John Johnstone, Betty Johnstone, and Miss Wedderburn by Sir Henry Raeburn, c1790-c1795, Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, United States)
People Connections Geography Sources Continuations


Welcome to the website for The Inner Life of Empires. Emma Rothschild's book traces the lives of the Johnstones – four sisters and seven brothers from 18th century Scotland – and of their friends, acquaintances, servants, and slaves. The Inner Life is a history of individual people – their careers, trials, travels, ideas, and sentiments. But it is also a story about interactions and relationships which developed and flourished during the period of the Enlightenment, the rise of the British Empire, the expansion of Atlantic and Indian Ocean slavery, and the birth of the modern economy. It is, in the words of one of the central personages, a history of the "troublesome, fluctuating state of human affairs," in the "constitution of states and empire."

This website serves at once as a glossary of some of the people and places most central to the Johnstones and as a guide to understanding the ways in which these people and places related to each other, to their time, and to those who study them. Making use of social network maps and images, the website provides ways to visualize both the grand sweep of the world described in The Inner Life, and the intimate surroundings of its key personages. By mapping the sources used to recreate the inner lives of the Johnstones, and by describing new strands and connections found after the book's publication by interested readers, the website also tries to suggest different ways of interacting with the Johnstones and their world.

The Inner Life of Empires website is delighted to be able to feature remarkable paintings of the Johnstone family and their home at Alva, in the possession of Sir Raymond Johnstone. We are deeply grateful to Sir Raymond.



Published 2013, revised 2017