Jacob Tillemans: the House of Commons c. 1710 (detail)
(c) Palace of Westminster Collection
Published in 2002
These 1,982 biographies cover all of the men who sat in the Hosue of Commons between the general election of February 1690 and the dissolution of Queen Anne's last Parliament in January 1715. The conventions used are described in detail in the 'Method' section of David Hayton's Introductory Survey. In a section on the Members, the Survey analyses the information contained in the biographies, in particular reviewing their background, age, education, occupation, religion, and their parliamentary experience. As the introduction shows, althought the House of Commons was to some degree representative of the rising professional and business classes of later 17th century England, with lawyers, soldiers, sailors and civil servants, merchants, manufactureres and financiers, it was still overwhelmingly an assembly of landed proprietors. Upward social mobility was possible, but still relatively slow, for men of low birth, except for those very exceptional creatures who rose to the heights of the legal profession,a nd who in a single lifetime could travel as far as Lord Chancellor Peter King, from the obscurity of the provincial bourgeoisie to a peerage. Businessmen, however wealthy, even the financiers to whom the government kow-towed in order to safeguard public creidt, would have to wait for their sons and grandsons to ascend the highest ranks of the social order.
A series of appendices provide lists of, among other things, Members who were under-age; Protestant Dissenters; 'Civil servants'; Army officers; Naval officers; professional lawyers; merchants and financiers; men of science and letters, moral reformers and philanthropists, and those involved in scandal, either of a financial or sexual kind.
The period covers what is sometimes labelled the 'rage of party'. Another section of the introductory survey deals with the politics of the House, and the political identity and affiliations of the Members within it. The biographies have made it possible to investigate in detail the question of whether Members' political actions were guided more closely by their allegiance to Whiggism or Toryism, or to their affiliation to various kinship and patronage groups, and the extent to which the ideas of 'Court' and 'country' parties provided an alternative 'polarity' to the Whig and Tory ideologies.
As always, the biographies provide accounts of a rich collection of individuals. Sir Ralph Dutton, whose main hobby – apart from greyhound racing – was attempting to gain the premier position among Gloucestershire gentry, encumbered his estate with huge debts largely through his campaign to win the county seat; Andrew Archer's efforts (including a fact-finding mission) to uncover abuses in provisioning the army in Italy, Spain and Portugal helped to ensure he never got the government job he craved. The biographies include smooth and effective executive politicians like Thomas Coningsb