Women in (Georgian) politics
A hundred years after women won the right to vote in Britain, here’s a related snippet from a few centuries earlier.
In the mid-1760s the public were exasperated by their politicians. The Treaty of Paris (1763) that brought an end to the Seven Years’ War had left Britain in a seemingly commanding position at home and abroad. But the years that followed were divisive and ill-tempered, with food shortages, agitation over new taxes and frequent changes of ministers and governments.
Fed up, in January 1766 one newspaper printed a radical solution to rectify affairs. It advocated doing away with the male politicans entirely and appointing a ‘female administration’ instead. The First Lady of the Treasury and leader of the minstry was to be Lady Northumberland. The Secretary of State for the Northern Department was to be the Dutchess of Grafton. Lady Pocock (wife of the naval officer) was to have the Admiralty while Jane Stanhope the Countess of Harrington was to be Secretary at War.
A wry, teasing piece, the article was syndicated in much of the regional press. The shift in the titles shows how male-orientated political language of the time was and the comic touch – as Georgian readers would have seen it – comes from the subversion of the usual gender-oriented roles.
Most of the specific in-jokes have been lost to us today but there is also an element of seriousness at the end. Elizabeth Carter is proposed as Poet Laureat. Catharine Macaulay is proposed as Historiographer. Catherine Read is proposed as the King’s Painter. These were women of real talent and this is an early public acknowledgement of that.
The writer argues: “As to any places about court which require particular talents in the persons who hold them I should be at no loss to find Females of adequate abilities, and only desire they may be fairly compared with the Males who at present enjoy those places.”
Here’s the full article below. As ever the names are partially masked by dashes (the number of dashes does not necessarily correspond with the number of letters). I’ve filled in most of the names in brackets. Drawn together they form an interesting snapshot of society women at the start of the year 1766. A few elusive ones remain though.
Any help on ‘Mistress of the Stag Hounds’ and a few of the others is very much appreciated.
Extract from the Newcastle Chronicle, January 25, 1766:
A female administration being at present much talked of, the following catalogue is humbly submitted to the Judgment of the public, whether the several departments and officers of state would not be very ably and properly filled:
First Lady of the Treasury – Lady N–th–b–nd – (Elizabeth Percy, Lady Northumberland)
Chancellor of the Exchequer – Miss Ch–dl–gh
President of the Council – Lady T–nsh–nd – (Caroline Townshend, Lady Townshend)
Secretary of State for the Northern Department – Dutchess of G–ft–n – (Anne FitzPatrick, Dutchess of Grafton)
Secretary of State for the Southern Department – Mrs George P–tt – (Mrs Sophia Pitt)
Lady High Chancellor – Dutchess of Q–nsb–y – (Catherine Douglas, Dutchess of Queensbury)
Lady Privy Seal – Lady Ayl—b–y
Steward of the Household – Dutchess of B-df–d – (Lady Gertrude Leveson-Gower, Dutchess of Bedford)
Chamberlain – Dutchess of An—st–r
Mistress of the Horse – Lady Sa-h Ben-by
First Lady of the Admiralty – Lady P-c–co – (Sophia, Lady Pocock)
First Lady of Trade – Lady H-ld–stle –
Secretary of War – Lady H—rr—t–n – (Jane Stanhope, Lady Harrington)
Pay-Mistress general of the Forces – Lady D–lk–th – (Lady Dalkeith)
Captain of the band of Pensioners – Lady Ch–t–m – (Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham)
Mistress of the Stag Hounds – Mrs F–t–pl–e
Mistress of the Wardrobe – Lady Dowager W—ld–ve – (Mary Maxwell, Lady Dowager Waldergrave – see daughter’s entry)
Minister for Scotch Affairs – Dutchess of D–gl–ss – (Dutchess of Douglas – possibly Elizabeth Hamilton?)
Lady Lieutenant of Ireland – Marchioness of K–ld–e – (Emily FitzGerald, Marchioness of Kildare)
As to any places about court which require particular talents in the persons who hold them I should be at no loss to fine Females, of adequate abilities, and only desire they may be fairly compared with the Males who at present enjoy those places.
Poet Laureat – Miss Carter
Historiographer – Mrs Macaulay
King’s Painter – Miss Reade
More miscellany here.
Image: Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo, 1778, 52 x 61 inches, by Richard Samuel.