Hindon (UK Parliament constituency)

Hindon was a parliamentary borough consisting of the village of Hindon in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1448 until 1832, when the borough was abolished by the Great Reform Act. It was one of the most notoriously corrupt of the rotten boroughs, and bills to disfranchise Hindon were debated in Parliament on two occasions before its eventual abolition.

Hindon was a small market town, and may have been of at least minor importance at the time it was first represented in Parliament, during the reign of Henry VI. However, the town was destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1754, and over the same period its trade went into severe decline. By 1831, the population of the borough was only 921, and the borough and town contained 185 houses.

Hindon was an example of the class of constituencies known as potwalloper boroughs, the right to vote being exercised by every householder, a household being notionally defined as any dwelling place with a separate hearth capable of heating a pot – this meant in effect that the majority of the male population could vote. The precise regulations in these constituencies varied, but in Hindon the franchise was defined by a House of Commons ruling of 1728 as resting with all inhabitant householders who were parishioners of Hindon and not receiving alms. At the final contested election, that of 1831, it was estimated that these amounted to 170 eligible voters, and 112 actually voted. The local magnates were generally recognised as "patrons" of the borough, and had considerable influence over the choice of MPs; however, Hindon's voters were amenable only at a price, and were frequently prepared to sell the borough's seats to the highest bidder should rival candidates present themselves. In the late 17th century, the Howe family were pre-eminent, and were joined by the Calthorpes who were Lords of the Manor; both frequently chose to keep the seats for themselves or for a family member. The Howe influence faded in the early 18th century, and from 1745 Lord Calthorpe was effectively joined as patron by William Beckford, the wealthy Jamaica planter and London alderman who in that year bought nearby Fonthill Abbey.

One of Hindon's most remarkable members was John Story, Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford. Elected at Hindon in 1547, he gained notoriety by his opposition to the Act of Uniformity in 1548. After he had called out "Woe unto thee, O land, when thy king is a child," Story was imprisoned on the orders of the House of Commons, but was soon released and fled to the Seventeen Provinces. The reign of Queen Mary I from 1553 to 1558 brought him back into public life and he again became a member of parliament, but after Mary's death he opposed the Act of Supremacy of 1559, was imprisoned again, escaped, was recaptured, fled again to the Low Countries, where he became a subject of King Philip II of Spain, was kidnapped by agents of Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was tortured, and finally in 1571 was hanged, drawn and quartered. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.[1]

Story's successor as Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford, William Aubrey, was elected a member for Hindon in 1559.[2]

With an electorate as large as Hindon's, usually amounting to a couple of hundred voters, the hold of the patrons was precarious at the best of times, but was weakened still further when they were competing with each other in the hope of nominating both MPs. An early example of such rivalry was the election of 1697, when Reynolds Calthorpe petitioned to overturn his defeat by Colonel Henry Lee on the grounds of the "undue practices of one Sir James How, who pretended to stand, and spent a great deal of money in treats; but at the time of the election set up Col. Lee, whom the bailiff hath returned." Calthorpe later withdrew his petition and was shortly afterwards elected together with Howe, but it was then the turn of their two defeated opponents, Robert Hyde and George Morley, to bring a petition complaining of "several indirect and unlawful practices at and before the election".

No report of the outcome of the 1698 petition is recorded, so it also may well have been withdrawn. It should be understood that the resolution of petitions at this period was frequently conducted on an entirely partisan basis, the outcome being dependent on which side could command a majority in the Commons rather than on the merits of the case, so that the failure to achieve a favourable verdict cannot be taken to indicate that the complaint was unjustified. Equally, accusations were sometimes made on slender grounds, and the frequency of petitions in itself is no evidence of endemic corruption.

This page was last edited on 13 May 2018, at 14:18 (UTC).
Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindon_(UK_Parliament_constituency) under CC BY-SA license.

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