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.
Richard Culmer and the practices of polemic during the English Revolution
Richard Culmer – the famous Canterbury iconoclast – shares certain characteristics with the well-known Presbyterian preacher from the civil wars, Thomas Edwards. Both were controversial ministers, and both became involved in the world of print culture and pamphleteering. With both men, however, there has always been a danger that the printed pamphlets are studied in order to reconstruct their lives and ideas, or the beliefs and activities of those that they studied, in ways which left unanswered questions about the role that print played within their careers, and the ways in which they thought about its uses. Of course, pioneering work by Ann Hughes has helped to revolutionise our understanding of the print revolution, and the innovative ways in which Edwards appropriated print as part of mobilisation strategies. This piece revisits the texts produced by and about both Richard Culmer and his son, in order to deepen our understanding of the nature, practices and role of polemic during the civil wars and interregnum, not least in relation to the ways in which pamphlets deployed evidence in order to mould reputations, and did so in ways that might be thought to have resonated – perhaps in different ways – both nationally and in the locality.
Political communication and the rise of the agent in seventeenth-century England
The historiography regarding communicative practices in the early modern period tends to involve overly neat trajectories, which map the supplanting of sociable networks by commercial relationships, and trace the decline of scribal culture in the face of a print revolution. At the very least, it has been possible to argue that print became a central mechanism for connecting centre and locality. Of course, scholars continue to debate how best to assess the relative importance of scribal and print genres, as well as the impact of the commercial revolution. What this chapter seeks to argue, however, is that there are other much less well recognised ways of challenging such Whiggish narratives, by questioning the degree to which print was an accessible and unmediated method for obtaining ideas and information, and by recognising the obstacles which continued to undermine the accessibility of print. As such, any appreciation of the significance of the ‘print revolution’ needs to investigate how these obstacles were overcome, and this chapter seeks to highlight the central importance of the professional agent in facilitating a shift from sociable scribal networks to a commercial culture of print, while at the same time making such a change seem much less stark.
This chapter is a study of the relationships between Parliament, print and petitioning in revolutionary England. Jason Peacey explores the tension between the potential for political participation at Westminster and the problems related to this practice, and argues that this tension allows for a better understanding of political radicalism in the English Revolution. His essay rests on two foundations: first, the idea that an information revolution relating to Parliament developed in the seventeenth century, which made political information affordable; second, a sense that Parliament was extremely useful, hence citizens’ increased participation in its proceedings, not least through petitioning. Peacey highlights the radicalisation of petitioners’ rhetoric from case studies and argues that that radicalism was forged by forces that brought together disparate individuals whose ideas were shaped by their involvement in participatory politics.
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.
Medieval history in parliamentarian polemic, 1641–42
This essay examines how England’s medieval parliamentary history – from Henry III to Henry IV – was deployed for polemical purposes in the months surrounding the outbreak of the Civil Wars. In particular, the aim is to both acknowledge and move beyond the ‘baronial context’ of the English Civil Wars, in which reflections on medieval history were used to justify a form of ‘parliamentarian’ rhetoric that afforded the peerage a decisive role. By examining a range of neglected popular pamphlets that appeared in print during the months leading up to conflict, the essay demonstrates instead how evidence relating to the fourteenth century began to be used to reflect on parliamentary power and on the House of Commons, and to discuss the possibility of deposing and executing ‘unprofitable’ kings and of electing and binding their successors. Attention is drawn to an important shift in parliamentarian rhetoric regarding the king and parliament. It is argued that the treatment of medieval parliaments reveals incipient political radicalism in the opening weeks and months of the Civil Wars.
These interdisciplinary essays explore new directions in the history of the English Revolution. They are designed to honour Ann Hughes, whose work has transformed scholarship on the mid-seventeenth century, and they are driven by the idea that historians have focused more upon the causes of the revolution than upon its course and consequences. In developing various strands of Hughes’ work, contributors address the transformative effects of political and religious upheaval during the 1640s and 1650s, and revise our understanding of ‘public politics’, in terms of the practices, debates, and communicative strategies associated with the ‘print revolution’, with polemic, and with the mobilisation of opinion. Crucially, these practices and debates are shown to have taken place in the public domain, in front of, but also with the involvement of, various overlapping and intersecting publics, right across the country. Examining these phenomena provides fresh perspectives on political and religious radicalism, from canonical authors to sectarian activists, as well as on relations between ‘centre’ and ‘locality’, and on connections between ideological endeavour and everyday politics. In bridging the divide between ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ politics, moreover, the essays also develop new approaches to participation, by soldiers and members of the parliamentarian army, by ordinary Londoners, and by provincial parishioners. Critically, they also analyse the involvement, agency, and treatment of women, from all walks of life, and in both activism and debate. Collectively, the essays rethink both the dynamic and the consequences of the revolutionary decades.
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.
Rethinking public politics in the English Revolution
Peter Lake and Jason Peacey
This chapter offers a substantial historiographical introduction, reflecting upon the debates of the last fifty years, upon the ‘fate’ of the English Revolution, and upon the possibilities for reasserting the significance of the events of the 1640s and early 1650s, not least in response to ‘revisionist’ scholarship. Arguing that responses to the revisionist challenge have in many ways been less robust regarding the ‘course’ – as opposed to the ‘causes’ – of the civil wars, it builds upon the most important recent work in the field – much of it by contributors to this volume – by highlighting the need to analyse the conduct and content of ‘public politics’, as revealed in and transformed by developments in print culture. This makes it possible to reflect not just upon issues like ‘mobilisation’ and the ‘creativity’ of contemporary politics, but also to revisit issues like localism and radicalism, and to reconfigure our appreciation of the dynamic processes of contemporary debates. In other words, while the chapters are informed by analysis of print culture, they seek to integrate print culture into different aspects of public life, in order to rethink the fissures and fault lines within contemporary society, and to reframe how these affected political and religious change. Finally, the introduction sets such work in the context of, and in dialogue with, the work of Ann Hughes, in whose honour the volume has been produced.
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.