- Education and Science
18th Century England
QUEEN ANNE OF BRITAIN
King William III of England died in 1702. His horse stumbled on a molehill, throwing the king to the ground, which broke his collarbone. While recovering he caught the pneumonia that spelled his doom.
The successor to King William was his sister-in-law and cousin, Queen Anne. Anne was the last of the Stuart monarchs, but the first Queen of Great Britain. She became pregnant nineteen times but miscarried thirteen times. Five of her children died as infants, and one made it as far as eleven years old before he too succumbed. Thus, no heir.
The death of Queen Anne in 1714 left a line of succession composing of 57 Catholic Scots. Parliament had foreseen this eventuality and solved it by the Act of Settlement of 1701, which legally eliminated Catholics from the throne of Britain.
The 58th person down the line of succession was a Protestant German, George of the small state of Hanover, who spoke no English. He became King of Great Britain, and that is how Germans came to rule the British Isles.
KING GEORGE I & PRIME MINISTER WALPOLE
King George I, short and pop-eyed, arrived in London with his two mistresses—one obese and one rail thin. The elite of England were thrilled with George, but the common man was decidedly opposed to a German King of Britain. Disturbances became so regular that Parliament passed the Riot Act of 1715. By this bill authorities could "read the riot act" to any crowd of more than twelve persons, who could be hanged if they did not disburse within an hour.
In 1720, a hard-drinking, rotund, convicted embezzler named Robert Walpole became known as the first "Prime Minister" of Britain. This was and remains an unofficial title. It does not appear on government paperwork.
Robert Walpole held power for twenty years, during which he gave his loyal supporters key government jobs. His favorite saying was "all men have their price." Walpole was an erudite, urbane man but he created the image of a country bumpkin to his voters. He was one of them.
Robert Walpole was a master statistician and accountant, as well as a genial and relaxed public speaker. He amassed a wonderful collection of art during his lifetime.
18TH CENTURY ENGLAND
18th Century England was the most advanced nation in the world in science, politics, and economics. But it was not the sort of place you would want to travel cross-country at night. Highway Robbery was common. Police were non-existent outside a few major cities. Since bank notes, checks, and promissory notes were in their infancy, many people had to travel some distances with large amounts of hard currency.
Stagecoach service began in the 1730s. Passengers came to dread the sound of approaching hooves, which was often followed by the shout "Your money or your life!"
Gangs of bandits also terrorized remote homesteads. As a result, the death penalty was imposed for theft, and thousands of criminals were strung up on the gallows of Georgian Britain before the crime wave subsided.
It was in 18th Century England that we get the phrases "Far from the Maddening Crowd" and "The Industrial Revolution."
BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE or GOD SAVE THE KING
"Bonnie Prince Charlie" was the grandson of King James II of England. In 1745, the 24-year-old "Young Pretender," who was reared in Rome, decided to invade Britain to restore the Catholic Stuart family to the throne. Backed by the Vatican and France, Charles Stuart landed in Scotland where he was greeted enthusiastically. With 20,000 Scottish supporters, Charles took Edinburgh and set his sights on London.
Bonny Prince Charlie was quite a man. He spoke three languages and was renowned for his skills at riding, shooting, tennis, badminton, golf, dancing, playing the cello, and the art of warfare. He had a particularly magnificent regal bearing and comportment.
The Young Pretender captured Carlisle and Manchester, and came to within 100 miles of London before his forces were defeated. During this period, Londoners began singing a song, "God Save the King," which became the first national anthem in world history.
John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist Church. The ministers of the Church of England had become quite worldly men. Their congregations met more for socializing than because of any zeal for the Christian Faith. And the Church of England ignored miners and industrial laborers.
John Wesley took his message to the ignored poverty-stricken people in Britain, many times preaching to them outdoors. His followers took to his methods—regular group prayer, reading the Bible in small groups, fasting, confessing sins to each other, and visiting prisoners in jail. His followers experienced tremendous spiritual rebirth and learned to communicate directly with God.
DR SAMUEL JOHNSON
Samuel Johnson was a highly opinionated journalist—and a genius—when he was commissioned to produce the first dictionary of the English language in 1746. Johnson had an untidy appearance and was pockmarked from a bout with smallpox. He was known to roll his head and grunt frequently.
Samuel Johnson was tall and stout, but he had a curious stoop. His mouth seemed to be constantly opening and shutting as if chewing on some imaginary thing. His body seemed agitated, and he always twisted his hands and twirled his fingers.
Despite all this, Samuel Johnson was an intimidating presence. Those who knew him thought him a kind spirit and sharp wit. After nine years, with help from five assistants, he completed the English Dictionary, which won him everlasting fame. Johnson was also a fierce opponent of slavery.
James Cook came from humble origins. His education ended in the third grade. His father was a farm laborer, and James Cook started his adult life working on a filthy coal ship. He landed a gig on a sea-faring vessel in 1755, where he spent his spare time educating himself in astronomy and mathematics.
By 1768, Captain Cook had become the top navigator in the Royal Navy. He was sent to the South Pacific with eleven prominent scientists on board his ship to measure the location of the Sun. The commission of Captain Cook also included finding the legendary Terra Australis—the "Land of the South."
In 1770, Captain Cook dropped anchor in the harbor of modern day Sydney, which he named Botany Bay for its unusual plant life. Cook claimed Australia for Britain and named it New South Wales. Before heading back to England, Captain Cook charted 4,400 miles of the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand.
Captain Cook became famous not only for his discoveries but also because his crew returned home free of Scurvy, that fatal disease that had plagued all ocean-going ships before him. Cook had implemented the advice of his friend, Dr. James Lind, to supply his crews with lemons and limes—rich in Vitamin C. Thereafter, British sailing crews were known as "limeys."
Captain Cook's men became fascinated by the tattoos on Polynesian men. Cook's men underwent the operation to be tattooed, which started a naval tradition that has today become a fashion statement.
In 1779, Captain Cook was clubbed to death in Hawaii. He could have escaped, but the greatest navigator in English history never learned how to swim.
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY
The real story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is quite different from the film versions. The Bounty was turned into a floating greenhouse to transport breadfruit plants from the South Pacific to the West Indies, and William Bligh was named its captain. Bligh was no taskmaster at sea. He was big on music and dancing to keep the crew's spirits high during the long voyage.
After sailing through stormy seas for ten months, Bligh allowed the crew to relax and enjoy Tahiti for five months or so. By the time the Bounty was ready to resume its voyage, the sailors had become quite accustomed to the beautiful surroundings and most of all to the free sexual habits of the Tahitian women. Many of the men had taken Tahitian women as their brides and didn't want to leave the island.
But leave they did. Three weeks later, most of the crew mutinied. Captain Bligh was dragged from his bed in his pajamas. He was set adrift in a 23 foot boat along with 17 crew members who refused to join the mutiny. From there, Captain Bligh carried out a feat of navigation that remains unequalled in the annals of the sea. He sailed 3,600 miles in the open boat to the Island of Timor. During this 41 day journey, he and his men survived on raw fish, birds, and turtles. Rainwater—and very little of it—was all they had to slake their thirst. Captain Bligh returned to England a hero.
The majority of the mutineers stayed in Tahiti. But their leader, Christian Fletcher, led a group of nine men with their Tahitian wives to the most remote island in the world, Pitcairn, which was uninhabited. Their descendents are still there today.
In 1773, American rebels disguised as Indian warriors dumped 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor—enough to brew 24 million cups of tea. They were protesting against "taxation without representation." The taxes in question were to help pay for the protection of the British American Colonies by the British Armed Forces.
The port of Boston was then closed, and the British sent troops to put down the revolt. In 1775, these troops clashed with the colonists and thus began the American War of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson, a radical young lawyer, wrote the American Declaration of Independence, which began with these immortal words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Five years of war followed, during which the American forces were shrewdly led by George Washington. Once the French fleet arrived to assist the American siege at Yorktown, Virginia, the British surrendered. The loss of America was a terrible blow to Britain.
THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE III
King George III reigned in Britain for 60 years (1760-1820)—longer than any monarch in British history save Queen Victoria. In the early years on the throne he was known as a tall, dignified, hard working King who was good, decent, and deeply religious. King George and his wife Queen Charlotte provided Britain with plenty of heirs—15 all total.
In 1788, King George III began to have convulsions. He also started to talk non-stop, sometimes deranged gibberish, and sometimes while foaming at the mouth. King George suffered from incessant stomach cramps, constipation, and hallucinations. His doctors tried to cure these maladies by applying leeches to his forehead and blistering his scalp with acidic potions to no avail. King George developed open sores on his legs, to which his doctors applied burning mustard plasters. He was often straitjacketed, and for at the least the last ten years of his life he was completely insane (and blind).
King George III did make an astute choice of the brilliant William Pitt the Younger as Prime Minister. Pitt became the youngest man to ever hold the post at age 24 and held power for 21 years.
THE RIGHTS OF MAN
Thomas Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the 1789 French Revolution. Paine was a drunkard who rarely washed his clothes or himself. He suffered from Scabies and stunk to high heaven. He was riddled with debt and quite disorganized. Paine loved to offend people. But he also published the two best-selling pamphlets of the 18th century: The Rights of Man and Common Sense.
Thomas Paine coined the immortal phrase "These are the times that try men's souls." His main argument was that the rights of men are God-given prior to the formation of governments. The only good governments are those which protect these God-given rights.
THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Closely following on the heels of Thomas Paine was his friend Mary Wollstonecraft. She wrote about the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft had a bitter childhood. She never felt her mother loved her, and she hated her drunken father—who wasted the family fortune and mistreated women.
Mary Wollstonecraft earned a living as a nurse, seamstress, school teacher, and governess before becoming a writer. She scorned the women of her day and what she described as "the selfish vanity of beauty."
Mary Wollstonecraft was the prototypical feminist. She bore a bastard, tried to kill herself, was emotionally fragile, suffered from constant depression, had a deep sense of personal grievance, was extremely volatile, and became well known for melodramatic histrionics. Wollstonecraft denounced marriage as legalized prostitution. But she eventually married—fittingly to an anarchist—before she died at age 38. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, wrote the novel Frankenstein.
The Quakers were the first in England to stand up against slavery. In 1774, they announced that no Quaker would have any kind of relationship—business or personal—with anyone involved in the slave trade.
The Methodist John Wesley published a diatribe against slavery that same year. Said Wesley: "I would do anything in my power to the extirpation of that trade, which is a scandal not only to Christianity but to humanity."
Then along came Thomas Clarkson. He dedicated his life to ending slavery. In 1785, Clarkson published the prize winning essay, "Is it lawful to make men slaves against their will?" The following year he formed the Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
In 1787, Thomas Clarkson recruited MP William Wilberforce to push for an end to the slave trade through Parliament. It would take Wilberforce twenty years of constant energy before he finally ended the slave trade in 1807. During those years, Clarkson persuaded 400,000 English citizens to sign a petition against slavery, and 300,000 to boycott the sugar that made the trade lucrative.
OTHER HUBS OF INTEREST:
My primary source for this history is the wonderful book Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey.