Who were ‘the people’ in early modern England? Part I: Some evidence from 44,313 printed texts

Brodie Waddell

In our on-going discussions of social description and social identity on this blog, we have tried to think through how we talk about the ‘non-elite’ individuals that we study. We’ve shown the problems with ‘plebeians’ and ‘the people’, yet I think this latter term is worth looking at from another angle. In Mark’s post on ‘the rise of the people’, he focused on how historians have used the term, but he also mentioned that:

It would be interesting to run a project on the history and meanings of the term ‘the people’ across the centuries, as has been done for instance for ‘commonwealth‘.

I can’t claim this little post is even a preliminary report on any such project. However, I did spend a couple hours searching through Early English Books Online to try to get a sense of how contemporaries used this term in early modern England. So, who were ‘the people’?

The first feature to note is that the term was extremely common. There were just over 400,000 hits for ‘the people’ in the 44,313 transcribed texts on EBBO. Continue reading

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The Rise of ‘The People’

Mark Hailwood

One of our ongoing conversations on this blog has revolved around the most appropriate terms that practitioners of history ‘from below’ can use to describe their subjects: are we studying ‘the working class’? The ‘lower classes’? The ‘middling and poorer sort of people’? The ‘plebs’? This post doesn’t provide any answers I’m afraid, but in it I want to resume the conversation by highlighting and briefly interrogating a term that seems to me to have been enjoying a certain vogue recently: ‘the people’. Continue reading

Memorial and History: appendix ii, further discoveries

Laura Sangha

Last year I wrote a series of posts on memorialisation and history, inspired by my discovery of Exeter’s memorial to two sixteenth-century martyrs. I uncovered the story of the two local victims remembered on the monument, the life of its colourful creator, and I explored why commemoration of religious martyrs suddenly became widespread in nineteenth and twentieth-century England. Over the summer, free from the golden reins of teaching, I found myself in two locations that provided more pieces of the puzzle.[1]

University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

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The view north from St Mary’s, looking into Radcliffe Square.

I was lucky enough to spend a week working in the Bodleian, and during a lunch break I took a tour around the University Church just opposite. In 1556 the church still functioned as a court and the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, was tried for heresy there by Mary Tudor’s Catholic government. Cranmer was one of the key architects of the early English Reformation, chiefly responsible for the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer – the latter was eventually the basis for the Elizabethan 1559 version. Cranmer refused to abjure his faith (technically he recanted, but then went back on his original recantation) and was burnt to death on Broad Street in Oxford, just round the corner from the church – and of course very close to the site of the Oxford Martyr Memorial today. Continue reading