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 resident freeholders and freemen paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:

194 in 1698, 202 in 1713

Number of voters:

about 2001


22 July 1698MORGAN RANDYLL152
 John Weston114
21 Nov. 1701DENZIL ONSLOW 
 Morgan Randyll 
3 May 1708DENZIL ONSLOW132
 Robert Wroth92
 – Peck27
 John Fawkes18
 Morgan Randyll108
 RANDYLL, vice Wroth, on petition, 3 Feb. 1711 
25 Aug. 1713SIR RICHARD ONSLOW, Bt.162
 John Walter40
12 Mar. 1714DENZIL ONSLOW, vice Onslow, chose to sit for Surrey99
 John Walter89

Main Article

This ‘well-known and considerable market-town’ was a notable electoral prize on account of its status as the county town and as the venue for the county election. In the absence of a resident interest of sufficient strength to block external interference, Guildford’s two seats remained the preserve of the neighbouring gentry of west Surrey. Pre-eminent were the Onslows of Clandon Park, who had first represented the borough at the Restoration and, on the initiative of Sir Richard Onslow†, had cultivated the interest of the corporation since that time. Their feat of securing one of the borough’s seats at every election in this period accurately reflected the pervasive influence of the family. However, the borough’s six contests and three election petitions underline the volatility of the Guildford electorate and the local strength of the Onslows’ political rivals.2

The election of 1690 established the pattern of electoral behaviour in the borough for the ensuing 15 years when Foot Onslow, who had recently come into possession of the Friary at Guildford, was returned alongside Morgan Randyll of Chilworth. The absence of a contest suggested that the two local landowners were prepared to share the seats in order to save the expense of a contest, and their political views were sufficiently sympathetic to preserve an electoral pact between them for the duration of that Parliament. In February 1695 an address of condolence from the Guildford corporation was presented at Court by the two MPs and, in expressing warm support for the war, it clearly reflected the Whiggish outlook of both Onslow and Randyll. Moreover, in August of that year the advantages which the town derived from its association with the county’s leading family also became apparent when Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., brought to the attention of Secretary of State Shrewsbury local complaints concerning the unruliness of troops garrisoned in the vicinity of Guildford. Such reciprocity between the borough and its patrons was the basis for the uncontested success of the sitting Members at the election of October 1695.3

The bitterly contested election of 1698, however, suggested that the Randyll–Onslow platform was not unassailable and that the Onslows, in particular, could not take their success at Guildford for granted. The challenge of their neighbour John Weston* of Ockham, who had represented the borough in the Convention Parliament and whose Country politics were now shared by Randyll, shook Onslow’s election managers into a blind panic. The poll book reveals that Weston managed to break Onslow’s local support and only the scheming of the returning officer, Mayor Thomas Hutches, secured Onslow’s return. However, the irregularities surrounding the election became the talk of the county, and the support which Weston gained in the wake of such maltreatment was the basis for his most unexpected victory over Sir Richard Onslow at the ensuing county election. Only a few months later one observer confided to Hon. Heneage Finch I, a former Guildford MP, that he thought Sir Richard could ‘do what he pleases’ in his old constituency, but Weston sought to prolong Onslow’s embarrassment by petitioning the House against the arbitrary behaviour of Foot Onslow’s supporters. The Commons actually upheld the return on 18 Dec. 1699, but only after lurid accounts of his electoral tactics had been brought before the House and over 100 MPs had divided against him. However, the inquiry displayed the extent of support for the Onslows within Guildford corporation, for the witnesses called in Foot Onslow’s defence included the town clerk and the recorder, the latter innocently declaring that the election ‘was managed with as much calmness and temper as a thing of that nature could be’. The scandal no doubt influenced the family’s speedy response earlier in the year to a request from the town for a bill to unite two of the town’s three parishes. This bill was guided through Parliament by one of the Onslows, almost certainly Foot, and Sir Richard displayed his own sensitivity towards local feeling by donating £200 for the maintenance of the minister in the enlarged parish.4

Having weathered the storm surrounding his return to Parliament, Foot Onslow then revealed a more lukewarm attachment to his constituents in June 1700 by surrendering his seat in favour of his excise commission. At the ensuing general election his place was filled by his uncle Denzil Onslow, a much less prominent parliamentarian but one who had already represented the county at Westminster. Sir Richard Onslow removed the danger of another challenge from Weston by campaigning alongside him in the county election, and this arrangement re-established an electoral peace at Guildford for the next two Parliaments as well. The rehabilitation of the Onslow interest was marked by Sir Richard’s election as high steward after the death of the Duke of Norfolk in April 1701, but friction between the corporation and its figurehead could still occur, most notably in 1702 when three Onslows were appointed as trustees for the local Poyle charity without the consent of the local magistrates. Sir Richard’s cultivation of his interest through the provision of entertainment and influence was sufficient to heal these temporary differences, and he undoubtedly endorsed the corporation’s wish for the borough to be ‘a city of unity within itself’, a sentiment embodied in an address of April 1702 which congratulated the Queen on her accession.5

The new reign, however, was not to herald an era of local consensus within Guildford, and the accommodation existing between Randyll and the Onslows came under increasing strain as their political differences grew. Randyll’s gradual drift from Whig to Tory was complete by the time of Anne’s accession, while Sir Richard’s elevation to the high stewardship could only have persuaded him that he was in a position of sufficient strength to challenge for both seats. Local Tories appeared to be in the ascendancy in September 1704 when a jingoistic address in recognition of both Marlborough’s and Sir George Rooke’s* victories was signed by the corporation, high steward and borough MPs, but they were unable to influence the outcome of the subsequent general election. Randyll’s defeat at the hands of Robert Wroth of Burpham was a most emphatic assertion of Onslow power, and the Clandon interest probably influenced the decision of the borough’s Tory recorder, John Fulham*, to seek a seat at Haslemere rather than in the county town. However, the 1705 election only served to initiate a series of contests as the struggle for local control was intensified under the influence of party loyalties. Another corporation address of June 1706 faithfully echoed a Whiggish commitment to the war on the Continent, but Sir Richard Onslow strove to ingratiate himself with the townsmen still further by donating street-lights to the borough.6

The election of 1708 proved to be the most fiercely contested in this period and served the Onslows another reminder of the influence of their local rivals. Denzil Onslow topped the poll, but his running-mate Wroth was unable to make any significant inroads into the local interest of Randyll, and, most crucially, lost votes to two other local candidates, John Fawkes of Guildford and a Mr Peck (possibly Henry Peck of West Clandon, who voted Tory at the county elections of 1705 and 1710). All of Fawkes’s and Peck’s supporters cast their second votes for Randyll, a sure indication of local resentment at the way in which Sir Richard had monopolized the borough’s representation at the previous election. Two years later the key contest once again lay between Randyll and Wroth, and the latter was to experience similar frustration as his initial victory was overturned, on petition by a Tory-dominated Commons after Randyll had accused the returning officers of favouring his opponents. Amid the euphoria of the High Tory success in the Sacheverell trial, there was even speculation that one of the Nicholas family of West Horsley (possibly William*) might contest the borough alongside Randyll, but his challenge did not materialize.

The Tory outlook of the corporation was maintained until at least October 1712 when it produced an address to the Queen which protested the town’s joy at the cessation of ‘so long and tedious a war’. However, the election of the following year revealed that an accommodation, although only promoted by political necessity, had again been reached between Randyll and the Onslows. The setback which Sir Richard Onslow had suffered at the hands of the county electorate in 1710 directed him to seek the sanctuary of a seat at Guildford before he contested the Surrey election, and thus he joined with Randyll to share the seats. Recent divisions at Westminster suggested that Randyll himself was much more willing to work with the Whigs, and after a series of closely fought contests, was probably glad of the opportunity to save the expense. John Walter† of Busbridge offered the only semblance of a Tory challenge to this electoral pact, but was unable to make headway against such a formidable figure as Sir Richard. Another election was held in the wake of Sir Richard’s victory at the county poll, and although rumours circulated concerning the possible candidacy of James Stanhope* the contest was to remain a local affair. Walter mounted a far more effective challenge against Denzil Onslow than he had against Sir Richard, but he fell short of victory by ten votes. An election petition did not win favour in the Commons, a failure which was shared by all those who strove to challenge the Onslows for control of the borough in the course of the 18th century.7

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. Surr. RO (Guildford), 1251/4–6.
  • 2. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 145; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 483.
  • 3. London Gazette, 4–7 Feb. 1695; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 52.
  • 4. Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. box 5, bundle 3, Sir John Banks, 1st Bt.*, to Hon. Heneage Finch I, 3 Oct. 1698; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, 28 Sept. 1699.
  • 5. Post Boy, 8–10 Apr. 1701; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 19; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, passim; London Gazette, 23–27 Apr. 1702.
  • 6. London Gazette, 14–18 Sept. 1704, 17–20 June 1706; Add. 70335, list of constituencies, 8 Feb. 1705; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, 10 Jan. 1707.
  • 7. Bath mss at Longleat House, Portland misc. pprs. bdle of letters to Robert Harley*, memo. on elections [?1710]; London Gazette, 4–7 Oct. 1712; Post Boy, 25–27 Aug. 1713; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 320.