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Unit information: Revolution and Theory: British Political Thought 1603-1689 (Level C Special Topic) in 2016/17

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Unit name Revolution and Theory: British Political Thought 1603-1689 (Level C Special Topic)
Unit code HIST14001
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Reeks
Open unit status Not open



HIST13003 Special Topic Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The seventeenth century has been described as a ‘courtly dance’ between the opposing theories of common-law ‘ancient’ constitutionalism and divine right ‘absolute’ monarchy. The intellectual backdrop of this ideological clash provides one of the central contexts to this century of revolutions. Close examinations of both the context and documents of British political history will allow students to see how key modern political principles – toleration, rights theory, and liberalism – developed through the political writings and agitations thrown up by the political turmoil of the seventeenth century.

Students will approach this subject in three ways. First we will examine the political history of the seventeenth century, examining how and why Crown and Parliament continually came into conflict. Second, by examining texts in political thought we will see how the opposing ideologies of both parties developed and changed in this context. Third, we will investigate the emergence of radical and revolutionary thought during the acute crisis of the mid-seventeenth century. An investigation of the radical sects, such as the Ranters, Quakers, Diggers and Fifth Monarchists, will allow for a deeper investigation of how political ideas emerge from certain historical contexts. This unit will introduce students not only to a range of well-known political thinkers, such as James VI & I and Thomas Hobbes, but also to a plethora of less well-known but no less important personalities, such as the prophetess Anna Trapnel, the Leveller John Lilburne, and the agrarian-communist Gerrard Winstanley.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students should have developed:

  1. familiarity with the principal features of seventeenth-century political thought
  2. an understanding of, and ability to critique, different perspectives which have been applied to seventeenth-century British political thought
  3. an ability to form independent interpretations relating to this subject
  4. the capacity to express these interpretations with an eloquence appropriate to level C.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

1 x 2 hour exam

Reading and References

  • Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London, 1991; f.p. 1972)
  • Andrew Bradstock, Radical Religion in Cromwell’s England: A Concise History from the English Civil War to the End of the Commonwealth (London, 2010)
  • Rachel Foxley, The Levellers: Radical Political Thought in the English Revolution (Manchester, 2014)
  • Michael Braddick, God’s Fury England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars (London, 2009)
  • Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1978)
  • Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner (Eds), Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, 1993)