Rule Britannia: An analysis of the propaganda which fuelled the wave of belligerent nationalism in Great Britain from 1719 to 1739.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
Full text available as:
The purpose of this study is to examine in depth the role which propaganda played
in forcing Walpole's government to start the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739. There are
a number of features which make this episode particularly interesting both as an
example of the power of propaganda and as an example of the way in which a study
of propaganda techniques throws new light on the political and artistic history of a
particular period. Firstly it is unusual for an opposition rather than a government
party to be going out of its way to create popular demand for a war. Secondly it is
unusual to find so many writers, artists and musicians of the highest quality being
recruited to assist in a propaganda campaign of any kind. Pope, Swift, Johnson, Gay,
Chesterfield, Arne, Handel and Hogarth were among the list of contributors which
included many other highly competent if less well known talents. Thirdly, while not
unique, this campaign is nevertheless rare in providing an example of the use of a
very wide range of media to achieve its ends: drama, ballad-opera, journalism, poetry,
prose, satire, history, biography, painting, engraving, ceramics, sculpture and even
architecture. Fourthly it provides a very interesting range of psychological techniques
with heavy use of irony, a penchant for exotic metaphor and considerable reliance on
the crude tools of tribal motivation. Finally the campaign provides an example of the
way in which public hysteria can be created and developed by a group of leaders
whose real short term objectives bear no relationship to the topic of the hysteria, who
are substantially removed from its immediate consequences and totally regardless as
to its long term effects.
The study is beset by two problems. It has perforce to straddle a number of
different disciplines in that it must dovetail a historical causality with the content of
literature, drama, music and the visual arts. There is not and can never be any direct
proof that the propaganda actually caused the event, only an accumulation of
numerous pieces of evidence which support a high degree of probability. Equally
there is unlikely ever to be any conclusive proof that the huge outpouring of patriotic
propaganda in the 1719 - 1739 period was all part of a concerted deliberate plan, only
that there was a whole range of personal contacts suggesting a pattern of mutual
influences and common objectives, a mixture of political jealousy, ideology and
commercial pressures which combined to sustain a united effort towards a single end.
However, detailed study should produce sensible pointers to the motivation, structure,
organisation and technical proficiency of the campaign.
Overall the campaign must be seen as a classic example of the way in which
the power of propaganda, particularly nationalistic propaganda, is divorced from the
responsibility for its consequences. The emotive connotations of the contrast between
the patriotic opposition's aggressive posture against Spain and Walpole's apparent
appeasement run very deep. The nurturing of corporate vanity in nations is one of the
most common real causes of wars throughout history.
Actions (login required)