Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgage-holders

Number of voters:

131 in 1685


 Roger Boyle, Baron of Broghill521
15 Apr. 1661HUGH POTTER 
3 Mar. 1662ROBERT SCAWEN vice Potter, deceased 
29 Mar. 1670JOHN CLARKE II vice Scawen, deceased 
8 June 1675SIR RICHARD GRAHME, Bt., vice Clarke, deceased 
 Orlando Gee 
15 Feb. 1679SIR RICHARD GRAHME, Bt. 
 William Pennington 
28 Aug. 1679SIR RICHARD GRAHME, Bt. 
27 Mar. 1685(SIR) ORLANDO GEE114
 Hon. William Wharton702
12 Jan. 1689(SIR) HENRY CAPEL 

Main Article

The returning officer for Cockermouth was the bailiff, who was appointed in the court leet. Hence from the restoration of the borough in 1641 one of the seats was usually reserved for the nominee of the lords of the manor, the Percy earls of Northumberland and their heirs, who also held many of the burgages. Several local magnates had property interests in the borough, notably Sir Wilfred Lawson of Isel, Sir George Fletcher of Hutton (who owned one of the principal houses in the town), Sir Richard Grahme, and Lord Wharton.

All three candidates at the general election of 1660 supported the Restoration. Northumberland recommended Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle), an accomplished turncoat and a stranger to Cockermouth. Lawson himself was returned as knight of the shire, but his son Wilfred narrowly defeated Broghill for the junior seat in the borough. Richard Tolson, the heir to a small estate in Cumberland, was top of the poll; but the figures suggest widespread abstention among the burgage-holders. Broghill found another seat at Arundel; but on 19 Jan. 1661 Hugh Potter, one of Northumberland’s most trusted servants, wrote:

The boroughsmen of Cockermouth have subscribed a handsome address to his lordship apologizing for their going against his lordship’s recommendation in their last election of burgesses [Members], and promise to make choice of any his lordship shall recommend to them for the next.

In a letter to the electors Northumberland declared:

It did not a little trouble me to see the great offices I had done you so ill requited; but now from the assurances you give me I am willing to entertain better hopes of your behaviour towards me for the future, and therefore, according to the proffers you make to me. I have recommended my officer Hugh Potter, Esq. to be by yourselves chosen one of your burgesses for the approaching Parliament.

Tolson ‘having lately by his warrants assisted the excisemen against the inhabitants hath much lost their good opinions’, and Potter was returned as senior Member, with Sir Wilfred Lawson in second place. He died in the following year, and was replaced first by Robert Scawen, Northumberland’s man of business, and then by John Clarke, his auditor. The death of the 5th Earl in 1670, leaving a two-year-old heiress, weakened the Percy interest in the borough. When Clarke died, the dowager countess ignored the application of Broghill’s cousin Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones), and nominated another family servant, Orlando Gee. Fletcher set up Grahme, his step-son, who had strengthened his interest by founding a free school in conjunction with Wharton. Joseph Williamson wrote to Dean Smith, who was Fletcher’s stepfather:

Besides my ancient obligations to the house of Northumberland, who have in so many occasions countenanced me and my relatives, I am so particularly a servant of Mr Gee, a person principally employed in the affairs of that family, that I owe him all the little interest I have in my friends to serve him. He has now the interest and recommendation of that family to the vacant burgess-ship of Cockermouth, and I must beg your assistance to him, as far as it properly comes in your way.

But Grahme carried the day as a country candidate against the Percy interest.3

Lawson retired at the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, and in the Exclusion Parliaments Cockermouth was represented by Grahme and Gee. The election of February 1679 was contested by a strong loyalist, William Pennington; but Gee opposed exclusion from the first and Grahme went over to the Court, so that in 1681 no opposition was expected. After the Rye House Plot the bailiff and burgesses produced a loyal address. Grahme, who had been given a Scottish peerage as Viscount Preston, stood for the county in 1685, and Fletcher nominated for the borough his son-in-law Francis Bowes, a self-confessed Whig from county Durham, ‘whose countrymen have given a very ill character of him’. On 2 Mar. Fletcher wrote to his brother-in-law Sir Daniel Fleming:

I believe I shall please [Sir Christopher Musgrave] in my choice of a Member for Cockermouth, for since they seem so much to dislike my son Bowes I intend to propose his son. ... My Lord Wharton hath sent to see if one of his sons may be acceptable there, ... but Will Benson I think will certify him that town is engaged to me.

Musgrave already had a safe seat for his son at Appleby, and urged Fletcher to nominate either his own son Henry or Fleming. But Fletcher was determined that none of his family should stand, and eventually offered the seat to Fleming. ‘You will come in at very small charge, and have an opportunity to do yourself and family good’, he wrote. The delay had greatly strengthened the Wharton interest; Gee was comfortably head of the poll, but Fleming only scraped in by eight votes. He tipped the bailiff £10, and offered £5 more ‘in case he should not get £10 from my Lord Wharton ... for entertaining of his son William Wharton’s voters against us two’. On 22 Apr. Smith, now the bishop of Carlisle, wrote to Fleming:

There is a letter lately come down from Lord Wharton, full of acknowledgments and thanks to all and every of those persons that appeared for his son in the late election; and withal he has desired them every one to subscribe his name to a paper sent them down (in the nature of a certificate) declaring that they voted accordingly, which ... they have been a-doing ever since the letter came down, and still they are very busy about it, and wondrous jovial, care being taken by some that they want no liquor. ... It looks as if meant to question the return, and bring the matter before the committee of elections, where I trow they will meet but with little favour.

The petition was introduced on 25 May, but, as the bishop predicted, never reported.4

The Duke of Somerset, who had married the Percy heiress, fortified his interest in the summer of 1688 by a visit to Cockermouth. Sunderland recommended Gee and Pennington as court candidates. On 29 Dec. Sir John Lowther II wrote: ‘Sir Orlando Gee stands, and will not engage the Duke’s interest to hazard his own election, or increase his charge’. But he probably withdrew when he realized that the family interest was to be placed at the disposal of Sir Henry Capel, who was ‘unanimously’ returned to the Convention with Henry Fletcher.5

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Cumb. RO D/Lec 107.
  • 2. Westmld. RO, D/Ry 2890.
  • 3. D/Lec 169/1660, Potter to Benson, 19 Jan. 1661, Sir Patricius Curwen to Potter, 25 Feb. 1661; D/Lec 107, Earl of Northumberland to the burgesses, 12 Mar. 1661; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. (ser. 3), xxiv. 15; Cumb. RO, Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Tickel, 8 June 1675; CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 115.
  • 4. HMC 7th Rep. 370-1; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lowther, 22 Jan. 1681; London Gazette, 13 Sept. 1683; D/Ry 2483, Bowes to Fleming, 16 Jan. 1682; 2858, Musgrave to Fleming, 21 Feb. 1685; 2865, 2870, Fletcher to Fleming, 2 Mar. 1685; 2908, bp. of Carlisle to Fleming, 2 Apr. 1685; HMC Le Fleming, 185, 403.
  • 5. D/Ry 3217, Musgrave to Fleming, 2 July 1688; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 273; Yale Univ. Lib. Osborn mss, Lowther to Lowther, 29 Dec. 1688.