Available from Boydell and Brewer
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
at least 3,362 in 1710
|12 Mar. 1690||Sir John Morgan, Bt.|
|Sir Herbert Croft, Bt.|
|Sir Edward Harley|
|8 Feb. 1693||Sir Edward Harley vice Morgan, deceased|
|31 Oct. 1695||Sir Herbert Croft, Bt.|
|Sir Edward Harley|
|3 Aug. 1698||Henry Cornewall|
|16 Jan. 1701||Sir John Williams|
|3 Dec. 1701||Sir John Williams|
|11 Aug. 1702||Sir John Williams|
|16 May 1705||James Scudamore, Visct. Scudamore [I]|
|12 May 1708||James Scudamore, Visct. Scudamore [I]||1236|
|25 Oct. 1710||James Scudamore, Visct. Scudamore [I]||2665||2615|
|30 July 1712||Sir Thomas Morgan, Bt. vice Prise, appointed to office|
|7 Sept. 1713||James Scudamore, Visct. Scudamore [I]|
|Sir Thomas Morgan, Bt.|
The ideal of a parliamentary election as the expression of the unanimous will of ‘the gentlemen of the country’ was widely and frequently professed in Herefordshire, and even in this period was occasionally realized through the traditional procedure of a ‘general meeting’ or, in less formal consultations, at assizes. Its survival as a meaningful concept owed a good deal to the influence of the Harleys of Brampton Bryan, a major force in the politics of the county despite only twice contesting a shire seat themselves between 1690 and 1715, whose oft-stated preference was for ‘the gentlemen’ to ‘agree’ on candidates ‘to propose to the freeholders’. Just as important, perhaps, was the breadth of the political elite in a county made prosperous by the iron industry. Herefordshire contained a multiplicity of significant interests, including, besides the Harleys and other local families, at least three peers whose principal seats lay far beyond the county boundaries, the Earls of Kent and Macclesfield (the latter custos in 1690) and Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†). The body of influential opinion was thus too large always to be accommodated in private arrangements, though paradoxically its very size might make political management difficult and render a county meeting ineffectual. The 1690 election was remarkable for the defeat of Sir Edward Harley, one of the outgoing Members, in circumstances that Sir Edward’s family and friends regarded as an outrageous betrayal and an undeserved slight on his honour. At first it had looked as if the uneasy truce would be maintained between the veteran Whig and Presbyterian Harley and the leading Tory interests in the county, his former colleague in the Convention Sir John Morgan, 2nd Bt., and Lords Chandos and Scudamore (John†). The possibility of a third candidate appearing in the form of Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt., a moderate Whig and firm Anglican, was discounted in the first report Sir Edward Harley received from his son Robert*, who had been to wait on Thomas Coningsby*. In regard to the county election, Coningsby said ‘privately’ that Croft
hath declined . . . and put it upon Sir J[ohn] Morgan. Mr Coningsby hath promised no one but you, saith if you think of setting up a second there should be a meeting of the gentlemen, but if contented with Sir J. M[organ] or that you will make a compliment to the gentlemen of the second and only stand yourself it will be without trouble or charge. I hear Lord Scudamore sent Sir J. M[organ] a very peevish answer to his letter to desire his interest.
Chandos and Kent had also promised Harley ‘all their interest’. Soon afterwards, however, came the rumour that Lord Scudamore intended to stand himself, an unlikely prospect in view of the fact that Scudamore had refused the oaths to the new regime but a harbinger of a more serious opposition from Croft, backed by Scudamore and possibly by Chandos too, since Croft’s canvassing relied on the denunciation of Harley as someone ‘not for the Church’. When Coningsby also ‘deserted’, out of pique that Robert Harley had been ‘set up’ against him in Leominster, defeat was virtually inevitable, and Morgan and Croft were returned on what had been represented as an Anglican interest.3
A reaction in Sir Edward Harley’s favour was not long in coming. In November 1690 Coningsby sent Harley his apologies, in a letter ‘full of extraordinary expressions’, according to Sir Edward: the ‘unhappy mistakes’ of the past were regretted, and a renewal of friendship looked for. Harley considered this ‘a special hand of God’, and replied in characteristic vein:
I desire, according to your expression, that what passed at the election towards me may be wholly forgotten, and blotted out as an unhappy parenthesis. I do also with my soul beseech God to forgive many of my countrymen who declared one that prays in his family unfit to be their representative.
The death of Morgan in January 1693 gave others the opportunity to make amends. Parliament was sitting, and when the news reached Westminster Robert Harley and Paul Foley I* immediately set about canvassing opinion in favour of Sir Edward for the vacancy. They ‘discoursed’ Coningsby and other Herefordshire MPs, including Croft, ‘behind the Speaker’s chair’. Finding themselves ‘unanimous . . . to bring you in’, as Foley informed Sir Edward, a group went up to the Lords to ‘acquaint those there herewith who related to our county and desire their concurrence, which was done accordingly’. Among the peers the only opposition came from Kent. Chandos agreed and ‘undertook for Sir John Williams’, the other interested candidate; while Weymouth, ‘finding the unanimous opinion of the gentlemen here’, declared ‘he will not give opposition’. Most of the Members and peers, and some other Herefordshire men in the capital who had been consulted, wrote individually to Harley to urge him to let his name go forward, or as one put it, ‘to try the mongrel gentlemen of this country once more’. Even Scudamore joined in. At the same time all signed a round robin to the sheriff of the county ‘expressing the hope that Sir Edward Harley might be elected knight’, which was to be communicated to the gentry at home in order to forestall any opposition which might have arisen locally. There had already been a meeting in Hereford at which Harley had been opposed by a former Tory Member, John Booth, who had said ‘he knew 500 of his mind’, and further talk of Williams ‘to be set up by the Church party and the Lord Ch[andos]’. Even after Chandos had made his position clear by ‘writing to several in the county’ on Harley’s behalf, and Williams had withdrawn (admittedly with a bad grace), there were still rumblings from ‘the Church’ and alarums that ‘Mr Brydges of Tyberton’ was ‘secretly’ making an interest. To Harley’s relief, however, his election passed ‘without any contradiction of Tory’, a triumph he attributed to ‘the holy dispensation of the Lord’, but which is more readily explicable in the context of national politics, his son Robert’s prominence in the Country opposition making the family more acceptable to the Tories.4
Harley and Croft were re-elected without opposition in 1695. There had been rumours that Coningsby, the only substantial Court Whig in Herefordshire, had been ‘meddling’, but when confronted by Robert Harley, Coningsby denied any intention to obstruct either of the outgoing knights and indeed sent a letter on their behalf as the election approached. The political consensus in the county was not, however, as robust as this unopposed return might suggest. While Coningsby took care not to provoke the Harleys he was less circumspect with Tory rivals and fought a duel with Chandos after a quarrel arising from the competition between Coningsby and Scudamore for the office of high steward of Hereford. However, in Parliament neither of the Herefordshire Members was particularly active, Harley hindered by old age and Croft by ill-health, so that, as a result, from at least the autumn of 1697 three prospective successors and their backers began to manoeuvre for advantage. Because of a combination of peculiar circumstances, the divisions that were revealed were personal rather than partisan in nature. The old Tory axis was fractured. The death of the 2nd Viscount had temporarily removed the Scudamore family from the picture, the heir being a minor, and the Chandos interest had been diverted from Williams to Lord Chandos’ son, Hon. James Brydges*, a political chameleon who prior to the 1698 election had been presenting himself to Whig ministers in London, from whom he was soliciting office, as an avid supporter of government. At the same time Coningsby’s interest was being put behind his brother-in-law Henry Gorges, the son of a wealthy slave-trader of Herefordshire origins who had returned to settle in his ancestral county. Gorges was something of a political maverick, but at bottom he was undoubtedly a Tory. The third candidate was Henry Cornewall, another Tory and a former MP for Hereford city. Squeezed out of a borough seat, he had considered standing for the county in 1695, and now mounted a determined challenge despite making a false start in seeking Sir Edward Harley’s endorsement. Resentful at having his retirement anticipated, Harley replied that his main concern was
that the county of Hereford may have entire peace among the gentry and freeholders, and that they may enjoy the benefit of faithful representatives in Parliament, in order to which I am under a solemn promise not to be engaged in any such affair but with the consent of the principal persons of the county, to which I shall refer myself and my interest.
Undaunted, Cornewall pressed on with a vigorous campaign, marked by characteristic deceit as he paid court to Chandos and at the same time spread tales in Herefordshire that Brydges was ‘a great courtier’. In contrast to Brydges, Cornewall seems to have made little headway with the major powers in the county but still to have achieved a strong position. Brydges, primed by his father with ‘a list of such gentlemen that he thought it convenient for me to write to for their interest’, quickly secured the support of the Foleys, Croft and Robert Price*, and even received a warm welcome from the Harleys. After hearing from Robert the conventional reply that much would depend upon ‘the gentlemen, whom they resolve on when they shall meet’, he was reassured that Harley ‘had great respect for him and had not been asked by anyone else’. A crucial opportunity would appear to have been missed, however, when in January 1698 Coningsby offered Brydges an alliance with Gorges which he refused, declaring that he preferred to stand on his own. Although Coningsby promised that his brother-in-law would not join with anyone else, and all three candidates agreed to stand ‘on our own legs’, the decision was probably a serious strategic miscalculation on Brydges’ part. Neither Coningsby nor Cornewall was particularly trustworthy, and by late June Brydges was hearing reports (denied by Coningsby) which suggested some understanding between the two. Fortunately for Brydges, there was an alternative: his father’s influence in the borough of Hereford, where the withdrawal of James Morgan left an opening, could guarantee his return there. After speaking with ‘several’ Herefordshire gentlemen, Brydges resigned his pretensions to the county. Ten days later, accompanied by Cornewall, he was walking the streets of Hereford ‘to get voices for myself for the city’. Cornewall and Gorges were then elected for the county with the minimum of fuss.5
Dissatisfaction among Herefordshire Tories with Cornewall’s failure to oppose a standing army in 1699 led them to cast about for a replacement. Robert Harley was canvassed by Brydges, who had become a staunch Harleyite and Country party man on entering Parliament, and possibly by Weymouth, but evidently declined. The vacuum was eagerly filled, however, by Williams, a man whom the Tory Robert Price described as ‘a gentleman without exception’ and favoured by ‘9 in 10’ of the parish clergy of the county. Williams informed Brydges as early as April 1700 of his intention to stand, but was rather slower in communicating his ambitions to other interested parties. By October he had secured the support of Chandos but seemed to have missed the chance of adding Weymouth to his side. As late as September Weymouth was still in ignorance of his candidature, and had been persuaded to forgive Cornewall his lapse over the disbanding bill. Not that Cornewall himself was standing; he had retreated to the venal borough of Weobley, but in his place had put up his cousin Charles Corn(e)wall*, a half-pay naval captain. This Cornwall had in fact been first in the field, requesting the ‘countenance’ of the Harleys as early as March 1700 and staging ‘a great entertainment’ for the Herefordshire gentry during the summer. He could not expect great popularity, however, for besides the handicap of his cousin’s apostasy on the standing army question, he was himself without a foot of land in the county, his father still being alive and his own estate and income small. To compensate, Henry Cornewall had formed an alliance with Coningsby, who still acted as Gorges’ patron. Chandos was both alarmed and outraged at this compact, formed, as he told Robert Harley, ‘to govern the next election for knights of the shire’:
They are not content with the privilege of naming the first, which is not at all disputed by my friends, Capt. Gorges having hitherto in my opinion behaved himself unexceptionally in Parliament, but they labour with more than ordinary heat [and] expense and are to impose the other on us, which in truth I can’t submit to and therefore am resolved to oppose this engrossing practice.
Both sides sought the favour of the Harleys, but as ever the response from Brampton Bryan was to withhold any promise and to wait for ‘the gentlemen’ to meet. Privately Robert Harley and his friends were confident that Williams would be ‘pitched upon by the gentlemen who were of the country interest’. As Harley reassured Brydges, it was his opinion that Williams ‘would meet such a preference which he and his friends may expect’. Publicly, Harley remained neutral. It was a stance which was to be severely tested, for Cornewall, unwisely seeking to force the issue, tried to pressurize the Harleys by interfering against them in the Radnorshire county election, while also inspiring rumours that Robert Harley had after all agreed to give his interest to Charles Cornwall in Herefordshire. The scheme backfired badly, antagonizing the Harleys while failing to shift them from their position of neutrality. At the same time Henry Cornewall’s devious and unscrupulous electioneering in Weobley alienated Weymouth, whose son was also a candidate there, and drove him into the Williams camp. To make matters worse for the Cornewalls, Gorges now changed sides and joined Williams, his relationship to Coningsby rendering him immune to attack from Charles Cornwall while the addition of his interest considerably strengthened Williams’ position. When, early in November, Robert Harley wrote to a member of the Cornewall family to complain of the treatment he had received and to reiterate his belief in the necessity of a county meeting, the hasty response was a chorus of regret for the ‘ill management’ that had occurred, including a near-apology from Henry Cornewall. The candidate himself sent a letter which affected to recognize that the outcome of the election would be ‘entirely’ in Harley’s ‘dispose’ and to be ‘pleased the decision were to be so’. Evidently he and his advisers had not yet given up hope of Harley’s endorsement, but to all applicants Harley gave the standard answer, until eventually both Chandos (on behalf of Williams) and Charles Cornwall took, or pretended to take, the notion of a county meeting seriously. Both wrote to Harley in late December to report that they had offered to ‘submit the dispute’ to ‘the majority of the gentlemen of the county’. Each blamed the other for declining, and Cornwall, the most apprehensive of the candidates, ‘threw himself’ upon Harley’s mercy, ‘to dispose of me as you please’. On hearing via Coningsby that Harley still refused to declare for anyone, he blazoned his determination to ‘poll it to the last man’, if only Harley would ‘please give me an assurance that you will not be against me’. Within a week of this announcement, and a few days before the poll, he ‘desisted’. Williams and Gorges were thus returned unopposed.6
Harley turned down for the second time the opportunity to be returned for Herefordshire in November 1701, though pressed by Brydges and by Williams. Instead, in a departure from previous policy, he gave Williams his interest, a decision taken at a meeting in Chandos’ London house on 12 Nov. also attended by Williams himself, Brydges, Price and Henry Cornewall. The presence of Cornewall indicates that his family had been sufficiently cowed by the events of the preceding winter not to make trouble. Price had reported in October that the Cornewalls would ‘attempt the county once more’, but Charles abandoned all ambitions in this quarter on hearing of Harley’s ‘intentions to espouse Sir J. Williams’. The coast was not entirely clear for Williams, however, for yet another maverick Tory had appeared on the scene and had naturally obtained Coningsby’s backing. This was John Prise of Wistaston, a High Tory by principle but a man embroiled in menacing litigation and thus anxious to secure a parliamentary seat by whatever means and with whatever help he could find. On this occasion he was dissuaded by Charles Cornwall from openly challenging the alliance of Chandos, Harley and Gorges. By the following year Cornewall’s position had changed and he and his kinsmen were willing to support Prise against the outgoing Members. Indeed, Cornwall made a powerful speech at a gathering of the ‘gentlemen’ at Hereford, alleging that ‘there had been very indirect practices used in this and the former election, the gentlemen at London choosing the knights there, and insinuated that the meeting of the gentlemen was to exclude the freeholders’. With the interest of the Cornewalls and many of the surviving Whigs in Herefordshire Prise could expect a better showing than in the previous November. Nevertheless, his first move was to apply to Harley for a compromise solution to the prospective conflict. If Harley could persuade Williams to withdraw, Prise would promise not to ‘interrupt’ him again. In reply Harley expressed surprise that there should be any ‘solicitation’ against the outgoing Members, ‘two gentlemen who were serving their country very honourably here in town’, but did not rule out the possibility of a compromise: ‘the very little I can do shall be employed to contrive quiet in the country and a good understanding amongst the gentlemen and freeholders’. If such a compromise was reached, and since Prise not only withdrew but thereafter applied to Harley for preferment, it is conceivable that an agreement of some kind did take place, it was not until late in the day. A county meeting called to settle matters, probably in mid-July, ended with a decision only on ‘the methods of polling’. Prise was at this stage still a candidate, though he conceded that ‘since . . . the usual method of choosing in Herefordshire was by the gentlemen he was willing to know their opinions’. No opposition was recorded at this election, nor three years later when the 3rd Viscount Scudamore, having attained his majority, replaced Williams. As Coningsby seems to have been co-operating with Harley at this stage, partly as a consequence of their shared loyalty to the Marlborough–Godolphin ministry and partly no doubt by way of making a virtue of necessity in local politics, the Whig interest in Herefordshire had now become quite ineffectual.7
The Herefordshire freeholders were at last taken to a poll in 1708 when Prise renewed his challenge for a county seat at the instigation of Scudamore, who had evidently fallen out with Gorges. Gorges weakened his own position by attacking the Harleys, ‘stirring up’ opposition to them and their friends in Hereford and Leominster. They retaliated by supporting Prise, and took Coningsby with them, to leave Gorges isolated among the major interests. Only Brydges stuck by him, claiming a prior engagement when pressed by Coningsby to declare for Prise. In the circumstances, it says much for Gorges’ personal interest and standing among the gentry that he was able to get within 40 votes of Prise. Although he subsequently agreed to drop his petition of 25 Nov. 1708, against Prise, Gorges was sufficiently encouraged by the closeness of this result to stand again in 1710. As before, there were no partisan overtones in the contest. Herefordshire opinion in 1710 was overwhelmingly Tory, the county being one of the first to address the Queen in favour of Dr Sacheverell, and the three candidates at the general election, Scudamore, Prise and Gorges, were all described by Dyer as ‘loyal’. Prise, in fact, was said to have been showing Jacobite sympathies. But the conflict between Scudamore and Prise on the one hand, and Gorges on the other, was no less bitter for being an intra-party quarrel, and the Harleys were soon expressing their customary anxiety over a division in the county. They were particularly worried that Gorges might enjoy enough popular support to succeed at a poll, and if he did so, in spite of their opposition, his resentment would give rise to a great deal of vindictive mischief-making. A serious riding accident, which temporarily disabled Scudamore, increased this anxiety. Edward Harley*, Robert’s brother, proposed that Chandos might ask Scudamore to withdraw, on ‘an assurance from the gentlemen of the county to be for him for the future’. Whether this was tried is not known, but in any case Scudamore would not budge, and neither would Gorges. The latter ‘would be satisfied with nothing less than everyone’s yielding to him’, and forced the issue to a poll. The outcome, a defeat for Gorges by three times as many votes as he had lost by in 1708, seems to have helped terminate his interest in acquiring a county seat, at least after he let fall his petition of 5 Dec. 1710 against Prise, in which he alleged ‘bribery and other illegal practices’, including the printing and dispersal of ‘scandalous libels . . . reflecting on the privileges of the House of Commons’. Other factors discouraging him from attempting the county again were the re-emergence of the Morgan interest from a minority, which offered the prospect of a more powerful opponent than Prise in the future, and perhaps also a positive inducement to him in the shape of an offer from the Harleys. In 1712, when Prise resigned his seat, Sir Thomas Morgan, 3rd Bt., was elected unopposed; the Chandos, Harley and Scudamore interests united behind him; and no Whig opponent in sight. Nor, despite a glimmer of opposition soon after the by-election, was there any dissentient voice in 1713, when Scudamore and Morgan were re-elected on a staunchly Tory platform. Gorges was returned at Leominster in this election, with Edward Harley, the two joining together to defeat a Whig opponent.8
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Add. 70240, Thomas* to Robert Harley, 27 Oct. 1710; 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 31 Oct. 1710.
- 2. Bean’s notebk.
- 3. Add. 70014, ff. 284, 299, 312; 70064, Coningsby to Sir Edward Harley, 9 Mar. [?1690]; HMC Portland, iii. 443, 446; NLW, Kemeys-Tynte mss 161, Charles Herbert* to Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt.*, 7 Mar. 1689–90; Epistolary Curiosities ed. Warner, i. 142.
- 4. Add. 70064, Coningsby to Sir Edward Harley, 7 Nov. 1690, Sir Edward Harley to Coningsby, 11 Dec. 1690; 70233, same to Robert Harley, 18 Nov. 1690; 70114, Paul Foley I to Sir Edward Harley, 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; 70017, ff. 3, 5, 11, 16; 70125, Sir Francis Winnington* to same, 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; 70126, John Boscawen to same, 10 Jan. 1692[–3], Croft to same, 10 Jan. 1692[–3], Thomas Foley II* to same, 10 Jan. 1692[–3], Edward Cornewall to same, 14 Jan., 7 Feb. 1692[–3], Ferdinand Gorges to same, 17 Jan. 1692[–3], John Birch II* to same, 18 Jan. 1692[–3], William Gwillym to same, 26 Jan. 1692[–3], Sandys Lechmere to same, 2 Feb. 1692[–3], Richard Reed to same, 3 Feb. 1692[–3]; 70235, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 13, 14, 17, 28 Jan., 11 Feb. 1692[–3]; 70123, Scudamore to Sir Edward Harley, 20 Jan. 1692[–3] (two letters); 70128, Sir Edward Harley to [?Robert Harley], 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; HMC Portland, iii. 511, 513.
- 5. Add. 70017, f. 257; 70064, Coningsby to Mr Patshull, ; 70118, Edward to Sir Edward Harley, n.d.; 70226, Thomas Foley II to Robert Harley, 31 July 1695; 70113, Sir Edward Harley to Edward Cornewall, 24 Feb. 1697[–8]; 70019, f. 20; 70114, Thomas Foley II to Sir Edward Harley, 16 July 1698; Bodl. Carte 239, f. 71; 79, f. 758; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 331; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(1), pp. 22, 28; 26(1), James Brydges’ diary, 3, 5, 7, 8, 14, 15, 17, 22, 23 Feb., 29 June, 5, 12, 22 July, 3 Aug. 1698.
- 6. Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 8 Nov., 27 Dec. 1699, 15 Apr., 30 Dec. 1700, 2, 16 Jan. 1701; 58(1), pp. 13–14; Thynne pprs. 26, ff. 286–9; 25, f. 13; Add. 70019, ff. 168, 235, 259, 270–2, 301, 309, 311; 70226, Thomas Foley II to Robert Harley, 20 Sept. 1700; 70263, Williams to same, 16 Aug. 1700, Robert Harley to Williams, 24 Sept. 1700; 70168, Brydges to Robert Harley, 4 Oct. 1700; 70219, Robert Harley to Cyriac Cornewall, 7 Nov. 1700, Cyriac Cornewall to Robert Harley, 10 Nov. 1700, Henry Cornewall to same, [12 Dec. 1700], Robert Harley to Charles Cornwall, 11 Jan. 1700–1; 70064, same to Coningsby, 26 Dec. 1700; 70020, ff. 35–36, 38, 41; HMC Portland, iii. 616; iv. 7, 10.
- 7. Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 11, 12 Nov., 3 Dec. 1701; HMC Portland, iv. 26; Add. 70254, Price to Robert Harley, 11 Oct. 1701, 30 Mar. 1702, Prise to same, 28 Mar. 1702, Robert Harley to Prise, 7 Apr. 1702; 70219, Charles Cornwall to Robert Harley, 1 Dec. 1701; 70256, H. Seward to [?same], 13 Apr. 1702; 70236, Edward Harley to same, 15 [?July] 1702.
- 8. Add. 70254, Prise to Robert Harley, 5 May 1708, Robert Harley to Price, 27 May 1708; 70236, Edward to Robert Harley, 25 Apr. 1708, 13 Oct. 1710; 70396, William Thomas to Edward, Ld. Harley*, 5 Mar. 1708–9; 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 31 Oct. 1710; 70240, Thomas to Robert Harley, 24 Sept., 10, 27 Oct. 1710; 70226, Thomas Foley II to same, 25 Sept. 1710; 70236, Edward Harley to same, 13 Oct. 1710; HMC Portland, iv. 486–7; Stowe mss 57(2), p. 30; 58(11), pp. 12, 135, 137–8, 178; 57(9), p. 161; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 238; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 93; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss, Francis Brydges to Scudamore, Apr. 1713, Scudamore to Francis Brydges, 31 July 1713.