Delvings into Toryism from William III to the accession of George III reveals great complexities of both competing and cooperating elements with the element of Jacobitism always part of the ideological composition. As Linda Colley memorably described, those ‘in defiance of oligarchy’ constituted an important subculture within the current intellectual discourse of the period. As we know, battles have been waged over the extent of Jacobitism within the early and mid-Eighteenth Century Tory Party. Colley in her 1982 In Defiance of Oligarchy followed her supervisor J.H. Plumb’s major theses and provided a minimalist account of the extent of both active and Jacobite support within the Tory Party. In her narrative, Colley rightly parsed Tories into three groupings.
The first consisted of ‘hard’ Jacobites as those such as Charles Leslie who firmly believed in the exile court’s right to rule and were involved in Jacobite conspiracies. Leslie’s works rearticulated patriarchialist defences of Stuart claims to the throne through careful readings of both Robert Filmer and Robert Brady. The second group consisted of ‘soft’ Jacobites who carefully hedged their bets as to the success of various coup attempts such as the Atterbury Plot of 1722. Sometimes this amounted to active support for the Court of St Germain but more often became reduced to drinking toasts of retreating into nonjuring theological argumentation. The bibliophile Oxford academic Thomas Hearne and also Thomas Carte fall into this second category. Hearne’s antiquarian inclinations led him to such expressions of Jacobitism as using the ourobous to symbolise the King returning to his own. Additionally, Thomas Carte did engage in Jacobite correspondence and plotting with the exile court but is remembered more for his General History of England than his political subversions. In this work, he suggested that extraordinary power of James III to successfully touch for the King’s Evil and this resultantly led to public Whig protests at Carte’s historiographical subversions.
Finally, the third group Colley identified consisted of Hanoverian Tories; meaning those who dropped any claims of loyalty to the Stuart claimant while still opposing Whig political policies. This taxonomy does prove effective in generally classifying variant types of Tories in the early Eighteenth century. While I agree with Colley’s schemata, I am much more influenced by the work of Clark and Eveline Cruickshanks in highlighting the continued relevance of Jacobitism within the Tory Party into the 1740s and 1750s. I do not agree that Jacobitism was largely a spent intellectual force by the 1720s with the death of Charles Leslie. But we must also remember that not every Tory was a Jacobite and it is only through close analysis that we can fully identify which peers, MPs and public intellectuals were ‘hard Jacobites’, ‘soft Jacobites’ or ‘Hanoverian Tories’. Indeed, many held places within more than one category over the course of their lifetimes and such ideological variations proved to be the norm rather than the exception.
If we tacitly accept Clark’s thesis of a pre-1832 Anglican ancien regime, then we must be prepared to examine those who while loyal to the Anglican Church did not hesitate to oppose any perceived dissenters and subverters of its constitutional position. For the Tories, these consisted of Whigs, various religious dissenters including Socinians, Quakers, Presbyterians and Freethinkers, Jews and foreigners. Numerous periodicals and public polemicists wrote fulminously in the mid-Eighteenth century for the Tory cause. My particular interests are in three topics I am completing academic journal articles on, the Jacobite and nonjuring defender of divine right kingship Charles Leslie, Tory opposition to the 1753 Jew Bill and the 1750s Tory polemicist John Shebbeare (1708-1788). It is on the third that I will speak today.
John Shebbeare has been unfairly neglected within the historiography but this is due on no account to paucity of sources or lack of influence within his era. On the contrast, Shebbeare was one of the most prolific of 1750s Tories and an irritant to the Newcastle Ministry. In his published novels and political essays, he constantly attacked the Whig government while also resolutely defending the Church of England. He was a dinner companion of Samuel Johnson and both men agreed on the sanctity of the Church. Shebbeare wrote with a poison pen and energetically used it for the Tory Party against the Whigs. Much of what we know of Shebbeare comes from a post-mortem biographical sketch printed in the European Magazine in 1788 along with a bibliography of his works. The only major study of him was a 1947 University of Minnesota dissertation by a Mr. Judd Kline. Despite this lack of multiple biographical examinations, we can verify certain facts of his life and draw conclusions from his published works.
Having become one of the better known Tories among London’s Grub Street journalists, Shebbeare found his pen in great employ for the rest of the 1750s. He quickly wrote another novel entitled Lydia or Filial Piety and published it in 1755. His works are digressive and overflowing with coarse prejudices and stereotypical characters. In Lydia, he sets much of the novel on a ship bound from America to England in which an adulterous relationship takes place between a lewd working class Scottish woman and a Presbyterian minister to the disgust of English passengers. Shebbeare used both to demonstrate his antipathy towards Presbyterianism and opposition to its acceptance within a biconfessional state established by the 1707 Act of Union. Such anti-Scottish prejudices based on ethnic and religious stereotypes were quite common in the 1750s and Shebbeare reinforced his readers’ biases. Shebbeare did not hesitate to stoop to low levels in defences of his political views.
Throughout The Marriage Act and Lydia there existed a clear preference for the Church of England against any kind of religious dissent. Additionally, this theme also appeared in the preceding work The Marriage Act with an additional prejudice displayed against British Jews. He memorably wrote that Jews consist of “A Race whose lives and Characters are and have been, the most infamous and detestable of all the Nations upon Earth, in all places where they have resided.” It should be noted that this sentiment followed the national upheaval surrounding the passage and subsequent repeal of the 1753 Jew Bill. The major work on this subject is Thomas Perry’s 1962 Harvard monograph Public Opinion, Politics and Propaganda: The Jew Bill of 1753. Perry took an anti-Namierite position within this work and argued that the Tory opposition demonstrated the vitality of political debate within an era of previously-supposed placidity. However, Jewish historians such as Israel Solomon, Maurice Woolf and latterly Frank Felsenstein have also noted the vehement anti-Semitism present within Tory writings during the furore. I personally believe that a synthesis of both interpretations is the most valid conclusion and this is demonstrated within Shebbeare’s writings. Opposition to religious Dissenters and to Jewish Naturalization was an expected response by Church and King Toryism to any possible diminution of British national identity as a Christian kingdom.
Within his own polemical Toryism, Shebbeare believed himself to be upholding the ancient constitution through his own efforts. He continued this through his Letters to the People of England. This consisted of a series of short treatises in which he appealed to Tory elements throughout the country to oppose Whig governmental actions. Popularly printed as standalone pamphlets and reprinted in Tory newspapers such as Jackson’s Oxford Journal, these relentlessly attacked and insulted both the House of Hanover and the Pelham and Newcastle Whig Governments. He began to attract negative attention from the authorities but only became more emboldened with successful sales and republications. Finally, in 1757 his fifth and sixth Letters to the People of England brought arrest and a public trial. The reason for this suppression lay within his public espousal of Jacobitism within the work. Previously, Shebbeare had toyed with Jacobite sympathies by writing attacking pieces against Lord Newcastle. However, these works were title A Fifth Letter to the People of England: On the Subversion of the Constitution: and, the Necessity of Its Being Restored and A Sixth Letter to the People of England, on the Progress of National Ruin: In Which It Is Shewn, That the Present Grandeur of France, and Calamities of This Nation, Are Owing to the Influence of Hanover on the Councils of England. Shebbeare’s accusation of constitutional subversion by the Whig government along with his augury of national ruin caused by the Hanoverian dynasty proved far too incendiary for the government. The Sixth Letter proved the most offensive and it is worth quoting its more incisive accusations in order understand the Newcastle Ministry’s decision to seize copies and detain Shebbeare.
The Sixth Letter began with a salvo against the French as Great Britain had begun the Seven Years War in part over the fate of North America. Shebbeare reinforces his own patriotism by declaring opposition against an external enemy but then focuses on a domestic threat; namely a foreign monarchical dynasty and its Whig allies. He memorably wrote:
"The same vigilance should be exerted against fallen statesmen, that is necessary against a conquered general; without pursuing the advantages obtained. Masters may easily recover their lost ground and the people, becoming remiss and thoughtless in protecting the new statesmen, may probably see their endeavors foiled, the veteran destroyers reinstated or at least, preserving power sufficient to thwart and frustrate every good intention of their successors and prevent every benefit which might otherwise accrue from the change.
That your national affairs are almost arrived to this fatal issue by the conduct of the late Administration scarcely needs an argument to convince you: but as the force of all their mischief may not be fully comprehended by many amongst you, and as I know no motives more endearing or more likely to continue your perseverance in so laudable a design as that of preserving your rights liberties and constitution permit me to lay before your eyes, the injuries which the late masters have done you, and this Kingdom"
Such accusations of national disaster due to the actions of the King’s Whig Ministry struck deeply at a government in the midst of an expanding war effort against France. Shebbeare declared that the nation had arrived at its perilous state due to a government deeply disrespectful towards the English people. Describing the Newcastle Ministry as unwilling to preserve the constitution, Shebbeare did not hesitate to excoriate the government. While such outpourings of political rancor assist in proving Clark’s depiction of the 1750s as replete with the “Dynamics of Change”. Shebbeare’s Sixth Letter also contained strong elements of Jacobitism. Notably, he favorably discussed the reign of James II and contrasted it with the Williamite and Hanoverian regimes. Calling for all Englishmen to examine their loyalty to a German dynasty, he declared:
"What did King James usurp more than this by his prerogative? And of what advantage has the Revolution proved to you, if the subverting of your Constitution be legally placed in the hands of your representatives? In what sense does the idea of a free state of liberty of the people exist, when it depends on nothing more permanent or established than the vague capricious or interested inclination of a majority of five hundred men who may be open to insidious attacks.
Let the blood you have spilled, the millions you have wasted, the millions you are in debt, the mercenaries you have hired, the German princes you have purchased, the alliances you have made and broken, the days you have toiled, the commerce you have extended to procure wealth, stand forth and declare; and then do you pronounce according to their evidence."
Shebbeare’s denunciation of the Hanoverian succession and its government’s policies were accompanied by a passage from Revelations. In Verse Eight of Chapter Six according to the King James Version it reads, “And I looked and beheld a pale Horse: and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed him.” It should be understood that a white horse is on the crest of the House of Hanover and the scriptural reference was not lost upon his readers. Fundamentally, Shebbeare questioned both the 1688 Revolution and 1714 Succession as deleterious for the nation. Due to the malign influence of an alien ruling house, the nation had plunged into public expenditures and military ventures unprecedented in national history. By opposing Hanoverian governmental domestic and foreign policies, Shebbeare aligned himself with contemporary Tory reservations towards what John Brewer accurately described as the eighteenth century British fiscal-military state. Beginning with William III’s highly expensive invasion and continuing with civil administrative expansion, a standing military and increased taxation, Great Britain transformed itself into an international power. Such Tories as John Shebbeare lamented the loss of a mythologised older England which had been subsumed into an international power under Whig governmental dominion.
Such opposition did not prove exceptional among Tory polemics of the 1750s. Shebbeare’s favorable contrasting of the reign of James II with the throne’s usurpers automatically resulted in his arrest. The 1745 rising was still remembered in the 1750s and such public espousals of sympathies for the Jacobite cause were labeled as treasonous. A warrant for Shebbeare’s arrest was issued on January 12, 1758 and he was formally tried for libel beginning on June 17th of that year. Despite Shebbeare’s best efforts to defend his writings, he was fined and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He was also publicly humiliated by being pilloried at Charing Cross; although contemporary accounts disagree as to whether he was actually placed in them or simply stood behind them under an umbrella while crowds alternately mocked and cheered the insolent journalist. Shebbeare was allowed access to books and correspondence while imprisoned and this extended period allowed him ample time for reflection.
The History of the Excellence and Decline of the Constitution, Religion, Laws, Manners and Genius, of the Sumatrans related the events of the English Civil War, the restoration of Charles II and the 1688 Revolution all through this antipodal frame of reference. Woven through the narrative are elements of Shebbeare’s Jacobite Toryism. References are made to seven prelates of the Sumatran deity who refused to submit to the authority of the alien usurper and left the national church. Through this example, Shebbeare praises the nonjuring divines and their refusal to accept Williamite authority over the Church of England. In his novel, the rightful King Abdallah was deposed and the foreign interloper Ibrahim seized control of the nation. His invading force resulted in increased taxation and expenditures for the state and transformed Sumatra into a bellicose and repressive polity. Shebbeare displayed little reticence when he described those Demagogi supporters of the usurper Ibrahim.
The Demagogi, being now seated in Command, their new interests easily prevailed on the Versatility of their minds to avow new principles. The very Men who had murdered the Father and exiled his two sons and grandsons, whom they had pronounced to be the servants of the public and to have forfeited all Right to Sovereignty by their oppressive and arbitrary conduct: the very Men who had denounced Vengeance against the Doctrine of passive obedience as subversive of all idea of liberty were now the avowed abettors thereof under another denomination.
Ibrahim had unloosed all form of corruption and oppression according to Shebbeare. Interestingly, his anti-Semitism also expressed itself later within the narrative within his condemnation of foreign elements that influenced national fiscal policy. In the wake of the Jew Bill of 1753 and Tory polemical assaults against the Suasso, Salvador and Gideon banking families, this proved relevant and incisive for the politics of the time. Shebbeare described this element of parasitism as:
"The money which had in this manner been left to the State was made transferrable from man to man. And from that sole circumstance was engendered like Vermin from Putrefaction, a set of beings, the most profligate that ever infested a Nation. Their profession and exercise consisted in inventing and uttering falsehood, in order to traffic and deceive in the sale of those loans.
By these means a new reinforcement of Miscreants was added to the powers of the Demagogi: The avowed enemies of integrity and their country and the steadfast friends of fraud and corruption. And the subjects suffered not only in the accumulation of imports but by the insidious artifices of this new and pernicious Race."
Besides the presence of alien financers, Shebbeare also discussed the rise of fiscal predation in the form of taxation collection and revenue expenditure. Parliament’s refusal to compensate William III for his expeditionary force led to the monarch’s searching for new ways to raise funds in order to pay his Amsterdam creditors. Shebbeare decried such acquisitive policies as deeply damaging to the nation:
"With the increase of taxes, the number of tax-gatherers increased also and formed a burdensome and dangerous power in the Realm. They sacrificed all sense of honesty to the mandates of the ministerial rulers and abetted with vehemence and effrontery whatever they were commanded and the public good forbade. "
The History of the Excellence and Decline of the Constitution, Religion, Laws, Manners and Genius, of the Sumatrans continued its analogical description through the reign of Anne into the 1714 succession of George, Elector of Hanover. The Sumatran religion became corrupted for Latitudinarian sentiments and its priests became careerists loyal to the Demagogi party rather than their confession and clerical obligations. Shebbeare portrayed the ascension of Amurath the First as calamitous for the nation. He and his successor Amurath II brutally repressed uprisings against their authority that came from continued loyalty toward King Abdallah’s dynasty and nearly bankrupted the national through profligate warfare and royal court expenditure. If Shebbeare had concluded his novel at this point, he would end at the same conclusion of his Sixth Letter to the People of England. Instead, he used the second half of his novel to praise the restorative political statecraft of Amurath III; or George III.
Shebbeare’s praise of George III ought to be perceived as an apotheosis of Toryism but it existed as a Hanoverian Church and King position which jettisoned Jacobite remains. Charles Edward Stuart’s alcoholism and indulgent behavior alienated even such hardline Jacobites such as William King, whose 1749 Radcliffe Camera speech called for the rightful monarch to return to his kingdom.
In 1760, King was part of a delegation from Oxford University that met with the young monarch in person. This audience prompted the leader of Oxford’s Jacobite circles to drop his Jacobite allegiances and accept George III as the rightful monarch. Similarly, Shebbeare’s novel attributed positive changes within the Kingdom of Sumatra to Amurath III’s influence and personal character. As a Patriot King, Amurath III was:
"Young and of an amiable person, his physiognomy expressed the humane sensations of his heart. Ease, affability and grace, mingled with magnanimity becoming Royalty, accompanied his actions; and his words were such as Wisdom must approve. The former attracted the affection of his subjects, the latter prevented that intolerance with which the Demagogi from inbred Arrogance and contempt of Kings had intruded on the conduct of their former sovereigns. The constitution of Sumatra and the means of restoring that and the people to their former excellent, reputation and happiness had constituted the studies which chiefly engaged his attention."
Historiographical revisionism of the Seventies and Eighties under Cruickshanks and Clark opened new avenues of inquiry and certainly exposed the flaws of a stadialist prior historiography all too eager to dismiss Stuart political theology with a thunderclap in 1688. Such beliefs continued through the 1750s and it is precisely within the subculture of Toryism that we must explore further. Shebbeare’s writings provide a lens through which to examine the politics in defiance of oligarchy and in so doing reinterpret the complexities of a period ostensibly committed to political stabilization. I will close with a quotation from J.A.W. Gunn’s excellent work Beyond Liberty and Property published in 1983. In his reflective chapter The Spectre at the Feast: The Persistence of High Tory Ideas, he cautioned:
"Writers on the history of ideas must always be on their guard against the error of distorting the past in such a way that it is made to resemble our own times. A dangerous thrust towards the present, and what is familiar, has led often enough to assigning a modernity to texts that cannot sustain the burden. A related problem is the tendency, not unknown among historians, to write the epitaph to some era in human affairs, thus lending coherence and structure to stories that seem otherwise too complex to be told.
"There is a certain satisfaction in being able to clear the slate as a preliminary to grasping new ideas. But just as it is hazardous to see everywhere anticipations of modernity, still it is unwise to forget that old ideas die slowly, are capable of extraordinary resiliency, and thus often escape the coffins fashioned for them by the impatient prophets of a new era.
Jonathan M. Paquette, The Northeast Conference on British Studies, St Michael's College, VT