Knaresborough (UK Parliament constituency)

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of members two until 1868, then one

Knaresborough was a parliamentary constituency which returned two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom until 1868, and then one MP until its abolition in 1885.


Before the Great Reform Act

Knaresborough was a parliamentary borough, first enfranchised by Mary I in 1553. The borough consisted of part of the town of Knaresborough, a market town in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In 1831, the population of the borough was approximately 4,852, and contained 970 houses.

Knaresborough was a burgage borough, meaning that the right to vote was confined to the proprietors of certain specific properties (or "burgage tenements") in the borough; in Knaresborough there was no requirement for these proprietors to be resident, and normally the majority were not. This meant that the right to vote in Knaresborough could be legitimately bought and sold, and, for most of its history until the Great Reform Act of 1832 reformed the franchise, the majority of the burgages were concentrated in the hands of a single owner who could therefore nominate both MPs without opposition. Nevertheless, contested elections were possible, and in 1830, when there were theoretically about 90 qualified voters, 45 people actually voted. But the landowners had other resources beyond the votes they owned, as the bailiff of the lord of the manor was also the returning officer, and of the 45 who attempted to vote in 1830 the bailiff rejected the votes of 23.

In the 16th and 17th century, the main landowners in the area were the Slingsby family, who on occasion occupied both seats themselves, though usually they found it more advantageous to allow one of their fellow county magnates to have at least one of the seats. During the latter part of the Elizabethan period, the Duchy of Lancaster also seems to have been influential – the historian Sir John Neale considered that the Duchy probably nominated at least one of the two members in each Parliament from 1584 to 1597 – but the influence of the Slingsbys was consolidated later. By the mid-18th century, ownership had passed to the Dukes of Devonshire, who retained it until the Reform Act.

After the Great Reform Act

The Reform Act extended Knaresborough's boundaries, bringing in the remainder of the town and coinciding with the boundaries established during the previous decade for policing purposes. This increased the population by nearly a third, to 6,253. Nevertheless, Knaresborough was one of the smaller boroughs to retain both its seats, and the registered electorate for the first reformed election was only 278. In subsequent years this fell further, though by the 1860s it had recovered to reach around 270 once more, and inevitably Knaresborough's representation was reduced to one MP under the Representation of the People Act 1867. The extension of the franchise by the same Act trebled the electorate.

In 1880, after a disputed election with suspicion of corrupt practices, the result was declared void and the constituency's right to representation suspended while a Royal Commission investigated; however, unlike the investigations in some other constituencies at around the same period, nothing too damning was uncovered, and a by-election to fill the vacancies was held in 1881. It proved, nevertheless, to be Knaresborough's last Parliament, for its electorate was still too low and the borough was abolished by the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885. Its electors were transferred to the new Ripon division of the West Riding, a county constituency.

Members of Parliament


ParliamentFirst memberSecond member
1553 (Oct) Reginald Beseley Ralph Scrope[1]
1554 (Apr) Edward Napper John Long[1]
1554 (Nov) Sir Thomas Chaloner Ralph Scrope[1]
1555 Henry Fisher ?Sir Thomas Chaloner or George Eden[1]
1558 Henry Darcy Thomas Colshill[1]
1558/9 Laurence Nqwell William Byrnand<[2]
1562/3 William Strickland, sat for Scarborough
repl. by
Christopher Tamworth
Sir Henry Gate, sat for Scarborough
repl. by
Robert Bowes[3][2]
1571 Sir George Bowes John Cade[2]
1572 (Apr) Francis Slingsby Richard Banks[2]
1584 Edmund Poley Francis Slingsby[2]
1586 Francis Palmes William Davison[2]
1588/9 Thomas Preston Francis Harvey[2]
1593 Samuel Foxe Simon Willis[2]
1597 (Sep) Hugh Beeston William Slingsby[2]
1601 (Oct) Henry Slingsby William Slingsby[2]
1604–1611 Sir Henry Slingsby Sir William Slingsby
1614 Sir Henry Slingsby William Beecher
1620–1622 Sir Henry Slingsby Sir Richard Hutton
1624 Sir Henry Slingsby
1625 Sir Henry Slingsby
1626 Sir Richard Hutton Henry Benson
1628 Sir Richard Hutton Henry Benson
1629–1640No Parliaments convened


Year1st Member1st Party2nd Member2nd Party
April 1640 Sir Henry Slingsby Royalist ?
November 1640 Henry Benson[4]Royalist
1641 William Deerlove[5]
March 1642 Sir William Constable, Bt. Parliamentarian
September 1642 Slingsby disabled from sitting – seat vacant
1645 Thomas Stockdale
1653 Knaresborough was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Slingsby Bethell Robert Walters
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump (Constable had died in the interim)
April 1660 William Stockdale Henry Bethell
1661 Sir John Talbot
1679 Sir Thomas Slingsby, Bt
1685 Henry Slingsby
1689 Thomas Fawkes
1693 Christopher Stockdale
1695 Robert Byerley
Mar 1714 Francis Fawkes
May 1714 Henry Slingsby
1715 Henry Coote[6] Whig Robert Hitch
1720 Hon Richard Arundell
1722 Sir Henry Slingsby, Bt
1758 Hon Robert Walsingham
1761 Lord John Cavendish Rockingham Whig
1763 Sir Anthony Abdy, Bt Rockingham Whig
1768 Captain The Hon Robert Walsingham, RN
1775 Lord George Cavendish
1780 Viscount Duncannon
1781 James Hare Whig
1793 Lord John Townshend Whig
1804 William Cavendish Whig
1805 Viscount Duncannon[7] Whig
1806 Viscount Ossulston Whig
1818 Sir James Mackintosh Whig George Tierney Whig
Feb 1830 Henry Brougham[8] Whig
Dec 1830 The Lord Waterpark Whig
Jun 1832 William Ponsonby Whig
Dec 1832 John Richards Benjamin Rotch Whig
1835 Andrew Lawson Conservative
1837 Henry Rich Whig Hon Charles Langdale Whig
1841 Andrew Lawson Conservative William Busfeild Ferrand Conservative
1847 William Saunders Sebright Lascelles Whig Joshua Proctor Brown Westhead Whig
1851 Thomas Collins Conservative
1852 Basil Thomas Wood Conservative John Dent Dent Whig
1857 Thomas Collins Conservative
1865 Isaac Holden Liberal


1868 Alfred Illingworth Liberal
1874 Basil Thomas Wood Conservative
1880 Sir Henry Meysey Meysey-Thompson, Bt. Liberal
1881 Thomas Collins Conservative
1884 Robert Gunter Conservative
1885 constituency abolished


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Bindoff, S. T., ed. (1982). The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558. Boydell and Brewer. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Hasler, P. W., ed. (1981). The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603. Boydel and Brewer. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  3. William Strickland and Sir Henry Gate were both also elected for Scarborough, which they chose to represent, and did not sit for Knaresborough
  4. Expelled, November 1641
  5. Deerlove was returned in a disputed election; the House decided in favour of his opponent, Constable, in March 1642
  6. Succeeded as The Earl of Mountrath (in the Peerage of Ireland), September 1715
  7. A by-election to replace Cavendish was held in 1804 but abandoned due to rioting, and no return was made. At the by-election held in March 1805, Duncannon received 67 votes and T.E. Wynn Belayse (the Tory candidate) received 125, but Belayse's votes came from the residents whereas Duncannon's came from the (mostly non-resident) proprietors of the burgage tenancies, and Duncannon was returned as Member
  8. Brougham was re-elected at the general election in 1830 but was also returned for Yorkshire; he was elevated to the House of Lords before having chosen which constituency he would represent in the Commons


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