Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
about 300 in 1790 rising to about 400 in 1804
|16 June 1790||PENISTON PORTLOCK POWNEY|
|RICHARD COLLEY WELLESLEY, Earl of Mornington [I]|
|1 Feb. 1794||WILLIAM GRANT vice Powney, deceased||149|
|25 May 1796||HON. ROBERT FULKE GREVILLE|
|20 Feb. 1797||SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTON, Bt., vice Isherwood, deceased||141|
|Richard Vining Perry||32|
|5 Apr. 1800||GREVILLE re-elected after appointment to office|
|6 July 1802||JOHN WILLIAMS||212|
|HON. ROBERT FULKE GREVILLE||203|
|Williams’s election declared void, 16 Feb. 1804|
|22 Feb. 1804||ARTHUR VANSITTART||200|
|Anthony Bushby Bacon||163|
|30 Oct. 1806||EDWARD DISBROWE||200|
|4 May 1807||EDWARD DISBROWE|
|14 Mar. 1810||JOHN RAMSBOTTOM vice Ramsbottom, vacated his seat|
|6 Oct. 1812||EDWARD DISBROWE|
|17 June 1818||EDWARD DISBROWE|
|16 Feb. 1819||THOMAS NORTH GRAVES, Baron Graves [I], vice Disbrowe, deceased|
Charles Knight, editor of the Windsor Express, described ‘Royal Windsor’ in the early 19th century as
a country town of the narrowest range of observation, and the tiniest circle of knowledge. The people vegetated, although living amidst a continual din of royalty going to and fro ... The ‘loyal’ or the ‘independent’ voters ... were fierce in their partisanship, but there was no real principle at the root of their differences.
The Castle was the central factor in local politics, the stuff of which was the struggle between the court and independent interests. Contested elections were expensive: Knight maintained that ‘corruption was an open and almost a legitimate trade’, and Mornington, a disillusioned Member, complained in 1794 of the ‘insatiable rapacity’ of his constituents.1
In 1790 the sitting Members were returned without opposition on the court interest. When Powney died in January 1794 the King offered the vacant seat to his groom of the bedchamber, William Harcourt, but he demurred and the problem was referred to Pitt, who nominated William Grant, a rising ministerial lawyer. This provoked a ‘division among the friends to his Majesty’s interest’ and Grant was challenged by Henry Isherwood, a former brewer of Windsor and a man of wealth and considerable local influence, who had supported Mornington’s return for the borough in 1787. Isherwood was at pains to emphasize his loyalty to the crown and his intention of supporting government, but attacked Grant as a stranger and Treasury nominee. Grant won, but Mornington later observed that
Isherwood was supported by most of the respectable persons in the town; Grant’s support was principally composed of those who had formerly opposed the King (some of them rank Jacobins), of the inferior class of tradesmen employed at the lodge, and of a very few respectable gentlemen who mostly reside in London. Amongst Isherwood’s supporters were every one of the men who have usually conducted my elections ... Isherwood also had some of the old opposition, but not near so many as Grant.2
Isherwood, stimulated by resentment of the action of the King’s pages and servants in depriving several tradesmen of the royal custom for supporting him, and by animosity towards Mornington for his active interference on Grant’s behalf, maintained a constant canvass and held regular meetings after the election. By September 1794 Mornington, who was critical of the reprisals from the Castle, foresaw an expensive, disagreeable and probably hopeless contest at the next election, with all his old supporters ranged against him. He begged Pitt to relieve him of his connexion with Windsor and recommended a compromise with Isherwood. Although the King blamed the disturbed condition of the borough on his neglect and mismanagement, Mornington’s advice was taken. Isherwood accepted the compromise and in 1796 was returned unopposed with the court candidate, Robert Fulke Greville, equerry to the King.3
On Isherwood’s sudden death in January 1797 the King, anxious for continued peace, was ready to meet the desire of Isherwood’s friends to bring forward ‘a man of property who will be a staunch friend of government’. When their first choice, Anthony Bushby Bacon, son-in-law of Richard Ramsbottom, who had purchased Isherwood’s brewery in 1786 and now emerged as head of the independent party, declined, they proposed Sir William Johnston, an army officer who lived in the neighbourhood of Windsor. Neither the King nor Pitt favoured Johnston and their preference was for Lord Inchiquin*, a reliable government supporter; but their overriding desire was for tranquillity, and Inchiquin, deferring to the King’s wishes, retired from the field. Johnston was easily returned after a contest forced by Richard Vining Perry of Cobham Park, Surrey, who, though evidently friendly to government, appears to have made his last-minute intervention on his own initiative.4
The manner of Johnston’s introduction apparently gave offence in some quarters and in November 1801 John Williams, son of Thomas Williams, Member for Great Marlow and the dominant figure in a vast copper mining and smelting organization, started a campaign which soon drew in Greville and Ramsbottom and continued wordily and expensively until the dissolution of 1802. Johnston, finding his position undermined, did not seek re-election; and Williams and Greville who, despite repeated denials by the latter, clearly acted to a large degree in collusion, beat Ramsbottom into third place.5
Ramsbottom unseated Williams on petition on the grounds of bribery and corruption in February 1804, but his own claims were rejected for the same offences, while Greville’s election was confirmed.6 The by-election was contested by Arthur Vansittart, a prominent local landowner, on the court interest, and Bacon on the independent, with the former prevailing comfortably. While the local élite showed a marked preference for Vansittart, his opponent had a decided edge with some of the craftsmen and artisans, notably the shoemakers, tailors, smiths and coopers. Comparison of the voting with that at the previous election reveals two stable interests, with virtually no cross-voting between them. Of those who voted in 1804, 70 per cent had done so in 1802, although Bacon’s support contained a higher proportion of new voters (over 33 per cent) than did Vansittart’s (about 25 per cent). About 140 of Vansittart’s 200 supporters had voted for Greville in 1802 and only 30 for Ramsbottom, all of whom had also voted for Greville or Williams. Of Bacon’s 163 supporters about 100 had voted for Ramsbottom in 1802, some 58 of them with plumpers, and 29 with split votes for Ramsbottom and Williams.
When Ramsbottom renewed his candidature at the general election of 1806, he was faced with two court nominees in avowed coalition, Vansittart and Edward Disbrowe, vice-chamberlain to the Queen. Vansittart, who seems to have gone into the contest reluctantly, conceded the seat to Ramsbottom after one day’s poll, even though the two men were level in second place. According to the pollbook, the ‘number of persons assessed, as bona fide occupiers, or for the purpose of becoming voters at this election’ was 498, a dramatic increase on previous years and one which, in the view of the publisher, Knight, was ‘not to be ascribed so much to an increased population, as to electioneering principles’.7 Once more the local gentry and professional men voted, with few exceptions, for the court candidates, while the unskilled labourers and, to a less marked degree, the craftsmen, showed a preference for Ramsbottom. The voting behaviour of the electorate remained extremely stable. Over 120 electors voted on all three occasions between 1802 and 1806 and a further 50 did so in both 1804 and 1806. Of these 170 voters, about 90 showed themselves to be unwavering supporters of the court interest and about 70 were equally steadfast in their attachment to the independent. Only a handful changed sides.
Ramsbottom’s success established the hold of the independent party on one seat and this division of the spoils went undisturbed for the rest of the period. In 1810 Ramsbottom made way for his nephew, who held the seat for 35 years, and when Disbrowe died in 1818 he was replaced in the court seat by Lord Graves, a lord of the bedchamber.
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, i. 47-48; PRO 30/8/188, f. 63.
- 2. Geo. III Corresp. i. 602; ii. 1002; Windsor Election Handbills (1794); Reading Mercury, 3, 10 Feb. 1794; PRO 30/8/188, f. 60.
- 3. PRO 30/8/188, ff. 60, 64, 72; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 731/8, Mornington to Pitt [Sept. 1795]; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1309.
- 4. Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1496, 1498; The Times, 30, 31 Jan.; Morning Chron. 21, 22, 23, 25 Feb. 1797.
- 5. Windsor Election Handbills (1802); The Times, 8 June; Fitzwilliam mss, Milton to Lady Fitzwilliam, 6 July 1802.
- 6. CJ, lviii. 55; lix. 11, 68, 85.
- 7. Reading Mercury, 27 Oct., 3 Nov. 1806; Add. 34457, ff. 85, 127; Windsor Pollbook (1806), 5-7, 23.