Country House Radicals, 1590-1660

Revolutionary impulses do not always originate in proletarian discontent. Hugh Trevor-Roper's article traces 17th-century radicalism to a very different social source.

For centuries the country houses of England have been regarded as centres of conservatism: by their solidity, their comfort, their former traditions, their present uninhabitability, they remind us regularly of the past, and the past in England has, on the whole, been, or seemed, a good past, at least for those who built such houses, lived in them, and, in every generation until this, signalized their prosperity by improving and enlarging them. It is therefore difficult to envisage a period in which this apparently comfortable and conservative class of Englishmen was in fact, as a class, politically and socially radical. Nevertheless, in English history, the period between 1590 and 1640 was, in my opinion, such a period. It was a period first of gentry mutterings, then of gentry conspiracies—the plot of the Earl of Essex in 1601, the Bye Plot and the Main Plot in 1603, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605—and finally of gentry revolution —the Puritan “Great Rebellion” which was launched by the Long Parliament in 1640 and brought to power first a gentry republic, then a gentry dictatorship: the rule of Oliver Cromwell.

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