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Fénelon, Jacobitism and the political works of the Chevalier Ramsay

Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686-1743) was a Scottish Jacobite émigré who spent most of his adult life in France. His political works predominantly relied on a mixture of British and French doctrines to stimulate a Jacobite restoration to the British throne. Ambitious and controversial, Ramsay believed that key reforms and a growing empire would make Britain the ‘capital of the universe.’ His position as an intellectual conduit between the two kingdoms enables an extensive assessment of the political thought in Britain and France. Examining a number of important thinkers from the 1660s to the 1730s, this work stresses the significance of seventeenth century ideology on the following century. Crucially, the monograph explores the exchange of ideas between the two countries in the early Enlightenment. A time when Britain had rejected the absolutist pretensions of James II in the Glorious Revolution (1688) to protect mixed sovereignty and a key role for Parliament. This enshrinement of liberty and mixed government struck a chord in France with theorists opposed to Louis XIV’s form of centralised sovereignty. Following Louis XIV’s death in 1715, greater support for monarchical reform became evident in French political theory. Aided by the viewpoints and methodology of intellectual conduits such as Ramsay, shared perspectives emerged in the two countries on the future of monarchy.

Fear and corruption
Andrew Mansfield

Continuing the discussion of the previous chapter, this chapter observes how political and religious divisions continued to shape Britain and its ideology. After the Act of Settlement (1701), opposition to the revolutionary settlement from the Jacobites saw an upsurge in their activities. Under the (‘pretended’) claimant James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766), Louis XIV’s backing of the Jacobites struck fear into the British who dreaded a French-led invasion. Following the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), the accession of the Hanoverian King George I (1714) and failed Jacobite uprising in 1715-16 these fears were quashed. Other tensions and the growing importance of commercial activity, however, led to concerns regarding public virtue and political corruption. Discussion of British ideology during this period reveals the trepidations and solutions offered to consolidate government virtue and society in the commercial age.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Andrew Mansfield

Archbishop Fénelon’s advocacy of liberty and the public good in Télémaque (1699) while arguing against Louis XIV’s form of sovereignty resonated strongly with many in Britain, and proved to be a European publishing sensation. For many years biographers and commentators have concentrated on this early educational work of Fénelon to delineate his political principles. Yet these pedagogical compositions were written to educate and amuse Louis XIV’s grandson the duc de Bourgogne when he was a child. So while they demonstrate several of Fénelon’s thematic pre-occupations, they do not offer concrete remedies for the ills of the French state. This chapter argues that Fénelon’s cohesive plans for France and the reform of its monarchy are to be found in his later Mémoires, written for Bourgogne when a young man and later Dauphin. In these later works, Fénelon encouraged a move away from Louis XIV’s centralised government towards a more constitutional form that would provide greater liberty for the people and a release from the suffering of continual war. The chapter forms an important bridge between the British and French contextual chapters as well as providing a foundation for investigating Ramsay’s ‘plan of government.’

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Absolute monarchy
Andrew Mansfield

In the first of two contextual chapters surveying French political ideology, this begins by looking at the advent of Louis XIV’s personal rule from 1661. By assessing the king’s own views on kingship through his Mémoires, the chapter delineates how he embarked upon the centralisation of the French state and the reasons for it. Of note, is Louis XIV’s side-stepping of the ancient state institutions and the role of the high-aristocracy. While these changes were endorsed by (absolutist) theorists such as Bossuet to create unity, their inefficiencies coupled with repeated wars damaged the state, the economy, and welfare of the people. A desire to embolden the public good and revitalise the French state and fortunes of the aristocracy, led Louis XIV’s heir Bourgogne to draw different conclusions on governance. Aided by the duc de Saint-Simon, Bourgogne’s plans for a future French monarchy manifested an aspiration to reform France in a new age.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Government reform and Britain
Andrew Mansfield

Continuing from Bourgogne and Saint-Simon’s reform plans, this chapter considers the impact of the designs of the Burgundy Circle (advisers around the duc de Bourgogne) as well as the influence of Britain on French thinking after Louis XIV’s death. The chapter exposes the different ambitions of the key members of the Burgundy Circle, and how the more ambitious thinking of Fénelon (and Saint-Pierre) to promote liberty had greater impact in France. From the 1720s political theorists such as Montesquieu and Voltaire, partly inspired by stays in Britain, incorporated older ideas of monarchy with British views on mixed constitution to favour a monarchy assisted by an expanded government. The chapter therefore highlights the link between British and French thought: one that had existed for some time, but became more salient in the 1720s.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Andrew Mansfield

In this chapter biographical details of Andrew Michael Ramsay’s life are sketched while outlining his significant relationships. It charts his journey from Scotland to France on a search for spiritual truth that led him to Fénelon. His associations in France, Scotland and Europe assisted his obtaining the role as editor of Fénelon’s private papers and works. This position acted as a catalyst for both Ramsay’s objectives as a political thinker and as a Jacobite, while his connection with the legacy of Fénelon ensured personal success. But it helped to create a distorted legacy for Fénelon’s political principles as Ramsay manipulated them for his own ends and the Jacobite cause.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
An Essay and a Vie
Andrew Mansfield

This chapter discusses the first phase of Ramsay’s political works: the Essay de Politique (1719), Essay philosophique sur le gouvernement civil (1721) and the Vie de Fénelon (1723). It shows how Ramsay deliberately infused French theories of absolutism, specifically from Bossuet, to provide a robust British monarchy that could withstand revolution. Attacking the Glorious Revolution, the Whigs and parliamentary corruption, Ramsay claimed to use the political principles of Fénelon in order to promote a Jacobite restoration to the throne of Britain. Linking with the earlier contextual chapters, Ramsay’s deception is here uncovered while setting out the innovations in his methodology as well as his influences. A detailed analysis is offered of his reformed monarchy aided by an aristocratic senate. This model would aim to extirpate the British Parliament in favour of a form of centralised monarchy exemplified by Charles II.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Ramsay’s Cyrus and Plan
Andrew Mansfield

In the final chapter the second phase of Ramsay’s political works are considered: Les Voyages de Cyrus (1727) and the A Plan of Education for a Young Prince (1732). Ramsay’s Cyrus used Xenephon’s progenitor of the mirror-for-princes genre to continue his call for strong centralised monarchy supported by a small hereditary aristocracy. Making greater use of Fénelon and Bossuet’s educational works, Ramsay advanced a view of the state and society that fused politics and spirituality. In his desire to return to a Golden Age of humanity, Ramsay advocated greater co-operation between states in order to collect ancient wisdom and engender virtue. A world that embraced the commercial age and strengthened the British state under the leadership of a Stuart monarchy becoming the ‘Capital of the Universe.’ The chapter demonstrates that by the end of his political works, Ramsay had in fact embraced the role of Parliament and public liberty in his vision of a global Britain.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Abstract only
Andrew Mansfield

The conclusion of the monograph evaluates three important discussions within the work. The first is the impact of seventeenth century ideology on the thinking of the eighteenth century. Events in the seventeenth century and the theory it catalysed, were still shaping the behaviour and political theory of eighteenth century Britain and France. As these states faced new challenges from the second decade of the eighteenth century, older ideologies continued to be utilised to create solutions for social and state maladies. Secondly, in case of the France, this witnessed a growing influence of the British model of government to try and counter the perceived damage caused by Louis XIV’s long reign. Thirdly, at this time Ramsay acted as a conduit between the two states. Not only did both countries shape his idiosyncratic and innovative theory, Ramsay’s connections and work had an impact on more important thinkers. His political works reflected an acceptance in the early Enlightenment of great change and a desire to create an ideology to promote public good and virtue in a transforming world.

in Ideas of monarchical reform
Abstract only
Andrew Mansfield

The Introduction delivers both a general background to the intellectual context in Britain and France during the period from the 1660 to 1730s, and outlines Ramsay’s place in that context. Ramsay’s role as an intermediary between the two states affords an opportunity to examine the political though of Britain and France while assessing Ramsay’s role and place within that context. These two objects of the work are detailed here, as well as a commitment to underline the impact of seventeenth century ideology upon the eighteenth century. The introduction also discusses the (limited) historiography on Ramsay, emphasising a lack of understanding regarding his political thought.

in Ideas of monarchical reform