Effects of the French Revolution on British Politics.

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What were the effects of the French Revolution on British Politics?

As a stubborn opponent of French ideas, and a persistent foe of French arms during the Revolutionary period, Britain was bound to be influenced, both directly and indirectly by the momentous events in France. The French Revolution stimulated new developments in Britain, as well as perpetuating old trends, sometimes even providing an obstacle to reform. The complexity of the French Revolution makes an assessment of its impact upon British politics very difficult, a challenge exacerbated by the profound changes - economic, demographic and social - that were occurring in Britain at the time. It thus becomes difficult, perhaps impossible, to clearly differentiate between those events and changes in Britain that came about as a direct result of the French Revolution and those which occurred as part of an continuing and inexorable process of industrialisation already under way in the United Kingdom.

It is clear that the French revolution and the wars that accompanied it were events of great significance for Britain. Even if we only take these events to have stimulated Britain to reject and resist French ideas, the great import of the French Revolution is apparent. However, events on the continent must have also had a deeper and more far reaching impact upon Britain, although it is extremely difficult to gauge this effect with any accuracy. The immediate constitutional implications of the Revolution are of immediate interest to us. George III regarded war with France, as did Burke, as essential to the preservation of decent society, and he drove his ministers to pursue policies which would rally the British propertied classes to the defence of the British constitution. The King's stance stiffened the resolve of the government, and won him the admiration of the majority of his subjects. Soon George became personally identified with a vast patriotic struggle against France. However, despite this evidence of George's continuing role in government, he did in fact play a less significant role after 1789 than in previous decades. This important development was, at least in part, a result of events in France. The conservative reaction amidst the British propertied elite rallied them to the government of the day, and so the government could rely more on the voluntary support of MPs instead of depending upon those MPs who were the recipients of Crown patronage. This constitutional shift, useful for demonstrating one way in which the French Revolution had an indirect effect upon British government, is equally helpful in illustrating how many changes in this period were a result of other reforms. In this case, the reduction in the King's power owed more to a series of legislative and administrative reforms that had occurred since the early 1780s which had reduced Crown patronage. After a series of mental breakdowns, the King's mental state eventually left him incapable of performing his royal duties, and the Prince of Wales assumed the regency. His own flaws, coupled with the steady and inexorable decline in Crown power over many years, ensured that the King would never be able to influence his ministers to the same extent as they had once done. Thus, the overall reduction in monarchical power in Britain during the Revolutionary period owed more to internal reforms and shifts than it did to the French Revolution. Instead of carving out the course of events in Britain, the French Revolution more often than not exerted little more than a vague shaping-effect upon events already in motion.

Another good example of such peripheral influence that the French revolution tended to exert of events in Britain is the Irish problem of the period. The French Revolution had not caused the problem, of it had had noting to do with the tensions between the propertied elite and the impoverished masses, yet it did make a troubled situation worse. The British government feared that...
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