Edinburgh's Urban Enlightenment and George IV: Staging North Britain, 1752-1822

Pirrie, Robert (2019). Edinburgh's Urban Enlightenment and George IV: Staging North Britain, 1752-1822. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


From 1752 until the visit of George IV in 1822, Edinburgh expanded and improved through planned urban development on classical principles. Historians have broadly endorsed accounts of the public spectacles and official functions of the king’s sojourn in the city as ersatz Highland pageantry projecting a national identity devoid of the Scottish Lowlands. This study asks if evidence supports an alternative interpretation locating the proceedings as epochal royal patronage within urban cultural history.

Three largely discrete fields of historiography are examined: Peter Borsay’s seminal study of English provincial towns, 1660-1770; Edinburgh’s urban history, 1752-1822; and George IV’s 1822 visit. The analysis reveals how authorial preferences have shaped secondary literature, obscuring common urban cultural forms and inhibiting potentially illuminating synthesis. The study’s resulting hypothesis is to flex and extend Borsay’s analytical framework to characterise as an ‘Urban Enlightenment’ the cultural resurgence and planned expansion of Edinburgh, 1752-1822. The concept is developed using primary sources to identify similarities and distinctions between Edinburgh and English provincial towns, before being applied to primary sources relating to the royal visit, disclosing cultural patterns that conform to the ‘Urban Enlightenment’ paradigm.

The study concludes that reframing George IV’s visit within urban cultural history offers fresh insight into the role of the city in projecting Scottish identity. This proposes new perspectives on widely disseminated interpretations, suggesting historians’ disproportionate concerns over the legitimacy of Highland cultural signifiers have eclipsed Edinburgh’s Urban Enlightenment as a context for the royal visit.

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