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As Bad as Poisoned

Blair Worden: James I, 3 March 2016

The Murder of King James I 
by Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell.
Yale, 618 pp., £30, October 2015, 978 0 300 21496 3
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... In the politics​ of Shakespeare’s time and its sequel, life not so much imitated art as competed with it. The ostentatious theatricality of royal rituals and masques was complemented by the visceral excitements of public events. Which of the stage’s countless trial scenes can have equalled in dramatic effect the moment during the arraignment of the Earl of Essex for treason in 1601 when the earl’s antagonist, the queen’s leading minister Robert Cecil, secretly present in the court, stepped from behind an arras to deliver the impassioned speech that ruined the earl’s defence of his rebellion? Which of the assumptions of disguise by beleaguered or lovelorn dramatis personae can have been as sensational as the escapade of 1623 – an occasion ‘worthy’, as a royal adviser said, ‘to be put in a new romanso’ – when the future Charles I and his father James I’s leading minister the Duke of Buckingham donned false beards, assumed the names Tom and John Smith, and journeyed to the Spanish court to woo the infanta for Charles? Incognito travel, a commonplace practice of the age, produced a succession of improbable adventures, among them (as if in compensation for the Puritan closure of the theatres) the escape, on the eve of the second civil war in 1648, of Charles’s teenage son, the future James II, from Parliamentarian captivity in a ‘very pretty’ female costume, and the exposure beneath a maid’s petticoat of the masculinity of Sir George Booth, the fleeing leader of the rising against the republic in 1659 ...

Novel and Naughty

Blair Worden: Parliament and the People, 26 September 2019

Radical Parliamentarians and the English Civil War 
by David Como.
Oxford, 457 pp., £85, July 2018, 978 0 19 954191 1
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The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution 
by Michael Braddick.
Oxford, 391 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 0 19 880323 2
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... In​ 1972, during the era of student revolt, the Marxist historian Christopher Hill wooed its participants in his book The World Turned Upside Down. It explored the mid-17th century, a ‘period of glorious flux and intellectual excitement’, when the nation’s institutions broke down and Gerrard Winstanley, the leader of a Digger commune, declared ‘the old world’ to be ‘running up like parchment in the fire ...

The Tribe of Ben

Blair Worden: Ben Jonson, 11 October 2012

Ben Jonson: A Life 
by Ian Donaldson.
Oxford, 533 pp., £25, October 2011, 978 0 19 812976 9
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The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson 
edited by David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson.
Cambridge, 5224 pp., £650, July 2012, 978 0 521 78246 3
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... Seventeenth-century critics thought Ben Jonson England’s finest writer. Even until the mid-18th century he was conventionally regarded as at least Shakespeare’s equal. It was he more than anyone who won a new status for authorship, to befit the moral and educative role he claimed for it. Under James I the former bricklayer and soldier and brawler and convict, the one-time mediocre actor and hack adapter of other people’s plays, became the royal laureate, the friend of courtiers, diplomats and MPs, the honorand of universities ...

Past v. Present

Phil Withington: Blair Worden’s Civil War, 10 May 2012

God’s Instruments: Political Conduct in the England of Oliver Cromwell 
by Blair Worden.
Oxford, 421 pp., £35, March 2012, 978 0 19 957049 2
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... manifestation was especially violent and decisive. The harbingers of ‘modern scholarship’ (as Blair Worden described them at the time) self-consciously identified themselves as ‘Revisionists’ and labelled extant interpretations as ‘Whig’ or ‘Marxist’. They then condemned these Whig and Marxist interpretations as ...

Austere and Manly Attributes

Patrick Collinson, 3 April 1997

The Sound of Virtue: Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’ and Elizabethan Politics 
by Blair Worden.
Yale, 406 pp., £40, October 1996, 0 300 06693 7
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... by the plan to marry him to the daughter of the hero of the Dutch resistance, William of Orange. Blair Worden puts it neatly: ‘Where Sidney’s plan to marry Orange’s daughter was a pledge of commitment to international Protestantism, Elizabeth’s negotiations with Anjou signalled her repudiation of it’. In the late summer of 1579, with things ...

Mighty Causes

Mark Kishlansky: The English Civil Wars, 11 June 2009

The English Civil Wars 1640-60 
by Blair Worden.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £12.99, January 2009, 978 0 297 84888 2
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... body in Westminster Abbey. Hardy’s glass-all-empty perspective is brought forcefully to mind by Blair Worden’s dispiriting account of the English civil wars. This, too, is a remarkable work of concision, narrating one of the most crowded series of events in Britain’s long history in little more than 150 pages. It is aimed at the general reader on ...

Tribute to Trevor-Roper

A.J.P. Taylor, 5 November 1981

History and Imagination: Essays in honour of H.R. Trevor-Roper 
edited by Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Valerie Pearl and Blair Worden.
Duckworth, 386 pp., £25, October 1981, 9780715615706
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... Hebrew studies during the century. Republicans seem much concerned with this search for forebears. Blair Worden shows how the republicans of the Long Parliament ransacked the classics for their examples. Richard Cobb catalogues the fantasy figures which adorned the Jacobin imagination. Biographical essays predominate in more recent times – mostly ...

New Model Criticism

Colin Burrow: Writing Under Cromwell, 19 June 2008

Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England: John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Marchamont Nedham 
by Blair Worden.
Oxford, 458 pp., December 2007, 978 0 19 923081 5
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... sight, though we can’t just blame Nedham’s copious quill for his blindness – and from 1650, Blair Worden argues, had been collaborating in one way or another with his apparently unprincipled friend. Worden shows how Milton and Marvell, just as much as Nedham, had to trim and adapt themselves to political ...

Types of Ambiguity

Conrad Russell, 22 January 1987

War, Taxation and Rebellion in Early Tudor England: Henry VIII, Wolsey and the Amicable Grant of 1525 
by G.W. Bernard.
Harvester, 164 pp., £25, August 1986, 0 7108 1126 8
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Reassessing the Henrician Age: Humanism, Politics and Reform 1500-1550 
by Alistair Fox and John Guy.
Blackwell, 242 pp., £22.50, July 1986, 0 631 14614 8
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The Union of England and Scotland 1603-1608 
by Bruce Galloway.
John Donald, 208 pp., £20, May 1986, 0 85976 143 6
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Stuart England 
edited by Blair Worden.
Phaidon, 272 pp., £25, October 1986, 0 7148 2391 0
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... serious political division was going to make the need to resolve them too urgent to be ignored. Blair Worden and his team of contributors have given us a coffee-table book of considerable quality, in which the 17th century is brought back into line for a reconciliation with the 16th. Blair Worden’s ...

Sagest of Usurpers

Ian Gilmour: Cromwell since Cromwell, 21 March 2002

Roundhead Reputations: The English Civil Wars and the Passions of Posterity 
by Blair Worden.
Allen Lane, 387 pp., £20, November 2001, 9780713996036
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... 55,000 people made homeless. In his fine, scholarly, closely argued but clearly written book, Blair Worden traces the downs and ups not just of Cromwell’s reputation but that of the Roundheads from the 17th to the 20th century. Until fairly recently Civil War feelings remained high. ‘We are Cavaliers or Roundheads, before we are Conservatives or ...

What do we mean by it?

J.G.A. Pocock, 7 January 1993

The Cambridge History of Political Thought: 1450-1700 
edited by J.H. Burns and Mark Goldie.
Cambridge, 798 pp., £60, August 1991, 0 521 24716 0
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... in their focus: Corinne Weston on the ancient constitution, David Wootton on the Levellers, Blair Worden on the English republicans. This may be justified by referring to the section’s title, and claiming that England was the only major society in 17th-century ‘Europe’ in which what is ordinarily called a ‘revolution’ can be said to have ...

The Calvinist International

Colin Kidd: Hugh Trevor-Roper, 22 May 2008

The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Yale, 267 pp., £18.99, May 2008, 978 0 300 13686 9
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Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Yale, 438 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 300 11263 7
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... Theodore de Mayerne (1573-1655), put together after his death by one of his most brilliant pupils, Blair Worden, is itself a powerful corrective to the balder version of his own argument. As he recognised, before its decline into localised scholastic sterility – not least in the Scotland of the Covenanters – the early 17th-century Calvinist ...


Conrad Russell, 7 November 1985

F.W. Maitland 
by G.R. Elton.
Weidenfeld, 118 pp., £12.95, June 1985, 0 297 78614 8
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Renaissance Essays 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Secker, 312 pp., £15, July 1985, 0 436 42511 4
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History, Society and the Churches: Essays in Honour of Owen Chadwick 
edited by Derek Beales and Geoffrey Best.
Cambridge, 335 pp., £30, May 1985, 0 521 25486 8
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... together in a review, but some must be mentioned whether they can be pulled together or not. Blair Worden, on Oliver Cromwell and the Sin of Achan, is inside Cromwell’s mind in a way few historians have ever been, and sheds important light on why he refused the crown. Boyd Hilton, on Evangelicals and Providence, distinguishes between those ...

Unusual Endowments

Patrick Collinson, 30 March 2000

Philip Sidney: A Double Life 
by Alan Stewart.
Chatto, 400 pp., £20, February 2000, 0 7011 6859 5
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... 1580, as a sublimation, a substitute for virtuous action, and as a spin-off from the Anjou affair. Blair Worden has demonstrated in The Sound of Virtue (1996) the extent to which Sidney’s fiction was saturated in the urgent political concerns of the time. Buried near its heart (in the middle of a wedding!) is a song sung by the shepherd Philisides ...

Maurice Thomson’s War

Perry Anderson, 4 November 1993

Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London’s Overseas Traders 1550-1653 
by Robert Brenner.
Cambridge, 734 pp., £40, March 1993, 0 521 37319 0
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The Nature of the English Revolution 
by John Morrill.
Longman, 466 pp., £32, June 1993, 0 582 08941 7
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... the Single European Act. Such are the playful flourishes of a scholarly ascendancy. In these pages Blair Worden has even ventured the view (LRB, 29 August 1991) that Russell’s ‘hegemony’ over Civil War studies has ‘banished controversy to the margins’. There, pockets of Whig resistance no doubt remain – readers of Lawrence Stone’s ...

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