History Essays – Victorian and Edwardian Wales

Assess the significance of the 1868 general election to thepolitical history of Victorian and Edwardian Wales.

The parliamentary history of Wales between 1790 and 1868 wascharacterised by a high grade of tenure in parliamentary seats. Thisincumbency was non specific to persons, instead, it was carried on throughgenerations and in many cases, parliamentary seats were passed down throughfamilies about as if they were familial rubrics. In Flintshire, the countyconstituency was dominated from 1554 to 1861 by 13 coevalss of theMostyns of Mostyn. Elsewhere, affluent landowning households predominated asparliamentary representatives and as Jenkins points out, by the late eighteenthcentury, if there was a alteration, it was ‘perhaps a motion towards greateroligarchy, even tighter domination by a few wealthy houses, who were oftenaristocrats. ‘ ( 1992, p325 ) He lists the illustrations of Lords Cawdor and Dynevor, Lords Kensington and Milford, the Owens of Orielton, and the Marquesses of Butewho between them presided over Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiff. InDenbighshire, three Sir Watkin Williams-Wynns sat as MPs from 1796 to 1885. ( Jenkins 1992, pp325-326 )

Despite the 1832 Reform Act, it was still common pattern inWales that the bulk of seats at a general election would travel uncontested andthe impression persisted that electoral competition in itself was essentiallyunhealthy. In 1847, 1857 and 1865 merely five of the 32 seats were contested, in1859 four seats out of 32 were contested ( p326 ) . In fact, non until 1868 didthe state of affairs emerge whereby a bulk of the parliamentary seats for Waleswere really contested at election.

How and why did things alteration after 1868? The most obviousanswer to this is the debut of the 1867 Reform Act which changed thevoting landscape- most merely by adding an excess 250 % of eligible electors to thevoting pool. Previously, around 5 % of the population were eligible to vote. TheReform Act of 1867 pushed this up to about 9 % of the population. In figures, this equated to merely over 61, 000 voters in 1865 compared 126,000 voters in1868 ( Matthews 1999, p454 ) . The consequences of the 1868 election changed thepolitical landscape in Wales and ‘saw a decisive push off from thetraditional form of political authorization ‘ ( Morgan 1981, p11 ) . Many of theprevious MPs from powerful households lost their seats and 23 Liberals wereelected compared to a mere 10 Conservatives. Harmonizing to Morgan, ‘moststriking of all was the return of three non-conformists including the famousradical pacificist Henry Richard, ‘the apostle of peace ‘ in the extremely democratictwo-member constituency of Merthyr Tydfil at the disbursal of Henry Austen Bruce, Gladstone ‘s Home Secretary ‘ ( 1981, p12 ) .

While it is agreed that the 1868 was important, Matthewshas argued that much of the transmutation was simply a contemplation of thechanging electorate. ‘The political relations of Wales like those of England, were beingtransformed into the mass political relations of Numberss, and even without the influenceof a Henry Richard or a David Davies, alteration was inevitable. ‘ He continues, ‘the epic version of 1868 is tempered by the realization that some of theresults merely reflected the changed composing of single electorates, peculiarly in borough seats ‘ ( 1999, p454 ) . Morgan echoes this position somewhatby measure uping his analysis of the 1868 election stating, ‘the transmutation in1868 was merely a partial 1 ‘ ( p12 ) . He backs up this statement with a figure ofobservations. First, 24 of the 33 Welsh MPs elected in 1868 were stilllandowners. Second, harmonizing to Morgan, most of the Broad members returnedwere ‘undeniably Whiggish ‘ . Third, the majority of the Welsh electorate, quiteapart from the Welsh people, remained unrepresented and eventually, grounds fromthe 1868-1874 session for parliament shows that if a transmutation did occur, its effects did non make the legislative act books. The first gesture on behalf of thedisestablishment of the Church of Wales ‘failed disgracefully ‘ ( 1981, p12 ) .

Jenkins is non rather so dismissive of the 1868 election andargues that from 1868, Welsh MPs were much more truly representative of thevoters. He postulates that they now had to be antiphonal to the demands of thecommunities they served. ( 1992, p330 ) . Harmonizing to Jenkins, three issues nowcame into clear focal point which had received aggregate support in the predating threedecades: extremist Liberalism ; unconformist causes and ‘a acknowledgment ofdistinctive Welsh involvements that was loyal if non purely chauvinistic ‘ ( p330 ) .

While these issues came into focal point after 1868, they werecertainly non unheard of before so. Morgan alludes to symptoms long beforethe Reform Act of 1867 which indicated that ‘the Welsh talking nonconformistmajority of the state were pressing for a more appropriate and lessanachronistic political order ‘ ( 1981, p11 ) .

Before 1868, it was by and large Conservative landholders whowere stand foring a turning Broad population. Evictions caused people’spolitical sentiments to be stirred and inEvidence to theWelsh LandCommission1894, Tom Ellis referred to the ‘thrill of horror ‘ whichevictions caused, in peculiar those evictions which were a consequence of thetenants holding cast a Broad ballot. Morgan provinces, ‘the martyrology and thedemonology of the Welsh extremist tradition, without which no leftist crusadecan survive, were being created. ‘ He quotes a Cardiganshire Liberal whodeclared in 1894, ‘there is a spirit of serfdom amongst the tillers of thesoil ‘ in mentioning to the evictions thirty old ages old ( p11 ) . Even LloydGeorge was non diffident of utilizing the memory every bit tardily as 1910, ‘it awoke the spirit ofthe mountains, the mastermind of the freedom that fought the might of theNormansThe political power of landlordism was shattered every bit efficaciously as thatof the Druids ‘ ( cited 1981, p11 )

The influence of faith on political relations in the mid-nineteenthcentury in Britain ( and elsewhere in Europe ) was important. Harmonizing toCragoe, ‘religious rule was the main determiner of voting behavior, andpolitics was perceived to be an activity of significance chiefly becausereligious issues were so outstanding ‘ ( 1995, p140 ) . Cragoe argues that in thecase of Wales, nonconformity was a critical component in the political identitywhich emerged after 1868.

He characterises Wales as a state of nonconformists.Indeed,The Religious Census of 1851showed that 80 % of Churchattendees, on nose count Sunday at least, were Nonconformists. In add-on, thosewho were non officially portion of that motion could non neglect but to be affectedby ‘the moral aura emanating from the chapels ‘ . Cragoe argues that theinstitutional life of the chapel was an intense experience and asserts that thebrand of faith preached at that place, ‘fostered the intense and emotional characterof Welsh dissent ‘ ( pp146-147 ) . Morgan reiterates this position with the assertionthat the chapels ‘dictated a quality of life to whole societynonconformity wasresponsible for about every important and worthwhile facet of societal andcultural activity in late 19th century Wales ‘ ( 1981, p13 ) . Cragoe adds, ‘it was non merely a societal and cultural influence. Nonconformity besides formed thebasis of the distinctively Welsh political individuality which emerged in theyears after 1868 ‘ ( 1995, p146 ) .

Not merely did the Nonconformists help determine Welsh individuality, they helped with the administration of the election itself and hence couldnot have failed to exercise an influence even more concrete than a ‘moral aura ‘ ( although that influence in itself should non be underestimated ) . Nonconformistministers helped with the readying of the registries and assisted in theselection and indorsement of Liberal campaigners. They allowed their topographic points ofworship to be used for political assemblages and were ‘active and valuable’Liberal solicitors ( Cragoe, 1995, p153 ) . The extent of this aid andwhether its exact nature could be described as ‘Conscience or Coercion ‘ hasbeen debated by Cragoe and Matthews in a series of articles in 1995 and 2000.Cragoe citations illustrations of folds being threatened with ‘anything fromexcommunication to ageless damnation ‘ ( p154 ) should they vote the ‘wrong ‘ way.The following interlingual rendition of a notice appeared in many Conservative newspapersin Wales as propaganda against the Nonconformists:

‘Be it known to the electorsthat a ‘Book of Remembrance isbeing prepared to enter the name of every Dissenter who shall vote for a Tory ; and that individuals will be appointed in every vicinity to escort every oneof such over the stiles and through the Gatess from chapel to church ‘ ( quotedin Cragoe, 1995, p154 ) .

Matthews has disputed this version of events reasoning thatwhere studies of ‘coercion ‘ occurred with respect to vote, they must be viewed’in the context of acrimonious public exchanges, which included alleged menaces madeby Conservatives ‘ ( 2000, p202 ) . He argues the grounds of coercion is ‘at bestanecdotal ‘ and that non adequate grounds exists to propose that coercionoccurred in a systematic form ( p201 ) .

The election of 1868 is besides by and large associated with thebirth of, or at least a resurgence of patriotism in Wales. In parliamentaryterms, Welsh MPs were able to organize their ain political caucus modelled on thatof the Irish parliamentary party ( whilst nowhere near as powerful. ) Yet, by theend of the 19th century the Welsh Liberals could hold every bit many as 30 votesat their disposal, a considerable force for obstructor and use if thevote was near or if the governing party ‘s bulk was narrow.

The leader and many might state, hero of this newfoundpatriotism was Henry Richards, the alleged ‘apostle of peace ‘ . Richardsappealed to the renter husbandmans along the lines of patriotism and employedpowerful rhetoric against the opinion categories. He was critical of the wayelections had been run old to 1868 and in a address reported inTheAberdare Times,he summarised the province of electoral political relations:

‘is it non true for the mostpart, the manner in which your elections have been managed hitherto has been this: that a few great households, a smattering of landholders and squires, and stewards, met together, and decided who were to be your campaigners, and so they becamepossessed with the insane notion- for I can non see it but as a sort ofinsanity- that the ballots of their renters belonged every bit much to them as the rentsof their farms. The husbandmans were so marched up or driven like herds of cattleto the hustings, and were at that place obliged to vote precisely harmonizing to the wishesof the Masterss. The effects werethe state of Wales has ne’er been representedin the House of Commonsno one adult male has of all time stood up to support his calumniatedcountrymen. ‘

Richards called for Welsh representatives who wouldunderstand [ the ] ‘nation ‘s psyche, its character, its scruples. ‘ By the late1880s his calls had been answered slightly and by this point Wales was’politically a fortress for the Liberal party ‘ ( Jenkins1992, p330 ) .

The 1868 election in Wales was enormously important in that ittransformed electoral political relations and lent the election procedure some gloss ofcredibility by the fact of holding a bulk of seats contested. This was aprocess which had been constructing up for decennaries. The function of landholders, thechurch- both established and unconformist, every bit good as the passion and fervourof patriotism all combined to do the 1868 general election one whichtransformed the political and societal landscape of 19th century Wales. Theeffects of this continued to resound good into the 20th century.


Primary Beginnings

‘Mr Richard at the Temperance Hall ‘ , article from theAberdaleTimes14 November, 1868.

Evidence to the Welsh Land CommissionVol 1, Parliamentary Papers 1894

Secondary Beginnings

Cragoe, M. ( 2000 ) ‘Conscience or Coercion? ClericalInfluence of the General Election of 1868 in Wales: Reply ‘ ,Past andPresent,169

Cragoe M. ( 1998 ) ‘The Anatomy of an Eviction Campaign: TheGeneral Election of 1868 in Wales and its Aftermath ‘ inRural History, Vol 9, No 2.

Cragoe, M. ( 1995 ) ‘Conscience or Coercion? Clerical Influenceof the General Election of 1868 in Wales ‘ ,Past and Present,149

Jenkins, P. ( 1992 )A History of Modern Wales 1536-1990London, New York: Longman

Matthews, I. ( 2000 ) ‘Conscience or Coercion? ClericalInfluence of the General Election of 1868 in Wales: Reply ‘ ,Past andPresent,169

Saint matthews I. ( 1999 ) ‘Disturbing the Peace of the County: TheCarmarthenshire General Election of 1868 ‘ inWelsh Historical Review, Vol 6, No 3.

Morgan, K.O. ( 1981 )Metempsychosis of the State: Wales1880-1980Oxford: Oxford University Press