Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 4,000

Number of voters:

2,593 in 1831


 Pascoe Grenfell820

Main Article

Buckinghamshire was predominantly agricultural, with an emphasis on dairy farming, but was noted for the manufacture of lace, straw plait (both declining in this period), paper and furniture. It contained six parliamentary boroughs and nine other market towns. A 50 per cent increase in population between 1801 and 1831 and the post-war slump created much distress at the lower end of the social scale.1 The strongest single electoral interest was that of the Grenvilles of Stowe, who had extensive estates in the north, near Buckingham, and at Wotton in the central area west of Aylesbury. They had occupied one seat without interruption since 1774. Their head was the fat, odious and egotistical 2nd marquess of Buckingham, an alarmist Whig who commanded a small parliamentary squad and was gravitating towards a junction with the Liverpool ministry. His only son Lord Temple had been returned, four months after coming of age, at the 1818 general election. Other influential resident peers included the 1st Baron Carrington of Wycombe Abbey, head of the wealthy Smith banking family, whose politics were broadly similar to Buckingham’s and who returned both Members for Wendover, and the Foxite Whig Lord George Cavendish*, a son of the 4th duke of Devonshire, who had a house at Latimer, near Aylesbury. His Whig friends the 6th duke of Bedford and the 2nd Earl Spencer had property in the county, though their principal interests were in neighbouring Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire respectively. The other seat had been filled since 1810 by William Selby Lowndes of Whaddon, a nominal independent who voted more often than not with government and opposed Catholic claims, as did Chandos, in stark contrast to his father and the rest of his male relatives. Since the disintegration of the largely Whig Independent Club, established in 1784 to resist Grenville encroachment on the second seat, its leading surviving founders, Cavendish and Sir John Dashwood King* of West Wycombe, had been the county’s leading figures in the independent interest, along with the Rev. Sir George Lee of Hartwell, rector of Beachampton, and Buckingham’s advanced Whig brother Lord Nugent, Member for Aylesbury.2

At the dissolution in February 1820 Lowndes announced his retirement out of the blue. Carrington’s only son Robert Smith, Member for Wendover, a committed Whig, got his father’s ‘reluctant assent’ to his standing. As Carrington told his son-in-law, the 4th Earl Stanhope, who had some interest in Buckinghamshire, ‘it is a great undertaking at my time of life and for the same reason not much worth his ambition’. He made it clear to Buckingham that there was no hostile intent towards Temple, who offered again.3 The county Whigs did not yet consider Smith, whose family were seen as arrivistes, as one of their own; but no alternative candidate could be found and he came in unopposed with Temple. A supporter of Catholic relief, he had already identified himself with the county’s significant evangelical Dissenting interest, which had become a politically coherent element by this time. Ministers counted his return as a loss.4 Buckinghamshire agriculturists petitioned the Commons, 12, 16 May, and the Lords, 6 June 1820, for relief from distress.5 The Queen Caroline affair produced a stalemate in the county, with the Whigs unable or unwilling to call a meeting in her support and Buckingham deterred from trying to promote a loyal address by fear of ‘setting fire to a train which may explode a mine under our feet’, in the form of counteraction by ‘Smith’s radicals at Wycombe’ or his own brother, one of the queen’s leading partisans.6 Distressed farmers petitioned the Commons, 16 Mar. 1821, 13 Feb. 1822, and the Lords, 9 Apr. 1821, 15 May 1822.7 At the October 1821 quarter sessions there was a trial of strength over Buckingham’s proposal to veto the placing of official advertisements in the recently established ‘strong opposition’ newspaper, the Buckinghamshire Chronicle. It was carried by 33-12 against the resistance of Nugent, Smith, Dashwood King and Thomas Digby Aubrey† of Clifton House. Nugent and Lee got up a written protest, which Bedford signed, in an attempt to rally the Whig interest.8 In January 1822 Buckingham formally aligned himself with the government and was rewarded with a dukedom, which gave Temple the title of Lord Chandos. By the summer he was complaining of ministers’ inattention on matters of county patronage.9 At the October 1822 sessions Smith, by now in the confidence of the county Whigs, led their campaign for inquiry into expenditure, which achieved little but vexed Buckingham, who mustered his friends in January 1823 to negate a proposal for economies. The duke considered it ‘most material for me to be able to show the gentry and people of Bucks. that I have the support and interest of government’ and, urging his confidant William Fremantle*, a junior minister, to press his claim for a place for an impoverished supporter, told him to inform Lord Liverpool that ‘if we had not beat Smith as we did, we were to have had a reform meeting’.10 In 1824 Nugent was active in the promotion of anti-slavery petitions, chiefly from Dissenters; and Smith enhanced his position as their local champion by espousing the cause of two Baptist preachers summarily imprisoned as vagrants by Lowndes’s clerical brother Robert.11 In June 1824 there was a spectacular and expensive ‘junket’ at Stowe to mark the christening of Chandos’s son.12 At the end of the year Buckingham was alarmed by what turned out to be a false rumour that Cavendish was about to buy from the 5th earl of Buckinghamshire the substantial estates near Wendover which he had recently inherited from the 2nd Viscount Hampden.13 In 1825 petitions against Catholic relief, which Chandos duly opposed, reached the Commons, 18 Apr., 10 May, and the Lords, 25, 29 Apr., while a favourable one from Leighton Buzzard was presented to the Lords, 16 May. Chandos’s populist exploitation of anti-Catholic feeling was beginning to pay electoral dividends: the Rev. John Dayrell, vicar of Stowe, for example, told a clerical friend that ‘I will give my vote at an ensuing election with all my heart to Lord Chandos ... because he is ... a staunch churchman.’14 Yet in 1825 the Whigs had their candidate for the position of clerk to the Bicester and Aylesbury turnpike trust elected over Buckingham’s nominee.15 The petitioning campaign against slavery continued in 1826.16

On the eve of the general election that summer, Buckingham reacted to a report that the Tory 6th earl of Chesterfield, who had some property in the county, had professed ‘violent anti-Grenville prejudices’, with the observation that ‘we are both of us much too powerful to be afraid of each other, but we can annoy each other’. He was ‘very anxious to make an arrangement offensive and defensive’ with Chesterfield, but the outcome is unclear.17 There was no challenge to the sitting Members. A large body of men armed with sticks and wearing oak leaves took early possession of the Aylesbury county hall steps, set up a ‘No Popery’ chant and abused and obstructed Smith and his uncle John Smith when they arrived. Chandos, who unconvincingly denied responsibility for this intimidation, was proposed by Dashwood King and seconded by Robert Ward* of Hyde House, auditor of the civil list, who endorsed his hostility to Catholic claims. Smith was sponsored as a supporter of reform, reduced taxation and civil and religious liberty by Lee and William Rickford, independent Member for Aylesbury. As well as stating his anti-Catholic credentials, Chandos condemned the recent government measure to admit bonded corn in emergency and, as one of a family who owned Jamaican plantations, trimmed on the slavery issue. Smith, a poor speaker and by now a lax attender, was frequently interrupted by the ‘No Popery’ squad.18 Chandos, who had many bills unpaid from his previous elections and was deep in debt, had reached a prior agreement with Smith to curb expenses, especially on dinners. Through a misunderstanding this collapsed, and Chandos spent £2,500, to Buckingham’s dismay. He threatened to give up the seat at the next election, but his father, whose own finances were in terrible disarray, eventually tied him to the county by paying his debts and settling unsettled estates on him.19

At celebration dinners in August 1826 Chandos ‘unequivocally’ expounded his anti-Catholic line, to the disgust of Fremantle, who believed that ‘there is no general feeling in the county, but what is stimulated and provoked by him on the question’, and lamented that ‘the duke should have such scenes and such language held under his very nose’, though he feared that he would ‘only render himself of less consequence and influence by his submission’.20 There was comparatively little petitioning against Catholic relief in 1827, when agriculturists petitioned heavily against further interference with the corn laws.21 Manufacturers of thread lace petitioned the Lords for the repeal of dealers’ licences, 21, 22 Mar.22 In May and June 1827 the Dissenters initiated a strong petitioning campaign for repeal of the Test Acts, which was resumed in February 1828, when Smith voted for and Chandos against that proposal.23 Shortly before Buckingham went to Italy, where he stayed for two years in an attempt to save money, in the summer of 1827, Fremantle warned him that Chandos, who had recently given an address to his yeomanry ‘of a political character highly objectionable’, would cause infinite mischief in his absence if ‘placed ... at the head of the county as vice-lieutenant’. Buckingham, who persuaded himself that the speech had been inoffensive, would not listen; and Fremantle commented to his nephew Sir Thomas Fremantle* that the duke was so indulgent that ‘it cannot be mended, nor will it be by the future conduct of Chandos’.24 Chandos duly ran amok, courting popularity and building up his personal interest. The fêting of the duke of Wellington and Peel, leader of the Commons Protestants, after a stay at Wotton for the shooting in December 1827, was ostensibly non-political, but the implications were obvious.25 Chandos, who in January 1828 declined Wellington’s offer of a place in his new ministry for fear of ‘risking a diminution’ of his influence in Buckinghamshire, secured numerous petitions against Catholic relief that session; there was one in favour from Newport Pagnell, 8 May.26 The agriculturists of that area petitioned the Commons against the revised scale of corn duties, 12 May, and the maltsters for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 25 July; and there was renewed petitioning for the abolition of slavery that month.27 Chandos, who laid on Stowe races as another means of ‘making himself popular’, presided in October 1828 over the formation of the Buckinghamshire Brunswick Club, which drew a public rebuke from Lord Nugent.28 Enraged by the government’s decision to concede emancipation in 1829, he organized a protest meeting of the three hundreds of Buckingham (a device adopted to circumvent his father’s written orders forbidding his tenants to attend any anti-Catholic county meeting), which was preceded by a public breakfast at Wotton and a procession to Buckingham. There he ranted against relief and clashed with Nugent, the only dissentient on the platform. Masses of hostile petitions were sent up from the county, together with favourable ones from the Dissenters of Newport Pagnell, Fenny Stratford and Olney.29 Apart from Anglican clergymen, few of the gentry joined in the anti-Catholic campaign and, although Buckingham, angered to learn of Chandos’s defiance, addressed to the hundreds in April a public letter condemning these ‘frantic orgies’, the fuss quickly subsided once emancipation was carried.30 A false report at this time that Carrington was dying did raise the spectre of Chandos’s trying to bring in ‘another Protestant’ to replace Smith.31 Buckingham returned to England in November 1829 and made his peace with Chandos, who continued to bully him.32 The only petitions from the county in the 1830 session were for abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences.33 There was no change at the general election that summer, but Chandos indulged in what his kinsman Sir George Nugent* considered ‘quite unnecessary and foolish’ expenditure. When asked by the sheriff to explain why 300 of his supporters had again occupied the hall steps to jostle Smith and his entourage, he played the innocent. Carrington alleged that his son’s life was endangered and that ‘but for the temperate conduct of our friends’ these tactics ‘might have produced bloodshed’. The dominant issue was slavery, on which Chandos, now chairman of the West India body’s committee, lied heroically, while Smith more convincingly denounced it. At subsequent dinners Chandos peddled his Protestant and protectionist message.34

Buckinghamshire Dissenters resumed the petitioning campaign against slavery when the new Parliament met.35 There were few serious ‘Swing’ disturbances apart from the destructive riots at Wycombe, but Chandos mobilized his yeomanry.36 The inhabitants of Chesham, Haddenham, Leighton Buzzard, Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford and elsewhere petitioned both Houses in March 1831 in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which Smith supported and Chandos opposed, though he professed to be a moderate reformer.37 At the general election precipitated by its defeat Chandos offered, but Smith retired to come in for Chipping Wycombe. Carrington, who was hostile to the reform bill, was inclined to wash his hands of the county representation, but supporters of his son persuaded his brother John Smith to stand. Lord Holland and Bedford were keen on the idea of getting Lord John Russell, the bill’s chief author, to join him, but he kept out of it. A second reformer declared in the person of 70-year-old Pascoe Grenfell*, former Member for Great Marlow, who, responding to an invitation, made it clear that he could not afford to spend any money. Sir Harry Verney† of Claydon started as a moderate reformer to stand with Chandos, but was prevailed on by the Tory gentry whom he consulted to withdraw in order to avoid ruinous expense and unnecessary aggravation.38 There was ‘a fever of excitement’ at the prospect of the first contest since 1784. Chandos, who at the nomination denied having employed the stavesmen last time, detailed his views on cautious reform and again claimed to favour slavery abolition. He established a comfortable lead over Smith on the first day and remained at the head of the poll on the second. Most supporters of reform initially split for Smith and Grenfell, but on the third, a Saturday, Smith’s voters began to plump in order to ensure his return with the unassailable Chandos. Grenfell’s committee’s protest secured a resumption of splitting before the day was out; but on the Monday Grenfell, his cause clearly ‘hopeless’, announced his retirement from the contest, which, as senior Whig politicians, including Lord Grey, recognized, had been sadly mismanaged by the reformers.39 Of the 2,593 who polled, 61 per cent gave a vote for Chandos, 50 for Smith and 32 for Grenfell. Chandos had 1,289 plumpers (81 per cent of his total), Smith 191 (15) and Grenfell only two. Splits for Chandos and Smith were 287 (11 per cent of those who voted), which represented 18 and 22 per cent of their respective totals; Chandos’s Protestantism and support for agricultural protection were attractive to some reformers. Smith-Grenfell splits numbered 806, making up 63 and 98 per cent of their respective totals. Eighty-eight per cent of those who polled cast clear party votes: 50 against and 38 for reform. It is clear that reform aside, Smith did well not so much as Carrington’s brother, but through having been a very prominent supporter of repeal of the Test Acts in 1828.40 Leighton Buzzard and Chesham petitioned the Lords in favour of the reform bill, 4 and 6 Oct. 1831, and Newport Pagnell for supplies to be withheld until it was secured, 1 June 1832.41

By the Reform Act Buckinghamshire received an additional county seat, which, with the disfranchisement of Amersham and Wendover and Chipping Wycombe’s loss of one Member, constituted a net loss of four. Only minor adjustments were made by the Boundary Act. At the 1832 general election, when there was a registered electorate of 5,306, Chandos and John Smith were returned with Dashwood King, standing as a Liberal, over another Conservative, but three Conservatives were successful in 1835, 1837 and 1841. The Cavendish interest was revived in 1847.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 147; (1830), 69; PP (1833), xxxvi. 34-35; R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 16-20.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 16-19; Davis, 38-40.
  • 3. Add. 58983, Carrington to Grenville, 16 Feb.; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C132, same to Stanhope, 20 Feb., reply, 22 Feb.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 19, 26 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. Althorp Letters, 102; Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, 10 Mar.; 58967, f. 136; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 27 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 21 Mar.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 26 Feb., 18 Mar. 1820; Bucks. RO, Dayrell mss D22/25/124; Davis, 63-69.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 201, 216; LJ, liii. 109.
  • 6. Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, 15 Dec.; 51729, Jersey to same, 20 Nov.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 13 Dec. 1820; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/38, 39, 41; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 93, 97, 99.
  • 7. CJ, lxxvi. 173; lxxvii. 23; LJ, liv. 182; lv. 179.
  • 8. Fremantle mss 46/9/5, 9; 49/1/2; Althorp Letters, 116-17; Davis, 60-62.
  • 9. Fremantle mss 46/10/52, 57.
  • 10. Fremantle mss 46/10/38, 49; 46/11/68; 86/1/8, 10; Davis, 62.
  • 11. CJ, lxxix. 168, 173, 253, 436, 475; LJ, lvi. 84; Buckingham, ii. 125; Davis, 64, 70.
  • 12. Bucks. Chron. 19 June 1824; Dayrell mss D22/25/133.
  • 13. Bucks. RO, Spencer Bernard mss D/SB PFD8/5-8; 10/13.
  • 14. CJ, lxxx. 314, 396; LJ, lvii. 627, 666-7, 814; Dayrell mss D22/25/135; Fremantle mss 138/12/8.
  • 15. Davis, 62.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxi. 181, 372; LJ, lviii. 321, 356.
  • 17. Fremantle mss 51/5/25; Buckingham to Fremantle, 13 June 1826.
  • 18. Bucks. Chron. 3, 10, 17, 24 June 1826; Davis, 63; Baring Jnls. i. 46.
  • 19. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 21-22.
  • 20. Bucks. Chron. 19, 26 Aug. 1826; Fremantle mss 138/16/1-6; 138/18/6, 7, 9, 12; Dayrell mss D22/25/138.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxii. 206, 226, 239, 265, 281; LJ, lix. 128, 147, 172, 189, 209, 291, 297.
  • 22. LJ, lix. 190, 192.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxii. 505, 520, 527-8, 567, 578; lxxxiii. 79, 90-91, 105; LJ, lxxx. 55, 64, 65, 73, 75, 80, 178; Bucks. Chron. 5, 12 May, 2, 30 June 1827, 16 Feb. 1828; Davis, 71.
  • 24. Fremantle mss, Fremantle to Buckingham, 19 June 1827; 138/21/2/11.
  • 25. Bucks. Chron. 15, 22, 29 Dec. 1827; Fremantle mss 138/21/2/22; Dayrell mss D22/25/141.
  • 26. Add. 40395, f. 109; CJ, lxxxiii. 268, 332; LJ, lx. 249, 503.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiii. 340, 516, 541; LJ, lx. 623, 656.
  • 28. Dayrell mss D22/25/142; Fremantle mss 139/2/1; Bucks. Chron. 20, 27 Sept., 18, 25 Oct., 1 Nov.; The Times, 22 Oct. 1828; Lady Holland to Son, 88.
  • 29. Fremantle mss 139/10/13, 14, 21; Buckingham, ii. 392; The Times, 24 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 33, 84, 105, 109, 128, 145, 148, 154, 160, 182; LJ, lxi. 15, 18, 27, 39, 85, 132, 151, 183, 203, 256, 266-8, 289, 315, 332-3, 354-5, 380.
  • 30. Davis, 74-77; Fremantle mss 139/10/33, 36; Bodl. MS. Dashwood F1/17; Buckingham, ii. 394-5; Dayrell mss D22/25/144.
  • 31. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/45.
  • 32. Windsor and Eton Express, 28 Nov. 1829; Fremantle mss 139/10/54, 56, 62, 64.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxv. 463, 519; LJ, lxii. 751.
  • 34. Warws. RO, Throckmorton mss CR 1998/Tribune/folder 11/2, Smith to Throckmorton, 25 June; Fremantle mss 139/14/29, 68; Dayrell mss D22/25/146; Stanhope mss C228, Carrington to Lady Stanhope, 10 Aug.; Bucks Gazette, 7, 28 Aug. 1830.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi, 52, 126, 188, 445, 454, 486; LJ, lxiii. 58, 65, 70, 78-79, 90, 118, 181, 184, 225, 317, 445, 456, 473, 482, 484-5, 489, 492.
  • 36. E.J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 113-16; Dayrell mss D22/25/147.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxvi. 406-7, 415; LJ, lxiii. 285, 329, 360.
  • 38. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland [25 Apr.]; 51677, Holland to Russell [Apr.]; Wellington mss WP1/1182/21;1185/17; 1186/1; Fremantle mss 139/20/16, 20; Bucks Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 39. The Times, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14 May; Bucks Gazette, 7, 14 May; Add. 37185, f. 538; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 May; Fremantle mss 139/20/22, 23; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28a-B/55.
  • 40. Bucks. Pollbook (1831); Davis, 94-98.
  • 41. LJ, lxiii. 1045, 1068; CJ, lxxxvii. 364.