The most prominent members in the Commons were the knights of the shire. During the Middle Ages two knights were elected for each of the 37 counties under royal jurisdiction. When a new Parliament was summoned, writs were issued from Chancery (the royal secretariat) to the county’s sheriff to call a County Court for an election of knights of the shire. In the early days of Parliament, all freemen, that is those who were not serfs, had the right to vote for their representatives. The rules were changed by a statute of 1429 which, finding that elections had recently been crowded by people of “low estate”, decreed that only freemen who owned freehold land (that is, not leased from the land’s owner) worth 40 shillings had the vote.
This requirement, known as the forty shilling freehold, was never adjusted for inflation of land value; thus the amount of land one had to own in order to vote gradually diminished over time. The franchise was restricted to males by custom rather than statute and on rare occasions women had been able to vote in parliamentary elections as a result of property ownership. Nevertheless, the vast majority of people were not entitled to vote; the size of the English county electorate in 1831 has been estimated at only about 1 % of the population.
The Representation of the People Act 1832 (also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act) introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales.
In county constituencies, in addition to forty-shilling freeholders, franchise rights were extended to owners of land in copyhold (land held by manorial tenant) worth £10 and holders of long-term leases (more than sixty years) on land worth £10 and holders of medium-term leases (between twenty and sixty years) on land worth £50 and to tenants-at-will paying an annual rent of £50.
The Reform Act did not enfranchise the working class since voters were required to possess property worth £10, a substantial sum at the time. It is estimated that the Reform Act only extended the number of eligible voters to 7% of the population
Only qualifying men were able to vote; the Act introduced the first explicit statutory bar to women voting by defining a voter as a male person. (In fact the Act later added a note that male could mean female but this was comprehensively ignored). The reform Bill caused the county of Kent to be broken up into two divisions, East and West, each returning 2 members to Parliament. In 1868 a third Division called Mid-Kent was added and each then returned one member.
Taking some years at random, in 1734 there were (perhaps not surprisingly) no persons living in Eythorne eligible to vote. The same is true of 1790.
By 1802 the situation has changed and there are now 13 voters present in Eythorne, many of families well known in the history of the Village as shown in the first table.
*Although Peter Decent owned a House and Land in Sandwich Road, Eythorne, for his work, as a Cinque Ports Pilot, he would have needed a place to live close to the Port as business was on a first come first served basis.
Note that William Horn Harvey, was listed as a voter but in the entry for Woodnesborough where he lived at Hammill Court.