Wootton Bassett


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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 136 in 1690


25 Feb. 1690JOHN WILDMAN92
 Thomas Richmond Webb90
8 Nov. 1695THOMAS JACOB 
23 July 1698HENRY ST. JOHN I 
6 Jan. 1701HENRY ST. JOHN II 
24 Nov. 1701HENRY ST. JOHN II 
17 July 1702HENRY ST. JOHN II 
12 May 1705HENRY ST. JOHN II 
2 Mar. 1706FRANCIS POPHAM vice Pleydell, deceased 
6 Oct. 1710HENRY ST. JOHN II 
14 Dec. 1710EDMUND PLEYDELL vice St. John, chose to sit for Berkshire 
 – Cary 

Main Article

Two related families, the St. Johns of Lydiard Tregoze and the Pleydells of Midgehall, had traditionally exercised a preponderant interest at Wootton Bassett, and by the beginning of this period Henry St. John I had established an ascendancy. However, the lords of the manor, the Hydes, earls of Rochester, also enjoyed some influence, and the very composition of the electorate occasionally encouraged an outsider to come and spend money. One such was Thomas Richmond Webb*, who stood in 1690 against the two outgoing Members, St. John himself and another local man, John Wildman, son of the republican. Webb was a Tory, his opponents both Whigs; at least St. John had been a Whig, even if only a lukewarm one. Despite the fact that St. John was an old associate of Webb’s father, Edmund Richmond Webb*, he found himself singled out as the subject of Webb’s petition, following a close election. Webb, helped by his father, claimed to have tied with St. John for second place at the poll, and to have been deprived of his rightful seat only by the partiality of the mayor (the returning officer) and town clerk. The petition, having failed of a hearing in the first session of the 1690 Parliament, was reintroduced on 6 Oct. 1690, this time naming Wildman as the sitting Member excepted against. When it was finally reported, St. John was once more the subject. The defending counsel were to demonstrate conclusively that Webb had himself resorted to large-scale bribery, his agent handing out 32s. 6d. apiece to voters, after parading through the town carrying ‘a bag of money . . . upon his shoulders, with a pair of bagpipes playing before him’. Webb’s petition was dismissed, and one of his supporters, John Knighton, an alderman, was taken into custody for distributing bribes.1

The 1695 election saw the return of two Tory lawyers, Thomas Jacob and Henry Pinnell. It had been thought beforehand that Wildman would stand again, along with Rochester’s heir, Lord Hyde (Henry*), and John Morton Pleydell. The eventual election of two Tories may reflect either St. John’s leaning towards the Tories, or the influence of Lord Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), or both. Rochester, indeed, paid a bill of £63 10s. relating to this election. In 1698 St. John was returned with Pinnell, and in January 1701 he brought in his son, Henry St. John II, in his own place. Samuel Shepheard II* had made an approach to some of the voters before this latter election, offering ‘to deposit £250 in any third hand’ to obtain their pledges, but had been obliged to abandon the project and the borough. The episode still figured, however, among the various charges of bribery levelled against the Shepheards in the ensuing Parliament.2

The next three elections saw Henry St. John II returned, accompanied by, respectively, Jacob, Pinnell and John Morton Pleydell. St. John’s resignation of office in 1708 did not receive paternal approbation, and indeed it was quickly apparent that his father would ‘refuse to choose him’ again. The elder St. John was reported to have revived his own parliamentary ambitions, and to have written to his son ‘that he supposed he would have that duty for him as not to oppose his coming in’. For all the bitterness this engendered – ‘my father makes a scandalous figure’, wrote the younger St. John, ‘neglected by all the gentlemen, and sure of miscarrying where his family always were reverenced’ – Henry junior kept clear of the poll. The two men elected were Francis Popham, a nephew of Robert Harley*, who had already been recommended before at Wootton Bassett, in a by-election in 1706, presumably at the young Henry St. John’s instigation, and Robert Cecil, a Whig curiosity in an otherwise Tory family. By 1710 the two St. Johns were seeing eye to eye again, and Henry St. John II and another Wiltshire Tory, Richard Goddard, were chosen ‘without the least opposition’. Dyer’s readers were treated to the story of how ‘one Major L[on]g, a great Whig, attempted to oppose before the election came on but was hooted out of town, there being not one Dissenter in it’, a boast that does not seem to have been entirely true, since Wootton Bassett contained at least a Quaker meeting-house. After the corporation, together with the neighbouring clergy and gentry, had welcomed the peace in 1713 with a flourish of loyalty at the new Lord Rochester’s behest, two local Tories were again returned at the general election in August: the Jacobite Richard Cresswell, and a Pleydell. Another free-spending intruder, one Cary, was defeated at the poll, even though ‘’tis said [he] gave four guineas a man to those that voted for him, and one guinea to those that were against him’.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. VCH Wilts. ix. 191, 199; Post Boy, 30 Apr.-2 May 1702.
  • 2. Add. 70018, f. 94; Wilts. RO, St. John mss 302/40; CJ, xiii. 409, 413; Cocks Diary, 65–66.
  • 3. H. T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 64; HMC Bath, i. 190; Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 10 Oct. 1710; Post Boy, 28–30 May 1713; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 212.