Catherine Macaulay

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Robert Edge Pine : Catherine Macaulay, around 1774

Catherine Macaulay or Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham , also known as Catharine Macaulay (born April 2, 1731 in Wye , Kent , † June 22, 1791 in Binfield , Berkshire ) was an English historian, suffragette and Republican writer who had a great influence on personalities in the American Revolution. She is considered the first English historian.


Catherine was born as the second of four children to the landowner John Sawbridge of Olantigh (d. 1762) and his wife Dorothy in the county of Kent near Canterbury and acquired a comprehensive education in (also classical) literature, philosophy and history through self-study , with a focus on Roman and Greek history, which established their republican sentiments. Another incident that made them politically active was the case of Catherine Macaulay's grandfather, Jacob Sawbridge, through whom the family had learned about the consequences of arbitrary government and office. He had been sentenced in 1720 to answer for part of John Law's South Seas fraud because he was one of the company's directors. In 1760, at the age of 29, which was considered very late at the time, she married the widowed Scottish doctor George Macaulay (1716–1766), who was 15 years her senior. Macaulay had studied in Padua and worked as a doctor at Brownlow Street Hospital, a maternity hospital ("lying in") in London. The marriage resulted in a daughter.

The death of her husband in 1766 dealt a severe blow to Catherine Macaulay. Her health was not very good throughout her life either, but it did not prevent her from participating in political activities. As a staunch Republican, she was a leader in several reform clubs of the time, e. B. she was closely associated with the "Supporters of the Bill of Rights". These had been founded in 1768 by a group of young lawyers and merchants, including Mrs. Macaulay's younger brother, MP John Sawbridge. The group supported John Wilkes , whose election victory had not been recognized and who was in prison. Other goals of the group were to secure the freedom rights promised in the Bill of Rights . They were well organized, similar to a modern party. Sawbridge became as popular with the public as Wilkes through his campaign and was elected Sheriff and Alderman of London .

From 1774 Catherine Macaulay plunged into social life in the spa town of Bath . The pastor of St. Stephen's in Walbrook , London, Thomas Wilson, gave her a house ("Alfred House" at No. 2 Alfred Street) including a library, where she held court in her "drawing room". Macaulay dedicated the first volume of her history of England to him. Wilson immortalized her in a marble statue, on which she was depicted with pen and book as the muse of history, and to the annoyance of his congregation set this up in the church near the altar.

Other admirers had six odes printed for her birthday in 1777 . In 1775 and 1777 she visited Paris , where she Turgot , Marmontel and Benjamin Franklin met and celebrated great success. In Walpole's words, it was one of the attractions that every foreigner wanted to visit at the time.

Her frank demeanor also provoked malicious comments such as that of the then "Pope of Literature" Johnson ("She should rather redden her cheeks than blacken other people's souls"), who heavily criticized her history of England. At a dinner she gave, Johnson put her Republican principles to the test by summoning one of her servants ("footman") to dinner and then noting from her reaction that "she never liked him [Johnson] again afterwards." Johnson hides Macaulay's answer, which she gives in her Letters of Education - she meant the political equality of every citizen. The Whig politician and journalist John Wilkes, actually one of her political supporters, whom she had previously also politically supported when he was imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment, also made derogatory comments (she is returning from Paris "painted up to the eyes") .

The surprising marriage of 47-year-old Macaulay to the then 21-year-old William Graham, who was the brother of the well-known Scottish quack James Graham and who was then a surgeon's apprentice and later became a clergyman, sparked a scandal, which took place in Leicester on December 17, 1778 undermined their reputation in England. Many friends broke up with her, and vicious satires appeared. Even Wilson had her marble statue removed from his church. For her part, Mrs. Macaulay gave him back his home in Bath and moved with her husband to Leicestershire and finally to Binfield , Berkshire, near Bracknell , in part of the Windsor Forest - her writing successes had made her financially independent.

Her grave is in the All Saints Cemetery in Binford.

Since it is sometimes only cited as Macaulay, it should not be confused with Thomas Babington Macaulay , who also wrote a (much better known) history of England.


After her marriage, Catherine Macaulay herself began to work as a historian, primarily to counter the conservative ( Tory ) views in David Hume's well-known English history. Her History of England appeared in 8 volumes from 1763 to 1783 on over 3500 pages and mainly deals with the 17th century. It was very popular at the time and was z. B. by Horace Walpole placed above David Hume. Walpole said that the work is very prejudiced (for example, she detests Oliver Cromwell , although he deposed Charles I ), but attested her "male strength with the dignity of a philosopher". But personal attacks were also inevitable, going so far that even after her death it was claimed that she had been banned from the reading room of the British Museum in 1764 because she had removed manuscript sheets. Her widowed husband vehemently denied this in 1794. In her history, she relies heavily on primary sources - unusually for the time. English history is portrayed as a constant struggle for freedom rights against tyrants, which continues to the present day. A French translation by Guiraudet appeared on Mirabeau's recommendation in Paris from 1791 to 1792 in five volumes. Even William Pitt praised the work in the House.

Political influence in the USA

While her marriage in England damaged her reputation, she retained admirers in America and had a great influence on the leading figures of the American Revolution with her republican writings and her history. In 1785 she was celebrated on her tour of the USA and lived with her husband for 10 days with George Washington in his country estate Mount Vernon . She corresponded with him until her death, inter alia. on constitutional issues. She also met James Warren and his wife Mercy Otis Warren , also a historian, John Adams and his wife Abigail, Benjamin Rush and others, with whom she had corresponded in England since the 1770s and with much-needed information about opinions in England on the American market "Rebellion" supplied.

In addition to the American Revolution, she also welcomed the Revolution in Corsica and opposed Edmund Burke's conservative views on the revolution in France in public pamphlets .

Macaulay as an Early Feminist and Her Letters on Upbringing

The Letters on Educational Issues published in 1790 show her as the forerunner of Mary Wollstonecraft , whose treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman from 1792 was often regarded as the first major protest against the situation of women. Wollstonecraft had reviewed the Macaulay Letters of Education for the "Analyticial" and took much of it from them. While Wollstonecraft was more cautious in calling for women to be educated so that they could become good mothers, she advocated education for equal rights as men. The inferiority of women, often claimed as general “wisdom” at the time, was for them solely the result of a lack of educational opportunities and social disadvantage. Wollestonecraft never met her role model personally, but was in correspondence with Macaulay. Both had to rely to earn their own money and thus were not included in the above about the 1770s at the time as bluestockings literary ambitious (Bluestockings) designated circles women who mainly higher social classes came from (eg. As Elizabeth Montagu , Elizabeth Vesey , later Fanny Burney ).

In her letters on education , she also advocated education in compassion for animals and non-violence. She also complains about the double standards that, as in her case, can easily bring down women for unconventional behavior.


She is the woman of the greatest abilities that this country has ever produced, endowed with a sound judgment, and writing with sober energy and argumentative closeness Mary Wollestonecraft Vindication of the rights of woman

(Eng. She is the woman with the greatest abilities that this country has ever produced, provided with a sure judgment. She writes with calm strength and argues compellingly )


  • The History of England from the Accession of James I to the restoration of the Brunswick Line , 8 vols., London, J. Course, 1763-1783
  • Loose remarks on Mr. Hobbes 'Philosophical Rudiments of Government and Society, with a short Sketch of a Democratical Form of Government in a Letter to Signor Paoli' , London, W. Johnston, 1767 (the revolution in Corsica by Pascal Paoli from 1755 the first great revolution of the century; the first pamphlet turns against Hobbes' ideal monarchist government)
  • Observations on a Pamphlet, Entitled, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents , 1770
  • Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, on the Revolution in France, in a Letter to the Right Honorable The Earl of Stanhope , London, C.Dilly, 1790, Boston 1791, new On Burkes reflection of the french revolution , Woodstock Books 1997, ISBN 1-85477-204-X
  • The Address to the People of England, Scotland, and Ireland, on the Present Important Crisis of Affairs , 1775 (on the American Revolution)
  • Modest plea for the property of copyright , Bath, London 1774
  • Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth 1783 (reprinted in Letters on education)
  • Letters on Education with Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects , 1790, new edition Catherine Macaulay, Letters on Education, 1790 , Oxford, New York, Woodstock Books, 1994, ISBN 1-85477-184-1 , and London 1996, Pickering and Chatto, ISBN 1-85196-277-8 (as well as New York, Garland Publishing 1974, foreword by Gina Luria)


  • Vera Nünning : A Revolution in Sentiments, Manners, and Moral Opinions. Catharine Macaulay and the Political Culture of English Radicalism, 1760–1790. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg, 1998, ISBN 3-8253-0680-1 (habilitation)
  • Kate Davies: Catharine Macaulay and Mercy Otis Warren: The Revolutionary Atlantic and the Politics of Gender. Oxford 2006 ( ISBN 0-19-928110-6 )
  • Bridget Hill: The Republican Virago : The Life and Times of Catharine Macaulay, Historian. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1992, ISBN 0-19-812978-5
  • Bridget Hill, Christopher Hill: Catherine Macaulay and the 17th Century. Welsh History Review 1967
  • Colin Bonwick: English radicals and the american revolution. Chapel Hill 1977
  • Philip Hicks: Catherine Macaulays Civil War: gender, history and republicanism in Georgian England. Journal of British Studies, Vol. 41, 2002, p. 170
  • Kathryn Temple: Scandal Nation - Law and authorship in Britain 1750-1832. Cornell University Press 2003 (goes into detail on the historian Macaulay and the reception of her historical works)
  • Moira Ferguson: First Feminists. British Women Writers 1578-1799. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, New York, The Feminist Press, 1985, pp. 398-411.
  • Connie Titone: Gender equality in the philosophy of education: Catharine Macaulay's forgotten contribution. Lang, New York, 2004.
  • Sarah Hutton : The Persona of the Woman Philosopher in Eighteenth-Century England: Catharine Macaulay, Mary Hays and Elizabeth Hamilton. Intellectual History Review, Volume 18, 2008, pp. 403-412
  • Sarah Hutton: Virtue, God and Stoicism in the Thought of Elizabeth Carter and Catharine Macaulay. In: J. Broad, K. Green (Eds.): Virtue, Liberty and Toleration. Springer, Dordrecht, 2007, pp. 137–148.

Web links

Commons : Catharine Macaulay  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. She is one of those sites that each foreigner is carried to see , quoted from Kathryn Temple Scandal Nation , p. 135.Walpole, Letters, vol. 5, p. 146.
  2. She has never liked me since , Boswell Life of Johnson , George Birkbeck Hill (editor), Vol. 1, 1887, p. 447. Johnson thus illustrates his view of "everyone in their place". In the same place he calls Macaulay A great republican .
  3. Examples: The Female patriot- epistle from Cte Mcy to the Reverend Dr. Wilson on her late marriage 1779, A bridal ode on the marriage of Catherine and Petruchio 1779
  4. manly strength with the gravity of a philosopher , according to the Dictionary of National Biography
  5. Accusation by Isaac Disraeli , followed by a debate in Gentlemam's Magazine 1794/5
  6. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, citing a letter from Gray in 1766
  7. Anna Clark Scandal - sexual politics of the British Constitution , Princeton University Press, p. 129.
  8. ^ SM Myers: The Bluestocking Circle. Woman, Friendship and the Life of the Mind in 18th Century England. Oxford 1990.
  9. Pat Rogers: The Samuel Johnson Encyclopedia. Article Bluestockings , 1996
  10. quoted from Dictionary of National Biography 1893