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Youngstown OhioA Land of Liberty?: England 1689-1727 (New Oxford History of England)
Published: 03 October, 2002
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Author: Julian Hoppit
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Youngstown Ohio Very readable and comprehensive

A very well- rounded introduction to a period of British history that should be better known. The author strikes a good balance between the political narrative and his coverage of the social, economic, cultural, and military developments of the age. This book should be accessible to anyone with a serious interest in this period in European history.

Youngstown Ohio A Great Power Emerges

Writes Professor Roger Hainsworth, formerly of Adelaide University, South Australia: Students of English history will welcome this new volume in the New Oxford History of England series.1689-1727 is a very significant period for the history of the British people and indeed it proved important to many European people also for this reason: during it Britain became a great power and in the process the growing hegemony of France over western Europe was first confronted, fought against and finally halted. More of this later. Dr. Hoppit, although his eye is undimmed by romantic illusions about past eras, has a positive tale to tell. He writes that in late seventeen and early eighteenth century England "political discord was contained and then undermined. Warfare was endured and survived. Britain's empire was extended and its value increased. Population began slowly to grow. Many towns flourished. Agriculture, industry and commerce all showed signs of expansion .... society was not stagnant, it was on the move." This favourable assessment might have astonished contemporaries both at home and abroad. They still perceived England as politically unstable, riven by party ("faction"), and menaced by the apparently unbridgeable dynastic dispute between the Jacobite supporters of the exiled James II and then of his son (the Old Pretender) and the Whig and Orange Tory supporters of William III, Anne and the Protestant Succession (the Hanoverians). Meanwhile the British state was menaced by growing poor rates, menacing numbers of unemployed, seemingly endless foreign wars, and a growing mountain of debt: all presided over by a government which appeared more powerful and uncheckable every year and was backed by that worst of all English nightmares: a permanent army. Dr. Hoppit explores these fears and traumas incisively and expertly and makes it clearer than it perhaps has ever been made before why the positive developments prevailed and the worst fears ebbed away. The fundamental problem for historians of the period is to explain how England become a great power during the reigns of William III and Anne. Cromwell's disciplined army and a powerful navy had made England a great power fleetingly during the 1650s. However, there was no way to finance these prodigies on a long term basis. The restored Charles II almost went broke disbanding these extravagant instruments of power. England's resurgence in the two decades following the Glorious Revolution of 1689 astonished foreign observers who had believed, reasonably enough, that England's small population doomed it to the side-lines of European politics. In a long contest between Britain and France surely there could be only one result? England with Wales had only about 5.25 million in 1700. Scotland had 1.23 million and Ireland about 2 million. France, the most populous country in Europe (including Russia) had 22 million. These bare statistics proved deceptive. Although eighty per cent of England's population were rural dwellers, almost thirty per cent of the population were engaged in some form of industry. Manchester was then only a large village but Defoe estimated it provided "outside" employment to 40,000 weavers and allied trades. In fact England was the most urbanised country in Europe and if this was partly because ten per cent of the people lived in London her urbanisation was to increase hugely during the eighteenth century while London's population stagnated. Industrial strength and a powerful navy were gradually joined by a formidable army. During Anne's reign it would be led by one of history's greatest commanders who was also a remarkable diplomat and builder of alliances: the Duke of Marlborough. The financial problems of the mid seventeenth century were resolved by taxation passed freely if grumpily by the House of Commons which had now become a permanent institution of state rather than an irregular occurrence. The taxes funded that unusual novelty the National Debt which was partly managed by an enlarged Treasury assisted by an inspired creation, the Bank of England. The two great European wars of the period weakened the Continental powers, especially France, but left Britain stronger than when she entered them. Many speculated about this paradox but no great power seemed able to copy the method even supposing they understood it. All these matters receive due attention in this volume. So also does a range of other important topics: the remarkable growth of parliamentary government which in time would make possible the political peace of Sir Robert Walpole's long prime ministership during the 1720s; the decline into impotence of the Jacobites; the astonishing efflorescence of a print culture of books, newspapers and pamphlets; the slow decline of the Anglican hegemony in the face of stubborn Dissenters and ideas of religious tolerance; the extraordinarily rich burst of public and private building ranging from Wren's St Paul's to Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor's masterpieces (Castle Howard and Blenheim the best known of many); and the steady advance of pragmatic, experimental science. This last owed much to one man and in a fine passage Hoppit writes that the year his period ends is better defined not by the death of George I but by the death aged 84 of one of his subjects. Interred like a prince in Westminster Abbey with the Lord Chancellor, two dukes and three earls among his pall-bearers, he was Sir Isaac Newton. That indeed was the end of an era. This is a worthy addition to a very collectable series. There are the minor flaws often found when the author has to shoehorn a complex discourse into a confined space. Stylistic faults occasionally jar and infelicities of sentence structure ("there were those (such as Locke had done) who strongly argued ...") often require the reader to turn back to disentangle the sense. However, Dr. Hoppit's text is informative, interesting, thought-provoking and engrossing. He has explored the diverse facets of his subject with care and sensitivity to their nuances. All students of this significant period will be in his debt for decades to come. Had it been put in my hands when I was studying this period as an undergraduate I would have gnawed on it like a famished wolf.

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