The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture

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9780804720809: The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture
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This is the first complete account - administrative, financial, political, social, and cultural - of any court of the late Stuart period. It explains how and why an institution that had dominated each of these areas of national life under the Tudors and early Stuarts had, by the time of Queen Anne's death in 1714, largely abdicated that primacy and begun a long decline into respectable irrelevance.
To explain this decline, the author seeks to determine why members of the ruling elite were initially attracted to the court (either as employees or as habitues) and why the court (and therefore the monarchy) failed to retain their interest and loyalty. To answer these questions, the author adopts a broader chronological perspective than a single reign and also takes account of the increasing number of competing attractions beyond the walls of St. James's. This study, therefore, fills a gap not only in our understanding of the court, but in our understanding of loyalty and interest, government and politics, and society and culture during the Augustan age.
The author argues that Anne's court offered few of the opportunities - access to power, wealth, status, and pleasure - that had made attendance at and allegiance to previous Tudor and Stuart courts so attractive. Among the reasons were the straitened finances of the postrevolutionary monarchy, exacerbated by the War of the Spanish Succession; the Queen's native frugality, which left even the salaries of her household servants in arrears by mid-reign; her poor health, isolation from most male courtiers, and disinclination to listen to those of her own sex; the legacy of an antiquated and inflexible court administrative system; and the growth of a burgeoning governmental bureaucracy as a supplanter of royal favor.
As a result, the real movers and shakers of Augustan society chose to pursue their fortunes elsewhere. They could find quicker and more certain financial returns in joint-stock companies or the rising professions, greater influence on events as party members, and livelier entertainment in public theaters, concert halls, taverns, coffee houses, and clubs. It was in this outer world and not at court that art was commissioned, business transacted, political plots laid, and the beau monde displayed.
This book contributes to the continuing reappraisal of Queen Anne by demonstrating that she was not easily dominated by "bed chamber favorites," and that her interest in ceremony and etiquette had political significance. The Queen did make a conscious and largely successful effort to retain her hold on state and national ritual, but she offered little to compel the attention, let alone the loyalty, of the English ruling class. This helps to explain the Queen's failure to tame the "rage of party" and the subsequent long slide of the English court into staid respectability and ineffectualness.
A special feature of the book is a collective biography of all 1,525 men, women, and children at the court of Queen Anne, the first such study of the personnel of any large institution of later Stuart government.

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About the Author:

R. O. Bucholz is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University of Chicago.

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