Double Member Borough

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

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:

not more than 12


15 Apr. 1754Sir John Hynde Cotton
 John Ward
27 Mar. 1761John Montagu, Lord Brudenell
 Robert Brudenell
11 May 1762James Long vice Lord Brudenell, called to the Upper House
18 Mar. 1768Robert Brudenell
 Sir James Long
17 Nov. 1768James Brudenell vice Robert Brudenell, deceased
10 Oct. 1774James Brudenell
 Sir James Long
13 Sept. 1780James Stopford, Earl of Courtown
 William Woodley
5 Apr. 1784James Stopford, Earl of Courtown
 Sir Philip Hales
31 Aug. 1784Courtown re-elected after appontment to office

Main Article

The corporation of Marlborough was a small, self-electing body, which had arrogated to itself effective power over the creation of freemen. Throughout this period Marlborough was a pocket borough of Lord Bruce (created in 1776 Earl of Ailesbury), whose seat at Tottenham Park was five miles from the town. The Duke of Marlborough owned property in the borough, and in 1762 threatened to ‘exert his influence in elections’. He sent for the mayor and several burgesses, and asked ‘about the number of their body, and the state of their trade and manufactures, and said as it was in [his] power so it was his intention to be a good friend to the town’. This apparent threat never materialized, but as late as 1783 the Duke was mentioned as a possible rival to Ailesbury in the borough.

Ailesbury controlled the corporation through individual and collective benefactions. Tradesmen were employed at Tottenham Park, and attempts were made to secure Government patronage for others. Ailesbury contributed to the relief of the poor and gave prizes for the races, etc. His aim was to keep the numbers of the corporation as low as possible, and in 1771 they agreed to co-opt no new burgesses without his consent.

Charles Bill, Ailesbury’s agent and attorney, became a burgess in 1771 and mayor in 1783. By then there were only six burgesses in the borough, and a further creation had become essential. The Rev. Charles Francis, one of Ailesbury’s most devoted followers on the corporation, advised him to wait until Bill had ceased to be mayor.

It may be necessary [wrote Francis to Ailesbury] to veil a part of the absolute power your Lordship has at Marlborough to indulge the burgesses in their fancy of being all men of consequence, to promote the notion that they are all equal with your agent, not subject to him but only to your Lordship.

Two ways were open to Ailesbury in his dealings with the corporation:

To show openly that this interest is so well established there as to require no longer any regard to punctilio, or to confirm the burgesses in their opinion that the most delicate respect for their credit is one of the first cares of your Lordship’s influence.

Ailesbury ignored Francis’s advice, and also a suggestion that one or two Dissenters should be admitted to the corporation; although, according to Bill, the Dissenters were

so considerable a part of the bettermost sort of people in this town that we have but little choice of persons who are decent enough to be brought into such a connexion, and are not in some other respect objectionable.

Author: John Brooke


Based on research by Christopher Portal in the mss of the Marquess of Ailesbury.