Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitants not receiving alms before 1705; in inhabitants paying scot and lot from 1705

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 128 in 1698; at least 77 in 1705


14 Feb. 1690Sir William Drake  
 Edmund Waller  
8 Oct. 1690Hon. William Montagu vice Drake, deceased  
21 Oct. 1695Montagu Drake  
 Edmund Waller  
 William Cheyne  
21 July 1698William Cheyne, Visct. Newhaven [S]110 
 Sir John Garrard, Bt.7845
 Sir Roger Hill69137
2 Jan. 1699John Drake vice Cheyne, chose to sit for Buckinghamshire  
7 Jan. 1701William Cheyne, Visct. Newhaven [S]  
 Sir John Garrard, Bt.  
19 Feb. 1701John Drake vice Garrard, deceased  
10 Mar. 1701Sir Samuel Garrard, Bt. vice Cheyne, chose to sit for Buckinghamshire  
21 Nov. 1701William Cheyne, Visct. Newhaven [S]  
 John Drake  
 Sir Roger Hill  
15 July 1702William Cheyne,  Visct. Newhaven [S]  
 John Drake  
14 Nov. 1702Sir Samuel Garrard, Bt. vice Cheyne, chose to sit for Buckinghamshire  
8 May 1705William Cheyne, Visct. Newhaven [S]9058
 Sir Samuel Garrard,  Bt.8454
 Sir Thomas Webster, Bt.9141
21 Nov. 1707John Drake vice Cheyne, became a peer of Great Britain  
4 May 1708Francis Duncombe  
 Sir Samuel Garrard, Bt.  
3 Oct. 1710John Drake  
 Francis Duncombe  
27 Aug. 1713Montagu Garrard Drake  
 John Verney, Visct. Fermanagh [I]  
18 Mar. 1714James Herbert II vice Verney, chose  to sit for Buckinghamshire  

Main Article

Amersham displayed no political independence from the neighbouring gentry, the leading interests at the beginning of the period all owning land nearby. A poll from 1689 indicated 143 voters in a three-way contest between William Cheyne, son of Lord Newhaven (Charles Cheyne*), of Chesham Bois, Sir William Drake of Shardeloes, lord of the manor, and Edmund Waller of Beaconsfield, who presumably benefited from the large Dissenting presence in the borough. Drake and Waller emerged victorious. The franchise, which had been disputed in the Restoration era, and was to be so again, was not an issue, all agreeing that it lay in the inhabitants not receiving alms. The returning officer (the constable) was chosen at the lord of the manor’s court, thereby giving the Drakes a crucial advantage.2

In the 1690 election Cheyne removed to Appleby, leaving Waller and Drake unopposed, despite their differing political outlooks. The death of Drake later that year saw the return of his aged father-in-law, Hon. William Montagu, doubtless in a move to protect the interest of Drake’s teenage grandson, Montagu Drake. In 1695 Cheyne re-entered the fray with the backing of ‘all the chief of the town’, only to be defeated by Waller, ‘who carried it clear’, and Montagu Drake, who was now of age. Complaints were made that ‘Cheyne had foul play and yet lost by only six voices’, but there was no petition to the Commons.3

With Waller’s espousal of Quakerism and the death of Montagu Drake shortly before the dissolution, both seats at Amersham required new Members in 1698. Anne Nicholas felt that (Sir) John Verney (2nd Bt. and later Lord Fermanagh) should stand under the Drake banner, utilizing the influence of Francis Drake of Woodstock Park (Montagu Drake’s uncle), whom she believed ‘has a better interest there than ever his nephew had’. However, Francis Drake had been on poor terms with his nephew and appears to have exercised no influence at all on the latter’s father-in-law, Sir John Garrard, 3rd Bt., who took over the management of the interest and was persuaded to stand, possibly against his inclinations ‘by a certain Lord’ and another ‘very great Lord’, after at first declining. The other candidates were William Cheyne, who had recently succeeded his father as Viscount Newhaven (though he was invariably known as Lord Cheyne), and Sir Roger Hill*, who was campaigning not only before the dissolution, but before Drake had been buried. At the election Cheyne and Garrard were returned, although Hill felt confident that he could unseat Garrard on petition, or perhaps replace Cheyne if the latter, as expected, also won the county contest. Thus, it was reported on 30 July that Cheyne would ‘bring in Hill’, and on 4 Aug. that he would set up ‘a foreigner there that has lately been baffled in another place’, William Jennens*, one of Montagu Drake’s trustees. Cheyne was duly returned for the county in August and was reportedly continuing to treat at Amersham on Hill’s behalf, mainly ‘because it was not for him to suffer two of the family of Shardeloes, which is Drake’s seat, to be chosen for that town’. However, by November Cheyne was becoming disillusioned with Hill: ‘he has spent one £50 already and will not spend another, and seems to take more pleasure in losing his election bids than others do in succeeding’. Hill petitioned on 12 Dec., alleging that Garrard had paid £10 a vote, and ten days later Cheyne chose to sit for the county, thereby precipitating a by-election. Just after Christmas, Cheyne and Hill entertained the voters at Blois, reportedly excluding those they could not persuade to be for Hill. Nevertheless, the by-election on 2 Jan. 1699 saw Garrard secure the return of John Drake, another of Montagu Drake’s uncles, and on the 16th Garrard’s return was confirmed with Hill’s petition being dismissed as ‘frivolous and vexatious’.4

The January 1701 election saw Garrard and Cheyne returned, only for two by-elections to be precipitated in quick succession, the first following Garrard’s death and the second when Cheyne again opted to sit for the county. Garrard was replaced by John Drake in February and Cheyne by Garrard’s brother, Samuel, in March. This session saw an attempt on 7 Mar. 1701 by some of the inhabitants in Amersham to ‘defend their rights’, in response to a decision of the Commons in the previous Parliament to limit the right of election to those inhabitants paying scot and lot. Although the Commons refused to hear their petition (the petitioners having in fact agreed to the traditional franchise on 16 Jan. 1699), the dispute was indicative of the future course of elections in the borough. In November 1701, Cheyne and Drake were returned, defeating Hill, who petitioned without success. In 1702, Cheyne and Drake were again returned, with Garrard replacing Cheyne when the latter chose to sit for the county.5

In the highly charged atmosphere of 1705, Lord Cheyne’s election along with Garrard was greeted with triumph by one Tory newsletter: ‘the last a Tacker, the other a well-wisher to them’. However, the contest was a fierce one as they were challenged by Sir Thomas Webster, 1st Bt.*, who was backed by Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*). Robert Harley* noted before the election that the Waller interest now lay with Edmund’s brother, Dr Stephen Waller, but it is not known on whose side, if any, it was deployed. Whig determination to punish the Tackers ensured that the election would be disputed before the Commons. Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) informed the Duchess of Marlborough that Webster had carried it by 27, but that the constable had returned Cheyne and Garrard. Webster petitioned on 2 Nov. and the scene was set for a memorable trial of strength between Whig and Tory in the House. Despite Lord Treasurer Godolphin’s (Sidney†) assurances to Harley that Cheyne was not in danger, when the committee of elections met on 19 Nov. Garrard carried it by 11 with the help of several Court Tories. Mrs Burnet felt that some Whigs were unwilling to undermine their own elections by voting against a scot-and-lot franchise, which Garrard had made the basis of his case. The full House considered the case on 1 Dec., the report making explicit the declaration of Webster’s counsel that ‘they should not bring in question my Lord Cheyne’s election’. The crucial division, that the franchise lay with those householders paying scot and lot, was carried by 197 votes to 168, and Garrard and Cheyne were then declared duly elected without a division.6

The narrowing of the franchise seems to have taken the sting out of elections in Amersham. No one challenged John Drake when he replaced Lord Cheyne in 1707, or Garrard and Duncombe in 1708 or 1710. The borough addresses to the Queen in both 1712 and 1713 were noticeably Tory in tone. Thus it was not surprising that two Tories were returned in 1713. On this occasion, the borough was used by Lord Fermanagh as insurance in case the county contest went amiss, although as late as April he could write: ‘as to being secure at Amersham I know nothing about it yet’. However, on 5 May Cheyne wrote that Fermanagh was ‘certain of being chosen’, and Fermanagh’s preparations were thorough as it cost him over £100 to ensure his return. He was somewhat piqued, therefore, when, having chosen to sit for the county, he was replaced by James Herbert II rather than ‘a relation of mine’, his son, Ralph†, whom many had expected would replace his father. In the more difficult circumstances of 1715 Fermanagh retreated to Amersham, where his own treating (nearly £70) was supplemented by Lord Cheyne’s from Blois, all of which was agreed with Montagu Garrard Drake, who had taken over his family’s interest in time to be elected in 1713.7

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. Bucks. Recs. xiv. 289.
  • 2. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 147, 161; Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss EL 10745, poll [?1689]; Bucks. Dissent and Parish Life 1669–1712 ed. Broad (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xxviii), 99.
  • 3. Jnl. Brit. Studies, xi. 85; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/48, Elizabeth Adams to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 22 Oct. 1695, Carey Gardiner to same, 24 Oct. 1695.
  • 4. Verney mss 636/44, Anne Nicholas to Sir John Verney, 4 July 1698; 636/50, Hill to same, 13, 22 July 1698, (Sir) Thomas Tipping, (1st Bt.)* to same, 4 Aug. 1698, Cheyne to same, 19 Nov. 1698; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/63, James Vernon I* to Shrewsbury, 30 July 1698; Bucks. RO, Tyrwhitt-Drake mss D/DR/12/37, Sir John Garrard’s brief; Bucks. Recs. xiv. 291; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1604, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 3 Jan. 1698–9.
  • 5. Ellesmere mss EL 10747, petition from Amersham.
  • 6. Add. 70334–8, Harley notes, 14 Feb. 1705; Bodl. Rawl. D.863, f. 89; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 226; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 103; Add. 70284–5, Godolphin to Harley, [19 Nov. 1705]; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F56, ff. 66–67; Parlty. Lists 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 78.
  • 7. London Gazette, 8–10 July 1712, 12–16 May 1713; Verney mss 636/55, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney, 14 Apr., 6 Aug. 1713, 9 Mar. 1713–14, Cheyne to Fermanagh, 5 May 1713, Ralph Palmer to Ralph Verney, 17 Sept. 1713; Post Boy, 18–20 Mar. 1714.