Monarchy, medicine and moving around the map: How times changed in 18th-Century England

Sarah Heath

The 18th Century in England saw many changes and advancements. Queen Anne oversaw the joining of England and Scotland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The country lived under its first German-speaking King and survived not one but two separate Jacobite uprisings. Explorers became renowned for their first ever expeditions to faraway locations like Africa, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Science took huge leaps forward too, with ‘firsts’ in the fields of astronomy, surgery and reducing the impact of transmissible diseases, among others. Many engineering feats, sporting events and cultural arrivals also helped to shape and advance the country over what turned out to be 100 highly influential years.


Queen Anne and a new Kingdom

Queen Anne of England

The 18th Century began with the Stuart Queen Anne of England inheriting the throne in 1702 when she succeeded King William II. Just five years later, she became Queen Anne of Great Britain, when Scotland joined England to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

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1707 Queen Anne - Union of England & Scotland Historical Medallion by J Croker

Anne ruled for 12 years until her death in 1714. She led the country in a war with Spain involving several European countries and British colonies in America. Queen Anne fell pregnant 17 times but suffered a series of stillbirths, miscarriages and infant mortalities so did not leave an heir. In fact, the death of Queen Anne led a year later to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 – the first Jacobite rising and the start of almost half a century of civil unrest.


Britain’s first George

King George The First

The Jacobites favoured Queen Anne’s closest relative, James Stuart, to take over the British monarchy from her after she died. However, James was a Roman Catholic and many British Protestants objected to him becoming king. So, the crown went instead to King George 1. However, George was Hanoverian and couldn’t speak a word of English. James Stuart raised an army in 1715 in Scotland and carried out an unsuccessful attempt to oust him.


King George I remained unpopular with Britons throughout his reign. Despite this, he formed a government with the Whigs, who quickly dominated politics. He named Robert Walpole, a Whig politician, Britain’s first Prime Minister in 1721. This was a direct result of the South Sea Company collapse in 1720, which led to an economic crisis for Great Britain and the 1721 Jacobite appeal against the house of Hanover. It sparked a shift is power that saw the monarchy becoming less and less involved with the day-to-day machinations of government. George I died in 1727 and was succeeded by his son, also called George.

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1721 James III (Elder Pretender) Appeal Against the House of Hanover Historical Medallion by Otto Hamerani 

Georges II and III

King George II
King George III

George II became known as the last British King to actively fight in battle when he led his troops against the French at Dettingen during the War of the Austrian Succession. Aside from that, he took little interest in politics, leaving the direction of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) to the then Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. He did manage to see off the second and last Jacobite rebellion in 1745, when, notably, Carlisle was recaptured by the English. The ‘Young Pretender’, Charles Edward Stuart landed in Scotland with his forces, only to be defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This was the last battle to be fought on British soil.

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1745 Carlisle Recaptured: Jacobite Rebels Retreat to Scotland Historical Medallion by A Kirk & J Kirk

1745 Prince Charles the Young Pretender Historical Medallion by Pingo or Roettier

1746 Battle of Culloden Historical Medallion by R Yeo

George II had nine children and died in 1760. His eldest son, Frederick, pre-deceased him by nine years, which meant that his grandson, another George, inherited the throne. George III reigned for 59 years, making him the longest reigning British monarch of the time. During his time on the throne, the American Revolution took place (1765 to 1791), creating the United States of America and gaining the country independence from British sovereignty. 

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1732 George II - Royal Family Historical Medallion by J Croker / J S Tanner

Science, engineering and more

Montague House-British Museum 1753

Closer to home, Queen Anne and the three King Georges all oversaw the arrival of many scientific advancements, engineering innovations and sporting and cultural successes. Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1710. The first race meeting was held at Ascot a year later. Astronomer James Bradley calculated the speed of light in 1728. The British Museum was founded in 1753 and Dr Samuel Johnson finished his seminal Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. In 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts was founded and ten years after that, the world’s first iron bridge was built in Shropshire. Astronomer, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, initially naming it George’s Star in honour of King George III.

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1845 Joshua Reynolds, Painter Historical Medallion by A J Stothard

As for 18th-century medicine, there were many renowned achievements, including the 1720 publication of English physician, Richard Mead’s work: A Short Discourse concerning Pestilential Contagion, and the Method to be used to prevent it regarding the science of transmissible diseases. Mead was King George II’s own physician and opened a hospital for foundling children. He died in 1754.

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1754 Richard Mead Memorial Historical Medallion by L Pingo

1752 St Thomas Hospital - Cheselden Medal (First Struck in 1829) by W Wyon

1752 Cheselden was a surgeon at St Thomas Hospital in London in 1720, his work significantly improving survival rates.

 William Cheselden giving an anatomical demonstration to six

William Cheselden was an English surgeon who worked at St Thomas Hospital in London in 1720. He was instrumental in establishing the science of surgery as a separate medical discipline. Cheselden published The Anatomy of the Human Body in 1713, which became hugely popular among medical students, largely because it was written in English and not Latin as was customary at that time. Then, as the century neared its end, scientist Edward Jenner brought hope to millions with his discovery of the smallpox vaccine.


Explorers and discoveries

1798 Battle of the Nile

Over in France, Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 and went on to lead several successful military campaigns in Europe during the French Revolutionary Wars. Many of these battles involved British armies, fighting to keep him at bay. Three notable events from Napoleon’s campaigns were the 1798 Battle of the Nile, Naval action off Tory Island that same year and the 1799 Restoration of Ferdinand IV. A lesser known fact about the French Emperor’s various campaigns was that the Rosetta Stone was discovered by one of his Captains after demolishing an ancient wall in the city known as Rosetta in Egypt in 1799.

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1798 Battle of the Nile Historical Medallion by J G Hancock/P Kempson

1798 Naval Action Off Tory Island Historical Medallion by T Wyon Snr

1799 Restoration of Ferdinand IV Historical Medallion by C H Kuchler

British explorer, James Cook

Around the world, other explorers were starting to become active during the 18th Century. For example, British explorer, James Cook completed his first ever expedition around New Zealand in 1769, also visting eastern Australia and Hawaii and other places in and around the South Pacific. John Richardson was a naval surgeon who also became famed as an explorer in his own right, sailing along the Canadian Arctic coast. Londoner, William George Browne explored Egypt, Africa and the near East in 1792.

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1779 Captain Cook Memorial Historical Medallion by L Pingo


Marking major 18th-century events

As with many other events and innovations of note, a number of medals and medallions have been struck to commemorate monarchy, celebrate scientific successes and honour explorers, discoverers and innovators of all kinds. Historical Medallions has an enviable range of 18th-century medals and medallions in good condition. They mark key historical events, military campaigns and royal milestones, as well as celebrating the achievements of 18th-century explorers including James Cook and providing prizes from medical institutions like St Thomas Hospital in London. Events that took place across the rest of Europe and beyond during the historically rich 18th Century are also commemorated by several medals, available online right now.


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