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Dissolution of Parliament

The dissolution of Parliament took place on Thursday 30 May 2024. All business in the House of Commons and House of Lords has come to an end. There are currently no MPs and every seat in the Commons is vacant until after the general election on 4 July 2024.

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Charles Stanhope and Freedom of Religion

Charles Stanhope, third Earl Stanhope (1753-1816), was a scientist, inventor and politician.  He was MP for High Wycombe between 1780 and 1786 and sat in the House of Lords from 1786 until his death. This section of the case study focuses on his involvement with legislation relating to religious freedoms.

“There was no man more devoted to religious freedom than he”. The Earl of Abingdon, Parliamentary Debates, 1789 to 1791, XXVIII, col. 219.

Stanhope played a notable part in the campaign for greater religious freedom for both Catholics and Protestant Dissenters. In 1788, he made clear his position in language that echoes the American Declaration of Independence (1776):

“My first principle is, that every man has a natural and inalienable right to liberty of conscience, and that no man should be persecuted for his private opinions in matters of religion. But every person is at all times liable to be called upon to give due security to the State, whenever the State shall deem it expedient.”

In short, where a person's religious views did not threaten the state, they should be permitted complete freedom of worship and conscience. In an age when people were placing increasing importance on individual rights, this was fast becoming the popular view.

From the Parliamentary collections
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What materials relating to Stanhope's life and career exist in the Parliamentary Archives?

Catholic Relief Act (1791)
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How did the Catholic Relief Act (1791) come about? What did the Act seek to change?

Background
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What political and social change happened around religion in the 16th and 17th century?

Protestant Dissenters, 1789
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How was Stanhope involved with legislation relating to Protestant Dissenters?

Freedom of conscience
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What attempts at change did Stanhope make in his later years?

Related information

A biography of Charles Stanhope, third Earl Stanhope, can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Related information

The De Montfort Project is an outreach project run by the Parliamentary Archives which explores the life and impact of local MPs and Peers on both their local area and at Parliament.

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The De Montfort Project is an outreach projectrun by the Parliamentary Archiveswhichexplores the life and impact of local MPs and Peers on both their local area and at Parliament.

Find out more

Stanhope ODNB

A biography of Charles Stanhope, third Earl Stanhope, can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.