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Home Divisions: Aristocracy, the State and Provincial Conflict.

Home Divisions: Aristocracy, the State and Provincial Conflict by Thomas Cogswell. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1998. xvi, 336 pp. $55.00 U.S.

Thomas Cogswell informs us that Home Divisions was prompted by his dismay at the collapse of local history under the assault of Ann Hughes and Clive Holmes in the 1980s. His professed aim is to restore "the lustre to local studies," and it must be said that in large measure he has succeeded.

The book is essentially about one man and one county. Based largely on the lush Hastings archives in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, it is the story of Henry Hastings, fifth earl of Huntingdon, and his lord lieutenancy of Leicestershire in the early seventeenth century. This exploration of Huntingdon's career enhances our understanding of both local and national history in this period.

Besides keeping meticulous records, the fifth earl of Huntingdon was a man of exemplary piety, a moderate Calvinist who was obsessed with sabbatarianism and hated Roman Catholicism. He was deeply attached to his wife and grief-stricken at her death in 1634. A dedicated servant of the crown, he raised virtually all the taxes that were levied from Westminster, and then some. He saw to it that the six hundred-strong county militia was well-drilled, equipped, and financed. As well, he mustered a body of five hundred private men, which enabled him to produce over a thousand soldiers marching past the county musters during the later 1630s.

But by serving the crown so well he inevitably made local enemies. There were the Greys of Bradgate, for example, who looked for any chance to overthrow the Hastings's domination of Leicestershire. Another thorn in the fifth earl's side was the Hesilrige family -- Sir Thomas and his son Sir Arthur. The most powerful man in England next to the king in the 1620s, the Duke of Buckingham, was also a Leicestershire figure, and there was no love lost between him and the earl. Finally, there was a pair of crotchety knights, Sir William Fawnt and the popish recusant Sir Henry Shirley, who sought to bring down Huntingdon by levying false charges of fraud against him. Shirley was the man who will always be remembered for his sneering taunt to Huntingdon that "hee cared not a fart for never a lord in England (the lord of hosts excepted)" (p. 164).

One of Cogswell's original contributions is to show that parliamentary and prerogative taxation only added up to half the county's financial burden. The costs of impressments, military equipment, per diem expenses of men in training, and their transportation, all had to be paid for out of local rates. By focusing on national taxation, he argues, most previous scholars have failed to comprehend the full scale of Whitehall's demands. He takes particular issue with Kevin Sharpe's revisionist view that Charles was not a tyrant, that his financial exactions were not oppressive, and that Star Chamber was a popular court. He also rejects Lawrence Stone's argument that the comparative poverty of early Stuart monarchs made it impossible for them to offer sufficient financial inducements to control the peerage. A man like Huntingdon was so strapped for cash that it only took a few local offices to keep him obedient to the royal will.

With the calling of parliament in 1640 it became apparent that Huntingdon had backed the wrong horse. The Greys and the Hesilriges ganged up on him and defeated both of his candidates for knight of the shire, as well as his own son who ran in Leicester. He was stripped of his lieutenancy, and his Star Chamber victory against Sir William Fawnt was reversed by parliamentary vote. At this point the book really springs to life as it chronicles and analyses the straggle for Leicestershire at the beginning of the civil war. On the basis of his study of the political conflict in that county Cogswell argues that the civil war was in its beginning a revolt against high taxes. He alludes to the irony inherent in this conflict without mentioning that within a few years the parliamentary regime would subject the English people to far heavier taxation than Charles had ever dreamt of. What caused the outbreak of armed conflict according to Cogswell was the straggle for the sword. Here he takes issue with John Morrill's thesis that it was essentially a war of religion. Yet he overlooks why people were struggling over the sword in the first place -- not so much because of a quarrel over taxation and arbitrary government, as an obsessive fear of popery, together with a conviction that the king, under the thumb of a domineering wife, was a tool of the international popish conspiracy against England. To be sure, "Ship money, depopulation fines, knighthood compositions, the forced loan, purveyance, benevolences, coat and conduct money, militia rates, and Star Chamber judgments, all contributed to the county's dissatisfaction"(p. 314). But these are not what brought men to kill one another. For evidence on this point he need only have reflected on the religiously freighted mottos that Sir Arthur Hesilrige ("Only in heaven"), the earl of Stamford ("For religion, king and country") and Huntingdon's own son, Sir Henry Hastings ("[Our God] is a consuming fire") (p. 289) placed on their military banners. Cogswell seems unaware that the last motto, which he calls "gnomic," appears in at least three places in the Bible.

Not the least of this book's merits is that it will stimulate debate on its findings and conclusions for many years to come.

Ian Gentles

Glendon College, York University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Gentles, Ian; Colwill, Elizabeth
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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