First Parliament of Great Britain

Last updated
1st Parliament of Great Britain
2nd Anne 2nd
John Smith, Speaker
Term25 October 1705 (1705-10-25) – 14 April 1708 (1708-04-14)
House of Commons
Members 558 MPs
Speaker of the House of Commons John Smith
House of Lords
Lord Keeper of the Great Seal William Cowper
Leader of the House of Lords
1st25 October 1705 (1705-10-25) – 19 March 1706 (1706-03-19) (ENG)
2nd3 December 1706 (1706-12-03) – 8 April 1707 (1707-04-08) (ENG)
3rd14 April 1707 (1707-04-14) – 24 April 1707 (1707-04-24) (ENG)
4th23 October 1707 (1707-10-23) – 1 April 1708 (1708-04-01) (GB)

The first Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain was established in 1707 after the merger of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. It was in fact the 4th and last session of the 2nd Parliament of Queen Anne suitably renamed: no fresh elections were held in England, and the existing members of the House of Commons of England sat as members of the new House of Commons of Great Britain. In Scotland, prior to the union coming into effect, the Scottish Parliament appointed sixteen peers (see representative peers) and 45 Members of Parliaments to join their English counterparts at Westminster.

Parliament of Great Britain parliament from 1708 to 1800

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, near the City of London. This lasted nearly a century, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Kingdom of England Historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on the island of Great Britain from 927, when it emerged from various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until 1707, when it united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.


Under the Treaty of Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland it was provided:

Queen Anne did declare it to be expedient that the existing House of Commons of England sit in the first Parliament of Great Britain.

Anne, Queen of Great Britain Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland (1702–07); queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1707–14)

Anne was the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland between 8 March 1702 and 1 May 1707. On 1 May 1707, under the Acts of Union, the kingdoms of England and Scotland united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain. She continued to reign as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714.

The Parliament of Scotland duly passed an Act settling the manner of electing the sixteen peers and forty five commoners to represent Scotland in the Parliament of Great Britain. A special provision for the 1st Parliament of Great Britain was "that the Sixteen Peers and Forty five Commissioners for Shires and Burghs shall be chosen by the Peers, Barrons and Burghs respectively in this present session of Parliament and out of the members thereof in the same manner that Committees of Parliament are usually now chosen shall be the members of the respective Houses of the said first Parliament of Great Britain for and on the part of Scotland ..."

Parliament of Scotland legislature of the Kingdom of Scotland

The Parliament of Scotland was the legislature of the Kingdom of Scotland. The parliament, like other such institutions, evolved during the Middle Ages from the king's council of bishops and earls. It is first identifiable as a parliament in 1235, during the reign of Alexander II, when it was described as a "colloquium" and already possessed a political and judicial role. By the early fourteenth century, the attendance of knights and freeholders had become important, and from 1326 commissioners from the burghs attended. Consisting of the "three estates" of clergy, nobility and the burghs sitting in a single chamber, the parliament gave consent for the raising of taxation and played an important role in the administration of justice, foreign policy, war, and all manner of other legislation. Parliamentary business was also carried out by "sister" institutions, such as General Councils or Convention of Estates. These could carry out much business also dealt with by parliament – taxation, legislation and policy-making – but lacked the ultimate authority of a full parliament.

The Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence on 1 May 1707.

Continuity with English parliament

The composition of the final English House of Commons, as elected in 1705. Note that party loyalties are an approximation. House of Commons elected members, 1705.svg
The composition of the final English House of Commons, as elected in 1705. Note that party loyalties are an approximation.

The last English parliament (Queen Anne's second parliament) officially began on 14 June 1705 and sat for three sessions. The first session met from 25 October 1705 to 19 March 1706, the second from 3 December 1706 to 8 April 1707 and the third from 14 April 1707 to 24 April 1707.

2nd Parliament of Queen Anne

The 2nd Parliament of Queen Anne was summoned by Queen Anne of England on 2 May 1705 and assembled on 14 July 1705. Its composition was 260 Tories, 233 Whigs and 20 others but in practice the House was evenly divided. John Smith, the member for Andover, was elected Speaker of the House of Commons.

A legislative session is the period of time in which a legislature, in both parliamentary and presidential systems, is convened for purpose of lawmaking, usually being one of two or more smaller divisions of the entire time between two elections. In each country the procedures for opening, ending, and in between sessions differs slightly. A session may last for the full term of the legislature or the term may consist of a number of sessions. These may be of fixed duration, such as a year, or may be used as a parliamentary procedural device. A session of the legislature is brought to an end by an official act of prorogation. In either event, the effect of prorogation is generally the clearing of all outstanding matters before the legislature.

According to a clause of the Act of Union, Anne had until 1 May 1707 to convert the current sitting members of the English parliament into the English members of a British parliament, otherwise she would have to call for fresh elections.

In her closing speech of 24 April 1707, Anne informed the English parliament of her intention to exercise the treaty clause before 1 May and have current members of the English parliament sit in the first British parliament. [1] After the speech, at Anne's command, parliament was prorogued until 30 April. On 29 April, as promised in her speech, Anne invoked the clause of the Act of Union reviving the parliament by proclamation. In another proclamation on 5 June, Anne listed the Scottish members (16 peers and 45 commissioners) by name and, without issuing new writs of summons, the Queen scheduled the first parliament of Great Britain to "meet and be holden" on 23 October 1707.

Proclamation official declaration

A proclamation is an official declaration issued by a person of authority to make certain announcements known. Proclamations are currently used within the governing framework of some nations and are usually issued in the name of the head of state.

It was not immediately clear, for the purposes of the 1694 Triennial Act, whether the First Parliament of Great Britain would count as a "new" parliament or as a continuation of the current English parliament that had already sat for two years. Some (e.g. Harley) argued that it was a continuation, as it was not summoned by fresh writs, and thus expected its term would expire 14 June 1708, and it would have to be dissolved and new elections called before the deadline. But others (e.g. Marlborough) argued that because Anne's proclamation of 29 April did not renew the prorogation of the last English parliament (set to expire on 30 April), then the last English parliament was legally defunct and the First British Parliament was new, and the triennial clock was reset. Although it seems that Marlborough's opinion prevailed, [2] it was not tested as ultimately the First British Parliament would sit through only one session and be dissolved in April 1708, before the triennial deadline.

The matter of continuity remains ambiguous in the records. The authoritative 19th-century parliamentary historian William Cobbett considered the First British Parliament a new and distinct parliament, and separated it from the Anne's last English parliament. [3] Collections of statute records treat it inconsistently, e.g. the Statutes at Large collections of both Pickering and Ruffhead label the last English session as "5 Anne", and the first British session as "6 Anne" (albeit dating its beginning on 23 October, the date of meeting, and not 29 April, the date of Anne's proclamation). [4] By contrast, the Statutes of the Realm (an official collection) does not differentiate the statute labels, and lists both sessions on the same roll, merged into one act, with the last English statute labelled 6 Anne c.34 and the first British statute labeled 6 Anne c.35. [5]

The ambiguity of continuity mattered to the case of John Asgill, a member of parliament for Bramber, elected in 1705, who was arrested on 12 June 1707 and imprisoned at Fleet Prison for debt. Although this was in the interval between the closure of the English parliament and the opening of the British one, Asgill appealed to parliamentary immunity from arrest on the grounds that he was a member of a current parliament. Asgill's appeal was debated in the British House of Commons shortly after opening. Although the House ended up agreeing, on 16 December, that Asgill had retained immunity in that period ("ought to have the privilege"), they did not explain why, nor declare precisely of which parliament he was a member at the time of his arrest. [6] Nonetheless, two days after ordering his release, the House voted to expel Asgill on different grounds (authoring a blasphemous book). [7]

Dates of the Parliament

Election: On 29 April 1707, the Parliament of Great Britain was proclaimed. The members of the last English House of Commons had been elected between 7 May 1705 and 6 June 1705. The last general election in pre-Union Scotland was in the Autumn of 1702. The Parliament of Scotland met between 6 May 1703 and 25 March 1707.

First meeting and maximum legal term: Parliament first met on 23 October 1707. If continuity is accepted, then the parliament was due to expire, if not sooner dissolved, at the end of the term of three years from the first meeting of the last Parliament of England; which would have been on 14 June 1708.

Dissolution: The first and only session the First British Parliament was prorogued on 1 April 1708. During the recess, it was prorogued again on 13 April and, two days later, on 15 April, parliament was dissolved by proclamation and new writs issued for summons and elections to a new parliament. [8]

Party composition

The concept of party was much looser than it later became. Neither contemporaries or subsequent historians could be absolutely certain of who belonged in which category, however some estimates can be made.

Ambitious noble and gentry families formed themselves into connections of relatives and hangers on. Connections grouped themselves into factions, usually supporting a prominent public figure seeking royal favour and office for himself and his associates. Factions were usually of a Whig or Tory tendency.

Cross-cutting the Whig and Tory division was the Court and Country one. Court Party supporters were those who tended to support the Queen's ministers. Country Party men were inclined to oppose all Ministries.

The party divisions in Scotland were similar to those in England and Wales (although more inclined to Court and Whig than Country and Tory attitudes). Scottish politics also included the Squadrone Volante. This was a group, named after a type of cavalry formation, which had first opposed the Union but developed into moderate supporters of it.

An estimate of the composition of the Parliament of England, after the 1705 election, was Tory 267 and Whig 246.

Summary of the Members of Parliament

Key to categories in the following tables: Boro': Borough constituencies, Shire: County constituencies, Univ.: University constituencies, Co.: Co-opted constituency (elected by Parliament), No.: number of constituencies, MPs: number of Members of Parliament, Total consts: Total constituencies

Scotland is being counted here as a single constituency, as all 45 MPs were elected by the last Parliament of Scotland. Monmouthshire (with one borough and two county members) is included in Wales for the purposes of this article, although at this period it was often regarded as part of England.

Table 1: Constituencies and MPs, by type and country
Flag of England.svg  England 202392243404784486
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales 131326131427
Flag of Scotland.svg  Scotland 114545
Table 2: Number of seats per constituency, by type and country
Shire and county
1 MP2 MPs4 MPsNo.MPs1 MP2 MPsNo.MPs2 MPsMPs45 MPsMPs
Flag of England.svg  England 4196220240439397824243486
Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales 13131312113142627
Flag of Scotland.svg  Scotland 145145

Speakers and Government

William Cowper (Lord Cowper), Lord Keeper of the Seal since October 1705, was elevated by Queen Anne on 4 May 1707 to Lord Chancellor and thus sat on the woolsack as the first Lord Speaker of the House of Lords of Great Britain. [9]

On 23 October 1707, John Smith (1655–1723), MP (Whig) for Andover since 1695, was elected the first Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain. Smith had been the Speaker of the House of Commons of England since 1705. [10]

When this Parliament took place no office of Prime Minister existed. Government in 1707 has been characterized as a "no party" coalition, a mixture of Tory and Whig ministers, led by a triumvirate consisting of Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin (the Lord High Treasurer and dominant minister at the time), Robert Harley (Secretary of State) and John Churchill (Duke of Marlborough) (Master-General of the Ordnance) (see Godolphin–Marlborough ministry for more information). There was a severe political crisis in February 1708, when Anne tried to get to get rid of Godolphin (although a Tory, Godolphin was increasingly reliant on the Junto Whigs in parliament, whom Anne could not brook). Anne tried to impose a new slate of ministers headed by Harley, but Godolphin and Marlborough joined forces to resist it, and it was Harley who got ejected instead. Godolphin remained in office in a reconstructed coalition ministry.

The War of the Spanish Succession, which had begun in earnest in 1702, was still on-going for the duration of this parliament, and much of the parliamentary debate during the session relates to the war. Parliament was still in session when James Francis Stuart ("Old Pretender"), with French support, attempted a failed Jacobite landing in Scotland in March 1708. Among the notable acts of the session was the passage of an act (6 Anne c.6) abolishing the Privy Council of Scotland, and thus establishing a single privy council for both England and Scotland. There were other acts to extend jurisdiction of English institutions (e.g. Courts of Exchequer) to Scotland and formalize the procedures for election of Scottish peers and MPs. It also approved the merger of the East India companies and reinstated a single monopoly (which had been broken in 1698) in return for a lump sum fee (6 Anne c.17). It also passed an act (6 Anne c.32) regulating the positions and elections for governor, directors, etc. of the Bank of England (est. 1694).

See also

Related Research Articles

The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, they contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The Whigs took full control of the government in 1715 and remained totally dominant until King George III, coming to the throne in 1760, allowed Tories back in. The Whig Supremacy (1715–1760) was enabled by the Hanoverian succession of George I in 1714 and the failed Jacobite rising of 1715 by Tory rebels. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the army, the Church of England, the legal profession and local offices. The Party's hold on power was so strong and durable, historians call the period from roughly 1714 to 1783 the age of the Whig Oligarchy. The first great leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government through the period 1721–1742 and whose protégé Henry Pelham led from 1743 to 1754.

Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin British politician

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Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer English politician

Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, KG PC FRS was an English and later British statesman of the late Stuart and early Georgian periods. He began his career as a Whig, before defecting to a new Tory Ministry. He was raised to the peerage of Great Britain as an earl in 1711. Between 1711 and 1714 he served as Lord High Treasurer, effectively Queen Anne's chief minister. He has been called a Prime Minister, although it is generally accepted that the de facto first minister to be a prime minister was Robert Walpole in 1721.

Tories (British political party) dissolved British political party

The Tories were members of two political parties which existed sequentially in the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. The first Tories emerged in 1678 in England, when they opposed the Whig-supported Exclusion Bill which set out to disinherit the heir presumptive James, Duke of York, who eventually became James II of England and VII of Scotland. This party ceased to exist as an organised political entity in the early 1760s, although it was used as a term of self-description by some political writers. A few decades later, a new Tory party would rise to establish a hold on government between 1783 and 1830, with William Pitt the Younger followed by Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool.

This is a list of the principal Ministers of the Crown of the Kingdom of England, and then of the Kingdom of Great Britain, from May 1702, at the beginning of the reign of Queen Anne. During this period, the leaders of the ministry were Lord Godolphin and the Duke of Marlborough.

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2nd Parliament of Great Britain

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The 1702 English general election was the first to be held during the reign of Queen Anne, and was necessitated by the demise of William III. The new government dominated by the Tories gained ground in the election, with the Tory party winning a substantial majority over the Whigs, owing to the popularity of the new monarch and a burst of patriotism following the coronation. Despite this, the government found the new Parliament difficult to manage, as its leading figures Godolphin and Marlborough were not sympathetic to the more extreme Tories. Contests occurred in 89 constituencies in England and Wales.

Lieutenant-General Daniel Harvey was a British soldier and politician who was Governor of Guernsey from 1714 to 1732.

1st Parliament of Queen Anne

The 1st Parliament of Queen Anne was summoned by Queen Anne of England on 2 July 1702 and assembled on 20 August 1702. Its composition was 298 Tories, 184 Whigs and 31 others, representing a large swing to the Tories since the previous election. Robert Harley, the member for Radnor, was re-elected Speaker of the House of Commons.

3rd Parliament of Great Britain

The 3rd Parliament of Great Britain was summoned by Queen Anne on 27 September 1710 and assembled on the 25 November 1710. Under the Triennial Act, the Parliament was due to expire, if not dissolved sooner, at the end of the term of three years from the first meeting. In the event it was actually dissolved on 8 August 1713.

5th Parliament of Great Britain

The 5th Parliament of Great Britain was summoned by George I of Great Britain on 17 January 1715 and assembled on the 17 March 1715. When it was dissolved on 10 March 1722 it had been the first Parliament to be held under the Septennial Act of 1716.


  1. "I think it expedient that the Lords of parliament of England, and Commons of the present parliament of England, should be the members of the respective houses of the first parliament of Great Britain, for and on the behalf of England; and therefore I intend within the time limited, to publish a proclamation for the purpose, pursuant to the powers given me by the acts of parliament of both kingdoms, ratifying the treaty of Union" (Anne's speech of 24 April 1707, as published in Cobbett (1810) Parliamentary History of Great Britain, vol. 6: pp. 580–81).
  2. Cobbett (1810: pp. 588–89)
  3. Cobbett (1810, vol. 6, p. 589).
  4. Pickering's Statutes at Large, vol. 11, p. 290
  5. See Chronological Table and Index of the Statutes, 1890: p. 76.
  6. J. Hatsell (1818) Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons, vol. 2, p. 41
  7. Cobbett (1810:p. 601)
  8. Cobbett (1810: p. 732)
  9. Cobbett, 1810: v. 6, p. 909
  10. Cobbett, 1810, v.6, p. 589


Preceded by
New Parliament
Parliament of Great Britain
Succeeded by
2nd Parliament of Great Britain