Young England

J.T. Ward describes how romantic views of the Middle Ages and a dislike for the horrors of industrialism inspired an able group of young Conservatives in the House of Commons during the 1840s.

J.T. Ward | Published in History Today

The “Gothic Revival” of interest in medievalism took many forms during the first half of the nineteenth century. Readers of Sir Walter Scott’s novels were likely to admire “Gothick” paintings at the Royal Academy; the new devotees of heraldry probably approved of Pugin’s churches and Barry’s Palace of Westminster; those who pored over the new textbooks on the peerage and gentry were surely sympathetic to the Earl of Eglinton’s ill-fated tournament of 1839.

But the feeling for real or imaginary medievalism went farther than romantic fiction, mock-Gothic town halls, invented pedigrees, long-forgotten paintings and architectural and other “follies”. It also had some influence on political and religious interests.

It would obviously be too facile to ascribe a dominant effect to “romanticism” in the revival of ancient ideals for Church and State. Reactions against liberal individualism, Benthamite social planning and Whiggish erastianism had become important elements in traditionalist thinking by the 1830’s.

But the sense of continuity with the Middle Ages, an admiration for the authority and history of Western Catholicism and a reliance on tradition against the values of a fast-changing industrial society played a considerable part in creating the new theological and political “conservatism”. One political phenomenon was “Young England”—one of several agitations to adopt the tide of “Young”.

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