Key dates in the Sociological history and development of Great Britain



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Key dates in Votes, Rights and Justice 
Great Britain 1200 - 1899


1215 Magna Carta - protected against arbitrary taxation, asserted the freedom of the church, guaranteed the privileges of the City of London and of the boroughs, allowed freedom of movement, and declared that no free man would be arrested, imprisoned, deprived of his land, outlawed or exiled except by the judgment of his peers. The Charter was re-issued in 1217 and 1225. Portions remain part of English law.


1265 Chartered Boroughs instructed to send two burgesses to attend Parliament on January 20. This was the first Assembly of the Commons enabling commoners to take part in framing the laws of the country. Between 1272 and 1307, during the reign of Edward I, "Commons" (Communes) of knights of the shires and townsmen were present in Parliament with the lords, bishops and great abbots.

1276 Acts gave guidance on ‘What Sort of Men shall be Coroners" and see 1276); and on Punishment for Rape and for Spreading Slanderous News.

1276 Act "Of What Things a Coroner shall Inquire". These included any who "be slain, or suddenly dead or wounded, or where houses are broken, or where treasure is said to be found"; and the act set out detailed procedures to be followed in the inquiries.

1278 Statute of Gloucester sought to define and limit the powers of the barons.

1279 Statute of Mortmain brought the endowment of church lands under royal supervision, preventing the church from amassing ever greater wealth.


1300 "England in the 14th century was a consultative monarchy ... The King was required to rule in accordance with ancient law and custom, and with the advice and consent of his prelates and magnates. His freedom of action was further circumscribed by a growing volume of statutory law, which bound him as well as his subjects ... While the King was not a free agent, he was expected to be a chief executive in every sense of the word: head of government, fountain of justice, commander-in-chief and arbiter of economic policy" (Paul Johnson, life and Times of Edward Ill, London, Book Club Ass., 1973, page 12).

1300 The King (Edward I) granted that "his people shall have election of their Sheriff in every Shire (where the Shivalty is not of Fee) if they list" set out the sort of people to serve on juries), and to be chosen for sheriffs.

1322 Parliament, assembled at York, for the first time included representatives (24) from Wales. Parliament was not a permanent body, but became increasingly important during the century.

1344 Statute on the Appointment of Justices of the Peace; revised 1360.

Oath of the Justices. It was ordained that "Justices of Both Benches, Assise, etc. shall do Right to Au Men, and take no Fee but of the King".

1356 The "opening" of Parliament was conducted in English instead of French

1360 An act set out "The Sort of Persons to be Appointed Justices of the Peace, and Their Authority"

1360 Statute of Pleading ordained that all pleas in Courts should be pleaded, showed, defended, answered, debated and judged in the English tongue.

1378 Penalty introduced for telling slanderous lies of the Great Men of the Realm

1389 Justices of the peace given powers to fix the wages of labourers.


1401 Statute of Heresy provided that all heretics (people whose beliefs were not those of the Church) were to be imprisoned and if they refused to give up their heresy to be burned alive.

1487 Justices of the Peace Act revised and set out anew their duties to “redress injuries and maintain the laws”.


1549 Act of Uniformity forbade the use of the Catholic Mass, and enforced the use of the first prayer book of Edward VI.


1603 An inquiry, along the lines of that of 1563, carried out focusing on the number of communicants in each parish, with the result that dissenters and Catholics were excluded from the count.

1641 The Grand Remonstrance beseeched the King to “concur with the humble desires of your people in a parliamentary way, for the preserving the peace and safety of the kingdom from the malicious designs of the Popish party...”. It set out all the unconstitutional acts of Charles I, the good work that Parliament had done, and demanded the appointment of ministers by Parliament.

1661 Corporation Act improved the regulation of Corporations and limited the holding of municipal office to members of the Church of England.

1696 An Act for Preventing Charge and Expense in Elections of Members to Serve in Parliament stated that candidates for election who gave or promised any present or reward to any person having a vote, for the purpose of influencing their vote, shall be declared not elected.

Act for the Ease of Jurors and Better Regulating of Juries.

1729 Bribery and Corruption in the Election of Members of Parliament Act strengthened the 1696 act.

1744 Bribery and Corruption in the Election of Members of Parliament Act strengthened the 1696 act.

1792 “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” by Mary Wolstonecraft (1759-97, novelist) published; a milestone in the history of feminism.

1799 Act to Prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen (Combination Act) made trade unions and meetings of men to discuss wages and hours of work illegal. Repealed in 1824.


1818 Regulation of Parish Vestries Act set rules for the conduct of meetings; disenfranchised persons who had not paid their rates; gave votes to non-resident occupiers; and introduced plural voting.

1819 Massacre of Peterloo. Thousands of workers from Manchester and the surrounding cotton mills gathered peacefully at St Peter’s Field, to be addressed by their leaders, were savagely dispersed by the local yeomanry and regular cavalry acting on orders from the magistrates. Eleven civilians were killed and over 400 wounded.

1825 Juries Act set out the qualifications for a juror as a man aged over 21 and less than 60 years who was a householder.

1827 Bribery and Corruption in Elections Act stated that persons employed by candidates at elections were to be disqualified from voting; and that cockades and ribbons were not to be given to voters by candidates.

1828 The Test Act of 1633 and the Corporation Act of 1661 repealed, thereby removing the necessity of receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a qualification for certain state and municipal offices. Thus Catholics and Dissenters were no longer debarred from such offices.

1829 Catholic Emancipation Act gave civil rights to the Catholics.

1831 Better Regulation of the Vestries Act, enabled those vestries which so chose to introduce universal suffrage, annual elections of one third of the members and a single vote. The clauses were rarely adopted.

1832 Reform Act was the first reform of Parliamentary elections; enfranchised the urban middle class; and abolished the “rotten boroughs”.

1834 The Tolpuddle martyrs, six agricultural workers in Dorset, were transported for taking oaths when forming a local branch of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers.

1838 A People’s Charter was adopted by delegates from all parts of the country at a meeting in Birmingham. It called for universal manhood suffrage; annual parliaments; voting by secret ballot; equal electoral districts; abolition of property qualifications for MPs; and payment of MPs. “The House of Commons is the People’s House, and there our opinions should be stated, there our rights ought to be advocated, there we ought to be represented or we are serfs”.

1854 Corrupt Practices Prevention Act introduced small fines for bribery, cheating and the use of undue influence and intimidation of voters; and candidates were required to produce itemised accounts of their expenditure for examination by an election auditor.

1855 Friendly Societies Act established the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and enabled trade unions to register as friendly societies.

1867 Representation of the People Act , second reform act, enfranchised urban working class householders adding about a million eligible voters. Equivalent reform in

Scotland was passed in 1868.


1869 Municipal Franchise Act shortened the term of residence required to qualify for municipal franchise to 12 months; and unmarried and widowed women given the right to elect members of municipal councils in certain towns.

1870 Married Women's Property Act gave wives possession of any money they earned.

1871 Trade Union Act, legalised trade unions and required their registration with the Registrar of the Friendly Societies.

1872 Ballot Act introduced voting by secret ballot, and increased the number of polling stations.

1873 Judicature Acts established the Supreme Court and a national court system.

1874 London School of Medicine for Women founded

First two workmen, both miners, elected to Parliament.

1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act amended the law in regard to conspiracy in trade disputes; made peaceful picketing lawful; and stated that anything that could be legally done by an individual could be legally done by a union.

Employers and Workmen Act enlarged the powers of the county courts in respect of disputes between employers and their workmen, and gave the courts limited civil jurisdiction in respect of such disputes.

1876 Medical Act enabled every university or other body entitled to grant qualifications for registration to grant such qualifications to all persons without distinction of sex.

1877 Married Women’s Property (Scotland) Act made wages, earnings and property acquired by a wife her own and not her husband’s property.

1878 London University accepted women for graduation in all faculties; shortly to be followed by the Scottish and then the English provincial universities. Oxford opened its degrees to women in 1920 and Cambridge in 1948. The first four women to graduate in London were awarded their degrees in 1880. At University College, London, co-educational teaching was available in all faculties except medicine.

1882 Married Women's Property Act consolidated and extended previous acts; gave married women the right to separate ownership of property of all kinds; and made married women having separate property liable to the parish for the maintenance of her husband and children.

1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act increased the penalties of the 1854 act, and laid down maximum election expenses to be incurred by candidates for Parliamentary elections.

1884 Representation of the People Act, the third reform act, created a uniform franchise in both boroughs and counties on the basis of the reforms of the 1867 act.

1885 Redistribution of Seats Act altered the constituencies for Parliamentary elections and introduced single membership.

1888 Local Government Act created county and county borough councils, elected by ratepayers, to take over from the justices of the peace in rural areas the duties of rating, licensing, asylums, police, highways and weights and measures. Gave women, if unmarried and otherwise eligible, the right to vote for county and county borough councilors; permitted county councils to appoint medical officers of health (see 1909), and made the holding of a registrable diploma of public health (or equivalent) compulsory for medical officers of health in districts with populations of 50,000 or more.

1893 Married Women’s Property Act assimilated the rights of married women to ownership of property to that of unmarried women.

Women factory inspectors introduced.

1897 National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies formed by the amalgamation of local societies, with Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929, nee Garrett, sister of Elizabeth, see 1865) as president.

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