Gloucestershire

Double Member County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 6,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
24 Apr. 1754Thomas Chester 
 Norborne Berkeley 
15 Apr. 1761Thomas Chester 
 Norborne Berkeley 
27 Apr. 1763Thomas Tracy vice Berkeley, vacated his seat 
23 Nov. 1763Edward Southwell vice Chester, deceased 
23 Mar. 1768Thomas Tracy 
 Edward Southwell 
6 Aug. 1770Sir William Guise vice Tracy, deceased 
12 Oct. 1774Edward Southwell 
 Sir William Guise 
6 May 1776William Bromley Chester vice Southwell, called to the Upper House2919
 George Cranfield Berkeley2873
16 Sept. 1780Sir William Guise 
 William Bromley Chester 
24 Jan. 1781James Dutton vice Chester, deceased 
28 Apr. 1783George Cranfield Berkeley vice Guise, deceased 
12 Apr. 1784Thomas Master443
 George Cranfield Berkeley357
 Winchcombe Henry Hartley20
8 Apr. 1789Berkeley re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

The predominant interests in the county of Gloucester were those of the Beaufort and Berkeley families. The natural rivalry which existed between them was sharpened by the fact that the Beauforts had a Tory tradition and the Berkeleys a Whig. There was also a curious parallel. The fourth Earl of Berkeley died in 1755, leaving a son aged 10; the fourth Duke of Beaufort died a year later, leaving a son aged 12. The rivalry between these sons dictated the pattern of Gloucestershire politics for a generation.

In 1754 the Beaufort interest was supreme. The Members at the dissolution were two Tories, Norborne Berkeley and Thomas Chester. Norborne Berkeley was the brother-in-law of the fourth Duke of Beaufort, after his death guardian of the fifth Duke, and (despite his name) leader of the Beaufort interest. The Duke of Beaufort himself proposed the re-adoption of the sitting Members at the public meeting, and, although Berkeley had voted for the Jew bill, there was no opposition.1

The same Members were again returned in 1761, but early in 1763 Norborne Berkeley resigned his seat, claiming the ancient barony of Botetourt. The first candidate in the field was Lord Coleraine, a friend of Administration. He was opposed by Thomas Tracy. On 11 Apr. Norborne Berkeley inserted in the Glocester Journal a notice commending Coleraine as his successor. This ‘unhappy advertisement’, wrote Coleraine to Bute, ruined his chances, ‘for it made his enemies mine, and as he had voted in the cider bill there was no pacifying the people’. At Gloucester, on the canvass,

where I have ever been respected, I got but six or seven votes although there are about one hundred freeholders in the town; and in all the vale and forest, great cider countries, not more in proportion ... upon a strict examination of the poll book by parishes ... the greatest number I could suppose was about 1,500 and my antagonist at least 3,000. These considerations induced me yesterday to decline going on with the canvass.2

Tracy was then elected without further opposition.

Six months later there was another vacancy on the death of Chester. The alignment was similar. The Beaufort interest and Administration supported Edward Southwell; the Opposition supported Sir William Codrington. On this occasion Administration carried its candidate without difficulty. Both the candidates were already in the House, and under the necessity of vacating their seats before they could stand. Grenville refused to recommend Codrington for the usual office of profit, telling Berkeley: ‘I did not think myself at liberty to contribute to an opposition to the gentleman you espouse, by any application or act of mine.’ 3 Berkeley’s friends were not, however, very happy about this: it smacked of foul play, and they were convinced that they would, in any case, have had a great superiority.4 There was a last-minute attempt from Codrington’s supporters to secure another candidate, but, in the end, Southwell was elected unopposed.

Tracy and Southwell were re-elected in 1768. On Tracy’s death, two years later, there was no opposition, and the seat went to Sir William Guise, a friend of the Berkeleys.5 The sitting Members were returned again in 1774.

In 1776, when Southwell succeeded to the peerage, the Berkeleys made a determined effort to capture both seats, putting up George Cranfield Berkeley, a young naval officer, against the Beaufort candidate, William Bromley Chester. The contest was prolonged and expensive,6 and had more than local significance: Chester was supported by Government and Berkeley by Opposition, yet it seems to have been fought mainly on the local issue.

The main complaint against the Berkeleys was that they had broken the understanding that the representation should be shared. A writer in Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal, 4 May 1776, reminded readers that the Duke had not offered opposition to Guise in 1770: there was no excuse for the Berkeleys’ action now. Berkeley, 23 years of age, was also criticized as a presumptuous youth, and some borough dealings he had had in 1775 at Cricklade were used against him. Berkeley’s supporters retorted that Chester was not a native of the county: the Berkeley family, on the other hand, had been there for centuries.

The campaign began more than seven months before polling day, and the canvass was conducted with great thoroughness. The hustings were open for eleven days. Chester was very strong in the extreme south, around Bristol, and in the area around Badminton where the Beaufort influence was powerful. Berkeley took his own borough and the immediate neighbourhood, and polled well in the north. His stronghold was the Forest of Dean, where the family’s position as wardens of the Forest gave them great interest. Berkeley’s tactical plan seems to have been to make his big push on the third day, with his ‘Resurrection Men’, from the Forest, with holly in their hats, but Chester survived, and on the next two days went more than 150 ahead. Though Berkeley succeeded in whittling down the majority during the last week, he was 46 behind when the sheriff closed the poll. Berkeley complained that he had more voters to come, but the last day had produced only 25, and it is clear that the vast majority of legal voters had been polled.

Berkeley then petitioned, complaining of the partiality of the sheriff. The hearing lasted longer than any since the Grenville Act, and Chester’s return was finally upheld. Berkeley’s retort was to declare that he and Guise would stand jointly at the general election. James Dutton, a supporter of the Beaufort interest, then announced that if anyone tried to disturb the peace of the county at the general election, he would stand himself.

The threatened struggle did not, however, take place. Guise cannot have been pleased at the prospect of Berkeley dragging him into a hazardous and expensive contest, and must have been greatly relieved when the dissolution was announced with Berkeley safe at sea. On the morning of the election Charles Barrow, an Opposition zealot, tried to declare Berkeley a candidate, but Guise and his friends dissuaded him.7 The two sitting Members were therefore re-elected in a state of uneasy truce.

The clash was postponed for only two months. When Chester died in December 1780, James Dutton and Berkeley took the field. ‘Unless Mr. Berkeley and his friends would be satisfied with the fair and equitable allowance of one representative of their party, no peace could be expected’, warned a Beaufort supporter.8 But both sides must have been appalled at the prospect of another contest on the scale of the last, and there were urgent attempts at a negotiation. It was suggested that the canvass returns should be impartially examined, and the weaker candidate advised to decline. In January 1781 Berkeley retired, and Dutton was elected unopposed.

In 1783, when Guise died, the parties reached the inevitable settlement. ‘His Grace and Lord Berkeley have settled the peace of the county of Gloucester, as far as is in their power, by mutually agreeing to one and one, so that Mr. George Berkeley is to come in without any opposition’, wrote John Terrett.9

This arrangement lasted for several elections, though there were rumblings of discontent from some of the freeholders. At the general election of 1784 Dutton retired and recommended Thomas Master of Cirencester as his successor. A letter in the Glocester Journal (5 Apr. 1784) complained of artistocratic interference, and begged Sir Onesiphorus Paul to come forward. Berkeley was criticized for his desultory attendance at the House of Commons, and pleaded gout and a desire for neutrality. The only opposition, however, was derisory. W. H. Hartley, a supporter of the Coalition, insisted on standing the poll, but declined after he had polled 20 votes against 357 for Berkeley and 443 for Master. The Beaufort-Berkeley coalition was not again challenged during this period.

Author: J. A. Cannon

Notes

  • 1. HMC Carlisle, 207; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 24 Nov. 1753.
  • 2. Coleraine to Bute, 18 Apr., 5 May 1763, Bute mss.
  • 3. Grenville to Berkeley, 20 Oct. 1763, Grenville letter bk.
  • 4. H. Rogers to Portland, 19 Oct. 1763, Portland mss.
  • 5. Glocester Jnl. 13 Aug. 1770.
  • 6. Fortescue, v. 478-9.