H&P has prepared a glossary to explain historical terms that are not in common use today. This is designed for readers of H&P's policy papers, opinion articles and Number 10 guest historian features, as well as students, journalists and policy makers.

All entries have been prepared by the editors of H&P's Number 10 guest historian series: Whitfield prize-winner Dr Ben Griffin and Dr Andrew Thompson of Cambridge University and Dr Andrew Blick, of King's College London.

Catholic Emancipation

Before the Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1829, Catholics were prohibited from holding public office by three measures dating from the seventeenth century. The Corporation Act of 1661 provided that no one could be elected to any office relating to the government of a city or corporation unless they took the Oath of Supremacy - affirming that the monarch was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England - and unless they took the Eucharist according to the rites of the Church of England. The 1673 Test Act required all members of the House of Commons, and anyone holding any civil or military office, to take an oath denying the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In 1678 a second Test Act extended this requirement to members of the House of Lords. An organised campaign to remove these disabilities and secure 'Catholic emancipation' developed in England in the 1780s, but the issue was felt most strongly in Ireland, where Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association developed into an important mass movement. Demands for Catholic emancipation were fiercely resisted by Anglican elites and by George III, who felt that to give royal assent to such measures would be incompatible with his coronation oath. Emancipation therefore became a major political issue, bringing down Pitt's ministry in 1801, straining relations between successive kings and their ministers, and shaping political alignments both at Westminster and beyond. Matters came to a head in 1829, when the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, and his lieutenant in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel, made one of the most dramatic u-turns in British political history and passed the Catholic Relief Act, much to the dismay of many in their party.

Conservative Party

This entry will follow soon.

Corn Laws

Operating since medieval times, Corn Laws were designed to ensure that British farmers grew enough corn to feed the population. The 1815 Corn Law stipulated that no foreign corn could be imported until the price of wheat reached an average of 80s. per quarter. Wheat from British overseas territories could be imported at 67s. The Act was designed to protect British farmers from a sudden fall in prices once the Napoleonic Wars ended and they were exposed to cheap, foreign competition. It was also designed to promote British self-sufficiency in food supply. The Corn Law immediately proved controversial. Farmers claimed that the level of protection was insufficient, while consumers complained that the Corn Law kept the price of bread artificially high, profiting the landowners who were heavily represented in Parliament. Technical arguments were also being developed by those 'high Tories' who supported protectionism as a technique of interventionist government, and those 'liberal Tories' who, in contrast, saw protectionism as undermining the stability of both the food supply and the currency. Minor reforms in 1822 and 1828 failed to quell opposition and the Corn Laws became a major grievance for radicals. In 1838 the Anti-Corn Law League was created to promote free trade in corn; its innovative campaigning techniques and mass membership proved highly influential on subsequent political movements, like the women's suffrage movement. Sir Robert Peel's decision to repeal the Corn Laws led to a major split in the Conservative Party in 1846, and made free trade a liberal rallying cry, well into the twentieth century.

Declaratory Act

At the same time as repealing the Stamp Duties imposed in 1765, the 1766 Declaratory Act reasserted the right of the British Parliament to legislate for the American colonies. In doing so, the government had made a practical concession, in the face of colonial resistance, but had deliberately refuted the colonies' contention that there should be 'no taxation without representation'. This was one of a number of flash-points that eventually led to the American War of Independence.

Economical reform

A reformist movement of the 1770s and 1780s designed to reduce the influence of the crown over the executive by reducing the number of posts to which the monarch could appoint his favourites, cutting back on patronage and making it harder for the monarch to grant pensions.

First Lord of the Treasury

The official office that virtually all Prime Ministers have held. After 1714 the running of the Treasury was put in the hands of a commission, rather than a single individual, with the First Lord being the most senior commissioner. The importance of financial affairs meant that gradually the First Lord emerged as the most important of all government ministers. Until 1827, the First Lord was also Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided that he was a member of the Commons. If the First Lord was a peer, then a separate Chancellor was appointed.

General warrants

A device used to arrest those thought to be associated with an offence, without specifying particular individuals. John Wilkes, who published a number of attacks on Lord Bute's ministry in the early 1760s, was arrested under a general warrant against 'the authors, printers and publishers' of issue 45 of the North Briton. Although he was convicted of seditious libel, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield subsequently declared general warrants illegal.

Grand Tour

A trip undertaken by members of the elite to broaden educational horizons. In the eighteenth century, a Grand Tour increasingly came to be undertaken instead of, or in addition to, attending university. Young men (and some women) would be accompanied around Europe by experienced guides, often armed with guidebooks about what they should see. Routes varied but most ended in Italy where it was possible to view the wonders of the classical world first hand.

Hanoverian Succession

The succession to the British throne of the Hanoverian dynasty in 1714. George I came to the throne as a result of the Act of Settlement (1701) which had reaffirmed the provisions made in the Bill of Rights (1689) that English (and later British) monarchs could neither be Catholics nor married to Catholics. This meant that after Queen Anne (1702-1714) the succession passed to George, Elector of Hanover, through his mother, a granddaughter of James I (and VI of Scotland). More than fifty of Anne's closer blood relations, all Catholics, were excluded as a result.


A follower of the exiled Stuart family. The Glorious Revolution (1688) removed James II from the English throne and replaced him with his daughter and son-in-law, Mary II and William III. James went into exile and sought the support of other European states to return him to power. His son, James III (the Old Pretender), led an uprising against the new Hanoverian monarchy in 1715 and his grandson, Charles III (the Young Pretender), led a further unsuccessful rebellion in 1745.


A doctrine of government economic management that was highly influential during the post-Second World War period, in Britain and beyond. Keynesiansim involved official intervention to maintain employment levels, using a variety of levers from increased public expenditure, reduced taxation, and lower interest rates, to stimulate growth, when required. A public deficit –when government expenditure exceeded income - was regarded as acceptable economic downturns, though the corollary, in theory, was that a surplus was desirable following a recovery.

Keynesianism took its name from the celebrated Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes who promoted his alternative economic theories through the inter-war period, and became an unpaid but highly influential Treasury adviser during the Second World War.  However, his theories were developed and adapted by his protégés such as Joan Robinson, Richard Kahn and Piero Straffa, and it is unclear how Keynes, who died in 1946, would have responded to the economic circumstances of the post-war decades. By the mid-1970s Keynesianism came under sustained criticism for both failing to deliver growth and causing inflation. The approach began to fall out of favour among policy makers, who turned towards monetarism.

Leader of the House of Commons

The member of the government responsible for arranging government business in the House of Commons, including organising the schedule for the legislation that the government wishes to introduce. Before the Second World War, if the Prime Minister was not a member of the House of Lords, it was common for the Prime Minister also to be Leader of the House of Commons.

Liberal Party

This entry will follow soon.

Lord Chamberlain

A senior official within the royal household with responsibility for organising ceremonial affairs. In the eighteenth century, it was still common for senior politicians to combine roles within the government and the royal household.

Lord Lieutenant

The monarch's personal representative in an English or Welsh county. Dating from the sixteenth century, the Lord Lieutenant was frequently a member of the local nobility and had responsibility for organising the local militia in times of crisis. Many Tories were replaced as Lord Lieutenants by Whigs after 1714. In Ireland, the Lord Lieutenant, also known as the Viceroy, was the monarch's official representative and head of the Irish executive.

Lord Privy Seal

One of the great officers of state, along with the Lord President of the Council. Traditionally, the keeper of the monarch's personal seal but now often used as the official title for a minister without portfolio, frequently the Leader of the House of Lords or Commons.


An economic doctrine developed under the influence of the economist Milton Friedman. It emerged as a challenge to Keynesianism, which began to lose credibility during the 1970s, a period of rising unemployment and inflation in Britain, and economic dislocation globally. A central tenet of monetarism was that to restrain inflation, the money supply should be restricted. An important shift in this direction came during the Labour governments of 1974-79, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, introduced monetary targets in 1976. However, monetarism is most closely associated in Britain with the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990). A key problem facing those implementing a monetarist policy was achieving a satisfactory definition of 'money' and an effective means of controlling it.

Old Corps Whigs

The group of Whigs who were the political heirs of Robert Walpole. This group remained in power for the period from 1742-62 and were closely associated with the brothers Henry Pelham and the Duke of Newcastle. Sometimes known as 'court' or 'ministerial' Whigs. The group largely became part of the Rockinghamite faction in the 1760s and 1770s which itself formed the basis of the Foxites - supporters of Charles James Fox.


Literally, a 'lover of country'. Often used in the eighteenth century as a label for those who disagreed with government policy, claiming that it was not in the national interest. Initially concerned with the perceived corruption of Sir Robert Walpole's regime, it became particularly linked to William Pitt the Elder, in his periods of opposition. The term was linked to fears that the foreign origins of the monarchy meant that Hanoverian affairs were being prioritised over British interests. Patriots were sceptical about the value of intervening in Europe and worried about the costs of supporting foreign troops financially and the growth of the national debt to to pay for foreign wars. George III (1760-1820) sought to distance himself from these policies with an emphasis on his patriot credentials.


The process that was central to political advancement for much of the eighteenth century. In exchange for loyalty from clients, patrons would dispense favours and help clients secure good jobs and political promotion. Patrons might control the elections to parliamentary seats or be able to recommend candidates for other positions within government.


Government post created through the merger of the positions of Paymaster of the Forces, Treasurer of the Navy and Treasurer of Ordnance in 1836.

Paymaster of the Forces

Responsible for the financing of the army, handling parliamentary grants used to fund forces. As the funds were the personal responsibility of the Paymaster, it was possible to use the money for both public and private purposes and to enrich the postholder. Often an office held by those who went on to become First Lord of the Treasury - Robert Walpole, Henry Pelham, William Pitt the Elder and Lord North being prominent examples.


In the late eighteenth century, when the old labels of Whig and Tory had lost their previous meanings, political alignments were largely defined by loyalty to particular leading figures rather than to party labels. The Pittites were those politicians who identified themselves with the person and principles of William Pitt the Younger. They dominated British politics from the fall of the Fox-North coalition in 1783 to the Reform Crisis of 1830-1832. After Pitt's death in 1806 the Pittites were increasingly divided, especially over economic policy, foreign policy and Catholic emancipation. These divisions prompted a sharpening of party labels, with those resisting the liberal policies associated with George Canning increasingly identifying themselves as Tories. The dual crises of Catholic emancipation in 1829 and the Reform Act in 1832 shattered the unity of the Pittites, destroyed their electoral dominance, and polarised politics, giving rise to new party labels. After 1832 most former Pittites described themselves as 'Tories', or more frequently, 'Conservatives', but loyalty to the memory of Pitt remained an important source of unity for Conservatives until the party split in 1846 over the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Pocket Borough

Polite term for Rotten borough.

Privy Council

Formal body of advisors to the monarch, now constituted from senior politicians within the House of Lords and Commons. During the course of the eighteenth century, the cabinet emerged from the larger Privy Council as the effective executive body at the heart of government, overtaking it in importance.


The radical tradition that developed in the mid-eighteenth century had at its core a concern that the concentration of unchecked political power bred corruption, as elite politicians sought to exploit their positions for private gain. Radicals sought to remedy this by making the government more accountable to the people. Their proposals varied, but commonly included demands for more democratic elections, more frequent elections and the secret ballot. They also tended to support plans to keep the size of the state small and taxes low. Many radicals also sought to minimise the state's role in religion, frequently supporting equal rights for different religious groups and, particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century, often supporting disestablishment of the Church of England. The radical tradition lay at the heart of many popular political movements which used to be seen as the expression of class consciousness, ranging from the popular radicalism of the 1790s to Chartism in the 1830s and popular liberalism in the 1870s.

Rotten borough

A parliamentary seat in the pre-1832 House of Commons where the electorate was very small and frequently controlled by a landowner, typically a member of the House of Lords. William Pitt the Elder sat for Old Sarum which his grandfather had acquired in 1692. The borough was entirely depopulated and had an electorate of no more than five and yet still returned two Members of Parliament. The first Reform Act (1832) largely removed rotten boroughs.

Scottish Parliament

The representative body of Scotland from the thirteenth century through to the Act of Union with England in 1707, and since 1999 Scotland's devolved legislature. Prior to 1707 it consisted of the three estates of clerics, lay tenants-in-chief and burgh commissioners meeting within a single chamber. Scottish constituencies were created for the Westminster parliament after 1707 and arrangements for Scottish representative peers were also made.

Scottish representative peers

A group of sixteen peers elected to represent Scottish interests in the House of Lords. The Act of Union (1707) abolished the Scottish Parliament. While new constituencies enabled Scotland to send MPs to Westminster, a different arrangement was made to cope with Scottish peers, with sixteen elected for each parliamentary session. The practice continued until 1963 when all Scottish hereditary peers were granted the right to sit in the House of Lords. Similar arrangements were made following the Act of Union (1800) with Ireland, allowing twenty-eight Irish peers to be elected to the Lords. Unlike in the Scottish case, these peers were elected for life, rather than a single parliamentary session.

Secretary of State for the Northern or Southern department

The Secretaries of State, along with the First Lord of the Treasury, were the most important Ministers in the eighteenth century. Their remit included both foreign and domestic affairs. The courts of Europe were divided geographically, determining whether it was the Northern or Southern Secretary who was responsible for Britain's relations with them. The growing importance of imperial affairs was apparent with the creation of a separate Secretary of State for the Colonies out of the Southern Department in 1768. This first incarnation lasted until 1782 when there was a significant structural reorganisation and the Northern and Southern Secretaryships were abolished and replaced by a new Foreign Secretary and Home and Colonial Secretary.

Secret influence

The claim made by supporters of the Marquess of Rockingham in the 1760s that their ability to form a stable government was being undermined by external forces. Irritated that the monopoly on office of the Old Corps Whigs had been broken, they looked for sinister explanations of their fate. Generally, they attributed their poor relationship with George III to the influence of Lord Bute. Although Bute's tenure in office was short, the Rockinghamites claimed that he continued to exert covert influence on the King.

Seven Years War

The Seven Years War (1756-63) was a conflict involving Russia, the Habsburg monarchy and France on one side and Britain and Prussia on the other. The Habsburgs were keen to expel Frederick II of Prussia from Silesia. The Anglo-French component of the conflict played out in north-western Germany, India, the Caribbean and in North America. William Pitt the elder and the Duke of Newcastle led a British administration that was able to secure considerable victories at Minden, Quebec and Quiberon Bay in 1759. The extent of British victory led to disputes about how best to win the peace and disagreements about Britain's continued involvement in the European war, once colonial objectives had been secured.


An office that produces income but requires minimal activity on behalf of the officeholder. Abolishing sinecures, which were frequently a reward for loyalty or to win influence, was one of the aims of economical reform.

Stamp duty

A tax levied on documents, now typically associated with property sales. The imposition of a duty on legal documents and newspapers through the Stamp Act (1765) was one of the causes of increased tension between Britain and the American colonies in the period prior to the American War of Independence. The government wished to off-set the costs of the Seven Years War by getting the colonists to contribute towards imperial defence. The colonists were adamant that there should be 'no taxation without representation'. While many in Parliament disagreed about the means of taxing the colonists, few doubted that Parliament had the right to do so.


The ruling dynasty in Scotland and England from 1603 until 1688. Following James II's deposition in 1688, the Stuarts went into exile. Their supporters were known as Jacobites.


Originally the supporters of the monarch and the Church of England. The first Tories objected to the attempts made by the Whigs between 1679 and 1681 to exclude James, Duke of York (the future James II) from the succession on the grounds of his Catholicism. Their name derived from a group of Irish brigands. Tories argued for the importance of divinely-supported hereditary monarchy and viewed the people as having a duty of obedience, regardless of the monarch's conduct. After 1688, some Tories remained loyal to the exiled Stuarts and became Jacobites. Others were willing to support the new monarch but were suspicious of William III's penchant for continental warfare. They also favoured political power being retained by the landowning classes and were suspicious of the rise of a new commercial class who had become wealthy through the emergence of the Bank of England and financing state debt. Tories were wary of this monied interest and of granting increased political rights to Protestant dissenters. George I excluded Tories from holding public office following the Jacobite rising of 1715 and they remained formally proscribed until 1760. Their parliamentary strength had diminished significantly by this point, due both to the defeat of Jacobitism and the pull of patronage that led many former Tory families to describe themselves as Whig. Most historians argue that Tories disappeared from the political scene during the early part of George III's reign (1760-1820), although the term was still used as a term of abuse.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries political alignments tended to be structured around leading figures like William Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox, and politicians of all stripes identified themselves as some form of Whig. It was not until 1827 that the term 'Tory' re-emerged in common usage, appropriated by a group of disgruntled backbenchers who opposed liberal trends in religious and foreign policy - both associated with the new Prime Minister, George Canning. These Tories had little in common with the Tories of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The reform crisis of 1830-1832 polarised politics into those who supported the proposals for radical reform promoted by a revived Whig Party, and those who opposed it. In those circumstances the word 'Tory' came to be used commonly among former Pittites, nearly all of whom opposed reform. The word stuck, although 'Conservative' soon emerged as a more respectable alternative. In the aftermath of the 1832 Reform Act, 'Conservative' became the label of choice for those who supported Sir Robert Peel's efforts to show that the party could adapt to the new realities of post-reform politics, while the so-called 'ultra-Tories' were less easily reconciled to the new age of reform in Church and state.

Treasury Board or Commission

The group responsible for the running of the Treasury. Of the commissioners, the First Lord of the Treasury was the most important and senior, a role that gradually evolved into that of Prime Minister.


Whigs emerged in the 1670s as the main opponents of James, Duke of York, the Catholic brother of Charles II. From 1679-81 they led parliamentary attempts to exclude James from the succession. Like their Tory opponents, the name derives from a group of brigands, the Whiggamores, although they were Scottish, rather than Irish, in origin. After James succeeded to the throne in 1685, some Whigs went into exile while others supported domestic conspiracies against him. Whigs championed the importance of Britain having a Protestant monarch and were influential in bringing about the Glorious Revolution (1688). In the Revolution's aftermath, the Whigs tended to be supporters of increased religious toleration for Protestant dissenters. Support for the Hanoverian succession helped ingratiate the Whigs to the new dynasty after 1714. They were also generally more supportive of an interventionist foreign policy in Europe, as opposed to Tory isolationism, which chimed with the interest of the new monarchs whose German origins committed them to a policy of European engagement. The Whigs were successfully able to tar the Tories with a Jacobite brush of disloyalty after the 1715 rebellion thus ensuring that they remained the dominant political force for decades thereafter. Although sometimes associated with the rise of new, monied interests connected to the emergence of the Bank of England and modern debt finance in the 1690s, a significant number of Whigs were also powerful aristocratic landowners.

The effective disappearance of the Tories from Parliament by the 1760s meant that the Whigs faced an identity crisis. Without a strong opposing grouping against which to define themselves, they became increasingly factionalised with groups centred around major political figures such as William Pitt the Elder, the Marquess of Rockingham and the Duke of Bedford. William Pitt the Younger described himself as an 'independent Whig', although his major opponent, Charles James Fox, also claimed to be the authentic inheritor of the Whig tradition. The label had become both ubiquitous and flexible by the late eighteenth century but was given a new lease of life with the re-emergence of partisan labels in the early nineteenth century.

Whig Split

The division that emerged between the ruling Whigs in 1717. Robert Walpole and his brother-in-law, Charles, second Viscount Townshend, were unhappy about some of the policies being pursued by James, Earl Stanhope and the third Earl of Sunderland, particularly in foreign affairs. The dispute was magnified because it coincided with a falling out between George I and his son, the future George II. Walpole and Townshend were close associates of the Prince of Wales and the split, which was eventually healed in 1720, was one of a number of instances in the eighteenth century of the opponents of an administration siding with the heir to the throne in the hope and expectation that a change of monarch might bring about an alteration in their political fortunes.

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