“My Servants Really Live Like Kings & Queens”: Below Stairs Intruding Above Stairs, ca1774

Downtown Abbey and its highly problematic depiction of the experience of servants at the end of the era of widespread bonded servitude has tended to color the opinions of many viewers about the nature of such lives.  More important is the reminder that it can, and should, provide us with that servitude was–and is–a spectrum as expansive as the Atlantic Ocean, from slavery at the clearest end to indentured apprenticeship and liveried valets at the murky other side.  Few topics are more deserving of the considered attention of historians and, yet, few subjects have such a dearth of primary sources to aid us, leaving theory and supposition as poor substitutes for thoughtful, because informed, analysis.  

That is a heavy appetizer for such a light main course, one provided by Laura Walpole Keppel, a younger, Georgian, nonfiction version of Maggie Smith’s splendid Dowager Countess of Grantham.  On this date in 1774, a year when George III was on the throne of Great Britain and George Washington attended more fox hunts than church services, Laura lamented, in a letter to her aunt, the lives of those below her stairs because of the problems they caused her above them.  The letter excerpt is of interest for many reasons, not least because it grants us the privilege of an unfiltered perspective on the outward lives of servants in Georgian England — and has nothing to do with Julian Fellowes.

What plagues servants are!  My upper ones all quarrel’d last week, such a piece of work, I thought I must have turn’d ’em all away, I did not sleep for two nights, for they discovered things of one another, that I am sure they are very sorry for, & I believe heartily repent having come to me in their passion.  At present tis blown over but if ever they quarrel again, my Ld has told ’em they shall ev’ry one be discharged in one day.  ’tis intollerable that ones life is to be made miserable by such wretches.  Indeed Charlotte’s maid (who was out of the quarrel) said truth, that they lived too well, & had nothing to find fault with, & therefore quarrel’d with one another.  & that is the true state of the case.  for my servants really live like kings & queens & are never scolded.

Thieves, Strumpets, Tobacco, and the French: A Glimpse into the British Atlantic World, ca1760

On this date, October 10, in 1760, William Fauntleroy appears to have been a bit cranky.  A planter and merchant in Tidewater Virginia, he took a few minutes to pen an epistolary snapshot of life in the 18th-century British world in a fascinating letter to his sister, Elizabeth, then in London.  It covers the British criminal justice system, gender, property, transatlantic commerce, and the Seven Years’ War, then raging in Canada, all through the perspective of one person, with his own bundle of informed and uninformed presumptions about that world.  Although William avoids the one ubiquitous subject that practically no one in colonial Virginia ever wanted to discuss–slavery–this letter otherwise gives us a very human moment and reveals the many ways in which we lose more than we gain when we see the Atlantic as a barrier, and a not a bridge, before the American Revolution.

It does make one want to find out how “cousin Henry” and Mary turned out, doesn’t it?

Sorry cousin Henry did not conduct his matters better in Virginia.  It’s really the fault of that convict wench that served part of her time with me.  If I were you I’d have her hanged for going back to Britain before her convicted time was out.  Her name was Mary Acres and you may easy know where she was convicted from.  I hope Henry is released by now and will reflect on himself and alter his course in life.  Things sent that came by Capt Brough were sent immediately to cousin Sally and Judah Fauntleroy according to your desire.  Sally is married to Doctr Mortimer, a fine man.  Judy is married to one of Col Carter’s sons, a good family and fortune.  I can’t tell what cousin Harry did with the money he got from Mr Hodge but believe when young men gitte so in love with common theaves & strumpettss they can’t have too much money.  I got with the extrs [executors] of your cousin Moore Fauntleroy’s and at last have your just clame inclosed.  Tobo [tobacco] now with so high, thought it most for your Interest considering there being no convoy & war times to send you a good Bill.  I think to send you & Mr Ribright a Little Tobo this year.  As for the war with us, the French lattly has given up Montreale without striking a Blow, so we have all North America from the French.

“A Season for Reflection”: A Loyalist’s Last Letter to Thomas Jefferson and to America

Near Charing Cross, not far from Nelson’s Monument at Trafalgar Square, is Spring Gardens.  In the 18th century, as today, it was at the heart of Whitehall and surrounded by British government offices.  And on October 25, 1779, in the long-gone Cannon Coffee House, it was a place where one man said goodbye to his history and his home.  Just a few years before, John Randolph had been one of the most prominent lawyers in British Virginia.  The colony’s Attorney General, he also lived in the capital’s most impressive private home, also now long-gone.  His two daughters were described by more than one visitor to Williamsburg as “the most beautiful girls in America.”  He was also an accomplished violinist, who often spent evenings playing duets with his close friend and relation, Thomas Jefferson.

But then the American Revolution changed all of that, almost in the twinkling of an eye. Choosing to remain remain loyal to the British constitution that his father, Sir John Randolph, had taught him to treasure and defend as the only true gaurantor of freedom in the world, he watched as his world collapsed around him.  His daughters were threatened on the streets of their town and he was attacked as a “tory,” an epithet as ridiculous as it was inaccurate. In the summer of 1775, as his brother, Peyton, went to Philadelphia as a member of the Continental Congress, and his son, Edmund, rode to join George Washington’s staff, John took his family to London, where he thought he could perform the same diplomatic magic that both his father and brother had worked when relations between Virginia and Britain had seemed at their breaking point.  He failed, of course, but he never stopped trying, even as fewer doors in that area of Whitehall, near Charing Cross, were opened to him.

Having time on his hands, and the past on his mind, John sat down at the Cannon Coffee House and decided to write a letter to his dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, who had become governor of the new independent state of Virginia.  In it his pours out explanations, philosophical observations, literary allusions, opinions, hopes, and fears.  He writes his own revolutionary history.  And he warns of the fickleness of pretended allies.  In the field of political thought, it’s a remarkable statement of the sort of Augustan moderation that had once dominated British political culture, and which might have held the empire together as a place where differences of opinion could be accommodated rather than considered as differences in principle.  But it also reveals a torrent of emotions bordering on unreality, nowhere expressed more clearly than in his plea “to rescind your Declaration of Independance” and “be happily reunited to your ancient and natural Friend,” written to the man who wrote the declaration and saw it adopted more than 3 years before.

I have provided it here in its entirety, although somewhat lengthy, as a reflection of the American Revolution as a civil war, and as a reminder for the legions of historians who have never considered the “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour” risked and lost by those who differed from patriots in opinion, rather than principle.  John died in London on January 31, 1784, his last wishes to be buried in Williamsburg, where he rests today in the crypt of the Wren Chapel of the College of William & Mary, next to his brother and father.  This letter to Jefferson was never sent.  It was not found until 1840, when it was discovered among the papers of Sir Edward Walpole, the son of John’s father’s dear friend, Sir Robert Walpole.  The letter has since been reprinted in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.  This is my transcription of the original.

London, Cannon Coffee House Spring Gardens

Dear Sr
October 25. 1779

The Letters, with which you some considerable Time ago, honourd me, got to Hand; tho’, from their appearance, their Contents were known to many, before they reach’d the Person, for whom they were intended. The gloomy Cloud, which hung over our public affairs, and the general Suspicion, which prevail’d at that Time, recommended Caution, and prevented my answering them. But, as Matters now are fully understood, and the Ultimatum seems to be fix’d between the contending Parties; if You are not unwilling to read, I am under no Apprehension, in delivering my Sentiments to you.

Mr. J. Power, who is just arrived from Virginia, informs me, that you have been lately elected Successor to Mr. Henry, who presided over your Colony for three Years, the utmost successive Time allow’d for holding that office. I must take the Liberty to say, that your Constituents cou’d not have chosen a man of greater abilities to conduct their affairs, than you possess; and permit me to add my Hope, that Futurity may speak as favourably, of your Moderation.

If a Difference in opinion, was a good Ground for an Intermission of Friendship, Mankind might justly be said, to live in a State of Warfare; since the Imperfection of human knowledge, has render’d Mens Minds as various as the Author of their Being, has shap’d their Persons. The Man who condemns another, for thinking differently from himself, sets up his Judgment as the Standard of Conception; wounds the great Liberty we enjoy, of thinking for ourselves; and tyrannizes over the Mind, which Nature intended shoud be free and unconfin’d. That Tyrant, I cannot suppose You, to be. The Liberality of Sentiment, which ever distinguish’d you amongst your Acquaintance, when you were upon a Level with them, has not, I hope, forsaken you, since you have been rais’d to a Sphere, which has made you, superior to them. Shou’d I therefore be so unfortunate, as to make any observations, which may not meet with your approbation, for the Honour of your Understanding treat them with Benignity. I will allow you in such Case, to consider them, as the overflowings of a Mind, too zealous in the Cause in which it is engaged; but I must demand of you to admit, that they are the legitimate offspring, of an uncorrupted Heart. But, before you pass Sentence, I shall call on your Candour, to give them a fair Hearing.

When our unhappy Dispute commenc’d, (tho it arose from Circumstances, which left an opening for an honorable accomodation, yet) I saw that it was big with Mischief, and portended Ruin and Desolation, Somewhere. I thought that it behov’d me to reflect with the utmost Deliberation, on the Line of Conduct, which I ought to pursue, on so critical an Occasion. I clear’d every avenue to Information, and laid myself open to Conviction, let it come from what Quarter it wou’d. I read with avidity every thing which was publish’d on the Subject, and I put my own Thoughts in Writing, that I might see how they wou’d stand on Paper. I found myself embarrass’d by a thousand Considerations, acting in direct opposition to each other. In this Situation I had no Resource left but to submit myself Solely to the Dictates of my Reason. To that impartial Tribunal I appeal’d. There I reciev’d Satisfaction; and from her Decision, I am determin’d never to depart.

Si fractus illabatur Orbis

impavidum ferient Ruinæ.

Adversity is a School, in which few Men wish to be educated; yet, it is a Source, from whence the most useful Improvements, may be derived. When the Mind shrinks not from its approach, it offers a Season for Reflection, calls forth the Powers of the Understanding, fixes its Principles, and inspires a Fortitude, which shews the true Dignity of Man. In that School I have been tutor’d; from its Tuition I have drawn those advantages, and I am unalterably resolved, that all other Motives shall give Way, to the fullest and most unequivocal Enjoyment of them.

The Insults I reciev’d from a People, (whose Interest I always considerd as my own) unrestrain’d by the Influence of Gentlemen of Rank gave me much Uneasiness: But, the unmanly and illiberal Treatment, which the more delicate Part of my Family met with, I confess, fill’d me with the highest Resentment. As there is Nothing which I forget so soon as an Injury; and as animosity never rankles in my Bosom, I have cast the whole into oblivion. There let it lie buried; for Implacability belongs only to the unworthy.

Independance, it is agreed on all Hands, is the fix’d Purpose of your Determination. Annihilation is preferable to a Reunion with Great Britain. To support this desirable End, you have enter’d into an alliance with France and Spain, to reduce the Power of this Country, and make Way for the Glory of America. What Effect this Connection will have on you, or this Kingdom, Time alone can discover; But be it rememberd, that France is perfidious, Spain insignificant, and Great Britain formidable. The united Fleets of the House of Bourbon, lately cover’d the Seas, and paraded off Plymouth. A Descent was threaten’d, and universally expected. The british Fleet was then in a distant Part of the Channel, and there was nothing remain’d to defend this Kingdom, but the internal Strength and Valour of its Inhabitants. The Space of three Days remov’d the Alarm, by producing a fruitless Departure of this mighty Squadron. Soon after this, the two Fleets came in Sight of each other, (a Great Superiority in Number lying on the Side of the Enemy) and a bloody barrage was expected to follow. The british Fleet in the Evening, form’d themselves into a Line of Battle and brought to, imagining that the combin’d Fleet, wou’d in the Morning begin the attack; but when that Period arriv’d, there was not an Enemy to be seen, from any one of our Ships. On which, our Fleet steer’d into Port, and there has continued unmolested, ever since. Individual Ships have been taken, but all our valuable Fleets from every Quarter of the Globe, for the present Year, are arriv’d in Safety; yet, our Ports are filled with French and Spanish Ships, and our Gaols with their Subjects.

Admiral Keppels Engagement off Brest about 15 Months ago, tho’ a shameful one, as he had it in his Power to strike a Decisive Blow and omitted it, was converted into a meer Party Business here. His Conduct is now, very generally reprobated; The City of London has with-held the Golden Box, which the Rage of Party had prepared as a Present for him. Yet ill as he is supposed to have behav’d, the french fleet sustain’d such Damage on that Occasion, that it did not come out of Port, for near a twelve Month after. History does not furnish us with Instances of greater acts of Heroism, than have been exhibited in the Course of the last Summer, in some of our naval Engagements. National Party is very much on the Decline, and the Safety of the State, seems to supersede all other Considerations.

The Junction of the Spaniards, was more a Matter of Joy in England, than a Terror. The fingering of their Gold, is no small object with a commercial People. When his Catholic Majesty’s Rescript was deliver’d at St. James’s, and became known, instead of lowering, the Stocks immediately took a Rise. And the Dutch, who have already an immense Property in our Funds are still buying in, notwithstanding the various Difficulties, with which this Kingdom is surrounded. This Sir is a Short, but true Narrative of the State of british affairs, in Europe.

It must be confess’d, that the French have gain’d advantages in the West Indies; but it may be observ’d, that they have recover’d no more than what they lost in the last war. In Contests between great Nations, Events must be uncertain, and no Party can expect an uninterrupted Series of Success. Disappointments some times beget Exertions, which may give a new Face to Affairs. When the Troops, which are to be sent for the Protection of our Island, arrive, and the ships are on float, which the succeeding Spring will produce, these will unfold to us, Truths, about which, we at present, may form very different Ideas. The French may boast of their Prowess in Destaings Engagement with Barrington, but few think here, that the Glory of the british Navy was in any Degree diminish’d in that Encounter.

How far the French have been useful to you in Amer[ica], you must be better qualified to determine, than myself: Yet, I cannot avoid expressing my Wish, that you had never enterd into any Engagements with them. They are a People cover’d with Guile, and their Religion countenances the Practice of it, on all of a different Persuasion. They are educated in an Aversion to the English, and hold our Constitution in the utmost Detestation. They have the Art to insinuate, and the Wickedness to betray when they gain an admittance. Laws, they have none but such as are prescrib’d by the Will of their Prince. This is their only Legislature. They know your Coast, are acquainted with your Manners, and no Doubt have made Establishments amongst You. A Footing in the Northern Provinces, is what they most devoutly wish to obtain. As a Means to effect their Purpose, they have sufferd you to run in Debt to them, and as a Security for the Payment of it, they say that your Lands are answerable. If you are not able to satisfy their Demands, how will you have it in Your Power to frustrate this Claim? But if you are able to discharge the Debt, how will you recompense them, for the Services, which they will urge that they have renderd to you. Your Trade is of no Consequence, it is not an object with them. Nothing but a Partition of your Country will silence them. When that happens, you may bid adieu to all social Happiness; the little finger of France will be more burthensome to you, than the whole weight of George the 3d. his Lords and Commons. Can it be imagin’d that a Prince, who is a Tyrant in his own Dominions, can be a Friend to the Rights and Priviledges of another People? Can it be Policy in him to waste his Blood and Treasure, in reducing one Rival, in order to raise another, more formidable perhaps, than his ancient Competitors? Your good Sense I am persuaded, will not suffer You to cherish such an opinion, and you cannot be so wanting in Discernment, as not to see the base Designs of this treacherous Nation. If France engaged in this Quarrel, for no other Purpose, than to fight your Battles, and vindicate your injured Rights, her Generosity will lead her to confer all the Benefit of her Conquests on you. When you become invested with the Possession of their acquisitions, you may then believe them to be your Friends; but until that happens, you ought to consider their Designs as dangerous, and not suffer yourselves to be deciev’d by such an artful and despotic People. But let us suppose in theory, what, facts I am convinced will not verify, that the Powers now contending with G. Britain are too great for it to withstand. What do you imagine will be the Sentiments of the other States of Europe on this Subject? These Potentates stand in such a Relation to each other, that as a Security to the whole, a Ballance of Power must be preserv’d amongst them. G. Britain has always held that Ballance. How dangerous a Neighbour would France become, if her principal opponent, and the great Arbiter of Europe shou’d be overwhelm’d? The Empress of Russia sees with a jealous Eye, the Strides which the french are taking towards universal Monarchy. The King of Prussia is too old a Soldier, to suffer a Rival to strengthen himself, on the Ruins of an old and natural ally. The Dutch are governd too much by their Interest, to see it in Danger, and never to make an Effort to preserve it. The Danes are the fast Friends of England. All these Nations wou’d have taken a decided Part long before this, had the Situation of G. Britain made it necessary: But the Truth is, our Councils are as vigorous, our Resources as great and the national Firmness as inflexible, as they have ever been, even in the most flourishing Periods recorded in the History of this Country. If you regard the assertions of a set of Men, who are distinguish’d by the appellation of the Opposition, you must I own form a different opinion, from that which I have endeavour’d to inculcate. They will tell you that the Glory of England is pass’d away, its Treasures exhausted, and that the Kingdom stands on the Brink of inevitable Destruction, owing to the Weakness and Wickedness of Administration. Believe not, my Friend, such Prophets. The Luxury of this Nation, and of Course its Expences, are unbounded. These Excesses must unavoidably make Mankind necessitous. The Department of a Minister is lucrative and alluring. The King, in order to silence the Clamour of Party, having frequently chang’d his Servants, has by this Means excited an Idea, that Noise will always procure a Removal of the Ministry. It is for this Reason, that they who have a Chance for the Succession, ring such alarms thro the Nation, in order to throw an odium on them, and get them out of their Places; yet these very People who are the Authors of so much Turbulence, don’t think as they speak. Some join in the Cry; others suspend their opinions, till they recieve more convincing Proofs; and a third, thinking that Government ought to be supported strengthen as far as they can, the Hands of their Rulers. But still, the great Machine moves on, the Ministry Keep their Places, and look as if their Possession would be of long Duration. But a Change wou’d be of little Service to the Nation; for if it silenc’d one Party, it wou’d open the Mouth of another; and the Kingdom be just in the same Situation that it is in at this Time, and has been for many Years past.

If you form an opinion of our public affairs, by the Picture which is drawn of them in our daily Exhibitions, I acknowledge, that you must concieve my account of them to be, chimerical. But whoever wishes to avoid Error, must steer clear of an english Newspaper. There are of daily Papers publish’d in the Year, 27. Millions: The Types, the Ink, the Paper and a Stamp &c. distinctly pay a Duty to Government. Judge then, what a Revenue these Publications must produce. It is for this Reason that Ministry throw no Impediment in their Way; for punishing the Libels they contain, wou’d reduce their Number, and lessen of Course, the Emoluments arising from them. I have often thought, that the Toleration of such indecent Compositions, was a Reflection on Government, but it is a Maxim in England, that as soon as an Evil produces Good, it ceases to be an Evil.

The short Representation of the british affairs, which I have given you above, is intended to prepare you, for one important Question, momentous not only to America, and Great Britain, but also to Europe in General: Wou’d it not be prudent, to rescind your Declaration of Independance, be happily reunited to your ancient and natural Friend, and enjoy a Peace, which I most religiously think would pass all Understanding? I can venture to assure you, that your Independance, will never be acknowledg’d by the Legislative Authority of this Kingdom: The Nation would not agree to such a Concession; and your suppos’d Friends, who are so lavish in your Praise on other Occasions, wou’d on this, be against you. Every Immunity, which you can reasonably ask for, will be granted to you; the rapacious Hand of Taxation will never reach you. Your Laws and Regulations will be establish’d on the solid Basis of the british Constitution; and your Happiness will be attended to, with all the Solicitude, which belongs to an affectionate Parent. Reflect, I beseach you, on what I have said. Let not the flattering Possession of Power, which may be wrested from you in a Moment, stand in Competition with the Good of your Country, which you have now an opportunity of making, as lasting as Time itself. But if you still persist in your Resolution, never to listen to the voice of Reconciliation, Remember, that I, who know your Situation, and wish you every Degree of Happiness, tell you, that what you take to be the End, will be only the Beginning of your political Misfortunes.

I must now put a Period to a long Letter, the writing of which, is a very unusual Labour to me. How you may recieve it I know not. Be that as it will, I shall enjoy one Consolation, which is, a quiet Conscience. I see such Determination in Government, to proceed to the last Extremity with you; such a Disposition in the Powers of Europe to go to War; and such Mischiefs hovering over America, that I shou’d think myself an undutiful Son, and criminally guilty, if I did not impart to you, the Distress I feel on your Account. Let our opinions vary as they will, I shall nevertheless retain a very sincere Regard for you. How far your Politics may be blended with your Friendships, I cannot tell; but as I have ever preserv’d my esteem from improper Mixtures, I shall subscribe myself now as I always have done, Dr Sr, Your very affectionate Friend & humble Servt,

John Randolph

The Student’s Guide Through Lincoln’s Inn (1805)

The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn
The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn

I frequently get questions about the nature of legal education in the 18th century and the differences between Britain and the American colonies in that regard.  Moreover, given my work on transatlantic cultural influences in the late colonial period, and their relation to political thought and behavior, I’ve been keenly interested in any sources that shed light on the actual experience of those who attended the Inns of Court in London, which educated so many colonial political leaders, from Daniel Dulany to John Dickinson to Peyton Randolph to Arthur Lee (all of whom attended Middle Temple).  Consequently, whenever I’m in London, I regularly pester the uniformly kind librarians, archivists, and clerks at the various Inns for whatever they might have come across since the last time I bothered them.  Not that long ago, while sitting in the library of my London academic home–the splendid Institute for Historical Research–I was sent a real find: The Student’s Guide Through Lincoln’s Inn by Thomas Lane, published in 1805.  It was chock full of all sorts of factual gems and insights that, at the very least, give us a glimpse into what it was like to study law in Georgian England. Keeping in mind that most–although certainly not all–American law students were simultaneously enrolled at one of the universities (mainly Cambridge), and that the City itself provided perhaps the best education, these notes of mine, taken from The Student’s Guide, I think enrich our understanding of just what these students were getting up in the late 1700s.

All the principal Inns of Court are uniform in their regulations of calling to the bar.

Admission payment must be made.

Gentleman to be admitted need not be present but a bond must be entered into by himself and a member of the Inn, or two housekeepers, who are required to certify that they know him to be a fit and proper person to become a member.

In addition to the bond a deposit must be made before a student commences his terms for the English bar, to be returned on his call to the bar or his leaving the society unless the person can produce a certificate showing he spent 2 years at Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin, or of the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland, or if admitted for purposes of being called to the Irish bar.

Method of keeping terms is to attend the hall during the 4 law terms — Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas.

Lincoln’s Inn dinner was at 4pm. In the 17th century it was at 3pm.

Hilary term — 23 Jan to 12 Feb; Michaelmas term — 6 Nov to 28 Nov; Easter term — Begins 17 days after Easter Sunday and continues 27 days; Trinity term — Begins 18 days after conclusion of Easter term and continues 20 days.

The student is required to remain in the hall until grace is said after dinner, or else he loses the benefit of that day’s attendance, his name struck off by the Steward who regularly attends to enter all names of those present.

To keep a whole term, one can attend every day in a whole week and any one day in grand week; the method of shortest compass [and expense] is to attend 4 days preceding grand week and the Sunday in grand week if the four days are part of the term; attending a whole week and every day in a grand week (14 days) will complete the term at same expense as shortest term.

Terms are charged by the whole, three quarters, half and quarter.

Dinner is provided every day through term and students may attend every day by paying a repast fee above the number of days keeping.

Plain black gown are worn by diners, and can be rented at the door; students sit at either of side tables, cross tables occupied by benchers and barristers.

Students cannot be more than two terms in arrears for his eating commons. If so, the Steward cannot record his keeping a term.

Exercises take place after dinner, and benchers then retire to their private room.

Students need not begin to keep commons in the hall until two years after their admission to the society, nor do they need to make the 100 pounds sterling deposit until they begin to keep terms.

Any student may, on application to the Steward, have a certificate of his belonging to the society, which entitles him to a seat in the student’s box in the courts at Westminster Hall and the Old Bailey.

Students are not required to possess chambers or to reside in the Inn unless he chooses.

Before a student can be called to the English bar it is necessary that his name shall have been five years on the books of the society, unless a certificate be produced of his having taken the degree of MA or BL at Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin, in which case 3 years would be sufficient, during which period he must keep 12 terms commons in the hall and perform 9 exercises, no more than 3 of which can be performed in one term.

Exercises are immediately after dinner but application must first be made to the Steward for a certificate signed by a practising barrister of the society who attests he is acquainted with the student’s character and that the student is an unexceptionable person and which, if approved by the rest of the barristers, allows the student to commence exercises the next day.

When a student is qualified for the bar his name must be affixed on the screen in the hall a fortnight [same for all four Inns of Court] and a petition signed by him presented to the benchers at a council, one of the benchers must move the consideration of the petition, another special council is then fixed for the purpose of calls; if the candidate is approved and the petition granted, it is ordered that the petitioner be published or called to the bar at the next exercise in the hall, which is generally the following day. On that day the student must attend personally; and after dinner proceed to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, which are administered by the steward before the benchers. After taking the oaths, he is (published or) called to the bar by the benchers, and retires to the council chamber to sign the register of his call, in the presence of the benchers; who immediately leave him to the enjoyment of the company of his friends, usually invited on the occasion. When the register is signed the Steward delivers too each gentleman called a copy of the order for his call to the bar, which he is required to produce at Westminster Hall previous to his taking the oaths there, which should be done within six months after he is called to the bar.

“A Very Smal Trifle!”: A North Briton’s View of the American Revolution

Photograph of Daldowie
Daldowie, the home of the Bogle family outside of Glasgow. It was heavily renovated in the 19th century, before this photo was taken.

The Bogles of Glasgow were one of those families who illustrate rather nicely the intricate and often unexpected interconnectedness of the revolutionary world, or at least certain parts of it, and the rich personal stories that breathe life into it. The Bogles started in the tobacco trade when it took off in the years following the Peace of Utrecht. Following what became a common pattern for that part of the trade, the Bogle family established stores near Tappahannock, Virginia, and were assiduous in developing relationships with planters on the south side of the Rappahannock River. Their association with eastern Virginia lasted from the 1720s to the 1770s and their correspondence is filled with the ways in which the political economy in oronoco tobacco tied northern Europe (especially Rotterdam), Scotland, and the Chesapeake together in a fascinating web, one that differed markedly from the established sweet-scented trade that dominated Tidewater Virginia and London, in everything from business practices to political persuasions.

One particular letter, written on 4 November 1775, connects the greater British Empire, from the Chesapeake to Scotland and India, as George Bogle, outside of Glasgow, informed his son in Calcutta (then working with Warren Hastings) of the death of their relation in Virginia in 1775. It also provides a fascinating window into a lowland Scots (or, rather, North Briton) view of the Boston Tea Party and the American insurgency.

[Y]our Cousin German, Mr William Bogle dyed very Lately in Virginia of a fever to the Inexpressible Grief of His Mother, his Sister Nancy, and of His numerous Connections and Relations.We have been for some time, and are at present Engadged in War with our Colonys in America, who broke out in a most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion against us their Mother Country Occasioned as they aledge on Account of a Small duty of 3d pr lb of Tea which the Parliament Burdened them with, a very smal triffle! The first Quantity sent to them they had the Daring Efronterie to throw into the Sea in Spite of the Act of Parliament.We have Come to Blows and Bloodshed some months ago upon the 10th last September they shut up their Ports against Exportation from the Colonys, and it is Imagined with good reason that the Parliament will shut up the Ports from Britain and Ireland from Exporting any thing to them whatsoever, only our men of Warr Will make good the Landing of Warlike Stores and provisions for the use of our Fleets and Armys in the Colonys, by which it is believed They will then be in a very miserable situation and of which I doubt not.

[Bogle family Papers, Mitchell Library (Glasgow), 19/22]

“But a forty days tyranny”: A reflection on executive authority in 18th-century British constitutionalism

On 11 November 1766, Parliament listened to a speech by George III that dealt mainly with a severe grain shortage then gripping Britain, and the embargo that the ministry consequently imposed to keep wheat and wheat-flour in the country. Lords Chatham (William Pitt) and Camden (Charles Pratt) strenuously defended the embargo, in the face of widespread opposition in the Lords and Commons, as “the right and duty of the crown to suspend the execution of a law, for the safety of the people.” Camden stated “The crown is the sole executive power, and is therefore intrusted by the constitution to take upon itself whatever the safety of the state may require, during the recess of parliament, which is at most but a forty days tyranny.” Opposition leaders, such as Lords Mansfield (William Murray), Temple (Richard Grenville-Temple), and Lyttleton (George Lyttleton), made the counterpoint that the effect was to “…establish a dispensing power, and you cannot be sure of either liberty or law for forty minutes.”  They invoked the preamble of the 1689 bill of rights which “expressly mentions the evils resulting to the kingdom from the practice adopted by James II, of assuming a power to dispense with, and suspend, the execution of laws without the consent of parliament.”

Chatham’s support for an exercise of executive authority that ran counter to established Whig tenets seriously weakened his influence in parliament and the strength of his entire ministry. His arguments, along with those of Camden, are also interesting for the light they shed on the development of patriot constitutional thought in America, providing at least anecdotal evidence for Thomas Jefferson’s presumptions in his Summary View of the Rights of British America that the Crown possessed more constitutional authority than it could actually exercise.

[Source: John Adolphus’ The History of England, from the Accession of King George the Third, to the Conclusion of Peace in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Three (1805), a fascinating multi-volume work that contains parliamentary speeches one cannot easily find elsewhere.]

“An accursed Violation of the most sacred Right of human Nature”: The Somerset Case in Williamsburg

If I was Counsel for Somerset the Negro, (says a Correspondent) I would take up the Matter higher than any of his Counsel have yet done.  I would urge, and I think I could prove, that he neither now is, nor ever was, the Property of his Master; that the original Vendor had no Right to sell, nor the original Purchaser to buy him; that all Mankind, as they are born, ought to live, equally free; and that the Slave Trade, whatever the mercantile World may urge to the contrary, is an infamous bartering of human Flesh and Blood, an accursed Violation of the most sacred Right of human Nature.

This strenuous opinion is remarkable not that it was printed at all–it first appeared in the London Public Advertiser of 16 May 1772–but that it was reprinted in the Virginia Gazette of Alexander Purdie and John Dixon just over two months later, on 23 July.  Regardless of the actual holding in the case of James Somerset, which held that slaves were servants under a 1679 statute and not chattel property, which did not actually make Somerset, or any other slave, legally free, the perception was quite different.  Somerset himself was said to have reported to a relative that he told the servants that “Lord Mansfield had given them [slaves in England] their freedom.”  The news spread across the Atlantic. In late 1774, one planter advertised that an enslaved man in Virginia had run away, probably to get to England, based on “the Knowledge he has of the late Determination of Somerset’s Case.” It certainly stands as a strong reminder of the power of perception to shape opinion and behavior, rather than the actual facts of the case, of the difference between rhetoric and reality, especially when it comes to our understanding of the personal and constitutional tensions involved in the struggle for independence.

“Their particular fortune to be called to the trial”: American loyalists make an appeal to the King

On this date in 1788, a year before French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in a bid for their constitutional rights, American loyalists from the War for Independence published an address to George III that perfectly articulated their own view of those rights–rights for which they, too, had pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour.”  They had presented it to the King on July 2, including their thanks to him for recommending their claims to Parliament.  It’s a poignant reminder that the loyalists in the American Revolution, whom Bernard Bailyn once derided as “the losers,” were hardly the oversimplified “tory” menace created by patriot propagandists–and enshrined by generations of subsequent Whig historians. Those historians, and the patriots who preceded them, needed to create a narrative with antagonists who stood clearly against what only the American patriots could have been fighting for–the whiggish principles of individual rights and representative government.  Without them, the orthodox story of the American Revolution celebrated in 19th-century history books, modern school textbooks, and the tomes that continue to appear in the popular press, which provide a powerful impetus to the development and maintenance of American identity, just doesn’t work; the narrative collapses and the American Revolution becomes much more complex, and in need of a closer look, if the enemy was actually, as Edmund Randolph–the son of just such an oversimplified and maligned (in his time and ours) “tory”–put it: “spotless as to treason even in thought.”

As the loyalist writers–one of whom was Edmund’s brother-in-law, John Randolph Grymes–argued in their address of 1788, they had “devoted their fortunes, and hazarded their lives in defence of the just rights of the Crown, and the fundamental principles of the British Constitution,” which was “no more than their duty demanded of them.”  However, history had put their constitutional faith to the test in the War for Independence because the great Whig schism of 1776 made it “their particular fortune to be called to the trial.” But there was little question for them about the path to take, regardless of the hazards, as they believed that the British constitution held out “out to mankind the glorious principles of justice, equity, and benevolence, as the firmest basis of Empire.” They did not presume to claim more loyalty than other British subjects but, distinguished by their suffering, “they deem themselves entitled to the foremost rank among the most zealous supporters of the Constitution.” The loyalists stressed, despite their want, that at all times and on all occasions, they were equally ready, as they had been, “to devote their lives and properties to your Majesty’s service, and the preservation of the British Constitution.”

[Sources: Edmund Randolph’s History of Virginia, p. 219; 14 July 1788, Morning Chronicle or London Advertiser]

The Death of the Divine Right of Kings

NPG 167; John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth studio of Jean Baptiste van Loo
John Hervey, Baron Hervey of Ickworth.

While working in the bowels of the John Carter Library at Brown, I came across a fascinating reflection by Lord John Hervey (1696-1743) on the state of politics in England. This brief selection is his remembrance of the depths to which any notion of the divine right of kings had fallen in the British world.  And it should at least give pause to historians of British America who might think that it played any meaningful role in the debates over monarchy and constitutionalism in the revolutionary era.

By 1727, “…the notion of hereditary right at home had been so long ridiculed and exploded, that there were few people whose loyalty was so strong, or whose understanding was so weak, as to retain and act upon it. The conscientious attachment to the natural right of this or that king, and the religious reverence to God’s anointed, was so far eradicated by the propagation of revolutionary principles, that mankind was become much more clear-sighted on that score than formerly, and so far comprehended and gave into the doctrine of a king being made for the people and not the people for the king, that in all their steps it was the interest of the nation or the interest of particular actors that was considered, and never the separate interest of one or the other king. And though one might be surprised (if any absurdity arising from the credulity and ignorance of mankind could surprise one) how the influence of power could ever have found means to establish the doctrine of Divine right of kings, yet no one can wonder that the opinion lost ground so fast when it became the interest even of the princes on the throne for three successive reigns to expel it. The clergy, who had been paid for preaching it up, were now paid for preaching it down; the Legislature had declared it of no force in the form of our government, and contrary to the fundamental laws and nature of our Constitution; and what was more prevailing than all the rest. it was no longer the interest of the majority of the kingdom either to propagate or act on this principle, and consequently those who were before wise enough from policy to teach it, were wise enough now from the same policy to explode it; and those who were weak enough to take it up only because they were told it, were easily brought to lay it down by the same influence.”

SOURCE: John, Lord Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second, from his Accession to the Death of Queen Catherine, vol. 1 (London, 1855), 6-7.