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This article re-examines the role of civility and politeness in the writings of whig authors from 1688 to 1732. It argues that politeness was not an exclusively whig concept. Nor was there any unanimity amongst the whigs about its meaning. Politeness was a hotly debated topic in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but differences in its interpretations did not follow party lines. The notions of politeness formulated by whig authors after 1688 differed from each other as much as they differed from those framed by non-whigs. The article also reconsiders the account that the whig theorists used their analysis of politeness to defend the commercial values of post-1688 England and Britain. Again, there was no agreement on this amongst the whigs. Some of them explicitly denied the putative link between commerce and politeness, some of them were not interested in it, and even those who argued for it still interpreted politeness in its traditional courtly terms rather than in post-courtly urban terms.

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I am very grateful to Quentin Skinner, Mark Goldie, Markku Kekäläinen, Sami Savonius, Jonathan Scott, and Mikko Tolonen for their comments on drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Peter Mandler for his help.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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