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Secrets of the Kingdom: British Radicals from the Popish Plot to the Revolution of 1688-89.

Secrets of the Kingdom completes Professor Greaves's trilogy on British radicals from the restoration of the monarchy to the revolution. Radicals are taken to mean those who "endorsed active disobedience to laws they found offensive. This disobedience took such forms as physical resistance to authorities, the publication of illegal works, acts of rebellion, and even assassination" (p. vii). Though not united on the form a government should take, Stuart radicals shared a common dislike of "arbitrary government, Roman Catholicism, prelacy, and the persecution of Protestants" (P. viii).

Based on extensive archival research, Greaves's detailed narrative enmeshes the reader in the minutiae of radical activity not only in England, Scotland and (occasionally) Ireland, but also in the radical exile community. Indeed, the existence of a nearly safe haven in the Netherlands helped sustain the radicals despite their total lack of success in Britain. Perhaps the most interesting section of the book relates to events surrounding what came to be called the Rye House plot. Following the defeat of exclusion, the successful attack by Charles II's government on the shrievalty election in London in 1682 and the flight of Shaftesbury to the Netherlands where he soon died, an aristocratic cabal did emerge in England to plan an uprising against the government (although not one necessarily aimed at harming Charles). Delay, brought on by failure to create effective co-operation with radicals in Scotland, allowed the aristocrats - including Monmouth - to be betrayed in the summer of 1683 by some involved in the plot to kill the king and the Duke of York. In his discussion of the trials of those accused of complicity in the Rye House plot Greaves offers the suggestion that Essex's death was murder rather than suicide. Although, as Greaves admits, the evidence for homicide is not conclusive, he believes a plausible scenario exists to implicate the Duke of York and the Earl of Sunderland as accessories before the fact to the murder of Essex. Essex's apparent suicide, which was introduced in Russell's trial, helped convince the jury that Russell was, indeed, guilty of treasonable activities connected with the Rye House plot. Without Russell's conviction, Essex (who was to be tried after Russell) and others might have been found innocent and the radicals' claim that the Rye House plot was a sham concocted by royalists would have taken on considerable force.

Despite his involvement in the aristocratic "Council of Six" Monmouth - apparently with the help of Halifax - and his father were moving toward reconciliation when Charles II died. The King's untimely death led Monmouth once again to conspiracy. Greaves suggests that the Monmouth-Argyll uprisings were not hopeless. Their poor (or non-existent) co-ordination and tactical failures - Argyll's inability to tap fully the long-standing Covenanter support in southwestern Scotland and Monmouth's failure to capture Bristol - fatally weakened their ventures. Even so, radical activity continued, culminating in the contribution of radicals to William of Orange's invasion and the following constitutional and religious changes.

In the Epilogue, Greaves states that "neither the radical threat to the Stuart regime nor the radical impact on the revolution of 1688-89 should be underestimated" (p. 331). Unfortunately, Secrets of the Kingdom concentrates so carefully on the radicals (and the government's reaction to their activities) to the exclusion of almost everything else that the reader is left with little indication of how precisely the radicals should be assessed. Also, some of Greaves's comments relating to the revolution and its aftermath are open to debate. Certainly the radicals made a contribution to what occurred; many radicals, as Greaves has carefully demonstrated, were justifiably rewarded by William after his and Mary's accession to the throne. But the revolution's failure to enact a meaningful declaration of constitutional rights, the creation on an extremely narrow toleration of non-Anglican (but Trinitarian) Protestants and the immense power left to the crown suggests that the events of 1688-89 may not have fulfilled radical hopes to the extent Greaves indicates. Yet to end on a negative note is unfair. Professor Greaves's herculean labours have presented a detailed narrative of radical activity under the Stuarts which, barring the discovery of further evidence, is likely to remain unchallenged in the foreseeable future.
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Author:Hamilton, Charles
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:692
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