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The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England.

The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England, by Matthew Neufeld. Woodbridge and Rochester, The Boydell Press, 2013. xiv, 284 pp. $99.00 US (cloth).

This is an enterprising addition to a burgeoning field. There has been, at least since the 1970s, an ever-growing study in how the English civil wars were remembered and debated in the half century after they ended (with the Restoration of the monarchy in May 1660) and indeed in the Victorian age, both representing prisms through which we still read this central episode in English and British History. Most attention has been focused on the publication, often in severely and revealingly bowdlerised forms, of the memoirs and diaries of both principal and peripheral actors, and several books have been devoted to the way the central figure of Oliver Cromwell was memorialized--more demonized than sanctified in the late seventeenth century, the reverse from the 1840s on. Neufeld engages with these literatures and has new things to say about the canonical texts. His discussion of the prefaces written by Henry Hyde, earl of Rochester, to the first edition of his father's History of the Great Rebellion is a case in point. But he is even more interesting in his close encounter with much less familiar material such as the hundreds of petitions written by war veterans seeking disability pensions in the Restoration, or the sermons preached annually on 29 May--the day on which Charles II entered London to reclaim his throne in 1660 (and also, as it happens) his birthday--not only in Charles II's reign but right down to the Hanoverian succession in 1714. What would have been an equally innovative chapter on how the Anglican clergyman John Walker sent out questionnaires to every parish so as to chronicle and gloss the sufferings of the clergy for Church and King in the 1660s and which he finally published in 1714 has been somewhat overtaken by the publication of a monograph on the subject (Fiona McCall, Baal's Priests, Famham, 2013), although Neufeld is still well worth reading on the subject.

His central thesis is that "public remembering of the civil wars and interregnum after 1660 was not ultimately concerned with re-fighting the old struggle, but rather commending and justifying, or contesting and attacking, the Restoration settlements that underlay the Anglican confessional state" (emphasis mine, p. 2). The phrase "not ultimately" is a bit careless here and Neufeld needed to tread more carefully. I do not doubt that he is on to something important and well worth saying, and indeed perhaps the most compelling parts of his analysis come in the chapters covering the period after 1689--for example the chapter devoted to a wholly new analysis of 29 May day sermons shows no decline in the incidence or polemical clout of those sermons right down to the Hanoverian succession. But Neufeld has rather surrendered to the "not that but this" syndrome, not a contesting of the 1640s but of the 1660s, when a not only but also approach would have been more effective and, in my review, more appropriate. Thus his narrative chapters omit all reference to the huge outpouring of polemical literature in 1678-81 ("1641 is come again" is not helpful to his case) and his complete silence on the years 1685-96, or more precisely 1685-8 and 1689-96, is even more telling. And given how Charles II himself (nor James II nor for that matter William III) never signed up to the Anglican, nor even the Cavalier-Tory sanctioned history, Neufeld's determination to create a sanctioned history of the Restoration is not without its problems (the problem lies not in the existence of such a narrative but in claims that it was ever sanctioned). Neufeld is much better on the way that the puritan-whig-republicans contested their own history as well as contesting Neufeld's sanctioned history, but he is less strong on the equally contested royalist-Anglican-tory internal debate--as Mel Harrington's forthcoming study of disappointed royalists in restoration Britain will demonstrate.

Still, if we take Neufeld's sanctioned (hi)stories as one of a series of competing accounts of the legacies of civil war and interregnum, we are on perfectly safe ground. He is above all a very acute reader of texts and a very effective reporter of what he has found in his readings. Occasionally, he does not prepare his readers adequately of where (in the literal and metaphorical senses) his authors are coming from. Thus to introduce John Rushworth, whose anthologies of public documents were framed as a defence of the Revolution, as "a clerk to the Long Parliament" when he was far more importantly clerk to the council of the New Model Army, or to talk about George Bate's writings without noting that he attended Cromwell on his deathbed and then the restored royal family, is to leave the reader under-contextualised. It is as important to grasp where people were coming from as it is to grasp where they or their redactors were when they saw their writings through the press.

Caveats aside, this is an intelligent, alert, and challenging book that deserves to be widely read by all those who want to understand the political, religious, and intellectual history of late seventeenth century England; and who want to grapple with the way that the writings of that period still shape and distort our view of the Revolution itself.

John Morrill

Selwyn College Cambridge
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Author:Morrill, John
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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