Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation, ‘landholders’ and ‘commoners’ until 1695; thereafter in the alderman and capital burgesses

Number of Qualified Electors:

at least 116 in 1689; 13 from 1695

Number of voters:

72 in 1689; 12 in 16981


 Sir Thomas Estcourt11
 Craven Howard112
3 Feb. 1692HON. GEORGE BOOTH  vice Long, deceased 
1 Dec. 1696SIR THOMAS SKIPWITH, Bt. vice Wharton, chose to sit for Cockermouth 
27 July 1698MICHAEL WICKS9
 Craven Howard6
 Sir Thomas Skipwith, Bt.3
 Michael Wicks 
 Daniel Parke 
21 Nov. 1702THOMAS BOUCHER vice Hedges, chose to sit for Calne 
 Thomas Boucher 
 Edward Pauncefort 
 Thomas Boucher 
 Edward Pauncefort 
11 Mar. 1710JOSEPH ADDISON vice Mordaunt, deceased 
20 Apr. 1713SIR JOHN RUSHOUT, Bt. vice Farrington, deceased 
29 Aug. 1713SIR JOHN RUSHOUT, Bt. 

Main Article

Until 1689 the franchise at Malmesbury had been confined to the alderman (the chief magistrate) and the 12 other capital burgesses, the top tier of the corporation, but the indenture returning the two Whig Members to the Convention was signed by the other members of the corporation, the ‘assistants’ (24 in number), and by representatives of the two other orders in the hierarchy of the borough, the ‘landholders’ (52 strong) and ‘commoners’ or ‘free burgesses’. Even though the number of commoners was unrestricted, and the only qualifications for the status were residence in the parish and a father or father-in-law who was a commoner, this probably fell short of being the equivalent of an inhabitant franchise: only 27 commoners signed the indenture in 1689, and probably fewer the following year. The widening of the electorate, first attempted unsuccessfully in 1685, had been a ploy of the Whigs, more specifically of the Wharton family, both of whose candidates were returned to the Convention. It was at least partly a response to the purging of Whig sympathizers under the new charter of James II. After the Revolution, however, the Wharton interest gradually took control of the corporation. The capital burgesses excluded in 1684–5 appear to have returned, and the corporation, according to a subsequent election petition directed against the Whartons, applied to the then Lord Wharton’s elder surviving son Hon. Thomas* ‘for his assistance, as a person that had a great interest in the government . . . and elected him steward’. The installation of Wharton as steward in 1690 probably did not occur until after the general election, when his brother Goodwin, himself lord of the manor of Malmesbury, and Sir James Long, 2nd Bt., who had sought Thomas’ approval before standing, still faced the hostility of the bulk of the capital burgesses. With the support of the alderman, the returning officer, Wharton and Long were returned. The defeated candidates, Sir Thomas Estcourt* and Craven Howard, both of whom possessed substantial proprietary interests, petitioned on the basis of the old, restricted franchise, but their petition was not heard. At a by-election in 1692 another Whig, Hon. George Booth, took the place of the deceased Long, ‘with the whole consent and assent of the rest of the burgesses’, according to the indenture; an indication that the wider franchise was still in operation. By the time of the 1695 general election the Whartons exerted a stronger hold over the corporation. Thomas, his enemies said,

had the sole control and influence of . . . elections of Members of Parliament, which he brought about from time to time by fair and large promises to the town and to the electorate, and if at any time that failed, then he made use of threats and . . . force.

An instance of this ‘force’ may have been the removal in 1695 of the former alderman under James II’s charter, John Wayte, for having been concerned in ‘destroying the liberties of the corporation’. In addition, a settlement of differences with Howard seemed to make everything safe, and Goodwin Wharton and Howard stood together in 1695, on the old franchise of alderman and capital burgesses only. But, in a reversal of roles, they were challenged by Sir James Long’s grandson and eventual heir, Sir Giles Long, 4th Bt., and Michael Wicks, a Malmesbury man who had made a career in the customs service in London, ‘on the behalf of those electors that were for vindicating their freedom of electing’, in other words the ‘popular’ element of assistants, landholders and commoners. Wicks, anxious to get into Parliament to evade legal process for the recovery of a debt to the crown, had purchased a ‘considerable interest’ by a donation of lands worth some £500 to endow a charity to support, among other things, a school and an almshouse for the families of ‘burgesses’. This opposition was probably not taken to a poll, but it forced a modification of the original Wharton scheme, to bring in a Whig crony, Sir Thomas Skipwith, 2nd Bt., to Goodwin’s seat. Instead, Goodwin was obliged to have himself returned for Malmesbury as well as his other constituency of Cockermouth, and not being able to ‘procure a promise for Sir Thomas’, the family interest having allegedly become ‘the weakest’, had to sit ‘for both places one whole session and part of another’. Meanwhile ‘all endeavours were used’ by the Whartons ‘to bring over the electors’, but the only catch was one Hays, who was ‘arrested in action of £200 at the suit of’ Thomas, now Lord Wharton, ‘at a time when he owed him not a farthing, and Hays being a person that lived on credit it was his ruin’. Later Hays submitted and ‘liveth under his lordship’s protection under cover of being his bailiff’. Eventually the Association of 1696 provided Lord Wharton with the opportunity he needed. The failure of many members and officers to subscribe rendered the corporation in effect defunct. Wharton interceded and procured a new charter, which besides reappointing the alderman, capital burgesses and assistants according to his recommendations, made a point of constituting the alderman and other capital burgesses a separate corporation within the larger body, and also included for the first time within the boundaries of the borough the abbey lands, which were Wharton’s own property. His opponents paid a grudging tribute to the success of the manoeuvre:

A new charter, obtained without the privity or consent of the borough (except six or seven of the capital burgesses) was imposed on the borough, and thereby the corporation was garbled, and such magistrates or officers as were most against his lordship’s interest were displaced and their room supplied with others that were for his lordship’s purpose . . . and this was done and transacted without the knowledge or privity of any of the corporation (or such of the seven before mentioned), and when matters were thus prepared and settled, and the new charter to pass the seal the next day, Mr [Goodwin] Wharton made his election for Cockermouth, and [the charter] to the new corporation and the writ for electing went down at the same time, and thereby Sir Thomas Skipwith was elected without opposition, all that would oppose it being terrified with the great power and interest of his lordship, but when they had considered the matter fully they endeavoured to obtain relief from this House [of Commons] and had a petition prepared for that purpose, but by some means the same was not exhibited, but however five of the old capital burgesses (that were again nominated and in this new corporation) and had through fear taken upon them the said offices, hoping for redress by the petition in Parliament and to show their resentment did neglect to qualify themselves by taking the sacrament and taking the Test, but afterwards finding no remedy against this new corporation were willing to be re-elected.3

Wicks renewed his candidature in 1698, joined by another government official, Edward Pauncefort, whose only previous connexion with Wiltshire came through his business relationship with the Fox family. Undeniably, Pauncefort ‘was a person that had very little acquaintance in . . . Malmesbury’, and he did not even visit the town for the election. Originally Wicks had ‘promised his interest’ to Sir Thomas Estcourt and anyone else Estcourt should name, and Estcourt had approached Pauncefort. Wicks then changing his mind, Estcourt at first dropped Pauncefort but then, the day before the election, stood down in Pauncefort’s favour, supposedly because of illness. This time Wicks did not have to make a play for the ‘popular’ interest, since a more promising line of attack presented itself. Wharton’s deputy steward, William Adye, was prepared to defect, and, it was said, put his personal influence on the open market: ‘that gentleman that would give him most money should be Parliament-man for Malmesbury’. Although Wicks had had dealings with Adye before, having in 1695 nominated him as a trustee for his charity, it would appear that the first contact over the election was made by Adye himself with Estcourt, and that Wicks and Pauncefort inherited this arrangement. Adye’s personal influence derived from a debt of £150 owed him by nine of the capital burgesses, for his assistance in opposing a clause in the abortive corporations bill of 1689–90, which would have voided a lease of lands they had taken earlier from the Jacobite corporation. His hold over these burgesses lay in his possession of various ‘writings’, presumably deeds to the property, and he was able to obtain promises of votes in return for a written pledge to give back the documents ‘gratis’ after the election. The existence of the debt perhaps explains Adye’s disloyalty, since Wharton had ‘often promised to pay it’. Both Adye and the burgesses had raised the matter again with Wharton as the 1698 election approached, seeing a chance to force a settlement, but first Wharton prevaricated, and then Craven Howard’s agents arranged a ‘treaty’ only to break it off. As late as 24 July, three days before the election, Wharton ‘sent for Adye to Eastlodge’, where he introduced him to his candidate, Hon. Harry Mordaunt*, a Court Whig seeking refuge following defeat elsewhere. Wharton told Adye he intended to return Mordaunt ‘directly or indirectly, if it cost £1,000’. Far from being overawed, Adye treated Mordaunt ‘very cavalierly’, and replied ‘in plain terms, that whoever expected to be chosen there, should pay him £400 down’. The meeting ended in failure, with Wharton reverting to Skipwith as his nominee. Thanks to Adye’s assistance, and the casting vote of the alderman (who had already polled for Pauncefort) to break a tie between Pauncefort and Howard, Wicks and Pauncefort were elected, with Skipwith finishing bottom of the poll. No attempt was made to question the franchise: Howard’s petition acknowledged that it was ‘agreed on both sides that the right of election is in an alderman and 12 capital burgesses’, but complained bitterly about ‘the principal officer’s acting as two men’. The alderman, it was argued, should have acted like the Speaker of the Commons, who gave ‘no vote to any resolution; but when they are equal adds his vote to turn the scale’. By this logic ‘Mr Howard having the majority without the alderman ought to have been returned’. Pauncefort also took the trouble to dispute the qualifications of three of Howard’s voters. Skipwith’s petition alleged bribery and corruption. The two petitions appear to have been managed jointly ‘at the Lord Wharton’s charge and . . . by his servants and agents, and supported by his interest’. Wharton and his men went to remarkable lengths. Edward Browne, the controversial alderman, was ‘suborned’ by Hays’s successor as Wharton’s bailiff, and by Howard’s ‘agent’. Having sworn an affidavit as to the bribes (of some six guineas) and promises (of £60 more) he had received, Browne was given a bond of £400 ‘to save him harmless from any damage . . . [he] might sustain by reason of his discovery’, and was then ‘carried away by the Lord Wharton’s servants, and kept for instruction and never to be heard of’ until he had given his testimony. Other witnesses were also persuaded ‘to make affidavits of what they would have them to say before the committee, that by the terror of an oath they may be confined to say the same again’; others still were alternately cajoled and frightened, ‘by promising them great rewards and money and his lordship’s favour, on one hand, and threatening them with ruin and destruction on the other’. Finally, extraordinary pressure was brought to bear on Adye, by reviving a ‘dormant order of the court of Chancery’ against him, in a case carried on by a ‘tool’ of Wharton, ‘his lordship appearing in open court against him’. Despite a spell in the Fleet prison, and costs of some £150 (ironically enough), ‘which in other cases was usually discharged for £5’, Adye’s spirit was unbroken. Estcourt, however, had been intimidated enough by this example to write Wharton an abject letter dissociating himself from Adye – ‘I will never have more to do with him, as long as I live’ – and begging Wharton to be ‘merciful’ to Pauncefort. In the end, Wharton’s ‘mercy’ was not needed. The hearing, in committee in March 1699, began catastrophically for the petitioners, with the disclosure of Browne’s ‘bond’. The committee resolved that not only Browne himself but all Skipwith’s witnesses were ‘so affected by that bond’ that their evidence could not be admitted, whereupon Skipwith’s petition collapsed. Howard’s lasted longer but was no more successful. A precedent for the alderman voting twice was established by the sitting Members’ counsel, albeit a somewhat imprecise recollection from one of Malmesbury’s older denizens. For the rest, the evidence of bribery and treating (at a cost of some £500) made no impact on the committee. Not even the fact that the election had taken place in an alehouse rather than the town hall was taken into consideration, so deeply had Wharton’s unscrupulous prosecution of the petitions vitiated their case. The committee found for Wicks and Pauncefort, but on a division the House decided to recommit the report to allow the petitioners an opportunity to produce in evidence the bond given to Browne. This they were unable, or unwilling, to do. The debacle was a very serious blow to Wharton’s interest in Malmesbury, especially as he had rushed back from Newmarket in early April to try to bolster his position. In June Wharton attended the election for high steward in ‘that sweet town’, as he sarcastically described it, and was defeated by his Tory nephew Lord Abingdon (Montagu Venables-Bertie*). In a last fling in November 1699, Skipwith reintroduced his petition but it was not even referred to the committee.4

Lord Abingdon’s possession of the high stewardship, to which he was re-elected in the autumn of 1699 and again in 1700, did not carry with it as much influence in the borough as he might have expected. Although he cultivated the electors for some time on behalf of his Oxfordshire friend Sir John Walter, 3rd Bt.*, the yield from these efforts was too poor for Walter to put up in the January 1701 election. This still left Pauncefort, the outgoing Member, facing opposition from two quarters: Wharton, whose candidates were Henry Ireton* and a Montagu, probably Edward* of Lackham; and Samuel Shepheard I*, whose one-man election campaign on behalf of the New East India Company, in this case featuring his son Samuel II as candidate, had moved on to Malmesbury after a rebuff at Wootton Bassett. To begin with Pauncefort found himself without a partner, Wicks having presumably declined to stand, and in his ‘alarm’ was reduced to hawking his ‘interest’ around the offices of Whitehall, proposing to ‘bring . . . in’ various under-secretaries, none of whom would take his bait. His prospects looked even bleaker when, through the good offices of Charles Montagu*, Wharton and Shepheard arrived at an arrangement, in which Ireton was sacrificed, and ‘Mr Montagu’ and Samuel Shepheard II ‘joined’ their ‘interest’. But as Charles Montagu feared, the capital burgesses of Malmesbury were not to be trusted: he sensed ‘roguery’ afoot. And in the last few days before the poll Wicks reappeared as a candidate and Wharton’s man backed out, leaving Shepheard alone against two opponents. Even so he was returned, at Wicks’ expense. Intending to exploit the hostility in the Commons to the New Company’s electioneering Wicks petitioned against Shepheard, almost solely on the basis of bribery. Before the petition could be heard Samuel Shepheard I was found guilty by the Commons of wholesale bribery in several constituencies, including Malmesbury. On 14 Mar. his son was expelled the House. No new writ was issued for Malmesbury, however, possibly because there was a reluctance to afford Wicks the opportunity of making his way back into Parliament and continuing to deprive the Treasury of its money.5

In the meantime, Pauncefort had been trying to reinforce his position in the borough in concert with the new Tory secretary of state, Sir Charles Hedges, who was following up his own acquisition of an estate in north Wiltshire by constructing an interest for himself in one or two local boroughs. Pauncefort was probably responsible for interesting Hedges in Malmesbury, and he managed Hedges’ election as high steward, in absentia, in the summer of 1701. Hedges was convinced that their return together in the general election in November was a foregone conclusion, having as they did promises from ten of the 13 capital burgesses, and in addition the backing of the Estcourts. The challenge came from Wharton’s interest, though not directly from Wharton himself. On this occasion the leading part was played by another peer recently returned to the Whig fold, Lord Peterborough, the brother of Wharton’s intended candidate in 1695, Hon. Harry Mordaunt. Peterborough’s nominee, the army officer and West Indian Daniel Parke, stood ‘on the right of the commonalty’, that is to say, the claim to the extended franchise seemingly lost with the new charter. Thus it was not Parke who petitioned when Hedges and Pauncefort were returned but five ‘burgesses and inhabitants’. These included Wharton’s bailiff, James Croome, and Edward Browne, the alderman ‘suborned’ by the Wharton interest in 1699. A further pointer to Wharton’s having been involved behind the scenes was the retention as one of the petitioners’ counsel of James Sloane*, Wharton’s secretary as chief justice in eyre south of the Trent. The petition concentrated not on the franchise but on accusations of bribery and corruption, centring on the familiar figure of William Adye. In a version of events recalling the election of 1698, it was asserted that Adye had sold the election to the highest bidder. The petition was to rebound heavily on its authors. It was heard at the bar of the House on 29 Jan. The diarist Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, disliked it from the very instant of its presentation, as ‘intended . . . only to put a blemish on Sir Charles Hed[ges], now turned out of his employ of secretary of state . . . s[o in]solent and unmanlike to run a man quite down that was going down before’. The petitioners and their witnesses made a poor showing, and Browne in particular, whose tainted testimony in 1699 was well remembered, found himself ridiculed by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*: ‘if he was Browne, they were all black’. The decisive moment came when Adye himself was questioned, for he ‘declared his concern in that affair had been on behalf of . . . Parke’, and produced a bag of gold and a bank note for £200 which he claimed Parke had given him. In spite of Adye’s tattered reputation this was a telling piece of evidence, and Parke could not rebut it. His weak defence, that he was merely seeking ‘to expose Adye’, was undermined by independent testimony of the anger and violence he and Peterborough had displayed on Adye’s refusal to ‘serve’ Parke, for Parke had ‘threatened him and said he would have his money again’. The petition was voted ‘scandalous, false and vexatious’, and the petitioners taken into custody. Parke and his agent, a schoolmaster, joined them, as guilty of ‘a notorious bribery and corruption’, and the attorney-general was instructed to prosecute. The spotlight now turned on Peterborough, who, amid clamorous Tory protests, had been accorded a chair ‘on the Speaker’s right hand near the bar’, as ‘a lord of another House’, when he appeared with a request to be heard in his own vindication. A long speech, denying any part in a ‘bargain’ with Adye and casting aspersions on all the ‘ignorant people’ who had given evidence against him, failed to convince the Commons, and after a motion to adjourn was lost he too was voted guilty of ‘many indirect practices’ in interfering with the election. The debate had ‘lasted about 11 hours’, the House not rising till nearly midnight, and it was reported that ‘when the King heard of it the next day he said he wished that we [the Commons] would take as much pains to preserve the whole [kingdom] as we would to ruin one another’. Cocks believed the truth to be ‘that Adye had some way or another more money of Sir Charles [Hedges] or some friend of his for him than Parke did or would give’. The episode was not over yet. ‘So great was the indignation’ of the Commons against ‘the Malmesbury men’, aggravated by resentment at Peterborough’s involvement and, perhaps, suspicion that Wharton too might be implicated, that when on 14 Feb. the petitioners begged pardon and to be discharged they were examined about ‘those that set them on work’. Giving nothing away, they were, on a close division, returned to custody, and more witnesses were ordered up. It was only when these further investigations proved fruitless that their release was at last agreed.6

This second disaster, like the result of the 1698–9 petition, shook the Wharton interest profoundly, and for a while Hedges’ boast that Malmesbury was his borough rang true. He and Pauncefort were re-elected without opposition in 1702, and on Hedges opting to sit for Calne, the Malmesbury voters ‘had so great a regard to the recommendation of their former Member that . . . they chose, purely upon his interest, Thomas Boucher, esq., in his place’. The following year Boucher and Pauncefort each presented a mace to the corporation. Wharton, now lord of the manor in his own right, hit back in 1705. Hedges was ‘discharged from his office of high steward, for not defending the rights of this borough’, Wharton himself replacing him, and in the general election Wharton’s two candidates, the soldier Thomas Farrington and naval officer Hon. Henry Mordaunt (Harry’s nephew), defeated Boucher and Pauncefort. The petition, as well as its customary tales of ‘treats, bribery and other illegal practices’, implied a possible controversy over the franchise, with a reference to the admission of unqualified voters. It was never heard. The corporation continued to suffer disturbance, and in 1707 Boucher and Pauncefort succeeded in ‘throwing out’ Wharton from the high stewardship, ‘after his honour [Wharton] had treated and threatened the town for ten days together’, in favour of one Young, ‘of about £300 a year . . . whom his lordship had particularly opposed to the utmost of his power’. No mention is made of Hedges in the account of this incident, a fact that suggests he may have abandoned the borough, as Wharton indeed threatened to do after losing the stewardship: he ‘gave them a farewell benediction, that as they had been an ungrateful, perfidious corporation to him, so he would endeavour to extirpate them as such, and would never more be seen within their villainous town’. This was mere pique. Regaining the stewardship the following year, he was able to see Farrington and Mordaunt repeat their previous victory over Boucher and Pauncefort in the 1708 election. The petition was presented by Pauncefort alone, since Boucher had died not long after the election. It refers to the two Whigs having ‘prevailed with the pretended alderman to return them’. Any dispute or schism in the corporation was presumably ended by Pauncefort’s defeat. He withdrew his petition in January 1709, and in March 1710 Wharton’s chief secretary as viceroy of Ireland, Joseph Addison, was chosen at a by-election without difficulty. The Tory interest, now headed by the Duke of Beaufort, was unable even to put up a candidate. Wharton’s dominance over Malmesbury was secure. He held the stewardship until his death, and for the remainder of this period the Members elected were nominated by him. An incident recounted by his biographer allows us to catch the flavour of his patronage of the constituency: he arrived in the town on the eve of one election, which he managed ‘with that dexterity and despatch as to carry it for both his friends, and on the morrow took coach for London’.7

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. L.Inn Lib. MP100/17B, 'Merits of Election... Malmesbury' [1698].
  • 2. Alderman and capital burgesses only.
  • 3. J. M. Moffatt, Hist. Malmesbury, 125–7, 135–6, 151, 164; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 324; liii. 124; Beaufort mss at Badminton House 602/1/7, election petition [1698]; Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 197–8; Bodl. Carte 103, f. 254; 228, ff. 114–15; VCH Wilts. v. 218; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 433.
  • 4. ‘Merits of Election . . . Malmesbury’, [1698]; Beaufort mss 602/1/7; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvi. 75–77; xlvii. 324; HMC Lords, ii. 428, 433; Vernon-Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 148; Bodl. Tanner 22, f. 6; Moffatt, 136, 164; Coll. Top. et Gen. 197–8; HMC Portland, iii. 605; Add. 28895, f. 170.
  • 5. Post Boy, 7–10 Oct. 1699; Coll. Top. et Gen. 197–8; Add. 28886, ff. 204, 271; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvii. 500–3; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 280; EHR, lxxi. 235.
  • 6. Add. 28887, ff. 280, 294, 299, 388; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 394; DNB (Parke, Daniel); Moffatt, 136; Cocks Diary, 191–6, 212–14, 224–5; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1337–8; Add. 17677 XX, ff. 194–5.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 173; D. R. Hainsworth, Stewards, Lords and People, 149–50; Add. 27440, f. 147; 9100, f. 42; 70257, Beaufort to Oxford, 3 Feb. 1713–14; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxviii. 43; xlvi. 85; xlvii. 324; Coll. Top. et Gen. 197–8; J. Carswell, Old Cause, 75; Beaufort mss, Duke of Beaufort’s letterbk. 1710–14, Beaufort to Malmesbury corpn. 1709; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 9 Oct. 1712; Wharton Mems. 43–44.