John Wilkes and the Middlesex Election
The battle over the Middlesex Election of 1769, writes George Rude, raised the constitutional question of the voters’ right to return a member of their own choice to Parliament.
In a moment of triumph, in July 1763, before his travels and tribulations began, John Wilkes wrote to his friend and patron Earl Temple: “North Briton and Wilkes will be talked of together by posterity.”
They have certainly not been forgotten; but perhaps as famous as the North Briton affair in the turbulent history of Wilkes was his election for Middlesex and his long struggle to assert his claim to be recognised by Parliament as the county’s lawful Member.
During his exile abroad, Wilkes was expelled from the Commons, where he had sat as M.P. for Aylesbury, and declared an outlaw by the courts—both for his publication of the North Briton and for his part in the production and printing of an obscene and scandalous poem, An Essay on Woman.
Returning to England in 1768 in time for the General Election, Wilkes presented himself as a candidate, first in the City of London, where he failed to be elected, and, subsequently, in Middlesex, where he was returned at the head of the poll.