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The Nature of the English Revolution Revisited: Essays in Honour of John Morrill.

The Nature of the English Revolution Revisited: Essays in Honour of John Morrill, edited by Stephen Taylor and Grant Tapsell. Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political and Social History. Woodbridge and Rochester, The Boydell Press, 2013. xi, 296 pp. $115 US (cloth).

Few pre-twentieth century events have such a rich historiography as the English revolution of the mid-seventeenth century. The current collection of essays on the state of seventeenth-century English research (not restricted to the period of the English Revolution itself) is dedicated to John Morrill, now fully metamorphosed from enfant terrible to grand old man of the subject. It gives an opportunity to take stock of the current post-post revisionist era. The contributors are mostly old hands rather than up-and-coming scholars, which accounts for the collection's combination of sound scholarly work with a lack of surprises. The focus throughout is on England; Welsh, Scottish, Irish, "British," Continental, Atlantic and global dimensions of the Revolution are barely acknowledged--a rather surprising omission, given Morrill's association with "Three Kingdoms" history.

Tim Harris, better known for his work on the post-Restoration period, examines the formation of the royalist party in the early stages of the Revolution, contrasting the centrally directed and ineffective propaganda campaign against the Scots during the late 1630s with the spontaneous reaction against religious change that created the Royalist party, a process the King had little to do with. Ethan Shagan, in an article closely related to his recent book on moderation in Reformation England, examines its role in the disputes between Presbyterians and "moderate" independents. John Walter examines the gestural politics of the revolution, principally in the area of "hat honor." His inspection finds a derangement of the traditional hierarchy, with Members of the House of Commons taking the lead in refusing to remove their hats for the King, and a partial restoration of the traditional order under the Cromwellian Protectorate.

Tim Wales examines changes in poor relief in the crisis of the late 1640s, caused by the economic dislocation of the war and a succession of five bad harvests. His focus is on the county of Norfolk, not much directly affected by the war but hit hard by the dearth and the slump in the textile trade. Poor relief took a variety of forms, from private charity and begging to parish relief, on which Wales concentrates. He finds a range of responses from Norfolk parishes, although his study is hindered by the patchy survival of records. Generally, relief increased in this period, and Wales suggests that much of this increase lingered past the Restoration.

Philip Baker re-evaluates the well-worn topic of the Levellers and the franchise. Focusing on Leveller interest in London rather than Parliamentary elections, he finds that the Levellers were willing to accept or even advocate a franchise restricted to those with the freedom of the city rather than supporting the extension of the vote to all of London's male adult inhabitants. Baker states that this is a partial revival of the controversial "possessive individualism" thesis of C. B. Macpherson, but one based on the local experiences of London Levellers rather than proto-capitalist ideology. The New Model Army, by contrast, had an idea of bearing antis in the defense of England qualifying men for the vote. Blair Worden gives us an old-fashioned piece of constitutional history, "Oliver Cromwell and the Instrument of Government." The Instrument, and not Cromwell, is the star of the piece as Worden works through the surprisingly limited documentary evidence for its formation and dissemination. The illegitimacy of the Instrument, he concludes, was the fundamental flaw that led to its quick death.

Two essays discuss that warhorse of the intellectual history of the Revolution, James Harrington. J. C. Davis examines the function of narrative in Oceana, while Rachel Foxley discusses Harrington's role in the republican controversies of 1659, on the eve of the Restoration. She finds that Harrington's advocacy of democracy, or "popular government" had a wide impact, shaping the republican debate as writers took a position either supporting or opposing it.

The three closing essays are devoted to the Church of England after the Restoration. Kenneth Fincham and Stephen Taylor examine how an episcopally ordained clergy emerged with the Restoration of the Church of England in 1660. Restored bishops, they claim, used the requirement of episcopal ordination for presentation to a benefice as a weapon against non-episcopal clergy. However, the strictest Laudian bishops such as Matthew Wren were not great ordainers, perhaps because of the very high standards they upheld for aspiring clerics, and the work of providing a properly ordained ministry was mostly carried out by English moderates and a few Scottish and Irish bishops. John Spurr examines the role of wit and style in the religious pamphlet controversies of the late 1660s and early 1670s, focusing on the work of three Anglicans, Simon Patrick, Samuel Parker, and Laurence Eachard, and raising some interesting points while coming to no firm conclusions. Tapsell explores the connection between the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland from the Restoration to 1688, finding growing links without the fear of subordination, or "ecclesiastical imperialism," that had existed in Laud's time. These links, however, collapsed after 1688.

No new interpretation of the "nature of the English Revolution" emerges from these essays, but most students of the period will find the book worth reading. The publishers should be commended for the inclusion of proper, bottom-of-the-page footnotes and a fine index.

William E. Burns

University of Mary Washington
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Author:Burns, William E.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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