Sunday, 29 May 2011

In A Free Republic by Alison Plowden

I recently purchased a copy of Alison Plowden Women All on Fire because I intended to write on female involvement in the English revolution. Like a lot of things related to writing on the subject of the revolution, I got distracted by other things. This appears to be an occupational hazard or would be if I made money out this blog, but you get my meaning.

While researching in my local library, I came across Plowden's book In a free Republic and have now just finished it, so I will write some brief thoughts on it. Firstly while looking on the internet to find something on her, I found to my dismay that she died in 2007. This fact took me by surprise but I freely admit apart from the year of my degree I have only adequately studied this subject for two years, but does it strike me that there seems to be a written rule that more you learn about the civil the less you actually know.

To get onto the subject of her book, I enjoyed reading it, and Plowden does write 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 extremely popular, 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.” However, 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.

Ploweden’s background as a writer is interesting she came to write academic history from experience as a writer in television and a very successful one at that. She mainly concentrated on the Tudor and Stuart periods. In her career, she wrote 25 books, including The Elizabethan Quartet, a four-volume study of Elizabeth I. Her life appears as fascinating as the subjects she chose to write about. In her obituary in the Times of London, it said of her “through her father, Miles Plowden, she was a descendant of the Elizabethan jurist Edmund Plowden, of whom it was stated there was “no man more worthy to be remembered as singularly well learned in the Common Laws of England”.

She seems to have been well-liked amongst her profession with historian and journalist Paul Johnson saying of her Quartet of books on Elizabethan England “writes with verve, brevity and often wit; a most entertaining book which at the same time is accurate and judicious”.

Plowden wrote some books on the civil war, The Stuart Princesses, which looked at the lives of the six princesses of the House of Stuart. She followed up with the book I intend to review at a later date Women All on Fire. This is a strong book in many ways. It cannot have been easy writing such a study in what is a very male dominated subject in fact what period of history isn’t. 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, 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. But having said that she is worth reading.

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