Downright Shippen: The Politician as Philosopher

Clifton W. Potter profiles the leader of the Parliamentary Jacobites in the early eighteenth century.

In the kaleidoscope of eighteenth-century politics, perhaps no faction is so interesting or so misunderstood as that of the Parliamentary Jacobites. Denounced by the Whigs as enemies of the state in their own time, they have been neglected for the more romantic aspects of the Jacobite movement by historians willing to accept the partisan verdict of their political enemies.

Their contemporaries could not agree on the size of their faction or the names of its members. Modern historians can hardly be expected to do more. Is it possible that most of these supposed apostles of the House of Stuart, were in fact, the last survivors of the old country Tories? When the name Jacobite is replaced by country Tory, their actions become more intelligible.

It cannot be denied that many of these men had dealings with the Pretender and his representatives in England; but so did some of the leading politicians. Jacobitism for most of these men was a defiant rebuke to the world that was changing too rapidly to be understood; it was a form of escape.

This was particularly true of William Shippen, the leader of the Parliamentary Jacobites, the man whom Pope immortalized with lines:

I love to pour myself out as plain

As downright Shippen, or as old Montaigne.

Born during the reign of Charles II in 1673, Shippen died in 1743 during the reign of George II; but his heart belonged to the world that had passed away on the field of Naseby and with the death of Charles I. Ambitious, stubborn, fiercely proud and sensitive - William Shippen is too complicated a personality to be dismissed with a couplet.

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