Available from Boydell and Brewer
The basic elements of these volumes are the biographical studies in volumes II and III and the accounts of the constituencies in the second part of this volume. The biographies and constituency histories, though distinct in themselves, are complementary and the reader is advised to consult not only the biography of the Member in whom he is interested but also the relevant entry on the constituency or constituencies the Member represented or contested. The introductory survey, though it too complements the biographies and constituency histories, derives its subject matter from them. Some account is therefore desirable of what has been attempted in the biographical and constituency entries, and of their arrangement and limitations.
The biographies are arranged alphabetically and include every Member duly returned to the House at the general election of 1754 and all subsequent by-elections and general elections until the dissolution in 1790. In the case of candidates returned on double returns (that is to say when the returning officer could not or would not decide which candidate or pair of candidates had won the election, or when two or more polls were taken because there were rival claimants to the position of returning officer) the candidates so returned were not permitted to take their seats in the House until the elections had been determined and only those in whose favour the House subsequently pronounced count as legally elected Members.
The plan of the History requires every section to be complete within its own chronological limits and not to stray beyond them if a Member’s career in the Commons belongs to more sections than one. Consequently, each biography in this section treats only of that part of the Member’s career in the Commons which falls between the years 1754 and 1790. Members who sat before 1754 or after 1790 will be the subject of further entries in the preceding or following section of the History. Moreover, the activities and achievements of Members outside the House are only lightly sketched in. Thus there is no attempt to consider Burke as a political philosopher or Sheridan as a dramatist, to assess the contribution Gibbon made to the study of history, or to relate in detail the professional accomplishments of naval and military leaders who sat in the House. These extra-mural aspects of a Member’s career are relevant to our purpose only in so far as they bore on his conduct in Parliament; and wherever possible an attempt has been made to depict his personality as it was revealed to or perceived by the House of Commons. Members who held high office, such as William Pitt or Lord North, are considered as parliamentarians rather than as statesmen; and in the case of Members who went to the House of Lords their careers there are dealt with in but the briefest outline.
The biographies vary in length, from one or two sentences to over seven thousand words. Generally speaking, the criterion used has been the Member’s standing in the House and the length of his service. Particular attention has been paid to second-rank figures, men who never reached the front bench and who rarely feature in the Dictionary of National Biography, yet whose names occur over and over again in the correspondence and memoirs of the period and who played important parts in the parliamentary life of their day.
The aim of each biography has been to give as briefly as possible the essential information about the Member’s life, and to answer two questions about his parliamentary career: how he became a Member, and what he did in the House of Commons. The essential biographical information is concentrated in the preliminary paragraphs, beginning with the Member’s name, dates, address, and the constituencies he represented. Then, in concise form, come the particulars of his birth or baptism, parentage, education, marriage or marriages, children, succession to property, offices held, professional career, honours and titles. For the great majority of Members most of the essential biographical information has been found. The following points should be noted:
Name and style. In order to avoid some of the difficulties created by changes of name and style the biographies are arranged in general according to the names and styles borne by Members on their first entry into the Commons during the period 1754-90. Cross references from earlier and later names and styles are provided, but it has frequently been impossible to decide from conflicting evidence or lack of evidence whether a new surname was intended to supersede the old or to precede or follow it.
Address. The address given is that of the Member’s principal country residence. Other residences are named only if they have a significant relationship to the constituency he represented. Business addresses are given for Members who were merchants in the City of London.
Constituency. The use of year alone, without month or day, indicates that the Member was returned for his constituency at a general election and/or ceased to represent it at a dissolution. If he was returned at a by-election or seated by the House on petition, or if for any reason he vacated his seat before the Parliament ended, the exact date (day, month, year) is usually given. When Members vacated their seats by accepting an office of profit under the Crown it is rarely possible to give more than the month and year.
Birth. Where the exact date has not been found, an approximate date (preceded by c.) is given, inferred from age of entry to school or university or at death. Where two dates are likely but one is more probable than the other, the more probable is given (preceded by a question mark).
Education. If one date only is given after the school or college or inn of court it is the date of admission.
Children. The number of children stated to have been born to a Member should be regarded with caution. The infant mortality rate was high. Pedigrees sometimes omit children who died in infancy, and it cannot be assumed that all the children indicated in them survived to maturity.
Offices. Except for naval and military ranks and appointments, the offices given are those of a political nature or which conferred or indicate some political influence. Minor and local offices having no electoral significance have been omitted.
The details of the preliminary paragraphs have come from a multitude of sources, of which only a few of the most important can be indicated here. It has not been thought necessary to cite authorities for facts which derive from standard printed works of reference. Of general value have been the Complete Peerage, the Complete Baronetage, the various editions of Burke’s Peerage and Landed Gentry, Collins’s Peerage (the 1812 edition has been found particularly useful), the Scots Peerage, Lodge’s Irish Peerage, and Betham’s Baronetage. Marshall’s Genealogist’s Guide and Whitmore’s Genealogical Guide (Harleian Soc.) have been used as a source for pedigrees. Details of education have come from Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, and the lists of alumni of other universities; school lists, such as the Eton College Register and the Record of Old Westminsters; and the published lists of admissions to the inns of court. Dates and details of offices held and of naval and military promotions have been found in contemporary almanacs, such as the Court and City Register and the Royal Kalendar; the Gentleman’s Magazine, the Annual Register, and the London Gazette; contemporary army lists; the List of Naval Officers, published by the National Maritime Museum; and Haydn’s Book of Dignities. Obituary notices occur in the Gentleman’s Magazine, London Magazine, and Scots Magazine. Not infrequently authorities differ or are at fault, and then the practice has been to choose the more probable alternative or silently to correct the error.
The constituency histories are grouped under England, Wales, and Scotland, and arranged alphabetically by counties, the county elections being first dealt with and then those in its boroughs. Scottish districts of burghs are, however, placed after the shires. Each entry begins with a brief statement of the right of election and an estimate of the number of voters. The exact date of election is always given and all candidates who went to the poll are named, the names of the candidates who were returned being printed in capitals. The dates of by-elections are italicized and the reason for the by-election is indicated, commonly by a conventional phrase such as ‘on appointment to office’ or ‘vacated his seat’. Some precision is given to these phrases in the appropriate biography. The numbers of votes polled, where they are shown, are taken from poll books or newspapers.
Information about Members’ parliamentary careers and about developments in the constituencies has been gathered from three groups of sources: division lists; reports of debates in the House; and correspondence, memoirs, diaries, and other contemporary documents. The division lists and the principal collections of reports of debates are listed in appendices at the end of this volume; a list of the books which have been consulted and the manuscript collections which have been searched would run to inordinate length. The following frequently quoted works are referred to in the editions specified: Boswell, Life of Johnson, edited by G. Birkbeck Hill and L. F. Powell (1934-50); Walpole, Memoirs of the last ten years of the reign of George II, second edition (1847), Memoirs of the reign of King George III, edited by G. R. Russell Barker (1894), and Last Journals, edited by A. F. Steuart (1910). The letters of Edmund Burke and Horace Walpole are referred to by their dates and may easily be traced in the standard editions of Burke’s and Walpole’s correspondence. In the biographies extensive use has been made of the character sketches of Members of Parliament which appeared in the Public Ledger in 1779 and the English Chronicle in 1780 and 1781. The files of these newspapers apparently no longer exist, and no precise references can be given. Our source has been a contemporary scrap-book, owned by Sir Lewis Namier, in which cuttings of the character sketches had been pasted. As for original documentary material, the quantity available for the study of the parliamentary history of this period is immense. Each year the accumulation in libraries and record offices increases, and there are numerous collections still in private hands and in American libraries. An exhaustive examination of all the manuscript material was beyond the powers of a small group of four historians and a handful of outside contributors, but we have tried to be as thorough as time and other factors would allow. Further research will fill in the gaps which we have left and may modify the picture which we have presented. No work of this nature can be final: though much is known, much is yet to be discovered. Here is a foundation on which other scholars will build.