This chapter sets up the volume by introducing the current state of the historiography on the first British empire, in terms of the sometimes divisive debates about the ‘cultural turn’ and ‘new imperial history’. It highlights the ways in which scholars now seek to build upon such developments while also re-integrating different perspectives and themes, from political economy to religion, law and geography, as well as the interrelationship between policy making in the metropole and policy formation and implementation across the empire. It then demonstrates how the various chapters fit within, but also move beyond, recent scholarship, in order to highlight the wider contribution that the volume makes.
The introduction explores the historiography of the county study. It traces
the flowering of the genre in the 1970s and 1980s and describes the new
approaches since then that justify revisiting this approach to understanding
the English civil war. It then explains the approaches adopted in this
This chapter explores the issues that arose from the ‘transfer’ of Bombay from Portuguese to English control in 1661. It argues that this was a more complex issue than historians have recognised, and that the nature and extent of English sovereignty remained a matter of dispute and a work in progress. Ongoing struggles hinged not only on officials in London and India but also on the regional and geopolitics of imperial expansion, as well as on the critical intersection between maritime and territorial sovereignty. As such, the story offers lessons about the complications at the heart of European claims to colonial sovereignty. Sovereignty, in that sense, was a process rather than a product.
This chapter revisits the famous trial of Warren Hastings, and the prosecution led by Edmund Burke. It does so because this was a fertile moment of what might be called the politics of legal pluralism. Burke understood the impeachment of Hastings as a peculiar and potent form of global legal encounter and came to characterise his dispute with Hastings as a controversy about law, and the trial as a mobilisation of British law to rein in and check the abuse of British power abroad. The trial can be used, in other words, to understand the nature and possibilities of law-governed interactions between Indians and the British, and to explore Burke’s legal pluralism, an increasingly important theme within political-science scholarship, and one with important but hitherto under-developed historical significance.
This collection of essays reappraises the origins and nature of the first British empire. Produced in the wake of protracted and sometimes divisive debates about how best to approach this topic, methodologically and thematically, and in the wake of the so-called ‘cultural turn’, it offers new perspectives and approaches, from some of the most important scholars working in the field, both senior and junior. This is not a matter of returning to older modes of scholarship but rather of learning from the ‘new imperial history’ while also re-integrating political and institutional perspectives. It is not a matter of turning from the experience of empire on the periphery to the study of the ‘official’ mind of empire, but rather of exploring contemporary debates, both within the metropole and across the empire, and how these impacted upon imperial ‘policy’ and its implementation, not least in the face of fairly profound challenges on the ground. These debates ranged widely, and were political and intellectual as well as religious and administrative, and they related to ideas about political economy, about legal geography and about sovereignty, as well as about the messy realities of the imperial project, including the costs and losses of empire, collectively and individually. This book will be of interest to historians and political scientists working in a range of different areas, far beyond merely scholars of empire, and its novel approaches and provocative arguments will help to shape the field on this most important of topics.
This chapter represents a response to the argument about the role of party politics in debates about the British empire, and identifies areas of disagreement relating to the political, economic and intellectual culture that went into shaping imperial expansion. This involves recognising that disagreements existed, while challenging the significance of party alignments, reflecting on the wider historiography and introducing comparisons with the Spanish empire; it also involves expressing some degree of sympathy on wider issues of how to approach the study of empire.
This chapter explores the petitioning campaign in defence of bishops of
January–February 1641 launched by Sir Thomas Aston. It investigates the ways
in which this helped to stymie the hopes for a national settlement around
the establishment of modified episcopacy that John Ley, in conjunction with
allies at Westminster and in the shire, was promoting in the late winter and
early spring of 1641.