One might think that the only thing that Daniel Defoe and Henry Sacheverell shared was a mutual detestation for each other. Yet their public images were curiously intertwined throughout the public debates during the War for the Spanish Succession. Above all, both Defoe and Sacheverell became famous due to the fact that they were prosecuted for their writings. Defoe was convicted of seditious libel in 1703, and so was Sacheverell in 1710. This lecture compares the experiences of the famous writer and the notorious preacher in enduring legal prosecution for their writings. It pays particular attention to the way in which both figures used their prosecution to develop their public image as a martyr for their (mutually antagonistic) partisan political positions. Comparing these cases illuminates the structures of public formation in early eighteenth-century England. The management and manipulation of public opinion was an increasingly important aspect of political life (and political success) in post-revolutionary England, and this accounts for the intense interest aroused by both cases, as well as the high stakes for both whigs and tories in navigating the controversies aroused by these prosecutions successfully.
Brian Cowan holds the Canada Research Chair in Early Modern British History and is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. He is the author of The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse, 2005; the editor of The State Trial of Doctor Henry Sacheverell, 2012; and he co-edits The Journal of British Studies with Elizabeth Elbourne for the North American Conference on British Studies. He has published numerous articles and essays on the history of the public sphere in early modern Europe, and his additional publications on the history of early modern taste have ranged from studies of art auctions and connoisseurship to gastronomy and food writing. He was recently a visiting research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin’s Institute for Historical Studies.