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:

93, c.1670


 Richard Weston
25 Mar. 1661JOHN LEWKNOR I
31 May 1661JOHN STEWARD vice Browne, chose to sit for Surrey
21 Jan. 1670BAPTIST MAY vice Lewknor, deceased John Farrington
 William Montagu

Main Article

Midhurst was a borough by prescription in which the Viscounts Montagu of Cowdray, as lords of the borough, exercised a considerable interest. Their steward nominated the ‘homage’ or jury at the annual meeting of the capital court baron, and the homage in turn elected the bailiffs, the senior of whom acted as returning officer. As the Cowdray family was recusant its interest had to be discreetly exercised, and from Elizabethan times it was the Lewknors of West Dean who most frequently represented the borough. In 1670 the ‘burgesses’ or ‘tuppenny people’ (so called from their annual rent) were estimated at 69, but the number of votes, due probably to splitting, at 93. Non-residence did not disqualify, and John Lewknor II is said to have bequeathed 16 burgages to his heirs. However, his father as a Cavalier was ineligible at the general election of 1660, and in the Convention Midhurst was represented by William Willoughby, the younger brother of a leading Presbyterian Royalist, and John Steward, the heir of a local squire without strong political affiliations. The county historian, who saw many Cowdray papers since destroyed, gives the name of a third Member, Richard Weston. The return is missing, and the Journals do not mention a petition, but Weston, a lawyer who was returned for Weobley, may have also been a candidate in this constituency. Lewknor was returned in 1661 with Adam Browne, a distant cousin of Lord Montagu; but when the latter chose to sit for Surrey Steward regained the seat. Lewknor’s death in 1669 occasioned a contest. His son was only 11 years old, and the courtier Baptist May stood for the vacant seat. His family was of Sussex origin, one branch still residing in the county, and his cousin had sat for Midhurst in the Long Parliament. Nevertheless he was opposed by John Farrington, a kinsman by marriage, but a pillar of the country party. May was successful, and Farrington seems to have dropped his petition.1

At the first general election of 1679 John Lewknor II, though still under age by a few weeks, was elected as knight of the shire, and his interest sufficed to return his step-father Sir William Morley at Midhurst. The second seat went to John Alford, a West Sussex squire. Both Members abstained from the division on the exclusion bill, but Lewknor, who had voted against it, replaced Morley in the autumn, and was returned with Alford by ‘the major part of the burgesses’. In 1681 Lewknor in turn gave way to William Montagu, whose wife was his first cousin, and Alford to John Cooke, an obscure local gentleman. Both may have been exclusionists, and Montagu may have been responsible for a petition to the King from the bailiff and burgesses for a confirmation of their ancient privileges, which was granted. The borough, it seems, had once possessed ‘an ancient charter in the Saxon language,’ but during the Civil War it had been lent to Selden, ‘the late famous antiquary’ and a friend of Farrington’s, and it was never seen again. By 1685 Montagu had formed an adulterous connexion with Lewknor’s wife, and he stood for re-election principally ‘to disturb my destroyer’. He asserted that Lewknor had ‘declared he would spend a thousand pounds in opposing my coming in as Parliament man’, and had ‘spread abroad I was not at the charge of getting them their charter’. His application for the interest of Lord Montagu (to whom he was not related) was unsuccessful, and though he had heard that ‘all that were bailiffs and above 30 are for me’ Lewknor and Morley were returned. Immediately afterwards the bailiff and burgesses wrote to James II, congratulating him on his peaceful accession and stating that they had

endeavoured with the greatest sincerity to express our loyalty by this day choosing for Members of the ensuing Parliament (though zealously solicited to another kind of choice) such loyal gentlemen as have been approved under the extremist obloquies of the worst of times.

In 1688 James II’s agents, reporting on Midhurst, stated that

the Lord Montagu has a good interest here and may secure the election of Mr Lewknor and Mr John Mitchell [?John Michell I], or who his lordship may think fit. ’Tis desired a letter may be sent to the Lord Montagu accordingly.

Lewknor had given a qualified consent to the King’s religious policy, and Lord Montagu, now lord lieutenant, recommended that he should be restored to the commission of the peace. Nevertheless he and Morley were re-elected in 1689, probably unopposed.2

Authors: B. M. Crook / Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Cowdray Archives ed. Dibben, ii. 293, 298-300; W. Suss. RO, Cowdray mss 1960; Dallaway, W. Suss. i. pt. 2, pp. 287-8; CJ, ix. 126.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 282, 637; Cowdray Archives, i. 21; London Gazette, 13 Apr. 1685; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 441.