10 March 2011

Grassroots research to reinterpret the origins of the English Civil War

Colchester Campus

Professor John Walter

A decisive moment in the build-up to the outbreak of the English Civil War is being investigated by Professor John Walter from the Department of History at the University of Essex thanks to a grant of £100,000 from the Leverhulme Trust.

The research titled Covenanting Citizens? The Protestation Oath and the English Revolution will see Professor Walter travel to every records office in the country plus archives in Scotland and the United States to look at surviving papers detailing who took the oath and who refused.

The Protestation Oath was an oath of loyalty to the King, to Parliament, and the Church of England which included a vow to defend them ‘against all Popery and Popish Innovations’. Although introduced in May 1641, at the beginning of 1642 Parliament said all those aged over 18 must take the oath and the names of those who declined were to be noted.

Professor Walter says his research will deliver a “radical new interpretation” of this period and will show how the oath altered relationships between the individual and the state.

He said: “This is important research as recent historiographies have suggested England simply slipped into civil war.

"The promoters of the oath envisaged it as a radical form of political association, to be used if necessary even against the King.

"Whether you were rich or poor you were required to take this oath and one of the consequences was to create a notion of active citizenship amongst the population.”

Professor Walter said there were numerous connections with modern discussions about the state, religious identities and citizenship.

Records offices have extensive archives including the parish papers referring to who took the oath. In many cases recording the oath was seen as an important occasion as new registers were purchased by parishes to undertake the task. Professor Walter will also be looking at the notes taken at the time and associated correspondence.

He will also be assessing how comprehensive the surviving record of the oath is in different areas.

"To see the impact of the oath we need to go back to the records of our local communities," said Professor Walter.

The project has been made possible by the award of a Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust.

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