Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
over 1,500 in 1646
|5 Apr. 1660||EDWARD BAGOT|
|WILLIAM SNEYD I|
|4 Apr. 1661||SIR THOMAS LEIGH|
|5 Mar. 1663||SIR EDWARD LITTLETON, Bt. vice Leigh, deceased|
|13 Feb. 1679||SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt.|
|SIR JOHN BOWYER, 2nd Bt.|
|28 Aug. 1679||SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt.|
|SIR JOHN BOWYER, 2nd Bt.|
|10 Mar. 1681||SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt.|
|SIR JOHN BOWYER, 2nd Bt.|
|2 Apr. 1685||SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt.|
|14 Jan. 16891||HON. JOHN GREY|
|SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt.|
No dispute over the representation of Staffordshire in this period ended in a contested election; the desire for unanimity was great enough for the manoeuvrings that followed the announcement of the summoning of a new Parliament to end in the endorsement by the gentry of only two candidates,who would duly be elected at the county court. The choice of parliamentary candidates lay in the hands of the principal gentry, since there was no outstanding landholder in Staffordshire who could influence elections by reason of his territorial importance.
Neither of the two gentlemen returned in 1660, Edward Bagot of Blithefield and William Sneyd of Keele, had played any significant part in the Civil War, though they were undoubtedly royalist in sympathy. But their successors in 1661, Sir Thomas Leigh and Randolph Egerton, had been active Cavaliers who had suffered for their loyalty. Leigh died on 5 Apr. 1662, and a new writ was ordered a fortnight later. Some of the gentry wished to nominate Sir Walter Wrottesley; but on 1 Nov. Lord Brooke wrote to Clarendon that ‘after much trouble’ all parties had been brought to agree on Sir Edward Littleton, provided that he were not rendered ineligible by appointment as sheriff. Clarendon complied, but the election was not held until 3 Mar. 1663, when Littleton was returned unopposed over ten months after the issue of the writ.2
The course of the remaining elections in this period can be traced in more detail in the correspondence of Bagot’s son, Sir Walter, who succeeded to the Blithefield estate in 1673. It was clear that neither Egerton nor Littleton would stand again; the former, as a Guards officer, resided in Westminster and had lost touch with his constituency, while the latter seems to have retired into private life after his second marriage. When a rumour arose of the impending dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament, some of the principal gentlemen had agreed on Wrottesley and Bagot for their successors, and the offer was renewed in January 1679. Support for Bagot was virtually unanimous; but there were serious misgivings about Wrottesley in some quarters. His withdrawal in 1662 had earned him a reputation for indecisiveness, and (more disastrously) he could be accused of cultivating ‘the Papist interest’. Sir John Bowyer had already determined to oppose the court candidates in the county and claimed to have warned Walter Chetwynd, one of the principal supporters of the Bagot-Wrottesley ticket, of his intention when they met ‘on the Parliament stairs’, though Chetwynd denied this. Bowyer’s candidature was warmly endorsed by James Whitehall of Pipe Ridware, whose ‘great vigour and exorbitant zeal against the Papists rendered him the most eligible person for to be one of the knights of the shire’, in the eyes of some 300 voters. With this additional interest in his pocket, and the threat of a second country candidate up his sleeve, Bowyer was able to approach Bagot with an offer to divide the county. He did not come empty-handed, for his support in the Moorlands, the traditionally radical area in North Staffordshire, was growing. Sneyd’s son, who was managing the Keele interest, decided to transfer their second votes from Wrottesley to Bowyer, while another gentleman from the northswest of the county wrote to Bagot that ‘the greatest part of the neighbourhood are at his [Bowyer’s] devotion, and by his interest I can make many for you, though few at my own command’. Bagot, whose reputation as a man of honour was not the least of his electoral assets, rejected Bowyer’s initial offer, and urged him to stand down in Wrottesley’s favour. Nevertheless Bowyer’s agents were coupling Bagot’s name with his in their canvass, while Bowyer himself wrote:
I am still the same man to you that I was, and have thought no man in the county is fitter to serve it than yourself; and if it can be so managed that there may be no dispute I shall be very glad; though I cannot in the least think that anybody will judge it reasonable that, because I have endeavoured to serve my friend, therefore I must truckle to my friend’s friend, and that against myself too. For, though I love my friend as myself, I cannot say I love him better than myself, and for his friend it is still a more remote degree.
Wrottesley’s supporters had not given up the struggle. Lord Ward summoned a gentry meeting to Stafford on 4 Feb., and Sir Brian Broughton believed that the whole of his hundred, computed at a thousand electors, would vote for Bagot and Wrottesley, 500 having been secured without canvassing. ‘Sir John’s candidature’, he wrote to Bagot, ‘will appear so inconsiderable that if you join yours to Sir Walter he must acquiesce.’ Bowyer wisely absented himself from the meeting, on the grounds of inadequate notice. No details survive, but the upshot was that Wrottesley again stood down, and it was agreed to nominate Bagot and Bowyer. Mutual mistrust lingered; probably neither candidate could forget that Bowyer’s father had replaced Bagot’s grandfather at the recruiter election of 1646. Bowyer assured Bagot that Whitehall, of whose abilities he entertained a low opinion, would stand only if there were a contest, and apologized for increasing their joint expenses to £156 19s. by bringing all his supporters to Stafford on the strength of an unfounded rumour that Wrottesley had resumed his candidature.3
On the dissolution of the first Exclusion Parliament, William Leveson Gower urged Bagot to recommend Chetwynd to the gentry as his partner. He reported Bowyer as boasting that ‘he was not beholden to one gentleman in the country in his last election, and that he could at any time be chosen in spite of them all’, and went on to complain of a threat to his own interest at Newcastle:
You may judge whether the country that sends but seven Members to Parliament ought to favour a man who pretends, and peremptorily takes upon him, to have the disposal of three of them. You may believe it [that] the most substantial freeholders in the Moorlands have resolved ... (by reason of the ill conduct of the matter which was left to him the last time he was chosen at Stafford, for care was taken that they could not have meat for their money) never to vote for him again.
While admitting the justice of these charges in part, Bagot pointed out that Bowyer might merely have said that he was beholden to no particular interest for his election, not that he had obtained it despite all the gentry in the county. At the last election Bagot had promised Bowyer his support if a like occasion should occur; but if the gentlemen chose someone else he would not feel bound by this promise, ‘being obliged, as I take it, first to endeavour to serve my country and then my friend’. Thomas Thynne I also had hopes of representing the county, but during the assizes Bagot and Bowyer were again nominated by the gentry, and Bowyer wrote to his supporters that ‘there is like to be no dispute or opposition if you make us your choice’. Their election cost them only £25 5s.6d. each. By 1681 the situation had changed, since Bowyer’s increasing support for the country party had been punished by his dismissal from the commission of the peace, and according to John Swinfen he believed that an attempt would be made to keep him out of Parliament. Bagot was also afraid that there would be a contest. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Sir Richard Newdigate, he wrote: ‘I hear some others are making an interest for it and resolve to make a disturbance, and if that prove so I will not concern myself in it, for I will either have it quietly as formerly or else I shall not meddle with it; and ... I had rather embrace a fair opportunity to quit than accept of it’. But Bagot and Bowyer were once more returned unopposed, their expenses amounting to £32 7s.6d. each.4
Although Thynne found the county ‘more generally well affected than I could have imagined’, and cited a recent loyal address as evidence, an anonymous assessment written early in 1682 suggests a different state of affairs:
The fanatics and anti-royalists are in number very small, but the gentry which countenance them are so vigorous and active, and so united an interest, that the other, who are at least eight times their numbers, will, I fear, prove ineffectual whenever they dispute their interest by force. ... The reason why the smaller number carries it against the greater is very visible; the first is an entire interest, the later not so. Very many of the gentry of Staffordshire in the late war found the advantage of neutrality, and they are much inclined to it at this time.
Bowyer was listed in this report as among the dissenting party, while the other knight of the shire, Bagot, was included with those likely to oppose this group. Another government informant reported that for the next election the gentry had fixed on Sneyd, ‘a worthy and loyal gentleman’, who had, nevertheless, been present during Monmouth’s visit to Stone on his progress. After the discovery of the Rye House plot, and Bowyer’s recantation, the Whigs lost most of their influence.5
In 1685 the crown made a determined effort to assure the return of amenable Members. Sunderland wrote to a number of gentlemen, including Bagot and Sir Henry Lyttelton, urging them tosecure the return of men ‘of approved loyalty and affection to the Government’. The official candidate for Staffordshire was apparently Broughton’s son Thomas; but at the gentry meeting it was decided to nominate Bagot and Littleton’s heir, Edward, who expressed surprise at the favour, since ‘it was without petition and altogether without merit’, adding that although there had been an attempt to denigrate him, he was ‘ready to serve his Majesty upon as good principles’ as his detractors. A subscription list was started for Littleton’s benefit, in case Broughton should stand the poll. But on hearing the outcome of the gentry meeting he explained that he had put himself forward only ‘to gratify some friends of mine in town, who proposed such a thing to me’, and after the lord lieutenant, the Earl of Shrewsbury, had visited the county he stood down. Bagot and Littleton shared the modest election expenses of £70 3s.10d.6
In 1688 the royal electoral agents expected Bagot and Bowyer to be chosen. Sir Charles Wolseley, who was ‘right’ on the King’s ecclesiastical policy, was prepared to stand; but it was recognized that he had no chance of success except in conjunction with Bowyer, and in that event Bagot would combine with Chetwynd to defeat them. The usual gentry meeting was held before the general election of 1689 and chose John Grey, the younger son of a great Whig family who was rapidly moving towards Toryism, as Bagot’s partner. The latter’s health was causing concern, however, and Bowyer proposed that he should be replaced by Leveson Gower, while Lord Paget suggested Philip Foley. As usual the gentry candidates were successful, at a cost of £41 3s.6d. each.7
Authors: A. M. Mimardière / Basil Duke Henning
- 1. C219/73.
- 2. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 279.
- 3. Wm. Salt Lib. D1721/3. These papers have been extensively used by P. W. U. Ward, ‘Elections in Derbys., Leics. and Staffs. 1660-1714’ (Manchester Univ. MA thesis 1959), 149-51, 156-64, 168-75.
- 4. Ward, 295-7; Warws. RO, C/36/B154.
- 5. Spencer mss, Thynne to Lord Halifax, 13 Aug. 1681; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 488; 1682, p. 388; 1683-4, p. 141; Ward, 166-7.
- 6. CSP Dom. 1685, p. 21; Ward, 298.
- 7. Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 251; Ward, 299.