Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The period of the French Revolution known as the Terror was a cataclysmic event for Ancien Regime Europe. Nearly every aspect of life was affected by the events which unfolded in France, forcing Europeans to confront the question of national identity through the context of the French Revolution. Nowhere was this phenomenon keener than in Great Britain, a traditional rival of France. Although in its infancy, a British national identity--as distinct from a English, Irish, Welsh, or Scot national identity--was already in existence. This new British identity was being shaped by forces such as a growing population, a reform movement within the Anglican Church, the drive for Empire, the increasing influence of the Industrial Revolution and the ensuing adjustment of the agricultural sector, and a steadily increasing middle class that demanded grater political participation. The French Revolution recast all of these issues and forced a reassessment of what it meant to be British, and, as such, was the chief stimulus for the development of British national identity as it changed from one based on political rights in the tradition of the Magna Carta to that of a bastion of order in the face of political radicalism. This study uses eighteenth century newspapers from across Britain to examine key events of the period of the Terror--the trial and execution of Louis XVI, the trial and execution of Marie-Antoinette, the murder of Marat, the execution of Madame Roland, and the fall of Maximilien Robespierre--in light of an evolving British national identity. The newspaper accounts of these reveal a composite British national identity consisting of the components of the reverence for the institutions of monarchy and the aristocracy, constitution/legal system, civilized society, commercial power, notions of chivalry, Christianity (Protestantism), the English language (represented by Shakespeare), and the notion of the French "other." This nationalism is also decisively male, propertied, and literate. This identity provided a foundation for future British activities such as the drive for imperial and industrial dominance in the nineteenth century.
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