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Divisive Representations: Media and Emotions in Early Eighteenth-Century English Political Celebrity

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posted on 2024-06-07, 05:05 authored by Rachel BoddyRachel Boddy

This thesis explores how media sources represented political celebrities in early eighteenth-century England. It argues that writers deployed certain words, images and tropes to instigate deeply divisive emotional responses from their readers, pushing beyond the notion of intimacy often discussed in celebrity studies. Moreover, writers often highlighted the same facts or events about an individual to present contrasting representations. Political celebrities’ representations in media were thus often intense and conflicting: media sources shaped representations in the context of the divided and rancorous political milieu, building on emotions relating to past and current political events. This thesis investigates these emotional representations in the media via close analysis of how commenters discussed the lives of Sarah Churchill (1660–1744), Duchess of Marlborough, and the Reverend Dr. Henry Sacheverell (1674–1724). Sarah and Henry were non-traditional political celebrities: Sarah saw herself as playing a key role in court politics as advisor to Queen Anne before their contentious split in 1711. Henry used the pulpit to preach politics and was impeached for it in 1710. Sarah’s influence with Queen Anne and Henry’s outspokenness made them both lightning rods for media sources: pamphlets, books, broadsheets, satirical images, portrait reproductions, playing cards all featured Sarah and Henry as subjects. Such opinionated media sources offered specific points of view and deployed emotive language and images. Scholars have analysed the hundreds of printed materials produced in the early eighteenth century, but not via an emotional lens. Media sources helped to create the public image of Sarah and Henry, building upon or detracting from self-fashioning both Sarah and Henry attempted during years of heated political debates. This thesis is organised around themes of authority, nation, religion and gender and explores how writers discussed politics through representations of Sarah and Henry. The Glorious Revolution, notions of freedom and tyranny or even expectations about gender linked ideologies to celebrities. Equally, ideas about the state of the church and about expected masculine or feminine behaviours were fruitful routes for media sources to depict both figures in a positive and negative light. Media thus linked the public persona of the celebrity to issues much greater than themselves to elicit emotional reactions.

Whether writers tried to play on positive or negative emotions, they either purposefully or inadvertently enhanced the celebrity status of Sarah and Henry. Multiple, simultaneous emotional representations explain how a celebrity could be portrayed both as a figure of adoration and a figure of disdain. Where previous studies of celebrity have discussed notions of intimacy, hinting at a positive emotional connection, this study explores the negative as well as positive emotions that could be used in emotional representations of political celebrities, more explicitly drawing out the emotional tensions of political celebrity. As such, this thesis highlights five emotions that recur throughout these media representations: anger, fear, shame, admiration and sympathy. These multiple positive and negative emotional representations co-existed even when they contradicted one another.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Hunter, Kate