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

Background Information

Number of Qualified Electors:

Estimated number qualified to vote: about 1,900

Number of voters:

1,743 in 1826


20 June 1826GEORGE MONTAGU, Visct. Mandeville966
 Lord John Russell858
10 Aug. 1830GEORGE MONTAGU, Visct. Mandeville1068
 CHARLES GORDON, Lord Strathavon990
 John Bonfoy Rooper804
 GEORGE MONTAGU, Visct. Mandeville813
 Charles Gordon, Lord Strathavon575

Main Article

Huntingdonshire was almost entirely agricultural. In addition to the county town and parliamentary borough of Huntingdon, it contained the small market towns of Kimbolton, Ramsey, St. Ives and St. Neot’s.1 The rebellion of independent freeholders in 1818, promoted largely by Samuel Wells, a radical Huntingdon attorney, but fatally handicapped by the disarray of the county Whigs, had failed to upset the uneasy Tory coalition by which the Montagus of Kimbolton, dukes of Manchester, and the Montagus of Hinchingbrooke, earls of Sandwich, divided the representation.2 The minority of the 7th earl of Sandwich and the 5th duke of Manchester’s continued absence abroad left their alliance potentially vulnerable at the general election of 1820. Manchester’s brother Lord Frederick Montagu, who had come out of retirement as a locum in 1818, declined to stand because of ill health, even though his nephew Lord Mandeville would come of age the following year.3 The way was open for the independents to carry the gentry, if they could find a respectable candidate.4 The Whig 1st earl of Carysfort’s inertia and his son Lord Proby’s† incipient insanity handed the initiative to John Heathcote of Conington Castle and Lawrence Reynolds of Paxton Hall, but they, like other resident landowners, were too timid to offer themselves. Captain William Wells, Carysfort’s son-in-law, the defeated candidate at the last election, showed no disposition to come forward; and Samuel Wells (no relation) was disliked by the gentry and lacked respectability. The independents consulted the Whigs Lord Milton*, whose father, the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, was a local landowner, and Lord John Russell, youngest son of the 6th duke of Bedford. In view of the delicacy of the situation and Bedford’s misgivings as a trustee of the Manchester estate during the duke’s absence, Russell hesitated for a considerable time, but he agreed to stand after receiving a requisition from a large number of freeholders. It was widely believed that he and the Tory William Henry Fellowes of Ramsey Abbey, Member since 1807 with the backing of the Manchester interest, would be returned unopposed, as there was no obvious candidate from the Manchester family or its connections. The allegations of disgruntled Tories that Russell was merely a stopgap for Mandeville were denied, but suspicions of ‘unhandsome conduct’ persisted.5 William Augustus Montagu†, the illegitimate son of the 5th earl of Sandwich, and Mary, Dowager Lady Sandwich, incensed at the prospect of a compromise with the Whigs and the Kimbolton interest’s concurrence in it, sought to sponsor a candidate. They applied to Manchester’s agent for support, but he told them that the duke’s estate was ‘wholly under the control’ of Bedford and that beyond assisting Fellowes he was powerless to act. Without their cordial co-operation, Montagu told Lady Sandwich, any attempt to dislodge Russell at this late stage ‘might be attended with great risks’, although a number of their more optimistic supporters felt they were ‘throwing up our cards with the game in our hands’.6 Shortly afterwards the 12th Lord Kilmorey’s second son, Francis Henry Needham, who had property in the county, offered himself, with the backing of Lord Frederick Montagu and the wealthy Lady Olivia Sparrow of Brampton. Fellowes, aware of the inevitable revival of the Manchester interest once Mandeville came of age and, not least, the uncertainty of his own alliance with the Sandwich family, would not consent to this intrusion. The enterprise, which, according to Dr. Edward Maltby, the Whig rector of Buckden, had originated with ‘hot-headed men’ in Huntingdon, was abandoned. He anticipated an attempt to exclude the Whigs from the county meeting to address the new king, 4 Mar. 1820, but Russell’s ‘neat and judicious speech’ stole the Tories’ thunder. Rumours of opposition persisted, but in the event Fellowes and Russell were returned unopposed.7 The Tories were outshone by Russell and his supporters, of whom John Bonfoy Rooper of Abbots Ripton spoke ‘uncommonly well’. William Wells adverted to Russell’s unimpeachable parliamentary conduct and his opposition to the locally contentious Eau Brink drainage bill. Russell portrayed his election as a vindication of the 1818 protest by 466 independent freeholders against the enslavement of the county and stressed his support for parliamentary reform.8

Owners and occupiers of land in Huntingdonshire, the hundreds of Norman Cross and Toseland and in the vicinity of St. Neot’s petitioned Parliament for relief from agricultural distress in May 1820. Similar petitions reached the Commons in March 1821 and February 1822.9 County agriculturists sent petitions to the Commons against interference with the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, 17 Apr., 8 May 1826.10 Petitions for the abolition of slavery were presented to the Commons from the freeholders and inhabitants of the county, 15 May 1823, the inhabitants of Godmanchester, 10 Mar. 1824, 23 Feb. 1826, and the inhabitants of St. Ives, 21 Feb. 1826.11 In the spring of 1821 Fellowes’s support for the Liverpool ministry came under fire in the Huntingdon Gazette.12 A côterie of prominent Whigs, including Bedford, promoted a county meeting to petition in support of Queen Caroline, 30 Mar. It was dominated by Fitzwilliam, Milton and Russell, while Rooper, who referred to the county’s ‘rising spirit of independence’, made his mark by speaking with ‘much animation’ against ministers’ conduct and arguing the case for reform. Resolutions were passed for restoration of the queen’s rights, tax reductions to relieve distress and the reduction of civil and military establishments. Samuel Wells, one of only two dissentients, refused to subscribe to any petition that did not advocate substantial reform. Russell agreed with Milton that the corn laws had a negligible effect on the price of corn, but predicted that opposition in the House to the additional malt duty would be defeated by the weight of ministerial influence: only retrenchment and ‘rational constitutional reform’ would alleviate distress. The petition was presented by Russell, 17 Apr. 1821.13 Continued depression during the winter of 1821-2 provoked calls for further action. Russell supported the demand for a petition, but warned that a revised corn law would not relieve agriculture. His letters to the Gazette in early January 1822 appear to have checked the enthusiasm for a county meeting, but Samuel Wells took the opportunity of a dinner to William Cobbett†, 22 Jan., to submit a draft petition for adoption. He claimed that support for his meeting exceeded that for all others associated with the Whig grandees, adding that it was unnecessary for the freeholders to run after ‘this man or that, in order to give expression to their feelings’. Neither Fellowes nor Russell attended the county meeting to petition for relief and reform, 3 Apr., but, significantly, neither did Maltby or Rooper; the speakers were almost exclusively smaller landowners.14 Mandeville’s marriage to the Brampton heiress Millicent Sparrow in October 1822 roused Tory hopes of a revival of the Manchester interest. Russell publicly denied his dependence on it and stated his determination to stand his ground, though not at the expense of treating; but privately he had already conceded to Lady Holland that he must bow to the consequences.15 The county meeting to consider the necessity of reform, 7 Mar. 1823, was unquestionably a Whig affair. Milton headed the list of requisitionists and Rooper took the lead in submitting resolutions in favour of moderate reform.

Samuel Wells, still indignant at the intrusion of Whig aristocrats into county politics, mocked Rooper’s deference to their qualms over reform, declared that the Whigs were just as greedy as the Tories in their appetite for sinecures and moved an amendment for root and branch reforms, including the reduction of church revenues and the sale of crown lands to cut taxation. Milton argued against its adoption on grounds of expediency, and condemned the introduction of any topic which would prejudice the House against their petition. Fellowes, who contended that agricultural relief should have priority, could not agree to the resolutions and still less to the amendment but, outflanked by the Whigs, he declined to offer any alternative. Russell attacked his colleague’s Tory views and Wells’s argument for reduced taxation, preferring to target the system from which the evils arose and to prevent their recurrence by ‘speedy and effectual reform’. The original resolutions were carried, and the petition was presented by Russell, 24 Apr. 1823.16 In August, however, following a round of constituency duties which included one of the formidable Lady Olivia Sparrow’s Bible meetings, he confided to Lady Holland, ‘I begin to be rather tired of county business, and if I can get honourably out of it should not be sorry to have the retirement of a rotten borough’.17

Rumour of an impending canvass in the summer of 1825 was the first indication of the revival of the Manchester interest, and at the Huntingdon mayor’s feast in late September Mandeville announced his intention of standing in coalition with Fellows at the next general election. His declaration against the ‘importation of corn and Catholics’ was a rallying cry to thwart his opponents, though his defection to the anti-Catholic camp remains an enigma.18 It was uncertain whether Russell could resist such formidable opposition. Several influential landowners who had opposed Lord Frederick Montagu in 1818, including Carysfort, William Wells and Reynolds of Paxton Hall, deserted the independents over the question of parliamentary reform. Wells, according to Carysfort, said he would never vote for Russell again and snubbed the Whigs. Landowners like Reynolds, though formerly favourable to reform, were apprehensive at seeing so many smaller freeholders among Russell’s supporters and held aloof.19 Carysfort, a close friend of Lady Olivia Sparrow, shared these misgivings, but could not be pinned down. His equivocation exasperated the Whigs, and his reluctance to offer more than tacit support was a severe blow. He also told Milton that the Montagu and Sparrow axis was unbeatable.20 Caught off guard by rumours of a dissolution in September 1825, Maltby attributed the Whigs’ embarrassment to Russell’s lack of commitment. He had repeatedly urged him to nurse the constituency in order to explain his views and, so he told Milton, the consequences of his sluggishness were now all too obvious. Russell was determined not to canvass or spend money, following the example of his brother Lord Tavistock* in Bedfordshire, and was so ‘disgusted at the reception he has met with from our Tory squires’ that he envisaged little chance of success. He appeared so ‘indecisive about the county’ as to border on ‘open indifference’. Furthermore, the ‘justly increased’ popularity of government and of Fellowes himself, Mandeville’s marriage ‘to the benefit of the barmaid interest’ and the decision of his father to guard against expenses put his return in jeopardy. Rooper was equally pessimistic, and deemed their position hopeless unless Russell ‘comes forward seriously’: the expenditure of £2,500 might once have guaranteed success, but now their only hope rested in the Mandevilles’ alleged fear of ‘everything like a contest’.21 Party spite was exacerbated by repeated allegations of Bedford’s breach of trust over the Manchester election interest, and there were reports of Russell’s imminent resignation, but he declared his intention of standing, 19 Oct. He told Mandeville that the independents would consider his retirement as proof of a ‘bargain between us for our private benefit at their expense’.22 By November he was anxious to escape to Paris, if not to relinquish the seat altogether, but as he told Lady Holland, ‘I think myself bound to make a fight’.23 A meeting of independent freeholders, 29 Nov., and a public dinner in Russell’s honour, 23 Dec. 1825, set the Tories at defiance and demonstrated the unanimity of the independents. Influential freeholders, such as George Pryme, an implacable opponent of the corporation interest at Cambridge, and Tycho Wing of Thorney Abbey, who had supported Samuel Wells at the county meeting in 1822, now allied with them. Russell emphasized his commitment to the farming interest, but would not pledge himself to oppose the free importation of corn. He ridiculed Mandeville’s stance against Catholicism and dismissed charges of his own indebtedness to the Montagu interest as a tissue of lies concocted to justify Mandeville’s candidature. Rooper, deputizing for Milton, warned of the Montagu family’s ambition to deprive the freeholders of their effective voice in Parliament. A committee of independent freeholders was now well established, and Russell declared his intention to ‘poll the county to a man’.24

Mandeville’s private vacillation over his candidature intensified. By early December 1825 his initial enthusiasm had given way to hypochondria and evangelical qualms over drunkenness at elections. The likely political repercussions of this timidity incensed Lord Frederick. Mandeville then changed his mind again, but, to Montagu’s chagrin, refused to sanction treating and shortly afterwards left for Ireland.25 According to Alderman David Veasey of Huntingdon, the majority of the gentry resented Russell’s intrusion and welcomed Mandeville’s candidature. Moreover, although their opponents were very active they had made little headway among the wealthy farmers bordering the fens: Russell’s ‘evasive handling of the corn question inspires them with no confidence and they do not hesitate to declare their sentiments’. On the other hand, Mandeville’s reticence and half-heartedness taxed the gentry’s loyalty.26 Nothing had been settled by the turn of the year and, much to Ian Reynolds’s astonishment, no accurate list of freeholders had been compiled from the land tax returns, nor had any attempt been made to collect such information as might ‘influence the voters’ suffrage’. Without such details, he warned Lady Mandeville, a canvass was futile.27 It fell to her to co-ordinate the campaign with the help of her Whig uncle, Lord William Cavendish Bentinck*.28 Confusion over the nature of the Montagu alliance hindered the canvass, for to admit to the coalition after their repeated denials would appear ‘still greater vacillation’. Yet Mandeville’s ineptness and inexperience made a joint canvass particularly desirable, since it was too late to counteract the ‘unfortunate declaration at the mayor’s dinner’.29 He and Fellowes publicly declared their intention to stand, 19, 20 Dec. 1825.30 Russell’s canvassers were in the field soon after the turn of the year. Milton was active and ‘eminently successful’ in the north of the county, and the independents’ co-ordinated electioneering exposed the Tories’ disarray. Russell was still resigned to defeat, but Rooper was now less pessimistic: though cautious about the number of recorded promises, his initial canvass had convinced him that the freeholders were more politically aware than at the last election and that there was a ‘general feeling of pride in the abilities of their representatives’ which must work in their favour. The curb on expenditure still hindered the leading independents, and Russell’s departure for France in late January 1826, much to Maltby’s dismay, left the initiative with the Tories. Repeated allegations against the Russells’ conduct went unchecked, but set the pattern of ‘petty strife of party malice’ for much of what was to follow. Maltby urged retaliatory action but, as he observed to Milton, ‘what is a committee without funds?’. Furthermore, he continued, there was the danger that Russell would be defeated by split votes.31 In addition, as Carysfort’s third son Granville Leveson Proby* told Milton, it was inconceivable that many freeholders would split between Russell and Fellowes, and the contest hinged on Russell’s and Fellowes’s second votes.32 Russell refused to canvass in person until after the Easter recess. Shortly afterwards, in more optimistic mood, he told Lady Holland, ‘my chance seems a very fair one against Fellowes’.33 According to the Gazette’s calculations following the first round of canvassing, Russell’s supporters consisted of Whig landowners, the whole of the independent yeomanry and ‘most of the traders and shopkeepers’. Even allowing for party bias there seems little doubt that Russell was the popular candidate. The raising of the ‘No Popery’ cry was widely condemned. The independents attacked Fellowes’s parliamentary record, as well as Mandeville’s inexperience and unsuitability as a Member. The coalition was condemned as a ‘criminal conspiracy against the most valuable rights’ of the freeholders. By early May it was clear that Mandeville was safe, but the position of Fellowes gave cause for alarm. There were rumours of a plan to guard against Mandeville-Russell split votes in order to ensure his return. Indeed, Russell’s strength, it was reported in early June, had prompted Lady Sandwich to consider seating Fellowes for the borough. Opposition to aristocratic manipulation remained the central issue for the independents; and in Russell’s words, ‘it will be seen whether the dependent votes of our opponents can crush the free suffrages, and free spirit of the county’.34

Such was the enthusiasm for Russell at the nomination, 15 June 1826, that even Milton could not secure Fellowes or Mandeville a hearing. Russell, proposed by Henry Poynter Stanley of Paxton Place and seconded by Rooper, complained that five of the county’s major landowners had combined to exclude him. He advocated revision of the corn laws and deplored the clamour against Catholic relief. Attempted rabble-rousing by the clergy on the ‘No Popery’ cry fell flat. At one stage the deployment of partisan special constables incited a ‘desperate riot’, but the election was not otherwise violent. Allegations of corruption and intimidation appear to have had substance: prize fighters were brought up from London to menace the Blues, and Samuel Wells’s speech against aristocratic dictation was drowned by the drums of the county militia. After a contest of five days Mandeville and Fellowes were returned. The independents were not routed and Russell finished only 108 behind Mandeville and 53 behind Fellowes.35 Mandeville and Fellowes shared expenses of over £13,384, of which £6,834 went on treating and £1,558 on favours. The independents got off lightly, yet treating accounted for almost half of their election costs of £2,971, which Fitzwilliam, Lord Sondes and Stanley had agreed to meet.36 Forty-three per cent of the 1,743 voters cast plumpers. Russell received 648 (75 per cent of his total vote), while Fellowes and Mandeville got only 66 and 37 respectively. One-hundred-and-forty-seven voters split for Russell and Mandeville, and just 63 for Russell and Fellowes, and Mandeville and Fellowes shared 782 votes (81 and 86 per cent of their respective totals). Cross-party voting was insignificant and was largely occasioned by local considerations of courtesy and deference. Only 210 freeholders voted in this manner, though significantly the Russell-Mandeville splitters accounted for 70 per cent of them. Frequent county meetings under the auspices of the Whigs had clearly done much to politicise the constituency. The Gazette played a key role and fostered some identification with broader political issues; in some instances the high rate of plumping was perhaps an indication of the independents’ political sophistication. On the other hand, the Whigs also benefited from deferential voting. In the hundred of Norman Cross Fitzwilliam’s influence, in conjunction with that of other Whig landowners, was conspicuous. Here 158 (89 per cent) of 178 freeholders (including Carysfort’s Elton tenants to a man) plumped for Russell. Partisan voting, however, was evident throughout the whole constituency. Even in the hundred of Leightonstone, where the Brampton and Kimbolton interest predominated, 87 (43 per cent) of 202 voters cast plumpers. In the largely fenland hundred of Hurstingstone, where the Hinchingbrooke and Ramsey interests were important, 208 (38 per cent) of the 548 voting freeholders plumped for Russell. The inertia of the Carysfort interest did little to discourage smaller landowners from falling in behind the Montagu coalition, and Mandeville’s marriage had deprived the Whigs of the old Brampton interest. At the same time, the independents’ opponents were well placed to exercise coercive tactics and, according to Russell, many were ‘forced to poll against their wishes’.37 At Huntingdon and St. Neot’s, where the Sandwich interest was predominant, freeholders were easily deterred from taking an independent line. At St. Neot’s, for example, one of the Sandwich tenants was given notice to quit for withholding the promise of his vote. Even at Godmanchester and St. Ives, where much was made of the independence of the freeholders, the Whigs were barely able to hold their own against the weight of Tory influence. Landlord influence was equally marked in the countryside, where the relationship with tenants commanded many votes. The Brampton and Kimbolton freeholders voted almost en masse for the coalition, and together accounted for about one third of the electors in the hundred of Leightonstone. The presence of Sandwich estates in the hundreds of Hurstingstone and Toseland had an equally marked effect on the pattern of voting, just as Fellowes commanded votes among the ‘Ramsey vassals’. Landlord influence was also reflected in the voting behaviour of the out-voters. An analysis of the 462 electors in this category shows that 292 (63 per cent) came from the five neighbouring counties (including 130 from Cambridgeshire, 87 from Northamptonshire, and 46 from Bedfordshire). No fewer than 249 of all out-voters (54 per cent) plumped for Russell. Among the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely voters Fellowes and Russell were neck and neck; but among the out-voters of Northamptonshire, presumably as a consequence of Fitzwilliam’s interest there, plumping was as high as 68 per cent. The resident clergy almost to a man voted for the Montagu candidates, as did the majority of non-resident pluralists, particularly from Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Fitzwilliam owned four advowsons in the constituency and a handful of clergy, including pluralists from as far afield as Yorkshire, opted for Russell, while five out of eight Northamptonshire clerical out-voters plumped for him.38

There is no reason to doubt Russell’s claim that the mainstay of his support came from independent yeomen and smaller freeholders, the stratum of the electorate which had shown most enthusiasm for the county meetings. Contemporary analysis of former contests ‘against the same parties’ showed that partisan voting had steadily increased since the election of 1807, and the consistent growth of the independent vote underscored Russell’s optimism for the future. It was argued that the independents had already outnumbered their opponents in terms of unbought votes. Pryme spoke for many in his assertion that the coalitionists had no cause to celebrate, for even in the face of coercion it was evident that the freeholders would no longer submit to dictation. Russell was indignant at the weight of influence leagued against him. He deplored the influence of ‘fear and compulsion’ and applauded the integrity of the poorer freeholders who had not succumbed to intimidation. At the same time he recognized that he had lost votes by his failure to counter Tory propaganda over Catholicism and the corn laws more effectively. Buoyant in defeat, he wrote to Milton:

We fought such a battle as must sicken our enemies. We found that we can at any time poll more than 700 votes without exertion, and I do not think our enemies will like to renew such an expensive victory, particularly with such a number of short reigns in prospect. They went to great expense and during the two last days brought up votes from every part of the kingdom, one even from France.

He had little inclination to stand again but was convinced that any one of the leading independents ‘may in future stand an excellent chance of success’. It was essential to ‘keep our forces together’ and have the ‘best possible system of arrangement’ in readiness for a future contest. Stanley shortly afterwards purchased land in St. Neot’s, in order, so the Gazette reported, to release the freeholders from the ‘political thraldom of the Sandwich family’. Less sanguine about other aspects of his defeat, Russell complained to Lord Holland that in spite of his support for liberal Toryism, government influence had been used against him. Fellowes, he noted, had distributed places in the excise, and then boasted of his opposition to any revision of the corn laws.39

Owners and occupiers of land petitioned the Commons against interference with the corn laws, 1 Mar. 1827.40 There was heavy petitioning from Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828.41 The inhabitants of St. Neot’s petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 30 Jan. 1828.42 Petitions against Catholic emancipation in 1829 were sent up from Kimbolton, Ramsey and the archdeaconry, but some freeholders petitioned the Commons in its favour, 26 Mar., and Protestant Dissenters of St. Ives petitioned the Lords likewise, 6 Mar.43 Owners, occupiers and traders of the county petitioned the Commons for repeal of the beer and malt duties, 16 Mar. 1830.44 The knowledge that Mandeville was keen to accompany Cavendish Bentinck to India on his appointment as governor-general in July 1827 alerted the independents to the possibility of reinstating Russell. Bedford, however, told Lady Holland that Manchester would undoubtedly put up his younger son, Lord William Montagu, and that it would be madness to open old wounds. He suggested Lord Grey’s son, Lord Howick*, as a suitable alternative.45 Russell shared these misgivings and discouraged the entreaties of Maltby, who appreciated the delicacy of Russell’s position, but imagined that Manchester had ‘suffered too much from the last contest to run the risk of another so soon’ and suggested that Canning’s accession to power would ensure the neutrality of Fellowes. In the end Lady Millicent’s ill health forestalled Mandeville’s ambition, though in the meantime the household official Lord Strathavon, the son of Lord Aboyne and Member for East Grinstead, who had a residence at Orton Longueville, was mentioned as a potential candidate in the event of a vacancy.46

Rooper and Milton were the mainstays of a county meeting called to petition for repeal of the malt tax, 6 Apr. 1830.47 Russell was sceptical about standing at the next general election and was not impressed by reports from Milton that the independents would nominate him. His decision not to stand dispirited the independents, who in the aftermath of his defeat, so his uncle assured him, had gone on ‘toasting you and saying you will never desert them!’.48 Shortly before the king’s death in late June George Day explained something of their sense of betrayal to Milton, who was attempting to rally them. Russell’s decision would dishearten many ‘who have cheerfully made personal sacrifices and given every exertion’ in the expectation that he would fight again. He agreed that Rooper was entitled to the preference of the resident gentry; yet in the face of a coalition and open treating, it was generally believed that only Russell would have ‘any solid prospect of success’.49 Mandeville offered again. Fellowes declined to do so, ostensibly for health reasons, though he was presumably also wary of further expense and conscious of his unpopularity. He was replaced as the Sandwich candidate by Strathavon, who was known to be prepared to stand a contest. All he feared, according to one report, was a direct clash with Milton; otherwise ‘he was pretty confident’.50 The inactivity of Carysfort and his son-in-law left the Whig interest weak and divided, and there was no obvious candidate among the resident gentry. A meeting of independents, 3 July, requested Milton to stand, or at least give them the benefit of his advice. Tavistock shared the independents’ indignation at the prospect of a ‘placeman, and a placeman’s son’ (Mandeville’s father had been postmaster-general since 1827) monopolizing the county, while Captain James Duberly of Gaynes Hall trusted that Rooper would stand, or at least consent to be put in nomination. Maltby understood that Rooper would receive many of the borough votes which had formerly been given to Fellowes, but feared that his reluctance to stand for fear of impoverishing his large family would rob them of an opportunity to restore the compromise. Rooper’s hesitancy prompted friends of Milton to suggest Duberly as a suitable alternative.51 According to the Whig Frederick Ponsonby*, Bedford and Tavistock had already prepared the ground for this, but Duberly’s diffidence was not overcome by persuasion.52 Rooper was formally sounded by the committee for preserving the independence of the county, 7 July 1830, but, as he had forewarned Milton, he was disinclined to stand, in justice to his family. He baulked at the cost of an election, but was willing to take his seat if the voters returned him. An appeal was launched for subscriptions and the freeholders were urged to stand by the principle of 1818 and elect him free of charge.53

There were conflicting reports of the independents’ progress. William Pears was surprised by the strength of feeling in their favour throughout the county, but they were hampered by internal wrangling and the want of an active candidate to co-ordinate the campaign. Rooper was disconcerted by the initial fervour of the more zealous independents and found it useless to reason with ‘people who are wild’. Had the canvass fallen into better hands, Pears told Milton, ‘the race would have been a hard one indeed’. Some 55 promised Rooper at Huntingdon (42 had plumped for Russell in 1826), while George Day undertook to produce 40 votes from St. Ives, where just 27 had given single votes to Russell. Despite the inertia of Stanley at St. Neot’s, where the Sandwich interest was strong, no slump in the independent vote was anticipated. Maltby reported rather favourably from his parish, but added that the question of the corn laws ‘will injure the case there with a few farmers’. The resignation of Fellowes left room for realignment, and on this occasion the interest of the Sweeting family was said to be ‘entirely’ with the Whigs. Yet Fellowes’s fen interest was annexed in favour of the Tories. The ebullience of some of the independents was not shared by all the Whigs, and it was soon obvious that the ‘middling classes of freeholders’ were incapable of raising the necessary funds to fight a contest. Strathavon, on the other hand, was ‘reckless of money’ to attain success. Day gave Milton a vivid impression of the misplaced confidence of the independents in the opening stages of the canvass. He admired the committee’s indefatigability but found it necessary to adjust their calculations by a quarter:

There was not an individual but who firmly believes that success is certain and really their sanguinity leaves me at a miserable distance from the realization of their bliss. To venture a doubt is to introduce fear in their counsels; to hint at defeat implies a coldness in the cause; to state the nature of the opposition and to recount their warlike preparations for battle is to them cowardice and unsoldierlike. There is a superabundance of zeal, quite enough to seize and handcuff sober and steady judgement and to throw cool deliberation out of the window. I was really amazed to see with what ease they could rid themselves of all difficulty and the facility with which they brought their minds to believe that our worthy friend Rooper would sit in the car of victory.54

By 13 July, without the wherewithal to fight, there was a ‘general feeling of dissatisfaction, if not despair’ among the committee. Day felt so demoralized that he withdrew, determined to make ‘no exertions or sacrifice’, but merely to exert and apply what local influence he could. The despondency of the independent freeholders was evident in the county at large, but Milton’s ‘munificent donation’ to the fighting fund, 15 July, restored some confidence. Day resumed his post and devoted himself to the canvass, though he remained anxious to avoid the embarrassment of again failing for want of money. The hot-headedness of a number of inexperienced committee members and the absence of seasoned campaigners such as Wing had led them to overreach themselves. With the financial position still uncertain it was essential, Day assured Milton, to ‘count the cost before we begin to build’ and to have a ‘temperate supply of ammunition’. Strathavon had already made inroads into the formerly safe hundred of Norman Cross and, so Milton was informed, ‘every inch of ground will be disputed’. There was a concerted effort to discredit him as a ‘thorough paced courtier’ and Tory bigot in order to deprive him of Rooper and Mandeville’s second votes. Mandeville’s support for the repeal of the Test Acts and Rooper’s liberal churchmanship, for example, made them both acceptable to the Dissenters.55 It was absurd, said the Gazette, to imagine that a placeman would vote for the abolition of sinecures. The Tories alleged that Rooper was nothing more than Milton’s nominee brought forward to try the strength of the county with a view to some ‘ulterior proceeding’. Scaremongering over the corn laws to unnerve the agriculturists was another Tory line of attack. The independents responded by defaming Strathavon’s father as a rack-renter. A proposed alliance between Rooper and Mandeville was rejected out of hand, though for tactical reasons the independents persisted: Bedford’s steward was said to have requested votes for Mandeville and Rooper, as did Wing.56

At the nomination Strathavon, who was sponsored by George Thornhill† of Diddington and Sir Robert Mowbray, insisted on his independence, stressing that he had relinquished his household place. He wished to see farmers receive fair prices and labourers paid adequate wages. Duberly condemned the aristocratic domination of the county and proposed Rooper. In seconding his nomination Pryme exhorted the freeholders not to lose sight of the political issues at stake: for too long the yeomanry and borough freemen had been imposed upon and the representation divided between the Montagus. Rooper, who was well received, explained his inability to face a contest and applauded the growing spirit of independence among the freeholders. He confirmed his independence and commitment to the agricultural interest. Samuel Wells urged the necessity of reform and condemned treating: ‘it was not in their interest to be drunk seven days, at the price of being slaves for seven years after’. Captain Henry Edwards of Huntingdon, in an attack on the independents, spoke of the lack of unanimity between their ‘aristocratic’ and more ‘democratic’ committees. He ridiculed the Whigs’ boast of independence and alluded to Bedford’s creation of some 43 freeholds at Hartford since the last election. Russell addressed the meeting in support of Rooper who, if returned, would vote for reform, and recommended the allocation of second votes to Mandeville. He defended his father against the imputation of gerrymandering.57 Milton addressed the independents, 7 Aug., and clarified his position on the corn laws in order to counteract Tory alarmism over free trade. He dismissed the imputation that he had attempted to dictate to the county, a charge which he said would be more accurately levelled against the Montagus and the ‘133 vassals from Ramsey’.58 Mandeville headed the poll from the outset, and at the close of the third day Rooper trailed Strathavon by 46 votes. On the hustings Milton challenged Strathavon over the repeal of the malt tax, but he, like Mandeville, had stolen away. Mandeville and Strathavon finished ahead of Rooper by 264 and 186 votes respectively.59 Four-hundred-and-twenty-nine voters cast plumpers for Rooper (53 per cent of his total vote), whereas Strathavon and Mandeville attracted only 103 and 30 respectively. Among the 438 out-voters, 240 (55 per cent) voted for Rooper. In the hundred of Leightonstone 55 voted for him, as against 178 for Mandeville and 137 for Strathavon. The Sandwich and Fellowes interest dominated the hundred of Hurstingstone: at Ramsey among the resident freeholders, for example, Rooper polled 15 to Strathavon’s 136 votes. Mandeville and Strathavon made incursions into the formerly safe hundred of Norman Cross, presumably on account of Aboyne’s property there. Carysfort’s Elton tenants remained loyal to the Whigs but split their votes with Mandeville. Overall in this hundred, Strathavon polled 12 votes less than Rooper and 55 more than Mandeville. The Hinchingbrooke interest predominated at St. Neot’s and throughout the hundred of Toseland, although Rooper knocked Strathavon into second place at Godmanchester.60 George Day, an experienced election agent, found grounds for confidence in defeat. The hundred of Hurstingstone ‘came up well’ despite the numbers of Hinchingbrooke and Ramsey ‘vassals’. As he explained to Milton:

When I look at all the disadvantages under which we laboured from want of resources in the first instance and from want of a candidate, of a good canvass and of an early decision, I feel that we ought to be satisfied with 804 votes and particularly as our committee shot all the out votes, or nearly so, at their first ‘self pay’ firing.

Such was the extent of treating, he complained, that the freeholders ‘polled or not polled’ were at liberty to ‘eat and get drunk’ for every day of the election.61 The exclusion of all but one of the Covington freeholders from the land tax returns in order to disqualify them as electors was just one of the complaints of chicanery reported by the Gazette. Joseph Day of Great Stoughton, who like many other freeholders had mortgaged his property to meet debts, was hoodwinked out of his vote as a consequence of the skulduggery of one of Mandeville’s agents. The independents were in no position to bring evidence of bribery before the House, and a donation from the Cambridgeshire freeholders towards their share of the official election costs saved them from some embarrassment.62

There was intensive petitioning of the 1830 Parliament, mainly by Dissenters, for the abolition of slavery.63 Freeholders, copyholders and inhabitants of St. Ives petitioned the Commons for parliamentary reform, 23 Dec. 1830, and inhabitants of St. Ives and Godmanchester did likewise, 2 Mar. 1831.64 Inhabitants of St. Ives petitioned the Lords in support of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, 22 Mar.65 A reform meeting, 2 Apr., was well attended despite Maltby’s foreboding of apathy.66 Among the leading requisitionists and speakers were George Day, Duberly, Maltby, Pryme and Rooper. The ‘adverse party’ were not expected to attend, though Strathavon and a number of leading Huntingdon corporators addressed the meeting. Mandeville pleaded his absence from Kimbolton as an excuse for not appearing. Rooper advocated reform and moved the adoption of petitions seconded by Maltby. In the light of Strathavon’s vote for the second reading of the reform bill, William Ashton of Cambridge sought an assurance that he would support it in committee, but Strathavon refused to give any pledge and was shouted down. He declared his support for the principle of reform but said he would oppose the third reading if the bill was not modified in committee. George Day repudiated the arguments of the anti-reformers but Pryme was more conciliatory and applauded Strathavon’s vote.67 Shortly afterwards, as the drive for reform gained momentum, a meeting to secure the independence of the county took place at St. Ives. It was announced that an independent candidate would oppose Mandeville if neither Russell nor Rooper stood. In any event, Rooper told Milton, Mandeville was safe, and any attempt to dislodge him would be the means of ‘losing Strathavon and getting an Ultra Tory’. As for Strathavon’s wavering over reform, Rooper was inclined to attribute his vote for it to an ‘habitual subserviency to Courts and ministers’ rather than to any conviction of its necessity. Even so, Pryme believed that he deserved their support ‘if he professes himself favourable to the details of the bill’. On this assumption the independents offered him their support before the publication of his election address. They agreed not to force a contest unless the anti-reformers brought forward a candidate in addition to Mandeville; but even in this contingency Strathavon was informed, 28 Apr. 1831, that he could depend on their second votes.68 His subsequent declaration that his views on reform remained unchanged destroyed their confidence. Samuel Wells, who had supported the independents’ strategy, was so astonished that he sought an explanation from Strathavon, who, so Wells later claimed, was bound hand and foot by the Sandwich interest.69 There was more than a grain of truth in this. Fellowes, appalled by Strathavon’s trimming on reform, sought guarantees from Lady Sandwich before he would promise his support.70 George Frederick Maule, the Sandwich agent, was equally outraged by the overtures from the independents and threatened, should Strathavon comply, to withdraw his support and propose William Fellowes, the former Member’s eldest son. George Day and Duberly, anxious to take advantage of the widespread enthusiasm for reform, were instrumental in persuading Rooper to stand in the aftermath of Strathavon’s address. With no money in hand they agreed to make themselves responsible for his election expenses, though they subsequently received £750 from the Loyal and Patriotic Fund. The odds were increasing against Strathavon as it became clear that Manchester would not exert himself to defend the Montagu alliance. Lady Sandwich’s appeal for support was ignored, and before the election it was clear to Maule that the duke’s interest was reserved solely for Mandeville. Even stalwarts like the Veasey family and the clergy began to desert the Hinchingbrooke camp.71

At the nomination Mandeville was proposed by General Denzil Onslow as a friend to a ‘just and equitable reform’. He was safe, and his votes against reform and his strong anti-Catholic views attracted little attention. His declaration that reform would be ruinous to farmers, however, was repudiated by Rooper and Henry John Adeane* of Babraham, Cambridgeshire. Strathavon declared his willingness to vote for moderate reform, but was adamant in his refusal to be pledged any further. He was attacked by Rooper, Pryme and Samuel Wells.72 The dissolution of the Montagu alliance, as far as the Kimbolton interest was concerned, was evident to Strathavon if not to The Times. Mandeville declined splitting with Strathavon and sought only plumpers for himself.73 Rooper led the field and at the close of the second day stood 14 ahead of Mandeville and 182 ahead of Strathavon. In spite of the great exertions made by his opponents on the following day their relative positions were still worse. An attempt to narrow the gap by seeking plumpers for Strathavon had little effect. Lady Sandwich’s proposal to subscribe £1,000, with an assurance of further financial help from the Tories’ London committee, was too late to save the day. The ‘shabby and almost rascally’ behaviour of the Manchester family was bitterly resented by the 19-year-old earl, who assured his mother that if they had acted with any consistency Rooper would have been driven from the field.74 The Kimbolton agents were unremitting in their canvass throughout the Sunday in the hope of overtaking Rooper. According to Maule, Mandeville was mortified at not being at the head of the poll and wished the contest to run into a fourth day, but Strathavon’s resignation was announced before the opening of the poll.75 Rooper remained in first place, 266 votes ahead of Strathavon and 28 in front of Mandeville. Of 1,531 freeholders polled, 833 (58 per cent) gave single votes. Of Rooper’s 841 votes, 559 (66 per cent) were plumpers; of the remainder, 23 per cent were split with Mandeville and 11 per cent with Strathavon. Of the 813 votes cast for Mandeville, 416 (51 per cent) were split with Strathavon, and the rest almost equally divided between singles and split votes with Rooper. Some 72 per cent of Strathavon’s votes were split with Mandeville, and just 16 per cent with Rooper. In the hundred of Hurstingstone, despite the Hinchingbrooke and Ramsey alliance, 264 freeholders plumped for Rooper. Among the county’s resident voters Rooper polled 287 to Mandeville’s 285 and Strathavon’s 238. He headed the poll among the resident freeholders of St. Ives and put up a good fight at Huntingdon. The collapse of the Hinchingbrooke interest was equally evident in the hundred of Toseland, and at St. Neot’s Rooper was only eight votes behind Strathavon. The Kimbolton and Brampton interest remained firm in the hundred of Leightonstone but did little to assist Strathavon. His proprietary interest in the hundred of Norman Cross was insufficient to counteract the non-resident freeholders, who pushed Rooper further ahead. Of the 317 out-voters, 222 (70 per cent) opted for Rooper either as splitters or plumpers.76 Rooper’s election expenses were in the region of £1,500. At a celebratory dinner, 20 May 1831, he spoke of the victory not as one of party or of an individual, but as the triumph of principle over the thraldom in which the county had long been held.77 In the wake of the chairing Maule wrote:

Never had the Whigs greater cause for exaltation and never were the Tories so unnecessarily beaten; it is however such a blow to the Tory interest which will not be recovered for years. I trust however it will ultimately fall on that part of the interest which has been the sole occasion of it, aided by Mr. Sweeting, Mr. Rust and the Veaseys.78

Inhabitants of St. Ives petitioned the Lords in support of the reform bills, 4 Oct. 1831.79

Huntingdonshire continued as a two Member constituency under the Reform Act. At the 1832 general election, when the registered electorate was 2,653, Mandeville and Rooper were unopposed. The compromise survived until 1837, when Rooper was defeated by two Conservatives, whose party held both seats until 1880.

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir (1823-4), 369-76.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 211-12.
  • 3. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 26 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam mss, Maltby to Milton, 26 June 1819.
  • 5. Hunts. RO, Manchester mss ddM 21a/8, Bedford to Mandeville, 27 July, 7 Aug., reply, 1 Aug., Maltby to Lady Mandeville, 28 Sept., Russell to Mandeville, 22 Oct., reply [1 Nov.] 1825.
  • 6. Hunts. RO, Sandwich mss, Montagu to Lady Sandwich, 1 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Fitzwilliam mss, Maltby to Milton, 3, 5 Mar.; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Fitzwilliam mss, Maltby to Milton, 17 Mar.; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. CJ, lxxv. 177, 226; lxxvi. 137; lxxvii. 27; LJ, liii. 83.
  • 10. CJ, lxxx. 350; lxxxi. 249, 332.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 143; lxxxi. 86, 96.
  • 12. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 3, 10, 24 Mar. 1821.
  • 13. Fitzwilliam mss 102/11; 104/4; The Times, 2 Apr.; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 7 Apr. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 275.
  • 14. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 22 Dec. 1821, 12, 19, 26 Jan., 9, 23 Feb., 30 Mar., 6 Apr. 1822.
  • 15. Ibid. 19 Oct. 1822; Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland [July 1822].
  • 16. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 22 Feb., 8, 22 Mar. 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 250.
  • 17. Add. 51579.
  • 18. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 18 June, 9 July, 24 Sept. 1825.
  • 19. Fitzwilliam mss, Maltby to Milton [1], 20 Sept., Rooper to Maltby, 19 Sept. 1825; 123/14.
  • 20. Fitzwilliam mss 124/15.
  • 21. Ibid. Rooper to Maltby, 19 Sept., Maltby to Milton, 20 Sept. 1825.
  • 22. Manchester mss 21a/8, Bedford to Mandeville, 27 July, reply, 1 Aug., Montagu to Mandeville, 9 Dec., to Lady Mandeville, 24, 31 Dec. [1825], Russell to Mandeville, 18 Jan. 1826; Fitzwilliam mss, Mandeville to Russell, 1 Nov. 1825.
  • 23. Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland, 9, 28 Nov. 1825.
  • 24. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 3, 17, 24 Dec. 1825.
  • 25. Manchester mss 21a/8, Montagu to Lady Mandeville, 19 Dec. [1825].
  • 26. Ibid. 21a/8, Veasey to Lady O. Sparrow [1825], to Lady Mandeville, 2 Jan. [1826].
  • 27. Ibid. 21a/8, Reynolds to Lady Mandeville, 3, 8, 14, 21 Jan. 1826.
  • 28. Fitzwilliam mss 124/13.
  • 29. Manchester mss 21a/8, Montagu to Lady Mandeville, 13, 23 Jan. [1826].
  • 30. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 24 Dec. 1825.
  • 31. Fitzwilliam mss 124/7, 10-12; Russell to Milton, 13 Jan., Rooper to same, 17, 29 Jan., Maltby to same, 17, 23 Jan. 1826.
  • 32. Fitzwilliam mss, Proby to Milton [Jan. 1826].
  • 33. Add. 51679, Russell to Lady Holland, 16 Jan., 26 Mar. 1826.
  • 34. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 14, 21, 28 Jan., 4, 11, 18, 25 Feb., 25 Mar., 1, 8, 15, 22 Apr., 6, 27 May 1826; P.J. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831, pp. 38-39, 59-60.
  • 35. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 3, 10, 17, 24 June; G. Pryme, Autobiog. Recollections, 156-7; Fitzwilliam mss, Russell to Milton, 23 June [1826].
  • 36. Fitzwilliam mss, Hunts. election bills [1826]; Manchester mss 21a/8, election expenses [1826].
  • 37. Add. 51677, Russell to Holland, 23 June 1826.
  • 38. Hunts. Pollbook (1826); Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 1, 8 July 1826.
  • 39. Fitzwilliam mss, Russell to Milton, 23 June; Add. 51677, to Holland, 23 June; Pryme, 156-7; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 8 July 1826.
  • 40. CJ, lxxxii. 245.
  • 41. Ibid. 520, 521; lxxxiii. 87, 90, 105, 185; LJ, lx. 55, 67, 208.
  • 42. CJ, lxxxiii. 487.
  • 43. Ibid. lxxxiv. 59, 81, 145, 154, 170, 173, 182; LJ, lxi. 67, 130, 136, 255, 315.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxv. 183.
  • 45. Add. 51669, Bedford to Holland, 26 Oct. 1827.
  • 46. Fitzwilliam mss, Russell to Maltby [6 Nov.], Maltby to Milton, 11 Nov. 1827.
  • 47. The Times, 8 Apr. 1830.
  • 48. Walpole, Russell, i. 132, 155.
  • 49. Fitzwilliam mss, Day to Milton, 23 June 1830.
  • 50. Cambridge Chron. 2, 9 July; Fitzwilliam mss, Strathavon to Milton, 3 July, Rooper to same, 3 July 1830.
  • 51. Fitzwilliam mss, Duberly, Tavistock, Maltby and Rooper to Milton, 5 July 1830.
  • 52. Ibid. Ponsonby to Milton, 9 July 1830.
  • 53. Ibid. Rooper to Milton [7 July]; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 10 July 1830.
  • 54. Fitzwilliam mss, Martin to Milton [10 July], Day to same, 11 July, Pears to same, 18 July 1830.
  • 55. Ibid. Barratt to Milton , 15 July, Day to same,16 July, Pears to same, 18 July 1830.
  • 56. Cambridge Chron. 30 July; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 24, 31 July 1830.
  • 57. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 58. Ibid. 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 59. Ibid. 14, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 60. Hunts. Pollbook (1830).
  • 61. Fitzwilliam mss, Day to Milton, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 62. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 21 Aug., 3 Oct. 1830.
  • 63. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 56, 175, 445, 454-5; LJ, lxiii. 34, 59, 76, 104, 434, 438, 488.
  • 64. CJ, lxxxvi. 202, 333.
  • 65. LJ, lxiii. 353.
  • 66. Fitzwilliam mss, Maltby to Milton, 29 Mar. 1831.
  • 67. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 9 Apr. 1831.
  • 68. Sandwich mss, Pryme to Strathavon, 28 Apr.; Stamford Herald, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 69. Sandwich mss Hinch/8/149/1, 3, 4.
  • 70. Ibid. 8/149/2, 5.
  • 71. Ibid. 8/149/6, 7.
  • 72. The Times, 7, 10 May; Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 73. Sandwich mss 8/149/8, 9.
  • 74. Ibid. 8/149/10.
  • 75. Ibid. 8/149/11.
  • 76. Hunts. Pollbook (1831).
  • 77. Huntingdon, Bedford and Peterborough Gazette, 28 May 1831.
  • 78. Sandwich mss 8/149/12.
  • 79. LJ, lxiii. 1045.