Double Member County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 4,000


2 May 1754Paggen Hale1925
 Charles Gore1727
 Edward Gardiner1359
1 May 1755William Plumer sen. vice Hale, deceased 
6 Apr. 1761Thomas Plumer Byde1648
 Jacob Houblon1538
 Charles Gore1244
28 Mar. 1768William Plumer jun. 
 Thomas Halsey 
24 Oct. 1774William Plumer2558
 Thomas Halsey1540
 James Bucknall Grimston, Visct. Grimston1081
14 Sept. 1780William Plumer 
 Thomas Halsey 
22 Apr. 1784William Plumer1900
 James Bucknall Grimston, Visct. Grimston1297
 Thomas Halsey1073

Main Article

Oldfield wrote in 1792 that Hertfordshire possessed the ‘singular advantage of maintaining its independence’. There was a number of aristocratic families, with considerable influence in elections, but none of sufficient weight to dominate the county. Its representatives were nearly all substantial country gentlemen, and during this period it was the most contested county in England. There was a large Dissenting element in the population, but it is not easy to trace any pattern in county politics.

At the general election of 1754 the sitting Members, Charles Gore and Paggen Hale, supporters of Administration, were opposed by a Tory, Edward Gardiner. Lord Salisbury, the Duke of Leeds, Lord Hardwicke, and the Duke of Bedford, all declared for the sitting Members; and Gardiner appeared to have little chance of success. But he enjoyed considerable support among the smaller freeholders and polled more than 1,000 plumpers: the independent element rallied strongly to his side.1 In April 1755, at the county meeting on the vacancy caused by Hale’s death, ‘the gentlemen in Mr. Gardiner’s interest’ declared that they ‘would give the county no further trouble’, and William Plumer senior was returned unopposed.2

Plumer left Parliament in 1761, and Gore joined forces with Jacob Houblon, a Tory, who had sat for Hertfordshire 1741-7. The third candidate, Thomas Plumer Byde, had the support of some prominent City men: Sir William Baker, Frazer Honywood, and John Thomlinson voted for him; but most of the leading Hertfordshire families (including Byde’s own relations, the Plumers) voted for Gore and Houblon. So did many of the Tories, including William Harvey, William Drake, and Edward Gardiner. The Dissenters gave Byde strong support, and he came out top of the poll. Gore, who had a majority of almost 400 in 1754, now lost his seat by nearly 300 votes.

William Plumer junior wrote to the Duke of Newcastle on 18 Oct. 1767:3

We have nothing stirring in our county relative to the election. It is given out that Houblon intends standing again, which I believe arises ... from an opinion that I shall not offer my services to the county. Indeed, there seems to be a want of gentlemen here to be candidates, otherwise Houblon could have no chance of success.

Byde did not stand; Houblon stood aside for his son, who did not go to the poll. The seats went to Plumer junior (who had been released by Newcastle from an engagement to stand at Lewes) and to Thomas Halsey of Gaddesden. Plumer consolidated his position and became the doyen of Hertfordshire politics: he sat for another 39 years, and though involved in five contests was at the head of the poll on each occasion.

The 1774 election went to a poll. Plumer and Halsey were opposed by Lord Grimston, a young man of 27, who had succeeded to the title the previous year. Lord Salisbury, one of the most powerful magnates, refused to give his support to any candidate, ‘having long resolved not to interfere on any account’. But the sitting Members were supported by Lord Melbourne, Lord Spencer, Lord Hardwicke, Lord Howe, Sir John Sebright, William Baker, and George Byng; and Grimston was denounced as an ‘untried youth’.4

The county meeting at Hertford in September was crowded and expensive: it was reported to have cost the candidates £4,000 for accommodation and entertainment.5 Plumer wrote to the Duke of Portland:6

The whole is over; such a scene of riot and confusion, I did never see. I was unanimously proposed and agreed to without one negative. Halsey and Grimston were proposed separately, and after much time and noise, the sheriff decided that Grimston had the greater show of hands. So there was not one word of a junction.

Grimston’s tactics were clearly to give his second votes to Plumer. The result was a triumph for Plumer, who gained almost as many votes as the other two combined. Grimston came a poor third, polling fewer than either Gardiner or Gore had done.

Plumer and Halsey both belonged to the Opposition, and the result suggested that they would remain in control of the county unless there was a shift in the political balance. This came after the death of Lord Salisbury. The 6th Earl had no interest in political affairs: his successor was ambitious to make a figure in the county. At the general election of 1780 the 6th Earl was on his death-bed. Robinson, in his estimate of Hertfordshire, expected the old Members to be returned: ‘as things are at present Lord Cranborne will not think of it or attempt anything, Lord Salisbury being so very ill’. Halsey and Plumer were returned unopposed.

The 6th Earl died a week after the election. In December 1781 James Hare wrote of the new Lord Salisbury:7

[He] sacrifices his whole time and fortune to Hertfordshire popularity, and six years hence may perhaps reap the reward of his labours by bringing in a Member for the county after an expensive contest.

Before the election came, however, the situation had changed greatly. Plumer was a strong supporter of the Coalition, but Halsey was in poor health, was absent from the critical vote on Fox’s East India bill, and was classed ‘doubtful’ by Robinson. Lord Grimston and Lord Salisbury both supported Pitt, and early in 1784 Salisbury made overtures for an understanding between them. Lady Forrester, Grimston’s cousin, wrote to urge him to accept:8

I must confess my pride would be much flattered to see a friend I am so nearly connected with taking an active part at a time when all men of property should, for their own country’s sake, stand forth in support of Government. ... Unite with Lord Salisbury and nothing can shake your interest. ’Tis for your mature advantage, and what he very much wishes, and I am certain will cordially give you his support. I must confess I think the loss will be yours if you decline this offer ... for no man is powerful enough to be of weight unconnected. As to Lord Salisbury, he seems already to be in a very good line for establishing himself as an independent man who belongs to no party, but who means to have some influence in a country where he has so much at stake.

Grimston agreed to the alliance, though he held back the announcement of his candidature as long as possible. On 25 Mar. he saw Lady Spencer, who asked him directly whether there would be any opposition in the county:9

He looked embarrassed and answered that he knew of none, to which I replied that I was glad to hear him say so, as I had understood from several people he meant to offer himself. ... He said he did not mean to preclude himself from serving the county if it called upon him, to which I only observed that a county contest was a serious thing and that the present Members were I believed very strong.

Plumer’s position was impregnable, but Grimston succeeded in turning out Halsey.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Add. 35679, ff. 98, 100; Bedford mss 30, f. 2.
  • 2. Add. 32854, f. 129.
  • 3. Add. 32986, ff. 48-49.
  • 4. HMC Verulam, 124; Public Advertiser, 18 Oct. 1774.
  • 5. Ibid. 13 Sept. 1774.
  • 6. 12 Sept. 1774, Portland mss.
  • 7. HMC Carlisle, 556.
  • 8. HMC Verulam, 126 (misdated).
  • 9. Spencer mss.