Crowds and popular politics in early modern England

Author: John Walter

Early modern England was marked by profound changes in economy, society, politics and religion. It is widely believed that the poverty and discontent which these changes often caused resulted in major rebellion and frequent 'riots'. This book argues for the inherently political nature of popular protest through a series of studies of acts of collective protest, up to and including the English Revolution. Authority was always the first historian of popular protest. Explaining the complex relationship between the poor and their governors, the book overviews popular attitudes to the law and the proper exercise of authority in early modern England. A detailed reconstruction of events centring on grain riots in the Essex port of Maldon in the crisis of 1629 is then presented. Urbanisation, regional specialisation and market integration were the larger changes against which disorder was directed between 1585 and 1649. The book discusses the 'four Ps', population growth, price rise, poverty and protest, explaining their connection with population explosion to poverty and protest. The major European revolts of the so-called 'Oxfordshire rising' are then analysed. Popular politics might deploy 'weapons of the weak' in a form of everyday politics that was less dramatic but more continuous than 'riot'. On the very eve of the Civil War, large crowds, with underemployed clothworkers, attacked and plundered the houses of local Catholics and proto-royalists among the nobility and gentry. In a culture that proscribed protest and prescribed obedience, public transcripts could be used to legitimise a popular political agency.

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