Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
inhabitants paying scot and lot and freeholders
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
|28 Feb. 1690||SIR HENRY GOUGH||185|
|Sir Charles Wolseley, Bt.||741|
|1 Nov. 1695||SIR HENRY GOUGH|
|28 July 1698||JOHN CHETWYND||193|
|Sir Henry Gough||184|
|SIR HENRY GOUGH vice Chetwynd, on petition, 17 Mar. 1699|
|16 Jan. 1701||SIR HENRY GOUGH||196|
|27 Nov. 1701||HON. HENRY THYNNE|
|22 July 1702||HON. HENRY THYNNE|
|14 Dec. 1702||JOSEPH GIRDLER vice Thynne, chose to sit for Weymouth||155|
|14 May 1705||JOSEPH GIRDLER|
|5 May 1708||JOSEPH GIRDLER|
|9 Oct. 1710||JOSEPH GIRDLER||201|
|Sir Henry Gough||44|
|28 Sept. 1713||JOSEPH GIRDLER|
Uniquely, the borough of Tamworth straddled two counties: the larger part, including the castle, lay in Warwickshire; the smaller, including the church, in Staffordshire. As a consequence, a writ from each sheriff was necessary for an election to be held. The dominant interest belonged to Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) who held the manors of Drayton and Tamworth and had a local rent-roll worth over £3,000 p.a. However, Weymouth was an absentee who relied upon agents such as John Mainwaring and George Alsop (the deputy high steward) to maintain his interest and to negotiate with the local gentlemen whose estates lay in the vicinity of the borough, and who, therefore, felt they had legitimate aspirations to a seat in Parliament.3
Although many candidates were rumoured to be standing at Tamworth in 1690, within days of the dissolution four candidates were committed to making a serious attempt to win a seat. The outgoing Member, Sir Henry Gough, standing on his own interest with the support of Weymouth, quickly saw the possibilities of an alliance with Michael Biddulph of Polesworth, the candidate of most of the neighbouring gentry and a man too young to be tainted with the compromises of the previous decade. On the opposite side of the political spectrum stood Sir Charles Wolseley, 2nd Bt.†, a Cromwellian lord, who made much of the King’s desire that he should stand, and Thomas Guy, a London bookseller, and reputed Anabaptist, whose mother had been born in Tamworth. Given the character of the candidates, the terms ‘the Church’, ‘Presbyterian’ and ‘Whig’ were all used in the ensuing campaign. Matters were complicated, however, by Weymouth’s attitude to a partner for Gough. His initial response seems to have been to reserve votes; then he nominated Sebright or Edward Repington, patron of the local church, who refused the honour. During this delay Mainwaring became increasingly impatient as he felt his hands to be tied, while Wolseley and Guy, in particular, spent money freely on their joint candidature. Thus, as soon as Weymouth hinted that any ‘Churchman’ acceptable to the local gentry would receive his public endorsement, Mainwaring announced that Biddulph had joined with Gough. Unfortunately, Weymouth then nominated the other outgoing Member, Hon. Henry Boyle. This caused considerable confusion in the Church camp, with Gough offering to withdraw if Boyle reimbursed his expenses, while pointing out to Weymouth that to change candidates in mid-campaign would undoubtedly lose the election. Under pressure from Tories such as Robert Burdett*, Weymouth acquiesced in the Gough–Biddulph partnership. The Tories felt Wolseley to be the weakest candidate, whereas Guy posed a major threat as ‘most of the town are related to him’, and he was able to outspend them. Indeed, such was the strength of the Guy interest that it began to sow dissension between Gough and Biddulph, particularly as an analysis of their potential voters indicated the latter to be marginally ahead. Acrimonious exchanges followed as some election agents sought security for their candidate by asking for single votes, rather than promoting the partnership. With some difficulty Mainwaring maintained unity with the sound advice that ‘differing now will be the ready way to lose all, when they had advantage enough if they would but keep it’. On the day of the poll Wolseley’s weakness was quickly revealed, whereupon he withdrew, instructing his remaining supporters to vote for Guy and Biddulph in the hope of unseating Gough. Although this manoeuvre failed it did have some logic for, as Mainwaring noted to Weymouth at the start of the campaign, ‘the Presbyterians were for him [Biddulph], the last time purely to oppose your lordship’. Guy petitioned against Gough on 24 Mar. on the grounds that freeholders, as well as payers of scot and lot, had voted, but nothing came of it. In a discussion before the poll, the two sides had agreed to let the House decide disputes pertaining to the franchise, but on this occasion only about 20 freeholders voted, less than the majority of either victorious candidate.4
The acrimony caused by this election was slow to dissipate. There was a dispute about tolls; an election for churchwardens resulted in an Anglican and a Dissenter sharing office; and the inactivity of the recorder, who had not taken the oaths, provoked agitation for his removal. Furthermore, Gough felt himself wronged in the election, particularly over the actions of his father-in-law, Sir Edward Littleton, 2nd Bt.†, although he attempted to mediate between Littleton and Weymouth. Peace was preserved at the 1695 election, probably because Biddulph’s retirement left two candidates, one from each side, both of whom had a legitimate interest. In June 1697 Sir Charles Lyttelton, 2nd Bt.†, reported that Weymouth had left Longleat to his son and settled at Drayton. This had clear political implications: following a visit from Weymouth to Gough at Perry Hall the previous year, George Smalridge (the future Tory Bishop of Bristol) had asked Gough’s son if this personal appearance had altered the balance of interests at Tamworth sufficiently to oust Guy at the next election. In fact it was Gough who was defeated at the 1698 election by Guy and John Chetwynd (probably of Ingestre). Gough petitioned against the return of both men, although only a perfunctory case was made against Guy. The main issue was the franchise, particularly the position of the freeholders, and the qualifications of individual voters. The committee found in favour of Gough, his return in place of Chetwynd being confirmed by the House on the 17th.5
Guy appears to have been secure at this point by virtue of his lavish gifts to the corporation, which included a new town hall begun around 1700. He topped the poll in the election of January 1701 and was returned with Gough, who had been determined to ‘stand again till they could find a better to oppose Mr Chetwynd’. With Weymouth and Sir Edward Littleton in agreement to back Gough, he triumphed easily over his rival. The situation changed in November 1701 because Weymouth required the seat for his son, Hon. Henry Thynne, so Gough stood down. However, Thynne was also elected for Milborne Port, raising the possibility of a by-election. Weymouth considered this option in order to provide a seat for John Grobham Howe* or Richard Grobham Howe*, but ruled it out ‘for Sir Henry Gough will upon the vacancy strike in, and so divide my interest, that an ill man will certainly come in’. This ill man was almost certainly Richard Swinfen, who was reported to have ‘offered his service’ in January 1702 in case a by-election was called. Thus, there were plenty of pretenders to a vacant seat at Tamworth, should either Thynne or Guy decline to stand, but no chance of dislodging them in a contest. In the general election of 1702 both were returned unopposed. On this occasion, however, Thynne opted to serve for Weymouth, necessitating a by-election. Gough was amazed to find himself so low in Weymouth’s favour ‘as to have Serjeant Girdler pretend before me who for his advice upon the occasional conformity was by the obliged party chose recorder’. Gough also pointed out that it might divide the Tories and let Swinfen in on a minority of votes. Swinfen’s candidature was hampered by Guy’s pre-engagement to Girdler, based on the supposition that, owing to Weymouth’s support and his general acceptability, he would ‘find so much unanimity in his election that the peace of the town would be much secured’. However, Swinfen’s level of support was sufficient for pressure to be put on Guy to write to his supporters to free them from any previous obligation. Notwithstanding this move to unite the Whigs, Girdler was elected easily, probably because Gough chose not to stand and risk splitting the vote.6
Early in 1704, Mainwaring informed Weymouth of the pretensions of several men to Tamworth, should there be an election. Samuel Bracebridge would not oppose any ‘honest country gentleman’; Edward Repington would stand if assured of Weymouth’s support; Robert Burdett would do likewise, if given leave by his father, although he was likely to come to an agreement with Repington. Finally, John Chetwynd of Grendon was reported to be in London to ask for the interest of Weymouth and Lord Ferrers. In fact all these interests were contingent upon Weymouth, for at the next election in 1705 only Girdler, Guy and Swinfen went to the polls. This was a fiercely contested election which, according to Gough’s account, was also disorderly. Girdler seems to have stood alone on Weymouth’s interest, and consequently asked for single votes. His support was increased by Weymouth dividing freeholds ‘to multiply votes’, which Gough persuaded the bailiffs to accept. Gough left the town with the impression that Girdler had been defeated and that the Tory interest would never recover, ‘the mob and generality of votes being such aspersions on the serjeant and his patron’. In fact Girdler was returned with Guy, although, according to a correspondent of Richard Swinfen, this was owing to the perfidy of one of the bailiffs. Swinfen took advice, and, after an attempt to secure a double return, petitioned the House, but to no avail. Nothing is known of the 1708 election except that in a reversal of the previous contest, Guy was defeated and Swinfen returned with Girdler. Guy’s defeat was explained by one commentator in terms of his failure to feast the voters; indeed such was his anger at being rejected that he threatened to pull down the town hall and almshouses he had donated to the borough. Guy did abandon the spinning school at Tamworth, and when he sent home from London the son of a supporter this suggested to Mainwaring that Guy ‘would trouble them no more’. Mainwaring then persuaded Weymouth to step into the breach and restore the school at a cost of £13 14s.7
Because of the Sacheverell affair, the Tories were in a strong position in 1710, especially as Guy did not stand. Girdler seemed safe, although Samuel Bracebridge, backed by Ferrers, attempted to secure the second votes of Swinfen. In the end Swinfen desisted before the poll. Gough was persuaded to enter the lists at this point, writing to the corporation on the eve of the poll to announce his intentions; however, he polled only 44 votes. With Bracebridge elected, Ferrers attempted to increase his interest and put Weymouth on to the defensive in 1711 by distributing £20 ‘chiefly amongst the house-keepers that have votes’. It certainly helped to ensure that the same Members were returned at the 1713 election, this time with Guy providing the main opposition, although Swinfen and his cousin, John Jervis, also appear to have stood. Even the Hanoverian succession, and the death of Weymouth in 1714, did not alter the Tory dominance of Tamworth. Not until 1723 did Swinfen regain a seat for the Whigs.8
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 28, f. 276.
- 2. D. G. Stuart, ‘Parl. Hist. Bor. of Tamworth, 1661–1837’ (London M.A. thesis, 1958), 55.
- 3. H. Wood, Tamworth Bor. Recs. 44–55; J. and H. Roby, Hist. Bor. and Par. Tamworth, 1; Thynne pprs. 27, f. 173; Stuart, 22–3.
- 4. Thynne pprs. 13, f. 244; 24, ff. 134–5, 136, 140, 144, 148, 150, 172; 26, ff. 268, 310; 28, ff. 266–7, 268, 270, 272–3, 274, 276.
- 5. Ibid. 28, ff. 285, 280; 24, ff. 191, 219–20; Add. 29578, f. 629; Nichols, Lit. Hist. iii. 253; Bodl. Gough mss, Warws. 2 misc. (Speck trans.).
- 6. C. F. Palmer, Hist. Tamworth, 484; Thynne pprs. 25, f. 34; 13, f. 277; 25, f. 100 (Speck trans.); HMC Cowper, ii. 447; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, Swinfen pprs. 454/47, J. B. to Richard Swinfen, 21 Nov. 1702 (Speck trans.).
- 7. Thynne pprs. 28, ff. 328–9; Staffs. RO, Gower mss D593/P/13/4, Gough to Gower, 16 May 1705 (Speck trans.); Swinfen pprs. 454/48, J. H. to Swinfen, 22 May 1705 (Speck trans.); Palmer, 447n.; D.R. Hainsworth, Stewards, Lords and People, 165.
- 8. Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester St. Helen’s) Cal. Wm. Lygon Letters, 340, Bracebridge to Lygon, 28 Aug. 1710; Thynnne pprs. 26, f. 3; Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710, 29 Aug.–1 Sept. 1713; Hainsworth, 165.