Macaulay, Catherine

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Macaulay, Catherine (1731- 1791): English historian.

Catherine Macaulay was born at Olantigh House, Wye, Kent, the second daughter of landowner John and Elizabeth Wanley Sawbridge, London banking firm heiress. Young Catherine and her brother were educated at home, and both became radical sympathizers. In 1760 she married Scottish physician Dr. George Macaulay and began writing her eight-volume The History of England from the Accession of James I to that of the Brunswick Line (1763-1783); its historical sequel (1778) was unsuccessful. She had a daughter from her marriage. Her husband Dr. Macaulay died in 1766.

Macaulay was ridiculed for attempting to be a serious historian and political authority. However, some statesmen and prominent writers, including Gray, Thomas and Horace Walpole, defended her. Her anti-monarchical argument in the History increased her controversial reputation, as did a second marriage to William Graham, 21, when she was 57. Besides history, other topics she wrote on included Hobbesian determinism in her Loose Remarks (1767), women's right to equal education in Letters on Education (1790), injustices of Americans' and Quebecois's taxation (1775), and the need for a copyright law (1774). Letters on Education bases its argument on Christian morality, as Wollstonecraft, Mary was to do (1792). Visiting France in 1777, Macaulay gained many adherents there and in America, where she traveled in 1784-85 and began a correspondence with George Washington. English radicals largely ignored her. Both Gainsborough, Thomas and Wright of Derby, Joseph painted her portrait. She died at Benfield, Berkshire, aged 60.

Further Reading:

Bridget Hill, The Republican Virago: The Life and Times of Catherine Macaulay Historian, 1992.

Mary Jane Curry