"Into Another Mould": Aspects of the Interregnum

By Ivan Roots | Go to book overview

3
Local Government Reform in England and
Wales during the Interregnum

Stephen Roberts


Civil War historians and the government of localities

The history of local government in mid-seventeenth century England and Wales has been something of a sacrifice to historiographical conflict. It is a problem which has attracted interest only since the turn of the century and its slender bibliography has endowed it with little resistance to grander themes. Macaulay was interested in local matters only as a backcloth to an epic and even S. R. Gardiner, penetrating as all his judgements were, offered no interpretation of local institutional change. J. R. Tanner, it is true, considered the justice of the peace but only as a monument to Tudor ‘constructive genius’, as a symptom of a ‘centralised administration’. Early socialist historians took up the theme of the centralised state as a check on the local landed gentry, whose innate acquisitiveness would naturally break forth at any opportunity. Ε. M. Leonard described the endeavours of Laud and Strafford in the field of poor relief as ‘remarkable for more continuous effort to enforce socialistic measures than has been made by the central government of any other great European country’.1 The ‘Puritan Revolution’, by contrast, was a victory for bourgeois self-interest. Suspicion of local oligarchies, one presumes, would not have been shared by the great nineteenth-century Liberals, for whom ‘local self-government’ was a watchword elevated to a political philosophy. Macaulay, after all, had reluctantly condemned the Protectorate as a despotism ‘moderated only

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