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Out of the East

Blair Worden, 11 October 1990

The King’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Wolsey 
by Peter Gwyn.
Barrie and Jenkins, 666 pp., £20, May 1990, 0 7126 2190 3
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Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution 
by John Morrill.
Longman, 300 pp., £17.95, May 1990, 0 582 06064 8
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The Writings of William Walwyn 
edited by Jack McMichael and Barbara Taft.
Georgia, 584 pp., $45, July 1989, 0 8203 1017 4
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... Can historical biography still be written? Joel Hurstfield, who had planned a life of Robert Cecil, the chief minister inherited by James I from Queen Elizabeth, abandoned it in the 1960s in the belief that the genre had had its day. Geoffrey Elton, so much of whose career has been occupied with the achievements of Thomas Cromwell, has never thought biography to be the fitting means of approaching him ...

Conrad Russell’s Civil War

Blair Worden, 29 August 1991

The Causes of the English Civil War 
by Conrad Russell.
Oxford, 236 pp., £35, November 1990, 0 19 822142 8
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The Fall of the British Monarchies 1637-1642 
by Conrad Russell.
Oxford, 580 pp., £40, April 1991, 9780198227540
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... For fifteen years Conrad Russell has dominated that most embattled and most heavily populated area of historical study, the origins of the civil wars of mid-17th-century England. In doing so, he has banished controversy to the margins. This is a highly unusual accomplishment. Advances in contentious historiographical territory are generally achieved through baronial feuds, not through submission to a monarchy ...

Constancy

Blair Worden, 10 January 1983

Neostoicism and the Early Modern State 
by Gerhard Oestreich, edited by Brigitta Oestreich and H.G. Koenigsberger, translated by David McLintock.
Cambridge, 280 pp., £25, August 1982, 0 521 24202 9
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... Neostoicism is neither as difficult nor as remote a subject as it may sound, although to grasp its full importance we would need a keener sense than most of us have of the pressing relevance of Classical Antiquity to the thought and values of Renaissance Europe. The term is given by historians to the cult of Stoic ethics – especially of Senecan ethics – at the courts and universities of the late 16th and early 17th centuries ...

Things the King Liked to Hear

Blair Worden: Donne and Milton’s Prose, 19 June 2014

Sermons of John Donne Vol. III: Sermons Preached at the Court of Charles I 
edited by David Colclough.
Oxford, 521 pp., £125, November 2013, 978 0 19 956548 1
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Complete Works of John Milton Vol. VI: Vernacular Regicide and Republican Writings 
edited by N.H. Keeble and Nicholas McDowell.
Oxford, 811 pp., £125, December 2013, 978 0 19 921805 9
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... John Donne​ is a modern rediscovery. His reputation, high among his contemporaries, fell after their time, along with those of other 17th-century metaphysical poets who would wait equally long for rehabilitation. The late 17th century and the 18th, committed to orderliness of metre and feeling, disliked the ‘forced’ and ‘unnatural’ rhythms of his verse, his ‘false’ conceits, his unruly sensuality ...

The Tribe of Ben

Blair Worden: Ben Jonson, 11 October 2012

Ben Jonson: A Life 
by Ian Donaldson.
Oxford, 533 pp., £25, October 2011, 978 0 19 812976 9
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The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson 
edited by David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson.
Cambridge, 5224 pp., £650, July 2012, 978 0 521 78246 3
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... Seventeenth-century critics thought Ben Jonson England’s finest writer. Even until the mid-18th century he was conventionally regarded as at least Shakespeare’s equal. It was he more than anyone who won a new status for authorship, to befit the moral and educative role he claimed for it. Under James I the former bricklayer and soldier and brawler and convict, the one-time mediocre actor and hack adapter of other people’s plays, became the royal laureate, the friend of courtiers, diplomats and MPs, the honorand of universities ...

Godly Mafia

Blair Worden: Aristocrats v. the King, 24 May 2007

The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I 
by John Adamson.
Weidenfeld, 742 pp., £25, March 2007, 978 0 297 84262 0
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... Fifty years, almost to the month, before the publication of John Adamson’s book, Hugh Trevor-Roper stated his intention to write what he knew would be ‘a very long book’, the most ambitious of his career, on the Puritan revolution of 17th-century England. The project went through many mutations over the next four years, but by 1961 it was virtually complete ...

Novel and Naughty

Blair Worden: Parliament and the People, 26 September 2019

Radical Parliamentarians and the English Civil War 
by David Como.
Oxford, 457 pp., £85, July 2018, 978 0 19 954191 1
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The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution 
by Michael Braddick.
Oxford, 391 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 0 19 880323 2
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... In​ 1972, during the era of student revolt, the Marxist historian Christopher Hill wooed its participants in his book The World Turned Upside Down. It explored the mid-17th century, a ‘period of glorious flux and intellectual excitement’, when the nation’s institutions broke down and Gerrard Winstanley, the leader of a Digger commune, declared ‘the old world’ to be ‘running up like parchment in the fire ...

Insolence

Blair Worden, 7 March 1985

Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance 
by David Norbrook.
Routledge, 345 pp., £15.95, October 1984, 0 7100 9778 6
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Restoration Theatre Production 
by Jocelyn Powell.
Routledge, 226 pp., £19.95, November 1984, 0 7100 9321 7
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Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 
by Martin Butler.
Cambridge, 340 pp., £25, August 1984, 0 521 24632 6
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The Court Masque 
edited by David Lindley.
Manchester, 196 pp., £22.50, August 1984, 0 7190 0961 8
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Ben Jonson, Dramatist 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 370 pp., £30, July 1984, 0 521 25883 9
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... In 1892 A.C. Benson published an essay which introduced the modern appreciation of Andrew Marvell. For more than two hundred years Marvell’s verse had shared with Metaphysical poetry a lowness of esteem which now seems puzzling. As the Cyclopaedia of English Literature explained in 1844, Marvel ‘is better known as a prose writer than a poet, and is still more celebrated as a patriotic member of parliament ...

Strange Talk at Putney

Blair Worden, 23 July 1987

Soldiers and Statesmen: The General Council of the Army and its Debates, 1647-1648 
by Austin Woolrych.
Oxford, 361 pp., £32.50, June 1987, 0 19 822752 3
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... In the archives of Worcester College, Oxford there lies one of the most remarkable and affecting documentary legacies of the English past. The papers of William Clarke, a secretary in the Cromwellian Army, contain his transcript of the meetings at Army headquarters in late October and early November 1647 which posterity knows as the Putney Debates. The officers, soldiers and Levellers who debated the Parliamentary franchise and the post-war settlement of the kingdom bequeathed an unrivalled glimpse of 17th-century political articulacy below the level of political privilege ...

Despairing Radicals

Blair Worden, 25 June 1992

Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet 
by Katherine Duncan-Jones.
Hamish Hamilton, 350 pp., £20, September 1991, 0 241 12650 9
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Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis 
by Jonathan Scott.
Cambridge, 406 pp., £40, October 1991, 0 521 35291 6
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Algernon Sidney and the Republican Heritage 
by Alan Craig Houston.
Princeton, 335 pp., £22.50, November 1991, 0 691 07860 2
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Milton’s ‘History of Britain’: Republican Historiography in the English Revolution 
by Nicholas von Maltzahn.
Oxford, 244 pp., £32.50, November 1991, 0 19 812897 5
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... In the gentle countryside to the west of Maidstone in Kent lies Penshurst House, the home of the Sidney family since the middle of the 16th century. The most famous of the Sidneys, Sir Philip, included an affectionate account of Penshurst in his Arcadia, where it is thinly disguised as the house of Kalendar. A generation later Ben Jonson’s poem ‘To Penshurst’ celebrated the house as a landmark of antique virtue and antique hospitality, and contrasted it with the new and vulgar ‘prodigy houses’, such as Hatfield and Audley End, that were ‘built to envious show’ amidst the riot of competitive expenditure in the reign of James I ...

Factory of the Revolution

Blair Worden: Quentin Skinner, 5 February 1998

Liberty before Liberalism 
by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 137 pp., £19.99, November 1997, 0 521 63206 4
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... Quentin Skinner’s short book is an extended version of his Inaugural Lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. There cannot have been a less contentious succession to that chair. In his field, the history of political thought, Skinner has earned an authority and distinction unrivalled anywhere in the world among scholars now below retirement age ...

As Bad as Poisoned

Blair Worden: James I, 3 March 2016

The Murder of King James I 
by Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell.
Yale, 618 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 300 21496 3
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... In the politics​ of Shakespeare’s time and its sequel, life not so much imitated art as competed with it. The ostentatious theatricality of royal rituals and masques was complemented by the visceral excitements of public events. Which of the stage’s countless trial scenes can have equalled in dramatic effect the moment during the arraignment of the Earl of Essex for treason in 1601 when the earl’s antagonist, the queen’s leading minister Robert Cecil, secretly present in the court, stepped from behind an arras to deliver the impassioned speech that ruined the earl’s defence of his rebellion? Which of the assumptions of disguise by beleaguered or lovelorn dramatis personae can have been as sensational as the escapade of 1623 – an occasion ‘worthy’, as a royal adviser said, ‘to be put in a new romanso’ – when the future Charles I and his father James I’s leading minister the Duke of Buckingham donned false beards, assumed the names Tom and John Smith, and journeyed to the Spanish court to woo the infanta for Charles? Incognito travel, a commonplace practice of the age, produced a succession of improbable adventures, among them (as if in compensation for the Puritan closure of the theatres) the escape, on the eve of the second civil war in 1648, of Charles’s teenage son, the future James II, from Parliamentarian captivity in a ‘very pretty’ female costume, and the exposure beneath a maid’s petticoat of the masculinity of Sir George Booth, the fleeing leader of the rising against the republic in 1659 ...

Intellectual Liberation

Blair Worden, 21 January 1988

Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Secker, 317 pp., £17.50, November 1987, 0 436 42512 2
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Archbishop William Laud 
by Charles Carlton.
Routledge, 272 pp., £25, December 1987, 0 7102 0463 9
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Clarendon and his Friends 
by Richard Ollard.
Hamish Hamilton, 367 pp., £15, September 1987, 0 241 12380 1
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Anti-Calvinists 
by Nicholas Tyacke.
Oxford, 305 pp., £30, February 1987, 0 19 822939 9
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Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I 
by Kevin Sharpe.
Cambridge, 309 pp., £27.50, December 1987, 0 521 34239 2
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... Among Hugh Trevor-Roper’s historical interests it is the Early Modern period, from the late Renaissance to the Baroque, that has claimed his most distinctive literary form, the long essay. He is our finest practitioner of the genre since Macaulay – who wrote when the economics of publishing were friendlier to it. Twenty years ago the essays collected in Trevor-Roper’s Religion, the Reformation and Social Change examined the ideological crisis of the Thirty Years War and of the political revolutions which followed it ...

Rescuing the bishops

Blair Worden, 21 April 1983

The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society 1559-1625 
by Patrick Collinson.
Oxford, 297 pp., £17.50, January 1983, 0 19 822685 3
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Reactions to the English Civil War 1642-1649 
by John Morrill.
Macmillan, 257 pp., £14, November 1982, 0 333 27565 9
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The World of the Muggletonians 
by Christopher Hill, Barry Reay and William Lamont.
Temple Smith, 195 pp., £12.50, February 1983, 0 85117 226 1
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The Life of John Milton 
by A.N. Wilson.
Oxford, 278 pp., £9.95, January 1983, 0 19 211776 9
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Complete Prose Works of John Milton. Vol. 8: 1666-1682 
edited by Maurice Kelley.
Yale, 625 pp., £55, January 1983, 0 300 02561 0
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The Poet’s Time: Politics and Religion in the Works of Andrew Marvell 
by Warren Chernaik.
Cambridge, 249 pp., £19.50, February 1983, 9780521247733
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... The publication of Patrick Collinson’s The Religion of Protestants is a stirring event in the rediscovery of Early Modern England. Unmistakably the work of a historian who has reflected on his subject for the better part of a working lifetime, the book consists of six wide-ranging essays which were originally delivered as the Ford Lectures when Professor Collinson visited Oxford in 1979, and which have now been revised, expanded and tightened – although the speculative tone of the lecture-hall has been appropriately retained ...

Double Tongued

Blair Worden: Worshipping Marvell, 18 November 2010

Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon 
by Nigel Smith.
Yale, 400 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 300 11221 4
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... To the modern world Andrew Marvell is a poet. Earlier times knew him differently. From his death in 1678 until the late Victorian era he was mainly admired not for his poetry but for his politics. The 18th and 19th centuries commemorated him as the MP and prose-writer who had challenged tyranny and corruption and religious persecution in the reign of Charles II ...

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