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 the freemen and freeholders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

about 500


18 Feb. 1690Richard Dowdeswell
 Hon. Sir Henry Capel
14 Nov. 1692Sir Francis Winnington vice Capel, called to the Upper House
 Hon. Robert Tracy
28 Oct. 1695Richard Dowdeswell
 Sir Francis Winnington
 Sir Richard Cocks, Bt.
26 July 1698Charles Hancock
 Richard Dowdeswell
10 Jan. 1701Richard Dowdeswell
 Edmund Bray
 Charles Hancock
26 Nov. 1701Richard Dowdeswell
 Edmund Bray
20 July 1702Richard Dowdeswell
 Edmund Bray
11 May 1705Richard Dowdeswell
 Edmund Bray
6 May 1708Richard Dowdeswell
 Henry Ireton
10 Oct. 1710William Bromley
 Henry Ireton
 Richard Dowdeswell
1 Jan. 1712William Dowdeswell vice Ireton, deceased
5 Sept. 1713William Dowdeswell
 Charles Dowdeswell
18 June 1714Anthony Lechmere vice Charles Dowdeswell, deceased
 Edward Popham

Main Article

There was some apprehension in Tewkesbury that the town’s franchise, comprising corporation burgesses, freemen and freeholders, also extended to the inhabitant householders, although it was not until 1797 that the question was ever examined and decided upon in the committee of elections. On this occasion the right of election was awarded to the freeholders against a counter-claim on behalf of the inhabitant householders, an indication that men of both categories had at various times been permitted to poll. In the post-Restoration period the prominence of one or two local gentry families, and the willingness of townsmen to endorse the return of those who plied them well with drink, almost invariably precluded the necessity to poll, and the issue was never pressed. It was much the same throughout the reigns of William iii and Anne when, as the indentures show, returns were made in the presence of the mayor, burgesses and freemen ‘with the general consent of all the burgesses and commonalty’. On this basis, of course, inhabitants as well as freeholders could claim eligibility to vote in parliamentary contests. The term ‘burgess’, as well as applying to the 24 members of the town’s common council, was defined in the town’s first charter, granted by Edward iv, as one who held property or a burgage in the town, and since each successive charter confirmed the previous one, the freeholders’ claim still had force. This, together with the 1797 decision, suggests that they almost certainly voted in contested elections under William and Anne.1

The corporation was a self-perpetuating and traditionally Whiggish body, and the town’s sizeable Dissenting community appears to have been well represented among its members. A Tory interest was also discernible among the townsmen, enjoying particular strength and success during the last four years of Anne’s reign, but before then it only rarely interposed in elections. James ii’s charter of 1686 had reduced the council from 24 to 12 burgesses, and although this had been rescinded by the King’s proclamation in October 1688, many areas of doubt and confusion in the legality of corporation business remained until a new charter restoring the status quo was finally procured in 1698. The predominating interests were exercised by two families: the Capels, who, though not locally resident, owned the manor of Barton including much property within the town, both Sir Henry Capel (later Lord Capell), and his nephew and successor, the 2nd Earl of Essex, also holding the high stewardship; and the Dowdeswells, whose property at Pullcourt, Worcestershire lay in the adjacent parish.2

In 1690 Richard Dowdeswell and Sir Henry Capel, both Whigs, were returned, apparently without a contest even though the activities of the ‘fanatics’ gave some expectation of one. However, a by-election in November 1692, caused by Capel’s elevation to the peerage in April, was contested by two candidates, Sir Francis Winnington of Stanford Court, Worcestershire (whose chief connexion with the borough was the fact that Dowdeswell, the other Member, was his father-in-law), and Hon. Robert Tracy of nearby Coscombe, a lawyer who was Dowdeswell’s brother-in-law. When Winnington had canvassed the borough initially he had not expected a contest and had been sparing with his money. It ‘was only to drain some money from him for the town’ that the election was postponed for a week and Tracy set up in opposition. Although successful, Winnington was anxious to consolidate his own position and personal influence in the town and soon set in motion an application on the corporation’s behalf for a much-needed new charter. In addition to the uncertainty as to the corporation’s exact legal position since the cancellation of the 1686 charter in 1688, there had been no new elections for officers, leaving a number of vacancies in the corporation unfilled. A petition was submitted to the crown in May 1693 and eventually in May 1695 a warrant was issued detailing the terms in which the old charter was to be confirmed. However, Winnington’s nomination of himself for the office of recorder aroused instant controversy and was formally objected to by the county’s lord lieutenant, Viscount Dursley (Sir Charles Berkeley†), presumably on account of the ill-will Winnington bore towards the government. The King ordered a delay for further consideration while Winnington anxiously sought the help of Secretary Sir William Trumbull*, and the Earl of Sunderland, whom he hoped ‘will not let me and my friends be baffled in the concern of the charter’. Two distinct Whig interests had emerged over the charter issue which were to feature in the 1695 election. Despite their close family ties Winnington and Dowdeswell found themselves on opposite sides, Winnington supported by leading members of the corporation, which in turn was closely allied to the Capel interest, while Dowdeswell, who in previous years had competed with Sir Henry Capel for supremacy over the town, at least in electoral matters, was assisted by Dursley. Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, whose Dumbleton estate was a short distance north-east of the town, sought to take advantage of the recent weakening of Winnington’s position in the election and stood against him. In a move clearly calculated to despoil Winnington’s credit still further, and perhaps obtain some semblance of backing from the Court, Cocks himself wrote to Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*) proclaiming Somers’ suitability for the recordership. Dowdeswell was returned unopposed and Winnington defeated Cocks, who alleged in his petition on 2 Dec. 1695 that Winnington and his agents had brought undue pressure to bear on the voters, ‘not only by threatening those who had voted for the petitioner, to turn them out of their houses, if they did not withdraw their votes; but also by detaining the town book, wherein all the names of the freemen are entered that had a right to vote’. The petition was referred to the elections committee, but no report was made.3

With the election settled, attempts to secure the new charter were slow and a fresh delay was caused by the death of Lord Capell, the high steward, in May 1696, just as it was about to be sealed. Immediately the corporation signified their wish that Capell’s nephew and heir, the Earl of Essex, should become high steward and Somers wrote approvingly to the Earl of Portland, commenting: ‘I believe it may assist in influencing the elections for that place, which was a thing my Lord Capell always valued exceedingly.’ No sooner had this been agreed than a new cause of concern arose when it was noticed that by the new charter the recorder, town clerk and the chamberlain were to hold their offices for life, unlike the high steward who held office during good behaviour. More delay followed until June 1697, when the King ordered the appointment of Dowdeswell’s brother-in-law Robert Tracy in place of Winnington. The new charter was finally issued in March 1698, and on 15 July, with the election just days away, it was triumphantly brought to the town by Dowdeswell and Tracy. Essex was appointed high steward and Tracy recorder, while Tracy and Dowdeswell were among the 24 common councilmen. Winnington, who appears not to have pursued the struggle, was omitted altogether. The franchise was vaguely stated to be in the ‘bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty’ but for parliamentary purposes ‘commonalty’ seems only to have embraced freemen and freeholders, not inhabitants at large. Either ill-health or loss of face deterred Winnington from seeking re-election in 1698. Instead, Dowdeswell was returned with Charles Hancock, Dowdeswell’s kinsman by marriage, whose residence was nearby at Twyning. Personal differences between them, not least of which was Hancock’s Toryism, suggest that Hancock must have secured his election through an alternative source of support, possibly from the 1st Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset†). For the January 1701 election Dowdeswell found a more acceptable partner in Edmund Bray of Great Barrington, Gloucestershire, another Whig. In a desperate attempt to retain his seat, Hancock sponsored the admission of 66 freemen in the face of the corporation’s opposition, but despite this and backing from Beaufort he failed to block Bray’s election. Dowdeswell and Bray were returned a second time in December 1701 without opposition.4

Amid preparations for the 1702 election, it was confidently reported to Robert Harley* late in March that Cocks, who had represented the county since 1698, was setting up at Tewkesbury against Bray, but it does not appear that he went to a poll. Dowdeswell and Bray were returned, and were probably unopposed again in 1705. Shortly after the 1705 election, Defoe characterized Tewkesbury in his travel summaries to Harley as ‘a quiet trading drunken town, a Whig baily and all well’. In October 1707 the Whig Member for Cirencester, Henry Ireton, son of one of Cromwell’s generals, looked for future accommodation at Tewkesbury under the certain conviction that he would not be able to hold Cirencester in the next election. Bray appears to have made known his intention of retiring at the next dissolution. By October another potential contestant was the Whig Anthony Lechmere* of Hanley Castle, situated over the county border in Worcestershire, who was a friend of Dowdeswell. Lechmere chose to use his father-in-law, Thomas Foley II’s* connexions with Secretary Harley to procure from Essex a letter of recommendation as well as support and backing from other local gentlemen. It was felt at this stage that Ireton had little chance of the high steward’s interest, Foley remarking: ‘I suppose that passed between the Earl’s grandfather and Mr Ireton’s father which lays my lord under no great obligation to him’. During the third week of November, three days’ canvassing by Lechmere had secured an interest which he believed was ‘not despicable’, and he sought further recommendations to the Quakers, of whom there were ‘a considerable number’, as well as to local gentry with proprietorial connexions within the town. There is some indication, however, that by January 1708 Lechmere’s campaign had run into difficulty, and Harley’s fall from favour in the ministry early the following month can only have impaired his chances still further. It would appear that he did not in fact stand in the election in May, thus facilitating Ireton’s return with Dowdeswell.5

The High Church euphoria in 1710 encouraged the young Tory barrister William Bromley III, whose Upton estate was five miles from the borough, to challenge Ireton. Bromley informed an acquaintance early in September that he had ‘for some time a design of offering myself a candidate at this town and have made a private interest’. A strenuous campaign unfolded over the next few weeks in which ‘the commonalty’ were whipped into a strong pro-Tory mood. On 5 Oct., with the election due in five days, Bromley wrote that ‘there will be here as great a struggle as has been known, the two old Members waiting against me and the corporation using all tricks’. In particular, many conveyances of property were made for the purpose of multiplying the number of freeholders’ votes, and the intensity of the contest was vividly exemplified by the joint purchase of a house in Tewkesbury by a group of eight ‘furious Whigs’ from Bristol expressly ‘to enable them to give their votes’. Unexpectedly Ireton and Bromley were both returned and it was Dowdeswell who lost his seat. On the Whig side it was Ireton who attracted most notice and much was made of his being a grandson of Oliver Cromwell†. It was reported that 22 of the 24 corporation members were for Ireton, ‘yet the commonalty opposed the factions with that vehemency that they chose with him one Mr Bromley, a loyal gentleman, by the majority of 50 voices, and had another stood with him they had carried it for both’. Bromley, who had used Sacheverell’s portrait in his campaign, celebrated his victory towards the end of November by having it carried before him in procession, ‘the bells ringing, and the people crying God bless the Queen, the Church and Dr Sacheverell’, when he set out for London to take up his seat. The temporary eclipse in the Dowdeswell interest may have been primarily due to Richard Dowdeswell’s increasing infirmity, although the family name may also have suffered temporarily as a result of his eldest son William’s manslaughter of a Roman Catholic servant who had robbed him.6

Ireton’s death in December 1711 occasioned a by-election in January 1712 in which Dowdeswell’s son William, who had taken over the family interests, was returned without opposition. At the election of 1713 Bromley stood down, and Dowdeswell was returned with a kinsman from a secondary branch of his family, Charles Dowdeswell of Forthampton, who unlike him was a Tory. There had been reports of possible opposition following intimations that Lord Bathurst (Allen*) was making interest on behalf of a gentleman who, though unnamed, was presumably a Tory. Charles Dowdeswell’s death early in June 1714 produced a contested by-election in which the Whig Anthony Lechmere was opposed by Edward Popham, a Tory and nephew of Lord Oxford (Harley). Popham had been requested to stand against Lechmere by the deceased MP’s supporters, but at this juncture his connexion with the seriously beleaguered minister may have done him more harm than good, while Lechmere, elder brother of the high-profile Whig Nicholas*, now enjoyed a secure following among the Whig townsmen. ‘Illegal practices’ were complained of in Popham’s petition against Lechmere’s return but it was not subsequently reported by the elections committee.7

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. J. Bennett, Tewkesbury, 322–5, 379, 381–5; C219/76, 80.
  • 2. F. Redmond, ‘Borough of Tewkesbury, 1575–1714’ (Birmingham M.A. thesis, 1950), 6, 59–61.
  • 3. Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, f. 232; Add. 70016, ff. 201, 209; CSP Dom. 1693, pp. 156–7; 1694–5, pp. 462–3, 486; Redmond thesis, 61; HMC Downshire, i. 473, 477–8, 550; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 29, Winnington to Trumbull, 15 Sept. 1695; Cocks Diary, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii, 322.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1696, p. 268; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwA 1180, Somers to Portland, 19 June 1696; HMC Downshire, 676–7, 748; Bennett, 387–411; Redmond thesis, 61–62, 64; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, 503.1.2, Hancock to Beaufort, 1 Jan. 1700.
  • 5. Add. 70254, Robert Price* to Harley, 30 Mar. 1702; HMC Portland, iv. 271, 457, 461, 472; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Foley mss E12/FIV, Lechmere to Foley, 14 Oct. 1707, Edward Harley to same, 20, 29 Nov. 1707.
  • 6. Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester, St. Helen’s), Cal. Wm. Lygon letters, Bromley to William Lygon, 8 Sept., 5 Oct. 1710; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(7), p. 4; Redmond thesis, 64; Add. 70421, newsletters 14 Oct., 23 Nov. 1710; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 253–4;
  • 7. Cal. Wm. Lygon letters, Roger Tuckfield to Lygon, 29 Aug. 1713; Add. 70252, Popham to Oxford, 2 June 1714.