- The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England
This work is a wide-ranging study that makes important contributions to our understanding of politics in early modern England. Two main arguments run throughout the book. First, Wood argues that the 1549 Rebellions marked a turning point in English political history, the last flowering of a “popular political culture which, after the defeats of 1549, was broken” (150). Wood emphasizes the social divisions among the 1549 rebels, highlighting the “fragile unity” between poor laborers and wealthy yeomen, whose aims did not always align (18). The accelerating socioeconomic differentiation of the Elizabethan period and the inclusion of yeomen in the Elizabethan state served “to fracture the social alliance upon which the tradition of late medieval popular rebellion had rested” and contributed to the decline of popular rebellion in the later sixteenth century (203).
Second, Wood aims “to dispel the notion that the ‘masses of the Tudor period’ were ‘inarticulate’” by demonstrating that “popular political culture in Tudor England was rich, sophisticated and vibrant” (xiii). Wood pursues this task most directly in fascinating chapters on “Speech, silence and the recovery of rebel voices” and “Rebel political language,” but also more broadly by rejecting views of popular politics that emphasize its conservatism, showing instead how the 1549 rebels and commonwealth thinkers “aimed at the radical reform of the social and political order” (151). [End Page 447]
Methodologically, Wood explicitly sets out to cross traditional historiographical and disciplinary boundaries. Throughout the last decade, the social and the political history of early modern England converged, as scholars heeded Collinson’s oft-quoted call for “an account of political processes which is also social” (xvi).1 Wood’s analysis of the 1549 Rebellions builds upon this growing sociopolitical historiography, and his persistent attention to language, memory, and meaning also adds a valuable cultural dimension to his account of social and political change in early modern England. Wood’s approach is constructively interdisciplinary, employing insights from anthropology, linguistics, political theory, and literary studies to illuminate his archival research. For example, Wood draws upon literary analysis to consider how historians might discern authentic rebel voices and ideas in hostile contemporary representations of rebel speech. Elsewhere, anthropological and linguistic analyses of speech and power play a significant role in shaping Wood’s discussion of the ways in which “speech and silence constituted power relations” in a society where elites equated order with plebeian silence (92).
The breadth and sophistication of Wood’s arguments are laudable. He examines topics ranging from the relation between religion and economics to the politics of memory, and he moves chronologically from late medieval rebellions to the appropriation of the 1549 rebellions in modern British politics. This book will be of obvious interest to historians of early modern England, but it will also be of value to a broader range of scholars who are interested in language, politics, and society in the early modern period.
1. Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Essays (London, 1994), 14.