English Revolution

Regicide-The Trials of Henry Marten-John Worthen-Haus Publishing-30/08/2022-ISBN-13: 9781913368357

“If the world was emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John and John with Lilburne.”

Henry Marten

“Let that ugly Rascall be gonne out of the Parke, that whore-master, or els I will not see the sport.[1]

Charles I

“And therefore, Sir, to give you your due and right, I must ingenuously a•… knowledge, that I have for a long time looked upon you, as one of the great p•…lars of the Liberties of the Commons of England, and your name amongst all ju•… and unbiassed men, hath been extraordinary famous this present Parliament, therefore, and for this, you suffered an expulsion of the House, and a reproachfull a•… unjust imprisonment in the Tower of London, by the guilded men of the time who (you then discovered) carried two faces under one hood; & many monet•… (if not some yeares) you continued an ejected person from your just place in th•… House”[2]

Rash oaths unwarrantable-John Lilburne

“He was a great lover of pretty girles, to whom he was so liberall that he spent the greatest part of his estate”. He was a great and faithfull lover of his Countrey, and Never gott a farthing by Parliament. He was of an incomparable Witt for Repartes; not at all covetous; not at all Arrogant, as most of them were; a great cultor of Justice, and did always in the House take the part of the oppressed”.

John Aubrey 

John Worthen’s biography of Henry Worthen is both intriguing and illuminating. It is a sympathetic portrait of one of the leading figures of the English revolution. Marten was a republican way before it became fashionable, being the only convinced Republican in the Long Parliament at the outset of the civil war and was one of the few leaders of the English revolution to be intimately connected with the Leveller movement.

The book is deeply researched, drawing extensively on letters Marten wrote while awaiting trial. He was accused of organising the trial of Charles I and being one of the signatories of the King’s death warrant. Amazingly, these letters remained intact since, during his captivity, his letters to his mistress Mary Ward were stolen and published in an attempt to destroy his reputation. However, their publication revealed a thoughtful, intelligent and tender man. Worthen’s use of them is to be commended. They are an extraordinary source material.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Marten was at the fulcrum of the English bourgeois revolution. But history has not been kind to Henry Marten. Today, he is a neglected historical figure. If any person needed to be rescued from the condescension of history, it was Marten. It has not helped that several conservative and revisionist historians have heaped a pile of dead dogs on his historical reputation. Many have repeated old accusations that he was a womaniser and have tended to downplay his importance or close connection to the Leveller movement.

The unseriousness of these historians is perhaps encapsulated by the article in the august publication, The History of Parliament Blog, by Dr David Scott called Sex in the Long Parliament, in which he writes, “No sex survey of the Long Parliament, however brief, can omit its supposedly most libidinous member, the arch-republican MP for Berkshire, Henry Marten. Parliamentarians and royalists alike denounced him as a libertine and ‘whoremaster’. Yet this moral outrage owed less to his womanising than to the shamelessness with which he abandoned his wife and lived openly with his mistress, to whom he seems to have remained faithful to the end of his life in 1680. The greatest sexual offence a Long Parliamentarian could commit was refusing to acknowledge it as an offence at all. If this were a defence of Marten’s reputation, I would hate to see him attacking him.[3]

Worthen does not buy into Marten being a whore-master. Charles I’s accusation, alongside many others, has been largely accepted down through the ages. A far more reasoned explanation can be found in Sarah Barber’s article for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. She writes, “His reputation for whoring seems to have been generated by the flagrant way in which he breached conventional mores by openly living with a common-law wife, Mary Ward, whose brother, Job, was parliamentarian commander of the fort at Tilbury. There is evidence that they were a couple from as early as 1649 when they lavishly entertained visiting dignitaries and kept liveried servants together. They may well have been a couple from Marten’s earliest time in London in 1640. If so, this was a relationship that remained constant for forty years. It was, however, adulterous, and Marten was quite open about it. Mary referred to herself and was referred to by others as Mary Marten. There were frequent plays on the word ‘leveller’ to argue that Marten’s radical political stance was, in fact, a synonym for the seduction of women, and satires on Mary to imply his possession of a ‘creature’, in the same way, that his regiment and his political power were bought. The couple had three daughters: Peggy, Sarah, and Henrietta (Bacon-hog).[4]

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Worthen’s book is his failure to pursue more in-depth research into Marten’s close connection to the Leveller movement, particularly his association with its leader John Lilburne. Further research is needed also regarding Marten’s time in the New Model Army and to the extent of Leveller’s ideas permeating the Army. Did Marten spread Leveller inspired ideas amongst his troops, and how did he come by the secret codes that the Levellers used to hide their correspondence?.

According to Sarah Barber, “Marten developed a close working relationship with the Leveller leaders during the late 1640s. He was closest to John Wildman, who was to marry Lucy Lovelace. Wildman was named with Marten in a cypher outlining sympathetic individuals and regiments, as well as identifying opponents, during the army agitation of summer 1647. Throughout their lives, Marten and Wildman retained their cypher letters as pen names. John Lilburne also trusted and respected Marten. The latter chaired the committee charged with examining Lilburne’s imprisonment, a committee that was unable to secure Lilburne’s release, and in Rash Oaths Unwarrantable. The Leveller published an invective against Marten. Marten was hurt by Lilburne’s personal attack and drafted a reply, ‘Rash censures uncharitable’, but did not publish it. The two seem to have mended their relationship and developed mutual respect. Marten also knew several minor Leveller figures. He took part in negotiations to draw up an Agreement of the People and was praised by Lilburne as the only parliamentarian to actively do so in late 1648. Marten approved of the idea of a fundamental constitution and was later, with Edward Sexby, to assist the frondeurs in drawing up a similar agreement for the French rebels”.[5]

Despite Worthen’s reluctance to deeply pursue Marten’s connection with the Levellers, this is a much-needed attempt to restore Marten’s historical importance. Hopefully, this book gets a wide readership and opens up a debate about the much-maligned Marten.

Notes

S. Barber, A revolutionary rogue: Henry Marten and the English republic (2000)

Henry Marten and The Levellers at the National Portrait Gallery-john Rees- www.youtube.com 

About the Author

JOHN WORTHEN is a biographer and historian. Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham from 1994-2003, he is the author of critically-acclaimed biographies of D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Robert Schumann.


[1] Aubrey’s Brief Lives-By John Aubrey

[2] Early English Books Online- https://proquest.libguides.com/eebopqp

[3] Sex in the Long Parliament- https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2019/08/22/sex-in-the-long-parliament/

[4] https://www-oxforddnb-com.

[5] https://www-oxforddnb-com 

Review: The Mayflower in Britain: How an icon was made in London, Graham Taylor- Amberley Publishing, 2020.

Steve Cushion

Most accounts of the Mayflower voyage of 1620 concentrate on the history of the Pilgrims in North America, which is hardly surprising as the Mayflower, the Pilgrim Fathers and Plymouth Rock have become part of the foundation mythology of what was to become the United States of America. The strength of this book is that it concentrates on the previous history of the Pilgrims themselves in Holland and England, thereby giving a greater understanding of their motivations and intentions.

The Pilgrims were “Separatists” meaning that they believed that the Church of England was too corrupt to be reformed and so set up their own organisation. This was illegal in England during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I as the Church of England was very much part of the state’s mechanism of control. To escape persecution, members of this sect, which would probably be called a “cult” today, emigrated to the Dutch town of Leiden where they set up a community in relative freedom, led by their pastor John Roninson, and where others of their persuasion joined them.

These Separatists, also known as “Brownists” after Robert Browne who had formed an earlier such separate church organisation seen as their forerunner, wanted to set up what would become known as a “gathered church”, that is a church based on government by consent of those who agreed a covenant voluntarily. The Leiden group eventually became dissatisfied by their exile. Their children were becoming more Dutch than English, while the Brownists saw the English as God’s chosen people, and their economic situation was far from ideal. So they decided to set off for North America to found a settlement which could be run according to their principles. This, however, required financing.

In order to pay for the ships and supplies, the future colonists needed financial backing, which came from a group of London merchants. The book describes well the way in which the early modern London financial services industry operated. The organisers of the Mayflower voyage, therefore, had to get involved with some London merchants, some of whom more or less shared their beliefs, but others just wanted a fast buck from a colonising enterprise. As the book says: “They recognised in each other’s causes the mirror image of their own, and all they asked for was freedom to pursue their trade deals or practise their religion” and “progress towards toleration was always interwoven with progress to free trade“. What is not mentioned is that one area of free trade in which the London merchants were very keen was the slave trade. We are told that “An Act of Parliament of 1689 ‘allowed anyone to export cloth anywhere’“.[1] Equally important but not mentioned was the Trade with Africa Act 1697 which ended the Royal Africa Company’s monopoly in the slave trade. This was where the real money was to be made.

However, whatever the motives of the financial backers of the Mayflower voyage, the Pilgrims themselves seem united in their opposition to slavery and their desire to get on well with the indigenous people they would meet. But, while recognising the obvious good intentions of the Pilgrims, it may be interesting to consider how these principles were put into practice. The book says little about Myles Standish, the Plymouth colony’s military leader and slips quickly over his massacre of a group of warriors of the Massachusett nation at Wessagusset. Having been told that this group of warriors intended to attack an English colony, Standish invited them for a meal and murdered them while they were his guests. True, Standish was not himself a Brownist, but he was hired in Holland by the future Pilgrims and they must have known that he was a brutal mercenary. To quote a recent BBC news item: “a hard man who got his retaliation in first“. The book, having described John Robinson’s objections to the killings,  says:

Despite Robinson’s ethical strictures, the effect was not too damaging. As it was action done in concert with Indian allies there was no racial element as such and the number of Indians supporting Plymouth actually increased“.[2]

This is to view the matter from an English perspective. The Plymouth colony was allied with the Pokanoket people led by their Sachem, Massasoit. The Pokanokets had been in dire straits when the Mayflower arrived, devastated by smallpox and threatened by the neighboring Narragansett and Massachusett peoples. Massasoit saw his opportunity and was able to use his alliance with the well armed Plymouth colony to vastly improve his position. Central to this was Standish’s massacre at Wessagusset, that seems to have terrified many of the surrounding people into either fleeing or accepting the domination of Massasoit, who was able thereby to form the Wampanoag confederacy under his authority.

Massasoit was a remarkable political operator and there must be a suspicion that he manipulated the whole affair, possibly inventing or exaggerating the threat that the Massachusetts intended to attack the English settlers. Be that as it may, Massasoit was certainly able to use his alliance with the English to destroy his enemies. Edward Winslow, a later governor of Plymouth colony, in describing the effect on other indigenous nations in the locality, wrote:

This sudden and unexpected execution hath so terrified and amazed them, as in like manner they forsook their houses, running to and fro like men distracted, living in swamps and other desert places, and so brought manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof many are dead“.[3]

This highlights the point that, whatever their intentions may be, colonists arrive in a situation with its pre-existing politics and divisions where they cannot be neutral. And, before long, the Plymouth colony had to contend with another neighbour, the puritan-led Massachusetts Bay colony.

The book is very clear that the Separatists should be distinguished from “Puritans”, who agreed that the Church of England was corrupt, but felt it could be reformed. The image of the puritans that emerges from the book is one of viciously intolerant bigots. The problem for the Pilgrims was that, in the decade after John Winthrop set up the Massachusets Bay colony in 1630, 21,000 more settlers arrived, dwarfing the Plymouth colony which, in any case, had a much poorer harbour. From then on it was Winthrop and the puritans who set the pace. Even the radical Brownist, Roger Williams, founder of Providence Plantation on Rhode Island, was instrumental in persuading the Narragansetts to side with the colonists during the 1637 war between Massachusetts Bay and the Pequot nation; not that it did him or his colony any good in the long run as they were excluded from the 1643 military alliance of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven, known as the United Colonies of New England. After the English victory, many Pequot prisoners of war were sold into slavery in the puritan colonies of the West Indies.

Maybe I could take the liberty of using this review to reply to the book’s accusation that Danny Reilly and myself, in our book Telling the Mayflower Story: Thanksgiving or Land Grabbing, Massacres & Slavery?:

held [the Mayflower pilgrims] responsible for the puritan persecutions in New England from Williams to Salem, and they were held responsible, as the first successful colonists in New England, for colonialism, slavery and the genocide of the native Americans“.[4]

We clearly need to apologise for a lack of clarity. Our main purpose was to document how the history of the Mayflower has been used as propaganda throughout the history of the USA, frequently to sanitise a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacist version of democracy.

Let there be no misunderstanding, we are not blaming the Mayflower colonists for genocide and slavery, but we are saying that, out of the many thousands of early settlers, the romantic story of this small group has been used consistently to conceal genocide and to whitewash the deep involvement of New England in the business of slavery.

Once the beaver had become virtually extinct through over-hunting, the region needed another source of income and turned to supplying the slave islands of the English Caribbean with horses, timber, candle oil, flour, dried fish and barrels. Rhode Island, the successor to Providence Plantation, became a centre of the slave trade. The 18th century saw the rise of the New England Colonies as slave-carriers rather than direct exploiters of slave-labour as the English slave colonies and New England became mutually economically dependent.

An important trading triangle went between New England to West Africa then on to the West Indies. A slave could be purchased in Africa for 150 gallons of rum which cost £3 to produce in North America and could be sold for between £30 and £80 in Barbados. As Boston, Salem and Nantucket becoming the pre-eminent slaving ports in the region, distilling became the largest manufacturing industry in New England.

While some of the Mayflower settlers obviously maintained their principles, others were swept along with the logic of colonisation. Thus, on the one hand, Roger Williams set up Providence Plantation and, after his earlier misguided alliance with Massachusetts Bay, maintained peace with the Narragansetts for 40 years, while on the other hand, Edward Winslow sided with John Winthrop against religious toleration and ended up as part of Oliver Cromwell’s “Western Design” that vastly extended England’s slave economy by seizing Jamaica.

The author has spoken of the way in which the Chartists, Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln have stressed the anti-slavery element of the Mayflower story. More commonly, however, it has been used to promote free-enterprise capitalism and conceal the legacy of genocide and slavery. As Munira Mirza, one time member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who moved speedily to the right and became Deputy Mayor of London under Boris Johnson who subsequently promoted her to Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit, wrote:

It is the story of how liberal values were born in northern, Protestant Europe and how they eventually flourished throughout America. No one should gloss over the horrific crimes and brutality of many English settlers – they are a stain on history and ought to be acknowledged in the commemorations too. But the early ideas of those first few Pilgrims and City of London investors also drove the eventual defeat of slavery, and have shaped our own modern ideas of equality and justice, democracy and freedom. None of this would have been possible without early capitalism and the forces it unleashed.[5]

While disagreeing with the book’s conclusions and rejecting the use that has been made of it by the likes of Munira Mirza, I recognise this book as an important contribution to the debate, with a wealth of detail on the early years of the Pilgrims in Leiden. Anyone interested in the political and organisational world of the dissenting religious sects of the late 16th and early 17th centuries will find it most useful.

Steve Cushion is joint author with Danny Reilly of Telling the Mayflower Story: Thanksgiving or Land Grabbing, Massacres & Slavery?, Socialist History Society

 and

Up Down Turn Around, The Political Economy of Slavery and the Socialist Case for Reparations, Caribbean Labour Solidarity


[1] Mayflower in Britain, p.330 & 314 [page references are to the Kindle version]

[2] Mayflower in Britain, p.231

[3] Quoted in: Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower, A Voyage to War, Penguin, 2006, p.154

[4] Mayflower in Britain p.330

[5] Munira Mirza, Let’s celebrate the pilgrims, not demonise them, UnHerd, 2018

Ann Hughes on ‘Side-Taking in the English Civil War’

I have spent just over half an hour this morning watching a video recording of Professor Ann Hughes talking to an audience at Cheadle and Marple College on 29th September, 2018 on the subject of the choices people made on which side to support in the conflicts of the 1640s in England. England was her main focus although she did have comments to make on the Scottish revolt against Charles I of 1638 and the Irish Rebellion of 1641 later in her remarks.

She had some very sensible remarks to make about the nature of English society in the pre-Civil War period, on the importance of the spread of literacy and of the availability of news in print, on economic and social changes affecting the fortunes of the upper ranks of society, on the prosperity of the ‘middling sort’ and the difficulties of the poor.

There was also guidance on divisions over how far the Church of England had been fully or partially ‘reformed’ and on reactions to Charles I’s ecclesiastical policies that aroused fears of a return to Popery. Ann Hughes made some important comments too on the degrees to which the Long Parliament and the King succeeded in appealing to potential supporters in the country via print and oath-taking.

One or two of her claims did strike me as questionable. It was not just in Holland in the late-sixteenth century that print played a vital role in fuelling conflict: the same was true, for example, in the French Wars of Religion and, indeed, in the Frondes of the period between 1648 and 1653 in the same country. But I do have more fundamental issues to raise which might not, perhaps, have been appropriate for an audience of sixth-formers.

First of all, there is the issue of economic and social change before 1640 or 1642. One of the key features of English society was the strengthening of the position of large landowners from c.1580 first analysed by W.R.Emerson: their dominance had increased, not diminished. This had profound implications because of the links of family and locality, political and religious affiliation upon which she remarked in the case of the 2nd Lord Brooke’s influence in Warwickshire. These linkages lay beyond the reach of the Parliamentary, Commonwealth and Protectorate regimes of the 1640s and 1650s and made ‘revolution’ in the sense in which she and many other historians have used the term impossible. There were ‘grands soulevements’ in this period but, whatever else may be said, no revolutions in the Marxist sense.

The second major point I should like to make is that, in England as in Ireland and Scotland, there was a significant retreat from government by bargaining and consent under Charles I’s rule. There was more emphasis on central direction and less willingness to respond to local objections. The Book of Orders, Forest boundary extensions and Ship Money testify to this in England: the failure to observe the Graces in Ireland and the attempt to recover Church property there; and the Act of Revocation, the Book of Canons and the revised Prayer Book in Scotland testify to these processes. There was more in common between the Stuart kingdoms than could be acknowledged in so brief a compass.

The events of the 1640s and 1650s exacted a terrible price in human and animal lives and the destruction of property. No one denies the legacy of political, philosophical and religious speculation that they left. But, if these conflicts were highly likely by 1640, so, too, was the failure of the protagonists to create a new ‘reformed’ world.

by Chris Thompson

A morning’s reflection

Like most people, my daily routine is fairly fixed. I check my incoming e-mails, look at the Google alerts I have for topics in early modern history and then look at twitter for items of interest posted by historians. I do not look as often as I should at the account of Susan Amussen, the widow of the late David Underdown, but this morning, thirty-five years after their marriage, she put up a photograph from their celebrations that conveyed her absolute delight on that day.

My original intention had been to comment on Neil McKendrick’s memoir on the life of Jack Plumb, the existence of which I discovered via Keith Livesey’s blog, A Trumpet of Sedition. It arrived on the last day of August and I finished reading it on Wednesday.[1] I do remember Plumb delivering the James Ford lectures in Oxford in Hilary Term of 1965 and hearing from him how the Tory Party of the late-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was now finished.

But I had no idea of the personal animosities and academic feuds which Plumb was pursuing in Cambridge and elsewhere. Needless to say, I was surprised to learn a day late when reading the last volume of Isaiah Berlin’s correspondence that Plumb had had a heart attack whilst dancing too vigorously at the Buckingham Palace party after the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles. Plumb apparently had not received a sufficiently prestigious card of invitation.[2]

More seriously, I spotted on the website of the National Archives a piece by Richard Knight on the levying of Ship Money in the 1630s. He has been working on the Privy Council’s registers for the 1630s which, inevitably, contain a good deal of material on this subject. Oddly though, he has not used Alison Gill’s highly important 1991 Sheffield University thesis which illustrates how a collection of the levy collapsed in the late-1630s after the judgment in Hampden’s case.

Christopher Thompson 4th September 2020 

[1] Neil McKendrick, Sir John Plumb. The Hidden Life of a Great Historian. A Personal Memoir. (EER Publishers. Brighton, Sussex. 2020)

[2] Affirming. Letters 1975-1997. Isaiah Berlin. Edited by Henry Hardy and Mark Pottle. (Pimlico. London. 2017), page 174.

A Short Note on Lawrence Stone’s article on ‘The Revival of Narrative’

Quite by chance, I came across Lawrence Stone’s 1979 article on this subject yesterday evening. It was originally published in Past and Present and subsequently appeared in his 1987 collection of essays, The Past and Present Revisited. I have commented before on the way in which Stone, who was at Princeton University from 1963, lost touch with the evolution of historiographical thinking in the U.K. about the origins, course and outcomes of the conflicts of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles. Inevitably, perhaps,

Stone was more than surprised by the development of ‘revisionism’ from the middle of that decade onwards. This sense of disassociation has something to do, I suspect, with Stone’s account of the works of “the new British school of young antiquarian empiricists” led by Conrad Russell and John Kenyon and urged on by Geoffrey Elton. According to Stone, they were writing political narratives implicitly denying that there was any deep-seated meaning to history save for the accidents of fortune and personality and trying to remove any sense of idealism or ideology from the two English revolutions of the seventeenth century. This was pure neo-Namierism just when that phenomenon was dying as an approach to the eighteenth-century. Stone speculated that this attitude to political history might stem from the inexorable economic decline and reduced power of Britain.

There was something quite odd about this analysis. Elton and Kenyon were historians of Stone’s own generation and, while Elton had certainly objected to the kind of economic and social determinism that appealed to Stone as an explanation of the English Revolution, neither he nor Kenyon could be accurately described as a “revisionist”.
Russell himself was in his forties by 1979 and roughly a decade or so older than figures like Kevin Sharpe or John Morrill. His act of intellectual liberation from the presuppositions of Tawney, Stone and Hill was a much slower process than that experienced by his younger contemporaries. It was also based, although this point has not been fully grasped by most specialists in seventeenth-century political history, on a mistaken reading of early Stuart Parliamentary history.

From as far back as R. G. Usher’s work in 1924, the existence of “opposition” had been disputed: John Ball’s brilliant Cambridge Ph.D. on Sir John Elliot had dealt a death blow to Whig interpretations while J.H.Hexter had repudiated the idea of a struggle for sovereignty in 1958: J.S.Roskell had explained as early as 1964 that ideas about the House of Commons exercising ‘power’ were fallacious before the end of the seventeenth century. 

Had Stone been better informed about political history, he might have made much more telling criticisms of the so-called ‘revisionists’. Between Stone and those he criticised in 1979, there was more than just a difference in approach to the study of this period. Like Christopher Hill, he had been considered up until the mid-1970s as being at the forefront of re-interpreting the seismic events of the 1640s and 1650s.

But suddenly there had been a significant change in the historiographical and intellectual atmosphere. The old assumption that political history simply reflected material changes in the economy of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish societies, that, indeed, its course had been essentially explained already, was exploded. Stone like many others was no longer a fashionable guide to these events. Admittedly, he and others tried to push back as the commentaries produced by Hexter and his allies showed. It was too late. The ‘antiquarian empiricists’ now commanded the field, at least until c.1990. Lament it as he did, Stone’s time was over.


C Thompson

I first met Valerie Pearl in the summer of 1966 when she was a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. I had gone to see her at the suggestion of my supervisor, Christopher Hill, to ask her advice on the 2nd Earl of Warwick’s mercantile connections in London in the 1640s. She impressed me with her depth of knowledge and her scholarship as she did when I met her by accident the following autumn on a train from Oxford to Paddington.

I was not, I fear, a very good conversationalist and had to improve greatly in the following spring when Hugh Trevor-Roper asked me to assist her on a project then being funded by the University’s Faculty of Modern History. I got to know her in the Manuscript Room of the British Library where she was pursuing her research into the Parliamentary politics of the 1640s. After a while, I learnt how well-informed she was about academic politics and what a good sense of humour she had.

I was saddened to note how little attention her death in 2016 attracted at that time. She had been born in 1926, the daughter of a trades union official, Cyril Bence, who was later Labour M.P. for East Dunbartonshire from 1959 to 1970. Valerie Bence was educated in Birmingham before entering St Anne’s College, Oxford. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s letters suggest that she was at that stage of her life attracted to Marxism: her doctoral research on the city of London in the early stages of the English Civil War was certainly supervised by Christopher Hill of Balliol College, the leading Marxist historian of the period then in Oxford even though she was later more drawn to Trevor-Roper’s views.

Her thesis was, so I understand, lent by Hill to Perez Zagorin, then on the far left himself, and had to be published rather hurriedly by the Oxford University Press in 1961 under the title London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution: City Government and National Politics. It was to be her only book but was seminal in inspiring later work on the city of London in the latter part of the twentieth century.

The 1960s were undoubtedly her best period as an historian. Tall, blond-haired with dark spectacles and very elegantly dressed, she wrote and published important articles on the middle group in the House of Commons after John Pym’s death and on the Royal Independents whilst a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. Unfortunately, her husband became ill and she was unable to take up a Fellowship at Somerville College because she could not move full-time to Oxford. Instead, she accepted a Readership in London History at University College, London at the invitation of Joel Hurstfield and Robin Humphreys.

The History Department there lacked the stellar figures to be found in Oxford (with the exception of the young Nicholas Tyacke) and, after producing articles on Puritans and Fifth Columnists in the capital and on London’s Counter-Revolution, her output came effectively to a halt. In 1981, she accepted an invitation to become President of New Hall, Cambridge in succession to Rosemary Murray and found herself submerged not just in the administrative duties of that post but also in the difficult politics of that college. When she retired in the mid-1990s, she had transformed that college’s fortunes but had not fulfilled her potential as an historian. Sadly, she was never to do so.

The obituaries published after her death were brief and not very informative. In her prime, she was a formidable scholar with extensive knowledge of the politics of the 1640s, far better informed than most contemporaries of hers. Valerie Pearl was a woman of charm and high intelligence as well as someone with a firm conviction in doing what was right for her family, friends and institutions. Her passing needs greater acknowledgement and her historiographical legacy more praise.

Chris Thompson

On Christopher Hill By Charles James

The number of people whose doctoral research was supervised by Christopher Hill must, I suspect, be diminishing year by year. It is over a decade and a half since he died and longer still since he ceased being active as a historian. His allies, former students and academic proteges are inevitably being culled by mortality too. My own memories of him are mixed: in personal terms, we got on perfectly well over several decades even though I was never sympathetic to his approach to the early modern period or to his political views.

My first encounter with Hill was as an undergraduate when I heard him give a series of lectures in Balliol College’s hall which later found their way into print in his book, Society and Puritanism. His general points were buttressed by copious quotations from late-sixteenth and early to mid-seventeenth century printed sources, most of them pamphlets and sermons. He had a rather off-putting habit of sniffing after every two or three sentences which I found rather disconcerting.

Two and a half years later, I found myself assigned to him as my supervisor for my prospective research. Our initial talk took place in his office as Master of Balliol. He was interested in finding out what my social origins were, what the cost of my watch (which was one of the very first to show dates) had been and to invite me to the Monday evening parties to which his other pupils and girls from St Hilda’s College, where his wife taught, came for drinks. And that was about it. (I gave up on the Monday evening parties after attending one or two because I could not hear myself think due to the noise.)

Later meetings took place in a room where he had a chair held by a chain coming down from the ceiling. He used to sit in this chair swinging slightly from side to side whilst saying nothing. I found this silence disconcerting: it was only a year or two later that I was told that this was an old Oxford technique to encourage students to be forthcoming about their work. It did not work for me.

Much more seriously, Christopher Hill, for all his encyclopaedic knowledge of printed sources, was completely at sea as far as manuscript sources were concerned. I never saw him reading manuscripts in the Bodleian, in the British Museum or the Public Record Office or in any county archive then or in the better part of forty years that followed. Since I was desperately searching for the lost archives of the people I was investigating, his inability to help was a problem I had not anticipated. His comments on my written work were rather perfunctory too, probably because he soon recognised that I was not a follower or potential follower of his Marxist approach in any sense at all. As a potential protégé or candidate for academic jobs, I was without promise from his point of view.

I did see him once or twice after I ceased being a postgraduate – in Malet Street in London and again at The Huntington Library in California. He and his wife were friendly and polite but I got the distinct impression that he had found the changes in the historiography of pre- and post-revolutionary England since the mid-1970s invalid, unacceptable and nonsensical. He had gone on writing as if they had not happened and thereby lost touch with later generations of historians. This was sad but it happens sooner or later to most academic historians. I was pleased to have known him although never convinced by his arguments at any stage.

On the Removal of the Oliver Cromwell Statue, Yet Again

“And if a history shall be written of these times and transactions, it will be said, it will not be denied, but that these things that I have spoken are true”.

Oliver Cromwell

“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan  to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

The last few weeks have seen the removal of statues in the United States and Britain that were related to the slave trade. While this may seem justifiable for the moment, the indiscriminate nature of the removal of statues are troubling, especially when now statues of revolutionary figures such as George Washington, who led the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln who led the Civil War that ended slavery are being removed.

The attacking of revolutionary figures has now crossed the Atlantic to Britain with the calls for statues of Oliver Cromwell to be removed. The only thing missing in this reactionary nonsense is the call for the exhuming of his body in order to drag it through the London streets and place his head on a spike above Westminister Hall again.

Any historian or general reader of English history will know that the calling for the statue of Oliver Cromwell to be removed from outside Parliament is a yearly occurrence. Two years ago the Sunday Telegraph ran an article called “Parliament’s statue of Cromwell becomes the latest memorial hit by ‘rewriting history’ row”. The article’s author Patrick Sawer must have had a slow day in the office because in the article he says a bitter row has broken out between historians. His article was stretching things a bit. The one historian quoted by the newspaper was Jeremy Crick, described as “a social historian” has called for the statue to be pulled down.

His justification for this being Cromwell’s anti-religious zeal and comparing Cromwell to the actions of the Taliban. He says “Its banishment would be poetic justice for his Taliban-like destruction of so many of England’s cultural and religious artefacts carried out by his fanatical Puritan followers.”

It is hard to take Crick seriously. Even a cursory search would find that he has written next to nothing on Cromwell and is hardly a world authority on Cromwell and the English revolution. It would seem that the only thing Crick specialises in is the calling for “unloved statues” to be pulled down.

What makes this year, so very different is that it is a Labour Party member that is calling for it. Lord Adonis who is a Labour Peer and a “Remainer” has called for the statue to be torn down because Cromwell committed  “genocide” in his conquest of Ireland (1649-53).

The peer said: “I think Cromwell’s statue should be removed from outside Parliament and put in a museum. Cromwell was a military dictator who ended up abolishing Parliament and committing genocide in Ireland. He has no place outside Parliament – unlike Churchill, who led the successful national and international resistance to Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship.”

It must be said that this “debate” while having a strong historical interest is also an expression of how reactionary and right-wing the Labour Party has become. It is also an expression of how large sections of the English bourgeoisie cannot defend or even remember its revolutionary traditions.

The English bourgeoisie has had an ambivalent and contradictory attitude towards Cromwell and for that matter, the English revolution. While paying lip service to the fact that he was the father of Parliamentary democracy albeit with a bit of military dictatorship thrown in, they have always been wary of drawing attention to their revolutionary past. They would prefer that people saw Britain’s history as being tranquil. That any change that took place was gradual and progress was peaceful through class compromise without the violent excess of revolution. This illusion is more important in light of today’s explosive political and economic situation.

It is perhaps all the more ironic that it is a section of the Tory party that has opposed the removal. As the Ashfield Conservative MP Lee Anderson said: “I walk past the Cromwell statue every single day to work and he is a daily reminder to me of our history, good and bad. I would strongly suggest he stays there and that it should be Lord Adonis who is removed from the House of Lords and put in a museum.”Anderson accused Adonis of having “a juvenile, one-dimensional view of history”.

Several Irish historians have opposed the removal with Professor Louise Richardson arguing that the statue was of educational value and should be preserved no matter how controversial. She said that it was wrong to pretend that history should be changed because people do not agree with it.

The erasing of revolutionary figures and revolutions for that matter from history has a long pedigree. The most infamous being Joseph Stalin’s removal of leading Bolsheviks such as Leon Trotsky from the historical record.

The successful removal of the Cromwell statue would set a dangerous precedent. It would embolden all those inside and outside of academia, especially those who have been involved in a tendency in historiography as Professor James Oakes points out “to erase revolutions from all of human history. First, the English revisionists said there was no English Revolution, and then François Furet came along and said there was no French Revolution. We have historians telling us that the Spanish-American revolutions were really just fought among colonial elites that got out of hand and happened to result in the abolition of slavery”.[1]

If Cromwell were alive today, he would be a more than a bit angry towards today’s English bourgeoise who owes everything it has to his leadership during the English revolution.

Marxist’s, on the other hand, have no ambivalence towards the great bourgeois revolutionary, and workers and youth as the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky said can learn a lot from Cromwell’s leadership: ” Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party — his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell’s “holy” squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King’s horsemen and won the nickname of “Ironsides.” It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score, British workers can learn much from Cromwell”.[2]

To conclude the consistent controversy over this statue does beg the question of why does it keep coming up. Firstly the issue of the English revolution has never been a mere question of studying a past event; it is because many of the significant issues that were discussed and fought for on the battlefield in the 1640s  are still contemporary issues. What do we do with the monarchy, the issue of social inequality addressed by groups such as the Levellers? Until these and many more are resolved, we will keep getting more calls for Cromwell’s statue to be removed.


[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/07/06/pers-j06.html

[2] www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm

Susan Myra Kingsbury and The Records of the Virginia Company of London

For more than a century, Susan Myra Kingsbury has been a major figure in the historiography of early colonial Virginia. Her edition of The Records of the Virginia Company of London published between 1906 and 1935 offers an essential foundation for all subsequent studies of the early years of the first permanent English settlement in North America. The works published last year (2019) to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Virginia Assembly and the almost simultaneous arrival of the first African slaves inevitably drew on her volumes.

Susan Kingsbury was born in San Pablo, California in 1870 and was educated in that State before becoming a teacher at Lowell high School in San Francisco from 1892 to 1900. Subsequently, she went to Columbia University in New York to study colonial economic history.

Whilst a student there, she travelled to England to collect documentary material for her Ph.D. thesis entitled An Introduction to the Records of the Virginia Company of London for which she was awarded her doctorate in 1905. Thereafter, her career took her into posts in industrial and technical education, economics and social work. She retired as Professor of Social Economy at Bryn Mawr College in 1936 and died at the age of 79 in November, 1949.

Unfortunately, no copy of her thesis appears to be available on-line at present. However, given its length at just over two hundred pages, it is likely that it was identical to the work published by the Government Printing Office in 1905 entitled, An Introduction to Records of the Virginia Company of London with a Bibliographical List of the Extant Documents.

It was produced with a foreword by Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, praising her work and the counsel of her adviser, Professor Herbert L. Osgood of Columbia University. A year later, when the first two volumes of The Records of the Virginia Company of London edited by S.M.Kingsbury (and containing the Court Book of the company from 1619 to 1624) were published, Herbert Putnam and Herbert L. Osgood again provided prefatory remarks. The text of Dr Kingsbury’s introduction was identical to that of 1905 (and probably to that of her thesis as well). 

The extensive list of documents she provided for the company and colony from just before 1609 also appears to be identical to that published in Volumes 3 and 4 of The Records of the Virginia Company of London which appeared in 1933 and 1935 respectively. A handful of emendations were made to include material from the proceedings of the Privy Council relating to Virginia and to note that one or two documents could no longer be traced. Some material, which had come to light since 1905-1906 and which had been published elsewhere, e.g. in the Sackville Papers before 1623, was omitted. But, to a very large extent, all four volumes edited by Susan Kingsbury reflected work she had done by 1905.

This coverage of the extant archives was not, however, complete. She had reproduced only seventy eight of the documents relating to Virginia from the Ferrar Papers held in Magdalene College, Cambridge. As David Ransome’s more recent work has shown, there were five hundred and fifteen such documents in that collection. Similarly but on a much smaller scale, her assumption that the colonial papers of the Duke of Manchester then held in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane, London constituted the entire archive of Sir Nathaniel Rich and the 2nd Earl of Warwick was also mistaken. 

There were and are scattered pieces of evidence related to Virginia’s colonisation still to be found elsewhere in English archives. When Wesley Frank Craven composed his study of The Dissolution of the Virginia Company (published in 1932), he paid a thoroughly well-deserved tribute to Susan Kingsbury’s invaluable edition of the company’s records. He was right to do so as later historians would wholeheartedly agree but the hunt for supplementary sources still.


Christopher Thompson    29th June, 2020

Michael Mendle, ed. The Putney Debates of 1647: The Army, the Levellers, and the English State. Cambridge University Press, 2001. xii + 297 pp. + 1 illus. $64.95. Review by Keith Livesey

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government”.

Colonel Rainborowe

“We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth and conjured, by the several Declarations of Parliament, to the defence of our own and the people’s just rights, and liberties”.


Towards the end of 1647 with King Charles, I heavily defeated in a bitter civil war, a group of New Model Army officers and soldiers met at St. Mary’s parish church, near the Thames, at Putney Bridge, southwest London.

The extraordinary discussion that took place at that church has been examined and then fought over by historians for decades if not centuries. At the time little was known of this debate. Very few of the news broadsheets mentioned the historic debate. 

Although the debate was recorded by William Clarke using shorthand, his documents lay dormant for over 243 years. They were found by a librarian at Worcester College Oxford who told the historian Charles Firth and the rest is history.

The discovery of these documents has been called a “serendipitous find” and has led to a significant amount of historiography surrounding the events at Putney. It is strange given the extraordinary radical nature of the debates that most of this historiography has been dominated by a set of conservative/revisionist historians. The collection of essays that came out of a conference held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1997, the 350th anniversary of the debates continues this conservative historiographical stranglehold.

One such contributor Blair Worden said it was “fitting that the 350th anniversary was celebrated in two places: in Putney Church, with speeches by Christopher Hill and Tony Benn, representatives of the tradition that has looked east to Moscow; and, in the conference from which this book has emerged, in Washington, the capital of the free world”.[1]

It is clear that the editor, Michael Mendle was mindful of the extremely conservative and unified nature of the collection of essay writers, so much so that he issued a strange declaration that I have not seen anywhere else: “Those that write here have no party line to follow are adherents of no single interpretive school, and perhaps most notably, span several scholarly generations”.[2]

It is, of course palpably not true. Two themes run through the book. Theme one is to play down the influence of the Levellers, and theme two is to oppose a Marxist analysis of the English bourgeois revolution. The Putney debates started on October 28th 1647. A Meeting of the army’s General Council of the Parliament’s New Model Army met to discuss the state of the revolution and more specifically the Levellers document The Agreement of the People and the more conservative document The Heads of Proposals.

According to Wikipedia the Agreement was produced by “civilian Levellers or agitators and called for regular, two-yearly Parliaments and equal distribution of MPs’ seats by several inhabitants. It guaranteed freedom of conscience, indemnity for Parliamentarian soldiers and equality before the law”.

A Counter document the Heads of Proposals was issued by the Grandees. A much more moderate document. “Heads of Proposals” was the document to be adopted later on by the Cromwell’s government. It recommended a written constitution and led to Cromwell being given powers that bordered on a dictatorship. Oliver Cromwell came to the Putney debates in 1647 from a position of considerable political and military strength. Although the fact that he still needed to invite radical elements within the army to the Putney Debates meant that he and his general’s position of power had been far from consolidated.

Cromwell was well aware that the invitation of civilian Levellers meant that the discussion held at Putney would have a resonance far beyond the walls of Putney church. How much Cromwell was aware of the growing radicalisation of his army is open to conjecture. To what extent Cromwell read the volumes of letters sent to him from the various radical groups is again hard to fathom. But even this conservative of men would have least noted with alarm the growing influence of radical groups such as the Levellers and Fifth Monarchists. After all one of his top general’s Thomas Harrison was a Fifth Monarchist supporter and shared similar religious and political positions with other radicals. Cromwell also up until Putney had a reasonably close social and political relationship with one of the Leaders of the Leveller’s John Lilburne.

In the months leading up to Putney Cromwell and his generals faced a growing threat to their leadership. They faced a two-pronged attack from the Presbyterians and the radical groups. One of the most important radical tracts printed by October 29th was called A Call to All Soldiers of the Army by the Free People of England which was a defence of the radical regiments and demanded a purge of the parliament amidst a call for the agitators to meet as an ‘exact council’ and to act with the ‘truest lovers of the people you could find’. One of the main aims of the document was to expose the “hypocrisy” and “deceit” of Cromwell and Ireton. It must have been with extreme reluctance that Cromwell invited the agitators to Putney. In doing so his aim was to defeat these forces politically at Putney and then militarily later on.

Politically Cromwell was to the right of the English bourgeois revolution. In many ways his actions at Putney were largely opportunistic, he promised the Levellers to look into their demands but in reality, he had no intention of adopting the Agreement. He read very little outside of the bible and had only a superficial understanding of the radical tracts produced during the early period of the revolution. An interesting PhD dissertation topic would be to examine what was in his library at the time of his death.

It is clear that Cromwell at Putney completely underestimated his political opponents in the army. The documents presented by Leveller supporters in the army clearly shocked and dismayed this conservative of gentleman. The debates brought to the surface deep seated ideas regarding property, democracy and the future course of the revolution. Political divisions were becoming sharper in the run up to the Putney Debates. Even deeper divisions among historians have meant that there is no agreement as to how radical the army was or when its radicalisation started. This radicalisation did not fall from the sky. The ideas that came to fore at Putney were not only exacerbated by war they were provoked by grievances over pay and condition, the fact of the matter is that these developed into broader political demands is because they were the products of longer gestation.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this collection of essays is the absence of any examination of what was said at Putney as Rachel Foxley points out “it is sad that an entire volume on the Putney debates should have so little room for analysis of the vocabulary and dynamics of the debates in terms of political thought. There is much more work to be done here. The debates are more than a script written for the actors by simple circumstance, and all we now know about their context should enable us to read their content in genuinely illuminating new ways”.[3]

If any proof was needed about the overarching conservative nature of these essays, it is that most of them were influenced by leading revisionist historian Mark Kishlansky who attended the conference but did not write an essay for this collection. Kishlansky classified the period as being marked by its “vaunted peace and harmony,”However, this was not a period that was marked by its its “vaunted peace and harmony”. The radicalisation brought about by heated attacks on the army by the Presbterains provoked one writer to say “it is objected to us, that we would have toleration of all sectaries, schismatiques, heretiques, blasphemies, errours, licentiousnesse, and wickednesses”.[4]

The hostility to the radicalisation of the soldiers was given further political expression by the Presbyterian faction in parliament when it published its ‘Declaration of Dislike’ in the House of Commons. The document provocatively called the soldiers “enemies to the State and disturbers of the public peace”. The document represented a declaration of war against both independent and radicals alike. It was an expression growing class differences contained within and outside of parliament. As Austin Woolrych commented, “seldom can ten words have done more mischief than Holles’s ‘enemies of the state and disturbers of the public peace”.[5]

There existed a growing nerviness inside the Presbyterian party within parliament that was caused by the growing calls inside the army for more democracy, protests against social inequality and an end to property. In answer to the The Declaration of Dislike the army said “We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of parliament to the defence of our own and the People’s just Rights and Liberties”.[6]

 This would have sent shockwaves through the Presbyterian Party. Austin Woolrych in his essay takes a very cautious approach to the Putney Debates. Woolrych somewhat controversially states that the army had “refrained from political activity despite the tendency of the Presbyterians both religious and political, to portray it as a hotbed of sectaries and radicals.” If this is true then did Putney drop from the skies? Is there no connection between the activity of the army before Putney and during? Surely history is not just a series of unconnected episodes.

Woolrych continues  “Anyone who strains to hear the voice of the soldiery in the Putney debates should be aware that, apart from one brief interjection by an unnamed agent, the only troopers who spoke that day were Sex by and Everard, and on the other two days recorded by Clarke the only others who opened their mouths were Lockyer and Allen. No agitator of a foot regiment is known to have spoken. Out of just fifty officer-agitators listed in October, twelve spoke in the course of the three-recorded days five of them only once, and very briefly. We should be very cautious about treating the Putney debates, wonderful as they are as the typical voice of the army’?[7]

This theme of downplaying the influence of the radicals at Putney is continued by other essayists. While it is true that the ordinary soldiers were thin on the ground, the politics that were debated at Putney had a deep resonance inside the army. Even Woolrych is forced to describe such incidents where ‘open incitements to mutiny and were already bearing poisoned fruit. Fairfax had lately ordered Colonel Robert Lilburn’s foot regiment to Newcastle, for sound military reasons but a party of new agents bearing copies of the Case of the Armie overtook it and urged it not to let the army be divided.Thereupon its soldiers turned back, held an unauthorised rendezvous and refused to obey their officers. Other regiments were in a state of incipient mutiny before the debates at Putney were would up”.

One thing not mentioned by Woolrych is that Presbyterians alongside the Independents had a lot to lose if Lilburne and his revolutionaries had their way. A large number of MP’s had grown rich out of the civil war and intended to keep their newfound wealth come what may. Many in parliament had grown rich from the change of relations of land ownership, although the enclosure and the sequestration church holdings had begun before the civil war it was continued with during the first revolution with fresh impetus. The Long Parliament had got rid of the Episcopate and to administer its interests, it organised a committee for the sale of church lands.

Often the officers and soldiers of the New Model Army were permitted to buy land cheap. Sometimes exchange for their unpaid salary and at half price. Fifth Monarchist’s like Lieutenant colonel Thomas Harrison became very rich out this process.According to Evgeny Pashukanis “The Civil War between Parliament and the Crown thus had, as a result, the mass transfer of property (which was partly annulled upon the Restoration). Not less than half of all the movable property and half of the lands, rents and incomes of the noblemen who fought on the side of the Crown fell under sequestration. In order to raise the sequestration, it was necessary to pay a composition in the amount of approximately one-fifth of the total value. Such an operation was conducted in 1644 on not less than 3,000 “gentlemen”. The direct profit from this measure was received by the Presbyterian party which then held sway in parliament, a party whose members became rich buying land cheaply, squeezing out the Royalists who had fallen under sequestration, with money at usurious interest, and finally, releasing sequestration for a bribe. The corruption which developed gave one of the major trump cards to the Independents and their struggle against the parliamentary majority. In the interest of justice it should be noted that after this when Cromwell’s army triumphed over parliament, the Independent majority of the “Rump” began to engage in the same dirty business”.[8]

Cromwell may have led the debate at Putney, but thanks to Barbara Taft’s excellent essay we get to know better the real theoretical leader of the Grandees at Putney which was Henry Ireton. Ireton and other members of the General Council of the new Model army resided in Putney church essentially to discuss the Levellers Agreement of the People from October 28th to November 11th 1647. According to H N Brailsford’ When one compares these debates with those of its sittings at Reading in July, it is clear that in three months the temper and outlook of the army were changed. At Putney, the mood was sultry and tense’. While it true that the grandees and the agitators were moving roughly in the same direction in July by October a huge chasm was to open up between them “.[9]

It is clear from the Clarke transcripts that Cromwell was no great theoretician but it worth quoting one of his better contributions: While it took Cromwell a little while to understand what was going on at Putney when he saw the Levellers Pamphlet The Agreement of the People he reacted in this way on October 28th “These things that you have now offered, they are new to us: they are things that we have not at all (at least in this method and thus circumstantially) had any opportunity to consider of, because they came to us but thus, as you see; this is the first time we had a view of them. Truly this paper does contain in it very great alterations of the very government of the kingdom, alterations from that government that it hath been under, I believe I may almost say, since it was a nation –I say, I think I may almost say so. And what the consequences of such an alteration as this would be, if there were nothing else to be considered, wise men and godly men ought to consider. I say, if there were nothing else to be considered but the very weight and nature of the things contained in this paper. Therefore, although the pretensions in it, and the expressions in it, are very plausible, and if we could leap out of one condition into another that had so specious things in it as this hath, I suppose there would not be much dispute – though perhaps some of these things may be very well disputed. How do we know if, whilst we are disputing these things, another company of men shall not gather together, and put out papers plausible perhaps as this? I do not know why it might not be done by that time you have agreed upon this, or got hands to it if that be the way. And not only another, and another, but many of this kind. And if so, what do you think the consequence of that would be? Would it not be confusion? Would it not be utter confusion? Would it not make England like the Switzerland country, one canton of the Swiss against another and one county against another to go on along with it, and whether those great difficulties that lie in our way are in a likelihood to be either overcome or removed”.?

While Cromwell was no great thinker Ireton was. Ireton was ambitious, and with a class understanding to match. He had a valuable ability to process complicated theoretical arguments and respond to them on the spur of the moment. Ireton’s goal at Putney was to diffuse the more radical elements of the Leveller programme and if possible, co-opt them into the Grandes strategy if this failed Cromwell and Ireton were not adverse to use force to achieve their aims. Ireton would use the Levellers up to a point as a bulwark against the Presbyterians in Parliament they were after all according to  E. Bernstein” were the first among the people and the simple soldier agitators in the army to understand the necessity of energetic opposition for the counter-revolutionary elements of Parliament”.[10]

It was a dangerous game played by Cromwell and Ireton according to Pashukanis “One can have doubts about the degree to which Cromwell and the other leaders of the Independents truly wished to remain loyal to the Presbyterian majority in parliament. But there is no doubt that the soldiers’ organisations never entered into their calculations for the purpose of their struggle with parliament. It is one thing to put pressure on parliament by relying upon a disciplined armed force subordinate to oneself, but entirely another thing to create an illegal organisation embracing the mass of soldiers and awakening their independent activity, an organisation which immediately and inevitably had to bring forth socio-political demands extending far beyond the ideas of the moderate Independents”.[11]

As was said earlier, the historiography of the Putney Debates has been dominated by right-leaning historians. It is beginning to change as left historians begin to even up the score. It is worth quoting one of them John Rees who recently wrote “The main axis of debate on both sides assumes that what is under discussion is a universal male franchise. Cromwell and Ireton object to this proposal on the basis that if the poor are given the vote, they will use it to take property away from the rich. Rainsborough responds that unless the poor are given the vote ‘, I say the one parte shall make hewers of wood and drawers of water’ of the rest and ‘the greatest parte of the Nation bee enslav’d’. Sexby argued that though the soldiers had little property in the kingdom that they must be included in its political settlement.

Only on one occasion during the Putney debates does Leveller Maximillian Petty retreat from the idea of universal male suffrage. Petty suggested that servants or those dependent on others might be excluded from the franchise. This reads as a rather off-the-cuff response to debate with Henry Ireton, who has himself admitted that the franchise might be ‘better than it is’. John Rede also adds an interesting cautionary note. He says that those who have given themselves over to ‘voluntary servitude’ should also be excluded from the vote”.[12]

As was already mentioned by Rachel Foxley, the essays collected in this book could have done with more of the actual debate. Perhaps the famous exchange of these debates was between Colonel Rainborowe, leader of the Levellers in parliament and H. Ireton, Cromwell’s son in law. Rainborowe stated that ‘The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he and therefore every man that is to live under a government ought, first, by his own consent. To put himself under the government’.

He continues ‘Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away. If you say it, it must be so. But I would fain know what the soldier hath fought for all this while? He hath fought to enslave himself, to give power to men of riches, men of estates, to make him perpetual slave. We do find in all presses that go forth none must be pressed that are freehold men. When these gentlemen fall out among themselves, they shall press the poor scrubs to come and kill one another for them’. Do these comments represent an individual or did his words echo a much wider yet unconscious expression that Putney represented not just the people that took part but had a broader significance in the army and within the country itself”.

To the participants at Putney his words would have seemed revolutionary but as Christopher Hill argued ‘The Leveller conception of free Englishmen, was thus restricted, even if much wider, than that embodied in the existing franchise. Their proposals would perhaps have doubled the number of men entitled to vote. But manhood suffrage would have quadrupled it”.[13]

Ireton recognised that if the franchise were widened, it would threaten the Independents interest. As Hill again explains ‘Defending the existing franchise, Henry Ireton rejected the doctrine “that by a man being born here, he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here and of all things here”. The vote was rightly restricted to those who “had a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom”. Namely, the persons in whom all lands lies and those incorporation’s in whom all trading lies”.[14]

Ireton claimed the present House of Commons represented them and went on to ask by what right the vote was demanded all free Englishmen. If by natural right, taking up the Levellers point that they should be free. Who could freely dispose of their labour? Then Ireton could see no reason why men had as much natural right to property as to the vote. He went on to point out that if you give them the vote, then they will be the majority in parliament and they will give equal property rights to everybody. 

The centrepiece of this collection of essays is the one by John Morrill and Phillip Baker. This type essay is what Jim Holstun called a “revisionist manifesto”.Their refusal to call the Levellers and their supporters agitators preferring the less radical sounding adjutators sets the tone for the rest of their essay. Morrill’s and Baker’s argument is that main voice at the Putney debates of 1647 was that of New Model Army soldiers not of the Levellers. They argue that these soldiers were not as radical as some left-leaning historians have made out.

What is also is clear is the influence of Mark Kishlansky on this essay. Even amongst conservative historians, this essay was controversial. So much so that it provoked a heated debate at the conference with other historians providing in writing their differences. It is a shame that a modern-day William Clarke did not record the debate.

The Levellers undoubtedly were a petit-bourgeois party. While some historians including Morrill protest that capitalist relations were not that developed to describe them as such. There were sufficient bourgeois-capitalist relationships, at the 1640s to warrant such a claim. Indeed, capitalist relations had not developed to a large extent into the English countryside, to such an extent demands could not enter into their programme for a general division of land.

The Levellers appeared and were organised as a political party in the years 1645-46. They were responsible for many of modern-day political techniques such as mass demonstrations, collecting petitions, leafleting and the lobby of MPs. Their strength mainly lay in London and other towns and had quite considerable support in the army. The movement was an extremely disparate group-containing a group called the Diggers or as they have been called the True Levellers, another group the Ranters were on the extreme left wing of the revolution.

The Levellers called for a democratic republic in which the House of Commons would be more important than the House of Lords. A Leveller would have wanted redistribution and extension of the franchise, legal and economic reform on behalf of men of small property, artisans, yeoman, small merchants, and the very layer which made up the Levellers themselves.

Levellers also wished to democratise the gilds and the City of London, a decentralisation of justice and the election of local governors and stability of tenure for copyholders. While the Levellers were sympathetic to the poor, which stemmed from their religion which essentially was not different from that of Cromwell, they had no concrete programme to bring about social change; they never advocated a violent overturning of society. Their class outlook, that being of small producers, conditioned their ideology. At no stage did the Levellers constitute a mass movement.

This contradiction caused some tension between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of the small property owners. They had no opposition to private property, and therefore they accepted that inequality would always exist, they merely argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. One of their members John Cooke explained ‘I am no advocate for the poore further than to provide bread and necessaries for them, without which, life cannot be maintained, let rich men feast, and the poore make hard meale, but let them have bread sufficient’. 

Knowing that they could not come to power through the presently constituted electorate, the Levellers attempted to find constitutional ways of getting around it. As was said before it seems the overriding influence on these essays such as Morrill’s and Bakers is the arch revisionist historian Mark Kishlansky who agrees with much in this chapter of the book. Kishlansky, like Morrill is hostile to a Marxist interpretation of the English bourgeois revolution.

He writes ‘Much has been written about the ideology of the army, but most of it misconceived. A principal reason for this has been historians have assumed that the lowly social origins of many of the officers created a commitment to radical ideology. This is false on both factual and logical grounds. There were men of low birth among the new Model’s officers, and much has been made of Pride the drayman and Hewson the cobbler more still might be made of obscure officers like Sponger and Creamer whose surnames suggest backgrounds in trades and service. The army also contained a Cecil, a Sheffield, and three colonels who were knights. Yet a careful study of the armies social origin, which lends support to the view that they were more traditional in nature (of solid status in rural and urban structures) still does not meet the real objection to existing interpretation- the fallacy of social determinism’.

This revisionist domination of Putney debates historiography is beginning to change. Several left-leaning historians such as John Rees have started to challenge the largely right-wing conceptions typical of the essays in this collection.

In his recently published essay,[15] Rees makes the following observations. “Perhaps the most famous discussion of the relationship between the Levellers and the labouring classes of the mid-17th century comes in the Putney debates of 1647. These critical discussions between the most senior officers of the New Model Army, elected representatives from the army rank and file, and civilian Levellers have rightly fascinated historians.

One issue to which historical debate has frequently returned concerns whether or not the Leveller spokespeople at Putney advocated the expansion of the franchise implied in the Agreement of the People, first presented at Putney. Should it include the poorest males in society, or should servants and wage labourers be excluded from the vote? It might be said that this issue has been over-analysed by historians. Jason Peacey, for instance, has suggested that historians have tended to divorce the study of a Levellers from the broader spectrum of radical Parliamentary opinion of which they were a part and also that they have concentrated too narrowly on the franchise debate at Putney. Both issues are of relevance here. The Levellers certainly were part of, indeed emerged from, a wider current of radical parliamentarianism. And the debate over the constitutional settlement of the nation after the First Civil War was one in which Levellers were engaged in debate with a much wider constituency of parliamentarians, some of whom contributed directly to the content of the Agreement of the People. Others held opinions with which the Levellers had to contend, even if they disagreed with them or distrusted those advancing them. We will see this dynamic at work throughout this discussion. But for all the differentiation among them, it is still the case that the Levellers were a distinct political movement. They recognised themselves as such, and their opponents did likewise”.

To conclude Michale Mendle’s book despite it’ revisionist historiography is an important contribution to the debates about the Putney debates. One worrying aspect has been the lack of challengers to the right-wing nature of the historiography. Despite the huge passage of time, the debates still provoke much heat is testimony to their importance. It is now high time that left-leaning historians begin to step up to the plate and challenge this right-leaning historiography.

   
Notes


John Rees’s paper The Levellers, the labouring classes, and the poor-John Rees- https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/21256-the-levellers-the-labouring-classes-and-the-poor was first given at Honest Labour: exploring the interface between work and nonconformity, a regional day conference of the International John Bunyan Society, organised in association with the University of Bedfordshire, Keele University, Loughborough University and Northumbria University in April 2019. It will appear in the forthcoming issue of Bunyan Studies.






[1] The Putney Debates of 1647: The Army, the Levellers and the English State
edited by Michael Mendle
[2] Introduction-The Putney Debates of 1647: The Army, the Levellers and the English State edited by Michael Mendle
[3] Review by: Rachel Foxley Source: The Historical Journal, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Dec., 2003), pp. 1010-1011
[4] Vox Militaris: Or an Apologetical Declaration Concerning the Officers and Souldiers of the Armie, under the Command of his Excellency Sr. Thomas Fairfax, (London: 11 August [Thomason]),
[5] Taken from Austin Woolrych, Soldiers and Statesmen), page 36-37.
[6] From the Representation of the Army 1647
[7] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-levellers-radical-political-thought.html
[8] Evgeny Pashukanis Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law
[9] The Levellers and the English revolution (1961)
[10] E. Bernstein, Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (1919), 3rd German edition, p.78. – See also E. Bernstein, Cromwell and Communism: Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (1930), Allen and Unwin, London [eds.]
[11] Evgeny Pashukanis Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law
[12] The Levellers, the labouring classes, and the poor-John Rees- https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/21256-the-levellers-the-labouring-classes-and-the-poor
[13] The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714-By Christopher Hill-p129
[14] Taken from http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2015/04/
[15] The Levellers, the labouring classes, and the poor-John Rees- https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/21256-the-levellers-the-labouring-classes-and-the-poor

Old Hat, Nouvelle Vague and the Historiographical Surprises of the mid-1970s

Changes in historiographical perspectives are a recurrent feature in the work of academic historians. Established explanations and current orthodoxies come to be challenged and repudiated. One generation of historians wedded to these older interpretations gives way to another. Conflicts and disputes between the two are by no means unknown. But, with the passage of time, new explanations and orthodoxies come to be established and the quarrels of the past remain of interest to the surviving participants and to later students of the discipline.

This is particularly true in seventeenth-century history when the long-term economic and social explanations for the events of the 1640s in England in particular came to be challenged and superseded. Figures like Christopher Hill and Lawrence Stone apparently thought that their interpretations were sound and generally accepted as their contributions to the Folger Institute’s conference on ‘Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688 and 1776’ suggested. Both men had been educated at the University of Oxford where Hill remained as Master of Balliol while Stone had decamped to Princeton in 1963.

Two of the other major participants in the ‘Storm over the Gentry’, Hugh Trevor-Roper and J.P.Cooper, were also Oxford dons while J.H.Hexter, the remaining figure of significance in that spectacular historiographical episode was in the U.S.A. where he had reached a rapprochement with Stone after 1964.

This focus on Oxford was also apparent amongst the figures who came to challenge the determinism underlying the works of Hill, Stone, Manning and others. Conrad Russell, Nicholas Tyacke, John Morrill and Kevin Sharpe had all been undergraduates and postgraduates at Oxford before securing posts at other universities. There had been a feeling amongst Oxford historians in my recollection that it was the most important centre for work on the English Revolution and that what was going on elsewhere was interesting but not of critical significance.

In my own case, I was aware that, in Cambridge, for example, there was new work being done by the Cambridge Group on Population Studies and by historians of political thought like John Dunn and Quentin Skinner. Quite how far-reaching the impact of this work proved to be only became clear to me rather later. As far as Princeton was concerned, I was reasonably well-informed since I saw Theodore Rabb in the Institute of Historical Research or the British Museum during his annual visits in the summers.

What was going on in the rest of the U.K. or in the U.S.A. was something I learnt about in both institutions. What is surprising about the revolt against the Whig-Marxist or quasi-Marxist synthesis of the early-1970s is that it came as a more or less complete surprise to Hill, Stone and other historians of their persuasion. One of Stone’s pupils at that time recently told me that he had had no idea what was going on amongst younger historians in Oxford or in the U.K. More surprisingly still in theory, neither had Christopher Hill. But Christopher Hill had never been a denizen of archive repositories or of seminars addressed by postgraduates other than his own.  (It can also be detected in the comments of figures like Brian Manning and even of David Underdown, although his pupil, Mark Kishlansky, probably knew better than most about the new forms of interpretation.) 

Their sense of surprise was more than evident in the reactions to ‘revisionism’ in the editions of the Journal of Modern History and in Past and Present devoted to refuting the antiquarian empiricism of the new generation of early modern historians. Why did the ‘old guard’ fail to hold their ground? The answer to that question lies partly in their assumptions – for example, in believing that the political history of early-Stuart England had been satisfactorily explained by S.R.Gardiner and Wallace Notestein; partly, one suspects, because the researches in local or county history inspired by Thomas Barnes and Alan Everitt were irreconcilable with theories about ‘class conflict’: but, mainly, because, they had been overtaken by the passage of time and the increasingly severe problems faced by their own interpretations. The historiographical past belonged to them: the future, at least until c.1990, to their critics. 

Killing Beauties by Pete Langman- Unbound Digital (23 Jan. 2020)400 pages

KILLING BEAUTIES is a well-written semi-interesting piece of historical fiction. Langman sets his novel during the Protectorate of the 1650s. The novel focusses on the extremely dangerous world of the Royalist spies.

Having read the book from cover to cover, I find the premise a little implausible. Without spilling too much of the plot, I find it hard to believe that Cromwell’s foremost spy catcher John Thurloe would fall for a sister of a leading Royal Royalist Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon writer of a History of the rebellion.

The book seems to be well researched and has a degree of erudition you would expect from a PhD holder whose subject was Francis Bacon.In terms of historiography Langman’s book joins a growing army of such like publications that promote the Royalist cause against the nasty parliamentarians who cut the head off a beloved king. Langman was influenced by his partner Dr Nadine Ackerman’s research for her book invisible agents[1]

As Langman explains “I was introduced to Susan and Diana by my partner, Dr Nadine Akkerman, as she was researching her (bloody splendid) book Invisible Agents: Women and espionage in seventeenth-century Britain. She was not that far into the task before it seemed as if Nadine was operating more as Spycatcher than a researcher, and it was only in the face of her relentless work that the she-intelligencers slowly gave up their secrets. As Nadine put ever more flesh on their archival bones, we began to realise that they were the perfect protagonists to star in a work of historical fiction. What was so promising about this pair was partially the fact that they were operating in the same circles at the same time, and yet don’t appear to have met, and partially the fact that their lack of excitement about the idea of being caught led to their tracks being pretty well covered over.[2]

While I found Langman’s book, a moderately interesting read, I found his method even more fascinating. As he explains in this interview”There are two approaches available to the historical novelist: to fictionalise history or historicise fiction. A fictionalised history is one in which a story is woven around actual events, while historicised fiction is one in which historical detail is inserted into a story. I would say I chose the former, but it would be more accurate to say that the former chose me.

Archives do not tell us everything. There are always gaps. Sometimes you can fill them in by using other sources (though this needs to be approached with care), but sometimes they simply insist on remaining as gaps. The primary site of divergence between the historian and the novelist is in the way they approach these gaps: for the former, they are traps; the latter, portals. I could make the gaps work with me rather than against me.”

To conclude, I have read better historical fiction books, and I have read worse. My overriding feeling that a PhD holder of Langman’s calibre should be writing academic books, not historical fiction. Maybe his next book will prove me wrong.

Postscript

The book is published by Unbound it was the first crowdfunding publisher founded in 2011. A list of people who pledged support for the book to be published is in the back and front of the book. A brave new world


[1] https://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/search?q=nadine
[2] https://thewritingcoach.co.uk/category/thewritingcoach/

Gerald Aylmer and the Discussion Group on the State

By Chris Thompson

I have just spent part of my time searching for material on the response of Robert Brenner to the works of Immanuel Wallerstein and thinking about whether I should buy the first volume of the latter’s series of works on the World System. During the course of these searches, I found an on-line copy of Spencer Dimmock’s defence of Brenner’s work on the rise of capitalism and also a reference to Gerald Aylmer’s participation in the work of the Discussion Group on the State until his death.

I had been aware of the existence of this group, partly through the book by Corrigan and Sayer entitled The Great Arch and partly as a result of a conversation many years ago with John Morrill, who had known Aylmer much better than I ever did. I then found a tribute by Derek Sayer to Gerald Aylmer in the Journal of Historical Sociology for March 2002.

Sayer’s account began with a description of his initial meeting with Aylmer, then newly installed as Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, and the evolution of the plans for an informal conference to be held there each year on the evolution of the English State (although that restriction to England was never fully enforced). Approximately twenty scholars, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less, were invited to discuss short papers that were circulated in advance and to elaborate on their contents for about ten minutes or so before wider discussions began amongst those present. There were sessions on Thursday evenings, two the following morning and evening and one or two on the final Saturday morning.

Interestingly enough, there were no formal ‘discussants’ nominated to reply to the papers and no plans for publication. Gerald Aylmer evidently thought that participants would be bolder in the discussion if they did not expect their papers to be dissected or their remarks to be published shortly thereafter. They could be and often were drawn out of their periods of expertise with fruitful results. Of course, some sacrifices had to be made – Aylmer like Sayer and Patrick Wormald had to give up smoking in the DGOS’s sessions – and some papers did, in due course, make it into print once their authors had reflected on the responses they had received from those present.

All in all, Sayer paid a gracious tribute to Gerald Aylmer and his role in this informal group. But there may be a wider point to be made here. I am certainly interested in what people in other disciplines have to say.  As a historian, however, I personally find it very difficult to listen to or read the observations of scholars in other disciplines, whether historical sociologists or political scientists or philosophers, advancing arguments or making comments about subjects in which I am interested without having consulted the sources for the period. All too often they base these observations on the secondary works they have consulted without any direct knowledge of the records at all. Frequently, these arguments are made in the service of ideological causes that I find unconvincing.

Nonetheless, it is pointless to complain about sociologists or political scientists or anyone else going to the past to find ammunition. That process cannot be stopped. But their arguments and conclusions remain subject to historical examination, a point Gerald Aylmer understood as well as anyone.

The Decline of Magic. Britain in the Enlightenment, by Michael Hunter -London: Yale University Press, 2020



“I am a lumper, not a splitter. I admire those who write tightly focused micro-studies of episodes or individuals, and am impressed by the kind of quantitative history, usually on demographic or economic topics, which aspires to the purity of physics or mathematics. But I am content to be numbered among the many historians whose books remain literary constructions, shaped by their author’s moral values and intellectual assumptions.”[1]

Keith Thomas

There never was a merry world since the fairies left off dancing and the parson left conjuring.

—John Selden (1584–1654)

Michael Hunter is an Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck and is the author of various essays and books. A world-renowned expert on Robert Boyle (1627-1691). His book Boyle: Between God and Science (2009) won the Roy G. Neville Prize. He has produced a catalogue of Boyle’s vast archive and was given the task of editing Boyle’s Works (14 vols., 1999-2000).

Given this level of expertise and knowledge, you would have thought he would have been more careful in the opening pages of his new book in describing the 17th-century scientific revolution as “so-called”. In a 2001book review [2]

, Hunter again cast doubt on there being a scientific revolution by putting quotation marks around the term.We should be thankful for small mercies when he correctly surmises the problem some historians have in using the term scientific revolution; he writes “The concept of a ‘Scientific Revolution’ — a radical transformation of ideas about the natural world that occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — seems to have survived the attacks on it in recent years by revisionists who stress the continuity between old and new ideas in the period. On the other hand, it has become more rather than less difficult to write about the topic. This is partly due to the accumulation of research and partly to the proliferation of different approaches to the subject.

The Marxist view of science as being moulded by social forces still exerts a strong influence on ideas about developments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This period saw the emergence not only of modern science but also of modern capitalism, raising questions about how the two are related. There was a powerful intellectualist reaction against this view in the postwar years, associated particularly with the historian of science Alexandre Koyré, which stressed the internal dynamics underlying the evolution of scientific ideas. This tradition, too, remains very much alive. More recently, we have seen the rise of cultural history, which looks for subtler social and institutional links between ideas and their context”.

Given Hunter’s well-known aversion to anything Marxist maybe it was the word revolution that Hunter objected to and not the term scientific. His reticence over the term scientific revolution is not surprising since Hunter is part of a group of historians of early modern science and medicine, according to Andreas Sommer who “have challenged simplistic popular accounts, according to which the ‘decline of magic’ in western culture was due to progress in the sciences or open-minded empirical approaches to ‘occult’ phenomena”.[3]

Hunter’s aversion to science’s role in the decline of magic is a significant departure from the previous historiography. His book has been compared to Keith Thomas’s Religion and the decline of magic. Thomas correctly had science playing the lead role in the decline of both religion and science.

As Roger L. Emerson correctly points out “Keith Thomas ended Religion and the Decline of Magic by claiming that the works of Isaac Casaubon, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, John Ray, and other like-minded men in the Royal Society, along with a host of continental philosophers, had made it possible for magical thinking to be overthrown among the elite intellectuals and for religious claims to be chastened by “rationalism.” Beliefs in things like second sight and communion with witches and fairies were being relegated to the lower orders. He noted the role in this process of social developments, such as the wider and quicker dissemination of news by more presses and better roads, the optimism which came with the increased ability to predict and control events in one’s life, and of the emergence of attitudes that gave the new sciences and medicine more purchase on a world which seemed less magical and spirit-haunted. He so saw these developments as being based in the “methods of the scientists,” which he characterised as “controlled experiment and innovation,” methods which were not those of the religious or the magicians.[4]

Thomas’s viewpoint has since the 1970s been consistently under attack. Hunter has been one of many historians that have sought to undermine some of Thomas’s historiography, and in particular his insistence on science playing the most prominent role in the decline of religion and magic.

The central premise of Hunter’s new book is that it was not scientists that were predominantly responsible for the decline of both magic and religion but freethinkers. Hunter states ‘Insofar as there was a political dimension to this, it was arguably not in the struggles of Whigs and Tories but in the inexorable growth of the state and the establishment in this period of what J.H. Plumb aptly described as “political stability.” And this went with an increasing emphasis on the pursuit of an essentially civil religion which Deists like John Toland had pioneered.’ (175).

Hunter is careful enough not to rubbish too much the part science played in the decline of magic but downplays its role citing the fact that many leading scientists of the day defended the “reality of supernatural phenomena.”

Hunter’s book has been widely reviewed and widely praised with very few if any hostile reviews. The book is well written and well researched which does not come as a surprise given Hunter’s stature. It is beautifully produced by Yale containing many varied illustrations and photographs. Some of the reviews have been a little over the top, such as “Hunter’s book deserves to become another classic.”— “This is an important and remarkable book” “Definitely a book to think with, and Hunter brings new figures to scrutiny”.

The majority of reviews skate over Hunter’s very dangerous downplaying of science’s preeminent role in the decline of magic and religion. As Jeremy Black points out “The scholarly move away from an emphasis on science leads to the observation that assertion, rather than proof, was important to the dismantling of belief in magic. Particular case- studies take up much of the relatively short text (there are valuable notes and interesting appendices), before the conclusion, which offers a pulling together of the case-studies and themes, including a review of other literature.”5]

The elevating of “freethinkers” above both scientists and politicians for being responsible for the decline of both religion and magic is one dimensional. Hunter’s attitude towards science is replicated by an attitude towards politics in which he downplays the role of politics in the decline of religion and magic As this paragraph from the book shows “‘Scepticism about witchcraft had escaped from its dangerous affiliations with freethinking to become an acceptable viewpoint for orthodox thinkers of various houses. The truth is that party politics were tangential to the major attitudinal change towards magic that was now coming about: one is here reminded of the rather fruitless debate over the party-political affiliations of Newtonianism in the same period that occurred some years ago, which ended in an almost total stalemate.’ (174)

Hunter’s chapter on the Englightenment and the rejection of magic is both small and disappointing. Given that the subtitle of the book is Britain in the Enlightenment you get a lot of Britain but very little Enlightenment.

Hunter should be applauded for his work on the “freethinkers” of the period covered in the book such as John Toland. But his assertion that these “freethinkers” were leading the struggle against religion and magic is contentious. As the Marxist writer David North correctly states it was the scientist who led the way “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt a death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway.

The discoveries in astronomy profoundly changed the general intellectual environment. Above all, there was a new sense of the power of thought and what it could achieve if allowed to operate without the artificial restraints of untested and unverifiable dogmas. Religion began to encounter the type of disrespect it deserved, and the gradual decline of its authority introduced a new optimism. All human misery, the Bible had taught for centuries, was the inescapable product of the Fall of Man. But the invigorating scepticism encouraged by science in the absolute validity of the Book of Genesis led thinking people to wonder whether it was not possible for man to change the conditions of his existence and enjoy a better world. The prestige of thought was raised to new heights by the extraordinary achievements of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) who, while by no means seeking to undermine the authority of God, certainly demonstrated that the Almighty could not have accomplished his aims without the aid of extraordinarily complex mathematics.”[6]

Britain and the Englightenment

Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of the book is that it only concentrates on Britain’s place in the Englightenment. While a historian is free to choose the subject, putting the decline of religion and magic in a European context would have given the book a much more multi-dimensional outlook.

British enlightenment thinking could be perhaps best summed up as a more pragmatic approach summed up by John Locke who said “our business here is not to know all things, but those, which concern our conduct. It has been argued that the enlightenment “baby’s first words were spoken in English”.

Enlightenment figures in Britain had a profound effect on thinking around the world as Voltaire wrote, “without the English reason and philosophy we would still be in the most despicable infancy in France”. Diderot translated into French the works of people such as Shaftesbury, and the idea of the Encyclopedia came from a scheme to translate Ephains chamber Encyclopaedia.

Having said that there was a dialectical relationship between the English Enlightenment and Europe. The Scottish economist Adam Smith absorbed much of what the physiocrats were saying in France. The philosophy Jeremy Bentham derived his utilitarianism partly from a study of Helvetius.

The American declaration of independence was heavily influenced by the thinking of John Locke, whose idea that there were no innate principles in mind reflected much of the thinking on the continent of Europe. Diderot summed the universal friendship fostered by enlightened thinkers when he said of David Hume “my dear David, you belong to all nations, and you will never ask an unhappy man for his passport”.[7]

Perhaps the hardest thing for these Enlightenment figures to do was to define what was the Enlightenment. According to Norman Hampson, who is one of the leading authority on the subject defined it as “less a body of doctrines than a shared premise from which men from different temperaments placed in different situations drew quite radically different conclusions”. Maybe they held  a common language but talked with different accents.

John Gray in his book The Great Philosophers: Voltaire: said of Giovanni Battista Vice  
(23 June 1668 – 23 January 1744) “that historical epochs may be so different that their values cannot be recaptured without the tremendous effort of imagination. Herder’s claim that different cultures may honour goods that cannot be combined and which are sometimes incommensurable. Pascal’s distinction between l’espirit de teometrie and le espirit de finese and its collollary that truth cannot be contained within the confines of any system or discovered by applying any one method- such ideas are alien to the humanist spirit of the Enlightenment. They limit too narrowly what can be known by human beings and what can reasonably be hoped for them to be acceptable to any enlightened thinker”.

To conclude, readers should approach this book in the spirit of the Enlightenment, which was “Sapere Aude” dare to know”. Hunter’s revisionist outlook should also be approached with caution. I would urge the reader to read around the subject before judging this book as another classic.

[1] The Magic of Keith Thomas-Hilary Mantel- http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2012/06/07/magic-keith-thomas/
[2] How the old became new Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions,1500–1700 by Peter Dear Palgrave: 2001. 208 pp. £45 (hbk), £14.99 (pbk)
[3] https://www.forbiddenhistories.com/hunter-decline-of-magic/
[4] https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5397
[5] https://thecritic.co.uk/discussing-magic/
[6] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism
By David North-24 October 1996- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1996/10/lect-o24.html
[7] The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments – 1 Aug. 2004-by Gertrude Himmelfarb 



Rachel Willie. Staging the Revolution: Drama, Reinvention and History, 1647-72. Manchester University Press, 2015.
It is not often that a book cover nearly outshines the book itself, but Rachel Willie’s first book is close to being upstaged by the cover showing Wenceslas Holler’s illustration of Aesop’s fable ‘Of The Rebellion of the Arms and the Legs’.[1]

As the blurb for the book states it “is an exciting attempt to understand the complex politics of the 1660 restoration through the use of “textual and visual narratives”.  The use of art or in this case, the use of drama to understand and explain the counter-revolution that took place during the Restoration period is a positive development.

Willie’s use of art as the cognition of life is in the spirit of great Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky if not his politics. As Voronsky writes “What is art? First, art is the cognition of life. Art is not the free play of fantasy, feelings and moods; art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet; art is not assigned the goal of primarily awakening in the reader ‘good feelings.’ Like science, art cognises life. Both art and science have the same subject: life, reality. But science analyses, art synthesises; science is abstract, art is concrete; science turns to the mind of man, art to his sensual nature. Science cognises life with the help of concepts, art with the aid of images in the form of living, sensual contemplation.”[2]

Willie’s book from a historiography standpoint is revisionist through and through. Willie is part of a new generation of British historians whose Historiography is an explicit rejection of previous Whig and Marxist historiography.

While not ignoring what passes for Marxist historiography her uncritical attitude towards Margot Heinemann[3] is especially troubling. Heinemann was intimately connected to the Stalinist perspective of Peoples history practised by the British Communist Party. The Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History” first came to prominence after A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England was published. As Ann Talbot points out, Morton obscured the class character of earlier rebels and revolutionaries and popular leaders “regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries.[4]

Heineman is only mentioned twice in the book, so it is hard to gauge how much she influences Willie. My guess is quite a bit, and the extent of her influence will probably come out during further projects by Willie.

While Heinemann is used from a political standpoint, her use of Jurgen Habermas is down to her agreement with his philosophical outlook. Habermas was a crucial figure in the anti-Marxism Frankfurt School.Much of Habermas’s writings were borrowed by cultural theorist such as Stuart Hall who in turn borrowed certain conceptions from the Italian left-wing figure Antonio Gramsci, particularly the latter’s notion of cultural hegemony in addressing popular culture as a preferred sphere of political activity. As Paul Bond writes “Gramsci was attractive not merely for his cultural writings—many of which were produced during solitary confinement under the Mussolini fascist regime—but also for his attacks on economic determinism, his explicit rejection of the theory of Permanent Revolution and his justification of the nationalist orientation of Stalinism: As Gramsci declared, “To be sure, the line of development is toward internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’—and it is from this point of departure that one must begin”.[5]
  
Willie’s theoretical outlook appears to be an amalgam of all three.Willie’s absentmindedness towards Habermas’s politics is another troubling aspect of the book. As Uli Rippert[6]
 points out, Habermas represents the political transformation that took place in many of his generation from the late 1960s who protested against the  Vietnam War but have now thrown their lot in with German bourgeoisie’s imperial designs and warmongering.

Willie’s usage of the work of Hannah Arendt is perhaps the most baffling. Arendt was a liberal opponent of fascism who was an apologist of Martin Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies. Arendt bent over backwards in her attempts to downplay Heidegger’s Nazi connections saying “Heidegger himself corrected his own ‘error’ more quickly and more radically than many of those who later sat in judgment over him—he took considerably greater risks than were usual in German literary and university life during that period.”[7]

To conclude, while being a useful introduction to the study of Restoration drama, it is beholden of Willie in the future to defend her choices of political and philosophical friends.




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Belly_and_the_Members
[2] Art as the Cognition of Life, Selected Writings 1911-1936, -Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky,Mehring Books, Michigan, 1998,-ISBN 0-929087-76-3, 554 pages,
[3] Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the Early Stuarts, 1980
[4] “These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill
by Ann Talbot-25 March 2003
[5] Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A political career dedicated to opposing Marxism-
 https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/03/05/hall-m05.html
[6] Jürgen Habermas—Germany’s state philosopher turns 85
By Ulrich Rippert-18 June 2014- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/06/18/habe-j18.html
[7] Quoted in The Case of Martin Heidegger, Philosopher and Nazi-The Cover-up-By Alex Steiner
4 April 2000- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a04.html

More Like Lions Than Men-Sir William Brereton and the Cheshire Army of Parliament, 1642-46-Andrew Abram -Helion & Company.

This is a superbly written, researched and beautifully illustrated book. It follows the military exploits of Sir William Brereton and the Cheshire army of Parliament 1642-46.
Sir William Brereton was a typical member of the early English bourgeoise. He was “model puritan magistrate” and active businessman. He travelled to such places as Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, France and the United States where he acquired a property in New England. He was a pioneer in estate management.

From a political standpoint, before the war, he was no rebel. He received a baronetcy from the duke of Buckingham in 1627 and did not resist Charles I’s imposition of Ship money. As John Morrill points out, Brereton was “easily labelled a Puritan in the 1630s as any gentleman can be. He was a Protestant nationalist with marked anti-Catholic views”.[1]

At the outbreak of hostilities between the Parliament and King Brereton felt that in order to defend his business interest and religious beliefs, it would be prescient to side with Parliament. Politically conservative he became a well-established adherent of a godly reformation in the Long Parliament.

Civil War In Cheshire

As Abram points out, Brereton’s early military exploits were none too successful. He was despatched by Parliament to seize Chester but failed miserably and was forced to return to London. Again when he tried to remove Royalist forces from Cheshire, his campaigns were nothing to write home about. It was only when he was given substantially more resources did military victories start to flow. These victories prompted Royalist to pump more men into the area. In total, 12000 men were sent to oppose Brereton. His subsequent victory over the Royalist army and his courageous actions and superb military acumen earned him the praise of Thomas Fairfax leader of the Parliamentary forces and a march through the streets of London.

Radicalism

During the last eighteen months of the war, Brereton kept letter books which contained a gold mine of information on Parliament’s military, administrative, and political actions during the civil war.

Five letter books survived the war containing over some 2000 letters. The letters show that like a large number of participants in the war, Brereton underwent something of a  radicalisation. According to Morrill “Brereton may also have already been linked to the radical congregationalist Samuel Eaton, just returned from exile in New England, whose sermons not only challenged the basis of all existing church government, discipline, and liturgy but also took up radical social causes”.[2]

Brereton became an important member of the ‘war party’ in the Long Parliament. He was especially close politically to lords Saye and Wharton, and Oliver St John and Henry Vane. He became a vital army grandee, and like Oliver Cromwell, was excluded from the Self Denying Ordinance that prevented members of Parliament from holding military commissions. He was named as a judge at the regicide but got cold feet and did not appear at the trial of the King. This action almost certainly saved his life as after the Restoration of 1660; he was allowed to continue to live in Croydon Palace.

Historiography

Abram’s book exhibits no real discernable historiography other than being influenced by the work of John Morrill and his book Revolt of the Provinces. Morrill’s work is deeply hostile to Marxist historiography rejecting what he called the “rather triumphalist claim that you could now produce a kind of social determinist view of the long-term causes and origins of the English revolution. It was that I think, which several people quite independently reacted against”.

Morrill’s historiography was characterised by his theory of the civil wars being ‘Wars of Religion and a “revolt of the Provinces”.Abram’s book appears to be a military version of that historiography.

To conclude, as I said at the beginning of this article the is well researched and uses a range of primary sources, a large number of which have never been published. The book is beautifully illustrated, and the artwork of Alan Turton and Dr Lesley Prince takes it to a different level. For any military history enthusiast, the book is a must-read.


[1]Sir William Brereton and England’s Wars of Religion-John Morrill-Journal of British StudiesVol. 24, No. 3 (1985), pp. 311-332-https://www.jstor.org/stable/175522[2] Sir William Brereton and England’s Wars of Religion-John Morrill-Journal of British StudiesVol. 24, No. 3 (1985), pp. 311-332-https://www.jstor.org/stable/175522

The Poor in the English Revolution-1640-1649

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England bath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore, truly, Sir, I think it is clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government. “

Colonel Rainborowe – New Model Army Soldier-Putney Debates

“the necessitous people [the poor] of the whole kingdom will presently rise in mighty numbers; and whosoever they pretend for at first, within a while, they will set up for themselves, to the utter ruin of all the nobility and gentry of the kingdom.”

Quoted in Christopher Hill The English Revolution 1640

“thus were the agricultural people, firstly forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system.”

Karl Marx [Capital]

“This Commonwealth’s freedom will unite the hearts of Englishmen together in love, so that if a foreign enemy endeavour to come in, we shall all with joint consent rise to defend our inheritance, and shall be true to one another. Whereas now the poor see, if they fight and should conquer the enemy, yet either they or their children are like to be slaves still, for the gentry will have all. Property divides the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere.” When the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must, then this enmity in all lands will cease.”

Gerrard Winstanley, Digger Leader

IntroductionWhen it comes to the matter of the poor during the English Revolution, there have primarily been two trends in the English Revolution historiography. The first is either to ignore them entirely or to place them in the forefront of the leadership of the English revolution alongside radicals from previous centuries representing an unbroken thread of radicalism that goes right up to the present day.

I do not claim that there was no “revel, riot and rebellion” during the English Revolution, but the English revolution was made by the bourgeoisie, not the working class which was still in its infancy.

There was, however, a significant radicalisation of the poor during this time. As this quote shows, “Against the king, the laws and religion were a company of poor tradesmen, broken and decayed citizens, deluded and priest-ridden women, . . . there rode rabble that knew not wherefore they were got together, tailors, shoemakers, linkboys, etc. on the king’s side. .all the bishops of the land, all the deans, prebends and learned men; both the universities; all the princes, dukes, marquises; all the earls and lords except two or three; all the knights and gentlemen in the three nations, except a score of sectaries and atheists. “[1]

It was these “sectaries and atheists” that conservative thinkers like Richard Baxter sought to warn the ruling elite about when he wrote “A very great part of the knights and gentlemen of England . . . adhered to the king. And most of the tenants of these gentlemen, and also most of the poorest of the people, whom the others call the rabble, did follow the gentry and were for the king. On the Parliament’s side were (besides themselves) the smaller part (as some thought) of the gentry in most of the counties, and the greatest part of the tradesmen and freeholders and the middle sort of men, especially in those corporations and counties which depend on clothing and such manufactures…Freeholders and tradesmen are the strength of religion and civility in the land, and gentlemen and beggars and servile tenants are the strength of iniquity”[2]. Baxter was one of the most politically astute commentators on the English revolution. His writing expressed a general fear amongst the ruling elite of growing social unrest.

Historiography

It is not in the realm of this essay to examine every single piece of historiography connected with the poor during the English revolution. It is however hard not to disagree with the words of Lawrence Stone who described the history of the 17th century as “a battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way”.

A large number of these ferocious scholars have ignored the radicalisation of the poor during the English Revolution or when they did comment on it was done so coupled with a persistent attack on Marxist historiography, with figures like Christopher Hil and Brian Manning taking the brunt of this assault.

While it is clear that up until the late 1960s, there appeared to be a consensus amongst historians studying the English revolution that a study of the poor had to be linked with socio-economic changes that were taken place in the 17th century.The late 1970s, saw this disappear and was replaced with a consistent attack on Marxist historiography. During an interview by John Rees and Lee Humber, the left-wing Christopher Hill was asked this question “There is a marked trend to separate out various aspects of the revolution, so that cultural development is seen in isolation to, say, economic ones, a trend which is part of a much wider debate taking in the arguments around postmodernism. Would you agree that this is also a great challenge to the economic and social interpretation of history?

Hill’s answer was “Yes, all this linguistic stuff of the literary historians ignores the social context. I think that’s a very unfortunate phase that literary criticism seems to be going through. I had thought that one of the good things of the last few decades was the way historians and literary critics seemed to be coming together on the 17th century and producing some sort of consensus. This is now in danger with all this linguistic guff. I suppose it’s quite difficult for people trained in one discipline to take on board the lessons learnt in others, but any new consensus will have to be one based on looking at society as a whole including literature and religion.”[3]

As the Marxist economist, Nick Beams also points out “One of the most frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is “disproved” by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but based on powerful ideologies. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are simply a rationalisation for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motives—the real, underlying, driving forces of the historical process—and to make clear the social interests served by a given ideology—a relationship that may or may not be consciously grasped by the individual involved”.
LeadershipWhile it is essential to understand what motivated the poor to “revel, riot and rebellion” it is even more critical to understand the relationship between the poor and its leaders, which on this occasion during the English Revolution were the various radical groups such as The Levellers and Diggers and to a certain extent the Ranters.
As Leon Trotsky wrote “In reality leadership is not at all a mere “reflection” of a class or the product of its own free creativeness. A leadership is shaped in the process of clashes between the different classes or the friction between the different layers within a given class.”[4]

The Levellers, while being sympathetic to the poor, their perspective of bringing about deep-seated change was hampered by their class outlook that being of small producers, conditioned by their ideology. This contradiction caused some tension between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of small property owners. They had no opposition to private property, and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. As John Cooke, a regicide and sympathetic to the Leveller cause explained ‘I am no advocate for the poore further then to provide bread and necessaries for them, without which, life cannot be maintained, let rich men feast, and the poore make hard meale, but let them have bread sufficient’. [5]

In order to overcome their contradiction, knowing full well that they could not come to power through the presently constituted electorate or through the control of the army, the Levellers attempted to find not a revolutionary solution to their problem but a constitutional one.

A draft constitution produced in 1647 called the Agreement of the People declared that the state had broken down in civil war and must be reformed based on certain fundamental ‘native rights’ safeguarded even from a sovereign parliament: religious toleration, no tithes. The attack on Parliament as sovereign went against one of the most fundamental reasons for the war in the first place. The agreement amongst other demands, called for biennial parliaments, franchise reform, only those who contracted into the new state by accepting the agreement were to have the vote.

While this was extremely radical for the time ‘freeborn Englishmen’ excluded servants and the poorer sections that did not constitute ‘the people’. As Christopher Hill wrote: “The Leveller conception of free Englishmen, was thus restricted, even if much wider, than that embodied in the existing franchise. Their proposals would perhaps have doubled the number of men entitled to vote. However, manhood suffrage would have quadrupled it. The generals, generally horrified, pretended at Putney that the Levellers were more democratic than they were”[6].

The generals deliberately exaggerated the radicalism of the Levellers in order to label them extremists and to mobilise their own supporters against them. Oliver Cromwell correctly recognised that if the franchise was widened, it would threaten his majority in Parliament. As Hill explains ‘Defending the existing franchise, Henry Ireton rejected the doctrine “that by a man being born here, he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here and of all things here”. The vote was rightly restricted to those who “had a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom”. Namely, the persons in whom all lands lies and those incorporation’s in whom all trading lies.’[7]

Diggers

The other substantial leadership of the poor came from the Diggers. Hill, in his seminal study, The World Turned Upside Down, believed that Winstanley and his Diggers, “have something to say to twentieth-century socialists”. In this, he meant that they were an anticipation of future struggles. Hill was cognizant that despite their radicalism, the social and economic conditions had not yet matured for them to carry out a “second revolution” which would have seen the overthrow of Cromwell and broader use of the popular franchise.

John Gurney, who was perhaps the foremost expert on the Diggers recognised the leader of the Diggers Gerrard Winstanley was one of the most important figures to appear during the English Revolution commenting “the past is unpredictable.’ So it has proved for Gerrard Winstanley. For all but one of his 67 years, he lived in obscurity, and then he died forgotten. Generations of historians passed over him either in silence or derision. He entirely eluded the notice of the Earl of Clarendon in the 17th century and of David Hume in the 18th. Even the Jacobin William Godwin, the first champion of the Civil War radicals, judged his exploits’ scarcely worthy of being recorded’, and S.R. Gardiner’s comprehensive history of the Commonwealth contained only two references to him, one a bare mention of his name. Then in the early 20th Century, Winstanley was rediscovered, and he has exerted a magnetic pull on left-leaning intellectuals ever since. He is variously credited as the father of English communism, socialism or environmentalism, depending on which is seeking paternity. His notice in the Victorian DNB was a scant 700 words; in the new DNB, it has ballooned to more than 8000. Now he has been canonised by the publication of an Oxford edition of his complete works, the second complete works in a century, more than have been accorded either Hobbes or Locke.”[8]

While the Diggers were far more radical in their perspective for the poor, they shared the same class position as the Levellers. No matter how radical their ideas at no point could they overturn class society through revolution. The only class that could have achieved their aims was still in its infancy.

Historians such as John Gurney are a rare bread today in that his study of the poor was done so from a relatively left-wing standpoint. While Hill and Manning tended to dominate the study of the poor during the English revolution, there were a group of historians that were less incline to support a Marxist interpretation of the poor but were sufficiently influenced to carry out important work.

One of many historians that fit the above criteria was D.C. Coleman. While not being close to Marxism was undoubtedly influenced by left-wing historians such as Hill.
Coleman was a multidimensional historian according to his obituary he  “was sceptical about politics and thought religion was largely nonsense. He realised that people were subject to motivation of a variety of sorts and that economic rationality could provide only a partial explanation. He made use, therefore, of economic theory, but did not regard it as the be-all and end-all in the attempt to explain human social behaviour over time, the essence of what he thought economic history should be about.[9]

Coleman points out in one of his writings that early capitalists were conscious that profit could be made by exploiting the large and growing working class. Coleman quotes J Pollexfen who writes , ‘The more are maintained by Laborious Profitable Trades, the richer the Nation will be both in People and Stock and … Commodities the cheaper”.[10]
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Coleman’s research was his publishing figures on the levels of poverty which are stunning. The levels of child labour that would not look out of place in a third world country today, stating “If the economists and social pamphleteers wanted a larger body of labouring poor, there is no lack of evidence that in mere numbers the poor already formed a very substantial part of the total population. Contemporary comment upon the numbers of poor stretches back into the sixteenth century, at least, and forward into the eighteenth. To Bacon, labourers and cottagers were ‘but house beggars’; to a writer of the 1640’s it. Seemed reasonable to suppose that ‘the fourth part of the inhabitants of most of the parishes of England are miserable, poor people, and (harvest time excepted) without any subsistence’, the comprehensive and well-known investigations of Gregory King in the 168o’s and 1690s tell an even grimmer tale. He classed 23 per cent of the national population as ‘labouring people and out servants’ and a further 24 per cent as ‘cottagers and paupers’, estimating that both groups had annual family expenditures greater than income.”[11]

Another historian worth reading is Steve Hindle; he is especially important and essential reading. Hindle’s work should be read in conjunction with that of Hill and Manning.
His work on the Levellers backs up my earlier assumption that while Levellers such as John Wildman were sympathetic to the poor, there was also a fear that the levels of poverty and a dearth of food could get out of hand. Wildman states ‘The price of food [is] excessive’, wrote the Leveller John Wildman from London in 1648, ‘and Trading [is] decayed’. It would; he thought, ‘rend any pitifull heart to heare andsee the cryes and teares of the poore, who professe they are almost ready to famish’. ‘While our divisions continue, and there be no settlement of the principles of freedom and justice’, he insisted: trading will but more decay every day: Rumours and feares of Warre, and the Army coming now into the City, makes Merchants unwilling to trust their goods in the City, and exchange beyond sea falles, and there will be no importing of goods, and then there will be no exporting and so the staple commodities of the kingdom which maintains the constant trade, will not tend to the advantage of the labourers, and then most of the poore in the kingdom which live by spinning, carding, & will be ready to perish by famine”.[12]

Wildman was echoing a common fear and worry amongst sections of the lower middle class that the impact of the failed harvests of 1647-1650. According to Hindle “Wildman was accordingly convinced that ‘a suddain confusion would follow if a speedie settlement were not procured’.

Hindle goes on “Wildman’s vivid analysis of the relationship between harvest failure, economic slump, political crisis and popular protest is proof enough that those who lived through the distracted times of the late 1640s were well aware of the interpenetration of economic and constitutional dislocation. It is surprising, therefore, that historians have made so little attempt to take the harvest crisis of the late 1640s seriously”.

Another famous exponent of regional studies of the poor is A. L. Beier. One of his studies was Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-1660. Beier presented in this essay a view that was supported by a significant number of historins that the study of the regional poor was an important part of a wider national study of the poor.

Beier warned about trying to read too much into these local studies, but a study of such areas as Warwickshire was legitimate. He writes “It would, of course, be dangerous to generalise from the example of one county to the whole of England, but the degree of typicality of Warwickshire and Professor Jordan’s findings are encouraging. To study other counties from this point of view may yield interesting comparisons and the discovery of new variables, particularly if areas are found where relief administration in fact collapsed. More generally, however, and assuming that poor relief did not collapse in England during the Interregnum, of what significance was its continued functioning? First, it is clear that the devolution towards local control which took place in this period did not mean collapse or even falling efficiency in administration whether the sort of zealous efficiency characteristic of the Puritan rule was continued after I660 is another question deserving of study.[13]


[1] Christopher Hill-The English Revolution 1640- https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/[2] https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution[3] John Rees and Lee Humber-The good old cause-An interview with Christopher Hill- https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/1992/isj2-056/hill.html[4] The Class, the Party-and the Leadership-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm[5] Unum Necessarium:John Cooke, of Graies Inne, Barrester.http://famineanddearth.exeter.ac.uk/displayhtml.html?id=fp_00502_en_unum[6]The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714 [7]The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714[8] Gerrard Winstanley and the Left-John Gurney-Past & Present, Volume 235, Issue 1, May 2017, Pages 179–206, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtx017[9] Professor D. C. Coleman-Obituary-https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-d-c-coleman-1600207.html[10] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x[11] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x[12] Dearth and the English revolution:the harvest crisis of 1647–50-By Steve Hindle-https://www.huntington.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/dearth-and-the-english-revolution-echr.pdf[13] A. L. Beier Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-16601 – Past and Present 1966

Disaffection and EverydayLife in Interregnum England. By Caroline Boswell. Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political, and Social History. Boydell Press, 2017.

“There is no locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary. Instead, there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case.”

Michel Foucault,

May the weary traveler turn from life’s dusty road and in the wayside shade, out of this clear, cool fountain drink, and rest

R. E. Speer, “Robert Burns,” Nassau Literary Magazine 43 (1888): 469.

“Cultural Studies originated as part of an attack on revolutionary Marxism, directed above all against its contemporary expression, Trotskyism”.

Paul Bond

Disaffection and Everyday Life is a significant addition to our knowledge of how the English Revolution and the subsequent Interregnum impacted the daily lives of “ordinary people.”

Caroline Boswell’s work harnesses previous work by other social and political historians such as Christopher Hill and David Underdown. She gives us a much closer approximation of how national politics impacted the daily lives of the population. Her book shows that there was a significant radicalisation amongst the poorer sections of the population.

Through her formidable study of the mass production of pamphlets situated in a large number of urban archives, she was able to get at “the heart of popular experiences of revolution.” As Carla Pestana states in her review of the book “anyone who has read the social history of seventeenth-century England produced over recent decades knows that scholars have unearthed a rich archive of confrontations in marketplaces, animated disagreements in taverns, and riots in the streets. Such moments of social and political tension come to the attention of the authorities, make their way into court documents and other sources, and await industrious modern researchers’ efforts to come again to light.  Numerous works recount such tales, in order to understand attitudes toward gender, economic justice, and a host of other issues. In these sources, the voices of common men and women emerge, mediated though they are by the often fraught occasions that caused them to 
be recorded.
[1]

Much of the material uncovered showed that rich people on both sides of the barricades still used everything in their power to retain or grab back their wealth. Boswell highlights the case of Sir Arthur Haslerige’s treatment of his tenants.

The Royalist’s exploited the state of flux in society during the Interregnum in order to seek the overturn of the revolution and re-establish the monarchy. Utilising popular drinking venues Royalist balladeers and pamphleteers spread their propaganda far and wide.

While Parliament also used the printing presses to counter the Royalist propaganda, they were not averse to using military force to suppress discontent. Boswell relates how Colonel Hewson ordered his troops to fire at London apprentices playing football in 1659, killing at least four of them.

While Boswell is careful not to exaggerate the hostility to the Cromwellian regime, the significant amount of discontent amongst the population was an indication of the narrow social base that Cromwell rested on. The army played a pivotal role in keeping things under control. There seemed a general hostility towards the soldiers, who were  
“despised” for their heavy-handed action[2]

While Boswell has collected a formidable array of information, her reading of the numerous pamphlets is at times uncritical as this example from a previous essay shows “In January 1650, the royalist pamphleteer John Crouch described a scuffle between a group of Londoners and a troop of soldiers in his scurrilous newsbook The Man in the Moon.  Though Charles I’s execution had been carried out a year before, Crouch continued to employ tropes long drawn out by royalist pens in an attempt to undermine the nascent Commonwealth. Themes of subversion, sexual slander and humiliation pervade this anti-Puritan narrative. Crouch related how ‘two or three Companies’ of ‘Rebell’ soldiers had seized a group of stage players on St John’s Street. Having deprived the players of their garb, the troopers marched them to Westminster for breaking Parliament’s ordinance against stage-plays. One soldier stayed behind the crowd with design of gaining ‘some plunder’, at which time he happened across a ‘skimmington’ riding near Smithfield Market. This popular shaming ritual involved a man imitating the army’s Lord General Thomas Fairfax on horseback. The ‘General’ held a skimming ladle while ‘Baskets’ of Colonel Thomas Pride’s ‘Graines’ were held out in front of him. Fairfax’s ‘Doxie’ sat behind him, her face to the horse’s tail.”[3]

Her account of the shooting at the football match relies heavily on Royalist news pamphlets as does much of the book. While there was undoubted dissatisfaction amongst the poorer section of the population, it is hard to figure how much Royalist publications fabricated this.

Historiography

Boswell’s book is part of a veritable cottage industry of works that examine the social and cultural history of the Seventeenth Century. Even a cursory look at her footnotes and bibliography, it is clear as Carla Pestana points out Boswell “plumbs the rich records of English localities to uncover arresting stories. The book includes many vignettes. Altercations in streets, taverns, doorways of private homes, and elsewhere all came to the attention of authorities who recorded them for Boswell’s perusal. She offers a thoughtful and sensible analysis of these altercations and their meanings, by and large.”

Her use of an eclectic mixture of historians ranging from Steve Hindle, Michael Braddick, Andy Wood, while a delight for the reader shows a historian who has yet to establish her take on the debate. The book also has shades of John Morrill’ s(1976) Revolt of the Provinces about it.

As John Reeks points out, “Morrill’s argument that national politics “took on local colours and [was] articulated within local contexts” has become Boswell’s “intersection” of “quotidian politics” with the “politics of revolution”. Nevertheless, the fundamentals are very similar, and the disaffection of Boswell’s 1650s bears more than a passing resemblance to what Morrill uncovered for the 1630s and 1640s.”[4]

While acknowledging a debt to the past left-leaning historians such as Christopher Hill, Boswell’s historiography is also heavily influenced by modern-day genres of Linguistic Cultural and Spatial turns. All these genres emanate from the Post Modernist school of historical study, and all three are hostile to a Marxist understanding of historical events.

John Reeks writes he “was left with no clearer understanding of the difference between a “site” and a “space” at the end of the book than at the beginning, or the historical significance of such distinctions. At times this tendency reads like amusing idiosyncrasy, but it can also give rise to mind-bending tautology: “to understand the politics of disaffection, we must consider how disaffection transformed – and was transformed by – the politics of everyday life”.

The application of Cultural Studies in British universities is now very pervasive. It would seem that every new book that comes out has a dash of Cultural Studies about it. Many of the conceptions contained within the genre are borrowed from the Italian left-wing figure Antonio Gramsci, particularly the latter’s notion of cultural hegemony in addressing popular culture as a preferred sphere of political activity.

As Paul Bond points out in his obituary of Stuart Hall “Cultural Studies originated as part of an attack on revolutionary Marxism, directed above all against its contemporary expression, Trotskyism. The academic field sought to shift the focus of social criticism away from class and onto other social formations, thus promoting the development of identity politics. Its establishment, in the final analysis, was a hostile response to the gains made by the Trotskyist movement in Britain from the 1950s onwards.”[5]

Conclusion

The book is exceptionally well-researched and contains valuable material for future study but I agree with John Reeks that Boswell needs to cut out the Spatial Turn language and just present her readership with “ a straightforward piece of political history”.


[1] Reviewed by Carla Pestana (University of California, Los Angeles) Published on H-War (January, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College) http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53344
[2] Page 145
[3] Popular Grievances and Royalist Propaganda in Interregnum England-Caroline Boswell- The Seventeenth Century -Volume 27, 2012 – Issue 3
[4] John Reeks (2019) Disaffection and everyday life in Interregnum England, The Seventeenth Century, 34:1, 129-130
[5] Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A political career dedicated to opposing Marxism
By Paul Bond-5 March 2014- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/03/05/hall-m05.html

Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate-Paul Lay-Head of Zeus, 352pp, £19.99

n terms of historical interest, Cromwell’s protectorate is a poor relation to the English bourgeois revolution. As Ted Valance points out, the Protectorate“has too often been dismissed as merely a dreary Puritanical prelude to the restoration of monarchy”.

Having said that Providence Lost does go a little way in rectifying this anomaly. The book is a well written and researched and is a solid albeit conservative piece of historical study.Paul lay is a gifted writer. His book is mostly narrative-driven but does contain some useful insights, but even his skill and experience cannot make the Protectorate as dramatic as the English revolution.

The book covers the years 1653 to 1659. The Protectorate replaced the short-lived English republic and replaced it with the dictatorship of the Major Generals with Cromwell at its head. While Lay’s book is not without analysis,but it would be better for the use of work of the great social historian as Lay calls Christopher Hil. Hill succinctly describes the social, political and economic processes that“ dissolved the Long Parliament forcibly in 1653, nominated a convention of his own adherents (the Barebones Parliament), which revived the social and economic demands of the petty bourgeoisie and had to be hastily dissolved. Cromwell was then proclaimed Protector under a Constitution (the Instrument of Government”), which was rigged to conceal the dictatorship of the Army officers. He called a Parliament under this constitution on a new £200 franchise, by which moneyed men were admitted to vote and the lesser freeholders excluded. But Parliament and Army quarrelled, Parliament was dissolved, and a period of naked military dictatorship followed under the Major-Generals, in which the Cavaliers were finally disarmed. Ultimately Cromwell and his Court circle (representing especially the new civil service), under pressure from the City, came to realise that the Army had done its job and that its maintenance now meant a crushing burden of taxation on the propertied classes, for which no compensating advantages were obtained”[1].

Once Cromwell had crushed all opposition to his and the army’s rule, he gave the bourgeoisie free rein to launch their conquests both at home and abroad. The short term failure of the conquests abroad gave Lay his book title. The launching of Cromwell’s imperial enterprises gave a massive impulse to the early capitalist class. It is, therefore, no accident that perhaps the most dubious and money-grabbing members of the petty bourgeoisie were chosen to lead the attempted overseas conquests. In doing so they marked the end of the “Good Old Cause” leading Edward Burrough, later to lament “where is the good old cause now?…and what is become of it? In whose hands does it lie? [2]

Like many aspects of the English revolution to the Protectorate is open to many interpretations not all historians agree that there was a naked military dictatorship, some like Austin Woolrych[3] tend to downplay the extent of the dictatorship.

Although not a historian in the strictest sense the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky took a different view in that “Under Cromwell’s leadership the revolution acquired all the breadth vital for it. In such cases as that of the Levellers, where it exceeded the bounds of the requirements of the regenerate bourgeois society, Cromwell ruthlessly put down the “Lunaticks.” Once victorious, Cromwell began to construct a new state law that coupled biblical texts with the lances of the ‘holy’ soldiers, under which the deciding word always belonged to the pikes. On 19th April 1653, Cromwell broke up the rump of the Long Parliament. In recognition of his historical mission, the Puritan dictator saw dispersed members on the way with biblical denunciations: “Thou drunkard!” he cried to one; “Thou adulterer!” he reminded another. After this Cromwell forms a parliament out of representatives of God-fearing people, that is, an essentially class parliament; the God-fearers were the middle class who completed the work of accumulation with the aid of strict morality and set about the plunder of the whole world with the Holy Scriptures on their lips”[4]

Trotsky had a specific economic and class approach. This type of approach is mostly absent from Lay’s book. The book is mainly devoid of economic analysis, especially the economic base of the Major Generals. When he does mention other historians, they are mostly conservative in nature. Christopher Hill is only mentioned once as a footnote. Hill did not write much on this subject, but when he did, it was worth reading, especially his early work.

His study of some of the Russian historians in work such as Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum was groundbreaking. Hill takes a far more historical materialist approach to the Protectorate in that he saw historical developments in class terms as this quote from his essay Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum highlights “There were rifts within classes as well as between them. The squires particularly occupied a double position-they were hostile to the old order but were themselves landlords, interested in enclosing, in keeping the peasantry in their place. This accounts for their re-alliance with the defeated Cavaliers after they had attained their ends: there was a common enemy to fear. Their fear of further social revolution held the squires back from completely finishing with the old landed order and so destroying the economic roots of the monarchy. 1659 marks a series of desperate attempts to conserve the republic without social reforms. But none of the groups that won power could reunite the interests of their class as a whole. Charles II was the most satisfactory heir to Oliver Cromwell if he was prepared to accept the revolution. And that is what the declaration of Breda did by referring all questions to parliament. ” Let the king come in,” Harrington had said, ” and call a parliament of the greatest cavaliers in England, so they be men of estates, and let them sit but seven years and they will all turn commonwealth’s men”. [5]

One question Lay’s book does not satisfactorily answer is why did so much power end up in so few hands? While Lay would not be caught dead using Leon Trotsky and Hill for political reasons could not, Trotsky is well worth reading for his clear-sighted analysis on the class nature of Cromwell’s rule. In his essay Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism he shows that  
“Different classes in different conditions and for different tasks find themselves compelled in particular and indeed, the most acute and critical periods in their history, to vest an extraordinary power and authority in much of their leaders as can carry forward their fundamental interests most sharply and fully”. Cromwell’s Protectorate was one such example. “For one era Oliver Cromwell, and for another, Robespierre expressed the historically progressive tendencies of development of bourgeois society.” [6]

Western Design

As Lay points out the foreign policy of Cromwell would set the template for British capitalism imperialist conquests for centuries to come. The future empire, as was the protectorate, would be built on slavery.

A significant part of Cromwell’s foreign policy or Western Design” was based on writings of a dubious former Dominican friar, Thomas Gage[7]. Gage himself writes, “I humbly pray your Excellency [Cromwell] . . . direct your noble thoughts to employ the soldiery of this Kingdom upon such just an honorable design in those parts of America. The fact that Cromwell took advice from Gage was a severe miscalculation that would end in disaster and humiliation for the English bourgeoisie. It is perhaps fitting that Cage met his end dying of dysentery upon arrival in Jamaica.

The failure of the western Design” caused significant problems for the Cromwell and his generals. A regime based on military power is only as good as its last victory. The defeat of Cromwell’s army and navy by the Spanish despite having numerical superiority caused Cromwell to increase his power at the expense of the already narrow franchise.  Thus began the Rule of the Major-Generals”.

This “military dictatorship” carried out a campaign of intimidation and brutality that would have been unthinkable even under the Monarchy.Parliament’s brutal punishment of the Quaker James Nayler in 1656 (his tongue was bored with a red-hot iron) for imitating Christ’s entry in Jerusalem was one such episode. As Rowan Williams writes in his book review, this was one of only many cases of “judicial sadism.”

The debacle at the hands of the Spanish also led to the escalation of attacks by class forces hostile to the Cromwell regime. A spate of Royalist/Leveller plots and assassination attempts were only foiled because of Cromwell’s vast spy network under the leadership of John Thurloe.

Historiography

Lay’s book has been reviewed by substantial sections of both big and small media with the majority praising the book. The book is attractive to review because of its conservative historiography. Lay somewhat unusually presents very little in the way of a conclusion at the end of the book.

Despite Lay being a trustee of the Cromwell Museum even a cursory read of the book tells us that Lay only goes so far with his admiration for Oliver Cromwell. He certainly feels ill at ease with the revolutionary nature of the Cromwellian revolution. Lay expresses horror at Cromwell’s and other regicides killing of the King and believes the act was illegal.

Lay’s hostility to the revolutionary acts carried out by the English bourgeoisie is mirrored by Rowan Williams former Archbishop of Canterbury who in his review of Lay’s book said “It is a pattern familiar in revolutionary narratives: the point at which it ought, at last, to be obvious to all that the revolution was right and justified when one could be confident of being on the side of history, keeps slipping over the horizon. Someone must be blamed, and the revolution inexorably descends into factional warfare. In recent decades, analysis by political thinkers such as Raymond Williams and Gillian Rose has stressed the inevitability of “long revolutions”, and the dangers of messianic end-of-history aspirations and the bloodshed that accompanies them. This should remind us of the foolishness of speaking as though history had “sides yet still the left and the right resort to such defaults. Lay’s book sheds light on this process, despite the fact that Cromwell’s must have been, historically, one of the least terror-ridden of revolutions”. [8]

Whether you could call Lay, a Whig historian is open to debate. His book does have a whiff of the Whig interpretation of history. As revolutions go you get the feeling that Lay would be more at home with the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that Lay would prefer rather than the 1640 revolution.

Conclusion

To conclude my criticisms of Lay should not put off anyone who would like to know more about the subject. Readers also should not be put off by any of significant criticisms from reviewers of Lay’s conservative approach to history.Lay probably feels the Protectorate was a failure, and with the restoration of the monarchy, not much had really changed. But as Trotsky said “Charles II swung Cromwell’s corpse upon the gallows. But pre-Cromwellian society could not be re-established by any restoration. The works of Cromwell could not be liquidated by the thievish legislation of the Restoration because what has been written with the sword cannot be wiped out by the pen”.


[1] ] The English Revolution 1640-https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/
[2] To the Whole English Army(1659)
[3] Commonwealth to Protectorate-by Austin Woolrych
[4] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm
[5] Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum-Christopher Hill-The Economic History Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, 1938), pp. 159-167
[6] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism
[7] For further information on the life of Cage see https://johnjburnslibrary.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/the-many-faces-of-thomas-gage/
[8] Oliver Cromwell, the man who wouldn’t be king-https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2020/01/oliver-cromwell-man-who-wouldn-t-be-king

The Peculiar History Of The Sect Known As The Quakers (Bristol radical Pamphleteers) Pamphlet – 2011-by Jim McNeill
“..yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing,”

Gerrard Winstanley

Where is the good old cause now?…and what is become of it? In whose hands does it lie?

Edward Burrough, To the Whole English Army(1659)

Friends, Meddle Not with the Powers of the Earth,

George Fox

Despite being only sixteen pages long, The Peculiar History Of The Sect Known as the Quakers poses a number of questions, who were the Quakers? Why were they persecuted? Why did they stop being radical? How did some of Bristol’s Quakers become so rich?

Jim McNeill’s excellent pamphlet give partial answers to the above questions and encourages the reader to read around the subject. Even a cursory look at the early history of the Quakers tell us that they were a mass of contradictions. During the English Revolution, the Quakers were closely aligned with other radical groups such as the Levellers and Diggers.

As Alan Cole explains “for nearly thirty years after the defeat of the Levellers at Burford, no political party emerged which could claim the effective support of the English radicals. Throughout this period the main centres of resistance were the Puritan sects and the history of the radical movement of the time, therefore, is closely bound up with the history of religious dissent. It is this fact which lends peculiar interest to the history of the early Quakers. For the rise of the Quakers spans the period from the breach between Cromwell and the radical movement to the emergence of the new Country Party at the end of the 1670’s; and conversely, the decline of Quakerism in England may be traced back to the final defeat of the popular movement and the political compromise of 1688. Moreover, the first Quakers had had close connections with the earlier radical movement. Like the Levellers, most of them came from the class of petty traders and handicraftsmen, although it is worth noting that the movement made more headway among the peasantry than the Levellers had done. Over half the early Quaker leaders were directly connected with the land, and throughout the century the movement remained strong in the rural districts of the north and west”[1].

McNeil is one of only a handful of left-wing historians who have examined the Quakers in the context of their role in the English revolution. Christopher Hill’s output on the Quakers was reduced amounted to a lecture at Friends House in London in 1993 and his book The World Turned Upside Down he devoted one chapter which included the Ranters alongside the Quakers. This is not down to a lack of resources. Hill’s limited work on the Quakers contained very little original research.

In many ways, the Quakers are the forgotten radicals of the English revolution. As Jean Hatton[2] points out in her excellent biography, the Quaker leader George Fox is hardly known outside the Quaker movement. If ever a person needed rescuing from the condescension of history, Fox is it.

Mcneill poses an interesting question in his pamphlet? How did an early movement that expressed egalitarian strivings of the more poorer sections of society end up playing such a crucial role in the early development of capitalism? As McNeill points, it was Quakers that founded most of the big banks that now operate like a colossus over the world.

One answer not really explored by McNeill lies in the class nature of the Quakers. While containing some plebian elements, this was essentially a movement in modern terms of what would be the lower middle class. If truth be told, it was mainly the plebian elements that gave the movement its radical edge.

As McNeill points out the early Quaker movement exploded during the English revolution alongside side other radical groups, Seekers, Ranters, Antinomians, Seventh Day Baptists, Soul sleepers, Adamites, Diggers, Levellers, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Behmenists, Muggletonians to name but a few.

In Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down[3]he explains the reasoning behind this explosion of radicalism and a world that was turned upside down, Hill writes: “From, say, 1645 to 1653, there was a great overturning, questioning, revaluing, of everything in England. Old institutions, old beliefs, old values came in question. Men moved easily from one critical group to another, and a Quaker of the early 1650s had far more in common with a Leveller, a Digger, or a Ranter than with a modern member of the Society of Friends”.

It is interesting that Hill’s in the book puts the Quakers with the Ranters in his only stand-alone chapter in the book. As Hill points out that Ranters were often confused with Ranters. George Fox leader of the Quakers would spend a large amount of his time trying to distance his movement away from the Ranters.

In 1652 Quakerism was at the height of its power, but from then onwards its radicalism started to wane very badly. As Hill explains the ebbing of the Quaker movement “In time of defeat when the wave of revolution was ebbing, the inner voice became quietist, pacifist. This voice only was recognized by others as God’s. God was no longer served by the extravagant gesture, whether Nayler’s entry into Bristol or the blasphemy of the Ranters. Once the group decided this way, all the pressures were in the direction of accepting modes of expression not too shocking to the society in which men had to live and earn their living. The radicals were so effectively silenced that we do not know whether many held out in isolation with Milton. We do not even know about Winstanley. But what looked in the Ranter heyday as though it might become a counter-culture became a corner of the bourgeois culture whose occupants asked only to be left alone.”

It is no coincidence that its move away from its early radicalism coincided with the rise of capitalism which it played an extremely important part. During the early part of the 18th century and 9th century, Quakers went on to be an indispensable tool in the development of capitalism. They were especially important in the field of technological innovations.  Industrial capitalism would rely heavily on Quaker’s inventions. 

As Steven Davison points out “They build many of the key industries, establish many of the most important companies, build its financial infrastructure, develop new modes of organization, and pioneer humane treatment of workers. At the same time that they are engaging the world of business, industry and commerce with incredible energy and invention, they are withdrawing from engagement with the world in virtually every other area of life. Friends maintain this double culture for two hundred years. In England, they become fabulously wealthy; in America, they do pretty well4].

[1] The Quakers and the English Revolution: Alan Cole -Past & Present, No. 10 (Nov. 1956), pp. 39-54
[2] George Fox: A Biography of the Founder of the Quakers Paperback – 1 Sep 2007-by Jean Hatton
[3] The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin History) Paperback – 12 Dec 1991
[4] Quakers & Capitalism: A Brief Recap-throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/quakers-capitalism-a-brief-recap/


Does the17th Century English Bourgeois Revolution need a reset

“Every sociological definition is at bottom a historical prognosis”. Leon Trotsky
A social order that was essentially feudal was destroyed by violence, a new and capitalist social order created in its place”

Christopher Hill

‘a battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way’. Lawrence Stone

Introduction

The last three decades have witnessed a non-stop onslaught by revisionist historians against the conception that England during the seventeenth- century witnessed a bourgeois revolution. The purpose of this essay is to reset the conception of a bourgeois revolution and reestablish it as part of our understanding of those unprecedented events that took place nearly four hundred years ago.

The historian most connected with the English bourgeois revolution was, of course, Christopher Hill. Hill was a member of the Communist Party until 1956 and was the author of the groundbreaking essay The English Revolution 1640. In his introduction, Hill wrote “the object of this essay is to suggest an interpretation of the events of the seventeenth century different from that which most of us were taught at school. To summarise it briefly, this interpretation is that the English Revolution of 1640-60 was a great social movement like the French Revolution of 1789. The state power protecting an old order that was essentially feudal was violently overthrown, power passed into the hands of a new class, and so the freer development of capitalism was made possible. The Civil War was a class war, in which the despotism of Charles I was defended by the reactionary forces of the established Church and conservative landlords. Parliament beat the King because it could appeal to the enthusiastic support of the trading and industrial classes in town and countryside, to the yeomen and progressive gentry, and to wider masses of the population whenever they were able by free discussion to understand what the struggle was really about. The rest of this essay will try to prove and illustrate these generalisations”.(1)
Hill knew that defending and proving his thesis would be easier said than done. He would be attacked both inside and outside the Communist party. He would spend most of his academic career seeking to defend and then re-define what he meant by a bourgeois revolution. 

In his 1940 essay he acknowledges how difficult it was to offer a precise definition of a bourgeois revolution, he writes”The Marxist conception of a bourgeois revolution, which I find the most helpful model for understanding the English Revolution, does not mean a revolution made by the bourgeoisie’. There was no self-conscious bourgeoisie which planned and willed the revolution. However, the English Revolution was a bourgeois revolution because of its outcome, though glimpsed by few of its participants, ‘was the establishment of conditions far more favourable to the development of capitalism than those which prevailed before 1640’.(2).

The 1940 essay was a breathtaking piece of work that deserved to be labelled groundbreaking. Although Hill was unsatisfied with what he wrote describing the essay, the work of “a very angry young man, believing he was going to be killed in a world war.”

Hill is correct when he says that the 1640 “bourgeois revolution was not consciously willed by the bourgeoisie”, but he was as Ann Talbot explains “sensitive enough to his historical sources to detect the social currents that brought people of diverse social backgrounds into struggle against the king and well-grounded enough in history to identify new and revolutionary ideas in the curious and archaic guise in which they appeared—as the ideologists of the revolution ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing.”(3)

Despite Hill’s belief that the bourgeoisie did not know what they were doing Talbot believed that Hill was”sufficiently astute to realise that when the people execute their king after a solemn trial and much deliberation, it is not the result of a misunderstanding but has a profound revolutionary significance entailing a complete break with the feudal past. Although the monarchy was later restored and the triumphant bourgeoisie was soon eager to pretend that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, no monarch sat quickly on the throne after that event until quite late in Victoria’s reign”.

Not everyone in the Communist Party welcomed Hill’s groundbreaking work on the English Revolution. The CP’s Labour Monthly carried several articles attacking Hill’s conception of the English bourgeois revolution.

A certain P.F wrote “When the king and the bourgeoisie began to realise that the system of government which up to then had worked rather satisfactorily would have to be changed somehow, the king looked for allies. The king was, as we have said, not simply a helpless instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie but had a certain independent power corresponding to the stage or transition between the classes. In order to keep this power and to extend it, the king turned for support to the feudal remnants and to the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie. With the help of these groups, he tried to reign against the majority of the bourgeoisie, especially the industrial and merchant bourgeoisie. Out of this conflict developed the Great Rebellion, the Civil War. The Great Rebellion, therefore, is, in my opinion, not the war of liberation of a suppressed bourgeoisie against feudalism – as was the Revolution of 1789. It represents rather a new and very important step forward in the progress of bourgeois society, a fight for the abolition of absolute monarchy, against the remnants of feudalism, against the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie, against every element which might retard the vigorous development of bourgeois capitalist society.(4)

One staggering point about Hill’s original article is the fact that it was allowed to be published by such an ossified Stalinist party. P.F’s comment was essentially reformist and was merely trumpeting Joseph Stalin’s Menshevik two-stage political position.(5)

Hill’s ability to write against the CP’ss party line on historical questions are explained by Talbot who said there was “something Jesuitical about the relationship of these historians to Marxism. They seem to have been capable of partitioning their minds and pursuing a scientific Marxist approach to history up to the point where the Stalinist bureaucracy drew the line, like the Jesuit scientists who would pursue their investigations as far as the Church authorities permitted, but no further. It was an approach that was further encouraged by the extreme specialisation of academic life that enabled them to concentrate on very narrow areas of history that never brought them into direct collision with the bureaucracy on political questions.

It has been said that as Hill began to write on different aspects of the revolution, this meant he had abandoned the concept of the bourgeois revolution. One essay, in particular, has been cited as marking a change in Hill’s stance on the revolution. Published in Three British Revolutions, 1641, 1688, 1776 Ed J A Pocock (Princeton U.P 1980) some historians believe it contained a change and repudiated his previous theory of the bourgeois revolution. While it is correct to say that Hill did in his early career concentrate on economic questions in this 1980s essay: A Bourgeois revolution, he said that” a revolution embraces all social life and activities.

Hill started to pay attention to the radicals of the English revolution. Groups such as the Levellers and Diggers were given far more prominence in his writings. Even his writings on these groups were influenced by his time in the CP. He owes a tremendous debt to the unfortunately underused historians of the former USSR. Hill was constrained to use only the ones cleared by the Russian CP.

One outstanding writer not cleared by the CP was Evgeny Pashukanis. Whether Hill studied Evgeny Pashukanis is an open point. Pashukanis makes this point on the Levellers “Generally, the dissolution of the bases of the feudal order in these two and a half centuries was a great step forward; the contours of the new social relationships appeared much more clearly, and the anti-feudal ideology assumed mature forms. Therefore, in the seventeenth century at the extreme left wing of the revolutionary movement we now find a party (the Levellers) which developed a broad and consistent programme of a bourgeois-democratic nature; the elimination of royal authority and the Upper House, the universal right to vote, the separation of church from state (the abolition of the tithe), the elimination of estate-corporate privileges, freedom of trade, direct income tax, the cessation of the plunder of common lands, and the abolition of all remnants of serfdom in land relations including even copyhold.

He continues”It is particularly important to note the demands of the Levellers concerning the radical restructuring both of judicial establishments and of court procedure. The age of mercantile capital, and the absolutism corresponding to it at the political level, was distinguished in the judicial area by the rule of casuistry, procrastination, bribe-taking and arbitrariness. Mercantile capital, developing on the basis of shackling forms of exploitation, is not only congenial to serf and police arbitrariness but is directly involved in it, for it facilitates the exploitation of the small commodity producers. The major monopolistic trading companies are much more interested in having good ties with the throne than in a fast, impartial and scrupulous court, the more so since in their internal affairs they enjoy broad, and even judicial, autonomy. On the contrary, the Levellers-by virtue of the fact that they acted as champions of the most general conditions of development of bourgeois-capitalist relations-had to turn their attention again to judicial reform. John Lilburne in his work, The Fundamental Laws and Liberties, incidentally formulates two classical principles of the bourgeois doctrine of criminal law: no one may be convicted other than on the basis of a law existing at the moment of commission of the act, and the punishment must correspond to the crime according to the principle an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Lilburne himself was, of course, the first man in England to succeed in being served with an indictment.

“The Levellers found their support among the peasants, small rentiers, craftsmen and workers. It is enough to recall the influence which they enjoyed in the London suburbs, in particular in Southwark, which was populated by weavers. However, their main support was the army. Here we encounter a fact imposing a characteristic imprint on the whole course of the first English Revolution: it was not accompanied by any significant agrarian movement. Proceeding from the Levellers, the attempt to transform the political structure of England of that day into a consistent bourgeois-democratic condition was never supported by a massive peasant uprising. For this, of course, there were fully sufficient reasons. In the first place, by that time serf dependence no longer existed in England. Almost everywhere, the corvée had been replaced by money rent. The cause of the greatest discontent had therefore, been eliminated. In the second place, the class divisions of the English peasantry, about which we spoke above, had gone rather far by the time of the Great Revolution. A rich upper stratum, separated from the general mass, tried to improve its farming at the expense of the less wealthy strata. Winstanley, the leader and ideologist of the “Diggers”, who attempted to realize something like agrarian communism, thus draws this contradiction between the rich freeholders and the poor: they (the freeholders) exhaust the common pastures, put an excessive number of sheep and draft animals on them, and as a result the small renter and peasant farmer hardly manage to feed their cows on the grazing ground.” The rich upper strata of the country took an active part in the destruction of the old common system, in particular, the enclosure of the common lands. In this instance, it united with the landowners against the rural poor. Here we see, mutatis mutandis, the same alignment of class forces which Stolypin tried to realize among us with the help of his agrarian legislation. It is clear that this destroyed the political power of the peasant movement against the landowners”.(6)

Hill defended his study of the radicals saying that ” some will think that I overemphasize the importance of the defeated radicals at the expense of the mainstream achievements of the English revolution. However, without the pressure of the Radicals, the civil war might not have transformed into a revolution: some compromise could have been botched up between the gentry on the two sides- a Prussian path”. Regicide and republic were no part of the intentions of the original leaders of the Long Parliament: they were forced on the men of 1649 by the logic of the revolution which they were trying to control.”

While it is rare for any historian today to come to the defence of Hill’s writing on the radicals of the English Revolution or any subject for that matter covered by Hill, it is to Justin Champion’s credit that he did so in his lecture Heaven Taken by Storm. Champion writes “Hill handled ideas in his three significant books Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution, and The World Turned Upside Down. Alongside those broader historical landscapes, Hill also offered profound studies of significant literary figures such as John Milton and John Bunyan. These works collectively ought to prompt discussion about what type of Marxism Hill subscribed too. His historical writing allowed space to consider the role of ideas, assessments of the individuals who produced them, and the consequent agency or outcomes of those moments of intellectual intervention. Hill did not employ the deterministic treatment of ideas as mere epiphenomena of economic infrastructure or class affiliation so frequently evident in the hostile caricature of his work. Much of the crude assault on the value of Hill’s history has been shaped by the distinct lack of conceptual engagement with the published evidence of his Marxist methodology. The best way to remedy this occlusion is to examine those under-read contributions by the man himself.(7)

As Champion points out in his essay if there was one constant feature of Hill’s work, it was that he understood the relationship between base and superstructure. As Karl Marx was the leading proponent of this theory, it is worth seeing what he wrote. If there is one major criticism is that Hill did not quote enough of Marx in his books.

It is clear from the Pocock essay that later in his career, Hill concentrated more on superstructure than he did on base. This shift must be said coincided with his leaving of the Communist Party in 1956. Perhaps his last great book on economic questions was Economic Problems of the Church written in 1956 although he would later return to the subject from time to time. The book A Century of Revolution published in 1961 was one such time.

Hill’s essay The English Revolution was, in many ways, a piece of classical Marxism. Not the last word on the subject but he did defend in the teeth of Stalinist opposition several fundamental Marxist conceptions. It is hard to fathom how much Hill read of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky but his understanding of qualitative changes in history mirrors that of Trotsky.

As Trotsky explains “Quality is an aspect of something by which it is what it is and not something else; quality reflects that which is stable amidst change. Quantity is an aspect of something which may change (become more or less) without the thing thereby becoming something else; quantity reflects that which is constantly changing in the world (“the more things change, the more they remain the same”). The quality of an object pertains to the whole, not one or another part of an object, since without that quality it would not be what it is, whereas an object can lose a “part” and still be what it is, minus the part. Quantity, on the other hand, is an aspect of a thing by which it can (mentally or really) be broken up into its parts (or degrees) and be re-assembled again. Thus, if something changes in such a way that has become something of a different kind, this is a qualitative change”, whereas a change in something by which it still the same thing, though more or less, bigger or smaller, is a “quantitative change”. In Hegel’s Logic, quantity and quality belong to being.(8)

One unfortunate by-product of Hill concentration on social or political aspects rather than the economics of the revolution was his adoption of the genre “Peoples history”. This particular bad piece of Stalinist baggage was taken by Hill when he left the CP. His approach to this type of history was directly influenced by the politics of the bureaucracy.

As Ann Talbot eloquently states “The Communist Party sponsored a form of People’ss History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s Peoples History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. Peoples history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr.

 Stone- Manning

Hill’s concept was not without its admirers or supporters. One such supporter in the early days of Hill’s career was the American historian Lawrence Stone. Stone it is said described the history of the 17th century as ‘a battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way’.

Stone took a position similar to the Christian Socialist historian R.H. Tawney, which sought to explain the cause of the English Civil War from the standpoint of a growing and politically influential section of the gentry. The growth of this gentry had over the preceding years led to a destabilising of the English State. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper “inverted this theory, arguing that in fact the Civil War was caused in part by court gentry who had fallen on bad times”.

In his book, The Causes of the English Revolution Stone does present a convincing case for the defence of the English revolution. It is broken down into two parts with four chapters; the fourth is an update on Stone’s previous position written in 1985. Part one is titled Historiography sub titled Theories of revolution. Stone does work through a number of sociological and Marxist theories as to the revolutionary nature of the English Civil war. Stone’s enquiry on the nature of the English Revolution was prompted by his time at Princeton University in America. While teaching at Princeton he came under extensive attack by his students for his leanings towards a social/economic read Marxist interpretation of the Civil War.

Stone may have considered himself a young Marxist, but he was nothing of the kind. Stone had a major problem in that he never really understood the difference between genuine Marxism and a crude form of economic determinism.

As Nick Beams points out in his outstanding essay Imperialism and the political economy of the Holocaust “One of the most frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is disproved by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but on the basis of powerful ideologies. For example, the right-wing British historian Niall Ferguson maintains that since no business interests on either side of the conflict desired World War I—it served the immediate economic interests of neither—its origins cannot be said to lie within the capitalist economic system. It should be noted, in this regard, that no business or financial interests want recession either. However, recessions nevertheless occur, and they arise from the contradictions of the capitalist economy. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are simply a rationalisation for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motives—the real, underlying, driving forces of the historical process—and to make clear the social interests served by a given ideology—a relationship that may or may not is consciously grasped by the individual involved”.(9)

Stone, after he wrote this book, moved away from any association with Marxist historiography and in his own words became as he put it in an interview in 1987, “an old Whig.” The problem is that Stone tried to drag Hill into the same pit, stating that “Hill and I are thus now in agreement that the English Revolution was not caused by a clear conflict between feudal and bourgeois ideologies and classes; that the alignment of forces among the rural elites did not correlate with attitudes towards ruthless enclosure; that the Parliamentarian gentry had no conscious intention of destroying feudalism; but that the result, first of the royal defeat and second of the consolidation of that defeat in the Glorious Revolution forty years later, was decisive. Together they made possible the seizure of political power by landed, mercantile and banking elites, which in turn opened the way to England’s advance into* the age of the Bank of England, the stock-market, aggressive economic liberalism, economic and affective individualism, and an agricultural entrepreneurship among the landed elite to whose unique characteristics.”.This was Stone’s epitaph not Hill’s

Brian Manning

Brain Manning was made of sterner stuff. Manning studied under Hill and was profoundly influenced by him. He started his academic career politically tied to the Labour Party later in life he was politically attached to the radical left group the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). This was a handicap that was to hamper his work for the rest of his relatively short life.
To what extent you could call Manning a Marxist historian” is open to debate. Usually, these labels are given by people who are too intellectually lazy to explain what they mean by that term.

In history, accuracy matters. For too long historians have thrown around terms like Marxist without any real understanding of what they mean. Whether conscious or not, they do a disservice to any student studying the English revolution.

Manning first meaningful involvement in politics was through the Labour Party, but it was not until the 1980s that Manning rejected the Labour Party and joined the International Socialists forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party(SWP). The SWP was attractive to Manning as they fitted into his schemer of history from below. The Communist Party historians heavily influenced the SWP.

Manning was a student under Hill in the early 1950s and admired the great historian. In an obituary he wrote “The undoubted dominance of Christopher Hill in the history of the English Revolution may be attributed to his prolific record of books and articles, and his continuous engagement in debate with other historians; to the breadth of his learning, embracing the history of literature, the law, science, as well as religion and economics; to the fact that his work set the agenda and the standard to which all historians of the period had to address themselves, whether in support of or opposition to his methods and interpretations; but above all to the inspiration he drew from Marxism. The English Revolution took place in a culture dominated by religious ideas and religious language, and Christopher Hill recognised that he had to uncover the social context of religion in order to find the key to understanding the English Revolution, and as a Marxist to ascertain the interrelationships between the intellectual and social aspects of the period”.(10)

Manning developed close links with the Communist Party when he left Balliol College, Oxford. Having his first teaching post at Kings College London, then Manchester University finally ending up at University of Ulster. A critical development in Manning’s historical trajectory was when he served on the editorial board of the Magazine Past and Present, which was close to the Communist Party Historians. While opposing what he called “Soviet Communism” during his time on the editorial board he was not opposed to collaborating with British Communists historians.

Much of Manning work concentrated more of the radical groups in the English Revolution such as the Levellers, diggers etc. According to Alex Calinicos “At the end of the 1980s, Brian started to attend and speak at the Marxism week of discussion organised by the Socialist Workers Party every July in London. What drew us together was a shared commitment to the Marxist theory of history and an enthusiasm for the English Revolution. (Some of us – John Rees, for example – have always found it hard to distinguish between the two: there was a plan in 1994, as far as I remember never executed, to take a minibus to the battlefield of Naseby to gloat over the destruction of Stuart power by the New Model Army 350 years earlier.) Not the best epitaph a historian would want.

Norah Carlin is a little bit scathing of Manning’s defence of the English revolution, Manning’s work had alarming absence of explicitly Marxist explanation. Manning, for example, states his position on the nature of the class struggle in the Civil War in nine lines of his preface, and in a form which makes it almost impossible to recognise it as Marxist. Left-wing historians seem more concerned to establish their fair use of evidence than to engage in the development of a Marxist understanding of the class struggle”.

Revisionist revolt

While the development of revisionist historians attacking Hill and the concept of the English bourgeois revolution was an objective occurrence, it must be said that Hill did very little to counter this phenomenon. He was after all a better historian than he was a political thinker.

Hill’s complacency was expressed in this statement we should not take these fashions too seriously: they go in cycles, and it is no doubt my age that makes me a little sceptical of latter-day “revisionist” historians who try to convince us that there was no revolution in 17th century England, or that if there was it had no long-term causes or consequences.’

As Norah Carlin explains The New History which has grown up especially in the last twenty years makes no bones about its hostility to Marxism. In the 1950s, the most vicious attacks on the Marxist interpretation of the Civil War (by Hugh Trevor-Roper, as right-wing politically and as nasty personally as you could hope or fear to find) nevertheless offered an alternative explanation in terms of social conflict, namely the struggle of the impoverished gentry against the overgrown Renaissance state. But from the mid-1960s it became right-wing orthodoxy to deny that the Civil War was a class conflict at all. By 1973, the introduction to a widely-used textbook by Conrad Russell could claim that ‘For the time being … social change explanations of the English Civil War must be regarded as having broken down.’

Lest anyone should think that that places the burden of providing an alternative explanation on the shoulders of right-wing historians, the task of explanation is either postponed until we have enough new biographies of seventeenth-century politicians and studies of day-to-day debates in Parliament; or cynically denied altogether. One historian has even taken Marxists to task for over-explaining the phenomena of the past’. We must allow, he says, for the role of sheer muddle and misunderstanding in history.(11) Carlin had a far greater understanding of the dangers of revisionism than Hill. You would have thought that her own Party(SWP) would have taken on board her warnings regarding the rise of this anti-Marxism.

While publishing her two significant essays on the English revolution, they nonetheless stayed with Hill baggage and all. Perhaps one day Carlin will write about her time in the SWP and its relationship with Hill. As Carlin states “Ironically, the left organisation I belonged to for many years regarded me as a heretic because I did not agree with every last word written by Christopher Hill, including his claims that the gentry were ‘the natural rulers of the English countryside’ and that ‘the Bible caused the death of Charles I’. As I said in the 2019 memorial lecture, I value Hill’s contribution to the historiography of the English Revolution very highly indeed, but his writings are not the last word on everything! It is only when there is no more debate that history ceases to be interesting”(12)


1.The English Revolution 1640-https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/2.The English Revolution 1640-https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/3.”These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill by Ann Talbot 25 March 2003.wsws.org 4.The Peasant’s Revolt: A Reply and a Rejoinder- https://marxists.architexturez.net/history/international/comintern/sections/britain/periodicals/labour_monthly/1940/12/english_revolution_reply.htm5.See- Trotsky, Leon, The Permanent Revolution (1928) and Results and Prospects (1906), New Park Publications, London, (1962)6.Evgeny Pashukanis-Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law(1927) https://www.marxists.org/archive/pashukanis/1927/xx/english.htm7Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition-https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4311-heaven-taken-by-storm-christopher-hill-andrew-marvell-and-the-dissenting-tradition8.The ABC of Materialist Dialectics-(December 1939) https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1939/12/abc.htm9.Imperialism and the political economy of the Holocaust- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/05/holo-m12.html10.Brian Manning-Turning Point in History-(March 2003)11.Norah Carlin-Marxism and the English Civil War-(Autumn 1980) https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/carlin/1980/xx/civilwar.html12,Interview with Historian Norah Carlin- https://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2019/12/interview-with-historian-norah-carlin.html

Hill and Timofeeva

By Christopher Thompson

Marina Valerevna Timofeeva’s 2009 thesis on Christopher Hill’s analysis of the 17th-Century English Bourgeois Revolution is another matter. It was submitted to the Ural State University at that time and appears not to be available on-line or in print at present. An abstract of the thesis can, however, be found and seems to be the prelude to an analysis of his writings from the start of the Second World War until he stopped writing in the 1990s. To the best of my knowledge, its existence and apparently formidable length have not been known hitherto. Dr Timofeeva’s objective was to emphasise the significant contribution Christopher Hill had made to the development of Marxist historiography in the West drawing on his published works, the tributes of friends and colleagues in the 1978 and 1988 festschrifts dedicated to him and on appreciations that appeared in newspapers and periodical publications. Hill’s own papers now held in the library of Balliol College, Oxford do not appear to have been used.

On the other hand, she does deploy material from authors in the former Soviet Union and its successor states to support her analysis. Until reading her abstract, I was unaware of the works of Pavlova, Sharifzhanov and Meshcheryakova on the historiography of the bourgeois revolution’. Nor did I know about the analysis of Repina on the ambiguities of the Marxist concept of the English Revolution of the seventeenth-century. It is clear that large sections of Hill’s corpus of works had been translated into Russian, Polish and other eastern European languages with official sanction and that they had and still have a measure of influence in those countries that they have lost in the U.K. and other English-speaking countries.

There are also indications that Dr Timofeeva’s sympathies lie with Christopher Hill’s evolving approach to the English Revolution, to issues of class and cultural and intellectual changes up to and after 1640. His reaction to the rise of ‘revisionism’ in the mid-1970s also appears to have elicited her approval. His concept of a ‘revolution from below’ built of social and economic transformations is one she accepted. And she was able to draw upon methodological studies of British and Western historiography, some of them her own, equally unfamiliar to British scholars and historians in North America and elsewhere.

It would be altogether wrong in my view to disregard such a study which, in its full form, must be a work of formidable length. It would be a mistake too to dismiss the other sources upon which she has drawn as misguided or not as well-informed as they might have been. But Dr Timofeeva like her fellow historians in Russia is clearly a person of intelligence and with an admirable degree of diligence. What she appears, prima facie, to have lacked is the contact with academic historians of the period in Britain and elsewhere whose work has taken the study of mid-Stuart England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland along way forward since Christopher Hill was in his prime. She does not seem to have heard of the problems of multiple kingdoms or, if she has, it does not figure in the abstract of her thesis. There have been major historians in the field since the days of Conrad Russell. Inevitably, the influence of historians fades after their deaths. This is what has happened to Christopher Hill. But attempts to preserve his memory and to acknowledge his contribution have begun here in the U.K. Perhaps, her work will come to be acknowledged here too. 

Regicide or Revolution? What Petitioners Wanted, September 1648 – February 1649-Norah Carlin- £18.50-Publisher Breviary Stuff

‘Popular petitions were at the very heart of the revolutionary crisis of 1648-1649, and this book is unique in recovering their meaning, the context in which they were issued, and the people who wrote and supported them. Essential reading.’

John Rees-The Leveller Revolution

‘The petitions Norah Carlin has transcribed and carefully contextualized in Regicide or Revolution? represent an incredibly important cache of materials for understanding the crisis of the English Revolution, the trial and execution of Charles I. Carlin convincingly demonstrate that these petitions were not straightforward demands for bloody retribution. Rather, their content varied considerably, incorporating radical demands for legal, social and constitutional reform, giving historians a highly important window into the ideals and aspirations of the ‘well affected’ both within and outside the army. The collection should be required reading for scholars and students of the English Revolution, and the general reader alike.’

Ted Vallance, University of Roehampton, London

There are two types of historians. The first type is the historian that spends a tremendous number of hours deep mining archives to produce a book. The second type is the historian that writes about the former.

Norah Carlin has produced a book that firmly places her in the first type of historian. It takes a skilful historian like Carlin to produce a book out of such a large and significant number of texts. The English revolution is one of the most worked-over topics in English history, and rivals only the American, French and Russian revolution in books produced. It is to Carlin’s credit that she has created something new and highly interesting.

It is widely accepted amongst historians of the English revolution that the many petitions addressed to Parliament and the army in the five months before Charles I’s execution influenced the events that led to his trial and death.

However, more Conservative historians have argued that the petitions had little effect and represented little more than a propaganda campaign by a small number of political and military leaders.

It is to her eternal credit that Carlin has undertaken the task to carry out a wide-ranging examination of over sixty texts. As Carlin has said, the book has been nearly twenty years in the making.The sheer number and diversity of the texts in the book indicate a tremendous politicisation of a significant layer of the population. It would not be an overstatement to say this is a groundbreaking book. Every text begins with a context and ends with a background analysis. It is clear that a lot of work and time went into this book.

In a recent interview, Carlin described this process, “this involved trawling the contemporary printed material in the British Library’s Thomason Tracts (now available online), which is a sheer pleasure to me, and printed record sources like the Commons Journal. From there, I moved on to whatever manuscripts related to the petitions survive. I also researched each regiment, county and town involved as far as I could without greater specialisation, mainly in secondary sources (some of the Victoria County Histories are a good starting point) but sometimes going back to the national or local archives when I felt existing literature didn’t deal satisfactorily with a particular issue”[1]

Dual Power

Carlin clearly believes that the majority of the texts came from plebeian elements  
in other words, from the rank and file activists. These texts then gained a wider audience. They also testify to the dual nature of power during this short period as Leon Trotsky describes so well : “the English Revolution of the seventeenth century, exactly because it was a great revolution shattering the nation to the bottom, affords a clear example of this alternating dual power, with sharp transitions in the form of civil war.

At first, the royal power, resting upon the privileged classes or the upper circles of these classes – the aristocrats and bishops – is opposed by the bourgeoisie and the circles of the squirearchy that are close to it. The government of the bourgeoisie is the Presbyterian Parliament supported by the City of London. The protracted conflict between these two regimes is finally settled in open civil war. The two governmental centres – London and Oxford – create their own armies. Here the dual power takes a territorial form, although, as always in a civil war, the boundaries are very shifting. Parliament conquers. The king is captured and awaits his fate.

It would seem that the conditions are now created for the single rule of the Presbyterian bourgeoisie. But before the royal power could be broken, the parliamentary army has converted itself into an independent political force. It has concentrated in its ranks the Independents the pious and resolute petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen and farmers. This army powerfully interferes in social life, not merely as an armed force, but as a Praetorian Guard, and as the political representative of a new class opposing the prosperous and rich bourgeoisie. Correspondingly the army creates a new state organ rising above the military command: a council of soldiers’ and officers’ deputies (“agitators”). A new period of double sovereignty has thus arrived: that of the Presbyterian Parliament and the Independents’ army. This leads to open conflicts. The bourgeoisie proves powerless to oppose with its own army the “model army” of Cromwell – that is, the armed plebeians. The conflict ends with a purgation of the Presbyterian Parliament by the sword of the Independents. There remains but the rump of a parliament; the dictatorship of Cromwell is established. The lower ranks of the army, under the leadership of the Levellers – the extreme left wing of the revolution – try to oppose to the rule of the upper military levels, the patricians of the army, their own veritably plebeian regime. But this new two-power system does not succeed in developing: the Levellers, the lowest depths of the petty bourgeoisie have not yet, nor can have their own historic path. Cromwell soon settles accounts with his enemies. A new political equilibrium, and still by no means a stable one, is established for a period of years[2]

Carlin tackles a number of important issues in the book. One of the most important issues is to what extent were the authors of the various texts merely responding to political events or were the cause by their actions of subsequent events.

She writes “The petitions were responding to events as they occurred, and we must avoid the temptation to see them as causing the events that followed – especially the king’s execution, which has been a focus for hindsight almost since it happened. None of them calls openly for the king’s death, and even among those that call for vengeance for the blood spilt in the civil wars, only a few name him directly. Much express concern for the common people’s rights and liberties, and a substantial minority call for a radical redefinition of the English constitution, with the House of Commons at its centre as representative of the people. Some list reforms in the law and society that reveal a wider vision of revolution for England, and very many expand on their own interpretation of the civil wars and more recent events”.[3]

The texts in Carlin’s book clearly show that England was going through a profound transformation. The debate about whether to kill the king was unprecedented and had its roots in objective processes. Carlin is enough of a Marxist to believe that such events are not merely spontaneous occurrences but are decades if not centuries in the making. Whether the participants are conscious of what they are doing is not the most important point. To be more precise during the English bourgeois revolution some of its actors were to a certain extent semi-conscious of what they were doing it is a different matter during a socialist revolution such as the Russian revolution where the actors were entirely conscious of what needed to be done.

This does not undermine the English Revolution’s lasting historical significance. As Karl  
Marx wrote in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under the circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

SWP

It is a pity that Carlin has not written more on the English revolution. Her first book Causes of the English Civil War (Historical Association Studies) was written in 1998 and gave a very good introduction to the English revolution. It introduces the reader to the various strands of historiography. During her time in the Socialist Workers Party(SWP), she produced two groundbreaking essays that should have prompted the State Capitalist organisation to produce more work on the subject and challenge the growing threat of a number of revisionist historians that were seeking to denigrate any Marxist understanding of the revolution.

Carlin in both compositions makes some critical points worthy of much further study, three of which stand out. She believed that England witnessed a bourgeois revolution, that so-called Marxist historians have not done enough to stem the tide of revisionism that undermined both Whig and Marxist historiography and the need for a more precise understanding of the class nature of the radical groups like the Levellers and how they fit into the concept of a Bourgeois revolution. Carlin’s work did not sit very well with the SWP’s orientation to Historians like Christopher Hill and Brian Manning.The SWP rejected Carlin’s historiography and adopted of the genre of “Peoples History which was developed by the Communist Party Historians Group (CPHG).

Of the CP Carlin makes this point “Hill left the Communist Party in 1957 after playing a not very memorable role on the Commission for Inner-Party Democracy and ended up as Master of Balliol College, Oxford. Given the nasty and personalised tone of the right-wing attack, it is hardly surprising that defending Hill should come to be almost a significant activity in itself, yet the striking fact is that when a collection of essays by former pupils of his was got together to mark his retirement at the end of the 1970s, not one article made any explicit reference to Marxism, only one contributor (Brian Manning) could be regarded as in any sense a Marxist, and several (including the advocate of muddle quoted above) were openly anti-Marxist. There is something slightly odd about ‘Britain’s greatest Marxist historian’ (as he is described continuously in journals such as New Left Review and History Workshop) raising no successors”.[4]

She recently elaborated more on her time inside the SWP when she challenged the almost religiously orthodox position of the SWP towards Hill. She states “Most left political tendencies have recognised the importance of the subject to some extent in recent times, though some have got bogged down by making a shibboleth of some over-simplified interpretation. Ironically, the left organisation I belonged to for many years regarded me as a heretic because I didn’t agree with every last word written by Christopher Hill, including his claims that the gentry were ‘the natural rulers of the English countryside’ and that ‘the Bible caused the death of Charles I’. As I said in the 2019 memorial lecture, I value Hill’s contribution to the historiography of the English Revolution very highly indeed, but his writings are not the last word on everything! It’s only when there is no more debate that history ceases to be interesting”[5]

Conclusion

Carlin should be congratulated for producing a marvellous book that deserves to be in every university library. The ideals and principles emanating from the texts were the mainstays of the revolution. But in the final analysis, the English revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and there existed, inevitably, a gap between the ideals its participants proclaimed and their real social-economic and political purpose. However, the revolution did pave the way for the vast expansion of capitalism and produced the first capitalist nation-state.

About the author

Before retirement, Norah Carlin was a Principal Lecturer in History at Middlesex University (London). She is also the author of The Causes of the English Revolution (Oxford, Blackwell for the Historical Association, 1999) and a number of articles on aspects of the seventeenth-century English revolution. Having moved back to her native Edinburgh some years ago, she is currently pursuing research on the kirk and rural society in Scotland in the century after the Reformation.

The book can be purchased directly from Breviary Stuff-https://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/norah-carlin-regicide-or-revolution/

or from Amazon-https://www.amazon.co.uk/Regicide-Revolution-Petitioners-September-February/dp/1916158609/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Norah+Carlin+%E2%80%93+Regicide+or+Revolution%3F&qid=1577832099&sr=8-1





[1] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2019/12/interview-with-historian-norah-carlin.html
[2] The Seventeenth-Century revolution- Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/britain/v1/ch01a.htm
[3] Review : Regicide or Revolution? What Petitioners Wanted, September 1648 – February 1649-Norah Carlin £18.50 358pp / 156x234mm / paperback ISBN 978-1-9161586-0-3
[4] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2018/04/norah-carlin-socialist-workers-party.html
[5] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2019/12/interview-with-historian-norah-carlin.html

Interview with Historian Norah Carlin

Norah Carlin’s new book  – Regicide or Revolution? What Petitioners Wanted, September 1648 – February 1649 is out now and is published by Breviary Stuff. I caught up with her and asked a few questions about the book.

Q. What made you pick the subject of Regicide or Revolution and what were the difficulties if any in researching such a wide-ranging subject matter. Basically, I would like to know how you write and approach a subject.
 
A. I was spurred on by hearing once too often (at a 350th-anniversary conference) that the motives for regicide were not political as we would understand them, but religious fanaticism and superstition. The army was said to be have been committed since April 1648 to the death of the king as a ‘man of blood’, and too many books claim that this was also the main content of the late 1648 petitions from soldiers and others. I knew this was not true of the ones I had read, so I set out to find and read them all.

This involved trawling the contemporary printed material in the British Library’s Thomason Tracts (now available online), which is sheer pleasure to me, and printed record sources like the Commons Journal. From there, I moved on to whatever manuscripts related to the petitions survive. I also researched each regiment, county and town involved as far as I could without greater specialisation, mainly in secondary sources (some of the Victoria County Histories are a good starting point) but sometimes going back to the national or local archives when I felt existing literature didn’t deal satisfactorily with a particular issue.

Q. What is your take on recent historiography on the subject of regicide and revolution?

A.Recent debate has centred on whether the trial of Charles I was intended all along to lead to his execution. The petitions feed into this with their very varied approach to ‘bringing offenders to justice’. Most of them don’t name the king explicitly, and when they do even fewer attack Charles I personally in the way that some well-known pamphleteers and politicians did. But they are also full of interesting political ideas that could move the discussion away from that narrow theme onto wider issues of what the English Revolution was, what motivated it, and what it achieved.

Q.Since, your first articles on the English revolution, were in the early 1980s, how would you say your historiography on the revolution has changed if at all. How do you see future historiography developing?

A.My main focus remains the many faces of English radicalism in this period, a subject that spreads (like the Leveller movement was said to do at the time) in ever-widening but concentric circles.

Q.The English revolution clearly holds a tremendous interest for you why is that. Also, do you think that left political tendencies have neglected the subject?
 
A.I think it’s because of the mass of material relating to popular action and radical ideas. Nowhere else in early modern Europe do you have anything like William Clarke’s record of the Putney Debates, or the range of pamphlets and news in print.

Most left political tendencies have recognised the importance of the subject to some extent in recent times, though some have got bogged down by making a shibboleth of some over-simplified interpretation. Ironically, the left organisation I belonged to for many years regarded me as a heretic because I didn’t agree with every last word written by Christopher Hill, including his claims that the gentry were ‘the natural rulers of the English countryside’ and that ‘the Bible caused the death of Charles I’. As I said in the 2019 memorial lecture, I value Hill’s contribution to the historiography of the English Revolution very highly indeed, but his writings are not the last word on everything! It’s only when there is no more debate that history ceases to be interesting.

Until very recently I would have said the subject also suffered from a lack of mainstream media attention, but since the December 2019 BBC2 documentary ‘Killing a King’ there is bound to be a resurgence of interest, and I hope it lasts.

QWhat are you planning to do next?

A.I have a book that was written some time ago but should be published soon, on the history of a grand house in Essex, Old Copped Hall near Waltham Abbey, where I have regularly taken part in an ongoing archaeological project. Over the centuries from 1258 to 1748 its owners were involved in all the major events in English history from the Barons’ Wars to the South Sea Bubble, and I was pleased to go back to periods I had studied long ago so as to write about each of them. One owner, the second Earl of Middlesex, even happened to be on Parliament’s team negotiating with Charles I at Newport in late 1648, right at the heart of ‘Regicide or Revolution?’ I am also writing up some research on Scottish local society in the age of the Reformation that I have done since moving back to Scotland.

I am pleased to call myself ‘a jobbing historian’ because I enjoy taking on a variety of subjects where I find surprising and interesting connections as well as contrasts — always centred on how the world has been changed, on the understanding that it is possible for human action to change it again. I hope these are relevant answers to the questions you asked.





What Historians have said about the book

‘Popular petitions were at the very heart of the revolutionary crisis of 1648-1649 and this book is unique in recovering their meaning, the context in which they were issued, and the people who wrote and supported them. Essential reading.’

John Rees, author of The Leveller Revolution

‘The petitions Norah Carlin has transcribed and carefully contextualized in Regicide or Revolution? represent an incredibly important cache of materials for understanding the crisis of the English Revolution, the trial and execution of Charles I. Carlin convincingly demonstrates that these petitions were not straightforward demands for bloody retribution. Rather, their content varied considerably, incorporating radical demands for legal, social and constitutional reform, giving historians a highly important window into the ideals and aspirations of the ‘well affected’ both within and outside the army. The collection should be required reading for scholars and students of the English Revolution, and the general reader alike.’

Ted Vallance, University of Roehampton, London

At last, the army petitions of 1648-9 have found their editor and historian. Every student of the English Revolution will be indebted to Norah Carlin for bringing together in one place the soldiers’ petitions, from all over England and Wales, that demanded justice. However, they conceived it, after the first and second civil wars. Each petition has been carefully edited, set in a context, and assessed in what is an authoritative edition of very important documents in the history of relations between Parliament, army and people.’

Stephen K. Roberts, Director, History of Parliament Trust

About the author

Before retirement Norah Carlin was a Principal Lecturer in History at Middlesex University (London). She is also the author of The Causes of the English Revolution (Oxford, Blackwell for the Historical Association, 1999) and a number of articles on aspects of the seventeenth-century English revolution. Having moved back to her native Edinburgh some years ago, she is currently pursuing research on the kirk and rural society in Scotland in the century after the Reformation.

Imaging Stuart Family Politics: Dynastic Crisis and Continuity-Catriona Murray-London, Routledge, 2017, ISBN: 978-1472424051; 202pp.; Price: £115.00


For a Tear is an Intellectual thing;
And a Sigh is the sword of an angel king;
And the bitter groan of a Martyr’s woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow.


William Blake


“When does the artistic image appear convincing? When we experience a special psychic state of joy, satisfaction, elevated repose, love or sympathy for the author. This psychic state is the aesthetic evaluation of a work of art. Aesthetic feeling lacks a narrowly utilitarian character; it is disinterested, and in this regard, it is organically bound up with our general conceptions of the beautiful (although, of course, it is narrower than these concepts). The aesthetic evaluation of a work is the criterion of its truthfulness or falseness. Artistic truth is determined and established precisely through such an evaluation.

Art as the Cognition of Life-A Voronsky

Catriona Murray’s Imaging Stuart Family Politics is an award-winning and beautifully illustrated book. It carries with it a significant amount of original research and encompasses a cross-disciplinary approach while maintaining a high academic standard.

Having said that the book suffers a little from a one-sided approach in that it examines the English revolution solely from the standpoint of the monarchy. To her credit Murray rather than examining the images used in the book in isolation, does attempt with varying degrees of success to locate them within the socio-political context of the revolution.

In a convoluted way, Murray’s book shows the class nature of the Stuart dynasty. King Charles I’s use of art to defend his position was a novel solution in his and many eyes, but the fact that it did not succeed was not for want of trying. For all his political acumen which was not a lot King Charles did not understand the class forces he was up against. In pure desperation, he even used his children as propaganda as this cynical quote from Charles states  We are moved both for your sake and the sake of the kingdom itself, over which you are ruling; because as children are a source of solace to parents, thus are they a source of support for kings; for the more children there are, the deeper are the roots, and the more numerous are the supports, upon which the stability of a kingdom rests.[1]
 This clearly failed, and in the end, like all dictators, he used war to solve his crisis.

Historiography

“ I hope that my book will encourage scholars to reconsider the significant part of the visual in Stuart politics and to reassess a body of fascinating material which performed a crucial, if, at times, unpredictable, role in early modern public communication”.

Murray recognises that the history of emotions is a very young discipline and that by default her book is a very specialised piece of historical study reflecting the early days of the discipline. Trying to place it in the historiography of the English revolution is, therefore, a complicated task.The book is part of a trend to examine the English revolution, mainly from the standpoint of the monarchy and its use of imagery and religion.The book stands on the shoulders of historians, Roy Strong, Oliver Millar, and Kevin Sharpe.

Again the use of Christopher Hill work would have given the book a better balance. As Hill points parliament and radicals during the revolution were not adverse in using art as a propaganda weapon he states “Politics was invariably expressed in religious language and imagery. (Gerrard) Winstanley used the stories of Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, to express his class analysis of society; the younger brother would overcome his oppressing elder brother. David and Goliath, Samson and the Philistines, were symbols of revolt against tyranny. Existing corrupt society was designated as Sodom, Egypt, Babylon.[2]

Murray’s study of the use of imagery during the English revolution is a little one-sided. A multi-sided approach to the discipline is needed if one is to use art to cognize the complicated nature of the revolution. Her approach is Conservative, to say the least.

While it is only recently that through the work of the Fred Choate and David North that the work of the great Russian Marxist scholars such as Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky is coming to light, Murray’s book would have a better one if she had at least consulted figures like Voronsky who spent his life examining the role of art in society.

As Voronsky States on page 98 of his book Art as the Cognition of Life “What is art? First of all, art is the cognition of life. Art is not the free play of fantasy, feelings and moods; art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet; art is not assigned the goal of primarily awakening in the reader ‘good feelings.’ Like science, art cognizes life. Both art and science have the same subject: life, reality. But science analyzes, art synthesizes; science is abstract, art is concrete; science turns to the mind of man, art to his sensual nature. Science cognizes life with the help of concepts, art with the aid of images in the form of living, sensual contemplation.”[3]

There is no getting away from the fact that the book is a beautifully illustrated and well-written book. It is hoped that in the future, Murray examines the more complicated use of imagery by parliamentary forces.

[1] The Royal Correspondence of King James I of England (and VI of Scotland) to his Royal Brother-in-Law, King Christian IV of Denmark, 1603-16, ed. Ronald M. Meldrum (Brighton, 1977), p. 11.
[2] God and the English Revolution-Author(s): Christopher Hill-Source: History Workshop, No. 17 (Spring, 1984), pp. 19-31-Published by: Oxford University Press
[3] Art as the Cognition of Life: Aleksandr Konstantinovich Voronsky-Mehring Books-https://mehring.com/art-as-the-cognition-of-life.html

How to Do Good to Many: The Public Good Is the Christian’s Life – 13 Nov 2018by Richard Baxter & Jordan J Ballor (Editor) Christian’s Library Press



“It is a sign he is a branch cut off and withered who careth little for any but himself” (292). 

Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many

“And let all men take their common and special opportunities to do good: time will not stay; yourselves, your wives, your children, your servants, your neighbours, are posting to another world; speak now what you would have them hear; do them now all the good you can. It must be now or never; there is no returning from the dead to warn them” (323-34).

Given the extraordinary literary output by Richard Baxter, it is hard not to agree with Richard Schlatter that figures like Baxter have been largely overlooked by historians both left and right. Baxter was a prodigious writer turning out more than 130 books. So many books that it is difficult to count. Many of the books are folios with over 1 million words in length.

While prominent figures like Baxter have largely been forgotten, the same cannot be said about the English revolution. The last two decades have seen a never-ending stream of literature.  
The revolution still provokes significant interest and controversy. The purpose of this little review is to try and place Baxter within the context of the English revolution and to a certain extent, rescue him from the condescension of history.

While many significant figures of the revolution have sketchy biographies, this cannot be said of Baxter, who was born in 1615. From an early age, Baxter began to see things in class terms describing his father as “a mean Freeholder”. Like many families at the beginning of the revolution, Baxter’s family life was tough, and the family was “entangled by debts”. However, his poverty did not stop Baxter from thinking that  Godly People were the best’.

Baxter was heavily influenced by his family’s acceptance of Puritanism. Baxter was later to recognise his father as the “Instrument of my first Convictions, and Approbation of a Holy Life’. In class terms, Baxter was part of a growing and influential lower middle class who would clash so spectacularly with the King and Aristocracy in the English revolution.

Like other middle-class people around him, Baxter had the drive to try and achieve ‘Academick Glory’, and ‘wanting Academical Honours’. This he did not achieve through university but by becoming self-taught.  Baxter “became one of the most learned of seventeenth-century divines.” Baxter puts this down to God. His praise of God is a running theme throughout his writings and is central to the book How to Do Good to Many: The Public Good Is the Christian’s Life. The book is a guide for the middle class on how to do good. There is nothing controversial in the book; much Baxter’s political and social outlook is missing. This is a little strange given that Baxter was profoundly moved by the massive social, political and religious upheavals brought about by the English revolution.

While Baxter’s work is cloaked in religious trappings, once you break open the shell of religiosity, it is clear to anyone that a study of his political and philosophical writings play an essential part in our understanding of the events of the 17th-century English revolution.

From a political standpoint, Baxter was on the right-wing of the Presbyterians. He kept his distance from Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the revolution. To use a modern term, Baxter took a typical centrist position also attacking anyone associated with the left-wing of the revolution, including Independents such as  Hugh Peters. The “sectaries” like Thomas Rainborow and any Leveller, in general, were “tools of Anabaptists’,. Anyone who sought to widen the franchise was seen as Anabaptists by Baxter.

Early on in his life, Baxter took up an extreme and class position on the poor. He did not believe that men “from the Dung-cart (could) to make us laws, and from the Ale-house and the May-pole to dispose of our religion, lives, and estates. When a pack of the rabble are got together, the multitude of the needy and the dissolute prodigals if they were ungoverned, would tear out the throats of the more wealthy and industrious…. And turn all into a constant war”.

It would be easy to dismiss Baxter’s writing on the poor as an exception, but in reality, they partly expressed a real fear amongst the ruling class that the revolution would lead to a wider franchise and more importantly a revolution against property. which to a certain extent happened.

If you strip away all the religious superstructure at the base of Baxter’s writings are hatred of the masses. His Holy Commonwealth, which is probably his most famous book is a manifesto against a more comprehensive democracy except for the chosen few namely people like him. 
Baxter‘s hostility to the poor was expressed most vehemently in his opposition to the Leveller’s. 

When Baxter was in the New Model Army as an army Chaplin, he opposed the  Levellers in debate accusing them publishing “wild pamphlets” as “changeable as the moon “and advocating “a heretical democracy”. The irony of this being that Baxter’s books themselves were burnt and he was labelled as a subversive like the Levellers he criticised.

Printing Revolution

You could say that this book by Baxter is the product of two print revolutions. One took place in the seventeenth Century the other in the twenty-first century. Baxter’s original book was part of an influential print culture that exploded during the English revolution. As Joad Raymond writes ” The publication of one of the first popular printed works, Mercurius Gallobeligicus, in 1594 ushered in a new era of the printed word to England in the form of pamphlets and newsbooks. These works quickly gained popularity by the middle of the seventeenth century, amplifying communication among all levels of society”.[1] Given Baxter’s prodigious output it has been said that he “was the first author of a string of best-sellers in British literary history”.

This book is also part of another print revolution no less important. The print revolution in the twenty-first century has seen the rise of books printed by their author or publisher. This particular edition was initially printed in the United States, but my copy says it was printed in the United Kingdom by Amazon. In some cases, it is difficult to tell the origin of the country a book is printed in since ships outfitted with printing presses now print vasts quantities and deliver them to any country in the world.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Baxters appeal to merchants to behave themselves as good Christians. As Christopher hill recounts in his book The English Revolution 1640 “The political theorist, Hobbes, describes how the Presbyterian merchant class of the city of London was the first centre of sedition, trying to build a state-governed like the republics of Holland and Venice, by merchants for their interests. (The comparison with the bourgeois republics is constantly recurring in Parliamentarian writings.) Mrs Hutchinson, the wife of one of Cromwell’s colonels, said all were described as Puritans who “crossed the views of the needy courtiers, the encroaching priests, the thievish projectors, the lewd nobility and gentry . . . whoever could endure a sermon, modest habit or conversation, or anything good.”[2]

As was said at the beginning of this review, Baxter is an overlooked writer but along with Thoms Hobbes and James Harrington[3] is a crucial figure if one wants to understand the nature of the English revolution. Baxter’s writings give us a more in-depth insight into culture and politics during the civil war.

According to one writer “The largest single group among Baxter’s correspondence consists of some seventy men who became nonconformist ministers at the Restoration, but the interest of the letters is not confined to the history of nonconformity, ecclesiastical affairs, or theological controversy. Baxter was an acute enquirer into matters arcane and mundane, inveterately interested in both public affairs and individuals’ experience, encyclopedically industrious in establishing the grounds for the opinions which, for over half a century, he freely discussed in letters with persons of every walk of life, from peers, the gentry, and members of the professions, to merchants, apprentices, farmers, and seamen. The result is not merely a rich historical archive: the range of this correspondence, the vitality of its engagement with a great variety of topics, the immediacy of its expression, and the unpredictability’s of its mood and tone make this collection a record of felt experience unique among early epistolary archives”.

To a certain extent Baxter was sensitive enough to recognise the social currents that brought people of diverse social backgrounds into struggle against the king. Baxter used the only tool available to him. He “ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing”.

Baxter chose the parliamentary side because he felt that “for the debauched rabble through the land emboldened by his (the kings) gentry and seconded by the common soldiers of his army, took all that were called Puritans for their enemies”.

While it is correct to place Baxter’s writings alongside that of Hobbes and Harrington  
Schlatter believes that Baxter’s opposition to Hobbes and Harrington were that they believed in a secular state, but Baxter did not.

Having said that Baxter closely followed the writings of Hobbes and Harrington declaring  
“I must begin at the bottom and touch these Praecognita which the politicians doth presuppose because I have to do with some that will deny as much, as shame will suffer them to deny.”

Baxter was heavily critical of Hobbes whose “mistake” according to one writer “was that in his doctrine of “absolute impious Monarchy’ he gives priority to man by making sovereign the will of man rather than the will of God. Baxter deplored any attempt to draw criteria for right and wrong from man’s As for Harrington; his great fallacy consisted in denying God’s sovereignty by making “God the Proposer, and the people the Resolvers or Confirmers of all their laws.” If his [Harrington’s] doctrine be true, the Law of nature is no Law, till men consent to it. At least where the Major Vote can carry it, Atheism, Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Whoredome, etc., are no sins against God. Yea no man sinneth against God but he that consenteth to his Laws. The people have greater authority or Government than Gods in Baxter’s view, such conceptions of politics and its practice as those of Hobbes and Harrington is suited to atheists and heathen”.

While being critical his writings bore similarities to both Hobbes and Harrington.According to Geoffrey Nuttall “in politics as well as an ecclesiastical position as continually taking a ‘moderate’ position which from both sides would bring him charges of betrayal or insincerity.”

To the consternation of many revisionist historians, a case can be made that the English revolution was fought along class lines. As Baxter himself put it at the time: “A very great part of the knights and gentlemen of England . . . adhered to the King . . . And most of the tenants of these gentlemen, and also most of the poorest of the people, whom the others call the rabble, did follow the gentry and were for the King. On the Parliament’s side were (besides themselves) the smaller part (as some thought) of the gentry in most of the counties, and the greatest part of the tradesmen and freeholders and the middle sort of men, especially in those corporations and counties which depend on clothing and such manufactures…Freeholders and tradesmen are the strength of religion and civility in the land, and gentlemen and beggars and servile tenants are the strength of iniquity”.[4]

Conclusion

To conclude Schlatter offers some advice on how we should understand Richard Baxter’s place in the English revolution “students of Baxter must look backwards, for he stands near the end of a tradition which, although someone is always trying to revive it as a weapon in the never-ending war on liberty and democracy has been long been dead. To understand Baxter’s politics we must reflect on that long political tradition which achieved its first and most magnificent expression in the City of God, which flourished in the Middle Ages and Reformation, and died in the Age of Reason”.


Comment  by C Thompson

Dear Keith,
                   I read your most recent post on the works of Richard Baxter and their significance with interest. I am afraid I do not think your interpretation is correct. Because Baxter like many of his contemporaries recognised that there were economic and social distinctions in English society does not mean that they were class-based or that they supported an interpretation of the events of the 1640s as an example of class conflict in the Marxist sense. 

The use of terms like “lower middle class” is anachronistic and the view of the capacity of those at the lower end of the social scale to take political decisions was not just a reflection of upper class prejudices. I am hard-pressed to think of any early modern historians nowadays who would use such terms. There was, moreover, no real prospect at any stage of small groups like the Diggers, still less the Levellers, overthrowing the economic and social order. In any case, the complex mechanisms for conciliation and negotiation between different individuals, social groups and localities have yet to be fully explored. Baxter cannot be re-moulded in this procrustean sense.

                 With good wishes,      Christopher   



[1] Joad Raymond, The Invention of the English Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641-1649 (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1996), 6

[2] https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/

[3]See James Harrington: An Intellectual Biography – 10 Oct 2019-by Rachel Hammersley

[4] https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/

S.Roskell, Perspectives in English Parliamentary History

By C Thompson

Academic essays which survey the state of particular areas of historical interest rarely have long shelf lives. They are creatures of the moment, useful to undergraduates but soon outdated by the passage of time. As new articles and books appear, their utility declines and, before long, they are forgotten. Nonetheless, there have been surveys of this kind which encapsulate the understanding of historians at a particular point in time and which pose an interesting contrast to later claims.

The essay composed by the distinguished medievalist, J.S.Roskell, on perspectives in English Parliamentary history and published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library in March, 1964 falls into this category.[1]

Roskell took as his subject the development of Parliament from the medieval period onwards up until the year 1700 and made some critical points about the point at which the institution became an indispensable and permanent part of the country’s constitution.

In the pre-modern period, Parliament depended on the sovereign’s will for its meetings: such meetings were extraordinary and occasional events. Until Parliament became a regular part of the constitution, it could not control royal governments. J.E.Neale’s works on Tudor Parliaments made it clear that it was not the business of Parliament to supervise the government of England. It was true that the House of Commons had gained a degree of control over attendance and of freedom from arrest. But Queen Elizabeth had contested with success claims by M.P.s like Peter Wentworth to speak on matters like the royal succession and, indeed, on religion. Restiveness in opposition is one thing but the thing it was not was power. 

“So much”, Roskell concluded, “for the treat to personal monarchy and the preparation of the constitutional revolution of Stuart times.” Under James and Charles, too, the right to free speech proved illusory in practice: M.P.s could be and were confined during and Parliamentary sessions in 1614, 1621, 1626, 1629 and the spring of 1640. It was not until the Bill of Rights of 1689 that there was any constitutional safeguard for freedom of speech.

The acid test of Parliamentary power rested on the control of direct and indirect taxation. This had actually contracted under the Tudors because of the life-time grant of Tonnage and Poundage in the first Parliaments of their reigns. The bargaining power of the House of Commons was thereby reduced. It was not withheld until 1625 but Charles I still collected taxes without Parliamentary authority. As long as a King could dissolve Parliament at his discretion and could use his prerogative to choke opposition, it was impossible for the House of Commons to secure the abolition of levies like impositions and Ship Money collected on the basis of royal authority backed by judgments in the courts of law.

If Parliament was to control taxation, it was necessary to make its grants conditional upon their appropriation to specific purposes and to ensure that these were adhered to. This requirement was resurrected in 1624 and 1641 but only made invariable post-1688. The auditing of such grants was only indisputably re-established in 1667.The real break, Roskell argued, came with the end of the power of the Crown to govern effectively without Parliament. What the Tudors had created was not the “power” of the House of Commons, much less authority, but merely potentiality. What was being fashioned under the early Stuarts was the procedural means to secure power but not, critically, power itself. The new practices identified by Wallace Notestein were the means to an end but control over the Crown itself was not established. The great divide in Parliamentary history came in the late-seventeenth century when Parliaments had to meet regularly, when taxes had to be voted year by year, when, in fact, they became a regular part of the constitution.

The significance of this essay lies in its summary of historical understanding in the mid-1960s. Roskell was perfectly clear that Parliament was not an institution wielding power and that its existence depended upon the willingness of monarchs to summon it. He was no less clear on its pre-1640 role as an extraordinary and occasional event. It could not control the government nor could it prevent levies or taxes without Parliamentary approval being collected. Monarchs could and did disregard privileges like freedom of speech when they chose: they could and did incarcerate members of both Houses during Parliamentary sessions and after adjournments and dissolutions. Procedural changes did not give either House “power” as such.

This analysis undermines claims for the novelty of Conrad Russell’s assault on the Whig interpretation of Parliamentary history when it was made over a decade later. Historians like John Ball in his study of Sir John Eliot’s role in Parliaments between 1624 and 1629 had already disposed of such an interpretation while J.H.Hexter in 1959 had repudiated the claim that there was a struggle for sovereignty between the Crown and Parliament. The views Russell criticised were antique and no longer current in the historiography of the period. Roskell’s essay confirmed this verdict.


1.J.S.Roskell, Perspectives in English Parliamentary History. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Volume 46, No.2 (March, 1964), Pp.448-475.


Alternatives to the terms ‘the Great Rebellion’, the ‘English Revolution’ and the ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’

by Christopher Thompson

I have never been entirely happy with the terminology used by historians to describe the events of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles and Ireland. Clarendon’s use of the phrase the ‘Great Rebellion’ appears inadequate in the light of scholarship since c.1970 or so on the interactions between the three Stuart realms while the term ‘the English Revolution’ carries the weight of improbable Marxist claims about the rise of the bourgeoisie and proto-proletarian agitation.

More recently, investigations of the interactions between Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales have suggested that the ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’ provides a better title but this does not fully provide for the requirements of internal pressures and struggles within those kingdoms.

Having looked around for an alternative terminology, I wonder whether the French terminology for ‘great uprisings’ may be more appropriate, i.e. ‘Les grands soulèvements dans les îles britanniques et en Irlande’ or ‘ le grand soulèvement’, since the conflicts of the 1640-1660 period seem to me to have more in common with the revolt of the Low Countries after 1566-1567 or the French Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598 and the Frondes of 1648 to 1653. I should be interested to learn what others think on this subject.

Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century,Yale University Press, 2014, 904 pages.

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night, / God said ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.

Alexander Pope

“This summer of the King’s being here was a very strange year in all His Majesty’s three kingdoms if we duly consider the heavens, men and earth. I conceive the heavens were offended with us for our offence committed to one another for, from Mayday till the 15th of September, we had scarce three dry days together. His Majesty asked me whether that weather was usual in our Island. I told him that in this 40 years I never knew the like before.”

John Oglander

This is a door stopper of a book which runs to over 600 pages. The central premise is that the weather played the most crucial part of the wars and revolutions that plagued the 17th-century.
It is true that the weather in the 17th century has given Parker some ammunition for his theory. 

The diaries of the rich and famous such as Pepys and John Evelyn recorded a large number of “extreme weather events”.Pepys and Evelyn referred to prolonged droughts, terrifying and summers and winters so cold or hot the likes of which had never been seen before. Parker describes this period as a ‘Little Ice Age’. This ice age saw temperatures plummet to levels not seen since the last glaciation 13,000 years ago.

Historians, both new and old, have portrayed the 17th century as a time of tremendous political turmoil that stretched across Europe and Asia. It is not for nothing that Eric Hobsbawm described it as The General Crisis of the European Economy in the 17th Century.

The century began with the Thirty Years War which devastated large swathes of Europe and destabilised many European governments. This murderous war devasted vast areas of Germany. Civil wars and revolutions in both France and England occurred. The century also saw the disintegration of the Spanish empire. One commentator described it as ‘one of the epochs when every nation is turned upside down’. To describe and understand this century, both Hobsbawm and Hugh Trevor-Roper popularised the term ‘the General Crisis’ to describe the events of the 17th Century. To my knowledge, they did not call it the generally bad climate crisis.

Geoffrey Parker book while acknowledging this as a time of crisis, divorcees the material base of this crisis from its superstructure. This is despite his monumental researches and bibliography and the source list of nearly 150 pages.

Parker’s book is filled with cataclysmic events, while it is undeniable that these events were made worse by extreme weather events.I do not agree with Parker’s theory and is many respects could be interpreted as a reactionary and retrograde theoretical position.

In his essay Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism the Marxist writer David North points out “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway. The discoveries in astronomy profoundly changed the general intellectual environment. Above all, there was a new sense of the power of thought and what it could achieve if allowed to operate without the artificial restraints of untested and unverifiable dogmas.

He continues “religion began to encounter the type of disrespect it deserved, and the gradual decline of its authority introduced a new optimism. All human misery, the Bible had taught for centuries, was the inescapable product of the Fall of Man. But the invigorating scepticism encouraged by science in the absolute validity of the Book of Genesis led thinking people to wonder whether it was not possible for man to change the conditions of his existence and enjoy a better world.The prestige of thought was raised to new heights by the extraordinary achievements of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) who, while by no means seeking to undermine the authority of God, certainly demonstrated that the Almighty could not have accomplished his aims without the aid of extraordinarily complex mathematics.Moreover, the phenomena of Nature were not inscrutable but operated in accordance with laws that were accessible to the human mind. The key to an understanding of the universe was to be found not in the Book of Genesis but in the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. The impact of Newton’s work on intellectual life was captured in the ironic epigram of Alexander Pope: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night, / God said ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”

Not everyone saw the light. In his groundbreaking book Leviathan, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes concluded that the life of man is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Despite his pessimism, Hobbes is a significant figure in the 17th century. Hobbes played a vital role in the development of materialist philosophy. Hobbes was a writer clearly influenced by European political and philosophical developments, and they, in turn, influenced his philosophy; it was a dialectical arrangement.

The writer Jonathan Israel has also suggested that the Fronde in France and the Masaniello rising in Naples was just as important in terms of their impact on Hobbes as the English revolution. The international character of the English revolutionary movement was the product of processes that can be understood and not the blind working out of climatic changes. These can be traced to the beginnings of the Enlightenment, which according to Israel was “the unprecedented intellectual turmoil which commenced in the mid-seventeenth century,” and was associated with the scientific advances of the early seventeenth century, especially those of Galileo. These scientific advances gave rise to “powerful new philosophical systems” producing a profound struggle between “traditional, theologically sanctioned ideas about Man, God, and the universe and secular, mechanistic conceptions which stood independently of any theological sanction.”

Parker mentions Hobbes on numerous occasions and is very selective in his use of the philosopher to back his theory up. Hobbes materialist outlook is somewhat overlooked by Parker. As the Marxist writer, Ann Talbot states, Hobbes “ describes the life of man in a state of nature as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.” The state of nature was the condition into which human society fell when civil society broke down. For Hobbes, the state of nature was not an abstract, theoretical construct; it was something that existed in large parts of Europe and could cause him to alter his travel plans“.[1]

The historian’s Debate

Despite Parker’s book being published in 2013, he has been working on this thesis since the 1970s. The debate over the General Crisis theory had been rumbling since the early 1950s carried into the 60s and 70s and to this day has still not been resolved. It was by all accounts  “ an intense and occasionally acrimonious debate among historians as to what caused the political catastrophes of the 17th century – whether, indeed, anything one could call a “general crisis” had taken place”.

This debate was not over whether the weather was responsible for the period of wars and revolutions. The debate started with a two-part article published by the Communist Party historian Eric Hobsbawm in the 1950s. His thesis of a general economic and political crisis was challenged by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who put the turmoil down to a conflict between society and the state.

It is hard to disagree with Hobsbawm premise of a “ General Crisis”. It was not meant to the last word on the subject but to start a debate. Hobsbawm returned to the subject with a second paper. Hobsbawm seemed to be following the advice of Spinoza who said: “the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things”.

Hobsbawm’s the “general crisis” -like many ground-breaking essays provoked significant controversy from a number of historians who opposed the emphasis on the social and economic origins of the revolutions that were carried out throughout Europe. Also, a number of historians which included the Dutch historian Ivo Schöffer and Danish historian Niels Steengsgaard who refused to believe that there was any “general crisis” at all.

Eric J. Hobsbawm’s essay, which was printed in two parts in 1954, as The General Crisis of the European Economy in the Seventeenth Century” and “The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century, sought to present a Marxist analysis of the transformation from a feudal society to a capitalist one in the 17th century. This transformation was held responsible for the revolutions, wars and social unrest that took place throughout Europe. Hobsbawm put forward that most of the social and economic structures associated with capitalism had grown and developed during the “long sixteenth century.” He believed that feudal “elements fatally obstructed growth” of capitalism. He clearly believed that a revolution was needed to clear away the feudal rubbish in order for a new capitalist system to develop. The most pronounced expression of this process was to be found in England.

Hobsbawm writes, “It will be generally agreed that the I7th century was one of social revolt both in Western and Eastern Europe. This clustering of revolutions has led some historians to see something like a general social-revolutionary crisis in the middle of the century. France had its Frondes, which were important social movements; Catalan, Neapolitan and Portuguese revolutions marked the crisis of the Spanish Empire in the I64os; the Swiss peasant war of I653 expressed both the post-war crisis and the increasing exploitation of peasant by town, while in England revolution triumphed with portentous results. Though peasant unrest did not cease in the West – the “stamped paper ” rising which combined middle class, maritime and peasant unrest in Bordeaux and Brittany occurred in 1675, the Camisard wars even later- those of Eastern Europe were more significant. In the i6th century, there had been few revolts against the growing enserfment of peasants. The Ukrainian revolution of I648-54 may be regarded as a major servile upheaval. So must the various ” Kurucz ” movements in Hungary, their very name harking back to Dozsa’s peasant rebels of I5I4, their memory enshrined in folksongs about Rakoczy as that of the Russian revolt of I672 is in the song about Stenka Razin. A major Bohemian peasant rising in i68o opened a period of endemic serf unrest there. It would be easy to lengthen this catalogue of major social upheavals – for instance by including the revolts of the Irish in 164I and 1689.”

A different approach to the “general crisis” debate was taken by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who opposed Hobsbawm’s Marxist approach and put forward a theory that sought to explain the crisis from a Court versus Country standpoint. This also provoked heated discussion. Historians such as Roland Mousnier, J. H. Elliott, Lawrence Stone, E. H. Kossmann and J. H. Hexter who in a paper,[2] expressed all sorts of differences with Roper. An example of the heat generated came from the Italian Marxist historian Rosario Villari, who said: “the hypothesis of imbalance between bureaucratic expansion and the needs of the state is too vague to be plausible, and rests on inflated rhetoric, typical of a certain type of political conservative, rather than on effective analysis.”

He also accused Trevor-Roper of denying the importance of the English Revolution. Villari believed that “general crisis” was part of a Europe-wide revolutionary movement. Along similar lines propounded by Hobsbawm.

Roper wrote not from the standpoint of a Marxist but he agreed with Hobsbawm that in the early part of the 17th century in Western Europe there was a substantial number revolutions which led to numerous break-down of monarchies and governments the cause was “a complex series of demographic, social, religious, economic and political problems “English Civil War, the Fronde in France, the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the disputes in the Netherlands, and revolts against the Spanish Crown in Portugal, Naples and Catalonia, were all expression of the same problems”. Roper rejected the Marxist analysis of the crisis as a struggle of a rising capitalist class, which sought to replace the old Feudal system.

Conclusion

It is complicated, to sum up, a book that runs for over 600 pages. It would take a better historian than me to defeat Parker’s theory. Unlike the previous debate, it would appear that the publication of this book has not been substantially challenged in academia.It is hard not to see the book as an attack on the historical materialist approach to history that has been the hallmark of revisionist historiography that has dominated university life for the last few decades if not more. Having said that the book is well written deeply researched, and Parker argues his point well. I just do not agree with it.

[1] The ghost of Thomas Hobbes-By Ann Talbot -12 May 2010- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/05/hobb-m12.html
[2] Discussion of H. R. Trevor-Roper: “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century.”
Roland Mousnier, J. H. Elliott, Lawrence Stone, H. R. Trevor-Roper, E. H. Kossmann, E. J. Hobsbawm and J. H. Hexter-Past & Present-No. 18 (Nov., 1960), pp. 8-42

Some Thoughts on The BBC slanders the English Revolution: a reply by Alan Woods –22 July 2019

There are several things  I would like to take issue with in Alan Wood’s extraordinary long attack on the BBC or more precisely its Channel Four documentary titled: ‘Charles I, Downfall of a King’.

Woods begins his polemic with this opening paragraph, “I did not believe that it was possible for the low esteem in which I hold modern academics in general, and bourgeois historians in particular, to sink any lower than it already was. However, that belief was misplaced. I have just had the misfortune to watch a three-part series put out by BBC Channel Four with the title: ‘Charles I, Downfall of a King’. I now hold the intellectual qualities of our modern historians at a slightly lower level than those of Mr Bean. At least Mr Bean can be mildly amusing at times, but our self-appointed intellectuals lack even that redeeming virtue”.

Woods talks about “experts and self-appointed intellectuals”. I am not up on the libel laws of Britain, but Wood needs to reign in his scattergun approach. The historians appearing on the programme were all professional historians and have written several books on the subject. Woods is writing his first book on the subject, so a little humility would not go amiss.

The second thing to comment on is Woods disdain for modern academia. There are ways of polemicising about the general level of thought in academia. Unfortunately, Wood’s way is not a very good one. Also, it is one thing to attack the political bias of the historians that took part in the programme; it is another to dismiss their contributions to an understanding of the English revolution. The majority of those historians taking part have written thoughtful books on the subject. Those historians who have written narrative-driven books such as Charles Spencer are well worth a read.

If wood would like to view how an orthodox Marxist tackles modern academia, he could do no worse than consult the writings of David North, the quote below is taken from his lecture Eighty Years of the Fourth International: The Lessons of History and the Struggle for Socialism Today[1].

Under the subtitle, The impact of academic attacks on Marxism North writes “Of course, young people cannot be blamed for their limited knowledge of the revolutionary upheavals of the past century. From whom and from where are they to acquire the necessary knowledge? The capitalist media indeed will not dispense knowledge that may contribute to the overthrow of the existing social order. However, what about the universities, with their many learned professors? Unfortunately, the intellectual environment has been for many decades deeply hostile to genuine socialist theory and politics. Marxist theory—rooted in philosophical materialism—was long ago banished from the major universities.

Academic discourse is dominated by the Freudian pseudo-science and idealist subjectivism of the Frankfurt School and the irrationalist gibberish of post-modernism. Professors inform their students that the “Grand Narrative” of Marxism is without relevance in the modern world. What they actually mean is that the materialist conception of history, which established the central and decisive revolutionary role of the working class in a capitalist society, cannot and should not be the basis of left-wing politics”.

Before moving on to other things, it is worth a comment on the title of Wood’s polemic. Woods believes that the BBC has slandered the English revolution. Slander is a strange word to use. Maybe Wood is preparing a libel action against the BBC, or he has not been paying too much attention to the many BBC history programmes which have all been written very conservative standpoint. Woods is correct in that the BBC has shunned this subject up until now, but this has been the response by other media such as cinema and commercial television.

Woods does make a correct point that “Our historians do not like to talk about this because it contradicts everything we have been led to believe for decades, and indeed centuries. Now, at last, they finally decided to talk about it because the present crisis in Britain has upset all the old comforting illusions. We are living in the most turbulent period, probably in the whole history of Britain – certainly for a very long time. Moreover, if we are to seek some point of reference in history for events that are unfolding before our eyes, it is impossible to ignore what occurred in this country in the stormy years of the 17th century”.

I do agree that Hilton should have made more of Rees. However, this is the BBC, what do you expect. One criticism I have made, and it is in my review[2] is that the historians who contributed to the programme went into it blind, not knowing the historical bias of the programme.

Woods correctly states that the programme was the product of the current postmodernist trend in history. This trend in history as in many subjects glorifies irrationalism, through the cultivation of backwardness and religious prejudice against the search for objective truth. My problem with Wood on this matter is that he has given the programme importance it does not merit. The BBC four programme does not constitute slander or betrayal of the English revolution it is what it is a very conservative history programme why elevate it to world-historical importance it does not have.

Woods finishes his over eleven thousand word polemic saying “With the honourable exception of John Rees, the self-styled ‘experts’ in this series cannot conceal their spiteful attitude towards long-dead revolutionaries. This extreme vindictiveness can hardly be explained by the events that happened so long ago. Behind it lies an unspoken fear that revolution can recur in our times”.

It is not surprising that Wood announced at the end of his article that he is writing a book on the English revolution. It is hoped that his scattergun approach to history is reigned in and that his attitude towards revolution is re-examined. Wood’s record on the subject of revolution is not a very good one as his support for Hugo Chavez would imply.

Woods wrote in his glowing obituary of Chavez. “ Hugo Chávez is no more. Always a fighter, Chávez spent his last months in a life and death struggle against a cruel and implacable enemy – cancer. He fought bravely to the very end, but finally, his strength gave out. On Tuesday, March 5, at 4.25 pm the cause of freedom, socialism and humanity lost a great man and the author of these lines lost a great friend”[3].

However, a more orthodox Marxist assessment of Chavez would be “Chavez’s nationalist rhetoric, his government’s diversion of revenues from the country’s protracted oil bonanza to pay for social assistance programs and its forging of extensive economic ties to China earned him the hatred of both Washington and a fascistic ruling class layer in Venezuela. They did not, however—as both he and his pseudo-left supporters claimed—represent a path to socialism. Chavez was a bourgeois nationalist, whose government rested firmly on the military from which he came and which continues to serve as the crucial arbiter in the affairs of the Venezuelan state”.[4] The moral of this article is that people living in glass houses should not throw too many stones.


[1] www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/10/09/codn-o09.html[2] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2019/07/review-charles-i-downfall-of-king-lisa.html[3] A tribute to Hugo Chávez- https://www.marxist.com/a-tribute-to-hugo-chavez.htm[4] Hugo Chavez and socialism-8 March 2013- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/03/08/pers-m08.html

Review: A Glorious Liberty-the ideas of the Ranters-A.L.Morton-Past Tense-2007.

If there was ever a group of people that needed rescuing from historical obscurity it was  
the 17th-century radical group the Ranters. It is clear that without the intervention of the historians around the Communist Party of Great Britain, especially Christopher Hill and A L Morton groups like the Ranters would have been consigned to a few footnotes of history.

Morton is well known for his work A People’s History of England. It was the founding book of the Communist Party Historians Group (CPHG). As Ann Talbot writes “the Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr.[1]

The pamphlet A Glorious Liberty is taken from A L Morton’s book The World of the Ranters[2]
 Despite working under the domination of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s ideological straightjacket Morton, who was probably the world’s leading authority on the Ranters sought to make an objective assessment of the Ranters who up until then had mostly been described as “madmen”. In historical terms, the Ranters had a short shelf life. They came to life towards the end of the civil war and changed their political and social form into the Cromwell Protectorate.

According to Morton “The Ranters formed the extreme left wing of the sects which came into prominence during the English Revolution, both theologically and politically. Theologically these sects lay between the poles of orthodox Calvinism, with its emphasis on the power and justice of God as illustrated in the grand scheme of election and reprobation, with its insistence upon the reality of Hell in all its most literal horrors and upon the most verbal and dogmatic acceptance of the Scriptures, and of antinomianism with its emphasis upon God’s mercy and universality, its rejection of the moral law, and with it, of Hell in any but the most figurative sense, and its replacement of the authority of the Scriptures by that of the inner light. The political views of the Ranters were the outcome of this theology. God existed in all things: I see that God is in all Creatures, Man and Beast, Fish and Fowle, and every green thing, from the highest Cedar to the Ivey on the wall; and that God is the life and being of them all, and that God doth really dwell, and if you will personally; if he may admit so low an expression in them all, and hath his Being nowhere else out of the Creatures.[3]

Like many of the radical groups during the English revolution, the Ranters were a relatively new phenomenon. It is open to debate how new their ideas were. Morton was able to trace their antecedents down through the centuries.Joachim of Fiore in the twelfth century was identified as one source of Ranter inspiration. “The Ranters, like Joachim of Fiore and the Anabaptists of the Reformation, proclaimed the coming age of the Holy Spirit, which moved in every man. The key difference from orthodox Calvinism or Puritanism is that in those more orthodox creeds, the workings of the Holy Spirit were closely tied to the Holy Word — that is, the Bible. For the Ranters and other Inner Light Groups, however, all deuces were wild. The Ranters pursued this path, too, to pantheism: as one of their leaders declared: “The essence of God was as much in the Ivie leaf as in the most glorious Angel.”[4]

One exciting aspect of the Ranter storyline is their associations with other radical groups like the Levellers. Both groups took part in a revolution, and some of their leaders were soldiers in the New Model Army. The social base for both movements was similar. There were, however, significant religious and behavioural differences.One significant difference was that the Ranters appealed far more than the Levellers to the lower sections of the population. In class terms, this would have been a very embryonic working class.

They appealed to the “poorest beggars, “rogues, thieves, whores, and cut purses”. These are “every whit as good” as anyone else on earth. Morton explains “ In Coppe and Clarkson, in Foster and Coppin there is, in different degrees and forms, a deep concern for the poor, a denunciation of the rich and primitive biblical communism that is more menacing and urban than that of Winstanley and the Diggers. Like the Diggers, and unlike Lilburne and his followers, they were ready to accept the name of Leveller in its most radical implications, but with the difference that for them God himself was the great Leveller, who was to come shortly “to Levell with a witnesse, to Levell the Hills with the Valleyes, to lay the Mountaines low”. It is hardly accidental that the Ranters began to come into prominence soon after the Leveller defeat at Burford and would seem to have attracted a number of embittered and disappointed former Levellers. Where Levelling by sword and by spade had both failed what seemed called for was a Levelling by miracle, in which God himself would confound the mighty by means of the poorest, lowest and most despised of the earth”.[5]

Coupled with their appeal to the poor was their attack on the rich.” The rich, Foster declared, grudge the poor even a piece of bread, but “all things are the Lords” and he is coming shortly to bring down their pride, who “because of your riches have thought yourselves better than others; and must have your fellow-creatures in bondage to you, and they must serve you, as work for you, and moyle and toyle for you, and stand cap in hand to you, and must not displease you, no by no meanes”.Coppe, who like Foster drew much of his imagery from the Epistle of St. James, addressed himself to the poorest and most depressed strata of society, at a time when the slum population of London was suffering terrible hardships as a result of the wartime dislocation of trade and industry”.

Like many of the radical groups, their appeal was not only to the poor but to the leaders of the revolution, namely Cromwell. Cromwell was acutely aware of the dangers of these groups posed. If a broad section of the population could have been provoked into carrying out large scale riots over many issues such as high food prices, low wages and hunger it would have posed a grave danger to the regime.

While most social and economic conditions were favourable to the Ranters, they had no real means of carrying through their program. Although many Ranters had served in the New Model Army, many were pacifists at heart. As this quote from Morton’s book brings out  “And maugre the subtilty, and sedulity, the craft and cruelty of hell and earth: this Levelling shall up;Not by sword; we (holily) scorne to fight for anything; we had as live be dead drunk every day of the weeke, and lye with whores i’th market place; and account these as, good actions as taking the poor abused, enslaved ploughmans money from him… we had rather starve, I say, than take away his money from him, for killing of men.[5] .

Ranters pacifism was an integral part of their philosophy according to Morton “It came partly from the nature of their theology, with its emphasis on the inevitable coming of the new age of liberty and brotherhood. God, they felt, was abroad in the land and they needed only to proclaim his purpose. However, it came also from the precise political situation in which Ranterism developed. In February 1649 when A Rout, A Rout was written, Charles had just been beheaded and the Council of State was in effective control. In the two parts of Englands New Chains Discover’d we can sense the feeling of the Levellers that they had been outwitted and betrayed. In a few weeks, their leaders would be in prison: in a couple of months their last hope would be destroyed at Burford”.Already a sense of defeat, that something had gone wrong with the expectation of a New England was in the air. It was in this situation, with the left in retreat and the turning point of the Revolution already passed, that the Ranters became prominent. With ordinary political calculation failing. Many people began to look for a miraculous deliverance”.

J C Davis

Not every historian welcomed Morton’s resurrection of the Ranters. Morton knew that it was effortless for some politically motivated historians to dismiss the Ranters as “madmen” or lunatics.Morton’s work on the Ranters came under severe attack.

Unsurprisingly this attack came from the right and took the form of a full-frontal assault calling into question the very existence of the Ranters. Leading this assault was the very conservative historian J  C Davis. It is no surprise that Davis’s book Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians was Kenneth Baker education secretary under Margaret Thatcher’s favourite book. According to Davis, the Ranters were impossible to define and what they believed in, he writes “There was no recognised leader or theoretician and little, if any organisation. The views of the principal figures were inconsistent with each other”[6]
.
The debate over the Ranters did not generate the same kind of heat as other more higher profile historian’s spates. The importance of this did force Christopher Hill into battle. Hill reluctantly wrote a reply to Davis. “I must declare an interest. This book attacks Norman Cohn, A. L. Morton, myself and others for believing in the existence of the Ranters. ‘Ranters’ put forward antinomian and libertine views at the height of the English Revolution. Suppressed in 1651, they continued to exercise some influence into the 18th century. Professor Davis recognises that contemporaries believed there were people whom they called Ranters. However, he wishes to restrict them to three or four individuals. Anything more was the creation of hostile pamphleteers. It was not an easy negative to prove, not much easier to disprove. Some, including the present reviewer, may think neither exercise worth while. But lest anybody should take Professor Davis’s book too seriously, it may be worth stating some arguments against his case. Professor Davis starts from what he calls a ‘paradigm’ of Ranter beliefs, allegedly drawn from other historians. But it is a very selective paradigm. It excludes some beliefs which contemporaries thought characteristic of Ranters – mortalism, for instance, the belief that the soul dies with the body, which Bunyan thought ‘the chief doctrine of the Ranters’. It also excludes Ranter subversion of the traditional subordination of women, which outraged Bunyan even more. Davis argues that if we are to be convinced of the existence of Ranters, we must find ‘a sect with clear leaders, authoritative tests on entry, and controls over numbers’ (43). Of course, he cannot find them”.[7]

Conclusion

It is a shame that this debate has gone cold. It is hoped that modern-day historians return to this subject and start to give it the treatment it deserves. Nigel Smith has started this process with his collection of Ranter writings[8] and the work carried out by  Ariel Hessayon is worth looking at (see, Abiezer Coppe and the Ranters,research.gold.ac.uk.As Hessayon writes “Yet that is not the end of the matter since there remains much to be done. With the partial exception of Coppe, we still need detailed accounts of the Ranters’ reading habits and possible influences on their thought. Moreover, we await research on the lesser-known individuals that comprised ‘My one flesh’, together with a reconstruction of their social networks. The same may be said of members of several other spiritual communities, notably those clustered around Sedgwick and those named in News from the New-Jerusalem. We also require meticulous studies of Bothumley, Coppe  
(particularly after 1648), Coppin, and Salmon. So it is fair to suggest that despite all that has been said about them, there is another book on the Ranters still to be written”.



[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html
[2] The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution – 12 Jul 1979
by Arthur Leslie Morton
[3] The World of the Ranters: Religious Radicalism in the English Revolution – 12 Jul 1979
by Arthur Leslie Morton
[4] [The article is excerpted from An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (1995), volume 2, chapter 9: “Roots of Marxism:www.mises.org/library/early-christian-communism
[5] “a glorious Liberty”the ideas of the Ranters-A L Morton
[6] Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians-Davis 
[7] The Lost Ranters? A Critique of J. C. Davis Author(s): Christopher Hill Source: History Workshop, No. 24 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 134-140
[8] A Collection of Ranter Writings: Spiritual Liberty and Sexual Freedom in the English Revolution

Review: The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries by Christopher Hill, Verso, 2016

“Innocence, Once Lost, Can Never Be Regained. Darkness, Once Gazed Upon, Can Never Be Lost.” ― John Milton

Wretched Catullus, stop being a fool,
and what you see has perished, consider perished.
Blazing suns once shone for you.
when you would always come where the girl led,
a girl beloved by us as no girl will be loved.
There when those many playful things happened,
things which you wanted, nor was the girl unwilling,
truly, blazing suns shone for you.
Now, now she is not willing; you, powerless, must not want:
do not follow one who flees, do not live miserably,
but, endure with a resolute mind, harden yourself.

Catullus

“We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to”.

Karl Marx, Letter from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher to Ruge (1843)

The Restoration, which again established Charles II as king of England in 1660, has been covered by historians prodigiously but nearly always from the standpoint of the victors. The vanquished have had very few champions. In this book, Christopher Hill sought to redress this anomaly.

Hill primarily focusses on the radical groups such as the Levellers, Ranters and Diggers that fought to push the English revolution further than the bourgeoisie wanted it to go. The explanation for the demise of the radicals mentioned above and others is a hugely contested issue. As we shall see later on in this review, Hill’s Marxist analysis of this process came under sustained critique. Some ignored the book or just attacked Hill for merely being a Marxist historian.

Hill the Marxist

Hill was enough of a Marxist to realise that with significant political defeats comes a reconsideration of values. These reconsiderations usually take two directions.Those who were in the vanguard of the revolution, such as the writer John Milton were enriched by the experience of defeat. Milton despite threats on his life defended until the very end of his life the revolutionary thought that had guided his life and used it as the basis to train future generations in other words 
Milton’s was “improving man’s condition in this world, not the next”.

The second group which included the Quakers, capitulated, went backwards and politically renounced the revolution and searched for a “new word”. In The Experience of Defeat, Christopher Hill explored these occurrences as a social process and not down to individual weaknesses.Hill was able in the publication of this book to draw upon well over forty years of experience to still, argue that this period of defeat was an essential learning curve for any future revolutionaries.

For Hill, the English revolution was the first of the great European revolutions. It was caused by significant social, political and economic changes that occurred in English society during the previous century. The 17th century saw the rise of a new social group, the bourgeoisie. Correctly Hill rejected the concept that the defeat of the revolution was down to the weakness of this or that individual he saw the defeat of the revolution as a social process. In many ways, his understanding, although he would not have seen it because he never acknowledged having read Leon Trotsky, there are similarities between Hill and Leon Trotsky’s approach.

Trotsky himself was familiar with gaining and losing power. Many historians have explained Trotsky’s loss of power and his defeat to Stalin due to his vanity or weakness in political infighting. Trotsky opposed this facile explanation. Of course, there are differences between the Russian revolution and the English revolution, but we are talking about social processes here that are similar.

As the Marxist writer David North explains “Trotsky explained that he saw his life not as a series of bewildering and ultimately tragic episodes, but as different stages in the historical trajectory of the revolutionary movement. His rise to power in 1917 was the product of a revolutionary upsurge of the working class. For six years his power depended on the social and political relations created by that offensive. The decline in Trotsky’s personal political fortunes flowed from the ebbing of the revolutionary wave. Trotsky lost power not because he was less skilled a politician than Stalin, but because the social force upon which his power was based—the Russian and international working class—was in political retreat. Indeed, Trotsky’s historically conscious approach to politics—so effective during the revolutionary years—placed him at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his unscrupulous adversaries during a period of growing political conservatism. The exhaustion of the Russian working class in the aftermath of the Civil War, the growing political power of the Soviet bureaucracy and the defeats suffered by the European working class—particularly in Germany—were, in the final analysis, the decisive factors in Trotsky’s fall from power”.[1]

There is no doubt that Hill’s fascination with the radical groups of the English revolution stemmed from his political persuasion. From the very start of his career as a historian, Hill argued that England had undergone a bourgeois revolution.
It is true that this book covers some of the same ground as the groundbreaking The World Turned Upside Down, published in 1972 but this is an entirely different type of book which attempts to draw the lessons of revolution for future generations. At the end of the book, he asks the same question as John Bunyan, “Were you, doers or talkers, only? What canst thou say?”

The defeat of these radicals must have knawed at Hill. It must have perplexed the losers as well. Why was the “new presbyter is but old priest writ large,’ or why the Saints had visibly failed to reign”.Hill was one of the few historians who understood the difficulty these revolutionaries faced when mounting a revolution as Hill says “I think it is right to say that the revolution wasn’t planned. One of the things that should be made more of is that no one in England in the 1640s knew they were taking part in a revolution. American and French revolutionaries could look back to England, the Russian revolutionaries had an ideology of revolution based on English and French experience, but no one in England could draw on such experiences. The very word revolution emerges in its modern sense in the 1640s. So that the English revolutionaries are fumbling all the time, they have not got a Rousseau or a Marx to guide them. The examples of the Netherlands and the French Huguenots were discussed in the 17th century as religious or nationalist revolts. The only text they could look to was the Bible, but of course, the bible says such different things that you can get any theory out of it so that it proved totally unsatisfactory. One of my arguments in my new book is that it was the experience of its uselessness as an agreed guide to action in the 1640s and 1650s that led to its dethroning from its position of absolute authority. That was a major problem for the English revolutionaries; they had no theory to start from.[2]

Hill lets the revolutionaries and their supporters speak. John Cook, Charles I’s prosecutor, said that ‘we would have enfranchised the people if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom.’ This attempt to blame the general population for the defeat of the revolution was a popular theme of the defeated. One that the revisionist historians jump upon to say that 17th-century England was a less revolutionary society than it is sometimes made out to be.
Another accusation that was not without foundation was of a sell-out by the leaders of the revolution. A charge frequently levelled at Cromwell and the grandees. One of Cromwell’s major opponents Major General Lambert said  
‘the world’s mistake in Oliver Cromwell’.

Thomasson Tracts

When this book was published, Hill suffered numerous criticisms. One prominent critic accused him of only using published sources but as Ann Talbot points out “If later historians have made far greater use of unpublished manuscript sources, this to some degree reflects the extent to which Hill made the published sources his own so that they have had to look for new material.[3] Conrad Russell, in his review of the book, does make a valid point not about Hill in particular but the difficulty most if not all historians have in using the Thomasson Tracts.[4].

Russell writes “perhaps the biggest historiographical question the book leaves behind it is a problem of how to put the Thomason Tracts into perspective. The Thomason Tracts, like Shakespeare, are a phenomenon so big that there is a risk that it may overshadow everything around it. As an archival phenomenon, indeed, it has no parallel in the previous history of the world. A collection in which Hobbes and Milton rub shoulders with doggerel, scandal sheets and ephemera is something so striking that it must be given a central place in the interpretation of the period.

Yet even something so immense as the Thomason Tracts must be read in context, and it is very hard to know-how to do this. The great dearth of archives (extending even to private estate documents) deprives us for the years 1642 to 1660 of much of the material we are used to relying on for the previous and subsequent periods. When this fact is set beside the fact that the censorship deprives us of any equivalent printed material for the years before and after the Thomason Tracts, we have a real risk that the Tracts may upstage the rest of the evidence, or perhaps, more subtly but no less dangerously, a risk that, in trying to prevent them from upstaging the rest of the evidence, we may not give them the importance they deserve”.[5]

Revisionists

Russell derided Hill for his belief that there was a ‘sell-out’ of the revolution. Russell believed that “there was no such thing as the radical cause.”. Others criticised Hill because he placed Milton not only in a literary context but as an essential player in the revolution. Hill “had failed to prove his contention that Milton was engaged in a conscious or unconscious dialogue with the Revolution’s “radical underground.”

Russell consistently challenged Hill. Many times his hostility like many revisionists stemmed from their opposition to Hill connecting his left-wing politics and historical research. This hostility to Hill’s politics was the theme of Justin Champion’s lecture.He writes “In 2014, a special issue of the journal Prose Studies was published which aimed to interrogate the legacy of Christopher Hill’s World Turned Upside Down, and in particular to ‘consider damaging flaws in the conceptualisation of the book and in its underlying methodology’. The premise of that assault was based on Hill’s first historical crime: that he was an avowed Marxist. Combined with that was a second complaint, (according to the charge sheet) that he constructed histories on the basis of printed sources alone, rather than the golden standard of archival research. In the revisionist account of Hill’s work, these two aspects of criticism have tended to be collapsed into one complaint: that his scholarship was shoddy, and bent to his deeper Marxist commitments at the expense of empirical fact. Here, I will challenge both the accuracy and coherence of these uncharitable and hostile charges.[6]

Conclusion

What conclusions can be drawn from Hill’s book The Experience of Defeat? Hill ends the book with these words: ‘In 1644 Milton saw England as “a nation of prophets”. Where are they now?’.Despite the hostility towards this book, it is a valiant attempt to answer the above question but as Ann Talbot possess “What any serious reader interested in history or politics wants to know is, when we read Hill’s books are we reading the work of an apologist for the Stalinist bureaucracy or of someone who was genuinely struggling to make a Marxist analysis of an aspect of English history? It has to be said that this is a complex question”.



[1] Leon Trotsky’s place in history-By David North -21 August 2015-www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/21/reco-a21.html
[2] John Rees and Lee Humber-The good old cause an interview with Christopher Hill- From International Socialism 2 : 56, Autumn 1992, pp. 125–34.Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
[3] “These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill- 2003
[4] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomason_Collection_of_Civil_War_Tract
[5] www.lrb.co.uk/v06/n18/conrad-russell/losers
[6] Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition The first annual Christopher Hill Memorial Lecture https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4311-heaven-taken-by-storm-christopher-hill-andrew-marvell-and-the-dissenting-tradition

Review: Charles I: Downfall of a King-Lisa Hilton-BBC Four-2019

Lisa Hilton’s BBC series Charles I: Downfall of a King is a significant but profoundly flawed piece of work. Hilton’s series uses the 50 days over the winter of 1641-1642 to argue that this period sowed the seeds of civil war. For Hilton, there were no long term causes of the English revolution instead she says “I want to discover how our government could fall apart and the country become bitterly divided in just a few weeks”. For her, this was the result of intrigues between the “an arrogant, aloof king out of touch with his people”, and a scheming Parliamentarian John Pym.

Hilton’s series is mainly narrative-driven. She is not entirely out of her depth and is a gifted historian and writer of fiction, but the fact that this is narrative based history shows her inexperience with this subject and severely limits our understanding of what was a complex piece of history that still is fought over by today’s historian with a ferocity that would have made participants in the revolution blush.

It would appear that Hilton has not written on the English bourgeois revolution hence her need to attract a large number of established historians to provide some analysis..One of the most striking aspects of the programme apart from Hilton’s stunningly blue eyes was the number of high calibre historians that were seduced into appearing on the TV series. On Charles side were Leanda de Lisle, Jessie Childs and Charles Spencer. Spencer being filmed in front of his stunning Van Dyck “War and Peace”. The portraits show two aristocratic brothers-in-law who fought on opposite sides. On the side of the “Junto” John Rees, Justin Champion et al.Even more surprising is the fact that these historians went into this programme blind with their contributions given without discussion on what type of historiography was being used.

Hilton’s narrative concentrates on the MP John Pym and his so-called “Junto” of supporters in and outside parliament. From a historiographical standpoint, Hilton’s examination of Pym and his Junto friends relies heavily on a significant culling from John Adamson’s book The Noble Revolt. This is a little strange given the fact that Adamson does not appear in the series.

Hilton also believes that if Charles had shown a bit more political understanding, then this dirty civil war might have been avoided. Hilton’s philosophy reminded one of Leon Trotsky’s attack on the ‘great’ national historian Macaulay when he said that Macaulay, “vulgarises the social drama of the seventeenth century by obscuring the inner struggle of forces with platitudes that are sometimes interesting but always superficial.”

One disappointment was Hilton’s use of John Rees. Despite being an ex-member of the SWP Rees has written an excellent book on the Levellers. Rees describes in his book the role of the Levellers during this time as an independent political force. Hilton portrays them as bit players in Pym’s Junto and describes and then dismisses the radicalisation of the young London population as being  radicalised” and having a  “toxic masculinity” fuelled by “testosterone, ale and religious fervour.”

It is to Hilton’s credit that she encourages a study of the various documents issued during the revolution. During the time examined by the programme, there was an explosion of printed documents, the likes of which had never been seen before. Why therefore was more not made of Joad Raymond’s expertise in this matter. This is very puzzling.[1]

The most critical document studied by the programme is by Pym, and his Junto called The Grand Remonstrance.[2]
 Hilton description of  Pym’s pamphlets as “Stuart-age social media” is flippant and lazy.The Grand Remonstrance is a veritable declaration of war against the king. While careful not to blame the King for all the ills of the country, the document nonetheless outlined the bourgeoise’s defence of its material interests. While commenting on the documents, political importance, Hilton leaves out Parliament’s defence of its economic interests. Point 18 describes “Tonnage and Poundage hath been received without colour or pretence of law; many other substantial impositions continued against the law, and some so unreasonable that the sum of the charge exceeds the value of the goods.

Point 19. The Book of Rates lately enhanced to a high proportion, and such merchants that would not submit to their illegal and unreasonable payments, were vexed and oppressed above measure; and the ordinary course of justice, the common birthright of the subject of England, wholly obstructed unto them. Point 20  And although all this was taken upon pretence of guarding the seas, yet a new, unheard-of tax of ship-money was devised, and upon the same pretence, by both which there was charged upon the subject near £700,000 some years, and yet the merchants have been left so naked to the violence of the Turkish pirates, that many great ships of value and thousands of His Majesty’s subjects have been taken by them, and do remain in miserable slavery.

The document confirms the unbridgeable schism between the King and Pym. This period was ably described by Leon Trotsky who wrote “The English revolution of the seventeenth century, precisely because it was a great revolution shattering the nation to the bottom, affords a clear example of this alternating dual power, with sharp transitions in the form of civil war. At first the royal power, resting upon the privileged classes or the upper circles of these classes – the aristocrats and bishops – is opposed by the bourgeoisie and the circles of the squirearchy that are close to it. The government of the bourgeoisie is the Presbyterian Parliament supported by the City of London. The protracted conflict between these two regimes is finally settled in open civil war. The two governmental centres – London and Oxford – create their armies. Here the dual power takes a territorial form, although, as always in the civil war, the boundaries are very shifting. Parliament conquers. The king is captured and awaits his fate.[3]

Reviews of the series have been mixed. One review caught the eye, which is indicative of the bad treatment given to a new generation of female historians. Adam Sweeting in a review entitled Charles I: Downfall of a King, BBC Four review – beheaded monarch upstaged by the exotic presenter belittles Hilton’s presenting skills saying she is the “very antithesis of the Mary Beard school of history, Hilton prowls towards the camera more like a catwalk model than a mere academic. With her piercing blue eyes, platinum-blonde hair and collection of fashionably on-trend scarves, she could fit right into the cast of Sky Atlantic’s Mediterranean odyssey of conspiracy, priceless artworks and even pricier sports cars, Riviera. As well as a historian, she is also (as LS Hilton) a novelist. Her book Maestra was compared to 50 Shades of Gray. So was Domina, of which one critic wrote: “It has got sex, shopping, a few Old Masters and plenty of murder. Times have certainly changed since Lord Clark brought us Civilisation, but perhaps Hilton is surfing the zeitgeist, stripping history down to its rawest emotions and primal urges. Watch out, Alice Roberts and Suzannah Lipscomb..”[4]

Sweeting is not the only writer to be unhinged by attractive female historians. The male historian David Starkey has put it on record that he is not in favour of “feminised history”. Starkey was suitably chastised for his entry into the world of male historian’s chauvinism.
 
Conclusion

Despite saying some critical things the series is watchable and provides a useful but limited introduction to one aspect of the complex history of the English revolution. It is hoped that some of the more glaring mistakes are corrected or edited out as one reviewer pointed out it “It is the Whore of Babylon, not the Whore of Babel”.The end speech is also a little strange given that her entire programme was biased in favour of the Monarch Hilton is forced into a silly “attempt to redress the balance with a bizarre speech to the effect that without the execution of Charles I there would have been no French Revolution”.













[1] The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture-Volume One: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660-Edited by Joad Raymond
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Remonstrance
[3] From Chapter 11 of The History of the Russian Revolution (1931)
[4] https://theartsdesk.com/tv/charles-i-downfall-king-bbc-four-review-beheaded-monarch-upstaged-exotic-presenter

A Man of Contradictions: a Life of A.L. Rowse-Richard Ollard, Allen Lane, 1999


“As for the individual, everyone is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes”.

Hegel, Preface to The Philosophy of Right (1821)

“I confess that he gets on my nerves. I have admired some of his work. However, the ipse behind the work – what a lot of that ipse there is!”.

Herbert Butterfield

To describe Rowse as Richard Ollard does in his book as a man of contradictions is probably the biggest understatement of both  the 20th century and 21st Century. Ollard’s book is worth reading if only because of his attempt to place Rowse in the context of his time.I no intention of studying Rowse until I wandered into his historical orbit after reading Spirit of English History published in 1943 at the height of the war with Germany. Hence the dedication of the book to Winston Churchill.

For a man who dabbled with Marxist politics in the 1930s, this book is about as far removed from orthodox Marxism as you could get. It would be correct to say that Rowse was closer to Hegel than Marx. Hegel, in his book the Philosophy of History, also talked about a “world Spirit “ in history. Hegel writes. “It is only an inference from the history that its development has been a rational process; that the history in question has constituted the rationale necessary course of the world spirit-that spirit whose nature is always the same but which unfolds this is one nature in the phenomena of the world’s existence.”[1]

This analysis is echoed by Julia Stapleton who writes “The very title of one volume, The English Spirit (1945), would be anathema to a Marxist, despite his somewhat unconvincing attempt at the same time to include the character of the people in his broad definition of the underlying (economic) conditions of British history. The English Spirit was launched with an impressive print-run of 10,000 copies (Ollard, p. 179). In this collection of essays, Rowse is the epitome of the national intellectual, depicting and celebrating a unifying national tradition rooted in literature and life in which the thorny issue of class is completely passed over. Its inspiration is much more George Santayana – whom Rowse quotes admiringly – than Marx[2]

Much of Rowse’s patriotism and defence of the empire would make even the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson blush. The massive sales of this book tended to reflect the brief outburst of patriotism during the war, which largely dissipated after 1945, when the threat of social revolution became a reality.As Ollard states in his book, Rowse was not an easy man to live with. Much has been made of his childhood and the influence his mother and father had on his later life, and this is explored in the book. While these influences may have impacted on his social attitudes and relationships to the public and other historians, I believe that far more external forces made Rowse the figure he was. After all most of his life spanned a century that was shaped by wars and revolutions.Saying this, I am not belittling Rowse who was a man of some intellect and insight, who had to struggle to get where he did. This struggle is accurately recorded in the book. Rowse was the son of a china clay miner, both his parents were semi-literate. According to Robert Thomas” Rowse was a brilliant student who learned to read by the age of 4, became obsessed with speaking precisely correct English and worked so hard to win the only Cornwall scholarship to Oxford that it almost ruined his already precarious health”.[3]

In his autobiography Rowse claims “I owe what I am to the struggle, it isolated me from others, it concentrated me within the unapproachable tower of my resolve; I was determined to do what I wanted to do; I was left sufficiently to myself, for nobody was interested, to carry on what I wanted in my own way and nourish the inner life of my own imagination”.Even a cursory read of Ollards book would show the reader that Rowse’s connection with Marxism was tenuous, he never joined the Communist Party and rejected dialectical materialism, and despite reviewing Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, he had no connection with any Trotskyist group. This one of the contradictions alluded to in the title. Rowse’s writings were according to Julia Stapleton “accompanied by a sustained profession of Marxist faith. At its most elementary level, this took the form of an insistence on the shallowness of any history which does not see with understanding and sympathy how throughout the ages the burden has always rested on the people.”.[4]

While Rowse was not overtly hostile to Marxism, his empathy towards certain aspects of it needs explaining. Readers could no worse than examine what the historian Robert Ashton had to say when writing about the English Revolution, Ashton makes an interesting point on why some historians while not being Marxist did use Marxist ideas.Ashton said “The idea of religious, political and constitutional issues as an ideological superstructure based on foundations of material and class interests has been influential far beyond the ranks of Marxist historians. It has indeed been adopted, in part at least and with a radically different emphasis, by some of their more formidable and determined opponents.

Julia Stapleton in her review makes the point “he exemplified the wider tensions in British intellectual life in the middle decades of the twentieth century: a residual English nationalism and liberalism bequeathed by a declining but still seductive Whig ideal and a Marxism which posed a serious challenge to, but never entirely succeeded in displacing the latter This was certainly true of ‘ formative years in the 1930s. Such tensions were bound to become accentuated in a writer whose own personality was perpetually under the strain of oppositional forces. However, there is surely further scope for exploring these and other intellectual currents which informed ‘ work. For example, another historian who felt the charms of both Marxism and Whiggism in the 1930s and 40s was Butterfield himself. ‘Anti-intellectualism married to a vehement patriotism was also not exclusive to him, but was shared by other contemporary writers such as Arthur Bryant and Francis Brett Young, as well as Betjeman”.

Rowse’s attitude towards Trotsky is worth examining. Ollard only mentions Trotsky once in the book to tell us that Rowse read his Literature and Revolution book.Rowse has a certain sympathy towards the Russian revolution but only to a certain point.  Moreover, you cannot compare his review to the large number of hatchet jobs on Trotsky from several current historians who have written on Trotsky.

Rowse writes “For the real claim of this book is not that it is an impersonal, a scientific history; though, indeed, it is a brilliant example of a very rare species, a history that is inspired by the conception of society and the forces at work in it, implied by historical materialism. This, in short, is a Marxist history, but not the Marxist history of the Revolution; for that we shall have to wait for some future Pokrovsky, altogether more impersonal, more objective; but, no doubt, that will be a much duller affair whereas this is alive and tingling in every nerve. It has all the brilliant qualities, and the defects, of its author’s personality. It has extreme definiteness of outline, a relentlessness towards his enemies that goes with it, dramatic sense and visual power, a remarkable sympathy for the moods of the masses with a gift for vividly portraying them – the qualities we should expect from a great orator; and, in addition, the political understanding of a first-rate political figure”.[5]

Rowse seems to hold a respect for the writer, and this can be seen in this quote “It was impossible to expect Trotsky to suppress his own personality in the book; not only for the reason that he is Trotsky, but because, after all, he played such an Important part in the Revolution. To have suppressed him would be a falsification of history. However, he does go much further towards impersonality than one would have thought possible from one of his temperament. He writes throughout in the third person; he keeps himself in the background of the picture. The book gives an impression of a highly exciting personality, but not one of egoism; and, with one notable exception, it leaves an impression of fairness, at least not of unfairness. In the light of events, he seems justified in his merciless characterisation of the Tsar and Tsarina, Miliukov, Kornilov, Kerensky, and many of the Socialists. The exception is, of course, Stalin”.[6]

This part of the review ends Rowse’s attempt at an ‘objective’ review. Rowse clearly did not understand the political divisions that separated Trotsky from Stalin. Contained within Trotsky’s writing after the death of Lenin is his irreconcilable political differences with Stalin. This does not really interest Rowse.

To him, the political struggle was just a personal feud with Stalin. Rowse claims this has  “has prevented him(Trotsky) from recognising Stalin’s part in the Revolution. Whenever he comes near the subject, the history tends to turn into a political pamphlet; and one is tempted to think that Trotsky writes history, as the celebrated Dr Clifford was said to offer extemporary prayer, for the purpose of scarifying his enemies. Nobody would guess from his account that in the October Revolution, though Trotsky was the President of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Soviet, which organised the insurrection, Stalin was responsible for the organisation of the Bolshevik Party, apart from the Soviet in which other parties were included, to the same end. Over the struggle within the party in October, when Lenin was forcing them into insurrection, and the party was divided in opinion, it seems needless to attack Stalin, as the editor of Pravda, for trying to tone down the differences: it is the function of a party organ to gloss over the differences within the party, before the eyes of the outside world. Nor, though Trotsky allows that Stalin’s defects are not due to lack of character, as in the case of Kamenev and Zinoviev, the two opponents of the insurrection, is it reasonable to attack him on the ground of his caution. There are leaders and leaders. It is true that Stalin is not of the tempestuous, romantic type of revolutionary like Trotsky, but he is none the less a great leader. He reminds one rather of Burghley in our own history, who had a great gift for taking cover. But that did not prevent him from being bold and courageous in policy, as in the case of the great leap in the dark of 1559 when this country was committed finally and decisively to the Protestant Reformation. And so, too, Stalin is the man, after all, who have taken the plunge of committing Russia to the Five Years’ Plan”.

This glorification of Stalin would not look out of place with other more modern ones carried out by historians such as Ian Thatcher and Robert Service. His review of Leon Trotsky ‘s book does expose Rowse‘s own political agenda he was after all a member of the Labour Party. Despite  Rowse’s empathy towards Trotsky, he shared the Labour Party’s inbuilt hostility to Trotsky and Trotskyism.

Philosophy

There many problems with Ollards book. Perhaps the most serious is his blindness to Rowse’s indifference to the philosophy of history.According to Edward Hallett Carr Dr A. L. Rowse, more justly critical, wrote of Sir Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis — his book about the First World War — that, while it matched Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution in personality, vividness, and vitality, it was inferior in one respect: it had “no philosophy of history behind it.” British historians refused to be drawn, not because they believed that history had no meaning, but because they believed that its meaning was implicit and self-evident. The liberal nineteenth-century view of history had a close affinity with the economic doctrine of laissez-faire – also the product of a serene and self-confident outlook on the world. Let everyone get on with his particular job, and the hidden hand would take care of the universal harmony. The facts of history were themselves a demonstration of the supreme fact of a beneficent and apparently infinite progress towards higher things. This was the age of innocence, and historians walked in the Garden of Eden, without a scrap of philosophy to cover them, naked and unashamed before the god of history. Since then, we have known Sin and experienced a fall; and those historians who today pretend to dispense with a philosophy of history are merely trying, vainly and self-consciously, like members of a nudist colony, to recreate the Garden of Eden in their garden suburb. Today the awkward question can no longer be evaded”.

To conclude Ollards book provides the reader with a kind but a basic introduction to A. L. Rowse. Two significant failings of the book are that it does not address Rowse’s political perspectives in any great detail and does not examine his lack of interest in the philosophy of history.Julia Stapleton adds “There is much self-indulgence in language and imagery, and the footnoting is slipshod, even allowing for an understandable contempt for the dry-as-dust nature of modern scholarship. At one point, for example, the reader is referred to the already sizeable literature on the subject without any further details (p. 68). Nevertheless, this is an extremely rewarding book, and it has undoubtedly set the framework for any future studies of Rowse”.


1] Philosophy of History, G Hegel, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hi/history3.htm
[2] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/100
[3] A. L. Rowse, Masterly Shakespeare Scholar, Dies at 93-.OCT. 6, 1997- http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/06/world/a-l-rowse-masterly-shakespeare-scholar-dies-at-93.html
[4] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/100
[5] An Epic of Revolution:Reflections on Trotsky’s History(The History of the Russian Revolution)
Published: The End of an Epic: Reflections on Contemporary History, Macmillan, 1947
[6] An Epic of Revolution:Reflections on Trotsky’s History(The History of the Russian Revolution)
Published: The End of an Epic: Reflections on Contemporary History, Macmillan, 1947

The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley -Thomas N. Corns (Editor), Ann Hughes (Editor), David Loewenstein (Editor) OUP Oxford (24 Dec. 2009)

“Not a full year since, being quiet at my work, my heart was filled with sweet thoughts… That the earth shall be made a common treasury of livlihood to whole mankind, without respect of persons; yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing”.– Gerrard Winstanley

“The life of this dark kingly power, which you have made an act of Parliament and oath to cast out, if you search it to the bottom, you shall see it lies within the iron chest of cursed covetousness, who gives the earth to some part of mankind and denies it to another part of mankind: and that part that hath the earth, hath no right from the law of creation to take it to himself and shut out others; but he took it away violently by theft and murder in conquest.” The Law of Freedom in a Platform

The release of the complete works of Gerrard Winstanley was and is a major historical event. A vast collection of Winstanley’s writings in one place was decades overdue. Put together by three well-respected scholars the edition will be seen by future historians as a definitive edition.The editors have drawn on the previous work of John Gurney and James Alsop among others. This edition also contains original archival discoveries. The collection also contains extensive notes which denote a substantial amount of work undertaken in the archives.

It is fitting that the new volumes are dedicated to the memory of Christopher Hill who carried out an incredibly important piece work to place the Digger movement and the “True Leveller” Winstanley in an objective and historical materialist context.Hill, in his seminal study, The World Turned Upside Down, believed that Winstanley and his Diggers, “have something to say to twentieth-century socialists”. In this, he meant that they were an anticipation of future struggles. Hill was cognizant that despite their radicalism, the social and economic conditions had not yet matured for them to carry out a “second revolution” which would have seen the overthrow of Cromwell and broader use of the popular franchise. Despite over thirty years of revisionist attacks on Hill’s work The World Turned Upside Down continues to be the defining work that historians have to work around.

It has unfortunately not stopped revisionist historians from attacking his work, Michael Braddick describes the modus operandi of the revisionists who “have tried to cut the English revolution down to size or to cast it in its own terms. In so doing, they naturally also cast a critical eye over the reputation and contemporary significance of its radical heroes. In Winstanley’s case, this led to an emphasis both on the strangeness of his thought for twentieth-century socialists and on the fact that he was a Digger leader only briefly in a long and, in many other ways, very respectable life. His Digger year, 1649, falls in the middle of four years of prolific and exhilarating publication, but that period of his life appears in the historical record as an irruption into an otherwise rather unremarkable and anonymous biography”.[1]

This deliberate playing down of Winstanley and the Diggers importance is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the writings of the late Mark Kishlansky. According to Kishlansky, Winstanley was “a small businessman who began his career wholesaling cloth, ended it wholesaling grain, and in between sandwiched a mid-life crisis of epic proportions. For revisionists, the years when the world was turned upside down stand in the same relation to the course of English history as Winstanley’s wild years either side of his fortieth birthday due to his subsequent life as a churchwarden”.

To answer Kishlansky, it is not the point to talk up or talk down Winstanley and the Diggers but to place him and them in the proper context of the English Revolution. It is true that Winstanley was a businessman, but his radicalism coincided with one of the most revolutionary chapters in English history. This shows us that at certain times, men and women are moved by such profound events such as wars and revolution. Their thoughts and actions may move at a glacial pace in calmer times; during revolutions, they speed up dramatically.

Kishlanksky does inadvertently raises an important question. What was the relationship between Winstanley’s religion, his economic status and his politics? As the Marxist writer Cliff Slaughter says “for the understanding of some of the great problems of human history, the study of religion is a necessity. What is the relationship between the social divisions among men and their beliefs about the nature of things? How do ruling classes ensure long periods of acceptance of their rule by those they oppress? Why was the ‘Utopians’ wrong in thinking that it was sufficient only to work out a reasonable arrangement of social relations to proceed to its construction? It was out of the examination of questions like this in the German school of criticism of religion that Marx emerged to present for the first time a scientific view of society. ‘The criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism”[2].

Biography

An essential part of the two volumes is that it establishes a much more accurate record of Gerrard Winstanley’s life. It substantially complements the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies article by J.C Davies and J. D.Alsop very well[3]

Davies and Alsop’s article should be studied with extreme caution. The historians both come from a conservative strand of historiography. Their article plays down Winstanley’s communistic beliefs and places his radicalism in the camp of religion rather than an early form of socialism, Davies and Alsop write  “The central historical puzzle remains: how could someone who came from and returned to a conventional, or quiescent, background have articulated a thoroughgoing repudiation of the values and institutions of his society, based on a penetrating analysis of its underlying weaknesses? One approach has been to impute an intellectual debt to others—Thomas More, Francis Bacon, the Familists, or other sectarians—but there is no evidence to sustain these links. Another has been to emphasise the radical nature of his thought—the discursive breach with his contemporaries—either by an intellectual leap into predominantly secular modes of thought or, by contrast, through drawing on occult or hermeticist thinking. Neither claim stands up to a reading of his work as a whole”.

It may be more instructive to see him as revealing of the transformative potentials inherent in vernacular scripture and protestant social thought as well as within the tensions of early modern communities polarised by economic inequality but straining for communal self-government. He was not the only writer of his time to suggest the inequitable and unchristian nature of private property and its unequal distribution, or that applied Christianity would end material inequalities, or that the millennium will bring this about if men would not. But he was the most systematic in formulating alternatives, the most prepared to argue through the relationship between God and the creation which justified a more equitable society and the divine history which was bringing it to pass, as well as the most remorseless in pursuing the logic of the rhetoric of the English revolution as a way to persuade his contemporaries of the justice of this vision. In short, Winstanley and his ideas remain pivotal for the understanding of the limits of the possible within seventeenth-century discourse and action”[4]

Winstanley was born in 1609 and died 10 September 1676, long life by 17th century standards. Although much of his early life remains a mystery, he was the son of Edward Winstanley. In 1630 he moved to London and took up an apprenticeship, and in 1638, he was a freeman of the Merchant Tailors’ Company.His adult life is unremarkable he married Susan King, who was the daughter of London surgeon William King, in 1639. It is clear that without the English revolution, his life would have probably moved at the same pedestrian pace as before. However, like many, his world was turned upside down. His business took a beating during the early part of the war, and in 1643 he was made bankrupt. He moved to Cobham, Surrey, where he found unskilled work as a cowherd.

During the highpoint of the English bourgeois revolution from 1648 to 1649, he issued five religious tracts; these tracts are in the two-volume set of his complete writings. It is known that in early 1649, Winstanley and William Everard met with a small number of similarly minded men to dig on common land on St George’s Hill in Walton parish, near Cobham. 
Winstanley’s perspective was put into practice through the occupation of land. In 1650 he felt bold enough to send out others to expand the Digging. The South of England and areas of the Midlands were settled.

Michael Braddick believes “Winstanley’s five earliest tracts were prompted by the anxiety and suffering of the war years: the certainty that this crisis was in some sense divine in origin, and intended as a prompt to sinners to seek reformation, was for many people matched by disabling uncertainty about what form that reformation should take. Winstanley’s writings offered comfort and spiritual advice that was essentially personal, directing believers to look inside themselves, and that led increasingly towards criticism of scripture and learned commentary as guides to practical action”.

Perhaps Winstanley’s most remarkable body of work is The New Law of Righteousness. In this, he argued for a form of Christian/Communism.Verses 44 and 45 of the Book of Acts, outline his fundamental core beliefs “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. At the beginning of time, God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another.”[5]

It is possible to trace Winstanley’s radical thought in The New Law of Righteousness back through history. While I do not share some historians perspective that England had an unbroken line of radicalism, it clear that Winstanley draws inspiration from previous radicals such as Watt Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt (1381)and the European Anabaptists. Much of Winstanley and that of the Diggers thought was a primitive form of Christian Communism. Although the writer David Petegorsky has argued that “to search for the sources of Winstanley’s theological conceptions would be as futile as to attempt to identify the streams that have contributed to the bucket of water one has drawn from the sea.” [6]

Hill was very fond of Petegorsky’s work saying “Petegorsky’s book was a shining light in the dark days of 1940. It is a pioneering study of Gerrard Winstanley, and it still offers the best analysis of his ideas. Petegorsky’s book did not attract the attention it deserved. Petegorsky, alas, did not live to publish the major works which would have transformed our understanding of the English Revolution.”[7]

In A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England Winstanley elaborated this egalitarian viewpoint  
“The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murder their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or thieve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand by the power of the sword; and so you justify the wicked deeds of your fathers, and that sin of your fathers shall be visited upon the head of you and your children to the third and fourth generation, and longer too, till your bloody and thieving power be rooted out of the land”.[8]

In The Law of Freedom, you can see the influence of European Anabaptists who believed that all institutions were by their nature, corrupt. Winstanley agrees with their early anarchism. When he states ” nature tells us that if water stands long, it corrupts; whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use”. Winstanley believed that in order to combat this corrupting nature, called for all officials to be elected every year. “When public officers remain long in the place of judicature they will degenerate from the bounds of humility, honesty and tender care of brethren, in regard the heart of man is so subject to be overspread with the clouds of covetousness, pride, vain glory”.

Winstanley’s most well-known work is The Law of Freedom published in February 1652 and written after the failure of the commune. The failure of which must have hit Winstanley hard both physically and intellectually because his next move was to appeal to Cromwell who had no intention of helping.Winstanley appeal was in vain “now you have the power of the land in your hand, you must do one of these two things. First, either set the land free to the oppressed commoners, who assisted you, and paid the Army their wages; and then you will fulfil the Scriptures and your engagements, and so take possession of your deserved honour. Or secondly, you must only remove the Conqueror’s power out of the King’s hand into other men’s, maintaining the old laws still.”[9]

“For you (Cromwell) must either establish Commonwealth’s freedom in power, making provision for everyone’s peace, which is righteousness, or else you must set up Monarchy again. Monarchy is twofold, either for one king to reign or for many to reign by kingly promotion. And if either one king rules or many rule by king’s principles, much murmuring, grudges, trouble and quarrels may and will arise among the oppressed people on every gained opportunity.”

In the pamphlet True Levellers Standard Advanced, Winstanley sought to develop his ideas regarding future developments. Many of his arguments were later to become standard socialist perspectives. The Digger communes were only the first part of a programme that would see people refusing to ‘work’ for rich people. The land would be ‘a common treasury for all’.

Nobody would be for hire, and the Diggers would not hire themselves. Rent would be a thing of the past. In their day, these attitudes were revolutionary. However, the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some other radical organisations have tended to equate this type of action with a 20th-century proletariat withdrawing its labour from the capitalist class in a sort of general strike. While communistic in its approach it must be said we are talking about a working class that’s in a very embryonic state, not an industrial proletariat led by a Communist party. The fact that Cromwell and his allies in the rising bourgeoisie could easily defeat the Diggers both politically and militarily tends to confirm my point.

John Gurney’s Winstanley and the Left

According to John Gurney Marxist writers in the 19th century such as Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky believed that Winstanley’s work had provided a framework for a new socialist society.The author of The Common People (1984) John F. Harrison,believed: “Winstanley has an honoured place in the pantheon of the Left as a pioneer communist. In the history of the common people, he is also representative of that other minority tradition of popular religious radicalism, which, although it reached a crescendo during the Interregnum, had existed since the Middle Ages and was to continue into modern times. Totally opposed to the established church and also separate from (yet at times overlapping) orthodox puritanism, was a third culture which was lower-class and heretical. At its centre was a belief in the direct relationship between God and man, without the need of any institution or formal rites. Emphasis was on inner spiritual experience and obedience to the voice of God within each man and woman.”[10]

Gurney’s last essay Gerrard Winstanley and the Left, is a very significant piece of work. It lays the critical groundwork for a further examination of the left’s attitude towards the English revolution. Gurney understood when writing about left-wing historiography on the English Revolution that you had to be aware of the pratfalls, especially when writing about the Communist Party Historians Group. One must be cognizant of the enormous amount of Stalinist baggage these historians carried around. It must be said that some of this baggage was not always in perfect condition.In many ways, this essay is a microcosm of Gurney’s whole body of work. He was very much at the height of his powers when he wrote this article. Gurney acknowledges that it is only recently that the words of Winstanley have been fully appreciated.  However, he believed that it is not the case that nothing of note was written before the 20th century. He thought that Winstanley’s ‘extraordinarily rich body of writings’ were read and studied between the years 1651 and the 1890s.

As he wrote in the essay “The historical legacy of the Diggers is usually seen as being very different from that of their contemporaries, the Levellers. If the Levellers were misremembered, the Diggers have been understood as being primarily forgotten before the 1890s, with professional historians playing little part in their rediscovery.  It took, we are told, the Marxist journalist and politician Eduard Bernstein to rediscover Winstanley quite independently of academic historians when he spent part of his exile in London working on the section on seventeenth-century English radical thinkers for Karl Kautsky’s Die Vorla¨ufer des neueren Sozialismus.

Later, in the 1940s, it was Marxist historians associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain who is said to have picked up Bernstein’s baton and created the image of a communist and materialist Winstanley which remains familiar to this day. The left’s responsibility for, and role in, the rediscovery and promotion of the Diggers can, therefore, seem quite clear and uncomplicated. There are, however, several problems with this interpretation. For one thing, the Diggers had, before the 1890s, never fallen from public view to the extent often imagined. It seems that they were reasonably well known over the centuries — and perhaps even more accurately remembered than the mainstream Levellers, who were often confused with them. It is also evident that early detailed research on the Diggers was not confined to the left and that Bernstein was by no means alone in taking an interest in Winstanley’s writings in the 1890s”.

Gurney continues “the Russians have a saying: ‘The past is unpredictable.’ So it has proved for Gerrard Winstanley. For all but one of his 67 years, he lived in obscurity, and then he died forgotten. Generations of historians passed over him either in silence or derision. He entirely eluded the notice of the Earl of Clarendon in the 17th century and of David Hume in the 18th. Even the Jacobin William Godwin, the first champion of the Civil War radicals, judged his exploits ‘scarcely worthy of being recorded’, and S.R. Gardiner’s comprehensive history of the Commonwealth contained only two references to him, one a bare mention of his name. Then in the early 20th century, Winstanley was rediscovered, and he has exerted a magnetic pull on left-leaning intellectuals ever since. He is variously credited as the father of English communism, socialism or environmentalism, depending on which is seeking paternity. His notice in the Victorian DNB was a scant 700 words; in the new DNB, it has ballooned to more than 8000. Now he has been canonised by the publication of an Oxford edition of his complete works, the second complete works in a century, more than have been accorded either Hobbes or Locke”.[11]

Gurney spent most of his life studying the area around where he lived. However, his work on the Diggers and Gerard Winstanley was far from parochial. In many ways, he was instrumental in bringing a fresh perspective to the Diggers and Winstanley. He produced two books on them Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution published in 2007 and Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy of 2013[2].  
Both books took our understanding of the Diggers to a new level.

Gurney was clear that the study of Winstanley should not solely be of historical value but must have a contemporary resonance. He says: “Today knowledge of Winstanley is widespread, and he has become one of the best-known figures from the period of the English Revolution. There have been numerous plays, novels, TV dramas, songs and films, and Winstanley has often been cited as an inspirational figure by politicians of the left.

More specifically, his ideas and achievements have remained prescient, inspiring generations of activists and social movements”. He believed that Winstanley “has in recent years also been invoked by freeganism, squatters, guerrilla gardeners, allotment campaigners, social entrepreneurs, greens and peace campaigners; and both Marxists and libertarians have laid claim Who was to him as a significant precursor”.

The Diggers and Levellers were part of a group of men that sought to understand the profound political and social changes that were taking place at the beginning of the 17th century. They were the real ‘Ideologues of the revolution’ and had a specific capacity for abstract thought. While the Diggers were sympathetic to the poor, which stemmed from their religion, they had no programme to bring about social change; they never advocated a violent overturning of society. Their class outlook, that being of small producers, conditioned their ideology. At no stage did the Diggers or that matter did the larger group the Levellers constitute a mass movement.

George Sabines

As most people interested in Winstanley will know these two volumes of collected works replace the work of the distinguished American political scientist and historian of political thought, G.H. Sabine. Sabine produced his work under challenging conditions during the beginning of the Second World War in 1941. Sabine did not have the luxury of the internet.

According to one writer it has “for almost 70 years, remained a serviceable edition of Winstanley’s works and an invaluable resource for students of the English revolution. It was reprinted in 1965. However, increasingly it has come to seem marred by an outdated grasp of the biographical facts of the lives, both of Winstanley and his associates in the famous ‘digging’ experiments; by the discovery of some further, textual material; by an absence of annotation of the texts, and by Sabine’s selectivity. While his edition remains reasonably comprehensive, Sabine reproduced only extracts of Winstanley’s first three tracts, reducing what in the Oxford edition now amounts to 306 pages to about ten. Sabine’s justification for this was partly space and ‘partly because less interest attaches to books written before Winstanley’s discovery of communism’. But, as he demonstrated elsewhere in his introduction, the communism is almost impossible to understand without the religion”.

Over time Sabine’s viewpoint that Winstanley’s politics were of a type ‘utopian socialism’ has come under sustained attack from the same revisionists who downplay Winstanley’s radicalism. While Sabine avoided completely secularising Winstanley’s politics, his labelling Winstanley as a Utopian Socialists is not far off the mark.

Conclusion

One writer posted this critical question To what extent, then, does the new edition and its apparatus represent a breakthrough or is it a consolidation of more recently received wisdom?.My feeling it is a combination of both. It should be left to future historians to make a judgement on the merits of this collection.As Ariel Hessayon perceptively writes “for now at last Winstanley, the ‘foremost radical of the English Revolution’, who stands shoulder to shoulder with John Donne, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Andrew Marvell and John Bunyan as one of the ‘finest writers’ of a ‘glorious age of English non-fictional prose’ (vol. 1, p. 65) has an indispensable scholarly edition of his writings befitting both his undoubted literary talents and profound insights. A complete edition of his writings what is more, which will constitute the bedrock of future studies that ‘typically follow, rather than precede, the establishment of a complete and reliable text’.[12]

[1] Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy (Revolutionary Lives) Paperback – 20 Nov 2012
by John Gurney (Author)
[2] Cliff Slaughter-Religion and Social Revolt-www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/slaughter/1958/05/religion.html
[3] www-oxforddnb-com.
[4] https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29755?rskey=49ov9f&result=4
[5] Gerrard Winstanley, The New Law of Righteousness (1649)
[6] https://spartacus-educational.com/STUwinstanley.htm
[7] Left-Wing Democracy in the English Civil War
[8] https://www.bilderberg.org/land/poor.htm
[9] The Law of Freedom in a Platform-
 www.marxists.org/reference/archive/winstanley/1652/law-freedom/introduction.htm
[10] John F. Harrison, The Common People (1984) page 199
[11] Gerrard Winstanley and the Left-John Gurney-Past & Present, Volume 235, Issue 1, May 2017, Pages 179–206, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtx017
[12] Reviews_in_History_-_The_Complete_Works_of_Gerrard_Winstanley_-_2012-03-08.pdf

Oliver Cromwell (Profiles In Power) Barry Coward,216 pages, Longman; (22 Aug 2000) ISBN-10: 0582437512


Barry Coward’s book is a valuable introduction to the complex and controversial world of Oliver Cromwell. His book has become a standard textbook on the period. While not an orthodox biography Coward manages to keep an open mind on the significant issues surrounding Cromwell and quite prepared to change his mind, a hallmark of Coward.

Coward makes no secret of his admiration of Cromwell being a paid-up member, and former president of the Cromwell Association means his biography is a little partisan.Coward’s biography has entered into an already crowded field. The high interest means that historians can finally begin to strip away the myths surrounding Cromwell. Many of these myths and falsehoods were spread by hostile biographers. The fact that we have started to learn more about Cromwell’s early life is down to significant work by historians such as Andrew Barclay[1]

The previous historiography has acknowledged Cromwell’s early religious influences as a young man, especially from Dr Thomas Beard. Coward, however, pours cold water on this. He does not believe that Cromwell was ‘Lord of the Fens’ or “an opponent of capitalist syndicates.” Coward does not believe Cromwell’s class position made him a champion of popular rights.Cromwell, in his own words, describes his class position when he said “I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height nor yet in obscurity. I have been called to several employments in the nation — to serve in parliaments, — and (because I would not be over tedious) I did endeavour to discharge the duty of an honest man in those services, to God, and his people’s interest, and of the commonwealth; having, when the time was, a competent acceptation in the hearts of men, and some evidence thereof”.[2]

One shortcoming of the book is that it fails to place Cromwell within the huge changes, both socially and economically that was taking place in England at the time. To do so would give the book a far more multi-dimensional approach to Cromwell. Such an approach was by F.A. Inderwick’s who showed “A complex character such as that of Cromwell, is incapable of creation, except in times of great civil and religious excitement and one cannot judge the man without at the same time considering the contending elements by which he was surrounded. It is possible to take his character to pieces, and, selecting one or other of his qualities as a corner-stone, to build around it a monument which will show him as a patriot or a plotter, a Christian man or a hypocrite, a demon or a demi-god as the sculptor may choose”.[3]

Coward correctly believes that Cromwell’s political views were radicalised by his interpretation of the James Ist bible. Cromwell from a very early period before hostilities had even broken out opposed the King. One of his first actions before the war had officially broken out was to raise a troop of soldiers to seize money bound for the King. Cromwell was adamant that religion was an important factoir in the struggle against the King saying “Religion was not the thing at first contested for at all but God brought it to that issue at last; and gave it unto us by way of redundancy, and at last it proved to be that which was most dear to us” [4]
.
Cromwell it must be said saw further than any of his contemporaries in need from a proletarian army to combat the King. His famous words “I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that you call a Gentleman and is nothing else.” [5]
 Need little explanation.

Coward’s biography is a million miles away from a Marxists approach to Cromwell contained in Christopher Hill’s Gods Englishman. Coward believed that because there were “middling sort “on both sides of the revolution, hence there was no bourgeois revolution. For Coward it is “more important in explaining why divisions over religious and policy issues did not spill over into rebellion and attacks on the social order, is the fact that such divisions cut across ‘class’ lines. Indeed, although there was (as has been seen) a significant disparity in the distribution of wealth in early modern London between ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’, there was also a massive group who it is best to call (as they did at the time) ‘the middling sort’, tradesmen, merchants, craftsmen and their apprentices. It is significant that analyses of different religious and political groups in Civil War London show no significant difference in their social composition; most notably, they all show large contingents of the middling sort.

People from the same social groups are to be found on all sides. They are to be found amongst the Levellers and the radical gathered churches, but also amongst the readers of Thomas Edwards’s Gangraena and the militant conservative crowd who invaded the chamber of parliament in July 1647. The point quite simply is that what was lacking in Civil War London was the ingredient of class division or class hostility that might have made, for example, excise riots the breeding ground for radical protest and demands” [6]

Ann Talbot in her essay counters this argument saying “the prevailing academic orthodoxy is that there was no bourgeois revolution because there was no rising bourgeoisie and that people from all social classes can be found on either side of the struggle. Even Cromwell, it is argued, can better be understood as a representative of the declining gentry rather than the rising bourgeois. He and those around him aimed not at revolution but wished merely to restore what they believed to be the ancient constitution of the kingdom.

The whole unpleasant episode could have been avoided if only Charles II had been a little wiser. Hill, of course, was well aware that there were gentlemen and landowners on the Parliamentary side in the civil war and small farmers and artisans on the Royalist side. He had read enough Marx and Lenin to know that one could not expect a chemically pure revolution in which the members of one social class lined up one side of the barricades and those of the other on the opposite side. However, he was sensitive enough to his historical sources to detect the social currents that brought people of diverse social backgrounds into a struggle against the King and well-grounded enough in history to identify new and revolutionary ideas in the curious and archaic guise in which they appeared—as the ideologists of the revolution ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing”.[7]

The logic of Coward’s rejection of a class-based analysis of the ideological battles that occurred during the revolution leads him to make the outstanding claim that the New Model Army was not political from the outset and that the Levellers did not politicise it. Coward says the army spontaneously gravitated to radical solutions overpay and grievances. This downplaying of the ideological debates that took place in the military is a major weak point in the book. It is therefore not surprising that Coward devotes so little to the Putney Debates 1647.

What conclusions did Cromwell draw from the debates at Putney? The dangers of a Levellers inspired mutiny against the Grandees were a real possibility. Alongside Ireton, he saw a growing danger of losing control of the New Model Army to the radicals. This army was already to the left of Cromwell and would move against both the King and Cromwell himself if left to its own devices. Cromwell’s nervousness over the Levellers was expressed when he said: “I tell you sir; you have no other way to deal with these men [the Levellers] but to break them in pieces” [8]
.
It does not need a leap of faith to believe that the conclusions Cromwell drew from Putney was the need to purge the army of radicals and began to move to military dictatorship under his control. In the chapter Cromwell and the Godly Reformation, 1653-54 Coward outlines Cromwell move towards a military dictatorship. On-Page 96, Cowards explains following the Barebones Parliament; there was a definite playing up of a fear of social revolution.

What was Cromwell’s heritage? The fact that his name still elicits such hatred or admiration is down to the still contemporary class nature of the Civil War period. Even today, there are sections of the ruling elite who still refuse to be reminded that Britain had a violent revolution which was not the British way of doing things. Coward tends to hold this position as well.

Coward’s fixation with Cromwell’s attempt at Godly Reformation misses Cromwell’s legacy in establishing the rule of the English bourgeoisie. On this score, the great Russian Marxist  Leon Trotsky offers a better epitaph for Cromwell “In dispersing parliament after parliament, Cromwell displayed as little reverence towards the fetish of “national” representation as in the execution of Charles I he had displayed insufficient respect for a monarchy by the grace of God. Nonetheless, it was this same Cromwell who paved the way for the parliamentarism and democracy of the two subsequent centuries. In revenge for Cromwell’s execution of Charles I, Charles II swung Cromwell’s corpse upon the gallows. However, pre-Cromwellian society could not be re-established by any restoration. The works of Cromwell could not be liquidated by the thievish legislation of the restoration, because what has been written with the sword cannot be wiped out by the pen.[9]

To conclude that Coward’s biography of Cromwell is one of the better ones and deserves to be the standard textbook on the subject. Any biography of Cromwell involves a lot of hard work. As Karl Marx said, “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits”. Reaching a scientific understanding was hard work. Conscientious, painstaking research was required, instead of philosophical speculation and unwarranted, sweeping generalisations” [10]

[1] Electing Cromwell: The Making of a Politician (Political and Popular Culture in the Early Modern Period)
[2] Speech to the First Protectorate Parliament (12 September 1654)
[3] Th Interregnum, 1648-60
[4] Speech made on the Dissolution of the First Protectorate Parliament on 22 January 1654
[5] Letter to Sir William Spring (September 1643) “A few honest men are better than numbers.”
[6] (London and the Civil War)
[7] “These the times, this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill
[8] The English Wars and Republic, 1637–1660-By Graham E. Seel
[9] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism
[10] 1872 Preface to the French edition of Das Kapital Vol. 1,



The Civil Wars 1637-1653 Martyn Bennett,1998, Sutton Pocket Histories
he decade of the 1990s witnessed the publishing of large numbers of books that sought to overturn previous Whig and Marxist historiography. The revisionist historians who carried out this revolt were clear on what they were against a little less clear on what they wanted to replace the previous historiography with.

Alongside Bennett’s book, you had John Morrill’s Revolt in the Provinces: The English People and the Tragedies of War, 1634-1648 by  Mark Stoyle. Loyalty and Locality: Popular Allegiance in Devon during the English Civil War, The English Civil War and Revolution: Keith Lindley, The English Wars and Republic, 1637-1660, to name just a few.It is not possible in this short article to examine the reasons for the rise of such disparate historiography suffice to say it was hostile to any Whig or Marxist historiography which sought to explain the war from the standpoint of it being a bourgeois revolution and not just a civil war.

In this well-written book, Bennett favoured another type of historiography that was prevalent at the time called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The term was not a new one. It dates back to 1662 when James Heath’s book A Brief Chronicle of all the Chief Actions so fatally Falling out in the Three Kingdoms, was first published.Bennett explains his reasoning behind his choice of historiography, “The enduring symbol of the crisis which gripped the British Isles during the middle of the seventeenth century is the name given to it, `The English Civil War’. This symbol is itself problematic and can even act as a barrier to a clear understanding of what happened in that turbulent century. It may be argued that calling the conflict the English Civil War limits the scope of our perceptions. By labelling it an English event, we can marginalise Scotland and Ireland and perhaps even ignore Wales altogether. Yet all four nations were involved in the rebellions, wars and revolutions that made up the period” [1]

Bennett’s book starts with examining the war from the standpoint of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales in the first three chapters. As one writer put this historiography was “a trend by modern historians aiming to take a unified overview rather than treating some of the conflicts as mere background to the English Civil War. Some, such as Carlton and Gaunt, have labelled them the British Civil Wars.  This type of explanation for the revolution was popular with historians based outside England. One such historian Jane Ohlmeyer argued “Proponents of the New British Histories agree that British history should not be enriched English history which focuses on Whitehall and uses events in Ireland and Scotland to explain developments in England. Yet the traditional terms used to describe the conflict which engulfed Britain and Ireland during the 1640s, which include ‘Puritan Revolution’, ‘English Revolution’, and more recently ‘British Civil War(s)’, tend to perpetuate this anglocentrism.

None of these reflects the fact that the conflict originated in Scotland and Ireland and throughout the 1640s embraced all of the Stuart kingdoms; or that, in addition to the war enjoying a pan-British and Irish dimension, each of the Stuart states experienced its domestic civil wars. The phrase ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’ acknowledges the centrality of the various civil wars fought within the Stuart kingdoms as well as the interactions between them.[2]Bennett while supporting the “wars of three kingdoms” historiography does explain its limitations warning “against thinking that this current interpretation of the war is the last word, historical fashions come and go. It may be as well to paraphrase Mark Twain: reports of the death of the English Civil War may yet be greatly exaggerated”.[3]

Martyn Bennett book is precise in the type of terminology used, as Bennett argued, the type of terminology used says a lot about how the historian “reflects and reinforces the interpretations we make”. This approach is commendable. As Edward Hallett Carr once wrote:”if, as Collingwood says, the historian must re-enact in thought what has gone on in the mind of his dramatis personae, so the reader in his turn must re-enact what goes on in the mind of the historian. Study the historian before you begin to study the facts. This is, after all, not very abstruse. It is what is already done by the intelligent undergraduate who, when recommended to read a work by that great scholar Jones of St. Jude’s, goes round to a friend at St. Jude’s to ask what sort of chap Jones is, and what bees he has in his bonnet. When you read a work of history, always listen out for the buzzing. If you can detect none, either you are tone deaf or your historian is a dull dog.”[4]

The date spread used in this book 1637-1653 is not one I have come across. The throwing around of dates seems to have been popular in the 1990s. Bennett explains his reasoning “Imposing the dates 1642-1651 on the civil wars renders them relatively meaningless outside the bounds of England and Wales: calling them the ‘English’ Civil War is similarly problematic. The term English Civil War became common during the last century, adding to the range of titles available – from the contentious ‘English Revolution’ to the ‘Great Rebellion’ and the ‘Great Civil War’. Yet such a title does obscure the involvement of the other nations as effectively in the book market as it does in popular entertainment” [5]

Bennett uses the term revolution in a couple of times in the book but does not believe this was a bourgeois revolution. The book does not provide any insight into the socio-economic problems that gave rise to the conflict. Bennett, to his credit, does believe that the war was a product of long term political changes to the base and superstructure of English society.

The book gives a good explanation of what took place during the war. Chapters 1-6 deal primarily with this and can be seen as a good introduction. Perhaps the most interesting and informative chapters are 7-8. Chapter 7 called Revolution in England and Wales gives an essential insight into the growing divergence of views within parliament and the growing threat posed by the Levellers. Chapter 8 gives a presentable account of the views and actions of the Levellers.

The book is quite striking in its minimal use of historiography. He mentions only one other historian, but this is compensated by the excellent notes at the back of the book.To conclude It is a short book of 114 pages, it should not be seen as an in-depth or analytical study of the revolution. At best, it should be seen as an excellent introduction to the conflict. It would have a been a better book if Bennett had given more of his take on the revolution.

[1] What’s in a Name? the Death of the English Civil War:M Bennett-https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-98171389/what-s-in-a-name-the-death-of-the-english-civil-war
[2] https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Three_Kingdoms
[3] https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-98171389/what-s-in-a-name-the-death-of-the-english-civil-war
[4] What Is History
[5] https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-98171389/what-s-in-a-name-the-death-of-the-english-civil-war

Black Tom: Sir Thomas Fairfax and the English Revolution (Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain) Paperback – 1 May 2013-by Andrew Hopper

“Sir Tho. Fairfax, a man of military genius, undaunted courage and presence of mind in the field both in action and danger [was also] but of a very common understanding in all other affairs, and of a worse elocution; and so a most fit tool for Mr. Cromwel to work with”.

Sir Phillip Warwick, Mémoires of the Reigne of Charles I (1702)

Andrew Hopper’s book is the first modern academic study of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Books of this type usually make or break a historian. It is to Hopper’s credit that he has dug deeper than other previous historians were prepared to go to rescue Fairfax’s historical reputation and place him in the correct hierarchy of participants of the English revolution. He was second only to Cromwell in importance during the English revolution.

Hopper contends that it was Sir Thomas Fairfax, not Oliver Cromwell, who created and then commanded Parliament’s New Model Army from 1645 to 1650. However, this book is not purely a military history but a political assessment of Fairfax’s role in the successful outcome of the English bourgeois revolution.The book combines narrative and thematic approaches to give a more nuanced understanding of a complex figure. The first part contains a historical biographical study and evaluation of Fairfax as a military figure who showed tremendous bravery and military acumen. He also had a political mindset and when needed, defended his politics as if he was still in battle. The second part of the book is what Martyn Bennet called “a themed analysis”.

The comment made in the opening paragraph that these types of books can make or break a historian may be a little exaggerated, but given the paucity of previous biographies of Fairfax, it is not by much. There is a touch of rescuing Fairfax from the condescension of history about Hoppers biography. As Fairfax wrote himself in the 1660s ‘my retirement makes me seem dead to the world’ (p183). It, therefore, takes a brave historian to go against the centuries-long orthodoxy that portrays Fairfax as a relatively minor figure during the English revolution. This book is the first step towards rectifying this misnomer.

From a biographical standpoint, Fairfax is a hugely complex and contradictory character. He began the revolution fighting for King Charles I against the Scots in the Bishops’ Wars (1639) where he commanded a troop of Yorkshire Dragoons. He switched sides and became the general of the New Model Army the most radical army of its kind in the world. Politically he was in the camp of the Independents. He ended his days a key figure in the restoration of Charles II. Hopper is perhaps one of the most well-equipped historians to explain Fairfax’s change of allegiances having written a book called Turncoats and Renegadoes.

Martyn Bennett’s review[1] captured the many faces of Sir Thomas when he wrote  Sir Thomas is usually shown to be politically conservative during this period, allowing others, such as Cornet Joyce or Cromwell to make the running: his absence from much of the Putney debates seems to underline this political inertia. Hopper argues that this is not the case; Fairfax may have been pushed firmly into the army’s political maw by the impugning of his honour by Presbyterian MPs, but he took up its position with gusto. Although he later pretended he had not: Fairfax approved of the army’s radicalisation, and its accusations of treason levelled against the 11 Presbyterian MPs at the centre of the attack on the army. He supported the mutiny against Sydenham Pointz, commander of the Northern Association Army, and an ally of the parliamentary Presbyterians, and used it to gain control of all the armed forces in the country. Furthermore, during the second civil war, Hopper reads Fairfax’s anger at the renewed conflict as anti-royalist, rather than anti-disorder or anti-rebellion: placing the monarch to be the root of the problem. The execution of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle must then be seen in this light”.

One of the most substantial aspects of the book is Hopper’s insistence(correctly I might add) that Fairfax should be given much more credit for his part in leading the New Model Army. His leadership of the army meant a successful outcome of not only the war but the revolution itself. Hopper also believes that Fairfax deserves far more recognition for his part in the radicalisation of the New Model Army. Fairfax was not the passive military/political figure shown in previous histories of the revolution.

If there was one criticism of Fairfax, it was his prevarication at critical moments. As Hopper points out, it is not that Fairfax was apolitical but when events around him moved at breakneck speed his inertia at times allowed others to carry out actions in his name, in other words allowing others to dictate the course of the revolution. One such event being the King’s trial although a commissioner of the High Court of Justice, Fairfax did not attend the King’s trial. When his name was called in the courtroom, his wife Anne famously cried out: “He had more wit than to be here.”

Leveller Suppression

This is not to say that that he could not act decisively, especially when he saw that the revolution might be taken in a direction the bourgeoisie did not want it to go. He dealt firmly and personally with the Leveller Mutinies of April and May 1649. When Cromwell pleaded for mercy to be shown to the Levellers Fairfax made sure one of the Leveller leaders Robert Lockyer was executed, making Lockyer a Leveller martyr with thousands attending his funeral. Fairfax dealt extremely severely with further mutinies most notably at Burford where he led a force of nearly 4000, in crushing Leveller resistance in a late-night attack.Three more Levellers were made martyrs.

Fairfax justified his action saying “the power of the army (which I once had) was usurped by the forerunners of confusion and anarchy … the arbitrary and unlimited power of this new counsel would act without a General, and all that I could doe could not prevaile against this streame … For now, the officers of the army were placed and displaced by the will of the new agitators who with violence so carried all things as it was above my power to restraine it”.

t is not to say that doing the bourgeoisie’s dirty work and acting as their attack dog did not bother Fairfax who deep down had some political limited sympathies with aspects of the Leveller programme. In a letter to Lenthal, he states ‘It will be your glory and your honour to settle this poor Nation upon foundations of Justice and Righteousnesse … for the poore  
people … may see you will improve your power for their good, and then  your Enemies shall be found lyars’.[2]

Restoration

As Hooper brings out, Fairfax did not exactly cover himself in glory during his retirement and was extremely lucky not to be hanged alongside other regicides. Some of his relatives were not so lucky. Part of this luck was because he played such a significant role in overseeing the restoration of the monarchy. When the Protectorate collapsed in 1659, Fairfax Carried out communication with General Monck. Fairfax agreed to use his influence in raising an army in Yorkshire in order to smooth the passage of Charles II to the throne.

Strong opposition to the Restoration came in the form of Colonel Robert Lilburne and General Lambert. Fairfax’s intervention in Yorkshire enabled Monck’s forces to deal with both Lambert and Lillburne and pave the way for Restoration. Monck, it seems was the supreme opportunist leading one writer to call him “a turncoat of heroic proportions”. A Commander in chief of the English army in Scotland and an ardent follower of Cromwell. After the death of Cromwell, he played the pivotal role in the Restoration of the monarchy where he was given the unheard of sum of £100,000 a year for the rest of his life to ease his pain of being a turncoat.

Conclusion

In this book, Hopper does not examine in any great detail the charge that Fairfax was a turncoat of similar proportions to Monck, but it is pretty clear that such a case could be made. Thanks to relatively lazy historians, many other facets of Fairfax’s life have not been explored. Hoppers book, at last, gives a much more accurate picture of Fairfax warts and all.

It is clear that that this was not an easy book for Hopper to write and he has had to combat the previous historiography that Fairfax was a reluctant revolutionary, swept along by events. At certain moments this was true, but in other events, he was decisive and followed his political principles. Many previous biographies have been one dimensional Hopper presents readers with a three-dimensional Fairfax. It is true that Fairfax as one writer puts it been “reluctant at certain points to carry on with the developing radicalisation of politics, but he strove to remain at the head of the army at all times”. This a finely researched and well-written book. Hopper restores Fairfax to his rightful place in the English revolution.



[1] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/637
[2] A Full Narrative of all the Proceedings betweene His Excellency the Lord Fairfax and the Mutineers 
[10 May 1649], BL, Ε 555/27, p

Was Oliver Cromwell Really Framed

“Whether the proletarian revolution will have its own ‘long’ parliament we do not know. It is highly likely that it will confine itself to a short parliament. However, it will the more surely achieve this the better it masters the lessons of Cromwell’s era.”

Leon Trotsky —Where Is Britain Going?

“What is History but a fable agreed upon”.  Napoleon I.

Despite the title which comes from one of Tom Reilly’s books on Oliver Cromwell[1] this article is not so much concerned with the rights and wrongs of Reilly’s defence of Cromwell although that will be discussed it is more concerned with the economic and political motives which drove the plunder of Ireland by the English Bourgeoisie in the late 1640s. The second part of the article will address the heat generated by another historikerstreit debate.

While much of the historiography of this period has concentrated on Cromwell, it should be borne in mind that he was not the only player in this game and was working under the political direction of Parliament and also under the economic and political direction of the English bourgeoisie.

Before the invasion of Ireland Cromwell had to do two necessary things both crucial to a successful outcome in Ireland. First was the execution of Charles I. Although in the short term far from stabilising an already unstable ruling elite the execution lead sections of the bourgeoisie to pursue negotiations with the Royalists both in England and Ireland. One of the reasons for the invasion was to subdue a possible Royalist/Catholic revolt and to secure Cromwell’s and a large section of the English bourgeoisie’s strategic political and economic interests in that country.

Second, Cromwell was charged by Parliament to deal with the growing radicalisation of the New Model Army. One manifestation of this radicalism was the Leveller inspired revolt over the army being shipped to Ireland to put down the revolt.The Levellers held contradictory views on Ireland but showed solidarity with them as in the case of William Walwyn who wrote, “the cause of the Irish natives in seeking their just freedoms…was the very same with our cause here in endeavouring our rescue and freedom from the power of oppressors”.[2]

When Cromwell moved against the Levellers earlier in the revolution, he did so reluctantly not so now. Cromwell and his generals ruthlessly attacked and crushed the mutinies in the army. As Christopher Hill said the generals “were now the government; and the government decided Ireland had to be subdued once and for all.” [3]The bourgeoisie rewarded Cromwell for his actions against the Levellers. He was given an honorary degree by Oxford University, a city already known for its steadfast support of Royalism. The City of London held a banquet in his honour. 

The English Bourgeoisie and The Conquest of Ireland.

The Cromwellian conquest began the British colonisation of Ireland. To paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, this conquest was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.’ As can be seen with the heated historian’s debate this episode has caused bitterness that has carried on for centuries. For centuries the Irish and English Catholics were seen as second class citizens an did not become full political citizens of the British state again until 1829. They were also barred from buying land interests until 1778.

The English Bourgeoisie from the beginning saw Ireland as a money-making adventure. As an incentive to make the conquest easier it got parliament to pass an  “Adventurers Act” in 1642 in order to invite the “Middling Sort” to invest in the army. The greater the investment the great the return of land. Cromwell himself had loaned over 2,000 pounds and had been promised land in Leinster. Christopher Hill correctly states Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland was “the first big triumph of English imperialism and the first big defeat of English democracy”.[4]While many of the bourgeoisie stumped up money for their adventure in Ireland Parliament felt a little more cooperation was a need and this came in the form of a series of ordinances which was a demand for money with menaces. In February 1648: it issued An Ordinance For raising of Twenty thousand pounds a Month for the Relief of Ireland.

The Citation reads“Whereas it hath pleased God of late so to bless and prosper the Forces of this Kingdom in the Kingdom of Ireland, and to give them such Success against the inhumane and bloody Irish, as that those Rebels are reduced to very great straights, and our Affairs put into such a condition, as gives very great hopes to put that War to a happy and speedy period (if there be now an effectual and vigorous prosecution of the Advantages we have) with seasonable Supplies, the want whereof hath hitherto hindered the compleating of that work, notwithstanding that great sums have been at several times raised and spent for that service: The Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, taking these things into their consideration, and also how much the honour and interest of this Kingdom is concerned, in the reducing of Ireland to the obedience of the Crown of England. And of how absolute and indispensible necessity it is for the Peace and Tranquillity of this Kingdom, that this relation should be compleat; And considering also in how great want, both of food and clothing these Forces are, And that after so much good service, and such great Success and Victory against the Rebels, themselves are in danger to be lost by Famine and Nakedness, and this Kingdom to lose the fruit of all their service and success, if there be not speedy care taken to provide against these Necessities: Therefore although the said Lords and Commons are very sensible of the great burthens that have been and still are upon this Kingdom in other Taxes and Payments, which the exigency of Affairs by the late Troubles have necessitated to be laid and levied; And that by a late Ordinance there hath been Sixty thousand pounds per mensem charged upon the Kingdom for the service of England and Ireland, of which notwithstanding by reason of the said exigencies and necessities, no part can possibly be spared for the Kingdom of Ireland, They have thought fit to order and Ordain, and be it Ordained by the said Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, and by the authority of the same, That for the intents and purposes aforesaid, the Sum of Twenty thousand pounds a moneth shall be charged, rated, taxed and levied upon all and every the several Counties, Cities, Towns, Liberties, places and persons hereafter mentioned, according to the several Proportions, Rates, and Distri butions in this present Ordinance expressed; the same to be paid in monethly to the several Collectors to be appointed for the receiving thereof, and so to continue for the space of six moneths, the moneths to be accounted according to the moneths in the Kalender, and not according to Twenty eight days for the moneth, beginning from the First day of February, 1647”[5].

One striking feature of these ordinances is the list of small “investors” who stumped up money for the plunder in Ireland in which well forty per cent of Irish land changed owners. While the making of money was one of the prime movers for the treatment meted out to the mainly Catholic population religion was another. The majority of the Irish poor were Catholic. As Hill states there was substantial anti-Irish prejudice in England, writing “The hatred and contempt which propertied Englishmen felt for the Irish is something which we may deplore but should not conceal”.[6]

The Irish socialist James Connolly while not blaming the English bourgeoise for everything that befell the Irish people after the conquest of Ireland in the latter part of the seventeenth century wrote perceptively “ Just as it is true that a stream cannot rise above its source, so it is true that a national literature cannot rise above the moral level of the social conditions of the people from whom it derives its inspiration. If we would understand the national literature of a people, we must study their social and political status, keeping in mind the fact that their writers were a product thereof, and that the children of their brains were conceived and brought forth in certain historical conditions. Ireland, at the same time as she lost her ancient social system, also lost her language as the vehicle of thought of those who acted as her leaders. As a result of this twofold loss, the nation suffered socially, nationally and intellectually from a prolonged arrested development. During the closing years of the seventeenth century, all the eighteenth, and the greater part of the nineteenth, the Irish people were the lowest helots in Europe, socially and politically. The Irish peasant, reduced from the position of a free clansman owning his tribeland and controlling its administration in common with his fellows, was a mere tenant-at-will subject to eviction, dishonour and outrage at the hands of an irresponsible private proprietor. Politically he was non-existent, legally he held no rights, intellectually he sank under the weight of his social abasement, and surrendered to the downward drag of his poverty. He had been conquered, and he suffered all the terrible consequences of defeat at the hands of a ruling class and nation who have always acted upon the old Roman maxim of `Woe to the vanquished’[7].

Cromwell, Ireland and the Historians

The subject of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland is a contentious one, to say the least so much so that significant numbers of historians have steered well clear of the topic. The debate over Cromwell in Ireland has tended to reveal more about 20th-century politics than early modern historiography. Broadly speaking the historiography is divided into two camps. On the one side, we have Tom Reilly and his supporters who believe that “Cromwell was Framed”. Reilly’s books have been aimed at demolishing some myths about Cromwell’s and for that matter Parliaments behaviour in Ireland. Tom Reilly’s first book claimed that no civilians were killed in Drogheda by Cromwell’s forces and that Cromwell did not intentionally target civilians during his anti-Catholic campaign. “There were no eyewitnesses who give us ideas of civilian deaths,” he said of the two sieges, claiming that it was two propagandists who spread the word about Cromwell. Reilly maintains that Cromwell had “no deliberate policy to kill the innocent”. He sees his book as “the start of Cromwell’s rehabilitation”.

Reilly is currently organising the conference and a collection of new essays. In an email sent to a number of writers and historians inviting them to take part, including this writer Reilly explained his project “this new book will be an attempt to harness the variety of current perceptions of Cromwell’s Irish campaign by a range of established and early career scholars, within the context of the war in Ireland 1641-1653. Cromwell’s reputation is variously construed and depends greatly upon standpoint and the nation from which it is looked at. In England and Wales he is regarded as a figure of national importance, from Scotland there is a great deal of antipathy, as he is seen as part of a long history of English interference. In Ireland however, Cromwell’s reputation remains most controversial and where most of the accusations of his being a ‘war criminal’ are levelled. It is intended that most if not all of the essays will address this controversy directly, placing Cromwell’s reputation generally and especially in Ireland into the context of modern scholarship and research. It will be a fresh, new, balanced and contemporary series of perceptions of Oliver Cromwell from a miscellany of academics which it could be hoped will contribute to peace and reconciliation initiatives that were borne out of the Good Friday Agreement throughout the island of Ireland”.

Some questions arise from this project. If a number of participants go along with Reilly’s opinion that Cromwell was an honourable enemy and that he was framed by historians who want to harm his record, then this is hardly going to be an objective assessment of Cromwell’s historical reputation.Perhaps the most disconcerting part of the email was Reilly’s belief that the book and conference will “be a fresh, new, balanced and contemporary series of perceptions of Oliver Cromwell from a miscellany of academics which it could be hoped will contribute to peace and reconciliation initiatives that were borne out of the Good Friday Agreement throughout the island of Ireland”.

While I have nothing against the group of writers and historians who will contribute to the conference and later book I do have a problem with Reilly’s promotion of the Good Friday Agreement. Reilly’s defence of Cromwell is connected to his stance on the agreement in that he would like to prevent the  “escalating deterioration of Anglo Irish relations over the years”.Reilly’s promotion of the Good Friday Agreement is politically naïve and dangerous given that “The Good Friday Agreement was patched together by the United States, Britain and Ireland as a means of creating a more stable economic environment for corporate investment in the North. Irish workers were excluded from any real say so over the future course of events. The US in particular, which is the largest and most influential investor in the island, was concerned to replicate the success of the Southern Irish Republic which had been transformed over the preceding decades into a boom area for corporations seeking an avenue into European markets. But plans to extend the cheap labour economy north of the border depended upon establishing a stable political and economic framework for investment by ending the sectarian-armed conflict, and enabling greater collaboration between London and Dublin.”[8]

The opposition to his thesis on Cromwell in Ireland is equally reckless and dangerous. Reilly’s historiography has many opponents among them are the historians Simon Schama, John Morrill and Micheál Ó Siochrú[9]. Simon Schama in 2001 threw a live hand grenade into the debate when he referred to Oliver Cromwell’s alleged massacre of 3,000 unarmed enemy soldiers at the Irish town of Drogheda in 1649 as a ‘war crime’ and ‘an atrocity.” Schama claimed in his History of Britain series on BBC2. Whether Schama believes Cromwell was a “war criminal” is not essential; his use of inflammatory language is not conducive to a healthy debate of the subject.As Bernard Capp, professor of history at Warwick pointedly wrote “War crimes are a twentieth-century term, not a seventeenth-century one, and its use is problematic,’ said ‘It is true he treated the enemy in Ireland much harder than elsewhere, but there was a strong military rationale.”A bloodthirsty episode would have served the purpose of driving the war to a speedy conclusion,’”.
John Morrill[10] while being a little more restrained believes that Cromwell if not a war criminal was insensitive to the suffering caused by his soldiers. He writes “the principal evidence against Cromwell comes from his reports sent to the Speaker of the English Parliament. They are the words of a General insensitive to the suffering of others; conditioned by the relentless propaganda of the previous ten years into believing that Irish Catholics were collectively responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of unarmed Protestant settlers; convinced that he was the divinely ordained instrument of retribution. 

He wrote of Drogheda:‘In the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in arms in the town, and, I think, that night they put to the sword about 2,000 men. Divers of the officers and soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the Town, where about one hundred of them possessed St Peter’s steeple [and two other Towers]… I ordered the steeple of St Peter’s to be fired where one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames: ‘God damn me, God confound me: I burn. I burn’ …. The next day, the other two Towers were summonsed. When they submitted, their officers were knocked on the head, and every tenth man of the soldiers killed, and the others shipped [as slaves] to the Barbadoes… The last Lord’s Day before the storm, the Protestants were thrust out of the great church called St Peter’s, and they had a public Mass there; and in this very place near one thousand Catholics were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety. I believe all the friars were knocked promiscuously on the head but two; the one of which was Fr Peter Taaff… whom the soldiers took and made an end of; the other was taken in the round tower, under the repute of lieutenant, and when he understood that the officers in the Tower had no quarter, he confessed he was a friar; but that did not save him.’[11]

Morrill concludes his essay by saying that “Cromwell failed to rise above the bigotry of his age in respect of the Irish people. He did rise above it in other respects (especially in his commitment to religious liberty in Britain). As a general, he behaved differently in Ireland from how he behaved in England and Scotland. There were massacres at Drogheda and Wexford in hot and cold blood. Cromwell’s contempt for the Catholic clergy meant that he permitted them to be slaughtered. However, whether he broke the laws of war then prevailing, and whether he was anything like as brutal as many others in the Irish wars, whether indeed he should be blamed for things much worse than what happened in Drogheda and Wexford, is still difficult to establish”.

The historian most associated with the opposition to Reilly’s views on Cromwell in Ireland is Micheál Ó Siochrú. In a review of Ó Siochrú book God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland Jason Peacey perceptively points out the dilemma faced by most historians writing about Cromwell “ the civil wars that engulfed the three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland in the mid-17th century remain a battlefield, and generation after generation they retain a capacity to provoke passionate debate and heated historical controversy. Within this field, however, there is probably no single individual more likely to generate historiographical heat than Oliver Cromwell, utterly convincing analysis of whose complex personality continues to elude even the greatest of scholars. Moreover, within scholarship on Cromwell and the Cromwellian period, there is no more controversial topic than his attitude towards, and activity in, Ireland. Cromwell’s name retains the capacity to inflame passions, and in at least some quarters he has become synonymous with religiously inspired brutality and atrocity, with something little short of ethnic cleansing, and with tyranny and military dictatorship. At the same time, however, he is capable of making the ‘top ten’ in a 2002 BBC poll of In a review of greatest Britons’”.[12]

Ó Siochrú repeats Morrill’s claim that Cromwell  ‘uncritically accepted’ the horror stories regarding the rebellion, and the claim that the rebellion had no justification or back-story (p. 19), and who was determined to exact revenge upon the Irish Catholic population, irrespective of their involvement in the rising.I have the same problem with Ó Siochrú as with Reilly in that a lot of what he writes is more to do with Irish politics than it is to do with historical accuracy. Ó Siochrú believes that Cromwell’s use of violence was not justified “but a pre-determined exercise in religious and ethnic vengeance”. “Even by the standards of the time [Cromwell’s] behaviour was beyond the pale,”

I wish Tom Reilly and his friends well with their conference and their book. I look forward to reviewing it. It is hoped that he will produce a more objective account of Cromwell and the English bourgeoise’s adventure in Ireland. It is the least the Irish people deserve. It is also hoped that the new historiography produced by the book will not add to the already crowded book market lending justification to the centuries-long plunder of Ireland.


[1] Cromwell was Framed: Ireland 1649 by Tom Reilly[2] Cromwell, Our Chief Of Men By Antonia Fraser[3] God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution.[4] The English Revolution 1640- https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/[5] ‘February 1648: An Ordinance For raising of Twenty thousand pounds a Moneth for the Relief of Ireland.’, in Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, ed. C H Firth and R S Rait (London, 1911), pp. 1072-1105. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp1072-1105 [accessed 18 February 2019].[6] God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution[7] Labour in Irish History by James Connolly[8] Northern Ireland election: An attempt to rescue the Good Friday AgreementBy Steve James -26 November 2003-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/11/nire-n26.html[9] God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of IrelandMicheál Ó Siochrú London, Faber and Faber, 2008, ISBN: 9780571218462; 336pp.; Price: £14.99[10] “Was Cromwell a War Criminal?” by John Morrill[11] ‘For the Honourable William Lenthall, Esquire, Speaker of the Parliament ofEngland: These.’Dublin, 17th September, 1649.[12]https://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/777

Roger Howell and the Origins of the English Revolution-by Chris Thompson

I was privileged whilst an undergraduate at the University of Oxford to spend two terms being taught sixteenth and seventeenth-century English and European history in St John’s College by the late Roger Howell. He was then a Research Fellow at that college having completed his D.Phil. on the subject of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the English Civil Wars. He was certainly the best and most demanding tutor I ever encountered as an undergraduate, a man with a gift for teaching that I have only ever seen equalled by one person, the existentialist philosopher, Dr Jan Rogan.

Sadly, from my point of view, Roger Howell shortly thereafter returned to his own alma mater, Bowdoin College in Maine, where he became President of that institution until his premature death in the late-1980s. I only ever saw him once again in the North Library of the British Museum in the late-1960s when he was on a brief visit for his own research.

I had no idea until earlier today that Roger Howell had ever written a short pamphlet on the origins of the English Revolution published in 1975.[1] Its contents were and are unknown in detail to me apart from the comments made by Richard T. Hughes of Pepperdine University who reviewed it in the Sixteenth Century Journal.[2]

According to Hughes, Howell argued that it was the House of Commons which upset the constitutional balance inherited from Queen Elizabeth by her Stuart successors despite its members subscribing to the myth of a balanced constitution.

Its members did not force the issue before 1640 because of their vested interests. Charles I, by contrast, was in the right when he claimed that he was the victim of Parliamentary innovation and the defender of the traditional constitution.

Puritanism as Howell defined it involved a concern for moral improvement and hostility to the laxity of the extravagant Court although Hughes thought that Howell had underestimated the degree to which Calvinists aimed to re-shape English society entirely. He was, however, more impressed by Howell’s brief discussion of the impact of the new science and of scepticism on views of the hierarchy in Church and State.

Unfortunately, I have not been able so far to locate a copy of this pamphlet. But my initial and indirect impression is that Roger Howell had become out of touch with the main currents of historical work in this period by the time of its composition. Other historians based in the U.S.A.

Lawrence Stone at Princeton, for example – experienced the same process. Howell’s argument that the House of Commons in particular and Parliament in general proved to be constitutionally aggressive would not have found favourable reception from figures like Conrad Russell or Kevin Sharpe at that time.

Nor would his claim that Kings James and Charles were conservative defenders of the ancient constitution have carried much weight amongst historians in the 1970s or, perhaps, now. But whatever my reservations based on second-hand knowledge, nothing diminishes my gratitude to Roger Howell for his skill as a teacher. It was and remains a privilege to have known him.

[1] Roger Howell, Jr., The Origins of the English Revolution. (Forum Press, Missouri. 1975)

[2] The Sixteenth Century Journal. Volume 7, No.1 (April, 1976), p.106.

Review: The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution-Michael Braddick-OUP, pp.416, £25

‘If there were none living but himself John would be against Lilburne, and Lilburne against John.’ Henry Marten

‘We are all in his debt: rather than rebuke him for his failings, we should honour him for his courage.’ Michael Braddick

Michael Braddick’s political biography of John Lilburne is a welcome fresh Perspective on the Leveller leader. It continues a recent trend of examining the Leveller movement and Lilburne’s place in the English revolution. Braddick’s book is a readable account of Lilburne’s life, and it is hard to believe the first biography of Lilburne to appear for nearly 60 years.

It is quite shocking to find that it was 1961 that H.N. Brailsford’s published his Levellers and the English Revolution (1961) a book-length study of the subject aimed at a general public.

Brailsford’s book is worth reading as John Rees writes “Brailsford’s was the first book-length account to fully integrate the economic, social and religious background of the Levellers with a description of the political dynamic of the revolution, the Levellers’ role as an organised revolutionary current within it and an estimate of the ideological advances that Leveller thought represented. If nothing else it was a considerable work of synthesis. However, it was more than this. Throughout the book, but particularly in the chapters on ‘The Leveller Party’ and ‘The Moderate’, Brailsford presented more forcefully than any writer before him a picture of the Levellers as a functioning political organisation of an entirely new type”.

On one level it comes as no great surprise that Lilburne has received much greater attention than before. Any study of Lilburne and the Leveller movement offers the historian a far greater insight into the complex issues of the English bourgeois revolution. On a another level, the plethora of recent studies is a response to the growing social polarisation existing in today’s capitalist society. These books can give valuable advice to workers in order that they might prepare for the great struggles facing them today. Despite the passage of time many of the issues tackled by Lilburne and the Levellers are still with us today.

The book is well written and attempts to strike a balance between the minutiae of Lilburnes life with that of an objective assessment of the English revolution. Braddick manages this feat a few times but overall his objective understanding of the revolution and Lilburnes place in it falls short. On the other hand, the book is “bright and accessible”, and maintains a high academic standard of both research and writing..

Braddick’s book compares well with John Rees’s last book The Leveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640-1650. Rees’s book does benefit from his 2014 doctoral thesis which is well worth a read and deserves publication. Like Braddick Rees has to a lesser extent played down his analytical and thematic approach of a dissertation. However, both offer “an absorbing and fluent narrative of the political life of the foremost radical group to emerge during the English Revolution”.

While there are many similarities between the two books, there are some significant differences. I cannot speak for Rees, but I am sure he would not agree with Braddick’s assertion on page 298 that Lilburne was not a political theorist.

The more you read of Lilburne’s publications, the more confident the reader will become of how politically conscious Lilburne was. He did not merely react to events. On some occasions, anticipated the ebbs and flows of the revolution and acted accordingly.

He was highly conscious of his status as a gentleman. Like Cromwell he was acutely aware of his status “I was brought up well-nigh ten yeares together, in the best Schooles in the North, namely at Auckland and New Castle.” He claimed knowledge “in the Latin tongue”, and “Greeke also”.

Braddick has done extensive research including a significant study of the 20,000 pamphlets collected between 1640 and 1660 by the bookseller George Thomason held at the British Library.[1]

Like most of Braddick’s books, this one is written in short sentences. While not being narrative driven it does contain a large number of interesting facts that keep the reader honest. According to Russell Harris QC “It brings the judicial and penal infrastructure of the time alive with revealing glimpses of its main institutions. The Fleet, for example, was a prison run by private owners who built houses for the inmates within the grounds and then let them out at commercial rates. As long as the inmates were up to date with their rent, the warders were forbidden to enter the homes and prisoners could live a relatively normal comfortable domestic existence”.[2]

It is clear from Braddick’s book that John Lilburne was a fascinating, contradictory and complex character. Lilburne is second only to Cromwell in historical importance as regards the English revolution. Lilburne was the second son of a modest gentry family, sharing in many ways the class background of Oliver Cromwell. Braddick’s book is very good at showing how Lilburne’s experience of political activism sharpened and clarified his ideas.

Lilburne was the most high profile figure in the political radicalisation that went on during the English revolution. He could have chosen a relatively peaceful and prosperous life but instead chose a life that saw him accused of treason four times and put on trial for his life on numerous occasions twice acquitted by juries. His bravery in battle was only surpassed by Oliver Cromwell himself. He fought in major battles rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

To his credit, Braddick does attempt to give Elizabeth Lilburne more than a walk-on part in the revolution. There has, however, been a crying need to have a full-length study on the tremendous politicisation of women on both sides of the barricades.

Women Levellers mounted large-scale demonstrations and organised petitions for social equality. They were met with differing levels of brutality depending on which class they belonged to. Overall middle-class women were treated with derision, but mostly no violence was committed against them. This is not the case with the poorer sections of the women’s movement who were often treated severely by MP’s and soldiers alike.” Many were thrown into prison, mental institutions, or workhouses. Middle-class women were quietly escorted away by soldiers and told to ‘go back to women’s work”. One MP told them to go home and wash their dishes, to which one of the petitioners replied, “Sir, we scarce have any dishes left to wash”’.

While the book correctly explores the extraordinary and dramatic life of ‘Freeborn John and presents a picture of his political activism, it would be a mistake to believe that Lilburne and the Levellers were merely prisoners of the radical spontaneity that was produced by the revolution.

While it would be wrong to say that Liburne was communist or Marxist in his thinking and actions, he did attempt to guide his work with a historical understanding. These revolutionaries were handicapped by the fact that they had very little precedence for their actions and the ideologists of the revolution ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing.

It would be fair to say that Lilburne and the Levellers in political terms punched way above their weight. Without land, established profession, or public office he succeeded in establishing a movement that was able many times to influence the course of a revolution. All this as Braddick states while seeming to have spent around 12-and-a-half years in prison or exile’.

As Marx said “the weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force, but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. The theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. However, for man, the root is the man himself”.[3]

To some extent, Lilburne tried to understand the objective nature of his ideas. While Henry Marten’s quote ‘If there were none living but himself John would be against Lilburne, and Lilburne against John is not far off the mark, the fact that Lilburne and the other leading members of the Leveller wrote hundreds of publications established them as the central theoreticians of the revolution.

While Rees does not deny that the Levellers should be approached from the perspective of the history of ideas, he believes “they were activists, not utopian theorists, and they wrote and campaigned to achieve political change”.

Braddick’s Historiography

The publication of this book which is the first full-length biography of John Lilburne for over sixty years marks a significant shift in Braddick’s historiography. Despite having the secondary title of the book as John Lilburne and the English revolution, it is still unclear to the extent that Braddick believes there was an English revolution. If you go back to previous work such as his book God’s fury, England’s Fire which was heralded as a new history of the English Civil Wars Braddick advocated the theory that there was a “war of Three Kingdoms” not a revolution. This was the perspective adopted by Austin Woolrych’s important book of six years ago, Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660. Woolrych believed that that the war began with the revolt of the Scottish Covenanters and ended in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. He believed that this was not an English revolution but the “war of three kingdoms”.

For Braddick, “one vital feature of the period is that it generated ideas in politics, religion and natural philosophy that foreshadow the 18th-century Enlightenment. It was, he says, a time of “creative chaos”. Indeed chaos and confusion dominate his story. The two sides in the war, he tells us, “consisted of complex coalitions of allies, with varying concerns and differing degrees of conviction and commitment”. The Thomason tracts reveal a babble of discordant voices and conflicting viewpoints.

The moral he draws is disconcertingly postmodernist. After his long, carefully grounded, empirically based narrative, Braddick in his final paragraphs abruptly dissociates himself from the “hubristic pomp” of professional historians who seek a definitive account of the period. Instead, he plumps for indeterminacy. “Experiences of these conflicts,” he declares, “were plural, ambiguous, divided and contrasting; their potential meanings equally diverse.” They deserve to be remembered, he tells us in a one truly awful concluding sentence, “not for a single voice or consequence, but because they provide many pieces of knowledge for our discourse”[4].

Braddick believed the term “Leveller movement” was misleading and that the Levellers were not a party or a group. As John Rees writes “Michael Braddick is similarly sceptical of the Levellers’ ‘practical significance to the events of the 1640s’. No doubt this view in part explains the absence of a book-length study. It is, after all, hard to write a book about something that is supposed barely to exist.”.

Whether Braddick took this criticism to heart is another matter. His new book on Lilburne and the Levellers does seem to show a radicalisation of Braddick especially when it is rumoured that his next major project is a biography of Christopher Hill. A long overdue book if ever there was one.
Historical revisionism

There is one major flaw in this work, and it is the fact that Braddick, unlike John Rees, is extremely reluctant to take on a large number of conservative revisionist historians that have held sway in the last twenty or so years.

Much of the historiography of the later 20th century and early 20th century has been dominated by historians who argued that the war did do not have any long-term causes. Popularised by historians such Conrad Russell and John Morrill. There second argument primarily aimed at historians like Christopher Hill was that there was not English Bourgeois revolution some like John Morrill has gone so far as to deny any revolution took place.

In a 1994 article published in New Left Review, Morrill defended his historiography saying “It is unfair to say that Conrad Russell and I, for example, have denied that there is a social context of the revolution. Time and again, I have argued that the processes of social change occurring in the long sixteenth century created a new kind of political culture that helps to explain why England had the kind of civil war it had, though not whether it had a civil war. I have commented at length (in for example my 1993 volume The Nature of the English Revolution) on the changing nature of noble power, the homogenization of an elite culture based on land, literacy and the secularization of the wealth and authority of the Church; and I have argued that the process of social change (which I see in more neo-Malthusian terms than Brenner would ever allow) creates ‘contexts within which yeomen, husbandmen and labourers struggled to make free and informed political choices’ of a kind not possible in previous centuries. The English civil war was a different kind of civil war from anything that came before. Revisionism need not mean the lack of a social interpretation, so long as that means social contexts rather than social causes. Since Brenner is explicit that Merchants and Revolution do not argue for the inevitability of the Revolution, simply that a political collision between the monarchy and the landowning class was inherently likely, this fuzziness about what exactly he intends by ‘social interpretation’ is fairly debilitating”.[5]

This quote does give us a clearer picture of Morrill’s political and historical outlook. He was hostile to any Marxist interpretation of the English bourgeois revolution. In the above essay, he explicitly denies that there was any connection between economic development and its reflection on the ideas of men and women.

Morrill’s revisionism was significantly analysed in John Rees’s PhD thesis. It is a shame that the thesis was not published in book form because it offers one of the most political assessments of the origins of the revisionism.

According to Rees “The revisionist challenge to liberal and left interpretations of the English Revolution synchronised with almost suspicious exactitude with the end of the post-war boom and the abandonment of the welfare state consensus. This change, beginning in the mid-1970s, achieved its electoral representation when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan president of the US in 1980. One of the arguments made against the left by the revisionists was that they read their current political preoccupations back into history. However, if that was sometimes true of the left, it was also undoubtedly true of some revisionists. You can almost hear the snap of Gordon Gekko’s red braces in the background as J C D Clark quotes approvingly a letter to the Times Educational Supplement, British political science was particularly torpid until the electoral shock of 1979. Too many existing political scientists belong to the generation of 1968~a provenance that almost disqualifies them from a comment on late 20th-century politics. Revisionism drew on the work of, among others, Conrad Russell, Mark Kishlansky, Kevin Sharpe, John Morrill, and Peter Laslett.88 The major themes of revisionism were a stress on the accidental nature of the revolution rather than on its long-term social and economic causes; a localist denial of nationally operative causes of the revolution; an insistence that religious issues were more central to the revolution than previous historians had allowed; an attempt to deny that the revolution involved class conflict or that the mass of people had much impact on its outcome; a corresponding emphasis on ‘high politics’ as a key determinant of events.”[6]

Conclusion

As Rees correctly states “There can be no tradition and no debate where there is no knowledge”. It is therefore to Michael Braddicks credit that his new book has furnished us with a large amount of Knowledge about Lilburne and the Levellers.

Braddick’s book represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the English Revolution and valuable addition to our understanding of the English revolution.The Common Freedom of the People is an important book. It draws on a wide range of sources but has a few flaws the biggest is his reluctance to take on the revisionist revolt. A minor but still annoying admission is that it does not have a bibliography. The book is highly recommended and should be on university booklists.

[1] https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/thomason-tracts
[2] https://www.counselmagazine.co.uk/articles/book-review-the-common-freedom-of-the-people
[3]A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right- http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm#32%5B4%5D http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/08/featuresreviews.guardianreview5
[5] Conflict Probable or Inevitable John Morrill- https://newleftreview-org.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/I/207/john-morrill-conflict-probable-or-inevitable%5B6%5D Leveller organisation and the dynamic of the English Revolution-John Rees- http://research.gold.ac.uk/10465/1/HIS_thesis_Rees_Thesis_2014.pdf

Review : Witchcraft: Suzannah Lipscomb A Ladybird Expert Book-

The most striking aspect of this book is why a celebrated historian and broadcaster would write such a book. It is true that Lipscomb is a leading light and outstanding communicator in her field, but it is a bit like William Shakespeare putting in a script for EastEnders.

Another anomaly is while the book is beautifully illustrated by Martyn Pick the number of illustrations is half the book. Given the complex nature of the subject, you would have thought Ladybird would have given more space for analysis. On the other side, the book is an entertaining, straightforward but minimal introduction to the subject.

Even a gifted writer like Lipscomb clearly is uncomfortable with explaining a complex historical issue in such a short space. She does slay some of the more apparent myths that have developed about the subject. Lipscombe is correct that the witch trials were not carried out by “ecclesiastical authorities but by judicial courts. This is a good point, but it does not explain the fact that the worldview of the ruling elite carrying out what amounts to legal murder was backward and medieval.

The book is not without exciting information who knew that “men could be witches too. Across Europe, 70–80 per cent of people accused of witchcraft were female – though the proportions of female witches were higher in certain areas: the bishopric of Basel; the county of Namur (modern Belgium); Hungary; Poland; and Essex, England. But one in five witches were male across Europe, and in some places, males predominated – in Moscow, male witches outnumbered women 7:3; in Normandy 3:1”.

In Lipscombe’s defence, she does believe that “causality is not simple.”, But given her limited space, her arguments are not fully developed. Many of the witchhunts carried out were in times of famine, war and plague but many were not. She correctly states that war, disease and famine did create the social and political conditions to carry out a near genocide against large sections of the population.

Perhaps Lipscomb most crucial point is made on page 22 under the heading The Dawn of Modernity she makes this point, “most people lived in small village communities and depended on each other. They lent, borrowed, gave and forgave. It was only the way to get along. But in tough times, people turn in on themselves. They start to look after number one. A neighbour who would not offer help or charity, who enriched himself by expanding his farm as others were forced to give up theirs, or who begged for handouts when everyone was suffering could foster resentment, bitterness and suspicion. These feelings were the product of a transition from old to new ways. In grand socio-economic terms, what was happening was a shift towards capitalism. The witch-trials were the blood red finger of modernity”.

I know Marx said that capitalism came into the world dripping with blood but blaming it for the witch-trials is a bit much. As Lipscomb points out the trials and their decline was the product of the transition from Feudalism to capitalism. But the trials were more a product of Feudalism, than early Capitalism and their fall was a product of the development of more scientific ways of thinking which brought about the decline religious doctrine.As the Marxist David North explains “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway”[1].

I very rarely do not recommend a book to be read so I will not break this tradition. The book has severe political and historical limitations. Also who exactly is it aimed at? On the plus side, it is gloriously illustrated. So read it don’t read it you pay your money you take your choice.

[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1996/10/lect-o24.html

The Oliver Cromwell Statue “Controversy”

And if a history shall be written of these times and transactions, it will be said, it will not be denied, but that these things that I have spoken are true.’

“I will not cozen you by perplexed expressions in my commission about fighting for King and Parliament. If the King chanced to be in the body of the enemy, I would as soon discharge my pistol upon him as upon any private man; and if your conscience does not let you do the like, I advise you not to enlist yourselves under Me.”

It would appear that every year a story appears in the right-wing press regarding the merits of the statue of Oliver Cromwell situated outside Parliament in London. This year is no exception.

The Sunday Telegraph ran an article called “ Parliament’s statue of Cromwell becomes the latest memorial hit by ‘rewriting history’ row”.

The article’s author Patrick Sawer must have had a slow day in the office because in the article he says a bitter row has broken out between historians.

This is stretching things a bit. The one historian quoted by the newspaper is a one Jeremy Crick, described as “a social historian” has called for the statue to be pulled down.

His justification for this being Cromwell’s anti-religious zeal and comparing Cromwell to the actions of the Taliban. He says “Its banishment would be poetic justice for his Taliban-like destruction of so many of England’s cultural and religious artefacts carried out by his fanatical Puritan followers.”

It is hard to take Crick seriously. Even a cursory search would find that he has written next to nothing on Cromwell and is hardly a world authority on Cromwell and the English revolution. It would seem that the only thing Crick specialises in is the calling for “unloved statues” to be pulled down.

Source of controversy

It must be said the English bourgeoisie has always an ambivalent and contradictory attitude towards Cromwell and for that matter the English revolution. While playing lip service to the fact that he was the father of Parliamentary democracy albeit with a bit of military dictatorship thrown in they have always been wary of drawing attention to their revolutionary past. They would prefer that people saw Britain’s history as being tranquil. That any change that took place was of a gradual nature and progress was peaceful through class compromise without the violent excess of revolution. This illusion is more important in light of today’s explosive political and economic atmosphere.

If Cromwell were alive today, he would be a bit angry at this attitude given that today’s modern bourgeoise owes everything it has to his leadership during the English revolution.

Marxist’s, on the other hand, have no ambivalence towards the great bourgeois revolutionary, and workers and youth as the Russian revolutionary points out can learn a lot from his leadership

“In this way, Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party — his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell’s “holy” squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King’s horsemen and won the nickname of “Ironsides.” It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score, British workers can learn much from Cromwell. The observations on the Puritans’ army made by the historian Macaulay are here not without interest:

“A force thus composed might, without injury to its efficiency, be indulged in some liberties which, if allowed to any other troops, would have proved subversive of all discipline. In general, soldiers who should form themselves into political clubs, elect delegates, and pass resolutions on high questions of state, would soon break loose from all control, would cease to form an army, and would become the worst and most dangerous of mobs. Nor would it be safe, in our time, to tolerate in any regiment religious meetings at which a corporal versed in scripture should lead the devotions of his less gifted colonel, and admonish a back-sliding major. But such was the intelligence, the gravity, and the self-Command of the warriors whom Cromwell had trained that in their camp a political organisation and a religious organisation could exist without destroying the military organisation. The same men who, off duty, were noted as demagogues and field preachers, were distinguished by steadiness, by the spirit of order, and by prompt obedience on watch, on will and the field of battle.”[1]

While it is a bit much to call this a controversy, it does beg the question why does it keep coming up. Firstly the issue of the English revolution has never been a mere question of studying a past event; it is because many of the significant problems that were discussed and fought for on the battlefield are still contemporary issues. What do we do with the monarchy, the issue of social inequality addressed by groups such as the Levellers? Until these and many more are resolved, we will keep getting more stories calling for Cromwell’s statue to be removed.

[1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm

Review: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain by Dr Nadine Akkerman-Oxford University Press-2018

Have we not an equal interest with the men of this nation in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right?’ ‘if this principle were true that all subjection and obedience to persons and their laws stood by electing them, then…all women at once were exempt from being under government’.

Nadine Akkerman’s new book is a superb introduction to the little-known world of female spies during the later stages of the English Revolution. In this book, she manages to combine academic rigour with the art of a novelist. Given the lack of material on female spies Akkerman’s abilities to deep mine, the archives are impressive.

According to the blurb on the jacket of the book, she has previously written extensively on Women’s history and curated several exhibitions. In the years 2015/2016, she was a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences. Akkerman is the world authority on Charles II ’s aunt Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. She is very much a hands-on historian complimenting her research on spies by producing Youtube videos about invisible inks.

The book is packed with original research. Akkerman’s use of primary sources acquaints the reader with long-forgotten texts, and as one writer puts it “ with a fresh eye, she corrects the mistakes of past cataloguers and transcribers who left out essential sentences. Akkerman has immersed herself in archives, libraries, and private collections, transcribing hundreds of letters, breaking cypher codes and their keys, studying invisible inks, and interpreting riddles”.

Akkerman’s book is an attempt to rescue these invisible agents from the condescension of history. She is careful not to ‘regurgitate myths’, and challenges previous historical conceptions. Her defence of Elizabeth Murray, accused as a double agent Royalist and Oliver Cromwell’s mistress, is an example of her wearing history on her sleeve.Akkerman correctly lauds these female spies who often worked on their own with little or no support. She demonstrates the diverse backgrounds of Royalist and Parliamentary agents.

In many ways this a groundbreaking work. Akkerman introduces us to women that have been long forgotten by historians or in some cases never been researched. It is clear that in writing this book, Akkerman faced enormous problems. Her subjects were criminally underresearched and given the nature of their occupation hard to track down. She contends that there were more than just the handful of seventeenth-century female spies such as Aphra Behn and Elizabeth Murray. The others just haven’t been discovered.

One that was not given extensive treatment by Akkerman is the formidable Elizabeth Alkin. Like many in Akkerman’s book far too little is known of her life, even her birth date is a guess (c. 1600 – c. 1655).She wore many hats including publisher, nurse and spy for the Parliamentarian armies during the English Civil War. She was famous enough to have been given her derogatory name by the Royalists as “Parliament Joan”.Spying seemed to run in her family she was the wife of Francis Alkin, a spy for the Parliamentarians who was according to Wikipedia hanged early in the English Civil War by royalist forces for his activities. The loss of her husband meant not only did she keep spying, a dangerous occupation in itself she managed to look after three children.

Her involvement in publishing needs further research. According to her Wikipedia page “In the seventeenth century, daily news was published in newsbooks which tended to be small eight-page publications, the forerunners of newspapers. They were usually sold on the street by what the historian Bob Clarke describes as “semi-destitute female hawkers, known as Mercury Women”. Those publications supporting the royalist cause were closed down and the publishers prosecuted, and Alkin became involved in uncovering those behind the publication. In 1648 the royalist newsbooks the Mercurius Melancholicus and the Parliament Kite both referred to her attempts to uncover them, and the following year the Mercurius Pragmaticus called her an “old Bitch” who could “smell out a Loyall-hearted man as soon as the best Blood-hound in the Army”.

Her role as a double agent was to get information on the Royalist newsbooks. To do this she acted as a Royalist newsbook seller between 1650 and 1651, According to historian Bob Clarke, Alkin used royalist titles, to gain the confidence of royalist sympathisers. Wikipedia cites the historian Marcus Nevitt who disagrees, and believes that Alkin was “reappropriating Royalist titles for Parliamentarian consumption Akkerman believes the war gave women opportunities that they would have never had in peacetime. Many women were actively involved in defending their property. Many disguised themselves as men so they could fight. Some ran family businesses when their husbands were killed.

Most importantly they got involved in politics. Finding the figures for female participation is difficult. But it is undeniable that large numbers on both sides of the barricades took part. It is a shame that this is not addressed to an any great extent in the book. An evident radicalisation of women took place during the English Revolution. This radicalisation was not met with open arms.

According to Heather Delonnette, “All this political activity was not received with complete acceptance. The term ‘fishwife’ became used as a disparaging term for the women who involved themselves in these protests. This type of behaviour was considered abnormal for women at the time despite their increased activity in other spheres, as we have seen. Women’s involvement in politics was the source a series of jokes claiming that there would soon be a ‘Parliament of Women’ where women would have superiority over their husbands and fathers, a world truly ‘turned upside down’”.

Women Levellers mounted large-scale demonstrations and organised petitions in favour of social equality. They were met with differing levels of brutality depending on which class they belonged to. On the whole middle-class women were treated with disdain, but mostly no violence was committed against them. This is not the case with the poorer sections of the women’s movement who were often treated severely by MP’s and soldiers alike.” Many were thrown into prison, mental institutions or workhouses. Middle-class women were simply escorted away by soldiers and told to ‘go back to women’s work”.

Ann Hughes correctly states that “Women’s political activism did not begin in the twentieth century. Women from all social ranks have been involved in popular protests, religious conflicts and aristocratic conspiracies from the earliest times. In the English civil war, women acted as spies and couriers; they defended their homes from soldiers and worked hard to protect their families from the ravages of political division and war; they played a prominent part in the novel religious freedoms of the period, founding new congregations and insisting that men had no authority over their consciences or their souls. But they did not claim the vote or other formal political rights for women, despite their ‘equal interest’ in the freedoms of the commonwealth. The prevailing notion was that institutional political power was confined to men of some property, heads of households, whose wives, children, and servants, as their dependents, could not be political actors”.[1]

Historiography

A further small weakness of the book is that Akkerman does not expand on her choice of the ”War of Three Kingdoms” to explain the nature of the English civil war. The book is also part of a growing market of “royalist studies” and Gender studies. This would tend to situate her book within the two significant historiographical themes; Royalist conspiracy and Gender Studies.Akkerman’s book is part of a growing trend of Royalist studies over the last five years. In fact, you cannot enter a bookshop history section without tripping over them.

Conclusion

In some respects, the book is painful reading. It shows that the treatment of women during the seventeenth century is still shockingly close to their treatment in the twenty-first century. As Akkerman points out that male chauvinism was one of the reasons why so many female Royalist spies were either not caught or treated with leniency, although not all were spared. The book is well written and is never dry. The book moves at a pace but does contain needless phrases such as ‘mud sticks’ and ‘sniff out information’. The reference to Madonna seems out of place with the overall academic presentation. Let us hope that Akkerman continues with this line of enquiry and sheds more light on a forgotten army of women still left in the archives.

Notes and references

Royalist Agents, Conspirators and Spies: Their Role in the British Civil Wars, 1640-1660-Geoffrey Smith-Farnham, Ashgate, 2011, ISBN: 9780754666936; 252pp.; Price: £60.00
Geoffrey Smith, The Cavaliers in Exile 1640–60 (Basingstoke, 2003).
Literature of Exile in the English Revolution and its Aftermath, 1640–1690, ed. Philip Major (London, 2010).Back to (2)
David Underdown, Royalist Conspiracy 1649–1660 (New Haven, CT, 1960).Back to
P Higgins, ‘The reactions of women, with special reference to women petitions’, in Manning, Politics, Religion and the English Civil War, p. 197.
Clarke, Bob (2004). From Grub Street to Fleet Street. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7546-5007-2.

About the Author

Nadine Akkerman is a Reader in Early Modern English Literature at Leiden University. She has published extensively on women’s history, diplomacy, and masques, and curated several exhibitions. In the academic year 2015/16, she was Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS-KNAW). She is the editor of The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (OUP, three volumes, of which the first appeared in 2011), for which her prize-winning PhD (2008) serves as the groundwork. She is currently writing a biography of Elizabeth Stuart (forthcoming from OUP). In 2017, the World Cultural Council recognised the transformative effect of her work in the form of a Special Recognition Award.


[1] https://blogs.keele.ac.uk/womens-political-activism-in-the-english-civil-war-acdf5ebc4a34

Marxism and the English Revolution

(I have just received Chris Thompson’s email regarding my article Norah Carlin, The Socialist Workers Party and the First English Revolution posted on the 15th April. At this moment I cannot reply to Chris at length as I would like to. This will be done at a later date. I would, however, invite more debate on the subject. I do stand by my interpretation of Carlin’s work which in my view despite having substantial political differences with Carlin her two essays are an important contribution to the development of a orthodox Marxist historiography on the English revolution).

I read your latest post with great interest and considerable surprise, surprise because it is wrong not just in a factual sense but also interpretatively. All of the historians you mentioned with the exception of Tawney have been personally known to me including Norah Carlin who was a colleague of mine at the Enfield College of Technology in 1971-72 and the Middlesex Polytechnic in 1972-73. She now lives in Scotland and can be tracked down via Twitter. Let me deal with your points in a little more detail.Hugh Trevor-Roper. He was not a Tory in the modern sense at all but, as he himself stated and Adam Sisman’s biography confirmed, “an eighteenth-century Whig”. He had an exceptional range of knowledge and a wonderful command of the English language. He was a generous supervisor of postgraduates and critical only of those whose arguments he found unsound or whose pretensions – e.g. Lawrence Stone – he thought unfounded. His objections to Tawney’s arguments in favour of the “rise of the gentry” and his alternative hypothesis proved immensely stimulating to early modern historians of England (and Wales) in the 1950s and 1960s. The debates over Court and Country in that period testify to that too.

Christopher Hill. It is quite wrong to suppose that Hill failed to object strongly enough to Trevor-Roper’s arguments about the significance of the ‘mere’ or ‘lesser’ gentry in the period up to and during the English Revolution. On the contrary, as the comments of mine that you published not long ago showed, he was a vigorous and public critic of Trevor-Roper’s case in the journal Annales and in History in the 1950s. Brian Manning was one of his pupils. Both men were severe critics in Past and Present of the analysis of the membership of the Long Parliament offered by Brunton and Pennington in 1954. Non-Marxist analyses were the subject of vituperative attacks from members of the historians’ group of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

There were and are many different strands in Marxism and Marxist historiography. It was, however, evident no later than 1960 that attempts to classify the English Revolution as the product of a transition to capitalism or as a ‘bourgeois’ revolution could not be sustained. If you look, for example, at Valerie Pearl’s study of London, the connections between the leaders of the Long Parliament, whether peers or gentry, and the radicals who captured control of the city are obvious even if one does not have to accept them in the form later advanced by Robert Brenner. The sects and groupings that emerged later in the course of the 1640s were neither bourgeois nor petty bourgeois nor simply representative of artisanal or peasant groups. There was, in any case, a well-developed tradition long before the rise of the Levellers and Diggers that English people had rights protected by common law that could not and should not be overridden by arbitrary actions by the sovereign. The entire effort to apply procrustean Marxist terminology to the analysis of the period had failed.

The revolt against economic and social determinism had begun long before the rise of ‘revisionism’ in the mid-1970s. Conrad’s Russell’s work reflects his, no one else’s, belated emancipation from the dogmas of his time as an undergraduate. John Morrill’s interest at that time in the politics and religious tensions in the provincial communities of England and Wales was more influential in the long run as, indeed, was the interest Kevin Sharpe took in the imagery, self-representation and values of the Stuart Courts. I should add that Trevor-Roper was the first to point to the issues raised by the problems of ruling over multiple kingdoms in 1968, a subject about which figures like Koenigsberger wrote well before Russell took up the subject. Marxists like Hill and Manning never addressed the difficulties the hypothesis about the role of multiple kingdoms posed for their interpretations of the English Revolution in a full sense nor have their putative successors done so effectively since then.

The entire debate about the causes, course and significance of the English Revolution has moved on a long way since Norah Carlin’s comments in and after 1980. The public sphere and the significance of news, the importance of the Atlantic archipelago, the interrelationships between the peoples of the British Isles, are all vital topics for current investigation. I should add that important research is currently being carried out into the bargaining mechanisms that operated in English and Welsh societies to ensure that people of differing social ranks could live peacefully together and to trace how those at the bottom were linked those higher up the social hierarchy. The one aspect that no longer carries much interest is the revival of the Marxist approach. It is dead and cannot be resuscitated.

Norah Carlin, The Socialist Workers Party and the First English Revolution.

Abstract.

In 1980 Norah Carlin, historian and member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) published her essay Marxism and the English Civil War[1]. In 1983 she released a second called the First English Revolution. Both articles were of a polemical nature. They exuded the need for a complete change in how we saw the English revolution. While Carlin did not express it the most important conclusion to be drawn from them was the need for new Marxist historiography based on the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. This need was palpable.

Carlin in both compositions makes some critical points worthy of much further study, three of which stand out. She believed that England witnessed a bourgeois revolution, that so-called Marxist historians have not done enough to stem the tide of revisionism that undermined both Whig and Marxist historiography and the need for a more precise understanding of the class nature of the radical groups like the Levellers and how they fit into the concept of a Bourgeois revolution. Carlins work did not sit very well with the SWP’s orientation to Historians like Hill and Manning.The SWP rejected Carlin’s historiography and adopted of the genre of “Peoples History” which was developed by the Communist Party Historians Group (CPHG). This essay will examine the SWP’s refusal to pursue Carlin’s call to action and why it instead collaborated with historians that were associated with the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain.

Introduction

If Carlin thought defending a Marxist theory of the English Revolution was hard in the 1980s, she should try doing it now. For nearly four decades any historian who sought to favour Marxist historiography has come up against a battery of revisionist historians with their heavy weapons of anti-marxism. When challenged, the revisionists have been able to hide behind an academic establishment whose anti-Marxism has become legendary.

Given this near-unanimous global academic hostility to Marxism, it is surprising that Carlin fails to place this anti-Marxism within the context of the broader “Marxism is Dead” campaign.In the field of study of the English revolution, Carlin traces the beginning of this anti-Marxism to the 1950s. Perhaps the most famous and nastiest attack on the Marxist conception of the English Bourgois revolution came from the typewriter of Hugh Trevor-Roper. Roper was a very right-wing historian and politician. He had a habit of being an offensive, personally abusing any historian he did not agree with, especially if that historian had any connection with Marxism.

Another titan of revisionism was Conrad Russell who in the introduction to a widely-used textbook[2] said “for the time being … social change explanations of the English Civil War must be regarded as having broken down.’ Also during the 1970s, John Morrill put forward his theory that war was precipitated in 1642 by local interests and local rivalries in particular provincial areas. Morrill’s work was useful to a point but said nothing about why such conflicts developed.

Carlin cites another historian who went even further complaining that Marxist historians have over explained the past and that ‘We must allow,’ he says, ‘for the role of sheer muddle and misunderstanding in history[3].’ Unfortunately, this muddle and misunderstanding have followed us right up to the present day. Today’s revisionists are clear what they are against but have nothing to replace Whig or Marxist historiography except what Carlin calls “craftism”.

In both essays, Carlin spends some time trying to understand why it has been difficult to defend and expand Marxist historiography as regards the concept of the English Bourgeois revolution. She is correct to say that outside of the CPHG very few “Marxists” have written on the subject. This goes for the Trotskyist movement as well. Outside of Leon Trotsky himself and a small contribution from C.L James nothing much substantial has been written.

If a significant new Marxist historiography is to be developed, then it must take on board the best of the old work. This work must have as its foundation a solid exposition of Marx and Engels writing on Historical materialism. After that, the best is undoubtedly from a Marxist standpoint the work of Christopher Hill. His most outstanding work was the seminal essay written in 1940 The English Revolution, 1640 (part of a Communist Party education pamphlet. It was reissued in 1955. Apart from this work how much has been written from an orthodox Marxist position.Carlin believes far too little. Despite Hill’s significant contribution, the fact that no other historian has even come close to developing orthodox Marxist historiography is troubling.

On this Carlin makes this point “Hill left the Communist Party in 1957 after playing a not very memorable role on the Commission for Inner-Party Democracy and ended up as Master of Balliol College, Oxford. Given the nasty and personalised tone of the right-wing attack, it is hardly surprising that defending Hill should come to be almost a significant activity in itself, yet the striking fact is that when a collection of essays by former pupils of his was got together to mark his retirement at the end of the 1970s, not one article made any explicit reference to Marxism, only one contributor (Brian Manning) could be regarded as in any sense a Marxist, and several (including the advocate of muddle quoted above) were openly anti-Marxist. There is something slightly odd about ‘Britain’s greatest Marxist historian’ (as he is described continuously in journals such as New Left Review and History Workshop) raising no successors”.

Carlin believed it became easy for revisionist historians to mislabel other historians as Marxist even though they were patently not. One glaring example is that of R H Tawney. Tawney it must be said is well worth reading and was a historian of note.It has however been effortless to attack his work on the gentry. As Carlin notes “The other major influence on the Marxist orthodoxy of the last forty years has been R.H. Tawney’s work on the rise of the gentry. Though Tawney did not see himself as a Marxist, he identified the English Civil War as a bourgeois revolution; but in his version, the bourgeois revolution was made by and for the landed gentry. Whatever the precedents for this view in passing remarks by Marx or Engels, Tawney’s treatment of the question has caused utter havoc for the class interpretation of the English Civil War. It has shaped the development of right-wing history, in the concern to deny it, as well as the stagnation of Marxist history in the concern to defend it”.

The mistake made by Tawney was to see the gentry as a class in itself. If the matter of class was so clear cut then why were there gentry on both sides of the civil war? For that matter why was the bourgeoisie on both sides.This stagnation of Marxist historiography had some consequences. Firstly it allowed the revisionist’s historians to consolidate and develop their arguments. Secondly, the historians that came out of the Communist Party instead of deepening the study of the common nature of the revolution started to do work around the radical groups of the revolution such groups as the Levellers, Diggers and to a lesser extent the Ranters at the expense of a more orthodox Marxist historiography.

This type of history appealed to the SWP who promoted it at every opportunity especially when one of its most capable exponents Brian Manning came into their party. While much of Mannings work is worth reading, it is not explicitly Marxist. As Carlin points out “Manning, for example, states his position on the nature of the class struggle in the Civil War in nine lines of his preface, and in a form which makes it almost impossible to recognise it as Marxist. Left-wing historians seem more concerned to establish their fair use of evidence than to engage in the development of a Marxist understanding of the class struggle”.

The Bourgeois Revolution

Carlin correctly states that “The ‘rise of the gentry’ thus becomes a gaping trap for Marxists into which perhaps only Perry Anderson of New Left Review has jumped with both feet. For Anderson, the English Civil War was ‘a “bourgeois revolution” only by proxy’, because it was made by a section of the ruling class. But if a bourgeois revolution can be made by proxy from above, can a proletarian revolution? If a section of the ruling class could break the last bonds of feudalism on behalf of the bourgeoisie, could not a part of the bourgeoisie set up socialism on behalf of the working class?”.

How do we get out of this trap?. As Carlin states a Marxist analysis of the gentry and for that matter, the bourgeoisie has to be made not via Tawney but Marx and Engels. Also at some point, an orthodox Marxist appreciation of Hill must also be made. After all, he was the only historian that consistently made a defence of the notion of a bourgeois revolution.

Hill like Marx was clear that the revolution paved the way for a victorious bourgeoisie and we witnessed the rise a new social order. This was a victory over feudal property relations. Marx correctly states “it is certainly true that feudal relations were not delivered one concentrated blow. Feudalism [in England – eds.] was destroyed but disappeared only gradually. This process extended over many centuries during which certain aspects of the feudal order displayed surprising adaptability and vitality”. This approach was indeed taken on board by Hill and to a lesser extent Manning.

Carlin in her essay elaborates that the “new class of merchants and manufacturers played a crucial role in the development of the revolution.They represented new wealth and wanted political power to go with it. They made their money not out of old feudal rights of land and peasants but out of the profits from goods produced by the growing wage workers. Carlin correctly believed that this process of reducing all the workforce to the level of wage-labourers began at least two centuries before the industrial revolution and Marx called it the ‘primitive accumulation of capital”.

Who was the leader of this new class and the revolution? Carlin was in no doubt that without Cromwell and his New Model Army the revolution would not have been the same. Carlin believed that Cromwell made England safe for capitalism. The Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky was very clear on this point “At a certain moment in political history the fate of ‘democracy’ hung not upon parliament but — however terrible this might be to scrofulous pacifists! — upon the cavalry, Cromwell very quickly realised that the fate of his class would be decided by cavalry. He said to Hampden: “I will raise such men as have a fear of God before them and make some conscience of that.”

The Left and Revisionism

According to Carlin, Hill and Manning must take some blame for the rise of revisionism. On the surface of things, it would seem that Carlin had a contradictory attitude towards Hill and Manning. This not the case. Carlin praises Hill and Manning for their work on the English bourgeois revolution and that any new historiography should incorporate much of their best writings.

However, when it comes to taking on the revisionists attack Marxist historiography, their contribution does leave a lot to be desired. It is clear that the SWP saw these two as bulwarks against the revisionist onslaught. At best this a was lousy piece of judgement at worse they sacrificed a struggle against revisionism over a closer relationship with these two historians who were in one way or another closely tied to the apron strings of the Communist Party.

If you examine Hill’s role, to his credit he did albeit in a lesser extent play a role in the “storm over the Gentry” debate. His defence of Tawney is still worth reading today. In many senses, this was a missed opportunity to do some severe damage to the anti-Marxists. The fact that Roper was able to walk away from this debate mostly unscathed merely emboldened further hostile attacks of Marxist historiography.

Gifted as a historian as Hill was he did not understand the need for a consistent struggle against revisionism. This stems not from his understanding of history but his complete lack of Marxist political consciousness. When the SWP did try to prompt Hill into a more active role in the struggle the results were not good. In an interview with John Rees and Lee Humber, this question was asked, How do you see the development of the debate around the English Revolution over recent years? Would you agree that the revisionists have taken some ground?

Hill’s answer was “they have made a lot of useful points, but their more extreme views are now being attacked by the younger generation of historians. Although the revisionists had all sorts of useful ideas, they had a narrow political approach in that they tried to find the causes of the English Revolution solely in the years 1639–41. This simply assumes what you are setting out to prove. If you look just at those years then, of course, it’s a matter of political intrigue and not long-term causes. I think people are reacting against that now. The better of the revisionists are themselves switching around a bit. John Morrill, for instance, who thought everything depended on the county community and localism, is now taking a much broader point of view. And Conrad Russell has become aware that long-term factors have to be taken into account – he doesn’t like it, but he recognises that religion has some long-term effects on what happened in 1640, a rather elementary point but he left religion out altogether in the early days. Now he’s bought it in. He still leaves out the cultural breakdown in society of that period, but he is moving a bit. I think a consensus will arise and then there will be another explosion in 20 years or so. These debates occur regularly – ever since 1640 people have been arguing about what it was all about”.

Not a bad answer but when asked about dropping some of his earlier jargon. And how important is the Marxist approach in studying history? Again his answer gave too many concessions to the revisionists, he said “I took a conscious decision in the 1950s to guard against political jargon after a lovely young woman from the Communist Party told me she thought my book on 1640 had done more harm than good because of the language I used. I’ve striven not to use sectarian language since. Some words can have an amazing effect on people. Using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ is a red rag to most academics. Even the most intelligent of them, Lawrence Stone, for example, believe that the bourgeoisie must have something to do with the towns and that if you can prove that the gentry were the main capitalists in England in the 17th century, you’ve disproved the idea of a bourgeois revolution. But to have to explain this every time you use the word bourgeois is a bore. It’s much easier just to leave out the word bourgeois – but of course, it’s very easy to slide from dropping the word to dropping the idea. Initially, I thought I had to drop the jargon to get people to take me seriously. I have changed some of my ideas, naturally, but not I hope my basic approach”[4].

Carlin took exception to Hill’s approach inside the SWP. To what extent this was discussed inside their party I cannot tell at this moment, but as will be brought out in the third part of this essay it cut across their overtures to Hill and Manning.

Radicalism and the English revolution

Carlin also calls for a class analysis of the radical groups that formed the left wing of the revolution.One gaping hole in the historiography of these groups has been the failure to examine what Russian historians wrote on these groups. To be more precise those historians who opposed the Stalinist bureaucracy and paid for it with their lives.

Hill to his credit at the beginning of his career started to examine Russian historians. As early as 1938 he wrote Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum published in The Economic History Review. Hill took a big chance with this article in the sense that he quotes the brilliant Soviet Writer Evengy Pashukanis who in 1937 was denounced as a “Trotskyite saboteur in 1937 executed by Stalin.

It goes without saying that any starting point when dealing with the radical groups should be Hill’s early work on the bourgeois revolution and the Soviet historians. Caution should be taken with Hill’s early work as he was still a member of a party that supported the mass extermination of the best elements of the October revolution.

Carlin correctly states that the vanguard of the revolution in 1642 was the radical groups that carried out political work in the early party the revolution. To what extent these groups were organised as a party has been open to fierce debate only recently a new revisionist work by Gary De Krey denies they were assembled as a party but were one element in a broad independent movement.

Another matter that needs to be solved is the correct terminology when describing the class nature of the radical groups. So far they have been variously described by Marxists as ‘the petty bourgeoisie’, ‘the middling sort of people’, ‘small independent producers’ and ‘plebeian elements.’

While Carlin does not like the term petty-bourgeois to describe the class base of the say the Levellers in this paragraph, she describes precisely this class. “Many of those who took part in the revolt of 1640–42, in the New Model Army during the war and in radical movements later, were indeed small independent producers. In feudal society, the small producer enjoyed ownership or possession of the means of production, and wage-labour was typically a temporary or supplementary source of livelihood – for the near-landless peasant family, for the journeyman on his way to being an independent master craftsman, and even for domestic servants, who saved their wages for marriage and a household of their own. Under capitalism, wage-labour has become the norm, and the small independent producer exists only in competition with large-scale capitalist production.

“England in the seventeenth century was in transition from feudalism to capitalism, and the separation of the labourer from the means of production was the crucial issue for the development of the capitalist mode of production. As Marx recognised, this proletarianisation of the labour force preceded the accumulation of capital on a large scale: it was the essence of ‘so-called primary accumulation’ or ‘the first revolutionising period of feudal production”.

Another contentious subject raised by Carlin is the extent there was a working class involved in the revolution. It should be pointed out that this was a working class at the beginning of its existence and bore no relation to the working class today. According to Carlin, there was a substantial number of proletarians. But how you quantify what part they play is difficult. It is clear that further research is needed. But Carlin insists that “ large numbers of wage-earners must have taken part in the riots and demonstrations of the period. Unfortunately, the bias of contemporary propaganda is compounded by that of recent historians, both Marxist and non-Marxist, who seem determined to belittle working-class participation.”

She continues “he reputation of the Levellers has fallen low in the ‘orthodox’ Marxist version in the last twenty years. The view that they were not such radical democrats after all, that they would have denied the vote to the whole of the working class, and that their political theory foreshadows bourgeois rather than socialist thought, originated with C.P. Macpherson in 1962. It is still propagated by Christopher Hill among others. Coupled with this is the idea that Leveller democracy was premature because the potential electorate was backward and even reactionary”.

When she says it is wrong to see the Levellers as merely the most revolutionary section of the bourgeoisie, I cannot agree with it. They were precisely that. That does not mean that we should not recognise their struggle and deepen our understanding of the class nature of all these radical groups

The Diggers, or True Leveller according to Carlin were a far more revolutionary outfit. According to her they “went further than the Levellers in identifying the fact that private property was at the heart of their problems. She believes that “it is wrong to dismiss the Diggers as backwards-looking ‘agrarian communists’. Their great achievement was to go beyond medieval ideas of the redistribution of wealth to propose the continuing creation of wealth by collective production

Carlin, The SWP and History from Below.

To what extent Carlin’s substantial essays were discussed inside the SWP is open to conjecture. In my opinion, her essays should have been given far more attention that they were. If that were to happen, they would have had to tone down their overtures towards the Stalinist Communist Party and its “Peoples History.”

As Ann Talbot succinctly puts it “ the Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr”.

This turn towards the Peoples History also fitted in with the SWP’s political perspective at the beginning of the 1980s. The SWP leadership drew some pretty negative conclusions from the series of defeats suffered by the working class in the 1970s. The downturn in the class struggle which saw the victory of Thatcher meant for the SWP that for the task was not to build a revolutionary leadership, but to develop “a broader radical left that can begin to present a credible and principled alternative to capitalism.”

Tony Cliff wrote in an infamously pessimistic article. So, the downturn continues. There are not going to be set-piece confrontations. The question of intervention means individual intervention in individual disputes. In ninety cases out of a hundred, we will do it from outside. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, we’ll do it in a very low key[5]. Two years after he wrote this piece the biggest strike in working-class history outside of the 1926 General strike broke out in 1985-86.

In the field of history, this took the form of a closer relationship with Hill and Manning with the SWP publishing some of his books and him speaking at their Marxism conferences. Manning Joined the SWP from the Labour Party, and the majority of his work was published by the SWP.

Other radical groups also opposed Carlin’s attack on Hill and to a lesser extent Manning. Workers Liberty sprang to Hill’s defence “the SWP’s Norah Carlin, herself a gifted historian of the 17th century, is surely wrong and sectarian to say flatly that Hill was “not a Marxist”. I think we might, instead, read Hill’s oeuvre as a rather heroic example of the development of a Marxist research with Hill constantly seeking to renovate theory in the light of new empirical evidence and critique, developing falsifiable hypotheses on the foundation of the “hardcore” of the research programme”[6].

Carlin remained unrepentant and in a further attack on the genre of Peoples History. In a review of People’s History and Socialist Theory-History Workshop Series.Carlin writes “Many contributors do regard themselves as committed Marxists, and explicitly discuss the relationship between Marxist history and political activity. But the conclusions they come to (except feminist ‘fragmentism’) are always negative. ‘Given the political formlessness and difficulties of our times,’ says Ken Worpole, it is better to concentrate on the ‘long-revolution’ which seems to be composed of working-class autobiographies. Robert Colls regards the History Workshop forum as ‘a surrogate politics for those depressed by the dismal political options of a country which no longer has a radical movement worthy of the name.’ Bob Scribner, though he admires the ‘People’s History’ work of the German Communist Party in the early 1920s, thinks that ‘In so far as … the historian is actively involved in politics, there is a problem of time and resources to carry out historical investigations with the necessary rigour.’

What the high point of Carlin’s defence of her political position came with the joint article was written with Ian Birchall called Kinnock’s favourite Marxist-Eric Hobsbawm and the working class-(Autumn 1983)[7].Carlin writes of Hobsbawm “the working class that Hobsbawm now sees vanishing never really existed; it was a myth of the Stalinist era. For Hobsbawm is not so much a prophet as a casualty, the product of an age which distorted Marxism until it became unrecognisable. From Hobsbawm the historian we can still learn much, though his work needs a more critical assessment than it has yet received. But we should be extremely unwise to take him as a guide in the present struggle”.

Conclusion

In summing up, her work Carlin is correct to say that we are no nearer an answer to the development of genuine Marxist historiography on many historical topics, not just the English revolution.It is also correct to say that for too long The struggle for Marxism inside academia has taken a defensive position.Carlin concludes “the reflexes of the siege mentality – uncritical defence of ideas or personalities because of their long-standing identification with the Marxist cause, and the refusal to even examine anything new revealed by a hostile source – have not helped our understanding of class struggle in the past or the present. “The restoration of Marxist theory to the history of the revolution is an essential requirement. This is a historical field in which theory has disappeared perhaps more thoroughly than in any other. The mechanical orthodoxy of the Stalinist period was followed by a period of adaptation to bourgeois academic ‘standards’ in which theory was apparently regarded as too provocative to mention. This has now been overtaken by the ‘poverty of theory’ debate in which some Marxist historians are claiming lack of a theoretical perspective as a positive virtue. A full and free discussion in explicitly Marxist terms is the touchstone by which both old ideas and new ones must be measured”.

Further Reading.

Kinnock’s favourite Marxist-Eric Hobsbawm and the working class- Norah Carlin & Ian Birchall-www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/birchall/1983/xx/hobsbawm.htm

The Levellers and the Conquest of Ireland in 1649-Norah Carlin-The Historical Journal
Vol. 30, No. 2 (Jun. 1987), pp. 269-288

1.https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/carlin/1983/04/engrev.html
2.C. Russell, (ed.) The Origins of the English Civil War (1973)3C. Russell, (ed.) The Origins of the English Civil War (1973)
4.John Rees and Lee Humber-The good old cause-An interview with Christopher Hill-From International Socialism 2 : 56, Autumn 1992, pp. 125–34.Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.5.Building in the downturn-(April 1983)-Tony Cliff -www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1983/04/building.htm6.http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/christopher-hill-and-making-english-revolution

Claire Canary’s Review of Thomas Alcock: A Biographical Account by Susan Margaret Cooper

Of course, it’s something of an irony that a debauchee who took sexual promiscuity to new levels employed somebody called Alcock. This fact was nicely pointed out in the play and film The Libertine and, when I saw both productions, I assumed the cheeky Cockney character to be a creation of writer Stephen Jeffreys, the surname a perfect way to squeeze in a giggle or two.It was, therefore, a surprise for me to find Thomas Alcock not only existed in reality but also boasted a top education and social respect. The name may mean nothing to you. If you’re into Restoration England though, I can assure you the names of some he’s linked with will ring more than a distant bell.

As biographical accounts go, this must have posed a challenge to Susan Margaret Cooper, as seeking out information on lesser-known individuals such as Mr Alcock is never an easy task. However, the book is satisfyingly full of facts and speculation is logically discussed, taking the reader along the route with the author as she connects her findings to put forward theories and explanations.While the ins and outs of one person’s life remain the focus of the work, Cooper also makes room for a bit of historical context in her work. From the provocations of the Civil Wars in which Alcock grew up to the happenings of the Monmouth Rebellion he fought against, there’s just enough detail to set the scene but not distract from the subject. This helps immerse even non-historians and is interesting reading in itself. Getting down to the nitty-gritty though, some of the real gems to be found in this book are the documents the author has uncovered and reproduced as both images and transcripts.

I dread to think how long it took to copy type from 17th-century handwriting, especially with such attention to detail. You’ll find the original spellings, unexpected capitalisation and use of superscript bringing the transcripts to life as you read. Adding similar feeling to the account is an array of pictures, with portraits putting faces to names, a 20th-century shot of one of Alcock’s homes and publication title pages all serving as a perfect illustration.Assessment of the personality of anyone from the past is a tricky matter to approach.

The objective is always safer than subjective when it comes to something like this and Susan Margaret Cooper has stuck to relating the data but in doing so she’s opened up a nice window into the heart of this man. The word ‘friend’ and ‘friendship’ crop up several times in the book and exemplify the close bonds he evidently formed with those he met, especially, it appears, those he worked for.

Without the amazing research of Cooper, however, we would have no real insight at all into this man, as letters she has uncovered reflect something of his character, while her report that he was chosen as an arbitrator demonstrate the high regard he seems to have been held in.Thomas Alcock was associated with a wide range of people. Two of the most intriguing parts of this book, however, takes us back to that employer immortalised in a film for his hedonistic ways. When it comes to Alcock’s time under John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, the shocks come in two forms.

On the one hand, things get spooky thanks to some remarkable ghost stories. But perhaps the bigger jaw-dropper is not in the supernatural but in the indisputable true story of deceit that’s enough for a movie of its own. Thomas Alcock: A Biographical Account is non-fiction. But some of the content really gets your imagination going.The effort put into this research is evident and, what’s more, has paid off. It’s the sort of work that can answer historians’ questions, with figures, names, places etc. all included throughout and the revelation of new information makes this a publication to celebrate. By sharing Alcock’s story, we can better understand a person who has long since passed but, like each and every other being on Earth deserves to never be forgotten.

TheaurauJohn Tany (1608–1659)

This article was kindly sent to me by Ariel Hessayon. Ariel has just finished editing the collected works of TheaurauJohn Tany (1608–1659) to be released by Breviary Stuff Publications in March.You can buy the book here https://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/the-refiners-fire/

Now know I am a mad man. And ye declare me so to be, it will be a weaknesse in you to question me [TheaurauJohn Tany, The Nations Right in Magna Charta (1650), p. 8]I say, and many know, that by madness I came to knowing, and in time God will make me speak plain knowledge, that by all shall be acknowledged

[TheaurauJohn Tany, Theous Ori Apokolipikal (1651), pp. 62–63]

On Friday, 23 November 1649 Thomas Totney, a puritan and veteran of the English Civil War, was working in his goldsmith’s shop at ‘The Three Golden Lions’ in the Strand. He was to claim that after fourteen weeks of self-abasement, fasting and prayer the Lord came upon him in power, overwhelming his wisdom and understanding, smiting him dumb, blind and dead in the presence of hundreds of people. Next his body began to tremble and he was tied down in his bed. During his indescribable sufferings he saw the Passion of Jesus. Then he was transported into God’s presence in the ‘High and holy Mount’ where he beheld a great light shine within him and upon him, saying ‘Theaurau John my servant, I have chosen thee my Shepherd, thou art adorned with the jewel of Exceliency’. He was convinced that the Lord had spoken unto him, changing his name from Thomas to TheaurauJohn.

Totney was baptized on 21 January 1608 in the parish of South Hykeham, Lincolnshire, the third but eldest surviving son of John Totney and Anne, née Snell. His father, although a poor farmer and never of the parish elite, was a respectable member of the local community. Nothing is known of Thomas’s education, yet it seems likely that by the age of seven he would have learned to read and by the age of nine, if his family could still cope without him, he would have learned to write. In April 1626 he was bound as an apprentice in London to a fishmonger but was not taught their trade. Instead he received instruction in his master’s adopted profession, that of goldsmith. On receiving his freedom he married a daughter of Richard Kett, a prosperous Norfolk landowner whose great-uncle had been executed as leader of the 1549 East Anglian rebellion; Kett’s uncle was burned for heresy in 1589 and his father imprisoned for the same offence. Rather than serving as a journeyman, Totney quickly established himself as a householder – a costly progression suggesting he received a charitable loan or financial assistance from family and friends. He set up in St. Katherine Creechurch, a location favoured by small retailers for its inexpensive rents, his shop marked by an unknown sign near Aldgate. To ensure that Totney’s business activities fell within their orbit he was translated to the Goldsmiths Company in January 1634. However, along with the majority of ‘remote’ goldsmiths he resisted a Company initiative which had gained royal approval, to vacate his dwelling and relocate in Cheapside, the hub of the goldsmiths’ trade.

Totney remained in St. Katherine Creechurch for another six years. There he heard the fiery sermons of Stephen Denison on the immutability of God’s decrees of predestination. It was a doctrine that troubled Totney until his epiphany. When his first son was born in December 1634 Totney refused to have him baptized, for which he was presented before an ecclesiastical court. Following his wife’s death he remarried by licence during Lent, probably on Friday, 25 March 1636. This was the first day of the New Year in the old calendar and his actions hint at a type of confrontational godliness and perhaps also zealous Sabbatarianism. Upon his father’s death in 1638 he went to Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire to manage the family farm. In the summer of 1640, probably while serving as one of the parish’s petty constables, he played an important part in resisting the collection of ship money. By his own account he was imprisoned in London and his horse distrained on the county sheriff’s authority. A series of payments in 1642 show his support for those opposed to Charles I. Moreover, he claims to have witnessed one of Captain Oliver Cromwell’s orations delivered at Huntingdon to newly mustered volunteers. Totney later possessed a great saddle, musket, pair of pistols and sword, suggesting he served as a harquebusier. By December 1644 he had returned to Little Shelford where he resumed his duties as a local tax official, as well as taking up sequestered land and providing quarter for Parliamentarian soldiers and their horses. Following the outbreak of a second Civil War, Totney uprooted. He rented out his lands to a local villager and moved with his family to St. Clement Danes, Westminster. In June 1648 his second wife died and was buried in the parish.

After his supposed revelation Thomas Totney assumed the prophetic name TheaurauJohn Tany. TheaurauJohn he understood to mean ‘God his declarer of the morning, the peaceful tidings of good things’. While his former surname may have been vocalized as Tawtney, his new last name was usually pronounced Tawney. Because he had a speech impediment he may have dropped the consonant. In addition, he appropriated the coat of arms azure, three bars argent surmounted by the crest a hind’s head erased, gules, ducally gorged, or. This device, borne by Sir John de Tany of Essex during the reign of Edward I, appears on several of his works. Furthermore, he declared himself ‘a Jew of the Tribe of Reuben’ and took the titles High Priest and Recorder to the thirteen Tribes of the Jews. Tany justified his claims by inventing a fantastic genealogy that traced his descent from Aaron, brother of Moses, through the tribe of Judah and by way of the ten tribes of Israel, the Tartars and the Welsh. He also circumcised himself. Thereafter, believing he had been given the gift of tongues with which to preach the everlasting gospel of God’s light and love to all nations, he went forth armed with sword and word. Crying vengeance in the streets of London, he declared woe and destruction upon that bloody city, prophesying that the ‘Earth shall burn as an Oven’ and all the proud, the wicked and the ‘ungodly shall be as stubble to this flame’. Drawing on the potent image of Christ as goldsmith, purging dross and corruption in a furnace, Tany forged his prophetic identity – the messenger foretold by Malachi. He claimed his authority rested with the one who sent him, God:
but who may abide the day of his appearing? for he is like fullers sope, a refiners fire.

Insisting that the restitution of the Jews was at hand and that he had been sent forth to gather them and proclaim ‘Israels return’, Tany set about enacting a millenarian mission to restore the Jews to their own land. In the manner of the children of Israel before him, he began living in a tent, perhaps modelled upon the tabernacle, which he decorated with a symbol representing the tribe of Judah. He preached in the parks and fields around London and gathered a handful of followers. His message was strong, denouncing the clergy as ‘diabolical dumb dogs, Tythe-mongers’, who fleece rather than succour the people. Gospel injunctions also made him demand justice:feed the hungry, clothe the naked, oppress none, set free them bounden, if this be not, all your Religion is a lye, a vanity, a cheat, deceived and deceiving.

Tany’s first publication was a broadside entitled I Proclaime From the Lord of Hosts The returne of the Jewes From their Captivity (25 April 1650). It is likely that Captain Robert Norwood, a wealthy London merchant, paid for its printing. In early September 1650 Tany was at Bradfield, Berkshire at the same time as William Everard, one-time leader of the Diggers. There was bedlam. It was reported that the rector, John Pordage, fell into a trance while preaching and that bellowing like a bull he ran to his house. There Pordage found his wife upstairs clothed all in white from head to toe, holding a white rod in her hand. Moreover, an adolescent was said to have fallen into a very strange fit, foaming at the mouth for two hours. He dictated verses concerning the destruction of London and demanded to go there to meet a goldsmith.

Tany next published two tracts: Whereas TheaurauJohn Taiiiiijour My servant (15 November 1650) and THE NATIONS RIGHT in Magna Charta (28 December 1650). Both demonstrated his earnest desire for social reformation, the latter exhorting the common soldiers to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections. His next offering Aurora in Tranlagorum in Salem Gloria seems to have been written on three consecutive days in late December 1650. It was printed by a Baptist who had previously printed a ‘very dangerous’ book. The publisher was Thomas Totney’s brother-in-law. It was sold by Giles Calvert from his shop at ‘The Black-spread-Eagle’ at the west end of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In January 1651 Tany wrote the first of the epistles that eventually comprised THEOUS ORI APOKOLIPIKAL (1651) and Second Part OF HIS Theous-Ori APOKOLIPIKAL (1653). On 6 March he was apparently brought before the Westminster Assembly of Divines, responding to their questions with thirty-seven of his own queries. Nonetheless, they accounted him mad. Perhaps shortly thereafter he forsook his trade.

On 25 March 1651 Tany preached at Eltham, Kent and then again on 13 April at Norwood’s house in St. Mary Aldermary. In May Norwood was excommunicated from his gathered church. The following month an indictment was prepared jointly against Norwood and Tany. The indicters seem to have understood Tany as some type of Ranter, as one of ungodly conduct who allegorized the Bible and internalized hell; as an antiscripturian universalist who repudiated gospel ordinances and averred that men might live as they wished; as one who glorified sin and maintained that the soul is God. Yet as Norwood recognized, only two of the charges fell within the scope of the Blasphemy Act of August 1650 – the allegations that Tany and Norwood affirmed:the Soul is of the essence of GodThere is neither hell nor damnation.

As their own accounts of the trial’s proceedings make clear, the defendants adamantly maintained that their words had been misrepresented, altered and taken out of context. Even so, on 13 August 1651 they were convicted jointly of blasphemy by a jury of twelve men at the London sessions of the peace held in the Old Bailey. They were each sentenced to six months imprisonment in Newgate gaol without bail or mainprize. Conditions for those that could not afford the services of the gaoler were apparently intolerable.On 27 October 1651 legal proceedings were initiated in the Court of Upper Bench appealing the verdict. After several sessions the case was deferred until the next law term. More hearings followed. On 4 February 1652 Tany appeared before the Court. That same morning God spoke to a London tailor named John Reeve, revealing to him that he had been chosen as the Lord’s ‘last messenger’, or so Reeve was to claim. Reeve and his cousin Lodowick Muggleton, a freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Company, announced themselves to be ‘the two Witnesses of the Spirit’ foretold in the Revelation of Saint John. In addition, they denounced Tany as a ‘counterfeit high Priest’ and pretended prophet, marking him as a Ranter, the spawn of Cain. A few days later the judges of the Upper Bench made their judgement: Lord Chief Justice Rolle washed his hands of the business. On 16 February 1652 Tany and Norwood having served their sentence were each released on £100 bail pending good behaviour for one year. Thomas Totney’s former master and another man later described as a goldsmith, provided sureties. In Easter term Norwood initiated a new legal appeal. After several hearings the judges deferred proceedings until the following law term. On 28 June 1652 they reversed the guilty judgement against Norwood and Tany, resolving that their opinions had been made to rigidly conform to the strictures of the Blasphemy Act. For whereas the Act made it unlawful to maintain that ‘there is neither Heaven nor Hell, neither Salvation nor Damnation’, the defendants who affirmed that:ere is ‘no Hell nor Damnation’, are not within the Statute, for tho by Implication if there be no Hell there is no Heaven, yet the court is not to Expand these words by Implication but according to the Letters of the Stat[ute].

Within a month of his release Tany published a pamphlet he had written in Newgate entitled High Priest to the IEVVES, HIS Disputive challenge to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the whole Hirach. of Roms Clargical Priests (March 1652). Echoing Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Tany proclaimed the return of ‘Israels Seed’ from captivity. About 1 January 1653 it appears from his own account that Tany underwent another purificatory ritual. He refrained from speaking for thirty-four days, isolating himself for twenty-one of them. On the fourteenth day he transcribed an edict to ‘all the Jewes the whole earth over’, which was to be engraved in brass and sent to the synagogue in Amsterdam. He signed this proclamation with his new name and titles, ‘Theauroam Tannijahhh, King of the seven Nations, and Captain General under my Master Jehovah, and High-Priest and Leader of the Peoples unto HIERUSALEM’. Together with some other material it was issued by an unknown publisher under the title HIGH NEWS FOR HIERUSALEM (no date). It exasperated one reader, who complained ‘truly I skill not the man, nor his spirit; in his writing he offends against all rules of Grammar, Geography, Genealogy, History, Chronology, Theology & c, so far as I understand them’.

In March 1654 a list of some thirty ‘Grand Blasphemers and Blasphemies’ was submitted to the Committee for Religion, which included:XIX. A Goldsmith that did live in the Strand, and after in the City, and then at Eltham; who called his name Theaurau John Tany, the High Priest, & c. Published in Print, That all Religion is a lie, a deceit, and a cheat.
Writing from ‘the Tent of Judah’ on the ‘Tenth DAY NISAN’ (probably 16 April 1654), Tany addressed a millenarian epistle ‘Unto his Brethren the QUAKERS scornfully so called, who ARE the Children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who ARE circumcised in Heart’. He saluted them as descendants of the Jewish race, an elect remnant who spoke a pure language and trembled at the word of God. On 8 May 1654 he issued an edict to all ‘earthen men and women’ announcing that he would shortly proclaim the Law and Gospel from his tent standing in the bounds of the Middle Park at Eltham, Kent. On 8 June 1654 he read out a speech in which he laid claim to the crowns of France, Reme, Rome, Naples, Sissiliah and Jerusalem, as well as reaffirming an earlier claim to the crown of England. He did this by repeating Pontius Pilate’s reply to the chief priests of the Jews after Pilate had written ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS’ as the title to be put on Christ’s cross:What I have written, I have written.

On the morning of Saturday, 30 December 1654, in the week that Cromwell was offered the crown, Tany solemnly made a large fire at Lambeth into which he cast his great saddle, sword, musket, pistols, books and bible. He crossed the River Thames in a rowing boat and made his way to Parliament, ascending the stairs into the lobby outside the door. Unable to deliver a petition he departed, returning after about an hour oddly attired with a long, rusty sword by his side. Pacing up and down the lobby he suddenly threw of his cloak and began slashing wildly, but was disarmed before anyone was hurt. He was brought to the bar of the House and questioned by the Speaker. He refused to remove his hat, was evidently mistaken for a Quaker and committed to the Gatehouse prison. Having been examined by the Committee for regulating printing, he wrote to the Speaker requesting liberty to have an audience with Cromwell. He then attached a great lock and long chain to his leg as a symbol of ‘the people of Englands Captivity’. Legal proceedings were transferred to the Court of Upper Bench but on 10 February 1655 he was bailed upon habeas corpus.

Two days later a fire broke out in Fleet Street. In the following months London was engulfed by several more unexplained fires which were interpreted as a sign of the impending destruction of the world. Eventually an arsonist was apprehended who may have been in the pay of William Finch, one of Tany’s disciples. In September 1655, after weeks of heavy rain and widespread floods, Tany ‘in one of his old whimsies’ pitched his tent in the large tract of open ground between Lambeth Marsh and Southwark known as St. George’s Fields. A satirical newsbook writer thought him ‘a madman’ fitter ‘for Bedlam then a Tent’.

On 7 June 1656 Tany married for a third time at St. Saviour’s, Southwark. His wife was Sara Shorter, possibly a waterman’s daughter. Three days later, on 10 June he pitched his tent on Frindsbury Street near ‘The Black Lion’ in Frindsbury, Kent. That day, according to the title-page of his last known work, Tany read the law ‘unto the people ISRAEL, belonging to the returning from Captivity’. Then, sometime after 16 June 1656, Tany set sail, perhaps from Kent, bound for the:Wars, wars, wars, wars, wars, wars, wars.He crossed the English Channel successfully and at an unknown date arrived in the United Provinces, perhaps to gather the Jews of Amsterdam. Some three years later, now calling himself Ram Johoram, he was reported lost, drowned after taking passage in a ship from Brielle bound for London. He was survived by his eldest daughter and probably also a second daughter and second son.

During his prophetic phase Tany wrote a number of remarkable but elusive works that are unlike anything else in the English language. His sources were varied, although they seem to have included almanacs, popular prophecies and legal treatises, as well as scriptural and extra-canonical texts, and the writings of the German Lutheran mystic Jacob Boehme. Indeed, Tany’s writings embrace currents of magic and mysticism, alchemy and astrology, numerology and angelology, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, Hermeticism and Christian Kabbalah – a ferment of ideas that fused in a millenarian yearning for the hoped for return of Christ on earth. The English Revolution freed men and women both self-taught and formally educated to speak their minds and challenge their times. But only by contextualizing and then unravelling the mind of this exceptional person can we truly appreciate what it meant to be living in a world turned upside down.

(Dr Ariel Hessayon’s research interests include early modern ideas, religion, politics, literature and popular culture. Dr Ariel Hessayon is a co-convenor of the seminar on seventeenth-century British History at the Institute of Historical Research and would welcome enquiries from those interested in doctoral research in areas relating to radicalism in early modern England).

Notes
1 The images used in this article were given by kind permission of Harvard University, Houghton Library.
2 Ariel’s ODNB entry can be found here http://www.oxforddnb.com/search?q=TheaurauJohn+Tany+%281608%E2%80%931659%29&searchBtn=Search&isQuickSearch=true
3 Wikipedia entry-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theaurau_John_Tany

An Evening with Charles Spencer

Charles Spencer has spent the last few weeks touring the country publicising his new book To Catch a King. The basic story is of Charles II escape from parliamentary forces during the second civil war.The evening spent at Waterstones Kensington High street with Spencer was a pleasant one, and the event itself was well organised.The major problem I have in reviewing this event or his books is that we have opposed political and historical worldviews. That will not change.
Having said that Spencer from a human standpoint is a kind man and a skilful narrative led historian.Aside from the rigour of his work he has a passion for history that is admirable in a historian. His book Killers of the King was the second highest selling history book in the UK in 2014[1].

Spencer is a natural speaker almost like a raconteur. In fact, he speaks as he writes. His books are pure narrative, but that does not mean he is sloppy with his research.He made some interesting points during the evening. Perhaps his most important was a downgrading of the study of the English revolution in schools both private and public.In an interview, Spencer recounts “‘When I was a boy, you learned about the English Civil War. Now you do not. Part of that is because history is no longer a compulsory subject after a certain age. ‘The Tudors and the Nazis are much easier periods to attract students to. If you are a history teacher you want to keep your job, so you go for the easy areas.”

Like many who write on the Revolution Spencer had descendants who were active during the civil war.The windows in his chapel were rescued from another Spencer house that was burned down during the English Civil War.“I think I would have done what my ancestor did. He was very anti the king during the build-up to the Civil War, but when it came to the actual conflict, he decided he could not draw his sword against his king. ‘Reluctantly, he became a royalist.”Another aspect of Spencer, the historian, is his openness to suggestions for future work from readers. His choice of subject for his latest book was in fact given to him by a reader.

When I asked him a question about Ollards book and other historians such as the great Whig historians he made some interesting points. He saw himself as primarily as a narrative historian, but he believes that parallels exist between the past and the present.He is not reticent about describing his work as ‘popular history’. A Genre that that was mastered by historians such as Sir Thomas Macaulay, E. P. Thompson and A. J. P. Taylor..Spencer is not yet in that league, but his work does command serious attention and is well worth the price of his books.

PS
A review of To Catch a King will be done at a later date.


Notes
The escape of Charles II after the battle of Worcester Hardcover – 1 Jan 1966-by Richard Ollard
King Charles II Paperback – 6 Jun 2002- Lady Antonia Fraser
[1] See my review -http://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/killers-of-king-men-who-dared-to_23.html

Claire Canary’s Review of Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue:Lord Rochester, in Chains of Quicksilver by Susan Cooper-Bridgewater ISBN: 9781783063079

Most of those who know of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester have something of a preconceived image of him. While that image is not altogether false, Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue allows us to see a more rounded man and brings into the limelight the side of him that is usually cast in shadow. Here, Susan Cooper-Bridgewater has brilliantly shown how wrong it is to define anyone by reputation alone.

The book is written in the first person, narrated by the earl himself. This is what really gives the readers insight. We get to feel his emotions, see events through his eyes and understand how and why he is who he is.The author was very courageous to make Rochester the narrator, but her clear familiarity with the period and subject himself enabled her to handle the challenge perfectly. There is some wonderful 17th-century phraseology to be found in this book, keeping us firmly embedded in the era throughout, but it never goes over the top, so is still easy to follow in a 21st-century head.The research that must have gone into this is astonishing. The author has had academic work published but this book uses the information in an imaginative way. Tale upon tale is told with amazing detail and many of the locations themselves are described so vividly that it seems likely the author has visited them to get that feel for them.

Adding extra feel is the picture of the 17th century that’s painted throughout. Through the food, the carriages, the clothes, the theatre and the medicine, we get a real taste of life in Restoration England. Enthusiasts for the period will recognise many of the names that pop up and the number of dates that are given are proof of just how much painstaking effort must have gone into getting the facts right.As well as fact, though, this is partly fiction, and it’s impossible to tell which is which. In his all-too brief life, Rochester got up to some pretty shock-inducing stuff, so what may seem fabrication is just as easily truth and vice versa.

As can be expected from this infamous rake, he self-indulges in wine and women to a professional standard, but he certainly has a few other tricks up his sleeve too. Even people who aren’t into history will find plenty to entertain and, despite the joy of seeing the lesser-known aspects of Rochester, the accounts of his famous “bad boy” behaviour do not disappoint!However, it is Rochester as a father, husband and lover that makes this book stand out most for me. Through his sensitivity as all three, we see the John Wilmot that surely existed but is never properly acknowledged.

As promised, there’s ink, wit and intrigue and the intrigue is provided to a T in the epilogue, which takes us right up to Georgian times. I don’t know quite how she did it but Susan Cooper-Bridgewater managed to change the atmosphere to match the new era, so, as well as the Restoration fans, anyone into the 18th century will find something here for them too.
A book to do His Lordship proud! I reckon he’d love to read it, but so should everyone else.

The book can be purchased at http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=2570 or https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ink-Wit-Intrigue-Rochester-Quicksilver-ebook/dp/B00HHZX832

White King: Charles I – Traitor, Murderer, Martyr Hardcover – 11 Jan 2018 by Leanda de Lisle-432 pages: Chatto & Windus.

“So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it”.

—King James Bible Numbers 35:33.

Introduction

Leanda de Lisle new book continues a trend of modern-day revisionist biographies of Charles I[1]. It is difficult to conceive of this book being written or having the considerable press coverage it has received had it been published thirty years ago.
The dominance of Whig and Marxist historiography of the English revolution would have prevented it or at least provided it with a bumpy ride.If historians like Lisle had dared to raise their head above the precipice, they would have had it shot off.Another by-product of this revisionist assault has been the attempt to de-politicise the English revolution. A development that was highlighted by Martin Kettle no less when he reviewed the ongoing Charles I: King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Kettle makes the point “the 1640s battles between authority and liberty may not have produced another civil war. However, iterations of the divide have resonated down the centuries – from the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9, through the Whig-Tory rivalry of the 18th century, the advance of liberalism and reform in the 19th century, and of labourism and equalities in the 20th. It is not hard to see, in contrast between a privileged and dissipated political figure such as Boris Johnson and a puritanical one such as Jeremy Corbyn, that there are 17th-century echoes in our own binary times too.

He continues “most of those who enter the Royal Academy galleries over the next three months for its new exhibition, Charles I: King and Collector will be given no inkling of this. They will come to look at stunning pictures by Van Dyck, Holbein, Titian and Mantegna among many others. Civil war, however, is conspicuous by its almost total absence from the new show. Only the fact that we arrive with some knowledge of Charles I’s notoriety and eventual execution ensures that this absence of politics is itself a huge and silent presence”[2].While Lisle’s book to date not been seriously challenged, the general dominance of revisionist historiography has been by a new set of historians that are partly influenced by Marxist methodology or in some cases Whig orthodoxy. There is still a long way to go. Historiography today is still dominated by a plethora of obscure revisionist books. A process aptly named by the historian Norah Carlin as Craftism.

White King

Many things will strike the reader when reading this book. My first impression is that Lisle believes that the 1640s English revolution was somehow an aberration and in the final reckoning an event that was not typically English.The book is part of a tradition believes that “English history has developed by gradual evolution, without sudden or violent transformations, by process of compromise and co-existence”. Lisle’s prose has a sedateness about it when she writes about Charles I. Compare that to how she writes about his enemies, they are usually described as rabble or a mob. Her use of the word Junto to describe the parliamentary opposition tries to portray them as something foreign.As one reviewer put it “De Lisle’s parliamentarians are an irascible group, resembling not so much freedom fighters as the tea party; on the other hand, the author’s Charles often seems the voice of reason”[3].

It is safe to surmise that Lisle does not believe a revolution took place at all. However, the problem for Lisle is that facts are a stubborn thing. If a massive civil war, a kings head being chopped off, a republic and a commonwealth do not make a revolution, then what does.Alternatively, as Norah Carlin eloquently points out “many attempts have been made to explain it away. The present favourite among English academics is that it was a result of a misunderstanding and miscalculation among a political elite. These men were not ‘wild-eyed fanatics … they were men of substance and wealth, men of broad acres with a stake in the country,’ writes J.H. Hexter. They were ‘for the most part deeply conservative men who sincerely believed they were defending ancient and traditional rights,’ says another historian, R. Ashton”[4].

Lisle believes Charles I was “defending ancient and traditional rights” and that parliament was acting illegally against this. Any reader looking for an objective account of the war will have to look elsewhere. Cromwell only appears halfway through the book and is portrayed like many other parliamentary military figures as bloodthirsty maniacs. The treatment of the Levellers reduces them to a footnote of history.

Narrative-Driven

Despite being an excellent narrative driven writer Lisle’s approach can only take us so far in understanding the complex events of the English revolution.Her concentration on the narrative to the detriment of theory does not get us very far.
While it is essential to understand what went through the minds of the leading actors of the revolution such as Charles I, Olver Cromwell, Ireton, and Harrison to do so would only give us a partial understanding of why a king’s head was cut off and a republic established. Lisle is free to adopt whatever theoretical approach she wants to portray historical events. However, historians such as Lisle’s preoccupation with narrative is one-sided.The rise of narrative history has been at the direct expense of Marxist historiography and has done untold damage to our understanding of the English revolution. While I am sure that Karl Marx was not on her reading list for this book, she could have done no worse than to take on board his understanding of the relationship between historical figures and their place in history.

Marx states that “the production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process”[5].

Media

Lisle’s book has been well received by the media. Not surprisingly the right-wing media have gone overboard with praise not commensurate with the actual importance of the book. The reason for this lies not so much in history but politics. In fact, the reviews tell us more about the state of modern-day politics than they do about seventeenth-century politics.
As a reviewer of her book puts it “Recent elections in Britain and the United States have produced surprisingly dysfunctional governments. De Lisle’s fine, revisionist view of Charles may arouse nostalgia for a time when national leaders, elected or not, looked out for the zealous majority”.

One review stands out, the basic premise of which is that we are passing through enormous change. Capitalism is in crisis. We have a growing threat of nuclear and social inequality is at levels not witnessed for nearly a century we need a strong leader to counter the growing threat of the mob.The author of this review in the Evening Standard is Andrew Marr. His review entitled Basic civility and respect must prevail over the rule of the mob, according to him “The reign of Charles I shows that the 17th- century’s version of angry social media led to bloody violence”.Marr continues “I have been reading a fascinating book on British politics which suggests that we really should worry. The bad news is that it shows a direct connection between angry and inflammatory language, and violence, up to and including murder. The better news, I suppose, is that it is about the 1620s and 1630s.

Leanda de Lisle’s White King is a new biography of Charles I, which attempts to make a case for that arrogant, incompetent Stuart monarch who famously lost his head on Whitehall one cold January afternoon in January 1649.She does a good job. Charles was a sensitive and thoughtful man, a great lover of art who believed himself to be doing the right thing and was a genuinely committed family man. In the end, I was not convinced, however: like so many other British rulers he became too entangled in continental European politics, trying to take this country to war with catastrophic results.“I was shocked by the behaviour of Charles’s opponents in the lead up to civil war. I had been taught they were parliamentary heroes, and yet they had deliberately fanned religious and ethnic hatreds to recruit to their cause, in the worst examples of populism. This propaganda still informs English culture, not least in popular memory of Charles’s maligned queen, Henrietta Maria. Incidentally, she was called Queen Mary at the time (they considered calling her Queen Henry!), hence Maryland, which was named after her. I have stuck to Henrietta Maria, so not to confuse”.

So what, you might ask, does any of this have to do with social media? The answer is that the breakdown in relations between Charles and various parliamentary factions, at least one of which was set on Civil War, was hugely influenced by the new media of the day, propaganda broadsheets and the very earliest newspapers”.The ruling elites answered to this problem in the 17th century is the same as in the 21st century, and that is to censor it. The use of the Star-chamber to kill dissent has chilling resonance with today’s attempt by Google and Facebook to do the same. Marr’ solution is that we must we “must hang together in adversity”.

Conclusion

Lisle’s book is not without merit. White King is exceptionally well written and researched. In places, Lisle writes like a novelist. She uses rare and entirely new archival sources. The book would be acceptable to both the general reader and the academic alike. As is usual with Chatos and Windus the book is beautifully bound with an abundance of colour photos.
The book is excellent if you want a read that does not require you to think too much. If you are happy with a book that verges on propaganda and should carry a government health warning, then this is your book. If not steer well clear.


[1] See my review Charles I: An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky 144 pages Publisher: Allen Lane (4 Dec 2014) ISBN-10: 0141979836 http://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/a-review-charles-i-abbreviated-life-by.html
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/25/dont-mention-civil-war-english-still-fighting-charles-1-exhibition-royal-academy
[3] https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/leanda-de-lisle/the-white-king/9781610395601/
[4]Norah Carlin-The First English Revolution-(April 1983) https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/carlin/1983/04/engrev.html
[5]Karl Marx. The German Ideology. 1845
-Part I: Feuerbach.Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook-A. Idealism and Materialism – https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm

John Lilburne and the Levellers-Reappraising the Roots of English Radicalism 400 Years On-Edited by John Rees-© 2018 – Routledge-158 pages

“Though we fail, our truths prosper” – John Lilburne.

“That an inequitable thing it is for one man to have thousands, and another want bread, and that the pleasure of God is, that all men should have enough, and not that one man should abound in this worlds good, spending it upon his lusts, and another man of far better deserts, not be worth two pence, and that it is no such difficulty as men make it to be, to alter the course of the world in this thing, and that a few diligent and valiant spirits may turn the world upside down, if they observe their seasons, and shall with life and courage ingage accordingly.”

— attributed to William Walwyn

‘Each generation … rescues a new area from what its predecessors arrogantly and snobbishly dismissed as ‘the lunatic fringe,”‘ Christopher Hill.The essays contained in this book are primarily the product of a conference held at Bishopsgate Institute to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Lilburne leader of the Leveller Party. The remit of this new book is a daunting one. To reappraise any historical topic or figure is usually a fraught undertaking to do so after 400 years have passed has to be applauded. This article will examine the extent the authors of these essays have achieved this aim.The central thrust of this collection of essays is to establish John Lilburne (1615–1657), or ‘Freeborn John’ as the central revolutionary figure of the English Revolution. The book also contends that his party the Levellers played a significant part in this glorious revolutionary period.

The subjects covered in the book range from an examination of Lilburne’s writings and ideas, the role he played as a lead activist in the revolutionary drama. Personal and political relations with his wife Elizabeth are examined, his exile in the Netherlands, and contentious decision to become a Quaker.If Thomas Carlyle was correct about removing the dead dogs from Cromwell’s reputation, the same could be said about Lilburne. Looking back, it is hard to believe that Lilburne was such a feared figure and was subjected to “sophisticated propaganda campaigns”. Out of all this Lilburne has, according to Mike Braddick, become the ‘celebrity radical’.On a more serious note, The book is also testimony to the strength and contemporary nature of his ideas. As Edward Vallance points out, it is debatable whether the radicals of the eighteenth century or even nineteenth-century would have been so radical without Lilburne laying the foundations for their revolutionary activity.

The last decade or so has seen a significant rise in the interest in John Lilburne and his Leveller Party. In the last few years alone there have been four significant studies beginning with Elliot Vernon, and P. Baker’s the Agreements of the People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution followed by Rachel Foxley’s The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution. John Rees’s The Leveller Revolution. A further examination of the Levellers will be released at the End of October by, Gary S. De Krey Following the Levellers, Volume One, volume two will be released in 2018.

All these studies attempt to answer one primary question How radical were the Levellers. This is a contentious issue even today? Out of these studies and I am well aware of generalising too much there appear to be two strands. One takes a more cautious and conservative approach this is represented by the essays contained in Elliot Vernon and P. Baker’s The Agreements of the People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution and more radical approach as represented by these essays.The Paper by Elliot Vernon and Phillip Baker called What was the first Agreement of the People tends to argue that the Levellers were far from a cogent group but were, in fact, part of a far more significant political grouping centred on the Independent Alliance. They argue that” the very concept of ‘the Levellers’, in the sense of a political group which, in Taft’s opinion, existed from mid-1646 ‘as a distinct party with a programme and an organisation to advance it’, is problematic in itself. As is now well documented, at the level of nomenclature, any talk of ‘the Levellers’ before the Putney debates is a terminological anachronism, for although the word had been used to describe enclosure rioters earlier in the century, it was not first used as a proper noun until Nov. 1 1647.

Naturally, the absence of a name does not preclude the existence of such a grouping, and a small number of individuals, including Overton and William Walwyn, evidently came together in the mid-1640s through their involvement in a petitioning campaign in support of Lilburne and their common belief in religious toleration.22 For both Gentles and David Como, the triumvirate of Lilburne, Overton, and Walwyn was sufficiently interconnected by 1645 or 1646 to constitute the leadership of an identifiable group with their distinctive political agenda.23 Yet, and in common with Kishlansky,24 we maintain it remains difficult to distinguish members of this group from the much larger alliance of political and religious Independents, sectaries, and self-styled ‘well-affected’ Londoners. They banded together at the same time through their support for the New Model Army and common hostility to Presbyterianism” [1].Another question that comes to mind is what accounts for this plethora of studies. Which mostly have taken on the revisionist historiography. The historian Christopher Hill answered this when he was asked in 1992 How do you see the development of the debate around the English Revolution over recent years? Would you agree that the revisionists have taken some ground?He replied “They have made a lot of useful points, but their more extreme views are now being attacked by the younger generation of historians. Although the revisionists had all sorts of useful ideas, they had a narrow political approach in that they tried to find the causes of the English Revolution solely in the years 1639–41. This simply assumes what you are setting out to prove. If you look just at those years then, of course, it is a matter of political intrigue and not long-term causes.
“I think people are reacting against that now. The better of the revisionists are themselves switching around a bit. John Morrill, for instance, who thought everything depended on the county community and localism, is now taking a much broader point of view. Moreover, Conrad Russell has become aware that long-term factors must be considered – he does not like it, but he recognises that religion has some long-term effects on what happened in 1640, a rather elementary point but he left religion out altogether in the early days. Now he has bought it in. He still leaves out the cultural breakdown in the society of that period, but he is moving a bit. I think a consensus will arise and then there will be another explosion in 20 years or so. These debates occur regularly – ever since 1640 people have been arguing about what it was all about”. This analysis is being vindicated today.

Also, I believe the attempt to reappraising both Lilburne and the Levellers is a partial reflection of contemporary events. We are, after all witnessing social upheavals that have few parallels in history. Maybe the fact that we could be on the brink of a nuclear war between North Korea and America has sharpened a few minds.Introduction: John Lilburne, the Levellers, and the English Revolution by John ReesThe writer John Rees is quickly becoming a leading expert on John Lilburne and the Levellers. Rees acknowledges in this introduction that despite being called Levellers at the Putney Debates of 1647, they were, in fact, a recognisable political entity well before that.

It was clear very early on that Lilburne, and his Leveller’s represented a force that went well beyond their class base. Moreover, their propaganda began to reach a broad section of society. You only have to funerals of Levellers that were killed by Royalists such as Thomas Rainborough or Levellers killed by Cromwell to see that the sheer size of these funerals indicates a level of support beyond their class.Lilburne was a member of the gentry. As Rees points out, this was a “discontented and volatile group”. Lilburne and his fellow Levellers could have a reasonably comfortable life, but they choose to tackle injustice poverty and a lack of democracy by carrying out political agitation.Rees correctly points out that Lilburne’s ability to reach a broad audience was done not just with his physical bravery and undoubted talent as an agitator but helped enormously by the growth of new technology such as the colossal growth of secret printing.He sums up “How Lilburne’s reputation and the history of the Levellers have come down to us is long, complex and contested. There has never been a moment when it has not interacted with contemporary politics or refracted through modern political debate. In Reborn John? Edward Vallance charts the first of these great transitions as radicals and others in the eighteenth century debated the lineage of the first modern revolutionary leader and the movement he represented”.

Chapter 1: John Lilburne and the Citizenship of ‘Free-born Englishmen’ (Rachel Foxley)This essay was not written for the Conference; it is, in fact, a reprint from 2004. It is quite ironic that as Foxley wrote this essay back in 2004, citizenship rights were being attacked all over the world. Many people were and are still being stripped of their citizenship by governments who have cynically used the Magna Carta to do this.People seeking to defend these rights could do no better than study Lilburne’s struggle to establish them in the 17th century. As Foxley correctly brings out in her essay.Lilburne had used the Magna Carta to justify extending citizenship rights to a broader section of the population. His battle-cry for democracy was a progressive one in that it sought to eradicate social relations based on Feudal laws and social customs.

As Hoffman and Read point out “In the context of medieval England itself, the social reality behind the formal rights of freemen and the continuing struggles of the peasantry was revealed in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, 166 years after the Magna Carta. Led by Watt Tyler and Jack Straw, 60,000 peasants marched on London to demand the abolition of serfdom, tithes, and the poll tax. The rallying cry of the peasants was the rhyme “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?”Nevertheless, the formal rights and freedoms, and constraints on arbitrary power, enunciated in the Charter also contained universal content. Essentially, they gave early expression to the assertion of the inherent rights of man, however necessarily constrained and formed within the current historical realities and class relations of the early 13th century England. These political rights were the subject of centuries of struggles waged by the masses against the property-owning classes in England, the Continent and, later, America[3].

When Lilburne fought for his and other citizenship rights, his ideas were also were constrained and formed within the current historical realities. These realities were not products of his gifted mind but reflected material reality.Foxley correctly points out that there is no consensus amongst historians as to what Lilburne meant by citizenship. “Lilburne’s writing emerges out of the context of parliamentarian argument during and after the first civil war. There has been a tendency to classify political theories of the early to a mid-seventeenth century in England by asking whether they resulted from historical or theoretical modes of thought”. Alternatively, put another way does social being determined social consciousness.

This subjective was taken up by the Russian Marxist Evgeny Pashukanis who pointed out “the contrast between the Levellers and those movements which sought social revolution and attacked the existing property relations was, so to speak, confirmed. However, this was only the case if we are to be satisfied by the consideration of ideological formulae and not the objective meaning of the given revolutionary movement. The ideology of the Levellers was a typical bourgeois ideology, and the overwhelming majority of the Levellers acted as defenders of the principle of private property and this by no means contradicts the fact that the victory of the Levellers’ movement should have objectively led to the most decisive infringement on the right of feudal property. Moreover, this success and this victory could not have found its expression other than in the elimination of feudal ownership. Therefore, when the opponents of the Levellers accused them of attacking property, and of favouring communism, this was not merely slander. It was a statement of uncontested fact that for the privileged feudal owners, the radical democratic transformation for which the Levellers strove would have presented a most real threat. The affirmations of the leaders of the Levellers, concerning their adherence to the principle of private property, were a very weak consolation. And, on the contrary, the preaching of the communality of ownership and the clouded communist ideology of the extreme left leaders of the German peasant war, was, in fact, less of a threat to embryonic capitalist social relationships, but was instead the banner of the implacable, most consistent opponents of feudal ownership and all serf and semi-serf relationships. It is here that it seems possible for us to find a series of elements which bring the two movements closer together even though they are so different in their ideological bases”.[4]

Like many of the historians who have contributed essays to this collection, Foxley believes that the Levellers were radical to a degree, but she does not believe they were revolutionary. She tends to separate the ideas developed by the Levellers from their material base in society. Foxley is correct to point out that revisionist historians have not only attacked Marxist conceptions of the Leveller’s ‘The revisionist historians who have rewritten the history of the seventeenth century have questioned almost every aspect of the historical reputation of the Levellers’. How far Foxley intends to go in defence of the Leveller’s is another matter.It is open to question to what extent Foxley herself has adapted to this revisionist assault. One criticism of her is a concentration on Leveller political theory to the detriment of their economic and social base.As John Rees correctly points out that this “approach runs the risk of producing the effect that the philosopher Hegel describes as ‘night in which all cows are black’, meaning that it is impossible to differentiate the object of study from its background.

Chapter 2: Lilburne, Toleration and the Civil State (Norah Carlin)Norah Carlin who wrote the Causes of the English Civil War and has published much on religious toleration during the English revolution correctly states in this chapter that Lilburne was a man of profound principle and unlikely to compromise on the matter of perspective or strategy.Carlin’s chapter covers a subject that has been widely neglected by modern-day historians that is religious toleration. As she correctly points out in a previous essay,”out of the Independent and Separatist congregations of London, there emerged in 1646, under attack from the Presbyterians, a movement for religious toleration. As the Presbyterians organised for their attempted coup in 1647, it became evident that this movement would have to defend civil liberties as well, for one of its leaders, John Lilburne, was thrown into prison for his writings. Moreover, as the soldiers of the New Model Army began to organise spontaneously in their defence against disbandment, a group of those active in the movement turned to address the army and work among the soldiers for a new constitution that would guarantee both religious and civil liberties. This is the group known to their contemporaries and history (though they disliked the name themselves) as the Levellers.[5]
The amount of irreligion in the English revolution has been contested by numerous historians. Christopher Hill in his pamphlet Irreligion in the Puritan Revolution quoted Richard Baxter who believed that those who rejected mainstream religion were ‘a rable’ “if any would raise an army to extirpate knowledge and religion, the tinkers and sow-gelders and crate-carriers and beggars and bargemen and all the table that cannot read…. Will be the forwardest to come in to such a militia” It is understood Baxter argued for their suppression with violence if necessary.

Carlin’s viewpoint and many other aspects of the Leveller’s philosophy has as John Coffey mentions in his paper Puritan and Liberty “fallen on hard times”. Meaning that the sustained attack of the revisionists has won the day. Carlin rejects this premise.Carlin-like Coffey believes that the revisionist historians have deliberately downplayed the extent of religious toleration argued by groups such as the Levellers. Carlin brings out that Leveller views on toleration were not confined to their own organisation but spread to the New Model Army whose airm “is to over throw Presbyterie, or hinder the settlement thereof, and to have the Independent government set up, we doe clearely disclaime, and disavow any such designe; We one∣ly desire that according to the Declarations (promising a provi∣sion for tender consciences) there may some effectuall course be ta∣ken according to the intent thereof; And that such, who, up∣on conscientious grounds, may differ from the established formes, may not (for that) bee debarred from the common Rights, Liberties, or Benefits belonging equally to all, as men and Mem∣bers of the Common wealth, while they live soberly, honestly, and inoffensively towards others, and peaceably and faithfully towards the State”.[6]Carlin’s work on toleration of the various religious groups is a refutation of the current wave of revisionism which seems to reject everything that has been written on the Levellers from a left viewpoint. Carlin has held a relatively consistent position on the Levellers. She perhaps holds the most orthodox Marxist positions on their development and class outlook. Her article Marxism and the English Civil War should be the starting point for any discussion on the English revolution.

While not agreeing with every statement, she makes her views on the Levellers are worth a read and study. She believes that far from being a radical wing of the Independents she belives the Levellers “broke with Puritan politics and even with Puritan language to develop a secular and democratic perspective. Their main social base was the small independent producer, and their most important achievement was their intervention in the army in 1647, which forced Cromwell and the army officers at least to listen to them for a few months. Their programme, designed to separate political power from wealth, foreshadowed the nineteenth century People’s Charter, and their organisation in the City of London on a ward-by-ward basis – with weekly subscriptions, a central committee, a regular newspaper and door-to-door canvassing – was the seed from which all grassroots organisations were to spring” [7].

Her summation of the Levellers is also significantly different from many contemporary radical historians in that she believes that “It is wrong to see the Levellers as simply the most revolutionary section of the bourgeoisie. Both their social criticism and their political principles were opposed to the continued growth of capitalism. That the reforms they proposed could not have stopped the development of capitalism in practice is another matter. The least that can be said of the Levellers is that they made a long-range social forecast of an era of exploitation, oppression and imperialism, and tried to stop it from happening. In doing so, they left a legacy of organisational and political principle which bore fruit in the development of Chartism and the nineteenth-century working-class movement. They deserve, at the very least, our recognition of their struggles” [8].

Chapter 3: Women and the Levellers: Elizabeth and John Lilburne and their associates (Ann Hughes)This chapter is a long-overdue appreciation of not only Elizabeth Lilburne but other women Levellers. The Leveller women were the backbone of the movement. It is safe to say that the influence of the Levellers would not have been so significant without the political work of female Levellers. Indeed without the intervention of his wife Lilburne himself would have been killed.Studies of the role of women during the English revolution both in the past and present have been few and far between. Ann Hughes’s last book, Gender and the English Revolution, was an attempt to rectify this anomaly.History and for that matter, historians have not been kind to women who took part in political activity on both sides of the English Civil War. There is a dearth of material on women’s struggle at this time. As far as I can ascertain no significant biography exists of two of the most famous Leveller women Katherine Chidley and Elizabeth Lilburne. It is only now that Lucy Hutchinson is now getting serious attention. For the last few hundred years, she has only been known as the wife of Col Hutchinson.

While being part of the Leveller movement of the party they were in some respects an independent movement themselves. It is high time that a serious study of the women who took part in the English revolution.After all, as one Leveller petition put it “have we not an equal interest with the men of this Nation, in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and the other good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties or goods to be taken from us more than from men, but by due process of law and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood” [9]?Leveller women did not fight just as individuals. According to historian Gaby Malhberg the wives of leading figures of the English revolution “formed their networks, discussing political issues in the absence of their husbands.”If their male counterparts underestimated women Levellers, this was nothing to the treatment they received when they started to carry out political agitation independently.

When Women Levellers mounted large-scale demonstrations and organised petitions for social equality, they were met with differing levels of brutality depending on which class they belonged. Overall, middle-class women were treated with derision, but mostly no violence was committed against them. It is not the case with the poorer sections of the women’s movement who were often treated severely by MP’s and soldiers alike.” Many were thrown into prison, mental institutions or workhouses. Middle-class women were quietly escorted away by soldiers and told to ‘go back to women’s work”.While it is difficult to gauge the size of the support for the women Levellers, one cannot be blind to the fact that when The Levellers organised petitions, ten thousand Leveller women signed them. Many of these petitions were calling for equality with men as this quote states:”Since we are assured of our creation in the image of God, and of an interest in Christ equal unto men, as also of a proportionable share in the freedoms of this commonwealth, we cannot but wonder and grieve that we should appear so despicable in your eyes as to be thought unworthy to petition or represent our grievances to this honorable House. Have we not an equal interest with the men of this nation in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and other the good laws of the land? Are any of our lives, limbs, liberties, or goods to be taken from us more than from men, but by due process of law and conviction of twelve sworn men of the neighbourhood? Moreover, can you imagine us to be so sottish or stupid as not to perceive, or not to be sensible when daily those strong defences of our peace and welfare are broken down and trod underfoot by force and arbitrary power” [10].

To conclude even the small amount of research needed for this article has uncovered that for historians who like a challenge detailed study writing of the radical women of the 17th century will in the future provide us with a much deeper understanding of the radical Women today who are still struggling for social equality today could do no worse than study the struggles of the women Levellers.

Chapter 4: Lilburne and the law (Geoffrey Robertson)Robertson concentrates in this chapter not so much on Lilburne’s political activity but his impact on English law. It is hard not to agree with Ed Valance that “his legal struggles exerted a tangible influence on British law, helping to change legislation relating to libel, the power of juries and even the legal status of slaves on British soil” [11].

It is again ironic that the very democratic rights that Lilburne fought for are coming under sustained attack today. As Robertson warned, “in a country where Parliament is now the sovereign, that any attempt to pass laws that deny to the people the rights which “Freeborn John” extrapolated from the Great Charter – to a jury trial, access to justice, free speech and to call government to account – will be struck down by the High Court because they are rights which may now be implied from the Australian Constitution. You cannot have a true democracy without Magna Carta’s guarantee of the rule of law” [12].

Chapter5: John Lilburne as a revolutionary leader (John Rees)John Rees points out in this chapter that Lilburne was many things to many people. To say that he was a complex character would not be an overstatement.As Rees brings out despite his many weaknesses he was a man of profound principles “I walk not, nor act, from accidents,” but from principles, and being thoroughly persuaded in my soul they are just, righteous and honest, I will by God’s goodness never depart from them, though I perish in maintaining them.”

Rees is correct to call Lilburne a revolutionary leader of what was a revolutionary movement or party. Rees believes that Lilburne far reacting to events in an empirical way had a strategic sense in that his writings and ideas were a guide to action, not the other way around. Rees’s work in this chapter is an extension of his PhD thesis[13]. Rees has sought to oppose some prevailing views of the Levellers one such attitude is that Levellers had no history before the 1640s. This point has proved most controversial because up and till now there has been little evidence to counter this view.Rees’s also counters some historians who have tried to present Lilburne as a leader of a free collection of radicals. Rees provides extensive evidence to the contrary. While not being a party in the modern sense, they nonetheless were a well organised and firmly coherent group.

As Rees puts “by 1646, the group’ both in the eyes of their opponents and in the internal ideological support they deliver to each other, is a functioning collective organisation’.Perhaps Rees’s most salient point in the chapter is at the end when he points out that Lilburne had no revolutionary precedent for his actions.Chapter 6: Print and principles: John Lilburne, civil war radicalism and the Low Countries (Jason Peacey)Peacey has written extensively on the secret and not so secret printing world of the Levellers, and it is an area that requires a lot more work to give us an even more precise evaluation of the Levellers and their influence.While ground-breaking is perhaps an overused word in the lexicon of English revolution studies, it is justified in Peacey’s case. In many ways, the study of the printing capabilities of the Levellers holds many secrets to their popularity and their influence.

Like many historians in this book Peacey has challenged many of the conceptions held by revisionist historians. Many of these revisionists have sought to downplay not only the radicalism of the Levellers but also an influence as Dr David Magliocco points out in his review of Peacey’s Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution.”Historians to have long been fascinated by the mid-century collision of print and revolutionary politics. Thus whilst acknowledging that this field has been ‘hotly contested’, Peacey boldly claims that it has, nonetheless, been ‘inadequately conceptualised’. At one level then this work is a counter-blast to the preceding claims of revisionism. Alongside their insistence that printed sources could not provide access to historical truth, revisionists questioned earlier assumptions about the social depth and geographical reach of early modern political culture.

The print itself, and the revolutionary politics it had been associated with, were both written out of their accounts of the mid-17th century. Certainly, as Peacey recognises, revisionism itself now occupies an increasingly marginalised position. Social historians, for instance, have demolished the notion of an apolitical (but silently conservative) ‘country’.
Similarly, post-revisionists have demonstrated the importance of print in fostering ideologically-engaged publics. While acknowledging these advances, Peacey takes both groups to the task. Social historians, he claims, have failed to connect local and national contexts and to properly integrate print into their accounts. Post-revisionists, for their part, have been unwilling to tackle the issue of reception, while concentrating on explicitly ‘public’ genres within print” [14].Peacey points to another area that needs to be studied, and that is Lilburne’s and the Levellers debt to the Dutch and their radical pamphlets culture. Lilburne drew a lot from the work of the Dutch.

Chapter 7: The resurrection of John Lilburne, Quaker (Ariel Hessayon)There is no small degree of controversy surrounding Lilburne’s conversion to Quakerism. The historian Christopher Hill believes that after the defeat of the Levellers many former Levellers joined the Quakers.As Hill says “The spread of Quakerism, emptying the churches of Anabaptists and separatists, witnessed both to the defeat of the political Levellers and the continued existence and indeed an extension of radical ideas”. Hessaayon believes Hill’s comments were an “overstatement.” Hessayon believes that although Lilburne may have changed movements, Lilburne was still Honest John Changing one shirt for another.

Chapter 8, Reborn John? The eighteenth-century afterlife of John Lilburne.As Christopher Hill correctly observes ‘Each generation … rescues a new area from what its predecessors arrogantly and snobbishly dismissed as ‘the lunatic fringe”.
The purpose of Ed’s chapter is to examine Lilburne’s political afterlife. He does a superb job. The fact that Lilburne and his work have endured down the centuries is not solely due to his personality or his undoubted courage and sacrifice.Vallance is clear not to personalise his struggle but attempts to place it in a more objective light. “there is a danger that in emphasising the separateness of historical epochs, historians have undervalued the degree of intellectual sympathy and continuity between the radicalism of the seventeenth century and that of the eighteenth. We do not need to invest in a grand narrative of an English’ radical tradition’ to acknowledge that the English Revolution of the seventeenth century had both intellectual and practical consequences for the eighteenth century. A life which ended in political retreat in Eltham in 1657 was resurrected in the 1700s to take up the ‘temporal sword’ once more.

Conclusion

This collection will be of enormous interest to academics, researchers, and readers with a general interest in the English Civil War and the radical political tradition. Hopefully, with the book being published in paperback, at a reasonable price would mean it is getting the more large readership it deserves.As AL Morton said, “A Party that held the centre of the stage for three of the most crucial years in our nation’s history, voiced the aspirations of the unprivileged masses, and was able to express with such force ideas that have been behind every great social advance since their time, cannot be regarded as wholly a failure or deserve to be wholly forgotten”

.1] The Agreements of the People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution- Authors: Vernon, Elliot-Editors: Baker, P. (Ed.)
[2] The Historical Journal, vol 47 December 2004.
[3] The Magna Carta and democratic rights. By Richard Hoffman and Mike Head .15 June 2015. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/15/citi-j15.html
[4] Evgeny Pashukanis-Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law (1927)
[5]Norah Carlin-The First English Revolution-First published by Socialists Unlimited for the Socialist Workers Party in April 1983. -(April 1983)
[6] A Declaration, or Representation from his Excellency, S. Tho. Fairfax, and of the Army under his Command. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A39976.0001.001/1:2?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
[7] Marxism and the English Civil War-(Autumn 1980) From International Socialism 2: 10, Autumn 1980, pp. 106–128.
[8] Marxism and the English Civil War-(Autumn 1980) From International Socialism 2: 10, Autumn 1980, pp. 106–128.
[9] To the Supreme Authority of England, the Commons Assembled in Parliament. The Humble Petition of Divers Well-Affected Women of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, Hamlets and Parts Adjacent. Affecters and Approvers of the Petition of Sept. 11, 1648. (May 5, 1649)
[10] Ibid., 11 1648. (May 5, 1649)
[11]Reborn John? The Eighteenth-century-Afterlife of John Lilburne-by Edward Vallance
[12] http://www.smh.com.au/comment/government-ignores-magna-carta-at-its-peril-20150609-ghkby5.html
[13] Leveller organisation and the dynamic of the English Revolution. [14] http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1614

A Short Interview With Historian David Flintham

You have said that your interest in this particular field of history was inspired by the 1970 film, Cromwell. Could you expand on this?

As a small boy, my parents took me to see the film Cromwell (we were on holiday in Littlehampton) staring Alec Guinness and Richard Harris. Soon afterwards, I had to have the Ladybird book about Cromwell, and the Airfix 1/12 scale models of Charles I and Cromwell (my first ‘grown up’ book about the Civil Wars was Peter Young and Richard Holmes’ 1974 book). Yes, I know that the film is is historically inaccurate, but it inspired me.On this point of ‘Hollywood history’, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention the ‘Braveheart effect’. When Braveheart was released 2 decades ago, there were so many complaints about its lack of historical accuracy. My counter to this is that a) it is entertainment and not history; and b) it created a wave of interest in the subject which enabled historians to write ‘proper’ histories which, without the interest generated by the film, may never have been published.

Why is there so little academic interest in London During the English Civil War?

The point I’m trying to get over here is that there is so little academic interest in London militarily during the English Civil Wars. The political, religious, and economic aspects have been very well covered academically, but the military aspects far less so, and, Stephen Porter’s 1996 book aside, not in one place (e.g. the trained bands on their own, the fortifications on their own, arms production on its own, etc. etc.)

How does your participation in Civil war reenactment help your true understanding of a subject that interests you?

I’ve not re-enacted in more than 25 years, so feel am unable to comment here.

Could you elaborate on the historiography of your subject?

This is an interesting question.I supposed the ‘foundation’ of my book would have to be Norman Brett-James’s ‘Growth of Stuart London’. I’ve looked at every book about 17th century London since, but as I indicated earlier, in the main, these focus on the demography, politics, economics, religion and sociology of the capital.So I looked beyond London itself, and the following have been important: London Trained Bands – the research by Alan Turton, Keith Roberts and Wilfred Emberton ; fortifications – the research by David Sturdy, Victor Smith, Peter Harrington (plus my own contribution); Arms industry – Peter Edwards (general), and Charles ffoulkes (cannon), Wayne Cocroft (gunpowder). I would also add Stephen Porter’s 1996 collection of essays, and Stephen Porter and Simon Marsh’s 2010 book on the battles of Brentford and Turnham Green. And finally, but by no means least, Peter Gaunt’s 1987 ‘The Cromwellian Gazetteer’ .

What future projects are you involved in?

I am involved in a project that for a while has been attempting to set up a community-based archaeological project on an ECW siege-site. I am currently searching for a suitable site.One of the projects I have been working on (for a while) is a ‘register’ to list/identify all the sieges (of any type) from the Bishop’s Wars to the Restoration. This is certainly a ‘work in progress’.As for my next book project, I’m writing a comparison between the fortifications of London and those of Oxford, and after that, it’s the sieges of the 2nd and 3rd Civil Wars.

Civil War London: A Military History of London Under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell Paperback-by David Flintham-Helion Books 2017

“From which I may say that London was never truly London till now; for now she sits like a noble lady upon a royall throne, securing all her encroaching pendicles under the wings of a motherly protection; yet these limits were never heretofore granted till the Parliament, for their better safety, confirmed this construction, that (Grand Cayro excepted), I have not seen a larger inveloped compasse within the whole universe.[1]”

William Lithgow

“And it was also Ordered that there should be Bulworkes presently raised in the Fields before the Citty, to Fortifie the same against any Invation …”

A Continuation of Certain Speciall and Remarkable Passages -24 October 1642

David Flintham’s new book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of London during the English civil war. London was without a doubt an essential city economically and militarily for both Royalist and Parliamentary forces during the English Revolution. It is hoped that Flintham’s excellent new book stimulates further research.The historians who have written on London have recognised its importance. Some have gone as far as saying that King Charles Ist leaving London led to his defeat. As Flintham outlines in his book, London was not an easy city to defend. At the start of the war, Parliament quickly recruited amongst the capital’s citizens.

Using extensive photographs and illustrations, Flintham has expertly put together a vivid picture of how Londoners constructed a vital system of fortifications. Like today, it was not an uncommon sight to see armed soldiers patrolling the capital.The hallmark of any good book is to give its reader a new insight into the subject, and Flintham’s book does that, who knew that London had a considerable section of its population who were neutral during the war.Another strength of the book is that the author an acknowledged expert on London’s Civil War defences and had visited the places he talked about in the book and photographed them a trait that the late historian John Gurney did to good effect.

As I said, London was of vital importance to both sides during the Civil Wars. Parliament recognised that at some point Charles 1st would seek to try to win his capital back. So in August 1642, Parliament issued ‘Directions for the Defence of London’.It urged its trained bands to “take a speedy cause to put the City into a posture of defence, to resist and oppose all such force, to fortifie all the passages into same, suburbs and places adjoining whether the same be within the said City and Libertie;”[2].

Flintham is sceptical as to Parliament’s motives for such large-scale construction “In considering the effort which was put into the construction of the Lines of Communication, the question arises the Royalist threat that great that the defences needed to be constructed quickly to protect the capital? Or was the construction of the defences seen as a way of channelling Londoners’ energy away from protesting at the way the war was going and the conditions they were living under?”.

London must have a been an extremely tense city in which to live in. In his Lecture London and the English Civil War the historian Barry Coward uses an eyewitness account by William Lithgow to describe the atmosphere during wartime :”Lithgow’s comments are not only a fantastic contemporary eyewitness account of what was happening in Civil War London, but in inviting comparisons with post-invasion, present-day Baghdad – constant military activity, a collapsing economy and a society fractured by internal political and religious divisions and the tearing down of statues – they provide an excellent introduction to the historical question that this article addresses: why did London not collapse into an anarchy of disorder, why did the capital not fall apart under the impact of the Civil War, why did the capital’s social, economic, political, religious and governmental structures survive the massive stresses and divisions brought about by the war that is reflected in Lithgow’s eyewitness account?

What makes this the intriguing historical problem is that as the major part of this article will show, London was subjected to pressures by the Civil War that could easily have rent apart its social, economic and political order, in the process shattering its internal stability. As will be seen, the general character of London on the eve of the Civil War made it a very unstable, volatile place in normal times, and the extraordinary conditions of Civil War brought massive additional economic problems, political divisions, religious controversies and a ferment of ideas that shook the stability of the capital. Yet, shaken though the stability of London was, there was no real threat that the social and political order in the capital would disintegrate into anarchy or revolution “.

While the first part of the book is given over to describing how London fortified during the civil war, the second part provides us with a Gazetteer of Civil War London. This part of the book in no way diminishes the first it enhances it. Much work has gone into not only researching the places listed in the book, but Flintham has used an extraordinary amount of shoe leather in visiting and photographing these places. The book was a pleasure to read and hopefully gets a wide readership. It is an excellent introduction to the military history of the civil war and deserves to be on university booklist.

[1] https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2017/06/30/londons-forgotten-civil-war-fortifications-walk-4/
[2] http://www.mernick.org.uk/thhol/whimount.html

The Glorious Revolution 1688: Britain’s Fight for Liberty, by Edward Vallance 372pp, Little, Brown, £20

Edward Vallance has joined a crowded market of books and articles both academic and non-academic that have sought to evaluate the Glorious Revolution of 1688.It is noticeable that the last decade has seen a more serious study of this neglected period. The book is one of the better ones. It is well-written, researched and appeals to the general reader and academic alike.Vallance begins the book with two quotes. One from Thatcher and one from Karl Marx. It takes a brave historian to quote both. It takes an even braver one to claim that their positions on the Glorious Revolution was similar.

In her Revolutions of 1688–89 speech said Thatcher said this “there are many important conclusions to be drawn from those momentous events 300 years ago. First, the glorious revolution established qualities in our political life which have been a tremendous source of strength: tolerance, respect for the law and the impartial administration of justice, and respect for private property. It also established the tradition that political change should be sought and achieved through Parliament. It was this which saved us from the violent revolutions which shook our continental neighbours and made the revolution of 1688 the first step on the road which, through the successive Reform Acts, led to the establishment of universal suffrage and full parliamentary democracy.

“The events of 1688 were important in establishing Britain’s nationhood, and they opened the way to that renewal of energy and resourcefulness which built Britain’s industrial and financial strength and gave her a world role. They demonstrated that a free society will always be more durable and successful than any tyranny”.It is quite striking that Thatcher believed that England’s place in the world stemmed from what amounts to a coup and foreign invasion to boot. Maybe Ted Vallance had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote the book, but it is stretching a little to compare the two.

In his analysis of the Glorious revolution, Marx was scathing of both the Whigs and Tories. This on the Whigs gives us a real insight into his position “Ever since the “glorious revolution” of 1688 the Whigs, with short intervals, caused principally by the first French Revolution and the consequent reaction, have found themselves in the enjoyment of the public offices. Whoever recalls to his mind this period of English history, will find no other distinctive mark of Whigdom but the maintenance of their family oligarchy. The interests and principles which they represent besides, from time to time, do not belong to the Whigs; they are forced upon them. By the development of the industrial and commercial class, the Bourgeoisie. After 1688 we find them united with the Bankocracy, just then rising into importance, as we find them in 1846, united with the Millocracy”.[1]

Vallance could have called upon another revolutionary if he had any doubts on the nature of the British bourgeoisie’s position which was to either played down this revolution or erase it from collective memory.The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky commentated on this phenomenon “In the seventeenth century England carried out two revolutions. The first, which brought forth great social upheavals and wars, brought amongst other things the execution of King Charles I, while the second ended happily with the accession of a new dynasty. The British bourgeoisie and its historians maintain entirely different attitudes to these two revolutions: the first is for them a rising of the mob – the “Great Rebellion’; the second has been handed down under the title of the “Glorious Revolution”. The reason for this difference in estimates was explained by the French historian, Augustin Thierry. In the first English revolution, in the “Great Rebellion”, the active force was the people; while in the second it was almost “silent”. Hence, it follows that, in surroundings of class slavery, it is difficult to teach the oppressed masses good manners. When provoked to fury they use clubs, stones, fire. Moreover, the rope. The court historians of the exploiters are offended at this. However, the great event in modern “bourgeois” history is, none the less, not the “Glorious Revolution” but the “Great Rebellion”.[2]

The labelling of the revolution as the “Glorious Revolution” or the “bloodless revolution” tends to denote that this revolution was peaceful or bloodless.Vallance’s book counteracts this argument. Vallance believes the revolution was neither peaceful or bloodless.His book which is largely narrative driven explains in concise form how the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 came about.

Historiography

The book is successful in providing a basic introduction to the historiography of the revolution. A solid read around the subject of the Glorious Revolution will tell the reader that the “Whig interpretation of this so-called bloodless of revolutions has dominated historiography. The term the “Whig interpretation of history” can be traced back to Sir Herbert Butterfield’s slim volume of that name. Butterfield’s book was written primarily as a polemic against the Marxist theory of history. Whig historiography has always been associated with Victorian society, which oversaw a degree of stability that that had not been the case in the previous two centuries. This type of history saw Britain as having a special destiny.According to the Marxist writer Ann Talbot, there is a sense “that in Britain things were done differently and without continental excess was not entirely new. Burke had expressed it in his Reflections on the French Revolution, but there were plenty of voices to gainsay him and the social disturbances in the years of economic upheaval that followed the Napoleonic Wars were a testimony to the contrary. Luddism, anti-corn law agitation, the anti-poor law movement, strikes and most of all Chartism demonstrated that Britain was not an island of social peace.

She continues “the Whig interpretation of history had deep roots in the consciousness of the British political class. The visitor to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire can still see in the great entrance hall a fireplace inscribed with the legend “1688 The year of our liberty.” It refers to the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that the British ruling class increasingly preferred to look back on rather than the revolution in the 1640s when they had executed the king, conveniently overlooking the fact that James would not have run if he had not remembered the fate of his father—Charles I” [3].

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Macaulay and for that matter, the majority of Whig historians exhibited a sort of Whig triumphalist view that the Glorious Revolution saved England from the full dictatorship of James II and the revolution led to a constitutional monarchy which gave England civil and religious liberty and rule of law.According to Blair Worden “Macaulay’s account is thought of as the summit of Whig historical partisanship, but to him, 1688 was the triumph not of a party but a nation when the best of the Whigs joined with the best of the Tories”.[4]Macaulay’s overtly fawning political approach put him firmly in the camp of what Trotsky called a “court historian”. Karl Marx attacked Macaulay’s writing for being one-sided and complacent and a ‘systematic falsifier of history’.

GM Trevelyan

George Macaulay Trevelyan a British historian and academic was the ultimate whig historian. He was heavily tied to the political establishment, and his work reflected this fact. In his book The English Revolution, 1688–1698[6] he portrays James II as a tyrant. Despite this, the book has become a standard text for any university course.On the plus side, he was a readable and talented historian. This was was spotted at an early age the Fabian writer Beatrice Webb who recounts when she met the historian in 1895 “He is bringing himself up to be a great man, is precise and methodical in all his ways, ascetic and regular in his habits, eating according to rule, exercising according to rule… he is always analysing his powers, and carefully considering how he can make the best of himself. In intellectual parts, he is brilliant, with a wonderful memory, keen analytical power, and a vivid style. In his philosophy of life, he is, at present, commonplace, but then he is young – only nineteen.”

However, not all historians were smitten by Macaulay’s partisan approach. Geoffrey Elton accused him of being “not very scholarly writer” who wrote, “soothing pap… lavishly doled out… to a broad public”. John P. Kenyon thought he was an “insufferable snob” with “socially retrograde views”.It must be said that some these comments border on character assassination. Macaulay is worth reading and was one of the few historians to link both the English revolution of the 1640s and Glorious revolution in what could be interpreted as being part of an extended seventeenth century.

The Communist Party Historians Group

Much of what passed for a Marxist analysis of the Glorious revolution was written by the historians that were in the Communist Party Historians Group. Having said this, they did not write an awful lot.The necessary myth of the “Glorious Revolution” was the aim of Christopher Hill’s first published article. This article was written under the pseudonym E.C. Gore in 1937. It appeared in the magazine Communist International and is extremely difficult to track down.Hill wrote very little on the Glorious revolution preferring to concentrate on the English Revolution 1640. His writings on this subject as Ann Talbot says “contained a concise statement of the arguments that Hill was to spend the rest of his life elucidating”.
In many ways, the Communist Party’s attitude towards the revolution has a strange similarity to the position of the British bourgeoisie, and that is to play down its importance.

Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
The SWP put a relatively orthodox position on the revolution. According to Duncan Hallas, “1688 represented the completion of the stabilisation of the English revolution, and it represented it in the most conservative form possible, consistent with the establishment of a stable bourgeois administration”.They like the Communist Party have not bothered with the period. With other revolutions, it has always co-opted historians to write on them but not so the Glorious revolution.

Current Historiography

Vallance rejects the commonly held view, especially amongst Marxist historians that the English revolution and the Glorious revolution are linked in what should be termed the Long Seventeenth Century.Revisionists and post-revisionists have according to one writer have “rebranded 1688 as a dynastic revolution serving Dutch interests – especially conflict with France – rather than the defence of England’s “ancient constitution”.Vallance’s book is firmly in the Post-revisionist camp in that rejects both Marxist and Whig historiography. Vallance does not seem to want to post a new historiography appears to be happy arguing that the revolution was “less bloodless, less glorious”.

On this matter, his viewpoint is like Steve Pincus whose new book also sought to overturn the two dominant schools of historical interpretation. According to Graham Goodlad, Steve Pincus’s new study of the Glorious Revolution challenges the familiar Whig orthodoxy, originally expounded by Macaulay in the nineteenth century, and refined by successive generations of historians. According to this tradition, the replacement of James II by William and Mary was the work of a politically conservative elite, intent on restoring a balanced, historic constitution that had been threatened by the authoritarian, pro-Catholic actions of a misguided monarch. Pincus rejects both this interpretation and the more recent version of revisionists like John Miller and Mark Goldie, who have argued that James’ principal aim was to secure religious toleration for Catholics and Protestant Dissenters – a goal which led him into conflict with the narrowly Anglican prejudices of the English landed class. Pincus holds that both approaches underestimate the truly revolutionary nature of the struggle between the followers of James and William of Orange”.[5]

Conclusion

It is evident from the significant number of new books on the subject of the Glorious Revolution that the period is gaining something of a renaissance.The centuries-long domination of Whig historiography has come under sustained challenge. Despite being clear what they reject both revisionists and post-revisionist historians are unclear what they want to replace both Whig or Marxist historiography with.While classical Marxists such as Karl Marx have laid the foundations for a serious study of the Glorious revolution from the standpoint of historical materialism very few historians who professed to be Marxist, have built upon this platform. This theoretical indifference to an important period in the history of Britain is puzzling. Even more dangerous is that it mirrors the attitude of the bourgeoisie itself.


[1] Karl Marx in the New York Tribune 1852- The Elections in England. — Tories and Whigs-https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/08/06.htm
[2] From Chapter 4 of Terrorism and Communism (1920)
[3] “These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill-Ann Talbot -25 March 2003- http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html
[4] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3650499/The-truly-glorious-revolution.html
[5] http://www.historytoday.com/graham-goodlad/1688-first-modern-revolution

The Rise of the New Model Army Paperback – 12 Jan 2008 Mark Kishlansky- Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition ISBN-10: 0521273773

They lived, they suffered, they died. Thomas Hardy

This version of Mark Kishlanksy’s The Rise of the New Model Army in paperback form is a meticulously-researched but highly controversial study of the rise of the New Model Army. Kishlansky challenges the fundamental assumptions upon which all previous interpretations of the New Model Army have been based.It is Kishlanksy’s contention in the run up to the formation of the New Model Army to be more precise the years 1643–6, Parliament far from being in conflict operated as “model of consensus”.

So, for him, the New Model Army was not a direct result of Cromwell’s attempt to prosecute a far more aggressive and radical war against the King, and by radical I mean Leveller influenced. For Kishlansky radicalism hardly existed and the army was a by product of Consensus and compromise.It was only after this consensus broke down did the army develop a political voice and become radicalised. The historian Ivan Roots is critical of Kishlansky’s attitude towards the army when he wrote “The New Model Army, ‘departing little from the armies it replaced’, is seen as a child of compromise. Not until the spectre of defeat was lifted in 1646 did ‘adversary politics’ seriously disturb Westminster internally, encouraging outside pressures. Factious now, Parliament failed to comprehend genuine professional grievances – arrears of pay and whatever – and by denying the right to petition politicised the Army, equating national liberties with soldiers’ rights, making it seem more radical than it really was. (To all this the Levellers were irrelevant.) Stung in its honour the Army, reluctant but in good order, entered London in August 1647 to restore ‘a free and lawful parliament’ against internal and external ‘faction and interest’. At this point, the story breaks off – on the brink of a revolution as yet undefined”.[1]

Kishlansky in the book discounts the belief that the army had a relatively worked out perspective and was beginning to act as a political force. He believed that “From disparate and inchoate ideas the army formed its self –justification, and the process by which this happened, as do so many others of similar circumstances, remain mysterious”. The dictionary definition of inchoate used for our purpose is: not organised; lacking order, this is not correct.It is clear the army had some form of collective ideology. The actions it took before and after Putney proved this. This is perhaps why Kishlansky stops short of discussing the Putney debates in his book.The Levellers persistent agitation had turned the New Model Army into a potent military and political force that had to be recognised.

Kishlansky attacks the concept that it is possible to draw wider political conclusions from the debate that took place in the New Model Army. He believed that Ideology inside the army had been exaggerated and misconceived.He writes ‘Much has been written about the ideology of the army, but most of it misconceived. A principle reason for this has been historians have assumed that the lowly social origins of many of the officers created a commitment to radical ideology. This is false on both factual and logical grounds. There were men of low birth among the new Model’s officers, and much has been made of Pride the drayman and Hewson the cobbler more still might be made of obscure officers like Spongers and Creamer whose surnames suggest backgrounds in trades and service. The army also contained a Cecil, a Sheffield, and three colonels who were knights. A careful study of the armies social origin, which lends support to the view that they were more traditional in nature (of solid status in rural and urban structures) still does not meet the real objections to existing interpretation- the fallacy of social determinism’.[2]

If we were to accept Kishlanskys assertion that “From 1645 to March 1647 there is almost no evidence of political activity within the New Model Army: for fifteen months the soldiers fought; for eight they waited”.What is his point? Ideas do take the time to develop, and they do change under the pressure of political and economic changes. There is not a mechanical relationship between economic changes, and their political expression there is a dialectical one.Kishlansky’s hostility to Marxist historiography is well known and runs through all of his work. He does not believe that class has any bearing on how a person thinks or behaves and rejects ‘the conception that social being determines social consciousnesses. A by-product of this intellectual myopia has led him to downplay the amount of radical literature available to the army. Kishlansky calls for a complete rethink on what ideas did motivate individual soldiers.

Book Reviews

The book was well received by some high profile historians. Bernard Norling comments which have been echoed by many other reviewers said “ A more fitting title would be “The Efforts of the House of Commons to Govern England, 1640-1647[3]”.
Some commentators have picked up on that Kishlansky stops short of discussing the Putney Debates of 1647. It would appear that he is looking to fit his ideological positions into a highly particular time frame something he has accused other historians particularly Christopher Hill of doing.Kishlansky walks a tightrope with this book. It is not easy to combine one’s ideological convictions and still produce an objectively written book. Very few historians have managed it. Kishlansky has a habit in this book of letting his conservatism get the better of him.

Christopher Hill and the CPHG

Kishlansky defends his positions like an animal protects her offspring. He has a no holes barred approach to historical work. This approach has led him into many scrapes. He seems to have reserved most his ire for the historians who came out of the Communist Party of Britain. Despite the Stalinisation of the Party, these historians produced a level of work that has not been surpassed.Despite launching many unprovoked and in some cases disrespectful attacks especially on Christopher Hill, it must be said that the CPHG returned very little fire. Hill’s conception of the revolution and the New Model Army are well known and do not need to repeating here suffice to say as Ann Talbot writes Hill “recognised that revolutions are made by the mass of the population and that for a revolution to take place the consciousness of that mass of people must change since revolutions are not made by a few people at the top although the character of their leadership is crucial at certain points. These achievements were considerable at the time and are of continuing relevance today when historians increasingly reject any serious economic or social analysis and argue that revolutions are nothing but the work of a tiny group of conspirators”.[4]

Kishlansky accused Hill of being “ immune to criticism”. An attack that was answered by Alex Calinicos “Well, if the criticism Hill’s work has encountered were all of the quality of Kishlansky’s shabby attack who could blame him for ignoring it? The insinuation that refusing to follow the tide of historiographic fashion is morally equivalent to sending dissidents off to the Gulag Archipelago is typical of a critique which proceeds by insult and innuendo rather than by anything resembling a careful argument.[5]

Conclusion

This book is not without merit, and Kishlansky is a capable writer. It has been pointed out that the book seems to have been hurried and that many mistakes occurred that should not have given the quality of the publishers.The discounting of sources such as Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Edmund Ludlow, Bulstrode Whitelocke, and Richard Baxter on account of bias and their supposed unreliability is bizarre, to say the least.As one writer said, “This strategy enabled Kishlansky to conclude that Cromwell’s New Model Army, far from being the mainspring of revolution, was the product of a politics of consensus and, in its early years, at any rate, lacked any radical consciousness. In the 1980s, the age of Margaret Thatcher, the Levellers, Diggers, and other radical groups, whose seemingly modern doctrines had so fascinated an earlier generation, were consigned to the historiographical sidelines”.The Rise of the New Model Army book was the by-product of the revisionist domination during the last three decades of English Revolution historiography, and the reader should be aware of that. The American historian Mark Kishlansky embraced the revisionist doctrine fully. While recommending the book the reader should be aware of the Historians politics.


[1] The Rise of the New Model Army -Ivan Roots-History Today
[2] Ideology and Politics in the Parliamentary Armies, 1645–9-Taken from Reactions to the English Civil War 1642–1649-Editors: John Morrill-ISBN: 978-0-333-27566-5
[3] The Rise of the New Model Army by Mark A. Kishlansky Review by: Bernard Norling- The Review of Politics, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Jan. 1981), pp. 139-141
[4] http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html
[5] https://www.lrb.co.uk/v18/n23/letters

1666: Plague, War and Hellfire Hardcover by Rebecca Rideal- 304 pages-Publisher: John Murray- ISBN-10: 1473623537

Let the flaming London come in view, Like Nero’s Rome, burnt to rebuild it new

The Second Advice to a Painter by Andrew Marvell
“sure, so sad a sight was never seen before as that city is now lying in ashes”-

Lady Elmes

It is fair to say that 1666 was not a very good year to be in London or England for that matter. In rapid succession, she was struck by a deadly plague that wiped out swathes of the population. The second war with the Dutch caused mayhem and much bloodshed for both nations and to end with London was struck by a deadly fire.All these events are told with a fair degree of panache by Rebecca Rideal in her new book. The book which reads like a historical novel with bits of academic essay thrown is based on a significant amount of original archival research and makes use of little-known sources. It is safe to say the that Rideal did her fair share of “grubbing in the archives”. Rideal has claimed her approach is novel, but this has been hotly contested.Regarding publications, 1666 joins a very crowded market. Lloyd and Dorothy Moote’s The Great Plague and Adrian Tinniswood on the Fire of London are two which come to mind.

Rideal has not attempted to differentiate her book from these by claiming to have found new evidence. However, she does try to place the events in a more broader context of the bourgeois society. Rideal is correct to point out that 1666 was a crucial turning point in English history. The devastation caused by these events did, however, enable the bourgeoisie to hasten further the process of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

It was also a time when some of the finest representatives of the bourgeoisie were around. 1666 saw Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity, complementing Robert Hooke’s microscopic discoveries. It was also when the great John Milton completed Paradise Lost. Last but not least was the rebuilding of London by Christopher Wren. The three events mentioned in the book came at a time when England in the seventeenth century witnessed a fundamental change.As the 21st-century Marxist writer David North wrote the “17th century started to fundamentally change the way man saw the world. Up until then, mankind’s worldview had largely been dominated by the Aristotelian worldview. Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well under way.[1]

The book outlines that the fire and plague cruelly exposed the class divide and class relations in England at the time. The poor endured the most of both plague and fire. The rich could either stay in their well-built houses to wait out the fire and plague, or they could move out of the city with their possessions. The poor had no such luxury.As Lady Ann Hobart complained in a letter “I am almost out of my wits, we have packed up all our goods & cannot get a cart for money, they give 5 & 10 pound for carts … I fear I shall lose all I have and must run away … O pity me.”

As Rideal explains the fire was only extinguished when the rich allowed some of their houses to be blown up or knocked down to provide a firebreak. If the rich people had acquiesced to their houses being blown up earlier the fire could have done less damage.The fire caused widespread panic and paranoia. Riddeal cites one gruesome incident in graphic detail when a Frenchwoman in Moorfields had her breasts cut off after the chickens she was carrying under her apron were mistaken for fireballs. Many foreign nationals especially French or Dutch were accused of starting the fire was attacked by the mobs.

Style

1666 is a debut book and tells the story of that year in narrative form and borrows heavily from the genre of History from Below. The book written during her research on her PHD is orientated to the general reader but does retain a good academic level. Her use of anecdotal evidence is very well done.The reader will see in her book a contradiction in that it is part “public history” and part academic history. This reflects Rideal’s current predicament. A foot in both camps is a difficult place to be but not entirely impossible, but Rideal will have to make a choice.Given her life history, I would say she will continue with a more publicly minded history. She was born in Chester in 1983. She studied history at Leeds University. Her MA was completed at University College London. She is a founding member of the History Vault and had an early career in television. This would tend to point her future career more in the public history arena.

Her main historiographical interest lies with a study of the 17th-century England. Her time spent in television will keep her in good stead for the future. If she does manage to combine Public history with a more academically minded history, then that would be a novel approach.She describes this method. “The thing is I am a procrastinator,” she says, “and the way that I combat procrastination is by coming up with something that in my mind is even more important than the thing I am supposed to be doing. So I start something, and that takes over everything, and then I start something else.”Much of her book is grounded by using contemporary accounts. Although she sometimes gets carried away causing one writer to say that her style is more to do with live television than with dead history. She recognises this saying “There are probably lines in there that I will cringe about afterwards. There are certainly some that I took out because I was pushing it too far. I am really, nervous about this being published because I’m so nervous about the way I’ve written it, the language that I’ve used, the fact that I’ve written a narrative history before I have written a PhD. I feel very, very conscious of all those things. It is frightening.”

The book does not follow a logical pattern and tends to jump from one event to another. This seems to be the unorthodox style that Rideal has adopted. Once you get used to it does make the reading interesting and allows the historian to set a fast pace almost novel-like. The question being does Rideal want to pursue this style of history writing or as she comes to the end of PHD pursue a more conventional academic style?

Twitter Wars

Not everyone is comfortable with her style which is their right, but as a historian, she should start to develop a thicker skin. That does mean she must put up with the personal abuse she has received on Twitter. Much of the abuse appears to be provoked by the fact that she is an attractive female historian. The general thrust of the abuse is the simple fact that she is a female trying to make a living out of public history writing.The writer Graham Smith has sympathies for Rideal when he recounts “I have some sympathy with these grumblings. Back in 1982, I returned from completing an MA in Social History at Essex to my first university armed with a poster for Leonore Davidoff’s course. I was just pinning it to a noticeboard when the department’s senior professor of economic history spotted me and declared, ‘Women in History, Graham? Whatever next?’

However, as others have pointed out, the fact that the struggle to go beyond hegemonic discourses continues suggests that winning once is not enough. My belief is that evidence of a new generation reinventing ways of taking up that fight should be a cause for celebration rather than condemnation. As tends to happen on Twitter, battle-lines were drawn, allies and enemies were quickly made, and exchanges sharpened after those initial criticisms of Rideal. On one side were historians who clearly identified with Rideal, especially those aiming to make a living from producing popular histories. On the other, for the most part, were historians working in universities, some of whom began to question whether Rideal was even qualified to write early modern history”.[2]

He continues “these days, the battles within ‘the profession’ are mainly over resources and too often fuelled by egotism. With its proponents organised into warring tribes according to the periods and places they study or corralled into sub-disciplinary groupings, History is fractious even within the academy. In all this sound and fury, and despite constant internal sniping, the discipline has been traditionally slow to innovate, and much of the sparring is about maintaining rather than extending boundaries. It is worth noting, for example, that those pioneering courses in women’s history and oral history at Essex were taught in the Sociology Department. While members of other disciplines frequently offer support for new ideas, historians – too often operating as lone scholars – revel in knocking lumps out of one another, reserving spite for those who try to innovate. The result is that in open competition for resources, most obviously for research grant income or in the formation of mutually beneficial research partnerships, historians do not achieve the same results as, say, political scientists or human geographers. Nor are we as prepared to look after our researchers or early career colleagues as would be the case in economics or sociology”.Although I use Twitter, I am not a fan of using it for public debates on historical matters. It is too short and how you can explain complex historical differences in 140 character it is just absurd.

Criticism

The book has been well received but that is not to say it is without criticism. One writer has pointed out that the book tends to concentrate too much on what was known about an individual at the time and to leave it at that according to one reviewer “she refers several times to mysterious rumours about Sabbatai Zevi, the charismatic rabbi who, in Turkey in 1665, proclaimed himself the Messiah. “Questions over the authenticity of Sabbatai abounded,” she says and leaves it at that as if nothing more can be known. However, there is a vast amount of scholarship on this extraordinary man, whose conversion to Islam in 1666 shocked the entire Jewish world; we do not need to confine ourselves today to contemporary rumours”.[3]
My criticism of her does not arise from the book which is very enjoyable it stems from her theoretical position or historiography. Recently she stated, “The time of the grand histories that are all about male figures is coming to an end,”. “I think people are understanding now that there were women around, too, and they were doing important things.”
The main advocate of this type of history was the historian Thomas Carlyle. If that were all she was staying, then no one would have too many complaints. However, as the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky was fond of saying “every sociological definition is at bottom a historical prognosis.”

Rideal’s prognosis is that more history should be written from the standpoint of Gender and race. It is high time that the absurdities of basing a study of history on race, gender, and sexual orientation end. The fundamental division in society is not race or gender but that of class.As North explains “The logic of class interests’ rules politics. This is a basic truth that is frequently forgotten, especially by academics, which tend to evaluate political factions by subjective criteria. Moreover, their judgments are influenced by their own unstated political biases, particularly when it is a matter of evaluating a dispute between opportunists and revolutionists. To the petty-bourgeois academic, the policies advocated by the opportunists usually appear more “realistic” than those advanced by the revolutionaries. However, just as there is no innocent philosophy, there are no innocent politics. Whether foreseen or not, a political program has objective
consequences”.

Conclusion

Rideal is a gifted young historian her debut book 1666 is an enjoyable book. Her chosen subject is probably one of the most interesting times in not only British history but world history. If Rideal wants to write more academically minded stuff which she will have to for her PHD, then she will have to develop a different technique because the one used for this book will not do as it has severe limitations. This is not to say that Rideal’s book does not meet main academic standards. Her use of source material is carefully chosen mostly and up to date, and she provides footnotes for all citations and statistics.There is no point hoping the book gets a wide readership as it already has but I would recommend taking on summer holiday.

[1] quality, the Rights of Man, and the Birth of Socialism-By David North
[2]Beyond Us and Them: Public History and the Battle for the Past on Twitter by Graham Smith-
[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/plague-fire-and-war-for-london-1666-was-truly-an-annus-horribili/

Further Reading

[1] See Buettner, Ricardo, and Katharina Buettner, ‘A Systematic Literature Review of Twitter Research from a Socio-Political Revolution Perspective’, in ResearchGate, 2016
[2] Oh, O., C. Eom, and H. R. Rao, “Role of Social Media in Social Change: An Analysis of Collective Sense-Making During the 2011 Egypt Revolution,” Information Systems Research, vol. 26, no. 1, pp.210–223, 2015.
[3] Lea, Richard, ‘Rebecca Rideal: “The Time of the Grand Histories Is Coming to an End”’, The Guardian, 25 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/25/rebecca-rideal-the-time-of-the-grand-histories-is-coming-to-an-end [accessed 3 September 2016].

Cromwell’s Buffoon: The Life and Career of The Regicide, Thomas Pride (Century of the Soldier) Hardcover – 15 May 2017-by Robert Hodkinson- Helion and Company.

‘that he was very sorry for these three nations, whom he saw in a most sad and deplorable condition’ Thomas Pride

(Weekly Intelligencer, 1–8 Nov 1659, 212).

There are still many prominent figures who played major parts in the English Revolution who have not had the academic research and publicity they deserve. Colonel Thomas Pride is one of those persons.To some extent that anomaly has been-been changed in Pride’s case. Robert Hodkinson’s semi-biography of Pride is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how people from very humble backgrounds rose to prominence during the English Revolution.Colonel Thomas Pride is commonly known for being the driving force behind ‘Pride’s Purge,'[1] which saw the mass and very forcible expulsion of MP’s from parliament paving the way for the execution of the King.

Aside from this momentous event, little else is known about this important and pivotal historical figure. In a recent article explaining his approach to researching Pride Hodkinson made this point “Fifteen years ago, reconstructing the biography of a man in this way – almost from scratch – would have been a great deal more difficult. Many of the sources used to research Cromwell’s Buffoon are now readily accessible online or can be located through online databases. Digitised parish registers, searchable through Ancestry.co.uk, were invaluable in retracing Pride’s family tree, which allowed me to unravel its numerous strands and confirm the dynastic links between Pride’s family and those of other dominant figures of the period: by marrying his children to the nieces and nephews of Oliver Cromwell and General Monck, Pride could consolidate his place in the Protectorate establishment”.

Pride’s position within the Cromwellian revolution did not sit well with conservative historians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Biographies which were few and far between described Pride as “an ignorant, illiterate fellow” and “a useful man to Cromwell in all his projects. A buffoon to him”.

As Hodkinson explains the development of the internet gives the possibility of a more objective account of Pride can be made. Hodkinson believes the internet has revolutionized research especially when looking at figures such as Pride. Online digital resources allow a researcher a lot more thorough study of historical documents than at a reading room.Hodkinson graduated from the University of Derby in 2010 with an MA in Humanities. He went on to win a prestigious vice-chancellor’s prize for his dissertation on the contemporary poetry of the First World War. He is not an orthodox historian. His history is very hands on, and his interest in Pride developed from his role in the Sealed Knot battle re-enactment society going so far to take on the role of Colonel Thomas Pride.

The scarcity of facts about pride’s life precludes an orthodox biography. Despite the absence of information, Hodkinson makes it clear that Colonel Thomas Pride was a prominent figure during the English Revolution and was party to one of the key events of the war.The arrest and exclusion of 140 Members of Parliament at Westminster in December 1648 was known as Pride’s Purge. The event had no precedent, and no event subsequently has even come close to its impact. The purge of MPs hostile to the revolution paved the way for the execution of the King. It is open to debate whether Pride was acting consciously, but he must have had some political understanding the nature of his act after all Pride sat as a judge at the King’s Trial and was one of the 59 signatories of the death warrant.

Hodkinson’s well-researched book documents Pride’s rise from businessman and brewer. The book is indeed a groundbreaking piece of work.For once the blurb from the jacket cover is correct in that “Cromwell’s Buffoon is a ground-breaking examination of why and how a former apprentice boy rose in status to challenge the ruling elite and affect the death of a monarch. The first full-length biography of its subject, it is a fascinating story of a man who, until now, had all but vanished from history”.Hodkinson’s book is significant in another way in that it challenges current conservative historiography. Hodkinson notes that Marxist Historiography despite having fallen out of favor can explain through the use class conflict theory how someone like Pride can play a pivotal role in history.

The book to some extent relies on the only other piece of significant research on the life of Pride, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Ian J. Gentles Who brilliantly describes how Pride carried out his famous purge “His regiment joined with Richard Deane’s and Thomas Harrison’s to present a petition demanding that parliament should proceed against the king ‘as an enemy to the kingdom’ (Several Petitions Presented to his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, 1648, 8). It was also part of the 7000–strong force that occupied London at the beginning of December 1648. Although David Underdown has questioned whether Pride was ‘anything more than the obedient instrument of a policy dictated by others’ (Underdown, 141), he was quite possibly a member of the subcommittee of six officers and MPs who, on the night of 5 December, made the arrangements for the purging of the House of Commons of its conservative or Presbyterian members. There is no doubt about his enthusiasm for the policy concerted by Ireton and others, for it was Pride who on the morning of the 6th set a guard around the house. He then stood on the stairs leading to the entrance, flourishing his list of members to be secured. Presently Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby arrived to help him with identifications. About forty-five members were arrested and four times that number were secluded or stayed away. Pride carried out the political cleansing with courtesy except in the case of the lawyer William Prynne.

The cantankerous member for Newport tried to force his way past, but Pride with the help of his soldiers pushed him down the stairs and hustled him away to nearby Queen’s Court. Prynne is said to have demanded, as he was being carried off, ‘By what authority and commission, and for what cause, they did thus violently seize on and pull him down from the House’, to which Pride and Sir Hardress Waller pointed to their soldiers with swords drawn, muskets at the ready, and matches alight, answering ‘there was their commission’ (The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England, 18.449). This violence against the House of Commons became known as Pride’s Purge. The colonel and his regiment were richly rewarded for their services. Twelve days after the purge the committee of the army ordered that he should be paid £2600 on account for his regiment. During December 1648 and January 1649 warrants totalling £7691 were issued for the pay of his Regiment. Hardly any other regiment was as generously treated at the climax of the English revolution”.[2]

Pride’s Politics

Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has done a tremendous job in piecing together a picture of the politics that drove Pride forward. Pride had like a lot of Puritan Independents ties with London’s Baptist churches. These churches according to the book were at the forefront of the independent religious movements of the 1630s.The Baptists had many of the same political and religious characteristics as other radical sects of the English revolution. However, Hodkinson dismisses the notion that Pride had any sympathies with the Levellers. He states that while “Pride and the Levellers may have had certain principles in common, and mutual enemies, the fact that by 1649 Pride was a wealthy and self-interested London businessman meant that any commonality he may have had with the Levellers stopped far short of their other political goals, such as the release of enclosed lands to common ownership”.

Pride it seems was much closer to the Fifth Monarchist movement that gained strength towards the end of the revolution. Hodkinson eastablishes that Pride had connections to some Fifth Monarchist men like William Goffe, whom Pride served with throughout the revolution. Significantly both Pride and Goffe signed the death warrant of Charles 1st.
Despite Thomas Pride’s role as a regicide, Hodkinson does not believe he was a Republican. According to him.“There were certainly Republican elements in the regiment he commanded, which emerged in the Overton Plot of 1654 and after Cromwell’s death in 1658. Pride was able to curb his soldiers’ republicanism for most of the 1650s. The fact they supported the Rump Parliament against Richard Cromwell following their colonel’s death is a testament to the force of Pride’s command and strength of his personality”.

Money and Death

It would be a cynical historian who believes that Pride’s action during the revolution was motivated by greed. However, we should not be naïve to think that monetary considerations did not play a part. It is clear that Pride was more than adequately rewarded for his services to the revolution. As Gentles[3] points out somewhat cynically “as a revolutionary insider, he had had no difficulty obtaining redemption of his debts.” His wealth at death was £12,015 or more.
The Restoration period did not treat Pride very well. After death, he was labeled a traitor, and along with other dead regicides, he was to have his body exhumed and hanged at Tyburn alongside Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. In pride’s case, this, in fact, did not go ahead because his body could not be found.

Conclusion

Cromwell’s Buffoon is a fascinating account of Thomas Pride. Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has managed to bring to life a forgotten participant of the English Revolution. The book combines political, social and military history. It is hoped that this book gets a wide circulation and should be on university reading lists.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride%27s_Purge
[2]http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22781
[3] http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22781

Interview with Robert Hodkinson-Author of Cromwell’s Buffoon

The book Cromwell’s Buffoon -The Life and Career of the Regicide Thomas Pride, has just been released. Helion publishers kindly sent me a review copy. Before the report comes out, I am publishing a short interview with the Author Robert Hodkinson.

What drew you to the subject of Thomas Pride?

Some years ago I joined the English Civil War re-enactment group, The Sealed Knot. While researching Thomas Pride with a view to portraying his soldiers on the battlefield, I was interested to find that there was very little known about the man, despite the fact that references to ‘Pride’s Purge’ appear in practically every book on the Civil War ever written. I realised that I had found not only a gap in our knowledge of a famous seventeenth-century figure but an opportunity to undertake some exciting new research in the archives. The more my research revealed about Thomas Pride, the more interesting a figure he became, and I realised I had uncovered the story of the man whose life could draw together all the threads of Civil War historiography: social, political, religious and military.

Did Pride have any connection to the Leveller movement?

Thomas Pride had ties with London’s Baptist churches, which were at the forefront of the independent religious movements of the 1630s. Baptists shared the Levellers’ ideals of religious liberty and the abolition of tithes, both of which were espoused by Pride himself in the later 1640s. But while Pride and the Levellers may have had certain principles in common, and mutual enemies, the fact that by 1649 Pride was a wealthy and self-interested London businessman meant that any commonality he may have had with the Levellers stopped far short of their other political goals, such as the release of enclosed lands to common ownership.

Would you describe him as a Republican, and how much connection did he have to the Fifth Monarchists?

As the Fifth Monarchists emerged from among London’s Baptists, it is not surprising that Thomas Pride had connections to some Fifth Monarchist men, notably William Goffe, with whom Pride served alongside for the whole of the Civil Wars and whose signature appears next to Pride’s on Charles I’s death warrant. But although Thomas Pride was instrumental in bringing about the execution of Charles I he was not a Republican himself and was a supporter of Cromwellian government during the 1650s. There were certainly Republican elements in the regiment he commanded, which emerged in the Overton Plot of 1654 and after Cromwell’s death in 1658. Pride was able to curb his soldiers’ republicanism for most of the 1650s. The fact they supported the Rump Parliament against Richard Cromwell following their colonel’s death is a testament to the force of Pride’s command and strength of his personality.

Is there any other research possibilities to further our knowledge of Pride?

The length of time that this project has run, and the depth of the research undertaken, means that I feel confident that I have unearthed all the surviving information that we have on Thomas Pride. One thing that my research never revealed was the whereabouts of his final resting place, which appears to have been kept a secret to prevent his remains falling into the hands of the Royalists. If further research could reveal the site of Thomas Pride’s burial, both he and I would be very grateful.

What are you working on at the moment?

I don’t think my appetite for researching and discovering more about the English Civil War will ever be satisfied. At present, I am working on a new proposal for Helion military history publishers on Fairfax’s sieges and the New Model Army’s storming of Bristol in 1645.

Lawrence Stone and the Historiography of the Gentry Contoversy

By Christopher Thompson

The controversy over the economic and social origins of the English Revolution was a topic that excited ferocious debate over sixty years ago. Historians of the calibre of R.H.Tawney and Hugh Trevor-Roper, J.P.Cooper, Christopher Hill and Lawrence Stone advanced radically different interpretations to explain the violent events of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles. American scholars, most famously of all, J.H.Hexter, like Willson Coates, Harold Hulme, Judith Shklar and Perez Zagorin also commented with varying degrees of sharpness on the issues at stake. But only one of the major participants, Lawrence Stone, offered an account of the historiography of the dispute, first of all in his introduction to the anthology of academic articles and documentary sources entitled Social Change and Revolution in England 1540-1640 which he edited in 1965 and then, in slightly revised form, in Chapter 2 of his work, The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642, published in 1972. It is with this account that this note is concerned.

Stone began the earlier version of his essay with a description of the genesis of the controversy. He found it in R.H.Tawney’s article on the rise of the gentry between 1558 and 1641 published in 1941. Tawney had detected important changes in the distribution of landownership in the period before the English Civil War due to the decline in the fortunes of old-fashioned landlords and the rise of a new class of gentry able to adopt modern methods of estate management and to profit thereby. As a result, the political structure of the country shifted in and after 1640 to accommodate these economic and social changes. Tawney’s argument was underpinned by statistics claiming to show a fall in the size of the peerage’s manorial holdings compared to those of the gentry and a contraction in large manorial holdings in contrast to a growth in medium-sized manorial holdings. Apparent confirmation on the decline of the aristocracy was offered by Stone himself in an article published in 1948 which argued that the late-Elizabethan peerage was weighed down by debts due to over-spending and on the brink of financial ruin. Only the largesse of King James VI and I averted aristocratic collapse.

Stone was admirably frank in retrospect in admitting to his use of extravagant language in this article, to his statistical errors and failings over his employment of corollary evidence in response to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s initial criticisms. Nonetheless, he maintained a revised version of his original position in 1952. This proved the catalyst for Trevor-Roper’s wider assault on Tawney’s thesis in the following year: according to Trevor-Roper, the difficulties of the lesser or mere or small gentry were more characteristic of the pre-Civil War period than the advance of newly-risen gentry who were able to profit from Court offices, the law and mercantile monopolies. These lesser gentry constituted the ‘Country party’ whose supporters overthrew the Caroline regime in 1640, who advocated decentralization, reform of the law, the reduction of offices, etc., and who were the mainstay of the Independents in the latter half of the 1640s and in the 1650s. Subsequently, J.P.Cooper demolished the framework upon which Tawney and Stone had erected their manorial figures. By then, Stone asserted, the way had been cleared for the general acceptance of the Trevor-Roper thesis.

In fact, according to Stone, it was not until 1958-1959 that Trevor-Roper’s arguments were seriously criticised when Christopher Hill and Perez Zagorin exposed the fragile nature of his assumptions about the lack of profitability of agriculture for landowners in general, about the Court as a highway to riches and about religious radicalism as a refuge from economic decline. There were serious problems too over Trevor-Roper’s analysis of the Parliamentary politics of the 1640s and identification of the Independents as the party of the small gentry. J.H.Hexter was equally critical of Tawney and Trevor-Roper: the former was obsessed by the Marxist theory of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the latter by economic motives rather than by ideals and ideology, politics and religion. Hexter preferred and proffered an analysis based on the decline of the aristocracy in military rather than economic terms, the assumption of political leadership by the House of Commons instead of the House of Lords, and the traditional constitutional and religious explanations for the breakdown of the 1640s.

By the time Hexter’s essay first appeared in 1958, Stone was engaged in a major study of the aristocratic archives which had become available since 1945 and which culminated in his book, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641, published in 1965. He claimed in his discussion of the social origins of the English Revolution that this book offered a synthesis of his own and Hexter’s ideas about the problems facing the late-Tudor and early-Stuart peerage. Stone argued that the aristocracy had lost military power, landed possessions and prestige: their incomes under Elizabeth had declined due to conspicuous consumption but recovered under James and Charles due to royal largesse and rising landed incomes. The King and the Church of England were nonetheless left dangerously exposed by the crisis in the affairs of the landed elite after pursuing unpopular constitutional and religious policies up to 1640. The prior decline of the aristocracy made the upheavals of that decade possible. He expected criticisms of his arguments in 1965 and conceded that a range of questions over the fortunes of the gentry would be raised: the debate would inevitably continue. Seven years later, there had indeed been criticism but also, in his view, the development of a more sophisticated view of the causes of the English Revolution.

This account of the historiography of the gentry controversy looked straightforward enough and attracted no attention in 1965 or 1972. Lawrence Stone had claimed that the publication of Trevor-Roper’s essay on The Gentry 1540-1640 in 1953 and of J.P.Cooper’s analysis of the statistics on manorial holdings produced by Tawney and Stone himself had apparently “cleared [the way] for general acceptance of the Trevor-Roper thesis.” He had gone on to maintain that it “was not until 1958 and 1959 that the Trevor-Roper thesis in turn came under serious criticism” from Hill, Zagorin and Hexter, the latter of whom was also critical of Tawney. But these arguments were and are fundamentally at variance with the record.

Take Hill for example. The essay Stone cited was entitled Recent Interpretations of the Civil War. It had been given as a paper to the Mid-Wales branch of the Historical Association in January, 1955 and was published in Volume LXI of History in 1956. It had a number of specific objections to Trevor-Roper’s categorization of the gentry, to his alleged elision of the terms “mere”, “lesser” and “declining” gentry, to his belief that it was the Crown rather than the peasantry from whom rising gentlemen secured their gains and so on. This essay was reproduced in Hill’s volume of essays entitled Puritanism and Revolution published in 1958. In Zagorin’s case, he had published a paper in the Journal of World History in 1955 entitled ‘The English Revolution 1640-1660’ in which he took the view that Trevor-Roper’s criticisms of Tawney and Stone remained to be substantiated and that it was unlikely that the revolution could be regarded as rising of the excluded “mere gentry.”A year later, in 1956, Zagorin gave the paper entitled ‘The Social Interpretation of the English Revolution’ at the meeting of the American Historical Association: an enlarged version of his text expressing his objections to Trevor-Roper’s arguments appeared in the Journal of Economic History and is noted in Stone’s bibliography in 1965.

It was incidentally at this AHA meeting that Hexter’s essay, Storm over the Gentry, was given its first outing. Furthermore, when Past and Present organised a conference on seventeenth-century revolutions in London in July, 1957, the consensus of historians present was, according to Eric Hobsbawm, “unfavourable to Prof. Trevor-Roper’s views that they [the gentry] represented a declining class”, a verdict endorsed as far as this meeting was concerned by J.H.Elliott many years later. J.H.Hexter’s famous essay in Encounter in 1958 was, as those who read it in its original version or in the longer 1961 version, more hostile to Tawney and Stone and comparatively benign in its analysis of Trevor-Roper’s case. Conscripting Hexter to the ranks of the latter’s critics is a difficult exercise to perform. It was, in any case, simply not true to argue that there was a delay until 1958-1959 until Trevor-Roper’s arguments came under critical scrutiny. On the contrary, there had been serious, perhaps partially-organised, scepticism expressed well before then.

Why did Stone offer this clearly erroneous account? There are two possibilities. Either he had forgotten the facts and thus misled himself and his readers. This seems unlikely, prima facie. Alternatively, this exercise may have been undertaken deliberately. There is some evidence to support the latter explanation. In the spring of 1964, Hexter invited Stone to give a lecture at Washington University in St Louis “undoubtedly [as] some sort of peace-offering to one of the many victims of his scalding wit” according to John M.Murrin, then a colleague of Hexter and later of Stone at Princeton. Both the invitation and the lecture were a success.

But whereas, in 1958, Stone had regarded Hexter’s views on the military decline of the aristocracy as inadequate in explaining the peerage’s problems in the 1640s, by 1965, Stone was prepared to claim that The Crisis “developed a new interpretation, an amalgam of some of my earlier ideas and those of J.H.Hexter.” What contribution Hexter had made to this new synthesis is difficult to detect since he was mentioned only once in the text – and not at all in the chapter on Power – and only twice in its footnotes. There is really no positive evidence for Hexter’s influence on Stone’s opus. But a rapprochement had occurred. When Hexter published his review of The Crisis in the Journal of British Studies in 1968, his critical faculties so evident a decade before had been largely suspended and his overall verdict was laudatory. Hexter had become a “friend” of Stone as Murrin explained in the festschrift to mark Stone’s retirement and contributed to the volume of essays marking Hexter’s own retirement.

Was Stone ignorant about the course of the ‘gentry controversy’ between 1953 and 1958 or 1959? Given his direct participation in it, this appears highly unlikely. On balance, the erroneous account he offered in 1965 and again in 1972 and the unsubstantiated deference to Hexter seem to owe more to a desire to placate and neutralise a potentially serious critic and to recruit him to Stone’s camp. If this is a tenable line of argument, it illustrates Stone’s failings as an historian in a particularly revealing way.

The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642 – By Lawrence Stone – Foreword by Clare Jackson – Routledge-202 pages – 2017.

“A battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps, and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way.”

Lawrence Stone

“An erring colleague is not an Amalekite to be smitten hip and thigh.’

R H Tawney

Lawrence Stone first published his book The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642 in 1972. The book provoked significant controversy and was subjected to some hostile reviews from mainly conservative revisionist historians. It is safe to say that Routledge’s new publication as part of their Classics series will not cause the same vitriol. Stone who died in 1999 has become something of a forgotten historian. This new publication should at least elicit a reappraisal of his work.
Stone was optimistic about this book. “The moment seems right, therefore to stand back and try to see the forest rather than the individual trees[1].” Stone recognised that the area of history he was writing about had been fought over many times. He famously described the history of the 17th century as ‘a battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps, and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way.’

Lawrence Stone was many things to many people. To some, he was a Marxist historian, to others a social historian or as he in later in life called himself an “an old-fashioned Whig.” While it is true that he seemed to shift his position to fit in with ever-changing historiography, he was nonetheless a first-rate historian “making sure that history is never boring.”History and for that matter, politics were not dull when he published this book. From 1968-1975 the world witnessed wave after wave of crises and revolutionary upheavals. The early seventies saw the collapse of the Bretton Woods system on August 15, 1971. President Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold. In the aftermath of August 1971, world capitalism became increasingly susceptible to destabilising shocks. The crisis was in the words of one writer was ‘the culmination of the process of disequilibrium that had been under way for the previous 37 years. I would like to say that Stone’s book reflected those times but that would not be the case. When Stone wrote this book, he had long ago abandoned any pretence of being close to a Marxist position on the English revolution.

Storm Over the Gentry

Even from a brief look at Stone’s career, the Storm over the Gentry debate had a profound effect on how he interpreted historical events. Stone’s original theory to explain the English Revolution was that the aristocracy was on the verge of bankruptcy. Which was not a bad theory however it rested upon “hastily gathered and imperfectly understood the evidence.” It received criticism “for its use of sociological jargon.” In 1948 he wrote the article “The Anatomy of the Elizabethan Aristocracy.” that argued that revolution was the product of the rise of the gentry and decline of the aristocracy. A similar position to that of R.H. Tawney in 1941. Unlike Tawney Stone made some methodological mistakes which were jumped upon by Hugh Trevor-Roper and Christopher Thompson[2].

Thompson would say of Stone “he was not, in the strict sense, a scholar at all and was perfectly prepared to lie about his critics. It is no surprise that both have ceased to be relevant to the historiography of the early modern period[3].” It must be said that the criticism was out of proportion to Stone’s purported crime and was politically motivated. The Storm over the Gentry debate exposed more importantly that a significant group of historians was prepared to take on any historian who even remotely espoused Marxist historiography.

It was Stone’s misfortune that fell under the influence of R H Tawney in 1947 and was labelled a liberal historian. This was widely inaccurate but served the purpose of some right-wing conservative historians. Stone met Tawney during the war. Tawney was the leading social historian of Tudor and Stuart England. It was during this period they discussed research projects. According to the National Oxford Biography of Stone “His impatience to get on with ‘real’ history earned him a reputation for arrogance during his post-war undergraduate year; on one occasion he stormed out of a revision class conducted by a newly appointed Christ Church tutor, Hugh Trevor-Roper.Roper never forgave him for this [4].“

Roper was also apparently angry that after he had given Stone the transcripts from the Recognisances for Debt in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane Stone used, without Trevor-Roper’s advance knowledge or permission, in his 1948 article in The Economic History Review. It was this action – this “act of thievery” as Menna Prestwich described it – that provoked Trevor-Roper’s strong language in his immediate response.While these two incidents may have turned up the heat they did not cause the Fire. Political motivations were involved, and the debate was fought along class lines. Stone had a major problem in that he never really understood the difference between genuine Marxism and a crude form of economic determinism. He also never really grasped the political nature of the conservative historian’s attack.

Stone never really deepened the reader’s knowledge of the political persuasion of Roper or other historians such as J H Hexter who Stone describes as a Liberal. Hexter’s close links along with Roper to the American Encounter magazine which had close ties to the CIA could have been exposed to Stone.In the 1950s Hugh Trevor-Roper went to a conference in Berlin which was mostly made up of anti-communist. Among the other guests were Stalinist intellectuals such as Sidney Hook, Melvin J. Lasky, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler.The conclusion of the conference was the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its magazine Encounter. Trevor-Roper wrote extensively for the magazine Encounter, is it any wonder that Stone who was mistakenly described as a Marxist historian would feel the brunt of Roper’s tongue.

The Cause of the English Revolution

The writing of the Cause of the English Revolution confirmed that that Stone had abandoned any link to a Marxist analysis of the English Revolution. Despite Stone’s shift to a more conservative historiography, the Causes of the English Revolution is nonetheless an enjoyable read at over 177 pages.As Stone explains his take on the revolution; to concentrate upon Clarendon’s ‘Great Rebellion’ or Miss Wedgwood’s ‘Civil War’ is to miss the essential problem. The outbreak of war itself is relatively easy to explain; what is hard is to puzzle out why most of the established institutions of State and Church – Crown, Court, central administration, army, and episcopacy – collapsed so ignominiously two years before”.

The book divided into two parts with four chapters; the last is an update on Stone’s previous position written in 1985. Part one is titled Historiography Subtitled Theories of revolution. Stone’s use of sociological jargon can be off-putting at first. Stone cites his students questioning of the Marxist explanation of the English civil as his reasoning behind the book. His students attacked the Marxist interpretation of the Civil War.According to Robert Darnton “When Lawrence Stone arrived in Princeton and unpacked his intellectual baggage, he released a fresh set of ideas, which are still buzzing in the air, not merely here but everywhere in the country. Is it any wonder that Stone does not do a magnificent job of defending Marx and Engel’s historical materialism?.Stone never really understood the political nature of the attacks upon him. Outside of academia, Stone was always seen as a Marxist historian even when his later work had no connection with Marxist historiography.

This did not stop the attacks on Stone. Even as late as 1985 Stone was on the receiving end of a bitter and unprovoked attack in the pages of the Conservative Arts Magazine The New Criterion. Under the headline, Lawrence Stone, and Marxism, Norman Cantor, a New York University historian, In the June issue asserts “Stone was—and is—an English Marxist.” He implies that Lawrence Stone used his “extensive patronage powers” as director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Centre at Princeton University to promote Marxism.

Cantor was answered not by Stone but by Robert Darnton who wrote “I find those statements distressing. I have known Lawrence Stone for seventeen years and consider him an old-fashioned liberal. Although he is a great admirer of Tawney’s, he is not and never being a Marxist. He is indeed the director of the Davis Centre, but he does not rule over it with absolute or even partial sovereignty. A committee, of which I have twice been a member, makes every decision on the election of fellows and the selection of seminar topics. The history department approves those decisions and passes on the Centre’s budget. And aside from its mode of operation, the Centre has never favoured Marxism or any of the other ideologies that Cantor names. His way of calling names strikes me less as a defence of liberalism than as a revival of McCarthyism. It discredits him and the liberalism he purports to defend. I think he should make a public apology.

Cantor did not and in fact reiterated his previous charge “I did say that Stone was and is an English Marxist and I do not retract this statement. On the contrary, I confirm it. Stone’s first publication, in 1948, was an article in support of a thesis propounded in 1940 by the famous Marxist historian, R. H. Tawney. This thesis attributed the cause of the English Civil War of the 1640s to class conflict, to the “rise of the [bourgeois] gentry.” Stone explicitly supported Tawney’s Marxist model: “Confronted with the rise of the gentry, merchants, and lawyers, a new class whose political aspirations and whose views on foreign policy differed fundamentally from those of the aristocracy, the hold of the latter upon the springs of political power were bound to be loosened.” Lest it is thought that this was a juvenile work that Stone later repudiated, we find him even in 1985 still insisting the Tawney class-conflict rise of the gentry thesis “to be largely true.” One of the amazing things about Stone’s career as a historian has been the remarkable consistency of his devotion to Tawney, the leading English Marxist scholar of the first half of the twentieth century. In 1965 Stone published a very long volume on the crisis of the English aristocracy in the seventeenth century. Here the Marxist model tricked out with various social and cultural aspects, was repeated, except that the emphasis was now on the aristocracy falling to make way for the gentry. In a book, I published in 1968—The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760—I pointed out that this was essentially a variant of the same tired Marxist Tawney model of the origins of the English Civil War.[5]

Stone did not answer this mean spirited and anti-communist attack. The problem is that with all these hostile attacks on Stone is that not only has his reputation has been dragged through the mud but that revisionist and in some cases anti-communist historians have not been answered and refuted.Despite having political differences with Stone, I agree with David Cannadine when he said “Lawrence Stone belonged to a remarkable generation of British historians who dominated and defined their subject for nearly half a century, and which included Christopher Hill, G.R. Elton, Asa Briggs, J.H. Plumb, Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson. They all wrote widely and well, and reached a large audience in universities and far beyond. But in many ways, Stone was the most creative – and the most controversial – of them all.”For Christopher Hill echoed those sentiments when he wrote “Lawrence Stone’s deep curiosity, his enthusiastic if critical appreciation of what is novel, and his courteous and tolerant if a trenchant statement of disagreements makes him and a good reviewer. He has a gift for summing up epigrammatically what most of us would say in several laborious pages”.


[1] The Causes of the English Revolution- 1529-1642: By Lawrence Stone-A Book Review- James Capps
[2] See-http://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/christopher-thompson-on-lawrence-stone.html
[3] A Comment on Goldman on Tawney, Stone, and Trevor-Roper-C Thompson
[4] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography- http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/72453
[5] Lawrence Stone and Marxism-http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Lawrence-Stone-and-Marxism-6637

The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England (Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political and Social History) Matthew Neufeld 2013.

It is evident from Mathew Neufeld’s book The Civil Wars after 1660 that the English bourgeoisie and aristocracy during the latter part of the 17th century did not look back at the English revolution of the 1640s with any fondness.Neufeld does not believe that a bourgeois revolution took place in the 1640s, but his book does provide us with an insight into the thinking of the Restoration bourgeoisie about this momentous event in the British and international history.From a historical and political standpoint, the restoration of the British Monarchy in 1660 was seen as a Glorious and peaceful Revolution, unlike the English revolution which was considered “nasty, brutish and short”. The book is beautifully illustrated as you would expect from a Boydell publication. Neufeld clearly spent a lot of time in the archives and used published histories, memoirs, petitions, and sermons to significant effect.

Neufeld’s book published in 2013 was part of a growing academic and general interest in the Restoration period. For scholars, this is a fascinating time especially when archives covering the period are beginning to be digitised. One example of this is the Inventory of Puritan and Dissenting Records, 1640–1714, by Mark Burden, Michael Davies, Anne Dunan-Page and Joel Halcomb (2016)[1]However, despite the plethora of books on or around the restoration period and an increase in interest from historians Neufeld’s book is the only full-length study on the topic since Blair Worden’s Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity (2001).

The book is divided into six chapters each of which outlines the lengths the bourgeoisie and aristocracy went to forget the English revolution. As Neufeld points out, the purpose was to prevent a real revolution breaking out during the restoration. Much of the propaganda produced during the Restoration was aimed at blaming Puritanism for the Revolution. The Monarchy was absolved from any wrong doing. The thing that strikes one when reading this book is the extent of rewriting history to suit political ends.According to Robert D. Cornwall “There were efforts both to forget the English Civil War and the Interregnum as an aberration and the need to remember to prevent something like this happening again. With monarchy and episcopacy linked, much of the work of remembering was designed to make sure that the Puritan impulse that was often blamed for the Wars and Interregnum be kept at bay”.

What lay behind this blaming of Puritanism for the revolution was the need during the late Stuart period to justify the Restoration settlements. Anyone who disagreed with the prevailing orthodoxy was labelled a dissenter and punished accordingly. The restoration time was an extremely volatile political and social situation.As Lloyd Bowen points out “the king’s preferred medicine was a kind of official amnesia, articulated first in the Declaration of Breda and then enshrined in the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion. Passed by the Convention Parliament in 1660, the Act’s stated desire was to ‘bury all seeds of future discords’ by wiping the slate clean, outlawing even ‘terms of distinction [and] … words of reproach any way tending to revive the memory of the late differences’. But this public face of oblivion and toleration failed to endure in the face of the profound religious and political tensions which remained after the devastating civil war.

The government subsequently put in place an apparatus of religious discrimination and persecution which helped rapidly undermine the broad coalition of support which had brought about the ‘miracle’ of Oak Apple Day 1660”[2]. As Neufeld states, the bourgeoisie went to great lengths to wipe out the memory of the English revolution. The high point of this amnesia was The Indemnity and Oblivion Act 1660[3].As Neufeld points this act has a contemporary feel with “post-conflict reconciliation” seen in South Africa and Northern Ireland, but perhaps, most importantly, was the Spanish bourgeoisie’s attempt post-Franco to forget the Spanish Civil War.The Pact of Forgetting according to Alberto Reig Tapia was “In practice, this presupposed suppressing painful memories derived from the dictatorship’s division of the population into ‘victors’ and ‘vanquished[4]’.

Critique

While Neufeld’s book, on the whole, has been well received one writer accused it of being Anglo-centric. Lloyd Bowen says that “while it is true that calls for a more ‘British’ perspective in early modern histories can be rather trite genuflections towards de rigueur historiographical fashions, and while it is equally true that scholars can only do so much and that England’s story deserves its star billing, there is nevertheless a serious point to be raised in a study of the public remembering of the civil wars that does not have an index entry for ‘Ireland’. He continues “The harrowing memories of 1641, or of Drogheda, surely had their place in the public consciousness of the period, while Scotland’s rather cursory treatment in a period that witnessed the Act of Union also requires rather more justification and discussion than it receives”[5].

Perhaps another criticism and a more serious one at that has been Neufeld’s failure to examine class relations during the later part of the 17th century. The conflict between the Whigs and the Tories is not seriously considered. I am not saying that every historian has to take on board vast swathes of Marxist writing, but a use of Karl Marx’s book on the subject would not have gone amiss.

Perhaps this one from Capital “The “Glorious Revolution” brought into power, along with William of Orange, the landlord and capitalist appropriators of surplus-value. They inaugurated the new era by practising on a colossal scale thefts of state lands, thefts that had been hitherto managed more modestly. These estates were given away, sold at a ridiculous figure, or even annexed to private estates by direct seizure. All this happened without the slightest observation of legal etiquette. The Crown lands thus fraudulently appropriated, together with the robbery of the Church estates, as far as these had not been lost again during the Republican revolution, form the basis of the today princely domains of the English oligarchy. The bourgeois capitalists favoured the operation with the view, among others, to promoting free trade in land, to extending the domain of modern agriculture on the large farm system, and to increasing their supply of the free agricultural proletarians ready to hand. Besides, the new landed aristocracy was the natural ally of the new bankocracy, of the newly-hatched haute finance, and of the large manufacturers, then depending on protective duties. The English bourgeoisie acted for its own interest quite as wisely as did the Swedish bourgeoisie who, reversing the process, hand in hand with their economic allies, the peasantry, helped the Kings in the forcible resumption of the Crown lands from the oligarchy. This happened since 1604 under Charles X. and Charles XI[6].

Memoirs

As was mentioned earlier Neufeld must have spent a significant amount of time in the archives. His book uses three main pieces of literature. 1. Ludlow’s Memoirs (1698 – 9) 2. Thomas Carlyle’s edition of Oliver Cromwell’s letters and speeches (1845); 3. S. R. Gardiners histories (1893). The first chapter covers the years 1660 -1673. Neufeld outlines the use of officially written records which on the whole tend to blame the Puritans for the outbreak of the civil war. Chapter two examines the relief petitions of injured soldiers alongside the memoirs of Sir Hugh Cholmley and Richard Atkins. Neufeld uses these two sources to “‘vindicate their sense of personal identity” (p. 56).Chapters 3 and 4 takes a different tack in that they examine how historical writings of the civil war began to change. Neufeld detects a slight shift away from the Whig-dominated historiography to what has been called ‘historical parallelism’ (p. 105). Chapter five examines John Walker’s the Sufferings of the Clergy during the Grand Rebellion (1714). Chapter six concentrates on printed sermons. Neufeld’s again links these histories with the changing political landscape of the late 17th and early 18th century.

Historiography

Like much of modern historiography this book was difficult to place. Firstly, the use of memory is always fraught with danger especially when examining the English revolution. Neufeld’s historiographical approach has been labelled by one writer as a ‘presentism’ perspective, whereby memory of the past is constructed and reconstructed to suit the current interests of ruling elites. Neufeld is not Marxist, but this approach does owe a small debt to Marxism.Secondly, much of the history of this period has been dominated by Whig historians, as Ann Talbot explains “the Whig interpretation of history had deep roots in the consciousness of the British political class. The visitor to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire can still see in the great entrance hall a fireplace inscribed with the legend “1688 The year of our liberty.” It refers to the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that the British ruling class increasingly preferred to look back on rather than the revolution in the 1640s when they had executed the king, conveniently overlooking the fact that James would not have run if he had not remembered the fate of his father—Charles I”.

Neufeld’s book is part of a growing debate amongst historians about this period. A new generation of revisionist academics is asking new questions. One such question is did the restoration period represent a watershed in the political, cultural, and social of English history.John Morrill in his book After the Civil Wars (2000) answered in the negative saying that “one unfortunate side-effect of decades of searching for the holy grail of ‘the causes of the civil war’ in the century before 1640, and the assumption that nothing could be the same afterwards, has been to create an almost impermeable barrier between the periods before and after 1660”.

Another side of the debate has been to downplay the historical significance of this period. Unfortunately, much of this has been dominated by left-leaning historians such as Christopher Hill. In fact, one of his earliest works was “The myth of the “Glorious Revolution” elaborated in Hill’s first published article, which appeared in the Communist International under the pseudonym E.C. Gore in 1937.Hill downplayed the significance of the restoration period “ some would say that Hill’s work has had the effect of downplaying the importance of the Restoration period, since he sees the Glorious Revolution as a mere footnote to the more important structural revolution of the mid-century, with the years after 1660 being for the radicals a period of disillusionment and introspection brought on by the experience of defeat.”

Conclusion

Neufeld’s book is an excellent piece of history writing.The book is a backhanded and unconscious compliment to the Marxist analysis of the restoration period.It is hoped that the book reaches a wide readership especially those interested social, cultural, and political histories. For scholars working in memory studies, this is a goldmine.As Neufeld puts it in his conclusion: “The Restoration was a kind of revolution, attended with a dramatic change of regime with long-lasting political, social, and ecclesiastical consequences” (p. 246). Although not the last word on the subject, it is hoped that it stimulates a new debate on the subject.


[1] http://www.qmulreligionandliterature.co.uk/online-publications/dissenting-records/
[2] Dr Lloyd Bowen, review of The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England, (review no. 1502) http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1502
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indemnity_and_Oblivion_Act
[4] Alberto Reig Tapia, Memoria de la guerra civil, Madrid 1999, quoted in The Splintering of Spain, p.9, Cambridge University Press, 2005
[5] Dr Lloyd Bowen, review of The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England, (review no. 1502) http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1502
[6] Karl Marx. Capital Volume One-Chapter Twenty-Seven: Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land-https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch27.htm

Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs: The Entring Book, 1677-1691 – Mark Goldie Boydell Press 2016

“Pepys’s ebullience matched the heady early years of the restored monarchy under King Charles II. But Morrice describes the dark days of political crisis, show trials, religious persecution, and the fear of ‘popery and arbitrary power’ that gripped the nation in the 1680s, and culminated in the second overthrow of Stuart monarchy,”

Dr Mark Goldie.

‘If Samuel Pepys’s is the best-known diary in English history, then Roger Morrice’s is perhaps the least known”.
Given the wealth of material and the insight this book provides into the political life of the second half of the 17th century, it is very strange that the work of Roger Morrice is not that well known or that his fame is not that of Samuel Pepys.This book should go some way to rectify this anomaly. It has has been adapted, with a new substantial introduction and updated bibliography, from the first volume of the Entring Book of Roger Morrice. If you look at the task involved, then it is not that difficult to understand why this great diary laid dormant and virtually untouched.

While some historians have known of Morrice’s work for years it was unknown to the wider public and getting it to a wider audience took seven years, the original target was five. It has made the collaboration of six leading international academics to bring these stories to life. The research team, led by Mark Goldie, of Cambridge University, has worked through 1,500 pages, which amounts to nearly one million words of 17th-century English. It includes 40,000 words written in an old shorthand, all of which had to be decoded by a specialist.The collection has a 319-page introduction by Mark Goldie and 250 pages of appendices. There have been two previous attempts to publish a full transcript. But a project of this size could have only come about with the development of computers.

As John Morrill said “even with these advantages its completion required the tireless work of six major scholars (or seven if we include Frances Henderson, who teased out the shorthand passage and a large number of “postdoctoral galley slaves transcribing and editing”.Morrice clearly understood he was writing in dangerous times and used shorthand to disguise what he was writing. He also knew that if caught he would be accused of sedition. He would disguise some of the names of people he was writing on.

Who Was Roger Morrice

To answer this question as Mark Goldie found out is a difficult one. A swift look at Mark Goldie’s biography of Morrice for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography(ODNB)will not tell you very much. Given the huge amount, he wrote of other people, this is a contradiction, to say the least.We do not have an accurate birth date 1628/9 is as close as we can get, he died in 1702. From a class standpoint, he was probably from the yeomanry. At birth, he was a registered as ‘plebeian’.A young man when the English revolution took place. We know little about his attitude towards it. He studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford in the early 1650s. At St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, in 1654 he graduated BA in 1656 and proceeded to get an MA in 1659.

Later in life, he became closely connected with a large number of Puritan elites who had taken part in the English Civil War. He friendly with the likes of Baron Holles of Ifield and the eminent lawyer Sir John Maynard. Both were parliamentarian veterans of Puritan persuasion.Morrice started writing at a dangerous time, and his personal experiences certainly shaped his writing. It was really in London where Morrice became what today would be an investigative journalist. He would frequent coffee houses which unlike today were hotbeds of political gossip. His notes would have been done in his secret handwriting to avoid being caught.

According to Goldie “Like all journalists, Morrice needed good sources, and he was lucky to have a very leaky secretary on the privy council called Richard Collings,”.Morrice became a commentator and collector of manuscripts. As a by-product of his journalism, he became well connected in Presbyterian circles. It was rumoured that he was supplying newsletters to a group of Presbyterian Whig politicians.So trusted politically he was given responsibility for the distribution of the will of Richard Baxter. He also was responsible, for distributing Baxter’s library and publishing future works. A young John Toland was the eager recipient of some of Baxter’s library.

Morrice was clearly very conscious of what he was doing in aiding the Puritan cause so much so that he wanted to write a history of Puritanism and even and even drafted an outline in the 1690s.Politically Morrice was a conservative Puritan and was not afraid to publish his thoughts in the in the ‘Ent’ring book’ he hated what he called the ‘hierarchists’ and ‘fanatics’, While applauding the ‘sober churchmen’ and ‘old Puritans’. He was also scared of the London Mobs.In a diary entry dated December 1688 he states “The Mob was up in most parts of the Town all Tuesday night and committed many tumultuous insolencies, and made an invasion upon Liberty and Property to the great grief of all Wise men, and to the great Scandall of the City. They gathered together in the evening about most of the known Masshouses in Town (the Ambassadors Chappells that were open and publick not escaping) and particularly about the Masshouse in Lyncolns Inn Fields. They tooke out of those Mass-Chappells all the furniture, Utensills, and combustable materialls and brought them into the Streete and there burnt them. They have since pulled down, burnt and carryed away all the Timber in most of them and the Girders and Joysts. They were pulling up the ground Joysts on Tuesday night about midnight and multitudes were carrying away Bricks in baskets so that they have left scarce any thing but the bare Walls. They have seized upon and exposed to Rapine all the rich furniture and Plate in the Spanish Ambassadors house, and the Treasures of severall Papists that were deposited with him.”

It is evident from Morrice’s diary that Puritanism was not dead and buried during the latter half of the 17th century.Puritans according to one writer “worked through parliament, the royal court, and the households of gentry, merchants, lawyers, and clergy. Setting out to galvanise civil society, they mobilised public opinion, organised electorates, and deployed the arts of journalism, influence, and persuasion”.Morrice’s diary began 1677 and ended in 1691 During that time he wrote about the reigns the reigns of Charles II, James II, and William III and Mary II. Despite what some historians have written this England and to be more precise the English bourgeoisie was in a constant state of crisis. Much of what we know about this period has been dominated by the Whig interpretation of history which as deep roots in the consciousness of the British political class.

As Ann Talbot states “The visitor to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire can still see in the grand entrance hall a fireplace inscribed with the legend “1688 The year of our liberty.” It refers to the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that the British ruling class increasingly preferred to look back on rather than the revolution in the 1640s when they had executed the king, conveniently overlooking the fact that James would not have run if he had not remembered the fate of his father—Charles I[1].

Morrice lived in this period political and social reaction. On the continent, absolutist monarchies were securing their powerful grip on trade.The English ruling class did not want to return to the instability of the English revolution and sought a period of political and social stability to achieve economic growth to compete with its rival mercantile powers. From 1660 to 1688 they tried to reach a political compromise that would at once secure them the gains of the revolution while establishing a stable form of government.Morrice documented any threat to this stability In the diary, he wrote of the persecution of those he were a danger to the ruling elite, their laws and their established Church, such as the Quakers and Puritans, “Eleven young men and women were seized at a chapel and convicted, fined and jailed, where they are put to hard labour,” he wrote “The government has violated the fundamental laws of the kingdom and advanced arbitrary power and infringed liberty and property… and judges convict offenders… without any trial by juries,” he wrote on January 23, 1679.

He described suspects being tortured for plotting against the king, on October 16, 1684, one victim was to “keep him from sleeping, which they did without intermission for nine or 10 days. When he was ready to die … the balls of his eyes swollen as big as tennis balls … they tormented him by the thumbs”.

Conclusion

“It is a huge source of material that will play a very significant role in helping historians and students understand the period,” “It shows England in a very different mood to the Pepys diary, which was celebrating getting rid of the Puritans.” Goldie is correct, and he and his team have done a tremendous service to make the study of this period easier and more rewarding.It would be a mistake, however, to just see Morrice’s work as a historical relic or curiosity they have a contemporary ring to them. A serious study of them will give the dedicated reader a deeper insight into the problems we face today. The Entring Book should help us to ask questions about nature of modern day communication and who controls the information. To what extent does gossip, rumour and the advent of fake news guide our political views. If Morrice were alive today, he would have a field day

[1] “These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill By Ann Talbot

A review of Brian Manning, The Far Left in the English Revolution 1640 to 1660 (Bookmarks, 1999), £7.95

“The object of this article is to suggest an interpretation of the events of the 17th century different from that which most of us were taught at school… This interpretation is that the English Revolution of 1640-60 was a great social movement like the French Revolution of 1789.’ “

Christopher Hill’s essay on the English Revolution published in 1940.

Brian Manning, alongside Christopher Hill, is mostly identified with the conception that England witnessed a bourgeois revolution in the middle part of the seventeenth century. Manning wrote most of the books under conditions of an unrelenting attack on the concept of a bourgeois revolution.

Most of this difficulty came working inside university history departments that were extremely hostile to any Marxist historiography.Manning did most of the work as a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). His chosen party favoured the genre “people’s history” or” history from below. This genre was not a product of Marxism but that of Stalinism. As Ann Talbot succinctly puts it “the Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition.

This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton, and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr”.[1]

Whether Manning chose the title of his book is not important, it reflected his newfound co-thinkers in the SWP. The use of the term Far Left is a contentious one. No other historian including Hill used the term.Despite Norah Carlin saying that Hill did not leave behind a group of like-minded Marxist thinkers, Manning was deeply influenced by his former teacher. A student of Hill in the l in the early 1950s wrote “The undoubted dominance of Christopher Hill in the history of the English Revolution may be attributed to his prolific record of books and articles, and his continuous engagement in a debate with other historians; to the breadth of his learning, embracing the history of literature, the law, science, as well as religion and economics; to the fact that his work set the agenda and the standard to which all historians of the period had to address themselves, whether in support of or opposition to his methods and interpretations; but above all, to the inspiration he drew from Marxism. The English Revolution took place in a culture dominated by religious ideas and religious language, and Christopher Hill recognised that he had to uncover the social context of religion to find the key to understanding the English Revolution, and as a Marxist to ascertain the interrelationships between the intellectual and social aspects of the period”.[2]

Being influenced by Hill certainly made Manning a better historian. By all accounts, he was a very good teacher who “urged his students not to take notes, but to listen and think.” The SWP was his political home, but he had other namely the Communist Party with its adoption of the genre “People’s History”. According to Jim Holstun, “Manning’s work puts English workers at the very centre of the English Revolution as innovative political actors and theorists in their own right. His approach contrasts strongly with the usual somnambulistic turn to the ruling class initiative and frequently inverts its causal sequence”.[3]

One consistency throughout his life was a tendency good or bad not to criticise is adopted home whether on the board of the magazine Past and Present, which was heavily dominated by the Communist Party and its historians. Or in the SWP. The SWP’s theoretical approach to history has “economist”. Despite a thin veneer of Marxism, The SWP has an opportunist approach to historical events as Leon Trotsky pointed out “One of the psychological sources of opportunism is superficial impatience, the lack of confidence in the gradual growth of the party’s influence, the desire to win the masses with the aid of an organisational manoeuvre or personal diplomacy. Out of this springs the policy of combinations behind the scenes, the policy of silence, of hushing up, of self-renunciation, of adaptation to the ideas and slogans of others; and finally, the complete passage to the positions of opportunism.” (Marxism and the Trade Unions, New Park, p. 74)

Manning’s tendency in glorifying certain spontaneous movements of the radical groups during the English revolution slotted in nicely with the SWP’s mantra of fighting for the English revolution”. Suffice to say this is not an orthodox Marxist approach to historical questions.While professing to have a historical materialist approach to the study history, their adoption of the history from below genre would suggest otherwise. Their attitude towards developing Marxism in the working class is best summed by a historian former member Neil Faulkner who wrote “Since 2010, I have formed many new and rewarding political friendships, and these have contributed, I believe, to a richer, more nuanced understanding of the Russian Revolution. Not least, the degeneration of the British Left over the last two or three decades- which is a generic process, not something restricted to the SWP-has given me a clearer understanding that the masses build revolutionary parties themselves in a struggle; that is, they do not arise from voluntarism, from acts of will by self-appointed revolutionary ‘vanguards’; they do not arise from what has sometimes has been called ‘the primitive accumulation of cadre. Revolutionaries should organise, but they should never proclaim themselves to be the party”.[4]

That this kind of glorification of spontaneity was tolerated inside a party that professed to Marxist was truly unbelievable. The SWP, while paying lip service to the Marxist theory of history, would maintain an “enthusiasm for the English Revolution”. As Alex Calinicos would say “there was a plan in 1994, as far as I remember never executed, to take a minibus to the battlefield of Naseby to gloat over the destruction of Stuart power by the New Model Army 350 years earlier”.[5]Not a serious approach to history never mind politics. In all my time writing history, I have never come across someone who would contemplate taking sides with one section of the petty bourgeoisie’s destruction of the Monarchy.

Of a far more serious problem was the SWP’s refusal to challenge Manning’s attitude towards Cromwell. As Calinicos recalls “I remember him saying that he had never cared for Oliver Cromwell, who reminded him of Stalin. This statement would not look out of place amongst the more conservative historians who have also compared Cromwell to Stalin.Again this is not a Marxist approach towards Oliver Cromwell. As the Marxist Leon Trotsky wrote “The editor of the Daily Herald recently expressed his doubts as to whether Oliver Cromwell could be called a ‘pioneer of the labour movement’. One of the newspapers. Collaborators supported the editor’s doubts and referred to the severe repressions that Cromwell conducted against the Levellers, the sect of equalitarian of that time (communists). These reflections and questions are extremely typical of the historical thinking of the leaders of the Labour Party. That Oliver Cromwell was a pioneer of bourgeois and not socialist society there would appear to be no need to waste more than two words in proving. The great revolutionary bourgeois was against universal suffrage for he saw in it a danger to private property.

It is relevant to note that the Webbs draw from this the conclusion of the ‘incompatibility’ of democracy and capitalism while closing their eyes to the fact that capitalism has learnt to live on the best possible terms with democracy and to have taken control of the instrument of universal suffrage as an instrument of the stock exchange. [It is curious that, two centuries later, in 1842 in fact, the historian Macaulay as an M.P. protested universal suffrage for the very same reasons as Cromwell. — L. D.T.] Nevertheless, British workers can learn incomparably more from Cromwell than from MacDonald, Snowden, Webb, and other such compromising brethren. Cromwell was a great revolutionary of his time, who knew how to uphold the interests of the new, bourgeois social system against the old aristocratic one without holding back at anything. This must be learned from him, and the dead lion of the seventeenth century is in this sense immeasurably greater than many living dogs”.[6]

As his book, the Far Left in the English Revolution shows much of Manning’s work during his SWP membership concentrated more of the radical groups in the English Revolution such as the Levellers, diggers and to a lesser extent Ranters. Manning’s obituary, written by Alex Calinicos, was entitled A True Leveller.The SWP were Manning’s main publisher with titles such as 1649: Crisis of the Revolution (1992) and Revolution and Counter-Revolution in England, Scotland, and Ireland 1658-60 (2003)They republished The English People and the English Revolution.

Te Far Left Manning talks about in his book are the various radical groups that sprang to life during the English Revolution. Much of the past historiography examining the Levellers, Diggers has been dominated by the school of historical research called ‘history from below’. Manning’s book is a good attempt to establish the class nature of what Manning calls the Far left.Most of Manning’s work has centred on three major class formations. For Manning, the ‘middling sort’ was key to an understanding of the English Revolution. Manning his book took on board that “not every conflict between groups in society springs from class antagonisms, but when two groups stand in a relation of exploiters and exploited it is a class relation: and when one group seeks to exploit another group, and the latter group resists, they become engaged in the class struggle”.

The problem for a Marxist historian in writing on this period of history is that ‘classes, while they existed, were still in embryonic form. But this did not stop Manning from using Marxist theory to denote what was a class struggle. Manning is correct to warn of the difficulties of an exact definition of the working class. We are talking about the seventeenth century after all, not the twenty-first when class distinctions are clear. As Engel’s pointed out in his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, ‘In every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the more or less developed forerunner of the modern proletariat.’

Manning’s work on the Far Left of the English Revolution has been criticised from the right I might add for concentrating too heavily on the work of other historians. One blogger wrote “This book is a general survey rather than the result of detailed original research. The sources cited are mostly secondary works, along with some contemporary pamphlets. As far as I can tell, the footnotes do not mention any manuscripts at all. You do not have to be a document fetishist to see this as a limitation. The archives are full of unexplored opportunities. Concentrating only on what has been published in print closes an awful lot of possibilities. For example, early-modern court records are full of poor people saying things that they were not supposed to say, and the fact that they were punished afterwards cannot erase the fact that they said it. The most glaring omission is when Manning mentions that plans for a Fifth Monarchist revolt were carefully recorded in a manuscript journal, but does not cite the manuscript.[7]Manning is correct to point out that different forms of the class struggle were taking place in the seventeenth century. Manning correctly believes that a period of dual power existed between the king and parliament and later between the Presbyterians and the Independents.

Trotsky points out “The conditions are now created for the single rule of the Presbyterian bourgeoisie. But before the royal power could be broken, the parliamentary army has converted itself into an independent political force. It has concentrated in its ranks the Independents, the pious and resolute petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen and farmers. This army powerfully interferes in the social life, not merely as an armed force, but as a Praetorian Guard, and as the political representative of a new class opposing the prosperous and rich bourgeoisie. Correspondingly the army creates a new state organ rising above the military command: a council of soldiers’ and officers’ deputies (“agitators”). A new period of double sovereignty has thus arrived: that of the Presbyterian Parliament and the Independents’ army. This leads to open conflicts. The bourgeoisie proves Powerless to oppose with its own army the “model army” of Cromwell – that is, the armed plebeians. The conflict ends with a purgation of the Presbyterian Parliament by the sword of the Independents. There remains but the rump of a parliament; the dictatorship of Cromwell is established. The lower ranks of the army, under the leadership of the Levellers the extreme left wing of the revolution – try to oppose to the rule of the upper military levels, the patricians of the army, their own veritable plebeian regime. But this new two-power system fails in developing: The Levellers, the lowest depths of the petty bourgeoisie, have not yet, nor can have their own historic path. Cromwell soon settles accounts with his enemies. A new political equilibrium, and still by no means a stable one, is established for a period of years.[8]

Despite its slim appearance, the book is one of the few to examine the plight of the poor during the English revolution. Manning is correct to point out that the poor have received scant attention from historians.
His usage of the great Marxist thinkers such as Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Lenin to explain complex political formations is to be commended. He attempts to use previous Marxist Writings on the bourgeois revolution to attempt to answer the question of who were the poor and what class did they belong to.

The poor were not one homogenous group. As manning explains, they were made up of differing class formations. Therefore, to talk of a working-class as we know it today would be mistaken. As Marx wrote, ‘The expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital.'[9]

Manning explores the contradiction at the heart of many of the radical groups which despite speaking on behalf of the poor against the rich defended private property to safeguard the small producers’ ownership of the means of production. He correctly points out that in the end, these radicals could not develop a consistent revolutionary consciousness and organisation. Which in the end, led to their downfall?.Manning does not spend too much time examing the various examples of “riot, revel and rebellions. He examines two revolts The Corporals Revolt 1649 and The Coopers Revolt,1657. These parts of the book read more like a novel and tend to look out of place with the more theoretical parts.

To conclude Manning book is a very good attempt at analysing the revolutionary groups of the seventeenth century in the teeth of severe opposition from revisionist historians and their hostility to Marxist historiography.Manning had a far clearer understanding of the political nature of revisionism than Hill did. But Jim Holstun warned that “Manning maybe too optimistic about the decline of the historical revisionist project, and about the prospect for a revived practice of ‘history from below’, at least in British history departments. Revisionism has indeed been subject to powerful critiques by, among others, a group of ‘post-revisionist’ historians who are eager to restore a consideration of ideology and political conflict to 17th-century history.”

Ivan Roots’s obituary of Brian Manning in The Independent states that Manning’s work is not very popular inside British history departments because of its Marxist nature. Given the hostility to Marxism inside the universities, this is hardly news. To give Manning his due, he was consistent in his theoretical work and deserved a wider audience.

[1] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html
[2] Obituary: Turning Point in History-Brian Manning. http://socialistreview.org.uk/272/obituary-turning-point-history
[3] Brian Manning and the dialectics of revolt-Issue: 103-29th November 2004-James Holstun- http://isj.org.uk/brian-manning-and-the-dialectics-of-revolt/
[4] ] A Peoples History of the Russian Revolution. Neil Faulkner. Pluto 2017
[5] Obituary: A True Leveller- June 2004-Alex Callinicos- http://socialistreview.org.uk/286/obituary-true-leveller
[6] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm
[7] http://www.investigationsofadog.co.uk/2008/04/01/brian-manning-and-marxism/
[8] Leon Trotsky-The History of the Russian Revolution-Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism-
[9] Chapter Thirty-Two: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation- Capital Volume One-https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm

Oliver Cromwell (Penguin Monarchs): England’s Protector Hardcover – 23 Feb 2017 by David Horspool

I am all for swimming against the historical tide and have done so on many occasions, but then I am not a professional historian, and I do not have an editor to tell me when I make a stupid mistake or to leave some things well alone.So why did no one tell David Horspool that arguing Oliver Cromwell was a monarch is not the cleverest thing to do.It is not as though we have hundreds of historians who favour this type of bad historiography. What was the nature of the discussion at Penguin? I would have paid money to hear it. Maybe If he had done it in the form of a counterfactual argument, then this is a different matter. It is also a little strange that the book does not present an argument for Cromwell inclusion as a monarch.

It is no secret that Cromwell took on some of the trappings of a king including being called ‘His Highness’. He also took on some of the rituals of court and lived in palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court. But Oliver Cromwell was not a king, and therefore it is no accident that some of the greatest historians of the subject refused to label him that.So why does a giant publishing firm ask a historian to argue the opposite? One answer would be the type of series that Penguin wants to have. The last ten years or so have seen an increase in studies that concentrate on Royalism. While there is nothing wrong with that, unfortunately, most of these studies have attempted to rehabilitate the monarchy (see my review of Charles I: An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky.[1]

David Horspool book is a well-written introduction to the life of Oliver Cromwell. However, I did expect at least a defence of why Cromwell was listed in a series on the monarchy, but this does not happen.I am also a little disturbed that no historian so far has attacked this mild falsification of history. I may be old fashioned, but if this book appeared twenty years ago, there would have been a historian’s fight.So far, the only review of this book has been in the Guardian.[2] Which unsurprisingly decides to take a somewhat cynical view. The reviewer tells us “the controversial inclusion of Oliver Cromwell in the Penguin Monarchs series will doubtless elicit a few tuts of disapproval from royalists. Well, it should elicit a few from left minded historians.

You get the feeling that David Horspool was not entirely happy with the prospect of defending the impossible conceding that the inclusion of Cromwell in the list of monarchs should be “in square brackets”. However, Horspool as the Guardian review says, “reminds pedants, monarchy means a sole ruler, not necessarily the holder of a royal title.”This is stretching things a bit, and it is not something a serious historian should or would stoop to. This brings me to my main critique of the book. In some ways, the book expresses a growing problem modern historiography of the English revolution in that the issue of class is not discussed.

As Horspool brings out, Cromwell was a member of the gentry. If the reader is concentrating on whether Cromwell was a king, then Cromwell’s connection with the revolution is completely submerged.As the Historian, Brian Manning brings out in his review of Oliver Cromwell by Roy Sherwood “Charles was a hereditary monarch. Sherwood shows that Cromwell became a ‘king in all but name’, but he does not consider that before the civil war, despite his aristocratic connections and his status as a ‘gentleman’, his economic position, as John Morrill shows the English Revolution[4], ‘was essentially that of a yeoman, a working farmer’: ‘Cromwell’s economic status was much closer to that of the “middling sort” and urban merchants than to that of the county gentry and governors. He always lived in towns, not in a country manor house; and he worked for his living. He held no important local offices and had no tenants or others dependent upon him beyond a few household servants.’

He continues, “Karl Kautsky pointed out that the role of ‘great men’ in history should be related to the group or class which they represented or symbolized. In the English Civil War Charles, I defended aristocracy and episcopacy, and his strength came from his party. Sherwood should have asked who made Cromwell’ king in all but name’. He should have considered the power-hungry politicians, the seedy financiers, and the sycophantic journalists who pushed him forward and, more broadly, the lords of manors who rightly trusted him to defend their rank and property, the clergy who successfully pressed him not to abolish their tithes (the tax which supported them), and the lawyers who managed to keep him from reforms of the legal system that would have reduced their profits”.[3]

The other aspect of Cromwell is that in the last resort his power rested on the New Model Army. He clearly took into consideration that it would not sit well with the army if he became king. I mean they had just fought two bloody civil wars and killed a king. Cromwell knew full well that to take the crown would be political as well as military suicide.To conclude the book is well written, it does not offer a new perspective on the life of Cromwell. If Horspool is looking for debate then hopefully a few historians will come out of their comfort zone and give him one.

[1] http://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=charles
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/08/oliver-cromwell-by-david-horspool-review
[3] Brian Manning-The monarchy and the military-(September 1999) Socialist Review 233.

The Leveller Revolution: Radical Political Organisation in England, 1640–1650, by John Rees – published by Verso Books, price £25.

It is hard to believe as Michael Braddick points out in his excellent review[1] that this book is the first full-length study of the Levellers since 1961. Having said that John Rees new book more than makes up for that. The Leveller Revolution is a tremendous advance in the study of the Leveller movement and its place in the English Revolution.Over the last five years or so interest in the Levellers, both mainstream and in academia has grown significantly. The Leveller Revolution follows on from a growing number of studies such as Rachel Foxley’s book The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution. The Agreements of the People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution, Vernon, Elliot, Baker, P to name just two.

Media Interest

This interest has been reflected in response to Rees’s book from mainstream and academic media with reviews in the Financial Times, TLS, and The Spectator magazine, just to name a few. Why the interest as Braddick poses? One reason being is that the left learning sections of the media inside and outside academia have always had a fascination with the Levellers. The right seeks to tie the Levellers to the Labour Party and dampen any talk of Revolution [2].

Another reason is that the problems that the Levellers grappled within the 17th century are unfortunately are alive and kicking in our century. The third reason for such interest in the book and this is not to denigrate the book which is of a very high standard or the integrity of the author, but the book does appear at a very precipitous time in so much that capitalism is going through a great crisis and what usually happens is that working people start looking for answers to today’s problems in the past. It is, therefore, important for a historian to present and objective account of any subject they write about. Rees manages a pretty good job.

Much of the groundwork for this new book was done in Rees’s PhD thesis[3]. Unfortunately, his new book is only partially based on that. However, nonetheless, it deepens our understanding of these revolutionaries and most importantly counters decades of conservative revisionist historiography. The book works well on several levels. It does not give a general history of the English Revolution, but it does give a significant understanding of the Revolution that coursed through 17th century England. It reads like a novel but maintains a very high academic standard.Second, only to the Russian Revolution, I doubt there has been a decade of revolutionary struggle that equals 1640-1650 of the English Revolution. This decade produced a revolutionary army the likes the world had not seen. An entire army had, in another historical first, elected its representatives from every regiment, challenged their commanders and altered the entire political direction of the Revolution.

A republic was fought for and established. The House of Lords was abolished. A king was executed by his people for the first time in history. As for the national church, it was reorganised, and its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, tried and executed.As the regicide, Thomas Harrison said, “It was not, a thing done in a corner.” A group of revolutionaries was born that sought to establish a society based on communistic lines, and their theoretical writings and perspectives proceeded the development of Marxism by some 250 years.

The Levellers

The political movement known as the Levellers appeared in the early days of the Revolution. Despite small in numbers, they played a pivotal role in the character and direction of the Revolution.While it is correct to say, the Levellers appeared during the revolutionary decade 1640-1650 Rees has opposed the prevailing view that they had no history before that. This point has proved most controversial because up and till now there has been little evidence to counter this view. And it is not just conservative historians that have this view.The book challenges historians to study more of how the Levellers organised. While acknowledging the difficulty researching underground activity from this far in the past Rees believes it is still possible and backs this assumption up with evidence and presents it in a very convincing way.

Rees’s book also counters some historians who have tried to present the Levellers as just a loose collection of radicals. Rees provides extensive evidence to the contrary. While not being a party in the modern sense, they nonetheless were a well organised and strongly coherent group. One strength of the book is how Rees traces how the Levellers used secret printing presses and how they utilised churches as bases for their political activity. The congregation of these churches were not passive bystanders but circulated radical Leveller pamphlets and books.

As Rees puts “by 1646, the group’ both in the eyes of their opponents and in the internal ideological support they deliver to each other, is a functioning collective organisation’ (pp.142-4). Rees correctly centres the activity of the Levellers around its leader John Lilburne. From a very early stage in the Revolution, Lilburne saw the importance of underground printing [4].
In a few short years, Lilburne had become widely known, especially in London as a radical against the King. He was imprisoned by Charles I for distributing illegal pamphlets in the late 1630s.Perhaps the most important aspect of the book is Rees’s uncovering of the huge amount of material that was printed illegally by the Levellers. Rees is convinced that these radical pamphlets pushed the Revolution in a leftward direction. The early part of the Revolution saw the growth of a republican movement with Henry Marten, who was a Leveller sympathiser being the first MP to advocate a republic.To describe the movement as a party is perhaps premature, but nonetheless, they took on many characteristics of a party that would not look out of place today. As Rees says, there was then a ‘dense fabric of political opposition in the capital during the early days of the Revolution, and in some cases from before that, from which the Levellers emerged as an organised current. Underground activity in churches and taverns, combined with the secret printing and petitioning activity … provided schooling in organised politics which would feed into the foundations of the Leveller movement. The point where meetings in churches and taverns spill over into mass street demonstrations is possibly an early decisive moment of transition. This is the point where clandestine or semi-clandestine activity becomes irrefutably public opposition to established authority’ (p.65).

Rees’s research has given us a far closer approximation as to the class character of the Levellers. While it is correct to characterise them as revolutionaries, they were a movement of the petit bourgeoisie and not the what could be loosely termed at the time the working class.For the Russian Marxist Evgeny Pashukanis “the Levellers undoubtedly were a petit-bourgeois party. While some historians protest that capitalist relations were not that developed to describe them as such, I believe that there were sufficient bourgeois-capitalist relationships, at the 1640s to warrant such a claim[5].Their call for suffrage was not universal, although even their call for a wider franchise was a revolutionary demand. They were a minority and could not mobilise the one class that would have given the poorer sections of society against Cromwell and his bourgeois allies. Much of their social composition was made up of the “middling sort” of lesser gentry, merchants, and craftsmen that made up the same social base as Cromwell.

Historiography and Revisionism

It would not be too controversial to say that Historians over a long period have underestimated the size and importance of the Levellers and other radical groups to the English Revolution.The nineteenth-century Whig historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay was deeply hostile to any revolutionary movement. This conservative historian had profound difficulty in understanding the revolutionary actions of Oliver Cromwell or for that matter, the class forces he represented. He could only offer the ‘incurable duplicity’ of the latter of Charles 1st.

Macaulay’s reason for the radicalism in the army as ‘the refractory temper of the soldiers’, who were ‘for the most part composed of zealous republicans’.Many historians followed Macaulay’s lead into the 20th century in dismissing the Levellers. Probably the most important aspect of this book is to challenge this revisionist onslaught.Current historiography has certainly carried over much of the worst traits of Whig attitudes towards the Levellers. Some have ignored them completely, such as John Adamson others have portrayed them as having little or no influence on the outcome of the war. John Morrill mentioned them twice in his book The Revolt of the Provinces.

There have been oppositional voices. Edward Vallance has uncovered a persistent influence of John Lilburne’s politics on radicals in the 1700s. He concludes ‘historians have undervalued the degree of intellectual sympathy and continuity between the radicalism of the seventeenth century and that of the eighteenth’.[6]The Conservative orientated revisionist is downplaying of the significance of the Levellers was a by-product of their assault on Marxist historiography. It is a shame that Rees does not go into greater detail the political basis of such revisionism. In his PhD thesis, he believes “the revisionist challenge to liberal and left interpretations of the English Revolution synchronised with almost suspicious exactitude with the end of the post-war boom and the abandonment of the welfare state consensus. This change, beginning in the mid-1970s, achieved its electoral representation when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain in 1979 and Ronald Reagan president of the US in 1980[7]

He continues “In a way, revisionism was never only about the English Revolution. Very similar arguments were deployed at much the same time about the French and the Russian Revolutions. Moreover, the revisionists depended on a wider conservative turn in social theory. The Althusserian school of the 1970s, which became the post-structuralist school, which became the post-modernist school which fed the ‘linguistic turn’, provided a theoretical tool-box for the revisionists and those that came after them.Perhaps the most often cited attack on the Levellers is that they had no representation in the army. This downplaying of the army radicalism was led by Mark Kishlansky, Rees answers this “In my opinion the revisionist insistence that the Levellers were exterior to the army is overstated. Many Levellers were of the army themselves. Lilburne had an exemplary and widely publicised military record. But Lilburne was not alone in this. Leveller William Allen served in Holles’ regiment. Leveller printer William Larner served as a sutler in Lord Robartes’ regiment. Thomas Prince fought in the London Trained Bands until he was injured at Newbury in 1643. John Harris ran an Army printing press. Leveller ally Henry Marten had close engagement in military affairs in London and eventually raised his own regiment in Berkshire. Thomas Rainsborough and his brother William were Leveller sympathisers. Edward Sexby was a central figure in the actions of the Agitators. Army chaplains Jeremiah Ives and Edward Harrison supported the Levellers. This list is indicative but far from exhaustive. It does not include most of the figures directly involved in the mutinies at Ware in 1647, and at Bishopsgate and Burford, both in 1649. These connections add weight to Foxley’s observation that the Putney debates’ marked not the end but the beginning of a potentially fertile alliance between civilian Levellers and army radicals’ and that this ‘reverses the picture painted by the standard revisionist historiography’ “(p. 158)[8].

Roll of Women

I am glad that Rees spends some time on the role of Leveller women during the English Revolution. Rees explains that not only ‘mechanicals’ could be found preaching but a significant number of women (p.63).History and for that matter, historians have not been kind to women who took part in political activity on both sides of the English Civil War. There is a dearth of material on women’s struggle now. As far as I can ascertain no major biography exists of two of the most important Leveller women Katherine Chidley and Elizabeth Lilburne.Women Levellers mounted large-scale demonstrations and organised petitions in favour of social equality. They were met with differing levels of brutality depending on which class they belonged to. Overall middle-class women were treated with derision, but largely no violence was committed against them. This is not the case with the poorer sections of the women’s movement who were often treated severely by MP’s and soldiers alike.” Many were thrown into prison, mental institutions, or workhouses.

Middle-class women were simply escorted away by soldiers and told to ‘go back to women’s work”. One MP told them to go home and wash their dishes, to which one of the petitioners replied, “Sir, we scarce have any dishes left to wash”‘ (pp.290-1).
Leveller women did not fight just as individuals. According to historian Gaby Malhberg the wives of leading figures of the English revolution “formed their networks, discussing political issues in the absence of their husbands. Edmund Ludlow recorded, for instance, that he had little hope of a pardon from the King because the wife of his fellow republican Sir Henry Vane had informed Elizabeth ‘that she was assured [General George] Monke’s wife had sayd she would seeke to the King, upon her knees, that Sir Henry Vane, Major Generall [John] Lambert and myself should be hanged.”

This extraordinary Revolution radicalised many women into political action. As Rees points out one of John Lilburne’s most important collaborators, Katherine Chidley, also emerged from the context of the gathered churches. She published a remarkable defence of independent congregations, and religious leadership by the socially inferior, including women, becoming a key figure in Leveller publishing and organising (pp.38-40).It is not an accident that Rees who is a radical today, has donated so much of his time to the Leveller movement. In his latest book, he states “I have tried to…examine the Levellers as a political movement integrating activists from different constituencies, and creating still broader alliances with other political currents, for the joint pursuance of revolutionary ends. (Rees, The Leveller Revolution, p. xx)
In many ways, this is the perspective of the current SWP. Rees who is an ex-member of the Socialist Workers Party SWP) still observes its attitude towards historical events. The SWP from the very beginning of their development adopted the British Communist Party approach to historical events. The English Labour history industry has presented several books and essays that see an unbroken historical line of English radicalism.

As Ann Talbot succinctly put it “the Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr”.

This viewpoint has even been adopted by historians who have no attachment to the SWP, Ed Vallance’s book A Radical History of Britain and David Horspool’s The English Rebel are two that come to mind. It is a perspective that says the English working class is inherently radical and revolutionary and does not need a Marxist scientific world outlook.
To conclude, this is a very good book. It re-establishes the Levellers as the leaders of the left-wing of the English Revolution. It deserves a wide readership and should be read in conjunction with Rees’ PhD Leveller organisation and the dynamic of the English Revolution.

[1] Mike Braddick-Times Literary Supplement-March 24th, 2017
[2] Jeremy Corbyn is taking Labour back to the 1640s-David Horspool-The Spectator-Jan 2017.
[3] http://research.gold.ac.uk/10465/1/HIS_thesis_Rees_Thesis_2014.pdf
[4] See Secret Printing, the Crisis of 1640, and the Origins of Civil War-David R Como, Past and Present 2007
[5] Evgeny Pashukanis Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law (1927)
[6] E Vallance, ‘Reborn John? p. 21
[7] Leveller organisation and the dynamic of the English Revolution John Rees Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2014.
[8] Review of The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution-Rachel Foxley by John Rees- http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1519

A cabinet of rarities’: the curious collections of Sir Thomas Browne- Royal College of Physicians 30 January–27 – July 2017, Monday–Friday only, 9am–5pm.

“His whole house and garden is a paradise and Cabinet of rarities and that of the best collection, amongst Medails, books, Plants, natural things”.

John Evelyn, ‘The Diary of John Evelyn’ (1671)

‘A cabinet of rarities’: the curious collections of Sir Thomas Browne’ is a small, delightful and extremely informative new exhibition at the RCP.

Sir Thomas Brown (1605–1682) was an RCP physician, philosopher, collector, and polymath. It is hoped that the exhibition along with ambitious plans to produce a collected works of Browne will go a long way to re-establish his significant contribution to science, medicine, botany, and literature.

Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682

Although Brown was an intellectual giant of the 17th century there are aspects of his thought and work that would not look too out of place in the 21st century. His attitude to life and death was a breath of fresh air.

Browne’s world view in many ways encapsulated the contradictions of his age in the sense that in most of his thought and work he was a materialist and a polymath but still held out that witches existed and even testified in witch trials.

Thomas Browne’s world view was a product of mainly two things, Firstly the age he lived as David North notes the “17th century started to fundamentally change the way man saw the world. Up until then, mankind’s worldview had largely been dominated by the Aristotelian worldview. Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well under way[1].

Education was important to Browne. In 1623 Browne went to Oxford University. He graduated from Pembroke College, Oxford. He went on to study medicine at some of Europe’s finest institutions Padua and Montpellier universities, completing his studies at Leiden.

As the exhibition shows Browne has had a tremendous influence on literary figures. Second, only to Shakespeare, he introduced over 700 new words into the English language such as electricity’ medical’, ‘anomalous’ and ‘coma’.

Great literary figures such as Virginia Woolf said ‘Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those who do are a very good person.’, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allan Poe have cited him as a major influence on their work.

Much of Browne’s collection of Plants, animal samples books and paintings were housed at Browne’s home in Norwich the RCP exhibition has managed to partially reconstruct a sample of this collection.The exhibition contains a copy of Religio Medici. Browne was celebrated for his religious toleration as well as his learning. Religio Medici is perhaps his best-known work. In it, he wrote:“I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not agreeing with me in that from which within a few days I should dissent myself”.

The collection also contains a cast of Browne’s own skull, made in the years after 1840. His coffin was vandalized and his head and hair sold on to a fellow collector. On show is a rare pirated copy of Sir Thomas’ masterpiece ‘Religio Medici’. Dated 1642.

The collection has been put together by the same team that produced 2016 acclaimed exhibition ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’.

The current exhibition is curated by researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Dr. Harriet Phillips, Research Associate, Queen Mary University of London, and co-curator said”Sir Thomas Browne was an extraordinary man. A literary sensation and a celebrated physician. A seeker of curiosities almost without compare in his time, an exploder of myths, a coiner of new words, a connoisseur of exotic animals and collector of rare plants.”

Conclusion

This exhibition is part of a larger project, led by Queen Mary University of London, which is to edit the entire works of Thomas Browne. Given Browne’s influence and intellectual status, his writings have never been fully edited and no earlier edition is in print.The goal of the 8-volume critical edition is designed to solve this anomaly. The large team of twelve editors includes two AHRC-funded post-doctoral research associates Two AHRC-funded Ph.D. students.“We hope that this exhibition, together with the collected edition of his works now in progress, will help restore this singular figure to his rightful place: as one of the most interesting men, not just of the 17th century, but of English literary history.”

.

[1] Equality, the Rights of Man, and the Birth of Socialism-By David North -24 October 1996-

A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church-by Christopher Hill-Verso 2017.

If anything characterised Christopher Hill’s long career, he believed that to understand any historical change one had to believe in the dialectical connection between economics and politics and that the materialist base determines the superstructure of social, intellectual, and political developments. Maintaining this belief was not always easy. He came under fierce attack both inside the Communist Party (he left in 1956) and out. This idea still permeates Verso’s new edition of his biography of John Bunyan.

When this book was originally published, Hill was accused of renouncing his Marxist interpretation of the English Revolution. Later, in life Hill attempted to answer this charge during a talk he gave celebrating the centenary of the publication of Marx’s “Das Kapital”.He recounted that Marx had accidentally overheard some former comrades from the 1848 revolution. To a man, they had become rich and decided to reflect on old times and asked Marx if he was becoming less radical as he aged. “Do you?” said Marx, “Well, I do not”.

Bunyan’s Work

It is not an overstatement to say that John Bunyan’s work has recognised the world over, especially The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is certainly one of the most influential books written in the English language. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and was wildly popular in America. The great Russian writer Pushkin admired it. And was the first English literary work to be translated into Polish. Today, while it is more likely to read by children, it is safe to say that many households in Britain have a copy. Bunyan wrote from a “class-conscious piety,” as one writer puts it “ contempt for the rich and a passionate defence of the poor, that helps to explain why those writings exert an appeal that transcends the circumstances of Bunyan’s own age”.

It is true to say that we are still grappling with the great questions posed by the revolution in England in the 17th century. That issues of social inequality, religious freedom, democracy and even communism are still topics of discussion today bear testimony to the importance of studying this period. Hill was correct when he said we are still beginning to catch up with the 17th century. Hill’s examination of the life John Bunyan was done so in recognition of the rupture of class antagonisms that brought about the English revolution. Books like the Pilgrim’s Progress were an attempt to understand these events and in Bunyan’s case offer a critique as well as a solution.

Hill’s excellent biography A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1688 2017, traced a multitude of connections between The Pilgrim’s Progress and radical political movements. Both from the 17th century and later political movements. While reading the book, it should not take the reader long to figure out that this is not just a children’s book. The book has a deeper political meaning and greater social significance. Hill’s book helps us appreciate the political implications of Bunyan’s allegory.The beauty of Hill’s book is that he carefully places Bunyan’s ideas firmly within the context of the religious and political conflicts that shaped the English revolution. As Hill states, he was “the creative artist of dissent.” Bunyan was not on the same level of political maturity as John Lilburne and certainly not as open in his use of politics to gain power. However leading members of the gentry still saw him as a threat and acted accordingly. Bunyan was to serve large swathes of his adult life in jail. Hill argued that ‘Bunyan is the most class-conscious writer in English literature”. He took a class stand in the sense of he was always on the side of the poor. It is not an accident that “most of Christian’s opponents in The Pilgrim’s Progress are Lords or gentry”.

Hill believed that Bunyan understood his working-class position and wrote accordingly. But why use the allegorical style of writing. It would not be too much of a stretch of the imagination that someone as intelligent as Bunyan would be blind to the growth of science and philosophy or that Newton, Boyle, Locke, and others had started to put mankind’s understanding of the world on a more rational and materialist basis, so why the allegorical style of writing.Hill believed that despite tremendous advances in science and philosophy it was still a dangerous time politically for anyone to attack the ruling elite. As Richard Ashcraft writes “Bunyan quite deliberately used allegorical style, heavy-laden with metaphors and flights of fancy to avoid jail. In part, of course, the decision was a tactical one; ridicule is a powerful political weapon, and figurative language provides a rhetorical shield against the sword of the magistrate. But Bunyan was writing primarily for an audience of self-taught literate artisans like himself, and he knew that “words easy to be understood do often hit the mark when high and learned ones do only pierce the air.” Bunyan understood the creative power of popular prose, and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was “written by a man of the people for the people.”[1]

Having said that even the most stupid member of the elite could not have failed to understand Bunyan’s use of these names which mirror tiered social structure of 17th century England. Lord Hate-good, Mr Lyar, Sir Having Greedy, Lord Carnal Delight, Mr By-ends, Mr Money-love of the town of Coveting. “The pilgrim’s psyche is thus rooted in social and material life”.[2]

Biography

Bunyan was a teenager when he went into the Parliamentary army. He was to receive a very quick education both militarily but more importantly, this sensitive young man would have been exposed to the political cauldron that was brewing in the army and in wider society.Rank and file soldiers such as himself were exposed to radical ideas about religion, democracy, social inequality, and early communist ideas. As Hill brings out in his book, this would have led him to believe that another world was possible.Bunyan’s radicalization did not take an overtly political form. His writings took the form of an organised but allegorical attack on the religion of the day. To do this, it was necessary to in the words of one writer “adopt a distinctive political position in the context of 17th-Century English society”.

While Bunyan had been a soldier during the Revolution as he grew into adulthood, he would have witnessed the ebb of the revolution and felt at first hand the years of reaction. He would have been alarmed at the rate that the revolution was being expunged from memory. It led him to write the book Mansoul (in the Holy War) to cognize and oppose what was going on. It is true is that Bunyan had many years to think about these issues. Having spent 12 years in prison. But like John Lilburne, the Leveller leader, it seemed only to make him stronger politically.

Revisionism.

Even as I write this review of Hill’s book, I know that the first line of attack will be that Hill’s work is outdated and should be studied only as period pieces. Unlike Mark Kishlansky who once wrote “It is becoming difficult to remember how influential Christopher Hill once was when E.P. Thompson dedicated Whigs and Hunters to ‘Christopher Hill, I do not believe that Hill is outdated. A more objective review of his work is long overdue. Also, it is quite scandalous that no major biography of him has appeared.When Kishlansky reviewed the book, he believed that Hill was “about to enter the most productive years of his career. Two not altogether unconnected impulses characterised them. The first was to champion groups and individuals who placed personal freedom above political necessity; this resulted in his masterpiece, The World Turned Upside Down (1972). The second was the flowering of his interest in the great literary figures of the age, which yielded Milton and the English Revolution (1977) and A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People (1988), his book on Bunyan. Hill now turned violently against the mainstream of the Revolution he had spent decades illuminating and towards the radical fringe groups and iconoclastic individuals who posed extreme challenges to the social order and religious discipline that successive revolutionary governments attempted to maintain. Cromwell and Ireton at Putney became as oppressive a power structure as Laud and Strafford had been at Whitehall. Hill called this history variously, ‘history from below’, ‘total history’, or the ‘history of the dispossessed’, though few of his subjects derived their social origins from within even the bottom half of 17th-century society and most were so self-consciously unconventional as to defy generalizations based on their behaviour.[3]

“This work became part of a larger project in which Hill sought to represent the dispossessed throughout history. He identified himself with such ‘radicals’, once instructing a group of US scholars to turn their attention to the study of Native Americans, and in a spirit of cleansing self-criticism proclaimed: ‘One of the things I am most ashamed of is that for decades I proudly illustrated the spread of democratic ideas in 17th-century England by quoting the ringing Leveller declaration, “the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he” … Every he? Every man? What about the other 50 percent of the population?’ Here he may be anticipating the movement for children’s rights, as even the Levellers were advocating only an adult franchise and adults comprised only about 55 percent of the Early Modern population”.[4]
He went on to call Hill a Rolodex historian who was “immune to criticism”. The attack on Hill was wrong and was driven by political considerations. I am not against healthy debate, but Kishlansky’s almost vendetta like attacks were “clumsy and resentful”.

Hill was defended by his friend fellow former Communist Party Member E. P Thomson who wrote “The testimony of Baxter, Bunyan, Muggleton, George Fox and all Quakers, is disallowed because this served the polemical purposes of marking out the permissible boundaries of sectarian doctrine. This (which was McGregor’s old thesis) may indeed be true, but it by no means disproves the reality of a Ranter ‘moment’. It is notorious that in sectarian history (whether religious or secular) some of the fiercest polemics are between groups which draw upon a common inheritance and share certain premises. In its earliest years, Quakerism was involved in unseemly polemics with the Muggletonians, in which each side accused the other of having gathered up former Ranters among their adherents. I cannot see any reason this may not have been true of both since both originated in the Ranter ‘moment’ and both defined their doctrines and practices in part as a rejection of Ranter excess.[5]

Hill’s insistence that Bunyan ‘moved in Ranter circles in his youth’ – was backed up by 14 references to Bunyan’s Works in his book the World Turned Upside Down, despite this he was attacked by J C Davis for saying that the Ranters were a separate and coherent group (see J. C. Davis, Fear, Myth, and History: The Ranters and the Historians (Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 224)

Further Criticisms

Tom Shipley writes “Yet in other respects, and having admitted Hill’s immense reservoir of knowledge, it can seem that there is too much in his book of reading backwards from now. One warning sign is the prevalence of phrases like ‘must have been’. Bunyan was in the army of Parliament for several years, and in what appears to have been a particularly ‘bolshie’ unit (the adjective is peculiarly appropriate). It is true that Bunyan hardly ever mentions this, but it ‘must have been an overwhelming experience’; in this milieu, radical ideas circulated so much that the young conscript ‘cannot but have been affected by them’. Maybe not. And quite likely reminiscing about the Civil War would have been ‘contra-indicated’ after 1660. But people can be stubbornly resistant to mere proximity. However, much scholars like to forge connections. It is striking to note, for instance – to take an example from Anne Hudson’s book – that Margery Kempe, about whose orthodoxy there was at least considerable doubt, had as her parish priest William Sawtry, the first man to be burnt to death for Lollardy. If the authorities who interrogated her had known that, they might have felt that this was prima facie proof of contagion. Yet as far as one can tell, Sawtry had no influence on Margery Kempe at all: on all disputed points of doctrine, she was rock-solid. Maybe the teenage Bunyan was as imperceptive. At least the evidence for his revolutionary radicalism must be stretched a bit.[6]

Although not a historian Shipley makes the case that Hill cannot be sure that moving in radical circles inside the army Bunyan became radicalised or that he was influenced to some extent. Again, this kind of argument is petty. Because no one hears a tree fall in the forest does not mean that the tree did not fall. Shipley attack on Hill’s historical materialist outlook has been the stock and trade of every revisionist historian of the 20th and 21 centuries. When Hill was attacked by Kishlansky for being “immune to criticism” he was in some regards playing him a backhanded compliment given the ferocity of the attacks like the one from Hugh Trevor-Roper he would have needed to very thick skinned. Trevor-Roper complained of that Hill’s ‘scholarship is transformed into advocacy’. It is true that Hill was a partisan historian and was proud of it.

As Ann Talbot wrote “As a historian, he stands far above his detractors and his books deserve to be read and reread, and if, with a critical eye, it should always be with the knowledge that his limitations and faults as much as his great historical insights and innovations are the product of his time. He may be bettered, but never dismissed, and only bettered by those who have studied him closely.[7] The radical publisher Verso has done a great service in bringing out this new edition of Hill’s biography of John Bunyan. It is hoped that this is only the start of a revival of interest in the work of the great historian.

[1]http://articles.latimes.com/1989-01-22/books/bk-1211_1_john-bunyan
[2] ://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/articles/to-be-a-pilgrim-by-peter-linebaugh
[3]Kishlansky-Review
[4] https://www.lrb.co.uk/v18/n21/mark-kishlansky/rolodex-man
[5] On the Rant-E.P. Thompson- https://www.lrb.co.uk/v09/n13/ep-thompson/on-the-rant
[6]Danger-Men-Tom Shippey- https://www.lrb.co.uk/v11/n03/tom-shippey/danger-men
[7] Danger-Men-Tom Shippey- https://www.lrb.co.uk/v11/n03/tom-shippey/danger-men

Historical Research Plenary Lecture 2017: (sponsored by Wiley) The English Revolution as a Civil War by John Morrill.

The first thing that strikes you about John Morrill’s lecture was that it was a rare treat to hear a man with such erudition. Whether you agree or disagree with his historiography, he is a man worth going out of your way to see and listen to.Anyone who knows Morrill’s work will know that he rejects the premise that a revolution took place in the 1640s’. He seems to have spent most of his academic career opposing this conception. Wednesday night’s lecture was no different. Morrill believes there was a series of civil wars which fits into his support for the war of three Kingdoms historiography.[1]

Morrill avoided a search for the origins of the English Civil War’. He has recently written, that this ‘is the early modern historian’s Holy Grail.’ Early on in his career, Morrill opposed the Marxist approach to the English revolution. He rejected the “rather triumphalist claim that you could now produce a kind of social determinist view of the long-term causes and origins of the English revolution. It was that I think, which several people quite independently reacted against”. Morrill characterized the Civil Wars as England’s ‘Wars of Religion’.

He rejects the conception of a bourgeois revolution, and he certainly does not believe that this period witnessed a transition from feudalism to Capitalism. At one stage, he quipped that the Socialist Workers Party(SWP) had asked him to lecture on the English revolution. He told them that the only revolution whereby land was transferred in any great amount took place in Ireland. They were not interested.Joking aside Morrill’s work on Ireland is worth a look at. The massive land grab that was undertaken by the English bourgeoisie was staggering. This smash and grab raids were done brutally.At least half of Morrill’s lecture was given over to how non-revolutionary the events of 1640s England were. However, even he did not deny how much savagery was involved.

During his talk, the subject of the Clubmen arose..His studies on the Clubmen movement is another indicator of his attempt to downplay the revolutionary events. John Morrill was emphasizing the apathy felt by most during the conflict, arguing previously that “A majority had no deep-seated convictions behind their choice of side.”Many in England simply chose to support the faction they felt gave them the best opportunity to preserve the status quo; whether it be royalists, parliamentarians, or local neutralists such as the Clubmen”.Morrill believes that many “ordinary” Englishmen were unconcerned with fomenting revolutionary ideas. During his lecture, it was not surprising to hear that Morrill rejected any social understanding of the revolution.

This was a strange comment to make since even a cursory look at his work shows he was influenced by the New Social history historiography in an interview he describes his attitude towards those historians who were in the forefront of the group “So there came along the new social history which opened up a whole range of types of evidence, and so one of the most important things to happen for my period was the work which is most obviously associated with Keith Wrightson (who trained in Cambridge, spent many years in St Andrews, returned to Cambridge and then moved to Yale). And the Wrightson revolution, in the way in which social history is done, had a huge impact on those of us who were more interested in high politics. I mean popular politics, constructed high politics. Wrightson’s importance for my work is again something that people might be a bit surprised to hear about, but I personally, in my mid-career, saw it as absolutely fundamental”.

To conclude Morrill is worth listening to and his work read. It is also hoped that his major project on the works of Oliver Cromwell is finished and that it reaches a wider audience.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Three_Kingdoms

The Nature of the English Revolution Revisited: Essays in Honor of John Morrill, edited by Stephen Taylor and Grant Tapsell. Boydell Press, 2013. 296 pp

The Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky was fond of saying that “every sociological definition is at bottom a historical prognosis.” When John Morrill stated that “the English civil war was not the first European revolution but the last of the wars of religion” [1] he was forming a historical prognosis of the English revolution that has defended all his life.This collection of essays is a reply albeit rather late to the publication, twenty years ago, of John Morrill’s significant collection of essays The Nature of the English Revolution (1993). This current volume of essays was written by former students, colleagues, and historians who have collaborated with Morrill and broadly support Morrill’s historical viewpoint.

While not all essays break new ground, some like John Walter’s and Phillip Baker do. It is also evident that this volume of essays will provoke further work on their related topics. There have been two interrelated developments that have characterized the historiography of the English Revolution over the last few decades. The first one has been the systematic and protracted attack on Marxism in the form of hostility to the method of historical materialism.
The second one and a by-product of the first has seen the demise of a “grand narrative” as regards the English revolution. The theory that England passed through a bourgeois revolution during the seventeenth century was championed by historians Christopher Hill and Brian Manning. The rejection of this theory has led to an increasingly specialized field of study and with it the adoption of a smaller and more parochial narrative. An approach conducted by John Morril and his book Revolt in the Provinces: The People of England and the Tragedies of War, 1630-48.

From very early on in his career, Morrill opposed the Marxist approach to the English revolution. He rejected the “rather triumphalist claim that you could now produce a kind of social determinist view of the long-term causes and origins of the English Revolution. It was that I think, which some people quite independently reacted against” [2]. In his lower narrative, Morrill characterized the Civil Wars as England’s ‘Wars of Religion.’This recent collection of essays gives us an excellent opportunity to examine the state of seventeenth-century English historiography, especially the contemporary post-revisionist historians. The first thing that should strike the reader about this collection of essays is the title. Why bother with the English revolution since very few of the contributing writers, including Morrill, believed that one took place. Moreover, as one reviewer pointed out, the “global dimensions of the Revolution are barely acknowledged.”

Chapter one -Charles I and Public Opinion on the Eve of the English Civil War (pp. 1-26) is by Tim Harris who is perhaps best known for his work on the Post-Restoration period, in this chapter he examines the formation of a Royalist Party. When we talk about a party, we cannot compare a 17th-century structure of today’s political parties, but the Royalist party did begin to take on specific characteristics that we are familiar with such as the use of propaganda which the king saw as a valuable tool against his enemies. As Harris points out, the first use of this against the Scots did not work out too well.

Harris’s chapter is something of an attempt to reevaluate and rehabilitate Charles Ist. There is a view among contemporary post-revisionist historians that it is crucial to concentrate on the king’s strengths as opposed to his weakness of character.Harris does not sufficiently convince this reader that Royalist forged a coherent ideology. Nevertheless, if they did, Harris tends to divorce it from its economic base. Harris does not investigate what social or class forces the disparate groups who fought for the king represented.

Harris also rejects the conception of a long-term cause of the war. G R Elton began the attack on this theory which has been peddled by countless revisionist historians ever since. Harris also promotes the belief that things went disastrously wrong for Charles through no fault of his own. Harris belongs to the camp of historians who include Kevin Sharpe who regard the personal rule as a period of constructive and welcome reform in England.Chapter 2 Rethinking Moderation in the English Revolution: (pp. 27-52) is by Ethan H. Shagan, whose article is closely related to his recent book[3] . He admits that it does seem paradoxical that in the midst of the bloodiest and revolutionary conflict England had ever seen all parties both left and right sought the mantle of moderation.

Much of this moderation was a smokescreen to hide very controversial political opinions. Take, for instance, the Levellers their main publication was called the Moderate, but in reality, their political program called for a more extensive franchise, a revolutionary act if there ever was one. This outlook was summed up by the words of Col Thomas Rainsborough “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he “. An extraordinary call for social equality, given that the only people who could vote were a tiny section of the population.In many ways, this chapter more than the rest reflects current historiography to downplay the revolutionary actions of the leading participates of the revolution. The killing of a king, the establishment of a republic and to top it all a coup d’état by the New Model Army are not the actions of reasonable men.

Chapter 3 The Parish and the Poor in the English Revolution (pp. 53-80) is by Tim Wales. Wales essay is firmly in the spirit of John Morrill. He examines the bitter political and religious conflicts within Norwich in the middle 1640s. There is nothing wrong with exploring local political events as long as they reflect broader socio-political groupings. Wales’s chapter does not examine the connection between politics and economics.

Wales is one of many historians who reject a materialist outlook as regards the English revolution. Historians like Christopher Hill have been accused of being too “social determinist.” As the Marxist economist, Nick Beams points out “Another “frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is “disproved” by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but by dominant ideologies. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are merely a rationalization for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motives—the real, underlying, driving forces of the historical process—and to make clear the social interests served by a given ideology—a relationship that may or may not be consciously grasped by the individual involved”[4]

To give Wales his due, he correctly states that the English Revolution was a pivotal moment in how the poor were treated in England. This period saw the escalation of taxes to fund poor relief that lasted well into the restoration period. Chapter 4 Body Politics in the English Revolution (pp. 81-102) is by John Walter.Walter’s essay is a useful barometer of class relations during the English revolution. His examination of the use of gestures indicates a growing radicalism amongst the middling sort and sections of the poor. The question of “hat honour” is important in that the refusal to take one’s hat off in the presence of a superior person was seen as the height of political opposition.

As one writer states “Walter discusses the body language that reflected the lack of deference paid to figures of authority and status during this period. I think this a critical point, as it struck at the very heart of traditional English society. Turning one’s back or refusing to doff one’s cap were tremendously symbolic actions. Walter does an excellent job in calling attention to this relatively unexplored subject. One is reminded of the story that King Charles II took his hat off in a conversation with the Quaker, William Penn, saying that someone had to doff their hat in the presence of a king”.Chapter 5 The Franchise debate revisited is by Philip Baker. Baker’s essay adds substantially to a growing interest in the Levellers. The question of the Levellers is one of the most contentious issues arising out of the English revolution. Morrill wrote little on them, and his views on the Putney are that no Levellers were present during the debates
Morrill argues that Leveller rhetoric was fundamentally opposed to a standing army and that Lilburne’s experience made him suspicious and out of touch with its rank and file. While Baker sees the Levellers as radicals not revolutionary, his work is essential in so much that it contributes significantly to our further understanding of this group.

The central plank of the Levellers manifesto was the call for a democratic republic in which the House of Commons would be more important than the House of Lords. A Leveller would have a wanted redistribution and extension of the franchise, legal and economic reform on behalf of men of small property, artisans, yeoman, small merchants, and the very layers, which made up the composition of the Levellers themselves.

However, as Baker points out, there was a limit to the extension of the franchise. The poor in the 17th century, and this contains a large section of the population would not be given the vote. However, this does not undermine the revolutionary implications of the call by the Levellers to widen the franchise.As Andrew Hopper points out “Phil Baker’s contribution builds on his recent work on the New Model Army and the Levellers to approach the issue of the franchise from a new direction. In view of the “unacknowledged republic,” he argues that Leveller thinking was shaped by office holding and local political participation, specifically the world of London politics in which many of their leaders had participated. Provocatively, he terms the New Model’s concern that their rank and file had won the right to vote as “elitist” because it fell short of advocating a universal male franchise. Based on the experience of New Model soldiers and civilian Levellers, Baker concludes that we should reconnect the disputed relationship between voting and governance in early modern England and that a republican tradition of citizenship and officeholding existed alongside a contemporary concern for the right to vote.”[5]

As regards the Putney debates as John Rees shows many Levellers were in the Army themselves. Lilburne had an exemplary and widely publicized military record. But Lilburne was not alone in this. Leveller William Allen served in Holles’ regiment. Leveller printer William Larner served as a sutler in Lord Robartes’ regiment. Thomas Prince fought in the London Trained Bands until he was injured at Newbury in 1643. John Harris ran an Army printing press. Leveller ally Henry Marten had a close engagement in military affairs in London and eventually raised his regiment in Berkshire. Thomas Rainsborough and his brother William were Leveller sympathizers. Edward Sexby was a central figure in the actions of the Agitators. Army chaplains Jeremiah Ives and Edward Harrison supported the Levellers.”[6]

Conclusion

In total, there are eleven essays in this book. The articles are well written and researched, and some do break new ground and explore new trends in post-revisionist historiography. The one area that certainly does need far more extensive research is the debates at Putney. It is clear that despite his hostility to a Marxist Historiography, Professor Morrill has produced a distinguished body of work. Despite having deep disagreements with the essays, they are a fitting tribute to an outstanding historian. They will be of interest to specialists and students and are written in a style that would be acceptable to the general reading public interested in this period.


[1] The Religious Context of the English Civil War. John Morrill
[2] Interview with John Morrill-www.estraint in Early Modern Englan Paperback – 29 Sep 2011-by Ethan H. Shagan
[4] Imperialism and the political economy of the Holocaust-By Nick Beams-wsws.org
[5] Reviewed Work(s): The Nature of the English Revolution Revisited: Essays in Honour of John Morrill by Taylor and Tapsell Review by: Andrew Hopper Source: Renaissance Quarterly , Vol. 67, No. 3 (Fall 2014), pp. 1020-1022
[6] John Rees, review of The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution, (review no. 1519)

Hobbes Great Thinkers on Modern Life Paperback by Hannah Dawson. Pegasus (14 Sept. 2015) ISBN-10: 1605988065

‘The School of Life offers a radical if a simplistic account of the 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. It takes a very skilled author to make a case for a writer who lived in the seventeenth- century having anything to say to us in the 21st century.Dawson’s book provides us with an interesting and thought inducing attempt. Her book concentrates solely on Hobbes’s Leviathan and is part of Alain de Botton’s The School of Life Series. Other philosophers include Freud, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Byron, and Bergson.

From the beginning, Dawson is honest about her book. She wants to rehabilitate Hobbes and “reveal the insights that he possessed despite – and sometimes because of – the darkness, and the sparks that they might ignite in our albeit very different twenty-first-century minds.” [1]Hobbes was a significant figure in English philosophy. He was one of the first English materialist philosophers to put politics on a scientific basis. Also very controversially at the time he advocated a separation of state and religion. Some say he laid the foundations for modern sociology. Recently it has become fashionable to use Hobbes to navigate society and politics today.

As Dawson intimates in her book, Hobbes’s philosophical outlook has made a strong resurgence not so much in academic circles which have always taken a keen interest in his work but in today’s wider political circles. Even today, Hobbes reputation provokes admiration and hatred in equal doses. In 2009, Corey Robin wrote in the Nation lumping Hobbes with Italian Futurists and Friedrich Nietzsche as a “blender of cultural modernism and political reaction.” [2]
Given today’s levels of social inequality, it is of little surprise that Hobbes’s ideas are provoking an interest. For many people around the world, human life has become ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ The growing international protest against these conditions has seen the rise of political figures such as Donald Trump who advocates a semi-fascist totalitarian state to maintain order and head off a revolution. It is safe to say that the materialist side of Hobbes’ is not being resurrected.

Dawson is heavily influenced by Hobbes. She explains why she decided to put her fascination with Hobbes into book form “Why on earth, then, have I chosen him for this book? What could he, nasty, brutish Mr Hobbes, the ‘Monster of Malmesbury,’ possibly have to teach us about how to live well? In a sense, it is precisely because of his gritty verdict on our human condition that we need to listen to him. While we do not want to let him take us all the way to the abyss of his authoritarian dystopia, we would do well to take note of his clear-eyed assessment of the psychological forces that pit us against one another, and the fact that, as uncomfortable as it is, we need to be restrained” She continues “I can whistle about the streets or, indeed, in the office or at home, safe in the knowledge that I probably will not be hit or killed, in part at least because my would-be attackers are frightened of going to jail and therefore leave me alone. This is the civilized and civilizing foundation without which the fantastically plural coordination’s of society could not hope to get underway. It is on this foundation that I am free to make as much or as little of my life as I am able. This is why Hobbes helped me to understand, and I should obey and value government. As the first great social contract theorist, he shows us why we consent – even tacitly – to authority.”.[3]

I do not detect Dawson’s tongue in her cheek, so I will take these comments at face value. There is a degree of complacency here that is very dangerous. I am sure Julian Assange would love to walk down the street and whistle. I am sure the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan would like to walk down a British street free from want.A major weakness of the book is that it is not a very realistic picture of class relations both in Hobbes time and ours. It was also very simplistic to intimate that people get the government they deserve.As the Russian revolutionary Marxist Leon Trotsky observed “There is an ancient, evolutionary-liberal epigram: Every people gets the government it deserves. History, however, shows that one and the same people may in the course of a comparatively brief epoch get very different governments (Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, etc.) and furthermore that the order of these governments doesn’t at all proceed in one and the same direction: from despotism – to freedom as was imagined by the evolutionists liberals. The secret is this that a people are comprised of hostile classes, and the classes themselves are comprised of different and in part antagonistic layers which fall under different leadership; furthermore, every people falls under the influence of other peoples who are likewise comprised of classes. Governments do not express the systematically growing “maturity” of a “people” but are the product of the struggle between different classes and the different layers within one and the same class, and, finally, the action of external forces – alliances, conflicts, and wars and so on. To this should be added that a government, once it has established itself, may endure much longer than the relationship of forces which produced it. It is precisely out of this historical contradiction that revolutions, coup d’etats, counterrevolutions, etc. arise.[4]

Another danger contained in Dawson’s book is her attempt to lift Hobbes off his materialist’s feet. She states “what he wants to teach us, in addition to how we can escape debilitating fear, is what it means to be free, and what it means to be good, to show us that – even at our most rational – we are pressed on by our desires, and that we must be ever watchful of the dangers of language and religion. Even if we violently disagree with Hobbes much or indeed most of the time, he can teach us to meditate more carefully than we are accustomed on the subjectivity, motivations, and opinions which structure our lives”.[5]It is not in the realm of this review to examine the relationship between Hobbes and Locke, but both were instrumental in establishing a new materialist world outlook. Dawson’s paragraph is a direct repudiation of much of the 17th century’s materialist philosophy.

As Dawson knows having written on John Locke (1632-1704) his Essay Concerning Human Understanding disavowed the concept of innate ideas. Locke believed that man’s thinking had an objective source, the external world. As the Marxist writer David North states “If there were no “innate” ideas, there could not be “innate” evil. Man’s thinking, and, therefore, his moral character, was, in the final analysis, a reflexive product of the material environment which acted upon him. Contained within this conception of human cognition was a profoundly subversive idea: the nature of man could be changed and improved upon by changing and improving the environment within which he lived.[6]

How subversive was Hobbes? One biographer argued in 1691 that Leviathan had “corrupted half the gentry of the nation” [7].It can be said without a doubt that the works of Hobbes provoked a storm of criticism certainly within his lifetime and also after it. So what was it about them that provoked such hostility?. There is an element of truth in the suggestion by Jon Parkin” that the response was so violent because Hobbes ideas went far beyond anything which his readers had come across before. “.[8]

During his lifetime and to a certain extent even today, his name has become equated with materialism and worse still atheism,.The subject of Dawson’s book Leviathan was written by Hobbes during one of the bloodiest periods of English history. He was one of only a handful of writers who sought to understand the complex social, economic and political development that was the English revolution.Hobbes’s felt the fear of war and revolution more acutely than most and attempted to construct a scientific and materialist theory of politics. The philosopher hated the war and remained a firm supporter of absolute monarchy at least up until the war ended then he like many ardent Royalists only tolerated the new Cromwellian Protectorate when it restored law and order. To say his work reflected this contradiction would be an understatement which is why it inspired both hatred and admiration.

Leviathan is a difficult book to master, containing his Royalist sympathies and anti-revolutionary sentiments. He had to deal with the reality of a declining aristocracy and the rise of a new class, the bourgeoisie. The book published in 1651 was seen in some quarters as Hobbes making peace with Cromwellian revolution. He was starting to come to terms with the fact that Cromwellian Protectorate was the best chance of a peaceful, stable government.It is well known that he believed that humans during the 17th century were nasty, brutish and short and that mankind’s nature is inherently competitive and selfish. The central theme of his work was to utilize these traits for the development of the new bourgeoisie.

Hobbes was not an isolated individual philosopher and had support from philosophers such as Spinoza on the continent. It is a shame from Dawson’s book that you do not get a clear picture of Hobbes influence on writers from abroad, particularly in Europe. According to Quentin Skinner, the writers on the continent had a much clearer picture as to the importance of Hobbes work than in Britain. One of his most famous readers was the writer Spinoza. According to Quentin Skinner, “it is a commonplace that Spinoza’s Tractatus Politicius shows the effects of critical reflection on Hobbes’s theory in its content and terminology as well as method.” [9]Even his enemies had a grudging admiration for him, the third Earl of Shaftesbury “I must confess a genius and even an original among these later leaders in philosophy.”

He was also not without influence in England. As C B Macpherson wrote in the introduction to the Pelican version of Leviathan he edited “they thought it dangerous because of the widespread acceptance it was attaining amongst the reading classes”.[10]At an early age, he rejected the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy, and at university, the dominance of Aristotle meant that “the study is not properly philosophy but Aristolelelity” [11] He accused the schools of acting as a “handmaiden to the Roman religion” [12].Hobbes was luckier than most philosophers of his generation in that he was able to secure valuable employment when he became a tutor to the Cavendish family, who gave him extensive use of their library. He would spend most of his long life as a teacher, secretary and to the Cavendish family. A shrewd move by Hobbes as the job gave him access to some very influential people who also protected him when things got dangerous. According to Hobbes, the time spent at the Cavendish’s was the most crucial in his intellectual development.

This intellectual ferment as David North describes “started to fundamentally change the way man saw the world. Up until then, mankind’s worldview had largely been dominated by the Aristotelian worldview. Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway.[13]

Hobbes was indeed connected profoundly with what was to be a massive leap in political and scientific knowledge, which would see the dissolution of the medieval world view to be replaced by one based on science and reason. The previous one having given mankind a somewhat limited understanding of his place in the universe. Hobbes played a crucial role in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment his most important work Leviathan published in 1651 was one the first studies of what the early modern capitalist state would look like.His book was groundbreaking because it laid the basis for scientific principles on which to base that state. As Dawson states, Hobbes was not democratically inclined. The ruler or rulers of his state would have to rule it with an iron fist because as mankind’s life was solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish and short, he believed to overcome this there had to be a “war against all.”

In Chapter 8 On Religion as a Human, Construct Dawson is correct in pointing out that it is hard to work out his thoughts on religion. Hobbes knew he was on dangerous ground. Given that men had fought a war and carried out a revolution because they believed they had God on their side.Hobbes correctly believed that an understanding of religion was crucial in solving the problem that beset the English state. His idea of a national religion in which the sovereign ruled was dangerous. As G A J Rogers points out his “mechanical determinism soon brought a charge of atheism. Although it would be wrong to regard him as strongly religious, there is no reason to doubt his claim that he was an Anglican, albeit with Calvinist leanings. He is often seen as sanctioning absolutism, but he would reply that all he had done was to describe the way in which societies work and that unless was recognized the outcome would be disorder and social disaster”.

While his philosophical writings were more important than his religious leanings. Their impact was to be momentous. His thoughts and emotions were a product of his environment, and ideas remained in his brain long after they had been first stimulated.According to Hobbes, “words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them, but they are the mony of fools. He believed that words must never be allowed to take a life of their own. He continues “the universe is corporal, body…. And that which is not body, is no part of the world”.It is hard to separate Hobbes political views from his philosophical ideas. He was acutely aware of choosing his words well. He drew definite conclusions from the civil war.One aspect of the war which filled Hobbes with dread was the spread of ideas put forward by the English Dissenters. He believed their ideas were a form of madness.

According to Frederick C Beiser they were “the ultimate source of enthusiasm, Hobbes is convinced, is the same as that for all human actions, the desire for power. Whether he is aware of it or not the enthusiast attempts to dominate people. He claims divine inspiration to win the allegiance of a superstitious multitude: and then he promises them eternal happiness if they obey his dictates”.[14]Hopefully, in the future, Dawson will include other 17th seventeenth-century philosophers in the Life series as it is important to place Hobbes within the wider context of modern philosophy. Bacon would be a good choice while it was Hobbes who developed the idea of mechanical determinism in the latter half of the 17th century, it was Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who was the real founder of English materialism.Frederick Engel’s described Bacon as “The real progenitor of English materialism. To him, natural philosophy is the only true philosophy, and physics-based on the experience of the senses is the chief part of natural philosophy”. “Hobbes had systematized Bacon, without, however, furnishing a proof of Bacon’s fundamental principle, the origin of all human knowledge from the world of sensation. It was Locke who, in his Essay on Human Understanding, supplied this proof.”[15]

To conclude after he died in 1679, to be called a ‘Hobbist’ was one of the most diabolical insults. No one is referred to as a Hobbist today, so why should we show an interest in his ideas. As George Orwell once wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” While there much to disagree with Dawson’s book, it is nonetheless a significant contribution to a deeper understanding of this philosopher, leading to a deeper understanding of our world.


[1] Life Lessons from Hobbes. Hannah Dawson. Pan Macmillan. September 2013.-
[2] Corey Robin, “The First Counter-Revolutionary,” Nation, October 19, 2009.
[3] Life Lessons from Hobbes. Hannah Dawson. Pan Macmillan. September 2013
[4] Leon Trotsky-The Class, the Party and the Leadership-From Fourth International, Vol.1 No.7, December 1940, pp.191-195.
[5] Life Lessons from Hobbes. Hannah Dawson. Pan Macmillan. September 2013.
[6] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism-By David North -24 October 1996
[7] The Ideological Context of Hobbes’s Political Thought Quentin Skinner: The Historical Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1966), pp. 286-317
[8] Hobbism in the Later 1660s: Daniel Scargill and Samuel Parker-Jon Parkin-
[9] The Ideological Context of Hobbes’s Political Thought-The historical Journal- Volume 9, Issue 31966 , pp. 286-317
[10] Leviathan Thomas Hobbes- Pelican C A B Macpherson
[11] ] Images of Anarchy: The Rhetoric and Science in Hobbes’s State of Nature-By Ioannis D. Evrigenis
[12] Leviathan-Hobbes
[13] ] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism-By David North -24 October 1996-
[14] The Sovereignty of Reason: The Defense of Rationality in the Early English-By Frederick C. Beiser
[15] Engels-Anti Duhring

The Poor in the English Revolution-1640-1649

“For really I think that the poorest he that is in England bath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore, truly, Sir, I think it is clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his consent to put himself under that government. “

Colonel Rainborowe – New Model Army Soldier-Putney Debates

“the necessitous people [the poor] of the whole kingdom will presently rise in mighty numbers; and whosoever they pretend for at first, within a while, they will set up for themselves, to the utter ruin of all the nobility and gentry of the kingdom.”

Quoted in Christopher Hill The English Revolution 1640

“thus were the agricultural people, firstly forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system.”
Karl Marx [Capital]

“This Commonwealth’s freedom will unite the hearts of Englishmen together in love, so that if a foreign enemy endeavour to come in, we shall all with joint consent rise to defend our inheritance, and shall be true to one another. Whereas now the poor see, if they fight and should conquer the enemy, yet either they or their children are like to be slaves still, for the gentry will have all. Property divides the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere.” When the earth becomes a common treasury again, as it must, then this enmity in all lands will cease.”

Gerrard Winstanley, Digger Leader

When it comes to the matter of the poor during the English Revolution, there have primarily been two trends in the English Revolution historiography. The first is either to ignore them entirely or to place them in the forefront of the leadership of the English revolution alongside radicals from previous centuries representing an unbroken thread of radicalism that goes right up to the present day. I do not claim that there was no “revel, riot and rebellion” during the English Revolution, but the English revolution was made by the bourgeoisie, not the working class which was still in its infancy.

There was, however, a significant radicalisation of the poor during this time. As Christopher Hill points out “Against the king, the laws and religion were a company of poor tradesmen, broken and decayed citizens, deluded and priest-ridden women, . . . there rode rabble that knew not wherefore they were got together, tailors, shoemakers, linkboys, etc. on the king’s side. .all the bishops of the land, all the deans, prebends and learned men; both the universities; all the princes, dukes, marquises; all the earls and lords except two or three; all the knights and gentlemen in the three nations, except a score of sectaries and atheists”.[1]

It was these sectaries and atheists that conservative thinkers like Richard Baxter sought to warn the ruling elite about when he wrote “A very great part of the knights and gentlemen of England . . . adhered to the king. And most of the tenants of these gentlemen, and also most of the poorest of the people, whom the others call the rabble, did follow the gentry and were for the king. On the Parliament’s side were (besides themselves) the smaller part (as some thought) of the gentry in most of the counties, and the greatest part of the tradesmen and freeholders and the middle sort of men, especially in those corporations and counties which depend on clothing and such manufactures…Freeholders and tradesmen are the strength of religion and civility in the land, and gentlemen and beggars and servile tenants are the strength of iniquity”.[2]

Baxter was one of the most politically astute commentators on the English revolution. His writing expressed a general fear amongst the ruling elite of growing social unrest.It is not in the realm of this essay to examine every single piece of historiography connected with the poor during the English revolution. It is however hard not to disagree with the words of Lawrence Stone who described the history of the 17th century as “a battleground which has been heavily fought over…beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way”.

A large number of these ferocious scholars have ignored the radicalisation of the poor during the English Revolution or when they did comment on it was done so coupled with a persistent attack on Marxist historiography, with figures like Christopher Hil and Brian Manning taking the brunt of this assault.While it is clear that up until the late 1960s, there appeared to be a consensus amongst historians studying the English revolution that a study of the poor had to be linked with socio-economic changes that were taken place in the 17th century.

The late 1970s, saw this disappear and was replaced with a consistent attack on Marxist historiography. During an interview by John Rees and Lee Humber, the left-wing Christopher Hill was asked this question “There is a marked trend to separate various aspects of the revolution, so that cultural development is seen in isolation to, say, economic ones, a trend which is part of a much wider debate taking in the arguments around postmodernism. Would you agree that this is also a great challenge to the economic and social interpretation of history?.

Hill’s answer was “Yes, all this linguistic stuff of the literary historians ignores the social context. I think that is a very unfortunate phase that literary criticism seems to be going through. I had thought that one of the good things of the last few decades was the way historians and literary critics seemed to be coming together on the 17th century and producing some sort of consensus. This is now in danger with all this linguistic guff. I suppose it is quite difficult for people trained in one discipline to take on board the lessons learnt in others, but any new consensus will have to be one based on looking at society as a whole including literature and religion”.[3]

As the Marxist economist, Nick Beams also points out “One of the most frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is “disproved” by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but based on powerful ideologies. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are simply a rationalisation for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motives—the real, underlying, driving forces of the historical process—and to make clear the social interests served by a given ideology—a relationship that may or may not be consciously grasped by the individual involved”.

While it is essential to understand what motivated the poor to “revel, riot and rebellion” it is even more critical to understand the relationship between the poor and its leaders, which on this occasion during the English Revolution were the various radical groups such as The Levellers and Diggers and to a certain extent the Ranters.As Leon Trotsky wrote “In reality leadership is not at all a mere “reflection” of a class or the product of its free creativeness. A leadership is shaped in the process of clashes between the different classes or the friction between the different layers within a given class”.[4]

The Levellers, while being sympathetic to the poor, their perspective of bringing about deep-seated change was hampered by their class outlook that being of small producers, conditioned by their ideology. This contradiction caused some tension between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of small property owners. They had no opposition to private property, and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. As John Cooke, a regicide and sympathetic to the Leveller cause explained ‘I am no advocate for the poore further then to provide bread and necessaries for them, without which, life cannot be maintained, let rich men feast, and the poore make hard meale, but let them have bread sufficient’.[5]

In order to overcome their contradiction, knowing full well that they could not come to power through the presently constituted electorate or through the control of the army, the Levellers attempted to find not a a revolutionary solution to their problem but a constitutional one.

A draft constitution produced in 1647 called the Agreement of the People declared that the state had broken down in civil war and must be reformed based on certain fundamental ‘native rights’ safeguarded even from a sovereign parliament: religious toleration, no tithes. The attack on Parliament as sovereign went against one of the most fundamental reasons for the war in the first place. The agreement amongst other demands, called for biennial parliaments, franchise reform, only those who contracted into the new state by accepting the agreement were to have the vote.

While this was extremely radical for the time ‘freeborn Englishmen’ excluded servants and the poorer sections that did not constitute ‘the people’. As Christopher Hill wrote: “The Leveller conception of free Englishmen, was thus restricted, even if much wider, than that embodied in the existing franchise. Their proposals would perhaps have doubled the number of men entitled to vote. However, manhood suffrage would have quadrupled it. The generals, generally horrified, pretended at Putney that the Levellers were more democratic than they were”.[6]

The generals deliberately exaggerated the radicalism of the Levellers in order to label them extremists and to mobilise their supporters against them. Oliver Cromwell correctly recognised that if the franchise was widened, it would threaten his majority in Parliament. As Hill explains ‘Defending the existing franchise, Henry Ireton rejected the doctrine “that by a man being born here, he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here and of all things here”. The vote was rightly restricted to those who “had a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom”. Namely, the persons in whom all lands lies and those incorporation’s in whom all trading lies.'[7]

The other substantial leadership of the poor came from the Diggers. Hill, in his seminal study, The World Turned Upside Down, believed that Winstanley and his Diggers, “have something to say to twentieth-century socialists”. In this, he meant that they were an anticipation of future struggles. Hill was cognizant that despite their radicalism, the social and economic conditions had not yet matured for them to carry out a “second revolution” which would have seen the overthrow of Cromwell and broader use of the popular franchise.

John Gurney, who was perhaps the foremost expert on the Diggers recognised the leader of the Diggers Gerrard Winstanley was one of the most important figures to appear during the English Revolution commenting “the past is unpredictable.’ So it has proved for Gerrard Winstanley. For all but one of his 67 years, he lived in obscurity, and then he died forgotten. Generations of historians passed over him either in silence or derision. He entirely eluded the notice of the Earl of Clarendon in the 17th century and of David Hume in the 18th. Even the Jacobin William Godwin, the first champion of the Civil War radicals, judged his exploits’ scarcely worthy of being recorded’, and S.R. Gardiner’s comprehensive history of the Commonwealth contained only two references to him, one a bare mention of his name.

Then in the early 20th Century, Winstanley was rediscovered, and he has exerted a magnetic pull on left-leaning intellectuals ever since. He is variously credited as the father of English communism, socialism or environmentalism, depending on which is seeking paternity. His notice in the Victorian DNB was a scant 700 words; in the new DNB, it has ballooned to more than 8000. Now he has been canonised by the publication of an Oxford edition of his complete works, the second complete works in a century, more than have been accorded either Hobbes or Locke”.[8]

While the Diggers were far more radical in their perspective for the poor, they shared the same class position as the Levellers. No matter how radical their ideas at no point could they overturn class society through revolution. The only class that could have achieved their aims was still in its infancy.Historians such as John Gurney are a rare bread today in that his study of the poor was done so from a relatively left-wing standpoint. While Hill and Manning tended to dominate the study of the poor during the English revolution, there were a group of historians that were less incline to support a Marxist interpretation of the poor but were sufficiently influenced to carry out important work.One of many historians that fit the above criteria was D.C. Coleman. While not being close to Marxism was undoubtedly influenced by left-wing historians such as Hill.

Coleman was a multidimensional historian according to his obituary he “was sceptical about politics and thought religion was largely nonsense. He realised that people were subject to the motivation of a variety of sorts and that economic rationality could provide only a partial explanation. He made use, therefore, of economic theory, but did not regard it as the be-all and end-all in the attempt to explain human social behaviour over time, the essence of what he thought economic history should be about.[9]

Coleman points out in one of his writings that early capitalists were conscious that profit could be made by exploiting the large and growing working class. Coleman quotes J Pollexfen who writes, ‘The more are maintained by Laborious Profitable Trades, the richer the Nation will be both in People and Stock and … Commodities the cheaper”.[10]

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Coleman’s research was his publishing figures on the levels of poverty which are stunning. The levels of child labour that would not look out of place in a third world country today, stating “If the economists and social pamphleteers wanted a larger body of labouring poor, there is no lack of evidence that in mere numbers the poor already formed a very substantial part of the total population. Contemporary comment upon the numbers of poor stretches back into the sixteenth century, at least, and forward into the eighteenth. To Bacon, labourers and cottagers were ‘but house beggars’; to a writer of the 1640’s it. Seemed reasonable to suppose that ‘the fourth part of the inhabitants of most of the parishes of England are miserable, poor people, and (harvest time excepted) without any subsistence’, the comprehensive and well-known investigations of Gregory King in the 168o’s and 1690s tell an even grimmer tale. He classed 23 per cent of the national population as ‘labouring people and out servants’ and a further 24 per cent as ‘cottagers and paupers’, estimating that both groups had annual family expenditures greater than income”.[11]

Another historian worth reading is Steve Hindle; he is especially important and essential reading. Hindle’s work should be read in conjunction with that of Hill and Manning.His work on the Levellers backs up my earlier assumption that while Levellers such as John Wildman were sympathetic to the poor, there was also a fear that the levels of poverty and a dearth of food could get out of hand. Wildman states ‘The price of food [is] excessive’, wrote the Leveller John Wildman from London in 1648, ‘and Trading [is] decayed’. It would; he thought, ‘rend any pitifull heart to heare andsee the cryes and teares of the poore, who professe they are almost ready to famish’. ‘While our divisions continue, and there be no settlement of the principles of freedom and justice’, he insisted: trading will but more decay every day: Rumours and feares of Warre, and the Army coming now into the City, makes Merchants unwilling to trust their goods in the City, and exchange beyond sea falles, and there will be no importing of goods, and then there will be no exporting and so the staple commodities of the kingdom which maintains the constant trade, will not tend to the advantage of the labourers, and then most of the poore in the kingdom which live by spinning, carding, & will be ready to perish by famine”.[12]

Wildman was echoing a common fear and worry amongst sections of the lower middle class that the impact of the failed harvests of 1647-1650. According to Hindle “Wildman was accordingly convinced that ‘a suddain confusion would follow if a speedie settlement were not procured’.

Hindle goes on “Wildman’s vivid analysis of the relationship between harvest failure, economic slump, political crisis and popular protest is proof enough that those who lived through the distracted times of the late 1640s were well aware of the interpenetration of economic and constitutional dislocation. It is surprising, therefore, that historians have made so little attempt to take the harvest crisis of the late 1640s seriously”.

Another famous exponent of regional studies of the poor is A. L. Beier. One of his studies was Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-1660. Beier presented in this essay a view that was supported by a significant number of historins that the study of the regional poor was an important part of a wider national study of the poor.

Beier warned about trying to read too much into these local studies, but a study of such areas as Warwickshire was legitimate. He writes “It would, of course, be dangerous to generalise from the example of one county to the whole of England, but the degree of typicality of Warwickshire and Professor Jordan’s findings are encouraging. To study other counties from this point of view may yield interesting comparisons and the discovery of new variables, particularly if areas are found where relief administration in fact collapsed. More generally, however, and assuming that poor relief did not collapse in England during the Interregnum, of what significance was its continued functioning? First, it is clear that the devolution towards local control which took place in this period did not mean collapse or even falling efficiency in administration whether the sort of zealous efficiency characteristic of the Puritan rule was continued after I660 is another question deserving of study.[13]

[1] Christopher Hill-The English Revolution 1640- https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/
[2] https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution
[3] John Rees and Lee Humber-The good old cause-An interview with Christopher Hill- https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj2/1992/isj2-056/hill.html
[4] The Class, the Party-and the Leadership-https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm
[5] Unum Necessarium:John Cooke, of Graies Inne, Barrester.http://famineanddearth.exeter.ac.uk/displayhtml.html?id=fp_00502_en_unum
[6] The Century of Revolution: 1603–1714
[7] Christopher Hill-The English Revolution 1640- https://www.marxists.org/archive/hill-christopher/english-revolution/
[8] Gerrard Winstanley and the Left-John Gurney-Past & Present, Volume 235, Issue 1, May 2017, Pages 179–206, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtx017
[9] Professor D. C. Coleman-Obituary-https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-d-c-coleman-1600207.html
[10] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x
[11] Labour in the English Economy during the 17th Century-https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-0289.1956.tb01570.x
[12] Dearth and the English revolution:the harvest crisis of 1647–50-By Steve Hindle-https://www.huntington.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/dearth-and-the-english-revolution-echr.pdf
[13] A. L. Beier Poor relief in Warwickshire 1630-16601 – Past and Present 1966

The Life of R. H. Tawney: Socialism and History- Lawrence Goldman-Bloomsbury 2013

The fact that Lawrence Goldman’s biography is the first for well over half a century is an indication of how far R H Tawney’s reputation and influence has declined. It is hoped that this book is the start of a revival of an interest in Tawney’s writings. The book is almost entirely drawn from the archive based at the London School of Economics(LSE) and from personal material from his family. Goldman takes a basic broadly chronological approach, and tries but does not always succeed to work in the more serious political and history issues that arose during his lifetime. The book delves heavily into Tawney’s life to the detriment of a more in-depth study of his politics and historiography.Perhaps the most striking thought when reading the book is the fact that Tawney’s archive has hardly been touched. Goldman does not attempt to answer this conundrum but I believe that despite Tawney being a Christian Socialist not a Marxist his work has falling victim to the onslaught in academia led by large numbers of revisionist historians who have sought to bury Marxist historiography under a large number of dead dogs.

Early Life

Tawney came from a family that was academic and comfortably well off. Like large numbers of his class he was privately educated in Tawney’s case at Rugby and later went on to Balliol. It is without doubt Tawney’s social background that heavily influenced his political and historical writings. As one writer pointed out he “ brought a late Victorian and Edwardian ethical sensibility to the economic and industrial troubles of the 1920s and 30s,”[1]It is clear that it was his “ethical sensibility” that drove him to give something back to society in the form of educating the working class. Tawney clearly had an empathy with the poor. While rejecting Marxist theory he started the first Workers’ Educational Association courses in Lancashire and the Black Country.

The education of workers and the unemployed through Workers Educational Associations in one form or another was an international phenomenon. The German Workers’ Educational Society in London was started in 1840 by a group of political refugees, who were members of the League of the Just.When the Communist League was founded in 1847, its members played leading roles in the society. Creating branches in many workings areas of London. The importance of the society attracted Marx and Engels in 1849-50 who took more responsibility for the political direction of the society.
The Society, unfortunately, was closed 1918, by the British Government. Goldman believes that Tawney choose his field of study carefully. His study of economics was clearly motivated by his attempt to understand the origins of capitalism. Unfortunately, not by using a Marxist methodology, rejecting using historical materialism as a method of examining capitalism. Goldman is not really interested in looking into Tawney’s philosophy of history. While rejecting Marxism, Tawney adopted an essentially utopian approach to politics and for that matter history.

This approach can be seen in one of his most important and famous books. He states “The distinction made by the philosophers of classical antiquity between liberal and servile occupations, the medieval insistence that riches exist for man, not man for riches, Ruskin’s famous outburst, “there is no wealth but life”, the argument of the Socialist who urges that production be organized for service not for profit, are but different attempts to emphasize the instrumental character of economic activities, by reference to an ideal which is held to express the true nature of man.”[2]Compare this to Marx “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness”[3]

Tawney rejected Marx’s linking of base and superstructure. Tawney never believed that socialism should have a material base. While he believed that working men and women should have strong convictions his appeal was to the heart and not the head.He was fond of quoting Oliver Cromwell who during the English revolution commented on the type of person he wanted in the New Model Army a “plain russet-coated Captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows”.Tawney’s socialism was suffused with Christian morality. According to Goldman Tawney gave out good will and expected in return. Declaring that “no political creed will ever capture their hearts which begins by saying simply ‘we will give you a little more money’”. It is quite striking that Tawney had a very low goal for socialism.
Would he have been a better historian if he had embraced Marxist methodology I believe he would have been. But despite this handicap so great was his influence at the time that his study of the period 1540-1640 became known as “Tawney’s century”.

Historiography

Probably the weakest part of the book is the treatment or lack of it of the furious battles Tawney had with predominately right wing historians. While it would have clear to even an O Level history or politics student that Tawney was not a Marxist this did not stop him being attacked for his perceived Marxist orientation.He was involved in certainly the biggest and nastiest discussion of the 20th century. While some of today’s historians have treated this debate as arcane they are wrong and do so for mainly ideological reasons.The start of the battle occurred when in The Economic History Review of 1941, Tawney published ‘The Rise of the Gentry’ as Goldman puts it he “argued that a change occurred in the ownership of property in the century before the Civil War, with a new class of gentry replacing the old land-owing classes. Tawney’s most important piece of empirical evidence was what later came to be referred to as the ‘counting of manors’ – between 1561 and 1680 ‘the number of landholders owning more than 10 manors fell from 612 to 347. Impressionistically, the number of lesser landholders grew but the wealthiest landholders were losing their grip and declining in numbers and wealth’ (p. 234).

While Goldman is light on historiography the book would have been greatly improved if he devoted more time and space to this debate, which he did not see as an objective exchange of opinions. Personal prejudice and petty jealousy was to intercede. American historian Lawrence Stone became involved in the debate. Stone visited Tawney during the second world war.The story goes that Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was covering the same ground as Tawney gave Stone some papers on the subject. Whether Stone deliberately gave Tawney papers to further his research is open to conjecture. Trevor Roper saw this as a slight and decided to ‘smash’ Stone.

According to the National Oxford Biography Stone had an “impatience to get on with ‘real’ history earned him a reputation for arrogance during his post-war undergraduate year; on one occasion he stormed out of a revision class conducted by a newly appointed Christ Church tutor, Hugh Trevor-Roper”.It would appear that Roper never forgave him for this but does not explain Ropers vitriolic attack. Trevor-Roper accused Stone of failing to understand the technological nature of the documents he studied and had substantially exaggerated the level of indebtedness of the Aristocracy. See also C Thompson Critic of Stone’s work) This ‘mistake’ did not warrant Roper’s “academic vituperation”. Tawney was moved to defend Stone saying that ‘an erring colleague is not an Amalakite to be smitten hip and thigh’.
On a broader point while Stone himself described his early career as being a young Marxist perhaps his mistakes were the product of an incomplete assimilation of the Marxist method of Historical Materialism. Stone had a major problem in that he never really understood the difference between genuine Marxism and a crude form of economic determinism.

In fact, Stone himself soon moved away from any link with Marxist historiography and in his own words became as he put it in an interview in 1987, “an old fashioned Whig”. Stone never really deepens the reader’s knowledge of the political persuasion of Roper or other historians such as J H Dexter who also weighted in heavily to the debate with Tawney. Stone mistakenly described him as a Liberal.Hexter’s work is very readable but here is not the place to evaluate its merit but it does warrant me to say that Hexter’s close links to the American Encounter magazine which in turn had close links to the CIA could have been exposed by Stone.

In the 1950s Hugh Trevor-Roper went to a conference in Berlin which was largely made up of anti-communists, I am not sure if J H Hexter went to as well but writer and some Stalinist intellectuals such as Sidney Hook, Melvin J. Lasky, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler. The result of this conference was the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its magazine Encounter. Trevor Roper wrote extensively for the magazine Encounter, is it any wonder that Stone who was mistakenly described as a Marxist historian would get such a hostile treatment.

This would in my opinion armed his readers with an understanding of the fact that attacks on Stone’s and Tawney’s work were not just motivated by historical accuracy but had a very right wing political undertone.The attack on Stone was unwarranted for a number of reasons. The main one being that after writing the Cause of the English Revolution he was moving away from any link to a Marxist analysis of the English Revolution.But it became clear that roper’s real target was Tawney. Goldman to his credit does question whether Trevor-Roper was justified in attacking both in this manner– ‘why, if he had killed the child, did Trevor-Roper go on to kill the father?’ (p. 237). He chides Roper ‘for all the huffing and puffing Trevor-Roper had merely offered an alternative and admittedly better model of social structures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries … Trevor-Roper had not vanquished Tawney, merely corrected him … The judgement that he had delivered an ‘annihilating oposculum’ to Tawney’s article is in need of revision. Trevor-Roper’s motivation was clearly ideological driven. He saw Tawney as a Marxist that must be vanquished.

Conclusion

It is impossible in the space of this review to sum up the importance of Tawney’s work or his legacy. To the modern reader Tawney was clearly the archetypal absent-minded scholar, As Goldman points out he lived in chaos. Goldman recounts a story that when Tawney invited William Temple (a future archbishop of Canterbury) for a meal “and removed three musty volumes from his bookshelf to reveal two cold chops on a plate” (p. 139).A L Rowse also recounts a visit to Tawney ‘When I penetrated his study in Mecklenburg Square I was amazed: not only the litter of books and papers on every chair, table or ledge, but trays with scraps of food, unwashed teacups etc. …Tawney sat imperturbably in the midst of the mess, he didn’t seem to notice the squalor’, Historians I Have Known, pp. 93–4.These anecdotes while amusing should not be an excuse for ignoring an important historian. The least he deserves is a proper re-evaluation of his work. Certainly the “Storm Over the Gentry” debate needs to be put in a more appropriate context. Hopefully Goldman’s book will rekindle not just an interest but provokes other historians into doing some long overdue work on Tawney.


[1] For the Common Good-Stefan Collini http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1362851.ece
[2] Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926),
[3]K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, with some notes by R. Rojas.

The Election of Jeremy Corbyn and “The rebirth of the Levellers”

It would not be an overstatement to say that the election to the leadership of the Labour party of Jeremy Corbyn is an event of some significance. Corbyn has been the unwitting benefactor of the enormous social hostility aimed at the growing enrichment at the expense of millions of working people by a handful of the super-elite. There is, without a doubt, something rotten in the state of Britain.

A tremendous amount of newspaper columns, most of it pretty puerile has drawn attention to Corbyn’s left-wing politics. As Julie Hyland correctly points out “Corbyn’s history is steeped in opportunist petty-bourgeois politics. For all his votes against aspects of Labour policy, he has been a loyal defender of the party throughout his 32 years on Labour’s backbenches. No one can seriously propose that this party—which, in its politics and organisation and the social composition of its apparatus, is Tory in all but name—can be transformed into an instrument of working-class struggle. The British Labour Party did not begin with Blair. It is a bourgeois party of more than a century’s standing, and a tried and tested instrument of British imperialism and its state machine. Whether led by Clement Attlee, James Callaghan or Jeremy Corbyn, its essence remains unaltered”.[1]

One of the more interesting articles which appeared as a byproduct of Corbyn’s election victory was by the historian Edward Vallance in the Guardian newspaper.[2] The purpose of my article is to tackle the issues raised by Vallance’s article rather than a polemic against Corbyn’s politics. As in politics so in history, principled considerations need to guide any analysis.

His article took note of an interview with the New Statesman in which Corbyn sought to trace his radicalism back to mid-17th-century England. The interviewer asked Corbyn what historical figure he most identified with. It was not surprising that he named John Lilburne.

I am not against modern-day political figures identifying with historical figures or having a good grasp of history, but much historical water has passed under the bridge since 1640 and secondly to compare Corbyn’s opportunist petty-bourgeois politics with the revolutionary Levellers. Their leader John Lilburne is a little disingenuous.

John Lilburne was the de facto leader of the Levellers who appeared in the mid-1640s and were England’s first radical political party. They were responsible for many of modern-day political techniques such as mass demonstrations, collecting petitions, leafleting and the lobby of MPs. Their strength mainly lay in London and other towns and had quite considerable support in the army. The MP Henry Marten described Lilburne saying “If the world were emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John and John with Lilburne.”

The ‘movement’ contained other smaller groups of radicals such as the Diggers known as the True Levellers and Ranters who were on the extreme left wing of the Leveller movement. As Valance correctly points out “Lilburne would forge a career as one of the most prominent radical figures of the period. Along with the works of other writers, notably Richard Overton, William Walwyn and John Wildman, Lilburne’s ideas formed the intellectual basis for what came to be known as the Leveller movement”.[3]

How radical were the Levellers has preoccupied historians and some politicians for centuries? This task has been more difficult with the Leveller’s legacy being claimed by fascists such as the BNP[4], and the semi-fascist UKIP[5] have adopted them as their own. UKIP MP Douglas Carswell wrote on his blog that he thought the Levellers were proto-Conservatives who favoured the small government, low taxes and free trade.

Would, for instance, would Carswell agree with the egalitarian sentiment of Thomas Rainborowe a leading Leveller at the Putney debates who said “I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he, and therefore … every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his consent, to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.” I doubt it somehow.

It was correct for the early Marxists to look at the early plebeian movements as precursors of the modern socialist movement. What needs to be clarified is what a modern socialist movement looks like. The Communist Party Historians Group (CPHG) alongside numerous radical groups such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) tend to glorify the spontaneous movement of the “middling sort” and to link it to working-class struggles today as if there was some unbroken radical and democratic thread that would supersede the need for a scientifically grounded Marxist revolutionary party.

If there is to be a rebirth of the Leveller historiography, it must be done with a substantial appreciation of the historians and political figures that flowered during the Russian revolution. One such figure was Evgeny Pashukanis.[6] His area of expertise was legal history. His writings on the radical movements of the 17th century are perceptive and well worth a study but have been neglected by even today’s left-leaning historians. He rejected crude historicism and opposed historians who saw the Levellers democratic demands as utopian.

Pashukanis saw the English Levellers and Diggers as “primitive precursors of Bolshevism”. In the introduction to his Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law, one writer said “These movements were primitive because they articulated their demands chiefly in terms of bourgeois notions of distributive justice, yet they were also precursors of Bolshevism because they attacked existing property relations and recognised the necessity of forging political alliances with the urban workers and rank and file soldiers. In praising the informal nature of the Levellers’ demands, and the democratic nature of their organisations, Pashukanis is drawing an explicit parallel between the Levellers’ organisation and the structure of the Soviets of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies of 1917. The Levellers’ failure lay in the fact that they were betrayed by the upper strata of the peasantry, and that they were insufficiently prepared to resist the authoritarian opportunism of Cromwell and his generals”.[7]

What is any serious student of the subject of the Levellers to make of all this? Anyone who knows the history of the Levellers this is not a simple question. It is very complex. You would search in vain amongst the MPs mentioned including Corbyn of any sense of the revolutionary process (which the Levellers took part in) that brought Oliver Cromwell to power as England’s first non-royal head of state. Many MPs would lack any kind of historical knowledge on this matter, and they would certainly downplay the revolutionary nature of the Levellers. And more importantly, they would stay deathly silent on their social writings.

Any serious student of the Levellers would have to contend with is the fact that modern-day historiography is still partially dominated by Fabianism. In Putney, there is an exhibition on the Putney Debates of 1647. The information on Leveller involvement in the debates (which was considerable) was largely dominated by politicians and historians with close association with the British Labour Party and more precisely the Fabians.

Any debate over the Levellers has been dominated certainly over the last century by figures in or around Social Democracy. Perhaps the most important figure has been Tony Benn. Who before his death spoke at a commemoration of Lilburne’s birth?. As Julie Hyland noted “Benn prides himself on his “historical viewpoint”.

Through his father, the experiences of the 1930s became a formative influence on him politically. From this tumultuous decade of fascism, defeated revolutions, depression and war, he developed a loathing for class conflict. This reinforced his belief that parliamentary democracy and social reform were all that stood between Britain and chaos. [8]

Fabians such as Benn present the English revolution, not as a revolution and the Levellers are not seen as revolutionaries but mere radicals. Speaking about British Fabianism, Leon Trotsky wrote: “Throughout the whole history of the British Labour movement there has been pressure by the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat through the agency of radicals, intellectuals, drawing-room and church socialists and Owenites who reject the class struggle and advocate the principle of social solidarity, preach collaboration with the bourgeoisie, bridle, enfeeble and politically debase the proletariat.”[9]

To conclude “The interest in the radicalism of the English revolution is indicative of the current crisis in British political life “. This is certainly the most interesting and accurate sentence in the whole of Vallance’s article. Can a study of the Levellers tell us anything about politics today? Firstly the fact that we are talking about the 17th-century English revolution and its radical wing at all is because the issues like what kind of democracy do we want, the rise of social inequality and how to tackle it and in general what kind of society do we want are contemporary. Given the explosive political situation today, it is understandable that the bourgeoisie is a little nervous over a discussion of the revolution of 1640.

In many ways, the answer given to all these questions in many ways mirror the answers given by Cromwell and other bourgeois leaders of his day are similar to today’s politicians both Labour and conservative. Cromwell opposed the abolition of private property and had no solution to the rise in social inequality other than to send his army against anyone that proposed it. For example, on May 17th, 1649, Cornet Thompson, Corporal Perkins and Private Church rank and file Levellers were shot at the hands of Oliver Cromwell troops. Like in the 17th-century real wealth and the power that goes with it are still in the hands of a tiny, extremely wealthy elite who call the shots.


[1] The political issues posed by Corbyn’s election as UK Labour Party leader14 September 2015-wsws.org
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/20/levellers-corbynmania-jeremy-corbyn
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/20/levellers-corbynmania-jeremy-corbyn
[4] See Edward Vallance’s book-A Radical History of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries – the men and women who fought for our freedoms
[5] http://ukiptruth.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/how-ukip-is-crippling-our-chances-of.html
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evgeny_Pashukanis-see
[7] https://www.marxists.org/archive/pashukanis/1927/xx/english.htm
[8] The end of Fabianism in Britain- https://www.wsws.org
[9] Where is Britain Going?Chapter IV -The Fabian “Theory’of Socialism

The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century by Hugh Aldersey William 352 pages Granta (7 May 2015) ISBN-10: 1847089003

The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st century is not an orthodox biography of the 17th-century scientist, antiquarian and prose writer. In many ways, this book is more a comment on everyday life in the 21st century than in the 17th century. To say that the science writer Hugh Aldersey-Williams has an obsession regarding Browne would be an understatement.The author who lives in Browne’s home town of Norwich is aggrieved how few people recognize Browne’s name and reacts with unrestrained anger at the fact that Browne’s private meadow, where he studied wild plants, is now a car park. Browne’s former house is now a Pret a Manger.

The book is a required taste but is not without merit. Readers who get to the end will be pushed well out of their comfort zone. The book has generally been well received except by the Spectator Magazine.[1] Given the fact that nearly every major newspaper and magazine in Britain has carried a review of the book, Granta must have exceptional publicity department. The book would have been something of a gamble for Granta given Aldersey-Williams constant comparing the debates over political and religious differences of the 17th century with similar phenomena from our times.As the Scotsman reviewer put it “It is a high-risk strategy to segue from the Civil War and the Restoration of Charles II to Jimmy Savile and Richard Dawkins, the MMR vaccine and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Morgellons and the Mass Extinction Monitoring Organization, George Monbiot and Amanda Knox, Mercedes hubcaps and the IgNobel Awards.[2]

The book has caused people who have read it to delve deeper into the subject matter. The scientific and philosophical questions that Browne grappled within the seventeenth century are still with us today. William’s to his credit has recognized this.Thomas Browne was born in London in 1605. He studied medicine in three different places starting at Oxford then Padua and Leiden. When he finished these studies, he moved to Norwich in 1637, where opened a practice and was a physician until he died in 1682. Before moving to Norwich Browne started to put his thinking on scientific matters down on paper his published work, Religio Medici was written around 1635 but not printed until 1642.The book sought to reconcile Browne’s belief in scientific reason with his religious belief. He did not see science as a barrier to belief saying “is no vulgar part of faith to believe a thing not only above, but contrary to reason, and against the arguments of our proper senses”.[3]

This contradiction between scientific objectivity and religion would be a recurring theme throughout Browne’s work. The writer E J Merton says of this contradiction “Here is Browne’s scientific point of view in a nutshell. One lobe of his brain wants to study facts and test hypotheses on the basis of them, the other is fascinated by mystic symbols and analogies.” “The eclecticism so characteristic of Browne… Browne does not cry from the housetops, as did Francis Bacon, the liberating power of experience in opposition to the sterilizing influence of reason. Nor does he guarantee as did Descartes, the intuitive truth of reason as opposed to the falsity of the senses. Unlike either, he follows both sense experience and a priori reason in his quest for truth. He uses what comes to him from tradition and from contemporary science, often perhaps without too precise a formulation”.[4]

With his next book Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646), Browne went on an offensive. It challenges what Browne called “vulgar errors”. Browne challenged false belief and superstition. As the reviewer in the Guardian points out “That combination of curious learning, reserved judgment, credulity and proto-scientific method runs through his other major works. Hydriotaphia, Urn-Burial (1658) meditates on death and cremation in the light of an archaeological discovery of a cluster of urns containing burned bones in a field near Walsingham. “Who knows the fate of his bones?” Browne reflects. The Garden of Cyrus (1658) explores the benefits of planting trees in a lattice-like arrangement and muses on the “mystical mathematics” of the number five. Browne also wrote a glorious inventory of a fictional museum (Musaeum Clausum) full of lost and impossible objects, such as “The Skin of a Snake bred out of the Spinal Marrow of a Man” and a letter from Cicero’s brother describing Britain in the age of Julius Caesar”.

Among several surprising things that Aldersey-Williams’s extremely detailed book digs up is that Browne was an extraordinary inventor of new words. The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary have him as the first person to use the word “electricity”. It is a pity that the modern-day new words such as “selfie” are not a patch on the words invented by Browne. Browne’s new words show preciseness and beauty missing in today’s new additions to the English language. But before we get carried away, he did invent words such as “alliciency” or “zodiographer” which are not so catchy. It is also disputed how many new words can be attributed to Browne.

I am not sure that I agree with Aldersey-Williams, who believes that Browne’s “tolerant and forgiving” style provides a model for writing and thinking about science today. Both Browne and Aldersey-Williams are Deists in their philosophical outlooks. A strange omission from the book is the belief that Browne was an early member of the Enlightenment.The Enlightenment, according to Jonathan Israel, was “the unprecedented intellectual turmoil which commenced in the mid-seventeenth century, “and was closely linked with the scientific discoveries of people like Galileo. Whose scientific innovations paved the way for “powerful new philosophical systems” producing a profound struggle between “traditional, theologically sanctioned ideas about Man, God, and the universe and secular, mechanistic conceptions which stood independently of any theological sanction?”.[5]

Aldersey-Williams also tends to view Browne and his thought in a very national framework. While it would have been next to impossible for someone like Browne to see the connection between his scientific and philosophical ideas and the political upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century. Someone from the 21st century should have. Aldersey-Williams has like Browne very little to say on the English Civil war.According to the ODNB (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) “Little trace remains of Browne’s life, during the civil war and the interregnum, other than as author and family man. His post-Restoration letters to his sons show awareness of public events and strong opinions about the killing of Charles I, but the only political act during the civil war and the interregnum of which evidence survives is his refusal in 1643 (along with 431 other members of the gentry and professions) to subscribe money to parliament for the recapture of royalist-held Newcastle. After 1660, however, he played a more open role in the establishment. In Religio medici (I.30) he had declared: ‘I have ever beleeved, and doe now know, that there are Witches’ (a belief shared by Bacon, Harvey, and Boyle). The anonymous account of A tryal of witches, at the assizes held at Bury St. Edmonds for the county of Suffolk; on the tenth day of March, 1664 (1682, 41–2), ‘in the sixteenth year of … Charles II’, reports that Browne was: clearly of Opinion, that [the seven alleged child-victims] were Bewitched; … he conceived, that these swouning Fits were Natural, and nothing else but that they call the Mother, but only heightned to a great excess by the subtilty of the Devil, co-operating with the Malice of these which we term Witches, at whose Instance he doth these Villanies.[6]

The English revolution which largely passed Browne by was a world event and should be seen in broad international context within which the political ideas associated with this war developed. According to C Talbot “Israel in his book Radical Enlightenment suggests that the Fronde in France and the Masaniello rising in Naples were just as important in terms of their influence on European consciousness as the English Civil War”.

Aldersey-Williams philosophical prejudices tend him to attack anyone who seeks to go further than him in his scientific understanding. For him, modern writers such as Richard Dawkins are too dogmatic in their insistence of separation between science and religious mysticism. Aldersey-Williams tends to gloss overs Browne’s views on depression which are far from helpful. Browne believed that periodical periods of melancholia “are to be cherished as a proper response to the way we find the world”.Having said that Browne’s dabbling with alchemy should be explained after all a much more famous scientist of the time delved into it. Sir Isaac Newton it is true did devote more of his time to the subject than he did writing the Principia.

As Chris Talbot points out “Newton did not succeed in turning lead into gold, but he did succeed in discovering the law of gravity. The project of the alchemists was to discover the natural process that had created the elements such as lead and gold, to reproduce that process and to harness it for the benefit of mankind. Given the technology available to Newton, this was an impractical objective, but it took him two decades to find that out. There was, however, nothing “unscientific” or “mystical” about the objective. Alchemy was no more inherently mystical than algebra, which, as its name suggests, came from the same Arabic source”.[7]To conclude this book is a curious read, it is an unorthodox book, but it is a very good read. Not all of Aldersey-Williams comparisons of the 17th century with 21st century come off, but it is a legitimate literary exercise. I would like to recommend this book. It is not for everyone’s taste if it sparks an interest in the extraordinary political, scientific events of the 17th century then it deserves the wide audience it looks to have achieved.


[1] http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/9558902/its-amazing-how-many-different-subjects-sir-thomas-brownes-latest-biographer-doesnt-care-about/
[2] http://www.scotsman.com/mobile/lifestyle/books/book-review-the-adventures-of-sir-thomas-browne-1-3761949
[3] Religio Medici https://archive.org/details/b24751182
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudodoxia_Epidemica
[5] Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750.J Israel
[6] Sir Thomas Browne 1605–1682 R. H. Robbins – http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3702?docPos=4
[7] [8] Marxism and Science: An addendum to “The Frankfurt School vs. Marxism” http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/10/scie-o28.html

God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, 1660–1720, by Brodie Waddell. The Boydell Press. 2012; pp. 273. £60.

In his first book, God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, Brodie Waddell uses a combination of genre, “cultural turn” and “history from below” to explain the complex changes in the economy and politics of late Stuart England. However, the book offers a much watered-down version of both. Suffice to say Waddell rejects previous Whig And orthodox Marxist teleologies.Waddell’s particular brand of people’s history historiography is heavily influenced by historians who came from the Communist Party Historians Group. One of their many contributions to the study of Early Modern England was the historiographical genre “history from below” or ‘people’s history’. The influence of E P Thompson’s book the Making of the English Working Class is palpable.

Thompson’s book and his other major works have a common theme in that they tend to obscure the class character of rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition.Whether Waddell understands or cares where his influences come from is open to question, but as Ann Talbot writes, People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front.The historians inside the CPHG were guilty in one form or another of this political crime. Historians like David Parker have played down the influence of the Soviet Communist Party on the historians inside the CPHG. According to Parker the British Marxists were not “imprisoned in a straight jacket –either economistic or Stalinist-from which they later escape”. This is a very generous evaluation. Parker would appear to operate a form of political blindness on this matter.

Despite being Waddell’s first book, he has a significant body of work inside and outside academia. His blog contains numerous articles based on people’s history genre. In 2013 along with other likeminded historians they held an Online Symposium titled “The Future of History from Below”: Waddell along with over twenty like-minded historians recently announced on the blog[1] a follow up the online symposium, ‘The Voices of the People’. The series of articles will further examine the history from below genre.While this is an extremely useful exercise, I have several reservations. One is that at no time has an orthodox Marxist historian been invited to contribute to the subject and secondly none of the essays examine the political origins of the genre in any great detail.

The revival of the history from below genre seems to coincide with a growing dissatisfaction amongst some historians and the wider public with capitalism. It cannot be a coincidence that we have over the last six years witnessed the near-collapse of the capitalist system and growth of social inequality unprecedented in over a century and seen the rise of a new form of history from below historiography.Like a large number of revisionist historians today Waddell sets out in his introduction a quite considerable task of seeking to overturn large swathes of the previous historiography on his chosen subject. However, his criticism of previous Marxist and Whig historiography gives succour to more conservative revisionist historians.

Waddell concedes that for a substantial part of the twentieth century early modern historiography in Britain and internationally has been dominated by a disparate number of historians who in one way or another profess to be Marxist or Marxist influenced. As Tom Leng points out “notions of early modern social change have been informed by a series of teleological transitions–from feudalism to capitalism, community to society, and so on”.[2]It is debatable how much Marx and Engels Waddell has read, but his book does not present their writings in any great detail. He does not agree with their politics or historiography. In his book and his blog, he rejects the notion that early modern society can be best understood as a transition from feudalism to capitalism.

I believe the book would have benefited from a closer study of Marxist methodology. In fact, like most modern history books Waddell’s is very light on methodology. While not directly concerning the material in the book Engels work on the family would have given us a deeper insight into the lives of “ordinary 17th-century people, as Engels noted “According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is twofold. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour on the one hand and of the family on the other”.[3]

Waddell rejects Engel’s historical materialistic outlook. He instead leans heavily on the work of E. P. Thompson whose work for too long has been described as Marxist. Despite borrowing a few phrases or quotes from Marx or Engels Thompson’s work is a negation of orthodox Marxism.Terms like “moral economy” have been presented as a sort of Marxist analysis. The term “moral economy” has usually been attributed to Thompson. However, it was the Russian economist Alexander Chayanov who first expounded on this idea in the 1920s.Waddell’s book relies heavily on Thompson’s “moral economy”, but no matter how you try you wrap it up Thompson’s theoretical mess, it has nothing to do with any Marxist concepts or methodology. Waddell tends to separate what people thought about religion, duty and community from the significant economic changes that took place in the seventeenth century. Waddell like Thompson rejects the relationship between base and superstructure.

As one reviewer put it “Waddell does not claim to be an expert on new forms of economic development that came about during the later Stuart period. In the latter half of the book, Waddell details the activity of the people. He cites numerous strikes, protests, and communal actions that took place across England between 1660 and 1720. Due to his political blindness, these events cannot be placed in relation to their political or social context. His tendency to separate base and superstructure means his observations are superficial at best and are treated only as manifestations of a more general sense of collective identity and agency.”

This separation between base and superstructure has become the hallmark of several historians that write on the history from below genre. Despite being labelled as out of date and unfashionable what Marx wrote on base and superstructure is as relevant today as when it was written :”In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life”.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure. In studying such transformations, it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic, or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production”.[4]

While Waddell correctly points out in the book that the lives of working people in early modern England, were to a degree influenced by the economic changes taking place after the revolution. But he rejects the premise that their social being determined their consciousness.Again the book would have benefited from Marx’s analysis in The German Ideology: “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct afflux from their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of the politics, laws, morality, religion, and metaphysics of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas”. [5]

Despite its shortcoming on the methodology, the book does have merit. It is to Waddell’s credit that in order to present his ideas, he uses a wide range of sources, low priced pamphlets, Sermons, songs, broadsides. The books show his extensive use of archival sources such as court records, guild and company records, and parish registers.The book is divided into three sections, and each examines the concepts in the title, God, duty, and community. One problem encountered by Waddell is the paucity of records that enable us to have a good idea of how “ordinary” people viewed the religious developments and how they impacted on economic life.It is clear that during the English revolution traditional religious beliefs started to receive a beating as David north points out “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt a death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway.[6]

Waddell can reject Marx, Tawney and even Weber all he likes but evidence point to large sections of society both poor and rich alike sharing similar if not the same attitude towards God and to some extent property.To conclude, despite calling for a new approach to historical research, much of Waddell’s ideas have been developed already by a body of writers and historians who advocated a “cultural turn”. Like many “new” approaches Cultural Studies started life as an attack on revolutionary Marxism, It is hoped that Waddell’s future work does not too far down this road.

[1] https://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/
[2] https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=38233
[3] The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State: in the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan preface to the First Edition, 1884
[4] Marx, Karl (1977). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers: Notes by R. Rojas.
[5] German Ideology, 1.c. p. 13-4.
[6] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism By David North

Writings of Exile in the English Revolution and Restoration: Philip Major, Ashgate March 2013

Phillip Major’s new book is a welcome addition into areas of the English revolution that has been long neglected. Major’s book on exile joins a recent number of books examining royalist exiles, including Geoffrey Smith’s look into Royalist exiles during the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth, and by the same author The Cavaliers in Exile 1640–1660.
Major’s research into royalist exile both internal and external has according to one writer “contributed much new and original research and written work on the subject exile”. Major’s work should be read alongside numerous other studies which in the last five years have filled a large number of gaps in royalist historiography.

Whether this has changed, our understanding of royalism remains to be seen. Any increase in our understanding must be allied to a study of the previous historiography from both left and right-wing historians.Given the amount of material that remains to be archived and written about on the subject of exile Major’s book is an important contribution to this research. The book is both austere in look and content. One problem is Major’s use of nearly impenetrable language that would put even the most enthusiastic reader off. I understand that these type of books must have a certain academic tone; there is a danger that this type of language becomes understandable available to a select few.

The writer George Orwell hated this type of unnecessary language writing “The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age, there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find—this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify—that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.[1]

The date range covered by Writings of Exile 1640-1680 is broad and difficult and is probably why Gaby Mahlberg felt that the book was a little “disjointed”.Major’s approach was defended by the publishers saying “it challenges conventional paradigms which assume a neat demarcation of chronology, geography and allegiance in this seminal period of British and American history. Crossing disciplinary lines, it casts new light on how the ruptures — and in some cases liberation — of exile in these years both reflected and informed events in the public sphere”.[2]

Major’s writing style is not for the faint-hearted. The academic tone and language that permeates the entire book is set in Chapter One Edward Hyde: Case Study of a Royalist Exile. Hyde was a significant figure both during the revolution and the restoration of the monarchy. His History of the Rebellion, according to one writer “served to formulate and crystallize the social philosophy soon to be known as Toryism. As a historical rhetorician and portrait painter, there can be no doubt that Clarendon ranks among the greatest; the strength and resilience of the Tory view of history may be estimated from its present prevalence and influence”.[3]

Hyde’s exile begun on Isles of Scilly, Jersey and other places during the 1640s and 50s. His second exile was in Montpellier in the late 1660s and 70s. His fall from power would have had a deep psychological impact on him. However, Major’s book does not examine how politically Hyde dealt with what was tantamount to a political exile. I am not sure the best way to understand Hyde’s political exile is through his writings’ Contemplation of the Psalms.During his periods of exile, Hyde attempted to form a broad spectrum of political and religious alliances. While he would have experienced a great deal of personal, psychological and family problems due to exile, he did not go quietly into the good night.

In many instances, he sought to form a myriad of alliances in order to pursue his political and social agenda. As Mahlberg said, looking into his ties with republican and Leveller activists abroad would be a very good research topic. She adds “There are intriguing links between Clarendon and his protégé republican Henry Neville exiled to Italy in 1664 for their mutual benefit, for instance, while the firebrand Algernon Sidney made various overtures for office to the Restoration regime before plotting to topple it. Further leads worth exploring point to Catholic Rome, where both royalists and republicans had their secret networks, and towards the Huguenot south of France, wherein the later 1660s we find both the fallen first minister Hyde and the fallen republican Sidney.”[4]

While Major is within his right to study and research what he wants. One should not draw from this study of Clarenden’s lesser religious writings a belief that these should be elevated above his political or literary writings.
Many Royalist exiles sought to ransack the bible in order to understand what had happened to them. For many protestant Royalists “both the Established Church and its liturgy remained decidedly alive, if maimed and disoriented. Gathering in the private chapel of Sir Richard Browne, the royalist diplomat in Paris, and under the chaplaincy of John Cosin, dean of Peterborough, many Protestant royalists recast their newfound hardship in familiar religious terms.

Whether forced into exile by parliamentary ordinance or voluntarily following the Stuarts in hopes of restoration, those who attended services at Browne’s chapel turned to Scripture and divine example in order to comprehend defeat”.[5]In Chapter two ‘Ceremony and Grief in the Royalist Exile’ Major continues his theme of royalist exiles seeking to continue their religious practices into exile. The chapter explores royalists’ attitude ‘to the death of fellow exiles, as well as friends and family left behind in England’.

According to Major “there is considerable evidence, much of it again found in Evelyn’s Diary, for the continued observance by royalist exiles of the full panoply of Church of England services, including those of Holy Communion, christening, marriage and even the ordination of priests and consecration of bishops. Yet while, while each of these ceremonies played an important role in engendering a sense of cultural continuity amidst the rupture of exile, the rites of burial provide a particularly poignant and recurring motif in the extant contemporary literature. Exile is an extreme environment in which people experience an acute sense of change and behave in revealing ways”.[6]

Chapter 3 deals with ‘Royalist Internal Exile’. Major’s focus is on the exile of royalists from London and their internment in the countryside. These royalists built up a network of friends who shared political and religious beliefs. The chapter is an elongated paper which appeared in the Review of English Studies. It is pretty clear from Major’s work on the subject of internal exile that the subject has been heavily under-researched. Parliament during the civil war, according to Major, developed a large number of measures to ensure large scale royalist exile.[7]

Again royalists refused to go quietly into internal exile. Many royalists responded by launching a barrage of poetry in order to understand their predicament. In (John) Berkenhead’s poem, ‘Staying in London’, Major states, “provides a window into the royalist literary response to banishment from London, and also allows us to explore its nuanced relationship with other cavalier verse of defeat and exile. Communicating hope and fear, secrecy and indecision, and the sometimes surprising level of enervation which these combinations can generate, it also incorporates more unambiguous royalist literary notions, such as imprisonment, though even these are by no means always treated similarly.

Perhaps most singularly, the peculiar nature of exclusion from London during the English Revolution, with its concomitant anonymity and reduction in status, seems to turn the cavalier poet in on himself, to the brink of self-loathing, until, ironically, he eventually longs to leave the capitalç‘O tear me hence’ çof his own volition. On this evidence, like their external equivalents, measures of internal exile such as the Act for Banishment have not only far-reaching physical but also psychological, repercussions, not least for those who attempt to defy them”.

Chapter four ‘William Goffe in New England’ discusses the regicides exile in America. As Gaby Mahlberg mentioned in her review three royalist chapters to one parliamentary is a little one-sided. You get the feeling that if the other way around the author would be accused of undue bias. I find this chapter the best. In the sense that Major writes in a manner that is easier to understand without dumbing down history. Goffe was a significant figure in the English revolution, and Major does give him the respect due. As Major points out, there is a significant difference between royalist and parliament exiles in so much that many of the parliamentary exiles were regicides and were hunted down without mercy.[8]

Like Hyde in chapter one, Major tries to find similarities between Goffe’s and Hyde’s use of the Psalms and other Biblical texts in their exile writings. Like Hyde, earlier in the book Goffe spent large parts of his exile wondering how he lost power so quickly and very rapidly become exiled in a strange land. Major concentrates heavily on exiles turning to religious literature, but research can only take us so far. Republican revolutionaries like Goffe had no means of learning from past revolutionary struggles, so they turned to the bible. Historians should not limit their research to a man’s religious proclivities.

To conclude, as was said earlier, this book is not for the faint-hearted. The book is part of a broad shift in the historiography of the English revolution. The last twenty or so years have seen a major shift away from the dominant Marxist historiography. One of the byproducts of this shift is over the last five years we have witnessed a proliferation of Royalist studies. Major’s new book enters into this territory. Despite being well written and researched his use of language, which is largely impenetrable to the wider reading public could lead to this type of historiography being open to a select few.


[1] Politics and the English Language George Orwell, 1946
[2] “Writings of Exile in the English Revolution and Restoration”
[3] norton.com/college/english/nael/noa/pdf/27636_17th_U26_Hyde-1-3.pdf
[4] https://thehistorywoman.com/2014/12/27/the-english-revolution-and-its-patriotic-exiles/
[5] The Devotional Landscape of the Royalist Exile, 1649– 1660 Mark R. F. Williams
[6] Funerary Rites in the Royalist Exile: George Morley’s Ministry in Antwerp, 1650-1653
[7] ‘Twixt Hope and Fear: John Berkenhead, Henry Lawes, And Banishment from London during the English revolution
[8] See review- Killers of the King – The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I Hardcover – 11 Sep 2014 352 pages Bloomsbury Publishing – ISBN-13: 978-1408851708ttp://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/killers-of-king-men-who-dared-to_23.html

Review: The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements ISBN-10: 1472204220 11 Sep 2014

The Crimson Ribbon is a very well written and researched debut historical novel by Katherine Clements. The supreme test of a historical novel is how well the author blends fictional characters with real-life figures and events. The Crimson Ribbons passes that test.The central character of the book is Ruth Flowers, a very believable creation of the author’s imagination. Flower’s life intersects with the real-life figures of Oliver Cromwell and Elizabeth Poole.Clements treatment of Cromwell and Poole is very disciplined and accurate. It is always tempting for a novelist to play fast and loose with history and historical figures. Cromwell is a very well-known and written about figure and does not play a too greater part in the book. Poole, on the other hand, is not well known, and Clements has a bit more space to explore her life creatively.

The opening chapter of the book is very violent and explores the treatment of women who stepped out of line with the authorities. The English revolution brought about a significant politicisation of all sectors of society none more so than women. In the 17th century, England women were allowed to be seen but not heard.While it was dangerous for men to question the existing political and economic setup, for women at the beginning of the 17th century, it was nearly impossible. But women of all classes managed to be heard, and some cases very loudly.

The explosion of printing presses enabled women with little money to spread their ideas and propaganda to a wider audience than ever before.But this had a severe price. The ruling elite correctly saw this radicalisation of women as a direct threat to their power and privileges. The women who spoke up, formed groups and joined the radical parties such as the Levellers Fifth Monarchists and even Baptists or Quakers were seen as a plague and in many cases labelled witches.

According to the writer John Carey “a woman could be publicly humiliated, ducked or bridled merely for scolding her husband, neighbours – or government”. The book highlights the precarious nature of women who step outside the bounds of society. The descent into poverty, prostitution and sometimes death was all too real. Given the growth, today of young women who for one reason have left their family home and have descended into poverty and homelessness with little protection from the state shows that despite the novel being set in the 17th century it has a contemporary feel to it.

Clements character Ruth is well written and believable. The fact that real-life characters similar to Flowers existed during the war has largely passed historians by. Another aspect of the war that has only recently been addressed is the tremendous growth of printing presses during the revolution. Clements’s book appears to be the first novel to broach the subject.[1] Much the way the internet has given a voice to people who would never be heard so did the illegal printing presses in the 17th century.

Having read her writings, it is clear that Elizabeth Poole was a very political young woman. She was close to a few of the radical groups that were prevalent at the time and was close to the Fifth Monarchists.The story of Ruth Flowers is used by Clements to keep the novel ticking over. However the most interesting real-life character is Elizabeth Poole. It is clear from extensive research on Poole that not much is known about her life; even her birth and death are not agreed. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, she was born 1622? died in or after 1668.

Poole’s main claim to fame was her intervention into the debate over the fate of Charles 1st. According to Manfred Brod “It was into this situation that Elizabeth Poole entered towards the end of December as a kind of consultant prophetess. After some preliminary hearings of which little is known, she was received in a plenary session of the council of officers on 29 December. She told of a vision she had had, in which the army, as a healthy young man, cured the nation, as a sick woman, of its disease. [2]

The power of the army, she explained, came from God and must not be given away. Several officers, including Ireton, spoke to approve of her presentation. Immediately afterwards, Lilburne came in with a petition, A Plea for Common-Right and Freedom, which contained detailed proposals for the conversion of the council of officers to a national executive body. Poole had been brought in to play a mediating role between officers and Levellers.There appears to be no proof that Poole met Lilburne but is clear that she was very sympathetic towards him and the Levellers and used their documents in her arguments against Cromwell and Ireton.

“I Have considered the agreement of the people that is before you, and I am very jealous lest you should betray your trust in it (in as much as the Kingly Power is faln into your hands) in giving it up to the people; for thereby you give up the trust committed to you, and in so doing you will prove your selves more treacherous then they that went before you, they being no wayes able to improve it without you. You justly blame the King for betraying his trust, and the Parliament for betraying theirs: This is the great thing I have to say to you, Betray not you your trust”.[3]

She then according to Brod in 1653 “Poole forced her way into the pulpit of the chapel of Somerset House in London and preached in favour of Lilburne, then on trial for his life. The congregation was a socially prominent one, and the action was widely and sensationally reported in the newsbooks”.[4]Despite being strong on plot and history, there is an overriding weakness in the book, which is the near absence of politics. Clements use of real figures such as William Kiffin (1616–1701), while being historically accurate leaves out his political relationship with figures like Poole.Kiffin in Clements book is correctly portrayed as being extremely hostile to Poole’s indiscretions. However his real hostility is her perceived association with the radical groups, especially the Levellers and Fifth Monarchists, according to Michael A. G. Haykin “During the late 1640s and 1650s Kiffin emerged as a skilled spokesman for the fledgeling Baptist movement. In 1646 Kiffin and Knollys were involved in a public debate in Coventry with two paedobaptists, John Bryan and Obadiah Grew. Kiffin was a signatory to the dedication in Walwins Wiles (1649), an attack on the Levellers usually attributed to John Price”.[5]

According to Brod “Kiffin also played a prominent role in the expansion of the movement beyond London. Extant documents from places as far afield as Wales and Northumberland, Ireland and the Midlands reveal Kiffin’s involvement in planning the establishment of new churches and associations, then in giving them advice and counsel, and generally in providing stability to the Baptist cause during these early days of the movement. One critical moment came in May 1658, when, at the meeting of the western association of Baptist churches in Dorchester, some individuals who were sympathetic to the potentially subversive politics of the Fifth Monarchy movement sought to convince the representatives of the churches in the association to espouse publicly the ideals and goals of this party. Kiffin, who was present with other representatives from the churches in London, successfully persuaded the western association not to commit itself in this direction. While some of the Fifth Monarchy movement appears to have been relatively harmless students of the Bible, others had definite revolutionary tendencies and were convinced that they should take an active, even violent, role in the fulfilment of the prophecies of Daniel. Open and widespread adherence to these views by the Particular Baptists would have had harmful and serious repercussions for the Baptist movement.”[6]

Historical novels are notoriously hard to place within the current historiography of the English revolution. Academic work is easier. While researching her novel, Clements mentions Christopher Hill as one of her influences. Hill, despite being an academic historian belonged to a group of Communist Party historians who pioneered the history from below genre. Clements book is a historical novel from below.I liked the book. It works on two levels; it is a very well written book, and the storyline is plausible. The history is well researched and accurate up to a point. An examination of the politics of the characters in the book would have made the book a better read.

Apart from this nitpicking, I would recommend the book to those interested in the subject. The Crimson Ribbon has been extensively reviewed both in the mainstream media and given the number of blogs mentioned in the blurb quite heavily in the blogosphere deserves a wide readership.

[1] See also Gutenberg’s Apprentice – 2014 by Alix Christie
[2] http://www.oxforddnb.com
[3] From the writings of Elizabeth Poole http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebogroup/index.html
[4] http://www.oxforddnb.com
[5] http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15521- Michael A. G. Haykin
[6] Kiffin, William (1616–1701), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15521

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill – Lyttelton Theatre

The Play Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill is currently playing to packed audiences at the Lyttelton Theatre in London. The play has been well received by a diverse audience.Past reviews have been on the whole appreciative. The Financial Times said “Churchill shows us an age of unbelievable fluidity in the social order…” The play reminds us sombrely that such moment of potential pass: they either come to nothing in the first place, or the old order is soon restored. Michelle Terry and Helena Lymbery each excel in the Putney sequence”.

The play is set amidst the English Civil war so knowledge of this event is a must before seeing or reading the play. The blurb for the play by Churchill sets the scene “1649. After years of bloody civil conflict, an exhausted England is in the hands of radical extremists. Turning the country upside down, Parliament’s soldiers kill the King and take power into their own hands. Theirs is a war to establish Heaven on Earth. This is the story of the most terrifying decade in our history. Struggling to find a voice in the face of unspeakable suffering, a group of ordinary men and women cling to the belief that they will be shown a glimpse of unspeakable, transcendent glory”.

Churchill wrote the play in 1976 and the first productions of the play have a Kafkaesque sparseness to them with only a table and six chairs for props. In contrast, today’s production is a little more expensive but in places is visually stunning? Having not been performed for a good while the play marked as one writer put it “a major UK revival of Churchill’s seminal play brought to the stage by Polly Findlay and the stellar creative team behind Thyestes (Arcola) and Eigengrau (Bush)”. The play also marked Churchill’s first collaboration with the Joint Stock Theatre Group.

In her programme notes Churchill correctly bemoans the fact that the English revolution and particularly its radical groups get scant attention in modern school history. Churchill’s plays concentrates on three main groups the Levellers, Diggers and Ranters. While there are programmatic distinctions between the groups there is much that unites them. While Churchill does not examine the role of Quakers in her play many leading figures of the Levellers, Ranters and Diggers would end their days paid up members of the Quakers.

One word of warning the play as far as I can see does not follow any chronological order. One critic cautioned that audiences may “find themselves disoriented by the swirl of events and even by the style of storytelling. In all productions it seems that six actresses and actors repeatedly switch roles while playing dozens of characters. Identification is often deliberately blurred.Churchill throughout her career to date has tackled complex historical questions in a simple but thought-provoking way. Earlier plays have included “Fen” which was about farmworkers in England and “Mad Forest” on the Romanian revolution. She has also not been scared to use theatrical different techniques such as the use collage form.

The plays title taken from the Digger Pamphlet The Light Shining in Buckinghamshire [1]“JEHOVAH ELLOHIM Created Man after his own likenesse and image, which image is his Sonne Jesus, Heb. I. verse 2. who is the image of the Invisible God: now Man being made after Gods image or likenesse, and created by the word of God, which word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us; which word was life, and that life the light of men, I Joh. 2. this light I take to be that pure spirit in man which we call Reason, which discusseth things right and reflecteth, which we call conscience; from all which there issued out that golden rule or law, which we call equitie: the sum me of which is, saith Jesus, Whatsoever yee would that men should doe to you, doe to them, this is the Law and the Prophets; and James cals it the royall Law, and to live from this principle is calld a good conscience: and the creature Man was priviledged with being Lord over other inferior creatures, but not over his own kinde; for all men being a like priviledged by birth, so all men were to enjoy the creatures a like without proprietie one more than the other, all men by the grant of God are a like free, and every man individuall, that is to say, no man was to Lord or command over his own kinde: neither to enclose the creatures to his own use, to the impoverishing of his neigh- bours, see the Charter, I. Gen. from 26. vers. to the end of the Chapt. and see the renewing of the Charter to Noah and his Sons, Gen. 9. from the I. vers. to the 18.

Despite much of the language of the play being couched in religious phraseology it is clear that many people were starting to examine their place in the world and were starting to express a profound disagreement with the way they were being governed.As David north wrote “until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well under way.[2]

The Play

The play consists of two acts and examines the revolutionary events before and after the Putney debates of 1647 . The first group examined by Churchill are the Levellers. They were by far the biggest and most organized of the revolutionary groups. The high tide for this group was the Putney debates and Churchill correctly places an abridged account of them at the center of the whole play.

That Levellers were not the only group to couch their writings and speeches in religious garb. According to Marx “Cromwell and the English people had borrowed from the Old Testament the speech, emotions, and illusions for their bourgeois revolution. When the real goal had been achieved and the bourgeois transformation of English society had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk. Thus the awakening of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again”.[3]

Putney debates

While much of the play has been written by Churchill she still manages to accurately and skillfully to weave real events and words spoken at the time. By far the strongest part of the play is the partially verbatim transcript of the Putney Debates of 1647, which saw rank and file soldiers and commoners arguing for a broadening of the democratic franchise and an end to social inequality this was opposed by Cromwell, Ireton and other leaders of the revolution.The quotes for this production come from Geoffrey Robertson’s book[4]. At the Putney Debates Cromwell was clearly taken by surprise by the arguments of the Levellers. But once Cromwell and other grandees recovered their composure they opposed every demand by the Levellers to extend the franchise.

Ireton spoke for the Grandees when he said “no man hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom… that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.” Thomas Rainsborough a Leveller countered by saying “I really I think that the poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee; and therefore truly, Sr, I think itt clear, that every Man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own Consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.”[5]

The Levellers were defeated at Putney and before long were wiped out as a coherent political organization. The play does attempt to grope for an answer why the Levellers and other revolutionary groups failed to develop the revolution in a more left wing direction. In this matter Churchill fails. But in this failure she is not alone. Accomplished historians like Christopher Hill struggled to provide a significant answer to this conundrum. Hill says “The Leveller conception of free Englishmen was thus restricted, even if much wider, than the embodied in the existing franchise. Their proposals would perhaps have doubled the number of men entitled to vote. But manhood suffrage would have quadrupled it. The generals, generally horrified, pretended at Putney that the Levellers were more democratic than they were”.

It is hardly possible in this review to explore in any great detail but a sober evaluation should be made. The Levellers appeared to take on many of the characteristics of a political party in the years 1645-46. This is a contentious issue and has been disputed. They were the radical wing of the Independent coalition and were responsible for many of modern day political techniques such as mass demonstrations, collecting petitions, leafleting and the lobby of MPs. As an aside William Clarke who provided us with the report of the Putney Debates was an avid collector of books, pamphlets and leaflets found in his collection was over eighty Leveller pamphlets. The Levellers strength mainly lay in London and other towns and had not an insignificant support in the army.

The main plank of its manifesto was the call for a democratic republic in which the House of Commons would be more important than the House of Lords. A Leveller would have a wanted redistribution and extension of the franchise, legal and economic reform on behalf of men of small property, artisans, yeoman, small merchants, and the very layers which made up the composition of the Levellers themselves.The Levellers themselves were part of a group of men that sought to understand the profound political and social changes that were taking place at the beginning of the 17th century. They were the true ‘Ideologues of the revolution’ and had a capacity for abstract thought. Levellers also wished to democratise the gilds and the City of London, a decentralization of justice and the election of local governors and stability of tenure for copyholders. While the Levellers were sympathetic to the poor, which stemmed from their religion they had no programme to bring about social change, they never advocated a violent overturning of society.

Their class outlook, that being of small producers, conditioned their ideology. At no stage did the Levellers constitute a mass movement. The contradiction between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of the small property owners caused some tension. They had no opposition to private property and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for the lot of the poor to be made more equitable. One of their members John Cooke explained “I am no advocate for the poore further then to provide bread and necessaries for them, without which, life cannot be maintained, let rich men feast, and the poore make hard meale, but let them have bread sufficient”.

Knowing that they could not come to power through the presently constituted electorate the Levellers attempted to find constitutional ways of getting round it. A draft constitution produced in 1647 called the Agreement of the People declared that the state had broken down in civil war and must be refounded on the basis of certain fundamental “native rights” safeguarded even from a sovereign went against one of the most fundamental reasons for the war in the first place. The Agreement amongst other demands, called for biennial parliaments, franchise reform, only those who contracted into the new state by accepting the agreement were to have the vote.

The one real chance the Levellers had to put their ideas into practice was to gain control of the army. The development of the new model army was central to the outcome of the English civil war, who controlled the army controlled state power. The Levellers had agitated for the arrears of wages to be paid and that indemnity for actions committed during the civil war be granted. This agitation had won them considerable support in the army.In the end as Churchill writes in the Play the only thing the Levellers got out of Putney was the promise of Cromwell to take things to a committee.To put it more simply the generals deliberately exaggerated the radicalism of a majority of the Levellers in order to label them extremists and to mobilise their own supporters against them. Cromwell correctly recognised that if the franchise was widened it would threaten his position in parliament. Again Hill explains “Defending the existing franchise Cromwell son in law, Henry Ireton rejected the doctrine ‘that by a man being born here, he shall have a share in that power that shall dispose of the lands here and of all things here’. The vote was rightly restricted to those who ‘had a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom’. Namely, ‘the person in whom all lands lies and that incorporation’s in whom all trading lies”.

Ireton claimed the present House of Commons represented them and went on to ask by what right the vote was demanded for all free Englishmen. If by natural right, taking up the Levellers point that they should be free. Who could freely dispose of their own labour? Then Ireton could see no reason why men had as much natural right to property as to the vote. He went on to point out that if you give them the vote, then they will be the majority in parliament and they will give equal property rights to everybody. This argument completely confused Rainborowe and undermined his argument.

Cromwell was acutely aware that the ideas of the Levellers and the smaller groups within them such as the Diggers were becoming a dangerous business. Cromwell said of what he called the ‘lunaticks’ “You must break these men or they will break you” Cromwell declared. By May 1649 the Levellers had been defeated in battle and their influence in the army and in civilian life disappeared.

In many respects, the true revolutionary of the civil war was Cromwell and his New Model Army. While not agreeing with the revisionists that the Levellers were an insignificant movement, they should not also be hyped into something they were not. They were essentially a movement of the lower middle class that sought to extend the franchise on a limited basis. The reason this failed was that the social and economic basis for their ideas had not yet developed in this sense their egalitarian ideas were a foretaste of future social movements, not communistic but more in the tradition of social democracy.

Conclusion

The size and variety of the audiences for the play denote that ideas discussed have a deep resonance with the people today and the play does have a contemporary feel to it. The questions of democracy and of social inequality, the treatment of women, wars and revolution and the subjugation of Ireland is in many senses still with us. The play works on many levels. People without a knowledge of the Levellers will still get a lot out of it. The more academically minded person will also have their intellect satisfied. I would recommend the play wholeheartedly.

[1] LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, or A Discovery of the main ground, original Cause of all the Slavery in the world, but cheifly in England: presented by way of a Declaration of many of the welaffected in that County, to all their poore oppessed Country men of England, &c. First Published: 1648, anonymous Digger pamphlet;
Source: From George Sabine, ed., The Works of Gerrard Winstanley (New York: Russell and Russell, 1965)
[2] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism, By David North 24 October 1996
[3] The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852
[4] The Putney Debates (Revolutions Series) Paperback – 22 Oct 2007
[5] —Putney Debates record book 1647, Worcester College, Oxford, MS 65. Spelling and capitalisation as in the original manuscript.

John Gurney and the English Revolution

“Action is the life of all and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing”– Gerrard Winstanley

There is no denying that the death of John Gurney was a sad and terrible moment for both his family and the history community. His passing at such a young age of 54 of cancer, removes from the scene a gifted historian whose work was starting to produce results on a level of the great Christopher Hill, with whom he met at Oxford.

Gurney was not a Marxist historian, but his latest work published after his death showed a profound shift to the Left in his thinking. His paper Gerard Winstanley and the Left is insightful and thought-provoking. It is certainly one of the best analysis of left-wing historiography of the English Revolution.

Contained within his writings is an excellent example of the Historians Craft. I never met him but had some correspondence with him towards the end of his life. Even with this brief connection, I could tell he was a historian of great ability and tenacity. This was recognised by his friends and colleagues. In a tribute to him, Scott Ashley wrote “John was someone who in both his professional and personal lives could sniff out a story and extract the gold from the archive that made time and place shine fresh. To walk with him around North Shields was to see the streets and buildings with different eyes, not only in the sometimes prosaic now but as part of a more poetic then, as home places to Commonwealth-era churchmen, eighteenth-century ship captains, Victorian professionals. Among the many things I learned from John during the years, I knew him was that being a historian and making a home, physical and imaginative, were part of a common enterprise” [1].

Gurney spent most of his historical life studying the area around where he lived. However, his work on the Diggers and Gerard Winstanley was far from parochial. In many ways, he was instrumental in bringing a fresh perspective to the Diggers and Winstanley. He produced two books on them Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution published in 2007 and Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy of 2013[2]. Both books took our understanding of the Diggers to a new level.

John had many skills as a historian, but three leap out at you. He could explain complicated historical issues in a way that anyone could understand. Secondly, he brought his subject to life and thirdly his stamina to spend significant amounts of time “grubbing in the archives”.To deep mine, an archive may to a layperson seem odd, but this ability gave him a more in-depth insight into the complicated problems faced by revolutionaries such as Winstanley. These seventeenth-century revolutionaries were working without precedents in which to guide their revolution.

If Gerard Winstanley is more well known and highly thought of today, it is because of Gurney. It is hard not to agree with Michael Wood’s claim that Winstanley’s place in the pantheon of English literature and political thought should be higher than previously thought. Wood believes he should be put alongside Hobbes and Harrington as one of the great writers of English prose of the seventeenth century. We should not forget that Winstanley was also a man of action as well as words. In 17th century eyes, he was as dangerous revolutionary.

Historians Craft

Gurney’s attempt to recreate the past and therefore understand it is done with much empathy and imagination. There is also a doggedness and intellectual objectivity about his work. While some historians seek to make an objective understanding of history, Gurney was almost religious in his pursuit of historical truth.Gurney’s work exhibited a disciplined approach to complex historical questions. He recognised that he did not know everything about his area of study. But his work did show an honesty which enabled him to have a greater understanding of his role in the presentation of facts.

Gurney was also mindful of presenting his work in a way that was never apart from its moment in time. Gurney’s approach was similar to the French historian of feudal society, Marc Bloch, who wrote in his book, The Historian’s Craft “In a word, a historical phenomenon can never be understood apart from its moment in time. This applies to every evolutionary stage, our own, and all others. As the old Arab proverb has it: ‘Men resemble their times more than they do their fathers.’

Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy of 2013.

The book is a meticulously researched, scholarly and well-presented. Gurney provides us with a good understanding of the origins of the Digger movement. It has been praised for setting an “extremely high standard for local histories of this sort and must rank alongside similar studies such as Eamon Duffy’s acclaimed The Voices of Morebath.”Gurney was clear that the study of Winstanley should be not solely of historical value but must have a contemporary resonance. He says: Today, knowledge of Winstanley is widespread, and he has become one of the best-known figures from the period of the English Revolution. There have been numerous plays, novels, TV dramas, songs and films, and Winstanley has often been cited as an inspirational figure by politicians of the Left.

More specifically, his ideas and achievements have remained prescient, inspiring generations of activists and social movements”. He believed that Winstanley “has in recent years also been invoked by freeganism, squatters, guerrilla gardeners, allotment campaigners, social entrepreneurs, greens and peace campaigners; and both Marxists and libertarians have laid claim Who was to him as a significant precursor”.Gurney’s book is invaluable when it starts to trace the origins of Winstanley’s radicalism. Gurney did not subscribe to the theory that it was solely down to the war radicalising people such as Winstanley. Gurney believed that radical views were being expressed all over the country before the outbreak of civil war.

In a previous essay, Gurney elaborates on why the Digger’s achieved a level of local support in Cobham “Local support for the Diggers may also have been connected with Cobham’s marked traditions of social conflict. The manor of Cobham, a former possession of Chertsey Abbey, had passed into the hands of Robert Gavell in 1566 and was to remain with his family until 1708. During the later sixteenth century the Gavell family became involved in a long and protracted series of disputes with their tenants. In a case brought in the court of Requests by William Wrenn, a Cobham husbandman, Robert Gavell was accused of overturning manorial customs and of infringing his tenants’ rights, by seeking to extract more rent than was customarily paid, and by spoiling the timber on Wrenn’s copyhold. He was also charged with attempting to escape the payment of tax by shifting the burden on to his tenants, laying ‘a hevy burden uppon the poorer tennants contrarye to the Ancient usage, equitie and Consciens’Actions against Robert Gavell and his son Francis were resumed in the court of Chancery during the 1590s by tenants seeking to halt the continued assault on manorial custom” [3].

Who Were The Diggers

Gurney was one of the few contemporary historians involved in the study of Early Modern England who understood the importance of class in understanding the English revolution and its radical wing.The Diggers were part of a group of men that sought to understand the profound political and social changes that were taking place at the beginning of the 17th century. They were the right ‘Ideologues of the revolution’ and had a capacity for abstract thought. While the Diggers were sympathetic to the poor, this stemmed from their religion, they had no programme to bring about social change; they never advocated a violent overturning of society. Their class outlook, that being of small producers, conditioned their ideology. At no stage did the Diggers or that matter did the larger group the Levellers constitute a mass movement. The contradiction between their concern for the poor and their position of representatives of the small property owners caused some tension. They had no opposition to private property, and therefore they accepted that inequalities would always exist, they merely argued for a lot of the poor to be made more equitable.

Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution published in 2007

Gurney’s study of his local area in this case Surrey was not done from a parochial viewpoint. A survey of local events correctly done can add to a more broad and objective understanding of events.Brave Community was the result of painstaking investigations. Somewhat surprisingly it was the first full-length modern study of the Diggers.It was well-received by academic historians. One review of Brave Community by Henk Looijesteijn described it as “a study that successfully blends social and intellectual history in recreating the environment in which one of the most original thinkers of mid-seventeenth-century England originated and acted. As such, this book should be regarded as the starting point for any student of Winstanley and the Digger”.

Gerrard Winstanley and the Left

Gurney’s last essay Gerrard Winstanley and the Left is a very significant piece of work. It lays the critical ground work for a further examination of the Left’s attitude towards the English revolution. Gurney understood when writing about left wing historiography on the English Revolution that you had to be aware of the pratfalls especially when writing about the Communist Party Historians Group. One must be cognizant of the enormous amount of ideological baggage these historians carried around. It must be said that some of this baggage was not in always in perfect condition.

In many ways, this essay is in microcosm a summation of Gurney’s whole body of work. He was very much at the height of his powers when he wrote this article. Gurney acknowledges that it is only recently that the words of Winstanley have been fully appreciated. However, he believed that it is not the case that nothing of note was written before the 20th century. He thought that Winstanley’s ‘extraordinarily rich body of writings’ were read and studied between the years 1651 and the 1890s.

As he wrote in the essay “The historical legacy of the Diggers is usually seen as being very different from that of their contemporaries, the Levellers. If the Levellers were misremembered, the Diggers have been understood as being largely forgotten before the 1890s, with professional historians playing little part in their rediscovery. It took, we are told, the Marxist journalist and politician Eduard Bernstein to rediscover Winstanley quite independently of academic historians when he spent part of his exile in London working on the section on seventeenth-century English radical thinkers for Karl Kautsky’s Die Vorla¨ufer des neueren Sozialismus.

Later, in the 1940s, it was Marxist historians associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain who are said to have picked up Bernstein’s baton and created the image of a communist and materialist Winstanley which remains familiar to this day. The Left’s responsibility for, and role in, the rediscovery and promotion of the Diggers can, therefore, seem quite clear and uncomplicated. There are, however, a number of problems with this interpretation. For one thing, the Diggers had, before the 1890s, never fallen from public view to the extent often imagined. In fact, it seems that they were reasonably well known over the centuries — and perhaps even more accurately remembered than the main stream Levellers, who were often confused with them. It is also evident that early detailed research on the Diggers was not confined to the Left and that Bernstein was by no means alone in taking an interest in Winstanley’s writings in the 1890s” [4].

Revisionism

Where does Gurney’s work fit in with today’s in today’s historiography of the English Revolution? Due to no fault of his own Gurney’s work on Winstanley is an oasis in a desert of revisionism.As Michael Braddick points out, revisionists have “have tried to cut the English revolution down to size or to cast it in its own terms. In so doing, they naturally also cast a critical eye over the reputation and contemporary significance of its radical heroes”.The historian Mark Kishlansky’ has a habit of cutting down the radical heroes of the English Revolution. It is perhaps surprising that he recommends Gurney’s book saying “this is a clear-eyed yet sympathetic account of one of the most baffling figures of the English Revolution. Gurney’s painstaking research provides a wealth of new information that is assembled into a highly readable narrative. An informative and thought-provoking book.”

Kishlansky despite recommending Gurney’s book he is keen to downplay Winstanley who according to him was “a small businessman who began his career wholesaling cloth, ended it wholesaling grain, and in between sandwiched a mid-life crisis of epic proportions”.Kishlanksky inadvertently raises an interesting question. What was the relationship between Winstanley’s religion, his economic status and his politics? As the Marxist writer Cliff Slaughter says “for the understanding of some of the great problems of human history, the study of religion is a necessity. What is the relationship between the social divisions among men and their beliefs about the nature of things? How do ruling classes ensure long periods of acceptance of their rule by those they oppress? Why were the ‘Utopians’ wrong in thinking that it was sufficient only to work out a reasonable arrangement of social relations to proceed to its construction? It was out of the examination of questions like this in the German school of criticism of religion that Marx emerged to present for the first time a scientific view of society. ‘The criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism[5]”.

Conclusion

Gurney’s work on Winstanley and the Diggers is the start of a new form of historiography on the English Revolution. His work is groundbreaking in many ways and is an antidote to revisionist historiography. Gurney is correct to state there has never been what he calls a definable left-wing interpretation of the Diggers and Winstanley or to be even more precise there has never been a consistent classical Marxist position on the Diggers. It is hoped that Gurney’s work is used to further our knowledge of the radicals of the English Revolution and present a more unified theory as regards these radical gentlemen of the revolution.

[1] Brave Community: A communal and personal tribute to our friend and colleague, John Gurney (1960-2014)
[2] https://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/search?q=john+gurney
[3] Gerrard Winstanley and the Digger movement in Walton and Cobham- John Gurney
[4] Gerrard Winstanley and the Left-John Gurney.
[5] Religion and Social Revolt Cliff Slaughter Labour Review Vol 3 No 3 June 1958

A Review: Charles I: An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky 144 pages Publisher: Allen Lane (4 Dec 2014) ISBN-10: 0141979836

“And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: The LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief because thou art a bloody man.—King James Bible 2 Samuel 16:7, 8.[1]

So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
—King James Bible Numbers 35:33.

“Even his virtues were misinterpreted and scandalously reviled. His gentleness was miscalled defect of wisdom; his firmness, obstinacy; his regular devotion, popery; his decent worship, superstition; his opposing of schism, hatred of the power of godliness.Mark Kishlansky’s new biography of Charles I is an extremely controversial work.Kishlansky believes that Charles has been misunderstood by history a viewpoint that is not shared by the amongst the majority of historians who study the English revolution. For Kishalnsky Charles was not a “man of blood” as General Thomas Harrison called him and that history has much-maligned this monarch.

Kishlanksy’s book is an aggressive defence of both Charles and monarchy in general. “Princes are not bound to give an account of their actions, but to God alone” Kishlanskyhas taken the quote and turned it into a historical perspective.
According to him “Charles I is the most despised monarch in Britain’s historical memory. Considering that among his predecessors were murderers, rapists, psychotics and people who were the mentally challenged, this is no small distinction.

“One of the basic premises of writing a biography is to put the individual being written about the context of their times. In this case, the English revolution. The revolution caused widespread devastation and hundreds of thousands killed and wounded a reigning monarch is executed a republic declared, and the House of Lords abolished, but there is very little of this drama in Kinshlansky’s book. One of the main protagonists of the revolution Oliver Cromwell only gets one mention.

Given that the English revolution was primarily a political and religious dispute, Kishlanksy’s heavy emphasis on the individual mistakes, misjudgments and general bad luck of the monarch is typical of his historical methodology. In many senses, this biography is primarily a political rehabilitation of Charles. The book takes on the form of a polemical essay rather than a history book.It is not surprising that Kinshlansky’s historiography regarding Charles has been a challenge in academia. As Clive Holmes explains“Mark Kishlansky, in his rather implausible attempt to create a historiographical uniformity, cites a series of quotations from a wide range of historians. He then triumphally demonstrates that a proportion of these comments are dubious or just plain wrong. I have argued here that Kishlansky’s attempt to reconfigure the king as open and accessible by a study of his progress itself entails overstatement and misunderstanding. Kevin Sharpe’s guarded judgement on this topic, ‘it may still remain true that Charles was less than assiduous in cultivating his people in general and his influential subjects in particular’, is more compelling.51 But, ultimately, isolation is not simply a matter of propinquity; we do not need to imagine Charles as physically inaccessible, locked away from his people in either Van Dyck’s studio or his damp hunting lodges, to judge him isolated.

His isolation was a function of his refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue with ‘the people who count’, and of his consequent failure to understand both the limitations imposed on his actions by the administrative structure of England and the political and legal prejudices of those who staffed that machinery at all levels. Kishlansky does not engage specifically with all the negative comment that he recites in his introduction, imagining that his vigorous refutation of some points will explode every aspect of the professional consensus – Richard Cust’s ‘straw man’ may be a better image – that he has constructed. But some of the arguments he dismisses by implication seem basically right: not least Gardiner’s sense that it was the king’s lack of empathy, his ‘want of imaginative power’, that was at the root of his failure is still a most telling judgement”.[2]

Kishlansky defended his love affair with Charles in his reply to Clive Holmes, Nearly every conflict between subjects and sovereign in the early part of the reign of Charles I resulted from fear: fear that the king would introduce popery, fear that the king would govern without Parliament, fear that the king would not obey the law. Although Charles attempted to allay each of these concerns, he learned to his cost that there was something irrational about them, that his subjects ‘had not the will to be pleased’.Leading men of his realm misinterpreted his intentions, misapprehended his aspirations, misunderstood his motives and misconstrued his character. He could not see himself as the king that they feared and therefore, could do little to allay their suspicions. In the end, he could only conclude that he was a case of mistaken identity.[3]

This theme of Charles not being understood is a continual theme of the book. The theme is so strong even Amazon deemed it important enough to put it on the cover blurb saying “In Mark Kishlanksy’s brilliant account it is never in doubt that Charles created his catastrophe, but he was nonetheless opposed by men with far fewer scruples and less consistency who for often quite different reasons conspired to destroy him. This is a remarkable portrait of one of the most talented, thoughtful, loyal, moral, artistically alert and yet, somehow, disastrous of all this country’s rulers”.Of course, it is Amazon’s right to promote the book anyway it sees fit, but as the above quote suggests this has gone beyond standard promotion. Hopefully whoever wrote the media blurb was not a historian for it reduces history to the level of a Janet and John book. Firstly it must be said that the men who opposed Charles both inside Parliament and out were men of principle and fought for those principles through to the end.

Kishlanksy’s adoption of the bad man theory of history does not enlighten us about Charles or the men who fought him. Kishlansky believes of Charles that “Beneath the reviled and excoriated King of historical reputation is a flesh-and-blood man trapped by circumstances he could not control and events he could not shape.” Kishlanksy’s belief that individuals are prisoners of external forces also does not get us very far.As Herbert Spencer once wrote “You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown…Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”[4] Kishlanksy’s aim in this book is to overturn centuries of the historiography that attempted to place Charles in the context of his times rather than elevated him above it in some supernatural way.

He believes that the long-held view of Charles and his reign has been distorted and the centuries-long the historical narratives opposing this view is mere “Parliamentarian propaganda.”Kishlansky’s rehabilitation of Charles found support in a surprising place. A review of his book was written on the Guardian website. It is widely sympathetic to Kishlanksy’s’ view. Without examining in any detail what major historians have printed on the subject matter, it produces quotes that back up Kishlansky hypothesis. It uncritically quotes Kishlansky “What began as propaganda has been transmuted into seeming fact.”

The Guardian article continues Kishlanksy’s theme that Charles was battling against bad luck all through his life “Whichever side you take, it’s hard to deny that Charles was plagued from early on by almost comical levels of bad luck. As a young man, his daring incognito voyage to Spain to woo the Infanta turned into a fiasco. Two decades later, not only would his armies suffer crippling losses at the battle of Naseby, but Charles’s correspondence would be captured: the public revelation of his efforts to secure Catholic support against the forces of Parliament would be a devastating blow to the king’s reputation. A botched attempt to attack and plunder Spanish shipping in the first year of his reign set the tone for later military ventures: ‘the winds, as always for Charles, were contrary’.[5]

Kishlanksy’s defence of Charles I is absolute and unconditional. He rejects the standard view that Charles was intransigent. He believes that the king bent over backwards to conciliate and to compromise with Parliament. Kishlansky is perfectly in his right as an established historian to counter prevailing historiography. It is a little surprising that he chooses to do so in such a limited space is astonishing. But to overturn three centuries of historiography is going to take a lot longer than 144 pages. As one writer puts it, the “small amounts of evidence are made to bear an enormous argumentative burden”.

Even the sympathetic Guardian reviewer was forced to admit that Kishlanksy’s hoop-jumping was in danger of turning his reconsideration of Charles into a “whitewash.”It is not within the scope of this review to go over Kishlanksy’s previous written work, but it is evident from this new book that his place as a pioneer of a transatlantic revisionist interpretation of early Stuart history is secured. Kishlansky joins a growing number of major historians such Kevin Sharpe, Conrad Russell and John Morrill who reject both the Whig and Marxist historians who had seen the Civil Wars of the 1640s as stemming from the growth of ideological opposition to the Stuart monarchs over the previous half-century.

The revisionist school seek to challenge the “ideological consensus” or as Kishlansky puts it the “fallacy of social determinism’ that has existed since the 1920s. These historians reject any severe economic or social analysis and argue that revolutions are nothing but the work of a tiny group of conspirators.To conclude In any review, I try to be as generous as I can, and on the whole, I would recommend this short narrative on the life of Charles I was a competent introduction to the subject. If that were all it was, then I would have no trouble, but as this is more a polemic than a history book it needs to be answered in the future in a more detailed manner.


[1] A Sermon produced thirty years after Charles’s death
[2] CHARLES I: A Case of Mistaken Identity[with Reply] Clive Holmes, Julian Goodare, Richard Cust and Mark Kishlansky Source: Past & Present, No. 205 pp. 175-237
[3] Charles I: A Case of Mistaken Identity Author(s): Mark Kishlansky Source: Past & Present, No. 189 (Nov., 2005), pp. 41-80
[4] https://fli.institute/2014/08/19/the-great-man-theory-of-leadership/
[5] Charles I: An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky – http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/18/charles-i-an-abbreviated-life-king-mark-kishlansky-review

The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution Rachel Foxley , Manchester University Press, 2013, ISBN: 9780719089367; 304pp. Price: £70.00

Rachel Foxley’s excellent book is part of a growing recent interest in the Levellers. Most of which seeks to place the Levellers rightful place in the English revolution. Given the assault on the Levellers from revisionist historiography, it is not surprising as John Rees points out in his review for the IHR (Institute of Historical Research) that this book is “the first full-length study of the Levellers for fifty years since H. N.Brailsford’s The Levellers and the English Revolution was published in 1961”.[1]

The absence of a systematic study of this important political group is to found not so much in history as in politics. While some historians would like to keep politics out of history, there is and has been a profound connection between a rightward shift in academic circles and the type of history being studied and written about today.The book takes full account of recent scholarship. It contributes to historical debates on the development of radical and republican politics in the civil war period, the nature of tolerationist thought, the significance of the Leveller movement and the extent of the Levellers’ influence in the ranks of the New Model Army.

The importance of the Levellers has been a contentious issue amongst historians for over fifty years. During this time a historian’s dispute or Historikerstreith[2] has existed.The battle lines maybe a little blurred at times but has characterised this dispute the most has been the full-frontal attack on a Marxist interpretation of historical events.
It is not within the scope of this review to examine the revisionist revolt whose origins can be traced back to G R Elton, but the central focus of this disparate group of historians has been to attack any Marxist conception of the historical study. A by-product of these attacks has been to downplay the Levellers role in the English Revolution.As Rachel Foxley points out in her introductory chapter on ‘The Levellers and the historians’ ‘The revisionist historians who have rewritten the history of the seventeenth century have questioned almost every aspect of the historical reputation of the Levellers’ (p. 3).

Foxley is not immune to these attacks as the arch Leveller revisionist Gary de Krey picks up in his review “Foxley’s presentation of Leveller ideas is fresh and provocative, and it will undoubtedly draw rejoinders and responses. She does occasionally make assertions about historical questions that she has not fully pursued. Her discussion of the exchange between New Model soldiers and the Leveller authors in 1647–8, for instance, leads her into a less‐well‐investigated proposal for ‘cautious dialogue’ (p. 154) between the generals and the Levellers. Here, her argument insufficiently tackles the depth of suspicion that developed on both sides by late September 1647. She also treats the Levellers as a ‘movement’ (in preference to the pre‐revisionist ‘party’) that began as early as mid-1645. But any treatment of the Levellers as a movement from 1645 forwards, albeit one without neat ‘contours’ (p. 5), structures Leveller history in particular ways. It inevitably transposes the name and substance of the urban Levellers of 1647–9 upon pre‐Putney London petitioners, pamphleteers and protestors. But can these earlier political phenomena really be termed ‘Leveller’? That label emerged only around the beginning of November 1647; and in 1645–7, Lilburne, Overton, and Walwyn enjoyed a variety of political contacts within a broader Independent coalition that contended with the parliamentary Presbyterians. Exactly when a distinct Leveller faction broke away from the Independent alliance is, in fact, a critical unresolved question. It bears heavily upon the political self‐understandings of these authors as well as upon the political identities of those who read and responded positively to them. Yet, dividing developing authorships into pre‐Leveller and Leveller phases could be equally problematic in a study of this nature”.[3]

It is open to question how much Foxley has adapted to this revisionist assault. One criticism of the book is her concentration on Leveller political theory. In other words, there is many superstructures but very little base. She does insist that ‘revisionist treatments of the later 1640s cannot wipe out the contribution of the Levellers to the radicalisation of parliamentarian political thought.Foxley does not see the Levellers as an independent group of radicals or revolutionaries but places their politics within a broad parliamentarian alliance. A view would not look out of place amongst other post revisionist historians. She then appears to contradict herself by saying that we should not ‘dissolve them into an undifferentiated part of that complex political world’ (p. 6). It would appear that Foxley has not fully worked out her position regarding the class and political nature of the Levellers.

One has sympathy for anyone who attempts a new evaluation of the Levellers. Although describing another historical period, Hegel’s perceptive remarks can be applied here it “not hard to see that our time is a time of birth and transition into a new era. Spirit has broken away from its former world of existence and imaging; it is about to sink all that into the past, and is busy shaping itself anew.”[4]Given the limits of this review, it is impossible to give sufficient justice to all the arguments presented by Foxley in the book. However, there are some areas which need comment.Foxley is correct to emphasise the originality of Leveller thought. She opposes that view that the Levellers merely adapted arguments found within parliament’s supporters. Despite their independence, the Levellers had alliances with many disparate political groups and people.

The complicated relationship between the Levellers and other political and religious groups and individuals makes it extremely hard to gauge both the size and influence of the Levellers. This anomaly has been seized upon by many conservative historians to dismiss the group as irrelevant.One of the strengths of the book is that probes these relationships and attempts to explain them within the context of the revolution. Given the complexity of this work, it is entirely correct to say that Foxley’s work on the Levellers is far from over.Foxley sees the Levellers as radicals and not revolutionaries. There is a tendency within her work to see the Levellers as making things up as they went along. To some extent, this is correct, the Levellers and their leaders did react to events as John Rees put it they did it “in the midst of a political crisis not in the seminar room,”[5].While this was true, they did not spend all their time making up as they went along as Ann Talbot points out the Levellers were the “ideologists of the revolution, and they ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedents for some kind of theory to explain what they were doing”.[6]

The Levellers were part of a broader and international movement that sought in a limited way to move away from a purely biblical explanation of political social and economic problems. This is not to say as some left historians have done that they were proto-Marxists, but they should be seen as a group of individuals who sought to go beyond previously held beliefs.As the Marxist political writer David North says “Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well underway. The discoveries in astronomy profoundly changed the general intellectual environment”.[7] In much of their political thinking, the Levellers were the forerunners not only of the 18th century Enlightenment but of the socialist movement.

The book highlights several significant moments of the revolution that involved the Levellers which show that the Levellers attracted a large audience than had previously thought.Citing the July 1646 publication of the Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens Foxley believes it ‘was the first Leveller text to claim a mass following, a significant moment in the genesis of the group.'(p. 36).John Rees claims that their work was carried out on a considerable scale saying “In January 1648 it was claimed that 30,000 copies of a Leveller petition were being printed for widespread distribution.28 The same year opponents of the Levellers were complaining of Leveller plans to print 3,000 copies of a petition.29 The Remonstrance of Many Thousands of the Free-People of England…and those called Levelers claimed this ‘is already signed by 98064 hands, and more to be added daily’. Lilburne claimed that two publications in 1649, the Manifestation and The Agreement of the People of 1 May, had a print run of 20,000 which were sent ‘gratis all over England’. In March 1649 The Humble Petition of Divers wel-affected Women, a plea to free Lilburne, Walwyn, Prince and Overton from their imprisonment in the Tower collected 10,000 names using women ward organisers. In May 1649 Leveller-supporting apprentices in the Cripplegate Without ward were using the same method.”[8]

Foxley also contests the view that the Levellers were solely driven by religious thought. Of course, it is understandable that the political thought of the day would be heavily cloaked in religious garb as she states ‘There is simply no need to go hunting in covenant theology or congregational practice for Leveller political ideas of equality or “democracy,” or for a prototype of the Agreement of the People.'[9]For me, the best or most important chapter is the ‘Levellers and the army.’ Perhaps the most hotly challenged area of Leveller historiography has been the extent of Leveller influence in the New Model Army. Anyone who has argued that the Levellers had significant influence in the army is accused of falling victim to the “fallacy of social determinism.”

Austin Woolrych contentiously states that the army had “refrained from political activity despite the tendency of the Presbyterians both religious and political, to portray it as a hotbed of sectaries and radicals.” If this is true then did Putney drop from the skies? Is there no connection between the activity of the army before Putney and during? Surely history is not just a series of unconnected episodes.According to Woolrych “Anyone who strains to hear the voice of the soldiery in the Putney debates should be aware that, apart from one brief interjection by an unnamed agent, the only troopers who spoke that day were Sex by and Everard, and on the other two days recorded by Clarke the only others who opened their mouths were Lockyer and Allen. No agitator of a foot regiment is known to have spoken. Out of just fifty officer-agitators listed in October, twelve spoke in the course of the three-recorded days five of them only once, and very briefly. We should be very cautious about treating the Putney debates, wonderful as they are as the typical voice of the army’?

If ever an area of academic study needed more work then it is the Levellers influence inside the New Model Army.As John points out with “Independents, other army activists, and the Levellers all existed on a political spectrum in which it is difficult to cleanly separate one set of ideas or personnel from another.”[10]Other conservative historians have been prominent in seeking to challenge the nature and extent of Leveller penetration of the army, certainly before the high summer of 1647. John Morrill argues that Leveller rhetoric was fundamentally opposed to a standing army and that Lillburne’s own experience made him suspicious and out of touch with its rank and file, Mark while Kishlansky has suggested that “the dynamics of army relations with parliament could be explained adequately in terms of the military’s sense of its honour, its legitimate demands as an army, and its own experience in war and peace.”

Foxley believes this is “unjustified in the light of ‘the petitioning campaign of spring 1647, the pre-existing cooperation between the core of Leveller leaders, and the growing consistency of concerns and demands in the sequence of joint and individual works associated with the Leveller leaders’ (p. 15Foxley’s work on the Putney debates is hampered by the constraints of the publishers. They could have perhaps given her more pages. However, she presents significant proof of Leveller influence on the Grandees of the army and establishes contact between the ‘civilian’ Levellers and the military radicals. She concludes that ‘the revisionist story about Putney and its aftermath cannot easily account for these continuing connections’ (p. 159).

But still, the political and historical blindness of some revisionist historians towards the Levellers exists with some contending that the Levellers “were exterior to the army.”As John Rees points out, many “Levellers were of the army themselves. Lilburne had an exemplary and widely publicised military record. But Lilburne was not alone in this. Leveller William Allen served in Holles’ regiment. Leveller printer William Larner served as a sutler in Lord Robartes’ regiment. Thomas Prince fought in the London Trained Bands until he was injured at Newbury in 1643. John Harris ran an Army printing press. Leveller ally Henry Marten had close engagement in military affairs in London and eventually raised his own regiment in Berkshire. Thomas Rainsborough and his brother William were Leveller sympathisers. Edward Sexby was a central figure in the actions of the Agitators. Army chaplains Jeremiah Ives and Edward Harrison supported the Levellers “. [11]

These connections add weight to Foxley’s observation that the Putney debates’ marked not the end but the beginning of a potentially fertile alliance between civilian Levellers and army radicals’ and that this ‘reverses the picture painted by the standard revisionist historiography’ (p. 158).One aspect of the Levellers underplayed in the book were their relationship with Cromwell and their inability to go beyond their social base.Leveller ideas had their roots primarily in the lower strata of society, as Cliff Slaughter states “they become anathema to the victorious upper-middle classes. It was as necessary for Cromwell to crush the Ranters as to liquidate Lilburne’s Levellers and Winstanley’s Diggers. A few selections from their tracts will show their lack of appeal to class so enamoured of compromise (with its’ betters,’ of course) as the British bourgeoisie”. [12]

One of the compound and exciting chapter in the book is The Laws of England and the free-born Englishman. One major criticism of Foxley’s work is her little use of Soviet historians works on the English Revolution.One historian comes to mind is Evgeny Bronislavovich Pashukanis. In his work Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law 1927 postulates that much of Lilburne’s theory on state law was adopted at a later date by the English bourgeoisie according to Pashukhanis “John Lilburne in his work, The Fundamental Laws and Liberties, incidentally formulates two classical principles of the bourgeois doctrine of criminal law: no one may be convicted other than on the basis of a law existing at the moment of commission of the act, and the punishment must correspond to the crime according to the principle an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Lilburne himself was, of course, the first man in England to succeed in being served with an indictment.”[13]

It is a fact that that this book was primarily targeted at academic circles. It is perhaps natural given the complex nature of the subject material. However, the book should be read by all history students. Foxley’s book is a significant contribution in placing Levellers in their proper revolutionary context. Hopefully, when the book is published in paperback, a reasonable price would mean it is getting the wider readership it deserves.


[1] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1519
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historikerstreit
[3] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-0206.12111_4?campaign=woletoc
[4] Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit- G. W. F. Hegel- https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/hegel-s-preface-to-the-phenomenology-of-spirit/
[5] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1519
[6] “These the times … this the man”: an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill
By Ann Talbot-25 March 2003-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html
[7] Equality, the Rights of Man and the Birth of Socialism By David North 24 October 1996
[8] Leveller organisation and the dynamic of the English Revolution-John Rees
Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2014. http://research.gold.ac.uk/10465/1/HIS_thesis_Rees_Thesis_2014.pdf
[9] The Levellers: Radical political thought in the English Revolution-By Rachel Foxley
[10] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1519
[11] John Rees, review of The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution, (review no. 1519) http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1519
[12] Cliff Slaughter Religion and Social Revolt from Labour Review, Vol.3 No.3, May-June 1958, pp.77-82.
[13] Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law
(1927) https://www.marxists.org/archive/pashukanis/1927/xx/english.htm

Baal’s Priests: The Loyalist Clergy and the English Revolution by Fiona McCall ISBN: 9781409455776 317pp

This book examines experiences of the expropriated loyalist clergy during the highpoint of the English Revolution. It offers new insight into the practices and of this significant group.The first thing that strikes you about McCall’s book is a heavy concentration on the Loyalist clergy. She, unfortunately, has little to say on the English revolution. In this circumstance, it is unclear to me whether the author chooses the title or as I suspect the editor or publishers did. Baal’s Priest steers clear on any political controversy surrounding the resurgence of studies of Royalist involvement of the English revolution.

The book is groundbreaking in other aspects with it being the first major study that uses the John Walker collection of manuscripts held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is hard to believe that this excellent collection of oral histories has not been mined before. You have to admire her adherence to the historian’s craft. She must have spent a long time in that archive. The underuse of the Walker archive by historians is a little mysterious as it appears to contain a goldmine of material.

However, caution is needed in that this source should be approached with extreme caution. Drawing political conclusions from a relatively unreliable source such as an archive based on oral transcripts is a challenging and complicated thing to do. A thing that Mcall has largely avoided. Some might say this detracts from her book. Oral testimonies are a valuable source of material but can take a historian only so far. As the great old Karl Marx said Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.”[1] Hopefully, McCall’s book will provoke an interest in the archive.

The Walker collection began life in 1702 following the publication of Edmund Calamy’s work which catalogued some ministers who were driven from their livings during the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. John Walker was given ‘over a thousand letters’ along with contemporary letters and legal documents dating back to the 1640s and the 1650s, They catalogue a trail of misery for large numbers of clergy who supported the royalist cause in one form or another. The strength of this book is the detailed description of the various maltreatments of Loyalist clergy at the hands of the Cromwellian regime. For any student or a general reader wishing to study the impact, the civil war had on significant sections of the population this book would be a good start. The vast majority of the accounts are incredibly detailed and were written by people who were members of the sufferer’s family or their Clergymen. These Clergymen were often imprisoned.

The Walker Archive

According to R. Freeman Bullen, “the “Sufferings of the Clergy” is two distinct works. The first part treats of ecclesiastical affairs under Puritan rule part two deals with the persecution suffered by individual clergy; it is this moiety which will mainly interest the local historian. Walker had been engaged upon his work for about ten years when it was finally published in 1714. This means that from 60 to 70 years had elapsed since the period of the sequestrations and that to a very great extent, Walker was dependent upon existing documents, plus tradition, for his data. His notes and correspondence still exist in the Bodleian Library, and from these, we may gather some ideas of his method. Walker conducted his research using printed and manuscript sources available to him. He also directly solicited information, via a circular sent to archdeacons to disseminate amongst parish clergy. He received over a thousand letters in response. After his death accounts were deposited, along with his other papers, as the J. Walker archive in the Bodleian Library”.[2]

In many ways, McCall faced the same problems encountered by Walker. Both had to interpret the material as best they could. Both questioned how accurate and truthful the records were. Despite some reservations, McCall is happy to treat the Walker manuscripts as a generally reliable archive of materials. Caution should be observed when viewing the Walker accounts of trauma. Those on the receiving end sought to back up their accounts in order not to be dismissed. Walker was a good enough historian to err on the side of caution himself when recording events and testimonies. There are inconsistencies within the archive and should it not be treated as verbatim. Despite McCall’s aversion to politics, she does offer the reader glimpses of class relations and even class antagonisms between loyalist clergy and their tormentors.

Some of these battles were personal others followed the battle lines drawn in the revolution itself. Perhaps one of the strongest attributes of the book is its opposition to some historians attempts to “consign Civil War experiences to oblivion.” As James Mawdesley from the University of Sheffield points out in his review of the book “None of this is to suggest that these clergymen only accepted their lot as poor sufferers for their king. Jonathan Swift, the grandson of Thomas Swift, the vicar of Goodrich in Herefordshire, claimed that his grandfather’s setting of a trap in a river resulted in the deaths of 200 of the enemy (p. 107), and McCall has calculated that no fewer than 150 of the Walker accounts include acts of aggression by the ‘sufferer’ (p. 201).”[3]

McCall’s book establishes that the attacks on loyalist clergy were sanctioned by the highest authorities with Parliament operating as a rubber stamp. While McCall treads carefully in her book to separate the subjective interpretation of walker’s collection from the objective assessment of the material this even for a trained historian is a difficult task for the general reader it is doubly difficult.

I also agree with Maudsley when he says the book would “have benefited from being interwoven with a general account of the civil wars and republic: the execution of Charles I in January 1649 is omitted from McCall’s chronology, and it is not made clear when governance without a monarchy commenced”.McCall is fascinated with how memory is used to portray historical events. The trauma suffered by the Loyalist clergy and their families and supporters was real clear to see. I would, however, have liked a more balanced approach after all suffering on a large scale appeared on both sides of the barricades. It is ironic in the least as McCall points out that the clergy who suffered during the civil war and under the Cromwellian regime despite the monarchies return to power the loyalist clergy in many places fared not better than under Cromwell. Charles II was more interested in settling old scores.

Historiography.

As with as a large number of modern books on the civil war, it is extremely hard to fathom McCall’s historiography. She does not favour the view of an English revolution. McCall is sympathetic to the historical writing of ‘Marxists’ like Christopher Hill, but her historiography has more connection to historians Like John Morrill who saw the civil war as the last religious conflict of the 17th century and continuation of the Thirty years war.

To conclude, any reader looking for an attack on revisionist historians downplaying the social effects of the English Civil War will be disappointed for them this relatively mild conflict and a ‘war without an enemy.’In Baal’s Priests, Fiona McCall has written an important study which will hopefully provoke an interest in the Walker manuscripts. The book is solidly researched and is written in a style that is both accessible to the academic and general reader. It is hoped that if McCall returns to this subject, she is able to draw some political conclusions from her hard work. It should be seen as an excellent introduction to the subject and not the final word on royalism, or the Walker manuscripts.


[1] The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852
[2] Sequestration In Suffolk -R. Freeman Bullen. http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/
[3] https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1540
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Varieties of Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century English Radicalism in Context 2011 Ariel Hessayon-David Finnegan Editors- Ashgate Publishers ISBN: 9780754669050

“The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.”[1]

To Be Radical is to Grasp Things by the Root-

Karl Marx- The German Ideology

“It is a commonplace that the past is at the mercy of the present and that in every generation there are those who deliberately distort aspects of it to reflect a vision of their own or another’s making. Most historical writing about radicalism and the English Revolution can be considered fabrication – in the sense of both manufacture and invention. There have been several critical studies documenting this process, including recent work by Mario Caricchio.” Ariel Hessayon.

This collection of essays explore the terms ‘radical’ and ‘radicalism’ in the Early Modern English context. The term radical or radicalism has like all things connected with the English Revolution in the seventeenth century or political struggles in the eighteenth century come under attack by a coterie of revisionist historians.As Edward Vallance points out in his essay Reborn John?: The Eighteenth-century The afterlife of John Lilburne:” this is a persuasive presentation of the historical influence of the radicalism of the civil war and one which reflects a broader scholarly unease with the conception of a ‘radical tradition’. The notion of a tradition of radical thought was powerfully evoked in the classic works of British Marxist historians such as Christopher Hill and Edward Thompson. It retained some importance in the popular historical imagination.5 Academics have become increasingly critical, however, both of the use of the term ‘radical’ to describe pre-modern politics and of the idea of a continuum of radical ideas and movements. Scholars have pointed out that the term ‘radical’ – not in common political use until the early nine