The Age of George III
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Parliament and Parliamentary Representation
The House of Lords
This House comprised Lords Spiritual (the Archbishops of Canterbury and York
and some Bishops) and Lords Temporal (Dukes, Earls and so on). The number of
peers was about 220 although there was no fixed number of seats in the Lords.
The House of Lords was the highest Court of Appeal in Britain. Many of the Ministers
of the Crown were appointed from the House of Lords - for example, the second
Marquis of Rockingham, the
Duke of Newcastle and the Earl of Bute.
Peers had a great deal of influence in the provinces since they were all great
landowners. They dominated local politics and local government.
The House of Commons
The 1716 Septennial Act made general elections compulsory
every seven years although if only one candidate stood for election,
there would be no contest.
Until 1801 there were 558 MPs. Of these
- 45 represented Scottish constituencies
- 24 represented Welsh constituencies
- 489 represented English constituencies
All together, there were 314 constituencies, of which 245 were in England.
These were divided into forty county constituencies and 203 boroughs. Some boroughs
had two MPs, others had only one. Oxford and Cambridge Universities each had
one MP. Ireland had its own parliament until the
1801 Act of Union, after which
it sent one hundred MPs to Westminster.
There was no uniformity in the distribution on English constituencies. At least
two-thirds of MPs represented constituencies in the south of England (i.e. below
the Wash/Severn line) as the map
shows. Although this distribution had been adequate when it was decided upon
initially, by the 1760s it was becoming inadequate. By the 1820s it did not
reflect the distribution of either population or new wealth. The industrial
revolution had created huge industrial towns that had no parliamentary voice.
By the 1780s, in Cornwall and Devon, 1050 people voted for 53 MPs but growing
northern industrial towns had no representation. For example, in 1831, Manchester
had a population of a quarter of a million but no MP. Each county had two MPs,
regardless of the size of the county. Yorkshire had 20,000 voters of whom half
lived in the West Riding.
There were two types of MP:
- County MPs. These men had to own land worth £600 p.a. and usually were from
the great landed families of the country
- Borough MPs. These men had to own land worth £300 p.a. Often they were local
squires, landed gentry or the sons of the aristocracy.
MPs were almost always from the nobility or landed gentry.
- The County Franchise: each elector had to own land worth 40 shillings, freehold.
This had been a national standard since 1429/30 but because of devaluation
and increased wealth, the number of electors had increased. Also, if a man
was a tenant of land worth 40 shillings
freehold, he was allowed to vote. This meant that many tenant farmers had
to vote the way the landowner told them.
- The Borough Franchise had no uniformity whatsoever because the
system had grown haphazardly. There were 203 boroughs with 402 MPs between
them. A number of different types of borough franchise can be identified:
- Open boroughs: here, all males in the constituency at the time of
the election could vote, whether they lived there or not. Preston in Lancashire
was an open borough.
- Potwalloper borough: all male householders
and lodgers could vote. The term refers to anyone who had a hearth on which
to boil (wallop) a cauldron (pot). At the extremes of this type of borough
were Northampton with a thousand voters and St Germans with only twenty.
In these boroughs, many of the working classes qualified. This franchise
was abolished by the Act of 1832, but the existing potwallopers were allowed,
under certain conditions, to continue voting for the rest of their lives.
- Scot and Lot boroughs: here all male ratepayers could vote. The
Scot and Lot taxes came from Anglo-Saxon times (if a person did not have
to pay the Scot tax, he 'got off scot free'). Both Westminster (with 20,000
voters) and Gatten (with two voters) were Scot and Lot boroughs.
- Burgage boroughs. There were 29 of these in
the country and it was the property that carried the vote. To be able to
vote in a Burgage borough, a man had to own the property. This type of borough
often became a Pocket Borough because one person would buy the majority
of the burgages. Malton in Yorkshire had 300 voters although most of the
properties belonged to the Marquis of Rockingham and his heirs the Earls
Fitzwilliam. Old Sarum, which belonged to the Pitt family, had seven voters.
- Freeman boroughs were constituencies where all freemen - not necessarily
resident - could vote. Usually these boroughs had a restricted electorate
because a man had to be made a Freeman of the Borough. London had 7,000
voters but at the other extreme, Camelford had only twenty.
- Corporation Boroughs.
There were 27 of these in the country, none with an electorate of more than
sixty; of these, fifteen were pocket boroughs. The town's Corporation usually
chose the MP and elections were rarely held.
- Pocket/Nomination boroughs.
These were owned by the great landowners who chosethe MP. There were no elections
at all in this type of borough. Examples of Pocket Boroughs are Malton
in Yorkshire and Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire (both owned by Rockingham
and then the Fitzwilliams) and Boroughbridge and Aldborough in Yorkshire
(both owned by the Dukes of Newcastle).
- Rotten/Decayed boroughs. Ownership of the borough
or part of it, gave the right to vote. The borough no longer had a population
and often did not exist. The two most extreme examples are Old Sarum and
Dunwich. Old Sarum originally had been the site of Salisbury but the settlement
had moved; there were few people left in Old Sarum but they still had two
MPs. Dunwich also had two MPs but the town had disappeared completely. It
had been in East Anglia but because of land erosion had disappeared into
the North Sea.
The Eighteenth Century Constitution
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5 January, 2011