First Advisor

Anne Weikel

Term of Graduation

Fall 1994

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Women -- Political activity -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century, Women -- Political activity -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century, Aristocracy (Political science) -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century, Aristocracy (Political science) -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century, Nobility -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century, Nobility -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, 298 pages)


British aristocratic women exerted political influence and power during the century beginning with the accession of George III. They expressed their political power through the four roles of social patron, patronage distributor, political advisor, and political patron/electioneer. British aristocratic women were able, trained, and expected to play these roles. Politics could not have existed without these women. The source of their political influence was the close interconnection of politics and society. In this small, inter-connected society, women could and did influence politics. Political decisions, especially for the Whigs, were not made in the halls of government with which we are so familiar, but in the halls of the homes of the social/political elite. However, this close interconnection can make women's political influence difficult to assess and understand for our twentieth century experience.

Sources for this thesis are readily available. Contemporary, primary sources are abundant. This was the age of letter and diary writing. There is, however, a dearth of modern works concerning the political activities of aristocratic women. Most modern works rarely mention women.

Other problems with sources include the inappropriate feminization of the time period and the filtering of this period through modern, not contemporary, points of view. Separate spheres is the most common and most inappropriate feminist issue raised by historians. This doctrine is not valid for aristocratic women of this time.

The material I present in this thesis is not new. The sources, both contemporary and modern, have been available to historians for some time. By changing our rigid definition of politics by enlarging it to include the broader areas of political activities such as social patron, patronage distributor, political advisor, and political/electioneer, we can see British aristocratic women in a new light, revealing political power and influence.


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