Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|24 Jan. 1715||SIR THOMAS WHEATE|
|2 July 1716||WILLIAM CLAYTON vice Cadogan, called to the Upper House|
|12 Apr. 1717||WHEATE re-elected after appointment to office|
|29 Mar. 1718||CLAYTON re-elected after appointment to office|
|27 Oct. 1721||CHARLES CRISP vice Wheate, deceased||134|
|Sir Thomas Wheate jun.||120|
|22 Mar. 1722||SIR THOMAS WHEATE||139|
|21 Aug. 1727||WILLIAM GODOLPHIN, Mq. of Blandford||201|
|Sir Thomas Wheate||59|
|22 Jan. 1732||JOHN SPENCER vice Blandford, deceased|
|24 Apr. 1734||JOHN SPENCER|
|4 May 1741||JOHN SPENCER|
|5 Dec. 1744||SPENCER re-elected after appointment to office|
|4 July 1746||JOHN TREVOR vice Spencer, deceased|
|29 June 1747||JOHN BATEMAN, Visct. Bateman|
|31 Mar. 1753||ANTHONY KECK vice Trevor, called to the Upper House|
Owing to the proximity of Blenheim, New Woodstock fell under the influence of the dukes of Marlborough, who became its hereditary high stewards, claiming the right of appointing the recorder of the borough.1
In 1715 and at a by-election in 1716 the nominees of the Duke of Marlborough were returned without a contest. But on the death of Sir Thomas Wheate in 1721 his son stood against Charles Crisp, the candidate of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, who had taken over the administration of affairs from her dying husband. When Wheate carried the election of a mayor against her a few weeks before the election, it was expected that she would lose the seat,2 but in the event she won it by a small majority, paying sixteen to twenty guineas a vote.3 However, before the general election of 1722 the new mayor created 53 new freemen,4 with the result that the Duchess’s candidates lost to Wheate and Samuel Trotman, the latter supported by the Tory Earl of Abingdon, a large Oxfordshire landowner.
In 1727 the Duchess proposed to set up Charles Spencer (later 5th Earl of Sunderland and 3rd Duke of Marlborough), leaving the other seat ‘to anybody my Lord Abingdon would propose to stand with my grandson, unless it be Sir Thomas Wheate’, for Woodstock, ‘a town which has got so much by the Duke of Marlborough and will always have such advantages by the heirs of Blenheim’.5 She was assured that Lord Abingdon had no intention ‘of putting upon your Grace a man so disagreeable to you as Sir Thomas Wheate’, and that he
never did even when he had the greatest interest in that town recommend anybody to them without first consulting the gentlemen of the county who will meet ... at Oxford.6
Trotman was again put up by Lord Abingdon, who reported to the Duchess, 29 July 1727, that
in the calculation which Mr. Trotman made and I sent to your Grace, the 92 votes reckoned to Sir Thomas Wheate were not only of the inhabitants but included all that we thought possible for him to make by any means either within the town or out of it ... he cannot make that number ... Your Grace’s interest is so very strong at Woodstock that there needs nothing more to be done to secure that election, but to lay your Grace’s commands upon Mr. Ryves [a member of the corporation] to let Mr. Trotman know when he will declare your Grace’s intentions to that borough ... Sir Thomas Wheate (weak as his judgment is) will be forced to see he has nothing to do there.7
Shortly before the election the Duchess learned that Wheate had discovered that Charles Spencer
was not of age, which to prove he got a certificate from St. James’s Church, and there being a law against choosing any member before they were of age, I was forced to set up my Lord Blandford [another grandson] an hour after I heard this plot was hit, to avoid a disagreeable petition in the House of Commons, which would have made his election void.8
Blandford and Trotman held the seat till Blandford’s death in 1732, when the Duchess replaced him by another grandson, John Spencer.
Meanwhile opposition to the Duchess of Marlborough had been building up in the corporation, one of whom warned her, 5 June 1729, that
there is not a man among them, but can see with half an eye, that your Grace has a mind to take the power of electing Members of Parliament out of the hands of those to whom this power is granted by their charter, and lodge it in your own servants. And those that have the power, have a mind to keep it in order to oblige your Grace, and your family themselves, and in return ask for encouragement in their several trades and way of business for so doing.
In October 1733, before the general election, Ryves, who appears to have been the Duchess’s agent, wrote to her:
I have assured most of the freemen here, and hereabouts, that Mr. Spencer will stand for this place at the next election and as I before informed your Grace I really thought there would be no opposition to him. I am still of the same opinion, for I find all sorts and denominations of people are willing to vote for him. Whether a second Member will be chosen so unanimously I am not so certain of for I find a great many of the freemen are endeavouring to create an opposition if possible and the factions are headed by the mayor who expresses himself in an odd manner and I hear that yesterday he went to London to consult with some person there ... to come and offer himself a candidate for Woodstock, but this I have only by hearsay, but that the mayor wants an opposition I am pretty certain. Therefore I humbly think that if some gentleman in the neighbourhood was thought on by your Grace, the sooner he was made known to the people, it would be the most likely way to prevent an opposition.9
A few days later it was reported that an East India merchant had been asked to stand, and that Thomas Hope, ‘a creature of Sir Robert Walpole’s’, was endeavouring to remove the recorder of Woodstock, whose office however was found to be for life.10
If it be true [Pulteney wrote to her, 24. Nov. 1733] that Sir Robert designs to attack you at Woodstock, that spur should animate you to bid him, and not only him but everybody also defiance, that dare attack you there ... but from what I can learn of the Woodstock affair, and I have made it my business to enquire about it, all your enemies give out, is nothing but a gasconade without the least hope of success.11
She joined a West Indian, James Hawkins,12 to Spencer, both being returned unopposed. After her death in 1744 her grandson, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, became the patron of the borough, nominating both Members.
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. A. Ballard, Woodstock Chrons. 109, 126.
- 2. Geo. Clarke to E. Nicholas, 19 Sept. 1721, Egerton, 2540, ff. 186-7.
- 3. HMC Portland, vii. 305.
- 4. Woodstock Chrons. 118.
- 5. 12 July 1727, Marlborough mss.
- 6. 15 July, ibid.
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. A. L. Rowse, Later Churchills, 15.
- 9. Marlborough mss.
- 10. Thos. Major to the Duchess, 20 Oct. 1733, ibid.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. Hearne, Colls. (Oxf. Hist.Soc.), xi. 331.