Sunday, 17 March 2013

Jared van Duinen on ‘An Engine Which the World Sees Nothing of’: Revealing Dissent under Charles I’s ‘Personal Rule’

By Christopher Thompson

Jared van Duinen’s essay, which first appeared in the Australian journal, Parergon, in 2011, addresses two main themes. The first of these is an historiographical one covering the analysis of the ‘Personal Rule’ of King Charles I between 1629 and 1640 by historianslargely since the appearance of ‘revisionisim’ in the 1970s. The second involves a call to current and future historians to focus their research on the personal networks of Puritan association that linked together the King’s opponents in the period before the summoning of the Short and Long Parliaments. It is thus a review of relatively recent work and a programme for new work. It is always helpful for a field of historical research to be reassessed, especially by a young scholar reflecting on his own recent experiences.

This exercise begins with some observations on the concentration of much historical work in the twentieth century on the politics of the centre in England with its focus on Parliament in particular. Whigs and Marxists as well as the ‘revisionists’ of the 1970s and 1980s inevitably sought to explain the dissent faced by James VI and I and by Charles I in their Parliaments from 1604 until 1629 but were less interested in the hidden facets of dissent in the 1630s when no Parliaments were held. Van Duinen was critical of Kevin Sharpe’s book, The Personal Rule of Charles I, published in 1992 for this reason. It emphasized the intrinsically deferential, hierarchical and unrevolutionary nature of politics and society in the 1630s when England experience a period of relative calm and stability.

Sharpe’s view was reinforced by the studies of royal patronage of the arts, of masques, etc., in the same decade, which threw welcome new light on Court politics and the role of Henrietta Maria as Queen. Similarly, the debates over the nature of the Caroline Church and the role of Laudianism served to reinforce the central perspective on the period of ‘Personal Rule’. He was not critical of this work in itself but he  thought that it needed to be balanced by a new concentration on local and regional spheres of activity to discover how dissident activity was decentralized and diffused when there was no forum in Parliament to give it focus.

A decentralized research strategy would, in his view, help to show how national and local concerns about Caroline rule intersected: the cultural, familial and intellectual milieus of contemporaries as well as the impact on their political, religious and social links could thus be explored. Some of this work had already been done. Kenneth Fincham had shown how sophisticated a grasp the Kentish gentry had on national issues while figures like Ann Hughes, Jason Peacey and Tom Webster had been able to investigate important networks of clerical and lay association. Case studies of the careers and lives of Samuel Rogers and Robert Woodford were equally rewarding.

 The Feoffees of Impropriations and the two colonizing ventures, the Masachusetts Bay Company and the Providence Island Company,  demonstrated how such networks of association drew opponents of the King together. Indeed, the Providence Island Company offered future leaders of the Long Parliament valuable grounding in business administration and experience of committee work. Laudianism, moreover, with its pursuit, sometimes persecution, of religious opponents helped to construct a “more pronounced or significant puritan opposition than had hitherto existed”, hence the need for a new research strategy.

This is, I hope, a fair account of Jared van Duinen’s argument. It is not, however, one that can be enthusiastically endorsed partly because the strategy for which he calls has been one I have pursued ever since I was a postgraduate decades ago. The survival of much of the estate archives of the Rich family, Earls of Warwick, from 1617, of comparable material from the estate of William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Say and Sele, of the 4th Earl of Bedford’s commonplace books and of his letters, and of the colonial manuscripts covering the Massachusetts Bay, Providence Island and Saybrook companies have permitted the extensive reconstruction of the attitudes and ideas of those Jared van Duinen’s own thesis described as the ‘Junto’ from the mid-1620s into the 1640s.

The colonial material is especially helpful in  revealing the views of these men on forms of government in Church and State alike. How these connections were constituted and exercised their covert influence in the 1630s is much better understood than he appreciated. Similarly, the patronage of the Earls of Bedford and Essex and Warwick, of Viscount Say and Sele and Lord Brooke and of their allies, men like Sir Benjamin Rudyerd, Sir Thomas Barrington and Richard Knightley has been comprehensively explored in local government and in the Church. The new strategy for which Dr van Duinen has called was already out of date when it was issued.