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
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
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.