Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
3,465 (1821); 3,610 (1831)
|8 Mar. 1820||SIR GEORGE NUGENT, bt.|
|WILLIAM HENRY FREMANTLE|
|11 Feb. 1822||FREMANTLE re-elected after appointment to office|
|9 June 1826||SIR GEORGE NUGENT, bt.|
|WILLIAM HENRY FREMANTLE|
|23 May 1827||SIR THOMAS FRANCIS FREMANTLE, bt. vice Fremantle, vacated his seat|
|30 July 1830||SIR GEORGE NUGENT, bt.|
|SIR THOMAS FRANCIS FREMANTLE, bt.|
|29 Apr. 1831||SIR GEORGE NUGENT, bt.|
|SIR THOMAS FRANCIS FREMANTLE, bt.|
Buckingham was a small market town on the River Ouse in the north-west of the county. Lace making had been ‘carried on to a great extent’, but was in decline in this period.1 The borough remained under the control of the 2nd marquess of Buckingham, the high steward, whose principal residence at Stowe lay three miles away. An obese, overbearing and vainglorious man, head of the small Grenvillite parliamentary squad, he regarded the seats as his personal property and imposed his will on the corporation of a bailiff and 12 burgesses, mostly his dependants and nominees, who constituted the electorate. His dictatorial attitude was resented by a few of the select body, notably the banker George Nelson and his partner Edward Bartlett, whose relatives ran a local tannery. Their dissidence was nourished by their hostility to Catholic relief, of which Buckingham was a prominent supporter.2
At the general election of 1820 the sitting Members, William Fremantle of Englefield Green, Surrey, Buckingham’s confidant and the unofficial Grenvillite whip, and the elderly General Sir George Nugent of Westhorpe, Buckingham’s illegitimate cousin, came in again. According to The Times of 23 Nov. 1820, in the partial illumination held to mark the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline three days earlier, ‘no member of the corporation gave any outward sign that he partook in the general joy’. Local agriculturists petitioned the Commons, 28 Feb., and the Lords, 26 Mar. 1821, for relief from distress.3 When in January 1822 Buckingham aligned himself and his followers with the Liverpool ministry, taking a dukedom as his personal reward, the Whig Lady Spencer commented that ‘His Grease of Buckingham ... comforts the judicious corporation of his rotten borough with the assurance of his help being always ready to assist whatever government may be in power, provided it is a Tory one’.4 Fremantle was quietly re-elected after his appointment as a commissioner of the board of control. Religious Dissent flourished at Buckingham, and petitions for the abolition of slavery and investigation of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara were sent to the Commons, 24 Feb., 31 May 1824, 3 Mar. 1826, and the Lords, 3 Mar. 1826.5 The clergy of Buckingham deanery and the corporation and leading inhabitants petitioned the Commons against Catholic claims, 18 Apr. 1825. The borough petition was got up and presented by the county Member Lord Chandos, the duke’s rabidly anti-Catholic son, to the irritation of Fremantle who, like Nugent, of course favoured relief.6 In November 1825 Fremantle, sick of being accused by Buckingham of failing to promote with sufficient vigour his aspiration to the government of India, offered to resign both his seat and his office, but the duke bullied him into remaining.7 According to the Rev. John Langham Dayrell of Lillingstone, vicar of Stowe, the town bankers ‘had their share of the general run’ during the 1825-6 crash, but ‘came off wonderfully well and stood their ordeal manfully’.8
In April 1826 Buckingham asked Fremantle to confirm that Nelson had told him that ‘he would never vote for you on account of the Catholic question, and that if he were returning officer, he would not return you’, as he had ‘gone about vapouring and boasting that he had told you so’.9 The following month Fremantle was appointed treasurer of the household. Buckingham initially assured him of the ‘renewal’ of his seat but, sulky over ministerial disregard of his pretensions, he subsequently made difficulties by insisting that Fremantle should ascertain that the government were favourably disposed to towards him before he returned an official man. It took the intervention of Chandos to persuade his father to return Fremantle at the general election in June 1826, on condition that he would surrender the seat if the duke had to oppose the government. Nugent came in again also, and two barrels of beer were given to the populace on election day.10
On 30 Jan. 1827 Fremantle told his nephew Sir Thomas Fremantle of Swanbourne, Nugent’s son-in-law, that Chandos
takes credit openly for his forbearance in not having resisted his father’s nomination ... which from the Protestant feeling of the electors he might have done ... with effect, and ... doubts whether on a future occasion such forbearance may continue to be justifiable!!! I think if the duke stomachs this sort of language he had better at once retire and make room for his son’s succession.11
In the following weeks local and neighbouring agriculturists petitioned both Houses against alteration of the corn laws.12 In mid-April 1827 Canning, newly installed as prime minister, refused Buckingham’s application for the government of India. After a ‘warm’ conversation with the duke, Fremantle, who retained his household place, offered to resign at Buckingham’s convenience, to avoid being obliged to oppose the ministry. Buckingham accepted his resignation in principle, but Fremantle displeased him by encouraging his nephew Sir Thomas to anticipate replacing him. Although the duke had previously engaged to find an opening for Sir Thomas as soon as possible, he now said that he wanted to put in a more experienced man. A disappointed Sir Thomas blamed a combination of Chandos’s ‘jealousy and ill will towards me’ and the duke’s ‘unfounded and unreasonable anger’ with William Fremantle ‘for not being prepared to follow him into opposition’. After interviews and explanations with Sir Thomas, who was desperate for the seat, Buckingham decided at the end of April to make the change.13 Fremantle got an early taste of what he was in for as one of Buckingham’s nominees when, to his immense annoyance, he was ordered to be at Stowe with Nugent in order to start canvassing on the day the writ was moved, 17 May. He told his uncle that the duke was ‘very angry with Chandos for introducing the "No Popery" cry into the borough’ and had resolved after the election to force his resignation as a burgess, together with those of Robert Dayrell and William Stowe, a surgeon, who had refused to vote for a pro-Catholic candidate. In canvassing the eight available electors with Nugent, Fremantle discovered that ‘few people had any suspicion’ of the impending change, but he was told point blank by Nelson that he ‘would not give me his vote if I supported the Catholics’. He calculated that ‘upon the whole we shall have but a bare majority’ and doubted that Buckingham, who had advised him ‘not "to submit to be catechized by these fellows on the Catholic question, but to say that I should dispose of the question when it came before me"’ (though the duke made it plain that support was required), would carry out his threat to sack the three recalcitrant burgesses. The election passed off quietly in the presence of nine of the corporation, with the four anti-Catholics (Chandos, Dayrell, Nelson and Stowe) absenting themselves.14 Chandos, Dayrell and Stowe (but not Nelson) were subsequently forced to resign and were replaced with three of Buckingham’s creatures on 18 June, when they and their colleagues were given a dinner and the inhabitants at large plied with ale.15 Later that summer Buckingham went abroad in an attempt to economize; he was away for just over two years. Chandos presided when the duke of Wellington, his shooting guest at Wotton, and the anti-Catholic leader Robert Peel visited the borough to be presented with an address extolling his military glories, 15 Dec. 1827.16
Immediately after Fremantle’s return local Dissenters, led by the Rev. Edward Barling, an Independent, had pressed him to support repeal of the Test Acts. On the duke’s advice, he had declined to do so unless they were prepared to accept Catholic relief; and, while he was willing to present their petitions, he took the same line in February 1828, when he and Nugent abstained from the decisive division on the issue on the 26th.17 The clergy, gentry and inhabitants petitioned the Commons against Catholic relief, 2 May 1828.18 During his father’s absence Chandos continued to stir up Protestant feeling in and around the borough, and on 21 Feb. 1829 he ostentatiously promoted a meeting there of the three neighbouring hundreds to petition Parliament and address the king against the Wellington ministry’s decision to concede Catholic emancipation. Nelson and Philip Bartlett were involved, and the only significant opposition was voiced by Chandos’s Whig uncle Lord Nugent*, who had a furious public row with his nephew. Sir George Nugent and Fremantle, aware that the duke wanted his Members to support the measure, and unwilling to get caught in the crossfire of a family squabble, stayed away. They duly voted for emancipation in defiance of emphatically hostile petitioning from Buckingham, in which Dissenters joined.19 Buckingham made known his displeasure with Chandos, whose continued boasts that he would ‘return all the Members next time in spite of his father’ made life extremely awkward for Fremantle, who urged the duke to come home and reassert his authority. He arrived back in the late autumn of 1829.20
Nugent and Fremantle were quietly returned at the general election of 1830. The inhabitants and Dissenting congregations petitioned both Houses in the new Parliament for the abolition of slavery.21 In the first draft of the new Grey ministry’s reform bill, unveiled on 1 Mar. 1831, Buckingham, despite having a population in excess of 2,000, was scheduled for total disfranchisement. Fremantle took the matter up privately with Lord John Russell and in the House, 19 Mar., when he and Nugent supported the corporation’s petition against the measure, pointing out that the parish, which was coterminous with the borough, had a population of over 3,400, Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, announced that the case was under review. On 18 Apr. Russell, detailing alterations to the disfranchisement schedules in the light of discrepancies and inaccuracies in the population returns of 1821, said that the borough would be transferred to the single Member schedule B. Nugent and Fremantle voted against the bill and the corporation again petitioned against it, 19 Apr. 1831.22
It was reported that at the ensuing general election, when Nugent and Fremantle were unopposed, popular feeling ‘runs very high against the boroughmongering party. The walls are thickly covered with appeals to the independence of the people, amongst which are some lively squibs discharged at the corporation’.23 In July 1831 the opponents of the Stowe interest, led by Edward Bartlett, adopted George Morgan of Biddlesden, who had attended the anti-Catholic meeting of 1829, as their candidate for the first election after the enactment of the reform bill. He was soon compromised by exposure of his close involvement with Chandos and his coolness on reform, and the local reformers turned instead to the Evangelical Sir Harry Verney†of Claydon.24 Under the new disfranchisement criteria used for the revised reform bill, Buckingham was placed 90th in the list of smaller boroughs and so qualified to retain both seats.25 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for relaxation of the penal code, 24 May 1832.26 On 15 June the populace celebrated the passage of the Reform Act. The Rev. Dayrell reported:
It is said £200 were subscribed for the purpose. The poorer classes had plenty of mutton given to them and strong beer, and invitations given to those of the adjacent parishes, who chose to partake of the good cheer and 40 sheep were roasted ... Although the day was not favourable ... rural sports were performed, and it closed with a display of fireworks.27
By the Boundary Act seven adjoining parishes were grafted on to the old borough, which created a largely rural constituency of almost 29 square miles, with a population of 7,418 and a registered electorate at the 1832 general election of 300.28 Verney topped the poll (the first since 1715) and Fremantle beat Morgan into third place.29 The Stowe interest returned one Member until 1857, and both seats were in Conservative hands between 1841 and 1857.
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 150; (1830), 75-76.
- 2. R.W. Davis, ‘Buckingham, 1832-1846: A Study of a "Pocket Borough"’, HLQ, xxxiv (1970-1), 160-1 and Political Change and Continuity, 22-23; PP (1835), xxiii. 166-7; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 22-23.
- 3. CJ, lxxvi. 120; LJ, liv. 131.
- 4. Add. 75937, Lady to Lord Spencer, 30 Jan. 1822.
- 5. CJ, lxxix. 60, 436; lxxxi. 11; LJ, lviii. 71.
- 6. CJ, lxxxi. 314; NLW, Coedymaen mss bdle. 18, Fremantle to Williams Wynn [18 Apr. 1825].
- 7. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/12/56, 57, 59; 51/5/23.
- 8. Bucks. RO, Dayrell mss D22/25/137.
- 9. Fremantle mss 46/12/84.
- 10. Ibid. 46/11/133-6; 46/12/90, 92-94; 138/16/7; Bucks. Chron. 10 June 1826.
- 11. Fremantle mss 138/21/1/5.
- 12. CJ, lxxxii. 226, 379; LJ, lix. 189, 190.
- 13. Fremantle mss 46/12/109, 110; 49/1/13-15, 17; 51/11/6; 138/21/2/1, 2, 4, 5, 7.
- 14. Ibid. 46/9/2, 8; 46/10/47, 48, 50; 49/1/8; 138/21/2/10; Bucks. Chron. 19, 26 May 1827.
- 15. Bucks. Chron. 23 June 1827; Dayrell mss D22/25/140; Davis, ‘Buckingham’, 161 and Political Change and Continuity, 74.
- 16. Bucks. Chron. 15, 22 Dec.; The Times, 18 Dec. 1827; Dayrell mss D22/25/141; Fremantle mss 138/21/2/21, 24.
- 17. Davis, ‘Buckingham’, 173; CJ, lxxxiii. 56, 96; LJ, lx. 207; Fremantle 138/18/1, 4, 5.
- 18. CJ, lxxxiii. 305.
- 19. Windsor and Eton Express, 7, 28 Feb.; The Times, 24 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 33, 84, 148, 160; LJ, lxi. 85, 353, 355; Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 73-76.
- 20. Fremantle mss 139/10/31, 33.
- 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 105, 188, 445; LJ, lxiii. 70.
- 22. Coedymaen mss 475; CJ, lxxxvi. 407, 505.
- 23. Bucks Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
- 24. Ibid. 9, 23, 30 July 1831; Davis, ‘Buckingham’, 161-2.
- 25. Fremantle mss 130/5/9, 10, 13.
- 26. CJ, lxxxvii. 336.
- 27. Dayrell mss D22/25/151.
- 28. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327; xxxviii. 39-41; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 70, 432.
- 29. Bucks Gazette, 31 Dec. 1831, 14, 28 Jan., 14 July, 17, 24 Nov., 15 Dec. 1832.