The Renaissance Conscience: Special Issue of Renaissance Studies

This month sees the publication of the special issue of Renaissance Studies I have co-edited with Harald Braun on The Renaissance Conscience. Full list of contents below.

Volume 23 Issue 4 (September 2009)

Special Issue: The Renaissance ConscienceGuest Editors: Harald E. Braun and Edward Vallance


Introduction (p 413-422)
Harald E. Braun, Edward Vallance


Conscience in Renaissance moral thought: a concept in transition? (p 423-444)
M. W. F. Stone

Jean Gerson, moral certainty and the Renaissance of ancient Scepticism (p 445-462)
Rudolf Schüssler

Conscience and the law in Thomas More (p 463-485)
Brian Cummings

‘Guided By God’ beyond the Chilean frontier: the travelling early modern European conscience (p 486-500)
Andrew Redden

Shakespeare’s open consciences (p 501-515)
Christopher Tilmouth

Women’s letters, literature and conscience in sixteenth-century England (p 516-533)
James Daybell

The dangers of prudence: salus populi suprema lex, Robert Sanderson, and the ‘Case of the Liturgy’ (p 534-551)
Edward Vallance

The Bible, reason of state, and the royal conscience: Juan Márquez’s El governador christiano (p 552-567)
Harald E. Braun

Spin doctor of conscience? The royal confessor and the Christian prince (p 568-590)
Nicole Reinhardt


Controversy, protest, ridicule and laughter

The University of Reading Early Modern Studies Conference 9-11 July 2010

Call for Papers

This three-day conference at the University of Reading aims to draw together scholars from a variety of disciplines working on areas related to the themes of controversy, protest, ridicule, and laughter in the early modern period.

Controversy, protest, ridicule and laughter are means to register more than disagreement: they convey contemptuous opposition to an opponent. How can the study of their uses advance our understanding of the nature and development of public debate in the early modern period?

How were new media (theatres, newsbooks, periodicals) and traditional forms (sermons, proclamations, disputations) used by the two (or more) sides in early modern controversies? What were the connections between ‘low’ literary forms (pamphlets, ballads, satires, libels), and the learned seriocomic tradition of, for example, Erasmus’s Praise of Folly?
What were the sites of protest: Parliament; stage; university; alehouse; Inns of Court – and what connections, if any, existed between these spaces?

What role did ridicule have in religious and political controversy, from Martin Marprelate to John Milton’s anti-prelatical writings? How were the conventions for mocking one’s opponent refracted by variables of class and gender?

Laughter might be a marker of intellectual achievement (distinguishing the human from the animal), or it might be condemned as a sign of brutality. If laugher was both elevating and debasing, what strategies were used by writers of satire, comedy and polemic to control its connotations? How can we write a history of laughter? How useful is more recent psychological and philosophical work on laughter – by Freud or Henri Bergson, for example – for work on early modern culture?

Possible topics include:

Humanism, learning, wit, and laughter; gender and class; classical ideas of laughter and ridicule; disputation and debate in education; ridicule, stereotyping and national identity; European models of controversy and ridicule; popular radicalism and the public sphere; conduct manuals and the etiquettes of laughter; the Putney Debates; clowns and jesters; new media and popular radicalism; the Spanish Match; burlesque, parody, scatology and obscenity; Jonson’s comedy of humours and satirical comedy; popular print (pamphlets, ballads) and ‘low’ literary forms; urban and rural forms of controversy; Rabelais and discourses of the body; legal controversy: sedition, libel, slander; the Marprelate Tracts; jokes and jests on the stage and page; Milton’s Defensio pro populo Anglicano; the Oath of Allegiance controversy; mimicry and impersonation; Civil War religious radicalism; the carnivalesque; Jacobitism; traditions of complaint, satire and invective; the decorum of ridicule, controversy, and ideas of ethical restraint; the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and ‘godly revolution’.

We invite papers that consider any or all of this year’s themes. Proposals (max. 300 words) for 30 minute papers and a brief CV should be sent via email attachment by 4 December 2009 to: Dr. Chloë Houston, School of English and American Literature, University of Reading,

Published in: on August 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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John Lilburne – Abolitionist


I’ve been working on my paper for the upcoming John Lilburne conference. The talk is going to tackle the presentation of Lilburne from the late seventeenth century to the present day.

One of the more unexpected contexts in which the Leveller’s name appears is in Somerset’s Case of 1772. Often seen as the legal verdict which outlawed slavery in the British Isles (though more on that below), the case revolved around the re-capture of a slave, James Somerset or Somersett, who had left the service of his master, Charles Steuart, when Steuart, a Boston customs officer, had brought Somerset to England in 1769. In 1771, Somerset had been baptised (often seen – though not by the courts- as symbolising manumission) and when he was seized by his master and imprisoned on the ship Ann and Mary awaiting transport to Jamaica, three of his godparents made an application for a writ of Habeus Corpus. The captain of the ship was then forced to deliver Somerset to the Court of King’s Bench to determine whether his imprisonment had been lawful (but not, importantly, to determine whether he had been a slave.)

Of the five lawyers arguing on behalf of Somerset, two made reference to a reputed sixteenth-century legal precedent, Cartwright’s case. This case concerned one Cartwright, who in 1569 was arrested for savagely beating another man in the street. Cartwright’s defence was that the man he had attacked was a slave he had brought from Russia and that as such, the corporal ‘chastisement’ he had meted out was lawful. The court, however, disagreed, arguing that ‘England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in.’

Significantly, though, there is no original record of this case. Indeed, said Francis Hargrave, the young lawyer who made his reputation in Somerset’s case, the judgment was only credible because it had been invoked in 1640 by the Commons in their impeachment of the Star Chamber judges who had sentenced ‘the famous John Lilburne’ to flogging for libel in 1638.

Hargrave’s source here was the second part of Rushworth’s Collections. In his own commentary, Rushworth had noted the parallels between the brutal treatment of the Russian slave and the similar scouring of Lilburne, even though the latter was ‘a free Citizen of London…descended from an antient family in the North’. Rushworth’s point here was very different from Hargrave’s. For Hargrave, Cartwright’s Case affirmed that ‘the Russian slave’s presence on English soil immediately freed him. The point for Rushworth, on the other hand, was that Lilburne’s treatment by Star Chamber reduced him to the status of a slave:

‘By imprisonment he was made a dead trunk, by whipping a rogue, by pillory a cheat, and by gagging a beast: They had better have hang’d him outright.’

In the eighteenth century, it seems to have been Lilburne’s punishment by Star Chamber in 1638, rather than his activities as a Leveller pamphleteer that were deemed worthy of attention. Indeed, many historical dictionaries from the 1700s only noted the date of his flogging followed by the date of his death. Aside from the potential significance of the case for abolitionists, the treatment of Lilburne as a libeller obviously also had resonances with the treatment of John Wilkes for his reputedly seditious remarks in The North Briton in 1763.

Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice of King’s Bench, found in Somerset’s favour but that the case did not end slavery in England is no better demonstrated than by the fact that Mansfield himself made strenuous efforts to assert the freedom of his mulatto niece, Dido Belle, in his will of 1782.

Nonetheless, what the eighteenth-century invocation of Lilburne’s case does demonstrate is that the language of slavery which formed, as Quentin Skinner, Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh have noted, an important part of Parliamentarian rhetoric in the 1640s later had significant ramifications in both English and Atlantic contexts.

(For a very useful discussion of Somerset’s Case, see this edition of Law and History Review.)

Radical History of Britain Round-up Pt. 4

A couple more reviews of my radicalism book have appeared in the last fortnight, one byFrank Trentmann in the Express, the other (a joint review with David Horspool’s English Rebel) by Piers Brendon in the Indie. Both largely positive (Trentmann gave the  book 4/5), though Brendon objected to my penchant for ‘academic claptrap’. I think this is such a good description of what I write that I am now going to use it as the tag-line for this blog.

God’s Executioner: Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland review

A full review of Micheal O Siochru’s book by Jason Peacey on the IHR’s Reviews in History site, plus a response from the author himself.


I’ll update my pages shortly, but as of the end of this month, I will no longer be an employee of the University of Liverpool. I’m moving to take up a post as Reader in Early Modern History at Roehampton University, starting this September. New contact details here

A Radical History of Britain Round-up pt 3.

A few new reviews out of my book. A very generous review over at Mercurius Politicus, a generally positive joint review by Leslie Mitchell of my work with David Horspool’s The English Rebel in the Literary Review and a nice review in the Telegraph. (After its endorsement of the book as a ‘beach read’, the Torygraph is fast becoming my favourite newspaper.)

Steve Pincus on the Glorious Revolution

There’s a short Yale interview on youtube with Prof. Steve Pincus discussing the Glorious Revolution.

Prof. Pincus’ new book on 1688 is out at the end of the month in the US and in October in the UK.

Published in: on August 3, 2009 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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History Today’s blog carnival

Up here.

Published in: on August 3, 2009 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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