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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: March 2020

Introduction

Summary

‘But as in this imprudent and nauseous discourse, you have all along appropriated or impropriated all the Loyalty from the Nobility, the Gentry and the Commonalty, and dedicated it to the Church; So, I doubt, you are a little too immoderate against the body of the Nonconformists. You represent them, to a man, to be all of them of Republican Principles, most pestilent, and eo nomine, enemies to Monarchy; Traytors and Rebels; such miscreants as never was in the world before, and fit to be pack'd out of it with the first Convenience. And, I observe, that all the Argument of your Book is but very frivolous and trivial; onely the memory of the late War serves for demonstration, and the detestable sentence and execution of his late Majesty, is represented again upon the Scaffold; and you having been, I suspect, better acquainted with Parliament Declarations formerly upon another account, do now apply and turn them all over to prove that the late War was wholly upon a Fanatical Cause, and the dissenting party do still go big with the same Monster.’

Memories of the civil war, regicide and interregnum were malleable, fallible and pervasive in late seventeenth-century England. Here Andrew Marvell, in his debate with the Anglican clergyman and polemicist Samuel Parker, produced a version of the most powerful anti-dissenting case. His presentation was satirical, but it captured the essence of the argument: the civil war had been caused by fanatics, who were doctrinaire republicans, and whose actions inevitably led to regicide. Nonconformity was merely another name for this fanaticism, and, if not carefully controlled in the Restoration, it would send England spiralling back into armed conflict. As generalisations, each one of these statements was almost wholly wrong, but that hardly mattered. As beliefs they framed actions and helped to produce, and sustain, religious persecution. Their contestation is one of the underlying themes of this book. The fact that the mid-century was (and remains) a site of dispute points, however, to the fundamental importance of those years in shaping what followed.

The English revolution of the mid-seventeenth century, whatever its causes, had profound religious consequences. It is now clear that there were strains of radical religious thought running under the surface of the pre-civil war religious landscape.

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