The Malmesbury Elections of 1698 and 1701

The powerful influence exercised by Thomas, Lord Wharton, before the Reform Act of 1832.

This month’s column focuses not on the life of a Member of Parliament, but on how some of them were elected. Parliamentary elections before the Reform Act of 1832 were often purely formal affairs, with the most prominent local gentry or citizens coming to an arrangement among themselves about who might represent them in the House of Commons. In the borough towns the entitlement to vote was governed by local arrangements: sometimes it was held by all the inhabitants; sometimes by all the freemen; sometimes only by the corporation or part of it. Frequently a wealthy nobleman would have sufficient influence within a local borough to be able virtually to dictate to his neighbours how they should vote in the polls.

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