New Woodstock


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 172 in 1702; 338 in 1713


21 Oct. 1695HON. JAMES BERTIE 
23 July 1698HON. JAMES BERTIE 
27 Nov. 1701HON. JAMES BERTIE 
18 July 1702HON. JAMES BERTIE145
 Sir Thomas Littleton, Bt.72
 Sir Thomas Wheate, Bt.231
 Sir John Walter,  Bt. 
7 Oct. 1710SIR THOMAS WHEATE,  Bt. 
27 Aug. 1713SIR THOMAS WHEATE, Bt.172
 Vincent Oakley166
 Sir Thomas Sebright, Bt.165
  Election declared void, 16 Mar. 1714 
24 Mar. 1714SIR THOMAS WHEATE, Bt. 

Main Article

In the last decades of the 17th century Woodstock was a modestly sized market town of few charms and no special significance. Without a staple manufacture to sustain its economy, the town was, in the 1680s, considered to be ‘poor’. It was, however, beginning to feel some advantage as a social resort, as the local horse racing inaugurated by the 3rd Lord Lovelace (John†) in the later 1670s grew in popularity with gentry from the surrounding areas. The construction of Blenheim Palace nearby during the two decades after 1705 brought substantial economic benefit, and with it a new affluence. It also radically changed the face of politics in the town, as the Marlboroughs swiftly took over and dominated the parliamentary seats.2

Woodstock’s corporation and its 200-strong body of freemen invariably deferred to aristocratic influence. One key medium of outside intervention was the high stewardship of the corporation, another the stewardship of the royal manor and park of Woodstock which bounded the town on its western and southern flanks. In 1690 these offices were held by the young Earl of Lichfield by virtue of his marriage to one of Charles II’s natural daughters by Barbara Villiers. Lichfield’s close rival in the borough was Lord Lovelace, whose popularity in the Whig cause had put him out of favour with the Court and had earned his dismissal as steward of Woodstock Park in 1679 in favour of Lichfield. A third interested magnate was the Tory 1st Earl of Abingdon, who had established control over one of the seats during the 1680s. The outcome of the 1690 election in Woodstock was decidedly Whiggish in contrast to the balance struck between the parties in the previous decade, though quite why Abingdon chose not to mount any defence of his Tory interest in the borough as he had done in 1689 is unclear. It is possible that the strength of Whig sentiment among the electorate had for a while overwhelmed the Bertie interest, though it is equally possible that Abingdon’s attentions were elsewhere engaged. Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., was returned for a second time alongside a Whig newcomer, Thomas Wheate of nearby Glympton Park. Though not himself an Oxfordshire man, Littleton owed his seat primarily to Sir Littleton Osbaldeston, 1st Bt.†, his kinsman. Osbaldeston’s influence in the borough derived in part from the proximity of his seat, Chadlington, a short distance to the east of the town, but chiefly from his earlier role as overseer of Lichfield’s interests in the town and as his deputy in the stewardship of the manor during the Earl’s minority. Lichfield’s acquiescence in the election of a Whig whose pretensions were unshakeably pro-Court was certainly incongruous in view of his own conduct at the Revolution. He had been one of James II’s last few retainers before the King’s departure for France in December 1688, and subsequently had refused the oaths to William III. By supporting Littleton, however, he may have hoped to make his peace with the new political order without compromising his conscience. Though it is not immediately apparent who instigated Wheate’s candidacy, Lovelace, recently restored to favour, and free once more to champion the Whig cause, was almost certainly involved in the election of both men. The fact that Lovelace had been at the forefront of the Whig interest in Woodstock and subsequently sought to consolidate his position was demonstrated by his brash attempt to ‘seize’ Woodstock Park from Lichfield in the summer. Lovelace no doubt felt that Lichfield’s persistent refusal to pledge loyalty to William III provided a justification for his own intentions of destroying the Earl’s influence. Both he and Hon. Thomas Wharton*, who also had budding electoral pretensions in the borough, had prevailed with the King to begin legal proceedings to divest Lichfield of the park. In mid-July Lovelace moved in, dismissing Lichfield’s agents and keepers, and spent two days ‘ordering affairs’ to his own liking, while at the same time, Wharton was declared ‘lieutenant’ of the park. However, Lichfield’s close royal connexions sprang immediately to his defence. On representations to the Queen from Lichfield’s brother-in-law, the 1st Duke of Grafton, Lovelace was commanded to leave the park. Lichfield’s chief man-of-business in the Woodstock area, John Cary of Wilcote, a lawyer and senior town councillor, informed an acquaintance that ‘the Duke carried it high there . . . and discharged one who had carried it ill against my lord before’. At court Lichfield was also supported by the leading minister, the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) who had the legal proceedings quashed.3

The crusade against Lichfield was renewed in 1692, this time by the town’s governors. Senior members of the corporation had grown uneasy over Lichfield’s resistance to their invitations to take the statutory oaths for the high stewardship, and late in August the common council voted to deprive him of the office. Deeply mortified, Lichfield complained to Cary: ‘your town of Woodstock are the basest and meanest of people, else they could never intend so spiteful an action as to displace a man of my quality that has been so kind to them’. When shortly afterwards the council defied his instructions and elected Lovelace, he scented treachery among those formerly ‘my friends’. It would seem most likely that Lovelace himself had been the prime mover in what was clearly a preconcerted affair. This was not, however, the end of Lichfield’s role in Woodstock’s electoral politics. Lovelace proved himself a difficult patron to please, as Sir Thomas Littleton soon found. The death in 1691 of Osbaldeston had compelled Littleton himself to curry favour with the corporation, which he did largely through the assistance of John Cary, and with the benefit of Lovelace’s goodwill. But by March 1693 Lovelace suddenly turned against him, threatening to replace him at the next election. Mystified by this change of heart, Littleton could only speculate that his support for the East India Company had annoyed Lovelace’s son-in-law, Sir Henry Johnson*, a leading member of the interloping syndicate, who ‘possibly has influenced his lordship against me’. He made the strongest professions of gratitude to the corporation via Cary for ‘their service with which I have been already so much honoured’, hoping thereby to preserve his chances at the next election should he fail to win back Lovelace’s esteem. The opportunity during the summer of effecting some ‘small piece of service’ for the corporation enabled him to demonstrate his continuing commitment to the town. In August he told Cary of his intention of waiting upon Lovelace, ‘to tender my service’, but added, ‘if any other ways are requisite to reinstate me in his good opinion, I am too old to learn them’. However, Lovelace was already terminally ill from the effects of excessive drink and died the following month. But it was not until 1705 that the vacant high stewardship was filled.4

Abingdon encountered no difficulties in reasserting his interest in the borough during the election of 1695. At first he made offers ‘off and on’ to Sir John Walter, 3rd Bt.*, of Sarsden, who held the fee farm rent of the manor of Woodstock, but then set up his younger son Hon. James Bertie and was soon reported to be ‘secure for him by consent of all the town’. As the outgoing Court Whig Members, Littleton and Wheate, both sought re-election, they faced the unseemly prospect of opposing each other over the second seat. Wheate was considered to have the better chance: Paul Foley I* informed Robert Harley* that ‘the election is about 19 townsmen and 20 foreigners’, the majority of whom were expected to vote for him. There was some early optimism among senior Tory figures, such as the Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde†), that an alliance between Wheate and the Bertie interest might have the desirable effect of unseating Littleton, an important pillar of the Court Whig interest in the Commons. None the less, Wheate was most reluctant to disoblige his party chiefs, and seems to have been finally discouraged from standing by Wharton. For his own part, Littleton had prepared the ground for a possible contest with Wheate by enlisting support from Lichfield, who as early as July had instructed Cary that ‘nothing ought to be done to seem to show any sort of regard or civility to him [Wheate], or anything he says’, while contingency arrangements had been made by Cary and other important townsmen to fight for Littleton in the event of a contest. Throughout the election period, however, Lichfield was compelled to disguise his support for Littleton and publicly declare his neutrality. This was primarily owing to the animosity then subsisting between Littleton and the Duke of Leeds (the former Lord Carmarthen) who was Lichfield’s great ally and protector at court. Cary, an effective channel of corporation support and approbation, led the way therefore in promoting a joint return of Littleton and Bertie, and Lichfield gave him instructions to distribute venison from the park as he saw fit, but not to do it in his name. Despite outward displays of ‘civility’ between Littleton on the one hand and Abingdon and his sons on the other, the re-establishment of the alliance was fraught with underlying tensions which became pronounced in the weeks immediately after the election. Much to his annoyance, Lichfield discovered that the Berties, notably Abingdon himself, his heir Lord Norreys (Montagu Venables-Bertie*) and his half-brother Hon. Charles Bertie*, were privately endeavouring to make mischief for him with Leeds by intimating that Lichfield had connived, through Cary, at Littleton’s recent selection as recorder of the borough and as MP. The newly elected James Bertie was openly contemptuous of Cary despite having received vital ‘kindness’ and assistance from him in the election. Lichfield thought it ‘very silly and mean in Abingdon to show so much spleen at Littleton privately, when I think outwardly at Woodstock he seemed well pleased that his son James should join with him’. The ‘spiteful underhand actings of these Berties’, as Lichfield described them, was clear evidence of how grudgingly they regarded their electoral arrangement with Littleton. In December Lichfield cautioned Cary to ‘continue your friendly correspondence to Sir Thomas without regarding whether they are much pleased with it or no, and you will be much in the right so to do’. Although its beginnings were inauspicious, the Littleton–Bertie partnership endured, albeit uneasily, through three more elections.5

By the next election, in 1698, Abingdon had lost his power base within the county, Wharton, now Lord Wharton, having replaced him in May the preceding year as lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum. In Woodstock Littleton was keen to capitalize on this change and stress his own personal association with the new lord lieutenant, thus to establish a superiority over the Bertie interest. He encouraged Wharton’s intention to hold the summer quarter sessions in the town. Legal advice had to be sought from the attorney-general since Oxford was the usual venue, but, as Littleton commented to Cary towards the end of April, ‘my lord, when he shall be well advised of his own power, seems resolved to exert it for the benefit of Woodstock, and you may be sure I shall use my best endeavours with him to bring anything about that may so much tend to the town’s advantage’. Littleton felt confident at this early stage that Abingdon ‘will not use his endeavours to throw me out, but rather permit the corporation to proceed to a friendly and unanimous election’. On 17 May he wrote to Cary expressing pleasure at news that ‘the town seems inclinable to choose their present representatives again, which will occasion the continuance of their goodwill and kindness to one another and avoid all the heat and divisions betwixt friends and neighbours’. With little apparent difficulty, he and Abingdon agreed to conduct the election in a spirit of concord, each realizing that too much risk was involved in a contest, and that neither side was strong enough to overpower the other.6

The partnership entered a period of renewed uncertainty following the death of Abingdon in May 1699 and the succession of his son Lord Norreys. In December Littleton, now Speaker of the House, broached with James Bertie the subject of their future electoral collaboration, reporting the outcome to Cary: ‘I acquainted him I had so far a good correspondence with my Lord his father as that we joined together to keep the corporation good friends without dividing neighbours.’ However, Bertie’s response was far from encouraging: ‘he was pleased to tell me he did not join against me, or something to that purpose, but his answer was so cold that I find I must shift for myself as I can’. It was plain by December 1700, during the run-up to the first election of 1701, that the Berties’ attitudes had become more bellicose, their mood reflecting the recent Tory gains at court. They appear at first to have partnered Bertie with Sir John Walter, a Tory whose adoption as candidate the previous Lord Abingdon had considered in 1695. But the uncontested re-election of Bertie with Littleton would suggest that the latter’s own carefully cultivated standing with the corporation and among the freemen was too strong to be disregarded. Much the same conditions prevailed in the second election of 1701 when Littleton was again able to rely solely upon the goodwill of the corporation. To Cary he wrote on 13 Nov.:

it is impossible for me to forget your long kindness and friendship. I have already acquainted Mr mayor and Mr Ryves [the town clerk] of my design to appear again and beg the continuance of my friends’ favour at Woodstock which I have desired them to communicate to the corporation.7

With the appointment of Abingdon to the lord lieutenancy in place of Wharton soon after Queen Anne’s accession, the Berties acquired fresh political confidence. Their objective in Woodstock by this stage was to oust Littleton, the one remaining Whig Member in the county, by forcing a contest. Alongside James Bertie they set up Sir William Glynne, 2nd Bt., of Ambrosden, who had represented Oxford University during the 1698 Parliament. On the Whig side, Littleton drafted in Thomas Wheate, who, since being forced to stand down in 1695, had failed to secure a seat elsewhere, but had been created a baronet in 1696. Bertie’s position being assured, the main struggle was between ‘the Littleton party’ and Abingdon on behalf of Glynne, each side seeking to maximize its support from the previously untapped reserves of non-resident freemen also entitled to vote. The Tories scoured resourcefully, their range of tactics illustrated in a letter from William Whitton, the comptroller and surveyor of the park, to Sir William Trumbull*, the former Tory secretary of state:

Mr Napier, who is my Lord Abingdon’s friend in this troublesome election, came to me last night and says that they have found [that] Mr Pawling, a mercer of Oxford formerly but now belonging to the stamp office, is a freeman of Woodstock and they are afraid the Littleton party will engage him now. Mr Napier requests the favour of you to send to this Mr Pawling to give his vote for my Lord Abingdon which he will believe he will do, having received his place from you as Napier is informed.

At polling the Tory candidates secured both seats while Littleton trailed in third place by a margin of 31 votes. Though Wheate evidently fought his campaign in tandem with Littleton, his mere 23 votes revealed the weakness of his own interest in the borough.8

The Berties’ dominion over the borough was short-lived, however. In January 1705 the Queen granted the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) the royal manor of Woodstock and hundred of Wotton, a demesne of some 22,000 acres, in recognition of the nation’s gratitude for his military prowess. The commissioning of a sumptuous baroque ducal seat within sight of the town’s south-western edge indicated the arrival of a mighty new interest in the borough which was bound to conflict with the longstanding influence of Abingdon. The corporation lost little time in honouring the great man whose residence would lie in their midst, and in March they selected Marlborough as their high steward, a distinction which they had never accorded Abingdon. The Duke moved quickly in bringing his new-found authority to bear in the locality during the spring months as the general election approached, though initial caution and a desire to compromise with Abingdon was apparent in his preference for fielding only one, and not two candidates. Since both Tory Members elected in 1702 had chosen to retire, Abingdon put forward as new candidates his cousin, Hon. Charles Bertie, and Sir John Walter, whose election at Woodstock the Berties had sought previously. Marlborough had initially given Abingdon ‘all assurances and promises’ that Bertie and Walters would not be opposed, but then intruded his own candidate, his right-hand man William Cadogan, ‘an Irish colonel’, which Abingdon, as he told a meeting of Tory magistrates, ‘conceived was no small dishonour to the gentry of this county’, and resolved to oppose with the ‘utmost vigour’. It would seem that Marlborough had wished from the start to bring in Cadogan, and was irritated to discover that the directions he had given to this effect to his surveyor-general of works at Woodstock Park, Samuel Travers*, who henceforth was to play a key part in managing the Duke’s interest in the borough, had been overlooked. Marlborough entrusted the task of securing Cadogan’s election to two close associates, Henry St John II* and James Craggs I*, and enlisted support from (Sir) Simon Harcourt I*, whom he had appointed as his deputy to preside over Woodstock’s manorial court. He had been led to believe, probably by St. John, that Cadogan’s election was secure, and that any dispute or contest would be between the two Tories, Bertie and Walter. Despite his own seigneurial position, however, he was forced to give way to Abingdon over Bertie’s election and accept a contest between his own candidate, Cadogan, and Walter, a situation which St. John regretted he himself had not been able to avoid, and which led the Duke to conclude he ‘may not be well used’ by the freemen. Marlborough was determined none the less ‘to suffer anything rather than give it up, for by standing the poll I shall know who are for and who are against me, so that I may be the better able to take my measures for another time’. In a letter to Robert Harley, Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) reflected on the irony of the electoral struggle now confronting Marlborough at his very doorstep, and the potential humiliation if he failed: ‘this battle at Woodstock vexes me very much; what good will it do us to have Lord Marlborough beat the French abroad if the French at home beat him’. But in spite of all their fears and anxieties, the Marlborough camp was successful, St. John soon afterwards informing the Duke that Cadogan had succeeded ‘by a considerable majority’. In June Godolphin contemplated removing Abingdon from his office as constable of the Tower on account of his opposition at Woodstock, but Marlborough felt some other ‘occasion’ should be found, ‘it being a reason that will not be approved of’. Abingdon, whom Marlborough knew to be ‘so idle a talker’, later blamed the Duke for making unreasonable demands over the Woodstock election which had ‘seemed to imply a desire you had to break with him’. It is doubtful, however, whether Abingdon ever in fact intended any agreement with Marlborough. The disharmony at Woodstock was made inevitable by the gulf already emerging between the ‘duumvirs’ and their Tory colleagues as a result of differences over occasional conformity. In the summer months further steps were taken in the consolidation of the new Marlborough interest. It was already apparent that the building of Blenheim was to be a Whiggish venture. Both John Vanbrugh, the architect, and Travers, the surveyor-general, were keenly disposed to the Whig cause. Appropriately, Vanbrugh had ascertained that stone could be obtained more economically from the quarries belonging to the Whig squire (Sir) Thomas Wheate at Glympton than from those of the Tory Earl of Rochester (Lawrence Hyde†) at Cornbury. In the aftermath of the election Travers engaged busily in the distribution of venison from the Duke’s parkland, ‘chiefly to such persons of condition as were serviceable in the late election, without taking any notice of those gentlemen who so violently espoused the Lord Abingdon’s cause, unless I had your Grace’s or my lady Duchess’ positive orders therein’.9

The construction of Blenheim and the management of the surrounding estate became the town’s principal preoccupation. Most of the resident freemen, being tradesmen, were thus directly or indirectly beholden to the Duke, while his primacy in the county at large was confirmed in February 1706 by his appointment as lord lieutenant in place of Abingdon. So all-pervasive was the Marlborough interest by 1708 that Abingdon offered no resistance and even refrained from backing the re-election of his cousin Bertie. The election proceedings were therefore concluded with minimal fuss. Travers, accompanied by Lord Rialton (Hon. Francis Godolphin*), Marlborough’s son-in-law, who was seeking election for the county, visited the town on the eve of the election, and, as he reported to the Duke,

went round to all the freemen telling them their high steward [Marlborough] would take it very kindly and look on it as a mark of the corporation’s friendship for him if they would accept of the service of Major-General Cadogan and Sir Thomas Wheate, which they all readily promised me, even the few who had been most zealous for Lord Abingdon, and accordingly last Monday they were unanimously elected.

Wheate was an appropriate second nominee. As shown by his poor fourth place in the 1702 election, his own interest in the town amounted to little, and the Duchess was later to claim that without her husband’s financial assistance Wheate would never have been elected in 1708. But Wheate’s pre-eminence as a leader of local Whiggery made him a useful electoral ally, while at the same time the demand for stone from his Glympton quarries yoked him securely into the Marlboroughs’ service. Since his own position as Member for the borough depended exclusively on the good ordering of the Duke’s political affairs there, it fell to him to oversee and liaise in these matters with Vanbrugh and Travers.10

Even at the height of Tory confidence in the months preceding the 1710 election there was no talk or semblance of opposition to the old Members, whom Marlborough ordered were to be retained. It was only in the final days before the election that the threat of a challenge produced a last-minute crisis which required the strenuous efforts of Wheate and Travers to defuse. On 3 Oct., just a few days before the election, Travers’ deputy Henry Joynes received instructions from the Duchess to cease all work on Blenheim. The ostensible reason was that a decision was awaited from the new ministry about the future financing of the project, but it would appear that this precipitate action was also intended as a show of strength towards a militant minority in the town who were threatening to flout the Duke’s wishes by setting up Travers instead of Wheate. In an open letter of support to Wheate she had already expressed irritation that certain elements in the Blenheim workforce were liable ‘to give trouble in the election’, adding, ‘I will give any directions that are necessary to prevent any disorder’. This restlessness seems to have originated in recent shortages of funds for the building. Large numbers of unpaid workmen were being forced to depend on credit from tradesmen and shopkeepers in the town, a situation which became a source of annoyance among the latter, who were well represented among the freemen. Not surprisingly, the wholesale laying-off of workmen caused an immediate furore in the town, and much to the Duchess’s disgust Vanbrugh and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor left in haste, fearing for their own safety. With characteristic imperiousness the Duchess dismissed Joynes’s warning of likely tumults, asserting that it was not in the interest of the Woodstock townsmen to disoblige the Duke: ‘I am very unwilling to believe they can be so ungrateful as to have a thought of any but the old Members and after all I have written to show my dissatisfaction for which there is but too much reason.’ Abingdon had already explored the possibility of forcing a contest, and on 3 Oct., the day on which the Duchess’s orders had been received, a group of local Tory gentlemen, including Walter and Sir Robert Jenkinson, 3rd Bt.*, visited the town announcing Abingdon’s intention of setting up ‘an honest gentleman, there being now a proper occasion for it’. Observers such as Dr Stratford of Christ Church thought that the animosity against Blenheim and the Duchess augured well for such an opposition. Wheate ‘being so apprehensive of their surprising us . . . sent expresses to all the gentlemen and foreign freemen who are our friends’ to attend the election, while Travers, in London, borrowed £300 on his own credit to pay off the labourers and the ‘most necessitous of this town’. Arriving on the morning before the election, Travers found a calmer scene, ‘much changed from what Mr Vanbrugh and Mr Hawksmoor had told me . . . The people who had been turned off without their wages were fuller of complaints and tears than threats and violence.’ He summoned the chief malcontents together and with difficulty persuaded them to renounce their intention of choosing himself rather than Wheate. Meanwhile, Abingdon and his supporters in the town had failed in the short time available to find any one prepared to accept nomination, and the opportunity of defeating Wheate was lost for good when the Earl’s attention was distracted at the last moment by another electoral crisis at Westbury. Accordingly, Cadogan and Wheate were returned unopposed. Travers briefed Marlborough that ‘all was done quietly and I congratulated the freemen on their choosing two such worthy Members, and thanked them in the name of the high steward for this mark of their respect and friendship for him’.11

The Marlborough interest at Woodstock suffered a grievous blow, however, following the Duke’s fall from favour at the end of 1711. By the Queen’s command work on Blenheim was stopped in the summer of 1712, and once more the ‘Blenheim debt’ became a major factor in the long struggle for votes that preceeded the next election. In a bid to preserve his electoral sway in the borough and to ‘oblige’ as many of the freemen as possible, Marlborough, from his self-imposed exile in Holland, issued a proposal for paving the town. The feasibility of the project was discussed and agreed upon locally by Vanbrugh, Wheate and Joynes at the beginning of 1713, while Rialton, now 2nd Earl of Godolphin, assumed overall financial responsibility on the Duke’s behalf. It became clear during these early months that local Tories were preparing for a serious electoral showdown later in the year. Leading this onslaught was Vincent Oakley, a local gentleman, who sought one of the seats for himself. The other contender was Sir Thomas Sebright, 4th Bt.†, who as a young Hertfordshire gentleman was much less conspicuous in the campaign. The lines were drawn in February when, much to the disturbance of Oakley and ‘his party’, Joynes, acting as Marlborough’s chief agent in Travers’ absence, began paying off outstanding bills to the Duke’s friends among the freemen. ‘I have asked not one person for his vote’, he reported to Travers, ‘but I find paying them has the same effect.’ Furthermore, at the end of the month the mayor, prompted by a letter from Vanbrugh in late January, admitted no fewer than 28 freemen, 25 of them honorary, and all known to be Marlborough supporters. Oakley’s agents, having intercepted Vanbrugh’s letter, a tirade against the government’s hounding of Marlborough, attempted to blackmail the architect into serving their own purposes. Notifying the Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) of the letter’s contents, they threatened to procure Vanbrugh’s dismissal as comptroller of the board of works unless he agreed to prevail with Marlborough’s candidates to stand down. Vanbrugh refused to be browbeaten, however, and was turned out in mid-March. The creation of new freemen prompted Oakley to step up his campaign. He encouraged all who were owed money on the Blenheim account to state their debts, whether or not they were freemen, and promised to secure cash from the Treasury. At first Joynes was apt to belittle these blandishments:

the talk here is, with Mr Oakley’s party, that Mr Oakley is the greatest man in the world with the Queen, my lord treasurer and my lord keeper [Harcourt]; and that the Queen has wished Mr Oakley success in his affairs at Woodstock, and such ridiculous talk is daily spread abroad.

Wheate and several senior corporation men in the Duke’s interest were rather more wary and concluded that if Oakley found means of disbursing any money, to the freemen in particular, ‘they should entirely lose their interest’. Accordingly, Joynes promptly obtained a loan of £600 from Marlborough’s son-in-law Godolphin, and immediately commenced distribution of the money to the freemen. Oakley’s plans for ‘a great dinner and meeting’ of all the freemen at nearby Bladon collapsed as soon as it was realized ‘that the entertainment was nothing more than a pretended payment to keep them from voting for Marlborough’s candidates’. Joynes also devised accounting procedures to ensure that the priority given to debts outstanding to freemen could not be construed as bribery should the election proceedings be investigated by the Commons. By the end of March Joynes could assure Godolphin: ‘the money I received of your lordship has been truly applied to the service it was desired for, and I hope will answer the purpose of getting friends and maintaining my lord Duke’s interest’. As work began in the spring on paving the streets, Joynes requested Godolphin to remit payments without delay, so ‘as not to become a debt, because the people at present about us are continually endeavouring to catch at anything for reflection’s sake’. Godolphin for his part was anxious to keep the work on foot ‘as long as may be contrived’. Though the campaign in its later stages is hardly documented, it is clear from the narrow margin of the result that each side must have battled hard during the summer months. Despite the earlier success of Marlborough’s agents in preserving the loyalties of resident freemen, the Tories under Oakley evidently gained much solid support from this body in the later stages of campaigning. So great were these pressures on the Marlborough interest that only by subsequent admissions of freemen in their favour, in June and August, were they able to maintain even a narrow lead over the Tories. Although Cadogan and Wheate were returned, there was every reason to expect that they would be unseated in the new Parliament. ‘I suppose one of the first things that will be endeavoured’, the Duchess wrote regarding the Woodstock result, ‘will be to turn out all the Members that will not blindly vote whatever they are ordered against the interest of their country.’ Sebright and Oakley’s joint petition was duly presented on 3 Mar. 1714 and, as the ministry were keen to stage-manage the case as a public demonstration of their resolve to purge the Commons of leading Whigs, it was the first for which a hearing at the bar was ordered. But the proceedings, which took place on the 16th, were, as one High Tory had to admit, ‘pitifully managed’ and conferred little credit on the ministry. Tory abuse heaped against Marlborough was simply ignored by the Duke’s friends. The petitioners’ insistence on the invalidity of the votes polled by recently admitted freemen was undermined by the defection of the Scots solicitor-general, Sir James Stewart, 1st Bt.*, who

looked upon it as the undoubted privilege of every corporation to assume what number of men, and at what time they pleased, into their corporation unless there were some law or custom to the contrary, which none of the petitioners’ lawyers pretended to advance . . . every man, if legally admitted any time before the writs were out, [was] entitled to vote at the very next election.

The House finally resolved that the votes of new freemen were admissible, but would accept that neither Cadogan and Wheate nor Oakley and Sebright had been duly elected and so declared the election void. At the election held eight days later, however, Cadogan and Wheate were chosen with none of the opposition that had plagued them over many months in 1713.12

During the first decade or so of Hanoverian rule, as the Duchess’s antipathy to the Court hardened, she used her influence in Woodstock to return MPs committed to opposition, regardless of their political colour. It was an indication of her adaptation to the changed political times that she was even prepared to co-operate amicably with those such as Abingdon, whom she had formerly despised as a patron of Jacobites.13

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 50, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 20 July 1702.
  • 2. VCH Oxon. xii. 330, 332.
  • 3. Ibid. 377, 382, 401; C104/109/2, Lichfield to Cary, 28 Nov. 1695; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, Cary to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 31 July 1690; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 73.
  • 4. C104/109/2, Lichfield to Cary, 2, 14, 17, n.d. Sept. 1692; C104/109/1, Littleton to same, 30 Mar., 12 Aug. 1693; VCH Oxon. 382, 401.
  • 5. Add. 70018, f. 62; 18675, f. 42; C104/109/2, Lichfield to Cary, 25 July, 28 Sept., 28 Nov., 12 Dec. 1695; C104/109/1, Littleton to same, 24 Sept. 1695.
  • 6. C104/109/1, same to same, 23 Apr., 17 May, 9, 12, July 1698.
  • 7. C104/110/3, same to same, 14 Dec. 1699; C104/109/1, Littleton to same, 13 Nov. 1701; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 343.
  • 8. Trumbull Misc. mss 32, Whitton to Trumbull, 17 June 1702; Alphab. mss 50, Bateman to same, 20 July 1702; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 464.
  • 9. London Gazette, 29 Mar. 1705; Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester), Hampton mss 705:349/BA 4657/iii/37, Thomas Rowney* to Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, 25 Apr. 1705; Add. 69378, Arthur Charlett to John Thurbarne*, 25 Apr. 1705; 61131, ff. 126, 128; 61353, ff. 1, 3, 5; MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 417, 426, 428, 440; HMC Portland, iv. 180; Bodl. Rawl. D.863, ff. 89–90.
  • 10. Add. 61353, f. 36.
  • 11. MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 1590; Add. 19606, ff. 31, 33, 35; 19609, ff. 54, 56; 61353, ff. 111, 117–18; 61468, ff. 162–3; HMC Portland, vii. 19–21.
  • 12. F. Harris, Passion for Govt. 189; Add. 19603, ff. 24–29; 19609, ff. 136–8, 141; 19605, f. 171; 19606, ff. 54, 56, 58, 60; 61463, f. 107; 70280, Henry Watkins* to ‘Mr Harley’, 2 Apr. 1714; Stowe 246, f. 64; 226, f. 296; Duchess of Marlborough Letters at Madresfield, 44; DZA, Bonet despatch 16/22 Mar. 1714; Verney Letters 18th Century, i. 245; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1119, [Stewart] to [?Edinburgh council], 17 Mar. 1714; Oley Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714.
  • 13. MarlboroughGodolphin Corresp. 440.