Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freeholders
Number of Qualified Electors:
66 in 1697; 73 in 1706
|24 Feb. 1690||GEORGE RODNEY BRYDGES|
|25 Oct. 1695||GEORGE WOODROFFE|
|GEORGE RODNEY BRYDGES|
|22 July 1698||SIR THEOPHILUS OGLETHORPE||22|
|George Rodney Brydges||12|
|3 Jan. 1701||SIR THEOPHILUS OGLETHORPE|
|22 Nov. 1701||GEORGE WOODROFFE|
|17 July 1702||GEORGE VERNON|
|Double return of Oglethorpe and Tichborne. OGLETHORPE seated, 10 Nov. 1702|
|22 Nov. 1704||THOMAS HEATH vice Oglethorpe, deceased|
|9 May 1705||GEORGE WOODROFFE|
|4 May 1708||THOMAS ONSLOW|
|13 Dec. 1708||NICHOLAS CAREW vice Onslow, chose to sit for Bletchingley|
|4 Oct. 1710||SIR JOHN CLERKE, Bt.||41|
|25 Aug. 1713||GEORGE VERNON|
|17 Mar. 1714||NICHOLAS CAREW vice Onslow, chose to sit for Bletchingley|
Haslemere’s relatively isolated position in the south-west corner of Surrey did not spare it the close attention of the county’s politicians. Although the borough was no more than ‘a small town with a very indifferent market’, the limited size of its electorate encouraged much contention between rival gentry factions. A significant factor which helped to fuel competition for seats after the Revolution was the temporary political eclipse of the Mores of Loseley who, as lords of the manor of Haslemere, could exercise a decisive influence over the election of the bailiff, the borough’s returning officer. The Mores had held the lordship since the beginning of the 17th century but failed to produce a recognized political leader after the death of Sir William More, 2nd Bt.†, in 1684. In their absence, the Tory interest in a borough of strongly Anglican outlook was maintained by several local gentlemen, most notable among whom were the Oglethorpes of nearby Westbrook. The Jacobite sympathies of the Oglethorpes precluded their active participation in local politics before 1698, but thereafter the strength of the local Tory interest was such that the party’s gentry supporters were able to rotate the seats between themselves. The Whig challenge was led by more distantly domiciled country gentlemen, but the powerful Onslows ensured that local Tory candidates were not always able to prevail.1
The election of 1690 saw the Whigs score an important victory, as their recent convert George Rodney Brydges succeeded to the seat previously occupied by a local Tory squire, White Tichborne† of Frimley. A Hampshire resident, Brydges no doubt leant heavily on the support of outgoing Member Denzil Onslow, whose family influence in the west of the shire had already brought him two election victories at Haslemere. Before the next general election Brydges improved his interest in the borough by becoming one of the trustees for the local market tolls in March 1694, an appointment which helped him secure another unopposed return in 1695. On that occasion Denzil decided to seek election for the county, leaving the way clear for the Tories to recover one of the seats through George Woodroffe of Poyle, whose father had twice represented the borough during the 1680s.
By the end of 1696 the local balance of power had been transformed by the decision of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe to swear allegiance to the Williamite regime. Although he had earned much notoriety since the Revolution as a Jacobite conspirator, Oglethorpe’s local connexions enabled him to oust Brydges at the election of 1698. In the borough’s first contest since 1681, the Tories also managed to take the other seat through George Vernon II, who, like his friend Woodroffe, was the son of a former Haslemere MP. Brydges, clearly hoping to make political capital from Oglethorpe’s reputation, petitioned the House against Sir Theophilus’ return, declaring that he had himself been elected ‘by the majority of legal voters’. Some time before the elections committee reported its verdict, James Vernon I* expressed his fears that Brydges had ‘a strong adversary in Oglethorpe, who thinks he has a great advantage over him’. Moreover, when Vernon heard that Brydges’ case had collapsed in the committee of elections, he lamented that ‘if he [Brydges] had not a wretched cause of it, it was wretchedly managed, for it could admit of no debate’. The report to the House on 9 Feb. revealed that Oglethorpe had not even tried to refute his rival’s allegations, reasoning that he ‘did not suppose the evidence given for the petitioner required any answer’. The committee ruled Brydges’ petition ‘frivolous and vexatious’, a verdict in which the House concurred after a close division.2
After their decisive victory in 1698, the Tories appeared content to rotate the seats between Oglethorpe, Vernon and Woodroffe, each of them sitting in two of William’s last three Parliaments. However, already weakened by Oglethorpe’s death in April 1702, the local Tory accommodation appeared to be under some strain at the first election of Anne’s reign, when controversy revolved around the candidacy of Oglethorpe’s heir, Lewis, who had only just reached his majority by the time of the poll. Although there was no challenge to the return of George Vernon II, the young Oglethorpe met strong opposition from James Tichborne of Frimley, the son of the former MP. From the evidence of the younger Tichborne’s subsequent voting record at the county elections of 1705 and 1710, there can be little doubt that he shared his father’s Tory sympathies, but his objection to Oglethorpe’s candidacy on election day induced the bailiff to issue a double return. Oglethorpe was the first to petition the House, claiming that he had gained ‘a majority of voices’, but only two days later the Commons received Tichborne’s counter-claim that Oglethorpe was ‘a minor’. The elections committee subsequently heard four witnesses testify to Oglethorpe’s date of birth, although the evidence provided by the parish register of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields was inconclusive. However, Tichborne’s case did not convince the committee, and the House resolved in favour of Oglethorpe without a division. In what was perhaps a deliberate attempt to heal local Tory differences, Vernon helped to steer a bill through the House in the ensuing session to settle an estate on the Tichborne family.
Having threatened local Tory unity by his efforts to enter the House, Lewis Oglethorpe lasted less than two years as Member for Haslemere, for he died in October 1704 from a wound received at Schellenberg. Even before a by-election could take place, Vernon acted on behalf of the borough’s ‘constable, burghers and other inhabitants’ to present an address at court. This not only celebrated the victories of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and Sir George Rooke*, but also acknowledged the Queen’s efforts ‘to make us the happiest people in the universe’. Such strong Tory sentiments presaged the unopposed victory of Thomas Heath I in the by-election, the new Member evidently serving as a stop-gap while the local party prepared for the next general election. In February 1705 a forecast actually suggested that a renewed Whig challenge might come from ‘Mr Onslow’, almost certainly a reference to Thomas, the ambitious young heir to the Clandon dynasty, but he was not expected to be successful. Accordingly, the election again saw the seats go to two Tories, as Woodroffe gained his fourth victory at Haslemere and John Fulham, the recorder of Guildford, achieved his only electoral success. Dyer intimated that the new Members may have had to contest the seats against their Tory predecessors, but there is no evidence to substantiate this unlikely claim.3
The borough’s strident Toryism was further attested by the county election of 1705, when all but two of the 41 Haslemere freeholders supported the candidature of Edward Harvey*. More encouraging for local Whig hopes, however, was the fact that in September 1706 Woodroffe presented an address at court on behalf of the ‘bailiff, burgesses, freeholders and other inhabitants’, in which congratulations were offered to the Queen on recent military successes. At the election of 1708 the Whigs fielded their first candidate for a decade, but the young Thomas Onslow was clearly acting in an opportunist manner, since he also fought simultaneous electoral campaigns at Bletchingley and Cirencester. At Haslemere he found only one Tory opponent, Theophilus Oglethorpe, brother and heir of the deceased Lewis, and thus the seats were shared between the parties for the first time since 1695. However, Onslow preferred to sit for Bletchingley, and a by-election was required to fill his place. Oglethorpe boasted to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) in September that he could control both Haslemere seats, but the December by-election saw an unopposed victory for the Whig Nicholas Carew.4
Having twice proved the strength of their interest in the borough, local Whig leaders were prepared to put up two candidates for the election of 1710 which, as elsewhere, proved the most bitter contest of the period. The Whigs were predictably represented by Carew and Onslow, both of whom had experienced recent electoral success at Haslemere. Conversely, Theophilus Oglethorpe’s eventual choice of running-mate, Sir John Clerke, 4th Bt. of Shabbington, Buckinghamshire, had no evident associations with the borough. Clerke’s most obvious Surrey connexion was actually a family tie to the Onslows, and his candidacy was not even mentioned by Oglethorpe’s scheming mother when she reported electoral matters to Robert Harley* only four weeks before the poll. However, while gloating over the desperate electioneering of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, whose desire for votes caused him to send a ‘most submissive letter’ to a blind local cobbler, she did note a rumour that a ‘nephew’ of the Whig baronet was prepared to spend £1,000 on the election, a sum which she presumed ‘is for Mr Onslow’. This report may well have alluded to Clerke who was Sir Richard’s cousin. Clerke was certainly ready to dispense gifts to secure his interest, donating £80 to recast the bells of the local chapel in election year. Ten days before the poll Oglethorpe was the only candidate to have appeared at Haslemere, and the keenness of the contest was indicated when Carew sent out for an extra 100 guineas to aid his campaign. At that time Carew felt that he was ‘very likely to be chosen’ alongside Clerke, but he finished a close third behind the two Tory candidates, with Thomas Onslow trailing a poor fourth. A subsequent scrutiny, no doubt called at Carew’s request, actually disqualified nearly half his votes, allowing Oglethorpe to crow that he had triumphed ‘notwithstanding bribery and all indirect means used’ by his opponents. Carew’s father-in-law observed that ‘your Haslemere men did not deal kindly by you, considering how kind you was [sic] to them last election’, but amid the High Church euphoria stirred up by the trial of Dr Sacheverell, it was religion, just as much as corruption, which proved a decisive influence in such a strongly Anglican borough. Carew eventually petitioned the House against Oglethorpe’s return, alleging that his rival had sunk to ‘bribery and other indirect practices’, but the elections committee never reported on the case. From the evidence of the subsequent county contest it appeared that the Whig cause had gained several converts among the Haslemere freeholders over the previous five years, but the Tory interest was still predominant.5
As if to confirm the relative strength of the local parties, on 2 Nov. 1712 three of the borough’s former Members, Heath, Fulham and Woodroffe, presented an address at Court which acknowledged recent efforts to secure a lasting and commercially advantageous peace, and accused the ministry’s critics of ‘being by principle such enemies to monarchy’. Despite the bitter tone of this address, at the next election the Haslemere seats were shared between the parties without a contest. George Vernon II claimed one seat for the Tories, his candidacy facilitated by Oglethorpe’s decision to take a place as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Ormond, as well as by Clerke’s recent opposition to the French commerce bill. Thomas Onslow was put up by the Whigs, but having secured a seat at Haslemere, he again opted to sit for Bletchingley. However, before the House could issue the writ for a by-election, a petition in the name of Theophilus Oglethorpe was submitted to the Commons to challenge Onslow’s success. The authorship of the petition was immediately questioned, for Oglethorpe had departed overseas before the election and had yet to return to England. The next day the messenger who had delivered the petition informed the House that he had acted on the orders of Oglethorpe’s mother and, in the light of this finding, the Commons resolved to uphold Onslow’s return. Later that day a new writ was issued for a by-election to replace Onslow, and within two weeks Carew had regained his place at Westminster without any opposition, a victory perhaps aided by Thomas Onslow’s gift of £30 for the erection of a gallery in the local chapel in 1714. Although Carew was to lead the Whigs to a notable triumph at the Haslemere election of the following year, the local Tory interest, under the leadership of the Oglethorpes, subsequently maintained its control over one of the borough’s seats until the middle of the 18th century.6
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. Bodl. Willis 15, f. 8; Surr. RO (Guildford), Loseley mss 749/4, 10; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 604, 657–8; J. Aubrey, Surr. iv. 29.
- 2. Manning and Bray, 657–8; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/133, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 17 Jan. 1699; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 260.
- 3. London Gazette, 9–13 Nov. 1704; Add. 70335, list of constituencies, 8 Feb. 1705; Coll. from Dyer’s Letters , 4.
- 4. Surr. Poll of 1705 (IHR); London Gazette, 9–12 Sept. 1706; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1093.
- 5. HMC Portland, iv. 590–1, 600, 610; Aubrey, 35; Add. 29599, ff. 119, 256; Post Boy, 5–7 Oct. 1710; Surr. Poll of 1710 (IHR).
- 6. London Gazette, 1–4 Nov. 1712.