Parliaments, Politics & People seminar: Alex Lock, ‘Sir Thomas Gascoigne (1745-1810), national politics and the York county election of 1784’

Thanks to Parliament Week, we’re a little behind in our ‘Parliaments, politics and people’ seminar reports. Before tonight’s seminar, here’s our latest report…

A month ago Dr Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts at the British Library, spoke onSir Thomas Gascoigne (1745-1810), national politics and the York county election of 1784’. The paper was based on Dr Lock’s recently-published biography of Gascoigne, election manager for the Rockingham/Fitzwilliam interest Whig candidates in Yorkshire. The paper discussed the local and national circumstances of an election that led to a surprising defeat for the ‘formerly unassailable Rockingham interest’, recently inherited by the Marquess’s nephew, the earl Fitzwilliam. Realising on the eve of the election that they would lose the poll, the Fitzwilliam candidates, William Weddell and Francis Ferrand Foljambe withdrew, meaning Henry Duncombe and William Wilberforce were returned.

'Fox in a trap' handbill in favour of Duncombe and Wilberforce

‘Fox in a trap’ handbill in favour of Duncombe and Wilberforce

Dr Lock surveyed both the national and local aspects of the election to explain the defeat and judge the role of Gascoigne, a surprising choice as election agent. The campaign nationally was characterised by rivalries between the parliamentary factions led by William Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox. The Fox-North coalition administration had recently been forced out of power, and Fox’s controversial East India bill was attacked countrywide as an example of Fox overstepping his power. This issue played a part in Yorkshire through handbills such as the one opposite attacking the pro-Fox Weddell and Foljambe. However, it was the interplay of national and local issues, Dr Lock argued, that had a real impact on this election.

One particular issue was the proposal for a receipt tax proposed by the Foxite MP for York, Lord John Cavendish. The proposed tax, falling most heavily upon those involved in trade and industry who used receipts, became widely represented as an attempt by ‘the landed interest in Parliament, to throw the burthens of taxation unfairly and unwisely upon trade’ [A Serious Address to the Public, Concerning the Tax on Receipts (London, 1784)]. In Yorkshire this played badly in the large manufacturing districts in the West Riding, who opposed both the tax and Fitzwilliam’s ‘aristocratic’ candidates.

Dr Lock turned to the organisation of the election campaign, which did not help the Fitzwilliam candidates’ chances. This was particularly crucial due to the timing of the election: Parliament was dissolved on 25 March and both sides had just thirteen days in which to organise and execute the canvass, raise subscriptions, make arrangements for the poll and organise enough accommodation and transport for their supporters to come to York to vote. This was particularly crucial in Yorkshire, the largest constituency in the Commons in terms of acreage and the size of the electorate. The Fitzwilliam candidates faced a highly-organised opposition backed by the pro-reform Yorkshire Association. This powerful local group had initially supported Whig interests in the county, but differences emerged over the extension of the franchise and in 1784 they supported Duncombe and Wilberforce. The locally-based organisation had many advantages: an experienced election manager in the form of William Gray, strong links throughout the county, and a professional organisation to canvass and bring their supporters to the poll (through the help of ‘treating’ at inns, recompense for time away from business, and organised travel into the county seat).

In contrast, the Fitzwilliam interest’s approach was more amateurish. Part of this was due to Gascoigne’s appointment as election manager, a man who had limited experience of election campaigning, let alone as a manager. Although an MP, Gascoigne had spent most of his life abroad and was a recent convert from Catholicism. Dr Lock explored the impact of Gascoigne’s Catholicism, which was used against him during the campaign. Yet his lack of experience proved more costly. He was unsure of the rules about the franchise (even canvassing those who were ineligible to vote); he failed to authorise payments for expenses quickly, and the canvass itself was ‘chaos’ with little coordination. Although Gascoigne quickly improved his organisation, this bad start proved difficult to recover from, with many agents reporting back that they were ‘too late’ to secure the support of voters.

Dr Lock concluded by arguing that it would be ungenerous to lay the Fitzwilliam defeat solely on Gascoigne’s lack of experience or flawed organisation. Public opinion, particularly due to the proposed Receipt tax in the industrial districts of the West Riding, was against them. As one of Gascoigne’s agents concluded after the decision to withrdraw: ‘considering the Tide of popular Rage which bears against us, and in this particular juncture spreads so very wide, our friends have in my judgement adopted a wise Resolution in declining the Poll.’


For more on Sir Thomas Gascoigne, see Dr Lock’s new book, ‘Catholicism, Identity and Politics in the Age of Enlightenment: The Life and Career of Sir Thomas Gascoigne, 1745-1810’.

Join us tonight when Philip Aylett (House of Commons) will speak on ‘The political origins and impact of Commons select committees: some 20th century case studies’. Full details here.

The blogpost from Dr Paul Seaward’s recent paper to follow!

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The ‘marriage’ of Aubrey de Vere, 20th earl of Oxford

Today, our post is another inspired by our recently-published volumes on the House of Lords. In this blog the editor, Dr Ruth Paley, describes the infamous matrimonial affairs of the 20th earl of Oxford…

Sometime in the early 1660s, Aubrey de Vere, the 20th earl of Oxford, married the popular actress, Hester Davenport.  Or did he? There is little doubt that a wedding took place; the question is, was it sufficient to create a legally valid marriage?

Actresses had only just started appearing on the English stage. They had a somewhat dubious moral reputation but it seems that Hester Davenport refused to give in to Oxford’s advances unless they were married. Davenport  wore a white satin gown decorated with silver ribbons for their ensuing wedding, which took place in the dining room of a chandler’s shop in a somewhat insalubrious street in the vicinity of what is now London’s Northumberland Avenue.   The proceedings were conducted by a man dressed as a clergyman.  Later rumours suggested that the clergyman was actually one of Oxford’s menial servants, variously described as his groom or trumpeter.  The couple lived together as man and wife, they had a son together and Hester Davenport seems to have been acknowledged as countess of Oxford.

Until recently historians believed that before the passage of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753 such a union constituted a genuine marriage – one that would be recognised as legal under the common law, but that belief has been exploded by the research of Rebecca Probert. Accordingly when Oxford married Diana Kirk at Whitehall in January 1672 in an Anglican ceremony conducted by his chaplain, no one questioned that this was a legal marriage even though Hester Davenport was still alive, and still calling herself countess of Oxford.

An action in the church courts in the mid 1680s confirmed that Hester Davenport and Oxford had indeed gone through some sort of ceremony but failed to establish that it had been performed by a genuine clergyman. Hester Davenport was thus unable to prove that she was anything other than a discarded mistress.  She did not accept the result, even after losing an appeal to the court of arches.  She continued to call herself countess of Oxford and, insisting that their son was legitimate, attempted to establish him as the heir to the earldom.  She remained single until Oxford died in the spring of 1703 then married the Flemish merchant Peter Hoet.


The History of Parliament has recently published our first set of volumes focusing on the House of Lords. Covering the period 1660-1715, this five-volume work is available from Cambridge University Press.

Click here for other blogposts inspired by our House of Lords 1660-1715 volumes.

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Unlikely Parliamentarians 5: Civil War religious radical

ukparliamentweek_logo_partner_tag_rgbThis week is Parliament Week, a programme of events and activities that connects people across the UK with Parliament and democracy. To mark it, every day this week we are publishing a blog on ‘unlikely parliamentarians’  – the men and women across history who became parliamentarians only unexpectedly.

Our final blog in the series is from Dr Stephen Roberts, editor of the Commons 1640-60 section. The chaos of the Civil Wars and Interregnum certainly led to many ‘unexpected’ MPs. Here Dr Roberts discusses the life of William Neast, a religious radical and minor local gentry figure who made it to parliament…

The period of the English Revolution in the mid-seventeenth century threw up many unlikely parliamentarians, whose unlikeliness lay in their social background rather than in their personalities. As in any period, the parliaments of the 1640s and 1650s included colourful characters, eccentrics and people whose morals, financial probity and general character marked them out from the norm. But because of the peculiar social circumstances of the English civil war and its aftermath, many men came to sit in the House of Commons who would not, in more settled times, have aspired to represent their county at Westminster. One of these was William Neast (1622-70) of Chaceley, a small parish on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border, near Tewkesbury. Neast came from a long line of yeomen farmers, who had become prosperous enough to deserve the title parish gentry: important figures in Chaceley, but not far beyond it.

William Neast was the first of his family to go to university, at Oxford, and returned evidently to rule the roost at Chaceley. But during the civil war the most important parliamentarian garrison in his district was Gloucester, and in 1643 Neast became firstly the collector in his locality of taxes for the garrison, and soon afterwards, collector of Parliament’s national tax, the assessment, in the western Cotswolds. Whether his commitment to the cause of Parliament against the king preceded or followed these appointments is unclear, but he then became captain of a troop of foot-soldiers at Tewkesbury, and in the Worcestershire militia. These local responsibilities found recognition when the governing council of Tewkesbury elected him as a freeman of the borough in 1646. In normal times, this would have entitled him to progress to be mayor of Tewkesbury after serving through the less desirable minor offices of the town. In Neast’s case, because he was elected in his capacity as a soldier in the service of Parliament, he was allowed the luxury of a special arrangement by which ‘he should serve no office in town without his own consent’, meaning that if he declined to serve in civic office he would face no financial penalty.

Neast’s ambivalent approach to the freedom of the borough of Tewkesbury suggests that his public service ambitions remained strictly limited in 1646. However, the national emergency of 1650-1, when the fledgling English Commonwealth was threatened by a Scots army with the future Charles II at its head, demanded practical action from many supporters of Parliament, from none more so than from those with a background in the county militias. The battle of Worcester of 3 Sept. 1651, when the Scots army was routed by the republican forces under Oliver Cromwell, drew heavily on the militia, both in practical, military terms, but also in terms of rhetoric. The idea that volunteer soldiers had rallied to the Commonwealth flag was vital in the propaganda and imagery of how Worcester was recorded and celebrated. What Neast thought about the execution of Charles I, which had taken place more than two years earlier, or what he made of the inauguration of the republic, for that matter, is lost to us. But we can be confident that he played some local part in the campaign of Worcester, a city less than 20 miles from Tewkesbury. The triumph of what Cromwell called the ‘crowning mercy’ of Worcester emboldened the radical Congregational churches in all regions of England.

Whether Neast became recognized as a friend and supporter of the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire congregations before the battle of Worcester or after it is not known. But after he forcibly expelled the Rump Parliament in April 1653, Lord general Oliver Cromwell turned to the radical elements in the army and to such radical churches to nominate men to serve in a constitutional experiment which derived some of its inspiration from the Jewish Sanhedrin of the Old Testament. Neast was one of those identified by the Gloucestershire churches in 1653 as one who enjoyed a ‘good report for piety and constant adhering to the cause of God and interest of the army’. So as a nominee of his fellow-militiamen and his local churches, Neast went up to London in the summer of 1653 to sit for Gloucestershire in the Parliament known variously as Barebones Parliament or the Nominated Assembly. He did very little while he was there, beyond perhaps playing some small part in the committee for management of the army, and he left early, returning to Chaceley after only two months. He was however evidently comfortable with the dissolution of that Parliament and the accession of Oliver Cromwell to be head of state with the title of lord protector, because he was elected again, this time by a more conventional electoral process, to the Parliament of 1656. In that assembly he was more active, albeit only on matters of local or regional Gloucestershire interest. Parliament asked him to arbitrate in a quarrel among the Puritan ministers at Tewkesbury, men who were almost certainly his friends, and his whole profile as an MP shows how he never transcended, or sought to transcend, his local roots.

In 1660, at the restoration of Charles II, against whom he had fought at Worcester nine years earlier, Neast sought to walk away from his local offices. At Tewkesbury he formally attested that he wished to ‘lay hold upon his majesty’s free and general pardon’, declaring ‘… I am and will continue his majesty’s loyal and obedient subject’. He managed to extricate himself, but not without some close attention from a hostile government that had intercepted a letter to him from the puritan minister of Tewkesbury. In this letter, the minister, who himself was ejected from his living, asserted to Neast that ‘good people are preparing for dark days in order to a glorious appearance’. For ‘good people’, substitute ‘religious radicals’ or adherents to the ‘Good Old Cause’ of Parliament; and for ‘a glorious appearance’, Jesus Christ and a new earthly leader in England, and you see why Neast was monitored closely by the agents of the monarchy for the rest of his life, and was lucky to evade arrest and imprisonment.  He died in May 1670 and was buried in Twyning church, near Tewkesbury, where his memorial (in Latin, a nod to his Oxford education) reads: ‘Death alone shows how small are the little bodies of men’.


Our entire series on ‘Unlikely Parliamentarians’ is available here. For more about Parliament Week, visit their website.

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Unlikely Parliamentarians 4: a view from the Victorian Commons

ukparliamentweek_logo_partner_tag_rgbThis week is Parliament Week, a programme of events and activities that connects people across the UK with Parliament and democracy. To mark it, every day this week we are publishing a blog on ‘unlikely parliamentarians’  – the men and women across history who became parliamentarians only unexpectedly.

In our fourth blog of the series, Dr Philip Salmon, editor of the Victorian Commons, discusses some of the MPs from working backgrounds who found their way into the Victorian Commons long before the rise of Labour …

From 'The March of Reform' by H.B (John Doyle), 1833.

From ‘The March of Reform’ by H.B (John Doyle), 1833.

The traditional view of the nineteenth-century House of Commons is that despite some democratic advances it remained an exclusive and elite club, dominated by the land-owning classes and a growing number of rich industrialists and well-connected professionals. MPs from non-elite and working class backgrounds, especially of the kind later associated with the rise of the Labour party, remained pretty thin on the ground.

The History of Parliament’s 1832-68 project, however, is revealing a surprising number of MPs from an unusual range of backgrounds, some of whom made significant contributions to parliamentary life, especially behind the scenes. Recent examples include the Welsh shopkeeper’s assistant William Williams, who set off on foot for London aged 16 with just 30 shillings in his pocket and established a thriving warehousing business. Others include John Duncuft, a glazier’s son who made a fortune in cotton, the Irish baker and brewer James McCann, the prize fighter and butcher’s son John Gully, and the Regent Street tailor Donald Nicoll.

Many of these non-elite MPs acquired the wealth necessary for a parliamentary career by leaving their old jobs and making money from a new venture, becoming archetypal ‘self-made’ men. (Elections continued to be a huge expense for most candidates until the reforms of 1883 and MPs were not paid until 1911.) A substantial number of MPs from working backgrounds, however, remained firmly attached to their original trades, even whilst sitting in Parliament.

The London-based builder John Treeby, for instance, in a rather novel interpretation of his constituency duties, even started building houses in Lyme Regis after being elected for the borough in 1865. On the hustings in 1859 he had been ridiculed for his ‘bricks and mortar’ background and ‘taunted’ for having ‘risen from the people’. Responding to these jibes, he countered that rather than ‘disqualifying’ him, his lowly origins meant he knew most people’s ‘wants and could sympathise with them’. In the Commons ‘bricks and mortar’ Treeby, as he was soon affectionately known, became a surprisingly effective Tory backbencher, occasionally siding with Radical MPs on working class and social issues. During the debates on the Conservatives’ 1867 reform bill he even managed to add a clause of his own, aimed at preventing lower class electors who were behind with their rates from missing out on their new voting entitlements. This was a substantial and, as it turned out, democratically extremely significant achievement.

Another ‘upstart from the ranks’, as his opponents liked to call him, was the Liberal MP John Thomas Norris, who operated a Berkshire paper mill and a printing works in Aldersgate. Like Treeby, he was pilloried on the hustings for his lowly birth and presumptuous behaviour. ‘In too great haste to get to the top of the ladder’, jeered one opponent, ‘he was not content to climb step by step, but wished to vault at once to the top (laughter)’. Elected for Abingdon on his third attempt in 1857 with the support of local tradesmen, he became a leading figure in the campaign to repeal the paper duties (a sales tax on paper production), which he condemned as a ‘tax on knowledge’ that was adding 5% to the cost of school books. In 1860 he even took on Gladstone, the Liberal chancellor of the exchequer, challenging him to stand by his budgetary proposals to repeal the duty after they had been controversially thrown out by the Lords. Urged on by Norris and others, in 1861 the government forced through the repeal of the duty, an event which became crucial in clarifying the Commons’ supremacy over the Lords in money matters.

Like many other ‘working’ MPs, Treeby and Norris had no option but to try and combine their existing careers with their duties at Westminster. This undoubtedly restricted both their effectiveness as parliamentarians as well as having an impact on their livelihoods. Both MPs lost their seats at the next general election and Norris, shortly after his election defeat, actually went bankrupt. Before the payment of MPs in 1911, this scenario was not uncommon. The fact that so many non- elite MPs still managed to serve in Parliament during this period, however, says a great deal about public attitudes to politics and the sacrifices that many people felt it was worth making for public service during the Victorian era.


For details of these non-elite and other MPs being researched by the 1832-68 project, please visit The Victorian Commons blog.

Join us tomorrow for the next in our series on ‘Unlikely Parliamentarians’. For more about Parliament Week, visit their website.


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Unlikely MPs 3: Catholics in Parliament, 1604-1629

ukparliamentweek_logo_partner_tag_rgbThis week is Parliament Week, a programme of events and activities that connects people across the UK with Parliament and democracy. To mark it, every day this week we are publishing a blog on ‘unlikely parliamentarians’  – the men and women across history who became parliamentarians only unexpectedly.

In today’s blog, Dr Paul Hunneyball of the Lords 1603-29 section discusses a group of parliamentarians unlikely because of their religion – Catholics in the early Stuart period – and asks whether they were in fact able to act freely…

The religious settlement at the start of Elizabeth I’s reign saw the return of Anglican Protestantism as the official faith of England and Wales, and, by definition, the rejection of Catholicism. Elizabeth famously had no wish to ‘open windows into men’s souls’, but she did expect public conformity to the new patterns of worship. Those who refused to comply could expect to be marginalized within society. Recusancy, failure to attend Anglican services, was punishable by heavy fines, confiscation of property, or even imprisonment. All clergy, and most public officials, were required to take a new oath of supremacy, acknowledging the queen as supreme governor of the Church, and rejecting the authority of the Pope. After 1563, this oath was administered to all Members of the House of Commons before they took their seats. In addition, after the abortive Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an oath of allegiance was introduced as a further test of loyalty. Initially this was imposed only on recusants, who were obliged to denounce all conspiracies against the Crown, and also to deny that the Pope could absolve them from their obligation to protect the monarch. However, from 1610 this oath was extended to all adults, and became another condition of parliamentary membership.

These policies largely achieved their objectives. By the start of the seventeenth century, practising Catholics probably formed less than 1% of the population. Decades of war with Spain and anti-Catholic propaganda had decisively shifted popular opinion towards Protestantism, and the House of Commons strongly reflected that bias even before the Gunpowder Plot inextricably linked popery with treason. Nevertheless, the picture in the upper echelons of society was more complicated. Wealthy Catholics were better placed to endure or evade the penalties of recusancy, and the old religion retained a solid foothold within the peerage. In the opening decades of the Stuart regime, nearly one-fifth of the men eligible to sit in the House of Lords were either openly or secretly Catholic. The Crown, which still relied heavily on such people to fill the ranks of government, turned a blind eye to them where possible. Peers were exempted from taking the oath of supremacy, so there was no bar on Catholics sitting in the Lords until the oath of allegiance was applied to them in 1610. After that, around a third of such peers opted to stay away from Parliament, but the remainder managed to square the oath with their consciences, and continued to attend as usual. Those who were willing to go further, and conform at least occasionally to the Church of England, could still expect to enjoy an active parliamentary career. Despite puritan protests, a handful of Catholics similarly found their way into the Commons, frequently representing small boroughs where the dominant landowner was a recusant. For example, Sir Richard Weston sat in the 1604-10 Parliament for Midhurst, courtesy of the Catholic Viscount Montagu, and found a seat at Arundel in 1621 through the crypto-Catholic earl of Arundel. Having served in the Commons during seven parliaments, Weston was himself elevated to the Lords in 1628, and in that same year he became lord treasurer, the Stuart equivalent of prime minister.

Weston was widely suspected of Catholic leanings throughout his life, but he did not openly acknowledge his true faith until he lay on his deathbed. Without this discretion his political achievements would have been impossible. The unofficial toleration from which he benefited was conditional on public compliance with the status quo. In 1604 Viscount Montagu used a debate in the Lords to deliver an impassioned attack on the treatment of English Catholics, and was promptly imprisoned until he apologised. An equally outspoken critic of the oath of allegiance, he rarely attended Parliament subsequently. It was even more important that those Catholics who won election to the Commons kept their beliefs to themselves. In 1624 the Liverpool Member Sir Thomas Gerrard gave himself away by refusing the two oaths, and was duly prevented from taking his seat. Sir Ralph Grey, who represented Northumberland in 1604, promoted a bill to write off arrears of recusancy fines, a measure which would have benefited his own family, but this move was firmly rejected by the Commons and thereafter he thought it best to maintain a low profile. Thomas Sheppard, described by one contemporary as a ‘base, jesuited papist’, secured a seat at Shaftesbury in 1621 with the help of the Catholic peer Lord Arundell, but was expelled from the Commons for mocking a puritan-inspired bill to enforce sabbath observance. Thus, while it proved impossible to exclude Catholics entirely from Parliament during this period, their freedom of action was effectively just as circumscribed at Westminster as it was in society at large.


Join us tomorrow for the next in our series on ‘Unlikely Parliamentarians’. For more about Parliament Week, visit their website.

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Unlikely Parliamentarians 2: William Veysy, medieval brickmaker

ukparliamentweek_logo_partner_tag_rgbThis week is Parliament Week, a programme of events and activities that connects people across the UK with Parliament and democracy. To mark it, every day this week we are publishing a blog on ‘unlikely parliamentarians’  – the men and women across history who became parliamentarians only unexpectedly.

Our second blog written by Dr Linda Clark, editor of the Commons 1422-1504 Section, describes the life of William Veysy, an MP of obscure origins who was a rather unusual member of a medieval Commons full of Knights of the Shire, merchants and lawyers…

William Veysy, returned to the two Parliaments summoned in 1449, respectively for Lyme Regis and Wareham, was unique among fifteenth-century MPs in being a manufacturer of bricks. It has been speculated that he was a German who had learned his skills on the continent, where brick-making was further advanced, yet if he was indeed a foreigner, he would almost certainly have sued out letters of denization to provide legality to his office-holding, and no such letters have been discovered.

© Copyright Julian Osley

Eton College, © Copyright Julian Osley

Nothing is recorded about him before October 1437. This was soon after the fifteen-year-old king, Henry VI, came of age and enthusiastically embarked on plans to expand his palace at Sheen, one of his favourite residences. As the ‘king’s brick-maker’, Veysy was assigned the tasks of searching for suitable deposits of clay and building kilns on site. In 1440 he supplied 9,500 bricks for the works at Sheen and his kilns near St. Albans also provided the ‘creste’ of a stone wall at the Tower of London. Veysy was then commissioned to impress bricklayers for the major works at Eton (a project close to Henry VI’s heart), and between 1443 and 1452 he provided some 2.5 million bricks from his kilns at Slough for the college buildings. Meanwhile he had also sold bricks to various members of the king’s Household, at a total cost of over £256 – an enormous sum which was still owing to Veysy in 1448, when he was granted a royal licence to export shipments of tin free of any customs’ duties until he recouped this amount. He is thought to have been responsible for building the ‘green court’ at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex for Sir Roger Fiennes, the treasurer of the Household.

In 1441 Veysy had received another unusual appointment – indeed, one without precedent – then sharing with one other man a grant for life of the post of surveyor of all the beer-brewers in England, wherever they lived. Hitherto, no crown officials had ever been empowered to enforce the assizes of bread, wine, or other victuals nation-wide. Orders sent out in 1443 stipulated to brewers throughout the realm the required quality of the malt, hops and grain they had to use, the processes to be employed and the prices they might charge. (This pre-dated by some 40 years any similar legislation in Germany.) The two men were to receive a fee of ½d. for every barrel of beer brewed, to keep as their own personal profit. Naturally, the London authorities opposed the appointment, fearing it would directly impinge on the liberties of the City. Mollified by a royal charter of 1444 which promised that when Veysy died they might dispose of the office as they thought fit, they had to accept Henry VI’s opinion that Veysy’s ‘merites’ and exemplary service should be rewarded by them with the post of water-bailiff in the Thames.

Through his involvement in the works at Sheen and Eton, Veysy came into close contact with Henry VI’s personal physician and mentor, Master John Somerset, an inspirational guide for the King in planning the foundation of his colleges at Eton and Cambridge. The two men became friends, and Veysy helped further Somerset’s election for Middlesex to the Parliament of 1442, an assembly preoccupied with the handsome endowment of the establishment at Eton. He also lent his support when Somerset founded a chantry in the London church of St. Stephen Colman Street. This connexion with Somerset, who was chancellor of the Exchequer, undoubtedly lay behind Veysy’s own two elections to Parliament in 1449, at a time of major crisis in the crown’s finances as Normandy fell to the French.

Following Henry VI’s mental collapse in 1453 and Somerset’s death a year later, the final years of the reign were ones of obscurity for Veysy, as for so many men to whom the King had once extended generous patronage. Henry’s deposition in 1461 marked the end of his career and the loss of his lucrative post as supervisor of the breweries.


Join us tomorrow for the next in our series on ‘Unlikely Parliamentarians’. For more about Parliament Week, visit their website.

We’re also running a live Parliamentary History Q&A over on twitter this afternoon, Tuesday 15th November, between 4-5pm. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to know about parliamentary history, here’s your chance to ask! Find out more.


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Unlikely Parliamentarians 1: Modern MPs

ukparliamentweek_logo_partner_tag_rgbThis week is Parliament Week, a programme of events and activities that connects people across the UK with Parliament and democracy. To mark it, every day this week we are publishing a blog on ‘unlikely parliamentarians’ – the men and women across history who became parliamentarians only unexpectedly. We’re starting with a selection of stories taken from our MPs’ oral history project…

Our oral history project aims to interview all former MPs about their lives and experiences, and we make an effort to include a wide range of MPs from all sorts of parties and backgrounds. Some you could not class as ‘unlikely’, due perhaps to their family links with parliament, such as former Conservative MP Lady Olga Maitland, whose father was both an MP and sat in the House of Lords; or perhaps because of their burning desire to enter politics from a young age, such as former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. There are others in our archive, however, who did not see themselves as MPs or had little prior involvement in politics before they arrived at Westminster.

For some, this was because they felt they did not have the ‘traditional’ background to enter politics. For example, former Labour MP Mildred Gordon was raised in London’s East End in the 1930s, and it took her many years to see herself as a possible MP:

Some other women we have interviewed also admitted to “shyness” or reluctance to stand for election. This includes some from a more privileged background, such as Helen Jackson, MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, who remembered being persuaded to put her name forward after impressing party colleagues as a councillor.

Whilst we often imagine MPs working for years on their political careers, the route to Westminster could come out of the blue for some. The journalist Martin Bell, who certainly had connections within the political world, had not planned to enter politics until he was talked in to running as an independent candidate against Neil Hamilton in 1997, as he describes:


Bell’s is a particular story, but there are several others who came into parliament without expecting to, even if they had been deeply involved in local politics. The former Conservative MP John Osborn told us that he was “forced” to become an MP, something he had “never set out to do”, by being persuaded to stand for Sheffield Hallam. Although he considered the seat “unwinnable”, he then held it for nearly 30 years. The Social Democrat Rosie Barnes remembers joining the SDP enthusiastically soon after the party was formed, but with no ambitions to enter parliament. Barnes agreed to stand, soon after giving birth to her son, for Greenwich. As she explains here, the party was intending to focus its campaigning resources elsewhere,  until an unexpected by-election, and the help of the Liberal party, changed the situation:


Materials from our oral history project demonstrate that although there was, often, a common ‘route’ into parliament for those ambitious to become MPs in the post-war period, there were also opportunities for those who for a wide range of reasons never believed they could, or would, enter parliament.


Join us tomorrow for the next in our series on ‘Unlikely Parliamentarians’. For more about Parliament Week, visit their website.

We’re also running a Parliamentary History Q&A over on twitter tomorrow, Tuesday 15th November. So if there’s anything you’ve wanted to know about parliamentary history, here’s your chance to ask! Find out more here. 

Posted in 20th century history, oral history, Politics, Post-1945 history, social history, Unlikely Parliamentarians | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment