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.
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.
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 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.
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.