Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

The arrangement of these volumes is based on that of the 1754-90 section of the History.

The constituency accounts cover England, Wales, Scotland and, from 1801, Ireland in that order. They are arranged alphabetically by county: the county constituency history precedes that of the boroughs within the county. The eight English Cinque Ports (Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney, Rye, Sandwich, Seaford and Winchelsea) form a separate section, after Yorkshire. In the case of Scotland, the districts of burghs come separately, after the counties: some of the districts covered more than one county.

Each constituency article begins with a definition of the right of election and an estimate of the number of voters, followed, in the case of the English and Welsh boroughs, by a statement of the total population recorded in the first national census of 1801. The exact date of election is given, except for the Irish Members returned to the first Imperial Parliament in 1801 for whom only two precise dates are known. The date given is that on the return, not necessarily that of the conclusion of a poll. All candidates who went to the poll are named, and poll figures supplied, when possible from poll books,1 which have been preferred to variant figures appearing in newspapers, manuscript sources or subsequent compilations. If italicized figures appear, they denote unofficial polls, disallowed by the House because the returning officer was irregularly appointed, or because unqualified votes were cast. The names of successful candidates appear in capitals. Where candidates standing for the same constituency took an additional name or style between elections, the change has been bracketed to facilitate identification. For instance, at Worcester, William Gordon returned in 1812 becomes (Sir) William (Duff) Gordon in the return of 1818. The dates of by-elections are italicized, and the reason for the vacancy indicated. Unless an unsuccessful candidate involved in a double return sat elsewhere in this period he has not been included in the biographical section. A list of unsuccessful candidates, with the constituencies they contested, forms Appendix VII. It supplies birth and death dates where available, enabling further details to be traced from obituaries in the Gentleman’s Magazine, in addition to what may be gathered about them from the constituency articles. The latter also provide indications of local party colours, which are occasionally referred to in Members’ biographies: there were no standard nationwide party colours.

The biographies are arranged alphabetically, with cross-references for changes of name within the period, for courtesy titles and for Irish peerages. The taking of an additional surname, or the substitution of one surname for another, usually in order to inherit property under a will, was a notable feature of this period, conducive to some confusion as to how such beneficiaries were thereafter styled. In general the licensed style reported in the British Gazette or adopted by private Act of Parliament has been followed. Members are biographed under the surname and style by which they were known when they were first returned to the House in this period. Members bearing identical names have been labelled I, II, etc., whether related or not, according to their date of entry into the House in this period, though, in this respect, an exception has been made in the cases of Robert Williams II and III, because the son, Robert Williams III, entered the House before his father Robert Williams II. If a man became a knight or baronet after entry into the House in this period, brackets have been inserted for purposes of reference, e.g. (Sir) Robert Peel I. The biographies have reference mainly to a Member’s career in the House. In the text an asterisk against a man’s name refers the reader to his biography in this section of the History, a dagger indicates that he appears in another section; [S] after a title indicates that it is Scottish, and [I] that it is Irish; MP [I] indicates Membership of the Irish parliament, but has not been supplied in the case of Irish peers who did not sit in this period at Westminster. Extra-mural activities have usually been included only if they throw light on a Member’s political career. For instance, membership of Brooks’s Club, a Whig stronghold, has been counted as significant, whereas membership of White’s Club has not: about a quarter of all Members in this period belonged to the latter, and although the majority of them were in the other political camp it was not to the same extent a political club. How a Member entered the House and how he behaved as a Member remain the principal subjects of the text of each biography. The subsequent careers of Members who went up to the Lords have at most been sketched.

The length of the biographies varies according to the parliamentary standing of the Member and the availability of material on him. Full-length biographies of most major figures are available elsewhere, and about a quarter of all the Members appear in the DNB. Particular attention has been paid to Members of the second rank.

The address supplied in the first line of the biography is the Member’s principal residence. More than one address may be given to indicate propinquity to one of his constituencies. London addresses, to be found in the annual calendars of the period, have been omitted unless one was the Member’s principal known address, or, in the case of a mercantile Member, his place of business. Addresses have not usually been supplied for the heirs of peers. Unless otherwise stated, further addresses appearing in the preliminary paragraphs are in the same county as the Member’s address.

A Member’s service in the House of Commons, including that before 1790 and/or after 1820, is given in chronological order although only his career within this period is dealt with in detail in his biographical article. If the name of a constituency is followed by a year alone, this indicates that he was returned at a general election that year; if a terminal date is a year alone, that he sat until the dissolution. More precise dates indicate return at a by-election, or, in the case of terminal dates, death or vacation. A date of vacation is usually that of the month alone, unless the day can also be ascertained, in which case it has been inserted. If a Member was born in one of two years, inferred probably from age at matriculation at a university or at death, the more likely is given, preceded by a question mark; if there is less certainty an approximate date, preceded by c. has been supplied. The appearance of only one year date after the name of an educational establishment indicates either that the Member entered it that year or that he was already a pupil there.

Marriage dates as supplied by parish registers have been preferred to those given in other sources. Some 345 Members’ marriages appear in the published registers of St. George’s, Hanover Square, between 1753 and 1837, and another 175 in those of St. Marylebone between 1754 and 1812. These two London registers, within the dates specified, therefore cover nearly a quarter of Members’ marriages. The number of children attributed to a Member is liable to understatement as sufficient account is unlikely to have been taken of infant mortality.

Offices listed, except naval and military ranks, do not include local ones of limited interest, such as appointments to the bench of magistrates, but many municipal or court offices have been included up to 1820, and also company directorships, where ascertainable. In the case of long-term directorships of the East India Company, the statutory interval of a year after four years’ service has not been specified.

The sources of information for the preliminary paragraphs are not supplied where they are available in standard works of reference. The prime source was Gerrit P. Judd’s Members of Parliament 1734-1832. Sources of information for the biographies are indicated, where necessary, in the footnotes, except for the reports of debates listed in Appendix II and the parliamentary lists in Appendix III.

In the footnotes, where a series of letters is cited by correspondent and date, and the whole series falls within the same year, that year is given once only, at the end of the series. Correspondents’ initials and titles have been omitted, except where different bearers of the same surname occur.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne

End Notes

  • 1. The original poll books, directed to be sent to the clerk of the crown by a statute of 1696, were destroyed at the Crown Office in 1907.