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Custom, resistance and politics: local experiences of improvement in early modern England

By Heather Falvey


This thesis discusses popular participation in politics in early modern England and focqses on four inter-related themes that are central to our understanding of this subject: custom, improvement, public policy and resistance. These themes have been prominent in the recent historiographies either of public policy or of social relations in early modern England, but there has, as yet, been little attempt to relate these historiographies, and still less to study their central themes in the context of local experience. Full-scale case-studies of two series of enclosure riots that occurred during the 1640s, one in Duffield Frith (Derbyshire) and the other in Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire), examine closely both the micro-politics of the defence of custom within these communities and the implications ofrecent redefinitions of 'politics'. Research was undertaken not only in national but also in local archives. Indeed the two series ofriots were specifically selected because it was evident that sufficient local records had survived to permit reconstructions of the two economies upon which 'improvement' was imposed and of social relationships within the two communities. It has, moreover, been possible to recover details of various revenueraising policies implemented by the early Stuart kings or their 'ministers that have previously been studied only briefly. The discussion synthesises the contributions ofthose historians who have done 'so much in recent years to reinvigorate the historiography ofrural social and political relations, and argues that the complex rehitionships between crown policy, local resistance and popular politics can best be reconstructed through the exploration of the micro-politics of custom. It also argues that participation in politics by ordinary people went much further than many recent historians have believed. Such participation was cohflned neither to local 'horizontal' politics, nor to 'vertical' politics in terms of petitioning parliament or waging law in the central courts, but even encompassed actively choosing to vote in parliamentary elections

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