William Godwin's Diary


Francis Burdett (1770–1844), one of Godwin’s acquaintances and a leading advocate of parliamentary reform, was elected to one of two seats in the Middlesex election. The leading candidate was George Byng (1764-1847), but Burdett’s campaign was directed principally at the third candidate, William Mainwaring (1735-1821), whom Burdett denounced as supporting the conditions in Cold Bath prison and approving the conduct of the prison governor there. A crucial proportion of Burdett’s majority over Mainwaring was believed to be achieved by electoral malpractice. Mainwaring challenged Burdett for bribery and corruption after the election, and on 9 July 1804 the election was declared void. The by-election between Burdett and Mainwaring was bitterly fought and the result turned on a handful of disputed votes. The sheriff declared Mainwaring the victor, but this was challenged by Burdett’s supporters and the seat was officially awarded to Burdett on 5 March 1805. A further appeal by Mainwaring was decided against Burdett on 10 February 1806. In the contest for the seat in the election of the summer of 1806 Burdett refused to resort to traditional electioneering methods and lost heavily to the new contestant, William Mellish.

See The Times, 30 July 1802 and R.G. Thorne, The Commons 1790-1820, 5 vols (London: Secker and Warburg for the History of Parliament Trust, 1986), volume 2.