Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freeholders and burgage holders
Number of voters:
|24 Jan. 1715||STEPHEN BISSE|
|22 Mar. 1722||ROBERT BRUCE|
|21 Aug. 1727||SIR WILLIAM WILLYS|
|GEORGE LEGGE, Visct. Lewisham||62|
|SLOPER vice Lewisham, on petition, 26 Mar. 1729|
|29 Apr. 1732||FRANCIS SEYMOUR vice Willys, deceased|
|27 Apr. 1734||WILLIAM SLOPER|
|5 Apr. 1738||EDWARD POPHAM vice Murray, deceased|
|5 May 1741||SIR EDWARD TURNER|
|2 July 1747||LASCELLES METCALFE|
|SIR EDWARD TURNER|
|Double return. METCALFE and SLOPER declared elected 15 Dec. 1747|
The principal interest at Great Bedwyn at the accession of George I was in the Bruce family, who owned the Tottenham Park estate in Savernake forest, carrying with it the appointment of the returning officer. This ancient home of the Seymours, afterwards dukes of Somerset, had passed by marriage in 1676 to Thomas Bruce, M.P., 2nd Earl of Ailesbury, a Jacobite, who was exiled in 1697. His interest, till his death in exile in 1741, was managed by his son Lord Bruce, M.P., afterwards the 3rd Earl, in favour of Tory candidates. Another important interest lay in the manor of Stokke, in the borough, which passed from Francis Stonehouse, M.P., to Lascelles Metcalfe before 1741 and to Lord Verney in 1752, all of whom supported the Administration, as did the two Slopers, who lived a few miles away in Berkshire and represented the borough in five Parliaments. In addition there were a number of independent burgages, so that no single interest was strong enough to control both seats.
At the 1715 election Lord Bruce was faced with two Whig candidates, William Sloper, who was recommended by Stonehouse, and Stephen Bisse, who was said to be offering £6 a vote. Bruce’s agent, after arranging to meet the Bedwyn electors at the market house on 25 Nov. 1714 ‘to tell them my orders’, reported to his master, 24 Nov.:
I am very glad your Lordship has this opportunity to let those rascals see your indifference to them and that you will not be imposed upon for they have made all this struggle on purpose (and with saucy jests too) to raise your Lordship up to six pounds a man.
On 3 Dec. he reported that both Sloper and Bisse were ‘pulling votes from your Lordship’, and that when complaint of this was made the reply was ‘that they must pull down my Lord for he would be strong enough to rise again before the election’.1 In the event no Bruce candidate stood, leaving Sloper and Bisse to be returned unopposed. In 1722 Lord Bruce recaptured both the seats but in 1727 he was only able to retain one of them, which was then lost on petition. He won seats at by-elections in 1732 and 1738, but in 1734, although he was ‘pretty sure’ he could carry the borough,2 both his candidates were defeated. In 1741 the seats were shared by a Tory, Sir Edward Turner, and Metcalfe, but in 1747 on a double return both seats were awarded by the Commons, after a hard struggle, to administration candidates. The 2nd Lord Egmont in his electoral survey, c.1749-50, notes: ‘This is a corrupt borough and two may be had here’.