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The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy Hardcover – October 24, 1990

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 830 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (October 24, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300047614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300047615
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 2.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Columbia historian Cannadine offers a detailed study of the decline of the "British landed establishment" from 1880 to the present, due to political, economic, and social changes. Most of his analysis is centered on the period which saw the biggest changes, 1880-1930, and concentrates on England, while touching on Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Intertwined in the overall picture are tidbits about notable families. Cannadine has synthesized a multitude of secondary sources for this work. He includes a detailed index which, however, lacks some names and subjects. His dense book is much too long for the general reader. Primarily for students and specialists working on this topic.
- Kathleen Farago, Lakewood P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

"A brilliant, multifaceted chronicle of economic and social change." --The New York Times

"No praise can be too high." --The New York Review of Books

At the outset of the 1870s, the British aristocracy could rightly consider themselves the most fortunate people on earth: they held the lion's share of land, wealth, and power in the world's greatest empire. By the end of the 1930s they had lost not only a generation of sons in the First World War, but also much of their prosperity, prestige, and political significance.

Deftly orchestrating an enormous array of documents and letters, facts, and statistics, David Cannadine shows how this shift came about--and how it was reinforced in the aftermath of the Second World War. Astonishingly learned, lucidly written, and sparkling with wit, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy is a landmark study that dramatically changes our understanding of British social history.

"Cannadine has produced a great book, one that is comprehensive in its scope, and of critical importance."                                                                    --London Review of Books --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Having said that, I found the book well written and thoroughly researched.
In their absence, women were forced to manage- and prevail- during great social upheaval, political shifts, and financial constraints.
Cannadine handles all of this rather well bolstering each of his claims brilliantly.
M. A Newman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 88 people found the following review helpful By R. H OAKLEY on March 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
David Cannadine is probably the leading historian of the British aristocracy and landed gentry. The readers of this book will fall into two classes (1) serious historians of the period, and (2) readers of English fiction from Trollope to Waugh who would like to know more about the aristocracy. The latter may find parts of this book heavy going. Cannadine is concerned with the history of a class, and individuals are discussed to illustrate his points. Additionally, a working knowledge of British political history of the period covered (1870-post WWII) is presumed.
Having said that, I found the book well written and thoroughly researched. Cannadine's work is too complex to be reduced to a short summary, but basically the aristocracy found itself beset on all side from around 1880 onward. A prolonged agricultural depression lowered their incomes, and created political pressure to break up the big estates. The increase in the franchise and the end of pocket boroughs undercut their power in the House of Commons. This in turn led to the aristocracy being abandoned even by the Tory party, which realized where the votes were. Ever increasing estate taxes (especially during and after World War II) approached confiscatory levels, requiring families to sell off their land. And many aristocrats found themselves completely unable to cope with those changes. Those who could cope did so largely by breaking the mold of the landed aristocracy of tradition.
Anyone looking for a "Brideshead Revisted" view of the aristocracy will be disappointed. But anyone who wants to know the pressures on the real-life equivalents of the characters of Waugh or Trollope will be greatly informed by this book.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By M. A Newman VINE VOICE on June 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
How is it that the owners of Britain's stately homes, who once lived magnificently, now are reduced to admitting paying visitors to keep their homes? While this question is never asked in David Cannadine's book, it is answered nonetheless.
Cannadine manages rather adroitly to discuss the long downward spiral of the British aristocracy amidst the backdrop of the history of Great Britain in the 19th and 20th century. There was a time in which these great magnates practically owned or controlled most of the wealth of the nation. What went wrong?
A better question might be, what went right. Although they managed to control politics, the military, the church and the civil service, the position of these guardians of Britannia was undermined by two things, the industrial revolution (which put up a new manufacturing class in opposition to the traditional nobles) and the rise of popular democracy. The first three reform bills drastically weakened the traditional hold of the aristocracy on the political process. During the 19th century it was a rare government that did not include several if not many representatives of the titled orders. By late the 20th century, the presence of one of these would seem somewhat quaint, a reminder of by gone days.
But it was not just the loss of political power that undermined the aristocracy, the immediate pre WWI years were a disaster of the first magnitude with Lloyd George and his "people's budget."
One wonders what would have happened to someone of Lloyd George's ilk in the 17th century. Doubless he would have shared the same fate as Bishop Laud.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
A century ago, the British titled class was still God's elect: the wealthiest, most powerful, and most glamorous segment of the population. Then things began to fall apart and this rather scholarly work attempts to explain why. The popular assault on "landlordism," the proliferation of titles, the democratic revolution, the question of Irish independence, the escape of many of the nobility to the farther corners of the empire where they could still wield something like their old power, the institution of life peerages, plus the leveling effects of two world wars -- all took their toll and resulted in today's titled elite becoming, for the most part, an elegant anachronism surviving precariously on the margins of British society. The author's style and wit are especially evident in his vignettes of such characters as Wilfrid Blunt, Lord Howe, and the Mitford sisters, but this book will still demand some intellectual commitment from the reader.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on January 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an absolute must read for anyone interested not merely in the decline of British aristocracy, but in the swift changes wrought in British society, politics and literature from 1880 to the outbreak of WWII. Cannadine does cover WWII and the following decades, but he gives them rather short shrift, for, as the exacting and exhaustive main body of this magisterial work makes superabundantly clear, the British aristocracy was already in rigor mortis by then.

What made this work so indispensable to me was that it showed the actual, very real, background for literary works written during this period: Waugh, Wilde, Wodehouse, Yeats and, of course, the Mitfords. If you want to know the reality of what happened to estates like Waugh's fictional Brideshead, you will learn all about the land devaluation, estate taxes and encumbrances on such estates originally contracted in order to ensure entail and jointures, but now spelling their doom. You will meet many, all too many, real life Lady Marchmains and understand more fully the social backdrop which makes them totally unsuited for the 20th Century.

And, well, let's just take an actual case: Bertrand Russell. Primogeniture ensured that the gentrified earldom in which he came of age passed onto his brother. In previous eras, a generous codicil with annuity would have, nevertheless, granted him lifelong security. Unfortunately, due to land devaluation, his brother went bankrupt and lost everything except the title. Russell, too, lost everything and became a Socialist member of the Labour party, not entirely because of his ideological position and philosophical beliefs, but because of something deeper from which they arose: a visceral animosity to the industrialists and capitalists who now controlled the country.
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