Robert Stewart
Viscount Castlereagh

A most proper authority on all things Regency

Parliament and Politics

Parliament & Politics

Each English peer was eligible for a seat in the House of Lords if they were willing to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican Church, were males, and of legal age. A few Scottish and Irish peers were either given English peerages or selected to represent their country in the House of Lords. These and the Law Lords and the Lords Spiritual and Royal Dukes made up the House of Lords.

The members of the House of Commons were elected to their seats. There being no secret ballot until 1872, landlords usually had little difficulty in getting their chosen candidate elected. Despite the changing population and demographics of England, it was not until 1832 that any reforms were made and the allocation of seats became aligned with population.

A large landowner could often have several seats at his disposal or under his control. These seats usually went to relatives or those who could be expected to vote as the landowner/ employer wanted.

Parliamentary Archives
History of Parliament

A few seats were in areas where no one person could be said to have the power to bestow it. These were the most contested seats. Not that all elections were mere formalities. Sir Ralph Milbanke lost a fortune trying for a seat in Commons. Those vying for a seat had to have an income of at least 600 per annum. Members of Parliament were not paid

Though the laws passed by Parliament could affect everyone, most Englishmen were more concerned with local politics and politicians.

The parish was the fundamental political division of England. Though the name was the same, the limits of the political parish were not the same as those of the church.

House of Commons

Having been created in Elizabethan times, by the Regency, parishes ranged in size from a few houses to rabbit warrens of tenements. They were overseen by one or two churchwardens, a constable, an overseer of the poor and a surveyor. The duties of these offices were to organize poor relief, to keep the peace, and to maintain roads and church property.

The overseers of the parish were chosen from the inhabitants of the parish for a term of one year.

Each county had a Lord Lieutenant who was appointed by the crown and was usually the head of the leading family in the county. The title "lieutenant" showed that the lord was merely acting in lieu of, and in place of, the monarch who could not be everywhere. The Lord Lieutenant commanded the country militia, nominated the clerk of peace, and recommended men to be county magistrates.

Under the Lord Lieutenants were the county sheriffs and the deputy lieutenants. These positions were part-time and paid no remuneration.

The administration of counties usually fell to the magistrates and to parish vestries.

The magistrates met in quarter or petty sessions to try local offenders, to appoint constables and supervisors of the poor, and to see that roads and bridges were kept in good repair.

House of Lords

Each parish was responsible for the poor and the roads and bridges within its borders. If a parish line was drawn through the middle of a bridge the two parishes had to work together to get it repaired.

Some vestry meetings were open to all with the resultant uproar; others, were attended only by representatives of the local oligarchy. They made the decisions and then notified those who had to carry them

Cities that had been formed by charter had their corporations that administered the city. The City of London's Lord Mayor was the equivalent in rank of the Lord Lieutenant. London was a free city and the monarch traditionally asked permission before entering its walls on ceremonial occasions.

Most of the city corporations were governed by a mayor and a board of aldermen. However, the lowest local level of government was still the parish which was responsible for roads, the poor, the constables, etc.

The organization of government had worked well-enough in England as long as people were mainly agricultural and stayed mainly in one place. During the early years of the nineteenth century, there was a shift in population and in occupations. City corporations were not set up to handle the great influx of people and many were left in areas without an established administration. Few Englishmen cared about the lack of a governing vestry, what they did resent was that the people living in and around cities had no vote while some hillock in the country that served two cows controlled two seats.


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