Waterford city had a number of medieval charters dating from the period under Richard I when John was Lord of Ireland. It was incorporated as a county borough by a 1585 charter, 16 Eliz. I, which stated that all the former lands and houses within the bounds of the city as granted by King John, 7 John, or any of the succeeding kings or queens, should be a county by itself, as fully as was the city of Dublin, except the church and chancel of the Blackfriars within the walls and a place called Our Lady's Chapel. This was confirmed and further defined by a charter of 1627, 2 Chas I. Waterford had a number of largely confirmatory charters. In 1783 the constitution of the city was described as follows:
Waterford - 40,000 inhabitants. Electors, 1,000, being Freemen and Freeholders half of whom are foreigners. Their Charter under Car. II. The Corporation, 17 Aldermen, out of whom a Mayor is chosen and 23 assistants or Common Council, out of whom 2 Sheriffs are chosen. The Corporation exercises a power of making Freemen at will. By the Charter, all sons, sons-in-law and apprentices of Freemen are entitled to their freedom and the usage supports the Charter. The Liberties of the city extend in length about 5 miles, in breadth about 4 miles. A large part of the property of the soil is in the Corporation, which it lets for terms of 999 years.403
In 1793: 'The constitution of the city is said to be like Bristol.'404
All the MPs were connected with the city. Anthony Suxbury, who sat for both parliaments of William III, was a recorder of Waterford city, and Henry Nicholas may have sat for New Ross in the Restoration parliament, which would make him one of the few MPs with previous parliamentary experience. The Christmas family came to Waterford in the late sixteenth century: Richard Christmas, who sat for Waterford from 1695 to1713, was Mayor of Waterford in 1695; his son, Thomas, was MP for Waterford from 1713 to 1747 and Mayor of Waterford in 1715 and 1725, and his son, also Thomas (0404), sat for Co. Waterford from 1743 until his death in 1749. The Carew family sat for the city mainly in the latter half of the century: Robert Carew sat briefly from 1739 until his early death in 1740; thereafter, from 1749 to 1800 a member of the family sat for the city in every parliament.
Shapland Carew, Recorder of Waterford and a clerk in both Houses of Parliament, represented the city from 1748 to 1776; his son, Robert Shapland Carew, represented the city from 1776 to 1800, when he lost the Union ballot for the one continuing MP for the city. None of the other MPs had so consistent a record, but all were closely connected with the city. Both of the Cornelius Boltons, father and son, were Mayors of Waterford. Samuel Barker was a banker and Mayor of Waterford in 1737. Barker was returned for Waterford city at the 1761 election having polled 142 votes, the same number as Shapland Carew, the other member. On this occasion the unsuccessful candidates were Robert Snow and William Alcock (0020), who polled 125 and 105 votes respectively. The Alcocks were later arrivals on the Waterford scene. Henry Alcock (MP 1783-97) was Mayor of Waterford in 1777; his son, William Congreve Alcock, succeeded him in 1797 and won the Union ballot.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century the interest was shared among the Bolton, Carew and Alcock families, members of whom were invariably returned. This triangular arrangement did not always lead to harmony. In 1768 Henry Alcock was actually returned but Shapland Carew petitioned successfully against it.405 Both Shapland Carew and Cornelius Bolton (0180) strengthened their interest by living in Waterford. Bolton 'constantly resides among the people and spends his money in Waterford which will always secure him his seat'; while Carew secured his interest in an even more practical manner, as:[He was] bred a lawyer but does not practise, he has a good estate here and recommends himself to the people by asserting the right of freedom for many persons here and having mandamus issued out of the King's Bench for that purpose. He also ingratiated himself into their favour by giving £100 towards building a market-house for their wool. He is a cunning, spirited man.406
However, by 1785 it was said that 'The Corporation of this City is pretty nearly in the possession of Mr Alcock, who returned himself and was the means of doing the same by Mr Carew.'407 This was because Alcock had managed to build up an influence in the corporation, for 'The Corporation is influenced by the Members who made many Wexford men Freemen and they oppose but the merchants are much influenced by Mr Bolton (0181) and Mr Beresford (0115).' In 1790 it was said that:
this city, considerable for its trade and population, is by charter free, the right of election being vested in the Freeholders, Burgesses and Freemen, the latter capable of being increased to any number at the discretion of the Corporation. The three families of Alcock, Bolton, and Carew have, however, for a series of years monopolised its representation, leaving to the citizens little other choice than to select two of them, colouring, we confess, the deformity of family combinations against freedom with the vivid tints of personal attachment to the individual. Mr Bolton and Mr Carew were chosen Members for this City in the last Parliament and discharged their delegated trust with integrity but at the last general election Henry Alcock, Esq. who has the entire command of the Corporation, having joined his interest to Mr Carew's, they threw out Mr Bolton from the representation, whose conduct, at the time, certainly merited another return from the electors of Waterford. New combinations may take place at the next general election, for connections fluctuate much here, but Mr Alcock's re-election appears at present indisputably certain and even that his junction with any other candidate will determine the preponderancy of the scale in his favour.408