Vox Populi: Elections, Voting and Representation in Early Modern Scotland

The latest lecture in the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies’ Vox Populi series is from Professor Keith Brown on Elections, Voting and Representation in Early Modern Scotland.

While the voting landscape of the 21st century is quite different from our forebears, the early modern era in Scottish (as well as European) politics was a time of great change, as parliament became a secular and increasingly complicated assembly. The role of the monarchy and the growing costs of war were also issues of the day (showing that some things have changed less than we may think…).

Voting was for the privileged few: franchise was granted on the basis of property ownership. However, throughout the 17th century, this property qualification was gradually extended, although it still excluded the majority.

Special Collections holds some interesting items which help to offer an insight into the political climate of the time.

Title page from Mu16-i.3

Title page from Mu16-i.3

One such item is The Law concerning Election of Members for Scotland To Sit and Vote in the Parliament of Great-Britain (Sp Coll Mu16-i.3), which outlines the duties “according to the Statutes and Laws in the North and South Parts of this United Kingdom.”

This slim volume from 1722 sets out the rules and the accompanying Acts that define who can vote and the rights and duties of the elected officers.

As well as the property qualification, voters and elected members were required to be:

…21 years complete, and Protestant, excluding all Papists, or such, who, being suspected of Popery and required, refuse to subscribe to the Formula contained in the Act 3. Seff.8 and 9. Parl. K.William III, in the year 1700…

Written by John Spotiswoode, an advocate, who notes in his preface to the volume that it had been “communicated to some friends, who were of the opinion, it not ought to be confin’d to private students; seeing they thought it would be useful, to the peers, freeholders, and others concern’d in making election of the members to the parliament, who from it might receive knowledge of their power and duty in this behalf.”

Title page of Sp Coll T.C.L. 3703

Title page of Sp Coll T.C.L. 3703

Other interesting items include treatises on ministerial power (Sp Coll Bf72-c.9), as well as copies of Acts (e.g. Sp Coll Mu16-i.10) and items pertaining to Church elections( e.g. Sp Coll T.C.L. 3703)

If you wish to consult these, or any other items from our collections, please do come and visit Special Collections on level 12 of the Library.

Professor Brown’s talk is tonight at 5.30pm in room 412 of the Boyd Orr Building. The seminar is free and open to all, but if you can’t make it, you can also read an abridged version in today’s Scotsman newspaper.



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  1. Vox Populi – The Referendum of 1997 « University of Glasgow Library

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