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The Age of George III

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The "Condition of England" Question

After the end of the French Wars, it became increasingly clear that England was suffering from great social, economic and political upheavals. Many of these problems would have occurred eventually but had been speeded up by the effects of the French Wars on the country. Most of the major changes were the direct result of the French Wars. Others came from natural growth and change.

Population rise: England and Wales

1801
8.9 m
1811
10.2 m
1821
12.0 m
1831
13.9 m

Problems of industrial revolution

There was a shift in the stratification of society from vertical to horizontal. This led to a dying of the system of paternalism and deference on which rural society was conducted. At the same time there was a marked growth of insanitary towns and a rapid development of factories.

Polarisation of attitudes towards reform

The people wanted democracy but the government refused reform because of lasting fears of revolution, as had happened in France in 1789. This conflict of desires led to the Reform Act campaign in 1830.

Changing sociology of England

This was one result of the acceleration of the economy, partly caused by the French Wars. The increasing use of machines, the spread of steam power and the growth of factories led to the growth of a new class of workers. The artisan/craftsman class began to die out and a working class started to emerge. These people were those who lived and worked collectively, having no control over production. They were the wage-earners dealing with partial not total production, having few rights of their own. The post-war period also saw the growth of a middle class and capitalist class. "Capitalist" still meant someone who had capital (cash). There were no political connotations for the word, as yet.

The Combination Acts (1799 and 1800)

These laws were still on the Statute Books, so there were no safety valves for the working classes' complaints and demands. The new working classes lived in hostile and bewildering conditions and as 'hands' were merely part of the machine.

Two new classes emerged because of industrialisation

These were the working class and middle class. The middle classes were a capitalist bourgeoisie: the factory owners, merchants, bankers and bosses who had great wealth but little social and political status. This was because they were unable to vote and/or become MPs because they did not own the required amount of land. Sufficient French ideas of democracy and liberty remained for the new groups to demand reform. However, society had changed. The type of person owning and producing wealth, and even the type of wealth had changed but traditional Eighteenth Century politicians still ruled England: the country gentry and landed aristocracy. There was no systematic reform of parliament - or any other systematic reform, for fear of revolution.

The position of the Royal Family

In the 1780s the monarchy was a force to be reckoned with. George III had learned how to work with parliament and was able to rule as well as reign. By 1815 the position and powers of monarchy were in a state of flux. George III was old and he had been in a state of almost permanent mental instability since 1810. He had become an empty embodiment of an institution, and no force in politics. In 1811 his eldest son George, Prince of Wales, had become Regent. Unfortunately, the family of George III was very unpopular.

Between 1812 and 1827 the country was governed by Lord Liverpool's Tory ministry. Disraeli labelled Liverpool 'the Arch-mediocrity', an assessment that is far from the truth. Liverpool was never an autocrat in Cabinet and was happy to let his ministers get on with their jobs without interference. Liverpool was able to reconcile men and ideas and was a mediator. Liverpool was a shrewd politician who kept his hotch-potch ministry - rather than party - together. He never managed to create a truly adhesive party. He rose to power via patronage and had held office for many years. He was the fifth man to be offered the post of PM on the assassination of Spencer Perceval. Liverpool's ministry can be divided into 3 phases:

In the first phase of the ministry, parliament strongly supported Wellington by financial and other efforts such as providing adequate supplies and manpower. Napoleon's downfall was partly due to the efforts and determination of this government. At the end of the French Wars, the Foreign Secretary, Castlereagh, refused to join Czar Alexander I's 'Holy Alliance', set up for European countries to join together in Christian unity. Castlereagh called the plan 'a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense'. However, it could be said that Liverpool's ministry did promote royal absolutism by

Until 1822 the ministry's domestic policies were conservative and reactionary. Liverpool never tried to direct work of his ministers. Castlereagh was in the House of Commons and was the Foreign Secretary between 1812 and 1822 when he committed suicide. He was succeeded as Foreign Secretary by George Canning. Eldon was the ministry's Lord Chancellor from 1807 to 1827 and Sidmouth, also in the House of Lords, was the Home Secretary. He had been P.M. Addington before his elevation to the Peerage.

It appears that the ministry did not see the 'Condition of England' question; consequently there were few reforms in the period 1812-27. The poor law was still the 1601 Elizabethan Poor Law; there was no systematic parliamentary reform and little social reform; there was some reform of fiscal policy but no increase in educational provision other than that provided by the Churches and private persons. The Whigs were out of office until 1830 and adopted a policy of 'peace, retrenchment and reform' as an opposition platform; an aligning of parties with policies was beginning.

During the period 1812-22, it could be said that England suffered more, economically, socially and politically, than during the French Wars. Consequently there were a number of manifestations of discontent and distress. There was opposition to the government's policies. This opposition came from inside and outside parliament.

The difficulties faced by England were manifested in a series of riots, disaffection and consequent repression.


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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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