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Michael Bath, Emblems in Scotland: Motifs and meanings (Brill, 2018)

Michael Bath, Emblems in Scotland: Motifs and Meanings (Leiden: Brill, 2018), ISBN 9789004364059, xxviii+346 pp., $150.00

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1] Mike Bath is one of the world’s leading scholars of Renaissance emblem books, a distinguished contributor to this journal (here and here and here) whose work has pioneered the study of these complex visual texts across multiple geographies and literary genres. In this book, Professor Bath presents exciting new work together with revised and updated versions of some of his most important earlier publications addressing the contexts of early modern Scotland – a significantly under-studied field. This is why this book is so important. Hardly any emblem books were produced in Scotland or by Scots – in fact, while Esther Inglis’s version of Emblemes Chrestiens (1624) shows what could be achieved by Scottish literary artists working in manuscript, the two books published in London in 1638 by Robert Farley might be “the only known emblem books written by a Scottish author.” Nevertheless, emblem books were a staple of the literary culture of the northern Renaissance, as the world’s largest archive of these items, the Stirling Maxwell Collection at the University of Glasgow, attests. And, as Professor Bath argues, the importance of emblem books ranged far beyond print culture, into the decoration of stately homes, and far beyond the early modern, into the textual and visual work of Scottish modernism through the achievements of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Professor Bath approaches his subject with authority and verve. His survey of the field, Speaking pictures: English emblem books and Renaissance culture (1994), has become a defining work, and essential reading for anyone thinking about the combination of visual and literary forms in the period of early print. He has focused on the architectural influence of emblems in Renaissance decorative painting in Scotland (2003), and, in Emblems for a Queen: The needlework of Mary Queen of Scots (2008), showed how these visual texts were developed by a single individual, whose work he recognises as “undoubtedly the richest, most extensive, and perhaps also the most sophisticated historical artefacts to use emblems in a Scottish context.” Lavishly illustrated, and with some two hundred mainly colour plates, Emblems in Scotland: Motifs and Meanings is a defining statement of analysis and criticism in the important but often difficult genre through which complex combinations of images and ideas circulated in the northern Renaissance.

[2] Emblems in Scotland does a thorough job of describing and analysing its sources. In many ways, the small number of Scottish emblem books is surprising. These books were incredibly popular across early modern Europe, and one of the few genres that transcended its confessional politics (while still being put to confessional and other forms of sectional use). Around six thousand of these books are identified as discrete items in the most recent bibliographical work. But the influence of emblems extended far beyond the printed page. The genre’s combination of Latin motto, symbolic picture, and a “more-or-less explanatory moralising epigram” can be traced in very surprising locations. These locations include the Church of St Marnock, in Fowlis Easter, Angus, in which there is preserved a fifteenth-century painting that includes a figure of a jester in a scene of the crucifixion, which demonstrates, among other things, the strong connections between visual traditions in Scotland and across Europe. Professor Bath also comments upon the visual texts in Huntingtower, formerly Castle Ruthven, near Perth, the site of the “Ruthven raid,” in which the young James VI was kidnapped and the protestant reformation secured, the description of which by the Covenanter historian David Calderwood concludes with an emblematic motto. Alexander Seton’s country house, built in 1613 on lands that had belonged to Dunfermline Abbey, and on the site of the battle of Pinkie that began the period of “Rough wooing,” was designed as part of a larger project of cultural neo-stoicism, with a famous painted ceiling that gestures towards and even reproduces images from emblem books that reinforce the building’s architectural message. This chapter is a tour-de-force exposition of Seton’s interiors, that maps their design elements onto the huge variety of emblem books by which they were inspired, and locates the meaning of these elements within the theological and political disputes of the early seventeenth century. Emblems in Scotland goes on to consider the use made of emblem books by Scottish Presbyterians, participating in a European discourse while articulating specific doctrinal and historical points. After all, Professor Bath explains, Scottish Protestants “associated the circulation of emblems with the promulgation of reformed doctrines.” In fact, for many readers, emblem books were a distinctively protestant genre. Yet emblem work depended upon bricolage, and Professor Bath excels in tracing the surprisingly ecumenical routes by which ideas and images turned up in mottos and symbolic pictures that were put to confessional use. A chapter on court festivals and royal baptisms, for example, works from a case study of the masque performed to celebrate the baptism of the future James VI in 1566 to trace the idea that the English had tails backwards to the Scottish headquarters of the Knights Hospitallar and forwards into Andrew Marvell’s The loyal Scot (1667).

[3]  Emblems in Scotland is an outstanding contribution to the study of a genre that scholars from multiple disciplines often find elusive. This superb achievement consolidates its author’s standing in the field, while opening up some important new questions as to the valency of these enigmatic “speaking pictures.”

Queen’s University Belfast, March 2020

Kevin Killeen,  The political Bible in early modern England  (Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Kevin Killeen, The political Bible in early modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), ISBN: 1107107970, xii+310 pp., £75.00.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1] Over the last ten years, a sequence of articles by Kevin Killeen has offered some of the most stimulating re-readings of the reception of the Bible in early modern literary and political writing. In this volume, Killeen brings together the conclusions of these arguments with new texts and contexts in what will surely come to be recognised as one of the most important literary and historical discussions of the cultures of the early modern Bible.

[2] The religious turn in early modern studies is reflected in a range of recent studies of authors, genres and major texts. Scholarly interest in the political potential of Bible reading in early modern England is, of course, long-standing, with Christopher Hill’s The English Bible and the seventeenth-century revolution (1992) being one of the most widely used works in this field. But this interest has been given an important new stimulus in recent years, as scholars working on the subject have drawn upon new methodologies, including the history of the book, and have addressed new research questions, including questions of gender and orientalist scholarship, while engaging with new historiographical insights, especially in terms of the revisionism that has challenged the older and often Marxist frames of historical interpretation. Some of these issues were brought to the fore in Eric Nelson’s The Hebrew Republic: Jewish sources and the transformation of European political thought (2010), although that work tended to overlook some of the less appealing or less modern uses to which early modern exegesis was put. Literary critics are famously slow to attend to new developments in historical writing, but the new religious turn in early modern studies has brought together literary critics and historians in new ways and to advance new kinds of debate. The cross-disciplinary potential of this engagement was evident in The Oxford handbook of the Bible in early modern England, c 1530-1700 (2015), which Killeen co-edited with Helen Smith and Rachel Willie, and which represented a major new statement of biblical influences in writing from the period, as well as in Victoria Brownlee’s Biblical readings and literary writings in early modern England, 1558-1625 (2018), which has become another important contribution to the debate. But Killeen’s new book moves beyond these other contributions by examining how Old Testament narratives and motifs impacted upon constructions of politics in a period of national and international crisis. Everyone knows that the Bible mattered in early modern England, and that in contexts far removed from the liturgical or theological. But few historians or literary scholars have the equipment to identify allusions beyond the best-known biblical stories, or have the patience to chase down the exegetical traditions through which these familiar stories may become de-familiarised in the process of early modern interpretation. Killeen does both, and more, as he documents how important were Old Testament narratives in framing and challenging assumptions of political power.

[3] Wisely, Killeen’s work limits its points of reference to discussions of biblical kings in seventeenth-century publications. He argues that readings of these kings and their reigns “constitute a major lexicon of early modern political thought,” and that references to these kings were specific and particular, with each monarch representing distinct qualities with which early modern exemplars could be contrasted or compared. In Killeen’s account, the high degree of biblical literacy that was sustained among early modern commentators allowed for an allusive range that could balance an impressive range of connotative power. But Killeen makes this argument while recognising that exegetical traditions were themselves changing through this period, and that the parties that struggled to control the interpretation of Scripture did so by undermining the religious-political claims of their rivals. And so Killeen argues against assumptions in some earlier writing that biblical allusion allowed for a language of code and evasion, as if only one side in the seventeenth-century culture war could recognise an Old Testament reference and understand its suggestive power. If the Bible was ubiquitous, its contents were well-known, and Killeen tracks down the significance of that knowledge in discussions of the character and effect of early modern hermeneutics, while examining among other discourses the reception of biblical civil wars, responses to tyranny, and imaginings of regicide.

[4] The political Bible in early modern England is therefore a major statement on the development of a distinctive rhetoric in political discussion in early modern England. It makes definitive judgements on the power of biblical images while embarking on some important new lines of enquiry related to the relationship of these images to questions of gender. Killeen’s new book is a determined, insightful and very welcome contribution to a discussion that will be pertinent to scholars across disciplines of the northern Renaissance.

Queen’s University Belfast, January 2019



Casey B. Carmichael,  A Continental view: Johannes Cocceius’s federal theology of the Sabbath  (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018)

Casey B. Carmichael, A Continental view: Johannes Cocceius’s federal theology of the Sabbath (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018), ISBN 9783525552780, 192 pp., € 64.99.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1] While the title of this volume does little to suggest its broader significance to scholars of the northern Renaissance across multiple disciplines, its account of the theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603-69) represents one of the most important recent contributions to the study of early modern Protestantism, and is bound to make a decisive intervention in that field, while informing developments in many others.

[2] Cocceius’s name may not be familiar to many scholars working outside the fairly specialist literature that deals with post-reformation Reformed dogmatics, but within that subject area he is widely recognised as being one of the most important Dutch Calvinist exegetes and theologians working in the seventeenth century, whose influence extended far beyond the narrowly theological circles in which his work has been remembered. Cocceius was certainly significant. From his base in the University of Leiden, and especially in the 1650s, he developed a strongly historicised reading of Biblical theology that emphasised the theme of change over time, and which distinguished him and those he influenced from the followers of Gisbertus Voetius, his principal rival for the loyalty of Dutch Calvinists, persuading his contemporaries, if not everyone who has written about their culture, that early modern Calvinism was an often dynamic and geographically differentiated world of ideas.

[3] Competing explanations of the covenants that structured the Old Testament were central to this division within the Dutch Reformed Church. Drawing upon the conclusions of medieval exegesis, and always in conversation with their Catholic and Lutheran contemporaries, Reformed theologians recognised the importance of the covenants that structured the history outlined in the Old Testament. But they tended to read these covenants as being indicative of theological superstructures, rather than of distinct periods of salvation history, and as describing fixed rather than changing circumstances. The mainstream of Reformed theology understood that there existed a covenant of works, which served to condemn fallen humanity, and a covenant of grace, as a result of which fallen humanity could be redeemed. Exegetes and theologians within this tradition tended to view the covenants of the Old Testament as staging-posts in this overarching covenant of grace. As a consequence, they tended to tone down those statements in the New Testament that seemed to criticise the “old covenant,” or that suggested it had been replaced. One practical consequence of this tradition in Reformed theology was a distinctive theology of time. Sabbatarianism, which identified Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, a particularly holy day on which careless behaviour, or non-religious forms of relaxation, should be strictly controlled, became a key marker of the “hotter sort” of protestants in the Stuart kingdoms, as well as in the Low Countries.

[4] This is why Sabbatarianism, as Casey B. Carmichael reminds us in this book, a revision of his University of Geneva PhD thesis, could become such a hotly contested political issue. In England, in 1617/18, James I issued a “Book of Sports” that encouraged those who had attended parish worship on Sunday mornings to spend the rest of the day engaged in profitable exercise and communal recreation. Charles I reissued this declaration in 1633, in a context in which the Sabbatarian commitments of English puritans had notably increased. Consequently, the “Book of Sports” became a key point of dispute in the run-up to the outbreak of civil in 1642, and was symbolically burned by Parliament in 1643, as representing an attempt of the king to over-ride the laws of God. It is only a slightly rhetorical over-reach to claim that many English puritans entered civil war with the purpose of defending the Sabbath.

[5] Nevertheless, as Carmichael’s book reminds us, many Dutch puritans would not have supported the arguments of their English brethren. While the followers of Gisbertus Voetius accepted the Sabbatarian position that became normative among English puritans and Scottish Presbyterians, those who were influenced by Johannes Cocceius took an altogether more relaxed view of the issue. For Cocceius, the old covenant had been abolished, and the ten commandments remained as part of the covenant of grace; but the elements of the sabbath commandment that reflected the ceremonial law of Israel had also ceased. Developing a distinctive and sometimes idiosyncratic reading of covenant theology, and of the Sabbath commandment, he argued that Christians in the new covenant were not bound to the claims of the ceremonial law that had been promulgated by Moses, and therefore that their obligations on Sundays would be satisfied merely by regular attendance at divine worship. Some of his followers developed his arguments to claim that it was permissible for Christians to follow divine worship with a return to weekday work. As the Dutch church split over the issue, the followers of Gisbertus Voetius retained their concern to sanctify the Lord’s day, while the followers of Johannes Cocceius sat knitting in their windows, in a provocative display of Christian freedom.

[6] Carmichael’s new book builds on important advances in the study of Cocceius made in recent years by Willem van Asselt and Brian J. Lee. While historians of early modern Reformed theology have long been aware of the division within the Dutch church, Carmichael’s work is the first to identify the points of contest and to explain what was at stake in the dispute. A great deal of work on the theology of the period is content to reconstruct systems of ideas, as if these ideas had no social or political contexts. But Carmichael learns from Quentin Skinner’s approach to intellectual history to situate disputes about ideas in their social worlds. Cocceius’s arguments about the Sabbath represent “his covenant theology in action,” Carmichael argues. And the results are illuminating. In their disputes about the Sabbath commandment, early modern Calvinists revised their theology of time, for doctrinal disputes could have very practical consequences.

 Queen’s University Belfast, December 2018

Ian Birch, To follow the lambe wheresoever he goeth: The ecclesial polity of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 1640-1660 (Pickwick Publications, 2017); Rachel Adcock,Baptist women’s writings in revolutionary culture, 1640-1680 (Ashgate, 2015)

Ian Birch, To follow the lambe wheresoever he goeth: The ecclesial polity of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 1640-1660 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2017), ISBN 9781498209014, xxii+228 pp., £18.50.

Rachel Adcock, Baptist women’s writings in revolutionary culture, 1640-1680 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), ISBN 9781472457066, xv+218 pp., £70.00.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1] The radical religious movements of the mid-seventeenth century British and Irish civil wars have long attracted attention, initially from within the religious communities that include these movements within their spiritual ancestry, and increasingly from theologians, historians and literary scholars whose approaches to these movements have proposed a new agenda for the study of the distinctive religious cultures of the later and Northern Renaissance. Two recent monographs illustrate the kinds of work that this field is attracting, and the ways in which the approaches adopted in this work are becoming sensitive to new research questions and the intellectual possibilities they suggest.

[2] Based upon his St Andrews PhD, Ian Birch’s account of the ecclesial polity of English Calvinistic Baptists in the revolutionary decades of the mid-seventeenth century offers a detailed reading of church books from the 1650 and a patient reconstruction of the ecclesiastical mechanisms they contain. Birch’s book focuses on the period before that examined in James Renihan’s study, Edification and beauty: The practical ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (2008), and so considers the decades in which the new religious movement was settling upon its distinctive practice of baptism and working out what might be the implications of that practice for other areas of church life and for the construction of community identity. Birch’s work develops a logical and coherent description of the emergence of the Particular Baptist community, the ecclesiology it nurtured, its aspiration for and practice of church discipline, its theology of ministry, and its habit of establishing ecclesiastical associations, by which individual congregations bonded in voluntary networks through which to pursue closer unity of faith and practice and a more thorough reformation of the church. Birch’s approach is to offer a theologically informed historical reconstruction of early Baptist practice, and some of the questions he raises reflect his role as principal of the Scottish Baptist College: the reasons for Birch’s emphasis on the Christological structures of early Baptist faith and practice won’t be self-evident to readers who will nevertheless benefit a great deal from the insights that he offers into the cultures in which the new movement emerged and the kinds of challenges that were presented to those who sought to define and then enforce its orthodoxy (while theologically attuned readers will realise that his use of “Christology” is idiosyncratic, as Birch explains in p. 65 n 3). One of Birch’s key arguments is that the faith and practice of the Particular Baptist movement varied by region. Recognising the centrality of the London churches, he notes variety in theology in the west country and in habits of dress and political engagement in Ireland. This variety sustained the movement’s proclivity for communal introspection, the very high expectations for godly behaviour that were monitored among members of Particular Baptist churches but that nevertheless could not prevent examples of moral attrition that ranged from absence from worship to such prohibited activities as fellowship with Quakers, drunkenness, homosexuality and attempted suicide. But with all this variation, Birch observes, the Particular Baptist churches negated the ministry of women, which was “not regarded in priestly terms, and their role in the congregation was limited to assisting deacons. From a modern perspective this policy appears inconsistent at best, a capricious outworking of the doctrine of the universal priesthood” (p. 143).

[3] This view, widely held among historians of the Baptist denomination, is challenged in Rachel Adcock’s study of Baptist women’s writings in revolutionary culture. Weighted in the same period, while also considering post-Restoration contexts, Adcock’s account documents the quite extraordinary range of opportunities that were presented to women in new religious movements like that of the Particular Baptists. Building on the work of a generation of feminist readings of the mid-seventeenth century crisis, Adcock describes how Baptist women integrated with revolutionary culture, as that culture developed, evolved and coped with the failure of the revolution. Adcock’s book illustrates the situations of women within revolutionary culture, the representations of religiously radical women in cheap print, how women participated vocally in Particular Baptist congregations, and how they contributed to and responded to the prophetic narratives of the Fifth Monarchists. This is a long and detailed work, an important and sophisticated intervention in the literary study of the English revolution that qualifies assumptions about women and about Baptists and that will certainly suggest a new research agenda in this field. Adcock’s book begins by noting how regularly the antagonists of the Particular Baptists dismissed the movement as promoting the irregular participation of women. Her account notes instances in which women used print to construct a narrative of conversion, to debate doctrine, to defend themselves against church leaders, and to prophesy. Like Birch, Adcock notes regional variety within the Particular Baptist movement, and suggests, for example, that the large number of women members of the church in Bristol could be explained by their being the wives or widows of sailors. Adcock describes processes by which women participated in the founding of Particular Baptist churches, and their frustrations at being shut out of leadership positions as these congregations formalised their structures, as well as these church’s permission for women to become members without their husbands following suit, and the difficulties faced by church leaders in promoting traditional models of family structure as a consequence of that move. Not for nothing does Adcock conclude that Particular Baptist congregations could be both “constraining and liberating” for women. Adcock notes in passing the circulation of Milton’s work among Baptists, observing that only a very small number of women followed his suggestion that the godly could divorce their spiritually incompatible spouses (p. 5; though this phenomenon is also observed by Birch, p. 189, n. 158). More frequently, Particular Baptist women were given roles as deaconesses, or in an order of widows that was developed from readings of the New Testament epistles, and those who turned to prophecy sometimes found an audience, and even patronage, outside the movement with which they were identified. Adcock’s reading of work by Anna Trapnel and other Particular Baptist authors renders their publications more complex than we might have recognised. Adcock’s work is ambitious and enterprising, a sophisticated contribution to a growing and increasingly complex field.

[4] These publications illustrate in different ways the growing quality of writing across disciplines on the subject of the mid-century crisis and its religious implications. Birch’s theological perspective identifies telling tensions and missed opportunities in early Baptist ecclesial writings, and Adcock’s concern to discover the situation of women within these communities will provide a foundation for future work in the rhetorical and discursive fields that make distinctive the Northern Renaissance.

Queen’s University Belfast, March 2018

Martyn Calvin Cowan, John Owen and the civil war apocalypse: Preaching, prophecy and politics (Routledge, 2018). Ryan M. McGraw, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox theology (Palgrave, 2017)

Martyn C. Cowan, John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse: Preaching, Prophecy and Politics (Routledge, 2018), ISBN 978-1-138-08776-7, xvi+220 pp., £105.

Ryan M. McGraw, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox theology (Palgrave, 2017), ISBN 978-3-319-60806-8, xii+232 pp., £69.99.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben


[1] John Owen (1616-83) is attracting increasing attention far beyond the theological circles in which his memory was, for many years, preserved. Owen has long been recognised as having been central to the rise and fall of the English republic – preaching to MPs on the day after the execution of Charles I, accompanying Cromwell as an army chaplain in the invasions of Ireland and Scotland, overseeing educational reform as dean of Christ Church and vice-chancellor of the university of Oxford, writing the petition that persuaded Cromwell not to accept the offer of the crown, leading the army republicans in their last desperate gamble to preserve the republic, ultimately and unwittingly paving the way for the restoration of Charles II and the brutal persecution of republicans and religious dissenters that followed. Owen’s millions of words have been kept in print in reproductions of the best nineteenth-century edition, edited by William Goold in 24 closely printed volumes, and attention is increasingly being paid to the unpublished sermons notes held in Dr Williams’s Library, London, and to relevant para-texts, including the anthology of verse published in Oxford in 1654 to commemorate the end of the Dutch war, in which Owen’s opening Latin eulogy is followed by work from Christ Church students and alumni, on both sides of the civil war divide, in English, French, Old English, Welsh, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. And, just as Owen is attracting scholarly increasing attention, so that attention is coming from a broader range of disciplinary backgrounds, and is being published by a broader range of academic publishers.

[2] The two most recent contributions to Owen studies, published by Palgrave and Routledge, reflect the increasing diversity of work within this field. Martyn Cowan’s study of John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse (2018) must be recognised as one of the most important contributions to Owen studies, and a fine addition to the excellent Routledge series in “Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World.” Expanding upon Cowan’s Cambridge PhD thesis, this book outlines Owen’s prophetic worldview and unpicks his providential readings of contemporary history. The analysis steps up a gear from the third chapter, as the account considers how Owen suggested “providential mercies” should be “improved,” and how godly magistrates should exercise responsibility in pursuing an appropriate church settlement, under the threat of impending divine judgement. Cowan’s central thesis argues that Owen’s sermons from the 1640s and 1650s are best described as a form of prophetic preaching, frequently drawing upon eschatological passages in Scripture and arguing for the eschatological character of the age in which Owen preached. In Cowan’s account, Owen retains his millennial aspiration throughout the 1650s, and, contrary to other depictions of a tendency towards conservatism in this period, pushes for an increasingly radical political agenda. Cowan takes issue with the conclusions of some earlier work. He argues that Owen adopted millennial beliefs much earlier than some others have claimed. He denies that Owen adopts a preterist reading of certain biblical passages, which would have understood them to refer to, for example, the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (though this claim seems be qualified in pp. 56-57), instead arguing that Owen used these texts to shape his view of the present. And Cowan denies that Owen was ever a republican – a claim that will have far-reaching implications in our thinking about the mid-seventeenth century crisis and the individuals who acted at key moments in the development of the new republican regime. These claims challenge the conclusions of some recent work in the field, and Cowan’s careful and considered arguments will need to be taken very seriously, not least because they offer contexts for some important but undated sermons, a move that will pull into play a number of important new texts with enormous potential to reshape key moments in Owen’s life and the development of the republican government. Drawing on new contexts, Cowan argues that Owen, who “self-identifies as a prophet speaking in momentous times,” “cannot be treated as an abstract academic theologian” (p. 183).

[3] By contrast, Owen’s status as an academic theologian is emphasised in Ryan McGraw’s latest book. McGraw has become well-known for his earlier monograph on Owen and for his articles, which repristinate the high theological flavour of some earlier work in the field. Each of the chapters in this collection has already been published, though McGraw emphasises that he has updated and revised their content. The result is a slightly eclectic volume. The first part of the book offers three chapters on Owen’s view of the Trinity, his practise of exegesis, drawn from a case study of his work on Genesis 3:15, and his reflection on whether the preaching of salvation should also include discussion of the threats of the law. The second part of the book considers Owen’s attitude to images of Christ, his presentation of the role of the Holy Spirit, an important discussion of the genre of Owen’s Θεολογουμενα παντoδαπα (1661), and, oddly, a chapter-length review of the now slightly dated Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology (2012), which it represents as a providing “a glimpse into the current state of Owen research” (p. 5). McGraw’s introduction pulls these chapters together, arguing that the “common theme” in the volume is that “John Owen helps us better understand the development and interrelationship of theology, exegesis, and piety in Reformed orthodox theology” (p. 1). At its best, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox Theology does exactly what it says on the tin. McGraw subtly and effectively narratives trajectories in Owen’s thinking, and locates him within broader trajectories in early modern Reformed theology.

[4] But there are some problems with this book. McGraw reiterates his rather low view of some other work in the field: he notes the “weakness” (p. 5), “deficiencies” (p. 16), and “confusion” (p. 17) of earlier work, some of which he thinks “misses Owen’s point” (p. 143). This is a limiting strategy. The effect of this unnecessarily combative style has McGraw framing his discussion of Owen around other contributions to the field, rather than setting out his own stall upon his own terms. Additionally, it is not clear exactly how the chapters in this volume have been revised from their earlier forms. In the main text and footnotes, a number of books are described as forthcoming, despite their having been published several years ago: among the titles listed as forthcoming, Mark Jones’ book on Antinomianism appeared in 2013 (p. 193), and another title that McGraw “eagerly awaits” (p. 195) is a book that he has in fact already reviewed. This problem creeps into McGraw’s representation of his own work: another item that he describes as forthcoming (p. 64) is the article, published in 2015, that forms the basis of this volume’s first substantial chapter (p. 9). These difficulties aside, this is an important book, which gathers together some of the best of McGraw’s contributions to Owen studies. While each of these chapters is of high intellectual merit, McGraw’s discussions of the law-gospel distinction and the relationship between the role of faith and images of Christ will set new agendas in Owen research.

[5] As these monographs suggest, work on Owen is proliferating as major publishers pick up on his importance and as the disciplinary perspectives of his readers evolve. These trends are combining to produce some exciting new work on a figure central to the rise and fall of the British republic, and to the intellectual preservation of the Calvinist reformation. Cowan and McGraw have produced two fine contributions, each of which will push Owen studies in important new directions in historical theology and in the social history of ideas.

Queen’s University Belfast, October 2017

Alasdair A. MacDonald (ed.), The Gude and Godlie Ballatis (Boydell & Brewer, 2015)

Alasdair A. MacDonald (ed.), The Gude and Godlie Ballatis (Boydell & Brewer, 2015). ISBN: 9781897976418, xii+414 pp., £40.00.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1] The Gude and Godlie Ballatis is a collection of verse and prose texts, the first known appearance of which occurred in the years immediately following upon the beginning of the Scottish reformation. Throughout the later sixteenth century, the collection was republished with an expanding canon, and from the eighteenth century its content imagesbecame the subject of sustained antiquarian study. Scholars across disciplines investigated the provenance of the collection and began to publish critical editions, including Laing’s A compendious book of psalms and spiritual songs (1868) and Mitchell’s edition of A compendious book of godly and spiritual songs (1897), published by the Scottish Text Society. As The Gude and Godlie Ballatis were brought back into circulation, Alasdair A. MacDonald explains, it became established as “both an important document in the religious and cultural history of early modern Scotland and as something of a classic of Older Scots literature” (p. 1.). MacDonald, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Groningen, has been working on this edition since his fellowship in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh (1979-80). His new edition replaces the earlier Scottish Text Society edition as being based on an earlier text (1565), and also includes material in verse that was added to later editions. The result of this work is an outstanding edition of a seminal source in the literary, historical and religious study of early modern Scotland.

[2] The Gude and Godlie Ballatis does not appear to have survived in manuscript form, though individual items within the collection are preserved in scribal volumes. MacDonald includes in his fine introduction a substantial discussion of the provenance of individual texts or text-portions: he documents the circulation of parts of the collection from the early 1540s (p. 8), and offers nuanced discussion of whether, as several scholars have claimed, John Knox cited text from what became The Gude and Godlie Ballatis in his history of the reformation in Scotland (this section of Knox’s text is thought to have been written in 1566). The collection, emerging in print, appears to have gathered together earlier texts, which “may have circulated independently in manuscript or as broadsides” (p. 13), and to have been printed for the first time after the beginnings of the Scottish reformation.

[3] The Gude and Godlie Ballatis therefore represents a key document in the early history of Scottish print. MacDonald includes in his introduction an impressive survey of Scottish print culture, arguing that the collection was the “first fruits” of the collaboration between Thomas Bassandyne and John Scot (p. 14), a publication that emerged only four years after Scot was penalized for “surreptitiously printing a book by the Catholic controversialist, Ninian Winzet” (p. 15) – which may be a signal of John Scot’s rapidly changing confessional identity as much as the financial necessities of the new technology of print within the limited Scottish market. There was certainly a readership for the kind of text included within The Gude and Godlie Ballatis. Scottish Calvinists, like their brethren elsewhere, identified the Psalms as being central to public and private worship, and the collection, while including material that ranged far beyond that suitable for individual devotion or congregational praise, certainly included this kind of material. In part, the anthology looked like a prayer book, beginning with texts of the ten commandments, the apostles creed, and the Lord’s prayer, and texts for hymns and prayers composed for such events as ordinary household meals or the celebration of the Lord’s supper. For the content of the collection is varied, including “psalm versifications, biblical paraphrases, prayers, hymns, devotional lyrics, articulations of doctrine, religious propaganda, and satires arising from the controversies of the time” (p. 36). These items represent compositions that appear to be new, as well as re-workings of older Catholic texts, material that was included in Coverdale’s Goostly psalmes and spirituall songs (c. 1535), and, in a small number of instances, material of continental origin, including several items by Martin Luther, all of which is rendered in Scots. The Lutheran influence is telling, especially in the earlier part of the collection, and The Gude and Godlie Ballatis thus becomes indicative of the movement from Lutheran to Calvinist influence within the Scottish reformation, and of the cultural reach of the Scottish diaspora, through which Scottish writing may have circulated in communities dotted around the North Sea and the Baltic (p. 38). The Gude and Godlie Ballatis therefore becomes an evidence of religious, textual and linguistic exchange, as protestants in Scotland and on the Continent developed a trade in theological ideas and texts that challenges the assumptions of many accounts of the sterility and isolation of Scottish cultural production within early modernity. Some of these texts appear to have circulated widely in post-reformation Scotland: the Inverness Kirk Session book, 1604-16, included several stanzas on a flyleaf (according to Laing – this text has since been lost), and Thomas White, a Catholic and then Reformed clergyman in Haddington, included several lines in his notebooks.

[4] MacDonald’s commentary The Gude and Godlie Ballatis is engaged and informed. In one instance, he notes the ambiguous reception of the terminology of “sacrament,” but perhaps underestimates the extent to which his subjects’ concern about a reference to the “sacrament of the altar” relates more to the reference to altar than to the reference to sacraments: as MacDonald notes, Calvinists were quite happy to use the latter term (p. 17). Overall, this is a very fine edition of a very important text. Scholars of the northern Renaissance will be grateful to MacDonald and the Scottish Text Society for their work in providing us with such an excellent resource.

Queen’s University Belfast, October 2016

Chad van Doxhoorn (ed.), The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652 (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Chad van Dixhoorn (ed.), The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). ISBN: 978-0-19–920683-4, 5 Vols, 3200 pp., £655.00.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben


[1] The Westminster Assembly (1643-53) was the most important ecclesiastical gathering in seventeenth-century England and one of its principal intellectual events. Convened under the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), the religious contract which united the parliaments of England and Scotland in the civil war against Charles I, the Assembly was tasked to produce a series of documents which would determine the faith and practice of the established church which, its sponsors hoped, would replace the national churches of the three kingdoms. The project was nothing if not ambitious. Theologians gathered from across England, with a number also attending from Ireland and Scotland, to hammer out a confession of faith, several catechisms, a directory of public worship and other ecclesiastical documents which would reflect the convictions of its dominant party – a large body of divines of largely Presbyterian convictions, satisfied to construct a national church which would be under the formal supervision of Parliament. Many of the delegates disagreed with this position, of course, and there emerged within the Assembly both a party of high church Erastians and a smaller but energetic and increasingly influential body of Independents, the latter party arguing for the autonomy of each congregation under the discipline of local leaders and for a broad religious tolerance. But the state-church Presbyterians prevailed, and for several years they seemed to carry all before them. The Scots and English parliament won the first civil war, as Charles won the peace which followed it, and the dangerous escalation of tensions which led to the second civil war and the collapse in trust between Parliament and its army reflected the power of the Presbyterian political community as well as their unflinching determination to forcibly impose the religious hegemony their theologians had so carefully crafted. The Long Parliament’s Blasphemy Act (1648) reflected the apogee of their power, and made illegal any public defence of theological positions contrary to those of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Act clarified the sometimes ambiguous division between the religious, social and political visions of the majority and minority parties within the Assembly, which continued to meet through this period. But while the Presbyterians enjoyed massive political influence within Parliament, the Independents had the ear of the army – and the army would come to their aid. For in December 1648, Colonel Thomas Pride led the coup which ended the Long Parliament and inaugurated the Rump, the body of radicalised MPs which drove for the trial of the king, and made possible his execution and the republican experiment which followed.

[2] The Westminster Assembly may not loom large in the scholarship on the northern Renaissance, but, despite its late date and limited geographical influence, it ought to do so. The Assembly produced a confession of faith which was adopted almost in toto by the Church of Scotland, and remains today the standard confession of faith of Presbyterian churches worldwide, with all of the political consequences that entails, not least in the theological, covenantal and legal framework of the American war of independence. But, perhaps much more importantly for readers of this journal, in meetings that bristled with personal, party and sometimes national rivalries, the Assembly prepared the documents that energized the social vision that provided critical materiel for important parts of civil wars conservatism. And this extraordinarily detailed edition of the Assembly’s minutes offers an unparalleled opportunity to see how this vision developed.

[3] Chad van Dixhoorn, the principal editor of these volumes, first developed his interest in the Minutes in his voluminous University of Cambridge PhD thesis. The text of the Minutes, which he established in that project, is here annotated and explained, to a very high level of competence, by an eminently capable team of associates – Mark A. Garcia, Joel A. Halcomb and Inga Jones. Their combined work extends this edition of the Minutes to five volumes and over one million words. The bulk of the text, spread across the 2,400 pages of the central three volumes, represents the Minutes of this Assembly in their entirety, here liberated from what John Morrill (who would know) has described as “the worst handwriting I have yet encountered from the seventeenth century.”[1] The fifth volume provides an extensive handlist of the papers produced by the Assembly and a comprehensive set of indices. Most readers of this journal will be most interested in the first volume, however, in which van Dixhoorn and his colleagues recreate the material, personal, and theological world of an Assembly in which delegates could debate abstruse points of Reformed scholastic theology while also spending hours discussing the geography of Palestine or the distance travelled by sound in proceedings which were widely reported, not least to foreign Reformed churches, and witnessed by diverse audiences, including a travelling Muslim. The first volume contains essays which explain the layout of the Jerusalem Chamber, where discussions took place, as well as the typical seating patterns of the divines – a pattern which helps interpret some of the tabulated material on which divine was most likely to speak in a debate, which divine was most likely to be interrupted in a debate, and by whom. The point is fascinating – for while we might expect to reach for theological reasons for these kinds of intervention, they might sometimes be better explained by knowing that two divines who didn’t really get on sat rather too close to one another.

[4] It is extremely difficult to do justice to this edition in a review like this. These Minutes are a critical record of a decade of theological controversy, but they are a window into a mental world which could have dominated mid-seventeenth-century England, Scotland and Ireland, and into the imaginations of the men by whom that mental world was constructed. This edition offers a model of sympathetic editorial practice in a project which occupied its principal contributor for eleven years of full-time research. John Morrill has described this edition as “an astounding achievement” – a judgment which will be echoed by all students of the northern Renaissance.[2]

[1] John Morill, “Foreword,” in i. ix. [back to text]

[2] Morill, “Foreword,” in i. x. [back to text]

 Queen’s University Belfast, February 2015

George Southcombe (ed.), English Nonconformist Poetry, 1660-1700, (Pickering and Chatto, 2012)

George Southcombe (ed.), English Nonconformist Poetry, 1660-1700 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012). ISBN: 9781851969654, 3 Vols, 1168pp., £275.00.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben


[1] This handsome set of three volumes is the most significant of the recent contributions to the study of English literary culture in the later seventeenth century. English Nonconformist Poetry, 1660-1700, which was prepared by George Southcombe during his British Academy postdoctoral fellowship at Somerville College, Oxford, offers a sensitive and nuanced introduction to an often neglected series of texts, discursive contexts and cultures. The poetry included in this edition demonstrates the vitality and flexibility of nonconformist writers across the period, even as it bears witness to the changing circumstances of the Restoration, its aftermath, and the Revolution which appeared to many contemporaries to complete the political and social transformation of England which had begun with the civil wars almost fifty years before.

[2] Recent work on seventeenth-century radical writing has tended to focus its attention on the 1640s and 1650s. The contributions which have been made by Naomi Baker, Ariel Hessayon, Nicholas McDowell and Nigel Smith, among others, have been institutionalised in such volumes as The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution (2001) and The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution (2012). Comparatively little attention has been paid to the legacies of this print culture in the aftermath of the Restoration, by contrast, when the political and religious radicalism of earlier writers evolved into the distinctive preoccupations of dissent. A number of the most important of those writers who became known as ‘nonconformists’ did begin their literary, political or ecclesiastical careers during the revolution – including John Milton, Andrew Marvell and John Bunyan. But new voices also emerged in the new environments of Restoration England. The sometimes visionary and often iconoclastic commitments of the earlier radical tradition were repurposed in the changing social and political contexts of the revived Stuart regime, as has been illustrated in studies ranging from Neil Keeble’s ground-breaking account of The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (1987) to Nigel Smith’s biography, Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon (2010). But, even as this scholarly discussion has continued, we have lacked a judicious anthology of the most important texts emerging from the dissenting community in the period after the Restoration. This is what makes the publication of English Nonconformist Poetry, 1660-1700 so significant.

[3] George Southcombe has provided a judicious and nuanced selection of poetic texts from this period. The poetry included in the three volumes of this edition is arranged chronologically: volume one includes material from 1660 to 1672, volume two from 1673 to 1682, and volume three from 1689 to 1702. Southcombe’s selection includes a generous representation of a number of writers: Robert Wild is the author of ten of the nineteen items in volume one, for example, and four of the eight items in volume two. Nevertheless, the selected writers do represent a number of different denominational backgrounds: Robert Wild was a Presbyterian of royalist inclination, Benjamin Keach was a Baptist with occasional links to anti-Stuart agitators, and Vavasor Powell was an erstwhile Fifth Monarchist who spent most of the 1660s in prison, for example. Perhaps surprisingly, the edition does not include material by well-known writers, including Milton, Marvell or Bunyan, though these writers and others like them are already well served by critical editions. Perhaps more surprisingly, the edition includes only two women. Katherine Sutton is represented by A Christian Woman’s Experiences of the Glorious Working of Gods Free Grace (1663), which appears in volume one, and Mary Mollineux is represented by Fruits of Retirement: or, Miscellanous Poems, Moral and Divine (1702), which collection is included in its entirety in volume three in a text edited by Catherine Wright (pp. 187-296). As this extensive page range suggests, the edition cheerfully flees the temptation to excerpt from longer material, and includes substantial single items, including Benjamin Keach’s Distressed Sion Relieved (1689), as well as substantial collections, including Mollineux’s Fruits of Retirement, in their entirety. No two editors would offer the same account of this period, of course, and no amount of second-guessing could challenge this edition’s commitment to offering as fully a comprehensive account of poetic work in this period.

[4] English Nonconformist Poetry, 1660-1700 is presented as a very handsome series of three volumes, the appearance of which is typical of the high-quality production we have come to expect of Pickering & Chatto. The brown boards are complemented by an attractive buckram label for the title on the spine. Unfortunately, the attractiveness of the edition, and utility of the text, is hampered by the rather small font size which is used for the poetry – it cannot be any more than 8 point. But there is no doubt that this edition represents a contribution to the study of later seventeenth-century literary culture with potentially paradigm-shifting significance.

Queen’s University Belfast, April 2014

Kathleen Lynch, Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone world (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Kathleen Lynch, Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone world. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-964393-6. Xii+322pp., Hbk. £60

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1]  Much of the attention paid to life-writing in early modern England has concentrated on the conversion narratives which were developed in certain puritan communities to monitor proper religious experience and to function as a gateway to church membership in gathered congregations. The scholarly consensus argues that these conversion narratives emerged in Independent churches in New England in the 1630s and 1640s, were theorised in England and Ireland in the 1650s, and thereafter evolved into a literary genre from which a series of narratives, such as Bunyan’s Grace Abounding (1666) and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), became classics in the English canon. This scholarly consensus was established by Edmund S. Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963), Owen Watkins’s The Puritan Experience (1973), and Patricia Caldwell’s The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression (1983). These texts argue that successful conversion narratives – those which allowed candidates into church membership – followed a standard rhetorical and theological pattern. This ‘morphology of conversion’ provided candidates for church membership with a basic vocabulary and structure from which it was unwise to deviate. More recent work, especially by astute critics like Naomi Baker, has done much to extend the arguments of Morgan, Watkins and Caldwell. Nevertheless, despite their relative age, these texts remain central to the debate about religious life-writing in the period.

[2]  A number of scholars are now beginning to question some of the assumptions of this established consensus. Working mainly within the existing scholarly boundaries, Francis J. Bremer has begun to revise some of his earlier conclusions, challenging assumptions about the relationship between conversion narratives and processes of granting church membership. One of the papers in which Bremer has advanced these new claims was presented at a conference organised by the ‘Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe’ project, based in the University of York. This project has led the way in expanding the writing under consideration by pushing back the geographical and religious boundaries of the discussion, by examining narratives of conversion from across and even beyond European Christendom. Kathleen Lynch’s study of Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone world (2012) is an important and convincing contribution to this new stage of the debate about the origins and evolution of life-writing in early modernity.

[3]  Lynch’s book moves away from the established centres of discussion to investigate the origins and development of Protestant autobiography across broader chronological, generic, book-historical and geographical contexts. With ambition and confidence, Lynch identifies a number of key ‘reorientations’ in which, she believes, her book makes a key contribution, including her book’s broad engagement with the literature of the English Atlantic, and its paying ‘fuller attention to the human communities and human processes by which these purportedly truthful texts were rendered credible, if not “True”’ (13). It is this situation in terms of recent work in book history and trans-Atlantic studies that makes Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone world such a key theoretical and historical contribution. But it is Lynch’s movement beyond the traditional focus on puritan studies that indicates the real value of her work. The book begins with an account of spiritual experience drawn up by Richard Norwood, a settler on Bermuda during the 1610s, and moves to discuss the reception of Augustine during the 1620s alongside work by John Donne. A chapter on civil wars writing compares the account of Sarah Wight in Henry Jessey’s The Exceeding Riches of Grace Advanced (1647) with the representation of the spiritual experience of Charles I in Eikon Basilike (1649). The second part of Lynch’s book returns to territory which would be more familiar to readers of the older literature on puritan conversion narratives. Chapters focus on the collections of conversion narratives published by Henry Walker (until recently attributed to Vavasor Powell), John Rogers and John Eliot in 1653, and on later autobiographical writing by Bunyan and Baxter. But this is no re-statement of earlier orthodoxies. Instead, Lynch’s reading of some of the more familiar texts in the English protestant life-writing tradition is informed by the subtlety and provocation of her opening chapters. The Bunyan and Baxter to whom we are introduced are effectively de-familiarised, and their place in the print culture of English dissent superbly communicated. Lynch’s greatest strength is in her reading of the materiality of these texts. Her study of the production and reception of John Rogers’s Ohel or Bethshemesh (1653) is particularly nuanced and advances discussion of the text in significant ways. Lynch’s reconstruction of the contexts of the book’s production and reception draws on the efflorescence of radical print culture in the Cromwellian world: ‘among these speakers, we hear for virtually the first time in print the new public voices of women, lower classes, ordinary citizens and the laity, those from outside the elite circles of London and the universities, those entering the public record for the first time and in the first person – with gender, geography, and culture as salient conditions of publication’ (125). And in Lynch’s account, the publication of the collections of narratives edited by Walker, Rogers and Eliot has everything to do with the hopes raised by the dissolution of the Rump and the sudden aspiration for godly rule embodied in the Barebones Parliament.

[4]  It may be that the book underplays its investments in trans-Atlantic contexts – and some of the hopes raised by its title. This may be strategic – earlier accounts of the emergence of protestant life-writing often over-stated the importance of American innovations. Future work in the area will no doubt seek to redress the balance. But as it does so, this future work will also need to acknowledge that Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone world has re-written the scholarly consensus, and that its decision to place its account of the emergence and evolution of protestant life-writing within early modern processes of knowledge production and dissemination has rooted often abstruse ideas within vitally material contexts.

Trinity College Dublin, October 2012

Thomas N. Corns, Ann Hughes and David Loewenstein (eds.), The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley, (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Thomas N. Corns, Ann Hughes and David Loewenstein (eds.). The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley. 2 vols. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-19-957606-7. 616 pp. Hbk. £208.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben

[1]  Gerrard Winstanley is one of the best and one of the least recognised prose writers of the seventeenth century, and this superb edition of his work will do much to establish its value. Over the course of the last decade, literary critics have been paying increasing attention to writing of the civil war period. The scholarship is now burgeoning. The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution (2001), edited by Neil Keeble, is shortly to be followed by The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution (2012), edited by Laura Knoppers, and these general accounts provide overarching contexts for detailed case studies, with some of the most useful work being completed by Naomi Baker, Tim Cooper, Jerome de Groot, Ariel Hessayon, Edward Holberton, Neil Keeble, Nicholas McDowell, John Rogers, and Nigel Smith, among many others. There is no shortage of high-value scholarly activity. But — at least until the appearance of the new Winstanley edition —we have continued to lack properly edited critical texts for many of the major writers of this period. Take Abiezer Coppe as an example: his work now appears in the Norton Anthology, but the most comprehensive editions of his literary output continue to be found in important but sometimes less accessible anthologies and reprints (see Hopton 1987). And the small number of textual editions that do exist are often dated. Before the publication of the text under review, for example, the most recent selected edition of Winstanley’s writing had been published in 1944 (Hamilton 1944). For these reasons, and many others, the new Oxford Winstanley should be welcomed. The decision by a major university press to commit to a project of this scale and complexity is an important signal of our growing awareness of the significance of the remarkable body of literature produced during the most tumultuous decades of early modern British and Irish history.

[2]  But it might be that a case should be made for the value of Winstanley’s work. Winstanley was the premier spokesperson for the Diggers, a society of Christian communists that appeared, apparently from nowhere, in the spring of 1649, just months after the regicide, and which disappeared soon after. In part, the sudden emergence of the movement, and the panic it generated, which was almost in inverse proportion to the size of its membership or the longevity of its impact, illustrates something of the shock that gripped large sections of English society in the aftermath of the second civil war and its shocking conclusion. There had been little to suggest to observers of Winstanley’s life that he was about to proclaim a heroic age of human ideals. As Mark Kishlansky memorably put it, Winstanley was ‘a small businessman who began his career wholesaling cloth, ended it wholesaling grain, and in between sandwiched a mid-life crisis of epic proportions’ (Kishlansky 1996: 196). For his period of radical activity was contained. In the immediate aftermath of the worst period of food production in the seventeenth century, Winstanley published a maelstrom of apocalyptic denunciations of the social and political status quo. Developing a radical political theory from an allegorical reading of Scripture, his writings in the period 1648 to 1652 demonstrate an extraordinary ability to transform existing literary genres to reflect the new conditions of millennial possibility. His articulation of Christian communism advanced in the face of the great English hunger, and proposed a combination of supernatural and horticultural means to address the crisis of food supply. Winstanley had received a series of divine communications by ‘Vision, Voice, and Revelation’ that had convinced him that existing social conditions were about to be overturned (II. 11, and see Badstock 1991; Baxter 1988; Burgess 1987; Gurney 1994). ‘Prophecies are now fulfilling,’ he insisted, and the social, economic, religious and horticultural conditions of Eden were soon to be restored (II. 3). Eden had been planted on common land, Winstanley argued, and those who sought to turn England into a second Eden by widening the usage of common land would ‘not strive with sword and speare, but with spade and plow and such like instruments to make the barren and common Lands fruitful’ (A Letter to the Lord Fairfax and his Councell of War, II. 52, 49). His endeavor was ‘no otherwise, but to improve the Commons, and to cast off that oppression and outward bondage which the Creation groans under, as much as in us lies, and to lift up and preserve the purity thereof’ (A Letter to the Lord Fairfax and his Councell of War II. 44). But the return to Eden would not just be evidenced by the move beyond monarchy that the nation had so recently witnessed — it would also be marked by a move beyond private property. ‘In the beginning of time,’ the authors remembered, ‘the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the Lord that was to govern this Creation,’ and ‘Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes’ (II.4). Therefore, they argued, ‘the Work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges-Hill and the wast ground thereabouts, and to sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our Brows’ (II. 10). Although simple in character, these actions would bring freedom to ‘poor inslaved English Israelites,’ and their shortly expected exodus would symbolize their movement into paradisiacal plenty and the eschatological renewal of nature. (II. 12). ‘Let Israel go free,’ the authors exhorted (II. 18–20). Winstanley’s writing is certainly important, therefore, both for its own sake and for its influence on major canonical writers, including Andrew Marvell (see, for example, Gribben 2012).

[3]  This edition of Winstanley’s works should advance the reconfiguration of our understanding of ‘Renaissance,’ both in terms of geography and canonicity. Even by English standards, Winstanley was a northerner — he was born in Wigan. And his writing illustrates the unique condition of the writing that emerged in a northerly expression of the great religious crisis that consumed Europe throughout the Thirty Years War. Winstanley’s work is not humanistic — though Nicholas McDowell’s account of The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630–1660 (2003) has worked hard to establish in the critical consensus a recognition that ‘radical’ writing could be constructed on the basis of humanistic scholarship — but it does draw upon and reconfigure the classic texts of the Western tradition. That sense of literary indebtedness is superbly documented in this edition, prepared by three of the finest scholars working on the literature and history of the mid-century crisis. The two volumes are produced to a very high editorial standard, with carefully edited texts retaining the typographical specifics of the early printings being followed by scrupulous and learned annotations.

[4]  Of course, what the burgeoning scholarly and pedagogical interest in civil wars writing now requires is an anthology that will combine the high editorial standards of this text with a broad and generous selection of writing emanating both intellectually and geographically from across and perhaps even beyond the parties involved in the conflicts. Such an anthology, representing the visionary and ecstatic alongside the humanistic and scholarly that were manifested on multiple sides in the British and Irish conflicts, would be a powerful statement of the unique contributions made to the northern renaissance. In such an anthology, as in this deeply impressive volume, the voices of the mid-century crisis might finally be able to speak for themselves.

Trinity College Dublin, December 2011

Works Cited

Badstock, A. 1991. ‘Sowing in Hope: the Relevance of Theology to Gerrard Winstanley’s Political Programme’, Seventeenth Century 6 (1991): 189–204

Baxter, Nicola. 1988. ‘Gerrard Winstanley’s Experimental Knowledge: the Perception of the Spirit and the Act of Reason’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 39 (1988): 184–201

Burgess, John P. 1987. ‘Biblical Poet and Prophet: Gerrard Winstanley’s use of Scripture in The Law of Freedom’, Journal of Religious History 14: 269–82

Gribben, Crawford. 2012 [forthcoming]. ‘Millennialism and the renewal of nature: Thomas Fairfax, the Diggers and Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House”’, in Enigma and Revelation in Renaissance Literature: Essays in Honour of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, ed. by Helen Cooney and Mark Sweetnam (Dublin: Four Courts)

Gurney, J. 1994. ‘Gerrard Winstanley and the Digger movement in Walton and Cobham’, Historical Journal 37: 775–802

Hamilton, L, (ed.). 1944. Gerrard Winstanley: Selections from his Works (London: Cresset Press)

Hopton, Andrew, (ed.) 1987. Abiezer Coppe: Selected Writings (London: Aporia Press)

Kishlansky, Mark. 1996. A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 16031714 (London: Penguin, 1996)

McDowell, Nicholas. 2003. The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)