Oxford University

Double Member University

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 doctors and masters of arts

Number of voters:

about 500


15 Apr. 1754Sir Roger Newdigate 
 Peregrine Palmer 
27 Mar. 1761Sir Roger Newdigate 
 Peregrine Palmer 
16 Dec. 1762Sir Walter Wagstaffe Bagot vice Palmer, deceased 
3 Feb. 1768Sir William Dolben vice Bagot, deceased 
23 Mar. 1768Sir Roger Newdigate352
 Francis Page296
 Charles Jenkinson198
 George Hay62
11 Oct. 1774Sir Roger Newdigate 
 Francis Page 
11 Sept. 1780Sir William Dolben 
 Francis Page 
1 Apr. 1784Sir William Dolben 
 Francis Page 

Main Article

The traditional party alignments continued at Oxford long after they had vanished elsewhere. The old interest reigned supreme, and the university showed a preference for safe Midland squires. Several local noblemen had influence, and the Government carried weight through its disposal of clerical patronage and the regius professorships, but the university remained fiercely jealous of its independence. There was always considerable pressure to avoid the inconvenience of a contest, and the sitting Members were sure of re-election.

At the election of 1768, 493 persons voted. Although every effort had been made to secure support, there must also have been many non-resident electors who were unable to make the journey. Personal canvassing by candidates was not permitted, and they were not allowed in the city during the campaign. Although Members were expected to be generous benefactors to the university, the election itself was free.

Sir Roger Newdigate and Peregrine Palmer, both Tory squires, were elected unopposed in 1754 and 1761. On Palmer’s death in 1762, while the Whigs searched in vain for a candidate, the old interest brought in Sir Walter Bagot, a veteran Tory from Staffordshire. On Bagot’s death in 1768 Charles Jenkinson came forward, hoping that his opposition to the Tories in the Oxfordshire contest of 1754 would have been forgotten. The Tories kept him out with Sir William Dolben, another Midland squire. This was only a makeshift arrangement, however, since Dolben was pledged to stand for Northamptonshire when the general election came: the whole thing was ‘too much in the system of a borough job’, declared Dean Markham with distaste.1

Dolben was required for a few weeks only. At the general election, Newdigate’s position was unchallenged, but there was much shuffling for second place. Two Tories, Francis Page and William Drake, were mentioned, and Jenkinson’s supporters hoped that the old interest might split, but a meeting in February agreed that Drake should decline in favour of Page, ‘an Oxfordshire gentleman of no name, no great interest, nor perhaps any other merit, than that of being on the right side’.2 Jenkinson had the support of Administration, but this afforded his opponents the opportunity of denouncing his candidature as an attack on the independence of the university: ‘we are in great danger of becoming a court borough’, wrote one don.3 Thomas Fitzmaurice and George Hay were also in the field, but when Fitzmaurice declined, Page was elected without difficulty. ‘The day before the election the cry of independence was so general that all persons were to be proscribed who did not vote for Page’, Dr. Wetherell, master of University College, told Jenkinson;4 and another onlooker wrote that ‘the University is still superior to ministerial influence, and its independency is sacred’.5

The same Members were re-elected in 1774. When Newdigate retired in 1780, Dolben was recalled. An opposition was attempted by William Scott and William Jones, but they were obliged to decline before the poll. Jones echoed the complaint of generations of Whigs when he wrote:6

A Whig candidate for Oxford will never have any chance except at a time (if that time should ever come) when the Tory interest shall be almost equally divided.

Dolben and Page were re-elected without opposition in 1784.

In 1771 Jones had written that the university

choisit ses réprésentans parmi ceux qui ont le plus de talent et de vertu ... La moindre recommendation de la part du ministère; la moindre cabal de la part du candidat, suffirait pour le faire rejetter.7

Although this is an idealized portrait, it remains true that the university of Oxford was one of the most dignified and genuinely independent constituencies in this period.

Author: J. A. Cannon


W. R. Ward, Georgian Oxford, University Politics in 18th Cent.

  • 1. Ward, 230.
  • 2. Letters of Samuel Johnson, ed. Chapman, i. 208-9.
  • 3. Nichols, Literary Anecs. viii. 252.
  • 4. Add. 38457, f. 324.
  • 5. Robt. Kaye to Portland, 24 Mar. 1768, Portland mss.
  • 6. Jones to Wilkes, 7 Sept. 1780, Add. 30877.
  • 7. Jones, Lettre à Monsieur A[nquetil] du P[erron].