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 4,200

Number of voters:

4,182 (1831)


6 Dec. 1830ALTHORP re-elected after appointment to office 
23 May 1831JOHN CHARLES SPENCER, Visct. Althorp2476
 William Ralph Cartwright2019
 Sir Charles Knightley, bt.1423

Main Article

Northamptonshire was predominantly rural and agrarian. Its chief industry was the manufacture of boots and shoes, centred around Northampton, Kettering, Daventry, Towcester, Higham Ferrers and Wellingborough, although there were also some small-scale silk weaving, lace making and wool spinning enterprises.1 Politically the county was notable for its unusually large number of resident aristocrats. The summary of one radical commentator of the reform bill era, that ‘the Whig lords and gentry ... invariably bring in one Member, and the Tories the other’, echoed the assessment of Oldfield in 1816.2 This arrangement dated from the expensive contest of 1806 (the first for more than 50 years), since when the county had been represented by the Whig Lord Althorp, heir to the 2nd Earl Spencer, whose Althorp estate lay in the middle of the county, and the Tory William Ralph Cartwright, whose residence at Aynho was in the south-western corner. Despite the longevity of this compromise, Althorp was haunted by the belief that he represented Northamptonshire, which his mother dubbed ‘our own Tory county’, on sufferance.3 He was extremely wary of being seen to foment opposition and, perhaps as a result, few county meetings took place in this period for other than formal purposes. The high regard in which Althorp was generally held owed much to his being, like Cartwright, a diligent magistrate, active agriculturist and keen sportsman. He was the leading light in the Northampton Ploughman’s and Shepherd’s Friends Society (known as the Northamptonshire Farming and Grazing Society from 1823) and invariably presided at its annual gatherings. He was also master of Pytchley Hunt and commanded his local yeomanry troop.4 He was not, however, invulnerable, and at the December 1819 quarter sessions there were some stirring against him from some of his colleagues on the bench. Their anger stemmed from his opposition to the government’s alarmist legislation of the preceding session, his attendance at Sir Francis Burdett’s* Westminster protest meeting and his having signed a Yorkshire requisition for a county meeting on the subject. As he told his father, 17 Jan. 1820, ‘the clergy and highest Tories were very violent against me’. An attempt to query his right to chair the sessions (a duty he had performed since 1807) was forestalled by the intervention of Cartwright, who ‘behaved very handsomely, and stood forward with great decision and manliness’. Althorp commented that ‘the place of chairman is of no object whatever; the only thing would be that if I was turned out of it for my public conduct, it might induce someone to try a contest at the next election’. He suspected that friends of the Tory 1st marquess of Northampton of Castle Ashby, the lord lieutenant, wished to start his son Lord Compton, Member for Northampton, but did ‘not think Lord Northampton would be foolish enough to indulge them’. In the event of a serious challenge his inclination, he advised Spencer a month later, was to retreat, as he ‘had no money myself to fight a contest, and ... it would be a very unsatisfactory way for you to spend eight or ten thousand pounds’. His soundings, however, led him to expect no threat that could not be overawed by a personal canvass, in spite of the ‘great endeavours [that] had been made to procure a candidate’.5

In the event there was no opposition to the sitting Members at the 1820 general election, when Cartwright’s seconder, George William Finch Hatton of Kirby Hall (later 10th earl of Winchilsea), took Althorp to task for his appearance at the Westminster meeting. Althorp declared himself to be ‘glad the day had come when he should be able to defend his character from the attacks made by anonymous writers’ in the local press, and protested that the legislation against seditious meetings would outlaw all assemblies ‘except such as were held by sufferance’. Two clergymen, Harrison and Thomas Hornsby (the latter of whom Althorp suspected of having circulated a pamphlet against him) were unhappy with his explanation, but were shouted down. Cartwright stood aloof, insisting that his long service made a restatement of his politics unnecessary, though according to his own notes, he did say that the absence of political unrest in Northamptonshire was owing to its being ‘a loyal and enlightened county, free from the abuses and contagion of a mischievous and licentious press’. (The sole county paper until 1831, the Northampton Mercury, was solidly Tory.)6

Both Members had signed a requisition for the county meeting to send an address of condolence and congratulation to the new king, 3 Mar. 1820.7 In the chair at the quarter sessions that April, Althorp refrained from proposing a separate toast to Queen Caroline. In what was intended as a public gesture of support for Althorp, Lord Milton*, son and heir of the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam of Milton House, the leading Whig of the north of the county, also attended, but Althorp privately informed his father that ‘it would have been better if he had not ... but of course it was impossible to tell him so in a manner strong enough to prevent him from doing it’.8 When the legal proceedings against the queen were dropped in mid-November 1820, a ‘partial illumination’ took place at Olney and an address of congratulation was sent to her from Wellingborough with 2,100 signatures.9 Petitions from Wellingborough, Kettering and Daventry for restoration of her name to the liturgy reached the Commons, 26 Jan. 1821.10 The Wellingborough petition, presented by Althorp, boasted more than 800 signatures. Fitzwilliam presented a similar one to the Lords, 25 Jan. 1821, and took charge of an address asking the king to dismiss his ministers.11 Althorp was determined to avoid a county meeting on the subject ‘for my own sake, as I shall be put in a difficult situation’, as he told Milton, 4 Dec. 1820, and with the latter’s acquiescence none took place.12 On 12 Jan. 1821 a county meeting for a loyal address to the king was chaired by Lord Northampton and attended by Cartwright, who marked the coronation in July 1821 with a dinner for 400 at Aynho.13 Petitions for relief from agricultural distress were presented to the Commons, 16, 17 May 1820, 27, 28 Feb., 1, 5, 7 Mar., 3 Apr. 1821.14 On 13 May 1822 Lady Spencer told her husband that a farmer’s requisition for a county meeting had garnered 300 signatures, and this after ‘a great deal of cold water has been thrown on the business by Althorp’.15 No meeting took place, but a petition complaining of high taxation, signed by 400 farmers, was presented by Althorp, 12 June, when Cartwright dissented from its prayer.16 Fruitless attempts to promote a county meeting on the subject of parliamentary reform were referred to in a letter from Lord Euston* in December 1822.17 Petitions against the leather tax reached the Commons from Daventry, 29 Apr. 1822, and Wellingborough, 25 Apr. 1823, 23 Feb. 1824.18 On 14 Mar. 1823 there was a meeting of tradesmen and artisans in Wellingborough to seek the easier recovery of small debts, and the resulting petition was presented to the Commons, 16 Apr.19 Petitions against Catholic relief, on which the Members took opposite sides, were presented by Cartwright from Wellingborough, 18 Apr., and Daventry, 25 Apr. 1825.20 Anti-slavery petitions reached the Commons from Kettering, 16 Mar. 1824, 1 Mar. 1826, Oundle, 6 Mar. 1826, and Wellingborough, 2 Mar. 1824, 24 Feb. 1826.21

At the 1826 general election Althorp and Cartwright offered again, confining their addresses to their long service as county Members.22 On the hustings, however, Althorp was ‘forced to make a longish speech’ after

Cartwright stated all his opinions, but without any detailed argument, and I was therefore obliged to state mine also, and I could not do it without stating the grounds of my opinions also, so that I spoke upon reform of Parliament, slavery, the Catholic question and the corn laws. I compressed what I had to say, however, into a speech of very little more than half an hour.23

He was nominated by Sir William Wake of Courteenhall and seconded by Edward Bouverie† of Delapré Abbey. Cartwright was nominated by Sir Charles Knightley† of Fawsley and seconded by Thomas Philip Maunsell† of Thorpe Malsor. They were returned unopposed, which Cartwright hailed as a vindication of his ‘church and state’ principles. At his dinner, Althorp spoke on corn law reform for the benefit of the farmers, which ‘appeared to satisfy them’, as he informed his father.24 Writing again, 9 July, he observed:

I was so well received at the election by all parties that I shall now feel quite at my ease ... The Tories indeed had determined to support me as well as Cartwright in case of any contest arising, at least so I was told by one of them. I should not trust much to this if there really was any chance of a contest, but their having this feeling makes it much pleasanter to do business with them.25

When Althorp presided at the meeting of the Northamptonshire Farming and Grazing Society that September, Cartwright’s health was drunk.26 Both Members publicly supported a county meeting for an address of condolence following the death of the duke of York, 1 Feb. 1827, though in private Althorp complained to Spencer that Cartwright’s speech came close to courting controversy.27 On 7 Feb. the landowners of Wellingborough assembled to demand a ‘fair remuneration for their labour and capital invested’ and to protest at the lack of a county meeting.28 The resulting petition was probably among those presented by Cartwright against an alteration of the corn laws, 26 Feb., 12 Mar.29 Petitions from Dissenting congregations in Daventry, Towcester, Kettering, Corby, Oundle and Wellingborough reached the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 6, 15, 29 June 1827.30 Petitions for and against Catholic relief were presented to the Commons, 28 Apr. 1828.31 That October a Brunswick Club was formed at Northampton, but despite the solicitations of its founder, the Ultra Protestant Winchilsea, Cartwright declined to get involved.32 On 5 Dec. 1828 Althorp reported to Milton that Winchilsea was attempting to promote a county meeting on the Catholic question. Althorp considered packing it with Northampton Dissenters but, as he hoped, nothing came of the plan.33 Petitions against the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, which both Members supported, reached the Commons, 17 Feb., 2, 18, 30 Mar. 1829.34 That day an anti-emancipation meeting was held at Wellingborough, following which a hostile petition was presented to the Lords, 6 Apr.35 Favourable petitions reached the Commons, 12 Mar., and the Lords, 6 Apr. 1829.36 A meeting of landowners and occupiers in the Kettering area, 12 Feb., produced a petition for repeal of the taxes on malt and beer, which was laid before the Commons, 2 Mar. 1830.37 Three petitions complaining of economic distress were presented by Althorp, 16 Feb., and another in the same sense reached the Commons, 16 Mar. 1830.38

Shortly before the 1830 general election, Althorp heard ‘a report that Cartwright retires’, prompting him to issue an early address in advance of any other candidates. As he explained to Spencer, 16 July:

I am not quite sure that we shall not have a start at the post for the county. They are looking out for a candidate to turn out Cartwright ... [Thomas Reeve] Thornton [of Brockhall] told me, as a great secret, that one of the magistrates had applied to him for this purpose. I think they can find no one who will come forward in cool blood, but the violence against Cartwright is very great.

If a contest did arise, his main concern was to ‘spend as little money as possible’, and ‘have nothing to do with attorneys’ and do ‘very little’ to convey voters to the poll.39 In the event, however, there was no opposition at the nomination, 4 Aug., when Thornton, far from emerging as an antagonist, was Cartwright’s seconder. To judge from his prepared speech, Cartwright justified his vote for emancipation on pragmatic grounds and with reference to the attached securities.40 The Members were again returned.41 Cartwright was later notified by one Harrison, a sympathetic clergyman, 25 Aug., that

the family at Althorp ... dreaded an opposition for the county even more than you did, and it was their opinion that a Tory candidate must be a fool to start. A friend of mine ... who is likely to know what is going on in that house, assured me that the Whig interest was in your favour and that you would have had their second votes. Whenever I was asked my opinion, I uniformly said that you was prepared to spend, if necessary, £20,000 and that four committees at least would give their attendance gratis.42

A county meeting, 7 Aug. 1830, framed an address of condolence and congratulation to William IV, which was proposed by Cartwright and seconded by Althorp.43 A report that Cartwright had voted with the Wellington ministry in the civil list division that brought them down, 15 Nov., though contradicted, was sufficient to see him burned in effigy in Northampton.44 Althorp was obliged to stand for re-election after his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer in the Grey administration. ‘I have hoisted the standard of reform in my address to the freeholders of Northamptonshire’, he told Milton, 22 Nov.45 At his unopposed return, 6 Dec., he was met by an escort of freeholders at Delapré Park and entered Northampton to the ringing of church bells in a ‘magnificently decorated’ carriage, twenty feet long, drawn by six white horses and inscribed with the slogan ‘Not for himself, but for his country’. Owing to the numbers present the election meeting was adjourned to the market place for the speeches. Althorp, as usual proposed by Wake and seconded by Bouverie, declared that he had ‘always avowed himself a friend to reform in Parliament, to economy and to peace’. He deplored the violence of the ‘Swing’ disturbances, but during the subsequent dinner, Hilyard, president of the Farming and Grazing Society, caused consternation with a strong plea against the use of machines to replace men.46 Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 8, 12 Nov. 1830, 29 Mar., 14 Apr. 1831.47 A pro-reform meeting was held at Wellingborough, 20 Jan., and the resulting petition, which called for the secret ballot, was presented by Althorp, 26 Feb., and by Spencer, 17 Feb. A Kettering petition for reform reached the Lords, 28 Feb.48 Following the announcement of the ministerial reform proposals, on which the Members took opposite sides, meetings were held at Kettering, Wellingborough and Daventry to draw up favourable petitions, which were presented by Althorp, 19, 21 Mar.49 A county meeting to consider reform was held in the town hall at Northampton, 13 Apr., but its adjournment to the market place in heavy rain was resisted by the anti-reformers, headed by Cartwright and Robert Gunning, the town’s Tory Member, who was subsequently ‘grossly assaulted’. They withdrew in protest to the George, where they drew up a declaration against the ‘sudden and extensive’ government proposals, which was signed by 476 on the day and 500 more thereafter. Outside, under the chairmanship of an under-sheriff, a crowd estimated at between two and three thousand heard speeches in support of the bill from Wake, Milton, who referred to the proposed disfranchisement of his family’s close borough of Higham Ferrers as ‘no loss’, Robert Vernon Smith* of Farming Woods, Robert Otway Cave* of Stanford Hall, Leicestershire and Charles Hill, who had chaired the earlier reform meeting at Wellingborough. A petition in favour of the bill was carried almost unanimously and presented by Althorp, who had addressed the meeting by letter only, and his father, 19 Apr. In both Houses aspersions were cast on the respectability of the meeting, which Cartwright described as ‘a complete failure’.50 In private, however, he admitted to Sir William Fremantle* that it had seen ‘the best attendance of the resident gentry that I remember’, though he insisted that the reformers’ threats to oppose his re-election worried him little.51

At the 1831 general election Cartwright duly offered again, professing support for moderate reform but denouncing the ministerial proposals as ‘dangerous in their consequences and tending to weaken the security of all property’. Althorp defended the government’s reform proposals and decision to seek a dissolution, 23 Apr.52 By this time Milton had already written twice to the Whig William Hanbury of Kelmarsh, Member for Northampton, 1810-18, urging him to stand. Hanbury, though sharing Milton’s desire to ‘see Cartwright turned out’, refused, 24 Apr., citing the likely expense and the fact that

party in this county is as you know nearly balanced, and the Tories will have their Member. I saw Bouverie in Northampton and I showed him your letter; he is decidedly of Wake’s opinion that it won’t do. They [the Tories] are now so exasperated against Althorp they would strain all in their power to throw him out, and I have no doubt they would give me all their second votes in hopes of effecting it ... If there was a contest it would be a contest in every sense of the word.53

Undeterred, Milton evidently wrote to Hill, who acted as a solicitor to his father, and to a contact in Northampton, suggesting another requisition to Hanbury, following which the Wellingborough reformers responded with a general call for a second reform candidate. Milton also produced an anonymous squib urging opposition to Cartwright, signed ‘One of You’, and published in the recently established Northampton Free Press, which was sympathetic to reform, and the Stamford Mercury.54 (He later stated, however, that after receiving Hanbury’s refusal, ‘I took no further step towards opposing Mr. Cartwright, conceiving it quite hopeless’.)55 Milton was then asked by Cuthbert Curtis, another Wellingborough reformer, to come forward himself. Although he had only lately resigned his seat for Peterborough, following the death of his wife in childbirth the previous November, his reply, 27 Apr., was equivocal:

I should infinitely prefer seeing any other person in the situation of your representative, and no power on earth could induce me to engage as a candidate in a popular election, but I am far from saying that under certain circumstances I might not feel it a duty to obey the call strongly made to me.56

Of all this Althorp was, as he would later protest, completely unaware. On 23 Apr. he had advised Cartwright:

We shall I hope be quiet ... though I have heard of some canvassing for [Lord] Brudenell* [son of the 6th earl of Cardigan of Deene Park]. If your friends start a candidate in self-defence we may be obliged to do the same, but unless this happens none of my people will stir.57

By his own subsequent account, Althorp, like his close allies Wake and Bouverie, believed that a second Whig candidate would stand no chance and discouraged talk of the candidacy of Sir James Langham† of Cottesbrooke, as he had in 1814.58 At the nomination, 4 May, Cartwright was proposed by Knightley and seconded by Thornton. Struggling to gain a hearing, he pronounced himself in favour of the enfranchisement of unrepresented large towns but opposed to the proposed £10 householder franchise. Althorp, who was proposed by Wake and seconded by Bouverie, defended the bill, and in relation to Cartwright’s espousal of moderate reform asked ‘whether it was wise to propose half measures ... which would only give to the advocates of greater changes additional power to claim them’. According to his friend and biographer Denis Le Marchant†, he was ‘coldly received’, and he claimed afterwards that some reformers absented themselves from his dinner, disappointed at his lack of enthusiasm for a fight. The show of hands for the sitting Members was taken amid ‘immense clamour mingled with cries of "Lord Milton, Lord Milton"’, and the proceedings were formally adjourned to 6 May.59 That day, ‘amid a scene of indescribable confusion’, Hill nominated Milton, who, after repeated solicitations, had agreed to take the seat if he was returned, but declined to appear in person. Thomas Francis Lucas of Long Buckby seconded. The Tories responded by putting up Knightley, who was proposed by Henry Holditch Hungerford of Dingley Park and seconded by Cartwright’s son. Polling commenced the next day at the hustings erected for the borough election.60 Faced with the contest he had always dreaded, Althorp wrote to Milton:

We are in it now with a vengeance and it is likely to be a hard race. I think it not at all unlikely that Cartwright and Knightley will win; at all rates the expense to me will be enormous. But I do not see now how there is any escape ... The scrape is a great one into which the people who have proposed you have brought me, and it is a severe blow for reform as the best that can happen will be that Cartwright and I shall be returned, Cartwright at the head of the poll.

‘I think that you ought to make some exertion as you have rather helped to bring me into the scrape by not at once refusing to let them put you up’, he added in a postscript.61 Milton, however, did not stir, and after a favourable first day’s poll (Althorp 139, Milton 134, Cartwright 79, Knightley 73) Hill returned thanks on his behalf. On the second day (9 May), when Althorp made another attempt to persuade him to appear, Milton sent an address excusing his absence. Thereafter he deputed to attend the hustings his 19-year-old eldest son William Charles Fitzwilliam†, whose assured performances impressed even his political opponents.62

Milton’s late entry led the Tories to cry foul. They claimed that Althorp’s friendly pre-election letter to Cartwright had been a deliberate ploy and that he then knew that a challenge was inevitable, if he did not actually foment it. His letters to Milton indicate that this was untrue, but the charge of bad faith dominated the hustings exchanges. Inflammatory articles in John Bull and Albion, whose allegations were repeated in subsequent pamphlets, intensified bad feeling and put the election in the national spotlight.63 The principal charge was that a joint committee for Althorp and Milton, under one Dr. Skrimshire, had sat at Peterborough since 30 Apr., and a canvass card, bearing their names, and dated 4 May, was produced on the hustings by way of proof. Althorp’s complicity was supposedly illustrated by his having (on his own admission) enquired of Milton on 2 May as to a suitable Peterborough agent in the event of a contest. It was also alleged that an agent of his had spoken of Milton’s candidacy on the same day and that tenants of Spencer had canvassed for him. In addition, it was said that a committee had sat for Milton at Oundle since late April and that his own huntsman and gardener were ‘in the full career of canvass’ by 5 May.64

On the hustings, meanwhile, Cartwright denounced the attempt to turn the county into ‘the mere borough of two ... peers’, 8 May, while Althorp complained to his father on the 12th that Knightley was not speaking to him.65 John Campbell II* heard that ‘there is to be a duel arising out of the Northamptonshire election, between Lord Althorp and Cartwright’.66 One Tory pamphleteer suggested that once Milton was in the field, Althorp should either have resigned in Cartwright’s favour or formed a junction with him.67 Stung by the ferocity of the attacks, Althorp published his version of events, 16 May, and Milton (whose conduct was much more deserving of criticism) produced his own apologia two days later.68 The bitterness continued unabated, notwithstanding Charles Poulett Thomson’s* judgement that Althorp’s words had ‘quite shut the mouths of the Tories and the fair ladies of London’.69 By the fourth day Althorp could envisage the possibility that ‘this Tory county will return two Whig Members, one of whom will never have appeared on the hustings’.70 By then he had polled 1,750 votes, Milton 1,495, Cartwright 1,365 and Knightley 984, and at the close of the following day Milton had established a lead of 225 over Cartwright. But Cartwright made up 70 votes on the next and registered smaller gains on all but one of the remaining days. Thomas Creevey* informed Miss Ord, 16 May, that Milton ‘has only 30 votes left whilst Cartwright has some hundreds ... It is a damned nuisance to Lord Spencer for Milton won’t spend a penny, and the whole expense falls on Althorp’.71 Althorp feared being landed with the entire bill and was critical too of the Whigs in London, who, he complained to Spencer, 14 May, ‘seem to think we have only plain sailing, while in fact we have the most difficult and one of the most important battles to fight ... during the general election’.72 With the county almost polled out by the eleventh day, the election could have turned on the large number of disputed votes, and the assessor’s decision to allow Dissenting ministers to poll was a notable boost to the reformers. Cartwright and Knightley’s final throw was an attempt to establish the right of Northampton borough freemen to poll, but when this failed they gave up on the thirteenth day.73 On 24 May Milton, the invisible man at the eye of the storm, wrote languidly to Charles Tennyson* from his family’s Irish seat:

I suppose, by this time, I am returned for Northamptonshire, but as I was not a candidate, and took no part in the election, it seemed unnecessary that I should remain in the county to the very last hour of the 15th day.74

His son, who attended the dinner for the victorious candidates, told George Hildeyard Tennyson that the contest had ‘broken the long established power of the Tories in Northamptonshire and will, I hope, prove to them that they are not, as they supposed, quite invincible, even there’.75 Cartwright, however, claimed a triumph in defeat, and was congratulated by his diplomat son Thomas, 7 June, who noted that ‘the French papers cited you as the anti-reformer who had made a remarkable stand against one of the ministers’.76 The Tory ex-minister Charles Arbuthnot* reckoned that the defeat, which he had anticipated on 21 May, was the result of ‘shameful treachery’.77 At a dinner in Brackley, 7 June, Knightley complained of the ‘unexampled duplicity’ of their opponents in fighting a ‘moonlight election’, and as late as 29 Sept. Cartwright was unable to resist a dig at Milton at a civic occasion in Northampton.78 While he did admit at a dinner in Oundle, 5 July 1831, that ‘the Tories were not sufficiently active’, he was obliged to retract an accusation made on the same occasion that Lord Lilford had reneged on a pledge of his tenants’ second votes.79 Election accounts show that Cartwright and Knightley’s campaign cost £16,110, of which the candidates themselves met £1,500 each. A London committee gave £1,000, and other substantial donors were the duke of Buccleuch, the earl of Westmorland (lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire since 1828), Brudenell, the marquess of Exeter, Lord Carbery and Jesse Watts Russell*.80

A twentieth-century historian has contrasted the election of 1806, ‘a characteristic eighteenth-century election in which aristocratic influence and voter mobilization were the paramount concerns’, with that of 1831, ‘with its concentration on the reform issue and its heavy and explicit confrontation between the two major parties’.81 That the contest was conducted with partisan ferocity is in no doubt, but it is noteworthy that the major bone of contention was a matter of election manners. Claims in another study that the election provides evidence of continued ‘deferential’ voting (meaning, in this instance, parishes in which ‘majorities of the voters ... split their votes between Althorp and Cartwright’) have been convincingly refuted.82 The pollbooks show that of the 4,182 electors polled, 3,321 (80 per cent) voted on party lines, while only 408 (ten per cent) split between the sitting Members. Of the 393 plumpers, 208 were for Cartwright. By county divisions, Milton polled best in Towcester, Wellingborough and Peterborough. Cartwright had complained of the decisive strength of the Fitzwilliam interest in the last, but he outpolled Milton by a greater margin (5:2) in his own district of Brackley. The Daventry area gave Milton a narrow advantage. Kettering and Northampton were almost equally divided, though Cartwright had the edge in the town of Northampton.83 Sources differ widely as to the size of the non-resident vote. One puts it at nearly 30 per cent and slightly in favour of Cartwright, but another shows under half that number of out-voters, polling in broad conformity with the overall result.84 Alone, the votes of agriculturists, who made up 38 per cent of the electorate, would have narrowly returned Cartwright over Milton. The clergy, unsurprisingly, backed him by nearly four to one.85 Figures are not available to corroborate Cartwright’s plausible claim, made during and after the election, that the crucial factor was the Dissenting vote, which he believed had gone entirely against him.86 The Tories were soon plotting his early return. Spencer’s poor health led Arbuthnot to earmark £2,000 of election funds for him in August 1831, and one Burton, a Cartwright agent, was involved in November 1831 in founding the short-lived Northampton Herald, which espoused uncompromising Tory politics.87 Cartwright was expected to stand in the event of a dissolution in May 1832, when Milton intimated to an agent, in a characteristically tortuous letter, that he would be prepared to fight him again.88

The Reform and Boundary Acts split the county into Northern and Southern divisions, with polling places at Peterborough, Oundle, Kettering, Rothwell and Wellingborough for the former, and at Northampton, Towcester, Brackley and Daventry for the latter. Higham Ferrers and Brackley were disfranchised, but Northampton and Peterborough retained their two seats each. The political compromise which the reform agitation had upset was temporarily revived at the 1832 general election, when Cartwright and Althorp came in unopposed for the Southern division (which had a registered electorate of 4,425), and Brudenell and Milton were returned for the Northern (3,363 registered electors) after a close contest in which 3,063 polled.89 Althorp’s succession to the peerage on the death of his father in November 1834 saw him replaced by Knightley, and a Conservative took the second seat in the Northern division after Milton’s death in 1835. Thereafter no Liberal was returned for either division until 1880, except for Althorp’s nephew Lord Althorp, who sat briefly for South Northamptonshire, 1857-8, before succeeding as 5th Earl Spencer.

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 608; Northants. Dir. (1847), 18; Hist. Gazetteer and Dir. of Northants. (1849), 161-3.
  • 2. Key to Both Houses (1832), 370; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 275.
  • 3. BL, Althorp mss, Lady to Lord Spencer, 13 May 1822.
  • 4. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 243-5; Northampton Mercury, 15, 30 Sept 1820, 22 Sept. 1821, 21 Sept. 1822, 27 Sept. 1823, 25 Sept. 1824, 17 Sept. 1825, 16 Sept 1826, 15 Sept. 1827, 12 Sept. 1829, 17 Sept. 1831.
  • 5. Althorp Letters, 97-100, 102.
  • 6. Northampton Mercury, 18 Mar. 1820; Althorp Letters, 97; Northants. RO, Cartwright mss C(A) 8170.
  • 7. Northampton Mercury, 26 Feb. 1820.
  • 8. Althorp Letters, 103.
  • 9. Northampton Mercury, 18 Nov., 2, 9, 23 Dec. 1820.
  • 10. CJ, lxxvi. 13.
  • 11. LJ, liv. 15; Northampton Mercury, 27 Jan. 1821.
  • 12. Fitzwilliam mss 102/10; Althorp Letters, 112.
  • 13. Northampton Mercury, 13 Jan., 21 July 1821.
  • 14. CJ, lxxv. 216, 221; lxxvi. 91, 113, 120, 125, 137, 146, 230.
  • 15. Althorp mss.
  • 16. CJ, lxxvii. 338.
  • 17. Fitzwilliam mss, Euston to unknown, 7 Dec. 1822.
  • 18. CJ, lxxvii. 214; lxxviii. 94; lxxix. 81.
  • 19. Northampton Mercury, 22 Mar. 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 211.
  • 20. CJ, lxxx. 315, 337.
  • 21. Ibid. lxxix. 115, 168, 216; lxxxi. 101, 115, 130.
  • 22. Northampton Mercury, 3 June 1826.
  • 23. Althorp Letters, 129.
  • 24. Northampton Mercury, 17 June 1826; Althorp Letters, 129.
  • 25. Althorp Letters, 131.
  • 26. Northampton Mercury, 16 Sept. 1826.
  • 27. Ibid. 3 Feb. 1827; Althorp Letters, 135.
  • 28. Northampton Mercury, 10 Feb. 1827.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxii. 230, 305.
  • 30. Ibid. 520, 527, 600.
  • 31. Ibid. lxxxiii. 277.
  • 32. Northampton Mercury, 11, 25 Oct. 1828; E.G. Forrester, Northants. County Elections and Electioneering, 1695-1832, p. 124; Wellington mss WP1/960/12.
  • 33. Fitzwilliam mss; Althorp Letters, 141.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxiv. 41, 94, 148, 182.
  • 35. Northampton Mercury, 4, 18 Apr. 1829; LJ, lxi. 354.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxiv. 128; LJ, lxi. 352.
  • 37. Northampton Mercury, 20 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 121.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxv. 46, 182.
  • 39. Althorp Letters, 152-3.
  • 40. Cartwright mss C(A) 8171, Cartwright’s speech, 1830.
  • 41. Northampton Mercury, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 42. Cartwright mss C(A) 8173.
  • 43. Northampton Mercury, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 44. Ibid. 27 Nov. 1830.
  • 45. Wentworth Woodhouse mun.
  • 46. Northampton Mercury, 4, 11 Dec. 1830.
  • 47. CJ, lxxxvi. 47, 61, 455, 486.
  • 48. Northampton Mercury, 29 Jan, 5 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 310; LJ, lxiii. 233, 265.
  • 49. CJ, lxxxvi. 406, 415.
  • 50. Northampton Mercury, 16, 23 Apr. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 505; LJ, lxiii. 468.
  • 51. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/20/199.
  • 52. Northampton Mercury, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 53. Fitzwilliam mss, Milton’s memo. 21, 23 Apr., Hanbury to Milton, 24 Apr. 1831.
  • 54. Ibid. Milton’s memo. 25 Apr. 1831.
  • 55. Northampton Mercury, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 56. Fitzwilliam mss 732, p. 35.
  • 57. Northampton Mercury, 14 May 1831; ‘A Northampton Freeholder’ [John Miller, rect. of Benefield], Letter to Lord Milton (1831), 5; Althorpiana, or, a few facts relative to the late Northants. election (1831), 7.
  • 58. Report of Procs. during Northants. Contest (1831), 27-29; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 372.
  • 59. Report, 3-6, 28-29; Le Marchant, Althorp, 314; Northampton Mercury, 7 May 1831.
  • 60. Report, 6-7.
  • 61. Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton [7 May 1831].
  • 62. Report, 7-12; Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton, 9 May 1831; Althorp Letters, 155-6.
  • 63. Greville Mems. ii. 144, 147.
  • 64. Report, 8-10, 16-18, 22-24, 27-29; Northampton Mercury, 14 May 1831; Althorpiana, passim; Letter to Milton, passim.
  • 65. Report, 8; Althorp Letters, 155.
  • 66. Life of Campbell, i. 514
  • 67. Althorpiana, 25-27.
  • 68. Report, 27-29, 31-33; Althorp Letters, 156.
  • 69. Althorp mss, Poulett Thomson to Althorp, 18 May 1831.
  • 70. Forrester, 140.
  • 71. Creevey mss.
  • 72. Althorp Letters, 156.
  • 73. Report, 23-42; Northampton Mercury, 28 May 1831.
  • 74. Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss H14/2.
  • 75. Report, 44-52; Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss H14/27.
  • 76. Report, 37; Cartwright mss C(A) 8/83.
  • 77. NLI, Farnham mss, Arbuthnot to Farnham, 21 May 1831.
  • 78. Northampton Mercury, 11 June, 1 Oct. 1831.
  • 79. Ibid. 9 July; Cartwright mss, Lilford to Cartwright, 11 July 1831; Forrester, 145-6.
  • 80. Cartwright mss C(A) 8191-2, accts.; 8194, T. to W.R. Cartwright, 24 Aug. 1831.
  • 81. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 339.
  • 82. D.C. Moore, Politics of Deference, 113; but see P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 122.
  • 83. Northants. Pollbook (Cordeaux, 1831), 13-15, 41; Northants. Pollbook (Markham, 1831), 127-131; Northampton Free Press, 24 May 1831.
  • 84. Pollbook (Cordeux), 41; Pollbook (Markham), 128.
  • 85. Pollbook (Cordeux), 42-44.
  • 86. Report, 17; Northampton Mercury, 11 June 1831.
  • 87. PRO NI, Wellington mss T2627/3/2/296, Arbuthnot to Wellington, 10, 17 Aug. 1831; Forrester, 149-50.
  • 88. Northants. RO, Gotch mss GK 346, Milton to Gotch, 12 May 1832.
  • 89. Salmon, 263.