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Joseph Hone, Literature and Party Politics at the Accession of Queen Anne

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 209 pp. ISBN 978-0-198-81407-8
Jeffrey Hopes
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HONE, JOSEPH. – Literature and Party Politics at the Accession of Queen Anne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 209 pp. ISBN 978-0-198-81407-8

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1Joseph Hone’s monograph brings a micro-historical approach to “contextually sophisticated literature” (2) influenced in particular by the work of Kevin Sharpe, allied to the “thick description” pioneered by Clifford Geertz and others to the study of the political debates surrounding the succession of Queen Anne in 1702. His overriding concern is to assert the controversial and contested nature of this succession in opposition to those historians who see it as relatively unproblematic.

2Hone sees the political debate on the succession as centred on alternative views of Anne’s legitimacy: on the one hand her hereditary claim to the throne as James ii’s daughter and on the other the statutory basis for her rule provided by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. These two positions broadly opposed Tories (and more problematically Jacobites) and Whigs, but are both subject to tensions and inner contradictions in a constantly fluctuating political landscape. What the controversy over Anne’s accession shows, according to Hone, is that politics at this time is fundamentally about the monarchy and questions of succession. Anne’s claim to the throne is constantly compared to those of her predecessor William iii and James Edward Stuart, the Jacobite pretender. The party political divisions between Whigs and Tories are seen as revolving principally around these succession issues.

3The “literature” studied is wide-ranging and diverse: elegies (for but also against William), Jacobite libels, panegyrics, polemical tracts, sermons, poems, addresses, satires and manuscript texts. Whilst famous literary figures are certainly present (Addison, Defoe, Pope), they cohabit in a predominantly political and polemical environment with journalists, hacks and clergymen. This material is constantly well analysed and Hone excels in the close reading of these texts in their precise context. Some of the best pages of the book are the detailed analyses of particular texts such as the anonymous The English Muse and The Golden Age, John Sharp’s coronation sermon, Addison’s Dialogues Upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals, Defoe’s The Mock Mourners and The Shortest Way with Dissenters, and Henry Sacheverell’s The Political Union. Hone sees such texts as the very stuff of politics commenting at one point on “how writing could encourage or even constitute an oppositional politics” (47). This rightly places print culture at the forefront of the political debate but tends to privilege a national (or London and Oxford?) microcosm of politically aware readers and commentators over the nitty-gritty of local politics and the manoeuvring of political patrons. Yet Hone is alive to all the nuances of meaning in such seemingly dry and forbidding texts as coronation panegyrics and the accounts of Anne’s royal progress following her coronation.

4The two final sections of the book focus on the contexts of the War of Spanish Succession on the one hand and the 1702 election on the other. The context of the war is essential and Hone rightly points to the way in which the debate on the Spanish succession was also a debate on the British succession, given Louis xiv’s support for James Edward’s claim to the throne. Hone emphasises the way in which Tories focused on British naval power as against the Whig’s praise for Marlborough’s land campaigns (a division which also takes us back to the issue of standing armies so prominent following the 1688 revolution).

5The 1702 election is approached through a variety of election literature. Again, the readings are meticulous and convincing. The greater readiness of Tory propagandists is clear, but whether this is on its own sufficient explanation for the Tory victory remains moot (as Hone admits). Religious issues are addressed through the coded political messages of sermons and the Occasional Conformity controversy, but more emphasis could perhaps have been given to the bedrock of Tory support from the lower ranks of the clergy and their profound mistrust of low-church bishops. These pages are however full of valuable insights into the sometimes tortuous prose and tactics of propagandists of all persuasions concerned both to affirm and qualify positions which were potentially incendiary and to counter their opponents by exploiting the similarly incendiary implications of their arguments. A remarkable instance of this is John Tutchin reproducing his opponents’ poems in The Observator so as to portray them as Jacobite. Anyone who has spent time reading pamphlets of this period will recognize this strategy of damning one’s opponents through their own words.

6Hone’s book culminates in an important reassessment of Defoe’s Shortest Way with Dissenters, reading it as a performative text designed not to satirize but to demonstrate the danger of the high-church Tory position. Hone sees the passages in which Defoe’s persona casts doubt on Anne’s wisdom and integrity (and so by implication depict her as a poor substitute for James Edward) as being more important to the pamphlet’s reception than it’s condemnation of dissenters. It was, he claims, only the premature revelation of Defoe’s authorship which transformed The Shortest Way into an ironic satire. This reading is convincing and together with that of other Defoe tracts, adds to our understanding of and our admiration for the extraordinary rhetorical and tactical sophistication of Defoe’s writing of this period.

7In many ways Hone’s work links Anne’s succession, its rituals and symbolism and the political controversy it elicited, to previous succession crises, that of 1688/89 of course but also the Exclusion Crisis and the Restoration of 1660. In his conclusion Hone evokes the “cultural transfer” from Jacobitism to Patriotism which he sees as occurring much later in the century, in particular in the work of Bolingbroke whose Patriot King recycles Jacobitism minus its succession issues. In situating this “transfer” under the Hanoverians, Hone refutes the idea that Anne’s succession defused Jacobite xenophobia as he says earlier when disagreeing with Murray Pittock’s analysis. Hone thus also reassesses the place of Jacobitism at the beginning of the century. Far from constituting a moment of national reconciliation, Anne’s succession prolonged previous dynastic divisions and ignited others.

8This is an important book that enriches our knowledge of these tumultuous years. At times one senses the difficulty of cramming extensive doctoral research into a confined format and at others Hone is perhaps too anxious to distance his readings from those of other historians. But this is a densely argued and meticulously researched study which is in the best sense of the word “revisionist.” The close reading of his source material allied to a comprehensive knowledge of recent research yields ample rewards for the similarly attentive reader.

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Jeffrey Hopes, « Joseph Hone, Literature and Party Politics at the Accession of Queen Anne », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 75 | 2018, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2018, consulté le 23 janvier 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/1718/1460

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Jeffrey Hopes

Université d’Orléans - POLEN (POuvoirs, LEttres, Normes), EA 4710

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