More than any before it, the nineteenth century was one of change and in Britain more so than elsewhere. The seemingly permanent old world of landed estates and small market towns cocooned in their own provincial affairs, largely self-governing and relatively self-sufficient, gave way to the enormous industrial conurbations created by the rise of textiles, coal-mining, and iron and steel production. As trade and industry expanded, the canal and railway infrastructure was developed to connect producers and consumers. As the first industrial nation, Britain’s global economic dominance heightened the significance of her port cities, where her raw materials arrived and whence her manufactured exports departed. It has now become fashionable to regard industrialisation less as a revolution than as a process. Either way it gradually became clear that the old world of a safely entrenched rural aristocracy exercising hegemony over an agricultural labour force could no longer be taken for granted. Dominic Lieven has noted that ‘The shadow of 1789 lay over Europe’s nineteenth-century aristocracy. Never again would aristocratic politics be quite so carefree.’1 The aristocracy, then, could no longer so unquestioningly follow their ingrained ethos of sustaining traditional patterns of life. That way of life now had to be defended and justified. If their instinct was to resist change, their intelligence compelled them to try to manage and manipulate reform in a society where control was no longer so securely rooted in established habits of deference.
KeywordsMiddle Class French Revolution Conservative Party East India Company Home Prex
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