Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in inhabitant householders and, by Act of Parliament in 1804 (44 Geo. III, c.60), 40s. freeholders in the hundreds of Risborough, Stone and Aylesbury
Number of voters:
about 500 increased in 1804 to about 1,000
|16 June 1790||SCROPE BERNARD|
|25 May 1796||SCROPE BERNARD|
|8 July 1802||JAMES DU PRÉ||336|
|Thomas Francis Fremantle||34|
|Bent’s election declared void, 29 Feb. 1804|
|16 July 1804||WILLIAM CAVENDISH||485|
|3 Nov. 1806||GEORGE NUGENT|
|GEORGE HENRY COMPTON CAVENDISH|
|9 May 1807||(SIR) GEORGE NUGENT, Bt.||567|
|GEORGE HENRY COMPTON CAVENDISH||490|
|William Thomas Williams||413|
|14 Feb. 1809||THOMAS HUSSEY vice Cavendish, deceased|
|9 Oct. 1812||GEORGE GRENVILLE, Baron Nugent [I]|
|24 Nov. 1814||CHARLES COMPTON CAVENDISH vice Hussey, vacated his seat|
|27 June 1818||GEORGE GRENVILLE, Baron Nugent [I]||854|
|Charles Compton Cavendish||420|
The 1st Marquess of Buckingham, head of the Grenville family, gained a foothold at Aylesbury with the return of his private secretary Scrope Bernard at a contested by-election in 1789, when he defeated another local landowner, Gerard Lake, equerry to the Prince of Wales. Lake, who was supported by his fellow members of the Buckinghamshire Independent Club led by the Duke of Portland, continued to spend lavishly at Aylesbury, where venality was deep-rooted. Bernard feared that the Independent Club and other anti-Grenville elements in Buckinghamshire would attack in the borough rather than the county at the next general election and asked Buckingham, who was in Ireland as lord lieutenant, to add £1,000 to the £4,000 which he was prepared to spend in an attempt to retain the seat. The marquess did not at first relish the prospect of becoming embroiled in a contest, ‘unlimited in expense, versus his Royal Highness’, with no guarantee of taking permanent possession of the seat, but he evidently decided that the borough would repay investment. Liberal expenditure secured the unopposed return of Bernard and Lake in 1790 and again in 1796, when one Edward Maxwell threatened an opposition but ‘decamped ... in the fog’ on the morning of the election.1
Buckingham claimed shortly afterwards to be ‘very little interested’ at Aylesbury ‘beyond Bernard’s election’, but when Lake was appointed commander-in-chief in India in August 1800 it became clear that even that could not be taken for granted. John Sullivan*, a nabob with property in the county, came forward as prospective candidate, and in December another Buckinghamshire landowner, James Du Pré, intervened at the invitation of ‘a deputation of electors’, described by Bernard as ‘the dregs of Lake’s party’. Buckingham anticipated ‘real difficulties’, for he felt obliged to assist Sullivan who was, like his brother-in-law Lord Hobart, a staunch ministerialist, and feared that Bernard who had many enemies in the borough, might go to the wall. Sullivan soon left the field, probably at the persuasion of Buckingham’s brother, Lord Grenville, but 12 months later a third candidate emerged in the shape of Robert Bent, a London merchant and member of the Whig Club. The move to engage Bent seems to have been inspired by general dissatisfaction with Bernard, the enmity of James Neale and Robert Dell, the local banking rivals of his business associate William Rickford, and by a traditional spirit of hostility to aristocratic domination, which was harboured by a small group of genuinely independent men of substance and a considerably larger number of the poorer inhabitants, whose motives were purely mercenary. Bent’s initial offer of £3,500 if returned was received coolly and he had to make it unconditional. He and Bernard spent freely, but Du Pré’s failure to do likewise caused such disappointment that credence was given to a report that Buckingham had bought out his interest for £9,000. There was an attempt to find a fourth man to run with Bent, but none materialized. Du Pré opened his purse and the spoils to each voter averaged nine guineas. Bent and Du Pré easily defeated Bernard at the poll, but Buckingham’s acolyte Thomas Francis Fremantle* entered the contest on the morning of the election ‘in the hopes of succeeding by petition’. Bernard thought the damage could be repaired by the exercise of influence on the more menial voters, but some of Buckingham’s relatives and friends blamed the defeat on his own incompetence.2
It was not until 28 Nov. 1803 that petitions were lodged in the name of Fremantle and certain electors, charging Bent and Du Pré with bribery and corruption. The select committee confirmed Du Pré’s election, disqualified Bent and rejected Fremantle’s claims, 29 Feb. 1804, and recommended the House to deal with the systematic corruption which had come to light. Grenville and Buckingham promoted a bill which extended the franchise to 40s. freeholders in the three surrounding hundreds and thereby doubled the electorate. It passed the Commons on 8 May 1804, despite resistance from Foxites and the legal officers of administration, and emerged intact from renewed opposition in the Lords on 20 June.3
Bernard was eager to stand again but Buckingham, convinced that his election would be vindictively contested, passed him over and planned to return his nephew, Viscount Ebrington*. When news reached him of the intended opposition of the eldest son of Lord George Cavendish*, a prominent Foxite who had property at Latimer on the periphery of the new constituency, he persuaded his brother Thomas Grenville, Member for Buckingham, to stand, as he had ‘better pretensions in the county’. It seems likely that the Cavendish interference was made in the spirit and possibly in the name of the Independent Club, of which Lord George had been a founder member; one local observer described William Cavendish as standing on ‘the Portland interest’, he was actively supported by another member of the Club, Sir John Dashwood King*, and he received almost unanimous support from the freeholders of Aston Clinton, Lake’s sphere of influence. Buckingham too saw it as ‘a county hostility’, although his brother-in-law Lord Braybrooke thought it was purely opportunist and inspired by the desire of the Foxite Whigs to bring in Lord Bessborough’s son for Knaresborough, where William Cavendish had been returned only three months earlier. The fact that the Grenvilles and the Foxites had ‘coalesced lately in the Senate’ to bring down Addington created considerable interest in the contest. Despite Buckingham’s confidence his brother was defeated. Cavendish won a decisive majority of 50 votes in the old borough, where the electors divided in strikingly similar fashion to 1802: of the 240 who voted on both occasions, 118 who had supported Bent voted for Cavendish, 90 who had voted for Bernard supported Grenville and only 23 changed sides. The Grenvilles’ defeat seems to have been caused chiefly by the permanent hostility, both ‘respectable’ and venal, to their pretensions, which was aggravated by resentment of the ‘punishment’ inflicted by the Act and, ironically, by animosity in some quarters over their refusal to join Pitt’s second ministry when Fox was excluded.4
By fortifying their interest in the hundreds through the purchase and distribution to supporters of 40s. freeholds, the Grenvilles recovered their position, and in 1806 Buckingham and Cavendish each returned his own nominee. In 1807 Buckingham was alarmed by a report that Cavendish intended to withdraw his son, for
great pains have been taken to bring in a friend of government ... to be supported by the interests of Ld. Chesterfield, Ld. Hampden, and Ld. Lake; and the person ... was Mr Burrough, Ld. Lake’s son-in-law; who declined it, very much from considerations personal to me ... But ... any attempt now to withdraw the Cavendish would bring on an opposition very formidable to Ld. George, who is very weak, when deprived of those interests; and an expense very much increased to me.
Cavendish, whose conduct in the eyes of Buckingham’s son Lord Temple, ‘has not been quite so open as perhaps under all circumstances it ought to be’, was persuaded to put up his son; but opposition came from William Thomas Williams, a barrister who, according to Temple, was ‘picked up’ by ‘the disaffected’ at Aylesbury and enjoyed government support. Buckingham’s candidate came comfortably top of the poll, with Williams a respectable third. While Sir George Nugent exonerated Williams himself from exploitation of ‘No Popery’ feeling, the association of his name with the cry was partly responsible for his good showing. Williams stated the issue to be freedom from aristocratic control and accused his opponents of combining against him, but the patterns of voting, compared with those of 1802 and 1804, were complex and there is no convincing evidence of strategic manipulation of second votes on a significant scale.5
When George Cavendish was drowned at sea in January 1809 his father, with his younger sons still under age and having no ‘wish to impose any one on the choice’ of Aylesbury, had to cast about for a replacement. He sounded Robert Greenhill, the Whig Member for Thirsk, who had Buckinghamshire property, on the possibility of his standing, but, being prepared to support any one ‘that will come forward on the principles on which we have acted in the county’, was inclined on further reflection to think that the ideal man would be Sir Jonathan Lovett of Liscombe, his old associate in the Independent Club and still regarded as the head of the independent interest in the county. Lovett canvassed ‘for Lord George Cavendish’s interest’, but it is not clear whether he ever intended to stand himself. Meanwhile Temple had let it be known in Aylesbury that his family would not interefere in the choice of Cavendish’s successor, but when he learnt that the disaffected elements were preparing to bring down Williams he wrote urgently to William Fremantle, the Grenvillite man of business, pressing him to get Tierney, ‘under sacred promise of secrecy’ regarding his (Temple’s) part in the affair, to urge on the Cavendishes ‘the absolute necessity of not losing a single moment in sending down one of their family or their immediate connexions’. The message was presumably relayed to Cavendish for he persuaded his wife’s cousin, Thomas Hussey, an ageing Irishman who had an estate in the county, to stand as a stopgap.6 Hussey was quietly installed, and there was no disturbance in 1812, when he and Buckingham’s second son were returned, or in 1814, when he made way for Lord George’s fourth son on his coming of age.
In 1816 Oldfield wrote of Aylesbury as being under the joint control of Buckingham and Cavendish, but subsequent events revealed that neither man could take matters for granted. By 1817 Lord Nugent was politically at odds with his brother, now 2nd Marquess of Buckingham, who, with most of the Grenvillites, was parting company with the Whig opposition. Nugent, who remained loyal to the Whigs and opposed domestic repression in 1817, offered to surrender the seat but his brother resolved never to interfere with his tenure. At the general election of 1818 Rickford, the local banker, stood on an independent platform, avowedly in opposition to Cavendish alone. His challenge had been carefully planned and his appeal to the spirit of independence was enhanced by the generosity of his expenditure on entertainment. The Cavendishes, who had clearly been guilty of neglect and mismanagement, were ill prepared for the attack, and according to Buckingham were driven to try bribery as a last resource. The marquess solicited support for his brother, but Nugent, having been given a free hand politically, was able to appeal to much the same kind of opinion as Rickford, by declaring himself in favour of triennial parliaments and a reduction in the influence of the crown, and he easily topped the poll. Cavendish came a poor third, with his vote in the town reduced to a paltry 43 as against Rickford’s decisive 188. Of the 221 town voters who polled, 158 cast split votes for Nugent and Rickford, and in the hundreds, where Rickford and Cavendish finished with only seven votes separating them, 304 out of 826 freeholders did likewise.7
While Lord Buckingham welcomed the overthrow of the Cavendish interest, he recognized that the effects of Rickford’s success on the future tranquillity of borough and county politics were uncertain. His uncle Thomas sounded a warning note:
The friends of the disappointed candidate, will be rendered sore by their defeat, which they will certainly attribute rather to our want of co-operation, than to their own neglect and mismanagement; and the striking superiority of our interest, which appeared at both of the elections, will increase the jealousy of our family interest, and, perhaps, awaken more active combinations against it ... I hope ... we shall wear our laurels meekly and modestly.
His fears seemed to him justified when, in December 1819, Nugent’s opposition in the House to the Six Acts produced an address of approbation from some of his constituents, which included a threat to the county Members, one of whom was Buckingham’s son.8
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Bucks. RO, Lee mss D9/22-25, F2/111; Fremantle mss, Chaplin to Fremantle, 19 Apr., Bernard to same, 21 Apr. 1789; HMC Fortescue, i. 465; Spencer Bernard mss OL2/6; R. Gibbs, Bucks. ii 251-3, and Aylesbury, 247-8; True Briton, 27 May 1796.
- 2. PRO 30/8/117, f. 106; Fortescue mss, Bernard to Grenville, 25 Dec. 1800, 2 Aug. 1802, Du Pré to same, 21, 26 Dec. 1800; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 3/97; Spencer Bernard mss PFE3/7(a), 8(b), 8(d), 8(e), 15(f), 15(g), 26; Fremantle mss, J. E. to W. H. Fremantle, 12 July 1802; Gibbs, Bucks. iii. 6-17, and Aylesbury, 249-52; HMC Fortescue, vii. 99; R. W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 43-48.
- 3. Gibbs, Bucks. iii. 15-17; CJ, lix. 13, 81, 85, 111, 121; PP (1803-4), ii.; Parl. Deb. i. 1011; ii. 143, 387, 395, 396, 513, 531, 681.
- 4. Spencer Bernard mss PFE3/29, 31, 34; Add. 41851, ff. 223-6; 41856, f. 179; Berks. RO, Braybrooke mss, Braybrooke to Glastonbury, 2 July 1804; Bucks. RO, Dayrell mss AR39/53/74; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii. 359; Davis, 49-50; Fortescue mss, Newport to Grenville, 14 Sept. 1804.
- 5. HMC Fortescue, vii. 298; VCH Bucks. iv. 549; Gibbs, Aylesbury, 276-7; Add. 41851, f. 323; 41854, f. 35; Spencer mss, Temple to Spencer, 3 May; Fremantle mss, Temple to Fremantle, 4 May; NLW, Aston Hall mss 2544; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 16 May 1807; Davis, 50-54.
- 6. Blair Adam mss, Cavendish to Greenhill, to Titchfield, 28 Jan., Bull to Titchfield, 30 Jan.; Fremantle mss, Temple to Fremantle [27 Jan.] 1809.
- 7. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 79; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 7 May 1817, [30 June 1818]; Spencer mss, Buckingham to Spencer, 9 May 1818; Chatsworth mss 311, 322; Gibbs, Aylesbury, 278; The Late Elections (1818), 4-7; Davis, 55-58.
- 8. Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 2 July 1818; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 263; HMC Fortescue, x. 440, 451.