Friday, September 29, 2006

The rise of Walpole

In effect, the Septennial act extended the Whig political supremacy for the next decade. But the lack of a Tory challenged meant that the Whigs began to quarrel among themselves and by 1717 two factions had developed: James, 1st earl Stanhope and Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland versus Charles Townshend and his brother-in-law, Robert Walpole.

Walpole was the third son of a Norfolk squire. Born in 1676, he had been destined for the Church, but the deaths of his brothers propelled him into politics. In 1699 he married Catherine Shorter, the daughter of a Baltic timber merchant. From 1702 he had been MP for Kings Lynn, identifying himself as a Whig. In 1706 he became a member of Prince George’s Council of Admiralty, where he showed himself prepared to work with the Tories. When the Whigs fell from power in 1710 he remained in office for another year as Treasurer of the Navy. He showed an immense capacity for hard work (in his office at 6 am) and immense ambition. However he was sent to the Tower in 1712, which made him a Whig hero. His period of imprisonment had been short and comfortable, and he was able to write a pamphlet answering Swift. With the return of the Whigs to power in 1714-15 he was made first Paymaster of the Forces. This was a junior position, but his dominance of the Commons made him a high-profile politician.

The first Whig schism
Political resentments were deepened by divisions within the royal family. In the summer of 1716 Stanhope accompanied the king to Hanover leaving the Prince of Wales as regent. During the king’s absence, encouraged by Walpole and Townshend, the prince flaunted his position. The clear implication was that the opposition Whigs were encouraging the accusation that Stanhope was neglecting Britain for Hanover.

This was to be a common theme of the reigns of George I and George II. The European situation in 1716 was very tense. Since 1700 Sweden and Russia had been involved in the Great Northern War. In 1715 George I in his capacity as Elector of Hanover, allied with Russia, Prussia and Denmark against Sweden.

Stanhope saw the war as a chance to make Britain a major player in European diplomacy. In Hanover he negotiated secretly with the French government which secured Britain’s support for France against Spain. This was a far-reaching diplomatic revolution, secured in the Triple and Quadruple Alliances (1717, 1718).

In December 1716 the king dismissed Townshend as Secretary of State and demoted him to the lord lieutenancy of Ireland. This caused the Prince of Wales to quarrel openly with his father. In April 1717 Townshend was dismissed from the government and on 10 April Walpole resigned his own office. Stanhope became First Lord of the Treasury.

There was now a concentrated parliamentary opposition in which Walpole was opportunistically prepared to ally with the Tories. The figurehead was the Prince of Wales, who in December 1717 set up his own court at Leicester House. Walpole was the chief politician attached to this court, and he enjoyed a long and enduring friendship with Princess Caroline.

However, opposition was not a fruitful tactic. Though the opposition could rally their troops in the commons, the government had a majority in the Lords. So long as the ministry had the king’s confidence there was no reason why Stanhope should not remain in power and Walpole be excluded from it.

In April 1720 a reconciliation of sorts took place between the king and Prince of Wales. In June Townshend became Lord President of the Council and Walpole returned to his post of Paymaster General. But these were junior positions. It would need something else to restore Walpole to his former position.

The South Sea Bubble
This was the first great stock-market crash in England. It became a symbol of sleaze and the 'get-rich quick' mentality of the age.

The South Sea Company had been founded by Queen Anne's minister, Robert Harley in 1711, as a counter to the Whig dominated Bank of England, and, with a capital base of £9.2 million and the prospect of a lucrative trade to Spanish America, it immediately became one of the leading commercial enterprises of the age though Britain’s cool relationship with Spain always made it a dangerous project.

At the beginning of 1720 the price of South Sea stock rose dramatically, fed by bluff and lies from the Company. By June it had reached an unsustainable price; by September it was sinking fast and many were ruined. There were spectacular bankruptcies; Lord Londonderry lost £59,000, the dukes of Bolton and Wharton were in a similar plight. ‘It was a defining moment of early financial capitalism’ (Hoppit, 2000, p. 338). Walpole showed no more foresight than anyone else – like many others, he lost heavily. But the fact that he was in Norfolk in September and October at the height of the panic gave him the air of being above the fray.

November 1720 saw the publication of the first of Cato’s Letters by the radical Whigs, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, ‘to call for public justice upon the wicked managers of the South Sea Scheme’ and to attack corruption in general. In December the governors of the Company were arrested and their assets confiscated.

In February 1721 with attacks on the government intensifying, Stanhope defended himself so vigorously in the Lords that he burst a blood vessel and died. In March John Aislabie, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was voted guilty of fraud by the Commons and sent to the Tower.

The next victim was Sunderland. If he fell, the ministry would crash, and if that happened, the king would be forced to turn to the Tories.11 On 15 March he was tried in the Lords for corruption, but was acquitted by 233 votes to 172. A few weeks later he resigned and was replaced by Walpole as First Lord. (He died in April 1722.)

This was not seen at the time as a particularly momentous move as the office of Prime Minister did not really exist. The king disliked Walpole, as did most politicians, who resented his obvious love of power and lack of scruple. The Opposition was still out for the government’s blood and accusing Walpole of covering up for his colleagues’ misdemeanours. At this time he acquired the nickname, the Skreen-Master. Few Prime Ministers can have obtained office already so unpopular! But he was to hold the post for 20 years.

The 1722 Election
The election of March 1722 was the most hotly contested in the 18th century. 138 constituencies in England and Wales went to the polls, 20 in Scotland. If it had been decided by the votes of those counties and cities and boroughs with over 500 voters, or had it been determined by the total votes cast, the Tories would have won (and they would also have won the elections of 1734 and 1741). But in the mass of smaller boroughs, in many of which magnate influence or venality (or both) were pronounced, the Tories were totally crushed. The Whigs increased their majority to c. 200 even before hearing petitions.

As the results were coming in, Sunderland died of pleurisy (19 April), thus removing the one prominent Whig who might have posed a challenge to Walpole.

The Atterbury Plot
In May the public was informed of a Jacobite plot by Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester. In August Atterbury was arrested and was refused release under habeas corpus. When Parliament met in October, they agreed to suspend habeas corpus. In January 1723 both Houses passed a Bill of Pains and Penalties against Atterbury with huge majorities. In June he went into exile. With his departure went many of the last hopes of the High Church and the Tories.

By this time Walpole was supreme - hated and despised though unassailable. It was the beginning of an uninterrupted run of twenty years as Prime Minister (the ‘Robinocracy’, the ‘Venetian Oligarchy’) that, according to J. H. Plumb, gave the country a stability of government it had not known for a hundred years. But this was only possible because the Whigs had created one-party rule and because Europe was at peace.

Robert Walpole: the first prime minister

The accession of George II in 1727 June did not bring about the fall of Walpole, as many had expected (and hoped). Walpole did not lose power even though George had frequently expressed his dislike of him because of the terms he had negotiated over the new king’s reconciliation with his father in 1720. But over the years Walpole had safeguarded himself against dismissal by cultivating Caroline, the new queen, and scrupulously avoiding Henrietta Howard, George’s mistress. As he put it, 'I got the right sow by the ear'. Caroline, ‘the most powerful queen consort of the Hanoverian period’ (New Dictionary of National Biography) was determined to keep him. On 15 June the king and Walpole had a long and fruitful talk about the civil list – the most generous treatment ever accorded a sovereign. The king had £800,000 pa, the queen £100,000. Only Walpole could have got such grants through the Commons. It was becoming clear that he would continue in office – but on what footing?

The ‘Robinocracy’
Walpole’s survival as the king's minister appeared to be a remarkable demonstration of his political dominance. It became a commonplace to describe him as 'the great man'. He was immensely powerful even though he faced constant opposition in parliament, the press, the nation at large. Townshend was a possible focus. He was no longer his brother-in-law (Walpole’s sister, Dolly, Townshend’s wife, had died in 1726) and there was increasing coolness between them. Lacking some important political friends, he had to cultivate the king and to build up a powerful patronage network.

This patronage stood the administration in good stead in the election of 1727. Walpole’s agent in the South-West wrote to him: ‘Every town has been tampered with [by the opposition] … if you don’t send money here beforehand, you may miss your views in more towns than one.’ However, the opposition published anti-government pamphlets and The Craftsman coined the phrase the ‘Robinocracy’ to describe the regime. Ballads were published with refrains such as ‘Robin will be out at last’. The opposition won two London seats.

Walpole and the Arts
On 29 January 1728 John Gay's The Beggar's Opera opened in London and ran for an unprecedented 62 nights. The political satire of this work was much more pointed and personal than anything in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). Audiences found it easy to draw parallels between the highwayman Macheath and the thief-taker Peachum on the one hand and Walpole on the other. Henceforth the link between the thief and the corrupt statesman became a familiar trope in opposition literature, drawing especially on the popular accounts of the life of Jonathan Wild, the notorious mastermind of the London underworld executed in 1725 and the model for Gay's Peachum.

As delayed retaliation, in 1737 Walpole carried a bill through Parliament – the Licensing Act – which subjected plays to scrutiny by the Lord Chamberlain, making it impossible to produce a play that did not carry the government’s approval. For the rest of the eighteenth century, the theatre was politically bland.

Prime Minister
Walpole’s official title was First Lord of the Treasury, but he was also unofficially referred to as Prime Minister – a term of abuse. In 1735 he moved into 10 Downing Street (then no 5), the residence of a Mr Chicken, and he secured the property as a residence for all future First Lords of the Treasury.

The Excise Crisis
While the opposition were complaining that parliament was a mere rubber stamp for the executive, the government was threatened by a crisis of its own making in the 1733 session. This was the defeat of the Tobacco Excise Bill, a major plank in his fiscal strategy. In outline, Walpole's proposals were simple and broadly similar to the legislation introduced for tea, coffee, and chocolate in 1723.
1. All tobacco and wine (the legislation relating to wine was never introduced) were to be placed in the king's warehouse until all duties had been paid.
2. The existing customs duties, payable on import, were to be replaced for the most part by excise duties, payable when the goods were removed from the warehouse for consumption.
Walpole clearly saw this as an essentially technical measure that would increase government revenue, perhaps by as much as £300,000 a year, by curbing fraud and smuggling. He himself had considerable experience of smuggling – when Secretary at War he had smuggled his wines up the Thames; customs officers at Lynn once confiscated the brandy he was running in. In her old age his mother wrote him a letter telling him how she had foxed the customs officers at Wells. But Walpole the public man wanted to clean up the system. The sum saved would assist him in his aim of keeping the unpopular land tax low – an important consideration as a general election was due the following year.

But the measure was a political blunder and the proposals provoked massive opposition. Some of this came from retailers and traders who were concerned that the legislation would subject them to inspection by excise officers. Far more important, however, was the hostility of the wine and tobacco merchants, both in London and in the major provincial ports, many of whom were heavily implicated in fraud; the legislation represented an attack on a powerful pressure group with a vested interest in the existing system. Opposition propaganda made much of fears that the Tobacco Bill was merely the first step towards a ‘general excise’, a charge denied by Walpole. But underlying this was a concern about the expansion of the excise service, whose ‘arbitrary’ powers of search were seen as a threat to English liberties. Walpole's proposals, far from appealing to the country gentlemen by reducing their tax burden, appeared to be an attempt to concentrate power still further in the hands of an already over-mighty, and possibly corrupt, state.

In March 1733 he introduced the proposals in the Commons against the background of large demonstrations in Westminster. At first he secured relatively comfortable majorities, but when parliament resumed in April after the Easter recess, his majority collapsed. On 10 April it fell to just seventeen on a motion to receive the City of London's petition against the bill. That evening he told a meeting of his supporters,
‘This dance it will no farther go, and tomorrow I intend to sound a retreat’.
On the following day he announced the withdrawal of the excise scheme. During the celebrations in the City that night Walpole was burnt in effigy by the mob. On 23 April he rallied his dispirited supporters when he delivered an impassioned speech in the Cockpit denouncing the crisis as the malicious work of discredited Tories and professing his life-long devotion to Whig principles.

He survived the crisis because he had the support of the king, who had showed his support by dismissing his opponents, Chesterfield and Clinton, from their court offices. In the following year he was returned to power but with a reduced majority. He was not as powerful as the opposition believed.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The fall of Walpole

The Fall of Walpole
In 1737 the opposition acquired a new leader in the person of Frederick Prince of Wales, who represented a ‘reversionary interest’ – a recurrent problem for the Hanoverians. In Leicester House, Frederick gathered round him a group of opposition politicians and writers, all waiting for the new king to put them in power. In the same year he lost a powerful ally with the death of Queen Caroline.

In 1738 Britain’s relations with Spain deteriorated dramatically. British possession of Gibraltar, the establishment of the new colony of Georgia, and the depredations committed by Spanish coastguards against British merchants trading with South America and the Caribbean combined to turn government policy towards Spain into a major subject of debate in both press and parliament. Satirical prints provided a particularly vivid summary of the opposition's case; in one, Walpole was portrayed standing by while a Spaniard removed the claws from the British lion. In March 1738 the Commons mounted a detailed investigation of Spanish depredations against British shipping and became extremely worked up over the 1731 mutilation of the merchant seaman Captain Robert Jenkins.

When parliament reassembled in February 1739, however, the opposition immediately attacked what it saw as the unsatisfactory provisions of the convention of El Pardo signed in the previous year and in particular the continued assertion by the Spanish of a right of search of British vessels. The ministry's majority collapsed in the Commons. In the Lords the Prince of Wales had voted against the administration for the first time, and the opposition had mustered seventy-four votes in the biggest Lords division of the Walpole period. Britain declared war on Spain. Walpole told the duke of Newcastle: ‘It is your war and I wish you well of it’.

In its early stages the war saw British victories, notably Vernon’s capture of Puerto Bello, which inspired a wave of popular enthusiasm. But Vernon was an opposition Whig and his victories did Walpole no good. In 1740 a land war broke out over the Austrian succession. Again, Walpole was reluctant, but his foreign policy had been to back the empire and he had pledged Britain by treaty to support the claim of Maria Theresa to the Habsburg inheritance.

In the 1741 general election the government lost seats in Cornwall and Scotland. The two great Scottish borough-mongers, Argyll and his brother Islay, were resentful over the harsh treatment of Edinburgh after the Porteous riots. In Cornwall the Prince of Wales had extensive electoral interests. Vernon put up in seven constituencies and was returned in 3. Walpole’s majority was reduced from 42 to 19. At the same time his health was deteriorating and his will for political survival becoming more fragile.8

On 28 January 1742 the government lost a division on the electoral petition from Chippenham. (The hearing of electoral petitions was a means by which a government increased its majority.) 1 February 1742 Walpole resigned; this was reluctantly accepted by the king. On 11 February he was promoted to the Lords as earl of Orford.

Walpole’s fall was an event of great constitutional importance. He fell because he had lost the support of the Commons – not the Crown. It was not until 1746 that Henry Pelham had the confidence of both king and Commons and was able to form a stable ministry. This stability lasted until 1754.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Selected book list for the period

Barker, Hannah and Chalus, Elaine (eds), Women’s History: Britain, 1700-1850, Routledge. 2004
Black, Jeremy, The British Seaborne Empire, Yale, 2005
Brewer, John, The Sinews of Power, Unwin, 1989
________Pleasures of the Imagination, Yale, 1997
Cannon, John, Parliamentary Reform 1640-1832, Cambridge 1973
Cash, Arthur H., John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty, Yale, 2006
Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation Yale, 1992
Corfield, Penelope, The Impact of English Towns, 1700-1800, Oxford, 1982
Dickinson, H. T., Liberty and Property, Methuen, 1977
__________The Politics of the People in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Macmillan, 1994
Emsley, Clive, Crime and Society in England 1750-1900, Longman, 1996
Ferguson, Niall, Empire: How Britain made the Modern World, Penguin, 2004
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, HarperCollins, 1998
George, Dorothy, London Life in the Eighteenth Century, Penguin, 1965
Gilmour, Ian, Riot, Risings and Revolution, Pimlico, 1993
Gregory, J and Stevenson, J, The Longman Companion to Britain in the Eighteenth Century, Longman, 1988
Hibbert, Christopher, George III, Penguin, 1998
Holmes, Geoffrey and Szechi, Daniel, The Age of Oligarchy, Longman, 1993
Hoppit, Julian, A Land of Liberty? Oxford, 2000
Langford, Paul, A Polite and Commercial People, Oxford, 1989
O’Gorman, Frank, The Long Eighteenth Century, Arnold, 1997
Pittock, Murray G. H., Jacobitism, St Martin’s Press, 1988
Plum, J. H, Sir Robert Walpole, 2 vols. Allen Lane, 1956
Porter, Roy, English Society in the Eighteenth Century, Penguin, 1982
________Enlightenment, Penguin, 2000
Prest, Wilfred, Albion Ascendant, Oxford, 1998
Rogers, Nicholas, Crowds, Culture and Politics in Georgian Britain, Oxford, 1998
Rudé, George, Wilkes and Liberty, Oxford, 1962
Rule, John, Albion’s People, Longman, 1992
Smith, Hannah, Georgian Monarchy: Politics and Culture, 1714-60, Cambridge, 2006
Sobel, Dava, Longitude, Walker, 1995
Speck, W. A., Stability and Strife, Edward Arnold, 1977
Stevenson, John, Popular Disturbances in England 1700-1832, Longman, 1992
Thompson, E. P., Whigs and Hunters, Penguin, 1977
Tillyard, Stella, Aristocrats, Vintage, 1994
___________ A Royal Affair: George III and his Troublesome Siblings, Chatto, 2006
Uglow, Jenny, The Lunar Men, Faber, 2002
Vickery, Amanda, The Gentleman’s Daughter, Yale, 1998
Watson, Steven, The Reign of George III, Oxford History of England
Williams, E. N., The Eighteenth Century Constitution, Cambridge, 1965

The eighteenth century: an overview

Whose eighteenth century?
Historians write about a ‘long eighteenth century’, meaning the (relatively stable) period between the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 and the Great Reform Act of 1832. The start of the premiership of Pitt the Younger at the end of 1783 is often seen as a ‘half-way mark’ in this long century.
How is the period to be interpreted? There have been a variety of interpretations:
1. Whig: The Whig historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, portrayed the period as one of unalloyed success. Stuart absolutism had been defeated, and Britain combined religious toleration with economic success and political freedom (though not democracy) in a way that made it the most progressive country in the world.
2. Namierite: The ‘high politics’ school of Sir Lewis Namier in the post 1945 period abandoned Whig grand narratives and stressed the role of individuals acting their power games on an aristocratic political stage. Ideas and ideology were firmly minimized.
3. Marxist/radical: In the 1960s historians like E. P. Thompson focused on issues such as popular culture and class divisions. This was ‘history from below’ with the middle classes (so important in the Whig narrative) firmly downgraded in favour of a ‘patrician/plebeian’ dichotomy.
4. Revisionists: In the late 1980s and early 1990s the historian J. C. D. (Jonathan) Clark used the terms ‘ancien régime’ and ‘confessional state’ in order to stress the conservative, hierarchical nature of English society and the continuing importance of religion.
5. The British dimension: In 1992 Linda Colley’s Britons argued that the eighteenth century saw the creation of a British (rather than purely English) nation united round a popular Protestantism and imperialism, with France as the hostile ‘other’. Unlike Thompson, who stressed the deep class conflicts in society, Colley’s model is one of consensus.
These interpretations have varying degrees of validity. All have problems. The Whig version is too triumphalist, the Namierite one too fixated on high politics and too dismissive of ideology. The radical version ignores the continuing forces of conservatism and the growing (cultural if not political) power of the middle classes. The revisionists pay little if any attention to popular politics and Colley ignores Ireland and the often very acrimonious divisions within Protestantism. There will never be a ‘final’ narrative of the eighteenth century.

Characteristics of the 'long eighteenth century'
For all the differences of interpretation, the period possesses a certain unity and witnessed some hugely important developments.
1. The nation state of Great Britain came into being. Wales had been peacefully absorbed into England in the sixteenth century but until 1707 Scotland remained an independent nation state. The Glorious Revolution acted as a powerful catalyst for political and economic unity. It was fear of a disputed succession that led to the union of parliaments. This was an economic as well as a political union. Scots now paid the same taxes and customs duties and competed for the same government and administrative posts. But since the Revolution settlement the Scots had been permitted to maintain their own law, and Presbyterianism remained the established religion.
The union reinforced a trend which had begun in the 16th century. Since the Reformation Scots and English had shared Protestantism, and since 1603 the same dynasty. The King James Bible had brought written Scots more in line with English.
By the 1740s and ‘50s the terms ‘Britain’ and ‘Great Britain’ were being used by some in preference to ‘England’ and ‘English’ - much to the resentment of many English people. The Scots term ‘North Britain’ never really caught on. But Rule Britannia (composed in 1740 by the Scotsman James Thompson) and the British Museum (founded in the 1750s) were terms that lasted. This may be because of the iconographic significance of Britannia.
But anti-Scots feeling was real and significant. No Hanoverian monarch visited Scotland until George IV in 1822 - his wearing of the kilt led to the association of ‘Scottishness’ with the British monarchy. George III’s prime minister Lord Bute was the target of John Wilkes’s satire.
God save the King, first sung at a London theatre in September 1745, encapsulates the ambiguity of Britishness. Although circulated in Scotland as well as England, it has a verse about ‘rebellious Scots’. By 1800 it had become a more unequivocally British anthem.

2. Religion played a major role in the state Although the eighteenth century is often seen as a century of religious apathy compared with the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain was a profoundly Christian country and witnessed two waves of a major religious revival, the first beginning in the 1730s, the second in the 1790s. Religious sectarianism had not disappeared and anti-Catholicism remained a ferocious force. London saw two major religious riots, the Sacheverell ‘Church and Queen’ riots (against Dissenters) in 1709 and the anti-Catholic Gordon riots in 1780. The establishment in England was firmly Anglican. The monarch had to be Protestant. The Toleration Act (1689) grated freedom of worship to Protestant Dissenters, but the Test and Corporation Acts (in theory) barred them from public office. In Scotland, Presbyterianism was the established religion. A series of penal laws, especially harsh in Ireland, discriminated powerfully against Roman Catholics.

3. Britain remained a hierarchical society Politics was dominated by the aristocracy who (along with the bishops) made up the House of Lords. Most members of the Commons were connected in some way to the aristocracy as heirs, relations, or clients. The aristocracy and country gentry retained enormous prestige throughout the period (though anti-aristocratic rhetoric increased from the end of the century). The ‘middling sort’ (not referred to as the middle classes before the 1790s) were increasingly numerous and wealthy, but on the whole they did not aspire to political power. The majority of the population was poor – though the degrees of poverty varied greatly. Few believed it was appropriate for the ‘lower orders’ to have a political voice.

4. Britain was an increasingly wealthy trading nation During this period national wealth doubled in real terms. The consequence (and the cause) was a growing domestic market which could only be satisfied through commercial expansion, both at home and overseas. London was the largest city in western Europe and the provincial towns grew in wealth. Britain sought and won an empire in the West Indies, North America and Asia against international competition and by the end of the period was indisputably the world’s great imperial power.

5. Britain was a major European power engaged in a series of wars against other European countries, notably France. She fought the ‘second Hundred Years War’ in 63 of the 144 years between 1688 and 1832 (44%), all but one of them victories. These wars created their own institutions for tax gathering, financial investing and military administration - and in doing so they transformed the British state.

6. The Glorious Revolution had ended the prospect of a centralized and absolute monarchy Power was increasingly located in the ‘King in Parliament’. After 1689 Parliament became a permanent part of the constitution and its work-load dramatically increased. In the countryside the aristocracy and gentry were responsible for local government. However men of humbler background were not excluded. Parish officials were chosen from outside the gentry. Elections were conducted by men of the middling sort. Lower down the social scale there was a world of popular political culture with its (sometimes violent) rituals. The government was in the hands of the aristocracy and gentry but, lacking a continental-style machinery of repression, it could not have continued without the consent, to some degree, of the governed.

George I

George Louis, Elector of Hanover, owed his accession not to divine hereditary right, but to the Act of Settlement of 1701. He was the son of the Electress Sophia, the most direct Protestant descendant of James I.

Though George was in Hanover when Anne died on 1 August 1714 he was immediately proclaimed. The Jacobites did not stir, ‘their muttering speaking loudly of their lack of numbers, organization, resources, and commitment’ (Hoppit (2000), 384). He was important for what he was not as much as for what he was: not a Catholic, not an ally of France, and he was bound by the terms of the Act of Settlement rather than the ideology of divine right. His accession dealt the death-blow to the divine right of kings.
He came to the throne aged 54. Since 1694 he had been divorced and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, was a prisoner at Ahlden. He was physically unprepossessing and his knowledge of English was rudimentary (though he knew French, German and Latin well, and had a little Dutch and Italian) He had a great deal of military experience. He had fought France in 1676, 1677 and 1678. He had campaigned against the Turks in 1683-5 and had fought briefly in the Nine Years War.

He finally arrived at Greenwich on 18 September, having been delayed by contrary winds and by his own lack of urgency. He brought with him some 90 ministers, courtiers and servants, including two Turkish grooms, Mehemet and Mustapha. His family included his mistress Melusine von der Schulenburg (the ‘Maypole’; made duchess of Kendal, 1719) and her three (unacknowledged) daughters and established them in St James’s Palace. He also brought his half-sister (wrongly thought to be his mistress, Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegge (the ‘Elephant’; made countess of Darlington, 1721). His son George Augustus, now Prince of Wales, was installed with his wife Caroline and their daughters Anne, Emily and Caroline. Their son Frederick (born 1707) was left behind in Hanover.

The limits of George’s power were defined by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. He had to be a Protestant, he was forbidden to give office, title or estate to a foreigner without Parliament’s consent, he could appoint but could not dismiss a judge, he could appoint and dismiss ministers and dictate foreign policy. He controlled a vast amount of patronage. But he needed Parliament (a) for money and (b) because no minister could survive long without its support.

The Tories Purged
On his accession, George sided with the Whigs, seeing the Tory administration’s Treaty of Utrecht as a betrayal of the Grand Alliance. Though he made some overtures to the Tories, the result of his accession was a massive transfer of power after which the Tories’ prospects were extremely grim.
a) There was a clean sweep of the cabinet, which for the first time in English history changed completely. All the prominent new men were Whigs: Townshend and Stanhope were Secretaries of State for the Northern and Southern Departments, respectively. Robert Walpole was Paymaster and Marlborough Captain General.
(b) The Privy Council changed drastically. George reduced their numbers from 82 to 30 and the only Tories left in it were those who had proved their Hanoverian credentials.
(c) There was a purge of departments of state. The Treasury was put into commission; commissioners of the land tax and customs and excise were purged.
(d) There was a purge of local administration. Even before George came over, the regents replaced those lords lieutenant suspected of being Jacobite. The duke of Beaufort was removed from the lord lieutenantship of Hampshire. The governor of Portsmouth was replaced. A Whig was appointed to the vacant post of lord lieutenant of Lancashire. The king eventually changed 22 of the 42 lords lieutenant. There was a similar purge of JPs.
George’s coronation on 20 October was marked by riots and disturbances in Birmingham, Bristol, Chippenham, Norwich, and Reading.

In January 1715 writs went out for the new Parliament. The Tories had done very well in the election of 1713. They had 114 ‘safe’ seats and a majority in the ‘large’ constituencies of over 500 voters. They held 79 of the 92 county seats. They hoped to appeal to popular prejudices against foreigners and Dissenters and they campaigned on the ‘Church in Danger’ slogan. But because of Whig control of most of the reins of central and local government, the new House of Commons comprised c. 341 Whigs to 217 Tories. The Tories had been badly hit but they were not decimated and in Bolingbroke they had an inspiring leader.

The Whigs were not magnanimous in victory, and raked over the ashes of Anne’s last ministry in order to avenge themselves on their Tory opponents. Papers were seized and impeachments launched. On 27 March Bolingbroke, fearing for his life, fled to France and became the Pretender’s secretary. In July the duke of Ormond fled. His and Bolingbroke’s estates were confiscated by acts of attainder. The earls of Oxford and Strafford were impeached on charges of deserting the allies and making a separate peace with France. On 27 July Oxford was placed in the Tower until 1717.

Such events produced a desperate reaction from the Tories, including attacks on Dissenting meeting-houses. Every suitable occasion, from the anniversary of Anne’s coronation (23 April), George I’s birthday (28 May), the anniversary of the Restoration (30 May) saw Jacobite activity in the capital. During June and July rioting reached epidemic proportions. In response the ministry rushed the Riot Act through Parliament. It was introduced on 1 July and obtained the royal assent on 20 July. On 21 July Habeas Corpus was suspended for six months.

The Fifteen
In August 1715, having been snubbed by George I, John Erskine, earl of Mar, took sail in a collier for Newcastle and then for Fife. On 6 September he raised the standard at Braemar for James VIII and III. Eighteen lords and c. 12,000 men rallied to his standard. There was a very real prospect that Scotland, embittered by the Union, would rally behind him and become a Jacobite stronghold.

But circumstances did not favour the Jacobites. Louis XIV had died (21 August/1September) and the Regent would not contemplate helping James; neither Spain nor Sweden was tempted to fill the breach.11 James’s refusal to convert to Anglicanism or even to express a commitment to the Church of England fatally hampered him.

Though it had been taken by surprise in Scotland, the government acted quickly in England. The arms and houses of Catholics and non-jurors were seized and their arms and horses impounded. The militia called up, troops garrisoned in the major towns, and the army expanded. In November there were further riots in London – gang fights between ‘Jacks’ and loyalists but these were offset by the loyalist addresses that poured into both Houses of Parliament.

On 13 November there was an indecisive battle between government forces (led by the duke of Argyll, and including 6,000 Dutch and Swiss reinforcements) and the Jacobites at Sheriffmuir.

English Jacobitism was not wholly ineffectual. There was a small rising in Northumberland where the Pretender was proclaimed on 9 October and some support in Lancashire, the risings led by earl of Derwentwater and Thomas Forster, MP for Northumberland (a man of no military experience). On 22 October the Scots army crossed the border and marched towards Lancashire, but the Anglo-Scottish Jacobite army was defeated at Preston on 13 November.

On 23 December the Pretender landed at Peterhead – he had no new ideas and no promises from foreign powers. James lacked the personality to rouse his followers. In February 1716 he re-embarked for France.

After the rebellion 19 Scottish peerages were forfeited by attainder. The seven peers capture at Preston were impeached, found guilty and sentenced to death, though only two – Derwentwater and Kenmure – were executed. 26 others were hanged while hundreds were transported. But the government’s revenge was far less severe than James II’s after the Monmouth rising. Jacobitism did not cease to be a danger but the Pretender had shown himself an uninspiring leader – like his father, he had deserted his people in time of need - and the lack of foreign support had proved a fatal blow. From 1717 James was an isolated figure living in Rome. The next serious Jacobite rising would have to wait a generation, with a new leader and with Britain and France at war.

The Septennial Act
On 10 April 1716 the Whigs passed the Septennial Act, on the grounds that the Triennial Act fomented feuds and party strife and occasioned ruinous expense. But Lord Islay gave the game away: frequent elections rendered ‘government dependent on the caprice of the multitude and very precarious’. The Whigs had moved a long way from the demagogy of Shaftesbury. Having begun as the ‘country’ party, they were now firmly oligarchical.

Politics had been transformed. The Tories were condemned to minority status (many of the remaining Tory JPs were deprived of their offices); the independence and unpredictability of elections faded away as the Whig magnates tightened their grip on the electorate; the number of ‘open’ or ‘popular’ constituencies shrank. The seven year gap was meaningful. All the parliaments of George I and George II ran their full term, except in 1747 when only six years had elapsed since the last election. (Had an election been held in 1718 the Whigs, at that time in crisis, might have lost.)

The basic paradigm to describe this period is one of increasing stability, which demonstrably existed between the late 1720s and the early 1760s. This does not preclude riots and disturbances, but it assumes:
(a) a sense of common identity among those who wielded power, not only in politics but over the social and economic fabric of the country
(b) an acceptance by society of its political institutions and of those classes of men who controlled them.
However it has also been argued that the evidence of the mid-1730s does not suggest that the Act necessarily made politics more tranquil.