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 inhabitant householders

Number of Qualified Electors:

600-700 in 17121

Number of voters:

at least 536 in 1690; at least 600 in 1709


8 Mar. 1690Henry Powle340 
 Richard Grobham Howe323 
 John Grobham Howe409 
 John Grobham Howe vice Powle, on petition, 25 Nov. 1690  
26 Oct. 1695John Grobham Howe305 
 Richard Grobham Howe294 
 John Guise235 
 Henry Ireton2002 
23 July 1698Henry Ireton  
 Charles Coxe  
 John Grobham Howe  
7 Jan. 1701James Thynne  
 Charles Coxe  
2 Dec. 1701William Master  
 Charles Coxe  
 Henry Ireton  
18 July 1702William Master  
 Charles Coxe  
10 May 1705Allen Bathurst  
 Henry Ireton  
 Charles Coxe  
 Thomas Onslow  
  Double return. Bathurst and Ireton declared elected, 15 Nov. 1705  
3 May 1708Allen Bathurst  
 Charles Coxe  
 Thomas Onslow  
  Election declared void, 10 Dec. 1709  
23 Dec. 1709Allen Bathurst387381
 Charles Coxe360359
 Henry O' Brien, Earl of Thomond [I]267261
 Maj. [? Thomas] Long18631864
6 Oct. 1710Allen Bathurst  
 Charles Coxe  
 Col. [? Thomas] Long  
23 Jan. 1712Thomas Master vice Bathurst, called to the Upper House  
5 Sept. 1713Thomas Master393 
 Benjamin Bathurst353 
 John Foyle253 
 Edmund Bray815 

Main Article

Cirencester was one of the nation’s principal centres of woollen cloth production and marketing. Defoe reported that wool was ‘sold here in quantities, so great, that it almost exceeds belief’. The town’s manufacturers, dealers and traders thus accounted for most of its leading townsmen. Unusually for a large town, Cirencester was governed, not by a corporate body, but by a manorial court, and all who were qualified to vote were known as ‘burgesses’. In the midst of the borough itself were two predominating interests, both of whom were Tory. The 2nd Earl of Newburgh [S] (Charles Livingstone†) owned the manor of Cirencester and had a large mansion on the edge of the town, and his bailiff (or steward) acted as returning officer in elections. A much older local influence was that of the Master family, who had owned the site of the old abbey since the Dissolution, their residence set, as Sir Robert Atkyns† wrote, in ‘beautiful gardens and a large enclosure of rich pasture . . . near the church’. Both interests had at various times procured one or other of the borough seats, but these also attracted the interest of neighbouring gentry. Henry Powle, a prominent Whig of nearby Williamstrip, had represented the borough in the 1670s and had contested unsuccessfully in 1685. From the mid-1680s the arriviste Howe cousins began to find their way into the borough’s electoral affairs. Richard Grobham Howe, a Tory, whose father was a Wiltshire baronet, had come into property at Chedworth, some six miles from Cirencester, on his marriage in 1673 to a sister of Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†). John Grobham Howe (invariably known as ‘Jack’) appears to have been approached in 1687 as a possible future candidate by the town’s Dissenters, and was elected in 1689, though only afterwards did he obtain an estate eight miles away at Stowell. The ingredients were present for strongly partisan politics: a sizable electorate comprising a strong Dissenting community on the one hand, and a large section of townsmen on the other who willingly subscribed to the High Church prejudices of the two main families at the head of the civic elite.6

One of the outgoing Members in 1690, Thomas Master†, did not seek re-election. The other, the vehemently Whig Jack Howe, was joined by Powle, who may well have counted on the distinction of having served as Speaker in the Convention Parliament to help him regain his old constituency, and Richard Grobham Howe whom Weymouth persuaded to renounce plans to stand at Hindon in Wiltshire and declare for Cirencester. Initially Powle had ‘offered’ to partner Richard Howe, despite their being political opposites, and on this basis Howe had proceeded to declare publicly for Powle in the town, presumably on the assumption that such a tactic would be guaranteed to trounce Jack Howe. Howe soon found, however, that Powle had failed to publicize the partnership, but he continued to act as if the arrangement held good, and informed Weymouth on 11 Feb. that ‘nothing I can do for him [Powle] shall be omitted’. It is not difficult to see that Powle might well have pondered the ethics of a pact designed to eliminate a fellow Whig, especially one so forthright and useful as Jack Howe. By the middle of February Richard Howe was beginning to despair: ‘the forwardness of our adversaries is impossible to be recovered; . . . all the appearance in earnest now cannot move so obstinate a people as the fanatics’. His entertainment of voters had already cost him £200. Thomas Master, on whose interest he so much depended, had delayed his appearance in town, but when he did arrive he quickly confirmed Howe’s impression ‘that there was a great inequality of voices against me not easy to be regained’. With Jack Howe’s election a virtual certainty, Richard Howe preferred to avoid a contest between himself and Powle, and notified Weymouth on the 17th that rather than stand in the the way of one ‘so much better able to serve the public’ he intended to ‘make as honourable a retreat as I can’. Attracted by his father’s offer of a seat at Wilton, he formally announced his decision to withdraw the following morning. Within a day or two, however, it became apparent that this move had ‘lulled our enemies asleep, thinking the day their own’, with the result that Jack Howe ‘spared his purse, neglected to make any more interest, and disobliged his own friends . . . which gave me an occasion (by some address to me) to appear the next morning’. Reporting this ‘miraculous’ turn of events to Weymouth on the 21st, Howe added that Lord Newburgh’s arrival in Cirencester at this point ‘did my business so effectively that the gentleman [Jack Howe] went quickly out of town and is very cold ever since’. As the committee of elections was later to report, the poll was taken of ‘all persons that offered themselves, promiscuously’, but it was followed by vigorous disagreement over which votes were valid. Jack Howe’s supporters claimed the highest number on the basis that recipients of a local charity known as ‘by-money’, but not receiving parish assistance, were as much entitled to vote as other residents, but this was disputed by friends of Richard Howe. The steward, Charles Coxe, a Tory barrister destined to be elected for the town himself in 1698, was inclined, understandably, to accept the opinion of his fellow party-men. Taking advantage of the stalemate between the two sides, he ‘adjourned to my Lord Newburgh’s house, for ’twas not safe to be elsewhere, the mob being up and demanding justice’, and completed the scrutiny in favour of Powle and Richard Howe. Jack Howe petitioned on 24 Mar. against Coxe’s overt partiality, and when this produced no report, he did so again the following session on 6 Oct. At the end of ‘a great hearing’ on the 22nd, the elections committee upheld the sitting Members’ return and ruled against the votes of inhabitants who received the yearly gifts of by-money, despite evidence that there had been no exception to them in previous elections. The committee narrowed the electorate still further by excluding ‘inmates’ or lodgers, which in effect restricted the franchise to householders. Shortly before the committee was due to report, Jack Howe distributed to MPs a handbill showing that even if the 157 voters whom the sitting MPs’ counsel discounted as ‘bad voices’ were subtracted from the poll as originally taken, he was still the overall winner with 252 votes, with Richard Howe in second place with 235, and Powle losing with 231. His intensive lobbying was no doubt instrumental in provoking the ‘long debate’ which accompanied the report on 4 Nov. The House, badly divided over the committee’s resolution against recipients of by-money, eventually rejected it by 170 votes to 164, but accepted the householder franchise. Though the matter was then recommitted to allow a final result to be determined from the original poll, Jack Howe was instantly acknowledged to have won his case. The recommittal proceedings evidently produced further difficulties, since the entire case was reviewed in a hearing at the bar on the 25th which concluded with the question of Powle’s election being decided against him by 161 votes to 132, and the two Howes being declared elected.7

The manor of Cirencester passed into new hands early in 1695, following the death the previous year of Lord Newburgh. The purchaser was Sir Benjamin Bathurst*, a wealthy Tory who combined City interests with the role of treasurer in the household of Princess Anne. In July 1695, with the likelihood of a new Parliament, Bathurst was urged by his friend the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†) to put himself forward. Bathurst, initially enthusiastic, proposed a partnership with Henry Ireton, an equerry to the King, who on the death of his father-in-law, Henry Powle, in 1692 had succeeded to the Williamstrip estate and thus to a proprietorial interest in Cirencester. However, only Ireton pursued an interest in the forthcoming election, and by early September, while still with the King in Flanders, he was in regular contact with the agent he had installed in the town. Hon. Thomas Wharton* also took an interest in Ireton’s candidature, seeing that he was a potential addition to the Court interest in Parliament. Ireton, however, was still uncertain whom he should partner. Wharton had suggested (Sir) John Guise (3rd Bt.*), the son of a Court Whig, Sir John Guise, 2nd Bt.*, of Elmore. Sir John already had Cirencester in his sights for his son, having hoped that his brother-in-law Jack Howe would accept him as a running mate, but since Howe, who had turned Tory after losing his Court offices in 1692, was in league with Richard Grobham Howe, Sir John now ‘intended’ that young Guise should stand with Ireton in the Whig interest. Ireton accepted this with some reluctance, not least since Guise, still a year or so under age, commanded little support of his own. On 6 Sept. N.S. he wrote in vain to Wharton from Breda asking if Bathurst might still be ‘inclineable’, but accepting the alliance with Guise if his father would not allow him to desist. Ireton none the less felt that he had made a positive gain in securing Coxe, now Bathurst’s bailiff, ‘underhand to favour my interest’ despite Bathurst’s Tory predilections, and suggested to Wharton that ‘it will be a great point gained’ if he could persuade Marlborough to ‘make Sir Benjamin direct for me . . . against his opinions’. Wharton probably never approached Marlborough on this score; had he done so the Earl would undoubtedly have brought pressure to bear on Bathurst to favour Ireton. In July Marlborough had warned Bathurst that ‘it would be a great mortification to me if Mr John Howe should meet with any assistance from you such as you may have power over, he having used me not as one gentleman ought to use another’. Towards the end of September Wharton sent William Taylor, one of his most experienced election agents, to Cirencester. He found, as he informed Wharton on 3 Oct., that contrary to previous impressions the Dissenters were not unanimous for Ireton and Guise. The Quakers, who numbered about 20, were resolved not to vote at all, and many of the Presbyterians were ‘possessed with a very good opinion’ of Jack Howe, though some of these were easily ‘set right’. Taylor conducted a canvass which showed 304 votes for Guise, 265 for Jack Howe, 254 for Richard Howe and 218 for Ireton. He ‘hoped Mr Ireton’s interest may be raised by his appearing himself as soon as he returns to England . . . being known by face but to two persons in the town, and no gentleman having personally appeared there on his behalf till now that Mr Southby went’. As was to be expected, the town’s Tory leaders, Master and Bathurst, had put their weight behind the Howes, who were both returned with an improved showing on Taylor’s canvass. They may well have been successful in capturing a portion of the Dissenting vote; Jack Howe had neglected no opportunity of doing so, even asking Speaker Foley to get ‘some Dissenting minister’ to write to the minister at Cirencester, while Ireton’s petition, presented on 5 Dec., complained specifically that the Howes’ agents had deterred ‘diverse’ qualified townsmen from voting.8

Ireton stood again in 1698, as did Jack Howe, who also contested the county seat. Richard Howe, on the other hand, stood down, presumably on account of his campaign for one of the Wiltshire seats. Seeking to take his place at Cirencester was the Tory steward of the manor, Charles Coxe of Lower Lypiatt. Coxe, as well as being Bathurst’s factotum in the management of manorial affairs, had the benefit of being a kinsman of Thomas Master, and his return was thus virtually guaranteed. It is not clear whether there was a poll, though Robert Yard’s* report that Howe ‘was put out in his borough of Cirencester [but] carried it in the county’, suggests that he suffered a defeat rather than withdrew. Coxe and Ireton were duly returned. The first 1701 election was uncontested; Coxe was returned with James Thynne, a brother of Lord Weymouth, who through his family’s connexions with the Howes apparently maintained some influence in the town. Both candidates could presumably count on the Bathurst and Master interests, and this daunting combination seems to have deterred Ireton. However, Ireton did stand in the December election when Coxe was joined by William Master, a Tory kinsman of Thomas Master, but found himself in a similar predicament. On 29 Nov. he lamented to an acquaintance:

My adversaries here being sensible that a considerable majority of the voters were for me have by their artifices prolonged the election till Thursday the 2nd of December on purpose to pursue those unwarrantable practices they have always used of drawing votes from me; the officer who takes the poll and the return is entirely in their interest by which I must expect very foul play and probably a false return.

The outcome was much as Ireton had predicted, but his petition presented on 5 Jan. 1702 was not reported.9

The 1702 election saw Coxe and Master retain their seats without challenge. However, the electoral process in 1705 was marked by the re-emergence of fierce partisanship culminating in ugly scenes on the day of election. On the Tory side Coxe was joined by Allen Bathurst, whose father had died the previous year. Whereas Sir Benjamin had been perfectly content to allow Coxe the advantage of his electoral interest in the borough, choosing for himself the almost painless option of a Cinque Port seat managed in the Court interest, his politically precocious son and heir, still six months under age and lacking his father’s regard for the Court, laid claim to the family interest in Cirencester for himself. The Whig opponents were Ireton and Thomas Onslow*, whose father, the Surrey magnate Sir Richard, 3rd Bt.*, owned land near the borough. Bathurst achieved first place in the poll, but it was disputed who was in second owing to an equality of votes cast for Ireton and Coxe. When Bathurst’s bailiff at first refused to return Ireton, ‘whom a great part of the inhabitants declared was duly elected’, there followed violent scuffles in which the bailiff himself was felled and bruised. By way of temporary compromise a double return was made Bathurst and Ireton in one indenture, and Bathurst and Coxe in the other. Both Coxe and Ireton complained against each other of bribery in their petitions of 3 and 7 Nov., Ireton also drawing attention to Bathurst’s minority at the time of the poll. On the 15th, however, Coxe withdrew his petition, perhaps out of concern that revelations of bribery on his part would damage his position as a judge, and accordingly Bathurst and Ireton were declared elected.10

Ireton’s popularity with the large Whig element in the town had turned sour by 1708. He was reported to have lost all credibility through failure to honour his ‘just debts’, and was forced to find a seat elsewhere. No replacement came forward, while Bathurst, rejoined by Coxe, proceeded to defeat the lone Whig, Thomas Onslow. Although Onslow himself did not petition, a body of aggrieved voters complained on 27 Nov. that the victors, their agents and the steward had engaged in ‘notorious bribery’. The petition was renewed next session, on 16 Nov. 1709, and was heard at the bar of the House on 8 and 10 Dec. The first day’s work ended with the inhabitants of the old abbey precincts being stripped of their voting rights, but on the second day the whole election was declared void. At the ensuing by-election Bathurst and Coxe were opposed by two Whigs. Onslow transferred his interest, such as it was, to the 21-year-old Earl of Thomond (Henry O’Brien*), who was joined by Major Long, a possible relation of the Longs of Drayton, Wiltshire. The Tories won easily, however, and Thomond, relieved that his expenses had not exceeded £100, refused to submit to Onslow’s request that he petition, believing there was ‘so little ground for it’.11

High Tory sentiment ran to extremes in the town at the time of the Sacheverell trial. Meeting houses were attacked, and in mid-April 1710, when news was received of the doctor’s sentence, ‘many of the faction’ gathered together at the instigation of Thomas Master’s young firebrand son (also Thomas) and were supplied by him with money to drink the Queen’s and Dr Sacheverell’s health. Bonfires were lit and houses illuminated, but matters got out of hand when King William’s effigy was burnt and health drunk to the Pretender. Master, whose father died in September, was still under age at the election and so devoted his interest to the sitting Tory Members. Thomond did not renew his candidature, which left Long (probably the same candidate of 1709, and now a colonel) to contest the Tories by himself, but so overwhelming was Tory support that only one Whig resident bothered to vote for him. After the election, the Whig ‘faction’ was said to have been ‘so enraged . . . that they ran about the town like fury and broke the windows of the loyal party’. On Bathurst’s elevation to the peerage in January 1712, Thomas Master was elected in his place unopposed. But when, in the election of 1713, Bathurst required a seat for his youngest brother Benjamin, Coxe was forced to renounce an interest which over the past 15 years he had made his own with ‘very great expense and trouble’. Coxe was assured by Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) via the Duke of Beaufort in August 1713 that, if necessary, pressure would be put upon Bathurst to facilitate his re-election at Cirencester if he could not be accommodated at Gloucester. The certainty of Coxe’s success at Gloucester was soon evident, however, and in the Cirencester contest the following month Master and Benjamin Bathurst defeated two local Whigs, one of whom, Edmund Bray, was formerly MP for Tewkesbury. The two families subsequently shared the borough seats until a quarrel during the election of 1754.12

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Atkyns, State of Gloucs. (1712), 180–1.
  • 2. Add. 70070, newsletter 29 Oct. 1695.
  • 3. Post Boy, 31 Dec. 1709–3 Jan. 1710.
  • 4. Add. 70420, newsletter 27 Dec. 1709.
  • 5. Ibid. 8–10 Sept. 1713.
  • 6. P. J. Corfield, Impact of English Towns 1700–1800, 18; Atkyns, State of Glos. 180–81; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/44, Sir Benjamin Bathurst to Ld. Coningsby (Thomas*), 30 Mar. 1703.
  • 7. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 18, ff. 191–94, 197, 200; 26, f. 496; Bodl. Fleming newsletter 4, f. 107; L. Inn Lib. MP100/159; Add. 70014, f. 352.
  • 8. Bigland’s Colls. (Glos. Rec. Ser. ii), 363; HMC Bathurst, 3–4; Bodl. Carte 228, ff. 108–11, 114–15; HMC Portland, iii. 571; Add. 70018, f. 70.
  • 9. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 370; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Weymouth to James Grahme*, 3 Jan. 1700–1; Wilts. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Mag. xlvi. 82.
  • 10. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 22 May 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 271.
  • 11. Bodl. Ballard 31, f. 50; HMC Portland, ii. 209; Beaufort mss at Badminton House 509/101/3, Earl of Suffolk to sis., 12 Jan. 1710.
  • 12. J. Oldmixon, Hist. of Addresses, ii. 169; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(7), p. 4; Add. 70421, newsletter 10 Oct. 1710; 70294, Coxe to Oxford, 8 Oct. 1712; 70319, same to [?], 13 Oct. 1712; Beaufort mss, letterbk., Beaufort to Coxe, 8 Aug. 1713.