HST348/349: The Road to Civil War: England, 1621-1642

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Professor Anthony Milton


A pass in at least two history modules at level two.

Module Summary

The nature of the origins of the English Civil War has been a matter of fervent historical debate for the last 350 years, and continues to lie at the heart of early Stuart political and intellectual history. Was there a 'high road' or a 'low road' to Civil War? If, like many recent historians, we take the 'low road', and choose to present early Stuart England as politically and ideologically stable, with a 'consensual' political culture, how can we explain the crisis of the 1640s? How effectively did centre and provinces work together in this period? What was the perceived role of parliament and how far was it fulfilled? How far was there a political and cultural division between 'court' and 'country'? What role, if any, did 'public opinion' have to play in the political events of the period? To answer these questions, we need to recreate the political and ideological world which early modern English people inhabited.

In this special subject, students will enter this world partly through the thoughts, actions, and most of all the voluminous correspondence of a single man - one of the foremost and most tragic political figures of the early Stuart period, Sir Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford. Wentworth rose from obscurity during the 1620s through a series of major parliamentary speeches against government policies, only to become the most vigorous minister of Charles I during his Personal Rule. Strafford's public trial in 1641 was one of the great showpieces of English political history, and his subsequent execution for treason arguably marked a decisive turning point in the sequence of events that led to civil war. Thomas Wentworth's enormous collection of some 4,000 letters is housed in Sheffield City Archives, and this voluminous and mostly unstudied correspondence will form one important resource for the investigation of the political world of early Stuart England. But a wide range of other sources will also be studied, from sermons, parliamentary debates and state trials to newsletters, popular pamphlets, ballads and wood-cuts. Most of all, the module will examine contemporary letters, both governmental and personal, to tease out the private and public thoughts of both the major political actors and the 'man in the street'.

Teaching and Assessment

Teaching will be through twice-weekly seminars over two semesters, in which papers will be presented and primary documents studied.

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3 

Selected Reading

  • C.V. Wedgwood, Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford 1593-1641. A revaluation (1961)
  • D. Hirst, England in Conflict, 1603-1660 (1999)
  • A. Hughes, The Causes of the English Civil War, 2nd edn (1998)
  • B. Quintrell, Charles I, 1625-1642 (1994)
  • B. Coward, The Stuart Age, 2nd edn (1994)
  • R. Lockyer, The Early Stuarts: A Political History of England, 1603-1642 (1989)

Intended Learning Outcomes
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