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'Innovation' and revolution in seventeenth-century England

Foxley, R. (2020) 'Innovation' and revolution in seventeenth-century England. In: Goff, B. and Simpson, M. (eds.) Classicising Crisis. Taylor and Francis. (In Press)

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Abstract/Summary

Historians have disputed the connotations of the term 'revolution' in seventeenth-century England, with the aim of establishing whether contemporaries could have understood the English Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century as a revolution in a sense that we recognize. However, they have largely overlooked the fact that a term existed which did often specifically denote political revolution: 'innovation'. Innovation had this sense because it was often used as a translation for 'novae res', although it could also be used in the more familiar sense of (gradual) change. 'Innovation' was also one of the most ubiquitous pejorative terms in early Stuart political discourse, deployed by both sides in the increasingly polarized debate which led to the civil war. The fact that accusations of revolutionary intent were so often made in this period heightens our understanding of the extent of conflict in early Stuart society, lending support to current post-revisionist interpretations. However, 'novae res', in both classical and early modern Latin texts, and 'innovation' in English, had very specific connotations. These revolutionary 'innovations' were almost always desired rather than achieved, and the vocabulary of desire and passion which accompanies them serves to delegitimize them. They thus offered a very problematic model for potential revolutionaries, and remained almost completely pejorative. The role of 'innovation' in the genesis of the civil war appears to be a different one: because of the semantic range of the word, it was as plausible for critics to accuse the Crown of 'innovation' (gradual change) as it was for the king and his ministers to accuse critics of desiring revolutionary 'innovation'. This fed into the polarization of politics and the development of mirror-image views of who posed the greatest threat to the state. Through 'innovation', the Crown itself could come to be seen as dangerously revolutionary.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:No
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Language Text and Power
Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:73020
Publisher:Taylor and Francis

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