Double Member County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 6,000


16 Apr. 1754Sir John Abdy 
 William Harvey 
8 May 1759Sir William Maynard vice Abdy, deceased 
7 Apr. 1761Sir William Maynard 
 William Harvey 
13 Dec. 1763John Luther vice Harvey, deceased2667
 John Conyers2548
29 Mar. 1768John Luther2942
 Sir William Maynard2643
 Jacob Houblon jun.2035
 Eliab Harvey1792
25 Feb. 1772John Conyers vice Maynard, deceased 
18 Oct. 1774John Luther2262
 John Conyers2155
 Drigue Billiers Olmius, Baron Waltham1013
28 Nov. 1775William Harvey vice Conyers, deceased 
11 May 1779Thomas Berney Bramston vice Harvey, deceased 
12 Sept. 1780John Luther 
 Thomas Berney Bramston 
6 Apr. 1784Thomas Berney Bramston 
 John Bullock 

Main Article

There was no dominant aristocratic influence in the county; not one son of a peer is to be found among the Essex knights of the shire 1754-90; eight country gentlemen represented the county during that period; and not one of them is known to have spoken in the House.

From 1734 till 1759 Essex was represented by Tories only. On the vacancy caused by the death of Sir John Abdy a number of prominent Essex Whigs, including Lords Barrington, Tylney and Thomond, Robert Nugent, Richard Rigby, and Matthew Fetherstonhaugh (qq.v.), met at Lord Rochford’s, 7 Apr. 1759, to consider of a candidate. But, as James West reported to Newcastle,1 all the Whigs to whom the nomination was offered ‘declined standing or giving assurances that they would stand at the next general election’. And he added: ‘Mr. Nugent is very sanguine that any Whig that would offer, might now carry it, but no one is to be found unless Government will be at the expense, which he says will be near £10,000.’ Consequently the nomination was offered to Sir William Maynard, hitherto considered a Tory, if he would stand on the Whig interest: he accepted with permission from Lord Maynard, a Tory leader, and met with warm approbation and support from Newcastle and other Whig leaders. On the Tory side there was a similar lack of candidates and reluctance to engage in an expensive, and basically meaningless, contest. Bamber Gascoyne, who till 1768 voiced the enragé Tory view, wrote to John Strutt, 13 Apr. 1759:2 ‘We shall be obliged to accept on terms of Maynard’s coming in upon the old interest ... In short it is all over with us. This snugness of our intended candidates has overturned all.’ Maynard was returned unopposed. And on 27 Sept. 1760, in anticipation of the general election, the lord lieutenant of Essex, Lord Rochford, wrote to Newcastle: ‘I have just been at the Brentwood races, where the affair of the county was decided, for Will Harvey has joined Sir William Maynard’, which made the intervention of another Tory candidate ‘sure of miscarrying’. The election was again unopposed.

William Harvey died on 11 June 1763; and the very next day John Conyers, who had hovered about as a possible Tory candidate in 1759 and 1760, turned to John Strutt (and presumably to others) for ‘friendly assistance to supply the vacancy’; and he publicly declared his candidature after John Luther, who hitherto had never been thought of as candidate by either side, had announced his own on the 18th. The Duke of Newcastle, though not personally acquainted with Luther, recommended him—‘as he stands avowedly upon the Whig interest’—to his friends among the Essex landowners and the Dissenting ministers.3 On 13 July both candidates were adopted at a county meeting; and on the 30th Newcastle wrote to Rockingham: ‘In Essex there is a spirit for the Whigs that was never seen before in that county.’ And on 2 Aug.: ‘It is quite a Whig and Tory point’—which it was, but of very restricted, local, significance: at Westminster many more ‘Whigs’ acted with the Government than with the Opposition. And Luther, no less than Conyers, applied to Grenville and Sandwich for Government support.

Grenville was determined not to take sides in the election: ‘it seems to me most desirable’, he wrote to Rochford, 16 June, ‘for every person to see what way the... inclinations of the county turn’, and bring about a general acceptance of its choice.4 Conyers, having met Grenville at Lord Thomond’s (who supported Conyers), wrote to him on 22 June:5

As you have assured me that the Administration will take no part in the election of a Member for Essex, may I presume to ask the favour of you to give me authority to convince such as are used to be directed by it, that they are at liberty to vote according to their inclinations.

Grenville replied the next day:

I expressed to you my sincere wishes that the peace of that county might be preserved if possible, and any contest be prevented by following the genuine sense and inclinations of the county, in these sentiments I still remain but ... I must beg to be excused from authorizing anybody to make any declaration upon this subject in my name or from me.

And on 25 Sept. Grenville wrote to Rochford:

As I understand Mr. Luther’s declaration in his letter to your Lordship to be a full answer to the question you asked concerning his intentions in case he should be chosen, and whether they were to support the King’s Administration, or to unite himself to those that oppose it, I shall certainly continue in the same dispositions towards him ... and shall be perfectly neuter in the ensuing election, which Mr. Luther must see it would have been impossible for me to have been, if the report which had been so industriously spread of his being adverse to us had been confirmed.6

Lord Sandwich, however, openly ‘acted for Conyers’; and on 28 Oct. told Luther that he considered himself ‘with regard to Essex as a party man’; Conyers had told him ‘that he embarked himself in my system’, and ‘meant, if he succeeded, to be a true and steady friend to this Administration’. On the other hand Luther, when pressed by Sandwich, prevaricated; declared himself generally ‘a friend to Government’; or even to this particular Administration ‘while they acted consistently’; assured Sandwich upon his honour that ‘he had no connexion with the Opposition’; but ‘in a public canvass’ had ‘to take all the assistance he could get’, though ‘he had promised nothing in return’. This is Sandwich’s account of the conversation in a letter to Richard Rigby,7 in Essex the most influential member of the Government, whom he tried to gain for Conyers. But Rigby apparently remained neutral: he himself did not vote, and in his village of Mistley nine voted for Luther and only three for Conyers. Nevertheless Luther’s success was considered a Government defeat: ‘the court lost the election by dint of Sandwich’s unpopularity’, wrote Horace Walpole.8 The Gazetteer9 asserted that it was the unanimous opinion in the county that Conyers ‘would have infallibly been elected had not the ministry made such vigorous efforts in his favour’. Perhaps the most balanced view is given in a letter from Charles Godwyn, fellow of Balliol, who had gone to Essex to support Conyers and the country interest: at first Conyers ‘was sure of success’, and the bets ‘ran two to one’ for him; but there was bad management; and ‘the odium of the court interest, which at present runs very strong in the City of London, fell entirely upon Mr. Conyers, and he lost more votes than he gained by it’.10 Excitement over Wilkes and general warrants in a county adjoining London, and hostility to Sandwich, may well have turned in Luther’s favour the narrow margin between the two fairly even groups. But the great mass of votes was determined by the landowners wherever they clearly took sides: thus at Barking (Gascoyne), the vote was 48 for Conyers and only 8 for Luther; at Terling (Strutt), 25 for Conyers and 8 for Luther; at Chipping Ongar (Richard Bull), 21 for Luther and 8 for Conyers; and at Walden (Sir John Griffin Griffin), 91 for Luther and 18 for Conyers. The expense of the election was undoubtedly high on both sides, but the figures named must be treated as illustrations rather than facts: by 1780 the English Chronicle alleged in a character sketch of Luther that ‘each party ... expended no less than £30,000’.

After this there was a natural reluctance to repeat the contest, and on 4 Nov. 1767 Maynard and Luther were nominated joint candidates at a county meeting. Still, neither carried personally much weight, and both seemed vulnerable, Maynard having voted on 27 Feb. 1767 for a 4s. land tax, and Luther having been absent from the division. Moreover there was a group of High Tories in the county who disapproved of Maynard no less than of Luther; and Bamber Gascoyne, hoping ultimately to be nominated himself, was doing his best to fan an opposition. Together with Peter Muilman, a merchant of Dutch extraction turned Essex squire, he was even spinning fantastic plans to rouse the farmers and make them demand from their landlords freedom to choose one Member truly to represent them and their interests; plans frowned upon by genuine squires.11

Attempts were made to make Conyers stand again, but he would not do so; nor several others who were approached. Then on 23 Feb. an advertisement was published over 18 signatures, calling a county meeting: the signatories were headed by Rigby, and included Eliab Harvey, Thomas Berney Bramston, Gascoyne, Jacob Houblon sen., and John Strutt (qq.v.). At the meeting Eliab Harvey and Jacob Houblon jun. were fixed upon to Gascoyne’s intense disgust; and a curious choice they were—Harvey who had voted for the higher land tax, and the insignificant young Houblon. At the last moment Maynard offered to stand down in favour of Conyers if this would secure an unopposed election, but the offer was refused. At the poll Harvey and Houblon were thoroughly defeated. Again the influence of the landlords was decisive: thus, to take the same examples as in 1763, Barking, Terling, and Mistley gave 66 votes for Harvey and 68 for Houblon, and only 7 for Maynard and 9 for Luther; while Chipping Ongar and Walden gave 125 for Maynard, 127 for Luther, 2 for Harvey, and 1 for Houblon.

On Maynard’s death, Conyers’s return in February 1772 was uncontested. In 1774 Luther and Conyers stood as joint candidates, and no opposition was expected. But at the last moment Lord Waltham, having been defeated at Maldon, sprang a surprise contest on the county. But his defeat was decisive; and the two main interests continuing their compromise, the by-elections of 1775 and 1779 and the general elections in 1780 and 1784, were uncontested.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32889, ff. 394, 402.
  • 2. Strutt mss.
  • 3. Add. 32949, ff. 214, 248, 279.
  • 4. Grenville letter bk.
  • 5. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 6. Grenville letter bk.
  • 7. 28 Oct., Sandwich mss.
  • 8. Mems. Geo. III, i. 267.
  • 9. Quoted Gent. Mag. 1763, p. 616.
  • 10. Nichols, Lit. Anecs. viii. 238.
  • 11. T. B. Bramston to Strutt, ?28 Dec. 1767.