Writing the history of parliament in Tudor and early Stuart England

The enduring controversy about the nature of parliament informs nearly all debates about the momentous religious, political and governmental changes in early modern England – most significantly, the character of the Reformation and the causes of the Revolution. Meanwhile, scholars of ideas have emphasised the historicist turn that shaped the period’s political culture. Religious and intellectual imperatives from the sixteenth century onwards evoked a new interest in the evolution of parliament, shaping the ways that contemporaries interpreted, legitimised and contested Church, state and political hierarchies. For much of the last century, scholarship on parliament focused on its role in high politics, or adopted an administrative perspective. The major exception was J. G. A. Pocock’s brilliant The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (1957), which argued that competing conceptions about the antiquity of England’s parliamentary constitution – particularly its common law – were a defining element of early Stuart political mentalities and set in motion a continuing debate about the role of historical thought in early seventeenth-century England. The purpose of this volume is to explore contemporary views of parliament’s history/histories over a broader canvas. Historical culture is defined widely to encompass the study of chronicles, more overtly ‘literary’ texts, antiquarian scholarship, religious polemic, political pamphlets, and of the intricate processes that forge memory and tradition. Over half of the essays explore Tudor historical thought, showing that Stuart debates about parliament cannot be divorced from their sixteenth-century prelude. The volume restates the crucial role of institutions for the study of political culture and thought.

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