HST2017: The Putney Debates, October 1647

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader:

Professor Michael Braddick


Pass in at least two of the Level One modules offered by the Department of History.

Module Summary

In May 1646 the most bloody conflict in English history came to a close when Charles I surrendered to parliamentary forces. By late 1647 it was clear that political stalemate over the post-war settlement might give rise, to revolutionary political change, and nowhere was this clearer than at the famous debates held in Putney Church in October 1647.

The precise significance of those debates has been controversial, however. This module explores their background and pays close attention to what was said but also considers the ways in which, between 1891 and 2007, they have been successively packaged and re-packaged through the publication of edited versions of the original record. The debates came at a crucial moment in the development of the revolution, and successive generations have presented the records of the debates in different contexts in order to reveal fundamental features of the revolution.

Module Aims

This module aims to:

  • Enable students to study in depth the political and social history of England during the revolutionary years 1646-7.
  • Enable students to develop their skills in interpreting a broad range of sources and to draw their own conclusions based on their reading of this material.
  • Empower students to engage critically and independently with the historiographical debates surrounding the English revolution.
  • Encourage students to develop their confidence and competence in presenting their ideas orally.
  • Enable students to improve their ability to analyse sources and discuss key issues in writing.
  • Foster co-operation and team-working skills.
  • Promote students' ability to write informed and cogent essays in clear, structured and grammatical prose.


The module will be taught through a series of weekly lecture workshops and seminars. The lecture workshops will introduce students to the basic historical and historiographical context and prime students on pertinent issues and sources. They are an efficient way of providing information, encouraging ideas and guiding students' private study. Seminars will provide opportunities for students to present their ideas and interpretations to the wider group. They will be based on systematic study of primary sources prepared in advance and will involve student-led discussions and presentations in order to enhance team-working, presentational and interpretative skills, while involving students in intensive engagement with practices of source criticism.


The module is assessed by:

  • A formative essay of detailed source analysis (33%), which will allow students to advance their understanding of certain thematic aspects of the module through an exercise of independent source criticism, thus helping students to develop skills of analysis and argument, and to improve their writing skills.
  • An unseen written examination (50%) will require candidates to demonstrate that they have absorbed and understood the material and that they are able to compose a structured argument and analyse primary sources in clear prose under pressure of time.
  • Oral presentations and participation in seminars (17%), in which students will demonstrate their team-working and analytical skills and their ability to analyse different types of primary source material in their historical context.

Selected Reading
  • Geoffrey Robertson (ed), The Putney Debates (2007) [Recommended purchase]
  • Michael Braddick, God's Fury, England's Fire: A new history of the English Civil Wars (2008)
  • Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660 (2002)
  • Michael Mendle (ed), The Putney Debates of 1647: The Army, the Levellers and the English state (2001)
  • Andrew Sharp (ed), The English Levellers (1998)
  • HN Brailsford, The Levellers and the English revolution (1961 and subsequent editions)
  • Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: radical ideas during the English revolution (1975)
  • Blair Worden, Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the passions of posterity (2001)

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, a candidate will be able to demonstrate:

  • An understanding of the political and social history of England during the revolutionary years 1646-7.
  • An ability to recognise, evaluate and analyse a range of primary source material.
  • A capacity to comment critically on the existing historiography of the revolution.
  • A capacity to comment critically on the process of editing and selecting primary texts for presentation to modern audiences.
  • An ability to present their ideas orally to others and to defend their thoughts.
  • A capacity to analyse sources and to discuss key issues in well-written, grammatical prose.
  • Experience of team work in preparation for the student-led seminar.