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Updated Notes 2015 Popular Politics Notes

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Notes - Popular Politics Previous Questions: o

How significant was popular participation in politics?


How did the ways of mobilizing popular opinion and popular participation change?


Is it meaningful to talk of popular politics in our period?

Considerations: Limitations of popular politics. To what extent was the wider nation truly able to influence and determine events at the centre? An interdependent and fundamentally interconnected society.

A society characterised by hierarchy and deference. Ordinary people debarred from political processes - landed power controlled by the same elite that dominate Court, parliament and county government. Low levels of engagement linked to low levels of literacy - around 30% of the population by 1640, it is estimated. Circulation of news initially limited - contemporaries essentially 'locked' into their local communities.

In the Autumn of 1509, Edmund Dudley lay imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason. o It was here he spent his time writing a seminal work on social values - 'The Tree of Commonwealth.' In it, he attempted to describe the ideal conditions for the prosperity of the kingdom. o Each order had its own respective roles and duties - the commonalty were advised to obtain a living appropriate to their station and to support the country financially. o Advised by Dudley to avoid presumption above their degree, idleness and grudging against living 'in labour and pain, and for the most part of their time in the sweat of their face.' o Such ideals embodied the central ideals of the social morality of the time as it was conceived by contemporaries - harmony, duty, order.
 Common people had no formal political voice. They were, as Sir Thomas Smith put it, 'to be ruled over and not to rule others.'

But did this, then, debar them from acting in a 'political' manner?
o To truly assess whether this was the case, we must first define what exactly we mean by 'politics', and how this can be configured within a popular framework. o Even if avenues of participation were, in a direct sense, limited, this does not mean that they had no impact at all. A growing proportion of English society could - and did - read some literature. They shared with the elite a common stock of metaphors about the organic society. o But inculcation did not lead to blind deference to such notions. Organic metaphors stressed the immutability of hierarchy, but as a preacher at Suffolk would claim in the early-sixteenth century, 'the head receiving all the nourishment causes the other members to fail and the whole man to die.'


Common people were not unconditionally deferential, nor were they entirely alienated from the existing social order; instead they worked within a framework of inalienable rights and customs, and were willing to participate as political actors when these rights and customs were threatened. There were, then, always constraints upon the limits of popular politics and protest. Even the most vitriolic of protesters had no alternative model of the social and political order to appeal to. Objectives were necessarily limited. But this does not necessarily mean their objectives were not political; they attempted to exert influence on how power was exercised within their communities, though this could only ever go so far in overcoming the barriers of formal exclusion from the political process.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Economics - A politics of subsistence?

In a deferential and hierarchical society, John Walter has argued that popular involvement was ultimately a 'politics of subsistence.' o The most immediate objectives of the people were the defence or the amelioration of a threatening economic situation. o Brian Manning - lower orders in the polity would not have been 'so involved if the crisis had been concerned purely with political and religious questions.' o But the fundamental nature of these 'bread-and-butter questions' ensured that the mere fact of the involvement of the people transformed base reactions into something more significant. Deeply interconnected with commonwealth understandings of legitimacy. o Moral economy. Popular consensus about the nature of legitimate and illegitimate practices in economic life, involving notions of the proper behaviour expected from different sections of the community and asserting notions of certain popular rights in the economic sphere. Action validated and sustained by certain legitimising ideas. o In agrarian riots for example, this legitimising idea was one of custom. Custom constituted a local, lived-in environment of norms and usages, a collection of rights which people believed to have existed 'time out of mind.'
 In 1630 for example, tenants in south-western England defending their pasture rights produced 10 witnesses (with an average age of 78) who testified to the existence of woodland customs during their own lives, and those of their forefathers.

Legal system tended to support the propertied, nonetheless. If tenants were trying to defend the antiquity of custom, many landlords were anxious to destroy them. o England, then, was becoming a commercialising society, those with nothing to sell but their labour were in a poor competitive position - and by extension, we can posit, a poor political one too. o Underdown - reflected 'the widening gulf between those elements of the middling sort who were by now adopting the values of the market economy, and their poorer neighbours, who still remained attached to the ideals of custom and good neighbourhood: the values of the "moral economy."


Undermining of ancient privileges. In Derbyshire the lead mining and smelting industries were gradually taken over by a hegemonic capitalistic minority.
 Wood - no accidental or organic process. It involved a suppression of popular resistance to what was perceived as the unrestricted expansion of the elite's control over the people's resources.
 Mining laws of the county had previously been egalitarian and, in essence, democratic. The role of the Barmaster, miners explained, was to ensure that 'noe man had more power than an other', and to 'doe right to them that be opprest.'
 Accumulation of capital, a sixteenth and seventeenth century development alongside technological innovation, required wealth of the elite.
 Formalised force of the legal system behind the magnates, undermined wider mining population who were dependent on informal sets of customs.
 But could still participate - barmote law successful in institutionalising the interests of the miner population and providing them with a means of fighting back. Deep and intimate knowledge of mining laws.
 Threat of revolt and rebellion was never too far from the surface - a final resort, but a legitimised one nonetheless, operating within the all-encompassing framework of commonweal which provided the people with the will to confront the social order when it was evidently working to undermine their privileges and liberties.

Rioting was a last resort, and a form of tactic in negotiation with local authorities, again reminding us that the notions of consensus and reciprocity were never too far from the public mind in matters of popular politics. o Legitimised grievances. One woman from Essex, when asked what motivated her to halt grain traffic in 1629 answered 'the cry of the country and my own want. o Surprisingly often, such methods worked. Magistrates did impose price maximums, and punishments of food riots were relatively few. We see here, then, clear grounds for the validity of 'popular politics' in the early modern period. o But the parameters of such politics were always defined within the confines of legitimacy. Popular rebellion worked to restore and maintain tradition rather than subvert it, and action was aimed at rectifying specific forms of local grievance.
 Take the case of a local mob from Dorchester in 1631 that confiscated a grain shipment, but only with the intention of paying a fair price for it.
 When action was not so restrained, the response of the authorities could be very different. As a tactic of protest then, riot could be a dangerous game of brinkmanship. The authorities were expected to contain such actions in order to retain credibility and while the crowd often threatened, it had to avoid going too for in order to prevent severe retaliation.
 There were, then, always constraints upon the limits of popular politics and protest. Even the most vitriolic of protesters had no alternative model of the social and political order to appeal to. Objectives were necessarily limited.
 But this does not necessarily mean their objectives were not political; they attempted to exert influence on how power was exercised within their communities, though this could only ever go so far in overcoming the barriers of formal exclusion from the political process.

Remember to define the nature of politics - negotiations of power. Riot (as a last resort), litigate, petition. Informal/anonymous means of protest to embarrass an elite lewd accusations, often sexual in nature. Delegitimises individuals before their peers,

could be highly effective (especially in synchronicity with other means.) The illusion of cooperation must be retained.

Earlier examples? - linkage between the anti-enclosure riots and agrarian grievances of 1549, as pointed out by Kett's manifesto. o One might conclude that the economic grievances were enough to lead to popular revolt because the people inadvertently perceived them also in a socio-political or religious light, which compounded the intensity of plebian outrage against the ruling class. This was evident from how economic complaint was inadvertently couched in religious language - for instance, the Pilgrimage of Grace was in part occasioned by rumours circulating in early 1537 that the Crown intended to impose heavy taxes upon christenings and marriages, which inspired fears of children of the poor being condemned to spend eternity in limbo. Such taxes were interpreted not merely as an added economic burden, but as an attack upon the most vital point at which the Church and the state, the religious and political authorities, could inflict on the commons' social world. Similarly, popular outrage against enclosure and forestalling food might have been perceived to have Scriptural basis for their inherent moral wrongness. Proverbs: "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's mark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance".

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Electoral politics

Participation in elections and the formal avenues of government was prescribed to a minority in the early modern period, which could well suggest that any meaning we attempt to imbue popular politics with is necessarily limited. o Kishlansky has argued that elections, despite the dominant whiggish historiographical spin on them, were more a process of selection than election. o But notions of deference were challenged, with electors encouraged to assert themselves independently if they felt inadequately represented. As Sir Richard Grosvenor stated, 'Freedom of voice is your inheritance and one of the greatest prerogatives of the subject, which ought by all meanes to bee kept inviolate and cannot be taken from you by any command whatsoever.' o Electoral registers grow (in part because of inflation). Parliament rules in favour of an opening franchise far more regularly than it prescribed it. Cust even in cases where elections were uncontested, this was because court candidates were afraid of losing and discrediting their local reputation. MPs have a sense of responsibility for their constituents. o MPs needed to represent their 'country' and take local needs into consideration. The issues of the day - even if national and enforced by the

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