Albion Ascendant: English History, 1660-1815

Albion Ascendant: English History, 1660-1815

Albion Ascendant: English History, 1660-1815

Albion Ascendant: English History, 1660-1815


Between the restoration of Charles II and the battle of Waterloo, England gradually emerged as the core nation of the most formidable superpower the world had yet seen. This lively, up-to-date, and comprehensive overview explores the cultural, social, and economic motivations of the people behind this remarkable transformation, during which England lost her American colonies but gained an Empire.


This book spans just over one and a half centuries -- about two full lifetimes by modern Western standards, although nearly twice that for people born in England between 1660 and 1815. It opens with the collapse of the first, perhaps last, English republic, and ends with a famous victory over Napoleonic France at the battle of Waterloo. the time frame within which any historical narrative or interpretation is presented inevitably influences its contents and direction. Thus beginning in 1660 serves to emphasize both the manifold legacies of the mid-seventeenth century English Revolution, and the firm rejection of its more radical aspects, even before the demise of the republican regime. Earlier or later points of departure would be compatible with other (to my mind less compelling) views of the significance of the 1640s and 50s. As for 1815 rather than 1783, 1789, or 1832, the conclusion of the last of many wars fought over the centuries between England and France plainly marked a major turning point, no less in domestic matters than foreign policy, something which could not be said so confidently of other possible closing dates.

These 155 years also derive a certain coherence from encompassing the transformation of a small and comparatively insignificant offshore island into a colonial, economic, and military superpower, the most formidable the world had yet seen. How and why that remarkable -- and as it may now seem, curiously evanescent -- transition occurred, with what effects, for whose benefit, and at whose expense, is a major theme of this outline history. Yet not everything interesting and important about the lives of the five generations which extended over that period can be or is here related to the nation's emerging geo-political role and status.

That story itself is as much a part of European, and indeed global history, as of the history of England alone, or that of the British Isles. Historians have good reason to be more conscious than once they were that British and English history are by no means the same thing. Indeed, a major theme of recent scholarship has been the process of constructing a British identity after the political Union of England and Scotland in 1707. But while attempting to take some account of Scottish, Irish, and Welsh developments and structures at various points along the way, the main focus of this book is upon England (or England and Wales together). At the same time I have sought to confine the term 'Britain' to the political unit created by the Act of Union, rather than using 'England' to include Scotland, let alone Ireland.

In accordance with the General Editor's preface to earlier volumes in this series, I have not hesitated to emphasize 'society and its structure at the expense . . .

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