Topic 45A – Great britain in the XVIIITH century. Socio-economical development and political articulation. Cultural and technical activity. Great novelists of the period

Topic 45A – Great britain in the XVIIITH century. Socio-economical development and political articulation. Cultural and technical activity. Great novelists of the period

We can´t talk about politics in England in this century, without talking about France and Spain. At the beginning of the century, the throne of Spain is vacant, and both countries fight during the first thirteen years of the century to occupy this throne. The war was directed by John Churchill, duke of Marlborough. By 1710 it seems clear that it is going to be Louis XIV, king of France, and not Queen Anne who is going to place a relative in Spanish throne. So John Churchill is substituted by the tory party, who establishes the peace with France. The result of this is the Treaty of Utretch.

Treaty of Utretch: (1713)

– Philip the V remains the king of Spain.

– England wins, by an asiento, limited trading rights in Spanish America.

– England receives Gibraltar and Minorca. (strategic positions in the Mediterranean)

-Nova Scotia, Hudson Bay, Terranova.

So this treaty will lay the foundations of 50 years of English preponderance both in the new and the old world.

In 1714, Queen Anne from the family Stuart and protestant, dies. The crown is occupied by George the I, of the Hannoverian house, who is Anne´s closest protestant relative. This way of sucession was marked by the establishment act, made years before by the protestants to keep the control of the country. Now we can see something that would be unbelievable nowadays, but it wasn´t 3 centuries ago: the king of england, both George I and his son George the II, were German, and they couldn´t even speak English. Their real occupation was Hannover and Germany. This had several consequences:

It helped to provoque the jacobite revolution, made by the scotish followers of James II, another claimant to the english crown. (1815-1846. Battle of Culloden)

It contributed to shape the figure of the prime minister as real director of the country. This figure was first occuppied by Robert Walpole.

We have talked about tories, prime ministers, parties… but the political parties were very different from what it is today. The king elected men of not an only party. He chosed the men who would support him. For example, GI and GII, elected whigs, to support the house of Hannover. So the system was unfair and corrupt. During the reign of GIII, this became more evident, when it was known that he had paid money to many members of the parliament). There was a group opposed to this system Edmund Burke proposed an alternative: a parliamentary government formed by ministers who represented the party with the majority in the house of commons. It was the beginning of the modern form of government. However the influence system would continue during the reigns of George IV, William the IV, and the Queen Victoria.

We have left Robert Walpole on command of the country. He tried to prevent England from going into an open war with Spain. England never accepted the Treaty of Utretch. English merchants, not accepting the limitations established by the treaty, become sscontrabandistas. One of these merchants, Robert Jenkins, was captured by the crew of a spanish ship, who forced him to hand his cargo over, and who punshed him by cutting one of his ears. This was one of the sparks that started the so-called war of Jenkins´ear. 1739-1741.

This war had its continuation in the war with Austria, and the seven years war. (1756-1763) In this war, England, alliated with Prussia and Hannover, fight against France, who had alliated to Austria, Russia and Spain. The king GII put William Pitt the Old in charge of the war abroad. The war ended with the treaty of Paris, a diplomatic success for England:

England received from France: territories in Canada, India, the territories East the Mississipi river in America, and from Spain, Florida.

So the treaty of Paris places England, in 1763, at the top of its expansion, with more territories than ever both in Europe and America. However, the seven years war would be the begining of the lost of the colonies in norteamerica. England had had a lot of expenses during the war, and wanted to increase the taxes in the colonies to raise its economy. The colonies were against, so the discontent grown. Besides, the majority of the politicians were indifferent to American problems. Colonies were ordained by God to provide raw materials and to accept manufactured articles in return.

For the majority of the population, colonies were a dumping ground for thieves, bankrupts, and prostitutes for which they received tobacco in return.until twelve years later the war begins. Twelve years after the end of the seven years war, the war of independence begins. The United States would win the war, and England would lose them as colonies.

So, these would be the most important historical facts of this century in England.


There are some changes regarding the three classic statements of noble class, middle class, and working class.

Noble class: In the top of the piramid we have a group of rich landowners, but now, they adhere to the most innovative, interesting and original ideas of their era. Many of them become patrons of the art and science, helping to improve the discoveries made during the previous century. Besides, they aren´t an isolated class. Some bankers and merchants are also included here.

Middle class: There are here very big differences of income, levels of culture and position. The middle class peasants have now a place in politics, sports in the country, and entertainements in the city. Here they meet the middle class. We can´t talk about bourguesy yet, since they are a small group and still lacking of conscience of class.

Working class: the small farmers are still very poor. Their salaries is completed by the donations to the poor. Besides, the system of enclosures, which had been carried out progressively by means of parliamentary laws, always favoured the landowners. Many farmers lost the pasture rights they had. The new techniques needed less and less working hands, which left many people unemployed.


This is a century of a great importance in this field, since we can see now the changes which will give place to the industrial revolution, and therefore of the capitalist system, at the end of the century in England, and the following century in the rest of Europe.

It is in this century when Adam Smith publishes hid The wealth of the nations, which would be the theoretical point of reference for the starting of the industrial revolution and for capitalism. In this book, Adam Smith proposes a free commercial interaction among subjects and companies, with a minimal intervención of the government.

In the XVIII, England fulfills the necessary conditions to hold this industrial revolution, which will take place at the end of the century and during the first part of the XIX:

It had a preindustrial economy, basis for an acumulative process.

Relative political stability following the glorious revolution of 1688-1689

Constitution that emphasized individualism

Development of strong banking and credit system

Raw materials (coal, iron, wool)

Overseas colonial market + expanding domestic market

So the first 70 years of the century are an introduction to this revolution. It is in this century when concepts that nowadays seem basic arise. Rentability, rationalization of the work and of the distribution of products… the man of industry realices that time is money, and that this money can be reinvested to improve the process of production to obtain more benefites and close the cicle. These changes in economy would be of great importance for the future of, not only England, but all the civilized world. The cicle described, proved to be self-feeding, and it is still valid, basically, nowadays. We can say then that it is here where it begins the economic era that we are living nowadays.

The improvements in the methods of production, and transports played an important role in the change to an industrial economy from a rural one. However, until the last decades of the century, technical innovations were not always seen from a positive point of view. The steam machine, whose uses would turn out to be almost infinite, was at first only used to pump water. The owners of the factories only saw in the new machines a way to reduce the number of workers, but not to make production grow. By this same reason, machines had not the approvation of workers. So we can say that the first 7 decades of the XVIII was a preparation for the fundamental changes that would take place at the end of the century.


The XVIII was culturally marked by the expansion of the enlightment in Europe. The enlightenment is the term used to describe the tendencies in the thinking and literature in Europe and America during the XVIII previous to the French Revolution. The feeling among the writers of the century was that the world was emerging from centuries of darkness and ignorance to a new age of reason, science and respect for humanity.

The precursores of the movement are philosophers and thinkers as Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke.

The common factor to the philosophers of this movement was a constant and absolute faith in the power of the human reason. The most important scientific fact of this century is the exposition of the theory of the universal gravitation by Newton. If the humanity could find out the laws of the universe, (which had always been supposed to be a matter of religion and faith, more than of science), the laws of God himself, they could also find out the laws underlining nature and society. It would be the birth of social and nature sciences. It was assumed that, through a wise use of reason, it would be possible an unlimited technical, economical, moral progress. Agreat value was given to the discovering of the truth through the observation of nature, instead of authorized sources, as the bible or Aristotle.

Although it was in France where the movement had more activity, (Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquiev…), it reached all the civilized world. The practical consequences of the movement, were the independence of the american colonnies in North America and the French revolution.