Double Member County
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Number of voters:
|23 Apr. 1754||Sir Robert Long|
|31 Mar. 1761||Sir Robert Long|
|24 Mar. 1767||Thomas Goddard vice Long, deceased|
|22 Mar. 1768||Edward Popham|
|2 Oct. 1770||Charles Penruddocke vice Goddard, deceased|
|21 Aug. 1772||Ambrose Goddard vice Popham, deceased||1870|
|25 Oct. 1774||Charles Penruddocke|
|19 Sept. 1780||Charles Penruddocke|
|14 Apr. 1784||Charles Penruddocke|
|19 Dec. 1788||Sir James Tylney Long vice Penruddocke, deceased|
The county of Wiltshire was famous for its ‘independency’. The sons of peers were never elected, and although the nobility exercised considerable influence, they did it with discretion. The Bruces and Herberts held county positions similar to those of the Berkeleys and Beauforts in Gloucestershire, but whereas the latter dominated the representation of their county, in Wiltshire the peers were confined to their family boroughs.
Control of the representation was in the hands of a small group of gentry, who, with some of the peers, formed the Deptford Club. The families of Wyndham, Penruddocke, Long, Lambert, Goddard, and Awdry were prominent; among the peerage, Lords Bruce, Radnor, Castlehaven, and Shelburne. The Club, which was said to have been in existence as early as 1729, met in private when there was a vacancy, and agreed upon a candidate. Henry Wyndham described such a meeting in 1767:1
The first meeting that was to name a gentleman for the county was at the Deptford Inn, the Club. My brother Penruddocke was talked for this year, as also Mr. Talbot. Both of which in person and letter declined. Then they would have named my nephew, but the father objected to him as not being settled. The next was Thomas Goddard of Swindon, to whom we sent an express immediately. ... The same express went also to our friends in London, who approved of him and then a meeting was appointed at Marlborough, where was between two and three hundred gentlemen.
The public meeting then ratified the Club’s choice. This kind of preliminary discussion took place in other counties when there was a vacancy: what renders the Wiltshire Club unique is that the arrangement had taken permanent shape. The influence of the Club was, moreover, so extensive that opposition was fruitless. From 1722 to 1818 there was only one contest, and between 1741 and 1818 no Member failed of re-election. Five of the seven died in possession of their seats, while Goddard retired at the age of 79, and H. P. Wyndham at 76.
In 1754 and 1761 Sir Robert Long and Edward Popham were re-elected without opposition. Lord Weymouth was said to have begun an opposition in 1756 on behalf of his brother, but nothing came of it. In 1767, when Long died, the Club chose Thomas Goddard of Swindon. Even before the county meeting had approved the nomination, Lord Castlehaven was able to assure Goddard:2
Every necessary step has been already taken by us to secure the votes in this part of the county and I may venture to say that if your friends are as assiduous for you in North Wiltshire, as we are here ... our endeavours to serve you will be crowned with success.
Three years later, on the death of Goddard, they brought in Charles Penruddocke, and in 1772, when Popham died, the Club fell back on Ambrose Goddard, Thomas’s younger brother. On this occasion their supremacy was challenged by Henry Herbert, cousin to the Earl of Pembroke, and a celebrated contest ensued.3
Herbert made an attack upon the Club a main plank of his propaganda, denouncing it as ‘a set of people who have too long pretended to dictate arbitrarily to their county’. Another address trusted that ‘the gentlemen of the Deptford Club, having, as they boast, given us one Member, will now be so good as to let us find another for ourselves’. Goddard’s watchword of ‘independency’ was derided as cant:
If it means nothing more than the assembling a junto in order that a part may please themselves and decide for the whole, ’tis this very custom, though it may have been established for a century, that Mr. Herbert would break.
Goddard’s supporters refused to be drawn into a controversy about the Club. They retorted that Herbert was a creature of Lord Pembroke, and the friend of Administration: ‘Independency, gentlemen, has long been the characteristic of your county—let us be the last to resign it to corruption and court influence.’4
Herbert’s friends realized how damaging was the charge that he was a courtier. They pointed out that he had voted against the ministry on several occasions, and argued that his private fortune would enable him to be genuinely independent. Nevertheless, it is clear that Herbert received the support of the friends of Administration, and Goddard that of the Opposition. Lord Shelburne explained to Herbert why he could not support him:5
It is impossible for me upon this occasion to separate myself from those who have stood foremost in the cause of public liberty, and who have made strenuous though hitherto ineffectual efforts for the redress of grievances, to which I must think a temporary opposition insufficient.
Two other factors seem to have injured Herbert’s chances. First, he was not popular, being regarded as a pushing, ambitious man, while the speechless stolid Goddard was the epitome of a safe country gentleman. Secondly, Herbert’s main estate was in Hampshire, and he had scarcely any property in Wiltshire. ‘Is the county of Wiltshire so destitute of gentlemen of worth that the freeholders must leap over the heads of all the gentlemen in the county, and seek in another for a person to represent them?’ demanded one freeholder, while another wished to know why Herbert did not offer himself for Hampshire, ‘unless it is that he is better known there’.6
The poll opened at Wilton, in the heart of the Herbert country, on 18 Aug., and the proceedings went off quietly. Herbert had a majority on the first day’s poll, but the tide rolled in for Goddard on the following days, and by the end of the week he had outpolled his opponent by almost two to one. Even in the south Goddard gained more votes, though Herbert polled strongly in Wilton and Salisbury. When the poll closed Goddard was said to have many voters left. Since nearly half of Herbert’s supporters polled on the first day, when no oath was taken, the probability is that Goddard’s superiority was even more decisive than the final figures suggest.
The contest was said to have cost £20,000.7 This is a reasonable estimate, since the subscription opened for Goddard brought in £8,250, and very little was left unspent.8 Nine persons supplied £5,000, and the rest came from nineteen persons in donations of £100 or £200. There was some truth, therefore, in the jibe against Goddard that ‘supported as he is by a subscription, if he should succeed in his election, he receives it from the purse of a few’.9
After this convulsion, peace descended upon the county for another forty years, and not until 1812 was the rule of the Club successfully challenged.