Political Conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell. By Blair Worden. (Oxford University Press, New York: 2012. 421 pages, Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-19-957049-2
Reviewed by Boris Segel - June 6, 2012
The Puritan Revolution was a pivotal period in English history, not just due to its political ramifications, but also due to its philosophical implications. In God's Instruments: Political Conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell the historian Blair Worden looks at this often overlooked aspect of the Puritan Revolution, and its legacy. This book primarily covers the Interregnum period, from 1649-1660. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive history of the period. Rather, this book would best serve as a supplemental text in classes on the English Civil Wars, the Puritan Revolution, the Interregnum, or Cromwellian rule. This text is also ideally suited for use in seminars or advanced classes on 17th century British history.
There are ten essays in this collection, and over the course of this study Worden studies the Puritan ideals and doctrine over which they went to war for, and the political power that they wielded. He examines how these ideals took concrete form and how they were implemented and integrated into English society such as the Puritan ideals of 'liberty of conscience' and 'godly reformation'. Worden also examines the Puritan's take over of Oxford University, and how they planned to use the university to train both political and spiritual leaders. The extent and use of Cromwellian power is covered as it the function and legacy of the Protectorate, both outwardly and in terms of internal politics. Finally, in the last two essays in this collection, Worden takes an in-depth look at the minds, and politics, of two whose lives have been long tied to the revolution - the Cromwellian writer, John Milton, and Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon and a staunch loyalist.
The totality of this book provides readers with a firm grounding in Puritan ideology, the political machinations that surrounded this ideology, and the long term consequences of the Puritan Revolution. Most important it provides insights into how the Puritan ideology affected the decision making practices of the Cromwellian leadership and how this ideology shaped and directed the political landscape during this period.
Worden is Emeritus Fellow of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University and initially much of the information presented in this book was written by Worden for use in lectures or as stand-alone essays. In compiling this collection of discourses he has totally revised and updated these essays, included new information as needed, and has ably melded these diverse works together into a uniform whole. However, each piece stills stands on its own, giving readers the options of reading this text straight through, or jumping around the text as their fancy takes them.
God's Instruments is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Puritan Revolution or Cromwellian politics. It provides an added dimension to other works on this period and it is sure to help shape future discourses on this pivotal moment in history. A must have for all academic libraries!
England Under the Stuarts, By G. M. Trevelyan
An in-depth look at English history from 1603-1714, covering the reigns of Charles I to Queen Anne.