On 3 and 4 January 1642, King Charles staged his abortive attempt to arrest five radical leaders of the House of Commons for treason. But he found ‘the birds … flown’ from Westminster to safety in the city of London, which erupted in armed demonstrations, and the king swiftly abandoned his capital. On 10 January, members of the Commons were returned triumphantly, escorted by a guard of the London militia who bore, on their ensigns and pikes or in their hats, copies of the Protestation. Next day, 3,000 men rode in from Buckinghamshire in support of their MP, John Hamden, ‘every man with his protestation in his hand’. On 20 January, Speaker Lenthall sent out letters to the local authorities ordering them to ensure that the Protestation had been taken in their localities, and to return the names of those who had taken it, and those who had refused. Those local returns, now in the Parliamentary Archive ‘in their thousands’ (p. 153), are at the heart of John Walter’s book. The task of processing these records is an enormous one, but Walter’s research programme has not stopped there—not least because it is clear that the lists, voluminous though they are, are incomplete and, more interestingly, that many communities had taken the Protestation long before the formal requirement in Lenthall’s letter. Accordingly, he has tracked down references in an impressive array of ancillary sources, ranging from godly sermons to Sir Nicholas Le Strange’s joke-book. The major groups of records which he has employed are, first, those denunciations of parish ministers to the local committees of scandalous ministers from 1642–7, and, second, a dense and scattered array of parish records in county and urban archives. He finds that copies of the Protestation were sometimes entered in parish registers. Accounts of churchwardens and constables might include payments for travel to county or divisional meetings prior to the local action, for copies of the Protestation, for parchment on which to write the lists of subscribers and for scribes to write them, for frames (gilded at St Petrock, Exeter) in which copies of the Protestation were to be displayed. Walter’s ‘painstaking tesselation’ (p. 120) in a raft of archives enables him to pick out communities where the Protestation was regarded as a totemic document, involving a deep commitment to a national cause. Parishes where it was taken before national subscription in early 1642; where the minister characterised himself as pastor; where the Protestation was described as a covenant or an oath; where the parish subscribed on a fast day or on 5 November: these are likely ‘political and religious hotspots’. In such places, taking the Protestation might be seen to encourage a popular perception of an active citizenship, whose proponents criticised the celebration of Christmas, and engaged in iconoclasm, or in attacks on the Book of Common Prayer and on ministers who used it. Ultimately it might become ‘a charter to justify armed resistance’ (p. 21). Walter’s discussion of local responses to the Protestation is hugely impressive. His account of the Parliamentary discussions that led to the initial framing of the document displays a less sure hand. This is largely because Walter wishes to emphasise the radicalism of the document: it was an oath, he insists; it initially involved a ‘conditional … promise to protect the king’. His pursuit of both these ideas is not easy to follow. His proof, against David Cressy’s counter argument (p.1, n.1), that the Protestation was an oath, relies on the language of a draft act of mid-July that was rejected by the Lords and never resurrected by the Commons. Some tortuous language survives in one early version of the Protestation, and, like the Scottish Covenant of 1638, might suggest that allegiance to the king was conditional upon his defence of the church. But the convoluted wording was silently dropped from discussion on 3 May and clearly was not in the document affirmed by those in the Commons that day, and which they sent on to the House of Lords. Professor Walter makes a stronger case when he emphasises the malleability of the ultimately commonplace language in which the agreed version was phrased. Laud’s close and much-loathed associate, Bishop Wren, accepted the Propositions on 4 May: next month the radical sectarian minister, Henry Burton, argued that the language of the Propositions obliged its signatories to abandon every aspect of a national church and form Independent congregations. Between these extremes there were many way-stations; those who, encouraged by sympathetic ministers or reading pamphlets and newsbooks or tavern discussions, saw their affirmation of the document as an oath, certainly might think their subscription as obliging the kind of active citizenship upon which Walter focuses. But the book is not as impressive as it might be. The text is marred by a series of trivial factual errors, of a ‘there is no Earl of Hastings (pp. 70, 223), John, not Sir John, Coke (p. 51)’, kind. Spelling is inconsistent, as is punctuation: OUP’s obsession with the ‘serial comma’ creates two distinct peers out of William Fiennes, lord Saye and Sele (p. 56). Deficiencies in the scholarly apparatus of the book are more troubling. There is no bibliography, despite the huge array of contemporary sources that Walter has employed, and the list of abbreviations does not include many of the archives that are cited in the footnotes. Worst, given Walter’s rich analysis of local case-studies, is the inadequacy of the index. Some personal names are indexed, but why these are selected as against the many omitted is not made clear (four of the ‘five members’ are listed, but not Hesilrige). The lists of page references in the index are not exhaustive: references in the text to Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon are missed on at least two occasions; the same is true of John Lilburne. Most troubling is the handling of place-names. A reader intrigued by Walter’s challenging comment on ‘the identification of political and religious hotspots’ might anticipate assistance here, but there is none: no individual parish references are provided, just references to the counties in which they lie—at least when Walter provides a county for a parish. Watford, Cornelius Burgess’s parish, is an undoubted hotspot of godly commitment; the parishioners were ready, they said, ‘to part with all they have … in pursuit of their said “Protestation”‘. The reader will find Watford indexed under Hertfordshire at page 135, but not at page 241, where Hertfordshire is not mentioned. And at this point the index also omits the name of Cornelius Burgess. The research that is embodied in this book is impressive. Its conceptualisation stems from, and advances, a profound understanding of popular politics. It is a pity, then, that more attention was not given to the production of the work by OUP and its author. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 6, 2018
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