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 burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 154 in 17151

Number of voters:

about 100 in 17152


28 Feb. 1690Robert Michell
 Richard Holt
31 Oct. 1695Robert Michell
 Richard Holt
21 July 1698Robert Michell
 Peter Bettesworth
6 Jan. 1701Ralph Bucknall
 Richard Markes
28 Nov. 1701Robert Michell
 Richard Markes
20 July 1702Robert Michell
 Richard Markes
13 Jan. 1704Leonard Bilson vice Markes, deceased
11 May 1705Leonard Bilson
 Norton Powlett
3 May 1708Leonard Bilson
 Norton Powlett
7 Oct. 1710Leonard Bilson
 Norton Powlett
31 Aug. 1713Leonard Bilson
 Norton Powlett

Main Article

Petersfield was a corporation by prescription. Its mayor, bailiff and two aldermen were elected annually at the lord of the manor’s court leet, who potentially therefore had considerable power over the borough. For most of the period, however, the lord of the manor was Ralph Bucknall, whose interference in the borough appears to have been minimal. Although there were probably no contests in our period, the right to vote was disputed between the freeholders in general, who voted in 1659 and 1689, and the burgage holders. In 1727 the more restricted franchise was confirmed by Parliament.3

In 1690 the traditional interest of the Bilsons, a local Tory family, was declining. Leonard Bilson†, who had sat from 1677 to 1681, was now very old and had made way in the Parliaments of 1685 and 1689 for his son, Thomas, who may have declined standing in 1690 because of failing health, since he died in 1692, leaving two sons, both minors. Moreover, in 1689 the Whig 1st Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett†) had been appointed lord lieutenant of Hampshire and warden of the New Forest, and thereafter the Powletts exercised considerable influence in the elections at Petersfield. In 1690 this resulted in Richard Holt of Nursted near Petersfield, a Whig promoted by Bolton, being returned with Robert Michell, another Whig and government supporter, who had acquired an interest in Petersfield through his second marriage.

In September 1695, Michell’s brother-in-law, Charles Montagu*, wrote to give him advance warning of the forthcoming elections ‘and to desire you would take care of your borough’. On 22 Oct. it was reported that Ralph Bucknall, a London merchant and brewer who had bought the manors of Mapledurham and Petersfield in 1693, would offer some competition to Holt and Michell. However, Holt and Michell were returned, Bucknall presumably desisting since he did not petition.4

Holt did not stand in 1698, retiring in favour of his charge Peter Bettesworth of Brockenhurst. Bettesworth did not continue his parliamentary career beyond this Parliament, and the first 1701 election was the only one until his retirement in 1705 in which Michell did not stand. This left the field free for Ralph Bucknall and a newcomer, Richard Markes, a former Portsmouth dockyard official, who had bought the nearby manor of Westbury from Holt in 1694. Bucknall’s politics are obscure but Markes was a Tory. Parliamentary life does not appear to have suited Bucknall, who never stood again. His retirement resulted in the return of Michell with Markes to the December 1701 Parliament. Colonel John Gibson* of Portsmouth had designed to contest the seat but his letter to John Ellis* shortly after the election indicates that he probably did not: ‘I was not so lucky myself at Petersfield, where I had some encouragement, but the thing was mismanaged before I got down.’ Markes presented Petersfield’s loyal address on the accession of Anne in March 1702 and he and Michell continued to hold the seats until the latter’s death in 1704.5

Leonard Bilson, son of the 1689 Member and also a Tory, was returned at the resulting by-election in January. In November 1704 Bilson may have inspired the borough’s address of congratulations on Marlborough’s victories, which insisted, ‘though we come in the rear of addresses, yet we are not behind in duty and affection’, and which Bilson alone presented. Bilson represented Petersfield for the rest of the period, but Michell retired from parliamentary life in 1705, to be replaced by another Whig, Norton Powlett of Amport, Hampshire, who had inherited the nearby estates of East Tisted and Rotherfield Park. Powlett was also probably helped by the proximity of the Basing estates of his kinsman, the 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), who had succeeded his father in 1699 as lord lieutenant of the county and warden of the New Forest. In 1710 Bolton was replaced as lord lieutenant by the Tory 2nd Duke of Beaufort, who immediately set about trying to replace Powlett with a Tory candidate. On 12 Sept. Beaufort wrote to Bilson:

I must again press you to give as many second votes as you can to Mr Foxcroft. He assures me that if . . . you have any likelihood of losing it, he will give up all his interest to you. I am sure you are so hearty at this time that you will not endanger the having an ill Parliament when a little assistance from you might secure a good Member . . . I am sure you are not so far engaged to Mr Powlett as to let him come in when you may be sure of succeeding for both yourself and a friend.

Beaufort himself arrived in Petersfield on 29 Sept., when the mayor and aldermen turned out to greet him; he was made free of the town and the welcome was rounded off with illuminations and bell-ringing. Beaufort, however, was not able to oust Powlett, who was re-elected with Bilson, apparently without a contest, and both men were unchallenged for the rest of the reign.6

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 424.
  • 2. N. Surry, Petersfield and Parl. (Petersfield Pprs. vii), 40.
  • 3. Surry, 5, 8; VCH Hants, iii. 87, 113–14.
  • 4. HMC Var. iii. 80; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95.
  • 5. VCH Hants, 69; Add. 28892, f. 411; London Gazette, 2–6 Apr. 1702.
  • 6. London Gazette, 27–30 Nov. 1704; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Bilson, 12 Sept. 1710; Post Boy, 30 Sept.–3 Oct. 1710.