Partway through reading this book, it occurred to me that reading a heavy-duty academic historical analysis of the causes of the English Revolution might not be the brightest idea for someone who hasn’t yet gotten a firm grasp on, oh, the chronology of the English Revolution.
I made it through, though, in large part because of the organization and focus of this book. Stone divides his causes up into three (admittedly fuzzy) categories of preconditions, precipitants, and triggers, each operating on a successively shorter time scale. The preconditions occupied the bulk of that essay (there are four essays in here, but the titular one is huge), and the preconditions, in his view, ran from about 1529 to 1629. In other words, from the Reformation in England and Henry VIII’s seizure of Church property to the dissolution of Parliament and beginning of Personal Rule/the Eleven Years’ Tyranny. That latter term is a new one by me — see the above statement about not really knowing the seventeenth century yet — but the Tudor parts of the preconditions, I can deal with just fine. So when Stone talked about how the redistribution of Church property changed the balance of economic and political power among the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the gentry, or how early Elizabethan neglect of the episcopacy led to a loss of status for Anglican bishops, I can follow him well enough. And I can definitely see how the policies that kept Elizabeth afloat left James in a nigh-untenable position.
The precipitants and the triggers, respectively, he links to the periods 1629-1639 and 1640-1642. That is to say, he’s looking at long-range, middle-range, and short-range causes. And writing from a perspective shortly after sociology apparently rammed into history at high speed, so he’s attempting the admittedly difficult hat trick of bringing in causes from Parliament and the monarchy and the merchants in London and the Puritans everywhere and the Church and the wars England was fighting and social mobility and anything else you can think of. The result? Is a hella dense book. (And regrettably saturated with the passive voice.) But a good one nonetheless, that goes a long way toward making sure I don’t leap straight from 1590 to 1640 or whenever AAL will start, without thinking through the intervening decades.
If the structural difficulty with MNC was deciding what year to place it in (since the changeover of interesting historical personnel was so high in the decade to either side), the structural difficulty here is how not to smear this book across forty years or more, to the point where it gets way too distant and boring. There are two ways I can see to do that. One is to turn it into the sort of 300,000-word historical brick that comes with free complimentary LOLcat caption saying “I R SERIOUS BOOK” . . . but that, alas, is not what we’re after here.
The other, of course, is to give up on covering everything happening in that forty years, and to find the perfect turning moments to show more closely. (And probably to pull in the edges. But I honestly don’t think I can reduce this to less than twenty-six years — from the reconvening of Parliament in 1640 to the Great Fire in 1666.) Picking the turning moments, naturally, is far easier said than done.
But the next step in that is probably, y’know, learning what went on in the seventeenth century. It isn’t a good sign when I’m reading this book going, “what happened in 1640? What are you talking about? Huh? The government collapsed? What the hell?”
Time to go find myself a more basic chronological history. Any suggestions?