Oxford University


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in doctors and masters of arts

Number qualified to vote:

1,930 in 1820; 2,350 in 1828; 2,524 in 1831

Number of voters:

1,364 in 1829


24 Aug. 1821RICHARD HEBER vice Scott, called to the Upper House612
 Sir John Nicoll519
12 Feb. 1822PEEL re-elected after appointment to office 
22 Feb. 1826THOMAS GRIMSTON BUCKNALL ESTCOURT vice Heber, vacated his seat 
14 June 1826ROBERT PEEL 
4 Feb. 1828PEEL re-elected after appointment to office 
28 Feb. 1829SIR ROBERT HARRY INGLIS, bt. vice Peel, vacated his seat755
 Robert Peel609

Main Article

By convention, Members and candidates neither addressed nor canvassed the university, and indeed were forbidden to approach within ten miles of it during elections. Aspirants to what was regarded as a great honour were therefore dependent on the exertions of influential friends and supporters in the constituent 19 colleges and five halls. Once elected, Members could in normal circumstances count on retaining their seats for as long as they wished. The numerical dominance of Christ Church, which claimed one seat, but could not afford to provoke a hostile combination of other colleges against it, is obvious from the following lists of voters compiled in 1828 and 1831 (figures for the latter year are in brackets): Christ Church 429 (463); Brasenose 218 (226); Queen’s 153 (166); Oriel 151 (154); St. John’s 125 (119); Magdalen 122 (129); University College 112 (105); Exeter 99 (124); Trinity 96 (110); Balliol 92 (101); Worcester 88 (92); Corpus 82 (81); Wadham 77 (81); Pembroke 77 (85); Merton 68 (64); All Souls 67 (68); New College 65 (71); Lincoln 55 (73); Jesus 53 (63); St. Edmund Hall 51 (52); St. Mary Hall 37 (41); Magdalen Hall 25 (52); St. Alban Hall 7 (3); New Inn Hall 1 (1).1 The majority of the electors, of course, were non-resident, but susceptible, as members of the political and social elite, to the normal pressures of influence and patronage. The temper of Oxford itself in this period was overwhelmingly Tory and anti-Catholic. The Christ Church Member in 1820 was the leading Commons opponent of Catholic relief, Robert Peel, the youngest ever choice (aged 29) of the university in 1817 and a rising ministerial star, though he was currently out of office. His colleague was the aged (74) and eminent civil lawyer and judge of the admiralty court Sir William Scott, a graduate of Corpus and quondam fellow of University College, the elder brother of lord chancellor Eldon, who had sat since 1801.

He and Peel were quietly returned at the general election of 1820.2 After a rowdy illumination of the city to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, 13 Nov. 1820, the university and civic authorities intervened to prevent another one. It was contentiously asserted that there was much support for Caroline in the university, but convocation voted a loyal address to the king, 9 Dec. 1820.3 Their petitions to the Commons, 12 Mar., and the Lords, 26 Mar. 1821, against Catholic relief, were respectively presented by Scott and the pro-Catholic chancellor of the university Lord Grenville.4 In July 1821 Scott was created Baron Stowell. The vacancy was contested between Richard Heber of Brasenose, a bibliophile with a fading reputation for academic brilliance and a long-time aspirant to the representation, who had been beaten at the poll in 1806 and failed in another bid for the seat in 1814, and Sir John Nicholl of St. John’s, the friend and protégé of Scott and a leading civilian, currently Member for Great Bedwyn.5 Nicholl, a reliable supporter of the Liverpool ministry, was an uncompromising opponent of Catholic relief, but Heber, who attracted Whig support, was suspect on this issue.6 Samuel Smith of Christ Church told Lord Colchester, Peel’s predecessor as Member, 4 July 1821:

Although Mr. Heber has the advantage of a long and persevering canvass of many years, yet from this very circumstance considerable spirit of opposition to him has arisen, and what he and his friends appear to have considered as his greatest security will very probably occasion his failure. Besides, he has not answered the expectations of many who thought very highly of him 16 years ago. And as to matters political, and especially as to the Catholic question, he has not only not made any declaration of his sentiments, but he has even studiously avoided giving any hint of his opinion either by himself or his friends.7

The Whig John Whishaw reported to Lady Holland, 16 July:

Heber has very active committees, of which Charles [Williams] Wynn [Grenvillite Member for Montgomeryshire] is the chairman in London, and Dr. [Frodsham] Hodson ... [principal of Brasenose] at Oxford. He has for his supporters the Grenvilles, most of the lawyers and town [London] voters, all Brasenose and Oriel Colleges, and a part of Christ Church, besides several heads of houses, especially Coplestone [of Oriel], who has exerted himself to so great a degree as to be obliged to take to his bed. On the other hand, Sir John Nicholl has the [lord] chancellor and Sir William Scott, Doctors’ Commons, his own college ... All Souls, Corpus, all the leading people connected with Christ Church ... (the dean excepted, who belongs to Heber), Queen’s and Magdalen Colleges, and the greater part of the residents. The ministers take no active part; but Lord Liverpool and Lord Sidmouth [the home secretary], particularly the latter, are very favourable to Heber, who sometime since was considered very sure of his election. His popular manners, his great library, his genuine Toryism and his arduous canvass of near 15 years give him great pretensions; but the High Churchmen have raised a great cry, and accuse him of travelling in stage coaches, of living at a brewery, of associating with the opposition and being favourably disposed towards the Catholics. To Sir J. Nicholl nothing can be objected but his temporary connection with the Whigs in 1806, which he has redeemed by an undeviating opposition to them, when out of office. The contest will be very keen, and much will depend upon delay in the election, which will be favourable to Nicholl, as he is considered as having the merits, the activity and general talents being with Heber.8

Nicholl had an awkward problem, in that it became clear that if he stood and was beaten, the patron of Bedwyn, Lord Ailesbury, might not bring him in again. Encouraged by the report of his son, whom he sent to Oxford to consult his committee there, to expect a ‘small’ majority, he took the Chiltern Hundreds on 20 Aug., two days before the election was due to begin.9 His committee accused their opponents of having started a premature canvass before the news of Scott’s peerage had been made public and, more pointedly, complained of the mystery surrounding the untried Heber’s political principles. Heber himself told Lord Lowther*, a junior member of the government:

I have suffered a good deal of calumny from the circumstances of my sentiments on the Catholic question being misunderstood. I am most certainly no emancipator, but having long kept the company of old private friends such as the Grenvilles and Spencers, who are known to entertain these sentiments, I have come in for the credit of sharing them in common. This has produced a good deal of hostility in quarters which would otherwise have been well disposed, and has made it necessary to express more correctly ... the real state of the case.

To this end, his committees published a statement to the effect that he had ‘explicitly declared’ that he was ‘hostile to any further concession to the Catholics’.10 The candidates were nominated ‘in short Latin speeches’ by the heads of their respective colleges. The Rev. Vaughan Thomas of Corpus demanded from Heber’s supporters a ‘specific declaration’ of his views on the Catholic question; and in response Archdeacon Churton, who was heckled, insisted that he was ‘a most decided antagonist’ of concessions. This was confirmed by Heber’s half-brother Reginald (later bishop of Calcutta). The polling closed with Nicholl narrowly ahead by 208 to 205; but by the close of the second day, when well-organized Brasenose men went to vote en masse, Heber was 110 in front, and Nicholl’s friends conceded defeat on the third, when Heber led by 612 to 519. Nicholl, who claimed that about 20 of his supporters arrived after the closure of the poll, had reckoned on almost 740 promises, ‘of whom near 100 were known to have paired off, so that there remained about 120 whose non-attendance continues unaccounted for, and whose votes would have decided the election in my favour’. There were said to have been ‘less than 20 disappointments’ on Heber’s side.11 One of Nicholl’s supporters calculated that Heber’s total, which comprised 54 per cent of those who voted, amounted to ‘considerably less than one third’ of the nominal electorate; but this was later reckoned to have been 1,930 in December 1820, which would have made Heber’s support very close to one third, and put the turnout at about 58 per cent.12 Brasenose voted almost en bloc (159-2) for Heber, which was more than enough to give him his overall majority. He was strongly supported by Oriel (75 per cent), Trinity (73), Magdalen (71), New College (70), Merton (68) and Pembroke (62). St. John’s supported Nicholl by 77-2. His other strongholds were Worcester (90 per cent), Corpus (88), and Jesus (64); and he won a divided Christ Church by 96-66. Heber received the votes of 15 heads of houses (including Smith of Christ Church), Nicholl of six.13 The latter’s friends thought that in view of Heber’s long head start and the ‘equivocal neutrality’ of Lord Liverpool, they had done well to come within 93 votes of him.14 Ailesbury warned Nicholl that he would not return him again for Bedwyn if he was pledged to stand for the university on a future occasion. Nicholl, who said that he did not expect to see another vacancy there in his lifetime, as Heber was 15 years his junior and Peel’s seat was the preserve of Christ Church, disclaimed any such intention or commitment, and was duly brought in. Later in the year, when he went to Oxford to pay his respects to his supporters, he told the president of St. John’s that ‘upon no future occasion could I become a candidate’.15

Peel replaced Sidmouth as home secretary in January 1822 and was re-elected without disturbance the following month.16 Convocation petitioned the Lords against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 21 June 1822.17 Anti-Catholic petitions were presented to the Commons by Peel, 17 Apr., and the Lords by Grenville’s nephew the duke of Buckingham, 24 Apr. 1823.18 The speech of Canning, the foreign secretary, a supporter of Catholic relief, in defence of the government bill to suppress the Catholic Association, 15 Feb. 1825, caused ‘some astonishment and much chattering’ at Oxford, as Peel’s former tutor Charles Lloyd, regius professor of Divinity, reported. Peel could scarcely believe the rumours that Canning was to stand for the university: ‘Would other colleges hear of two Members for Christ Church? I presume Canning’s standing would not in any event affect me, could it; at least not endanger my seat?’ Lloyd had already assured him that Canning, who had been one of Peel’s unsuccessful rivals in 1817, would be spurned again if he tried:

I know ... the importance of which our seat would have been to him. It would have been a certificate of honesty to a man who stood in need of such a certificate ... But the very same reasons which made this certificate necessary to him were the reasons why the university would not grant it to him. They did not believe in the sincerity, the consistency, the honesty of the man. This opinion ... was the cause of his rejection. The Catholic question had nothing to do with it.19

On 15 Mar. convocation carried anti-Catholic petitions to both Houses, which were presented to the Commons (by Peel), 17 Mar., and to the Lords, 29 Apr. 1825.20

Heber’s silence in the House caused some ‘dissatisfaction’ in Oxford, and in May 1825 Coplestone urged him to take the plunge and give some ‘evidence of attention to the political feelings of the university’.21 He did not respond. Soon afterwards he compromised himself by making sexual advances to two young men, including the son of his agent, one Fisher, who threatened to expose and prosecute him. The potential scandal was brought to Peel’s attention by Robert Wilmot Horton*, under-secretary at the colonial office and a close friend of Heber’s half-brother, now in India. They and Heber’s friend Henry Hobhouse, Peel’s under-secretary, seeking to cover up the affair and to appease Fisher, persuaded an initially reluctant Heber to go abroad, which he did in early August, and to take steps to vacate his seat at the next dissolution.22 Once on the continent, he prevaricated about vacating, but was browbeaten into submission by Peel. As a dissolution was thought to be imminent, on 15 Sept. 1825 Heber wrote from Antwerp letters to the vice chancellor and a score of his leading friends and supporters announcing his intended resignation, which he ascribed to boredom with Parliament and a desire to devote himself to literary pursuits. He sent them to Hobhouse, who was to forward them as necessary. In the event the dissolution was postponed, but Hobhouse evidently made use of this evidence of Heber’s intentions to avert a renewed threat of exposure.23

It was decided to announce his resignation at the opening of the 1826 session. There was astonishment in Oxford, where no one seems to have known or suspected the truth.24 Nicholl was alerted by his Oxford friends and urged to offer himself. He was tempted, but as soon as he realized that the vacancy was to be immediate, and being aware that Ailesbury, whom he consulted, did not wish to have a by-election at Bedwyn, he withdrew himself, though his decision did not become widely known in Oxford for a few days.25 The first candidate definitely to emerge was the solicitor-general Sir Charles Wetherell, a staunch anti-Catholic, who was currently sitting for Oxford, and whose college, Magdalen, put him forward. When solicited for his support Peel took a line of strict neutrality, but he privately told Samuel Smith, now dean of Christ Church, that while he thought that Wetherell would be a much more active Member than Nicholl, he was ‘so strange a fellow that I should certainly be surprised to see him Member for the university’.26 There were reports that Canning, whom Peel still suspected of having designs on the seat, would be proposed. Lloyd assured Peel that despite stories that there was ‘a strong feeling in London’ in his favour, and that ‘a great many of the opposition Members had offered to support him, the notion was ‘absurd’, and that he would ‘not have one vote out of five’; and another observer noted that ‘independent of his Catholic principles, as they are called, the university would not allow two Christ Church Members to be returned’. Yet Smith reckoned that ‘some people ... cry out against the illiberality of objecting to two Members from the same college’.27 Wetherell, a talented but volatile and eccentric man, was widely unpopular in the university (Lloyd wrote that he was ‘the abomination of everybody’); yet when Nicholl’s decision became known on 29 Jan., it seemed likely that he would walk over. Smith, who told Peel that William Henry Ashhurst of Waterstock, an alumnus of Worcester College and one of the sitting county Members, had ‘been spoken to but ... declines’, observed that ‘a respectable country gentleman of known attachment to things as they are, and one who would upon proper occasions say a few words, would have a good chance, indeed I think such a one would certainly be chosen’. Smith informed Peel, 30 Jan., that as well as Ashhurst, Thomas Grimston Bucknall Estcourt, Member for Devizes, a Corpus man, had been mentioned, but that it was ‘impossible that either of them can be requested to offer himself unless his election can be secured, and that is clearly not to be done’. He feared that in the next 24 hours many even of those who disliked Wetherell would ‘declare for him lest someone more objectionable should be brought forward and gain an advantage by the present unaccountable circumstances in which we are’. That day Peel was told by Lord Liverpool that Canning ‘would not come forward unless there was that manifestation of feeling in his favour that would put failure out of the question’. He commented to Lloyd that either Ashhurst or Bucknall Estcourt would be ‘at least a creditable Member’.28 A formal approach was made to the latter, but he could not immediately be located. According to Lloyd, writing to Peel on 1 Feb., this prompted Coplestone to attempt to beat up support in Christ Church for Canning:

He stated ... that there was a general feeling in the university in favour of Canning. And I believe among all the younger masters such a feeling does exist. But I am still convinced that all the old fashioned colleges, such as Magdalen, Queen’s, Worcester, St. John’s, will oppose him en masse. The misery is, that we have two Whig censors of Christ Church; and all the Whigs are for Canning. Should he be proposed, I begin to doubt of the result; but should it end in his election I am well satisfied that the old line of Oxford politics is at an end.

Smith, understanding that the approach had been made to Bucknall Estcourt ‘conditionally’, in case Canning did not stand, thought that the latter might even come in unopposed, as it was well known that Wetherell, who had already decided not to stand for Oxford at the next general election, might not be prepared to run the risk of losing his seat by vacating to contest the university: ‘All those who call themselves Whigs and all who are favourable to the Catholics will support ... [Canning]. It will be singular to see a minister brought forward by such persons and opposed by many of the most faithful friends of government’.29 Bucknall Estcourt accepted the invitation, and his candidature was formally announced on 2 Feb. While Smith reported to Peel that Canning’s supporters were ‘much cooled’, Lloyd was under the impression that Coplestone, who had put forward Bucknall Estcourt, had done so ‘under the understanding that if Canning comes forward, Mr. Estcourt is to withdraw’, and thought it ‘not at all improbable’ that Canning would be proposed at the general election if Wetherell was successful now. Peel was sure that he was under a misapprehension:

I doubt whether Coplestone’s understanding with Estcourt is what you mention it to be ... that if Canning comes forward Estcourt is to withdraw. I understand that Coplestone in that event claims for himself the power of withdrawing from the active support of Estcourt, but not that Estcourt should himself withdraw. Is there not a greater probability that the university will not be disturbed at the general election in case Estcourt should now be elected, than in the event of Wetherell’s election?30

Smith thought that Wetherell’s main strength lay in Magdalen, Queen’s, Jesus and University College, and that he might have the support of most of the lawyers; he would be in a minority in Christ Church, which did ‘not intend to take any decided part’. Nicholl’s son joined Bucknall Estcourt’s committee, who found his canvassing lists from 1821 of great use. Lloyd reported that Wetherell had ‘forestalled a great many votes’ and could benefit from an assumption that he was more acceptable to government than his opponent, who, though he had ‘a very large majority’ in Christ Church, required energetic exertions by his London committee.31 On 7 Feb. Lloyd told Peel that he had been informed that there was still a ‘very strong feeling’ in Canning’s favour in London, but that if he was proposed ‘the only result would be to bring in Wetherell, as three parts of Estcourt’s voters have declared that ... they will go over to Wetherell en masse’. While he refused to involve Peel, respecting his neutrality, he encouraged his informant to alert Sidmouth to these damaging stories, and ‘so put about such a view of the case as might induce all Canning’s friends to believe the time was past, and so to leave Estcourt’s friends at liberty’. He added that Ashhurst had foolishly written to his brother Thomas, a fellow of All Souls, to the effect that ‘a great many Members of the House wished Canning to be brought forward’, and that the dissemination of this report had ‘disordered the opinions of half the minds of convocation’. Three days later Lloyd learnt from Canning’s supporter Phineas Pett, a canon of Christ Church, that Canning was accusing him of ‘deliberately doing all I could to injure him’ and of having been ‘active in putting an extinguisher on his wishes to represent us’. This he denied, although he freely admitted to Peel, who was surprised at the report, having seen nothing in Canning’s manner to indicate soreness, that he had made it clear to the dean that the university could not ‘with any consistency’ return Canning as long as Peel remained Member. He was anxious that there should be no suspicion that Peel had interfered in any way to persuade him to support Bucknall Estcourt; and Peel for his part wished it to be ‘understood distinctly by Pett and Coplestone that I have taken no step whatever ... which could by possibility have interfered with the selection of Canning ... in short that my neutrality has been strictly observed’.32 Peel’s Christ Church contemporary and close friend Sir Robert Inglis, Member for Dundalk and a leading champion of the Protestant establishment, who told a correspondent that his own name had ‘been mentioned as a candidate in posse’, thought that Canning’s supporters had botched the business by not proposing him as soon as the vacancy occurred. He was now out of the question.33 A sharp contest still seemed likely, but on 16 Feb. 1826 Wetherell, fearing defeat in both seats, pulled out, leaving Bucknall Estcourt to come in unopposed.34 He and Peel were returned at the general election in June, when, as Smith reported, ‘nothing passed ... worthy of remark’.35

On 28 Feb. 1827 convocation again voted petitions against Catholic relief, which were presented to the Commons (by Peel), 2 Mar., and the Lords, 6 Mar.36 In the ministerial hiatus which followed Liverpool’s stroke at this time, Inglis, speculating that Peel might end up in the Lords, asked his friend the bishop of Limerick to put in a word for him in clerical circles as his successor as Member for the university, where he heard that his name was ‘much talked of’.37 Peel, who secured Lloyd’s promotion to the bishopric of Oxford in March 1827, was duly re-elected in February 1828 after his appointment as home secretary in the Wellington administration.38 Repeal of the Test Acts that session caused hardly a stir in Oxford, where an attempt by the vice chancellor to get up a hostile petition met with little enthusiasm from the heads of houses. Lloyd persuaded him to abandon it, partly to avoid making life unnecessarily awkward for Peel, and partly because he thought it might well be rejected by convocation. There were some murmurings at what was seen as Peel’s initial failure to speak out strongly enough in defence of the established church; but he pacified his critics by his subsequent success in securing the adoption of a declaration to replace the sacramental test.39 In convocation, 13 Mar. 1828, anti-Catholic petition were carried by 63-32, which Lloyd considered a sign of the times: ‘the advance of the opponents was not only remarkable from the number, but the opposition had always hitherto been confined to the masters of arts; today, several of the doctors and heads of houses were among the opponents’. Peel ‘between ourselves’ doubted the wisdom of petitioning again so soon: ‘Might it not have been as well to leave it to be inferred that the university remained of the same opinion that it entertained last year, rather than run the risk of manifesting disunion, by stirring the question afresh?’ When Peel presented the petition, 29 Apr., a Whig backbencher revealed that it had been carried by ‘a trifling majority’; but Bucknall Estcourt (of whom Lloyd had recently written to Peel that it was ‘a great pity’ that he had ‘not head and tongue enough to be put forward on these occasions’) insisted that it represented the opinion ‘still of a very large majority of the university’. It was presented to the Lords by Lord Bathurst, 16 Apr.40 At the end of July 1828 Lord Ellenborough, president of the board of control, noting that Wellington and Peel were inexorably edging towards the concession of Catholic claims, observed that ‘the great difficulty there is with Peel - not with Peel’s real opinions, but with his position and reputation ... [and] Oxford connections’.41

When the decision to concede emancipation was taken in January 1829, Peel, having already warned Lloyd of what was in the offing, wrote on the 31st to Smith announcing and justifying the change of policy and offering to resign his seat if required. He later wrote that in so doing he was ‘acting upon the impulse of private feelings, rather than a dispassionate consideration of the constitutional relation between a representative and his constituents’. John Croker*, the secretary to the admiralty, told him that he was wrong to take such ‘a democratical and unconstitutional proceeding’.42 Smith, who was taken aback, consulted only Lloyd and Thomas Gaisford, regius professor of Greek, another Christ Church man. While Gaisford favoured Peel’s immediate resignation, Smith was not prepared to recommend it, and Lloyd was undecided. They declined to take soundings on Peel’s behalf, arguing that it would be impossible to maintain secrecy, and, returning his letters and papers, advised him to write directly to the vice chancellor, but to delay doing so until the ministerial decision had been made public. Though offended, Peel complied, and on 4 Feb. wrote to the vice chancellor, Jones of Exeter, formally tendering his resignation. The ministerial plan was announced in Parliament the following day, though it had been known about in London for at least three days.43 On 5 Feb. Jones summoned a meeting of the board of heads of houses, who authorized him to lay Peel’s letter before a meeting of convocation scheduled for later that day to petition Parliament against concessions. After the petitions had been carried by 164-48 Peel’s letter was read. It was formally acknowledged and the petition to the Commons was sent to him. On 6 Feb. the board accepted his resignation, leaving the timing to his own discretion; but Smith privately urged him to delay it until the measures had been fully discussed in Parliament, because creating an immediate vacancy ‘would certainly be productive of great inconvenience’ and, as many were inclined to think that he ought to be re-elected, time was required to allow the ‘ferment’ and ‘agitation’ to subside. In his formal reply to the vice chancellor, Peel promised to give the earliest possible notice of when he intended to take the Chiltern Hundreds. Greville thought that the affair had been mismanaged by Peel and his friends, that his letter should have been disclosed to convocation before the petition was considered and that he should have carried the measures and ‘then resigned, when I have no doubt he would have been re-elected’.44 On 6 Feb. Smith wrote to Lloyd, who had gone to London to see Peel, to inform him that Thomas Vowler Short, a censor of Christ Church, wished to know whether Peel would agree to be nominated for re-election. Smith, who was reluctant to become too deeply involved, but allowed Vowler to write to Lloyd to ask him to ascertain what Peel’s views were, observed that ‘one party is earnest for his re-election, the moderes have no objection to it and the Ultras would not hear of it’. Short, on the other hand, was confident that there would be ‘no opposition in reality’ to Peel’s re-election if Christ Church, where the opinion of the common room was in his favour, were to ‘come forward determined to support him’. Lloyd, aware that Smith and Short were being influenced by Robert Marsham, warden of Merton, wanted Peel to allow him to say to Short, ‘without authority’, that he had little doubt that he would accept re-election; but he warned Peel that he

must consider well whether there is not some danger in exposing yourself to the votes of the whole university, and whether it may not be advisable to leave that feeling to act, which will, assuredly, at no distant period be shown, namely, great indignation at no request being sent by the heads of houses that you should retain your seat. You observe the dean divides the university into three parts; the Whigs and moderate men would, I think, certainly gain the victory. Perhaps it is best that I should carry no decision with me, but act as I find circumstances at Oxford.45

On his return, Short and Marsham questioned him about Peel’s attitude. To the former, whom he considered a liability, he ‘spoke very cautiously’, merely saying that he had ‘no reason to suppose’ that Peel would reject the seat if re-elected. He was more forthcoming about his own and Peel’s reservations to Marsham, who dismissed them as ‘hyper Quixotism’. Lloyd decided to give Peel’s Christ Church supporters their head, and on 9 Feb. the common room unanimously resolved to support him, though it was decided not to issue their circular letter to convocation until the 11th. On the 9th Peel, worried by reports that ‘his resignation was conditional, and, of course, liable to a suspicion of insincerity’, got Croker to insert a copy of his letter to the vice chancellor in the London papers.46 Next day Peel told Jones that he intended to take the Chiltern Hundreds on the 20th, when the writ for the university could be moved if required, and the nervous Lloyd heard of plans for a meeting of ‘members of different colleges’ the following day to organize resistance to Peel’s re-election. After deciding to forbid the censors from taking any further action on behalf of Peel, he received a letter from him which gave him plenty of latitude:

Surely it would be much better for Christ Church to take a candidate whose election it could secure than to run any risk by proposing me ... I care very little about the matter ... I can so arrange matters that I can disqualify myself for re-election. I can vacate on ... [20 Feb.], and be returned for some small borough on the following day, or on ... [the 23rd]. For God’s sake take no step ... that could appear to intimate a wish on my part to be returned. I have no such wish, and I think a protracted contest, even if it ended successfully, would be very embarrassing and painful to me. I am against my nomination; but I am at the same time unwilling to say, for instance, ‘I would refuse an election’, ‘I would vacate again if elected’, or anything which would appear peevish and ill-humoured, or disrespectful ... The more I think of the subject, the more adverse I am personally to nomination, and decidedly to contest.

Lloyd accordingly withdrew Christ Church as a body from the campaign to re-elect Peel. It was taken up elsewhere, as Marsham, the heads of Oriel, New College, All Souls, Pembroke, Magdalen Hall and Alban Hall, and a few senior university officials met on 12 Feb. to form a committee.47 Marsham told Peel that it was not necessary to reply to his letter informing him of this development; but Peel, advised by Lloyd, who was increasingly averse to the business, being ‘not so much afraid of a contest as I am convinced of the uselessness of the result ... with reference to the great measure’, responded by pointing out various practical difficulties arising out of the necessity of his being out of Parliament for the minimum possible time, and suggesting that it would be best to let the matter drop, leaving him to arrange for his immediate return elsewhere, which would make him ineligible when the university election took place. The committee refused to accept this, and on 14 Feb. Marsham, who pointed out that no opponent had yet been named, asked Peel if he could not, after coming in elsewhere, vacate a second time in order to make himself eligible for the university. Peel, who had arranged to come in for Westbury, replied that this would be unacceptable, if only because it would bring ‘very prominently forward the facility of procuring a seat in Parliament’, but conceded to the extent that he was prepared to remain out of the Commons from 20 Feb. to 2 Mar. at the absolute latest, in which time his supporters could nominate and seek to re-elect him.48 On 13 Feb., presenting to the Commons the petition of convocation against concessions to Catholics, he stated that while its prayer was ‘couched in still stronger terms than has been the case on any former occasion’, it had not been unanimously adopted, though it was fair to say that it represented the views of ‘a larger majority than on any former occasion’. The petition to the Lords was presented by Lord Clare, 18 Feb. 1829.49

The opposition to Peel’s re-election had gathered momentum before a candidate was found, though by 11 Feb. Inglis, currently sitting for Ripon, was aware that he had a good chance of being adopted.50 On the 13th 74 members of convocation, led by the heads of Magdalen, Worcester, Jesus, University College, Trinity, Queen’s, St. John’s, St. Mary Hall and Edmund Hall, and including men from Balliol, Oriel, Lincoln, Brasenose and Corpus, met to declare their hostility to Peel and to take steps to oppose him. There was talk of nominating Lord Encombe*, Eldon’s 23-year-old grandson, of New College, who was currently in Oxford for the purposes of his master’s residence requirement. He agreed to stand if selected, but it was decided that he was too inexperienced. There was a rumour that Wetherell, now attorney-general, might be put up, but the choice fell on Inglis, whose candidature was announced on 14 Feb. It is possible that some of the more reactionary members of Christ Church, which was now hopelessly divided, may have played a part in his nomination.51

The London committee to re-elect Peel, the meeting to form which was attended by a number of Whigs, was chaired by Lord Granville Somerset*, a lord of the treasury, and Inglis’s by Clinton James Fynes Clinton, the duke of Newcastle’s Member for Aldborough. Both sides remained confident throughout, though the general expectation was that the Peelites would narrowly win.52 Oxford was in a ferment during the campaign, with common rooms divided. Newman, a supporter of Catholic relief, and Keble went against Peel, chiefly because they thought his re-election would degrade the university; while Pusey, John Coleridge and Blanco White supported him, on the assumption that he must have had, as a responsible minister, good grounds for his change of policy. It was recognized that the great strength of the anti-Peel party lay in outraged rural clergymen, and mighty efforts were made to get them up.53 On the opening day, 26 Feb. 1829, when Martin Routh, president of Magdalen, proposed Inglis, and Marsham nominated Peel, some of those present were astonished at the bitter violence of many of Peel’s opponents. Peel’s brother-in-law George Dawson* informed him:

The house and yard adjoining were crowded to excess, and the greatest anxiety as to the proceedings and result was visible in every countenance. In short, party, religious and political feeling is wound up to the highest pitch ... The clamour during ... [Marsham’s] speech was excessive. He was followed by Dr. Ingram [of Trinity] in favour of Inglis, who was obliged to stop short from the impatience of the crowd to poll. During these speeches the clamour, violence and insulting language used by your opponents was almost beyond endurance. The common courtesy, every decency of life was forgotten, and I assure you without exaggeration that I should have fancied myself on the hustings at Westminster ... I did not think it possible that a large assembly composed entirely of educated men could have shown themselves so devoid of decency and so utterly deficient in everything that constitutes a liberal and enlightened audience.54

The advanced Whig John Cam Hobhouse’s* brother Thomas was also prompted by newspaper reports to liken the scenes to ‘anything that ever occurred in Covent Garden’.55 Francis Thornhill Baring, Member for Portsmouth and one of Peel’s London committee, reported to his wife from Oxford:

I found on my arrival here that the committee was decently in good spirits, but all allowing that it must be a hard fight ... A most disgraceful exhibition of university manners took place. No meeting was ever half so noisy or so bad in every point of view. Portsmouth was a drawing room to the Oxford bear garden.56

At the close of the first day Inglis led by 312 to 268. According to John Hobhouse, the Irish Catholic champion Daniel O’Connell* was ‘fool enough to canvass for Peel’, while his associate The O’Gorman Mahon* ‘actually came down to Oxford in one of Peel’s coaches. Luckily he was not discovered, or he would have lost Peel many votes and perhaps his own life’.57 When he was 126 ahead after the second, Peel and his supporters knew the game was up, though they kept the poll open on the third day to record what votes they could: Inglis won by 755 to 609. As Hobhouse’s brother Henry remarked, ‘the odium theologicum has done it’. Peel was returned for Westbury on 2 Mar. 1829.58

The turnout appears to have been about 57 per cent. Peel won Christ Church by 163-79, but the only other colleges in which he beat Inglis were Merton (78 per cent), All Souls (76), Exeter (63), Oriel (58) and New College (57). (He also won by 15 to seven in Magdalen Hall.) Inglis won 13 colleges and three halls (there were no voters from New Inn Hall), with his strongholds being Lincoln (92 per cent), Worcester (87), Edmund Hall (86), St. John’s (84), Wadham (83), Magdalen (70), Trinity (68) and Pembroke (66). Corpus voted 21-20 for Inglis. Nine heads of houses voted for Peel, 11 for Inglis.59 John Hobhouse wrote:

The clergy do not like to fly in the face of their recent declaration against the Catholics, and from a point of honour are forced, as it were, to vote against Peel. Yet the majority are, in their hearts, in favour of Peel. On the other hand, Peel has much local interest at Oxford, and many vote for him who are not favourable to the Catholics, so that the real question cannot be fairly tried there at this time.60

Newman hailed it as

a glorious victory ... We have proved the independence of the church and of Oxford ... We had the influence of government in unremitting activity against us - the ‘talent’ so called of the university, the town lawyers, who care little for our credit, the distance off and the slender means of our voters - yet we have beaten them ... Their insolence has been intolerable ... They have everywhere styled themselves the ‘talent’ of the university; that they have rank and station on their side I know; and that we have the inferior colleges and the humbler style of men ... How much of the church’s credit depended on us residents!

He professed admiration for Peel ‘on moral grounds’, but ‘on political grounds’ rejoiced in his defeat: ‘I never wish to see a minister of state or leader of a party representing the university again. I had rather have a straight-forward country gentleman’.61 Inglis’s ward Marianne Thornton wrote to Hannah More:

When people ask how the influence of Whigs, ministry, private friends and ... many of the Evangelicals has been overcome, I know not what answer to give, except that it has been the warmth and zeal of a few individuals which have lighted the flame that has burst out through England. Did you hear that a Dr. Cotton came from Cashel in Ireland to vote for him, many from Guernsey, Yorkshire and Lancashire? Most gallantly indeed have they stood to their promises like true men, for Sir Robert has ... polled more than had ever engaged to him, while Peel’s defections they say have been most numerous. Nothing else can account for such a thorough defeat, for when the battle began the promises to each were just even, and everybody expected it would have been a near run thing. All the influence of government has proved nothing against the conscience of the English clergy.62

As a Whig observer noted, ‘in Oxford and the country they less easily forgive the apostate ... though he be secretary of state’.63 Peel was supported by twice as many first class men as Inglis, by 14 out of 20 professors and 24 out of 28 prizemen. He was also reckoned to have received the votes of 333 clergymen and 38 sitting Members, while only two of the latter voted for Inglis.64 Yet many of his ministerial colleagues regretted that he had ever stood for re-election. Lord Ellenborough feared that ‘700 parsons, flushed with triumph, will return to their parishes like firebrands, and excite the whole country’. He, like Dawson, thought Peel’s Oxford committee had been ‘very weak, apologizing for asking votes on the ground of securities promised’.65 Greville was not alone in thinking that ‘there never was anything so mismanaged as the whole affair’, and that Peel should not have resigned until he had carried emancipation. He reported a story that Newcastle and Eldon had given £4,000 and £1,000 respectively to defray the expenses of the anti-Peel party, but he came to believe that it was ‘not true that the money said to have been given ... was spent’, having been informed that Inglis’s costs were under £1,000 and Peel’s still less. It is, however, known that Newcastle did make some financial contribution. Peel’s personal expenses were £99.66

Inglis’s public letter of thanks to his committees, in which he proclaimed his success as a triumph for the Protestant cause and seemed to attribute ‘sordid motives’ to Peel’s supporters, caused some offence, and forced him to explain himself to his friend Philip Bliss of St. John’s:

I do not say that the minority yielded to interested motives in voting for ... [Peel]; but considering him as the dispenser of church patronage, of rank and honour in all classes, and myself as comparatively an unknown candidate, it is not assuming too much to say that those who voted for me resisted the ordinary motives of interest. That others voted for Mr. Peel from interested motives I know; but that a large, very large proportion of his supporters voted for him from motives equally conscientious with those which animated my friends I should be very sorry to doubt; but that there was influence on the one side, and none on the other, is incontrovertible ... It is perfectly clear, that the union of Whigs, radicals and Tory pro-Catholics in favour of Mr. Peel, in London at least, could have been owing to nothing but a conviction that the Roman Catholic question was at issue.67

On 2 Mar. Buckingham’s son Lord Chandos presented to the Commons a petition against emancipation from over 300 bachelors and undergraduates. In the ensuing discussion, Bucknall Estcourt, who, like Inglis, voted steadily against emancipation, denied the claim of Phillimore that majority opinion among junior members of the university was in favour of it.68 There was an attempt to get up a pro-Catholic petition among the junior members, but in the Lords, 24 Mar. 1829, Lloyd, whose death a few weeks later may have been hastened by the ‘vexation and anxiety’ which he suffered during the by-election, admitted that the authorities had suppressed it, not wishing the university to ‘become the arena of political dissension’.69 On the advice of Bliss, Inglis did not take up a suggestion that convocation should attempt to vote an address calling on the king to intervene against the relief bill.70

Bucknall Estcourt and Inglis were returned unopposed at the general election of 1830.71 Bucknall Estcourt voted against the Wellington ministry in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830, while Inglis was an absentee. Both opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bills. There was some support for reform in the university, for convocation carried by only 76-39 a petition against the bill, 21 Apr. 1831; the dissolution prevented its being presented.72 There was no disturbance at the ensuing general election.73 On 24 June Bucknall Estcourt presented and endorsed convocation’s petition against the reintroduced reform bill.74 A group of undergraduates, led by William Gladstone†, and including Sidney Herbert† and Lord Lincoln†, promoted an anti-reform petition among the junior members, for which they obtained the signatures of about 770 out of 1,100 men. It was presented, after Peel and Charles Williams Wynn had declined to take it up, by Lord Mahon, 1 July 1831, when the Whig Lord Morpeth insisted that there was ‘a very respectable minority’ for reform.75 On 29 Mar. 1832 convocation carried a petition to the Lords against the revised bill by 128-28. When presenting it, 2 Apr., Bathurst observed that the petitioners’ concern over the ‘hazardous, violent and unsafe’ changes embodied in it, had prompted them to ‘break through their habitual seclusion’. Grey, who also noted ‘the state of seclusion in which they live’, seized on their admission that some reform was necessary.76 The constituency was unaffected by the Reform and Boundary Acts. Bucknall Estcourt and Inglis were returned until their respective retirements in 1847 and 1854. There was no contest until 1847, when Gladstone won the seat.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. The Times, 24 Feb. 1829; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 19 Feb. 1831.
  • 2. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Ibid. 18, 25 Nov., 16 Dec.; The Times, 15, 18, 23 Nov., 22 Dec. 1820.
  • 4. CJ, lxxvi. 158; LJ, liv. 131.
  • 5. The Times, 7 July 1821; Oxford University and City Herald, 7 July 1821.
  • 6. Add. 51579, Morpeth to Lady Holland, 9 July [1821]; Althorp Letters, 115.
  • 7. TNA 30/9/16.
  • 8. Add. 51659. See also 52011, Stuart Wortley to H.E. Fox, 25 July 1821.
  • 9. Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 14, 15, 20 Aug. 1821; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/43, 44, 47.
  • 10. Ailesbury mss, hand bill, 8 Aug.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 18 Aug.; Lonsdale mss, Heber to Lowther [18 Aug. 1821]; Bodl. MS. Eng. misc. c. 406, f. 406.
  • 11. The Times, 24, 27 Aug.; Oxford University and City Herald, 25 Aug.; Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 103-4; Heber Letters, 288-92; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 24, 25 Aug. 1821; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/33.
  • 12. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/32; Oxford University and City Herald, 7 Mar. 1829.
  • 13. Oxford Univ. Pollbook (1821).
  • 14. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/ 26-33.
  • 15. Ibid. L/204/41; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 1 Sept., 3 Nov. 1821.
  • 16. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 16 Feb. 1822.
  • 17. LJ, lv. 258.
  • 18. CJ, lxxviii. 222; LJ, lv. 639; The Times, 18, 25 Apr. 1823.
  • 19. Add. 40342, ff. 207, 209.
  • 20. The Times, 18 Mar.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 19 Mar. 1825; CJ, lxxx. 219; LJ, lvii. 666.
  • 21. Lord Ilchester, Chrons. of Holland House, 56; Heber Letters, 328.
  • 22. Add. 40380, ff. 227-31, 234-6, 257, 258, 315; 40381, ff. 166, 169, 220.
  • 23. Add. 40381, ff. 284, 310; Bodl. MS. Eng. Misc. c. 406, ff. 87-130; Heber Letters, 330-1.
  • 24. Bodl. MS. Eng. Misc. c. 406, f. 150; Add. 40385, f. 99.
  • 25. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/21, 24, 25; Nicholl diary, 24-31 Jan. 1826; Add. 40342, ff. 297, 305; 40385, ff. 104, 109, 111, 114.
  • 26. Add. 40342, f. 303; 40385, ff. 102, 104, 106, 109, 114, 116; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 28 Jan. 1826.
  • 27. Add. 40342, ff. 297, 303, 305; 40385, ff. 114, 116; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 194, T. to J. Gladstone [Jan. 1826].
  • 28. Add. 40342, ff. 297, 305, 307; 40385, ff. 132, 151, 153.
  • 29. W. Yorks AS (Leeds), Stapleton mss, Dudley to Canning, 1 Feb. 1826; Add. 40342, f. 309; 40385, f. 162.
  • 30. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 X27, printed letter of president of Corpus, 2 Feb.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 4 Feb. 1826; Add. 40342, ff. 311, 313; 40385, f. 168.
  • 31. Add. 40342, f. 315; 40385, ff. 170, 173, 175; Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/30; Nicholl diary, 1, 2 Feb. 1826.
  • 32. Add. 40342, ff. 316-20.
  • 33. TCD, Jebb mss 6396/245, 246; Add. 43231, f. 171.
  • 34. Devizes Gazette, 9 Feb.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 11, 18, 25 Feb.; The Times, 17, 23 Feb.; Sotheron Estcourt mss X27, printed letter from chairman of Bucknall Estcourt’s London cttee. 16 Feb. 1826; H.P. Liddon, Life of Edward Pusey, i. 91; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC12/71.
  • 35. Add. 40342, f. 350; 40387, ff. 19, 146; Sotheron Estcourt mss X27, Jenkyns to Bucknall Estcourt, 14 June; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 17 June 1826.
  • 36. Sotheron Estcourt mss X27, Jenkyns to Bucknall Estcourt, 22 Feb.; CJ, lxxxii. 255; LJ, lix. 131; The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 37. Jebb mss 6396/274, 275, 277.
  • 38. Oxford University and City Herald, 9 Feb. 1828.
  • 39. Peel Mems. i. 63-100; Add. 40343, ff. 183, 189, 212, 214, 233, 258; N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 460-5.
  • 40. Peel Mems. i. 311; Add. 40343, ff. 193, 212; CJ, lxxxiii. 282; LJ, lx. 172; Colchester Diary, iii. 553.
  • 41. Ellenborough Diary, i. 182.
  • 42. Add. 40343, f. 329; Peel Mems. i. 310-12; Croker Pprs. ii. 7; Gash, ‘Peel and Oxford Univ. Election of 1829’, Pillars of Government, 68.
  • 43. Add. 40343, ff. 334, 340; 40398, ff. 116, 130, 137; Peel Mems. i. 312-15; Gash, Pillars, 69.
  • 44. Add. 40343, f. 341; 40398, ff. 140-4, 172, 174; Peel Mems. i. 316-21; Colchester Diary, iii. 596; Oxford University and City Herald, 7 Feb.; The Times, 7, 10 Feb. 1829; Ellenborough Diary, i. 341; Greville Mems. i. 252.
  • 45. Add. 40343, ff. 343-7; Gash, Pillars, 70-71.
  • 46. Peel Mems. i. 323-5; Add. 40343, ff. 349, 353; Gash, Pillars, 71; Croker Pprs. i. 9.
  • 47. Peel Mems. i. 326-7, 329-30; Add. 40343, ff. 355, 356, 359, 361; 40398, f. 246; Colchester Diary, i. 331; Gash, Pillars, 71-73.
  • 48. Peel Mems. i. 327-8, 331, 334-5; Add. 40343, ff. 361, 366, 369; 40398, ff. 261, 269, 270; Gash, Pillars, 73, 75.
  • 49. CJ, lxxxiv. 28; LJ, lxi. 53.
  • 50. Add. 34570, f. 154.
  • 51. Oxford University and City Herald, 14 Feb.; Twiss, Eldon, iii. 66-69; Colchester Diary, iii. 599; Add. 40343, ff. 368, 374; 40398, f. 262; Grey mss, Howick jnl. 14 Feb. [1829]; Letters and Corresp. of John Henry Newman ed. A. Mozley, i. 200; Gash, Pillars, 72-73.
  • 52. The Times, 19 Feb.; Oxford University and City Herald, 21 Feb.; Greville Mems. i. 256; Lady Holland to her Son, 96, 98; Colchester Diary, iii. 600; Ellenborough Diary, i. 361-2; Add. 40343, f. 383; 40398, f. 313; Hatherton mss, Littleton to Leigh, 24 Feb. 1829; Sneyd mss SC17/44. See also Misc. Pprs relating to Oxford, 1700-1830 [BL 731. m. 14.].
  • 53. Newman Letters, i. 220; J.T. Coleridge, Mem. of Keble, 178; Liddon, i. 197-201; Life of Blanco White ed. J.H.Thom, i. 453-65.
  • 54. The Times, 27 Feb. 1829; Add. 40398, f. 323.
  • 55. Add. 36465, f. 80.
  • 56. Baring Jnls. 61-62.
  • 57. Add. 56553, f. 149.
  • 58. The Times, 28 Feb., 3 Mar.; Oxford University and City Herald, 28 Feb., 7 Mar. 1829; Peel Mems. i. 339-40; Add. 36465, f. 76; Add. 40398, f. 325.
  • 59. Oxford Univ. Pollbook (1829).
  • 60. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 305.
  • 61. Newman Letters, i. 202-3, 207.
  • 62. E.M. Forster, Marianne Thornton, 88-90.
  • 63. Sneyd mss SC10/89.
  • 64. Peel Mems. i. 338; The Times, 11, 12 Mar. 1829; Add. 34570, f. 184.
  • 65. Ellenborough Diary, i. 365-6; Add. 40398, f. 323.
  • 66. Greville Mems. i. 260-1, 263-4; Forster, 90; Peel Mems. i. 341.
  • 67. The Times, 3 Mar. 1829; Add. 34570, ff. 172, 180, 184.
  • 68. CJ, lxxxiv. 94; Sotheron Estcourt mss X114, T.G to T.H.S. Bucknall Estcourt, 2 Mar. 1829.
  • 69. The Times, 7 Mar. 1829; Add. 34570, f. 180; Newman Letters, i. 208.
  • 70. Add. 34570, ff. 187, 190.
  • 71. Oxford University and City Herald, 7 Aug. 1830; Add. 34570, f. 329.
  • 72. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 23 Apr. 1831.
  • 73. Ibid. 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 74. CJ, lxxxvi. 557.
  • 75. Wilts. RO, Pembroke mss WRO 2057/F5/15; Morley, Gladstone, i. 72-74; Gladstone Diaries, i. 358-61, 363-5, 367; CJ, lxxxvi. 600.
  • 76. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 31 Mar.; The Times, 2 Apr. 1832; LJ, lxiv. 143-4.