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Unreformed House of Commons

The unreformed House of Commons is the name generally given to the British House of Commons as it existed before the Reform Act of 1832.

Until the Act of Union of 1707 joining the Kingdoms of Scotland and England (to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain), Scotland had its own Parliament, and the term refers to the English House of Commons (which included representatives from Wales from the 16th century). From 1707 to 1801 the term refers to the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Great Britain. Until the Act of Union of 1801 joining the Kingdom of Ireland to Great Britain (to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland), Ireland also had its own Parliament. From 1801 to 1832, therefore, the term refers to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The House of Commons evolved long before the modern theory of democracy. In mediaeval political theory it was believed that sovereignty flowed from God, not from the people, and that monarchy was the form of government ordained by God. The King (or Queen) was "the Lord's anointed," and it was the duty of the people to obey the King as God's representative. Nevertheless, it was always recognised that the King had a corresponding duty to rule wisely and for the people's benefit, and from an early date it was accepted that this included the duty to listen to the advice of the people, as expressed by their chosen representatives. To this idea was added the practical consideration that it was easier for the King to collect the taxes he needed if the people consented to pay them.

Composition of the House

The House of Commons consisted entirely of men, most of them men of substantial property, and (after the Glorious Revolution of 1688) entirely of Anglicans (except in Scotland). All of these restrictions were in conformity with the dominant ideology of the time. Women could neither vote nor stand for election, and this was not questioned by any substantial number of people until well after 1832. Members of Parliament were not paid, which meant that only men of wealth could take the time to serve. In any case, candidates had to be electors, which meant that in most places they had to have substantial property, usually in the form of land.

Virtually all members representing county seats (see below) were landed gentlemen. Many were relatives or dependants of peers, but others took pride in being independent squires who did not have titles. These independent country gentlemen, sometimes called "the country party" although they were not an organised party, were often the only source of opposition to the government of the day, since they had no need to gain government favour through their votes in the House.

Members for borough seats (see below) were sometimes also local squires, but were more frequently merchants or urban professionals such as lawyers. A large number of borough members were placed in their seats by the government of the day in order to provide support to the government: these were known as "placemen," and it was a long-standing objective of parliamentary reformers to get the placemen out of the House of Commons. Some borough members were men of little means, sometimes in debt or insolvent, who agreed to become placemen in return for government funds. All 18th century governments depended on this corrupt element to maintain their majorities. Some boroughs were under the control of particular ministers or government departments. The members representing the Cinque Ports, for example, were traditionally dependants of the Admiralty and spoke for the interests of the Royal Navy.

Although there was no religious restriction on the right to vote, in practice most Catholics were prevented from voting between the reign of Elizabeth I and the first Catholic Relief Act of 1778, because they could not own or inherit land, making them unable to meet the property requirement (although many Catholic families circumvented this prohibition). Even after 1778, eligibility for election to the House of Commons was restricted by the fact that members had to take an Anglican oath to take their seats. This excluded Catholics, non-Anglican Protestants (known as Dissenters), Jews and atheists from the House. (This restriction did not apply to Presbyterians in Scotland, where the Church of Scotland was the established church.)

It is a widely held view that the quality of members of the House of Commons declined over the 250 years before its reform in 1832, and this belief was one of the stimulants for reform. Sir John Neale could say of the county members in the reign of Elizabeth I: "It was not sufficient for candidates to belong to the more substantial families… They usually had to show some initiative and will." In the boroughs, he wrote, "competition tended to eliminate the less vigorous, less intelligent and unambitious." This would not be accepted as a description of the situation in the reign of George III, when it was frequently said that the House of full of lazy time-servers, talentless dependants of peers, and corrupt placemen and government agents.

What did not change was the numerical dominance of country gentlemen in the House. In 1584 they comprised 240 members in a House of 460. Two hundred years later this proportion had hardly changed, even though the social composition of Britain had changed radically over that time. But the proportion of independent members had declined. The proportion of these members who were sons or close relatives of peers rose considerably over this period. In 1584 only 24 members were sons of peers: by the end of the 18th century this number had risen to about 130 (in a House of 659), (19.72% ) a fourfold proportional increase.

In the 18th century about 50 members of the House held ministerial or similar government offices. These included a number of officials who today would be career civil servants: the Secretary of the Admiralty, for example. As well, a number of members were given ceremonial Court appointments, usually sinecures, as a means of ensuring their loyalty. These included such archaic posts as eight Clerks of the Green Cloth and a dozen Grooms of the Bedchamber. Many more members held other sinecures of various kinds, mostly clerkships in government departments, posts which usually involved no actual work. This was not necessarily regarded as corrupt – in an age when Members received neither payments nor pensions, a sinecure position was regarded as a legitimate reward for service, but it also served to keep the recipient loyal. More clearly corrupt was the payment of secret pensions to Members by the Treasury. In 1762 sixteen Members were thus secretly in the pay of the government.

Opposition rhetoric at the time, however, tended to exaggerate the corruption of the 18th century House of Commons and the extent to which governments controlled the House by corrupt means. John Brooke's studies of division lists led him to comment: "The majority of Members voting with Government held no office and did so through honest conviction." The lists show, he said "that Members were given office because they voted with Government, not that they voted with Government in order to obtain office." As he points out, at a time when there were no formal political parties and hence no party discipline in the House, governments had to resort to other expedients to secure a majority and allow the continuity of government.

County members

England had been divided into counties (or shires) since Anglo-Saxon times, and these formed the first basis of representation. Two knights of the shire were chosen to represent each county. Before 1536 England had 39 counties (see list below), electing 78 knights of the shire. These "knights" were local landowners who did not hold peerages (in which case they would be members of the House of Lords). When Wales was formally annexed to England in 1536, each of the 12 Welsh counties elected one knight of the shire. Monmouthshire, previously part of the Welsh Marches, became an English county, electing two members, thus making a total of 92 county members.

In order to be either a candidate or an elector for a county seat, a man had to own (not rent) freehold property valued for the land tax at two pounds a year. (Women could neither vote nor be elected.) This was known as "the 40 shilling freehold." (There were 20 shillings to the pound). This rule was established by an act of 1430, and as the value of money gradually declined over subsequent centuries, an increasing number of landowners were admitted to the franchise. By the early 19th century, for example, Yorkshire had more than 20,000 electors, while Kent, Lancashire and Somerset had nearly 10,000 each. By 1831 the English county electorate was estimated at about 190,000.

County members were usually elected without an actual ballot taking place. Only at times of acute party strife did many counties see contested elections. In every county there was a group of landowning families, usually with a peer at their head, and these families would informally agree on who would stand for the county at a given election. They were frequently relatives or allies of the leading peers of the county. Some counties were represented by the same two or three families for centuries (the Lowthers of Westmorland being a good example). Sometimes a county would not see a contest for generations. Nottinghamshire, for example, did not see a contested election between 1722 and 1832. A notable exception was Middlesex, the county which contained much of suburban London, and which had some famously contentious elections.

Borough members

Even in mediaeval times a significant proportion of the King's revenue came from taxes paid by people living in towns, and thus the House of Commons had representatives of boroughs as well as counties from an early date. A borough was a town which had a Royal charter giving it the right to elect two members (known as burgesses) to the House of Commons. (Five English boroughs elected only one member, while two boroughs – the City of London and the double borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in Dorset – elected four members each.) From the 16th century 12 boroughs in Wales elected one member each.

Mediaeval kings could and did grant and revoke charters at their pleasure, often to create seats in the House for his supporters, and frequently regardless of the size or importance of the town. Thus there were "rotten boroughs" (boroughs with very few voters) from very early times, but they increased in number over the years as many old towns lost population. The two most famous examples were Old Sarum, which by the 18th century had no residents at all, and Dunwich in Suffolk, most of which had fallen into the sea. The number of English boroughs fluctuated over time, until the last new borough charter was issued in 1674. From then on the number was fixed at 203, electing 405 members (see list below).

The franchise for borough seats varied enormously. In some boroughs, virtually all adult homeowners could vote. In others, only a handful of landowners could vote. In still others, no-one could vote and the borough's members were chosen by its corporation (council), which was usually elected by a small group of property-owners.

The types of borough franchise were as follows:

Householder boroughs: These were commonly known as "potwalloper" boroughs, because (it was said) anyone who owned a hearth which could boil a pot could vote. In these boroughs all resident male householders who were not receiving alms or poor relief could vote. There were 12 of these boroughs, including Northampton which had over 1,000 voters even in the 17th century, Preston and other substantial towns, although some were very small, such as St Germans in Cornwall, which had only 20 voters.

While the householder boroughs were in theory the most democratic, they were in practice very corrupt, notorious for bribery of voters by candidates and their patrons, frequently with liquor, which made for riotous and expensive elections. At Aylesbury in 1761, the successful candidate simply paid the electors five pounds each for their votes. Sometimes the voters banded together and openly sold the borough to the highest bidder. This usually meant that only the rich and the corrupt could win these seats.

Freeman boroughs: These were boroughs in which the franchise was restricted to "freemen of the borough." There were 92 of these, the largest single group of boroughs. The property qualifications to be a freeman varied widely from place to place. The City of London had about 7,000 freemen in the 18th century, and about 25 other freeman boroughs had at least 1,000 electors, but about 30 boroughs had fewer than 200 electors, and these boroughs were in practice under the control of the town corporation.

In practice the larger freeman boroughs were the most democratic part of the unreformed political system. They were contested at most elections, and the contests were frequently about political issues rather than just about who had the most money to spend. Some of these boroughs were corrupt, and others were controlled by aristocratic patrons, but many freeman boroughs valued their independence. Bristol, the seat of Edmund Burke, was the most notable of these. Most of the larger county towns such as Chester, Gloucester, Leicester, Norwich, Nottingham, Worcester and York were of this type. But some large freeman boroughs, such as Cambridge, had small and undemocratic electorates because the right to be a freeman was restricted to a small group.

Scot and lot boroughs: These were 37 boroughs in which the franchise was restricted to those paying scot and lot, a form of municipal taxation. These boroughs ranged in size from the most democratic borough of all, Westminster, which had 12,000 famously radical voters in the late 18th century and was held by the Whig leader Charles James Fox, down to a rotten borough such as Gatton in Surrey, which in 1831 had a grand total of two voters. Some of these boroughs were in practice owned by aristocratic patrons, while others were notoriously corrupt.

Corporation boroughs: These 27 boroughs restricted the right to vote to members of the borough corporation. In none of them was the electorate larger than 60, and in most it was much smaller. Apart from Salisbury and Bath, they were mostly small towns. As a result these boroughs were rarely contested, since the corporation members usually decided among themselves who would be elected. They were usually known as "pocket boroughs" because they were frequently "in the pocket" of a wealthy patron, although they were not as corrupt as the rotten boroughs.

Burgage boroughs: In these 29 boroughs, the right to vote was attached to ownership of certain properties known as burgages – whoever owned a certain house or field had a vote in the borough. Since burgage properties could be bought and sold, these were the easiest boroughs for wealthy patrons to control. In a small burgage borough, a patron who bought all the burgages had absolute control. At election time he would simply convey the burgages to his relatives and friends, and thereby in effect nominate two members of Parliament. These boroughs included the notorious Old Sarum, which had no resident voters at all. As a result these boroughs were rarely contested, and even more rarely successfully contested.

Freeholder boroughs: In the remaining six boroughs, the right to vote was held by all freeholders. This was in theory quite democratic, but since they were all small towns none of them had electorates larger than 300 even in 1831.

It is not possible to calculate the size of the borough electorate with any accuracy, since many boroughs were rarely contested, and no records were made of eligible voters unless there was a contest. As well, many people owned property in more than one borough and could thus vote more than once (this was called plural voting). One estimate is that there were 170,000 eligible borough voters in 1831. This would give a total English electorate of about 360,000 at the time of the Reform Act, or about 10% of adult males.

University members

The two ancient universities of Cambridge and Oxford elected two members each from 1603. The franchise was restricted to holders of doctoral and masters degrees, which excluded the great bulk of graduates (mostly Anglican clergy) holding bachelor's degrees. Both universities had about 500 electors in the 18th century, rising to 800 by 1832, but at most elections a much smaller number actually voted. After the Act of Union of 1801, Dublin University also elected one member.

Welsh members

The twelve Welsh counties elected one member each, on the same franchise as English counties. Since Wales was much poorer than England, however, the county electorates were much smaller. The Welsh county electorate was about 19,000 in 1800. The twelve Welsh boroughs also elected one member each. Until the late 18th century all of them were very small towns. The franchise for the Welsh boroughs was a mix of freemen, scot and lot and corporation, but in practice there were all under the control of local patrons and contested elections were rare.

Scottish members

The Act of Union of 1707 brought 45 Scottish members to the House of Commons. Of these 30 were elected by the 33 Scottish counties, while 15 were elected from the Scottish boroughs (called burghs in Scotland). The electoral system which had operated in the Scottish Parliament since its creation was preserved for the election of Scotland's representatives at Westminster.

Twenty-seven counties elected one member each (this included Orkney and Shetland, which were strictly speaking not counties but fiefs of the Crown, but were treated as if they were a county). The six smallest counties were grouped together into three groups of two (Buteshire and Caithness, Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire, and Nairnshire and Cromartyshire), with one of each pair electing a member at alternate elections.

The Scottish county franchise was even more restrictive than for the English counties. A voter either had to own land worth the equivalent of two pounds sterling "of old extent" — meaning that the land had to have had that value since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the 14th century — or to hold as a Crown tenant land to the value of 35 pounds sterling. This restricted the franchise to a handful of wealthy landowners, and in most counties there were fewer than 100 voters. In some it was far fewer: in Sutherlandshire the Duke of Sutherland owned almost the entire county, and all the voters were his tenants, while in Orkney and Shetland there were seven voters in 1759. The total Scottish county electorate was fewer than 3,000 in 1800.

The 15 Scottish burghs consisted of the city of Edinburgh, where the 33 members of the city corporation elected a member, and 14 groups of four or five smaller burghs, each group electing one member between them. The franchise in the groups of burghs was held by the corporations of each of the burghs making up the group. Each burgh corporation would chose a delegate, and the delegates would then meet to elect the member. The representation tended to rotate among the burghs in each group. Since most of the burghs were little more than villages, the leading county families could usually bribe the corporation members to get their nominees elected.

For many years the Scottish representation was manipulated by Henry Dundas, the Scottish agent of the Tory party, who spent government funds liberally ensuring that Tories were elected. This was one reason why the Scottish members were unpopular at Westminster, being regarded as corrupt even by the standards of the day, as well as uncouth.

Irish members

The Act of Union of 1801 brought 100 Irish members to the House of Commons. The 32 Irish counties elected two members each, while 33 boroughs elected 36 members (all elected one member except Dublin and Cork, which elected two). The remaining seat was given to Dublin University. The franchise in the counties was the same as for England, and the total Irish county electorate, at about 220,000 in 1801, was actually larger than the English county electorate (Ireland had a larger population relative to England than it does today, and had a larger rural gentry). But the franchise was drastically raised in 1829 when Catholics were allowed to sit in the House of Commons, to deprive the mass of Irish Catholics of the vote and minimise the impact of this concession).

Of the Irish boroughs, only Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Londonderry and Waterford had any real democratic electorate. Belfast’s member was elected by the city corporation and the seat was never contested.

The exclusion of Catholics from the House of Commons was of most consequence in Ireland, where 80 percent of the population were Catholic. At the time of the Act of Union, the Irish were promised that the restriction on Catholics would be lifted, but this promise was broken because of the opposition of George III. This meant that except in the Protestant northern counties, most Irish, no matter how wealthy, were excluded from politics until Catholic Emancipation was finally achieved in 1829.

Unrepresented towns

Since the distribution of seats in the House of Commons among the boroughs did not change after the 17th century, no account was taken of the massive demographic changes that took place in the wake of the industrial revolution of the 18th century. While an uninhabited hill such as Old Sarum elected two members of Parliament, great cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bolton, Bradford and Huddersfield had no direct representation. Residents of these cities who met the 40 shilling freehold test could vote in their respective counties, and this explains why the county electorate in industrial counties like Yorkshire and Lancashire grew rapidly, but the bulk of the fast-growing urban middle class remained voteless.

In addition, Glasgow, a major industrial and commercial centre, although technically represented in the House of Commons, was part of a district of burghs that meant it was in practice without representation, and since none of its citizens met the county franchise none of them had a direct vote. Some other industrial towns which elected members but with a very narrow franchise were in the same situation: Wigan, for example, had 10,000 people in 1800 but only 100 electors. Residents of the fast-growing London suburbs were also unrepresented unless they met the county franchise to vote in Middlesex, Surrey or Kent.

Movements for reform

During the English Revolution of the 1640s, the electoral system for the House of Commons was scrapped (and the House of Lords abolished). The revolutionary governments considered various alternative methods of electing a legislature.

At the Putney Debates of 1647, representatives of various factions of the victorious Parliamentary army debated whether to adopt a more democratic franchise. The radicals led by Thomas Rainborough argued for manhood suffrage. The conservatives, led by Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, argued that since the great majority of Englishmen were peasant tenants, if given the vote they would vote as their landlords directed, and this would lead to the restoration of the monarchy.

In the circumstances of the time, this proved a persuasive argument, and proposals for a wider franchise or a redistribution of representation were rejected. But no other acceptable basis could be found for electing the House of Commons, and there was no functioning legislature during most of Cromwell’s regime. The Restoration of 1660 restored the pre-revolutionary system in its entirety.

Following the Restoration there was a long period during which any challenge to the system of representation was equated with republicanism and treason. At the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 there was no attempt to re-open the question. A reform movement began in the mid 18th century. Although the Whig party was ambivalent in its attitude to reform, some Whig leaders like Fox and Earl Grey raised the issue many times, but nothing was achieved in the face of Tory resistance. After 1789 the English reaction against the excesses of the French Revolution stifled all attempts to raise the issue until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.

Between 1815 and 1832 pressure for reform mounted steadily. The Napoleonic Wars had greatly strengthened the urban middle classes, and their leaders, mainly Dissenting businessmen and editors from northern England, mounted an increasingly vociferous campaign. There was also a radical working-class campaign which demanded manhood suffrage (or even universal suffrage), annual Parliaments and other radical changes, but the mainstream reform leaders did not support these demands.

Unable to challenge the system of representation successfully, reformers had to content themselves with bringing in bills to abolish specific particularly corrupt boroughs. The Tories regularly rejected these bills until 1826, where Lord Liverpool's government surprised the reformers by accepting a bill to disfranchise Grampound in Cornwall, when the borough's patron had been convicted of bribery. The reformers, led by Lord John Russell, wanted to transfer Grampound's two seats to Leeds, but Liverpool would not accept this precedent. So the seats were given to Yorkshire, which thus elected four county members from 1826 to 1832. A few years later East Retford was also disfranchised, but its seats were transferred to the neighbouring hundred of Bassetlaw rather than to one of the new cities.

The grant of additional seats to Yorkshire was a recognition of the pressure for reform coming from the county landowners in those counties which contained the unrepresented cities, such as Yorkshire, who were increasingly finding themselves outvoted in their own counties by urban voters. By the early 19th century, for example, Middlesex was more than 60% urban, and a dozen other counties were more than 30% urban.

It is important to recognise that few of those who were pushing for reform of the House of Commons were doing so in order to make the political system more democratic. "Democracy" in the 1820s was still a term associated with mob rule and the excesses of the French Revolution. Nearly all political actors accepted that the House of Commons should represent interests (that is to say, property), rather than numbers. One of the leading reformers, Lord John Russell, said in 1831: "Elections carried by money, treating and an appeal to low passions will produce such disorder, and such disgust, that an arbitrary monarchy will sooner or later be the consequence. Our object should rather be to place the power of choice in men of property and intelligence… If you place the franchise too low… you run the risk of creating more evils on the one side than you put down on the other."

But by the beginning of the 19th century it was widely felt that the House no longer represented property effectively. It represented only a fragment of property: mostly landed property in the counties. Finance and manufacturing capital, the dominant form of property after the industrial revolution, was not represented. This, and not a desire for democracy, was why most Whigs and even some Tories turned against the old system during the 1820s.

End of the Unreformed House

The issue which finally brought the reform issue to a head was Catholic emancipation in 1829, which removed barriers to Catholics being elected to the House of Commons. Many Protestant conservatives came to favour a wider franchise, and particularly the enfranchisement of the heavily Protestant cities of the northern England, Wales and Scotland, as a means of reducing Catholic influence and safeguarding British rule in Ireland. This finally led the conservative Whigs to support a moderate reform.

It is a paradox of the old system that when the political class finally decided to accept reform, the electoral system they had denounced for decades as completely unrepresentative readily allowed them to do so. At the August 1830 election, the Tory administration of the Duke of Wellington lost 40 to 50 seats to the Whigs. On one estimate, of the 250 seats in which there was any kind of genuine electorate, the Tories won only about 80. This setback led to Wellington's resignation in November, and Earl Grey formed a ministry pledged to reform.

When Grey's reform bill was narrowly defeated, he dissolved and sought a fresh mandate in April 1831. At this election the Whigs had a landslide victory. They won both seats in 35 of the 40 English counties, and made an almost clean sweep of the boroughs with genuine electorates. Of the 230 seats the Tories held, most were in rotten or "closed" boroughs, or else in Scotland, which had almost no genuine electorate. By one reckoning, the Tories could claim to represent only 50,000 voters, while the four Whig members for Yorkshire alone represented 100,000 voters. Faced with this decisive verdict, the House of Lords and the King gave way and the Great Reform Act was passed.

The Reform Act extended the franchise only slightly (from about 500,000 to about 750,000 voters). But it took the first vital steps towards reform: disfranchising the rotten boroughs (56 boroughs were abolished, while another 30 were reduced from two seats to one), giving seats to 50 new boroughs and to the more populous counties, completely reforming the electoral system in Scotland, and introducing a uniform borough franchise. Although the new arrangements were still a far cry from democracy, the Reform Act was the decisive step in ending the old system and paving the way for further reform.

Table of counties and boroughs

  • In the following tables, the size of the electorate is shown as it was estimated to be in about 1800. These figures are estimates only, particularly in seats which were rarely contested.
  • In England, Scotland and Wales, there were 29 general elections between 1700 and the Reform Act of 1832. In Ireland, there were 11 elections between the Act of Union in 1801 and 1832. The figure under “Times contested” is the number of general elections at which the seat was contested during these periods. By-elections are not counted.
  • The dominant families in the counties gradually changed over time. They are shown as they were around 1800.
  • Monmouthshire was an English county from its formation in 1536, although it is in most respects Welsh and was formally made part of Wales in 1974.

English counties

County Voters in 1800 Times contested Dominant interests Comments
Bedfordshire 2,000 14 Russell, St John Under the dominant influence of the Duke of Bedford, head of the Russell family, Bedfordshire was a Whig stronghold.
Berkshire 3,000 11 Dundas, Neville, Vansittart There was no single dominant family. The seats were usually shared between Tories and Whigs.
Buckinghamshire 4,000 10 Cavendish Bentinck, Grenville The Grenvilles, led after 1821 by the Duke of Buckingham, and the Cavendish-Bentincks, led by the Duke of Portland, shared the representation. There was only one contest between 1734 and 1831.
Cambridgeshire 3,000 9 Manners, Yorke The Tory Manners family, led by the Duke of Rutland, dominated the county until 1830, when two Whigs were elected.
Cheshire 5,000 8 Cholmondeley, Crewe, Egerton Uncontested between 1734 and 1831, Cheshire was a Tory stronghold, the representation shared among the leading families by agreement.
Cornwall 2,700 5 Lemon, St Aubyn, Tremaine, Vyvyan Cornwall’s 21 boroughs attracted candidates from all over the country, but the county seats were rarely contested, since the Whig Lemons and the Tory Tremaines usually shared the representation.
Cumberland 4,000 6 Fletcher, Lowther The dominant northern family, the Tory Lowthers, always controlled one seat. The other usually went to a Whig family such as the Fletchers. Contests were rare.
Derbyshire 3,000 4 Cavendish, Curzon, Mundy The Whig Cavendish family, led by the Duke of Devonshire, always nominated one member, leaving the other to the local Tory families. As a result of this arrangement contests were very rare.
Devon 8,000 6 Acland, Bastard Despite the large electorate, the county was not contested between 1700 and 1790, being dominated by the Tory Aclands and Bastards. The Tories were dramatically overthrown in 1831 when Lord John Russell won a seat.
Dorset 3,000 4 Chaffin, Pitt, Portman, Stangways There was no one dominant family, although one of the members was usually a Tory Pitt. There was no contest between 1727 and 1806.
County Durham 3,500 6 Eden, Vane Most of the local families were Whigs, and usually shared the representation among themselves, making contests rare.
Essex 6,000 12 Abdy, Bullock, Bramston Essex was a large and wealthy county, close to the metropolis, and saw regular contests, usually when the Whig Bullocks and the Tory Bramstons could not agree on candidates.
Gloucestershire 6,000 9 Berkeley, Guise, Somerset The Tory Somersets, led by the Duke of Beaufort, and two Whig families, the Berkeleys and their cousins the Guises, conducted a long feud in the county, which ended in an agreement in 1783 to share the representation. Thereafter there were no contests until 1832.
Hampshire 5,000 8 Heathcote, Jervoise, Thistlethwayte The Tory Heathcotes and the Whig Jervoises and Thistlethwaytes were regular rivals, with the Whig Duke of Bedford using his influence in the county to assist his allies. But the Tories usually controlled the representation until being overthrown in 1831.
Herefordshire 3,500 8 Cornewall, Cotterell, Harley The Whig Cornewalls and the Tory Harleys dominated the county until 1802, when the Tory Cotterells entered the fray. Thereafter the Tories usually controlled the representation.
Hertfordshire 4,000 13 Brand, Plumer, Seabright Being close to London, Hertfordshire saw regular contests. Despite the presence of the Tory magnate the Marquess of Salisbury, the county families were mostly Whigs and after 1803 they fended off the Tories at every election.
Huntingdonshire 1,700 9 Montague The Tory Montague family, led by the Earl of Sandwich, was the dominant force in this small county, although sometimes rival members of the same family gave the Sandwich interest trouble. Only in 1831 did the Whigs manage to win a seat.
Kent 9,000 14 Knatchbull The Tory Knatchbulls were the leading county family, but the county's size, wealth and proximity to London made it impossible to control and there were frequent contests, often between East Kent and West Kent interests. The government, through the Admiralty's influence in the Kent ports, also had a big say.
Lancashire 8,000 5 Blackburn, Stanley The Stanleys, led by the Earl of Derby (at this time a Whig) dominated the county. One seat was nearly always held by a Stanley relative, the other by one of the leading Tory families.
Leicestershire 6,000 7 Keck, Manners, Palmer The representation was divided between the Tory Manners family, led by the Duke of Rutland, and local families, who were also mostly Tories.
Lincolnshire 7,000 4 Chaplin, Heathcote, Pelham A large agricultural county, Lincolnshire had no dominant interest, but the Pelhams, relatives of the Duke of Newcastle, usually held one seat for the Whigs. The Chaplins were the leading Tory family. There was no contest between 1710 and 1806.
Middlesex 6,000 14 None By 1800 the Middlesex electorate was more than 70% urban as the London suburbs grew, and the remaining landed families lost their influence. The county was frequently and hotly contested, with radicals such as John Wilkes, Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and Joseph Hume being elected.
Monmouthshire 1,500 4 Morgan, Somerset The Tory Somersets, led by the Duke of Beaufort, shared the representation with the leading local Whigs, the Morgans. There were no contests after 1727.
Norfolk 7,000 8 Astley, Coke, Wodehouse Norfolk was a large county and expensive to contest, so the Whig Astleys and Cokes and the Tory Wodehouses usually shared the representation.
Northamptonshire 3,000 5 Cartwright, Powys, Spencer The Whig relatives of Earl Spencer were the most prominent county family, but did not dominate county politics until after 1806, when Viscount Althorp was elected. The Tory Cartwrights usually held the other seat.
Northumberland 2,000 6 Grey, Percy The Tory Percys, led by the Duke of Northumberland, shared the representation with the Whig Greys, led by Charles Grey, who sat for the county until he became Earl Grey in 1807.
Nottinghamshire 3,000 4 Bentinck, Pierrepont The Duke of Newcastle and the Duke of Portland, both Whigs, dominated the county until well into the 19th century, which was why there was no contest after 1722. The Newcastle seat was usually held by a Pierrepont.
Oxfordshire 4,000 4 Spencer The Tory Spencers, family of the Duke of Marlborough, dominated the county from their seat at Blenheim Palace. One seat was usually held by a Spencer, the other by a local family acceptable to the Duke. Between 1700 and 1826 there was only one contest.
Rutland 800 7 Finch, Noel This small county was controlled, not by the Duke of Rutland, but by local Tory families. There was no contest after 1761.
Shropshire 4,000 7 Cotes, Hill, Lyster, Powell Shropshire was a rural county dominated by local families, mostly Tories, although the Whig Coteses sometimes held a seat.
Somerset 9,000 6 Acland, Coxe, Dickinson, Langton Local families shared the representation, usually in a way which meant that one member came from East Somerset and one from the West. The Tory Dickinsons and the Whig Langtons were prominent.
Staffordshire 5,000 3 Leveson Gower, Littleton There were few contests in Staffordshire, despite the county’s rapid industrialisation, because the representation was shared between two Whig families, the Leveson Gowers and the Littletons.
Suffolk 5,000 7 Bunbury, Davers, Gooch There was no dominant interest, and local families such as the Whig Bunburys and the Tory Gooches usually shared the representation.
Surrey 4,000 17 None Being close to London and densely settled, Surrey was not open to domination by landed interests, and saw frequent contests, with the Tories usually successful until their final overthrow in 1826.
Sussex 5,000 12 Lennox, Pelham The Pelhams, Whig relatives of the Duke of Newcastle, and the Tory Lennoxes, led by the Duke of Richmond, dominated West and East Sussex respectively, but there were frequent contests. Prime Minister Henry Pelham represented the county from 1722 to 1747.
Warwickshire 4,000 2 Dugdale, Lawley, Mordaunt Warwickshire was contested only in 1705 and 1774. This was because of an agreement that one member should always be a Whig from Birmingham (which had no representation) and the other a Tory from a county family, usually a Mordaunt.
Westmorland 2,400 11 Lowther The Tory Lowther family was completely dominant in the county and usually nominated both members. After 1818 there were regular contests only because Henry Brougham insisted on running against the Lowthers.
Wiltshire 5,000 5 Long, Wyndham There was no aristocratic influence in Wiltshire and the county families, mostly Tories, amicably shared the representation.
Worcestershire 3,500 5 Foley, Lygon, Lyttleton, Ward There were few contests in Worcestershire, because the Tory Lygons, led by Earl Beauchamp, and the Whig Foleys usually shared the representation.
Yorkshire 20,000 6 Fitzwilliam, Lascelles Contests were surprisingly rare in England’s largest and most populous county, partly because of the expense. No one family had enough influence to elect a member. Until 1784 there was an agreement between the Whigs and Tories to share the representation, but from 1784 to 1812 William Wilberforce and his personal brand of reforming Toryism dominated the county. In 1830 Henry Brougham stormed the county for the Whigs.

English boroughs

In alphabetical order by county

Borough County Franchise type Members Voters in 1800 Times contested Fate in 1832
Bedford Bedfordshire Freemen and
inhabitant householders
2 1,200 13 Retained two seats
Abingdon Berkshire Scot and lot 1 260 18 Retained one seat
New Windsor Berkshire Scot and lot 2 300 to 400 7 Retained two seats (as Windsor)
Reading Berkshire Scot and lot 2 over 800 18 Retained two seats
Wallingford Berkshire Scot and lot 2 200 14 Retained one seat
Amersham Buckinghamshire Scot and lot 2 130 3 Abolished
Aylesbury Buckinghamshire Inhabitant householders. From 1804, freeholders in
nearby areas as well.
2 500. After 1804, over 1,000 17 Retained two seats
Buckingham Buckinghamshire Corporation 2 13 4 Retained two seats
Chipping Wycombe Buckinghamshire Freemen 2 50 3 Retained two seats (as Wycombe)
Great Marlow Buckinghamshire Scot and lot 2 220 19 Retained two seats (as Marlow)
Wendover Buckinghamshire Inhabitant householders 2 150 9 Abolished
Cambridge Cambridgeshire Freemen 2 100 9 Retained two seats
Chester Cheshire Freemen 2 1,500 11 Retained two seats
Dover Cinque Ports Freemen 2 1,500 15 Retained two seats
Hastings Cinque Ports Resident freemen 2 20 7 Retained two seats
Hythe Cinque Ports Freemen 2 200 17 Retained one seat
New Romney Cinque Ports Corporation 2 15 Abolished
Rye Cinque Ports Scot and lot 2 15 9 Retained one seat
Sandwich Cinque Ports Freemen 2 700 12 Retained two seats
Seaford Cinque Ports Scot and lot 2 120 12 Abolished
Winchelsea Cinque Ports Resident freemen 2 very few 8 Abolished
Bodmin Cornwall Corporation 2 36 9 Retained two seats
Bossiney Cornwall Freemen 2 10 3 Abolished
Callington Cornwall Scot and lot 2 60 8 Abolished
Camelford Cornwall Scot and lot 2 25 4 Abolished
East Looe Cornwall Freemen 2 50 2 Abolished
Fowey Cornwall Scot and lot 2 130 8 Abolished
Grampound Cornwall Scot and lot 2 60 5 Disfranchised 1821
Helston Cornwall Corporation 2 50 6 Retained one seat
Launceston Cornwall Resident freemen 2 20 5 Retained one seat
Liskeard Cornwall Freemen 2 32 2 Retained one seat
Lostwithiel Cornwall Corporation 2 24 5 Abolished
Mitchell Cornwall Scot and lot 2 20 9 Abolished
Newport Cornwall Scot and lot 2 60 3 Abolished
Penryn Cornwall Scot and lot 2 250 17 Retained two seats (as Penryn and Falmouth)
St Germans Cornwall Resident householders 2 10 0 Abolished
St Ives Cornwall Scot and lot 2 250 17 Retained one seat
St Mawes Cornwall Freemen 2 20 5 Abolished
Saltash Cornwall Burgage holders 2 40 7 Abolished
Tregony Cornwall Inhabitant householders 2 200 12 Abolished
Truro Cornwall Corporation 2 25 6 Retained two seats
West Looe Cornwall Freemen 2 70 0 Abolished
Carlisle Cumberland Freemen 2 700 16 Retained two seats
Cockermouth Cumberland Burgage holders 2 200 8 Retained two seats
Derby Derbyshire Freemen 2 650 8 Retained two seats
Ashburton Devon Burgage holders 2 100 9 Retained one seat
Barnstaple Devon Freemen 2 500 16 Retained two seats
Bere Alston Devon Burgage holders 2 very few 0 Abolished
Dartmouth Devon Freemen 2 40 4 Retained one seat
Exeter Devon Freemen and freeholders 2 1,300 13 Retained two seats
Honiton Devon Householders 2 450 17 Retained two seats
Okehampton Devon Freemen and freeholders 2 250 8 Abolished
Plymouth Devon Freemen 2 200 6 Retained two seats
Plympton Erle Devon Freemen 2 50 3 Abolished
Tavistock Devon Freeholders 2 100 5 Retained two seats
Tiverton Devon Corporation 2 24 2 Retained two seats
Totnes Devon Freemen 2 80 11 Retained two seats
Bridport Dorset Scot and lot 2 250 15 Retained two seats
Corfe Castle Dorset Scot and lot 2 50 2 Abolished
Dorchester Dorset Ratepayers 2 200 10 Retained two seats
Lyme Regis Dorset Freemen 2 40 8 Retained one seat
Poole Dorset Freemen 2 120 8 Retained two seats
Shaftesbury Dorset Scot and lot 2 350 18 Retained one seat
Wareham Dorset Scot and lot 2 120 5 Retained one seat
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Dorset Freeholders 4 600 14 Retained two seats
Durham County Durham Freemen 2 1,000 9 Retained two seats
Colchester Essex Freemen 2 1,400 23 Retained two seats
Harwich Essex Corporation 2 32 5 Retained two seats
Maldon Essex Freemen 2 150 until 1810, 1,500 after 14 Retained two seats
Bristol Gloucestershire Freemen and freeholders 2 5,000 19 Retained two seats
Cirencester Gloucestershire Householders 2 600 15 Retained two seats
Gloucester Gloucestershire Freemen 2 2,000 14 Retained two seats
Tewkesbury Gloucestershire Freemen and freeholders 2 500 8 Retained two seats
Andover Hampshire Corporation 2 24 9 Retained two seats
Christchurch Hampshire Corporation 2 24 5 Retained one seat
Lymington Hampshire Freemen 2 20 2 Retained two seats
Newport Hampshire Corporation 2 24 3 Retained two seats
Newtown Hampshire Burgage holders 2 39 2 Abolished
Petersfield Hampshire Burgage holders 2 50 8 Retained one seat
Portsmouth Hampshire Freemen 2 100 7 Retained two seats
Southampton Hampshire Scot and lot 2 700 14 Retained two seats
Stockbridge Hampshire Scot and lot 2 140 9 Abolished
Whitchurch Hampshire Burgage holders 2 70 6 Abolished
Winchester Hampshire Freemen 2 100 8 Retained two seats
Yarmouth Hampshire Corporation 2 21 2 Abolished
Hereford Herefordshire Freemen 2 1,000 14 Retained two seats
Leominster Herefordshire Scot and lot 2 600 20 Retained two seats
Weobley Herefordshire Burgage holders 2 100 8 Abolished
Hertford Hertfordshire Freemen 2 600 12 Retained two seats
St Albans Hertfordshire Freemen 2 600 19 Retained two seats
Huntingdon Huntingdonshire Freemen 2 200 8 Retained two seats
Canterbury Kent Freemen 2 1,700 23 Retained two seats
Maidstone Kent Freemen 2 700 28 Retained two seats
Queenborough Kent Freemen 2 150 15 Abolished
Rochester Kent Freemen 2 700 22 Retained two seats
Clitheroe Lancashire Burgage holders 2 102 5 Retained one seat
Lancaster Lancashire Freemen 2 2,000 10 Retained two seats
Liverpool Lancashire Freemen 2 3,000 24 Retained two seats
Newton Lancashire Freemen 2 50 0 Abolished
Preston Lancashire Freemen until 1768, inhabitants thereafter 2 2,000 16 Retained two seats
Wigan Lancashire Freemen 2 100 10 Retained two seats
Leicester Leicestershire Scot and lot 2 2,500 13 Retained two seats
Boston Lincolnshire Scot and lot 2 500 16 Retained two seats
Grantham Lincolnshire Freemen 2 800 12 Retained two seats
Great Grimsby Lincolnshire Resident freemen 2 300 21 Retained one seat
Lincoln Lincolnshire Freemen 2 1,200 19 Retained two seats
Stamford Lincolnshire Scot and lot 2 650 6 Retained two seats
London Middlesex Freemen 4 10,000 27 Retained four seats
Westminster Middlesex Scot and lot 2 12,000 19 Retained two seats
Monmouth Boroughs
(Monmouth, Newport, Usk)
Monmouthshire Freemen 1 800 3 Retained one seat
Castle Rising Norfolk Burgage holders 2 50 1 Abolished
Great Yarmouth Norfolk Freemen 2 1,200 19 Retained two seats
King's Lynn Norfolk Freeman 2 300 5 Retained two seats
Norwich Norfolk Freemen and freeholders 2 3,000 23 Retained two seats
Thetford Norfolk Corporation 2 31 3 Retained two seats
Brackley Northamptonshire Corporation 2 33 6 Abolished
High Ferrers Northamptonshire Freemen 1 50 1 Abolished
Northampton Northamptonshire Householders 2 1,000 16 Retained two seats
Peterborough Northamptonshire Scot and lot 2 400 7 Retained two seats
Berwick-upon-Tweed Northumberland Freemen 2 1,000 14 Retained two seats
Morpeth Northumberland Freemen 2 200 8 Retained one seat
Newcastle-upon-Tyne Northumberland Freemen 2 2,500 9 Retained two seats
East Retford Nottinghamshire Freemen 2 160 15 Seats transferred to Bassetlaw in 1827, retained two seats in 1832.
Newark-on-Trent Nottinghamshire Scot and lot 2 1,000 15 Retained two seats
Nottingham Nottinghamshire Freemen and freeholders 2 4,000 22 Retained two seats
Banbury Oxfordshire Corporation 1 18 5 Retained one seat
New Woodstock Oxfordshire Freemen 2 180 9 Retained one seat (as Woodstock)
Oxford Oxfordshire Freemen 2 1,400 14 Retained two seats
Bishop's Castle Shropshire Resident freemen 2 170 12 Abolished
Bridgnorth Shropshire Freemen 2 700 9 Retained two seats
Ludlow Shropshire Freemen 2 500 9 Retained two seats
Shrewsbury Shropshire Scot and lot 2 750 17 Retained two seats
Wenlock Shropshire Resident freemen 2 400 3 Retained two seats
Bath Somerset Corporation 2 30 16 Retained two seats
Bridgwater Somerset Scot and lot 2 350 16 Retained two seats
Ilchester Somerset Householders 2 100 16 Abolished
Milborne Port Somerset Scot and lot 2 100 15 Abolished
Minehead Somerset Householders 2 300 10 Abolished
Taunton Somerset Householders 2 500 15 Retained two seats
Wells Somerset Freemen 2 250 12 Retained two seats
Lichfield Staffordshire Scot and lot 2 700 10 Retained two seats
Newcastle-under-Lyme Staffordshire Resident freemen 2 700 16 Retained two seats
Stafford Staffordshire Resident freemen 2 600 15 Retained two seats
Tamworth Staffordshire Scot and lot 2 350 11 Retained two seats
Aldeburgh Suffolk Freemen 2 80 4 Abolished
Bury St Edmunds Suffolk Corporation 2 17 11 Retained two seats
Dunwich Suffolk Freemen 2 32 5 Abolished
Eye Suffolk Scot and lot 2 200 2 Retained one seat
Ipswich Suffolk Freemen 2 700 21 Retained two seats
Orford Suffolk Freemen 2 20 7 Abolished
Sudbury Suffolk Freemen 2 750 22 Retained two seats
Bletchingley Surrey Burgage holders 2 90 2 Abolished
Gatton Surrey Scot and lot 2 7 1 Abolished
Guildford Surrey Scot and lot 2 150 14 Retained two seats
Haslemere Surrey Resident freeholders 2 65 13 Abolished
Reigate Surrey Freeholders 2 200 5 Retained one seat
Southwark Surrey Scot and lot 2 2,500 24 Retained two seats
Arundel Sussex Scot and lot 2 300 9 Retained one seat
Bramber Sussex Burgage holders 2 36 8 Abolished
Chichester Sussex Scot and lot 2 600 12 Retained two seats
East Grinstead Sussex Burgage holders 2 36 5 Abolished
Horsham Sussex Burgage holders 2 70 9 Retained one seat
Lewes Sussex Scot and lot 2 300 16 Retained two seats
Midhurst Sussex Burgage holders 2 118 2 Retained one seat
New Shoreham Sussex 40 shilling freeholders 2 1,000 13 Retained two seats
Steyning Sussex Scot and lot 2 150 10 Abolished
Coventry Warwickshire Freemen 2 2,700 25 Retained two seats
Warwick Warwickshire Ratepayers 2 500 8 Retained two seats
Appleby Westmorland Burgage holders 2 200 6 Abolished
Calne Wiltshire Corporation 2 17 9 Retained one seat
Chippenham Wiltshire Burgage holders 2 129 12 Retained two seats
Cricklade Wiltshire Freeholders (in five adjacent hundreds) 2 1,200 19 Retained two seats
Devizes Wiltshire Corporation 2 35 7 Retained two seats
Downton Wiltshire Burgage holders 2 100 6 Abolished
Great Bedwyn Wiltshire Freeholders 2 120 8 Abolished
Heytesbury Wiltshire Burgage holders 2 26 2 Abolished
Hindon Wiltshire Householders 2 200 12 Abolished
Ludgershall Wiltshire Freeholders 2 100 7 Abolished
Malmesbury Wiltshire Corporation 2 13 10 Retained one seat
Marlborough Wiltshire Corporation 2 12 7 Retained two seats
Old Sarum Wiltshire Burgage holders 2 10 2 Abolished
Salisbury Wiltshire Corporation 2 54 10 Retained two seats
Westbury Wiltshire Burgage holders 2 70 9 Retained one seat
Wilton Wiltshire Corporation 2 20 3 Retained one seat
Wootton Bassett Wiltshire Scot and lot 2 250 15 Abolished
Bewdley Worcestershire Freemen 1 13 7 Retained one seat
Droitwich Worcestershire Corporation 1 25 1 Retained one seat
Evesham Worcestershire Freemen 2 700 19 Retained two seats
Worcester Worcestershire Freemen 2 2,000 19 Retained two seats
Aldborough Yorkshire Scot and lot 2 60 3 Abolished
Beverley Yorkshire Freemen 2 1,400 19 Retained two seats
Boroughbridge Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 64 6 Abolished
Hedon Yorkshire Freemen 2 200 10 Abolished
Kingston-upon-Hull Yorkshire Freemen 2 2,000 17 Retained two seats
Knaresborough Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 96 3 Retained two seats
Malton Yorkshire Scot and lot 2 500 4 Retained two seats
Northallerton Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 200 2 Retained one seat
Pontefract Yorkshire Householders 2 600 15 Retained two seats
Richmond Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 270 4 Retained two seats
Ripon Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 146 2 Retained two seats
Scarborough Yorkshire Corporation 2 40 8 Retained two seats
Thirsk Yorkshire Burgage holders 2 50 0 Retained one seat
York Yorkshire Freemen 2 2,500 12 Retained two seats

Welsh counties

County Voters in 1800 Times contested Dominant interests Comments
Anglesey 700 2 Paget Anglesey was effectively controlled by the Whig Paget family, led by the Earl of Uxbridge.
Brecknockshire 1,700 3 Morgan, Wood The long-dominant Morgan family, absentee landlords from Tredegar, were displaced in 1806 by the Tory Wood family, who thereafter held the seat with little opposition.
Cardiganshire 1,000 2 Johnes, Powell The Whig Johnes family were displaced by the Tory Powells in 1816. There was no contest after 1741.
Carmarthenshire 2,500 3 Rice, Seymour, Vaughan The seat was passed around among several local families, all Tories, until a Whig breakthrough in 1831.
Carnarvonshire 1,100 3 Williams, Wynn Two local families, the Whig Williamses and the Tory Wynnes, vied for control. Sir Robert Williams held the seat for 36 years from 1790.
Denbighshire 2,000 1 Williams Wynn The Whig Williams Wynn family had unchallenged control of the representation. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn held the seat from 1796 to 1840.
Flintshire 1,000 1 Mostyn The Whig Mostyn family controlled the seat all through the 18th century, and were not defeated until 1837.
Glamorganshire 2,000 2 Morgan, Stuart Glamorgan was the richest county in Wales and the most difficult to control. The Tory Stuarts, the family of the Marquess of Bute, had extensive interests in the county, and supported Tory members such as Thomas Wyndham, MP from 1789 to 1814.
Merionethshire 1,000 0 Vaughan The Tory Vaughans held the seat without opposition through the entire 18th century and were not displaced until 1836.
Montgomeryshire 1,400 1 Mostyn, Williams Wynn The county was not contested between 1700 and 1836. The Williams Wynn family (who in Montgomeryshire were Tories) held the seat without challenge from 1795.
Pembrokeshire 3,000 3 Owen, Phillipps The Tory Owens and the Whig Phillippses, led by Baron Milford, vied for control of the representation. Sir John Owen won the seat in 1812 and held it until 1841.
Radnorshire 1,000 3 Johnes, Wilkins Two Whig families, the Johneses and the Wilkinses, succeeded each other in the representation.

Welsh boroughs

Borough County Franchise type Members Voters in 1800 Times contested Fate in 1832
Beaumaris Anglesey Corporation 1 24 0 Retained one seat
Brecon Brecknockshire Freemen 1 12 0 Retained one seat
Caernarvon Boroughs
(Caernarvon, Conway, Criccieth, Nevin, Pwllheli)
Caernarvonshire Freemen 1 700 2 Retained one seat
Cardiff Boroughs
(Aberavon, Cardiff, Cowbridge, Kenfig, Llantrisant, Loughor, Neath, Swansea)
Glamorganshire Freemen 1 800 2 Retained one seat
Cardigan Boroughs
(Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Lampeter)
Cardiganshire Freemen 1 2,500 3 Retained one seat
Carmarthen Carmarthenshire Freemen 1 500 5 Retained one seat
Denbigh Boroughs
(Denbigh, Holt, Ruthin)
Denbighshire Freemen 1 24 4 Retained one seat
Flint Boroughs
(Caergwrle, Caerwys, Flint, Overton, Rhuddlan)
Flintshire Scot and lot 1 600 3 Retained one seat
Haverfordwest Pembrokeshire Scot and lot 1 500 3 Retained one seat
Montgomery Montgomeryshire Freemen 1 500 1 Retained one seat
New Radnor Boroughs
(Cefnllys, Cnwclas, Knighton, New Radnor, Rhayader)
Radnorshire Freemen 1 1,000 4 Retained one seat
Pembroke Boroughs
(Pembroke, Tenby, Wiston)
Pembrokeshire Freemen 1 500 2 Retained one seat

Scottish counties

County Voters in 1800 Times contested Dominant interests Comments Fate in 1832
Aberdeenshire 140 5 Gordon The Tory Dukes of Gordon were the dominant interest in the county, retaining control through the creation of fictitious or "parchment" voters. Retained one seat
Argyllshire 45 0 Campbell The control of the Dukes of Argyll, who until the 1830s were Whigs, was complete and unchallenged. Retained one seat
Ayrshire 140 1 Fergusson, Montgomerie Ayshire had a large electorate by Scottish standards, and several local families vied for control. Chief of these were the Tory Montgomeries, led by the Earl of Eglinton. Retained one seat
Banffshire 35 1 Duff, Grant The Duff family of the Earl of Fife were the strongest influence in the county – Fife (who was technically an Irish peer) sat for the seat himself, then handed it over to his natural son. Later Sir William Grant supplanted the Fife influence. Retained one seat
Berwickshire 120 2 Home, Hume-Campbell A long rivalry between the Homes and Humes ended in 1784, and thereafter several local Tory families competed for support. The county did not elect a Whig until 1832. Retained one seat
Buteshire and Caithness Buteshire 15, Caithness 20 0 Stuart in Bute, Sinclair in Caithness These two small counties returned members at alternate elections. The Tory Stuarts, led by the Earl of Bute, controlled Bute, while the Whig Sinclairs dominated Caithness (and still do: John Thurso, the current member, is a Sinclair). Bute and Caithness were given one seat each.
Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire Clackmannan 15, Kinross 15 0 Abercromby in Clackmannanshire, Graham in Kinross These two small counties returned members at alternate elections. The Whig Abercrombys controlled Clackmannan while the Tory Grahams controlled Kinross. There were no contests. Retained one seat
Cromartyshire and Nairnshire Cromarty 10, Nairn 20 2 Macleod in Cromarty, Brodie and Campbell in Nairn These two small counties returned members at alternate elections, tiny Cromarty always struggling to find any voters at all. The Whig Campbells dominated Nairn from the 1760s to the 1830s. Cromarty was paired with Ross-shire and given one seat, while Nairn was paired with Elgin and given one seat.
Dumfriesshire 60 1 Douglas The Douglas family of the Duke of Queensberry were the dominant force in this their home county, but did not usually represent the county themselves, rather supporting government nominees. Retained one seat
Dunbartonshire 50 5 Campbell, Elphinstone, Graham The Duke of Argyll and the Grahams led by the Duke of Montrose both had an interest in the county, which they used to install relatives and supporters, causing more contests than usual in a Scottish county. Retained one seat
Edinburghshire (or Midlothian) 100 2 Dundas The Dundas family, led by the Tory party's Scottish manager Henry Dundas, had complete control of the county. Dundas held the seat himself from 1774 to 1790, when he was succeeded by his son. Retained one seat
Elginshire (or Morayshire) 40 1 Grant The Tory Grant family monopolised the representation all through the 18th century, and usually nominated family members. Retained one seat, with Nairnshire
Fifeshire 160 4 None Fife was one of the largest and wealthiest counties, and there were no dominant local interests. The government, represented by Henry Dundas, was usually able to muster enough support for the Tory nominee, but in 1820 the Whigs won the seat and generally retained it thereafter. Retained one seat
Forfarshire (or Angus) 100 1 Douglas, Maule The Whig Maule family, led by the Earls of Panmure, dominated the representation from the 1740s to 1831. Retained one seat
Haddingtonshire (or East Lothian) 70 2 Hamilton The Hamilton family led by the Earl of Haddington had a strong but not controlling interest in the county. The government, represented by Henry Dundas, was often able to nominate the member, including Dundas's brother-in-law. Retained one seat
Inverness-shire 50 1 Fraser, Gordon, Grant Inverness was a large county and difficult to control, particularly since the Fraser clan created many "parchment" voters to support their claims. From 1802, however, the Tory Grants dominated the county. Retained one seat
Kincardineshire 40 4 Adam, Drummond, Irvine There was no dominant influence in the county, and the represented by Henry Dundas, controlled the representation until 1806, when a Whig was elected. Retained one seat
Kirkcudbright Stewartry (or Kirkcudbrightshire) 140 3 Murray, Stewart The Stewarts, led by the Earl of Galloway, were the most influential family, but rarely nominated family members, instead bargaining with Henry Dundas for government favours in exchange for supporting his nominee. The seat fell to the Whigs in 1826. Retained one seat
Lanarkshire 100 8 Hamilton The Duke of Hamilton was the dominant influence in the county, and from 1802 he installed his son, a Whig, in the seat. The Tories were unable to regain the seat until 1830. Retained one seat
Linlithgowshire (or West Lothian) 60 3 Hope In 1790 the Tory manager Henry Dundas installed his brother-in-law John Hope in the seat, and the Hopes then held it without a break until 1847. Retained one seat
Orkney and Shetland 26 3 Balfour, Dundas, Honyman The Dundas family influence was strong but not enough to shut out the rival Balfour and Honyman interests, leading to several contests. The Whigs won the seat in 1826. Retained one seat
Peeblesshire 38 0 Douglas, Montogomery The Dukes of Queensberry had a controlling interest, and allowed their friends the Montgomerys to sit as Tory members from 1768 to 1832. Retained one seat
Perthshire 150 7 Murray The Murray family led by the Duke of Atholl were the dominant influence, but the relatively large electorate made the county difficult to control for the Tories. The sitting member was usually a Murray or a related Drummond. Retained one seat
Renfrewshire 80 3 McDowell, Stewart The county was dominated by the rivalry between the Whig Stewarts and the Tory McDowells, who had the powerful support of the Tory manager Henry Dundas. Nevertheless the Whigs usually held the seat. Retained one seat
Ross-shire 70 2 Mackenzie, Ross The Whig Mackenzies, led by the Earl of Seaforth, were the leading family, but the Tory Rosses won the seat in 1796, and the Tories then held it until 1831. Retained one seat, paired with Cromarty
Roxburghshire 120 3 Elliot, Ker, Scott The Whig Elliot family dominated the representation, although the Tory Scotts, led by the Duke of Buccleuch, were frequent challengers. Retained one seat
Selkirkshire 40 0 Scott the Tory Scotts, led by the Duke of Buccleuch, controlled the county, and their nominees held the seat until 1832. Retained one seat
Stirlingshire 80 4 Dundas, Hamilton The Stirlingshire Dundases were Whigs and enabled the Whigs to hold the seat until 1812, when the Tories won with the support of the Duke of Hamilton. Retained one seat
Sutherlandshire 25 1 Leveson-Gower The Duke of Sutherland owned most of the county and his influence, placed at the service of the government, was unchallengeable. Retained one seat
Wigtownshire 50 2 Stewart The Stewarts, led by the Earl of Galloway, were the most influential family, and usually supported Tories. The Whigs won the seat in 1830. Retained one seat

Scottish burghs

Borough County Members Times contested Fate in 1832
Aberdeen Burghs
(Aberdeen, Arbroath, Brechin, Inverbervie, Montrose)
Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire, Kincardineshire 1 1 Aberdeen was given one seat, the other burghs retained one seat as Montrose Burghs.
Anstruther Burghs
(Anstruther Easter, Anstruther Wester, Crail, Kilrenny, Pittenweem)
Fifeshire 1 1 Abolished
Ayr Burghs
(Ayr, Campbeltown, Inverary, Irvine, Rothesay)
Argyllshire, Ayrshire, Buteshire 1 0 Retained one seat
Dumfries Burghs
(Annan, Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben, Sanquhar)
Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire 1 1 Retained one seat
Dysart Burghs
(Burntisland, Dysart, Kinghorn, Kirkcaldy)
Fifeshire 1 2 Retained one seat
Edinburgh Edinburghshire 1 3 Given two seats
Elgin Burghs
(Banff, Cullen, Elgin, Inverurie, Kintore)
Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Elginshire 1 1 Retained one seat
Glasgow Burghs
(Dumbarton, Glasgow, Renfrew, Rutherglen)
Dunbartonshire, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire 1 Abolished: Glasgow was given two seats in its own right.
Haddington Burghs
(Dunbar, Haddington, Jedburgh, Lauder, North Berwick)
Berwickshire, Haddingtonshire, Roxburghshire 1 3 Retained one seat
Inverness Burghs
(Forres, Fortrose, Inverness, Nairn)
Inverness-shire, Nairnshire, Ross-shire 1 1 Retained one seat
Linlithgow Burghs
(Lanark, Linlithgow, Peebles, Selkirk)
Lanarkshire, Linlithgowshire, Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire 1 2 Retained one seat as Falkirk Burghs
Perth Burghs
(Cupar, Dundee, Forfar, Perth, St Andrews)
Fifeshire, Forfarshire, Perthshire 1 1 Dundee and Perth were given one seat each, the other burghs retained one seat as St Andrews Burghs.
Stirling Burghs
(Culross, Inverkeithing, Queensferry, Stirling)
Fifeshire, Linlithgowshire, Perthshire, Stirlingshire 1 3 Retained one seat
Tain Burghs (or Northern Burghs)
(Dingwall, Dornoch, Kirkwall, Tain, Wick)
Caithness, Orkney, Ross-shire, Sutherlandshire 1 2 Retained one seat
Wigtown Burghs
(New Galloway, Stranraer, Whithorn, Wigtown)
Kirkcudbrightshire, Wigtownshire 1 2 Retained one seat

Irish counties

County Voters in 1800 Times contested Dominant interests Comments
County Antrim 8,000 1 O'Neill, Seymour The O'Neills, led by Earl O'Neill, and the Seymours led by the Earl of Hertford, were the leading families of the county, and since both were Tories they usually agreed to share the representation.
County Armagh 6,000 2 Acheson, Brownlow, Caulfeild The Tory Achesons (led by Earl Gosford) and Brownlows generally shared the representation with the Whig Caulfeilds (led by the Earl of Charlemont).
County Carlow 4,000 1 Kavanagh, Latouche The Kavanaghs were the most influential family, but as Catholics could not be elected, so they supported the Whig Latouches. In 1812, however, Thomas Kavanagh converted to both Protestantism and Toryism, and the county remained Tory until 1835.
County Cavan 4,000 3 Maxwell The Tory Maxwells, led by the Earl of Farnham, were the strongest influence in the county. One seat was usually held by a Maxwell relative, the other by other local families, also Tories, until a Whig breakthrough in 1826.
County Clare 6,000 5 Burton, Fitzgerald, O'Brien Clare had a large and turbulent electorate, and no one interest was strong enough to control it. Various branches of the O'Briens had great prestige. Until 1828 they shared the representation with the Burtons and Fitzgeralds. In that year Daniel O'Connell, the Catholic leader, won two famous by-elections, forcing the pace of Catholic Emancipation.
County Cork 7,000 1 Bernard, Boyle, King Cork was a large county with many landed interests, the most important being the Boyle family, led by the Earl of Shannon, who controlled the representation until 1812 and generally supported the Tory government. After 1812 the Duke of Devonshire used his influence to support the Whigs, who won both seats in 1830.
County Donegal 6,000 2 Conyngham, Hamilton, Montgomery Donegal was dominated by rivalry between the Tory Hamiltons, led by the Marquess of Abercorn, and the Whig Conynghams led by the Marquess of Conyngham. After 1812 they shared the representation.
County Down 13,000 4 Hill, Stewart Down was dominated the Whig Hill family, led by the Marquess of Downshire, and the Tory Stewarts, led by the Marquess of Londonderry and his son Viscount Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, who held the seat until 1821. The other member was nearly always a Hill.
County Dublin 900 8 Hamilton, Talbot, White Dublin was a small county without large landed interests, and both the government and the Church of Ireland influenced elections. Whigs and Tories shared the representation until 1826, when the Whigs won both seats.
County Fermanagh 7,000 5 Archdall, Brooke, Cole Fear of the Catholic majority made all the leading interests firm Tories, and Protestant families such as the Coles, led by the Earl of Enniskillen, dominated the representation.
County Galway 13,000 4 De Burgh, Martin, Trench A large and poor Catholic county, Galway was dominated by large Protestant landowners, led by the de Burgh family of the Earl of Clanricarde and Trench family, created Earls of Clancarty in 1803. The county was firmly Tory until 1830.
County Kerry 5,000 3 Browne, Crosbie, Mullins The largest landowner in Kerry was the Catholic Earl of Kenmare, who used his influence in support of the Whig Maurice Fitzgerald, who held the seat until 1831. The Protestant Crosbies (the Earls of Glandore) usually nominated the other member.
County Kildare 2,000 1 FitzGerald, Latouche The FitzGerald family, headed by the Duke of Leinster, owned about one-fifth of the county, and used this influence to nominate one member. The other member was usually a Latouche. Both families were Whigs.
County Kilkenny 2,000 2 Butler, Ponsonby Two families dominated Kilkenny politics, the Butlers (Earls of Ormonde) and the Ponsonbys (Earls of Bessborough). Both families were Whigs, and they shared the representation.
King's County 2,000 1 Parsons The Tory Parsons family, headed by the Earl of Rosse, were the dominant interest in the county, and kept it safely Tory until 1826.
County Leitrim 5,000 5 Clements, Latouche, White The Tory Clements family, led by the Earl of Leitrim, were the strongest influence in the county, and usually nominated a family member to one of the seats. The Whig Latouches and Whites usually filled the other seat.
County Limerick 8,500 5 FitzGibbon, Odell, O'Grady The Whig FitzGibbons, led by the Earl of Clare, were the largest, but far from dominant, interest in the county. The FitzGibbons usually filled one seat, while the other county families, some of them Tories, held the other.
County Londonderry 8,500 2 Beresford, Stewart Two Tory Protestant families, the Stewarts, led by the Marquess of Londonderry, and the Beresfords, led by the Marquess of Waterford, dominated the county, and usually shared the representation.
County Longford 3,000 2 Parsons The Tory Parsons family, headed by the Earl of Rosse, were the dominant interest in the county, and used their position to support Tory members such as Sir Thomas Fetherston.
County Louth 600 2 Foster The Tory Foster family were the most powerful influence in this small county, and kept both seats in Tory hands until 1826.
County Mayo 12,000 4 Browne The Tory Browne family headed by the Marquess of Sligo and the Whig Dillon family headed by Viscount Dillon were the leading influences in this large Catholic county. They usually shared the representation.
County Meath 4,300 2 Bligh, Somerville, Taylour The county was dominated by Whig families, of which the Taylours (led by the Marquess of Headfort) were the most important and usually controlled one seat. Sir Marcus Somerville held the other from 1801 to 1831.
County Monaghan 3,500 2 Dawson, Leslie, Westenra The Dawson family, led by Baron Cremorne, who were politically independent, usually shared the representation with the Tory Leslies. The Whig Westenras (Baron Rossmore) won a seat from 1818.
Queen's County 6,000 3 Parnell, Wellesley Pole The Tory Wellesley Poles, relatives of the Duke of Wellington, nearly always held one seat. The Whig Parnells held the other from 1806.
County Roscommon 6,000 1 French, King, Mahon The King family, headed by the Earl of Kingston, were the largest interest, although they seldom contested the seats themselves, instead supporting their close Whig allies, the Frenches and Mahons.
County Sligo 2,000 0 Cooper, O'Hara, Temple There was no dominant interest in this poor and Catholic county. Two local families, the Tory Coopers and the Whig O'Haras, shared the representation until 1823, when the King family, headed by the Earl of Kingston, intervened.
County Tipperary 18,000 4 Bagwell, Caher, Mathew, Prittie Two Whig families, the Mathews, led by the Earl of Llandaff, and the Pritties, shared the representation until 1818, when they were challenged by the Tory Bagwells and Cahers.
County Tyrone 20,000 0 Lowry-Corrie, Stewart The Tory Hamiltons, led by the Marquess of Abercorn, used their influence in support of the Lowry-Corries (related to the Earl of Belmore), who usually held one of the seats. The Whig Stewart family held the other seat until 1835.
County Waterford 3,300 4 Cavendish The Whig Cavendish family, led by the Duke of Devonshire, were the leading landowners in the county, but as non-residents their influence was limited. They usually nominated one member, while the local Tory Beresfords nominated the other
County Westmeath 3,000 3 Pakenham, Rochfort, Smyth All the leading local families were Tories – the Rochforts (Earls of Belvidere), the Pakenhams (Earls of Longford) and the Smyths. These three families dominated the representation until 1830.
County Wexford 7,500 5 Alcock, Carew, Loftus, Ram The Loftus family led by the Marquess of Ely were the largest interest in the county, but after 1806 they did not represent the county themselves. The Tory Alock and Ram families held the seats until 1812, but later the Whig Carews gained the upper hand.
County Wicklow 3,000 0 Fitzwilliam The Whig Earl Fitzwilliam was landlord to about half the county's voters and his influence was dominant. He directly nominated one member and had a right of veto over the other.

Irish boroughs

Borough County Franchise type Members Voters in 1800 Times contested Fate in 1832
Armagh Armagh Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Athlone Westmeath Freemen 1 80 0 Retained one seat
Bandon Bridge Cork Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Belfast Antrim Corporation 1 13 0 Given two seats
Carlow Carlow Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Carrickfergus Antrim Freemen 1 800 5 Retained one seat
Cashel Tipperary Freemen 1 20 0 Retained one seat
Clonmel Tipperary Freemen 1 90 0 Retained one seat
Coleraine Londonderry Freemen 1 40 0 Retained one seat
Cork Cork Freemen 2 1,700 6 Retained two seats
Downpatrick Down 5 pound householders 1 300 6 Retained one seat
Drogheda Louth Freemen 1 600 6 Retained one seat
Dublin Dublin Freemen 2 3,000 5 Retained two seats
Dundalk Louth Freemen 1 30 0 Retained one seat
Dungannon Tyrone Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Dungarvan Waterford 5 pound householders 1 250 2 Retained one seat
Ennis Clare Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Enniskillen Fermanagh Freemen 1 14 0 Retained one seat
Galway Galway Freemen 1 500 4 Given two seats
Kilkenny Kilkenny Freemen 1 1,200 4 Retained one seat
Kinsale Cork Freemen 1 176 1 Retained one seat
Limerick Limerick Freemen 1 1,000 4 Given two seats
Lisburn Antrim 5 pound householders 1 75 0 Retained one seat
Londonderry Londonderry Freemen 1 1,000 2 Retained one seat
Mallow Cork 40 shilling freeholders 1 524 2 Retained one seat
New Ross Wexford Freemen 1 38 0 Retained one seat
Newry Down 5 pound householders 1 500 4 Retained one seat
Portarlington Queen's Freemen 1 12 0 Retained one seat
Sligo Sligo Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Tralee Kerry Corporation 1 13 0 Retained one seat
Waterford Waterford Freemen 1 1,000 2 Retained one seat
Wexford Wexford Freemen 1 150 1 Retained one seat
Youghal Cork Freemen 1 263 0 Retained one seat

University seats

University Franchise type Members Voters in 1800 Times contested Fate in 1832
Cambridge University Holders of doctoral and masters degrees 2 800 8 Retained two seats
Dublin University Provost, fellows and foundation scholars 1 70 5 Given two seats
Oxford University Holders of doctoral and masters degrees 2 1,100 2 Retained two seats


  • John Brooke, The House of Commons 1754-1790 (Oxford University Press, 1964)
  • John Cannon, Parliamentary Reform 1640-1832 (Cambridge University Press, 1973)
  • J.E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • R.G. Thorne, The House of Commons 1790-1820 (Volume II, Constituencies) (Secker and Warburg, 1986)
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