Sunday, 29 May 2011

In A Free Republic by Alison Plowden


Alison Plowden wrote many books only four that touched upon the English revolution. This was a shame because the subject was and still dominated by the male historian.

Plowden writes in an engaging and thoughtful way. She once described herself as being "in the fortunate position of having been able to turn my hobby into a profession". "There must be thousands of women doing unsatisfying jobs who have a private interest or talent which could be turned to full-time and financial advantage… I do wish more of them would have a go."

The book is well researched, and she makes good use of primary sources such as diaries of some leading figures of the revolution. Her books are prevalent, leading one writer to say on one of her books on the Elizabethan period “Where Alison Plowden excels, is in shrewdly stressing how Elizabeth appreciated the dangers of sexual desire; the general reader will find it wholly informative and very entertaining.”
In this book she does appear to rely heavily on conservatives figures of the revolution, and especially there seems to be an over-reliance on the diary of John Evelyn.

Plowden's background as a writer is interesting she came to write academic history from her experiences as a writer in television and a very successful one at that. Of this job she said "I could do better than this with my hands behind my back. Later on  she said "A secretary writing scripts was a little like a performing monkey at the BBC - there was a sort of 'Fancy, what a clever little girl' attitude.
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She seems to have been well-liked among her fellow writers with historian and journalist Paul Johnson saying she “writes with verve, brevity and often wit; a most entertaining book which at the same time is accurate and judicious”.

Plowden wrote four books on the civil war, The Stuart Princesses (1996), Women All on Fire: Women of the English Civil War (1998)Henrietta Maria: Charles I's Indomitable Queen (2001)In a Free Republic (2006).

The Stuart Princesses, which examines the lives of the six princesses of the House of Stuart. Again the book is a well written and as one writer said she “combines detailed histories of the individual women into a single coherent narrative in a somewhat original way”.

She followed up with the book Women All on Fire. This is a strong book in many ways. It is a valuable study of the women who played a significant political and social on both sides of the Civil War.

While she had every right to write a book which mostly stems from a conservative and bordering of royalist historiography In a Free Republic – Life in Cromwell’s England, it does tend to be heavily critical of Cromwell's Republic. While it has been portrayed as looking at the reality of life in Cromwell’s England, it tends to be a little one-sided. In fact, it’s not so much what she writes it is what she chooses to leave out.

In A Free Republic does offer a revealing insight into everyday life during the interregnum, from 1649 to 1660. She makes heavy use of primary sources, particularly memoirs, diaries of the social commentator Samuel Pepys, letters, newspapers and state papers.

Given that during this  “free” republic press censorship was extremely heavy and any news had to get approval from the Secretary of State before publishing it is surprising that so many many primary sources are available to examine.

Alison Plowden, who died on August 17 aged 75 said: “I’m in the fortunate position of having been able to turn my hobby into a profession”.There must be thousands of women doing unsatisfying jobs who have a private interest or talent which could be turned to full-time and financial advantage… I do wish more of them would have a go."





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