Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley, D. W. Hayton, eds. The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1690-1715. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 5,144 pp. $400.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-77221-1.
Julian Hoppit. A Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727 (New Oxford History of England). Oxford England: Clarendon Press, 2000. xix + 580 pp. $122.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-822842-4.
Reviewed by Robert Bucholz (Department of History, Loyola University of Chicago)
Published on H-Albion (March, 2004)
These substantial volumes represent the latest contributions to two on-going enterprises whose origins and most basic assumptions belong to an earlier, and in some respects, golden, age. They add to a long and distinguished British tradition of defining, cataloging, calendaring, and biographing the collective inheritance of the British past that includes the Dictonary of National Biography, the Historical Manuscripts Commission, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Victoria County History, and innumerable Calendars of State Papers, Treasury Books, etc. All of these series remain essential to the pursuit of traditional, empirical history in Britain. It is an interesting comment on our priorities and the economics of publishing and historical research in the early-twenty-first century that some continue to be renewed while others lie more or less defunct in media res. This reviewer can only express his most profound gratitude that Her Majesty's Government, the House of Commons Commission, the History of Parliament Trust, and the university presses of Oxford and Cambridge have seen fit to continue two of the most noble and useful historical endeavors of the past century. Moreover, their distinguished pedigrees notwithstanding, both of these works reflect the latest scholarship and the new questions that historians have learned to ask since the origins of their respective series.
The main course of this substantial meal is the new five-volume History of Parliament, 1690-1715. Scholars have been anticipating these volumes for some time (thirty years according to the foreword), but the delay in their completion is understandable, for it could be argued that this period, famously characterized as "the rage of party," was more complicated, in being transitional, than those immediately preceding or following it. The parliaments of 1690-1715 not only saw the perfection of England's first party system, but also the beginning of the fact of Parliament as a permanent, perennial mechanism of the Constitution rather than an ad hoc and occasional debating club, dependent on the monarch's whim. According to Julian Hoppit, "the extensive and intensive use of parliamentary government to gain consent, money, and men" made possible, in turn, England's embrace of constitutional monarchy, achievement of "great power status," and entry into "the mainstream of European affairs" (Hoppit, p. 492). So a very great deal came from the doings in St. Stephen's Chapel between 1690 and 1715.
As a consequence, it was inevitable that the volume of material generated by and about this cohort of honorable members should be much larger than that for previous periods. In the words of John Miller, chairman of the Editorial Board, "the intrinsic importance of this period, and the richness of the surviving records, explains why this section is so much more substantial than its immediate chronological predecessor" (v. 1, p. xii). Moreover, more than previous editors, Drs. Cruickshanks, Handley, and Hayton have made use of the work of other scholars of all ranks: the acknowledgments are a Who's Who of recent scholarship on Augustan politics; there are, for example, nearly two pages of abbreviations for doctoral theses alone (v. 3, pp. xiv-xvi). As one of the former graduate students whose work was of some small assistance in these labors, this reviewer must say that the editors of these volumes gave as generously as they got: while they sought help from all quarters, they also dispensed it, generously, to any scholar who turned up at their front door at Tavistock Square. In the interests of full disclosure, I must acknowledge the immense help provided to me in my own work by editors Cruickshanks and Hayton who made available manuscript biographies, division lists, and papers. It is therefore a source of all the more satisfaction to see this great collective work, not unlike a Medieval summa, come to fruition, providing access to these riches for scholars who cannot come up to London. It is a tribute to all those who worked on these volumes that, despite two changes of editor, they have the feel of a collective and, ultimately, coherent effort. The reason why is well explained in the opening pages, entitled "Method," of Hayton's introductory survey, which constitutes a textbook on the considerations that must take place in planning a major work of reference.
A great deal of the coherence noted above arises from Hayton's masterful introduction which takes up the bulk of volume 1. This must, in some ways, have seemed a thankless task, not least because it might well stand as the definitive monograph (535 pages sans appendices) for our time on the election, organization, business, and politics of the Augustan House of Commons if it were published separately. Interpretively, and unexceptionably, it acknowledges and confirms much of the work that Geoffrey Holmes, Henry Horwitz, and William Speck did on the institution in the 1960s and 1970s. Little here will come as a real surprise to any scholar noddingly acquainted with the scholarship of the last forty years. Still, never before have we known in such detail, for example, about constituencies and elections, both county and borough, including such special cases as the Cornish boroughs, Cinque Ports, universities, Wales, Scotland, etc. This will be the definitive reference on the many types of borough franchise; its lucid explanation of the Scottish electoral system is especially welcome. The second volume of this set provides individual entries for all the constituencies represented by parliament, in each case taking a chronological approach. These entries are appropriately thorough on politics, but their usefulness as local and urban history would have been enhanced by just a bit more on economic and social realities.
Returning to the introductory survey, there follows a lucid explanation of the process of standing for parliament and getting elected (necessitating a public announcement of one's candidacy, circular letters, aristo-backing, preliminary meetings, personal canvassing, and the need to present oneself as reluctant, self-effacing, sometimes partisan but seeking consensus, and always full of "benevolent concern for the welfare of the constituency; and respect for rights of the voters" [v. 1, p. 178]); what happened at a poll; and the costs (examples given range from =150 to =1,500) of treating and outright bribery. In both county and borough, party tensions tended to be highest where Dissent was strong. Consistent with this, the incidence of contested elections ranged from a low of 31.6 percent of all constituencies in 1695, a year in which religion was less prominent an issue than the management of the war, to a high of 48.7 percent in that of 1710, following the Sacheverell trial. Hayton carefully explores the reputation and reality of the government interest, identifying perhaps fourteen government boroughs, but noting the difficulties of separating this sort of advantage from other factors. Generally, its effects were overestimated by contemporaries, for it returned no more than twenty MPs per session. More seats were influenced by individual peers, perhaps 6-10 percent of the total. While the collective influence of the nobility sometimes raised the ire of the Commons (elsewhere, Hayton chronicles the Commons' staunch defense of their right to regulate membership, elucidating such test cases as Ashby vs. White), in general the political world expected peers to lead. Hayton also analyzes the influence of Churchmen, Dissenters, and women--this last a relatively new preoccupation for this series. Women played more of a role in electoral politics than is often assumed, encouraging men to stand as well as canvassing and campaigning (Sarah Duchess of Marlborough is the most famous example); moreover, they were also sometimes the target of campaigns as a way to reach husbands and other male relatives.
As befits a work likely to stand as the reference for many years, Hayton tends to lean on the side of caution in generalizing about realities and trends about the electorate. Thus, while he concedes that the number of voters was probably increasing due to inflation and improved electoral management, he stresses the difficulties in trying to estimate the overall size of the electorate: we often know how many voted, but they were only a fraction of those who could vote. Thus it is better to talk about a "voterate." Low continuity of voters from election to election fits what social historians have found out about migration patterns. While there were substantial numbers of split and floating votes, most tenants were influenced by their landlords. Landed aristocrats and even outside merchants also found corporation boroughs happy hunting grounds for seats; and even freemen boroughs were subject to heavy aristocratic influence. Still, while only a few borough constituencies were genuinely open, equally few were genuinely lodged in some patron's pocket. Most were won through a varied calculus of influence, interest, and independent choice. Hayton is especially good on how people voted and what they looked for in a candidate; his summary analysis of the electoral history of Bedford (v. 1, p. 112) illustrates the wide variety of factors which could influence returns to Parliament including aristocratic endowment of schools, the needs of local industry, etc.
At the heart of this enterprise are the nearly two thousand members themselves. The assemblage of their collective biography has made possible a massive quantitative operation which is, perhaps, the most original and useful part of the introductory survey. Sir Lewis Namier's notion that the History of Parliament would advance social as well as political history was criticized, even in his own day, as being too narrowly focused on the elite. But, as Linda Colley has suggested, "as a means of uncovering the changing pattern of social arrival and social experience at the top, Namier's methodology remains outstandingly useful." That is, these nearly two thousand biographies present a wonderful opportunity to analyze that portion of the elite who had "made it" to very nearly the apogee of Augustan society. In no previous volumes in the series has this opportunity been taken so fully: this section of the introductory survey (v. 1, pp. 262-342) is enhanced by some twenty-seven appendices, seventy-five tables, and twelve figures. Surprisingly and annoyingly, the tables are neither numbered nor listed in a separate portion of the prefatory apparatus. This is one of the few errors of execution made in these otherwise magnificently produced volumes.
Altogether, the evidence gathered herein yields the overwhelming conclusion that membership in the House of Commons was a consequence of social rank and material wealth, not its cause. Nearly half of all members came from titled families. Nearly half of those from England and Wales descended from previous parliamentarians themselves; and, even before the Landed Qualification Act of 1711, "the vast majority" were landed (v. 1, p. 263). There were, of course, parvenus, like the financier and eventual suicide Sir Stephen Evance or Leonard Gale, whose blacksmith father had made a fortune of =16,000 out of iron manufacture. Still, only thirty-three came from humble birth, though fifty were the sons of the clergy. Most, some 67 percent of those whose age at first election is known, were relatively young by modern standards, falling into the twenty-one-to-forty-year age range. About half boasted some acquaintance with university education; about one third had attended an Inn of Court (15 percent of the membership were lawyers) and about fifty per session had been on the Grand Tour. There were few monied men (forty-three), but about two hundred overseas merchants of various sorts. In terms of religious preference nearly all were nominal Anglicans, with only thirty-nine being identifiable Nonconformists (though many more had Nonconformist connections): this, plus the low numbers of monied men, rather undermines Country Tory fears of a Parliament dominated by Dissenting stock-jobbers. Finally, most MPs were not carpet-baggers and fully one third sat for only one constituency.
How did the honorable members line up? Hayton reaffirms that the most important determiner of votes and allegiance in parliament was party. Some 85.4 percent of the members can be classified as belonging to one of the two parties. He is aware of the element of circularity in this analysis: once someone is identified as a Whig or Tory, it is not difficult to find proof of consistent voting patterns. But the evidence provided by division lists shows far more consistency along these lines than it does for any court/country division, let alone the sorts of familial factions that Robert Walcott once proposed. Admittedly, a small percentage of MPs are unclassifiable, mostly habitual courtiers, government officers, or those who opposed every government out of principle or spite. But it is probably significant that even their small percentage declines as one advances through the period chronologically.
Hayton's chronological analyses of elections and of the politics of the House are likewise cast in party terms. The latter is especially welcome, as Geoffrey Holmes's work was not arranged chronologically. This is now the most up-to-date survey of the political history of the House of Commons. Subsequent analyses of groupings within and across parties--Jacobites, Court MPs, Country MPs, the Welsh, Irish, and Scots--show Hayton to be a conservative if not an agnostic on the numbers and cohesiveness of all but the Country persuasion. Here it must be said that while his explication of the Welsh and Irish interest groups is clarity itself, this reviewer found the Scottish section to be far less penetrable: the bewildering splitting and coalescing of Scottish political factions remain mysterious, in part because too much knowledge is necessary, and assumed, but probably mostly because of the nature of the beast. Overall, Hayton argues that none of these three seeming interest groups really acted as such. In fact, the Union and some Irish economic and land legislation apart, the Westminster Parliament was reluctant to take on measures affecting the whole of any of these countries.
There is a great deal of useful information on the organization, procedure, and business of the House. The section on committee work explains the various species of parliamentary committee (of the Whole, Grand, Select) at this time, and the difficulties for historians of determining the significance of being named to a select committee in particular. Sadly, little evidence survives about how committees were staffed and worked. More helpful is the section on divisions, in which Hayton displays an absolute command of the procedures of the House. Turning to legislative business, he usefully surveys the late history of the royal veto (used six times 1660-89, five times 1692-95, and for the final time in 1708) before addressing the growth in the amount of legislation (mostly private) generated over the period with longer and more frequent sessions. His most important finding here is that that increase was not proportional. Over time and with experience, the members seem to have developed a growing expertise, resulting in fewer bills proportionally, but a greater rate of success (see tables in v. 1, pp. 384-387). Hayton explains this not only as a matter of increased experience, but also better clerical support and possibly greater ministerial control. Longer sessions, of course, also made passage more likely. A similarly important trend was the gradual decline of the sort of grand inquiry into the State of the Nation and airing of grievances before consideration of supply of which Country members were particularly fond. The heyday for this sort of thing was the early-to-mid-1690s, with a brief revival during the last four years of Queen Anne. One wonders if, in ways more subtle than those identified by Swift and Davenant, war may have stifled Country concerns: the financial burdens of the conflict with Louis XIV meant that supply came to be seen as a national necessity which could not be delayed because of backbench concerns. Consistent with the steady firming up of party loyalties over the period, Hayton also detects a change in the purpose of such Country enquiries, from a genuine desire to reform the government and country in the 1690s to a more cynical goal of embarrassing the current ministry by the end of Anne's reign. In a related vein, while the examination of accounts by various Country inspired commissions has always received a great deal of attention from parliamentary historians, Hayton would argue that the increasing expectation that the government would provide estimates for the year's expenditure was at least as important a development.
How active were individual members? Hayton builds upon the pioneering quantitative work of Moore and Horwitz to go well beyond earlier volumes in the History of Parliament in providing extensive information on the work done by individual MPs reporting, telling, chairing committees, etc. as related in the Journals of the House of Commons. As parliamentary scholars know only too well, the Journals contain no personal indices and so are the devil to use if one is trying to trace the activities of a specific member. Moreover, the lists of names given for committee membership are thoroughly ambiguous in meaning: it is often unclear which "Mr. Smith" or "Mr. Seymour" is intended; and there is no evidence that being named to a committee implied attendance, participation, or even necessarily interest in or support for the measure being considered. It is similarly impossible to quantify attendance levels in the House generally. But the Journals do allow for quantification of other types of activity: chairing, reporting, telling, etc. The present volumes for the first time make it possible to do so fairly easily by providing a CD-ROM whose search function makes accessible the activities of nearly every MP who served 1690-1715. The Commons Journal Database also allows for searches relating to particular kinds and pieces of legislation or activities (telling, motions, etc.); subjects appearing in the Journals; or activities taking place on a particular day or range of dates. Because the database is designed to show one record (i.e., one appearance in the Journals) at a time, it is not easy to get an immediate overview of any member's activities or of any particular type of activity. But the individual records can be imported into plain text formats which allow for the compilation of such lists.
Hayton's endeavors along these lines reveal that in the parliaments sampled, about one fifth of the membership took responsibility for at least one bill, with a very few members characterized by the author as "hyper-active." Some of these were professional politicians; many were lawyers. Some MPs had specialties: trade legislation, social reform, or private bills in which, surprisingly, the otherwise undistinguished Sir Francis Masham played an important role. This reminds us that we have, for too long, taken the Whig historiography on high politics for granted in its estimation of the stars of the House. Hayton's comprehensive analysis throws light on a number of heretofore anonymous backbench MPs who turn out to have played an active role, albeit on occasions other than the great set-piece political battles. Perhaps as a corollary, there is little evidence of direct ministerial management of most such legislation.
Given the vast scope of the introductory survey and Hayton's mastery, it may seem churlish to want more. There is relatively little on the physical topography of St. Stephen's Chapel or on the corporate culture of MPs, apart from some discussion of political clubs and dining societies. After all, if these members sat more frequently and for longer and drafted more legislation than their predecessors, one would like to know the degree to which they thought of themselves as a permanent, corporate body, and had an articulated vision of their role in the constitution and what it meant to be a "Parliament Man." One would further like to know if they formed a community, inter-marrying, engaging in mutual favoritism and nepotism, subscribing to the same books, music societies, etc. This is asking for a great deal, but, thanks to the industry of the compilers, such information is there for the asking in individual entries. Perhaps Hayton could be persuaded to extend his already magnificent achievement towards a discussion of the culture of the Augustan Parliament Man?
Volumes 2-5 contain the nearly two thousand individual members' biographies. These go well beyond what has appeared in previous instalments. For example, Sir Edward Seymour received sixteen columns in the 1660-90 section edited by B. D. Henning; here he receives nearly sixty-four, despite a diminishing role before his death three-quarters of the way through the period. A less important but still significant member like John Aislabie gets twelve columns; George Baillie of Jerviswood, twenty-eight, and the entry for, arguably, the pivotal parliamentary figure of the period, Robert Harley, nearly seventy-two columns. These articles easily supercede comparable biographies in the current DNB and one wonders if they will be matched in the new one.
The basic elements of each member's entry are more or less the same as in previous volumes: each begins with a brief summary including name, titles, dates, place of residence, parliamentary service, family background, and offices. The biographies proper give details of education and marriages and provide even more information on political and parliamentary activities (reporting, telling, etc.) than previously. They also give quotes, sometimes copious, from contemporary correspondence, newsletters, accounts of debates, etc., many of which are not otherwise available. As a result, one gets a much more well-rounded sense of each member's contribution, contemporary reputation, and personality. Thus, one can readily understand Sir Thomas Hanmer's reputation for oratory or Sir Nicholas Lechmere's stature among his fellow Whigs from the speeches quoted in their respective biographies. Take, for example, Lechmere's forthright opening statement at the Sacheverell trial: "The nature of our constitution is that of a limited monarchy, wherein the supreme power was--by mutual consent and not by accident--limited and lodged in more hands than one.... [T]he consequences of such a form of government are obvious; that the laws are the rule to both, the common measure of the power of the crown and of the obedience of the subject; and if the executive part endeavors the subversion and total destruction of the government, the original contract is thereby broke, and the right of allegiance ceases, and that part of the government thus fundamentally injured has a right to recover that constitution in which it had an original interest" (v. 4, p. 603). On a more mundane level, one can practically smell the roast beef of Old England in John Machell's blunt, bluff, businesslike speech in favor of increasing the duty on French wines in 1692: "Because there are arts used to bring in French wines, I desire we may lay =4 a tun above all other duties upon red wine. This will raise a good sum. Your French wines ... are now rose to 6d. a quart by reason they have found ways to bring them in here under other names. But by laying this duty on all manner of red wines you will come at them" (v. 4, p. 718).
Forthrightness and strong personalities were not confined to the interiors of St. Stephen's. Sir Charles Kemys may have distinguished himself on a visit to Hanover in 1707 "on account of the lessons he had given the court ... in the British accomplishments of drinking and smoking tobacco," but when entreated to repeat the tutorial at a lev=e of the newly ascended George I, he refused: "I should be happy to smoke a pipe with him as Elector of Hanover, but I cannot think of it as king of England" (v. 4, p. 539). Mark Knights similarly displays Charles Caesar's "charm and wit" by quoting letters to his beloved wife, Mary, in 1730 from their estate at Bennington, Herts. Alluding to a long separation due to her convalescence at Bath, he compared himself to "Adam before Eve was created, spending my time with the beasts in the field, the fowls of the air and the fish in the waters, tho' he had this advantage over me, that not having experienced how happy a loving and beloved wife makes her husband, he could not be so sensible of his want as I am who have for so many years been blessed with one" (v. 3, p. 440).
As this implies, these volumes contribute to an older species of social history by providing evidence of the general level of literacy among the elite and the degree of eloquence the language had obtained by the early-eighteenth century. Clearly, the old charge that History of Parliament biographies were limited in usefulness by their nearly exclusive concentration on parliamentary, or at least high political, activities cannot stand the evidence of these entries. While never losing sight of politics, they provide well rounded accounts of the members' lives and personalities outside the House. This reviewer found the accounts of members' deaths and attitudes towards religion to be especially compelling.
Finally, it must be said that the literary quality of these biographies is very high, fully justifying their long gestation. Hayton's entries, in particular, are marked by trenchant analysis, pithy characterization, and beautiful prose. He has a particular gift for the telling opening, as in his first lines on Anthony Hammond: "It was Hammond's misfortune to possess the temperament and modest intellectual attainments of the dilettante, without sufficient means to enable him to fritter away his opportunities in comfort" (v. 4, p. 169). His biography on Sir Thomas Hanmer begins with a subtle overture: "Hanmer, a fastidious young man inclined to preciosity yet of a warily calculating disposition, took the earliest steps in his public career with characteristic care" (v. 4, p. 187); but ends with a devastating coda: "A grandly Ciceronian view of public duty, and a morbidly exaggerated attachment to his own reputation, consistently impelled him to perform in the political arena, but by the same token deprived him of the will seriously to compete in it" (v. 4, p. 197).
Hayton's greatest achievement may be his biography of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford. Though not comprehensive in every detail (Oxford's loss of favor late in Queen Anne's reign is skimmed over), no previous biographer has displayed greater insight into the psychology of this Protean figure. Hayton sees Harley as a man who emerged from his father's domineering religious influence, in part, by developing a facility for dissimulation which would vex his contemporaries and later historians. Nevertheless, Hayton finds a consistent Country theme through Harley's life, not of perennial opposition or disdain for office, but rather a yearning for office in order to effect reform. Thus, Robert Harley was at once Country and Court, critic and actor, a defender of the past but also a harbinger of the future in British politics.
Like the latest installment of the History of Parliament, Julian Hoppit's must be among the most highly anticipated volumes in the New Oxford History of England, both because the period 1689-1727 witnessed the constitutional changes noted above, and because it has been revised beyond recognition since the initial publication of G. N. Clark's long-standard survey (covering a slightly different period: 1660-1714) in 1934. It takes a synthesist of no mean ability to hold all the disparate political, diplomatic, economic, social, and cultural strands of Augustan England in hand and lay them out with clarity for the varied audience intended for this book. Hoppit succeeds admirably. He thereby provides a useful tool of reading and reference for all students of the period at whatever level of interest.
Clark's book was famous in its day for the amount of attention he gave to the last three branches of Clio's house, as noted above, in particular. Hoppit surpasses him. There are four explicitly political chapters, two which deal with war and empire, four which lay out the facts of social and economic life, two which deal with religion and culture, all bracketed by wide-ranging discussions of world-view and that besetting preoccupation of the Augustan Age, order and disorder. As this implies, this book benefits from the expansion of purview which has taken place in the field by virtue of the New Social History and its offspring, the New Cultural History. Though a history of England, it also contains extensive sections on Scotland, Ireland, and the Empire, usefully drawn together in Chapter 8. This seems to the reviewer a reasonable compromise with "three kingdoms" revisionism in that it results in a more coherent text than would a narrative history of Britain, while explaining fully how other regions affected the English story.
That is not to say that the interconnections among political, social, economic, and cultural themes have produced a seamless narrative. This reviewer finds the organization of the book problematic: the introductory chapter, "England after the Glorious Revolution," precedes the chapter entitled "The Glorious Revolution and the Revolution Constitution," which is followed by "The Facts of Life." Given Hoppit's implicit conviction that those facts provide the foundation upon which politics are built (see below), it would have been better to give them before erecting the political edifice. Nor does it make sense to separate the Glorious Revolution chapter (2) from the wars which it spawned (4) or to follow that with "The Political World of William III." This last would seem to be another "facts of life" chapter, which should come earlier. In short, the political chapters are not always well integrated into the fabric of the book.
But the content of those chapters themselves is immensely useful. Each one provides an admirable summary of current research, leavened by Hoppit's views where he deems appropriate. Hoppit perpetuates one of the strengths of Clark's volume in the attention he pays to the national economy, leaving no doubt as to why England became the economic juggernaut of Europe subsequent to this period. Students of the period will find his explanations of the Commercial and Financial Revolutions to be immediately accessible. Pace his disclaimer in the preface, The Oxford History of England should aspire to be a work of reference as well as tell a story, and, again like Clark, Hoppit is careful to supply specific facts and figures, for, say, the number of troops at Blenheim, the number of Catholics in England, the expansion of the sugar trade in the eighteenth century, or the rise of print culture. As with the History of Parliament volumes, tables (this time clearly marked as such) and quotations are well chosen. Thus Misson on the state of the Augustan clergy: "There are a vast many poor Wretches, whose Benefices do not bring them in enough to buy them Cloaths. This obliges 'em to look out for other Ways, and those often sordid ones, to get their Bread; and thus the Ministry grows scandalous" (p. 212); or de Laune on Augustan London: "The mighty Rendezvous of Nobility, Gentry, Courtiers, Divines, Lawyers, Physicians, Merchants, Seamen, and all kinds of Excellent Artificers, of the most Refined Wits, and most Excellent Beauties" (p. 426).
Other useful features include a detailed critical bibliography, full notation for quotes, and brief biographical notes on important figures as they appear in the text. Such attention to detail in a book of this scope is rare and much to be appreciated.
But what does Hoppit think about the period? How well does he succeed in his own goal "to evoke the spirit of the age" (p. ix)? In the end, the picture he paints will be familiar to those who have kept up with its many historians. That is, like many of the most recent writers on the Revolution and its aftermath, he emphasizes its contingency, hence the ambiguity of the book's title. He portrays an England emerging hesitantly from the upheavals of the seventeenth century: "Far from the Glorious Revolution solving England's problems and ushering in a period of calm assurance and inexorable progress, it provoked many anxieties and insecurities, divisions and disorders" (p. 1). And yet, despite the almost self-conscious rejection of the broadest strokes of an older, more celebratory Whig teleology, the substance of the book argues for "England's rise to greatness" (to quote an older collection edited by Stephen Baxter) as surely as do the History of Parliament volumes. In the end, this book segues neatly into Paul Langford's volume, depicting the English as a polite and commercial people who just happened, often as much by luck and circumstance as by design, to become the wealthiest and most powerful state in Europe.
Hoppit well understands the inter-relationship of war, trade, colonies, and finance in this transformation, arguing that the two great wars with France were the engine that drove economic and political developments. It is perhaps when he turns to the impact of these wars and this wealth on society and culture that the book becomes most adventurous but less certain, the lines of historiographical argument less clear. He is very strong on England's cultural and intellectual development, in particular the increasing audience for a wide variety of cultural products and the increasing domination of the sacred by the secular, with useful explanations of key debates over urbanization, luxury, reason, the reformation of manners, etc. Though he is an important contributor to the History of Parliament, in particular as the editor of a recent book on failed legislation, one senses a greater degree of tentativeness in his political sections: his statement that "the meaning of Whig and Tory ... had been so clear in the 1690s" (p. 493) is highly debatable and it should be obvious from its very name that the Calves Head Club was not a Tory assemblage. He also has Charles II of Spain dying in October 1701, after James II. More importantly, the explanation of the differences between the two political parties under Queen Anne relies too heavily on the contemporary charges of each about the other, and would benefit from an application of the sort of authorial clarity that Hoppit so usefully provides on economic matters. Fortunately, here, readers can turn to Hayton's account.
The men who initiated the great series of which these volumes form the latest contributions believed that the achievements of English history were unprecedented and something of a miracle. Take the words of the distinguished committee which oversaw the initiation of the History of Parliament: "We were the first people to govern ourselves through responsible representatives." This sense of uniqueness continues today: in the foreword to the History of Parliament volumes, Ted Rowlands, Chairman of the History of Parliament Trust, former member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and contributor to this and earlier sets, asserts that "No other European monarchy ... discovered the art of fighting wars with representative consent" (v. 1, p. ix; the quote's order has been reversed without affecting meaning). Admittedly, much recent historiography has served to disabuse us of some of the awe implicit in such assertions. But it is surely inarguable that some of the celebratory exceptionalism which we now find so off-putting about the old Whig view of English constitutional history can be applied legitimately to the very enterprise of writing English--now self-consciously British--history itself. If such encompassing labors as the History of Parliament and the New Oxford History of England are not unique to British historiography, they are surely unsurpassed. Linda Colley, a distinguished historian of parliamentary politics in her own right, has written of the History of Parliament: "the sheer scale and vision of this enterprise remain remarkable, as do its scholarly quality and potential. At the end of the day, Namier had achieved not a mausoleum, but a monument.
The History of Parliament and New Oxford History of England are monuments whose erection is not, nor ever will be, complete. Long may their good work continue.
. Editor's note: see, also, an earlier H-Albion review by Bill Speck, at http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=209071047797478.
. Linda Colley, Namier (New York: St. Martin's, 1989), pp. 73-74, 79, 82-84.
. Geoffrey Holmes, British Politics in the Age of Anne, rev. ed. (London: Hambledon, 1987).
. T. K. Moore and Henry Horwitz, "Who Runs the House? Aspects of Parliamentary Organization in the Later 17th Century," Journal of Modern History 43 (1971): pp. 205-227.
. Failed Legislation, 1600-1800: Extracted from the Commons and Lords Journals, ed. J. Hoppit (London: Hambledon, 2003).
. Colley, p. 76.
. Ibid., p. 89.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-albion.
Robert Bucholz. Review of Cruickshanks, Eveline; Handley, Stuart; Hayton, D. W., eds., The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1690-1715 and
Hoppit, Julian, A Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727 (New Oxford History of England).
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