Available from Boydell and Brewer
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
at least 2,443 in 1710
|24 Feb. 1690||Sir Henry Winchcombe, Bt.|
|Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.||822|
|Montagu Venables Bertie, Ld. Norreys|
|Sir Robert Pye|
|28 Oct. 1695||Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.|
|3 Aug. 1698||Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.|
|22 Jan. 1701||Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.|
|26 Nov. 1701||Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.|
|5 Aug. 1702||Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.|
|? Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.|
|9 May 1705||Richard Neville|
|Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.|
|Sir Humphrey Forster, Bt.|
|5 May 1708||Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.|
|18 Oct. 1710||Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.||1977|
|Henry St. John||1877|
|23 July 1712||Robert Packer vice St. John, called to the Upper House|
|2 Sept. 1713||Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.|
In 1695 James Bertie, 1st Earl of Abingdon, maintained that it was ‘the ancient custom of the county to have one [Member] in the forest and the other in the vale’, and, indeed, there are clear signs that electioneering in Berkshire took account of the basic geographical division between the western vales of White Horse and Kennet and the Forest of Windsor in the east. However, by 1690 the amicable agreement of the gentry to share out the county representation according to tradition had broken down under the pressure of political conflict. Five candidates stood in 1690, only one of whom, Richard Neville, came from the forest, and he lost. Far more important were the links between candidates. Thus, the non-juring 2nd Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde†), after travelling to the county poll at Reading in order to support Abingdon’s son, Lord Norreys, noted that the Whigs under Lord Lovelace (Hon. John†) were up to ‘all the tricks imaginable’ against him. Lord Abingdon attributed Lovelace’s influence to his position as chief justice in eyre south of the Trent; whatever the source, Lovelace was regarded as sufficiently threatening to the Bertie interest for Abingdon to set up Lord Norreys (Montagu Venables-Bertie*) for Oxfordshire as well as Berkshire. With Sir Humphrey Winchcombe, 2nd Bt., seemingly secure and Sir Robert Pye† a fringe candidate, the battle for the second seat lay between Sir Humphrey Forster, 2nd Bt., Richard Neville and Lord Norreys. The last may have given up the poll in favour of campaigning in Oxfordshire, but several freeholders were willing to petition the Commons on his behalf on 2 Apr., although they did not take this matter as far as to attend the committee of elections following the renewal of their petition on 9 Oct. Forster defeated Neville by a narrow margin, the latter’s petition on 24 Mar. (renewed on 6 Oct.) being dismissed by the committee of elections on the grounds that all the voters he had objected against had taken an oath that they were freeholders; as they were not present to be examined, this oath was deemed stronger than mere verbal accusation to the contrary. The House concurred with the committee’s report on 22 Dec.2
Winchcombe’s retirement at the next election was accompanied by his agreement, made as early as January 1695, to support his ‘old enemy’ Forster, provided that Forster joined with Neville. This may be interpreted as an attempt to bring peace to the county by joining a Whig from the forest with a Tory from the vale. As such it was consistent with Lord Abingdon’s statement of the traditional practice, but because Neville was a Whig it did not satisfy most Tories. Lord Abingdon, like many others, was keen to promote the candidature of Sir William Trumbull* as an alternative to Neville, Trumbull’s estate at Easthampstead also lying in the forest. However, the main focus of Trumbull’s campaign seems to have been a desire to ally with Neville in order to defeat Forster, a prominent opponent of the Court at Westminster. Given the prospect of ousting Forster, the Whigs rallied to Trumbull’s standard, including Lords Wharton and Ross, Sir Robert Pye†, John Southby†, Hon. Harry Mordaunt* and Bishop Burnet, whose Salisbury diocese covered Berkshire. The Tories were worried by this development, as in their scheme of things Trumbull was to join with Forster to defeat Neville. Lord Clarendon even went so far as to warn Trumbull that ‘persons of the best interest had declared’ for Forster and that ‘of the other person who should appear with you should be of the Forest side of the county’, it would consolidate Forster’s support. A meeting of the gentry held at Newbury quarter sessions on 8 Oct. confirmed that Trumbull had almost universal support and that the majority present would also back Neville. However, local opinion predicted a close contest for the second seat between Forster and Neville, and some observers foresaw difficulties for an aloof candidate such as Trumbull, in that he might be squeezed out as a result of aggressive campaigning by the other two. As Trumbull would not canvass, and was in any case confined to London by his duties as secretary of state, this was a possibility. Indeed, it may have been one of the reasons why Trumbull eventually opted to replace Sir Thomas Clarges* as Member for Oxford University, rather than force a divisive contest. This left the field free for Forster and Neville, an outcome welcomed no doubt by Winchcombe, but less so by others.3
Although neither side tested the other in 1698 or January 1701, this was probably due more to the absence of a plausible challenger than any deliberate ploy to avoid contests. In January 1701 there had been rumours that Sir John Stonhouse, 3rd Bt., would seek the seat relinquished by his father in 1690, but in the event he launched his candidature in November 1701. Despite some misgivings from the rector of Easthampstead that Stonhouse would weaken Neville’s interest, he was returned at Forster’s expense without a poll. The Tories were still keen to get rid of Neville, with efforts being made before the 1702 election to rally support for Stonhouse and Forster, but again Forster was defeated. In the wake of the Tack, Stonhouse and Forster joined again in another unsuccessful attempt to unseat Neville. The anti-clerical newspaper The Observator propounded the view that Neville was only opposed because of ‘his love to the government and that he was no Tacker’, calculating that of the 140 clergymen polled, 119, including Francis Atterbury, ‘voted singly against’ Neville. The Tack was clearly a major issue in the election campaign, but it probably worked against the Tories because Stonhouse felt it necessary to circulate copies of the bill against occasional conformity in order to counteract Whig misrepresentation of what it contained. With his defeat in 1705, Forster seems to have given up, leaving Neville and Stonhouse to be returned unopposed in 1708.4
The changed circumstances in 1710 finally saw Neville unseated by the joint candidature of Stonhouse and Henry St. John II. The latter put forward many arguments to Trumbull in an effort to ensure that the forest voted solidly for both Tories, mixing the partisan hope that the ‘Church interest’ would come to prevail in the county with the traditional view ‘that you will not suffer the freeholders about you to vote as if Mr Neville was the only man in Berkshire fit to represent them, or as if the knighthood was part of his entail’. The only danger to St. John’s chances seems to have been that his official duties as secretary of state might have kept him away from the county at a crucial stage of the campaign. However, he was able to return to Berkshire before the election and together the two Tories inflicted a crushing defeat on the Whigs. So convincing was their victory that the subsequent manoeuvring of peers, such as the Duke of Northumberland and Earl of Abingdon in 1711, to succeed the deceased Earl of Craven as lord lieutenant did not disrupt the Tory interest. Indeed, following St. John’s own elevation to the peerage in the summer of 1712 his brother-in-law, Robert Packer filled the resultant vacancy without facing a contest. The Tory stranglehold on the county seats continued at the next general election of 1713 and afterwards, with both Packer and Stonhouse retaining their seats until their respective deaths in 1731 and 1733.5
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Bean’s notebks.
- 2. BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 29, Ld. Abingdon to Trumbull, 4 Sept. 1695; Newberry Lib. case mss, Ld. Clarendon to Ld. Abingdon, 15, 16 Feb. ; Clarendon Corresp. ed. Singer, ii. 305–6; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 12, f. 97 (Horwitz trans.); 24, f. 161.
- 3. Trumbull Misc. mss 28, Hon. Harry Mordaunt* to Trumbull, 4, 26 Sept. ; 29, Ld. Abingdon to same, 4, 14 Sept. 1695, Richard Neville to same, 18 Sept. 1695, [Rev.] John Howe to same, 20, 30 Sept. 1695, Lawrence Ambrose to same, 23 Sept. 1695, Ld. Clarendon to same, 28 Sept. 1695; 30, Ld. Rosse to same, 3 Oct. 1695, Howe to same, 3 Oct. 1695, Richard Knapp to Dr Kingston, 21 [recte 11] Oct. 1695, John Southby to Trumbull, 12 Oct. 1695; 51, Trumbull to Howe, 24 Sept. 1695; HMC Downshire, i. 548, 552, 560–1; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. Leopold to Hon. Heneage Finch I*, 12 Oct. 1695; Add. 18675, f. 140.
- 4. Trumbull Add. mss 131, Rev. John Power to Trumbull, 7, 13 Jan. 1700–1; 135, same to same, 5 Mar. 1704–5; Thynne pprs. 14, f. 297; Observator, 23–26 May 1705; ‘Collectanea Trelawniana’, p. 285 (Speck trans.).
- 5. Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 2 June, 31 Aug., 9 Sept. 1710, Trumbull to St. John, 26 Sept. 1710; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(6), p. 52; Berks. RO, Braybrooke mss D/EN/F23/2, Charles Aldworth* to Northumberland, 30 Oct., 1 Nov. 1711.