The Improvement of Society

Both William III and Anne’s reigns were marked by definite efforts to improve society, for instance 7 Will. III, c. 9, ‘An act for the more effectual supressing of prophane Cursing and Swearing’ and 6 Anne, c. 17, ‘An Act for suppressing lotteries and Gaming-tables’ (11 Anne, c. 6, had a similar purpose). Despite tales of Hellfire Clubs, most parliamentarians upheld the Established Church and orthodox theology, and paid at least lip-service to the civilised conventions of the day; for instance, 7 Will. III, c. 17, was ‘An Act for the better observance of the Lord’s Day …’.

There was also a certain paternalism that led them to object to the sale of adulterated and bad drugs or medicines, highlighted in 9 Geo. II, c. 10. A social evil that repeatedly attracted the attention of parliament (6 Anne, c. 16; 9 Geo. II, c. 11) was the abduction and marriage of children, particularly heiresses, against their parents’ will. Probably the problems tackled, and tackled repeatedly, by parliament were those caused by poverty and disease.