Some Historiographical Perspectives



Though the common law provided early Stuart Englishmen with what was probably their fundamental set of assumptions and concepts for thinking and talking about politics, even a cursory glance at the period would make it apparent that there were other competing theoretical modes available. If we wish to understand the political debates of the pre-Civil-War period it is not enough to understand ancient constitutionalism alone. It is also necessary to understand how ancient constitutionalism compared with other ways of thinking about politics, and how these rival languages of political discourse interacted with one another.


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  1. 1.
    For some discussion of ‘revisionism’, and further references, see Glenn Burgess, ‘On Revisionism: An Analysis of Early Stuart Historiography in the 1970s and 1980s’, Historical Journal vol. 33 (1990), pp. 609–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Margaret Judson, The Crisis of the Constitution: An Essay in Constitutional and Political Thought in England 1603–1645 (New York, 1976; orig. ed. 1949)Google Scholar
  3. J. W. Allen, English Political Thought 1603–1660 (London 2 vols planned but only one appeared, 1938) — the one published vol. covers the period 1603–44.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    This sort of feeling comes through some of J. P. Sommerville’s work. See especially his essay ‘Ideology, Property and the Constitution’, in Richard Cust and Ann Hughes (eds), Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics 1603–1642 (London, 1989), chpt. 2.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Conrad Russell, ‘Parliamentary History in Perspective 1604–1629’, History vol. 61 (1976), p. 18. Since this chapter was completed a considerable body of new work from Professor Russell has appeared. Most important to the subject of this book are his remarks on Sommerville in Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990), chpt. 6, which seem broadly compatible with the case argued here. See also Russell’s collected essays, esp. the introduction which also includes comments on the Sommerville thesis, published as Russell, Unrevolutionary England 1603–1642 (London. 19901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    The word ‘opposition’ is a dangerous one, of course, because it implies a fixed group of people who oppose government policy on all points, and who are not themselves members of government. In the seventeenth century ‘opposition’ to particular policies was frequently conducted by those highly placed in court or political circles, and was a highly fluid phenomenon. See Russell, Unrevolutionary England p. xiii. Cf. Robert Zaller, ‘The Concept of Opposition in Early Stuart England’, Albion vol. XII (1980), pp. 211–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 6.
    The emphasis on consensus has been strong in the work of Mark Kishlansky, The Rise of the New Model Army (Cambridge, 1979), chpt. 1, esp. pp.11ff. (See also Kishlansky, ‘The Emergence of Adversary Politics in the Long Parliament’, Journal of Modern History vol. 49 (1977), pp. 617–40Google Scholar
  8. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1986)). Just as Kishlansky has rejected polarised models of politics, so Kevin Sharpe has rejected them for cultural history. He has instead advanced a model of a shared world-view put to varying uses, ‘a commonwealth of meanings’. The emphasis on a shared set of values (a consensus culture) underlying very different views about what those values entailed, closely matches the model of consensual politics in Kishlansky’s work. (See Kevin Sharpe, Politics and Ideas in Early Stuart England (London, 1989), esp. chpt. 1; alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Sharpe, Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge, 1987).)Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    J. G. A. Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth CenturyA Reissue with Retrospect (Cambridge, 1987), p. 262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Glenn Burgess 1992

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