The Restless Republic, Anna Keay - Excerpts and Notes

These are my notes and review for this book. For other reading notes see tag: books

“The Restless Republic.” by Anna Keay

These are my notes on a book about the Interregnum. It follows the lives of different people from different parts of English society during the period: a religious figure, a Royalist noblewoman, a New Scientist and Cromwell himself. My biggest impression from it is just how chaotic the whole thing was. Cromwell only governed England for a part of the interregnum, preceded by a council presided by Bradshaw (a more likable, Republican individual) and succeeded by his son, and later a military junta.

Monck is also an interesting character, quite forgotten despite his great deeds. He rules Scotland by the end and then uses the army to take back control of London and Parliament, then restoring the authority of the ‘secluded’ MPs for them to call for elections and the restoration of the House of Lords, eventually bringing back the monarchy.

I love how weird and sectarian Protestantism gets in the 17th century in England, and this made me want to read the book on alchemists and new science that Gwern recommends, to see a different side of this same period. Between Quakers (who quake in ecstassy on sermons), Diggers (proto-communists taking control of the cultivable land, who justify their actions by quoting the bible!) and 5th monarchists, plus Puritans who always carry old testament names, everything gets very muddled in religion. It’s interesting how the army didn’t really mind the Communism, but nobody dared do blasphemy. So you can talk about abolishing private property but God forbid you say you’re not Christian. Sorry, antescripturean (!).

Favorite Passages

“For decades, indeed centuries, the English legal system had been decried for its unfairness. The lists of its shortcomings varied, but most included the sheer time it took to resolve any case and the eye-watering cost in lawyers’ fees of legal action. The indefinite imprisonment of debtors and the power of the central courts in London were also causes for repeated complaint, as was the fact that the law was a closed shop, conducted in Latin and French, to the absolute exclusion of non-professionals.

“…in fact, came when on 22 November 1650 Parliament passed an act declaring that all legal proceedings, hitherto conducted almost exclusively in Latin or French, would be in English alone from the following Easter. Furthermore, the antiquated script, known as ‘court hand’, in which all legal paperwork was written, was to be abandoned and instead ‘every of them shall be written in an ordinary usual and legible hand and character’. As a piece of legal modernization it may have lacked the complex cleverness beloved of lawyers but, in a single step, English people’s ability to understand the legal processes to which they might find themselves subjected was transformed.”

“Anna’s mother had been a stickler for Godly discipline, and had been quick to chastise her young daughter, seeing sin in everything she did, down to the tiniest actions ‘that the world calls a trifle’. Anna grew up deeply fearful, ‘persuaded I was for ever shut out from the presence of God’. In her teens she had fasted frequently, and attended church several times a day, taking it as yet another sign of her worthlessness if she failed to weep with Godly emotion at every sermon. Her mother reproved her for such fretfulness, saying curtly that it would only let in the Devil.”

“New arrangements were put in place to ensure the roads, bridges and pavements of the country were properly maintained, for the regulation of London hackney carriages, and steps were taken towards establishing a public postal service. Duelling and cockfighting were to be banned as being accompanied by ‘Gaming, Drinking, Swearing, Quarreling, and other dissolute Practices, to the Dishonor of God, and do often produce the ruine of Persons and their Families’, and new arrangements were to be put in place for the care of lunatics.”

“It was during one of her discussions with her brother-in-law that Anne posed the question that set Hamon on the intellectual undertaking that would be his life’s work. Was there any truth in the Puritans’ claim, she asked, that traditional Anglicanism – including feasts such as Christmas – was simply Catholicism by another name? His next book, published in 1651, was his first to address this question, and to argue for the antiquity and righteousness of Anglicanism, and its fundamental differences to ‘putrid and ulcerous’ Roman Catholicism. He wrote, he explained in his dedication to Anne, hoping to ‘prove an Answer to you’, signing himself ‘your … sincerely Addicted servant”

“From the security of Hunstanton, Sir Hamon had been an investor in several international trading ventures, one west in search of the Northwest Passage to China and another to the East Indies. But he was no advocate of territorial colonialism, and disapproved of the motives and methods involved. In his view Englishmen should have ‘better thoughts than to invade or exterminate natives and by means (to[o] commonly coarse) to get and to keep dominion’.

“[William Petty] was probably one of the last of the company to sight land on that voyage, for he suffered from acute short-sightedness, on the basis of which he would later dismiss an adversary’s challenge to a duel by saying it would be a fair match only if it was fought with axes in the dark.” [I love early modern humor.]

“The victims had overwhelmingly been on the losing side. Around half a million Irish people, by Petty’s reckoning, had died, many from fighting but more from the disease and famine that accompanied it. This was of a total pre-war population perhaps approaching two million. It was, in the words of one contemporary Irish poet, ‘the war that finished Ireland’. The numbers of English and Scots who perished were proportionately far fewer but still vast in quantity, perhaps something over 100,000.”

“But John Lambert, fiery and unrepentant, was not for compromise. He rode in, took possession of the chamber ‘and lockt up the Doores, setting a strong guard upon the stayers’. It was more than six years since Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers had first marched the Rump MPs from the chamber, and eleven since the Rump itself had been born of the armed exclusion of their fellow MPs.”

“A year had not changed Monck’s view that once you had decided on a course of action, even if with reluctance, it paid to espouse it with enthusiasm.

“The ‘Convention Parliament’ elected in April 1660 drew up a wide-ranging ‘Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion’ which the King then signed into law. This remarkable document articulated the policy of the restored sovereign that no past crime against him or his father should henceforth be proceeded against or even talked of. He wished instead ‘to bury all Seeds of future Discords’ and all memory of discords past. ”

“John Thurloe [the spymaster for Cromwell] was too useful a figure to condemn: no one knew as much as he about the administration of the past decade – and, anyhow, he was rumoured to have kept a ‘black book’ containing information that could send half of those who claimed to be royalists to the gallows in his place.

“It was in order to demonstrate their innocence and independence of the rambunctious Fifth Monarchists that George Fox published the Quaker ‘peace testimony’, A Declaration from the Harmles & Innocent People of God, called Quakers in February 1661. This definitive denunciation of war and conflict ‘for any end or under any pretence whatsoever’ marked the movement’s abandonment of political agitation and began the explicit pacifism which endures to this day.”

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20 May 2022 - importance: 8