1. General Introduction
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1. General Introduction

August 26, 2019

Prof: Right.
So this is History 251,
and this morning I want simply to introduce the class and to
explain what it might offer to you.
First of all,
it’s obviously an outline course.
It deals with a large period of
history, 200-250 years, covering what I describe in the
title as ‘Early Modern England’. Well, that’s a label that may
or may not mean very much to you.
I could have called the course
‘Tudor and Stuart England’ and indeed that term is used in the
subtitle. It is about England in the
reigns of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs running roughly from
the 1480s to the 1710s. But to call it that might
suggest that the course is structured around the rulers and
that like so much history the focus is very much on the top.
Well, in part it certainly is.
In introducing the political
narrative, which will form part of the
core of the course, I’ll certainly be looking at
the lives and the times of the great figures who gave their
names to the age, the faces on the coins you
might say. The notorious Henry VIII and
his six unfortunate wives who are always difficult to remember
in the right order– and Lucy, you have a helpful
phrase for this, yeah?
Student: Divorced,
beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded,
survived. Prof: Okay.
Divorced, beheaded,
died, divorced, beheaded, survived–the lucky
one. Henry VIII.
The stunning and rather
perplexing Queen Elizabeth I–Gloriana, Good Queen Bess,
the Virgin Queen. Whether you imagine her as Cate
Blanchett or as Judi Dench>
she still has the glamour,
a woman who announced to her people early in her reign that
she would “not make windows into men’s souls.”
She would “not make
windows into men’s souls.” And she’s continued to resist
the efforts of most historians to try to make windows into
hers. And then there’s the four
Stuart kings. James I described at the time
as “the Wisest Fool in Christendom,”
a man who after an adventurous youth as King of Scotland became
King of England and it was said treated every day thereafter as
if it were Christmas day. Charles I, his son,
whose policies precipitated Civil War in the mid-seventeenth
century and who was eventually put on trial and executed by his
own people in 1649. His son, Charles II,
restored to the throne after ten years of republican
government, Charles known as the Merry
Monarch, the man who was energetic
principally in his pleasures, famous for having innumerable
mistresses and fourteen illegitimate children,
never–though no legitimate children at all–
never happier than when swanning around St.
James Park with one of his
mistresses and his spaniels. The–you know the King Charles
spaniel–a nice, little black and white spaniel?
Yeah, named after him of course.
And the King looked rather like
a King Charles spaniel>
, you know when he had his wig
on–the nice, curly ears as it were and he
had nice brown eyes too.>
And then his brother,
James II, former Duke of York, came to the throne and after
three years was driven from it in the second English revolution
of the seventeenth century, driven in to exile,
later known as the King Over the Water by those who remained
loyal to him. Well, it’s been said that two
of the Stuart kings were politically astute but morally
defective and two were virtuous men whose political ineptitude
cost them the throne. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde,
we could say of this remarkable dynasty that to lose the throne
once could be considered a misfortune but to lose it twice
suggests a certain amount of political ineptitude.
Well, you will hear and read
about all of these people and the many others who shaped
England’s public destiny and political destiny in this
period, and others too–and today is
September 3rd, which reminds me of Oliver
Cromwell. He was born and died on
September 3rd and also fought his two greatest battles on
September 3rd, which is probably no
coincidence. It was his lucky day.
The great puritan general,
the Lord Protector of the English republic between 1653
and 1658, a man described as a man of
‘agonies and exultations,’ a quite extraordinary figure.
An idealist in some ways,
ahead of his time on religious toleration for example,
in other ways tainted by the bigotry of his age,
and historically perhaps more loved and more hated than almost
any other figure in British history.
So there are the great ones,
but there’s also much more to it than can be approached by
focusing on such figures alone. And if about a third of the
lecture course is devoted to the political narratives and the–
and understanding how they unfolded–
the rest is devoted to other aspects of the period,
to its religious history, to its social history,
aspects of its economy, aspects of the culture of the
time. These are matters which might
sometimes have been vitally influenced by the decisions of
rulers, but they also developed in
their own independent ways and they obviously involved a far
larger cast of characters. So this course is very much
about the common people too and their experience of the age as
well as about those who ruled them.
So like one of the great
Hollywood epics we have a cast of millions.
That’s why I’m using the more
capacious, if vaguer, label “Early
Modern England,” by which I mean simply the
broad period between the end of the fifteenth and the middle of
the eighteenth century which saw the laying down of what were to
become the essential characteristics of modern
Britain in government, in religion,
in economy, in social structure,
in culture, in political values. So I’m inviting you,
then, to take a journey of the imagination through two and a
half centuries. But you might say that was an
awfully long time ago. This is the kind of history
that’s long dead, that’s drowned in time.
Why should you concern
yourselves with the distant past, so remote from your own
contemporary experience? Why bother with England or
Britain? Why does it matter?
Well, I’d say there are at
least three good reasons for exploring deep history and in a
way that takes us way beyond the immediacy of a more familiar
historical world. First of all,
because to do so is imaginatively enriching–it
involves rediscovering a lost world and that takes
imagination. Secondly, because it’s also
intellectually demanding. All history,
of course, involves us in a fairly rigorous intellectual
discipline. We have to develop arguments
about causation, about why things happened the
way they did, and we do that by establishing
a dialog between the questions that we want to ask and the
evidence which the past has left to us.
Well, my point is simply that
that can be a peculiarly enthralling exercise for periods
of the distant past for which the evidence is often ambiguous
or difficult or partial, in which it’s produced by
unfamiliar institutions, in which people are thinking
with unfamiliar casts of mind, and we have to try to think
ourselves into those minds to understand what was happening in
their own terms, informing our causal arguments.
That can stretch you
imaginatively and intellectually.
And thirdly,
and perhaps most importantly, because it creates meaning.
It helps us to understand
ourselves in time in a deeper way by exposing twenty-first
century attitudes and values and experiences to a much deeper
comparative context. Looking at the distant past can
alert us to the sheer otherness of the past,
to the reality of deep and fundamental change in the course
of four or five centuries and to the provisional and contingent
and temporary nature of so much that we take for granted today,
as well as the family resemblances which can still be
found. That’s an exercise which can be
enormously provocative and stimulating, a challenge that
helps us understand better our own place in time.
Well, the story of early modern
England has got a good deal to offer in all of these respects.
It can certainly capture the
imagination. This was a time of great
events: the Reformation, the civil wars of the
seventeenth century, the foundations of the first
British empire. It was a time of great
personalities: the rulers that I’ve already
mentioned, but also it was the age of
Shakespeare, of Milton, the time of the
diarist Samuel Pepys, the proto-democrat John
Lilburne, the early feminist writer Mary Astell,
and so one could go on. It was a time of great
processes as well as events: longer-term processes,
great changes in the structures of society,
in economic development, in political culture,
in the growth of literacy and print culture.
And it’s also the period when,
almost for the first time in British history,
we have the evidence surviving that enables us to get to grips
with the mass of the population and to explore the everyday
dynamics of their lives, their relationships,
their emotional palettes you might say.
It’s only from about the early
sixteenth century that the sources survive in large
quantities that enable imaginative historians to
approach questions like how long do people live?
How subject were they to early
death from diseases like the plague?
What age did they get married?
Who chose their marriage
partners? What was the quality of their
family relationships? How many people could read and
what did they read if they could read?
How did people make their
livings and how did the economy change?
What were the levels of crime
and violence and how well were they controlled?–
and a host of other questions which are not previously
accessible because we don’t have adequate sources.
So one can begin to get a sense
of the rest of the population, and to give you just one
particular example, around about 1900 a box of
papers were found in the cellars of Worcester College,
Oxford, and they turned out to be the papers of the secretary
of the council of Oliver Cromwell’s army,
and they included a verbatim shorthand account of debates
which had taken place in 1647 at the end of the Civil War when
the council of the army debated the settlement of the kingdom in
the aftermath of the war. One of the extraordinary things
about this verbatim account is that you hear the voices of the
common soldiers. One of them who is representing
a cavalry regiment keeps interrupting the debate.
He keeps saying,
“What has the soldier fought for all this time?”
He uses the phrase again and
again: “What has the soldier fought for?”
And it’s thrilling because you
hear for the first time the voice of the common people
erupting into the councils of the nation.
Well, that symbolizes in a
sense what the available documents enable people to do
from the sixteenth century onwards.
Secondly, looking at early
modern England can engage the intellect.
The historical literature is
exceptionally rich. It’s very large,
created by generations of historians from all over the
English-speaking world, and quite a few of them or
significant of them were Yale scholars.
This literature has produced
many of the classic works of historical writing in the
English language and it’s also proved to be restless and
innovative and rather argumentative.
All of the recent movements in
historical research and writing are represented amongst its
practitioners; mainstream political and
constitutional history, gender history,
the ‘new social history,’ the ‘new cultural history’
influenced by critical theory, what people now describe as the
‘new political history’ which tries to reintegrate social and
political development. All of this is represented and
much more. Since the 1960s in particular
it’s been one of the most vigorous of historical
traditions. There’s plenty there to engage
the intellect, whatever it is that you happen
to be most interested in. And thirdly,
it helps to understand ourselves in time.
Of course, all periods of
history do that, but the events of the early
modern period have a peculiar resonance.
The events and processes of
these centuries are of more than merely historical interest.
If you’re concerned with the
institutions of representative government and how they came
into being for the first time; if you’re concerned with the
notion of the rule of law; if you’re concerned with the
structures and dynamics of a capitalist market economy;
if you’re interested in concepts of individual liberty
and collective responsibility, or with the excesses of
religious fanaticism, or with innumerable social and
cultural attitudes which continue to echo in our own
relationships and in our own time,
if we only know how to recognize them,
and if you’re concerned with the language itself,
then early modern England has got a great deal to say to you.
It’s because these issues are
so alive in the literature of the period that the literature
is so rich, and it’s for that reason also
that it’s very much an international literature.
These issues concern scholars
from all over the world and there’s a further dimension to
that too, which is that a great deal of
what happened in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England
later impacted upon a much wider world.
The history of early modern
England is, by extension,
very much a part not only of British history but also of
American and Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand
history. It’s got things to say about
the history of India and of Africa.
Some of the things that
happened in this period left their fingerprints all over the
world in all kinds of ways. They–it certainly left its
fingerprints on New Haven to come close to home.
If you look around the town and
you look at the churches: Episcopal,
Presbyterian, Congregational,
Baptists, Quakers, all of these religious
traditions have their origins in sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century England. Or if you look at the street
names. Running out of Broadway we have
Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell streets,
all three of them named after three of the men who signed the
death warrant of King Charles I in 1649 and later hid out in New
Haven, which was a radically puritan
colony which gave them asylum after the return of the king.
Our suburb of Hamden is named
after John Hampden who, in 1637, stood up against the
policies of King Charles I and tried to fight him in a landmark
legal case. And if you start turning to
other place names in Connecticut it just gets ridiculous.
We have New London,
okay, as old London. We have Norwich,
or ‘Norrich’ as it’s pronounced in England, it’s up there.
New Haven itself is down here.
We have Litchfield,
that’s over there. And we have Durham–is up there.
And we have Stamford,
which is there, yeah.
We have Greenwich,
which is over here. Same place names,
they’re just in a different configuration and,
in a sense, that’s symbolic of the relationship between British
and early modern– early American history:
same names, different configuration,
slightly different meanings. So in a sense a good deal of
this is American history by extension and of consequence to
everyone who’s become involved in America’s story over the last
two and half centuries. To explore it is to explore
part of your own identity. Right.
Well, this course is intended
to provide an introduction to all of this.
It’s up to date.
It’s also intended to be very
inclusive in its range and contents.
We’ll run through from the late
fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century.
We’ll look at the momentous
changes and innovations which took place.
In 1500, England was very much
a personal monarchy. The king really ruled.
By 1700, it’s a constitutional
monarchy in which the center of political life was a permanently
sitting elected parliament and it’s become not simply the
Kingdom of England but the United Kingdom of England,
Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In 1500, England was part of
Catholic Christendom, practicing a very lively and
vital form of late medieval Catholicism.
By 1700, the country was
aggressively Protestant with an established Church of England
which could no longer contain all the varieties of Protestant
denominations which had emerged, leading to the granting finally
of religious toleration in the late seventeenth century.
In 1500, it was largely a
localized economy of peasant families and urban craftsmen.
By 1700, it was a highly
commercialized market economy, capitalistic in structure and
engaged in trade with a much larger world,
especially with the East and with the Atlantic.
In 1500, it’s a world of rural
communities and small towns with only one significant city,
London. By 1700, it was the most
rapidly urbanizing country in Europe, London had become the
biggest city in Europe and a kind of prototype metropolis.
In 1700, London was regarded as
a kind of a shock city the way people thought about New York in
the mid-twentieth century. In 1500, most people were
illiterate. By 1700, literacy was
widespread. There was a vigorous print
culture including the first English language newspapers.
And so one could go on and on,
pointing the contrast between the beginning and the end of the
period. The story of these and other
massive transformations used to be told as a kind of a
triumphalist story, an unfolding of British
destiny, what people refer to as ‘the Whig interpretation of
history’, a very nationalistic take on
the history of this period. It traced the growth from the
sixteenth century of political liberty,
religious freedom, economic opulence,
and world power as a kind of steady upward ascent.
Sometimes it had to be hard
fought against the forces of tyranny or superstition or
backwardness, but in a sense it was portrayed
as being almost preordained, a kind of English version of
manifest destiny. Well, since the 1950s,
the perspective has changed massively.
Britain’s place in the world
has changed. People think about its history
differently. New forms of history have been
pioneered. Other voices are now heard,
especially the voices of the losers in these processes,
all the people who only had a subordinate place in these
achievements. As a result,
we’ve now got a less one-sided and, in many ways,
a more mature historiography. We’ve got over the old tendency
to strut and swagger about Britain’s historical role.
The changes of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries now seem very far from preordained
and, as I say, the less one-sided
perspective reveals the losses as well as the gains,
the failures and the crimes as well as the achievements.
The point is it’s all part of
the story and it’s all available to be studied.
Well, let’s look briefly at the
syllabus. It’s roughly chronological.
There’s a timeline running
through the whole thing, but as it develops there are
overlaps. I planned it as a kind of
building up of layers of knowledge, each one acting as a
kind of stepping stone to the next.
In the earliest lectures,
lectures two to six, I’ll concentrate on trying to
establish some of the contexts of society,
economy and government as they were in the early sixteenth
century. I’ll be looking at the
household, at local communities, at people’s social and economic
roles and relationships, at the structures of power and
authority as they were at the time of kings Henry VII and
Henry VIII, roughly between the 1480s and
the 1540s. That’s to establish the context
because, as has been said, the discipline of history is
essentially a discipline of context.
Facts acquire their meaning
only when one understands the context which helps us to grasp
their meaning. So we’ll set up the context.
Then from lecture seven we move
into the tracing of change. Lectures seven and eight will
look at the impact of the Reformation and the opening up
of religious divisions between the 1530s and the 1550s.
In lecture nine,
we’ll pause to look at some of the problems which were produced
by the massive population growth which began in the sixteenth
century and the economic stirring which that produced.
In lectures ten and eleven,
I’ll look at the England of Elizabeth I,
focusing on the problems in religion and in government
policy faced by the Queen, the struggle for stability in
the immensely insecure environment which she inherited,
and then in lectures twelve and thirteen I’ll go on to look at
some of the principal features of social change under Elizabeth
and the early Stuarts, looking at roughly the 1580s
through to the 1630s, a period of major transition in
society and economy. Lectures fourteen through
seventeen will look at various aspects of social and cultural
change in the same period, the late Elizabethan,
early Stuart period. I’ll look at the witch craze of
that time. I’ll look at crime and
disorder, at popular protest and rebellion and at literacy and
education. Then lectures eighteen to
nineteen, we’ll come to the religious and
political tensions of the early seventeenth century which
eventually exploded in 1642 into the civil wars–
which I’ll look at in lectures twenty and twenty-one–
and the establishment after the execution of King Charles the
First of the English Republic which lasted until 1660.
Lecture twenty-two will look at
the restored monarchy after 1660, tracing it up to the
revolution of 1688. Lecture twenty-three will look
at the rapid economic development of the late
seventeenth century which provided the resources to back
the matter I’ll treat in lecture twenty-four,
which was the creation of a new state structure and the
emergence of Britain as a significant world power.
So that’s the rough timeline.
Those are the issues which will
be covered. Obviously, the course has an
essentially narrative structure but it’s also very much an
analytical narrative. It’s about trying to understand
how all of these changes intersected with each other,
how they influenced each other over time.
And I suppose that’s what
really interests me, trying to grasp the wholeness
of the process of historical change,
how it all fits together, and that’s the best reason for
doing an outline course of this kind.
It enables you to see these
developments in the round; all the different aspects;
how they intersect. Now the readings which are
suggested on the syllabus will help you hopefully to do all of
that. They’ve been chosen quite
carefully. The three textbooks are
available from the Yale bookstore.
The course packet of additional
selections from various books and articles is available from
Docuprint down on Whitney, the address is given on the
syllabus and the phone number, and all of these works are also
on reserve in the library, in Sterling.
The reading runs at about 100
to 150 pages a week. Now some of the readings you’ll
find are quite demanding, but I make no apologies for
that. You can say it’s a mark of
respect for the capabilities of the students that I’m setting
some pretty challenging stuff at times.
But if you follow the readings
as we go through you should build up a coherent grasp of the
whole period in its different aspects and be introduced to the
work of some of the best historians currently writing
about it. In a sense it’s a course in
good, lucid, robust historical prose.
The readings and the lectures
together will provide the basis for the section discussions
which will tend to develop and add to the lecture themes rather
than simply repeating to them– repeating them–and two of the
sections will be visits to the British Art Center to look at
some of the visual evidence there.
Those visits have to be on a
Friday morning and they are optional;
they’re not part of the examinable nature of the course
but they’re there if you’re interested and would like to go
along. Okay.
Within the sense of the whole
period, which I hope you’ll develop,
you’ll be asked to do two pieces of more detailed work,
a shorter paper of about five pages and a longer one of about
ten pages, the first due in week seven,
the second due in week fourteen.
This should give you an
opportunity to develop personal interests.
You can have a completely free
choice of topic. You can write your papers about
any aspect of the period that you find interesting and you
want to pursue more deeply. I’ll give out,
in a couple of weeks’ time, a list of topics that might
interest you, but feel free to bring forward
suggestions of your own that you’d like to investigate,
or things you might pick up from lectures that you want to
take further and so forth. I’ll also issue a longer
bibliography which will help to prepare for those papers and
which will also include material.
If you’d like to look at the
history of Scotland or Ireland or Wales, then there’ll be
material there on their developments also.
All you need to do about the
papers is to consult with me or with the teaching fellows to get
advice on the best reading for researching the papers and
subject to that you have a free hand,
whether that’s some of the classical issues of the period
or whether it’s other things that you simply have to–
happen to have an interest in. Last year someone was
interested in public health and ended up doing work on the
plague and early public health measures, for example.
We had a person also who was
interested in pregnancy and childbirth.
Well, you can do that.
There’s a literature on it and
so forth, whatever it happens to be.
The overall assessment will be
15% for participation and discussion,
20% for the short paper, 40% for the long paper,
and 25% for the final exam, which will be an exam in which
you’ll be required to write two essays from quite a large choice
of about twenty topics covering the whole range.
Finally, let me introduce the
teaching fellows. We have Courtney Thomas and
Lucy Kaufman and Justin DuRivage.
All of us will be available to
assist you in section discussions of course.
We’ve scheduled seven sections
with quite a wide spread of times which hopefully will cater
for everyone who’s interested, and we will be available,
of course, in office hours.
The teaching fellows will
explain their office hours when sections begin in third week.
I’ll be available usually on
Tuesdays between five and seven and on Thursdays between two and
four – p.m. in both cases.
Right, other times by
appointment and of course we’re all available by e-mail when
necessary. Throughout, the basic teaching
philosophy for this course is quite simple.
First of all,
history should be challenging but it can also be fun and,
secondly, if students are going to do well they deserve
attention; so if you want it you can have
it. Okay.
So this is a terrific period to
study. It has a terrific literature to
work on. Yale has a long and
distinguished tradition in this field and fabulous resources for
studying it in the libraries, in the British Art Center,
in the special collections. My objective is simply to
encourage you to engage with this field and to use these
resources and to do well, to achieve your potential and
to enjoy it. I’ve been teaching and
researching and writing about this period for about forty
years. Courtney and Lucy and Justin
have been at it less long but they know their stuff.
We have three teaching fellows
who really know their stuff. They have their own special
interests but they’re very familiar with the whole picture.
We are in a position to guide
you and help you get the most out of this course,
and no doubt in engaging in discussion with you and in
discussing your paper topics and so forth we will also learn from
you. People new to the subject
always see things that one’s missed no matter how long one’s
been working on it. So we’ll be happy to do all of
that. So if the course attracts you,
take it and use it and use us to develop your knowledge and
your skills. That’s what we’re here for,
and if anyone wants to ask any particular questions just come
on up at the end. Okay?

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