An old principle of English parliamentary law declared that a member of the House of Commons, once duly chosen, could not resign his seat. This rule was a relic of the days when the local gentry had to be compelled to serve in parliament. The only method, therefore, of avoiding the rule came to be by accepting an office of profit from the crown, a statute of 1707 - enacting that every member accepting an office of profit from the crown should thereby vacate his seat, but should be capable of re-election, unless the office in question had been created since 1705, or had been otherwise declared to disqualify for a seat in parliament. Among the posts of profit held by members of the House of Commons in the first half of the 18th century are to be found the names of several crown steward-ships, which apparently were not regarded as places of profit under the crown within the meaning of the act of 1707, for no seats were vacated by appointment to them. The first instance of the acceptance of such a stewardship vacating a seat was in 1740, when the house decided that Sir W. W. Wynn, on inheriting from his father, in virtue of a royal grant, the stewardship of the lordship and manor of Bromfield and Yale, had ipso facto vacated his seat. On the passing of the Place Act of 1742, the idea of utilizing the appointment to certain crown stewardships (possibly suggested by Sir W. W. Wynn's case) as a pretext for enabling a member to resign his seat was carried into practice. These nominal stewardships were eight in number, but only two survived to be used in this way in contemporary practice—those of the Chilterns and Northstead; and when a member wished to vacate his seat, he was accordingly spoken of as taking the Chiltern Hundreds.

1. Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, County Buckinghamshire — The Chiltern Hundreds formed a bailiwick of the ordinary type. They are situated on the Chiltern Hills, and the depredations of the bandits, who found shelter within their recesses, became at an early period so alarming that a special officer, known as the steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, was appointed for the protection of the inhabitants of the neighbouring districts. It is doubtful at what date the necessity for such an appointment disappeared, but the three hundreds of Stoke, Burnham and Desborough are still distinguished by the old name. The appointment of steward was first used for parliamentary purposes in 1750, the appointment being made by the chancellor of the exchequer (and at his discretion to grant or not), and the warrant bestowing on the holder "all wages, fees, allowances and other privileges and pre-eminences". Up to the 19th century there was a nominal salary of 20 shillings attached to the post. It was laid down in 1846 by the chancellor of the exchequer that the Chilterns could not be granted to more than one person in the same day, but this rule has not been strictly adhered to, for on four occasions subsequent to 1850 the Chilterns were granted twice on the same day. The Chilterns might be granted to members whether they had taken the oath or not, or during a recess, though in this case a new writ could not be issued until the House met again. Each new warrant expressly revoked the grant to the last holder, the new steward retaining it in his turn until another should be appointed.

2. Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of East Hundred, or Hendred, Berkshire — This stewardship was first used for parliamentary purposes in 1763, and was in more or less constant use until 1840, after which it disappeared. This manor comprised copyholds, the usual courts were held, and the stewardship was an actual and active office, the duties being executed by a deputy steward. The manor was sold by public auction in 1823 for £910, but in some manner the crown retained the right of appointing a steward for seventeen years after that date.

3. Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, Yorkshire — This manor was crown property before 1750, but was in lease until 1838. It has no copyhold lands, nor are there any records of manor courts. There are no traces of any profits having ever been derived from the office. It was used for parliamentary purposes in 1844 and subsequently.

4. Steward of the Manor of Hempholme, Yorkshire — This manor appears to have been of the same nature as that of Northstead. It was in lease until 1835. It was first used for parliamentary purposes in 1845 and was in constant use until 1865. It was sold in 1866.

5. Escheator of Munster — Escheators were officers commissioned to secure the rights of the crown over property which had legally escheated to it. In Ireland mention is made of escheators as early as I256. In 1605 the escheatorship of Ireland was split up into four, one for each province, but the duties soon became practically nominal. The escheatorship of Munster was first used for parliamentary purposes in the Irish parliament from 1793 to 1800, and in the united parliament (24 times for Irish seats and once for a Scottish seat) from 1801 to 1820. After 1820 it was discontinued and finally abolished in 1838.

6. Steward of the Manor of Old Shoreham, Sussex — This manor belonged to the duchy of Cornwall, and it is difficult to understand how it came to be regarded as a crown appointment. It was first used for parliamentary purposes in 1756, and then, occasionally, until 1799, in which year it was sold by the duchy to the duke of Norfolk.

7. Steward of the Manor of Poynings, Sussex — This manor reverted to the crown on the death of Lord Montague about 1804, but was leased up to about 1835. It was only twice used for parliamentary purposes, in 1841 and 1843.

8. Escheator of Ulster — This appointment was used in the united parliament three times, for Irish seats only; the last time in 1819.

See parliamentary paper - Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Vacating of Seats) (1894). (T.A.I.)

Being the entry for the CHILTERN HUNDREDS in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

Chiltern Hundreds (?). [AS. Chiltern the Chiltern, high hills in Buckinghamshire, perh. Fr. ceald cold + ern, aern, place.]

A tract of crown land in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, England, to which is attached the nominal office of steward. As members of Parliament cannot resign, when they wish to go out they accept this stewardship, which legally vacates their seats.

 

© Webster 1913.

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