Wiltshire (UK Parliament constituency)

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Former constituency
Unknown parliament UK.
1290 (1290)–1832 (1832)
Replaced byNorthern Wiltshire and Southern Wiltshire

Wiltshire was a constituency of the House of Commons of England from 1290 to 1707, of the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832. It was represented by two Members of Parliament (MPs), elected by the bloc vote system.



The constituency consisted of the whole historic county of Wiltshire. (Although Wiltshire contained a number of boroughs each of which elected two Members in their own right, the boroughs were not excluded from the county constituency, and owning property within a borough could confer a vote at the county election.)

Medieval and Tudor period[edit]

In medieval times, the custom in Wiltshire as elsewhere was for Members called knights of the shire to be elected at the county court by the suitors to the court, which meant the small number of nobles and other landowners who were tenants in chief of the Crown. Such county elections were held on the same day as the election of the members for the boroughs. Thus we find it recorded that in the first year of the reign of Henry V, "at a full County Court held at Wilton, Twenty-Six persons chose the Knights for the County, and the same individuals elected Two Citizens respectively for New Sarum, Old Sarum, Wilton, Devizes, Malmesbury, Marlborough and Calne."

From 1430, the Forty Shilling Freeholder Act extended the right to vote to every man who possessed freehold property within the county valued for the purposes of land tax at £2 (equivalent to £1,475 in 2021) or more per year; it was not necessary for the freeholder to occupy his land, nor even in later years to be resident in the county.

Once the vote was no longer confined to the richest men in the county, voters quickly came to expect the candidates for whom they voted to meet their expenses in travelling to the poll and to entertain them when they got there. At the Wiltshire election of 1559, one of the candidates, George Penruddock, was Steward to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke: at the close of polling, Penruddock invited all the voters, as well as his opponents and the Sheriff, to a dinner at Wilton House, Lord Pembroke's seat.

County elections were held at a single polling place. In the early period this would have been wherever in the county the Sheriff chose to hold the relevant county court, but eventually there was a fixed venue, at Wilton. Voters from the rest of the county had to travel there to exercise their franchise. A detailed account survives of how this worked in the mid-Tudor period, as there was litigation over a dispute at the election of 1559 in the Court of Star Chamber. At this election there were three candidates for the two seats, but it appears that the choice for one seat was unanimous. The other was contested between George Penruddock, the Steward to the Earl of Pembroke mentioned above, a member of the previous Parliament, and Sir John Thynne, who had previously represented boroughs in the county and who had just begun to build the great house at Longleat. The election proceeded by the Sheriff sitting in one place to take votes for Thynne, and his deputy sitting in another to take votes for Penruddock. There was no secret ballot at this period. Each side's agents watched the voting and had the opportunity to challenge the credentials of anyone they believed not to be a valid voter. Penruddock was the easy victor, but Thynne then challenged his election, claiming that many of his votes were invalid (which he had already had the chance to prove and had failed to do), and that Penruddock himself was ineligible, being neither resident in Wiltshire nor of sufficiently high social status to be a Knight of the Shire. These objections might have had more weight were he not already one of the sitting members. The Sheriff declared Penruddock elected, but afterwards Thynne's supporters quietly persuaded him to change his mind and gave him a bond for £300 (equivalent to £121,069 in 2021) to indemnify him against the consequences; he therefore sent in the return of election naming Thynne rather than Penruddock as duly elected. The size of the bond seems to have been finely judged, since when the Attorney General prosecuted the Sheriff in the Star Chamber he was fined £200 and Penruddock was awarded a further £100 in damages; but the Sheriff was also sentenced to a year's imprisonment.

18th and 19th century elections[edit]

As time went on, the treating at elections became more elaborate and more openly corrupt, and at the same time the size of the electorate expanded considerably. In the 15th century, the forty-shilling freeholders must still have constituted a very small number of voters, but social changes and rising land values both acted eventually to broaden the franchise. Those qualified to vote were still a fraction of total population: at the time of the Great Reform Act in 1832, Wiltshire had a total population of approximately 240,000, yet just 6,403 votes were cast in the county constituency at the 1818 election, the last general election at which there was a contested election in Wiltshire. This was nevertheless enough to put a substantial burden on the candidates' purses, making the cost of a contested election very high – a by-election in 1772 was said to have cost £20,000 (equivalent to £2,719,920 in 2021). Contested elections were therefore rare, potential candidates preferring to canvass support beforehand and usually not insisting on a vote being taken unless they were confident of winning; the county was contested at four of the six general elections between 1701 and 1713, but in all but one of the remaining twenty-three general elections until 1832, Wiltshire's two Members were elected unopposed.

Wiltshire was a predominantly rural county, though the freeholders from the biggest towns (Salisbury, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Westbury and Warminster) made up almost a fifth of the vote in 1818. It succeeded in remaining independent of any domination by the local nobility and generally chose members of the county's landed gentry as its members. Wiltshire was unusual in that by the 18th century it has formalised the process of picking its candidates to some degree, the decision being made by a body called the Deptford Club (named after the inn where it met). The club consisted of leading local members of both gentry and nobility and was said to have been in existence since 1729. Once the club had met in private and made its decision, the choice was ratified at a public meeting, and only on a small number of occasions did a disappointed candidate take the matter to a formal vote at the ensuing election. However, in the last half century before Reform, two rival clubs (the Devizes Club and the Beckhampton Club) took over the nominating function, and in 1812 an independent candidate, Paul Methuen, stood against one of the nominees of the clubs and defeated him.


Under the Great Reform Act of 1832, the constituency was abolished, and the county was split into two two-member divisions for Parliamentary purposes, Northern Wiltshire and Southern Wiltshire constituencies.

Members of Parliament[edit]


Parliament First member Second member
1313 John de Vivonia
1357 Thomas Hungerford
1360 Thomas Hungerford
1362 Thomas Hungerford
1376 Sir John Delamare[1]
1377 (Jan) Sir Thomas Hungerford
1378 Sir Ralph Cheyne[2] Sir John Dauntsey[3]
1379 Sir Thomas Hungerford Sir John Dauntsey[3]
1380 (Jan) Sir Thomas Hungerford
1380 (Nov) Sir Thomas Hungerford
1381 Sir John Roches[4] Sir John Dauntsey[3]
1382 (May) Sir John Roches[4] Sir John Dauntsey[3]
1382 (Oct) Sir John Dauntsey[3]
1382 (Nov) Sir John Roches[4]
1383 (Feb) Sir John Roches[4]
1384 (Apr) Sir John Roches[4]
1385 Sir Robert Corbet
1386 Sir Thomas Hungerford Sir Ralph Cheyne[5]
1388 (Feb) Sir John Dauntsey John Bettesthorne[5]
1388 (Sep) Sir Ralph Cheyne Richard Horne[5]
1390 (Jan) Sir Thomas Hungerford Sir William Sturmy[5]
1390 (Nov) Sir John Roches John Wroth[5]
1391 Sir Bernard Brocas Robert Dingley[5]
1393 Sir Thomas Hungerford Sir William Sturmy[5]
1394 Sir John Roches John Gawen[5]
1395 Sir John Lilborne John Gawen[5]
1397 (Jan) Sir John Roches Sir Robert Corbet[5]
1397 (Sep) Sir Henry Green Sir Thomas Blount[5]
1399 Sir William Sturmy Sir John Roches[5]
1401 Sir William Sturmy Sir Walter Hungerford[5]
1402 Sir John Berkeley Thomas Calston[5]
1404 (Jan) Richard Mawarden Peter Stantor[5]
1404 (Oct) Sir Walter Hungerford William Worfton[5]
1406 Thomas Bonham Thomas Calston[5]
1407 Sir Walter Hungerford William Stourton[5]
1411 Sir Walter Hungerford Henry Thorpe[5]
1413 (Feb)
1413 (May) Sir William Sturmy Sir Walter Hungerford[5]
1414 (Apr) Sir William Moleyns Sir Walter Hungerford[5]
1414 (Nov) Sir William Sturmy Thomas Bonham[5]
1415 William Alexander Thomas Bonham[5]
1416 (Mar) Sir Walter Beauchamp Robert Andrew[5]
1416 (Oct)
1417 Sir William Sturmy John Westbury[5]
1419 Robert Ashley John Westbury[5]
1420 John Persons John Rous[5]
1421 (May) Robert Long Richard Milbourne[5]
1421 (Dec) John Stourton Robert Long[5]
1422 Sir William Sturmy Robert Andrew
1423–1424 Robert Long
1425 John Stourton
1426 Robert Andrew
1429–1430 Robert Long
1432 Sir John Stourton
1433 Robert Andrew
1433 Robert Long
1435 John Seymour[6]
1439 John Seymour[6]
1442 Robert Long Henry Green
1445 John Seymour[6]
1449 Henry Long
1449 Sir John Bayntun
1453–1454 Henry Long
1471–1481 John Cheney
1472–1475 Henry Long
1477 Walter Hungerford
1491 Sir Richard Beauchamp[7]
1497 Richard Elyot [7]
1510–1523 No names known[8]
1529 Sir Edward Darrell, died
and replaced 1532 by
Henry Long
Edward Bayntun[8][9]
1539 Edward Bayntun[9] Robert Long[8]
1545 Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley Sir William Herbert[8]
1547 Sir William Herbert, ennobled
and replaced Jan 1552 by
Sir William Sharington
Sir William Wroughton[8]
1553 (Mar) ? Sir James Stumpe[8]
1553 (Oct) Sir Edward Waldegrave Henry Long[8]
1554 (Apr) Sir William Wroughton Sir John Marvyn[8]
1554 (Nov) Sir Walter Hungerford Christopher Willoughby[8]
1555 Henry Bodenham William Basely[8]
1558 George Penruddock Nicholas Snell[8]
1559 (Jan) Sir John Thynne[10] John Erneley[11]
1562–1563 Edward Bayntun John Eyre[11]
1571 Sir John Thynne John Danvers[11]
1572 (Apr) Sir George Penruddock James Marvyn[11]
1584 (Nov) Carew Raleigh Anthony Mildmay[11][12]
1586 (Oct) William Brouncker Carew Ralegh[11]
1588 (Oct) John Thynne William Brouncker[11]
1593 Sir Walter Long Sir William Brouncker[11]
1597 (Oct) Sir William Eyre Henry Baynton II[11]
1601 (Sep) Edmund Carey Sir Edward Hungerford[11]
1604 Sir Francis Popham Sir John Thynne (died 1604)
1605 Thomas Thynne (election disallowed)[13]
1606 Sir Walter Vaughan[14]
1614 Sir Thomas Howard Sir Henry Poole
1621 Sir Francis Seymour Sir Edward Bayntun
1624 Edward Hungerford Sir John St John
1625 Sir Francis Seymour Sir Henry Ley
1626 Sir Henry Poole Walter Long
1628 Sir William Button Sir Francis Seymour
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned


Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 Sir Francis Seymour Royalist Philip Lord Herbert
November 1640 Sir James Thynne Royalist Sir Henry Ludlow[15] Parliamentarian
September 1642 Thynne disabled from sitting – seat vacant
1646 Hon. James Herbert Edmund Ludlow
December 1648 Herbert excluded in Pride's Purge – seat vacant
Wiltshire had 3 representatives in the nominated Parliament of 1653 and 10 in the first two Parliaments of the Protectorate
1653 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Nicholas Green, Thomas Eyre
1654 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Thomas Grove, Alexander Thistlethwaite, Alexander Popham, Francis Holles,
John Ernle, William Yorke, John Norden, James Ash, Gabriel Martin
1656 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Thomas Grove, Alexander Thistlethwaite, Sir Alexander Popham,
Richard Grobham Howe, Sir Walter St John, John Bulkeley, William Ludlow, Henry Hungerford, Gabriel Martin
Representation reverted to 2 MPs in the Third Protectorate Parliament
January 1659 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper Sir Walter St John
May 1659 Edmund Ludlow One seat vacant
1660 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper John Ernle
1661 Charles Seymour Henry Hyde
1664 Sir James Thynne
1670 Thomas Thynne
1675 Sir Richard Grobham Howe
1679 Sir Walter St John
1685 Viscount Cornbury Tory Viscount Bruce Tory
1689 Sir Thomas Mompesson
1690 Sir Walter St John
1695 Sir George Hungerford Henry St John
1698 Sir Edward Ernle
January 1701 Richard Grobham Howe
December 1701 Maurice Ashley William Ashe
1702 Richard Grobham Howe[16] Robert Hyde
1722 Richard Goddard
1727 Sir James Long Tory John Ivory-Talbot
1729 John Howe
1741 Sir Robert Long Tory Edward Popham
1767 Thomas Goddard
1770 Charles Penruddocke
1772 Ambrose Goddard
1788 Sir James Tylney-Long Tory
1795 Henry Penruddocke Wyndham Whig
1806 Richard Godolphin Long Tory
1812 Paul Methuen
1818 William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley Tory
1819 John Benett
1820 Sir John Dugdale Astley
1832 County divided into two constituencies


  1. ^ S. E. Rigold, Nunney Castle, Somerset (HMSO, 1967), p. 4 (online)
  2. ^ "CHEYNE, Sir Ralph (c.1337-1400), of Brooke in Westbury, Wilts". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e "DAUNTSEY, Sir John (d.1391), of Dauntsey, Wilts". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "ROCHES, Sir John (c.1333-1400), of Bromham, Wilts". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac "History of Parliament". Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  6. ^ a b c J. S. Roskell, The Commons in the Parliament of 1422 (Manchester University Press), [http||//books.google.co.uk/books?id=TxYNAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA126#v=onepage&q&f=false p. 126] (see footnotes)
  7. ^ a b Cavill, P. R. (13 August 2009). The English Parliaments of Henry VII. ISBN 9780191610264. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "History of Parliament". Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  9. ^ a b Wall, Alison. "Baynton family". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/71877. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ The Court of Star Chamber found that Thynne had been fraudulently returned by the Sheriff and that his opponent, George Penruddock, had in fact been the victor.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of Parliament". Retrieved 9 September 2011.
  12. ^ "Myldmay, Anthony (MLDY562A)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  13. ^ "THYNNE, Thomas (c.1577/8-1639), of Longleat, Wilts. and Cannon Row, Westminster". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
  14. ^ "VAUGHAN, Sir Walter (c.1572-1639), of Falstone House, Bishopstone, Wilts". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
  15. ^ Died. Cobbett records him as dead by 1644, Brunton & Pennington give his date of death as December 1645. As this was the date that the writ was issued for a by-election to fill the vacancy, it may be an error.
  16. ^ Succeeded his father as Sir Richard Grobham Howe, 3rd Baronet, in 1703


See also[edit]