Chipping Wycombe


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

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

about 100


15 Feb. 1690William Jephson 
 Thomas Lewes 
26 Oct. 1691Charles Godfrey vice Jephson, deceased 
23 Oct. 1695Thomas Lewes 
 Charles Godfrey 
28 Mar. 1696Fleetwood Dormer vice Lewes, deceased 
21 July 1698Charles Godfrey 
 John Archdale 
 Fleetwood Dormer 
21 Jan. 1699Thomas Archdale vice John Archdale, who refused to take the oaths 
 ? Fleetwood Dormer 
7 Jan. 1701Charles Godfrey 
 Fleetwood Dormer 
22 Nov. 1701Charles Godfrey 
 Fleetwood Dormer 
15 July 1702Charles Godfrey 
 Fleetwood Dormer55
 Henry Petty,  Baron Shelburne [I]32
9 May 1705Charles Godfrey 
 Fleetwood Dormer 
29 Nov. 1707Fleetwood Dormer re-elected  after appointment to office 
5 May 1708Charles Godfrey 
 Fleetwood Dormer 
4 Oct. 1710Sir Thomas Lee, Bt. 
 Charles Godfrey 
25 Aug. 1713Sir Thomas Lee, Bt. 
 Sir John Wittewronge, Bt. 

Main Article

The franchise at Chipping Wycombe was controlled by the corporation through the admission of freemen. The predominant interest was that of Hon. Thomas Wharton* (Lord Wharton after 1696), the great Whig electoral manager, who was high steward for most of the period. Of the two manors in the borough, the corporation held one and the other belonged to the Archdales and later to Lord Shelburne (Henry Petty†). The borough was also noteworthy for its large Dissenting presence, which could usually be relied upon to support the Whig nominees of Wharton. In 1706 in Chipping Wycombe parish there were five meeting-houses (one Presbyterian, two Anabaptist and two Quaker), and in 1712 it was calculated that over a quarter of the families were Dissenters. West Wycombe parish too, had a large number of Dissenters, possibly 10 per cent in 1709.1

In 1690, Thomas Lewes, a local Whig, and William Jephson, a friend of Wharton, were returned ‘unanimously’. The following year, Charles Godfrey, a close associate of Wharton, replaced Jephson at a by-election. Simon Mayne*, another political associate of Wharton’s, reported from Wycombe on 14 Sept. 1693 that Sir James Etheridge* and the ‘Jacobites’ in the corporation had formed a design ‘to get a mayor of their own stamp, that they may make so many new burgesses to carry any election for Parliament men’. However, four days later the corporation ordered that no new burgesses be elected for the ensuing year. At this point Wharton succeeded Lord Lovelace (Hon. John†) as high steward and Etheridge presumably decided to concentrate on Great Marlow where his position was far stronger. The two sitting Members presented the corporation with a mace in April 1694 and their attentiveness was duly rewarded with their return in 1695. However, ‘some of the staunch Churchmen invited two of their own party to oppose them’. This manoeuvre was prevented because Wharton ‘was got there before them’, and knowing the Christian names and concerns of most of the local tradesmen, had already secured most of the votes, whereupon they desisted. On Lewes’s death in 1696, Wharton secured the seat for another protégé of his, Fleetwood Dormer, the borough’s most influential resident in 1706.2

Wharton’s electoral agent reported to Fleetwood Dormer on 10 July 1698, however, that in Wharton’s absence ‘is broke a plot against yourself’, that John Archdale had made ‘an extraordinary interest against you and hath engaged almost a council against you’. His more specific fear was that the mayor would bow to pressure to break ‘the text not to make any more burgesses’, especially as ‘young Mr Archdale [Thomas]’ was one of those seeking the freedom. Despite this, Archdale senior was returned with Godfrey in July, but his son was not made a burgess until the following month, ironically the same month as Wharton’s agent, George Clewer, was made an alderman. A further month later both Wharton’s brother Goodwin* and his friend Sir Thomas Skipwith, 2nd Bt.*, were chosen burgesses. As a Quaker, Archdale could not take the oaths, and this led to speculation as Parliament approached that there would be a by-election. Thus, in November James Vernon I* believed that Wharton was backing Dormer in readiness for a by-election and that Archdale had promised his interest to a third party if his own son did not stand. On 6 Jan. 1699 a new writ was issued, Archdale having refused to take the oaths. Two days before the poll on the 21st, 34 new freemen were created (22 of them outsiders), and 17 of these were sworn in on election day at which Thomas Archdale, an Anglican unlike his father, was returned. It is not known if Dormer took his candidature to a poll.3

Archdale’s tenure of a parliamentary seat was brief, for in 1700 his father sold his Buckinghamshire estates to Lord Shelburne. Thus, at both elections in 1701, Wharton’s nominees were unopposed. In 1702, however, Shelburne stood, and following his defeat petitioned on 26 Oct. against Fleetwood Dormer. Shelburne claimed that the mayor had permitted unqualified persons to vote for his rival, including 21 freemen who had been created in a public house instead of in the town hall in January 1699, without the knowledge or consent of many members of the corporation. Dormer successfully defended the creation of these freemen by pointing out that they were made by a majority of the corporation and on 28 Jan. 1703 the House declared him duly elected. Before the next election, Wharton’s interest was immeasurably strengthened by the influx on 23 Nov. 1704 of a host of Whig freemen, including Alexander Denton II* and Richard Hampden II*. As a consequence, at the next four general elections and the by-election of 1707 Wharton’s nominees were unopposed, Wycombe being one of the few constituencies to return two Whigs to the last two Parliaments of Queen Anne’s reign. The only changes of note were Dormer’s resignation of one seat to Sir Thomas Lee, 3rd Bt., in 1710 and Wittewronge’s replacement of Godfrey, who was dropped in 1713, for failing to support the Whigs in the previous Parliament.4

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. L. J. Ashford, High Wycombe, 167–9; Bucks. Dissent and Par. Life 1669–1712 ed. Broad (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xxviii), 255–7.
  • 2. London Gazette, 13–17 Feb. 1689[–90]; Bodl. Carte 233, f. 276; Ledger Bk. of Chipping Wycombe, ed. Newall, 37, 89; Ashford, 167; Wharton Mems. 33–34; Bucks. Dissent and Par. Life, 255.
  • 3. Carte 233, f. 62; Ledger Bk. of Chipping Wycombe, 50–52; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 32, Vernon to [?], 19 Nov. 1698; Ashford, 170.
  • 4. Ledger Bk. of Chipping Wycombe, 63–64; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 302.