Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:

under 45


 Edward Bayntun
 Henry Chivers
 John Lawford
29 Apr. 1685SIR JOHN ERNLE

Main Article

Until 1685 Calne was a borough by prescription whose claims to incorporation could not be supported by the evidence of charters. The ‘corporation’ presented new ‘burgesses’ to the steward of the crown manor of Ogbourne St. George, and elected two guild stewards every year, who acted as returning officers. The number of electors was usually under 30, and in 1673 sank as low as 11. Two-thirds of the borough lay within the prebendal manor, leased, according to George Lowe, by his ancestors for over a century from the treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, and the remainder constituted the lay manor, held by the Duckett family for almost as long. These, together with the Norborne and Chivers families, closely related to the Ducketts, had the principal interests in the borough. Of the local magnate families, the Bayntuns had taken up residence at Spye Park, four miles from the town, after their principal seat had been burnt during the Civil War, but their attempt to revive their interest was short-lived, while Sir George Hungerford, from a rather undistinguished cadet branch, was scarcely more successful, except during the exclusion crisis.1

Edward Bayntun and William Duckett, who had sat in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament but supported the Restoration, were re-elected in 1660. They stood again in 1661, but Bayntun was defeated by Lowe. In a letter to the sheriff, Sir James Thynne, asking for the writ to be despatched as soon as it was received, one of the corporation wrote: ‘There are many seekers after it, but they have a design for such as have been of known integrity for his Majesty’. This was clearly an allusion to Bayntun’s service in the parliamentary army; but, paradoxically enough, he may have enjoyed the support of the Salisbury chapter, since their treasurer, Dr Davenant, was endeavouring to transfer Lowe’s lease to his own son. There was another contest at the first election of 1679. Hungerford and John Lawford, who had no known connexion with the borough, stood as exclusionists against Walter Norborne and Henry Chivers. Lawford and Chivers, the unsuccessful candidates, petitioned separately, but neither petition was reported out of committee. At the autumn election Norborne, who had abstained in the division over the exclusion bill, apparently stood down in favour of Duckett’s son. In 1681 Lionel Duckett in turn professed himself disgusted by the violence of the Opposition, and Norborne was returned again.2

In 1683 quo warranto proceedings were instituted against Calne, and in the following year judgment was given against the 17 burgesses (eight of whom were connected with the cloth trade) by default. Early in the new reign a charter was drawn up nominating a gild steward and 12 ‘burgesses’, two of whom were Sir John Ernle and Edmund Webb. But apparently even this carefully selected body could not be relied on to return the court candidates, who were Ernle and Webb’s son Thomas. Under the revised warrant issued on 13 Apr. 1685, the corporation was increased to a maximum of 30, ‘the major part gentlemen without the borough’, or, as was later alleged, ‘mostly unknown to the people there, but active men in those times, whose business was the destruction of corporations’. They included William Duckett and Henry Clerke II, who together with Edmund Webb duly signed the return, though they had to break open the Town Hall and dispense with the consent of ‘any one man of the borough or one that lived within five miles of the place’. The ‘rightful burgesses ... forced to meet and transact their business at a public house’, not only contrived to get 25 of their nominees for the freedom of the borough sworn in at the next court at Ogbourne St. George, but petitioned the House against the return of Ernle and Webb. ‘Hearing of the merits of the election’ was scheduled for 15 June, but on the news of Monmouth’s landing it was postponed until after the adjournment of 2 July, and apparently not resumed in the autumn.3

The corporation was purged in December 1687, 16 ‘burgesses’, including the Webbs, being removed. The new joint lord lieutenant Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) reported that Chivers and John Davenant had the sole interest, but if a new charter were found proper for the town, Davenant, who ‘would not contribute to the electing of any that should be for the taking off the Penal Laws and Tests’, would be defeated. The royal electoral agents went further:

The election is in the body corporate, who by the regulation proposed will be much under the influence of the mayor of Devizes and Alderman Jeffreyes of that place. The town has proposed only Sir George Hungerford in whom they have a confidence that he is right; they will fix on another good man.

The ‘regulation proposed’ was a further purge of the corporation. Twenty-one ‘burgesses’ were removed’ in preparation for another charter. It is thus described in a government newspaper:

The magistrates of this place have demeaned themselves so disrespectfully to the Government that his Majesty has found it fit to dissolve their charter and is granting a new one to be lodged in better hands; indeed the spirit of malice has been very rampant here, for one Robert Card, a haberdasher of hats, holding it to be his duty to discourse very freely for taking away the Tests and Penal Laws, has not only been threatened that if the times turned he should have no mercy, and his neighbours charged never to buy any more goods of him, but particularly last month a cow of his, by some unknown mischievous hand, had her hinder limb so cut down and mangled with a bill, that he was forced to kill her and give away the flesh; which spiteful villainy he cannot in probability assign to any other cause, than the inveterate rancour of some persons on the account aforesaid.

The warrant for the new charter, issued on 3 Sept. 1688, stipulated that it should contain a clause placing the franchise in the steward and burgesses. Only one of the former burgesses, William Langton, was named in the charter, and many of the newcomers were Quakers. On 15 Sept. Sunderland wrote to Thomas Webb instructing him to stand for Calne in the projected election, but in 1689 Chivers and Lionel Duckett were returned. Of the 34 signatures on the return, only three (including that of the durable Langton) were those of the burgesses appointed in the September charter. Nine signatories had been burgesses under the 1685 charters; the rest were new men.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxiv. 186-7; Yale Univ. Lib., Osborn mss; Calne Guild Stewards’ Bk. (Wilts. Arch. Soc. Recs. vii), pp. xi, 108; CJ, viii. 304.
  • 2. Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10, f. 333, Cooke to Thynne, 22 Mar. 1661; CJ, viii. 304; ix. 570; x. 599.
  • 3. Calne Guild Stewards’ Bk. pp. xiii, xv, 112-13; CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 28, 128; Yale Univ. Lib., Osborn mss. CJ, ix. 736.
  • 4. PC2/72/68, 126, 561; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 210, 225; CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 264, 276; Pub. Occurrences, 19 June 1688; London Gazette, 17 Oct. 1688; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxiv. 214.