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Revolutions, Scandals and Reforms: British Political Culture, 1688-1832

Tutor: Hannah Greig

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00075I

Eighteenth-century Britain felt the pressures of profound political developments and crises both at home and abroad. The “Glorious Revolution” (1689) replaced the nation’s Catholic king with a Protestant husband and wife team, and heralded a new relationship between crown, parliament and public. Revolutions in America (1776) and France (1789) challenged Britain’s place in the world, its political relationships and values. Britain itself became a new entity. Acts of Union brought more land under the national flag but with them came new regional identities, political tensions and questions about representation. Fledging parliamentarians tried to steer the country through difficult times. The nation’s first ‘prime minister’ Robert Walpole clung to his position for twenty-one years. Parliament sat regularly for the full century and politics became a business for parties and professional politicos. The staggering proliferation of newspapers, and the newly-employed grub street journalists that filled their pages, distributed news to a wider public than ever before. Caricaturists pilloried those in power and the private life of politicians became the subject of the century’s new mass media. Those without the vote still took part in politics: the urban population rioted in opposition or support of policies and candidates; women led campaigns, canvassed for politicians and used consumer power to influence policy; and even children were trained in political news writing and educated to become politically aware. Not least, the newly wealthy clamoured for representation and reform.

This course explores this varied political picture from the Glorious Revolution of 1689 to the Great Reform Act of 1832, paying particular attention to the interaction between parliament and the public and between the public and the press. Eighteenth-century British political history was originally written as a ‘Whig’ narrative of progress – but was this a time of change and for whom? Or did superficial political dramas mask a static culture of continuity?

Seminars may cover the the following areas:

  1. The Glorious Revolution: A constitutional consensus?
  2. Queens, Kings and courtly decline
  3. The rise of party politics
  4. Scandals and the press
  5. Popular politics
  6. Empire, revolutions and war
  7. Enlightened ideas?
  8. Reform and its political legacy

Group project work will centre around primary sources – for instance a painting, a political pamphlet, a set of caricatures, or an artefact. Guidance will be given on the choice of topics and sources.

For more information, please visit the module catalogue.