This course concerns a time and a place that were once not unjustly considered central to the narrative of United States history, and you will in fact learn about the society that produced both the Puritan settlers of New England and the very different English men and women who settled much of the rest of the Eastern seaboard in the seventeenth century. We’re going to learn about a relatively small, peripheral region that began – but did not complete – its ascent to the ranks of European and, in time, global powers in this period. We’re going to learn about a period from the middle of the fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century, from the first battle of the Wars of the Roses (St Albans, 1455) to the end of the reign of Elizabeth I (1603). Events were nearly as bloody, and politics nearly as exciting, as Hilary Mantel or Showtime’s The Tudors would have us believe – and much smellier and dirtier. Of course, life was miserable for most people and we will fail to understand the period if we view it only through the eyes of an anachronistically contemporary Thomas Cromwell.
We will examine political, social, economic, and religious movements, balancing attention to events and individuals with attention to their context and to broader developments in Europe and elsewhere. Differences of perspective and choices of sources and emphases shape how historians write the history of this period: is this the key period that prepared Great Britain for world dominance in the nineteenth century, or is it simply a marginal period of a marginal country? is this period the end of ‘Merry Old England,’ suppressed in the taxes, axes, and fires of the Henrician, Edwardian, Marian, and Elizabethan reformations and by the dominance of dour Puritan elites, or is it the beginning of a moderate, Protestant, “modern” England? is this an age of declining standards of living and generalized oppression for the common people, or is it a golden age of popular learning? a decline or a Renaissance? and so on.