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:

36, 25 from 1685


  Double return of Aldworth and Norden. ALDWORTH seated, 27 Apr. 1660
 Walter Ernle
3 Dec. 1666JOHN NORDEN vice Yorke, deceased
30 Oct. 16691EDWARD LEWIS vice Kent, deceased
 GEORGE JOHNSON vice Norden, deceased
20 Apr. 1675(SIR) EDWARD BAYNTUN vice Lewis, deceased
14 Feb. 1679SIR WALTER ERNLE, Bt.
 Sir Walter Ernle, Bt.
 George Johnson
8 Feb. 1681SIR WALTER ERNLE, Bt.
 Sir [Giles] Hungerford
 John Eyles
27 Mar. 1685(SIR) JOHN TALBOT
 Sir John Eyles
 William Trenchard

Main Article

Devizes was regarded as the centre of Wiltshire nonconformity in the second half of the 17th century, with the additional peculiarity that the Baptists were the strongest of the sects. Except in the second election of 1679, the corporation were successful in excluding the freemen, numbering about 40, from the franchise. There were three candidates in 1660, but William Lewis, though a stranger, was unopposed, and there was nothing in his career to offend either Royalists or Commonwealthmen. The contest lay between the Protectorate official Robert Aldworth and the crypto-Royalist John Norden. The former had obtained the recordership on the strength of church leases in the neighbourhood, but on a show of hands he was defeated by ten votes by Norden, the local man. However, the mayor, without taking a poll, sealed the indenture for Lewis and Aldworth, and they were allowed to sit on the merits of the return. Aldworth apparently took no part in the business of the House till his election was confirmed on 31 July, the elections committee observing that there was no proof that Norden’s voters were qualified. In any case Norden had since taken his seat for Old Sarum. Concern was still felt over the attitude of the corporation, and on 16 Aug. the King requested the removal of the town clerk and his replacement by a Cavalier.2

Aldworth probably did not contest the 1661 elec tion, though he may have encouraged Walter Ernle to stand. The other candidates were also local men. Two rather inconspicuous Royalists were returned. John Kent came of a Devizes legal family, though it is not clear whether he was himself in practice, while William Yorke, a barrister, had married a local heiress and clearly enjoyed a strong personal interest. He signed the petition for the return of the county court from Wilton to Devizes, which would have increased the nonconformist turnout at Wiltshire elections, but continued the purge of the corporation when he succeeded Aldworth as recorder on 27 Sept. The process was concluded by the commissioners in 1662, when they removed the mayor, six aldermen, ten common councilmen, and seven freemen. But the inhabitants continued refractory, and the constables were reduced to asking Sir George Hungerford to send in soldiers to collect the militia rate.3

On Yorke’s death in 1666 he was succeeded by his friend Norden, but both Kent and Norden died three years later. A double by-election was held, resulting in the return of Edward Lewis, son of the Member in 1660, and George Johnson, who, like Yorke, was both a successful lawyer and a Wiltshire landowner. It may have been Johnson who suggested depriving the corporation of their charter for ‘the careless and wilful neglects of our duty and the often breaches of our faith and loyalty towards our dread sovereign in those distracted and rebellious times past’; but apart from a caveat entered on behalf of Sir Gilbert Talbot in 1671 no more was heard of this proposal. Lewis was even shorter-lived than his father, and the by-election that followed his death in 1674 provided the first visible sign of a change in the political outlook of the corporation. Sir Edward Bayntun, who had represented the borough in the Short and Long Parliaments and under the Protectorate, belonged to the country party both by heredity and experience.4

Meanwhile Johnson, who had been given a Welsh judgeship in 1675, had become entirely identified with the Court and the Danby administration through his former pupil Vere Bertie. Any chance he might have had of retaining his seat was destroyed by the quartering of a troop of dragoons at Devizes in 1678. The order for their disbandment on 6 Jan. 1679 came too late to retrieve his position. The corporation, however, hedged by returning the moderate Ernle along with Bayntun. On 22 Mar. a petition from ‘the common councilmen and inhabitants complaining of undue and illegal practices used by the mayor’ was referred to the elections committee. No report followed, but the petition paved the way for the attempt to widen the franchise at the next election. Bayntun died in the summer, and his interest died with him, the family having left the neighbourhood after their house was destroyed in the Civil War. The country candidates in September 1679 were Sir Giles Hungerford and John Eyles. Both were comparative newcomers to the district. Hungerford, a younger son of the Blackbourton family, had bought property at East Coulston in 1669, while Eyles, a native of Devizes who had made a fortune in the slave trade, about this time purchased a large house on the outskirts formerly belonging to Robert Drewe, MP for the borough in several Elizabethan and Jacobean Parliaments. But his Baptist religion may still have handicapped him with the respectable, and his lease of the hated alnage must have outraged the clothiers, who dominated the commercial community. The corporation elected Ernle and Johnson, the court candidates; but the mayor, fortified by a bond of £2,000 from Eyles to save him harmless, returned their opponents in the name of the freemen. A petition from the defeated candidates was never reported, but Hungerford and Eyles appear to have abstained from sitting, and Devizes was left unrepresented in the second Exclusion Parliament.5

The next mayor was less compliant, and Ernle and Johnson were returned to the Oxford Parliament. A petition was presented in the names of Eyles and Sir Edward Hungerford, presumably a clerical error for Sir Giles, but Parliament was dissolved before it could be reported. The Tories procured loyal addresses approving the dissolution and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot, and the corporation voted to surrender its charter on 8 Nov. 1684. The new charter cost the town over £100, although on 13 Mar. 1685 Sunderland, in view of the imminence of the general election, ordered the fees to be waived. The corporation was reduced to 25, and the franchise explicitly confined to them ‘according to ancient usage’. The charter was brought down by a servant of Sir John Talbot, who was named recorder, and a few days later he was elected to James II’s Parliament with a local Tory gentleman, Walter Grubbe. The remodelled corporation gave great trouble when James reversed his policy; on 23 Dec. 1687 the mayor, five aldermen, eight councilmen and seven freemen (including Grubbe) were removed, but a further purge was required in March 1688 with the displacement of nine Tory freemen. Eyles and Edward Hope, an Independent who had been named mayor, were approved by the joint lord lieutenant, Lord Yarmouth (William Paston), as ‘very honest and fit persons to serve his Majesty’ in Parliament. The royal electoral agents reported that ‘the election is in the body corporate, who are so regulated that they will undoubtedly choose Sir John Eyles and Edward Hope’. The corporation produced a loyal address of thanks for the second Declaration of Indulgence, and undertook to elect such Members ‘as shall join with your Majesty in a Magna Carta’. Their own preference was apparently for Sir William Pynsent, a dissenter and a Whig without Eyles’s handicaps. An attempt was made to put him out of the running by pricking him as sheriff, but he did not serve. With the withdrawal of the 1685 charter in October, the new mayor took the oaths under the Corporations Act. At the 1689 election Grubbe was the only Tory candidate; Ernle and Johnson were dead and Talbot out of the running as a last-ditch defender of James II. Eyles and William Trenchard, the orthodox Whig candidates, were defeated by Pynsent and Grubbe. They petitioned, on the ground that the mayor had denied the poll to the freemen. But they could produce no precedents more recent than 1553, apart from the undecided case of September 1679. The elections committee, with John Birch in the chair, reported against them, and the House agreed.6

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. B. H. Cunnington, Annals of Devizes, i. 151.
  • 2. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 208; J. Waylen, Chrons. of Devizes, 314; Cunnington, 127; Add. 32324, f. 148; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xx. 254, 292; CJ, viii. 3, 107; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 193.
  • 3. Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10, ff. 90, 98; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 116; Cunnington, 133-4; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 275.
  • 4. SP29/142/66; CSP Dom. 1671, p. 184.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 11; Dom. Intell. 26 Sept. 1679; CJ, ix. 643; x. 57.
  • 6. CJ, ix. 707; x. 10, 56-57; Luttrell, i. 103, 193; Cunnington, 171-86; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 87; SP44/335/403-6; G. L. Turner, Orig. Recs. of Early Nonconformity, 1070; Duckett, 210, 225; PC2/72/632; London Gazette, 31 May 1688.