Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in inhabitants paying scot and lot
Estimated number qualified to vote:
650 in 18311
5,698 (1821); 6,129 (1831)
|7 Mar. 1820||JOHN RAMSBOTTOM|
|SIR HERBERT TAYLOR|
|11 Feb. 1823||EDWARD CROMWELL DISBROWE vice Taylor, vacated his seat|
|12 June 1826||JOHN RAMSBOTTOM|
|SIR RICHARD HUSSEY VIVIAN|
|30 July 1830||JOHN RAMSBOTTOM|
|SIR RICHARD HUSSEY VIVIAN|
|10 Feb. 1831||EDWARD GEORGE GEOFFREY SMITH STANLEY vice Vivian, vacated his seat|
|30 Mar. 1831||JOHN RAMSBOTTOM|
|EDWARD GEORGE GEOFFREY SMITH STANLEY|
The Castle, in its capacity as a royal residence and centre for the Court, was central to Windsor life, and was the principal factor in the continued growth and prosperity of what was essentially a small and backward market town, with no significant industry other than brewing. Charles Knight, editor of the liberal Windsor and Eton Express until 1826, recalled that on the death of Queen Charlotte in 1818, when the Castle household was largely broken up, the Court ‘ceased to have any moral influence at Windsor. We had become as most other country towns’. The rebuilding and improvement of the Castle to transform it into a lavishly appointed royal palace which was initiated by George IV in 1824 dominated the local scene for over ten years, providing much employment and eventually giving the royal presence the highest profile which it had enjoyed since the onset of George III’s illness.2 Since 1806, following a decade of electoral turbulence, the representation had been divided between the Court and town, or independent, interests, an arrangement which continued throughout this period, when there were no contests. In effect, the independent seat was in the hands of the Ramsbottom family, who were wealthy and popular local brewers and bankers, in partnership with William Legh, a member of the corporation from 1819. John Ramsbottom, who had succeeded his uncle as Member in 1810, in fact held it for life, his security not threatened by his apparently indifferent record of attendance at the House, where his independent line led him to act generally with the Whigs. On the death of Edward Disbrowe, former chamberlain to Queen Charlotte, in November 1818, he had been replaced in the Court seat by Lord Graves*, a lord of the bedchamber. There was much venality among the inhabitants, who expected a random distribution of money at each election. The corporation, which consisted of ten aldermen, three benchers and 15-17 common councilmen, and was composed almost exclusively of local tradesmen, with a tradition of dynastic succession, played no significant electoral role.3
At the general election of 1820 Graves made way for Sir Herbert Taylor, former private secretary to George III and Queen Charlotte, who, despite his qualms at the prospect of combining the work of a Member of Parliament with that of military secretary to the commander-in-chief, to which he was appointed at the same time, came in at the pressing request of the new king.4 This development put paid to the hopes of the Grenvillite Whig, Pascoe Grenfell, who, anticipating the loss of his seat for Great Marlow, had been encouraged by Lord Grenville to think that there might be a chance for him at Windsor on the Court interest, if ministers could be interested in his predicament; in the event, Grenfell was successful at Penryn.5 The populace of Windsor celebrated the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline in November 1820; but on 1 Dec. the town hierarchy met to vote an address of loyalty to the king. Ramsbottom, who went on to vote silently in support of the queen, took exception to the description of the pro-Caroline press as ‘mercenary and corrupt’; and on his insistence an ad hoc committee was named to modify the language of the address in this particular.6 As he had expected, Taylor found his two roles impossible to sustain, and at the start of the 1823 session he vacated for his brother-in-law, Disbrowe’s son, a career diplomat.
The foundation stone of a new parish church was laid in September 1820, and the building was completed, at a cost of over £14,000, in 1822, when a new bridge was built to connect Windsor with Eton on the opposite bank of the Thames. Work on the Castle, to the designs of Wyatville, began in 1824. George IV took possession of the new private apartments in 1828, but the whole enterprise, which cost above £1,300,000, was not finished until 1836.7 The growing contrast between the splendour of the Castle and the cramped squalor of the streets which surrounded it prompted a move to promote town improvements. A committee was formed in February 1825, but little was achieved, and the scheme was abandoned in December 1830 amid considerable public acrimony, not least as expressed by James Bedborough, a successful builder, who had profited handsomely from contracts for the Castle improvements and was the leading man of liberal views on the corporation.8 Petitions from Windsor were scarce, but the dean and canons of St. George’s Chapel sent up anti-Catholic ones, 14 Apr. 1823, 15 Apr. 1825.9 In January 1825 the distinguished Peninsular veteran, General Sir John Oswald of Dunniker, Fifeshire, was informed by one Thomas Chalmers, an officer in the Tower Hamlets militia who came from Kirkcaldy, that there was a chance of his being returned at the next general election for ‘a respectable borough ... the principal inhabitants of which will pledge themselves to bring in any ministerial candidate at very trifling expense’. Asked by Oswald to elaborate, he explained:
My friend from Windsor ... expressed that himself and other two who would be in your interest could turn the scale any way ... My friend expresses confidence in Mr. Disbrowe’s readiness in making an identity of interest with ... [you] for several reasons, because Mr. D. is not rich man, and would endeavour ... to prevent opposition ...Your political principles have the same bias and the same interest would return both ...Any opposition Ramsbottom could make would not last two days ... I ... assure you ... that a very powerful party are determined to oust Ramsbottom.10
Nothing came of this. Disbrowe voted with Ramsbottom for Catholic relief, 1 Mar. 1825, shortly before leaving for Russia, where he had been appointed secretary of embassy; and in October 1825 the king informed him through Taylor that because of this vote he would not be returned at the next general election.11 There was excitement and panic in Windsor in December 1825, when the London bank on which the firm of Ramsbottom and Legh drew stopped payment. With the assistance of Knight, now largely based in London as a publisher, enough ready cash was scraped together to prevent a run on the bank and to restore confidence in it; Ramsbottom’s financial problems lay in the future.12 At the general election of 1826 Disbrowe was replaced on the Court interest by Sir Richard Hussey Vivian, Member for his native town of Truro in the 1820 Parliament, a cavalry officer with a distinguished war record, an equerry to the king, and a political acolyte of his former commanding officer, the marquess of Anglesey. He was led to expect that the seat would cost him about £1,000 in the first instance, and rather less subsequently; and he paid £974 in ‘ready money’ after his return.13 He duly promised on the hustings to oppose Catholic claims, while Ramsbottom stood by his support for them. As usual, both Members threw silver coins into the crowd as they were separately chaired, and free beer was distributed.14
Ramsbottom did not vote in the division on Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, when Vivian paired with the hostile majority. The following month the courtier William Fremantle of nearby Englefield Green, whose patron, the duke of Buckingham, unwilling to support Canning’s new ministry, had given him notice to quit his seat for Buckingham, asked the king’s secretary if he might be accommodated at Windsor, ‘where I am so well known, and where I think I could be of use to His Majesty by my constant residence in the neighbourhood’. Such an arrangement was contingent on Vivian’s being appointed to office and provided with a seat elsewhere; but Vivian was not taken into the government.15 The Protestant Dissenters of Windsor petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June 1827, 25 Feb. 1828, and local Catholics for emancipation, 8 May 1828.16 Ramsbottom voted for and Vivian against the former; and on Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, Vivian was hostile, but Ramsbottom only paired in its favour. It was reported in February 1829 that a bid by ‘some wretched fanatics’, who were responsible for anti-Catholic graffiti and placards, to get up a petition against emancipation had been thwarted by ‘the good sense of the inhabitants’. A stir was caused by the anticipated appearance of Daniel O’Connell* as a guest at the White Hart, but it turned out to be one of his brothers.17 Both Members supported the government measure, Vivian explaining that he did so pragmatically, and with great reluctance. A rumour that William IV intended to bring in his eldest illegitimate son, Colonel Fitzclarence, at the general election of 1830 proved to be unfounded, and Vivian, who had just been made a groom of the bedchamber, and estimated his costs at £800 and £150 annually, came in again with Ramsbottom. On the hustings, Vivian explained his change of mind on Catholic relief, while Ramsbottom advocated ‘moderate and rational’ parliamentary reform. 18
On the formation of the Grey ministry in November 1830 Anglesey was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland. His wish to have Vivian as commander-in-chief of the forces there, as soon as the incumbent, Sir John Byng*, could be prevailed on to retire, was acceptable to ministers. It was taken for granted in early December that in this eventuality Vivian would vacate Windsor. Grey asked the king, 5 Dec., to give the seat to Charles Richard Fox*, the son of Lord Holland, a member of the cabinet. William vetoed this proposal, claiming the anticipated vacancy for Fremantle, who was ‘well known at Windsor’ and would be a reliable government supporter. In communicating this to Grey, Taylor, now the king’s private secretary, gave as an additional reason his belief that Fox’s return would ‘occasion great soreness and jealousy’ in Fitzclarence, whose embarrassing ‘fancy to be in Parliament’ he had always resisted. Almost immediately afterwards, Grey asked the king to make the seat available to Edward Smith Stanley, who was facing defeat by Henry Hunt at Preston in the by-election necessitated by his appointment as Irish secretary. The king readily agreed, Fremantle was set aside and Taylor informed Grey, from personal experience, that the expenses of the election would amount to ‘about £1,000, and the annual subscriptions, charities, etc., to something less than £100’.19 When Smith Stanley’s seat was seen to be lost beyond recovery by scrutiny or petition, Anglesey was asked to make the requisite arrangements. He was squeamish about broaching retirement to Byng, whose son was married to his daughter and sat for his borough of Milborne Port, but Byng expressed his readiness to stand down at once for Vivian. Anglesey, however, assured Byng that he need not do so until the expiration of his three years’ service the following June and took it for granted that Vivian would comply with his request to vacate Windsor as soon as Parliament reconvened, even though he would not be taking up the Irish appointment for another five months.20 Vivian, who claimed to have been led to believe by the late and present kings that he had ‘a seat for life’ at Windsor and did not consider the Irish command incompatible with Parliament, made difficulties, which Grey thought he had got over by persuading him to accept promotion to lieutenant-general on the Irish staff until Byng retired. To Grey’s considerable irritation, Vivian subsequently made yet more complaints and, pleading the poor state of his wife’s health (she was in fact dying), turned down this arrangement, though he had little choice but to acquiesce in the immediate vacation of his seat if ministers and the king insisted on it. When they did so, Vivian, who left the decision as to whether he was entitled to a refund of part of his 1830 expenses to the government’s election managers, nursed his wife at Dover rather than chaperoning Smith Stanley at Windsor, and Smith Stanley was duly returned, at a cost of almost £1,500. There had been rumours of an opposition, but in the event there was no trouble.21
In late March 1831 a correspondent of the Express condemned the habitual political apathy of Windsor, where no meeting had taken place to endorse the ministerial reform bill. In the following weeks the newspaper alleged that two attempts, initiated by Legh, Doctors William Fergusson and William Rendall, and William James Voules, an attorney and member of the corporation, to promote such a meeting had been suppressed by ‘an attempt at dictation’ from the Castle. It was said that Taylor, in ‘a direct tampering with the king’s name’, which had wilfully misrepresented William’s views, had indicated royal disapproval to the mayor, John Bannister, who had refused the first requisition; and that Legh had been directly ordered to abandon the project on the second occasion. The allegations were given national publicity by The Times. On the other hand, the local Tory press, coming to Taylor’s defence, stated that he had merely told Bannister, who had sought his advice, that
as it had not been usual to hold meetings of this description in Windsor, he thought it would be advisable not to introduce a practice which might become a source of annoyance to their Majesties, and might occasionally be productive of disturbance and violence, from which this place of royal residence had hitherto been free.
For his own part, Taylor, who attributed ‘jealousy and suspicion and abuse and misrepresentation’ to ‘party spirit and prejudice’, told his brother that he had nothing with which to reproach himself: ‘I can defy anyone to produce a letter to quote, a word or report, a whisper, which can commit me or show that I have wandered from the strict line of my duty’.22
At the general election precipitated by the defeat of the reform bill, the enthusiasm for it in the town could not be denied expression. As soon as Ramsbottom and Smith Stanley came forward as its supporters, a requisition was got up by Bedborough and Robert Blunt, a saddler and member of the corporation, offering to return them ‘without solicitation or expense’. Among the 327 signatories were Legh, Voules, Rendall, and the aldermen William Clode, James Eglestone and Robert Tebbott. Formal invitations were presented to and accepted by both men. A meeting to organize a subscription, 26 Apr. 1831, was chaired by the Rev. Isaac Gossett, vicar of Windsor, but effectively run by Bedborough. A committee of seven appointed to canvass opinion throughout the borough reported back that evening that only seven electors had been found hostile to the scheme. Subscriptions of one pound per head were collected to defray the costs. At the nomination, when Fergusson proposed Ramsbottom and Gossett proposed Smith Stanley, much was made of the king’s approval of the reform bill, which Smith Stanley, as a member of the government, explained and defended. He pointed to Ramsbottom’s local interests and connections as typical of the legitimate influence which it aimed to strengthen and perpetuate.23 In the House, 6 Aug. 1831, Alexander Baring, an opponent of the bill, used the example of Smith Stanley’s refuge in ‘the royal, but I must still add, the rotten borough of Windsor’ to illustrate his argument that such places were of value in providing seats for men of talent. The normally silent Ramsbottom was prompted to remark that although Smith Stanley was a minister, he would ‘never’ have been returned for Windsor had he not been a convinced reformer. The new mayor, John Clode, refused to accede to a requisition of 9 Oct. 1831, promoted by Fergusson, Rendall Voules and Bedborough, for a meeting to express continued support for the government and its bill after the measure’s rejection by the Lords, stating that it would make Windsor, on the king’s doorstep, ‘an arena for political warfare, the termination of which the youngest amongst us might not live to witness’. The requisitionists, provided with accommodation by William Clode, decided to go ahead regardless. When Ramsbottom gave the meeting his blessing, John Clode relented and made the town hall available. Samuel Tipper of Horton, a veteran reformer, who attacked the ‘rotten corporation’, criticized Gossett for approving the enfranchisement of tenant farmers, rambled at length on the subject of the national debt and moved an additional resolution thanking the requisitionists for having been ‘the means of breaking down a system, which had for so long existed, of doing everything through the instrumentality of a closed corporation’. This was too much for most of the corporators present, who forced him to delete the offending words. He did, however, succeed in narrowly carrying a vote of censure on the mayor, even though Ramsbottom spoke in his defence. The resolutions were embodied in an address to the king, which was presented to him on 28 Oct. 1831.24 In January 1832 the corporation appointed a finance committee to investigate the borough’s income and expenditure for the past ten years, with a view to making further economies. Its report, presented in September 1832, revealed no overt corruption in Windsor’s financial management.25
The boundary commissioners considered adding Eton to the revamped constituency, which was slightly extended into the parish of Clewer and received also the lower ward of the Castle, but decided against the idea, ostensibly because Windsor already had a sufficiency of £10 houses. According to Edward Littleton*, a member of the commission, Grey himself vetoed the inclusion of Eton (which he thought ‘ought to be done by analogy with other cases’) in deference to Smith Stanley’s shrewd suspicion that ‘the Eton parsons are not with the government’. The new constituency had a population of just over 7,000 and a nominally reduced registered electorate of 507.26 At the first reformed election, when Ramsbottom’s return was assured and Smith Stanley abandoned Windsor for the northern division of Lancashire, there was a late attempt by the local reformers to assert their independence of the Court interest. Smith Stanley’s replacement, Sir Samuel Brooke Pechell*, a lord of the admiralty, was opposed by the reformer Sir John de Beauvoir, and the election was fought on the issue of whether Windsor was to remain ‘a rotten borough’. Beauvoir was beaten into third place by only 25 votes. He was successful in 1835, when the Court candidate was of course a supporter of Peel’s Conservative ministry, but was unseated on petition. Crown interference in Windsor elections was voluntarily renounced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the occasion of the by-election precipitated by Ramsbottom’s death in 1845.27
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 599.
- 2. Fifth Hall Bk. of New Windsor, 1828-1852 ed. R. South, pp. ix-x; C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, i. 47-48, 221-3; PP (1835), xxvi. 236.
- 3. N. Gash, ‘Influence of Crown at Windsor and Brighton’, EHR (1939), liv. 653 and Politics in Age of Peel, 375; Fifth Hall Bk. pp. xiv-xv, xxiii; PP (1835), xxvi. 2932.
- 4. County Herald, 26 Feb., 11 Mar.; The Times, 8, 24 Feb., 8 Mar. 1820; Taylor Pprs. 184-5; Colchester Diary, iii. 126.
- 5. Add. 58977, ff. 165-71.
- 6. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 18 Nov.; The Times, 5 Dec. 1820.
- 7. R.R.Tighe and J.E. Davis, Annals of Windsor, ii. 597-621; W. Loftie, Windsor, 39.
- 8. Fifth Hall Bk. pp. xi-xii, xxviii; Berks. Chron. 19 Feb. 1825; Windsor and Eton Express, 16 Oct., 11, 18, 25 Dec. 1830, 1, 15 Jan. 1831.
- 9. CJ, lxxviii. 196; lxxx. 309.
- 10. Oswald of Dunniker mss VIA/2, Chalmers to Oswald, 15 Jan., 22 Feb. 1825.
- 11. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1215.
- 12. Knight, ii. 40-42; Berks. Chron. 17 Dec. 1825.
- 13. NLW, Vivian mss A 1051, 1057.
- 14. Berks. Chron. 10, 17 June 1826.
- 15. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/51/11/6.
- 16. CJ, lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 100, 332.
- 17. Windsor and Eton Express, 14, 21 Feb. 1829.
- 18. Vivian mss A 1131; Windsor and Eton Express, 10, 19, 31 July 1830.
- 19. Grey mss, Taylor to Grey 6 Dec.; Grey-William IV Corresp. i. 20-21, 32-33.
- 20. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 117/5, Grey to Smith Stanley, 10, 14 Dec.; Add. 51786, Fox to Holland [16 Dec.]; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28A-B/28; 28C, pp. 19-24.
- 21. Anglesey mss 28A-B/32, 34, 36; 31D/13; NLS, Ellice mss, Vivian to Ellice, 9 Jan.; Grey-William IV Corresp. i. 44-46, 127; Derby mss 124/4, Vivian to Gosset, 25 Jan., to Smith Stanley, 1, 3, 6 Feb.; Brougham mss, Smith Stanley to Brougham, 5 Mar.; Windsor and Eton Express, 5, 12 Feb. 1831.
- 22. Windsor and Eton Express, 26 Mar., 2, 9, 16, 23 Apr.; The Times, 9, 18 Apr. 1831; Add. 62954, f. 48.
- 23. Windsor and Eton Express, 23, 30 Apr.; Add. 62954, f. 48; New Windsor Election, 1831.
- 24. Windsor and Eton Express, 8, 15, 22 Oct. 1831.
- 25. Fifth Hall Bk. pp. xxiii, 21, 23-24.
- 26. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 35-37; Hatherton diary, 29 Dec. .
- 27. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 376-84.