The Role of Political Elites in Eighteenth-Century Britain
The Act of Union of 1707 between Scotland and England brought about the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, with a joint flag featuring the St Andrew and St George crosses. However, the union was not well-received by the Scottish people, with the aristocratic magnates dominating the Westminster Parliament and exerting control over the country’s political structure. The gentry families rented their lands to tenant-farmers, formed the foundation of the country’s governance, and led increasingly cultured lives. Justices of the Peace played a crucial role in serving as a link between the peerage and gentry, while the king had a dominant role in the executive branch. However, the parliamentary system did not represent the people accurately, and costly and corrupt practices such as intimidation and bribery were commonplace during elections. The French Revolution bound the British elites together more than ever before, resulting in the Act of Union of 1800.
Table of Contents
- Justices of the Peace and Their Role in Politics
- The Relationship Between the Crown, Professional Politicians, and the Legislature
- Inequalities in the Parliamentary System
- The French Revolution and the Act of Union of 1800
- The Holy Roman Empire and Its Component of Stability
Justices of the Peace and Their Role in Politics
Who were the Justices of the Peace and what role did they play in eighteenth-century British politics?
The Justices of the Peace were individuals responsible for dispensing justice and attending to administrative tasks required at the local level. They were mainly comprised of Anglican clergymen and played a crucial role in serving as the link between the peerage and the gentry, making them partners in oligarchy. Their role was to control Parliament and bind the center and the localities.
What were the qualities of Justices of the Peace?
The quality of Justices of the Peace varied, with around 2,560 in 1680 and 8,400 in 1761. They dispensed justice and attended to administrative tasks, but the position brought no material reward. Although the quality of Justices of the Peace varied, they were crucial in serving as the link between the peerage and the gentry, making them partners in oligarchy.
Did the appointment of Justices of the Peace lead to any negative outcomes?
Yes, it did. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1762) describes the character Mr Gobble, a journeyman hosier who became a magistrate through his connections with a peer. Gobble was known for his cruelty and injustice towards poorer individuals. So, the quality of Justices of the Peace was questionable at times.
The Relationship Between the Crown, Professional Politicians, and the Legislature
How did the relationship between the crown and professional politicians work in the eighteenth century?
The king had a dominant role in the executive branch, appointing ministers and controlling foreign policy. Although Parliament was to be called regularly, it could be managed, with the crown controlling around thirty parliamentary boroughs. The king relied on support from the House of Lords, including the bishops, Scottish peers, soldiers, sailors, and courtiers.
What was the king’s support base in the House of Commons?
In the House of Commons, independent members could be relied on to support the King’s ministers and around 200 “placemen” supported the King’s ministers in the 1780s. The relationship between the crown, professional politicians, and the legislature was a recipe for political stability, with a prime minister having the confidence of the sovereign and the House of Commons to stay in office.
What disagreements occurred between the three entities?
Disagreements occurred about the balance of power between the three entities. Although John Dunning proposed a resolution in 1780 that the influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished, the royal nod of support was still crucial in the management of Parliament and politics.
Inequalities in the Parliamentary System
How accurate was the parliamentary system in representing the people?
The parliamentary system did not accurately represent the people, and costly and corrupt practices such as intimidation and bribery were commonplace during elections. A vivid depiction of the election process was portrayed in Hogarth’s An Election Entertainment of 1755, where both Whig and Tory parties adopted “Liberty” and added a secondary word to their slogan.
What were the inequalities in the parliamentary system?
Boroughs with no inhabitants could still return MPs, and the total electorate in 1780 was about 214,000. However, only a majority of the voters of 129 boroughs returned 257 representatives. In 1780, a group of reformers pointed out the inequalities in the parliamentary system, but reform did not come until 1832 as Parliament itself was the only body that could reform it, and its members were the great beneficiaries of the existing system.
Were there any practices during elections that exacerbated the inequalities?
The practice of bringing back registered freemen of a borough for voting was common in the 18th century, even if they had moved out of the borough. Elections could also prove to be ruinously expensive for the candidates running.
The French Revolution and the Act of Union of 1800
How did the French Revolution affect British elites?
The French Revolution bound the British elites together more than ever before and proved to be the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. Turbulence was caused mainly by the Irish rebellion in 1798, leading to the Act of Union of 1800.
What was the Act of Union of 1800?
The Act of Union of 1800 was designed to amalgamate Ireland with Great Britain and abolish the Irish parliament. The Irish freely entered into this union, incentivized by trade concessions granted by the British. It led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Holy Roman Empire and Its Component of Stability
What was the Holy Roman Empire, and how did it remain stable for a millennium?
The Holy Roman Empire, which lasted for a millennium, had a core of stability beyond its obvious absurdities. Its most durable component was the incorporation of the elites of the German-speaking world in the political process, achieved through representation in the Reichstag. This allowed both the landed and the urban elites from across the Empire to participate in its politics.
In conclusion, eighteenth-century Britain was dominated by a few aristocratic families who controlled Parliament and the country’s political structure. Although Justices of the Peace played a crucial role in binding the center and localities, their quality varied significantly. The king had a dominant role in the executive branch, controlling around thirty parliamentary boroughs and relying on support from the House of Lords. The parliamentary system, however, did not accurately represent the people, leading to costly and corrupt practices such as bribery and treating. The French Revolution bound the British elites together, and the Act of Union of 1800 was the result of such a binding. Overall, the stability of the British political structure was maintained through the balance of power between the crown, professional politicians, and the legislature.