In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, historians of England pioneered a series of new approaches to the history of economic policy. Commerce, finance and statecraft charts the development of these forms of writing and explores the role they played in the period's economic, political and historiographical thought. Through doing so, the book makes a significant intervention in the study of historiography, and provides an original account of early-modern and Enlightenment history. A broad selection of historical writing is discussed, ranging from the work of Francis Bacon and William Camden in the Jacobean era, through a series of accounts shaped by the English Civil War and the party-political conflicts that followed it, to the eighteenth-century's major account of British history: David Hume's History of England. Particular attention is paid to the historiographical context in which historians worked and the various ways they copied, adapted and contested one another's narratives. Such an approach enables the study to demonstrate that historical writing was the site of a wide-ranging, politically charged debate concerning the relationship that existed – and should have existed – between government and commerce at various moments in England’s past.
Writers on historical affairs in the eighteenth century increasingly came to conceive of commerce as a sphere of activity that was more dependent on the manners and desires of a nation's people than it was on the specific actions of its monarchs. The book's conclusion discusses this development with reference to a range of writers (including Hugh Blair, Adam Anderson and Catharine Macaulay) and considers its consequences. Chief among these, it is argued, was a shift in attitudes towards economic statecraft, and a series of new approaches to the histories of finance and commerce.
The middle years of the eighteenth century saw a shift in the historiography of commerce as Enlightenment-era historians became increasingly preoccupied with tracing processes of long-term economic change. As a result, individual incidents in England’s economic past came to be conceived not just as evidence of monarchical prudence or virtue, but rather as sections in a narrative of national commercial development. Chapter 8 addresses the contribution to this approach made by William Guthrie in his General History of England (1744–51). The first part of the discussion explores the Tacitean and Harringtonian approaches to history that Guthrie employed when working as a political journalist in the 1740s. Part two looks at how these ideas shaped his historical writing.
Francis Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry VII
This chapter is concerned with the approach to commerce and finance employed in Francis Bacon's History of the Reign of King Henry VII (1622). Bacon's account, it is shown, was shaped by his reading of legal records, classical history (particularly Tacitus) and the writing of Machiavelli and his various critics. Through drawing on these sources, Bacon developed a detailed commentary on Henry's achievements as a manager of England's commercial interests and, more generally, a neo-Machiavellian analysis of the relationship between government and trade. The result was a highly original work, which offered a new approach to England's economic history.
Chapter 4 explores the influence of the English Civil War on approaches to economic history. From the 1640s onwards, the monarchical management of commerce and, even more importantly, finance became highly politicised and divisive issues, which received detailed commentary from historians. The main body of the chapter looks at how these ideas were dealt with by the Parliamentarian historians Anthony Weldon and Arthur Wilson, and the Royalist William Sanderson. Despite their political differences, each of these writers, it will be shown, employed a moralistic analysis of James's financial management rooted in Livian ideas of exemplary virtue and honour. The final section of the discussion investigates how these ideas were developed in the 1690s by the historian and political economist Roger Coke.
England underwent a financial revolution in the 1690s, as attempts by its Whig governments to raise money for the nation's war efforts led to a series of changes in the management of government revenue. This chapter opens with an outline of these developments before exploring how 'Court Whig' and 'Patriot' writers of the 1720s and 1730s dealt with them in their historical commentaries. It then proceeds to its principal subject: the work of Tory historian Thomas Salmon. His Modern History (1724–38), it is argued, drawing on both Court Whig and Patriot histories, used its narrative of England's Tudor and Stuart monarchs to develop a scathing attack on contemporary innovations in commerce and credit. As a consequence, Salmon's work is a useful example of the ways in which debates about modern economic practices were frequently fought on historical terrain.
Chapter 5 is concerned with Paul de Rapin de Thoyras’s Histoire d’Angleterre (1724–27), a work which drew on Parliamentarian and Whig ideas to provide a complete history of England from the Roman invasion to the Glorious Revolution. The discussion opens by exploring the historiographical background to Rapin’s writing in Huguenot thought before moving on to look at his analysis of Tudor and Stuart history. Rapin, it is argued, adapted and developed earlier accounts in order to emphasise that a moderate form of Whig constitutionalism had a greater capacity to promote commerce and sound financial management than any absolutist alternative. The chapter concludes by examining Nicholas Tindal’s English translation of the Histoire, a rendering of the text that both popularised Rapin’s work and, through the use of paratextual material, questioned some of the historiographical assumptions on which it was based.
This chapter is concerned with the relationship between David Hume’s writing on political economy and his History of England (1754–61). Underpinning his analysis in these works, it is argued, was an attempt to give England's commercial and financial interests – interests which were in Hume's estimation of vital importance to government – a proper intellectual foundation. In performing this task, Hume developed a damning critique of the economic statecraft tradition; indeed, it was, in part, the misunderstandings of economic affairs committed by previous generations of historians that he sought to warn his readers against and correct. The chapter opens by looking at how these ideas shaped his essays of the 1740s and 1750s, before moving on to look in detail at the History.
In his Annales of Queen Elizabeth (1615, 1625), William Camden presented Elizabeth's success in managing the nation's commercial and financial interests as a product of her rejection of any selfish goals, and her absolute commitment to the interests and welfare of the Commonwealth. This chapter considers the consequences and significance of such an approach. Chief among these, it is argued, was the development of a narrative that employed conventional classical ideas of virtue, honour and 'exemplary' behaviour to discuss a range of contemporary economic issues and debates.
This chapter is concerned with the analysis of finance and commerce developed by the Jacobite historian Thomas Carte in his General History (1744–51). Economic arguments, it is shown, were at the heart of Carte's work; indeed, underpinning his commentary on England's history was a desire to demonstrate that the sort of absolutism practised by the Stuart kings had the capacity to bring both order and commercial wealth to the nation. The discussion traces the origins of this approach to Carte's work as a pamphleteer in the early 1740s, before examining the ways in which it shaped his analyses of both ancient and modern history.