Great Bedwyn


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:



  Double return. SPENCER and GAPE declared elected, 16 May 1660
  Double return of Clerke and Gape. CLERKE seated, 17 May 1661
18 Feb. 1663JOHN TREVOR vice Stonehouse, deceased
29 Jan. 1673DANIEL FINCH vice Trevor, deceased
  Election declared void, 6 Feb. 1673
10 Feb. 1673DANIEL FINCH
 Hon. Daniel Finch
 John Deane
17 Feb. 1681(SIR) JOHN ERNLE

Main Article

‘That lousy corporation of Bedwyn’ (as Daniel Finch described it in an uninhibited moment) lay at the gates of Tottenham Park, the residence of the Seymours and their successors, the Bruces, lords of the principal manor. The Stonehouse family, lords of Stock manor, were actually resident in the town. Nevertheless the electorate in this period was highly volatile, and Francis Stonehouse, in August 1679, was the only sitting Member to retain his seat at a general election. Another interest was held in 1660 by Lady Rochester on behalf of her granddaughters, the heirs of the regicide Sir John Danvers. Her agent wrote on 14 Mar. that he had ‘no fear but of my Lord Marquess Hertford, who, though he hath fewer tenants, yet lives at the town’s end and hath that advantage of us’. Hertford’s candidates were his steward Thomas Gape and Robert Spencer, who had no doubt been recommended to him by his son-in-law the 4th Earl of Southampton. Both came of royalist families, though at opposite ends of the social spectrum. Lady Rochester put up her brother Sir Walter St. John and Sir Ralph Verney, one of the family trustees in whom she had great confidence. Lady Hertford, too, was ‘very hearty’ for Verney, a moderate to whom no serious objection could be raised, though his colleague St. John was unfortunately reported to be an Anabaptist. Sir Orlando Bridgeman, chief counsel both to Hertford and Lady Rochester wrote in Verney’s favour, but the marquess would hear of no compromise. Verney’s friends laid all the blame on Gape, whose position was indeed unenviable, for not only were they distant kinsmen through the Dentons, but his brother William, an apothecary in Covent Garden, provided Verney with his London lodgings. He retired to bed with an ague, and his employer’s plan to call a manorial court and replace the portreeve, who was hostile, was vetoed by the sheriff. St. John attended the election and ‘entertained’ the electors, but ‘had scarce half the number of persons qualified that gave their voices’ for Hertford’s candidates. He and Verney secured an indenture over the portreeve’s signature, and claimed that ‘the other party brought in many out-dwellers and persons who are not esteemed to have voices’; but the House found in favour of the burgage-holders at large.2

Hertford died later in the year, and at the 1661 election the Seymour interest was in the hands of his daughter-in-law, who had remarried Lord Herbert of Raglan (Henry Somerset). Gape stood again, but without much enthusiasm; he does not seem to have even inquired for the precept, nor was he present at the election. Duke Stonehouse was returned unopposed, while the portreeve, still hostile to the Seymours, declared Henry Clerke elected for the second place. Clerke, a Cavalier and a follower of Penruddock in 1655, had conducted an active campaign, and may have enjoyed Lady Rochester’s support. Although her own politics were probably left of centre, her husband had been designated field-marshal-general of the insurgents in 1655, and she may have felt some responsibility towards the Cavaliers who had suffered. Lady Herbert wrote to the sheriff (Sir James Thynne) to complain of the

partial proceedings of the portreeve of Bedwyn (a town belonging to my son, the Duke of Somerset) in admitting several cottagers and others that had no right to choose to give their voices.

She enclosed an indenture for Stonehouse and Gape signed and sealed by ‘the major part of the lawful electors’ and under the great seal of the corporation. But the House decided that Clerke should sit on the merits of the return, and further proceedings lapsed. The return of the Presbyterian John Trevor on Stonehouse’s death two years later can confidently be ascribed to Lady Rochester; but it is less easy to define the interest in the election of Daniel Finch in 1673 on one of the writs issued by Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury without parliamentary authority during the recess. Obviously government influence would not be wanting for the son of the attorney-general, who, moreover, had cordially approved of his friendship with Trevor, contracted when they were both in Paris in 1668. But the dowager duchess of Somerset (the same who, as Lady Hertford, had supported Verney so warmly in 1660) thought well enough of both Finch and his father to include them among her trustees, and she may have wielded the Seymour interest at Bedwyn since the death of the 2nd Duke of Somerset in 1671. Stonehouse’s heir was an Oxford undergraduate in 1673, and it seems probable that Finch was returned unopposed, both at this election and again after the writ had been declared invalid by the Commons.3

Tottenham Park and the Seymour interest passed to Thomas Bruce on his marriage in 1676. Unfortunately almost nothing is known of the next general election, except that Finch was ‘disappointed’ (as he thought) ‘not fairly’; but he did not venture to petition. The Stonehouse interest reasserted itself, but the junior Member was an obscure local gentleman, John Deane, who, like Clerke, had taken part in Penruddock’s rising, and may, even at this late date, have benefited from Lady Rochester’s support. Both were marked ‘honest’ on Shaftesbury’s list, but in the division on the exclusion bill Stonehouse abstained and Deane voted against. The parliamentary election was followed by a disputed municipal election, which had to be settled, no doubt to Finch’s satisfaction, by the Privy Council.4

At the dissolution of the first Exclusion Parliament, Finch determined to contest the borough in conjunction with an unidentified member of the Hungerford family. Bruce promised his interest to Deane, and, after an initial refusal, to Finch also. But by June the latter was assured of a safe seat at Lichfield and decided to put up his brother William at Bedwyn for ‘a little revenge’, presumably on Stonehouse. Clerke was also in the field again, having ‘spent highly’. Deane probably agreed to Finch’s terms and promised to assist him in the new Parliament; but he was defeated by Stonehouse and his petition was never reported, though the Wiltshire grand jury presented the drunkenness at this election as a grievance. Finch had hoped that: ‘if I prosecuted my interest at Bedwyn so as to carry it there but this once, I might reasonably promise myself to be chosen hereafter there, and it may be always’. But in 1681 the sitting Members were again swept aside. The chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Ernle, was nominated by Bruce, his kinsman through the Seymours. But according to the opposition journalist Francis Smith, the townspeople spontaneously offered the second seat to the republican John Wildman, who was living in the neighbourhood. Perhaps they were inspired by the agents or dependents of the Hon. Thomas Wharton, who had married one of the Danvers coheirs. The basically Tory complexion of the corporation is shown by its readiness with loyal addresses in the next two years. In 1685 Kingdon, another official, must have owed his seat to Bruce, while Loder, though also a Tory, was probably the choice of the townspeople. To judge from the 80 signatures on the indenture, this was the best attended election of the period. Kingdon died in February 1686, but no writ was issued for a by-election. In preparation for James II’s abortive second Parliament, Lord Yarmouth (William Paston) reported that Bruce, now Earl of Ailesbury, had the chief interest in the borough. But an anonymous resident, perhaps Hungerford, who enjoyed all the influence that £200 p.a. could command in this small community, undertook that ‘if a new charter comes down, they having lost their old one, and he [is] named bailiff, the King shall have any two persons he will name’. A later report from the royal electoral agents reiterated the request for a charter, which was not granted, and declared that, as at Marlborough, the electorate would ‘choose such as shall declare themselves right’ with the approval of the Whig collaborator, Dr Nehemiah Cox. But for the Convention Wildman was returned again, together with his neighbour Sir Edmund Warneford, a Tory gentleman not obviously connected with any of the interests.5

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. A. R. Stedman, Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Valley, 178.
  • 2. HMC Finch, ii. 54; BL, M636/17, Yates to Verney, 14 Mar., 10 Apr. 1660, Denton to Verney, 21 Mar., 9 Apr. 1660, Cary to Verney, 29 Mar., 4 Apr. 1660, Lady Rochester to Verney, received 5 Apr. 1660, Verney to Lady Rochester, 6 Apr. 1660, return of St. John and Verney, 2 Apr. 1660, petition of Spencer and Gape, undated; CJ, ix. 33.
  • 3. HMC 15th Rep. VII, 162; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 10, f. 104, Lady Herbert to Thynne, 11 Apr. 1661; HMC Finch, i. 509.
  • 4. PC2/67/147.
  • 5. HMC Finch, ii. 54-55; Dom. Intell. 12 Aug. 1679; Smith’s Dom. Intell. 28 Feb. 1681; London Gazette, 25 Aug. 1681, 10 July 1682, 30 Aug. 1683; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 210, 226.