Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, and the Triumph of Anglo-Americaby Kevin P. Phillips
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A strikingly fresh and revisionist explanation for the rise of Anglo-America as the dominant cultural and political force in the world today by the bestselling author of The Politics of Rich and Poor.
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Expansion and the
The colonization of North America has been the decisive fact of the modern world.
--Otto Von Bismarck, 1815-1898
The most important arena [in the rise of capitalism] is England, because it is in England, with its new geographic position as the entrepôt between Europe and America, its achievement of internal unity two centuries before France and two and a half centuries before Germany, its constitutional revolution, and its powerful bourgeoisie of bankers, shipowners and merchants that the transformation of the structure of society is earliest, swiftest and most complete.
--R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926
English settlement of the new world was a Protestant activity....
--A. L. Rowse, The Expansion of Elizabethan England, 1955
Three hundred and seventy years ago, before the language of George Washington and George III was confirmed as the lingua anglica of global communications and finance, there was another Atlantic community, much smaller, where it all began: five million people in England and Wales, forty thousand on the seaboard of North America, mostly in New England.
In this patch of time and place, in the decades leading up to the English Civil War, finance and communications were relative backwaters, the domain of goldsmiths, moneylenders, and clerks. Palaces, castles, and cathedrals were still the architecture of power. Religion shaped the principal texture of men's minds. Protestantism, in turn, was the particular banner Englishmen carried onto the moral and physical battlefield.
By the 1630s, English Protestantism itself was splitting--into ranks of Anglicans, Puritans, and separatists, High Churchmen and Low Churchmen, conformers and dissenters, advocates of episcopacy and inveterate haters of bishops. Religious divisions, under many labels, will preoccupy us for several chapters because they so clearly preoccupied both English-speaking peoples, in America and the British Isles, for several centuries. More than anything else, they were the seedbed of the cousins' wars, especially the English Civil War, which provided much of the framework for the second English-speaking civil war fought in North America 130 years later.
However, to understand how the three wars and their outcomes, lessons, and warnings helped to move Anglo-America toward its eventual eminence, we cannot simply begin with the opening clash of steel and armor at Edgehill in 1642. The gestation goes back farther: to late medieval England in the 1480s and the emergence of the House of Tudor which would turn England's mind and faith to Protestantism and its commercial face and settlement toward the Atlantic and the New World.
From Angles to Anglos
Early Tudor England, on the verge of a great change, had its center of gravity in the eastern counties that faced across the Channel and the North Sea to France and the Low Countries. Before the New World shaped a new economic equation, England's greatest wealth was in London, Kent, Sussex, and East Anglia. As Map 1.1 shows, East Anglia was the bulge of English seacoast, fens, and flat farmland that had taken its name from the Angles, sixth-century invaders from western Denmark. They also imprinted their name on England--the land of the Angles--and then, through another settlement wave in the seventeenth century, on New England. Even the county names of East Anglia reflect these origins. Norfolk was the county of the North Folk--the Northern Angles. Suffolk, just below, held the South Folk. Essex, between Suffolk and London, was the home of the East Saxons.
Queen Elizabeth's greatest counselors, Lords Burghley and Cecil, lived in the core area northeast of London. The great "wool churches," built with the profits of the fourteenth-century clothing trade, were in East Anglia. Local ports like Boston, Harwich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, and Colchester ranked with Dover and Folkestone on the English Channel. The famous Cromwells--Thomas, who served Henry VIII, and Oliver, who dominated the English Civil War--came from the east.
Ultimately, the emigration stream from this region encircled the globe--and that, plus the extraordinary cultural legacy of the Angles, is what warrants such attention to its geographic cradle. Anglican churches and cathedrals girdle the globe from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, from St. John, Newfoundland, to Te Ana and Christ Church in New Zealand and Nandi, Fiji. Cultural Anglophiles crowd the libraries of Bombay and the polo grounds of Buenos Aires. In California, projected to be America's first Third World state, pre-medieval folk descriptions have become broad ethnic nouns. The word Anglo--as distinct from Asian, African-American, or Hispanic--now includes Greeks, Sephardic Jews from North Africa, the Armenian melon growers and truck farmers of the great central valley, and Southern California's quarter-million expatriate Iranians.
Fin-de-siécle Anglo-America, transcending its early outlines, is increasingly a linguistic community and decreasingly a bounded political, religious, or ethnic one. The vital role that Protestant religion played in the earlier expansion of the sixteenth to nineteenth century has ended. If the Anglicization of Norman warlords and Welsh borderers, and, more recently, of French Huguenots and Scots Highlanders, cannot happen again with the Yemeni of New York and Bangladeshi of East London, that hardly matters. Language, more than ethnicity or religion the last legacy of the Angles, is the slowly emerging bond, which is not without precedent. Rome--or, more accurately, its language--played a similar world role in A.D. 200, at which point Rome's evolution was many centuries removed from its parochial beginnings.
However, long before the late twentieth-century English linguistic and communications hegemony, to which we will return many chapters hence, religious and nationalistic forces drove English-speaking expansion during the critical era when Anglo-America outdistanced its rivals. Mere narratives of exploration or colonialization do not cut to the imperial core: how these peoples, internally divided and bickering, sorted their tensions and forces so advantageously in the earlier centuries of modern Europe that they were able to prevail in the nineteenth and create the commercial and linguistic hegemony of the twentieth. Narratives of religion, sectarianism, politics, and the great internal wars provide better explanations. The setting of the cousins' wars was itself a grand backdrop: England's expansion into North America, following the political unification of the British Isles, was the decisive fact of the modern world. While the twenty-first century may see Anglo-America fade, for over four centuries its commercial, political, and military prowess succeeded in overwhelming all challengers.
The Atlanticization of England:
A Protestant Undertaking
Simply put, any broad context for the English Civil War must emphasize two interlaced phenomena: Protestantism and Atlanticization. Anglo-America, the English-speaking community of the Atlantic, developed out of the westward reorientation of England, which itself began with the Tudors and the Protestant Reformation. Between 1485 and 1642, England avoided serious internal warfare while much of continental Europe was being trampled by marching armies, torn by religious conflict, and bankrupted by reckless rulers. The Tudor monarchs, from Henry VII to Elizabeth, turned their kingdom away from old territorial preoccupations on the continent and toward the Atlantic. The political unification of the British Isles, shown in Map 1.2, which included English resettlement in parts of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, furthered the new westward mind-set. This, in turn, pulled England toward North America.
The annexation of Cornwall and Wales, England's two western Celtic-language neighbors, was complete by 1536. The 1560s saw Elizabeth I begin the modern conquest of Ireland. And when her cousin, King James VI of Scotland, succeeded in 1603 as James I of England, the two Crowns were united. As ruler on both sides of the perpetually strife-torn Anglo-Scottish border, the new King promptly cracked down on its folkways of border raids, cattle-stealing, family feuds, and "reiving"--a Celtic-flavored lawlessness that would live centuries longer in the ethnically kindred eighteenth- and nineteenth-century borderlands of the United States.
By the seventeenth century, an increasingly Atlantic England was moving into position to accomplish four essential transformations: to grow into Great Britain, not the mere land of the Angles; to secure North America's future as a largely English-speaking continent; to become Europe's most politically and commercially advanced nation (during an era in which Spain, France, Austria, and others were in some ways regressing toward autocracy); and then to assume center stage as the world's leading maritime and industrial empire. By the late eighteenth century, this had been achieved.
The analyst must ask why: What forces over two centuries transformed Tudor England into the leading world empire and turned thirteen small North American colonies into the successor empire, the United States? Of the many ingredients, from commerce and individualism to sea power and parliamentary government, the most important initially was Protestantism. The talk about God being an Englishman only began when He--with some political assistance from Henry VIII in 1533--established the Church of England, eliminating the Pope in Rome as an intermediary. Protestantism quickly became one of England's strongest self-identifications. Religion and English nationalism began what would be a memorable convergence.
To the north, Scotland, too, was moving in a kindred direction. If the prayer "O Lord God, save Thy chosen people of England" could be attributed to Edward VI in 1553, the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, John Knox, was only a few years behind in claiming continuity in covenant for Scotland with Israel. And when the Scottish and English Crowns were united, enthusiastic preachers were quick to depict England and Scotland as Judah and Israel, which the Lord in Ezekiel 37:22 had promised to make one people with one king. One hundred and seventy-two years later, commitment to a new United States would be especially strong among the diasporas of both chosen peoples--the Puritan descendants in New England, still naming Connecticut towns for Canaan, Goshen, Bethlehem, and Sharon as late as the 1730s, and the Scotch-Irish of the American Ulster (south-central Pennsylvania), in which ministers of towns named Londonderry, Antrim, and Coleraine sent soldiers off to fight another king with sermons about Kirk and Covenant.
For two hundred years after Martin Luther, Europe remained so dominated by the Reformation and by the ensuing Catholic Counter-Reformation that politics, like war, was typically conducted in God's name. And despite the enthusiasms of English kings and Scottish ministers, God was hardly Protestant. Catholicism, too, had been a conquering army from the Crusades to Spain's recapture of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors and the Spanish-Portuguese exploration of the New World. And it would be again for His Most Christian Majesty, Louis XIV, on many late seventeenth-century German and Low Country battlefields. Innovative republican governments--Florence and Venice-- had arisen amidst Latin liturgies. Likewise for the high culture of the Renaissance and the capitalism that furbished it, from Lombardy to Antwerp. To attribute the latter's rise simply to the riches of its hinterland--the woolens and worsteds of Flanders, the tapestries of Brussels and Oudenarde, and the iron of Namur--or to the acumen of its Flemish merchants sidesteps the largely Catholic religious and cultural context. The earliest German merchant bankers, the Fuggers, had become counts of the Holy Roman Empire. Antwerp, in its day, had become the economic crossroad of Europe under Catholicism, and the Rotterdam of Erasmus its philosophic center, just as Amsterdam and then London would under Protestantism.
There is no need to pursue whether a changing faith is more accompaniment to national change than explanation. What seems obvious is that Protestantism did preside over a vital new political, commercial, and religious momentum in northwestern Europe, and England was in the vanguard. Save for the France of Louis XIV, which profited from its own substantial Calvinist minority for a century before their ruthless suppression and expulsion, Europe's new achiever states were the Atlantic-facing nations converted by the Reformation. The late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accomplishment of England, in particular, was that of a nation no longer sheltering behind island walls, but mastering its surrounding seas. Under Elizabeth, Oliver Cromwell, and William and Mary, England made the championship of global Protestantism a powerful wind in its international sails, however melodramatic that now sounds.
Authors by the hundreds have recounted just how ready Tudor England was to be stirred. The earlier, Catholic kingdom had been a sluggish economic and maritime power. Pre-1485 internal wars had been a hindrance. That earlier England had also been inhibited by a pre-Reformation acceptance of the Pope's division of the New World between Spain and Portugal, by the constraints of massive church landownership, and by church strictures on economic practices. Protestantism, probably more out of greed than credo, led England to a more active domestic and global economics. The seizure and distribution of the Catholic monastic lands under Henry VIII put new capital to work in agriculture, industry, and on the high seas. Glastonbury Abbey became a worsted manufactory, Rotherham College a malthouse, and the eliminations of saints' days were said to be worth £50,000 each in increased economic activity, By the 1560s, English ship captains, sailing from ports like Southampton, Plymouth, and Bristol, were "singeing the King of Spain's beard," attacking his colonies and seizing his treasure galleons up and down the Spanish Main, the fabled northern coast of South America from the Isthmus of Panama to Maracaibo at the mouth of the Orinoco River.
The extent to which England's fortune was made by Atlanticization and the opening of America is a Protestant sermon and drumroll in itself. A. L. Rowse, the principal historian of the expansion of Elizabethan England from 1557 to 1603, is unrestrained about "how much this country owed its future to the Elizabethan drive across the Atlantic to the New World." Religion was an unmistakable spur. This seafaring and opening-up of the New World, to Rowse, "was a Protestant activity," both in commercial spirit and anti-Spanish motivation. No small part of England's growing mid-sixteenth-century Atlantic expertise was owed to the collaboration of France's Protestant minority: the Huguenots, imperiled at home, already trying to implant colonies in Brazil, Florida, and South Carolina.
Militant Protestant sea captains, together with English volunteers in the fight for Dutch independence, gave English rivalry with Spain a crusadelike character that periodically embarrassed the less belligerent queen, for all her bold nickname of Gloriana. As seventeenth-century France began to succeed a weakening Spain as Europe's mightiest power, England sometimes wound up fighting both Bourbon Catholic monarchies--Spain and France. The French also made frequent backstairs attempts to subvert Protestant England by sending subsidies, Jesuit priests, royal princesses in marriage, and secret treaties (which often promised French armies) to a succession of monarchs from the House of Stuart, whose Protestantism and even patriotism thereby became increasingly suspect.
To a considerable percentage of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English-speakers, as we have seen, Protestantism intermingled with their perceived national mission as a people and as a nation. Before 1776, Catholics were not allowed to vote or hold office in most of the American colonies. England barred them from voting or holding office in the years between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the enactment of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The Catholic kings of France and Spain, with whom the Stuarts corresponded about subsidies, marriages, treaties, and troops, allowed far fewer elections and even less religious tolerance, which helped prolong the Protestant apprehension. Through most of the eighteenth century, Spain and France remained autocracies hostile to the basic notions of parliamentary government and political liberty practiced in England and Holland.
Clerics and historians on both sides employed volumes of theory and self-justification. Spain maintained its Inquisition against heretics--non-Catholics--from 1479 through the eighteenth century. Spanish Jews and Moors were the original targets, but during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hundreds of captured English Protestants were burned at the stake. By the eighteenth century, France had become Britain's principal religious, political, and military foe. The French kings, after allowing freedom of worship to Huguenot Protestants in the Edict of Nantes (1598), rescinded that permission in 1685. Even before the infamous "Revocation," Huguenot emigration accelerated under pressures like the "dragonnades," in which troops of dragoons were quartered in Protestant villages of Languedoc and adjacent sections of southern France to supervise their religious reconversion. By 1686, the cumulative flight of France's Huguenots involved several hundred thousand in a population of 18 million. British North America was a favored refuge, along with Holland and England, drawing the first Fanueils, Bowdoins, Reveres, and Olivers to Boston; the first Delanceys, Jays, Boudinots, and Bayards to New York; and the first Dabneys (D'Aubigne) and Battles (Battaille) to Virginia.
British historians are relatively matter-of-fact about that era's religious animosity. Professor Rowse, shuddering at his own visit to the marketplace in Seville where the Spanish burned Protestant heretics, added that "one must not--in the rational quietude, the skeptical disbelief, of a later age--underestimate the force of the hatred for Spain all this piled up among the Protestants of Europe. It was unrelenting, undying, ubiquitous among them: as such it was an historic force of momentous consequence." Linda Colley, a British historian at the London School of Economics, in explaining Protestant nationalism and anti-Catholic feeling in England and Scotland up through the nineteenth century, has pointed out that the signers of the massive popular petitions delivered to Parliament in 1828-1829 opposing enfranchisement of Catholics "saw themselves, quite consciously, as being part of a native tradition of resistance to Catholicism which stretched back for centuries." What is sometimes forgotten--and should not be--is how much the colonies, created by England's Atlantic expansion, were part of the same tradition.
The "Execrable" Stuarts and the
Beginnings of the Cousins' Wars
The fervor of so many of their Protestant subjects made it unacceptable that several of the Stuart monarchs, Anglican in public, were Catholic in their private sympathies. Fearful Puritans saw a black-robed Counter-Reformation lurking in Stuart palace anterooms. In the words of British historian John Morrill, "Talk of `popery' is not a form of white noise, a constant fuzzy background in the rhetoric and argument of the time.... This falsifies the passionate belief ... that is the ground of action, that England was in the process of being subjected to the force of Antichrist, that the prospects were of anarchy, chaos, the dissolution of government and liberties."
There was some basis, in the decade before the English Civil War and then again in the 1680s, for the popular fear that the pro-French policies of the Stuarts were aligning the monarchy with what critics summed up as popery and absolutism. James I and Charles I had Catholic queens. In the late 1630s, Charles's court had intervals of Catholic fashionability. Noblemen and privy counselors announced their conversions to the Church of Rome. A half century later, Charles II, who had a Portuguese Catholic consort, converted to Catholicism on his deathbed; and James II, married to Mary of Modena, was openly Catholic on his accession. The Stuart political heritage, moreover, was to envy the continental autocrats, mostly Catholics, who could at will execute critics, install cardinals or bishops as their chief ministers, and disregard base-born parliaments. The male Stuart kings, all four, resented England's being the principal exception in a European trend toward increasingly powerful central monarchies.
Together, the Stuart provocations and Protestant paranoia made religious acrimony a staple of seventeenth-century English politics. Many nineteenth- and twentieth-century chroniclers have portrayed the House of Stuart as a millstone on England's constitutional and commercial emergence. A different twist is that the century-long challenge of removing that weight, besides occupying English politics, government, and economics, also sharpened these sectors.
This interpretation was especially powerful in the American colonies, where eighteenth-century revolutionaries whetted their rhetoric and constitutional sensitivity on Stuart transgressions. John Adams, the second president of the United States, looked back on the Stuarts as "execrable."
To replace and then keep in exile this one royal family, England had more than a half dozen military confrontations and incursions, beginning with the English Civil War of 1640-1649 and not ending until the failure of the last attempt to restore the Stuart line in 1745. The first and bloodiest of these conflicts commands no real agreement on its name or even its chronology. A few scholars apply the term First Civil War to the events of 1642 to 1645. Others refer more sweepingly to the English Revolution of 1640-1649. A few even discuss the British Civil War. Those who describe the events of 1642-1645 as a First Civil War usually say that a Second Civil War began in 1647, when King Charles I, after making a military alliance with the Scots, lost first the battle of Preston (1648) and then his own head to the executioner (1649). Appendix III to this book includes a time line that matches the important dates and events. The involvement of the Scots and Irish does support, superficially at least, describing the fighting as the British Civil War. On the other hand, the battles and internal causations were separate in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Besides, as yet there was no Britain. The simplest label is that of the English Civil War, dated from the crisis of 1640 to the King's death in 1649.
Not that it matters much. Whatever one calls the English Civil War, its causes, hostilities, and alignments echoed for many generations. One of England's best-known historians, Christopher Hill, has described The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714, as the arena of England's most vital political transformation. After being crowned in 1603, to rule by divine right (or so he claimed), James I, the first of the Stuarts, was able to choose and discharge his own ministers. He could dismiss Parliament at will, commanding revenue and authority enough not to need them for years. In this England, which still had more than a whisper of medievalism, bishops could and did hold high government office. Religious heretics were burned at the stake. The king himself could raise customs duties, fix prices, and create monopolies. Internationally, the kingdom of James I was a second-class power. Colonization of the New World by England was just beginning.
When this profoundly redefining "century" ended with the death of Queen Anne and the upholding of the Protestant Settlement in 1714, a much-changed Great Britain--England and Scotland had united in 1707--had become a leading world empire. The new Protestant monarch, George I, plucked from the second-tier Electorate of Hanover, spoke no English and could rule only through Parliament, which had awarded him the crown over other better-pedigreed claimants. Parliament fully controlled the power of the purse, as well as most royal appointments. Among Protestants, at least, religious dissent was protected. Bishops were no longer employable as civil officials. Church courts scarcely mattered. The principal battlegrounds of the transformation were obvious: the civil war of 1640-1649 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, its conservative follow-up.
Historians and commentators in the late twentieth-century United States have shrunk from emphasizing religion in their explanations of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century affairs. Ecumenicalism to an extent has suppressed candor. Yet when mid-nineteenth-century British historian Thomas Macauley described Protestant North America as humming with enterprise while Catholic Mexico and Quebec stagnated, his remarks paralleled the observations of equally famous mid-nineteenth-century New England chronicler Francis Parkman. Even the "flowering of New England" in the literature of Emerson, Thoreau, and Longfellow, to say nothing of historians like Parkman and William Prescott, took place on the stem of Puritan tradition.
In Britain, by the time of the American Revolution, anti-Catholic concern was muting among pragmatic elites. The Enlightenment broadly nurtured tolerance, but on the fingers of ministerial political calculation, anti-Catholicism was also reduced by the mid-century disappearance of the Stuart political threat in Scotland and Ireland, the Crown's desire to enlist Catholic soldiers, and the increasing numbers of Catholics in the empire--in Quebec, Newfoundland, Gibraltar, British Honduras, and some of the sugar islands. In the 1790s, the anti-clericalism and church ransackings of the French Revolution also worked to create a new rapprochement between Europe's Catholic hierarchies and the British crown. Cardinals and bishops now saw British conservatism as a bulwark against the Robespierres and Bonapartes. Governments in Catholic Europe muted some of their own practices, and Britain's imperial preoccupation now encouraged tolerance as well as jingoism. Anti-Catholicism still remained strong among the British common people, witness London's Gordon riots of 1780, as well as the popular outpouring against Catholic enfranchisement a half century later. The era of religious wars, however, was over.
The popular culture of the thirteen colonies leading up to 1775 has been called a warmed-over "Radical Whig" or a "Commonwealthman" viewpoint because of its taproots in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century ideas and anti-Stuart memories. Below the gentry level, however, political thinking was less an intellectual legacy than a powerful folk memory steeped in the Low Church and dissenting Protestant religious suspicions of 1640 to 1745. Doubts about Catholicism were a given just as they were among the British common people. But after the Revolution, the larger force would be ecumenical. National elites with a more cosmopolitan outlook, in Philadelphia, Richmond, New York, Charleston, and even Boston, would impose religious tolerance on late eighteenth-century state and federal constitutional deliberations.
Practicality pushed in the same direction. The same religious hodgepodge of dissenting Protestantism that had spurred revolution in the 1640s and 1770 would, by its sheer multiplicity, compel tolerance and disestablishment in the new United States. This was especially true of the Presbyterians and Baptists, but after the war, Methodism added its own growing voice. Edmund Burke had not been greatly exaggerating in 1775 when he told Parliament that the people of the northern colonies were Protestants "of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion," so that their religion "is a refinement on the principle of resistance." Ultimately, this made for tolerance rather than a state-supported church, for all that Puritan New England gave ground grudgingly.
While church establishment in Britain would continue, by the 1830s the Congregational church would be disestablished in its three remaining New England bastions, and latitudinarian and ecumenical viewpoints would move to the fore--all absolutely essential to America's attractiveness to immigrants and expanding world role. The duality of the English-speaking nations took hold. In the nineteenth-century United States, democratic politics and religious pluralism would unfold together.
New England and the Puritan Hegira
Worry about the political, religious, and moral course of Stuart England had already made disgruntled Puritans the principal architects and settlers of New England in the two decades before 1640. East Anglia and surrounding old Saxon districts were at the heart of the emigration. Carl Bridenbaugh, the American historian, has identified much of the exodus between 1629 and 1640 as originating within a circle fifty miles in each direction from the East Anglian town of Groton, Suffolk. (Map 1.3 shows the county boundaries of the mid-seventeenth century.) Many who plotted the New World settlements or captained the Parliamentary fight against the king shared these origins. Cromwell's native Huntingdonshire was inside the circle. The Buckinghamshire residence of his cousin, John Hampden, was at its edge.
Groton itself was home to John Winthrop, who led the great movement to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. One early Massachusetts biographer likened him to Nehemiah--the biblical hero who led the Israelites back from Babylon to the Promised Land, this one transatlantic. So many of the towns in this border area of Suffolk and Essex have names that also live on in Massachusetts and Connecticut that visitors from New England can be forgiven for seeing ancestral ghosts in front of the half-timbered buildings. Thomas Hooker, who in 1635 planted Connecticut's main settlement in Hartford, had been an itinerant preacher in Essex and then a controversial church lecturer in its county town of Chelmsford. Roger Williams, prior to establishing Rhode Island in 1636, had also spent time in Essex--as a chaplain of sorts in the Hatfield Broad Oak household of Cromwell's aunt, Lady Joan Barrington.
In England as a whole, Puritans might have been 10 to 20 percent of the population. But in East Anglia, their great citadel, that strength was probably 30 to 40 percent. The county of Essex itself, to the northeast of London in the territory that would be Parliament's "Eastern Association" stronghold during the civil war, could fairly be called the buckle of the seventeenth-century English Bible Belt. To High Church Anglicans, it was a nursery of heresy. Identified during the reign of Henry VIII as England's most strongly Protestant county, Essex bore a similar reputation for the staunchest Puritanism by the outbreak of the civil war in 1642.
The other new strands of English Protestantism circa 1640--the Quakers, Baptists, Diggers, and Ranters--besides being more radical in their beliefs, were much less numerous and important, although their influence would grow as the war dragged on. Those insisting on separation from the Church of England had been punished in the 1590s under Queen Elizabeth I, but they began to proliferate in the open religious climate of the 1640s. Quakers and Baptists would have numbered only a few thousand even in 1647 or 1648, for all that there might have been half a million of them by 1660. The Ranters, and so-called antinomians in general, believed that their personal relationship with God freed them from normal morality and church rules. Presbyterian congregations were important in Scotland, but not in England. Puritans, of whom there could have been nearly a million, constituted by far and away the strongest opposition to High Church Anglican orthodoxy as the 1640s began to unfold.
Distilling the essence of seventeenth-century English Puritan thinking is more controversial. One well-known historian has wryly described the label as "an admirable refuge from clarity of thought." Others have insisted on its original and very narrow meaning: the religion of all those who wished either to "purify" the established Church of England from what they called the taint of Popery, or to worship separately by new forms so purified. As of 1640, the overwhelming majority were still within the established church, which adds to the difficulty of precise definition.
Godly Puritans, however, shared a distinctive lifestyle in which biblical study, predestinarian theology, and suspicion of Rome were more evident than in the lives of most other Church of England communicants. Sundays were days of intense religious preoccupation. Belief that the English were a Chosen People was especially strong, and those who counted themselves among this elect body worried constantly about losing God's favor through some shortcoming, especially failure to promote moral reformation. By and large, Puritans opposed the apostolic authority claimed by bishops and resisted efforts to enforce doctrinal and liturgical conformity to the Prayer Book and canon law. Virtually all looked to the Bible for daily guidance, which made sermons and the interpretive abilities of ministers all-important. Rare were the Puritans who did not deplore the drunkenness, indolence, debauchery, and revels they saw rife in the land.
Beyond these widely shared basics, their views by the 1630s could differ because of practicality as well as theology. The effects on England of three-quarters of a century of destructive price inflation, rising crime, and social decay caused some men to favor more drastic constraints than others. Puritans, as loosely defined, were especially prominent in law and commerce, and as political reaction against the Stuarts mounted, some of their most notable influence was in Parliament. In this, their ultimate pre-civil war power base, they were a powerful force even in the early seventeenth century.
The unparalleled wave of departures for the New World in the 1630s mirrored more than broad dissatisfaction with Charles I. East Anglia had its own particular problems: poor harvests, gruesome plagues, and lean times in the locally important cloth industry. The persecution of Puritans within the established Church of England, which had increased after High Churchman William Laud became Bishop of London in 1628 and then Archbishop of Canterbury, was particularly intense in these same eastern shires. They soon had England's highest ratios of dismissed, jailed, and exiled preachers. Nearly a century earlier, the same true-believing area had claimed four-fifths of the "Marian Martyrs"--Protestants executed during the brief English Counter-Reformation under Catholic Queen Mary in the mid-1550s. This, too, was part of the intensity brought to New England.
Emigration from England, a trickle in 1607, deepened into a stream in 1620 and a flood in 1629. Some eighty thousand English--2 percent of the national population--left the country between 1620 and 1640 for the American colonies, the Caribbean, or Holland. Twenty-one thousand went to New England. Assuming that population in the temperate North American colonies more or less doubled every twenty-five years, demographers have suggested that by the mid-eighteenth century, this zealous early emigration was the principal source of pre-Revolutionary New England's half a million people.
Neither of the early Stuarts, James I or Charles I, gave England's fledgling colonies in the Americas particular support. Settlement in the New World was generally connected to the non-Stuart opposition--under James, to Lord Southampton and Sir Edwin Sandys; under Charles, to Lords Warwick and Saye, as well as to Pym and Hampden. Nor was the sea itself a particular interest of Stuart kings. Mariners lamented that Holland was outstripping England at sea; Dutch merchantmen carried more than half the trade in and out of English ports, so that by 1620, London-owned shipping was only half its former tonnage.
The Royal Navy was too weak to protect shipping in the English Channel. Algerian pirates, guided by English renegades, captured 466 English merchant vessels between 1609 and 1616. During a ten-day period in 1625, a thousand English seamen were carried off as slaves and twenty-seven vessels were seized. Voyagers to Virginia and New England were among those taken. "Pirates rode, ravaging and kidnapping, up the wooded creeks of Devon and Cornwall, where Drake and Raleigh had prepared the death of Spain," wrote one chronicler. "Trinity House had the (beacon) light on the Lizard extinguished, because it guided the pirates of Sallee, one of whom was captured in the Thames itself." James was equally supine in failing to avenge the massacre of English at Amboyna in the Dutch East Indies.
Charles I was especially concessionary to the French. As part of the arrangement by which he married Princess Henrietta Maria of France in 1625, England was to provide ships to help Louis XIII suppress the French Protestants of La Rochelle. However, the English crews to be put at French disposal mutinied. Then, in 1632, Charles ceded Canada to France, confirming the North American foothold of the rival power that would bottle up English colonization on the Eastern Seaboard for another 130 years. For New England, the assistance of the Stuarts was principally negative: stirring a discontent among Englishmen and then being unable to hold back the resulting great emigration that laid so much foundation for the future.
In 1634, Charles set up a Commission for the Plantations, which scholars have described as more concerned with selling privileges in the New World than expansion. Population movement to the New World had already become a concern of the Crown, not an ambition. Not long after the King's chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629, royal authorities, stunned by the surge of emigration, ordered officials in western seaports from Bristol to Liverpool to block the departure of passengers without licenses, but without much success.
To end such "promiscuous and disorderly parting out of the Realme," the Royal Commission in 1634 handed down an extraordinary order. No emigrants, it said, could leave without two certificates--one attesting that the applicant had taken the oaths of supremacy and allegiance, and the second from the minister of his parish vouching for his religious conformity. Within another few months, King Charles forbade any subjects save soldiers, mariners, and merchants to leave the realm without a license from him or his council. The purpose was to stop the emigration, to both Holland and America, by Puritans "whose only end is to live as much as they can without the reach of authority."
In 1635, the Commission, now chaired by Archbishop Laud, foe of the Puritans, directed the attorney general to open suit in the Court of the King's Bench for an even stronger remedy: recision of the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company. When the Court complied in May 1637, Charles Stuart announced that he was assuming management of New England. The colony's leaders were only moderately concerned. Massachusetts had already built forts on Castle Island and at Charlestown, brought in 540 [pounds sterling] of saltpeter and match from Holland, and ensured that Boston could muster two regiments of militia, "able men and well-armed and exercised." By 1638 and 1639, the King had too many other problems to act. Yet in one historian's view, had a royal governor actually been sent, "It is hard to doubt that Massachusetts would have tried to resist him. The first overt rebellion against Charles I might have taken place in Boston harbor instead of Edinburgh."
In Massachusetts, but also elsewhere in New England, the stamp of East Anglia, its people and ideas, was writ large. Map 1.4 shows the imprint of the eastern counties on Massachusetts and Connecticut. Besides the East Anglian town names that cluster in eastern Massachusetts, even the accent has persisted. Linguists identify unmistakable traces of the nasal "Norfolk Whine" in local intonations. The long, wide public greens of Suffolk, Essex, and Hertfordshire--especially notable examples remain in Writtle and Matching, Essex and Long Melford, Suffolk--were transferred to New England en masse, thereafter migrating westward with New Englanders. Southeast England was the principal region where houses and barns were made of wood, although by the seventeenth century it was growing scarce. Immigrants seeing the potential for lumber in Cape Ann and the Charles River Valley gladly reverted to still-familiar old-country house-building techniques.
Transplanted East Anglians also kept familiar Old World neighbors. Most of the East Anglian coast, from Boston, Lincolnshire, and The Wash south to Harwich and Colchester, facing across the sea to the Netherlands, shows a strong and unique Dutch imprint or resemblance in its land reclamation, engineering, agriculture, art, and architecture. Market gardens are common, even fields of tulips. In 1622, the Essex town of Colchester, facing Holland, had some fifteen hundred people of first- and second-generation Dutch extraction, roughly a third of the population. Fenland southern Lincolnshire, where no small part of today's acreage was reclaimed from the sea with the help of seventeenth-century Dutch engineers, was for many years called the Holland district. Occasional old Dutch gabled houses from there south to Essex still remind the visitor how much architectural style was borrowed from the Netherlands and Flanders. Examples include old brightly colored quayside buildings of King's Lynn, the Dutch church in Norwich, and the row houses of the Dutch quarter of Colchester. Even the most famous school of British art represented by Suffolkborn painters John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, whose landscapes emphasized lofty dramatic skies and broad horizons, drew on the seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of the similar vistas across the North Sea.
Three thousand miles away, the fledgling New England settlements would have a similar proximity to and cultural overlap with the New Netherlands--for which East Anglian memories and antecedents were presumably an asset, despite occasional squabbles. Like its principal parent region, New England easily assimilated its scattering of Dutch, French Huguenot, Fleming, and Walloon immigrants. Without them, someone other than Paul Revere would have to have made his famous ride. As befit a region of intensive household industry from yarn-spinning to cheese-making, East Anglia also had a disproportion of craftsmen and tradesmen. Many of the Puritans among them became emigrants to New England, and besides the transatlantic infusion of their religion and culture, their vocational descriptions live on as well-known patronymics: Chandler, Cooper, Currier, Cutler, Draper, Fletcher, Gardiner, Glover, Mason, Mercer, Miller, Sawyer, Saddler, Sherman, Thatcher, Tinker, Turner, Waterman, Webster, and Wheelwright. Names like these remain numerous in the Swamp-Yankee rural townships--and, even more vividly in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century directories of New England university graduates, doctors, ministers, and military officers. They became an elite in the New World to an extent they never managed in the Old.
Yet the most important impact of East Anglia in shaping New England was neither architectural, linguistic, nor patronymic, but instead political and governmental--in a civic culture of high literacy, town meetings, and a tradition of freedom reaching back to Saxon days. The Parliamentary side in the English Civil War upheld this heritage in the early years, but lost its way in the later excesses of the Rump Parliament and the Protectorate. The New England of the 1770s, as befit its origins in liberty-minded but orderly East Anglia, had learned some lessons and spread its influence across America along with its population.
Carl Bridenbaugh, David Hackett Fischer, and others, in setting out the traits and qualities that different English groups brought to different parts of America, have dwelt on the East Anglian origins of New England town government. Centers like Framingham, Braintree, and Dedham--three names that reappeared in Massachusetts--had the equivalent of town by-laws and town meetings. In some, officials were called selectmen. On another dimension of civic-mindedness, Suffolk and Essex were the counties with seventeenth-century England's highest literacy rates, roughly 50 percent. An estimated 85 percent of Puritan men in Massachusetts could sign their names to documents, which was about on a level with yeomen and their wives in East Anglia. Of England's nine "publick libraries" outside London before 1640, five were in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and a sixth was in Dorchester, the Puritan citadel of the West Country.
From Lincolnshire south to Kent, the eastern counties were distinctive politically as well as educationally. These areas settled by the Angles and Jutes differed from others in having comparatively large ratios of freemen and small numbers of servi and villani. More than any other part of England, the east was associated with insurrections against arbitrary power--the risings and rebellions of 1381 led by Jack Straw, Wat Tyler, and John Ball in London and most of the eastern counties. Clarence's Rising in 1477 also took place largely within the future bounds of the Eastern Association, whose insurgent cavalry under Cromwell finally did ride down a monarch. Robert Kett's rebellion of 1548 centered in Norfolk. Even Anglo-Saxon opposition to the Normans had lasted longest in the eastern fen country. This was a heritage of liberty New Englanders were proud to share--and would refer to many times in 1774-1775.
John Adams, James Otis, and others cherished the Saxon analogy because it stood for politics more resembling self-determination, free male suffrage, and a consensual social contract--the open-air folk-moots and assemblages in places like Spellow, Norfolk (which meant "hill of speech"). New Englanders, like some English republicans of the 1640s, contrasted these practices with the harsher royal authority, edicts, and codes of the Normans, exemplified by the statutory provisions that determined local authority in places like the Channel Islands, Wales, and the Isle of Man.
Otis, extending other theorists, lauded the ancient Saxon origins of the English constitution: Anglo-Saxon England, in Massachusetts eyes, was a kind of pre-feudal elysium until it was conquered and yoked by the Normans. Thomas Jefferson was also an ardent exponent of the Saxon example, but these views were less common in the plantation colonies. By the time the last cousins' war rolled around, the American Southern states had a contrary twist, as chapter 8 will discuss. Northerners were the Saxons, but Southerners were the cavaliers, the knightly Norman stock that conquered them.
From the first, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the principal Puritan colonies, were to be religious and political New Jerusalems. Stuart England, in the eyes of church elders, had been losing its Elizabethan role as God's chosen nation. A new Israel across the sea might have to take up the burden. John Winthrop wrote to his wife in 1629 that "I am veryly persuaded God will bringe some heavy affliction upon this lande" of England. John Cotton, preaching to emigrants bound across the Atlantic at quayside in Gravesend, read from II Samuel 7:10: "And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant it, that they may dwell in a place of their owne, and move no more, neither shall wicked people trouble them any more as before time." From the start, New Englanders followed in the footsteps of the Puritans in considering themselves a chosen people. Each time--in 1642, in 1775, and in 1861--their ministers sent them off to battle with the requisite assurances that their God was with them.
This, however, is getting ahead of the game. New England historians have correctly called the peak emigration from England in the 1630s the Puritan hegira, likening it to the Prophet Mohammed's seventh-century decision to ensure his new religion's future influence by migrating from Mecca to Medina. East Anglia and southeast England were Mecca; after the Stuart Restoration, New England would indeed be Medina. It would spread the faith, more in a cultural than a strictly religious sense, and ultimately help lead the United States to Britain's support in two world wars and to primacy in the twentieth-century Anglo-American community.
The Advent of Civil War
Puritan voices had been influential at the court of Elizabeth I, among them Lords Burghley and Leicester, two of the Queen's trusted advisers, along with Archbishop Grindal and Bishop Jewel, two of the boldest architects of the new Church of England, and the two Hakluyts, John Sr. and John Jr., preeminent chroniclers of English settlements and prospects in the Americas during the Age of Expansion.
The breadth of Puritan endeavor further expanded in the seventeenth century, despite the wariness of James I. Sympathizers were in the forefront of English seafaring and colonization, of early industrialization--cloth-making, in particular--and almost every kind of small-capitalist assertiveness. Strongest in the larger towns and seaports, London, Bristol, Norwich, and others, the Puritans were correspondingly weak in conservative rural areas. This was especially true in the north and west, most recently brought to heel by the Tudors, where garrisoned castles, Roman Catholicism, and feudal relationships lingered. The aggressiveness of Puritanism, more than any other single factor, may have been the catalyst for the polarization that took over in the 1640s.
R. H. Tawney, in his early twentieth-century masterwork Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, argued that "the growth, triumph and transformation of the Puritan spirit was the most fundamental movement of the seventeenth century." Puritanism, he contended, "and not the Tudor secession from Rome, was the true English Reformation, and it is from its struggle against the old order that an England which is unmistakably modern emerges." This seems excessive. The Tudors played an essential role in the political and dynastic success of the Reformation. The Puritans, however, were the principal advance agents of constitutional change and early market capitalism. And they and their heirs would be a catalyst in each of the cousins' wars, not just the first one.
Like their Yankee descendants, English Puritans mixed theology and capitalism provocatively and often to great personal profit. The first and second Earls of Warwick, the richest of the Puritan peers, counted warring against Spain not only as patriotism, but as enterprise. Warwick's privateers--on some occasions, pirates--pounced on Spanish merchant ships and treasure galleons from bases in England, Holland, and the West Indies. The sun never set on his (and the Puritans') war with Spain. When England made peace with Madrid, Warwick ships fought Spain under letters of marque from Holland, and when the Dutch, too, damped their fuses, his vessels fought under the commission of the far-off Duke of Savoy. In Warwick's shadow, John Hancock and the eighteenth-century New Englanders who made fortunes from smuggling and privateering were small fry.
After Charles I dissolved Parliament in 1629, the Earl and his allies used meetings of their Providence Island Company, founded to establish a Puritan settlement and anti-Spanish privateering base in the Caribbean, as an alternative venue for politicking they had hitherto conducted in Westminster corridors and anterooms. For weeks at a time, the collaborators would visit at Warwick's house in London or Lord Brooke's. John Hampden's famous lawsuit against Ship Money, the innovative, irksome royal tax that helped sow the seeds of the Civil War, was plotted at these dinner tables.
Yet despite the undoubted frustrations of Puritans and other critics, as late as 1638 relatively few Englishmen would have felt compelled to take up arms against the King, despite unhappiness over his choice to rule for what would be eleven years without consulting Parliament. What changed this was a succession of religious upheavals in Scotland (1638-1640) and then a rising in Ireland (1641), both of which helped draw England into an internal confrontation of its own. Without these events in Scotland and Ireland, the broader conflict might have been avoided for a while longer.
The specific misjudgment that brought matters to a head in Scotland was Charles Stuart's insistent Anglican orthodoxy. In 1638, after he had for several years demanded unpopular changes in the Scottish Protestant ritual and prayerbooks, the gentry and common people of Scotland, aroused by what they called "plain proofs of popery," united in a Solemn Covenant from which supporters took their name--Covenanters. They also mobilized an army. When the Scots troops marched up to the English border in 1639, many in Parliament and in the English population regarded them as allies, not as threatening foes.
By August 1640, after a second mobilization in which Scots Covenanters--the Presbyterian, nearest north-of-the-border equivalent of English Puritans--crossed the River Tweed and captured Newcastle, the King was in a trap. To obtain money to fight the Scots, he had to call a new Parliament to replace the one he had dismissed eleven years earlier. This "Short Parliament" in the spring of 1640 brought English dissension to a boil. Many in the House of Commons, disliking the previous eleven years as the King's "personal tyranny," preferred to keep the Scots army in place as "a guarantee of English liberties." Cromwell himself is reported to have said that he would rather help the Scots fight the King than vice versa. The Short Parliament was sent home.
In October 1640, Charles agreed to call for a second assemblage and got an even less friendly one--the famous Puritan-dominated Long Parliament. After a year of slow progress on broadly supported reforms, this Parliament wound up in late 1641 confronting the King with the Grand Remonstrance, a lengthy compendium of alleged royal abuses. Parliamentary leaders went so far as to have its sweeping constitutional, religious, and economic charges printed and distributed, a rare appeal to popular opinion. The King, in his famously impolitic response several weeks later, marched soldiers into the House of Commons to seize five Parliamentary leaders on charges of treason. When he failed on that January morning of 1642--all five Puritan blackbirds had flown--civil war became a strong possibility, perhaps a probability. By June, when the King predictably rejected a measure to restrict his powers, Parliament's Nineteen Propositions, the lines were drawn.
Charles, lacking financial resources because the Parliament controlled the purse, took months to gather an army. By the time of the first major battle at Edgehill in October 1642, hundreds of Puritan emigrants were returning from Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut to fight alongside their cousins and to help make history. More than half of those who graduated from Harvard between 1640 and 1650 went back. For Massachusetts, the English Civil War was more than a far-off fight; it was a magnet--and it would be an enduring memory.
What People are saying about this
(Thomas Fleming, author of Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America)
(Sean Wilentz, Professor of History, Princeton University)
Meet the Author
Kevin Phillips is the bestselling author of eight previous books, including The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990) and The Emerging Republican Majority (1969). He is also a commentator for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times. In 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996, he was a national elections commentator for CBS Television News. He lives in West Goshen, Connecticut.
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