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Blair Worden, 22 January 1981

Seventeenth-Century Britain 1603-1714 
by J.S. Morrill.
Dawson, 189 pp., £11, May 1980, 0 7129 0839 0
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... of bold type and cross-reference before we learn on page 42 that 195 is an abbreviation for ‘Blair Worden’s brilliant reconstruction of the politics of the Rump Parliament’. My blush of pleasure, deep as it was, faded slightly when I found how many other works are hailed as brilliant too: Morrill’s range of adjectives is not quite equal to his ...

Unmatched Antiquary

Blair Worden, 21 February 1980

Sir Robert Cotton 1586-1631: History and Politics in Early Modern England 
by Kevin Sharpe.
Oxford, 293 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 9780198218777
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... In the early 17th century, more perhaps than in any period of our history, political argument was argument about the past: about precedents and about pedigrees. Sir Robert Cotton, an antiquary in politics, is a perfect focus for a study of the connections between antiquarian research and political conflict. History, an anchor in the choppy seas of political and social change, became to monarchs and parliaments alike the arbiter of controversy: Cotton, as Mr Sharpe shows, became to monarchs and parliaments alike the arbiter of controversial historical evidence ...

Sexual Whiggery

Blair Worden, 7 June 1984

The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in 17th-Century England 
by Antonia Fraser.
Weidenfeld, 544 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 297 78381 5
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Family Life in the 17th Century: The Verneys of Claydon House 
by Miriam Slater.
Routledge, 209 pp., £10.50, March 1984, 0 7100 9477 9
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... The history of women has become a lucrative subject. No historical topic offers a better hope of publishers’ contracts, or even, in the United States at least, of academic appointments. Yet if the market is wide, the pitfalls are deep. Some of them have been created by the very forces which have made women’s history fashionable. Just when other forms of Whig history have become discredited, sexual Whiggism has become almost compulsory ...

Pocock’s Positions

Blair Worden, 4 November 1993

Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain 
edited by Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 444 pp., £35, March 1993, 9780521392426
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... The front cover and title-page conceal the central fact of Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain, that it is a Festschrift for the historian of political thought J.G.A. Pocock. Publishers are generally wary of Festschrifts, which are liable to interest the recipient’s friends and colleagues more than a wider audience; but this is not an ordinary Festschrift ...

In Myrtle Bowers

Blair Worden: Cavaliers, 30 June 2011

Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War 
by John Stubbs.
Viking, 549 pp., £25, February 2011, 978 0 670 91753 2
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... This is a remarkable and tantalising book, luminously evocative, acutely observed, joyously written, intellectually evasive, wilfully unfocused, suicidally diffuse. Who could say, after its 500 or so pages, what it is about? Its unexplained title is presumably a market pitch. The subtitle, perhaps another pitch, lays bare a problem which John Stubbs never grips ...

Hebrew without tears

Blair Worden, 20 May 1982

Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England 1603-1655 
by David Katz.
Oxford, 312 pp., £17.50, April 1982, 0 19 821885 0
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... On 4 December 1655, Oliver Cromwell opened a conference summoned ‘to consider of proposals in behalf of the JEWS, by Menasseh ben Israel, an agent come to London in behalf of many of them, to live and trade here, and desiring to have free use of their synagogues’. This gathering of politicians, clergymen, lawyers and merchants, which is known to history as the Whitehall Conference, was invited to rescind the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I in 1290 ...

Lawful Resistance

Blair Worden, 24 November 1988

Algernon Sidney and the English Republic 1623-1677 
by Jonathan Scott.
Cambridge, 258 pp., £27.50, August 1988, 0 521 35290 8
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Seeds of Liberty: 1688 and the Shaping of Modern Britain 
by John Miller.
Souvenir, 128 pp., £15.95, July 1988, 0 285 62839 9
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Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 
by W.A. Speck.
Oxford, 267 pp., £17.50, July 1988, 9780198227687
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War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough 
by D.W. Jones.
Blackwell, 351 pp., £35, September 1988, 0 631 16069 8
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Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State and Premier Minister 
by Brian Hill.
Yale, 259 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 300 04284 1
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A Kingdom without a King: The Journal of the Provisional Government in the Revolution of 1688 
by Robert Beddard.
Phaidon, 192 pp., £14.95, November 1988, 9780714825007
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... How should a decisive historical event be commemorated? In the history of the British Isles no event has been more decisive than the Revolution of 1688. It defeated a vigorous attempt to impose royal absolutism, and secured the principle of Parliamentary consent. It made possible the emergence of free speech and of an independent judiciary. It was the critical episode in the transformation of Britain from a minor power with a dynastic foreign policy to a major one with an imperial destiny ...

Calvinisms

Blair Worden, 23 January 1986

International Calvinism 1541-1715 
edited by Menna Prestwich.
Oxford, 403 pp., £35, October 1985, 0 19 821933 4
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Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in 17th-Century London 
by Paul Seaver.
Methuen, 258 pp., £28, September 1985, 0 416 40530 4
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... 1985 saw the tercentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the event which banished Protestantism from France after nearly a century of precarious legal protection. The anniversary, capably bruited by the Huguenot Society, was also seized upon for an enterprising non-denominational purpose. By extracting from a distinguished team, drawn from both sides of the Channel, the essays assembled in International Calvinism 1541-1715, Menna Prestwich has brought the findings of recent European scholarship – some of them reported at first, others at second hand – to an English audience hitherto under-acquainted with them ...

Puritan Neuroses

Blair Worden, 19 April 1984

The Puritan Gentry: The Great Puritan Families of Early Stuart England 
by J.T. Cliffe.
Routledge, 313 pp., £18.95, March 1984, 0 7102 0007 2
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The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Revolution in an English County 
by William Hunt.
Harvard, 365 pp., £30.60, April 1983, 0 674 73903 5
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Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism 
by Patrick Collinson.
Hambledon, 604 pp., £24, July 1982, 9780907628156
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Laud’s Laboratory: The Diocese of Bath and Wells in the Early 17th Century 
by Margaret Steig.
Associated University Presses, 416 pp., £30, September 1983, 0 8387 5019 2
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The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression 
by Patricia Caldwell.
Cambridge, 210 pp., £17.50, December 1983, 0 521 25460 4
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Protestant Reformers in Elizabethan Oxford 
by C.M. Dent.
Oxford, 262 pp., £17.50, June 1983, 0 19 826723 1
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... If the directions taken by historical research are indicative of a nation’s broader preoccupations, then we may have to prepare ourselves for a religious revival of some magnitude. Religious explanations in history are all the rage – nowhere more so than in the study of the English Civil Wars. John Morrill, that panjandrum of Civil War revisionism, is reported to have advised a recent meeting of the Royal Historical Society to think of 1640-60 not as the first of Europe’s modern revolutions but as the last of its wars of religion ...

Conviction on the High Seas

Blair Worden, 6 February 1997

Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy 1650-68 
by Steven Pincus.
Cambridge, 506 pp., £45, May 1996, 0 521 43487 4
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... To contemporaries, the three Anglo-Dutch naval wars that were fought in the third quarter of the 17th century were epic encounters on which the fate of Europe depended: modern equivalents of Rome’s wars with Carthage or of the Battle of Actium. The size and prowess of the fleets drew astonishment across the continent. So did the thunderous battles, whose scale and drama can still be sensed in the paintings of the Van de Veldes ...

War without an Enemy

Blair Worden, 21 January 1982

The Outbreak of the English Civil War 
by Anthony Fletcher.
Arnold, 446 pp., £24, October 1981, 0 7131 6320 8
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The Royalist War Effort 
by Ronald Hutton.
Longman, £12, October 1981, 0 582 50301 9
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... The political troubles of mid-17th-century England will not go away. Every generation of professional historians – the Victorians Gardiner and Firth, who laid the chronological foundation; the Marxists and the participants in the gentry controversy, who supplied the sociological dimension; the provincialists and the revisionists of the present day – has devoted some of its best research and most lively debate to the Civil War ...

Pens and Heads

Blair Worden: Printing and reading, 24 August 2000

The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making 
by Adrian Johns.
Chicago, 707 pp., £14.50, May 2000, 0 226 40122 7
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Reading Revolutions: The Politics of Reading in Early Modern England 
by Kevin Sharpe.
Yale, 358 pp., £25, April 2000, 0 300 08152 9
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... We Should Note,’ Francis Bacon enjoined in his Novum Organum, ‘the force, effect, and consequence’ of three inventions which were unknown to the ancients, ‘namely, printing, gunpowder and the compass. For these three have changed the appearance and state of the whole world.’ Since Bacon’s time almost everyone has agreed that the social and cultural impact of printing must have been huge ...

‘Wondered at as an owl’

Blair Worden: Cromwell’s Bad Idea, 7 February 2002

Cromwell’s Major-Generals: Godly Government during the English Revolution 
by Christopher Durston.
Manchester, 270 pp., £15.99, May 2001, 0 7190 6065 6
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... Among the objects of hatred and ridicule in English memory the regime of Oliver Cromwell’s Major-Generals has a towering place. The division of the country, in 1655, into 12 districts administered by killjoy Puritan commanders was a brief episode, in effect lasting less than a year, but it has been reviled and derided from that time to this ...

Mingling Freely at the Mermaid

Blair Worden: 17th-century poets and politics, 6 November 2003

The Crisis of 1614 and the Addled Parliament: Literary and Historical Perspectives 
edited by Stephen Clucas and Rosalind Davies.
Ashgate, 213 pp., £45, November 2003, 0 7546 0681 3
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The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair 1603-60 
by Alastair Bellany.
Cambridge, 312 pp., £45, January 2002, 0 521 78289 9
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... The first of these books is the product of an interdisciplinary conference at which literary critics and historians exchanged perspectives on a year conspicuous both for political conflict and for politically charged literature. Alas, it would take more than conferences for the two disciplines to understand each other. A number of the literary critics dwelled on the fear of tyranny that was voiced in (and around) 1614 by poets and historians, an anxiety given focus by the breakdown of the short-lived Parliament that was called in the spring and by the imprisonment of the Crown’s principal critics within it ...

A Frisson in the Auditorium

Blair Worden: Shakespeare without Drama, 20 April 2017

How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays 
by Peter Lake.
Yale, 666 pp., £25, November 2016, 978 0 300 22271 5
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... Does Peter Lake​ ever sleep? Even at 666 pages this is not the longest of his books, which descend on the study of the decades around 1600 like a great waterfall. There are no signs of fatigue, no inanimate sentences. Behind the loosely conversational manner of his prose lies a precision of thought and structure. How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage, an amiably but inherently contentious book, is easier to dissent from than to put down ...

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