Wexford town was incorporated by a 1317 charter of 11 Edw. II, extended under Henry IV in 1411. The corporation was refurbished under the 1674 'new rules' of 24 Chas II to allow all freemen to return the MPs for the borough. In 1783 the situation was described as follows: 'Freemen at large, apprentices serving seven years. About 550 have voted. A large and populous trading town. Electors, a Mayor, 2 Baliffs, 24 Burgesses and 800 or 900 Freemen. Ought to be a free town but by manoeuvring in the Corporation, it is retained as a kind of rotten Borough under the influence of Richard Nevill (1527) and others.'
The town was described as follows in 1790:
The capital of the County, is very industrious, rich and prosperous and every day improving in modern buildings, though were we to judge from the ruins of its walls, its castles and ancient churches, we have good reason to believe that it will never recover its former magnifience. Its electors are sufficiently numerous not to be easily influenced and too independent in circumstances to be liable to the suspicion of seduction, yet from some unaccountable fatality, it is as abject a Borough as any in the County. Lord Loftus (2088) has, by various means, needless to recount, secured to himself one half of the representation. Mr Neville at present enjoys the other but on his demise it will infallibly fall to the noble Lord, who so well understands the approbation of Boroughs.439
Two election results indicate the interests in the 1760s and 1770s. In July 1768 the voting was:Richard Le Hunt (1215) 309, Arthur Jones-Nevill (1125) 263, John Grogan (0906) 218, Mr Hatton 121. 'During the course of this election, the Mayor allowed the votes of several persons for Mr Le Hunte and Mr Nevill, whom he had a few days before rejected on the Mayoralty election, and would not allow the votes of several others for Mr Grogan and Mr Hatton whom he had received on the other election, and rejected the votes of 70 other voters who offered the poll for Mr Grogan and Mr Hatton, which if he had received, would have given a fair majority of 25 to Mr Grogan over Mr Nevill.' The return does not appear to have been contested. In May 1776 the voting was: Richard Nevill 332, Richard Le Hunt 293, John Grogan 137. Nevill and Le Hunt were declared duly elected.440
Earlier the influence in the town appears to have been divided between the Nevill and the Le Hunt families but Richard Le Hunt, whose health had been failing for some time, died in February 1783 and Charles Tottenham Loftus (2088) was returned with Richard Nevill. After this the Loftus interest infiltrated, and when Loftus was elevated to the peerage in 1785 his nephew,Francis Leigh (1218), was returned. In 1798 Nevill reached a formal agreement with Sir Charles Tottenham (Loftus), now Lord Ely, that 'A cordial union shall subsist between them in the borough of Wexford, which is to be continued in their issue male, and in failure thereof to nomimees each to have one member of parliament, mayors etc. alternately.' It was thought by 1791 that Nevill's interest was 'decaying', while Loftus's 'was rising'.
By the Act of Union Wexford retained an MP and Leigh won the Union ballot but, as he had been appointed Collector of Dublin at a salary of £1,200 a year, he did not take up the seat and thereby risk an election. An uneasy relationship between Nevill and the now Marquess of Ely and his successor continued after the Union. The electorate was probably c. 500-550 in the 1770s and after the Union it was estimated at 150,441 perhaps because the creation of freemen was no longer so necessary in view of the Ely-Nevill agreement.