Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,500 in 1710


19 Apr. 16601SIR ROBERT PYE
 [John] Southby
12 Dec. 1670RICHARD NEVILLE vice Lovelace, called to the Upper House
5 Mar. 1677SIR HUMPHREY FORSTER, Bt. vice Neville, deceased
19 Aug. 1678HENRY ALEXANDER, Earl of Stirling, vice Powle, deceased
  Double return.
 Henry Alexander, Earl of Stirling
14 Jan. 1689MONTAGU VENABLES-BERTIE, Lord Norreys

Main Article

The ancient custom of the county was to elect one Member from the ‘Forest’, the other from the ‘Vale’, or the eastern and western sections of the shire, with Reading as the dividing line. Generally the custom was observed, except when political exigencies overrode geographical interests. Though Reading was a convenient central point, polling always took place at Abingdon, the county town, but poll figures do not survive for this period. At the general election of 1660, the Presbyterian Royalist Sir Robert Pye, the hero of the Berkshire petition to the Rump, and Richard Powle, soon to become a courtier, were opposed by one ‘Sorbye’, probably John Southby, described as ‘neither fish nor good flesh’. The election represented current feeling in the remark to John Lenthall of certain electors of Abingdon borough that ‘town and county were resolved not to choose any but such (as they had good assurance of) would not act against the interest and settlement of the nation, according to the known laws of the land’, and Southby was unsuccessful. In the changed circumstances of 1661, Pye was replaced by John Lovelace, son of a royalist father. When Lovelace succeeded to the peerage in 1670, his seat was taken by a Cavalier, Richard Neville. Neville died on 7 Oct. 1676, and Sir Humphrey Forster, a moderate of independent views, was returned when Parliament resumed. There may have been a poll, since Forster later declared that it cost him £1,500, though ‘he had no powerful adversary’. The by-election after Powle’s death in July 1678 also resulted in an expensive contest between William Barker, supported by the 2nd Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde), and the 4th Earl of Stirling, a Scottish peer, who had inherited a Berkshire estate and stood as the court candidate. One report tells of ‘brave doings at Abingdon for a knight of the shire’. Barker ‘paid £1,700 at Abingdon, besides other charges elsewhere’. But ‘the sheriff judged the number of the voices on each side so equal’ that he returned both candidates. Stirling later claimed that it had cost him £2,000 ‘to sit a few days’; but the double return was referred to the elections committee on the day that Parliament reassembled, and, with the excitement of the Popish Plot, no further proceedings were recorded.2

The court candidates for the first general election of 1679 were Stirling and the lord treasurer’s son, Edward Osborne; but they were compelled to desist. Sir Ralph Verney heard that Forster and Barker would not stand again because of the expense, but they were returned, probably unopposed. Both voted for exclusion; but, faced by the growing violence of the struggle, Forster may have decided to stand down in August in favour of a more determined politician, Richard Southby. Southby and Barker were again returned unopposed in 1681. In 1685 the Government had tried to ensure that Berkshire returned reliable men, the Duke of Norfolk being sent to meet the deputy lieutenants and gentry in February. At least three candidates stood. Forster was probably unopposed, but Southby, surprisingly, defeated Stirling, obviously the court candidate, whose petition was dismissed on 20 June because of the failure of his counsel to appear before the elections committee. In 1688 James II’s election agents reported that the

county would not declare themselves, and that the sheriff, who was a Roman Catholic, could give little assistance. Sir Henry Winchcombe can influence the election if he could be gained thereunto. We hope Mr Southby may carry it. Sir Humphrey Forster is likewise mentioned. ...

Roger Morrice expected Winchcombe to join with Lord Norreys, the 16-year-old son of the Earl of Abingdon, against Southby and Forster, and they were returned in 1689. It is not known whether there was a poll.3

Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Cal. Cl. SP , iv. 665.
  • 2. HMC Downshire, i. 549; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 664; Nicholas Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3), xxxi. 202; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 668; HMC 7th Rep. 494; BL, M636/32, Sir Ralph to Edmund Verney, 30 Jan. 1679; Bodl. Carte 103, f. 225; CJ, ix. 517.
  • 3. Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Wilkin, i. 231; BL, M636/32; Prot. Intell. 3 Mar. 1681, HMC 11th Rep. VII, 106; CJ, ix. 717, 742; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 235; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 292.