The mid-17th century was a time of religious and political upheaval – a world of Ranters, Diggers, Quakers, Levellers, Muggletonians and Fifth Monarchists. Andrew Bradstock ably navigates this terrain of ideological ferment, to provide a concise and readable introduction to these varied strands of religious radicalism.
The book is not without flaws. Bradstock begins by claiming that “it was religious issues that primarily drove the conflict”. But though the words of radicals like Leveller John Lilburne were wreathed in religious fire and brimstone, their tracts were anchored in the broader social transformation heralded by the process of the English Revolution. The “middling sorts” – who provided the religious “sectaries” with many of their members – were challenging the power of the old feudal order. As they did so new ideas of equality emerged as age-old social relations were tested to breaking point.
But the emphasis here is not on detailed analysis. Instead Bradstock delights in describing the struggles and insights – as well as the lunacy – of the period, more often than not allowing the radicals’ own words to speak for themselves. As such there is plenty to enjoy here. Those looking for a more substantial analysis should get hold of a copy of Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down, or Chris Harman’s A People’s History of the World.
Radical Religion in Cromwell’s England is published by I B Tauris, £15.99
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