1649: the nearly revolution

I did promise much regicide related posted here a few weeks back. However, actual work and other things rather got in the way.

The other day, though, I revisited the BL’s Taking Liberties exhibition, this time with a group of my special subject students. They seemed to enjoy it and looking round it for the second time, I noticed things I’d missed during my first, quick, reconnoiter.

One of those things is Egerton. MS 1048 f. 91-92. This is an MS copy of the so-called ‘Officers’ Agreement’, the form of the Agreement of the People presented to the Rump Parliament by the Council of Officers in January 1649.

The Officers’ Agreement is often dismissed as a mere sop to radical opinion within the army, a document which the officers had no real commitment to and which was allowed to die a quite death at the hands of an uninterested Rump Parliament.

But the Egerton MS in the BL’s most recent exhibition ought to get us to think twice about this. It’s not only that is (as far as I know), as unique manuscript version of documents – the Agreements of the People – which existed predominately as printed artefacts.

The really important bit of this big document is a tiny little scribble in the left hand corner. It says
‘The forme of ye subscription for the Officers of ye Army’.

You can’t see it on this image, unfortunately, but I promise it’s there.

The key word here is ‘subscription’. One of Lilburne’s initial objections to the Officers’ Agreement was that it was tendered to Parliament for approval before being tendered to the people.

There are references, though, in other printed sources, which suggest that the Agreement was already being tendered for public subscription at around the same time as it was being presented Parliament. All of which seems to suggest that recent historians (including Glenn Burgess, David Farr and Clive Holmes) who have argued that some of the officers, Ireton especially, were a good deal more sincere about their commitment to this form of the Agreement are probably in the right.

In fact, with its detailed discussion of the distribution of seats, the Officers’ Agreement looks much more like a worked out transition mechanism to a new, more democratic representative than the two earlier ‘Leveller’ Agreements.

So why did it fail? Less because a Machiavellian Ireton never wanted it to succeed in the first place, and more because the political situation in England and the British Isles was so turbulent and fast moving that the project simply had to be abandon in favour of something much less ambitious. That would turn into the Engagement of Loyalty to the Commonwealth, a bare promise of obedience to the de facto power of the new republic, all that could be wrung out of a political nation broadly unsympathetic to the projects and ideals of radical Levellers.

(More of this in the new book and in my chapter in the forthcoming collection on the Agreements edited by Phil Baker and Eliot Vernon.)

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 10:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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Regicide, it’s a sin

What better way to commemorate the 360th anniversary of the execution of Charles I than with the music of the Pet Shop Boys…

Published in: on January 29, 2009 at 8:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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1649 and the Execution of King Charles

I’ll be doing a little post on the above in a few days – in the meantime, the programme for the London Socialist Historians Group conference on the regicide is now up (see below). If anyone else has any interesting regicide related links, please post below.

1649 and the Execution of King Charles

30 January 1649 is the day when King Charles 1st was beheaded and the
Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, the foundation of modern
Parliamentary democracy, came into effective being. It was a
revolutionary moment and it brought onto the historical stage people,
ideas and movements that went well beyond anything that Cromwell and
the senior leadership of the New Model Army had in mind. Brian Manning
in his seminal book on 1649 notes that this was a year when popular
mobilisations did not happen. There was no popular uprising to mark
the Commonwealth, and no popular protest at the execution of the King.
There was however an Army revolt at Burford, also celebrating its
anniversary this year, which was brutally put down by Cromwell. 1649
was also the year when Cromwell landed in Dublin to initiate brutal
episodes in Ireland.

This conference will look at the liberties and democratic practices
ushered in by 1649 and at those who wanted to take them further.

1649 and the execution of King Charles

Saturday 7 February 2009
Venue: Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London.


9.30 – Registration (Wolfson Room)

10.00-11.15 Welcome and Keynote addresses (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett, LSHG
Geoffrey Robertson, author of The Tyrannicide Brief
John Rees, author of A Rebel’s Guide to Milton, forthcoming

11.15-11.30 Coffee

11.30-12.30 PANEL ONE: Cromwell’s coalition and its critics (Wolfson Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Martyn Everett, ‘The Agitators – between Rebellion and Reaction’
Dr. Ariel Hessayon, Goldsmiths College, ‘Early modern Communism: the
Diggers and community of goods’

11.30-12.30 PANEL TWO: 1649 in contemporary eyes (Pollard Room)
Chair: Tobas Abse, LSHG
Claudia Guli, University of Melbourne, ‘Historical Precedent in
Contemporary Justifications of the Trial of Charles I’
Ángel Alloza, CSIC (Spain), ‘”An Outrageous Incident”: the execution
of Kings Charles seen from Abroad’

12.30-1.30 Lunch

1.30-2.30 PANEL THREE: The regicide, terror and Restoration (Pollard Room)
Chair: David Renton, LSHG
Jerome de Groot, University of Manchester, ‘”Original Villany”:
Foundational Terrorism’
Alan Marshall, Bath Spa University, ‘The Trials of Thomas Harrison, regicide’

1.30-2.30 PANEL FOUR: The Republic and something more (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Paul Burnham, LSHG
Alejandro Doering De Rio, Queen’s College Cambridge, ‘James Harrington
as a theorist of political of equality’
Dr John Seed, Roehampton University, ‘The politics of remembering: the
execution of Charles I in C18th England’

2.30-2.45 Coffee

2.45-4.00 Closing Plenary (Wolfson Room)
Chair: Keith Flett
Norah Carlin, author of The Causes of the English Civil War
Geoff Kennedy, author of Diggers, Levellers and Agrarian Capitalism

£10 waged / £5 unwaged. Order from Keith Flett

History Today Blog and other things…

It’s been kindly brought to my attention that the History Today editor, Paul Lay, now has his own blog over here. In one of his first posts, he reviews two recent and forthcoming works on the civil war, John Adamson’s edited collection with Palgrave, and Blair Worden’s civil war narrative (out at the end of Jan.)

Worden’s book is obviously designed to chime in with the 360th anniversary of the regicide, also the subject of a conference organised by the London Socialist Historians Group. Perhaps another fitting anniverary for a mini blog carnival?