The office is only nominally paid. Generally, it is held until the next time it is used to effect the resignation of an MP. The Chiltern Hundreds is usually used alternately with the Manor of Northstead, which makes it possible for two members to resign at exactly the same time. Where more than two MPs resign at a time, as for example happened when 15 Ulster Unionist MPs resigned on December 17 1985, the resignations are in theory not simultaneous but instead spread throughout the day, with each member holding one of the offices for a short time. The holder can subsequently be re-elected to Parliament.
In 1623 a rule was declared that said that members of Parliament were given a trust to represent their constituencies, and therefore were not at liberty to resign them. In those days, Parliament was relatively weaker, and service was sometimes considered a resented duty rather than a position of power and honour. However, an MP who accepts an "office of profit" from the Crown was obliged to leave his post, it being feared that his independence was compromised if he be in the King's pay. Therefore, the legal fiction was invented that the MP who wished to quit applied to the King for the post of "steward of the Chiltern Hundreds", an obsolescent office of negligible duties and scant profit, but an office in the King's gift nonetheless.
The office dates back to the 13th century. A hundred is a traditional division of an English county, and the hilly, wooded hundreds of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire were once notorious as a hiding place of robbers. A Crown Steward was appointed to maintain law and order in the area, but its duties ceased to be required in the 16th century, and the holder ceased to gain any benefits during the 17th century. It was first used as a pretext for resignation on January 17, 1751, by John Pitt.
See also: House of Commons Disqualification Act