In 1538, in the midst of the Reformation in England, Henry VIII decided to provide new Lenten regulations. His intervention which relaxed some of the more stringent dietary prohibitions was not hastened by any religious change of heart but born out of a socio-economic problem – the skyrocketing price of fish during Lent and the consequent starvation of the poor. From hereon in, until the last Lenten proclamation of 1662, the matter of Lent became a battleground of warring economic and regional factions, disruptive religious ideologues, exasperated government officials and parliamentary intervention. Adding to the problem was the widespread evasion of the regulations both by the lower classes priced out of the Lenten market and by the wealthier segment of society able to buy their way out. This chapter traces the changing nature of Lenten proclamations, Privy Council orders and local regulations. In doing so it highlights the inability of the state to enforce its will on a reluctant population despite incessant cajoling, the evolving severity of Lenten punishments, failed attempts to devolve authority to the localities and the clash between the remnants of ‘Popish’ rituals and the new Protestant emphasis on state-sanctioned fast days.
This collection of essays is set up to explore the dynamics of local/national political culture in seventeenth-century Britain, with particular reference to political communication. It examines the degree to which connections were forged between politics in London, Whitehall and Westminster, and politics in the localities, and the patterns and processes that can be recovered. The fundamental goal is to foster a dialogue between two prominent strands within recent historiography, and between the work of social and political historians of the early modern period. Chapters by leading historians of Stuart Britain examine how the state worked to communicate with its people and how local communities, often far from the metropole, opened their own lines of communication with the centre. The volume then is not meant to be an exhaustive study of all forms of political communication but it nevertheless highlights a variety of ways this agenda can be addressed. At present there is ongoing work on subscriptional culture across the nation from petitioning to Protestation, loyal addresses, lobbying and litigation to name but a few. It is hoped that this volume will provide a reminder of the gains to be made by placing political communication at the heart of both social and political history and to provide an impetus for further scholarship.
Central initiatives and local agency in the English civil war
In 1650, anticipating a Scottish invasion, a Herefordshire parliamentarian published a pamphlet enumerating the ‘plunderings, losses and sufferings’ in the county at the hands of the Scottish army’ that had besieged the city of Hereford in 1645. The pamphlet, an abstract of 160 parish accounts of losses, might be regarded as a strategic deployment of information efficiently gathered by central authority from the localities. Clearly, the increased scope, and energy of central government in early modern England can be demonstrated through the soliciting of information from the localities as well as through its transmission, and Parliament’s civil war regime was no exception, albeit in more contested circumstances. But the drawing up accounts of civil war losses does not demonstrate straightforwardly successful enforcement or willing compliance. Accounting reveals instead the strength of local agency, not through disobedience but in responses that subverted central priorities. It was a form of political communication that used manuscript and print to reflect on local experience, and to conduct intra-parliamentarian disputes, while also prompting broader reflections on the public service and the burdens of war, generating political agendas that were national in scope but certainly not set by central authority.
This chapter sets up the volume by exploring the historiography relating to the issues that provide its focus: the relationship between ‘centre’ and ‘locality’ in the early modern period, and the role of communication – including both print culture and manuscript transmission – within contemporary society. This involves reflecting on ideas and arguments regarding the ‘county community’, and on how historians have tackled crucial issues like the ‘social depth’ of politics, state formation and developments in parliamentary politics, as well as the print revolution, but it also involves suggesting that social and political historians have only rarely found ways of entering into a productive dialogue with each other on these crucial issues. Finally, it highlights the fruitful ways in which the chapters use explorations of communicative practices in order to rethink not just relations between centre and locality but also the ways in such terms ought to be conceptualised.
Between 1649 and 1651, Oliver Cromwell and parliamentarian forces invaded and conquered both Ireland and Scotland. In the wake of these conquests, the regime embarked upon a dramatic state building project in both countries, implementing a variety of administrative, legal, educational, religious and commercial initiatives with the aim of integrating the two countries into the new commonwealth. Despite clear orders from Whitehall on how to build this ‘new’ state, English authorities in Scotland and Ireland quickly ran into problems executing these ambitions. This chapter looks at how circumstances on the ground in interregnum Scotland and Ireland affected the implementation of ideas and institutions. The situations in the two countries provide a particularly unique lens through which to see how communication changed from centre to periphery to ‘sub-periphery’. That is, not only did communication flow from London to Dublin and Edinburgh, but, once in receipt of the information, officials in the Irish and Scottish capitals sent the decrees further onwards to administrators in remote corners of the two countries. Needless to say, the end results in places such as Kerry and Orkney frequently deviated from the original parliamentarian vision.
While most historians analysing the 1620s have focused on Buckingham’s great expeditions – Mansfelt, Cadiz and the Ile de Re – contemporaries, particularly along the east coast, had their eyes on Dunkirkers, comparatively small Spanish warships then eviscerating English shipping. Indeed between late 1625 and early 1628, these Flemish corsairs captured no fewer than 522 English vessels. Several dozen Parliament-men in 1626 loudly and repeatedly complained about this situation, but aside from periodic bland reassurances, Buckingham apparently did nothing. Yet thanks to Add. MSS 37,816-7, we can see that Buckingham did respond to the complaints. In addition to repositioning naval assets to guard coastal shipping, he repeatedly exhorted his captains to try harder, rewarding those who did and punishing those who did not. He also pressed for the acquisition of small, more manageable warships which had some hope of catching Dunkirkers, and he organised relief schemes for those Britons imprisoned in Flemish jails. Furthermore, he constantly harped on these and many other counter-measures, all in the hope of soothing parliamentary critics. What makes this blizzard of orders so astonishing is that they effectively ended with the parliamentary dissolution.
When scholars investigate the spreading of news, print plays a dominant role and if manuscript comes into play at all it is usually in the form of the newsletter. Letters usually take a back seat. This begs the question, what kind of news did people send by the post and what kind of ties did it create between centre and locality? This chapter uses the letters sent to Theophilus Hastings, the 7th Earl of Huntingdon, to answer this question. An inspection of these letters reveals two kinds of news correspondents and two kinds of news that circulated through letters. Hastings received his news from official correspondents, individuals from whom he solicited news and only news, and from family dependants during their travels. However, this conduit for news worked both ways. News from the locality mattered as much as ‘Citie News’. When Hastings travelled to London dependants sent him ‘Countrie News’ or ‘home news’. This type of news is often left unexamined. However, it was just as important for Hastings to be up to date on the politics of the parish as it was for him to know the politics of the nation.
This chapter examines the transmission of news in, through and about Newgate prison in the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. Although Newgate was not located in the provinces, the prison’s special structure of governance, its famously exotic customs, the difficulty of access to it and the high concentration of prisoners from Scotland and the northern counties that it housed after 1715 justify treating it conceptually as a ‘locality’. Newgate was at once psychologically distant from the coffee houses that comprised London's public sphere and yet seen by a wider public as the site and source of important political knowledge that impacted the legitimacy of the new regime. The news out of Newgate covered a wide range of topics: the alleged abuse of the ‘Jacobite Jew’ Frances Francia by Townsend to extort information, the general laxity or brutality of the prison wardens, the courage or cowardice or impudent debauchery of prisoners awaiting death or reprieve, the ‘truth’ about the Jacobite defeat at Preston. This chapter asks what news the denizens of Newgate had access to, and what news they themselves produced or recycled, and at why and how news about Newgate would reach a wider public.
This chapter examines hitherto unknown sources relating to provincial popular mobilisation in support of the ‘Leveller’ agenda in 1648. One of the chief goals is to explore a little-studied phenomenon – rural support for the Leveller programme. It will do so by exploring a region, the south-west, that has been almost entirely neglected in scholarship on concerted radical political mobilisation (David Underdown, the region’s leading historian, overlooked this material, arguing that there was no discernible Leveller petitioning activity in the area). The chapter aims to work out the underlying sources of support for this agenda, and to map the connections between mobilisation in the localities and more familiar Leveller activities in London. More broadly, the chapter seeks to clarify the relationship between Leveller agitation and the broader political revolution of 1648–49. It will be demonstrated that the coalition of militant parliamentarians who supported the ‘Leveller’ agitation in the south-west was essentially coextensive with the constituency pushing for regicide and political revolution; moreover, after the regicide, this radical parliamentarian network supplied critical local infrastructure and backing for the republican and protectoral regimes of the 1650s. The chapter thus aims to explore the popular and local basis for political revolution and republicanism.
English corporations, Atlantic plantations and literate order, 1557–1650
This chapter revisits the problem of political communication between centre and province in early modern England, using the records of an English corporation (a chartered urban community on the Welsh border) and of a plantation (a chartered commercial settlement on the Atlantic frontier) to analyse the nature of communication through charter as an early modern political project and its implications for beliefs about order and agency on the margins of this complex political society. It argues that models drawn from the study of literacy have more value for understanding the early modern experience of authority in this type of political communication than do the structural terms of centre and province or locality. Drawing from the books written by their officers, the chapter examines a range of practical political activities in the borough of Tewkesbury during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and in the Gloucester plantation from its inception in 1642.