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Portrait of Catharine Macaulay by Robert Edge Pine, circa 1775

Catharine Macaulay (born Catharine Sawbridge and, by the time of her death, Catharine Graham) (1731‑1791) was an English historian.



A daughter of John Sawbridge of Olantigh, a landed proprietor from Kent, she was an advocate of republicanism, and a sympathiser with the French Revolution. She wrote a History of England from the Accession of James I to the Elevation of the House of Hanover (8 volumes, 1763‑83), which had great popularity in its day, some critics, e.g. Horace Walpole, placing it above Hume.

Macaulay was one of the leading political activists of her day, and was involved in various reforming groups. She was an active supporter of John Wilkes during the Wilkesite controversy of the 1760s and closely associated with the radical Society for the Supporters of the Bill of Rights. Her works were critically acclaimed, financially successful and politically influential in her own period.

She wrote in 1790 in her Letters on Education, as Mary Wollstonecraft did in 1792, that the apparent weakness of women was due to their mis-education.[1]

The increasingly radical nature of her work and her scandalous marriage to William Graham in 1778 damaged her reputation in Britain, where she lived in Bath, Leicestershire and then Binfield in Berkshire. Her histories continued to be popular in America. They provided an interpretation of British history as a constant struggle for virtue and liberty not yet achieved, and played a significant role in the formation of revolutionary ideology.

She was personally associated with many leading figures among the American Revolutionaries. She stayed at Mount Vernon with George Washington and his family in 1785; the two continued to correspond about the organisation of the ideal government for the remainder of her life.

She died in Binfield on 22 June 1791 and was buried in All Saints' parish church there.

Macaulay (seated, far left), in the company of other "Bluestockings" (1778)


Her status as a somewhat scandalous woman writer with a damaged reputation has allowed her to be forgotten or disregarded by later historians of eighteenth-century literature and politics. However, her significance as a writer and political thinker is increasingly recognised. Her work has been the focus of a growing number of recent studies, a trend which seems set to continue.


As well as her eight-volume history of England, Catherine Macaulay published various other works of political and philosophical importance. Loose Remarks on Certain Positions to be found in Mr. Hobbes’ Philosophical Rudiments of Government and Society with A Short Sketch of a Democratical Form of Government in a Letter to Signor Paoli (1767) contributes to discussion of the Corsican crisis. She produced two published challenges to Edmund Burke, Observations on a Pamphlet, Entitled, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770) and Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke, on the Revolution in France, in a Letter to the Right Hon. The Earl of Stanhope (1790). The Address to the People of England, Scotland, and Ireland, on the Present Important Crisis of Affairs (1775) responds to the ideological debates surrounding the war with the thirteen colonies. Her Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth (1783) engages with religious and philosophical issues and was republished in her Letters on Education with Observations on Religious and Metaphysical Subjects (1790). This itself was an important contribution to educational discussion.


  1. ^ Walters, Margaret (2006). Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 30. ISBN 019280510X.  

External links

This article incorporates public domain text from : Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.



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