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In this year, king Henry was in Windsor at Christmas, and wore his crown there…. The king spent Easter at Kingsthorpe near Northhampton…. The king spent Whit Sunday at St. Albans. Thereafter, at midsummer, he went with his levies into Wales…. Thereafter he came to Winchester… Thereafter he went oversea [sic] into Normandy.
(Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno 1114, versions H and E.)
This fairly representative account of the travels of an Anglo-Norman king in his dominions during the course of one year is testimony to the peripatetic character of royal and ducal administrations in the eleventh- and twelfth-centuries. But, like other sources used in isolation, it barely indicates the intensity of itinerating government reached during the long reign of Henry I (1100–1135), and which was maintained at a heightened pitch in the chaotic decades to come.
Modern historians have recognized that itineration was fundamental to medieval kingship and that it was crucial to the governance of a geographically disparate realm, as kings divided their time between historically separate regions. Itineration was a practical device in the absence of fully-developed governmental institutions as well as an economic necessity, for in partially monetarized economies, it was not always possible to move goods easily from county districts to main centers of power.
Only a handful of recent, comprehensive studies of government in Norman and Angevin England have touched on the subject of itineration. David C. Douglas concentrated on the men who comprised the royal household and who attended meetings of the royal curia in his analyses of William the Conqueror's (1066–1087) personal kingship.
In 1935, R. G. Collingwood defined the historical imagination as an innate or a priori part of thinking that allows students of history to reconstruct the past. Whether stored in the furniture of the mind, learned through practice, or inherited as genetic inclinations, imagination is indispensable to the historian's craft. The historian's imagination may be richer, more diverse, more inventive than that, say, of an orthopedist, because the historian's present is the surviving but elusive past. Historians have to imagine more because they can never know what actually happened. Like orthopedists and everyone else, historians enter their professions hauling baggage packed haphazardly with images drawn from cultural, personal, religious, moral and practical experience. An orthopedist checks his psychological and social luggage when treating anesthetized muscle and bone in the controlled atmosphere of an operating room. For the orthopedist, the only images relevant for diagnosis and remedy are those produced precisely by x-rays or magnetic resonance. A historian neither diagnoses nor remedies. Instead, relying upon recalcitrant evidence, she tries to explain events that occurred in a dynamic, unpredictable, uncontrollable world already finished.
When historians conduct research and then interpret what they find, they are unwilling and unable to lay aside their every day images of human nature and society. Such concepts, even when wrong, are logically necessary to explanation. Historical imagination organizes the categories that provide a historian with a match between her expectations and the subjects of her inquiry. The historian's juxtaposition, unlike the orthopedist's realistic image, is impressionistic. It becomes satisfying only when it fulfills a cultivated sense of propriety. Although honest historians are persuaded by the information they discover, there are few experiences more pleasing than that frisson of recognition when initial impressions are validated by the historical records. That pleasure is far more agreeable than disappointment. If the records repudiate anticipations then the historian must search for a more adequate explanatory scheme that approximates the truth more closely.
The debate on whether or not seventeenth-century village society was increasingly polarized between parish notables and prosperous households, who tended both to appropriate Protestant virtues of “order and godliness” to themselves and impose them on the indifferent or even hostile laboring poor, is not yet over. On one side is Tessa Watt, who has summarized the arguments against polarization that do not fit with the distribution of her “godly” woodcuts, broadsides, and chapbooks, and Martin Ingram, who says “the evidence from Wiltshire and elsewhere suggest it is a mistake to overemphasize either the presence of ‘godly’ groups, or the existence of people largely indifferent to religion.” In the village of Keevil, he found the relatively few pious villagers “quite widely scattered in the social scale, and as a group, not particularly literate…. They did not form a close-knit nexus in village society, and…did not dominate the structure of local office-holding.” He concludes that “both ecclesiastical and religious issues were of sufficient significance in parish life to serve as a focus for parish rivalries and in so far as religious and moral issues were socially divisive, the splits were as much vertical as horizontal.
The elaborate pageantry and festivities of grand public processions have proven to be of great interest to historians writing on late medieval and early modern Europe. The more limited ceremonies and protocol at court have attracted somewhat less attention, although on occasion they have been adopted as evidence of a monarch's personal feelings about his attendants and family members. A study of royal protocol and the social and political framework in which rulers fulfilled their roles as sovereigns is timely, for it will surely lead to a new and fuller understanding of how monarchs's public roles, such as those of the Tudors, related to their private motivations.
Greeting ceremonies, which were one aspect of the “law of hospitality,” require special attention, because they offer insights into the interactions of people of varying status who were of fundamental importance to the hierarchical communities of Europe. As Esther Goody points out, “Greeting becomes a mode of entering upon or manipulating a relationship in order to achieve a specific result.” How monarchs privately greeted their brides, the topic of this essay, not only offers insights into the complexity of the relationship of individuals who were wed by proxy before they had become acquainted, but also offers evidence of how the greeting ritual performed by monarchs differed from that enacted by their royal and noble relatives.
In the mid-1980s Stuart historians began a major re-evaluation of the restoration era. Among the principal themes are the period's unsettledness, the continuing impact of the radical tenets that had been manifested so forcefully in the mid-century upheavals, the significance of religion and ideology, and renewed debate over the origin of political parties. As I have suggested elsewhere, the period is most accurately conceived as a time of recurring crises of varying magnitude and duration. The first extended from Oliver Cromwell's death in September 1658 to the passage of the Conventicle Act in 1664, the second from 1667 to the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, the third from the revelation of the spurious Popish Plot in 1678 to the repression of the Rye House schemers and the Monmouth/Russell/Essex cabal in 1683, the fourth the rebellions of the earl of Argyll and the duke of Monmouth in 1685, and the fifth the crisis that entailed the collapse of James II's regime and the constitutional settlement of 1689.
Bunyan lived through the first four periods of crisis and died amid the final one. It is appropriate to ask how this reinterpretation of the restoration period affects our interpretation of Bunyan. Elsewhere I have offered some suggestions, particularly with respect to the crisis of 1678–83 and our understanding of The Holy War, Of Antichrist and His Ruine, and Seasonable Counsel: or, Advice to Sufferers. This essay will focus on the crisis of 1667–73, the principal interpreter of which is Gary De Krey. For him this controversy at root entailed a crucial debate about liberty of conscience—a revival of the debate that in his judgment was central to the mid-century revolution. De Krey makes a compelling case for the significance of the debate in the period 1667–73 because it challenged many of the assumptions on which the restoration settlement was founded, including the limits of political authority, the relationship between church and Crown, and the rights and obligations of subjects. In their various assertions of the right of conscience, nonconformists rejected the restoration settlement by insisting on God's ultimate sovereignty in the spiritual realm and “the autonomy of the conscience as God's vicegerent in that sphere.” For them the issue was not parliamentary versus royal sovereignty—not least because the policy of persecution was parliamentary—but the sovereignty of the conscience against any persecutorial authority.
The “age of religious wars” usually serves as the main interpretive framework for students of late sixteenth-century European history. This period is often conceptualized as just preceding the establishment of a secularized, politique-based state system that provided domestic tranquility as welcome relief from extended, highly partisan warfare. It is true that religious sentiments ran high among certain Protestants and Catholics who believed millions of souls were at stake, and that passionate defenses of doctrinal purity, to the point of taking up arms, characterize a good deal of the polemic of the age. Consequently, since prominent clerics were most vocal and influential in stirring up pious fervor for holy causes, many historians have focused on clerical martial rhetoric and found in it the ideological basis for the “religious wars” that ensued. Unfortunately, a hint of teleology informs much of the historical narrative that then follows, as if confessional devotion were synonymous with volatile, even bellicose calls for godly reform. A broader, more nuanced look at some of the pertinent sources, however, suggests that in many, perhaps even the majority, of cases, newly energized evangelicals found holy causes abhorrent and contrary to the gospel message.
Aphra Behn (1640–89) stands simultaneously at the center and on the edge of Restoration literature. As one of its most prolific writers, her success as a playwright was rivaled only by Dryden; however, as a woman, she defied and challenged contemporary ideas about sex, gender, and authorship. Behn was remarkably aware of the ambiguity of her position; a widow, a writer, and a professional, she inhabited and personified the grey areas of seventeenth-century gender roles. For these reasons, her work provides an interesting window through which to view the relationship between gender and literature in the late seventeenth century.
The subject of several book-length studies and many more articles, Behn has experienced a renaissance in the academic community during the last ten to fifteen years and has been installed in the seventeenth-century literary canon. Two related aspects of her career however have been overlooked. The first is her interest in natural philosophy, including her criticism of philosophers for not sharing their knowledge. The second aspect is her work as a translator, especially as a translator of scientific texts. Perhaps the enduring perception of translation as an essentially derivative activity has led scholars to dismiss Behn's translations as uninteresting or unoriginal. In so far as natural philosophy was a “masculine” discipline, however, Behn's translations demonstrated her ability to participate in and translate between elite natural philosophy, often written in Latin (the most “masculine” language), and a general or female audience.
This article is intended as a sequel to that written in 1992 and published in Albion the following year (vol. 23, 2 [Fall 1993]: 419–41). It reflects the wealth of scholarship published in recent years, evidence, if any is needed, that the eighteenth century is far from dead; however, it is more than an update or appendix. One of the major problems with review articles and historiographical surveys is that they can range so far back in time that they seem to repeat the controversies of the past rather than to take sufficient note of those of the present or to point the way to those that may be imminent.
Too much historiographical work relates to long-published scholarship. Though this older work was important, surely less emphasis should be placed today on Butterfield and Namier. Not only do their studies appear dated or superseded; they are of interest from the point of how we have got to where we are, while no longer throwing much light on matters. The same is true of works that caused a splash when they appeared, but now seem very much of their time, such as John Brewer's Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (1976).
We are all devoured by time. One of the great pleasures of scholarship is that others come along and build on, revise, or reject our work. Thus, one of the advantages of writing a sequel is that adopting the historiographical longue durée is not necessary and going for the here and now is possible. As with my former essay, there is a powerful element of choice and subjectivity.
The history of religion in Britain—as distinct from church or ecclesiastical history—is making an impressive comeback in the consciousness of historians, with important implications for British cultural and social history. Not least affected is the history of Britain in the twentieth century. Fifteen years ago, the well-known social historian Alan Gilbert published his The Making of Post-Christian Britain, which soon became the standard account of the secularization of British society since the eighteenth century. Taking off from careful statistical surveys of Christian church membership and participation that he had done in two earlier books, and looking for explanation to a very broad range of cultural, economic, and social factors, Gilbert presented an argument that has seemed so powerful as to be an almost irresistible account of the apparent fact of the secularization of Britain. More recently, however, both religious historians and sociologists of religion have begun to question not only Gilbert's premises and argument, but also the very concept of secularization. The result of this questioning, exemplified by the books here reviewed, is a major controversy concerning the recent history of religion in Britain.
In the spring of 1912, the British syndicalist leader Tom Mann was prosecuted under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 for his opposition to the use of troops during the great coal strike. He was convicted and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, but an outcry from socialists, trade unionists, and progressives forced the Liberal government to reduce his sentence and release him early from prison. This much is familiar to historians of early twentieth-century Britain and Ireland. It is often forgotten, however, that Mann was only one of eight syndicalists and socialists who were prosecuted for their involvement in the “don't shoot” agitation. It is likewise forgotten that Mann went on trial just days before the suffragette leaders Emmeline Pankhurst and Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence shared a similar fate, amid demands that Sir Edward Carson, the leading opponent of Irish home rule, join them in the dock. Indeed, the Nation, a progressive Liberal weekly, complained that “the country is…getting somewhat tired of political trials.” Perhaps because we assume the relative transparency of the law, historians have failed to scrutinize in detail the origins and outcome of the “don't shoot” prosecutions. George Dangerfield devoted one sentence to them, Elie Halévy a few more; although the “don't shoot” episode has been invoked to symbolize the increasingly fragile relations between Liberalism and the working classes, it continues to receive only brief mention in accounts of Edwardian labor and politics. Even Tom Mann's biographers have shed little new light on his case.
In an attempt to understand the public and private roles of medieval women in the English countryside, historians have devoted growing attention to widows as villein tenants and transmitters of land in manorial communities. Villein women are often recorded in manorial sources as co-tenants and recipients of property rights on their husbands' deaths. Although in Common Law the widow's share ranged from one-third to one-half of a free husband's lands, the villein widow often received a right to life usage of the whole of the conjugal estate upon her husband's death as her “free bench.” The extensive property-holding rights of these villein widows have made them rich subjects for study of their legal, social, and economic status and activities.
Case studies based on manorial estates, however, have often focused exclusively on the widow as a transmitter of property and have subordinated the study of widows within a framework governed by considerations of land markets and property transmission. Medieval historiography contrasts with studies of early-modern and modern populations that have put elements such as age at widowhood, number of dependents, social status, personal choice in connection with widow remarriage, and provisions for widows at the forefront of study. By connecting work on widows and the landmarket with these other concerns it is possible to study medieval peasant widows within broader comparative perspective.
The year 1655 might with reason have been described as the “annus horribilis” of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate. January saw the dissolution of his first Parliament, which had signally failed to ratify the Instrument of Government, the constitution imposed by the Army in December 1653. This undermined the already dubious constitutional basis of the government's ordinances, resulting in legal challenges and even recalcitrance among some of the judges. The policy of “healing and settling” had gained at best a grudging acquiescence from the political nation, and the determined enemies of the Protectorate sought to exploit its instability. Former allies of the Army, such as the commonwealthsman John Wildman and the Fifth Monarchists, continued to publish bitter condemnations of the regime designed to incite rebellion; in March, Royalist plotting culminated in Penruddock's abortive uprising. Instability and disaffection at home coincided with military disaster abroad: July brought news of the failure of Cromwell's “western design,” the expedition against the Spanish island of Hispaniola. This was the first major defeat suffered by the New Model, and was received by Cromwell and many of the godly as an indication of divine displeasure.
In August, Cromwell abandoned “healing and settling” for more military counsels, appointing Major Generals to provide security by raising a new militia, financed by punitive taxation of the Royalists, and by imposing godly order on the localities. Despite the initial optimism of the Major Generals, it was plain by the beginning of 1656 that they could not finance the new militia, and that their efforts to impose reform were far from uniformly effective.
“…before I die I must know my beloved London again: for me it is the centre of civilization—tolerant, intelligent and completely out of control now, I hear”—Hanif Kureishi, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1988)
“D'you want me to go on? The end of the world is nigh, Bri. The game is up!”—Mike Leigh, Naked (1993)
In an essay published in 1969, Alastair Macintyre reflected upon the contradictory place of faith in the modern world, caught between absence and presence, absent because it is apparently no longer central to life, present because its structures still lie all around us. Macintyre suggests that it is at the moment when faith is lost that it becomes more easily, if trivially, incorporated into modern life: “[o]nly since the crisis of belief in the last century, however, has theism so emptied itself of any content that might affront us culturally that it has proved wholly assimilable.”
From the contemporary perspective, one might make the same observation of the secular creed of “Englishness.” It has been suggested that the post-1945 crisis of confidence in the pillars of that mythic “Englishness”—imperial greatness, economic strength, a uniform national and racial identity—can be set against the relatively easy and successful assimilation of past notions into perceptions of the present, perceived, for instance, in the “heritage” industry, whether in tourism or in film. If, as Macintyre remarks of faith in the modern world, we are saddled with “an identity that we can now neither fully recover nor yet quite disown,” it might be argued that England enjoys or endures the same predicament with regard to its national identity.