In This Article Revolutionary England, 1642-1702

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Source Collections
  • Journals
  • The Glorious Revolution

Renaissance and Reformation Revolutionary England, 1642-1702
by
Sarah Covington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0063

Introduction

The 17th century is one of the most important periods in England’s history, eliciting highly charged and often ideologically driven debates among scholars. The story of England, as it was told during the 19th century, was central in defining British identity and creating a national myth, known as Whig history, of triumphant progress toward liberty. Not surprisingly, the 20th century revised this history in accordance with contemporary ideologies that included communism, while the 1970s witnessed a further revisionist turn when Conrad Russell, most notably, asserted the contingent nature of the causes leading to the war, in response to the traditional position that emphasized long-term events originating in a division between the crown and an oppositional parliament. This position has, unsurprisingly, been amended in recent years. Meanwhile, another shift has extended the midcentury upheavals to include the “Three Kingdoms” approach, which decenters England in its readings and incorporates Scotland and Ireland into the larger turmoil. But the 17th century was not simply about the Civil War and Interregnum dominated by Cromwell; the Restoration itself was also determined by the events that preceded it, with continuities as well as the more obvious cultural and political shifts blurring the demarcating historical line. And in some respects, the revolution of 1688 served as a culminating answer to the questions raised but never fully resolved by issues earlier in the century. Whether the revolution of 1688 was truly significant or not—and it was certainly once thought to be the crowning achievement of liberty and rights—has itself provoked debate, with James II’s “absolutism” or William III’s victory convincingly modified by historians. So many debates abound, and so many figures are subject to different readings, that it is difficult to fix this period into any stable meaning without lending it heavy qualifications. As a result, it is revealing that an increasingly common subgenre in the field consists of books solely devoted not to the history of these revolutionary years, but to the debates about it—just as the names of historians such as Gardiner, Hill, Stone, or Russell have become inextricably a part of the historical narrative as well. Such debates will continue as long as the 17th century resists clear interpretation—a testament to the dramatic complexity of the time, and to the historians who continue to interpret it.

Textbooks

A number of excellent textbooks exist on the Stuart period, with Coward 2003 providing the most extensive and focused coverage, and Bucholz and Key 2004 a more basic overview that extends back to the beginning of the Tudor era. Kishlansky 1997 is a significant overview, particularly strong on political history, by one of the best historians of the period, while Smith 1997 brings forward an encompassing narrative that traces England’s development as a broader nation-state.

  • Bucholz, Robert, and Newton Key. Early Modern England 1485–1714. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    An excellent narrative and analytical approach that incorporates social, economic, religious, and cultural as well as political history.

  • Coward, Barry. The Stuart Age: A History of England, 1603–1714. 3d ed. London: Longman, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    The best recent textbook on the Stuart age, utilizing the latest scholarship and focusing on the economy, society, and politics as well as the Civil War and its aftermath. Very useful bibliographic essay at the end, and relatively good coverage of Scotland and Ireland.

  • Kishlansky, Mark. A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603–1714. London: Penguin, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    A clear and well-written political narrative designed for the student and nonspecialist, extending from the reign of James I through Anne and tracing developments in the institution of the monarchy and also including the parallel histories of Scotland and Ireland.

  • Smith, Alan G. R. The Emergence of a Nation State, 1529–1660. 2d ed. London and New York: Longman, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the best surveys of England, beginning with the Reformation and continuing through the English Civil War, with useful introductions to the historiographical debates, and excellent maps, glossaries, and bibliography.

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