Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitant householders not receiving alms

Number of voters:

over 1,000


(1801): 7,020


21 June 1790CHARLES COMPTON, Lord Compton822
 Robert Manners265
9 May 1796 HON. SPENCER PERCEVAL vice Compton, called to the Upper House 
 William Walcot474
21 Feb. 1801 PERCEVAL re-elected after appointment to office 
19 Apr. 1802 PERCEVAL re-elected after appointment to office 
1 Apr. 1807 PERCEVAL re-elected after appointment to office 
8 Oct. 1810 WILLIAM HANBURY vice Bouverie, deceased 
26 May 1812 SPENCER JOSHUA ALWYNE COMPTON, Lord Compton, vice Perceval, deceased 
30 June 1818SPENCER JOSHUA ALWYNE COMPTON, Earl Compton815
 Sir George Robinson, Bt.639

Main Article

Despite its large electorate which increased during this period to over 1,300 voters and included a strong dissenting component, Northampton went to the poll only three times: the balance of interests and the memory of the ruinously expensive contest of 1768 were sufficient to discourage protracted struggles.1 One seat continued to be held until 1820 by the Compton family of Castle Ashby, earls of Northampton and recorders of the borough, who were rewarded for their loyalties by a marquessate in 1812. The other seat had fallen into independent hands in 1784, when Earl Spencer’s candidate was defeated. Spencer vowed that he would wash his hands of Northampton and he was as good as his word. Trotman, the independent Member, retired in 1790 for reasons of health and Edward Bouverie of Delapré Abbey, who had declined an invitation from Alderman Gibson, the promoter of opposition to the Spencer interest, to come forward in 1784, now prepared to ‘come in quietly’. Spencer, perhaps ruefully, reported that ‘nobody ... had spirit enough to stand in opposition to him, though there was a party there ready to have taken up anybody’. It was thought, however, that a third candidate would be ‘to the full as troublesome to Lord Compton as to Bouverie, and that it would only be making a disturbance, without a chance of success’. Opposition materialized: Col. Robert Manners*, ‘who had no other connection with the town than coming down as a friend of the minister one day before the day of election and yet polled near 300 votes’, was put up with Treasury assistance and stood a four-day poll. All but a handful of his votes were shared with Compton, who received a vote from 822 out of 893 electors. This showed, according to Spencer, ‘how entirely ridiculous it is ever to hope for a permanent interest in that place without having possession of the corporation as the Comptons have’.2

After 1790 the struggle that arose out of the alliance of the corporation with Castle Ashby against the independent interest, focussed on the Independent Electors Club and headed by Bouverie, was extended to the town hall. The independents refused to serve on the common council and, new elections being held, three of them still refused and were upheld on an appeal to King’s bench (May 1795) which admitted their plea that they had not been legally elected, not having an absolute majority of the common council of 48, which had long been diminished by their manoeuvres. The court held the charter to be dissolved. The corporation sought to revive it, with their patron’s assistance. The independents tried to amend it, Bouverie presenting a petition to this effect to the King. But by November 1795 opposition had collapsed, and on 6 Apr. 1796 Lord Compton and his cousin Spencer Perceval, who had been deputy recorder since 1787 and had acted as unpaid counsel to the corporation, brought the revived charter to Northampton. Perceval made a conciliatory speech on the occasion.3

When Compton succeeded to the title next day, his heir being an infant, the seat was offered to Spencer Perceval, who was returned unopposed. At the ensuing general election, in a six-day contest and a record poll of 991 votes, Bouverie nearly lost his seat. A staunch Whig, he had given some dissatisfaction, and according to Lord Westmorland, writing to Sir William Lowther, 8 Feb. 1796:

The principal inhabitants ... are by a very decisive majority as they represent hostile to him, in so much that if any man of character supported by Mr Pitt was to declare himself, they are convinced Mr Bouverie would have few supporters and he is so well acquainted with these circumstances himself that he would decline any contest.

He added that Pitt would like Lowther to stand, as William Walcot junior of Oundle, a local friend of government, had, after hesitating, at last resolved not to stand. Nothing came of this and Walcot stood after all. The show of hands was in his favour. Perceval, whose bills of £1,700 that year were paid by the earl, avoided any coalition. Walcot spent over £3,000. Bouverie was certainly hard pressed and had to deny that he had made use of Earl Spencer’s name. The corporation ‘avowedly supported’ Walcot, being ‘offended with Mr Bouverie for presenting the town petition to the King’. Bouverie, who called for plumpers, polled 264 of them, but shared 243 with Perceval. Had Perceval, who was secure but neutral, turned over votes to Walcot, with whom he shared 467 votes, the latter might have succeeded. Walcot threatened a petition, but gave it up.4

There was no further contest until 1818, though a third man hostile to Bouverie surfaced in 1806 and declined. He was Maj. Harry Yonge, who ‘on so short an acquaintance’ did not wish to disturb the peace. On that occasion Perceval declined his brother Lord Arden’s offer to help pay his election bills: Lord Northampton would not hear of Perceval’s paying even half the expense. George Robinson, son of a former Member (Sir George, 5th Bt., of Cranford) tried in 1807 to obtain a Whig candidate to challenge the re-election of Perceval, whose election address outraged the Whig conscience, but William Smith, whom Lady Holland approached on the subject, feared the expense, even when assured that he might get 600 out of 1,100 votes.5 When Bouverie died in 1810 Hanbury, another independent local gentleman of Whig sympathies, succeeded to his seat, getting the advantage of Robinson, who was also interested. Hanbury met with no opposition, but only ‘confessed himself a Whig’ after the election.6

In April 1813 there was a report that the Compton interest meant to bid for both seats at the next election. It was discounted by Viscount Althorp, to whom it was confided, but he warned Hanbury who, he thought, should confront such a challenge alone, rather than with a partner. Hanbury proceeded to annoy many of his friends by his refusal to present a petition against the corn bill in 1815, a duty which his colleague Lord Compton accepted, without sympathizing with it. On 24 Mar. 1815 Hanbury pointed this out in a letter to his constituents and, in a huff, announced that he would not offer himself again. Nor did he, in 1818, though he had to stop his friends from canvassing for him.7 In anticipation of this vacuum, an agent of Earl Spencer’s had encouraged him to put up his second son Robert, but he refused: to quote Althorp, writing to his mother, 26 Mar. 1815: ‘though Bob might come in at first without difficulty, it would be necessary afterwards to keep up the interest, which might not be so agreeable’. Althorp doubted whether Sir James Langham would be either a willing or a popular candidate and thought that George Robinson would be ‘the best card for the Whigs to play’.8

So it was that Robinson stood as a Whig in 1818: but after 13 days’ polling during which 1,287 votes were cast, he was defeated by a second ministerial candidate, Kerrison. The latter was a last-minute substitute for (and colonel to) Capt. William Leader Maberly*, whose father John Maberly* had been invited to put up the second candidate. Maberly junior, who canvassed in February 1818, was not quite of age, and after the discovery of an act of bribery, was prudently withdrawn: he was successful at the next election, but as a Whig, he and his father having meanwhile gone into opposition. Robinson, who was also successful in 1820, received 413 single votes in 1818. While the shoemakers were the leading trade in the borough and members of both parties deferred to them in opposing the leather tax, they did not have an overwhelming political preference; thus in 1818, 310 of them voted for Lord Compton, 90 for Kerrison and 220 for Robinson. A petition on behalf of Robinson alleged that almsmen voters for Kerrison were accepted and for Robinson refused: it failed.9

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 427; Add. 51573, Smith to Lady Holland, Tues. night [1807].
  • 2. J. C. Cox, Recs. Northampton, ii. 507; Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 14, 25 June 1790; Ginter, Whig Organization, 246; Northampton Mercury, 27 Mar., 3 Apr., 12, 19 and 26 June 1790; PRO 30/8/125, f. 15; 229, ff. 259, 273.
  • 3. Cox, ii. 22-24; D. Gray, Perceval, 28-33; PRO 30/8/125, f. 31; Walpole, Perceval, i. 246.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss; PRO 30/8/121, f. 111; Mq. of Northampton, Hist. of the Comptons, 218; J. R. Burton, Walcot of Walcot, 54; Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 27 May, Harrison to Spencer, 29 May 1796; Cox, ii. 507-8; Add. 49184, f. 38.
  • 5. Gray, 69; Northampton Mercury, 25 Oct. 1806; Add. 49184; f. 15; 51573, Smith to Lady Holland, Tues. night [1807]; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, 22 Feb. 1818; Blair Adam mss, Tierney to Adam, 1 Apr., Adam to Howick (copy), 3 Apr. 1807.
  • 6. Spencer mss, Althorp to Lady Spencer, 31 Mar. 1815; Bucks. RO, Dayrell mss AR 39/53/97.
  • 7. Spencer mss, Althorp to Spencer, 8 Apr. 1813; Cox, ii. 509.
  • 8. Spencer mss, Althorp to Lady Spencer, 26, 31 Mar. 1815.
  • 9. Cox, ii. 510; Northampton Mercury, 28 Feb., 13, 27 June 1818; CJ, lxxiv. 87, 296.