My books

1688 - Britain's Fight for Liberty

The Glorious Revolution: 1688 – Britain’s Fight for Liberty (Little, Brown and Co., 2006).

n 1688, a group of leading politicians invited the Dutch prince William of Orange over to England to challenge the rule of the catholic James II. When James’s army deserted him he fled to France, leaving the throne open to William and Mary. During the following year a series of bills were passed which many believe marked the triumph of constitutional monarchy as a system of government. In this radical new interpretation of the Glorious Revolution, Edward Vallance challenges the view that it was a bloodless coup in the name of progress and wonders whether in fact it created as many problems as it addressed. Certainly in Scotland and Ireland the Revolution was characterised by warfare and massacre. Beautifully written, full of lively pen portraits of contemporary characters and evocative of the increasing climate of fear at the threat of popery, this new book fills a gap in the popular history market and sets to elevate Edward Vallance to the highest league of popular historians.

A Radical History of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries, the Men and Women who Fought for our Freedoms (Little, Brown and Co, 4 June, 2009)


From medieval Runnymede to twentieth-century Jarrow, from King Alfred to George Orwell,  by way of John Lilburne and Mary Wollstonecraft, a rich and colourful thread of radicalism runs through a thousand years of British history. In this fascinating, vibrant and wide-ranging study, Edward Vallance traces a national tendency towards revolution, irreverence and reform wherever it surfaces and in all its variety. For the first time in one volume, Vallance unveils the British yeomen and preachers, millworkers, poets, miners and intellectuals who fought and died for religious freedom, universal suffrage, justice and liberty – and shows why, now more than ever their heroic achievements must be recognised and celebrated.

Beginning with Magna Carta, Vallance subjects the touchstones of British radicalism to rigorous scrutiny: he analyses their origins, their influences and their legacy, and meticulously unpicks their historical context, from the Peasants’ Revolt and the century of plague and famine that preceded it, to the industrial squalor and political corruption which led to the Great Reform Act. He evokes the figureheads of radical action, real and mythic – Robin Hood and Captain Swing, Wat Tyler and Ned Ludd, Thomas Paine and Emmeline Pankhurst – and the popular movements that bore them. Lollards and Levellers, Diggers, Ranters and Chartists, each has its membership, principles and objectives revealed.

Rousing, brilliant, hugely readable and fiercely intelligent, this is a panoramic, vividly detailed survey, the invaluable study of a millennium of one nation’s free-thinking.

“a trenchant salute to the tradition of dissent and demands for social and political reform…This well-written and stimulating book makes a convincing case for the radical and/or rebellious tradition as part of the warp and woof of British history”

A. W. Purdue Times Higher Education Supplement

“Anyone concerned about the future of parliament, constitutional reform and politics in general will find plenty of inspiration in this accessible, often gripping history.”

Frank Trentmann, Sunday Express

“The publication of A Radical History of Britain … could not be more timely… an extremely instructive and comprehensive survey.”

Robert Colville, Daily Telegraph

Published on December 22, 2008 at 10:48 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In case a second edition of your Radical History is in contemplation:- on p.356 a Duke of Nottingham is mentioned. I can trace no such dukedom. On p.363 the ‘government of Lord Sidmouth’ is referred to, and again overleaf there is ‘Sidmouth’s government’. The period is the mid-1830s. It seems that Sidmouth’s last and characteristic political act was to vote against the Reform Bill in 1832. On p.417 Peel is said to have been replaced (1846) by ‘Lord Russell’. Strictly, Lord John Russell only became ‘Lord Russell’ in 1861.
    Please do not think that I have not enjoyed and admired your book! In particular, my understanding of the campaigning for the female vote has been greatly deepened. Thanks from a much older Balliol history man.

  2. British history.Interesting.
    Hope to find it in the library next week.

  3. I greatly enjoyed the Radical History, and its re-evaluation of the significance of what had previously seemed quite disjointed episodes.

    I was disappointed by the omission of any reference to the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s, and by the rather cursory dismissal of the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament as something foisted on the Labour Party by the extreme left. The early 1960s saw several large-scale demonstrations, the “sit-down” technique being explicitly derived from American experience and the example of Gandhi.

    • Thank you for your kind comments about the book. Of course the developments you mention were important. One of the difficulties of writing a single volume history over such a long period is deciding what has to be left out!

  4. I liked ‘A Radical History’ a lot. However, I couldn’t help thinking that it might have been better to have written it from exactly the opposite view: not as a series of stories of heroic individuals, but as a deliberate and systematic repression of any suggestion of democracy or freedom by that bunch of blood-thirsty tryrants that have been our ‘lords and masters’ for many centuries. I’d suggest the title Freedom, Democracy, and it’s repression in Britain’.

    • Thanks, or maybe ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’? A bit more positive I feel.

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