X hits on this document





4 / 8

amount of anarchy, the Wars of the Roses being the most not- able, which wars by a happy accident eliminated some of the more powerful members of the House of Lords. Slowly, Parlia- ment progressed from subservience, to restiveness, to opposi- tion, with many an up and down in the process.


There is probably a special case to be made for the weakening effect of a period of female rule on the British monarchy. There were four Queens during the period we are considering: M a r y I , E l i z a b e t h I , M a r y I I a n d A n n e . W e c a n e x c l u d e M a r y II, who resigned her powers totally to her husband William III, died before him and so never reigned alone. There can be little doubt that James I (of England) had to pay more attention to Parliament than Henry VIII ever did, even though his predeces- sor Elizabeth had had a long and successful reign and is cer- tainly the most popular monarch England has ever had. Similarly, it is arguable that, although George I attained the throne after Anne died in 1714 on the clear understanding that his constitutional position depended on Parliament, his powers would have been a good deal greater if, instead of Anne, he had succeeded William III, who would only have needed to reach the age of sixty five for this to happen; Marlborough, who was a few months older, lived until 1722. 9

The theory suggested here is that a woman monarch of this period interacted with an effective Parliament differently from the way a king did, abandoning perforce certain masculine psy- chological (not to mention physical) methods in favour of fem-

inine ones.


When a king





then succeeded to the throne he become obsolete while the second

were not his to use. teenth and eighteenth

In European politics centuries, the trend on

during the seven- the Continent was










was exactly the coincidence or

opposite. A woman head of not, whether as monarch

state, whether by or regent, even

whether strong or weak, left the succession before if a working Parliament was absent one was present.

more powerful than and less powerful if


There is no need to look further than Scotland to find some- where which had all the constitutional crises without a counter- balancing Parliament. Here Parliament so-called was little more than a branch of the administration.10 All the monarchs, from James I to James VI (i.e. from 1406 to 1567), came to the throne as minors, and if they ever did succeed in establishing their power over their turbulent baronage, their early deaths undid their work, leaving their successors to start all over again. When Scotland finally took an interest in representative government, almost all its energies went into religion. Here at least it did have one piece of luck; it went Protestant and a compatible political union with England became a possibility.


“Representative government” is not a totally inaccurate way of describing the eighteenth century British constitution, provided one remembers that those who were represented were the ruling class. A quotation, taken not quite at random from Sir Lewis Namier’s The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, gives an insight into how such representation might come about: “There was ... in the Cornish boroughs, an elaborate and quaint machinery for making Members of Parliament ... Twenty-one boroughs returned 42 Members; their total elector- ate was less than 1400 ...”11 How on earth could one justify a system that recruited its politicians by such methods? Only by the fact that the system worked. That it did work can hardly be


denied since it managed successfully to conduct a war lasting, off and on, some twenty four years (1792-1815). Nor can the government ministers, with the exception of Pitt (who died in 1806) be regarded as charismatic, let alone the monarch, poor mad George, or his understudy the Prince Regent. Charismatic politicians — Burke, Fox and Sheridan — seem to have been too volatile to have been useful, whether they supported the war effort or not.


Perhaps enough has been set down to indicate to the reader that the eighteenth century British government was not well placed to interfere much in the lives of its citizens. True, the penal code was savage, but its ferocity was an index of its ineffec- tiveness; there was no police force — the English antipathy to a standing army subsumed such an internal law-enforcement mechanism. True, there was a highly developed and sophisti- cated legal system, whose purpose was to reinforce the status quo. Litigation was available for those who could afford it, but it must have been understood that the result was even more of a lottery then than it is now.


Just in case anyone may believe that powerful intellectual f o r c e s w e r e m o b i l i s m g i n t h e u n i v e r s i t i e s , w e m u s t r e m e m b e r t h e s t r i c t u r e s o f b o t h J o h n s o n 1 2 a n d G i b b o n 1 3 w i t h r e s p e c t t o Oxford (which refused an honorary doctorate to Adam Smith). They would doubtless have felt the same about Cambridge, nor, in 1773, was Dr. Johnson impressed by the Scottish Univer- sities. St. Andrews was in decline, one of its three colleges having been abandoned and turned into a greenhouse, and the p r o f e s s o r s o f E d i n b u r g h a n d G l a s g o w w e r e e i t h e r t o o c a u t i o u s to argue with him or too flippant. 1 4


In neither country was the established Church a force for change, something not disturbed by the fact that all their minis- ters of religion were University graduates. The situation of English nonconformists was somewhat different. They were barred from Oxford and Cambridge (though not from Parlia- ment). They did have their own schools and academies of higher education which were somewhat more vocationally oriented than those under the sway of the Church.

What can be said of contemporary religion is that it supported the status quo without being obscurantist (ecclesiastical control of censorship had not survived the Restoration, much less the Glorious Revolution). The age of the fanatics was long past; if millenarian sects existed, they were not making attempts to hasten the Day of Judgment. The Quakers had gone into busi- ness, where their well-known probity was an asset. Religion and science coexisted happily (Newton was as much preoccu- pied with the interpretation of the Book of Daniel as with gra- vitation). No one doubted any more that the earth went round the sun, but the theory of evolution was still over the horizon so there seemed no overpowering reasons for doubting the ex- istence of God. What was more, John Wesley was evangelising the masses, at the same time, it is believed by some, weaning England off gin, both activities productive of steady workmen.

It is probably easier, from the present-day viewpoint, to under- estimate, rather than to overestimate the influence of religion during this period. People believed, quite literally, that God was a factor in their lives of far more importance than any gov- ernment could be. There were no social workers, psycholog- ists, psychiatrists, trauma-counsellors or agony aunts to turn to for help and advice. It is arguable that doctors did more harm

Document info
Document views28
Page views29
Page last viewedSun Dec 11 01:16:35 UTC 2016