Drinking strong beer with the freeholders

Doing some research about women in 18th-century elections, and came across two fabulous quotes. The first one is from a letter between two politicians during the 1754 parliamentary elections; the woman in question’s husband is involved in two separate elections in different towns in Dorset and she’s helping with his campaign:

“Mrs. Pitt tells me she has been a buck-hunting three days in the week at five o’clock in the morning, and drinking strong beer with the freeholders at that hour, to convince them she is an Englishwoman. She returns to-morrow to assist her worst half at the meeting of the seventh at Dorchester.”

And a commentary from before the same election, from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, about Lady Susan Keck, an important political hostess:

“I am far from thinking that the Ladies are unconcern’d in our Members [i.e. members of parliament/parliamentary affairs], or that they should sit primm’d with their hands passively before ’em, and their Mouths drawn up like the Purse of an old Usurer, whilst we are engaged in this important Business; but then neither would I have them swagger amongst the Men, and Holla, and roar, and fill out Bumpers with an Air more becoming Colonel Bully than Lady Dainty. Much less would I have Ladies of Distinction, out of an intemperate Zeal for their Country, send away from their Houses, not only Men, but even Persons of their own Sex, so disguised with Liquor as to merit the Stocks as an Example.”

2 thoughts on “Drinking strong beer with the freeholders”

  1. “…fill out Bumpers”? That’s an expression I haven’t heard, and I can’t work it out from context. Do you know what it means?
    And is your Byron-wannabe hero going to be matched with a politically active heroine? I would love that.

    1. I don’t think so…I think he’s going to get embroiled in family election shenanigans. The heroine is a local in the borough. But I haven’t sold the book yet so really, anything could happen! As for the bumpers, I assumed it was in the sense of alcohol, like “bumper of brandy”…ah yes, the OED says, “A cup or glass of wine, etc., filled to the brim, esp. when drunk as a toast.” “Fill out” isn’t a construction I’ve heard before, though, so maybe it means something else entirely…

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