Athlone was enfranchised by a 1607 charter, 4 James I; it also had a charter of James II. Its corporation consisted of a sovereign, two bailiffs and 13 burgesses (including the constable of the castle), a recorder, town clerk, serjeant-at-mace and billet master. There was a select body called the common council. The Municipal Commissioners found no instance of a sovereign holding office for more than a year at a time, but there is considerable evidence of the sovereign and vice-sovereign alternating and both being members of the Handcock family.
In 1783 Athlone had 'Sovereign, Burgesses and Freemen between 400 or 500. 2,000 inhabitants. Patrons, Sir Richard St George and Dean Handcock. Property various. A large town.' In 1790 its history was explained as follows: 'Formerly under the influence of the Dillon family, it has, since the Revolution, been uniformly represented by the united families of Handcock and St George who govern here with uncontrolled authority and whose recommendations never fail of success.'414 Two elections - those of 1761 and 1768 - illustrate their dominance. In 1761 the voting was as follows: William Handcock (0959) 236, Henry St George (1841) 219, Wentworth Thewles 140. The high turn-out may be due to the excitement at the first election following the long parliament of George II, and possibly a degree of uncertainty as to the real state of affairs. Certainly, while the result was the same, the numbers were much smaller in July 1768, when the voting was: Sir Richard St George (1846) 82, Gilbert Holmes 17, William Handcock 96.415
In 1793 it was considered a very Catholic town,416 so many of its voters may have been imported. Athlone retained a seat at the Union and William Handcock bought out Sir Richard Bligh St George (1848), who was hostile to the Union. Handcock thus became its sole proprietor after 1800.417