Popular politics
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Popular Politics. Mark Knights. Picking up earlier themes. Penny Roberts on popular culture Claudia Stein on print and on elite politics More recent lectures on the nature of the state And looking ahead: Case studies of the British civil war and later seventeenth century revolution

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Popular Politics

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Popular politics

Popular Politics

Mark Knights


Picking up earlier themes

Picking up earlier themes

  • Penny Roberts on popular culture

  • Claudia Stein on print and on elite politics

  • More recent lectures on the nature of the state

    • And looking ahead:

    • Case studies of the British civil war and later seventeenth century revolution

    • Intellectual change (emergence of idea of popular sovereignty)


The separation and convergence of social and political history

The separation and convergence of social and political history

  • High political concern with certain institutions of the state (the court, representative assemblies, leading ministers and advisors) and with factions within them

  • Social history’s recovery of the world of the everyday, which seemed very divorced from such concerns. Trevelyan: social history as history with the politics taken out. Manning’s conclusion of early modern English rioters was that their ‘motives are devoid of political consciousness and their writings or utterances do not employ a political vocabulary’ [Villlage Revolts 1509-1640 (1988)]

  • But investigation of crowd activity in C18th (Rudé, Thompson) suggested otherwise. Calls for their reintegration in 1990s. Patrick Collinson called for ‘a new political history, which is social history with the politics put back in, or an account of political processes which is also social’. Mike Braddick’s State Formation (2000)


What is politics

What is politics?

  • If we escape the narrow definition of politics as being about courts, ministers, foreign policy and parliaments, how do we define it?

  • We could say it had to do with power and power relationships – this is the thrust of gender history, which suggests that the household was a site of unequal power relations. There is thus a politics of patriarchy or of the household. Or, with anthropologists, we might see power everywhere. Adrian Leftwich: ‘Politics is a defining characteristic of all human groups, and always has been’.

  • Or is politics to do with the state and authority, but these conceived in new ways?


What type of state

What type of state?

Our view of the state changes according to how we approach it:

i) The state appears as hugely powerful, with power concentrated in the hands of the executives, with little choice but submission; or the state as impersonal machine, administered by magistrates; the state is the legal system. = power/might

iii) the state is more consensual, needing agreement of its members; the number of such members who count increases to include those with votes and other forms of influence. = authority

We thus get two very different and conflicting concepts of the state:


Power and might model of the state

Power and might model of the state

a)Traditional history: rely on state sources and you get idea of state. Or the history of the legislative body or the executive is the history of the state. Central institutions are important and ministers too.

b) marxist thinking:

This places most emphasis on state as force. Political power is the organised use of force to bring another class into subjection. Institutions are very important in this line of thinking – the state before it withers away.

But 1980s forced rethinking – were such states very strong, even if they seemed to be? Or was the strength of a state in fact determined by the extent to which central government co-operated with local power brokers and when they had popular legitimacy? In this scenario, legitimate authority is what is important rather than power.


Popular politics

  • "If you have fortresses and yet the people hate you they [the fortresses] will not save you; once the people have taken up arms they will never lack outside help." Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)


Re thinking the early modern state

Re-thinking the early modern state

  • Key issues of authority and obedience obsessed early modern states, which had to legitimise their actions in order to make them acceptable to their subjects.

  • How coercive could the early modern state be?

  • The problem of the Reformation – how was it that rulers could change the beliefs of their subjects? Simply through their power? Do we have to see the Reformations as political processes? Catholic church seeking legitimacy through reform.

  • The problem of voluntary office-holders in an era without a police force. Where was the state? Was the centre in the localities?

  • The problem of the composite state – ruling with the established customs and forms of government. The Dutch republic as a case study of the difficulty of imposing an alien set of customs and religion.


Elite vs popular

Elite vsPopular?

  • These views question the polarised divide of elite vs popular.

  • Political divisions and arguments penetrated deep into society – not just the preserve of the elite? Particularly in urban society. Shared political cultures? Or, where not shared, there were points of brokerage. Wayne Brake, Shaping History: Ordinary People in European Politics 1500-1700: ‘it is useful to regard politics as an ongoing bargaining process between those who claim governmental authority in a given territory (rulers) and those over whom that authority is said to extend (subjects)’. Ethan Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (2003): ‘Popular politics simply refers to the presence of ordinary, non-elite subjects as the audience for or interlocutors with a political action …What defined popular politics, then, was not the social class of the people politicking, but rather the extent to which the governed played a role in their own governance. Popular politics presumed, in practice if not in theory, that issues of substantial importance to the life of the nation would be discussed and debated in public, and popular politics accepted, again in practice if not in theory, that those debates would significantly affect how the issues were decided’.

  • Negotiation (concessions or attempts to influence policy and practice). Consent. Collaboration. Self-governance. Local brokers: the ‘better sort’? Importance of office-holders: in GB not just deputy lieutenants, JPs, town magistrates, sheriffs and grand jurors, but also constables, beadles, tithingmen, nightwatchmen, vestrymen and churchwardens, overseers of the poor, petty jurors, local courts. Goldie estimates that c. 1700 about 1/20th of the adult males were ‘governing’ in some sense. And because many were rotated frequently this meant very large scale inclusion.


An alternative view conflict rather than negotiation

An alternative view – conflict rather than negotiation

  • Another view sees popular politics as very different and sometimes antagonistic to those hierarchically placed over them – contest not negotiation. There are occasions when a friction is quite apparent.

    • 1580 revolt of peasants and artisans in Romans (Dauphiné) vs their elite – they broke into chateaux and threatened the rich, with mock ceremony of eating the flesh of their enemies. 1626 Austrian peasants sang song:

      The whole country must be overturned

      For we peasants are now to be the lords

      It is we who will sit in the shade

      1594 Essex labourer ‘what can rich men do against poor men if poor men rise and hold together’.

      1651 Fronde in Bordeaux threw up the Ormée which had mass support, argued for equality and said that ‘the real cause of sedition and political strife is the excessive wealth of the few’

      A ‘durty proverbe’ of Gloucestershire:

      ‘A greate lord is sure of nothing for his hospitality save a greate Turd at his gate’


Popular politics

  • And who who were the people? And widening gap between them? Middle peasants disappeared, as land was consolidated. In village of Manguio in Languedoc in 1595 there was only one estate exceeding 100 hectares; in 1635 there were 3; by 1770 there were 8. Extension of serfdom in eastern Europe.

  • The prevalence of the bourgeois and the oligarchs. Dutch oligarchy. Sale of offices. some sale of offices – begun in Spain in 1540; by 1600, municipal office accounted for ¾ of all offices sold. This process often reinforced oligarchies who bought them. Josep Orti, secretary to the Estates of Valencia, reported in 1696 that his family had held the post for over 200 yrs. Sale of office in France was also a problem. Loyseau estimated that in second half of C16th about 50,000 new offices had been created, though many were absentees. The bourgeoisie, he said, put purchase of land first but ‘office next, for in addition to the profit they gave rank, authority and employment to the head of the family and helped him maintain the other property’.

  • The encroachment of the centralising state – decline of representative institutions: after 1614 France had no Estates General until the revolution of 1789 and the parlement of Paris silenced in the 1660s and provincial estates in the 1670s; Diet of Brandenburg lost power after 1653; Estates of Prussia after 1663; the last Zemsky Sobor met in Russia in 1653, the last Danish parliament in 1660; Castile had no Cortes after 1665; Sweden and Piedmont in 1680s. But also growing bureaucracies supplementing or replacing self-governance. Were there fewer opportunities for popular politics by 1720?


Choices and strategies

Choices and strategies

  • Meek submission, resistance, or a ‘dialogue’ with the regime; the choice of collaboration or compliance

  • Varieties of resistance:

    • Riot

    • Revolt

    • Rebellion

    • Seditious words

  • Varieties of dialogue and debate:

    • Print

    • Petitions, addresses and oaths

    • The appropriation or subversion of symbols, ceremonies and rituals (charivari, mock processions etc)

    • The civic sphere: citizens and freemen, privileges and customs

    • The parish governance


Riot revolt rebellion and sedition

Riot, revolt, rebellion and sedition

  • actions of state could also have impact on people, who accordingly had a view about religious policy, taxation, foreign affairs.

  • Continuous low-level violence (374 disturbances in Provence 1596-1715; 500 in Aquitaine over same period)

  • General crisis of mid C17th. Britain; France; Naples and Palermo in Italy; Portugal; Muscovy; Switzerland

  • Religion as contested or empowering: Captain Pouch in 1607 Midland revolt claimed ‘he was sent of God to satisfie all degrees whatsoever, and that in this present work hee ws directed by the lord of Heaven’.

  • Tax: waves of revolt under Richelieu’s France when tax burden doubled 1630-50 eg in 1636 at Périgord nearly 60,000 people cried ‘Vive le roi sans la gabelle! Vive le roi sans la taille!’ Similarly 1647 at Palermo there were shouts of ‘Long live the king and down with taxes and bad government!’. Tax collectors often victims of violence. In 1635 one at Agen was castrated.

  • Billeting of soldiers also caused great unrest e.g Catalonia 1640

  • Food shortage was often behind many of the revolts e.g 1580s and 90s, 1640s.

  • But were revolts attempts to open dialogue? Desire for justice rather than to kill – 1648 Spanish risings did not kill anyone.


Loyalism as a form of popular politics

Loyalism as a form of popular politics

  • Rather than assuming politics is always about contest we can see it can also be about the process of creating loyalties to regimes and institutions

  • Though loyalty was a contested term – loyal to what? To the old or new church? To the monarch or the church? To the monarch or custom?

  • Questions of authority and legitimacy created moral dilemmas – a series of choices requiring compliance or resistance - amongst the people. Do you take down an image when the government tells you to, or resist? Do you initiate the process of taking down the image? ie can you co-opt state power to do what you want?


Petitions and addresses

Petitions and addresses

  • Humble request or supplication that could carry popular demands or express popular loyalism; oaths of loyalty

  • 5209 in GB 1660-1715; 500 associations

  • 426 associations signed in 1696 – Norwich’s two rival texts (with only one word different) carry 6875 signatures, almost the entire adult male population

  • Process of dialogue within state


Women and popular politics

Women and popular politics

  • Religion could give women a role to intervene politically e.g Elizabeth Barton, the holy maid of Kent. Executed 20 April 1534 with five associates for blasphemy and bringing in ‘a murmur and grudge amongst themselves, to the great peril of the destruction of our sovereign lord and his succession, and to the jeopardy of a great commotion, rebellion and insurrection in this realm’. She had visions believed to be direct revelations from God and these took a political turn. An angel commanded her to tell a monk ‘to burn the New Testament he had in English’; and then to tell the king ‘that he take none of the pope’s right nor patrimony from him, the second that he destroy all those new folks of opinion and the works of their new learning, the third that if he married and took Anne to wife the vengeance of God should plague him’. Role of rumour. This was treason to king – even if loyal to her idea of God.

  • 1705 Coventry election crowd contained many women and was addressed by a speech from one Captain Kate who, slapping one of the Tory candidates on the back, proclaimed, ‘now, boys, or never for the Church’


Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences

  • The need to secure legitimacy and collaboration could also have the unintended consequence of creating a public debate and a popular politics.


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