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Pittite Triumph and Whig Failure in the Cambridge University Constituency, 1780–96

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Cambridge University has been featured in a wide range of studies of the long 18th century, but few have focused exclusively on the dynamics behind its politics. This is surprising since many of the Cambridge University electors were close to leading parliamentarians. The Cambridge University constituency was contested at each of the three successive general elections from 1780 onwards until 1796. Parliamentary contests often brought Cambridge University’s political tensions into focus, which is why a detailed analysis of the poll books can demonstrate how different networks within the university behaved and could define the performance of candidates for the constituency. The relationships between the chancellors, vice-chancellors, high stewards, university officers, college heads, fellows, senate members and members of parliament who collectively made up the leadership are fundamental to understanding the electorate of Cambridge University. These relationships, in terms of friendships, alliances and rivalries, also influenced political and patronage networks within the university. William Pitt the Younger’s success in changing the political complexion of Cambridge University is part of the broader realignment in British politics during the final two decades of the eighteenth century. Under the pressure of these events, whig unity would come to an end as new divisions between ministerialists and reformers emerged. The experience of Cambridge University can shed light on the national shifts as well as how electioneering was carried out in the university parliamentary constituencies.


Publication status: Published


4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

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Parliamentary History

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