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

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 5,000


22 June 1790SIR WILLIAM HEATHCOTE, Bt.2013
 Lord John Russell I1290
 Jervoise Clarke Jervoise1232
 William John Chute1971
 Sir Henry Paulet St. John Mildmay, Bt.1880
 Hon. William Herbert152
19 Dec. 1808 THOMAS FREEMAN HEATHCOTE vice St. John Mildmay, deceased42
 Hon. William Herbert21

Main Article

The death of James, 3rd Duke of Chandos, on 29 Sept. 1789, opened a new chapter in county politics. Robert Thistlethwayte, Chandos’s protégé, announced his intended retirement. The initiative did not pass to Chandos’s former rival, Harry, 6th Duke of Bolton, though Pitt admitted to George Rose apropos of Bolton’s son-in-law: ‘We cannot appear to put a negative on Orde if the principal interests of the county are inclined to him’. By this he meant that the country gentry were the final arbiters and would react strongly to dictation, whether by government or aristocracy. But government now had a strong hand. The votes of perhaps a sixth of the electorate were normally at its disposal, concentrated principally in the Portsmouth dockyard, with useful supplements in military establishments and the crown tenants of the New Forest. Moreover, Rose, secretary to the Treasury, was by now himself a Hampshire resident landowner prepared to organize ministerial victory behind the scenes.1

By turning out Clarke Jervoise government hoped to secure two friends as Members. Opposition, in anticipation of this, first insisted that the county meeting to decide on Thistlethwayte’s successor should be confined to that nomination, to safeguard Jervoise. But the 5th Duke of Bedford, the Whig magnate who championed their interests in Bedfordshire and Surrey, aided and abetted by the Prince of Wales, insisted on putting forward his brother Lord John Russell I, who spoke of spending £30,000. Jervoise and his friends were awed into acquiescence. Pitt and Rose now had every excuse to run two candidates; Sir William Heathcote having been chosen as Thistlethwayte’s successor, their second choice was a popular young squire, William Chute. Heathcote later described himself as standing ‘at the express desire of government, and totally contrary to every wish of my own ... to rescue the county from what was called the Constitutional Club, which was then endeavouring to establish the Duke of Bedford’s interest ...’. As early as January 1790, an all-out contest was under way. Pitt was reported as saying:

The county is much displeased with the idea of a younger brother of a duke being planted among them on a very small estate for the purpose of doing them the honour of representing them; and Clarke [Jervoise] does himself no good by being necessary to such a plot.

In January Bedford had disdained a compromise. As the expense mounted, he nerved himself by betting Lord Barrymore £5,000 that he would carry his brother if there was a contest, but as the election drew near he would have been prepared to withdraw his brother to ensure a compromise. ‘He is a little unlucky in always wanting things after the proper time’, noted Viscount Palmerston. In a five-day contest the Whigs were well beaten. The report that it cost each side over £40,000 was doubtless exaggerated. Heathcote set a ceiling of £1,000 on his expenditure, Rose undertaking to raise the rest by subscription. Rose privately subscribed £300 and procured expenses of £755 10s.2d. from the secret service fund.2

In their farewell address Russell and Jervoise claimed that ‘the weight of power has been most conspicuously opposed to the rights of electors’, and deplored ‘a servile crew of ministerial dependants’ in the ‘ports and dockyards of this county’. Jervoise fell back on his pocket borough. Russell, in 1796, informed the freeholders that as ‘the same system of undue and unconstitutional influence’ operated, it would be ‘idle’ for him to renew the challenge. He seems to have encouraged the young Sir Henry Paulet St. John Mildmay to offer instead, but the latter gave up his ‘silly opposition’, as Rose called it, on finding that even his neighbours and family would not back him.3 Thus ended the Duke of Bedford’s pretensions and the Whigs had to be content with fanfaronades, as when Sheridan, posing as a county freeholder, denounced ministers at the county meeting requisitioned by opposition in April 1797. By then Thomas Orde, having acquired his late father-in-law’s honours, was active in countering such agitation.4

It was not until the advent of the Grenville ministry in 1806 that the Whigs again attempted the county. The initiative was taken by Earl Temple, Grenville’s nephew, who called on Sir William Heathcote early in August 1806 to inform him of a determination to oust Chute, who had steadily opposed the ministry. Heathcote himself would not be opposed, should he dissociate himself from Chute and satisfy Temple of his disposition towards government. Heathcote replied that he was not inclined to oppose them, but would make no pledge and added that he would have to consult his friends. On 27 Aug., at a meeting of the County Club, a Pittite enclave vetted by George Rose, he was advised to decline an answer to the overture, which was construed as an attempt by government to dictate to the county: as indeed it was, even if Temple, when he realized his blunder, tried to make out that he had only approached Heathcote on behalf of ‘the friends of government connected with Hampshire’ and not as Grenville’s representative.

Although the indignation excited by Temple’s high-handedness was a potent encouragement to resist government, there was much hesitation among the Pittites. A contest would inevitably be expensive and the chances of success doubtful with a solid block of automatic government voters reinforcing the ministry’s partisans. Heathcote was not prepared for the venture and would have liked a compromise, if it could have been managed with dignity. After Temple had forced him to a public disavowal of Rose’s version of their communication in August, he withdrew from the scene. Chute was anxious for a fight, but could do nothing until somebody was joined with him. An approach was made to Sir Henry St. John Mildmay, who had canvassed in 1796, but with 15 children to provide for he was understandably apprehensive about the cost. Yet Chute was prepared to contribute heavily (he eventually subscribed £6,000 and Mildmay £2,500 out of about £15,000 raised by George Rose from friends both inside and outside the county). After a delay of ten days Mildmay agreed to stand with Chute and at a meeting of ‘the friends of the present Members and of the independence of the county’ on 25 Sept. they were formally adopted, after a stage-managed suggestion of settling for one seat had been disposed of by the production of Herbert and Thistlethwayte handbills discountenancing any compromise. Herbert, whose father the 1st Earl of Carnarvon had a small estate in the county but large pretensions, and Thistlethwayte, son of the former Member, had already been in the field for two weeks.

Although this start put Chute and Mildmay at a further disadvantage their first canvass revealed an encouraging degree of hostility towards the government. Nor were their opponents reaping the full benefits of the government interest. The Duke of Cumberland, commander of the south-western district, used the army influence on behalf of Chute and Mildmay. George Rose—who in the eyes of many must have personified government in Hampshire—sowed doubt and confusion by putting it about that he and Grenville were soon to be reconciled. In any event, with nobody to supply his unique position, the apparatus of government pressure operated with less smoothness and discretion than formerly. William Henry Fremantle*, secretary of the Treasury, controlled the machinery ex officio, but with none of the advantages of Rose’s local knowledge, and the obtrusiveness of his interference provided the charge for a petition against the eventual election of Herbert and Thistlethwayte. Above all, however, Temple’s folly was the ground on which the Pittites rested their chances. As some of them said afterwards, ‘they had not otherwise a leg to stand on’. For the moment it was not quite enough; the dockyard vote tipped the balance.

An analysis of the poll showed that outside the Portsdown and Portsea districts Chute and Mildmay had a superiority of about 300 votes over the ministerial candidates; but in those districts the figures were Thistlethwayte 1,164, Herbert 1,112, Chute 407, Mildmay 347. In fact, in the rest of the county, only in Alton hundred and in Southampton and the Isle of Wight were Chute and Mildmay beaten. Rose held on to the New Forest. Temple boasted of over 2,800 votes promised on his side, apart from 400 dockyard votes lost ‘owing to their not having been properly rated to the land tax’. When the poll closed, he estimated that about 260 dockyard votes remained unpolled. On the other side there were about 100 unpolled. Rose noted that although the electorate had increased most in the dockyards, Chute had polled more than he had in 1790. Indeed, an analysis of the 1790 poll shows that outside the Portsea and Portsdown districts, there was an equal contest between the parties, though not a majority for the Whigs, as there was for their opponents in 1806. Rose maintained that if Herbert, after the election, had vacated his seat to take office (which he had foregone in order to contest the county) he would not have obtained reelection; and in support of a petition against the return, he assembled evidence of government interference. In his view a crusade had been directed against him personally in Hampshire, Southampton and Christchurch.5

The petition against the return, debated in the house on 13 Feb. 1807, was rejected, but three months later, Chute and Mildmay were triumphant. The anti-Popery cry which followed the fall of the ministry, the rankling memory of Temple’s conduct and the switch of the government interest left Herbert and Thistlethwayte with a hopeless cause. The latter very sensibly retired, but Herbert, urged on by Temple, proud and blind as ever, and by his ambitious father, persevered. After a futile attempt to arrange a compromise on Thistlethwayte’s withdrawal, he stood one day’s poll and then conceded the election. The two contests had cost his father personally £5,000 and perhaps as much again was subscribed by others. The dockyard voters were as deaf to him in 1807 as they had been receptive in 1806.6

No genuine contest occurred during the remainder of the period. On Mildmay’s death in 1808 the ministerial party set aside his son’s claims and preferrred Sir William Heathcote’s son Thomas Freeman Heathcote, though the Duke of Portland would have supported Lord Malmesbury’s heir had he wished it. Opposition was not expected, as Thistlethwayte could not afford it, but William Herbert came forward. His sponsor Earl Temple angled for a compromise with the ministerial party. Failing that, Herbert made a nuisance of himself by challenging the validity of Heathcote’s candidature. Heathcote had vacated his seat for Bletchingley during the recess, of which the Speaker could have no cognizance. The ministerialists gave up the idea of putting up a third man (Sir John Pollen) to safeguard Heathcote, and after previous arrangement between the contending parties he was returned on a token poll, leaving Herbert to make good his case. He did not pursue the petition and gave Heathcote no further trouble.7

William Cobbett† of Botley, the radical publicist, who had made a ‘virulent’ speech at this by-election, appeared again at county meetings in 1809 and on election day in 1812. An attempt had been made to foist his friend William Chamberlayne* on the county, but without the latter’s approval. Cobbett was nominated by Thomas Jones and seconded by Peter Finnerty, but the show of hands was against him and he did not go to a poll. He had the satisfaction, however, of abusing George Rose to his face.8 In 1816 the Whigs were hopeful of public opinion in the county turning in their favour and that Heathcote would desert ministers,9 but nothing came of their hopes in 1818.

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 42772, ff. 16, 122, 126.
  • 2. The Times, 10, 28, 30 Dec. 1789; Public Advertiser, 15 Jan., 26 June 1790; W. L. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Rose, 25 Oct. 1789; Sidmouth mss, Mitford to Addington, 24 Dec. 1789; PRO 30/8/144, f. 47; 229, ff. 253, 273; 30/29/4/6, f. 860; Hants RO 20 M 64/7, Mrs Bramston to Mrs Hicks, 18 Jan. 1790; Broadlands mss (NRA), Ld. to Lady Palmerston, 17 June 1790; Dear Miss Heber ed. Bamford, 68; Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 2 July 1790; Som. RO, Dickinson mss DN 264, Sloane to Dickinson, 21 Aug. 1792.
  • 3. Public Advertiser, 1 July 1790; Portsmouth Gazette, 9, 23, 30 May; Morning Chron. 27 May 1796; PRO 30/8/173, f. 290.
  • 4. Morning Chron. 30 Nov. 1795; The Times, 21 Apr. 1797; PRO 30/8/114, f. 143.
  • 5. Add. 34457, ff. 71, 153; 34461, f. 175; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 29 Sept., 18 Nov.; Fremantle mss, box 55, Temple to Fremantle, Tues. (bis.), Thurs., Fri., Sat. (bis.), Sunday [1806]; SRO GD51/1/201/1; Lytton Bulwer, Palmerston, i. 56-8; Rose Diaries, ii. 302; Pol. Reg. 4 Oct.; NLW, Coedymaen mss 20, Temple to Williams Wynn, 2 Oct., Sunday [Oct. 1806]; HMC Lonsdale, 205; Lonsdale mss, Rose to Lowther, 6, 16 Nov.; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 10, 20 Sept., 1 Oct., Palmerston to Malmesbury, 11, 12, 16 Nov., Rose to Malmesbury, 12, 17 Nov. 1806; Palmerston Letters (Cam. Soc. ser. 4, xxiii), 71; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 257; Fortescue mss, Herbert to Grenville, 28 Jan. 1811; HMC Fortescue, ix. 55.
  • 6. Hants Telegraph, 4, 11, 18 May 1807; Add. 41857, f. 27.
  • 7. Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to Portland, 12, 13, 16 Nov., reply 12 Nov., Temple to Malmesbury, 13, 15 Nov., replies 15, 16 Nov.; Salisbury Jnl. 26 Dec. 1808.
  • 8. Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 29 Nov. 1808; Salisbury Jnl. 19 Oct.; Pol. Reg. 24 Oct. 1812.
  • 9. Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 16 Dec. 1816.