Oxford University


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 doctors and masters of arts

Number of voters:

about 350


12 Apr. 16601THOMAS CLAYTON 
 William Lenthall 
 Matthew Hale 
16 Jan. 1674THOMAS THYNNE I vice Finch, called to the Upper House203
 Sir Christopher Wren125
 Thomas Bouchier20
 Sir George Croke 
27 Feb. 1679HON. HENEAGE FINCH I243
 John Lamphire209
 Thomas Bouchier7
 William Oldys104
 James Lane45
23 Nov. 1685GEORGE CLARKE vice Jenkins, deceased2092
 William Oldys130

Main Article

Although the poll figures suggest a slight preference by the electorate for resident dons, or ‘gremials’, most of the successful candidates were former members of the University. The Anglican and royalist opinions of the majority were not in doubt, even in 1660 when the Presbyterian vice-chancellor procured letters from George Monck in favour of William Lenthall, Speaker of the Long Parliament. Matthew Hale, the eminent lawyer, might have been re-elected for the seat he had occupied in 1659 if he had been ready to renounce his candidature for Gloucestershire. His colleague John Mylles, a Presbyterian Royalist, was re-elected with Thomas Clayton, an opportunist. The former was a civilian who had been intruded at Christ Church by the parliamentary visitors, the latter regius professor of medicine and formerly fellow of Pembroke. Although Mylles conformed, he lost all interest in the University after the Restoration. Clayton was considered a strong candidate in 1661, but allowed himself to be bought off by Clarendon, who as chancellor of the University nominated his second son Laurence and the solicitor-general, Heneage Finch. Some of the electors at least would have liked one of the seats to be reserved for another notable Cavalier’s son, John Nicholas, but he too was persuaded to desist. Hyde was given an honorary degree on the eve of the poll, no other candidates presented themselves, and he was returned with Finch, though with little enthusiasm.3

The by-election of 1674 was caused by Finch’s appointment as lord keeper. The court candidate was apparently Sir Christopher Wren, to whose academic reputation was now added the prestige earned by his building of the Sheldonian Theatre. Two civilians stood, John Edisbury, formerly of Brasenose, and Thomas Bouchier of All Souls; but the former, ‘being soundly jeered and laughed at for an impudent fellow, desisted’. A local gentleman, Sir George Croke of Waterstock, also stood, but so modestly that ‘the generality of masters did not know’. The successful candidate, Thomas Thynne, once a diplomat and a courtier, had apparently quarrelled with the Duke of York. Not yet noted for the high Anglican piety of his later years, he kept ‘an open table for the masters for a week or ten days, and went to the coffee houses to court stinking breaths and to the common chambers’, thereby trouncing Wren, who ‘was not so expert this way’.

Although the University was less affected by the exclusion crisis than most constituencies, it was soon clear that neither of the sitting Members could expect re-election, probably because they had not tried to exempt the clergy from hearth-tax. The Duke of Ormonde, Clarendon’s successor as chancellor of the University, formally recommended Henry Coventry, the secretary of state, and his colleague, Sir Joseph Williamson, was also named, but both found seats elsewhere, and Sir Cyril Wyche did ‘not think fit to stand’. Edisbury and Bouchier were again in the field, with two medical ‘gremials’, John Lamphire, principal of Hart Hall, and Henry Yerbury of Magdalen. Finch, now lord chancellor, obtained Ormonde’s support for the candidature of his son, in whose favour Yerbury withdrew, perhaps accepting the extravagant claim of one canvasser that his father ‘had more honesty and credited the Church more than all the bishops since the Reformation’. It was said that there was not ‘a half-penny to choose’ between Edisbury and Lamphire, but enough of ‘the juniors and potmen’ plumped for the former to give Finch the other seat. It is not clear why neither of the successful candidates stood again in August, though Edisbury’s abstention on exclusion may have been unpopular. First in the field was Colonel Edward Vernon, an old Cavalier and a friend of Ormonde’s heir, Lord Ossory (Thomas Butler). Though he had been made DCL in 1677 he was almost unknown in the University, but when it was discovered that his wife and step-children were all Roman Catholics his pretensions were drowned in ridicule. Robert Spencer applied to Ormonde’s younger son, Lord Richard Butler; but the chancellor officially recommended James Lane, the son of the Irish secretary of state, ‘a young, conceited person’ who did not attend the election. The other candidates were all civilians. Charles Perrot of St. John’s and William Oldys of New College were ‘gremials’, while Sir Leoline Jenkins, though a diplomat on the point of taking over the seals from Coventry, had been principal of Jesus from 1661 to 1673. Perrot, ‘a thorough-paced soaker’, came top of the poll, and Jenkins finished so far ahead of Oldys that there was no contest in the next two elections. In the by-election held after the death of Jenkins, Oldys stood again as the ‘gremial’ candidate against George Clarke of All Souls, the judge-advocate, who carried it by a substantial majority. Oxford, and in particular Magdalen, stood in the forefront of the resistance to James