Society for the History of Discoveries


Lawson, Philip. A Taste for Empire and Glory, Studies in British Overseas Expansion, 1660-1800. Aldershot, Great Britain and Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 1997. xiv, 298p. ISBN 0860786366.

This is a volume in Variorum’s Collected Studies Series. Ursula Lamb, a former president of the Society for the History of Discoveries, had a volume on Spanish Maritime Empire in this series, reviewed previously in this journal. The fifteen articles, divided into five sections, have Roman numerals, and their original pagination is retained to ease reference to the original publications. The problem with this is that the print size is different from article to article, making for difficult reading.

Philip Lawson died of lymphoma in October 1995 after an all too brief fifteen-year academic career, mostly spent in Edmonton, Canada. He was educated at Manchester University in England and the University College of Wales. His experience in Canada enabled him to understand more fully the British world of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, reflecting ties between London and her overseas empire. His doctoral research on George Grenville resulted in a biography and articles on transatlantic associations (Part Three). Work on British relations with Quebec in the late eighteenth century also produced a book and articles (Part Two). Essays on the impact of empire on Hanoverian Britain (Part One) reflected the new work being done in this field. His interest in British expansion in South Asia resulted in a history of the British East India Company and articles on the effects of India on British politics and perceptions (Part Four). The effects of tea-drinking on the British and their colonists make up Part Five, probably the easiest section for the general reader.

The articles in this volume were selected and arranged by the author shortly before his death. I would tend to put article XI before X to aid the reader unfamiliar with Robert Clive. Each article shows careful research and excellent documentation, although the ones with footnotes at the bottom of each page are easier to read than those with footnotes at the end of the article. Article III makes reference to work by Society for the History of Discoveries’ members John Parker, J.H. Parry, David Quinn and Allison Quinn. The ten-page index is most helpful. There are a few minor print errors, such as, VI p. 302 second line from the top, second word “to” should be “too”, and XIV p. 15 fifth line from the bottom, eleventh word “lest” should be “least”. However, these do not distract from the overall quality of the work.

The three articles in Part One show insight into the links between Hanoverian London and Empire. In the first article, the author stressed that London (Parliament) was the center for domestic and overseas governance, showing the need to look at Parliamentary campaigns and debates on overseas as well as domestic issues. In the second article, some younger scholars, researching in the 1970’s on Hanoverian England, who broke away from the Plumb and Namerite views, sparked renewed interest in Hanoverian Parliamentary history, society and economy. The third article on press coverage is especially valuable in understanding the information available to a reading public after 1763.

This article presented such concepts of empire as a literary empire, a nationalistic approach, religious motivation, and economic motivation. The economic motive has been the most documented, but a combination of motives was usually present in empire- building. There was a market for information on British imperial efforts, and optimism and faith in Britain’s role in settlement and exploration clearly showed. But not all writings were positive; there were some criticisms, especially when empire was challenged by the Americans in 1776. A language of intolerance toward Catholic Spain and France had developed and this intolerance was transferred to the overseas competition. Yet by 1763 the large number of Catholics under British rule made some believe that tolerating Catholics would undo the empire.

Part Two’s three articles deal with Britain’s relations with Quebec. American historians often overlook the role played by Quebec in the British Parliament. Article IV looks at British press views of Canada, 1760-1774. The conquest of Canada in 1763 was the result of efforts to drive the French from the Atlantic empire after 1710. Benjamin Franklin’s pamphlet of 1761 reflected the views of Pitt, Grenville and later, Egremont, to end the French role in Canada. British control of Canada would solve three problems: 1. Conflict between the French and the northern colonies of America; 2. Indian disputes and conflicts; and 3. Border problems (p. 578). Some writers questioned additional conquests (“little Englanders”) and wanted to keep Guadeloupe instead of Canada, seeing no benefit in retaining Canada. The next few years proved some of the pessimism to be well founded. Support for retaining Canada came from some British West Indian merchants and planters who were concerned about the competition from cheap French sugar flooding the markets. There was also great concern about the Catholic religion in conflict with the principles of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The expansionists won the battle, while the Quebec Act of 1774 made constitutional concessions to the developing empire policy.

Article V deals with the treatment of the fall of Quebec and England’s takeover, 1760-1774. Quebec had played an important role in Hanoverian British history written up to World War II. In present-day British work Quebec plays a small role. Some of this is due to the professionalism of Canadian history and a growing interest in early American history. In British history the study of overseas expansion after World War II was hardly popular. Some new work is being done on the impact of the Quebec conquest, incorporating imperial and domestic issues. Lawson points out some neglected themes involving national, religious, legal and constitutional problems for the British. An article in Settlement Patterns in Early Modern Colonization, 16th-18th Centuries, edited by Joyce Lorimer, and previously reviewed in Terrae Incognitae, describes the separate and disconnected urban and rural economies in Canada by 1760. French feudal landholding was transferred to “New France,” with the main income from fur trade, while farm revenues were marginal. This situation was inherited by the British after the fall of Quebec.

Article VI deals with the assessment of the Quebec Act, 1774. Imperial historians have viewed it as a fine piece of statesmanship, while Canadian historians have focused on the effects on the French colonial society. Governance of Quebec would become a serious problem, playing a role in the developing American Revolution. Scholars have tended to concentrate on the radical groups in Britain and the patriots in the Continental Congress, thus clouding the role of Quebec in British imperial policy.

Part Three’s three articles deal with the developing American Revolution. Article VII, developed from Lawson’s doctoral research on George Grenville, deals with Grenville’s role as Parliamentary opposition from 1765-1770. Certainly, Grenville never gave in on Parliament’s right to levy taxes in America. He felt the Stamp Act of 1765 was essential, putting British and colonial taxpayers on the same footing and making America contribute to its own defense. But concentration on his position regarding the Stamp Act has hindered proper evaluation of his role as an opposition member of parliament. Lawson does a fine job in adjusting the balance in evaluating Grenville in this article. Grenville had no faith in the use of arms to enforce Parliamentary legislation on the Americans, voicing his opinion from the summer of 1768. He wanted a reappraisal of Anglo-American trade and consideration of requisitioning as an alternate method of taxation (p. 570-571). Grenville’s final speech on America in Parliament requested reduced military response to the Americans’ revolt.

Article VIII contains three book reviews on the Revolutionary American period. The first book by Reid, a Professor of Law, is on the standing army conflict, showing the American thinking in terms of 1688; the second book by Peter Shaw, a Professor of English, deals with the crowd and patriot mind in revolutionary Massachusetts; and the third review by David Szatmary studies Shay’s Rebellion of 1786-1787. Lawson shows the strengths and weaknesses in each of these three interdisciplinary works.

Article IX contains three book reviews looking at the impact of the American protest and war on English politics from 1767-1782. The books by John Sainsbury, James E. Bradley, and Peter D.G. Thomas shed new light on this period of Hanoverian history, adding to the work of Sir Lewis Namier. The authors show how complicated the English response to the American constitutional challenge was (p. 142). Lawson points out the strengths and weaknesses, including the major figures of the period. The misconceptions and insensitivity between Britain and the colonists are clearly revealed.

The Fourth Section of three articles, a result of Lawson’s interest in British expansion in South Asia, deals with India and the British East India Company. Those involved in the North American thirteen colonies’ affairs, 1763-1783, tend to overlook Parliament’s interest in India. Article X details the first East India Company’s Parliamentary investigation of 1767. The Company had operated as a monopoly since 1600 on charters granted for fifteen years at a time. At renewal the government could insist on internal changes. Despite some early ups and downs, good relations were maintained between 1709 and 1763. The economic disruptions of the Seven Years’War caused the government to interfere in the financial affairs of the Company. The conflict is clearly outlined, with the key players and Whig factions’ positions well defined. In the beginning, the main aim, led by Chatham, for the government was financial gain. For the next twenty-five years sovereignty and territorial rights were dominant in the Company and government relations. The right of Parliament to interfere in the Company’s affairs was established. This right was limited by continued support of the property rights of private citizens and public companies.

Article XI deals with Robert Clive and was co-authored by Bruce Lenman. This work focuses on the political aspects of Clive’s life that, with other aspects of his career, give a clearer insight into eighteenth-century British politics and connections with India. A chronology of Clive’s Anglo-Indian life is presented (p. 803-804) showing the central role parliamentary politics played. The role family ties played in British life and politics is clearly laid out, along with key players of the period, such as, Pitt, Grenville, Walpole, and Fox. A detailed account of Clive’s parliamentary and Indian affairs gives the reader insight into this period of the Hanoverian era. Parliament was concerned with the debt from the Seven Years’ War and hoped to recoup with funds from the Company. There was however a strong defense of chartered rights, and accommodation over basic issues was made. Clive’s role in these issues is clearly shown. In the conclusion, the authors point out that the term “British” became a reality in 1603; by 1700 it applied to political structures centered on the North Atlantic, and by the 1750’s it applied around the globe, partly due to Clive, until the end of World War II (p.828).

Article XII concerns views on “nabobs”, the perceived East Indian onslaught on English politics and society in the mid-eighteenth century. Although there was never an East India lobby in Parliament, this was an accepted view in writings during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There were fears about the fate of the empire and the constitution affected by the return of men with riches to live in England. They were vilified in the press, in Parliament, on the London stage, and in private diaries and letters (p.226). This reflected the criticism of the luxury and decadence of British political life from the 1750’s on. The landed interests had borne the brunt of the cost of government. Up to the 1790’s the tax was 4 shillings in the pound and the introduction of the income tax was designed to right the tax balance between landed and commercial wealth, along with the excise duties on commercial trade. This did not reduce the hostility toward the “nabobs.” The view in the 1760’s and 1770’s was that the Indian empire was misgoverned and this would fundamentally change Britain. Such change did not occur, but reactions to “nabobs” continued. There was a lot of discussion and the perceived dangers were averted. Empire by conquest had to be confronted and dealt with, laying the groundwork for imperial responsibility in the late eighteenth century.

Part Five’s three articles deal with tea. In Article XIII Lawson recounts that John Dickinson, of Delaware and Pennsylvania, wrote in 1767 that Parliament possessed the legal authority to regulate the trade of Great Britain and all her colonies and included a summary of the relations between Parliament and the American colonies. This summary is still valid according to Lawson. Lawson goes on to examine the Parliamentary sources available to historical studies in the late twentieth century on Anglo-American history to 1783. In a brief overview of historiographical trends the author traces the literature on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most scholars agree that Parliament played an important role in the American Empire. However, they disagree on the nature and scope of Parliament’s role. These differences lie in the reality of revolution and separation, which overshadow the study of Parliamentary history. The most prominent school of thought was that created by Sir Lewis Namier after 1930, writing to understand the American separation from Britain. Namier continues to influence scholars, i.e., J.P. Greene and J.R. Pole, editors, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, (Oxford, 1991). Other studies of Parliament are discussed by Lawson. Recent scholarship sets the debate about Parliament’s actions on a broader context. In the last portion of this article Lawson uses tea as a case study to explain the breakdown of Anglo-American relations. He states that tobacco, naval stores, or stamped paper might also have been used. Tea is used because of its special role in the revolutionary period. The loss of the American colonies was blamed on tea in both Parliamentary and popular sources. The Tea Act of 1773 proved to be the breaking point for the colonists, leading to a number of “tea parties,” the most famous being that in Boston. Tea drinking grew in Britain and the colonies from the 1720’s on. Tea drinking was introduced by the Dutch in the last half of the seventeenth century. Supply depended on trade with China and the Hong merchants in Canton. Cheaper black teas from China date from the 1720’s and 1730’s and made tea available to all classes of society. By 1750 tea drinking was an addiction in the Atlantic world, supported by both legal and illegal trade. One estimate was that nearly 50 per cent of domestic tea drunk in Britain and America by 1750 was smuggled. Tea drinking and the tea party played key roles in the development of British manners and civilization, achieving great significance. Parliament became serious about taxing tea after 1688. By 1759 the duty on tea in the American colonies was 25 per cent and over 100 per cent in Britain. Other costs made the wholesale price of legally sold tea in the Atlantic world similar. Tea drinking led to the growth of chinaware, which was also taxed. Parliament was unable to control abuses, so smuggled Dutch tea at half the price of tea from the British East India Company became important in the American colonies by 1760. There was a consumer revolution in the eighteenth-century English speaking world, of which tea was a significant part. Tea held a position of cultural significance, determining social and economic relations in Britain and a wider trading world. Unease developed on both sides of the Atlantic with the monopoly by the British East India Company. The Tea Act of 1773 and its aftermath united colonists against Britain. The Continental Congress levied taxes on tea after July 1776, and large revenues were collected by the federal government well into the nineteenth century, but Americans never achieved their former level of obsession with tea.

Article XIV repeats the point of a consumer revolution in the mid-seventeenth century in England. The Dutch had gone through a similar change in the 1660’s. The British East India Company had pushed tea consumption in the late seventeenth century as a complement to sugar which was then a surplus on the English market. Tea drinking changed routines, habits, and rituals of daily life. It required specialized furniture, pottery, utensils, clothes, and lace. There was also a rise in the use of dairy products. Acceptable social behavior included the “tea party,” but tea was associated with vices as well; contraband trade, violence, corrupting behavior, and effeminacy. Lawson goes on to discuss the role of government and tea. The British East India Company’s monopoly on tea finally ended in 1833. In his conclusions, the author points out that no one could have predicted the development of addiction to tea, the government’s involvement in the tea trade from the beginning, and the social changes brought about by tea drinking.

Article XV on the role of women and tea drinking is most interesting. Tea drinking forced both men and women to look at social relations at home and outside the home. Tea was considered a refining force in the vulgar eighteenth-century world. In the East tea ceremonies were male-dominated; in England both men and women were involved, with women developing control over the ritual. This can be seen in reports from diaries, letters, formal portraits, popular illustrations, and satirical prints. Tea gardens and spa towns emerged in mid-Hanoverian England; Vauxhall, Ranelagh, and Marylebone; Bath, Buxton, and York. The visual material changes the interpretation of women in Hanoverian England.

It seems most fitting for this volume to end with an article on women and tea, illustrating new trends and interpretations on Hanoverian England. Despite the difficulty in reading some articles because of the changes in print size, the effort is well worth it. The royalties will be donated to the Cross Cancer Institute at Edmonton.

Mary Emily Miller
University of Delaware


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