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J. P. Kenyon (1927–1996)

Forfatter af The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History

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First published in 1978, J.P. Kenyon's book begins with a review of the traditional (and now generally dismissed) interpretations of the period, first the Whig interpretation (the story of Parliament’s expansion and securing of political liberty; history as progress) and the Marxist analysis (another teleological analysis culminating in the bourgeois revolution in England). Kenyon then discusses revisionists who rejected broad generalizations but with the result that we find ourselves in a fog, especially for the first half of the 17th century. A reaction set in against revisionism, and Kenyon himself is in a post-revisionist mode, focusing on the concept of a general crisis that was dramatically influenced by events abroad. Despite a general attitude of support for the monarchy, the errors and missteps of Charles I (including the effort to impose the English Prayer Book on the Scottish Church) created the conditions both for the English Civil War and his execution. Given general European developments, Kenyon suggests that the real question is why the monarchy did not succeed in strengthening itself over this period. Charles II had the opportunity for a new start with the Restoration but squandered it in his pursuit of pleasure and general neglect of governmental affairs until near the end of his rule. Despite being Catholic, James II could well have maintained his own reign if he had avoided unnecessary errors and then had not lost his nerve at a crucial time which led to his departure from England (deemed by Parliament to be an abdication) upon the (invited) invasion of William III.

Before presenting a narrative of developments, Kenyon addresses key issues and themes which characterized the period and shaped events including economic developments (periods of hardship but overall trend positive; in any event with little impact on the actions of Parliament), the rise and the fall of the gentry (mostly rise), the issues of the Church (mostly the struggle between Puritanism and Anglicanism concerning the rituals of the church and the retention of bishops, and posing the question why did Puritanism almost disappear after 1660), the Ancient Constitution (belief in the tradition of representative government), Parliament (disorderly, not representative, the House of Commons dominated by the landed classes at expense of merchant and manufacturing interests), money (the difficulties of the monarchy in raising funds necessary for growing expenses especially in wartime; Parliament survived because it kept control of taxation), causes of the Civil War (not long-running struggle between Parliament and King or strategic considerations or ideals but rather the tactical and political state of the monarchy, i.e., its general weakness which unbalanced the working of the Constitution (King in Parliament) and the “perverse ineptitude” of Charles I and some of his advisors which triggered a series of crises that made the Civil War inevitable; as to why Parliament finally decided to fight the King, the proximate cause may have been fear of reprisal by the King and his effective chief minister. the Earl of Strafford, who therefore was soon executed) and the monarchy (lacked good counsel, allies and friends, money, a standing army and good luck). As reflected in Shakespeare’s work, the country was in a state of neurosis, and Parliament, in Charles’ words, was acting as if it had distemper. The Addled Parliament of 1614 was the nadir.

There is a lot in this book. The Catholics, disillusioned when James I did not keep his promises of toleration, saw their long-term cause seriously damaged by the Gunpowder Plot conspiracy (which failed) to assassinate James I. The Gunpowder Plot was still being thrown into the faces of English Catholics under Edward VII. There is an interesting discussion of Edward Coke, famous for his advocacy on behalf of the common law (against church law), his investigations of monopolies and support of the independence of the judiciary. His abrasive temperament brought him into conflict with James I. (Upon his death in 1634, his widow remarked: “We will never see his like again, thank God!)." William Laud’s ambitious efforts to roll back Puritan influence in the Church sparked the beginning of the Civil War when the King sought to impose the English Prayer Book on the Scottish Calvinists and then needed to call upon Parliament to raise funds to enforce his will on Scotland. Laud was ultimately executed and yet after 1660 his objectives for the Church of England were largely met. Oliver Cromwell and Parliament were unable to come up with a permanent solution to the absence of the King in England’s constitutional structure, and the only reason the Cromwell regime lasted so long was its foundation on military power. When Cromwell died, Parliament asked Charles II to restore the monarchy and made very few demands upon him.

The author’s conclusion: “For Britain, the 17th century was a period of almost unequaled material progress comparable only with the century of the Industrial Revolution from 1760 to 1860. From being a poor, peripheral, backward country, she had now blossomed into one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with an expanding maritime and colonial empire.” But her political and constitutional progress was equivocal and did not secure the ultimate victory of Parliament. “In fact, weak and disorganized as the monarchy often was, Parliament was more so, and at the two crucial turning points of the century, in 1640 and 1688, the monarchy only succumbed to overwhelming outside intervention, from Scotland and the Netherlands. In 1660 monarchy was triumphantly restored, not on its own initiative, at a time when it was penniless and powerless.”

Kenyon is an excellent guide to the complexities and political instabilities of an important period of history that resonates in the contemporary scene. He brings order and clarity to a period lacking in both.
… (mere)
drsabs | 1 anden anmeldelse | Jul 4, 2020 |
More than a hundred years of British history; a miracle of wit and compression. Full of unforgettable portraits like this one of Charles II, whose ministers, Kenyon says

turned their backs on their royal master unwillingly, and as they faced a raging parliamentary opposition, or furtively negotiated with Louis XIV or William of Orange, they were conscious always of a pair of black, slaty eyes, in heavy pouches, probing their shoulders and kidneys, seeking the easiest place for the dismissive dagger.… (mere)
sonofcarc | 2 andre anmeldelser | Nov 28, 2013 |
Utile per una veloce panoramica di ogni avvenimento e personaggio importante. Scritto in modo chiaro, risulta spesso il modo più veloce per inquadrare un particolare aspetto della nostra storia. Ci sono tremila voci in ordine alfabetico e una semplice cronologia alla fine.
Segnalato da Simon Turner
Biblit | 2 andre anmeldelser | Jun 24, 2010 |

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