Topic 1





Blenheim Palace, Seat of the Dukes of Marlborough

Reading Assignment
bulletCook, chap. 1
bulletSkemp, chap. 1

Notes & Questions


INTRODUCTION: The revolutionary generation was born into an Anglo-American world that historians call Georgian, using the name of the Hanoverian kings who ruled Britain from 1714 to the 1820s


Georgian society, culture and politics make up the English variation on the 18th century, a time throughout Europe of: 

Monarchical Governments and dominant Aristocracies


expanding Markets and Empires


flourishing arts:  baroque, rococo, and neo-classical architecture, painting and music


advances in science, scholarship, and literacy that marked the Enlightenment.


literature in the neo-classical tradition compared to the Augustan Age of the Roman Empire; 

People in the colonies were part of a network  that had London as its metropolitan center. Like Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Caribbean islands, the North American colonies were provinces of a far-flung empire.  The following slide lecture introduces you to the context of colonial life into which the revolutionary generation was born. Be sure to follow at least some of the links as you work through the lecture. They will provide additional information to help you reconstruct the 18th-century world that is the context for understanding the Revolution.

As you work through this slide lecture, click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images. 

Monarchy and Dynasties: At the apex of the Georgian world was the crown, the symbol of sovereignty. 

g3cron.jpg (33265 bytes)  What does this admission ticket to the coronation of George III reveal about the English monarchy and its place in British patriotism in the mid 18th century? Note the letters SPQB. What do you think it means and why is it there?

g3fam.jpg (30775 bytes) George III with the queen and children. This portrait shows the dynasty, the greatest of the aristocratic families. Georgian society was hierarchical with the nobility at the top. What does this portrait suggest about aristocratic society and its values? 

fitz.jpg (16843 bytes) Portrait (by Gilbert Stuart) of John Lord Fitzgibbon, the Lord Chancellor, head of the justice system. . The monarch was not just at the social apex. He was also the supreme governor of the realm. Officers of government ruled in his name. Note the way this baroque portrait uses symbols of majesty. List them. 

The Aristocracy

marlb.jpg (25457 bytes) Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) painted this family portrait of one of England's noble families about 1778. Some noble families were around since the middle ages and others, like the Churchills (Dukes of Marlborough) were of more recent origins. The first Duke was ennobled for his military victory against Louis XIV of France at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. This upper echelon of the social hierarchy had titles and great estates. Compare this portrait with the one of the royal family. What does this image add to your understanding of aristocratic values?

blenhm1.jpg (25949 bytes) The traditional source of wealth for the aristocracy was land. Their great estates provided income. This estate with its enormous baroque palace in Oxfordshire was presented to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, for his services to the crown. Service to the dynastic state was the route to prestige and fortune for the ambitious. Notice the major features of baroque architecture in this building: large size, symmetry, classical motifs, ornamentation.

blenhm2.jpg (23992 bytes) Estates like Blenheim had huge tracts of land. Here the stone monument carries a statue of the first Duke. Notice the grazing sheep. Wool had been an important product for the textile trade since the Middle Ages. By the 18th century large landholders were fencing off some of their fields, traditionally open for poorer farmers, to raise sheep for more profitable agriculture, a movement known as Enclosure. It meant more income for the landlords and greater hardship for small farmers. In Georgian England 400 great families owed about 25% of the land.

qbc1759.jpg (30916 bytes) From the late 17th century wars for empire added glory to the crown, wealth to the kingdom, opportunities for service by the aristocracy, and avenues to advancement for the ambitious. In the contest between the two great 18th-century contenders for empire,  France and England, the Battle or Quebec gave the advantage to England. This illustration, unfortunately not distinct, shows the Royal navy in the St Lawrence River just below Quebec. French Canada was added to the North American provinces of the British Empire. Provincials in English America as well as people at the metropolitan center in England were proud of such victories.

wolfe.jpg (51558 bytes) Death of General Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec (1759) painted by  Benjamin West (1738-1820) in 1771. Note the theme of heroism and service conveyed by this painting of the historical event. Note also the assortment of characters in the painting. 

Metropolitan Center

london.jpg (23045 bytes) Thames Embankment about 1750, one of Canaletto cityscapes.  London, the largest city in the world by the mid 18th century, was the seat of government, the social and cultural center, and the heart of commerce. This scene shows the great Thames with its Embankment for fashionable strolling. Note the dome of St Paul's Cathedral in the background.

spaulx.jpg (117384 bytes)St. Paul's Cathedral, facade: Sir Christopher Wren build this outstanding example of baroque religious architecture. How many features of baroque architecture can you find here?

spaul.jpg (153218 bytes)St. Paul's Cathedral, nave

stjames.jpg (33796 bytes)St. James Park: The aristocracy and gentry enjoy the delights of this park. Can you find the towers of Westminster Abbey in the background?

gainsbo2.jpg (53056 bytes) Mr. &Mrs. Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough(1727-1788): Below the titled aristocracy were great merchants and landowners. This group, the gentry, copied the style of the titled nobility by buying estates and living as grandly as possible, even if their fortunes were made in commerce.

beerst.jpg (55758 bytes) Beer Street, William Hogarth(1697-1764): Hogarth was a chronicler of the varied social scenes of Georgian England. Here is a part of London for the middling sort, shopkeepers, artisans etc. Note the bustling, crowded, commercial street life.

ginlane.jpg (122145 bytes) Gin Lane, William Hogarth: This image brings us to a part of London for the lower sort, the bottom of the social heap, the unemployed, homeless, dropout. Slum conditions, grinding poverty, disease, death, addiction form the background for the woman who is about to lose her child as she dips into narcotics.

Cities: Provincial Centers of Empire

nyc1717.jpg (27792 bytes) New York City about 1717. The colonial seaports were crucial to the trade that bound the mercantilist Empire to the metropolitan center.

phil1762.jpg (35589 bytes) Philadelphia, 1762 : The largest city in English America by the mid 18th century. Notice the differences between this city and London's street scenes.

The Crown in the Provinces

wmbgov.jpg (33803 bytes) Governors Palace, Williamsburg: The crown was represented in royal colonies like Virginia by the Governor. This building is a good example of Georgian architecture in the colonies. It is plainer and on a smaller scale than the great baroque public buildings in England. Nonetheless, it is graceful in proportion, harmonious and symmetrical in form, and beautifully ornamented.

brutonx.jpg (74537 bytes)Bruton Parish Church; The Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal) was established in Britain (except Scotland) and in Virginia and all the other southern colonies. The king was the supreme governor of the Church and the bishops its spiritual leaders. This church in Williamsburg is another fine example of Georgian architecture, symbol here of the connection between church and state under royal protection and patronage.

bruton.jpg (37624 bytes)Bruton Church, interior Its interior, here shown only in part, was a place where all segments of the social hierarchy came. The royal governor and councilmen had the pews closest to the pulpit, shown here. Prominent families had the next choicest pews with more modest people farther back. Servants and slaves used the balconies. Thus the arrangement in this Georgian church reflected the social hierarchy

Provincial Elite: Because the titled aristocracy was absent in colonial America, the social hierarchy was truncated. In the South the planters were at the social apex; in  the North the merchants held the elite position.

mtairey.jpg (25907 bytes)Mount Airey: Planters, their wealth based on commercial agriculture,  patterned their estates after the landed gentry of England. This Virginian plantation shows the marks of Georgian architecture with its symmetry and balance. The planter's style of life as well as the demands of commercial agriculture frequently meant reliance on credit.

carters.jpg (41784 bytes) Carter's Grove, bedroom ; What does the furniture in this Virginian   plantation tell you about trade networks as well as the life style of the planter gentry?

derbyhs.jpg (36256 bytes) Derby House, Salem Mass., 1761, an example of Georgian Colonial architecture.  In Massachusetts and elsewhere in the north  merchants were the leaders of society. Their wealth was based on trade. This townhouse is another example of the provincial American Georgian style.

copley24.jpg (54597 bytes) John Hancock, 1765 by John Singleton Copley, Hancock, one of America's wealthiest merchants, made a fortune during the French and Indian War. What does this portrait suggest about his values? Copley (1738-1815) a major colonial American painter did a portrait of Paul Revere, became a Loyalist and left for England when the Revolution appeared threatening. 

msmorris.jpg (20104 bytes) Mrs. Robert Morris, 1782, by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827).  This portrait of an important merchant's wife reflects the style of the colonial gentry. Make careful note of her clothing. What does it tell you about trade in the Georgian world? 

The Middling Sort: Shopkeepers, artisans  and tradesmen, in towns and cities, modest independent farmers in the rural areas.

revere.jpg (16609 bytes) Paul Revere by  Copley: This portrait shows the famous Boston patriot as an artisan, a silversmith. Note the difference with the Hancock portrait. Here he holds an example of his handiwork and is shown in shirtsleeves.

wmbcraft.jpg (33027 bytes) Silversmith House, Williamsburg: Artisans' trade or craft gave them independence. They lived in houses like this one in Williamsburg with a shop in the front, workshop in the rear and family living area above in the back.

farm.jpg (87359 bytes)American Farm, Pennsylvania: An idyllic image of a prosperous farm providing a family a decent living with a surplus for the market.

bethl.jpg (141830 bytes)Bethlehem, Pa., 1757: [founded 1750] The frontiers presented opportunities fop independence. Notice how forests have been cleared and fields planted in a short time.

yoeman.jpg (23752 bytes) American Yeoman: This idealized image of the independent farmer expresses what became an American ideal boosted by Jefferson and others.

The Lower Sort: Dependent Labor was the key point. In the cities and towns this group included people working for others, people making meager wages and the unemployed, In the rural areas there were tenant farmers and the landless. At the bottom of this social hierarchy, of course, were the slaves, examples of total dependence.  

negro.jpg (15351 bytes) Portrait of Negro, Copley, In the 18th century property, whether in commerce or craft, was the key to independence. In the Georgian World, slavery was the prime example of total dependence --- to be the chattel (property) of another person. But note how Copley shows the strength and dignity of this man.

sl-trade.jpg (28605 bytes) Slave Trade: The slave trade, which provided African labor to the plantations of the European empires in the Americas, reaped great fortunes for merchants and aristocratic investors while condemning thousands of Africans to cruel slavery.

slaver.jpg (32337 bytes) Slave Ship This drawing of a slave ship gives an idea of the suffering of the transatlantic crossing in a packed, dark, and filthy cargo hold.