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July 27, 2006

The Politics of Monarchy: Georgian Monarchy, Politics and Culture, 1714-1760 - Hannah Smith

Posted by Jeremy Black

Georgian Monarchy, Politics and Culture, 1714-1760
by Hannah Smith
Pp. xiii+296. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006
Hardback, 48

In this wide-ranging, archivally well-grounded, and interesting volume, Dr Smith, Lecturer in History at the University of Hull, joins the lists of those offering revisionist accounts of the reigns of George I and George II, although her bibliography is far from complete and, in particular, she needs to add David Flaten's "King George II and the Politicians: the Struggle for Political Power" (PhD, Fordham, 1999).

She argues that the monarchs were more popular than is generally appreciated and therefore that they were not tolerated solely on the grounds of political expediency.

After a historiographical introduction, there are five chapters: Images of the early Georgian monarchy; the fashioning of early Georgian kingship and queenship; loyalist culture in the localities; the regime, the State, and the enforcement of loyalist culture; and the early Georgian court.

Early Georgian monarchical culture is presented as an integral element of a wider political interchange, in which all those who exercised authority operated. However, as Smith notes, although the dynamics of this culture were essentially voluntarists, there could also exist a strong underlying element on compulsion by the State. This itself helped exacerbate tensions.

The treatment of court culture is helpful. Court activity is seen as offering a means of punishment as well as of reward. Fortunately for civic peace, this involved social manners rather than earlier forms of favour and hostility. For example, the monarch could acknowledge persons in the drawing room, but could also choose to snub them. George II "rumped" people he disliked.

Far from court, loyalist festivals, such as royal birthdays, marked the year. Bells ushered in the day of celebration, civic dignitaries processed to the market cross, where they drank the health of the monarch, and alcohol and victuals might be distributed to the poor. There were often illuminations. In part, Smith's book forms a counterpart to work on Patriot, Tory and Jacobite circles, ideology and popular politics. This underlines the need to stress the diversity of thought and the lack of any zeitgeist, or, looked at differently, the very different political formulations of the latter.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006). Prof. Black's biography of George III - George III: America's Last King - will be published by Yale University Press in November 2006.

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