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 burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:

61 by 1715

Number of voters:

at least 52 in 1702; at least 43 in 1710


24 Nov. 1701HON. HENRY BERTIE 
 Hon. Robert Bertie24
 Hon. Henry Bertie22
 HON. HENRY BERTIE and HON. ROBERT BERTIE vice Trenchard and Phipps, on petition, 1 Dec. 1702 
9 Oct. 1710HON. HENRY BERTIE42
 Henry Cornish3
26 Aug. 1713HON. HENRY BERTIE 

Main Article

‘A mean town’, in Browne Willis’* recollection, Westbury was none the less a centre for woollen manufactures, especially ‘medley’ or ‘mixed’ broadcloth, much of which was exported to Spain and Portugal or formed a part of the African trade. There was a borough corporation, comprising a mayor and 13 ‘aldermen’ or ‘capital burgesses’, with the mayor acting as parliamentary returning officer. The chief interest went with the lordship of the ‘capital manor’, held since 1681 by the Berties, earls of Abingdon, though it was not until the latter end of this period that the then Lord Abingdon (Montague Venables-Bertie*, formerly Lord Norreys, who succeeded to the earldom in 1699) could claim to control the representation, having, by 1715, acquired all but 11 of the 61 burgages. From 1685 to 1701 the Berties were obliged to share with another substantial local proprietor, and fellow Tory, Richard Lewis of Edington priory. Only when Lewis retired from politics at an advanced age in the second general election of 1701 could two Berties be returned, Henry Bertie I and Robert, uncle and brother respectively of the 2nd Earl of Abingdon. Almost immediately Abingdon had to face a strong Whig attack, led by Thomas Phipps, a London merchant with local connexions who had acquired property just outside the town. Phipps joined forces in 1702 with a Whig landowner and former Member for the borough, William Trenchard. The two may have been able to exploit discontent over the difficulties being suffered by the woollen industry; certainly they won over the mayor, Jonathan Axford, and other members of the corporation. During the elaborate celebrations in the town for the coronation of Queen Anne, after a parade of about 100 ‘women arrayed in white, with swords in their hands’, and 50 young men with muskets, ‘having a crown carried before them, and colours flying’, the crowd appears to have divided, one faction following the mayor and Phipps to a ‘splendid entertainment’ at Heywood, Phipps’ seat; the remainder, including ‘most part of the corporation’, staying in the market-place to be treated by Abingdon’s receiver, where beer, cider and wine flowed freely, ‘the like never seen in our corporation before’. When Phipps and Trenchard were returned at the general election some two months later, the defeated Berties petitioned. At the committee hearing there was a preliminary skirmish over the details of burgage tenure. This was decided to the advantage of the lord of the manor in that leaseholders ‘for years absolute’ were allowed the franchise alongside freeholders and leaseholders who held their term for life. A residential requirement was acknowledged by both sides. The main thrust of the petitioners’ case was, however, their allegations of ‘divers illegal practices’, to wit various species of bribery and the corruption of the mayor, Axford, who, one witness claimed, had sold his services to Phipps and Trenchard for £20. The sums of money tendered on behalf of the sitting Members were about £20 to £30 per voter. A blacksmith was said to have been promised ‘half a ton of iron’, and a tallow-chandler some £200 or £300 worth of tallow. This evidence did not go uncontested, and Phipps and Trenchard brought in counter-charges of bribery, including an offer of ‘two trees, worth £5’, and testimony from several of their supporters that Abingdon’s agent, and his chaplain, had threatened voters that their leases might not be renewed. It also appeared that some ‘four years’ previously Abingdon had taken bonds from tenants for £20 to vote for his interest ‘as long as they lived’. Nevertheless, the committee and the House found for the petitioners, a judgment deprecated in some quarters as unacceptably partisan.1

For the rest of this period Abingdon’s nominations were not seriously challenged. He was assisted in the management of his ‘interest’ by Richard Lewis’ heir Thomas*, and more importantly by Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), who on occasion entertained burgage holders at Longleat, and who in 1708 presided jointly with Abingdon over the return of Henry Bertie I and Francis Annesley. Henry St. John II* had cast covetous eyes on the second seat in this election, having been told that the outgoing Member Robert Bertie ‘does not care to stand’ and been assured that Abingdon’s influence was such that ‘his lordship recommends both Members and always succeeds’. However, Annesley had been promised, and Abingdon would not contemplate going back on his word. It is just possible there may have been a contest, but if so Abingdon’s victory was overwhelming: ‘there was not one vote against my lord’s interest’, ran one report; ‘Mr Annesley polled 45, Mr Bertie 42’. In 1710 the Whig Henry Cornish travelled down from London ‘with £3,000 to turn that election’, only to be humiliated. Despite woollen manufacturers’ anxiety (expressed in relation to the woollen and wool cards bills of 1711, the African trade bill of 1712, and the proposed lowering of duty on French wines in 1713), there was little restlessness in the corporation. In 1712 and 1713 came two addresses in support of the peace, both fiercely Tory in tone, condemning ‘the malicious contrivance of ill men’ among the opposition, stigmatizing the Whigs as ‘bloodthirsty, avaricious’ warmongers, and heaping praise on the Duke of Ormond for his conduct as commander-in-chief. Not surprisingly, Henry Bertie and Annesley were re-elected without opposition in 1713.2

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 15, f. 652; CJ, xi. 582; xiii. 187; xvii. 132, 358; VCH Wilts. v. 215; viii. 150; Post Boy, 28–30 Apr. 1702; Post Man, 9–12 May 1702; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2724, Charles Bertie I* to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 8 Aug. 1702; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. 5.
  • 2. HMC Portland, iv. 176; vii. 21; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, f. 83; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, William Burrow to James Grahme*, 8 May 1708; HMC Bath, i. 190; Add. 70230, (Sir) Simon Harcourt I* to Robert Harley*, n.d. [1708]; CJ, xvi. 512; xvii. 127, 132, 358; London Gazette, 5–8 July 1712, 9–13 June 1713.