Order Within the Universe: The Rebellion Against Charles

  • Jerome Friedman


The modern mind, comforted by post-Enlightenment rationalism, finds the possible existence of a hidden realm of the miraculous both emotionally frightening and intellectually disturbing. If it were—true that unseen powers lay within seemingly dead stones or that trees possessed the will to act or that inclement weather was the result of malicious spirits, the resources of reason would seem meager indeed. We lull ourselves with the soothing belief that the world is mundane and ordinary, that one need not fear Mother Nature. In the seventeenth century, however, people were convinced of the very opposite set of premises. Indeed, the reasonable person of three centuries ago would have condemned our most fundamental ideas of the universe as willful blindness and ignorance. Every rural Englishman knew that strange forces were at work in the universe and that, in the words of one newsbook, “only the heathen philosophers had nothing but natural causes.” Nature was not benevolent, for physical existence was the vehicle through which hidden, often confusing, forces manifested themselves. Rivers, trees, animals, and even manufactured goods contained sometimes malevolent spirits.


Dead Body Moral Truth Modern Mind Willful Blindness Loving Spouse 
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  1. 1.
    See chapter 1 in Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971); P. Laslett, The World We Have Lost (London: Methuen, 1965); Herbert Leventhal, In the Shadow of the Enlightenment (New York: New York University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1923–1958); James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (New York: Macmillan, 1900). For rural Italian peasant systems of religious belief, see Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); Richard Keickhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Concerning saints and their role in popular belief, see C. J. Loomis, White Magic: An Introduction to the Folklore of Christian Legend (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948). The best discussion of the superstitious understanding of the sacraments remains J.-B. Thiers, Traité des Superstitions qui regardent les Sacremens (1679; 5th ed., Paris, 1741). Also, Aron Gurevitch, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Belief and Perception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (New York: Berh-man, 1939; reprinted New York: Atheneum, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The literature concerning witchcraft is very extensive. The general reader might start with Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic. The following accounts should prove useful in providing a fundamental appreciation of the modern historiography of the subject: Brian P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (London: Longman, 1987); Joseph Klaits, The Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Christina Larner, Witchcraft and Religion: The Politics of Popular Belief (New York: B. Blackwell, 1986). Also, see chapter 9, note 2.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The thaumaturgic character of monarchy is discussed by Marc Bloch, Les Rose thaumaturges: étude sur le caractère surnaturel attribué “puissance royale, particulièrement en France et en Angleterre” (Strasbourg: Bibliothèque de la Faculté, 1924); Raymond Crawford, The King’s Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1911). More recent studies of theories of kingship and related issues include: Samuel H. Hooke, Myth, Ritual and Kingship: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Kingship (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958); John L. Miller, Bourbon and Stuart: Kings and Kingship in France and England in the Seventeenth Century (New York: F. Watts, 1987); Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princton: Princeton University Press, 1957); Fritz Kern, Kingship and the Law in the Middle Ages, I: The Divine Right of Kings (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1939); Franklin L. Baumer, The Early Tudor Theory of Kingship (New York: Russell and Russell, 1900).Google Scholar

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© Jerome Friedman 1993

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  • Jerome Friedman

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