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

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

2,314 in Jan. 1727


27 Feb. 1690Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Freke
11 Nov. 1695Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Freke
17 Aug. 1698Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Freke
8 Jan. 1701Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Freke
10 Dec. 1701Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Trenchard
22 July 1702Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Chafin
30 May 1705Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Chafin
26 May 1708Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Chafin
11 Oct. 1710Thomas Strangways I
 Thomas Chafin
25 Apr. 1711Richard Bingham vice Chafin, deceased
16 Sept. 1713Thomas Strangways II
 George Chafin

Main Article

There was not a single contest in Dorset in this period. As previously, the Tories were dominant. Since 1679 the two seats had been held in partnership by Thomas Strangways I and Thomas Freke I. They enjoyed the support of the Tory lord lieutenant, the 3rd Earl of Bristol (John Digby†). The Whig interest in the county, headed by the earls of Shaftesbury, made little impact until after 1698, the only notable event in that election being a delay caused by the inadvertent despatch of the Dorset writs to Cornwall and vice versa. In 1699, however, Lord Ashley (Anthony*), an active Country Whig, succeeded as 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, and in the same year a Whig lord lieutenant, the 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), was appointed, following Lord Bristol’s death. Unfortunately, Shaftesbury and Bolton were not on the best of terms and the Whig interest remained divided. No challenge was offered to the Tories at the first 1701 election, not least because Freke enjoyed the tacit support of Shaftesbury. Although Freke was a Tory, he had previously been a supporter of Shaftesbury’s grandfather, the 1st Earl (Anthony Ashley Cooper†), and had remained on friendly terms with the family despite political differences. Indeed, the 3rd Earl was keen to retain the goodwill of Freke, whose interest supported his brother, Hon. Maurice Ashley*, at Weymouth. Freke’s death shortly before the second 1701 election, however, created an opportunity for the Whigs. At the election Strangways managed to retain his seat, but the other fell to Thomas Trenchard, the head of an established Whig family in Dorset and the nephew of General Thomas Erle*, another of the county’s leading Whigs. Shaftesbury, who had originally suggested that Trenchard should stand, afterwards wrote triumphantly that ‘we have gained . . . considerably, my friend Mr Trenchard being in the room of a constant ill vote for the county’.1

The Whigs sought to maintain their improved position in 1702, but failed to persuade Strangways and his supporters to agree to an accommodation with Trenchard. Erle therefore came forward as a second Whig candidate, explaining to his Tory friend, Francis Gwyn*, on 11 Apr. that because the Tories had ‘resolved to set up another with Colonel Strangways in opposition to my nephew Trenchard (which two they might have had without any division in the county) I could not refuse upon a family account to join with him in order to support his election’. Erle also confessed that ‘I was the easier prevailed with, because of the inclinations some of my countrymen showed to choose me the last election, without my knowledge when I was absent’. Erle’s candidacy was designed principally as a bargaining counter for further negotiations with the Tories. Indeed, Erle was currently on military service in Ireland and knew that he would not be able to canvass in person. Gwyn helped to arrange another meeting between local Whigs and Tories, meanwhile making himself useful to Erle by ensuring the prompt renewal of his commission as governor of Portsmouth. Indeed, Erle’s willingness to withdraw may well have been prompted by a desire not to injure his career by offending the Court. The meeting between the Dorset Whigs and the two Tory candidates, Strangways and Thomas Chafin II, took place on 23 May. Shortly afterwards one of Erle’s supporters gave the following report of its outcome:

The major-general upon the request of some of his friends writ to Colonel [Thomas] Strangways and the rest of that party, that if the colonel would join with his nephew Trenchard (provided they were unanimously chosen) he would relinquish to make peace on all sides. This was offered Saturday last at Dorchester and utterly refused. They will not join . . . but are resolved to stand on their own bottom. The major-general and his friends are extremely troubled at this, to find so much dishonour put upon him who has done so much for the service of his country.

Erle’s son-in-law, Sir Edward Ernle, 3rd Bt.*, thought that Strangways had rejected the proposal ‘with scorn’ and that the Whigs were therefore convinced that

if you don’t speedily let Strangways know that you resent the usage and will stand in opposition to him and communicate your resolution to some of your friends, you will totally lose your interest in that county: one side will laugh at you for slighting your interest and the other being so disobliged by you will be forced to set up somebody else in conjunction with Trenchard who has been indefatigable since he has been in the country having visited almost every freeholder . . . He does not despair of carrying of it let matters go as they will, but since your letter some of his friends act but coldly for you; but if they once know that you will stand by them they will be as vigorous as ever.

Trenchard suggested to Shaftesbury that a joint letter from some of the leading Dorset freeholders should be sent to Erle, emphasizing the slight which the Tories had put upon Erle’s

fair offer of giving way to them upon such honourable terms, showing him how much a more certain as well as honourable post the being at the head of the Dorsetshire gentlemen and freeholders . . . is than being the deputy to the deputy [i.e. commander-in-chief in Ireland under Lord Lieutenant Rochester (Laurence Hyde†)], whose establishment is during will and pleasure. But we did all agree that no one is so capable of being the penman as yourself . . . If your lordship please to send me the letter signed by . . . [those] you can judge proper . . . I will take care to get it signed here.

Shaftesbury replied on 31 May:

Before I received yours I knew . . . how all our overtures are slighted and how the major-general and all his friends are contemptibly treated on this affair of terms, which at the major-general’s desire we complied with. You know it is not proper for me (on the account of peerage) to have a plain hand in any concern of this kind.

He suggested instead that Trenchard should organize a collective letter, couched in moderate terms, pointing out that the Whigs had used their ‘utmost endeavours’ for Erle and has succeeded in persuading ‘a very great body of freeholders in this county that had never concerned themselves in elections before’ to endorse his candidacy. In addition to this general letter, Shaftesbury suggested that leading Whigs should write personally in stronger terms, lamenting that Erle ‘should at once betray and give up all his friends after having engaged them’. But nothing came of these initiatives: Erle did not change his mind, and Trenchard decided to withdraw rather than face the possible embarrassment of a heavy defeat. Strangways was returned in partnership with Chafin, a Tory kinsman of the Frekes.2

The Whigs made no further attempt to win either of the seats in the remainder of this period. In part this was due to Shaftesbury’s declining health, which forced him to retire from politics. The Duke of Bolton was keen for Erle to stand in 1705, and suggested that Strangways would come to terms. This proved an inaccurate prediction. After the election, which had seen Strangways and Chafin re-elected without a contest, Defoe reported to Robert Harley* that the Whigs could have taken both seats ‘beyond all possibility of miscarriage’ if Erle had stood in partnership with Thomas Freke II, a Whig kinsman of the former Member. Little credence, however, should be given to this assessment. Strangways and Chafin continued to hold both seats without difficulty until the latter’s death in 1711. Richard Bingham, a Tory from an old Dorset family, was returned at the ensuing by-election, but was replaced in 1713 by Chafin’s brother, George. At this election Strangways also stood down in favour of his son, Thomas II.3

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Biscoe-Maunsell newsletter 6 Aug. 1698; Locke, Orig. Letters, 113–15, 151, 162–3; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Div. Soc. 156.
  • 2. Churchill Coll. Camb. Erle mss 1/3, Gwyn to Erle, 11 Apr., 10 May 1702; 2/19, Erle to [Bolton], 27 [?Apr.] 1702; 2/33, William Highmore to [Elizabeth Erle], 30 May 1702; 2/20, Ernle to Erle, 1 June 1702; PRO 30/24/20/148–51.
  • 3. Erle mss 2/2, Bolton to Erle, 10 May 1705; Defoe Letters, 94.