Britain since 1688
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Britain since 1688

A Nation in the World

Stephanie Barczewski, John Eglin, Stephen Heathorn, Michael Silvestri, Michelle Tusan

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Britain since 1688

A Nation in the World

Stephanie Barczewski, John Eglin, Stephen Heathorn, Michael Silvestri, Michelle Tusan

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Über dieses Buch

Authored by a team of North American university professors who specialize in the subject, Britain since 1688: A Nation in the World has been specifically written for students in the United States, or from other countries where pre-existing knowledge of the history of Britain cannot be taken for granted.

Beginning with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the book progresses through the major events of the next three-and-a-half centuries, up to the coalition government of the present day. It uses a traditional chronological structure and provides a strong backbone of political history, but incorporates contemporary thematic concerns and the most recent scholarship throughout. The authors provide coverage of all parts of the British Isles individually as well as treating them as an integrated whole, and key aspects of British society are examined, including class, race, religion and gender – a focus that allows the complexities of British national identity and the historical unity and disunity of the British Isles to be assessed. Britain's interaction with the world features prominently, including extensive coverage of the British Empire, both as a political, military and geographic entity and as a force of cultural influence on the British metropolis. The complexities of Britain's relationship with the United States are explored in detail, ranging from the American Revolution in the eighteenth century to the "special relationship" established by the twentieth.

Featuring textboxes containing illustrative examples that support the main text, images intended to inspire discussion, and a comprehensive companion website with an interactive timeline thatincludes links toprimary documents, images andvideo, this book provides everything needed to give students a comprehensive grounding in the rich tapestry of events, characters, and themes that encompass the history of Britain since 1688.

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1 The making of a modern state
Topics covered
• Glorious Revolution
• The Revolution’s impact on Scotland and Ireland
• The Revolution’s international and imperial consequences
• Emergence of the fiscal–military state
• Hanoverian Succession
• Act of Union with Scotland

Glorious Revolution
Bill of Rights
Battle of the Boyne
Glencoe Massacre
Death of Queen Mary
Triennial Act passed
Bank of England founded
First Darien expedition
Act of Settlement
Death of William III
War of the Spanish Succession begins
Act of Union with Scotland
Sacheverell Riots
Treaty of Utrecht
Accession of George I

Why begin a course on modern Britain with the Glorious Revolution of 1688? For generations of scholars and students of British history, the Glorious Revolution was seen as a major step in the process of a shift away from a powerful monarchy and towards a more democratic system in which Parliament was the dominant institution. This shift, so the conventional story goes, occurred in a constitutional, bloodless manner that confirmed the capacity of the British state to evolve gradually, in contrast to the revolutionary change that occurred in France a century later. In this view, the Glorious Revolution was significant not so much for what it did but rather for what it did not do, or in other words for what it confirmed rather than what it created. It confirmed the uniqueness of the British political system, which instead of alternating between the extremes of tyranny and revolution as occurred on the European continent, evolved gradually and peacefully, all the while protecting the rights and liberties of the people. It also confirmed that the British state would remain Protestant-dominated. From this perspective, the Glorious Revolution was anti-revolutionary, as it had preserved the state in the face of King James II’s efforts to fundamentally alter its political and religious balance. James wanted to impose absolute monarchy and restore Catholicism to Britain; the Glorious Revolution prevented him from doing so.
In recent years, however, historians have come to interpret the events of 1688 differently. In these new views, the Glorious Revolution was truly revolutionary, as it led to the creation of the modern British state. The historian Steven Pincus describes 1688 as “the first modern revolution.” What does this mean? When we speak of a modern society, we mean one that is urbanized, industrialized, and bureaucratized; when we speak of a modern constitutional democracy, we mean one in which political participation is offered to, and even expected of, all adult citizens. At the beginning of 1688, the three kingdoms that made up the British state were far from modern according to these definitions. Over the course of the next year, however, decisive steps were taken that, without anyone intending or foreseeing it, put Britain on a path to modernity. Moreover, in these new interpretations, the Glorious Revolution is no longer a uniquely English event, but a British and global one. The traditional claim that the Revolution was “bloodless” is based on the course of events in England. In Scotland and Ireland, however, the political settlement was contested and had to be imposed by force, leading to significant violence and loss of life. The Glorious Revolution was also a global event, in two ways. First, the events of 1688 furthered the development of a large-scale fiscalmilitary state that could undertake long and expensive wars. Second, the Glorious Revolution was closely tied to the increasingly international orientation of the British economy, and in particular to the expansion of the British Empire.
This textbook begins with the Glorious Revolution for reasons related to both the traditional and new interpretations. The authors believe that there is sufficient merit to the traditional interpretation to warrant its being used as a jumping-off point for our discussion of British political developments thereafter. In addition, however, the Glorious Revolution provides a way to put British history in a context that encompasses all of the nations that are or have been part of the United Kingdom, as well as the global world with which Britain has long been engaged. Until recently, few events were more entrenched in an insular version of national history that barely recognized the importance of the non-English nations of the United Kingdom, much less the Empire and the rest of the world. Recasting the Glorious Revolution to encompass a broader, more global view shows how interpretations of British history have changed in recent years to include a more global perspective.
The British political world in the late seventeenth century
In order to understand the Glorious Revolution, the forces that gave birth to it, and those to which it gave birth, it is necessary to describe the basic contours of British political life in the decades around 1700. “Citizenship” was a concept that did not exist in the way that it does today. No one was a citizen merely by virtue of being British, for neither Britain nor the concept of a nation in their modern senses existed. Nor did anyone have an automatic right to vote based on their citizenship. Instead, to be able to vote, a person had to be male and Protestant, and he had to own a certain amount of property, measured in value rather than acreage. The property restrictions on the right to vote were removed only incrementally, a process that did not begin until well into the nineteenth century and was not complete until the early twentieth. Prior to that, the ownership of property conferred membership in the community of the realm precisely because a property owner literally owned a piece of that realm. This meant that the unpropertied lower classes, and even the minimally propertied middle classes, were not entitled to direct political participation. The proportion of adult males who could vote in England and Wales was no more than one in four. In Scotland, the franchise was even narrower: there, a voter had to own land worth at least £2 “of old extent,” which meant that it had to have been worth that much since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the seventeenth century. Only a handful of wealthy landowners qualified, and in most constituencies there were fewer than a hundred voters. As late as 1830, there were only 4500 Scottish voters, out of a total population of 2.6 million.
Most people, however, would not have considered this a hardship, because before 1689, Parliament was not a permanent legislative body, but an ad hoc assembly that met only when, and only for as long as, a monarch wished it to. Contemporaries spoke of “Parliaments” as periodic events, not “Parliament” as a legislative assembly that met regularly. Technically, a Triennial Act had been in force since 1641 that obliged the monarch to call a Parliament every three years, but there was no mechanism for enforcement. A Parliament had to be summoned at the beginning of a reign in order to supply a portion of the funds that went into the royal purse, but at other times people understood that an English Parliament was at the beck and call of the ruler. The Scottish Parliament was even more so, as it lacked even the power of the purse-strings over the monarch. The summoning of the Parliament of Ireland, meanwhile, could be vetoed by the Privy Council in Whitehall.
The English and Irish Parliaments were bicameral, with an “upper” House of Lords and a “lower” House of Commons. (The Scottish Parliament was unicameral, meaning that all its members sat in a single house.) In the Lords, the titled nobility – in descending order Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, and Barons, collectively known as “peers of the realm” – made up the “lords temporal.” All English and Welsh peers sat in the House of Lords in London, but later when first Scotland (1707) and then Ireland (1800) were amalgamated into the United Kingdom, those two nations were permitted to elect only a small portion of their titled aristocracy as “representative peers.” Otherwise, the 180 or so English and Welsh peers would have been outnumbered by the 150 peers each from Scotland and Ireland, who existed in greater numbers relative to the populations of their countries than their English and Welsh counterparts. The Scots and Irish should, however, have been allotted significantly more seats in the Lords than they were: only sixteen for Scottish representative peers and, after 1800, twenty-eight for their Irish counterparts. The House of Lords also included around two dozen of the most senior bishops of the Church of England, the “lords spiritual.” As peers were notorious for lax attendance, the bishops, who appeared more regularly, were a formidable voting bloc, despite their small numbers.
The Lords’ main power derived from its right to veto any legislation passed by the Commons. Despite its status as the “lower” house, however, the Commons was always more important, as all legislation originated there. The members of the House of Commons were known as Members of Parliament, or “MPs.” Each of the forty counties of England and Wales elected two at-large MPs. The remaining 405 members of the House of Commons were elected for borough constituencies, which were usually, but not always, towns that had grown sufficiently large to merit their own representation. Any adult male with freehold property worth at least £2 per year in rents or other income (the “forty shilling franchise”) was eligible to vote in the county constituencies, effectively qualifying any man who owned any real estate at all. (This was still a small percentage of the population as a whole.) In the boroughs, eligibility requirements varied, but were generally much more stringent than in the counties.
Moreover, there was no standard for what constituted a borough. Bristol, which emerged in this period as England’s “second city” thanks to its role as the nation’s second largest port after London, had a population of 50,000 and an electorate of 5,000, while the nearby resort town of Bath had an off-season population of only a few thousand and an electorate of only twenty-five. Both elected two MPs to Parliament. In other cases, monarchs had created boroughs in places with small populations in order to create seats in the Commons for their loyal supporters while some places had lost substantial numbers of people since the creation of the borough centuries earlier. Other places that had gained significantly in population, meanwhile, did not possess status as a borough.
The small size of some boroughs made them easy prey for wealthy and powerful people who were looking to increase their parliamentary influence, especially in an age where ballots were open rather than secret. “Rotten boroughs,” or places with only a handful of eligible voters who could thus be easily bribed, came to be notorious for their electoral corruption, as were “pocket boroughs,” or constituencies that were dominated by powerful electoral patrons. Prior to 1688, it was possible to ignore such glaring inequities because of the essentially medieval conception of Parliaments. But once Parliament became a permanent legislative assembly, as occurred in the eighteenth century, these anomalies became more and more conspicuous. This was one of the most important outcomes of the Glorious Revolution.
Another key aspect of the political and legal world of the eighteenth century was the strong presence of religion. In contrast to the principles that would later be established in the American Constitution, in Britain church and state were not separate. Instead, the monarchy, the head of the executive branch of government, was also the head of the Church of England, which was the state, or “established,” church. This did not mean that everyone was compelled to worship in it, but it did mean that the rights of those who chose not to were diminished. Catholics suffered from the worst prejudice. In the second half of the seventeenth century, they were unfairly blamed for the Great Fire of London of 1666 and for fictitious conspiracies such as the Popish Plot of the late 1670s, in which they supposedly planned to assassinate King Charles I. Anti-Catholic prejudice led to the passage of a series of penal laws, which prevented Catholics from owning land and from voting, among other things. Their numbers declined sharply, as many people opted to convert in the face of such crippling discrimination. By 1700, less than 2 percent of the British population was Catholic.

Box 1: Sacheverell Riots
London’s most serious outbreak of public disorder in the first half of the eighteenth century, the Sacheverell Riots, occurred on the night of the 1st of March 1710. The riots resulted from a fiery sermon by Henry Sacheverell, a “high church” Anglican clergyman, that had been delivered five months earlier. Sacheverell claimed that the Church of England was in danger from the toleration of Protestant Dissent. He also warned of the evils of Catholics, whom he described as “the popish and fanatick enemies of our Church and Government.” The Whig government charged Sacheverell with attempting to overturn the political settlement of 1688. His trial resulted in his being suspended from the clergy for three years, and the infamous sermon was burnt at the Royal Exchange. The public response, however, was not what the government desired. The Tories held Sacheverell up as an heroic martyr and defender of the true faith. As his trial neared its end, angry crowds roamed the streets of London chanting “High Church and Sacheverell.” They attacked several meeting houses where Dissenters practiced their religion and burned their contents in bonfires in the street. Order was finally restored, but the sentiments that had been unleashed played a major role in a landslide victory by the Tories in the election that was held later that year. The Whigs did not regain power for another five years.
The Sacheverell Riots were in many ways an insular and parochial event that demonstrated the narrowness of English views of religion in this era. But at the same time, they had important international consequences. By 1710, the costly War of the Spanish Succession had become very unpopular with many British people, who blamed the Whigs for prolonging it. When the Tories returned to power in 1710, they immediately began negotiating with France to end the war, though it was three years before the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. The Treaty had a major impact on the future of the British Empire: Britain acquired Gibraltar and Minorca as colonies, while France recognized British sovereignty over the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and over significant parts of Canada, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and a vast section of the center of the country that at the time was called Rupert’s Land. France retained Quebec as well as New Brunswick and Prince Edward and Cape Breton Islands, setting the stage for future conflicts with the British over sovereignty in Canada. Perhaps the most far-reaching result, however, was the asiento, or granting of permission to trade slaves with the Spanish Empire, which opened the way for the British to supplant the Portuguese as the world’s leading slave-trading nation. By the time the trade was banned in 1807, the British had transported around 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas. As a prime mover of the Tory victory of 1710 and the Treaty of Utrecht, the Sacheverell Riots can thus be linked to a number of significant international and imperial developments of the eighteenth century.

Another group that saw their rights reduced due to their religion were Dissenters (also referred to as Nonconformists), who were practitioners of other forms of Protestantism such as Baptism, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Quakerism, Unitarianism, and (later) Methodism. Dissenters comprised between 5 and 8 percent of the population. They were impacted by a series of discriminatory statutes that outlawed their religious services, penalized their clergy, and prevented them from holding even the humblest public office. Some were able to get around the proscriptions by practicing “occasional conformity,” which allowed them to become nominal Anglicans for the purpose of holding office, though for many their consciences made this impossible. It was not until the nineteenth century that the political ...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Preface
  7. Author biographies
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. 1. The making of a modern state
  10. 2. The Whig world
  11. 3. The British Empire in the eighteenth century
  12. 4. A United Kingdom? 1760–1820
  13. 5. The early Victorian era: global power and its challenges
  14. 6. The mid-Victorians and their world
  15. 7. Britain and Empire, 1870–1910
  16. 8. Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain: social and political change
  17. 9. The First World War
  18. 10. The interwar years
  19. 11. The Second World War
  20. 12. “Let us face the future” the postwar era
  21. 13. The postwar Empire
  22. 14. The 1980s: Thatcherism and its critics
  23. 15. New Labour and beyond
  24. Glossary
  25. Index