Honour and anger
Shipboard politics in 1627
in Revolutionising politics
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This chapter uses the uncontested ‘election’ of the sea captain Sir Francis Stewart in 1627 to explore what voting meant to early modern Englishmen when deferential assent was apparently the only option. The election’s aftermath showed that the sailors tendered their deference in the expectation that the captain would care about them; when their hopes for reciprocity were dashed, they came to suspect that their captain’s eminence had blinded him to their needs. Indeed, Stewart interpreted his men’s expressions of grievances as personal slights and reacted with explosive anger. Two economies of honour thus came into conflict: one expandable and circulatory, in which deference and care were markers of reciprocal esteem, the other zero-sum, in which the status of superiors was bolstered by the humiliation of their inferiors. Stewart was conversant with the first, but shifted into the second when it became clear that the voyage’s rewards would be meagre. For the sailors, the expandable, circulatory model was the only one that offered any satisfaction: when deference became self-abasement, they refused to play along. Taken as a whole, the troubled voyage shows how potent mixtures of material grievances and wounded honour could fuel fighting men’s incendiary challenges to authority.

Revolutionising politics

Culture and conflict in England, 1620–60


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