A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
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The restoration of Wiltshire parliamentary life had begun with the return, at the elections for Richard Cromwell's Parliament, to the traditional pattern of representation. Inspired, so Ludlow believed, by the hope that it would conduce to a docile House of Commons, (fn. 1) that decision put an end to experiment and opened the last long chapter in the history of the unreformed House of Commons. For Wiltshire it meant the retention both of the county's excess of seats and of their irregular distribution, and in consequence of these anomalies a perpetuation of the county's inflated importance in parliamentary life. The phenomenon did not pass unnoticed at the time: but, as one contemporary remarked, 'of what import it is to the welfare of the whole nation as well as of particular shires not to be outvoted in the house, nor out-numbered in the field, I leave to the Statesmen and Soldiers to judge'. (fn. 2)
The two county seats were to remain after the Restoration, as they had been before the Civil War, the supreme parliamentary honour, to be aspired to by only a few local notabilities. The practice, revived in 1659, (fn. 3) of holding a preliminary meeting of gentlemen to decide which of them should stand, tended to reduce the election itself to a formality: (fn. 4) while the return of the county court to Wilton helped to bury the partisan jugglery which had procured its translation to Devizes. (fn. 5) The knighthood of the shire was thus started on an orderly rotation which conferred it, in succession, upon Ashley Cooper, St. John, Ernie, Seymour, Hyde, Thynne, Grobham Howe, Bruce, and Mompesson, a fair mixture of old names and new, of noblemen and commoners, of Court and Country.
The fourteen Wiltshire boroughs which recovered their two members apiece in 1659, and the city of Salisbury which retained its pair, arranged themselves, in a constitutional sense, in two groups, the corporations and the boroughs by prescription. In both groups the size and composition of the electorate were to give rise during this period to varying degrees of contention. For the corporations the issue was whether the franchise should be confined to the governing body or extended to a larger number of citizens. The magistracies, supported by a central government which meant to pack them, upheld the 'closed' system: opposition elements attempted to break it down. Nowhere was the resulting struggle waged longer or more tenaciously than at Salisbury. The unsuccessful popular election staged in the city in 1640 (fn. 6) was merely the first round of a contest which was to last for half a century.
The question came up again in connexion with the first Protectorate Parliament. On 21 June 1654 the city council resolved by a majority to adhere to the customary method of election. (fn. 7) Its ensuing choice of Edward Tooker, uncle and ex-guardian of Ashley Cooper, and William Stevens, its Presbyterian recorder, as the city's two members leaves no doubt as to the nature of the opposition on this occasion: it was that Republican element which was simultaneously contesting the county election against Ashley Cooper and his friends. (fn. 8) At the time of the next election, in August 1656, the council was in the throes of securing a new charter and of purging itself of its Presbyterian members. (fn. 9) The intruding Independents appear to have seized the opportunity of taking part in the election along with the councillors they were soon to displace. (fn. 10) The two members returned were certainly of their persuasion: William Stone was to be the first mayor under the new charter, and James Hely was a staunch local Cromwellian. But it is possible that Edward Tooker got himself returned again, perhaps by the outgoing council, although he certainly did not sit. (fn. 11)
Those who in 1656 had broken precedent were by 1659 its guardians. The day before its election to Richard Cromwell's Parliament the council, in reaffirming the resolution of June 1654, added that in future members were to be chosen 'by the Mayor and Commonalty of the City, and not by any other vote or election whatsoever'. (fn. 12) The election which followed seems to have passed without challenge. But the wheel of fortune was soon to turn again. The recall of the Rump brought back to Westminster as the city's members John Dove and Michael Oldsworth, and it was doubtless at their instigation that early in August 1659 Salisbury was ordered to surrender its Cromwellian charter and to revert to the preceding one. The usual reshuffle of magistrates followed, and it was a council of a different complexion from that of the previous January which implemented the restrictive resolution at the next two elections. Edward Tooker was chosen on both occasions.
The hand of the restored monarchy fell heavily upon Salisbury, (fn. 13) and at the first four by-elections to the Cavalier Parliament royalists were returned without challenge. But in 1672 the city's earlier patron, now Earl of Shaftesbury, became high steward. Under his influence the opposition raised its head again, and by February 1679 it was strong enough to secure the return of two opposition members, Mompesson and Thistlethwaite, whose popularity is attested by the fact that neither then, nor in the following September, when they were re-elected, is there any hint of a rival election. But by February 1681, when it came to electing members of the Oxford Parliament, the Court party had rallied in the city, (fn. 14) and this time the council dropped Mompesson in favour of a loyalist, Colonel John Wyndham. This half-betrayal of the whig cause was answered by a popular election of both former members, which failed, however, to achieve even the initial objective of a double return, perhaps because within a few days Mompesson had found himself an alternative seat at Old Sarum. (fn. 15) Ten years were to pass before a similar challenge did reach the House of Commons, only to meet with defeat. In January 1689 a popular election returned Dr. David Thomas and Samuel Eyre, two dissenters who had served on the packed city council of the previous year, to the Convention, against the council's choice of Thomas Hoby of Breamore and Giles Eyre, the recorder. Referred to the Privileges Committee, the dispute went in favour of the mayor and council: on 1 April the committee upheld the validity of election by the select body and the House concurred. (fn. 16) Thus, after a struggle spread over 50 years, the campaign to broaden the Salisbury franchise ended in defeat. The popular election two months later of William Wyndham to the vacancy caused by the recorder's elevation to the bench was a parting shot which availed nothing. (fn. 17)
Salisbury was not alone in its effort to widen the franchise. At Devizes, in the boisterous election of September 1679, Sir Giles Hungerford and John Eyles, the Country party candidates, were successfully returned by popular vote: but when ten years later Eyles, now Sir John, and William Trenchard were so elected in opposition to the council's choice, the town sent a delegation to Westminster bearing its charters and secured a decision in favour of the closed system. (fn. 18) At Chippenham the franchise had been steadily widened since 1604 to include a considerable body of freemen. In 1673 106 persons took part in a by-election there: (fn. 19) and the size of the electorate, then estimated at 80, led James II's agents in 1688 to class Chippenham, not as a corporation, but as a borough by prescription. (fn. 20) At the other four corporations, Calne, Malmesbury, Marlborough, and Wilton, the restrictive system does not seem to have been seriously challenged. (fn. 21)
The payment of parliamentary wages, which had lingered on in one or two of the Wiltshire boroughs until the Civil War, (fn. 22) nowhere survived the Interregnum. It was now the member who put his hand in his pocket in gratitude for past favours or in expectation of those to come. Few Wiltshire members could vie with Sir Stephen Fox, whose connexion with Salisbury was of such benefit to the city: but more modest gifts were becoming a regular feature of the relationship between member and borough. Only in the case of the few mayors and recorders returned to Parliament did that relationship preserve anything of the old conception of burgess-ship. On the other hand, the growing number of gentlemen who were coming to live in the larger boroughs fostered the revival of the resident member: this was particularly noticeable at Salisbury, whose Close, the best urban address in the county, housed more than one of the city's members. (fn. 23)
In the boroughs by prescription the right of voting was attached to burgess tenements or vested in prescribed categories of inhabitants. The electorates so composed varied in size from the handful of voters at Old Sarum to the 100 or 120 at Downton and Hindon. (fn. 24) It was the lords or lessees of the manors concerned, and the freeholders of these tenements, who were the key-figures at elections, whether as candidates or patrons. Thus at Downton the lessee, Sir Joseph Ashe, and the families of Bockland, Coles, Eyre, and Raleigh, all considerable freeholders, between them supplied every member from 1659 to 1695, while at Heytesbury, which had a small electorate, the Ashe family was all-powerful: William Ashe sat for the borough in every Parliament, ten in all, between 1668 and 1701, and in seven of them had as his fellow his brother Edward. Such monopolies offered little chance to anyone but the proprietors or their nominees. But not all boroughs were so tightly controlled. Bedwyn, Cricklade, Hindon, (fn. 25) Ludgershall, and Westbury were all at different times open to competition, and the resultant pressure gave rise to electoral manipulations of varying kinds. A candidate threatened with defeat at the hands of the lawful electorate might stage a rival election not dissimilar to those at Salisbury. This had happened at Hindon in 1646, (fn. 26) and was complained of at both Bedwyn and Downton in 1661. (fn. 27) Then there were the numerous forms of intimidation or persuasion. Vere Bertie grounded his petition against Francis Gwyn's by-election at Chippenham in 1673 on the allegation that the electors were swayed by fear of losing a charitable bequest made by Gwyn's grandfather, Sir Francis Popham. (fn. 28) The electors of Westbury in 1659, and those of Malmesbury in 1660, returned Robert Danvers, whose sole claim to their regard, apart from his (assumed) name, was his provision of drink in large quantities. (fn. 29) Before the end of the century bribery had already established itself as a branch of electioneering technique.
It was upon this ramshackle electoral structure that there played the major electioneering influences of the period, those of the Court, the nobility, and the gentry. Court influence, in the form of nominee candidates, had been inherited during the Interregnum, first by the parliamentary Council of State, and then by the Protectorate. In 1658–9 the chief election 'manager' was Thurloe, the secretary of state. Thurloe's influence, at least in regard to English elections, may have been exaggerated. (fn. 30) In Wiltshire the only direct evidence of it is his nomination of his assistant Samuel Morland for Ludgershall, and Morland was not elected. But the return of Thomas Manby, a probate judge, for Bedwyn, smacks of Court intervention and both members for Ludgershall, Richard Sherwyn, a Treasury official, and the redoubtable James Dewy, were returned with its support, although apparently without that of the sheriff, Isaac Burges. (fn. 31)
In 1660, with one government in dissolution and its successor not yet established, the Court interest was largely in abeyance. (fn. 32) But in 1661 it returned in full force. The Wiltshire members then elected included six men already holding, or about to be given, leading office. (fn. 33) Subsequent by-elections added five more to their number. (fn. 34) If several of these men had a connexion of their own with the county, they probably owed their success less to that than to their powerful backing. (fn. 35) At all events, when the hurricane of anti-Court prejudice began to blow, they were one and all swept from their Wiltshire moorings. Out of eight office-holding Wiltshire members at the close of the Cavalier Parliament, not one was returned within the county at either of the elections of 1679. This was the nadir of Court influence in Wiltshire. The elections of 1681 and 1685 marked a certain recovery. At the first of them, two Court candidates of local standing, Sir John Ernie, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and George Johnson, got in again: and at the second, by dint of an unprecedented electioneering effort, (fn. 36) their number rose to six. (fn. 37)
The role of the Wiltshire peers in the electoral system was twofold. As ministers or adherents of the Crown they bore a share in the electioneering activities of the Court, while as local landowners they wielded an influence of their own. This dualism is well illustrated in the parliamentary record of the leading noble house of the period. Between 1661 and 1689 five members of the Hyde family, two men who had married into it, and two of its clients were returned for Wiltshire seats, which they occupied fifteen times in all. The family's primacy in the county gained the first knighthood of the shire three times for the heir to the Clarendon earldom, (fn. 38) while three seats at Salisbury and one at Ludgershall are to be credited to the first earl's patronage during his political ascendancy. (fn. 39) But it was property rather than influence which kept Hydes in the parliamentary ranks after Clarendon's fall: Robert Hyde owed his return for Hindon to his inheritance of Heale House (in Woodford) (fn. 40) and Lawrence Hyde his at Wootton Bassett to his purchase of that borough in 1676.
Only one other noble family could compare with the Hydes in electoral importance. For the house of Seymour the Restoration spelt a process of slow and partial recovery from the disasters which had well-nigh overwhelmed it. The 1st Marquess of Hertford, who had attended Charles I on the scaffold, lived just long enough to receive the Garter and the dukedom of Somerset from Charles II. He was followed by three short-lived holders: but in 1678 Charles Seymour began his seventy-year tenure of the dukedom, while a marriage of 1676 brought in an active politician, Thomas Lord Bruce, to wield the Seymour patronage in the Wiltshire boroughs. The long-standing, but lapsed, claims at Bedwyn and Marlborough were reasserted, not without difficulty, (fn. 41) in 1660–1 and from 1679 vigorously upheld by Bruce, who added to them an interest in Ludgershall. (fn. 42) Between 1660 and 1689 six members or clients of the family were returned for these boroughs (with the knighthood of the shire twice coming their way) and joined their cousins from Devon and Cornwall to form a solid Seymour bloc in the House.
To the Herberts, their political rectitude notwithstanding, the Interregnum had meant virtual eclipse. The 4th Earl of Pembroke died in 1650 amid the jeers of royalists and republicans alike, (fn. 43) and his son did little to revive the prestige of his house. The Restoration brought no improvement. The pious mediocrity of the 5th and 6th earls and, by contrast, the addiction of the 7th to drunkenness and manslaughter, combined with the economic strain which accompanied these vagaries—help to explain why Wilton, as it grew in architectural and horticultural fame, declined in political significance. Not until the advent of the 8th earl in 1683—who in the following year made a lucrative marriage (fn. 44) —did the Pembroke earldom begin to recover reputation and influence. Before his elevation Thomas Herbert had sat for Wilton in the three Parliaments of 1679–81, the first of his line to occupy this traditionally Herbert seat since 1629. (fn. 45)
With corporation officials, holders of government offices, and peers' relatives and dependents together accounting for between a third and a half of the Wiltshire seats, competition for the remainder was bound to be severe. Foremost among the competing groups was the gentry. The Wiltshire gentry of the Restoration differed substantially in composition from that of the days before the Civil War. Of the 167 families recorded in the Visitation of 1623 nearly two-thirds find no place in its counterpart of 1673. (fn. 46) This change is mirrored in the county's representation in Parliament. The distribution of parliamentary seats among the Wiltshire gentry after 1660 shows a close resemblance to the pattern evident before 1629. At both periods the great majority of Wiltshire families furnishing members had one or two representatives only; this was the case with four out of five families for the earlier period and with nine out of ten for the later one. (fn. 47) Between the lists of the families concerned there is, as we should expect, little correlation. (fn. 48) Such families would tend to move into and out of the parliamentary ranks in rapid succession rather than to remain in them for three or four generations. They could also hardly be expected to contribute much to parliamentary leadership: the members concerned seldom sat in more than two parliaments and thus, unless one of their appearances was in the abnormally long parliament of 1661–79, they had relatively little chance of making their mark in the House: it was only from among the few individuals who sat more often that there arose figures of any note—a Thomas Mompesson, a Walter St. John or a William Trenchard. What, taken together, these members do demonstrate is the continuing diffusion of parliamentary ambition and experience throughout a wide circle of county society.
Table 4: Wiltshire Families Represented in the House of Commons
|Families providing||Families providing members||Number of members provided||Total number of separate elections|
|More than 3 members||12||64||151|
|Families providing||Families providing members||Number of members provided||Total number of separate elections|
|More than 3 members||3||14||35|
It is the families who furnished three or more members who may be regarded as the parliamentary elite of the county. In the century before 1629 there had been 24 of these families: and to follow their fortunes after 1660 is to measure the degree of continuity in the native parliamentary life across the great divide of the Civil War. Of the 12 with three members apiece and 62 seats in all to their credit before 1629, six reappeared after 1660 and three may be regarded as having re-established themselves in the House: (fn. 49) while of the 12 who, with more than 3 members apiece before 1629, had dominated the county's representation, no less than 8 reappeared after 1660, of whom 4 more than maintained their status as parliamentary dynasties. (fn. 50) No single explanation will cover all these examples of political longevity. While the majority of the seven families concerned had displayed varying shades of royalism, two of them, Baynton and Eyre, had been conspicuous on the other side. Wealth had probably more to do with the matter. The poorest of these families, the Ducketts, had perhaps £1,000 a year, and the others ranged upwards to the Thynnes' peak of £10,000. Yet we must not forget the notorious case of Sir Edward Hungerford, to whom, as he dissipated his fortune, continued membership became increasingly a device for evading creditors. There was, too, an element of the fortuitous involved: the accidents of family succession and the strength of the interest which a family could establish in a particular borough, these could make or mar a parliamentary tradition.
After 1660, as before 1629, the native gentry, great and small, faced the competition of some other groups, notably lawyers and merchants. A rough calculation of the various categories of Wiltshire members during the 30 years 1659–89 yields results which may be compared with those presented above for the century before 1629 and with those relating to the 25 years after 1689. (fn. 51) Of a grand total of 287 members classified, (fn. 52) 184 were country gentlemen, 27 relatives or close dependents of peers, 27 lawyers, 25 careerist politicians, 18 merchants, and 6 serving officers. (fn. 53) Analysed geographically, they fall into the three groups of natives, who numbered 225, and of men from neighbouring counties and from farther afield, of whom there were respectively 27 and 36. (fn. 54) From this general pattern, by which country gentlemen occupied nearly two-thirds of the Wiltshire seats and men from the county or its neighbours more than four-fifths of them, there were two marked deviations during the period. At the general election of 1661 local gentlemen secured only half the county's seats, being elbowed out of the others by peers' sons, lawyers, and career politicians, and their position was made still worse by the by-elections of the next eighteen years. But in 1679 the situation underwent a striking change, with gentlemen capturing more than three-quarters of the seats, mainly at the expense of office-holders and pensioners. It is to the political setting of this reversal of electoral fortunes that we must now turn.
Charles II's greeting to the Commons in May 1661, that he knew most of their names and faces, was certainly apposite to the Wiltshire members. For out of 37 such members returned either at the general election or at by-elections immediately after it, 21 had a royalist background and only 7 a parliamentary one. The royalists included 8 men who had fought for the king—2 of them, Henry Clarke and Thomas Mompesson, being survivors of Penruddock's rising—and a number who had tasted spells of exile: whereas of the parliamentarians only one, Richard Browne, had fought in the Civil War, and he had afterwards suffered at the hands of the army. Between these two 'wings' there stood an intermediate group of 9 members whose record reveals no clear alignment with either party. The by-elections of the next 18 years were to reconstruct the county's membership without appreciably altering its political antecedents. By the end of the Parliament Wiltshire was represented by 21 men of royalist affiliation, 5 of parliamentary, and 8 of a 'neutral' complexion.
Such were the materials of Wiltshire's contribution to the Court and Country parties in the Cavalier Parliament. (fn. 55) The Court Party, as it evolved first under Clarendon and then under Danby, was composed of three elements: working officials, placemen and pensioners, and unattached members. All three counted Wiltshire members among them. The official group was reinforced by the considerable number of office-holders among the county's members: there were between 7 and 8 of these until the last years of the Parliament, when they increased to 10, or, with 2 serving officers, Bertie and Howard, added, to a dozen. They included some of the most active politicians in the House: Sir John Birkenhead, Master of the Rolls, and an inveterate debater and committee-man; Francis Gwyn; and Sir John Ernie, who in 1676 became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Wiltshire placemen and pensioners were fewer and less active. The 'retaining' of members which became so marked a feature of parliamentary life at this time is of particular interest for Wiltshire since much of the money involved was distributed by Sir Stephen Fox. It has been estimated that not less than £30,000 was paid out to Wiltshire members in the course of this Parliament. (fn. 56) But this does not mean that the number of members involved was large. Major Henry Clarke, whose claim to its gratitude for his venturing 'on a glimmering of hope in Mr. Penruddock's business' (fn. 57) the restored monarchy was prompt to recognize, drew a pension of £400 a year for nearly twenty years. Sir John Ernie had £500 a year in addition to his salary as Chancellor of the Exchequer, (fn. 58) and Philip Howard is known to have received over £2,000 within five years. (fn. 59) What Colonel Thomas Wanklin had done to draw £100 a year remains, like most things connected with that shadowy adventurer, a mystery: but that it was paid to him merely in return for his vote in the House seems disproved by the fact that he continued to receive it after his expulsion for scandalous behaviour in February 1678. (fn. 60)
With office-holders and pensioners together accounting for upwards of fourteen Wiltshire members, the Court was in a fair way towards gaining a majority of them, as it was of the House as a whole. For the remainder it was content to rely upon more economical means, and these seem to have sufficed to add another four or five members to its voting strength. An important weapon here was the personal connexions subsisting between many members and leading officials: lists dating from 1675 name the Lord Keeper, Lord Treasurer, Speaker, and Master of the Rolls as likely to win the vote of one Wiltshire member apiece. (fn. 61)
The combined effect of places, pensions, and persuasion was to attach about seventeen Wiltshire members to the Court party towards the close of the Cavalier Parliament, or half the county's total contingent. It was within the other half that there crystallized, between 1673 and 1679, the Wiltshire section of the Country party. Numbering at its first appearance some four or five, its total had risen by the end of the Parliament to eight or nine. But its strength was not to be measured simply by its numbers. Its adherents were drawn almost exclusively from the upper gentry, and they included representatives of five out of the eight Wiltshire parliamentary dynasties of the period—Ashe, Baynton, Eyre, Hungerford, and Thynne. It tempered age with youth and a stout parliamentarian tradition with a dash of royalism. United in its hostility to placemen and pensions, to Popery and the French alliance, this group was also bound together by family and friendly ties. Under the vigorous leadership of a local magnate in the person of Shaftesbury, and with the support, in his lucid intervals, of the 7th Earl of Pembroke, the Wiltshire Country party rallied opposition in the county to the powers which had since 1661 dominated the scene.
It was the three elections of 1679–81 which enabled the Country party, in Wiltshire as throughout the country, to measure its strength with the Court. (fn. 62) The result, in the first two of them, was the overwhelming defeat of the Court party. At the first election, in February 1679, out of the seventeen Wiltshire members of that party sitting at the dissolution only one was returned within the county (fn. 63) and only two elsewhere; (fn. 64) the remainder either failed to contest seats or, where they did so, were beaten. The two most striking failures were those of Sir John Ernie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who could not find a borough, and of Sir John Birkenhead, who abandoned his candidature at Wilton in view of popular hostility. (fn. 65) George Johnson stood at Devizes and Henry Bertie at Westbury, both without success. (fn. 66) Only at those boroughs where Court interest was paramount could something be saved from the wreck: Bedwyn and Marlborough, under Ailesbury's influence, and Downton, under Sir Joseph Ashe's, stood firm, and Lawrence Hyde had himself returned for Wootton Bassett. But not more than seven or eight Court partisans were successful in all. Six months later they could do no better. Only at the third election, in February 1681, did the tide begin to turn. Two of the defeated of 1679, Ernie and Johnson, then got in again, and Salisbury, as we have seen, replaced one of its whigs by a tory. (fn. 67)
The Court's loss was the Country party's gain. Six of its eight Wiltshire adherents in the Cavalier Parliament survived to take part in these three elections (fn. 68) and only one of the six—Sir Walter St. John—failed to get himself returned three times. (fn. 69) Reinforced by such stalwarts as Sir Thomas Mompesson and William Trenchard, the county's contribution to the Country party grew to nearly a dozen members. Outstanding among them was Thomas Thynne. Thynne's achievement of being three times returned knight of the shire showed him to be the acknowledged opposition leader in the county. (fn. 70) It was he who with St. John and Hungerford presented the king early in 1680 with a county petition for the speedy assembly of the Parliament elected the previous autumn and who got a snub for his pains: (fn. 71) and it was he who in the following summer entertained Monmouth at Longleat during the duke's western progress. When it came to debating, however, Thynne was eclipsed by some of his fellows. It was Sir George Hungerford, Sir Eliab Harvey, Sir Gilbert Gerrard, and, above all, William Trenchard, who were Wiltshire's most vociferous advocates of Exclusion in the House: while on the government side the chief speakers were Lawrence Hyde (until his elevation to the earldom of Rochester) and Sir John Ernie. (fn. 72)
The Exclusion crisis and its aftermath were accompanied by punitive measures against the Court's opponents. Shaftesbury's fate belongs to national history. For his parliamentary followers the normal punishment was dismissal from office. The Wilt– shire ringleaders all suffered in this way. The first to be put off the commission of the peace, in July 1678, were Samuel Ashe and William Trenchard: (fn. 73) they were followed, early in 1680, by Sir Richard Grobham Howe, Sir Walter St. John, Sir Edward Hungerford, and Thomas Mompesson of Corton, all Country sympathizers. (fn. 74) Later, Thynne, Hungerford, and Mompesson lost their places as deputy lieutenants. (fn. 75) But it was not the Crown which dealt Wiltshire whiggism its heaviest blow during these years. In February 1682 death at the hands of a rival suitor ended the stormy career of Thomas Thynne and with it the brief importance of Longleat as the headquarters of the Wiltshire opposition. 'Tom of Ten Thousand' (fn. 76) was succeeded by his cousin and namesake, whose political rectitude was quickly rewarded by county office and by ennoblement as Viscount Weymouth. When, in the next year, the 7th Earl of Pembroke followed Thynne to a premature grave, Wiltshire lost a magnate who had consistently patronized the opposition.
The final phase of the 'Stuart revenge' was an intensive resumption of the campaign, originally launched during the early years of the Restoration, (fn. 77) against offending municipal corporations. The failure of Exclusion had seen the Wiltshire boroughs vying with one another, and with the county, in protestations of loyalty. In the summer of 1681 they thanked the king for his declaration justifying the dismissal of the Oxford Parliament; (fn. 78) in 1682 the exposure of Shaftesbury's treasonable association brought forth a fresh series of addresses; (fn. 79) and the Rye House Plot of 1683 elicited yet another. (fn. 80) These gestures availed nothing against the government's determination to reduce the corporations to submissiveness. During the last two years of Charles II's reign all seven of the Wiltshire boroughs lost their charters. The three most stubborn ones—Calne, Malmesbury, and Marlborough—saw them forfeited as a result of quo warranto proceedings, the remainder surrendered them. (fn. 81) The issue of the new charters, interrupted by the king's death, had to be hurriedly completed on the eve of James II's Parliament. Besides enabling the Crown to pack the corporations, the manipulation of the charters also presented local interests with a welcome opportunity of entrenching themselves.
Thus at Devizes Sir John Talbot of Lacock, a staunch king's man, in return for getting himself made recorder, busied himself in promoting the new charter, which was finally brought down by a servant of his. (fn. 82) Salisbury's reincorporation was sponsored by the earls of Pembroke and Clarendon, (fn. 83) Malmesbury's by the Duke of Beaufort. (fn. 84)
The accession of James II brought several Wiltshire political figures to the fore. The two Hydes, the new king's brothers-in-law, both received high office, Clarendon becoming Lord Privy Seal and Rochester Lord Treasurer. The county's leading Roman Catholic, Lord Arundell of Wardour, began his advancement by being appointed to the newly established council for his co-religionists, and Lord Bruce, soon to succeed to the earldom of Ailesbury, quickly regained the post in the bedchamber which he had lost by the demise of the Crown. With these powerful allies to work upon the purged corporations, the Court stood to do well in Wiltshire at the elections of April 1685, the last before the Revolution, and its efforts were rewarded with a large measure of success. (fn. 85) The two county seats went to scions of the two leading noble families, Lords Cornbury and Bruce. In the corporation boroughs the purge was wholly effective, and in the remaining boroughs the influence of proprietors and patrons was nearly as solid for the Court. Placemen and their dependents reappeared on a scale not seen since 1678: Sir John Ernie, Sir Stephen Fox and his son Charles, Lemuel Kingdon, Sir John Nicholas and his son Oliver all came into this category. The local men returned were nearly all loyalists, and they included 10 of the county's 21 deputy lieutenants. Only Heytesbury, with the brothers Ashe, and Old Sarum, with Sir Eliab Harvey and Thomas Mompesson, remained islands of opposition in this engulfing sea of royalism.
The Parliament was still in session when, on 11 June 1685, the Duke of Monmouth landed in Dorset and called upon all men of goodwill to rise against the usurpation and tyranny of the Duke of York. In the story of Monmouth's Rebellion Wiltshire finds little place. During its first phase, when Monmouth, after gathering forces in Dorset and Somerset, made his unsuccessful movement against Bristol, little or no spontaneous support was forthcoming for him from the county: (fn. 86) and when, in the hope of arousing it, he passed by way of Bath and Norton St. Philip to Frome, west Wiltshire was too full of royal troops to offer any hope of a rising in force. The only disturbance of any moment occurred in the triangle Frome—Westbury—Warminster, and it was promptly suppressed, on 25 June, by the Earl of Pembroke and the Wiltshire militia at Trowbridge. (fn. 87) On 29 June Monmouth set out from Frome for Warminster. Had Tom Thynne still reigned at Longleat there might have been a different story to tell. As it was, the royal troops under the Frenchman Feversham, who after his setback at Norton St. Philip had been lodged in the 'fort jolie maison' of Thynne's brother-in-law, John Hall of Bradford, (fn. 88) were already moving southwards, and Monmouth turned back towards Bridgwater and disaster. Wiltshiremen took scarcely more part in the overthrow of Monmouth than they had done in his support. Pembroke had led the Wiltshire and Hampshire militia in marchings and counter-marchings between Bath and Trowbridge, broken only by the bloodless raid on Frome, and then accompanied Feversham on the advance to Sedgemoor. Quartered at Middlezoy, the Wiltshiremen stood to when Monmouth launched his night attack but took no part in the battle. On their return the Salisbury regiment escorted the royal artillery as far as Devizes, where they were given their discharge. Their only casualties had been two men killed by mischance. (fn. 89) Wiltshire's negligible part in the rebellion also spared the county the brutal attentions of the Bloody Assize. The western circuit moved from Winchester to Salisbury on 28 August 1685. Six persons were convicted of speaking seditious words and were sentenced to a whipping and a fine of 13s. 4d. (fn. 90) Sixteen others held in Salisbury gaol for their part in the rebellion were sent for trial at Wells: they probably included some of the rebels who had been rounded up near Hindon by Pembroke on his way back to Wilton. (fn. 91) How many Wiltshiremen were tried in Somerset it is impossible to establish, but the number cannot have been large.
Parliament reassembled in November 1685 for twelve days but was then prorogued by the king as a sign of displeasure at its criticism of his appointment of Roman Catholic officers in the army. Successive prorogations followed until July 1687. In the meantime the unfolding of the king's plan to restore Roman Catholicism and absolutism involved progressive changes in both central and local government. The Wiltshire magnates were among those affected. In December 1686 Rochester was deprived of the lord treasurership: his political fortunes had been in decline for some time, but it was his refusal to entertain conversion to Rome which settled his fate. Shortly afterwards his brother Clarendon was recalled from Ireland, where he had been Lord Deputy, and also relieved of the Privy Seal. Then, in July 1687, the Duke of Somerset's refusal to introduce the Papal Nuncio cost him all his offices, including the lord lieutenancy of Somerset. Thus within a few months three of Wiltshire's leading noblemen had lost place and power. Their removal made way for the rise of another, Arundell of Wardour: sworn of the Privy Council in July 1686, this Roman Catholic peer was given in the following March Clarendon's place as Lord Privy Seal. Similar changes were taking place lower down the scale. Sir Stephen Fox lost office and favour when he refused a peerage and opposed the bill for a standing army, but recovered both when in January 1687 he and another Wiltshireman, Sir John Ernie, were put on the treasury commission. In March 1687 Sir John Nicholas forfeited the clerkship of the council which he had held for over ten years. Meanwhile the king had addressed himself to the task of remodelling local government to make it subservient to his policy: from October 1686 a commission was at work revising the lists of justices of the peace.
The attitude of the governing class in Wiltshire, thus already partially purged, towards James II's pro-Catholic programme is revealed by the returns to the notorious letter of the Lord President of October 1687 instructing the lord lieutenants to secure from their deputy lieutenants and from the J.P.s answers to three questions. The first question was whether the individual concerned, if himself returned to the forthcoming Parliament, would support the repeal of the Penal and Test Acts; the second, whether he would promote the election of men favourable to repeal: and the third, whether he would support the king's Declaration of Indulgence by living peaceably with persons of all religious persuasions. (fn. 92) In Wiltshire these questions were propounded in the spring of 1688 by the Earl of Yarmouth, joint lord lieutenant with the Earl of Pembroke, (fn. 93) to 34 deputy lieutenants and J.P.s. To one of the questions, the third, the answers were unanimous: all professed unqualified readiness to live peaceably with everybody. But the other two elicited a variety of replies. To the first only seven of those catechized gave an unqualified affirmative: two of them, Scroope and Moore, were Roman Catholics and two others dwelt outside the county: the only leading residents who answered in this way were Sir Gilbert Talbot of Lacock and Sir Henry Coker of Hill Deverill. Five other men attached to their expression of support some form of qualification, usually a resolve to safeguard the rights of the Church of England: these five included Wyndham of Salisbury, Sir James Long of Draycott, and William Yorke of Devizes. On the other side, six men declared unequivocally that they would not do what the king asked, among them George Wroughton, George Tooker of Kennett, and one of the Goddards. But the most common answer (given by 16 out of the 34) was the 'answer answerless' that the individual concerned would not declare his intention before coming into the House of Commons: this was the reply of such leading men as Sir Richard Grobham Howe of Wishford, Robert Hyde of Hatch, Thomas Penruddock, and Henry Baynton. Answers to the second question generally matched those given to the first.
This questionnaire was supplemented, in the following spring, by a survey of electoral prospects throughout the country. (fn. 94) From this it appeared that in Wiltshire the king could count on the return of about 20 'right men' out of the total of 34, the remainder being doubtful or hostile. But this optimistic forecast depended upon the completion of the new purge of municipal corporations which had been launched before the end of 1687. (fn. 95) In Wiltshire it was Salisbury and Chippenham which were first dealt with: on 17 December 1687 the mayor and 25 councillors of Salisbury, and the bailiff and 4 burgesses of Chippenham, were displaced in favour of new men. (fn. 96) Between January and March 1688 Devizes was given three instalments of the same treatment, (fn. 97) and later in the same year the magistracies of Calne and Marlborough were changed when those boroughs received new charters. (fn. 98)
The summoning of the Parliament which had consumed so much preparatory attention was announced on 24 August 1688. The writs were to be issued on 18 September and the two Houses to assemble on 27 November. The process of putting in new borough electors went on until 21 September, and agents were dispatched to manage the elections. (fn. 99) But before September was out all this machinery was put in reverse. The issue of writs was stopped and those already sent out were recalled. On 11 October all local officials dismissed for giving unsatisfactory answers to the three questions were reinstated; and six days later all changes in the personnel of corporations made since 1679 were rescinded. The reason for this sudden and sweeping change was the king's belated realization of the imminence of invasion and revolution. But it meant that on the eve of those events the government of counties and municipalities passed back into the hands of men most of whom were flatly opposed to James's policy. In counties such as Wiltshire, which were to be in the path of the invasion, the king's eleventh-hour surrender destroyed whatever possibility remained of organizing local resistance.
But if in November 1688, as in June 1685, Wiltshire was not to be the scene of bloodshed, that was due to events largely beyond the county's control. In 1685 it had been spared this experience by Monmouth's withdrawal from its western boundary: in 1688 it owed its deliverance to James II's retreat from Salisbury. William III landed at Torbay on 5 November, but nearly a month was to pass before his army entered Wiltshire. By then the royal army had come and gone. It had assembled at Salisbury during the second and third weeks of November, and the king himself joined it there on the 19th. His cause had already suffered two serious local defections. Clarendon's son and heir, Viscount Cornbury, had, while temporarily in command at Salisbury, led three regiments forward ostensibly to attack William but in reality to join him: Cornbury was only partially successful, for most of his troops saw through the plot and returned to headquarters, but he and 100 officers and men went over. The defection of the county's first knight of the shire must have made a big impression. Cornbury had been preceded to William's camp by the Earl of Abingdon, a magnate whose influence radiated from Oxfordshire into north Wiltshire. Thus when early in December William entered Wiltshire from the south-west not only was there no question of resistance, but there was rejoicing in the county. His first stopping-place was Berwick St. Leonard, near Hindon, the home of the Grobham Howes, where he was entertained by its occupant, the widow of Edward Hyde of Hatch. Thence, on 4 December, he rode by way of Wilton, where he visited the house and gardens, to Salisbury, the people everywhere flocking to greet and bless him. In the afternoon he made a state entry into Salisbury, where he lodged in the bishop's palace. Leaving Salisbury on the morning of 6 December, he advanced to Hungerford, where, finding the Bear Inn too incommodious, he transferred himself for two nights to Littlecote. His week's passage through Wiltshire ended when on 10 December he moved on to Newbury.
Of the Wiltshire grandees it was Clarendon who assumed the mantle of shire representative in greeting William. (fn. 100) A fortnight after he had received, with symptoms of horror, the news of his son's desertion, Clarendon made his own way from Westminster to Hindon, where on 3 December he had a half-hour conversation with the prince. It was he who presented the Mayor and Corporation of Salisbury to William and who busied himself at the meetings of local gentlemen at the Vine during the prince's stay. At one of these he was rewarded by his son's adoption as first knight of the shire at the expected election. (fn. 101) He led a deputation to wait upon the prince, who asked for money: William Trenchard of Cutteridge, the old Country party man, presented £250 sent by two clothiers, but when at dinner the next day the company resolved to raise £200 for the prince's service Clarendon demurred, judging such a 'benevolence' unconstitutional and dangerous. Clarendon's discharge of his self-imposed role was made easier by the absence of most of his peers. Weymouth, Rochester, Pembroke and Ailesbury, all remained at Court during the prince's advance. When James II fled on 11 December all four signed the document subscribed by the peers and councillors at the Guildhall inviting William to take over the government of the country, and Pembroke and Weymouth, with two others, carried this to the prince at Henley. Of Wiltshire peers, only Somerset had earlier declared for the prince. (fn. 102) On the other side, both Ailesbury and Arundell of Wardour remained with James until the end and went into retirement after the Revolution, Arundell at his Hampshire seat and Ailesbury in voluntary exile. (fn. 103)
A little more than a month after William's progress through Wiltshire the county took its part in electing the Parliament which was to make him king. The election of January 1689 is best studied in the light of James II's preparations for its counterpart. James's agents had made two forecasts of the outcome of an election conducted by the purged corporations. (fn. 104) Of the 22 men 'tipped' in the first of these only 8 were returned in January 1689, of the 25 mentioned in the second only 7. How much nearer either forecast might have come to the result of the planned election, had it been held, must remain a matter for speculation: but it is clear enough that the bottom was knocked out of both by the recall of the corporations of 1679. The few correct forecasts related chiefly to such proprietary boroughs as Downton, Heytesbury, and Hindon: in the corporation boroughs the forecasts were with scarcely an exception wrong. Another interesting comparison may be made with the list of deputy lieutenants and J.P.s who had replied to the 'three questions' of October 1687. Nine of these men were returned to the Convention Parliament. Only one of them, Henry Chivers of Quemerford, had given the answers which the king wanted: all the rest had been numbered among the 'evaders'. If the Wiltshire members of 1689 were thus a very different set from those of James II's dreams, they were by no means all whigs. It has been calculated that 19 of them were whigs and 12 tories. (fn. 105) A high proportion of them—24 out of 35 (fn. 106) —had sat in the House before, the great majority for Wiltshire seats, and the 'old hands' among these included some familiar figures from either party, Mompesson and William Ashe from among the whigs, Ernie, Bockland, and Lewis from among the tories. Alike in its mixture of old names with new—Baynton, Duckett, Eyre, Hyde, Penruddock, Raleigh, and St. John alongside Fox, Godfrey, Harvey, Pitt, and Wildman; of squires with lawyers and merchants; and of the past with the future—a survivor of the Parliament of 1654 and one of the rising of 1655 sat alongside Bolingbroke's father and Chatham's grandfather—this Wiltshire contingent conformed faithfully to the pattern which we have traced through several generations.