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First Parliament of Great Britain

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First Parliament of Great Britain

The first Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain was established in 1707, after the merger of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. No fresh elections were held in England, and the existing members of the House of Commons of England sat as members of the new House of Commons of Great Britain. In Scotland, prior to the union coming into effect, the Scottish Parliament appointed sixteen peers (see representative peers) and 45 Members of Parliaments to join their English counterparts in Westminster.

Legal background to the convening of the 1st Parliament

Under the Treaty of Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland it was provided:

Queen Anne did declare it to be expedient that the existing House of Commons of England sit in the first Parliament of Great Britain.

The Parliament of Scotland duly passed an Act settling the manner of electing the sixteen peers and forty five commoners to represent Scotland in the Parliament of Great Britain. A special provision for the 1st Parliament of Great Britain was "that the Sixteen Peers and Forty five Commissioners for Shires and Burghs shall be chosen by the Peers, Barrons and Burghs respectively in this present session of Parliament and out of the members thereof in the same manner that Committees of Parliament are usually now chosen shall be the members of the respective Houses of the said first Parliament of Great Britain for and on the part of Scotland ..."

The Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence on 1 May 1707.

Dates of the Parliament

Election: On 29 April 1707, the Parliament of Great Britain was proclaimed. The members of the last English House of Commons had been elected between 7 May 1705 and 6 June 1705. The last general election in pre-Union Scotland was in the Autumn of 1702. The Parliament of Scotland met between 6 May 1703 and 25 March 1707.

First meeting and maximum legal term: Parliament first met on 23 October 1707. The Parliament was due to expire, if not sooner dissolved, at the end of the term of three years from the first meeting of the last Parliament of England; which would have been on 14 June 1708.

Dissolution: The 1st Parliament of Great Britain was dissolved on 3 April 1708.

Party composition

The concept of party was much looser than it later became. Neither contemporaries or subsequent historians could be absolutely certain of who belonged in which category, however some estimates can be made.

Ambitious noble and gentry families formed themselves into connections of relatives and hangers on. Connections grouped themselves into factions, usually supporting a prominent public figure seeking royal favour and office for himself and his associates. Factions were usually of a Whig or Tory tendency.

Cross-cutting the Whig and Tory division was the Court and Country one. Court Party supporters were those who tended to support the Queen's ministers. Country Party men were inclined to oppose all Ministries.

The party divisions in Scotland were similar to those in England and Wales (although more inclined to Court and Whig than Country and Tory attitudes). Scottish politics also included the Squadrone Volante. This was a group, named after a type of cavalry formation, which had first opposed the Union but developed into moderate supporters of it.

An estimate of the composition of the Parliament of England, after the 1705 election, was Tory 267 and Whig 246.

Summary of the Members of Parliament

Key to categories in the following tables: Boro': Borough constituencies, Shire: County constituencies, Univ.: University constituencies, Co.: Co-opted constituency (elected by Parliament), No.: number of constituencies, MPs: number of Members of Parliament, Total consts: Total constituencies

Scotland is being counted here as a single constituency, as all 45 MPs were elected by the last Parliament of Scotland. Monmouthshire (with one borough and two county members) is included in Wales for the purposes of this article, although at this period it was often regarded as part of England.

Table 1: Constituencies and MPs, by type and country
Country Constituencies Members
Boro' Shire Univ. Co. Total Boro' Shire Univ. Scots Total
 England 202 39 2 243 404 78 4 486
 Wales 13 13 26 13 14 27
 Scotland 1 1 45 45
Total 215 052 002 001 270 417 092 004 045 558
Table 2: Number of seats per constituency, by type and country
Country Borough
constituencies
Shire and county
constituencies
University
const'ies
Co-opted
const'y
Total
consts
Total
MPs
1 MP 2 MPs 4 MPs No. MPs 1 MP 2 MPs No. MPs 2 MPs MPs 45 MPs MPs
 England 4 196 2 202 404 39 39 78 2 4 243 486
 Wales 13 13 13 12 1 13 14 26 27
 Scotland 1 45 1 45
Total 017 196 002 215 417 012 040 52 92 002 4 001 45 270 558

Speaker and Government

On 23 October 1707, John Smith (1655-1723), MP (Whig) for Andover since 1695, was elected the first Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain. Smith had been the Speaker of the House of Commons of England since 1705.

When this Parliament took place no office of Prime Minister existed. The Lord High Treasurer was then a leading and important minister of the Crown.

The Lord High Treasurer, throughout this Parliament (in office in England since 8 May 1702) was Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin. Godolphin was a Tory, but the 1702-08 Ministry included both Tory and Whig members (see Coalition Ministry for some more information). After a political crisis in February 1708, Secretary of State Robert Harley was forced to resign and Godolphin remained in office, in a reconstructed Coalition Ministry.

Members of the 1st Parliament

Preceded by
New Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
1707–1708
Succeeded by
2nd Parliament of Great Britain

Sources

  • The Treaty of Union of Scotland and England 1707, edited by George S. Pryde (Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd 1950)
  • British Historical Facts 1688-1760, by Chris Cook and John Stevenson (The Macmillan Press 1988)
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