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Eighteenth-Century English Politics: Recent Work and Current Problems*

  • Jeremy Black


The Annual Bibliography of British and Irish History published for 1991, contains 393 items in section G, “Britain 1714-1815,” a section that excludes works devoted to “long periods” that also cover the period. Of those 393, twenty were in Ga “General,” thirty-six in Gb, “Politics,” eight in Gc “Constitution, Administration and Law,” thirty-two in Gd “External Affairs” and thirty-seven in Ge “Religion.” Though politics is in theory restricted to Gb, in practice it overlaps with these other categories, and, indeed, in part, with the categories Economic Affairs, Social Structure and Population, Naval and Military, and Intellectual and Cultural. Restricting, however, the survey to Gb, the figures for 1988, 1989 and 1990 respectively were fifty-six, fifty-two and fifty-four. It is thus clear that while political history no longer dominates eighteenth-century historiography as it once did, there is still a formidable quantity of it produced. This is not a situation to be regretted, but it does emphasize the subjectivity of any assessment of recent work and of current problems. Such a situation, however, is not simply a question of problems derived from quantity, for any attempt to produce an historiographical account focusing on earlier scholarship would itself encounter many difficulties. The absence of consensus among modern scholars extends to their assessment of historiographical trends. This was demonstrated clearly by Jonathan Clark in 1986. Having, the previous year, in his English Society 1688-1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice during the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, 1985), asserted the strength of conservatism and religious identity and the marginality of reform and radicalism in eighteenth-century England, he offered, inter alia, in his Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1986), a combative interpretation of the methodology and historiography of the period.



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I would like to thank John Deny, David Eastwood, William Gibson, and Colin Haydon for their comments on earlier drafts.



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1 Sharpe, K., Kishlansky, M., Schwoerer, L. and Dickinson, H. T., “Symposium: Revolution and Revisionism,” Parliamentary History 7 (1988): 328–38. Clark has recently summarized his views in Reconceptualizing Eighteenth-Century England,” British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 15 (1992): 135–39.

2 Rousseau, O. S., “Revisionist Polemics: J. C. D. Clark and the Collapse of Modernity in the Age of Johnson,” in The Age of Johnson, 3, ed. Korshin, P. J. (New York, 1989), pp. 423–52.

3 Holmes, O., British Politics in the Age of Anne (London, 1967; repr. London, 1986), prefaced by a long historiographical review. Holmes's essays and articles have been collected together in Politics, Religion and Society in England, 1679–1742 (London, 1986).

4 O'Gorman, F., The Whig Party and the French Revolution (London, 1967).

5 Hill, B. W., The Growth of Parliamentary Parties 1689–1742 (London, 1976), British Parliamentary Parties 1742–1832 (London, 1985).

6 Colley, L. J., In Defiance of Oligarchy: The Tory Party 1714–60 (Cambridge, 1982); Cruickshanks, E., Political Untouchables: The Tories and the '45 (London, 1979); Clark, J. C. D., The Dynamics of Change: The Crisis of the 1750s and English Party Systems (Cambridge, 1982).

7 Thomas, , “Party Politics,” p. 202.

8 Brewer, J., Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge, 1976).

9 Thomas, , “Party Politics,” p. 203.

10 Colley, , Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, 1992), pp. 72, 392 n 45.

11 McLynn, F. J., Charles Edward Stuart (London, 1988); Monod, P. K., Jacobitism and the English People, 1688–1788 (Cambridge, 1989); Szechi, D., Jacobitism and Tory Politics, 1710–1714 (Edinburgh, 1984).

12 Colley, , Namier (London, 1989), is the most successful recent treatment of the influences on a major academic, though there is possibly too little close scrutiny of Namier's work in the History of Parliament.

13 Lottes, G., Polltische Aufklärung undplebejisches Publikum: Zur Theorie und Praxis der englischen Radikatismus im spáten 18. Jahrhundert (Munich, 1979); Wellenreuther, H., “Korruption und das Wesen der englischen Verfassung im 18. Jahrhundert,” Historische Zeitschrift 234 (1982); Winlder, K., “Nachzensur und kommerzialisierte Publizistik: Zur obrigkeitlichen Kontrolle des Tagesschrifttums in der Ara Walpole,” in Unmoralisch an sich! Zensurim 18. und 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Gosfert, H. G. and Weyrauch, E. (Wolfenbuttel, 1988) pp. 149–76, and The forces of the market and the London newspaper in the first half of the eighteenth century,” Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History 4/2 (1988): 2235; Abbattista, O., Commercio, Colonie e Impero alia vigilia della Rivoluzione Americana: John Campbell pubblicista e storico nell' Inghilterra del sec. XVIII (Florence, 1990); Kleinhenz, R., Königtum und parlamentarische Vertrauensfrage in England 1689–1841 (Berlin, 1991).

14 Gascoigne, J., Cambridge in the Age of the Enlightenment. Science, Religion and Politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1989).

15 Peters, M., Pitt and Popularity: The Patriot Minister and London Opinion during the Seven Years War (Oxford, 1980), and Historians and the eighteenth-century English press: a review of possibilities and problems,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 34 (1988): 3750.

16 Monod, , Jacobitism, pp. 810.

17 Bahlman, D. W. R., The Moral Revolution of 1688 (New Haven, 1957); Curtis, T. C. and Speck, W. A., “The Societies for the Reformation of Manners: a case study in the theory and practice of moral reform,” Literature and History 3 (1976): 4562; Isaacs, T., “The Anglican Hierarchy and the Reformation of Manners,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 33 (1982): 391411; Innes, J., “Politics and Morals: The Reformation of Manners Movement in Later Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Transformation of Political Culture: England and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century, ed. Hellmuth, E. (Oxford, 1990), pp. 57118; Hayton, D., “Moral Reform and Country Politics in the Late Seventeenth-Century House of Commons,” Past and Present 128 (1990): 4891; Rose, C., “Evangelical Philanthropy and Anglican Revival: the Charity Schools of Augustan London, 1698–1740,” London Journal 16 (1991): 3563.

18 Hainsworth, D. R., Stewards, Lords and People: The Estate Steward and His World in Later Stuart England (Cambridge, 1992), p. 158.

19 Ideology can be approached through Dickinson, , Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London, 1977); Clark, English Society; Philp, M., ed., The French Revolution and British Popular Politics (Cambridge, 1991).

20 Innes, , “Politics, Property and the Middle Class,” Parliamentary History 11 (1992): 291.

21 McCahill, M. W., Order and Equipoise: The Peerage and the House of Lords, 1783–1806 (London, 1978), pp. 90112; Thome, R. G., ed., The House of Commons, 1790–1820, 5 vols. (London, 1986), 1: 335; Handley, S., “Local Legislative Initiatives for Economic and Social Development in Lancashire, 1689–1731,” Parliamentary History 9 (1990): 1437; Innes, , “Parliament and the Shaping of Eighteenth-Century English Social Policy,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser., 40 (1990): 6392.

22 Stevenson, J., ed., London in the Age of Reform (Oxford, 1977); DeKrey, G. S., A Fractured Society: The Politics of London in the First Age of Party, 1688–1715 (Oxford, 1985).

23 Barry, J., “The press and the politics of culture in Bristol, 1660–1775,” in Culture, Politics and Society in Britain, 1660–1800, ed. Black, and Gregory, J. (Manchester, 1991), pp. 4981.

24 Newton, R., Eighteenth Century Exeter (Exeter, 1984).

25 Knox, T. R., “Popular Politics and Provincial Radicalism: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1769–1785,” Albion 11 (1979): 220–39, Wilkism and the Newcastle Election of 1774,” Durham University Journal 72 (19791980): 2337, ‘Bowes and Liberty’: The Newcastle By-election of 1777,” Durham University Journal 77 (1985): 149–64, ‘Peace for Ages to come’: The Newcastle Elections of 1780 and 1784,” Durham University Journal 84 (1992): 319.

26 On Bristol, London and Norwich, Rogers, N., Whigs and Cities: Popular Politics in the Age of Walpole and Pitt (Oxford, 1989).

27 Bradley, J. E., Popular Politics and the American Revolution in England: Petitions, the Crown, and Public Opinion (Macon, Ga., 1986), pp. 5989, and Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism: Non-conformity in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 195330.

28 Bourne, J., Georgian Tiverton: The Political Memoranda of Beavis Wood, 1768–98 (Exeter, 1986); Phillips, J. A., “From Municipal Matters to Parliamentary Principles: Eighteenth-Century Maidstone,” Journal of British Studies 27 (1988): 327–51.

29 Fisk, J., ed., The Oakes Diaries: Business, Politics and the Family in Bury St. Edmunds, 1778–1827, vol. 1 (Woodbridge, 1990), p. 131.

30 Urdank, Religion and Society, pp. 125–27.

31 Rollison, D., The Local Origins of Modern Society: Gloucestershire, 1500–1800 (London, 1992), p. 7.

32 By Force or by Default? The Revolution of 1688, ed. Cruickshanks, E. (Edinburgh, 1989), is the most “revisionist” of the commemorative volumes.

33 Haydon, C., Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England (Manchester, 1993).

34 De Krey, , Fractured Society, pp. 74120; Barry, , “Culture in Bristol,” p. 52; Bradley, , Popular Politics, pp. 211–12; O'Gorman, , Voters, pp. 350–52, 359–68; Phillips, J. A., Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England (Princeton, 1982).

35 Hole, R., Pulpits, Politics and Public Order in England, 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1989); Mather, F. C., High Church Prophet: Bishop Samuel Horsley (1733-1806) and the Caroline Tradition in the Later Georgian Church (Oxford, 1992); Sack, J. J., From Jacobite to Conservative: Reaction and Orthodoxy in Britain, c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1993).

36 Warne, A., Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century Devon (Newton Abbot, 1969), pp. 9293.

37 Clark, , English Society, 1688–1832 (Cambridge, 1985), and England's Ancien Regime As a Confessional State,” Albion 21 (1989): 450–74.

38 The Archdeaconry of Richmond in the Eighteenth Century: Bishop Gastrell's “Notita,” the Yorkshire Parishes 1714–1725, ed. Butler, L. (Leeds, 1990); The Diocese of Uandaff in 1763: The Primary Visitation of Bishop Ewer, ed. Guy, J. R. (Cardiff, 1991); Barrie-Curien, V., Clerge et Pastorale en Angleterre an XVIII siècle: le Diocese de Londres (Paris, 1992).

3 Virgin, P., The Church in an Age of Negligence: Ecclesiastical Structure and Church Reform, 1700–1840 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 267; Gibson, W. T., Church, State and Society, 1760–1850 (London, 1993).

40 Rogers, , “Riot and Popular Jacobitism in Early Hanoverian England,” in Ideology and Conspiracy: Aspects of Jacobitism 1689–1759 (Edinburgh, 1982), pp. 7088; Monod, , Jacobitism, pp. 161232; Ditchfield, G. M., “The Priestley Riots in Historical Perspective,” Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 20 (1991): 316.

41 Rogers, , “The Gordon Riots Revisited,” Canadian Historical Association Historical Papers (1988): 1634; Haydon, , “The Gordon Riots in the English Provinces,” Historical Research 63 (1990): 354–59.

42 Porter, R., “English Society in the Eighteenth Century Revisited,” in British Politics and Society from Walpole to Pitt 1742–1789, ed. Black, J. (London, 1990), pp. 2950. See more generally Porter's, English Society in the Eighteenth Century (2nd ed.; Hardmonsworth, 1990), and most recently his Georgian Britain: An Ancien Regime?British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 9 (1992): 141–44.

43 Introduction in Brewer, J. and Porter, , eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (1993), p. 6.

44 The subject is discussed in Hellmuth, E., ed., The Transformation of Political Culture: England and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1990), pp. 136, Black, , “Convergence or Divergence?: Britain and the Continent 1660–1992,” Centre for European Studies Working Paper (Durham, 1992).

45 Brewer, , Sinews, pp. 6163.

46 Reid, P., The Concept of Representation in the Age of the American Revolution (Chicago, 1989).

47 Gregg, E., Queen Anne (London, 1980); Hatton, R., George I (London, 1978); Owen, J. B., “George II Reconsidered,” in Statesmen, Scholars and Merchants, ed. Whiteman, A., et al. (Oxford, 1973), pp. 113–34.

48 Black, , A System of Ambition? British Foreign Policy 1660–1793 (Harlow, 1991), pp. 1242.

49 Newman, A., The World Turned Inside Out: New Views on George II (Leicester, 1988).

50 Brooke, J., King George III (London, 1972); Christie, , “George III and the Historians—Thirty Years On,” History 71 (1986): 205–21; Thomas, , “George III and the American Revolution,” History 70 (1985): 1631.

51 Black, , Robert Walpole and the Nature of Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain (London, 1990), and Pitt the Elder (Cambridge, 1992); Lawson, P., George Grenville (Oxford, 1984); Schweizer, K. W., ed., Lord Bute: Essays in Re-interpretation (Leicester, 1988); Mitchell, L. G., Charles James Fox (Oxford, 1992); Jupp, P., Lord Grenville, 1759–1834 (Oxford, 1985); Ehiman, J., The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition (London, 1983). There is also a recent useful series of annotated bibliographies, Harvey, A. D., William Pitt the Younger (Westport, Conn., 1988), and Lord Grenville (Westport, Conn., 1989); Schweitzer, D., Charles James Fox (Westport, Conn., 1991); Cornish, R. T., George Grenville (Westport, Conn., 1992).

52 McCahill, M. W., Order and Equipoise: The Peerage and the House of Lords, 1783–1806 (Woodbridge, 1978); C. and Jones, D. L., eds., Peers, Politics and Power: The House of Lords, 1603–1911 (London, 1986); Jones, C., ed., A Pillar of the Constitution: The House of Lords in British Politics, 1640–1784 (London, 1989).

53 Thorne, R. G., ed., The House of Commons, 1790–1820, 5 vols. (London, 1986); useful review article by Party, J., “Constituencies, Elections and Members of Parliament, 1790–1820,” Parliamentary History 7 (1988): 147–60.

54 O'Brien, P. K., “Political preconditions for the Industrial Revolution,” in The Industrial Revolution and British Society, ed. O'Brien, and Quinault, R. (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 124–55.

55 Wilson, K., “Empire, Trade and Popular Politics in Mid-Hanoverian Britain: The Case of Admiral Vernon,” Past and Present 121 (1988): 74109; Jordan, G. and Rogers, N., “Admirals as Heroes: Patriotism and Liberty in Hanoverian England,” Journal of British Studies 28 (1989): 201–24; Marshall, P. J., “‘Cornwallis Triumphant’: War in India and the British Public in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in War, Diplomacy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard, ed. Freedman, L., Hayes, P., and O'Neill, R. (Oxford, 1992), pp. 5774.

56 Sutherland, L. S., The East India Company in Eighteenth Century Politics (Oxford, 1952); Lawson, , The Imperial Challenge: Quebec and Britain in the Age of the American Revolution (Montreal, 1989); Bowen, H., Revenue and Reform: The Indian Problem in British Politics, 1757–1773 (Cambridge, 1991).

57 Thomas, , British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis: The First Phase of the American Revolution, 1763–1767 (Oxford, 1975), The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773 (Oxford, 1987), Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776 (Oxford, 1991).

58 Bullion, J. L., A Great and Necessary Measure: George Grenville and the Genesis of the Stamp Act, 1763–1765 (Columbia, Missouri, 1982); Donoughue, B., British Politics and the American Revolution: The Path to War 1773–1775 (London, 1964); Clayton, T. R., “Sophistry, Security and Socio-Political Structures in the American Revolution, or Why Jamaica did not rebel,” Historical Journal 29 (1986); Perry, K., British Politics and the American Revolution (London, 1990); Black, , War for America: The Fight for American Independence (Stroud, 1991); Clark, , The Language of Liberty: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World, 1660–1800 (Cambridge, 1993).

59 Black, , The Politics of Britain, 1688–1800 (Manchester, 1993).

* I would like to thank John Deny, David Eastwood, William Gibson, and Colin Haydon for their comments on earlier drafts.


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