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

Right of Election:

in the burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

104 in 1691; 118 in 1694


25 Feb. 1690RICHARD KENT   
9 Dec. 1690SIR BASIL FIREBRACE vice Kent, deceased53152253
 Sir Humphrey Edwin56 52
  Election declared void, 1 Dec. 1691   
 Hon. Thomas Tollemache44  
 TOLLEMACHE vice Firebrace, on petition, 22 Jan. 1692   
19 Nov. 1694RICHARD LONG vice Tollemache, deceased67  
 Sir Basil Firebrace51  
25 July 1698EDWARD MONTAGU   
4 Jan. 1701JOHN MORDAUNT, Ld. Mordaunt   
 Edward Montagu   
24 Nov. 1701JOHN MORDAUNT, Ld. Mordaunt   
17 July 1702JOHN MORDAUNT, Ld. Mordaunt   
11 May 1705SIR JAMES LONG, Bt.   
26 Nov. 1705JOHN MORDAUNT, Ld. Mordaunt vice White, deceased67  
 Henry Chivers373  
5 May 1708SIR JAMES LONG, Bt.   
10 Oct. 1710SIR JAMES LONG, Bt.97  
 Francis Popham424  
 POPHAM vice Ashe, on petition, 17 Mar. 1711   
28 Aug. 1713JOHN NORRIS93  
 Sir James Long, Bt.575  

Main Article

A number of neighbouring landed families enjoyed influence at Chippenham, among them the Bayntuns of Spye Park, the Longs of Draycot Cerne, the Montagus of Lackham, the Pophams of Littlecote, and to a lesser extent the Spekes of Hazelbury. Sir Edward Hungerford’s* once powerful interest had been divided by 1690, with the sale of Sheldon and Corsham to Richard Kent and Rowden to another branch of the Longs. Of these two, Kent proved the stronger: one of the outgoing Members, he was re-elected unopposed in 1690, along with Alexander Popham of Littlecote. Popham, as the son-in-law of the Earl of Montagu (Ralph Montagu†), was able to supplement his own interest with support from Lackham, where the representative of the family, Edward Montagu, was still a minor. The other outgoing Member, Henry Bayntun, had transferred to a seat at Calne. He thereupon ceased any involvement at Chippenham, and after his death, leaving a minority, the Spye Park interest went into abeyance. In 1690 Kent also died, his heirs likewise playing no role in Chippenham elections. This sudden departure from the scene of two of the major powers in the borough left an opportunity for outsiders, with funds and local help, to contest the vacancy. The by-election in December 1690 was fought out by two London merchants: the Tory Sir Basil Firebrace and the Whig and Dissenter Sir Humphrey Edwin. Both men had their supporters within the corporation, among Edwin’s party being two men who had been named as ‘burgesses’ by royal mandate in 1687. Firebrace, however, had the bailiff, the returning officer (himself one of the Tory burgesses nominated in the 1684 charter), on his side. From the beginning there were disputes about voting qualifications. A list of electors having been supplied by the town clerk, which would have given Edwin a narrow majority, the bailiff decided to call a ‘common hall’ to revise it, ostensibly to bring it up to date. But so many objections and counter-objections were made that he finally ordered a poll to be taken of all claiming a right to vote, this to be submitted subsequently to a scrutiny. After the scrutiny, over which the bailiff himself presided, Firebrace was declared to have been chosen by a majority of one. Edwin petitioned, accusing his opponent and the bailiff among other things of murdering one of his messengers, evicting one of his voters and bribing others. The petition was ordered to be heard at the bar but, the prorogation intervening, had to be re-entered and was then referred to committee 1 Dec. 1691. Any judgment on the validity of objections by either side to individual voters seeming, in the words of the committee, ‘to depend upon the credit of the witnesses’, which in no case was very high, the petition turned instead upon the well-attested accusations of bribery both Edwin and Firebrace had made. As a result the election was declared void. Firebrace’s opponent at the second by-election was a quite different, and still more formidable, figure: the Whig military hero Hon. Thomas Tollemache, who was sponsored by the Earl of Montagu and probably by Hon. Thomas Wharton*, recommended by Alexander Popham at Montagu’s behest, and helped by the Spekes. Against this weight of influence Firebrace had money and, once more, the bailiff as an ally, possibly the same man who was his principal election agent of the preceding year. Firebrace’s return was followed by a petition on Tollemache’s behalf from ‘several burgesses and freemen’. The petition began by objecting against some of Firebrace’s voters, either because of non-qualification or because bribery and ‘menaces’ had been used to procure their support. The evidence as to non-qualification would not stand up, but there was more acceptable testimony on the other counts. Besides extensive treating, and threats of evictions, bribery was alleged to have taken place on a grand scale: £1 appears to have been the regular price, but the multifarious inducements offered included ‘a good waistcoat’, ‘a bushel of wheat’, and a promise to one shoemaker to ‘provide for him as long as he lived, without working’. All this opened up a new line of attack, since if proved it could nullify Firebrace’s election instead of merely whittling away his majority. In his defence Firebrace accused his enemies of bribery, and made feeble efforts to excuse his own promises and payments as acts of ‘charity’. In spite of a last-ditch effort to have the evidence against him considered only in relation to the individual voters concerned, supposedly to save his reputation from the shame of a public declaration of his guilt, but in reality because not enough votes would thus be forfeited to lose him his majority, the House endorsed a resolution that bribery had been proved, and seated Tollemache in his place. Firebrace made one final attempt on the borough when Tollemache died in 1694, his opponent being Richard Long, a connexion of the Longs of Rowden. On this occasion the bailiff was against Firebrace; Long was returned and it was Firebrace’s adherents who petitioned. As before, the petitioners’ case at first rested on proving substantial numbers of Long’s voters unqualified, but the committee noted that the only evidence on this point came from the petitioners themselves, so they fell back on charges of bribery and intimidation, alleging that as many as 20 of the ‘gentlemen’ from the vicinity of the town came to make an interest for Long and threatened electors with the withdrawal of ‘their work and custom’ if they voted the other way. In return Long pressed the inevitable accusations of bribery against Firebrace, in procuring both votes and witnesses. The committee and the House found for Long.6

Popham’s colleague in 1695 was a local man, Walter White. Nominated by Wharton, he was Wharton’s agent in the county, a friend of Richard Long and a loyal supporter of the Whig interest in Wiltshire. Popham by this time may have been drifting apart from his wife’s family, the Montagus, both socially and politically. Besides, Edward Montagu of Lackham had come of age in 1693 and now wished to enjoy the benefit of his electoral influence himself. In 1698 Montagu replaced Popham without a contest, the latter abandoning Chippenham for a seat elsewhere. Montagu and White were challenged at the next election by a fellow Whig, Lord Peterborough, who having been granted by King William the manor of Dauntsey and with it the lordship of the hundred of Chippenham, put up his eldest son, Lord Mordaunt, even though Mordaunt was probably still a minor. Despite unbounded confidence in the Montagu camp, Peterborough’s interest was such that Lord Mordaunt headed the poll and threw Montagu out. Montagu petitioned, largely on the grounds that Mordaunt, being a minor, was unqualified to sit, an argument supplemented by a battery of the more usual accusations, of ‘indirect practices’ and so forth. The question of Mordaunt’s nonage was dealt with first, and separately, at the bar of the House, where it was decided in his favour. Montagu’s remaining objections against the return, referred to the committee, were never heard. Montagu did not stand again himself. In November 1701 White and Mordaunt were re-elected, presumably in consequence of some agreement between the Whig interests, and with the assistance of a personal appearance by Peterborough, and in 1702 James Montagu II, Edward’s brother, took the place of White. The 1705 election saw the revival of another family interest, that of the Longs of Draycot Cerne, in the person of the Tory Sir James Long, 5th Bt. Lord Mordaunt preferring to stand for knight of the shire in Northamptonshire, and no Montagu declaring himself, White stepped into the breach on the Whig side and was returned with Long. Unfortunately, he died a month later. ‘All the gentry of the high party’ in Wiltshire, to quote Defoe, now ‘embarked’ on a project to have the zealous Tory Henry Chivers* chosen at the by-election, in order to shield him from a libel action being brought against him by Bishop Burnet (see CHIVERS, Henry). In the event, Lord Mordaunt, who had been defeated in Northamptonshire, triumphed over the humbled Chivers. Mordaunt, however, did not stand in 1708. In that election James Montagu III, the son of Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*), was put up by the Lackham interest and returned with Long.7

In October 1708 Hon. James Brydges* was advised, on his venturing into the property market in Wiltshire, to consider an available estate at Lacock, since it would carry with it some electoral influence: ‘Chippenham is the next parish, which is now governed by Mr [Edward] Montagu* of Lackham . . . that borough, which is not so venal as many are, will be glad to have the honour of Mr Brydges’ favour, if ever he settle at Lacock’. Brydges declined the proposition, and in fact the next two elections were to disprove this opinion of the borough, both in respect of its stability and immunity to bribery, and the strength of the Montagu interest. In 1710 Joseph Ashe of nearby Langley Burrell, who may or may not have had the benefit of Montagu support, was the lone Whig candidate. He stood against Long and Francis Popham (heir to the new proprietor of Littlecote), who as a kinsman and follower of Robert Harley* was a strong Tory. Ashe was returned but was unseated when Popham petitioned, wholesale bribery being charged against him. It was said that as early as January 1710 Ashe and his nephew, a leading light in the corporation, had offered sums of £3 to about 25 voters, and had ‘taken the bonds’ of the recipients. A fortnight before the election some return on this investment was demanded: promises were exacted, and the 25 ‘had their bonds burnt for their votes’. All that Ashe had to put forward in reply were the standard accusations of treating, and an unconvincing allegation that Popham’s followers had tried improperly to exploit the ‘Popham Charity’, a family bequest under which £6 was distributed annually to three poor freemen of the borough. To the claim that broad hints had been dropped about the future disposal of the money, Popham was able to answer that the charity was administered by the corporation and that neither he nor his father had a say in nominating the recipients. On the other hand, it should be noted that the corporation seems at this time to have been dominated by Popham’s friends: it agreed, for example, to pay some of his expenses in prosecuting his petition. Popham did not stand in 1713, the second Tory then being John Norris, whose father had bought the property in the town that Richard Kent had originally acquired from the Hungerford estate. In this election not only did the Montagus fail to recommend, but the Whig candidate, John Eyles, was, according to the petition of the defeated Tory, Sir James Long, ‘a stranger to the borough’ who had secured his return in the manner of Firebrace 20 years before, by bribery and intimidation. In reality Eyles, though a London merchant, came of a Wiltshire family and had many local connexions. Long’s petition against him was never reported.8

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Sitting Member’s poll.
  • 2. Petitioner’s poll.
  • 3. Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F54, f. 68, Duke of Somerset to Ld. Cowper (William*), 27 Nov. 1705.
  • 4. Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710.
  • 5. Bodl. Ballard 18, f. 49.
  • 6. Aubrey and Jackson, Wilts. Colls. 79; J.J. Daniell, Hist. Chippenham, 15; F. H. Goldney, Chippenham Recs. 71, 77, 343–4; HMC Buccleuch, i. 350; Luttrell Diary, 149–50.
  • 7. Ellis thesis, 272; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 29; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 685; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 318–19; Bodl. Carte 233, f. 296; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlvi. 80; Defoe Letters, 103–4; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 167.
  • 8. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(3), p. 99; Goldney, 78–79, 239.