Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

‘in the bailiffs, magistrates, freeholders of 40 shillings per annum, and all that hold by burgage tenure, and in such freemen only of the said city as are enrolled, paying scot and lot there’ (1718)

Number of voters:

about 700, not counting annuitants (see below)


(1801): 4,712


19 June 1790THOMAS ANSON 
14 Jan. 1795 LORD GRANVILLE LEVESON GOWER vice Gilbert, vacated his seat 
2 Mar. 1799 SIR JOHN WROTTESLEY, Bt., vice Leveson Gower, vacated his seat295
 Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley, Bt.239
24 Feb. 1806 GEORGE ANSON vice Anson, called to the Upper House 
4 Nov. 1806GEORGE ANSON 
6 Oct. 1812GEORGE ANSON 
18 June 1818(SIR) GEORGE ANSON 

Main Article

In an interview with Buonaparte on Elba in 1814, Vernon, one of the Lichfield Members, was asked ‘about my seat in Parliament, what place I represented, what was the right of voting, what the number of my constituents and whether any and what influence preponderated among them’.1 Although Lichfield was classed as an open borough, control of it had been shared since 1747 by the Ansons of Shugborough and the Leveson Gowers of Trentham. The combination was opposed until 1761, but tightened its hold thereafter. Oldfield commented in 1792:

The patrons of this city have contrived by the most admirable finesse to make the burgage holds, which they have been careful to purchase up at an immoderate expense, give two votes each, or in the election phrase, to carry double. The mode by which this masterpiece of craft has been effected is as follows: the Marquess of Stafford and Mr Anson, possessing the fee simple of the burgage holds, convey them to certain friends and dependants on the eve of an election, by which they create as many electors as they have burgage tenures to qualify. They then cause an annuity of forty shillings per annum to be granted upon each tenement, by which means they establish just the same number of freeholders. The surreptitious electors outnumber the enrolled freemen, and forming a majority, depute two delegates to the British senate.2

When Thomas Anson succeeded his father as Member in 1789, Lord Stafford discouraged Pitt from opposing him on political grounds, by reference to the long connexion of their families and to Anson’s youth—he might not follow his father’s Whig line. He did so, and by 1797 had to be ‘indefatigable’ in cultivating his interest ‘in the hope of doing away the resolution formed there of never bringing him in again for Lichfield’.3 Yet it was not he who met with a challenge. In 1799, when Stafford’s son transferred to the county seat, his nominee for Lichfield, Sir John Wrottesley, met with opposition from Sir Nigel Gresley of Drakelow, whose grandfather had championed the independent interest in 1753. Gresley was put in nomination by his relative Richard Dyott of Freeford Hall, later his successor as recorder of the borough, who inveighed against the ‘hereditary interest in this place’ and called on the electors to emancipate themselves. The ten-day contest ended in disorder. The successful Wrottesley was ‘hissed, pelted, etc.’ and ‘the two mobs got to such dreadful fighting, riot and confusion that they thought it best for him to quit the town’. A contemporary analysis of the poll showed that Gresley had the advantage over Wrottesley in the votes of the magistrates and freeholders (115 to 108), of the established burgage holders (73 to 43) and of freemen (51 to 19), but that Wrottesley had the benefit of the votes of 34 annuitants, of 42 burgages grantedad hoc by Lord Stafford, of 43 granted likewise by Thomas Anson, of three granted jointly by them and another three granted by their friends Lords Bagot and Bradford. Of residents, Gresley polled 165 to Wrottesley’s 78.4

This contest was not unexpected. The Staffords knew that they could expect difficulties in imposing a locum tenens until a member of the family was available; but, as their friend Canning put it, ‘it will cost some money now, and must lay the foundation for much trouble hereafter’. Gresley threatened to return to the fray at the general election, though the Staffords doubted whether he could afford it. In this they were right, for Gresley informed Richard Dyott that, having spent about £5,000 and finding that more money had been advanced to the freemen during the election than he had authorized, he would spend no more, willing as he was to remain champion of the independent interest. In November 1801 the report was that ‘each party has been building and giving away houses to qualify voters’.5

Anson and Wrottesley presented a united front in 1802. Gresley, chosen recorder the year before, was joined briefly by one of Lord Uxbridge’s sons: a bad omen, for Uxbridge’s hostility to the Staffords’ predominance in the county was no secret, but it came to nothing. On 21 May Lady Sutherland saw signs that ‘Lord Uxbridge has given up the opposition’. An attempt was then made to force a compromise. Gresley’s friends on the corporation proposed Richard Dyott or his brother Col. William Dyott as his partner, it being supposed that Gresley would in fact make way for one of the Dyotts on a compromise, but Gresley would not risk an all-out contest, and ‘quitted the field’.6

In February 1806 Anson, who obtained a viscountcy, secured his brother’s unopposed return at the cost of £1,097. At the general election that year the Staffords replaced Wrottesley with a young kinsman of theirs and of the Ansons, and there was no further opposition. The independents attempted one in 1807, when 59 of them invited William Dyott to be their candidate, 30 Apr. Dyott at once accepted, but on scrutiny found that he stood no chance and declined, 5 May. He was thwarted by the annuities ‘granted to strangers for the sole purpose of depriving you of your elective franchise’. An estimate of the party strengths sent to Dyott, 16 May, showed:

Totalfor Anson and Vernonfor Dyott
[40 not rated]
Freeholders (outvotes)20012575
Freeholders (Lichfield)12020100



Dyott was informed by Thomas Levett that his supporters were prepared to back his candidature at the next opportunity by subscription, but that he would need £3,000, and that his brother Richard was a liability, being ‘much too rash’. On 21 May Lady Stafford reported:

The safety of Lichfield depends entirely on annuitants, and I hear that the enemies there threaten to obtain an Act of Parliament to alter the constitution of the borough, we hope however that may not be so easily done.

On 30 May 1807 an anonymous writer to the Staffordshire Advertiser, a member of Dyott’s camp, complained of annuitants being ‘summoned from Shropshire, Norfolk, Middlesex and Wales’, if necessary. From the same source, ‘A friend to freedom’ complained, 16 June, that 50 more annuitants had been added to the ‘corrupt list’ of ‘snatch papers’.7

In 1812 it was the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, who was prepared to see a change: ‘I must naturally be anxious to see friends of the P.R.’s govt. substituted for opponents in any palce where there may be a reasonable expectation of success.’ So he wrote to Lord Uxbridge on the eve of the dissolution to justify a suggestion made to him ‘that perhaps General Dyott might offer himself as a candidate for Lichfield and if he had your support he would have a very good prospect of success’.

Nothing came of this and there was ‘no difficulty’ at Lichfield. After the election, Vernon could boast of his pro-Catholic views: ‘he says the mob were with him, but the gentlemen mostly against him’, but ‘they all like being talked to’.8 In 1818 the junto’s hold was a matter for bitter satire, and although the elction itself was quiet, further challenge could be expected.9

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Philbiblon Soc. Misc. viii. 11.
  • 2. Boroughs, ii. 95.
  • 3. Leveson Gower, i. 17, 170; PRO 30/8/180, f. 100.
  • 4. Vernon Wentworth mun., Pigot to Mrs Vernon, Sat. night [Mar. 1799]; Staffs. RO, Dyott mss 10/1/2, Dyott’s speech at the nomination; Dyott’s Diary, i. 130; J. C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), iii. 15.
  • 5. Add. 38735, f. 165; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 6 Mar. 1799; Leveson Gower, i. 244; Dyott mss 10/1/2, Gresley to Dyott, n.d. and [Nov. 1799]; The Times, 30 Nov. 1801.
  • 6. Birmingham Ref. Lib. Assay office mss A86; G.2. 144, 214, 215; The Times, 25 May 1802; see STAFFORDSHIRE; PRO 30/29/5/4, f. 872; Dyott mss 10/1/4, Harwood to Dyott, 10 June 1802; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 185.
  • 7. Dyott mss 10/1/5, 17/4, passim; Fortescue mss, Lady Stafford to Genville, 21 May [1807].
  • 8. Add. 38328, f. 41; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld. Morpeth, 3, 7, Oct. 1812.
  • 9. Dyott mss D661/19/1/8; The Late Elections (1818), 175.