How a stick of gum can get you through tedious research on a host of horrid figures

Debates in Stuart History. First edition

February 25, 2005

This is a consistently lively and vigorous "textbook with a difference" that lights up different phases of the historiography of the Stuart period. Some of its confident assertions will provoke disagreement. Nonetheless, Ronald Hutton always repays a careful reading whether he is dealing with the 19th-century rehabilitation of Oliver Cromwell, the way in which Charles II became the "royal patron of the Roaring Twenties", or with the contrasts between the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the 350th of 1642, the outbreak of Civil War.

It is recent work on the Stuart century that chiefly preoccupies him and he makes some telling points in exploring the correspondence between the shifting focus and discourse of historians' writing and their own changing sociology - less male dominated and less patrician than earlier - and the expanding, increasingly competitive context of British higher education.

Revisionism - in its specific and wider connotations - and post-Revisionism come under scrutiny here, as does the changing framework of study, whether through the importation of perspectives from other disciplines or through the insistence that English history needs always to be seen as part of the larger British picture.

Hutton's dislike of Cromwell comes through strongly in a spirited debunking job that portrays the Lord Protector's manipulations, sermonising deceptions, and his roughshod dealings with the law and constitution. Equally, however, Hutton's experience of producing his biography of Charles II - "a monarch whom I disliked" - appears to have been "genuinely depressing".

Comments such as these make clear the pronounced autobiographical dimension of this book. Its presence enables us to chart the author's evolving relationship with the Stuart period, from his first reading of a children's encyclopaedia to his first awestruck encounter as a young man with Lady Antonia Fraser, his race against John Miller to see whose book would come out first and his reliance on chewing gum as an antidote to the tedium of archival research.

Sadly, it seems likely that such revelations will be of less interest to students than to those who teach them. Textbooks, after all, are judged by their utilitarian value. This one may be too esoteric and playful for its own good.

R. C. Richardson is professor of history, University College Winchester.

Debates in Stuart History. First edition

Author - Ronald Hutton
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 239
Price - £49.50 and £17.50
ISBN - 1 4039 3588 2 and 3589 0

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