry's voters included 529 '£10-householders' as well as 2,756 enrolled freemen. Many of the new voters were freeholders who had previously had no vote at all for they were not eligible to vote with country freeholders at Warwickshire elections: some had done so at the election of 1820 but a Commons committee had found against them. The election of 1832 was violent; the Tories brought many rowdies into the city and on 10 December - 'the Bloody Tenth' - there was fierce street fighting. Ellice and Bulwer were returned by large majorities and the House disregarded petitions against them, though a committee condemned the rioting and the laxity of magistrates and sheriffs. (fn. 92) Ellice was re-elected in 1833 after his appointment to the Cabinet; it was a quiet election on this occasion for the magistrates had taken steps to keep the peace, and five booths were used in place of the traditional one.

The Municipal Corporations Commissioners in 1835 roundly condemned the part which the corporation had played in parliamentary elections. They reported that the leading object of the corporation had been to secure the return of the candidates it favoured. As a result, municipal offices had been confined to the party in power, partiality had been shown in admissions to the freedom and in the administration of justice, the maintenance of public peace had been neglected, the corporate revenues had been unduly applied to party purposes, and charitable funds had been corruptly distributed. (fn. 93)

In 1835 Ellice was returned in the face of opposition from a Conservative and a retired London merchant and Radical, William Williams. But the Radicals induced Conservatives to split their votes against Ellice who only narrowly succeeded in taking second place to Williams. (fn. 94) Ellice and Williams held their seats against two Tories and a Chartist in 1837 (fn. 95) and against a Tory in 1841. In 1847, however, the Conservatives gained a seat at the expense of Williams when George Turner, a Chancery barrister, was returned. (fn. 96) On Turner's promotion to the bench in 1851 his seat was contested by Edward Strutt, an experienced M.P. of Whig-Liberal principles, and Charles Geach, a Birmingham banker nominated by the Coventry branch of the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association. Geach's winning poll included over 600 votes from the Tories, who had no candidate. Ellice and Geach were returned unopposed in 1852.

When Geach died in 1854, the Conservatives could not find a candidate for the by-election and Ellice was joined by a second Liberal, Sir Joseph Paxton, the gardener and architect. (fn. 97) They held their seats with large majorities in 1857, against another Liberal and two Conservatives, (fn. 98) and again in 1859. The long reign of Edward Ellice ended with his death in 1863 and his seat was contested by a Conservative and a Liberal. The Conservative, Morgan Treherne, had first stood at Coventry (as Morgan Thomas) in 1832 and had contested the seat on five subsequent occasions; at last in 1863 he was successful. This swing to Conservatism was largely due to the collapse of the silk industry which was blamed on the Cobden treaty with France passed by the Liberal Government. Large numbers of Coventry working men, traditionally Liberal, now supported the Conservatives, and the local Conservative Working Men's Association was said to have amongst its numbers 500 voters. (fn. 99)

The Conservatives took the second seat in 1865 when Paxton died: the new M.P. was a London silk merchant, Henry Eaton. A month later Treherne and Eaton only narrowly secured re-election against two Liberals, (fn. 100) and in 1867, after Treherne's death, the Liberals won the seat. (fn. 101) Their candidate, a London barrister, Henry Jackson, was promptly unseated after allegations of bribery by his agents, but early in 1868 Samuel Carter confirmed the Liberal victory. A Coventry man, Carter had for many years been solicitor to the London and North Western Railway Company and the Midland Railway Company.

Later in 1868 Parliament was dissolved to give effect to the new Reform Act and the Coventry electorate was increased to nearly 8,000: 3,887 freemen, 1,078 £10-householders, 2,949 other householders, and 14 lodgers. (fn. 102) The Liberals now lost both seats to the Tories Eaton and Alexander Hill, an Oxford barrister. (fn. 103) Jackson regained one in 1874 after Hill had chosen to stand elsewhere, (fn. 104) and William Wills, head of the tobacco manufacturing firm of W. H. and H. O. Wills, took the second for the Liberals in 1880. (fn. 105) Jackson's appointment as a judge necessitated a by-election in 1881 (he in fact died before the by-election was held) and Eaton was once again returned.

Coventry was deprived of one of its seats by the Redistribution Act of 1884, and in the following year Eaton was re-elected as the first sole member. He was returned again in 1886, but after he became Baron Cheylesmore in 1887 his son narrowly lost the seat to a Liberal barrister, William Ballantine. After being unsuccessful in 1892, Charles Murray, a retired diplomatist, unseated Ballantine in 1895. Murray held the seat in 1900, but it returned to the Liberals in the person of A. E. W. Mason, the author, in 1906. The seat twice changed hands in 1910: in January John Foster defeated a Liberal, and in December David Mason, a merchant and banker, regained it.

Weakened by the events of the war, the Liberals offered little opposition in Coventry at the election of 1918. (fn. 106) Edward Manville, a consulting engineer and a coalition Unionist, won the seat for the Conservatives and the sitting member, as an Independent Liberal, came bottom of the poll; a Labour candidate made an auspicious first appearance and won over 10,000 votes. (fn. 107) Labour increased its challenge in 1922, when Manville was re-elected, (fn. 108) and won the seat in 1923: Manville only narrowly avoided finishing below both Liberal and Labour candidates. (fn. 109) Only a year later, however, A. A. Purcell at Coventry shared in the general reversal of fortune caused by the Labour government's unpopular policy; Archibald Boyd-Carpenter took the seat for the Conservatives.

Coventry followed the nation-wide trend at the elections of 1929 and 1931. P. J. Noel-Baker for Labour had a substantial majority in 1929, when the last Liberal to stand for Coventry for sixteen years mustered a still large vote. (fn. 110) In 1931, however, Noel-Baker was decisively defeated by the Conservative journalist, William Strickland. The same candidates stood in 1935 when the Conservative majority was much reduced. (fn. 111)

In 1944 Coventry was divided into two constituencies (fn. 112) and at the election of 1945 the city shared in Labour's national revival. Mr. Maurice Edelman beat Strickland in the West Division, and in the East Mr. Richard Crossman beat three opponents. (fn. 113) In 1948 three constituencies were created (fn. 114) and at the election of 1950 all were contested by the three main parties, with a Communist standing in the East Division. Edelman and Crossman were re-elected by large majorities in North and East, but another Labour member, Miss Elaine Burton, took the South only against strong Conservative opposition. (fn. 115) All three members retained their seats in 1951 and 1955 in straight fights with Conservative candidates, but Labour's combined majority in the three constituencies dropped from about 28,000 in 1951 to about 11,000 in 1955. (fn. 116)

The Conservative successes of 1959 included one at Coventry: Mr. Philip Hocking, a city councillor, took Miss Burton's seat in the South Division where Labour's hold had been the least secure. The established Labour members retained the other divisions, Crossman indeed increasing his majority; there were no Liberal candidates. (fn. 117) At the 1964 election Crossman and Edelman retained their seats and Mr. W. Wilson regained the South for Labour, defeating Hocking. Again there were no Liberal candidates but a Communist stood in the East, and an independent in the North. (fn. 118) At the 1966 election the three sitting members retained their seats. Liberal and Communist candidates contested the East. (fn. 119)


  • 1. Except where otherwise stated, this article is based on T. W. Whitley, Parliamentary Representation of City of Coventry (Cov., 1894). The Hist. of Parl. Trust has kindly supplied biographical details of some members, and has supplemented the list of members given in the Return of M.P.s.
  • 2. M. McKisack, Parl. Reptn. of Eng. Boros. during Middle Ages, 1-5.
  • 3. Ibid. 19; Whitley (Parl. Reptn. of Cov. 12, where '1306' is printed by mistake for '1307') incorrectly states that a return was made in 1307.
  • 4. V.C.H. Warws. ii. 438.
  • 5. He was recorder 1449-55 and author of the Tenures: Leet Bk. 235, 280.
  • 6. Paston Letters, ed. J. Gairdner (1910), i. 152; J. C. Wedgwood (Hist. Parl., 1439-1509: Register, 700) uses this letter (written in 1450) as evidence for the second member of 1453 whose name is missing from the torn official return, and he gives the name as Hen. Butler despite the fact that Butler did not assume the recordership until 1455; Wedgwood, moreover, suggests that 'the first recorder was the first M.P.', implying that the recordership was established by the charter of 1451.
  • 7. Leet Bk. 265.
  • 8. McKisack, Parl. Reptn. Eng. Boros. 54; Hist. Parl. 1439-1509: Register, 700; Biographies, 106, 120, 143, 299, 950; there are official returns only for 1472 and 1478.
  • 9. Leet Bk. 282, 537.
  • 10. Hist. Parl., 1439-1509: Reg. 239, 263.
  • 11. McKisack; Parl. Reptn. Eng. Boros. 54.
  • 12. J. S. Roskell, Commons in Parl. of 1422, 28n.
  • 13. Butler was followed as recorder by Ric. Empson (c. 1490-1510), Ant. Fitzherbert (1510-12), Wm. Shelley (1512-15), and Ralph Swyllyngton (appointed 1515): Leet Bk.
  • 14. Hist. Parl., 1439-1509: Biogs. 216, 649, 777.
  • 15. L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), pp. 3079-80.
  • 16. He was followed by Edm. Knightley (c. 1527), Roger Wigston (1528-41), and Edw. Saunders (1541-53 or 54): Leet Bk.
  • 17. A. F. Pollard, 'Thos. Cromwell's Parl. Lists', Bull. Inst. Hist. Res. ix. 33. Whitley (Parl. Reptn. of Cov. 37, 38) also gives Wigston and Bond as the M.P.s in 1536 but there is no official return; there is similarly no confirmation of his naming (op. cit. 38) of Hen. Over and Chris. Warren as the M.P.s of 1539. In 1542 Saunders replaced the member originally chosen who died soon after; Whitley (op. cit. 39) gives his name again as Hen. Over: the mutilated official return has only the christian name. Over, a mercer, was mayor in 1543 and was sometimes known as Waver.
  • 18. V.C.H. Warws. v. 25, 83, 175.
  • 19. 'Damper' in the official return; given as 'Dampert' or Davenport by Whitley (Parl. Reptn. 49).
  • 20. Throckmorton was succeeded as Recorder of Cov. in 1580 by Edw. Aglionby, Recorder of Warwick (Black Bk. 382), and he c. 1588 by Sir John Harington.
  • 21. Ex inf. Hist. of Parl. Trust.
  • 22. Whitley (Parl. Reptn. 56) gives both names; there is no official return but Brownell is known to have sat.
  • 23. J. E. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 212.
  • 24. Whitley, Parl. Reptn. 61.
  • 25. Whitley (op. cit. 64-65) states that Harington was almost at once raised to the peerage and that Rogerson was re-elected; this is not recorded in the official returns.
  • 26. Whitley, op. cit. 69: there is no official return.
  • 27. Cal. S.P. Dom. Add. 1625-49, 81.
  • 28. The official return gives Harwell as replacing Coke and has no second member; Whitley (Parl. Reptn. 74) states that Coke and Harwell were both returned and that no replacement was found for Coke.
  • 29. Neale, Elizabethan House of Commons, 248. For Purefoy, see G. Yule, Independents in the Eng. Civil War, 114.
  • 30. R. N. Kershaw, 'Elections for the Long Parl., 1640', E.H.R. xxxviii. 499.
  • 31. D. Brunton and D. H. Pennington, Members of the Long Parl. 64; M. F. Keeler, Long Parl., 1640-1, 288.
  • 32. Keeler, Long Parl. 96; Poole, Cov. 78. See p. 265.
  • 33. A. 14(b), 44.
  • 34. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1650, 336-7, 359, 376.
  • 35. The letter of Beake quoted by Whitley (Parl. Reptn. 115-16) as being dated 1689 is properly 1657: Mr. A. M. Mimardiere is thanked for pointing this out.
  • 36. The official return is torn; Whitley (op. cit. 96, 97) also has Beake in this Parl., and both men in that of 1659 for which there is no official return.
  • 37. A. 43, f. 22v; C.J. viii. 106.
  • 38. See p. 266.
  • 39. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661-2, 90, 185, 423-4.
  • 40. See p. 204.
  • 41. A. Browning and D. J. Milne, 'An Exclusion Bill Division List', Bull. Inst. Hist. Res. xxiii. 221.
  • 42. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1682, 380, 405, 415, 429 478.
  • 43. M. D. Harris, 'Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Edw. Hopkins', E.H.R. xxxiv. 492.
  • 44. A. 14(b), 293.
  • 45. See p. 266.
  • 46. R. H. George, 'Parl. Elections and Electioneering in 1685', Trans. R.H.S. 4th ser. xix. 171.
  • 47. A. 14(b), 323.
  • 48. Ibid. 362, 363, 374-5.
  • 49. E.H.R. xxxiv. 492-3; see p. 266.
  • 50. For the corpn.'s administration of charities, see pp. 267-70, 398-9.
  • 51. See, e.g., A. 14(b), 336; A. 14(g), 144.
  • 52. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1754-90, i. 401.
  • 53. R. Walcott, Eng. Politics in the Early 18th Cent. 204.
  • 54. Hales 777, Hopkins 771, Neale 754, Geary 615; E.H.R. xxxiv. 497-8, describes the bribery and violence used at this election.
  • 55. For a description of the election, see E.H.R. xxxiv. 501-3.
  • 56. D.N.B.; A. 14(g), 326.
  • 57. Hist. MSS. Com. 10th Rep. App. IV, 344. The rioting at this election is probably that described by Defoe: Tour through Gt. Britain, ed. G. D. H. Cole, ii. 482.
  • 58. A. 14(f), 33.
  • 59. Euston 1,299, Groves 993, Neale 919.
  • 60. A. 14(b), 25. For details of political activities of Cov. M.P.s in the latter half of the 18th cent., see Hist. Parl., Commons, 1754-90, vols. ii, iii.
  • 61. D.N.B.
  • 62. A. 14(b), 242-3.
  • 63. D.N.B., where, however, his election for Cov. is not stated.
  • 64. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1754-90, i. 401.
  • 65. A. 14(b), 325.
  • 66. D.N.B.
  • 67. A. 14(b), 349.
  • 68. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1754-90, i. 401.
  • 69. D.N.B.
  • 70. A. 14(i), 267.
  • 71. D.N.B.
  • 72. A. 14(i), 247, 531.
  • 73. D.N.B.
  • 74. C.J. xxxviii. 8, 54-58; Hist. Parl., Commons, 1754-90, i. 401-2.
  • 75. Yeo 1,298, Holroyd 1,295, Hallifax 1,178, Rogers 1,177.
  • 76. A. 14(j), 315.
  • 77. Parl. Papers of John Robinson, 1774-84 (Camd. Soc. 3rd ser. xxxiii), 58.
  • 78. 21 Geo. III, c. 54.
  • 79. 12 Geo. III, c. 21.
  • 80. Gideon 588, Wilmot 585, Holroyd 558, Conway 552.
  • 81. D.N.B.
  • 82. Barlow 1,197, Jefferys 1,190, Bird 1,182, Moore 1,152.
  • 83. D.N.B.
  • 84. Ibid.
  • 85. A MS. diary kept by the mayor during the election is in C.R.O.: A. 158.
  • 86. D.N.B.
  • 87. C.J. lxxv. 192.
  • 88. Heathcote 1,535, Fyler 1,522, Ellice 1,242, Moore 1,182.
  • 89. C.J. lxxxii. 297.
  • 90. Ellice 1,663, Bulwer 1,564, Fyler 1,151.
  • 91. D.N.B.
  • 92. See also N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel, 148-9.
  • 93. See p. 269.
  • 94. Williams 1,865, Ellice 1,601, Thomas 1,566.
  • 95. Ellice 1,778, Williams 1,748, Thomas 1,511, Hill 1,392, Bell (Chartist) 43.
  • 96. Ellice 2,901, Turner 1,754, Williams 1,633. For Turner, see D.N.B.
  • 97. D.N.B.
  • 98. Ellice 2,810, Paxton 2,384, Mellor (Lib.) 703, Treherne 599, Phillimore 356.
  • 99. H.J.Hanham, Elections and Party Management, 115-16.
  • 100. Eaton 2,489, Treherne 2,401, Flower 2,342, Jones 2,259. Two inspector's check-bks. and two marked regs. of electors for this election are in C.R.O.: A. 231.
  • 101. For an acct. of the Cov. Conservative assoc. in 1867, see Hanham, Elections and Party Management, 115-16.
  • 102. Poole, Cov. 385.
  • 103. Eaton 3,781, Hill 3,762, Jackson 3,594, Carter 3,576.
  • 104. Eaton 3,823, Jackson 3,799, Carter 3,662, Thornton 3,628.
  • 105. Jackson (by then Sir Hen.) 4,184, Wills 4,105, Eaton 4,008, Kekewich 3,715.
  • 106. As a result of legislation in this year Cov. freemen lost the parl. franchise as freemen.
  • 107. Manville 17,380, R. C. Wallhead 10,298, Sir C. Mansell (Lib.) 4,128, A. C. Bennington (Nat. Federation of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors) 3,806, Mason 3,145: The Times, 30 Dec. 1918.
  • 108. Manville 20,986, R. Williams (Lab.) 16,289, J. E. Darnton (Lib.) 11,985: The Times, 17 Nov. 1922.
  • 109. A. A. Purcell 16,356, Manville (by then Sir Edw.) 15,726, H. P. Gisborne (Lib.) 15,617: The Times, 8 Dec. 1923.
  • 110. Noel-Baker 34,255, Boyd-Carpenter (by then Sir Archibald) 22,536, J. W. Mackay 12,516: The Times, 1 June 1929.
  • 111. From almost 16,000 in 1931 to nearly 2,500: The Times, 29 Oct. 1931, 16 Nov. 1935.
  • 112. Following a review of boros. with over 100,000 electors in accordance with the Redistribution of Seats Act, 7 & 8 Geo. VI, c. 41.
  • 113. West Div. - Edelman 38,249, Strickland 23, 236; East Div. - Crossman 34,379, H. Weston (Con.) 15,630, W. Alexander (Com.) 3,986, C. Payne (Lib.) 2,830: The Times, 27 July 1945.
  • 114. By the Reptn. of the People Act, 11 & 12 Geo. VI, c. 65, sched. 1.
  • 115. East Div. - Crossman 30,456, T. Meek (Con.) 17,003, H. Davis (Lib.) 3,420, Alexander (Com.) 487; North Div. - Edelman 28,924, J. Dalley (Con.) 17,807, J. Burne (Lib.) 3,195; South Div. - Miss Burton 27,977, L. HoreBelisha (Con.) 21,885, R. Soper (Lib.) 3,239: The Times, 25 Feb. 1951.
  • 116. The Times, 27 Oct. 1951, 28 May 1955.
  • 117. Ibid. 10 Oct. 1959.
  • 118. East Div. - Crossman 36,246, I. R. E. Gow (Con.) 23,208, H. Bourne (Com.) 1,138; North Div. - Edelman 23,355, M. R. D. Heseltine (Con.) 19,825, R. S. Robinson (Ind.) 1,112; South Div. - W. Wilson 29,240, P. N. Hocking (Con.) 27,407: The Times, 16 Oct. 1964.
  • 119. East Div. - Crossman 36,757, J. Wakeham (Con.) 18,061, J. M. Mokrzycki (Lib.) 4,235, H. Bourne (Com.) 1,368; North Div. - Edelman 25,170, D. H. J. MartinJones (Con.) 17,263; South Div. - Wilson 31,237, P. N. Hocking (Con.) 25,697: The Times, 2 Apr. 1966.