MP of the month: Rowland Alston (1782-1865)

Rowland Alston’s career provides a useful illustration of just how diverse (and to a modern eye incongruous) the political outlook of MPs in the same party could be before the development of more formal modern political allegiances. It also serves as a reminder that not all Liberals supported free trade and the repeal of the corn laws, and offers another example of a slave-owner MP who was a Whig-Radical and supported abolition (see our previous blog on William Pinney). Tellingly, it was not political inconsistency that secured Alston notoriety, but his role in averting a potentially fatal duel involving the Conservative leader Sir Robert Peel.

Pishiobury Park, Herts.

Pishiobury Park, Herts.

Alston’s background, like his politics, seems unconventional to a modern eye, but scarcely warranted comment at the time. His father was the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Alston (1724-74), an MP known for his bouts of insanity, and his ‘housekeeper’, to whom all of Sir Thomas’s property had passed. Alston, an impoverished second son, initially pursued an army career, serving with the Scots Guards, but in 1810 he married a wealthy heiress, whose properties included the Pishiobury estate in Hertfordshire and a plantation in Jamaica.

Over the next twenty-five years Alston became one of Hertfordshire’s leading reformers, campaigning steadily for parliamentary reform, almost standing for election at Hertford in 1823 and 1831, and only narrowly being defeated when he contested the county as an ‘advanced reformer’ and candidate of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1832. Quizzed about why he supported abolition, yet owned slaves, he explained that he had come into his slaves ‘by marriage’ and would happily emancipate them ‘the instant provision was made to ensure them employment and food’. In 1835 two of the sitting MPs for the county retired and he came in unopposed.

In the Commons Alston generally backed the Whigs, although he occasionally sided with the radicals on military issues, including their campaigns to end army flogging and put Lord Cardigan on trial for the brutal treatment of his troops. In 1836 he and his son received £2,505 in slavery compensation from the Whig government, a sum which he freely admitted amounted to almost ‘half the value of his entire property’, but he opposed their plan of slavery apprenticeships and joined other abolitionists in trying to secure an immediate end to indenture in 1838.

Alston’s main loyalty, however, was to the agricultural interest. He followed Lord Chandos (and many Tories) regularly into the lobbies in support of repealing the malt tax, relieving distress on farmers, and preserving the corn laws. In 1839 he even tried (unsuccessfully) to derail the Whig ministry’s new beer bill, protesting that it would ruin maltsters and brewers alike. Unlike most of his ‘agricultural’ allies, however, Alston was also a staunch and outspoken supporter of the Whig ministry’s new poor law and workhouse system, which he helped to implement locally. He also strongly backed the Whig ministry’s proposed reduction of import duties on foreign sugar in 1841.

This put him at odds not only with agricultural Protectionists, wary of any free trade initiatives, but also with many of his radical colleagues in the Anti-Slavery Society, who feared that cheaper imports would encourage slave-grown sugar from non-British colonies. By the time of the 1841 election, therefore, Alston had managed to alienate former allies in both the agricultural and Liberal camps. With party lines now so much more clearly defined across a range of issues – ironically helped by the sort of local registration activity that he himself had encouraged – Alston became a victim of the times and lost his seat.

He is now best remembered for saving the Conservative prime minister Sir Robert Peel from a potentially catastrophic duel with the navy officer Captain John Townshend, the Liberal candidate at Tamworth in 1837, who after his defeat had accused Peel of ‘breaking his word’ about allowing his tenants to vote freely. Peel had demanded ‘satisfaction’ and it was only through the furious backstairs negotiations of Alston (Townshend’s second) with Sir Henry Hardinge MP that the affair was eventually settled without bloodshed after Townshend was persuaded to issue a full public apology.

The full biography of Alston and many other MPs is available on our 1832-68 preview site.

For the Legacies of British Slave ownership project click here.

Further details about Alston can also be found on this genealogical site.

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Happy New Year from the Victorian Commons

As 2015 comes to a close, we would like to wish all the readers of the Victorian Commons a very Happy New Year for 2016! We’re looking forward to another year of blogging, but in the meantime, here are some of our highlights of 2015.

Our most popular post this year featured the unfortunate case of James Platt, the newly elected Liberal MP for Oldham, who was accidentally shot dead by his friend, the mayor of Oldham. Platt was one of our twelve MP of the Month blogs, which have also included Edward Greene, of the Greene King brewery; Captain Brownlow Layard, who lobbied on the issue of soldiers’ welfare; and William Pinney, whose election for Lyme Regis shed intriguing light on the question of slavery. Particularly interesting reads were Albert Grant, whose shady reputation as a financier inspired Anthony Trollope to create Augustus Melmotte, the central character in The Way We Live Now, and Benjamin Rotch, would-be duellist, inventor, teetotaller and prison reformer.

In the summer we said goodbye to one of our research fellows, Dr. James Owen, who found time to write one last blog for us, on William Schaw Lindsay, an MP whose remarkable rise from destitute orphan to merchant prince included an encounter with a sabre-wielding pirate. Although James will be much missed, we are pleased to be joined from January 2016 by Martin Spychal, whose PhD research on the boundary commission and the 1832 Reform Act featured on our blog earlier this year.

Two other historians have shared their PhD research with us in guest blogs: Gary Hutchison of the University of Edinburgh, who is working on Scotland and the Conservative party, 1832-1868; and Rebekah Moore, our AHRC collaborative doctoral award student, who is investigating the temporary Houses of Parliament after the devastating 1834 fire.

Alongside our blogs on parliamentary elections, our editor Philip Salmon shared his expertise on Victorian political memorabilia and on town council elections, marking the 180th anniversary of the Municipal Corporations Act. We also remembered the 200th anniversary of Waterloo with Stephen Ball’s blog on some of the Irish MPs who fought there. With youthful MPs in the news following Mhairi Black’s election in May, we blogged about the youngest MP of the 1832-68 period, returned at the age of 20. Our assistant editor Kathryn Rix has been looking beyond the Victorian period with a series of posts on the main History of Parliament site about MPs killed during the First World War.

Our draft biographies and constituency articles can be found on our preview site – details of how to access and cite our work can be found in these links. You can sign up to follow our blog via e-mail, or follow us on Twitter @TheVictCommons

We look forward to sharing more of our research with you in 2016. Happy New Year!


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‘A kindhearted savage of a man’: Arthur Wills Blundell Sandys Trumbull Windsor Hill, Earl of Hillsborough (1812-68)

While the Reformed Commons undoubtedly contained men who had broken the sixth commandment, most had done so while licensed by military service. The Earl of Hillsborough, however, appears to have been responsible for the death of at least one man before he left university, and managed to acquire a fearsome reputation which dogged his later years.

Hillsborough’s family (marquesses of Downshire) possessed large estates and extensive political influence in the north of Ireland, but made limited contributions to affairs of state. The 1st Marquess of Downshire’s record as a secretary of state was such that ‘no historian has had a good word to say’ for him. Hillsborough – the eldest son of the 3rd Marquess – was no exception to the family tradition. Yet in representing County Down from 1836 to 1845 he provided solid support for Sir Robert Peel before breaking with him over the Maynooth grant and the repeal of the corn laws.

From youth Hillsborough was reputed to possess ‘immense physical strength’. While studying at Oxford University in 1830 he got involved in ‘a pugilistic affray’ with two local boatmen. One of the pair, whom Hillsborough ‘easily disposed of’ due to his ‘superior science’ in fighting, was said to have died as a result of the bout. Jane Welsh Carlyle (wife of the historian Thomas Carlyle) later recorded that Hillsborough ‘is awfully strong, and his strokes tell, as he doesn’t expect!’

Oxford from the towpath with Christ Church Meadow, William Turner (1789-1862) (c) Worcester College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Oxford from the towpath with Christ Church Meadow, William Turner (1789-1862) (c) Worcester College, University of Oxford; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A few months later, in February 1831, Hillsborough accidently caused the death of Lord Conyers Osborne, the favourite son of the Duke of Leeds. After the two young men had ‘a slight rencontre’ in the quadrangle of Christ Church, Oxford, Osborne collapsed and died, the cause of his death being attributed by the Regius Professor of Anatomy to ‘an effusion of blood upon the brain’. The coroner’s verdict of death by ‘Chance medley’ satisfied Osborne’s father, and there the matter ended.

Osborne’s death left Hillsborough ‘in a state of mind approaching distraction’, but this did not prevent him entering the fray at a ‘ferocious’ election riot at Oxford just three months later. With ‘his gigantic arm’ he ‘knocked the mob about on either side of him’ in order to save a fellow undergraduate who ‘had been hung to a lamp-post by the strings of his gown!’ Nevertheless, in 1836 he was described by the king’s aide-de-camp, General William Dyott, as quiet, ‘unassuming’ and ‘gentlemanlike’, while Mrs. Carlyle later characterised him as ‘a dear, good kindhearted Savage of a Man!’

In August 1836 Hillsborough replaced his uncle, Lord Arthur Moyses Hill, as MP for County Down, and that November demonstrated his combative spirit at Banbridge by thanking Daniel O’Connell for giving him the opportunity to fling his ‘contemptuous defiance in his teeth’. A silent Member, Hillsborough rarely visited the division lobbies, but was a staunch Protectionist, arguing that in Ireland there was ‘no nice line of separation’ between the agricultural and the manufacturing interest, the weaver and the farmer being ‘frequently combined in one person’.

In April 1845 Hillsborough left the Commons upon succeeding as 4th Marquess of Downshire. Generally regarded as a benevolent landlord who treated his Catholic and Protestant tenants even-handedly, he lived mainly in England, but maintained a strong electoral interest in County Down. His English estates consisted of 5,500 acres in Berkshire and Suffolk. When in Ireland he resided ‘in regal state’ at Hillsborough, the owner of 115,000 acres in five Irish counties worth a total of £72,500 a year. He remained a staunch Protectionist, using his position as president of the Royal Agricultural Society to call for ‘a war … on the part of the farmers against the Manchester cotton manufacturers’. He became one of the Conservative leader Lord Derby’s closest confidants among the aristocracy.

In 1860 his pugnacious reputation caught up with him when it was alleged that he had used his ‘Herculean strength’ to throw the skipper of his yacht overboard after finding the ‘rough, worthy sailor’ kneeling by the side of his seventeen-year-old daughter. Rumours that he was ‘being brought home to be tried by the Peers’ forced Downshire to issue a public rebuttal, in which he promised that if he ever caught the ‘scoundrel’ who had circulated the story, he would ‘throw him overboard’. Whether or not the matter ended as Jane Carlyle predicted it might, ‘in Lord Downshire giving somebody a good thrashing!’, is not known.

Having avoided further scandal, Hillsborough died in August 1868 at Herne Bay, Kent. His correspondence is held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Downshire Papers forming a major historical archive of nineteenth-century estate management.

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MP of the month: William Pinney and another kind of ‘slavery election’

William Pinney’s career as an MP serves as an important reminder of the legacy of slave ownership in British public life and the very different attitudes to electoral corruption that existed in the nineteenth century, even among radically-inclined Liberals. In Pinney’s case the two were neatly combined. The fortune amassed from his family’s West India sugar plantations and the staggering £38,000 compensation they were awarded by the British government when slavery was abolished provided the funds for a spate of electioneering shenanigans that almost tested the reformed electoral system to its limits, both in the Commons and the courts.

William Pinney MP

William Pinney MP

Pinney’s forebears were some of the richest and most active slave owners (and traders) on record. Their activities formed the basis of one of the first full-length studies of a slave-owning dynasty (R. Pares, A West India Fortune, 1950). After inheriting his family’s landed estates at Somerton Erleigh in Dorset, Pinney’s father had retired from active business. In 1831 he purchased ‘a grand house on a hill’ at Lyme Regis with a view to creating an electoral ‘interest’ in the borough. Lyme already had a reputation for electoral corruption, but the new residence requirements imposed on household voters now made it even more vulnerable to electoral control, because so many of its properties and rooms were let out during the summer to holiday makers.

Assisted by local ‘Liberal’ well-wishers, including the pioneering fossil hunter Mary Anning, who had been befriended by Pinney’s sister, the family set about establishing their claims to represent the seaside resort after 1832. Pinney’s youth (he was only 26) and pro-reform politics contrasted strongly with his anti-reform Tory opponent Lord Burghersh, whose family were the former patrons of this ‘pocket borough’. What really swung the 1832 election for Pinney, however, was his family’s promise to repair the sea walls and their provision of personal loans to electors, as well as helping voters get around the residence issue by arranging for landlords to temporarily hand back keys to rented-out properties on polling day.

This system of ‘exchanging keys’ to houses at election time, mainly organised with electors’ wives, soon became a huge ruse organised on a large scale. Along with the loans it made the family’s electoral control of the borough seem ‘as secure at its cobb’. In the event Pinney sat as the MP from 1832-42 and 1852-65. It was only the arrival of an even more unscrupulous electioneer, the notorious Victorian ‘borough monger’ John Attwood, which briefly upset Pinney’s hegemony, leading to a series of corruption ‘battles’ in elections and high-profile inquiries by the Commons into all their activities.

Interestingly, when Pinney obtained a one vote majority at the 1859 election, his Tory opponent not only lodged an election petition against his return in the Commons, but also started private criminal proceedings against the mayor, who had allowed an elector to cast a vote for Pinney after the close of polling. ‘If you don’t’, Pinney was heard telling the mayor, ‘you will lose me my election’. (The mayor subequently claimed that he had believed his watch was ‘running fast’.) The constitutional conflicts over jurisdiction that these separate cases created were in the end only resolved by a secret deal between the rival candidates and the dropping of both suits.

What is most striking about Pinney’s career as an MP is not just the willingness of a fairly advanced Liberal to engage in wholesale electoral corruption, but his own attitude to slavery given his family background. As early as 1832 he had called on the hustings for its complete abolition and in 1838 he willingly voted for the Whig government’s apprenticeship reforms. The most extraordinary event, however, was his completely unabashed personal attack on a rival Tory candidate, Renn Hampden, in 1837, charging him with ‘barbarous’ acts in the West Indies, including the flogging of female slaves on his Barbados plantations. Not content with this, he also claimed that Hampden had advocated the use of the ‘flogging of women’ in a pamphlet. The irony of one of the most ‘ferocious’ anti-slavery election campaigns of the period being waged by Pinney, whose family had just received the sum of almost £38,000 in slave compensation, was entirely lost on Lyme’s fickle voters, who duly re-elected him with a 34 vote majority.

For further information on Pinney and Lyme Regis please see the full-length articles available on our preview site. Details of how to obtain access can be found here.

For the Legacies of British Slave ownership project click here.

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MP of the Month: Benjamin Rotch (1793-1854)

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Rotch, Whig MP for Knaresborough from 1832 until 1835. This quirky character, described by one contemporary as a man who ‘would resort to any wily expedient to attain his own ends’, provides a good example of the varied backgrounds and experiences of the new intake of MPs elected in 1832. Untangling his eclectic career proved to be an extremely interesting piece of research, taking in the Nantucket whaling industry, the complexities of patent law, prison reform and a challenge to a duel.

'Dangers of the whale fishery' (1820), via NOAA Photo Library

‘Dangers of the whale fishery’ (1820), via NOAA Photo Library

The Rotch family had emigrated from England to Massachusetts, where they rose from humble beginnings to become the most influential figures in the colonial whaling industry by 1750. However, the American revolutionary war’s adverse effects and the imposition of a punitive British tariff on whale oil in 1783 led many whalers to relocate. Rotch’s grandfather William, ‘by far the richest man on Nantucket’, transferred his activities to Dunkirk in France, where Rotch was born in 1793. Following the outbreak of war between France and England, his father moved the family to London. Later reports that Rotch and his mother had escaped from France hidden in a butter firkin and a flour barrel were refuted by his brother.

Rather than entering the family business, Rotch trained as a barrister, qualifying in 1821. He also became involved in other ventures, taking out patents, including one for a rubber horseshoe, and designing the prize-winning ‘Arcograph’, which allowed arcs of large circles to be drawn and measured. In collaboration with a Mr. Bradshaw, Rotch ended the monopoly of hackney coaches in London by acquiring licences to operate the cheaper and faster cabriolets in 1823, only to sell his interest the following year. He achieved financial success with his ‘patent lever fid’, a device to assist with striking and raising the topmast of ships. As a barrister he specialised in cases on patent rights and was an expert witness to the 1829 select committee on the patent laws.

Benjamin Rotch, MP for Knaresborough, 1832-1835

Benjamin Rotch, MP for Knaresborough, 1832-1835

Rotch first considered entering Parliament in 1826, when, in contrast with his later views, he canvassed Sudbury as a ‘true blue’. However, he withdrew amidst allegations that another candidate had bought him off. In 1830 he assisted the campaigns of Tory candidates at Knaresborough and Evesham. However, at the 1831 election he supported the Whig Sir James Mackintosh at Knaresborough, making a speech which Mackintosh presciently described as being ‘chiefly calculated to obtain a seat in the reformed Parliament’.

In 1832 Rotch stood as a Whig at Knaresborough, where he fought an acrimonious battle for the second seat with another Whig, Henry Rich. When Rotch emerged victorious, Rich petitioned against him on the grounds that he was an alien, having been born in France of American parents, but had to withdraw the case after difficulties obtaining documents from France. Although Rotch had, like his family, been a Quaker, he was not practising by 1832; it was therefore Joseph Pease who took the honour of being the first Quaker MP.

An active MP, Rotch somehow managed to combine his parliamentary duties with the unpaid position of chairman of the Middlesex quarter sessions, sitting in court at Clerkenwell each day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., before going to the Commons after dinner. In one year alone he claimed to have tried 1,570 cases, handled 100 appeals and sat for 125 days. This prompted him to speak self-interestedly in support of proposals for Middlesex to become the only county which paid its chairman, but these did not bear fruit.

His expertise led Rotch to serve on several select committees on legal matters, such as the laws of inheritance. He assisted with drafting a bill on patents, although the measure subsequently stalled. Reflecting his earlier interests as a cab proprietor, Rotch moved without success in July 1833 for an inquiry to consider regulating the conduct of drivers of cabriolets, hackney coaches, omnibuses and stage coaches. Drawing on his experience on the bench, he took a sustained interest in crime and punishment, being particularly concerned about the poor state of prisons such as Newgate. He unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation to confiscate the property of convicted felons in order to compensate their victims and defray imprisonment costs. His desire to pass a bill to protect workers who did not wish to join trades unions cost him support in his constituency, and he stood down in 1835.

After leaving the Commons Rotch continued his legal practice and remained chairman of the Middlesex quarter sessions. In October 1835, however, he became embroiled in a dispute which culminated in his resignation from the post. In evidence to a Lords inquiry on prisons, Rotch had condemned Newgate as ‘one of the most ill-conducted gaols in the country’ and accused London’s lord mayor and aldermen of only accepting into the gaol ‘such county prisoners as are, by the fees paid on their trial and conviction, likely to enrich the City purse’. A war of words prompted Rotch to challenge the lord mayor, Alderman Winchester, to a duel. Winchester responded by filing charges against Rotch for trying to incite a breach of the peace. Admitting that no provocation could have justified his actions, Rotch resigned as chairman in December and the charges against him were dropped after he apologised.

Cold Bath Fields Prison (in 1864)

Cold Bath Fields Prison (in 1864)

Despite this incident, Rotch remained active as a magistrate and took a keen interest in prison reform. In 1849, at his own cost, he sent sheep into Cold Bath Fields prison, hoping to train prisoners for new careers as shearers in Australia. This, combined with his zeal for teetotalism, on which he lectured prisoners and prison staff, led to him being mocked as ‘Drinkwater Rotch, the Sheep-shearing Magistrate’. He continued to dabble in a variety of projects, such as drafting an insurance scheme for railway passengers and taking out a patent for the manufacture of artificial saltpetre, until his death on 31 October 1854.

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180th Anniversary of Town Council Elections

This month marks the anniversary of a completely new system of local elections being implemented throughout England and Wales. One hundred and eighty years ago, almost 180 boroughs in England and Wales began to publish the lists of all those eligible to vote in the new town council elections created by the 1835 Municipal Reform Act. Barely three weeks after the Act’s passage, specially appointed revising barristers started setting up registration courts to decide who would be able to vote in what initally looked like being a remarkably democratic franchise. Unlike the parliamentary household vote – only given to those occupying property worth at least £10 a year in rental value – the new municipal franchise had no minimum property requirement. In theory every male householder, no matter how humble his dwelling, would be able to take part.

Hand written council voting paper, 1835

Hand written council voting paper, 1835

As the revising barristers set about making their lists another group of lawyers were also busy. The Municipal Corporations Act completely eradicated all the old town corporations, many of which were self-electing and controlled by patrons, ending a system of local government that in some places had been around for over 500 years. All town halls and other corporate property had to be transferred to the new councils, but with exceptions or compensation for anything that belonged to private institutions or individuals, such as independent charities and freemen. The legal fallout from this, especially over inherited debts and liabilities, often rumbled on for years, leading to costly court cases and numerous appeals to parliament.

It was the impact on local politics and democratic accountability, however, that was most striking. For many local reformers the creation of elected town councils in 1835 amounted to a far more significant event than the 1832 Reform Act. Annual elections, in particular, made municipal reform a far more relevant and ‘popular’ measure than parliamentary reform. The political memorabilia that was produced to celebrate the 1832 Reform Act is fairly well known. What is often overlooked is the vast amount of very similar material made to celebrate the ‘crushing of the closed corporations’ in 1835, usually on a borough by borough basis.

Stockport Municipal Reform Jug

Stockport Municipal Reform Jug

A number of studies of electoral behaviour in this period have suggested how important municipal reform was in stimulating local party organisation. One factor behind this, which at first seems rather odd, is that the number of town council electors often turned out to be much smaller than had been expected – in some boroughs it was even less than the number who qualified for the parliamentary vote. The reason for this, which soon became apparent at the first October registration, was the registration requirement for municipal voters to have been resident for 3 years and to have paid all their local rates up to the last 6 months – in effect 2 ½ years of ratepaying. Parliamentary electors, by contrast, only had to have been resident for the last 6 months and to have paid a minimum of 2 ½ months’ rates.

This huge difference in rating and residency requirements meant that those who moved around a lot, missed the odd rate payment, or paid their rates to a landlord rather than directly, failed to qualify as council voters. As a result, the municipal and parliamentary franchises turned out to be remarkably similar in practice. Party activity in helping to enrol supporters for one set of elections therefore often had implications for the other electoral register, and it was not long before the local registration associations that had started to be formed to aid parliamentary campaigns also began to have a politicising effect on local municipal elections as well.

1835 Coventry Municipal Reform Medal

Coventry Municipal Reform Medal

One final lasting legacy of the town council system introduced in 1835 was its stimulus to local politicians and the creation of a new culture of civic service. Many long-serving councillors, mayors and aldermen went on to try their hand at parliamentary politics, both as organisers and candidates. An increasing number eventually found their way into the Victorian Commons, as the MP biographies being compiled for the 1832-68 project are beginning to make abundantly clear. For more information about how to access this material, via our 1832-68 preview site, please click here.

Further reading:

  • F. Moret, The End of the Urban Ancient Elite in England (2015)
  • J. Phillips, ‘England’s other ballot question: the unnoticed political revolution of 1835’, in C. Jones, P. Salmon & R. Davis (eds.), Partisan politics, principle and reform in parliament and the constituencies, 1689-1880 (2005)
  • P. Salmon, ‘Local politics and partisanship: the electoral impact of municipal reform, 1835’, Parliamentary History (2000), ix. 357-76
  • D. Fraser (ed.), Municipal reform and the industrial city (1982)
  • B. Keith-Lucas, The English local government franchise (1952)
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Scotland and the Conservative Party, 1832–1868

Gary Hutchison is a past winner of the History of Parliament’s undergraduate dissertation prize and is currently a PhD student and Wolfson Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. As he begins the second year of his doctoral research, he outlines his project on Scottish political history after 1832 in this guest blog.

The Conservative party has, to put it mildly, enjoyed mixed fortunes in Scotland.  At some points, it has constituted a serious political force, while at others has been relegated to a marginal position.  Whether strong or weak, however, the party (and conservatism more generally) has always exerted an influence on the general direction of Scottish political and social development.

While the evolution of the UK Conservative party after 1832 has been explored by many scholars, the course taken by the Scottish Conservative party remains almost entirely uncharted.  Indeed, it constitutes not so much a gap as a gaping hole in both Scottish and British political historiography.  Apart from some works on Scottish politics in general, and an official history, there are no specifically-focused works on Scots Tories between 1832 and 1868.  Much work has been done on the Scottish Liberal party, but this has tended to focus more on internal conflicts between Liberal factions, rather than their differences with their Tory opponents.

Charting the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives is therefore well overdue. It allows for the exploration of a number of interconnected themes, including the extent of electoral deference in Scotland and how this related to the role of the landowner and employer in Scottish politics.  It also sheds light on how local party identities and organisations were formed, and how these affected the development (or lack thereof) of the Scottish Conservative party centrally.  The Scottish Conservatives have thus far been perceived as particularly backward in terms of their party apparatus. That is to say, while the Scottish Liberals were making organisational and ideological progress towards a ‘modern’ party status, the Conservatives were doing so at a slower pace.  This assertion has, however, never been proven through systematic historical inquiry.  Moving beyond organisational themes, a study of party-political evolution will serve to identify the types of people who voted Conservative, why they did so, and their consequent effect on Scottish society in the mid-nineteenth century. This study also undertakes prosopographical analysis of the Scots Tory cohort in the post-Reform parliament, which has already given rise to a number of unanticipated lines of inquiry.

While it is true that the Liberal party dominated Scottish politics in the period 1832–68, this depiction can be somewhat misleading.  In fact, the Scottish Conservative party was far from dormant, holding some seats securely throughout the period, and offering a strong challenge in many others.  Conservative voters may have represented a significant part of the electorate – a part that has received little to no attention.  As the vast majority of Scottish seats were of the single-member type, it may well be that the vagaries of the First Past The Post electoral system have led subsequent researchers to seriously underestimate the extent of Scottish Conservative support, especially in comparison to an English electoral system which still contained a great many multi-member seats.  Much work has been done on the central question in nineteenth-century Scottish politics, ‘Why was Scotland Liberal?’.  In order to more fully explore this however, it is also necessary to ask – why was Scotland not Conservative?


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