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.

R

Radicals

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.

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