‘Our London’: Exeter and the Glorious Revolution

For the next instalment in our Local and Community History Month study of Exeter, Dr Robin Eagles, editor of the House of Lords 1715-90, explores the constituency during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Despite the changes on the throne, Exeter’s leaders were still concerned with familiar issues…

In the 1690s the indefatigable traveller, Celia Fiennes, made a point of visiting Exeter several times during an extended tour of the West Country. From a vantage point a quarter of a mile out of the city on her return leg from Plymouth, her furthest point west, she noted being able to see

to great advantage, the cathedral and other churches’ spires with the whole town, which in general is well built, with the good bridge over the Exe.

Getting to this point had not been the easiest. She recorded that her route back had been the ‘basest way you can go’ with ‘narrow lanes full of stones and loose ground’. These were in stark contrast to the city’s ‘spacious noble streets’ and at the heart of the place the cathedral, ‘preserved in its outside adornments beyond most I have seen’; though she thought Wells cathedral rather finer.

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter

Fiennes was right to point out the significance of the cathedral in a city where the bishop, dean and chapter wielded important political influence in juxtaposition with a fiercely independent corporation, occasionally challenged by a large population of non-Anglican dissenters. It made for a sometimes challenging mix and remained a feature of city politics in the years after 1660. There was also a personal dimension to this as Exeter tended to be used as a stepping stone by bishops seeking richer sees. The first of the post-Restoration bishops of Exeter, John Gauden, consecrated in December 1660, had wasted little time in moaning about his appointment. If politically significant, the bishopric was worth just £500 a year when he claimed he needed double the amount and his residence in the city was a ruin. It didn’t help that he had had pretensions to the rather grander see of Winchester. He held the post for just over a year before securing translation to Worcester, abandoning his partially rebuilt palace in Exeter as he went. The next bishop, Seth Ward, lasted there for five years before securing the richer prize of Salisbury; his successor, Anthony Sparrow, rather longer, staying for nine years before heading off to Norwich.

Sparrow was replaced by Thomas Lamplugh, who was still in post in 1688 (a stint of a dozen years). For some time prior to that he had complained openly of the way authority was divided between the cathedral and city corporation, describing the latter as ‘our unkind and encroaching neighbours’. While the elections to the Cavalier Parliament in 1661 had (unlike those of the previous year) been peaceful and seen both seats go to relatives of the duke of Albemarle, one a former member for the city, and the other the grandson of a Jacobean MP, the elections to the first two ‘Exclusion Parliaments’ in 1679 resulted in a very different pair of representatives, both of them supported noisily by the city’s ‘fanatics’. During the election of March 1679, a commentator described the actions of one of the candidates (William Glyde, a ‘turbulent’ local brewer) who got

on the table among the clerks that took the poll, seizes some of the poll books, kicks the mayor in the shins and assaults the sheriff, and much doubt there was lest murder might be committed.

1681 had witnessed a return to candidates more acceptable to the court and Lamplugh had played a key role in the ensuing ‘Tory reaction’. At the time of the city charter being surrendered in 1684, he insisted that the new charter maintained the privileges of the church. He had then chosen to throw in his lot with James II and was one of a minority of bishops to order his clergy to read the 1688 Declaration of Indulgence. This in turn caused a falling out with the Dean, who refused the instruction insisting that “he would rather be hanged at the doors of it than that the declaration should be read there or in any part of his jurisdiction”. [Bodl. Tanner 28, f. 158]

William of Orange, Later William III
Peter Lely
National Trust, Mount Stewart

It was into this somewhat febrile melting pot that William of Orange marched his army the following month. After landing at Brixham on 5 November 1688, William’s forces had made the 30 mile journey to Exeter in stages, spending two nights in the open, before pausing to allow the troops (and horses) to recover and wait for supporters to rally to the colours. Lamplugh had chosen not to await the prince but, having preached an inflammatory sermon denouncing the invasion, retreated to London where James promptly elevated him to the archbishopric of York. William’s cavalcade would have made an intriguing sight, for along with his English, Dutch and Huguenot forces, the prince’s army also comprised Finnish troops sporting bearskins and around 200 African ‘attendants’ wearing embroidered caps surmounted by white plumes. [Vallance] William himself was described as being mounted on ‘a milk-white horse, in a complete suit of bright armour’ [Britton, Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Exeter].

From 9 to 21 November the city, which only the month before had been described by the earl of Bath, governor of Plymouth, as ‘our London’, served as William’s headquarters. He chose the more spacious Deanery over the Bishop’s Palace for his personal lodgings, and although he found the local population generally sympathetic, few people of note were willing to risk coming out in open support. He was made to wait for over a week before significant numbers of major gentry joined him there. One of the first to raise his head above the parapet was the thorough-going Tory Sir Edward Seymour who had been elected one of the city’s MPs in March 1685, having previously been Speaker of the Commons for most of the 1670s, and would continue to sit for Exeter (with one brief stint as MP for Totnes) until his death in 1708. Even Gilbert Burnet, no friend, admitted he was ‘the ablest man of his party’. Seymour ought according to almost every other calculation to have been someone on whom James could have relied. Instead, he presented himself to William on 17 November, an example that helped swing the west country behind the invaders.

In late November 1688 William’s army, boosted by significant numbers of fresh recruits, marched eastwards out of Exeter and began their journey towards London. As they went, they might have looked back on the view Celia Fiennes was to observe two miles out as she first approached the city on the road from Taunton and Cullompton, ‘up hills and down’ via lanes ‘full of stones and by the great rains just before full of wet and dirt’.


further reading:

Edward Vallance, Glorious revolution: 1688 Britain’s Fight for Liberty

John Childs, The Army, James II and the Glorious Revolution

Celia Fiennes, Through England on a side-saddle in the time of William and Mary

Read the first post in the series, exploring Medieval Exeter, here, and find other Local History blogs here.

Follow the research of the House of Lords 1715-1790 project by following @GeorgianLords on twitter and via the Georgian Lords section of our blog.

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