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 'inhabitants'

Number of voters:

about 75


  Double return of Thomas and Evelyn. EVELYN allowed to sit, 3 May 1660. THOMAS declared elected, 23 May 1660
21 July 1660SILIUS TITUS vice Prynne, chose to sit for Bath
7 Dec. 1661(SIR) RICHARD BROWNE I vice Palmer, deceased
28 Oct. 1669HON. THOMAS GREY vice Browne, deceased
1 Feb. 1673GEORGE LEGGE vice Grey, deceased
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673
12 Feb. 1673GEORGE LEGGE
 Richard Jones, Earl of Ranelagh
 John Smith
  Double return
11 Mar. 1685THOMAS NEALE
 Chaloner Chute
19 Jan. 1689JOHN SMITH

Main Article

The dominant interests at Ludgershall were enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Brownes, a cadet branch of the Montagu family, as lords of the manor, and the successive proprietors of the Savernake estate, the Seymours and Bruces. In 1660 these interests were exercised respectively in favour of the Presbyterian William Prynne and William Thomas, Lord Hertford’s agent. No opposition was made to Prynne, but his fellow-Presbyterian Sir John Evelyn, lord of the adjoining manor of Everley, stood against the staunchly Anglican Thomas, and his indenture was signed by the bailiff. He was seated on the merits of the return, but the elections committee recommended that the franchise should not be restricted to the freeholders, and he lost his seat to Thomas. Meanwhile Prynne had chosen to sit for Bath; the chancery clerk delivered the writ for a by-election ‘to the person that brought the warrant, but no notice was taken of his name’, and it disappeared. A replacement was ordered on 12 July, and another Presbyterian, Silius Titus, was successful ‘with unanimous assent and consent’, George Browne of Shefford, who had previously through Edward Massey offered him the seat, signing his return with 41 other burgesses.1

In 1661 the Cavalier and courtier, William Ashburnham, regained the seat he had held at the beginning of the Long Parliament, no doubt with Seymour support, for his wife’s manor of South Tidworth, which had then given him a territorial interest, had been sold in 1651. The other interest this time went to an Anglican, Geoffrey Palmer, whose mother was a cousin by marriage of the Brownes. Palmer’s father, the attorney-general, mindful of the mishap to the writ in the previous summer, wrote to Sir James Thynne to ensure that his precept as sheriff of the county should be delivered to a safe hand. Palmer died before the year was out, and was replaced by Sir Richard Browne, who was not akin to his namesakes, but as a close associate of Titus probably enjoyed their support. Nothing is known about the election of the courtier Thomas Grey in 1669, but, like all his predecessors in this seat except Palmer, his adherence to the Church was suspect or lukewarm. A fourth by-election followed Grey’s death in 1672. On 7 Jan. 1673 the Duke of York wrote both to Browne and the Duke of Somerset (Lord John Seymour) to recommend George Legge, recently appointed his lieutenant-governor at Portsmouth. Legge was elected on 1 Feb., and again 11 days later, apparently with increased support, after the election had been declared void by the House because the writ had been issued without their authority.2

Ashburnham, who had been seriously ill during the summer of 1678, retired at the end of the Cavalier Parliament, and the Savernake interest, now held by Thomas Bruce, was probably offered to John Deane, a local squire, who, however, preferred to take his chance at Bedwyn. Thomas Neale, a courtier, stood on the Browne interest, and Legge transferred to Portsmouth. His brother William Legge II was ordered by the King to stand down in favour of Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones), ‘for that his Majesty wanted speakers in the House’. Though Ranelagh had been nursing the constituency since the summer, he was to be ‘wholly disappointed’, the dissensions in the court party permitting the election of a local exclusionist, John Smith, whose father had bought Ashburnham’s estate. The indenture was the best attested of the period, bearing 113 signatures. In August it was reported that the Wiltshire grand jury had presented the drunkenness at the Ludgershall election as a grievance; but the bailiff, the rector, the parish officials and 46 other inhabitants, including the head of the Browne family, engaged themselves ‘to oppose him or them who shall attempt to carry it by out-vying entertainments, briberies, or unbounded drinking’. Neale and his brother-in-law, John Garrard, were returned; an opposition pamphlet complained that the electors had ‘made a worse choice sober than perhaps they had ever done, stark mad’, but Smith’s petition was never reported from the elections committee. He stood again in 1681 and was returned on one indenture in the unlikely company of the courtier, (Sir) John Talbot, who may have been Bruce’s candidate. Neale and Garrard produced another indenture; but neither had been sealed by the bailiff, and the double return was not resolved during the short life of the Oxford Parliament.3

No doubt at Bruce’s instance, Ludgershall dutifully, if somewhat tardily, produced loyal addresses approving the dissolution of Parliament and abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot. Neale was re-elected in 1685 with a local Tory and minor placeman, Henry Clerke, doubtless the Savernake candidate. The son of Chaloner Chute petitioned, but on 29 June the House ordered the hearing to be deferred till after the recess, and no report was ever made. In 1688 it was reported that the franchise was ‘popular’, the electorate about 75, and the chief interest exercised by Sir Anthony Browne:

They intend to choose Thomas Neale, who is supposed right, being ambitious to please your Majesty, and Henry Clerke, who is a very ill man, and not to be reconciled to your Majesty’s interest, except the fear of losing his office in the alienation office will engage him.

Although Neale obtained a pass for Ludgershall with four or five servants on 4 Dec., he was not successful at the election. Smith and Deane served for Ludgershall in the Convention. This was the only election in the period at which two independent Members were returned.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. HMC Var. i. 117; J. A. Williams, Catholic Recusancy in Wilts. 230; VCH Berks. iv. 240; Som. Wills, iii. 67; CJ, viii. 9, 42, 75, 88; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 661.
  • 2. VCH Hants, iv. 393; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10 f. 82; Adm. 1746, f. 132v.
  • 3. HMC Finch, ii. 54-55; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 153, 317, 439; CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 90; Dom. Intell. 12, 15 Aug. 1679; Jones, First Whigs, 106; CJ, ix. 639, 707.
  • 4. Luttrell, i. 118, 283, London Gazette, 25 Aug. 1681, 24 Sept. 1682, 24 Sept. 1683; CJ, ix. 717; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882) 211, 227; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 416.