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

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 3,000 in 1705


27 Dec. 1664SIR JAMES THYNNE vice Seymour, called to the Upper House
29 Nov. 1670THOMAS THYNNE II vice Sir James Thynne, deceased
4 May 1675(SIR) RICHARD GROBHAM HOWE vice Hyde, called to the Upper House
 Sir Henry Coker
19 Aug. 1679SIR WALTER ST. JOHN, Bt.
1 Mar. 1681SIR WALTER ST. JOHN, Bt.
24 Mar. 1685EDWARD HYDE, Visct. Cornbury
15 Jan. 1689EDWARD HYDE, Visct. Cornbury

Main Article

Lord Ailesbury, who sat for the county in 1685 before succeeding to the peerage, commended the excellent practice in Wiltshire whereby the gentry selected two candidates at a preliminary meeting, and ‘they only meet at the place of election for form’s sake’. A rejected candidate would naturally prefer to contest one of the numerous borough seats rather than defy the wishes of his own class and put himself to the expense of a contested county election. No doubt the meeting aimed at preserving a rough geographical balance. Thus, of the two royalist candidates in 1660, Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper’s somewhat tenuous links with the county were confined to the chalklands of the south, whereas the Ernle estates lay in the opulent ‘cheese’ country to the north. A republican challenge from Sir Walter St. John and Edward Bayntun evaporated after a gentry meeting at Devizes, both candidates deciding to swim with the tide, and applying themselves to the boroughs. Cooper, as a Councillor of State, was probably absent from the election, which was so dull that Ernle and his friends diverted themselves with projecting a co-operative work on the antiquities of the county. Only a dozen electors signed the indenture. This was the only election of the period to be held at Devizes, to which the county court had been moved by a Cromwellian sheriff. Sir James Thynne, the first sheriff to be appointed after the Restoration, restored it to Wilton, far less central and convenient, but also far less under the influence of the sects. Neither of the Convention Members stood again. Cooper was to receive a peerage in the coronation honours, while Ernle was scarcely of county Member status in a free election. They were replaced by the eldest sons of Lord Chancellor Hyde and the Chancellor of the Duchy, Lord Seymour. On 18 Mar. 1661 the latter was assured of all Lord Pembroke’s votes, and it appears certain that this election was also uncontested, the candidates sharing expenses of £195 7s.2d. Again, one of the Members, Hyde, could hardly be reckoned a Wiltshireman, though his father owned property in the north, which was balanced by the Seymour interest in and around Marlborough. In the next two by-elections, Thynne and his nephew, the successive owners of Longleat, were returned; the latter was certainly uncontested, according to the indenture. When Hyde succeeded as Earl of Clarendon in 1674, Thomas Thynne I was quick to recommend his brother-in-law, Sir Richard Grobham Howe, and the Duke of Somerset ( Lord John Seymour), though reluctant to declare for any particular interest, agreed that he was ‘sufficiently qualified for such undertaking’.1

At the first election of 1679, the sitting Members, both opponents of the Court, were re-elected. No opposition was offered to Thynne, but the ultra-royalist Sir Henry Coker, on behalf of himself and ‘most of the freeholders’, complained that Howe had been returned by the undue and illegal practices of the sheriff. His petition was never reported, but Howe, who disliked expensive elections, was apparently deterred from standing for the county again. In the second and third Exclusion Parliaments he was replaced by a stronger exclusionist, St. John. On 18 Feb. 1681 Clarendon wrote:

I think no county can be better affected, and if those who are in authority under his Majesty did what they ought, he would find all the elections of that county to his wish. ... On Tuesday I will be at the ordinary at Sarum, and undertake two very worthy men will be knights for Wiltshire, if Lord Pembroke does not spoil all.

Clarendon’s condition was apparently not fulfilled, for St. John and Thynne were unopposed, after ‘some opposition endeavoured’.2

In 1685 Clarendon’s son, Lord Cornbury, was returned with Lord Bruce, who had married the Seymour heiress, but found his purse ‘pretty well emptied’ by election expenses, which he attributed solely to the unpopularity of the Hydes in Wiltshire. Both were Tories. Bruce succeeded to the Ailesbury peerage during the recess, and a new writ was ordered on 9 Nov. Three days later Howe reported to his brother-in-law, now Lord Weymouth, that he had been ‘sent to by the county court to stand for knight of the shire’, and asked for approbation and assistance. But Parliament was prorogued on 20 Nov., never to meet again, and there is no evidence that the by-election was actually held. In 1688 the new joint lord lieutenant, Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) reported that Cornbury and Sir James Long would be elected, adding that if the county court were removed to Devizes ‘all the dissenters will come in, and carry it as they please with a little help’. The King’s electoral agents agreed that a good interest might be made for Cornbury, but they preferred Long and John Hall, who were both considered ‘right’ on James II’s ecclesiastical policy. In September, however, Ernle and Long were ‘discoursed of’ as likely choices. Cornbury played a prominent part in the Revolution, and at a gentry meeting in Salisbury on 7 Dec., at which all present signed the Association, he was selected, but there was no agreement on the second seat. When the election for the Convention was held, he was accompanied by Sir Thomas Mompesson, a Whig.3

Author: Leonard Naylor


  • 1. Ailesbury Mems. 183; BL, M636/17, Verney to Yates, 30 Mar. 1660; Voyce from the Watch Tower, 104, 105; Aubrey and Jackson, Wilts. Colls. 3; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxvii. 116; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 547; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10, f. 92, Seymour to Thynne, 22 Mar. 1660; 12, f. 25, Somerset to Thynne, no date; Add. 32324, ff. 53, 74.
  • 2. CJ, ix. 576; CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 165-6; Smith’s Prot. Intell. 7 Mar. 1681.
  • 3. Ailesbury Mems. 99-100; Thynne pprs. 18, f. 175, Howe to Weymouth, 14 Nov. 1685; 24, f. 39, letter to Weymouth, 20 Sept. 1688; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 208, 224; Clarendon Corresp. ii. 216.