I. The Constituencies
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Between 1790 and 1801 the House of Commons consisted of 558 Members elected by 314 constituencies. The 245 English constituencies (40 counties, 203 boroughs, 2 universities) returned 489 Members; the 24 Welsh constituencies and 45 Scottish constituencies returned one Member each. In 1801 the addition of 100 Irish Members elected by 66 constituencies made an Imperial Parliament of 658 Members.
THE ENGLISH COUNTIES
The county franchise qualified to vote men possessed of freehold valued for the land tax assessments at 40s. per annum at least. This freehold qualification could be interpreted as including leaseholders for life, annuitants, holders of rent charges and of mortgages on freehold; holders of ecclesiastical benefices; and placeholders in government service. A freeholder might be required to swear an oath as to his qualification, which might be contested at the poll when he presented himself to vote. A vote might be rejected, or reserved pending adjudication; or it might be subsequently challenged. In Norfolk a scrutiny of the poll involving a couple of hundred doubtful votes was ordered after the election of 1802: such a procedure was, however, so expensive that it was generally avoided unless the contest was very close. Polls were conducted at only one place in each county, though there were usually distinct booths for the different divisions of the county. The distance travelled by voters and provision for their accommodation and entertainment added greatly to the expense of county elections. The candidates for counties were required to possess £600 p.a. freehold, so adventurers were discouraged.
In 1790 eight counties were contested; in 1796 only four; in 1802 six; in 1806 seven; in 1807 eleven; in 1812 four only; and in 1818 eleven. In addition, there were 12 contested county by-elections in this period. Thus of 362 possible contests (280 at general elections and 82 at by-elections), only 63 went to a poll, about one in six.
The total electorate in the English counties numbered little more than 190,000: despite increased registration of voters, notably in Devon, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Somerset, Sussex, Wiltshire and Yorkshire, the average increase over the preceding period was no more than 8 or 9 per cent. In 1807 and 1818, when 11 counties were contested, the freeholders who voted totalled only approximately 50,000 and 36,000 respectively, the former figure swollen by the large Yorkshire electorate and including six more polling days in all-the average duration in each case being between six and seven days out of a possible 15. The duration of a poll for 15 days--a limitation introduced by an Act of 1785-was not a guarantee of intensive polling, as in some cases (for instance, Berkshire and Kent in 1818) it was the obstinacy of the weakest candidate that kept the poll open to the limit imposed by law when the result was a foregone conclusion and polling low. Less than one in five contests lasted the full 15 days. There was no appreciable difference in the average size of the poll in the 12 contested by-elections in this period-40,906 votes were cast, the average duration of the poll being approximately the same, though two of these contests were farcically short, that in Lincolnshire in 1816 lasting only an hour or two, and that in Hampshire in 1808 being a token and prearranged poll. Thirty-five out of the 63 contests that went to a poll were in counties with electorates of about 5,000 or over.
In county contests at general elections there was a tripartite battle for two seats in all cases except in Hampshire, where in 1790 and 1806 there was an all-out battle between two politically opposed sets of candidates. All the county by-elections were straight fights. Where three candidates fought for two seats and each freeholder had two votes, a coalition of two of the candidates dividing their supporters’ votes between them ensured victory. Even where no acknowledged coalition took place, the freeholders did not necessarily ‘plump’ (i.e. give one vote only, to their favourite candidate), as their loyalties and obligations or ambitions were often divided. In none of the county contests in this period did all three candidates derive the majority of their votes from plumpers: normally it was the candidate who stood unconnected with the other two who received the largest proportion of plumpers. In Yorkshire in 1807 Lord Milton had 9,108 plumpers out of 11,177 votes. He was second in the poll; candidates with a majority of plumpers were more usually the unsuccessful ones. In some cases (such as Cornwall in 1790, Dorset in 1806 and 1807) the contest was acknowledged not to be directed against one of the sitting Members, in the latter case William Morton Pitt, and the majority of freeholders promised one vote to him and the other to their favourite of the two contesting candidates. This procedure was no guarantee of security to the candidate whose seat was supposedly thereby ensured to him if the fight between the two others was a keen one, and Morton Pitt grew alarmed for his own success in the contest of 1807 when many of his promised supporters, professing to think him secure, deserted and threw themselves into the struggle between Portman and Bankes.
Coalitions between any two candidates against a third were somewhat frowned upon, particularly if the pair were not political allies; but, where possible unavowed, they proved effective. In 1807 in Bedfordshire, ‘a field of battle for Whig and Tory politics’, a Whig alliance turned out the Tory sitting Member. In Berkshire in 1796 the sitting Members, whose politics were not the same, joined forces to keep out a third contender and were not particularly blamed for it: he was the disturber of the peace. Such coalitions of the beati possidentes could not be counted upon when political issues marred their partnership and, had a third man offered for Berkshire in 1807, as at one time seemed likely, he would have benefited from the fact that his fellow candidates were at political loggerheads and would doubtless have joined forces with the politically congenial one. In the case of a third candidate who was unacceptable to the majority of the freeholders, they rallied to the support of the reputable candidates, even if their politics differed, as the radical William Hallett found in Berkshire where he directed his fire against one opponent in 1812 and another in 1818. The same fate befell most radical candidates for counties. Coalitions were not proof against a popular and resourceful competitor: when Bastard and Acland combined against Viscount Ebrington in Devon in 1818, it was Acland who gave up when Ebrington took a decisive lead. Allegations of his coalition with Morton Pitt in Dorset in 1806 did Henry Bankes no good and, although coalition was denied, he made no headway then or in 1807. Had he tried again in 1812, Morton Pitt would have insisted on proclaiming his neutrality between the two other contenders.
Offers of coalition were often refused by candidates who saw in them no advantage to themselves. In 1812 Burgoyne, the radical Whig candidate for Essex, was thus refused by Western, the orthodox Whig, who regarded him as a usurper, and Burgoyne undertook to prove the iniquity of the ‘system’ by an analysis of the poll, demonstrating that Western was in league with the Tory Member to dish him. In Herefordshire in 1818 Col. George Cornewall, a Grenvillite whose party were feeling their way towards an understanding with the government, was refused a coalition by the ministerial candidate Cotterell, and was defeated. In Hertfordshire in 1802 William Baker was defeated by a manoeuvre, engineered by Lord Salisbury, whereby the second votes of the other sitting Member, Plumer, were diverted to the third candidate, Peniston Lamb. In Huntingdonshire in 1807 Viscount Proby lost his seat when the course of politics restored the previous coalition between Lord Sandwich and the Duke of Manchester in the county, the breakdown of which had secured his return in 1806.
Coalition served the purpose of setting aside an outmoded convention in Kent in 1790, when the Hon. Charles Marsham invoked the ‘pact’ whereby West Kent returned one Member and East Kent the other as his reason for declining coalition with either of his East Kent opponents, who had not intended to challenge him but were carried away by the contest between themselves. Though politically opposed, the latter came to terms, Knatchbull’s friends bestowing 470 second votes on Honywood, who proceeded to defeat Marsham by 377. Marsham had declined a last-minute offer from Knatchbull to redress the balance by giving him some of his second votes: coalitions could arise in the course of a poll, where one candidate had enough of a lead to bestow his friends’ second votes on the contender of his preference. In 1796 Knatchbull entered into an unavowed coalition with Sir William Geary, who agreed to shoulder most of the expenses against Honywood, and Honywood was defeated. Nothing daunted, in 1802 Honywood came to terms with Geary to oust Knatchbull. In Lincolnshire in 1818 the Hon. Charles Anderson Pelham insisted on neutrality towards his competitors, but Sir Robert Heron, a more advanced Whig than Anderson Pelham, did his best to prevent the latter’s friends from sitting on the fence, invoking political solidarity and thereby giving offence. In the Middlesex election of 1806 Byng declined to join Burdett, thus accentuating the rift between Whigs and Radicals; while in the election of 1807 in the same constituency Mellish, the ministerialist Member, declined to join with Sir Christopher Baynes, a ministerialist ultra, who was duly defeated. In Norfolk, Astley owed his return in the contest of 1802 to the protection of the other sitting Member, Thomas William Coke, who was determined to return two Whigs; and in 1806 Coke likewise allied with William Windham. In Northamptonshire it was anticipated that Viscount Althorp and Cartwright would unite in 1806, but they did not need to do so: they were not hard pressed by Sir William Langham. In Hampshire where, uniquely, two pairs of candidates stood as political opponents in 1790 and 1806, a ministerial bid to detach one of the sitting Members, Heathcote, from his colleague in 1806 did not succeed, or at least led only to Heathcote’s withdrawal and replacement by another candidate. In Suffolk in 1790 the coalition of Bunbury and Rous against Vanneck was more or less dictated by a county meeting in February, and though uneasy, carried the day in the interest of political compromise. In Surrey in 1807 Samuel Thornton, who regarded Lord William Russell, and not Sir John Frederick, as his opponent, withdrew in Frederick’s favour, though ahead of him on the poll, when it became likely that Frederick would be the ultimate loser. In Sussex in 1807 Wyndham and Fuller did not coalesce, Wyndham thinking it improper to do so: but their tacit combination ensured the defeat of Sergison. In Wiltshire in 1818 Methuen, the sitting Member whose security was not being threatened, declined a coalition with Benett in the latter’s struggle with Wellesley Long. The supposition of a combination between Wilberforce and Lascelles in Yorkshire in 1807 was an issue which embarrassed Wilberforce on the hustings to the point of illness.
A coalition of any two candidates against a third, whether with or without a political sanction, was inevitably decried when a contest actually took place: as one of the methods of preventing a contest by obliging the third candidate to withdraw, it raised fewer protests. Five out of six county elections did not proceed to a poll, and many threats of opposition did not materialize. Given that the expense and bitterness of a contest were to be avoided if possible, the measures taken to meet this aim seldom failed. In some counties the leading interests were in uncontestable control. Elsewhere, any gentleman who stood against sitting Members would be accused of disturbing the peace of the county and had to make out his case. Contests more often arose when one of the sitting Members retired.
The manoeuvres to avoid a poll were many. In Bedfordshire on the vacancy of 1794 Osborn snatched a seat from the Whigs by getting into the field too soon for them to muster, thereby provoking revenge sooner or later. While he held the seat the county returned ‘one and on’, that is, a Member of each party, and such political compromises operated in other counties too, though they were liable to be overthrown when one of the parties thought itself strong enough to carry two. Thus Osborn was defeated in 1807; but when he reappeared in 1818, Pym retired in his favour, the Whigs no longer being hopeful of carrying both seats. In Berkshire political compromise was restored in 1790 without a contest, and on the vacancy of 1794 Loveden made way for Dundas, but insisted on standing at the ensuing general election, only to be defeated. In 1812, in the same county, the candidature of the radical William Hallett caused the withdrawal of one of the sitting Members, Vansittart, but did not open the door for Hallett. In Buckinghamshire political compromise was also restored in 1790 when Verney regained his seat from Aubrey, who withdrew well in advance of the election. A by-election contest for Cambridgeshire in 1810 was averted by Lord Hardwicke’s refusal to support his half-brother’s re-election when their politics had drifted apart, and by his espousal of the Whig candidate Lord Francis Godolphin Osborne.
In Cornwall, political compromise being regarded as preferable to the upheaval caused by the contest of 1790, Francis Gregor retired in 1806 when his popularity was waning and was replaced unopposed by a non-committal young Member, Tremayne. In Cumberland in 1804 a contest was brewing for the ailing Fletcher’s seat, but it was averted by the transfer of one of the competitors, Lord Muncaster, to a vacancy in the neighbouring county; and in 1806 by Lord Lowther’s espousal of Lord Morpeth against either Fletcher or Curwen. Their ‘pact’ did not come under strain, despite political differences, until 1818 when Curwen proposed a junction with Morpeth against Lowther. Morpeth’s refusal on this occasion ensured his defeat by Curwen in 1820. Henry Bankes, who toyed with the idea of contesting Dorset for the third time in 1812, was deterred by the insistence of William Morton Pitt, the long established sitting Member on whose friends’ support Bankes had relied previously, on complete neutrality. In Durham in 1802 a compromise between the politically opposed sitting Members, Burdon and Milbanke, forced the third man, Tempest, to withdraw; though Tempest defeated a compromise candidate, Ellison, in 1807. In Essex political compromise would have been maintained but for the challenge of Montagu Burgoyne, the radical Whig: rather than let him in, Western, the more orthodox Whig, withdrew, permitting a political opponent to defeat Burgoyne in 1810, and defeated him with help from the other side in 1812.
In Gloucestershire attempts to upset the status quo were ineffective in 1806 and 1810, and it was only when the controlling interests abandoned their political compromise in 1811 that an effective candidate challenged them. In Herefordshire in 1803, Biddulph having unseated Cotterell by a petition which was not regarded as fair by the gentry, the chairman of Cotterell’s election committee was allowed an unopposed return as locum tenens. In Hertfordshire in 1807 a contest was avoided when both sitting Members retired, giving their blessing to their replacements: and it being long anticipated that one of the latter, Thomas Brand, would succeed to a peerage, his successor, William Lamb, was groomed for the vacancy and met with no opposition when it at length occurred. In Huntingdonshire in 1806 the candidature of William Henry Fellowes on the Duke of Manchester’s interest was stopped by the decision of the head of the other leading interest, Lord Sandwich, in favour of his competitor Viscount Proby: the latter’s defeat in 1807, when Sandwich reverted to co-operation with the Manchester interest, was a confirmation of the two peers’ previous coalition to resist Proby’s family’s pretensions to a seat for the county. In 1811 in the same county Lord Proby was edged out of the running by a more radical challenger, Leeds, but Leeds found that he could not afford a contest and withdrew on the eve of poll. In 1814, during the abeyance of the Manchester interest, Sandwich thwarted the candidature of a fresh contender for a vacancy by combining with Lord Proby’s family against him. In Kent the financial exhaustion of the contenders facilitated peace between 1807 and 1818.
A show of hands was sufficient to deter Walter Fawkes from offering for Lancashire in 1818. Another deterrent, mildly resented unless used with discretion, was the bringing in of a stopgap to maintain an established interest. The cases of John Matthews in Hertfordshire in 1803 and of Coke and Astley in Norfolk in 1807 were unexceptionable; less popular were the choices of Lancelot Brown, Capability’s son, for Huntingdonshire (1792-4) as locum tenens for Lord Hinchingbrooke, and of Cradock Hartopp in Leicestershire (1798-1806) as stopgap for the Duke of Rutland’s brother; while in Norfolk in 1817 Edmund Wodehouse was exposed to ridicule as a likely stopgap for his kinsman, the heir of Kimberley. In 1794 Sir Gilbert Heathcote was thwarted in Lincolnshire because he was not of age and non-resident, but in 1796 Thorold, one of the sitting Members, retired in his favour. In Lincolnshire in 1816 Sir Robert Heron withdrew rather than fight Cust, while in 1818 Cust made way for Charles Chaplin, whose father’s death had caused the vacancy in 1816 but who had not then thought it proper to come forward—this time, however, Heron persevered in a contest. In 1807 Sir Francis Burdett, reported to have spent £100,000 on Middlesex elections over five years, turned his attention to Westminster and the county quietened down. A contest in Norfolk in 1790 was averted by the withdrawal of Astley, who had switched sides during the Regency crisis and lost credibility. In 1796 a second candidate to fight government’s battle in the same county could not be found, nor on the vacancy a year later did a ministerialist candidate challenge ‘King Tom’ Coke’s choice of Astley. Lord Howick, whose father was not expected to live long, withdrew from a contest for Northumberland in 1807, feeling it was not worth the expense to him. In Oxfordshire in 1815 the Duke of Marlborough likewise could not afford the expense of a contest on behalf of a member of his family. In 1806 Sir Corbet Corbet found the sense of the county against him in Shropshire, and withdrew.
Contests were averted by consensus in Somerset in 1792, 1795 and 1796, and though a contest threatened in 1806, two contenders withdrew in good time, and the third, Gore Langton, with less readiness, complaining of the use of professional agents in his opponents’ canvass and of their financial resources: his excuse was different when he was defeated at the poll in 1807, but on persevering in 1812 he secured the retirement of Lethbridge, which let him in unopposed. In Hampshire in 1807 one of the two opposition candidates retired before the poll, and his more obstinate colleague might as well have done likewise. A year later the by-election contest was a prearranged one, turning on the eligibility of the stronger candidate: only 63 token votes were cast. As it happened, the House paid no attention and took no action against the Member returned. In Staffordshire in 1812 Sir John Wrottesley, a Whig who had been hard put to it to dissuade Sir Charles Wolseley from standing on a radical platform, himself retired in the face of competition from Edward John Littleton, nephew of the retiring Member. Sir William Rowley, a Whig contender in Suffolk, also yielded to force majeure in 1796 and 1805, whereby political compromise was maintained in the county. In Surrey in 1818 Samuel Thornton made way without ado for a successor congenial to him. In Wiltshire, though discontent with the quality of the county representatives was expressed in 1806, a contest was averted until 1818: then, however, there was more than a little violence. Occasional contests were an outlet, and if a county remained undisturbed for a very long period, a contest was likely to be correspondingly bitter, extravagant and turbulent: but the licking of wounds could also be rapid. After the mammoth contest for Yorkshire in 1807, a petition being lodged against Viscount Milton’s return, the threat of a counter-petition by Milton’s friends was sufficient to make Wilberforce call pax.
Petitions against county returns were rare, despite some notorious examples. Sir Francis Burdett, successful in the contest for Middlesex in 1802, was unseated on petition in 1804, unseated his successful opponent Mainwaring in 1805, and was again unseated early in 1806. In Norfolk, where the contest had been so close in 1802 that there was a scrutiny of the poll, Coke and Windham were unseated after their success in 1806 on grounds of treating, but were easily replaced by two other Whigs. In Herefordshire in 1802 Cotterell was also unseated for treating, but his opponent’s petition, which turned on the issue of 5s. vouchers, was regarded as unfair, and a locum tenens kept his seat warm for Cotterell. The Kent petition of 1796 turned on Honywood’s claim that Geary bought Knatchbull’s second votes by shouldering expenses: it got nowhere, and at the ensuing election Honywood was not challenged when he entered into a similar agreement with Geary. Perhaps the most controversial petition was from Hampshire in 1806: it complained of blatant government interference on behalf of the successful ministerial candidates. It did not succeed, but the Grenville ministry were forced into debate and an embarrassing division on the issue, 13 Feb. 1807, in which they were deserted by a number of their regular supporters. Petitions touching on the eligibility of Members came from Middlesex (1805), Hampshire (1808) and Gloucestershire (1810). In the first and last cases the legitimacy of the Members was the issue, and in the second age and qualification. Petitions, like threatened contests, often petered out.
Thirteen counties did not go to a poll at all: Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Monmouthshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, with some 50,000 electors among them ranging from about 800 in ‘mousehole’ Rutland to ten times that number in Lancashire. In Staffordshire it was claimed ‘this county has been without a contest for so many years that the voters hardly know what it means and promise as a matter of course’. This is not to say that there were no threats of contests in most of these counties, but they achieved an arrangement ‘to preserve the peace of the county’, still a prevalent ideal, involving withdrawal in the face of an unfavourable canvass, concession, compromise, or bowing to the decision of the county meeting without going beyond a show of hands by the freeholders present. The memory of a ruinously expensive contest which left the competitors financially exhausted could also act as a contributory deterrent, as happened in this period in Buckinghamshire. In Oxfordshire too the memory of the contest of 1754 was still alive: there was no other until 1826. In some counties the ‘peace’ was preserved over long periods: in Cheshire there was no contest between 1734 and 1832, in Derbyshire none between 1768 and 1820, in Dorset none between 1727 and 1806, in Lancashire none between 1747 and 1820, in Monmouthshire none between 1771 and 1832; none in Northumberland between 1774 and 1826, in Nottinghamshire none between 1722 and 1832, in Rutland none between 1761 and 1831, in Shropshire none between 1722 and 1831, in Staffordshire none between 1747 and 1832, in Warwickshire none between 1774 and 1820.
Nine counties suffered only one contest in this period: Bedfordshire (1807), Cornwall (1790), Gloucestershire (1811), Leicestershire (1818), Northamptonshire (1806), Suffolk (1790), Westmorland (1818), Worcestershire (1806) and Yorkshire (1807). Three of these (Bedfordshire, Gloucestershire and Suffolk) had been contested in 1784, but apart from this single further contest, they were at peace until 1820, 1832 and 1830 respectively. This was also Cornwall’s only contest between 1774 and 1831, Leicestershire’s between 1775 and 1830, Northamptonshire’s between 1748 and 1831, Westmorland’s between 1774 and 1820, and Yorkshire’s between 1742 and 1820. In Worcestershire it was claimed in the contest of 1806 that only four freeholders survived who had voted at the last contest (1741). As Yorkshire had far and away the biggest county electorate in England, a contest, particularly such a close one as that of 1807, was a memorable occasion, and for the antagonists an expensive one. Earl Fitzwilliam spent nearly £100,000, and was prepared to spend more, on his son’s behalf; Lascelles spent about the same and was reported as saying he wished his father would give him the money instead of the seat-he subsequently came in for Westbury, a patronal borough, at a fraction of the expense. Wilberforce, who topped the poll and was a relatively poor man aided by public subscription, exercised every economy in a contest that was not directed against him, but spent £28,000. Expenses in other counties were less, but the Duke of Bedford’s revenge in Bedfordshire in 1807 cost about £10,000. Ironically, the rowdiest of these contests was that for Leicestershire in 1818, where the political content seems to have been least of all of them.
Eighteen of the 40 English counties had more than one contest in this period. Berkshire had three, Cambridgeshire two, Devon four, Dorset two, Durham two, Essex two, Hampshire four, Herefordshire three, Hertfordshire four, Huntingdonshire two, Kent five, Lincolnshire three, Middlesex four, Norfolk three, Somerset two, Surrey five, Sussex two and Wiltshire two. It will be observed that the home counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Hertfordshire were the most frequently contested, being areas with a multiplicity of territorial interests frequently in flux, and where there was a relatively high level of political activity under metropolitan influence. Until 1807 at least, Middlesex elections formed part of the national political debate, and more space was given to them in the press throughout the country than to any others. It is noteworthy that only one of the counties that had more than one contest, Durham, was in the north of England, and even there, so Lord Durham later alleged, ‘There was no public feeling in it of any description’. Despite this, the contest of 1790 was reckoned the most expensive in the country.
The landed gentry were competitors for the county seats, and contests were often primarily due to their inability to agree among themselves, though they were exacerbated by political differences. In counties where the prevailing territorial interests were aristocratic, there was less likelihood of a contest, provided that the peers in question did not overreach themselves. If they had boroughs at their command, they often found it prudent to leave the county to the gentry. If they had one county seat under their influence it was dangerous to bid for the second and court the accusation of monopoly. Thus in Bedfordshire the Duke of Bedford could be sure of one seat, but in contending for the other lost it (1794), regained it with the help of Lord Bute (1807) and lost it again (1818). In Buckinghamshire the Marquess of Buckingham might control one seat, but his wish to settle the representation without reference to county meetings was resented, and was resisted by the Independent Club which called on the Duke of Portland to redress the balance by sponsoring his son, until on the duke’s death an unexceptionable scion of the country gentry took over the seat. In Cambridgeshire, Lord Hardwicke and the Duke of Rutland shared the honours, but could not, as they found to their cost, make the gentry acquiesce in the automatic election of members of their families. In Cumberland, Lord Lonsdale shared the honours with the gentry, but with the peer a ministerialist and the country gentlemen independent or in opposition and prodded by the Dukes of Portland and Norfolk in turn, the stalemate was a source of tension, particularly when Lord Morpeth contrived to come in on the independent interest with the approval of Lonsdale. In 1818 the resentment at what many freeholders regarded as an aristocratic plot to tranquillize the county was such that it was correctly forecast that Morpeth would not succeed next time—he was ousted by Curwen, a country gentleman. In Derbyshire, on the other hand, the Duke of Devonshire quietly shared the representation with the gentry, and the political compromise proved acceptable. In Durham, Lord Darlington secured both Members in 1806, but had to settle for one subsequently. In Gloucestershire the established compromise whereby the Duke of Beaufort returned one Member and the Earl of Berkeley the other collapsed in 1810, when although their politics no longer proved a bar to their supporting the same candidate, himself the son of a peer aligned with Beaufort, the aristocratic coalition was defeated by Sir William Guise, who rallied the independent gentry. Less than a year before, the legitimacy of Viscount Dursley, the Earl of Berkeley’s heir, had been the main issue at a by-election. In Herefordshire the Duke of Norfolk might return a Member, but he had to fight for it. In Hertfordshire the triumph in 1790 of a Whig country gentleman, William Baker, over a candidate supported by the Marquess of Salisbury was described by his party chief the Duke of Portland as ‘the most brilliant even’. Lord Salisbury was revenged in 1802, but further discomfited by Baker in 1805. Even when Lady Salisbury promoted a ‘Foxhunting’ club to assist the pretensions of the Hatfield protégé, Thomas Brand, he was not indebted to the Hatfield interest for his eventual return, and the Salisburys failed to procure the return of their heir Lord Cranborne in 1812. In Huntingdonshire the Earl of Sandwich and the Duke of Manchester formed an uneasy controlling coalition and would have kept out a third peer, Lord Carysfort, had the latter not secured Sandwich’s support for his heir for an interlude. The freeholders there found that they could not challenge the peers with any hope of success. In Lancashire (as in Derbyshire) a compromise whereby the Earl of Derby, who inclined to the Whigs, returned one Member and the Tory country gentry the other, operated smoothly. In Leicestershire the Duke of Rutland and Lord Stamford shared the honours through gentlemen of their choice, until in 1818 there was an acrimonious intervention of dissident gentry, which got out of hand and which was rectified at the next opportunity. In Lincolnshire, Lord Yarborough contrived the return of one Member from 1774 until 1802 and from 1807 until 1823; in the contest of 1818 the intervention of Earl Fitzwilliam on behalf of the second Whig candidate, Sir Robert Heron, caused Yarborough acute embarrassment: he was not himself striving for a monopoly. In Monmouthshire the Duke of Beaufort shared the honours with wealthy commoners, the Morgans of Tredegar. In Norfolk the conservative peers had to reckon with ‘King Tom’, Thomas William Coke; the return of Lord Wodehouse’s nephew at the by-election of 1817 was their only crumb of comfort. Coke himself repeatedly refused a peerage for many years. In Northamptonshire, Earl Spencer had great difficulty in securing the return of his heir Viscount Althorp in 1806. The Duke of Northumberland might be said to have secured the return of a Member for that county until his death in 1817, whereupon his successor did not exert himself: the duke’s desertion of Viscount Howick in favour of his own son in 1807, bitterly resented by the Whigs, had paved the way for this abdication. In Nottinghamshire the Duke of Portland conveniently shared the honours with Earl Manvers and in 1806 discouraged the Duke of Newcastle from interfering. The Duke of Marlborough shared Oxfordshire with the gentry, and the Marquess of Exeter Rutland with the Noel family, though in 1812 he was obliged to swallow the pretensions of Sir Gilbert Heathcote. The Duke of Bedford’s attempt to foist his brother on Hampshire in 1790 failed; and Lord Carnarvon’s son fared no better, except in 1806 when he had government support. In Staffordshire the Marquess of Stafford clung to one seat until 1820. Only Lord Cornwallis was allowed to encroach on gentry sway in Suffolk. The Duke of Bedford’s brother was ousted in Surrey, where he had sold out, in 1807. The Duke of Richmond secured a Member for Sussex through his influence in the western district, and in 1807 was one of ‘the array of aristocrac’ of which the unsuccessful candidate Sergison (himself supported by the Duke of Norfolk) complained. Westmorland was the only county where a peer, Lord Lonsdale, had pretensions to a monopoly, and when in 1813 he returned a second member of his family, the basis for a challenge to the Lowther ‘cubs’ by Henry Brougham in 1818 was laid: but he did not succeed, despite a bustling campaign that gave the election for that county unprecedented national undertones, and fanned resentment against aristocratic dominance in the northwest. Attempts to raise resentment against Wellesley Long in the Wiltshire contest of 1818 on account of his aristocratic connexions were effectively rebuffed by him. In Worcestershire, Lord Foley shared the honours with the Lygon family; not without political complications, for Foley, a Whig, returned the son of his Tory ally Lord Dudley in 1803; and the latter was ousted in 1806 by William Henry Lyttelton, a Whig who had shortly before failed to capture from William Lygon’s son the seat made vacant by his father’s elevation to the peerage. In Yorkshire, Earl Fitzwilliam had to wait until 1807 to recapture, through his son, a seat for the Whigs. When in 1812 the Earl of Harewood’s younger son captured the seat abdicated by Wilberforce, the latter lamented the plight of the county, divided between two great noblemen: in 1818 this ceased to be the case.
The counties where aristocratic influence was minimal or unobtrusive and the gentry tended to determine the representation included Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. As already indicated, the gentry and aristocracy compromised more or less easily in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, Sussex and Worcestershire. Elsewhere they challenged aristocratic control. Tight-knit gentry organization to arrange the county representation proved in the long run no more feasible than the ipse dixit of a dominant aristocrat. In Wiltshire, where there was only one contest between 1722 and 1818, the ascendancy of the county club crumbled in this period and at Henry Hunt’s instigation the unfitness of both sitting Members was decreed publicly in 1809. In Buckinghamshire the Independent Club succumbed to the patronage of the Duke of Portland. The Cornish Club concerned itself more practically with promoting a political compromise for the county to avert a repetition of the contest of 1790. The Devon County Club came into being to support one man—Viscount Ebrington. In Dorset and Shropshire, to take the most obvious examples, the gentry prided themselves on resolutions condemning expenditure on county elections. Lady Salisbury’s ‘Foxhunting’ club in Hertfordshire was intended to boost Thomas Brand’s candidature. The Constitutional Club in Hampshire was the stronghold of the conservative gentry.
Another device of the gentry for sharing the representation of the county that was thrown into confusion in this period was the territorial compromise whereby one knight represented one district of the county and the other knight the other district. This applied in any case only to a few counties where such a territorial division seemed appropriate, such as Kent (East and West), Somerset (East and West), Sussex (East and West) and Wiltshire (North and South). Convenient as this convention was, it fell by the wayside when competition became really fierce, and the complaints of the disadvantaged candidates that their territorial claims were being ignored do not seem to have carried much weight. In Kent in 1790 Marsham, from West Kent, was put out by Knatchbull and Honywood, both from East Kent, and in 1796, although Sir William Geary (West Kent) appealed to the custom against the same opponents, it was scarcely an operative factor in his success. In 1807 Gore Langton, the defeated candidate in Somerset, complained that East Somerset was now unrepresented: a territorial compromise had certainly operated there in 1792, but it was invoked above all to avert a contest. In 1807 Sergison, the unsuccessful candidate from East Sussex, made a similar complaint about the flouting of convention. Between 1809 and 1812 there was much talk of the need for a North Wiltshire candidate on the next vacancy for the county, owing to the existence of populous districts there. This led only to ingenious electoral cartography: Paul Methuen, who was to obtain the seat, was informed, 20 Jan. 1812, by his kinsman Sir John Methuen Poore:
I understand it is said that one of the Members should be a North, the other a South Wiltshire gentleman, and to bring a certain gentleman into the limit of North Wiltshire his party has made the Bath Road from Hungerford through Devizes the boundary; by this division you certainly will meet their wishes.
The development of freeholders associations in this period was significant. The Yorkshire Association of 1779 had set the precedent, but it never recovered from its schism in 1784. It was the Middlesex Freeholders Club of 1804, wedded to Sir Francis Burdett’s radical politics, that renewed the movement, aiming at the nation’s attention, and appealing to the freeholders at large. Echoes of this movement were heard in Essex, and in several counties in the Midlands. In Essex, Montagu Burgoyne mustered an independent freeholders club to support his candidature in 1810. In Staffordshire the freeholders association of 1810 promoted the candidature of a radical gentleman, Sir Charles Wolseley, and seriously embarrassed the Whig gentry. In Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, at the same time, independent freeholders associations were promoted to enlist the yeomanry, led by dissident Whig gentlemen such as George William Leeds of Croxton. Only the Middlesex Freeholders Club can be said to have succeeded to any extent in its championship of Burdett; but it failed to preserve his seat for him and, with his departure to the Westminster constituency, it lost its impetus. Sir Charles Wolseley ceded his pretensions to the Whig candidate in Staffordshire (and in 1819 resurfaced as self-elected Member for unenfranchised Birmingham), while in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire the yeomanry found that they could not produce a candidate in time for the election of 1812, and William Wells failed miserably in Huntingdonshire in 1818. Radical candidates elsewhere fared badly. Sir Joseph Mawbey, a radical of the Wilkite school, was defeated for Surrey in 1790, John Wilkes likewise failing to secure his return. Sir Thomas Turton, the champion of south bank radicalism, was defeated for Surrey in 1812 and 1813. Sir Francis Burdett, with every resource at his disposal, gained Middlesex in 1802, lost it in 1804, regained it on petition early in 1805, but lost it for ever in 1806. The radical Whigs Thomas Brand and Sir Robert Heron failed respectively in Cambridgeshire in 1802 and Lincolnshire in 1818. Montagu Burgoyne, a radical gentleman, fared respectably, with some Whig support, in a straight fight in the Essex by-election of 1810, but foundered in a tripartite contest in 1812. William Hallett made only a little progress in Berkshire, which he contested in 1812 and 1818. Radical outsiders seldom did well. Although Samuel Ferrand Waddington, a London radical who contested St. Albans borough in 1796, mustered 408 votes when he stood for the county as well, benefiting from the growing desire for peace, Samuel Colleton Graves, who eschewed any expense, could collect only 19 votes in three days for Devon in 1812. On the other hand Edward Sugden, the future Lord St. Leonards, was discomfited by the Sussex radicals when they opted to prop up Sir Godfrey Webster in 1818. In other counties radical movements were afoot, but did not put forward a candidate in this period.
In some counties there were special interest groups to be considered. The religious dissenters were a force to be reckoned with, particularly in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Wiltshire and Yorkshire. In Bedfordshire, Whitbread rallied many of them to the Whig standard. In Hertfordshire, Waddington, the ‘itinerary’ radical candidate in 1796, received conspicuous dissenting support, as did Brand in 1805. In Northamptonshire, Viscount Althorp benefited from their support in 1806. In Suffolk, Sir Gerard Vanneck was their candidate in 1790. In Sussex, Sergison, the unsuccessful candidate in 1807, relied on their support. Wilberforce owed much to their support in Yorkshire. Many of them rallied to independent freeholders associations in the counties. In a few other counties the established clergy were prominent and it was not unusual for them to take part in the proposing or seconding of candidates at county nomination meetings: Durham and Shropshire spring to mind. In Norfolk the animosity of the clergy towards ‘King Tom’ Coke was held to be a contributory factor in his protégé’s defeat in the by-election of 1817. Religious questions as such were seldom involved in county elections, except to some extent in 1790 when Charles Fox for the Whigs was attempting to regain the ground he had lost to Pitt among the dissenters in 1784 by supporting the repeal of the Test Acts; and, more generally, in 1807, when ‘No popery’ became a rallying cry against the Whig candidates, and was duly raised in the contests for Bedfordshire, Durham, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire. Only in Dorset and Somerset was the slogan subdued during the contest.
Economic interest groups also had a role to play in county elections. The landed interest was taken for granted everywhere; but in Yorkshire, for instance, the clothiers of the West Riding influenced the result. In 1806 Lascelles gave up because he had forfeited their support; in 1807 they ensured Lord Milton’s success; in 1812 Lascelles wooed them with more success than Stuart Wortley (who retired) and was labelled ‘Member for the borough of Leeds’. In 1818 they were groping towards self-expression: Earl Fitzwilliam feared that ‘the junto of Leeds’ would put up a second string candidate to Lord Milton, thus provoking a contest. They did not find a candidate, and it appeared that mutual jealousy among the leading clothiers prevented them from pulling their weight. Similarly in Warwickshire it was an established tradition that one of the Members should represent the Birmingham interest: in this period Sir Robert Lawley, and after him Sir John Mordaunt and Dugdale did so. This did not altogether appease Birmingham: its more prosperous citizens were freeholders not only in Warwickshire but throughout the West Midlands and began as well to encroach on boroughs in the area in their quest for a political outlet. On 12 July 1819 the Birmingham reformers elected Sir Charles Wolseley, 7th Bt., of Wolseley Hall as their ‘legislatorial attorney’, to present their grievances to Parliament. In Durham and Northumberland the shipping interest was a force to be reckoned with: in Durham in 1802 they lent their weight to a political compromise, though they could not bring it off in 1807. In Northumberland in 1807 Viscount Howick was the less disposed to fight for his seat in that he had lost the Shields shipping interest through its dislike of the American intercourse bill. In Gloucestershire the clothiers went so far as to back the candidature of Sir George Paul in 1806, but he withdrew.
The interest of the government as a suasive factor in county elections varied in its operation. In particular, it had many votes more or less at its command in maritime counties such as Kent and Hampshire, owing to the presence of the dockyards. In Hampshire it was thought to sway about one-sixth of the electorate, and it was precisely in this county that ministerial intervention became a controversial issue in the election of 1806. In general, however, government interference was circumscribed. Ministerial candidates advertised that they were on the side of the angels, and requested applications from the Treasury to placeholders and influential individuals on their behalf: they thought they had reason to complain if placemen did not support them, and government displeasure was sometimes visited on recalcitrant individuals. The most striking example is that of the banker Thomas Coutts, from whom government withdrew confidence on the ground that he had backed his son-in-law Burdett for Middlesex in 1802.
That government had an advantage in county elections on the first dissolution after coming to power seems undeniable, given the successes of the Whigs in power in 1806 and of their opponents in power the following year, but the advantage was liable to fade at subsequent elections, at least to some extent, according to the government’s performance. Political issues were at their height in county elections, as in the rest, in 1807 and 1818. This is reflected not only in the number of contests, but in the great publicity attending these elections. Ministerial candidates in 1807 benefited from the reaction against the Grenville ministry’s attempt to push Catholic relief and rallied opinion to the safeguard of the establishment in State and Church. In 1818 the trend was contrary: opposition benefited from post-war discontent and the government’s lack of self-confidence. In 1802, while ministers’ achievement of peace with France was a likely asset to them, their timidity and vacillation, stemming from Addington at their head, produced only embarrassment when they were appealed to in county contests. The elections of 1790, 1796 and 1812 were not remarkable for political content in the counties: in 1790 the Whigs were admittedly keen on revenging the debacle of 1784 and in some cases organized victory, but there were setbacks too. In 1796 there was some clamour for peace, but the Whigs did not benefit from it, though they did unseat the ‘turncoat’ Portland Whig in Herefordshire. In 1812 the noise came from the radicals, to little effect.
The county Members may be classified as follows. No less than 45 of them bore aristocratic titles, real or courtesy titles, on their return to Parliament. These included seven Irish peers (Upper Ossory, Verney, Ludlow, Wenman, Carbery, Henniker and Muncaster, of whom Verney and Muncaster were also English baronets). There were 21 heirs apparent to peerages (Lords Titchfield, Hinchingbrooke, Blandford, Gower [bis], Temple, Worcester, Brome, Morpeth, Proby, Althorp, Howick, Newark, Dursley, Percy, Milton, Tavistock, Barnard, Stanley, Lowther and Ebrington). The remaining 17 were styled ‘Lord’ as the younger sons or brothers of dukes or marquesses, viz: Lords George and John and George Augustus Henry Cavendish; Lords Edward Charles, William and William Henry Cavendish Bentinck; Lord William Russell; Lord Frederick Montagu; Lords Charles and Francis Almeric Spencer; Lords Charles and Robert Manners; Lord Francis Godolphin Osborne; Lords Arthur, Robert Edward Henry and Granville Somerset; and Lord Granville Leveson Gower. The Duke of Beaufort had four sons who were county Members; four members of the Duke of Portland’s family were also returned for counties. This list does not include younger sons and brothers of earls and barons, or heirs to titles in their mother’s right like Thomas Brand (Hertfordshire); and it would be idle to compute how many of the baronets and country gentlemen returned for counties had peerage connexions. A number of them looked to, and a few (such as Sir John Wodehouse, Sir John Rous and James Grenville) obtained peerages as a reward for public and political service, while some declined the honour. Thomas William Coke of Norfolk apparently did so at least five times before eventually succumbing.
The representation of a county by an aristocrat, particularly by the eldest son of a peer, was frequently disapproved when a county seat was contested or at least in competition. In Northamptonshire, Viscount Althorp in 1806 was criticized not only as the heir of a peer, but as the heir of a peer who was in Lord Grenville’s cabinet. Viscount Dursley’s legitimacy was challenged in Gloucestershire in 1810. While peers with an important interest in a county might think that they could best pull their weight by returning their heirs, they themselves sometimes changed their minds: the Duke of Marlborough, dissatisfied with the ungovernable conduct of his heir the Marquess of Blandford, returned for Oxfordshire in 1790, withdrew him in favour of his brother in 1796. The Duke of Portland, whose heir the Marquess of Titchfield sat for Buckinghamshire, was prepared to withdraw him when he decided to sell his estate in that county. Titchfield was allowed to remain Member, but Lord William Russell, the Duke of Bedford’s brother, was eventually driven out of Surrey after disposing of his property there. The Earl of Sandwich was so keen for his heir Viscount Hinchingbrooke to represent Huntingdonshire that he returned an obvious stopgap until his son was of age. The Hon. Richard Neville, candidate for Berkshire in 1812, was assailed by his radical competitor Hallett as the son of a peer and pensioner.
There were moreover 47 baronets who sat for the shires in this period (two of them, Sir Ralph Verney and Sir John Pennington being also Irish peers). Of these only five were first baronets; eleven were second baronets; three were third baronets; four were fourth baronets; eight were fifth baronets; nine were sixth baronets; three were seventh baronets; two were eighth baronets and two (Sir John Thorold and Sir Edward Knatchbull) were ninth baronets, the last mentioned having succeeded his late father to his seat for Kent in 1819. Two Mordaunts, father and son, sat for Warwickshire, two Noels, father and son (the latter before succeeding to the baronetcy) for Rutland, but some other baronets had sons sitting for borough seats. Of the 47 baronets, only 13 ever sat for any other than county seats, all of them in making their debut in Parliament, and of these Sir Francis Burdett was the only one who was returned for a city (Westminster) after sitting for a county: even he, in later life, reverted to a county seat. Sir Gilbert Heathcote sat for two counties (Lincolnshire and Rutland) in turn. Sir William Lemon sat for Cornwall for 50 years without a break, and faced only one contest (which was not directed against him).
The majority of the county Members were well-to-do country gentlemen with substantial estates. Occasionally the fact that some of them owed their substance to a background of mercantile wealth rankled: Sir Lawrence Palk in Devon was labelled a nabob, and William Dickinson in Somerset was reproached for his associations with the ‘monied interest’. At the Lincolnshire election in 1807 the defeated candidate Richard Ellison, banker first and landowner second, was found de trop:
A borough seat
Is banker’s meat
A county’s for his master
John Matthews, locum tenens for Cotterell in Herefordshire 1803-6, had been a surgeon. Lancelot Brown, stopgap for Lord Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdonshire 1792-94, was the son of ‘Capability’ Brown, the landscape gardener. There were doubts about the legitimacy of Mainwaring, Burdett’s opponent in Middlesex in 1804, the King himself being among the sceptics: but the issue was shelved.
It should not be supposed that a long rent roll was essential in a county Member: it helped, of course, but character and credit, respectability, local popularity and attention to business were in the long run more important. The outstanding example of this was William Wilberforce, Member for Yorkshire, who did not possess broad acres but was the pride of his countrymen: on 7 Dec. 1806 he reflected, ‘I never attend races or even assizes, which Members for Yorkshire before me used to do; and yet I have been elected five times, and never with more unanimity than the last’. In 1807 his election victory was commended as being ‘from mere weight of character in such an election as this, where money is supposed to do all’. Other county Members had their characters impugned: Sir Jacob Henry Astley of Norfolk felt obliged to defend himself on the hustings against charges of being a bad landlord and a bad husband; Sir Godfrey Webster was thought to be too fast for Sussex in 1818; but both of them managed to retain their seats. The Wiltshire Members came under attack for neglect of parliamentary duty: none of them appears to have had anything to say in debate between 1790 and 1812. This state of affairs was not permitted to continue. Local issues occasionally played their part in governing the county’s choice: in Middlesex, Burdett’s victory over Mainwaring in 1802 had its roots in his attack on the latter as a magistrate connected with the setting up of the ‘Bastille’, the Coldbath Fields prison. Middlesex also went so far as to instruct its Members by resolution, 29 Oct. 1800, on a national issue, urging them to oppose the continuance of war. Members had to pay attention to county meetings at which their political conduct might be called into question: such meetings proved a gauge of their hold on public opinion in their county. There was a spate of them in the English counties on the outbreak of war (1793), against the sedition bills (1795), on the King’s dismissal of the Grenville ministry (1807), against taxation and for retrenchment (1815) and after the Peterloo tragedy (1819), and they constituted a forum for a local debate on national issues at which resolutions were carried indicative of the political sense of the county.
While the calibre of county Members varied greatly, they stood on their dignity in the House of Commons. The drunken buffoonery of John Fuller (Sussex) was considered unbecoming. They frequently moved or seconded the address, or the amendment to it. In debates on country matters, local government, Poor Law, militia and taxation they were particularly prominent. Critical motions, too, were enhanced by their part in them: Wilberforce’s pacific motions of 1794 and 1795, seconded by his colleague Duncombe, received a degree of support from county Members that the ministers found alarming. The same thing occurred over the property tax in March 1816. Ministers, in turn, were gratified to find county Members who were prepared to shoulder business on their behalf. In division lists published in newspapers, county Members were not infrequently distinguished from their fellow Members to stress their importance. Political independence was nevertheless the accepted stance of the county Member, often proclaimed in election addresses and in debate. He claimed the right to judge issues on their merits without prejudice to his political consistency. In the last resort, the independent attitudes of county Members derived from the tradition of Country versus Court: as Thomas William Coke of Norfolk put it, ‘Kings might make peers, but they could not make a county Member’. There was a prejudice against their being office-holders: in Somerset in 1806 William Dickinson, who only a year or so before had given up his parliamentary duties to make sure that he obtained the chairmanship of quarter sessions in the county, declined public office, lest he damage his election prospects. In 1810 Charles Yorke was discomfited when seeking re-election for Cambridgeshire after his appointment to the lucrative sinecure of teller of the Exchequer.
No change was made in the representation of the counties in this period. An addition to the number of county Members had been one of the most significant demands of the county associations of 1780, and Pitt in 1783 had mooted a reform that added 100 county Members. In 1785 he had proposed to add 36 (to the counties and the metropolis) as well as to enfranchise copyholders. The Friends of the People in 1794 likewise suggested increasing the county representation, and Charles Grey duly embodied this proposition in his reform motion of 1797. Lip-service was paid to the notion in subsequent Whig reform motions, but after 1809 the emphasis was on enfranchising populous districts rather than counties per se, and until 1822 when Lord John Russell resumed the theme of a comprehensive reform, proposals for altering the county representation were often confined to the largest counties like Yorkshire, which was in fact awarded two additional Members on the disfranchisement of the borough of Grampound, 30 May 1821. The fear expressed by Lord North in opposition to Pitt’s proposals that a large addition to the county representation would give an overwhelming advantage to the landed interest, particularly in less populous counties, had meanwhile been elaborated upon by others. The notion of converting corrupt boroughs into enclaves of hundreds within counties where county interests might operate won more favour: it had been applied before 1790, and was extended now to Shoreham and Aylesbury. The abuses prevalent in county elections were a more congenial subject of parliamentary debate than a reform in county representation.
THE ENGLISH BOROUGHS
There were 203 English boroughs, returning 405 Members: 196 boroughs returned two Members each; 5 boroughs returned one only (Abingdon, Banbury, Bewdley, Higham Ferrers and Monmouth); while 2 boroughs (London and the combined Weymouth and Melcombe Regis) returned four Members each.
Six kinds of borough franchise may be distinguished: householder franchise; freeman franchise; scot and lot franchise; corporation franchise; burgage franchise; and freeholder franchise.
Householder. Thirteen boroughs, Aylesbury (until 1804), Cirencester, Hindon, Honiton, Ilchester, Minehead, Northampton, Pontefract, Preston, St. Germans, Taunton, Tregony and Wendover enjoyed householder, or more colloquially ‘potwalloper’ franchise: that is, all inhabitant householders qualified by six months’ residence (a year at St. Germans) could vote, unless they were almsmen or paupers. The total voting strength of these probably did not exceed 6,000 in 1790, and was no more than about 8,000 in 1818. The electorates in question varied in size, St. Germans the smallest having only seven householders at the end of this period, while at Preston there were nearly 3,000, the electorate having almost doubled since 1790. In the smaller of these boroughs, which were virtually pocket boroughs, contests were avoided. St. Germans was entirely controlled by Lord Eliot throughout; Hindon, with 200 voters, was quietly shared by William Beckford and Sir Henry Gough (afterwards Lord) Calthorpe and, after being contested eight times between 1768 and 1784, had no contests in this period. Wendover, purchased by the Whig speculator Church in 1788 and sold to Pitt’s friend Lord Carrington by 1796, returned their nominees quietly and indifferently. The remaining ten boroughs, with larger electorates, were open to venality and irregularity and were frequently contested. Aylesbury (500 voters) was in 1804 disfranchised following the exposure of corruption at the election of 1802 and the franchise extended to freeholders of the surrounding hundred, which drew it into the orbit of county interests, but doubled the electorate and did not prevent further contests. At Cirencester, Lord Bathurst was sure of one seat but the other was keenly contested. At Minehead, John Fownes Luttrell lost one seat to an interloper, James Langston, in 1796 and both in 1802, but bought Langston out a year later and was thenceforth secure until 1832. At Honiton, where three firms of attorneys vied as agents for candidates, Sir George Yonge was ruined by the cost of maintaining an interest, and in 1802, when it was clear that he could no longer afford it, was spat upon and his wig set alight. In the same place Lord Cochrane subsequently proposed awarding his supporters ten guineas for having resisted bribery previous to his election, and in 1806, when William Cobbett offered his services gratuitously, he was abused as being little better than a thief. At Taunton the Market House Society, a respectable consortium who had taken over the control of the borough from the abeyant corporation, had to fight a rearguard action against the champions of the corporation until 1803. At Ilchester and Tregony the most astonishing examples of double dealing and corruption occurred: the former changed patrons seven times in this period, three times by trickery. After paying £53,000 for the borough in 1802 and assuring the electors that they were his entailed property, Sir William Manners was defeated by a junto that paid £30 a vote at the ensuing election. Three offenders were sent to prison when the irregularities were exposed on petition. Manners contrived to reverse this setback, but his harsh methods, which included reduction of the electorate by eviction, led to his downfall in 1818 when Lord Darlington, a Whig boroughmonger, challenged him. Darlington’s stratagems (like those of Langston at Minehead) included jerrybuilt houses. At Tregony the intrigues of Nicholas Middlecoat, a local innkeeper, spelt difficulty or doom for every would-be patron, nabob or country gentleman, and none of them was secure, not even Lord Darlington. Northampton, where the electorate rose to about 1,300, and Preston were in a different case. At Northampton the Comptons controlled one seat with the help of the corporation, while an independent anti-corporation party retained the other against frequent challenges, including a government-subsidized nominee in 1790, until 1818, when it cashiered its sitting Member Hanbury. At Preston, Lord Derby was good for one seat; the other passed in 1796 from the dissenting champions, the Hoghton family, to the textile manufacturing Horrocks family who, allied with the corporation, were largely responsible for doubling the electorate in this period and had a greater interest among textile workers than had any patron among the shoemakers of Northampton. Subsequently opposition at Preston took on a radical complexion: this had occurred too at Honiton in 1804 and 1806 and there was a radical at Taunton in 1812. None of these bids was ultimately successful, though Lord Cochrane secured Honiton for a spell. Pontefract was the most frequently contested of the householder boroughs—seven times in all. The chief reason was the continuation of the dispute over the franchise, adjudged in 1783 to be in the inhabitant householders, a decision that was contested by the burgage proprietors. Their repeated petitions failed to reverse the decision by 1793. Subsequently, although there was no contest until 1806, the borough was open, expensive and regularly contested. There were 39 out of 91 possible contests in general elections for these boroughs and six out of 42 at by-elections. Eight were contested in 1818, seven in 1802 and only three in 1806.
Freeman. Ninety-one boroughs may be included in this general category, 87 of them returning two Members each, three (Bewdley, Higham Ferrers and Monmouth) one Member and one four Members (London, which had a livery franchise, but is included with the freeman boroughs): in all, 181 Members. Some of them had variations on the freeman franchise: in ten, freemen had to be resident (Bishop’s Castle, Chester, Dunwich, East Retford, Great Grimsby, Launceston, Monmouth, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford and Hastings); while in five more, resident freemen had also to pay scot and lot (Boston, Camelford, Rye, Shrewsbury and Winchelsea) and in the case of Grampound and Lichfield, freemen, resident or not, had to pay scot and lot to vote. Four allowed the vote to freeholders as well as freemen: Bristol, Exeter, Norwich and Okehampton. In three it was allowed to householders as well as freemen, namely Bedford, Hertford and Tewkesbury. Two more, Leicester and St. Albans, allowed householders paying scot and lot, as well as freemen, to vote. Also anomalous were Guildford, where freeholders paying scot and lot could vote, as well as freemen; Huntingdon, where inhabitant householders paying scot and lot could also vote; Southampton, where mere inhabitants paying scot and lot could also vote; and Lichfield, where freeholders and burgage tenants paying scot and lot could vote along with freemen. Monmouth had two contributory boroughs, Newport and Usk, after the Welsh fashion.
The total electorate of these boroughs seems to have increased from about 75,500 in 1790 to about 83,000 in 1818. Much of the increase took place in a few boroughs. At Maldon following the grant of a new charter in 1810 the electorate increased tenfold, but the large, open and frequently contested boroughs were those where the increase was most marked: Berwick, Chester, Great Yarmouth, Lancaster, Leicester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Rochester and Shrewsbury typify this. In several boroughs the electorate decreased, in some instances at the instigation of patrons who wished to make them more manageable and less expensive: this was the case at Aldeburgh, Dunwich, Evesham and Wigan. The smaller the borough, the greater the importance of the corporation and its patron, for the creation of freemen, whether they were entitled by birth, apprenticeship, marriage or redemption, was in its hands. The validity of freeman creations was, however, a frequent source of litigation.
As the electoral behaviour of freeman boroughs varied according to their size, they may be divided into (i) 26 large boroughs with electorates over 1,000; (ii) 26 boroughs with electorates of between 200 and 1,000; (iii) 39 small boroughs with fewer than 200 voters. The total number of contests for all freeman boroughs was 311 (56 at by-elections) out of a potential of 893 (637 at general elections and 256 on interim vacancies), but of these 311 contests, 132 occurred in the 26 large boroughs (an average of five contests each); 109 in the 26 medium boroughs (an average of four contests) and 70 in the 39 small boroughs (an average of two contests). In all, 19 of these boroughs were uncontested. Only one of the large boroughs, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, escaped a contest; Bedford and Hereford got away with one only; but Norwich had nine; London, Liverpool and Nottingham eight; and five large boroughs had seven. Of the medium sized boroughs, three (King’s Lynn, Ludlow and Monmouth) were uncontested and four others (Bridgnorth, Derby, Lichfield and Wells) had one contest only; Boston had nine; Barnstaple, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Rochester had eight. Of the 39 small boroughs, no less than 15 avoided a contest. Five more had only one contest. Hythe with seven contests and Grampound with six were at the other extreme.
Among the large freeman boroughs, London, even if its liveryman electorate was not as comprehensive as a freeman electorate would have been, had potentially 10,000 voters, though 8,000 was regarded as a more realistic figure. London ceased, however, in this period to be a focus for the radical movement, as it had been in the time of John Wilkes: radicalism was more vocal in the Westminster and Middlesex constituencies. While it remained a factor in London elections, provided candidates and gained ground again after 1815, it lacked charismatic leadership in the City. Its call for delegate Members who obeyed instructions from their constituents was upheld only by the veteran Member John Sawbridge, as an expedient by Sir Watkin Lewes, and by one newcomer, Alderman Combe. When Travers, an unsuccessful candidate in 1802, maintained the principle, The Times commented that it ‘would have degraded the British senator to the condition of a Dutch deputy’. Combe came under fire for his lack of concern for the economic interests of the City. The only Member returned in this period who was not a member of the corporation was Thomas Wilson, a merchant, in 1818. The privileges of the City were maintained by Members on both sides, as ministers found when they rejected the petition based on the common hall resolution of 1810. The Whigs had not one Member left in 1795, and only one between 1796 and 1818, when they took three out of four seats. Two of these Members, Waithman and Wood, were contenders for leadership of the radical revival who had clashed bitterly at the preceding election.
Bristol, the second city in the kingdom with some 5,000 voters, had just five contests, three of them trifling, thanks to the political compromise achieved in 1790. The interest of the Duke of Beaufort as a local magnate and two political clubs underpinned it, so opportunist radicals fared badly. Local issues stirred the electors most and in 1812 even a pillar of Whig orthodoxy, Sir Samuel Romilly, was defeated by a local candidate championing local interests.
Norwich, with 3,000 and more electors, had a more turbulent municipal history, exacerbated in this period by the decline of the worsted industry, which adversely affected its weavers, nearly half the electorate. The alienation of the city’s dissenting élite in the course of the struggle between the Purple and Orange and Blue and White parties, and the political volte face of a brilliant Member, William Windham, added fuel to the fire in the 1790s. In 1802 Windham, who spent £8,000, was ousted in ‘a mixed triumph of Jacobinism and money’. In 1806 the candidates spent £35,000 on a contest which restored the balance, William Smith, one of the ‘Jacobins’ of 1802 being defeated by ‘a sudden clamour for a resident’. His replacement, Alderman Patteson, had prided himself on speaking for Norwich interests as Member for Minehead in the preceding Parliament. Following a split in his party and their failure to find a fit candidate, ‘Jacobinism and money’ triumphed again in 1818. The city had been contested continuously since 1780.
Coventry, with 2,650 voters in 1796 (1,750 of them resident), was also expensive and rowdy: as at Norwich, the corporation was at odds with the middle and lower orders of voters, many of them engaged in manufacture. Wealth was required in candidates, but it never made them secure and they all lost their charms in the end; though Peter Moore, who had a scheme to benefit the city by importing Bengal silk, clung to his seat. Radicals appeared at the hustings in 1818 but put up no candidate.
Nottingham, where the electorate doubled in this period, was also rowdy, despite an attempt to work a political compromise: the clamour for a third man usually succeeded. It was the largest borough where the Whig and dissenting interest prevailed in the corporation, and when Daniel Parker Coke, the ousted Member in 1802, sought to contain rowdyism at elections by legislation a year later, opposition to it was led by Charles James Fox, the Whig generalissimo. At Leicester where the corporation party was opposed to the Whig and dissenting interest an attempt to operate a compromise in 1790 led to such violence that the dragoons were called in. Subsequently the Whigs were kept at arms’ length and although Samuel Smith adhered to their ministry in 1806-7 he used his interest with the corporation and his wealth to keep out a Whig third man in 1807. In 1818, significantly, the borough returned two local bankers.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with 2,500 voters, contrived to avoid any contests, thanks to the operation of a political compromise: local issues and local representatives were the order of the day. At York, with about the same number of electors, compromise also prevailed until 1807, but following Sir Mark Masterman Sykes’s victory over the Whigs at that election, in which he doubled the voters’ fee, party animosity rekindled. Earl Fitzwilliam, the Whig paymaster at York, could eventually no longer restrain his party from attempting to carry both seats. As it was, he spent freely in the attempt to keep out Masterman Sykes in 1807, and in 1812 merely to keep the peace.
Compromise was difficult at Liverpool, where a volatile electorate of over 2,000 would not permit it. In 1790 a coalition of Gascoyne and Lord Penrhyn had forced Tarleton to give up, but when the allies stopped the taps, the lower order of voters flocked to vote for Tarleton, who secured a record poll and ousted Penrhyn. Despite this, Gascoyne and Tarleton, political opponents, coalesced against third men in 1796 and 1802: in 1796 Tarleton’s brother was the challenger, trying to make capital out of their political differences and of the representation of the port by two military officers. His bid was castigated as ‘unnatural’, but Joseph Birch, merchant, did not succeed either in 1802. It was Tarleton’s turning coat that spurred the Whigs to throw him out in 1806: they had to spend £12,000 to their opponents’ £7,000 to return William Roscoe, but he was decisively beaten in 1807, the first Liverpool Member to oppose the slave trade. In 1812 there was a memorable all-out contest, Brougham and Canning being ranged against each other and giving the election more political content than Liverpool had ever known. The Whigs, spending £8,000 to their opponents’ £20,000, were defeated. Brougham took the opportunity of lecturing his Whig friends on the unrepresentative nature of the freeman electorate, large as it might be and resident as it was, which made Liverpool as good an illustration of the need for parliamentary reform as any close borough with few voters. In 1818 no less than 18 candidates were put in nomination at Liverpool during the course of the poll, though few received votes as it was a tactical manoeuvre.
At Kingston-upon-Hull, Lancaster and Worcester, all with 2,000 or more electors, the non-resident vote was an important factor at elections and no interest was secure. Viscount Deerhurst was defeated by the outvote at Worcester in 1812, while at Hull that year a passing ‘third man’ (on his way to contest Beverley) was waylaid and returned. At Hull in 1818 John Staniforth, who faced bankruptcy after spending half-a-million there in 16 years, was turned out. Another Hull Member observed, ‘the venal character of the place baffles any hope, which adherence to principles might inspire, and I fear the largest purse and the nearest face will continue paramount recommendations to my worthy constituents’. At Worcester in 1806, Bromley, a successful candidate, was frightened into vacating his seat by his opponent’s threat to expose his bribery and treating.
The following 14 freeman boroughs had between 1,000, and 2,000 voters: Bedford, Berwick, Beverley, Canterbury, Chester, Colchester, Dover, Durham, Exeter, Gloucester, Great Yarmouth, Hereford, Lincoln and Oxford. While the 12 freeman boroughs with over 2,000 voters averaged between five and six contests each, these 14 averaged between four and five. The least contested of the 14 were those most amenable to patronal control. There was only one contest at Bedford, where a Whig junto operated from 1790 on Samuel Whitbread’s replacing his father: it was supported by the Duke of Bedford and was prepared to create freemen on a large scale and pay the corporation debts to secure hegemony. Hereford, where a similar Whig junto operated, also had only one contest, in 1818 when, following the death of the Duke of Norfolk, the new high steward Lord Somers secured his son’s return. At Chester, Lord Grosvenor’s family held one seat continuously from 1715 to 1874 and both from 1790 until 1807: after contests in 1812 and 1818, he restored his control on the latter occasion. At Gloucester there was no contest from 1789 until 1805, a compromise operating. The Whig corporation were under the aegis of the Duke of Norfolk and had three times to resist the challenge of the Duke of Beaufort and his allies. At Exeter the corporation oligarchy could not prevent contests on three occasions.
At Lincoln, Durham, Oxford, Berwick, Beverley, Canterbury, Colchester, Dover and Great Yarmouth, the freemen preferred contests, and ‘a third man’ to thwart a combination of sitting Members to avert the expense of a contest was frequently sought: no interest was secure. At Lincoln several successive interests were swamped in expense. When in 1812 Lady Monson, the Whig patron, in spite of her imminent marriage to the ministerialist Lord Warwick, thought fit to sponsor a Whig candidate, she was defeated by a combination of a ministerialist and a more radical Whig. At Durham a combination of the Tempest and Lambton families to dominate the borough was likewise undermined, and when a member of either family held the county seat they thought it prudent not to aim for the borough representation. At Oxford the combination of the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Abingdon as patrons was undermined by a well-to-do third man, Henry Peters, in 1796; having no more money to spend, he was thrown out in 1802. The duke, after failing to pay his election bills, was excluded by a combination of the other candidates against his nominee in 1812 and in 1818 was alleged to have paid £20 for plumpers and £10 for second votes to recover a seat. Berwick, ‘almost as famous for its elections as for its smocks and salmon’, dismissed its patrons in turn as their resources were exhausted: Delaval, Lisburne, Callander, Hall. When Hall and his friend Fordyce had their election voided for bribery and treating in 1803, Hall pointed out that it was a time-honoured practice at Berwick and his substitutes won the fresh election. Under such an insecure regime, a radical reformer, Selby, netted as many as 176 votes in 1812. At Beverley, Lord Yarborough gave up the expense of acting as patron and in 1806 the electors were described as ‘scouring the country in all directions’ for a candidate. One Member for the borough, John Wharton, ruined himself by his election expenses, and another, Christie Burton, returned in 1818, was at the time in the Fleet for debt. Canterbury, so accustomed to political strife that the uncontested election of 1802 was the first for a century, only paused then because the parties were financially exhausted. Colchester, where the candidates spent £40,000 in 1812, ruined one of its Members, Robert Thornton, by the constant expense of bringing in outvoters, who constituted more than half the electorate. A radical, Daniel Whittle Harvey, who had espoused the cause of a new borough charter, was returned in 1818. At Dover it was the government that failed to hold on as patrons. At Great Yarmouth the Townshend, Anson and Suffield interests were successively eclipsed, and in 1812, for the first time for a century, a townsman, Lacon, was returned.
Of the 26 freeman boroughs with more than 200 voters but fewer than a thousand, all but four had an electorate of over or approaching 500. The exceptions were Great Grimsby, King’s Lynn, Okehampton and Wells, and of these Lynn and Wells proved amenable to control, Okehampton settled for an attentive patron after a disturbed interlude, while Grimsby proved as impossible to control as most of the larger boroughs in this category: Charles Tennyson, after paying £5,500 to secure his election there in 1818, admitted ruefully that the time was not ripe for reform. Not all the boroughs with between 500 and 1,000 voters resisted quiet management: at Ludlow the Clive family, after a congenial compromise until 1806, named both Members thereafter, without a contest throughout. At Monmouth, with its two contributory boroughs, the Duke of Beaufort ruled supreme, though after 1818 a radical challenge threatened his hold. At Derby the Duke of Devonshire and the Cokes of Longford, both on the Whig interest, held a seat each and the only (ineffectual) challenge came from a radical in 1796. Bridgnorth too proved amenable to management and the lone contest in 1802 was a flash in the pan. At Lichfield the pact between the related families of the Marquess of Stafford and Anson, in which they sank their political differences, was opposed only once, in 1799, and the violence that then occurred made them cling to their agreement more resolutely. Incidentally, their creation of freeholds for election purposes, in a mixed franchise, effectively muzzled the freeman franchise. The dignity of Hertford and Tewkesbury was occasionally ruffled by a contest: in the latter a Whig attempt to sponsor householder franchise in 1796 was defeated. At Sandwich one seat was snatched by contest from the Admiralty and a compromise was finally achieved. Of the remaining boroughs in this group, Grantham and Carlisle had four contests. At Grantham Sir William Manners sought with scant success to undermine the Rutland/Brownlow interest in the borough and thereby only opened it to all comers. At Carlisle the Lonsdale interest was curbed by contest and the restriction of freedom: thereafter a free-for-all developed. Evesham, Ipswich, Stafford and Sudbury had five contests: the first two were open and expensive; so was Stafford, but money was not enough—popularity too was necessary. Sudbury was opened up by the demise of the Crespigny family interest. Shrewsbury and Southampton had six contests: that between the two branches of the Hill family in 1796 at the former was a byword for expense and elections were encumbered by the tender of a legion of unassessed votes. At Southampton the contests were challenges to the predominant interest of George Rose: only after his death in 1817 did the opposition triumph. St. Albans and Maidstone had seven contests apiece; Rochester, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Barnstaple eight each; and Boston had nine. At St. Albans the united interests of Lords Spencer and Grimston were undermined by the defeat of Spencer’s nephew in 1807 and he gave up his interest; while the want of an eligible member in the Grimston family threw the borough open, though it could not be bought, as the wealthy radical Waddington had discovered in 1796. Maidstone welcomed well-to-do businessmen as candidates to keep up the contest between Reds and Blues in the borough: it was represented by two stationers, a paper manufacturer, an East India merchant and a banker in this period. At Rochester contests were between the official candidates of the Admiralty and Ordnance and independents; no compromise was permitted to last. At Newcastle-under-Lyme the Marquess of Stafford’s control, challenged only once in the preceding period, was repeatedly resisted in this: in 1812 he lost one seat and it cost him £20,000 to regain control in 1818. At Barnstaple the venality of the electors defied all control: they were indifferent to the morals of their representatives; and in 1818 Sir Manasseh Lopes was unseated, fined and imprisoned for his open bribery. A bill to extend the franchise was lost in the Lords at the dissolution. At Boston there was no security, not even for Madocks, champion of the emancipation of the borough from the control of the Duke of Ancaster and the corporation: he had to pay up or lose his seat; and Maj. John Cartwright, the radical reformer, who refused to pay for votes, got only 59 votes in 1806 and a mere eight in 1807.
Thirty-nine freeman boroughs had up to 200 voters, and averaged only two contests apiece. There were no contests at all in 15 of them: Bewdley, Dunwich, Hastings, Higham Ferrers, Huntingdon, Lyme Regis, Lymington, Orford, Portsmouth, Rye, St. Mawes, West Looe, Wenlock, Wigan and Winchelsea: and this despite the fact that the patronage changed hands at Bewdley, Wigan and Winchelsea and was under frequent threat at Wenlock. At Portsmouth, admittedly, the status quo was twice undermined without a contest. Elsewhere there were threats and rumours of rebellion. Lyme, Lymington and Orford appear to have been utterly safe and at Rye Thomas Lamb was a patron ‘whose influence at this place no human power can shak’. Only three of these 15 uncontested boroughs had more than 200 electors (Huntingdon, Wenlock and Wigan).
Of the 24 remaining, contested, boroughs in this category, the 11 with fewer than 100 electors—all but two were in Cornwall and Devon—were Aldeburgh (1 contest), Bossiney (2), Camelford (4), Chipping Wycombe (2), Dartmouth (1), East Looe (2), Grampound (6), Launceston (2), Liskeard (3), Plympton Erle (2) and Totnes (2). Aldeburgh could be sold to a Rotherham businessman for £39,000 in 1818; but had resisted a challenge to the previous owners, the Crespigny family, in 1812. Nor did challenges to the patrons succeed at Bossiney, Dartmouth (where a bid was made to establish the inhabitant vote in 1790), East Looe, Liskeard (where the inhabitant householder franchise was espoused), or Plympton Erle (where freedom by inheritance was canvassed). At Camelford, Chipping Wycombe, Grampound, Launceston and Totnes there was a struggle for control: the Duke of Northumberland lost Launceston to government acting through the Duke of Buccleuch in 1795, but regained it at the ensuing general election. Chipping Wycombe and Totnes were compromised. The Duke of Bedford secured a redefinition of the franchise at Camelford to include resident ratepayers in 1796 but sold out in 1811 to a kinsman of the former patrons, who in turn sold out to the highest bidder in 1815 for £51,000. Grampound was a special case, where the electors turned the tables on all would-be patrons, making a lucrative business out of it: the borough faced disfranchisement in 1820.
The 13 contested freeman boroughs with between 100 and 200 voters were Bishop’s Castle (3 contests), Cambridge (1), East Retford (4), Guildford (5), Hedon (3), Hythe (7), Maldon (4), Morpeth (1), New Woodstock (2), Plymouth (3), Poole (5), Queenborough(4) and Winchester (1). There was only one challenge to the Duke of Rutland’s control at Cambridge; and the only contest at Winchester, in which Sir Henry St. John Mildmay’s friend Richard Meyler spent, so he claimed, £20,000 to win a seat in 1812, was nullified on Meyler’s death before the next dissolution. The Earl of Carlisle lost one seat by contest at Morpeth in 1802 and then settled for a compromise. The hold of the Clive family over Bishop’s Castle was challenged with temporary success, and that of the Duke of Newcastle at East Retford overthrown in 1812, opening the borough. Lord Grantley had to fight for his control of one seat at Guildford. The Duke of Marlborough successfully resisted challenge at New Woodstock. Hedon and Hythe became increasingly open to all comers, the latter a favourite resort for London merchant candidates. At Plymouth the Admiralty interest suffered a setback and the Prince of Wales became a patron during three Parliaments: an unsuccessful attempt was made to revive the freeholder franchise there. At Poole every species of chicanery was practiced and no Member secure: brothers-in-law fought for a seat in 1818. At Queenborough the Whigs snatched both seats from the Ordnance and Admiralty in 1802, the first breach of the status quo since 1727. In a borough where freemen held places worth £2,368 p.a., opposition could not flourish for long. Maldon was a special case: its charter in abeyance, it had become ‘a county, not a borough intere’. The patron John Strutt, held to a compromise by Western, a political opponent, was at the same time threatened with a chartist movement to revive the franchise: ‘Whenever I hear the name of Maldon it makes me shudder and it takes away the little reason I have left’, he grumbled. In 1810 he allowed himself to become the promoter of a new charter which increased the electorate tenfold. Paradoxically, the compromise was maintained and there was no further contest until 1826.
Scot and lot. There were 37 scot and lot boroughs, not including Shoreham where the franchise was altered in 1771, but including Malton, where it was clearly defined in 1807. They returned 73 Members (Abingdon returning one only). Inhabitant householders paying the rates were entitled to vote in these constituencies. As already noticed, there was a scot and lot element in the franchise in 12 freeman boroughs (Boston, Camelford, Grampound, Guildford, Huntingdon, Leicester, Lichfield, Rye, St. Albans, Shrewsbury, Southampton and Winchelsea), and the same was true of three burgage boroughs (Bramber, Newport and Weobley). This discussion excludes them, though at Shrewsbury, for instance, the scot and lot vote played a vital role. Only two of the 37 boroughs in question were in the north of England (Aldborough and Malton). Dorset, Cornwall and Sussex (including the Cinque Port of Seaford) had five apiece. The total electorate was about 23,000 in 1790 and, probably, over 25,500 in 1818, an increase of little more than 10 per cent. Westminster made up over half this number; and together with Southwark (over 2,000 voters), Chichester, Leominster, Malton, Newark, Reading and Stamford covered 75 per cent of the total electorate. In the remaining 29 boroughs the average was about 200 voters, and six or seven of them had 100 or fewer. There were 112 contests in the 37 scot and lot boroughs, an average of 3 apiece, out of a total of 402 possible: 87 contests took place at general elections, when 259 contests were possible.
No contests took place for Aldborough, Amersham, Corfe Castle, Mitchell, Peterborough or Wareham. Of these, only Peterborough (up to 500 voters) was relatively populous. There Earl Fitzwilliam had a free hand, though he insisted on attention to the constituency. Aldborough returned the Duke of Newcastle’s nominees without a hitch; Mitchell was shared by Lord Falmouth first with Sir Francis Basset, then with Sir Christopher Hawkins, and was more manageable than most Cornish boroughs, where there was no such thing as peaceful enjoyment of patronage. Wareham was secure in the control of John Calcraft and Amersham in that of the Drakes of Shardeloes, who represented it themselves, father and son. Corfe Castle was quietly shared by the Bond and Bankes families. At Aldborough, Mitchell and Wareham seats were sold by the patrons.
At the other end of the scale, Westminster, the largest borough in Britain with 12,000 effective electors, was contested seven times and Southwark nine times. Westminster was the most observed of all constituencies and, potentially, the most expensive. Charles James Fox, who represented it as ‘the man of the people’, would have been content to compromise with the ministerial party after the exhaustive by-election of 1788, but in 1790 and 1796 John Horne Tooke challenged any such coalition as a radical of the Wilkes school, appealing to independent feeling. In 1802 Graham, and in 1806, more forcibly, James Paull adopted the same stance, confronting a formal union of Sheridan and Hood as supporters of the Whig ministry. This unmasking of the Whigs continued in 1807, despite a radical split, when Francis Place put his Westminster committee at the service of the emancipation of the constituency from aristocratic management. In Burdett and Cochrane two radicals were returned and survived unopposed in 1812; Cochrane also survived his expulsion from the House, his re-election solving the vexed problem of who was to succeed him. The subsequent schisms among the radicals resulted in a return to Whig orthodoxy in 1818, when Burdett took second place to Romilly, and in the by-election of 1819, when the Whigs showed that they had learned the new methods used by the radicals to organize victory in preceding elections, without resorting to extremism. Radicalism had become a fluid force without unity of purpose or leadership. It had not succeeded, either, in reducing the cost of Westminster elections by law, only by subterfuge, Burdett in 1807 having been acclaimed candidate without his formal acceptance of the role. At Southwark, George Tierney triumphed for the Whigs in 1796 when he unseated his ministerial opponent for treating, and thereby did much to purify the borough elections. Subsequently he became the orthodox Whig beset by radicalism and in 1806 was turned out by Turton, who held on in 1807. In 1812 and 1815, however, the Southwark radicals suffered a setback and a Whig-ministerial compromise prevailed.
Newark, the third largest scot and lot borough, was contested in 1790 and 1796, when the nabob Paxton espoused the mere householder franchise, but he failed to disturb the arrangement whereby the Duke of Newcastle returned one Member and the Duke of Rutland and his kinsfolk, the Manners Suttons, and their friends the other. Reading, next in size, presented a livelier picture: it was open and the electors were fond of treats, though the gift of a giant turtle was not enough to secure Lord Barrymore’s return in 1790. The conservative corporation were opposed by the dissenting tradesmen and lavish competition between their re- spective candidates, Simeon and Lefevre, drove the veteran sitting Member Annesley into retreat in 1806. Despite an attempt to contain the squandering of resources on electoral ambition by public resolution, Reading remained expensive, even when ‘independence’ triumphed in 1818 with a radical flavour. Leominster proved uncontrollable, though a corporation which refused to assess its foes for rates was an important factor, as in most contested scot and lot boroughs. The nabob John Hunter paid five guineas each to 402 of his 462 supporters in 1796. The Duke of Norfolk, who had snatched a seat on petition after the election of 1790, went under to Lord Malden’s candidate in 1796, whereupon a duel took place between the two peers. Norfolk retrieved a seat in 1797, but he and Maiden both decided subsequently not to touch what they could not afford. Corporation agents now made what they could of a situation that attracted wealthy adventurers: the unseating of the Scotsman Cuningham Fairlie on petition in 1818 was the pretext for legislation enabling a Scottish qualification to suffice for contesting English seats. At Stamford, although the control of the lords of Burghley was uncontested from 1734 until 1809 and resisted challenge between then and 1831, there was a colourful attempt to discredit the whole system of pocket boroughs. Its exponent, Joshua Jepson Oddy, came forward as the emancipator of the borough from economic decay due to aristocratic domination, but he failed: nor did Gerard Noel, who took issue with the Stamfordians over their propensity for ‘bull running’ at elections, fare any better: but the borough was no longer closed. Chichester, with 600 voters, was unobtrusively managed by the dukes of Richmond, who claimed only one seat in 1790, survived challenges in 1791 and 1796, and assumed full control in 1812.
Of the scot and lot boroughs with 500 or fewer electors the most frequently contested were Shaftesbury (six times) and Seaford (seven times). Shaftesbury, open and venal, was the scene of the most blatant intrigues. In 1790 the Treasury turned the tables on Mortimer, the local mafioso who had refused their terms for the seats, by getting his agent to undermine his interest. Mortimer revenged himself by selling his property to the nabob Benfield and encouraging opposition to him at the next election which, despite the expenditure of upwards of £17,000 by James Milnes, was unsuccessful. It was then Benfield’s turn to face ruin, his property being sold by the Treasury, as his principal creditors, to Mark Wood, a boroughmonger. The latter saw his candidates beaten in 1802 by a rebellious local attorney in league with the Duke of Norfolk. In 1806 Wood secured both Members, but only after a contest in which a member of the government sent down two candidates, admittedly unofficially, to challenge his nominees, who were also supposed to be supporters of the ministry. After another challenge to his interest in 1807 Wood grew weary of his purchase and negotiated its sale: the new purchaser had to resort to petition to seat his nominees after a further contest in 1812. The next buyer, Lord Rosebery, was fortunate to secure his nominees’ return unopposed in ISIS. At Seaford, thanks to the Duke of Richmond, government regained both seats in 1790, but lost one on petition and had to fight to maintain the other, for even when the Pelham family joined them in 1794, fresh sources of opposition arose. Three would-be patrons (John Durand, the Pelhams, and John Leach) in turn sold out, without stabilizing the situation.
Bridport, Bridgwater, Lewes and Windsor, with five contests each, were also in a fluid state. At Bridport, Charles Sturt had lost one seat by 1790, and although the dissenting majority on the corporation returned a former presbyterian minister, James Watson, as his colleague in 1790, they turned against Watson for his uncritical support of Pitt and rejected his brother-in-law in 1795 and 1796 in favour of a self-styled Whig champion of dissent, George Barclay. In 1802 Sturt was thrown out when Nepean of the Admiralty stepped in: the latter secured both Members in 1807, but in 1812, after Sturt had resumed the offensive, and died, the borough was thrown open, at least until Sturt junior obtained a seat in 1817. At Bridgwater the question was whether Lord Poulett should return one or two Members. Charles James Fox being interested in the borough, the Whigs usually put up a challenge, but manipulation of the rate book kept them at bay until 1806. In 1807 Poulett turned out his brother, who was in opposition, in favour of his brother-in-law. In 1818, the Whigs having become inactive, two radicals took up the challenge. At Lewes, where a combination of the Pelham family with an independent interest led by Kemp withstood all comers, the arrangement was upset in 1802 when Kemp was beaten, and superseded in 1806 when the Pelhams gave up altogether: subsequently Whig candidates fought in vain. At Windsor a heady juxtaposition of courtierdom and ‘insatiable rapacity’ prevented any firm arrangement until 1806, when a compromise between town and Castle was reached.
Abingdon, Fowey, Milborne Port, Penryn, St. Ives and Wootton Bassett were each of them the scene of four contests. At Milborne Port, Lord Anglesey’s bid to take quiet control of the borough by arrangement with the Medlycotts of Ven was repeatedly challenged, and in 1818 and 1819 Lord Darlington, his most effective opponent to date, was vying with him in building houses: a new town was called into being for electoral purposes alone. Abingdon (a single Member constituency) with about 70 of its 240 or so electors reckoned venal and poised between the corporation and the dissenting interest, was not to be trifled with, as Edward Loveden found to his cost: having given it up after 13 years to contest the county in 1796, he failed to recover the seat for himself or his protégé Knapp, the latter succeeding only at the third attempt in 1807. Wootton Bassett was quietly divided by Lords Bolingbroke and Clarendon until 1807 when a local attorney, James Kibblewhite, threw them out by raising the price of a vote, allegedly, from so to 45 guineas. Thereafter no patron was safe—Kibblewhite finding this, sold out to the boroughmonger Joseph Pitt in 1812, and the latter found himself challenged by Lord Clarendon, making a comeback. Penryn also proved hard to control: Sir Francis Basset (later Lord de Dunstanville) bought out the Duke of Leeds, his co-patron, in 1795, but washed his hands of the borough in 1803. After the prime minister had failed to find a suitable patron, Sir Christopher Hawkins stepped in and tried to secure the town by contract in 1805. A year later he defeated opposition from Lord de Dunstanville, but was unseated and charged with bribery in the process, which led to a duel with his antagonist. Beaten again in 1812, Hawkins gained a seat in 1818, but his running partner Swann was unseated and imprisoned for bribery, and no new writ issued: Penryn was ripe for disfranchisement. St. Ives was purchased by Sir Christopher Hawkins from its patron William Praed in 1806, but he was unable to control it: he had to come to terms with a competitive local gentleman, Samuel Stephens, but a local attorney raised two nabob candidates against them, whereupon they assaulted the attorney. Subsequently the electoral battle was carried on between Stephens and the attorney. Fowey was the scene of an all-out battle in 1790 between the joint patrons, Lord Mount Edgcumbe and Philip Rashleigh, and the Prince of Wales’s party, which hoped to benefit from the leeway given the Prince by the part played by his manorial tenants in the franchise. Two elections were held and two returns made by rival returning officers. The House opted for a compromise decision, but the parties would not compromise; the Prince was beaten and sold out to Rashleigh in 1798. Rashleigh elbowed out Mount Edgcumbe, taking both seats in 1812, but a family quarrel ensued as a result of which their property was sold twice in rapid succession. In 1818 the latest purchaser, Lucy of Charlecote, found he could not retain the seats against an alliance of Joseph Austen, champion of a new charter and a new economic deal for Fowey, with Mount Edgcumbe: after several contests they compromised.
Steyning and Wallingford each had three contests. At Steyning the franchise was disputed when the Duke of Norfolk snatched a seat from Honywood in 1790: in the end Honywood regained the seat, but the scot and lot franchise was preferred to a burgage franchise by a second decision of the House. By 1802 the Duke of Norfolk calmed the borough in buying Honywood out. Wallingford was a prey to the wealthy, Sir Francis Sykes the nabob and Thomas Williams the Welsh coppermaster in turn dominating the scene, but not unchallenged.
There were two contests at Arundel, Callington, Great Marlow, Stockbridge, Dorchester and Malton. Those at Arundel were inspired by attempts to prevent the Duke of Norfolk from having both seats. At Callington, where the patron was the holder of the barony of Clinton, in 1797 a minor, the franchise had not been adjudicated by the House, but Whig opportunists failed to turn these points to their advantage: Lord Clinton awarded the seats to the Whig ministry in 1806 and disappointed them by offering the seats impartially to their opponents in power in 1807. Great Marlow, land and votes, was for sale: Lee Antonie, the purchaser of one moiety, wearied of his bargain and saw his brother-in-law defeated in 1796, after which the purchaser of the other moiety, Thomas Williams the coppermaster, returned himself and his son. The opposition to them in 1802 was a reprisal for their interference at Windsor. At Stockbridge a junto led by two local men, comprising 84 electors, attempted to assume the patronage in 1790. Their opponents exposed it on petition and bought up all the houses, thereby ensuring security in future; but not before the House had considered disfranchising the 84 conspirators or throwing open the franchise to the neighbouring hundred in May 1793. At Dorchester in 1790 an attempt was made to exclude non-resident ratepayers, which ousted Lord Shaftesbury’s brother; but it failed on petition and brought about the collapse of the other leading interest, that of Lord Milton. While Lord Shaftesbury thus retained one seat, the other remained open. At Malton a rebellion fomented against the patron Earl Fitzwilliam in 1807 and 1808 was crushed by eviction of tenants and economic sanctions.
Gatton, Eye, Warwick and Tamworth had only one contest. Gatton, with a mere handful of effective voters, should have been the securest borough of all. It was bought and sold several times, however, and Col. Mark Wood, the purchaser in 1802, met with token opposition. At Eye, Lord Cornwallis easily overcame his opponents in 1802. At Warwick, where the Earl regained full control without a contest in 1790, he was challenged unsuccessfully at a by-election in 1792, and in 1802 settled for a compromise with the independent party. At Tamworth, Sir Robert Peel, purchaser of the Marquess of Bath’s moiety, went on to buy that of Lord Townshend in 1814. His attempt to return his son with himself succeeded against unauthorized opposition from Townshend’s nephew, but led to a compromise.
Corporation. There were 25 corporation boroughs, one fewer than in the previous period, Saltash having become a burgage borough. (Newton has been treated as a burgage borough.) They returned 49 Members, Banbury being a single Member constituency. These were among the most manageable boroughs, with circumscribed electorates. They had about 700 voters in all. The largest, Helston, where in theory the corporation could create an unlimited number of freemen entitled to vote, had no more than about 70 voters. Most of them had fewer voters than they were entitled to, the patrons conniving at this to reduce the risk of trouble. At Buckingham, Marlborough and Malmesbury there were in any case no more than 13 corporators. Not surprisingly there were few contests—only as took place for certain, though a canvass could easily be contrived among so few electors to avoid the formality of a contest. Twenty-one of the contests took place at general elections, out of a possible 1818, four at by-elections out of a possible 124. The large number of vacancies was due precisely to the manoeuvrability of these boroughs which generally accepted new Members or re-elected sitting Members without trouble. On average about three only out of the 25 faced a contest at any general election; in 1812 only Helston and New Romney were contested.
There were no contests for ten of them: Brackley, Buckingham, Calne, Droitwich, Lostwithiel, Marlborough, Tiverton, Wilton, Newport (Isle of Wight) and Yarmouth (Isle of Wight). The first eight (together with six others) had had no contests between 1754 and 1790 either. Ten others had only one contest in this period; two had two; two had three; and one (Malmesbury) with five accounted for a fifth of all the contests. The majority of the contests were foregone conclusions and a number of them were associated with attempts to redefine the franchise; but where there was a dead heat, they could become very expensive.
The fortunate patrons of the above ten ‘pocket’ corporation boroughs were the Duke of Bridgwater, succeeded in 1803 by his coheir the Marquess of Stafford, at Brackley; the Marquess of Buckingham at Buckingham; the Marquess of Lansdowne at Calne; Lord Foley at Droitwich; the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Lostwithiel; the Earl of Ailesbury at Marlborough; the Earl of Harrowby at Tiverton; the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton; and the Holmes family at Newport and Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, except that until 1808 they shared the latter with the Jervoises. The noble patrons usually bestowed these safe seats on members of their families or reliable friends, though Lord Lansdowne prided himself on providing a berth at Calne for congenial men of talent. On the other hand the patrons of Lostwithiel, Newport and Yarmouth took paying guests for the seats, usually government supporters or nominees. Although there were no contests, not all of these boroughs were carefree. The stranglehold of the Marquess of Buckingham on the corporation at Buckingham caused some local resentment and he was pilloried for it in 1819. At Tiverton the Earl of Harrowby, despite ‘a sort of hereditary interest’, had to make up for lack of local connexion by securing patronage for the corporators: it was really on this basis that in 1796 he obtained the second seat there for his second son in preference to a local man. At Calne there was a rebellion in 1807 when the corporation refused to humour the and Marquess of Lansdowne’s wish to eject the senior Member Jekyll in favour of a relative of his wife’s, who would have obtained only three votes. The marquess climbed down, and peace was restored. On the other hand, at Wilton in 1790 the Earl of Pembroke dispensed with the services of William Gerard Hamilton (who had joined the opposition) without an eyebrow being raised. Rumours of opposition at Marlborough could be little more where there were reported to be only three corpor-ators left in 1792 and five in 1816. At Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, no less than 26 Members were returned during this period without demur.
Only one contest took place at Thetford, Harwich, New Romney, Truro, Andover, Bodmin, Bury St. Edmunds, Scarborough, Devizes and Salisbury. Thetford might have had more, but the Duke of Grafton, then inactive in politics, acquiesced in Lord Petre’s nominating a Whig in 1790, was unopposed when he returned two Whigs in 1796 (displacing his ministerialist Member Buxton) and again compromised, with Petre and the Duke of Norfolk, in 1802. In 1806 he acquiesced in a bid by James Mingay, a Whig barrister, to oust another Whig, Creevey, who sat on the Petre-Norfolk interest, and joined his son in the representation of the borough: but Creevey resorted to quo warranto proceedings to thwart Mingay. His exertions were forgotten in 1818 when the new Duke of Norfolk sold his seat over his head. The Duke of Grafton’s neglect was the cause of his son’s defeat at Bury St. Edmunds in 1796 when his former Member refused to fall out and was returned with a member of Lord Bristol’s family (co-patrons with the duke), to whom he was related. Compromise was restored in 1802. Harwich was nominally a Treasury borough, but their manager old John Robinson (motto ‘Never leave the Treasury’) had to quell a schism among the electors in 1796. In 1802, when the ministry was weak, their nominee the prime minister’s brother-in-law, a lord of the Admiralty, was defeated by Robinson’s grandson-in-law, though the latter disclaimed Robinson’s sponsorship. He was unseated on petition and, on Robinson’s death meanwhile, Hiley Addington the premier’s brother stepped into his shoes: like Robinson he conceded one seat to ministers in 1806 and in 1812 he was able to keep an independent challenger, Huskisson, at bay. In 1818 the Treasury named both Members. The contest in 1812 at New Romney was an opportunist challenge to Sir Edward Dering, the unquestioned patron, who took paying guests, and was on that occasion accommodating two friends of the Duke of Northumberland. At Andover, where the patronage of the earls of Portsmouth was ineffectual, a challenge came from Thomas Assheton Smith in 1796: he failed then but came in by compromise a year later and peace was restored. At Scarborough, Lord Mulgrave and the Duke of Rutland (a minor) were co-patrons, and the latter’s family suspicious that the former was trying to take over sole patronage: but they were able to resist intermittent Whig attempts (patronized by Earl Fitzwilliam) to espouse the franchise of the freemen at large; there was an unsuccessful dissident candidate in 1802. In 1820, however, Mulgrave could unseat his heir for having acted with opposition without any questions asked. At Devizes, where two local businessmen divided the patronage peacefully for 30 years, an intrigue started by the deputy recorder William Salmon led to the discomfiture of the nominee of one of them in a contest in 1818. At Salisbury the Earl of Radnor took a lofty view of his nomination to one of the seats:
it is interest neither begun nor kept up by the gross mode of corruption, nor the more common mode of obtaining favours from government. It has been preserved by individual attentions and general upright and fair conduct. I might add the very handsome council house erected at my sole expense of many thousand pounds must have some hold upon honourable minds.
Radnor expected his heir Lord Folkestone to trim his political enthusiasm to be worthy of such an independent seat. The other seat was competed for by the local gentry, which was the cause of the by-election contest of 1813. At the ensuing general election the defeated candidate came in unopposed.
At Truro, where Viscount Falmouth thought he had ‘a very natural interest’ and had bought off Sir Francis Basset in 1788 to reinforce it, trouble arose from the presence in the corporation of duchy officials amenable to the Prince of Wales’s wishes: in 1818 the Prince’s agent Lord Yarmouth encouraged a contest in which the voting was 12 to 11, and at the next election Falmouth’s nominees were defeated. Bodmin, contested only in 1790, proved even more of a headache to patrons. The contest was engineered by Lord Camelford, the prime minister’s kinsman, against the joint Whig patrons: two elections were held, but the patrons were upheld on petition. The Camelford interest persevered with a plan for a new charter; although it was not ready in 1796 and the patrons held on, they ceded future control to their opponents. Camelford found however that he could secure only one Member in 1802, the other being named by Lord de Dunstanville. On Camelford’s death in 1804 de Dunstanville was encouraged to become sole patron. Lord Grenville, uncle of the deceased patron, snatched one seat at a by-election in August 1806 but his man conceded victory at the ensuing general election, leaving de Dunstanville secure.
Bath and Christchurch were twice contested. At Bath, Lords Camden and Bath were co-patrons and in 1790 the latter took a seat against feeble opposition on the retirement of an irreplaceable Whig Member. Camden found that, although he could nominate ‘gratis’, patronage involved providing ‘innumerable jobs, that are spread ... over the persons, and families of the thirty most respectable voters’; on a vacancy in 1801 he was unable to resist the claims of John Palmer, an alderman of the city with a grievance against government, who defeated a neighbouring country gentleman. Once established, Palmer would not budge, at least not until government satisfied him: Camden was unable to introduce Lord Castlereagh in 1806, when he found only ten of the 30 voters prepared to vote for him. In 1812 there was an attempt by two radicals to publicize the anomaly of a city of 35,000 people having its elections decided by 22. Christchurch, of which George Rose became sole patron in 1796, was contested against his interest by Whigs in 1806 and 1807, when an attempt was made to assert a scot and lot franchise. It failed, and on Rose’s death his son took over his role unchallenged. Lord Malmesbury, who had been patron for one seat till 1796, regarded it as a hopeless task to revive his interest.
Banbury and Helston were contested three times. The North family paid for their neglect as patrons of Banbury, a single Member constituency, when in 1794 Lord Guilford found that the corporators would not stomach his nominee William Adam, preferring a local gentleman. The status quo was restored in 1796, but in 1806 William Praed, a wealthy supporter of the Grenville ministry, seduced the corporation. The North family prepared to secure a new charter to oust him, but in 1807 there was a tie, and Dudley North won the by-election by securing the disqualification of several of his opponent’s votes. The restoration of the family control cost about £5,000, but it bought peace until 1831. Helston is the best illustration of the abuses possible in corporation boroughs. The patron, the Duke of Leeds, was hamstrung by the co-existence of a moribund corporation consisting of one old man under the old charter and a new charter not yet in operation. When he opted to return his Members through the octogenarian corporator, he was opposed on behalf of the new corporation by two candidates spurred on by Sir Francis Basset for the Whigs. The House decided in favour of the latter, but Basset came to terms with the duke to stay out of Helston in exchange for the duke’s non-interference at Penryn. The duke thus gained control of the new corporation, but was soon in the political wilderness. His successor found the ‘monstrous expense’ of £1,000 a year to keep up the interest at Helston excessive and abdicated it in 1803. Sir Christopher Hawkins stepped in, until in 1807 his public exposure for corruption at Cornish elections caused him to be disowned by the corporation. The Duke of Leeds, with Sir John St. Aubyn, then resumed the patronage, the latter ceding full control to the duke in 1812. Hawkins challenged him and a petition censured the duke for interference in the election; the House took this up, and from 1813 until 1816 Davies Giddy introduced bills to reform Helston by throwing the franchise open to freeholders in the two neighbouring hundreds. The bills were all lost in the Lords. In 1818 Hawkins tried to gain his point by intimidation and then by quo warranto proceedings, but the judge exposed his motive: ‘to obtain parliamentary influence’.
Malmesbury was controlled by Dr Edmund Wilkins, its high steward, who insisted on support of government from his nominees. Twice in 1796, and again in 1802, he was challenged by opportunists on behalf of the burgesses at large. On Wilkins’s death in 1804, Edmund Estcourt succeeded him, and while he raised the annuities that secured the largely illiterate electors’ loyalty, he had also to face opposition, encouraged by Lord Radnor in 1806 and 1807. By 1812 Estcourt had sold out to Joseph Pitt the boroughmonger, who felt secure enough in 1818 to sell both seats to Lord Rosebery.
Burgage. There were 30 burgage boroughs, in which the right of voting was attached to the tenancy of a house or property designated as a burgage for parliamentary elections. Ten of them were in the north of England (six in Yorkshire), while in the south six were in Wiltshire, four in Sussex and three in Hampshire. Pontefract had ceased to belong to this category since 1783, but Saltash joined it in 1787. Castle Rising belonged in this category in the preceding section of this History, rather than among the freeman boroughs; Newton, likewise, was a burgage, not a corporation borough. Malton, though the franchise was limited to New Malton, has been omitted from this category, as the right of voting was in this period decided to be in resident housekeepers paying scot and lot. A scot and lot qualification was required in three of the remaining burgage boroughs, Bramber, Newport (Cornwall) and Weobley.
The burgage boroughs were more likely to be in the pockets of their patrons qua owners than any others. The average number of voters in the 30 was, even in theory, not more than about 90, and in practice fewer. There were only 20 contests in all for these boroughs, many of them trifling, out of 368 possible; and only three of the contests occurred at by-elections, out of 160 opportunities. The many by-elections were caused by a high turnover of Members in seats known to be safe.
No less than 18 of the 30 burgage boroughs went uncontested in this period, and this figure includes the largest, Richmond with 270 voters and Northallerton with 200. The smallest was Old Sarum, a depopulated village, where there were 11 parchment burgages, conveyed for electoral purposes to friends by its successive proprietors, Lords Camelford and Caledon. When the 2nd Baron Camelford returned the radical John Horne Tooke in 1801 knowing that he might be unseated for having in his youth taken holy orders, he is said to have declared that if the black coat were rejected, he would return his black servant, born in England. In 1802 Caledon paid Camelford £43,000 for the burgages, and two years later, to be on the safe side, he bought the adjoining property for another £24,000; all this to advance his character, as he put it, and not necessarily to lay the seats at the feet of government, as Vansittart found to his cost when he asked Caledon to endorse his re-election as chancellor of the Exchequer in 1812. At Bletchingley the proprietor Sir Robert Clayton sold the reversion of his burgages for £10,000 to his cousin John Kenrick, selling the seats as well. Both of them died in 1799 and the borough passed to two clerical brothers of Kenrick’s in turn. In 1815 the borough was sold to the Durham coal magnate William Russell of Brancepeth. Newtown (Isle of Wight) was amicably shared by the Worsley and Barrington families, both of whom sold the seats; Sir John Barrington even sold to his nephew, who owned one burgage. Whitchurch was quietly shared by Lords Midleton and Sydney. Ripon, too, was shared until 1807, between the heiresses of the late William Aislabie. When one of them died, Elizabeth Sophia Laurence, a devout spinster, became sole proprietor. At Northallerton the Peirse and Lascelles families shared the burgages and the nominations, preferring to return Members of their families. At Thirsk, where the vote houses were in the decayed part of the town, Sir Thomas Frankland was sole proprietor and returned politically congenial friends. Bere Alston, a poor village of 40 houses, was likewise in the sole ownership of Algernon Percy, 1st Earl of Beverley. Richmond in Yorkshire was owned by Sir Thomas (subsequently Lord) Dundas: he had to be cautious in 1805 when his Whig friends urged him to bring in Henry Grattan, the Irish Catholic champion. Rather than risk opposition from local malcontents and the independent burgage holders, he demurred. At Heytesbury, William A’Court, who shared the nominations with the Duke of Marlborough but had the majority of the burgages, bought out the duke and sold the seats to the highest bidder. Clitheroe remained in joint ownership. Sir Thomas Lister, the owner of most of the burgages, who from 1780 returned both Members, compromised for one each in 1790 with Assheton Curzon. In 1793 they ceased to be political opponents and by 1802 Lister had sold out to Lord Brownlow, who continued the compromise with Curzon. At Appleby, shared between the Earl of Thanet and the Earl of Lonsdale, the former snatched both seats for the Whigs from 1796 to 1807, but then fell back on the former compromise. At Bramber, where the burgages were ‘miserable thatched cottages’, the Duke of Rutland and Sir Henry Gough (afterwards Lord) Calthorpe shared the nominations—they were both willing to return friends of government. Great Bedwyn was the sole preserve of the Earl of Ailesbury, who owned all but one of the burgages after 1792. Weobley was in the pocket of the Marquess of Bath. Westbury belonged to the Earl of Abingdon. He, and after his death in 1799 his trustees, sold the seats: £10,000 was not enough to buy both in 1807 when Lord Harewood was the highest bidder. In 1810 the borough, ‘not to be had on other terms’, was sold to Sir Manasseh Lopes for £75,000. Ashburton was shared by the Palk family, who returned members of the family, and the successive holders of the barony of Clinton, who returned ministerial nominees, even when inclined to opposition. Castle Rising, shared by the Walpole and Howard families, had had no contest ‘time out of mind’. When in 1807 Thomas William Coke, the leading Norfolk Whig, tried to take advantage of the difference in the co-owners’ politics to align two Whig candidates against the Howard interest, Lord Cholmondeley (representative of the Walpole interest) declined, significantly preferring to buy out the small burgage property of his suggested Whig ally Hamond.
Seven burgage boroughs, Newport (Cornwall), Boroughbridge, Newton, Midhurst, Petersfield, Cockermouth and Knaresborough, had just one contest. At Newport, where the dukes of Northumberland owned the majority of the burgages, there was a contest to test the new duke’s hold in 1818 by a representative of the Phillipps family, who had the only other significant interest: the result merely reflected their respective proportions of the burgage properties. The duke subsequently bought up the Phillipps burgages to prevent future inconvenience. At Boroughbridge, where the Duke of Newcastle’s return of the Members depended on the concurrence of the Wilkinson family, who actually owned more burgages, all went smoothly until 1818, when the heir apparent to the Wilkinson interest, Marmaduke Lawson, stood and ousted the duke’s second string candidate. Lawson soon wearied of Parliament and actually vacated his seat a year later, but his mother insisted on his re-election to prevent the duke from recovering the monopoly of four seats at Boroughbridge and Aldborough. The contest at Newton in 1797 was provoked by the minority of the head of the Legh family, unquestioned patrons; it went against their nominee but was revised on petition, and a compromise prevented further incident. At Midhurst, bought by the Earl of Egremont for 40,000 guineas in 1787 and sold by him to Lord Carrington in 1796, a radical challenger, Holt White, appeared in 1802. The returning officer, Surtees Swinburn, assured him that ‘a good dinner was a better thing than a poll’ and this view was endorsed by the electors. Petersfield was the preserve of the Jolliffe family, who in 1818 were challenged to a contest on the grounds that their voters were ‘faggots’ (i.e. voters by casual conveyance). Cockermouth had 200 voters but the earls of Lonsdale found no difficulty in holding on to it, even in 1818 when they were challenged as a result of Henry Brougham’s crusade against their influence. Knaresborough was the most troublesome of this group: the Duke of Devonshire owned 74 out of 96 burgages and conveyed them to non-resident friends. When his agent attempted to reduce the rising cost of treating the electorate, a rebellion ensued, which prevented a return being made at the by-election of 1804. The instigator, a local attorney, and two of his cronies were imprisoned for their part in it. Subsequently the malcontents sponsored a candidate who espoused a scot and lot franchise on the model of Pontefract. This bid failed, but riotous behaviour continued. The Times remarked wryly in 1804: ‘The Cavendish family who support the mob at Brentford, will nevertheless, we presume, be very much displeased with the mob at Knaresborough’.
Downton, East Grinstead and Saltash were twice contested. Downton had been the scene since 1774 of a battle between the coheirs of the Duncombe interest, Robert Shafto and Lord Radnor. The former owned more burgages, but the latter had the naming of the returning officer and thereby gained the upper hand both in 1790 and 1796. Shafto before his death in 1797 sold out to Lord Radnor and peace was restored. At East Grinstead, where the Duke of Dorset owned 29 out of 36 burgages and returned the Members, his widow (who became Lady Whitworth) successfully resisted challenges on behalf of ratepayers and freeholders in 1802 and 1807. At Saltash the franchise was a more contentious issue: in 1787 John Buller and William Beckford had excluded government influence in the borough by rejecting the freeman vote and imposing the burgage franchise. In 1806 government, at the Marquess of Buckingham’s instigation, championed two candidates on the freeman franchise who, amid ‘incessant harangues of four lawyers’, were defeated; but they succeeded on petition and secured a redefinition of the franchise in favour of the freemen. At the election of 1807 the contending parties tied, but the House, rejecting Buckingham’s nominees, restored the burgage franchise, and with it the interest of the Bullers, who bought out Beckford in 1809 and henceforward sold the seats with impunity.
Horsham had three contests, thanks to a challenge to Lady Irwin’s interest by the Duke of Norfolk, lord of the manor. In 1790 his candidates contended for a freeholder franchise and objected to the splitting of burgages; they were unseated on petition. The duke proceeded to split his burgages and Lady Irwin, per contra, to consolidate hers. In 1806 this led to a double return, which ended to the duke’s advantage. In 1807 an identical return ended in Lady Irwin’s victory, it being her turn to be a supporter of the government of the day. The duke, who had spent £14,500 on this enterprise, bought out from Lady Irwin’s heir Lord Hertford in 1811 for £91,475 and obtained quiet possession.
Chippenham, which had four contests, was unusual in that the corporation, dominated by the clothiers, strove to prevent the rival leading burgage proprietors, Fludyer and Dawkins, from buying up all of them and made them agree to seven- year leases of their holdings. This fostered venality. When in 1802 the corporation decided that Fludyer had violated the agreement, they encouraged a third candidate, Brooke, against his nominee Maitland, who unseated Brooke on petition. Brooke championed the franchise of the inhabitant householders paying scot and lot. In 1806, with the same candidates, Dawkins was beaten by Brooke, but unseated him on petition. In 1807 Dawkins and Maitland combined against another third man, Blake, who tied for second place with Dawkins, the latter obtaining the seat on petition. The expense of these contests was estimated at £60,000. Maitland proceeded to buy out Dawkins, but had to compromise for one seat in 1812, when he attempted unsuccessfully to get Sir Robert Peel, to whom he was selling his nomination, to buy his interest for £22,000 into the bargain. In 1818 Maitland’s agent deserted him and secured the return of an outsider against his former master’s nominee. The electors were informed in a broadsheet, ‘If you go on taking money, you sell the seat, and independence is a false cry, let it come from what side it will’.
Freeholder. There were seven English boroughs in which the right of voting was in the freeholders (joined, however, by the former householder borough of Aylesbury in 1804). As with the burgage boroughs, this franchise gave the dominant interest to the largest property owner. The boroughs in question were Cricklade, Haslemere, Ludgershall, New Shoreham, Reigate and Tavistock, returning two Members each, and Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which returned four Members. Of these, Reigate and Weymouth had a mere freeholder franchise; Haslemere and Tavistock required residence in the freeholders; while Ludgershall and Cricklade admitted certain leaseholders and copyholders to the franchise, the latter being a borough that had been reformed in 1782, enfranchising the neighbouring hundred, which was also true of New Shoreham. There were 16 contests out of a possible 88 in these boroughs, 14 of them at general elections: only two of 39 by-elections were contested. There were no contests at Tavistock or Reigate: the former was securely in the hands of the dukes of Devonshire; the latter was shared, by a compromise of 1786, between Lords Hardwicke and Somers and had seen no contest since 1722. Consequently, the proprietors affected to believe that Reigate was a burgage borough, but William Bryant, a malcontent former steward of Hardwicke’s, tried to stir an opposition in 1804 based on the assertion of the freeholder franchise. His bid to set Somers against Hardwicke failed, the two peers coalescing against him.
At Haslemere and Ludgershall the proprietors were challenged. At the former, where the 1st Earl of Lonsdale had planted Cumbrian colliers in his freeholds to reinforce his control, the 2nd Earl repatriated them and was less vigilant. He was opposed in 1812, when he had to secure an adjournment to convey 14 freeholds to ensure success, and again in 1818, when the instigator was Lord Gwydir’s son. In 1820 Lonsdale bought Gwydir’s freeholds for £12,000 to secure quiet possession. Ludgershall was contested in 1790 for the first time since 1747: the proprietor, George Selwyn, posing as a roi fainéant, wrote:
Weak princes are always supine and lose by security what could not have been extorted from them if they did not think themselves secure. This misfortune I undergo and share with my most Christian brother Louis XVI. The Poissards of Paris and of Ludgershall were too much despised by us.
This was persiflage: Selwyn’s challenger was Thomas Everett, an ambitious banker, who failed in 1790 and failed again in 1791 either to buy up Selwyn’s property when on his death it passed to Lord Sydney or to snatch Selwyn’s seat from Sydney. Yet in 1793, rather than prolong the battle, Sydney ceded one seat to Everett. Peace was restored and Sydney sold out to Sir James Graham in 18 12 without trouble.
Cricklade had become since 1782 open to county interests, and Samuel Petrie, who relied on town votes, failed in his fifth attempt to win a seat there in 1790: he found the ‘county’ combined against him. The Earl of Carnarvon, who became lord of the manor by purchase, returned a member of his family from 1794 to 1812; and Lord Suffolk’s son, a Whig, was excluded by a combination in 1806 when he contested the seat. In 1812, Carnarvon having sold out to his former steward Joseph Pitt, Pitt likewise formed a coalition to exclude a third man, Gordon. Gordon, with Lord Radnor’s support, was successful in a contest in 1818.
New Shoreham was open to county interests too: the Duke of Richmond instigated the contest of 1790; Lord Egremont obtained seats in 1795 and 1806 for members of his family; the dukes of Norfolk got one in 1802 and again in 1818. Of the former borough patrons only Sir Cecil Bisshopp had any say and he met with setbacks in 1790 and 1807.
Weymouth, uncontested between 1735 and 1802, had six contests between then and 1818. The leading proprietor, Steward, had sold out to the highest bidder, Sir William Pulteney, in 1789. Pulteney found Weymouth difficult to manage and had to let in the former proprietor’s son, who posed a threat to him, in 1794. In 1802 a local opposition aimed at emancipating the borough began: to counter this, the Pulteney interest fell back on the expedient of splitting freeholds by inheritance. They held opposition at bay in 1806 and 1807. The death of Sir John Lowther Johnstone, eventual heir to Sir William Pulteney’s interest, in 1811, leaving an infant heir and four trustees, brought matters to a climax. The trustees’ nominees relied so heavily on fictitious votes at the election of 1812 that they were unseated and the borough reformed, 12 Apr. 1813. Henceforward only unsplit freeholds were permitted. The trustees held on to the seats and in 1817 compromised for two seats each with their opponents. This was challenged by two candidates excluded from the bargain in 1818 and the plight of the trustees (now reduced to two) continued.
SUMMARY OF BOROUGH CONTESTS
The English boroughs had an electorate of about 111,000 in 1790, rising above 123,000 in 1818 owing to increases in the householder, freeman, scot and lot and freeholder boroughs. Five hundred and twenty-nine contests took place in all, 433 at the seven general elections, out of 2,245 potential contests, 1,421 of them at general elections. Thirty-nine boroughs had no contest at all (18 burgage boroughs, ten corporation boroughs, six scot and lot boroughs, three householder boroughs, and two freeholder boroughs).
There were 32 boroughs with more than 1,000 voters, 26 of them in the freeman category, two householder, two scot and lot and two freeholder boroughs. Thirty-two boroughs had between 500 and 1,000 voters, that is 21 freeman boroughs, six scot and lot, four householder, one freeholder and no burgage boroughs; and 139 boroughs had fewer than 500 voters, 44 of them freeman boroughs, 29 scot and lot, all 30 burgage boroughs, all 25 corporation boroughs, four freeholder and seven householder boroughs.
The 32 large boroughs had 131 contests, an average of four apiece over seven general elections; the 32 medium boroughs had 131 contests, an average of between three and four; while the 139 small boroughs had only 184 contests, an average of between one and two, with the bias towards one in two-thirds of them. Thirty-four of the 39 uncontested boroughs had fewer than 200 voters. Over half of the contests occurred in the 25 small boroughs having over 200 voters.
The election of 1818 saw the largest number of borough contests—81 in all, 47 of them in freeman boroughs and 15 in scot and lot boroughs. In 1790 and 1802 there were 66 borough contests, of which in each case 52 were in freeman and scot and lot boroughs. There were 58 contests in 1807, 55 in 1796, 54 in 1806 and 53 in 1812, at which election not one burgage borough went to a poll and only two corporation boroughs.
ANALYSIS OF BOROUGH CONTESTS: GENERAL ELECTIONS
|Type of borough||1790||1796||1802||1806||1807||1812||1818|
|Scot and lot||13||12||15||12||8||12||15|
During the whole period (to 1820) there were 96 contested by-elections: 56 in freeman boroughs; 25 in scot and lot; six in householder; four in corporation; three in burgage and two in freeholder boroughs.
Of the 203 English boroughs, 101 duly returned Members sponsored by a patron or patrons in this period, 39 of them, as already stated, without giving patrons the trouble of a contest. In 83 other boroughs patrons exercised a degree of control, but were either confined to one seat or challenged for both. Berwick, Beverley, Boston, Bristol, Carlisle, Chipping Wycombe, Coventry, Grampound, Lewes, Maldon, New Shoreham, Oxford, Penryn, Plymouth, Rochester, St. Albans, Sand- wich, Seaford, Shaftesbury, Southampton, Sudbury, Wallingford and Warwick were instances of boroughs in this category which in the course of the period shook off acknowledged patrons for one or both seats. At Bath, Bridgnorth, Bridgwater, Bridport, Cirencester, Cricklade, Dorchester, Dover, Evesham, Gloucester, Hereford, Northampton, Salisbury and Wells, one seat was usually under patronage and the other open throughout. Other boroughs put up with patrons only for limited periods or were in dispute—Aylesbury, Bishop’s Castle, Chippenham, Durham, East Retford, Grantham, Great Grimsby, Great Yarmouth, Ilchester, Ipswich, Kingston-upon-Hull, Lancaster, Leominster, Lincoln, New Windsor, Poole, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and Worcester were in this category. Temporary rebellions involving contests against patrons took place at Guildford, Queenborough, Tewkesbury and Wootton Bassett; and in three instances boroughs refused their patrons’ nominees (Banbury 1795, East Looe 1796, Calne 1807). At Preston and Wigan the corporation took over control of one and two seats respectively from individual patrons by a bloodless counter-revolution. Arundel and Chichester each lost their independent Member, in 1806 and 1812 respectively.
Nineteen English boroughs may be regarded as quite open; at least, potential patrons either could not or would not sway the result. Westminster, London, Southwark and Colchester (where Robert Thornton ruined himself in the attempt to create an abiding interest) were too large to control. The same may be said of Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Maidstone, Norwich, Nottingham and Stafford. Other open boroughs required a large purse and were too venal to offer long-term security to a patron: Hedon, Honiton, Ilchester and Pontefract were in this category. Devizes, Hertford, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Taunton were open but dignified, in that they were not to be bought.
As appears above, 184 English boroughs were amenable to patronage, total or partial. Just over 200 individuals effectively secured the returns to them, whether challenged or not: 105 commoners, 101 peers or prospective peers and two royal personages. By inheritance during the period 37 commoners and 81 peers took over effective electoral patronage. Of the commoners, 26 were or became baronets (eight more by inheritance) excluding baronets who became peers; and three were knights. The royal patrons were King George III at Windsor, where his interest diminished in this period, and the Prince of Wales at Plymouth from 1806; the duchy of Cornwall also gave him some interest in Cornish boroughs. (The Duke of Cumberland’s interference at Weymouth in 1812 provoked adverse comment in the House.) Multiple patronage as much more prevalent among aristocratic patrons; 39 peers were patrons in two or more boroughs, which as true of only 15 commoners; and only to commoners (Sir Christopher Hawkins in Cornall) who had a say in six boroughs, and Joseph Pitt in Wiltshire with a say in three had controlling interest in more than two boroughs, comared with 20 peers.
Boroughmongering was no more a sure passport to political importance in this period than it was in the previous one: it was a distinctive activity, apparently congenial on the one hand to magnates excluded from political power by character or preference, and on the other to social climbers. Charles Howard, Duke of Norfolk, had, among other dubious distinctions, no less than eight boroughs in his patronage at various times: Arundel, Horsham, Shoreham and Steyning attested to his influence in Sussex; Gloucester, Hereford and Leominster entered his orbit as a result of his marriage to the deranged heiress of the Scudamore family; and Thetford, nominally amenable to the influence of the Catholic barons Petre, fell into his custody by kinship during the nonage of the Petres. Yet he was a political cypher: the Whigs welcomed his muster of Members, and could do little for him.
William Wentworth, 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, heir to the Rockingham interest, had a stake in six boroughs: in Northamptonshire, Higham Ferrers was in his pocket and Peterborough unable to say him nay. In Yorkshire, Malton found resistance dangerous, and York and Hull paid their respects. In Nottinghamshire, East Retford opened its doors to him. He declined other openings, though prepared to sponsor a candidate here and there covertly and discreetly. Unlike the Duke of Norfolk, Fitzwilliam was a force to be reckoned with politically, but a failure in his statesmanlike aspirations, who compensated for it by a display of electoral weight. The most obvious example of this was his insistence on carrying Yorkshire for his heir in 1807, at enormous expense; the ratepayers of Malton found him equally determined to carry the day there, and that high-handedly. After the débâcle of his Irish viceroyalty in 1795, Fitzwilliam was in ‘opposition not quite certain’ to the government, even when he approved their measures: but his rapprochement with the Whigs was always understood to exclude the issue of parliamentary reform, against which he set his face. This gave him a free hand in the boroughs he espoused, though it provided ammunition for his critics.
Sir Christopher Hawkins dallied with six Cornish boroughs: Grampound, Helston, Mitchell, Penryn, St. Ives and Tregony. His bid for dominance was the more precarious in that boroughmongering was an established trade in Cornwall. Lords Eliot, de Dunstanville (formerly Sir Francis Basset), Mount Edgcumbe and Falmouth had preceded him in this line of business. The first two of these had strengthened their claims to peerages through borough patronage, and Hawkins, having already been made a baronet, had a peerage in mind for himself. The degree of success he achieved showed considerable acumen and ingenuity; but with no abiding interest in any of the boroughs, and given the slippery nature of his customers, he was bound to be eluded by them in the end. Corruption, exposure and violence blackened his character. In 1806 he returned eight Members including himself: by 1818 he was reduced to two. After 1807 no government could respectably do business with him and his seats were his only political asset. The peerage eluded him.
James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, the acknowledged champion in this field in the previous period, returned seven Members for four boroughs in 1790, as well as the county Members for Westmorland and one for Cumberland. Overbearing as ever, he was past his zenith and his cousin and successor in 1802 returned two fewer. The 2nd Earl’s more conciliatory disposition enabled him to return seven ministerialist borough Members again in the Parliament of 1807: the strongest challenge to his interest, his political opponents discovered, might be made in the counties, not the boroughs. Another powerful borough interest on the wane was that of the dukes of Newcastle, who had most to say at Ald- borough and Boroughbridge, East Retford and Newark. The 2nd Duke named six Members in 1790; his grandson named four in 1818, having given up East Retford altogether.
The 5th Duke of Rutland, a boy in 1790, inherited an interest in four boroughs: Bramber, Cambridge, Scarborough and (in conjunction with his kinsfolk the Manners Suttons) Newark. The interest, which returned five Members, was preserved by his trustees and agents, and in due course by himself. The 1st and 2nd Marquesses of Buckingham also held on to their interest in four boroughs, Aylesbury, Buckingham, St. Mawes (by marriage connexion and purchase) and (again by a marriage connexion) Winchester, though they suffered temporary setbacks in the last two boroughs.
In Cornwall, Sir Francis Basset (created Baron de Dunstanville), an up-and-coming boroughmonger a decade before, was retrenching and consolidating his empire in 1790. He disposed of his interests at Truro and Tregony, with a view to concentrating on Penryn, Helston and Mitchell, for which he returned a Member each in 1790. In 1796 he disposed of his interest at Mitchell to his less scrupulous fellow tradesman Sir Christopher Hawkins and lost Helston, but returned two for Penryn, and in 1802 secured one for Bodmin. He gave up Penryn in 1803, but acquired the second seat for Bodmin a year later. In 1807 he regained the patronage of and a seat at Penryn, but by then was no longer interested. Despite his conversion to government with the Portland Whigs, sealed with a coronet, he was not a political animal and he had no heir male. Another Cornish magnate, the 1st Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, had effective interests in four boroughs, Bossiney, Fowey, Lostwithiel and Plympton, returning five Members. Apart from the loss of his nomination for Fowey in 1812, his son and heir maintained the interest, which was a ministerialist one.
Two aggressively Whig peers dabbled in four boroughs: the 5th Duke of Bedford in the 1790s and the 4th Earl of Darlington two decades later. The Bedford interest, sure of two seats at Tavistock, a discreet one at Bedford, and clinging to one at Okehampton in 1790, after conceding the latter in 1796 made up for it by moving in at Camelford in 1802. The 6th Duke, less willing to be drawn into borough ventures, disposed of Camelford in 1811. Lord Darlington, who had inherited an interest in Totnes and Winchelsea, became sole patron of the latter in 1804, snatched Tregony in 1806, lost it in 1812, regained it in 1818, and added Ilchester to his fief in that year. The acquisition of Tregony and Ilchester was the ne plus ultra of boroughmongering and Darlington had his fingers in other pies for the future.
George Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, had four boroughs at his command in 1790, Castle Rising and King’s Lynn forming part of his Norfolk heritage, and Ashburton and Callington being his as 16th Baron Clinton. But he was insane, and on his death in 1791 the barony and the earldom parted company: his respective heirs were left with two boroughs each.
Nine peers and one commoner made their presence felt in three boroughs apiece. The Cornish interest of Edward, 1st Baron Eliot, embraced St. Germans, Liskeard and Grampound (six seats) in 1790, but was reduced by the loss of Grampound in 1796, leaving Eliot lagging behind Lord de Dunstanville, Lord Mount Edgcumbe and Sir Christopher Hawkins for the future, but ahead of the fifth Cornish borough pluralist, the 4th Viscount Falmouth, who returned two Members for Truro and one for Mitchell, though he conceded that to Sir Christopher Hawkins in 1802 and 1806. The Eliots and Falmouths nevertheless obtained earldoms, in 1815 and 1821 respectively. Another declining interest was that of the 4th Earl of Abingdon whose influence at Oxford and Wallingford faded out, though his young heir clung to Westbury until his trustees sold it in 1810. The 4th Duke of Marlborough, whose borough interest comprised New Woodstock, Oxford and Heytesbury, retained the first, disposed of the last, and lost the second in 1812: his heir recovered it in 1818. Lord Yarborough clung to his interest at Grimsby, but sold out at Beverley; his heir was patron by marriage of Newtown from 1805. The 5th Marquess of Hertford inherited Orford, put in a Member for Totnes in 1796, and in the right of his wife secured both Members for Horsham from 1807 until its sale in 1818. His heir, the Earl of Yarmouth, was also the Prince of Wales’s election manager in the Duchy of Cornwall in 1812 and 1818. The 5th and 6th Dukes of Devonshire were patrons of Knaresborough and named to one seat for Derby, while their cadets developed an interest at Aylesbury from 1804 onwards. The 4th Duke of Northumberland inherited two Cornish boroughs, Launceston and Newport, and his brother Lord Beverley (who, however, had no truck with the Whigs) Bere Alston; the duke purchased seats elsewhere (e.g. Aldeburgh, St. Ives) and snatched a seat for Berwick in 1812. The 8th Duke of Richmond, apart from his own interest at Chichester, secured both Members for Shoreham for government in 1790 and also intervened at Seaford on their behalf. His heir secured both Members for Chichester in 1812. The 1st Marquess of Stafford had Lichfield and Newcastle-under-Lyme, while his heir inherited Brackley from his uncle the Duke of Bridgwater. The commoner who dabbled in three boroughs was the self-made Joseph Pitt; his stepping into Cricklade in the wake of his former employer the Earl of Pembroke in 1811 was followed by the acquisition of Malmesbury and Wootton Bassett a year later, giving him five nominations in all.
The following peers returned Members for two boroughs: the Earl of Ailesbury, sole patron of Great Bedwyn and Marlborough; the Marquess of Bath, sole patron of Weobley, whose heir sat for Bath and transmitted his seat to his younger brother; the 5th and 6th Dukes of Beaufort who held Monmouth in thrall and also had their say at Bristol; Lord Bradford, on whose death in 1800 his interest at Wigan and Wenlock lapsed or became abeyant; Lord Brownlow, who inherited one seat at Grantham and stepped into one for Clitheroe in 1802—his heir obtained an earldom in 1815; Sir Henry Gough Calthorpe (who went out of the House with a barony) had a seat each for Bramber and Hindon; the 1st Lord Camelford had Old Sarum, which his wayward heir sold, but temporarily replaced with one seat for Bodmin; Robert Smith, created Baron Carrington, apart from his interest at Nottingham and later at Chipping Wycombe, acquired both Midhurst and Wendover in 1796 (Pitt justified his Irish peerage in 1796, ‘private friendship’ apart, in terms of his ‘choosing four friends into the new Parliament for his own quiet seats, and finding at a great expense, and with great trouble, three others for himself and his two brothers’); Lords Clinton, father and son, named the Members at Ashburton and Callington; Lord Clive (later Earl of Powis) did so at Ludlow and until the end of the period at Bishop’s Castle; the 3rd Earl of Egremont named two for Midhurst in 1790 and, selling out there, was occasional patron for a seat at Shoreham; the 4th and 5th Viscounts Falmouth maintained their interests at Truro and to a lesser extent at Mitchell; the 3rd Duke of Grafton and his heir had fluctuating interests at Bury St. Edmunds and Thetford; the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne retained Calne, but relaxed his hold on Chipping Wycombe; the 5th Duke of Leeds gave up Penryn in 1795, but regained Helston a year later, and his heir, after giving that up too in 1803, became joint patron again in 1807 and sole patron in 1812; the 2nd Earl Spencer gave up Okehampton, and, in high dudgeon, St. Albans in 1807; the viscounts Sydney retained their hold on a seat for Whitchurch, and likewise at Ludgershall, where they had inherited two in 1791, but were obliged to compromise. The marquesses Townshend retained an interest at Tamworth until 1818 when they were temporarily ousted and at Great Yarmouth until 1818 when they were eclipsed. The earls of Chichester had a seat for Lewes until 1806, and also dabbled at Seaford until then.
The following 12 commoners had effective interests in two seats: William Beckford, a disappointed aspirant to the peerage, one each at Hindon and (until 1806) at Saltash; John Buller of Morval and his heir of the same name, one for Saltash and both for West Looe (not to be confused with John Buller of East Looe and his brother and heir Edward, who controlled East Looe, and the former a seat at Totnes until 1800); John Calcraft who inherited an interest at Wareham and acquired one, from his holding Ordnance office, at Rochester, which he retained for several years; Philip Champion de Crespigny who gave up Sudbury in 1796 but transmitted Aldeburgh to his heir; Sir William (Johnstone) Pulteney who sat secure for Shrewsbury and purchased Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, where in 1790 he returned the four Members; George Rose who combined personal and official interests at Southampton and Christchurch; Sir Henry Worsley Holmes and his heir Sir Leonard (a would-be peer) who controlled the Isle of Wight boroughs of Newport and Yarmouth; and five wealthy newcomers. They were the nabob Richard Barwell, who after much bidding settled for Winchelsea and Tregony; Mark Wood, who was secure at Gatton and, despite a shaky start, at Shaftesbury—he obtained a baronetcy, but sought public office in vain; Christopher Atkinson, expelled the House after defrauding the victualling board in 1783, who changed his name to Savile and acquired interests at Hedon and Okehampton, but failed to get a baronetcy; Thomas Williams, the copper king, who acquired interests at Great Marlow in 1796 and Wallingford in 1802, an outlet for his wealth; and that stormy petrel Sir William Manners, an outcast of the Duke of Rutland’s family, who proved his mettle at Ilchester, where he secured both seats by 1806 and at the same time won a foothold at Grantham, where he had long harassed the Duke of Rutlandþs interest: his overbearing conduct provoked a revolt in 1818, and his hopes of a peerage were steadily resisted.
Of the 54 pluralist borough patrons described above, it may be added that very few of the 15 commoners were landed magnates with effective county interests. Sir William Pulteney certainly was, but in Scotland not England, and he and John Calcraft were the only commoners in this category who ever represented counties. On the other hand, the 39 peers included some of the great landed interests of England: the dukes of Beaufort, Bedford, Devonshire, Grafton, Leeds, Marlborough, Newcastle, Norfolk, Northumberland, Richmond and Rutland; the marquesses of Bath, Buckingham, Hertford, Lansdowne, Stafford, plus the Marquess Townshend; as well as, to name only the most powerful of the earls, Lords Darlington, Egremont, Fitzwilliam, Lonsdale and Spencer. It is noteworthy, however, that in many instances peers with proprietary boroughs were expected not to throw their weight in county elections, so as to avoid raising suspicions of monopoly.
Of the 182 peers whose 101 borough interests have been discussed above, 58 were lords lieutenant of British counties in this period, 11 by virtue of succession to their titles. Thirty-five had held public office before 1790 and 54 held offices in this period, 19 of them holding major office. Three of the 35 past office-holders had been prime ministers (Bute, Grafton, Lansdowne), as had one of the officeholders after 1790 (Guilford). No prime minister in the period had any borough interest in his own right, though Lord Grenville snatched a vacant seat at Bodmin in the summer recess of 1806, while acting as trustee for his late kinsman Lord Camelford, only to lose it at the general election two months later. Sixty-one of the 182 noble patrons had sat in the House of Commons in this period, before their elevation to the Lords; and another 56 had sat in the Commons before 1790. Considering that 37 other peers succeeded to a title as minors, four were disqualified as Roman Catholics, two by holy orders and at least one was insane, it would seem that 21 at most who were eligible to do so did not sit in the House of Commons. Six of the peers had also been members of the Irish house of commons. Three peeresses were borough patrons: the 3rd Countess of Bute née Mary Wortley Montagu, acting through her husband, had one nomination at Bossiney until her death in 1794; the Countess of Bath, as heiress of her father Sir William Pulteney, at Weymouth 1805-8; and Lady Irvine, childless widow of the 9th Viscount Irvine, at Horsham until her death in 1807. It might be added that during the minority of their sons, Lady Monson did the honours at Lincoln, the Duchess of Dorset (who became Lady Whitworth) at East Grinstead, and the Duchess of Newcastle (who became Lady Craufurd) nursed the duke’s four boroughs. The Duchess of Rutland, widowed in 1787, did the same for her young son, but she was governed by trustees who included William Pitt himself and the Duke of Beaufort.
Of the 142 commoners whose 104 borough interests have been taken into account, 110 sat in the House of Commons in this period, and 11 before 1790; of the remaining 21, one, a minor in 1820, sat subsequently; four were disqualified as clergymen; one, Miss Eliza Sophia Laurence of Ripon, as a woman; three or four held disqualifying offices; and seven others returned near relatives, mostly sons or brothers, rather than themselves.
Co-patronage of boroughs, where no single interest prevailed, was a favoured method of bringing them under control. The co-patrons allied to nominate to a seat each, usually sharing expenses and combining against threats of opposition, their alliance having often taken root in the opposition of one partner to the other’s dominance in a given borough. Thus at Thetford the Duke of Grafton ceded one seat to Lord Petre in 1790 and a compromise was established, though it was once shaken. The duke was accustomed to such an arrangement with Lord Bristol at Bury St. Edmunds. At Andover, Lord Portsmouth ceded one seat to Thomas Assheton Smith, who had challenged his hold, in 1797 and they became allies, though their politics might differ. The same happened at Morpeth from 1802. The classic example of this phenomenon was Lichfield, where Lord Stafford and the Anson family had a conspiratorial pact to control the borough, despite their marked political differences. Similar agreements between co-patrons controlled the boroughs of Aldborough, Ashburton, Boroughbridge, Bossiney, Bramber, Castle Rising, Clitheroe, Corfe Castle, Derby, Dunwich, Hindon, King’s Lynn, Milborne Port, Newark, Newtown, Northallerton, Plympton Erle, Reigate and Whitchurch throughout the period; and at Guildford, Ludgershall, Tewkesbury, Totnes and Winchester for most of it. A variant of the same phenomenon occurred at Dartmouth and Wenlock where the patrons complimented one allied family with a seat throughout. At Tiverton, Lord Harrowby conceded one seat to Sir John Duntze, who managed the borough, until the latter died in 1795. At Wells, Clement Tudway joined forces with Charles William Taylor (returned in 1796) and kept even his relatives at bay. At Stockbridge, Joseph Foster Barham and George Porter, successful in 1793, established joint control, while at Chipping Wycombe the hold of the sitting Members from 1802 was not disturbed by a new patron who had nominated neither. At Scarborough the Duke of Rutland and Lord Mulgrave did not trust each other, but their politics were the same and challengers were kept out. At Heytesbury, Saltash, Steyning and Yarmouth (Isle of Wight), one co-patron bought out the other, a move also attempted at Tam-worth, Tamworth, where it failed; at Christchurch one eclipsed the other; and at Ripon, where partnership was between coheiresses, a sole heiress emerged. At Arundel and Chichester the dukes of Norfolk and Richmond and, at Ludlow, Lord Powis tolerated independent sitting Members and took over completely on their retirement. Co-patronage broke down at Fowey, where Philip Rashleigh’s heirs and Lord Mount Edgcumbe could not co-operate; at Mitchell, where on Sir Francis Basset’s selling his moiety to Sir Christopher Hawkins, the latter, Lord Falmouth’s nominee for the other seat, commandeered control; and at Berwick, Grantham, Helston, Lewes, Penryn and St. Albans, where partnership could not be worked. At Wigan the co-patrons were eclipsed by the corporation in 1802; at Preston the corporation eclipsed one of the co-patrons in 1796. At Chippenham the corporation proscribed one of the co-patrons in 1802, but did not prevent a new partnership from emerging. At Wootton Bassett the co-patrons were overthrown by a local attorney in 1807; at Bath one of them was displaced in 1801. At Appleby, Lord Thanet ousted his co-patron Lord Lonsdale in 1796, but ceded a seat by arbitration to his rival after 1807.
Proprietary boroughs, variously described as family or pocket boroughs, were inherited as property, but changes of patronage were effected, by fair means or foul. Fair means usually involved sale. At least 36 significant borough sales occurred in this period: few of them were sales on the open market and, as often as not, their function was to terminate competition between incompatible interests. Thus Lord Falmouth bought out Sir Francis Basset at Truro before the election of 1790, the latter obtaining a quid pro quo at Tregony. Sir Henry Worsley Holmes bought out the Jervoise interest at Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) in 1808 and thus secured both seats. William Beckford sold his moiety at Saltash to John Buller in 1809 for £8,500, giving the latter both nominations. Robert Shafto, who had contested Downton with Lord Radnor regularly from 1774 until 1796, sold out to him shortly before his death in 1797, restoring peace to the borough. At Heytesbury, Sir William A’Court bought out the Duke of Marlborough after 1807 and returned both Members. At Horsham the Duke of Norfolk, who had been challenging the Irvine interest for over 20 years, bought out its representative Lord Hertford in 1811 for £91,475, to secure both Members. At Clitheroe, Lord Ribblesdale sold his moiety to Lord Brownlow, his co-patron, by 1802. At Newport (Cornwall) the Duke of Northumberland bought out the rival interest of the Phillipps family after the contest of 1818, while Lord Lonsdale at Haslemere likewise bought 24 freeholds belonging to Lord Gwydir for £12,000 in 1820, as a result of a contest instigated by Gwydir’s son in 1818. At Minehead, John Fownes Luttrell, on whose interest John Langston had encroached with increasing success, was relieved to be able to buy him out for quiet possession in 1803. At Fowey, Philip Rashleigh bought out the Prince of Wales, whose tenants had been giving him trouble for eight years. At Mitchell, on the other hand, Lord de Dunstanville sold out to his challenger Sir Christopher Hawkins by 1796. Hawkins bought out Lord Eliot at Grampound in 1798, but found the latter’s interest was not thereby eliminated. He bought out William Praed at St. Ives in 1806, but had to be content with one seat until 1812. This was a problem that occurred elsewhere: an interest did not consist of land and houses alone and some boroughs proved insecure investments. At Chippenham, James Dawkins sold out to John Maitland in 1811, but the latter could only secure one seat and was soon trying to sell his acquisition to a client in quest of a seat. As the client was the hard-headed Sir Robert Peel, who wanted a temporary seat for his son Robert, Maitland did not succeed in his object. Also too hot to handle was Ilchester where Sir William Manners paid £53,000 to secure the borough in 1802. Not until 1806 was he in control: in 1818 he was ejected by open rebellion. Angels had feared to tread in Ilchester for some time previous to his purchase, there being nothing to live for, to quote a local resident, but ‘hang fairs and elections’. Manners also met with trouble at Grantham where he bought up Lord Brownlow’s moiety but failed to secure his nominees in 1802, got only one in 1806, none in 1807, one in 1812, and lost again in 1818. Likewise at Tregony, Lord Darlington after buying the estate of the late Richard Barwell in 1804 had to wait until 1806 to secure any control: he fared better at Winchelsea where he paid £25,000 for Barwell’s interest, but his father had been involved in the purchase of that borough by Barwell in 1790, when the vendor was John Nesbitt. At Chipping Wycombe, where Lord Lansdowne had become a negligent patron and ceded one seat in 1796, he sold out to Lord Carrington before the next election: as Lansdowne’s nominee Baring retained his seat for many years, Carrington did not obviously benefit from the transaction in parliamentary terms, if that was his object (as it was at that time in the cases of Wendover and Midhurst). Lord Townshend sold out at Tamworth to Sir Robert Peel, who had previously purchased the Marquess of Bath’s moiety, in 1814, but Sir Robert met with opposition from Townshend’s displaced nephew at the next election, and had to cede a seat to him in 1820. Extra expenditure was sometimes the best guarantee of secure purchase. In 1802 Lord Caledon bought out Lord Camelford at Old Sarum for £43,000; but in 1804 he paid £24,000 more for Camelford’s adjoining lands to fence in his acquisition. At Camelford, where the Duke of Bedford had sold out to John Phillipps Carpenter for £22,000 in 1811, the latter’s trustees, after his death in 1813, obtained £51,000 from Lord Darlington for the interest: he then spent an extra £7,000 on the purchase of five freeholds to secure himself. At Okehampton, Henry Holland the architect, to whom the Duke of Bedford sold his property in 1796, reinforced himself by buying the Prince of Wales’s property: there remained Earl Spencer’s interest, albeit abeyant, and before the election of 1807 Christopher Savile bought out Holland and Spencer for £80,000. Even then he secured only one seat at first and had to wait until 1812 to get both. At Shaftesbury, where Paul Benfield, purchaser of the Mortimer property, became bankrupt in 1799, Mark Wood the next purchaser was thwarted in 1802 and, eventually wearying of his acquisition, took years to find a client: Dyneley, the eventual purchaser, sold out to Lord Rosebery after only one general election. Wood was better satisfied with his purchase of Gatton from the bankrupt John Petrie in 1802. He paid £90,000: Petrie had paid £110,000 for it to Robert Ladbroke, who in turn had paid £74,ooo in 1790. At Great Marlow, William Lee Antonie, purchaser of the Warren interest, havered about buying the Clayton interest: whereupon Thomas Williams the copper magnate bought it and Lee Antonie retreated. At Beverley, Lord Yarborough sold his interest in lots, rendering it electorally ineffective and opening up the borough. Several proprietors sold out at Seaford, which from the balance of the property was difficult to manage.
The most straightforward sales were at Westbury, where Lord Abingdon’s trustees sold out to Sir Manasseh Lopes for £75,000 in 1810; Cricklade, where Lord Carnarvon bought the lordship of the manor from Paul Benfield in 1794 and sold it to his former steward Joseph Pitt in 1811, each thereby securing a seat; Ludgershall, where Lord Sydney sold his interest in one seat to Sir James Graham in 1812; Wootton Bassett, where Joseph Pitt bought up the interest established by James Kibblewhite in 1812; Aldeburgh, where Samuel Walker of Rotherham bought up the de Crespigny interest in 1818 for £39,000; and Midhurst, where the 3rd Earl of Egremont, having bought out Viscount Montagu for 40,000 guineas in 1787, sold out to Lord Carrington in 1796 (there was no truth in a report that Egremont repurchased it from him in 1820).
Where joint patrons of a borough had a good understanding, sale was not necessary: Lord Uxbridge rented the Medlycott moiety of Milborne Port and returned both Members, merely advising Medlycott of his choice as a matter of courtesy; at Dunwich, Barne rented Lord Huntingfield’s nomination at £600 p.a. by an agreement of 1819. In other cases, for convenient reasons, patrons complimented allied families with seats over long periods: this was done at Dartmouth by the Holdsworths for the Bastard family in one seat; at Wenlock, likewise, by the Foresters for Lord Bridgeman, expenses being shared; and at Droitwich by Lord Foley for the Winningtons. Sometimes co-patrons of a borough obliged each other, particularly if one had no nominee in mind and preferred to let his co-patron nominate than risk outside intervention. The Bond and Bankes families acted thus at Corfe Castle, while at Aldborough and Boroughbridge the dukes of Newcastle benefited from the lack of initiative of their co-patrons the Wilkinsons, though they were eventually denied one seat at Boroughbridge.
To seize a proprietary borough from its patron by contest could be quite as expensive as to buy it and was generally a foredoomed exercise. In the case of Bodmin, where Lord Camelford proposed to take possession by means of a new charter, government failed to produce it in time for the election of 1796 and the fruits of the endeavour were more or less frustrated by the wayward conduct and early death of the and Baron. In 1795 the Duke of Buccleuch, egged on by the prime minister, defeated the Whig Duke of Northumberland’s nominee at Launceston at a by-election: the motive was political, but conservative ministers like the Duke of Portland were appalled at the onslaught on propriety involved; and Northumberland recovered control at the ensuing general election, when a simultaneous bid to challenge him at Newport also failed. In another Cornish borough, Liskeard, Lord Eliot was outraged by bids, which he believed to be encouraged by ministers, or at least by the Prince Regent’s friends, to dislodge him. Lord Yarmouth, the Prince’s Cornish agent, had succeeded in ousting Lord Darlington at Tregony in 1812, but only for that Parliament. At Bishop’s Castle the seizure of a seat from the Earl of Powis in 1819 also proved a flash in the pan. At Wootton Bassett, on the other hand, Lord Clarendon did not succeed until his third bid to recapture the seat he had lost, as co-patron, in 1807; and Helston, having disowned Sir Christopher Hawkins as patron in 1807, rejected him in 1812 and 1818. Penryn, which had also rejected him, relented in 1818.
Renewed challenges from the same quarter to an established interest usually led to compromise or sale. As already indicated, sale was the outcome at Downton, Fowey and Horsham; while at Haslemere and Newport (Cornwall) challengers were bought out after their first attempt. At Ludgershall, where in 1790 George Selwyn and in 1791 his heir Lord Sydney were challenged by Thomas Everett, a compromise was reached by 1793. In less manageable boroughs contenders might have to wait longer: the Ansons contested Great Yarmouth in 1795, 1796 and 1806 and had to wait for success until 1818; the Duke of Beaufort failed at Gloucester in 1805, but succeeded in 1818. Attempts to dislodge the patron at Shaftesbury were frustrated by want of cohesion in the challengers, who arrived there regularly but found no agreed strategy. At Wenlock, where there was throughout the period a potential challenge to the Forester family from the Whig junto of the Lawleys and Williams Wynns, they failed to field a candidate. Lord Balcarres likewise got nowhere by polite applications to the corporation at Wigan: had he given trouble, he would probably have had his pretensions recognized. A great name was, on the other hand, no passport to success, as Lord Salisbury discovered when on his son’s behalf he intervened unsuccessfully at Aldeburgh and, more embarrassingly, at Hertford in 1818. Lord Lansdowne’s nominee failed miserably at Bath in 1790. Nor could former established interests count on revival after a lapse: Lord Mount Norris got nowhere in his bids to revive the Lyttelton interest at Bewdley on the strength of his connexion with that family. Some of the major boroughmongers had to write off their ventures: Earl Fitzwilliam could find no opening against Lord Mulgrave at Scarborough; Sir William Manners failed to seat his brother for Leicester in 1800; Lord Radnor failed in his bids for Malmesbury in 1806 and 1807; the Duke of Bedford was dragged by his over-zealous agent into a futile opposition to the Clinton interest at Callington. Lord Darlington practically built a new town at Milborne Port in a bid to oust Lord Anglesey, but failed.
Some challenges were dictated by a desire to give trouble or secure revenge rather than primarily to snatch control. Earl Fitzwilliam’s opponents at Malton in 1807 and 1808 were egged on by Sir Mark Masterman Sykes, whom Fitzwilliam had crossed at York. At Mitchell in 1796 Lord Eliot and Richard Barwell tried to repay Sir Christopher Hawkins in kind for the trouble he had given them at Tregony. The opposition to John Buller at East Looe in 1806, though ostensibly in the name of the abeyant interest of the Trelawnys, was instigated by the Marquess of Buckingham, whom Buller was thwarting at Saltash.
By far the most stimulating challenge to a proprietary interest was that provided by Joshua Jepson Oddy to the Marquess of Exeter at Stamford in 1809, which proceeded on the thesis that pocket boroughs were doomed to economic stagnation by their political dependence on an obsolete caste. Oddy’s campaign was pitched too high to succeed.
It would be a gross over-simplification to represent challenges to established patrons of boroughs as power struggles between individuals: the challenger served, as often as not, as a rallying point for those interests hostile to the domination of the patron; the weaker his personal interest, the more likely it was that he would invoke the independence of the borough or its emancipation as his battle cry, and that the cause might be transferred into other hands in due course. The independence of a county was a commonplace of electioneering: the independence of a borough was a not infrequent variation on it. In some boroughs a pattern of compromise between a patronal and an independent interest was already established by 1790 and maintained throughout this period. At Salisbury the Earl of Radnor held one seat and the only contest was between independent candidates for the other. At Cirencester, Lord Bathurst held one and the other seat was open. At Northampton, Lord Northampton held one and the other seat was independent. At Bridgwater, Lord Poulett held one and the other was open; at Bridgnorth the Whitmore family held one and the other seat was open, and the same was true at Bridport as long as there was a member of the Sturt family available. At Wells the Tudway family shared the honours with an independent. At Dorchester, Lord Shaftesbury, despite a temporary setback in 1790, held one and the other was open. The Treasury usually shared Dover with an independent. A variation on the same theme occurred at Arundel where the Duke of Norfolk, rather than blatantly claim both seats, supported an acceptable independent Member for one of them between 1790 and 1806; he changed his tune subsequently and his successor lost one seat in 1819. (The same balance obtained until 1806 at Ludlow where Lord Clive was patron.) The duke also shared the honours with the independents at Gloucester and Hereford, though in the latter case the Member shared his Whig politics until after the duke’s death.
In a number of boroughs independent interests gained ground against patrons: at Maldon from 1790 the Strutt family conceded one seat; in the same year the Treasury conceded one at Sandwich and Rochester; at Bath from 1801, John Palmer and his son removed one seat from Lord Camden’s grasp, despite his attempts to strike a bargain with them; at Chippenham the patronal duumvirate was found wanting by the corporation in 1806 and one seat thereby thrown open. At Oxford one seat was opened up in 1796 by the success of an independent candidate. Two of the four seats at Weymouth fell to independents by a compromise arrangement in 1818, though even that was challenged. One seat at New Shoreham was open from 1796. At Lewes one seat was open throughout and both on the lapse of the Pelham interest in 1806. At Windsor the Court lost one in 1796 and had to be content with one thereafter, except from 1804 to 1806. At Shrewsbury the lapse of the Hill interest opened up the borough in 1806 and particularly after 1814. At Seaford successive patrons failed to hold their ground and the borough was open by 1812. St. Albans was opened up in 1807 when the Spencer interest lapsed and the Grimston interest fell into abeyance. At Warwick the Earl of Warwick ceded one seat to the independents in 1802. At Wallingford one seat became open on the death of Sir Francis Sykes in 1804, though his son-in-law sat from 1806 to 1812. At Carlisle, following the defeat of Lord Lonsdale’s interest in 1796, a compromise operated from 1802; the same occurred at Morpeth, at Lord Carlisle’s expense, in 1802. At Berwick the Lisburne and Delaval interests lapsed by 1802 and the borough was opened up. The same was the consequence of Lord Yarborough’s giving up Beverley in 1802 and of the lapse of the Duke of Ancaster’s interest for one seat at Boston in that year. At Sudbury the second seat became open on the lapse of the de Crespigny interest in 1799. At Bristol the Duke of Beaufort’s influence faded away by 1812 and both seats were contested. At Devizes the unobtrusive patronal arrangements were overthrown in 1818. At Chipping Wycombe, Lord Lansdowne ceded one seat to an independent in 1796 and the compromise held. At East Retford, after an all-out battle, the independents compromised with the Duke of Newcastle and, from 1812, more discreetly with Earl Fitzwilliam. No patron was safe at Penryn from 1803 or at Grampound from 1807: but neither was any independent, the electors turning the tables on all comers. Grantham resisted patronage from 1802, except for a brief interlude 1806-7, and at Grimsby one seat fell into independent hands 1802-3, both in 1807, one in 1812; at Great Yarmouth one in 1790 and both in 1818. At Evesham both seats were independent 1796-1807, at Chester one from 1807-18, and at Southampton one in 1806-7 and both in 1818. Guildford rejected one of its patrons, Lord Grantley, in 1790 and, briefly, in 1806. Some outbursts of independence proved to be fleeting: Queenborough rebelled against official patronage at the election of 1802; the Marquess of Stafford lost a seat at Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1812, but regained it in 1818. At Okehampton an independent was returned for the Parliament of 1807 only and the same applied to Abingdon until 1809, to Tewkesbury, and to Totnes in the Parliament of 1812. At Wootton Bassett an independent Member sat for a few months only in 1812 and the same occurred at Bishop’s Castle in 1819. At Chichester the seat snatched from the Duke of Richmond by the independent ‘Blues’ in 1784 was forfeited in 1812. Cricklade and Aylesbury, both of them constituencies where the franchise had been opened to the freeholders of the neighbouring hundred, did not thereby become independent.
Except as a stance against corporation-sponsored candidates or those occasionally sponsored by would-be patrons, the battlecry of independence as a counter-blast to patronal control was less effective in the boroughs more open to competition, such as Abingdon, Barnstaple, Canterbury, Colchester, Coventry, Exeter, Hedon, Hertford, Honiton, Hull, Hythe, Ilchester, Ipswich, Leominster, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Maidstone, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Norwich, Nottingham, Pontefract, Poole, Reading, Southwark (at least from 1796), Stafford, Taunton, Westminster, Worcester and York. On the other hand, given the greater political content of election contests in most of these boroughs, independence was frequently claimed, in more general terms, as an expression of dissociation from ministerial politics.
The politics of patrons. The majority of borough patrons, both peers and commoners, used their electoral influence in support of ministers, whether because they supported particular men in power, or because they supported all governments, irrespective of personalities and politics, with patronage or reward in view. The only significant tension that occurred in this period as to patronal loyalty towards government arose in 1806 when Lord Grenville formed a ministry including the former Whig opposition. This event caused much heart searching on both sides and some conflict. The short life of the Grenville ministry prevented wide repercussions. There was also an uneasy moment for patrons in 1812 when the Liverpool ministry seemed very weak: some flirted with the contenders for power or temporized, but nearly all rallied to the government when it became clear that Lord Liverpool was firmly in the saddle.
The most powerful patrons committed to the Foxite Whigs and therefore, for most of this period, to opposition, included the dukes of Bedford, Devonshire, and Norfolk, to whom the 4th Duke of Northumberland may be added with this qualification, that his opposition, ignited by dissatisfaction with the government, was rekindled when his friends came to power in 1806 by their supposed neglect of him and led to his drifting into support of their opponents when they resumed power in 1807: by 1812 his Members were being called to heel by him if they did not support ministerial measures. The Duke of Leeds, who resigned from Pitt’s government in 1791, also drifted into opposition, though not effectively as a borough patron. The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, who succeeded in 1809, and the 4th Earl of Darlington, in the last decade of the period, were Whig recruits, the latter a devoted boroughmonger for his party, though his conversion had been attributed to disappointment. The other Whig patrons were Lords Anson, Bolingbroke, Camelford (the 2nd Baron only), Carnarvon, Derby, Egremont, Foley, the 6th Earl of Guilford, Maldon, Moira (as a friend of the Prince of Wales), Monson, Petre, the 2nd Earl of Portsmouth, and Lord Thanet. Patrons who were commoners and Foxite Whigs were William Lee Antonie, Joseph Foster Barham, John Calcraft, John Barker Church, Edward Coke, William Colhoun, Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes, Robert Ladbroke, the Lambton brothers, Henry Peirse, George Porter, Charles Sturt, John Tempest, Samuel Whitbread and Thomas Whitmore.
Those Whigs who followed the nominal leader of their party, the Duke of Portland, into alliance with Pitt’s government in 1794 were not in general significant as borough patrons, with the exception of Sir Francis Basset (Lord de Dunstanville). Portland himself had no significant borough interest: his heir had failed to win a seat in 1790. Portland’s other followers included Lords Bradford, Clive, Curzon, Dundas and Yarborough (all of whom became peers on their junction with government), Earl Spencer and John Cotes. Of these, Dundas and Yarborough subsequently reverted to the Whigs, as did Spencer under the aegis of Lord Grenville, the rest remaining ministerialists. Only Clive and Yarborough remained effective borough patrons, though Dundas in 1806 attempted to revive his abeyant interest. Lord Hertford and John Tempest also rallied to government, when war broke out, and Thomas Pelham brought his father’s interest over.
After 1801, when a new opposition looked to Lord Grenville for leadership, his brother the Marquess of Buckingham became his boroughmonger-in-chief, Grenville himself having no appetite for borough patronage. Lords Caledon and Spencer were also drawn in. Grenville’s difficulty as premier at the general election of 1806 was that while he wished to annexe the borough influence of the Whigs who formed the crucial part of his government, he was also prepared to conciliate rather than alienate those borough patrons who, not being avowed political enemies, were well disposed to the government of the day. This involved trying to prevent a Whig onslaught on established borough patrons in some cases: but he could not always control the Whigs or effectively win over the patrons. Where he thought he had made a convert, as in the case of the 18th Baron Clinton, he found that, when out of office in 1807, he could not prevent Clinton from offering his nominations to the Portland ministry. Patrons who saw their electoral influence, rightly or wrongly, as a passport to honours or a public career, could hardly be expected to turn their backs on the government of the day. When Pitt had formed his second ministry on a narrow basis in 1804, there was talk of Lords Stafford and Lowther deserting him, but nothing came of it. The Stafford interest was one that the Grenville ministry annexed: after an indecisive interlude it reverted to ministers in 1815, sacrificing James Macdonald to mark the occasion.
There were a number of patrons whose conduct can only be described as independent. The Duke of Grafton, the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne and the 4th Earl of Guilford, all three former prime ministers, raised question marks for the remainder of their public careers, though their sons took more decisive lines. Lords Fitzwilliam and Carlisle, though prepared to support ministers and abandon the Whigs on the outbreak of war, did so with characteristic reservations and gradually drifted back into their own version of opposition. Charles Tennyson, a new Member in 1818, formed with his friend Matthew Russell the project of devoting borough interest to a third party platform—not, in his case, a fruitful endeavour.
Patrons disposed to support the ministry, as the majority were, did so either through their own nominees, whether members of their family, friends or paying guests, or by placing the seats at the disposal of government, in a few cases freely, but most often by purchase through Treasury nominees. The Treasury could not hope to accommodate more than a dozen of its friends in seats under its own control. Hastings and Rye, managed by the Milward and Lamb families respectively, provided safe berths, though one of the Lambs occupied a seat himself. Harwich, managed by John Robinson until 1802, became schismatic, though one seat was certain. In the Admiralty boroughs of Plymouth, Portsmouth, Rochester and Sandwich, too, only one seat could be hoped for in this period, and even Queenborough, which usually guaranteed both seats, rebelled at one election (1802).
The sale of seats. The sale of seats by borough patrons for one Parliament, or part of it, or for a specified number of years was an open secret. The practice was castigated, particularly after 1809 when it was a matter of specific debate in the House of Commons, but it continued, often with redoubled caution. Evidence on the subject can never be complete, but sufficient exists to show that there were a number of proprietors who disposed of their seats as commodities, by private agreement or to the highest bidder. These patrons included Sir Edward Dering (New Romney), the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (Lostwithiel), the Worsley Holmes family (Newport and Yarmouth, Isle of Wight), Lord Abingdon and his successor by purchase Sir Manasseh Lopes (Abingdon), Sir Christopher Hawkins (Mitchell and Helston), Sir William A’Court (Heytesbury), Sir Robert Clayton and his successors the Kenricks (Bletchingley). Sir John Barrington sold his seat for Newtown (Isle of Wight) even to his nephew. With the foregoing patrons the practice was almost invariable. It was a frequent practice of the Buller family for Saltash and West Looe; Lord Falmouth usually thus disposed of one seat for Truro; Dr Edmund Wilkins until his death in 1804 sold the Malmesbury seats and Joseph Pitt did the same in 1818; the Duke of Dorset did so for East Grinstead and Lord Cholmondeley for Castle Rising. The Duke of Newcastle’s trustees did so for a time for Aldborough, John Calcraft sold one for Wareham, the Burrard family sold one for Lymington. The earls of Sandwich sometimes sold one for Huntingdon, and Lord Buckingham, in the 1790s, for St. Mawes. Lord Eliot sold for Grampound till he was ousted in 1796, William Praed sold one for St. Ives, John Fownes Luttrell for Minehead when he could, and Sir Jonathan Phillipps for Camelford.
The seats for Bletchingley, Camelford, East Grinstead, Grampound, Lostwithiel, Lymington, Minehead, New Romney, Newtown, St. Mawes, Saltash and West Looe were sold almost invariably to friends of government, if not Treasury nominees: but purchase did in itself allow a certain freedom of action less pardonable in Members on whom seats were otherwise bestowed. Purchase terms varied: £2,000 or £3,000 might do in 1790, but £4,000 was already more likely; and subsequently between £4,000 and £6,000 for a parliament was the norm. Lord Abingdon’s trustees asked for 10,000 guineas for both seats for Westbury in 1806, while Sir Jonathan Phillipps had required 4,000 guineas each of Treasury nominees for the Camelford seats in 1796.
Sale was not always appropriate or convenient. Lord Eliot, refused payment by Pitt for the return of Lord Inchiquin in 1797, perforce acquiesced and again allowed Pitt to name the Member on the next vacancy in 1800. At East Looe the Buller family were content with patronage, rather than money, when they placed the seats at government disposal: West Looe and Saltash were their sources of cash. Lord Ailesbury returned ministerialists for Great Bedwyn but his own nominees for Marlborough. Lord Clinton returned ministerialists for Ashburton and Callington and Lord Cornwallis let ministers have one seat for Eye. For Bramber the Duke of Rutland and Sir Henry Gough Calthorpe did likewise, as did Lord Mount Edgcumbe for his Bossiney seat and the Crespigny family for Aldeburgh. Richard Howard, a place-holder, complimented ministers with the seat for Castle Rising to which he named.
Where patrons did not require their guests to pay, they were more likely to impose conditions and reserve freedom of action in case of political differences. Lord Caledon refused to return Vansittart for Old Sarum on his accepting office in 1812. The Earl of Radnor was willing to accommodate friends of government at Downton in 1819, provided they were against Catholic relief and parliamentary reform. Elizabeth Sophia Laurence, the pious Anglican patron of Ripon from 1808, also vetoed supporters of Catholic relief. On the Whig side, the Duke of Devonshire imposed no conditions on his Members for Knaresborough in the 1790s, except that they should vote to outlaw cruelty to animals. Earl Fitzwilliam, whose politics developed, rather hoped that his nominees would keep in step with him and one of his Members for Malton resigned in 1798 because of divergent opinions. At least 14 clear instances of resignation because of political disagreement with the patron occurred during the period: in some cases the resignation was called for by the terms of agreement, in others it was a matter of honour.
Freedom of choice was also allowed to patrons who did not sell. The Whig magnates who might place seats at the disposal of deserving members of the party left without seats reserved the right to refuse even the more prominent aspirants: Henry Brougham and William Lamb had to submit to catechism. Lord Dundas declined to seat Henry Grattan for his borough of Richmond in 1805, being of opinion that Grattan would be too much for Richmond to stomach. On the other hand, Lord Camelford expected Old Sarum, where there was no public opinion, to return his negro servant, if he wished it.
The Member who bought his seat from a patron need face no additional election expenses, unless he agreed specifically to do so: the maintenance of a borough interest remained the patron’s burden. No guest paid up unless he was elected, and usually no patron tolerated a guest who attempted to create an interest of his own: in some cases he was required to pledge not to cultivate the borough he was returned for. Instances of guests renting a particular seat for more than one parliament were rare, unless they paid for a given number of years anticipated over-optimistically to be the length of one parliament. That of John Lemon, who appears to have been Lord Falmouth’s guest for life at Truro, was not repeated elsewhere.
Patrons obviously preferred to be able to budget for and control expenditure on maintaining borough interests. Normal expenses to maintain goodwill ranged from paying corporation debts and providing public facilities for a borough to charitable donations to the poorer voters. Patronage of local tradespeople was an expense taken for granted. At elections, whether there was a contest or not, some more or less discreet form of douceur was expected: open treating and bribery courted petitions against the return but might be circumvented by prepayment, post-payment or by the use of tokens. Contests multiplied the expense.
Figures about election expenses have to be received with caution, as wildly exaggerated allegations were commonly made about them. The celebrated contest for Shrewsbury in 1796 between the two branches of the Hill family was supposed to have cost them £100,000: surviving evidence accounts for only £15,400 spent by the victorious party and there is no particular reason for supposing that any more was spent by the other side. Even then, the expenditure might have been the highest in the period on one borough election. At Liverpool in 1812 £20,000 was supposed to have been spent on behalf of the winning candidates and £8,000 on the losers: and this in a large constituency where subscriptions, rather than patrons, raised the expenses. In the same constituency in 1806 the sitting Members were estimated to have spent £7,000 in an unsuccessful bid to retain their seats against two friends of the Whig administration who spent between £11,000 and £12,000. At Newcastle-under-Lyme the Marquess of Stafford was supposed to have devoted £20,000 to the recapture of both seats in 1818. The allegation that £35,000 was spent at Norwich on the contest of 1806 seems exaggerated: the losers there in 1802 had spent £8,000. At St. Albans in 1796 the defeat of a wealthy radical (who spent £5,000) cost the victors £3,100 each and not £16,000 as was readily alleged. At Saltash £30,000 was reportedly spent on the contests of 1806 and 1807; since the legal costs of petitions added to the expense, the figure is not unlikely. The tale that Chippenham cost £60,000 to the three contestants in 1807 seems less likely, given that £10 a vote was the usual bribe there: the £60,000 doubtless covered the purchase of property. At Shaftesbury, James Milnes may well have spent over £17,000 in his unsuccessful bid to capture it in 1796. The Duke of Bedford found that Camelford cost him £1,500 per annum to control and was relieved to sell out.
Borough election expenses could certainly be ruinous where contests were frequent. Robert Thornton was reduced to poverty by Colchester elections after holding on to his seat from 1790 until and including 1812, when he was supposed to have spent £10,000 in a contest costing £40,000. Hart Davis, who gave up the same constituency in 1818 on health grounds, was said to be suffering from financial illness. Sir George Yonge was ruined at Honiton, where elections cost over £3,000, and John Wharton at Beverley. The Duke of Norfolk spent £14,500 between 1790 and 1806 at Horsham: but he was able to fight on and could still afford his object. John Staniforth, Member for Hull 1802-18, claimed to have spent half a million on the constituency in that time, his cue for withdrawal, but he must have included his capital outlay on mercantile ventures: another contender at Hull in 1796 spent £8,000 on his election. There are many examples of borough candidates spending between £4,000 and £6,000, about the same as they might have paid for a seat in a pocket borough, but without the guarantee of success. The boroughmonger Sir Manasseh Lopes went too far at Evesham in 1807 where he spent £10,000, only to be unseated on petition. Close or pocket boroughs cost their patrons far less, though expenses tended to rise steadily. An attempt to reduce expenditure at Knaresborough in 1804 proved dangerous. At King’s Lynn the co-patron Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes, with no contest to fear, spent £163 in 1790, rising to £453 in 1818. Compare this with the larger constituency of York, where Earl Fitzwilliam could usually count on a seat: he spent £1,918 13s.11d. at the election of 1806 when there was no contest, £4,323 12s.10d. in 1807 when there was a contest in which he suffered a setback, and £2,269 17s.11d. in 1812 when no contest took place. Averting a contest whether by a show of strength or buying off a rival could be sufficiently expensive: at Weymouth Sir John Murray spent £7,000 to secure a quiet election in 1811 and one of the candidates was bought off with £1,000, a year later.
Allegations about the price paid for individual votes were also often exaggerated: but the prices tended to rise. At Coventry, Lord Eardley paid four guineas each to 214 voters in 1790, while even at that date votes at Hedon (where there were fewer) were put at each. At Leominster the nabob Hunter paid five guineas to 402 out of 462 supporters in 1796, only gentry and Quakers declining the douceur. Earl Fitzwilliam was wont to give half a guinea a vote at Malton; but this was doubled in 1805 to ensure a quiet berth for Henry Grattan; and although Fitzwilliam weathered a rebellion in the borough in 1807-8 at the cost of £1,800, he found that a peaceful election cost £1,235 by 1812. At York, where he also bestowed half a guinea on those voters who would accept it, he obliged over 1,250 of them in the uncontested election of 1802: in 1807 his successful challenger Masterman Sykes doubled the voters’ fee. It is clear that the smaller the venal electorate, the more difficult it was to curb the voters’ demands. At Oxford in 1818 the Duke of Marlborough gave £20 for plumpers and £10 for split votes. At Malmesbury the small electorate were credited with £30 a vote until 1804 when a new patron offered £50. In 1802, votes at East Retford were supposed to have fetched 150 guineas each. When James Kibblewhite wrested Wootton Bassett from its co-patrons in 1807 he was supposed to have raised their 20 guineas a voter to 45 guineas. At Ilchester the contractor Alexander Davison gave £30 a man in 1802; at Tregony £20 a vote was usual. Maj. John Cartwright, the parliamentary reformer, declined to pay five guineas a vote at Boston in 1806: he received just 59 votes, and in 1807 only eight. Madocks, who as Member for Boston espoused the same cause, paid up. Charles Tennyson, who came in for Grimsby in 1818, thought it unrealistic to bank on unbought suffrages, which were his ideal, and spent £5,500. Candidates who did not pay up after an election spoilt their prospects in future, unless they managed to gain time to meet their liabilities, and made life difficult for subsequent candidates. At Grampound a small electorate afflicted with ‘the cursed thirst after money’ became completely unmanageable after Henry Fawcett had failed to pay his bills in 1806, and made a business of selling their votes to the highest bidder, changing their allegiance many times a day. Sir William Manners tried to safeguard himself at Grantham in 1802 by offering six guineas a man on bond, the breach of which by the bondsmen would incur liability for a very large sum of money. His competitors offered ten guineas a vote to hold him at bay; and this in a constituency where two guineas had formerly sufficed. In freeman boroughs, candidates had an eye to the goodwill of the corporation. At Bedford, William Colhoun endeared himself to them by paying their debt. At Bewdley, Miles Peter Andrews gave £3,000 for a bridge in 1801, bestowed £1,000 on the corporation in 1807 and £2,000 in 1808. New town halls arose at patrons’ expense, but were no guarantee of permanent interest, as Earl Spencer found at St. Albans. At Queenborough, places (worth £2,368 per annum) were held by free-men, the acknowledged reward to key electors.
The disgust inspired by venality was often exacerbated by the extent of the treating. Many candidates tried to avoid participation in election feasts where gluttony and drunkenness commonly prevailed and avid electors sometimes died of their excesses. Innkeepers’ bills were the bugbear of contestants. Rowdiness begat violence and there were riots from time to time. At Knaresborough in 1804 it was the patron’s attempt to curb expenses that sparked them off. In less manageable boroughs an outlet was provided in the sponsorship of a third man, put up not because he stood a chance of being elected, but to guarantee a contest, accompanied by guineas, cakes and ale, and general entertainment. Riots broke out at Leicester in 1790 and at Nottingham and Bristol in 1796, to give only the most notorious examples: the military had to be called in and lives were lost. The ill-feeling engendered by election contests was sometimes concentrated in rival would-be patrons: the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Malden fought a duel over Leominster in 1796; Lord de Dunstanville and Sir Christopher Hawkins came to blows over Penryn in 1810 and Hawkins assaulted an opponent at St. Ives in 1806. Two of the candidates fought duels at Beverley in 1806, though the instance of Sir Francis Burdett and James Paull achieved greater notoriety. In the larger constituencies, party fervour, intensified by the display of colours, the proliferation of rival clubs and the admixture of sectarian differences, fanned violence. The dissenting community was a force to be reckoned with in constituencies such as Abingdon, Bedford, Boston, Bridport, Chipping Wycombe, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Leicester, Malton, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Reading, St. Albans, Taunton, Tavistock and Worcester.
Oxford and Cambridge returned two Members each, the electorate in each case consisting of the doctors and masters of arts with the exception of bishops, peers and minors. Although it was estimated that the potential electorate in both cases numbered up to 1,200 it was such a scattered one that only 665 voted in the sole contest for Oxford in 1806, while 796 votes were admitted at Cambridge in the by-election of 1811. The latter, the last contest for Cambridge in this period, was the fourth since 1790, a fact that underlines the continued divergence of the political scene at the two universities. Yet in other respects Oxford was no longer immune to the winds of change. Until 1801, it is true, her representatives were the last two protagonists of her time-honoured preference for independent country gentlemen; then a professional man, the lawyer Sir William Scott came in and on the next vacancy, in 1806, the independent and scholarly country gentleman Richard Heber was defeated at the poll by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Charles Abbot. The latter, with a safe seat to fall back on in case of defeat, observed the convention of not canvassing in person, but was thought, through his friends, to have ‘resorted to such measures as the university was ever a stranger to before’, for Abbot had
such a knowledge of various interests and such means of gaining access to those interests, as few others would have possessed and these were exerted to the utmost degree ... government, the Duke of York, the East India Company and the natural strength of Christ Church.
It was a novelty for government to be drawn into an Oxford election: Pitt had declined such a step, but Lord Grenville, whose brother had been in the running, was more engagé. Heber upheld the ‘No Popery’ tradition of the university, while Lord Grenville, by then out of office, stood candidate for the chancellorship, when it became vacant in December 1809, as an avowed champion of Catholic relief. Lord Eldon was the favourite, but the conservative vote was split by the candidature of a third man, the Duke of Beaufort, and Lord Grenville succeeded. This was offset in 1817 when Robert Peel was chosen Member at a time when he was regarded as the up and coming champion of ‘No Popery’, in preference to such senior Christ Church men as Canning or Vansittart. Incidentally, the influence of the dean of Christ Church, which had so helped Charles Abbot in 1806, was at first exerted for Canning in 1817, but yielded to force majeure. Christ Church, in any case, provided both Members from 1801 until 1821. The prestige attached to representation of the university is indicated by the ambition of such figures as the Speaker, William Windham, Canning and Vansittart to obtain it.
There was far less cohesion at Cambridge. For one thing, the largest college, Trinity, did not act unanimously, so its potential influence was offset by St. John’s, which came nearer to Trinity in voting strength than any Oxford college did to Christ Church. In 1811, when 252 voters were Trinity men, there were 206 Johnian voters. Moreover, Cambridge had compromised its Whig tradition in 1784 when it elected, with its chancellor the Duke of Grafton’s son Lord Euston, William Pitt, the prime minister. A lone Whig made no headway against this combination in the election of 1790 and Pitt evidently felt secure enough to neglect his constituency. On his death in January 1806, three young aristocrats contended for his seat, two of them Trinity men and one a Johnian. Lord Henry Petty, the Talents’ chancellor of the Exchequer succeeded, but was defeated when his friends went out of office in 1807. Lord Euston, who had joined them in opposition, remained secure, while through an electoral contretemps the ministerial second string defeated their first choice, Lord Palmerston. The latter came in on a contested vacancy in 1811, defeating a Whig relation of the deceased chancellor, who, however, came in unopposed a year later: a political compromise had been reached. The new chancellor, the Duke of Gloucester, though a prince of the blood, was a dissident; and after 1812 political debate revived.
Wales returned 24 Members to Parliament, one for each of 12 counties and one for each of 12 boroughs. Every Welsh county had its borough representative except Merioneth, Pembrokeshire making up for this with two. The total Welsh county electorate did not exceed 18,700, an average of about 1,500: only Brecon, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Glamorgan and Pembroke had 2,000 or more voters, Anglesey and Merioneth fewer than 1,000. Six of the counties had no contest in this period: Anglesey, Cardigan, Denbigh, Glamorgan, Merioneth and Montgomery; and eight of the 12 may be regarded as closed in the sense that their representatives were in practice restricted to certain families possessing natural territorial interests. Denbighshire was virtually in the pocket of the Williams Wynn family of Wynnstay, the uncrowned princes of Wales, who in this period also annexed Montgomeryshire from Lord Powis; Flintshire was Mostyn territory; Merioneth was the preserve of the Vaughans of Corsygedol and Nannau; Caernarvonshire was, by a manoeuvre between Lords Bulkeley and Uxbridge, bestowed on the former, the latter taking Anglesey for his domain. Cardigan was transferred from Lord Lisburne to Thomas Johnes of Hafod and subsequently to the Powells of Nanteos without mishap. Radnorshire was from 1796 held unchallenged by Walter Wilkins of Maesllwch. Of the four remaining counties, Brecon was in the hands of the Morgans of Tredegar and Dderw until 1806, when Thomas Wood of Gwernyfed took over, though the Morgans subsequently made a come-back bid. Glamorgan avoided a contest but the number of pretenders to the county seat was large and complicated manoeuvres were necessary to avert a contest: as it was, one Member (Benjamin Hall) was a Monmouthshire industrialist and another, stranger still, was an attorney (John Edwards), though he gave up his practice on gaining the county seat: Edwards’s unique success was so resented by the conservative gentry that they never let him in again. In Carmarthenshire traditional alignments of county families broke down and there were three contests. In Pembrokeshire traditional battles between county families were revived and there were two contests.
Only eight county contests went to a poll out of a possible 84 in general elections in Wales. There were none in 1790, two in 1796, two in 1802 and 1807, none in 1806 and one each in 1812 and 1818. As stated, Carmarthenshire (1796, 1802, 1807) had three contests, and Pembrokeshire (1807, 1812) had two; Caernarvon was contested in 1796, Radnor in 1802 and Brecon in 1818. The Carmarthenshire contest of 1796 was an afterthought in the struggle for control of the borough and that of 1807 was soon given up; while the contests for Radnorshire in 1802 and Caernarvonshire in 1796 were very unequal. On the other hand, both Pembrokeshire elections and the Breconshire election were keenly contested; and Carmarthenshire in 1802 provided the most expensive contest for a Welsh county in the unreformed Parliament. Of the eight vacancies caused in Welsh counties in the period, only one, that for Flintshire in 1796, was contested and this was the only contested vacancy in any Welsh constituency. In none of these contests was the political content high, the rivalry between local families proving the chief source of contention and the marshalling of interests and tenantries on either side being the chief preoccupation. Eleven thousand, two hundred and sixty-six votes were cast in the eight Welsh county contests for which figures are available. Only one of them (Flintshire, November 1796) was contested by three candidates, and that owing to special circumstances. The highest poll was in the 11-day contest for Pembrokeshire in 1812 when 2,873 voted.
Of the 12 Welsh boroughs, ten had freeman franchise, though this must be qualified to the extent that Brecon insisted on residence, New Radnor insisted on residence in the borough of that name, but not in the four contributories, and Haverfordwest (a county in itself) also admitted freeholders and scot and lot voters. Flint had a scot and lot franchise. Beaumaris was the only corporation borough and, in company with Caernarvon, was free of contests in this period. The remaining boroughs had one contest each, except Flint and New Radnor (two) and Carmarthen (three). So there were 14 contests in all, each one at a general election, out of a potential 84; none of the 19 interim elections was contested. A total of 6,117 votes were cast in the contests, the highest poll being that for Pembroke in 1812 when 1,421 votes were cast. It is a curious fact that the general election of 1812, the least contested in English boroughs, produced six of the 14 Welsh borough contests in this period; there were three in 1818 and one each in 1790, 1796, 1802, 1806 and 1807.
Of the 12 borough constituencies, seven had contributory boroughs. Beaumaris, Brecon, Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and Montgomery had none; Cardigan, Denbigh and Pembroke had three each; Caernarvon, Flint and New Radnor five; and Cardiff eight. Where contributory boroughs were in rival hands, the scene was set for large-scale creations of freemen by patrons in anticipation of contests. One thousand one hundred were created at a blow at Aberystwyth in 1788, but in the event the Cardigan boroughs were not contested in 1790. When they were contested in 1812, Lampeter and Aberystwyth were ranged against Cardigan, but John Vaughan, the successful candidate, mustered more new creations at Cardigan. In Denbigh Boroughs attempts were made by the unsuccessful candidate to disfranchise the borough of Holt before the contest of 1812. In Pembroke Boroughs the contributory borough of Wiston was the focus for Lord Cawdor’s opposition to Owen of Orielton, who was sure of Pembroke and Tenby, in 1812. At New Radnor the eligibility of non-resident freemen of Cnwclas, Knighton, Rhayader and Cefnllys to vote had been in the preceding period a prime source of contention, but the issue now lapsed. At Caernarvon the contributory boroughs had no role to play in this period. At Flint they were all-important, owing to the balance of interests involved in the tripartite contests of 1806 and 1807. In Cardiff too their alignment was important: Lord Bute formed an alliance with other contributory borough patrons to oust Herbert Mackworth of Neath without a contest in 1790 and it held good, even when in 1818 a member of the family was opposed by a Cardiff family formerly in Bute’s service.
The patronage pattern in Welsh boroughs might be complicated by the existence of contributory boroughs, but was otherwise similar to the English one. In some respects, however, the lack of competition for counties facilitated pacts among the patrons involving counties and boroughs. Lord Bulkeley, who had surrendered his pretensions in Anglesey to Lord Uxbridge in exchange for the latter’s goodwill in Caernarvonshire, remained undisputed patron of Beaumaris, though he used the seat on three occasions (from 1794 to 1812) as a means of gratifying three potential allies in Caernarvonshire. In 1812 he returned a Member who was prepared to foot the bill for public improvements at Beaumaris, an alternative that had occurred to him before. Caernarvon Boroughs was in the pocket of Lord Uxbridge, who returned three of his sons there, just as he did for the county of Anglesey. In Cardiganshire when Lord Lisburne made way for Thomas Johnes of Hafod as county Member in 1796, his son John Vaughan became Boroughs Member with Johnes’s blessing, excluding the rival and allied families of Gogerddan and Nanteos. In 1816 on Johnes’s death, the latter were in competition, but a contest was averted when Powell of Nanteos was conceded the county by Pryse of Gogerddan on the understanding that the latter came in for the Boroughs next time.
This balance of interests had also applied to Pembrokeshire during the minority of the heir of Orielton, Sir Hugh Owen: he was undisputed patron of the Pembroke Boroughs seat, while his father’s old rival, Lord Milford, held the county seat and the latter’s ally, Lord Kensington, the seat for Haverfordwest. Lord Milford, under pressure from his allies, refused to cede the county to Owen when he was of age and defeated him in 1807. When Owen died and his cousin and heir John Owen resumed battle, the boroughs were drawn into it in 1807: Owen was unsuccessfully challenged at Pembroke and in vain challenged Kensington at Haverfordwest, but won the county from Milford, who had retired in favour of his friend Lord Cawdor’s son. Cawdor was very much involved in this complex attempt to create a balance of power: his family had represented Pembrokeshire, but he himself had not found an opening there and came in for Cardigan Boroughs. His purchase of the manor of Wiston in 1794 gave him a foothold in Pembroke Boroughs which he used to harass his Orielton neighbours: but it was his inheritance under the will of John Vaughan of Golden Grove, the Carmarthenshire Machiavel, that gave him an effective field of action in the latter county from 1804. He took over the Carmarthen borough seat in 1806. Cawdor refused to accept his son’s defeat for Pembrokeshire in 1812: he nudged his brother out of Carmarthen to make way for his heir and pursued quo warranto proceedings against Owen to undermine his hold on Pembroke Boroughs. In revenge Owen took up John Jones, Cawdor’s challenger at Carmarthen, and returned him for Pembroke Boroughs. In 1816, however, an all-round compromise was reached, at least for two parliaments: Owen, already on the road to ruin, was guaranteed the county but ceded Pembroke Boroughs to Cawdor’s friend Allen, while the representation of Haverfordwest was neutralized. As a result the situation cooled down, except at Carmarthen where John Jones, who considered himself deceived, was bent on revenge.
Before Lord Cawdor’s arrival on the Carmarthenshire scene in 1804, there had been a degree of interaction between county and borough politics there too. Sir William Mansel, the stopgap county Member in the Parliament of 1784, had thought of falling back on the borough in 1790, though he withdrew. Philipps of Cwmgwili, the borough Member, who had followed his family’s tradition in supporting Lord Dynevor for the county in 1790, had second thoughts when he was challenged for his own seat by Dynevor’s brother-in-law in 1796, and the latter also stood for the county, without success in either case. Dynevor had gone too far: a critic remarked, ‘He has not a property in Carmarthenshire to entitle him to command that county, and nothing but brilliant talents, or a great estate, can induce Welsh spirit to submit to a dictator’. Neither Dynevor nor the more subtle John Vaughan of Golden Grove could control events and the ‘lecsiwn fawr’, the ‘great election’, for the county in 1802 involved fresh alignments. The defeated candidate, William Paxton, fell back on the borough seat by private arrangement with his fellow-Blue, Philipps of Cwmgwili. Paxton’s victor could not afford to oppose him again for the county in 1806, but Paxton had nowhere to turn when he was defeated by Dynevor’s candidate in 1807.
Brecon was in the pocket of the Morgans of Tredegar, who also filled the county seat until 1806 and tried to regain it in 1818: their alliance with the Duke of Beaufort in Monmouthshire also applied to Brecon and in 1796 they transferred the Monmouthshire Member, Sir Robert Salusbury, to Brecon borough so that they could occupy that county seat. Lord Bute, who also allied with Beaufort to secure Swansea and Loughor as contributories to his Cardiff Boroughs seat, was expected, like the duke, to stay out of the county politics of Glamorgan. Lord Oxford, patron of New Radnor, was likewise expected to lie low in the politics of that county. Lord Powis, patron of Montgomery borough, could not maintain his hold on the county as well and in 1795 it fell to the Williams Wynns: some tension ensued, especially when he was challenged for the borough by Lord Hereford, an ally of the Williams Wynns, in 1802, but it was subsequently channelled into other fields. At Denbigh, a preserve of the Myddelton family of Chirk Castle, the division of that estate between heiresses whose husbands were at political loggerheads brought on a contest in 1812. At Flint, a pact between the other two candidates in each case kept out Sir Stephen Glynne in the fierce contests of 1806 and 1807: Sir Edward Pryce Lloyd, successful in 1806, was brother-in-law of the county Member Sir Thomas Mostyn, while Sir Stephen Glynne and his rival William Shipley were connected in the same degree with Lord Grenville, which exacerbated the complications of the contests.
In short, eight of the 12 Welsh boroughs were secure in their patrons’ hands, even if occasionally challenged, viz: Beaumaris (Lord Bulkeley), Brecon (Morgan of Tredegar), Caernarvon (Lord Uxbridge), Cardiff (Lord Bute), Haverfordwest (Lord Kensington, by courtesy of Lord Milford, until the compromise of 1818), Montgomery (Lord Powis), New Radnor (Lord Oxford, at least nominally) and Pembroke (Owen of Orielton, until the compromise of 1818). Denbigh would also have been close had not the split in the Myddelton interest opened it up; Cardigan, though open, was usually manageable by an alliance of patrons and the one contest was provoked by an interloping new patron; Carmarthen, long the most turbulent borough in Wales, and Flint, opened up in 1806, were the least predictable.
Some Welsh constituencies went without a contest for a century or nearly as long: Beaumaris had none between 1727 and 1832, Montgomery (the borough) and Flintshire only one in the same time span. Cardiff had none between 1734 and 1818, Brecon borough none between 1740 and 1818; Cardiganshire and Denbighshire none between 1741 and 1832; Denbigh, Pembroke and Haverfordwest only one in the same period, and Flint two. Breconshire had only one between 1754 and 1831; Glamorgan only one from 1756 to 1832; Merioneth none from 1774 to 1832 and Montgomery none from 1774 to 1831.
There were few echoes of the parliamentary reform movement in Wales. In Cardiff in 1818 the opposition to Lord Bute stressed the need for a businessman representative to match the growing commercial importance of the constituency. Benjamin Hall, an industrialist by marriage, had represented Glamorgan in the preceding Parliament, but his industrial stake was in Monmouthshire and this was at first held against him, though he proved a popular county Member.
Of the 74 Members who represented Welsh constituencies in this period, only four were by origin complete outsiders: Sir William Paxton, the nabob who settled in West Wales, Lord Robert Seymour, who likewise purchased the Taliaris estate; Whitshed Keene, Lord Powis’s Irish Member for Montgomery, and David Murray, Lord Oxford’s Scots Member for New Radnor. Of the remaining 70, 44 bore the names of ancient Welsh families and the rest were representatives of advenae long settled in Wales, or connected with Wales by marriage. The 74 included five Irish peers (all of old Welsh stock), 20 peers’ sons or brothers, and 15 baronets; the rest were gentry, though Paxton and Wilkins were primarily nabobs, Dorrien Magens a banker, John Edwards an attorney, John Jones and John Hensleigh Allen barristers, Sir Thomas Picton and Whitshed Keene professional soldiers and Sir Christopher Cole a naval officer.
Twenty-one of the 74 at one time sat for constituencies outside Wales or for Monmouthshire; 12 in this period, seven before 1790, and two after 1820. Of Lord Uxbridge’s six sons who sat for Anglesey or Caernarvon Boroughs, four sat also for his English borough of Milborne Port. Lord Robert Seymour sat on his family interest for Orford until 1807. Thomas Jones cut a figure in Shropshire politics, as also did Henry Clive. Robert Myddelton Biddulph had been county Member for Herefordshire; William Shipley’s connexion with the Grenvilles provided him with a seat for St. Mawes, as had Charles Williams Wynn’s for Old Sarum. Benjamin Hall, Dorrien Magens and Lord Kirkwall bought English borough seats. Two former (and one future) Scottish county Members were among the 74.
No attempt was made by government to control the Welsh Members as a whole politically as happened in Scotland in the era of Henry Dundas and in Ireland under Dublin Castle supervision. The Welsh formed no cohesive group: for instance on the canvass for the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791 they divided seven pro, 12 con and five doubtful. Debates on specifically Welsh issues were rare until the reform of the Welsh judicature was mooted towards the end of the period. (Opposing Henry Bankes’s proposal that Welsh judges should be excluded from Membership of the House on 12 June 1809, Spencer Perceval had alleged: ‘Those judicial characters from Wales who had been candidates for seats in Parliament had been the most distinguished persons from that country’.) There were few Welsh Members who became Westminster personalities, at least as speakers. Forty-six of the 74 apparently never took part in debate while sitting for Welsh constituencies in this period and ten of the remainder spoke only once or twice. Of the 18 inclined to oratory, only two achieved prominence: Thomas Jones developed a bombastic and vituperative style to which the House was much exposed after the Whig secession of 1797, which gave him an opening for makeshift opposition. It did not go down well and Jones lapsed into insignificance after 1801. Charles Watkin Williams Wynn was the most conspicuous of the Welsh speakers: solid, sober and well-versed in parliamentary procedure and history, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Speaker’s chair (occupied by his ancestor) in 1817, but his dignity was marred by the high-pitched voice which caused him to be labelled ‘Sqwynne’ or ‘Squeaker’. Thomas Frankland Lewis had a growing reputation by 1820. Some Members who had a great deal to say in Wales were modest orators at Westminster: John Jones and John Edwards fall into this category. John Lloyd of Hafodunos and Thomas Johnes of Hafod were among the most cultivated men of their day, but Lloyd ‘the philosopher’ made only one speech at Westminster and Johnes was sure he did more good at Hafod. Sir Edward Pryce Lloyd was bilingual, but uttered in neither tongue at Westminster. John Edwards (‘y Cymro’) learnt Welsh for electoral purposes and other Members for social or antiquarian reasons: but it was rarely the original language of either politics or elections in Wales. Several of the Welsh Members had striking appearances: Sir Watkin Williams Wynn weighed 18 stone; Lord Kensington, who weighed 17 stone, was dubbed ‘Og, King of Bashan’ by Creevey; Sir Robert Williames Vaughan ‘the Golden Calf of Dolgellau’ was a mountain giant, famous at home for his indiscriminate hospitality after the ancient mode of the Welsh uchelwyr. It was he who rescued the old doors of the House of Commons after the fire of 1834 and took them as a totem to Nannau. Sir Thomas Mostyn, a Welsh Nimrod, barked and hallooed, but did not speak in the House.
Despite their desultory record as speakers and in some cases as attenders, there is no evidence that the Welsh did not covet the status of Membership of the House of Commons. Some of them had remarkable records of long service. Lord Kensington when he died in 1801, aged 90, had been a Member, with one short break, since 1747. Thomas Wood was Member for Breconshire from 1806 to 1847, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn for Denbighshire from 1796 to 1840, Sir Robert Williames Vaughan for Merioneth from 1792 to 1836, Charles Williams Wynn for Montgomeryshire from 1799 to 1850, Richard Price for New Radnor from 1799 until 1847; and 16 other Welsh Members served over 30 years in the House. Sir John Owen of Orielton at his death in 1861 had been a Member for 52 years and had long since ruined his estate to retain the honour.
Politically, the 74 Welsh Members were composed of 45 general supporters of government to which four Whigs (John Campbell, Whitshed Keene, Lord Lisburne and William Mostyn Owen) who went over to the ministry during the war with revolutionary France may be added (the figure also includes three Members, Sir Charles Gould and his eldest son and Richard Myddelton, who deserted Pitt during the Regency but subsequently returned to the fold); 15 of the Welsh Members during the period were placeholders of some kind, four of them sinecurists. None achieved major office in this period, and few sought it. Henry Clive, a reluctant under-secretary at the Home Office, gave it up. Twelve were, or became, lord lieutenants, ten of them in Wales. Many of the 45 who normally supported government did so in the guise of independents: it was to Sir Robert Salusbury, an independent country gentleman, that Spencer Perceval (misguidedly) turned in 1810 to move Sir Francis Burdett’s committal to the Tower. There were 18 Welsh Members whose politics were opposition: John Hensleigh Allen, Hugh Barlow (at least until 1803), Robert Myddelton Biddulph, George Campbell, the Hon. John Frederick Campbell, Lord Patrick Crichton Stuart, John Wynne Griffith, Thomas Jones, Sir Edward Pryce Lloyd, Lord Milford, Sir Roger Mostyn and his son Sir Thomas, Sir William Paxton, John George Philipps, Pryse Pryse, Evan Lloyd Vaughan, Walter Wilkins and Robert Watkin Wynn. Seven of these were county Members; 14 of them silent. There were seven other Welsh Members who may be labelled Grenvillite: this contingent derived largely from Lord Grenville’s sister’s marriage into the Williams Wynn family: Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and his brother Charles and William Shipley were three. Lord Bulkeley’s Member for Caernarvonshire, Sir Robert Williams, was another; Lord William Stuart and Thomas Frankland Lewis were converts; so also was Lord Kensington, but he was not to be nailed down.
More Welshmen than in the preceding period obtained seats in Parliament outside their native country. As already stated 21 of the 74 who sat for Welsh constituencies at one time represented non-Welsh seats or Monmouthshire, 12 of them in this period. In addition to these may be mentioned Thomas Williams, the Anglesey copper king, too much of a parvenu to be honoured by his native county, but wealthy enough to buy the nominations for Great Marlow, where he resided, for himself and heir, and a seat elsewhere for another son. His partner William Lewis Hughes likewise sat on his own interest for Wallingford. William Alexander Madocks, ‘the Wonder of Wales’, was for many years a representative for Boston. Joseph Foster Barham of Trecwn, Pembrokeshire, was co-patron of Stockbridge. Glynn Wynn, shut out of Caernarvon, came in for Westbury. Henry Williams Wynn sat for Midhurst. Edward Loveden, heir of the Pryses of Gogerddan, sat for Abingdon on his own interest and subsequently for Shaftesbury. Sir John Nicholl of Merthyr Mawr, who held legal office, was provided with government seats and in the end frustrated from coming in for Glamorgan, or even making good the purchase of the borough of Shaftesbury. Robert Matthew Casberd was provided with a seat by Lord Anglesey for Milborne Port and Richard Richards, another legal luminary, sat for Helston. Sir Watkin Lewes had become a Londoner and stood no chance in his native Pembrokeshire. Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle found no opening in Wales either, nor did Richard Mansel Philipps. Evan Foulkes had little to look to in Wales. David Howell and Samuel Jones Loyd likewise had severed their connexions. Thomas Assheton Smith of Vaynol got nowhere in Caernarvonshire, but came in for Andover. Love Parry Jones Parry of Madryn sat for Horsham. Samuel Homfray, the Welsh ironmaster, came in for Stafford and another (from Monmouthshire), Charles Hanbury Tracy, for Tewkesbury. Gen. John Vaughan, Lord Lisburne’s brother, sat on the latter’s interest at Berwick, of which he was manager. Robert Waithman, the London radical Member, was a native of Wrexham. Robert Rickards and Humphrey Howorth came from Radnorshire, while Joseph Jekyll and William Taylor Money were born in Wales, of Welsh mothers.
Twenty-seven Scottish counties each returned one Member. The other six (Buteshire and Caithness; Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire; Cromartyshire and Nairnshire) were paired and sent a Member in rotation to alternate parliaments. The franchise (and qualification for a Member) was in freeholders who had crown land valued at 40s. ‘of old extent’ or £400 Scots (about £35 sterling). After 1743 most voters qualified on the £400 valuation, for the regulating Act of that year (16 Geo. III, c. 11) required claimants on land ‘of old extent’ to furnish a retour dated prior to the Act of 1681 on which the franchise was based. In Sutherland, where the earls of Sutherland held almost the whole county from the crown, the vote was also allowed to their vassals holding land rated at £200 Scots. Under the 1743 Act no person could be enrolled and so become eligible to vote until he had been in possession of his qualification for a year and a day. The roll of qualified freeholders was made up by the enrolled freeholders at their annual Michaelmas head court and immediately before every election.
The franchise was restricted to a small number of substantial landowners. Unlike their counterparts in England, the lesser gentry and small farmers had no say. According to published compilations of The Political State of Scotland, the total county electorate at Michaelmas 1788, the 1790 election and Michaelmas 1811 was 2,662, 2,625 and 2,417 respectively. From a certified copy of the rolls laid before the House in July 1820 it appears to have been 2,889 at the general election of that year. Only Ayrshire (220 voters in 1790), Perthshire (210 in 1814) and Fifeshire (206 in 1811) are known to have had an electorate of over 200 at some point. Aberdeenshire, Berwickshire and Kirkcudbright Stewartry had over 150 voters in at least one year; and Banffshire, Edinburghshire, Forfarshire, Inverness-shire, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Roxburghshire sometimes exceeded 100. The smallest known electorate was six in Cromartyshire in 1790. Anything approaching a full attendance of freeholders was uncommon: the highest number to poll in this period was 154 in Fifeshire in 1806, when there were only two absentees; and on only 11 other occasions did more than 100 freeholders actually vote.
Not only were many men with a considerable stake in their counties denied the franchise, but many enjoyed it who had no genuine interest there. A crucial feature of the post-Union representative system was the creation and multiplication of nominal, fictitious or ‘parchment’ votes. The key to this chicanery, which was taken to great lengths of sophistication by Scottish lawyers, lay in a feudal relic: it was not the mere possession of property that gave the right to vote, but the fact that it was held in ‘superiority’—that is, in a state of direct vassalage to the crown. Some of the original methods of making nominal votes were stopped by the Act of 1743, but they were superseded by subtler devices, whereby the superiority was separated from the property, subdivided and conveyed in fee, life-rent or wadset (mortgage) to friends or dependants. This involved a legal fiction by which a person or persons were enabled to claim a vote through nominal possession of superiority, while the owner of the land itself surrendered nothing of real value. The trust oath imposed by the Act of 1734 (7 Geo. II, c.16) which required a claimant, when challenged, to swear that he was the real owner of the property concerned, did not curb these practices. They enabled the owners of large amounts of property held in superiority to create personal electoral interests; allowed wealthy men to acquire exploitable superiorities through land purchase; and tempted the needy to barter them for money or favours. The overall effect was to concentrate electoral power still more in the hands of large landowners. The 1743 Act gave a review jurisdiction to the court of session, with appeal thence to the House of Lords; but the court’s attempts to deal with malpractice were largely ineffectual. By the 1780s the system was flagrantly corrupt. In their report of 1793 the Friends of the People calculated that over 1,200 of the 2,650 or so votes enrolled in 1788 had been nominal and that nominals had outnumbered real voters in 18 counties: the worst examples were Banffshire, where nominals accounted for 84 per cent of the roll; Inverness-shire (81); Dunbartonshire (77); Buteshire (75); Sutherland (74); Renfrewshire (72); and Elginshire (70).
In the last named and a few other counties some resident freeholders tried in the early 1780s to eradicate nominal votes, but they had scant success. In 1787 the court of session declared nominal and fictitious votes invalid in four cases from Renfrewshire, but then neutralized the effects of this by overruling objections to votes in three similar cases. A test case from Aberdeenshire, where a group of resident proprietors were challenging the validity of votes created by the 4th Duke of Gordon and 2nd Earl Fife, brought a firm intervention from the Lords. Objections to an enrolment on one of 25 life-rent conveyances from Gordon were dismissed in the court of session in 1789; but the case (Forbes v. Macpherson) was taken to the Lords where Lord Chancellor Thurlow delivered a judgment, 19 Apr. 1790, which pronounced against the validity of nominal and fictitious votes. He ruled that while the possessor of a right of superiority entitling him to an annual income of 1d. Scots blench-duty (peppercorn rent) was legally a freeholder if he was fairly the owner of that interest in the land, the confidential conveyance of a nominal right of superiority merely for the purpose of creating a vote was a fraud against the law. He therefore authorized the use of special interrogatories, which could be put to suspect claimants either at freeholders’ meetings or, within four months, before the court of session. In June 1790 three Aberdeenshire freeholders were disfranchised by the court in accordance with this decision. Some other loopholes for abuse were closed by the Act of 1797 (37 Geo. III, c.138), framed to deal with malpractice highlighted at the Ayrshire election of 1796. The provisions of the Act of 1782 disqualifying most government revenue officials from voting for Members were extended to bar them from voting for the praeses (chairman) and clerk of both election and Michaelmas meetings. This could be important: the praeses had a casting vote in the event of a tie and his election might well decide the outcome of the parliamentary election. This Act also allowed the trust oath to be put to claimants of the right to vote in the choice of praeses and clerk at election meetings, whereas previously it could only be put after they had been picked.
The 1790 ruling raised expectations of an end to the traffic in nominal and fictitious votes. The Edinburgh Advertiser, for example, welcomed it as ‘another great decision in favour of freedom’ which would
completely change the political interests of many of the counties ... To the independent freeholders, who have hitherto been outnumbered by the parchment barons, it is of the greatest importance. It restores them to that respectable situation which the fictions of the law have so long deprived them of.
The judgment and the resident proprietors’ campaigns which had presaged it did have an immediate effect in some counties. In Banffshire, where there was much hostility to Fife’s manufacture of votes, the roll fell from 122 in 1788 to 108 in 1790 and was purged to 39 by 1794. In Aberdeenshire it was reduced from 178 in 1788 to 126 in 1806, when two-thirds of the voters were genuine proprietors. In Inverness-shire the new Member, Norman Macleod, had the roll drastically thinned at Michaelmas 1790; and although some of Gordon’s voters were later reinstated by the court of session there were still only 21 on the roll in 1794. In Ayrshire, where competitive enrolment had swollen the electorate to 220 by 1790, the aspirant James Boswell had over 100 voters expunged the following year. The decision had a deterrent effect on dubious claimants in the 1790 contests for Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire and probably determined the outcome of the latter. Between 1790 and 1811 there were marked falls in the rolls of several other counties and a drop of eight per cent in the total county electorate.
Yet the sanctioning of interrogatories did not significantly curb the manufacture of nominal votes. The conveyance of nominal life-rent and wadset interests in superiorities was discouraged, but lawyers devised means of making the legal fiction more plausible by ensuring that claimants appeared to derive real revenue from their interests. Moreover, interrogatories were open to abuse; the court of session still lacked effective power to check malpractice; the freeholders retained too much freedom of action; and Thurlow’s judgment, by concentrating on intention as the criterion of nominality, was far from definitive. By 1820 the electorate had increased by almost 20 per cent since 1811 and was ten per cent larger than it had been in 1790. A significant proportion of these new votes must have been nominal and fictitious. In counties where there was a fierce struggle for supremacy votes were still manufactured in considerable numbers: Ayrshire, Edinburghshire, Fifeshire, Perthshire and Renfrewshire are the most striking examples.
In this period Ayrshire and Renfrewshire each had four contests. Nine counties were contested three times, four on two occasions and eight on one. Ten were uncontested. There were 45 contests out of a possible 210 at general elections, a slightly higher proportion than in England; but only six out of 62 by-elections were contested, as against 11 out of 82 in England. Overall, then, Scottish county elections were contested with about the same frequency as those in England.
There were few other points of resemblance. Influence based on property, tradition or family connexion played a part, but the nature of the Scottish system encouraged manipulation and chicanery. Public opinion outside the ranks of the ruling elite had virtually no impact on county elections. The scope for government interference was enormous, for almost all the voters were of a rank and education which made them eligible for appointment to places. Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, exploited this potential to the full and dominated the Scottish electorate for over 20 years. In counties where competing interests were evenly matched or where there was a serious threat to the one in possession, electoral activity could be almost continuous, though it was conducted within very restricted parameters. In all but the most tightly controlled counties there were plenty of aspiring candidates, but the number of bids that got no further than a futile attempt to alter the electoral arithmetic of the roll far exceeded those that went to a poll. Members, heads of interests and candidates had to court, sweeten and cajole the freeholders far more assiduously than in England. It was necessary to maintain constant vigilance over existing and pending qualifications to ensure that supporters’ votes would pass scrutiny and to exploit possible legal weaknesses in the opposing electoral forces. The annual Michaelmas head courts were often trials of strength whose outcome determined the result of an election a year or more ahead. Elections could be decided in advance by rulings in the courts on cases of disputed votes. A series of adverse decisions thwarted Boyd Alexander’s hopes of breaking the control established by a Whig junto in Renfrewshire in 1810; but in Kincardineshire and Kinross-shire interests based largely on manufactured votes, though resisted for a time by self-styled independents, eventually established supremacy after years of litigation.
The margin between victory and defeat could be desperately thin. The Cromartyshire and Renfrewshire elections of 1790, for example, were decided by one vote. In the former, indeed, the casting vote of the praeses was decisive, but the candidates had reached an arrangement to share the Parliament before the formality of the poll. The absence of a sick Berkshire voter from the Ayrshire election of 1812 enabled Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton to carry his choice of praeses by one vote and ultimately his own re-election by two. In 1790 Sir George Douglas used his casting vote as sitting Member for Roxburghshire (the sitting Member, if present, took the chair at the start of proceedings at freeholders’ meetings) to secure the election of a praeses in his interest, which proved decisive. In Stirlingshire the same year Sir Thomas Dundas carried his praeses by one vote. Petitions were lodged against both these returns and Douglas and Dundas were only narrowly confirmed in their seats after protracted disputes in the courts. Most petitions against Scottish county returns proved to be idle threats, but that of Montgomery Stewart for the Stewartry in 1802 was pursued to a successful conclusion.
The requirement for a claimant to be in possession of his qualification for a year and a day before enrolment made the timing of elections very important. The snap dissolutions of 1806 and 1807 blasted many hopes. There was deliberate chicanery in the fixing of election dates in Cromartyshire in 1790 and Fifeshire in 1802. Outright bribery was uncommon, but there are hints of it in Forfarshire and Perthshire in 1790, Stirlingshire in 1802 and Kincardineshire between 1805 and 1812. Ironically, there was an isolated instance of disorder in Lanarkshire in 1818 when the election was held in a church.
Eight counties were virtual pocket constituencies, effectively controlled by one interest: Argyllshire (5th and 6th Dukes of Argyll); Buteshire (1st Marquess of Bute); Caithness (Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster); Clackmannanshire (the Abercrombys of Tullibody); Nairnshire (1st Baron Cawdor); Peeblesshire (the Montgomerys of Stanhope); Selkirkshire (3rd and 4th Dukes of Buccleuch); and Sutherland (Lord and Lady Sutherland, later Stafford). Neglect by Bute and Cawdor made their interests appear occasionally vulnerable, but neither was seriously threatened; and an attack on the Sutherland interest in 1790 was easily repulsed. In a dozen seats one dominant interest or a stable combination of interests, often bolstered by government, retained control for all or most of this period, though they were sometimes hard-pressed by rivals. In the remaining counties, where the competing major interests were more finely balanced, alliances based on family connexions, tradition, opportunism or party political sympathies were formed, broken and realigned in the struggle for mastery. Pacts to divide a parliament between two closely matched candidates were made in Cromartyshire (1790), Dunbartonshire (1802), Elginshire (1806), Fifeshire (1802), Inverness-shire (1790), Orkney (1806) and Wigtownshire (1802), but most of them were not implemented. There were agreements involving pledges of reciprocal support at alternate elections in Ayrshire and Dunbartonshire (1784 and 1790), Orkney (1818 and 1820), Renfrewshire (1812 and 1818) and Wigtownshire (1790 and 1796). There was little scope for compromise between county and burgh seats, but Dundas engineered such an accommodation in Haddingtonshire and Haddington Burghs for the 1796 election.
While governments intervened extensively and effectively in Scottish county elections and there was an acknowledged if often implicit element of party conflict in many contests, party political issues seem to have been little aired. When Henry Dundas attacked the Whig Sir Thomas Dundas in Stirlingshire in 1789 county meetings were held to rally partisan support on both sides. Stirlingshire was not contested in 1807, when the Duke of Montrose did not feel strong enough to attack the Whig sitting Member, but he told Melville that ‘the question which occasioned the change of ministers’ would ‘have had great effect’. ‘No Popery’ sentiment had an impact in Ayrshire and Perthshire in 1807 and Catholic relief was again a subject of discussion in Perthshire in 1812, as was the property tax in 1816. The speeches of the candidates for Edinburghshire in 1818 were declarations of rival party loyalties and the issues of economical and parliamentary reform were raised in Caithness at this election. Few other instances of political debate have been found.
The commonest overt theme of conflict was that of independence against monopoly. This cry was, of course, often a blind for personal ambition or party rancour, exploited by men who condemned others for using methods, particularly the manufacture of nominal votes, to which they themselves resorted; but it did reflect a genuine strand of opinion among the resident proprietors of all but the most abjectly servile counties. Just as there was always a nucleus of resistance to Dundas’s hegemony, there were plenty of men who resented aristocratic dictation and high-handedness in electoral affairs. In Ross-shire, for example, Francis Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth, was in control from 1784 until his death in 1815 but some leading members of his clan were unhappy with his ‘foolish ideas of chieftaincy’. In 1809 Sir Charles Lockhart Ross exploited discontent with Seaforth’s domination and ran his nominee quite close. On Seaforth’s death his interest passed to his daughter, who married a Galloway man. In 1818 Thomas Mackenzie, taking an independent line overtly hostile to the Seaforth interest, rallied most of the resident clan members to beat their candidate, a relative newcomer to the county. Henry Dundas’s attempted introduction of William Grant, a rising ministerial lawyer, to Banffshire in the early 1790s inspired a number of resident proprietors to form the Banffshire Association. Their candidate came in on a vacancy in 1795, but they were unable to keep out Grant the following year when Fife, their chief enemy, acquiesced in his return. In 1806 Fife himself paid lip-service to the notion of independence when he tried to overthrow Grant, just as he backed the attempts of an independent interest in Aberdeenshire to unseat Gordon’s nominee in 1802, 1806 and 1807. In Perthshire, where the dominant Atholl interest was challenged by an uneasy alliance of independents and Whigs, a self-styled self-styled though probably informal electoral association had a fitful existence from 1812. Not all freeholders were prepared to submit tamely to the dictates of the ruling elite, but the bias of the electoral system towards the powerful, and the inhibiting effects of the political conservatism of most of the propertied class, made it difficult for dissidents to take effective action.
Almost all the Members and candidates for Scottish counties belonged to old landed families. There are few traces of electoral activity by groups or individuals with special economic or social interests. A rare instance was the Ross-shire election of 1818 referred to above, which was partly a struggle ‘between the landed interest and a West India interest’. A London West India merchant, Duncan Davidson, sat for Cromartyshire, but his family had been long established in the area. The same is true of the West Indians Robert Graham (Stirlingshire) and William McDowall (Renfrewshire); the East Indians Boyd Alexander (Renfrewshire), John Balfour (Orkney) and David Scott I (Forfarshire); and of Sir Archibald Edmonstone (Dunbartonshire), Hugh Innes (Ross-shire) and John Marjoribanks (Buteshire and Berwickshire), who had banking or mercantile interests or backgrounds. On the other hand George Graham, who had made a nabob’s fortune in India and remained active in East Indian trade after his return home, was a newcomer to Kinross-shire, where he established his interest by purchase in 1777. Henry Glassford (Dunbartonshire) and Archibald Speirs (Renfrewshire) were the sons of leading Glasgow ‘tobacco lords’.
Only men of Scottish blood were returned for the counties in this period, though George Harley Drummond, great-grandson of the Perthshire-born founder of the family’s London bank and son of one of its partners by an English heiress, was born and educated in England. He bought his way into the Kincardineshire seat through property purchase, creation of nominal votes and ostentatious spending. More decorum was shown by Charles Grant I who, having been born in humble circumstances in Inverness-shire, prospered in the Bengal civil service and became a major force in the East India Company. In 1802, almost 40 years after leaving Scotland, he responded to an invitation from kinsmen to reestablish the Grant interest in Inverness-shire, bought an estate there and was elected. By serving the county assiduously in Parliament he built up an interest which lasted for over 30 years.
The Scottish burghs returned 15 Members to the Commons. Edinburgh sent one and the other 65 royal burghs were grouped into 14 electoral districts, nine containing five burghs each and five having four. In the districts each burgh council elected a delegate and the delegates then met to choose the Member.1 Parliamentary elections were held at each burgh in the group in rotation and the burgh whose turn it was became the returning burgh for that general election and any subsequent by-elections. The delegate for the returning burgh had a casting vote which was, of course, crucial in the groups with four constituent burghs.
The burgh councils were nearly all closed, self-electing oligarchies, which ranged in size from nine in Inverurie and Kintore to 33 in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Selkirk. Two-thirds numbered 20 or less and the average size was 19. The number of men with a say in parliamentary elections in the districts averaged about 90: at one extreme Perth Burghs had 125 electors; at the other, Inverness Burghs had 70. In all, some 1,280 had the right to vote, while the combined population of the 66 burghs in 1801 was about 409,000. Some were mere villages: the population of the Anstruther district was 5,000 and that of the Wigtown group about 5,900. The 33 councilmen who chose the Member for Edinburgh administered a city whose population rose from 80,000 in 1801 to 138,000 in 1821. The rapidly expanding industrial and commercial centre of Glasgow, whose population of 77,000 in 1801 almost doubled by 1821, was shackled to three burghs with a combined population of little over 7,000 in 1801. Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth were also bracketed with comparatively insignificant neighbours and Paisley, the third largest urban centre in 1801, was unrepresented.
There were 36 contests out of a possible 105 at general elections, but only eight of the 47 by-elections were contested. The Ayr district was uncontested in this period. Elgin Burghs had one contest; Edinburgh and eight districts had two; Aberdeen and Linlithgow Burghs had five; Glasgow Burghs had six; and Stirling Burghs had nine. Elections were decided by the casting vote of the returning burgh 11 times: Dysart Burghs in 1790; Glasgow Burghs in 1802, 1806, 1812 and 1818; Inverness Burghs in 1802 (when Alexander Cumming Gordon, as delegate for Nairn, returned himself with its casting vote) and 1807; Linlithgow Burghs in 1806, 1807 and 1819; and Wigtown Burghs in 1790. There was a double return from Stirling Burghs in 1802 and the election of 1818 for this district was declared void on petition. The result of the 1802 election for Glasgow Burghs was reversed on petition, but all other petitions, if not abandoned, were unsuccessful.
Councils and delegates were susceptible to the normal pressures of influence, bribery and intimidation, but the grouping system made management more difficult than in most English corporation boroughs. Many councils viewed their parliamentary franchise as a marketable commodity which could provide a useful source of municipal revenue, as well as rewards of money or patronage for individual councilmen. Patrons and Members had to be good providers of these spoils. Some councils, especially in burghs which held the key to a district, were not only greedy but extremely sensitive and liable to create trouble if they were not handled tactfully. No district was directly under the control of government, but ministerial influence, channelled through patrons, Members, candidates and leading councilmen, often proved decisive, especially in the more open ones. With care and attention and the requisite expenditure of time and money it was possible to maintain an interest for many years: but, as William Maule wrote of Aberdeen Burghs in 1818, it was ‘dirty work’ in most of the districts.
Edinburgh was the seat and headquarters of Henry Dundas, who easily thwarted such sporadic challenges as were made to his domination of its affairs. After his death his son and the 4th Duke of Buccleuch combined to keep the council largely quiescent. Three districts were under very firm control throughout this period. The 5th and 6th Dukes of Argyll combined as senior partners with the 1st Marquess of Bute to return the Members for Ayr Burghs. The Anstruther family repelled Dundas’s attack on Anstruther Burghs in 1790, came to terms with him and remained in command thereafter. Wigtown Burghs were comfortably dominated by the 7th and 8th Earls of Galloway. In addition Dysart Burghs, where there was a blatantly corrupt contest in 1790, were controlled with comparative ease after 1796 by the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn in alliance with the Fergusons of Raith, who later dominated the partnership.
Three districts were controlled, though not without difficulty, by a stable alliance of interests operating a system of alternating nomination to successive parliaments. Elgin Burghs had its venal elements, but the 7th Earl of Findlater and his successors the Grants combined with the 5th and 6th Earls of Kintore to thwart Fife’s pretensions. There were some particularly dirty dealings here in 1807. The 8th Earl of Lauderdale and the Dalrymples of North Berwick defeated Lord Elcho in a venal fight for Haddington Burghs in 1790 and held him at defiance thereafter. Lord and Lady Sutherland and Lord Seaforth were always able to secure the return of their nominees for Tain Burghs.
The other seven districts were more open, venal and troublesome. The 4th Duke of Queensberry regained control of Dumfries Burghs in 1790, when he and his rivals spent over £20,000, but his interest, allied with those of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch and the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, was defeated in 1806 by the Whigs, backed by a friendly government. Queensberry and Buccleuch re-established their grip in 1807, when their friends were back in power, but the troublesome burgh of Dumfries was only quietened when its financial demands were met. In Aberdeen Burghs, where Montrose held the key, money and the lure of government patronage carried the day until 1818, when there was a surprising turn of events, which is considered below. In the volatile Glasgow district, an arena for wealthy merchants, much depended on the returning burgh. Control of the Inverness district, which contained two relatively open burghs and two under stable management, also largely depended on which had the return. There was much venality in Linlithgow Burghs, where Queensberry and Buccleuch and their Whig rivals the Hamiltons seemed determined to outdo one another in mismanagement and neglect. The venal Perth district was represented for most of the period by wealthy men with commercial interests. The palm for corruption goes to the ‘sad set’ of Stirling Burghs, the most unmanageable constituency in Scotland, which constantly switched its allegiance to the highest bidder.
Five Englishmen sat for burgh seats in this period: William Fremantle and John Villiers (Tain), James Graham (Wigtown), William Lamb and Dudley North (Haddington). Two Irishmen can be added to these outsiders: Lyndon Evelyn (Wigtown) and Lord Stopford (Linlithgow). The Englishman Henry Clinton contested Haddington Burghs in 1807; and Henry Brougham, an Anglo-Scot who was born and educated in Edinburgh but made his political way in England, was defeated in Stirling Burghs in 1812.
The campaign for burgh reform which, though aimed after 1785 at overthrowing the corrupt system of municipal administration in the burghs rather than at changing their parliamentary representation, had an electoral impact in the Aberdeen district in 1818. Dundas easily stifled the issue when it was incompetently raised in the House by Richard Sheridan between 1787 and 1793. It was revived in 1817, when government reluctantly authorized a poll election and the establishment of a more liberal constitution at Montrose, which had been disfranchised by the court of session because of irregularities in the 1816 council elections. As a result, popular elements obtained a greater voice in its municipal affairs. Reformers in Aberdeen (which was bankrupt and disfranchised at the time of the 1818 election), Dundee and Inverness tried to follow suit, but ministers, in blatant defiance of precedent, refused to concede any more poll warrants. The Aberdeen district produced the most surprising election result of this period in 1818 when the radical Joseph Hume, standing on a platform of parliamentary and economical reform, defeated the well-entrenched ministerialist sitting Member. Money may have helped him, but the ‘spirit of independence’, as one of his abettors, termed it, certainly played a part. Lord Archibald Hamilton drew heavily on the outrageous case of Aberdeen when he argued for burgh reform in the House in 1819 and unexpectedly secured the appointment of a committee of inquiry. Its report and those of committees appointed in 1820 and 1821 amply confirmed the reformers’ allegations; but the ancien régime of municipal government remained unchanged until 1833.
Such was the electoral system which the ruthless but disarmingly genial Henry Dundas exploited to make himself ‘the Pharos of Scotland’. He entered the House in 1774 and soon emerged as an outstanding parliamentarian. From 1775 he served in successive ministries as an enterprising lord advocate, keenly aware of his political value and bent on enhancing it by establishing himself as the spokesman of the Scottish ruling class. Dismissed by the Coalition in 1783, he attached himself to William Pitt, with whom he returned to office not merely as treasurer of the navy (a post he held until 1800), but as Pitt’s closest friend and principal ally in the parliamentary struggles of early 1784. He was given the management of Scotland at the general election, but may have promised more than he delivered. Soon afterwards he became the dominant member of the Board of Control, where he remained supreme until 1801. Indian patronage greatly aided his extension of his personal hold over the small elite who controlled the Scottish electoral process. In 1791 he acquired the Home secretaryship, which he exchanged in 1794 for War and Colonies. By then he was near the zenith of his power in Scotland, commanding an authority beyond that established by the 3rd Duke of Argyll between 1747 and 1761. Any competent manager could have exploited the Scottish electoral system, and the venality and authoritarianism of most of those who ran it, to secure the return of a sizeable phalanx of reliable ministerial Members. Dundas was a born machine-politician, but he accomplished more than this. The difference between his and the Argyll regime lay in the fact that he was a major British politician, commanding vast resources of patronage and intimately involved in the direction of national affairs. His ascendancy both reflected and advanced the integration of Scotland with the rest of the kingdom and the external expansion of the state. In 1784 his power lay mainly in the Lothians, where his chief ally was the Duke of Buccleuch. Three years later he concluded a ‘pacification’ of the north east by forcing the Duke of Gordon to accept a compromise with his rival Earl Fife, which drew in the other leading local interests to guarantee the return of friends for Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Elginshire and Elgin Burghs at the next election. He later helped the supposedly dependable Norman Macleod to secure Inverness-shire and at by-elections brought Ayrshire and Fifeshire within his orbit.
It would be a distortion to suggest that Scottish electoral politics, particularly in the first half of this period, turned wholly on party conflict, but the influence of party became marked in the 1780s. A group of Edinburgh Whig lawyers, led by Henry Erskine, lord advocate in the Coalition, was the focus for opposition activities. The other leading figures in this côterie, who from 1785 styled themselves the Independent Friends, were David Cathcart, John Clerk, Archibald Fletcher, James Gibson, Adam Gillies and Malcolm Laing. The principal intermediaries between them and the organized opposition in England were Sir Thomas Dundas, who had interests in three Scottish counties and one district and, more important, William Adam. Adam, who was in the confidence of the Duke of Portland and close to the Prince of Wales, was the national opposition’s principal man of business and would have become secretary to the Treasury had the Regency crisis brought them to power. Another significant figure was Fox’s crony the 8th Earl of Lauderdale.
When government survived the Regency crisis and Dundas completed his election preparations it became clear that opposition would do well even to hold their own in Scotland. Professor Ginter’s examination of Adam’s election correspondence2 suggests that he and Portland had dealings of some sort with at least 17 Scottish seats between 1788 and 1790, but there was no efficiently co-ordinated attempt to check Dundas’s advance. The detailed survey of the counties compiled by Lawrence Hill in 1788-9 and sent to Adam and Erskine revealed the extent of his hold over the leading families. Ministers anticipated a return of 35 friends and ten opponents; and after the election Portland was told that he still had ‘ten certain adherents’.
In fact, opposition could count on only four sure friends: Adam, returned for Ross-shire despite Dundas’s harassment; Sir Thomas Dundas, who barely survived Dundas’s attack in Stirlingshire; Lauderdale’s brother Thomas Maitland, who defeated a fellow-oppositionist in Haddington Burghs; and John Shaw Stewart, who held Renfrewshire in a contest in which Dundas took no conspicuous part. They could also claim the independent Sir John Sinclair, who had defected from government on the Regency and frustrated Dundas’s efforts to impede his return for Caithness; and they might also expect some support from William Grieve and Patrick Miller, returned on the interest of the 4th Duke of Queensberry, who was currently in rebellion against government. Sir John Anstruther and George Graham were doubtful quantities. Ministers could count as friends 36 Members, at least 27 of whom were tied to Dundas by kinship, friendship or obligation. Nine counties and seven districts were contested, the highest total at any election in this period. Ministers made gains after contests in Linlithgowshire, Orkney and Aberdeen, Dysart, Perth and Wigtown Burghs; and without opposition in Aberdeenshire, Dunbartonshire and the Elgin and Glasgow districts. Two repentant defectors on the Regency, Sir Robert Laurie and Alexander Stewart, came in again under government auspices. The only clear ministerial loss was in Linlithgow Burghs.
Adam, Dundas, Grieve, Maitland, Miller, Shaw Stewart and Sinclair voted against government on Oczakov, 12 Apr. 1791. Soon afterwards Macleod defected to opposition, but he did not vote with them on Oczakov, 1 Mar. 1792, when Adam, Dundas, Maitland, Shaw Stewart and Sinclair were in the minority. Queensberry’s revolt having lapsed, Grieve and Miller apparently ceased to act with opposition after 1791, although Miller joined the Whig Club in 1796, when he may have voted against the war. Henry Dundas was at the head of some 20 Scottish Members who opposed the relief of their countrymen from the Test Act, 10 May 1791, when Adam, Sir Thomas Dundas, Grieve, Macleod, Maitland, Shaw Stewart and Sinclair were joined in the minority by the ministerialists Sir Adam Fergusson, Alexander Stewart and, according to one list, Duncan Davidson, as well as by the doubtful George Graham. Only Macleod and Maitland were actively involved with the Friends of the People in 1792. They voted for Fox’s amendment to the address, 13 Dec., in company with Adam and Shaw Stewart. Alarmism at the excesses of the French Revolution and the spread of radical and reforming activity at home, followed by the outbreak of war with France, strengthened the Dundas regime in Scotland. Henry’s nephew Robert Dundas, the lord advocate, supervised the supression of radicalism, which was effectively crushed by 1795. Shaw Stewart lapsed from opposition after 1792, though he may have opposed the suspension of habeas corpus in 1795. Sir Thomas Dundas, thought of for Windham’s ‘third party’ in 1793, opposed the suspension, 16 May 1794, but followed Portland into the junction with government. Sinclair attended a ‘third party’ meeting and supported the war and government thereafter. Only Adam, Macleod and Maitland were left in regular opposition after 1792. Macleod alone voted for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1793, and he withdrew support from the Friends of the People six months later. Adam, who opposed reform, was obliged to vacate his seat in 1794 and Maitland was absent on active service from June 1795. Only Macleod was in active opposition when Parliament was dissolved in 1796. The Foxite William Maule came in for Forfarshire in April, but had no time to make any mark.
While the pressure of business forced Dundas to delegate detailed management of his electoral empire to his nephew, he did not fail to extend and protect it. Queensberry’s transfer of responsibility for most of his electoral interests to Buccleuch in 1791 strengthened Dundas’s hand, as did his own marriage in 1793 to the stepsister of the 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, a powerful force in the Lowlands. The same year he made peace with Sir John Anstruther, who in 1794 returned his nephew William Dundas for Anstruther Burghs. His plan to secure the election of his son Robert for Perthshire the same year misfired, but the new Member was a family connexion and supporter of government. He had some trouble with the restive Fife in Banffshire, the vainglorious 7th Earl of Galloway in Kirkcudbright and the clannish Grants in Elginshire, but brought them all to heel. He neutralized the 7th Marquess of Tweeddale’s intrigue against him in Haddingtonshire by effecting a compromise which drew in the burghs and took them out of Lauderdale’s hands for the next election. A rebellion by John Balfour of Orkney was of no account, for Dundas could rely on his rivals the Honyman family, who now had the upper hand. Maule’s return, an expedient to safeguard Forfarshire for Sir David Carnegie, one of Dundas’s victims in 1790, was a blow, but Dundas could live with the knowledge that Maule’s interest there was impregnable.
Scotland received slipshod treatment in the ministerial election survey of 1795, which only contained predictions for a future Parliament; made no forecasts for Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire and Ayr Burghs; omitted Inverness Burghs; and included Caithness, which had no return. For the 42 seats covered it predicted a return of 39 ‘pro’, one ‘con’ (Renfrewshire) and one ‘doubtful’ (Forfarshire). Nearer to the election ministers anticipated the return of 43 friends and two opponents. Only four seats were contested. The contests for Ayrshire and Dunbartonshire had no significant party political content, but ministerialists beat Foxite aspirants in Berwickshire and Stirling Burghs. Dundas almost achieved his stated ambition of making a clean sweep for government, who could reasonably rely on 43 supporters. The only doubtful quantities were Carnegie and Sir James St. Clair Erskine, who frustrated Dundas’s attempt to secure Dysart Burghs for a kinsman. Carnegie is not known to have opposed Pitt’s government and St. Clair Erskine was absent on active service until 1799. The allegiance of George Keith Elphinstone, Adam’s brother-in-law, might also be questioned; but he owed advancement in his naval career, which kept him away from Westminster, to Dundas, who sanctioned his return for Stirlingshire.
Some doubts subsequently arose about the loyalty of Hew Hamilton Dalrymple, but, ambitious for an Irish peerage, he was reconciled to Dundas by 1797, when William Bontine, returned for Dunbartonshire as a supporter of government, found that he could not conscientiously fulfil that role and was replaced by Alexander Smollett. In 1800 the ministerialist Alexander Cochrane defeated a Foxite in Stirling Burghs in the only contested by-election of this Parliament; and Dundas secured for the advocate’s nephew, Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, the retention of his seat for Ross-shire by ceding the next return for Cromartyshire to Lord Seaforth, who also agreed to extend his co-operation with Lady Sutherland in Tain Burghs. On the debit side, the death in 1799 of the 8th Duke of Hamilton, whose successor had two Foxite sons of parliamentary age, virtually ensured the removal of Lanarkshire from the ministerial camp and posed a lesser threat in Linlithgow Burghs. In 1800 Fife and Galloway created serious trouble in Aberdeenshire and Kirkcudbright; and in 1801 Dundas quarrelled with William Honyman (Lord Armadale SCJ), whose brother was sitting for Orkney.
At least 17 of the 57 men who occupied Scottish seats between 1796 and February 1801 were at various times away on active service. Twenty others have left no trace of parliamentary activity. Three Scots, Sir John Macpherson, Sir William Pulteney and Sir John Sinclair, were prominent in the ‘armed neutrality’ and ‘third party’ ventures of 1797, but none was then sitting for a Scottish seat. Of those who were, only Alexander Allardyce and William Fullarton became marginally involved. Sixteen Scottish Members joined Dundas in the government majority on the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. When Pitt and Dundas fell from power in 1801 not one was in active opposition, although the allegiance of Elphinstone and St. Clair Erskine might still be queried. Dundas’s relations with Fullarton were badly strained and William Stewart might be thought suspect on account of Dundas’s feud with his father Galloway.
After overcoming initial doubts, Dundas supported Addington and most of the Scottish Members seem to have followed suit. Only Stewart supported the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802. A number actively supported the new ministry, notably William Dundas, who stayed at the Board of Control, and Sir William Grant, Pitt’s solicitor-general, who became master of the rolls to assist ministers in debate. Other known supporters were Sir William Erskine, Fullarton, Patrick Heron, Dundas’s brother-in-law Alexander Hope, Sir Robert Laurie, William McDowall, David Scott I and Sir John Stuart. In March 1802 Lauderdale’s brother came in again and endorsed Addington’s peace policy.
Dundas, now inclined to take a peerage, was bent on remaining supreme in Scotland. He proposed to delegate its management to his nephews William and Robert, who in May 1801 became lord chief baron and was replaced as advocate by Dundas’s wife’s brother-in-law Charles Hope of Granton and as Member for Midlothian by Dundas’s son Robert. Addington seemed at first to acquiesce in this arrangement—if such it was—but when he consulted Dundas about Wigtownshire, where Galloway’s son was angling for government support, he was brusquely warned off. They co-operated uneasily over the by-election for Aberdeen Burghs late in 1801, but Lord Glenbervie, a member of government who was passed over for the seat, thought it curious that Lord Pelham, the Home secretary, was ‘left entirely out’ of the ‘management of Scotland’. Pelham, he noted, was ‘far from understanding that it should continue so’. Dundas and Addington clashed bitterly over election arrangements for Fifeshire and Stirlingshire early in 1802. The truth was that Dundas resented not being consulted about proposals which jeopardized his personal schemes. At a peace-making interview with Addington in April he promised to support government, albeit not very actively, as long as Pitt did; and at the general election their clash of interests in Fifeshire and Stirlingshire was played down.
There were contests in six counties and five districts. That for Stirling Burghs produced a double return, determined in 1803 in favour of the ministerialist Alexander Cochrane. Opposition challenges were repulsed in Aberdeenshire and Linlithgow Burghs, but Lord Archibald Hamilton came in for Lanarkshire unopposed. The contests in Dunbartonshire, Inverness-shire and the Glasgow, Inverness and Wigtown districts were largely struggles for local supremacy. Dundas relished his defeat of Galloway’s sons in the Stewartry (later reversed on petition) and Wigtownshire; but his personal backing of Sir Robert Abercromby against the government candidate in Stirlingshire was unsuccessful. The outcome of the election may be calculated at 39 friends of government, including many attached primarily to Dundas and Pitt; one Foxite opposition (Hamilton); two independent (Charles Grant I and Sinclair); and three doubtful or uncertain (Carnegie, Robert Honyman I and St. Clair Erskine).
Two contemporary evaluations of the returns have been found. Charles Innes of Clerkseat, formerly Sir Thomas Dundas’s election manager, who in June 1802 had sent Pelham a singularly inaccurate election forecast,3 took stock of the results for government. He classed 26 Members as ‘either independent altogether or in direct opposition to Mr Dundas’: eight were considered ‘hostile’, ‘decidedly hostile’ or ‘in opposition’ to Dundas; ten were described as ‘independent of Dundas’; six received no additional comment; and the Members for Kirkcudbright (where Montgomery Stewart was correctly expected to oust Patrick Heron on petition) and Stirling Burghs (double return) were included by implication. Innes categorized a further 13 Members as ‘those who will most probably support administration, even if Mr Dundas were to go into opposition’; and the remaining six, namely Dundas himself, his son and nephew, his brothers-in-law Alexander and Charles Hope and Lord Advocate Hope, as ‘those who would probably adhere to Mr Dundas’. Observing that Robert and William Dundas and Charles Hope of Granton held ‘valuable offices during pleasure’ and that Alexander and Charles Hope had military appointments, he concluded that Dundas’s ‘few friends on whom he can rely ... dare not oppose any administration’. The compiler of a survey which has survived in Dundas’s papers4 reckoned 26 Members to be ‘invariably attached as partisans to the politics of Mr Pitt and Mr Dundas’. Nine, though ‘certainly supporters’ of the ministry, he thought would ‘decidedly vote’ for Pitt’s return to power at the crunch. Five were classed as ‘supporters of the present government’: William MacLean Clephane, Charles Elphinstone Fleeming, Sir William Erskine, Fullarton and Maitland. The remaining five were ‘opposition at heart’: Carnegie (queried), Hamilton, Honyman, St. Clair Erskine and Sinclair. Of the 26 described by Innes as ‘independent of’ or ‘in direct opposition to’ Dundas, five appeared on the Dundas list as government supporters; eight as temporary Pittite friends of the ministry; five as ‘opposition’; and eight (including Heron) as ‘partisans’ of Pitt and Dundas. Twelve of the 13 who in Innes’s view would remain loyal to government even if Dundas turned hostile were claimed as ‘partisans’ by the Dundases. They classed the other, James Farquhar, as a Pittite supporter of government. The Dundas appraisal proved to be by far the more accurate. Innes’s was flawed by false optimism and a defective knowledge of the Scottish electoral scene. He later sent Pelham a ‘state of the principal or leading interests in each county’ and Fullarton also offered to advise ministers on Scottish elections; but if they hoped to assert themselves effectively and independently of Dundas, they needed better aides than these.
Dundas was created Viscount Melville in December 1802 and for several months thereafter was benignly disposed towards Addington. Most of the Scottish Members are not known to have opposed him before March 1804 and at least a dozen were active supporters. Maitland took office in August 1803 and, giving point to Caroline Fox’s comment that he ‘bids fair to be the Dundas of future administrations’, he immediately warned Addington that in Scotland the Melvillites were ‘lukewarm’ or even ‘hostile’ to government, decrying their fitness to direct the renewed war. To counteract this, he counselled, it was vital that ministers ‘should by some act’ make it clear that they and not Melville had the management of Scotland and the disposal of its patronage. Nothing came of this or of any gubernatorial pretensions entertained by Maitland, who later found an outlet for them as ‘King Tom’ of Ceylon. Clephane, Thomas Graham I and Sir Charles Lockhart Ross supported the Prince’s financial claims, 4 Mar. 1803; Hamilton opposed the renewal of war, 24 May; and Sir William Erskine, a general supporter of government, voted with Fox for a council of generals, 2 Aug. 1803. More significantly, nine Scottish Members probably voted in the minority of 58 for Pitt’s question for the order of the day on Patten’s censure motion, 3 June: Melville’s son, his nephew (who resigned his office forthwith), his brother-in-law Alexander Hope and kinsman Graham certainly did; and they were probably joined by Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton, James Ferguson, John Rutherfurd, Sir John Stuart and John Villiers. Innes had classed two of them as ‘independent’ of Melville and three as men who would remain loyal to Addington regardless of his line. At least 16 Scottish Members definitely participated in the onslaught which overthrew Addington in 1804, when William Dundas mustered votes but Melville himself had to be dragged to London by Pitt. Lord Advocate Hope covered his embarrassment by going to ground. Of the 16, Dalrymple Hamilton had come in after the 1802 election; 13 had then been claimed as ‘partisans’ by the Melvillites; and two (Hamilton and Sinclair) classed as ‘opposition at heart’. By Innes’s reckoning, they consisted of three Melvillite stalwarts, four ‘independent’ of or ‘hostile’ to Melville and eight who would stand by Addington. The office-holders Sir William Grant and Maitland certainly did so, along with Carnegie and Erskine. Ministers may also have received support from Boyd Alexander, Lord John Campbell, William Dickson and Charles Grant I. Honyman, though absent at sea, was also considered a potential supporter.
When Pitt returned to power with Melville at the Admiralty in May 1804 ministers evidently counted on the support of 38 Scottish Members. The remnant were classed as two Foxites (Carnegie and Hamilton); one Addingtonian (Alexander); one Prince’s friend (Elphinstone Fleeming); and three ‘doubtful’ (Maitland, St. Clair Erskine and Sinclair). Carnegie, Hamilton Maitland and Sinclair opposed the additional force bill in June, as did George Cumming, who became ‘doubtful Pitt’ in the ministerial list of September. Government supporters were now reckoned at 39, the loss of Cumming and Farquhar, who was inexplicably transferred to ‘doubtful Fox and Grenville’, being more than offset by the detachment from opposition of Alexander, Elphinstone Fleeming and Maitland. Sinclair made his peace with Pitt in 1805, but for the moment remained ‘doubtful’. Hamilton, the only Scottish Member in regular opposition to government until he was joined in the House in 1805 by James Macdonald and William Maule, was naturally classed under ‘Fox and Grenville’. So too were Carnegie and St. Clair Erskine, but they were subsequently allocated to ‘persons in opposition not quite certain’. Both departed from the House in 1805. Twenty-eight Scottish Members, including Farquhar and ‘Sinclair’, voted against the censure of Melville for alleged misappropriation, 8 Apr. 1805. This was 62 per cent of the Scottish contingent, as against 33 per cent of the whole House. In the hostile majority with Hamilton were Cumming and Montgomery Stewart, who was settling old family scores; but both were named among 41 supporters of government in July 1805. Hamilton, Macdonald and Maule were the opposition trio and Robert Dallas was classed as ‘doubtful Sidmouth’.
Melville’s disgrace, Pitt’s death and the formation of the Grenville coalition ministry early in 1806 excited expectations of an end to the Melvillite supremacy. The first move was made by an Irishman, Francis, 2nd Earl of Moira, a confidant of the Prince, who had recently cut a figure in Scotland as commander-in-chief and husband of Lady Loudoun. Offered the Ordnance, which he thought less than his due, he accepted it ‘on condition of having the patronage of Scotland’. To make this claim credible he required the co-operation of the Melvillites, which he sought by assuring them that he would ‘leave the interests and connections [in Scotland] exactly as they are at present’ and hinting that Grenville would soon split with Fox. Melville, professing to want political retirement, bitter towards Grenville for his ‘proscription’ of his former Pittite colleagues and resentful of the impeachment proceedings being prepared against him, was initially non-committal. His son stalled Moira until 10 Feb. 1806, when he informed him that as the leading Pittites had decided to keep together, eschewing factious opposition but upholding Pittite principles and remaining available as a corps de réserve for Grenville if he broke with Fox, their Scottish friends could not form any separate connexion. At the same time, he advised Moira that few Scottish Members would go into ‘contentious’ opposition unless they were provoked. Melville reluctantly approved this line, though he thought that if Moira could detach the Prince from Fox, as he had insinuated, he would be worth cultivating at almost any price. In fact Moira, as Robert Dundas had suspected all along, had overrated his pretensions, which Lauderdale, for one, was determined to resist. He had to surrender, on a pretext, his claim to the management of Scotland, which ministers decided to leave in the hands of the Home secretary, Earl Spencer and, in matters of Treasury patronage, of Grenville himself.
William Dundas lost no time in becoming the first Pittite convert to the new ministry. Ostensibly, he wanted to preserve his seat, which he owed to the Grenvillite Staffords; but in truth he feared that the Melvillite interest, which he aspired to manage, would be destroyed if the kind of hostility to government being voiced by his brother the chief baron was allowed to prevail. He informed Grenville that his family would remain well disposed if Lauderdale was not allowed to direct a purge and received assurances that no proscription was intended. Melville never trusted him again after this episode. While Robert Dundas believed that Grenville, Spencer and Moira favoured moderation, he foresaw that it would be impossible for long to please both them and the Pittites, particularly the militants led by Canning.
Dundas’s fears that Lauderdale and the Scottish Foxites would get the better of Grenville were not immediately realized. Lauderdale was distracted from Scottish affairs by the row over his proposed appointment as governor-general of Bengal. His expected replacement of Gordon as keeper of the great seal, for which Fox was keen from the start, did not immediately take place. There was tension between the Grenvillites and the Scottish Foxites from an early stage. On 13 Feb. 1806 Henry Erskine warned Fox that rumoured maintenance of the Melvillite regime for expediency’s sake would be anathema to his Scottish friends, who required not necessarily a ‘rigid system of expulsion’, but at least a clear demonstration that Melville’s supremacy was over. Early in March Erskine was appointed lord advocate, John Clerk was made solicitor-general, Adam Gillies became the Prince’s advocate and David Cathcart his solicitor-general. At about this time a committee, consisting certainly of Lauderdale and Stafford and probably also of Moira, Erskine and Lord Douglas, brother of Lord Archibald Hamilton, was set up to consider further changes. Their initial report has survived in Fox’s papers.5 Sixteen offices and their incumbents were listed under ‘officers holding places in Scotland during pleasure, proposed to be removed’; and a further ten under ‘officers, holding places in Scotland during pleasure, with observations’, which were mostly to the effect that they should be left undisturbed on condition of good behaviour. It was decided—thanks, apparently, to a ‘stout battle’ by Stafford—not to interfere with the lord lieutenancies ‘reserving the principle of removal to be exercised if provoked by any act of marked hostility’, though eight were marked for reconsideration. Lauderdale admitted the inadequacy of immediately available patronage to satisfy the demands of their friends, but wanted ‘a steady attention to their interests as things fall’. He urged Fox to press strongly for action on the report, as did Erskine, who stressed the importance of early removals among the law officers of the revenue departments. Fox apparently laid the report before his colleagues late in March, but Grenville and Spencer insisted that their line ‘should not be too much marked with the eagerness of party politics’ and no action was taken on it for over two months.
Early in June Sir William Cunynghame and James Gibson received revenue places at the expense of Melvillites. This did not satisfy the likes of Douglas and Maule, especially when Melville’s acquittal was flamboyantly celebrated in Edinburgh and his son promoted a meeting of the Signet to vote congratulations. Ministers made a limited response to the Scottish Foxites’ demands for a wholesale purge. Lauderdale replaced Gordon and was admitted to the Privy Council, though soon afterwards he went to Paris on his abortive peace mission. He was almost certainly present when leading ministers met to consider further changes on 16 July. In a ‘memorandum of the conversation that passed’6 six removals were recommended, together with initiatives intended to strengthen the ministerial interest in a number of constituencies. Erskine was sent to Edinburgh to promote the ministry’s plan to remodel the Scottish judicial system through reform of the court of session and, so Maule believed, to break Melville’s power. Yet it was not until 28 Sept. 1806—after the failure of Grenville’s overture to Canning and the reshuffle of government following Fox’s death—that Erskine, having meanwhile had to justify the proposed changes to Grenville and Spencer by arguing that only the appointment of staunch Foxites would sufficiently mark the extinction of Melville’s power, received a firm assurance that they would be implemented. Two days later Adam, summoned by Grenville to discuss the ‘state of the Scotch representation’, impressed on him the importance of taking some ‘decisive’ act of reprisal against at least one prominent celebrator of Melville’s acquittal. Grenville agreed, but neither this nor the promised legal changes had been carried out when Parliament was dissolved a few weeks later.
Against this background the political behaviour of the Scottish Members in the 1806 session may be considered. James Brodie and Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton voted against government on Lord Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar.; but both voted with ministers for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., along with ten other Scottish Members. Ten opposed repeal, including William Dundas, by prior arrangement with Grenville. John Rutherfurd voted against the American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806, and Sir William Grant was openly hostile to government by then. At the dissolution, opponents of the ministry may be reckoned at 16, though they were not all politically active. Twenty Members may be considered as supporters of government, but at least five (Boyd Alexander, David Clephane, William Dickson, Thomas Graham I and Sir John Sinclair) probably backed them merely as the government of the day, while Brodie, Dalrymple Hamilton, William Dundas, Francis Grant and William McDowall certainly did so out of self-interest. The remaining nine may be classed as doubtful quantities who had not yet committed themselves.
Early in 1806 Adam compiled a Scottish electoral survey7 in which he reviewed every constituency except Nairnshire and identified their sitting Members and leading interests as either ‘Dundas etc. interest’ or ‘Whig interest’, by which he clearly meant Foxite. He hoped for Whig successes in about 15 seats and noted that Foxite candidates were at work in at least four others. In March 1806 Thomas Grenville sent his brother ‘a book of intelligence respecting the present state of the parliamentary interest’ in Scotland ‘drawn up by a very sensible and well-informed man who is connected confidentially with Lord Stafford’. Spencer later referred to ‘two books’ on the Scottish electoral scene being in the possession of ministers. This may have been an allusion to two surveys which survive in Spencer’s papers. The first, probably compiled in March 1806 and added to thereafter, surveyed the counties only, listing the sitting Members, predicting which candidates were ‘likely to be returned’ and appending ‘general remarks’. In seats where contests were brewing, government successes were hoped for in four, with possibilities in three others and an outside chance in one. The second survey, drawn up after mid-April, was entitled ‘Analysis of Lord Spencer’s Interest in Scotland’. Under ‘Members attached to his lordship and not likely to lose their seats at a general election’ were listed Henry Erskine (Haddington Burghs), Hamilton (Lanarkshire), Honyman (Orkney), Maule (Forfarshire) and, ‘doubtfully’, Montgomery Stewart (Kirkcudbright). Clephane (Kinross-shire) was entered as a friend to be lost by the next return belonging to Clackmannanshire. Kincardineshire and Dysart Burghs were reckoned ‘seats now held by persons opposed to his lordship but likely to be occupied by his friends at a general election’; and eight constituencies were noted as ‘seats now held by persons opposed to his lordship whose re-election will be disputed, but with doubtful success’. The compiler apparently expected friends to be returned for seven of the seats covered in these sections of the survey. They had ‘doubtful’ prospects in three and ‘very doubtful’ or ‘highly improbable’ ones in five. Twenty-four seats were then listed, with brief comments, leaving five (Berwickshire, Wigtownshire and Aberdeen, Anstruther and Wigtown Burghs) of which the compiler ‘still’ knew ‘little or nothing’.
At their meeting on 30 Sept. 1806 Grenville and Adam discussed 13 constituencies as well as the importance, strongly pressed by Adam, of government ‘giving decided support to the Scotch Foxites’ as part of ‘a proper extension of visible marks and signs of the destruction of Melville’s influence’. Adam, who promptly alerted Gibson in Edinburgh, was pleased with Grenville’s response, regretting only ‘one or two unfortunate engagements against the interests of Foxites which I see cannot be broken’. These involved Fifeshire, where Grenville insisted on keeping his promise to Lady Stafford of neutrality between her equivocating connexion William Wemyss and the Foxite Robert Ferguson; Renfrewshire, where he had promised support to the convert McDowall; Aberdeen Burghs, where he was pledged to the doubtful James Farquhar, to the detriment of Maule’s brother; and Linlithgow Burghs, where he feared he had compromised himself with Melville’s devious kinsman Lockhart Ross, a state of affairs on which the Hamiltons had made several strong remonstrances.
Only two days later Grenville informed Erskine that Parliament would probably be dissolved in about four weeks. Erskine told him that this would be dangerously premature in Scotland, where Melville’s influence was still pervasive. An attack of gout drove Erskine to Buxton on 8 Oct. 1806 and Grenville, having secured the King’s approval for dissolution on the 12th, turned to Adam for overall management of the campaign in Scotland. Gibson, who was concerting plans in Edinburgh with Armadale, Cathcart, Clerk and Gillies, implored Adam before he went north to
consult with Lord Lauderdale as to the proper steps to be taken ... If something decisive is not done we shall cut a very bad figure. Every situation of any importance being filled with the creatures of Lord Melville, the whole country is in a manner at his disposal; and the tenderness which ministers have shown is construed either into an understanding between Lord Grenville and Lord M. or into Lord G. not daring to meddle with Lord M. Either construction is fatal to Lord G’s real interest ... and such measures should be taken as should leave no doubt in the minds of anyone.
Six counties and six districts were contested. Government made no serious challenge for six seats in hostile hands and either supported or did not intervene against acceptable sitting Members or new candidates on the prevailing interest in a further 23. In some of these, notably Ayrshire, Elginshire, Renfrewshire and Inverness Burghs, the paralysis caused by the conflict between the Grenvillites and the Scottish Whigs played into the hands of their opponents. The only contests in these seats were in Lanarkshire, where Hamilton easily beat a Melvillite; Glasgow Burghs, where the solicitor-general gave up and government backed Alexander, only to see him lose; and Tain Burghs, where there was a local power struggle. In the other 16 seats government and the Scottish Whigs, either together or separately, tried to overturn hostile or unreliable interests. They succeeded in only six: Dunbartonshire and Kincardineshire, both uncontested; the Dumfries and Stirling districts, where ministerialists secured straightforward victories; and Fifeshire and Aberdeen Burghs where Grenville, though engaged to the suspect Wemyss and Farquhar, allowed the Scottish Foxites a free hand. Ministerial bids for Clackmannanshire, Inverness-shire, Midlothian, Roxburghshire and Wigtownshire either foundered early or collapsed on the eve of the election. The others all went to a contest. The biggest ministerial disappointment occurred in Aberdeenshire where, to the delight of the Melvillites, James Ferguson just held the seat. Grenville’s decision that he was not after all under any firm obligation to Lockhart Ross came too late for the disgruntled Hamiltons to thwart him in Linlithgow Burghs. In Banffshire, Dumfriesshire and Linlithgowshire ministerialists were easily and predictably beaten.
Adam, sending ‘the whole of the Scotch representation dissected’ to Lord Howick, 7 Feb. 1807,8 listed 23 ‘friends of government unconnected with Lord Melville’ together with four Members (Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton, William Dundas, Thomas Graham I and Lockhart Ross) related to Melville who professed to support government. In opposition he identified 14 ‘upon whom Lord Melville may absolutely depend’; and he classed as doubtful Archibald Campbell, Charles Grant I, Sir James Montgomery and Montgomery Stewart. The last named in fact took a different line from the rest of his family and supported government. If this is taken into account, the outcome of the election may be read as 28 government, 14 opposition and three doubtful. This was the least satisfactory return for ministers for any part of the United Kingdom, especially as at least three of their nominal friends (James Brodie, Francis Grant and Lockhart Ross) were patently mere fair-weather allies. There were probably others less conspicuous. The election had come too soon for the Scottish Foxites, inhibited by the government’s cautious and temporizing approach, to mount a really effective challenge to the Melvillites; but Adam still flattered himself that he had succeeded in ‘undeceiving the people as to the continuation of Dundas’s power or the belief of his return to it’.
Gibson hoped Grenville would now see the necessity of making the overdue changes of personnel to drive home this lesson, but virtually nothing had been done when the ministry fell. Robert Dundas was offered the Board of Control in the Portland ministry. His father’s sulky equivocation made him threaten to decline it unless the former promised full support for the very government which would not dare to incur the odium of restoring him to office, and confirmed his own indifference to place, which he had repeatedly professed since 1805. Melville, who really wanted to be restored to the Admiralty, disclaimed personal ambition for office and indicated his willingness to support the ministry, while hinting that he had not entirely abandoned his pretensions for the future. He was temporarily placated with restoration to the Privy Council, which he grudgingly accepted as a consolation prize; and with the understanding that he and his son were to manage Scotland for the government. His adherents were restored to the few Scottish offices which they had forfeited under the ‘Talents’. Seventeen Scottish Members demonstrated their loyalty to the fallen ministers by voting for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge on Catholic relief, 9 Apr. 1807. John Mackenzie probably also did and Ronald Ferguson paired in favour of it. The politics of two of the minority, McDowall and Montgomery Stewart, were doubtful by the time of the dissolution, leaving the opposition strength at 17. Government could claim 19 sure friends, composed of the 14 returned in opposition in 1806, three defectors from the ‘Talents’ (Brodie, Francis Grant and Lockhart Ross) and two reckoned doubtful in 1806 (Campbell and Montgomery). Charles Grant I was an independent inclined to support government. The remaining eight were doubtful or uncertain.
Seven counties and seven districts were contested in 1807 and there was a token poll for Edinburgh. Ministerialists, mostly backed or endorsed by Melville, who was very active, gained seats after contests in Ayrshire and Aberdeen, Elgin and Stirling Burghs; and without opposition in Dunbartonshire, Fifeshire, Perthshire and Dumfries Burghs. Their attempts on six others failed, but they repelled opposition attacks in contests for Aberdeenshire, Linlithgowshire and Glasgow Burghs. Melville’s only real disappointments were in the Inverness and Linlithgow districts. After the election government could reckon on 27 supporters. Adam gave opposition good prospects of success in 18 seats at the dissolution and soon afterwards Lauderdale counted on at least 16. As it was, Adam, sending Grenville his ‘compte rendue’ of the returns, 30 May 1807,9 could only put the opposition tally at 12. To these should be added John Mackenzie, as was recognized by William Maxwell II when he gave Howick a list of Scottish opposition Members, 11 June 1807.10 In addition to Adam, Mackenzie and Maxwell, these were Sir John Anstruther, Lord John Campbell, John Campbell III, William Dundas, Charles Elphinstone Fleeming, Ronald Ferguson, Lord Archibald Hamilton, Malcolm Laing, William Maule and Sir George Warrender. Opposition’s expectations had been reduced by the defeats in Ayrshire and the Aberdeen, Elgin and Stirling districts and by the desertion of McDowall, whose politics remained doubtful. Also doubtful were Peter Baillie, Alexander Mackenzie and Montgomery Stewart; and Charles Grant I came in again as an independent. The six by-elections—all but one uncontested—which occurred during the life of the Portland ministry made no difference to the political composition of the Scottish contingent. William Dundas, unable to sustain his opposition line, vacated his seat in 1808 and was replaced by someone who could. He re-entered the House in 1810.
Robert Dundas was soon made uncomfortable by his father’s disgruntlement with ministers, first voiced in July 1807 over their alleged interference in the disposal of Scottish patronage. Melville, egged on by the chief baron, threatened to give it up if he and his family were not allowed its entire management. Ministers bowed to him in this instance, but caused him and his friends further offence later in the year by giving some Haddington Burghs patronage to Lauderdale. Melville also felt that they had slighted him by not at least reserving the Admiralty for his future occupation. His son, himself increasingly critical of Portland’s feebleness, had to dispel rumours that Melville was inclined to go into open opposition. He failed to persuade his father to come to London to parley and early in 1809 told Portland that a strong muster from Scotland could not be expected. He reluctantly accepted the Irish secretaryship in April 1809, to the chagrin of Melville, who complained that the ‘rapidly advancing’ restoration of ‘the same consolidation and unity of interest’ which he had formerly imposed on Scotland would be arrested, to the advantage of Lauderdale’s ‘faction’. Melville, peeved at not being offered office himself, was almost openly hostile to the government by the time of its collapse in September 1809, when his son had already given ‘conditional notice to quit’ unless matters improved.
As no majority division lists have been found for the period of the Portland ministry it is impossible to assess whether these problems affected the attendance and zeal of the ministerialist Scottish Members. The minority lists do not reveal any serious disaffection. The Scottish oppositionists made their strongest muster in the divisions on the address, 26 June, and the state of the nation, 6 July 1807, when all 13 of them voted against government in one or both. This was a higher proportion of the Scottish Membership than of the whole House, as was their contribution of eight votes to the minority on the Copenhagen incident, 3 Feb. 1808. But only six of them voted against government on Cintra, 21 Feb. 1809; and six, together with Charles Grant I and Montgomery Stewart, on the Duke of York scandal, 15-17 Mar. 1809. With few exceptions, they were a conservative group: only Ferguson, Hamilton, Maule and Maxwell, plus Grant, showed a glimmer of interest in the subsequent campaign for economical reform. In percentage terms, Scottish Members and the Commons as a whole opposed government on these issues as follows:
|Censure motions, 1807||29||25|
|Duke of York, 1809||18||32|
|Economical reform, 1809||11||31|
The negotiations for the formation of the Perceval ministry almost caused an open breach between Melville and his son and with it a serious split in the ministerial interest in Scotland. Melville refused the earldom offered in compensation for office which, it was made clear to him, Perceval dared not give him. He made such difficulties about his son’s acceptance of the colonial secretaryship that Dundas was provoked to decline any office, tell Perceval that he would handle no more Scottish patronage and suggest to his father that they part political company. Under family pressure he subsequently softened and sought his father’s consent, which was reluctantly given, for his acceptance of the Board of Control. A document in the Melville papers,11 presumably compiled at the height of Melville’s hostility to government, listed (along with 11 peers) 21 Members who ‘from obligations or personal attachments would most, if not all of them probably support any line of politics Lord Melville might decidedly adopt’, with the rider that he had ‘never wished nor courted a personal party’. These Members, of whom Alexander Houston, John Rutherfurd and William Wemyss were queried, made up three-quarters of the current ministerialist contingent, recently boosted to 28 by the return of Hugh Innes. The compiler also delineated a ‘political interest closely united by blood and local connection’, led by Melville, Buccleuch and Hopetoun and based on their electoral interests in the Lothians, the Lowlands and border counties.
Although Dundas was made to feel extremely uncomfortable in office by his father and other members of the family connexion, he tried to secure as strong a muster as possible from Scotland for the new session. His efforts were rewarded on the Scheldt inquiry, when 25 Members (56 per cent as against 46 per cent of the whole House) rallied to government on 26 Jan. or 30 Mar. 1810. Thirteen (29 per cent compared with 41 per cent of the Commons) voted with opposition: eight returned in opposition in 1807 were joined by Duncan Campbell, William Fremantle and George Macpherson Grant, who had replaced fellow oppositionists at by-elections; and by Peter Baillie, hitherto doubtful, and Lyndon Evelyn, returned in 1809 as a supposed ministerialist. The last two were duly listed as ‘hopeful’ by opposition in mid March. They claimed 14 Scottish Members among their ‘thick and thin’ adherents, of whom 11 voted with them on the Scheldt. The exceptions were Elphinstone Fleeming, absent on active service; Laing, hors de combat since 1808; and McDowall, politically null and soon to be replaced by the Whig Archibald Speirs. Twenty-three Members (including Francis Grant who also appeared among the ‘doubtful’) were listed as ‘against the opposition’ and five as supporters of any government. William Eliott Lockhart, a friend of government, was overlooked. It would appear that if opposition had toppled the ministry and come to power they would have expected initially to receive support from about 21 Scottish Members.
No sooner had ministers survived this crisis than Robert Dundas offered his resignation: his father’s hostility made his position in government impossible; and he could only usefully retain it by breaking all political connexion with Melville and trying to detach from him ‘as large a portion as possible of his friends in Scotland’, an option which he could not face. Perceval was alarmed, but insisted that Melville could not dictate terms for his return to office and persuaded Dundas, who had advised him to strengthen the ministry, to reason with his father. Dundas was also warned by Richard Ryder, the Home secretary, that his resignation would probably entail the ruin of the Melville interest: by staying in office he would at least sustain it ‘in spite of his father’; but if he went Ryder would be obliged to bestow patronage only on those willing to support government ‘without regard to the part the Melville interest might take’. Perceval’s overtures to Canning, Castlereagh and Sidmouth came to nothing and fears grew that the loss of Dundas along with ‘23 regular attenders’ would destroy the government. Dundas declined a move to the Admiralty, but got his father to talk to Perceval on 28 Apr. 1810. The rift was papered over to the extent that Perceval could report that Dundas, who stayed at the Board of Control, and ‘his Scotch friends will not I think leave us immediately’, though he would not ‘stay long unless we can get more strength’. The Duke of Richmond’s comment that ministers might find the Scottish Members ‘slack if not worse’ may be pertinent to the fact that only 14 of them (31 per cent, as against 36 per cent of the whole House) bothered to vote against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810. Peter Baillie, Duncan Campbell, Ferguson, Hamilton and Maule voted for reform, as William Maxwell II had done on 15 June 1809. Thus 13 per cent of the Scottish Membership favoured reform, compared with 19 per cent of the whole House.
Despite his father’s continued coolness, Dundas stood by his colleagues on the Regency crisis, when 21 Scottish Members (47 per cent, as against 33 per cent of the whole House) rallied to government on 1 Jan. 1811. The 12 who voted with opposition then or on 21 Jan. 1811 (27 per cent, compared with 39 per cent of the Commons) included Innes, whose allegiance was now doubtful. Apropos of the Ayrshire by-election in March 1811, when Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton recaptured the seat for opposition, bringing their nominal strength among the Scottish Members to 17—its apogee in this period—Melville, still critical of ministerial feebleness, boasted that ‘whatever government may think of their own power, they can do nothing in this country but through me’. When death removed him from the scene in May, life became easier for his son, who in March 1812 transferred to the Admiralty and took his cousin William with him. In 1811 opposition lost Anstruther and Baillie through death; and in 1812 Adam through retirement and Warrender on account of political wavering. George Drummond, a ministerialist, took Adam’s seat. The replacements for Anstruther (his son) and Baillie (Charles Grant II) were respectively doubtful and independent, though ministers could hope for general support from both. They could not rely on the independent George Sinclair, who replaced his father Sir John in 1811.
Seven Scottish Members, including Charles Grant II, Sinclair and Warrender, voted for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812; but only four voted for Turton’s censure motion, 27 Feb., and five against the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1812. The percentages of Scottish Members and of the whole House voting against government on these issues were as follows:
|Orders in council||12||22|
Sixteen voted consistently against sinecure reform in 1812 and nine in favour. The percentage comparison on this question was:
On the call for a remodelling of administration after Perceval’s death, 21 May 1812, which was supported by seven and opposed by 13 Scottish Members, it was:
The day after the government defeat William Dundas told Lord Wellesley that he and his cousin could probably persuade about 30 Scottish Members to support a government led by him and Canning. He hinted that even if Melville refused to serve in it, he himself would be available, after a decorous interval, to join it and so ‘preserve a strong and effective interest’ in Scotland. In the event, he and Melville kept their offices in the Liverpool ministry. By the time of the dissolution four Members whose allegiance had been doubtful during the interregnum (Sir John Anstruther, James Drummond, Lyndon Evelyn and Sir George Warrender) had apparently gravitated to government, who could reckon on 28 friends, plus the general support of the two Charles Grants. The opposition strength had fallen to 12, though they might also claim George Sinclair. Hugh Innes and Montgomery Stewart remained doubtful.
Nine counties and five districts were contested at the general election of 1812. The fiercest party political struggles occurred in Ayrshire, Midlothian, Roxburghshire, Dysart and Glasgow Burghs. The contests in Orkney, Ross-shire, the Stewartry, Wigtownshire and Tain Burghs—some of which might have been averted by Henry Dundas in his heyday—were more parochial in tone. Ministerialists gained Stirlingshire and Linlithgow Burghs without contests. The new Members for Kirkcudbright (James Dunlop) and Ross-shire (William Mackenzie) were more reliable friends than the old, though ministers were initially unsure of Dunlop. Government lost Roxburghshire to opposition and could not count on the new Members for Glasgow Burghs (Kirkman Finlay) and Haddington Burghs (Thomas Maitland). Opposition lost friends for Orkney and Tain Burghs, as well as Stirlingshire and Linlithgow Burghs. The fiasco of the proposed petition against the return for Stirling Burghs seemed to the find Earl of Rosslyn a classic illustration of the gulf between the veteran Whig politicians of Edinburgh led by John Clerk—to whom he referred as ‘the head of our friends and party in Scotland’—and the younger Edinburgh Review school, of whom Henry Brougham, the defeated candidate, was one.
A ministerial analysis of the returns credited government with 35 supporters and opposition with nine, leaving one doubtful. Thirty-three Scottish Members appeared as friends of government in the Treasury list, where Dunlop was marked ‘hopeful’. Reservations might be expressed about five of the 33: Finlay was highly independent and unreliable; the two Charles Grants were still self-styled independents, though inclined to support government; there were serious doubts about the allegiance of Hugh Innes; and Hugh Rose had only come in as locum for the Whig Sir James Mackintosh. A reasonable evaluation of the results would be 29 government, 9 opposition, 3 independent and 4 doubtful or uncertain (adding Richard Honyman and Thomas Maitland to Innes and Rose). Mackintosh and Anthony Maitland replaced Rose and Maitland in 1813, bringing the opposition strength to 11, but Gilbert Elliot’s succession to the peerage in 1814 lost them a vote, as did James Macdonald’s politically enforced vacation of his seat in 1816. In 1813 Armadale’s reconciliation with Melville put Honyman in the ministerial camp and the younger Charles Grant took office. Innes had proved himself a supporter of government by 1816. At the time of the 1818 dissolution, then, the Scottish Members comprised 34 ministerialists, nine adherents of opposition and two independents (Charles Grant I and Finlay). The oppositionists who sat for Scottish seats throughout the 1812 Parliament were Duncan Campbell, Lord John Campbell, Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton, Ronald Ferguson, Lord Archibald Hamilton, William Maule and Archibald Speirs; and for part of it Elliot, Macdonald, Mackintosh and Maitland.
All these except Duncan Campbell, an abstainer, voted consistently for Catholic relief, along with 14 general supporters of government and Finlay. Sixteen Scottish Members consistently opposed relief and William Hope once paired against it. Five voted inconsistently on the issue and seven besides Campbell cast no recorded vote on it. If the non-voters are disregarded and the last recorded votes of the inconsistent voters taken as indicating their attitudes, 27 Scottish Members favoured relief and 20 were hostile. Eight cast no known vote in this Parliament other than on Catholic relief. Of these, only Maule sat throughout. Hamilton, Macdonald and Mackintosh were the only Scottish Whigs to oppose government with any regularity in the first two sessions. Ferguson, the other potential activist, was absent on military service in 1814.
Analysis of the surviving division lists between 1 Mar. 1815 and the dissolution of 1818 reveals that 24 of the 46 active occupants of Scottish seats voted only with government. Nine of them did so in eight or more of the 22 divisions for which full lists of government voters have been found. Another six voted as often with government as these regulars, but also cast between one and five hostile votes. Five others voted less often with government and divided with opposition at least once. Of these 35 Members who were clearly disposed to support government, only six cast more than two wayward votes: William Douglas (5), George Drummond (3), James Dunlop (3), James Farquhar (3), James Hunter Blair (4) and Sir John Marjoribanks (3). Only Dunlop and Hunter Blair failed to vote with ministers at least eight times: Dunlop did so on six occasions; and Hunter Blair only sat for the last two sessions, when he voted five out of a possible eight times with them. There were only five issues on which more than one Scottish Member normally inclined to support government went against them. Five defected in the government defeats on the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and the Duke of Clarence’s allowance, 15 Apr. 1818; three on the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb. 1817; and two on the civil services compensation bill, 19 May, and the Speakership, 2 June 1817. Of the eight Members who voted exclusively with opposition, only Ferguson, Hamilton and Mackintosh were assiduous attenders. Duncan Campbell was spasmodic in his attendance, Lord John Campbell, Maitland and Speirs extremely lax in theirs. Macdonald was an activist, but left the Scottish representation early in 1816. Three Members voted more often with opposition than with government: Dalrymple Hamilton, a Grenvillite Whig, who cast one ministerial vote and was inactive after February 1817; Sir John Riddell, a nominal supporter of government, who voted with them on the property tax and against them twice; and Finlay, who divided with opposition as often as most of their hard core but voted with ministers on three occasions.
A comparison of the voting behaviour of the Scottish Members with that of the whole House reveals their strong bias towards government:
|More govt. than opp.||20||14|
|More opp. than govt.||4||9|
Here is a comparison of voting on individual issues:
|Government ||Opposition ||Government ||Opposition |
|Civil list, 14 Apr. and 8 May 1815||38||13||31||22|
Cumberland’s grant, 29 June
and 3 July 1815
Army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar. 1816
|Property tax, 18 Mar. 1816||42||29||31||36|
|Civil list, 6 and 24 May 1816||40||9||43||22|
|Finance committee, 7 Feb. 1817||20||16||27||21|
Admiralty economies, 17
and 25 Feb. 1817
Suspension of habeas corpus,
23 June 1817
|Scottish prosecutions, 10 Feb. 1818||36||7||21||11|
|Use of spies, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1818||42||7||31||13|
|Clarence’s grant, 15 Apr. 1818||27||18||28||29|
It is worth noting that on five of these 11 issues a smaller proportion of the Scottish Members than of the whole House voted with government, though the difference was only marginal in the case of the civil list (1816) and Clarence’s grant. Their marked failure to rally to government on the other three issues can probably be largely explained by the fact that these divisions occurred at junctures in the session when many Scottish Members tended to be away from Westminster, though it is fair to add that the proposed grant for Cumberland was highly unpopular. The indifferent government muster on the finance committee might seem to substantiate Maule’s allegation, 24 Jan. 1817, that there was ‘a want of anxiety on the part of the tractable 45 to attend their duty at present’. But 18 of the Scottish ministerialists, who were summoned for attendance by Melville on the eve of this and presumably the other sessions, were present to vote against Admiralty economies later in February. On the property tax, when ministers faced defeat, their Scottish friends rallied to them in considerable strength, as they did also on the army estimates, the Scottish prosecutions and the employment of spies. The proportion of Scottish Members voting with opposition came close to matching that of the whole House only on Cumberland’s grant, the property tax (when 13, the highest known number in this Parliament, opposed ministers), the finance committee, the Scottish prosecutions and the employment of spies. Ministerialist defections inflated the opposition muster on the second and third of these issues. On the last two, when the hard core opposition minorities were only 73 and 83 respectively, Hamilton and Mackintosh voted against government. They were joined on the Scottish prosecutions by Finlay, who was deeply implicated in the government’s penetration of revived radical groups in Scotland but was critical of Lord Advocate Alexander Maconochie’s handling of the trials; and on the use of spies by Ferguson. Taking other issues which divided the regular opposition, Ferguson, Hamilton and Mackintosh aligned themselves with its more liberal element on the renewal of war in 1815, the repressive legislation of early 1817 and parliamentary reform in 1817 and 1818. Duncan Campbell did likewise on the first and third of these issues; Maitland on the first two; and Speirs on the second and third. The Scottish opposition contingent, though still numerically small, now had its fair share of adventurous spirits.
Five counties and four districts were contested at the 1818 general election. Ministers did not make the gains which they anticipated. Their successes in Ayrshire, where Dalrymple Hamilton was removed without a contest, and Glasgow Burghs, where Finlay was ousted, were cancelled out by Honyman’s defeat by a Whig in Orkney and Joseph Hume’s unexpected victory in Aberdeen Burghs. The contests for Lanarkshire, Midlothian, Stirlingshire and Linlithgow and Stirling Burghs had a strong party flavour but resulted in no change. There were political undertones to the struggle in Ross-shire, but it was fought largely in terms of clan loyalty and independence. The outcome of the election might be assessed as 34 government, ten opposition and one independent (George Sinclair). Lord John Campbell, Sir Ronald Ferguson, Lord Archibald Hamilton and William Maule, survivors from the 1812 Parliament, were joined in opposition by George Dundas, Hume, Thomas Kennedy, Roderick Macleod, John Maxwell and Dudley North. Campbell, Dundas, Ferguson, Hamilton and North signed the requisition calling on George Tierney to lead the opposition in the Commons. Their strength was boosted to 12, where it remained for the duration of the Parliament, by the return of Francis Primrose for Stirling Burghs in March 1819 and of John Pringle for Linlithgow Burghs in May. The former result was regarded as a ministerial débâcle for which the lord advocate, Maconochie, was blamed. His incompetence, which had been exposed in the botched prosecution of Scottish radicals in 1817, was widely complained of; and in the legal reshuffle following the death of the chief baron, Dundas, in May 1819 he was replaced by Sir William Rae, who came in for Anstruther Burghs after a contest in July. In September a ministerialist held off a Whig attack in the contested by-election for Kinross-shire.
Eight of the 49 Members who occupied Scottish seats in the 1818 Parliament do not appear to have voted in the divisions for which lists have been found. Twenty-two voted only with goverment; and 18 of these did so on Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. Seven cast mixed votes. Of these Sir John Riddell, who cast one wayward vote, died before Tierney’s motion came on. The others all sided with ministers on that occasion; and four of them, namely George Cumming, James Hunter Blair, George Macpherson Grant and Thomas Mackenzie, may be considered general supporters of government despite their isolated hostile votes. Sinclair, who voted 13 times with opposition, was highly independent; and William Douglas, who opposed government three times, was a marginal case. All the 12 oppositionists except Campbell were at least fairly active. Hume, indeed, was the most assiduous opponent of government in the entire House. The only absentees on Tierney’s motion were Kennedy and Maxwell, who paired in favour of it.
The voting behaviour of the Scottish Members compares with that of the whole House as follows:
|Whole House |
If the inactive Members (who formed a relatively high proportion of the Scottish Members) are eliminated, the comparison reads:
|Whole House |
Polarization had gone even further among the Scottish Members than the rest of the House and their preference for ministers was still very marked. The four divisions for which full lists of both sides have been found compare as follows:
|Government ||Opposition ||Government ||Opposition |
|Wyndham Quin, 29 Mar.||20||7||25||11|
|Censure motion, 18 May||53||20||55||27|
|Foreign enlistment bill, 10 June||35||13||38||27|
|Blasphemous libels bill, 23 Dec.||9||7||17||5|
This again illustrates that for all the ministerial bias of the Scottish Members, it was not automatically translated into votes on every issue. The nominal friends of government in this Parliament numbered between 32 and 34; but only nine voted with them on 29 Mar.; 16 on 10 June and four on 23 Dec. 1819. Even on the censure motion there were nine ministerialist absentees.
The highest recorded muster of Scottish Members against government occurred on the question of burgh reform. Thirteen voted for it on 1 Apr. or 6 May 1819: all the opposition regulars except Campbell, with additional support coming from Douglas, Mackenzie and Sinclair. Ferguson, Hume, Kennedy, Maxwell, North, Pringle and Sinclair voted for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 1 July. Seven votes from Scotland (even though North was English) was an impressive contribution to a minority of only 60. The Scottish opposition contingent also showed considerable solidarity in the emergency session of 1819. Only Campbell and North failed to vote against government on the general motions concerning Peterloo and its aftermath, 24 and 30 Nov. Hamilton and Maxwell supported the seditious meetings bill, but both joined in attempts to lessen its impact. Dundas, Ferguson, Hume, Kennedy, Maule, Primrose and Pringle voted against its second reading; Ferguson, Hume and Pringle also against its third. In order of assiduity Hume, Ferguson, Kennedy, Macleod, Primrose, Pringle and Hamilton were active in the resistance to the rest of the repressive measures; and Hume, Macleod, Primrose and Pringle were still present to vote in the minority of 31 against the banishment provisions of the blasphemous libels bill, 23 Dec. 1819. At the close of this period, opposition in Scotland, as embodied in its parliamentary representation, had recovered markedly from its near-annihilation at the height of Dundas’s supremacy, but the legacy of his ascendancy was still apparent. In Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, change came only when the ancien régime fell apart from within.
After the Union the 32 Irish counties continued to return two Members to Parliament and in each case the franchise was vested in those who possessed freehold property worth 40s. per annum. In practice the 40s. freehold was as widely interpreted for electoral purposes in Ireland as it was in England. It was held to include annuities, rent charges, mortgages based on freehold property and leases for lives. At the Union the vast majority of Irish county voters were leaseholders, their leases of property worth 40s. or more running nominally for a period of years, or a life or lives.
Ireland possessed a unique system for vetting property qualifications which had been developed to prevent unscrupulous landlords evading the law by temporarily converting leases for years into leases for lives for electoral purposes. Thus, in addition to the possession of a ‘freehold’, the voter was required by law to have proved his title, his residence upon the property for which he claimed qualification and to have registered the same at least six months before the writ for an election was issued. It is this registration system that provides the evidence for the steep increase in the total county electorate caused by the enfranchisement of Roman Catholics in 1793, and by the increased competition for county seats following the disfranchisement of many boroughs by the Act of Union. The rate of increase varied from county to county, and by the end of the period a pattern had emerged in which electorates were roughly commensurate with population. The largest counties of Cork, Down, Galway, Mayo and Tipperary had electorates in excess of 10,000, and the rest, with the exception of Louth, possessed upwards of 1,500 and on average around 5,000. The total county electorate rose from about 46,000 in 1784, to about 160,000 in 1803, and to 203,000 in 1815.
The pattern of county elections differed as between Ireland and England only in so far as there were more leaseholders included in the Irish franchise. In the Irish counties, as in the English, there were a number of leading landed interests between which elections were primarily contested. The number and the structure of those interests varied from one constituency to another. In about half there were less than six active and potentially successful interests, in the rest there were more. Similarly, interests ranged from those that were based upon tenant strength, such as that of Earl Fitzwilliam in Wicklow, to those, such as Lord Glandore’s in Kerry, which rested upon popularity with the resident gentry. As might be expected most interests were combinations of these two elements, for example that of the Marquess of Downshire in Down, which in 1812 was estimated to consist of 3,763 of his own tenants and 3,255 of a further 27 landowners—a total of 7,018 potential voters out of an electorate reckoned to number 14,623.
Thus, the leading interest in a county might well be equalled in size by the aggregate interests of its lesser gentry. Very often these smaller interests were allied to those of the leading landowners, thereby enabling the latter to establish a virtual hegemony over the political life of the county or at least to agree to a sharing of seats, a course that proved particularly attractive at a time when electorates were increasing and costs rising. In Wicklow, for example, Earl Fitzwilliam probably controlled a sufficient number of tenant votes to return both Members in a contested election. He felt it more politic, however, to regard one seat as his own preserve and to support for the other a candidate popular with the local gentry.
The closely knit world of Irish county society usually enabled the major and minor landlords to settle their political differences and to determine who was to be returned without recourse to a poll. In Ireland, as in England, it was felt that polling the freeholders was the least satisfactory way of settling disputes, and only a small number of Irish county elections proceeded to a poll in this period. The majority were settled through consultation, discussion and canvassing among the landed community well before the return was actually made.
When polls did take place they followed in general the same course as those conducted elsewhere, being a mixture of political and social occasions involving careful management and large expenditure. The hotly-contested Down by-election in 1805, for example, produced a sizeable quantity of printed election literature, sophisticated exercises in management and a total expenditure of about £60,000.
It has sometimes been suggested that as a result of the creation of ‘fictitious’ freeholders Irish county interests were more artificial and more subject to management than were the English counties. Certainly, many Irish landlords, having gone to the trouble and expense of registering their tenants, felt that they could regard them as troops under command. Candidates would consult the registration books in order to determine relative tenant strength and so agree on the result of an election without a poll. When matters proceeded to an election sheriffs might be partial or expensive, and in several cases candidates taxed them with such obscure points of law as whether freeholds had to be registered 12 calendar or 12 lunar months before the writ for an election was issued. Some candidates threatened or used violence. At Wexford in 1807 one candidate was killed in a duel with his opponent; another, in Galway, brought an action against an opponent who had called upon him to decline a poll or fight. At the Tipperary election of 1807 and the King’s County election of 1818, candidates were obliged to convey their supporters to the polling booths under armed escort. For all these reasons Parliament passed measures in 1805, 1817 and 1820 to make the registration system more rigorous and to eliminate abuses.
Irish county elections were subject to a greater degree of government influence than was possible in England, due to the presence of the Irish administration at Dublin Castle and its direct control of substantial local patronage ranging from appointments to county governorships down to revenue officers and nominations to livings in the Established Church. Though such patronage was eagerly sought by county candidates, it is doubtful whether government influence was a decisive factor in deciding county election results.
Another influence on Irish county elections was that of the Catholics, who formed the majority of the population in nearly all the 23 counties outside the province of Ulster. As their number was gradually reflected in the county electorate following their enfranchisement in 1793, they came to exercise an increasing influence in elections, their candidates of course being pledged in favour of Catholic relief, the crucial issue of the election of 1807 both in Great Britain and in Ireland. The size and importance of the Catholic interest varied from one constituency to another. It was particularly active in constituencies contested by anti-Catholic candidates such as John Bagwell, candidate for Tipperary in 1807, and dormant in those counties, such as Kildare, where no such candidate presented himself. In some constituencies, such as Wexford in 1818, it appears that the clergy took the lead; in others, such as Carlow up to 1816, the interest was headed by a Catholic landlord with a strong tenant interest of his own. In some constituencies committees were established to supervise the Catholic interest at particular elections and in 1812 the Catholic Board attempted to direct operations from Dublin. Organizations such as this were the model for O’Connell’s Catholic Association formed in 1823 and later led to a successful challenge to established protestant interests in several key Irish county constituencies.
Although the Union effected no changes in Irish county representation, it made substantial changes to the boroughs. Hitherto 116 boroughs had returned 234 Members to the Irish parliament. Following the measure the borough representation was reduced to 33 boroughs returning 35 Members.
As the framers of the Union had no wish to encourage parliamentary reformers in Britain the selection of boroughs retained proved to be a compromise. They were chosen on the basis of population and taxable wealth, rather than upon their franchise, thus ensuring that there were no rotten boroughs, though some were relatively open and others close. There were four categories of franchise in the post-Union Irish boroughs.
The first consisted of eight single-Member constituencies in which the franchise was vested by charter in the provost or sovereign (equivalent to the mayor) and the burgesses of the corporation—a body that in each case was 13 in number. All were under the management of one or two Anglo-Irish families or, as in the single case of Armagh, the primate of the Established Church. In one such borough, Dungannon, ten of the 13 burgesses were at one time members of the patron’s family. Most, though not all of these families owned property in their respective boroughs but it was through municipal politics rather than property that they maintained their interests. In the majority of constituencies the provost and burgesses elected replacements to their own number, a tradition which enabled individual families to establish a superior position within the corporation and then to sustain it indefinitely. In other constituencies of this type the burgesses were supposedly elected by the freemen, but as the latter were normally admitted to that status by the burgesses, the same process of self-election and the same tradition of self-perpetuating oligarchies prevailed. The dominant interests in these constituencies were therefore impregnable and carried elections without contest in this period. In fact the only notable change after the Union was that some patrons sold their seats to government or opposition nominees at Westminster, many of whom were not Irishmen.
The second category of boroughs retained at the Union consisted of the 12 single-Member constituencies in which the vote was not specifically restricted by charter to the burgesses and where there was either a presumption or tradition that the freemen could vote. In Enniskillen, New Ross and Portarlington the prevailing interests had in practice restricted the vote to the burgesses, thereby reducing them to the status of burgess boroughs. It was only in the other nine constituencies that the tradition of freeman voting was maintained. In any case the distinction between a burgess and a freeman borough was largely academic. Although the electorates of freeman boroughs were larger, they were, with the exception of Londonderry, equally unrepresentative and equally subject to family management. This was because, except in Youghal, the power to create freemen was vested in the burgesses. Furthermore, apart from in Londonderry, freemen were admitted only by resolution of the corporation and not by right through inheritance, apprenticeship or marriage. Nor was there a residence qualification. Patrons could therefore establish a dominant interest among the burgesses and when necessary strengthen it by making honorary and often non-resident freemen. Parliamentary inquiries conducted between 1829 and 1833 showed that the vast majority of freemen in this group of constituencies were admitted by special favour and that approximately half were non-resident. It also appeared that only a tiny proportion were Catholic. Thus, in the upshot, for the greater part of this period their parliamentary representation was managed by Anglo-Irish families acting with almost wholly protestant and often predominantly non-resident freeman oligarchies. The seats for Athlone, Cashel, and Dundalk were usually sold by the prevailing family interest to outsiders, while those for Clonmel, Coleraine, Kinsale, Wexford and Youghal were reserved for one of their own number. In the unusual case of Londonderry, where there was a large and mainly resident freeman electorate, Sir George Fitzgerald Hill was returned without a contest from 1802 until he retired in 1830, but this was because in addition to being closely connected with one of the dominant family interests, he ably represented the local business community.
The third category of Irish boroughs was formed by eight ‘county-borough’ constituencies comprising a city or town together with its rural locality, and with the franchise being vested in the burgesses, freemen and the 40s. freeholders. These boroughs included the largest and wealthiest places in Ireland: Dublin and Cork (both of which returned two Members), and Carrickfergus, Drogheda, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford (all of which returned one). The politics of these ‘county-borough’ constituencies varied, but certain common features had emerged by the time of the Union. Although the population of all but Carrick-fergus was mainly Catholic, and although Catholics were able to vote as freemen or freeholders under the terms of the Irish Relief Act of 1793, they all had predominantly protestant freeman electorates, the number of freeholders amounting at most to 28 per cent of the total electorate and in general to considerably less than that. In other words the corporations had not been willing or had not been requested to admit Catholics as freemen to any significant extent; and little advantage had been taken of the possibility of registering them as freeholders. Next, they were all subject to various degrees of management by Anglo-Irish families who had established a strong influence within the corporations and who sometimes deployed the same means to sustain them as their counterparts in the freeman boroughs. In fact at the time of the Union the only significant difference between these boroughs and the freeman boroughs was that in the former the prevailing interests tended to be more numerous and more broadly based. Thus, with the exception of Galway, where one interest was predominant, there were in each case at least two and sometimes three or four interests that took a leading part in parliamentary elections. Moreover, as a result of the comparatively larger numbers in the governing and freeman bodies of these corporations, the leading interests tended to be oligarchical rather than patriarchal in structure. It is notable that in the ‘county-boroughs’ elections were contested more frequently and on a wider range of issues than in other boroughs, no doubt because of the importance and prestige of the constituencies as ports and manufacturing towns. Commerce and trade were important issues at elections, and the Irish administration was able to exert influence as a result of its role as a regulator of trade and as an employer of numerous local officials. It is of course true that the overall picture was modified in the course of this period by the effect first of the 1793 Irish Roman Catholic Relief Act, which enabled Catholics to exercise the vote both as freemen and as freeholders, then of the Act of Union itself which intensified competition for seats in these constituencies. This modification though not apparent in protestant Carrickfergus was obvious in Waterford (where the House decided in 1803 that only resident freemen could vote) and Dublin. It was even more evident in the other constituencies in this group, as the freeholder interest was strengthened at the instigation of Catholic interests bent on emancipation and reform, and protestant interests deprived of their electoral spheres by Union disfranchisement.
The fourth category consisted of five single-Member constituencies in which the vote derived solely from a property qualification. In three this consisted of the possession of a house worth £5 p.a. Lisburn was largely under the management of the Marquess of Hertford, the largest landowner in the area; but Downpatrick and Newry were regularly and hotly contested by a number of local interests and fully lived up to the general reputation of householder boroughs by being both venal and open. It was the frequency and acerbity of elections that enabled national and local issues to play a part in deciding the outcome of elections in them. Both Mallow (where the 40s. freeholders of the manor voted) and Dungarvan (where the 40s. freeholders of the manor and the £5 householders voted) were sizeable constituencies and both were under a degree of management from local landed families. Neither, however, was entirely close and at Mallow in 1818 perhaps the most significant upset of Irish electoral history in this period took place when the established local interest was defeated by a candidate put up by the Catholic freeholders.
The single-Member constituency of Trinity College, Dublin, consisted of an electorate of between 60-70 fellows and foundation scholars who were usually put to the trouble of a poll only as a result of the ability of a candidate to divide them on both national and parochial issues.
By the terms of the Act of Union, Ireland returned 100 MPs to the Imperial Parliament: 64 from the 32 counties, 35 from 33 boroughs and one from Trinity College, Dublin. Between 1 Jan. 1801 and the dissolution of the 1818 Parliament, 303 were returned for Irish constituencies, 46 being either Englishmen or Scotsmen all of whom were returned for boroughs. The total number of Irish Members in this period—defining this term as one who was born in Ireland of Irish parentage and who subsequently represented an Irish constituency at Westminster—was 257.
In general there was continuity in the social background of Irish Members before and after the Union. The majority were drawn from the protestant landed classes, a section of Irish society that was notable not only for its allegiance to the Established Church but also for its near monopoly of landed wealth, for its close ties with English landed society and for the firm control that it had established over Irish parliamentary politics in the course of the 18th century. Three provisions of the Union tended to increase the extent to which the Irish Members were representative of this section of society. The first was the extension to Ireland of the property qualifications for MPs obtaining at Westminster, a step which immediately led to heart-searching on the part of Charles O’Hara, Member for Sligo. The second was the reduction of Irish Members from 300 to 100, so that the winning of a parliamentary seat was more difficult and more expensive. The third was the shifting of the balance of representation away from the boroughs to the counties, where the possession of an established electoral interest was a distinct advantage. The overall effect was to make the Irish MPs of this period more representative of the established and wealthier sections of landed society and to reduce the opportunities open to the professional and mercantile classes of pro- testant society. There were, however, considerable disparities in wealth and standing within the peerage and the gentry. Thus, although one-third of the Irish MPs were the sons of Irish peers, there was a divide between those who were born into the great dynasties, such as Bernard, Beresford, Boyle, Fitzgerald, Knox and Ponsonby, and those who were the sons of newly-created peers such as the Mahons, Barons Hartland. And although the bulk of the other two-thirds was drawn from the Irish landed gentry, this group also varied considerably in terms of social background and standing. At one end of the scale were Maurice Fitzgerald of Kerry who could trace his family back to the 13th century; Richard Martin who inherited ‘vast estates’ in Connemara and was descended from an ancient Catholic family, and six Latouches descended from a Huguenot refugee who had established a poplin factory and a bank, the profits from which were invested in estates in six Irish counties. At the other extreme were minor gentry such as the Rowleys of Leitrim and the Savages of Down, who were dependent upon the support of more substantial families to secure their return to Parliament.
Four-fifths of the Irish MPs were educated privately or at an Irish public school. The rest went either to Eton, Harrow or to other English public schools. Eton was popular for the sons of peers. Three-fifths went to university. Those who had been at school in England usually went to Oxford or Cambridge, and those educated privately or at one of the Irish public schools for the most part attended Trinity College, Dublin, an institution popular both with the country gentlemen and those from professional or commercial backgrounds. Approximately one-fifth of Irish MPs went on from university to an inn of court, most from outside the ranks of the peerage.
The occupations of Irish MPs reflected their social and educational backgrounds. Approximately half were country gentlemen who, having been educated at home and then in Dublin, inherited family estates and became MPs. The remainder were drawn from the ranks above and below them: from the peerage, which often meant a career in the army or in politics; and from the professional and business community, a background that often led to a professional or a political career.
The social and educational background of Irish MPs and their familiarity with the forms of parliamentary procedure ensured that they fitted easily into the ways of the Westminster Parliament. Initially there was some concern in London lest the existing chamber should fail to accommodate an additional 100 Members. Steps were therefore taken to add to its seating accommodation, a decision which led to the British Parliament meeting for the last time in the old apartment of the court of Star Chamber. After the Union had taken place the Irish Members were quickly absorbed, and soon made a substantial impact upon the debates. Here is Lord Malmesbury reporting on the debut of the most famous of Irish orators, Henry Grattan, 14 May 1805, during the debate on the Catholic petition:
whose action was of so grotesque a character as a speaker, (that of a mower), and his pronunciation so singular, (that of an Italian), that his fate hung on a straw. Five minutes later, and the House would have been in a roar of laughter, when he burst forth into one of his flowery, but at the same time strikingly eloquent periods, and retrieved the day, leaving himself, however, with fewer admirers than he had possessed in the legislative assembly of his native country. Pitt was very much struck with him, saw the danger he had incurred of failure, with his usual kind-heartedness expressed pleasure at his narrow escape, for such he deemed it, and admiration of Grattan’s great, but singular, display of talent in that peculiar style of oratory (which, however, Pitt did not approve of).
Other Irish Members impressed the House with the frequency and range of their speeches. Sir John Newport and Sir Henry Parnell were among the most frequent speakers from any quarter of the House in the post-Union period, each specializing in economic reform both in Ireland and in Britain. Following his maiden speech on the dismissal of Lord Grenville’s government on 9 Apr. 1807, Lord Holland nominated William Conyngham Plunket ‘the greatest accession to parliamentary debate that many years had produced’, recalling that his speech ‘exerted a species of commanding eloquence and close reasoning in favour of concession to Roman Catholics, which the House already enriched with much genius and talent from Ireland, had never yet witnessed from that country’. Speaker Abbot hinted at the reasons why Plunket succeeded with the House where Grattan had so nearly failed: ‘Grave, impressive, and argumentative, delivered with great apparent sincerity and earnestness, and an imposing but unaffected solemnity. A few Irish idioms, but nothing of Irish accent, or Irish logic.’
There were of course many silent and absentee Irish Members. Travelling from Ireland to Britain was hazardous in winter, and not all had the zeal of Dr Duigenan, MP for Armagh, who ‘forced the same horse to carry him in seven days from Holyhead to London’ in a fruitless attempt to take part in a debate on a proposal to increase the grant to the Roman Catholic College at Maynooth. Other factors tending towards absenteeism were the expense of residence in London and the problem of reconciling attendance at Westminster with responsibilities at the assizes or estates at home. The biographies of the Irish MPs suggest that nearly half made no recorded speech and one-quarter could not be relied on to attend. Yet, by their mere presence at Westminster, the Irish MPs had a decisive impact upon the numerical strength of the governments and oppositions of this period. Prior to the Union the Whigs had feared that the additional 100 Members would increase the strength of the government of the day. Subsequent alignments are illustrated in the following table:
|9 Feb. 1802||Addington||73||17||10|
|22 Dec. 1802||Addington||72||19||8||1|
|27 May 1806||Grenville||77||18||5|
|1 June 1807||Portland||58||34||8|
|30 Oct. 1812||Liverpool||67||29||4|
|25 July 1818||Liverpool||71||28||1|
Some reference has already been made to the patronage available from the resources of the Irish administration at Dublin Castle, patronage that had long served to ensure a government majority among the 300 members of the old Irish parliament. There was the power to appoint to offices compatible with a seat for an Irish constituency. Initially the Act of Union had restricted to 20 the number of office-holders who could represent Irish constituencies. This was followed by a measure which came into force at the beginning of the 1802 Parliament disqualifying the members of the boards of customs, excise, stamps or accounts, the commissioners of appeals concerning those departments, army agents and anyone who had a contract or agreement with the Treasury board. This still left a number of offices compatible with an Irish seat at the disposal of the government of the day, including the chancellor of the Irish exchequer, the lordships of the Irish treasury and the auditorships and tellerships of the Irish exchequer. Although the separate Irish treasury and exchequer were abolished in 1816 and their functions merged with the British, it remained the convention that a number of posts in the United Kingdom Treasury were reserved for Irish Members. Thus the government of the day could rely upon the support of at least 20 Irish office-holders before 1802 and at least ten thereafter. In addition the government purchased seats from the patrons of close boroughs and acted as broker between patrons and purchasers who were known to be well disposed towards the government. For example the Addington government acted as purchaser or broker for five such seats in the 1802 election, the average for this period. Government could indirectly aid the cause of sympathetic candidates during the course of elections, either by lending its name to them or by arranging for them to be supported by local interests. More important was the influence the government could exercise through the distribution of honours and favours in central and local government, in the Established Church and the legal and military professions. This patronage was exercised through the lord lieutenant and the chief secretary and was specifically aimed at securing the maximum support from Irish MPs. It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of Members who were influenced by patronage of this kind, but it is significant that 175 places of one kind or another were distributed among the relatives and friends of the 71 Members representing Irish constituencies who were supporting Lord Liverpool’s government in the 1818 Parliament.
Of course, in Ireland, as elsewhere, many MPs, especially county Members, supported government as a matter of general principle. Further cogent reasons for the support given by Irish Members to the government of the day were the course that politics took in the post-Union period and the electoral weakness of the Whigs in Ireland. The continuity in government before and after Lord Grenville’s ministry and the Napoleonic wars encouraged this general support of administration. The normal leaders of the opposition—the Whigs—had only a small electoral interest in Ireland. Following the 1812 election there were only 29 of them, seven of whom were members of the Ponsonby family; three had purchased their seats from Whig patrons; four were Irish Grenvilles; two were relatives of traditional Whig families; one owed his seat to Earl Fitzwilliam; and the remainder were independent supporters of the Whigs.
There were three issues, however, that led Irish Members to abandon their customary political alignment. The first was the cause of the Prince of Wales. The Prince was popular with many Irish Members, to some as a result of his alleged sympathy with the cause of Irish patriotism, to others as a result of his friendship and patronage, and to most because he was likely to succeed to the throne. Thus when the Prince’s interest was being actively canvassed against that of ministers a number of Irish Members abandoned government and took his side. When Calcraft moved a motion critical of the administration’s handling of the Prince’s finances in March 1803, 24 Members from Irish constituencies supported him. One was an Englishman, and of the Irish ten were normally supporters of the government. When the Prince’s friends were actively bidding for recruits in the winter of 1803-4 and 1810-11, they were notably successful among Irish Members who traditionally supported the government of the day. Secondly, Irish Members were swayed by matters affecting the administration of Ireland, such as Robert Shaw’s motion to repeal the wartime window tax (5 May 1819) which received 44 votes from Irish Members, nearly double the normal strength of the Irish in opposition. The third and most important issue was Catholic emancipation. The Irish administrations of Lord Hardwicke (1801-6) and the Duke of Richmond (1807-13) were strongly anti-Catholic and both viceroys were disposed to make opposition to emancipation a proof of loyalty to the government and a virtual guarantee of its patronage in Ireland. Moreover, even after Lord Liverpool had made the issue an open one for his cabinet colleagues in 1812, the Irish administration remained opposed to concession. Thus with the exception of the period of Lord Grenville’s government (1806-7) those Irish Members who opposed Catholic emancipation acted in conformity with the outlook of the Irish administration and the government of the day. An increasing number, however, rising from 29 in 1805 to more than 35 in the 1807 Parliament and to above 40 in that of 1812 took a contrary view, thereby substantially increasing the number normally disposed to oppose administration. Their reasons were mixed. About half, including Grattan and Plunket, the leading Irish exponents of the pro-Catholic line in Parliament, were thick-and-thin supporters, arguing the case both on the grounds of justice and as a means of preserving the protestant interest. The rest, including many of those normally disposed to support government, were less enthusiastic and some undoubtedly acted as they did to appease the growing Catholic interest in the open constituencies. It was in this way that the Union bore strange fruit. Shorn of the adjunct of Catholic emancipation by the workings of the King’s conscience in 1801, it weighted Irish parliamentary representation in favour of those constituencies in which the Catholic interest had the greatest potential opportunity for expression.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. For this reason the right of election, the number of voters and the population of the constituent burghs have not been supplied in the headings of the Scottish burgh constituency articles.
- 2. Whig Organization in the Election of 1790.
- 3. Add. 33049, f. 354.
- 4. NLS mss 9370, f. 197.
- 5. Add. 51471A, ff. 1-16.
- 6. Spencer mss.
- 7. Add. 51917.
- 8. Grey mss.
- 9. Fortescue mss.
- 10. Grey mss.
- 11. SRO GD51/198/29/7.