Available from Boydell and Brewer
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
over 1,500 in 1646; about 5,000 in 1747
|6 Mar. 1690||HON. JOHN GREY|
|7 Dec. 1693||SIR WALTER BAGOT, Bt. vice Chetwynd, deceased|
|7 Nov. 1695||HON. JOHN GREY|
|HON. HENRY PAGET|
|11 Aug. 16981||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|Hon. Robert Shirley|
|23 Jan. 1701||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|27 Nov. 1701||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|6 Aug. 1702||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|10 May 1705||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|SIR EDWARD BAGOT, Bt.|
|6 May 1708||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|19 Oct. 1710||HON. HENRY PAGET|
|13 Dec. 1711||HON. HENRY PAGET re-elected after appointment to office|
|7 Feb. 1712||CHARLES BAGOT vice Paget, called to the Upper House|
|17 Sept. 1713||RALPH SNEYD|
The marked absence of contested elections in Staffordshire was not a sign of exceptional political tranquillity, but rather testimony to the power of the county meeting. Traditionally the gentry met to agree upon candidates in order to avoid acrimonious and expensive elections. Such decisions were invested with the authority of the shire, and on more than one occasion the gentry threatened to combine their interests to compel dissidents to desist from forcing a poll or face the prospect of a humiliating public defeat.
In 1690 only one of the sitting Members, Hon. John Grey, decided to seek re-election. The Earl of Shrewsbury encouraged the pretensions of the Exclusionist ex-knight of the shire, Sir John Bowyer, 2nd Bt.†, but at a county meeting on 20 Feb. Walter Chetwynd I was selected to stand with Grey. It was rumoured that Hon. Henry Paget would challenge them, but in the event they were returned unopposed, an outcome consistent with the opinion expressed by one local correspondent that the gentlemen ‘seem unanimous for a Church man’. Upon Chetwynd’s death in 1693, a serious schism occurred in the ranks of the gentry. The Whigs, led by Philip Foley* and John Swinfen*, attempted to set up a candidate more sympathetic to their views. Initially they considered Thomas Foley III*, son of Thomas Foley I*, but, given his father’s reluctance to press his claims, they approached Henry Paget. Paget had strong claims to a seat, for although he was a non-resident, his family had large estates in the county and his father was the lord lieutenant. However, many Tories were reluctant to endorse him, not least because of the reputation of his principal supporters, who, as one observer noted, ‘should they propose an angel he would hardly pass amongst us without a doubt’. There was also some criticism made of the manner in which Paget’s candidacy had been managed, without consulting a wider body of opinion, and because the announcement of his intention to stand had pre-empted the traditional gentry meeting. In consequence, the Tories persuaded Sir Walter Bagot, 3rd Bt., to re-enter politics, using his prestige to gain the endorsement of a county meeting. This mark of legitimacy unleashed great pressure on Paget to avoid a contest with all its potential for disrupting the peace of the shire. As one upholder of local tradition noted:
We have ever unanimously made choice of the knights of our shire without either charge or trouble and if either Mr Foley or any of that gang should propose any other let him be who he will I am sure he will be heartily opposed by all.
To reinforce this implied threat, the gentry at the meeting subscribed to a circular letter calling for unanimity in support of Bagot and refuting the allegation that by their actions they had deprived the freeholders of their voice in the election. Faced with this clear challenge, Paget’s supporters offered conflicting advice: the more cautious counselled withdrawal, thereby to avoid the calumny of having divided the county and preserving good will for the future, whereas those more confident of his electoral strength argued that the county meeting had been manipulated by Bagot, despite professions of goodwill, and favoured forcing a poll. Without the certainty of victory Paget opted for withdrawal, leaving Bagot to be returned unopposed.2
Paget’s decision probably paved the way for his assumption of a county seat at the 1695 election on the retirement of the gout-ridden Bagot. At the autumn assizes in 1695 he was chosen as a candidate along with Grey. A possible challenge from John Chetwynd* of Ingestre, who had been out-manoeuvred for the borough of Stafford, failed to materialize and they were returned unopposed. With an election due in 1698, and Grey having indicated his intention to retire, Hon. Robert Shirley, the heir to Lord Ferrers, began to make an interest. His solicitation of Sir Walter and Edward Bagot alarmed the latter, who himself had designs on the vacant seat. Furthermore, in asking for votes before the dissolution, Shirley was breaking with the tradition that the gentry meeting agreed upon candidates, in order to avoid such divisive electioneering. To counter this manoeuvre, Edward Bagot wrote many letters to the leading gentry informing them of this breach of local protocol and asking them not to pre-engage their votes before a county meeting had been held. This astute tactical ploy put Shirley in the wrong while in effect announcing his own candidature. With Paget firmly ensconced as the sitting Member, and refusing to be drawn into Shirley’s schemes, the way was paved for a joint Paget–Bagot interest, although on whose initiative it is not clear. Some Tories clearly preferred a Bagot–Shirley ticket, and in July a meeting was held at the Ferrerses’ Staffordshire residence, Chartley, with, among others, Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), in an attempt to bring about such an alliance. Ferrers seems to have been very active on his son’s behalf, obtaining the interests of such grandees as the dukes of Shrewsbury and Newcastle (John Holles†), although they differed with him in the Lords, which begs the question of the expected political stance of Shirley had he been elected. Indeed, in February 1699 Robert Price* wrote ‘my Lord Ferrers is made an English Earl being offended that the Staffordshire gentry set Mr Bagot against his son’, a rumour which implies that he was a government supporter at that time. If a gentry meeting was held it must have endorsed Paget and Bagot, but Shirley claimed he had engaged too many people to desist. In early August, with a poll only weeks away, there seems to have been an attempt at an accommodation under the auspices of John Chetwynd who hosted a meeting of Ferrers, Shirley, Sir Walter and Edward Bagot at Ingestre. It was proposed that one of the candidates should withdraw on the promise of a free run at the next election. It is possible that this meeting did reach a compromise, but it is unlikely as detailed plans for the mobilization and transportation of freeholders were being discussed over a week later. There are two pieces of evidence of an actual poll: the ambiguous statement by Lord Digby (William*) that ‘it is gone clear in Staffordshire for Paget and Bagot’ and the assessment by Sir Charles Lyttelton, 2nd Bt.†, on 22 Aug. that ‘Mr Bagot had many more voices than Mr Shirley, and I think Mr Paget more than both’. Nor can the existence of an agreement be proved with reference to its implementation at the following election, for the likely beneficiary, Shirley, died in 1699.3
Paget and Bagot now embarked on an unbroken partnership until the 1708 election when the latter retired, claiming ill-health. They were threatened with a contest in November 1701 when at least two men were reported to be making an interest: one was George Parker, the son-in-law of the Whiggish Lord Turton of West Bromwich, a judge in King’s bench, who was said to have only a small estate but ‘a great interest made for him’; the other, the father-in-law of ‘last Lord Dudley’s brother’, Thomas Parkes of Willingsworth. In the event neither of these men forced a contest. On hearing of a possible challenge to Paget in 1702, Lyttelton commented that it was a thing ‘which formerly nobody would attempt’, thereby indicating the strength of his interest. Upon Bagot’s retirement, John Wrottesley, a Tory, was chosen to partner Paget after a contest in which the Whigs put up the young Bryan Broughton†; ‘notwithstanding the indefatigable endeavours and some very unfair practices of the adverse party and the disadvantage of Mr Broughton having both his grandfather and father then alive we polled above 1,500 votes’. Wrottesley, however, polled around 2,000.4
In July 1709 Staffordshire society was divided by the omission of Henry Vernon I* (a Tory) and Bryan Broughton (a Whig) from the commission of the peace. The reason for their dismissal seems to have been a local legal controversy concerning a ‘very great man’. Vernon blamed Lord Paget and the Foleys, who in turn blamed the Duke of Hamilton. The county embarked on a concerted campaign to secure their reinstatement which was backed by both Whigs and Tories, but not the Foleys or ‘the courtier Mr Chetwynd’. Vernon thought that Broughton was using the issue to mount a challenge to Henry Paget, should the opportunity arise, and Dr William Lloyd lobbied Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*) on his behalf, precisely in terms of the damage to the Whig interest if he were left off the bench. A petition from the grand jury and justices secured their restoration in August. Broughton did make an interest in the county in 1709 but the ramifications of the Dr Sacheverell affair prevented him from securing a Tory partner. At the assizes in April 1710 a Tory address was carried promising to choose only Members who were ‘true and approved sons of the Church, dutiful and loyal subjects of the crown, and faithful to the succession as by law established’. This led Lord Chief Justice Parker (Sir Thomas*) to approach the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to ensure protection for those that refused to sign it. Such was the spread of Tory support that even the long-serving, but moderate, Henry Paget found himself under threat. Indeed, the Whig grandee, the Duke of Devonshire (William Cavendish*) was reported to be supporting him, at least until Paget took office in the Harley ministry as a Treasury commissioner. Not surprisingly, Newcastle, one of Robert Harley’s* strongest Whig allies and a key figure in his scheme of moderation, was keen to assist Paget’s re-election, even to the extent of approaching the Quakers. By early October, the only Whig candidate, Broughton, had desisted, although he was apparently still trying to sow dissension between the two remaining competitors for the other seat, William Ward and Charles Bagot. Bagot’s weakness was the fact that, as a younger brother, he had only a small estate and was likely to be opposed by some gentlemen on those grounds. A meeting of the gentry was called to mediate between the respective claims of the two men, whereupon Bagot stood down in favour of Ward upon the promise of a free run at the next election.5
In December 1711 Paget was re-elected to the Commons following his appointment as captain of the yeomen of the guard the preceding June. No sooner had he retaken his seat than he was raised to the peerage, thus necessitating a fresh election. On this occasion Charles Bagot was able to enter the House unopposed. At the 1713 election ‘the two last knights of the shire freely acquiescing for private reasons two young gentlemen are chosen’. The two men concerned, Henry Vernon II and Ralph Sneyd, were further noted to be ‘succeeding their predecessors in the known and dutiful principles of the constitution of the Church and government’. Yet again there was no contest, a tradition which was to endure throughout the 18th century with only two exceptions.6
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. The return is dated 11 Aug. but preparations were being made for an election on 16–17 Aug.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 470; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 28, f. 273; Harl. 7001, f. 350; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Foley mss E12/F/IV/BE, [–] to ‘honoured sir’, n.d.; 223, [Thomas Foley I] to Philip Foley, 1 Apr. 1692[–3]; 256, 267, 269, [Henry] Paget to same, 14 June, 25 Sept., 11 Oct. 1693; 273, 275, William Nabbs to same, 18, 21 Oct. 1693; Swinfen to same, 17 Oct. 1693; ‘gents. letter to the country’, 4 Oct. 1693; P[hilip] F[oley] to Paget, 5 Oct. 1693.
- 3. Add. 70018, f. 85v; 29578, f. 492; 29579, ff. 40, 46; Wm. Salt Lib. Stafford, Bagot mss D/172/3/291, J. Bowyer to Mrs Bagot, 12 Feb. 1687[–8], E[dward] B[agot] to ?, n.d., 1 Mar. 1698, [Henry] Paget to Bagot, 8 Feb., Mar. , 4 Aug. 1698, John Pershall* to Charles Skrimsher, n.d., same to [Bagot], 4 Aug. 1698, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, to same, 10 Feb. 1698, Robert Shaw to same, 14 Aug. 1698; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 396; Egerton 2540, f. 111.
- 4. Add. 29579, ff. 338, 367; 32712, f. 283; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F55, ff. 80–81.
- 5. Panshanger mss D/EP/F55, ff. 80–81; Staffs. RO, Gower mss D593/P/16/1/2a, Henry Vernon II to Ld. Gower, 13 Aug. 1709; D593/P/16/2/4/5, grand jury to Cowper, 10 Aug. 1709; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 245; W. A. Speck, Birth of Britain, 177; Add. 61652, f. 218; 61830, f. 51; HMC Portland, ii. 216; iv. 608–9; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D868/9/67, John White to Lady Gower, 21 Aug. 1710; HMC 5th Rep. 208.
- 6. Add. 70203, Thomas Orme to Ld. Oxford, 14 Oct. 1713.