Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers

Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers

Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers

Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers

Synopsis

This book makes an original contribution to the history of the English Revolution and to the meaning of crowd behavior. It recreates one of the most famous episodes, in which crowds from Essex and Suffolk attacked and plundered the houses of the gentry, and sought to "ethnically cleanse" their communities of Catholics. The deeper perspective offered by history shows that this action was not "blind violence": the book deciphers the logic that informed the crowd's behavior, and finds evidence of both the importance--and reach--of puritanism and popular parliamentarianism.

Excerpt

And that their loss of liberty might not be all their punishment, it was the usual course (and very few scaped it,) after any man was committed as a notorious malignant, (which was the brand,) that his estate and goods were seized or plundered, by an order from the House of Commons or some committee, or [by] the soldiers, (who in their march they took the goods of all catholics and eminent malignants as lawful prize), or by the fury and licence of the common people, who were in all places grown to that barbarity and rage against the nobility and gentry, (under the style of cavaliers,) that it was not safe for any to live at their houses who were taken notice of as no votaries to the Parliament.

So the common people (no doubt by the advice of their superiors) in Essex on a sudden beset the house of Sir John Lucas, one of the best gentleman of that county, and one of the most eminent affection to the King, being a gentleman of the privy chamber to the Prince of Wales; and upon pretence that he was going to the King, possessed themselves of all his horses and arms, seized upon his arms, seized upon his person, and used him with all possible indignities, not without some threats to murder him: and when the mayor of Colchester, whither he was brought, with more humanity than the rest, offered to keep him prisoner in his own house till the pleasure of the Parliament should be farther known, they compelled him, (for he was willing to be compelled,) to send him to the common gaol; where he remained, glad of that security, till the House of Commons removed him to another prison, (without ever charging him with any crime).

Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Begun in the Year 1641, book 6, pp. 36–7 (published in 1702, but written c. 1647).

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