Berkshire

Double Member County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 3,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
17 Apr. 1754Peniston Powney 
 Henry Pye 
13 Apr. 1757Arthur Vansittart vice Powney, deceased 
8 Apr. 1761Henry Pye 
 Arthur Vansittart 
2 Apr. 1766Thomas Craven vice Pye, deceased 
30 Mar. 1768Arthur Vansittart1519
 Thomas Craven1389
 John Stone634
30 Dec. 1772John Elwes vice Craven, deceased 
20 Oct. 1774John Elwes 
 Christopher Griffith 
21 Feb. 1776Winchcombe Henry Hartley vice Griffith, deceased 
27 Sept. 1780John Elwes 
 Winchcombe Henry Hartley 
7 Apr. 1784George Vansittart678
 Henry James Pye677
 Winchcombe Henry Hartley301

Main Article

There was no contest for Berkshire between 1727 and 1768 during which period the county returned a succession of Tory country gentlemen. The strongest interest was that of the Craven family; the Berties also had considerable influence, particularly in the towns of Abingdon and Wallingford.

In 1768 the sitting Members, Thomas Craven and Arthur Vansittart, were opposed by John Stone of Goldwell. Stone was so weak a contender that at the county meeting he was obliged to propose himself, and could find no seconder. Nevertheless, he stood the poll, but of the 60 gentlemen and 48 clergy who voted, only one gentleman gave a vote to Stone. Even this ‘trifling opposition’ was said to have cost Vansittart £5,000.1

When Craven died in 1772 there was the possibility of a contest between John Archer of Welford and Charles Pye of Faringdon, but Lord Craven suggested that they should both decline in favour of John Elwes, who was returned unopposed.

The 6th Lord Craven, like the 4th Lord Abingdon, was inclined to Opposition: together they dominated the county. In 1774 Vansittart retired, and Craven and Abingdon put forward Christopher Griffith of Padworth with Elwes. The supporters of Administration complained that the county meeting had been ‘biassed by undue influence, and supported by the pageantry of peerage’, but their threatened opposition did not materialize for want of a candidate. The following year, when Craven and Abingdon organized a petition criticizing the Administration’s policy towards America, their adversaries in the county produced a rival address. In 1776 there was a vacancy when Griffith died. Craven put forward W. H. Hartley, the nomination being proposed by Captain Bertie. On this occasion the supporters of the ministry determined to make a stand. Craven was attacked for attempting to dictate to the county, and Hartley because his main estate was in Gloucestershire. Hartley’s friends retorted: ‘You are now to be inveigled into ministerial thraldom by the absurd cry “Bow not to the dictatorial mandates of a peer”.’ A meeting at Abingdon on 14 Feb., presided over by an army officer, called upon the gentlemen of the Vale (apparently a centre of hostility to the Craven interest) to support R. Aldworth Nevillle of Billingbear. This produced the reply:

The mandates of a few officers, who appear to have lately formed an union to support one of their own corps, and fancy they can command the county, by treating and abusing the generality of the freeholders as mere militia men or rabble, are full as dangerous and unconstitutional as the interference of peers.

But the attempt to shake the Abingdon-Craven alliance broke down. Lord North would not allow Neville to vacate his seat for Grampound, ‘having foolishly told the House two or three days before he would not let any person vacate to oppose a man who had already offered himself’.2 Henry James Pye, their next choice, excused himself on the ground that there was no longer time to rally the strength of the Vale, and Hartley was elected unopposed.3

In 1780 John Robinson noted under Berkshire that an opposition was ‘talked of by a friend to Government, but not in a very forward state’. An advertisement in September threatened the two sitting Members, but nothing came of it.4 But by 1784 the situation had changed completely, for the two patrons had parted company, Craven supporting the Coalition and Abingdon opposing it. The Members went with Craven. In February 1784 the freeholders of the county voted an address thanking the King for dismissing the Coalition: ‘Lord Abingdon was extremely severe on Mr. Hartley.’ When the dissolution was announced, Elwes did not offer, but HartIey insisted on standing the poll. A few hours were enough to convince him that it was useless, and he withdrew. ‘Berkshire is our own’, wrote George Rose exultantly to Robinson. Government had contributed £2,500 towards Pye’s expenses.5

Author: J. A. Cannon

Notes

  • 1. Gazetteer, 24 Mar. 1768; Walsh to Clive, 22 Apr. 1768, Powis mss.
  • 2. Endorsement on back of an intended election address by Neville, Berks. RO.