Glossary


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.

C

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.

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