Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 7,000


29 June 1790SIR JOHN THOROLD, Bt. 
18 Sept. 1794 ROBERT VYNER II vice Anderson Pelham, called to the Upper House 
15 May 1807CHARLES CHAPLIN I1602
 Richard Ellison955
5 Oct. 1816 HON. WILLIAM CUST vice Chaplin, deceased118
 Charles Chaplin II26
 Sir Robert Heron, Bt.2623

Main Article

There were too many aristocratic landowners in Lincolnshire, as well as too many independent freeholders, to allow of a predominant interest. Yet the peace of the county remained undisturbed from 1724 to 1807, despite some alarms, and one seat was held by one family, the Anderson Pelhams of Brocklesby, from 1774 to 1802 and from 1807 to 1823, if Robert Vyner II, who succeeded his half-brother Charles Anderson Pelham on the latter’s elevation to the peerage as Lord Yarborough in 1794, be counted as one of the family. Both Members in the Parliament of 1790 voted with opposition and, apart from talk of a challenge to their election by Sir Cecil Wray, 13th Bt., of Fillingham there was an attempt, with Pitt’s concurrence, to sponsor a friend of government in 1794. Sir Joseph Banks of Revesby Abbey demurred, opting for Vyner, and Sir Gilbert Heathcote came forward. He was, however, not quite of age, and although his claims ‘from rank, property and a sincere attachment to the constitution’ were recognized, he had at the time no residence in Lincolnshire and was persuaded to give up rather than disturb the peace: had he been returned, he might, as a minor, have been unseated on petition.1

The case against Heathcote, stated by ‘a Lincolnshire freeholder’ in a pamphlet dated July 1795, was not strong enough to keep him out, and at the ensuing general election the senior Member Sir John Thorold gave up rather than risk a contest with the wealthiest man in the county: Heathcote, who retained Pitt’s good wishes, had acquired a Lincolnshire residence and benefited from the esteem he had gained by yielding in 1794.2 In 1802, when Robert Vyner retired for health reasons, Charles Chaplin of Blankney, an unexceptionable country gentleman and respected landlord related to Lord Exeter, replaced him unopposed, encouraged by Lord Hobart, a member of the government. A declaration had at first been made by Edmund Turnor*.3 There was no contest in 1806, but the ministry regarded Chaplin as adverse to them and Lord Grenville was prepared to support Heathcote, who was a friend, and with him Sir Robert Heron*. The latter withdrew in Heathcote’s favour, having evidently acted as a standby when it was rumoured that Heathcote, who ‘if opposed must be thrown out’, would not stand a contest.4

Heathcote made ‘the strangest hodge-podge’ before the election of 1807, issuing in April an address in defence of his support of the late ministers, which he subsequently withdrew: he then retired, protesting about ‘unfounded alarms’. Richard Ellison*, the Lincoln banker, now came forward. Like Chaplin, he was a critic of the Grenville ministry, but a much more outspoken one who, although he claimed to be ‘not a Tory or a bigot’, but ‘an independent man’, relied on the ‘No Popery’ platform. Chaplin refused to coalesce with him and he was attacked by Sir Robert Heron and John Cartwright at his nomination. The vacuum in the Whig interest was filled by Lord Yarborough’s heir, who had hesitated for want of ‘either the nerves or the money’, but defeated Ellison in three days. Over a third of his supporters plumped for him and only 2,202 freeholders voted. Sir Robert Heron voiced the conventional view of Ellison’s unfitness when he declared at the county meeting that Lincolnshire should be represented by one of the landed and not the mercantile interest. A squib concurred with this view:

A borough seat

is banker’s meat

A county’s for his master.5

Heron thought of opposing Chaplin, whom he regarded as a tame supporter of every government, in 1812, but was deterred by the expense.6

When Chaplin died in 1816, the friends of government in the county thought that ‘for our sakes a Chaplin should continue to represent it for otherwise it will probably fall into the hands of Sir Robert Heron or some other opposition [man]’. Attempts were therefore made to persuade Chaplin’s heir to stand, but he would not. Heron reported:

I consulted with my friends: they all advised peace. Another vacancy was shortly expected, and this was not thought the proper one; great part of the county might resent the attempt of carrying two men of independent principles. Lord Brownlow had set up his brother, a contest was certain, and though my success was deemed sure, yet, it might be purchased by enormous expense, and the enemy might recover at the next election. The increasing indignation at W. Cust being proposed, appeared to possess all parties. The partial sheriff, obliged by a requisition (not from my friends) to call a day of nomination, had taken care to fix it the very day before the election, probably for the precise purpose of not giving me time to vacate my seat, if I should be called upon by the freeholders: this call, in fact, took place, and seemed almost unanimous with those who attended. The next day (the day of election) I went to Lincoln, and explained to the assembly the impossibility of my then acquiescing in their wishes. They applied to the sheriff to postpone the election, to give me time to vacate. C. Chaplin was then put in nomination, but having already promised his support to Cust, which he had since repented, the latter was elected with every possible mark of public disapprobation.

Even Charles Arbuthnot at the Treasury thought that Brownlow (lord lieutenant since 1809) had ‘hurried’ Chaplin into his initial refusal; but Chaplin was excused the action of his ‘indiscreet friends’. The Whigs were disappointed: Lord Gwydir’s son Peter Robert Drummond Burrell*, whom some of them wished to see come forward (which he refused to do for fear of the expense) thought that if they were active, they could return the Member. John Allen at Holland House regarded the by-election as a crucial one to ‘feel the pulse of the public’ pointing out that if Heron persevered, he came forward ‘as a Whig and a reformer, while nothing can be found less of either than his opponent Mr Cust’.7

By November 1817 Chaplin had begun a private canvass. Lord Liverpool was informed on the 19th by Frederick John Robinson*:

it seems clear that both Chaplin and Cust will come forward, and Sir Robert Heron will probably avail himself of the division which this will create amongst the friends of government, to try his chance; I do not think he would have much prospect of success, but it would be greatly to be regretted, that from a struggle between Cust and Chaplin, Sir Robert should contrive to step in. It will probably be hardly possible for government to avoid taking a part in the contest; besides the connection of Arbuthnot and Lord Westmorland with the Chaplins, both Lord Harrowby and Castlereagh have property and some influence in this county; Long also cannot be indifferent to the result of Cust’s election ... The case is certainly difficult; Chaplin ought to have stood last year, and has done himself injury by not doing so. Brownlow on the other hand is very unpopular and many persons consider his brother, having no property in the county, as totally unfit to represent it; there is in this county a very numerous body of small independent freeholders, who would ... almost universally support Chaplin, but many of his personal friends, who supported Cust last year, feel a reluctance to withdraw it now; I believe Sir Joseph Banks is of that number, and his influence is considerable.

Liverpool preferred Chaplin, and as Cust was in possession, thought it best to urge Lord Brownlow, through Charles Long*, to withdraw his brother.8

As predicted, Sir Gilbert Heathcote declining to do so, Heron came forward: on 8 Dec. 1817 he informed his principal ally, Lord Milton, ‘Chaplin has privately canvassed and publicly charged Lord Brownlow with putting him out of the way as sheriff—his friends talked of setting up another candidate against Cust in the event of his being obliged to serve the office ... Cust has since declined’. The friends of government were relieved. Heron admitted that ‘if Cust had at first given way to Chaplin’, he should not have offered, but it was now too late: the embarrassment was now on the Whig side. Heron feared that such avowed enemies of his as Sir Joseph Banks would sway the sitting Whig Member, Anderson Pelham, in Chaplin’s favour. Earl Fitzwilliam complained to his son Milton, 28 Dec. 1817, that Heron’s candidature was bound to offend his friend Anderson Pelham as it was without his concurrence, and he doubted whether Anderson Pelham would ‘tamely submit to be put in this manner completely in the background’. Anderson Pelham determined to remain neutral as between Heron and Chaplin and was annoyed to discover that, in the case of Market Deeping hundred, a joint committee for himself and Heron was canvassing. He did not feel sufficiently secure himself to commit himself to Heron and he knew that Chaplin, who was popular with the gentry and a good landlord with a stronger personal interest, was better placed than Heron, who was less prepared to employ the more expensive and effective agents and relied on the vague enthusiasm of the small independent freeholders. Attempts were made by Sir Gilbert Heathcote and Drummond Burrell to persuade Anderson Pelham to commit himself to Heron, but they were unavailing: Anderson Pelham felt that Heron’s ambition got the better of his honesty and thought that he lacked the spending power to prevent his votes from ‘flying off’ to Chaplin, who was powerfully aided by the friends of government, including Lord Brownlow. By January 1818 Anderson Pelham could allege, in a letter to Milton, ‘it is all over and Sir Robert may give it up as soon as he likes’: Heron’s desperate expedient of showing a letter of Milton’s claiming that Anderson Pelham was favourable to him got him nowhere and created bad blood. A subscription for Heron came too late. On 28 June when he threw up the sponge after 5,598 votes had been cast, he wrote: ‘Of about 2,000 freeholders left unpolled we could not depend on more than 900 and it was evident we could not recover the whole number’. He added that a Whig coalition would have succeeded and claimed that he had assisted Anderson Pelham by polling more than 700 of his plumpers for him (he retained 859): but Anderson Pelham, who bore the brunt of the contest, never forgave him. Henry Brougham, who gave every credit to Earl Fitzwilliam for supporting Heron against his inclination, thought that the Whigs should have been satisfied with one seat for the county.9

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 33979, f. 44; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), i. 229; Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss 3 Anc 9/4/1; PRO 30/8/136, f. 220.
  • 2. Thoughts of a Lincs. freeholder on the late address of Sir G. Heathcote to the freeholders of the co. of Lincoln; Ancaster mss 3 Anc 9/4/5; PRO 30/8/144, ff. 43, 45; Morning Chron. 23 May 1796.
  • 3. Bucks. RO, Hobart mss C413; The Times, 23 June 1802.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Grenville to St. John, 21 Oct. 1806; Add. 34457, f. 98.
  • 5. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 1 May; Morning Post, 7 May; Fortescue mss, Buckingham to Grenville, n.d. [May 1807]; Spalding Gent. Soc. file 6, election handbills.
  • 6. Heron, Notes (1851), 3.
  • 7. Add. 38458, f. 204; Heron, 74; Harrowby mss, Arbuthnot to Harrowby, 10 Dec.; Lincs. AO, Brownlow mss 2 BNL 26/121; Grey mss, Burrell to Grey, 1 Sept.; Fitzwilliam mss, box 85, Yarborough to Fitzwilliam, 9 Sept. 1816; Horner mss 7, f. 131.
  • 8. Add. 38269, ff. 135-6; 38458, ff. 217-19.
  • 9. Heron, 87, 93, 97, 98, 113, 148; Fitzwilliam mss, X1607 and boxes 89, 92, 199, passim; X515 passim; X516/43; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [20 Feb. 1818].