Rethinking the English Revolution of 1649

Fitzgibbons, Jonathan (2017) Rethinking the English Revolution of 1649. Historical Journal, 60 (4). pp. 889-914. ISSN 0018-246X

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Abstract

Despite the dramatic events of the trial and execution of Charles I in the winter of
1649, the period that followed tends to be characterized as one of constitutional inertia
or backsliding rather than revolution. The regicide, it is argued, was not the product of
deep-felt republican feeling but a matter of necessity and expediency; by extension the
kingless Commonwealth regime established after the king's death was ‘regarded from
the start as a stop-gap, a mere expedient, never an experiment’; it was 'a government
which, much of the time, did not know whether it was coming or going’.1
The
constitutional changes were an unforeseen consequence of the regicide: they were
‘improvised, confused, and at moments panic-stricken’.2
Few believed the trial and
execution of the king would lead to the abolition of kingship. Besides hints of
backroom dealings to put one of Charles’ sons on the throne, the dilatoriness in
establishing a kingless government after the regicide shows there was no enthusiasm
for republican rule in England. The ‘fact’ that after the king’s execution ‘it took the
Commons a week even to ask itself whether or not kingship should be abolished
indicates the limits of republican feeling at this time.’3 Rather, kingly government was
abandoned with much regret and only as a last resort. While the resolution for
abolishing kingship on 7 February 1649 was testimony to the ‘revolutionary daring of
some rumpers’ it owed ‘much more to the absence of a plausible alternative policy’.4
Against their better judgement the majority of those at Westminster sleepwalked their
way into kingless rule. It seems that from the moment the decision was taken to abolish
kingship the restoration of monarchy was a matter of when not if.

Keywords:History
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V142 Modern History 1600-1699
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
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ID Code:26879
Deposited On:30 Mar 2017 14:51

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