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 inhabitants

Number of voters:

about 50


 John Braman 
  Double return of Phelips and Whithed. PHELIPS declared elected, 29 June 1661 
21 Aug. 1679OLIVER ST. JOHN 
 Henry Whithed19
 WHITHED vice Strode, on petition, 22 Nov. 1680 
17 Feb. 1681ESSEX STRODE 
 Henry Whithed 
16 Mar. 1685JOHN HEAD 
 Oliver St. John 
12 Jan. 1689OLIVER ST. JOHN 
26 Sept. 1689WILLIAM MONTAGU vice St. John, deceased44
 William Strode II6
  Election declared void, 15 Nov. 1689 
28 Dec. 1689THOMAS NEALE30
 William Strode II171

Main Article

Stockbridge was a borough by prescription. Its only officials were a bailiff (elected annually in the court leet of the crown manor), a constable, and a serjeant-at-mace. Perhaps as the consequence of a particularly sensational incident in 1614, it enjoyed a reputation for electoral malpractice, and only narrowly escaped setting a precedent for disfranchisement. A traveller on the great highway from the west found it ‘a small, pitiful place, whose great advantage of late is choosing burgesses, to which they invite and encourage any man that will spend his money, and at last the choice is him they think will die soonest, that they may choose again’. In 1689 the whole borough paid only £9 tax, and it seems probable that the franchise was very wide. Every successful candidate except William Montagu had Hampshire connexions, either by birth, residence, property or family, and many of them were of the immediate neighbourhood. John Braman, the Alton-born ‘agitator’, was so confident of success at the general election of 1660 that he wrote to George Monck from prison to demand release in order to attend his parliamentary duties. The two candidates who were actually elected were both local landowners, Francis Rivett of King’s Somborne and Sir John Evelyn of West Dean. The latter was a Presbyterian who probably favoured a conditional Restoration; the former, who had sat for the county in the second Protectorate Parliament, may have been only a little less hostile to the prevailing trend than Braman. Neither stood again, but Henry Whithed of East Dean, who sought to transfer from Portsmouth in 1661, was scarcely more enthusiastic. On 21 Mar. an indenture returning him and the Cavalier Sir Robert Howard, who gave the address of his first wife’s family at Malshanger, was signed by 19 ‘burgesses’. But on the next day the bailiff sealed a return for Howard and Robert Phelips, conspirator and courtier, and cousin to the Roman Catholic baronets of Stoke Charity. According to an odd story picked up by Ashmole, he came as a stranger to the borough only a few days before the election. He was seated on the merits of the return on 17 May. Job Charlton reported a month later that, in the opinion of the elections committee, the bailiff had properly adjourned the poll, and the House agreed. The electors’ actuarial calculations must have been sadly astray, for Phelips did not die till 1707, surviving both his rival and the Cavalier Parliament by many years.2

Howard transferred to the family borough of Castle Rising for the Exclusion Parliaments. It is not known whether Phelips stood again, but there are indications of a contest in February 1679. An unusually full return named the bailiff and 41 ‘burgesses’, almost all of whom signed, and stated that Whithed and Oliver St. John of Farley Chamberlayne were elected by the majority. St. John had strengthened his interest by marrying one of Rivett’s coheirs. The other had married William Strode of Barrington, the Somerset home of the Phelipps baronets before they migrated to Hampshire. Strode sat for Ilchester in both the first and second Exclusion Parliaments, despite stiff opposition from Phelips’s father; but in August 1679 he was also involved in a contest at Stockbridge with St. John and Whithed, although all three had voted for the bill. Strode defeated Whithed by 24 votes to 19, but his victory had been obtained by dubious means. An opposition newspaper reported a protestation taken by some of the inhabitants:

We whose names are subscribed do protest against disorders, especially riotous assemblies and excessive drinking, [and] ... engage ourselves to meet, consult and endeavour the prevention of all such disorders, and will in our consultations strive to promote the public reputation and interest ... resolving stiffly to oppose briberies and cunning bringing in of strangers to vote within our borders, whereby contests may arise amongst us.

When the second Exclusion Parliament met, Strode was unseated in Whithed’s favour. In 1681 he confined his candidature to Ilchester, but the family interest was represented at Stockbridge by his brother Essex. Again Whithed was allotted the wooden spoon, and again he petitioned; but the Oxford Parliament was dissolved before the elections committee could report.3

Stockbridge’s record of opposition to the Court, if founded on principle, would have done credit to the most virtuous constituency; but in 1683 the corporation sent a loyal address abhorring the Rye House Plot, and Essex Strode may have changed sides at the same time. As bailiff of Westminster he had learnt the art of electioneering in the most exacting circumstances, and he was probably responsible for introducing John Head, an obscure Berkshire gentleman with property in the neighbourhood, as his partner in the 1685 election, though the two names are entered on the return in different hands. Whithed had died in the previous year, and St. John stood alone in the country cause. His petition never emerged from committee. The royal electoral agents in April 1688 reported an unusual case of collaboration between Whig and Papist:

Oliver St. John, who has promised to comply, designs to stand here, and does believe he has interest enough, joined with that of Sir James Phelipps, not only to be chosen himself, but likewise to hinder anybody to be chosen with him but who will comply.

By September, when they wrote simply that ‘we can give no good account of this place’, the situation had clearly changed, presumably because St. John’s attitude to the King’s ecclesiastical policy had altered. He was in fact returned with another Whig, Whithed’s son Richard, at the general election of 1689. His death in September at last provided the voters with the by-election that they had so long been planning, and it is clear that they made the most of it. Nothing is known of Essex Strode after the Revolution, but his brother renewed his candidature for the vacant seat. He was opposed by William Montagu, doubtless a Tory, and in urgent need of parliamentary privilege to protect him from the consequences of his elopement with the wife of John Lewknor II. ‘The generality of the electors were inclined for Mr Strode’ until a meeting held in an inn kept by Hall, the constable, where Montagu’s agent, in his presence, promised four guineas a vote. Strode’s agent countered with six guineas, but failed to carry conviction, and Montagu was returned by 44 votes to 6. When Parliament met petitions were presented by Strode and some of the burgesses, and it was agreed unanimously on the report of Hon. John Grey to declare the election void and to disable Montagu from sitting for Stockbridge in the present Parliament. A similar motion to disable Strode was rejected by only three votes, Whithed acting as teller for the majority. Bailiff Hewes and Montagu’s agents were sent for in custody, but Strode’s agent, who had given evidence to the committee, was not troubled further. It was then proposed to disfranchise the borough and give the county two more Members. A debate followed, not on party lines, until on the motion of the Hon. Heneage Finch I it was adjourned, and apparently never resumed. When the culprits appeared before the House, they claimed that they were ‘near ruin, with their families, by the army of the late King continually quartering on them’, and were discharged, paying their fees. No warrant is recorded for a new writ, but a second by-election followed. This time Strode was opposed by Thomas Neale, the courtier and projector, who had sold his Hampshire property in I678, but had recently leased the ‘rents of assize’ of the borough. Strode was again defeated, though Hewes and Hall alleged that he

did employ divers persons to threaten some men that unless they would give their votes for him, it would cost them £200 or undo them; and that he would indict others in the crown office for crimes past, for which they have already suffered the censure of this honourable House; and particularly the bailiff the day before this last election (though for doing nothing but his duty) telling him that he and others must all to London again.

Their petition that Strode should be required to pay their expenses was rejected, but served its purpose, since he took no further action himself. Another petition from ‘divers burgesses and inhabitants’ against Neale’s return was referred to the elections committee, which failed to report.4

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 3, p. 80.
  • 2. VCH Hants, iv. 484; Jnl. of James Yonge ed. Poynter, 154; Grey, ix. 423; HMC Popham, 178; C. H. Josten, Ashmole, 1563; CJ, viii. 252-3, 285.
  • 3. Dom. Intell. 2 Sept. 1679; CJ, ix. 639, 659, 708.
  • 4. London Gazette, 8 Oct. 1683; CJ, ix. 720; x. 286, 295, 327; Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 430, 432; Grey, ix. 423-4; VCH Hants, iv. 484.