Popular Politics in Stuart England

  • Andy Wood
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)

Abstract

Towns have an appeal for the contemporary Western historian which rural areas simply do not. Most living historians of early modern England have been brought up in societies that are dominated by the urban experience. Transport networks, educational facilities, party politics, economic organisation, population distribution and cultural identities all seem in our social world to converge upon the town. This urban bias does not equip us well to understand early modern society. Although the English urban population was growing both in absolute size and relative significance between the early sixteenth and the early eighteenth centuries, historical demographers have shown that even at the end of our period the large majority of the population lived in rural areas. Yet in spite of this, to the historian of early modern popular politics there remains something seductive about the town. The very term ‘early modern’ hints at things which (allegedly) have yet to come: class society; large-scale industrialisation; mass literacy; print culture; the development of individualism, of national party identities and of a public sphere within which political discourse might legitimately occur. All of these factors help to constitute a notion of modernity which, in its fully mature form, is assumed to lie beyond our period, but which is thought to have first stirred between the sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries: and so, our allotted bloc of the human past is now conventionally labelled the early modern period.1 Most germane to our subject, young modernity is thought to have flaunted its flashy self most visibly within the town.2

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Notes

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