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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 300


 James Gould I
20 May 1661JOHN CHURCHILL I vice Holles, called to the Upper House
28 Feb. 1677JAMES GOULD II vice Gould, deceased
11 Nov. 1680JAMES GOULD II vice Holles, called to the Upper House
21 Feb. 1681JAMES GOULD II
9 Dec. 1689THOMAS CHAFIN vice Napier, deceased
 Nathaniel Bond

Main Article

In Dorchester, a puritan stronghold under the early Stuarts, dissenters (including Quakers) were numerous and vocal, but perhaps less bitter than in towns where the ecclesiastical influence was stronger. Since 1624 the freemen had firmly resisted all inducements to elect anybody but a resident. Usually the aim seems to have been to send up one active Member, a gentleman or lawyer, accompanied by a merchant as silent watchdog. At the general election of 1660 the leader of the Presbyterian Royalists, Denzil Holles, regained the seat which he had held from 1628 to Pride’s Purge; but a more radical figure, John Whiteway, had a small majority by 11 of the inhabitants in general and by ten of the freeholders over the moderate James Gould I. Gould replaced Whiteway in 1661, the corporation resolving that ‘only such should be capable to choose that were freeholders or men that paid scot and lot’. When Holles was raised to the peerage, he was followed by John Churchill I, another resident gentleman, though of much lower social standing; what may be called the merchant seat was occupied by the Goulds till 1685. Their interest enabled Gould’s son to succeed him without a contest in 1677, but a return in the name of the ‘burgesses’ provoked a protest from the Churchills. In a petition attached to the indenture they admitted that they did not well understand the term;

but if (as we are informed) it be intended in future elections to be done by the mayor and burgesses (consisting of 15 and 24), excluding us and the generality of the said town, who are above six times more in number, then we humbly pray that this present return may not be any precedent in time to come.

The petition remained on the file in Chancery, and was not brought to the attention of the House; but it appears to have served its purpose, as no further attempt was made to restrict the franchise.1

Country candidates were returned to the Exclusion Parliaments. At both elections of 1679 Gould’s cousin Nicholas, a Londoner with a small property in the neighbourhood, was elected with Holles’s son Francis, and when the latter succeeded to the peerage James Gould replaced him in the second Exclusion Parliament. On 22 Feb. 1681 it was reported that ‘the late Members have desired to decline’ reelection, but this seems to apply only to Nicholas Gould, who as returning officer was ineligible. The new Member was a lawyer, Nathaniel Bond, a son of Holles’s colleague in the Long Parliament. He was returned unopposed with his cousin James Gould. The corporation’s response to the King’s declaration of his reasons for dissolving the Oxford Parliament, though unexceptionable in form, can scarcely have given entire satisfaction in government circles. After blaming ‘Jesuits and other pretending zealots’ for ‘false suggestions of arbitrary government’, the address continued:

We do assure your Majesty that, whensoever in your princely wisdom you shall please to summon a Parliament, we will do our best endeavours to send such representatives for this borough as shall be men of unsuspected loyalty to the government as it is now established by law both in church and state.

Adequately loyal addresses abhorred the Rye House Plot in 1683 and congratulated James II on his accession in 1685, and in the latter year two Tories were elected. Edward Meller, a local squire, was accompanied by his brother-in-law, William Churchill, who was sufficiently docile to appear on the commission of the peace along with Papists and dissenters. Nevertheless, the King’s electoral agents ignored him, reporting in April:

Their election is popular. There is a quo warranto against their charter, which they will not deliver by the instigation of one Andrew Loder, their town clerk and deputy clerk of assize in the western circuit, a man inveterate against liberty and tenacious for the Tests and Penal Laws. However, the town will certainly choose right men, the majority being dissenters, and as such they propose Thomas Skinner and Nicholas Gould.

Probably the strength of dissent had been overestimated, for in September, with the charter still not surrendered, the agents could only report: ‘the election will be good, but no return made’. Skinner, a country gentleman of a family only recently established in Dorset, turned his attention to Wareham, and it does not appear that Nicholas Gould stood at the general election of 1689. A local gentleman, Gerard Napier, of a family that can fairly be described as trimming, came forward, and another, the youthful Whig Thomas Trenchard, was invited to stand by ‘the people of Dorchester’. Thomas Erle wrote to Napier on his kinsman’s behalf:

If he could have thought it prejudicial to your interests, I should never have encouraged him in it. But he assuring me that he had no design of opposing you, I hope your countenancing him will rather advance than any way obstruct your affairs there.

In the autumn the Government received evidence of disaffection and Jacobite sympathies in the corporation, and, at the by-election which followed Napier’s death, there was a complaint of delay in executing the writ. There may be an innocent explanation for this, however, as the sheriff went out of office on the day the writ was issued, and there were two mayors in Dorchester that year. Within a week of the matter being brought before Parliament, the election was duly held; but Bond petitioned against the return of Thomas Chafin, claiming the majority of the legal voters in what looks like an attempt to return to the restricted franchise. Chafin’s remarkable record at Poole shows that his moderate Toryism was no obstacle to his popularity with the mass of the electorate, whereas Bond might expect to do better with the urban patriciate to which by birth he belonged. However, no decision was reached on his petition before the dissolution.2

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 357; C. H. Mayo, Dorchester Recs. 436-7; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 575.
  • 2. Prot. Dom. Intell. 22 Feb. 1681, Mayo, 640-3; Luttrell, i. 137; London Gazette, 16 Aug. 1683, 9 Mar. 1685; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), pp. 221-2, 242; HMC Downshire, i. 293; Churchill Coll. Cambridge, Erle-Drax mss; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 280; CJ, x. 300, 301, 315.