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

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:

MPs were almost always from the nobility or landed gentry.

Voting qualifications

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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