Early modern England was marked by profound changes in economy, society, politics and religion. It is widely believed that the poverty and discontent which these changes often caused resulted in major rebellion and frequent 'riots'. This book argues for the inherently political nature of popular protest through a series of studies of acts of collective protest, up to and including the English Revolution. Authority was always the first historian of popular protest. Explaining the complex relationship between the poor and their governors, the book overviews popular attitudes to the law and the proper exercise of authority in early modern England. A detailed reconstruction of events centring on grain riots in the Essex port of Maldon in the crisis of 1629 is then presented. Urbanisation, regional specialisation and market integration were the larger changes against which disorder was directed between 1585 and 1649. The book discusses the 'four Ps', population growth, price rise, poverty and protest, explaining their connection with population explosion to poverty and protest. The major European revolts of the so-called 'Oxfordshire rising' are then analysed. Popular politics might deploy 'weapons of the weak' in a form of everyday politics that was less dramatic but more continuous than 'riot'. On the very eve of the Civil War, large crowds, with underemployed clothworkers, attacked and plundered the houses of local Catholics and proto-royalists among the nobility and gentry. In a culture that proscribed protest and prescribed obedience, public transcripts could be used to legitimise a popular political agency.
Reconstructing popular political culture in early modern England
with the analysis of the operations of power.
An understanding of the structures of power in early modern state and
society provides the context within which to understand the paradox that, in
a culture that proscribed protest and prescribed obedience, these same public
transcripts could be used to legitimise a popularpoliticalagency. The chapters
that conclude this book oﬀer early and later statements of my understanding
of the context for the exercise of a popular agency provided by the deep structures of the English state. Monarchs, aware of the limited forces
critical wisdom which sees Burke
as ‘theatrical’ and Paine as ‘anti-theatrical’. He argues that this identification
ignores the extent to which Burke is an anti-melodramatic writer (a stance
which Burke shares with Coleridge and which arises from their understanding
of melodrama as a form of popularpoliticalagency). I wish to propose an
additional complicating factor, which is that the category of the theatrical
subsumes two rather different forms of politics: the politics of spectacle and
the politics of affect.
Spectacle, as a number of historians have noted, played