Winchelsea (UK Parliament constituency)

Winchelsea was a parliamentary constituency in Sussex, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1366 until 1832, when it was abolished by the Great Reform Act.

Former Cinque Port constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo



Winchelsea was a Cinque Port, which made it technically of different status from a parliamentary borough, but the difference was purely a nominal one, and it was considered an egregious example of a rotten borough. The constituency consisted of the town and parish of Winchelsea, once a market town and port but by the 19th century much reduced in importance, a mile-and-a-half inland with its harbour destroyed. In 1831, the population of the constituency was estimated at 772, and the town contained 148 houses.

History of corruption

The right to vote was exercised by the freemen of the town, of whom by 1831 there were just 11, even though in theory the custom was that every son of a freeman and every freeholder in the town was entitled to his freedom. With so small a number of voters, bribery was often the rule rather than the exception, though occasionally it became so blatant that the authorities were able to take steps against it. In 1700 an election at Winchelsea was declared void, an agent of one of the candidates arrested for bribery by order of the House of Commons, and the representation of the borough suspended until the end of the session. At another controversial election in 1712, the Commons committee which investigated was told that voters had been bribed with £30 each to vote for the sitting MPs, and their female connections received additional payments of half a guinea each.

Nor was the expense confined to bribing the voters. Oldfield records that in 1811, with only 11 voters to poll, the Mayor demanded – and received – a fee of £200 for his services as returning officer. However, he presumably carried out his duties more satisfactorily than his predecessor in 1624, who was "brought to the bar [of the House of Commons], and on his knees severely reprimanded, and sentenced to be committed to prison" for threatening some of the voters and corruptly excluding some others from casting their votes.[1]

Almost as troublesome was the election of 1667, when it was alleged that the Mayor had not taken the sacrament – being a communicating member of the Church of England being at that period a requirement for holding civic office – and that therefore the election he had conducted was void. The committee agreed, and proposed a motion that the MP who had been returned was not duly elected, but the whole House voted it down, and the election was allowed to stand. In 1702, again, the Mayor was taken into custody for corrupt practices, and expelled from all his offices in the Customs by resolution of the Commons, against the opposition of government ministers, in whose interests the corruption had been executed.


Winchelsea affords an unusual instance of a sitting MP wresting control of a pocket borough from its "patrons", so as to be able to be sure of securing re-election on his own account. In the first half of the 18th century, Winchelsea was a "treasury borough", that is one where the influence of the government was so strong that ministers were able to consider themselves the patrons and be sure of the power to choose both MPs. In 1754, however, one of the government candidates was an Irishman named Arnold Nesbitt. Once elected, Nesbitt began to buy houses in Winchelsea so as to secure influence over the freemen, and was so far successful that by the time of the next election it was accepted that he had the absolute command of one of the seats; indeed, when he stood well with the Treasury he was also allowed to nominate for both. For the rest of his life he successfully defended his control of Winchelsea from the free-spending of the Treasury's agents; on one occasion, it appears that the town clerk was directing the government campaign and finding himself needing more funds for the purpose than had been provided pawned the town's charters and civic regalia.

However, in 1779 Nesbitt died £100,000 in debt, and the Court of Chancery made a decree to auction his property for the relief of his creditors, but his nephew anticipating this managed to sell the Nesbitt interest in the borough back to the government's supporters (in the person of The Earl of Darlington) for the very considerable sum of £15,000, shortly before the court's decree came into force. Ministers were free once more to consider both seats at the ministry's disposal. However, Oldfield notes that Nesbitt's power in the borough was one of influence rather than of any direct property in the votes (as might have been the case in a burgage borough where the right to vote could literally be bought and sold) – and that whatever the bargain between Nesbitt's nephew and Darlington, the voters themselves were not a party to it and had still to be persuaded to co-operate. Therefore what was sold, in effect, was the unhindered right to bribe the voters without interference, the customary price by this time being apparently £100 per vote.


Winchelsea was abolished as a separate constituency by the Reform Act, but the nearby Cinque Port of Rye retained one of its two MPs, and Rye's parliamentary boundaries were extended to include Winchelsea from 1832.

Members of Parliament


ParliamentFirst MemberSecond Member
1373Robert Harry I[2]
1377Robert Arnold [3]
1378Roger Dover [4]William Skele I [5]
1381William Skele I [5]
1382 (May)Robert Harry I [2]
1382 (Oct)Henry Sely [6]
1383 (Feb)John Pulham [7]William Skele I[5]
1383 (Oct)John Pulham [7]
1384 (Apr)William Skele I[5]
1385John Pulham [7]
1386William Skele IJohn Pulham [8]
1388 (Feb)William Skele IJohn Pulham or Robert Harry I [8]
1388 (Sep)Henry SelyMatthew Goldyve [8]
1390 (Jan)William Skele IRoger Dover [8]
1390 (Nov)
1391William Skele IVincent Ewell [8]
1393Robert ArnoldThomas Bette [8]
1395Vincent Fynch IWilliam Skele II [8]
1397 (Jan)Vincent Fynch IJohn Helde [8]
1397 (Sep)
1399Roger atte GateWilliam Skele II [8]
1402Vincent Fynch IJohn Salerne II [8]
1403Walter Young
1404 (Jan)
1404 (Oct)
1406Vincent Fynch IIJohn Worton [8]
1407John Salerne IIRobert Fishlake [8]
1410Roger atte GateJohn Tunstall [8]
1413 (Feb)
1413 (May)Roger atte GateThomas Young [8]
1414 (Apr)
1414 (Nov)Roger atte GateWilliam Catton [8]
1416 (Mar)
1416 (Oct)
1417John FrenchWilliam Catton [8]
1419John FrenchJohn Tamworth [8]
1420Edward HopyereRoger atte Gate [8]
1421 (May)Thomas ThunderWilliam Catton [8]
1421 (Dec)Alexander BeuleyRoger atte Gate [8]
1425Thomas Young
1449–1450John Greenford
1495Richard Barkeley
1497Richard Barkeley
1510Thomas AshburnhamRobert Sparrow [9]
1512?John Ashburnham I?Robert Sparrow [9]
1515?John Ashburnham I?Robert Sparrow [9]
1523Thomas AshburnhamRobert Sparrow [9]
1529Thomas EnsingGeorge Lowys [9]
1536?Thomas Ensing?George Lowys [9]
1539not known[9]
1542John BellPhilip Chute[9]
1545Philip ChuteThomas Hynxstend[9]
1547John RowlandJohn More[9]
1553 (Mar)William EglestonMichael Blount[9]
1553 (Oct)Sir Henry CrispeWilliam Roper[9]
1554 (Apr)Cyriak PetytJoseph Beverleey[9]
1554 (Nov)William EglestonJohn Cheyne II[9]
1555Thomas SmithJohn Peyton[9]
1558Sir George HowardJohn Fowler[9]
1559Goddard WhiteHenry Fane[10]
1562/3Richard ChambersHenry Fane [10]
1566Henry Cobham replaced ?Chambers, ?deceased [10]
1571Thomas WilfordRobert Eyre [10]
1572Thomas WilfordRichard Barry [10]
1584Giles FletcherHerbert Pelham [10]
1586Adam MoyleThomas Egleston [10]
1588/9Adam MoyleHerbert Morley [10]
1593Adam AshburnhamAshburnham Pecke [10]
1597Ralph EwensThomas Colepeper [10]
1601Moyle FinchHugh Beeston [10]
1604Adam WhiteThomas Unton
1614William BingeThomas Godfrey
1621Thomas FinchEdward Nicholas
1624John FinchEdward Nicholas
1625Roger TwysdenSir Ralph Freeman
1626Roger TwysdenSir Nicholas Saunders
1628Sir William TwysdenSir Ralph Freeman
1629–1640No parliaments summoned

MPs 1640–1832

YearFirst memberFirst partySecond memberSecond party
April 1640 Nicholas Crisp [11]Royalist John Finch
November 1640 John FinchParliamentarian
1641 William SmithRoyalist
September 1642 Finch died – seat left vacant
January 1644 Smith disabled from sitting – seat vacant
1645 Henry Oxenden Samuel Gott
December 1648 Oxenden and Gott excluded in Pride's Purge – both seats vacant
1653 Winchelsea was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 John Busbridge Robert Fowle
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 William Howard Samuel Gott
1661 Sir Nicholas Crisp Francis Finch
1666 Robert Austen
February 1678 Sir John Banks
March 1678 Cresheld Draper
1681 Sir Stephen Lennard
1685 The Earl of Middleton
1689 Robert Austen Samuel Western
1696 Sir George Chute
1698 John Hayes Robert Bristow I
January 1701 Thomas Newport
November 1701 John Hayes Robert Austen
1702 George Clarke James Hayes
1705 George Dodington [12]
May 1708 Sir Francis Dashwood
December 1708 Robert Bristow II
1713 George Dodington
1715 George Bubb [13]
1722 Thomas Townshend
1727 John Scrope [14]
February 1728 Sir Archer Croft [15]
April 1728 Peter Walter
1734 Edmund Hungate Beaghan
1738 Robert Bristow III
1741 The Viscount Doneraile Thomas Orby Hunter
1747 Lieutenant Colonel John Mordaunt
1754 Arnold Nesbitt
1759 Lieutenant Colonel George Gray
1760 Thomas Orby Hunter
March 1761 The Earl of Thomond
December 1761 (Sir) Thomas Sewell [16]
1768 The Earl of Thomond
1770 Arnold Nesbitt [17]
August 1774 William Nedham
October 1774 Charles Wolfran Cornwall
1775 William Nedham
1780 John Nesbitt
1784 William Nedham
1790 Viscount Barnard Richard Barwell
1792 Sir Frederick Fletcher-Vane
1794 John Hiley Addington Tory
May 1796 William Currie
December 1796 William Devaynes
1802 Robert Ladbroke Whig William Moffat Whig
1806 Sir Frederick Fletcher-Vane Whig Calverley Bewicke Whig
1807 Sir Oswald Mosley Whig
1812 William Vane [18] Whig
1815 Henry Brougham Whig
1816 Viscount Barnard Whig
1818 George Galway Mills Whig
1820 Lucius Concannon Whig
1823 William Leader Whig
1826 Viscount Howick Whig
February 1830 John Williams Whig
July 1830 Henry Dundas Tory
April 1831 Stephen Lushington [19] Whig
July 1831 James Brougham Whig
1832 Constituency abolished


  1. The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland. V. 1816. p. 405.
  2. "HARRY, Robert I, of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  3. "ARNOLD, Robert (d.c.1408), of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  4. "DOVER, Roger, of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  5. "SKELE, William I (d.c.1410), of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  6. "SELY (CELY), Henry, of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  7. "PULHAM, John, of Winchelsea, Suss. | History of Parliament Online".
  8. "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  9. "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  10. "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  11. Expelled for being a monopolist, February 1641
  12. Dodington was re-elected in 1708, but had also been elected for Bridgwater, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Winchelsea again
  13. Adopted the surname Dodington around 1720. He was re-elected in 1722, but had also been elected for Bridgwater, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Winchelsea again
  14. Scrope was also elected for Bristol, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Winchelsea
  15. Croft was also elected for Bere Alston, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Winchelsea
  16. Knighted on being appointed Master of the Rolls, 1764
  17. Nesbitt was re-elected in 1774, but had also been elected for Cricklade, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Winchelsea again
  18. Assumed the surname Powlett by Royal Licence in 1813
  19. Lushington was also elected for Ilchester, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Winchelsea


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