Atlantic History Hanoverian Britain
Mark Knights
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0072


Hanoverian Britain spanned the period from the accession of George, elector of Hanover, to the British throne in 1714 until the death of William IV in 1837. The term is often used interchangeably with “Georgian Britain,” although of course technically the last George (before the 20th century) was George IV, who died in 1830. Both terms are also used to denote, more generally, a “long 18th century.” What follows focuses on the period of 1714–1837. Hanoverian Britain was, for many years, something of a historical backwater as historians basked in a Whiggish view that stability, liberty, and improvement were the 18th century’s defining characteristics. The scope of analysis was often limited to high politics and international relations, the era seen as one of importance in the consolidation of a parliamentary system dominated by a social elite and of imperial expansion to great power status. Over the last forty years or so, the historical focus has widened considerably and the period has come alive with a series of controversies. These have centered on social change and conflict, the importance of religion, consumerism and material culture, the rapidity of industrialization, the emergence of national identity, the extent of radicalism, the nature of a variety of different reforming impulses, and the interplay between motherland and colonies. Two other aspects of Hanoverian Britain are noteworthy but not covered fully here because there are separate sections for them in the Enlightenment and the growth of a fiscal military state. However, there are short summaries here of essential reading for these topics. Hanoverian Britain’s relations with its Atlantic colonies are also dealt with elsewhere in Oxford Bibliographies; but there is a summary here of useful material that views the Atlantic world through British eyes. Until the Act of Union of 1801, Ireland was not part of Britain and, indeed, was formally a colony; Irish issues were nevertheless often part of British politics, especially after 1801.

General Overviews

The best starting point is Dickinson 2002, which offers brief introductions to most of the subsections of this bibliography. Those without knowledge of the later Stuart period might also start with Holmes 1993 and Plumb 1991, since many of the issues raised in the aftermath of the revolution of 1688–1689 remained relevant for most of the Hanoverian period, and Plumb’s thesis of emerging stability had a significant impact on interpretations of the first half of the 18th century. Two well-respected overviews, Langford 1989 and Hilton 2006 (both in the New Oxford History of England series), reveal a national (i.e., English) perspective that inevitably limits their usefulness in the wake of the rise of British history. Thompson 1991 is not so much a general treatment as a general approach to the period, challenging earlier preoccupations with Westminster and Whitehall, and fuelling interest in (and controversy over) social relations. Two works, Clark 1985 and Colley 2009 reignited interest in the period. The first provoked a storm of criticism, while the latter caught the public and academic attention, but both have helped to change the field. Clark helped to focus attention back on religion, and Colley’s agenda about the factors and motors behind the growth of national identity has been followed by many others.

  • Clark, J. C. D. English Society, 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure, and Political Practice during the Ancien Regime. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    NNNHighly controversial work claiming that England remained an “ancien regime” until the late 1820s. An essential continuity for Clark is the importance of religion and its ties to the state. The 2000 second edition includes a good deal of new text and reworking.

  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. 3d ed. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2009.

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    NNNOne of the most influential overviews, arguing that the period was crucial in the formation of a national, British identity, and that Britishness was the product of Protestantism, war, economic strength, the integration of Scots and (Protestant) Irish, popular loyalty to the monarchy, and gender. Very well written and accessible to students as well as specialists.

  • Dickinson, Harry T., ed. A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002.

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    NNNThe best overview and introduction for students, offering a range of up-to-date essays by leading scholars, covering a wide range of topics, with suggestions for further reading for each section.

  • Hilton, Boyd. A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783–1846. Oxford: Clarendon, 2006.

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    NNNCharts the growth of respectability and how the nation weathered a series of challenges and crises.

  • Holmes, Geoffrey. The Making of a Great Power: Late Stuart and Early Georgian Britain, 1660–1722. London: Longman, 1993.

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    NNNThe best overview of the beginning of the period, with essential background for the later Stuart period and a compendium of informative appendices.

  • Langford, Paul. A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727–1783. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

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    NNNLucid survey, balancing an older thesis of aristocratic stability with a recognition of the sometimes unruly nature of 18th-century society, finding cohesion in notions of politeness and wealth.

  • Plumb, J. H. The Growth of Political Stability in England, 1675–1725. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan Academic, 1991.

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    NNNSeminal text setting out the factors that Plumb saw as quieting the nation after the later Stuart instability, thereby paving the way for Whig oligarchical rule. Originally published in 1967 (London: Macmillan).

  • Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1991.

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    NNNIncluded here because of its iconoclastic importance in the historiography of the period, bringing a Marxist interpretation and refocusing attention away from the elite. Originally published in 1963 (London: V. Gollancz).

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