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Published in 2002
Between 1690 and 1707 the House of Commons consisted of 513 Members, elected by 245 English constituencies (40 counties, 203 boroughs, 2 universities) which returned 489 Members and 24 Welsh constituencies which returned one Member each. The constituencies and contested elections are listed in a section in D.W. Hayton's Introductory Survey.
The franchise in both counties and boroughs is discussed in detail in the chapter on Constituencies and elections in the Introductory survey. The franchise in the counties was the ancient 40 shilling freeholder franchise: the vote belonged to those with freehold property worth £2 or more, although in practice this definition could be stretched to some extent. The survey discusses the size of the electorate (those in theory entitled to vote at an election) and the 'voterate' (those who actually cast votes at an election), and shows that in many counties the naumber of voters had increased markedly since the previous period, something usually attributed by contemporaries to corruption.
The survey classifies the 203 English borough constituencies broadly according to three categories: those where the franchise was based on membership of the corporate body, or admission to corporate privilege as a freeman or 'burgess'; the possession of real property, whether freehold or 'burgage'; and permanent residence within the borough. However, further refinements and distinctions within each type make the situation more complex than this in reality.
The twelve Welsh counties each returned one Member to Parliament, using the same franchise as for the English counties. The largest of them could muster around 2,000 voters. There were 12 Welsh borough constituencies, eight of them groups of boroughs united for electoral purposes, all on a freeman franchise.
Under the Union Treaty and the terms of an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1707 the 45 Members from Scotland who took their seats in the first Parliament of Great Britain in November 1707 were indirectly elected by the Scottish Parliament itself. The first direct Scottish elections to the Great Britain Parliament were held in the general election of 1708. Under the electoral system set up under the Union, the 33 Scottish counties were represented by 30 Members, with three pairs of smaller counties alternating with one another in electing. The franchise in the counties was essentially the same as that for the pre-Union Scottish Parliament. In Scotland, the pre-1707 franchise had been adapted for the purposes of the Union Parliament. The 66 Scottish burghs, with the exception of Edinburgh, were combined into 14 districts or groups for the purpose of electing Members of Parliament, five of them having four burghs and nine having five burghs. They used a system of indirect election, with each burgh council electing a delegate to a meeting which elected the Member of Parliament.
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Wallingford was a venal and expensive borough. In 1792 Oldfield wrote bluntly that ‘the highest bidder is always chosen ... Corruption is brought there to such a system that a legal discovery is not likely to be made, unless by a difference among the interested parties.’ The historian of the...Read more