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18th Century Britain Politics & War

Ron Petrarca, Amy Troolin
  • Author
    Ron Petrarca

    I received my bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and later earned a master's degree in the same subject from Uppsala University in Sweden. I have been a writer and editor for more than two decades.

  • Instructor
    Amy Troolin

    Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

Learn about England in the 18th century. Identify key rulers, developments, and conflicts in this era and the lasting impacts that they had on world history. Updated: 05/24/2022

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Kings of 18th Century Britain

Eighteenth-century Britain was a time of transition. One royal dynasty died out and another took its place. During this time, the power of the monarchy also declined considerably and Britain lost 13 of her colonies in the New World. However, despite this loss, the empire greatly expanded in other parts of the world. In fact, during the 18th century, the British Empire became the largest empire in human history.

British history is usually broken up according to the reigns of its monarchs. The following is a list of all the monarchs who reigned during 18th century England and Britain, together with a brief biography and some information about historical events that occurred during their reigns:

  • William III - William III ruled between 1689 and 1702. Between 1689 and 1694, he ruled as co-regent with his wife, Mary. Mary was the daughter of King James II and she and her husband were invited to rule in Britain after James was overthrown during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. William and Mary had to rule according to the newly-promulgated English Bill of Rights. This document greatly curtailed the power of the monarch and began the era of parliamentary supremacy. (Parliamentary supremacy refers to a government where the parliament has more power than the monarch.) While Mary was born into the House of Stewart, which had ruled Britain since 1603, her husband was from a noble Dutch family known as the House of Orange-Nassau. William and Mary were the only two British monarchs from this ruling house. William had to deal with the issue of the Jacobite rebellion during his reign. The Jacobites were supporters of the deposed Stuart dynasty and instigated a number of rebellions against the British crown during the 18th century. William crushed the Jacobite rebellion that occurred during his reign. William never remarried after his wife's death in 1694.
  • Anne - William and Mary had no children, so the crown passed to Mary's sister, Anne. Anne reigned between 1702 and 1714. Her reign marked a temporary restoration of the Stuart dynasty. It was during Anne's reign that Acts of Union were passed. This law formally united the crowns of England and Scotland and established the United Kingdom as a country. Therefore, Anne, who was the monarch who ruled England, became the first true monarch to rule over Britain as a united kingdom. England and Scotland had been ruled by a joint monarch since James I, king of Scotland, inherited the English crown in 1603. However, this new law ended to legal separation of the two countries and merged them into one cohesive state.
  • George I - Anne died without having any children. This presented a problem since the British had a law that prevented a Catholic from ascending to the throne. Anne's closest-living non-Catholic relative was a relatively minor German aristocrat from the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. As such, George, the Elector of Hanover, was invited by the British parliament to assume the throne as King George I of Great Britain. George became the first monarch of the House of Hannover. Ironically, George did not speak English and had very little knowledge of the culture and political structure of the country that he ruled over. His reign lasted from 1714 to 1727. The most important political development to occur during the reign of King George I was the creation of the office of the prime minister as the leading politician of the nation.
  • George II - George I's son, George II, ruled as king between 1727 and 1760. Unlike his father, George spoke English, as well as several other languages. George II had to deal with another Jacobite rebellion in 1745. He also involved Britain in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). The Jacobite rebellion was crushed and the empress Maria Theresa eventually won the War of the Austrian succession. Another war that George II had to contend with involved his American colonies. The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) was fought with France over control of North America. While Britain was successful in defeating the French in the Seven Years' War, the taxes levied against the American colonies to pay for this conflict would end up being one of the main causes of the American Revolution.
  • George III - George III, George II's son, ruled Britain from 1760 to 1801. He was one of the longest-serving monarchs in British history. George III is infamous in American history for being king during the American Revolution. In fact, the Declaration of Independence is specifically addressed to him. The loss of the American colonies was devastating to the king and to Britain. During his reign, George underwent several periods of insanity. Many historians believe he suffered from a disease called porphyria. Porphyria is a liver condition that can cause biochemical imbalances that lead to mental illness. However, no one is sure what caused George III's deteriorating mental health. Two other important historical events dealing with Britain occurred during George III's reign: the French Revolution in 1789 and the rise of Napoleon. One positive development that occurred during George III's reign was the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. The trade of slaves was made illegal by the passage of The Slave Trade Act 1807. Slavery within England itself was also banned during his reign via a court decision made in 1772.

In a listing of the greatest English monarchs and greatest kings of England, none of the rulers of the 18th century are listed as ranking very high in competence or political skill.

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Coming up next: 18th Century Powers: France and Louis XIV, XV, and XVI

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  • 0:02 Three Kings Named George
  • 1:52 British Politics
  • 2:37 A Growing Nation
  • 3:23 War, War, & More War
  • 4:49 A Great Loss
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Politics in 18th Century Britain

Politics during the 18th century England (and Britain as a whole) was dominated by two political parties: the Whigs and the Tories. The Whig Party more or less went extinct during the 19th century, but the Tory Party exists to this day and has been an extremely important part of British political history for over two hundred years.

The center of political power during the 18th century began to shift rapidly away from the monarch and toward the prime minister. The prime minister was (and remains) the head of government of the United Kingdom. They make most of the important political decisions in the government.

Whigs

The Whig Party strongly supported the powerful aristocratic families of Great Britain as well as the Hanoverian Dynasty. They controlled Parliament for almost the entire 18th century. In fact, there were only three non-Whig prime ministers between 1700 and 1800.

Tories

Initially, the Tories supported the Stuarts over the Hanoverians, but as the Hanoverian dynasty became a fact of life in Britain, their support for the Jacobites waned. The Tories mostly supported the landed gentry and middle classes. As such, they were seen as being more supportive of major social changes. This is ironic considering that the Tories are now Britain's conservative party.

Notable Prime Ministers of 18th Century Britain

Here is a brief biography of the two most important 18th-century prime ministers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who ruled England in the 18th century?

William III, Anne I, George I, George II, and George III ruled over Britain during the 18th century. The three Georges were from the House of Hannover,

Which major change happened in Britain in the 18th century?

There were many major changes that occurred in Britain during the 18th century. One was the extinction of the House of Stuart and the arrival of the House of Hannover. Another was the Industrial Revolution.

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