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Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics

Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Sex, Money and Personal Character in Eighteenth-Century British Politics
    Book Description:

    How, and why, did the Anglo-American world become so obsessed with the private lives and public character of its political leaders? Marilyn Morris finds answers in eighteenth-century Britain, when a long tradition of court intrigue and gossip spread into a much broader and more public political arena with the growth of political parties, extra-parliamentary political activities, and a partisan print culture.The public's preoccupation with the personal character of the ruling elite paralleled a growing interest in the interior lives of individuals in histories, novels, and the theater. Newspaper reports of the royal family intensified in intimacy and its members became moral exemplars-most often, paradoxically, when they misbehaved.Ad hominemattacks on political leaders became commonplace; politicians of all affiliations continued to assess one another's characters based on their success and daring with women and money. And newly popular human-interest journalism promoted the illusion that the personal characters of public figures could be read by appearances.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21047-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  7. Note on Dates
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  8. CHAPTER ONE The Political and the Personal
    (pp. 1-23)

    Customary celebrations of kings’ and queen-consorts’ birthdays changed little between the reigns of George II and George III—a drawing-room in the afternoon, supper and a ball in the evening, the firing of guns, ringing of bells, bonfires and illuminations—but newspaper coverage of these and other royal anniversaries and ceremonial occasions underwent a radical alteration in style in the same period. The accounts of queens’ birthdays cited above encapsulate the different aspects of this journalistic trend. During George II’s reign, both ministerial (supporters of the current administration) and opposition papers reported on the daily pursuits of the king and...

  9. CHAPTER TWO The Politics of Personal Character
    (pp. 24-58)

    As party organization became essential to the practice of politics and a partisan press steadily grew, political writers faced a dilemma over how much personal information about opponents they should reveal in public forums. Consequently, from the coronation of William and Mary in April 1689 to the launch of theNorth Britonin June 1762, which commenced the Wilkes and Liberty movement, the act of making a correlation between an individual’s domestic life and capacity for public service became contentious. The libel laws and the gentleman’s code of honour to keep the secrets of one’s peers only went so far...

  10. CHAPTER THREE The Measure of Men
    (pp. 59-97)

    Changes at court after George III’s accession in 1760 furthered the personalization of politics. Young, British-born and chaste, the king raised expectations for national moral regeneration. His elevation to the ministry of his ‘dearest friend’, John Stuart, Earl of Bute, as secretary of state for the northern department in March 1761, however, would be interpreted as a return to Stuart corruption. This act provoked politicians into a furore of irrational, xenophobic, misogynistic and highly sexualized personal abuse against this new favourite that would fan out and strike other ministers. The first king since Charles I not to keep mistresses, George...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Court, Courtship and Domestic Virtue
    (pp. 98-134)

    The hereditary principle allowed the monarch’s sexual body to be a legitimate object of public scrutiny. Interest in the Stuarts’ sexuality, however, strayed beyond a concern for the dynasty’s propagation and survival when these monarchs’ personal desires gave royal favourites untoward access to their persons, power and influence. Sexual metaphor in political discourse reached its zenith during the reign of Charles II. Broadside doggerel graphically depicted the royal prick, imagined in substantial dimensions, symbolizing a court ruled by pleasure and, thus, raping the nation, or rendered impotent by continual engulfment.¹ Drawing parallels between a monarch’s regnal style and his or...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE The Ethics of Fashion, Spending, Credit and Debt
    (pp. 135-173)

    In a monarchy, as in marriage and family life, disagreements over money can bring on a whole world of grief. Although the contestation caused by cash-strapped Stuart kings raising revenue without parliamentary consent, which helped launch the British Isles into civil war in 1642, finally had resolution in the Civil List Act of 1698, bickering over royal finances did not cease. E.A. Reitan has pointed out that, while the civil list was only a small part of the total governmental budget, it continued to be a touchy issue because it brought several constitutional principles into conflict: the independence of the...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Views from the Peripheries of the Political World
    (pp. 174-208)

    The importance that politicians and journalists gave to personal character, when mixed with enduring court traditions, the practical demands of party organization and the pressures of changing cultural trends, produced moral inconsistencies and paradoxes. The hereditary succession kept familial duty at a premium and the monarchy’s unremitting symbolic value preserved the need to maintain variable degrees of splendour in the palace. Yet the royal family had to adapt to changing societal attitudes and economic conditions that called into question the rectitude of strong paternal power and the value of luxurious display. The idealization of domestic fidelity and oeconomy also encroached...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN The Persistence of Casuistry
    (pp. 209-218)

    As these representative examples from the eras of Sir Robert Walpole and William Pitt the Younger attest, over the course of fifty years even reports of military reviews, not just celebrations of royal anniversaries, weddings and birthdays, had been turned into human-interest stories. Members of the court came to life in print as distinct personalities. Concurrently, politicians became public personas as party designations evolved from Tory and Whig, to Court and Country, to ministry and opposition, to Rockinghamites, Chathamites, Wilkites, Foxites, Pittites and the like. Men had overwhelmed measures with respect to political identity as the press followed men’s private...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 219-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-258)