University of Exeter Press

Partisan Politics

Looking for Consensus in Eighteenth-Century Towns

    • 300 Pages

    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.


    Linked to new research on 18th-century middle orders, this book looks deep into small-town society. It finds these to be places difficult to govern, split by economic structure and divided by religion. Each was forced to seek consensus and realignment. This work presents a radical new approach to the study of early modern politics and towns.

    ... 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

    Dr Rosebank's painstaking research adds significantly to the literature on eighteenth-century towns, and on the relationship between ‘the people’ and the political institutions by which they were governed.

    D.W. Hayton
    Parliaments, Estates and Representation

    This is local history used to excellent effect, built upon comprehensive and thorough archival research, and conveyed with admirable lucidity.

    James Harris
    Parliamentary History

    … an interesting study, rooted in a detailed study of archival material, which configures the interplay between the forces at play in urban politics well.

    William Gibson, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History


    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



    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. 

      • 300 Pages