Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the alderman and 'capital burgesses' 1660-85; in the corporation, 'landholders' and commoners 1689

Number of voters:

13 in 1660-85; 72 in 1689


13 Feb. 1662HON. PHILIP HOWARD vice Washington, deceased
16 Jan. 1668(SIR) EDWARD POOLE vice Lee, deceased
3 Nov. 1673THOMAS ESTCOURT vice Poole, deceased
 Hon. Thomas Howard
 ?Hon. Philip Howard
 Hon. Henry Wharton
 William Jephson
30 Jan. 1689HON. THOMAS TOLLEMACHE vice Wharton, chose to sit for Westmorland

Main Article

Under a charter of 1635 the corporation of Malmesbury consisted of the alderman, 12 ‘capital burgesses’, and 24 assistants. There were also 52 landholders and a number of commoners with rights over the common land. But from 1640 to the Revolution the franchise was exercised solely by the alderman, who acted as returning officer, and the capital burgesses. In 1684 the Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset) complained that the franchise had been extended when ‘the late Houses of Commons countenanced popular elections’, but this is not confirmed by the indentures. The Estcourts of Sherston, a legal family, enjoyed a useful interest through the office of high steward, which they held from 1641 to 1659, and again from 1671 to 1677. The Berkshire Howards resided chiefly at Charlton, only two miles off, but failed to make much impact on the major interests derived from the coheirs of Sir John Danvers (d.1655), who married Sir Henry Lee, 3rd Bt. and Robert Villiersalias Danvers.1

For the general election of 1660 the Lee interest was handled by Lady Rochester on behalf of her infant granddaughters. Though she was informed that ‘there were at least 13 that did sue to be chosen for that place’, Danvers and her only surviving son, Sir Francis Henry Lee, were elected to the Con vention ‘with little or no opposition’. When the House of Lords was re-established, Danvers was called up as Viscount Purbeck, though in view of his mother’s notoriety as an adulteress he had renounced both surname and title. A republican and an Anabaptist, he took his seat in neither House, and on 6 July Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I) moved for a new writ; but the matter was referred to the elections committee, which never reported. Lee, an ardent Royalist, was re-elected in 1661, but Danvers was replaced by an obscure Cavalier, Lawrence Washington. He died within a year, and the corporation elected Philip Howard, a younger son of the 1st Earl of Berkshire; but this was the only success achieved by the Charlton interest in the period. Perhaps in an attempt to fortify it, quo warranto proceedings were launched; but the charter was successfully defended at a cost of £21. Lee died in 1667, leaving an infant son, created Earl of Lichfield in 1674. With the lapse of the Danvers interest, the seat was thus available for Sir Edward Poole, the last of a prominent Wiltshire parliamentary family. In 1673 he too died, when Howard’s brother Thomas offered himself as candidate. But the corporation preferred their high steward, Thomas Estcourt. Howard petitioned against the return, but on the recommendation of Sir Thomas Meres from the elections committee the House resolved that Estcourt was well elected. He was dismissed from office by the corporation in 1677, doubtless to strengthen the interest of the Hon. Thomas Wharton, who had married one of Lady Rochester’s granddaughters.2

On the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament Lord Wharton wrote to his son:

I am desired very particularly that you will engage your interest for Sir Walter St. John at Malmesbury, and also that you would stand yourself there in all events. He is a worthy gentleman, and my Lady Rochester will take it well.

St. John was Lady Rochester’s brother; but Wharton devoted his electioneering interests to Buckinghamshire, despite his father’s wishes, and there is no evidence that either of them stood for Malmesbury, though it was reported that Sir Ralph Verney, Lady Rochester’s confidant, had been elected there. In fact the borough was represented throughout the Exclusion Parliaments by Estcourt’s cousin, Sir William, and Sir James Long. Both were North Wiltshire landowners who abstained from the division on the first exclusion bill but later came to support the Court. Philip Howard, who had probably become an exclusionist, may have contested Malmesbury in August 1679, since he petitioned the second Exclusion Parliament; but the constituency is not stated in the Journal, and the petition was never reported. Whig sentiment remained sufficiently strong to stifle any loyal addresses, and even the surrender of the charter in 1684 might have been insufficient to bring the corporation to heel, if Beaufort had not ventured to intervene in the affairs of a borough ‘out of my province, though in my near neighbourhood’. He wrote to Sunderland on 20 Sept.:

Tom Howard brought that charter to the King, and with it, as I am informed by loyal men here, those that were very obnoxious, who by his introduction kissed the King’s hand and had a favourable reception, by which means they are returned with flying colours, and the loyal persons who have forced them to this dare hardly show their heads and are so dashed on their brags of the King’s favours to them that they talk of leaving the place, expecting that the old offenders will be continued in power and will revenge themselves on these gentlemen for having given materials to justify the quo warranto. To prevent that, if you would signify to Mr Attorney, who, as they are informed, has orders for a new charter, that he should not proceed in it till after next term (in which the town can have no prejudice so long as the surrender is not enrolled), and then let me be one it is referred to as to the names and modelling of the charter (a thing which but for the King’s service I should be very unwilling to undertake and can have no advantage by), I could quiet the loyal party and would take care of the King’s interest.

The new charter was not issued until early in the next reign, at a cost to the borough of £233. It named Beaufort as high steward and John Fitzherbert and Henry Chivers as capital burgesses, and provided as usual for the removal of officials by order-in-council.3

Sir William Estcourt had been killed in a brawl in 1684, and the court candidates for Malmesbury at the next general election were his cousin, now Sir Thomas, and Fitzherbert. They were opposed by Wharton and his satellite William Jephson, who petitioned unsuccessfully against the restricted franchise. Estcourt refused to consent to the repeal of the Test Act, and in December 1687 Fitzherbert, Chivers and four other capital burgesses were removed from the corporation. The new joint lord lieutenant, Lord Yarmouth (William Paston), noted that it had been lately altered, ‘and ’tis supposed his Majesty may have any’ for his abortive second Parliament. Long was approved as court candidate for the county, and in April 1688 the royal electoral agents reported:

The election is in the body corporate, and if the regulation be passed they will choose Walter White of Grittleton, a thorough right man, and another of whom they will be certain. The Duke of Beaufort undertakes for this place.

Sunderland duly asked Beaufort for his nominations, and on 13 July approved White, probably a Presbyterian, and Fitzherbert as court candidates. Five ‘burgesses’ (presumably assistants) were removed in September. As the surrender of the old charter had been enrolled, it could not be restored during the Revolution. But the Wharton interest seized the opportunity to broaden the franchise in 1689. At the general election of 1689 Wharton’s brother Henry and his henchman Col. Charles Godfrey were returned ‘according to the ancient usage ... by the free and unanimous consent’ of the alderman, capital burgesses, and other inhabitants. The indenture was signed by 15 assistants, 19 landholders, and 27 commoners, besides the alderman and ten capital burgesses. When Henry Wharton chose to sit for Westmorland, he was replaced by another Whig colonel, Thomas Tollemache, on the same wide franchise.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. J. M. Moffatt, Malmesbury, 123, 127, 133; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 323; CSP Dom. 1684-5, pp. 151-2; Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 297.
  • 2. Verney Mems. i. 148-9; BL, M636/17, Cary to Verney, 4 Apr. 1660; Bowman diary, f. 57; CJ, viii. 84; ix. 290, 335; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 323-4; Coll. Top et Gen. vi. 297.
  • 3. Bodl. Carte mss 79, ff. 171, 185; BL, M636/32, Stewkeley to Verney, 13 Feb. 1679; CJ, ix. 639; CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 152; 1685, pp. 64-65; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 324.
  • 4. CJ, ix. 720; Moffatt, 134-5; Beaufort mss; PC2/72/555, 732; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 210, 226; Carte mss 130, f. 24; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 199; G. L. Turner, Orig. Recs. of Early Nonconformity, 1055; London Gazette, 17 Oct. 1688.