United Kingdom general election, 1812
The election to the 5th Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 in 1812
was the fourth general election to be held after the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

The fourth United Kingdom Parliament was dissolved on 29 September 1812. The new Parliament was summoned to meet on 24 November 1812, for a maximum seven year term from that date. The maximum term could be and normally was curtailed, by the monarch dissolving the Parliament, before its term expired.

Political situation

Following the 1807 election the Pittite Tory ministry, led as Prime Minister by the Duke of Portland
William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland
William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, KG, PC was a British Whig and Tory statesman, Chancellor of the University of Oxford and Prime Minister. He was known before 1762 by the courtesy title Marquess of Titchfield. He held a title of every degree of British nobility—Duke,...

 (who still claimed to be a Whig), continued to prosecute the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...


At the core of the opposition were the Foxite
The term Foxite generally refers to an 18th or 19th century British Whig politician who adhered to the ideals and political beliefs of Charles James Fox, the 18th century member of parliament and leader of the Whig party....

 Whigs, led since the death of Fox
Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox PC , styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned thirty-eight years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was particularly noted for being the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger...

 in 1806 by Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

 (known by the courtesy title
Courtesy title
A courtesy title is a form of address in systems of nobility used for children, former wives and other close relatives of a peer. These styles are used 'by courtesy' in the sense that the relatives do not themselves hold substantive titles...

 of Viscount Howick and a member of the House of Commons 1806-07). However as Foord observes "the affairs of the party during most of this period were in a state of uncertainty and confusion". Grey was not the commanding leader Fox had been. After Grey inherited his peerage and went to the House of Lords in 1807, the party leadership in the House of Commons was extremely weak.

The Grenvillites, associated with the Whig Prime Minister before Portland, William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville
William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville
William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville PC, PC was a British Whig statesman. He served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1806 to 1807 as head of the Ministry of All the Talents.-Background :...

 were also in opposition but were of less significance than the Foxites. Despite this Grenville was recognised as the first Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords.

A relative of Grey's wife, George Ponsonby
George Ponsonby
George Ponsonby PC , was a British lawyer and Whig politician. He served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1806 to 1807 in the Ministry of All the Talents.-Background and education:...

, was proposed to Whig MPs by Grey and Grenville as the Whig leader in the House of Commons. Ponsonby was the first person recognised as the official Leader of the Opposition
Leader of the Opposition (UK)
The Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition in the United Kingdom is the politician who leads the Official Opposition in the United Kingdom. There is also a Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords...

 in the House of Commons, as opposed to the leader of an opposition faction. He proved to be incompetent but could not be persuaded to resign.

Until 1812 the Tory faction associated with another former Prime Minister Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth
Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth
Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, PC was a British statesman, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1804....

 were also out of office.

The smallest component of the opposition were the Radicals, who were a largely middle class group of reformers. They had philosophical differences with the more aristocratic Whigs, but usually ended up voting with them in Parliament.

In 1809 Portland, whose health was failing, resigned. The new Tory Prime Minister was Spencer Perceval
Spencer Perceval
Spencer Perceval, KC was a British statesman and First Lord of the Treasury, making him de facto Prime Minister. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated...

. On 11 May 1812 Perceval was assassinated. The Premiership passed to the Earl of Liverpool
Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool KG PC was a British politician and the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since the Union with Ireland in 1801. He was 42 years old when he became premier in 1812 which made him younger than all of his successors to date...

, who brought Sidmouth into the cabinet but failed to attract Grenville. This was a further stage in the development of a two party system - just about all Tories supported the government and all Whigs opposed it.

The general election of 1812 returned the Tories to power for another term.

Dates of election

At this period there was not one election day. After receiving a writ (a royal command) for the election to be held, the local returning officer
Returning Officer
In various parliamentary systems, a returning officer is responsible for overseeing elections in one or more constituencies.-Australia:In Australia a returning officer is an employee of the Australian Electoral Commission or a State Electoral Commission who heads the local divisional office...

 fixed the election timetable for the particular constituency or constituencies he was concerned with. Polling in seats with contested elections could continue for many days.

An example of what happened in the 1812 election, was the Irish constituency of Westmeath
Westmeath (UK Parliament constituency)
Westmeath is a former UK Parliament constituency in Ireland, returning two Members of Parliament 1801–1885 and one in 1918–1922.-Boundaries:This constituency comprised the whole of County Westmeath, except for the Parliamentary borough of Athlone 1801–1885....

. Walker confirms the date of election was 24 October 1812. Stooks Smith indicates that there were three days of polling, during which time 950 electors came to the hustings and voted. Longer contests were possible. The polling in the Berkshire
Berkshire (UK Parliament constituency)
Berkshire was a parliamentary constituency in England, represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of England until 1707, then of the Parliament of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800 and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1885...

 election of 1812 went on for fifteen days (with 1,992 electors voting).

The time between the first and last contests in the general election was 5 October to 10 November 1812.

Summary of the constituencies

Key to categories in the following tables: BC - Borough/Burgh constituencies, CC - County constituencies, UC - University constituencies, Total C - Total constituencies, BMP - Borough/Burgh Members of Parliament, CMP - County Members of Parliament, UMP - University Members of Parliament.

Monmouthshire (historic)
Monmouthshire , also known as the County of Monmouth , is one of thirteen ancient counties of Wales and a former administrative county....

(1 County constituency with 2 MPs and one single member Borough constituency) is included in Wales in these tables. Sources for this period may include the county in England.

Table 1: Constituencies and MPs, by type and country
Country BC CC UC Total C BMP CMP UMP Total MPs
England 202 39 2 243 404 78 4 486
Wales 13 13 0 26 13 14 0 27
Scotland 15 30 0 45 15 30 0 45
Ireland 33 32 1 66 35 64 1 100
Total 263 114 3 380 467 176 5 658

Table 2: Number of seats per constituency, by type and country
Country BCx1 BCx2 BCx4 CCx1 CCx2 UCx1 UCx2 Total C
England 4 196 2 0 39 0 2 243
Wales 13 0 0 12 1 0 0 26
Scotland 15 0 0 30 0 0 0 45
Ireland 31 2 0 0 32 1 0 66
Total 63 198 2 42 72 1 2 380
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