In the late 1640s, Sir John Oglander of Nunwell reflected bleakly on the government of his locality, the Isle of Wight. He had been a most active public servant: a Justice of the Peace for forty years, sheriff of Hampshire, commander of the local militia. Now, after arrest and imprisonment, he had been turned out of all his posts by Parliament. Local authority had fallen to ‘a thing called a Committee’ consisting, he wrote ironically, of ‘brave men’ — farmers, an apothecary, a peddler, a baker. Throughout England many of the old gentry families were ‘extinct or undone’; the survivors, like himself, were compelled to live ’in submission to the base, unruly multitude’. Oglander’s sense of a fundamental change in the structures of local government and society, of an alien administration displacing natural rulers, has proved attractive to modern-day academic historians — with their own professional world in turmoil, their masters increasingly unsympathetic. ‘Tempora mutantur [the times are changing]’, Oglander concluded pathetically: ‘O tempora, o mores [What times! What behaviour!]’.1 The times had changed. But the shifts were not so seismic as Oglander insisted or the historians attracted to his viewpoint have believed. Significant continuities in central-local relations survived the experience of war.
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