I realise that it's hard providing a direct parallel to today, but is it roughly fair to say that the Tories were analogous to modern conservatives and the Whigs were closer to modern progressives?

Or does the vastly different levels of suffrage mean that a correlation to today is pretty much impossible. If so, what is a good generalisation? Whigs = supported by trade; Tories = supported by the aristocracy and landed gentry?

As a follow up: I have a vague understanding that Queen Vic was sympathetic to the Whigs due to the events that led up to the Bedchamber Crisis, but was this more because of personal affection for her ladies-in-waiting rather than ideology?

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    I'm afraid that I'm going to vote to close on this one. I've never encountered any mapping of historical party affiliation to modern that actually clarified the issue. (with the exception of some wag's comment that the historical Tories cared about X, making them like modern USA Democrats while the historical Whigs cared about Y making them like modern USA Democrats.)
    – MCW
    Jan 27, 2014 at 11:03
  • Well, that's my answer, I suppose. That's why I asked -- I was wondering if there was any cohesive trains-era political taxonomy. I suppose there isn't. Jan 27, 2014 at 19:34
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    Political parties divide along the lines of the significant policy issues of the day. Only when these issues are the same from era to era will there be an equivalent correlation between parties. Jan 31, 2014 at 12:33
  • Thanks Peter. Full disclosure - I'm writing a fiction project set in the era and I'm trying to figure out where some of my characters would live politically. I've come to the conclusion one would be a Liberal and the other apathetic. Jan 31, 2014 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


As noted in this article from Encylopedia Britannica 1911, the great dividing issue between Whigs and Tories through most of the 18th century was on the role of the crown in the executive of the government. The Tory position was that the King was his own "Prime Minister", a hands-on chief executive in the current American model. The Whig position was one of Parliamentary supremacy, with the "majority leader" in the Commons acting as chief executive of the government, with the King a figurehead, after the current British and Canadian model:

On the whole, during the last years of the 17th and the first years of the 18th century the Whigs may be regarded as the party of the great landowners, and of the merchants and tradesmen, the Tories as the party of the smaller landowners and the country clergy.
... the real conflict was between the corrupt influence of the crown and the influence of a clique of great landowners resting on their possession of electoral power through the rotten boroughs

With the madness of King George III, and changed priorities following the French Revolution, the dividing issues between the parties became Parliamentary reform (Tories initially pro, then later con) and continuance (or not) of the war(s) against The French Republic and Empire. Although the old party names continued in use, many important members of both had re-aligned.

In the years following Waterloo, and triggered by Wellington's refusal in 1830 to support any Parliamentary Reform, the Tory and Whig parties splintered to be replaced by the new Conservative Party and Liberal Party.

Many senior members of the Conservative party continued to think of themselves as Tories, and to refer to themselves as such, such that the appellation is still in common use today:

Shortly afterwards the name Tory gave place to that of Conservative (q.v.), though it was cherished by those Conservatives ..., and who disliked to be branded with a purely negative appellation, and it was also retained as a term of opprobrium by the Liberals for those whom they regarded as old-fashioned opponents of reform

In contrast, few if any senior members of the new Liberal party thought or referred to themselves as Whigs. The name rapidly fell out of fashion in Great Britain though it continues in popular use in Canada to refer to the Federal Liberal Party.

It [Whig] ceased to be a name accepted by any definite English political section.

Thus in answer to your question, by the time of Queen Victoria's ascension in 1837, both the Whig and Tory parties were defunct, replaced by the Conservative and Liberal parties. For the preceding several decades they had both been diverging from their defining ideologies as they diminished in importance on the political landscape.

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    The reason for the downvote? Seems like a good answer to me, so without a comment saying what's wrong, the downvote is quite useless...
    – o0'.
    Jan 27, 2014 at 9:44

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