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|Sir Thomas the Politician
Written by Tarn
(10/15/2010 4:25 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Giving or Selling Church Livings, penned by Robbin
The shire of Northampton had five electorates:
The uninterruptedness of life in the county did not come cheap: in 1768 there had been a three-way contest between the three big land-holding families (The Tory Earl of Northampton, his brother in law Vice-Admiral Rodney, and the Whig Earl of Spencer) had cost them around £250,000 altogether, Spencer lost his cellar, Rodney sold his estate and Northampton had been obliged to retire to the continent as a consequence.(2) The memory of this campaign detered prospective candidates from contest until 1806, when it looked like the incumbent Tory was in sufficient financial difficulty to retire if contested by a resident Tory who had wished to be applied to when this professional outsider had slid into the seat unopposed in 1796 but had not been asked. Lord Spencer decided to put in an oppostion candidate as well, ensuring 1806 was "sufficiently expensive to discharge future contest for many years...Compton[the 'winner', whose father had died in Switzerland] could ill afford it, and took five years to pay off his bills."(4)
The larger more democratic electorates were expensive because of the diversity of voters and landlords,the smaller boroughs were also expensive when the right men were not cheap, or the wrong men made the select few as costly as a borough full of venal tradesmen.
Edmund's determination to wait "till there is an especial assembly for the representation of younger sons who have little to live on", is the same sort of sophistical nonsense as his approval of Fanny moving in with Aunt Norris, or his approbation of cutting down the avenue at Southerton to improve it. Younger sons and poor men were regularly put up for a borough where they could represent both their patron and the national interest, often put in for a sinecure or pension as well. Pitt the younger was a second son, and the real life member for Northampton at the time was the second son of a second marriage, with an allowance of £200 a year, before he took to the law and the then (in 1795, at no cost to himself) parliament and then the primeministership (1806-1812). (2)
On the other hand, Sir Thomas's approval of Maria's engagement in absentia, hints at a pocket borough (that is, a corporation borough, where voting is restricted to the half dozen or so members of the town corporation - the mayor, sheriff and suchlike.) These were very safe, but also among the most expensive boroughs to hold onto, and if a prospective or actual challenger in 1806 had contributed to Sir Thomas's financial woes, Maria could be an inexpensive way to ensure that the combined interest of Mansfield and Sotherton would be unbeatable in 1812. Their combined independence would give Sir Thomas and Mr Rushworth considerable political clout on whichever side of the house they chose to exert their influence for. The breakdown of the political influence of the Lord of the Manor at Honiton (infamous for its corruption in the 1806 election), shows only some of the types of influence a principle landholder enjoys: "(1) The Lord's right to appoint to the office of Portreeve, Bailiff and aletasters (2) The two principal inns are let from year to year and thus the Lord can influence not only the votes of his tenants but also those of the tradespeople who sell there, as well as many of the domestics (3) The present bailiff is a cordwainer and employs eighteen cordwainers and they are influenced (4) The right to graze over meadow and pasture land round the town."(1). Then, they might also have the right to appoint mayors, town clerks, custos rotulorum, Sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants of the County, or magistrates who could then threaten to revoke the licence of an innkeeper who was inclined to vote the other way... no wonder Mary is rapturous at the power and respect commanded by a man that could represent the country. When the happiness of a union between Sir Thomas and Mr Rushworth is considered,his offer to act for Maria is a noble sacrifice.
Northampton also illustrates one difficulty the Whigs encountered when campaigning for a reformed parliament with annual elections, franchise to all who were directly taxed, secret polls and equal electorates.
(2)Edward Porritt,The Unreformed House of Commons Vol 1 (Cambridge University Press, 1903)
(3)Robert Beatson, "A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament" (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807)
(4)R.G. Thorne,The House of Commons 1790-1820 (History of Parliment Trust, Secker and Warburg:London, 1986)
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