Cavan borough was enfranchised by a 1611 charter of 8 Jas I. This envisaged a corporation consisting of a sovereign, two portreeves, 12 burgesses and all the freemen of the borough with the power to return two MPs to parliament. The freemen soon ceased to be appointed, and the election of MPs became vested in the burgesses only. At the beginning of the century the representation was more varied than it subsequently became. Thomas Ashe (0059) sat 1692-1713, Robert Saunders (1882) 1692-1708, Joseph Addison (0010), Chief Secretary to Lord Lieutenant Warburton, 1709-13, and Charles Lambart (1190) 1713-14.
Borough elections were often the cause of bitter disputes, and agreements were sometimes entered into in an attempt to prevent this. These did not always stick, but this one did, and is a good example of such an arrangement. An agreement to share the patronage of the borough of Cavan was made between Theophilus Clements (0419) and Thomas Nesbitt (1524) signed 22 Mar. 1722:
That the said Clements; and Nesbitt shall be sovereign, year about, of the said corporation. Mr Clements to be sovereign the next election, Midsummer 1723, and Mr Nesbitt the next year
That no person shall, on any pretences whatsoever be admitted to his freedom of the said corporation, without the joint consent of the said Clements and Nesbitt either personally present, or under their hands. That if any vacancy shall happen either by death or resignation of any burgess then Mr Clements shall first name the succeeding burgess, and then Mr Nesbitt successively, as they are to be sovereigns.
That although each has a right to recommend a burgess in his turn in case of any vacancy, yet the vacancy shall not be filled up, unless both approve of the person so recommended, either personally, or, in case of absence, under their hands.42
This agreement continued until the political extinction of the borough by the Act of Union, when the £15,000 compensation was divided equally between the two families. In 1790 it was reported that:
Here divided powers reign, this borough being equally shared by the treaty of partition, between the Nesbitt and Clements families. As they each wish to increase their consequence by service in the parliamentary campaign, this borough seldom ever goes to the market but one from each of these families generally represents it. The inhabitants of the town have no manner of influence in the election. Twelve Burgesses save them the trouble.93
A member of the Nesbitt family sat solidly from 1715 until the Union, while the Clements sat from 1713 to 1790 - except from 1747 to 1760, when Edward Weston (2223), Chief Secretary to Lord Lieutenant Harrington, was returned - and they did not represent the borough from 1790 until 1800. Lord Charles Fitzgerald (0728), who differed politically from his brother, the 2nd Duke of Leinster, sat from 1790 to 1797, and George Cavendish (0379) from 1798 to 1800. Both probably bought their seats from Theophilus Clements, as on 16 April 1790 Theophilus Clements and Robert Clements entered into a settlement.94 Cavan was disfranchised by the Act of Union and the £15,000 compensation paid in equal shares to Theophilus Clements and Thomas Nesbitt.95