Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 109-110
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State Formation in Early Modern England, c. 1550-1700
State Formation in Early Modern England, c. 1550-1700. By Michael J. Braddick (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2001) 448 pp. $74.95 cloth $27.95 paper
There is little reason to doubt that the English state increased in power during these years. Whether we think in terms of central government and bureaucracy, the state's ability to collect taxes and raise revenue, or its gigantic strides in the mobilization of the armed forces, "upward and onward" defines most of the themes that we encounter. At the same time, efforts to determine and impose a modal confessional church upon the populace ran into so many setbacks and obstacles that by 1689 toleration and diversity had to be accepted to a degree that would have confounded a sixteenth-century king or queen.
Braddick traces these, and related, lines of state formation, from the accession of Elizabeth to the early eighteenth century, by which time the ramifications of the Glorious Revolution had trickled down to the society of the provincial elites and officeholders who would implement or mediate the realities of state formation. He offers a long essay that is best read as an exercise in political sociology, or historical political science. There is virtually no narrative; the student without background in "what really happened" would find few concessions and might well be hard-pressed to follow the discussion. Incisive treatments of the Poor Law and the vagrant problem, or those touching the growth of the military in the 1640s, or focusing on the relations of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland to England assume a good deal of background.
Two main lines of force, of discursive dynamic, guide the exposition. The success and/or failure of central government is judged by its [End Page 109] ability to assert and impose a "programme of civility" upon public life and behavior. This "programme" comes down to a question of whether—and how and how much and in what ways—the agenda of central government, be it Tudor-Stuart, Cromwellian, Restoration, or Orangeist, could be made into that of the political community. That community first was provincial England, then the rest of the British Isles, and finally the English colonies of North America, a span that adds depth to the analysis and reaches into the realms of the "new British history" and the Atlantic world.
Braddick measures the government's success or failure in the civility campaign by gauging the extent to which central policies were implemented, altered, or mediated by the local elites and officeholders expected to carry them out. The tension between the "natural" elite—lords lieutenants, upper gentry, etc.—and officeholders, such as justices of the peace, is an important factor. So is the weight of local culture, as when local sympathy with Quakers undercut Charles II's interest in persecution.
Braddick moves through a series of case studies, or test cases, that measure the success of the civility campaign, the ability to control the local mediation of policy, or the building of a nation-state in the face of provincial and parochial views about diversity and interposition. Braddick tackles such topics as the poor rates, taxation, the militia, and the army, witch hunting, and monopolies. His conclusions are that although the main thrust of change was toward "state formation" and centralization, some obstacles could not be overcome; the government's program could only go so far.
One virtue of this volume is that it draws a number of topics of interest from "other" social sciences and explicates them in the framework of the historian's language. There is little jargon, and putting the state back in the middle of it all is both an old tradition and a corrective to modern work that tends to relegate it to the outer boundaries. But Braddick yields to a temptation to repeat his points and to hammer them home in great floods of detail; a heavier hand on the delete key would have...