Single Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

A single Member constituency

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:



24 Feb. 1690SIR ROBERT DASHWOOD, Bt.1012
 John Hawles  
22 Oct. 1695SIR ROBERT DASHWOOD, Bt.  
23 July 1698JAMES ISAACSON  
23 Feb. 1699SIR JOHN COPE, Bt.,  vice Isaacson, expelled the House  
  Double Return. NORTH seated, 13 Mar. 1701  
27 Nov. 1701HON. CHARLES NORTH  
20 July 1702HON. CHARLES NORTH  
 Toby Chauncey  
25 Aug. 1713JONATHAN COPE  

Main Article

Though Banbury’s franchise was restricted to its corporate body, none of the local landed families had found it possible to assume a controlling interest over the borough’s single seat before 1690. At elections since the Restoration the seat had passed, usually with little apparent competition, from one gentleman to another on prior agreement. In this process the corporation was probably never more than a passive element, but during the period under review, two consecutive developments were to change the complexion of the borough’s electoral politics: first, as a result of sharpening factional rivalry spurred by the Whigs, the corporation began to behave more assertively; second, as Tory superiority was subsequently restored, and election followed election, the seat became a close, though not quite exclusive, preserve of the North family of nearby Wroxton Abbey, headed by the 2nd Lord Guilford.

The early parity of local gentry interests is amply illustrated in the 1690 election when at least five contenders entered the lists for the seat. One, naturally enough, was the outgoing Member, Sir Robert Dashwood, 1st Bt., lord of the local manor of Wickham and a staunch Tory. The others whose names are known were: Sir John Holman, 1st Bt.†, a resident of Banbury who had represented the borough in the Exclusion Parliaments; Sir James Chamberlayne, 3rd Bt., of Duns Tew, some eight miles southwards; Samuel Tryst, the recorder and probably a relative of the Northamptonshire family of that name; and a Mr Spencer, who as guardian of the lunatic Lady Cope, sister-in-law of Sir John Cope, 5th Bt.*, of Hanwell, probably represented the Whig interest of that family. Cope himself was at the time preoccupied in a campaign to retain his Oxfordshire seat. Another potential interest was that of the Norths, but this seems to have been in abeyance owing to Guilford’s minority. At the election, however, Dashwood was opposed by none of the above gentlemen but by an outsider, John Hawles. This was probably the same John Hawles, a Whig lawyer who contested simultaneously at St. Ives. Though he entered the election at an apparently late stage, Hawles evidently set himself up as an advocate of the right claimed by the freemen and burgesses at large to vote in parliamentary elections. (If, by this point in the borough’s history, there continued to be any technical difference between these two categories of townsmen, it was of no practical significance.) The last time this pretended right had been invoked was in the election of 1681. Hawles managed to generate wide support, and on the day of election large numbers demanded admission to the poll. On being refused, ‘about 40’ then proceeded to make out an indenture returning Hawles. The mayor, as returning officer, refused to countenance this and returned Dashwood as having the majority of votes cast by the aldermen and capital burgesses. The precise details of the election, as described in three successive petitions from discontented freemen and burgesses, are somewhat vague and inconsistent. The first stated that Hawles had obtained the support of 140 freemen and burgesses, while Dashwood had secured ten corporation votes. The petition was renewed on 16 Oct., soon after the opening of the second session. This time it was stated that Hawles had the support of 110 freemen and burgesses. In addition, the petition’s wording suggests that besides the corporation’s ten votes for Dashwood, Hawles, too, may have obtained votes from other aldermen and capital burgesses. Bearing in mind the overt factionalism which appeared within the corporation eight years or so later, the presence at this stage of a Whig minority voting for Hawles is quite plausible. At the beginning of the next session, a third petition was presented under different hands, and gave yet a different set of figures; Hawles’s support now appeared as 84, while Dashwood’s corporation vote had increased to 12. The descending figure for Hawles possibly reflects a waning of support for him. None the less, at this third attempt the case was taken up by the elections committee. Hawles’s case rested on the fact that the borough charter of 1552, in defining the constituency franchise, had failed to specify with complete accuracy whether ‘common’ or just ‘capital’ burgesses were to be accorded the right of voting in parliamentary elections. On this score, however, the committee quickly satisfied itself in favour of the narrow franchise and in its report accepted the validity of Dashwood’s election.1

Dashwood was returned again in 1695. In 1698, however, it seems that he fell victim to a changed political balance within the corporation elite. The election of a non-local Whig in Dashwood’s stead would suggest very strongly that since 1695 the Whig corporators had built up a majority over their Tory rivals. There is no evidence of a contest having taken place in 1698. Dashwood would have known well in advance of the election that the corporation was now turning against him and that his chances of success were limited. There seems little reason to doubt that in normal circumstances Dashwood would have wished to preserve the interest he had established in the course of almost ten years of representing the borough. It is likely, too, that the odds against him must have been sufficiently clear for him, as a prominent Tory figure in the county, to accept displacement by an interloping gentleman of opposing political views. The new Member, James Isaacson, was a London protégé of Sir John Cope. Cope either perceived or was alerted to the corporation’s amenability to a Whig candidate, and put up Isaacson in order that he himself could engage in the county contest. Isaacson was returned unopposed, but his enjoyment of the seat proved short-lived, for in February 1699 he was expelled for holding an office incompatible with a seat in the House. There then arose some notion that he would quit his stamp office commissionership to allow him to stand again at the ensuing by-election. Dashwood, too, was reported to be in the running. However, if Isaacson’s reported intentions bore any substance, he was soon forced to give way to Cope who, having failed to win the county seat he had sought the previous summer, put himself forward and was chosen unopposed. Two days after the election the mayor, William Thorp, died in office. The immediate effect was to split the corporation into rival Whig and Tory factions, each side choosing a successor mayor. Cope and Isaacson jointly petitioned the Privy Council against the validity of the Tory mayor’s election, but with no conclusive results; though the Council ordered a re-election, it appears that only the Whig faction responded and re-elected their own nominee. Even so, the Tory corporators refused to comply with the Council’s subsequent instruction to surrender the mayoral insignia to the Whig mayor. This ‘great division amongst the electors’ (i.e. the corporation), continued until 1701, with rival sets of mayors gaining election at the mayor-makings of September 1699 and September 1700. The ‘high animosities’ caused were given regular public demonstration. The vicar of Banbury, John Knight, writing to his kinsman, Lord Saye and Sele, on 3 Oct. 1700, reported one such bout of squabbling in his church, and the prospect of another:

Sunday last there was a battle-royal fought in the church at Banbury, between the two mayors, for the chair of state. The usurper proved the better shake-bag . . . This will be a day of another treat of skill between them, it being the great fair, when six constables of a side are to struggle for the toll.2

For reasons unknown, Cope stood down at the first election of 1701, and candidates were put up by both corporation factions: John Dormer (of Rousham, near Woodstock) by the Whigs, and Hon. Charles North, the brother of Lord Guilford, by the Tories. Thomas Cartwright*, a Tory of nearby Aynho, who had lately held the shrievalty of Oxfordshire, was also spoken of as a possible candidate, though this was perhaps before North came forward. Since the contending mayors each claimed the right of return the double return of both Dormer and North was only to be expected. The matter came before the elections committee for adjudication at the beginning of March. The proceedings dwelt wholly upon the question of which mayor had the better title to the office according to the borough constitution. North maintained, through counsel, that the legitimate mayoral authority was that which had descended to the current incumbent who had returned him. Although the late Alderman Thorp’s successor on this side had been elected mayor on a narrow minority of votes, it was emphasized that the correct procedures had been followed in all particulars. Dormer’s counsel attempted to establish the legitimacy of the opposing mayoral side, arguing that these procedures were set out in bye-laws which could not override the sense of the charter (which was simply that any act of the ‘corporation aggregate’ was valid). The committee’s resolution favoured North by 129 votes to 69; when reported, this verdict received the approbation of another Tory majority, by 211 votes to 111. The determination seems to have put an end to this period of upheaval within Banbury’s corporation.3

North was returned in each subsequent election until 1713. His acquisition of the seat in 1701 inaugurated a period in which his family’s interest in the borough was asserted more conspicuously. In 1705, he was opposed by Toby Chauncey of Edgcote, some six miles north-east of Banbury, who attempted unsuccessfully to claim election by a popular freeman franchise. Chauncey duly petitioned on 3 Nov. against North’s return, but his case was apparently ignored. In 1707 a turn of events suggested that despite appearances the North interest in Banbury was still delicately balanced with that of the Dashwoods. In preparation for the 1708 general election, Sir Robert Dashwood’s eldest son, Chamberlayne, began in March 1707 to make interest for one of the Oxfordshire seats in opposition to Lord Rialton (Hon. Francis Godolphin*). The county grandees flinched at the prospect of an electoral opposition to the son of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) and son-in-law of the victor of Blenheim, the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), in consequence of which the younger Dashwood was persuaded to desist, principally by Guilford, who offered to recompense him with his interest at Banbury: ‘I do not mean by this a precarious interest, but such a one, as never to oppose you, when you think fit to stand for that corporation, and to assist you whenever you shall command me.’ At the 1708 election, however, Dashwood did not avail himself of Guilford’s offer, and the latter’s brother was returned once more. By the time Dr Sacheverell was welcomed in the town at the beginning of June 1710, the corporate body appears to have returned to its original state of Tory calm. Reports of the visit are full of the corporation’s effusive hospitality to the doctor and betray no sign of its previous factiousness. North stood down in 1713, probably owing to ill-health. On Guilford’s recommendation the corporation elected Jonathan Cope II of Bruern Abbey, a first cousin once removed of Sir John Cope, 5th Bt., whose Tory loyalty was recognized with a baronetcy in March 1714. In a letter of 30 Dec. 1714 to one of the corporation members, Guilford none the less had cause to complain of ‘the turbulent factious spirits of some among you that are never easy whilst the corporation is at peace’, but such discord failed to prompt a contest at the 1715 election.4

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, John Verney* (Ld. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 18 Feb. 1689[–90].
  • 2. Bodl. Carte 130, f. 396; Rawl. D.892, f. 343; Banbury Corp. Recs.: Tudor and Stuart (Banbury Hist. Soc. xv), 256; Add. 27440, f. 156.
  • 3. Lipscomb, Bucks, i. 119; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1643, Thomas Tryst to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 31 Dec. 1700; Bodl. North a.3, f. 7; Ballard 39, f. 133.
  • 4. NLW, Sir Humphrey Mackworth’s* diary, ms 14362 E, p. 134; Hearne Colls, ii. 2; Ballard 31, f. 60; Add. 70421, newsletter 6 June 1710; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 202; Cake and Cockhorse, iii. 55.