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 inhabitant householders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

c.140 in 1688


5 Apr. 1660ROBERT HUNT 
 Robert Hunt 
  Double return. STRODE and SPEKE seated, 1 Apr. 1679 
1 Mar. 1681SIR JOHN ST. BARBE, Bt. 
 William Strode II 
 John Speke 
24 Mar. 1685SIR EDWARD WYNDHAM, Bt. 
 William Strode II 
11 Jan. 1689SIR EDWARD WYNDHAM, Bt.58
 William Strode II52
 John Speke50

Main Article

Ilchester was a decayed borough set amid a rich dairy-farming area but remarkable in this period only for housing the county gaol. It was governed by a corporation consisting of 12 ‘capital burgesses’ (as they liked to style themselves) and a bailiff who acted as returning officer. The representation of the borough had been restored in 1621 on the initiative of Sir Robert Phelips, and the Montacute interest dominated most of the elections in this period. However, Edward Phelips I had been a Cavalier in the Civil War, and hence under the Long Parliament ordinance neither he nor his son could stand at the general election of 1660. But Robert Hunt, who had been disabled from sitting for the borough in 1644, had demonstrated his good affection to Parliament by serving as sheriff under the Protectorate and representing the county in 1659. He was thus free to contest the borough, and was returned with Henry Dunster, a London merchant who owned property in the manor and sat on the corporation. The sitting Members stood for re-election in 1661, but Phelips’s son came top of the poll, and Hunt did not prosecute his petition against Dunster.1

Hunt and the elder Phelips stood as court candidates at the first general election of 1679 against two nonconformists from major county families, William Strode and John Speke. The county candidates were seated on the merits of the return, and re-elected in August, apparently unopposed. The younger Phelips, now a knight and owner of Montacute, was sent for as an Abhorrer in the second Exclusion Parliament, and did not dare to stand in 1681. But his interest sufficed to return two men of little standing in the county, Sir John St. Barbe, who preferred to reside on his Hampshire estate, and John Hody, of a minor gentry family. A petition from Strode and Speke could not be reported before the Oxford Parliament was dissolved.2

Strode had not given up hope, however, and in October 1681 he was reported to be improving his interest by lavish treating in expectation of a new election. When it came, in 1685, Phelips was returned with another Tory magnate, Sir Edmund Wyndham. Strode petitioned against them, but the elections committee did not report. He became a Whig collaborator later in the reign, and in December 1687 the Roman Catholic lord lieutenant, Lord Waldegrave, reported that he would certainly be chosen at Ilchester, and might also carry Thomas Rodbard, a London cheesemonger from a local yeoman family. But the King’s electoral agents were less sanguine. In April 1688 they reported:

The election is popular; consists of about 140. A new charter is requisite, in order whereunto a quo warranto is served, and the charter had been delivered, had not Sir Edward Phelips advised the contrary. They will choose Edward Strode, the sheriff, if your Majesty will permit it, and John Speke, both right men who will have interest to carry it, especially when there’s a new charter.

Henry Bridges, one of the court candidates for Wells, wrote to Sunderland:

A quo warranto being served against the charter of Ilchester, by the encouragement and persuasion of some of us the bailiff and burgesses, being twelve, came to a resolution to deliver it up, and accordingly the bailiff takes his journey to London with it next week. Ten pounds was sent ... by Sir Edward Wyndham for a randy to begin, which I doubt will hardly turn to account, Mr [William] Strode of Barrington and John Speke standing fairest with the new members [of the corporation] intended.

However there is no evidence that the charter was surrendered, or a replacement granted. In September the King was told:

Ilchester will elect John Speke and William Strode if neither of them be elected for the county. If they be, another fit man will be pitched upon. Sir Edward Phelips attempts to make an interest to oppose this election.

In fact Phelips did not stand in 1689, but Wyndham’s ten pounds proved a sound investment, for he was returned with William Helyar, a not very prominent Tory gentleman of a comparatively new family who may have been related to the bailiff, Thomas Hilliard. Strode and Speke petitioned on the grounds that 14 of the Tory voters were unqualified, but the House, on the recommendation of the elections committee, found for the sitting Members.3

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. VCH Som. iii. 185, 189; CJ, viii. 358; ix. 124.
  • 2. Som. RO, Sanford mss, Clarke to Sanford, 14 Feb. 1679; CJ, ix. 570, 581, 707.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 514; 1687-9, p. 192; CJ, ix. 727; x. 14, 124; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 18, 230, 244; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 140.