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Partisan Politics
Looking for Consensus in Eighteenth-Century Towns

By Jon Rosebank

Partisan Politics
Hardback, 310 pages £75.00
Published: 2021
ISBN: 9781905816675
Format: 234mm x 156mm
Buy this Book

EPUB, 300 pages £75.00
Published: 2021
ISBN: 9781905816682
Buy this Book

Subjects: British History, Politics, Religious Studies

New understandings of the middle order and of the post-1688 English Parliament have shifted the focus from Westminster to the constituencies in the study of eighteenth-century politics. It was the towns, and especially the smaller parliamentary boroughs, that set much of the legislative agenda and which defined partisanship. This is also where religious tension was most intense and enduring.

Yet there has never been a thoroughgoing comparative study of small-town economy, religion, government and politics. Deep in the archives, the history of a clutch of towns in south-west England in the early years of the eighteenth century offers revelatory insights. Their diverse economic structure and religious divisions made these towns extraordinarily difficult to govern, while late Augustan partisanship spread into the streets and taverns, threatening urban order. This precipitated heady local realignments, with three or even four factions in each place cutting across Whig and Tory lines in the pursuit of consensus. In this intensely urban politics, government patronage was peripheral; area gentry were drawn in but had little control. The impact of this many-sided partisanship on national politics was profound.

Building a clearer picture of significant change around the time of the Hanoverian accession, this book proposes a fresh approach both to the study of early modern politics and of towns far beyond its immediate region. It will be an important asset to scholars and students of both.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.47788/ITUP3527


List of Abbreviations


Chapter 1: Introduction—a new

understanding of towns and their politics

The perspective of the middling sort

Local government

Resistance to interference


Religion and party

In search of stability

The research deficit in smaller towns




Chapter 2: Economy and community— the key contexts

The major industries: shipping

The major industries: textiles

Beyond the major industries

The distribution of wealth

Other solidarities

The relationship between economy, society and politics


Chapter 3: The significance of the Church

The structure of dissent

Dissent and local government

The Established Church

The challenge to order


Chapter 4: Town government

The structure of town government

Who served?

Was town government effective?

The threat to good government



Chapter 5: Government patronage

The Excise service

The Customs service

Land Tax, Post Office, Army

The Admiralty

The patronage process


Chapter 6: The politics of leading townsmen and the gentry

Bridgwater: the humiliation of the Duke of Chandos

Plymouth: consensus and the failure of Sir John Rogers

Totnes: Amyites, Buckleyites and George Treby

Dartmouth: Holdsworth and Treby—amicitia perpetua

Tavistock: the third force

Taunton: the feud between council and meeting houses

Tiverton: the role of the Church party

Partisan politics


Chapter 7: The politics of the wider society

Taunton: mobs and voters

Bridgwater: popular Jacobitism

Totnes and Dartmouth: ‘Confidents and Intimados’ at the Hole in the Wall
Tavistock: fringe voters

Plymouth: the role of the freemen

Tiverton: playing with popular feeling

The broken cheese beam


Chapter 8: Wider contexts


The longer period

Where next?



Manuscript sources

Printed sources


Modern works



... written with exceptional clarity and verve, such that it makes its academic points in a very accessible way

- Jonathan Barry, Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History at Exeter University

Jon Rosebank took the top first in Modern History at Oxford, becoming Fellow of New College. He then wrote, produced and directed history documentaries for BBC and Channel 4, combining filmmaking with teaching and becoming Executive Producer, BBC TV. He is now a writer and history podcaster. 

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 310 pages
 234mm x 156mm

 EPUB , 300 pages

BIC Code:
  HIS010000, HIS015000, HIS054000, POL000000, REL084000
 University of Exeter Press


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