Oxford University


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in doctors and masters of arts

Number of voters:

about 500


4 Dec. 1717GEORGE CLARKE vice Whitlock, deceased 
22 Mar. 1722WILLIAM BROMLEY337
 William King159
26 Feb. 1732HENRY HYDE, Visct. Cornbury, vice Bromley, deceased 
26 Apr. 1734HENRY HYDE, Visct. Cornbury 
9 Feb. 1737WILLIAM BROMLEY vice Clarke, deceased329
 Robert Trevor121
31 Mar. 1737EDWARD BUTLER vice Bromley, deceased214
 Peregrine Palmer64
4 May 1741HENRY HYDE, Visct. Cornbury 
12 Nov. 1745PEREGRINE PALMER vice Butler, deceased 
27 June 1747HENRY HYDE, Visct. Cornbury 
31 Jan. 1750SIR ROGER NEWDIGATE vice Cornbury, called to the Upper House184
 Robert Harley126
 Sir Edward Turner67

Main Article

The Jacobites looked on Oxford University as one of their strongholds. When its Jacobite chancellor, the Duke of Ormonde, was attainted in 1715, another Jacobite, his brother, Lord Arran, was elected as his successor, holding the post till his death in 1758. All the Members returned were Tories, the only question being whether they should be moderates or extremists. At Oxford the King did not possess the power of creating honorary doctors, by which a Whig majority was secured at Cambridge.

In 1715 the old Members, Bromley and Whitlock, were returned unopposed. Subsequently there was much talk in Whig circles of 'reforming' the university,1 whose heads appear to have felt the vulnerability of their position. On the death of Whitlock in 1717, Smalridge, bishop of Bristol, wrote to the vice-chancellor:

It will become all, who wish well to the university, to have our thoughts upon a proper successor, a person of experience and gravity, one who is entirely in our interest, and able to support it, one against whom the Government can have no exception, and who will be acceptable to, and agree with, his colleague. I believe you are of the same sentiment with me, that no one better answers this character, no one at any time, and especially at this juncture, could be more proper for us to pitch upon than our worthy friend Dr. Clarke. If you are of this sentiment, I beg of you, that you and those who are of the same opinion with you, would forthwith apply to him in your own name and mine (and I believe I might add, the name of everyone, who wishes well to the university) and earnestly beg him, that he would not, at this juncture, prefer his own ease or inclination to the public good. He would do us an inestimable service in keeping out all other pretenders, though he should do us no other; but no one is more capable or more inclined to do us the utmost. Sure I am, that there is no one in the kingdom who would be more acceptable to Mr. Bromley: this I have not from conjecture, but from certain and very late knowledge. I see many and great inconveniences from thinking of any one else; we shall be broke to pieces, if there be a contest; we shall expose ourselves to the utmost danger, if at this time we should pitch upon one who at another time might be unexceptionable.2

In opposition to Clarke, Dr Peirce Dod, a fellow of All Souls, was put up with the support of the 'young masters' in the university. Clarke's party gave out that

Dr. Dod is a downright Jacobite, that he is too ingenious, and that his warmth will bring him into confinement and that he will expose the university and draw the malice of the government upon it.

Dod desisted shortly before the election, leaving Clarke to be returned unopposed.3

In 1719 the Government drew up a bill designed to obtain control of the universities. This bill provided that the rules and statutes of both universities were to be redrafted by persons appointed by the King, that no chancellor or vice-chancellor was to assume office without the King's prior consent, and that the King should be empowered to nominate heads of colleges. It was dropped after the defeat of the peerage bill.4

In 1722 an extreme Tory, Dr. William King, the principal of St. Mary Hall, was put up against Clarke. According to a pro-King account of the election:

When Dr King was first prevailed on by his friends to appear a candidate, it created an incredible surprise in some heads of houses. They knew Dr. Clarke to be a very unacceptable man to the university, and that without an unusual application, and a coalition of different parties and interests, he could not possibly have any share in the election. They knew likewise, that however industrious they were, or whatever schemes they formed for his service, if we were to vote by ballot or scrutiny in writing, as we do in all other cases, he would be thrown out by a great majority.

the college heads used their influence on Lord Arran, the chancellor, whose secretary King was, to get him to desist. When he would not, he was dismissed as secretary, while,

as for those gentlemen who had the misfortune to be in a state of dependency, who were curates, chaplains or scholars on the foundation, they were treated by the heads of houses with the same inhumanity, with which great tyrants treat their slaves. They were commanded to vote for the old Members, notwithstanding any personal friendship, which might dispose them to favour Dr, King's interest. And if they pleaded and prior engagements or promises, they were ordered to retract them on the severest penalties. No allowances were made, and no excuses were accepted. But to all their injunctions they tacked this dreadful alternative, either comply or starve.

King's party also objected that many of their voters had been excluded,

for in a convocation we are under many restrictions, and obliged to the observation of certain rules and forms of speaking against which we offend (as we cannot avoid to do in polling for Members of Parliament) the vice-chancellor and proctors may exclude us in the convocation for that day, and consequently deprive us of our votes.5

A supporter of King's gave the following account of the poll:

The convocation continued till about half hour after four in the afternoon, when it appeared that Dr. King had lost it by a very great majority, the poll standing thus, the number whereof on the right hand signifies dubious votes:

Bromley337  —  60
Clarke278  —  49
King159  —  36

Upon which, the election was declared, though a scrutiny being desired, the business was put off till this morning, when there was another convocation. But there being such a vast disproportion, the throwing out the bad votes signified nothing to the interest of Dr. King, who thereupon acquiesced, and Mr. Bromley and Dr. Clarke are declared duly elected ... Dr. King had 82 single votes in this election.6

In 1727 Bromley and Clarke were unopposed. On the death of Bromley in 1732, Clarke wrote:

I drove immediately to Lord Clarendon's in St. James's Square to propose my Lord Cornbury's offering himself to the university, which was agreed to and letters wrote accordingly. His Lordship was chose unanimously.7

Cornbury retained his seat with Clarke in 1734. On Clarke's death in February 1737, the Whigs put up a candidate, Robert Trevor, who was defeated by William Bromley, the son of the late Member, by a large majority. When Bromley died soon afterwards the Whigs did not put up a candidate.

The contest in the university was a friendly one ... the two candidates agreed to try their interest with the Tories only and not to ask the vote of any one who had voted in the former election for Mr. Trevor, that having applied to their several friends and comparing notes it was found that Dr. Butler had a great majority and therefore his competitor Mr. Palmer went at the head of his own friends and voted for the Doctor.8

There was no opposition in 1741 or in 1747, when Palmer, who on Butler's death had been returned unopposed, was unopposed with Cornbury.

In February 1748 there was a Jacobite riot among the undergraduates. Several of them were denounced by a Whig don to the vice-chancellor, who evaded taking any action.9 Horace Walpole wrote to Mann on 2 Dec. 1748:

Two Oxford scholars are condemned to two years' imprisonment for treason; and their vice-chancellor, for winking at it, is soon to be tried.

At the end of the month the university presented an address on the peace, which the King refused to receive because it contained expressions condoning the riots. Horace Walpole reported to Mann, 3 May 1749:

We were to have had some chastisement for Oxford, where, besides the late riots, the famous Dr. King, the Pretender's great agent, made a most violent speech at the opening of the Radcliffe Library.

As a result it was decided to introduce a bill empowering

the King to grant a commission or commissions to enquire into and report the state of both or either Universities in respect to their loyalty, morals, discipline and whatever else may be useful for the reformation and rectifying any abuses that may have crept into them.10

Carte, the Jacobite historian, reported to the Pretender that this threat had brought all the Tories up to town, 'which nothing else would'; and that they had entered into an agreement with the followers of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 'to stand by the university of Oxford'.11 In the end, Walpole wrote, the ministry 'have grown frightened and dropped it'. The proceedings against the vice-chancellor were also abandoned.12

In January 1750 there was a by-election on Lord Cornbury's being called to the Lords, when Sir Roger Newdigate, a Tory country gentleman and a large landowner, was successful against two Tories, Robert Harley and Sir Edward Turner.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. W. R. Ward, Georgian Oxford, 68-82.
  • 2. Nichols, Illustrations of Literature, iii. 282-3.
  • 3. Hearne, Colls. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), vi. 67, 110, 112; HMC Portland, vii. 231.
  • 4. Sunderland (Blenheim) mss; HMC Portland, vii. 266.
  • 5. An Account of the Late Election for the University of Oxford (1722).
  • 6. Hearne, vii. 341-2.
  • 7. HMC Popham, 289.
  • 8. HMC 10th Rep. I, 490.
  • 9. Richard Blacow, A Letter to William King, containing a particular account of the treasonable riot at Oxford in Feb. 1747.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 21; Harrowby mss 21 (L. Inn), 4 Jan. 1749; 26 (L. Inn), 12 Mar. 1749; H. Walople, Corresp. (Yale ed.), xiii. 22-23.
  • 11. Stuart mss box 1/299.
  • 12. To Mann, 3 May 1749; Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 281.