Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the inhabitants
Number of Qualified Electors:
|c. Apr. 1660||CHARLES CHEYNE|
|23 Mar. 1661||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE, Bt.|
|1 Nov. 1669||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE vice Drake, deceased|
|SIR RALPH BOVEY, Bt.|
|Double return. DRAKE seated, 8 Nov. 1669|
|4 Feb. 1679||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE|
|SIR ROGER HILL||over 80|
|7 Aug. 1679||SIR ROGER HILL|
|SIR WILLIAM DRAKE||64||28|
|HON. ALGERNON SIDNEY||79||392|
|Double return. Election of Drake and Sidney declared void, 11 Dec. 1680|
|18 Dec. 1680||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE|
|Hon. Algernon Sidney|
|29 Jan. 1681||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE||73||28|
|Sir Roger Hill||41||40|
|Hon. Algernon Sidney||33||373|
|12 Mar. 1685||HON. WILLIAM CHEYNE|
|SIR WILLIAM DRAKE|
|Sir Roger Hill|
|5 Jan. 1689||SIR WILLIAM DRAKE|
|EDMUND WALLER II|
Amersham, a borough by prescription, had been a centre of radical Protestantism since Lollard times, and an 18th century vicar wrote:
General Fleetwood lived at The Vache, and Russell on the opposite hill, and Mrs Cromwell, Oliver’s wife, and her daughters at Woodrow High House, where afterwards lived Captain James Thomson; so the whole county was kept in awe and became exceeding zealous and very fanatical; nor is the poison yet eradicated.
Quaker meetings were held at Isaac Pennington’s house at nearby Chalfont St. Peter, and, when this was confiscated, at Woodside, the house he had built near Amersham. The two constables were the returning officers. Since 1637 the Drakes of Shardeloes had had a dominant interest. They held three of the five manors in the borough, including Amersham itself, and they appointed the constables. Except in 1660, they held one seat throughout the period, but their interest was repeatedly challenged, and six elections are known to have been contested. Their strength lay in the ‘long poll’ of inhabitant householders, rather than in the narrower scot and lot franchise known as the ‘short poll’.4
In 1660 Charles Cheyne, a moderate local Royalist, was returned with Thomas Proby, a resident of Amersham, whose father had been a passive Parliamentarian during the Civil War. Sir William Drake may have regarded the political situation as too unsettled to stand in 1660, but he replaced Cheyne in 1661 ‘with the unanimous consent and assent’ of the inhabitants. On Drake’s death in 1669, his nephew, though under age, succeeded to Shardeloes and the parliamentary seat. He was challenged by an outsider, Sir Ralph Bovey, a merchant who had just acquired Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire, and may have been anxious to avoid the burden of the sheriff’s office. The election was said to have been costly, £40 a day being spent on treating the electors, and Drake won by only six votes. Bovey procured a second indenture from a constable elect, but this was voted a false return, and Drake was seated. Although Bovey was pricked sheriff of Bedfordshire three days later, he again petitioned on 23 Feb. 1670, but no further proceedings are recorded.5
Proby had moved to Huntingdonshire in 1667; but all the elections to the Exclusion Parliaments were contested. In February 1679 Sir Roger Hill stood in the country interest against Cheyne’s son William, whom he defeated by ‘80 odd voices to 32’, and was returned with Drake. Although Hill had acquired a residence at Denham, 12 miles away, in 1670, he is unlikely to have had any personal interest in the borough, and he may have been ‘brought in by the activity of two or three persons’ who were to secure a more sensational result in August. Drake, Hill and Cheyne stood again, but they were joined by a carpet-bagger, the republican Algernon Sidney, who had failed at Bramber despite Quaker support. No doubt he enjoyed the assistance of Pennington’s Quaker community, but his campaign was managed by two outsiders, Colonel Henry Danvers, the Anabaptist and republican controversialist, and a London merchant, Edward Halford, who was connected by marriage with (Sir) Josiah Child. Shaftesbury’s cousin and agent, Harrington, wrote to (Sir) George Treby that Sidney’s triumphs over ‘an inhabitant and lord of the place’ was the most remarkable thing in the general election. In fact each constable sent up a return. One indenture, bearing about 44 signatures, was in favour of Hill and Drake, the other, with only 23, for Hill and Sidney. Sidney had been careful not to distribute money during the election, and to avoid promises except in ambiguous terms; but on his departure for London, his coach was surrounded by poor people, and he gave £10 to one of the overseers, because it was ‘customary and decent to give them something’. He denied that this constituted bribery, because the recipients were not on the ‘short poll’, though he admitted that most of them had voted for him on the ‘long poll’. To the charge that his supporters had scandalized Drake, calling him ‘a Papist and a pensioner’, Sidney declared that
he cannot undertake to rule other men’s tongues. He no ways approves of the licence usually taken in such cases of using ill language; that Sir William must suffer as well as others. And if the committee had not appeared so weary he could have proved such language was then and still is used of himself every day by Sir William and his friends, which neither he nor they, he believed, will undertake to make good.
He further countered by accusing Drake of intimidating his supporters by ‘threatening to pull down their houses, or vexing them with suits’. Though claiming a majority by both computations, he believed that ‘of common right those only ought to have voices in elections who pay scot and lot’, and the House resolved in favour of the ‘short poll’. A division arose on the resolution that the republican Sidney was not elected and this was carried by 191 to 83 votes, the republican John Braman acting as teller for the minority. As chairman of the elections committee, Treby recommended that the election should be declared void as between Sidney and Drake, and the House concurred without a division. Despite the clear ruling on the franchise, there is no evidence that it was followed. Drake was returned by both constables and the inhabitants at the by-election, and before any decision could be reached on Sidney’s petition, Parliament was dissolved. The powerful Drake interest was further evidenced when in 1681 Drake disregarded the recent decision and polled the inhabitant householders, as he apparently did in later elections. He and Cheyne were returned, but on the scot and lot franchise Hill and Sidney had the majority. Both defeated candidates petitioned, but the short-lived Oxford Parliament reached no decision. In anticipation of another election, Ralph Montagu wrote to Hill in November that Drake seemed very willing to combine interests.6
Drake was sufficiently alarmed by the radical irruption to go to the expense of building a market-hall in the most conspicuous position in the town. In 1683 the corporation sent an address abhorring the Rye House Plot and promising to elect loyal Members to the next Parliament. Although Judge Jeffreys expected Hill to sit for Wendover on the Hampden interest in 1685, he again opposed Drake and Cheyne at Amersham. Sir Ralph Verney, who visited the borough on election day, reported that it was full of ‘ale and noise and tobacco’. Drake and Cheyne were returned ‘with the assent and consent of the major part of the inhabitants’. Hill petitioned but no report appears. In 1688 James II’s electoral agents reported that ‘Sir William Drake hath the interest of this place and will be chosen’. No other candidate had been named by September. Drake was duly returned to the Convention ‘according to ancient usage’, or the ‘long poll’, with another Whig, Edmund Waller II, who had recently revived the family interest at Amersham by buying back the family property nearby.7
Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar
- 1. BL, M636/32, Sir Ralph to John Verney, 5 Feb. 1679.
- 2. Case of Algernon Sidney (1680).
- 3. Prot. Dom. Intell. 4, 8 feb. 1681.
- 4. VCH Bucks. i. 333; iii. 147, 149; Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 161; G. L. Turner, Orig. Recs. of Early Nonconformity, ii. 842; CJ, xv. 48.
- 5. VCH Beds. iii. 454; HMC 7th Rep. 488; CJ, ix. 101, 103.
- 6. BL, M636/32; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 81; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 19; Case of Algernon Sidney; CJ, ix. 638, 646, 677, 686, 699, 707; xv. 49; Sidney, Letters to Henry Savile (1742), 10-11; Add. 46500.
- 7. VCH Bucks. iii. 141, 151; London Gazette, 15 Oct. 1683; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 122; Verney Mems. ii. 382; CJ, ix. 718; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 240.