The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England by Jonathan Healey - review by Edward Vallance

Edward Vallance

All For the Good Old Cause

The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England

By

Bloomsbury 512pp £30
 

It seems that great popular histories of the Stuart age are like buses: you wait ages for one and then three (or four) come all at once. Following on from excellent studies of the Interregnum by Paul Lay and Anna Keay, and Clare Jackson’s prize-winning Devil-Land, Jonathan Healey’s The Blazing World offers a zesty and gripping account of England’s ‘century of revolution’.

While it shares a similar chronological span to Jackson’s book, covering the period from the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne to the deposition of his grandson, James VII and II in 1688, Healey’s book is distinctive. Where Jackson chose to de-centre England, focusing on how the nation’s tumultuous affairs were understood by foreign observers, Healey provides us with a political history that broadens the focus beyond Westminster and the royal court to take in the political activities of ordinary men and women.

Healey’s narrative opens with an event demonstrating the intertwining of popular culture and political and religious commentary – a ‘skimmington ride’ orchestrated by local Catholics that disrupted and mocked a special sermon at Cartmel church marking the anniversary of James I’s coronation. While this particular incident was directed

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