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:

over 100


  Double return. FITZJAMES and COLES seated, 3 May 1660. EYRE and ELLIOTT declared elected, 9 May 1660
  Double return. RALEIGH and BOCKLAND seated, 17 May 1661
15 Dec. 1670SIR JOSEPH ASHE, Bt. vice Bockland, deceased
 [John] Man
22 Apr. 1675HENRY EYRE vice Raleigh, deceased
30 Oct. 1678MAURICE BOCKLAND vice Eyre, deceased
 Charles Raleigh
25 Aug. 1679SIR JOSEPH ASHE, Bt.
21 Feb. 1681SIR JOSPEH ASHE, Bt.

Main Article

The manor of Downton belonged to the bishop of Winchester, whose bailiff claimed the right to act as returning officer. This interest was of course in abeyance at the general election of 1660, which was contested by three local gentlemen and an outsider, Thomas Fitzjames. Giles Eyre’s father and John Elliott were both burgage-holders, and Fitzjames, like his brother John in Poole, probably commanded the interest of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper. Political and religious considerations played no part, for the dissenter Eyre and the Anglican Elliott ran in partnership and shared costs. Fitzjames and his brother-in-law William Coles were seated on the merits of the return, but Eyre, a practising lawyer, secured a most expeditious hearing by the committee. The seven witnesses from Downton arrived in London by wagon on Saturday morning and appear to have returned on Monday night. The total expenses of the successful petitioners were only £28 13s.8d.1

Canvassing began again long before the dissolution of the Convention. Coles and Fitzjames dropped out of the picture, and Elliott tried to transfer his interest to his cousin Edward Nicholas I, but the electors declared against strangers. Two local squires, Gilbert Raleigh and Walter Bockland, stood on the slogan: ‘God preserve his Majesty and defend us from the Presbyterian monster’. Elliott apparently refused to sever from Eyre, and the result was another double return. The surviving indentures show the names of Bockland and Raleigh separately, and it is not clear that either was signed by the bailiff. Nevertheless they were ordered to sit on the merits of the return. On 3 July Job Charlton reported from the elections committee that if non-residents who had freeholds but no houses enjoyed the franchise, Elliott and Eyre were duly elected. But in debate it was suggested that ‘divers inconsiderable freeholders were fraudulently created’. By one vote the report was ordered to be recommitted, but apparently no further effort was made to challenge the sitting Members.2

By 1662 Sir Joseph Ashe, a wealthy London merchant of west country origin, had taken a lease of the manor. He improved his interest by a vigorous policy of land improvement, greatly to the advantage of his neighbours, the Raleighs, who owned the tithes, and the Bocklands, who owned the watermills, as well as to the copyholders and himself. He was returned at the first by-election, but not without opposition from Lord Ashley, as Cooper had now become, who put up his henchman John Man. Man’s petition was withdrawn on 6 Feb. 1671, and so far as is known the next by-election was uncontested, Henry Eyre (uncle to the 1660 Member) having joined with Ashe in procuring the grant of two fairs for the town. The close alliance between Ashe and the Bockland family threatened to eclipse the interests of the other burgage-holders. Giles Eyre promised to support Francis Morley, the bishop’s heir, but went back on his word. Charles Raleigh, who may have been backed by the Ashley Cooper burgages, petitioned against the return of Bockland’s son Maurice at the 1678 by-election, but in the excitement of the Popish Plot the case was never reported, both candidates being opponents of the Court.3

Ashe and Bockland retained their seats throughout the Exclusion period. The former had intended to stand down in favour of his son-in-law William Windham, but the electors would not accept a stranger. On 1 Feb. 1679 he wrote to his steward John Snow:

In the meantime unite with Mr Bockland to feast the burgesses and make as many sure as you can. I did find that Mr Raleigh had some that would be for him and me. Those you should endeavour to secure upon those terms, that so we may have all Mr Bockland’s interest and as many more as will be for us and not for him. You will do well to be vigorous, for I would be very loath to be baffled.

Ashe had not yet made good his claim to appoint the returning officer, but he wrote of the bishop’s bailiff:

In case he will return that side that hath the more voices, I would be content for this time he should make the returns, and you shall sit still, that we may have no dispute about the return; and for the title, we will try it afterwards. ... You need not be parsimonious to go through our affair bravely.

It is not clear whether Raleigh went to the poll again, but he is unlikely to have stood at the next election, when Snow acted as returning officer. Moreover Ashe had further improved his interest by founding a free grammar school, and was promoted to the senior seat. But in 1681 Shaftesbury (as Lord Ashley had become) exerted all his weight, though with the scantiest political grounds, to oust Bockland, putting up the son of John Bulkeley against him. Ashe, by his own account, stood chiefly to oppose Raleigh ‘who shall have no footing if I can help it’, and he was not much concerned at the prospect of stray courtiers like Charles Fox on the look-out for winnable seats. Far from deprecating parsimony, he now exhorted Snow ‘to be as frugal as you can. ... I think if you will leave off treating them at dinner till the day of the election, ’twill be advisable, but treating them with beer will be little charge.’ Soon it became apparent that Shaftesbury’s candidate, who resided some five miles off across the Hampshire border, represented less of a threat to Bockland than to Ashe, who was accused of neglecting the service of the House, and the great London merchant waxed indignant at the idea that ‘a stranger should carry it against me. ... The next week I will advise further with Mr [Giles] Eyre, as do you manage your part so that we may keep our friends together. I suppose Mr Raleigh will give us all his interest in his new tenants, for as to himself he hath no vote.’ Again, it is uncertain whether there was a poll.4

Downton produced a loyal address, abhorring the ‘Association’, in June 1682, but its promoters have not been identified. In 1685, Bockland and Raleigh were returned by ‘the major part or greater number of electors then present according to the ancient usage’, a formula which certainly suggests a poll, though no other candidate is known. An opportunity of strengthening the Ashe interest occurred in 1687, when the Stockman estate came up for sale; but Ashe’s widow was unable to take advantage of it owing to the depressed market in East India stock. The new joint lord lieutenant Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) expected Raleigh and Eyre to be elected to James II’s abortive second Parliament, and the royal electoral agents reported in April 1688:

The election [is] popular, of above 100. They propose to choose Sir Charles Raleigh, of whom they have no doubt, he being at great odds with the churchmen, and Giles Eyre, that hath been very violent, but ambitious of honour, and supposed he will be right to reconcile himself to your Majesty. Of these two we are not so confident.

Eyre was elected at Salisbury in 1689, and Bockland and Raleigh retained their seats.5

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 337, bills of expenses at the election.
  • 2. Radnor mss 1025, Raleigh to Elliott, 24 Dec. 1660.
  • 3. Hoare, Wilts. Downton, 18, 22; Radnor mss 970, articles of agreement, 8 Apr. 1665; 1084, Ashe to Snow, 14 Nov. 1665, 29 July 1678.
  • 4. Radnor mss 1084, Ashe to Snow, 1 Feb. 1679, 20 and 29 Jan., 3 and 5 Feb. 1681.
  • 5. Luttrell, i. 192; London Gazette, 8 June 1682; Wilts. RO, 118/92, Lady Ashe to Samuel Ashe, 24 Dec. 1687; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 208, 224.