Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
|22 Feb. 1690||MAURICE BERKELEY, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I]||151|
|SIR WILLIAM BASSETT||13||22/ 23|
|Sir Walter Long, Bt.||4/5|
|10 Oct. 1690||JOSEPH LANGTON vice Fitzhardinge, deceased||26/30|
|John Berkeley, Visct. Fitzhardinge [I]||1|
|20 Nov. 1693||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT vice Bassett, deceased||28|
|29 Oct. 1695||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||23/28|
|SIR THOMAS ESTCOURT||1||10/16|
|26 July 1698||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||12/9||21/22|
|8 Jan. 1701||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||26|
|28 Nov. 1701||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||25|
|20 July 1702||ALEXANDER POPHAM||5/4||23/25|
|15 May 1705||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||25|
|20 Feb. 1707||SAMUEL TROTMAN vice Popham, deceased||23/22|
|8 May 1708||WILLIAM BLATHWAYT||20|
|14 Oct. 1710||SAMUEL TROTMAN||27|
|3 Sept. 1713||SAMUEL TROTMAN|
By the last decade of the 17th century Bath was already a popular place of resort, but the city’s political affairs and its government were firmly in the hands of men of local standing. The franchise was the preserve of the 30-strong corporation, with no aristocratic influence being exerted until 1710. The candidates were usually members of the civic elite or of the local gentry, and invariably it was from the latter that the city’s representatives were chosen. Bath’s position on the borders of Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire meant that gentry from all three counties were involved in the city’s elections. There was also a strong pull towards Court Toryism. The pattern of voting suggests that factional disputes within the corporate body were kept to a minimum; only during the elections of 1695, 1708 and 1710 were there noticeable, and probably politically inspired, divisions of opinion among the councillors. Until 1708 a highly idiosyncratic procedure was observed in deciding elections. A poll would be taken separately for each of the two seats. In the event of more than two contestants appearing for either seat, as generally happened in the 1690s, a second vote would decide between the winner and runner-up, the other candidates having been eliminated. This did, of course, mean that contestants who were defeated (or eliminated) in the poll for the first seat could try their luck with the second. This method of election, a hangover from Bath’s distant civic past, mirrored the annual elections for municipal offices and may well have been followed in parliamentary contests in order to guarantee the appearance of unanimity in line with the corporation’s ethos of civic respectability.
The 1690 election saw the return of the two Tory sitting Members, Lord Fitzhardinge, the lord lieutenant of Somerset, whose seat was at Bruton, and Sir William Bassett of nearby Claverton. Both men had enjoyed long associations with the city and were opposed, though only to mild effect, by Sir Walter Long, 2nd Bt.†, of Whaddon, nine miles from the city, who continued to have the support of the small Presbyterian faction in the corporation, and Joseph Langton, whose estate lay close by at Newton Park. Fitzhardinge’s death necessitated a by-election in October 1690 in which the candidates were Langton, Samuel Trotman, a wealthy Tory lawyer seated at Siston Court nearby, and Fitzhardinge’s younger brother and successor John* . Langton’s election was agreed ‘by a general consent’ on a second vote. A further by-election was held in November 1693 following Bassett’s death. It was initially reported that three candidates were in the running: Trotman, Sir Thomas Estcourt, a Tory whose estate stood near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, and William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park, some ten miles away in Gloucestershire. Unlike the other two, Blathwayt was not one of the indigenous local gentry but a senior Whitehall administrator who had only recently come into possession of Dyrham through marriage to its heiress in 1686. In extending an invitation to Blathwayt as their preferred choice the leading corporators were no doubt mindful of the kudos of having a senior government official in their midst. Just over a week before the election Blathwayt was reported to have secured only 13 of the 30 votes though it would appear that the other two interested parties were soon prevailed upon to step aside, thus facilitating Blathwayt’s unanimous election by 28 voices.2
In 1695 Blathwayt was re-elected with little opposition. The second seat, however, was a focus of struggle in which the contestants were Langton, Estcourt, Trotman and George Long, a citizen and possibly a kinsman of the former Bath Member Sir Walter Long. A week before the election one of Robert Harley’s* correspondents was predicting an outcome in Long’s favour. In the first vote Estcourt and Long were neck and neck, but it was Estcourt who won in the second, albeit by a small margin. Estcourt stood down in 1698 apparently to enable him to stand for his old seat at Malmesbury, and in his place Alexander Popham of Littlecote, also in Wiltshire, was put forward. Popham, MP for Chippenham in the previous Parliament, was perhaps a natural choice for many of the corporation men since his father, Sir Alexander, had been MP for the city in the 1670s, having also possessed land in the near vicinity of Bath at Hunstrete. Even so, there appears to have been some initial hesitation over his suitability, presumably on account of his Whiggishness. In the voting for the first seat he and Blathwayt were level, while in the second vote it was the newcomer Popham, rather than Blathwayt, who was accorded priority. While Blathwayt secured the lion’s share of votes for the second seat, other candidates attracted marginal interest: John Trenchard (the city’s recorder), Alderman Walter Gibbs, and Trotman, who followed Blathwayt into the second round. A single vote was obtained in the first round by another alderman and former mayor, Benjamin Baber. In the two elections of 1701 Blathwayt and Popham were returned unanimously, and on neither occasion did they even appear. It was much the same in 1702 except for a few isolated votes given to Trotman, John Codrington of Wraxall, Somerset, and a townsman, John Jefferies.3
The 1705 election was, by Bath’s standards, an unusual affair. While Blathwayt and Popham sought re-election on the corporation interest, two London figures, George Dashwood II* and Richard Houblon, attempted to secure their own return, claiming that the right of election properly lay with the freemen at large. The election on 15 May was conducted as usual in the council chamber, with 25 corporation men voting, and Blathwayt and Popham were returned. In the meantime Dashwood and Houblon had canvassed and obtained support among the freemen, and evidently publicized their intention to petition. As Blathwayt wrote a few weeks later, ‘I met with some opposition in my election, missionaries of the East India Company and Bank who ply upon the public stock, but as they are supported only by the rabble I have not much to apprehend’. Popham’s death on 16 June initiated a flurry of by-election activity on behalf of Trotman who in previous elections had been little regarded by the corporation. Trotman’s friend, the City financier Sir Richard Hoare*, wrote letters to several of Bath’s most influential civic leaders recommending him as ‘a very honest man and my good friend’. However, the presentation of a petition from Dashwood and Houblon against the original return, and its referral to the elections committee, prevented for the time being the issue of a new writ. The petition alleged that the sitting Members had procured their election by ‘indirect practices’ despite the fact that the petitioners had ‘a great majority of the legal votes’. No time was found for the matter during the 1705–6 session and the petition was renewed on 4 Dec. 1706. The hearing, which was reported on 27 Jan. 1707, dwelt upon the right of election which Dashwood and Houblon claimed for the freemen. The petitioners’ counsel produced copies of ‘a great many returns’ dating back to Henry V’s reign, in which the form of return specifically mentioned the participation of ‘citizens’ in the selection of MPs. Witnesses also testified that freemen had voted in the elections of 1660 and 1681, and on the latter occasion had been polled by the town clerk ‘but they could not say the mayor or any of the aldermen did poll among them’. On the sitting Members’ side it was insisted that Bath was a corporation ‘by prescription’ and that its charter defined the corporate body as consisting of the aldermen and common councillors only. The council book, moreover, showed quite clearly that the MPs returned in 1660 were elected solely by the mayor, aldermen and common council, while in 1681, as was testified by several witnesses, the only part the freemen had played was when, after the corporation had elected the MPs, ‘the freemen took them up and carried them about on their shoulders’. The sitting Members’ counsel were ready with several other witnesses, but the committee had no difficulty in declaring ‘that the right of election of citizens . . . is in the mayor, aldermen and common council’ and that Blathwayt and Popham had been properly returned, a verdict accepted by the House. Preparations then went ahead for the by-election to replace the deceased Popham, by which time a substantial interest within the corporation had been built up for Trotman. Lord Fermanagh (John Verney*) remarked to his son on 2 Feb. that Trotman would ‘soon see the effects of his courting the mechanic electors of that city’. At the election on the 22nd a handful of votes were cast for a Whig, Pierce A’Court, whose Somerset estate was within striking distance of Bath, while in the preliminary round a member of the aldermanic Gibbs family attracted a single vote.4
A’Court reappeared at the election of 1708 in what was clearly an attempt to break the Tory partnership of Blathwayt and Trotman, and a respectable body of corporation men were prepared to support him. Out of the 25 corporation members who voted, 14 opted for the old Members, but another six split their votes between Blathwayt and A’Court, and the remaining five voted for Trotman and A’Court. The support given to A’Court, though symptomatic of the national swing in opinion towards the Whigs, was not enough to endanger Blathwayt and Trotman. The election was perhaps more significant in marking an end of the antiquated procedure of voting for each MP in turn and its replacement with the standard method of a single poll, an exercise in civic modernization almost certainly prompted by the recent disputes over the franchise. Not until the election of 1710 was there any sign of aristocratic interference in the city’s elections. The young 2nd Duke of Beaufort, whose seat at Badminton was ten miles distant, attempted to involve himself in Bath’s politics by promoting his near neighbour John Codrington, an unsuccessful contestant in 1702 and 1705. His pretext was Blathwayt’s apparent anti-Tory line in voting in favour of the Sacheverell impeachment, which had come to light in a published ‘black’ list of the House. Without consulting him, Beaufort proceeded to recommend Codrington to the corporation, adding ‘I am always glad of any opportunity of serving your corporation and you in particular’, an obvious hint of his future intentions. However, Blathwayt maintained complete innocence of what was alleged against him, having missed the impeachment debates and divisions owing to illness. Now confronted with the Duke’s open opposition in Bath, he appealed in mid-August to the Earl of Dartmouth, his former colleague on the Board of Trade and now secretary of state, to intercede with Beaufort and present the true facts. Blathwayt’s name was further blackened with the rumour of his threat to have the city’s elections thrown open to the freemen at large if the corporation threw him out. This he vehemently denied in a letter to the mayor which contained a curt reminder of his own part in defending the corporation before the elections committee back in 1707: ‘I shall always adhere to the present constitution as settled and established by the House of Commons according to the enclosed report which I had the good luck to obtain with great pains and otherwise while I was for the greatest part of two years the sole representative of the corporation.’ Already much discredited, Blathwayt seems to have put the seal on his own defeat when just prior to the election he sarcastically asked of General (John Richmond) Webb* in public ‘whether the bullet that was lodged in him was a musket or a cannon bullet’. On hearing of this, several members of the corporation reportedly declared that ‘they would not choose such a blunderbuss for their representative’. Blathwayt suffered a humiliating defeat. Of the 28 corporation men who voted, only 11 voted for the partnership of Blathwayt and Trotman, while 16 voted for Trotman and Codrington. There was a single voice for Codrington and Blathwayt.5
Beaufort continued to cultivate his influence over Bath’s corporation and in 1712 paid the cost of obtaining a measure for making the Avon navigable between Bath and Bristol, several previous attempts at such legislation having failed. But with the approach of the 1713 election, he was dismayed to find that although Trotman and Codrington enjoyed his full support, the corporation had found and set up a candidate of their own choosing, the High Tory Dr John Radcliffe*, who, though not a native of Bath or its surrounding region, was a frequent visitor to the city and had been made a freeman in 1703. The Duke vented his anger on his agent on 27 July:
I am sorry to hear that my friends at Bath are so irresolute as to set up Dr Radcliffe without advising with me, who to your knowledge has spent a great deal of money about their bill as I did since last election and that they should desert the two Members that have so faithfully served them; this is what I hear and must tell you I will not believe one word of it till I hear from you having a much better opinion of the corporation of Bath than to believe what is reported. I have also heard that they were disgusted at having no venison on the thanksgiving day. You must answer for that if you thought you had not authority to send for it, one word from you should have brought venison enough from Badminton.
The corporation appears to have been easily cowed into submission on this occasion and the Duke’s nominees were unanimously returned, each with 25 votes. Trotman was evidently at pains to secure his interest with the corporation independently of Beaufort, and towards the end of November held a lavish round of ‘continual treating’ of ‘his electors and their wives . . . all express themselves highly pleased with their entertainment and Mr Trotman’s further invitation of them to Siston [his country seat]’. Beaufort honoured these junketings with his presence, and at a meeting with corporation figures gave reassurances of his attachment to the Hanoverian succession. However, his premature death in May the following year from a bout of excessive drinking brought to an end this only interlude of aristocratic interference in Bath’s electoral history.6
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. All polls are recorded in Bath AO, council bks. 3 and 4. The two columns in this table represent the votes for the first and second seats respectively. Where there are two figures in a column it indicates the polls taken in the first and second round of voting. For more on the method of voting at Bath, see the article text.
- 2. BL, Verney mss mic. 636/47, John to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 11 Nov. 1693.
- 3. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Glos. RO, Blathwayt mss D1779/X9, mayor and corporation of Bath to Blathwayt, 8 Jan. 1700[–1]; HMC Portland, iv. 27.
- 4. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss box 21, Blathwayt to George Stepney, 8 June 1705; Hoare’s Bank, Hoare mss, Sir Richard Hoare’s letterbk. 1701–6, pp. 374, 376; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 129; Verney mss mic. 636/53, Fermanagh to Ralph Verney†, 2 Feb. 1706–7.
- 5. Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to mayor of Bath, n.d. ; HMC Dartmouth, i. 297; Glos. RO, Blathwayt mss D1799/X9, Blathwayt to mayor of Bath, 24 Aug. 1710; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(7), pp. 4–5.
- 6. Beaufort mss, Beaufort to mayor and corp. of Bath, n.d. , same to Mr Smith, 27 July 1713, Barrington Jones to Lady Coventry, 22 Nov. ; Bodl. Ballard 18, ff. 53–54.