Reaction and Radicalism
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Sir William Bennet of Grubbet wrote in 1725: ‘Never was there such a spirit of rebellion, against all order and government as rages universally in this country.’1 This was in the wake of a riot and popular clamour in the parish of Morebattle. The tumult was occasioned by the objection of the elders and congregation of the parish to the induction of a new minister, who had been presented to the parish by its ‘patron’ the Duke of Roxburghe. This is an example of a divide that existed between the landed elite and the common people throughout the century. The language used seems to be so ideological as to come from a later age; and it suggests not only assumptions of social superiority, but also a sense of anxiety and helplessness in the face of a threat from below. References of this sort are not commonplace outside the last couple of decades of the century, however, and present an exaggerated view of attitudes before then. Bennet’s devotion to the bottle may help explain his paranoia. In general, the aristocracy and gentry were rightly complacent about their place in society during the century. Not until the 1790s did they feel there was a mass challenge from below along the lines suggested by Bennet. And they were able to deal with it. The extra-parliamentary radical challenge in the last two decades of the century represented the aspirations of a developing, increasingly complex and well-informed society for greater political participation and an end to ‘the old corruption’. Only the extreme minority of those seeking change envisaged the overthrow of the old order in the French manner.
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