The Peerage Bill of 1719
English Historical Review
I N 1710 the leaden of the whig party suddenly introduced into parliament a bill designed to secure their power by making the house of lordi, which they then controlled, a body to be controlled by them in' perpetuity. Had their attempt succeeded, they would have rendered the lord* virtually a oloae corporation, beyond the reach either of king or of commons. The government of Qreat Britain, which was at the time controlled by a few great magnates, would almost certainly have become an
... d oligarchy. It may well be doubted whether further constitutional progress could have been brought about save by bloodshed and revolution. The bill, which was introduced in the house of lords, 1 provided that the sixteen elective peerages, which had been allotted to Scotland by the Articles of Union, were to be abolished, and the Ving was instead to nominate twenty-five Scottish hereditary peers. It provided also for six new English peerages ; but no future additions were to be made to the number, though the king might thereafter create new peers on the extinction of existing peerages through failure of issue. 1 There were at this time 220 peers, spiritual, temporal, and Scottish.* As a result of the changes proposed there would be 235, after which the number fu to be fixed and immutable. These provisions, which were intrinsioally acceptable only to the lords themselves, inevitably caused a relative diminution of the prerogative of the Crown, of the power of the commons, and of the dignity of the peerage of Scotland. Since the enactment of the bill altogether depended upon the support of the persons whom it so clearly offended, it may be wondered that a ministry should have brought it forward. The explanation is to be found in the peculiar circumstances of the period, which caused the whig leaders ardently to desire the change at the same time that they were able to foresee success. The revolution of 1688 had been the work of an active and powerful minority. This minority had, however, more or less •oordlal support from many others who dreaded injury to the Lo Jmmtdt, u± 8L • Ibid. xxL SB, 90; PmHicmaMrj Bi*ar* rfl. &S8, MO. • PaA SitL Tfl. fiitt. B2 at University of Iowa Libraries/Serials Acquisitions on May 27, 2015 http://ehr.oxfordjournals.org/ Downloaded from 2U THE PBESAGE BILL OF 1719 April church of "Engird, and who feared the overwhelming power of France. But the more complete dynastic changes of 1714 came at a time when the power of France was thoroughly broken, and when militant. Catholicism wu no longer greatly to be feared. Therefore the whig leaders who brought over George I found themselves at the head of a minority, with much less of the support of high churchmen and patriotic tories than they had had under Ann** The king whom they had given to England thought less of his kingdom than of Hanover, and knew little of the language *JH3 customs of his new domain. In spite of his dull and commonplace appearance, time was to show him just and prudent, and even wise ; but among his new subjects enthusiasm waned and died, and he was soon thoroughly unpopular. It is well known that the restoration of the Stuarts was contemplated in the last days of Anne. During the early years of George I an increasing number of people wished that this restoration might be accomplished. Accordingly, at this time the correspondence of the Jacobites is filled with exultant allusions to the better prospects for the future of their cause. 1 The dangers which surrounded the whig politicians were made greater by divisions among themselves. 1 In April 1717 Six Robert Walpole and his friends were driven out of the ministry, and forthwith became a troublesome and menacing opposition in parliament. Never did Walpole display greater dexterity and force. The Jacobites believed that he designed to overturn the existing government, and began to court his alliance. 7 Edward Hadey wrote that the ministry was preparing to Impeach him. 1 It is true that the followers of Walpole were not numerous, and that the tones were at first too much discouraged and too badly organixed to make an effective resistance ; but if only some leader were found about whom the various fragments could assemble, the opposition would become formidable. This leader was soon found in the prince of Wales. The origin of the celebrated quarrel between George I and the prince of Wales has been variously stated. Saint Simon declares that the king never loved his son.* Unlike his father the prinoe assiduously cultivattd "English manners and speech, 10 and was 1 CL Bittoriad MmuucripU Commitwum, Stmwt Prnftn, r. 016.