Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of Qualified Electors:

54 from 1707 onwards

Number of voters:

55 in 1705; 54 in 17131


27 Feb. 1690THOMAS HOBY 
 William Wyndham23
25 Oct. 1695THOMAS HOBY 
27 July 1698CHARLES FOX 
6 Jan. 1701ROBERT EYRE 
 Charles Fox 
9 July 1701CHARLES FOX vice Mompesson, deceased 
24 Nov. 1701CHARLES FOX 
17 July 1702CHARLES FOX 
10 May 1705ROBERT EYRE38
 James Harris24
 Richard Kent162
5 May 1708ROBERT EYRE 
4 Dec. 1708EYRE re-elected after appointment to office 
6 Oct. 1710CHARLES FOX 
31 Aug. 1713CHARLES FOX50
 Robert Pitt283
15 Mar. 1714SIR STEPHEN FOX vice Fox, deceased 

Main Article

Defoe found ‘a great deal of good manners and good company’ among the 7,000 or so inhabitants of Salisbury, ‘gentlemen’ as well as ‘citizens’. There was also a considerable clerical element in the population, which despite the Whig occupancy of the episcopal throne probably gave a weighty moral and, indirectly, electoral support to the Tory cause, and helped to balance the influence of the flourishing clothing industry, in which Dissent was strong. At the beginning of this period the corporation (mayor, aldermen and common councilmen) was still predominantly Whiggish in its party sympathies, and returned the two outgoing Members, Thomas Hoby and Thomas Pitt I, against the Tory William Wyndham, who was repeating an earlier challenge to Pitt in a by-election to the Convention. Wyndham petitioned, claiming that he had been denied election by the partiality of the Whig mayor, but when his case was heard, he argued only that some of Pitt’s voters, though elected to the corporation, had not been sworn and were therefore not entitled to poll, a point the House rejected. He had, however, come close enough to encourage other Tories in 1695. Charles Fox, Sir Stephen’s son, stood on the basis of his father’s previous association with the constituency, and the interest afforded by the propinquity of the family estate at Farley. He was joined byLord Coleraine (Henry Hare†), a defeated candidate for the county in 1690. Nor was there any shortage of Whigs. With Pitt transferring to Old Sarum, and Hoby possibly intending to retire, gentlemen like Thomas Jervoise* of Herriard were making inquiries. The two Whigs best placed to canvass the corporation were the young, and recently elected, recorder, Robert Eyre, and the veteran Sir Thomas Mompesson, who wished to transfer from Old Sarum and bring in a ‘friend’ there in his place. Mompesson ‘went about’ among the aldermen and common councilmen and soon established his candidature on such a sound footing that Eyre, for all that he had built up a ‘strong party’, deemed it discreet to withdraw. The Tories seem not to have pursued matters to a poll. In 1698 Hoby did at last retire. On this occasion he offered his interest to Jervoise, in order to help his patrons the Powletts in the Hampshire county election, but was turned down. Fox and Eyre now shared the representation. The recorder was able to advance his own standing with the corporation even further through his efforts in the Commons in 1699–1700 over the Avon navigation bill and another measure, requested by Salisbury clothiers, to repeal the Bonelace Importation Act, although neither of these bills actually reached the statute book. At the next election he took first place, Mompesson securing the second seat from Fox by the casting vote of the mayor. Fox protested against this practice in his petition, but before the committee could report Mompesson had died, and Fox was returned unopposed to the vacancy. He and Eyre were chosen without a contest at the two succeeding elections, the only indication of the party complexion of the corporation being a vigorous address in November 1701, stating ‘their abhorrence of the French King’s proceeding, in proclaiming the pretended Prince of Wales’.4

The 1705 election saw the first and only recorded intervention by Bishop Burnet in a Salisbury election, against Charles Fox. According to Burnet’s account he took this action by royal command:

Upon the Queen’s displeasure at the attempt to tack the bill against occasional conformity, when that Parliament came to its conclusion, she herself spoke to me with relation to the elections . . . She spoke severely of Mr Fox . . . This made me set my whole strength to keep him out, for I being lord [of the manor] of the whole town and having laid many obligations on the body in general, and most of the electors, I thought I might for once recommend one to them.

Burnet’s candidate was a local Whig lawyer, James Harris, and although Fox on this occasion had a Tory partner (a kinsman of his whose function was probably just to mop up as many second votes as possible from Fox’s supporters) the real contest was between Harris and Fox. Eyre attracted moderate Tory votes as well as Whig (15 of his 38 voters also polled for Fox) and easily took first place again. To Burnet’s discomfort, Harris was clearly beaten into third. It was an embarrassing experience for the bishop, especially as so many clergymen took Fox’s side, ‘ill treating’ Burnet’s men and, when the result was known, managing to run up a flag at the cathedral in triumph. As Burnet admitted, the incident ‘raised a most violent storm against me from the Tories in the corporation’. Explanations on the Whig side dwelt on the factiousness of the local clergy – the unfortunate side-effects of the bishop’s ‘too great zeal’ – and the fact that news of Fox’s dismissal from his paymaster’s place for supporting the Tack had not reached Salisbury in time for the election. What outside observers would not have been aware of was the change taking place in the balance of power within the corporation. One symptom was the election as town clerk in 1704 of Francis Swanton, a ‘grave, long-shank’d, pious, canting’ High Churchman; another was the successive election of Tories to the mayoralty in 1704 and 1705; a third was the disputed admission of three Tory aldermen, one of whom was then chosen as mayor in 1706. Accelerating party conflict in the corporation came to a head in October 1706 when the Tory majority, in view, as they said, of the various disputes that had arisen over the election of aldermen and common councilmen, resolved to petition for a new charter. In the meantime the contested admissions were to be accepted, and no new elections were to be made. Eyre, as cautious as ever, decided, after initial prevarication, to throw in his lot with the petitioners, much to the disgust of the Salisbury Whigs who accused him of betraying his ‘true interests’. He even managed to intervene at one point with the Duke of Somerset, long a patron of the corporation, to whom the Whig aldermen had applied for protection, asking him not to interfere with the terms of the new charter, so that the Tories obtained all they had asked for in the settlement of the procedures for municipal elections. When the new charter was read, in June 1707, an address of thanks was voted to the recorder, and a treat of wine ordered for him. The Whigs were bitter. Harris, who had been co-ordinating their efforts in the matter of the charter application, responded to an offer from Somerset to mediate between Eyre and his former friends by writing:

if Mr Eyre be in heart disposed to a reconcilement with the Whigs (which I should be glad to see, whatever his late behaviour to me has been) it behoves him, as I conceive, so to exert himself some way or other in their favour, as may induce them to a belief, that he does not think them so despicable, as they, it seems . . . are apt to imagine he does. I cannot think it possible to bring a disobliged party to forget their resentments, much less revive their friendship, on any other terms; let him show his works, they will not, I dare say, be wanting in faith.

One such example would be to join in trying to secure ‘the post and stamp offices’ in ‘our friends’ hands’. It would appear unlikely that, in this or in any other respect, Eyre offered more than words. As Burnet observed, the Tories were now in control of the corporation: Tory candidates were successful in mayoral elections under the new charter in 1707 and 1708 by majorities of over 20, and in the general election of 1708 Eyre was returned unopposed with Fox, with whom he now had an understanding and with whom he had co-operated over the charter. On his appointment as solicitor-general in October 1708 Eyre was re-elected, again without opposition, and his promotion to the bench in 1710, too late to require a by-election before the dissolution of Parliament, met with congratulations from Salisbury and a request that he continue as recorder. He did not, however, take any further part in parliamentary elections in the city.5

News of the light sentence imposed on Dr Sacheverell at his impeachment in 1710 produced celebrations in Salisbury. Immediately bells were rung, a bonfire was lit, and wine flowed freely. A week later there were further festivities, and some disorderly behaviour, with the result that a third proposed bonfire was banned by the corporation. Bishop Burnet, returning to the city after these incidents, was unwise enough to refer to them in a sermon in the cathedral, suggesting that tumults had been stirred up by papists. Tories in the corporation took offence, and the mayor and several aldermen staged a walk-out when Burnet preached at St. Thomas’ church the following week. Relations between bishop and corporation remained at this level of hostility throughout the summer, Burnet’s chaplain and a ‘citizen of New Sarum’ publishing conflicting accounts of the affair, and Burnet himself stoking passions higher with another sermon in which he denounced a passage in the corporation’s address of loyalty to the Queen on the occasion of the Sacheverell verdict. The effect of this atmosphere on the parliamentary election was to make a Whig candidature impossible. A Tory victory by 29 votes to 7 in the mayoral election showed the state of the parties. Fox was returned without having to set foot in the constituency and at a cost of only £35. The other seat was the subject of some preliminary sparring between Robert Pitt, son of Thomas, the Member in 1690, and another local squire, Peter Bathurst* of Clarendon Park. Both men were Tories, and after Bathurst had been frightened off by a combination of Thomas Pitt’s interest and a timely gift from Robert himself of £500 to the Salisbury workhouse, Pitt took his seat alongside Fox.6

The mayoral election of 1711 produced precisely the same result as in 1710, a High Tory winning by a margin of 29 votes to 7, and the corporation’s address on the communication of the peace terms in June 1712 was fiercely partisan, referring in scathing terms to the ‘dregs of faction at home’ and expressing the hope that peace would be concluded ‘to the confusion of all secret cabals and wicked artifices’. There were, however, signs of a new factionalism centred around the more moderate Toryism of the Pitts. Fox had been excluded from the presentation of the address through Robert Pitt’s speed off the mark in taking on the duty himself, a manoeuvre Fox’s friends ‘resented’ and believed was in some obscure way designed to gain an advantage over Fox in the constituency. Then, at the following mayoral election in November 1712, which Fox did not attend, Pitt ‘made a speech to the corporation that he hoped he had served them with honour and honesty in this Parliament and that as another Parliament was thought would soon be, he hoped that they would do him the same favour to choose him for the next, and a great deal more to the same effect’. The mayoral election itself was the closest for some years, a supporter of Fox taking it by just three votes. While the Fox interest seemed secure enough, and was bolstered by a further benefaction from Charles Fox to the city, it is noticeable that the address of thanks for the peace itself, in May 1713, was less strident and extreme in its Toryism. True, it deprecated ‘the many groundless fears and jealousies which have been factiously invented and industriously spread abroad, with design to alienate your people’s affections and to bring reproach upon your Majesty’s happy administration and government’. But the overall tone was more moderate than 1712, and the authors went out of their way to proclaim loyalty to the Hanoverian succession. When it came to the parliamentary election in August, Fox, though too frail to participate actively, was to be returned with the votes of all but four of the electors. His expenses on this occasion had risen to £250. Pitt, however, found himself under attack from the Duke of Beaufort, who felt an obligation to oppose one that had betrayed the Tory administration by opposing the French commercial treaty. Beaufort accompanied his protégé, Richard Jones of Ramsbury, in electioneering in the streets of Salisbury, where they met Robert Pitt. ‘After some very hard words’, Pitt flung back at the Duke the commission he held as a deputy lieutenant under Beaufort in Hampshire, and, as Beaufort told another Pitt, ‘took the liberty also to threaten me with complaining to the House of Commons of my meddling in elections’. At the poll itself ‘the struggle was hard’. Several Tories ‘joined the Whigs’, according to Harris, to bring Pitt to within two votes of Jones. Pitt’s stand over the commercial treaty may have turned to his advantage, as the likely effects of the treaty on woollen exports to Spain and Portugal (the principal market for Salisbury clothiers) had been causing considerable local anxiety. As he had threatened, Pitt included in his petition against Jones the charge that Beaufort ‘not only applied himself to the corporation in the council house, but in person from house to house, in favour of the said Mr Jones; by which the privileges of the Commons are invaded’. The petition was heard at the bar, when Jones was vindicated. No action was taken against Beaufort. Meanwhile the Pitt interest had continued to gain ground in the corporation, with the election of a Pittite as mayor in 1713–14. It still had some way to go, however, to overhaul that of the Foxes, and at the by-election in March 1714 brought about by the death of Charles Fox, the Pitts did not put up the candidate. Robert, whose petition was pending, had no need to abandon his vendetta against Beaufort, since he was already seated for Old Sarum. Sir Stephen Fox thus took his son’s place without a breath of opposition, and at a minimal cost.7

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 226.
  • 2. Dorset RO, Fox–Strangways mss, poll [1705].
  • 3. Ibid. poll 1713.
  • 4. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 189; Salisbury Guide (1825); CJ, xiii. 85; HMC Portland, viii. 27–28; Add. 70018, f. 94; C. Clay, Public Finance and Private Wealth, 172–3; Hants RO, Jervoise mss, Peter Terry to Jervoise, 2, 4 Sept. 1695; Hoare, Wilts. Salisbury, 495, 501, 712; Bolton mss at Bolton Hall, Thomas Cobbe to Mq. of Winchester (Charles Powlett I*) 6 May 1698.
  • 5. Burnet, Supp. ed. Foxcroft, 512–13; HMC Portland, iv. 213; Fox–?Strangways mss, Salisbury poll [1705]; Diary of Thomas Naish ed. Slatter (Wilts. Arch. Soc. recs. br. x), 60; Add. 17677 AAA, f. 299; Add. 61458, f. 160; Hoare, 502–5; Letters of Burnet to Duckett ed. Nichol Smith, 50; Jervoise mss, Harris to Jervoise, 9 Nov. 1706, 26 May, 23 June 1707, Peter Phelps et al. to Jervoise, 26 May 1707.
  • 6. VCH Wilts. vi. 120; Diary of Thomas Naish, 68–70; Add. 17677 DDD, f. 507; Hoare, 505; Fox–Strangways mss, William Davis to Fox, 30 Sept., 28 Nov. 1710, William Hillman to Fox, 30 Sept. 1710.
  • 7. Hoare, 505–7, 697; London Gazette, 19–21 June 1712, 5–9 May 1713; Fox–Strangways mss, Thomas Clifton to Fox, 24 June, 30 Nov., 18 Dec. 1712, Robert Pitt to Fox, 24 June 1712, William Bateman to Fox, 30 June, 13 Nov. 1712, John Gauntlett* to Fox, [24 June] 1712, Salisbury poll 1713, election expenses 1713–14; Beaufort mss at Badminton, Beaufort to Ld. Arundell, 15 Aug. 1713, to George Pitt*, 20 Aug. 1713; HMC Portland, v. 325; Jervoise mss, Harris to Jervoise, 30 Oct. 1713; CJ, xvii. 407; Boyer, Pol. State, vii. 265.