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:

over 3,500


8 June 1796HON. THOMAS HARLEY1565
 Sir George Cornewall, Bt.1015
14 July 1802SIR GEORGE CORNEWALL, Bt.2592
 Robert (Myddelton) Biddulph1176
  Cotterell’s election declared void, 15 Mar. 1803 
31 Mar. 1803 JOHN MATTHEWS 
29 June 1818(SIR) JOHN GEERS COTTERELL, Bt.2175
 George Cornewall1775

Main Article

There was ‘no rumour even of opposition’ to the sitting Members, representatives of the county’s established parliamentary families, in 1790.1 Harley supported Pitt and Cornewall the opposition. There had been no contest since Harley’s election in 1776; and the contest of 1796 was directed not against him, but against his turncoat colleague. Cornewall had gone over to government with the Portland Whigs and was now subjected to a vendetta. The ‘preparatory measures’ were ‘secretly taken’, he complained, and he knew nothing of a contest until nomination day, when he was confronted by a local nabob Robert Biddulph, supported by the Duke of Norfolk and standing for ‘peace and liberty’. Cornwall believed that his defeat, in a three-day poll in which 2,420 votes were cast, was ‘most unexpected ... even by those who made the attack’, but noted that the war ‘seemed more unpopular amongst the yeomanry’ than he had imagined and that the cry of ‘no barley bread’ was directed against him. He gave up with over 800 votes unpolled and without attempting to call in the outvoters. He shared expenses of nearly £2,000 each with Harley. ‘It only cost Biddulph £3,000 to come in, and the same sum to go out’, which he did in 1802.2

Cornewall had no intention of giving up, if only for his son’s sake; but he dreaded a ‘constant canvass’ and a ‘real thorough contest’. In January 1800 he was expected to come in unopposed if the ailing Harley retired; but by the end of 1801 a contest seemed likely. Harley’s nephew Lord Oxford joined the Duke of Norfolk in support of Biddulph, while Lord Essex, about to become lord lieutenant, proposed putting up one of his brothers on the ministerial interest. Armed with the knowledge that Harley meant to retire, Cornewall persevered and in May 1802 his road seemed clear on Harley’s public declaration of retirement.3 Sir Henry Tempest of Caldwell declined an invitation to come forward. It was only on nomination day that Col. Cotterell of the county militia appeared. His candidature was directed against Biddulph. The latter’s defeat was reckoned ‘a proof how little his politics have been esteemed in that county’. Of 3,180 votes cast in six days, Biddulph received 1, 176, nearly half of them plumpers.4 Even so, Cornewall was not spared embarrassment. The vindictive Whigs presented a petition against Cotterell’s return with special reference to a form of treating—the indiscriminate issue of 5s. vouchers to freeholders who had polled—which was practised by all the candidates. A counter-petition against Biddulph was rejected for an informality, 7 Dec. 1802, but Cotterell’s friends had also promoted a counter-petition against Cornewall, supported by some of his own friends, to procure the withdrawal of that against Cotterell; it was rejected and the House declared Cotterell’s election void, thus giving the county the opportunity to remedy the ‘breach of faith’ involved in the vendetta against Cotterell. This was done by returning the chairman of Cotterell’s election committee John Matthews, who answered ‘the call of duty’, unopposed. Thomas Foley was urged by his friends to oppose Matthews, but declined to disturb the peace of the county, as did Uvedale Price of Foxley, a friend of the Duke of Norfolk, who had bitterly opposed Cotterell, but thought a county seat ‘a great trouble, and no honour’.5

Matthews regarded himself as a mere locum tenens for Cotterell and made way for him in 1806. Cotterell and Cornewall, whose finances were now such that he could not afford a contest, were unopposed. The Duke of Norfolk was disappointed that Thomas Foley did not come forward, but informed the premier Lord Grenville that ‘the unaccountable conduct of Mr A[ndrew] Foley* had so hurt the interest of his son (otherwise certain) that no effort could restore it’. By another account, ‘The Foleys had a mind to try their strength, but with their usual irresolution talked and doubted and wavered till the game was up’. Cornewall later wished he could have foreseen the short duration of the Parliament of 1806, let Foley in then and saved ‘my £1,400 which the suspicion of his intention to stand cost me’.6 He retired in 1807 when Foley came forward at the instigation of the Duke of Norfolk, who on 24 Apr. had frustrated a loyal address to the King from the county on the change of ministry. Foley praised the Grenville ministry, but avoided the Catholic question; Cotterell was praised by one of the ‘black tans’ (the Hereford clergy) for his support of the ‘Protestant ascendancy’.7 There was no opposition to them then, or in 1812.

By 1818 Cotterell, the ‘Tory Member’ was ‘more open to attack than ... at any time since his first election’ and Foley the ‘Whig Member’ very ill. There were two aspirants to succeed the latter: Col. George Cornewall, Sir George’s heir, was one and he wished to come in quietly. His politics were supposed to be Grenvillite and his aim was to replace Foley. He refused to challenge Cotterell, even if his competitor made way for him: this was Robert Price of Foxley, Uvedale’s heir, an ardent Whig, who had been disappointed in his designs on Hereford city. He was confident of a subscription to help him. Foley retired, giving Price his blessing. Price and Cornewall had to fight it out with Cotterell. After five days Cornewall conceded victory. Of 3,505 votes polled, he had received only 156 plumpers to Price’s 483 and Cotterell’s 468; he shared 930 votes with Cotterell and 689 with Price; but Price shared 777 with Cotterell.8 Cotterell’s victory encouraged the leader of the ministerial party in the county, Lord Somers, but he admitted to Lord Liverpool, 25 Sept. 1819:

In the county we must I think be contented with one and one. The majority is on our side, but not much, and the activity rather on the part of our opponents; and there exists moreover a danger, lest Col. Cornewall (who will probably soon be the head of his family) attacking Price at a future general election, Sir John Cotterell should decline the expense of another contest, although with such expense certain to succeed.9

In fact there was no change until 1831.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Malmesbury mss, Cornewall to Malmesbury, 28 June 1790.
  • 2. Ibid. same to same, 13 June, 30 July; Morning Chron. 13, 14 June 1796; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Price to Milton, 21 Feb. 1818.
  • 3. Malmesbury mss, Cornewall to Malmesbury, 30 July [1796], 5 Dec. 1801; The Times, 13, 16 Jan. 1800, 7 Nov. 1801, 16 Jan., 13 May 1802; NLS mss 11054, ff. 24, 165.
  • 4. The Times, 30 June, 17, 21, 29 July; Bristol Jnl. 17 July 1802; List of the Poll (1802).
  • 5. NLS mss 11122, f. 53; CJ, lviii. 28, 64, 259; Minto, iii. 276; The Times, 22, 28 Mar.; Bristol Jnl. 26 Mar., 2, 9 Apr.; Arundel Castle mss, Price to Norfolk, Fri. [4 Apr. 1803].
  • 6. Fortescue mss, Norfolk to Grenville, 4 Nov. 1806; Add. 38236, f. 359; NLS mss 11148, f. 45.
  • 7. Hereford Jnl. 29 Apr., 6, 20 May 1807.
  • 8. Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Price to Milton, 21 Feb.; Gloucester Jnl. 23 Mar., 6 July 1818; List of the Poll (1818).
  • 9. Add. 38280, f. 12.