Kent (UK Parliament constituency)

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For other uses, see Kent (disambiguation).
Kent
Former County constituency
for the House of Commons
1290–1832
Number of members Two
Replaced by Eastern Kent, Western Kent and Greenwich

Kent was a parliamentary constituency covering the county of Kent in southeast England. It returned two "knights of the shire" (Members of Parliament) to the House of Commons by the bloc vote system from the year 1290. Members were returned to the Parliament of England until the Union with Scotland created the Parliament of Great Britain in 1708, and to the Parliament of the United Kingdom after the union with Ireland in 1801 until the county was divided by the Reform Act 1832.

History[edit]

Boundaries[edit]

The constituency consisted of the historic county of Kent. (Although Kent contained eight boroughs, each of which elected two MPs in its own right for part of the period when Kent was a constituency, these were not excluded from the county constituency, and the ownership of property within the borough could confer a vote at the county election. This was even the case for the city of Canterbury, which had the status of a county in itself: unlike those in almost all other counties of cities, Canterbury's freeholders were entitled to vote for Kent's MPs.)

The constituency boundaries may have theoretically encompassed a much larger area and population than would at first appear. After the American Revolution, it was apparently solemnly argued in Parliament that the rebels' complaint of no taxation without representation was mistaken, since "all the grants of land in America were to be held of the Manor of Greenwich in the County of Kent, and therefore the Knights of the Shire for the County of Kent represented all Americans". However, this somewhat flimsy argument - relying on an obsolete legal fiction dating back to the land ownership laws of the feudal system - seems not to have been received entirely respectfully even in the 18th century, and it is certainly not recorded that Kent's returning officer was ever bothered by American colonists demanding their right to vote.

Franchise[edit]

In medieval times, the custom in Kent, as elsewhere, was for the MPs for the county and those for its boroughs to be elected on the same day at the county court, by the suitors to the court, which meant the tiny handful of the local nobility who were tenants in chief of the Crown. Thus we find it recorded that in the second year of the reign of Henry V, "In the County Court of Kent, held at Rochester, Four Coroners and Eight others present, chose the Knights for the County, and the same person elect two Citizens for Canterbury, and two for Rochester."

From 1430, the Forty Shilling Freeholder Act extended the right to vote to every man who possessed freehold property within the county valued at £2 or more per year for the purposes of land tax; it was not necessary for the freeholder to occupy his land, nor even in later years to be resident in the county at all.

Except during the period of the Commonwealth in the mid 17th century, Kent had two MPs elected by the bloc vote method, under which each voter had two votes. In the nominated Barebones Parliament, five members represented Kent. In the First and Second Parliaments of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, however, there was a general redistribution of seats and Kent elected 11 members, though most of the county's boroughs lost one or both of their MPs. The traditional arrangements were restored from 1659.

Political character[edit]

At the time of the Great Reform Act in 1832, Kent had a population of approximately 480,000, though only between 8,000 and 9,000 of these were qualified to vote at the start of the 19th century, and fewer than 4,000 actually voted at the last contested election, in 1818. It has been estimated that in this period around a third of Kent's voters were urban, spread among a couple of dozen medium-sized and small towns: Canterbury, Maidstone, Dover, Deal, Chatham and the growing resorts of Ramsgate and Margate were the biggest, but at the election of 1802 the pollbooks show that only Canterbury (with 384 voters) contributed more than 250 to the poll.

With the villages outvoting the towns by two to one, no particular local interest predominated. By custom, the choice was generally one member from East Kent and one from West Kent. The county's MPs were generally drawn from the leading local families of gentry, but rarely from the nobility, and the voters jealously guarded their independence: although important peers wielded significant influence at times - the Earl of Westmorland and Earl of Winchelsea at the turn of the 18th century for example, the Duke of Dorset sixty years later - it always fell far short of control over the outcome.

Elections were held at a single polling place, and voters from the rest of the county had to travel to the county town to exercise their franchise. It was normal for voters to expect the candidates for whom they voted to meet their expenses in travelling to the poll, making the cost of fighting an election substantial. Contested elections were therefore rare in most counties, but Kent was something of an exception: voters went to the polls at 14 of the 29 general elections between 1700 and 1832, a total exceeded only by Surrey among the other English counties.

Those elections which were contested seem rarely to have been decided on party lines, and too great an adherence to party loyalty by the MPs was sometimes resented. The voters also expected the solicitous attention of their members. Jupp reprints the resolutions passed by a County meeting of Kent freeholders in 1820:

1. That it is essential to the honour and credit of this County, that it should be represented by two gentlemen constantly resident therein.
2. That it is the opinion of this Meeting that this county was in the last Parliament very inefficiently represented by one of its members, inasmuch as his residence was elsewhere, and the Freeholders were thereby deprived of that easy access and free communication which are essential between the constituent and the representative.
3. That it is the opinion of this meeting that the conduct of a County member in Parliament should be at all times marked by independence, equally free from subserviency to any Administration and unshackled by any Party indiscriminately hostile thereto.
4. That we cannot recognise in Mr Honywood's uniform opposition to every measure recently proposed in Parliament, for the purpose of restraining the career of sedition, blasphemy and crime, the influence of that elevated spirit, which should direct the actions of an independent representative for this great and enlightened County.

These sentiments were clearly not held universally, however, since the apostrophised Mr Honywood was re-elected at that year's election.

Abolition[edit]

The constituency was abolished in 1832 by the Great Reform Act, being divided into two two-member county divisions, Eastern Kent and Western Kent.

Members of Parliament[edit]

MPs 1290–1660[edit]

  • Constituency created (1290)
Parliament First member Second member
1372 James Peckham
1376–1388 Sir Thomas Fogg
1377 (Oct) James Peckham John Freningham
1378 Sir Thomas Fogg
1380 (Nov) Sir Thomas Fogg
1381 John Freningham Sir Thomas Fogg
1383 (Feb) James Peckham Sir Thomas Fogg
1383 (Oct) Sir Thomas Fogg
1384 (Nov) Sir Thomas Fogg
1386 William Bettenham Geoffrey Chaucer [1]
1388 (Feb) Sir Thomas Fogg James Peckham [1]
1388 (Sep) William Bettenham James Peckham [1]
1390 (Jan) Sir Arnold Savage John Cobham [1]
1390 (Nov) Sir Arnold Savage Sir Thomas Cobham [1]
1391 Sir Arnold Savage Nicholas Potyn [1]
1393 Sir William Burcester Nicholas Potyn [1]
1394 Sir William Pecche John Cobham [1]
1395 Sir Nicholas Haute Thomas Brockhill [1]
1397 (Jan) Thomas Brockhill Nicholas Potyn [1]
1397 (Sep) Sir William Pecche John Cobham [1]
1399 John Freningham Thomas Brockhill [1]
1401 Sir Arnold Savage Robert Clifford [1]
1402 Sir Arnold Savage Thomas Brockhill [1]
1404 (Jan) Sir Arnold Savage Sir Reynold Braybrooke [1]
1404 (Oct) Sir Thomas Clinton Henry Horne [1]
1406 Richard Clitheroe Robert Clifford [1]
1407 Richard Clitheroe John Darell [1]
1410
1411 Reynold Pympe William Nutbeam [1]
1413 (Feb)
1413 (May) John Darell John Butler I [1]
1414 (Apr) John Darell Sir Thomas Clinton [1]
1414 (Nov) Sir Arnold Savage II Robert Clifford [1]
1415
1416 (Mar) William Cheyne John Wilcotes [1]
1416 (Oct)
1417 John Darell Roger Rye [1]
1419 William Haute Edward Guildford [1]
1420 William Rickhill Thomas Town [1]
1421 (May)
1421 (Dec) Thomas Ellis Roger Honyton [1]
1422 Geoffrey Lowther Reginald Lowther
1426 Edward Guildford
1430 William Scott
1435 Edward Guildford
1445–1446 Thomas Browne
1449 John Cheyne
1450 William Haute
1455 Gervase Clifton
1461–1462 Sir John Fogge
1463–1465 Sir John Fogge
1467 Sir John Scott
1478 Sir John Fogge
1483 Sir John Fogge
1489-1495 Sir Richard Guildford (3 times) [2]
1510 No names known[3]
1512  ?Sir Edward Poynings  ? [3]
1515  ?Sir Thomas Nevill  ? [3]
1523  ?
1529 Sir Edward Guildford, died
and replaced Oct 1534 by
Sir John Dudley
Sir Henry Guildford [3]
1536  ?Thomas Cromwell  ? [3]
1539 Sir Thomas Cheyne Gregory Cromwell [3]
1542 Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir Thomas Wyatt, died
and replaced Jan 1543 by
Sir John Guildford [3]
1545 Sir Thomas Cheyne George Harper [3]
1547 Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir Thomas Wyatt II [3]
1553 (Mar) Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir Henry Sidney [3]
1553 (Oct) Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir Robert Southwell [3]
1554 (Apr) Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir John Baker [3]
1554 (Nov) Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir John Baker [3]
1555 Sir John Baker Sir Robert Southwell [3]
1558 Sir Thomas Cheyne Sir John Baker [3]
1558/9 Sir Anthony St. Leger I Sir Richard Sackville, sat for Sussex,
repl. Feb 1559
by Sir Thomas Kempe[4]
1562/3 Sir Henry Sidney Sir Henry Cheyne [4]
1571 Sir Thomas Scott Sir Henry Sidney [4]
1572 Sir Henry Sidney Sir Thomas Scott [4]
1584 (Nov) Sir Philip Sidney Edward Wotton [4]
1586 (Oct) Sir Henry Brooke alias Cobham I Sir Thomas Scott [4]
1588 (Oct) Henry Brooke alias Cobham II Sir Henry Brooke alias Cobham I [4]
1593 Sir Edward Hoby Moyle Finch [4]
1597 (Sep) Sir Robert Sidney Sir William Brooke alias Cobham, killed in duel
and replaced Jan 1598 by
Percival Hart[4]
1601 Francis Fane Sir Henry Nevill
Parliament of 1604-1611 Sir John Scott John Leveson
Addled Parliament (1614) Sir Peter Manwood Sir Thomas Walsingham
Parliament of 1621-1622 Viscount Lisle Sir George Fane
Happy Parliament (1624-1625) Nicholas Tufton Sir Edwin Sandys
Useless Parliament (1625) Mildmay Fane Sir Albert Moreton
Parliament of 1625-1626 Sir Edward Hales Sir Edward Scott
Parliament of 1628-1629 Thomas Finch Sir Dudley Diggs
No Parliament summoned 1629-1640

MPs 1640–1832[edit]

Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 Norton Knatchbull Sir Roger Twysden
November 1640 Sir John Colepeper Royalist Sir Edward Dering Royalist
1642 Augustine Skinner
January 1644 Colepeper disabled from sitting - seat vacant
1645 John Boys
December 1648 Boys excluded in Pride's Purge - seat vacant
1653 Kent had five members in the Barebones Parliament: Viscount Lisle, Thomas Blount, William Kenrick, William Cullen, Andrew Broughton
1654 Kent had 11 members in the First Protectorate Parliament: Lieutenant Colonel Henry Oxenden,
William James, Colonel John Dixwell, John Boys, Sir Henry Vane (senior), Lambert Godfrey,
Colonel Richard Beal, Augustine Skinner, John Selliard, Colonel Ralph Weldon, Daniel Shatterden
1656 Kent had 11 members in the Second Protectorate Parliament: Henry Oxenden, Richard Meredith,
Sir Thomas Style, William James, Colonel John Dixwell, John Boys, Lambert Godfrey,
Colonel Richard Beal, John Selliard, Colonel Ralph Weldon, Daniel Shatterden
January 1659 Sir Thomas Style William James
May 1659 Augustine Skinner One seat vacant
April 1660 Sir Edward Dering Sir John Tufton
1661 Sir Thomas Peyton
1679 Sir Vere Fane (Sir) Edward Dering [5]
1685 Sir William Twysden Sir John Knatchbull
1689 Sir Vere Fane
1691 Sir Thomas Roberts
1695 Philip Sydney
1698 Sir James Oxenden Sir Stephen Lennard
January 1701 Sir Thomas Hales Thomas Meredith
December 1701 William Campion
1702 Sir Francis Leigh
1705 Sir Cholmeley Dering, Bt Tory Viscount Villiers
1708 Sir Thomas Palmer Sir Stephen Lennard, Bt
January 1710 by-election David Polhill
October 1710 Sir Cholmeley Dering, Bt Tory Percival Hart
1711 by-election Sir William Hardres
1713 Sir Edward Knatchbull, 4th Bt
February 1715 Mildmay Fane William Delaune
September 1715 by-election Colonel the Hon. John Fane
1722 Sir Edward Knatchbull, 4th Bt Sir Thomas Twisden
1727 Sir Roger Meredith Sir Robert Furnese
1733 by-election Sir Edward Dering Tory
1734 The Viscount Vane
1735 by-election Sir Christopher Powell
1741 Sir Roger Twisden
1754 Hon. Lewis Watson Hon. Robert Fairfax
1760 by-election Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham, 6th Bt Whig
1763 by-election Sir Brook Bridges Whig
1768 John Frederick Sackville
1769 by-election Sir Charles Farnaby
1774 Hon. Charles Marsham Thomas Knight, junior
1780 Filmer Honywood
1790 Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bt
1796 Sir William Geary, Bt Tory
1802 Filmer Honywood Whig
1806 Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Bt Tory William Honywood Whig
1812 Sir William Geary, Bt Tory
1818 William Philip Honywood Whig
1819 by-election Sir Edward Knatchbull, 9th Bt Tory
1830 Thomas Law Hodges Whig
1831 Thomas Rider Whig
1832 Constituency abolished: see Eastern Kent, Western Kent

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa "History of Parliament". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  2. ^ Cavill. The English Parliaments of Henry VII 1485-1504. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "History of Parliament". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Parliament". Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  5. ^ Succeeded to baronetcy, June 1684

Election results[edit]

References[edit]

  • Robert Beatson, A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [1]
  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • John Cannon, Parliamentary Reform 1640-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • Maija Jansson (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament, 1614 (House of Commons) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1988)
  • Peter Jupp, British and Irish Elections 1784-1831 (Newton Abbott: David & Charles, 1973)
  • F D MacKinnon, On Circuit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940), quoted in Michael Gilbert (ed.), The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • J E Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • Charles Henry Parry (ed), The Parliaments and Councils of England (London: John Murray, 1839)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Robert Walcott, English Politics in the Early Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956)
  • Dictionary of National Biography
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "K" (part 1)[self-published source][better source needed]