Historians Reconsidered: Clarendon and the Civil War

A leading actor in the civil war, Clarendon in his History offered an interpretation of the causes of the conflict which has been much debated by later historians, as Christopher Hill discusses here.

The events of 1640-60 are usually described in our text-books as “the Puritan Revolution.” This phrase, however, originated two centuries after the events it describes, in the England of Queen Victoria. No seventeenth-century account explains the civil war solely, or even mainly, in religious terms. Throughout the eighteenth century conservatives called it “the great rebellion”; their opponents emphasized not so much the religious aspirations of the parliamentarians as their zeal for liberty and property. These trends fused in The History of the English Revolution by the French statesman Guizot, published in 1826. Guizot stressed the parallel with the French Revolution of 1789 suggested by his title: for him “the English Revolution” was mainly a social and political movement.

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