Wootton Bassett


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

under 200 in 1690


 HENRY SOMERSET, Lord Herbert of Raglan
25 June 1660SIR BAYNHAM THROCKMORTON vice Lord Herbert, chose to sit for Monmouthshire
 Sir Walter St. John, Bt.
1 Apr. 1661SIR WALTER ST. JOHN, Bt.
14 Aug. 1679HENRY ST. JOHN
9 Feb. 1681HENRY ST. JOHN
26 Mar. 1685HENRY ST. JOHN
 William Hussey
17 Jan. 1689HENRY ST. JOHN

Main Article

Wootton Bassett never developed effective municipal institutions, and two neighbouring and related families, the St. Johns of Lydiard Tregoze and the Pleydells of Midgehall, controlled the corporation. John Pleydell was successful in every election in this period except those of August 1679 and 1689. His junior colleague at the general election of 1660 was Lord Herbert of Raglan, whose aunt, Lady Englefield, enjoyed Wootton Bassett as her jointure. Unlike her husband, she was a Protestant, and took an active interest in electoral matters. When Herbert was also successful for Monmouthshire, it became clear that a by-election would ensue. ‘Joyful May-day’ was celebrated at Wootton Bassett with a fervour unknown for many years. Lady Englefield provided a maypole from Vasterne Park, whereupon Sir Walter St. John, who had been defeated at Great Bedwyn, was compelled to swallow his puritan principles and produce another. Herbert was anxious to promote the election of his henchman, Sir Baynham Throckmorton. Lady Englefield apparently preferred a local Royalist, Sir John Glanville, Speaker in the Short Parliament; but widespread desertions to the St. John interest persuaded her to accept her nephew’s nominee. Two indentures, each signed by a different ‘mayor’, survive for the by-election. Throckmorton was returned on 25 June and St. John two days later. But Lady St. John was anxious for her husband to present a low profile at this juncture, and Throckmorton’s seat was not further challenged. In 1661, however, St. John and Pleydell were returned ‘with unanimous consent and assent.’1

The manor of Wootton Bassett was purchased in 1676 by the courtier Laurence Hyde, who was, however, far from becoming ‘master of the two burgess-ships’, as the lord chancellor (Heneage Finch) erroneously believed. He was indeed returned himself at both elections of 1679, but partnered successively by Pleydell and St. John’s son, Henry, both probably moderate members of the country party. It is not known whether Pleydell stood at the August election, after which Hyde sought to increase his control of the borough by a new charter. But at the next election he lay under impeachment, and Pleydell and Henry St. John were returned unopposed. Nevertheless, in August 1681 the corporation produced a loyal address approving the dissolution. Hyde was created Earl of Rochester in the following year, and the same Members represented the borough in James II’s Parliament, though not without opposition. The unsuccessful candidate, a younger brother of Sir Edward Hussey, was a Turkey merchant whose interest in this borough is unknown. His petition was never reported.2

Rochester retained sufficient interest at Court, even after his fall, to preclude any attack on the borough. The King’s electoral agents in 1688 first ascribed an equal interest at Wootton Bassett to a Berkshire Roman Catholic called Moore. But later they conceded that the electors ‘will choose such as his lordship will nominate’. Both reports seem to have been incorrect, for in 1689 Henry St. John was re-elected, not with Pleydell, who at the age of 88 had presumably retired, but with the son of the republican John Wildman I, who lived some ten miles away. There may well have been a contest, since the 112 ‘inhabitants’ named on the indenture were described only as ‘the major part’.3

Author: Leonard Naylor


  • 1. J. E. Taylor, Our Lady of Batersey, 80; Beaufort mss, Lady Herbert to Lord Herbert, 5 May 1660.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. ix. 199; HMC 7th Rep. 467; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 310; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 279-80; Luttrell, i. 118; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 530; CJ, ix. 723.
  • 3. Duckett, Penal Laws (1882), 211, 227.