Speaking for the people in early modern England

Coast, D (2019) 'Speaking for the people in early modern England.' Past and Present, 244 (1). pp. 51-88. ISSN 0031-2746

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtz024


The voice of the people is assumed to have carried little authority in early modern England. Elites often caricatured the common people as an ignorant multitude and demanded their obedience, deference and silence. Hostility to the popular voice was an important element of contemporary political thought. However, evidence for a very different set of views can be found in numerous polemical tracts written between the Reformation and the English Civil War. These tracts claimed to speak for the people, and sought to represent their alleged grievances to the monarch or parliament. They subverted the rules of petitioning by speaking for ‘the people’ as a whole and appealing to a wide audience, making demands for the redress of grievances that left little room for the royal prerogative. In doing so, they contradicted stereotypes about the multitude, arguing that the people were rational, patriotic and potentially better informed about the threats to the kingdom than the monarch themselves. ‘Public opinion’ was used to confer legitimacy on political and religious demands long before the mass subscription petitioning campaigns of the 1640s.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Research Centres and Groups: History and Heritage Research Centre
UoA: History
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtz024
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2018 18:07
Last Modified: 16 May 2022 14:39
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/11510
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