Category: Government

Redistricting Has a Long History

Voting and distribution of representation by elected officials is a vital and fascinating topic today as it was during the Regency.

We can now watch legislative sessions live-streamed, or follow issues of interest via the internet, but the doings of the government during the Regency were communicated by way of a journal that was sold by a publisher. In 1806 Thomas Hansard began producing reports of parliamentary debates in a journal published by William Cobbett called Parliamentary Debates. Hansard bought out Cobbett in 1811 and continued to publish the debates. This constituted a watchdog system of sorts.

The set-up of the voting system was ripe for reform. In the early 19th century there were two types of constituency, country areas and towns or boroughs. In the countryside only the landowners could vote. In boroughs the level of enfranchisement varied but was usually limited. The constituencies had not been changed for centuries and no longer reflected the distribution of the population. Industrial towns like Birmingham and Manchester did not have MPs of their own. On the other hand some settlements had died out but they were still represented in parliament! In ‘rotten’ or ‘pocket’ boroughs there might be only one or two voters! And we think red-lining is bad!

The early 19th century saw increasing demand for reforms. Most people wanted constituencies distributed more fairly and they also wanted enfranchisement extended, but Wellington’s party, the Tories, resisted.

The Whigs formed a government in 1830 and tried to introduce reform. The House of Commons eventually voted for a reform bill but the House of Lords rejected it. King William IV warned that he would create more peers, who favored the bill, unless the Lords agreed to accept it. Eventually the House of Lords backed down and passed the Great Reform Bill. It received the royal assent on June 7, 1832.

The franchise to vote was only extended slightly but more importantly the new industrial towns were now represented in parliament. Before 1832 Britain was ruled by an oligarchy of landowners. After 1832 the urban middle class had an increasing say.




Originally posted 2012-11-19 10:00:00.

With this Ring… in Gretna Green?

When my husband and I were married some twelve years ago, there were few impediments for us to reach the altar as soon as we wished to. He knelt down on one knee to ask me, I gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” and almost immediately afterwards, we began making our joyful plans.

Besides the all important wedding gown, the perfect candlelit venue and the explosion of decisions that had to be made, we focused little on what the government required for our union and more on how we would put our personal mark on the day we’d pledge our future lives to each other. In fact, we lived in a location that had minimal government restrictions – we were citizens of the country and were of legal age so we had but to file with the county official’s office and in turn, would have been required to wait only 24 hours before making our walk down the aisle.

In researching Regency Era marriage for a recent book project, it was fascinating to learn how different our options would have been had we lived in England some 200 years ago.

Of course the differences in how an eligible young lady would have made her social debut, how a young man and woman would meet and how courting would commence is in stark contrast to what we know today. But as for government, it’s interesting to find that there is just as much government restriction on the act of marriage (and just as much dodging of said restrictions) as there would have been in force during the Regency Era.

Country road in Gretna Green, Scotland (Photo: Wiki Commons)

The first of these restrictions involved the literal “Las Vegas” of the day – or Gretna Green, Scotland. It was to this elopement location that many couples embarked upon a journey along the Great North Road from London in order to quickly exchange their vows. Similar to the little wedding chapels that one might find along Nevada’s famous neon strip, the tiny village of Gretna Green became the virtual Vegas of its day.

It lies just over the border to Scotland and at the time, became a famous spot for couples escaping the 1754 Lord Hardwicke Marriage Act that was still in effect in the Regency years. The British government dictated that a couple must have parental consent to marry if under twenty-one years of age. In contrast, Scotland’s age for eligible marriage was just sixteen. This led to many couples fleeing up the road on a days-long journey to traverse the border and become a Mr. and Mrs. both quickly and legally.

With this ring… (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Another stark contrast in Hardwicke’s Act dictated the waiting period required to be married in satisfaction to the church. In the Regency Era, Hardwicke’s Act would have compelled couples to be married in a parish building by an ordained minister.  By Scottish law, a man and woman could be married with virtually no notice and required only to make a commitment before two witnesses in order to make their marriage contract binding. This spurred the act of marriages performed by “anvil priests”, or blacksmiths that acted as marriage officiates in the village for runaway marriages. [Click here for more information on anvil priests.]

Another practice for a couple wishing to be married in the Church of England was the reading of the banns of marriage (also known as “banns”). This proclamation of marriage was announced publicly within the church for three weeks in succession prior to a marriage taking place (mainly so that anyone citing a credible reason that the marriage should not take place would have adequate notice to make such a stand against the union). Today, a couple may be required to participate in marriage counseling or take classes to satisfy the requirements of a particular church or denomination, but the requirement would be independent of government decree. In addition, couples may declare their intent to marry by proclaiming their engagement in a public announcement, newspaper article or engagement party, though these practices are social in nature and are not dictated as a requirement by the government. For those traveling to Gretna Green, no such proclamation was expected or required.

It is interesting to note that now more than 200 years after the time of these original runaway marriages, Gretna Green remains an extremely popular wedding venue. In fact, it is estimated that one in six Scottish marriages occur in the small village made famous for its take on marriage minus the control of government.

Today, a wedding ring is a must. The making of a marriage promise is still a lifelong commitment. And whether or not we travel to Gretna Green to exchange the all important vows or whether we follow the requirements of the government in the locale where we live, we still say “with this ring…” with as much heart as those couples would have all those years ago.

May we find joy in the union just as they did.

In His Love,

~ Kristy


Originally posted 2012-11-14 10:00:00.

Voting in Regency England: Who Could Vote? And Who Could They Vote For?

I’ve always found the process of democracy—and elections in particular—rather fascinating. And as we head into the month of November here at Regency Reflections, we’re going to talk a bit about government.

In Regency England, I’m afraid voting options were rather limited. Britain’s Parliament is (and was) divided into two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Lords was composed of peers who were approved membership by their fellow peers, and these positions in the House of Lords were handed down through heredity. Your regular English coal miner or weaver or farmer had no voice in anything that happened in the House of Lords.

The House of Commons was a little more democratic in nature. These members were “elected,” by counties and boroughs, though a lot of corruption was embedded in the electoral process. When Regency characters in novels and movies mention purchasing a seat in the House of Commons, that’s because the electoral process was so crooked individuals could well “purchase” seats that were supposed to be “elected.”

Further complicating the issue, a Member of Parliament representing a county had to have a yearly income of 600 pounds. And a Member of Parliament representing a borough had to have a yearly income of 300 pounds. Thus election to and involvement in parliament was unattainable for the average Englishman. In fact, lower born sons of peers filled a good number of the seats in Commons for this very reason.

Even more disparaging, all voting was done open ballot, and oftentimes retribution could occur if you voted for the wrong person. For example, if an earl’s third son was running for a seat in Commons and you farmed the earl’s land, you could go cast your vote for the opposing candidate. But you might well loose your rights to farm as a result.

Elections were hardly honest or fair. It was a world where the most elite and wealthy controlled the government and gave the bulk of the country’s citizens very little power. Most citizens were not even allowed to “vote.”

To vote in county elections, a person had to be:

1). Male

Though offensive to most people living today (myself included), this was completely normal for the time period. Women’s suffrage wasn’t even thought of yet.

2). A Property Holder with land worth 40 shillings or more per year

This is known as the forty shilling freehold.

To vote in borough elections, you had to be:

1). Male

2). A resident of the “right” county or borough.

There were a lot of populated cities in Regency England that didn’t get any representatives in the House of Commons. The designated “boroughs” were delineated during the Middle Ages and not changed until 1832. So numerous cities that sprang into existence due to industrialism were denied members to the House of Commons, while some extremely small communities that had been thriving 400 years earlier got to elect officials.

3). Owner of a certain amount of wealth or property.

The degree of wealth and property ownership varied from borough to borough. In some places, the forty shilling freehold stood. In others, not receiving alms or poor relief earned you the right to vote. And in others, simply owning a home gave you opportunity to vote.

So now I’m curious. If you’d been living during the Regency days, do you think you (or your husband) would have been able to vote? I daresay my husband would not own enough property to qualify.

Originally posted 2012-11-05 05:00:34.