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A royal city in a time of revolution
Author: J. F. Merritt

This book examines the varied and fascinating ways in which the series of non-monarchical regimes of England’s civil wars and interregnum interacted with the unique locality and community of Westminster. Westminster (as opposed to London) was traditionally viewed as the ‘royal’ city – the site of Whitehall Palace and the royal courts of justice, its Abbey reputed to be the ‘house of kings’, and its inhabitants assumed to be instinctive followers of the monarch and the royal court. Westminster emerges in this study as a site of extraordinary ambiguities and juxtapositions. The promoters of vigorous moral reformation and a sustained and often intrusive military presence coexisted uneasily with the area’s distinctive forms of elite sociability and luxury. The state’s foremost godly preachers performed in close proximity to royalist churchmen. More generally, the forces of political, religious and cultural conservatism can be observed on the very doorstep of parliament and non-monarchical regimes. Yet for Westminster as a whole, this was the time when the locality became tied to the state more tightly than ever before, while at key moments the town’s distinctive geography and local government played a significant role in shaping the political crises of the period. Chapters analyse the crisis of 1640-42, the use of Westminster’s iconic buildings and spaces by the non-monarchical regimes, the sustained military occupation of the locality, the problems of political allegiance and local government, the religious divisions and practices of the period, and the problematic revival of fashionable society in a time of political tension.

Abbey, court and community 1525–1640
Author: J. F. Merritt

Early modern Westminster is familiar as the location of the Royal Court at Whitehall, parliament, the law courts and the emerging West End, yet it has never been studied in its own right. This book reveals the often problematic relations between the diverse groups of people who constituted local society - the Court, the aristocracy, the Abbey, the middling sort and the poor - and the competing visions of Westminster's identity which their presence engendered. There were four parishes in Westminster at the turn of the sixteenth century. The parishes of St Martin's and St Margaret's have been identified as two of only eighteen English parishes for which continuous and detailed parish records survive for the turbulent period 1535-1570. Differences in social organization, administrative structure and corporate life in the two parishes also provide a study in contrasts. These crucial differences partly shaped forms of lay piety in each parish as well as their very different responses to the religious reformations of Henry VIII and his children. The death of Henry VIII heralded important changes in Westminster. Most strikingly, however, this was a period of major religious change, in stark contrast to the piecemeal changes of Henry's reign. The dissolution of Westminster's abbey gave rise to special problems. The book examines individuals who wielded the most influence at the local government; as well as the social identity of these parish elites. Finally, it explores the interaction of religion with the social and political developments observed in the post-Reformation town.

Abstract only
J. F. Merritt

This chapter emphasizes how historians have neglected the town of Westminster, despite its being one of the most populous and influential towns in England. It describes the main themes of the book – and especially the central question of how a town that was indelibly associated with the crown became the political, administrative and cultural centre of the parliamentary, republican and protectoral regimes that replaced monarchy. It explains that the book will demonstrate how Westminster was both fundamentally changed by its experience of these years, and also how its distinctive character exercised an important influence on the military, religious and cultural politics of the period. The chapter also provides an introduction to the social, political and cultural geography of the area in 1640 and its forms of local government.

in Westminster 1640–60
Westminster, 1640–42
J. F. Merritt

This chapter examines the experience of the town of Westminster during 1640-42, when it was the stage upon which the national political crisis unfolded. Forms of local opposition to Personal Rule policies, and the highly contested local parliamentary elections, are noted, while particular attention is paid to the ways in which fears of Roman Catholics in the area, partly whipped up by local MPs, helped to heighten political tensions. The chapter also analyzes the complicated ways in which Westminster’s inhabitants, and particularly its trained bands, sought to negotiate the polarizing political situation, demonstrating how Westminster’s trained bands were deployed in different ways by both sides, and how in the aftermath of the King’s flight a number of Westminster inhabitants petitioned parliament assuring it of their support. While this has been presented by historians as a ‘radical’ petition, analysis here demonstrates that it reflected a much broader cross-section of local society, principally motivated by a desire to assure parliament of local support so that it would not relocate to London.

in Westminster 1640–60
The militarization of Westminster
J. F. Merritt

This chapter examines the neglected topic of Westminster’s militarization, both during the civil war and especially after it. In contrast to much of the rest of the country, it was actually after the civil war that a military presence became more firmly established in the town in the decade that followed the military occupation of Westminster in December 1648, when permanent garrisons were entrenched at its heart. The chapter examines the extent and nature of military involvement in the locality, including the impact of regular security ‘scares’ over suspected royalist plots, and significant military/civilian clashes in the election of Westminster’s own local MPs. The chapter also focuses on what this meant for inhabitants – not just a regular round of military musters, marching troops and busy garrisons, but also the seizure of horses, the searching of goods and letters by courts of guard, occasional affrays, public displays of military justice, and armed searches of private houses.

in Westminster 1640–60
Sites and rites, 1642–60
J. F. Merritt

The 1640s and 1650s saw the state assume an unprecedented predominance in the public life of Westminster. This chapter reveals for the first time how Westminster Abbey lay at the religious and ceremonial heart of the interregnum regimes, while its daughter church of St Margaret’s only began its special relationship with the House of Commons in these years. Not only is Westminster shown to have served as the daily ceremonial heart of government (both religious and secular), but it also hosted the institutions and personnel of government to a remarkable degree. The political events of the 1640s and 1650s led to the commandeering of aristocratic townhouses and other prominent buildings and public spaces in Westminster in a manner that held deep symbolic resonance. The chapter argues that the current notion of Westminster as ‘national space’, with its churches and buildings closely associated with state government, was very much a creation of the 1640s and 1650s.

in Westminster 1640–60
J. F. Merritt

This chapter considers the issue of political allegiance in Westminster during this period, and how far this fed into divisions in local government and the outcome of parliamentary elections. A first section provides an in-depth analysis of the Westminster peace petition of December 1642, which survives bearing almost 3000 signatures. These peace petitioners, most of whom were not active royalists, formed a continuum of conservative political and religious sentiment among the lower levels of local and parish government throughout the period. More committed royalists also continued to be a presence in the locality throughout this period. The upper ranks of local government are though shown to have been occupied by parliamentary loyalists who still mostly originated in the traditional bureaucratic and courtly circles of Westminster, while the Abbey is ironically shown to have resumed much of its traditional political control of the area, even though it was now in the hands of Independents and regicides. Amid these local tensions, Westminster’s inhabitants made determined if ultimately unsuccessful attempts to seize the opportunity to secure the separate incorporation of the City of Westminster.

in Westminster 1640–60
J. F. Merritt

This chapter challenges the traditional assumption that the gentry season and fashionable society of the West End disappeared during the years of civil war and interregnum. While noting the degree of wartime disruption, the chapter traces the rise of post-war building and the beginning of large-scale planning developments in the area, forms of elite sociability and the notable revival of a vibrant fashionable society centred on the fashions and entertainments on display in Hyde Park, Spring Gardens and the New Exchange. However, the chapter also emphasizes the ambiguous and qualified nature of this revival, the schizophrenic attitudes of the authorities, and the ways in which the spectre of further prosecution hung over the royalists and ex-royalists who constituted the indispensable core of this elite fashionable society.

in Westminster 1640–60
J. F. Merritt

This chapter analyzes the extraordinary diversity of religious life in Westminster in these decades. While nationally famous puritan preachers performed in Westminster’s many fashionable pulpits (eg. St Martin in the Fields, Covent Garden), more careful analysis reveals a messier reality of compromise and resistance to religious reforms in the parishes. Some ministers were able to promote elements of puritan reform (restricted communions), yet religious conservatism was still a persistent presence in the area, especially in the parish of St Margaret’s, whose church had nevertheless been adopted by the House of Commons for its most important religious services. Beyond the parish churches, still more heterodox and even overtly royalist services were being performed. This chapter thus reveals a colourful spectrum of religious ideas and activities even on the doorstep of government, and often intense arguments over the nature of the parish community and of its religious life.

in Westminster 1640–60
Abstract only
J. F. Merritt

This chapter summarizes the findings of the book and looks ahead to the Restoration settlement. It emphasizes the ways in which Westminster was shaped by the succession of executive governments in its midst, who appropriated its buildings and spaces in a newly exclusive manner and made Westminster for the first time seem an exclusively ‘national space’. But it also stresses the ways in which distinctive aspects of the town – not least its geographical vulnerability – could also shape the politics being played out there, and how Westminster’s persistently conservative political, religious and cultural forces were able to withstand and influence in their turn the interregnum regimes, even while the military might of the government was garrisoned at the very heart of the town.

in Westminster 1640–60