Wednesday, 25 October 2017

How I Write, Why I Write by Susan Margaret Cooper.

I am not a professional, I do not hold a BA, MA or Ph.D, and in fact O and A levels were never an option. Leaving school at 15 with basic typing skills was, and I am now happy in retirement after many years as a legal secretary. But what I do possess, and have for as long as I can remember, is a passion for history. And it wasn’t until later years that the researching and writing of 17th century history came to be a reality.

It is the researching side of things that really gets into your blood, and it is not as easy thing to ignore. It nags away at you, compelling you to delve further and further into your subject, seeking new material. I call it a dis-ease and as I have said on may occasions to date there is no known cure.

Putting my research in written form however I do not relish as much as the research, but it is a job that must be done for the benefit of readers.

Most of my work is typed on a computer. I am not one for hand written notes, to be honest my handwriting is appalling, more scrap metal than fine copperplate, and often deciphering my own writing is sometimes a research project all of its own. 

Wherever possible I will always archive found material firstly in my computer favourites and then print out the most relevant pieces, with an ever growing mountain of A4 appearing on my desk. When researching away from my desk,  I find using a modern Dictaphone most helpful particularly when used in conjunction with a transcription kit. Most record offices, and the like now allow a nominal fee for digital photos to be taken by a researcher. This is a real bonus, as it allows more documents to be perused, especially when travelling some distance and time is of the essence. Your photos can then be downloaded back home and the documents scrutinized at your leisure.

My fingers are not as fast or nimble as they used to be on the keyboard, so I made the decision to invest in speech recognition software, a wonderful aid and worth every penny.  I was a little hesitant at first in considering this, but the modern speech recognition is superb. I found it particularly helpful in transcribing lengthy old documents. Surprisingly I found that it also works just as well in hearing direct from my Dictaphone, with the added advantage of being able to make a cup of coffee away from my desk whilst the transcription is being done for you.

I find editing your own manuscript an arduous but necessary task and is a cross we all have to bear, unless of course one has the wherewithal to employ an editor.

The main sources of my research are usually many of the excellent accessible and free online websites. For instance Internet Archive is a good source of digitized old books etc., from the libraries and archives of universities worldwide. The National Archives and the like are a never-ending source of material. Wikipedia is useful as are ancestry websites but most of the latter require a subscription. But instinct does play a big part and that is something I fear only comes out with practice.

Thomas Alcock
For example my latest book, a non-fiction work on Thomas Alcock, stemmed from my studies of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester culminating in my historical faction (not a typo I do mean faction) novel ‘Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue’ published in 2014.

All that appeared to be known about Alcock was his association with Rochester as his servant, his part in Rochester’s incredible comedic deception in the guise of Dr. Alexander Bendo, and also the famous portrait of Alcock c 1650 by the celebrated Samuel Cooper held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

With my initial interest in Alcock, my first port of call was to visit the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections, which hold some original works by Rochester together with Alcock’s famous manuscript book, bound in dark green leather with gilt tooling, of ‘The Famous Pathologist or the Noble Mountebank. This was given by Alcock in 1687 as a New Year’s Day gift to Henry Baynton Esq. and Lady Anne his wife, she being Rochester’s eldest daughter. At the end of this exquisite book was the following: ‘Transcribed at Mallets Court In Shierhampton Decr the 13th 1687. by Me THOs ALCOCK’. And on reading those few words, my Alcock sleuthing began.

Bristol Archives had only four references to documents relating to Malletts Court, Shirehampton, near Bristol. The four documents are Indentures appertaining to the Malletts Court. There is a Bargain and Sale of the 21st of June 1699 and a Release of the 22nd June 1699 and two further documents regarding the sale of the house to the Governor, Deputy Governor, Assistants and Guardians of the Poor in the City of Bristol, dated the 28th and 29th of July 1701. In the High Street at Shirehampton stands an old barn, purchased by the church in 2008 and known as the tithe barn and seemingly unrelated to Malletts Court. But the later two Indentures illustrate that the barn would have been part and parcel of the old manor house of Malletts Court, with the church purchasing the building from Bristol Charities, originally Bristol Corporation of the Poor established in 1696.

In the earlier documents there is mention of Malletts Court being heretofore in the possession of a Mrs. Mary Rogers widow. At the earlier time of her living at the old manor, Alcock was also living there and it is where he transcribed ‘The Famous Pathologist’ in 1687. Sadly the manor house, a beautiful specimen, was demolished in 1937 but thankfully there are photo records in existence. It is also interesting to note that two of the signatures on the earlier deeds are those of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich, the latter being none other than the former Elizabeth Wilmot, another of Rochester’s daughters.

Alcock’s employment whilst living at Shirehampton appears to be that of a King’s Waiter at Bristol Port as found in Calendar of Treasury Books entries from 1685 to 1691.

Very few letters written by Alcock have survived, but these prove that whilst he was living in Shirehampton he was friends with the well-known Astry family of Henbury and with Sir Robert Southwell and his son Edward whose country seat was at Kings Weston.

Two of the surviving letters are held at Bristol Archives, with the third in the private collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Wiltshire. All three letters are of great interest; a social letter to Elizabeth Astry, one to Sir Robert Southwell regarding the Monmouth Rebellion and another to Edward Southwell Esq, in connection with the Gloucester Parliamentary Elections of 1690.

As I mentioned earlier, instinct is a great asset and as I trawled the net with the name of Thomas Alcock many surprising facts came to light that caught my eye, one of these being Joseph Glanvill’s ‘Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions’, published posthumously in 1681. Alcock’s name appears on several occasions in the book, relating to ghost stories, and as such confirms Alcock’s secretaryship for many years to the celebrated Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Conner, in Ireland.

My researches then led me to The Royal Society, London, where again to my great surprise Alcock’s name appears in Robert Hooke’s famous ‘Lectiones Cutlerianae, or A collection of lectures, physical, mechanical, geographical & astronomical’, 1679. He is mentioned in connection with Captain Samuel Sturmy’s investigations at the Pen Park Hole, a large natural cave near Bristol, in July 1669. Alcock was present at his descent into the dark abyss, and subsequently wrote verbatim Captain Sturmy’s exploration first hand. This was sent by Alcock to Hooke for his attention…‘I received it from Mr. Thomas Alcock from Bristol’.

Further researches then led me to a letter written in Latin by Alcock to the Duke of Ormonde, on behalf of and signed by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in 1662. The letter is archived at Northern Illinois University.

The British Library played its part too. There is a letter held by them, again in the hand of Alcock but signed by Taylor from Dublin, also dated 1662. This letter is labelled special access, and many weeks passed by before I was given permission to purchase a copy for transcription and for its image to be included in my book.

I conclude with a remarkable, intriguing and unexpected find that came to light. And what better way than to show its entry, which appears in my book:

‘In the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague, shelf mark, BPH 151, there is a manuscript booklet; a tribute to Dr. Henry More who died in September 1687. The document was received by Sir Robert Southwell at his home at Kings Weston near Bristol from Thomas Alcock and as will be seen was written by Alcock at Farley Castle and dated the 14th of January 1687 (1687/88).
Farley Castle was the home of Lady Anne Baynton, daughter of Lord Rochester, and her husband Henry Baynton (1664-1691). As already shown earlier, in this same month Lady Anne and her husband received a New Year’s Day gift at Farley Castle of Alcock’s leather bound copy of the Bendo escapade.’

No one until now could categorically say who had written it, being unsigned, some believing it was by Glanvill. But knowing that Glanvill died in 1680, and from the evidance above, there is only one possible author, and that is without doubt Thomas Alcock.

Susan Margaret Cooper has, for many years, held a curiosity for England's history, with particular emphasis on the Restoration period. Her enthusiasm has led her to scholarly research of those times, resulting in some of her works being published in 2011 and 2013 volumes of Oxford University Press Notes and Queries Journal. Sue also has unpublished pieces archived in Blenheim Palace at Woodstock, Magdalene College in Cambridge and in the Library Catalogue of Trinity College in Cambridge.


A Kindle edition of Thomas Alcock: A Biographical Account Kindle by Susan Margaret Cooper is free on Amazon Kindle for five days it can be found with this link- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thomas-Alcock-Susan-Margaret-Cooper-ebook/dp/B075JKX31B

Monday, 23 October 2017

How I Write, Why I Write by Simone Hanebaum

This is the second blog article in the series How I Write. I have now included a subtitle which is Why I Write? Simone’s response has already validated that new Question. Not only should these articles give students valuable insight into how to write they will hopefully inspire future generations of students to take up the study of history.

I have wanted to be a historian since my high school history teacher led me to fall in love with history. I profoundly believe that history matters, not only intellectually, or socially, but on a personal level as well. I love the archival work and the detective sleuthing it involves, and eventually, the storytelling, and the sharing of that story, that writing enables. The ways in which I have written have evolved and changed as the requirements of my apprenticeship in the discipline and craft of history has changed over the course of my education.

As an undergraduate with a full course load in Canada, I would often have four large term papers due at the end of the twelve-week semester, which often meant one essay was written with 48 hours of mad reading, frantic writing, and very little sleep before I submitted it bleary-eyed, surrounded by several half-empty coffee cups, and an embarrassing amount of junk food wrappers just in time for the deadline set by my professor. I do not recommend this as a writing system at all, nor do I endorse procrastination as a helpful, sexy habit to develop. What I take away from my youthful mistakes though, is that sometimes you will be faced with deadlines, and whether you have years to write a book or thesis, or a day to hammer out a statement requested of you by the local newspaper on an issue pertinent to your research, you will need to sit down, and Get. It. Done. The Germans call it sitzfleisch, literally ‘sitflesh’ or the buttocks and it denotes the ability to sit down and persevere through the task at hand. It will inevitably be a part of your writing.

It goes without saying that to write anything historical you should have prepared by examining primary sources after archival work and reading a lot of secondary literature – you are not writing ‘fake news’ or Donald Trump’s speeches, so you need facts, you need evidence, and you need to listen to what other historians, are writing. It also prevents the embarrassing situation of thinking you are absolutely brilliant with your discovery of something extraordinary and groundbreaking and realizing that a historian said the same thing a decade before. But similarly, it also illuminates where you have found something brilliant and extraordinary, which should hopefully form the basis of whatever piece you are writing.

So you have your brilliant idea, now what? Write it down. Somewhere, wherever works best for you. I keep a research journal full of my ideas, my notes, my archival trips so that I have this information at hand. I also colour code entries based on what they are, paginate the pages and then create a table of contents elsewhere so I can find these thoughts later. I also write the dates of when I was using a journal since I have accrued multiple journals over the years. I keep my research journal on me most places I go because I do inevitably have an idea when I am trying to fall asleep when I’m in the shower, or when I am mid-conversation with someone (yes, I have stopped talking to jot things down). 

You do not have to write your essay in the journal but note your thoughts about a particular source, the questions you have, the outline of the paper, and other ideas you might have. This notebook is also space where I do free writing where I tackle the questions I am still hazy on, or on themes I have not quite wrapped by head around as well. I have not been paid to endorse them, but I love Moleskine’s classical black ruled notebooks to use as my research journals. I am an unashamed stationary nerd, so I love the heavy weight of the paper, and the durability of the spines and covers. The associations with Ernest Hemingway are nice too as I hope in vain that his writing genius will somehow be transported across time to me. I also use a fountain pen to write in my journal. Whether it is Moleskine or a journal with unicorns on it, having good stationary, you love and makes you feel good will always help encourage you to use your notebook.

Once I have my ideas, I create an essay outline that plots what I will discuss and when – it should always have a statement of what my argument is and I try to articulate the larger ‘so what’ questions – why does this matter, why is it important – on it as well. This argument and the particularly questions one may be answering over the course of a larger work, such as an honours thesis or master’s thesis, will act as anchors for your work.

Now the tricky part – the writing. Nothing is harder than getting started. You will clean your room or flat. You will try a new recipe. You will organize your entire wardrobe by colour or alphabetize your wardrobe or discover that it is really time that you worked on your Italian. Productive procrastination has often preceded my writing. Do these things if it will create a space conducive to writing, but it is procrastination. You will need to write. Trying to get started can be crippling, even with a plan. 

So I start small. I give myself daily writing goals of 500 words, because it is a small, manageable task and I know it will not take much time to write either. If writing those 500 words is as painful as visiting the dentist, I do not write more and I step away satisfied that I met a goal. But more often than not the ideas and prose start flowing and I write more, and I fall into a rhythm and before you know it I have 700-1000 words and an hour and a half has passed. I often start writing with the contextual information or biographical information because it is incredibly easy to write and helps situate myself, even more than it will eventually situate my reader. Making writing manageable makes it feel far less daunting an endeavour.

Where and when you write can have a huge impact on the writing process. That post-lunch sleepy slump in the afternoon? Forget about it. I tend to write better in the mornings and after that slump has passed. Some people are very nocturnal and prefer writing in the wee hours of the morning – I prefer to be sound asleep by then but knowing your best rhythm that suits your lifestyle will help. Where you feel most productive really helps as well. My success working from home is unreliable at best because I get distracted by Netflix and food so I write, when I have had access to them, in offices, or in libraries. Some people love cafes but the coffees do add up and my inquisitorial nature (okay nosiness – an important trait in the historian) means that I will invariably eavesdrop rather than work on my writing. Some people love the chatter and white noise though and are not as cheap as I am. I throw on motivational music that is instrumental or in foreign languages (mostly so I don’t sing and dance along). 

Some instrumental EDM beats can really get my writing going, or I like listening incredible film or television soundtracks like those from Westworld or The Borgias. When I do write from home, I like to write in a good ergonomic chair, and I have invested in a laptop tray that converts to a standing desk when I put it on my desk, or a floor desk when I sit on the floor; I suffer from a great deal of lower back pain so I have to vary the positions in which I write (be careful, this is a career hazard for many of us in sedentary work!). Knowing what sort of environment works best for you will always help. And when I work in libraries, I like having a buddy, usually a colleague, who is also in the process of writing. You can hold each other accountable when Facebook or Reddit are seductive distractions, and writing can be a rather lonely experience. 

Having a cohort of friends you can alongside with means you have someone to take a break with, or when they study or work on what you do, you have someone to bounce ideas off of. I also find a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of red wine or scotch, when appropriate and in excessive amounts for the former two and more modest amounts for the latter two, can help make the writing process much more enjoyable.

Once I have finished writing, I (ideally) step away from it and forget about it for a couple of days. Writing can be an incredibly personal experience. It is hard to make the necessary edits and changes – like making sure you actually have answered your question, that the prose flows properly, or cutting unnecessary material – when you are too close to your text. I often do this by printing out a hard copy of my essay so I can read it better and annotate it, or I read it aloud and listen to how the prose sounds. As a postgraduate student I have also always set deadlines with my supervisors to get writing done. They did not require deadlines, but I did; it is a habitual hangover from my undergraduate days. 

Once I have written and revised my writing then it is sent off to my supervisor for comments, or to a peer for feedback, or to a journal’s editorial board, and then promptly celebrated with a reward such as dinner with friends. And then you repeat the process all over again for the next paper, the chapter, the next article, or the next book, or the eventual revisions to come.

Being honest with myself and my writing process ensures that I can write as effectively as possible. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and playing to them can help get words on the page, and allow your creativity and ideas to flourish. 

Writing is the easiest when you have passion for what you are writing and when you are driven by the indescribable excitement you feel when you know the argument, where it is going and everything else falls into place. When this happens, usually in an ideal writing location and time, the words just flow and it is incredible how you feel when you know that what you are writing is not only intellectually excellent but also written well.  There is no feeling like it, and that is real joy of writing, that marriage between your conceptual ideas and your prose. But it has never been constant in my writing experience; sometimes your main goal is just getting words on the page that bear some semblance to English. And that’s okay too.



Simone Hanebaum, B.A., M.A. (SFU) is a third-year research student at the University of Cambridge working on memory, identity, and monumentality in early modern England, 1550-1650, under the supervision of Dr Alexandra Walsham.

  

Saturday, 21 October 2017

How I write

Gaby Mahlberg is an independent scholar from Berlin. I wrote to her and other leading historians asking them to provide a blog article with the title “ How they write?. Gaby’s was the first reply and has the honour of the first blog post. Hopefully, this stimulates further posts. The purpose of these articles is to provide students with better understanding of the writing process.

The way I write has not changed much since my undergraduate days, although I hope that my arguments have become slightly more sophisticated over the years. Ignoring the advice of most of my lecturers to leave the introduction to the end, I usually begin at the beginning. I need to write the introduction first to get my thoughts straight. Once the introduction is out of the way, the rest usually flows naturally – if I have done the research that is.

When I start on a new project, be it a book, a chapter, a journal article or even a blog post, I usually do all my reading and primary research first. I take extensive notes from primary and secondary sources storing them in my project folder on my computer. If the project is a book I might have a number of subfolders for different chapters and topics to make it easier to locate the notes later. I am currently writing a book on three English republican exiles in Europe: Edmund Ludlow, Henry Neville and Algernon Sidney. So I have a folder for the book as a whole and separate subfolders for each Ludlow, Neville and Sidney. Within the Ludlow, Neville and Sidney subfolders, I have yet more subfolders for primary and secondary sources. The notes on primary sources are grouped together by archive, the notes on secondary sources are listed alphabetically by author surname. In the olden days, I even used a card catalogue to reference the photocopied chapters and articles gathered in my lever arch files. But even I have gone (almost fully) digital now.

Students always want to know how much they should read. Will two books and three articles do for a 1,500-word essay? It depends, I would say, it all depends. The more you read, the better.

Some people think that reading too much will only confuse them, and they are keen to keep things manageable. But the opposite is the case. The more you read, the clearer things get. You will come to see that there are lines of argument that keep repeating themselves. They often follow particular schools of thought and you will be able to group authors and arguments together (Whig, revisionist etc). You will also find that you tend to agree more with one side than with the other, or that both lines of argument have their flaws and a middle way might be the answer (e.g. post-revisionist). Reading more will thus help you to look at the arguments from all angles and give you reassurance that you know what the contested points are.

When I have read enough to have a good sense of what arguments and debates there are on the subject and what the open questions might be, I begin to structure my own argument in my head. Once I know where I want to go with the subject, I put this rough structure of my argument down on paper writing out all my thoughts with brief notes which sources I might want to quote to back it up. (Naturally, for a book I apply this system chapter by chapter. I could never remember the rough outline of an entire book, although even there you need a general idea of what the finished work should look like before you start.)

When I have got this draft outline done, I start to fill in the gaps: I look up the primary and secondary sources I meant to quote, get the quotes and put in the references. Then I usually notice that something does not quite add up or that something is missing and do another round of reading and research until the argument sounds coherent and logical – at least to me. When I am happy with what I have written or, more likely, the submission deadline approaches, I start polishing the piece. This involves supplying missing references, editing and fine-tuning the argument by tweaking little things here and there. Then I go back to the introduction and see if it still fits with the piece I have written, or if, after a number of revisions, I need to rewrite it to make the argument sound.

Once I am happy with the piece, or too exhausted to care, I find a friendly colleague or two to read my first draft, while using the break to detach myself from the text for long enough to go back to it with a fresh look when I get the manuscript back. If there is not enough time until the deadline, or the text I am writing is very short, I might skip the personal peer review, but I will still try to get some distance between me and my writing before I have another final look at it. When I get the comments back and/ or have slept on it I make the final revisions and submit the piece.

gma

The Civil Wars of England-John Kenyon - Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988 - xvi + 272pp

“ A Civil War is not only the conflict of opposing principles but the shock of material forces.”

Sir Charles Firth.

The causes of the Civil war have been fought over by historians for centuries. This fight sometimes resembles the real war of nearly four hundred years ago.
Kenyon’s book, which is one of the better military histories does confine itself to a straightforward, matter of fact description of the civil war.

According to Christopher Hill Kenyon’s narrative was of an “ orthodox Tawneyite: towns and cities 'solidly for Parliament', so much so that in 1643 Charles I insisted that he 'dared not trust his person inside any closed town'; the clothing areas were 'aggressively parliamentarian', Birmingham 'a solidly parliamentarian industrial town'. Kenyon grasps the fact which 'revisionist' historians ignore, that before 1642 social revolution was always potentially present”[1].

Hill also recognised that Kenyon’s book while being a military history of the civil war, was an excellent piece of history, with a deep understanding of the politics and economics of the conflict which combined well with his military understanding.

The book is a cracking read and moves along at the pace of a novel. It is methodically researched as to be expected of a historian of Kenyon’s calibre. He had a “scholarly attention to detail and ability to extract every nuance from his sources. He distrusted fads and was sceptical of theories not fully backed by historical fact”.  It is not for nothing he was described as “one of Britain's leading scholars of 17th-century English history”,

Kenyon is this book did not believe that the Great Rebellion as he calls it sprung from nowhere the quote in the introduction from Sir Charles Firth was not a throwaway line, “ A Civil War is not only the conflict of opposing principles but the shock of material forces.”This belief underpins the book.

Another belief put forward by Kenyon was that the war was the product of long-term economic, social and political trends. His quote from James Harrington, “the dissolution of this government caused the war, not the war the dissolution of this government”[2]  is confirmation of this.

As the writer and historian Gaby Mahlberg wrote in her blog of Harrington “ ‘Good laws’, Harrington believed, could give the country stability, and these laws had to be infallible, so that bad men would not be able to corrupt the state. Harrington never saw his dream come true. The Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660 meant a return of many of the old problems. But his ideas of mixed government and a balance of power remained influential in the writings of the Neo-Harringtonians of the later 17th and early 18th century. They influenced both the American and French Revolutions, while his materialist theory of political change would also strike a chord with Marxists and modern economic and political thinkers”[3]. There is no doubt that his writings struck a chord with Kenyon.

High Tide of Revisionism

Kenyon’s book appeared when writing about the Civil War was an extremely hazardous occupation. During the high tide of revisionism anyone writing Whig or Marxist history, Tawney was included in the Marxist camp was met by the revisionist attack dogs.

From a historiographical standpoint, Kenyon sought to position himself between the two camps. Kenyon tried to place his book within the context of the civil war being a product of a general European Crisis of the 17th Century. This view tends to cut across the mainly nationalist English view of the civil war. (See Eric Hobsbawm-The General Crisis of the European Economy Past and Present No 5 May 1954 pp 33-53).

His use of class terms such as “Working Class and “Ruling Class” brings to mind Robert Ashton’s view that “the idea of religious, political and constitutional issues as an ideological superstructure based on foundations of material and class interests has been influential far beyond the ranks of Marxist historians. It has indeed been adopted, in part at least and with a radically different emphasis, by some of their more formidable and determined opponents. The following passage from a celebrated article by Professor Trevor-Roper may serve to remind us that anti-Marxist history is not necessarily history which plays down the crucial importance of material factors and class interest".

Hugh Trevor Roper, “Hit by the price revolution, slow to redeem their losses by ‘good husbandry’, left in the provinces of which, they complained, the hated metropolis had drained the wealth and vitality, taxed to maintain ‘the expenses of a court so vast and unlimited by the old good rules of economy’, the English mere gentry felt themselves to be depressed, declining class, and, grumbling, consoled and –or armed them with religious dissent. Against a protestant court some of them struck under the banner of recusancy; against a ‘popish’ court others struck again, under the banner of puritanism”.

Not all historians agreed with Hill’s assertion that Kenyon was a Tawneyite or for that matter Ashton’s analysis. John Morrill for one believed that Kenyon was closer to the revisionists than he was to Tawney. He made this very clear in his obituary for the Proceedings of the British Academy (Volume 101 (1999), pages 441-461).

Morrill believed Kenyon showed a “fundamental disapproval of model-builders and systematisers. He had no time for social determinism as a tool of the historian for explaining the past or of social engineering as a tool of the politician in effecting the future”. In fact, Morrill believed that Kenyon was a consistent revisionist from his early days up until he died.

One thing is clear a reading of Kenyon’s article Revisionism and Post Revisionism in Early Stuart History[4] he did not consider himself either a revisionist or post-revisionist.

Kenyon’s book is an excellent military history of the civil war that combines an excellent military narrative with an excellent political analysis of the war.

It is hard to place Kenyon or his work in any category. As one obituary writer said “When he appeared at Christ's in 1954, he cast himself in the role of mocking outsider, offering caustic criticisms from the fringes of college power in the confident and correct expectation that they would mostly be ignored. They were. College meetings would be punctuated by Kenyon's heavy sighs and even heavier disapproving sniffs and brief, dismissive comments, but the college men of affairs went about their efficient business untroubled by these background mutterings”. This a sums up Kenyon perfectly.


[1] The Civil Wars of England--John Kenyon - Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988 - xvi + 272pp- https://www.historytoday.com/christopher-hill/civil-wars-england
[2] A History of England, Volume 1: Prehistory to 1714- By Clayton Roberts, F David Roberts, Douglas Bisson
[4] https://www.jstor.org/stable/2124903

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A Short Interview With Historian David Flintham

1. You have said that your interest in this particular field of history was inspired by the 1970 film, Cromwell. Could you expand on this?

As a small boy, my parents took me to see the film Cromwell (we were on holiday in Littlehampton) staring Alec Guinness  and Richard Harris.  Soon afterwards, I had to have the Ladybird book about Cromwell, and the Airfix 1/12 scale models of Charles I and Cromwell (my first 'grown up' book about the Civil Wars was Peter Young and Richard Holmes' 1974 book).  Yes, I know that the film is is historically inaccurate, but it inspired me.

On this point of 'Hollywood history', I couldn't miss the opportunity to mention the 'Braveheart effect'.  When Braveheart was released 2 decades ago, there were so many complaints about its lack of historical accuracy.  My counter to this is that a) it is entertainment and not history; and b) it created a wave of interest in the subject which enabled historians to write 'proper' histories which, without the interest generated by the film, may never have been published.

2. Why is there so little academic interest in London During the English Civil War?

The point I’m trying to get over here is that there is so little academic interest in London militarily during the English Civil Wars.  The political, religious, and economic aspects have been very well covered academically, but the military aspects far less so, and, Stephen Porter’s 1996 book aside, not in one place (e.g. the trained bands on their own, the fortifications on their own, arms production on its own, etc. etc.)

3. How does your participation in Civil war reenactment help your true understanding of a subject that interests you?

I’ve not re-enacted in more than 25 years, so feel am unable to comment here.

4. Could you elaborate on the historiography of your subject?

This is an interesting question. 

I supposed the 'foundation'  of my book would have to be Norman Brett-James's 'Growth of Stuart London'.  I've looked at every book about 17th century London since, but as I indicated earlier, in the main, these focus on the demography, politics, economics, religion and sociology of the capital. 

So I looked beyond London itself, and the following have been important:  London Trained Bands - the research by Alan Turton, Keith Roberts and Wilfred Emberton ; fortifications - the research by David Sturdy, Victor Smith, Peter Harrington (plus my own contribution); Arms industry - Peter Edwards (general), and Charles ffoulkes (cannon), Wayne Cocroft (gunpowder).  I would also add Stephen Porter's 1996 collection of essays, and Stephen Porter and Simon Marsh's 2010 book on the battles of Brentford and Turnham Green.  And finally, but by no means least, Peter Gaunt’s 1987 'The Cromwellian Gazetteer' .

5. What future projects are you involved in?

I am involved in a project that for a while has been attempting to set up a community-based archaeological project on an ECW siege-site.  I am currently searching for a suitable site.

One of the projects I have been working on (for a while) is a ‘register’ to list/identify all the sieges (of any type) from the Bishop’s Wars to the Restoration.  This is certainly a ‘work in progress’.


As for my next book project, I’m writing a comparison between the fortifications of London and those of Oxford, and after that, it’s the sieges of the 2nd and 3rd Civil Wars.

Civil War London: A Military History of London Under Charles I and Oliver Cromwell Paperback-by David Flintham-Helion Books 2017

"From which I may say that London was never truly London till now; for now she sits like a noble lady upon a royall throne, securing all her encroaching pendicles under the wings of a motherly protection; yet these limits were never heretofore granted till the Parliament, for their better safety, confirmed this construction, that (Grand Cayro excepted), I have not seen a larger inveloped compasse within the whole universe.[1]"

William Lithgow

"And it was also Ordered that there should be Bulworkes presently raised in the Fields before the Citty, to Fortifie the same against any Invation ..."

A Continuation of Certain Speciall and Remarkable Passages -24 October 1642

David Flintham’s new book is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of London during the English civil war. London was without a doubt an essential city economically and militarily for both Royalist and Parliamentary forces during the English Revolution, so it hard not to disagree with David Flinthams new book that it does deserve a far more widespread academic interest than it has already received. It is hoped that Flintham’s excellent new book stimulates further research.

The historians who have written on London have recognised its importance. Some have gone as far as saying that King Charles I leaving London led to his defeat.

As Flintham outlines in his book, London was not an easy city to defend. At the start of the war, Parliament quickly recruited amongst the capital's citizens.

Using extensive photographs and illustrations, Flintham has expertly put together a vivid picture of how Londerners constructed a vital system of fortifications. Like today, in fact, it was not an uncommon sight to see armed soldiers patrolling the capital.

The hallmark of any good book is to give its reader a new insight into the subject, and Flintham’s book does that, who knew that London had a considerable section of its population who were neutral during the war.
Another strength of the book is that the author an acknowledged expert on London's Civil War defences and had visited the places he talked about in the book and photographed them a trait that the late historian John Gurney did to good effect.

As I said, London was of vital importance to both sides during the Civil Wars. Parliament recognised that at some point Charles 1st would seek to try to win his capital back

So in August 1642, Parliament issued 'Directions for the Defence of London'. It urged its trained bands to "take a speedy cause to put the City into a posture of defence, to resist and oppose all such force, to fortifie all the passages into same, suburbs and places adjoining whether the same be within the said City and Libertie;"[2].

Flintham is sceptical as to Parliament’s motives for such large-scale construction “In considering the effort which was put into the construction of the Lines of Communication, the question arises the Royalist threat that great that the defences needed to be constructed quickly to protect the capital? Or was the construction of the defences seen as a way of channelling Londoners' energy away from protesting at the way the war was going and the conditions they were living under?”.

London must have a been an extremely tense city in which to live in. In his Lecture London and the English Civil War the historian Barry Coward[3] uses an eyewitness account by William Lithgow to described the atmosphere during wartime

“Lithgow’s comments are not only a fantastic contemporary eyewitness account of what was happening in Civil War London, but in inviting comparisons with post-invasion, present-day Baghdad – constant military activity, a collapsing economy and a society fractured by internal political and religious divisions and the tearing down of statues – they provide an excellent introduction to the historical question that this article addresses: why did London not collapse into an anarchy of disorder, why did the capital not fall apart under the impact of the Civil War, why did the capital’s social, economic, political, religious and governmental structures survive the massive stresses and divisions brought about by the war that is reflected in Lithgow’s eyewitness account?

What makes this the intriguing historical problem is that as the major part of this article will show, London was subjected to pressures by the Civil War that could easily have rent apart its social, economic and political order, in the process shattering its internal stability. As will be seen, the general character of London on the eve of the Civil War made it a very unstable, volatile place in normal times, and the extraordinary conditions of Civil War brought massive additional economic problems, political divisions, religious controversies and a ferment of ideas that shook the stability of the capital. Yet, shaken though the stability of London was, there was no real threat that the social and political order in the capital would disintegrate into anarchy or revolution “[4].

While the first part of the book is given over to describing how London fortified during the civil war the second part provides us with a Gazetteer of Civil War London. This part of the book in no way diminishes the first in fact it enhances it.

Apparently, much work has gone into not only researching the places listed in the book, but Flintham has used an extraordinary amount of shoe leather in visiting and photographing these places.

The book was a pleasure to read and hopefully gets a wide readership. It is an excellent introduction to the military history of the civil war and deserves to be on university booklist.






[1] https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2017/06/30/londons-forgotten-civil-war-fortifications-walk-4/
[2] http://www.mernick.org.uk/thhol/whimount.html
[3] http://seventeenthcentury.info/index.php?title=London_and_the_English_Civil_War
[4] http://seventeenthcentury.info/index.php?title=London_and_the_English_Civil_War