Four families and their friends dominated Staffordshire politics in this period:
(1) The Bagots of Blithfield
The Bagots were an old Staffordshire family of landed gentry. They had been Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses and Royalists in the Civil War. In the 18th century they were strong Tories with Jacobite sympathies.
Sir Edward Bagot, 2nd Baronet,
M.P. Staffordshire, 1660-61
Sir Walter Bagot, (son), 1645-1704
M.P. Staffordshire 1679-90, 1693-95
Sir Edward Bagot, (son), 1673-1712
M.P. Staffordshire 1698-1708
Charles Bagot, (brother), 1681-1736
M.P. Staffordshire 1712-13
Sir Walter Wagstaffe Bagot, (son of Edward), 1702-1768
M.P. Newcastle 1722-27, Staffordshire 1727-54, Oxford University 1762-68
Sir William Bagot, (son), 1723-1798
M.P. Staffordshire 1754-80
Created Baron Bagot 1780
Sir Walter Wagstaffe Bagot was always an opponent of the Whig governments in the first half of the century. He retired from the Staffordshire seat in 1754 in favour of his son Sir William, but was persuaded to return to politics eight years later as representative of Oxford University, a very strong centre of Toryism. He told his constituents that his main desire was to support the Church of England, “which in our days has so many enemies to cope with”, but he seems never to have spoken in the Commons after his return, and is only known to have cast his vote twice.
By contrast, his son Sir William was a frequent speaker, always taking a very conservative line. He opposed giving any more civil rights to Nonconformists (Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers etc), and in 1777 spoke out strongly against a proposal to build a theatre in Birmingham, arguing that this was precisely the sort of development that had caused the decline and fall of ancient Rome! It seems he was not much respected: one newspaper of the time described him as being “Of very moderate abilities, and without any of those engaging qualities which attract men’s regard”. He did not contest the election of 1780, having been promised a peerage by the Prime Minister, Lord North, which he was given later that year.
(2) The Chetwynds
Walter Chetwynd, d. 1692 (childless)
M.P. Staffordshire 1690-93
John Chetwynd, d. 1702 (distant cousin, inherited)
M.P. Stafford 1689-95, 1701-2
Walter Chetwynd, d. 1735 (son)
M.P. Stafforshire 1702-10, Stafford 1712-22 & 1724-34
Created Viscount Chetwynd (Irish) 1717 (Irish noblemen counted as commoners, and were allowed to be elected M.P.s!)
John Chetwynd, d. 1767, 2nd Viscount (brother)
M.P. St. Mawes 1715-22, Stockbridge 1722-34, Stafford 1738-47
William Chetwynd, d. 1770, 3rd Viscount (brother)
M.P. Stafford 1715-22, Plymouth 1722-27, Stafford 1734-70
William Richard Chetwynd, 1731-65 (son of John)
M.P. Stafford 1754-65
John Chetwynd Talbot 1750-93 (son-in-law of John; inherited his estates)
M.P. Castle Rising 1777-82
Created Earl Talbot 1784
And also -
William Chetwynd of Rugeley, d. 1691 (distant cousin of the family)
M.P. Stafford 1661-79
Walter Chetwynd of Grendon, d. 1732 (great-nephew)
M.P. Lichfield 1715-22
Walter Chetwynd was unseated at Staffordshire after the 1710 election, following accusations of corruption, being replaced by Henry Vernon. He was then re-elected at bye-election in 1712, when Foley, the other M.P., went to the House of Lords. Walter was defeated at Stafford in 1722, as was his brother William, the town‘s other M.P. Walter stood at a bye-election in 1724 and was defeated by Francis Eld, but Eld was then expelled from Commons following proof that the Mayor had tampered with the voting list, and Walter Chetwynd was installed in his place.
John Chetwynd was a diplomat, serving on missions to Paris, The Hague and Turin under Queen Anne.
It is worth noting that Stockbridge & St Mawes, which John Chetwynd represented, were tiny constituencies (with only 36 voters in St Mawes and 100 in Stockbridge) where there were hardly ever any actual votes: in fact, classic “rotten boroughs”
After 1714, the Chetwynds were described as “Hanoverian Tories”: that is, they normally followed the Tory line, but suspicion of the Catholic “Pretender” James Edward Stuart and his French backers meant they accepted the German Protestant George I as King. They thus supported the Whig government, and were rewarded with salaried government positions, but were not liked or trusted by either side.
In 1720 there occurred the famous “South Sea Bubble”; the world’s first-ever stock exchange crash. Many prominent people stood accused of corruption. The new Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who was not personally implicated in the scandal, exploited the opportunity to cement his position in power. In 1722 he purged the Chetwynds from the government. The four family M.P.s all lost their posts:-
Walter as Chief Ranger of St. James’s Park
John as a Commissioner of Trade & Plantations
William as a Junior Lord of the Admiralty
Walter of Grendon as Paymaster of Bounties & Pensions
(Most of these positions were called “sinecures” - jobs which paid a good salary but involved little or no actual work. Sinecures were used to reward people to whom the government didn’t wish to give any real power)
The family’s fortunes revived after Walpole’s fall from power in 1742. William Chetwynd was a supporter of his (short-lived) successor, Lord Wilmington, and was rewarded by being appointed as Master of the Mint, a position formerly held by Sir Isaac Newton, and worth the princely sum of £1,500 a year. (To put this into context; most families at the time had an annual income of £25 or less!) He held the post until his death in 1770.
William Chetwynd also once fought a duel with swords against Walpole’s brother Horatio in the Palace of Westminster itself, just outside the Commons chamber. William suffered a bad scratch on his face, leading to Horatio Walpole claiming victory - but Horatio was generally considered a complete buffoon and was widely ridiculed!
(Next: Two more local families, the Leveson-Gowers and Ansons)