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:

at least 1,374 in 1710


8 Mar. 1690William Cooke I 
 William Trye 
 John Delabere 
29 Nov. 1695Robert Payne 
 William Trye 
2 Aug. 1698Sir William Rich, Bt. 
 William Selwyn 
21 Jan. 1701William Selwyn 
 John Bridgeman 
2 Dec. 1701John Berkeley, Visct. Dursley 
 John Hanbury 
22 July 1702John Grobham Howe 
 William Trye 
29 Dec. 1702John Hanbury vice Howe, chose to sit for Gloucestershire 
 John Bridgeman 
25 May 1705John Hanbury 
 William Cooke II 
11 May 1708William Cooke II 
 Thomas Webb 
14 Dec. 1709Francis Wyndham vice Cooke, deceased 
 William Trye 
24 Oct. 1710Thomas Webb791
 John Blanch689
 John Selwyn639
 Francis Wyndham6291
7 Sept. 1713John Snell873
 Charles Coxe788
 John Blanch2172

Main Article

The steady expansion of Gloucester’s freeman electorate during the earlier decades of the 17th century had prevented the evolution of any controlling interest. The city’s governing body could adopt favoured candidates, and provide them with additional electoral support through ‘mass’ creations of new freemen, though this was not necessarily enough to sway the outcome of elections. From 1702 the enrolment of large blocs of new freemen in the weeks preceding each election became a regular practice, and suggests that candidates were able to take careful calculations of support among the existing freemen before putting forward new nominees for admission. This was not a difficult feat given the highly partisan atmosphere that prevailed in the city, and the 12 trading ‘companies’ would undoubtedly have played a significant part in the process. It appears that opposing factions, irrespective of whether they were backed by the Whiggish corporation, nominated townsmen to become freemen and as an incentive may have paid the requisite fees.3

Of the three candidates in 1690, William Cooke I of Highnam Court was the best known to Gloucester’s townsmen. Although a member of the local squirearchy, he was an experienced city leader. His appointment as mayor in November 1688 had played a crucial part in restoring political stability in the city after an autumn of mounting unrest, and over the next few months he presided over the gradual elimination of Jacobite sympathizers from the corporation. His central role at this time was acknowledged in his election to the Convention in January 1689. By contrast, the other two candidates in 1690 were local gentlemen who had played no part in civic affairs: William Trye, whose seat was four miles away at Hardwicke, and John Delabere of Southam, nine miles distant, who was backed by the corporation. Cooke and Trye, both Tories, were returned, but whereas Cooke’s re-election was treated as a matter of courtesy and not questioned, the corporation afterwards petitioned on Delabere’s behalf on 3 Apr. 1690, raising objections to Trye’s campaign and the way in which he, in league with one of the city sheriffs, had mobilized support among the poorer freemen ‘by great expense of money’. The petition also declared that Trye was not a freeman and had been ineligible to stand, but by the end of the session it had not been reported. Events a little later in the year show quite clearly that the corporation’s attitude had been determined more by its party leanings than concern about electoral corruption. In August, when the corporation came to consider their choice of recorder, they alighted on none other than Sir John Somers*, the solicitor-general and a key figure in the Whig party, while in the following month they took the somewhat unusual step of nominating as mayor one of the county MPs, Sir John Guise, 2nd Bt.* As with Somers, Guise’s past exploits in the cause of Whiggery had ensured him a place among the party standard-bearers, and there can be little doubt that the inclusion of both men at this point in the corporate body was intended as a clear demonstration of its political outlook.4

At the election of 1695, however, Tory support among the townsmen was still strong and once again facilitated the return of two Tory Members. Lady Anne Pye noted that initially there were four candidates, but named only one, her brother, Nathaniel Stephens of Eastington, a local squire who had been made a freeman in 1693. The others were Trye, seeking re-election, with whom the council had in 1692 made some amends by voting him thanks for his parliamentary service and admitting him a freeman; and Robert Payne, a wealthy clothier and Tory who had held the mayoral office during 1692–3. The identity of the fourth candidate is not known. Some 80 new freemen were admitted in the period prior to the election, their costs almost certainly being met by the rival candidates. At the beginning of November it was reported that the candidates’ expenditure was running high, which soon induced Stephens and the unidentified candidate to pull out, leaving Trye and Payne to be returned unopposed. Neither, however, was returned in 1698. In Trye’s case, his negative response to the Association two years previously may well have precluded his acceptability as a choice of candidate. Payne’s position on the issue is not clear, but being of advanced age he may have had non-political reasons for retiring. There appears to have been no contest and in place of the former Tory MPs were elected two Court-supporting Whigs: Sir William Rich, 2nd Bt., and Brigadier William Selwyn. Rich, a Berkshire squire, having encountered difficulty in defending his seat at Reading, now availed himself of his connexions with the city where his grandfather had been a wealthy merchant and the owner of much property. Selwyn’s seat at Matson was just two miles from Gloucester. He was re-elected in January 1701 while Rich made way for John Bridgeman of nearby Prinknash Park. Before the next election Selwyn left for Jamaica to take up an appointment as governor. His place was taken in the uncontested December election by his son-in-law, John Hanbury, a wealthy iron manufacturer in the neighbouring county of Monmouth. The other seat went to Viscount Dursley, the son and heir of the city’s Whig high steward, the 2nd Earl of Berkeley (Charles Berkeley†). Dursley’s election was virtually assured ten days beforehand when he and his father descended upon the city and were grandly entertained at the corporation’s expense.5

Shortly after the death of King William the corporation submitted a Whiggish address to Queen Anne, prominently stating their zeal to defend her against the Pretender and her other enemies at home and abroad. In the city at large, however, the political mood was moving in favour of the Tories. The initiative was seized by no less a personage than the dean of Gloucester, Dr William Jane, regius professor of divinity at Oxford, who in early May was already campaigning vigorously on behalf of the outspoken Tory, John Grobham Howe. Howe, who had lost his seat for the county in December 1701, now sought to guard against continued exclusion from Parliament by putting up for both city and county. One townsman noted at this early stage that ‘all this city at present runs with ale and stinks of piss half a mile around’ as a result of Jane’s electioneering. The dean had ‘chose to keep a kind of ambling residence with Howe’ whom he had ‘met about a mile out of town at an alehouse to introduce him with the mob into the town and conduct him to his own lodgings’. At first, even the Dissenters were enamoured of Howe on hearing that he was about to transfer his son from Oxford to Geneva ‘for better education’, but drew off when they found him heavily courted by the High Churchmen. Trye, out of Parliament since 1698, put up as a second candidate. The intensity of campaigning between May and July is indicated by the admission of no fewer than 205 new freemen, more than at any other time in the period. Howe and Trye must have faced some form of Whig opposition during the campaign, since there were reports at the eve of the election that Howe was likely to lose but had then ‘prevailed’, although the election itself was apparently uncontested. The identity of the Whig opponents has not emerged, although the possibility seems strong that Hanbury might have been one, especially in the light of his candidacy in the city by-election in December, occasioned by Howe’s choice to sit for the county which had also returned him. Standing against Hanbury was another of the city’s former MPs, John Bridgeman, though whether this was a straightforward party fight is not clear, there being no clues as to Bridgeman’s political orientation. Hanbury’s success represented an early setback after the Tory achievement of the summer. A petition from Bridgeman on 27 Jan. 1703 alleged that Hanbury had gained his majority from votes cast by non-freemen and ‘by treating, menaces and promises of rewards, and other illegal practices’, but there was no report from the elections committee. At the next election in May 1705, the Whigs took both seats. In March the ‘election revels’ were reported to have ‘begun with the usual extravagance’ although there are no subsequent indications of a Tory challenge. Hanbury secured re-election, and Trye was replaced by William Cooke II, the Whig grandson of the 1690 Member.6

Candidates for the next election were agreed at the Gloucester assizes in the summer of 1707. The Tories selected Thomas Webb, an influential member of the corporation, while the Whigs adopted Cooke and Hanbury’s brother-in-law John Selwyn†, the eldest son of the brigadier. Fierce party infighting occurred in the weeks prior to the election in May 1708, but did not result in a contest. At some stage Selwyn pulled out, having possibly been threatened with the revelation that he was still a year under age, which left Webb and Cooke to be returned unopposed. The by-election of December 1709 arose from the death of Cooke. Trye contested once more for the Tories, while Francis Wyndham of Clearwell was put forward on the Whig interest with the backing of most of the corporation. The day itself saw violent scenes, ‘fightings, breakings of windows and many disorders’. Dr Knightley Chetwood, who had succeeded Jane as dean in 1707, helped to provoke matters when, upon affidavits being made that protests and disturbances were intended at the town hall, the usual venue for polling, he allowed the sheriffs to hold the poll in the cathedral grounds at College Yard. He was later to claim that ‘matters went very quietly’, but at the time his action was read as a ploy on behalf of the Whig candidate Wyndham on whose behalf he was ‘a violent partisan’. Trye, who was defeated, petitioned on 11 Jan. 1710, claiming that the sheriffs had extracted votes for Wyndham from almsmen and others who were ineligible, but withdrew his complaint a fortnight later. The news of Dr Sacheverell’s token punishment in late March was greeted by Tory townsmen with bell-ringing and illuminations, to the annoyance of the corporation and was halted on the orders of the mayor. In April the city’s Whig governors presented the Queen with a frank address expressing surprise and indignation to hear the Church cried out to be in danger, and stressed that if such were the case, Sacheverell himself, ‘that quarter that preached up peril, seconded by tumults and rebellion’, was the fomenter. On the day the address was agreed, 10 Apr., the corporation also resolved by a majority of 15 votes to 7 to adopt Wyndham and Selwyn as its candidates at the next election. Campaigning on the Tory side was well under way in the summer. Alderman Webb informed Hon. James Brydges* in July that with the exception of ‘our scandalous corporation’ he found ‘our city wonderfully inclined to me’. He was joined by John Blanch, a wealthy Gloucester clothier, who it was thought would usefully champion the city’s wool trade. Blanch was able to assure Robert Harley* in September that ‘I have found more encouragement than I expected and am in great hopes of success’. The Tories hosted a visit by the Duke of Beaufort on 9 Oct. in which the corporation, in a calculated snub, refrained from having any part.

All the gentlemen and best of the tradesmen of that city amounting to 7 or 800 horsemen and so many foot and half score coaches in one of which was Mr Justice [Sir John] Powell†, went out to meet him, the clergy leading the van and conducted him to the house of Mr Alderman Webb where he and the gentlemen that attended his Grace were nobly entertained. The night ended with drinking loyal healths, illuminations and ringing of bells at which ’tis feared they‘ll make work for the coroner.

The meddlesome Dean Chetwood also made himself felt. Having so openly supported Wyndham at the recent by-election, he now campaigned for the Tories. Wyndham, though hoping for the dean’s support, had gone against the dean’s express wishes by supporting the impeachment of Sacheverell. Without consulting Chetwood, who was out of town, the Whig sheriffs announced on 4 Oct. that the poll in three weeks’ time would again be held in College Yard instead of at the town hall. On being alerted to this by Alderman Webb, Chetwood immediately requested the sheriffs to move the polling venue elsewhere, being only too sensitive to the fact that by countenancing the election in the College Yard he would in effect be encouraging support for the corporation-sponsored Whig candidates, as he had done during the previous December’s by-election. He had stated, somewhat elliptically, the significance of his own contribution to the Tory campaign in a letter to Under-Secretary John Ellis* on 10 Oct.: ‘you cannot think what influence this is like to have in the election, for the generality of the people, amongst whom I spend, or give more than I get, seem to have an eye for my inclinations’. As soon as Chetwood returned to Gloucester he was feted by Selwyn, Wyndham, the mayor and aldermen, who tried to persuade him to change his mind, but he

firmly refused it. They at last with insolence pleaded right and jurisdiction, upon which I ordered the gates to be shut. Some of them told me they would force their way, which I told them I would use all legal methods to prevent. However, they began their scaffolding. I warned them to desist. Their hearts failed ’em.

In the meantime the ‘opposite mob’ had mustered in the area, having ‘got notice of these insults’, and began attacking the sheriff’s workmen, who had early in the morning broken into the Yard. The dean, assisted by Webb, was forced to intervene and disperse the crowd, while a new location for the polling stage was found. The poll itself was peaceably conducted and ended in a Tory victory. Commentators were quick to point out that the corporation’s ‘principal favourite’, Wyndham, obtained fewest votes, but the numerical margin between winners and losers was not great. Even so, the magistrates had made themselves ‘odious to the better sort of men, and despicable even to the boys in the street’. Although boastful of the outcome of ‘my campaign’, Chetwood had made himself ‘the jest of the town’ for changing his political colours so swiftly and ‘even the losers could not forbear to make a little merry with it’. He was, moreover, badly rattled by the mayor’s subsequent initiative to ‘vindicate’ the corporation’s proper jurisdiction in what had become a battle of wills between corporation and Church.7

The appointment of the High Tory 2nd Duke of Beaufort as lord lieutenant of the county early in 1712 fuelled much talk of ‘a new shuffle of magistrates’, though it was hoped that the Duke ‘can be so generous as not to retain too sensible resentments of the rude affront the present magistrates put upon him when he was last in this city [1710]’. According to one local Whig, the corporation had been forced to behave with increasing forcefulness at the instigation of neighbouring gentlemen, ‘by whom all corporations are commonly rid’. In the event, however, the corporation remained substantially Whiggish, and in August, when the Duke was shortly to arrive for the assizes, the corporation frostily voted to accord him the same respect shown to former lord lieutenants and made him a freeman. Tory preparations for the election due in 1713 were already under way in the autumn of 1712. Webb’s and Blanch’s expectations of re-election were complicated, however, by the arrival on the scene of Charles Coxe, a Welsh judge and a staunch Harleyite, whose present seat at Cirencester was required by its proprietor, Lord Bathurst (Allen*), for one of his brothers. At the August assizes Coxe was recommended to the corporation by Beaufort ‘and several other gentlemen of quality’, and in early October it was publicly announced that Webb and Coxe were to stand in the forthcoming election. However, no sooner were plans hatched to ‘engage our friends’, than it was ‘industriously’ reported about town that an Exchequer action had been commenced against Webb, a land tax receiver, for the recovery of an alleged £27,000 arrears of receipts. As Coxe informed one government minister, ‘the sheriff and the greatest part of the corporation of Gloucester are zealous Whigs and matter of greater joy to them than this could not have happened to them’. But despite this apparent set-back to the Tory campaign, the question of Webb’s continued candidacy was not seriously in doubt until the last few weeks before the election. As Beaufort found in August, Lord Treasurer Oxford was keen to accommodate Coxe; the question at this stage, therefore, was whether Webb should be prevailed upon to desist, or whether he should be re-elected at Gloucester and pressure put on Bathurst to allow Coxe the retention of his seat at Cirencester. At the same time the ministry were also keen to oblige John Snell II, who had lately inherited the estate of Sir John Powell†, a former judge and a leading influence among the city’s Tories. It was soon agreed that Webb should stand down and be compensated with a lucrative place. His partner and co-MP John Blanch insisted on standing for re-election, however, even though without Webb’s support his own position was considerably weakened. The upshot was a contest between three Tories – Coxe, Snell and Blanch – in which the last duly achieved a poor third place. The Whigs abstained, as the voting figures show when compared with those in the election of 1710, while the increase in the Tory vote is to be explained by the creation of 124 new freemen during July and August. Just a few weeks after the election, reports that Snell was gravely ill prompted Blanch to renew his canvassing in anticipation of a by-election, but Snell survived and retained his seat until his death in 1726.8

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Add. 28893, ff. 398–99.
  • 2. Post Boy, 8–10 Sept. 1713.
  • 3. Gloucester Freemen (Glos. Rec. Ser. iv), xix-xx, 52–74; Atkyns, State of Glos. (1712), 50, 61; VCH Glos. iv. 115.
  • 4. VCH Glos. 115; Glos. RO, Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/7, ff. 3, 11.
  • 5. HMC Portland, iii. 573; Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/7, ff. 53, 83; B3/8, p. 43; Gloucester Freemen, p. xx.
  • 6. Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/8, pp. 52–53; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 23/137, 144, Maurice Wheeler to William Wake, 9 May 1702, 19 Mar. 1705; Gloucester Freemen, 54–59; Add. 29579, f. 400; BL, Lothian mss, William Bromley II* to Thomas Coke*, 24 July 1702.
  • 7. Bodl. Ballard 31, f. 50; Wake mss 23/179, 200, 204, 209, Wheeler to Wake, 12 June 1708, 21 Dec. 1709, 25 Mar., 30 Oct. 1710; Add. 28893, ff. 394–5, 398–9; 70211, Blanch to Harley, 18 Sept. 1710; 70421, newsletter 12 Oct. 1710; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 163–64; Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/8, pp. 309, 349; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(6), pp. 113–14.
  • 8. Wake mss 23/229, Wheeler to Wake, 23 Jan. 1711–12; Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/8, p. 455; Add. 70294, Coxe to Oxford, 8 Oct. 1712; 70319, Coxe to [–], 13 Oct. 1712; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Coxe, 8 Aug. 1713; Ballard 31, ff. 118–20.