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A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England's Long Social Revolution, 1066-1649 [Hardcover]

David Rollison

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Book Description

21 Jan 2010
In 1500 fewer than three million people spoke English; today English speakers number at least a billion worldwide. This book asks how and why a small island people became the nucleus of an empire 'on which the sun never set'. David Rollison argues that the 'English explosion' was the outcome of a long social revolution with roots deep in the medieval past. A succession of crises from the Norman Conquest to the English Revolution were causal links and chains of collective memory in a unique, vernacular, populist movement. The keyword of this long revolution, 'commonwealth', has been largely invisible in traditional constitutional history. This panoramic synthesis of political, intellectual, social, cultural, religious, economic, literary and linguistic movements offers a 'new constitutional history' in which state institutions and power elites were subordinate and answerable to a greater community that the early modern English called 'commonwealth' and we call 'society'.

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'Ranging across language, landscape, politics, poetry and literature, David Rollison provides an important and powerful history of the development of pre-modern England. A Commonwealth of the People is a fascinating account of the development of the politics of 'commonweal': how, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the voices of common people became both 'English' and 'communal'. In its scope and imagination, this is an exemplary work of socio-cultural history, both deeply reflective on the process of doing history, and profoundly engaged with the historical landscape it seeks to uncover.' John Arnold, Professor of Medieval History, Birkbeck College

'An ambitious and distinctly interesting attempt to provide a new framework for the early modern period.' Keith Wrightson, Professor of History, Yale University

'This is a big, bold enclosure riot of a book. Like rebels breaking down fences separating them from their common land, David Rollison transgresses long-established conventions and boundaries in the historical discipline. In A Commonwealth of the People, Rollison fractures divisions between the medieval and early modern periods, levels distinctions between social and political history, takes constitutional history on a sharp linguistic turn, and merges the local with the global. Rollison will incur the wrath of those who have an investment in the maintenance of the enclosure of the historical discipline. He also does a great job of rewriting an integrated history of medieval and early modern England from the bottom up. This book represents a defining moment in the new social history of politics.' Andy Wood, Professor of Social History, University of East Anglia

Book Description

This book argues that the succession of crises from the Norman Conquest to the English Revolution were causal links and chains of collective memory in a populist movement which saw state institutions and elites made answerable to a greater community that was once called 'commonwealth' but is now called 'society'.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pushing rebellion back? 20 Mar 2010
By R J Brown - Published on Amazon.com
How England, a country in which less than three million people spoke English at the beginning of the sixteenth century, became the nucleus for an empire on which `the sun never set' is a complex question and forms the core of this challenging book. David Rollison argues that this `English explosion' was the result of a long social revolution that has its origins in the century after the Norman Conquest. A series of crises from 1066 through to the English Revolution were links in a chain of collective memory that led to a unique, vernacular populist movement in which the key idea was one of `commonweal' or `commonwealth'. Although this concept was widely recognised by the mid-sixteenth century, Rollison argues that the constitutional developments of the preceding five century saw the development of the notion that state institutions and power were subordinate and answerable to the great community and that those who governed did so by `consent'. The book synthesises political, social, intellectual, cultural, religious, economic, literary and linguistic developments and offers a `new constitutional history'. This is achieved through the three parts of the book. Part I considers the emergent commonalty and examines the ways in which different themes came together by the early fifteenth century. Of particular importance were the power of a common language and the emergence of vernacular populism. The second part discusses popular resistance and rebellion between the accession of Edward III and the rebellions of 1549. The third section explores the `English explosion' focussing on the politics of industry and its impact of the constitutional landscape and on the global expansion of England. The book ends with a section on the empowered community and how by the mid-seventeenth century the voices of the common people became both `English' and `communal'. This is an innovative study that ranges widely across different disciplines and, as one of those who provided pre-publication comments suggested, `represents a defining moment in the new social history of politics'.
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