Reading and politics in early modern England

The mental world of a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman

Author: Geoff Baker

This book examines the activities of William Blundell, a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman, and using the approaches of the history of reading provides a detailed analysis of his mindset. Blundell was neither the passive victim nor the entirely loyal subject that he and others have claimed. He actively defended his family from the penal laws and used the relative freedom that this gave him to patronise other Catholics. In his locality, Blundell ensured that the township of Little Crosby was populated almost entirely by his co-religionists, on a national level he constructed and circulated arguments supporting the removal of the penal laws, and on an international level he worked as an agent for the Poor Clares of Rouen. That he cannot be defined solely by his victimhood is further supported by his commonplace notes. Not only did Blundell rewrite the histories of recent civil conflicts to show that Protestants were prone to rebellion and Catholics to loyalty, but we also find a different perspective on his religious beliefs. His commonplaces suggest an underlying tension with aspects of Catholicism that is manifest throughout his notes on his practical engagement with the world, in which it is clear that he was wrestling with the various aspects of his identity. This examination of Blundell's political and cultural worlds complicates generalisations about early modern religious identities.

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