Old Sarum


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 burgage-holders

Number of voters:

over 50 in 1660


14 Apr. 1660SEYMOUR BOWMAN56
  Double return. BOWMAN and NORDEN seated, 27 Apr. 1660 
c. Oct. 1669SIR ELIAB HARVEY vice Denham, deceased 
 Sir William Salkeld 
17 Feb. 1679ELIAB HARVEY 
27 Aug. 1679HENRY HARE, Baron Coleraine 
16 Jan. 1689JOHN YOUNG 
 (Sir) Thomas Mompesson 
 ?William Harvey 
  Election declared void, 14 Mar. 1689 
 Thomas Pitt 

Main Article

Old Sarum, deserted since the 15th century, had already become an electoral joke. In 1660, all the burgages had fallen into the hands of five owners, the Earls of Pembroke and Salisbury, James Parham, apparently as tenant of the adjacent manor of Stratford Dean, Edward Hooper of Peartree in Southampton and John Westfield of Salisbury. It was seemingly the practice to create faggot votes proportional in number to the burgages. At the general election of 1660, 56 signatures attested the return of Seymour Bowman and John Norden, probably on the Pembroke interest, while a second indenture with only ten signatures was submitted on behalf of a younger brother of Lord Salisbury. Bowman and Norden were allowed to sit on the merits of the return, and no further report was made. Although Cecil’s election expenses were moderate, a mere £21 3s.6d., his brother was incensed at his defeat, and initially welcomed an offer by Parham to sell out; but it was pointed out to him that ‘Mr Parham’s estate alone will not do the work’. There is no sign of a Cecil candidate in 1661, but the sheriff (Sir James Thynne) was approached both by Norden and Thomas Hawles of Salisbury, who were engaged in a bitter legal contest over Aldbourne chase. Hawles, in the name of ‘the burgesses and freeholders ... who have right of suffrage’, was concerned ‘to avoid surprisal’. He pointed out that some of the electors lived ten or 20 miles off, and proposed that ten days’ notice should be given in Salisbury market place, and that Thynne should send his under-sheriff to conduct the poll. But in his anxiety that his antagonist should not achieve parliamentary immunity, he may have misunderstood the situation, for it is clear that Norden was acting merely as agent for Edward Nicholas, who was returned with Denham by nine ‘burgesses’, probably unopposed.1

On Denham’s death in 1669, the seat was contested by two strangers. Unfortunately the return does not survive, and the report of the elections committee is uninformative. The unsuccessful candidate came from a Cumberland family, and may have represented the interest of Lady Clifford, the widow of the 4th Earl of Pembroke. His opponent, Sir Eliab Harvey, was connected with Denham through the Whitmores, but had no discernible interest of his own at this time. In 1672, however, he leased the adjacent manor of Stratford Dean together with Sir John Banks, and his interest was strong enough to return himself or his sons at every suceeding election during this period except the general election of 1689. The other seat was more volatile; in 1679 it went first to John Young, a neighbouring gentleman, on an electorate reduced from 38 to 13, and then to Lord Coleraine, who owned Longford Castle, six miles downstream. It is probable that several burgages were sold about this time by the earls of Pembroke to Harvey and Sir Thomas Mompesson, who were returned both in 1681 and 1685. But a new and soon to be dominant interest was created in 1686 when Thomas Pitt took over the lease of Mawarden Court, carrying with it the right to nominate the returning officer.2

The reports on Old Sarum in 1688 of James II’s electoral agents and of the lord lieutenant were conflicting. According to the former, ‘the electors [are] but few; it is supposed they will choose their old Members, Sir Eliab Harvey and Sir Thomas Mompesson, who have always favoured the dissenters and been for liberty’. But Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) wrote that ‘Old Sarum is come to be a popular election, and the dissenters joining with the King’s friends will choose two fit persons. Mr Pitt, interloper, has the making; the baily returns the writ.’ The election was indeed contested on the lines indicated by these reports, though it seems probable that Sir Eliab Harvey concentrated on his candidature in Essex, leaving Old Sarum for his son. Pitt and Young were returned by the bailiff, ‘according to the ancient law and custom of the borough’, but the House resolved, on the petition of Harvey and Mompesson, that the right of election lay ‘in the free-holders, being burgage-holders, of the said borough’. At the by-election, Mompesson, having been returned for Wiltshire, presumably gave his interest to the prominent Whig lawyer, John Hawles, who was returned with Harvey’s son by six burgage-holders. Harvey and Mompesson both signed the return. Pitt stood again, but withdrew his petition when he decided to stand for Salisbury.3

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 19; CJ, viii. 3; EHR, lxxi. 398-9; VCH Wilts. vi. 201; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10, ff. 73, 80, 86, Hawles to Thynne, 9 Mar. 1661, Nicholas to Thynne, 12 Mar. 1661, Gauntlett to Thynne, 13 Mar. 1661.
  • 2. CJ, ix. 107; VCH Wilts. vi. 201, 206.
  • 3. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 208, 226-7; CJ, x. 47, 85.