Difference between revisions of "London and the English Civil War"
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by Professor Barry Coward
This article appeared in the Autumn 2008 edition of the Historian and is reproduced here by kind permission of the editor. (1)
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- 1 LONDON ON THE EVE OF THE WAR
- 2 THE EFFECTS OF POPULATION GROWTH
- 3 THE IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY
- 4 FUNDING THE WAR THROUGH TAXATION
- 5 POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS
- 6 DEFENSIVE FORTIFICATION OF LONDON
- 7 ROYALISTS IN LONDON
- 8 THE GROWTH OF ANTI-PARLIAMENTARIANISM
- 9 THE BATTLE FOR CONTROL OF THE CHURCH
- 10 THE EFFECT ON CULTURE AND IDEAS
- 11 ALL THIS BUT NO THREAT TO STABILITY
- 12 REFERENCES
In the spring of 1643 William Lithgow, a Scot born in Lanark in 1582, who had spent most of his life travelling around Europe, often on foot and having many fantastic adventures, decided to return to Britain.(2) Having just turned sixty, he was obviously feeling pretty gloomy. ‘After long 40 years wandering since my first launching abroad to survey the spacious bounds … of the ancient world … and in neighbouring regions’, I am now (he wrote) ‘fallen into the bosom of declining age, the sun being set on the winter day of mine elaborate age’. (3) In April 1643 he arrived in London, the capital of a country that was being torn apart by civil war. What he found there both excited and depressed him. He saw a capital preparing itself for a siege by royalist armies as Londoners turned out to build a massive line of fortifications around the city. ‘The daily musters of shows of all sorts of Londoners here were wondrous commendable (he wrote) in marching to the fields and outworks; as merchants, silk men, … shopkeepers etc with great alacrity, carrying on their shoulders iron mattocks and wooden shovels, with roaring drums, flying colours and girded swords, most companies being also interlarded with ladies, women and girls, two and two carrying baskets for to advance the labour’ i.e. by digging and carrying soil to build earthwork defences. (4)
He saw a capital not only full of military activity and civil defence works but also of major religious and political tensions. ‘The first news I heard at my disbarking was the casting down of the golden cross in Cheapside, to the which with speed I approached, where I saw divers imagious relics tumbling down in the bottomless pit of oblivion’. (5) A week later, on 10 May 1643, ‘by order of parliament I saw at noon two great heaps of books burned, both where the golden crosses formerly stood, [books] for tolerating on the Sabbath day sportings, pastimes, profane plays, and so consequently all sorts of labour (as that papists do at this day in the pope’s own patrimonial lands), [books] prohibiting afternoon sermons and commanding the erection of altars and homages therein, which was done for the introduction of the mass and other infinite pendicles of popery’. (6)
Many of these developments Lithgow, a Presbyterian and fiercely anti-Catholic Scot, approved of. But he was saddened to see a capital, which was (as he wrote) ‘never … so populous as now it is’, but in which ‘all kinds of trades and trading begin to decay’, and in which supplies of fuel (largely coal) were running very low. (7)
Lithgow’s comments are not only a fantastic contemporary eyewitness account of what was happening in Civil War London, but in inviting comparisons with post-invasion, present-day Baghdad – constant military activity, a collapsing economy and a society fractured by internal political and religious divisions and the tearing down of statues – they provide an excellent introduction to the historical question that this article addresses: why did London not collapse into an anarchy of disorder, why did the capital not fall apart under the impact of the Civil War, why did the capital’s social, economic, political, religious and governmental structures survive the massive stresses and divisions brought about by the war that are reflected in Lithgow’s eyewitness account?
What makes this an intriguing historical problem is that, as the major part of this article will show, London was subjected to pressures by the Civil War that could easily have rent apart its social, economic and political order, in the process shattering its internal stability. As will be seen, the general character of London on the eve of the Civil War made it a very unstable, volatile place in normal times, and the extraordinary conditions of Civil War brought massive additional economic problems, political divisions, religious controversies and a ferment of ideas that shook the stability of the capital. Yet, shaken though the stability of London was, there was no real threat that the social and political order in the capital would disintegrate into anarchy or revolution. Why was this?
LONDON ON THE EVE OF THE WAR
By the eve of the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 London had grown rapidly into a monster of a place, spreading out beyond the confines of the medieval City into suburbs from Stepney to the east to Westminster to the west. Its estimated population of about 80,000 in 1550 had risen to 200,000 by 1600 and to nearly 400,000 by 1642, rising at a much faster rate than the national population. By 1642 it was the largest city in western Europe, having just outstripped Paris and leaving places like Naples, Amsterdam, Palermo, Venice, Rome and Lisbon far behind. In national terms it was at least twenty times larger than any other English city. Places like Norwich, Bristol and Exeter were tiny in comparison, with only 10-20,000 people. By 1642 something like 7% of the national population lived in London and it is reckoned that one in six English men and women visited the capital at some time in their lives. And what is important to stress is that this demographic growth was only made possible by massive migration to London of people from many other parts of Britain and Ireland. The death rate was higher than the birth rate in most seventeenth century London parishes that have been studied. London only grew because it sucked in, like a demographic drain, thousands of the nation’s able-bodied desperate poor or aspiring young and the much less numerous men and women of the country’s wealthy elite. (8)
And the reasons people came to London points to a second feature of London on the eve of the Civil War, and this is the dominant position the city had in the country’s economy, more dominant in fact than it had ever been before or than it was to be afterwards from the later seventeenth century onwards. Something like 90% of the country’s only significant export commodity: woollen cloth, passed from the areas where it was produced (mainly in the West Country and East Anglia) through the great entrepot of London to be sold overseas, largely to merchants in northern Europe. Very little went through provincial ports. And London not only sucked into it large numbers of the country’s people and export manufactures, it was the place through which most of the country’s imports passed, making its merchants, many of whom were members of London’s great trading and livery companies, very rich, and providing employment for a vast variety of London craftsmen and manufacturers. Since, of course, London’s large population needed feeding, the city became a food market that affected not only market garden centres in the neighbouring countryside but also the grain producing areas of the Midlands, and the livestock producing areas of the north west and Ireland, from where food funnelled into London, along with coal largely from Newcastle. By 1642 most Londoners were dependent on coal for warmth and for many of their manufacturing enterprises, like brewing and glassmaking.
London, too, by this period, as it had been for a long time before, was the dominant focus of the nation’s government and its legal system. One of the distinctive features of early modern England is that it was much more highly centralised than, say, contemporary France. In London was the seat of government, the royal court, the place where parliaments met, and here too were located all the great law courts, like Chancery and the King’s Bench.
THE EFFECTS OF POPULATION GROWTH
As dominant and important in England as London was by 1642, it was also potentially unstable. James VI and I, that canny Scot and much misunderstood king of early seventeenth century Britain, put his finger on it when he said that London was growing too fast for the country’s good. ‘All the country’, he said, ‘is gotten into London, so as with time England will only be London and the whole country be left waste’. (9) Exaggerated this is, but he had a point. The influx into London of masses of poor migrants presented London with a major poverty problem, which posed an obvious threat to the social order, especially when there was such large disparity in the distribution of wealth, glaringly obvious in (on the one hand) the palatial houses built by English noblemen on the Strand or in the development of the Covent Garden area by the Earl of Bedford and (on the other) the shanty dwellings of the masses of poor labourers and apprentices, many of whom were young and single. London’s rapid growth also was largely unplanned. Despite the efforts of the authorities, in the populous suburbs poor housing existed alongside insanitary living conditions. Disease was rife; plague killed thousands of Londoners in the epidemics of 1603, 1625 and 1636. Looked at in this way, London was always on the edge of social instability, especially when its economic dependence on the woollen cloth trade made it very vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters like plague and to disruptions of trade on the continent, which periodically plunged the capital into periods of deep economic crisis, as had happened as recently as the early 1620s.
THE IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY
And that is a neat link from London on the eve of the Civil War in 1642 to the impact that the war had on the economy of London, the first of four major areas of London life during the Civil War that will be examined here. Although the above account of the economy of pre-war London was necessarily sketchy, it does not need a great effort to imagine how civil war could disrupt it. To appreciate this, though, you do need to ditch any notion you might have that somehow the English Civil War was fought without the bloodiness, atrocities and enormous impact on the country of other civil wars. There’s now a long list of studies that show that this was not the case. (10) It is now clear, for example, that a greater percentage of English people died in the English Civil War than in either the two world wars of the last century and that the impact of the war on the country’s economy and society was enormous. The English Civil War was fought (as we’ll see shortly) over different ideas for which English people were prepared to fight ruthlessly and (if necessary) to kill their fellow countrymen. Rival royalist and parliamentarian garrisons were established across large swathes of England and Wales, and especially along the Thames valley corridor, and so an immediate effect on London’s economic and social life was that the trade routes into it, on which it so much depended, were constantly interrupted and often closed. Consequently, food shortages were common in Civil War London, its staple cloth trade was badly interrupted, and the coal trade, on which Londoners depended to keep warm, was constantly threatened as the parliamentary navy in the early years of the war blockaded Newcastle. In late 1644 only 3000 tons of coal left Newcastle as against a pre-war figure of 450,000 tons a year, a fuel crisis that is reflected in many contemporary pamphlets designed for a popular audience, like one entitled: Seacoale, char-coale and small-coale, or, a discourse between a New-Castle collier, a small-coale man and a collier of Croydon, concerning the prohibition of the trade with New-Castle (1643). Such pamphlets might have had a satirical edge, but coal shortages were a fact of life in Civil War London that had as disastrous an effect (actually probably more so) as modern oil price hikes and disruption of oil supply have on our economy today. London’s service economy too inevitably suffered as the business of the law courts was interrupted and, of course, because the royal court (that great employer of labour and services) absented itself from London. (11)
FUNDING THE WAR THROUGH TAXATION
London was the headquarters of the parliamentarians throughout the whole of the war as Charles I eventually decamped to set up his rival headquarters in Oxford, and this had major economic implications for the capital in addition to the loss of the royal court. Its parliamentary masters milked London’s wealth in the same ways as had medieval, Tudor and Stuart monarchs, drawing on London merchants for large loans to fund their war effort. But they did more, since one of the features of the Civil War (that incidentally became permanent) was the introduction of taxes that for the first time in English history tapped the true wealth of the country. London was especially hard hit by new direct taxes like the monthly assessment (a kind of income tax) and indirect taxes, like the new excise tax on consumer goods, and Londoners’ money poured into the parliamentarians’ war chest, giving the king’s opponents a crucial advantage that eventually helped them win the war. The impact on London was immense. It has been calculated that something like one quarter to one third of the total sums raised nationally by assessments came from London, for example. (12) Londoners resisted (there was, for example a major anti-excise riot in Smithfields in 1647) and complained, but they undoubtedly paid for the war out of their pockets.
They also paid for it by the loss of many of their men, since not only did the parliamentarians draw on London for money; they also drew on it for soldiers. The London trained bands fought not only to defend London but also on campaigns with other parliamentarian armies, in the West Country in 1643-44 for example. Some London soldiers were volunteers and fought with great enthusiasm (at least initially) but others were conscripted. The capital’s economy cannot but have suffered because of the leakage of many of its young men into the parliamentary armies.
POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS
In addition to the inevitable tensions in London that grew out of the economic and social impact of the war, the war also brought about (or more accurately exacerbated) major political and religious divisions there as well. What is not in doubt is that London was controlled by the parliamentarians throughout the war, but that statement obscures the fact that the city was riven by major political differences. Of course that is not the view that you get if you read royalist propaganda, like John Berkenhead’s depiction of London written in 1643:
If, therefore, posterity shall ask who broke downe the bounds to those streames of blood that have stained this earth; if they ask who made liberty captive, truth criminall, rapine just, tyranny and oppression lawful; who blanched rebellion with the specious pretence of the defence of lawes and liberties, warre with the desire of an established peace, sacriledge and prophanation with the show of zeale and reformation; lastly, if they aske who would have pulled the crown from the king’s head, taken the government off the hinges, dissolved monarchy, inslaved the laws, and ruined their countrey, – say ‘twas the proud, unthankefull, schismaticall, rebellious, bloody city of London. (13)
This is marvellous propaganda, portraying London (to use modern terminology) as the centre of an axis of evil, of a wicked and rebellious conspiracy against law and order. For Berkenhead, of course, the forces of law and order that were under threat were not western-style democracy but the Stuart monarchy, and the conspirators were not Al-Qaeda terrorists but parliamentarian puritans. But Londoners were perceived to be at the centre of the parliamentarian opposition to the king.
Now, like all good propaganda Berkenhead’s conspiracy theory has a solid core of truth in it. Many Londoners in the early 1640s were swept along by mistrust of Charles I, fuelled by another conspiracy theory, this one being that the king was, whether wittingly or unwittingly, the agent of a Catholic popish plot designed to destroy English parliaments and Protestantism and to introduce into Britain foreign Catholicism and absolutism. You underestimate at your peril the power of anti-Catholicism in seventeenth century England and Londoners were infected by it as extensively as were their countrymen outside the capital. Just look, for example, at the alacrity with which London apprentices and others took to the streets in 1640 and 1641 in hostile demonstrations demanding the heads of Charles I’s two ministers, Archbishop William Laud (who was slung in the Tower) and Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford (who was executed in May 1641). Both men had been implicated in the 1620s and 1630s in royal policies that some saw as part of a conspiracy to return England to Catholicism, as well as to introduce absolutism in the country as well. Or see the apparently spontaneous gathering of crowds in London in December 1641 in support of the parliamentarian leaders like John Pym and Lord Saye and Sele, baying for the blood of bishops who were also seen as agents of a popish conspiracy. And see the popular enthusiastic reception given by Londoners to the five members of the House of Commons whom Charles had unsuccessfully attempted to arrest on 4 January 1642. Moreover, just a few weeks before that in the elections for London’s Common Council, conservative aldermen were ejected and replaced by men like Isaac Pennington, John Venn and Samuel Vassel who were all parliamentarian-puritan allies of the parliamentarian opponents of the king. Pennington in the summer of 1642 replaced the royalist Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Gurney, who was imprisoned in the Tower. In short there is no room for doubt that some Londoners supported the parliamentary war effort with some enthusiasm.
DEFENSIVE FORTIFICATION OF LONDON
A case study which supports that contention is the remarkable communal effort that lay behind the building and financing in the early part of the war of an 11 miles long defensive fortification around London, that Lithgow described in 1643. (14) True, its building began in a period of panic when it seemed as though London would be invaded and occupied by Charles I’s royalist army that after the battle of Edgehill in October 1642 marched towards the capital. But even after this had been prevented by the London trained bands and parliamentarian armies at battles at Turnham Green and Brentford, the planned fortifications went ahead, a long line of ramparts and ditches with small forts from Wapping in the east, north via Whitechapel, west via Islington, south eastwards via Tottenham Court Road, and Piccadilly to Vauxhall, and then looping back to Wapping along the south bank of the Thames. No doubt some Londoners contributed their labour to this enterprise simply for money or maybe because of peer pressure, but there are indications of men and women working on the fortifications with some genuine zeal for the parliamentarian cause. So Berkenhead’s picture of a parliamentarian, anti-royalist rebellious city is not without some foundation.
ROYALISTS IN LONDON
But it is a picture that he and some historians have taken too far, depicting a city whose parliamentarianism was total and whose anti-royalism drove many of its inhabitants towards revolution and turning the world upside down. Given that it is now clear from studies of allegiances taken by people in the Civil War in other parts of the country and amongst all social groups that zealous pro-parliamentarianism co-existed side by side with pro-royalism and even passive and active neutralism, it would be surprising if the situation in London were to be any different, and it was not. (15) Inevitably given the fate of royalist ex-mayor Gurney, royalism in London is not easy to see. But it is significant that John Berkenhead was able to publish a very successful royalist weekly newspaper called Mercurius Aulicus in London as well as in Oxford in the early part of the war. Nevertheless, it is true that easier to see than proroyalists in London are Londoners who wanted to end the war and who turned out in street demonstrations in support of peace petitions, some of which were fronted by and put out in the name of (to quote from the title of a contemporary pamphlet) ‘many thousands of wives and matrons of the City of London … for the cessation and final conclusion of these civil wars, and for the restitution and revocation of their husbands'. Yet it may be that these peace petitions were only the tips of the iceberg of submerged royalism in Civil War London, which ran counter to the obvious parliamentarian zeal of others.
THE GROWTH OF ANTI-PARLIAMENTARIANISM
As the effects of the war and royalist propaganda about the imminent collapse of social order began to bite, this kind of opinion in London in favour of peace and a settlement with the king became more overt, as popular support grew for the peace negotiations that were held between royalist and parliamentarians at Oxford and Uxbridge in 1643 and 1645. Towards the end of the war royalism (or at least anti-parliamentarianism) became really obvious. The most spectacular example came after the war ended in July 1647 with a highly organised counter-revolution that drew on London crowds (now turning out for a personal treaty with the king) and that climaxed on 26 July 1647 with crowds invading the chamber of parliament trying to force through the passage of measures designed to neutralise the political power of the parliamentarian New Model Army. This was a popular London-based ‘counter-revolution’ that was squashed by the New Model Army’s occupation of London in August 1647. (16) London, like the nation, was divided by the English Civil War, which opened up huge wounds in London society, especially as by its end majority opinion swung in favour of a settlement with the king, a movement that was resisted by hard core parliamentarian-puritan support.
THE BATTLE FOR CONTROL OF THE CHURCH
And that’s a hint to move on to another related divisive impact of the war on London: that brought about by different religious views. The distinction between religion and politics that has been made so far obscures the fact that in early modern England the two were intertwined. In a very real sense the English Civil War was a war of religion between those fighting for control of the English Protestant national Church; two groups of Protestants, but each of which had very different visions of what that Church should be like, groups that had emerged long before 1642 and who showed in and after 1642 that they held these beliefs so passionately that were willing to fight their fellow countrymen for them.
The views of one of these groups, the Puritans, have been much misunderstood and there is not enough space here to clear up those misunderstandings, apart from making it clear that Puritans were driven by a powerful combination of negative anti- Catholicism and a positive yearning for moral reformation. Paul Seaver’s book on a London woodturner, Nehemiah Wallington, is a marvellous evocation of that worldview, which was one that was represented in Civil War London. (17) It is possible to see it also in the London Root and Branch petition in December 1640 demanding the abolition of bishops, reputedly signed by an estimated 15- 20,000 Londoners. It can be seen also in that ‘stronghold of Puritanism and revolution’, which is how Valerie Pearl described the religious congregation at St Stephens Coleman Street. (18) The ways in which Protestant unity splintered in Civil War London has been well studied, revealing the emergence of a bewildering variety of religious congregations: ‘gathered churches’, some separate from the parochial structure, some seeing a place for diversity but within a loose national ecclesiastical structure, a milieu out of which separate denominations (Baptists, Independents etc) were eventually to emerge; and a milieu in which, incidentally, the most well-known radical group of the period emerged as well. These are the Levellers, a small group of pamphleteers, John Lilburne, Richard Overton, John Wildman and others, whose experience of these independent, self-governing religious congregations may well have been the inspiration for their calls for a democratic, decentralised polity that they made in pamphlets from 1646 onwards, and that were discussed at Putney at the Council meetings of the New Model Army in October-November 1647.
But that’s pushing the boundaries of this article too far beyond the end of the Civil War. The point that now needs to be made is that militant Puritanism was not the only (or even the most popular) strand of religious opinion in Civil War London. Against the world of gathered churches, sectarianism, Independency and Levellerism, you need to set a continued attachment by some Londoners to an episcopalian Church (even though they were banned, John Evelyn attended Anglican services in London as late as 1657) and especially an attachment to a Presbyterian, non episcopalian but nevertheless strictly state controlled, national Church. This was a Church that gained much support in Civil War London by those frightened by what seemed to them to be the alarming growth of religious sects. By far and away the best reflection of that fear is Thomas Edward’s multivolume Gangreana, completed in 1646, cataloguing the alleged excesses of the sects. There you can see a religious mindset that challenged head-on religious Independency, that fuelled the pro-religious uniformity petitions that emerged in London towards the end of the war, that was behind the overthrow of Pennington and others in the Common Council London elections of late 1646, that was seen in the refusal of some London shopkeepers to keep their shops open on Christmas day, the celebration of which had been outlawed by parliament, and that was behind London’s ‘counter-revolution’ of July 1647. The point quite simply is that religious differences were another powerful ingredient in the cocktail of ideological tensions that escalated in Civil War London.
THE EFFECT ON CULTURE AND IDEAS
And so to the last of the areas of London life in which the Civil War seemed to act as the catalyst for volatility and instability: the wider sphere of culture and ideas. Here the Civil War is often credited with having had a gloomy, dampening effect as the ruling Puritans in both country and capital tried to impose cultural philistinism. It is true this is an idea that is not without some foundation. The performance of stage plays was abolished in 1642 by parliamentary ordinance, for example. (19) But what needs emphasising is that the Puritan mind was very selective in its attacks on cultural activities, which were largely confined to the theatre and to church music. Secular music, secular visual arts, and so on, were not outlawed; far from it. Puritans were not the killjoys of legend; Nehemiah Wallington’s family, for example, set off on Easter Monday in 1643 in the depths of wartime London to walk in the fresh air in Peckham. Puritan Civil War London was not without music, art and fun.
But the main point that needs to be made about the impact of the Civil War on the cultural life of London is not a correction of the distorted image of a culturally-philistine puritan dominated London, but a stress on the diversity of intellectual life in the capital during the war that is reflected in the products of the printing press. You can see something of this in the splendid collection of printed material made in the 1640s by the London bookseller, George Thomason, that is (miraculously) still intact in the British Library. As the 1640s went on, the presses poured out more and more books and pamphlets. The size of Thomason’s collection went up year by year: only 24 items in 1640, 721 in 1641, 2134 in 1642 and so on. And what is significant is not just the size of the output of the press but also its range (newspapers, short pamphlets, doorstopper-sized books, ballads) and spectrum of topics (from religion and politics to gardening). Dagmar Freist and others have described the context of all this, the collapse of effective censorship and the proliferation of booksellers, printers and publishers, and the development of an informed public with an insatiable appetite for news and information. (20)
ALL THIS BUT NO THREAT TO STABILITY
In all these ways the Civil War contributed to the development of what the German sociologist, Jurgen Habermas, called ‘the public sphere’ and which is better called the development of informed public opinion, which, it may well be thought, would have magnified the stresses, strains and divisions opened up by the Civil War and so cause them to get out of control. But that is not what happened. Significantly, the French ambassador said that if there had been similar outbreaks of popular demonstrations in mid-seventeenth century Paris as occurred in London at that time, there would have been blood on the streets. Interestingly, though London crowd demonstrations in the 1640s were tinged by violence, they were more akin to the violence of the recent crowd that got out of control as the Olympic torch passed through London on its round-the world journey to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games than to the full-bloodied (literally) crowds in revolutionary France in 1789 and Russia in 1917. The war brought economic pressures, political and religious differences and public debates but they never in reality threatened the stability of London.
So why was this? There is space for only four possible reasons. The first is that the account of the economic effects of the war given above is slightly one-sided. For some Londoners the war brought economic benefits. Some of the taxes paid by Londoners were spent in London on clothing and equipment for the armies. Military contractors made money and the orders they made boosted some parts of London’s manufacturing economy.
Second, and much more important in explaining why divisions over religious and political issues did not spill over into rebellion and attacks on the social order, is the fact that such divisions cut across ‘class’ lines. Indeed, although there was (as has been seen) a great disparity in the distribution of wealth in early modern London between ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’, there was also a massive group who it is best to call (as they did at the time) ‘the middling sort’, tradesmen, merchants, craftsmen and their apprentices. It is significant that analyses of different religious and political groups in Civil War London show no significant difference in their social composition; most notably they all show large contingents of the middling sort. People from the same social groups are to be found on all sides. They are to be found amongst the Levellers and the radical gathered churches, but also amongst the readers of Thomas Edwards’s Gangraena and the militant conservative crowd who invaded the chamber of parliament in July 1647. The point quite simply is that what was lacking in Civil War London was the ingredient of class division or class hostility that might have made, for example, excise riots the breeding ground for revolutionary protest and demands.
The third reason is that put forward by Valerie Pearl in her seminal article on seventeenth century London, which shows just how many people in early modern London had a stake in the existing social and political order. (21) As later historians have found was the case in early modern England generally, (22) in London office holding was very widely spread. In the small ward of Cornhill in the 1640s, for example, 118 people each year were elected to a public office out of total of 267 households and a total population of 1800, which is a high ratio of office holding, amounting to one in every three households and one in every sixteen people. It is true that, as Pearl’s critics have pointed out, the same was probably not true in the suburban parishes, but a book like Jeremy Boulton’s on Southwark shows that these areas were not without effective government and poor relief measures. (23)
And, finally, what also explains the continuing stability of Civil War London is the fact that many of the features of life in Civil War London that have been emphasised above (economic depression, popular demonstrations and riots, and public debates about religion and politics) were not novel experiences in the early modern period. They were things that early modern men and women were quite familiar with. Economic depressions were commonly cyclical and people were used to coping with them. Nor were seventeenth century people unfamiliar with religious and political debate. Recent historians are revealing a country (and especially a London) in the early seventeenth century in which discussions about religions and politics were not confined to a learned elite, but were taken part in by people from all parts of society well before the Civil War began. (24)
So it may well be that for these reasons, significant as was the Civil War in shaping and changing the lives of Londoners, it did not fundamentally alter pre-war patterns of life; it did not mark a transition towards instability, towards a world turned upside down.
- This is a revised version of my presidential lecture given at the HA’s Annual Conference at the Museum of Childhood on 12 April 2008. A shorter version was given to the Friends of Senate House Library on 7 March 2005.
- ‘William Lithgow’ by Martin Garrett, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8.
- William Lithgow, The Present Surveigh of London and Englands State (1643).
- See the essays in A.L. Beier and R. Finlay, eds., The Making of the Metropolis: London 1500- 1700 (1986) and E.A. Wrigley, ‘A simple model of London’s importance in changing England’s society and economy, 1650-1750’, Past and Present, no. 37 (1967). The most authoritative article on London’s population is V. Harding, ‘The population of London 1550-1700: a review of the published evidence’, London Journal, 15 (1990).
- James’s speech in Star Chamber, 1616, in C.H. McIlwain, ed., The Political Works of James I (Cambridge Mass, 1918), pp. 338-45.
- The most accessible of these is C. Carlton, Going to the Wars: the Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638-51 (1992).
- The most recent book on this aspect is B. Coates, The Impact of the Civil War on the Economy of London, 1642-50 (2004). See also S. Porter, ‘The economic and social impact of the Civil War upon London, in S. Porter, ed., London and the Civil War (1996).
- S. Porter, ‘Introduction’ in Porter, London and the Civil War, p. 10.
- John Berkenhead, A Letter from Mercurius Civicus to Mercurius Rusticus (Oxford, 1643), quoted in Ian Roy, ‘”This proud, unthankefull city”: a Cavalier view of London in the Civil War’ in Porter, London and the Civil War.
- The best modern account is V. Smith and P.Kelsey, ‘The lines of communication: the Civil War defences of London’ in Porter, London and the Civil War.
- K. Lindley, Popular Politics and Religion in Civil War London (1997).
- V. Pearl, ‘London’s counter revolution’ in G.E. Aylmer, ed., The Interregnum: The Quest for Settlement, 1646-60 (1973).
- P. Seaver, Wallington’s World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London (1985).
- V. Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution (1961), p. 183.
- C.H. Firth and R.S. Rait, eds., Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum (1911), vol. I, p. 26.
- D. Freist, Governed by Opinion: Politics, Religion and the Dynamics of Communication in Stuart London, 1637-45 (1993).
- V. Pearl, ‘Change and stability’, London Journal, vol. 5, 1979, reprinted in J. Barry, ed., The Tudor and Stuart Town (1990).
- See, e.g., M. Goldie, ‘The unacknowledged republic: office holding in early modern England’ in T. Harris, ed., The Politics of the Excluded, c.1500-1850 (2001)
- J. Boulton, Neighbourhood and Society: Southwark, a London Suburban Parish in the Seventeenth Century (1985).
- P. Lake, The Boxmaker’s Revenge: “Orthodoxy”, “Heterodoxy” and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London (2001); D. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil War England (Stanford, 2004).
The late Barry Coward was Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was president of the Cromwell Association and a past president of the History Association. His publications include The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 (3rd ed., Harlow, 2003), Oliver Cromwell (Harlow, 1991) and The Cromwellian Protectorate (Manchester, 2002). Feature