New Windsor

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

Right of election: in the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:

278 in 17121

Number of voters:

190 in 1712; at least 252 in 1713

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
6 Mar. 1690Sir Christopher Wren 
 Baptist May 
 Sir Charles Porter 
 William Adderley 
 Porter and Adderley vice Wren and May, on petition, 17 May 1690 
20 Nov. 1693Sir William Scawen vice Adderley, deceased 
23 Oct. 1695John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Sir William Scawen 
21 July 1698John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
 Sir William Scawen 
3 Jan. 1701John Berkeley,  Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
21 Nov. 1701John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
16 Aug. 1702John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
8 May 1705John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
3 May 1708John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I] 
 Richard Topham 
4 Oct. 1710Richard Topham 
 William Paul 
18 May 1711Samuel Masham vice Paul, deceased 
21 Jan. 1712Charles Aldworth  vice Masham, called to the Upper House149
 Topham Foot412
24 Aug. 1713Christopher Wren244
 Charles Aldworth183
 Sir Henry Ashurst, Bt.763

Main Article

Contemporary visitors to Windsor, such as Celia Fiennes and Defoe, concentrated almost exclusively on the castle. Physically impressive, its legal jurisdiction encompassed the surrounding countryside (the borough only excepted), and the monarch was often in residence, Queen Anne more so than William. The influence which the crown could exert on the borough through its ministers, courtiers or officials, is difficult to determine. However, convention demanded a deferential demeanour at least from the corporation and would-be Parliament-men. Samuel Masham, husband of a royal favourite, was unopposed in 1711, and the Jacobite Charles Aldworth, insisted in September 1714 that as ‘I would never stand myself till I first had the Queen’s approbation’ it would be proper to await the arrival of George i so that ‘we might learn his pleasure before we engaged in a corporation so directly under his Majesty’s eye’. There is also the question of the long dominance of the Fitzhardinge–Topham combination, which only came to an end after a ministerial upheaval in 1710. Neither the crown nor the corporation could be certain of the electorate, which probably accounts for the local connexions of several of the Members.4

Two returns were sent in for the borough after the 1690 election, both of them signed by the mayor. However, Wren and May were allowed to take their seats and the subsequent challenge by Adderley and Porter rested on the legitimacy of the franchise rather than the merits of the return. The franchise had been settled by the Commons on 2 May 1689, as lying in the corporation rather than in those inhabitants paying scot and lot. This order favoured Wren and May, but in a petition presented on 24 Mar. 1690 their opponents questioned the decision of the previous Parliament and backed this up with a second petition from the inhabitants of the borough. Both sides produced printed cases outlining their arguments. Although the chairman of the committee of elections reported on 17 May 1690 in favour of the sitting Members, the full House overturned its resolutions (albeit by narrow majorities) and proceeded to declare Adderley and Porter duly elected. This vote was still being cited in 1702 as a precedent for the Commons changing its mind from one Parliament to another. Henceforth, elections were held on a scot and lot franchise.5

Adderley’s death in June 1693 precipitated a by-election at Windsor, which saw Sir William Scawen returned. His family held an estate at Horton, just over the Buckinghamshire border, and he was undoubtedly high in ministerial favour, having been rewarded with a knighthood the previous year. Interestingly, with a by-election pending, the crown chose July 1693 to grant to the corporation for the relief of the poor £50 p.a. from the rents accruing from Windsor Castle. If this grant was a deliberate attempt to smooth Scawen’s election it certainly did no harm because he was returned unopposed in November 1693. Following Scawen’s return, John Verney* thought ‘his best interest was a good free purse for he was a mere stranger in the town, but his brother [John], who is a parson lives within three or four miles of that town and made friends for the knight’. In 1695 Scawen was joined in the Commons by Viscount Fitzhardinge, who had been invited to Windsor on 30 Sept. 1695 in order to be made a freeman and to be reassured of support should he venture to be a candidate. As a soldier-cum-courtier he was acceptable to the Court, as was Scawen, and there was no opposition to their election.6

The alienation in 1696 to the Earl of Portland and Lord Somers (Sir John*) of the fee farm rents attached to Windsor Castle seems to have provoked more national than local controversy, although in the 1698 election Scawen was replaced by Richard Topham. In all probability Topham owed his seat to his family’s links with the borough and to his own usefulness as an intermediary with the crown over questions of land purchases and the attendant compensation. No doubt such negotiating skills strengthened his political position in the town, so that on the eve of the poll in 1698 he was reported to have ‘the best interest’ in the borough, an accurate assessment, given that on the following day he was elected along with Fitzhardinge. They remained in tandem until 1710, despite rumours in December 1700 that Scawen would renew his challenge at the election to be held the following January. The installation in May 1701 of George Fitzroy, Duke of Northumberland (an illegitimate son of Charles ii), as constable and high steward of Windsor in place of the Duke of Norfolk, does not seem to have altered the political balance of the borough. Nor, indeed, did the election of November 1701 which saw both Members and Northumberland present addresses from the corporation in which they gave thanks for the Acts of Toleration and Settlement and guaranteed that they had chosen Members to serve the King’s interest in the new Parliament. Even the accession of Anne brought no change to the unopposed return of Fitzhardinge and Topham.7

Given that the previous six elections had returned the same Members, 1710 marks a watershed. William Paul, from a local family, was returned in place of Fitzhardinge. It seems likely that Fitzhardinge’s close association with the Marlboroughs and the previous Whig regime made him vulnerable to the Court’s changing political orientation. However, there is no unambiguous evidence that he actually contested Windsor and, significantly, he kept his office at Court. Paul may perhaps have tapped the Tory mood which swept the country. His death the following year revealed the latent strength of the Court. Initially, Walter Chetwynd II, son-in-law of Fitzhardinge, expressed an interest, as he had just been unseated at Stafford. At that point Christopher Wren was seen as a likely rival. Northumberland recommended Charles Aldworth for the vacant seat only to find that the Court wished to secure the return of Samuel Masham, the newly appointed cofferer of the Household and, more importantly, husband of Abigail Masham, the Queen’s favourite. Upon discovery of this plan, Northumberland ‘went down to Windsor and told them his gentleman would desist so that he was at liberty to solicit them for Mr Masham’. Not surprisingly in the circumstances, no candidate appeared to challenge Masham. With Masham’s elevation to the peerage on 1 Jan. 1712, Aldworth had an opportunity to capitalize on the goodwill generated by his previous withdrawal. Northumberland recommended Aldworth, which was probably sufficient to remove from the field another Tory hopeful, the younger Christopher Wren, despite any influence which Wren’s father could exert as surveyor-general of the castle. Aldworth did not go unopposed, however: Topham Foot, the favourite nephew of Richard Topham, rallied the Whig interest, only to reveal that at this date it was outnumbered by over three to one (190 voting out of an electorate listed at 278 in April 1712, but which included two dukes).8

This massive defeat probably reconciled Topham to an early retirement from politics, because he did not contest the 1713 election. The main beneficiary would seem to have been Wren, who carefully cultivated the corporation by bestowing on them a gift of a statue of Prince George of Denmark. He comfortably topped the poll. Aldworth took the other place. In retrospect this was achieved by a wide margin, but at the time his interest had been endangered over the borough’s address to the crown giving thanks for the peace of Utrecht. The original address contained such inflammatory language that Northumberland refused to present it. The corporation protested that they had promoted the address ‘without the least thought or design of any disrespect’ towards the Duke, but that they could not ‘recede from the same without a reflexion on themselves and others, the gentlemen and inhabitants that have subscribed thereto’. Despite attempts by Aldworth to prevail with the Duke by making a distinction between ‘the weak and unguarded expressions of him who drew it, and the honest meaning of those who signed it’, Northumberland remained steadfast in his refusal to present the address. Aldworth was blamed by many of the town and consequently felt that he had lost some of his influence. However, he remained confident that ‘the Church interest’ under Northumberland’s ‘direction’ would remain in control. The dispute was evidently patched up, for a new address was presented to the Queen in the middle of June 1713, and Aldworth re-elected in August. In September 1714, with another election certain in the near future, Aldworth appeared to make Robert Harley*, Earl of Oxford, a scapegoat for his difficulties of the previous year. In reporting to Northumberland a conversation he had held with Wren he noted, ‘we run through the former election and my Lord of Oxford’s behaviour therein which he [Wren] censured freely enough double dealing’. Thus, it would seem that factions at Court had a bearing on at least this particular contest, or the circumstances in which it was fought. The Tory interest proved strong enough to win the 1715 election, but the victors, Wren and Robert Gayer† were unseated on petition.