European Contexts for English Republicanism (Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650–1750)

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The gender blindness of mainstream political history almost goes without saying, and this is likely the case in other national historiographies too. The universal subject of political history is implicitly public and male. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, liberal contract theory consigned women to the invisibility of the private sphere, 3 and to this day, most political histories of the period replicate this assumption.

Where British masculinities were concerned, the neglect of politics was all the more frustrating because it should not have been the case. Having engaged with the topic at its birth, however, British gender history rarely returned to it. Davidoff and Hall themselves published further key essays, 6 and there were also notable studies focus focusing on nineteenth-century labour history 7 and the twentieth-century Conservative party. Throughout the s, therefore, the histories of masculinity and politics in Britain largely continued on their separate paths. So the study of public masculinities continued to be sidelined, although there is a huge amount that it could gain from both of these literatures.

Work on women and politics has highlighted the social and informal aspects of political life that are so often overlooked by mainstream political history. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the study of masculinity was very fashionable in British historical studies and a favourite topic for conferences.

Far from being a handicap for the field, this oblique approach instead cautions against reifying something that is in fact provisional and slippery, and which is inevitably informed by other aspects of human experience. Early work on British political masculinities therefore promised a significant new field of historical investigation.

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Although important studies have appeared over the last decade, however, the field remains somewhat diffuse and its impact on the wider historiography has been limited. This is possibly because the field still struggles to justify its existence. And is there a danger that feminism could lose out by diverting its energies to study it? Historians of political masculinities work across two fields that have very different attitudes towards periodisation. Political historians are very comfortable talking about long-term change, in relation to questions such as state development, political movements and ideological traditions.

Whig and Marxist accounts of British political development had very clear teleologies and their influence continues to be felt. The history of masculinity is, in part, a product of the cultural turn in historical studies, which usually concerns itself with deconstructing metanarratives rather than building them up. Its subjective and personal subject matter often lends itself to article-length case studies such as the contributions to this collection that focus on individuals, moments or crises. Nor is cultural history necessarily the problem here: a handful of book-length studies have since combined gender and politics chronologies in order to explore the long view.

Where the history of masculinity is concerned, however, there remain obstacles to working across periods. Masculinities look very different in different periods of history. Historians of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries tend to emphasise an anxious, godly and patriarchal model of manhood; whereas historians of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries instead emphasise a more fluid masculinity that is flamboyant, sexualised and publicly validated.

This may signify a cyclical pattern in the history of masculinity—an ebb and flow between two fundamental poles not that these features are mutually exclusive: it is possible to be both godly and sexualised, for example. Or it may instead simply be the case that different sorts of historians work on different centuries and therefore find it difficult to look beyond their period silos.

In British studies, the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries have long been dominated by social and economic history. By contrast, the eighteenth and twentieth centuries were relatively neglected until recently, so interdisciplinary cultural studies rushed into fill the vacuum.

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Nevertheless, it is possible to sketch the broad contours of political masculinity in Britain over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the beginning of the period, masculinities were relatively fluid, within a scheme of sex difference that was on a sliding scale. As such, the primary political masculinity of the early modern period was that of the courtier, who possessed the refined and codified manners of the European aristocracy.

As the century wore on, those excluded from the centre of power became more assertive in their criticisms of the establishment. They argued that they were more deserving of office than the narrow ruling elite, and often did so in terms of nationalism and gender. This highly gendered political culture drew heavily on classical republicanism, which asserted that the true source of power in a state lay in its citizenry of substantial householders.

The strength of the polity lay in the virtue and vigilance of these citizens, since a weak populace could be overawed by an oppressive ruler or foreign threats. Historians of political thought such as J.

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Pocock have long argued for the influence of neoclassical republicanism in this period, 28 but gender historians have shown just how far it impacted on everyday society and politics. The period of the Seven Years War — can be seen as a watershed in several respects. Admiral Byng failed to engage a larger French fleet, leading to the fall of Minorca, and became the symbol of the unpatriotic and unmanly ruling class. The government attempted to scapegoat Byng, court martialling him for cowardice and executing him on the deck of his ship, but this did not head off the wider critique. Anti-establishment politics focused on the movement to reform the militia, which revelled in the image of the manly householder who would defend all that was dear to him as a husband, a father, a patriot and a Protestant.

In particular, John Wilkes used print journalism and demotic election contests in order to appeal to the extra-parliamentary nation. His own colourful hypermasculinity became central to his cause. His virulent xenophobia was a populist stance against the Scottish prime minister Bute, his fondness for duelling and militia service underlined his martial credentials, and even his libertine sexuality came to embody his commitment to political liberty. Arguably George III anticipated the way British politics was going, because after the s politicians were increasingly required to be virtuous in both their public and private lives.

The French Revolution had profound implications for politics and gender in Britain. Politics became polarised between radical supporters of Revolution and conservative defenders of the status quo. This was the heroic age of working-class radicalism celebrated by Marxist historians like E. Thompson, where proud artisans railed against industrialisation and injustice, and educated themselves in the rights of man. Gender historians such as Anna Clark have presented a less heroic picture, suggesting that Thompson marginalised women in his narrative, and that his artisans were hostile to female labour and were given to misogyny and violence.

Redrawing citizenship in inclusive social terms often meant being exclusive in terms of gender. Loyalist ideas about gender were no less significant. Desperate to mobilise civilian men for military service against the threatened French invasion, the establishment appropriated patriotism from the radicals, presenting martial citizenship as the masculine ideal—a model of citizenship that excluded women, who were instead presented as helpmeets and objects to be defended.

Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Nor was it just reactionary, since it was also a way for the middle classes to trumpet their moral superiority to those socially above and below them, and thence to push for political rights to match their newfound economic power. The radical movement rallied at the close of the Napoleonic Wars, which brought about widespread unemployment and economic dislocation. Men who had served their country in war argued that they had performed a key duty of citizenship, and so deserved its rewards.

Moreover, ideas about sex and gender gave their critique much of its appeal. George treated Caroline unchivalrously and failed to establish a harmonious household: his private failings were central to his public reputation. Within the dramatis personae of popular melodrama, George was portrayed as a debauched aristocratic villain, Caroline an innocent heroine, and her male champions as chivalric heroes.

Clark argues that the affair was a turning point in political aesthetics, as satire came to be replaced by melodrama: the s saw the last hurrah of scabrous, bawdy Georgian satire and ushered in a more respectable political culture. When parliamentary reform finally came in it was similarly concerned with domestic respectability. The Whig Reformers had a very clear idea of those to whom it wished to give the vote, since they believed that greater political liberty consisted not of giving the vote to more people, but to the right people, whom they deemed able to exercise it responsibly.

So although the size of the electorate expanded by about 50 per cent, it became more socially exclusive: the old haphazard system of local qualifications in which many working people could vote was superseded by a uniform property qualification which intended to give the vote to middle-class men. Working men who had long campaigned for the vote were not rewarded in , so radical energies in the s and 40s focused on Chartism.

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Chartism has a huge status in labour history since this was the first nationwide working-class political movement. It was long interpreted as a proto-socialist movement with social and economic goals, but more recent political historians have emphasised its political nature and its debt to the old radical movement.

Like their radical forebears, however, they believed that voting was the preserve of men: only men possessed the crucial quality of independence, now reworked to encompass labour as well as property. Chartists deployed a gendered rhetoric that celebrated the male breadwinner and the benefits for women of domestic respectability. Chartism had fizzled out by the s but the reform tradition continued in the Victorian Liberal party. Parliamentary reform was back on the agenda in the s and the story of how the Second Reform Act of came to be passed dominates Victorian political historiography. Whig historians try to claim the Act for the progressive Liberal tradition and Tory historians celebrate the way that Benjamin Disraeli outwitted the Liberals to pass a Conservative Bill instead, but gender historians have presented a more sceptical interpretation of the Act.

The citizen of was the British working man, and people who failed to meet these three criteria were deemed unsuitable for citizenship. Even here, however, masculinity is crucial. The new mass electorate transformed political culture since political parties had to change the basis of their appeal and the way that they communicated. Gender history has shed light on the differences between Liberal and Tory political cultures in this period, since they arguably projected competing models of masculinity.

Gladstone became a cult figure among many working men, who identified with his work ethic, his moral character and his belief in rewarding self-improvement and combating privilege. His flamboyance and romanticism was projected onto his party, which created a heady brew of monarchism, imperial nationalism and popular Anglicanism. If a working man wished to have a drink, bet on a horse or doff his cap to his betters, then those were his rights as a freeborn Englishman. This is not to say that the late-Victorian Conservative Party was a hotbed of feminism: rather they were pragmatic about whence they drew their support, and they appreciated the role that elite women had always played in electioneering something that became all the more important when the electoral rules tightened in The Liberals were by contrast more doctrinaire in their gender politics.

Although they harboured prominent feminists like Mill, they also included some key anti-suffragists and represented a continuity of the radical tradition that protected the rights of the male breadwinner. This emphasis was even more pronounced in the gender politics of the Trade Unions and the nascent Labour Party. We therefore have to look to the nineteenth century if we are to explain why proportionately more women were drawn to the Conservative Party in the twentieth.

At the close of the nineteenth century the world of electoral citizenship was symbolically male, but this did not always play out in practice. The Third Reform Act of — appeared to grant universal male suffrage, but stringent residency requirements excluded around 40 per cent of adult males. The old ideal of the householder citizen remained, so mobile workers, male servants, bachelors who did not have their own home, and soldiers in barracks remained excluded.

The latter was especially ironic, since this era of strident imperialism celebrated martial attributes in men. This brief synthesis shows that, although work on British political masculinities has often been diverse and compartmentalised, it is possible to connect it up into a coherent field.

In general, although the precise bases and manifestations of it may change, the fundamental connection between politics and masculinity is assumed throughout the period. Further themes could be developed from this survey. The account of citizenship here is mostly concerned with its changing definition and its representation in public discourse. But we also have to bear in mind that citizenship is a lived condition. She further cautions that political historians often read sources too literally, giving a misleading impression of a totally masculine public sphere.