Friday, 11 July 2014

Cromwell-An Honourable Enemy by Tom Reilly

This is a guest blog by the writer Tom Reilly. It is copyrighted further publication is at the discretion of the author.

On the morning before Oliver Cromwell swung his legs out of bed to travel to Ireland, the notion of besieging the town of Drogheda – the event that would later become the biggest blot on his career – would never have even occurred to him. That’s because Drogheda was under roundhead control that day as it had been for the lengthy duration of two whole years previously. He could simply have strolled through any of the gates of the walled town any time that day and he would have been greeted with a barrage of deferential good morning sirs.

On 11 July 1649 the town of Drogheda was captured by the royalists under Lord Inchiquin and wrested from the hands of Parliament, who had been in military occupation since the summer of 1647. It was parliamentarian soldiers who would later be accused of committing civilian atrocities at Drogheda, yet it was parliamentarian soldiers who had lived peaceably, side by side with these very same inhabitants for two long years beforehand, with no recorded evidence of discord between the military and civilian occupants whatsoever. Indeed, there is even some evidence to suggest that Cromwell’s attacking forces at Drogheda included members of roundhead regiments who had fraternised with the local populace for those two years previously. Cromwell, who would not have been aware of the royalist victory at Drogheda the previous day, left London for Ireland on 12 July 1649 to crush royalist resistance there.

But that’s not what the history books will tell you – especially Irish history books. In Irish history it is much more difficult than in the story of most other countries to reverse traditional views, and although there have been many investigators of this period at first hand, few have concluded that Cromwell was not a war criminal.

The idea that the massacre of the unarmed civilian populations of both Drogheda and Wexford by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army did indeed take place has survived through the centuries almost perfectly intact. Indeed, it is so well constructed that it is virtually indestructible. The years bristle with the names of erudite academics who have studied Cromwell’s Irish campaign and who have produced hundreds of articles and books on the subject.

Even the most ardent Cromwell enthusiasts who have studied the period forensically have conceded that large-scale massacres of defenceless civilians occurred in September (Drogheda) and October (Wexford) 1649. Done deal. Case closed. The result of their labour is captured in short sound bytes in both past and present Irish school textbooks. In 2004, Folens published Earthlink 5th Class. On page 87 the following words are printed: ‘Cromwell captured Drogheda. About 3,000 men, women and children were killed.’ The Educational Company of Ireland released Timeline in 2008. A paragraph on page 223 reads, ‘He [Cromwell] first laid siege to Drogheda. He was determined to make an example of the town. When he captured it he slaughtered the entire population.’ There is no ambiguity there.

Such is his murderous Irish legacy, Cromwell features in a modern-day cult card game called Terror Top Chumps, a ‘politically charged version’ of the children’s card game Top Trumps (created by Fear Trade Ltd.) alongside Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden; a total of thirty-two terrorists and dictators in all – and has a body count of 600,000 attributed to him. Not by coincidence, this figure has often been used as the entire number of people who died due to famine, pestilence and war during the Cromwellian period in Ireland.

When discussing the horrific events at Drogheda in 1649, one of the ‘go to’ sources for many is the (second hand) account of the parliamentarian soldier Thomas á Wood, who fought at Drogheda and therefore could be (and often has been) described as an eyewitness. Wood reputedly tells us that children were used ‘as a buckler of defence’ by the attackers and he describes the gruesome killing of a young local girl, whom he tried to save but one of his crazed colleagues stabbed her through ‘her belly or fundament whereupon Mr Wood seeing her gasping, took away her money, jewels &c., and flung her down over the works.’

Although some have determined that Wood’s tract is melodramatic hyperbole it has generally been used in a primary source context coming directly from an eyewitness. This is a mistake. Now for the first time the stories of Thomas á Wood, which were transcribed decades later by his brother Anthony, (rendering it non-eyewitness testimony) in the context of fireside stories with which he regaled his ‘brethren’ can be revealed as unequivocally untrustworthy. The source is normally cited loosely as The Life of Anthony á Wood from the year 1632 to 1672 written by himself.

New evidence now clearly shows that this book was first compiled (not published) in 1711 by a Doctor Thomas Tanner, 16 years after Anthony á Wood died and 62 years after Drogheda. Most significantly however, is the fact that it might easily have been influenced by the hands of others and it did not see the light of day until 1772, when a Thomas Hearne edited and published it - that’s 123 years after the events!
Anthony á Wood, a staunch royalist, who was always suspected of being a Catholic had his life’s historical works published after his death in various publications, and all with different editors (including the Rev Sir J Peshall 1773, John Gutch 1786, Phillip Bliss 1813, Andrew Clark 1889), some of which included the story of his life, which in turn contains the account of his brother Thomas at Drogheda. Wood’s biography was not in fact published by himself in the literal sense, but was transcribed by editor Hearne in 1772 from pocket diaries, documents and manuscripts that Wood left to Dr. Tanner, among others, on his deathbed. This is not exactly what you would call an authentic primary source directly from an eyewitness. Diminishing the credibility of the source even further is the fact that Colonel Henry Ingoldsby, Thomas á Wood’s commanding officer described Thomas as having ‘an art of merriment called buffooning.’ Just the type of soldier, as Samuel Rawson Gardiner has suggested, who might make up sensational stories to impress a fireside audience.

It is important to analyse Anthony á Wood’s commentary because his is the only account that gives details of civilian deaths at Drogheda, using his brother’s lurid stories, if they even were his brother’s own lurid stories.
In stark contrast to what the Wood brothers purportedly say are the actual words of Oliver Cromwell. As soon as he landed in Ireland he issued orders to his troops not to do ‘any wrong or violence to any person, not in arms or office with the enemy.’ In the main, commentators on this topic throughout antiquity tend to assume that Cromwell just ignored the fact that many of his troops simply disregarded this order and lost their self-control at Drogheda, as indeed did their commanding officer himself. But the evidence does not support this point of view.

In his declaration to the Catholic clergy in the winter of 1649, after Drogheda and Wexford Cromwell categorically denies that he has stepped outside the military domain, and on no less than ten occasions he emphasises that the ordinary unarmed people of Ireland are to be left unmolested. On one occasion he even denies that he has actually killed unarmed civilians and he is consistent in this respectful attitude to the civilian population in all of his documented utterances throughout his entire campaign in Ireland. On his approach to Drogheda he even had two of his men hanged for stealing hens from an old woman, a clear breach of his orders.

On several occasions throughout his life Cromwell shows his abhorrence of indiscriminate civilian massacres when he hears of them. In Ireland he unequivocally blames the Catholic clergy for the 1641 massacres of innocent Protestant settlers and outlines his revulsion of such behaviour in no uncertain terms in the above mentioned declaration.

Also in May 1655 as Lord Protector he is clearly horrified when he learns of the massacre by the troops of the Catholic duke of Savoy, of some 200-300 Protestants known as Waldensians who lived in the adjoining isolated Alpine valleys in Piedmont to the west of Turin. There is ample evidence from throughout his life that Cromwell’s moral threshold was high and even in this narrow context of an appreciation of his character, a massacre of unarmed blacksmiths, cobblers, innkeepers, their wives, daughters, babies and toddlers at either Drogheda or Wexford at his hands does not accord with his personality and now given these fresh insights seems ludicrous in the extreme. Those who promote Cromwell as a war criminal perpetuate the idea that he simply lost his moral compass in Ireland and returned to his old self on his return to England. This is not an inaccurate portrayal.

So where then did the allegations of civilian atrocities come from?
Much store has been put into the letters (or military despatches) that Cromwell sent back to his superiors in London from both Drogheda and Wexford that outline the events at both towns in detail. In the opinion of many the letter concerning Drogheda in particular has incriminated Cromwell, where he is alleged to have admitted that he killed ‘many inhabitants’ in that town in a list of the slain that appears in the official pamphlet that was printed by parliament on 2 October 1649 to officially announce the news of the fall of Drogheda.
In the pamphlet Letters from Ireland relating the Several great successes it hath pleased God to give unto the Parliament’s forces there, in the taking of Drogheda, Trym, Dundalk, Carlingford and the Nury. Together with a list of the chief commanders, and the number of the officers and soldiers slain in Drogheda this list appears at the end of Cromwell’s letter, the last line of which reads, ‘Two thousand Five hundred Foot Soldiers, besides Staff Officers, Chyrurgeons, &c and many inhabitants.’

For the first time in 365 years this official government document has now been analysed forensically (by me) in conjunction with the newsbooks (newspapers) of the day that also carried the exact same list of those killed. And for the first time ever it can be almost categorically said (inasmuch anything from that period can) that the three words ‘and many inhabitants’ were NOT the words of Cromwell himself. Up to now, most early modern historians have deemed these lists (There is also a list of the composition of the garrison.) in Letters from Ireland... to have been from the quill of Old Ironsides himself. (The original letter does not survive.) But this writer’s analysis proves that the published list of those slain at Drogheda was in separate circulation to Cromwell’s letter and that it was published in no less than seven newsbooks in early October 1649 in isolation, without Cromwell’s letters directly preceding it. Furthermore, none of the newsbook writers attribute the list to Cromwell himself. It can also be shown that of the seven publications that printed the list of the slain, only two include the phrase ‘and many inhabitants’. Most significantly, this list of the slain can now be shown to have been in circulation on 22 September, TEN days before Cromwell’s letter was even opened in parliament. It can further be shown that the pamphlet was printed in haste and that these two lists were simply slotted into the available spaces on the 16-page leaflet with clear demarcation lines to separate the lists from Cromwell’s letters. 
  
Of course, the caveat here is that these ‘many inhabitants’ may well have been armed and involved in the conflict, a scenario that is perfectly plausible since The Moderate Intelligencer of 6 September says of Drogheda that ‘every man in that kingdom fit to bear arms is in a posture of war.’ This is another inconvenient fact that is now being brought to general public attention for the first time ever and that gets in the way of the tales of indiscriminate massacres of unarmed civilians. After all, an armed civilian is no longer a civilian.

Seventeenth-century historians rightly generally disregard (or at least view with acute suspicion) the later accounts of post-Restoration writers who, when writing their memoirs, documented their accounts about this issue years afterwards (like Bulstrode Whitelocke, the Earl of Clarendon, Dr George Bate, and the officer in the regiment of Sir John Clotworthy). None of these individuals were at either Drogheda or Wexford, they were not qualified to comment, had axes to grind and all allege that Cromwell engaged in deliberate civilian massacres.

The most pragmatic way to approach the question of the origin of the deliberate civilian atrocity allegations is to separate the wheat from the chaff and identify the primary sources themselves, those that date from the year 1649 and were written in the weeks and months following the sackings of Drogheda and Wexford. These 1649 sources are well-known and mostly comprise the newsbooks of the day, the letters of those in command of the royalist army (Lord Ormond and Lord Inchiquin) and one or two private letters.

It may therefore occasion surprise for one to learn that in the eleven intervening years between the stormings of both Drogheda and Wexford and the Restoration there are just TWO contemporary accounts that allege Cromwell slaughtered the lawyers, merchants, servants, farmers, doctors, carpenters, washerwomen, widows, teenagers and children of Drogheda and Wexford.

That being the case, it is not such a wild leap of faith to identify these two individuals as the ones who instigated the civilian massacre stories – or alternatively to identify them as the ones who framed Oliver Cromwell. Sir George Wharton and John Crouch were royalist propagandists who spewed out their radical anti-government newsbooks Mercurius Elencticus and The Man in the Moon respectively on a weekly basis. Both Wharton and Crouch have been described by many early modern print experts as the purveyors of little news but lots of outlandish absurdity. Any analysis of any of their publications will reveal their penchant for lies, slander, slurs, calumny and character assassination, including crass sexual innuendo directed at Cromwell himself and his high profile parliamentary bosses. Indeed, in his edition of 7 November 1649 John Crouch decides to spread a rumour that Cromwell’s penis was shot off at Drogheda and goes into some explicit and gaudy details as to how this might affect Mrs Cromwell. 

For eleven long years no other document, that we know, of accuses Cromwell of civilian atrocities. There the matter should really have ended. Indeed, it is worth speculating that if the House of Cromwell, in the guise of his son Richard in the first instance, the second Lord Protector, had survived into the 1660s and beyond it is likely that both Crouch’s and Wharton’s outrageous publications would have been long cast to the mists of time. 

Instead, of course, the Restoration happened when Charles II restored his royal seat on the throne and it wasn’t long before his father’s killers became the victims of vengeful royalist wrath. Not long after the bodies of Cromwell, his parliamentarian compatriot John Bradshaw and son-in-law Henry Ireton were exhumed and defiled as the chief protagonists of the failed republic, people couldn’t get to the printing presses quickly enough to destroy their reputations. The royalist James Heath was one of the first out of the traps when he published his scurrilous Flagellum, The Life and Death, Birth, Burial of O Cromwell, the Late Usurper in1660 where the author alleges that Cromwell himself ordered the massacre of 300 women around the market cross in Wexford. Indeed, Heath further alleges that those troops he ordered to carry out the dastardly deed refused and Cromwell, sneering them for their refusal, called another group of soldiers up to complete the task. Few historians take anything Heath says seriously.

Interestingly, Heath doesn’t even mention the deaths of any inhabitants of Drogheda in his heavily biased narrative. That particular privilege is left to the Catholic clergy in Ireland, who join in the post-Restoration Cromwell bashing free-for-all and now ludicrously declare that 4,000 civilians had died in Drogheda without a scrap of primary source evidence. Naturally 4,000 dead civilians at Drogheda makes no sense whatsoever, since the population of the town was approximately 3,000 and we already know that upwards of 3,000 soldiers were slaughtered. No other source, credible or otherwise suggests for a moment that 7,000 souls lost their lives at Drogheda. Furthermore, this same body politic of Catholic clergy had already had their say about Drogheda and Wexford in their decrees from Clonmacnoise in the winter of 1649, when there is no mention of this assertion whatsoever. And the difference in the timing? Cromwell was still alive and well, still in Ireland, and he would have dismissed such claims out of hand in the strongest possible terms, one imagines, with any talk of a restoration at that point aeons away.

Among the many other fresh revelations that this writer has discovered is evidence from several different sources that suggest the civilian population of Drogheda were not even in the town by the time the 12,000 Roundheads sat down in front of the walls. For instance, there was a siege of Drogheda just eight years earlier when the Irish rebels, under the command of Sir Phelim O’Neill surrounded the entire town and reduced the population to eating rats and horses. It is difficult to believe that they would stay put to have a similar culinary experience so soon afterwards. Furthermore, Ormond was expecting a long siege and ordered all ‘superfluous’ people to depart from the town in order that the provisions (a reported nine-month supply) stored there would stretch among the soldiers over the several months they expected the siege to last. Dean Nicholas Bernard, the Protestant minister at St Peter’s Church in Drogheda in 1649, and an eyewitness, confirms that his family were sent out of the town. Bernard, who saw what happened that day and wrote a detailed account of it later, says nothing of civilian deaths.

There is no doubt that some women died in Wexford as a result of them cramming into boats and the boats sinking in the harbour in an attempt to flee the place. But they clearly died as the result of an accident and not because of a deliberate policy to kill the innocent by the New Model.

Also into this anti-Interregnum maelstrom of vengeance came the petition of the people of Wexford, who were pleading to Charles II for the restoration of their properties following the Cromwellian Plantation. Remarkably the petition writers seem to have chosen to grossly exaggerate Cromwell’s actions in Ireland in order to receive clemency from their new king. In their petition they claim that after entering Wexford, Cromwell ‘put man, woman and child, to a very few’ to the sword, again a scenario that has no supporting contemporary evidence or eyewitness attestation. In the same petition the writers allege that Cromwell ‘put all of the inhabitants and soldiers’ of Drogheda to the sword, an allegation that simply does not stand up since nobody who was there on that fateful day corroborates this contention. This significantly reduces the credibility of the petitioners’ sycophantic petition, which Charles II ultimately ignored anyway.

The evidence now being revealed by this writer simply hones in on whether or not Cromwell was responsible for deliberately killing large numbers of innocent, unarmed civilians in Ireland in the year 1649. Some may have died in the cross-fire, as the result of collateral damage, others definitely drowned by accident. The subsequent dreadful Cromwellian Plantation that devastated Catholic Ireland is another matter altogether and should not cloud one’s judgement when discussing these alleged war crimes. Were large numbers of innocent civilians deliberately massacred? Did Cromwell do it, or did he not? Should we still be teaching children that Cromwell indiscriminately slaughtered entire town populations? As President of the Cromwell Association, Prof John Morrill has recently announced, Paradoxically, by blaming Cromwell for the much more lasting horrors of the Commonwealth period in Ireland, we let those really responsible off the hook.’
 
I, for one, as an Irish citizen and native of Drogheda would like to start the ball rolling and posthumously apologise to Oliver Cromwell and his family for staining his reputation. He was an honourable enemy and the victim of a huge miscarriage of historical justice. Cromwell was framed. Wharton and Crouch fitted him up.            



Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Interview with Writer/Historian Tom Reilly

I recently came into contact with the Irish historian/writer Tom Reilly. His books have concentrated on many aspects of Oliver Cromwell’s controversial military and political campaign in Ireland. I have only started to read Tom’s last two books and would like to review them at a later date. I will therefore reserve comment on his work. I would welcome comments on this interview and Tom’s writing on Ireland and Cromwell.

Q What made you take up the study of history and especially your specialization of Cromwell in Ireland?

A I would love to say that I was always suspicious of the politicisation of Irish history and that my cynicism was piqued when it came to what we (Irish citizens) were being taught about Cromwell in Ireland but that’s not really true. Well, there is a grain of truth about it and that’s to do with me being a cynic, which I believe I am. I was one of those ‘question authority’ types when I wore a younger man’s clothes. (He didn’t seem to mind. ) However, the real reason why I took up this study is because I come from Drogheda – the scene of Old Ironsides’ most notorious deeds. Indeed, I now live in a house, the boundary of which was once the town wall, and furthermore it was into my garden that the breach in the walls was made and the Roundheads poured through in 1649.

I was brought up in this town. My family go back generations here. I used to hang around (what was left of) the town walls and was fascinated about the fact that Cromwell is supposed to have killed all of my ancestors. So, as a young adult, I decided to check the local records to see if there was anything to be gleaned there. And lo and behold, the records go back to the year 1649. In these records, there were the names of hundreds of Drogheda’s inhabitants whose daily lives continued through into the 1650s and beyond, all of whom showed very little signs of being massacred in cold blood. This was not a document (Drogheda Corporation records) that many historians had checked in the past, but it seemed obvious to me, even though I wasn’t a historian. I’m still not. That was the starting point. And I have never looked back since.  
 
Q Describe how difficult it was for an amateur writing in the current formally academic controlled climate.

A That’s quite an interesting question. So, to start at the beginning, it wasn’t long before I felt that I was on to something. So I wiped the slate clean and dismissed all I have ever heard about Cromwell and I began to read voraciously about the man – SR Gardiner, WC Abbott, Thomas Carlyle, Hillaire Belloc, Pauline Gregg, Ivan Roots, Peter Gaunt, John Morrill, etc. etc. all made an impact on me and none of them seemed to think that Cromwell was a complete bastard. Hmm. That’s odd. It was Antonia Fraser’s Cromwell, Our Chief of Men that gave me a real insight into his personality and as I kept on reading and reading it seemed to me that a pattern was beginning to emerge. Fr Denis Murphy (Cromwell in Ireland) and JP Prendergast (The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland) DMR Esson (The Curse of Cromwell) typified Irish attitudes to Cromwell, whereas English writers tended to be much more circumspect when it came to the stories of civilian atrocities. So I wasn’t alone. Gardiner in particular did not believe the war criminal allegations and copper-fastened my doubt that the stories of indiscriminate massacres of civilians might be just that, stories. That was enough for my cynicism to ignite and it continues to burn in flames today.
But what to do?

So in 1993, in the middle of my research, I wrote an amateurish book called Cromwell at Drogheda, which didn’t really say anything at all except explain the facts of the siege. It was for the local market (1,000 copies) and it sold out.

Finally, I had so much material assembled I decided to write another book. Strangely, for me, this was more about writing than it was about history. Like many amateur writers I wanted to be heard. I brought out (self-published) two more books on local history in the nineties and after completing the first draft of Cromwell, An Honourable Enemy, I sent it to a few publishers (70!!) to see if they’d bite, not for a minute thinking that any of them would.  Steve McDonogh (Brandon Books) rang me one day and I nearly fell out of my standing. He wanted to publish – but the book would need footnotes. I think I said something like, ‘I’m sorry, footwhats?’ Not a clue. I failed second level history at school, so I had absolutely no idea what he meant. Naturally I had encountered footnotes in all of my research because many of the books that I had read had footnotes, or endnotes (I still don’t know the difference, if there is a difference) or references of some sort. But could I actually do this? Me?!

To make a long story longer, I gave it a go. I vaguely knew that if you stated a fact you needed to reference it. So I copied the footnote style of others, (probably various others), went back through the manuscript (this was a hell of a memory test) to see if I could remember where I read this fact and that fact and the other fact. After several more months, I had the footnotes done. I had referenced all of the facts (well, those that I figured needed referencing, my editor never questioned them) that were in the text that identified the location where I got these same facts. Of course, little did I know that I had suddenly dipped my toe into the bewildering world of academia, a world, where a primary source reference can be compromised if that reference comes second-hand from a modern-day publication, or shock horror, if a comma is misplaced. I hadn’t a clue.  I simply thought it was good enough to say where I had read the fact. But hey, the publisher didn’t question my references so I seemed to be getting away with it. After another long wait the book was published. There was no going back now. I had definitely gotten away with it. A book with footnotes eh? Go me.

So what was the question? Oh yeah, how difficult it was writing in an academically controlled climate. Actually, it wasn’t difficult at all first time round. I had no idea that the climate was controlled by academia. But by Jaysus, do I know now!

The academics were horrified. They thought of me as if I was dirt on their shoe. Reviews in most of the national Irish newspapers were bad. ‘None of this is convincing’ said the Irish Times. ‘This is a painfully bad book’, said Dr Jason McElligott and he followed up with, ‘and it is tempting to suggest that its main use will be to teach students how not to conduct research, assess evidence or write prose.’ I was stunned. ‘But, the evidence, I cried. Look at the evidence’.

Thankfully, those without insular opinions embraced the book and its thesis. I began to realise that those who came out against it were simply showing themselves up. Cromwell didn’t massacre unarmed women and children. They knew/know it. Surely this is about balance. If you don’t buy my entire thesis then, c’mon historians, at least come out and agree that the teenagers, granddads, grannies, toddlers and babies of Ireland weren’t slaughtered by Cromwell in 1649. But I digress.

Q What do you make of the current historiography regarding Cromwell?

A I’m going to assume that this means Cromwell in Ireland. I have discovered that there is a vast difference between Irish attitudes and English attitudes (no kidding, right?) to Cromwell. Here is an excerpt from the opening chapter of my book, which succinctly explains what I make of it:

‘As the crow of antiquity flies, the early modern period is not really that far away in terms of distance in time, especially in Ireland where history has an irritating habit of not going away. This is something that we Irish know to our cost. History and myth have always been close companions; indeed, one is frequently mistaken for the other. Myth is a powerful tool that has been used to shape nations. The axiom that truth is the first casualty of war has rarely been in sharper focus than in seventeenth century Ireland. Irish history is strewn with colourful myths, many of which are associated with Oliver Cromwell.

Often given credit for being personally responsible for founding the British Empire, Cromwell is full of contradiction; a country squire who became an outstanding military commander; a king killer who was offered the crown and refused it; a champion of religious toleration who was terrified of the power of Catholicism; a party reveller who danced late into the night and who banned Christmas; a practical joker who became an enduring symbol of everything Puritanical.

Such is his murderous legacy, Cromwell features in a modern-day cult card game called Terror Top Chumps, a ‘politically charged version’ of the children’s card game Top Trumps (created by Fear Trade Ltd.) alongside Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden; a total of thirty-two terrorists and dictators in all – and has a body count of 600,000 attributed to him. Not by coincidence, this figure has often been used as the entire number of people who died due to famine, pestilence and war during the Cromwellian period in Ireland.’

One of the main problems here is that the seventeenth century experts in Ireland seem extremely reluctant to accept a rehabilitated Cromwell and they still want to perpetuate myths. Oh, hang on, that’s the next question.

Q As you say in the preface you have received much criticism over your book how much do you think this was politically motivated.

A Political motivation is an excellent way of describing some of the hostility towards my work. Without getting personal there are some Irish historians who are very obviously nationalists and even if you took them back to 1649 in a time machine and showed them what happened and they saw it with their own eyes, they still wouldn’t believe it. This is a fact. (Well, inasmuch as it can be since time travel hasn’t been invented yet.)
It is always a source of amazement to me how one’s political inclinations can determine how one views history. It’s unlikely (although not impossible) that any member of Sinn Féin (for instance) would agree with me in a million years. Just not gonna happen. I think this is a tragedy of major proportions. This issue has been an accelerant in the incessant deterioration of Anglo-Irish relations over the years and it is one of the reasons why Ireland holds a huge grudge against England today. It fuels bigotry and insular thinking. Still today, an Irishman will point to Cromwell as the source of all of Ireland’s woes; the bastard that slaughtered whole Irish communities without batting an eyelid.

The biggest issue I have with politically motivated attitudes is the historians. There are many non-historians (lay people I suppose) who really don’t know any better and look to experts to tell them what to think. Well, nuts to that. I don’t need an expert to tell me what to think. I can make up my own mind. That’s why I didn’t use footnotes in my new book, Cromwell was Framed. I will see their book with footnotes and I will raise them a book that ordinary folk can read. And that’s why I reproduced most of the actual primary documents in this new book. There is no need for footnotes, because the documents are there for all to see. I didn’t want to hide behind a reference/footnote  that I have interpreted on behalf of Joe and Josephine Public. I included them so people can interpret them themselves. Besides, I wasn’t going down that road again. I have no idea how to assemble a footnote. So I’m not going to take on the historians at their own game. I’m going to take them on at mine. And hey, if there are any seventeenth century historians out there please tear my work to shreds if you can. Go on. Prove that I’m wrong. Shut me up forever. Make me go away. Make me crawl back under the non-academic stone from whence I came. But if you do try, you better be clear of your facts. Because any rebuttal will be closely scrutinised by the world at large – and who knows, your work may be labelled politically motivated and your reputation might be tarnished as a result. Because that’s exactly what has happened/will happen to the historians I mention in the book. Touché
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Q Has there been much discussion on your book in Ireland. If so could you describe it?

A Cromwell, An Honourable Enemy has been virtually dismissed by most historians here. At least the ones who have ventured into print. There are many who have not said anything and who knows what their private thoughts are. But none, and I mean none, have publically come out and supported me in any book that has been written since 1999. It’s virtually impossible for academics to accept the fact that an amateur has had the temerity to state that generations of experts have gotten such a controversial issue in Irish history wrong. Those who have ventured into print with rebuttals of my work are dealt with in the new book. I have proved that they have used disingenuous methods of interpretation to draw conclusions. And they should be totally ashamed of themselves for doing this, especially when this is such a hot political potato. But will they apologise and display any humility or contrition? Will they heck? I know this sounds like another Internet rant. And that’s what it is. But I’m nothing if not honest. And I’ve also waived all royalties for this new book. Why? Because I have been accused in the past of doing this for money. Get real people. This is about history. About righting a wrong.

Cromwell was Framed is probably well on the way to being dismissed by those same historians.  Ah, but here’s the rub. They are going to have to come up with primary source evidence that has not yet entered the public domain if they are to do challenge me in a meaningful way. And I mean primary source proof from the year 1649. Sure, I could be wrong. But until a serious challenge comes along that completely refutes my thesis, then I will continue to have the confidence to shout this from the highest rooftops. The historians are wrong. Cromwell did not commit war crimes in Ireland. Get over it. Have I a chip on my shoulder? You betcha. But hey, is it any wonder? It’s the constant refusal of scholars and experts to accept my work that irks. Call it a desire to be accepted if you will. So, yes, they’re to blame for my attitude. Not me. I see this as the little person versus the might of academia. And so far I’m winning
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Q What are your future plans?

A Now there’s a question. I got nothing. If anybody can think of a controversial topic for me to write about let me know. I’m on Facebook. I’d love to find out that St Patrick wasn’t all he was cracked up to be and do an exposé on him. Watch this space.



Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Two Revolutionary Crises

This is a paper delivered yesterday afternoon at the Early Modern Studies Conference at the University of Reading by Chris Thompson.  It has a new explanation of the origins of the English Civil War\Revolution. The paper is copyrighted Permission is needed to reproduce. 

Exactly a century ago, A.P.Newton’s seminal book, The Colonising Activities of the English Puritans, was published. It traced the lineage of the Providence island Company with its unsuccessful attempts to found profitable Puritan settlements in the Bay of Honduras in the 1630s back to Elizabethan colonising and privateering efforts and forward to the expeditions of the Cromwellian Protectorate to the Caribbean in the 1650s. His investigation of the ties between the company’s adventurers and their activities in opposition to Charles I’s regime in the period of Personal Rule cast new scholarly light on this subject and had a profound influence on later historians.

Inevitably, however, the contours of historical analysis have changed. The events of the 1620s and 1640s are no longer viewed as causally linked. Accidents and contingency, the interplay of multiple kingdoms and rival conspiracy theories, the problems of political and religious myopia as well as those of personality now predominate. It has, indeed, never been more dangerous to enter the historical equivalent of a billiard hall.

Even so, it is impossible (for me, at least) to pass by such premises with their deep green baize tables, dim lights and interesting characters without being tempted in. I am conscious of the risk in doing so but life is too short not to do so at all. The argument that I shall put to you is basically that there were two profound crises in early Stuart England, a proto-revolutionary one in the late-1620s and a revolutionary one in the 1640s. I shall argue that these crises were umbilically linked and that there is unmistakable evidence not just of deep hostility to the Caroline regime after 1629 on the part of the king’s leading opponents but also of a growing willingness to resist him by force of arms from the mid-1630s. It was, therefore, in England, not in Ireland or Scotland, that the most serious of the early crises occurred and where discussions on alternative forms of government in Church and State first began. 

The Crisis of 1629

The origins of the crisis of the 1620s can be traced to England’s engagement and failure in simultaneous wars against France and Spain; to the fiscal and military measures used to fight those wars; to the alleged infringement of the subject’s rights by the Crown in implementing those policies and the support for authoritarian rule from Arminian clerics in the Church whose doctrines and practices were anathema to Calvinists. Its symptoms were evident in resistance in varying degrees to levies of men, money and munitions; in the pressures placed on the machinery of local and national government to work in the face of this opposition; in arguments inside and outside Parliaments about the respective rights of the king and his subjects and in the development of ideas about conspiracies to subvert established forms of government in Church and State on the one hand and threats to undermine the sovereignty of the Crown on the other. There were little noticed revolts in the House of Lords in 1626 and 1628 against royal attempts to manipulate its membership, to intimidate opponents and to frustrate its dealings with the grievances of the House of Commons. Across the country, physical violence was common – in attacks, for example, on unpaid soldiers billeted on unwilling host communities, in protests from indigent sailors, and, most notably, in the murder of the royal favourite’s astrologer and of the Duke of Buckingham himself. These were quite apart from the remarkable tax strikes by merchants, especially in the Levant and East India companies, over duties involving an assault on the Customs House in London led by a former Lord Mayor and the brother of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Crown was effectively bankrupt by March, 1629 as Charles I’s critics well knew. If either of the groups then manoeuvring in the lower House had succeeded in their aims, the king would have been shorn of royal supremacy in religion and his capacity to choose his own servants severely limited. Within a few months, he characterised them as republicans aiming to reduce his power to nothing
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It is easy enough to find alarmist comments by contemporaries on the political situation in England after the dissolution of Parliament in March 1629. Domestic and foreign observers agreed on the divided state of the country. The king’s view was that the crisis was the result of the malice of a small group of M.P.s led by Sir John Eliot, a contention set out in a series of proclamations. The private correspondence of his advisers and servants, men like Viscount Dorchester, Heath and Roe, was on similar lines although Councillors were divided on whether Parliament could or should be summoned again. Regal and conciliar authority had to be restored, particularly by punishing the former M.P.s now imprisoned for sedition and, if Charles had his way, for treason. Attempts to do so in the courts nonetheless kept issues about Parliamentary privilege, the grounds for their imprisonment and terms for bail uncomfortably alive.

Critics of the regime shared such gloom. The unprecedented threat of violence on the floor of the House of Commons shocked Sir Thomas Barrington to the point where he told his mother that he blessed God there had been no more serious consequences. Dramatic accounts of the concluding events reached the godly further afield destroying hopes for defeating the twin menaces of Arminianism and Popery and for the further reformation of the Church. The Venetian Ambassador, Contarini, was in no doubt about the hostility to the king and his councillors and the prospect for future conflict in the spring of 1629, a view shared by a later report from a Spanish agent. Peace abroad, a resumption of trade and restoration of order offered the only hope.

There is some historiographical justification for regarding this as a proto-revolutionary situation. G.M.Trevelyan described the members leaving St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster in March 1629 as “freemen still and almost rebels” while Russell considered the aim of the demonstration planned for the 2nd as “the potentially revolutionary one of appealing over the King’s head to the country at large.” John Reeve and Austin Woolrych have both written about the wide-ranging, potentially revolutionary implications of the resolutions passed on that day for the idea of treason against the commonwealth. Hexter argued that relations between the royal Court and the more amorphous remainder of the body politic, the ‘Country’, broke down after 1618 and had reached ‘crisis level’ by the end of the next decade. They had ceased to speak the same language and the Commons had by then constructed a view of the Court as its palpable enemy. Puritan clergy and gentry were full of rage at the impotence of English policy abroad and the inroads made by Popery at home. He was thus the advocate of a theory of successive crises, one in the 1620s and a second one in the early-1640s leading to Civil War and Revolution. Stone agreed. It was the experiences of the late-1620s that led the future leaders of the Long Parliament, according to Trevor-Roper, to organise themselves in country houses, Puritan societies and trading companies for the revenge they were determined after 1640 to take. The concept of a link between the two crises of the late-1620s and the early-1640s thus has a respectable ancestry even if its genealogy has not hitherto been precisely traces.

The reaction of the leading critics of Caroline rule is difficult to detect given the absence of correspondence and diaries. But the strategy of Pym and Rich, the two men in the Commons most closely associated with the ‘great contrivers’ of the 1640s, had been predicated on inoculating the Church of England against Arminianism and crypto-Popery in return for settling the legality of collecting Tonnage and Poundage (and, perhaps, impositions). The breakdown of Parliament made that aim unrealisable. The anxiety of the great merchants in the East India and Levant companies over a continuing refusal to trade was sufficiently alarming for the 2nd Earl of Warwick, Viscount Say and Sele and the 2nd Lord Brooke, three of the principal figures in Newton’s embryonic connection, to appear at the Quarter Court of the East India company held on 2nd March to open a serious attack on the dominant London merchants. This suggests but does not prove that the idea of withholding revenues from the Crown to exact concessions was already present in their minds.

The Peers and their connections

The core of this group had been drawn together in the politics of the mid to late-1620s. They were committed to the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years’ War, to struggles against Arminianism and for the preservation of the House of Lords’ privileges and the rights of the subject. They were also connected to the Cambridge Puritan, John Preston. Warwick and Say and Sele, Pym and Rich are too well known to need much discussion here. The 4th Earl of Lincoln is probably best known as Say’s son-in-law and Preston’s pupil. The two men together with Francis, Lord Russell of Thornhaugh, the future 4th Earl of Bedford, supervised the settlement of the debts of Lincoln’s father. Lincoln was probably the author of the appeal to English freeholders in January 1627 to resist the Forced Loan as illegal and a threat to Parliament’s survival and to call them to follow his fellow peers in their resistance to the levy. His household and local allies were deeply involved in this campaign and many of them later became involved in the colonisation of Massachusetts.

Lincoln’s relationship with one of Preston’s other allies, the 2nd Earl of Warwick, is less well known. Warwick was not a Lincolnshire landowner himself but his step-mother, originally Frances Wray, was. There is evidence to connect their households and Lincoln’s in the late-1620s. Both men shared a taste for theological disputations before and at the York House conferences of February 1626 and were patrons of two of the first three ministers sent to New England in 1629. Both Earls proved to be supporters of Sir John Eliot after his incarceration in the Tower and drank the health of this arch-enemy of Charles I’s regime at every meal on a trip to the West country in 1631. Lincoln is, indeed, the most likely figure to have sought Warwick’s consent as President of the Council for New England to the granting of the New England and Massachusetts Bay Company charters in 1628 and 1629 respectively.

New England

The links between these men were already in place by the summer of 1628. The revival of plans to settle and trade in New England first developed by John White of Dorchester and his local allies was also under way in alliance with London merchants such as Matthew Cradock and John Venn, both of them friends of Eliot: in the next few months, a Lincolnshire contingent appeared, perhaps as a result of so many Forced Loan resisters having been sent to Dorset in 1627, many of them from the 4th Earl’s network of allies. The story of the transformation of the New England venture into the Massachusetts Bay Company in March 1629 with a new charter that allowed its place of government to be transferred there is one of the most familiar episodes in early colonial history. Warwick must have known about this.

The enterprise was more fundamentally transformed in the summer and autumn of that year. The idea of establishing a godly commonwealth there was canvassed with increasing enthusiasm in lay and clerical circles associated with the Earls of Warwick and Lincoln. A key meeting was held in Sempringham, probably in the Priory, which was Lincoln’s home, late in July and early in August 1629. Out of it came a series of observations from John Winthrop on the imminent doom awaiting England for its sinfulness: Antichrist had risen, the Church and universities had been corrupted, inflation was rampant and poverty multiplying: the only hope was to go to New England to found a new commonwealth and a new church. The remnant of the godly could follow the path of righteousness, multiply there and create a bulwark against Popery. It was a searing indictment of England under Charles I’s rule, a more comprehensive indictment than anything uttered by Alexander Gil in his cups or John Scott of Canterbury in his diary. It is possible to watch this argument being spread much further afield to sympathisers like Eliot and John Hampden before the Great Migration of 1630.

It is often said that the New England colonies in general and Massachusetts in particular owed nothing to aristocratic patronage. This is doubtful. Warwick – with whom John Winthrop the elder had long been connected – was of practical help in managing the rival claims of the Gorges family to the territory, in providing access to fortifications in Essex and in securing patents for new land. Winthrop himself was taken up by men in Lincoln’s circle in the autumn of 1629 and early winter of 1630|: when he sailed on the Arbella late in March 1630 he was accompanied by Lincoln’s brother, one of the Earl’s sisters and her husband, Lincoln’s putative former household steward and other allies of the peer. As the Barrington family’s correspondence shows, Warwick’s gentry allies and their clerical dependents were interested in the settlement and, like Warwick, prepared to help persecuted clergymen and others move there.

Saye and Sele’s interest in New England (with its distinctive form of congregational church government and a franchise dependent from the outset on church membership) was even more important. He, like Lincoln’s brother, was one of the recipients in March 1632 of the ‘Old Patent’ of Connecticut and, later that year, together with the 2nd Lord Brooke, bought the patent of Pascataqua. Its governor provided crucial evidence on behalf of Massachusetts before the Privy Council at the turn of the year against charges brought by Gorges and Mason alleging that the charter had been illegitimately obtained and that the colony was a nest of political and religious rebels. The colony’s most “noble and best friends” advised it to have a Council of allies in England to protect its interests. But a second hearing before the Council late in 1633 resulted in a demand for the return of the Massachusetts Bay Company’s charter. The colony’s enemy, Thomas Morton, gleefully reported how Cradock and Venn, its merchant allies, had been denounced by Archbishop Laud and, despite their great friends, had left the Council Chamber with lowered shoulders.

The reaction in Massachusetts was to procrastinate and to prepare to resist any expedition sent from England with force. In England, the colony’s supporters had already responded by dispatching a large quantity of arms. Simultaneously, propositions were sent “from some persons of great qualitye & estate (& of speciall note for pietye)” indicating their intentions to join with them if satisfied by Massachusetts’ rulers. Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke have traditionally been thought to be the authors of these proposals. This willingness to support forcible resistance to the Caroline regime, admittedly at a very great distance from England, is highly significant. It shows that, long before 1640 or 1642, such men had been alienated from the king’s rule to the extent that the use of violence against it was acceptable. More interestingly still, in the same summer, John Winthrop received a letter from Warwick offering his support and expressing his willingness to further the colony’s prosperity. 

Fortunately, there is other material to illustrate the close relationship between these peers and the Bay colony’s rulers. The settlement of Connecticut was planned as a joint venture in 1634 and 1635 with the two noblemen and their radical allies, including Sir Arthur Hesilrige and Henry Lawrence, aiming to move there. The fort, moreover, to be erected at the mouth of the Connecticut River was explicitly intended as part of the coastal defences protecting their friends in Massachusetts from a sea-borne attack from England. In fact, Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke had distinct constitutional proposals in 1636 for a commonwealth covering both Connecticut and Massachusetts: they envisaged a ruling assembly divided into a house composed by gentlemen all of whose heirs would inherit places and a second composed of the elected representatives of the freemen for whom a property qualification was required: each house would have a negative voice and all officers would be responsible to the assembly. There was nothing in these proposals acknowledging royal authority at all: this would have been a minuscule Venetian republic without even a Doge. But, whatever the peers’ admitted personal qualities, severing the link between church membership and the rights of freemen in Massachusetts proved too much for the godly rulers of that colony to accept. They preferred their own arrangements and relations with the Saybrook adventurers deteriorated partly, at least, because migrants from the towns of Massachusetts seized the adventurers’ lands. Even so, when the members of the prospective ‘Junto’ were in treasonable contact with the Scottish Covenanters in 1639, it was to the refuge of Saybrook that they planned to flee if their plans to overthrow Charles I failed. 
 
Conclusion

This colonial evidence casts important light on the evolution of the views of those identified by A.P.Newton as the core of the critics and opponents of Charles I’s regime in the 1630s. It can be supplemented by additional material from Bermuda and Providence Island, both potential refuges for the godly at that time. There was indeed, as Newton thought, a middle term, a connecting link between the major crises of the late-1620s and the early-1640s. Some of the fissile human material ejected by the first, proto-revolutionary detonation found its way to Massachusetts, which was the sanctuary for the defeated and explains, in part, some of its fossil-like features after 1640s. Revolutionary situations do not necessarily lead to revolution because accidents and errors intervene  but, in the case of Charles I’s realms, the delay merely increased the power of the ultimate explosion. Those who sought to exploit it remembered its origins very clearly and were determined not to lose their opportunity to re-cast the Church and State a second time.
                                                               

Sunday, 29 June 2014

At the R H Tawney Archive


A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this.    R H Tawney.

It is not often I get the chance or the time to examine primary sources. It was therefore too good an opportunity to pass up when a passing remark from academic researcher Chris Thompson led me to investigate the large collection of the R H Tawney archives held at the London school of Economics.

I last visited the archive when it was in some little room in the basement of the prestigious university. It has been given a long overdue make over and is now part of The Women's Library which was saved from homelessness by the intervention of the LSE.

I will not go into details of the collection as a simple search of the Library website will give you a detailed list of what is in the archive[1]. The archivists have been thorough and the documents are presented in easy to access boxes. Some of Tawney’s notes including lecture notes are in delicate condition. His notes are both handwritten and typescript. It would appear that Tawney typed some of his notes on rice paper. The archive contains some 188 boxes.

I plan to spend some time at the archive as I would like to examine Tawney’s papers concerning the Gentry controversy.  I must admit that I still get a thrill at examining archives that have not been widely accessed. God forbid that everything becomes digitized and archives become surplus to research requirements.





[1] http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/Tawney/Tawney.html

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Review: The People: the Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010 by Selina Todd

"The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present in its own making." E P Thompson

It is clear from even a brief count of the substantial number of reviews Selina Todd’s book has received that a historical examination of the working class in Britain is both popular and controversial.  Any one dealing with the subject of class knows that the word is as one reviewer said “a fiercely contested concept and is not simply a descriptive taxonomy”.

Maybe this is a little surprising given that the bourgeois media, academics and politicians have for the last three decades told us that the class war is over, John Major told us that Britain was a “classless society” and Tony Blair trumpeted we are “all middle class now,” and my favorite the working class no longer exists.[1] It is a shame that Todd has to some extent adapted to this conservative offensive with the title of her book The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is that is heavily influenced by the “history from below “genre. In fact the book could almost be seen as a sequel to E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

Selina Todd describes the period covered by the book as a “working-class century and in 1910 people “who worked with their hands constituted the vast majority of Britons”. Given that the title of the book indicates that she believes that the working class has fallen a premise that is not at all accurate, and implies that nowadays the social and numerical weight of the working class is less.  Of course it is safe to say that the working class of 1910 is not the same as the working class of 2014 but according to an orthodox Marxist position it still holds the same basic relationship to the means of production. Also it is in many ways larger now given the fact that many middle class people have now been so effected by the current economic crisis that they have been forced back into the working class.

In her introduction Todd makes the claim that the motivation for the book came from an earlier period of her academic career when she found that very little work has been done on the type of working class family she came from.“ Eventually, I realized I would have to write this history myself”. She continues “the only working-class history on offer was conventional labour history — which is great, but it did mean that the only working-class people you ever heard about were those involved in. That wasn’t the full history of working-class life as I knew it from my peers at school and my own family”[2]

I find this very hard to believe given that the last three decades has seen a veritable cottage industry grow up examining different aspects of working class life. It is also hard to believe that an academic of Todd’s standing found it hard to find material. Off the top of my head three names amongst many spring to mind David Kynaston, Andy Beckett and the prolific Dominic Sandbrook.

This is not to say that the book is without merit. It is well researched and informative. The book is part oral history, part academic and suitable for the general history buff. Todd vividly describes the oppression faced by the working class and its attempts to challenge capitalist exploitation.In fact the strongest part of the book is Todd’s use of oral history.

It is a very thorough and well researched piece of history.  Todd saidthroughout the book, I rely heavily on personal testimonies, gained from interviews and from unpublished and published autobiographies. I combed local studies libraries across the country to find the testimonies of over 200 people, and then I added to these by using the archives of some social surveys of working-class life in the 1950s and ’60s”.

You could say that Todd seeks to rescue the servants, industrial workers; the unemployed and the lower middle class from the condescension of history. According to one reviewer “the book is peppered with anecdotes of real people, from those working in what was little more than domestic servitude in some cases in the early part of the last century, to the militant trade unionists of the 1960s and 1970s, to the consumers of today is what sets it apart. We learn about those whose lives were changed by fame, fortune and in Vivian's case, the pools (before the greater riches of the National Lottery), to those who became the first property owners under Margaret Thatcher “.

It must be said however that Todd’s conception of class like her great predecessor E P Thompson has nothing to do with an orthodox Marxist view of class. Todd believes as did E P Thompson, that a historical materialist position cannot sufficiently explain the origins of the working class despite professing being influenced by it. “Class needs to be spoken about in a less determined way”.

In his essay on the ‘Peculiarities of the English’,[3] E.P. Thompson gave his theoretical definition of class: “When we speak of a class we are thinking of a very loosely defined body of people who share the same congeries of interests, social experiences, traditions and value-system, who have a disposition to behave as a class, to define themselves in their actions and in their consciousness in relation to other groups of people in class ways. But class itself is not a thing, it is a happening”.

The rejection of a historical materialist understanding of the class struggle was and still is to a certain extent a hallmark of a number of historians who professed a sympathy with Marxism. It is to be hoped that Todd does not pick the bad habits of Thompson who like other historians of his generation decided to cherry pick certain aspects of a Marxist method and leave aside the most important parts such as the relationship between base and superstructure and how it affects the history of the working class.

As the Marxist Cliff Slaughter put it so well “When we say that political ideas and movements reflect the economic base we should remember that such reflection is a series of conscious acts. Men’s consciousness is formed in an environment of social institutions controlled by the ruling class, institutions of repression and institutions for educational conditioning, staffed by people trained to operate these institutions as though they were part of a naturally or divinely ordained system. The majority of labour’s own organizations have become tied to this structure of established institutions, and are staffed by the ‘labour lieutenants of capitalism’. The proletariat’s consciousness of its role has to be achieved in struggle against all these institutional forms and their ideological results. Without the highest degree of centralized organization, these ideological battles cannot be won”.[4]

Todd does not see the working class through rose tinted spectacles but she believes that the most the working class can do is reform capitalism not overthrow it. Also her attitude towards the “labor lieutenants” is at best weak at worst it borders on a glossing over the betrayals of both the Labour Party and the Unions.
In this light it is not really an accident that the book with over 450 pages does not mention Karl Marx in its index, the Communist Party gets only two mentions. Perhaps most damagingly is her view of the most important events affecting the English working class. While it is easy to agree that the Second World War and the rise of Thatcherism are important events in the life of the English working class surely the most important political event of the 20th century concerning the working class did not happen in Britain but in Russia i.e. the 1917-The Russian revolution. If one event shaped the modern day English working Class it was that event. Yet Todd has next to nothing to say on it.

Another strange absence is that despite professing her admiration for E P Thompson, the Marxist History Group, which included E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm to name but a few , is completely ignored. One does not have accept everything this group wrote said or did but I believe it is not possible to write a history of the English working class without examining their work.


As the Marxist Ann Talbot said “Not only was their contribution to the writing of history significant, but also they themselves represent a particularly critical phase in British history, when Britain lost its world hegemony to the USA and class conflict became more intense. They represent a layer of socialist-minded intellectuals who looked in this period of crisis to the Soviet Union and the Russian revolution for a new model of society”.

Having said this Talbot was extremely critical of the People’s history genre of which Todd adopts hook line and sinker in her book, she continues “The Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defense of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr”.[5]

It is also remiss of Todd not address her predecessor E P Thompson given that he played such an influential role in her adopting the approach of “history from below” genre.  Thompson was founder of the magazine the New Reasoner, along with historian John Saville, and Universities and Left Review, edited by Stuart Hall.
Thompson and Saville were hostile to the orthodox Trotskyists represented by the then Socialist Labour League’s international revolutionary perspective. His magazine was imbued in what was then called the “English Marxist” tradition.

New Reasoner was said to advocate a “socialist humanist” version of Marxism. This was in reality nothing to do with Marxism and  in reality was no more than a crude cover for his support of the Stalinist “British Road” advocated by the CPGB. The New Left movement under the leadership of Thompson and Saville was responsible as Paul Bond says in his essay Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A political career dedicated to opposing Marxism -www.wsws.org for “introducing the nationalist, ethnic and gender specific theories that have led to so much confusion over the last 30 years, as well as helping the imperialists divert workers and youth along dangerous communal lines in South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East”.

Finally if Todd continues to adopt the use of culture and gender to explain class relations it will shift her present axis further away from a Marxist position on class. The People-The Rise and Fall of the Working Class is a useful guide to certain aspects of working class life over the last century but should not be seen as a Marxist analysis. It is hoped that Todd’s next book attempts this difficult of processes.


[1] Farewell to the Working Class  Gorz Andre South End Press (1 Nov 1982)  www.wsws.org
[2] 2. Interview by Joe Gill http://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/british-historian-selina-todd-interviewed/.    
[3] E.P. Thompson-The Peculiarities of the English-(1965)-From The Socialist Register 1965, pp.311-362.
 Marxists’ Internet Archive.
[4] Cliff Slaughter What is Revolutionary Leadership? From Labour Review, Vol.5 No.3, October-November 1960, pp.93-96 & 105-111.Published by Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
[5] "These the times ... this the man": an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill
By Ann Talbot 25 March 2003 http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/03/hill-m25.html

Monday, 19 May 2014

To Have no Newes is good Newes


1.    God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, 1660-1720: 13 (Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political and Social History) by Brodie Waddell has been published by Boydell & Brewer. A review copy has been given to me by them. Brodie’s blog can be found at http://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/

2.       Perspectives on English Revolutionary Republicanism Dirk Wiemann (Author), Gaby Mahlberg (Author) Published by Ashgate.


3.       The history after Hobsbawm conference speeches etc have been published at http://historyafterhobsbawm.wordpress.com/. Recordings of plenary lectures by Gareth Stedman Jones, Chris Wickham, Maxine Berg, Rana Mitter, Peter Bailey, Catherine Hall, and Geoff Eley. Can be found at the Backdoor Broadcasting Corporation website http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/


4.      My next blog article will be a critical review of Selina Todd’s The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010.

5.       Friday 23 May: Birkbeck Early Modern Society presents a lecture by  Dr Angela McShane, V&A, ‘How Happy’s the State where no Discord is Breeding?’: the Politipop of Seventeenth Century England.


6.       Ashgate publishing has just rteleased this important book called Royalists at War in Scotland and Ireland, 16381650 byBarry Robertson. It is clear from even a cursory look this is a much needed piece of research on an underwritten about subject. A review of this book will appear in the not too distant future.


7.       Landlords and Tenants in Britain, 1440-1660: Tawney's Agrarian Problem Revisited (People, Markets, Goods: Economies and Societies in History)Jane Whittle (Editor) sorry for the late plug fro this excellent collection of essays. In the not too distant future I will commence some work at the R H Tawney archive held at the London School of Economics


8.       Tom Reilly has produced a follow up book to his previously entitled book Cromwell An Honourable Enermy. His new book is somewhat controversially called  Cromwell Was Framed (Ireland 1649) ISBN 978-1-78279-516-2 April 2014. Chronos Books (An imprint of John Hunt Publishing) the debate has already begun.