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Provincialism and The English “Ancien Regime”: Samuel Pipe-Wolferstan and “The Confessional State,” 1776–1820

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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Imagine, if you will, a ship at sea. At a distance, it could be Jason and the Argonauts, or the Flying Dutchman, or even Captain Ahab. By the cut of its jib as it looms out of the mist, however, it seems rather to be a sieve, such as that in which the Jumblies once put forth. On the poop, sextant in hand, his grizzled features set in Churchillian grimace but instantly recognizable by the ancient Connecticut watchcap which tops them, stands—no, not Walter Mitty—but Hexter the Navigator. As a veteran of many earlier voyages, real and imaginary, he has a longer memory than his shipmates. He thinks this is a Liberty Ship, and he is trying to chart the course laid out in the sailing instructions, originally constituted by a long line of sea-lawyers and perfected by Victorian hydrographers. Right forrard, another ancient mariner, of the kind the lower deck calls Three-badge Killick (a leading seaman of long service who has never made it to Petty Officer), swings the lead. He is Plumb. In the crow's nest, bo'suns Tawney and Hill stand watch with their mates Stone and Thompson. As boy seamen long ago, they, too, were brought up on the old sailing instructions; but having, before the present voyage, served in capital ships, they consider that they have progressed far beyond such common lore. So wise are they indeed that they are convinced that this, too, is a Capital Ship, which, as everybody knows, can only sail forwards, and can therefore have only one destination. In the rigging, the rest of the fo'csle hands, a rabble of cabin boys and greenhorns press-ganged in 1968, who have barely passed for able seaman and still need the old guard to show them the ropes, likewise scan the horizon for the inevitable landfall and keep a weather eye open for that ill-omened denizen of these waters, Namier's Albatross. The intrepid helmsman, however, just as young but experienced beyond his years, knows better. Apprenticed to a line of tars that stretches back to old admiral Clarendon, he has learnt his craft the hard way, at the rope's end, and he has very little use for the sailing instructions of Liberty Ships or the great circle routes programmed, rhumb line by reductionist rhumb line, into the automatic pilots of their capital counterparts. He is Revisionist, a most unteleologic Ulysses, content (the journey not Ithaca's the thing) to sail his narrative barque (Narrenschiff?) before the winds of change for ever. Only one thing jars this whimsical homeric simile. Proof though he is against Circe and her reifications, our Ulysses has still his achilles' heel. Perhaps because he has come up through the hawse-hole himself, he has occasional bouts of nautical nostalgie de la boue: like Bertram, the sociologist of the sea in “Dry Cargo,” the Navigator's hoary parable on Doing History (another time, another voyage), he itches to pull on a pair of footnotes, go below and sample the bilgewater which, this being after all a sieve, slops around the hold.

Research Article
Albion , Volume 21 , Issue 3 , Fall 1989 , pp. 389 - 425
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1989

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1 Cf. Hexter, J. H., Doing History (Bloomington, 1971)Google Scholar. “Dry Cargo” ends Chapter Three, “The Historian and His Society: a sociological enquiry—perhaps.”

2 The main influences on the development of this scheme have been the various writings of J. H. Plumb and E. P. Thompson, with those of Sir Lewis Namier occupying a pivotal point between them. The mutuality of these three shows how apparently divergent historiographies can reinforce each other. Clark attributes it to a shared economic determinism which he wants to exorcise. For a deployment of the scheme at the undergraduate text-book level see the pivotal chapter on The Making of the English Ruling Class,” in Speck, W. A., Stability and Strife: England, 1715–60 (London, 1977)Google Scholar. A more specific exposition is Brewer's, JohnParty Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge, 1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cf. also Eley, Geoff, “Rethinking the Political: Social History and Political Culture in 18th and 19th Century England,” Archiv für Socialgeschichte 21 (1981): 427451Google Scholar.

3 Colley, Linda, In Defiance of Oligarchy, The Tory Party, 1714–60 (Cambridge, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The other version, in which Tory opposition is absolute, is Cruickshanks, Eveline, Political Untouchables: The Tories and thè 45 (London, 1979)Google Scholar.

4 Rogers, Nicholas, “Party Politics during the Whig Ascendancy,” Canadian Journal of History 28 (1983): 253–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Phillips, John, Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters and Straights (Princeton, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, The Structure of the Unreformed Electorate,” Journal British Studies 19 (1979): 493508Google Scholar, and Popular Politics in Unreformed England,” Journal of Modern History 52 (1980): 599625CrossRefGoogle Scholar; O'Gorman, Frank, “Electoral Deference in ‘Unreformed’ England: 1760–1832,” Journal of Modern History 56 (1984): 391429CrossRefGoogle Scholar, The Unreformed Electorate of Hanoverian England: the Mid-Eighteenth Century to the Reform Act of 1832,” Social History 11 (1986): 3352CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Party Politics in the Early Nineteenth Century,” English Historical Review 52 (1987): 6388Google Scholar. See also Landau, Norma, “Independence, Deference and Voter Participation: the Behaviour of the Electorate in Early-Eighteenth Century Kent,” Historical Journal 22 (1979): 561–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A different perspective on the old representative system is explored by Langford, Paul, “Property and ‘Virtual Representation’ in Eighteenth-Century England,” Historical Journal 31 (1988): 83116CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Colley, Linda, “The Apotheosis of George III: Loyalty, Royalty and the British Nation, 1760–1820,” Past and Present 102 (1984): 94129CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Whose Nation? Class and National Consciousness in Britain, 1750–1830,” Past and Present 113 (1986): 97117CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dozier, Robert, For King, Constitution and Country: the English Loyalists and the French Revolution (Lexington, Ky., 1983)Google Scholar; Christie, Ian R., Stress and Stability in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain: Reflections on the British Avoidance of Revolution (Oxford, 1984)Google Scholar; Emsley, Clive, “Repression, ‘terror’ and the rule of law in England during the decade of the French Revolution,” English Historical Review 50 (1985): 801–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schofield, T. P., “Conservative political thought in Britain in response to the French Revolution,” Historical Journal 29 (1986): 601–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Though mainly concerned with changes in literary culture, Newman, Gerald R., The Rise of English Nationalism, 1740–1830 (New York, 1987)Google Scholar is also suggestive.

7 For example, the uses which Clark makes of research on the electorate, and of the recent revision by Stone, Cannon, and others of the usual picture of the openness of eighteenth-century society. Both of these get harnessed to conclusions different than those envisaged by their respective authors. The most basic case, however, is the way Clark reroutes revisionist economic history from a re-examination of the changes which did take place to a flat postulate that there were no really significant changes.

8 Revolution and Rebellion, p. 43.

9 English Society 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge, 1985), pp. ixxGoogle Scholar.

10 Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 31–32.

11 Clark's visualization of the ancien regime as a set of structures and attitudes subject only to the slowest change at most, and that arising from the cumulation of particular contingencies rather than from any sweeping dynamic, is highly suggestive, as is also his approval of those social historians, such as Laslett and Jenkins, who have come closest to emulating the Annales. The underlying divergence is, however, clear from his evident disapproval of Fernand Braudel (English Society, pp. 3–4).

12 As Joanna Innes points out, “ancien regime” is a nineteenth-century term, and as such a retrospective, rather than a contemporary “way of visualizing and describing society” (cf. Jonathan Clark, Social History and England's ‘Ancien Regime,’Past and Present 115 [1987]: 165199CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

13 English Society, p. 6.

14 Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 54, 89–91.

15 Ibid., pp. 90–91.

16 The Making of a Ruling Class: The Glamorgan Gentry, 1640–1790 (Cambridge, 1983)Google Scholar.

17 Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 45–47.

18 Ibid., p. 54.

19 English Society, pp. 141–173. These are the two middle sections of Clark's third chapter on “The Survival of the Dynastic Idiom, 1688–1760.”

20 Lenman, Bruce, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689–1746 (London, 1980)Google Scholar; Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 62–63.

21 Clark, J. C. D., “On Moving the Middle Ground: The Significance of Jacobitism in Historical Studies,” in Cruickshanks, Eveline and Black, Jeremy, eds., The Jacobite Challenge (Edinburgh, 1988), pp. 177188Google Scholar; McLynn, F. J., France and the Jacobite Rising of 1745 (Edinburgh, 1981)Google Scholar; The Jacobite Army in England: 1745 (Edinburgh, 1983)Google Scholar; The Jacobites (London, 1985)Google Scholar.

22 Jenkins, , Ruling Class, p. 184Google Scholar. Cf. also Monod, Paul, “For the King to Enjoy His Own Again: Jacobite Political Culture in England, 1688–1788,” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1985)Google Scholar. The numerous articles of Nicholas Rogers, as well as of Jenkins, Philip, Thomas, P. D. G., and others, are conveniently listed by Clark in Revolution and Rebellion, pp. 174–75Google Scholar.

23 English Society, pp. 147, 243; Innes, , “Social History,” pp. 190–91Google Scholar.

24 Here, too, Clark's own position is changing (cf. “Moving the Middle Ground,” pp. 178, 185). He now acknowledges Jacobitism's “dual nature as a vehicle for subversion as well as stability, proletarian disaffection as well as patrician theological allegiance,” and hails the legacy which early eighteenth-century popular disaffection left to the more familiar “radical movements at the end of the century” as “a growth area for future study.”

25 Revolution and Rebellion, p. 53.

26 English Society, pp. 64–93.

27 Revolution and Rebellion, p. 53.

28 In both an unpublished paper, “Who ruled the Countryside? Taxation and the Limits of Authority in Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century England,” and in his forthcoming full study of the English Land Tax and its administration, Donald Ginter argues conclusively against most of the historical uses to which the Land Tax records have been put on the grounds that they were generated, not by any uniform system or by a smoothly functioning gentry paternalism, but by the exceptionally variable and capricious incidence of local power relationships between the gentry and those who were supposed to, but by no means automatically, deferred to them. If this seems to corroborate Clark's initial point about the localist nature of the English State in the 17th and 18th centuries, it also undermines his contentions about executive consolidation and the diminution of localism as time went by.

29 Brewer, Party Politics and Popular Ideology; Money, John, Experience and Identity: Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1760–1800 (Montreal, 1977), chs. 5–7Google Scholar; Knox, Thomas R., “Popular Politics and Provincial Radicalism: Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1769–1785,” Albion 11 (1979): 224–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wilson, Kathleen, “The Rejection of Deference: Urban Political Culture in England, 1715–1785” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1985)Google Scholar.

30 Butterfield, Herbert, George III, Lord North and the People, 1779–80 (London, 1949)Google Scholar; Christie, Ian R., Wilkes Wyvill and Reform (London, 1962)Google Scholar, and Innes, , “Social History,” pp. 190–91Google Scholar.

31 Bohstedt, John, Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales, 1790–1810 (Cambridge, Mass., 1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Rebellion and Revolution, p. 66.

33 Gunn, J. A. W., “The Spectre at the Feast: the Persistence Of High Tory Ideas,” in Beyond Liberty and Property: the Process of Self-Recognition in Eighteenth Century Political Thought (Montreal, 1983)Google Scholar; Lucas, Paul, “A Collective Biography of the Students and Barristers of Lincoln's Inn, 1680–1804: a Study in the ‘Aristocratic Resurgence’ of the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of Modern History 46 (1974): 227–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Langford, Paul, “Old Whigs, Old Tories, and the American Revolution,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 8 (19791980): 106–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Christie, Ian R., “Was there a ‘New Toryism’ in the Earlier Part of George III's Reign?” in Myth and Reality in Late Eighteenth-Century British Politics (London, 1970)Google Scholar, Party and Politics in the Age of Lord North's Administration,” Parliamentary History 6 (1987): 4768Google Scholar.

34 See Bradley, James E., Popular Politics and the American Revolution in England: Petitions, the Crown and Public Opinion (Macon, Ga., 1986)Google Scholar, on which the account here is based.

35 This will be made apparent in Bradley's forthcoming study, Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism: Nonconformity in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Society, 1754–1784.

36 English Society, p. 34.

37 “Historians' explanations must be able to account for the rise and influence of these minorities, and even place them at the center of our picture …” (Revolution and Rebellion, p. 63). Apparently 17th century religious minorities may claim such recognition, but not their 18th century successors.

38 Cookson, J. E., The Friends of Peace: Anti-War Liberalism in England, 1793–1815 (Cambridge, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 George III, Lord North and the People (London, 1949)Google Scholar.

40 Pocock, J. G. A., “1776, the Revolution against Parliament,” in Three British Revolutions (Princeton, 1980), pp. 265–88Google Scholar.

41 For these, cf. English Society, pp. 199–276. Paley sometimes runs with the heterodox hare, and at others hunts with the orthodox hounds. For Brecknock, see Innes, “English Society,” p. 166.

42 The concerted response to the Royal Proclamation against Seditious Writings in May 1792, for example, was orchestrated mainly through the provincial press. It is entirely fitting that the suggestion which led eventually to the Royal Jubilee in 1809 came originally from a middle class provincial widow, and that the event's first historian was a gentlewoman in Solihull, Warwickshire (cf. Dozier, For King, Constitution and Country, and Colley, , “Apotheosis of George III,” pp. 112–25Google Scholar).

43 Cf. Discussion in Hughes, Ann, Politics, Society and Civil War in Warwickshire, 1620–1660 (Cambridge, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Militancy and Localism: Warwickshire Politics and Westminster Politics, 1643–47,” Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. 5th ser. 31 (1981): 5168Google Scholar, Indemnity Proceedings and the Impact of the Civil War,” Midland History 51 (1986): 4978Google Scholar; Warwickshire on the Eve of the Civil War: A ‘County Community?’Midland History 7 (1982)Google Scholar.

44 English Society, pp. 69–70.

45 Wrigley, E. A., “Urban Growth and Agricultural Change,” in Rotberg, Robert I. and Rabb, Theodore K., eds., Population and Economy: Population and History from the Traditional to the Modern World (Cambridge, 1986)Google Scholar; Borsay, Peter, “The English Urban Renaissance: the Development of Provincial Urban Culture, c. 1680–1760,” Social History 5 (1977)Google Scholar; Unwin, R. W., “Tradition and Transition: Market Towns in the Vale of York, 1660–1830,” Northern History 17 (1981): 72116CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Clark, Peter, The Transformation of English Provincial Towns, 1600–1800 (1984)Google Scholar; Daunton, M. J., “Towns and Economic Growth in Eighteenth-Century England,” in Abrams, P. and Wrigley, E. A., eds., Towns in Societies (Cambridge, 1978)Google Scholar. Also, a stimulating unpublished paper by Jonathan Barry, “Provincial Town Culture, 1650–1750: Urbane or Civic?”

46 For example, Crafts, N. F. R., “English Economic Growth in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 2nd ser, 29 (1976): 226–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Idem, British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution (Oxford, 1985); Floud, R. and McCloskey, D., eds., The Economic History of Britain Since 1700. 1: 1700–1860 (Cambridge, 1981)Google Scholar; Berg, M., Hudson, P., Sonnenscher, M., eds. Manufacture in Town and Country Before the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, 1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Berg, Maxine, The Age of Manufactures, Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain, 1700–1820 (London, 1985)Google Scholar; Rowlands, M., Masters and Men in the West Midlands, Metalware Trades Before the Indusrial Revolution (Manchester, 1975)Google Scholar. The full historiography of the industrial revolution is reviewed in Cannadine, D., “The Present and the Past in the English Industrial Revolution, 1880–1980,” Past and Present 103 (May 1984): 131172CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 Thirsk, Joan, Economic Policy and Projects: The Development of a Consumer Society in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1978)Google Scholar, McKendrick, Neil, Brewer, John, Plumb, J. H., eds., The Birth of a Consumer Society (London, 1982)Google Scholar; Cranfield, G. A., The Development of the Provincial News-paper, 1700–1760 (Oxford, 1963)Google Scholar; Black, Jeremy, The English Press in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1985)Google Scholar; Feather, John, The Provincial Book Trade in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Tilmouth, Michael, “The Beginnings of Provicial Concert Life in England,” in Hogwood, C. and Luckett, R., eds., Music in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1983)Google Scholar.

48 Jenkins, Ruling Class; Colley, Defiance of Oligarchy, Wilson, “Rejection of Deference”; Money, Experience and Identity; McLelland, D. C., The Achieving Society (Princeton, 1961)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Money, Experience and Identity, whence Clark, , Revolution and Rebellion, p. 29Google Scholar.

50 As SirCheverel, Richard (the name is suggestive) in “Mr. Gilfil's Love Story,” the second part of Scenes from Clerical Life (1858)Google Scholar.

51 English Society, pp. 235–47.

52 Hilton, Boyd, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1795–1865 (Oxford, 1988)Google Scholar.

53 For Bristol, see Colley, Defiance of Oligarchy, and more specifically, forthcoming work by Nicholas Rogers; also, Barry, Jonathan, “Culture and Society in Bristol, 1660–1760” (D. Phil, thesis, Oxford University, 1985)Google Scholar; for Newcastle and Norwich, see Wilson, “Rejection of Deference.” Eighteenth-century Birmingham was more than just a large provincial manufacturing town with a growing economic hinterland, even if it wasn't yet Asa Briggs's Victorian City. See Money, Experience and Identity, and Maxine Berg, “The City and the Industrial Revolution: Commerce, Creativity and Custom in Eighteenth-Century Birmingham,” forthcoming.

54 Cf. Landau, Norma, The Justices of the Peace, 1679–1760 (Berkeley, 1984)Google Scholar; Western, J. R., The English Militia in the Eighteenth-Century: The Story of a Political Issue (London, 1965)Google Scholar, and the interlocking implication of forthcoming work by John Brewer on the administrative and political growth of the eighteenth-century state, and by Ho-Chung and Lorna Mui on retail trade. For juridical aspects, consider the general implications of Beattie, John, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660–1800 (Princeton, 1986)Google Scholar.

55 Money, Experience and Identity, and The Schoolmasters of Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1750–90: Private Education and Cultural Change in the English Provinces during the Early Industrial Revolution,” Social History/Histoire Sociale 10 (1976): 129–53Google Scholar; Tompson, R. S., Classics or Charity? The Dilemma of the Eighteenth-Century Grammar School (Manchester, 1971)Google Scholar. At least five Midlands schools—Repton, Hartlebury, Lichfield, King Edward VI, Birmingham, and Rugby advertized regular reunions in Aris' Birmingham Gazette during the later decades of the century.

56 John Money, “Freemasonry and the Fabric of Loyalism in Hanoverian England,” forthcoming in Proceedings of the 1986 Conference of the Anglo-German Historical Institute, London, on political culture in Britain and Germany in the age of the French Revolution.

57 Wilson, “Rejection of Deference”; Colley, Defiance of Oligarchy; Money, Experience and Identity.

58 Bradley, Religion, Revolution and Engish Radicalism, and Nonconformity and the Electorate in Eighteenth-Century England,” Parliamentary History 6 (1987): 236–61Google Scholar.

59 Marshall was at Statfold from 1784 to 1786, working as Samuel's agent and receiving a commission from the revenues of the estate.

60 The original diary is in the William Salt Library, Stafford. I am grateful to Francis Wolferstan Esq., the present master of Statfold, for his permission to microfilm this material, and to the late Denis Wolferstan, who shared with me not only his own knowledge of the diary, but also his ms. transcript of its final eight years.

61 Seed, John, “Gentlemen Dissenters: The Social and Political Meanings of Rational Dissent in the 1770's and 1780's,” Historical Journal 28 (1985): 299325CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 25 March 1787; “finished Butler's chapter on Miracles, but really can't understand it” (11 Nov. 1787). For Butler's importance to the evangelicals, see Hilton, , Atonement, pp. 170–83Google Scholar.

63 26 July, 7 June 1789.

64 7 December 1790.

65 29 October 1792.

66 5, 14 December 1792.

67 7–9 December 1792.

68 18 December 1792, 1 January 1793.

69 18 April 1794.

70 April 1792, 25 July 1794.

71 April 1793, 4 May 1794.

72 4 September, 16, 23 November 1794, 1 January 1795.

73 “Agriculture, 1700–1780,” in Floud and McCloskey, Economic History of Britain I, p. 77.

74 Innes, , “Social History,” pp. 187–78Google Scholar.

75 For Gisborne, see Hilton. Atonement.

76 Cf. Colley, “Apotheosis.”

77 The defection of the Leaveson-Gowers to Henry Pelham's Broad Bottom in 1744 in pursuit of their own advancement was stil the most resented event in recent Staffordshire political history, the main line of cleavagr in gentry relationships, and thus one of the chief links between people like Samuel and their Tory/Jacobite antecedents.

78 11 July 1799.

79 18 August 1799.

80 3 September 1797.

81 “Sometimes crippled by an excess of rich food, the magistrates from time to time put aside their industrious compilation of archives for the disciples of Sir Lewis Namier, and peered down from their parklands at the corn-fields in which their labourers hungered” (Thompson, , “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 50 [Feb. 1971]: 136CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

82 3 November 1806, 15 December 1807.

83 2 February 1800.

84 28 December 1806.

85 Besides evangelical theology, Samuel also studied all the standard linguistic authorities and was angered by what he took to be bad style. For the significance of this, which argues a changing way of perceiving and describing society, see Smith, Olivia, The Politics of Language, 1790–1820 (Oxford, 1984)Google Scholar.

86 Stanley's Manchester experience is detailed in Ditchfield, G. M., “The Early History of Manchester College,” Trans. Hist. Soc. of Lanes., and Cheshire 123 (1972): 81104Google Scholar.

87 Howard, Alexander, Endless Cavalcade, a Diary of British Festivals and Customs (1984), pp 174–75Google Scholar, and cf. Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983)Google Scholar.

88 18 September 1806.

89 Jenkins, , Glamorgan Gentry, pp. 272–73Google Scholar.

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Provincialism and The English “Ancien Regime”: Samuel Pipe-Wolferstan and “The Confessional State,” 1776–1820
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