Yet after all this he is gone hence, and I remain, an airy phantasm walking about his sepulchre and waiting for the harbinger of day to summon me out of these midnight shades to my desired rest — Lucy Hutchinson, Final Meditation’
“I write not for the presse to boast my own weakness to the world” — Lucy Hutchinson.
Lucy Hutchinson and the English Revolution by Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille is an extremely important and long overdue evaluation of Lucy Hutchinson’s historical writings and her Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson. The memoirs, although written between 1664 and 1667, were not published until 1806, and the Memoirs were largely forgotten in the twentieth century. It could be said that Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille rescues Lucy Hutchinson from the condescension of history.
Gheeraert-Graffeuille has had a little help in this rescue mission. The early 1980s saw more historians and literary scholars interested in Hutchinson and other female writers. Hutchinson’s book challenges the assumption that early modern women could not write the history of the English Revolution. Gheeraert-Graffeuille shows that Lucy Hutchinson was a reader of ancient history and a gifted historian of the English Revolution. She should be ranked alongside Richard Baxter, Edmund Ludlow, and Edward Hyde.
The 17th-century philosopher and historian Lucy Hutchinson was the wife of Colonel Hutchinson, a regicide who sent Charles I to his execution in 1649. Without his wife’s memoirs, this significant figure of the English Revolution would have been lost to history.
Lucy Hutchinson was born in 1620 to a class of landowning merchants. She had a comfortable childhood, and her father was a lieutenant of the Tower of London. Hutchinson was part of a growing gentry, later among the most dominant class forces during the English Revolution. From a political standpoint, she dominated the marriage. She was able to pursue a significant political involvement that was not available to most women. However, she could not publish under her name using her husbands or remaining anonymous.
At the beginning of the English Revolution, the Hutchinson family rejected the Royalist cause and became firm Republicans. Her book Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson is an extremely important documentation of the English Revolution. While an intimate account of her husband’s actions during the revolution, it is a highly lucid political and sociological analysis of British history’s only successful social revolution.
Gheeraert-Graffeuille seeks to restore Hutchinson to the pantheon of writers of the 17th-century English Revolution. Figures like Thomas Hobbes, one of the most important early materialist thinkers, tend to dominate mainstream accounts of the English Revolution.
Hobbes wrote at a time of war And revolution in Europe. Particularly endemic was the Thirty Years War. This war shaped Hobbes’s world view leading him to write his world-famous view of the state of nature expressed in chapter 13 of Leviathan, in which he describes the life of man in a state of nature as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.” The state of nature was how human society fell when civil society broke down. Ann Talbot said, “For Hobbes, the state of nature was not an abstract, theoretical construct. It was something that existed in large parts of Europe. Hobbes’s response to these very real causes of fear was to attempt to construct a scientific and materialist theory of politics that was revolutionary in its implications and was to reverberate through the Enlightenment.
Hutchinson was a different type of thinker than Hobbes. As Chris Dite writes, “Hutchinson diverges from Hobbes. “Disorder” is not some wild state of nature but the corrupt existence of man-made hierarchies. “Order” is their destruction and replacement with something natural, good and just. Think of her order-and-disorder schema as a kind of “socialism or barbarism” for the first revolutionary movement of early capitalism.”
Hutchinson, according to Dite, sought to steer a middle course. He writes, “Two disastrous poles emerge in Hutchinson’s account. The first is Oliver Cromwell and his Grandees, who successfully vie for a republican oligarchy. Hutchinson is too proudly independent to support their brutal centralisation, and she condemns them as corrupt slaves to their ambition. The second is the Diggers — proto-communists who “endeavoured the levelling of all estates and qualities.” This is no less disturbing to Hutchinson, who viewed private estates — overseen by good-hearted landlords committed to justice for the poor and the mighty — as the model community. So this victorious Hutchinson — so attuned to the power dynamics of revolutionary change — finds herself too “virtuous” to further usher in any new world. As Cromwell’s dictatorship fell apart upon his death, the monarchy returned to power in 1660. John was arrested on suspicion of plotting against King Charles II and died in prison.”
Despite the woeful lack of media coverage, this is an important book. It rightfully restores Lucy Hutchinson’s place amongst the great figures of the 17th century, such as Hobbes, Harrington, Baxter, Edmund Ludlow, and Edward Hyde.