Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Insolent proceedings-Rethinking public politics in the English Revolution-Editors: Peter Lake and Jason Peacey-Manchester University Press-2022


"The third part of Gangræna. Or, A new and higher discovery of the errors, heresies, blasphemies, and insolent proceedings of the sectaries of these times; with some animadversions by way of confutation upon many of the errors and heresies named. ... Briefe animadversions on many of the sectaries late pamphlets, as Lilburnes and Overtons books against the House of Peeres".

"Study the historian before you begin to study the facts".

E H Carr

"Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party -- his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell's "holy" squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King's horsemen and won the nickname of "Ironsides." It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score, British workers can learn much from Cromwell." 

Leon Trotsky

"I do not care so much what I am to others as I care what I am to myself."

Michel de Montaigne

Insolent proceedings is a collection of interdisciplinary essays by scholars examining the last fifty years of the historiography of the English revolution. The essays honour the work of Ann Hughes, who is, in the opinion of the editors of this book, a post-revisionist historian. The main bulk of the essays deals with revisionist and post-revisionist scholarship. It remains to be seen if the claims made by the scholars to be developing a new historiography away from the revisionist and post-revisionist historiography can be substantiated.

The opening chapter offers a substantial overview of the previous historiography of the English revolution. Although it reflects on the debates of the last fifty years, it steers clear of an evaluation of both Whig and Marxist historiography.

The great historian Edward Hallett Carr was fond of saying, "Study the historian before you begin to study the facts."[1] In this case, it is important to understand the politics of the historian whose honour these essays are written.

It was recently announced that Hughes would be a Labour Party candidate in the next election. The Uk Labour Party's latest purge has almost cleared out any nominally left-wing members and is now an openly right-wing bourgeois party. Hughes feels at home with this party. It is a complex process, the relationship between politics and history, and it is dialectical. While Hughes's politics may have to a certain extent, coloured her historical writing, she is nonetheless a serious historian, and serious historians play an objectively significant role in social life as the embodiment of historical memory.

While it is not in the realm of possibility to examine every chapter in this book, some chapters are more important than others. Anatomy of the General Rising-Militancy and mobilisation in London, 1643 discusses the significant move to the left in both the New Model Army and the general London population to deal with the King once and for all and defeat the Presbyterians in Parliament, who were seeking to bring back the King to power and destroy the Independents. David Como examines the 'General Rising' using unknown manuscript accounts. His article examines what happened along with the class nature of the participants.

David Lowenstein's chapter William Walwyn's Montaigne and the struggle for toleration in the English Revolution is intriguing detective work. It examines why Montaigne, the great French Catholic writer and sceptic, appealed to the radical writer and Leveller leader William Walwyn.

As Lowenstein shows, Montaigne was an attractive figure for Walwyn, one of the left-wing leaders of the English bourgeois revolution. Montaigne writes, "I propose a life ordinary and without lustre: 'tis all one; all moral philosophy may as well be applied to a common and private life, as to one of richer composition: every man carries the entire form of the human condition. Authors communicate themselves to the people by some especial and extrinsic mark; I, the first of any, by my universal being, as Michel de Montaigne, not as a grammarian, a poet, or a lawyer. If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves."[2]

Walwyn wanted to assimilate all that was good about Michel de Montaigne. Many of the revolution's ideologists, such as Walwyn, used the bible and read other writers, such as Michel de Montaigne, to half understand the historical precedent and for some theories to explain what they were doing.

Sean Kelsey's essay Indemnity, sovereignty and justice in the army debates of 1647 is disappointing. Given the extraordinary amount of new material uncovered about the huge radicalisation of the New Model Army, it would appear that the revisionist and post-revisionist downplaying of the radical nature of the New Model Army has raised its ugly head. The important work by John Rees on the radicalisation of the New Model Army is ignored completely. The NMA was not just an army but was a political party in all but name as the Marxist writer Leon Trotsky once wrote, "In this way, Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party -- his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell's "holy" squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King's horsemen and won the nickname of "Ironsides." It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score, British workers can learn much from Cromwell." [3]

Thomas N Corns groundbreaking essay Milton and Winstanley A conversation reviews the possible but unproven interconnections between the giants of 17th-century literature and politics Milton and Winstanley.

'Threshing among the people Ranters, Quakers and the revolutionary public sphere re-examines relations between Quakers and Ranters in the 1650s. J. C. Davis' right-wing attack on the Ranters in the 1990s was largely discredited by the work of Christopher Hill and A L Morton, whose work is largely ignored in this book.

J  C Davis's book Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians was the right-wing Kenneth Baker (education secretary under Margaret Thatcher's government) favourite book. According to Davis, the Ranters were impossible to define. What they believed in, he writes, "There was no recognised leader or theoretician and little, if any, organisation. The views of the principal figures were inconsistent with each other".

Ann Hughes's work has been important in re-establishing the importance of a systematic study of radical groups. But perhaps more importantly, she has fought to highlight the role of women in the English revolution, which has been largely ignored by most of her male counterparts.

After all, the world was turned upside down for women as much as men. As Alison Jones points out, "The Civil War of 1642-1646 and its aftermath constituted a time of great turmoil, turning people's everyday lives upside down. It not only affected the men in the armies, but it also touched the lives of countless ordinary individuals. It is well known that women played a significant role in the Civil War, for example, defending their communities from attack and nursing wounded soldiers. What is often forgotten, however, is that some women took advantage of the havoc wrought by the conflict to dissent from conventional positions in society. The slightest deviation by women from their traditional roles as wives and mothers was condemned by this patriarchal society. Therefore dissent could take many forms that today do not appear particularly extreme – for example, choosing to participate in emerging radical religious sects, having greater sexual freedom, fighting as soldiers and practising witchcraft".[4]




[1] What Is History.

[2] Michel de Montaigne, Selected Essays, ed. W. C. Hazlitt (New York: Dover, 2011), 172.

[3] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch06.htm

[4] Dissent and Debauchery: Women and the English Civil War- Alison Jones