If the directions taken by historical research are indicative of a nation's broader preoccupations, then we may have to prepare ourselves for a religious revival of some magnitude. Religious explanations in history are all the rage - nowhere more so than in the study of the English Civil Wars. John Morrill, that panjandrum of Civil War revisionism, is reported to have advised a recent meeting of the Royal Historical Society to think of 1640-60 not as the first of Europe's modern revolutions but as the last of its wars of religion. J.T. Cliffe's useful and unpretentious book on the pre-Civil War rulers of England's shires is entitled, not (as one would have expected a decade or two ago) The Rising Gentry or The Provincial Gentry, but The Puritan Gentry. His theme is not estate management, or local government, but the strenuous spiritual self-examination which, together with the belief in providence and the fear of Catholics, is now guaranteed a central place in any reputable account of the origins of the 'Puritan Revolution'; and high time too. William Hunt, whose book is ostensibly about pre-Civil War Essex but really about many things besides, calls it The Puritan Moment.
LRB 19 April 1984 | PDF Download