A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1939.
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The county of Oxford dates as an entity only from the 10th century. Its formation as a separate shire was a result of the reconquest of the Danish portions of England by the descendants of Alfred the Great, and of the consequent settlement of the kingdom. Our information regarding the history of the district in the period which elapsed between the departure of the Romans and the coming of the Danes is very slight, and rests upon incidental references, the precise meaning of which is sometimes a matter of conjecture. The foolish love of spurious antiquity, which inspired chroniclers down to the 17th century, is responsible for the cycle of myths associated with the name of Oxford and the surrounding country; myths which have been so often investigated that it is unnecessary even to chronicle them here. (fn. 1) They can be traced ultimately to the tales of Geoffrey of Monmouth, (fn. 2) and they find their first coherent exponent in the Historia Regum Angliae (fn. 3) of John Rouse (1411 ?— 91). The foundation of Oxford by Mempric a thousand years before Christ; the pretty fancy that Cricklade's name is a corruption of Greek-lade, and that it was a home of Greek philosophy before the beginning of the Christian era; the rival claims of Oxford and Cambridge to immemorial antiquity—all these belong to a type of legend which succumbed to the first attacks of scientific history.
If we accept the evidence of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the received tradition of the conquest of Wessex, (fn. 4) the district originated, as a portion of the West Saxon kingdom, before the rise of Mercia. The early stages of the growth of the Mercian kingdom are very obscure, and we have no evidence as to the date when Oxford definitely ceased to be included in the kingdom of Wessex. If the 'Beandune', where Cynegils and Cwichelm defeated the Welsh in 614, (fn. 5) be Benton or Bampton near the Berkshire border of Oxfordshire, it is clear that at this date the power of Wessex was unbroken. Penda, the great king of Mercia, is first mentioned in the Chronicle under the year of his accession (625). Three years later it is recorded that he did battle with Cynegils and Cwichelm as far south as Cirencester, 'and afterwards came to an agreement'. One might infer that about this date the Thames came to be recognized as the boundary of Mercia, were it not for the evidence of Bede's Ecclesiastical History. In his account of the mission of Birinus to Wessex (c. 634–5), Bede makes it clear that the diocese of Dorchester originated as a West Saxon see; and it remained so for about forty years after the battle near Cirencester and the 'agreement' which resulted in a considerable loss of territory by the West Saxons. (fn. 6)
The victory of Penda of Mercia, in 644, when the Chronicle relates that he drove from his kingdom Kenwealh, who had just succeeded his father Cynegils, was of only temporary importance, and the death of Penda in 655 probably resulted in another struggle between Mercia and Wessex for the portion of England which includes the modern Oxfordshire and Berkshire. In 648 Kenwealh had given his nephew Cuthred a tract of country near Ashdown, i.e. the hilly ground between Marlborough and Wallingford. After Penda's death, Kenwealh seems to have been tempted to try conclusions with his son, Wulfhere, the new King of Mercia, and in 661 we find him fighting as far north as Pontesbury, near Shrewsbury. Wulfhere replied by a raid on the district entrusted to Cuthred, and the death of Cuthred, in the same year, is possibly connected with these ravages 'as far as Æscesdun'. Almost contemporaneously we find evidence of the end of the West Saxon see of Dorchester and of the temporary establishment of a Mercian see (679); (fn. 7) and at the beginning of the last quarter of the 7th century the southern border of the modern county of Oxford was unquestionably beyond the northern limits of the kingdom of Wessex. How far it was within Mercian territory is not clear, for we know nothing of the fate of the country immediately south of the site of the modern city of Oxford. The whole district certainly remained a border one, for both Mercia and Wessex shared in the confirmation of the restoration of its lands to the abbey of Abingdon (c. 726). (fn. 8) As a portion of the 'Debatable Land', it must have been affected by the revival of Wessex under Cædwalla (686–9), and under Ini (688–728), but to what extent we do not know, nor have we any information regarding the results of the battle fought at Wanborough (near the modern Swindon) in 715 between Ini and Ceolred of Mercia. Ethelbald of Mercia in 733 captured 'Somerton', but this can scarcely have been Somerton on the Cherwell, for the Cherwell Valley was already within his own territories. Henry of Huntingdon (fn. 9) connects the capture with the fact that Ethelbald ruled all the provinces of England up to the Humber, and it is most probably Somerton Castle, on the Brant, near Lincoln, so there is no reason to infer that Oxfordshire was affected. It is otherwise with the next encounter of importance—the battle of 'Beorgforda' or 'Beorhforda', in 752, when 'Cuthred, King of the West Saxons, in the twelfth year of his reign, fought against Ethelbald king of the Mercians, and put him to flight'. It is generally agreed that the site of this battle was Burford, in Oxfordshire. Henry of Huntingdon (fn. 10) contributes some imaginary details of the conflict, which indicate that the tradition of its importance had continued till his time (c. 1150). Whether Cuthred or Ethelbald was the invader it is impossible to say, but the result was to place the district between Wychwood Forest and the Thames at the mercy of the victor. But the West Saxon supremacy in the Midlands was short-lived, for the period of Mercian greatness under Offa began with the death of Ethelbald in 755. Offa's earlier efforts were directed towards re-establishing the Mercian dominion in Kent, but in 777 (fn. 11) the Chronicle relates how he fought at 'Bensington' and took the town. As two hundred years before, so again now, the neighbourhood of Benson was the scene of one of the decisive battles of our early history. The Abingdon History adds that, as a result of the battle, Offa seized the country up to the line of the Thames and, beyond it, from Wallingford along the Icknield Way to Ashbury. (fn. 12) Thus, once again, the district included in the county of Oxford passed under Mercian rule. The accession of Egbert to the throne of Wessex in 803 and the death of Offa's successor Cenwulf in 823 opened the way for the final supremacy of the West Saxons. In 825 Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia at the mysterious 'Ellandun', which has been variously identified with one or other of the Allingtons in Wiltshire, and with Ellingdon (Wroughton), near the scene of the battle of Wanborough in 715. (fn. 13) Three years after his victory at Ellandun, Egbert 'subdued the kingdom of the Mercians and all that was south of the Humber'. (fn. 14) Egbert, however, was fighting, not for the mere extension of his borders, but for the overlordship of England, and the result of Ellandun was not simply to render the district north of the Thames once more West Saxon. Wiglaf, the last independent monarch of Mercia, was soon replaced on his throne as an under-king, and this district remained part of the sub-kingdom of Mercia.
We have now reached the period of the Danish invasions. With the earlier raids of the Northmen our subject is not in any way connected, nor is there historical ground for any special association of the name of Oxford (fn. 15)—university, city, or county—with that of Alfred the Great. The upper valley of the Thames remained unaffected by the invasions till 871, when it was threatened by the great raid of the year. From this danger the line of the Thames from Reading to Abingdon and the modern Oxford was saved by the great victory of Ethelred and Alfred at Ashdown. During the seven years which elapsed between the victory of Ashdown and that of 'Ethandun' (probably Edington near Westbury), while Alfred was struggling to protect Wessex from the invaders, Oxfordshire must have suffered with the rest of Mercia, which was several times overrun. The last king of its ancient line, Burhred, fled to Rome, and the Danes seem to have kept under their own control the district known as the Five Boroughs, and to have placed the southern portions of Mercia under an English under-king, Ceolwulf. When Alfred, victorious on sea and land, was able to dictate terms of peace by the Treaty of Wedmore (878) the arrangement with regard to Mercia seems to have followed the same general lines, and the future county of Oxford remained English, and was never included in the Danelaw. (fn. 16) Alfred did not follow the example of Egbert in placing this district under a petty king, but gave it to Ethelred, as Ealdorman (fn. 17) of the Mercians. Ethelred was married about 880 to Alfred's famous daughter Ethelflæd. From this time we hear no more of the district till the reign of Edward the Elder; it was happy enough to have no history. That Alfred saved this whole portion of the country is ample reason for gratitude, although we have no evidence that he was ever within the modern county. The series of coins known as the 'Orsnaforda' coins, which used to be regarded as proving that King Alfred had a mint at Oxford, (fn. 18) were later subjected to criticism. (fn. 19) Modern opinion, however, is by no means unanimous in rejecting them. (fn. 20)
The reign of Edward the Elder brings us to the earliest certain reference to the city of Oxford. Before the reconquest of the Danelaw began English Mercia had suffered from outbursts of Danish energy, and, on the death of the ealdorman Ethelred in 912, we are told by the chronicler that 'King Edward took possession of London and of Oxford and of all lands that owed obedience thereto'. The words show clearly that Oxford did not come into existence at this date, and it is not unlikely that the vill existed as early as the 8th century, (fn. 21) although we have no certain trace of it. By the beginning of the 10th century, as a border town it possessed a history, which is unwritten but which can easily be imagined. There is no evidence of any fortifications before the 10th century; the Danish raiders who went up the Thames in 894 are not recorded to have met with any obstacle. It may well have been fortified by Ethelred's widow, Ethelflæd the Lady of the Mercians, when she and her brother King Edward erected the famous series of burhs for the protection of their ancient dominions and of their gradual reconquests. Oxford was naturally protected by the Thames and the Cherwell, with their tributaries and the surrounding marshes, but some kind of fortification was necessary at once to render it absolutely secure and to equip it for use in offensive warfare as a basis of operations. The position of Oxford as a border town, commanding both roadways and waterways, henceforth gave it very considerable political importance.
The narrative of the Chronicle for the year 912 (fn. 22) raises another important question besides that of the origin of the city. The words 'and of all the lands that owed obedience to' London and Oxford are understood as indicating the existence of the counties of Middlesex and Oxford. The Wessex shires can all be traced to the 9th century, and one of them is called 'Hamptunscire' in the Chronicle as early as the year 755. The Mercian shires date from the 10th century and generally owe their existence to Edward the Elder and Ethelflæd, whose principle seems to have been to fortify an existing town for the protection of a district which seemed geographically, or for some other reason, to belong to it. Thus the influence of the burh of Oxford was bounded on the north by the sphere of influence of the burh of Warwick (fortified in 913) and of the burh of Northampton (fortified before 914), and on the east by the district which owed obedience to the burh of Buckingham (fortified in 915). On the west the shire of Oxford was in like manner bounded by that of Gloucester. The precise date of the fortification of that ancient town by Ethelflæd is unknown, but the entry for the year 915 tells how the men of Gloucester fought against the Danes, and in 918 we read of the burial of the Lady of the Mercians in the church of St. Peter at Gloucester. The principle of the division of these Mercian counties is very obscure; there is no obvious natural boundary, except that on the south, where Oxfordshire met the already existing Berkshire, the Thames provides a natural boundary line, which had probably served for the delimitation of the English ealdormanry of Mercia in the days of Alfred the Great.
The formation of English counties is of importance in constitutional as well as in political history, and the constitutional aspect of the subject involves the vexed question of the relation between the hide, the hundred, and the county. This question has been discussed by Maitland (fn. 23) and by Mr. Chadwick, (fn. 24) and no conclusion can reasonably be based upon evidence derived from a single county. It may, however, be said here that the trend of recent investigation has been to show that the hundred originated as a group of a hundred households, and although the word 'hide' is employed in various senses it may be used in this connexion for the land allotted to a single household. The evidence as to the number of hides in Oxfordshire is remarkably uniform. Our information, apart from Domesday Book, comes mainly from two documents known respectively as the Burghal Hidage (fn. 25) and the County Hidage. (fn. 26) Of these the older is the Burghal Hidage, and it probably dates from the 10th century. It shows 2,400 hides as belonging to the burh of Oxford, and the County Hidage, which probably dates from the 11th century and is older than Domesday Book, ascribes 2,400 hides to Oxfordshire. The agreement is a strong confirmation of the view that the county grew up in dependence on the town. In Domesday Book, if we exclude the towns, we find an almost precisely similar hidage for the county. It is a possible inference that the boundaries of the county showed little or no change from the 10th century. The division of the county into hundreds has already been dealt with (fn. 27) and will be treated in detail in the section on Topography. By the date of the Hundred Rolls (1276) we can trace all the existing hundreds. They appear in that document as Baunton, Bulingdene, Dorkecestre, Langetre, Thame, Pouwedelowe (Ploughley), Ewelm, Bannebyr, Leukenore, Blokesham, Benefield, Piriton, Chadelington, and Wotton. A comparison of the Hundred Rolls with recent maps shows that the divisions of the hundreds under Edward I were almost exactly the same as to-day. The four and a half hundreds which in Domesday Book are said to belong to the royal manor of Bensington possess a special interest, for they are the five Oxfordshire hundreds belonging to the Chiltern Hundreds, namely, Pyrton, Lewknor, Binfield, Ewelme, and Langtree.
The political history of Oxfordshire, from the formation of the county to the Norman Conquest, is connected partly with the revival of Danish invasion and partly with the question of the great earldoms. The latter point is very obscure. Immediately after the death of the ealdorman Ethelred and the annexation of Oxford by Edward the Elder (911–12), Oxford is included along with Buckinghamshire in the kingdom of Wessex, and it is probable that it formed part of the ealdormanry of Essex in the 10th century. The Mercian diocese of Dorchester had been merged in the see of Leicester, but at the end of the 9th century (c. 870) Leicester ceased to be a bishopric, and the see of Dorchester was restored. It is possible that the arrangement of the earldoms at the middle and end of the 10th century was in some way connected with the division into dioceses. (fn. 28) When in 956 the ealdormanry of Mercia was revived, Oxford appears to have remained in that of Essex; but during the conflict between Eadwig and Edgar we are told that the whole land north of the Thames acknowledged the latter, while Wessex remained faithful to Eadwig. (fn. 29) The death of Eadwig, which immediately followed the division of the country, renders the incident of minor importance, but Oxford was fortunate in escaping the fate of again becoming a part of the debatable land between two kingdoms. In the next disputed succession, between Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Martyr (975–8), there is a record of a meeting of the Witenagemot at Kirtlington, (fn. 30) but the fact possesses little or no political interest. Under Ethelred Oxford remained in the ealdormanry of Essex, which was given to Earl Leofrige in 991. It does not seem to have been disturbed by the earlier Danish invasions of that reign, but in the year 1006, when the Danish raids had assumed the form of a political conquest, we find the Danes once more upon the borders of Oxfordshire, for the chronicler relates how they went 'out through Hampshire into Berkshire to Reading. They then went to Wallingford and burned it all down, and then went along Ashdown to Cwichelmslowe'. In 1009, when the mismanagement of the national defence was at its worst, the enemy penetrated to Oxford itself 'and burned that town, and then took their way, on both sides of the Thames, towards their ships'. From what we know of what the Chronicle terms 'the old wont' of the Danes, it is easy to imagine the sufferings of the country in this year, and again in 1010 and 1011. In 1013 Swein in person went to Oxford, 'and the townsmen at once submitted and gave hostages'. It was this raid which reduced Ethelred to an ignominious flight to Normandy, and left England at the mercy of Swein, whose death in the following year only postponed the last extremity. Internal dissensions prevented England from using the opportunity now afforded. After the flight of Ethelred, the English leaders were his son Edmund Ironside and his son-in-law Eadric, ealdorman of Mercia. At the meeting of the Witenagemot in Oxford (fn. 31) in 1015, Eadric murdered two thegns, and the Danes who tried to revenge their leaders were driven to seek refuge in the tower of St. Frideswide's Church, which was then set on fire. (fn. 32) A quarrel between Eadric and his brother-in-law Edmund broke out; whether the two incidents are connected it is impossible to say. The events which followed—the treachery of Eadric, the death of Ethelred, and the victories of Edmund—belong to general history and have no local connexion with Oxfordshire.
By the treaty of 1016 it was presumably included within Canute's kingdom, and the death of Edmund in November 1016 gave the whole country to Canute. The circumstances of Edmund's death are obscure; it is quite possible that he was murdered by Eadric, but there is no good authority for the statement of Henry of Huntingdon (fn. 33) that he was stabbed at Oxford by Eadric's son. By Canute Oxford was selected as the scene of the memorable gemot when all men chose and swore to the law of Edgar (1018), an event which is characteristic of the whole policy of the new king. Eighteen years later, on the death of Canute, the Witenagemot met at Oxford; their discussion inaugurated another disputed succession, and it is possible that Oxford was the scene of the coronation of Harold Harefoot. These successive meetings mark a very great increase in the political and commercial importance of the town. The death of Canute's sons Harold (at Oxford) in 1040 and Harthacnut in 1042 left the way open for the restoration of the English line in the person of Edward the Confessor. Beyond the fact that he was born at Islip, (fn. 34) there is no reason to connect Edward with Oxford, and neither the town nor the county is specially important in his reign. Whatever importance Oxfordshire possessed must have depended upon the place it occupied in the arrangement of the great earldoms at various periods, for it was the existence of these that gave the house of Godwine its chance of saving England from the Norman party led by the king himself. Under Canute, Oxford appears to have been in the earldom of Mercia, but under Godwine's first reorganization it was joined to Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, and Somerset, to make an earldom for Godwine's son Swein. (fn. 35) After Swein's misconduct and Godwine's exile it was, on the return of the great English earl, restored to Mercia under Leofric. On the death of Leofric in 1057, Harold may have united Oxfordshire (fn. 36) to East Anglia and placed them under his own brother Gyrth, but in Domesday Book the city of Oxford is entered as having been held in the reign of King Edward by Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia. The two statements are not absolutely contradictory, but the whole subject is very obscure. The collapse of Harold's family policy is connected with Oxford by the march of the Northumbrian insurgents against Tostig in 1065. One manuscript of the Chronicle (C) relates the fact, and it has been suggested that the Oxfordshire Domesday bears traces of the suffering of both the town and the county. (fn. 37) Too much stress must not be laid on the statement of manuscript D of the Chronicle that at this date 'the law of Canute was renewed at a gemot held at Oxford'; it is probably, as Mr. Plummer suggests, merely a political amnesty in view of the recent rebellion and the approaching crisis.
In the memorable events of the year 1066 Oxford played no part. There is no record of any resistance to the Conqueror, nor do we know the precise date of its submission. The statement, which has appeared in many books, that it stood a siege is a confusion with the siege of Exeter, and has been traced to a transcriber's slip, 'Oxonia' for 'Exonia'. (fn. 38) There is no reason for thinking that the county suffered to any great extent in William's march upon London; on the other hand, the decay of the city as described in the Domesday Survey requires some explanation. There were 721 houses in the town, no fewer than 478 of which were vastae et destructae to such an extent that they were unable to pay geld. The close connexion between city and county makes it probable that the evil plight of Oxford represents some calamity to the county. The rebels of 1065 had left their traces, but the recovery ought to have been greater in twenty years, by which time the waste places of some of William's own ravages had begun to be repaired. (fn. 39) Possibly the fact is to be explained by the oppression of which the chroniclers complain throughout the reign of William, (fn. 40) and it is important in this connexion that in 1071 the defences built in the beginning of the 10th century were replaced by a great Norman castle. The chronicler of the abbey of Abingdon relates how a meadow outside the walls of Oxford was seized for the use of the garrison, (fn. 41) and if a great religious house suffered in this way it is not likely that the townspeople escaped, nor is there any probability that they got their property restored, as did the more fortunate monks. Oxford was at this time under the jurisdiction of a Norman baron of a respectable type—Robert d'Oilli, who built the castle and the great bridge which connected Oxford with the south. (fn. 42) There can, however, be little doubt that it was as custodian, and not as lord, that d'Oilli held the castle. (fn. 43) Oxford had also lost in importance by the removal of the see from Dorchester to Lincoln. (fn. 44) D'Oilli, while he was not forgetful of the king's interests or of his own, cannot be regarded as a mere Norman oppressor, and Oxford was to this extent fortunate. His influence extended through the county (in which he had twentythree manors), and far beyond its borders, and it was exercised on the whole for good. The recovery of Oxfordshire from the misfortunes of the Conqueror's reign may be largely attributed to its woodlands. Woodstock, Wychwood, Shotover, Cumnor, and Bagley were all richly wooded districts, and on a Norman monarch who 'loved the tall stags as if he were their father' a county abounding in forests possessed strong claims. We know, from a charter granted by Henry II to Oxford, that his grandfather Henry I had conferred privileges upon the city, and Henry II himself possessed in the county two royal residences —one just outside the town wall, the other at Woodstock, where William of Malmesbury records that he established a kind of menagerie which he filled with lions, leopards, lynxes, and camels, the gifts of foreign kings, and 'a creature called a porcupine'. (fn. 45) The forests brought their own hardships with them; but Oxfordshire had always been wooded, and there had always been a large number of royal manors, so that the existence of royal forests cannot have meant to Oxfordshire anything like the hardship that the New Forest had been to Hampshire, and the frequent presence of king and court gave to the district an importance which the grievance of purveyance cannot have entirely counterbalanced.
The city and county of Oxford have a really important place in the political history of England in two, and only two, great national crises—the Civil War of the 12th century, and the Great Rebellion of the 17th. When Stephen seized the throne of his dead uncle, in the beginning of December 1135, Oxford was one of the most important strategic positions in the kingdom. Of the four castles which commanded the course of the River Thames, it was second in importance only to London, for its situation in relation to the western counties gave it no slight advantage over Windsor and Wallingford. Stephen's biographer, who knew the district, expatiates upon the strength of its fortifications, its castle and the great city walls, and upon the natural advantages of its almost island position. (fn. 46) Oxford was, therefore, one of the first places visited by the king after he had secured the treasury at Winchester and been crowned in London. Henry of Huntingdon relates a visit at Christmas 1135, when Stephen is recorded to have made some almost incredibly liberal promises, (fn. 47) possibly in view of the approaching Scottish invasion. The evidence at this date is conflicting, but there is no doubt that at Easter 1136 Stephen, at a council held in Oxford, issued his second charter, the promises made in which he equally disregarded. (fn. 48) It was at Oxford, too, that he committed the fatal blunder of his reign, when in June 1139 he arrested the Bishops of Salisbury and Lincoln and the Chancellor of the kingdom, who was a son of the Bishop of Ely. (fn. 49) These bishops had been closely associated with Henry I, and the fact that they had possessed themselves of strong castles was probably interpreted by Stephen as an indication that they were about to espouse the cause of Maud. Hitherto the reign of Stephen had been marked by insurrections and rumours of invasion; now began the dreadful period known as the Anarchy. The empress landed at Arundel in the end of September. The town and county of Oxford play no important part in the warfare until the summer of 1142. Stephen, who had been captured at Lincoln early in 1141, was exchanged for Maud's brother, Robert of Gloucester, in the end of the year, and one of his most important efforts after his release was the siege of Oxford, which was occupied by Maud. The main strength of the empress was in the west, but she held Wallingford as an outpost, and Oxford seems to have been continuously in her hands. She had kept there the Easter of 1141, and she had retreated thither after being driven from London in the following summer. (fn. 50) After his release Robert of Gloucester had gone to France to obtain reinforcements for his sister, and the empress took up her quarters in Oxford, trusting to the natural strength of its situation, the fortifications of wall and castle, and a series of outposts at Woodstock, Radcot, Cirencester, and Bampton. (fn. 51) Maud's party appears to have suffered from overconfidence, and Stephen, in an unwonted outburst of energy, captured and burned Cirencester, and, easily disposing of defences at Radcot and Bampton, (fn. 52) suddenly appeared before Oxford. His biographer describes the concourse of Maud's forces, boasting of the protection afforded them by the river, and belauds Stephen's courage in leading his men across, 'swimming rather than walking over the bed of the river'. Why the enemy did not attack at this point is not clear; but there can be no doubt that Stephen sacked and burned the city. The empress was besieged in the castle for about three months. Stephen was unable to storm the fortress, but the defenders were reduced to great straits for lack of food, and Robert of Gloucester had collected his forces at Cirencester, and was preparing to relieve Oxford, when he received the news of his sister's romantic escape. (fn. 53) With the connivance (according to the story of the Gesta Stephani) of one of Stephen's men, Maud made her way out of the castle one frosty night, just before Christmas 1142, and, crossing the frozen Thames, succeeded in reaching Abingdon and, finally, Wallingford; the castle surrendered to Stephen, but the chief object of his campaign, to which he had devoted his whole strength throughout the second half of 1142, was lost. The county of Oxford continued to be an important part of the theatre of the war; William of Dover, a supporter of Maud, attacked Cricklade and Oxford in 1144 and 1145. (fn. 54) In the latter year, Gloucester and his son Philip prepared to besiege Oxford and built a castle at Faringdon. Stephen's garrison at Oxford were compelled to appeal for assistance, and the king at once marched to their relief. He besieged the new castle at Faringdon, which surrendered in the end of 1145 or the beginning of 1146, and he proceeded to attack Maud's ancient stronghold at Wallingford. (fn. 55) From this date the warfare degenerated into a mere series of incidental fights. When the future Henry II landed in England in 1147 he made his first attempt on Cricklade and Bourton, (fn. 56) but Stephen's garrisons were too strong for him, and his effort was a failure. When he returned in 1149 he did not make any effort in the midlands. The war, after Maud's departure from England in 1147 or 1148, was desultory; Stephen had never obtained control over the whole country. Wallingford still held out for Maud, and Stephen's attempt to reduce it, in 1153, brought about the final expedition of the young Henry, which resulted in the Treaty of Wallingford and put an end to the Anarchy. What the county of Oxford had suffered it is impossible even to guess. The 'adulterine castles' may have been more numerous elsewhere than in Oxford—a county comprising so many royal and episcopal manors, and so few great families—but the campaigns from 1141 to 1147 must have affected the district very seriously. Some of the castles erected during the Anarchy doubtless survived the measures taken by Henry II for their destruction; those at Banbury and Deddington were converted into royal castles; but most of these buildings disappeared.
Both Stephen and Maud created several earldoms in order to secure the support of barons of importance, and among those created by Maud was the earldom of Oxford, conferred upon Aubrey de Vere. (fn. 57)
Of the connexion of Henry II with the county of Oxford there is abundant evidence. Soon after his accession he renewed the charter granted to the city (civitas) by Henry I, and confirmed certain privileges, including the right (shared with London) of acting as butler to the king. (fn. 58) Henry lived frequently at Woodstock; it was there that in 1163 he had his famous dispute with Becket about the enrolment of a local tax in the Exchequer; it was there that, according to one of his biographers, Becket attempted to withdraw his acceptance of the Constitutions of Clarendon in the following year, and it was thence that the king issued his code of the Forest Laws in 1184. The mention of Henry's residence at Woodstock cannot fail to recall the legend of the Fair Rosamond. The lady herself is no myth, and there is no reason for doubting the statement of Giraldus Cambrensis that, after imprisoning his wife, Henry, about 1174, lived openly with a mistress whose identity is quite clear, though her name is not mentioned. (fn. 59) There can also be no question that Rosamond Clifford was buried in the nunnery at Godstow, (fn. 60) and Benedict of Peterborough and Roger of Hoveden both tell the story of Grossteste's visit and of his injunction that her tomb should be removed. The burial at Godstow lends probability to the tradition that connects Rosamond with Woodstock; but the story does not appear in the chronicles of the 14th century, which speak of a chamber of 'Daedalian workmanship' prepared by Henry for his mistress. The legend of the murder of Rosamond by Queen Eleanor is a 14th-century London tale (the first narrator of which mistook Queen Eleanor for the wife of Henry III), and the maze, the poisoned drink, and the silken clue are still later embellishments.
Henry's successor, Richard, was born at Oxford, but he had no special affection towards his birth-place, nor did he confer any new privilege upon the city. (fn. 61) During his absence in the Holy Land and his imprisonment the county was largely in the hands of John and his supporters. The importance of the county as a royal residence is illustrated by the fact that when, in 1194, Richard instituted the public tournaments, which were subsequently forbidden by the Church, he chose as one of two fine sites Bayards Green, (fn. 62) a spot between Brackley and Mixbury (where now the Bicester and Banbury roads divide). John was frequently in Oxfordshire. He was born at Woodstock, and we read of visits there, and to Oxford, and to Langley, a hunting-lodge for Wychwood, which he seems to have built or enlarged. Many of John's councils, both during Richard's absence and in the course of his own reign, were held at Oxford, to which he was able to look for support. It was to Oxford that he summoned, in 1213, four discreet men from each shire to discuss affairs of state along with the barons and tenants in chief. We do not know if this assembly ever met—probably it did not—but it is the first indication of the possibility of the summons of members of the commonalty into the great council. In the hostilities which followed the great charter Oxford was faithful to John, and in the autumn of 1215 the city was besieged by the confederate barons. (fn. 63) On the whole, the county suffered comparatively little during the civil war, for during the winter of 1215–16, John, the barons, and the French were alike engaged elsewhere. In September 1216 John, on his march from the west, spent three days at Oxford, (fn. 64) marched through the county to Wallingford as if to relieve Windsor, and then turned off to the eastern counties. In the war between Louis and the barons, which followed John's death, Oxford played little part. It continued to be loyal to the young Henry, and was a rallying-point for his forces, but neither city nor county affected seriously the struggles of the years 1215–17.
While king and barons were struggling for supremacy, from the accession of Henry II to the death of John, and, again, in the reign of Henry III, important events were tending to transform the character of city and county alike. In the county, many of the great estates were no longer in the possession of their Domesday owners. (fn. 65) The d'Oilli family gradually lost its importance, and on the death of the last d'Oilli in 1233 Hook Norton and his other possessions passed to his nephew, Thomas, Earl of Warwick. (fn. 66) Roger d'Ivry, the comradein-arms of Robert d'Oilli, died without heir. His barony was given first to the St. Johns and, about 1153, to Reynold of St. Valery. The honour of St. Valery, in turn, passed through an heiress to Robert de Druis and was forfeited by Henry III in 1227. The king gave it with the honour of Wallingford to his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and upon the death of Richard's son, Edmund, in 1300, the lands escheated to the Crown. Another of the Conqueror's companions, Miles Crispin, whose possessions included Wallingford (fn. 67) and Bicester, proved a traitor to Henry I; on his death, his barony passed to Brian fitz-Count, who married his widow; on Brian's death it came into the king's hands as the honour of Wallingford. (fn. 68) A branch of the Basset family held seven fees of this honour, of which Bicester was the chief, and in the reign of John this holding passed through an heiress to the family of de Camville. The de Camvilles had possessed Oxfordshire property since the beginning of the 12th century, and had been among the most loyal supporters of Stephen, and the head of the family followed Richard I to the Crusade. His son, Gerard de Camville, held his castle of Middleton for John, and the de Camvilles and the Bassets alike had to redeem their property on Richard's return. An heiress of the de Camville family had, in the reign of Richard I, brought the lands of Stanton to the Harcourt family, which still possesses them, and in the beginning of the reign of Henry III another heiress added Bicester and Middleton to the possessions of the Earls of Salisbury; at the end of the same reign they passed through still another heiress to the family of de Lacy, and Henry de Lacy became Earl of Salisbury. From him the lands went to Alice, wife of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. One further example must serve to illustrate the changes in the ownership of land which so frequently occurred at this period. William of Arsic had possessed, at the date of Domesday, 6¼ knights' fees in Oxfordshire, taken from the forfeited lands of Odo of Bayeux. The seat of the barony was at Cogges, and the Arsics continued to be an important Oxfordshire family till the middle of the reign of Henry III, when their possessions, devolving upon two heiresses, were left to Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York. The de Grey family held the barony of Arsic for some time, but the lands gradually became subdivided.
These constant changes of ownership, and the tendency of Oxford properties to fall into the hands of families whose chief possessions and interests lay in other counties, explain why the great baronial houses played so small a part in Oxfordshire history. There was no single commanding interest. The de Veres, Earls of Oxford from the reign of Henry II to 1703, possessed no lands of any importance in the county, and, beyond drawing the third penny, had little connexion with it. There was a tendency for lands to revert to the Crown; we have already seen an instance of this, and when the Duchy of Lancaster was annexed to the Crown at the accession of Henry IV, it included among its Oxfordshire manors Broughton, Deddington, Chadlington, Fyfield, Shipton, Kirtlington, Bletchington, and Newington. The county had always contained a large proportion of royal demesne, and of lands belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln. The growth of the pre-Conquest religious houses and the rise of new ones added greatly to the amount of land held by no great family. Thus, for example, the records of Abingdon, Eynsham, Osney, Godstow, and St. Frideswide's show gift after gift of Oxford lands. Gilbert Basset built and endowed the priory of Bicester in 1182; Manasses Arsic, the priory of Cogges in 1103; and Bernard St. Valery, the priory of Studley about 1176. When the Friars came in the beginning of the 13th century they soon acquired houses and, more gradually, lands.
There may here be noted the knights' service to which holdings in Oxfordshire were liable at this time. In the great inquest made by Henry II in 1166 the returns from the county were as follows: (fn. 69) Henry d'Oilli, (fn. 70) 32⅓ fees, with 1 11/20 of 'new enfeoffment'; Manasses Arsic, 17¼ (or 19¼) fees; (fn. 71) and Richard de Camville, Philip de Hamtone, and Oliver de Lingiur, one each. The scutage roll of 1167–8, (fn. 72) at the rate of one mark on a knight's fee, accordingly shows d'Oilli paying £21. 11s. 1d., with £1. 0s. 8d. de novo, Arsic paying £13. 10s. 5d., (fn. 73) Richard, Philip, and Oliver 13s. 4d. each, and Ralph Fitz Wigan 3s. 4d. on a holding reckoned at ¼ fee. (fn. 74)
The remarkable feature of the reign of Henry III is not any great influence exercised by Oxford upon political events, but the frequent choice of Oxford as a meeting-place for great councils. The council of 1227, at which Henry III threw off the yoke of the unpopular Peter des Roches, and the council of 1233, where the conduct of the same mauvais sujet was in question, met at Oxford, before the 'mad Parliament' of 1258, which drew up the 'Provisions of Oxford', an oligarchical scheme of government connected with Oxford only by the accidental circumstances of name and place. The selection of Oxford for the councils of 1227 and 1233 may possibly be explained by its now traditional loyalty to the monarchy in times of crisis, and the same explanation may serve for 1258; but on that occasion a Welsh war was nominally in prospect, and Oxford was a convenient meeting-place for such an expedition. Among those summoned from Oxfordshire for service in Wales in 1257 were John Sackville, William Hastings of Eton, John de Averanges, Aumary de St. Amand, William Fors, and Hugh 'de Vivon'. (fn. 75) The unpopularity of Henry's government was partly due to foreign favourites, and his Poitevins fled from the Court at Oxford, and made a brief and futile resistance in Hampshire. (fn. 76) Dislike of foreigners was as strong at Oxford as elsewhere, and in the history of both university and city there are many indications of this hostility, e.g. the attack upon the Papal legate in 1238, which brought Oxford under a ban. In the war which followed Henry's repudiation of the Provisions of Oxford neither city nor county had any share, although in 1264 a council met at Oxford in which an attempt at conciliation was made. The city remained loyal to the king, although the university showed sympathy with de Montfort, and it was from Oxford that Henry marched in April 1264 to attack the great earl's territory in the Midlands. By the campaign of Evesham Oxford was not affected, though the younger Simon spent three days there on his way to Kenilworth in July 1265. (fn. 77)
The reign of Edward I possesses a unique importance in local history because of the rise of Parliamentary representation. There is no evidence of the representation of the city of Oxford in Simon de Montfort's Parliament of 1265, and its loyalty to Henry III may have prevented its obeying the summons of de Montfort. The county was probably represented, though there is no record of the actual names of the knights who attended on behalf of the county of Oxford. The names of the two knights who represented the county in 1290 are the earliest preserved, and from the Model Parliament of 1295 there is a fairly complete list. (fn. 78) The representation of the towns was on a much less certain basis. They were inclined to resent the privilege of paying for their burgesses, and, in consequence, the attendance of their representatives was very capricious, even after Edward I had, in the Model Parliament, given them a definite right to take part in the deliberations of the great council. The city of Oxford seems to have been quite regularly represented, but the other burghs, Burford, Chipping Norton, Deddington, Witney, Banbury, and Woodstock, have a much less clear record. Burford was represented only in 1306; Chipping Norton in 1300, 1302, and 1305; Deddington in 1302 and 1305; Witney in 1305, 1306, 1314, 1315, and 1330; and Woodstock in 1302 and 1305. The cessation of the representation of these towns was probably the result of their unwillingness to bear the expense involved. They still remained subject to the possible infliction of fines for not obeying the royal writs, and in 1453 Henry VI relieved Woodstock from this burden and exempted it for ever from the duty of representation. Exactly a hundred years later, on the accession of Mary, Woodstock received as a privilege the right which it had scorned, and at the same period Banbury received the franchise for the first time. Both have been continuously represented since the reign of Mary, except from 1555 to 1571, during which period Woodstock seems to have made no use of its newly acquired privilege.
In the rebellion of the reign of Edward II Oxford possesses an incidental interest, although it exercised no special influence upon the situation. A number of Oxfordshire manors passed temporarily into the hands of Piers Gaveston when he became Earl of Cornwall in 1307, and, after his capture at Scarborough in 1312, the unfortunate favourite was kept for a few days in the house of the rector of Deddington, before being taken northwards to Warwickshire to die. His body rested at Oxford for over two years, in the charge of the Dominicans, before it was finally interred at Langley. On his forfeiture the earldom of Cornwall reverted to the Crown. Oxford has also an accidental connexion with the misfortunes of Edward II. When Queen Isabelle landed in England in September 1326 Edward fled from London to Gloucester, and the queen pursued, staying at Oxford, when Orleton, the Bishop of Hereford, preached before her the famous sermon on the text, 'My head, my head', urging the necessity of removing the incapable head of the state, and indicating that she aimed at more than the removal of the Despensers from the king's councils. (fn. 79) With the rebellion of the Lords Appellants against Richard II in 1387–8 Oxford had a similar accidental connexion. One of Richard's unpopular ministers, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, made a bold effort to save the king from the Appellants, and, with an army which he had raised in the Palatinate of Chester, marched by Staffordshire and Worcestershire to Stow-on-the-Wold, intending to cross the upper Thames. His enemies were too quick for him, and Derby (one of the Appellants and afterwards Henry IV) marched to Oxford and seized Newbridge and Radcot. De Vere's attempt to cross was made at Radcot; he found the enemy too strong, and betook himself to an ignominious flight. (fn. 80)
It was with the outbreak of the Hundred Years War that there began the regular summoning of considerable bodies of men from the county for military service. In 1339 20 heavy-armed men and 80 with lighter armour and 80 bowmen were required, while in 1346, for the campaign of Crecy, there were summoned two bannerets—John of Hanslope and Edmund of Cornwall, 13 knights, including John Golafre, William and Richard Harcourt, John St. John, Thomas Vernon, and Richard of Cornwall, and 11 esquires. Besides these levies of men there was a constant demand for bows and sheaves of arrows. (fn. 81) The names of Golafre and Vernon recur in various commissions of array up to the middle of the 15th century. (fn. 82)
The real interest of the history of the end of the 14th and the greater part of the 15th century lies in the sphere of social, economic, and ecclesiastical history rather than in the domain of politics, and within the political area the historian of the county has little to record. During the Wars of the Roses it was sufficiently fortunate to be outside the fighting area. Though the great families were divided in Oxfordshire, as elsewhere, the large royal estates, augmented by the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, secured the loyalty to the House of Lancaster of a very considerable proportion of the county. The de Veres were Lancastrian, as were also the most important of the newer families, the Lovels and the de la Poles. The Lovels had, indeed, possessed land in Oxfordshire since the 12th century, but the 14th and the early 15th centuries saw a large growth in their prosperity, indicated by the building of Minster Lovel by William, Lord Lovel, about 1420. The most famous of the family was Francis, Lord Lovel, who, deserting the family traditions, served Richard III and fought against Henry VII at Stoke. His name is preserved, along with those of two of Richard's other ministers, Catesby and Ratcliffe, in the lines:
The de la Poles came into the county through the marriage of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, with Alice Chaucer, whose mother was the heiress of Ewelme, where the duke built a great manor-house, now destroyed. Its humbler neighbour, an almshouse, still remains to preserve his memory and that of his duchess, a kinswoman of the poet. The 15th century was a period of building, and other great houses arose in the course of it—Stanton Harcourt, erected about 1450 and deserted and destroyed in the 18th century, and Shirborn and Broughton, two castles which, though they date from an earlier century, were in their final form 15th-century erections. A part from the history of its great families, Oxfordshire has no connexion with the struggles between the Houses of Lancaster and York beyond an unauthenticated tradition that Edward IV first met Elizabeth Woodville in Wychwood Forest. The existence of royal forests led, as before, to the frequent residence of the sovereign in the county. In the 14th century the Black Prince was born at Woodstock; Henry IV frequently resided there, and there is a persistent tradition that his son, the future Henry V, studied at the university. Henry VI made Windsor his favourite residence, but Edward IV often hunted in Wychwood and resided at Langley.
With the political aspect of the social and economic changes of this period Oxford has as slight a connexion as with the military operations. The city of Oxford sent a contingent to the army of peasants which sacked London in 1381; all over the county manorial records were destroyed, and the troubled years which closed the reign of Richard II witnessed serious riots at Bampton, Witney, and Eynsham. Similarly, the outbursts against inclosures in the 15th and 16th centuries have no political importance. (fn. 83) On the other hand, the political aspect of the ecclesiastical discontent of the late 14th century is associated with Oxford to this extent, that the attitude of the university to Lollardy and the position occupied in the university by Wycliffe gave to his movement a prestige which even the protection of John of Gaunt would have failed to afford. (fn. 84) The defence of Wycliffe by the university in 1377 and the fact that many of his preachers emanated from Oxford must be taken into account in estimating the history and effect of the movement. Lollardy was soon crushed out in the university, and it scarcely affected the county until a later date; we find heretics in the district round Burford in the reigns of Henry VI and Henry VIII. (fn. 85)
The next important event in national history which is connected with Oxford is the most remarkable episode in the Marian persecution, the martyrdom of Cranmer. Before the date of that memorable event, which made St. Mary's Church a national monument, many changes had passed over both city and county. A series of plagues, following, at considerable intervals, the Black Death of the 14th century, had considerably reduced the population. The growth of industry and commerce had given greater importance to some of the smaller towns. (fn. 86) The spread of agricultural and pastoral inclosure had done something to reduce the amount of waste land, the most striking evidence of the extent of which is preserved in such names as 'Bampton-in-the-Bush' and 'Bourton-on-the-Water', although the draining of Otmoor was still in the far distance, and although his majesty's Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds was to find his duty of policing these districts no sinecure for more than two centuries to come.
There must have been considerable discontent with the religious changes of Henry VIII in so conservative a county as Oxford, but there was no open rebellion till the reign of his successor, when, among the insurrections during Somerset's protectorate, there was a popular rising in Oxfordshire in the summer of 1549. It was easily suppressed by Lord Grey of Wilton, (fn. 87) and it passed into the ordinary agricultural discontent of the period. But we shall not be wrong in ascribing to the county some feeling of indignation against the extreme religious measures of Somerset, and the still more extreme measures of Northumberland. The University of Oxford was still Roman Catholic at heart, and the county shared its sympathies. The 'hurley burley' (in Foxe's phrase) of 1549 had led to an investigation into popery in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and this investigation produced some martyrs, including the vicar of Chipping Norton and the parish priest of Bloxham. (fn. 88) The county contained an unusually large number of Catholic families, including the Stonors, who sheltered Edmund Campion in the reign of Elizabeth. In spite of this, and of the effect of the Counter-Reformation upon the university, Oxford was not one of the areas of persecution during the reign of Mary. Bishop King, the first occupant of the see of Oxford, was a moderate man, and the importance of Oxford during the reign of Mary is confined to national history. For various reasons it was selected as the scene of the trials and martyrdoms of Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer. The story has often been told, and it is not necessary to repeat it here. The only other connexion with Mary's reign which Oxford preserves exists in the imprisonment of the Princess Elizabeth at Woodstock from May 1554 to April 1555. She was under the considerate charge of Sir Henry Bedingfield, but the cold of an Oxfordshire winter seems to have told upon her health. Legend ascribes to her some inscriptions on windows and shutters, the best-known of which is:
Twice during her reign she visited Oxford, staying at Rycote, where she had been under the charge of Lord William of Thame, on her way to and from her imprisonment at Woodstock. Her affection for the university and her interest in its studies made her visits in the summers of 1566 and 1592 memorable among royal visits to Oxford. The story of Amy Robsart has given to Oxford another association with Queen Elizabeth, but the mystery of the death of the unfortunate lady remains a mystery, and it is impossible to say definitely that she was murdered—far less that the queen connived at the murder. Her death took place at Cumnor on Sunday, 8 September 1560, while the household were attending the great fair at Abingdon, and, a fortnight later, she was buried in St. Mary's Church. For the rest, the interest of the reign of Queen Elizabeth is ecclesiastical, and lies in the record of the persecution of the Roman Catholics under the new penal statute. The university was 'purged' of its Roman Catholic members, who fled to Douay. Some of them returned to take part in the Jesuit mission to England, and to suffer for their faith. The county families, largely Catholic in sympathy, gave them such protection as 'priests' chambers' could afford, and Roman Catholic records at Stonyhurst and elsewhere contain many references to Oxfordshire; (fn. 89) but as the great families died out—the Fermors at Somerton, and the Curzons at Waterperry—the humbler adherents of the Roman faith gradually conformed to the Church.
Of the reign of her successor there is little to say. Like Elizabeth, James stayed frequently at Woodstock, and in September 1603 he visited at Ditchley Sir Henry Lee, the famous 'champion' of Queen Elizabeth. (fn. 90) Both sovereigns enjoyed making royal progresses, and both made visits to great houses in Oxfordshire.
From the latter years of Henry VIII onwards records of the military service demanded from the county became more frequent and more detailed. In 1543 it was required to supply 200 foot for service in Flanders, Sir Simon Harcourt, Sir Walter Stonor, Sir John Williams, Anthony Cope, and Leonard Chamberlin being responsible for 30 each and others for smaller numbers. (fn. 91) For the projected invasion of France in 1544 a more ambitious scheme was drawn up, and the county's share was 1,580 men, which must have been almost the full number available. (fn. 92) In 1553 the county was added to those of which the Marquess of Northampton had charge as lord-lieutenant, and its forces met with others at Drayton on 15 July with the intention of marching to Westminster for the defence of the queen's person and title. (fn. 93) A return of 1560 gives the number of 'able foot men' in the county as 3,300, of which 300 were furnished by the city of Oxford and 300 by each of eight groups of hundreds, while 600 more were already serving or ready to go. (fn. 94) In 1580 the number had risen to 5,000, exclusive of any levy on the city. (fn. 95) In October 1586 a special guard for the queen's person was organized, amounting to 20,000 men altogether. Oxfordshire provided 2,000; out of every 100 twenty were armed with pikes, forty with 'shot', and forty with bows and bills. (fn. 96) Besides the compulsory levies for the queen's service there were frequent calls for volunteers for the continental wars in which Elizabeth encouraged her subjects to join without herself taking an official part.
After a period of neglect during the reign of James I, the territorial forces were reorganized in 1625–6. In 1627 Oxfordshire had a cavalry force of 40 lances, 76 light horse, and 15 petronels, and in the following year its forces amounted to 40 lances, 40 light horse, and 850 foot, comprising 500 muskets and 350 corsletts. In 1639 the county was called upon to supply 300 men for service in the first Bishops' War, while 600 were mustered on 1 July 1640 to march to Newcastle. (fn. 97)
During the struggle that preceded the outbreak of the Great Rebellion feeling in the county was divided; in the north, the Roundhead influence of Lord Saye and Sele, the lord of Broughton Castle, was counterbalanced by the loyalty of the Earl of Northampton, whose beautiful house at Compton Wynyates was near the Oxfordshire boundary of Warwickshire. In the centre of the county Woodstock and Bletchington were centres of Royalist influence, but the Hampden interest was predominant in the Chilterns. In the extreme south Henley was, on the whole, for the Parliament, but the Tanners of Greenland and the Blunts of Mapledurham supported the king. The county members returned to the Short Parliament were two moderate Roundheads, the Hon. James Fiennes and Sir Francis Wenman. Fiennes was also returned to the Long Parliament, with Viscount Wenman as his colleague; both lived to be expelled at Pride's Purge, and to sit again in the restored Long Parliament in 1660. The city members elected for the Short Parliament were Charles, Lord Andover, son of the first Earl of Berkshire, and Alderman Thomas Cooper. Lord Andover was re-elected to the Long Parliament, and immediately raised to the peerage as Baron Howard. He was a half-hearted Royalist, who in 1644 deserted the king. Cooper was a Roundhead who subsequently distinguished himself in Scotland and was a member of Cromwell's Council there. He was not re-elected to the Long Parliament, and his successor was John Whistler, who had sat in the Parliaments of 1624, 1626, and 1628. Whistler was a time-server, who suffered for a very pusillanimous support of the king and was expelled from the Commons in 1644. After Howard entered the Lords John Smith took his place. He shared Whistler's sentiments and his fortunes alike. The university burgesses in the Short Parliament were Sir John Danvers, a Roundhead, who sat in the High Court of Justice in 1649, and Sir Francis Windebank, a Cavalier. In the Long Parliament the burgesses were Sir Thomas Roe, a Royalist, and the famous John Selden, one of the most notable members of the Parliament. Banbury was represented in both Parliaments by a Roundhead, the Hon. Nathaniel Fiennes; Woodstock, in the Short Parliament by a Roundhead, William Lenthall, the Speaker, and Sir William Fleetwood, a Cavalier, brother to Cromwell's general: Lenthall retained his seat in the Long Parliament, and had as his colleague the Hon. William Herbert, a Royalist. Herbert was also chosen for Monmouthshire, and was succeeded in Woodstock by Sir Robert Pye, another Royalist.
These details will serve to show how divided was the state of feeling in the county. The city, on the whole, sympathized with the Parliament; the university, despite its returning Selden, was enthusiastic for the king. It was, therefore, natural that each side should make an effort to secure the support of a city the strategic position of which was no less important than the moral influence it was sure to exercise.
The following narrative of the events of the Civil War will be confined, as far as possible, to the operations that took place in the county. The history of the city and the university will be dealt with in detail elsewhere.
In the county recruiting went on busily on both sides in the summer of 1642, and on 16 August Hampden captured Sir George Curzon and almost captured the Earl of Berkshire at Watlington. (fn. 98) In the absence of any Royalist force of importance Colonel Goodwin and Lord Saye and Sele occupied the city, but Lord Saye had on 25 September to leave it in order to save his castle of Broughton from an attack by Prince Rupert. A month later King Charles found his way to London barred at Edgehill on the boundary of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. The battle was indecisive, but Charles was able to proceed to Oxford, which he entered on 29 October. Broughton and Banbury surrendered to the king, and the Royalist garrison at Banbury preyed upon the north of Oxfordshire. This district was strongly Parliamentarian, as was also the Buckinghamshire border; the Royalists had to place outposts at Brill, Thame, Woodstock, Wolvercote, Bicester, and Islip. The Parliament had outposts in villages in the north and south, but during the early stages of the war the county as a whole was in the king's power.
The campaign of 1643 opened with the capture of Reading by Essex, whose real objective was known to be Oxford. But immediately after this success the Parliamentary general failed to intercept a convoy sent from the north by Henrietta Maria, who in July joined her husband at Oxford. Before that date arrived Oxford was in considerable peril. Early in June Essex advanced from Reading to Thame; on the 13th he placed an outpost at Wheatley, 2 miles from Shotover Hill, which was occupied by the Royalists. It seems probable that he did not intend immediately to try conclusions with the Oxford garrison, (fn. 99) and that he was merely watching an opportunity of striking a blow somewhere or intending to protect Buckinghamshire from sharing the fate of the counties on the western borders of Oxfordshire. On 17 June he failed to capture Islip, and he allowed his forces to be scattered through the county. Rupert seized the opportunity, and marching from Oxford by Tetsworth and Postcombe he reached Chinnor, where he surprised and captured a Parliamentary outpost. His aim was to destroy a convoy guarding a sum of about £12,000, which was being sent to Essex at Thame, but the skirmish at Chinnor had given the alarm, and the convoy took shelter in the woods. Rupert's return to Oxford was rendered memorable by the fight of Chalgrove field. At Chinnor he turned sharply to the right along the base of the Chilterns, and on his way back by Chislehampton, which he was careful to secure, he routed a body of the enemy who hoped to keep him engaged until Essex could send reinforcements from Thame. Among the wounded was John Hampden, who died at Thame six days later, 24 June 1643.
When Prince Rupert went northwards early in May 1644 to fight the disastrous battle of Marston Moor, 2 July, the king remained to protect Oxford and its line of defences at Reading (which had fallen into Royalist hands after the battle of Newbury), Wallingford, Abingdon, and Banbury. (fn. 100) He did not feel himself strong enough to maintain so extended a front, and on 18 May the Royalist garrison was withdrawn from Reading and the fortifications were dismantled. Meanwhile, Essex and Waller, who had been entrusted with the movement upon Oxford, had commenced their operations. After Rupert had left with his cavalry, the Royalists had abandoned Abingdon, and Essex, marching along the Berkshire side of the river, occupied it, and crossing the Thames at Sandford on 28 May, made a demonstration upon Bullingdon Green. Tradition says that Charles watched him from Magdalen Tower. On the 29th he marched northwards to Bletchington (which had been taken by the Parliament in April) and Islip. Here he attempted to cross the Cherwell at Gosford and at Enslow (30 May-1 June), and so to surround Oxford from the north while Waller operated from Abingdon; but he was repelled at both bridges by Sir Jacob Astley. On 2 June Waller marched from Abingdon to Newbridge, crossed the river, and marched in the direction of Woodstock, where Charles happened to be. The king, informed of his danger, hastily returned to Oxford and determined upon the bold device of slipping out of the city under cover of night, for it was so ill provided with food that it could not stand a blockade. On Monday, 3 June, Charles ordered a feigned attack upon Abingdon to deceive Waller, and a concentration of his troops near Yarnton. At dusk, with some 3,000 horse and 2,500 foot, he marched by Wolvercote to the bridge over the Evenlode beyond Woodstock, about 3 miles from the position of Essex at Bletchington and not far from Waller's outposts. So cleverly was the march conducted that it was not until the afternoon of the 4th that the two Parliamentary generals learned that their prize had escaped. They pursued, but only overtook some stragglers at Burford, which Charles had left for Bourton-on-the-Water on the night of the 4th. Thence he marched to Evesham and then to Worcester and Bewdley, while Essex, at a council of war held on 6 June at Stow-on-the-Wold, determined to separate from Waller and to conduct in the west the campaign that led to the surrender at Lostwithiel (2 August 1644).
When Charles, at Bewdley, was informed of the decision of Essex, he at once returned towards Oxford to obtain reinforcements, and on 21 June he was at Woodstock, where fresh troops joined him, increasing his army to 5,500 foot and 4,000 horse. The same evening he was at Buckingham, and thence he proceeded towards Banbury to try conclusions with Waller. At Cropredy Bridge, although at one period of the fight the king's rear-guard was nearly destroyed, a rapid advance of the main body saved the day (29 June). Waller was defeated, and Charles was free to pursue Essex into the west. He was recalled, after his triumph over Essex, by the necessity of relieving the Royalist garrison at Banbury, which was hard pressed by the enemy, as were other Royalist strongholds in the south and Midlands. Waller attempted to intercept his progress, but the king was able to send a force under Northampton to relieve Banbury, and the relief was accomplished (25 October), with the help of some of the Oxford garrison. Young Sir William Compton had for three months defended the castle against Colonel John Fiennes, who had planted his ordnance in the churchyard, using the church as a magazine, and the garrison was almost destitute of food when the siege was raised. The second battle of Newbury (27 October) failed to prevent the king from making good his retreat from the west, and Charles, who had marched towards Wallingford, relieved Donnington Castle on 9 November, and on the 23rd reached Oxford, which was still secured by his circle of garrisons, though the enemy, under Brown, retained an outpost at Abingdon.
An unsuccessful attempt to take Abingdon from Oxford (10 January 1645) was the first event of the next campaign, in which Oxford played a very important part. In April Charles was anxious to send artillery from Oxford to reinforce Rupert in the west, and the first exploit of the New Model army was Cromwell's manœuvres round Oxford, which hampered the Royalist plans for the year. On 23 April Cromwell reached Watlington with 1,500 horse, hoping to intercept Maurice and his artillery. On the 24th he had a skirmish with Northampton at Islip, and compelled him to withdraw, leaving 200 prisoners and 400 horses. At midnight he obtained the surrender of Bletchington House, which had been retaken by the Royalists in the preceding autumn, and which was under the charge of Colonel Windebank. The governor, in a moment of panic, surrendered to Cromwell's summons, 'leaving us between two and three hundred muskets, besides horse-arms and other ammunition, and about three score and eleven horses more'. Cromwell found a token of God's mercy 'in this, that I did much doubt the storming of this House, it being strong and well manned, and I having few dragoons'. (fn. 101) The king could scarcely be expected to take the same view of the incident, and, on 3 May, Windebank paid the penalty of his cowardice and was shot in the Castle garden. Cromwell was not nearly strong enough to make an attack upon Oxford, but he sent his captures to Abingdon, and, marching round by Witney, Bampton, and Newbridge, attempted in two letters (fn. 102) to terrify the governor of Faringdon into a similar pusillanimous surrender. With assistance from Abingdon, he made some pretence of attempting to storm the place. Meeting resistance from the governor, Roger Burgess, he marched on towards Newbury, having succeeded in his main intention of capturing the draught horses required for the royal artillery. Charles therefore summoned Rupert and Goring from the west, and both reached Oxford in the first week of May. On 7 May the king marched northwards out of Oxford, with some 11,000 men, and at Stow-on-the-Wold repeated the error of Essex and Waller in the preceding year, by sending Goring again into the west, and so perilously reducing the numbers of the main army. While Charles moved northwards from Stow-on-the-Wold to Droitwich and Market Drayton, Fairfax joined Cromwell, who had marched round from Newbury, by Reading and Windsor, to Marston.
After the disasters of Naseby, Philiphaugh, and Rowton Heath, Charles on 5 November once more took refuge in Oxford, and in the early morning of 27 April 1646 he left the city for the last time. It soon stood alone in England, except for Wallingford Castle. Woodstock surrendered to Rainsborough (fn. 103) at the end of April. On 8 May Sir William Compton, the heroic governor of Banbury, (fn. 104) decided that he had done his utmost, and made terms with Whalley. This second siege had lasted five months, and it was not until the king had fled from Oxford that Compton would hear of making terms. Boarstall, which had withstood Fairfax in June 1645, surrendered on 10 June 1646, and Radcot about the same time abandoned its resistance.
Oxford held out until 24 June. The surrender of Faringdon was arranged in the Oxford treaty, and on 27 July Wallingford was given up to the Parliament. The county had suffered even more than the city. Banbury and its neighbourhood were ruined by the sallies of the Royal garrison and by the two long sieges of 1644 and 1646. (fn. 105) Warfare had been unceasing near Thame, which suffered from the Parliamentary force at Aylesbury as well as from the Royalists near Oxford. Henley, the seat of Sir Bulstrode Whitelock of Phillis Court, a noted Parliamentarian, was a natural victim of the garrison of Wallingford. Various houses had been destroyed by their owners to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy, and on the conclusion of the war Banbury Castle was demolished, as also was Wallingford. Woodstock was sold in 1650, and the new owner destroyed most of it; in 1649 it had become famous for the trick played upon the Parliamentary Commissioners, described by Sir Walter Scott in Woodstock. Plot describes the destruction of the woods and the scarcity of timber, except in the Chilterns. (fn. 106) Churches and buildings of all kinds had been sadly injured, and the county still bears many traces of its misfortunes during the most important period of its history.
The Parliamentary settlement affected the university rather than the county or the city, and the record of the Cromwellian visitors belongs to academic history. The sole importance of the county during the interregnum lies in the mutiny of 1649. The Levellers or extreme Republicans were indignant that the scheme of government which they had demanded in 'The Agreement of the People' had not commended itself to the party in power. They were for the most part discontented soldiers, and, in the spring of 1649, Cromwell and Fairfax found themselves confronted with a mutiny, which broke out at Salisbury in May. The two generals at once set out for Salisbury, but on reaching Andover they discovered that the rebels had marched to Marlborough with the intention of making their way to Buckinghamshire to join another regiment of doubtful loyalty. From Marlborough the rebels proceeded to Wantage and on to Sunningwell, where they were disappointed in receiving very slight reinforcements. They failed to cross the Thames at Newbridge, but, swimming across it near Faringdon, they made their way to Burford. Meanwhile, Fairfax and Cromwell had marched by Newbury to Theale, so as to command the Thames Valley, and thence Fairfax followed in rapid pursuit by Abingdon, Newbridge, and Bampton-in-the-Bush. The mutineers surrendered, and three 'Burford martyrs' were shot next day (15 May). In the following September the garrison at Oxford proved to be disaffected. Lilburne's anonymous pamphlet, An Outcry of the Young Men and Apprentices of London, raised the soldiers to demand the summoning of a free Parliament. They seized New College, which was used as a magazine, and arrested their officers, but the return of the governor to his post was sufficient to quell the mutiny. (fn. 107) During the campaign of Charles II in 1651 there was an alarm at Oxford, and New College was fortified to the detriment of its cloister walls. (fn. 108) In the division of England, in 1655, into districts governed by Major-Generals, Oxfordshire was nominally under the rule of Fleetwood, but in fact it was, along with Hertfordshire, governed by one of his deputies, Colonel Packer.
The Restoration was welcomed at Oxford with great rejoicings. (fn. 109) The news that a free Parliament was to be summoned reached the city on 13 February 1660, and was welcomed with ringing of bells and with bonfires, and, as in London, the burning of rumps was one of the features of the celebrations. The city further brought itself into line with the general feeling of the nation by returning to Parliament two moderate politicians, Lord Falkland and James Haxley or Huxley, a Presbyterian. The county returned the two members it had elected in 1626, Viscount Wenman and the Hon. James Fiennes, both of whom had been expelled on the occasion of Pride's Purge, and who therefore represented the Presbyterian interest. The university, on the other hand, returned two strong Cavaliers and Episcopalians. As early as April the Book of Common Prayer was read in an Oxford parish church (St. Mary Magdalen) for the first time since the surrender of the city in 1646. On 1 May maypoles were set up and May games were played, and on the 29th Oxford abandoned itself to the wild outburst of loyal enthusiasm which proves the Restoration to have been the most popular movement in English history. To the Cavalier Parliament of 1661 the city returned Brome Whorwood, a Royalist, and Richard Croke, the recorder, who is described by Wood as 'always running with the times'. Falkland and Haxley stood, but were defeated, though Falkland was now a loyal Cavalier. He was returned for the county along with Sir Anthony Cope, as a Royalist, in place of Wenman and Fiennes. It is clear from these returns, as well as from other evidence, that Oxford and Oxfordshire shared the feeling of the Parliament which passed the Clarendon Code.
The anti-popish feeling roused by the 'Popish Plot' of 1678 explains the fact that at the elections of 1679 and 1681 both the city and the county of Oxford returned Whig members. One of the county members, elected in both years, was afterwards suspected of being an adherent of the Duke of Monmouth, and one of the city members, also returned at both elections, was arrested in 1684 for libels on the king and the Duke of York. Thus Oxford and Oxfordshire, which had shared in the Tory enthusiasm of 1661, now again shared the general feeling of the country by returning members favourable to the policy of the Exclusion Bill, which passed the Commons in 1680, but was rejected by the Lords.
Charles II chose the city of Oxford as the scene of the short-lived Parliament of 1681. During the rest of his reign there was a Tory reaction, the strength of which is shown by the city and county elections that took place after the accession of James II. In March 1685 the city returned to Parliament Sir George Pudsey of Elsfield, a strong Cavalier, who had been defeated at the three preceding elections, and who had been knighted by Charles II on his visit to Oxford in 1681. His colleague was the Hon. George Bertie, a son of the Earl of Lindsey. In the county Thomas Horde, who had sat in the preceding Parliament and who was a Whig suspected of favouring the claims of the Duke of Monmouth, met with a defeat, and two moderate politicians were returned. The election of Sir George Pudsey is, however, rendered less remarkable by the fact that the city had, like so many other corporations, lost its original charter, and the royal influence had greatly increased. The whole corporation now held office at the king's pleasure.
The accession of James II was, however, celebrated with much the usual rejoicings, and there is no indication of any sympathy with the Monmouth rebellion. When the news of Monmouth's landing arrived, in June 1685, the county militia assembled at Oxford, and the city supplied a number of volunteers for the royal guards to take the place of those who had gone to suppress the rebellion. Wood contrasts the loyalty of Oxford at this moment with the 'factiousness' of Abingdon, which produced only three or four volunteers. A few Oxford citizens were arrested on suspicion of complicity in the rising. (fn. 110)
James's dealings with Magdalen College, which exercised so great an influence upon national history, lie beyond the scope of this article. On 25 October 1688 the rights of the college were restored. Three days earlier the new charter had been abrogated, and the city recovered the rights it had lost in the reign of Charles II. Thus ended the contests between the Crown and the university and city of Oxford. The Revolution was not really a popular movement, and it was accepted rather as a disagreeable necessity than with any outburst of enthusiasm. The county of Oxford returned two Tories in 1689, one of whom, Sir Robert Jenkinson, belonged to what was afterwards a noted Jacobite family; and the county membership continued to be Tory for many years to come. A strong Jacobite feeling persisted in the county till the middle of the 18th century, and there is a tradition that Prince Charles Edward once paid a visit to Lord Cornbury. (fn. 111) The city representatives in 1689 were also Tories, and it was not until 1734 that a Whig was returned. William III was never liked in Oxford, which he visited only once—in 1695. He had been well received at Burford, and on 9 November he entered Oxford from Woodstock. The university greeted him respectfully in the theatre, in the area of which a great banquet, 'with all possible rarities', was prepared; (fn. 112) but William, being afraid, report said, of an attempt to poison him, curtly declined, and left the city for Windsor.
The story of Oxford Jacobitism belongs to the history of the university and not of the city, which contained many Whigs, and was never more than moderately Tory. The clergy hated the new régime, but very few, either in the city or the county, refused the oaths and became nonjurors. The county squires retained their loyalty to the Stuarts, but preferred to show it by spilling port rather than blood, and county Jacobitism has no history to record. The reign of Queen Anne raised the hopes of the Jacobites. Oxford received Sacheverell with enthusiasm, and Tories like Hearne, whose Diaries (fn. 113) are the best authority for local history from 1705 to 1735, watched eagerly for the events which were to follow the queen's death. The bitter disappointment of the peaceful accession of George I led to the first of a series of riots which possess no importance in national history. The chief interest of the great riot of 28–9 May 1715 (the birthday of George I and Royal Oak Day respectively) lies in the fact that many of the citizens, according to Hearne, shared the Stuart sympathies of the university. But Hearne is not an unprejudiced witness. The wars of Queen Anne's reign—which had given a new place-name to Oxfordshire—produced, incidentally, a change in the position of the city of Oxford by the creation of a great local interest, such as had never before existed. The proximity of Blenheim and the wealth and importance of the ducal family of Marlborough made Oxford much more of a county town in the 18th century than it had ever been before, and the effect is clearly to be seen in the history of Oxford representation in Parliament. (fn. 114) It may be convenient here to deal with the subject of representation up to the Reform Act of 1832. Up to 1761 the city of Oxford almost invariably returned two Tory members, usually belonging to some great local family. In 1768 the mayor and aldermen offered to re-elect its two members— the Hon. Robert Lee, son of the first Earl of Lichfield, and Sir Thomas Stapleton of Bray, Berkshire—on condition of their paying off the debts of the town, which amounted to about £7,500. This suggestion was made before the dissolution of Parliament, and the two members informed the Speaker of what had occurred. The mayor, seven aldermen, and two bailiffs who had made the offer were imprisoned in Newgate by order of the Commons, and after five days' imprisonment were released, on acknowledging their guilt, expressing their contrition, and receiving a very severe reprimand from the Speaker, Sir John Cust. The Speaker's language about purity of elections reads strangely in the light of our knowledge of 18th-century customs, and it does not seem to have been taken very seriously by the culprits, who were conscious that they had intended no personal aggrandisement, and may therefore have considered themselves better than some of their neighbours. It is said that during their imprisonment they made a similar bargain with the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Abingdon. Neither of the two sitting members could face a poll, and the two new members were George Nares, son of the steward of the Earl of Abingdon (afterwards Mr. Justice Nares), and the Hon. W. Harcourt, son of the first Earl Harcourt. Both were Tories. The Marlborough influence appears at the election of 1774, when Lord Robert Spencer was elected as a Tory, along with the Hon. Peregrine Bertie, a Whig (son of the third Earl of Abingdon). Both were reelected in 1780 and 1784, although, in the interval, Lord Robert Spencer had become a Whig. The fact that, in the height of the great Tory reaction after the fall of the coalition ministry of Fox and North, Oxford returned two Whigs indicates the enormous influence of the two great local families. In 1790 a Tory was elected along with Captain Bertie, and on his death another Tory succeeded him, and the representation of Oxford continued to be invariably Tory until 1826, when two Whigs were returned, and until the passing of the Reform Act only Whigs were elected. The members from 1790 onwards did not belong to either the Abingdon or the Marlborough family.
When we turn to the county we find, similarly, that the members were almost entirely Tory. Even the great election of 1754—which caused intense excitement and provoked an outburst of election literature enormous for that date—resulted in a Tory victory in the first instance. The candidates were Lord Wenman and Sir James Dashwood, who were supported by the Duke of Marlborough, and represented the Old or Blue Interest; and Viscount Parker and Sir Edward Turner of Ambrosden, who were supported by the Earl of Abingdon, and represented the New or Yellow Interest. The Blues were returned at the poll, but were unseated on petition, and the two Whigs sat for the county till 1761. From that time till about 1800 the politics of the county varied with the views of the county families who managed the elections. For many years its influence was neutralized by the return of Lord Wenman, the Whig son of the candidate of 1754, and Lord Charles Spencer, a Tory. In 1784 Lord Charles Spencer was a Whig, having followed the Fox-North party, but he was duly returned, and the county, like the city, returned two Whigs to that great Tory Parliament. After 1800 the Oxfordshire members were Tories until 1831. Both in that year and in 1832 two Whigs were elected, and thus city and county alike were, in spite of their traditions, solid for Parliamentary Reform at the critical moment. The university record is, of course, continuously Tory.
Through the latter portion of the 18th century Woodstock was a pocket borough, belonging to the family of Marlborough, and its politics were almost always Tory, except when one of the ducal house stood as a Whig. Oddly enough, it returned two Tories in 1784, but in that year the younger sons of the Churchill family were otherwise provided for. In 1831 two brothers, the Marquis of Blandford, a Tory, and Lord Charles Churchill, a Whig, were returned together. Next year, in the crisis of the Reform agitation, Lord Blandford did not stand, but his brother was re-elected, with a Tory as his colleague. The main interest of the representation of Banbury lies in the influence of the Norths, and all through the 18th century it was generally represented by a Tory member of that family. Frederick, Lord North, the Prime Minister, was member for Banbury continuously from 1754 to 1790, when he succeeded his father as Earl of Guilford, and was followed in the representation of Banbury by his son. In 1806 a North was defeated at Banbury by another Whig, and in 1831 Banbury succeeded in putting itself into line with the feeling in the country, and returned a member to vote for reform; the number of electors was eighteen, of whom eight or nine voted.
The history of 18th-century Oxford and Oxfordshire, apart from its political record, must be summed up in a very few words. The appearance of the whole country was gradually changed through the effects of the long series of Inclosure Acts (over one hundred and fifty in number) passed in the reign of George II, and by the still longer series of some seven hundred passed under George III. While swamps and waste land were being reclaimed all over England, in accordance with these Acts, a parallel series of Turnpike Acts was securing the making of good roads, and destroying the profession of highway robbery, which flourished in the earlier part of the century. The county of Oxford shared largely in these great national improvements. 'Enclosing to a greater proportional amount than in almost any other county', wrote Arthur Young (fn. 115) about Oxfordshire, 'has changed the men as much as it has improved the country; they are now in the ebullition of this change: a vast amelioration has been wrought and is working.' When Arthur Young wrote, no fewer than sixty-seven Inclosure Acts of George III had been passed for Oxfordshire, and it is calculated that about 100,000 acres were affected. This subject is more fully treated in the social and economic section (fn. 116) of this history; but we must keep these facts in mind if we are to understand the change in Oxfordshire feeling which we have seen in the result of elections immediately preceding the Reform Act. Of other political events there is little to record. The district suffered from the usual periodical outbursts of rioting, e.g. in 1766, when the high price of wheat provoked an Oxford mob to attack flour-mills and seize the flour. There were similar disturbances at Henley, and they attracted some attention at the time. The outbreak of the French Revolution stirred Oxford to make loyal addresses to the Crown, and Tom Paine was, more than once, burnt in effigy. Oxford's most remarkable share in the glories of the war was the memorable visit of the allied sovereigns in 1814, the last great occasion in the history of the city.
It only remains to give some account of Parliamentary representation since the Reform Act, for Oxford has played no other part in the political history of England in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the Redistribution Act of 1832 the boundaries of the county were changed. Portions of the parishes of Langford and Shilton, and the tithing of Little Faringdon, situated in Oxfordshire, but belonging hitherto to Berkshire, were annexed to Oxfordshire; and similarly, Studley and Caversfield, which had belonged to Buckinghamshire, and Widford and Shenington, which had belonged to Gloucestershire, were now made part of the county of Oxford. On the other hand, Boycot, Lillingstone Lovell, and Hackhampstead were transferred from Oxfordshire to Buckinghamshire, part of Broughton Poggs parish to Gloucestershire, and Dailsford was annexed to Worcestershire.
The Reform Act gave a third member to the county, and from 1832 to 1885 the representation varied greatly between Liberal and Conservative. By the Act of 1885 the county was divided into Mid-Oxfordshire (Woodstock), North Oxfordshire (Banbury), and South Oxfordshire (Henley). The last of these preserved a continuous political representation until 1906, when it returned a Liberal for the first time; the other divisions varied with the changing conditions of party politics. The Act of 1832 did not interfere with the number of members for the city. Up to 1880 the representation of the city was generally, though not invariably, Liberal. In that year a by-election, consequent upon the appointment of Sir William Harcourt to the Home Secretaryship, resulted in the defeat of the Liberal candidate, but an inquiry revealed so much evidence of corruption that the election was annulled and the city was disfranchised, in respect of one seat, until 1885. The Act of 1885 reduced its representation to one member, and since that date it has always returned a Conservative, except between 1922 and 1924. Even in 1906, when the Liberal party achieved an outstanding victory, the Conservative candidate was returned by a narrow majority. Woodstock was the scene of many interesting elections between 1832 and 1885, and it is specially associated with the career of Lord Randolph Churchill. It had lost one member in 1832, and in 1885 it lost its separate representation. Banbury, which had an unbroken Whig or Liberal representation up to 1885, also lost its member in that year, and became part of the northern division of the county.
In 1906 all three divisions of the county returned Liberals to Parliament, and the northern division did so in the second election of 1910, the member on both occasions being the Hon. Sir Eustace Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, whose name recalls the 17th century.
The Representation of the People Act, 1918, reduced the county divisions to two—Banbury and Henley, each of which has returned a Conservative or Unionist member consistently since that time (save for a 'Coalition Liberal' in Banbury in December 1918). The opposing candidates were all Liberal until 1922, when a Labour candidate stood for Banbury. The first Labour candidate stood for the city in 1924, and in 1929 all three seats were contested by members of that party as well as by Liberals.
In the earlier elections of the present century distinguished Conservatives were returned unopposed for the two university seats. Liberal opposition was first offered at a by-election in 1919 and continued on each occasion until 1929. In 1935 four candidates stood—two Conservatives, one Independent, and one Labour; a Conservative and the Independent, A. P. Herbert, were elected after a contest that excited much public interest. The return of Sir Arthur Salter at the by-election, in the Spring of 1937, resulted in the university being for the first time represented by two Independent members.