Elections in Great Britain

Elections in the Kingdom of Great Britain were principally general elections and by-elections to the House of Commons of Great Britain. General elections did not have fixed dates, as parliament was summoned and dissolved within the royal prerogative, although on the advice of the ministers of the Crown. The first such general election was that of 1708, and the last that of 1796.

Elections in Great Britain

Territory of the Kingdom of Great Britain
Common languagesEnglish (de facto official), Cornish, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Norn, Welsh
GovernmentParliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
George I
George II
George III
Prime Minister 
Robert Walpole
Earl of Wilmington
Duke of Newcastle
William Pitt the Elder
Lord North
William Pitt the Younger
House of Lords
House of Commons of Great Britain
Historical era18th century
1 May 1707
1 January 1801
1801230,977 km2 (89,181 sq mi)
CurrencyPound sterling
ISO 3166 codeGB
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of England
Kingdom of Scotland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Today part of United Kingdom
Cornish: Rywvaneth Breten Veur
Scots: Kinrick o Great Breetain
Scottish Gaelic: Rìoghachd na Breatainne Mòire
Welsh: Teyrnas Prydain Fawr
 England,  Scotland,  Wales.

In 1801, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland replaced the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. For the period after 1801, see Elections in the United Kingdom.


For details of the national elections of Great Britain, see:

Political factions

Politics in Great Britain was dominated by the Whigs and the Tories, although neither were political parties in the modern sense but loose alliances of interests and individuals. The Whigs included many of the leading aristocratic dynasties who were most committed to the Protestant settlement of the throne, with later support from the emerging industrial interests and rich city merchants, while the Tories were associated with the landed gentry, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland.[1]

Members of Parliament needed to appeal to a much smaller electorate than is the case today, especially in the boroughs. In the case of the rotten and pocket boroughs, a majority of the votes was usually controlled by one person, or by a small group. This gave less power to organized political parties and more to influential individuals, some of whom had themselves elected in the constituencies they controlled. Such seats were also sold for hard cash. Thus, many members were fundamentally Independents, even if they attached themselves to one party or another during their parliamentary careers.[1]

Members of Parliament and Parliamentary constituencies

The constituencies which elected members in England and Wales remained unchanged throughout the existence of the Parliament of Great Britain.[2]

Table of parliamentary constituencies and seats in the House of Commons
Country BC CC UC Total C BM CM UM Total Members
England[3] 203 40 2 245 405 80 4 489
Wales[3] 12 12 0 24 12 12 0 24
Scotland 15 30 0 45 15 30 0 45
Total 230 82 2 314 432 122 4 558

Local elections

There were few local elections in the Kingdom of Great Britain as the concept is now understood. Local government existed only in rudimentary forms, and much of the civil administration of the counties was carried out by the unelected Quarter Sessions and by magistrates. In the City of London, annual elections were held to the Corporation of London, but on a limited suffrage, and some improvement commissioners were elected by ratepayers, if not co-opted, while the borough and city corporations elsewhere were generally not directly elected.

For further information on local corporations during this period, see the reforming Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

See also


  1. Keith Feiling; A History of the Tory Party, 1640–1714 (1924), online edition; The Second Tory Party, 1714–1832 (1938), online edition
  2. Chris Cook & John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1760-1830 (The Macmillan Press, 1980)
  3. Monmouthshire, with one county constituency represented by two members and one single-member borough constituency, is included in England. In later centuries it was included in Wales.

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