Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the inhabitant freeholders
Number of voters:
|13 Apr. 1660||JAMES PYTTS|
|Election declared void, 16 July 1660|
|2 Aug. 1660||THOMAS TOMKYNS|
|2 Apr. 1661||JOHN BARNEBY|
|22 Apr. 1675||SIR THOMAS WILLIAMS, Bt.||51|
|Election declared void, 22 Feb. 1678|
|7 Mar. 1678||WILLIAM GREGORY|
|Sir Thomas Williams, Bt.|
|7 Feb. 1679||WILLIAM GREGORY|
|4 Sept. 1679||JOHN BIRCH|
|19 Feb. 1681||JOHN BIRCH|
|19 Mar. 1685||HENRY CORNEWALL|
|12 Jan. 1689||JOHN BIRCH|
Weobley, an insignificant market town, was re-enfranchised in 1628 at the instance of James Tomkyns, whose son Thomas sat for the borough from August 1660 to his death. The manor was held by the dowager Duchess of Somerset till 1674, when it was acquired by Thomas Thynne I, but neither seems to have exerted much political influence, presumably because the sheriff of Herefordshire conducted the elections. All the Members were local gentry except two, Richard Weston and Sir Thomas Williams, who were both unseated. Garnstone Manor, formerly the Tomkyns residence, and Kinnersley Castle seem to have enjoyed the most permanent interest. In 1660 Thomas Tomkyns, as a Cavalier, was disabled from standing under the Long Parliament Ordinance and the family interest was maintained by his cousin, Herbert Perrott, who petitioned against the return of James Pytts of Kinnersley Castle and the lawyer Richard Weston. The election was declared void on the grounds that the sheriff had not sent a precept or given due notice of the time. At the by-election Perrott was returned with Tomkyns. But his service as a committeeman during the Interregnum cost him his seat at the next general election; John Barneby, who replaced him, had no political record, but proved to be a staunch government supporter.1
On the death of Tomkyns, something of a maverick in the Cavalier Parliament, Williams, the court physician, was the first candidate to declare himself, and John Booth was successfully ‘pressed’ to transfer his interest to him. Paul Foley was put forward by the country party, and the formidable Colonel John Birch, who had bought Garnstone in 1661, gave out that if the borough would not choose such a person as he approved he would neither buy nor sell with them. This was originally directed against the candidature of William Gregory, who could claim the Tomkyns interest by marriage, and was supported by Thynne. Barneby, on the other hand, ‘threatened the inhabitants of the borough that if they would not choose Sir Thomas Williams he would make them pay all his arrears of wages from the first sitting of the Parliament’. The threat was so far successful that Foley withdrew, and Williams, hoping for an unopposed return, took Birch’s advice of ‘treating’ with Gregory. To this end he wrote a singularly transparent letter to (Sir) Edward Harley, promising to be guided in the House by that country party stalwart. The sheriff, who was the father of Richard Williams, but apparently no kin to the candidate, refused to send a precept and insisted on holding the poll himself. He disallowed 11 votes for Gregory, and accepted 21 on the other side which were questioned; six of the voters were alleged to be in receipt of alms, three were sojourners, seven ‘procured with money’, and four, including Barneby himself, were nonresident. The sheriff died in the following winter, and it was three years before Gregory could produce the poll books before the committee of elections. Meanwhile Birch, or so it was reported, had determined to oust both Barneby and Williams at the first opportunity in favour of himself and another neighbouring squire, Thomas Baskerville of Eardisley. When the committee, under the chairmanship of yet another Williams, at last heard the case, one of Gregory’s witnesses recanted his evidence of Barneby’s threats, and Lord Scudamore (John Scudamore) who was to give evidence of the sheriff’s partiality at the poll, went out of town. William Williams seems to have been governed rather by clan loyalty than political partisanship on this occasion, and reported in favour of his name sake. But a debate arose in the House on whether the sheriff’s precept was duly issued, and evidently turned in favour. A motion to recommit the report was lost by 145 votes to 106, and the election declared void. Gregory was successful at the second attempt, when the sheriff and both constables signed the return, and the House refused to hear, or even mention in its Journals, what Harley called ‘a strange petition’ from Williams.2
Gregory, who was returned with Birch at the next general election, served as Speaker in the first Exclusion Parliament, but was raised to the bench shortly after the dissolution. The Court had hopes of ousting Birch at the second election of 1679, and Gregory was apparently prepared to lend himself to the dubious manoeuvre of nominating Thynne as a stalking-horse for Hon. William Finch. But Thynne, writing to Finch’s brother Daniel, dismissed the idea:
That cheat will be so soon and so easily detected that it will prejudice the cause. It were better certainly for Captain Booth (to whom I writ by this post) to continue as for himself, and if there be life in it he may at last resign to your brother William.
Birch apparently made no attempt to secure the second seat for an exclusionist, so long as it was held by a genuine country gentleman and not a court dependant. In any case Booth was not required to surrender his seat to a courtier, as William Finch secured election at Great Bedwyn, and Weobley rejected Thynne. The same Members were returned in 1681, but a loyal address in July, approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments, must have looked ominous to Birch. It was followed by another abhorring the Rye House Plot, and in 1685 a Tory wrote gleefully: ‘Birch is laid aside at Weobley, his own town, where he did believe no flesh living could receive any kindness but by his permission’. Of the successful candidates, Henry Cornewall was a courtier and army officer, while Robert Price, attorney-general of South Wales, probably stood on the interest of his wife’s kinsman Uvedale Tomkyns, after whom he named his son in September.3
Sunderland approved the candidature of the sitting Members in 1688, though neither is on record as a supporter of James II’s religious policy. Price grumbled that the King’s recommendation prejudiced his chances. Birch was probably returned unopposed, but there was a sharp contest for the second seat between Price and James Morgan, the younger brother of the Tory Sir John Morgan of Kinnersley Castle. In a personal encounter, Price struck Morgan down. ‘Swords being drawn, I gave him a hand mark for breeding. He has [so] exposed his temper that I had four of his men fall from him. I believe he has not half my number.’ Unfortunately for Price, the election was not to be decided by swordsmanship, or even temper. Sir John Morgan discovered Price’s name in the ‘King’s roll’ of those who had agreed to the repeal of the penal laws, and he had further to explain the damning facts of the court recommendation and his retention of office in 1688. The poll was very close, for of Morgan’s 53 votes Price thought it could be challenged either on tenure or residence, while only one of his was at all dubious. Moreover, a third constable had been irregularly appointed to act as returning officer (though his two colleagues also signed the return), and there were allegations of bribery ‘with money or cider’. Price left it to Harley’s judgment whether to petition. Morgan’s lack of confidence was shown in his attempt to build up an interest at New Radnor, where the election was also likely to be set aside. Price got as far as lodging his petition with the committee, but withdrew it before the report stage, probably because of the hostility of Gregory and Birch, the chairman.4
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. Trans. Woolhope Club, xxxix. 108-10; C. J. Robinson, Castles of Herefs. 134; CJ, viii. 90.
- 2. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Pw 2/Hy 196; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 20, f. 225; BL Loan 29/49, Williams to Harley, 5 Jan. 25 Feb. 1675; 29/182, f. 178, Stephens to Harley, 3 Feb. 1675, f. 279, Harley to Lady Harley, 26 Mar. 1678, CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 461; 1677-8, p. 64; CJ, ix. 144.
- 3. Sidney Diary, i. 95-96; HMC Finch, iii. 420; Add. 29910, f. 141; Luttrell, i. 109, 280; HMC Kenyon, 179; E. Curll, Life of Robert Price, 4; London Gazette, 18 July 1681, 24 Sept. 1683.
- 4. Bodl. Carte 130, ff. 24, 319; A. Simpson, ‘TheConvention Parliament, 1688-9’ (Oxf. D. Phil. thesis 1939); BL Loan 29/184, ff. 125, 140, Price to Harley, 22, 30 Jan. 1689; Add. 40621, f. 20v.