Stuart England was a time of turbulence and transformation. Over little more than a century, the country experienced multiple civil wars, briefly becoming a republic, as succeeding Stuart monarchs sought in vain to contain religious division and political dissent in an effort to rule by ‘divine right’. Beginning with the coronation of James I and the Gunpowder Plot, and ending with the establishment of the United Kingdom, we will explore the key developments in an era that bridges the Middle Ages and the modern world.
The Stuart monarchs were major patrons of the arts, and we’ll consider and visit striking examples of painting, music, interior design and architecture over the period, like Rubens, Handel, Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. Literature and the theatre also transformed, and we’ll read Ben Jonson’s comedies and Samuel Pepys’ diaries of London life. Meanwhile, religious unrest remained a sticking point, as discontent among persecuted Catholics and Puritans led to open rebellion, with two Stuart kings forcefully overthrown by their subjects and one executed. These were superstitious times, as religious zealotry, witch trials and a panoply of minor religious sects proliferated during the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, as the ‘world turned upside down’ and some considered apocalypse imminent. We will also survey the rise of the experimental ‘New Science’ led by the Royal Society, associated with Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle, as well as the rise of political naturalism and liberalism in Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. By the end of the period, England had become a formidable world power with an empire, powerful navy, and flourishing mercantile economy. Yet unrest remained around the corner, as James II was overthrown by William and Mary, anxieties about Catholicism persisted, and a ‘Glorious Revolution’ established an elementary political constitution and Bill of Rights that would inspire the American revolutionaries a century later.
Below you’ll find lecture slides, course handouts, walks and guides to some of the museums and historical sights I took classes to. Some of the numbering goes a bit wonky.