British parliamentary politics in the 18th century are a miasma for the layman. It was an era when ""party"" signified...



British parliamentary politics in the 18th century are a miasma for the layman. It was an era when ""party"" signified faction and the constitutional position of the monarchy and the ""Queen's ministers"" was often ambiguous. Power was largely a matter of personal following, and politicians were expected to fill important offices with their own men. It is in this atmosphere of backstairs intrigue that the struggle between Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford and Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke is to be understood. Though both men were Tories, Harley was a moderate who sought cooperation with the Whigs and disdained the very principle of government by party. Bolingbroke came to power under Harley and professed undying devotion to ""my Master"" but his heart was with the obstreperous High Tories and High Church. He was suspected by many of plotting for the restoration of the Pretender. Biddle's sympathies lie with Harley -- courageous, honest and a born compromiser though he temporized and procrastinated to a fault. Harley seems to have been a genuine anomaly in the politics of the period -- a man who was devoid of personal ambition. Bolingbroke, in contrast, seems to have been flamboyant, mercurial and bent on self-aggrandizement. Their relationship went from warmest friendship to venomous acrimony -- much to the dismay of Jonathan Swift who had a high regard for both men and recorded their quarrels in Letters to Stella. With the death of Queen Anne both men fell -- each having undermined the other. Although Biddle projects both personalities forcefully, the maze of shifting parliamentary alliances is enough to daunt the casual reader. Too special to get beyond the classroom.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1974


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1974