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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 289 in 1710


3 Mar. 1690James Gould 
 Sir Robert Napier, Bt.146
 Thomas Trenchard169
 Trenchard vice Napier, on petition, 17 Dec. 1690 
24 Oct. 1695Nathaniel Bond 
 Nathaniel Napier 
5 Aug. 1698Sir Robert Napier, Bt. 
 Nathaniel Napier 
2 Jan. 1701Nathaniel Napier173
 Thomas Trenchard171
 Sir Nathaniel Napier, 2nd Bt.135
 [–] Coker93
24 Nov. 1701Thomas Trenchard 
 Nathaniel Napier 
4 Feb. 1702Sir Nathaniel Napier, 2nd Bt., vice Trenchard, chose to sit for Dorset 
20 July 1702Sir Nathaniel Napier, 2nd Bt. 
 Nathaniel Napier 2nd Bt. 
14 May 1705Awnsham Churchill213
 Nathaniel Napier189
 Sir John Darnel84
8 May 1708John Churchill 
 Awnsham Churchill 
5 Dec. 1709Denis Bond vice John Churchill, deceased 
10 Oct. 1710Sir Nathaniel Napier, 3rd Bt.160
 Benjamin Gifford155
 Denis Bond147
 Awnsham Churchill116
28 Aug. 1713Sir Nathaniel Napier, 3rd Bt.173
 Henry Trenchard161
 Awnsham Churchill149
 George Richards88

Main Article

There was no controlling interest at Dorchester. The Members were usually drawn from a number of local families with property and influence in the borough. Of these the two most prominent on the Tory side were the Napiers of Middlemarsh and Puncknowle, and the Goulds, who had started out in Dorchester itself, where one branch headed by James Gould remained, while the senior branch was seated nearby at Upway. They were supported by the leaders of the Dorset Tories, the two county Members, Thomas Freke I, who had been high sheriff of Dorchester since 1684, and Thomas Strangways I. The Whig cause was maintained by the Bonds, who owned property in Dorchester where they had once been in trade, although they were now seated at Creech Grange, and the Trenchards, one of the leading families in the county, with occasional support from the earls of Shaftesbury.1

In 1690 James Gould was returned unopposed, while the second seat was contested between Thomas Trenchard of Wolveton, the sitting Member, and Sir Robert Napier, 1st Bt. The mayor returned Napier, but Trenchard petitioned on 24 Mar. A number of the inhabitants also petitioned on 3 Apr., claiming that the right of election lay in inhabitants paying scot and lot, but that in some recent elections the mayor, town clerk and some of the aldermen had admitted unqualified people to vote

purely to elect such persons, as by the wills and pleasures of the mayor, town clerk and aldermen are set up: so that of late by such arbitrary methods, there has not been two elections, one after the other, chosen by one and the same method; but contrary to each other, as hath served the purposes of the said mayor, town clerk and aldermen.

Both petitions were referred to the committee of elections, but no decision emerged during this session. On 6 Oct. Trenchard renewed his petition and the case was examined by the elections committee the following month. According to Sir John Trenchard*, writing on 27 Nov., one witness had ‘proved the custom of choosing by inhabitants paying scot and lot, and that it was so agreed by the mayor and bench at the election to the Convention’. On this franchise 24 of Napier’s voters would have been disqualified, increasing Trenchard’s majority to 47. Counsel for Napier, having failed to disqualify some of Trenchard’s supporters, fell back on the question of his minority, producing a christening certificate as proof. After an hour’s debate the committee voted that Trenchard had the majority of votes, but that the matter of his age-qualification should be left to the determination of the House. According to Sir John Trenchard,

Sir Robert had a strong party and I really believe if the question had been put upon the sitting Member they would have voted him duly elected, notwithstanding their first vote . . . The ancient Parliament men are generally of opinion that the exception of minority is frivolous and that my nephew ought to sit. Sir Edward Seymour [4th Bt.*] espouses his cause very zealously and will do him good service in the House.

The report was presented on 16 Dec. when the House (without any explicit declaration on the question of age) divided in favour of Trenchard. For a time Trenchard considered taking the mayor to court, but on his uncle’s advice desisted.2

In 1693 the Napiers were further strengthened when Sir Robert was made recorder of Dorchester, although in the following election he stood down in favour of his kinsman, Nathaniel Napier. James Gould had also retired, leaving the second seat to be taken by the Whig, Nathaniel Bond, thus preserving the political balance. In 1698, however, the Napiers took both seats. The first 1701 election was contested. Nathaniel Napier stood with his father for the Tories and the Whigs put up Thomas Trenchard. The fourth candidate was probably either Roger Coker of Ashe or Robert Coker of Mapowder. In early January 1701 a correspondent of Robert Harley* predicted that Dorchester would return ‘Colonel Trenchard and Mr Napier, if Sir Nathaniel don’t use his authority with his son and command him not to stand, but resign to him, and then neither of them will have it’. The combined candidacy of the Napiers only proved strong enough to carry one of the seats: Nathaniel Napier shared the representation with Trenchard. The same candidates held the seats in the second 1701 election, but on this occasion Trenchard was also returned for the county and naturally opted for the more prestigious seat. Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley*) therefore urged his friend, Thomas Freke II*, a kinsman of the county Member, to stand for the Whigs at the ensuing by-election. Freke agreed to this request and went so far as to despatch an agent and begin a canvass. It is not clear whether he actually went to a poll, but if he did, he was defeated by Sir Nathaniel Napier.3

The Whig interest had been strengthened in December 1701 by the appointment of the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) as high steward of Dorchester on the death of Thomas Freke I, but this was not sufficient to prevent the return of the Tory Napiers, father and son, in 1702. Moreover, Thomas Trenchard died the following year, leaving an only daughter, and although the Trenchards were a numerous family, the ending of the senior branch, with its long connexions with Dorchester, weakened their interest and they took no part in the next three elections. In 1705 Nathaniel Napier put up as usual, but his father withdrew. The other candidates were Sir John Darnel, a lawyer who had been chosen recorder on the death of Sir Robert Napier in 1701, and Awnsham Churchill, a native of Dorchester and now a prosperous London bookseller, who had bought the estate of Henbury the previous year. Churchill, a Whig, wrote to Lord Shaftesbury on 1 Feb. 1705:

I am infinitely obliged that your lordship will approve of my intention to appear at Dorchester. I have had long experience of your good opinion of and goodness towards me. It was against my own judgment and inclination, especially at this time to appear and it had been better on all accounts that some of the gentlemen about Dorchester would have been persuaded . . . I hope I shall in a little time have the honour of satisfying your lordship that I intended the service of my country and county in what I have done.

Churchill, with Newcastle’s support, was returned with Napier, thus restoring the political balance. Two months later Defoe wrote to Harley, describing Dorchester as ‘a good for nothing town; one Member is Churchill, the bookseller, the other chosen by the interest of Colonel Strangways [Thomas I]. People here very moderate.’ Whig fortunes further improved when Denis Bond, son of the 1695 Member, replaced Darnel as recorder. At the 1708 election Churchill was returned with his kinsman, John Churchill. On the latter’s death the following year, Bond succeeded to the seat.4

In 1710 there was a complete reversal of fortunes here as elsewhere. A correspondent wrote to Newcastle on 4 Oct.:

The elections for this town come on upon Tuesday next. The candidates under the present assurance of this are Sir Nathaniel Napier [3rd Bt.] and one Mr [Benjamin] Gifford, a young gentleman more fit to continue some time longer under the erudition of a tutor, than to give laws to his country. Those of the other party your grace well knows, Mr Bond in the general opinion well suited and by the same opinion, Mr Churchill will do the contrary, so the election before it comes on seems to determine itself in Sir Nathaniel and Mr Bond.

This forecast proved over-optimistic. The two Tories were successful and the party’s strength was further increased in 1711 when Newcastle was replaced as high steward by Thomas Strangways II. Napier was again successful in 1713, this time with Henry Trenchard, the only Tory member of a Whig family, defeating Churchill and George Richards, a Spanish merchant who owned the estate of Long Brady in Dorset and had served as sheriff in 1710.5

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 361, 367–8, 370, 375.
  • 2. Dorset RO, Lane (Trenchard) mss D60/F56, Sir John to Henry Trenchard, 27 Nov. 1690, 27 Jan. 1691.
  • 3. HMC Portland, iv. 11; PRO 30/24/20/95.
  • 4. PRO 30/24/20/218; Hutchins, 361, 366, 412; C. H. Mayo, Dorchester Recs. 443; HMC Portland, 270.
  • 5. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Holles) mss, P. Waller to Newcastle, 4 Oct. 1710; Mayo, 443; Hutchins, 18.