Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
over 1,000 in 1660
|10 Apr. 16601||THOMAS RICH|
|9 Apr. 1661||SIR THOMAS DOLMAN|
|6 Feb. 1679||JOHN BLAGRAVE||927|
|12 Aug. 1679||JOHN BLAGRAVE|
|9 Feb. 1681||JOHN BLAGRAVE||863|
|13 Mar. 1685||THOMAS COATES|
|Election declared void, 23 June 1685|
|27 June 1685||THOMAS COATES||530|
|Sir William Rich, Bt.||4734|
|17 Nov. 16855||WILLIAM ALDWORTH vice Breedon, deceased|
|9 Jan. 1689||SIR HENRY FANE|
|SIR WILLIAM RICH, Bt.|
|Edward Hyde, Visct. Cornbury|
Reading had previously been a corporation borough, but the extension of the franchise to the freemen was confirmed in 1659. There was no predominant interest either within or without Reading to control one of the country’s largest borough electorates, and five elections are known to have been contested. Of the ten Members, John Blagrave, Nathan Knight and Thomas Coates were townsmen, and most of the remainder had strong local connexions. In 1660, Thomas Rich, a cautious Royalist, and Blagrave, a moderate Parliamentarian, were unanimously returned by over 1,000 electors. In 1661 Lord Mordaunt, the governor of Windsor, expressed the fear that Reading ‘would endeavour to make an ill election’. Rich might have been an acceptable candidate, but probably transferred his interest to Sir Thomas Dolman, whom he named as one of his executors. Although Blagrave and his brother, George, allegedly had ‘above half the town in Reading’ he was unwilling to stand again. It was suggested that he might be persuaded to offer the seat to his kinsman Sir Ralph Verney for his son. But Verney did not pursue the opportunity, being perhaps deterred by charges estimated at over £120. The second seat was taken by Richard Aldworth, who was not only a Berkshire squire and an Exchequer official, but secretary to Archbishop Juxon. Juxon was one of the overseers of Laud’s still unproved will, which provided for extensive charities in Reading. ‘A little care extraordinary’ apparently secured the unopposed return of two court supporters. The new charter of 1667 required that all members of the corporation should take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and reserved to the crown the right of approving the steward and town clerk.6
The Exclusion Parliaments saw Reading represented by two country Members, Blagrave and Nathan Knight. In February 1679, they had comfortable majorities over two local squires, Thomas Vachell, son of a former royalist colonel, and William Kenrick, of Whitley, soon to be made a baronet. They were returned unopposed in the autumn, but a court alderman, Thomas Coates, contested the seat in 1681. All three agreed to a poll, but Coates retired before the poll ended, owing to ‘the great disparity of votes’. Although Reading produced loyal addresses approving the dissolution of Parliament and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot, a Whig meeting summoned by Lord Lovelace (Hon. John Lovelace) on 10 Sept. 1683, and attended by Knight and Blagrave, aroused considerable enthusiasm.7
The year 1685 was remarkable for three elections, two of which were contested. Coates stood again at the general election with an equally strong Tory, John Breedon. Their Whig opponents, Sir Henry Fane and Sir William Rich requested admission to the freedom, but were refused. The corporation then disposed of their candidature by refusing their subsequent demand for a poll on the grounds that they were not freemen; but this was carrying partisanship too far. Both petitioned and the election was declared void. At the ensuing by-election Fane did not stand again, his place being taken by George Blagrave, ‘as eminent a Tory as the other was thought to be a Whig’. Nevertheless, Coates and Breedon were returned again. The number of voters was significantly smaller than in 1679, perhaps because a number of Whigs abstained from voting. Reading had hitherto escaped quo warranto proceedings, but shortly after Breedon’s death in August the corporation agreed to surrender their charter. At the by-election, the Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde) as high steward of the borough supported Aldworth’s son William, also an official. He and George Blagrave ‘were cried up by the commonalty there, some for the one and some for the other’, but the latter earned Clarendon’s commendation as ‘a very honest man’ by standing down. Under the new charter, brought down by Coates and the recorder, Sir Thomas Holt, in March x686, the crown reserved the right to remove all officials. Coates died later that year, but no new writ was issued for a by-election. The Tories were now so well entrenched in the corporation that repeated regulation was required. On 16 Dec. 1687, the mayor, six aldermen, six ‘burgesses’ and the town clerk were removed, to be followed in January by five aldermen, three ‘burgesses’ and the recorder, and in February by three aldermen and six ‘burgesses’. The corporation was now ready to thank James for the Declaration of Indulgence, and to promise their endeavours to elect Members who would ‘perpetuate the same’. But ‘to secure the election they desire a further regulation, which was sent to Sir Nicholas Butler’, though this time only the chamberlain and one of the aldermen were removed. The result was political chaos and a plethora of candidates. In September, Sunderland recommended the re-election of Aldworth, but according to the King’s agents the dissenters supported as ‘right men’ Knight, who had presumably become a Whig collaborator, and ‘Mr Ellis’, possibly John Ellis†, who was in Ireland as secretary to the revenue commissioners, failing whom ‘they will set up Mr Blagrave [probably John] and doubt not their election’. Lovelace was said to be caballing for Sir Henry Fane and Sir William Rich who hoped ‘to carry the mobile’. The Anglicans were prepared to support Knight if he agreed to stand with Fane. However, according to Roger Morrice, Fane and Blagrave were preparing to stand together against Knight and ‘Mr Carr’, perhaps William Carr, Lord Wharton’s son-in-law, who had been recently appointed cursitor baron of the Exchequer. The issue was clearer in 1689 when the electorate was decidedly Whig. Fane and Rich were challenged by Clarendon’s son Lord Cornbury (Edward Hyde), who was defeated after two days’ polling.8
Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar
- 1. HMC 11th Rep. VII , 194.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Berks. RO, poll bk.
- 4. HMC 11th Rep. VII, 199.
- 5. Berks. RO, indenture.
- 6. CJ, vii. 620; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 194, 197; HMC Portland, iii. 250; PCC 141 Carr; BL, M636/17, Isham to Verney, 26 Feb. [1661 ]; C. Coates, Hist. Reading, 71.
- 7. Berks. RO, Reading corp. diary, 9 Feb. 1681; London Gazette, 2 June 1681, 15 June 1682, 23 July 1683; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 389.
- 8. HMC 11th Rep. VII, 199; CJ, ix. 716, 746; Singer, Clarendon Corresp. i. 555; Reading corp. diary, 8 Mar. 1686, 9 Jan. 1689; CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 403-4; 1687-9, p. 276; PC2/72/555, 568, 613, 661, 728; London Gazette, 3 Oct. 1687, 8 Mar. 1688; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 237; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 292; Le Neve, Mon Angl. 1680-99, pp. 106-7.