The House of Lords in the Age of Reform, 1784-1837: With an Epilogue on Aristocracy and the Advent of Democracy, 1837-1867

By A. S. Turberville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Age of Reform

When Dr. Price argued in justification of the French Revolution that the French were only doing in 1789 what we had done a hundred years before, Burke retorted that despite any superficial resemblances no movements were more utterly dissimilar, that the English Revolution of 1689 was essentially conservative, and that its aim was not innovation but preservation.1 Perhaps the most remarkable contrast of all between the movements is that whereas the really compelling, daemonic watchword of the French revolutionaries was égalité, the object of their greatest detestation privilege, their most hated foes the aristocrats, the prime movers in the English movement, on the contrary, were members of the nobility, and the consequence of the success of their efforts during the next century was the rule of privilege and the government of the country by its aristocracy. The persons who held places of authority in the State, in the services, and in the local administration all belonged to the same class, and the core and centre of this small society was the nobility--predominant in every Cabinet, entrenched in their own House of Lords, and largely controlling the other Chamber of the Legislature by means of their nominees or those maintained there by their influence, their relatives, their friends, and their dependants. Largely because classes were rigid, because it was but rarely that any one was able, as the result either of wealth or of meritorious public service, to enter the circle of an oligarchy that was essentially one of birth and heredity, there was little or no class antagonism. The system of primogeniture prevented the nobility from degenerating into a caste, as happened in France, and because its members were actively engaged in the multi-

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1
See Works of Burke, Vol. III, pp. 251-76; The House of Lords in the Reign of William III, pp. 119-65.

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