Oxford University


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:

in doctors and masters of arts

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

361 in 1701


 Hon. Heneage Finch183
 Sir William Trumbull1201
3 Jan. 1701HON. HENEAGE FINCH205
 Sir William Glynne, Bt.1322
21 Mar. 1701WILLIAM BROMLEY vice Musgrave, chose to sit for Westmorland197
 Sir George Beaumont, Bt.1643
22 Nov. 1703SIR WILLIAM WHITELOCKE vice Finch, called to the Upper House174
 Francis Clerke1114
 Sir Humphrey Mackworth1105

Main Article

Oxford University was the chief seminary of the Church and pre-eminent as a focus of Toryism. The intensity of Tory politics in the university sharpened during the 1690s as a growing sense of grievance took hold among the ordinary fellows. Much of this annoyance stemmed from the government’s oft-seen failure to include Oxford dons among the recipients of ecclesiastical patronage, thereby turning many of them against the religious moderation of William III and his ministries. Discontent was also nurtured by the increasing difficulty of obtaining clerical livings in the parishes. One historian has succinctly described the university’s politics during this period as ‘a study in the nice balance which the leading heads [of houses] sought to hold between the angry politics of the college fellows and their own nervous self-interest’. Though Tory predominance at Oxford naturally precluded the appearance of conventional party warfare, the processes of choosing the university’s MPs involved longstanding rivalries between the larger and richer colleges such as Christ Church, Magdalen and All Souls. The more influential college heads enjoyed a footing in the larger political world in London through friendships and connexions with senior Tory politicians, not least High Church grandees such as the earls of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) and Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), who might exert themselves in favour of particular candidates. The chancellor, the 2nd Duke of Ormond, was a figure of less weight and seldom intervened in the university’s parliamentary elections: on the one occasion when he is known to have recommended a candidate, his wishes were ignored.6

In 1690 no challenge was made to the Members who had been elected the previous year to the Convention, Hon. Heneage Finch I and Sir Thomas Clarges. Anthony à Wood, an eye-witness at the special meeting of convocation summoned to elect the new Members, recorded that the vice-chancellor, Dr Jonathan Edwards, ‘asked the members (who were all there and the house full) whether they would have the former burgesses . . . or any other whom they should think fit. Whereupon they all cried up unanimously “Finch and Clarges”, and named not at all a third person.’ Such unanimity, ‘a rare thing and not before known’, arose from the general feeling of optimism in Oxford’s academic circles that accompanied the King’s shift towards the Tories. Both Finch and Clarges were able parliamentarians and figured among the most prominent Churchmen in the House. Clarges’ scruples about recognizing William III as king, which he had aired during debates in the Convention Parliament, undoubtedly reflected those of a good many of his academic constituents. Finch’s strong Oxford credentials rested as much on his family’s long connexion with the university as on his Churchmanship. His father, Sir Heneage†, had been elected to the Cavalier Parliament in 1661, while he himself had briefly served for the university during the first Exclusion Parliament. Moreover, his brotherly tie with Secretary Nottingham was a sure guarantee of his own staunch Anglicanism. The 1690 election was stage-managed to the extent that the two old Members were urged not to make any personal ‘addresses’ to the university ‘so that their choice may appear more free and the gratitude of the university more manifest’. Dr Arthur Charlett, who throughout the period busied himself indefatigably with the university’s political affairs, even felt it unnecessary for Nottingham to make a personal recommendation of his brother to the vice-chancellor on the grounds that ‘all the good men here in the university take it for a great favour and felicity that Mr Finch will run the hazard of being our burgess, and that all the ill men, whatever they think, dare not say otherwise’.7

The next election, in the autumn of 1695, was used as an opportunity by the ‘moderate’ Tory heads to cultivate better relations with the ministry. In the latter part of September, opinion was being sounded as to the possibility of electing the recently appointed secretary of state and former All Souls man, Sir William Trumbull, in place of Heneage Finch. Finch’s cousin, Dr Leopold William Finch, the warden of All Souls, attributed these reports to ‘the officiousness of two or three inconsiderable men who for their own advantage would be glad to see his interest promoted’. It is indicative that Heneage Finch rather than the elderly Clarges was considered the more expendable of the two. Although both were sharp critics of government, Clarges was by far the more energetic, devoting his time almost constantly to parliamentary business, and had been assured of re-election by the vice-chancellor. However, Clarges’ sudden death on 4 Oct., just three weeks before the general election, presented interested college heads with the ideal opportunity of electing a ministerial figure without endangering Finch’s position. Trumbull was given advance notice of Clarges’ impending death by a friend and government colleague, George Clarke*, also of All Souls, and immediately agreed to stand. Thus, as soon as Clarges was dead, Trumbull was already in place as the Court candidate. Bishops Compton of London and Sprat of Rochester were particularly active in bringing college heads into line, while Trumbull’s chief agent at Oxford, Dr William Hayley, conducting a systematic canvass of the colleges, found most of them ready in their support. These included Magdalen, which commanded the second largest number of votes in convocation (47), after Christ Church (60). Initially, however, Christ Church presented a problem. Prominent members of the ‘Country’ opposition in the Commons were naturally averse to losing one of the university seats to a government man, while in Oxford there was a groundswell of support among the younger and more zealous MAs for Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., who as well as being a staunch Churchman was an outspoken critic of the ministers. Christ Church had been a centre of support for Musgrave as recently as the previous winter when its head, the extreme Tory Dean Aldrich, proposed him as a possible successor to Clarges. Though Francis Gwyn*, one of the Country Tory leaders, was anxious that Aldrich ‘and all his gang’ be encouraged to launch Musgrave as a serious candidate in the election, Aldrich himself, under pressure from several leading sources of ‘moderate’ opinion, quickly realized the impossibility of success in the face of overwhelming support for Trumbull, and gave early assurances to Hayley that he would do nothing to imperil Trumbull’s election. Warden Finch of All Souls had also preferred Musgrave, and despite publicly backing Trumbull, lamented privately to his cousin Heneage that ‘very many people here too heartily have swallowed what the Court has long prepared for them’. Some sections of High Tory opinion, thriving on rumours of Trumbull’s Whiggery, proved more difficult to reconcile. It was alleged, for example, that Trumbull was an ‘intimate crony’ of Hon. Thomas Wharton*, who was believed to be soliciting on his behalf. Hayley feared that this type of ‘malicious story’ would do inestimable harm if allowed to take root, and he resolved to ‘discourse as many as I can to arm them against it’. Trumbull’s supposed Whiggery was also highlighted in reports of his continued pretensions to one of the Berkshire seats and of his threatening the re-election of the outgoing Tory knight, Sir Humphrey Forster, 2nd Bt. According to Dr Finch, this had ‘fired a great many’ of Trumbull’s friends. A small group of Tories had briefly canvassed for Christopher Codrington, an All Souls fellow who cut an incongruous figure in having seen military service and been made a colonel by the King for his distinction at Namur. He was never more than an improbable choice, however, and his friends soon realized ‘their error in putting him up’. By the eve of the election Trumbull was believed to be safe. He was persuaded to appear at the university in person, chiefly to court what popularity he could among the ordinary members of convocation, but managed to avoid having to tour the colleges on account of his high office, hardly venturing from All Souls, his old college, where he was hosted and fêted by the vice-chancellor and various heads of house. Finch, on the other hand, excused himself owing to the pressure of legal work. To the entire satisfaction of the college heads, Trumbull and Finch were elected unanimously, but it proved a short-lived triumph.8

In fact, Trumbull’s election did nothing to improve the university’s relations with the government. The King’s hauteur during his visit in November 1695, supposed to mark the beginning of this new accord, boded ill for the future. Ministers continued to show a clear Whig bias in what little patronage was meted out to Oxford dons. Moreover, the earlier ‘moderate’ consensus began to wilt as the question of Church autonomy and the re-establishment of the Convocation of Canterbury began to be seriously addressed within Oxford’s academic community from 1697. The election of 1698 was to prove bitterly divisive. Trumbull resigned his secretaryship in despair in December 1697, believing himself badly mistreated by his Whig colleagues and wanting to live the rest of his life in peaceful retirement. At Oxford, those sections of moderate opinion responsible for masterminding his election in 1695 took for granted that he would stand again, and in June the ambitious young Tory lawyer Simon Harcourt I* was warned off pursuing his own ambitions for the seat. But the fact that this time Trumbull did not employ an agent to campaign on his behalf, and only solicited support through correspondence with university acquaintances, would suggest that he had little real interest in retaining his seat. Finch also found himself being promoted as a candidate without really wanting to be. His recent prolonged spell of ill-health forced him to think of quitting public affairs for the time being, but he was concerned to hear from his cousin Warden Finch that ‘you had taken other resolutions concerning me’. As the election approached, it became clear that the ‘moderate’ forces which had mustered so effectively for Trumbull and Finch in 1695 were now overcome by the assertiveness of anti-government feeling among the ordinary MAs. Dean Aldrich, whose optimism about the chances of replacing the old Members would this time brook no interference from his moderate colleagues, proposed two ‘opposition’ candidates, Musgrave and Sir William Glynne, 2nd Bt., the latter an insignificant man plucked from the Oxfordshire gentry. Aldrich had the additional support of Bishop Mews of Winchester, who was visitor to several colleges. Very little was done to promote the old Members. Charlett, now master of University College, blamed them both for neglecting ‘all the usual forms’, Trumbull ‘in not appearing in person or by a proper agent’, and Finch ‘in not writing at all’, though other sources felt that Finch ‘would carry the point’. Since the High Tory vote was centred upon the Christ Church candidates, Finch was presumably a focus for the moderate Tory fellows, choosing to follow the line set by their college heads. Charlett could see that he and Trumbull ‘will be excluded by a fatal combination of many unhappy circumstances, very easy to have been prevented by a common conduct’. Trumbull, now something of a disgraced figure, was without the influential backing he had had in 1695, while as a result of his failure to solicit votes many would-be supporters had succumbed ‘to the zealous applications of Christ Church’. Magdalen College, maintaining its traditional animosity towards Christ Church, was purportedly behind Trumbull, though elsewhere it was noted that the Christ Church candidate Glynne had made considerable inroads there. Even so, the strong antipathy towards Trumbull was plain in the final week before the election. Ormond made a futile attempt to field a government man in succession to Trumbull, choosing John Ellis*, an under-secretary of state and student of Christ Church. Ormond was careful to apprise the vice-chancellor that his recommendation was made ‘not in the quality of chancellor’ but ‘as one friend may do to another . . . it not being my intention in the least to entrench upon the privileges and liberties of the university’. Several heads of house toyed with the notion of proposing Ellis formally to a full meeting of convocation, but the idea was abandoned. Intending to visit Oxford ‘very speedily’ in mid-July, Ellis soon acknowledged the weakness of the government’s position and withdrew. Another candidate to make a fleeting appearance was a ‘Mr Bertie of University’, probably Hon. Albemarle Bertie*, a fellow of All Souls. Though the circumstances of Bertie’s candidacy are not clear, he may have been promoted by Warden Finch in conjunction with Finch’s cousin Heneage in an effort to rival the Christ Church interest. The strong personal acrimony which had broken out between the warden and Dean Aldrich would make this seem a likely possibility. The extent to which the ‘peace and quiet of the university’ had been disrupted was seen at the voting in convocation. Musgrave and Glynne won the day for the high Tories with a near parity of 207 and 205 votes respectively. But not far behind with 183 votes was Finch, who, finding a considerable body of support for him, had written to the university the night before the election and was subsequently reported to have taken ‘it amiss that he was left out’. The disillusion with Trumbull was also reflected. He was said to have caused such great annoyance to All Souls in having made no ‘application’ to them that he polled not a single vote from the college. His brother, who had several contacts at the university, gained the impression that ‘those that put you upon this attempt either did not understand the temper of some people or were inclineable you should receive a foil’. Tory opinion outside the university was taken aback by the ‘ungratitude’ it had shown, particularly in rejecting Finch who ‘hath so long served for and done such eminent service to the university’. An atmosphere of rancour prevailed after the election and it was apparent to Charlett that ‘many repent of laying aside Mr Finch, and not a few that any alteration was made at all’. He was also apt to think, not unjustly, that the general ‘aversion’ which had set in against Trumbull was at least partially responsible for dragging Finch down. These ‘heats’ were kept alive over the next few months by the expectation of further electoral turmoil following Musgrave’s surprise announcement early in August that his refusal to sign the Association would prevent him from serving the university. The uncertainty ended in November, however, when Musgrave decided to take up his seat after all.9

The election of January 1701 saw a healing of fractiousness in the university. The Tory complexion which the King had given his ministry during the final months of 1700 and his agreement to the recall of the Convocation of Canterbury early in the new year was a dual cause for optimism and consensus among the college fellows. Towards the close of November 1700 Warden Finch and Dean Aldrich, having sunk their differences, declared for Musgrave and Heneage Finch I, aided by the vice-chancellor and those other college heads ‘apprehended to be the most prudent men and the best able to support any cause here’. During the preceding Parliament, Musgrave had distinguished himself as one of the ministry’s principal antagonists in the Commons, but despite the strong inclination to re-elect him, it was widely thought that he would choose to sit for his native county of Westmorland where he had also been invited to stand. Harcourt, by now a prominent figure among the younger generation of High Church Tories, was particularly anxious to bring this to Robert Harley’s* attention, hoping, perhaps, that Harley might be prompted to help him realize his own ambition to sit for the university. Finch was certainly the more popular of the two candidates, not least because of his close connexions with the High Church leadership, but it was not until after the formal announcement of the dissolution in mid-December that he confirmed his willingness to stand. Although by this stage ‘tricks’ were used to promote ‘an opposition’, they were not of a kind to threaten Musgrave and Finch. The warden of All Souls told his cousin on 24 Dec. to ‘fear not but that we are very well prepared to spoil any mischief’. It was perhaps natural that Glynne, having previously tasted electoral success, should want to defend his seat, despite not having the powerful backing of the Christ Church interest which had favoured him in 1698. The other contender, Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*, a Leicestershire Tory and the holder of a fellowship at New College, was put up by dons evidently resentful of Warden Finch and Dean Aldrich’s efforts to dominate and predetermine the election. Beaumont withdrew, however, before the poll. Despite continuing doubts about whether Musgrave would accept the university seat if elected, it was he who topped the poll, with Finch in second place. The totals accorded each candidate suggest that a large number of convocation members, after voting for Musgrave, divided their second choices between Finch and Glynne, and that the votes which Glynne received represented a ‘protest’ against the Christ Church and All Souls interest.10

Early in March, Musgrave announced his decision to sit for Westmorland. It was a major setback for the leading college heads who had proposed and supported him and who were currently attending the Convocation debates at Westminster. Charlett, back at Oxford, assumed the responsibility of finding a suitable replacement. In London a number of possible candidates were spoken of. One was Sir William Whitelocke, an eminent lawyer with an estate in Oxfordshire and well known to senior members of the university. Although keen to promote his chances, he was not a strong favourite, particularly as the vice-chancellor, Dr Roger Mander, discovered that opinion tended to vary as to his ‘character’. There was also Dr John Edisbury†, a master in Chancery who had represented the university in 1679, while another was Sir Thomas Dyke, 1st Bt.*, a Sussex gentleman and a High Church protégé of Nottingham, though Dyke was reportedly unwilling to stand. Almost immediately, however, Charlett opted for William Bromley II, until 1698 a knight of the shire for Warwickshire and already one of the foremost younger Tories. Because of his adamant refusal to sign the Association in 1696, which had made him something of a martyr to the High Tory cause, he had been forced to stand down from his county seat two years later. Apart from his political suitability, he maintained contacts with members of the university’s academic fraternity and while in the House had been an enthusiastic defender of its interests. One college fellow assured Charlett that ‘the person you have pitched upon will be allowed by all that know him to be at least an equivalent to him that quits your service and I dare affirm that he will answer all that can reasonably be expected from a patron of learning and a patriot of his country’. However, Bromley’s candidacy, far from exciting unanimous applause, did much to rekindle old conflicts among the principal colleges. As he was a former Christ Church man, the college’s electoral machinery was put at his disposal, but as on former occasions this only provoked the wrath of Magdalen and the fellows of the smaller colleges. The union established between Christ Church and All Souls in the January general election was no longer to be seen. As soon as Bromley’s candidature was announced on 7 or 8 Mar., Warden Finch of All Souls placed himself at the head of the opposition interest by declaring for the recently defeated Glynne. Though there had been much early activity on Glynne’s behalf, his campaign made little headway and he was forced to desist a few days before the poll. Beaumont had also been put up again, presumably by the more extreme fellows. Such was Beaumont’s progress that three days before the election Charlett seemed none too sure of Bromley’s chances, commenting somewhat guardedly, ‘’tis thought the interest of Sir George Beaumont is inferior to Mr Bromley’. The voting, in which Bromley’s 197 votes were closely trailed by Beaumont’s 164, confirmed the widespread discontent with the ‘trimming’ or ‘moderate’ views of members of the university establishment. At the general election in November, Finch and Bromley were unanimously supported ‘in a very full convocation’.11

At the accession of Queen Anne the university was full of expectation that her uncle, Rochester, would lead a new ministry and inaugurate a policy to restore the Church and university to its former influence in state affairs. Zeal for the Church reached new heights of enthusiasm, and the younger dons in particular, carried along in this infectious atmosphere, were ferocious in their onslaught upon ‘false brethren’ and Dissenters. Rochester’s commitment to the university was not in doubt. He was a frequent guest of Aldrich and spent much time in the company of other college heads. The blessing he gave to Finch and Bromley in the general election carried great weight and they were returned without opposition. At the end of August the Queen paid a spectacular two-day visit to the university, an occasion for the most effusive expressions of high-flying loyalism. In her presence at the Sheldonian on the 27th, honorary doctorates were conferred upon senior members of her Household and several rising Tory celebrities, including Bromley, Henry St John II* and Harcourt, and she was afterwards entertained at a lavish banquet and concert. As the months passed, however, it became increasingly apparent that despite her religious sympathies, the Queen had no intention of falling under the spell of the High Tories, while the ministry itself was plainly reluctant to activate a vigorous Church policy. Although under Speaker Harley’s surveillance a degree of co-operation and dialogue was established between the government and senior dons, this did nothing to allay the impatience felt by the warmer spirits who looked forward to the passage of legislation against occasional conformity when Parliament met in November. It was wholly appropriate that Bromley, as one of the university’s representatives, should lead this parliamentary crusade against Dissent. But doubts about the real intentions of those in high places only increased when the first occasional conformity bill foundered in the Lords in December 1702. The long hoped-for symbiosis between Church and state began once more to seem hopelessly out of reach.12

When Finch was raised to the peerage as Lord Guernsey in March 1703, the search for a suitable replacement began in earnest. Although Whitelocke was promoted by Charlett as a man of ‘integrity and warm zeal for the true interest of the nation and church’ as well as being ‘very dear to our friends of the highest rank’, he was not considered an ideal choice. An elderly and somewhat eccentric lawyer, whose earlier pretensions to one of the seats had been forestalled, he was hardly the kind of energetic Tory who could be counted on to strike a blow for the High Church cause in the Commons. It had been hoped to persuade Lord Digby, a Tory much renowned for his attachment to the Church and interest in philanthropic projects, who had not re-entered Parliament since standing down from his Warwick seat in 1698, having refused to sign the Association. On sounding him in 1702, Nottingham had found Digby ‘yielding’ on the subject of his return to Parliament, though ‘not desirous to do it then’. Despite encouragement from many quarters, however, Digby, now enjoying a life of semi-retirement, was no longer tempted by the proffered university seat. It was at this point in mid-August 1703 that Charlett began to take steps in favour of Whitelocke. There was no problem in obtaining the approbation of leading High Church aristocrats such as Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) with whom Charlett discussed the matter at Longleat. But the colleges were not so easily placated. Charlett persuaded Whitelocke’s old friend Dr Thomas Tanner, the president of Corpus, to propose him to convocation. But only very reluctantly did Christ Church show any degree of support, once Dean Aldrich had failed in his efforts to prevail upon Dyke whom Nottingham was particularly ‘desirous’ should succeed to his brother’s former seat. It was the new warden of All Souls, Bernard Gardiner, who provided a rallying point for those unhappy with Whitelocke’s candidacy. Gardiner put forward an old acquaintance from his Magdalen days, Francis Clerke II*, a former fellow of the college who had since inherited a family estate on the eastern edge of the county. Although in the six weeks or so before the November by-election there was never any fear of Whitelocke’s losing, the voting in convocation showed considerable support for Clerke. In Charlett’s view, Weymouth’s recommendation of Whitelocke had been the ‘most prevailing motive to the greatest number of the electors’.13

Harley did what he could to temper the angry feeling which had set in at Oxford following the Lords’ rejection of Bromley’s second occasional conformity bill in December 1703. For a while one of Harley’s chief priorities was to alter the political face of the university’s representation by installing a reliable Court Tory at the election due in 1705. In the summer of 1704 Dean Aldrich, now hand in glove with Harley, had ‘engaged solemnly’ for George Clarke, a man who fitted Harley’s needs exactly. As well as being a popular figure at Oxford, where he was fellow of All Souls, Clarke had also pursued a successful administrative career and was currently secretary to the Admiralty. It was widely assumed that Whitelocke would be the sacrificial victim, and early in June his Oxford friends were reported to be rallying to his support. Whitelocke’s dispensability was made all the more apparent on 28 Nov. when he failed to speak in favour of Bromley’s tacking clause. Although he voted for the clause, his silence during the debate appeared to confirm earlier apprehensions about his lack of high-flying zeal. In February 1705 Whitelocke was disturbed by reports that the fellows of Magdalen, led by the most impassioned of their number, Henry Sacheverell, had decided to put up Sir Humphrey Mackworth* in the forthcoming election, and were already campaigning actively on his behalf. Mackworth, a former student of Magdalen, had a strong ambition for one of the university seats, but Bromley, with whom he had broached the matter shortly before the 1702 election, had advised him ‘to let Oxford take [its] course without solicitation’. In the eyes of less temperate men, however, Mackworth’s standing as a High Churchman, enhanced by his authorship of several theological tracts, was certainly sounder than Whitelocke’s and his Commons speeches in support of the occasional conformity bills made him more deserving of a university seat. Though Nottingham had resigned his secretaryship largely in protest at the ministry’s obstruction of the occasional conformity bills, he and his brother Guernsey were quick to dissociate themselves from the extremists supporting Mackworth and issued a public statement backing Whitelocke. The Magdalen interest distributed bundles of Mackworth’s tracts and crates of wine around the colleges, but such electoral showmanship seemed more consistent with Mackworth’s reputation as a political maverick, and by the closing stages of the election opinion prevailed for the old members. Mackworth had in fact made himself look a fool; Weymouth noted that he would have the misfortune to be one of the few Tackers to lose his seat in having been ‘unseasonably advised’ to stand for the university. Meanwhile, Clarke’s candidacy appears to have made virtually no progress, though hardly surprisingly so since as a ministerial servant he had been an opponent of the Tack in November. It is unlikely that he continued to enjoy Aldrich’s earlier backing since the Dean was said ‘to despise all those that were against the Tack’. When his friend Rochester declined to support him in favour of the Tackers Bromley and Whitelocke, Clarke withdrew. At the assembly of convocation all present were unanimous for Bromley while second votes were split, the greater number (214) cast for Whitelocke and only half as many for Mackworth.14

Despite the many twists and turns of university politics, Bromley and Whitelocke were returned unopposed in 1708, 1710 and 1713. Bromley’s energetic leadership of the Church Tories in the Commons, buttressed by his position first as Speaker then as secretary of state, meant that his position as one of the university’s representatives was well nigh unassailable. His full-blooded defence of Dr Sacheverell early in 1710 increased his popularity, though in espousing the doctor’s cause he gave a lead to extremist opinion in the university which could not have been welcome to the forces of ‘moderation’ whose chief representative was the vice-chancellor, Dr William Lancaster. But such was the tide of High Tory emotion that ‘old smooth boots’ Lancaster had little option but to acquiesce in an address to the Queen promising to elect representatives willing to give their utmost support to the Church if she were to dissolve Parliament. Sacheverell’s presence at Magdalen College during the summer months of 1710 ensured that the political atmosphere in the university remained highly charged. Expectation of a general election produced fresh doubts among senior Oxford figures, such as Dean Aldrich and Warden Gardiner of All Souls, about whether Whitelocke should continue as MP in view of his advanced years. Gardiner knew that ‘the eyes of all honest men’ were fixed on George Clarke as an obvious successor. Clarke had rested on his All Souls fellowship since 1705 when he had been summarily dismissed from his Admiralty post and in 1708 had taken a doctorate. It was clear to Gardiner that ‘nothing but Dr Clarke’s modesty continues people’s inclination to Sir William’, but if Whitelocke was to be removed without contention, the initiative had to come from his friends’ appreciation of ‘his age and the compliments already paid him by the university’. Electoral strife in the hour of the new Tory dawn would prove damaging in the extreme. Accordingly, when convocation met, the old Members were re-elected ‘in a few minutes’.15

The benefits which the university expected to reap from the new Tory administration failed to materialize, however, and the lord treasurer’s neglect of zealous Oxford men when appointing to ecclesiastical vacancies soon became a major grievance. One of the most prestigious of these posts, the deanery of Christ Church, became available on the death of Aldrich in December 1710. It presented High Tory politicians, especially Lord Keeper Harcourt (Simon I) and Secretary Bolingbroke (St. John), with an invaluable opportunity to mobilize Oxford support for their ‘thorough’ Tory policies. The most obvious choice was Francis Atterbury, prolocutor of the lower house of Convocation and the foremost proponent of a new, Church-dominated Tory order. Much against Robert Harley’s inclinations, Harcourt and Bolingbroke pushed for Atterbury’s appointment. Harcourt had distinctly self-interested reasons for doing so. Having failed in his own previous attempts to gain one of the university seats, he was now anxious to realize this ambition for his eldest son (Simon III*). The presence of a Tory activist of Atterbury’s calibre at Christ Church guaranteed him a solid base of support, while as lord keeper he could promise favour and promotion to disappointed dons. Under considerable pressure from St. John in August 1711, the Queen and Harley (now Lord Treasurer Oxford) acceded to Atterbury’s appointment. However, Atterbury’s presence at Oxford proved disruptive in the extreme. His high-handedness and factious behaviour aroused suspicion in convocation and he was frequently overridden by men of superior experience in university affairs, while at Christ Church his authority was badly compromised. The lord treasurer’s continuing evasion over ecclesiastical vacancies caused increasing annoyance to both Harcourt and Bromley. Not least, this inability to deliver promises began to pose a serious threat to Harcourt’s electoral objectives by the end of 1712. Early in December Harcourt sent his son Simon to Oxford for consultations at Christ Church. The lord keeper himself was also conveniently present on university business. To one sceptical Christ Church don, Dr William Stratford, who disliked Atterbury intensely, initial suspicions about the purpose of Harcourt’s ‘strict alliance with our Dean’ now rang true. ‘All the bustle to make this man dean . . . was only by his interest to influence things here as lord keeper should think most proper for his own turn, and to make young Simkin our representative.’ Young Harcourt’s presentation for an MA degree in mid-December was seen ‘as a sort of public recommendation of him to the whole university’, though it was ‘not yet publicly owned’, and it was generally thought that Whitelocke would stand down. However, Stratford could not but conclude that ‘the opposition will be great, and I believe very effectual’. There were no doubt many who objected to the manner in which after a long period of ‘perfect peace’, Atterbury now threatened to plunge the university into ‘as great a flame as he has done his own college’, especially at a time when the general political situation was so favourable to the Tories. Even Clarke, despite his long acquaintanceship with Lord Harcourt, was appalled at the ‘practices’ afoot to replace Whitelocke, but Atterbury’s appointment in June 1713 to the bishopric of Rochester left young Harcourt without effective backing in the approaching election and he had little alternative but to accept a seat elsewhere. It was an undignified end to Lord Harcourt’s attempt to establish himself as the university’s chief political patron. The old Members, Bromley and Whitelocke, were returned late in August without opposition.16

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Bodl. MS Conv. Reg. Bc 30, f. 186.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 225.
  • 3. Ibid. f. 226.
  • 4. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, f. 158.
  • 5. MS Conv. Reg. Bd 31, f. 15.
  • 6. Hist. Oxf. Univ. ed. Sutherland and Mitchell, 31–39.
  • 7. Wood, Life and Times, iii. 325–6; Bodl. Ballard 11, f. 185; Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, f. 232.
  • 8. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 38–39, 48–50; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. box 2, Leopold to Hon. Heneage Finch, 28 Sept., 12, 16, 21 Oct. 1695, Gwyn to same, 7 Oct. 1695, Fitzherbert Adams to same, 21 Oct. 1695; box 4, Heneage to Leopold Finch, [Oct. 1695]; Add. 70257, R. Snow to Robert Harley, 26 Sept. 1695; 28879, ff. 217, 219; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 30, Clarke to Trumbull, 3 Oct. 1695, Hayley to same, 10, 13 Oct. 1695, Adams to same, 10 Oct. 1695, Leopold Finch to Bishop Compton, 10 Oct. 1695; Trumbull Add. mss 58, Trumbull to w., 20 Oct. 1695; HMC Portland, iii. 509.
  • 9. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 51–54; Trumbull Misc. mss 45, William Dobyns to Trumbull, 12 June 1698; Misc. mss 60, Ralph Trumbull to same, July, 23 July 1698; Finch-Halifax pprs., box 4, Heneage to Leopold Finch, [1698]; Bodl. Tanner 22, ff. 11, 112, 197, 199, 202, 203; HMC Downshire, i. 781; Egerton 2618, f. 182; Add. 28883, f. 52; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 148; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Blathwayt mss, box 20, Robert Yard* to William Blathwayt*, 9 Aug. 1698.
  • 10. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 55–56; Add. 70019, f. 278; Finch-Halifax pprs. box 2, Leopold to Heneage Finch, [24 Dec.] 1700; HMC Portland, iv. 9–10.
  • 11. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 58–59; Ballard 10, f. 113; 21, ff. 166, 168; 30, f. 54; 39, f. 133; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 455–6; Add. 28886, f. 380; Finch-Halifax pprs. box 5, Aldrich to Heneage Finch, 25 Nov. 1701.
  • 12. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 61–69; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 76–77.
  • 13. Bodl. Rawl. lett. 92, f. 153; Add. 29589, ff. 109–10, 265, 281; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 128, 139; Thynne pprs. 25, ff. 158, 175.
  • 14. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 75–77; HMC Portland, iv. 105; Thynne pprs. 25, f. 287; 13, f. 337; Atterbury Epistolary Corresp. iii. 184; Rawl. lett. 92, ff. 292, 300; Trumbull Alphab. mss 53, Ralph Bridges to Trumbull, 12 Apr. 1709; NLW, Sir Humphrey Mackworth’s diary, 8 June 1702; ‘Collectanea Trelawniana’, pp. 283, 285, Atterbury to Bp. Trelawny, 21 Apr. 1705 (Speck trans.); Add. 28893, f. 113.
  • 15. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 83–86; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 104, 242–3; Ballard 20, f. 22; HMC Portland, vii. 20.
  • 16. Hist. Oxf. Univ. 86–96; Add. 70030, Bromley to Oxford, 27 Oct. 1712, 18 Feb. 1712–13; HMC Portland, vii. 118, 121–2, 126, 139; Ballard 20, f. 78.