A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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Woodstock sent two representatives to parliament in 1302 and two others in 1305; (fn. 86) all seem to have been residents and two were members of the prominent Bennet family. (fn. 87) The borough charter of 1453 freed Woodstock from the burden of representation (fn. 88) but in 1553 the borough again provided two M.P.s. Returns were usually made by the mayor and commonalty, implying that the franchise, as in mayoral elections, extended beyond the council to the freeman body. (fn. 89) An election restricted to councillors in 1609 may have been exceptional because of the death of a sitting member, (fn. 90) and the rejection by parliament of the freemen's choice when there was a double return in 1640 may not have constituted a challenge to their right to vote. (fn. 91) In the early 18th century, however, it was alleged that parliament in 1640 had decided that the franchise lay with the council, and 'ancient men' claimed that freemen never voted until the Restoration; their memory may recall only a temporary loss of rights during the Interregnum. (fn. 92) Certainly freemen's rights were accepted after the Restoration except when the short-lived charter of 1688 limited the franchise to the council. (fn. 93) A council ordinance of 1660 that nonresident freemen should pay £2 13s. 4d. to 'have their voice' was not invoked thereafter, and attempts in 1713 to exclude non-residents from voting failed. (fn. 94) Until 1832 the franchise extended to all freemen.
In the 16th and 17th centuries stewards of the royal manor and park strongly influenced the borough's representation. In the mid 16th century the seat was controlled by Sir Leonard Chamberlain (d. 1561), steward of the manor and M.P. for the county, and in 1553 and in the two parliaments of 1554 a Chamberlain of Shirburn was elected with colleagues who were also non-resident. (fn. 95) Woodstock was not represented in the later Marian parliaments, nor, perhaps because the Chamberlains were recusants, in 1559 and 1562. When Woodstock returned M.P.s in 1571 its right was investigated and allowed. (fn. 96) After the death of Francis Chamberlain in 1570 his successors as steward, Thomas Peniston and from 1573 Sir Henry Lee (d. 1611), continued to control the seat; both were related to Sir Francis Knollys (d. 1596), (fn. 97) and Woodstock was evidently treated as part of a network of county patronage. In 1571 Peniston shared the representation with Martin Johnson, Knollys's servant; George Whitton, who replaced his cousin Peniston in 1572, was comptroller of the park; Lawrence Tanfield, M.P. from 1584, was married to Lee's niece, and Sir Henry Unton and Sir Francis Stonor, M.P.s in 1584 and 1586, were presumably nominees of Knollys or Lee. (fn. 98) Whitton's election perhaps owed less to his park office than to his own influence as alderman; while mayor in 1571-3 he fought a costly action against Peniston, and later quarrelled with both Lee and his fellow councillors. He was disfranchised in 1581 and later became M.P. for Brackley (Northants.). (fn. 99)
Sir Henry Lee became the borough's high steward before 1580 (fn. 1) and Woodstock was content thereafter to elect non-resident M.P.s, probably his nominees. Tanfield maintained close ties with the town as its recorder, the first of several eminent lawyers to combine the two offices. (fn. 2) Sir Thomas Spencer of Yarnton, M.P. from 1604, (fn. 3) declined to stand after succeeding Lee as high steward in 1612, being replaced in 1614 by Sir Philip Cary, Tanfield's son-in-law, brother of Henry, Lord Falkland of Great Tew. (fn. 4) James Whitelocke, recorder from 1606 and M.P. from 1609, was re-elected in 1614 'notwith-standing the town were hardly pressed for another' by the steward of Woodstock manor, Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery. (fn. 5) Whitelocke, whose contentious views on the royal prerogative may have provoked Herbert's opposition, was evidently popular in Woodstock and gave up the seat only when he became a high court judge. Herbert became high steward of the borough in 1622 and thereafter controlled the seat until the Civil War. William Lenthall, (fn. 6) who succeeded Whitelocke as recorder in 1622 and as M.P. in 1624 did not stand in 1625, perhaps because he was unacceptable to Herbert. His replacement, Sir Gerard Fleetwood, held office under Herbert in Woodstock park, (fn. 7) and Edmund Taverner, who replaced Cary in 1636, was Herbert's secretary. In 1628 Sir Gerard was replaced by his nephew Sir Miles Fleetwood (d. 1641) and for the Short Parliament of 1640 the M.P.s were Sir Miles's son Sir William Fleetwood, by then ranger of the park, and William Lenthall. (fn. 8)
A disputed election for the Long Parliament perhaps reflected Herbert's disagreements with the king. In October 1640 the mayor and commonalty reported the election of William Lenthall and Lord Pembroke's son William Herbert (replaced by Sir Robert Pye when he decided to sit elsewhere); an unorthodox return of Sir William Fleetwood and Benjamin Merrick, a Woodstock resident, signed a few days earlier by c. 45 freemen, was rejected by parliament in January 1641. (fn. 9) Lenthall was by then Speaker; Pye was evicted in Pride's Purge in 1648. (fn. 10)
No member for Woodstock was summoned to the Barebones Parliament, but in 1654 the borough, given representation by one member, (fn. 11) chose Lt.-Gen. Charles Fleetwood, owner of Woodstock manor and park since 1652; although brother of the royalist Sir William he was Cromwell's son-in-law and by 1655, as major-general, commanded seven counties including Oxfordshire. (fn. 12) In 1656 he was replaced as M.P. by William Packer, his deputy as major-general in Oxfordshire. In 1659 Woodstock again had two members, Fleetwood's protégé, Jerome Sankey, and his nephew Miles Fleetwood (d. 1688). (fn. 13)
For the Convention Parliament Woodstock returned the royalists Sir Thomas Spencer of Yarnton (d. 1685) and Edward Atkyns of Hensington, a borough magistrate since 1656, recorder 1660-2, and Spencer's relative by marriage. (fn. 14) In 1661 Atkyns gave way to Sir William Fleetwood, who was again resident in the park as ranger and became a supporter of the court party. Spencer became high steward of Woodstock in 1661, was one of the commissioners charged with purging the corporation in 1662, and at his own cost defended the borough's charter of 1664 against a challenge in 1667 from Fleetwood and Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon; Clarendon, briefly steward of Woodstock manor, may have been seeking influence in the borough. (fn. 15)
From the 1670s Spencer's influence was challenged by John Lovelace, Lord Lovelace (d. 1693), steward of the manor 1670-9 and a leading Whig. (fn. 16) Lovelace, inserted into the Woodstock council soon after his father acquired the stewardship in 1668, established an annual horse race in the park, (fn. 17) offered gifts to the corporation, (fn. 18) and infiltrated the electorate with non-resident political adherents; Thomas Howard, elected on Fleetwood's death in 1674, although not apparently a Whig was evidently an associate of Lovelace, who had secured his admission to the freedom in 1673. (fn. 19) The number of freemen rose from c. 90 in 1662 to probably over 200 in 1681, chiefly because of the Exclusion crisis when more than 60 honorary freemen were admitted. (fn. 20) Intent on keeping the borough 'solely at his devotion', (fn. 21) Lovelace even secured the admission of Titus Oates, who visited the races in 1679 and stayed to preach sermons. (fn. 22) Spencer outmatched Lovelace in the matter of honorary freemen, introducing as many as 24 at a single meeting, but did not seek election himself in 1679, perhaps because of his recusant connexions. (fn. 23) The M.P.s chosen at both elections in that year, although apparently acceptable to Lovelace, seem to have been moderates, and neither voted for the Exclusion Bill: Sir Littleton Osbaldeston of Chadlington, a lawyer sometimes resident in Woodstock and a councillor since 1662, later adhered to the court party, and Nicholas Baynton, resident at Chaucer's House from the 1670s, was like Lovelace a successful racehorse owner. (fn. 24)
From the mid 1670s Lovelace's unpopularity at court threatened his position in Woodstock manor and park, from which he was evicted in 1679 in favour of the king's son-in-law Edward Henry Lee, earl of Lichfield. (fn. 25) The earl was a minor until 1684; and his interest in Woodstock was looked after by Osbaldeston, his deputy from 1679, (fn. 26) and the lawyer John Cary of Wilcote, who moved into the town in 1675 and became a councillor and magistrate. (fn. 27) The earl was an ally of Sir Thomas Spencer and in September 1680 paid for lavish entertainment when Spencer's adherents were elected honorary freemen. (fn. 28) The earl was closely related to the Berties, who were emerging as the dominant Tory influence in Oxfordshire. (fn. 29) In 1680-1 James Bertie, Lord Norreys, later earl of Abingdon, rapidly built up his interest in Woodstock with Spencer's help, (fn. 30) and in 1681 secured the election of his brother Henry, Osbaldeston perhaps agreeing to stand down. Lovelace temporarily withdrew his horse races to Oxford and by 1681 his influence, despite entertaining 'the rag tag of Woodstock', was slight. (fn. 31) Tory control was reflected in loyal addresses, in the election as councillors and magistrates of Lord Norreys and the earl of Lichfield, and of Lichfield as high steward in 1685. (fn. 32) Osbaldeston was returned with Richard Bertie in 1685.
The earl of Abingdon's waning popularity at court (fn. 33) left the borough defenceless against quo warranto proceedings in 1688, but the new charter was quickly rescinded. (fn. 34) Lovelace's influence at Woodstock was restored by the Revolution, but there was an alliance of interests, perhaps helped by Henry Bertie's rescue of Lovelace from prison during the invasion. (fn. 35) Of the M.P.s confirmed by the general election in January 1689 Sir John Doyley, an honorary freeman from 1681, (fn. 36) was an associate of the Berties, and Sir Thomas Littleton, kinsman of Littleton Osbaldeston, was presumably approved by Lovelace. In 1692 Lovelace was elected high steward after securing Lichfield's dismissal for refusing the statutory oaths, but Lichfield continued to influence the seat through John Cary, favouring Littleton, a moderate court Whig and Speaker 1698-1700. (fn. 37) Both Lovelace and Thomas Wharton, Lord Wharton, who took over the Whig interest in Woodstock after Lovelace's death in 1693, found it expedient to share the patronage with the earl of Abingdon. (fn. 38) Berties were chosen at all elections to 1705, and in 1702, when the 2nd earl replaced Wharton as lord lieutenant, Tory influence prevailed. The Berties, who in 1695 had acceded only reluctantly to Sir Thomas Littleton's retention of a Woodstock seat, (fn. 39) secured the election of two Tories in 1702; the renewal of conflict over patronage is reflected in the numbers of honorary freemen introduced in the period 1701-4. (fn. 40)
The grant of Blenheim to the duke of Marlborough in 1705 immediately challenged Abingdon's interest, (fn. 41) but the Marlborough family's 'natural right to the chief influence there' (fn. 42) was recognized only after a prolonged and expensive struggle. In 1705 the duke's man, General William Cadogan defeated one of Abingdon's candidates and in 1708 the two Tory candidates lost to Cadogan and Sir Thomas Wheate of Glympton, a Bertie ally turned to the Marlborough interest. (fn. 43) In 1710 Cadogan and Wheate's tenure seemed unassailable until Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, stopped all work at Blenheim shortly before the election; in panic Wheate marshalled non-resident support and some workmen were hastily paid, but the Tories failed to produce a candidate. In 1713, with the Marlboroughs in exile and the Blenheim debt a local grievance, Abingdon's challenge was averted only by a large outlay on debts and street paving. At a byelection on Wheate's death in 1721 his son Sir Thomas (d. 1746), described by the duchess as 'contemptible, an idiot, and a beggar', (fn. 44) almost defeated her candidate Samuel Crisp despite the 'usual' Tory mismanagement. (fn. 45) Abingdon then seized his opportunity by joining forces with Wheate, who was also supported by George, earl of Lichfield. In 1722 Crisp and William Clayton, who had succeeded Cadogan in the Marlborough interest in 1716, were easily defeated by Wheate and Abingdon's candidate, Samuel Trotman. In 1727 the duchess was reconciled with the earl in order to extinguish Wheate's influence and secure the unopposed election, with Trotman, of her grandson William Godolphin, marquess of Blandford. The alliance perhaps continued, (fn. 46) for the choice in 1734 of James Dawkins, a rich Jacobite, to share the representation with the duchess's grandson John Spencer was probably by agreement, since Dawkins threatened to inconvenience the earl at Oxford. (fn. 47) Later in 1734 the duchess contrived to avoid a byelection; apparently Sir Robert Walpole, aided by a mayor intent on a contest, had built up a significant interest, particularly among freemen living in London. (fn. 48)
The duchess interfered throughout in the management of Woodstock, frequently causing ill feeling. During the duke's life much was entrusted to agents, notably Samuel Travers, surveyor-general of Crown Lands, and William Diston, a flamboyant Chadlington landowner. Sir John Vanbrugh lost his government post through being involved in the electoral campaign of 1713. (fn. 49) In the same campaign Henry Joynes, comptroller of the Blenheim works, permitted £ 1,325 given by the Marlboroughs to settle freemen's bills to pass through his accounts as if government funds, so that the Marlboroughs might gain favour in Woodstock without acknowledging responsibility for the Blenheim debt. Joynes denied buying votes, but found that paying creditors 'has the same effect'. (fn. 50) In the 1720s the master masons William Townesend and Bartholomew Peisley were expected to produce political support. Much reliance was placed on the town clerks George and Edward Ryves, and the rectors intervened on behalf of their patron: Sir Robert Cocks in 1721 preached a sermon reminding townspeople of their duty to the Marlboroughs, (fn. 51) and in 1727 William Baker, former rector and councillor, travelled to Woodstock as bishop of Norwich to vote at an important council election. (fn. 52)
The Marlboroughs infiltrated the corporation with honorary freemen, including, in 1705, Cadogan, Travers, Vanbrugh, the duke's secretary Adam Cardonnel, and the gardener Henry Wise. (fn. 53) Non-resident freemen qualified by patrimony or apprenticeship were also registered in large numbers, and at the election of 1713 there were 337 votes, implying an electorate of 170 or more. (fn. 54) Although both sides had employed similar tactics, (fn. 55) the defeated candidates petitioned and the Tory Commons ordered a new election at which the Marlborough candidates were returned: the right of all freemen to vote was confirmed. (fn. 56) In the byelection of 1721 there were at least 254 voters and although Wheate petitioned he soon withdrew. (fn. 57) Shortly afterwards the earl of Abingdon secured the admission of over 50 freemen, mostly local country gentlemen; (fn. 58) in 1722 c. 190 voted (fn. 59) and the defeated Marlborough candidates' petition was unsuccessful. (fn. 60) In 1724 the electorate was at least 362, of whom only 105 were residents; 443 votes were cast in 1727. (fn. 61)
The Marlboroughs also secured council places for their supporters, including in 1709 Francis, Lord Rialton, later earl of Godolphin, in 1715 William Diston, and in 1716 Cadogan. (fn. 62) In 1727-8 the duchess's success in packing the council with non-residents caused general distaste, and even her manager tried to prevent further infiltration. (fn. 63) The mayor's support in election years was regarded as essential, since he controlled council meetings and was returning officer; Abingdon's success in 1722 was attributed to his capture of the mayoralty for John Brotherton. (fn. 64)
The Marlboroughs did not own much property in the borough until the later 18th century but commanded votes as employers and purchasers. As early as 1705 a notice in the park threatened workmen with dismissal unless they voted in a mayoral election for the Marlborough candidate. (fn. 65) In 1713 employment at Blenheim and in paving the town was restricted to supporters, (fn. 66) and in 1722 the duchess proposed to avoid the use of masons 'inclined to vote with our enemies'. (fn. 67) In 1708 gentlemen who had 'so violently espoused the Lord Abingdon's cause' were expressly excluded from a distribution of venison, (fn. 68) and the duchess's reprisals after a reverse in 1721 included banning 'enemies' from the park, denying them the traditional right to gather firewood, and turning away visitors who were staying at inns owned by political opponents; 'examples' were to be made of hostile councillors, notably Brotherton and William Simmons, lessee of the waterworks. (fn. 69)
Such methods encouraged strife and venality; opponents became embittered, while dependents saw political contests as an opportunity to secure repayment of debts or to press for other advantages. Diston, who attributed his success as political manager to his ownership of the town's cockpit and to his office of park bailiff, from whom freemen solicited venison, (fn. 70) negotiated for councillors' votes with offers of money and employment. He noted that the townsmen's poverty encouraged them to 'keep up two parties': leading councillors included William Hatley, 'a beggar', anxious to trade his vote for a settlement of his debts, John Appletree, mayor in 1727, assuring the duchess of continued support while making play of his imminent arrest for debt, and John Tasker, 'poor and drunk'. (fn. 71)
Costs grew with the size of the electorate: in 1721 the duchess was said to have paid between 16 and 20 gn. a vote, and in the relatively trouble-free election of 1727 she spent c. £450 in the town 'besides the charge and hire of the freemen from London', entertainment at her own house, and 'at least 120 bucks'. (fn. 72) In addition there were timely gifts to the town as a whole: in 1713 the Marlboroughs spent nearly £1,000 on paving the streets, (fn. 73) and in 1731 the duchess clothed 80 poor townspeople. (fn. 74) Despite all efforts the Marlborough interest remained brittle. In 1722 the duchess's candidates seem to have won no support from local gentry, among whom the earl of Abingdon's interest was strong, and most of the leading councillors voted against her. (fn. 75) In 1734 the duchess feared that the few gentlemen among her voters lived too far away to be relied upon in winter, that the 'little people' in London dependent on the Crown would be against her, and that the military men who feared Walpole's displeasure would at best abstain. (fn. 76)
After the death of the earl of Abingdon in 1743 and of the duchess in 1744 Woodstock became the Marlboroughs' unchallenged 'pocket borough'. The 4th duke (d. 1817), who controlled several other seats, (fn. 77) in 1767 demanded the council's unanimous approval of his nominee and referred confidently to 'the trust I wish you to repose in him'. (fn. 78) His agent Thomas Walker, also town clerk, kept the freeman body small and the council compliant: (fn. 79) there were only c. 120 freemen in the later 18th century, and the two candidates in 1784 together incurred only £366 in expenses. (fn. 80) The Marlboroughs paid for a new town hall and the restoration of the church and John Skinner, M.P. 1771-7, contributed towards a workhouse. (fn. 81) The duke usually recommended relatives and friends with legal, political, or court appointments, mostly supporting the government of the day. From 1784 until 1820 one seat was reserved for the duke's friend Sir Henry Watkin Dashwood of Kirtlington, a ruined man who needed the protection of a parliamentary seat. (fn. 82) The most eminent member was William Eden, later Lord Auckland, M.P. 1774-84, whose two sons also represented Woodstock in the early 19th century.
After slight opposition to the duke in 1802 when an unknown Irish nabob, William Camac (? Carnac), attracted a few votes, (fn. 83) there was a serious contest in 1806; the duke's agent, James Blackstone, also recorder, summoned favourable voters from London to support William Eden, junior, against Arthur Annesley of Bletchingdon, formerly M.P. for Oxford. Annesley eventually received only 44 votes in a total of 224, but caused concern because of the high proportion of non-resident voters, thought likely to be more independent of the duke, and the opposition of prominent residents. (fn. 84) George Eden, M.P. 1810-12, was the duke's godson and nominee, but did not share his political views; his father, Lord Auckland, described the seat as expensive and precarious, (fn. 85) but Eden was keen to recover it in 1813 after an unsuccessful switch to Oxford, at the duke's behest, and he paid half the cost of his election. By then Blackstone was attempting to limit treating, allowing each Woodstock freemen only 2s. 6d. for food and 8s. for drink, and grudgingly extending the allowance for London freemen to 5s. and 10s. (fn. 86a)
In the time of the impecunious 5th duke (1817-40) Woodstock's political life was transformed. The reduction of the Blenheim household and the duke's difficulty in financing political management encouraged local opposition, although a former M.P.'s claim that the duke could hardly command ten votes was implausible. (fn. 87a) Opposition was stimulated by the duke's personal and political quarrels with his eldest son George, marquess of Blandford, an ultra Tory but also a Reformer. (fn. 88a) For the first time political issues, notably Catholic emancipation and the franchise, became prominent in campaigns. The town and corporation became divided, not always on clear cut lines, between Tory and Whig, conformist and dissenter, supporters of the duke and of Lord Blandford; there were others, calling themselves Independents, whose chief stance was opposition to the Blenheim interest. (fn. 89a) In 1826, in 'the most shameful scenes ever remembered in Woodstock', a street riot involved the duke's three sons: Lord Blandford was injured and Lord Charles Spencer Churchill, fighting stripped to the waist, was beaten back into the campaign headquarters, the Bear. (fn. 90a) For much of the 1830s corporate government was suspended because of resistance to the duke's nomination of a recorder. (fn. 91a) When council meetings were resumed elections to the mayoralty and even minor offices were sometimes contested on party lines, with candidates standing openly for the Conservative 'Blues' or the Radical 'Pinks'. (fn. 92a)
In 1820 the duke asked Lord Liverpool to recommend 'any eminent commercial person', (fn. 93a) and the Tory Sir John Gladstone, a Liverpool merchant, was returned unopposed with a rich Whig, James Langston of Sarsden. Lord Blandford withdrew when he could find no politically congenial colleague. (fn. 94a) Apparently Gladstone and Langston were approached to provide £2,500 each to meet the duke's local debts; Langston may have paid but Gladstone denied any promise and handed over to his agent, the town clerk Henry North, only £877, of which £100 was North's fee and the rest presumably for entertainment. (fn. 95a) In 1826 Lord Blandford and his cousin Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Lord Ashley, unexpectedly defeated Langston in a four-cornered contest probably decided by their opposition to Catholic emancipation. Immediately afterwards Langston defeated the duke's candidate at Oxford, ending the Marlborough influence there. (fn. 96a)
By 1830 Woodstock had c. 170 voters of whom over 100 were non-resident. (fn. 97a) Lord Blandford, by then an advocate of parliamentary reform, (fn. 98a) and his brother Lord Charles Spencer Churchill, a moderate Whig, were elected unopposed in 1830. Blandford stood down before the election of May 1831 and the Tory William Murray, Viscount Stormont, who may have paid for his seat, (fn. 99a) was elected with Lord Charles on a platform of opposition to reform. (fn. 1a) They were unexpectedly challenged by a London journalist, J. S. Buckingham, who claimed that under the borough charter the franchise ought to extend to all inhabitants; many unregistered householders supported him but he gained only 16 legitimate votes in a total of 179. (fn. 2a) Before the election Woodstock had been scheduled for disfranchisement on the grounds of population, (fn. 3a) but in October 1831 Woodstock was one of six boroughs rescheduled to retain a single member on the basis of taxable houses; to achieve the required minimum of 300 qualifying voters the constituency was enlarged to c. 34 square miles. (fn. 4a) No evidence has been found for a later allegation that the duke saved his borough by an agreement with the government: (fn. 5a) in 1830 he had failed to obtain a place from Lord Grey by offering his support and that of his sons, (fn. 6a) and the duke and the sitting members never supported the Reform Bill; (fn. 7a) even Lord Blandford, who had proposed enlarging smaller constituencies and extending the franchise to ratepayers, declined to help Lord Grey by moving to the Upper House. (fn. 8a)
The new constituency contained 317 voters; there were only 76 householders in the ancient borough, 165 in the added rural area, and 76 freemen living within 7 miles, 52 of them in the borough. (fn. 9a) In the 1850s there were c. 40 freemen and c. 360 qualified householders in the constituency but the number of freemen declined; in the 1860s the electorate fell below 300. (fn. 10a) After the franchise was extended in 1868 the municipal borough accounted for only a quarter of the total electorate of c. 1,100. (fn. 11a)
The boundary revision of 1832 strengthened the duke's influence, since he owned much of the rural part of the new constituency. Sir James Graham, trustee of the Marlborough estates, commented that Woodstock would be a safe family seat if only the duke and Lord Blandford would agree rather than try to 'screw money out of the transaction'. (fn. 12a) Thus in 1832 and 1835 Lord Blandford and Lord Charles were successively elected without opposition, but family disagreement resulted in contests in 1837 and 1838. Lord Blandford successfully put up a hunting friend and former Woodstock resident, Henry Peyton, against the duke's candidate, Lord Charles. (fn. 13a) When Peyton resigned in 1838 Lord Blandford, standing as a Peelite, defeated his brother, Lord John, a Whig, by only 5 votes. (fn. 14a) Both elections led to petitions, against Peyton for bribery and corruption, against Lord Blandford for 'undue influence' and fraudulent registration. (fn. 15a) The duke invited over 200 supporters to a rabbit hunt in Blenheim Park. (fn. 16a) He was accused of exclusive dealing with tradesmen and intimidation of tenants, (fn. 17a) which included evicting from Begbroke House the banker Thomas Robinson. (fn. 18a) To punish political opponents he removed manorial courts from inns at Stonesfield and Bladon, where in compensation the 'Blues' organized dinners for the 'independent electors'. (fn. 19a)
When Lord Blandford became the 6th duke in 1840 he secured the uncontested election of the lawyer Frederick Thesiger, later Lord Chelmsford. (fn. 20a) Thereafter, the seat was held by ducal nominees, all Tories or Conservatives, but from 1865 there was a growing Liberal challenge. Antipathy to the 'thraldom' of Blenheim united a group led in the 1840s by the town clerk, the recorder, and the rector, Joseph Bowles; (fn. 21a) a hope was expressed in 1840 that under the new duke 'the old halls will resound once more with the hospitality and revelry of bygone days', (fn. 22a) but by 1844 there were familiar complaints of maltreatment of tenants, meanness over charities, and petty reprisals such as banning the rector from the park. (fn. 23a) Similar grievances were raised in the time of the 7th duke (1857-83). (fn. 24a) The G.A. Oxon. c 317/19: printed statistics on boro. voters resented being treated as 'Blenheim spaniels', (fn. 25a) and in 1865 the ducal candidate, Henry Barnett of Glympton Park, preferred to campaign 'on his own hook', invoking the duke's influence in the final stages since 'only a Churchill could be sure of success'. (fn. 26a) Although in that election the duke publicly notified his tenants that they might vote as they pleased, all but 9 of the 61 who voted supported Barnett. (fn. 27a)
The town's leading Liberals included the prominent Methodist G. G. Banbury, the Baptist minister John Freer, the glove manufacturers H. K. Money and J. N. Godden, and the upholsterer John Parker. (fn. 28a) They were noisy but ineffectual in the 1840s and 1850s. (fn. 29a) In 1865 the Liberal candidate, Mitchell Henry, who called upon Oxford dons to canvass for him, gained 119 votes in a poll of 262; transporting rural voters accounted for half his election expenses, whereas Barnett had the benefit of the duke's horses. (fn. 30a) In 1868 G. C. Brodrick, using academic friends to educate the enlarged electorate 'in the alphabet of the Liberal creed', lost to Barnett by only 21 votes in a poll of 938; in the town he lost by only 5 votes. (fn. 31a) Lord Randolph Churchill beat Brodrick more easily in 1874 in an 'ostentatiously seignorial campaign' managed by Barnett and Alderman R. B. B. Hawkins; the victory owed much to fear among farmers and tradesmen of the Liberals' association with the agricultural labourers' union and Joseph Arch. (fn. 32a) Lord Randolph retained the seat in 1880 and 1885 against a strong Liberal challenge; in 1885 the duke announced that he would not intervene, but in the end provided carriages to carry voters to the poll. (fn. 33a) The constituency was abolished under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885.