Forging the Nation 1707-1837

Linda Colley

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In this engrossing book, Linda Colley recounts how a new British nation was invented in the wake of the Act of Union between England and Wales and Scotland in 1707. She describes how a succession of major wars with Catholic France, culminating in the epic conflict with Napoleon, served as both a threat and a tonic, forcing the diverse peoples of this deeply Protestant culture into a closer union and reminding them of what they had in common. And she shows how their world-wide empire, which was the prize of so many successful wars, gave men and women from different ethnic and social backgrounds a powerful incentive to be British. In the process, she not only demonstrates how an over-arching British identity came to be superimposed onto much older regional and national identities but she also illumines why it is that these same older identities—be it Scottishness or Welshness or Englishness or regionalism of one kind or another—have reemerged and become far more important in the late twentieth century.

The aspirations, ambitions, and antics of individual Britons form an integral part of Colley's story. She supplies masterly vignettes of well-known heroes and politicians such as Horatio Nelson and William Pitt the Younger, bourgeois patriots such as Thomas Coram and John Wilkes, and artists and writers who helped forge our image of Britishness—William Hogarth, Benjamin West, David Wilkie, J.M.W. Turner, Charlotte Bronte, and Walter Scott. Drawing on paintings, plays, cartoons, diaries, almanacs, sermons, and songs, she also brings vividly to life an array of women and men who have previously been left out of the historical record, from the British army officers who staged a medieval tournament in Philadelphia to defy the American "rebels," to the women who raised money for a nude statue of the Duke of Wellington, to the hundreds of thousands of working men who volunteered to fight the French in 1803. Throughout, she analyzes patriotism rather than assuming its existence and shows it to have been a remarkably diverse and often rational phenomenon.

Written in a lively style and generously illustrated, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of Britain's past and to the contemporary debate about the shape and identity of Britain in the future.

Linda Colley is professor of history at Yale University and director of the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut.

A selection of the Conservative Book Club

"A forceful and eloquent analysis of the 'subject, no citizen' mind-set which bound the English, Scots and Welsh together. Impressive prose, and sharp interpretation of visual material, compelled assent."—Christopher Harvie, Times Literary Supplement

"A superb history of how British nationalism and patriotism developed in the period before the accession of Queen Victoria. . . . Intelligent, lively, well written, bursting with ideas, and splendidly illustrated with 70 prints and cartoons from the period."—Kirkus Reviews

"Colley has reinterpreted some old theories and offers evidence to support her views. She also show that some changes which seem to have been sudden actually were part of the logical progression of these early movements."—Library Journal

"The book offers a sweeping survey of an important period, buttressed by well-chosen and fascinating details; it is evocatively illustrated and engagingly written. In one sense the story Ms. Colley tells ended a century and a half ago, yet it continues to unfold."—New York Times Book Review

"A remarkable amount of light is shed upon current and coming events by [this] new study of that elusive thing, the nation. . . . [A] lavishly researched and illustrated narrative."—J. Enoch Powell, Spectator

"[In] this brilliant book. . . . Dr. Colley tells this story with scholarly punctilio, yet also with the brio of an historian who has something serious to say. . . . Time and time again, the arresting connection or the startling detail makes one see familiar ground from a new perspective. . . . It is a rich and stimulating work, which uses illustrations, mainly the cartoons and portraits of the day, with more precise and telling point than any history book I can remember."—Hugo Young, The Guardian

"This is a very book . . . . challenging, fascinating, enormously well-informed, ambitious in its scope . . . . The argument develops by means of a wonderful narrative invention . . . so that the very different components of Britishness are understood as an increasingly complex and developing configuration."—John Barrell, London Review of Books

"[A] penetrating account of the rise of British national consciousness. . . . Using sharp analysis, pungent prose, and choice examples, Colley probes beneath the skin and lays bare the anatomy of nationhood."—Roy Porter, New Statesman and Society

"An important, lucid and well-illustrated story of the process by which Great Britain was created in the eighteenth century and changed as a result of defeat in the war of American independence and the subsequent challenge of revolutionary and Napoleonic France. . . . [It is a] brilliant handling of illustrative material. . . . [A] luminous study."—

"Brilliantly told. . . . Old-fashioned chronological parameters now reworked and the retelling of familiar stories with new insights are part of what makes the book satisfying. So does the complex analysis. . . . [A] remarkable book."—AHR Review of Books

"A very ambitious book. . . . The general reader cannot fail to enjoy it and the professional historian will be stimulated by it."—J. H. Plumb, Financial Times

"This is seductive indeed—not least because Colley writes so vividly."—Daily Mail

"Tells how England, Scotland and Wales were soldered—and soldiered—together in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to become Great Britain. . . . A fascinating book, full of first-rate historical thought and good writing."—James Bowman, Washington Times

"This is an excellent subject, and Colley's book does it full justice. . . . [She] sticks to Britain, but her topic has general significance. . . . Her arguments are convincing."—David Papineau, Independent on Sunday

"The book's arguments are readable persuasive and amply documented. . . . outstanding. . . [An] extremely interesting and well-shaped book . . . enjoyable to read and imparts not just information but comprehension of an important period in British history."—Stephanie Martin, Wilson Library Bulletin

"In this absolutely magnificent book, [Colley] argues that the idea of being British was a cultural invention that took place between the Act of Union in 1707 and Waterloo in 1815. . . . A dazzling work of imaginative scholarship"—Jeffrey Hart, National Review

"[A] richly varied analysis of a distinctively British form of nationalism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . . A bold and exciting book, as enjoyable to read as it is a stimulus to debate."—John Derry, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"This well-written, clearly argued and important work, which is both handsomely illustrated and well produced, will be of great value to those teaching eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British history. Colley offers both a crucial study in the development of British national consciousness and a valuable perspective on many of the most important developments of the period. . . . I have not read such an interesting book for a long time."—Jeremy Black, Times Educational Supplement

"This is a very fine book and one of the best things about it is the use it makes of the past to interrogate the present."—John Barrell, London Review of Books

"A bold, ambitious book that tackles big themes: the formation and nature of national identity, the ties that bind subjects to their rulers, and the social and political repercussions of unprecedentedly extensive and ferocious war."—John Brewer, Times Literary Supplement

"Extremely learned and penetrating. It is also most entertaining. Linda Colley is a historian who has a rare combination of qualities. She is subtle, where subtlety is required. She penetrates below surfaces, where surfaces are misleading. But also—rarest quality of all—she respects the obvious, where she has tested it and found it solid."—Conor Cruise O'Brien, New Republic

"Although based on extensive scholarship, Britons wears it lightly. Colley's prose is breezy and accessible, and her extensive and integral commentary on contemporary images-political caricatures, portraits, historical paintings-is exemplary. Highly recommended for libraries at all levels."—Choice

"The thesis is clever and plausible and the book is well-written, beautifully and copiously illustrated, based on much original research in popular and local as well as State sources, and yet is wholly accessible to non-specialists."—Bernard Crick, Political Quarterly

"Controversial, entertaining and alarmingly topical. . . . Not only scholarly, but witty, lively and a delight to read. . . . A book that could hardly present complex and challenging argument with greater lucidity and grace."—Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph

"In her study, historian Linda Colley weaves manifold threads together—economic, social, cultural, military—to show how the disparate countries of England, Scotland and Wales were welded. . . . This is a book for those with a serious interest in its period of history, and they will find in it a freshness that almost redefines historical analysis."—Nicholas Palmer, The Vancouver Sun

"Her account of [the] tripartite foundation of the Union is the best part of it. . . . This is a fascinating book, full of first-rate historical thought and good writing. The illustrations . . . are copious and well-chosen."—James Bowmman, The Washington Times

"Britons draws on a large range of evidence . . . in order to provide a vivid portrayal of the 'forging' of Britain from the Act of Union to the accession of Queen Victoria. . . . A remarkable portion of recent work on the theory of nationality has been conducted in the British isles, and has taken them as a leading theme: but it has been biased by sympathies with Welshness, Englishness, Scottishness and Irishness, at the expense of Britishness. These ideas, it has been assumed, represent worthier and more agreeable nations than the shoddy forgery which is Britain. Colley's marvelous book suggests that the contrast is not so great as has been supposed; and the theoretical implications are profound."—Jonathan Rée, Radical Philosophy

"Britons is almost certainly the most dazzling and comprehensive study of a national identity yet to appear in any language. It ranges as widely as its subject demands—taking in things often forgotten by conventional political history: the monarchy, fox-hunting, the special importance of women in imagining the new nation-family identity, and of the anti-slavery movement in sanctifying it. . . . The book is well written and beautifully illustrated. . . . It is a model of its kind."—Tom Nairn, The Scotsman

"Colley has written a timely and important new book. . . . The book is important because it gives us a new vision of how England, Wales, and Scotland became a single nation. . . . Not the least of the merits of the book are the clarity of the writing and the skillful use of illustrations."—Jacquelin Collins, Social Science Quarterly

"A magisterial, ambitious study with implications that reach well beyond the compass of eighteenth-century British history. . . . Anyone wishing to know why the language of citizenship and fundamental rights still plays a smaller role in British politics than many of us would like would be hard pressed to find a better place for answers than this magnificent book."—Eliga H. Gould, William and Mary Quarterly

"A riveting book. . . . Linda Colley believes that a major and long-neglected theme in the history of Britain in the Hanoverian period was the forging of a sense of Britishness and one nation in the minds of the majority of its inhabitants. . . . It is difficult to put down."—Peter Jupp, The Historian

"Colley's magisterial and provocative Britons offers dense historical background for the Victorianist and a theory of what beliefs bound dissimilar people together into the nation of Britain. . . . It is one of the most important history books published in recent years."—Linda M. Shires, Victorian Poetry

"A carefully crafted work of superb, perhaps even timeless, scholarship. . . . A deeply satisfying book that provides the uninitiated with a clear, bold, and compelling guide to the period while giving the connoisseur much to ponder and many new insights, not to mention many new illustrations, verbal and visual. It will become one of the standard discussions of Britain's longish eighteenth century."—John A. Phillips, Albion

"A sophisticated and elegant account of the construction of British identity. . . . A powerful and subtle rereading of eighteenth-century British history. . . . A remarkable achievement. . . .[Colley] has placed the question of nationalism and national identity squarely on the center of the historiographical stage—where it belongs."—Steven Pincus, Journal of Modern History

Shortlisted for the 37th Duff Cooper Prize for a literary work on history or biography (1993)

Co-winner of the 1992 Wolfson Foundation History Prize
ISBN: 9780300057379
Publication Date: October 28, 1992
432 pages, 6.125 x 9.5
70 b/w illus.

Forging the Nation 1707-1837
Revised Edition

Linda Colley

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