This chapter examines the practices and language of voting and electoral choice in England’s towns in the early seventeenth century. Taking as its starting point Mark Kishlansky’s depiction of consensual politics in Parliamentary Selection, the chapter interrogates that model by looking closely at decision making and voting in municipal government. The routines for electing mayors and other officers and for voting on civic business illustrate the multiple forces at play in voting. Structures and language of consensus, hierarchy and deference wrestled with majority decisions, individual choice and claims of right to participate. Procedures in borough governance such as the cursus honorum, strict seniority and narrowed participation instilled hierarchical order and promoted unanimity. Yet other mechanisms, including ballot boxes, vote tallies and majority decision-making, reinforced with ideas about free voices and the legitimacy of participation, also characterised urban government. Kishlansky’s emphasis on deferential practices that fostered unanimous decisions and orderly choice in elections requires amendment in the urban context, where the habit of regular voting, and the issues of division and counting that went with it, also informed political practice. An interplay between varied impulses, always in tension, shaped urban political culture in early Stuart England.
The Eikon Basilike was the most widely printed English book of the seventeenth century and played a crucial role in shaping English political imaginary for generations after the Civil War. The work has been widely studied by literary specialists, but rarely by historians of politics or political thought. This essay offers a preliminary reading of the implicit and explicit political theory of the Eikon, exploring its account of monarchy, its Stoic features and its traditional ecclesiology. Rather than an apology for divine right absolutism, the Eikon attached itself to a more measured, constitutional understanding of monarchy. Its use of Christological imagery, as opposed to the more Davidic scriptural motifs favoured by James I, represented an ingenious effort to snatch a royalist ideological victory from the jaws of military defeat. The heroic sacrificial quality of Charles as portrayed in the Eikon dovetailed with the Stoic features of the text and with its pronounced rejection of fashionable reason-of-state thinking. But it was, above all, the dualist or ‘Laudian’ ecclesiology of the Eikon that generated the greatest controversy. The elevated account of clerical authority contained in the text made it a staple of Restoration piety, but also fuelled enormous hostility. The chapter traces these elements of the Eikon’s reception through the long-running controversy over the work’s supposed – and often doubted – royal authorship.
Recent writing about human rights history focuses on the twentieth century. But in the 1640s and 1650s a handful of English contrarians campaigned for human rights by expanding on the language of ‘birthrights’ derived from theology and law. These campaigners did not invent human rights, nor can we place them in an intellectual genealogy leading to human rights today. Nonetheless, they began to imagine some key elements of modern human rights: as inherent and universal, inalienable and nonderogable. Such rights claims of the mid-seventeenth century offered a position from which to challenge the presumed primacy of sovereigns and their laws. The human rights of Gerrard Winstanley and his Digger companions differed from our own, resting as they did on a unique approach to biblical exegesis and on a mystical rationalism that modern historiography has a hard time explaining. Winstanley’s ideas focus on the community rather than the individual and are deeply concerned with human flourishing; they are unconcerned with laws and international institutions of the kind we now associate with human rights. Understanding these ideas reveals the human rights we do not have, especially for their insistence on universal access to food, clothing and shelter, the enjoyment of which Winstanley believed was entailed on all humanity by divine will.
Orchestrating English polemics in Paris and The Hague, 1645–8
During the English Civil War, royalist and parliamentarian diplomats tried to foster a European public sympathetic to one cause or the other. Surviving diplomatic papers of the 1640s allow us to glimpse agents on both sides translating and printing polemical works for continental readers. Walter Strickland, Parliament’s agent in The Hague, organised the printing of a Parliamentary Declaration after royalist reports of Archbishop Laud’s ‘good death’ won sympathy among Dutch audiences. On the other side, Sir Edward Nicholas and other royalists in France used a Paris press to make a more successful rebuttal of rumours that Charles had conspired in his own father’s death. These two case studies of overseas press campaigns suggest the possibilities of what a broader examination of how the British Revolution played in continental print culture might yield.
This essay examines the role of gender in the causes of the English Civil War. It integrates feminist scholarship and methodology with the political events and concerns of the 1630s. By exploring the work of William Prynne, particularly The Unloveliness of Lovelocks and the more famous Histrio-Mastix, it demonstrates that Prynne’s concern with both moral corruption and women’s and men’s dress recapitulated key concerns of the debate on women from 1615–20. Prynne was concerned that inappropriate dress – in the world or in the theatre – was a violation of the proper gender order, as well as of Christian and English purity. The implication in Histrio-Mastix was that Charles I’s long hair made him not just sinful, but a failed patriarch. Gender was central to the political and cultural conflicts of the 1630s.
Necessity, public law and the common law emergency in the Case of Ship Money
David Chan Smith
The Case of Ship Money (1637) was one of the most important precipitators of conflict leading to civil war in England. Crown lawyers urged that the ship money levy was justified by necessity and emergency. These arguments are traced back through the legal sources to demonstrate the growing importance of ideas of necessity and reason of state as tools of government policies during the early seventeenth century. The chapter demonstrates that the Crown’s claims were not unprecedented but had emerged from an older common law tradition. By the time of Ship Money there was a near-consensus even among the judiciary that an emergency could justify an exception to the law. Debate ensued over the conditions under which the exception might emerge, who could declare it and the scope of emergency powers. The case is thus also part of the larger history of emergency powers and their capacity to reshape political and legal norms.
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.
Paul D. Halliday, Eleanor Hubbard, and Scott Sowerby
Mark Kishlansky spent his life fascinated with politics. Early in his career, he mapped the rise of ‘adversary politics’ in the 1640s out of what he saw as a previously consensual political culture. He thus became a leading figure associated with ‘revisionism’ in seventeenth-century English history. Over time, Kishlansky’s interests drew him to the cultural history of politics, but he did not take the cultural turn. He operated with a grounding presupposition about humanness: that individuals’ choices matter, and in a monarchical society, no individual’s choices mattered more than the king’s. Taking monarchy seriously was the ultimate expression of Kishlansky’s central commitment: to understand past historical actors on their own terms. Doing so would revolutionise our understanding of politics. The essays in this book aspire to a paradoxical kind of historiographical revolution: one sparked by analytic modesty. As Kishlansky would have wanted it, they address particulars: practices and moments, authors and arguments that indicate the lineaments of revolution. Instead of wrestling with the hoary question of why a revolution happened in the 1640s and 1650s, they speak to how revolution worked. Taken together, they suggest the diversity of interest and ecumenism of method that reflects the state of the field and Mark Kishlansky’s own approaches to political history.
Robert Skinner explains the ideological underpinnings of the Personal Rule
This chapter uses the court sermons of Robert Skinner, a coming man at court and in the episcopate, to explore the relationship of Arminian theology to the churchmanship and political attitudes of the Personal Rule, and in particular to the virulent anti-puritanism that was so constitutive of Caroline religio-political ideology. It argues that such theology was at the root of the Laudian programme and that Skinner’s sermons, only one of which was printed at the time, give us a privileged insight into the inner workings of the Laudian and Caroline regimes. Through them we can in fact observe those regimes talking to themselves. By taking what we find there seriously we can gain real insight into what Caroline insiders up to and including Laud and Charles I thought they were doing and what true Christianity amounted to.
Twelve friends of the late Mark Kishlansky reconsider the meanings of England’s mid-seventeenth-century revolution. Their essays range widely: from shipboard to urban conflicts; from court sermons to local finances; from debates over hairstyles to debates over the meanings of regicide; from courtrooms to pamphlet wars; and from religious rights to human rights. Taken together, these essays indicate how we might improve our understanding of a turbulent epoch in political history by approaching it more modestly and quietly than historians of recent decades have often done.