To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Dunwich had been falling into the North Sea for centuries. By the 1690s, the once bustling borough was a quiet backwater. But Dunwich had a long, proud history of incorporation, and controlling the corporation meant controlling the choice of two members of the House of Commons. For a handful of residents and Suffolk gentlemen, Dunwich politics proved worthy of the most strenuous efforts.
Like the ocean eating away at the sandy bluffs on Dunwich's shore, events of the 1680s crashed again and again on the corporation, leaving nothing but wreckage behind by late 1688. Though the corporation decided to fight the quo warranto brought against them in 1684, they soon thought better of it and surrendered their charter to Charles II and gained a new one not long after he died. According to the power given him by that charter, James II purged most of the new body in 1688. Then, because Dunwich's was one of the few surrenders enrolled in Chancery, it did not benefit from James's proclamation of October 17, 1688, which restored most of England's corporations to their earlier condition. Instead, in one of his last acts as King, James made a special order for Dunwich, dismissing those he had appointed there earlier in the year, and commanding the pre-surrender corporation to reconstitute itself. This they did, and by year's end, it looked as if Dunwich had recovered its fragile status quo ante.
One King died and another succeeded him; there were parliamentary elections. But 1727 was a year of little significance. So too were most of the other dates we use to separate epochs: 1688, 1714–15, 1722. Much happened in these years. Monarchs came and went, corporations were purged, corporation members sued one another, elections were held. Particularly in 1688–89 and 1714–15, moments marking important turnings in the nation's life, little else changed when the leadership did. Tories certainly fared worse after 1715 in parliamentary and court politics, but tory partisan groups in the corporations, and moreover, toryism among the broader populace, kept partisan competition alive and well beyond Westminster. The tone of political discord softened in the 1720s, and religious indentification ceased to be the chief determinant of the right to participate in public life. Partisan conflict was about different things by the late 1720s and 1730s, but partisan conflict endured as the basis of politics in the corporations. It is this continuity in political practice across 1688–89 and 1715 that makes an epoch of the seven or eight decades after 1650 that we otherwise treat as three or four distinct eras.
Partisan politics, born in the maelstrom of civil war, had outlived all the purges and amputations that had been intended to kill it in 1660 and the decades following. Though condemned by all, partisan politics flourished, and nowhere more prominently than in the corporations. It did so because it did not produce the consequences all feared it would.
It was the spring of 1661. Leicester's senior aldermen carried their charters to London for “the manifesting of the liberties of the corporation.” If they were not nervous, they should have been. Like aldermen across England, Leicester's had acquiesced in the destruction of monarchy in the 1640s and 50s when they sold off the fee farm rents long paid to the crown in return for the privileges granted to them by Charles II's ancestors. This and other sins provided ready grounds for forfeiting their charters. Leicester's corporate life hung from a slender thread, one that could be broken by the slightest legal tug.
But in the first years after the Restoration, the King was more concerned with good behavior than with good law. The question of Leicester's legal status was put aside while the Corporation Act commissioners did their work. With new members in place by the autumn of 1662, Leicester's corporation again tended to its legally suspect charters. Work proceeded slowly; not until the following June did a corporate committee recommend “the renewing of the town charter with such liberties as formerly and such other additions as Mr. Recorder shall advise.” Despite this intention, continued dithering over the charter ultimately provoked crown impatience. Word arrived in town that if they did not hasten their efforts, an information in the nature of a quo warranto would be sued against them, forcing them to renew the charter on less favorable terms. But no quo warranto was needed to inspire the corporation; the prospect of clarifying old privileges and perhaps gaining new ones gave incentive enough.
The Corporation Act left behind two groups in Northampton: the corporation and a disgruntled rump expelled from it. In March of 1663, the third parliamentary by-election in eighteen months set the corporation against “the secluded members.” Mayor John Brafield's choice, Sir William Dudley, challenged Christopher Hatton. Hatton won with the help of those expelled. The “secluded members” showed elsewhere that their political vigor remained as they attacked Brafield and his corporate friends with law suits. Within the corporation, the political weight began to shift with the choice of William Vaughan – a foe of Brafield – as mayor and Vaughan's allies as JPs and coroners. But March 1664 brought another by-election. This time, ardent Anglican Sir John Yelverton prevailed against Vaughan's candidate, Sir John Bernard. So Vaughan, to shore up his damaged base, tried to expel Yelverton's supporters from the corporation but was prevented by a letter from the King, sent in response to pleas to help “the loyal party.”
The electoral struggle of 1663 set the corporation against those excised from it, but in 1664, the corporation began dividing within as partisans of those left out tried to expel their foes and to restore their ousted friends. The center of political gravity then shifted again as Francis Pickmer, “loyal” Brafield's ally, followed Vaughan as mayor in 1664. Tradition dictated that when Pickmer's year ended, he should preside at his successor's election. But Pickmer left town on the appointed day, aware that “the house [had] crossed him in his design of choosing a man he intended”.
… and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.
Matthew, chapter 12, verse 25
From the 1640s on, England's cities divided against themselves, yet they stood. That is the point of this book.
This book answers two questions about the transformation of political culture. Where and how did partisan politics evolve? And what was its impact? The answers are as simple as these questions. Partisan politics evolved in England's borough corporations in the wake of the Civil Wars. And the impact of partisan conflict was not to create instability but to create the means for achieving stability. Throughout, a third question constantly arises. What was the relationship between center and locality, that is, between the crown and the borough corporations? The answer: each needed the other because each was made of the other. The most significant change in this relationship was the rapid development of one royal institution, the court of King's Bench, in response to the demands of hundreds of other royal institutions, the corporations governing 200 towns.
The genesis of political parties has long fascinated historians, but the historiography has been vexed by the problem of definition. No one has given a compelling reason to choose one definition of party over another, nor do I imagine that anyone could. What counts as a party keeps shifting so the desired object slips from our grasp. This might be because there was no such object at all, certainly not in the seventeenth century. Before there could be a thing we could call a “party,” there had to be a kind of behavior that did not in its earliest manifestations create such things.