Saturday, 8 July 2017

1666: Plague, War and Hellfire Hardcover by Rebecca Rideal- 304 pages-Publisher: John Murray- ISBN-10: 1473623537

Let the flaming London come in view, Like Nero's Rome, burnt to rebuild it new

The Second Advice to a Painter by Andrew Marvell

“sure, so sad a sight was never seen before as that city is now lying in ashes”-

 Lady Elmes

It is fair to say that 1666 was not a very good year to be in London or England for that matter. In rapid succession, she was struck by a deadly plague that wiped out swathes of the population. The second war with the Dutch caused mayhem and much bloodshed for both nations and to end with London was struck by a deadly fire.

All these events are told with a fair degree of panache by Rebecca Rideal in her new book. The book which reads like a historical novel with bits of academic essay thrown is based on a significant amount of original archival research and makes use of little-known sources. It is safe to say the that Rideal did her fair share of “grubbing in the archives”. Rideal has claimed her approach is novel, but this has been hotly contested.Regarding publications, 1666 joins a very crowded market. Lloyd and Dorothy Moote’s The Great Plague and Adrian Tinniswood on the Fire of London are two which come to mind.

Rideal has not attempted to differentiate her book from these by claiming to have found new evidence. However, she does try to place the events in a more broader context of the bourgeois society. Rideal is correct to point out that 1666 was a crucial turning point in English history. The devastation caused by these events did, however, enable the bourgeoisie to hasten further the process of the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

It was also a time when some of the finest representatives of the bourgeoisie were around. 1666 saw Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity, complementing Robert Hooke's microscopic discoveries. It was also when the great John Milton completed Paradise Lost. Last but not least was the rebuilding of London by Christopher Wren. The three events mentioned in the book came at a time when England in the seventeenth century witnessed a fundamental change.

As the 21st-century Marxist writer David North wrote the “17th century started to fundamentally change the way man saw the world. Up until then, mankind's worldview had largely been dominated by the Aristotelian worldview. Until the early seventeenth century, even educated people still generally accepted that the ultimate answers to all the mysteries of the universe and the problems of life were to be found in the Old Testament. But its unchallengeable authority had been slowly eroding, especially since the publication of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus in the year of his death in 1543, which dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic conception of the universe and provided the essential point of departure for the future conquests of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johann Kepler (1571-1630) and, of course, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Intellectually, if not yet socially, the liberation of man from the fetters of Medieval superstition and the political structures that rested upon it, was well under way.[1]

The book outlines that the fire and plague cruelly exposed the class divide and class relations in England at the time. The poor endured the most of both plague and fire. The rich could either stay in their well-built houses to wait out the fire and plague, or they could move out of the city with their possessions. The poor had no such luxury.

As Lady Ann Hobart complained in a letter “I am almost out of my wits, we have packed up all our goods & cannot get a cart for money, they give 5 & 10 pound for carts … I fear I shall lose all I have and must run away … O pity me.”

As Rideal explains the fire was only extinguished when the rich allowed some of their houses to be blown up or knocked down to provide a firebreak. If the rich people had acquiesced to their houses being blown up earlier the fire could have done less damage.

The fire caused widespread panic and paranoia. Riddeal cites one gruesome incident in graphic detail when a Frenchwoman in Moorfields had her breasts cut off after the chickens she was carrying under her apron were mistaken for fireballs. Many foreign nationals especially French or Dutch were accused of starting the fire was attacked by the mobs.

Style

1666 is a debut book and tells the story of that year in narrative form and borrows heavily from the genre of History from Below. The book written during her research on her PHD is orientated to the general reader but does retain a good academic level. Her use of anecdotal evidence is very well done.

The reader will see in her book a contradiction in that it is part “public history” and part academic history. This reflects Rideal’s current predicament. A foot in both camps is a difficult place to be but not entirely impossible, but Rideal will have to make a choice.

Given her life history, I would say she will continue with a more publicly minded history. She was born in Chester in 1983. She studied history at Leeds University. Her MA was completed at University College London. She is a founding member of the History Vault and had an early career in television. This would tend to point her future career more in the public history arena.

Her main historiographical interest lies with a study of the 17th-century England. Her time spent in television will keep her in good stead for the future. If she does manage to combine Public history with a more academically minded history, then that would be a novel approach.

She describes this method.  “The thing is I am a procrastinator,” she says, “and the way that I combat procrastination is by coming up with something that in my mind is even more important than the thing I am supposed to be doing. So I start something, and that takes over everything, and then I start something else.”

Much of her book is grounded by using contemporary accounts. Although she sometimes gets carried away causing one writer to say that her style is more to do with live television than with dead history.
She recognises this saying “There are probably lines in there that I will cringe about afterwards. There are certainly some that I took out because I was pushing it too far. I am really, nervous about this being published because I’m so nervous about the way I’ve written it, the language that I’ve used, the fact that I’ve written a narrative history before I have written a PhD. I feel very, very conscious of all those things. It is frightening.”

The book does not follow a logical pattern and tends to jump from one event to another. This seems to be the unorthodox style that Rideal has adopted. Once you get used to it does make the reading interesting and allows the historian to set a fast pace almost novel-like. The question being does Rideal want to pursue this style of history writing or as she comes to the end of PHD pursue a more conventional academic style?

Twitter Wars

Not everyone is comfortable with her style which is their right, but as a historian, she should start to develop a thicker skin. That does mean she must put up with the personal abuse she has received on Twitter. Much of the abuse appears to be provoked by the fact that she is an attractive female historian. The general thrust of the abuse is the simple fact that she is a female trying to make a living out of public history writing.

The writer Graham Smith has sympathies for Rideal when he recounts “I have some sympathy with these grumblings. Back in 1982, I returned from completing an MA in Social History at Essex to my first university armed with a poster for Leonore Davidoff’s course. I was just pinning it to a noticeboard when the department’s senior professor of economic history spotted me and declared, ‘Women in History, Graham? Whatever next?’

However, as others have pointed out, the fact that the struggle to go beyond hegemonic discourses continues suggests that winning once is not enough. My belief is that evidence of a new generation reinventing ways of taking up that fight should be a cause for celebration rather than condemnation. As tends to happen on Twitter, battle-lines were drawn, allies and enemies were quickly made, and exchanges sharpened after those initial criticisms of Rideal. On one side were historians who clearly identified with Rideal, especially those aiming to make a living from producing popular histories. On the other, for the most part, were historians working in universities, some of whom began to question whether Rideal was even qualified to write early modern history”.[2]

He continues “these days, the battles within ‘the profession’ are mainly over resources and too often fuelled by egotism. With its proponents organised into warring tribes according to the periods and places they study or corralled into sub-disciplinary groupings, History is fractious even within the academy. In all this sound and fury, and despite constant internal sniping, the discipline has been traditionally slow to innovate, and much of the sparring is about maintaining rather than extending boundaries. It is worth noting, for example, that those pioneering courses in women’s history and oral history at Essex were taught in the Sociology Department. While members of other disciplines frequently offer support for new ideas, historians – too often operating as lone scholars – revel in knocking lumps out of one another, reserving spite for those who try to innovate. The result is that in open competition for resources, most obviously for research grant income or in the formation of mutually beneficial research partnerships, historians do not achieve the same results as, say, political scientists or human geographers. Nor are we as prepared to look after our researchers or early career colleagues as would be the case in economics or sociology”.

Although I use Twitter, I am not a fan of using it for public debates on historical matters. It is too short and how you can explain complex historical differences in 140 character it is just absurd.

Criticism

The book has been well received but that is not to say it is without criticism. One writer has pointed out that the book tends to concentrate too much on what was known about an individual at the time and to leave it at that according to one reviewer “she refers several times to mysterious rumours about Sabbatai Zevi, the charismatic rabbi who, in Turkey in 1665, proclaimed himself the Messiah. “Questions over the authenticity of Sabbatai abounded,” she says and leaves it at that as if nothing more can be known. However, there is a vast amount of scholarship on this extraordinary man, whose conversion to Islam in 1666 shocked the entire Jewish world; we do not need to confine ourselves today to contemporary rumours”.[3]

My criticism of her does not arise from the book which is very enjoyable it stems from her theoretical position or historiography. Recently she stated, “The time of the grand histories that are all about male figures is coming to an end,”. “I think people are understanding now that there were women around, too, and they were doing important things.”

The main advocate of this type of history was the historian Thomas Carlyle. If that were all she was staying, then no one would have too many complaints. However, as the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky was fond of saying "every sociological definition is at bottom a historical prognosis."

Rideal’s prognosis is that more history should be written from the standpoint of Gender and race. It is high time that the absurdities of basing a study of history on race, gender, and sexual orientation end. The fundamental division in society is not race or gender but that of class.

As North explains “The logic of class interests’ rules politics. This is a basic truth that is frequently forgotten, especially by academics, which tend to evaluate political factions by subjective criteria. Moreover, their judgments are influenced by their own unstated political biases, particularly when it is a matter of evaluating a dispute between opportunists and revolutionists. To the petty-bourgeois academic, the policies advocated by the opportunists usually appear more “realistic” than those advanced by the revolutionaries. However, just as there is no innocent philosophy, there are no innocent politics. Whether foreseen or not, a political program has objective consequences”.

Conclusion

Rideal is a gifted young historian her debut book 1666 is an enjoyable book. Her chosen subject is probably one of the most interesting times in not only British history but world history. If Rideal wants to write more academically minded stuff which she will have to for her PHD, then she will have to develop a different technique because the one used for this book will not do as it has severe limitations. This is not to say that Rideal’s book does not meet main academic standards. Her use of source material is carefully chosen mostly and up to date, and she provides footnotes for all citations and statistics.There is no point hoping the book gets a wide readership as it already has but I would recommend taking on summer holiday.

Further Reading

[1] See Buettner, Ricardo, and Katharina Buettner, ‘A Systematic Literature Review of Twitter Research from a Socio-Political Revolution Perspective’, in ResearchGate, 2016

[2] Oh, O., C. Eom, and H. R. Rao, “Role of Social Media in Social Change: An Analysis of Collective Sense-Making During the 2011 Egypt Revolution,” Information Systems Research, vol. 26, no. 1, pp.210–223, 2015.

[3] Lea, Richard, ‘Rebecca Rideal: “The Time of the Grand Histories Is Coming to an End”’, The Guardian, 25 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/25/rebecca-rideal-the-time-of-the-grand-histories-is-coming-to-an-end [accessed 3 September 2016].




[1] quality, the Rights of Man, and the Birth of Socialism-By David North -24 October 1996-
[2]Beyond Us and Them: Public History and the Battle for the Past on Twitter by Graham Smith- https://historiansforhistory.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/beyond-us-and-them-public-history-and-the-battle-for-the-past-on-twitter-by-graham-smith/
[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/plague-fire-and-war-for-london-1666-was-truly-an-annus-horribili/

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Cromwell's Buffoon: The Life and Career of The Regicide, Thomas Pride (Century of the Soldier) Hardcover – 15 May 2017-by Robert Hodkinson- Helion and Company.

 ‘that he was very sorry for these three nations, whom he saw in a most sad and deplorable condition’ Thomas Pride (Weekly Intelligencer, 1–8 Nov 1659, 212).

There are still many prominent figures who played major parts in the English Revolution who have not had the academic research and publicity they deserve. Colonel Thomas Pride is one of those persons.To some extent that anomaly has been-been changed in Pride’s case. Robert Hodkinson’s semi-biography of Pride is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how people from very humble backgrounds rose to prominence during the English Revolution.Colonel Thomas Pride is commonly known for being the driving force behind ‘Pride’s Purge,'[1] which saw the mass and very forcible expulsion of MP’s from parliament paving the way for the execution of the King.

Aside from this momentous event, little else is known about this important and pivotal historical figure. In a recent article explaining his approach to researching Pride Hodkinson made this point “Fifteen years ago, reconstructing the biography of a man in this way – almost from scratch – would have been a great deal more difficult. Many of the sources used to research Cromwell’s Buffoon are now readily accessible online or can be located through online databases. Digitised parish registers, searchable through Ancestry.co.uk, were invaluable in retracing Pride’s family tree, which allowed me to unravel its numerous strands and confirm the dynastic links between Pride’s family and those of other dominant figures of the period: by marrying his children to the nieces and nephews of Oliver Cromwell and General Monck, Pride could consolidate his place in the Protectorate establishment”.

Pride’s position within the Cromwellian revolution did not sit well with conservative historians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Biographies which were few and far between described Pride as “an ignorant, illiterate fellow” and “a useful man to Cromwell in all his projects. A buffoon to him”.

As Hodkinson explains the development of the internet gives the possibility of a more objective account of Pride can be made. Hodkinson believes the internet has revolutionized research especially when looking at figures such as Pride. Online digital resources allow a researcher a lot more thorough study of historical documents than at a reading room.

Hodkinson graduated from the University of Derby in 2010 with an MA in Humanities. He went on to win a prestigious vice-chancellor's prize for his dissertation on the contemporary poetry of the First World War. He is not an orthodox historian. His history is very hands on, and his interest in Pride developed from his role in the Sealed Knot battle re-enactment society going so far to take on the role of Colonel Thomas Pride.

The scarcity of facts about pride’s life precludes an orthodox biography. Despite the absence of information, Hodkinson makes it clear that Colonel Thomas Pride was a prominent figure during the English Revolution and was party to one of the key events of the war.

The arrest and exclusion of 140 Members of Parliament at Westminster in December 1648 was known as Pride’s Purge. The event had no precedent, and no event subsequently has even come close to its impact. The purge of MPs hostile to the revolution paved the way for the execution of the King. It is open to debate whether Pride was acting consciously, but he must have had some political understanding the nature of his act after all Pride sat as a judge at the King's Trial and was one of the 59 signatories of the death warrant
.
Hodkinson's well-researched book documents Pride’s rise from businessman and brewer. The book is indeed a groundbreaking piece of work.For once the blurb from the jacket cover is correct in that  “Cromwell's Buffoon is a ground-breaking examination of why and how a former apprentice boy rose in status to challenge the ruling elite and affect the death of a monarch. The first full-length biography of its subject, it is a fascinating story of a man who, until now, had all but vanished from history”.

Hodkinson’s book is significant in another way in that it challenges current conservative historiography. Hodkinson notes that Marxist Historiography despite having fallen out of favor can explain through the use class conflict theory how someone like Pride can play a pivotal role in history.

The book to some extent relies on the only other piece of significant research on the life of Pride, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Ian J. Gentles Who brilliantly describes how Pride carried out his famous purge “His regiment joined with Richard Deane's and Thomas Harrison's to present a petition demanding that parliament should proceed against the king ‘as an enemy to the kingdom’ (Several Petitions Presented to his Excellency the Lord Fairfax, 1648, 8). It was also part of the 7000–strong force that occupied London at the beginning of December 1648. Although David Underdown has questioned whether Pride was ‘anything more than the obedient instrument of a policy dictated by others’ (Underdown, 141), he was quite possibly a member of the subcommittee of six officers and MPs who, on the night of 5 December, made the arrangements for the purging of the House of Commons of its conservative or Presbyterian members. There is no doubt about his enthusiasm for the policy concerted by Ireton and others, for it was Pride who on the morning of the 6th set a guard around the house. He then stood on the stairs leading to the entrance, flourishing his list of members to be secured. Presently Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby arrived to help him with identifications. About forty-five members were arrested and four times that number were secluded or stayed away. Pride carried out the political cleansing with courtesy except in the case of the lawyer William Prynne. The cantankerous member for Newport tried to force his way past, but Pride with the help of his soldiers pushed him down the stairs and hustled him away to nearby Queen's Court. Prynne is said to have demanded, as he was being carried off, ‘By what authority and commission, and for what cause, they did thus violently seize on and pull him down from the House’, to which Pride and Sir Hardress Waller pointed to their soldiers with swords drawn, muskets at the ready, and matches alight, answering ‘there was their commission’ (The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England, 18.449). This violence against the House of Commons became known as Pride's Purge. The colonel and his regiment were richly rewarded for their services. Twelve days after the purge the committee of the army ordered that he should be paid £2600 on account for his regiment. During December 1648 and January 1649 warrants totalling £7691 were issued for the pay of his Regiment. Hardly any other regiment was as generously treated at the climax of the English revolution”.[2]
Pride’s Politics

Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has done a tremendous job in piecing together a picture of the politics that drove Pride forward. Pride had like a lot of Puritan Independents ties with London's Baptist churches. These churches according to the book were at the forefront of the independent religious movements of the 1630s.

The Baptists had many of the same political and religious characteristics as other radical sects of the English revolution. However, Hodkinson dismisses the notion that Pride had any sympathies with the Levellers. He states that while “Pride and the Levellers may have had certain principles in common, and mutual enemies, the fact that by 1649 Pride was a wealthy and self-interested London businessman meant that any commonality he may have had with the Levellers stopped far short of their other political goals, such as the release of enclosed lands to common ownership”.

Pride it seems was much closer to the Fifth Monarchist movement that gained strength towards the end of the revolution. Hodkinson eastablishes that Pride had connections to some Fifth Monarchist men like William Goffe, whom Pride served with throughout the revolution. Significantly both Pride and Goffe signed the death warrant of Charles 1st.
Despite Thomas Pride’s role as a regicide, Hodkinson does not believe he was a Republican. According to him.“There were certainly Republican elements in the regiment he commanded, which emerged in the Overton Plot of 1654 and after Cromwell's death in 1658. Pride was able to curb his soldiers' republicanism for most of the 1650s. The fact they supported the Rump Parliament against Richard Cromwell following their colonel's death is a testament to the force of Pride's command and strength of his personality”.

Money and Death

It would be a cynical historian who believes that Pride’s action during the revolution was motivated by greed. However, we should not be na├»ve to think that monetary considerations did not play a part. It is clear that Pride was more than adequately rewarded for his services to the revolution. As Gentles[3] points out somewhat cynically “as a revolutionary insider, he had had no difficulty obtaining redemption of his debts.” His wealth at death was £12,015 or more.

The Restoration period did not treat Pride very well. After death, he was labeled a traitor, and along with other dead regicides, he was to have his body exhumed and hanged at Tyburn alongside  Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw. In pride's case, this, in fact, did not go ahead because his body could not be found.

Conclusion

Cromwell’s Buffoon is a fascinating account of Thomas Pride. Given the sparsity of information, Hodkinson has managed to bring to life a forgotten participant of the English Revolution. The book combines political, social and military history.  It is hoped that this book gets a wide circulation and should be on university reading lists.



[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride%27s_Purge
[2]http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22781
[3] http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22781

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Interview with Robert Hodkinson-Author of Cromwell's Buffoon

The book Cromwell’s Buffoon -The Life and Career of the Regicide Thomas Pride, has just been released. Helion publishers kindly sent me a review copy. Before the report comes out, I am publishing a short interview with the Author Robert Hodkinson.

What drew you to the subject of Thomas Pride?

Some years ago I joined the English Civil War re-enactment group, The Sealed Knot. While researching Thomas Pride with a view to portraying his soldiers on the battlefield, I was interested to find that there was very little known about the man, despite the fact that references to 'Pride's Purge' appear in practically every book on the Civil War ever written. I realised that I had found not only a gap in our knowledge of a famous seventeenth-century figure but an opportunity to undertake some exciting new research in the archives. The more my research revealed about Thomas Pride, the more interesting a figure he became, and I realised I had uncovered the story of the man whose life could draw together all the threads of Civil War historiography: social, political, religious and military.

Did Pride have any connection to the Leveller movement?

Thomas Pride had ties with London's Baptist churches, which were at the forefront of the independent religious movements of the 1630s. Baptists shared the Levellers' ideals of religious liberty and the abolition of tithes, both of which were espoused by Pride himself in the later 1640s. But while Pride and the Levellers may have had certain principles in common, and mutual enemies, the fact that by 1649 Pride was a wealthy and self-interested London businessman meant that any commonality he may have had with the Levellers stopped far short of their other political goals, such as the release of enclosed lands to common ownership.

Would you describe him as a Republican, and how much connection did he have to the Fifth Monarchists?

As the Fifth Monarchists emerged from among London's Baptists, it is not surprising that Thomas Pride had connections to some Fifth Monarchist men, notably William Goffe, with whom Pride served alongside for the whole of the Civil Wars and whose signature appears next to Pride's on Charles I's death warrant. But although Thomas Pride was instrumental in bringing about the execution of Charles I he was not a Republican himself and was a supporter of Cromwellian government during the 1650s. There were certainly Republican elements in the regiment he commanded, which emerged in the Overton Plot of 1654 and after Cromwell's death in 1658. Pride was able to curb his soldiers' republicanism for most of the 1650s. The fact they supported the Rump Parliament against Richard Cromwell following their colonel's death is a testament to the force of Pride's command and strength of his personality.

Is there any other research possibilities to further our knowledge of Pride?

The length of time that this project has run, and the depth of the research undertaken, means that I feel confident that I have unearthed all the surviving information that we have on Thomas Pride. One thing that my research never revealed was the whereabouts of his final resting place, which appears to have been kept a secret to prevent his remains falling into the hands of the Royalists. If further research could reveal the site of Thomas Pride's burial, both he and I would be very grateful.

What are you working on at the moment?


I don't think my appetite for researching and discovering more about the English Civil War will ever be satisfied. At present, I am working on a new proposal for Helion military history publishers on Fairfax's sieges and the New Model Army's storming of Bristol in 1645.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Lawrence Stone and the Historiography of the Gentry Contoversy

By Christopher Thompson

The controversy over the economic and social origins of the English Revolution was a topic that excited ferocious debate over sixty years ago. Historians of the calibre of R.H.Tawney and Hugh Trevor-Roper, J.P.Cooper, Christopher Hill and Lawrence Stone advanced radically different interpretations to explain the violent events of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles. American scholars, most famously of all, J.H.Hexter, like Willson Coates, Harold Hulme, Judith Shklar and Perez Zagorin also commented with varying degrees of sharpness on the issues at stake. But only one of the major participants, Lawrence Stone, offered an account of the historiography of the dispute, first of all in his introduction to the anthology of academic articles and documentary sources entitled Social Change and Revolution in England 1540-1640 which he edited in 1965 and then, in slightly revised form, in Chapter 2 of his work, The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642, published in 1972. It is with this account that this note is concerned.

Stone began the earlier version of his essay with a description of the genesis of the controversy. He found it in R.H.Tawney's article on the rise of the gentry between 1558 and 1641 published in 1941. Tawney had detected important changes in the distribution of landownership in the period before the English Civil War due to the decline in the fortunes of old-fashioned landlords and the rise of a new class of gentry able to adopt modern methods of estate management and to profit thereby. As a result, the political structure of the country shifted in and after 1640 to accommodate these economic and social changes. Tawney's argument was underpinned by statistics claiming to show a fall in the size of the peerage's manorial holdings compared to those of the gentry and a contraction in large manorial holdings in contrast to a growth in medium-sized manorial holdings. Apparent confirmation on the decline of the aristocracy was offered by Stone himself in an article published in 1948 which argued that the late-Elizabethan peerage was weighed down by debts due to over-spending and on the brink of financial ruin. Only the largesse of King James VI and I averted aristocratic collapse.

Stone was admirably frank in retrospect in admitting to his use of extravagant language in this article, to his statistical errors and failings over his employment of corollary evidence in response to Hugh Trevor-Roper's initial criticisms. Nonetheless, he maintained a revised version of his original position in 1952. This proved the catalyst for Trevor-Roper's wider assault on Tawney's thesis in the following year: according to Trevor-Roper, the difficulties of the lesser or mere or small gentry were more characteristic of the pre-Civil War period than the advance of newly-risen gentry who were able to profit from Court offices, the law and mercantile monopolies. These lesser gentry constituted the 'Country party' whose supporters overthrew the Caroline regime in 1640, who advocated decentralization, reform of the law, the reduction of offices, etc., and who were the mainstay of the Independents in the latter half of the 1640s and in the 1650s. Subsequently, J.P.Cooper demolished the framework upon which Tawney and Stone had erected their manorial figures. By then, Stone asserted, the way had been cleared for the general acceptance of the Trevor-Roper thesis.

In fact, according to Stone, it was not until 1958-1959 that Trevor-Roper's arguments were seriously criticised when Christopher Hill and Perez Zagorin exposed the fragile nature of his assumptions about the lack of profitability of agriculture for landowners in general, about the Court as a highway to riches and about religious radicalism as a refuge from economic decline. There were serious problems too over Trevor-Roper's analysis of the Parliamentary politics of the 1640s and identification of the Independents as the party of the small gentry. J.H.Hexter was equally critical of Tawney and Trevor-Roper: the former was obsessed by the Marxist theory of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the latter by economic motives rather than by ideals and ideology, politics and religion. Hexter preferred and proffered an analysis based on the decline of the aristocracy in military rather than economic terms, the assumption of political leadership by the House of Commons instead of the House of Lords, and the traditional constitutional and religious explanations for the breakdown of the 1640s.

By the time Hexter's essay first appeared in 1958, Stone was engaged in a major study of the aristocratic archives which had become available since 1945 and which culminated in his book, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641, published in 1965. He claimed in his discussion of the social origins of the English Revolution that this book offered a synthesis of his own and Hexter's ideas about the problems facing the late-Tudor and early-Stuart peerage. Stone argued that the aristocracy had lost military power, landed possessions and prestige: their incomes under Elizabeth had declined due to conspicuous consumption but recovered under James and Charles due to royal largesse and rising landed incomes. The King and the Church of England were nonetheless left dangerously exposed by the crisis in the affairs of the landed elite after pursuing unpopular constitutional and religious policies up to 1640. The prior decline of the aristocracy made the upheavals of that decade possible. He expected criticisms of his arguments in 1965 and conceded that a range of questions over the fortunes of the gentry would be raised: the debate would inevitably continue. Seven years later, there had indeed been criticism but also, in his view, the development of a more sophisticated view of the causes of the English Revolution.

This account of the historiography of the gentry controversy looked straightforward enough and attracted no attention in 1965 or 1972. Lawrence Stone had claimed that the publication of Trevor-Roper's essay on The Gentry 1540-1640 in 1953 and of J.P.Cooper's analysis of the statistics on manorial holdings produced by Tawney and Stone himself had apparently “cleared [the way] for general acceptance of the Trevor-Roper thesis.” He had gone on to maintain that it “was not until 1958 and 1959 that the Trevor-Roper thesis in turn came under serious criticism” from Hill, Zagorin and Hexter, the latter of whom was also critical of Tawney. But these arguments were and are fundamentally at variance with the record.

Take Hill for example. The essay Stone cited was entitled Recent Interpretations of the Civil War. It had been given as a paper to the Mid-Wales branch of the Historical Association in January, 1955 and was published in Volume LXI of History in 1956. It had a number of specific objections to Trevor-Roper's categorization of the gentry, to his alleged elision of the terms “mere”, “lesser” and “declining” gentry, to his belief that it was the Crown rather than the peasantry from whom rising gentlemen secured their gains and so on. This essay was reproduced in Hill's volume of essays entitled Puritanism and Revolution published in 1958. In Zagorin's case, he had published a paper in the Journal of World History in 1955 entitled 'The English Revolution 1640-1660' in which he took the view that Trevor-Roper's criticisms of Tawney and Stone remained to be substantiated and that it was unlikely that the revolution could be regarded as rising of the excluded “mere gentry.”A year later, in 1956, Zagorin gave the paper entitled 'The Social Interpretation of the English Revolution' at the meeting of the American Historical Association: an enlarged version of his text expressing his objections to Trevor-Roper's arguments appeared in the Journal of Economic History and is noted in Stone's bibliography in 1965. It was incidentally at this AHA meeting that Hexter's essay, Storm over the Gentry, was given its first outing. Furthermore, when Past and Present organised a conference on seventeenth-century revolutions in London in July, 1957, the consensus of historians present was, according to Eric Hobsbawm, “unfavourable to Prof. Trevor-Roper's views that they [the gentry] represented a declining class”, a verdict endorsed as far as this meeting was concerned by J.H.Elliott many years later. J.H.Hexter's famous essay in Encounter in 1958 was, as those who read it in its original version or in the longer 1961 version, more hostile to Tawney and Stone and comparatively benign in its analysis of Trevor-Roper's case. Conscripting Hexter to the ranks of the latter's critics is a difficult exercise to perform. It was, in any case, simply not true to argue that there was a delay until 1958-1959 until Trevor-Roper's arguments came under critical scrutiny. On the contrary, there had been serious, perhaps partially-organised, scepticism expressed well before then.

Why did Stone offer this clearly erroneous account? There are two possibilities. Either he had forgotten the facts and thus misled himself and his readers. This seems unlikely, prima facie. Alternatively, this exercise may have been undertaken deliberately. There is some evidence to support the latter explanation. In the spring of 1964, Hexter invited Stone to give a lecture at Washington University in St Louis “undoubtedly [as] some sort of peace-offering to one of the many victims of his scalding wit” according to John M.Murrin, then a colleague of Hexter and later of Stone at Princeton. Both the invitation and the lecture were a success. But whereas, in 1958, Stone had regarded Hexter's views on the military decline of the aristocracy as inadequate in explaining the peerage's problems in the 1640s, by 1965, Stone was prepared to claim that The Crisis “developed a new interpretation, an amalgam of some of my earlier ideas and those of J.H.Hexter.” What contribution Hexter had made to this new synthesis is difficult to detect since he was mentioned only once in the text – and not at all in the chapter on Power – and only twice in its footnotes. There is really no positive evidence for Hexter's influence on Stone's opus. But a rapprochement had occurred. When Hexter published his review of The Crisis in the Journal of British Studies in 1968, his critical faculties so evident a decade before had been largely suspended and his overall verdict was laudatory. Hexter had become a “friend” of Stone as Murrin explained in the festschrift to mark Stone's retirement and contributed to the volume of essays marking Hexter's own retirement.


Was Stone ignorant about the course of the 'gentry controversy' between 1953 and 1958 or 1959? Given his direct participation in it, this appears highly unlikely. On balance, the erroneous account he offered in 1965 and again in 1972 and the unsubstantiated deference to Hexter seem to owe more to a desire to placate and neutralise a potentially serious critic and to recruit him to Stone's camp. If this is a tenable line of argument, it illustrates Stone's failings as an historian in a particularly revealing way.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642 - By Lawrence Stone - Foreword by Clare Jackson – Routledge-202 pages – 2017.

“A battleground which has been heavily fought over...beset with mines, booby-traps, and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way.”

Lawrence Stone

“An erring colleague is not an Amalekite to be smitten hip and thigh.'

R H Tawney

Lawrence Stone first published his book The Causes of the English Revolution 1529-1642 in 1972. The book provoked significant controversy and was subjected to some hostile reviews from mainly conservative revisionist historians. It is safe to say that Routledge's new publication as part of their Classics series will not cause the same vitriol. Stone who died in 1999 has become something of a forgotten historian. This new publication should at least elicit a reappraisal of his work.

Stone was optimistic about this book. “The moment seems right, therefore to stand back and try to see the forest rather than the individual trees[1].” Stone recognised that the area of history he was writing about had been fought over many times. He famously described the history of the 17th century as 'a battleground which has been heavily fought over...beset with mines, booby-traps, and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way.'
Lawrence Stone was many things to many people.

To some, he was a Marxist historian, to others a social historian or as he later in life called himself an "an old-fashioned Whig.” While it is true that he seemed to shift his position to fit in with ever-changing historiography, he was nonetheless a first-rate historian "making sure that history is never boring."

History and for that matter, politics were not dull when he published this book. From 1968-1975 the world witnessed wave after wave of crises and revolutionary upheavals. The early seventies saw the collapse of the Bretton Woods system on August 15, 1971. President Nixon suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold. In the aftermath of August 1971, world capitalism became increasingly susceptible to destabilising shocks. The crisis was in the words of one writer was ‘the culmination of the process of disequilibrium that had been under way for the previous 37 years.

I would like to say that Stone’s book reflected those times but that would not be the case. When Stone wrote this book, he had long ago abandoned any pretence of being close to a Marxist position on the English revolution.

Storm Over the Gentry

Even from a brief look at Stone’s career, the Storm over the Gentry debate had a profound effect on how he interpreted historical events.

Stone’s original theory to explain the English Revolution was that the aristocracy was on the verge of bankruptcy. Which was not a bad theory however it rested upon “hastily gathered and imperfectly understood the evidence.” It received criticism “for its use of sociological jargon.”
In 1948 he wrote the article “The Anatomy of the Elizabethan Aristocracy." that argued that revolution was the product of the rise of the gentry and decline of the aristocracy. A similar position to that of R.H. Tawney in 1941. Unlike Tawney Stone made some methodological mistakes which were jumped upon by Hugh Trevor-Roper and Christopher Thompson[2]

Thompson would say of Stone “he was not, in the strict sense, a scholar at all and was perfectly prepared to lie about his critics. It is no surprise that both have ceased to be relevant to the historiography of the early modern period[3].”

It must be said that the criticism was out of proportion to Stone’s purported crime and was politically motivated. The Storm over the Gentry debate exposed more importantly that a significant group of historians was prepared to take on any historian who even remotely espoused Marxist historiography.

It was Stone’s misfortune that fell under the influence of R H Tawney in 1947 and was labelled a liberal historian. This was widely inaccurate but served the purpose of some right-wing conservative historians.

Stone met Tawney during the war. Tawney was the leading social historian of Tudor and Stuart England. It was during this period they discussed research projects. According to the National Oxford Biography of Stone “His impatience to get on with ‘real’ history earned him a reputation for arrogance during his post-war undergraduate year; on one occasion he stormed out of a revision class conducted by a newly appointed Christ Church tutor, Hugh Trevor-Roper.Roper never forgave him for this [4].“

Roper was also apparently angry that after he had given Stone the transcripts from the Recognisances for Debt in the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane Stone used, without Trevor-Roper’s advance knowledge or permission, in his 1948 article in The Economic History Review. It was this action – this “act of thievery” as Menna Prestwich described it – that provoked Trevor-Roper’s strong language in his immediate response.

While these two incidents may have turned up the heat they did not cause the Fire. Political motivations were involved, and the debate was fought along class lines.

Stone had a major problem in that he never really understood the difference between genuine Marxism and a crude form of economic determinism. He also never really grasped the political nature of the conservative historian's attack.

Stone never really deepened the reader's knowledge of the political persuasion of Roper or other historians such as J H Hexter who Stone describes as a Liberal. Hexter’s close links along with Roper to the American Encounter magazine which had close ties to the CIA could have been exposed to Stone.

In the 1950s Hugh Trevor-Roper went to a conference in Berlin which was mostly made up of anti-communist. Among the other guests were Stalinist intellectuals such as Sidney Hook, Melvin J. Lasky, Ignazio Silone, and Arthur Koestler.

The conclusion of the conference was the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its magazine Encounter. Trevor-Roper wrote extensively for the magazine Encounter, is it any wonder that Stone who was mistakenly described as a Marxist historian would feel the brunt of Roper’s tongue.

The Cause of the English Revolution

The writing of the Cause of the English Revolution confirmed that that Stone had abandoned any link to a Marxist analysis of the English Revolution.

Despite Stone’s shift to a more conservative historiography, the Causes of the English Revolution is nonetheless an enjoyable read at over 177 pages.

As Stone explains his take on the revolution; to concentrate upon Clarendon's 'Great Rebellion' or Miss Wedgwood's 'Civil War' is to miss the essential problem. The outbreak of war itself is relatively easy to explain; what is hard is to puzzle out why most of the established institutions of State and Church - Crown, Court, central administration, army, and episcopacy - collapsed so ignominiously two years before”.

The book divided into two parts with four chapters; the last is an update on Stone’s previous position written in 1985.

Part one is titled Historiography Subtitled Theories of revolution. Stone’s use of sociological jargon can be off-putting at first. Stone cites his students questioning of the Marxist explanation of the English civil as his reasoning behind the book. His students attacked the Marxist interpretation of the Civil War.

According to Robert Darnton “When Lawrence Stone arrived in Princeton and unpacked his intellectual baggage, he released a fresh set of ideas, which are still buzzing in the air, not merely here but everywhere in the country. Is it any wonder that Stone does not do a magnificent job of defending Marx and Engel’s historical materialism?.

Stone never really understood the political nature of the attacks upon him. Outside of academia, Stone was always seen as a Marxist historian even when his later work had no connection with Marxist historiography.

This did not stop the attacks on Stone. Even as late as 1985 Stone was on the receiving end of a bitter and unprovoked attack in the pages of the Conservative Arts Magazine The New Criterion. Under the headline, Lawrence Stone, and Marxism, Norman Cantor, a New York University historian, In the June issue asserts “Stone was—and is—an English Marxist.” He implies that Lawrence Stone used his “extensive patronage powers” as director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Centre at Princeton University to promote Marxism.

Cantor was answered not by Stone but by Robert Darnton who wrote “I find those statements distressing. I have known Lawrence Stone for seventeen years and consider him an old-fashioned liberal. Although he is a great admirer of Tawney’s, he is not and never being a Marxist. He is indeed the director of the Davis Centre, but he does not rule over it with absolute or even partial sovereignty. A committee, of which I have twice been a member, makes every decision on the election of fellows and the selection of seminar topics. The history department approves those decisions and passes on the Centre’s budget. And aside from its mode of operation, the Centre has never favoured Marxism or any of the other ideologies that Cantor names. His way of calling names strikes me less as a defence of liberalism than as a revival of McCarthyism. It discredits him and the liberalism he purports to defend. I think he should make a public apology.

Cantor did not and in fact reiterated his previous charge “I did say that Stone was and is an English Marxist and I do not retract this statement. On the contrary, I confirm it. Stone’s first publication, in 1948, was an article in support of a thesis propounded in 1940 by the famous Marxist historian, R. H. Tawney. This thesis attributed the cause of the English Civil War of the 1640s to class conflict, to the “rise of the [bourgeois] gentry.” Stone explicitly supported Tawney’s Marxist model: “Confronted with the rise of the gentry, merchants, and lawyers, a new class whose political aspirations and whose views on foreign policy differed fundamentally from those of the aristocracy, the hold of the latter upon the springs of political power were bound to be loosened.” Lest it is thought that this was a juvenile work that Stone later repudiated, we find him even in 1985 still insisting the Tawney class-conflict rise of the gentry thesis “to be largely true.” One of the amazing things about Stone’s career as a historian has been the remarkable consistency of his devotion to Tawney, the leading English Marxist scholar of the first half of the twentieth century. In 1965 Stone published a very long volume on the crisis of the English aristocracy in the seventeenth century. Here the Marxist model tricked out with various social and cultural aspects, was repeated, except that the emphasis was now on the aristocracy falling to make way for the gentry. In a book, I published in 1968—The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760—I pointed out that this was essentially a variant of the same tired Marxist Tawney model of the origins of the English Civil War.[5]

Stone did not answer this mean spirited and anti-communist attack. The problem is that with all these hostile attacks on Stone is that not only has his reputation has been dragged through the mud but that revisionist and in some cases anti-communist historians have not been answered and refuted.

Despite having political differences with Stone, I agree with David Cannadine when he said “Lawrence Stone belonged to a remarkable generation of British historians who dominated and defined their subject for nearly half a century, and which included Christopher Hill, G.R. Elton, Asa Briggs, J.H. Plumb, Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson. They all wrote widely and well, and reached a large audience in universities and far beyond. But in many ways, Stone was the most creative - and the most controversial - of them all.”

For Christopher echoed those sentiments when he wrote “Lawrence Stone’s deep curiosity, his enthusiastic if critical appreciation of what is novel, and his courteous and tolerant if a trenchant statement of disagreements makes him and a good reviewer. He has a gift for summing up epigrammatically what most of us would say in several laborious pages”.



[1] The Causes of the English Revolution- 1529-1642: By Lawrence Stone-A Book Review- James Capps
[2] See-http://keith-perspective.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/christopher-thompson-on-lawrence-stone.html
[3]  A Comment on Goldman on Tawney, Stone, and Trevor-Roper-C Thompson
[4] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography- http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/72453
[5]  Lawrence Stone and Marxism-http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Lawrence-Stone-and-Marxism-6637