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:

3,010 in 17051


7 Mar. 1690SIR CHARLES GERARD, Bt.  
 Sir John Maynard  
 Nicholas Raynton  
14 Nov. 1695EDWARD RUSSELL964 
 Sir Charles Gerard, Bt.658 
 Ralph Hawtrey6122 
8 Jan. 1696SIR JOHN BUCKNALL vice Russell, chose to serve for Cambridgeshire  
 Warwick Lake  
4 Aug. 1698WARWICK LAKE  
 Hugh Smithson  
 Sir John Bucknall  
16 Jan. 1701HUGH SMITHSON  
 Sir John Wolstenholme, Bt.  
 Sir John Bucknall  
3 Dec. 1701WARWICK LAKE902 
 Nicholas Wolstenholme862 
 Hugh Smithson848 
 Scorie Barker214 
 Sir John Bucknall2123 
30 July 1702WARWICK LAKE1175 
 Nicholas Wolstenholme1127 
 John Austen11144 
28 May 1705SCORIE BARKER1657 
 Warwick Lake1349 
 Hugh Smithson13365 
3 Mar. 1709JOHN AUSTEN vice Wolstenholme, deceased  
12 Oct. 1710HON. JAMES BERTIE19161920
 Scorie Barker13131316
 John Austen1239612347
10 Sept. 1713HON. JAMES BERTIE  

Main Article

Although Middlesex was described by Defoe as ‘a county made rich, pleasant and popular by the neighbourhood of London’, its politics were not dominated by the influence of the capital. The ever-spreading metropolitan suburbs had already swallowed up many villages in the east of the shire, but nearly all the successful candidates could boast a substantial rural interest. Moreover, even though the shrievalty was determined by the City liverymen, the county quarter sessions at Hicks Hall remained a key political platform, and retained an independent voice. Such was the prestige of the seat that successive ministries took great pains to influence the result, and often remodelled the commission of the peace, the composition of which always reflected the genteel character of Middlesex society. Further testimony to the general prestige of the county freeholders was paid by electoral commentators, who frequently alluded to the vital role of the clerical and legal professions. The rising number of votes cast at the polls highlighted the competitiveness of the local parties, the active electorate probably doubling in the course of the period.8

The Middlesex election of 1690 was dominated by the question of religion. Local clergy under the direction of Bishop Compton of London vigorously supported the sitting Tory Members, Ralph Hawtrey and Sir Charles Gerard, 3rd Bt., both of whom were reckoned to be ‘of great substance and of good interest in the country’. Such activity was galvanized by the rival candidacy of the commissioner of the great seal Sir John Maynard*, who was perceived as a champion of the Presbyterian cause. Beyond his eminence, Maynard could boast a proprietorial interest at Gunnersbury to bolster the Whig campaign, as could his running-mate Nicholas Raynton† at Enfield, who had tasted success as an Exclusionist candidate at the Middlesex election of 1681. Prior to the election a Tory pamphleteer ventured into print to win over ‘the honest, plain country freeholders that never have minded the politics’, warning them not to trust the enemies of the Church of England, who were condemned for accepting office under an absolute and papist monarch. Significantly, the handbill did not endeavour to justify the sitting Members’ prior opposition to the offer of the crown to William and Mary, publicized by a recent ‘scandalous paper’, and instead extolled their virtues as ‘true Protestants, men of estates, abilities; free from all offices and employments’. The election itself proved a Tory triumph, and in a ‘short poll’ it was said that ‘not above four persons’ voted for Maynard. The industry of local Churchmen had played a key part in this victory, but ‘a detachment of lawyers’ was also credited with dealing a decisive blow to Whig hopes.9

The following year the Middlesex quarter sessions achieved national prominence by establishing the first of the societies for the reformation of manners. The crusade against moral corruption was to animate the bench for the rest of the reign, but it does not appear to have become a party issue, gaining support from both Whig and Tory justices. However, political differences still plagued the commission, for shortly after the appointment of the Whig Earl of Bedford (William Russell†) as lord lieutenant in January 1692, a dispute arose over his nomination of a new clerk of the peace to replace Simon Harcourt II*. Even though Bedford had the support of such ‘Court’ justices as Sir Rowland Gwynne* and Hon. Thomas Wharton*, in April the bench divided 36 to 21 in favour of Harcourt, forcing the Earl to obtain a quo warranto to remove him. During that spring another controversy emerged when Bedford insisted on the removal of 16 justices of the peace ‘not proper to be continued’, most notably the Tory City leader Sir James Smyth. This move met with the opposition of Bishop Compton, who solicited the Queen in an effort to prevent the purge, and his overtures succeeded in keeping several justices in office, including Smith. However, the commission remained volatile, with extensive revisions occurring in July and December 1693. Moreover, in the summer of that year Harcourt managed to regain the clerkship, and subsequently survived Bedford’s attempt to secure his ouster by recourse to the House of Lords.10

The Middlesex quarter sessions appeared unanimous in January 1695 when sending its condolences to the King on the death of Queen Mary, but the general election later that year revealed the persistence of local divisions. The Tories put up the sitting Members, hoping that they would gain a third consecutive success. The campaign fought by their rivals was far less predictable, and suffered from internal disputes over the selection of candidates. The direct intervention of Junto ministers highlighted the importance attached to the contest, and their initial choice fell on the Marquess of Tavistock, son of the Whig martyr Lord (Hon.) William Russell†, and the grandson of Bedford (who had recently been elevated to a dukedom). It is clear that Whig managers wished to capitalize on the reputation of Tavistock’s father, since the Duke of Shrewsbury even sought permission from his mother to set the young peer up as ‘Lord Russell’ on election day, ‘which would bring 10,000 more on his side, if there be so many freeholders in the county’. The lord lieutenant was eagerly canvassed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Montagu* to allow the 15-year-old marquess to stand alongside established county figure Sir John Wolstenholme, 3rd Bt., the Whig grandee stressing that ‘’tis of great concern, and very many that desire to promote your family, do much wish your grace did approve of this’. However, the Russell family harboured doubts over Tavistock’s candidacy, and even ministers thought it wise to sound out the youngster’s prospects in the west of the county, where rivals Hawtrey and Gerard resided. Significantly, the legal interest was again seen as an important consideration, and Lord Keeper Sir John Somers* undertook to ‘take care of the lawyers, tho’ he could not answer for ’em all after his modest way of speaking’. A further complication for the ministerial party was the stubborn insistence of the Whig Craven Peyton* to put up, particularly as he boasted a guarded promise of support from Bedford.11

On 11 Oct. the Whig electoral dilemma was played out before the justices and other gentlemen of the shire, who gathered at Hicks Hall for the county sessions. After the two Tories declared their readiness to stand, Tavistock and Wolstenholme were put forward, the latter asserting that he would only seek election if Tavistock was his running mate. Peyton then revealed his own parliamentary ambitions, claiming to enjoy the ‘Duke of Bedford’s interest’. There were understandable fears in Whig ranks that the party would be divided, but Thomas Owen*, for one, was confident that the young peer ‘will swallow up Mr Peyton’s interest’. Great pressure was exerted on Peyton to withdraw, and it appears to have had its intended effect for he did not put up on election day. A more surprising casualty of Whig electioneering was Tavistock, whose withdrawal probably came at his family’s request. As a replacement the Whigs selected another Russell, Admiral Edward*, a Junto heavyweight, who, despite having been absent at sea, had already secured a seat at both Cambridgeshire and Plymouth. On 4 Nov., only ten days before the election, Russell had yet to return to England, a situation which prompted anxious speculation from Somers. Fortunately for the Middlesex Whigs, he came ashore in time, but failed to appear at Hampstead on 14 Nov. for the poll, ‘being somewhat indisposed’. The Whigs still achieved a comfortable victory without him, although only after ‘much bickering’ between the rival parties.12

The expediency of Russell’s candidacy soon became apparent when he opted to sit for Cambridgeshire. The ensuing by-election developed into a straight fight between the Tory Warwick Lake and the Whig Sir John Bucknall. The contest took place at Hampstead on 8 Jan. 1696, attended by over 1,200 freeholders, and was a very close affair, with Bucknall emerging the victor by a mere seven votes. Despite the narrow margin of defeat, Lake did not petition the House, the minds of local Tories perhaps preoccupied with the feverish activity which followed the discovery of the Assassination Plot. The Middlesex lieutenancy were the first to respond, gathering in late February at Bedford’s home to sign ‘a very loyal Association’. The quarter sessions were even more zealous, on 17 Mar. ordering the clerk of the peace to issue 500 parchment skins, on which every house-keeper and lodger was to assign their loyalty. Such thoroughness was further demonstrated when the rolls were presented to the King on 29 Apr., for 37,389 inhabitants had signed them in Westminster alone.13

During the 1695 Parliament the quarter sessions continued to publicize its political anxieties, most notably in May 1697 when the grand jury denounced as scandalous religious works by John Locke, Francis Atterbury and John Toland. Not surprisingly, the Middlesex election of 1698 was strongly influenced by party divisions, as the outgoing Whig Members were opposed by Lake and Hugh Smithson, an influential lawyer from Tottenham. Only two days before the poll, Secretary of State James Vernon I* voiced concern that Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt.*, a bitter opponent of the Court at the recent Westminster contest, had offered to aid the Lake interest, promising to ‘come to his [Lake’s] election with 400 freeholders, tho’ he never saw him in his life’. Lake was also said to have received warm support from Bishop Compton, who was ‘a great stickler’ for his cause. On election day such allies helped secure a place for Lake, but his running mate was unable to dislodge Wolstenholme. This result does not appear to have satisfied Court supporters, since in July 1699 Colt was removed from the Middlesex commission, and not reinstated for over two years.14

In the run-up to the general election of January 1701 the keenness of party rivalry was highlighted by advertisements in the London press to direct Middlesex freeholders to the poll at Brentford. Wolstenholme, recommended by ‘a very numerous company of persons of note and other considerable freeholders’, gave precise details of his progress from his Holborn home to the election site, and this practice was copied by other candidates in subsequent years. Wolstenholme also had recourse to the newspapers to scotch reports that he was not standing, a tactic used by party agents at earlier contests. Although one report suggested that Tory City leader (Sir) Charles Duncombe* might put himself forward, the election resolved itself into a rematch of the 1698 struggle, and on this occasion the Tories managed to take both seats.15

Whig spirits had revived by the end of the year, judging by an address from the Middlesex grand jury in October, which echoed widespread condemnation of Louis XIV’s recognition of the Pretender as King. However, while the Tories could rely on their sitting Members to contest the election of December 1701, the Whig campaign again appeared unsettled, for no fewer than four of their party put up. Their most successful candidate of late, Wolstenholme, declined to stand, and was replaced by his eldest son Nicholas, aged 25. Wolstenholme jnr. joined forces with the equally youthful John Austen, whose family wielded influence in the north of the county. The two other Whigs to be put forward, Bucknall, and Chiswick gentleman Scorie Barker, both stood singly, and the multiplicity of Whig nominees encouraged Tory speculation about their electoral intentions. For instance, Barker publicly refuted a rumour that he ‘stands only to make an interest for some other person and intends to resign it accordingly’. The Whigs were not averse to spreading such stories about their Tory adversaries, ensuring a succession of press advertisements in the weeks running up to the contest.16

Such intensive electioneering helped produce a turnout of over 2,000 freeholders, thought to be a ‘much greater number than ever appeared at an election for Middlesex’. The appearance of six candidates predictably produced an asymmetrical poll, but the real battle lay between the sitting Members and the young Whig candidates. The latter were ridiculed by a mob carrying ‘rods and cradles in contempt of them’, but while Lake topped the poll, Austen managed to rob the Tories of one seat. Austen may have been helped by Whig tactical voting, for on the eve of the contest it was reported that the weaker of the two youngsters might transfer their votes to Bucknall ‘if necessary’. Whether the same favour was extended by Bucknall or Barker to their fellow Whigs is unclear, but a more certain aid to the party’s cause was ‘the King’s helping hand’, perceived by one observer to have acted against the Tory interest throughout London and Middlesex.17

Only seven months later the Tories were given the opportunity to unseat Austen at the election called on the accession of Queen Anne. Eager to seize the advantage, both parties presented addresses to the new monarch. In mid-April John Austen headed a delegation of gentlemen to protest their loyalty to Anne, and to commend her commitment to the ‘liberty and balance of Europe’. By way of response, in early May Lake appeared at court accompanied by a group of gentlemen and the bishop of London to pledge their support, expressing hope that divine help would aid ‘your royal endeavours for the welfare of England in particular, and of all Europe in general’. The ensuing parliamentary contest was less complex than its predecessor, as Whigs Austen and Nicholas Wolstenholme took on Smithson and Lake, the latter duo fighting their fourth successive election together. Pre-election forecasts suggested that the Tories would win, their campaign once again advanced by the active support of the local clergy. However, the poll proved very close, with only 61 votes separating first and last place. The return of Lake and Smithson was duly hailed as a victory for ‘the Church side’, and the following month the Tories received further encouragement when the Middlesex commission was remodelled in their favour. No fewer than 57 justices, a quarter of the commission, were removed, and 44 replacements brought in.18

Despite Tory success at the outset of the reign, by the time of the Middlesex contest of 1705 the political tables had turned, as the county once again followed national political trends. Signs of growing Whig confidence had come in September 1704, when the county sessions presented an address to the Queen in honour of the victory at Blenheim, ignoring the exploits of Sir George Rooke*, and expressing hope that the liberties of Europe would be secured. At the ensuing general election the Tories predictably put forward the successful partnership of Lake and Smithson, who faced a stern challenge from a Whig platform bolstered by the return of Wolstenholme. Significantly, the Whig candidates did not receive the support of the current lord lieutenant, the 2nd Duke of Bedford (the erstwhile Marquess of Tavistock), who, despite having supported the address of 1704, ordered his agents ‘not to stir on either side’. He even gave assurances of support to the Tory Lord Gower (Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*), but refrained from openly opposing Wolstenholme for fear of a backlash in the Bedfordshire contest, which remained his priority. In contrast to the recalcitrance of the lord lieutenant, Whig managers were most thorough in their preparations, providing barges for freeholders to be conveyed down the Thames to Brentford on election day.19

Recent controversy over the Tack was a key influence on the poll, where the Tories were also decried as Jacobites and supporters of French absolutism. In response, ‘the Tacking party’ chanted anti-Presbyterian slogans, and it was even reported that a Tory cleric had pulled down a gentleman from his horse. Although suffering such opprobrium, the sitting Members managed to put up a strong fight, falling some 300 votes short of Wolstenholme and running-mate Scorie Barker. Tory observers blamed defeat on a ‘multiplication of freeholders’, and identified ‘several hundreds’ of Quakers as voting in the Whig interest. For certain, the election saw the highest turnout to date, and a printed poll, no doubt published at Tory expense, pointed out that ‘near 700 new voters polled for W[olstenholme] and B[arker]’. The victors also went into print to justify their return, and both published polls revealed that very few electors had split their votes, some 93 per cent of the electorate sticking to party positions. Despite such partisanship, at the end of the contest the freeholders presented the victorious Whig candidates with an instruction, imploring them to back the Queen’s call to end ‘the fatal strife of parties, which has so often threatened this nation with ruin’. Its more specific demands echoed such moderation, and although expressing greatest support for the Church, the paper also betrayed strong Whiggish sentiments in favour of toleration, the war and the succession.20

During the ensuing Parliament the sitting Members sought to maintain the Whig advantage, presenting an address at court in July 1706 on behalf of the county sessions and lieutenancy, which offered congratulations on allied successes, particularly in Spain. Such was the strength of the party at the time of the 1708 election that Barker and Wolstenholme enjoyed an unopposed return. Moreover, following Wolstenholme’s death in February 1709, even a Tory reporter admitted that Austen, the touted Whig replacement, ‘is like to have no opposition from High Church’. This prediction proved accurate, since Austen faced no competition. The following summer the Middlesex justices showed their support for ministerial policy by requesting the Queen to authorize a collection for the poor Palatines throughout the county. Moreover, in September the quarter sessions drew up a congratulatory address to Anne in recognition of the victory at Malplaquet.21

Only in 1710 would signs of a Tory revival appear, when the High Church interest was boosted by the triumphant outcome of the trial of Dr Sacheverell. As early as April of that year it was reported that at the next election the Tories would put up Smithson and the Hon. James Bertie, whose seat at Stanwell gave him a strong local interest. However, Whig leaders demonstrated their dominance of the quarter sessions by presenting an address which expressed abhorrence of rioters who disturbed the peace ‘under a pretence of passive obedience and non-resistance’. Electoral speculation continued throughout the summer, with the Tories keen to suppress a rumour in mid-August that the Hon. Robert Bertie*, James’s recently deceased brother, had intended to stand for the county. Later that month there were reports that the Middlesex lieutenancy might be altered to the benefit of the Tories, as their allies sought to take full advantage of recent ministerial changes. The crucial issue at the election remained that of religion, a Tory handbill urging supporters:

          Join, Churchmen, join, no longer separate,
          Lest you repent it when it is too late,
          Low Church is no Church.

The election itself was a ‘strenuously disputed’ affair, from which the Tories emerged comfortable winners. It was reported that a ‘numerous and glorious appearance of gentlemen richly accoutred with clergymen and other freeholders’ came in support of Bertie and Smithson, and the Whigs, who had ‘no show of gentlemen on horseback’, proved no match for them.22

In September 1711 the Tory position was further strengthened when the Duke of Buckingham was appointed lord lieutenant, as a replacement for the late Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), who had held the office since the death of Bedford earlier in the year. The following summer Buckingham twice introduced county delegations at court with addresses of thanks for the Queen’s communication of peace terms. Both sought to condemn opponents of the negotiations, with the Middlesex grand inquest at Westminster eager for the Queen to be protected from ‘foreign violence and home-bred faction’. Soon afterwards the commission of the peace issued an address of a similar refrain. Another chorus of approval greeted news of the signing of the peace in April 1713, the quarter sessions exulting in the end to ‘a tedious, expensive and bloody war’. In response, the Queen directed them to suppress ‘licentious and seditious books that abound so much at this time to the scandal of all religion and government’, a task which they no doubt relished. The lieutenancy also added their congratulations on ‘a just and honourable peace’, and aimed another swipe at the ‘factious desires’ of their adversaries. Given these hearty endorsements of ministerial policy, it was of little surprise that the Whigs did not contest the September election, thus allowing the sitting Members to be ‘unanimously’ re-elected.23

The Hanoverian succession did not undermine the position of the Middlesex Tories. Whig influence secured the removal of Buckingham as lord lieutenant, and his successor, the recently created Earl of Clare, immediately sought to regulate the commission of the peace. However, the proposed purge was not executed in time to affect the Middlesex election of 1715, when the outgoing Tory Members were returned with a comfortable majority. Thereafter the shire remained a fertile ground for Tory and opposition candidates.24

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. Mdx. Polls of 1705 (IHR).
  • 2. Post Man, 14–16 Nov. 1695.
  • 3. Ibid. 13–16 Dec. 1701.
  • 4. Post Boy, 4–6 Aug. 1702.
  • 5. Mdx. Polls of 1705.
  • 6. Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710.
  • 7. Add. 70421, newsletter 14 Oct. 1710.
  • 8. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, i. 393.
  • 9. HMC Portland, ii. 162; iii. 444–5; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 119; Good Advice to Freeholders of Mdx. [1690]; Portledge Pprs. 67; Add. 32500, f. 100.
  • 10. Past and Present no. 128, 53, 55, 63–64; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 107–8; 1693, p. 427; Greater London RO, Acc. 249/863; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 110, 114; Cal. Mdx. Sessions Bks. 1689–1709, p. 100; LJ, xv. 297, 320–1.
  • 11. Cal. Mdx. Sessions Bks. 1689–1709, p. 125; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Sir James Forbes to Rachel, Lady Russell, 3 Oct. 1695, Hon. Edward Russell* to same, 10, 12 Oct. 1695, Lady Russell to [–], 6 Oct., 10 Oct. 1695, Montagu to Bedford, 8 Oct. 1695; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 21 Sept. 1695.
  • 12. Devonshire mss, Thomas Owen to Lady Russell, 15 Oct. 1695; Shrewsbury Corresp. 401; Post Man, 14–16 Nov. 1695; Portledge Pprs. 215–16.
  • 13. Post Boy, Flying Post, 7–9 Jan. 1696; Post Man, 27–29 Feb., 17–19 Mar., 28–30 Apr. 1696.
  • 14. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 226; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 142–3; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/65, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 4 Aug. 1698; Glassey, 130–1, 149.
  • 15. Post Man, 9–11 Jan. 1701; Flying Post, 2–4 Jan. 1701; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 163.
  • 16. Cal. Mdx. Sessions Bks. 1689–1709, p. 232; London Post, 12–14 Nov. 1701; Post Man, 11–13 Nov. 1701; Post Boy, 18–20, 22–25 Nov. 1701.
  • 17. Bodl. Ballard 11, f. 168; Add. 70020, f. 120; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 25 Nov. 1701.
  • 18. London Gazette, 16–20 Apr., 4–7 May 1702; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, folder 1, bdle. 5, newsletter 30 July 1702; folder 2, bdle. 1, newsletter 1 Aug. 1702; Post Boy, 20–22 Aug. 1702.
  • 19. London Gazette, 4–7 Sept. 1704; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D868/7/2a, Bedford to Gower, 11 May 1705; Post Man, 24–26 May 1705.
  • 20. Add. 17677 AAA, ff. 310–11; Observator, 6–9 June 1705; Dyer’s Letters [1705], 3; Strathmore mss, box 72, bdle. 4, newsletter 31 May 1705; Mdx. Polls of 1705; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 17–19.
  • 21. London Gazette, 8–11 July 1706; Add. 70420, newsletter 15 Feb. 1709; 17677 DDD, f. 205; Luttrell, vi. 414; Cal. Mdx. Sessions Bks. 1689–1709, p. 348.
  • 22. BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 54, Ralph Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 3 Apr. 1710; Add. ch. 76111; Post Boy, 12–15 Aug. 1710; Add. 70421, newsletters 26 Aug., 14 Oct. 1710; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 443.
  • 23. Add. 17677 EEE, f. 296; London Gazette, 26–28 June, 22–24 July 1712; Post Boy, 17–19 June 1712, 21–23, 28–30 Apr., 10–12 Sept. 1713.
  • 24. Glassey, 248.