by Ted Welch
Thu Nov 20th, 2008 at 06:24:41 PM EST
Update [2008-11-21 5:31:58 by Ted Welch]:
What did you Puritans ever do for us, Oliver?
... On the eve of a new drama about Cromwell and the English Revolution, its writer Peter Flannery tells Lucy Powell we've got the Roundheads all wrong
What did the Puritans ever do for us? They banned Christmas, closed the theatres, and made "tippling" illegal. So, if I ask you to picture a Puritan, the image, inevitably, is not appealing.
...as a new four-part series on Channel 4 is set to illustrate, the Puritans of revolutionary 17th-century England were not entirely the black-clad killjoys history remembers...
Here, Flannery explains why the Puritan revolution merits such a vastly ambitious overhaul, the legacy it left us, and why those plain-clothed, no-nonsense men are sexier than you might think...
Burgeoning female sexuality underscores every episode of The Devil's Whore, exploding perhaps the most tenacious puritanical myth. "They were very far from prudish," Flannery says. "The Puritans write about the female orgasm all over the place. They believed that sex was meant to be enjoyed, and they believed the female orgasm aided pregnancy. They were all in favour."
Though they did eventually execute King Charles I, the Roundheads did not set out to abolish the monarchy, but to devolve more power to Parliament. "The Puritans paved the way for all the revolutions that followed," says Flannery. "The French, the American, the Russian - they're all the same ideas.
"But I've no idea why we're not more proud of these men. They raised a legacy of ideas that we're still battling out today: representation; distribution of wealth; equality. ... The Levellers, before they were a folk-rock band, were a group of militant proto-socialists intent on "levelling the land" of class and moneyed inequality.
"All these crazy ideas eventually came to pass: proposals to decimalise the currency, universal literacy, banning Latin from the law courts. The constitutional monarchy arrived in 1688, but would not have been possible without the revolution. What you see in our story, though, is how incredibly benign Cromwell's Protectorate turned out to be...[Not for the Irish, see below]
The Puritanical conviction that beauty was God-given, not man-made, meant women could also loosen the punishing pinch of fashionable, tight-wasted bodices, ditch the cumbersome hoops and bustles in their skirts, and forgo the established practice of dropping arsenic into their eyes, to make them wide and wet, and dousing their faces with acid, to keep them white and wrinkle-free. "Nobody advocated women's suffrage," says Flannery. "They'd have thought that totally crazy. But the period did see a radical shift in the idea of what a woman's place was, and that is at the heart of our story, with Angelica's journey of self-discovery. This was a time when women were allowed to preach, to write pamphlets, even to take up arms."
In 1641, Parliament abolished the royal censor, until Charles II reinstated it in 1660. "A host of radical pamphlets and chapbooks arrived in the interim. People got used to expressing themselves; so many ideas were disseminated, and though many were squashed [with the Restoration], these ideas returned: in Chartism, or votes for women. [Leveller figurehead] John Lilburne's pamphlets are amazing. But some of the others' ideas are totally out there, blasphemous, free-love stuff."
The Ranters, an infamous sect who thought sin a concept cooked up by priests, and who practised polyamory and communal living, make a riotous appearance in The Devil's Whore. "They sound like [the radical American activist] Abbie Hoffman in 1965. The Ranter Abeizer Coppe ends one of his tracts: 'And I love you all.'"
"Many of them were libertarians. Cromwell says, 'Walk peaceably with God and you can live in this land.'" In 1655 Jews were allowed legally to return to England for the first time since their expulsion in 1290, and Christian sects proliferated. But for Catholics, and particularly the Irish, Cromwell's rule was one of wholesale oppression."
'The Devil's Whore' is on Channel 4 at 9pm for four weeks from Wednesday Nov. 19th
By Lucy Powell - The Independent
What did you puritans ever do for us Oliver?
For another take on this - from an Irish American Socialist point of view - see:
THE LEVELLERS AND IRISH FREEDOM
The English Revolution of 1640-1660 was the world's first bourgeois revolution, a class struggle with the reactionary forces of the feudal aristocracy, the established Church, the large merchant monopolists and Charles I on one side, and the bulk of the House of Commons, the gentry, the emerging bourgeoisie and the masses on the other. But beneath this division, the opposition to the King was split from the beginning.
Whilst the revolution had been developing in England, the Irish clans had taken advantage of the divisions among their English rulers and staged a rebellion in 1641, driving out many of the Protestant settlers who had taken over their lands. From the beginning the Irish Rebellion and the English Revolution were dialectically interlinked. However, the situation in Ireland was even more divided than that in England. Only the clans, led by Owen Roe O'Neill, had a consistent policy and any unity. Both the King and Parliament denounced the rising, but both were too occupied by domestic matters to come to the aid of the Protestant settlers.
... In 1649, opposition to Ireland's reconquest began to take the form of political solidarity with the Irish rebels, rather than a dispute over pay that characterised the 1647 opposition. In The English Soldiers' Standard, probably written by Walwyn in the Tower, English liberty and Irish freedom became combined ...
... Against the arguments of Parliament that Ireland would remain a dangerous threat as a possible base for a Royalist or foreign invasion unless it was reconquered, the Levellers believed it was possible to make Ireland a free, independent and friendly neighbour on the condition that England was free from its own internal oppression.
The army was purged of its most outspoken radicals and the rest were bullied into submission, although not before further localised revolts had taken place. By September, CromwelI had managed to land a force of 10,000 troops in Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history. Cromwell ordered the massacres at the Drogheda and Wexford garrisons and the Irish rebels were subdued with great cruelty, whilst the English troops were paid in Irish land.
The colonial policies initiated by CromwelI in Ireland and the West Indies were intimately connected with the rise of capitalism; the trading profits that were made from sugar, tobacco, slaves and other commodities created in part the capital that would be needed for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth century. It was this latter capitalist economic revolution, a revolution made possible by the events of 1640-60, that created not only the material wealth necessary for socialism, but also the tool to achieve it - the proletariat, capitalism's own grave-digger. Therefore, paradoxically, the defeat of the radicals in 1649 has made possible the victory of socialist revolutionaries today.
...The present British ruling class gained its position not by gradual reform but by a revolution which was defended by force of arms. Today, the working class will only be sure of obtaining a socialist society, free from violence and exploitation, if it is prepared to follow its rulers' example.
As Trotsky said in 1925:
"The English bourgeoisie has erased even the memory of the revolution of the seventeenth century, and recasts its entire past in the form of 'gradual changes.' The vanguard of the English workers should discover the English Revolution and should find in it, under its ecclesiastical garment, the powerful conflict of social forces. Cromwell was by no means a 'pioneer of labour', but in the drama of the seventeenth century, the English proletariat may find great precedents for revolutionary action."
1997 Republican Socialist Publications,
Irish Republican Socialist Committees of North America