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 burgage holders paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

32 in 1704


 William Stringer  
25 Aug. 1698SIR HENRY FURNESE,  Bt.  
 John Hudson  
 Jerome Beale  
24 Feb. 1699JOHN COURTHOPE vice Furnese, expelled the House  
1 Apr. 1699JOHN ASGILL vice Courthope, deceased  
 John Asgill  
18 Mar. 1701FRANCIS SEYMOUR CONWAY vice Stringer, chose to sit for Clitheroe  
 John Asgill  
20 Nov. 1703JOHN MIDDLETON vice Conway, called to the Upper House  
 Thomas Windsor, Visct. Windsor [I]  
1 Feb. 1704SAMUEL SAMBROOKE vice Middleton, whose election was  declared void, 18 Jan. 170418 
 Thomas Windsor, Visct. Windsor [I]14 
7 May 1705JOHN ASGILL  
 THOMAS WINDSOR, Visct. Windsor [I]  
 Samuel Sambrooke  
 William Penn  
29 Dec. 1707WILLIAM SHIPPEN vice Asgill, expelled the House  
1 May 1708THOMAS WINDSOR,1513
 William Hale1218
 Sir Cleave More, Bt.12171
  HALE and MORE vice Windsor and Shippen, on petition, 15 Jan. 1709  
4 Oct. 1710THOMAS WINDSOR, Visct. Windsor [I]  
8 Dec. 1710WILLIAM SHIPPEN vice Visct. Windsor, chose to sit for Monmouthshire  
28 Aug. 1713FRANCIS HAWLEY, Baron Hawley [I]  

Main Article

Defoe described Bramber as hardly deserving the name of a town,

having not above 15 or 16 families in it, and of them not many above asking you an alms as you ride by; the chiefest house in the town is a tavern, and here as I have been told, the vintner or alehouse keeper, boasted that upon an election, just then over, he had made £300 of one pipe of canary.

The right of election in Bramber was confined to the burgage holders paying scot and lot, numbering about 30, although the number was not absolutely fixed since the size of the electorate was sometimes increased by dividing the tenements. Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk, owned the manor and had a hereditary right to appoint the steward, who annually held a court leet. At this court the steward chose a constable from two candidates: one nominated by a jury under the directions of the steward, a second put forward by the retiring constable. The choice of constable had political significance as he acted as returning officer. In 1690 the chief interests lay with Dr Nicholas Barbon, a property speculator, who had bought a number of burgages, and John Jeffreys, 2nd Lord Jeffreys of Wem, the son of Judge Jeffreys, and at this time still a minor. Neither had a controlling interest and the borough was open to corruption.2

The 1690 election was contested, Barbon standing with Dr John Radcliffe, the eminent physician. Both were strong Tories and they defeated another Tory, William Stringer, who had married the daughter of Judge Jeffreys. Stringer’s petition, accusing Barbon and Radcliffe of indirect practices, was referred to committee, but never reported. Shortly before the 1695 election John Freke wrote to Robert Harley* that Radcliffe would not stand but that there would still be a contest, with Barbon and a candidate of Lord Jeffreys the probable victors. Radcliffe did stand down, delighting the Sussex vicar Robert Middleton, who reported that Radcliffe, ‘a libertine enough and one that I have heard speak contemptibly of the present government, and those that are chief in it, is shut out at Bramber’. No other candidate appears to have come forward and Barbon and Stringer were returned unopposed.3

Barbon died at the end of July 1698, leaving his burgages to his partner and executor, John Asgill, a Whig lawyer. Asgill did not stand at the next election but, busy winding up Barbon’s rather complicated affairs, he was probably content to give his support to another Whig, Sir Henry Furnese, 1st Bt., a wealthy London merchant. Stringer stood down and his place was taken by the Whiggish William Westbrook of West Ferring, about eight miles from Bramber. The election was unsuccessfully contested by two local inhabitants, John Hudson and Jerome Beale, who petitioned against Furnese, alleging bribery, but the petition had not been heard before Furnese was expelled for accepting an office of profit. His seat was taken by John Courthope of Danny Park, possibly on the Jeffreys interest, but he died a few days after his return, causing another by-election, whereupon Asgill was chosen.

In the first 1701 election Asgill stood again on his own interest, and Thomas Stringer, an army officer and brother of William, stood on the Jeffreys’ interest, which a friend of John Ellis* recorded as ‘a likelier place [than Steyning] for a gentleman who is a stranger to succeed at’. This was the election in which Samuel Shepheard I*, a wealthy London merchant, intervened in a number of boroughs on behalf of the New East India Company, and Bramber, with its small, corruptible electorate, was one of those he selected. Prepared to spend up to £200 to get his candidate chosen, he approached William Millman, a financier who owned a number of burgages in Bramber and who was evidently considering standing himself, asking him to support John Paschall, from the Prize Office. Millman was prepared to co-operate to a certain extent, writing to his agent at Bramber in the following terms, according to a report made to the Commons:

I writ to you last night to desire you and the tenants not to oppose Mr Asgill if he stands; but I likewise desire my tenants would give me their votes for the other representative. I understand the houses are much out of repair, and I have desired the bearer to view them, in order to make them tenantable, to the liking of the tenants. As to the approaching election, if you find that Mr Asgill is not like to prevail, then I desire you will promote my interest and the interest of my friend, who Mr Clifton shall name unto you, being John Paschall, so that he and myself may be chosen.

At a meeting between Millman, Clifton and Shepheard, it was explained that a further £200 or £300 would be needed, whereupon Shepheard dropped the whole scheme and switched his support to Thomas Owen, of Gray’s Inn, a Welsh lawyer and Dissenter, who had sat for Haverfordwest in 1679. Owen, although ‘a perfect stranger’ to the borough, was victorious and after the poll Millman was told by one of the voters, that ‘Mr Asgill had not fair play; and that the town would petition the House against the said election’. Shepheard successfully brought pressure on Millman to get this petition withdrawn, and Asgill’s own petition against Owen was never heard. However, an inquiry into Shepheard’s activities was begun in the House at the instigation of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.* A committee managed by Thomas Stringer was set up on 1 Mar. and examined Millman and other witnesses, although Clifton, warned by Shepheard, had already fled to Scotland. Lengthy reports were laid before the House and it was resolved that Shepheard was guilty of ‘unwarrantable and indirect’ practices in trying to procure the election of a Member for Bramber, in sending a witness, Clifton, out of the way and in endeavouring to suppress evidence. For these, and his activities in other boroughs, he was expelled the House.4

Meanwhile Stringer had chosen to sit for Clitheroe and at the ensuing by-election in March 1701 Francis Seymour Conway, the Tory son of Sir Edward, had been returned. Conway and Owen stood again in November 1701, with Asgill again unsuccessful. His petition against Owen was not heard. Asgill finally gained the seat in 1702, when he was returned with Conway in an uncontested election. Lord Jeffreys died on 9 May 1702 and just over a year later, on 28 Aug. 1703, his widow married the Tory Viscount Windsor [I], who quickly acted to exploit the Jeffreys interest, standing in November 1703 at the by-election caused by Conway’s elevation to the Lords. Windsor was opposed by John Middleton I of Muntham, also a Tory, who was probably standing on the interest of the Gorings of Highden, Sussex, to whom he was related through his mother and who had been influential in Bramber before 1690. Middleton was returned, but Windsor presented a petition against him and the elections committee reported on 18 Jan. 1704. Counsel for Windsor claimed that at the poll the votes for the two candidates had been equal, but the constable had rejected three legal votes for Windsor and accepted four illegal ones for Middleton. Middleton’s defence claimed that the three voters were newcomers who had arrived just before the election, and after complaints two of them had been removed by the justices. Also, of the four who voted for Middleton, one came from a divided house where both the tenants had regularly voted and the other three lived over in-buildings which had been residences for many years and which were built on ancient foundations. Middleton’s counsel also alleged that Windsor had distributed malt and provided an entertainment for the tenants of Lady Jeffreys and Asgill. The committee resolved in favour of Windsor, but the House disagreed, declaring the election void. Windsor again contested the by-election, and was opposed not by Middleton but by Samuel Sambrooke, a moderate Tory, who enjoyed the support of Owen. Sambrooke was successful and Windsor petitioned against his return, as did three of the voters, protesting against the violation of their rights by Sambrooke and Owen. The evidence on both sides was almost identical with that given in the earlier dispute, but this time the committee decided in favour of the sitting Member and the House agreed.

After two defeats Windsor determined to strengthen his position and in the next election stood with John Asgill, canvassing Asgill’s tenants as well as his wife’s. Sambrooke stood again and the fourth candidate was William Penn, a kinsman of the noted Quaker. This time Windsor’s tactics paid off and he and Asgill were successful. After the election he gave several of Asgill’s tenants £20 each for voting for him. Of the defeated candidates only Penn petitioned against Windsor, but withdrew his petition. For the rest of the period Windsor’s influence remained dominant, and at the by-election in December 1707 caused by Asgill’s expulsion from the House, Windsor secured the return of William Shippen, another strong Tory, and brother-in-law to Hon. Dixie Windsor*.5

In 1708 Windsor further strengthened his interest by persuading the 8th Duke of Norfolk, a minor and a Catholic, to appoint him his steward, which gave him control over the appointment of the constable, the returning officer. With one of Windsor’s tenants chosen constable, Windsor and Shippen defeated two Whigs, Sir Cleave More, 2nd Bt.*, and William Hale. Having been returned also for Monmouthshire, it was reported in late May 1708 that Windsor intended to bring in Charles Caesar* as his replacement at Bramber. However, More and Hale presented a petition which was heard at the bar on 15 Jan. 1709. Counsel for the petitioners objected to three of the Windsors’ voters and also claimed that, seeing a further six voters who were likely to vote for the petitioners, Windsor had, with some violence, removed the constable from the vicinity before their votes could been taken. The Whig-dominated Commons voted, by narrow majorities, to seat More and Hale. As Lord Johnston (James*) recounted on the 17th, ‘24 of the 30 electors are Windsor’s tenants and there was no evidence against Shippen but that he stood on Windsor’s interest. Hales and More were brought in though the evidence for bribery against them was ten times more’.6

Shippen stood down in 1710 to make way for Windsor’s brother, Hon. Andrews, presumably on the understanding that if Windsor himself was successful in Monmouthshire, for which he was also standing, Shippen would retain his Bramber seat. There was no opposition in 1710, but a later account of the election claimed that Lord Windsor had again manipulated the return: having been alerted that the current constable had declared his impartiality, Windsor convened a court and replaced him with a constable of his own choosing, after which the precept (which had been deliberately held back) was issued to the new constable who immediately called an election. The change of constable caused two (unnamed) opposition candidates to decline to appear for a poll. After the election several burgesses presented a petition against the return of the two Windsors, alleging ‘arbitrary and illegal’ practices. Meanwhile Windsor had chosen to sit for Monmouthshire and at the ensuing Bramber by-election, Shippen was returned. He and Andrews Windsor presented the borough’s address of thanks for the terms of the peace in September 1712, the wording reflecting the strong Tory sentiments of the presenters. Windsor’s promotion to the English peerage prevented him standing in 1713, but he put up his brother Andrews, and for the second seat replaced Shippen with Lord Hawley [I], who, like the Windsors, was a Hanoverian Tory. Shortly after the election four tenants of burgages in Bramber brought a bill in Chancery against Lord Windsor, alleging that when, after the 1705 election, he had paid them £20 each for their votes, he had secured their mark to papers presented to them. They had since discovered that those papers were not receipts but bonds, and Windsor was threatening to sue them. By 1714 there were some 36 burgages in Bramber, and Sir Richard Gough†, an East India merchant and Whig, had bought 18 of them, while Lord Windsor held 13, but the effects of this new interest in the borough were not felt until the next reign.7

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. The Case of the Bramber Election 1 May 1708.
  • 2. Add. 28252, f. 110; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 145.
  • 3. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Suss. Arch. Colls. cvi. 155.
  • 4. Add. 28886, f. 168; Cocks Diary, 65; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lowther mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 13 Mar. 1700[–1]; EHR, lxxi. 235.
  • 5. The Case of Bramber Election.
  • 6. Ibid.; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 5; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 53, Johnston to Sir William Trumbull*, 17 Jan. 1708–9.
  • 7. Add. 28252, f. 110; Post Boy, 9–11 Sept. 1712; C5/623/8, ex inf. A. F. Kendall.