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About this book

John Adamson provides a new synthesis of current research on the political crisis that engulfed England in the 1640s. Drawing on new archival findings and challenging current orthodoxies, these essays by leading historians offer a variety of original perspectives, locating English events firmly within a 'three kingdoms' context.

Table of Contents

Introduction: High Roads and Blind Alleys — The English Civil War and its Historiography

In Britain’s long, supposedly stately progress from medieval monarchy to modern liberal state, the twenty years between 1640 and 1660 have always stood out as a singular and violent exception. For almost a decade from 1640, the usual points of reference by which the peoples of the Stuart realms used to orientate themselves — in religion, politics, and government — were thrown out of alignment by the storms of civil war. Some were destroyed altogether. In the great moment of climacteric, what Cromwell termed ‘that memorable year 1648[–9]’, the very foundations of the state seemed to have been dissolved. For some, it presaged nothing less than the end of the world, the moment when Christ would come again to earth and reign in glory with his Saints.1
John Adamson

1. Rethinking Royalist Politics, 1642–9

The Royalists are the Cinderella of mid-seventeenth century history. They are largely overlooked by the exponents of the ‘New British History’, and look like being bypassed once again in the current rush of interest in the Civil-War ‘public sphere’. True, the Royalists remain one of the few groups in the Civil War that most of the public have actually heard of, if only as one half of the double-act of ‘Cavaliers and Roundheads’. But among historians ‘the king’s party’ is unfashionable, and royalist politics — particularly at the top end of the social scale — even more so. There have been several recent studies of royalist literature and propaganda (though few convincingly bridge the gap between political theory and practice);1 David Underdown and Mark Stoyle have injected new life into the study of popular Royalism;2 and the Sealed Knot and other battle re-enactment societies sustain a small but lively market in royalist military history.3 But virtually all we have in the way of recent published work on royalist high politics is a few articles by Ronald Hutton and James Daly in the 1970s and 1980s, occasional, though illuminating, pieces by Ian Roy, and a ten-year-old monograph by David Smith.4 One recent miscellany of essays devoted to ‘Royalism’ actually derides the study of court politics during the 1640.5
David Scott

2. Anglicanism and Royalism in the 1640s

Royalist religion has generally received little attention from historians compared with the care that they have lavished on the religious concerns of Parliamentarians. Nevertheless, a number of important studies have emphasized the importance of religious conservatism in generating support for Royalism. Particularly important here has been the pioneering work of John Morrill, who in a celebrated article traced the significant evidence of Anglican survivalism and liturgical conservatism in the 1640s, which suggested that the Book of Common Prayer had dug deep roots into popular, parochial culture. The work of David Underdown and Mark Stoyle has connected these forms of religious conservatism explicitly with popular Royalism, linking popular attachment to parochial religious traditions with a broader attachment to festive culture and hatred of puritans in securing royalist allegiance.1 In this work, ‘Anglicanism’ can thus be seen as providing a critical ideological cement for Royalism, providing a focus for cultural conservatism that could unite élites, middling sorts and poorer groups alike. It would become a rallying call for anti-puritan opinion and, as such, a crucial spiritual and social resource for those opposed to the political and social developments of the 1640s and 1650s.
Anthony Milton

3. Perceptions of Parliament: Factions and ‘The Public’

Unlike the ‘Tudor revolution in government;, the transformation of Parliament in the 1640s has rarely provoked scholars to confront directly the historiographical problems which they face. Although a broad consensus exists that Parliament underwent dramatic change during the Civil Wars, in the dismantling of ‘king-in-Parliament’, the hijacking of the royal prerogative, and the exercise of executive authority, there is less agreement regarding the nature of factionalism — in terms of the timing of its emergence and the basis of ‘party’ formation and alignment — and regarding parliamentary management.1 Such controversies result not just from the inscrutability of parliamentary politics and processes, in the absence of full parliamentary and political archives, but also from conflicting approaches to sources. While some scholars emphasize prosopography (the use of biographical studies to establish political networks) and ephemeral sources (such as warrants or estate papers) in order to recreate factional structures and patronage networks,2 others challenge the interpretative weight that such sources are made to bear, and concentrate instead upon ‘pure’ parliamentary sources (journals), and upon ‘formal methods, procedures, and functions’.3
Jason Peacey

4. The Baronial Context of the Irish Civil Wars

On 7 November 1651, Henry Ireton, general of the Cromwellian army of invasion who was stationed in Clare Castle, near Limerick, wrote to General Thomas Preston, Viscount Tara, Governor of Galway, ordering him to surrender the city. Preston took umbrage at his ‘unsoldierly’ demand and refused to yield Galway ‘at such a distance’ [i.e. 40 miles]. Ireton replied claiming that he was more concerned for the well being of the town’s inhabitants ‘who perhaps may not be so airy of the notion of soldierly honour’.1 In a blatant attempt to divide the military and civic leaders, Ireton suggested to the Galway townsmen that they were ‘under the power of a mercenary soldier who will perhaps pretend [a] point of honour’ in order to further his own interests and self-glorification.2 The townsmen avoided any discussion of ’points of honour’ in their reply, but Preston reiterated his earlier censure, criticizing Ireton for breaking ’the rules of war’.3 In the event, the exchange came to nothing. Ireton died suddenly of a fever three weeks later. As for Preston, with the surrender of Galway on 12 April 1652, he slipped off to France where he died three years later, aged 70.
Jane Ohlmeyer

5. The ‘Scottish Moment’, 1638–45

In the spring of 1644, Hugh Mowatt, a Swede of Scottish extraction, was despatched as the Swedish kingdom’s senior envoy to both Scotland and England. Like most diplomats from Scandinavia since the Bishops’ Wars between England and Scotland of 1639–40, Mowatt chose to visit Scotland initially before moving south to England. This was not simply a demonstration of solidarity with his compatriots. It was also a clear recognition that the Covenanting movement had a position of leadership in shaping the political agenda throughout England and Ireland — and Scotland as well. In seeking to create a defensive and offensive alliance for Sweden against Denmark-Norway, Mowatt was concerned first to obtain Covenanting backing and then, through the auspices of their Scottish Commissioners in London, to secure the assent of both Scotland and England through the Committee of Both Kingdoms — the Anglo-Scottish executive that had been established after the Covenanters had come to the aid of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.1 The international importance of Scottish participation on this emphatically British Committee is an understated feature of the historiography of the ‘Wars for the Three Kingdoms’. Yet it was a feature immediately recognized by other diplomats.
Allan I. Macinnes

6. Centre and Locality in Civil-War England

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.
Clive Holmes

7. The Politics of Fairfax’s Army, 1645–9

Had there ever been an army like Sir Thomas Fairfax’s? Most people in 1649, looking back on the recent purging of Parliament, the trial and execution of the king and the establishment of the English republic — all of which would have been unthinkable but for the interventions of that army — would have answered unhesitatingly: no. Yet the army’s beginnings had been unpromising. In the spring of 1645, the Parliament had resolved to consolidate and centralize the three existing armies of the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Manchester and Sir William Waller. The new army’s troop strength was set at 22,000, with the addition of another 2,000 or so officers. Like other armies of the time, its numbers would fluctuate wildly during the course of the war. Desertion (especially among the infantry, most of whom were conscripted), sickness, and death were the chronic causes of attrition. After major victories, large numbers of soldiers would creep away with their booty. There would then be frantic new efforts at recruitment to fill the depleted ranks. Called by some the ‘New Model’, Fairfax’s army was derided by its foes in the spring of 1645 as the ‘New Noddle’. Its friends fretted over Scottish hostility towards it; over how to pay its wages; and over whether its cavalry would be any match for the king’s.
Ian Gentles

8. Rhetoric, Reality and the Varieties of Civil-War Radicalism

According to popular memory — and much modern historiography — the Civil War was a period characterized not only by military conflict and rebellion but also by a luxuriant variety of various types of social and political radicalism. It was a time, self-evidently, when institutions and values were called into question; when groups of Levellers, Diggers and Ranters roamed the land; when utopian visions and extremist beliefs threatened the very foundations of society. Such is the world that is movingly portrayed in Christopher Hill’s classic study, dating from the early 1970s, The World Turned Upside Down.1 More recently, however, the subject of Civil War radicalism has provoked a vexed and tendentious historiography. ‘Revisionist’ scholars have rejected Hill’s influential notion of a popular, demotic phenomenon that heralded the secularization of society as an anachronistic and overly sympathetic view. For Revisionists, radical belief was a marginal concern in the mid-seventeenth century and was entirely religious in both its origin and its aims.2 Yet, arguably, neither perspective provides an adequate approach to the subject. Indeed, the existing conceptualizations of radicalism offer distorted or unnecessarily restricted views of both the impact and the diversity of the radical ideologies that were unleashed by the Civil War. It may be timely, therefore, to rethink our approach to the phenomenon.
Philip Baker
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