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 burgage holders

Number of voters:

about 60 in 1689


9 Apr. 1660THOMAS COLE 
14 Feb. 1668THOMAS NEALE vice Bennet, deceased 
28 May 1677LEONARD BILSON vice Bold, deceased 
18 Feb. 1679SIR JOHN NORTON, Bt. 
19 Aug. 1679SIR JOHN NORTON, Bt. 
18 Feb. 1681SIR JOHN NORTON, Bt. 
19 Mar. 1685SIR JOHN NORTON, Bt. 
11 Jan. 1689THOMAS BILSON48
  Double return of Michell and Norton. 
 MICHELL declared elected, 23 Feb. 1689 

Main Article

Petersfield flourished on the trade of the Portsmouth road. Its municipality consisted of a mayor, bailiff, and two aldermen, elected annually in the court leet. The mayor was the returning officer, and the burgage-holders held under the lord of the manor, Thomas Hanbury of Buriton, who, however, does not appear to have intervened in parliamentary elections. The strongest natural interest was held by Sir John Norton of Rotherfield Park, but as a Cavalier he was debarred by the Long Parliament ordinance from standing at the general election of 1660. Thomas Cole of Liss, a committeeman who had sat for Hampshire in the second Protectorate Parliament, was returned with Arthur Bold, a colourless lawyer whose family had held property in the borough since Elizabethan times. He was re-elected in 1661, when Norton was returned as knight of the shire, nominating for the senior seat at Petersfield the Cavalier conspirator, Sir Humphrey Bennet of Shaldon, who had married his brother’s widow. Bennet died in December 1667 and was replaced by Thomas Neale of Warnford, the courtier and projector. On Bold’s death in 1677 he was succeeded by a nearby resident, Leonard Bilson of West Mapledurham, who won the seat for the first time at the age of 61.1

Neale lost his interest at Petersfield when he sold Warnford in 1678. Norton had to step down from the county seat for the Exclusion Parliaments, in all three of which he and Bilson represented the borough. Both abstained from the division on the exclusion bill in 1679, but probably became increasingly sympathetic to the Court. In 1685 I685 Bilson retired in favour of his son Thomas; but the death of Norton without male heirs on 9 Jan. 1687 left the other seat open. In April 1688 the royal electoral agents reported that the Whig George Rodney Brydges intended to stand, but "twill be hard to set Bilson aside, whilst supported by his father’s interest’. By September Brydges, the heir to an unimpressive record of electoral failure in Somerset, had come to the same conclusion; he ‘hath wholly left his interest, and declines standing here’, wrote the agents. The electors intended to choose Bilson, ‘represented a very fair, moderate man’, and the veteran Cromwellian Richard Norton, head of the elder branch of the family. The two candidates had almost nothing in common except that they were both closely related to Lord Dartmouth (George Legge), who was in command of the fleet, and doubtless made the proposal. It was recognized that Norton, who had a safe seat at Portsmouth, might refuse to stand, and an alternative court candidate was provided in the person of Francis Dickens, an old associate of Bennet who had been added to the county bench in 1680, presumably as an opponent of exclusion, and now gave his assent to the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. He is unlikely to have stood here in 1689, but nevertheless there was a double return. Thomas Bilson was comfortably head of the poll, but for the second seat Norton tied with Robert Michell, who had inherited the Bold interest. He sent word to the elections committee that ‘he had nothing to object touching the double return’, and Michell was awarded the seat.2

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. VCH Hants, iii. 111, 115.
  • 2. VCH Hants, iii. 270; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 429, 432; Collins, Peerage, iv. 109; CSP Dom. Add. 1660-85, p. 486; HMC Lords, i. 189.