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The English Peoples Eighteenth Century,
This review is from: Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815, [Social and Economic History of England] (Paperback)
"Albion's People: English Society 1714-1815" is the companion volume to John Rule's The Vital Century: England's Developing Economy, 1714-1815. While the latter volume deals with the economic side of England from the Hanoverian succession to Waterloo, this volume charts the social changes for the same period.
Rule begins by filling in the reader on the bigger picture by detailing demographic developments, the growing urbanisation, the relationship between power and law, as well as considering what historians call the "consumer revolution". The main body of the book is structured into a consideration of the three main classes: (i) The Upper Class, (ii) The Middling People, and (iii) The Lower Orders. The changes and continuities, including religious, cultural, political, and economic of each of these classes is explored at some length, and the differences within the classes are explored as much as those between.
There is also a detailed consideration of one of the thornier questions of the period, in particular for the last forty or so years of it, that of the standard of living, which is - unsurprisingly - especially relevant to the third of Rule's classes. Beyond that there is a fascinating chapter on Social and Industrial Protest that covers food riots, industrial protest, machine breaking (ie. Luddism), and the frequent disorders in London including those related to "Wilkes and Liberty" and the Gordon Riots of 1780. This chapter naturally leads to the final one on "Crime and Punishment".
"Albion's People" is an excellent work of synthesis that combines a great deal of excellent and diverse scholarship into a coherent and balanced view of England's eighteenth century social history. Though an unashamedly academic work it is also readable, and Rule combines the scholarship with ample first hand accounts from the period that lighten and provide colour to the text that otherwise, especially with the plentiful supply of statistics and figures, might be off putting to the general reader. If there is a shortcoming in the book it is the parochial focus, I'd have thought a chapter on the English overseas in India, the West Indies, North America, etc would have been warranted. That quibble to one side, this is a very good piece of history, that along with its companion volume The Vital Century provide a detailed account of England's eighteenth century.