The State of England in 1685, by Thomas Babington Macaulay (paperback)


Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was a superb narrative historian in the tradition of Thucydides and Tacitus, Hume and Gibbon. His five-volume History of England from the Accession of James II achieved sales only matched by contemporary novelists like Dickens and Scott, and continues to be treasured for its irresistible vivacity and considerable veracity. Lord Acton loathed him, but wrote to Mary Gladstone re the History: “Read him … to find out how it comes that the most unsympathetic of critics can think him very nearly the greatest of English writers.”

This, the celebrated Chapter 3 of Volume 1, shows the canvas of Restoration England circumstances upon which Macaulay, also a prominent Whig politician, was to paint the triumphal progress of history. The American anthropologist Robert L. Carneiro republished it as An Ethnography of England in the Year 1685, but it is far more than that: political economy, portrait gallery, historical romance, where, if it’s not always true, it’s always well told.

Here’s a sample on the state of agriculture from the paperback edition.

You can’t unfortunately buy it via this website or from me at gigs, but (sigh) Amazon can fulfil:


This excerpt, first published as part of Volume 1 of Macaulay’s History of England in 1848, is from the edition of the entire work revised by the author and published by Porter & Coates in Philadelphia in 1876, and subsequently prepared for Wikisource by users Beeswaxcandle, Arnapha, LlywelynII, Coldspur, Mattisse and Adam sk~enwikisource. The section headers from the first edition have been added to improve legibility; spelling and punctuation have been corrected; and e-book hyperlinks to footnotes have been fixed. The text of this version is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

The cover illustration is a detail of the scan of the frontispiece of the 1939 Alexander Duckham & Co facsimile of John Ogilby’s 1675 Britannia, published by Dr. Chris Mullen. The frontispiece is an engraving of Macaulay by an illegible artist from volume 1 of George Otto Trevelyan’s 1876 Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, published in New York by Harper & Brothers and available on Wikipedia.

Current version: 1.1, 15/2/2021

Section headings:

  • The Great Change in the State of England Since 1685 1
  • The Population of England in 1685 4
  • The Increase of Population, Greater in the North Than in the South 7
  • The Revenue in 1685 10
  • The Military System 13
  • The Navy 23
  • The Ordnance 32
  • The Non-Effective Charge 33
  • The Charge of Civil Government 34
  • The Great Gains of Ministers and Courtiers 35
  • The State of Agriculture 38
  • The Mineral Wealth of the Country 44
  • The Increase of Rent 47
  • The Country Gentlemen 48
  • The Clergy 54
  • The Yeomanry 66
  • The Growth of the Towns 67
  • Bristol 67
  • Norwich 69
  • Other Country Towns 71
  • Manchester 73
  • Leeds 74
  • Sheffield 75
  • Birmingham 76
  • Liverpool 77
  • Watering-places: Cheltenham, Brighton, Buxton, Tunbridge Wells 78
  • Bath 81
  • London 83
  • The City 85
  • The Fashionable Part of the Capital 92
  • The Lighting of London 99
  • Whitefriars 100
  • The Court 101
  • Coffee Houses 105
  • The Difficulty of Travelling 110
  • The Badness of the Roads 111
  • Stage Coaches 117
  • Highwaymen 121
  • Inns 124
  • The Post Office 127
  • Newspapers 129
  • Newsletters 132
  • The Observator 134
  • A Scarcity of Books in Country Places 135
  • Female Education 136
  • The Literary Attainments of Gentlemen 138
  • The Influence of French Literature 139
  • The Immorality of the Polite Literature of England 142
  • The State of Science in England 150
  • The State of the Fine Arts 157
  • The State of the Common People 160
  • Agricultural Wages 161
  • The Wages of Manufacturers 164
  • The Labour of Children in Factories 166
  • The Wages of Different Classes of Artisans 166
  • The Number of Paupers 168
  • The Benefits Derived by the Common People from the Progress of Civilization 170
  • The Delusion Which Leads Men to Overrate the Happiness of Preceding Generations 174

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