State Formation in Early Modern England, C. 1550-1700

State Formation in Early Modern England, C. 1550-1700

State Formation in Early Modern England, C. 1550-1700

State Formation in Early Modern England, C. 1550-1700

Synopsis

The seventeenth century has always been seen as important for the development of the modern English state. Over the past twenty years, however, this view has been criticized heavily and no general account of the development of the state in this period has yet emerged. On the basis of a wide-ranging synthesis of specialist work in diverse fields of English, British and colonial history, this book makes a novel argument about the modernization of the seventeenth-century English state, and of the role of class and gender interests in its development.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 was primarily definitional — setting out a definition of the state and describing the institutions that comprised it. the main purpose of this book, however, is to examine the history of the early modern state — changes in its form and functioning over time — and to try to reconcile competing accounts of that history. in particular, we are interested in patterns in the forms and use of state power — the degree of the autonomy of the state, the relationship between centre and locality, and the chronology of its development. These patterns were not given by a central will, or by a single function. in examining state formation, as opposed to state building, patterns will be sought in three general sources of pressure on the exercise of political power. Firstly, the uses of political power were patterned by the kinds of end for which political power was characteristically found appropriate. Secondly, the definition of these opportunities and challenges, and of appropriate responses to them, was shaped by patterns of participation in the system. Finally, the limits on what could legitimately be done were also set, in part, by the availability of languages appropriate to the legitimation of the action in hand.

In this chapter we will first consider the general pressures which called forth new or increased uses of state power. in responding to these pressures, legitimate uses and forms of office had to be found. the key concept here, then, is legitimacy which will be considered in some detail in the second section of the chapter. Agents of state power had to demonstrate that their actions fell within the formal limits of their office but also sought to justify these actions with reference to beliefs current in society at large. This gave force to those ideas, and set limits on the range of administrative action. Different kinds of office, naturally, were legitimated n different ways. Since there were limits to what could be done within the limits of particular offices, some forms of office were more useful for some functions than others. This affinity between form . . .

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