The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales

By David W. Howell | Go to book overview

8
The People and Politics

1. The Politics of Reform

The quarrels waged between Whigs and Tories in their own counties, boroughs and local neighbourhoods down to the 1760s, boisterous, often violent, and perhaps wanting in genuine ideological content on both sides, were confined to the narrow gentry and aristocratic elites, who often unleashed their toadying servants and dependants to secure their goals by force.' Although the old Whig and Tory rhetoric would persist down to the close of the century, a significant change in Welsh politics came about from the 1760s fuelled by the growing anger felt by the independent country gentlemen and freeholders at the arbitrary power built up and vaunted by absentee Leviathans. Modern-day historians have recognized that while many of the old Tories became 'Church and King' loyalists in the 1760s, returning to their natural role of conservative upholders of the state as presently ordered, others of them in the masonic lodges, like Sir Watkin Lewes (Cards.), John Pugh Pryse of Gogerddan (Cards.) and Robert Morris of Clasemont (Glam.), were Wilkite radicals wedded to ideas of reform which would shield them from overbearing plutocrats. Whereas there were just six freemasons' lodges in Wales in 1760, ten years later there were sixteen.2

There were, indeed, new alignments forming in Welsh politics in the later decades of the century which brought in social categories hitherto excluded. For emerging in these decades was a new group of reformers, a loosely knit but remarkable alliance of gentry and industrialists (frequently erstwhile Tories or Jacobites) alongside liberal or radical Dissenters, the latter mostly men of independence like craftsmen and small freeholders. Quickening their radicalism was their response to the struggle for freedom of the American colonists, some of whom were of Welsh stock; believing that the tyranny exercised there by an overmighty Westminster executive would soon be imposed at home, they favoured a mild dose of

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The Rural Poor in Eighteenth-Century Wales
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps, Figures and Tables vi
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1: Prologue Setting the Scene 1
  • Part I - Wresting a Mere Subsistence 31
  • 2: Tenant Farmers and Small Freeholders 33
  • 3: Craftsmen and Artisans 58
  • 4: The Labouring Poor 66
  • 5: The Dependent Poor 93
  • 6: Relations in Working the Land 116
  • Part II - Rough and Rebellious Communities 135
  • 7: Popular Culture, Religion and Alternative Belief 137
  • 8: The People and Politics 157
  • 9: Riots and Popular Resistance 177
  • 10: Violent and Light-Fingered Neighbourhoods 209
  • 11: Epilogue 'the Old Order Changeth' 241
  • Notes 247
  • Bibliography 296
  • Index 308
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