Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgage-holders

Number of voters:

about 70


  ?Charles Fox  
 ?(Sir) Stephen Fox  
3 Dec. 1680JOHN PLEYDELL vice Dunch, deceased  
31 Mar. 1685CHARLES FOX  
  Double return. FOX and FREKE allowed to sit, 26 May 1685. WEBB declared elected, 10 June 1685  
17 Jan. 1689CHARLES FOX 60
 Thomas Freke II550
 FREKE vice Webb, on petition, 1 Apr. 1689  

Main Article

The irregularities for which Cricklade became notorious made their appearance only towards the end of the period. All the Members owed their return to solid territorial interests, and there is no evidence of a contest until 1685. The two Members returned in 1660 were both local landowners. Hungerford Dunch’sfather, who had married the heiress of Down Ampney, had been summoned to Cromwell’s ‘Other House’, while Nevil Maskelyne had avoided commitment, though probably royalist in sympathy. At the next election the Dunch interest was probably given to Sir George Hungerford of Cadenham, a distant cousin, and Maskelyne was replaced by John Ernle, also a local landowner but on a somewhat larger scale. They were returned with the ‘unanimous assent and consent ... of the burgesses’. The purchase of Water Eaton manor for £20,000 by (Sir) Stephen Fox in 1672 brought a new interest into the constituency. Election expenses are recorded in his accounts for both elections of 1679. In February the candidate may have been his son Charles, since Ernle, a placeman and a creature of Danby, despaired of his chances in so open a constituency. Hungerford made way again for Dunch, an exclusionist, who was returned with Edmund Webb, another local squire of moderate means and politics. They were re-elected in August, though Sir Stephen himself may have stood, and the grand jury presented the under-sheriff at the Wiltshire assizes for demanding ten guineas for the precept. On Dunch’s death he was replaced ‘with one assent and consent’ by John Pleydell, a moderate country candidate who had lost his usual seat at Wootton Bassett at the general election. In x681 Dunch’s brother-in-law, William Lenthall, was returned with Webb. The two Members accepted a loyal address urging the preservation of the Church and the prerogative.1

The Whig faction at Cricklade was strengthened when Thomas Freke succeeded to the nearby Hannington estate in 1684, though the Down Ampney interest was dormant during the minority of Edmund Dunch. A contest was evidently expected at the next election, for a town meeting declared the right of election to be in the freeholders and copyholders of the borough houses, and leaseholders for any term not under three years. The 1685 election was fought out between Webb, Freke, and Fox’s son Charles. According to Webb, Freke brought to the election 40 horsemen and 30 other supporters on foot, ‘all men of dangerous principles’. There was a double return, but only one indenture survives. Apparently Webb took his seat without waiting for the elections committee, and on 23 May the three candidates petitioned separately, Fox specifically against the return of Webb. Three days later (Sir) Christopher Musgrave reported that Fox and Freke had been returned by the proper officer, and they were allowed to sit. But as might be expected the House subsequently agreed by 224 votes to 60 to unseat Freke on the merits of the election, and he and his supporters were fined for breach of the peace. In preparing for the elections to James II’s abortive second Parliament, the joint lord lieutenant, Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) wrote: ‘Sir Stephen Fox and Col. Webb have the chief interest, and if they join will be chosen against any’. In April 1688 the royal electoral agents described Cricklade as ‘a borough under the influence of Col. Edmund Webb and Mr Charles Fox, who ’tis supposed will stand for this place. Of these two we are doubtful, though we hope they may go right.’ The same candidates stood in 1689. There was apparently no serious opposition to Fox. In accordance with custom, the bailiff, who was obviously in Webb’s pocket, went from house to house to take the poll. A hubbub ensued after he had allowed the votes of a child of 15 and a man who admitted having no lease, and one of Freke’s more muscular supporters was seen ‘with his elbows bouncing people up and down’; but neither Fox nor Sir Edmund Warneford, another Tory, seems to have believed the bailiff when he declared that he feared for his life. Freke’s brother called him a rogue and advised him to arm himself with pistols to defend himself, but with the concurrence of Maskelyne’s son, who was acting for Webb, he insisted on closing the poll, with Webb leading Freke by 21 votes to five. With Fox’s concurrence, a second poll was taken by the constable, assisted by the former bailiffs, which gave Freke a clear majority. Webb objected that some votes had been allowed to men whose estates were in the right of their wives, but this appears to have been the usual practice. Freke petitioned against the return of Webb, who was unseated by the House without a division, and the bailiff was sent for in custody and reprimanded. Freke no doubt enjoyed his revenge, but he did not contest the borough again.2

Author: Leonard Naylor


  • 1. C. T. Clay, Public Finance and Private Wealth, 166-7, 221; Dom. Intell. 12 Aug. 1679; Prot. Dom. Intell. 15 Mar. 1681.
  • 2. Aubrey and Jackson, Wilts. Colls. 285; T. R. Thomson, Materials Hist. Cricklade. 152; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 577; CJ, ix. 732; x. 72-73, 86; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 210, 226