Wootton Bassett


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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 180


24 Jan. 1715SIR JAMES LONG 
21 Mar. 1722ROBERT MURRAY 
 William Northey 
 John Brinsden 
17 Aug. 1727JOHN ST. JOHN 
 William Northey 
24 Apr. 1734SIR ROBERT LONG 
 Edward Prideaux Gwynn 
 King Gould 
6 May 1741ROBERT NEALE194
 Nicholas Robinson84
29 June 1747MARTIN MADAN97
 Samuel Jodrell85
 William Breton79

Main Article

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the chief interest at Wootton Bassett was in the St. Johns, seated at Lydiard Tregoze, three miles from the borough. The St. John interest began to decline about 1708, when Bolingbroke, then still Henry St. John, who had sat for the borough since 1701, wrote to Harley:

My father makes a scandalous figure, neglected by all the gentlemen, and sure of miscarrying where his family always were reverenced.1

No member of the St. John family stood in 1715, when a local Tory, Sir James Long, was returned unopposed, with William Northey, a government supporter; or in 1722, when two stranger Whigs were returned in circumstances described in a letter to Sunderland by one of their opponents, John Brinsden, Bolingbroke’s private secretary. Claiming to have been encouraged by Carteret to stand, Brinsden wrote to Sunderland after the election:

Colonel Murray and Wm. Chetwynd ... both strangers here and had no manner of recommendation from any person of interest in the neighbourhood, have corrupted the people in such a public manner that, I dare affirm the like never appeared in St. Stephen’s Chapel, and are returned by a considerable majority, with not above one or two votes against whom the bribery can’t be proved. Your Lordship is I presume sensible upon what interest [Walpole’s] they stand, and your Lordship knows enough of me to think that I shall be willing and ready to obey your commands with great satisfaction. I hope therefore that your Lordship will be so good as to take me under your protection, that I may have that justice done me that the merits of my cause deserves.2

In 1727 Bolingbroke’s half-brother, John St. John, who had hitherto been under age, was returned as a Tory, sharing the representation with a government supporter; but he did not stand at the next two general elections, when the seats were divided between Tories and ministerial Whigs.

On the 1st Lord St. John’s death in 1742, John St. John, now the 2nd Lord St. John, succeeded to Lydiard Tregoze, which Bolingbroke had renounced in his favour, hoping that ‘by living there decently and hospitably, he might restore a family interest too much and too long neglected’.3 In 1747 Lord St. John supported Martin Madan and William Breton, both put up by the Prince of Wales,4 but only succeeded in carrying Madan.

Soon after the succession of the 3rd Lord St. John, a minor, in 1748, the 2nd Lord Egmont noted against Wootton Bassett in his electoral survey:

To be bought - Lord St. John may assist, who I suppose will be gained when of age.

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. HMC Bath, i. 190.
  • 2. 22 Mar. 1722, Sunderland (Blenheim) mss.
  • 3. Bolingbroke to Henrietta Knight, 10 Aug. 1745, Add. 34196, f. 147.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, i. 117.