Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



(1801): 3,767


7 Feb. 1792 BENJAMIN VAUGHAN vice Morris, vacated his seat
27 Feb. 1805 JEKYLL re-elected after appointment as KC
17 Feb. 1806 OSBORNE MARKHAM vice Petty, appointed to office
2 Apr. 1807 HENRY SMITH vice Markham, appointed to office
23 Feb. 1816 JAMES MACDONALD vice Jekyll, vacated his seat

Main Article

The 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, who as Lord Shelburne had been prime minister (1782-3) but had retired from active politics in 1784, was sole patron of Calne, where he had been the principal property owner since the 1760s and had thenceforward named both Members unopposed. He brought about ‘a marked improvement’ in the quality of the Members, for which he was quizzed by the satirists who dubbed him

the sylvan sage,
Whom Bowood guards to rule a purer age.1

His nominees were his familiars, even if they were men of talent in their own right like Joseph Jekyll, the ‘talebearer of the household’, who brought the London news to Bowood. John Morris, returned with Jekyll in 1790, was a lawyer who had done business for the marquess, but a nobody otherwise, as the marquess’s self-appointed mentor Jeremy Bentham, who had hoped for the seat, protested,2 and in 1792 he was replaced, on Samuel Romilly’s refusal, by a former protégé of advanced views, Benjamin Vaughan. In that year Lansdowne espoused opposition politics. In 1796 he returned another close associate Sir Francis Baring, and in 1802 his younger and favourite son, Lord Henry Petty. His heir, John Henry Petty, Earl Wycombe*, from whom he was estranged and who succeeded to the title in 1805, abandoned Bowood and, while previously of advanced political views, professed now to support government and to be ‘not fond of politics’. Calne was to be half his and half Henry’s.3

When Lord Henry took office with the Whigs in 1806 and won a seat for Cambridge University, no difficulty was made about his replacement by Markham, another Whig; but in April 1807, when Markham was awarded a place by the outgoing Whig ministry, the 2nd Marquess replaced him with the family solicitor, Henry Smith, and informed Jekyll, who had sat for Calne since 1787, that his voting with the Whig opposition on Brand’s and Lyttelton’s motions was unsatisfactory. Jekyll resigned his seat and Lansdowne prepared to return a brother-in-law of his wife’s, Sir John Gifford, but the corporation rebelled and reinstated Jekyll. The story was thus told to Lord Henry Petty, who clearly enjoyed the confidence of the corporation, by their guild steward, Samuel Viveash, 17 May 1807:

We had not a wish to be hostile to Lord Lansdowne, but we felt we could not act otherwise than we did, neither could we submit to do an act so repugnant to our principles and our feelings as was required: in fact under the circumstances in which we were placed we were determined not to take Sir John Gifford if Mr Jekyll could not have been prevailed on to accept our invitation. Mr Jekyll has, I presume, informed you that the great majority of the burgesses were come to this determination and that they did me the honour, quite unexpected, and undesired by me, to request that I would accept the seat in case of his refusal.

Viveash explained that he accepted the offer, which he was at first disposed to decline, in case Lord Henry lost his seat, or the seat needed to be kept warm for ‘some honourable man of whose principles we approved’. He added that Smith, the other Member, had surprised the corporators into promising him support in anticipation of a dissolution, but that ‘we have resolved in future never to engage our votes until we have met to know each other’s sentiments’. He reported that the marquess had seen fit to congratulate the electors on their ‘discernment and independence’, and eschewed any cultivation of the borough, in which only three corporators had supported his nominee.4

This rebellious interlude ended abruptly when Lord Henry Petty succeeded to his brother’s title in November 1809. The only question then became which of his deserving Whig friends the 3rd Marquess would return. Some hoped that he would displace Smith at once in favour of Brougham:5 but Smith, who now discovered an inclination to opposition politics, retained his seat until the dissolution of 1812 when, on the refusal of George Eden*, the marquess returned James Abercromby ‘through his father’s old connection’, waiving the claims of Romilly.6 The fact was that while, like his father, he submitted to lectures from the more militant members of his party, Lansdowne chose men to whom he was temperamentally inclined: for this he was not blamed, but they were labelled ‘toady’. In 1816, he was more happily situated, for he was able to provide a seat, on Jekyll’s retirement, for a man congenial to him who was also at that time a Whig martyr, James Macdonald. Abercromby introduced him at Calne and ‘they were received not only with great kindness, but with the utmost cordiality’.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Wilts. Arch. Mag. xliv. 106; Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, 347; J. Richardson, The Jekyll (1788).
  • 2. Bentham Corresp. iv. 163, 164.
  • 3. Lansdowne mss, Viveash to Petty, 17 May 1807; Add. 47565, f. 203.
  • 4. Add. 51594, Jekyll to Holland, 24 Apr.; Morning Chron. 27 Apr., 9 May; Bristol Jnl. 16 May 1807; Lansdowne mss.
  • 5. Add. 51661, Bedford to Holland, Wed. (?Nov.); 51686, Petty to Holland, Thurs. [16 Nov. 1809].
  • 6. Add. 34458, ff. 264, 265; Creevey mss, Creevey to his wife, Wed. [14], 17 Oct. 1812; Brougham mss 39528.
  • 7. Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 143, 156.