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The constituency was not a physical area. Its electorate consisted of the graduates of the University of Oxford. Before 1918 the franchise was restricted to male graduates with a Doctorate or MA degree. Namier and Brooke estimated the number of electors as about 500 in the 1754-1790 period; by 1910, it had risen to 6,500. Following the reforms of 1918, the franchise encompassed all graduates who paid a fee of £1 to join the register. This included around 400 women who had passed examinations which would have entitled them to a degree if they were male.
The university strongly supported the old Tory cause in the 18th century. The original party system endured long after it had become meaningless in almost every other constituency.
After the Hanoverian succession to the British throne the Whigs became dominant in the politics of Cambridge University, the other university represented in Parliament, by using a royal prerogative power to confer doctorates. That power did not exist at Oxford, so the major part of the university electorate remained Tory (and in the first half of the 18th century sometimes Jacobite) in sympathy.
The university also valued its independence from government. In a rare contested general election in 1768 the two candidates with administration ties were defeated.
In the 19th century the university continued to support the right, almost always returning Tory, Conservative or Liberal Unionist candidates. The only exception was William Ewart Gladstone, formerly "the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories". He first represented the university as a Peelite, supporting a former member for the constituency - the sometime Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Gladstone retained his seat as a Liberal, for a time after 1859. Following Gladstone's defeat, in 1865, subsequent Liberal candidates were rare and they were never successful in winning a seat.
Even after the introduction of proportional representation, in 1918, both members continued to be Conservatives until 1935. Independent members were elected in the last phase of university elections to Parliament, before the constituency was abolished in 1950.
Members of Parliament
Sir William Whitelock is named by Rayment as "Sir William Whitelocke" and by Sedgwick as "Sir William Whitlock".
The Roman numerals in brackets after the names of the two members called William Bromley (who were father and son) are included to distinguish them. It is not a method which would have been used by the men themselves.
Constituency created (1603)
Parliament of England 1604-1707
As there were sometimes significant gaps between Parliaments held in this period, the dates of first assembly and dissolution are given. Where the name of the member has not yet been ascertained, the entry unknown is entered in the table.
f The Rump Parliament was recalled and subsequently Pride's Purge was reversed, allowing the full Long Parliament to meet until it agreed to dissolve itself.
g Clarges died on 4 October 1695, so the seat was vacant at the dissolution of 11 October 1695.
h The MPs of the last Parliament of England and 45 members co-opted from the former Parliament of Scotland, became the House of Commons of the 1st Parliament of Great Britain which assembled on 23 October 1707 (see below for the members in that Parliament).
Parliaments of Great Britain 1707-1800 and of the United Kingdom 1801-1950
Note (1852): Minimum possible turnout estimated by dividing votes by 2. To the extent that electors did not use both their votes, the figure will be an underestimate. McCalmont classifies Gladstone as a Liberal Conservative candidate, at this election.