Our understanding of the relationship between state and society in England can all too easily be impoverished by adopting a very narrow conception of what constituted the public sphere. Few would doubt that there has always been an intimate connection between the holding of major offices of state and active participation in English public culture. The symbiosis between public office and public life at the centre of the English polity is too obvious to be laboured. The politics of the court, office-holding, and court life were of a piece. Similarly, the development of the London Season and the establishment of annual parliamentary sessions were not unconnected.1 Also, historians of the early-modern period have demonstrated the ways in which the development of county government, notably the greater sophistication of the Quarter Sessions, rested on the emergence of a distinctive, self-referential, and vibrant ‘county community’.2 What has been less fully appreciated, and largely ignored by historians of the Hanoverian period, is the extent to which the development of the parish as a political unit was predicated on the parallel development of a distinctive parochial political culture.
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