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Rotten borough

A rotten borough was an 18th century British term for either a borough where the electorate was so small that the vote was secured by simple bribery or one of the so-called Pocket Boroughs.

The first type of borough was one of the twenty or so that had declined greatly in population but still retained the right to elect representatives to the House of Commons. Pocket boroughs were those where parliamentary representation was in the control of one or more 'patrons' by their power to either nominate or other machinations, such as burgage[?]. Patronage was rife in the 18th century, there were over 300 borough seats subject to patronage in 1806. In the 19th century measures began to be taken against such abuses of democracy, beginning with the Reform Act of 1832 that made changes to the franchise and reallocated some parliamentary seats.

The term derives from a remark by William Pitt the Elder, that borough representation was "the rotten part of the constitution".

Famous rotten boroughs include Old Sarum in Wiltshire with eleven voters, Dunwich[?] in Suffolk with 32 voters, Plympton[?] Earle with 40 voters, and Newtown on the Isle of Wight with 23 voters (all figures for 1831). All of these boroughs could elect two MPs.

Compare with gerrymandering.

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