Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of Qualified Electors:
790 in 17101
Number of voters:
at least 693 in 1710
|13 Mar. 1690||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD I|
|5 Oct. 1695||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD I|
|Sir Francis Lawley, Bt.|
|29 July 1698||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD I|
|8 Jan. 1701||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD I|
|27 Nov. 1701||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD II|
|22 July 1702||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD II|
|12 May 1705||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|GEORGE WELD II|
|11 May 1708||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|10 Oct. 1710||GEORGE WELD II||512|
|SIR WILLIAM FORESTER||509|
|Sir Thomas Lawley, Bt.||211|
|2 Sept. 1713||SIR WILLIAM FORESTER|
|17 Mar. 1714||HON. RICHARD NEWPORT vice Whitmore, chose to sit for Bridgnorth|
No more than a seventh of the Much Wenlock electorate resided in the town, according to one estimate, and the two most powerful interests by far belonged to neighbouring country gentlemen: Sir William Forester, the lord of the manor of Little Wenlock, and the Welds of Willey Park, who, by an arrangement between them, jointly controlled the representation throughout this period. Forester, a Court Whig, and George Weld I, a Tory, were returned unopposed in 1690 and at every election thereafter until Weld’s death in 1701, when he was succeeded as Member by his eldest son George Weld II. There was a third interest, that of the Lawleys, who owned Wenlock priory, but their support seems to have been drawn mainly from the town itself, and only once in the period did they force a contest. The head of the Lawley family in 1690 was Sir Francis Lawley, 2nd Bt.†, a Tory veteran who had fully accepted the Revolution and had been continued in his place as a gentleman of the privy chamber by William and Mary. Less than three weeks after the election in 1690 he was granted the additional Household office of master of the jewel house, possibly in compensation for his having desisted from putting up a candidate at Much Wenlock. Lawley’s eldest son Thomas, who succeeded his father in 1696, had sat for the borough in 1685 but had not stood in the election to the Convention and did not stand again until 1710. He did however make one vain attempt in 1695 to disrupt the alliance between Weld, with whom he was himself linked by marriage, and Forester. In 1710 Forester reminded George Weld II that Lawley, ‘when he could not persuade your father many years since to join with him against me, then he pressed me to give him 70 or 80 voices, to turn him out’. After this Lawley remained quiet, Weld and Forester having acted to strengthen their interest: the bailiff in 1696–7, Forester’s man, admitted over 200 freemen on their behalf. In 1704 a change in the regulations over the election of the bailiff, who was no longer to be nominated by the lord of the manor of Much Wenlock, confirmed the existing power structure.3
George Weld II began his parliamentary career as a Tory but before long went over to the Whigs. In 1708 he stood down at Much Wenlock, putting up his younger brother Thomas, also a Whig, in his place; but the manner of doing it was high-handed, the substitution being announced only shortly before the election, and in consequence many in the borough were ‘disobliged’ and opposition to his interest was encouraged. Early in 1709 he was informed by Forester that ‘your enemies in the corporation are working to . . . divide us’. One of the Lawleys had recently been admitted to the corporation, and Forester urged Weld to take action towards ‘enlarging your interest (so long neglected by your father and you) by getting your old burgesses’ sons at least in the franchise sworn, which I had heard they had a right to demand’. The next election for bailiff, at Michaelmas 1709, appeared to go badly for Weld’s interest, and in the following May Forester moved to obtain the admission as freemen of such ‘tenants’ sons I had whose fathers were burgesses’, these being, as he explained to Weld, voters ‘that will be under our immediate influence’. Weld, reluctant to stand again himself, had not yet made clear his plans for the next election, and Forester gingerly suggested that, ‘rather than let a stranger in’, he might put up his own son William Forester†, though still a minor; but he was careful to assure Weld that his main concern was to ‘keep up the interest in the families’, until Weld’s nephew, Sir John Wolryche, 4th Bt., came of age. In July 1710 Dr Sacheverell, who was extremely popular in Shropshire, visited Much Wenlock in the course of his triumphal ‘progress’ across the country, and on 15 July Forester told Weld that Sir Thomas Lawley and a Mr ‘Lutwych’ (probably Thomas Lutwyche*) were intending to stand there on the Tory interest in the likely event of a new election. He was none the less confident of retaining his own seat, having been assured by an agent that ‘I am safe maugre the doctor the devil and all their followers’. Weld forthwith announced that he too would stand, and Forester wrote again to convey his relief:
for my agents as well as other correspondents are clear of opinion, this is not a time for you to set up your brother again, and advise me to engage you in it, as a thing will be most acceptable to all our friends, and fatal to my interest to engage at this juncture with him.4
Lawley, as before, began by trying to disrupt the alliance between Weld and Forester, urging Weld to join with him instead, and offering to bear the entire cost of their combined campaign. Rebuffed, he produced another ploy, designed to take advantage of Weld’s reluctance to stand. He approached Forester, via a third party, with a scheme for a compact between himself and Weld, which Forester was formally to propose, as a person more likely than Lawley to be ‘hearkened unto’. The proposal was that ‘if Mr Weld stood this election, Sir Thomas should have his interest for the next, or Sir Thomas stand this, and Mr Weld or Sir John Wolryche the next’. Forester’s answer, as related to Weld, was that although
I might persuade you to leave it to Sir Thomas, yet I could not think it for our interests so to do, for tho’ it might compromise matters at this time, yet it would be the occasion of contests in all future elections, for in case he once got in, he would soon find means of strengthening his interest and pretending to it ever after, whereas since we threw him on his back, we have been quiet so many years, and may be so as many more.5
Lawley had already sought to strengthen his interest on this occasion by requesting the bailiff to ‘do him the same favour as others have had, in swearing his burgesses’ sons, he paying for them’, and Forester had been told that he had also ‘asked to have 100 new burgesses admitted, which is a fair indication of his weakness in all senses’. The bailiff let it be known that he considered it reasonable to grant the former request, though not the latter, and Forester and Weld countered by arranging for the sons of those freemen who were their ‘neighbours and tenants’ and also as many of their ‘neighbours’ as were eligible and could be relied on, to be admitted at the same time: these, together with the large number that the leading Whig magnate in the county, the Earl of Bradford (Hon. Richard Newport I*), was also able to ‘bring in’ on their behalf, totalled over 120, which was enough to outweigh Lawley’s ‘squadron’, though Forester was careful to speak to the bailiff that ‘none of his [Lawley] party or Edward Acton’s [Sir Edward, 3rd Bt.*] tenants or neighbours may be admitted except Sir Thomas his tenants residing in the franchise’. On 16 Aug. 1710 123 freemen were admitted, a substantial majority of whom were supporters of Weld and Forester. Lutwyche withdrew from the contest at about this time, and was replaced as a candidate by Lawley’s brother Richard. Just before the parliamentary election a new bailiff was chosen, acceptable to the Whig side: the bailiff was the returning officer.6
The parliamentary election itself resulted in an easy victory for the outgoing Members, Weld topping the poll. Forester commented:
I am very glad to find by the copy of the poll, I sent for up, that not only all my interest in and about Little Wenlock, but in and about Wellington also, gave you a vote . . . I doubt whether you can say so much of your interest, more of which I believe the doctor influenced against me.
Three days after the election it was reported that the Lawleys believed they had such good grounds for a petition that ‘they doubt not to carry it’. They and some of their supporters presented petitions, alleging that the franchise in the borough was confined to the resident freemen, but that Forester and Weld had ‘procured many hundreds to be made burgesses who were not resident . . . and they were admitted to poll’. But their case depended upon excluding from the borough many of the surrounding parishes (including Little Wenlock, Wellington, Willey, and Harley, where Bradford’s interest was in part based) which hitherto had always been taken as lying within it; and even if their arguments had been accepted only Sir Thomas Lawley would have had a claim to a seat, his brother coming bottom of the poll on the restricted franchise. Forester could not understand why Sir Thomas was pursuing the case. ‘For though on my false insinuations’, he opined to Weld,
he may hope to make the election void (which will be very extraordinary where there is such a disparity of voices), yet what hopes can he have of ever being chose, since if you desist we have my Lord N[ewpor]t [Hon. Henry Newport*] to set up in your place.
The petition was referred to the committee of elections but was never reported.7
Weld and Forester faced no further challenge after 1710. In each of the following three years they secured the election of their candidate as bailiff, Weld himself being chosen in 1711: it had been one of Forester’s maxims that ‘the surest way to keep our ground will be to secure a good bailiff being chosen in our interest’. No mass admission of freemen was required in 1713, when William Whitmore, a cousin of Weld, was returned unopposed with Forester. On Whitmore’s choosing to sit for another constituency, Hon. Richard Newport II, Forester’s great-nephew and the son of Bradford, was elected to the vacancy, again without opposition. Henceforth, Weld left his interest to the Foresters and Newports: he did not stand again himself, nor did he put up a candidate.8
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. VCH Salop, iii. 293.
- 2. Salop RO, Forester mss, polls for Much Wenlock 1710.
- 3. VCH Salop, 293; Forester mss, Forester to George Weld II, 20, 22 July 1710; copy of Much Wenlock corp. bk.; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 53.
- 4. Forester mss, Forester to Weld, 28 Jan., 5 Mar. 1709, 23 May, 15, 20 July, 10 Aug. 1710, Weld to Forester, n.d. [c.May 1710]; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 244.
- 5. Forester mss, Forester to Weld, 25 July 1710.
- 6. Ibid., Forester to Weld, 22, 25, 29 July, 5, 10 Aug., 23 Sept. 1710; copy of Much Wenlock corp. bk.; VCH Salop, 293.
- 7. Forester mss, Forester to Weld, 24 Oct., 7 Nov. 1710; copy of case of the sitting Members for Much Wenlock, ; NLW, Ottley mss 2580, Charles Baldwyn* to Adam Ottley, 13 Oct. 1710.
- 8. Forester mss, copy of Much Wenlock corp. bk.; Forester to Weld, 5 Aug. 1710.