Cambridge University

Double Member University

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in doctors and masters of arts

Number of voters:

about 500


17 Apr. 1754Edward Finch 
 Thomas Townshend 
14 June 1757Finch re-elected after appointment to office 
14 Jan. 1761Finch re-elected after appointment to office 
27 Mar. 1761Edward Finch 
 Thomas Townshend 
19 Mar. 1768Charles Yorke 
 Thomas Townshend 
1 Feb. 1770William de Grey vice Yorke, appointed to office 
4 Feb. 1771Richard Croftes vice de Grey, appointed to office76
 William Wynne45
10 Oct. 1774Charles Manners, Mq. of Granby 
 Richard Croftes 
10 June 1779James Mansfield vice Granby, called to the Upper House157
 John Townshend145
 Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde138
9 Sept. 1780James Mansfield277
 John Townshend247
 Thomas Villiers, Lord Hyde206
 Richard Croftes150
 William Pitt142
3 Apr. 1782Townshend re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Apr. 1783Townshend re-elected after appointment to office 
26 Nov. 1783Mansfield re-elected after appointment to office 
3 Apr. 1784William Pitt351
 George Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Euston299
 John Townshend278
 James Mansfield181

Main Article

In 1754 the politics of the university of Cambridge were those of its chancellor, the Duke of Newcastle. Newcastle devoted special attention to Cambridge affairs, concerned himself with the details of university administration and appointments, and employed the ecclesiastical influence of the Crown to strengthen his position in the university. Cambridge was the Whig university, and as far as its parliamentary representation was concerned little better than one of Newcastle’s boroughs. Its Members, Edward Finch and Thomas Townshend, had held their seats since 1727, and the last contest had been in 1734.

The university remained loyal to Newcastle even after he had gone into opposition and when there was practically no chance of his regaining office. When Finch retired at the general election of 1768, Newcastle secured his seat for Charles Yorke, brother of Lord Hardwicke, high steward of the university. Newcastle’s death on 17 Nov. 1768 marks a watershed in Cambridge politics. Hoping no doubt to preserve its position as the favoured university, Cambridge chose for its new chancellor the Duke of Grafton, first lord of the Treasury. And it seemed at first that it was prepared to allow Grafton the same influence in the choice of its representatives as Newcastle had enjoyed. When Charles Yorke became lord chancellor in January 1770, Grafton’s recommendation of William de Grey, the attorney-general, was readily accepted.

The university must soon have regretted its choice of Grafton. He never devoted the same care to its affairs which Newcastle had done, and in January 1770 he resigned the Treasury. Moreover, he seems to have taken it for granted that his office automatically gave him an influence in the choice of the university’s representatives. When de Grey was appointed a judge in January 1771, Grafton recommended his friend Richard Croftes, M.P. for Downton. Richard Watson, regius professor of divinity, though a friend of Grafton, did not hesitate to point out how offensive this recommendation was to the university:1

We received your recommendation of Mr. de Grey without reluctance; we knew him to be a man of merit, and upon that account were cordially disposed to give him every mark of our respect and to confide in his ability to serve us. But we are dissatisfied with the gentleman designed for his successor: we have no particular objections to him as a private man; nay, we believe him equal to transacting the business of Downton, but we by no means think him of consequence enough in life to be the representative, or of ability sufficient to support the interest, of the university of Cambridge.

The discontented party promoted the candidature of William Wynne, fellow of Trinity Hall, but the university was not yet disposed to reject its chancellor’s recommendation.

At the general election of 1774 Croftes and Lord Granby were returned unopposed. Granby, heir to a dukedom and to considerable property in Cambridgeshire, was an unobjectionable candidate. During the years of the American war considerable political ferment developed in the university, whose course it is not easy to trace. The chancellor and both Members strongly opposed the war, but there was also a party which supported the North Administration. To some extent the by-election of 1779, following Granby’s succession to the peerage, had a political character. Townshend stood as an Opposition candidate, Lord Hyde with the support of Government, and Mansfield was backed by the Duke of Grafton, though politically inclined to Government (he became solicitor-general in 1780). Mansfield’s success seems to indicate that Grafton’s influence was still predominant in Cambridge politics.2

The issue of the complicated contest of 1780 reflects the balance of political opinions in the university. Mansfield and Hyde stood as Government candidates, but on separate interests; Townshend as an Opposition candidate. Croftes was primarily the chancellor’s candidate, and William Pitt, backed by the Duke of Rutland and, like Croftes and Townshend an opponent of the American war, stood separately. The university elected one Opposition and one Government candidate. The contest of 1784 had also a strong political tinge. Pitt and Lord Euston, supported by Grafton, stood as Government candidates, and Townshend and Mansfield as supporters of the Coalition. But the voting figures indicate that this was by no means a straightforward party contest. One disillusioned Cambridge observer wrote to Lord Hardwicke:3

Let Mr. Pitt send down the purse of the Exchequer, which is the emblem of his office, and hang it in the Senate House, and we should as naturally put our vote into it as Catholics dig their fingers into the pan of holy water, with this difference that we should mark our foreheads with P in room of the X.

While it was undoubtedly to the advantage of the university to have the head of the Treasury as one of its Members, this must not be taken as the sole explanation of Pitt’s success.

Author: John Brooke


D. Cooke, 'Rep. Hist. of County, Town, and University of Cambridge, 1689-1832', London Univ. Ph.D. thesis.

  • 1. Anecdotes of life of Rich. Watson, i. 76-77.
  • 2. About this election, see letters from Hyde to Ld. Clarendon, Bodl. Clarendon mss.
  • 3. Wm. Howell Ewin, Add. 35627, f. 22.