Shaftesbury (UK Parliament constituency)

Shaftesbury was a parliamentary constituency in Dorset. It returned two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1295 until 1832 and one member until the constituency was abolished in 1885.

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo until 1832; one 1832–1885
Replaced byNorth Dorset


Boundaries and franchise before 1832Edit

Shaftesbury was one of the towns summoned to send representatives to the Model Parliament of 1295, and thereafter was continuously represented (except during the temporary upheavals of the Commonwealth) until the 19th century. The constituency was a parliamentary borough, which until 1832 consisted of parts of three parishes in the town of Shaftesbury, a market town in Dorset. In the 17th century the Mayor and Corporation attempted to restrict the right to vote to themselves, but after a decision in 1697 the vote was exercised by all inhabitant householders paying scot and lot. Shaftesbury being a prosperous town this included the vast majority of households, and in 1831 when the borough contained only 474 houses, 400 separate properties were rated for scot and lot and 359 people voted in that year's election. The franchise was therefore in practice, for the period, a very liberal one.

Political character in the 18th centuryEdit

Like many boroughs, Shaftesbury generally recognised the local landowner as its "patron", with the right to nominate both its MPs, but also expected this influence to be cemented with generous bribery, making electoral control of the substantial electorate an expensive business. In the mid 18th century the joint patrons were Lord Ilchester and The Earl of Shaftesbury, who generally agreed to nominate one member each rather than bringing about a contested election which would allow the voters scope to demand bribes. Ilchester, who as Stephen Fox had sat as the borough's MP for a number of years before being raised to the peerage, described it as "troublesome, expensive and corrupt".

The patrons were free to recoup their expenditure by selling the seats to suitable candidates (at that period perfectly legal) rather than giving them to family or friends, but avoiding an expensive contest meant they could pocket the proceeds rather than seeing them (illegally) passing into the pockets of the voters. Namier quotes from the papers of Prime Minister Newcastle to show that Sir Thomas Clavering paid £2000 for his seat at Shaftesbury in 1754, and that in 1761 Newcastle quoted the same sum as the likely price of a seat for Sir Gilbert Heathcote, but added that no other pocket borough would be any cheaper.

However, the agreement between the patrons to split the seats amicably merely caused the townsmen to encourage independent candidates to stand so as to ensure a contest, and from 1761 onwards there was generally at least one candidate competing against those backed by the patrons. There also developed the practice of extending bribes in the form of "loans", which would not be called in provided the voter voted as instructed.

The corrupt election of 1774Edit

Over the years a number of election results were overturned because of corrupt or illegal practices by the victors, but that of 1774 was particularly notorious. At that election one candidate, Hans Winthrop Mortimer, stood independently of the established interests in the town and, having been easily defeated, petitioned to have the result overturned and produced copious evidence of corruption. Thomas Rumbold and Francis Sykes were both shown to have bribed at a rate of 20 guineas (£21) a man, the total spent amounting to several thousand pounds; worse, the magistrates of the town were implicated in distributing this largesse. The contemporary historian of abuses in the rotten boroughs, Thomas Oldfield, gave this account of the "very singular and very absurd contrivances" unsuccessfully used in the hope of preventing proof of involvement:

A person concealed under a ludicrous and fantastical disguise, and called by the name of Punch, was placed in a small apartment, and through a hole in the door delivered to the voters parcels, containing twenty guineas each: upon which they were conducted to another apartment in the same house, where they found another person called Punch's secretary, who required them to sign notes for the value received: these notes were made payable to an imaginary character, to whom was given the name of Glenbucket. Two of the witnesses swore that they had seen Punch through the hole in the door, and that they knew him to be Mr. Matthews, an alderman of the town...

The Commons Committee accepted the evidence before them, and not only declared Sykes and Rumbold not duly elected and Mortimer duly elected to one of the seats in their place, but ordered that Sykes, Rumbold, and a long list of other inhabitants of the town should be prosecuted by the Attorney General for bribery and perjury. A bill was also brought in to permanently deprive the guilty parties of their votes; however this was never passed, the prosecution never took place, and the Commons was eventually persuaded to reverse its condemnations of Sykes and Rumbold so that both were able to stand for the borough at the next general election. They did not escape penalty entirely, however, as Mortimer brought a civil suit for bribery against Sykes at Dorchester Assizes, and was awarded £11,000 in damages – which he used to buy houses in the town, increasing his own influence at future elections.

Bankruptcy and evictionsEdit

The combination of corruption at the election itself and the need to fight petitions against the result afterwards made Shaftesbury too expensive to be useful to Ilchester, and he sold most of his property in the town to Sykes, while the Earl of Shaftesbury, having failed to get his candidate elected in 1776, seems to have withdrawn from any active involvement. Meanwhile, Mortimer continued his acquisition of property in the town until he owned the majority of houses in the borough, but spent so much on this and on fighting elections that he ran through his substantial fortune and ended in a debtors' prison.

The majority interest in the borough then passed to the nabob Paul Benfield, who bought up Mortimer's properties cheaply when they were auctioned off to benefit his creditors. However, after twice being elected in expensive contests, Benfield too was bankrupted. Shaftesbury then passed through a number of hands until, on the eve of the Reform Act, the principal interest was that of Earl Grosvenor. His accession seems to have eliminated Shaftesbury's endemic bribery and converted it to a more secure pocket borough: when Edward Harbord was offered the seat in 1820 in token of Grosvenor's admiration for his stand over Peterloo, he described it as "a place where no questions are asked as to political principles, and no money required". However, Grosvenor opted for coercion rather than persuasion to enforce his will, and at the tumultuous election of 1830 threatened to evict any of his tenants who did not back his candidates. This won the day, although the anti-Grosvenor candidate promised to compensate any of his supporters who might be evicted, and the election ended in a riot. Grosvenor's agents then proceeded to issue notice to quit to the recalcitrant tenants, fuelling an even-more-vigorous (but still unsuccessful) opposition to his candidates at the 1831 election, even though both of his nominees were pro-Reform.

Effects of the Reform ActEdit

In 1831, the population of the borough was 2,742, but the Reform Act of the following year extended the boundaries to include the whole of three town parishes and ten other adjoining parishes, covering an area several miles across and bringing the population up to 8,518. This was a bigger population than the revised borough of Poole, across the county, which kept both its MPs. Nevertheless, the Act provided that Shaftesbury lost one of its two MPs. The electorate of the new constituency was 634, and the reformed franchise being more restrictive than that which had previously operated, it was only the provision that preserved the rights of existing voters for life that prevented the new electorate from being as small as the old one. Indeed, as these voters died off or moved away the electorate fell still further, and only 461 men were registered to vote by 1865.

The constituency was unaltered in the boundary changes of 1868, but was too small to survive the next reform, and was abolished with effect from the 1885 general election. Shaftesbury itself and most of the borough were placed in the new Dorset North county constituency, though the parish of Donhead St Mary was in Wiltshire and was therefore incorporated into the Wilton constituency.

Members of ParliamentEdit


  • Constituency created (1295)
Parliament First member Second member
1386 Edward Leante Richard Payn[1]
1388 (Feb) Thomas Cammell Thomas Seward[1]
1388 (Sep) Hugh Croxhale Roger Pyjon[1]
1390 (Jan) Thomas Cammell Robert Fovent[1]
1390 (Nov)
1391 Thomas Cammell John Whiting[1]
1393 Thomas Cammell Walter Biere[1]
1394 Thomas Cammell Robert Biere[1]
1395 John Whiting Walter Biere[1]
1397 (Jan) John Hordere Walter Biere[1]
1397 (Sep) Hugh Croxhale Walter Biere[1]
1399 Thomas Cammell Walter Biere[1]
1402 Thomas Cammell Walter Biere[1]
1404 (Jan)
1404 (Oct)
1406 Robert Frye II John Scarburgh[1]
1407 John Bole John Bremle[1]
1410 John Bole Walter Biere[1]
1413 (Feb)
1413 (May) John Bole Walter Biere[1]
1414 (Apr) Thomas Haselmere John Pyjon[1]
1414 (Nov) Thomas Hat Walter Biere[1]
1416 (Mar)
1416 (Oct)
1417 Robert Frye Walter Biere[1]
1419 Robert Squibbe John Clerk[1]
1420 Robert Squibbe John Bole[1]
1421 (May) Robert Squibbe John Clerk[1]
1421 (Dec) Robert Squibbe John Hody[1]
1510–1523 No names known[2]
1529 William More John Mathew[2]
1536 ?
1539 ?
1542 ?
1545 William More Robert Grove[2]
1547 John Arundell Henry Ashley[2]
1553 (Mar) ?
1553 (Nov) John Gapputh John Fuell[2]
1554 (Apr) John Denham[2]
Parliament of 1554 (Nov) John Plympton[2]
Parliament of 1555 Matthew Arundell John Foster[2]
Parliament of 1558 William Grove Hugh Hawker[2]
Parliament of 1559 Sir John Zouche Henry Coker[3]
Parliament of 1563–1567 Henry Iden William Jordyn[3]
Parliament of 1571 John Long Thomas Morgan[3]
Parliament of 1572–1581 Robert Grove Charles Vaughan[3]
Parliament of 1584–1585 Thomas Cavendish Bartholomew Kempe[3]
Parliament of 1586–1587 Francis Zouche Gregory Sprint[3]
Parliament of 1588–1589 Thomas Crompton Michael Hicks[3]
Parliament of 1593 Arthur Atye[3]
Parliament of 1597–1598 John Budden John Davies[3]
Parliament of 1601 Arthur Messenger John Budden
Parliament of 1604–1611 Robert Hopton
Addled Parliament (1614) Henry Croke Sir Miles Sandys sat for Cambridge University
In his place Sir Simeon Steward
Parliament of 1621–1622 William Beecher Expelled from the House
In his place Percy Herbert
Thomas Sheppard Expelled from the House
In his place Ralph Hopton
Happy Parliament (1624–1625) William Whitaker John Thoroughgood
Useless Parliament (1625)
Parliament of 1625–1626 William Whitaker Samuel Turner
Parliament of 1628–1629 John Thoroughgood Sir John Croke
No Parliament summoned 1629–1640


Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 William Whitaker Parliamentarian Edward Hyde[4] Royalist
1640 Samuel Turner Royalist
November 1640
January 1644 Turner disabled from sitting – seat vacant
1645 John Bingham
1646 George Starre
1647 John Fry
February 1651 Fry expelled – seat vacant
1653 Shaftesbury was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Henry Whitaker James Baker
May 1659 John Bingham One seat vacant
April 1660 Thomas Grove James Baker
1661 Henry Whitaker John Lowe
1667 John Bennett
1677 Thomas Bennett
1679 Sir Matthew Andrews
1685 Sir Henry Butler John Bowles
1689 Sir Matthew Andrews Edward Nicholas
1698 Henry Cornish
1699 Thomas Chafin
1701 Sir John Cropley
1710 Edward Seymour
1711 Henry Whitaker
January 1715 Samuel Rush[5]
May 1715 William Benson[6] Whig
1719 Sir Edward des Bouverie
1726 Stephen Fox
1734 Jacob Banks Philip Bennet[7]
1735 Stephen Fox
1738 Philip Bennet
1741 Peter Walter Charles Ewer
1742 George Pitt[8] Tory
June 1747 Cuthbert Ellison
December 1747 William Beckford
1754 Hon. James Brudenell Sir Thomas Clavering Whig
1761 Sir Gilbert Heathcote Whig Samuel Touchet Whig
1768 William Chaffin Grove (Sir) Ralph Payne
1771 Francis Sykes
1774 Thomas Rumbold
1775 Seat declared vacant pending by-election Hans Winthrop Mortimer[9] Independent
1776 George Rous
1780 Sir Thomas Rumbold[10] (Sir) Francis Sykes[11]
1781 Hans Winthrop Mortimer Independent
1784 Adam Drummond
1786 John Drummond
1790 Charles Duncombe Tory[12] William Grant Tory[12]
1793 Paul Benfield
1796 Walter Boyd
1802 Edward Loveden Loveden Robert Hurst
1806 Captain Sir Home Riggs Popham
1807 Whig[12] Thomas Wallace Whig[12]
1812 Richard Bateman-Robson Whig[12] Hudson Gurney Whig[12]
1813[13] Charles Wetherell Tory[12] Edward Kerrison Tory[12]
1818 John Bacon Sawrey Morritt Henry John Shepherd
1820 Edward Harbord Abraham Moore
1821 Ralph Leycester Whig[14]
1822 Lord Robert Grosvenor Whig
1826 Edward Davies Davenport Whig[15]
1830 Edward Penrhyn Whig[12] William Stratford Dugdale Tory[12]
1831 William Leader Maberly Whig[12]
1832 Representation reduced to one member


Year Member Party
1832 John Sayer Poulter Whig[12][16][17]
1838[18] George Mathew Conservative[12]
1841 Lord Howard of Effingham Whig[12][19][20]
1845 Richard Brinsley Sheridan Whig[21][22][23][24]
1852 Hon. Henry Portman Whig[25]
1857 George Glyn Whig
1859 Liberal
1873 Vere Benett-Stanford Conservative
1880 Hon. Sidney Glyn Liberal
1885 Constituency abolished

Election resultsEdit

Elections in the 1830sEdit

General election 1830: Shaftesbury[12][26]
Party Candidate Votes %
Whig Edward Penrhyn 169 38.9
Tory William Stratford Dugdale 145 33.3
Radical Sir Francis Charles Knowles, 3rd Baronet 121 27.8
Turnout 270 c. 77.1
Registered electors c. 350
Majority 24 5.6
Whig hold
Majority 24 5.5
Tory gain from Whig

Dugdale resigned, causing a by-election.

By-election, 19 April 1831: Shaftesbury[26]
Party Candidate Votes %
Whig William Leader Maberly Unopposed
Whig gain from Tory
General election 1831: Shaftesbury[12][26]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Edward Penrhyn 171 28.7 +9.3
Whig William Leader Maberly 168 28.2 +8.8
Radical Sir Francis Charles Knowles, 3rd Baronet 133 22.4 −5.4
Tory Dominick Trant 123 20.7 −12.6
Majority 25 4.2 −1.3
Turnout c. 298 c. 85.0 c. +7.9
Registered electors c. 350
Whig hold Swing +7.8
Whig gain from Tory Swing +7.6
General election 1832: Shaftesbury[12][27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig John Sayer Poulter 318 60.2 +32.0
Whig Edward Penrhyn 210 39.8 +11.1
Majority 108 20.4 +16.2
Turnout 528 83.3 −1.7
Registered electors 634
Whig hold Swing +10.5
General election 1835: Shaftesbury[12][27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig John Sayer Poulter 237 61.6 +1.4
Conservative William Best[28] 148 38.4 New
Majority 89 23.2 +2.8
Turnout 385 69.5 −13.8
Registered electors 554
Whig hold Swing +1.4
General election 1837: Shaftesbury[12][27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig John Sayer Poulter 224 50.6 −11.0
Conservative George Mathew 219 49.4 +11.0
Majority 5 1.2 −22.0
Turnout 443 89.3 +19.8
Registered electors 496
Whig hold Swing −11.0
  • On petition, Poulter was unseated in favour of Mathew

Elections in the 1840sEdit

General election 1841: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Henry Howard 219 52.0 +1.4
Conservative George Mathew 202 48.0 −1.4
Majority 17 4.0 +2.8
Turnout 421 84.7 −4.6
Registered electors 497
Whig hold Swing +1.4

Howard succeeded to the peerage, becoming 2nd Earl of Effingham, causing a by-election.

By-election, 5 March 1845: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Richard Brinsley Sheridan Unopposed
Whig hold
General election 1847: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Richard Brinsley Sheridan 213 54.8 +2.8
Conservative Richard Bethell 176 45.2 −2.8
Majority 37 9.5 +5.5
Turnout 389 80.4 −4.3
Registered electors 484
Whig hold Swing +2.8

Elections in the 1850sEdit

General election 1852: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Henry Portman Unopposed
Registered electors 509
Whig hold
General election 1857: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig George Glyn Unopposed
Registered electors 540
Whig hold
General election 1859: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George Glyn Unopposed
Registered electors 515
Liberal hold

Elections in the 1860sEdit

General election 1865: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George Glyn Unopposed
Registered electors 461
Liberal hold
General election 1868: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal George Glyn Unopposed
Registered electors 1,311
Liberal hold

Elections in the 1870sEdit

Glyn succeeded to the peerage, becoming Lord Wolverton and causing a by-election.

By-election, 30 Aug 1873: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Vere Benett-Stanford 603 53.0 New
Liberal Henry Danby Seymour[29] 534 47.0 N/A
Majority 69 6.0 N/A
Turnout 1,137 86.7 N/A
Registered electors 1,311
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing N/A
General election 1874: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Vere Benett-Stanford 591 51.3 N/A
Liberal Henry Danby Seymour[29] 562 48.7 N/A
Majority 29 2.6 N/A
Turnout 1,153 89.7 N/A
Registered electors 1,286
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing N/A

Elections in the 1880sEdit

General election 1880: Shaftesbury[27]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Sidney Glyn 652 51.3 +2.6
Conservative Vere Benett-Stanford 618 48.7 −2.6
Majority 34 2.6 N/A
Turnout 1,270 91.5 +1.8
Registered electors 1,388
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +2.6


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  4. ^ Hyde was also elected for Wootton Bassett, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Shafesbury
  5. ^ On petition, the election of 1715, at which Rush and Nicholas had been elected, was declared void. One of their opponent's, Benson, was declared duly elected in their place but the other, Henry Andrews, was found not to be eligible. A by-election was therefore held for the second seat, at which Nicholas was once more elected.
  6. ^ In 1718, Benson was appointed Surveyor-General of His Majesty's Works, an office that required him to vacate his seat and stand for re-election. He won the by-election but, on petition, the result was overturned and des Bouverie declared elected instead.
  7. ^ On petition, Bennet was declared not to have been duly elected, and his opponent Fox was seated in his place
  8. ^ Pitt was re-elected in 1747, but had also been elected for Dorset, which he chose to represent, and did not sit again for Shaftesbury
  9. ^ At the election of 1774, Sykes and Rumbold were initially declared elected, but on petition the result was overturned and their only opponent, Mortimer, was declared elected; the Commons also ordered the prosecution of Sykes and Rumbold for bribery. The second seat was declared vacant and a by-election held.
  10. ^ Rumbold was initially declared elected, but on petition the result was overturned and his opponent, Mortimer, was seated in his place.
  11. ^ Created a baronet, June 1781
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Stooks Smith, Henry. (1973) [1844-1850]. Craig, F. W. S. (ed.). The Parliaments of England (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. pp. 91–92. ISBN 0-900178-13-2.
  13. ^ Bateman-Robson and Gurney were initially returned as elected in the election of 1812, but on petition (Journals of the House of Commons, Volume 68 p 12 1812–1813) their opponents, Wetherell and Kerrison, were declared elected
  14. ^ Farrell, Stephen. "LEYCESTER, Ralph (1763–1835), of Toft Hall, Cheshire and 65 Portland Place, Mdx". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  15. ^ Farrell, Stephen. "DAVENPORT, Edward Davies (1778–1847), of Calveley, Cheshire". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  16. ^ Churton, Edward (1838). The Assembled Commons or Parliamentary Biographer: 1838. p. 186.
  17. ^ Mosse, Richard Bartholomew (1838). The Parliamentary Guide: a concise history of the Members of both Houses, etc. p. 207.
  18. ^ At the election of 1837, Poulter was initially declared re-elected, but on petition his election was declared void and after scrutiny of the votes his opponent, Mathew, was declared duly elected
  19. ^ "Shaftesbury". Dublin Evening Post. 29 June 1841. p. 3 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  20. ^ "Devonshire". Dorset County Chronicle. 3 June 1841. pp. 3–4 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  21. ^ "London Electoral History — Steps Towards Democracy: 6.2 History of Elections in Westminster, 1749–1852" (PDF). London Electoral History 1700-1850. Newcastle University. p. 11. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  22. ^ Roberts, Andrew. "Biographies of Honorary (Unpaid) Lunacy Commissioners 1828-1912". THE LUNACY COMMISSION, A STUDY OF ITS ORIGIN, EMERGENCE AND CHARACTER. Middlesex University. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  23. ^ The Illustrated London News, Volume 6. Illustrated London News & Sketch Limited. 1845. p. 151 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ "House of Commons, Friday". Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties. 14 March 1845. p. 2 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  25. ^ "Dorset Chronicle". 19 March 1857. p. 9 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  26. ^ a b c Farrell, Stephen. "Shaftesbury". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Craig, F. W. S., ed. (1977). British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885 (e-book) |format= requires |url= (help) (1st ed.). London: Macmillan Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-349-02349-3.
  28. ^ "Page 2". The Sun. 10 January 1835 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  29. ^ a b "An Alleged Election Libel". Edinburgh Evening News. 16 February 1874. p. 3 – via British Newspaper Archive.


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