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Overview

Mr Simon Feasey

Popular political speech in the 1530s


Affiliations
Affiliation
Popular political speech in the 1530s in the Department of History

Biography

PhD History Research Project

An analysis of popular political speech in the 1530s and its place in our understanding of popular political activity in Early Modern England 

This project works from the standpoint that there was a politics to popular rebellion in the 1530s, and that it was part of an underlying and developing political culture. It seeks out and analyses popular political speech in the period. Featured in the historiography of popular politics in early modern England we have forms of disorder variously described as ‘insurrection’, ‘riot’, ‘rising’, ‘rebellion’, and other such labels. In seeking a deeper understanding of popular political activity in the 1530s, through a systematic examination of popular political speech, this project examines what was going on beneath these spikes in activity by addressing four key research questions:

  1. What does the evidence of popular political speech reveal about everyday plebeian criticism and action?
  2. What does the evidence of popular political speech reveal about lower order rebels’ level of organisation, sense of tactics, and organisation concealment?
  3. What does the evidence of popular political speech reveal about the sites of discourse; where those words were spoken?
  4. What does the evidence of popular political speech and its betrayal reveal about early modern loyalties and allegiances?

The passage of the Treason Act of 1534 established certain forms of speech as treasonable; notably including writings and words which were critical of King Henry VIII’s policies.[1] The level of popular discontent evident across the 1530s and its rub against this legislative shift is seen as an opportunity ‘to reconstruct the circumstances of speech offences and the personal dynamics and ideological frictions that may have underlain them’.[2] Walter describes this as a privileged point of access to popular 

political culture, ‘a moment when the opaque surface of the past is punctured’, allowing the voice of subordinate groups to be heard.[1] The State Papers of Henry VIII offer a significant body of evidence that will constitute this project’s prime source of evidence. Its digitisation opens up keyword and phrase search possibilities. Searches made for anything suggestive of ‘sedition’ or ‘treason’, and such, will be systematically analysed, according to the demands of the key research questions. 

 

Beyond this key source, an exhaustive search of all other available material will be made. This will include royal injunctions and printed condemnations of rebellion, judicial transcripts, prescriptive literature, letters, legislative proceedings, and diaries. The most significant point of open rebellion within the period of this study was the Pilgrimage of Grace. Its leaders were subject to the sort of close examination experienced by Robert and William Kett in 1549. Writing on the 1549 Rebellion, Wood warns us of the way in which rebel voices may have been ventriloquised by the authors of the various narratives historians are left with to draw on.[2] Wood’s vigilance here and the insights offered will be taken into account throughout this study as we seek to broaden the range of historical documentation available to us.[3]

Use will be made of a number of key secondary sources (identified in the bibliography below) with significant addition to this anticipated as work on the project progresses. This will also include academic work that assists in a broader theorisation of project research findings; such as the scholarly work of Epstein, Harris and Scott (see bibliography below).

Writing up of the research will take the form of six chapters: an introduction, including rationale for the project; a synthesis of scholarly work on seditious, treasonable and slanderous speech; four chapters directly addressing each of the key research questions, in turn; and a conclusion, summarising key findings and how this adds to 

knowledge and understanding. Each of the main chapters will be broken up into appropriate sections, offering clarity and coherence around findings answering the question being addressed. It is anticipated that this will add shape to the findings according to gender, occupation, social status, place, and so on. 

 

Historians have written of the 1536-7 insurrections as being a significant event in which regions of the north mobilised, driven by particular grievances that informed their petitioning of the King. Attempts have been made to distinguish between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ motivations. Academic debate has been had over who led the rebellion and how much weight should be attributed to the argument that the ‘commons’ provided the impetus. I explore this matter of motivation and instigation, and how it varied across the regions of the north, in my M.A. dissertation. The proposed (PhD) study will search deeper into the world of popular politics and social conflict in the 1530s, identifying popular political speech, addressing the stated set of research questions. It is this endeavour, I contend, that makes this study somewhat unique, building on what presently exists, and so making a valuable contribution to the field.

Bibliography

R. Cobb, The Police and the People: French Popular Protest 1789-1820 (Oxford, 1970).

D. Cressy, Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-modern England (Oxford, 2010).

G. R. Elton, Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the Reformation in the Age of Thomas Cromwell (Cambridge, 1972).

J. A. Epstein, In Practice: Studies in the Language and Culture of Popular Politics in Modern Britain (Stanford, CA, 2003).

A. Fletcher and D. MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions (Oxford, 2016).

R. Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society (Oxford, 1990).

T. J. G. Harris (ed.), The Politics of the Excluded C.1500-1850 (Basingstoke, 2001).

R. Hoyle, The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s (Oxford, 2001).

J. C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT, 1990).

E. H. Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge, 2002).

E. H. Shagan, ‘Rumours and Popular Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII’, in T. Harris (ed.), The Politics of the Excluded C. 1500-1850 (Basingstoke, 2001), pp. 30–66.

J. Walter, Crowds and popular politics in early modern England (Manchester, 2006).

J. Walter, ‘“A Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596,’ Past and Present, 107 (1985), pp. 90–143.

A. Wood, ‘“A lyttull worde ys tresson”: Loyalty, Denunciation, and Popular Politics in Tudor England’, Journal of British Studies 48 (2009), pp. 837–847. 

A. Wood, The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2007)

A. Wood, Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2002). 

A. Wood, “‘Poore men woll speke one daye”: Plebeian Languages of Deference and Defiance in England, c. 1520–1640,’ in T. Harris (ed.), The Politics of the Excluded C. 1500–1850, (Basingstoke, 2001), pp. 67-98.


[1] J. Walter, Crowd and popular politics in early modern England (Manchester, 2006), p.8.

[2] A. Wood, The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2007), p.93.

[3] Ibid. Part II: Political Language, pp.89-184.



[1] Wood, Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2002)p.34.

[2] D. Cressy, Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-modern England (Oxford, 2010), p.xii.