Three Bog-Standard Cromwellian Elections: Co. Cork and its boroughs in 1654

We’re continuing our monthly local history case-studies in 2021 and for the first locality this year we’re turning our attention to Ireland. In this first instalment, Dr Patrick Little, senior research fellow in our Commons 1640-1660 project, explores electioneering in County Cork during the first Cromwellian Protectorate...

When studying parliamentary elections, historians naturally concentrate on those that went wrong. Electoral contests, faction-fights, even outbreaks of violence, generated a paper-trail that is easy to follow; and, in the mid-seventeenth century in particular, such disputes fit nicely with the general picture of rebellion, revolution and restoration. Yet even between 1640 and 1660 the vast majority of elections were uncontested. Candidates were agreed beforehand by local patrons, they received the broad approbation of the electorate and dissenters either kept away or kept their peace. Such run-of-the-mill elections took place in co. Cork in August 1654, as the county and its boroughs chose three MPs to sit in Oliver Cromwell’s first protectorate Parliament. Unusually, these elections are fairly well documented, thanks to the survival of the official indentures and of the diary of the dominant local landowner, Sir Richard Boyle, 2nd earl of Cork.

Under rules for the distribution of Irish seats, drawn up in June 1654, co. Cork was allowed to return one knight of the shire, while the larger boroughs of the county were paired in two single-seat constituencies: Cork and Youghal, Bandon and Kinsale. When news of the new arrangements reached the south-west, Lord Cork went on a tour of the county. The earl was fond of his rural rides. In managing his far-flung estates he regularly travelled from his house at Youghal westwards to Cork city and Bandon, and north to Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Mallow, usually staying with friends and relatives. He was also a keen sportsman, riding to hounds across much of the east of the county, meeting tenants and neighbours and doing business from the saddle. Electioneering was an extension of his usual round, and Lord Cork made various mentions of it in his diary. On 12 July he rode north to Fermoy, where he met his uncle, Sir William Fenton, ‘about the election’ (Cork Diary, 12 July 1654). After returning to Youghal for a few days, on 24 July he travelled west to Bandon, where, the next day, he was attended by the provost and burgesses, who ‘desired me to advise them in the election of a burgess’ (Cork Diary, 25 July 1654). On his return journey, on 29 July, he dined with Sir William Fenton, and it is hard to believe the election was not among the topics for discussion at the dinner table. It was the most informal of election campaigns.

‘The town and gardens of Bandon’ in ‘A survey of the Bandon and western districts in … the estate of his grace, the duke of Devonshire’, Bernard Scale, 1775. Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

In the elections that followed in early August, the earl’s relaxed approach paid off. The election for Bandon and Kinsale, on 2 August, bears all the hallmarks of a gentleman’s agreement. Bandon had been founded by the earl’s father, and the Boyles owned most of the property in the town, so campaigning there was a formality. Having discussed the election, the corporation readily accepted Lord Cork’s nomination of Vincent Gookin, ‘whome they afterwards upon my desier did choose’ (Cork Diary, 25 July 1654). Gookin was a man of some experience negotiating in London on behalf of the Irish Protestant community, and was on good terms with the Boyle family. His own family’s estates were near Kinsale, and his interest in that borough perhaps ensured its compliance. The election indenture was signed by prominent members of both corporations, including Thomas Dunkin, the provost of Bandon (and a Boyle tenant), and William Milner, the sovereign of Kinsale; and among the dozen other voters named were 4 or 5 more tenants of the Boyles from Bandon.

The Cork and Youghal election took place on the same day, and again the earl got his own way, with the help of Sir William Fenton, acting as broker. There are Boyle fingerprints all over the indenture. Of the twenty or so signatories, over half had connections with Lord Cork. There were three members of the Fenton family (including Sir William and his son, Maurice), two Boyle agents, four other Boyle tenants and at least one business associate, as well as the mayor and baillie of Youghal – a borough closely associated with the family, whose main residence was within its walls. The result was the election of the northern co. Cork landowner, William Jephson of Mallow, who was a veteran MP from the 1640s (sitting for the Hampshire seat of Stockbridge). Although they had had their differences during the Irish wars, by 1654 Jephson had gravitated towards the Boyle interest and was a man Lord Cork could rely on.

‘East prospect of Youghal’, c. 1750, Anthony Chearnley. In Charles Smith, i, pp 112–13. (Plate 3) -The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork. 2 vols. Dublin, 1750; reprinted Cork, 1815

The election for county came a week later, on 9 August. The indenture is damaged, but it was endorsed at least 25 signatories. Few of these were substantial figures. The only major landowners were William Hull of Leamcon near Schull (who was related to the Boyles) and Tristram Whitcombe of Kinsale; and they were joined by Charles Gookin, who represented another significant west Cork family. Why other landowners did not choose to be involved is unclear, but the Boyle interest was out in force. At least seven other signatories were Boyle tenants, and it was no surprise that the MP elected was Lord Cork’s younger brother, Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill. Broghill, who had been at the forefront of the defence of the county during the wars of the 1640s and was now close to Cromwell, was hardly a controversial choice.

Lord Cork must have greeted the results of the three elections with satisfaction. The Boyle interest had prevailed, and the MPs chosen were experienced politicians who would represent the county and the wider Irish Protestant community very effectively. All this had been achieved without any fuss. A quiet word with Sir William Fenton, a brief visit to Bandon, and the election was in the bag. Interestingly, the earl’s diary records what looks like a debriefing session in mid-August, when he was visited on 14 August by Sir William and Lady Fenton, Maurice Fenton and his wife, Lady Broghill, Major John King (son of another important Irish landowner and MP, Sir Robert King) and the new MP for Bandon and Kinsale, Vincent Gookin. Gookin left for Dublin, en route to England, the next day. He joined Jephson and Broghill, who were already in London, ready for the opening of Parliament on 3 September.


The earl of Cork’s diary (Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, CM/29) is currently being prepared for publication by the Irish Manuscripts Commission as The Diary of the 2nd earl of Cork and 1st earl of Burlington ed. Patrick Little and Coleman A. Dennehy. The election indentures for Ireland in 1654 can be found at The National Archives (C219/44).

Further reading

Patrick Little, ‘Irish Representation in the Protectorate Parliaments’, Parliamentary History 23 (2004)

For the more controversial elections of 1659, see T.C. Barnard, ‘Lord Broghill, Vincent Gookin and the Cork Election of 1659’, English Historical Review 88 (1973).

Find our previous local history blogs here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s