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Jacobitism and Anti-Jacobitism in the British Atlantic World, 1688-1727


David Parrish


Royal Historical Society Studies in History, New Series

Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017

Hardcover. x+189 p. ISBN 978-0861933419. £50


Reviewed by Tony Claydon

Bangor University




This work by David Parrish sits at the interface of two important trends in the scholarship of the late Stuart, and early Hanoverian, British empire. The first is the rise of Jacobite studies, which has forced historians to take supporters of the dynasty exiled in 1688 far more seriously in their consideration of British political culture. The second is the interest in a common ‘public sphere’ that tied Britain’s American colonies into the politics of the metropolis, and has altered understanding of colonial identities, loyalties, and discontents.  The book advances both scholarly trends by investigating the impact of Jacobitism in North America and Britain’s Atlantic islands, both as an active force, and as an imagined foe against which public opinion could be mobilised. Parrish’s first three chapters illustrate dimensions of these phenomena – the first traces how British party politics (which he claims was crucially shaped by real and imagined Jacobitism) spread to the colonies, and incorporated local tensions and rivalries; the second does the same for ecclesiastical disputes (especially those around the position of the Church of England in American society); whilst the third explores how apologies, fears, and denunciations of Jacobitism shaped discussion within a vigorous culture of print, correspondence, talk and symbolic action. The second half of the book then takes three case studies of Jacobitism and anti-Jacobitism playing themselves out in the political life of South Carolina; of New York / New Jersey; and of New England in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. By the end of the book, it is clear that the colonists were far more divided than has been suggested by those recent works that have argued for a committed whiggery, francophobia, and anti-catholicism in the Atlantic world, and which have tried to explain the American Revolution by suggesting these sentiments were betrayed by George III’s ministers.

However, whilst the volume does good work questioning homogeneity and consensus in colonial society, it is less convincing in suggesting there really was much actual Jacobitism. As the author admits, there were no actual plots to restore the Stuarts that centred in the colonies; and beyond a few key, and much-emphasised, individuals his evidence for Jacobite sympathies often seems a bit patchy or circumstantial. People tend to be guilty by association here: they had once worked for James II, had a non-juring father, or whatever. There must, therefore, be a suspicion that Parrish made an impressive and systematic trawl through colonial archives for proof of Jacobitism, but in fact came up with relatively little. There is certainly plenty of evidence of toryism and high church sympathies in the colonies. These did generate the disputes that Parrish carefully outlines. But to say this reveals any substantial Jacobitism depends on toryism and high churchmanship being inevitably tinged with support for the exiled Stuarts; and historians of England have shown this is highly debateable by endlessly debating it. To take one example of a case where the argument does not really work: the Governor of New York and New Jersey in the 1710s, Robert Hunter, is shown trying to discredit his tory opponents with accusations of Jacobitism because their support from Queen Anne meant he was having trouble dislodging them any other way. But Queen Anne was a committed anti-Jacobite, whose very rule depended on excluding the Stuarts. Hunter’s actions thus look like parts of a dispute within a society that had accepted the 1688 revolution – not a battle fired by any serious attempt to overturn it. Overall, one feels this was a project that looked for Jacobitism, that found instead far more whig-tory rivalry than most other studies, but was then reluctant to re-set its questions and rhetoric to match its real discoveries.

The work also, perhaps, misses an opportunity to explore a true influence of Jacobitism by ignoring shifts in the movement over time. Sympathy for the Stuarts in this book is aligned with belief in hereditary succession, non-resistance, and a high view of the authority of the Anglican Church. But increasingly in England, these were not, in fact, the ideological or emotional hearts of the Jacobite movement. Instead, pro-Stuart commentators advanced a critique of changes in society since, and caused by, the 1688 revolution. They complained that the wars Britain launched against France once the Stuarts were gone had corrupted the country, destroyed its liberties, and handed power to a small group of ambitious or Dutch upstarts. The national debt, heavy taxes, increases in government employment, and a standing army had destroyed independent landholders, and had promoted foreign and monied interests. The only solution was to reverse the revolution and end the conflicts. This philosophy had little to do with high anglicanism or dynasticism: indeed in the hands of the influential ‘whig’ Jacobites, it was directly opposed to them. There is little sense of this theoretical shift in Parrish’s book: and this might be a shame because the sort of criticism of state power, debt, and armies that the Jacobites launched was to be the very stuff of the American Revolution, and seems to have been characteristic of many colonial attitudes before this. If there are links between English Jacobite thought and colonial mindsets, it would have been fascinating to trace the means and routes by which these operated.


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