In a lecture delivered to the Royal Historical Society in December 1983, John Morrill concluded with the observation that ‘The English civil war was not the first European revolution: it was the last of the wars of religion’. Coming as it did during the seed time of ‘revisionism’, Morrill’s interpretation placed ideology back among the causes of what he now calls the war of the three kingdoms. While some scholars were initially critical of Morrill’s suggestion that religion alone had the power to shape perceptions of misrule, more recently the link between religion and political conflict has gained wide currency. However, the argument takes a number of forms, some emphasising sovereignty, others ecclesiology, and still others the radicalising effects of Protestantism. Not only has Morrill’s concept of a ‘war of religion’ come to influence the way in which historians approach the breakdown of the 1640s, but it has also shaped discussions of the Elizabethan ecclesiastical polity on one hand, and the fractious religious culture of the Restoration on the other. It is now clear that this concluding remark was one of profound insight and importance to the early modern period, and Morrill himself has, since 1983, offered a number of elaborations on the central theme.
This symposium aims to recognise the importance of Morrill’s interpretation, and to move it forward with reference to scholarship on political and religious thought that has emerged since 1983. While it will be partly concerned with the period of the 1640s, it also aims to draw out elements of the links and tensions between politics and religion that define the long seventeenth century. Central to the symposium will be a critical engagement with Morrill’s original argument: in what ways is it still persuasive, and in what areas might it be revised?
I always find it interesting how much of the Long Eighteenth scholarship of British culture hinges upon debates regarding the meaning of the Civil Wars, or of what is now apparently called “the Long Seventeenth” (copycats). Of course, the scholars of the Long Seventeenth won’t give us Long Eighteenth folk the satisfaction of settling their interminable controversies–I’d be disappointed if they ever did.
The most relevant talks for us postlapsarians promise to be J.C.D. Clark about the “strange persistence” of the Wars of Religion (maybe he will bring up the armored bears) and John Coffey on Protestant Politics in the Civil War and the American Revolution. Perhaps if some kind Long Eighteenth reader slips into the conference unnoticed, we could get a report of the talks.