The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England

By Morrill, John | Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England


Morrill, John, Canadian Journal of History


The Civil Wars after 1660: Public Remembering in Late Stuart England, by Matthew Neufeld. Woodbridge and Rochester, The Boydell Press, 2013. xiv, 284 pp. $99.00 US (cloth).

This is an enterprising addition to a burgeoning field. There has been, at least since the 1970s, an ever-growing study in how the English civil wars were remembered and debated in the half century after they ended (with the Restoration of the monarchy in May 1660) and indeed in the Victorian age, both representing prisms through which we still read this central episode in English and British History. Most attention has been focused on the publication, often in severely and revealingly bowdlerised forms, of the memoirs and diaries of both principal and peripheral actors, and several books have been devoted to the way the central figure of Oliver Cromwell was memorialized--more demonized than sanctified in the late seventeenth century, the reverse from the 1840s on. Neufeld engages with these literatures and has new things to say about the canonical texts. His discussion of the prefaces written by Henry Hyde, earl of Rochester, to the first edition of his father's History of the Great Rebellion is a case in point. But he is even more interesting in his close encounter with much less familiar material such as the hundreds of petitions written by war veterans seeking disability pensions in the Restoration, or the sermons preached annually on 29 May--the day on which Charles II entered London to reclaim his throne in 1660 (and also, as it happens) his birthday--not only in Charles II's reign but right down to the Hanoverian succession in 1714. What would have been an equally innovative chapter on how the Anglican clergyman John Walker sent out questionnaires to every parish so as to chronicle and gloss the sufferings of the clergy for Church and King in the 1660s and which he finally published in 1714 has been somewhat overtaken by the publication of a monograph on the subject (Fiona McCall, Baal's Priests, Famham, 2013), although Neufeld is still well worth reading on the subject.

His central thesis is that "public remembering of the civil wars and interregnum after 1660 was not ultimately concerned with re-fighting the old struggle, but rather commending and justifying, or contesting and attacking, the Restoration settlements that underlay the Anglican confessional state" (emphasis mine, p. 2). The phrase "not ultimately" is a bit careless here and Neufeld needed to tread more carefully. I do not doubt that he is on to something important and well worth saying, and indeed perhaps the most compelling parts of his analysis come in the chapters covering the period after 1689--for example the chapter devoted to a wholly new analysis of 29 May day sermons shows no decline in the incidence or polemical clout of those sermons right down to the Hanoverian succession. …

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