Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

II. Executive Monarchy and the Challenge of Parties, 1689–1832: Two Concepts of Government and Two Historiographical Interpretations*

  • B. W. Hill (a1)

Anyone who studies eighteenth-century British politics soon becomes aware of a lack of definite form in the major institutions of government. Contemporaries, although equally aware of this imprecision, did not consider that it detracted from the utility of the constitution. On the contrary the vagaries of the system were often cited as its chief asset, permitting such apparently irreconcilable elements as parliamentary supremacy and a royal executive to exist together in balanced harmony. Burke, the constitution's most eloquent defender, called this quality of comprehensiveness a ‘unity in so great a diversity of its parts’, and believed that such unity was capable of sheltering both prescriptive rights and necessary adaptations in society. But the quality which men of the eighteenth century were agreed to admire has been viewed less sympathetically by later writers, intent on clarifying points which contemporaries preferred to leave open. The whig historians of the nineteenth century attempted to cut through difficulties by treating as unworthy of consideration in the eighteenth-century scene those features which did not survive in the era of reform. The misinterpretations which thereby arose brought about a necessary reaction in the present century, especially from the late Sir Lewis Namier whose research revealed the Georgian scene as having a more traditional structure of politics and society than was previously supposed. But Namier's own work too paid disproportionate attention to parts of the scene at the expense of others, though he undoubtedly did so because the difficulty of dislodging a well-established whig orthodoxy led him to overstate his case.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J.H. Plumb , The Growth of Political Stability in England, 1675–1725 (London, 1967)

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 6 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 130 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.