First published in 1997, The Contentious Crown is a study of comment on the monarchy in Victorian newspapers, journals, pamphlets and parliamentary debates. It examines radical and republican criticism, reverence and sentimentality, perceptions of the Crown’s political role, the relationship between the monarchy and patriotism and attitudes to royal ceremonial.
Williams shows that discussion of the monarchy throughout the reign was of a far greater volume and complexity than has hitherto been realized. Two strands of discussion, one critical, one reverential, co-existed from Victoria’s accession to her death. Criticism was overwhelmed by reverence by the 1880s since the Crown’s most controversial features, especially its political influence and foreignness, were seen to have receded, allowing the monarchy and Royal Family to appear in their ceremonial, domestic and philanthropic roles as the ideal family and the figurehead of the nation and Empire.
The book gives a historical context to the current problems of the British monarchy by showing that controversy and debate are by no means novel and that the secure position achieved in the late nineteenth century was the product of circumstances which no longer exist.
'…Williams’ account of public discourse on Victoria and her monarchy provides an insightful and stimulating analysis, which should be read by any historian seeking to understand the complex web of nineteenth-century political culture.' Albion, Vol. 31, No. 1 'Williams has brought some important critical scrutiny to the Marxist cliché that the monarchy is an invented tradition of the late nineteenth century meant by the bourgeoisie to mystify the Victorian working classes…Williams offers both encouragement to would-be critics of the monarchy and a calming historical perspective to those who would be king.' American Historical Review '…a thoughtful analysis of the scope and intensity of the monarchy debate in the nineteenth century.' English Historical Review
1. Introduction. 2. Radical and Republican Criticism of the Monarchy, 1837-61. 3. The Rise and Fall of the British Republican Movement, 1861-1901. 4. Perceptions of Political Power and Partisanship, 1837-61. 5. Perceptions of Political Power and Partisanship, 1861-1901. 6. The Monarchy, Patriotism and Nationalism. 7. Reverence and Sentimentality towards the Monarchy and Royal Family. 8. Attitudes to Royal Ceremonial. 9. Conclusion.
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