May I introduce you all to the celebrated Mrs Macaulay!
For those who you who haven’t read my profile, (not blaming you, I’m not really a profile reader either), and for those of you who have simply forgotten what it says, (I think it is mentioned), I am currently studying for my history degree at Bath Spa University.
The core module for second years, the very enticingly named HY5001 module, is basically looking at how and why history was written, with case studies of Historians such as Herodotus (Greek historian; so called ‘Father of History’) and others such as Catherine Macaulay (First female British historian.)
Catherine Macaulay is the topic of my joint presentation which is due in on the 9th of December. So this weekend I am working my war through a lever-arch-file, of about one inch in thickness, all of which is either journal articles on Mrs Macaulay or the first segment of her History of England. (I think the printer must have been short of the letter ‘s’ when it was printed because a significant proportion of the ‘s’ letters are replaced with ‘f’. It can makes things a little hard going but I did rather enjoy the introduction.
Mrs Macaulay was something of a radical, or at least in the sense of her daring to write and publish a History at all. She lived during the eighteenth century, her work claimed that the Glorious Revolution (deposition of Catholic James II in favour of his protestant daughter Ann and her husband William of Orange) had not gone far enough to restrict monarchic power. Freedom was a great theme that ran through her work and she commanded some incredibly high levels or respect from others around the world. One of her correspondence in America was none other than George Washington. Catherine herself had greatly supported America’s bid for independence and had a significant network of friends and acquaintances over the other side of the Atlantic.
I can hardly say that I agree with all of her views. The more I read about her, the more flaws I find, just as you would researching any individual. Calling Mrs Macaulay a feminist would hardly seem appropriate when you look into her views on inheritance through a female line, or her supposed belief that all women should be capable of marriage and those too deformed or ugly to find a husband should be supported by their nearest male relative.
However, she was still the first female British Historian. She had the courage, and the self educated intellect to write her eight volume History of England, and then to also right numerous pamphlets on political matters. Unfortunately I have not been able to track any of these pamphlets down, but from my reading so far it seems that even though she did not advocate the right for women to vote or enter parliament, she did defend the political rights already at the disposal of women, such as the right to petition.
The Celebrated Mrs Macaulay is an example of a strong female character, and though as I said, I do not agree with all she stood for, she is still one that inspiration can be drawn from.
Macaulay, Catherine The History of England From The Accession of James I To That Of The Brunswick Line Vol. 1 (1768)
Gilbride Fox, Claire ‘Catherine Macaulay, An Eighteenth-Century Clio’. Winterthur Portfolio, 4, 1968, pp.129-142
Maner, Martin ‘Women in the Eighteenth-Century British Fiction and Transatlantic Politics’. Eighteenth Century Life, 32, (1), 2008, pp. 90-95.
Staves, Susan ‘ “The Liberty of A She-Subject of England”: Right Rhetoric and the Female Thucydides’. Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, 1, (2), 1989, pp. 161-183
Taylor, Barbara ‘Feminism and the Enlightenment 1650-1850’. History Workshop Journal, 47, 1999, pp.261-272