Charles I and the Popish Plot 
by Caroline Hibbard.
North Carolina, 342 pp., £21, May 1983, 0 8078 1520 9
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Charles I: The Personal Monarch 
by Charles Carlton.
Routledge, 426 pp., £14.95, June 1983, 9780710094858
Show More
The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Revolution in an English County 
by William Hunt.
Harvard, 365 pp., £24, April 1983, 0 674 73903 5
Show More
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We shall know more about the origins of the English Civil War when we know more about English Puritans. This seems, on the face of it, an absurd proposition. From S.R. Gardiner’s confident description of the Great Rebellion as ‘the Puritan Revolution’ downwards, we have not lacked studies which linked Protestant religious attitudes to the coming of the Civil War. Titles such as Woodhouse’s Puritanism and Liberty or Haller’s Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution pay homage to this tradition. Gardiner, Woodhouse and Haller, in different ways, were showing how Protestant ideals influenced the middle-class constitutionalism of Opposition MPs. Michael Walzer went further in his Revolution of the Saints by arguing that Calvinism was a modernising ideology. With breathtaking audacity, he leapt from case-studies of Marian exiles to New Model soldiers belting out battle hymns, in pursuit of his thesis that revolutionary dogma was to be found in mainstream English Puritanism and not (as was often supposed) merely in a sectarian lunatic fringe. There was no danger in any of these studies of the religious dimension being squeezed out of an explanation of the origins of the English Civil War.

But was it the right religious dimension? We still lack biographies in depth of key religious figure such as Stephen Marshall, Cornelius Burges, John Goodwin, Edmund Calamy, Henry Burton and others. They flit tantalisingly through the pages of Valerie Pearl’s valuable study of the London revolution of 1641, or Anthony Fletcher’s equally important analysis of petitioning on the eve of Civil War. It is no paradox to say that we are weighed down with tomes on Puritanism and still lack biographies of Puritans.

If we had them, would our explanation of events between 1640 and 1642 alter radically? I believe that it would. I base this on my experience of writing about two such Puritans, William Prynne and Richard Baxter. In the process of writing these studies I changed my mind about ‘the Puritan Revolution’. In an important new book, Charles I and the Popish Plot, Caroline Hibbard has tackled the origins of the Civil War by documenting the Catholic intrigue at the Court of Charles I from the late 1630s to the outbreak of Civil War. Her findings complement my own in a number of ways.

I called my study of William Prynne, Marginal Prynne. Contemporaries gave him this nickname: an awed, if ironic tribute to the thin trickle of text, and great flood of marginal citations, which characterised a Prynne pamphlet. In another sense he was anything but marginal. A lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, he had been in the forefront-Of the pamphleteering war on Archbishop Laud. He had twice been punished in Star Chamber by the loss of his ears (God made them grow again by a miracle the first time, according to Prynne), and he was exiled to the Channel Islands from 1637 to 1640. This same man, restored to favour when the Long Parliament was summoned, was commissioned by Parliament to write the official apology for its cause in the Civil War. And he was a Puritan. No doubt about that, even if there is nothing but doubt about the use of that epithet in general. He recalls H.L. Mencken’s definition of Puritanism as ‘the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.’ He attacked Caroline Teddy Boys in his first tract against long hair; the second work was a sustained whine against drinking. He wrote the longest, if not the most weighty, attack on stage plays, defended the Sabbath and attacked entertainments. As early as 1938 William Haller in his. Rise of Puritanism had suggested that a close critical study of William Prynne would throw new light upon ‘the Puritan Revolution’. And a few pages on he showed why such a study would not do anything of the kind: ‘Prynne was just the kind of person to turn the doctrines of the preachers into reckless assault upon the existing order ... his avowed aim could be construed only as the overthrow of everything established in the church’.

Quentin Skinner has written well on how the ‘set’ of the observer influences the historian’s approach to his documents. I began reading Prynne through Haller’s eyes (and, before him, Gardiner’s). Seeming contradictions were effortlessly resolved into my framework of interpretation: it was a long time before I recognised that the framework itself had to be dismantled. Among my unexpected discoveries I would emphasise two. First, Prynne was a lawyer. He wrote a great many pamphlets before the Civil War, but hardly one touched on the great constitutional controversies of the day. Far from articulating a concern that monarchy might be growing absolutist, he seemed worried that the Crown was losing its grip (in particular that the Royal Supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs was being systematically eroded by high-flying clergymen). Second, Prynne was a Puritan. As such he hated, above all, those high-flying clergymen who had gathered under the wing of Archbishop Laud. Yet he called himself a member of the Church of England, and, in defending the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, he argued that he was only preserving the traditions of the Elizabethan Church against new-fangled innovations.

Prynne and his colleagues can now be shown convincingly, not as Bakunin-type fanatics planning some ‘revolution of the saints’ when the Long Parliament convened in November 1640, but as angry and confused conservatives, seeking to restore an idyllic Elizabethan past. But these same men, or some of them (and these would include Prynne), would be fighting for Parliament against King in 1642 and championing a ‘root and branch’ destruction of bishops. A criticism of my study, and of other revisionist works, is that we are better-informed, as a result, about why the Civil War did not happen at any period before 1642, than about why it did happen in 1642. It is certainly true of my study that it becomes imprecise and vague at just the point where I try to document Prynne’s change of mind in 1641. Yet I remained convinced that there was a change of mind in Prynne, and not just a convenient shedding of masks.

It was through studying another Puritan, Richard Baxter, that I came more fully to understand Prynne’s mentality on the eve of civil war. Nor is this surprising. Baxter may have been a much-loved devotional preacher, but it sometimes seems as if his main claim to fame is that he produced the classic explanation for the origins of the Civil War. Joyce Malcolm has recently written of ‘the almost religious reliance’ placed by later historians on Baxter’s word. That word commanded attention by its balance: ‘But though it must be confessed that the public safety and liberty wrought very much with most, especially with the nobility and gentry who adhered to the parliament, yet was it principally the differences about religious matter that filled up the parliament’s armies and put the resolution and valour into their soldiers.’ Naturally Baxter emphasises the religious dimension: after all, he was a minister. But he does not emphasise it too much. Indeed it comes out in a rather backhanded way. ‘Public safety and liberty’ weighed most with nobility and gentry, but religion took with the people. It was religion which filled the Parliamentary armies with God-fearing zealots; it was religion which caused ordinary people to fear that the Irish Rebellion was the prelude to greater Catholic atrocities.

Why should we not take seriously this contemporary interpretation? The answer is, in part, because it was not contemporary. The date is the give-away: 1696 was when Matthew Sylvester published Baxter’s memoirs, five years after Baxter’s death. They were written some time after the Restoration, and Sylvester’s edition does not reproduce, in its entirety, the original text.

Baxter was a Puritan minister, 27 years old when the Civil War began. Later in the war he would serve as chaplain in the Roundhead armies, and attacked religious sects which were by then, in his view, infiltrating the regiments. His memoirs were clouded by that experience. As he describes it, a limited constitutional struggle occurred between 1640 and 1643: this was the ‘just war’ fought by Parliamentarians to secure constitutional freedoms. By 1643 (under the spell of some of the militant preachers) the Civil War turned into a ‘War for Religion’, and incidentally lost its legitimacy. Writing after the event, Baxter says that he would have opted for neutrality if he had been better-informed at the time. At once the appeal of such an analysis becomes obvious.

There were no real villains (at least until 1643). There were good men on both sides. The dividers on either side were the real culprits. The Civil War is the outcome of constitutional disputes which can be traced back at least to the 16th century: it ceases to be a melodrama fought between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and becomes a tragedy fought by men of good intentions. His fairness and detachment won him admirers in all quarters: it is a memorably lukewarm account. There is even thrown in a piece of ‘pop’ sociology: Baxter speculates on the social classes of Royalist and Parliamentary adherents. No wonder that this single source has enjoyed so much esteem: the writings of the respected contemporary historian, Brian Manning, are heavily derivative on Baxter for an explanation of how a constitutional struggle (1640-3) broadened into a religious struggle (1643-9).

But such reliance is dangerous. For one thing, as we have seen, it is an account written after the Restoration, with all the problems posed by hindsight and by having to cope with Stuart censorship. Worse, it was published posthumously and edited by Baxter’s friend and disciple, Matthew Sylvester. Sylvester’s editing has enjoyed a high reputation, perhaps because the finished work is so dull. Sylvester was not a crook. Ninety-eight per cent of the time he played scrupulously fair. He was almost too scrupulous. Poor Sylvester was hag-ridden by fidelity to the memory of his beloved Baxter. Nothing, it would seem, was left out and Reliquiae Baxterianae was the result: the victory of loyalty over literature. It is a sprawling monster of a book, which has everything in it but Baxter’s laundry list. In reaction to this, Calamy produced a shorter version in 1702 (later enlarged in 1713 and 1727). Scholars have been less impressed by Edmund Calamy, and one can see why. He was an editor who revelled in the liberties he took with the Baxter text: ‘Sometimes I have kept pretty much to his language, and sometimes I have taken the freedom to use my own. I have divided the whole into Chapters, and given things a little connexion.’

Calamy was an honest rogue, and in some ways is less misleading than Sylvester. Sylvester’s fidelity is not ultimately to Baxter’s text but to Baxter: in historiographical terms, the sin against the Holy Ghost. This is where his 2 per cent errors come in. There are very few editorial omissions, but they usually come at crucial places. In his editorial preface, Sylvester showed particular sensitivity to the charge that Baxter was a King-hater. He claimed that the text which he had edited gave the lie to the charge. And so it did, but not without a little help from the editor.

From the different editions of Baxter’s memoirs two different men emerge. Sylvester gives us a ‘Tory’ Baxter: a man who revered King and Church. Calamy gives us a ‘Whig’ Baxter: a man who was, above all, alert to Popish Plots, in particular to those connected with the Stuart monarchy. The historical consensus is that stodgy old Sylvester got Baxter about right: Calamy’s was a propagandist exercise. When I compared the fragmentary original memoir (British Library Egerton MS 2570) to the two editions I concluded, however, that Calamy in many respects got closer to the spirit of Baxter’s text than Sylvester did. This impression was confirmed by other evidence from printed and unprinted sources.

The most important suppression by Sylvester is of references in the original Baxter manuscript to the Antrim Commission. Who was the Earl of Antrim? He was the Irish Catholic, Randall McDonnell, who had married Katherine, the widow of the Duke of Buckingham and herself a Catholic convert. Until moving to Ireland late in 1638 with her new husband, the Duchess occasionally carried messages between Archbishop Laud and the Papal agent at the Court of Henrietta Maria, George Con. Antrim had, as early as the beginning of 1638, presented to Charles I and Henrietta Maria a plan to take an army of his Ulster clansmen (he claimed to be able to raise 10,000) to Scotland to crush Protestant rebellion. When the King needed his help in May 1639 Antrim was not then able to honour his promises. But later? He was one of the leaders of the Irish Catholic rebellion in October 1641. He was a personal friend of the leader of the rebels, Phelim O’Neill. After the Restoration, the scandalous claim was made that Antrim had the backing of Charles I for his actions in the Irish Rebellion (beginning in the 1641 rising, continuing in the King’s support for Antrim’s revival of the 1638 project in the spring of 1643, and culminating in his approval of Antrim’s alliance with Montrose’s Highlanders between 1644 and 1645). Worse still was alleged: that Charles II recognised the reality of the understanding between his father and the Earl when he pardoned him after the Restoration. For nearly twenty years after the Restoration the story circulated in clandestine form, surfacing only in such a scurrilous pamphlet as Ludlow’s Murder will out. Edmund Borlase, in writing his History of Ireland, tried to put the story into print but it was censored out again by Sir Roger L’Estrange. It would not have done, in the charged atmosphere of 1679, for readers of the original Borlase MS to learn how ‘severall private messages’ which Charles II had had from ‘our Royall father and Royall mother’ about Antrim’s good faith meant that the Earl’s ostensibly friendly relations with the Irish rebels had, in fact, all along been consonant with ‘letters, instructions and directions’ from Charles I. Thus a circumstantial link was made between Stuart monarchy and the Irish Catholic rebels: small wonder that it caused fright in 1679.

What is fascinating to see is how Baxter took up the Antrim story. It is there in his manuscript memoirs, it is there in Calamy’s edition, but it is omitted altogether from sections of Sylvester’s edition, or transposed to a different place in the text, or larded over with apologetic explanations. This is not an isolated instance. In the same year that Borlase was seeking in vain to publish the Antrim story, Baxter wrote a letter to Richard Allestree, who had attended the same village school. Allestree had moved on since those days. He was now a big man: Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford and Provost of Eton. Baxter wanted to explain to his old school-friend why he had taken up arms for Parliament: ‘The news of 200,000 murdered by the Irish and Papist strength in the King’s armies, and the great danger of the Kingdom, was published by the Parliament. I thought that both the defensive part and the safety of the people lay on the Parliament’s side.’ Among Baxter’s unpublished papers there is this description of the grande peur which preceded the Civil War. He speaks of the Irish Catholics:

When in time of peace they suddenly Murdered two hundred thousand, and told men that they had the King’s Commission to rise as for him that was wronged by his Parliament, the very fame of the horrid murder, and the words of the many fugitives that escaped in Beggary into England (assisted by the Charity of the Dutchess of Ormond and others) and the English Papists going in to the King was the main cause that filled the Parliaments Armies: I well remember it cast people into such a fear that England would be used like Ireland, that all over the Countrey, the people oft sate up, and durst not go to bed, for fear lest the Papists should rise and Murder them.

But one does not have to turn to private papers, or letters to old schoolfriends, for proof of this sentiment. It is there in Baxter’s memoirs, repressed by Sylvester for its dangerous aspersions on royalty. The Everyman edition of these memoirs condenses Sylvester and does not draw on Egerton 2570. This is the edition that most students are familiar with. It omits from Sylvester references to the Irish Rebellion. But even in this doubly-diluted version, the Irish Rebellion cannot be totally ignored. It survives in a muted form: ‘of all the rest,’ he says of the causes of the Civil War, ‘there was really nothing that with the people wrought as much as the Irish Massacre and Rebellion.’ Phrases like ‘of all the rest’ (omitted by Calamy) and ‘with the people’ have a distancing effect, particularly since the Everyman edition lists the constitutional issues in detail, and omits most of the Irish material. This drastically pruned version is often cited by historians as the clinching evidence from a contemporary minister that the Civil War, in its origins, was not a religious war.

In so many ways this is deceptive. In his long career it is the only time that Baxter gives prominence to constitutional matters when discussing the background to the war. The source is overrated. Not only because he was writing after the event, but perhaps because his heart was not in it, he gets all sorts of things wrong on the constitutional issues. The famed sociological analysis was mainly cribbed from his close friend, John Corbet, who at least wrote his analysis of the origins of the Civil War in Gloucester nearer to the event (1645). And Corbet, incidentally, was under no illusion that the basic cause of the war was anything other than that of self-defence against Jesuitical Papists. Now it is true that, in retrospect, Baxter would say that the Civil War became a ‘War for Religion’ in 1643. But this does not mean (as Brian Manning seems to think) that he thought that it had been about constitutional matters before that date. What becomes clear from Baxter’s papers is that he believed that a limited war of self-defence against a Popish takeover had become transformed (he would say, ‘debased’) by 1643 into a war fought by religious zealots to advance their sectarian interests.

The Irish Rebellion of October 1641 was the chronological prelude to civil war in England in May 1642. Baxter clearly saw it as the logical prelude. The more we understand the mentality of English Protestants in 1641 the less easy it is to see Baxter’s as an isolated case. Was he a paranoid personality, looking for Papists under the bed? Easier to say this of Prynne than of Baxter. Baxter got on well with individual Catholics, would quote Catholic authorities like Aquinas with reverence, and at the end of his life was arguing that the Pope was not Antichrist – a brave position for a Protestant to take in 17th-century England. Here was no simple-minded Protestant bigot. Indeed we do not have to postulate simple-minded bigotry when measuring the force of anti-Catholic feeling in this period. This was my mistake when I sought to explain Prynne’s change of mind in 1641. I had come to accept Prynne’s royalism and Anglicanism as sincere: his anti-Catholic obsessionalism seemed to point in an opposite direction – to the ‘radical’ model which I was in the process of discarding. But for Prynne, and other 17th-century Puritans, to be against the Pope was to be for the Crown and Church; and never more so than when defending the Elizabethan status quo against Popish ‘plotters’ like Archbishop Laud, Henrietta Maria or George Con. Anti-Catholicism in truth drew upon complex political and eschatological emotions in 17th-century Englishmen. John Pym – that master player of the anti-Roman card – made a very significant speech to the Commons in April 1640 when he gave this warning to sentimental colleagues: ‘Wee must not looke on a Papist as he is in himself but as he is in the body of the Church.’ In other words, he was asking colleagues not to be distracted by Protestant and Catholic good-neighbourliness (which is evident in recent county studies of Staffordshire and Sussex, for instance). Instead, he wanted them to concentrate on what Papists stood for. The fact that he should have to make such an appeal is itself remarkable, and points to the ambivalence of the anti-Catholic phenomenon. That ambivalence has been brought out by Robin Clifton, in an unpublished doctoral thesis on anti-Catholic rioting before the Civil War. He showed what Pym’s speech would lead us to expect: that there was nothing constant about the level of anti-Catholic agitation. He showed, for instance, how Plymouth was seriously damaged by fire in 1637 without unleashing an anti-Catholic pogrom. But he showed also the fragility of that peace: how potential anti-Catholicism became actual and violent when it was linked with doubts about the Crown’s religious policies. Hence the traumatic shock of the Irish Catholic Rebellion, and the significance attached to the rebels’ claim to be fighting with the King’s commission. Thus on 5 November 1641 (a good day this) Pym could urge on his colleagues, without the qualifications of his speech of April 1640, the need to send the Scottish Army to fight the rebels in Northern Ireland, and the need for ‘ill counsellors’ to be removed before Parliament took steps further to relieve Ireland: itself the pretext for the Militia Ordinance which caused the final breach between King and Parliament.

Caroline Hibbard’s study, when viewed in this context, is a major contribution to Civil War research. She examines Catholic intrigue at Court against a European background. She never herself succumbs to the simple conspiratorial model favoured by contemporary Protestant observers, but equally she never loses sight of the plausibility lent to such a thesis by the confused designs – and the rumours they inspired – of Henrietta Maria’s circle, the Scottish Catholics, George Con’s mission, Montagu, Digby, Jesuits, seculars, anti-Richelieu exiles, Spanish sympathisers and others. Albion’s Charles I and the Court of Rome is the only previous study to have documented this story in detail, but he is weak at the points where Hibbard is strong. She places Stuart complicity in Catholic intrigues in the context of the Thirty Years War. The restoration of a European dimension to the problem (so evident in contemporary alarms) makes the Catholic threat one of substance, not illusion. This is not to say that the English Civil War is simply a Popish Plot writ large. There are, however, several reasons why the religious dimension has been underrated.

First, where earlier works emphasise the religious dimension it is the wrong religious dimension. Efforts to explain rebellion against the Crown by commitment to a theological creed of resistance (especially linked to Calvinism) seem to me to be doomed. There was precious little resistance ideology to be found in the Parliamentary pamphlets, at least until 1644. In any case, the emphasis in such explanations is wrong. Baxter and Prynne did not ‘use’ Popery in order to discredit the Crown. Rather, they sought to save the Crown from the consequences of its Popish counsels. The Antrim Commission brought the two together in an embarrassing way. So too, later on, the interception of Civil War correspondence would cause Prynne, in his Popish Royal Favourite of 1643, to reappraise the role which he had assigned to Charles I, from that of victim to accomplice. But in 1649 both Prynne and Baxter were glad to reconcile their royalism and their anti-Catholicism in the fiction that Charles I had been put to death by Papists. Hibbard reminds us of the plausibility, before the regicide, of the view of Charles I as a Popish favourite: ‘what later historians saw as his uncompromising Anglicanism was maintained in the face of Protestant, not Catholic, threats and inducements.’ John Morrill has also recently questioned the depths of Charles I’s Anglican convictions, from his readiness to ditch Laud in 1642 to his failure to insist on the use of the Prayer Book in captivity. These points underline the need for a new critical biography of Charles I. That need is not met by Charles Carlton’s study. Freud is frequently called upon in footnotes but the judgments in the text owe more to Polonius: James I invents the Divine Right of Kings ‘to salve his own sense of inadequacy’; his love of hunting and his son’s artistic collections were both symptoms of repressed sexual drives; Laud was obviously less secure in his faith than Charles I because he had once committed to print his dream that he had become a Catholic; ‘mourning is a painful process at which the mind must work until it has adjusted to the new reality’; ‘the tasks of adolescence – achieving biological and social maturity – are nigh universal.’ Not even the slips (Richard, not Thomas, Hooker; George Buchanan, not Murray) seem Freudian.

Second, Conrad Russell has criticised the traditional constitutional explanation of the 17th-century crisis as a trial of strength between two developing institutions, Crown and Parliament, which could only be resolved by the Civil War. That view was early in formation and even after the Restoration Baxter was influenced by it. Civil controversies may not have interested him, but he felt an obligation to list them, even if we now know that his manuscript papers revealed a different order of priorities.

Third, if the chief priority in 1641/2 was, for him and for many others, to save his country from Popery, the difficulty about this conviction was that it was not permanent. The problem is partly one of censorship. There was real danger after the Restoration in linking Popery with the Stuart Monarchy. The sentiments circulated, as in Baxter’s case, in manuscript form. When they did surface, which they belatedly did in 1696, they could still be tampered with. But there was also an element of self-censorship. Because of the volatile nature of anti-Catholicism, as shown by Clifton, it was possible for individuals themselves, in quieter times, to recognise the genuine panics of crisis times as inflated fear. (A very interesting recent study of Thomason Tracts in the British Library has demonstrated statistically how the amount of attention given to the Irish Rebellion during the Civil War varies with suspicions of the Crown’s intentions.) Baxter was too honest a man not to recognise the power of something he could, to some extent, perceive as an obsession when, later, he tried to re-create his own mood on the eve of the Civil War.

William Hunt has given that mood a name: ‘the Puritan Moment’ of 1642. A case has recently been mounted against ‘county community’ histories, most elegantly by Clive Holmes. He argues against three worrying tendencies. First, localism is taken to be synonymous with neutralism. Second, the county community is taken to be synonymous with its leading gentry families. Third, it is assumed that loyalties to the local area exclude wider national or international preoccupations.

Each one of these propositions has, in turn, reinforced the other two. It has, incidentally, seemed at times as if a whole factory industry has been created out of the discovery that Clarendon’s mother had never left Wiltshire. Having made the criticisms, Holmes went on to show how county histories should be written. To say that Hunt’s new monograph on Essex is in the same class as Holmes’s own study of Lincolnshire is very high praise, and in this case it is richly merited. Hunt has managed to avoid all three of the dangers which Holmes had underlined. He has done so first by his choice of county. The laodicean gentry of Cheshire and Kent do not have their counterparts in Essex. Second, Hunt’s range extends from the influential Barrington family downwards, to take in such people as the felicitously named John Bum (a labourer who stole an apron lying out to dry in the sun in 1636). Third, Hunt never loses sight of the wider international dimension to his researches, from vagrants in 1590 hoping for a Spanish invasion to trigger a social revolution, to gentry investment in the Providence Island Company. The latter activity, Hunt reminds us, had a relevance for the 1630s, when ‘European Protestantism was threatened with extinction by Catholic armies that were being financed by gold and silver from Spanish America,’ which was lacking for Cromwell’s Caribbean expedition in 1656. Hunt’s final judgment on 1642 is unambiguous: ‘it was the Bishops’ War and the Irish Rebellion that precipitated the crisis, not Ship Money or the Forest Fines.’

There is one other reason historians have been slow to give the religious dimension true recognition. When we think of the English Civil War we compare it to events like the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, as if there were something demeaning and reductionist in placing it in the context of Popish Plots. (Dr Hibbard is particularly good at bringing out the embarrassment of the Victorian, liberal-minded, Nonconformist historian Gardiner in confronting the 17th-century anti-Catholic bogey.) In terms of consequences there is a lot to be said for comparing 1642 with 1789 and 1917. In terms of origins, however, there is a lot to be said for placing the English Civil War within the sequence of anti-Catholic outbursts in 17th-century England. There was a time when the Great Plague of 1665 was seen as a violent and unique aberration: but we would now claim that it has remained so long in historical memory because it was the last major outbreak of a disease which had recurred throughout the century. So too with the Popish Plot of 1678/9: if we exclude the events which led to James II’s deposition, this was the last major outbreak of such hysteria until the Gordon Riots in 1780. And Titus Oates could draw upon earlier material linking Popish Plots and the Crown, right down to the smallest points, from the Guy Fawkes Plot, the Habernfeld Plot and the Irish Rebellion. Shaftesbury could play on the same fears which Pym both exploited and was exploited by. The Antrim story was being purveyed by men like Borlase and Ludlow in 1678/9 precisely because it was at one with the psychology of 1641, to which Baxter’s testimony now gives eloquent witness.

It is not wrong, then, to draw parallels between the English Civil War and the French and Russian Revolutions in terms of the issues they raise, but to draw parallels between the earlier Gunpowder Plot and the later Popish Plot may take us closer to the mentality of the men who took up arms in 1642 to save their country from Popery.

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Vol. 6 No. 8 · 3 May 1984

SIR: I enjoyed D.A.N. Jones’s article (LRB, 5 April) but I was unhappy with some of the ways in which he used the 17th century – and in particular Richard Baxter – as a milch-cow for 20th-century theological debate. To be specific: 1. ‘N.H. Keeble … was responsible for the excellent Everyman edition of Baxter’s autobiography in 1931.’ He wasn’t. J.M. Lloyd Thomas was. N.H. Keeble supplied a new introduction in 1974 to this Lloyd Thomas abridgment. I have argued previously in this journal (LRB, 21 July 1983) that both the Lloyd Thomas text, and the Sylvester edition from which it is taken, do a disservice to the original Baxter intent. 2. ‘Is it fair to call Baxter a “Puritan"?’ Is it fair to call anybody in the 17th century a ‘Puritan’? Certainly to define the word in a way that would exclude Baxter would be to drain the word of its last critical use. 3. Baxter doesn’t seem very ‘Puritan’ in being rude to Cromwell and polite to the Crown? Two answers here: a. there’s nothing distinctively ‘Puritan’, whatever Mr Jones may think, in being for Cromwell and against the King (otherwise what is he to make of Scottish Presbyterians?); b. Baxter, anyway, was both much more in favour of Cromwell, and hostile to the Crown, than his later doctored memoirs would indicate: the corrective here is provided by his private papers. 4. ‘His “pious journalism" about the class structure of the parties to the English Civil War is much used by modern historians: some of them treat him as respectfully as if he were Thucydides.’ But the point is that they shouldn’t: again I refer the reader to my review article in this journal last year. 5. ‘C.H. Sisson, too, finds Baxter’s idea of a Church too broad to be comprehended … To Sisson’s mind, the Pope’s visit was pretty painful – but the Archbishop asked for it, with his refusal to recognise that the C of E is just a national Church’ (Jones’s italics). Here is the supreme misreading of Baxter. It is not only that the Pope’s visit would have seemed far more outlandish to Baxter than it would to Sisson, but Baxter actually wrote a pamphlet in 1691 – one of his last works – admiringly entitled ‘Of National Churches’. It is indeed bad history to emphasise Baxter’s (sincere) ecumenical longings without putting them in the context of his national, anti-Catholic, apolcalyptic world view; which is why 20th-century transplants of 17th-century material just won’t work. Let Baxter then, not Jones, Sisson or Keeble, have the last word: ‘Therefore I judge that a Confederacy or Coalition with the Church of Rome, in any of these Sins, or in the very form of a Church headed by a pretended Universal Head or Sovereign, is to be abhorred by all sound Christians: And I am glad that this Kingdom is sworn against all Foreign Jurisdiction, Civil or Ecclesiastical; tho’ Union and Concord with all Foreign Churches must be as far kept as we are able, not partaking of their Sins’ (A Paraphrase on the New Testament).

William Lamont
University of Sussex

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