Glossary


H&P has prepared a glossary to explain historical terms that are not in common use today. This is designed for readers of H&P's policy papers, opinion articles and Number 10 guest historian features, as well as students, journalists and policy makers.

All entries have been prepared by the editors of H&P's Number 10 guest historian series: Whitfield prize-winner Dr Ben Griffin and Dr Andrew Thompson of Cambridge University and Dr Andrew Blick, of King's College London.

W

Whig

Whigs emerged in the 1670s as the main opponents of James, Duke of York, the Catholic brother of Charles II. From 1679-81 they led parliamentary attempts to exclude James from the succession. Like their Tory opponents, the name derives from a group of brigands, the Whiggamores, although they were Scottish, rather than Irish, in origin. After James succeeded to the throne in 1685, some Whigs went into exile while others supported domestic conspiracies against him. Whigs championed the importance of Britain having a Protestant monarch and were influential in bringing about the Glorious Revolution (1688). In the Revolution's aftermath, the Whigs tended to be supporters of increased religious toleration for Protestant dissenters. Support for the Hanoverian succession helped ingratiate the Whigs to the new dynasty after 1714. They were also generally more supportive of an interventionist foreign policy in Europe, as opposed to Tory isolationism, which chimed with the interest of the new monarchs whose German origins committed them to a policy of European engagement. The Whigs were successfully able to tar the Tories with a Jacobite brush of disloyalty after the 1715 rebellion thus ensuring that they remained the dominant political force for decades thereafter. Although sometimes associated with the rise of new, monied interests connected to the emergence of the Bank of England and modern debt finance in the 1690s, a significant number of Whigs were also powerful aristocratic landowners.

The effective disappearance of the Tories from Parliament by the 1760s meant that the Whigs faced an identity crisis. Without a strong opposing grouping against which to define themselves, they became increasingly factionalised with groups centred around major political figures such as William Pitt the Elder, the Marquess of Rockingham and the Duke of Bedford. William Pitt the Younger described himself as an 'independent Whig', although his major opponent, Charles James Fox, also claimed to be the authentic inheritor of the Whig tradition. The label had become both ubiquitous and flexible by the late eighteenth century but was given a new lease of life with the re-emergence of partisan labels in the early nineteenth century.

Whig Split

The division that emerged between the ruling Whigs in 1717. Robert Walpole and his brother-in-law, Charles, second Viscount Townshend, were unhappy about some of the policies being pursued by James, Earl Stanhope and the third Earl of Sunderland, particularly in foreign affairs. The dispute was magnified because it coincided with a falling out between George I and his son, the future George II. Walpole and Townshend were close associates of the Prince of Wales and the split, which was eventually healed in 1720, was one of a number of instances in the eighteenth century of the opponents of an administration siding with the heir to the throne in the hope and expectation that a change of monarch might bring about an alteration in their political fortunes.

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