Bishop's Castle


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 the freemen before 1698; in the resident freemen after 1698

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

81 in 1695


6 Mar. 1690RICHARD MASON  
17 May 1690WALTER WARING vice Mason, deceased  
14 Mar. 1695RICHARD MORE54 
  Double return vice Oakeley, deceased.  
28 Nov. 1695CHARLES MASON  
26 July 1698SIR WILLIAM BROWNLOW, Bt.37 
 Sir Gilbert Gerard36 
 John Walcot  
  Brownlow’s election declared void, 3 Feb. 1700  
8 Jan. 1701CHARLES MASON38 
 Sir William Brownlow, Bt.34 
 Sir Gilbert Gerard  
  Mason's election declared void, 13 May 1701  
29 Nov. 1701HENRY BRETT702 
 George Walcot393414
  Mason's election declared void, 31 Mar. 1702  
22 July 1702HENRY BRETT  
12 May 1705HENRY BRETT  
 Richard Harnage  
 Charles Walcot  
5 Mar. 1706HON. HENRY NEWPORT vice Mason, chose to sit for Montgomery Boroughs  
10 Oct. 1710ROBERT RAYMOND  
 Charles Mason  
 Sir Charles Lloyd  

Main Article

Bribery was usually an important factor in election contests at Bishop’s Castle, but the candidates were always either local men or the representatives of local electoral interests. In 1690 William Oakeley, a Tory, and Richard Mason, a Whig, were returned unopposed. Oakeley had sat for Bishop’s Castle before, and Mason was from a family with a particularly powerful interest in the borough. Mason died within a month of the election and was succeeded by Walter Waring, Oakeley’s nephew and also a Tory. Richard More, a local Whig, had intended to stand but had desisted, as he said, ‘upon Mr Waring’s desire’, and upon being promised by several persons, probably Tories for the most part, that ‘all their interest the next time should be for me’. But when Oakeley died in January 1695 More, the first to put up for the vacant seat, was dismayed to find that Henry Newton intended to stand and those who previously had promised him their support

now solicit against me, which makes the election both troublesome and chargeable. The bailiff is against me and would not proceed to election till Wednesday the 6 Mar., and then what tricks he might show me I know not; I must watch him; Mr Newton, my Lord Coningby’s [Thomas Coningsby*] brother-in-law, stands violently against me, makes great brags, promises of reward and threats; notwithstanding, I hope very well unless I have foul play.

More was victorious at the poll, despite the ‘great endeavours’ which were used against him and despite the fact that all the ‘out-burgesses’ voted for Newton. However, the bailiff, who was the returning officer, at first refused to make any return. But after More had approached the Earl of Macclesfield (Charles Gerard*), ‘whose town it is’, More observed and after he had written to Robert Harley* with a view to having the bailiff summoned by the House and punished, a double return was made, of More and Newton. Edward Harley* wrote that ‘Mr More has met with very harsh usage from the bailiff of Bishop’s Castle, who I am told has returned Mr Newton contrary to all justice and his own promise’. It was said that Mr Newton ‘did not doubt a powerful interest in the Parliament House by my Lord C[oningsby]’, and consideration of More’s petition against the double return, presented on 8 Apr., was postponed on 25 Apr. for three weeks, until, with the prorogation and subsequent dissolution, it was dropped. At the following general election, however, Newton withdrew ‘at great expense’ and More was returned unopposed with another Whig, Charles Mason, the brother of Richard.5

In the 1698 election, the first in which out-burgesses are recorded as having been excluded from voting, Macclesfield took an active part, even soliciting some votes himself, or so it was alleged, in an attempt to bring in his nominee, Sir Gilbert Gerard. Mason stood for re-election and joined forces with Gerard, while the other two candidates, John Walcot, a local Tory, and (Sir) William Brownlow (4th Bt.) a Lincolnshire Whig, stood separately: several Tories, however, including Waring, were among Brownlow’s supporters. The principal contest seems to have been between Gerard and Brownlow, Mason’s election apparently being secured by the combination of his own interest (strong among the resident freemen, some of whom were his father’s tenants) with Macclesfield’s, and the Tory being quite out of the running. Brownlow had married a cousin of Mason and so members of the Mason family were on opposite sides in this election: Brownlow was assisted by his wife and her sister and mother, while Charles Mason and his parents were active on Macclesfield’s behalf. There was an additional source of friction, in that Brownlow’s sister-in-law was also the divorced first wife of Macclesfield. Brownlow narrowly defeated Gerard, and Macclesfield was furious in his disappointment. He complained that one Mr Plowden, a Jacobite, and his friends had attended the election and supported the ‘Jacobite faction’, and had bragged of being under the protection of the Duke of Shrewsbury. James Vernon I* wrote anxiously to Shrewsbury:

[I] believe the matter may have passed at Bishop’s Castle in the manner Mr Plowden relates it. My Lord Macclesfield generally acts passionately, and therefore what he says in heat and anger ought to be examined over again; and the best of it is, after having vented himself, he will come back to a better temper. I think myself pretty well with him at present, and therefore hope I may persuade him by degrees not to bring this gentleman on the stage, since it makes nothing to the decision of the cause . . . I had a letter from Lady Brownlow on this subject. I answered it with letting her know I was glad Sir William had been chosen, but I wished Mr Plowden had not been employed in it.

None the less, Gerard did petition against Brownlow’s return and renewed his petition on 16 Nov. 1699. Walcot was dissuaded from putting in a petition against Mason’s return: as he informed his brother, ‘you know very well that it cost me a great deal of money . . . and I am sensible ’twill cost a great deal to prosecute a petition with vigour, with an uncertainty of success’. When Gerard’s petition was reported the Commons refused to agree with the committee that Gerard had been duly elected, and, finding fault on both sides, declared void Brownlow’s election. It was further resolved that, because the voters at Bishop’s Castle had been ‘notoriously guilty of bribery in the said election’, no new writ was to issue before the end of the session, thus nullifying what was effectively a Whig safe seat.6

At the next election there was a similar alignment of candidates, except that this time Brownlow and the Tory George Walcot (John’s brother) were joined in a concerted opposition against Mason and Gerard. Each side obtained one seat, and the defeated candidates duly petitioned, Brownlow against Mason’s return and Gerard against George Walcot’s, both petitions alleging bribery, treating and other corrupt practices, and Brownlow in addition claiming that Mason’s father, who was bailiff, had wrongfully returned his son after he, Brownlow, had received a majority of the votes. Although Brownlow died before his petition could be heard it was not dropped, and on 13 May 1701 the House decided on both petitions, upholding Walcot’s election and voiding that of Mason, who was ordered into custody.

In the autumn of 1701 Macclesfield died, and in the November election there was no longer evident any division in the Mason family. The first Lady Macclesfield had married again, and her second husband, Henry Brett, a fortune-hunting Gloucestershire rake who at this stage in his career showed no great partiality to either the Whigs or the Tories, stood if not with Charles Mason at least not against him. The principal contest at this three-cornered election was between Mason and George Walcot; Brett held a position of neutrality between these two, and received votes from both sides. When Mason was returned to the second seat, after a close contest, Walcot petitioned on 3 Jan. 1702, alleging bribery on Mason’s part and various corrupt practices on the part of the bailiff, on this occasion Mason’s uncle. The committee report was heard by the House on 31 Mar. and, according to Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*,

the committee came to this resolution, that neither Mason nor the petitioner Walcot was duly elected. Mason had a good cause enough of it, but his friends did not appear for him because he was a scandalous scoundrel fellow, and the very committee that voted Mason not duly elected would not vote Walcot elected for it was proved that he was guilty of bribery and had not the majority, but Mr Brydges [Hon. James] and Sir Thomas Powys spoke for him.

The House agreed with the committee’s decisions on both elections, a division on Walcot’s election failing to overturn the resolution by some 26 votes. It was resolved that no new writ should issue until the next session, again on the grounds of bribery at the election.7

In 1702 only Mason and Brett stood. The Flying Post reported:

the burgesses of Bishop’s Castle gave a solemn invitation by letter to Charles Mason, esq., to serve them in this present Parliament, and, the election commencing on Wednesday the 22nd instant [July], they received him with 500 horse, and he was the same day elected together with Henry Brett, esq.

In 1705 the same two men, Brett having by now settled himself in the Whig camp, defeated two Tories, Charles Walcot (another brother) and Richard Harnage, the latter a rich army clothing contractor who came of an old Catholic family from the neighbourhood of Bishop’s Castle. Again Mason was helped by having an ally of his as bailiff, but he was not confident of success, for he also stood and was elected at Montgomery Boroughs. Several petitions against him in both constituencies were presented, and it was not until after the Montgomery petitions had been resolved in his favour and the Bishop’s Castle petitions had been dropped that he announced his decision to sit for Montgomery, leaving a vacancy at Bishop’s Castle which was filled by Hon. Henry Newport, a scion of the leading Whig family in the county. At the by-election in which Newport was chosen Mason himself served as returning officer.8

Not long afterwards, a new interest made itself apparent in the borough – that of Edward Harley, the new owner of the manor of Bishop’s Castle. In October 1707 one of Harley’s agents wrote to him that Charles Mason, who was then in acute financial difficulty, had been urged

to join with you in elections, not as if you desired it but proper for his own security. He did not give a ready or certain answer. It is thought that if he refuses it will shatter his interest. There is a motion made for five or six leading aldermen to wait upon Mr Secretary [Robert Harley] . . . Mr Harnage has absolutely desisted. Lord Newport [Hon. Richard I], as I hear, will be for the town of Shrewsbury or the county, and Mr Brett’s interest will fall if your purchase stands. We think it not proper to move much among the small ones, they are such a rude sort of people, until we see whether there will be any present occasion, for it is said this Parliament will continue.

No Harley candidate was in fact put up in 1708, when Mason and Harnage, who in the meantime had strengthened his interest through succeeding to the nearby estate of one of his nephews, were returned unopposed. It seems likely that at this time a marriage between Mason and Harnage’s niece was contemplated. Mason may even have begun his courtship of the lady with the aim of securing Harnage’s support at the election. Two years later Harley, at the suggestion of his brother Robert, nominated as a candidate at Bishop’s Castle the new solicitor-general Robert Raymond. There were early successes for the Harley interest in the election of the bailiff: Mason had broken his connexion with the Harnage family, and a progress report written on 1 Oct. 1710 by one of Harley’s agents stated that

Mr Mason came down last Monday and has since continued to establish his interest here, and has some true friends in the town (but I hope not a sufficient number to do his business). We have elected Captain [Walter] Waring our bailiff and we may depend he will do us justice, and have kept off one of Mason’s creatures to his great disappointment.

Waring himself was not optimistic. As another of Harley’s agents wrote, at about the same time, in connexion with the ‘designs of bringing in the solicitor-general’:

Mr Waring wi[sh]es that it might not be of ill consequence for his will is to serve you, and Sir Simon [Harcourt I*], but this might disappoint both; and his opinion is, first to cast out an ill Member . . . and then you may have better opportunities to oblige friends without such hazards. I told him that we were resolved to run no such hazards. I desire someone may be there with speed; for it is hard, well to satisfy the burgesses otherwise without any appearance, and the adversaries upon the spot.

Pressure was brought to bear upon Mason to withdraw – proceedings had recently been started anew by the treasury for the recovery of a considerable debt which he had for some time owed the crown – but he would only offer to ‘join in interest’ with the Harleys, a proposal which was summarily rejected. As the election drew close Harley was anticipating defeat. Harnage, it would appear, was thought certain to be chosen, while Mason, despite losing Harnage’s support, had benefited from the alienation of the Walcot family from the Harley side, following a quarrel over the election at Ludlow. But on 10 Oct. Harley was able to tell his brother Robert of ‘the solicitor-general being chose this day by a considerable majority even beyond expectation’, and this in spite of some last-minute bribery of the voters by Mason. Afterwards Mason petitioned, but against Harnage, not Raymond. The petition was not followed through and in 1713 Mason did not stand, the Whig interest being then represented by Sir Charles Lloyd*, who was defeated by Harnage and Raymond. Lloyd presented a petition against the election but it was never reported.9

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 390, deposition of Francis Colebech [1695].
  • 2. Bean’s notebks.
  • 3. Mason’s figure.
  • 4. Walcot’s figure.
  • 5. Add. 70249, Richard More to Robert Harley, 1, 27, 29 Mar. 1695; 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley, 9 Feb., 9, 19 Mar. 1695; 70118, Edward to Sir Edward Harley, 18 Mar. 1695; VCH Salop, iii. 298; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/A3, Robert Harley to Sir John Somers*, 29 Oct. 1695.
  • 6. L. B. Namier, Structure of Pol. 245; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/63, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 30 July 1698; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 145–6, 424; Add. 40771, f. 300; Salop RO, Walcot mss, John to George Walcot, 18 Dec. 1698.
  • 7. Cocks Diary, 260.
  • 8. Flying Post, 25–28 July 1702; Bor. of Bishop’s Castle. List of Mayors and Town Clerks.
  • 9. HMC Portland, iv. 454–5; vii. 22; VCH Salop, 300; HMC Townshend, 335; Add. 70254, Morris Pugh to Robert Harley, 1 Oct. 1710; 70236, Samuel Milward to [Edward] Harley, 2 Oct. 1710, Edward to Robert Harley, 3, 10, 13 Oct. 1710.