Christopher Hill's 1984 The Experience of Defeat: Milton and Some Contemporaries — out in a new edition from Verso — follows out of Hill's account of the radical ideas that animated the English Revolution, and Milton's relation to them; which he had developed in The World Turned Upside Down (1972) and Milton and the English Revolution (1977). "My concern," Hill writes in the introduction, "is not so much with the fate of radicals after the restoration, but to study how some individuals coped with the experience of living through a revolution which they initially welcomed, and with the defeat of that revolution — a defeat which for some of them occurred before 1660."
In the excerpt below, Hill examines the relationships between the radicals, the army, and "the people" that developed in the "fluid society" of the 1650s — and how they changed as it came to an end.
One point that forced itself upon me whilst writing this book was the continuing importance of the Army for the radicals. Their ideas could have emerged only in the fluid state of society which existed during the revolutionary decades. We should not underestimate — as historians perhaps too easily do — the significance of rank and file and junior officers in London as members of gathered congregations, often as preachers themselves around whom such churches formed. Outside London it was normally under the Army’s protection that separatist churches and groups could gather and survive. The Digger community at Cobham lasted as long as it had Army backing; and no longer. In January 1650 Winstanley was still hoping for Army support, and even in 1652 he appealed to Cromwell. The Ranters drew on support from Army officers in their brief heyday. That the "northern Quakers" owed much to Army protection is clear from Fox’s Journal, and from the Nayler Debates in 1656. Removing the garrison from Bristol in 1654 at once reduced support for the Quakers. In Ireland it was in the Army that Quakers "found their greatest response." When Burrough and Howgil were expelled from Ireland in 1656, the guards taking them to the coast "were loving to them and suffered them to have meetings where they came."
The fluidity of the society was the product of the Army’s victory. For nearly fifteen years the Army was the effective source of authority in the country; to it JPs and other local authorities in the last resort owed such backing as they received. Religious toleration, manifestly, would last only so long as the Army lasted. No elected Parliament in the mid-seventeenth century could conceivably accept it. But the Army of 1659–60 was not the Army of 1647–8. From 1649 onwards its character was slowly changing. The radicals’ continuing hope in the Army was a rationalization of their despair. Their expectations had been raised to a peak by the execution of Charles I and the proclamation of the Commonwealth, only to be dashed by the forcible suppression of Levellers, Diggers and Ranters in 1649–51. A second crisis of expectation came in 1653, with the dissolution of the Rump and of Barebone’s Parliament. Again disappointment followed. A few Fifth Monarchists were driven into greater militancy, since the only hope for their sort of revolution lay in a personal intervention by Jesus Christ. The rest seem to have continued to pin their hopes on a new change of heart in the Army which had once been God’s instrument.
Meanwhile radical regiments were purged or sent to Ireland. Just as successive Elizabethan Archbishops used Puritans to evangelize the dark corners of the North, so radical officers like Ludlow and Fleetwood were sent to Ireland, where their anti-popery could be put to less peaceful but equally profitable uses. The Western Design of 1655 was manned by troops chosen by commanding officers in England: this was presumably another way of getting rid of undesirables. Fighting in Ireland, Scotland, the West Indies and Flanders weeded out the original New Model. Cromwell’s captains resigned in 1657. Monck purged and purged again his army in Scotland, Henry Cromwell his army in Ireland. Those who remained are likely to have been those least motivated by radical political or religious ideals.
There was in the long run no social basis of support for a non-radical Army. In 1649 "the people" (in Harrington’s sense) and the saints accepted the rule of the generals in preference to Levellers (with a background fear of an Army controlled by junior officers and rank and file). In December 1653 "the people" acquiesced in the Protectorate as against a rule of the saints, who seemed to be reviving extremist policies against a background of London demonstrations in favour of Lilburne. By 1660 most of "the people" had learnt their lesson: the old constitution would protect their interests, including those gained during the Revolution, better than an Army, whether led by generals, the godly or a democratic Army Council. The Cause had initially seemed to be that of simple people against the rich and powerful. But, as Winstanley pointed out, tyranny was tyranny whether exercised by men of inherited wealth or by men who had won their way to wealth by fighting. When the next chance for the radicals came in 1659–60 the Army had become a police force protecting the gains of its commanders. Hopes of godly rule had been deferred so many times that there was something feverish in the activity of the militants now that a restoration of monarchy was an increasingly alarming possibility. Divisions in the Army at least offered hope that some generals, for opportunist reasons, might make common cause with the radicals, and so recreate a power base in the Army similar to that which had emerged in 1647. It was a forlorn hope, but no more obviously forlorn than Winstanley dedicating The Law of Freedom to Cromwell in 1652, or Harrington Oceana in 1656. There was a longstanding protestant tradition of co-operation with ungodly rulers to further God’s purposes — Henry VIII, the Duke of Northumberland, the Earls of Leicester and Essex, the Duke of Buckingham, were all at one time the centre of the hopes of the godly. We know that all this bustle in 1659–60 came to nothing, but for drowning men quite a sizeable collection of straws offered themselves. Certainly conservatives were worried.
But the miracle was not to happen. God had abandoned the Army which had abandoned him. "If your condition would enable you to do it," one of Hyde’s correspondents told him in July 1659, "it were not difficult to buy the whole Army." That exaggerates, no doubt; but it would have been an inconceivable remark a decade earlier. Wariston was to say something similar seven months later. "When those, being instated in power, shall betray the good thing committed to them," Moses Wall lamented, "and by that force which we gave them to win us liberty hold us fast in chains, what can poor people do?" It was soldiers who kept Christ from rising. The Army, so long the hope of the Revolution, now became its betrayer, allowing itself to be quietly disbanded. Anti-militarism, rejection of any kind of army rule, became fixed in radical mythology from 1660 to this day.
Wall was writing to Milton, who had repeatedly warned the rulers and people of the Commonwealth against the danger of degeneration, from his sonnets to Fairfax (‘avarice and rapine’), Vane and Cromwell to The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth of 1660. So, we have seen, did many others — Levellers, Winstanley, Coppin, Fifth Monarchists, Hugh Peter, Vane, Erbery, Sedgwick, Quakers, Owen. So did the Socinian MP John Fry, John Cook, William Dell, John Goodwin, Henry Purnell, George Wither. Wariston differed in warning himself.
In 1649 Levellers had used the phrase "ambition and avarice" about the generals. For Milton, but not only for him, it came to be almost a technical term to describe the besetting sins of rulers and people in the 1650s. It was used by Ludlow, Spittlehouse, Erbery and Sedgwick. Henry Oldenburg, writing to John Beale in September 1660, asked "What is it that cuts nations and men asunder but ambition, mastery of wit and avarice?" This resulted, he stated, from looking for heaven in this world only. Hence "the extreme necessity of plucking up above all that atheism so deeply rooted in the spirits of the ruling men of the world. We must establish the divine origin and truth of the Bible, its account of the creation, Fall and the Mosaic Law." We must establish Christianity as against a religion of "right reason." Oldenburg was particularly concerned about Mahometanism and unorthodox accounts of the early history of Christianity. Henry Stubbe, who was to write on precisely these subjects, stressed Mahomet’s freedom from "ambition and avarice."
I suspect that use of the linked words comes into prominence in the 1650s. Under the Commonwealth government was more public and those who observed the activities of their governors had higher expectations. "Good commonwealthsmen" were expected to be less corrupt as well as more efficient than their predecessors; some expected them to be more godly and therefore more virtuous. Many fees and perquisites were abolished in favour of regular salaries, sale of some offices was prohibited. Vane made significant reforms in the Navy Office, which Samuel Pepys was to inherit.
Avarice and ambition were not unknown in the country’s governors before the interregnum: Cecil, the Howards, Buckingham and Wentworth were avaricious and ambitious on a scale that put Rump politicians and Major-Generals to shame. But now standards of judgement were different. Before 1640 governors came to office either because they were well-born, or through the special favour of the King and his favourites. There were complaints of the excessive greed of "low-born" councillors, back to Thomas Cromwell and further. But, for them, all depended on the King’s bounty, and the King was not to be criticized. When there was no fountain of honour, the quest for self-enrichment was exposed in all its nakedness. In this as in so much else, 1660 saw no full reversion to 1640. Greater Parliamentary control after the Restoration led to continuing criticism of "avarice and ambition." So much of a cliche had the phrase become that the poet Thomas Traherne, in a book which he prepared for publication just before his death in 1674, made a paradox of it. "It is the glory of man that his avarice is insatiable and his ambition infinite"; "avarice and ambition" are not "evil in their root and fountain"; they create the dissatisfaction which leads man to God.
The restoration then came about, in Milton’s view, because of the avarice and ambition of the revolutionary leaders, because of lack of virtue and civic morale among the body of the people, and because of divisions among the godly themselves. "Every faction hath the plea of God’s Cause," Milton wrote in the Ready and Easy Way. Regicides complained bitterly of lack of unity among the Parliamentarians; some felt that they had been sold or victimized by their former colleagues.
But contemporaries were also aware of the social causes of the restoration, none more than Sedgwick. Most commentators saw only two alternative possibilities in 1660: the King or the "bloody Anabaptists." "The old spirit of the gentry" was "brought to play again" to suppress "the growing light of the people by God" by an "earthly, lordly rule." In July 1659 a Puritan anticipated peace and quiet "unless a conquest be made by Quakers, who can never last a month in settlement, or by Charles Stuart," which he also thought improbable. In August Sir George Booth took up arms lest a "mean and schismatical party" should "depress the nobility and understanding commons." Rumbold warned Hyde on 25 September that the government might fall to the Anabaptists, which "gives great apprehensions" to big landowners. Failing a restoration of the King, Mordaunt in November saw the alternatives as a Commonwealth with Presbyterian support, or the extermination of the nobility and gentry. "Can you at once suppress the sectaries and keep out the King?" asked A Coffin for the Good Old Cause. W. C.’s A Discourse for a King and a Parliament (1660) argued that in order to set up a free commonwealth it would be necessary to reduce the gentry "to the condition of the vulgar." Then London would overawe the whole country. But, he said, no one can or dare resist the rule of the gentry. Venner’s A Door of Hope in 1661 did in fact denounce "the old, bloody, popish, wicked gentry of the nation."
All this helps to explain the social anxieties which Newcome, Martindale, Baxter and others felt. Clarendon saw the crucial moment as coming in February 1660 when control of the militia passed from "persons of no degree or quality" to the nobility and principal gentry. Similarly Pepys on 18 April wrote that "either the fanatics must now be undone, or the gentry and citizens … and clergy must fall in spite of their militia and army." Fuller, who thought that violence had "stood ready to invade our property, heresies and schisms to oppress religion," observed that the Convention Parliament of 1660 was composed of "persons (blessed be God) of the primest quality in the nation."
Traditionally the militia, officered by the gentry, with yeomen as rank and file, was the natural rulers’ "fortress of liberty," to quote a phrase used in 1646. The militia had been subordinated to the Army in a series of stages, from 1650 to the Major-Generals. After Parliament had rejected the latter in 1656, the natural rulers slowly recovered their control over local government. Professor Pocock suggests that the Parliamentary classes saw in the militia their ultimate guarantee of power. "The fact that they were well able to draw the connection between proprietorship and the control of the sword probably did more than anything else to preserve Harringtonian doctrine." The struggle for the militia, as yet uncharted by historians, became intense in 1659. The militia was not yet a force which could be set up against the Army unless the latter suffered internal disintegration; but that did not seem impossible. Henry Stubbe recognized the importance of the issue, and put forward a scheme for restricting the bearing of arms, whether in the Army or in the militia, to reliable adherents of the Parliamentarian Cause.
Richard Cromwell’s Parliament had insisted on its control over the militia. Throughout 1659 and the early months of 1660 correspondents of the exiled court emphasized that the militia was the key to a restoration. In June 1659 the restored Rump started reorganizing the militia as a counterpoise to the Army. But Booth’s rising in August, and the rallying of radicals to oppose it, reversed the trend towards restoration of gentry control. After the Army takeover in October, Mordaunt reported that "Fleetwood arms all the Anabaptists"; he feared that "an Anabaptist militia" would overawe the country. We saw earlier how active Quakers were as commissioners for the militia; Mordaunt did not distinguish between them and Anabaptists. Only when the Rump came back in December could the Common Council of London set about establishing the City’s militia under royalist officers. In February Monck accepted the situation and granted the City the choice of its own militia. There were "murmurings" among the soldiers at this development, which clearly presaged the Army’s downfall. But by now the Army was so divided and scattered that resistance was impossible to organize.
Throughout the late 1650s the natural rulers felt panic fear of any revival of Leveller or Army radicalism. The Nayler Debates in 1656 sufficiently reveal this, and the forces of law and order then won a significant victory. But in 1659–60 there was even more genuine cause for alarm. The Army itself seemed to be disintegrating. Most ominous of all was the reappearance of Agitators. Men recalled vividly the summer days of 1647 when Agitators had taken the initiative in the Army’s mutiny, from the ejection of non-compliant commanders to the seizure of the King by Cornet Joyce and his 500 in June — the first blunt demonstration that the King’s person was not sacrosanct. The cry "Ye can create new officers" was not forgotten. Henry Neville in 1681 recalled how Agitators in 1647 "did … necessitate their officers to join with them," and afterwards drove away the Parliament too. Although "the Army was afterwards cheated by their general," the example showed "how easily an army of natives is to be deluded with the name of liberty, and brought to pull down anything which their ring-leaders tell them tends to enslaving their country."
Agitators and rumours of Agitators in the Army in 1659 caused great alarm. Between May 1649 and April 1659 the only mention of Agitators that I have come across was in June 1653, when a remonstrance presented to Cromwell and the Council of Officers was said in one report to be "by the Agitators of the Army." Godfrey Davies misled historians by stating categorically that "the occasional rumours" in 1659–60 that the rank and file "had chosen agitators as in 1647 were false." In fact Agitators were meeting at the Nag’s Head tavern as early as April 1659. An address to Fleetwood signed by 680 inferior officers and soldiers of what had formerly been Pride’s regiment caused considerable excitement in Parliament in the same month. In May "Agitators in the Army" were calling for new commanders: "the soldiers know their strength," it was reported. In September Parliament was again concerned about unauthorized activities of common soldiers. "The soldiers are independent of their officers," Mordaunt wrote to the King on 16 January 1660; "an Agitator will do more in an hour than all the officers in a day." "Under-officers and soldiers would not stand by their superiors," Wariston observed in December 1659. Arise Evans confirmed that "the under-officers and Agitators doth all." In February 1660 four Agitators were said to have been appointed from each troop in Colonel Rich’s regiment: he was accused of introducing "men of dangerous principles, as Quakers and the like," and of "discountenancing old and faithful soldiers and preferring the Agitators." In the same month there were mutinies in London among the infantry, though the cavalry were not involved. The Council of State issued a proclamation against Agitators in the Army on 24 March: £10 reward was offered for information against them. There were Agitators in York in April, two of whose names we know; and there were "plots among some Agitators." At about the same time Hartlib told Boyle that "the common soldiers … have chosen to themselves new Agitators."
By contrast with 1647 there was never any organized representation of the rank and file (except perhaps in Rich’s regiment), no Agitator pamphlets. But evidence for the existence of Agitators is not just a matter of gossip among foreign envoys and royalist agents: most of the above reports come from English and Parliamentarian sources. These reports may have exaggerated, though it is equally possible that some activity went unrecorded. But for our purposes what men thought was happening is as important as what actually happened. The reappearance of Agitators seemed to hold out the possibility that the Army might after all serve God’s Cause, or at least the Cause of the people. But Harrington’s "beast that hath a great belly" could survive only so long as the taxpayers could be coerced into paying for it. None of the three Parliaments of the Protectorate voted adequate taxes; and at the first opportunity the taxpayers went on strike in 1659–60, as they had done twenty years earlier.
The fear in 1659–60 was that a desperate or a radicalized Army, rather than submit to the financial control of City and Parliament, might turn to a policy of confiscations and sales of land. After 1649 the Commonwealth had been financed very largely by sales of church, crown and royalist lands. In The Poor Mans Advocate (1649) Peter Chamberlen had urged that crown and church lands should be used to create public employment and end taxation. Lilburne, Hugh Peter, Erbery, Fox, Howgil and other Quakers took up the idea. Robert Purnell, also in 1649, suggested using confiscated lands to abolish the excise and assessment. "They forced you to raise an Army, let their estates pay for the Army," he argued. The decimation tax of 1655 was a half-hearted and unsuccessful attempt to do just that. The Fifth Monarchist rebels of 1657 promised to abolish taxation. They did not say how, but the men of property could guess. It was a long-standing accusation that the real objective of the saints was to seize the property of the ungodly. Harrington had suggested that a standing army would have to be maintained by confiscating the land of those "remaining unconformable." Such confiscations were discussed after the defeat of Booth’s rising in 1659. If we compare the English with the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions we are struck by the absence of a revolution in landownership in the first (if we leave Ireland out of account). This helps to explain the ease with which the restoration of 1660 was achieved.
The reappearance of Agitators in the Army must have reinforced the determination of the natural rulers henceforward to keep control of military force in their own hands, lest there should be a revival of social radicalism. The only way to do this in 1660 seemed to be by restoring a prince to head the Commonwealth. The Army was peacefully disbanded, paid off by loans from the City, with the gentry-controlled militia on guard. The Militia Act of 1661 put the militia under the King, but his control was to be exercised through lords-lieutenant. In 1663 even this was modified, and to the chagrin of the court the gentry’s control over the militia was reasserted. The unreliability of the militia in 1685 was one of the danger signals which prompted James II to build up an army. In 1688 the militia deserted him en masse. The Bill of Rights insisted on the right of protestant gentlemen to bear arms.
The Saints and "the People"
Milton believed in 1644 that Moses’s wish had been fulfilled: "all the Lord’s people are become prophets." But the Moses of the English Revolution admitted sadly in December 1648 that "we are not all saints." The relationship between saints and "people" posed problems which we have often encountered in this book. Thomas Goodwin in 1639 had argued that "the saints of God" would come to be recognized as "the best commonwealthsmen." A Door of Hope in 1661 asserted that "whatsoever can be named of a common or public good we mean by the Kingdom of Christ." But the question asked in 1649, "How can the kingdom be the saints’ when the ungodly are electors and elected to govern?" was never satisfactorily answered, though A Standard Set Up tried. Christopher Feake spoke of "the people (I mean the faithful among them)." Fifth Monarchism at least provided a justification for rule by an oligarchy.
Sedgwick had seen the Army as "truly the people." John Spittlehouse in 1653 associated the saints and the Army: "the real members of this commonwealth are included in the congregational churches and their well-wishers." In 1659 the claim was revived that "the Army are the people in an active body," the "principal body of the people, in whom the sovereignty doth at present reside," rather than in "the people’s representatives in Parliament."
There was a real problem here. The people, wrote the government propagandist John Hall in 1653, cannot be permitted "a choice of their own governors, they being so divided and discomposed as for the present they are." Throughout the 1650s the search went on to find an electorate which would vote for an Army-dominated republic, or to find a definable group of adherents to the Good Old Cause, or constitutional devices which would safeguard essential freedoms against "the people." Levellers, Thomas Scott, John Jones, John Cook, Ludlow, Vane, Byllynge, Harrington, Stubbe, Milton, Baxter and many others took part in it. No solution was found: an illiterate, uneducated people would no more vote for a sophisticated commonwealth of virtue than the natural rulers would. Yet an oligarchical commonwealth could be maintained only by an Army whose virtue could not be relied on.
One advantage of Harrington’s theory was the assumption that men of property will support a commonwealth not because they are virtuous but out of self-interest. Hobbes and the de facto theorists had earlier argued that men follow their own interests, in so far as they understand them; Harrington drew specific social conclusions with the important proviso that "robbers and Levellers’ are excluded from ‘the people."
Later revolutionary theorists were to substitute the rule of a minority through membership of a political party. This avoided one problem of the 1650s — knowing who the saints were; but it did not avoid another, the omnipresence of hypocrites and bandwagon jumpers. From Roger Williams, Coppe and Winstanley through Erbery, Sedgwick, Burrough and Fox to Milton and Bunyan, the real radicals regarded hypocrisy as the unpardonable sin. Disillusioned conservatives like Baxter and Henry found "a face of godliness" acceptable as the price for suppressing upper-and lower-class vices and irreligion.
"The people" turned against the Army before the saints had abandoned hope in it. For this there were many reasons. Worst of all was the Army’s burdensome and unprecedented cost in taxation and free quarter. Secondly, it imposed a degree of godliness and a degree of toleration. It interfered with the running of local government by the natural rulers, and with the maintenance of traditional standards of deference. Even those who wanted godliness and toleration did not want to pay for them at the rates demanded; and of course there was disagreement on how much godliness, how much toleration. Barebone’s Parliament mirrored the disagreements even among more radical Parliamentarians. As Baxter became reconciled to the Protectorate because it imposed godliness, so Quakers became increasingly hostile; as Quaker hopes rose in 1659, so Baxter and his like could see no alternative to a restoration, even if bishops came back too.
Folds for Scattered Sheep
The fluid society did not survive the Army. The natural rulers resumed their local hegemony. Parliament legislated against nonconformists and against mobility. Religious radicals could survive only by organizing in congregations. This completed a process already under way. Once the Army had ceased to be the focus of unity, only the congregations united God’s scattered people: and these in the long run could survive only by linking into sects. Yet forming sects also proved divisive: it united some by excluding others. Presbyterians and many Independents regarded themselves as part of the national church, reluctantly forced into sectarianism after 1660. But once they had been spewed out, the dissenting churches had to organize and discipline their members in order to survive in the society they had failed to transform. It must have led to an enormous diversion of labour and energy on the part of their leaders. Excommunication appears to be one of the main activities of early Baptists, and conduct came to matter no less than doctrine, the external image no less than the inner state.
All the sects ultimately came to enforce the morality appropriate to a rapidly developing capitalist society. "Debt … sounds terribly," wrote Henry Newcome. "It is an appearance of injustice and of reproach, especially to religion." Bunyan’s church at Bedford was very severe against those who could not pay their debts: Bunyan himself advised deacons to use poor relief to encourage industry and discourage idleness. Such attitudes, and the sects’ heavy emphasis on Bible-reading and therefore on literacy, confirm that they had little appeal for the very poorest classes in the community.
The Quakers, who had continued longest to rely on Army support, got the least toleration after 1660. Before winning toleration they had adapted themselves to the new society like other sects. The Quaker Stephen Crisp "being called of God and his people to take the care of the poor," exhorted and reproved any that were slothful and encouraged those that were diligent when relieving their necessities. To adapt Lenin’s metaphor, the dissenting churches became schools of capitalism — inculcating the virtues of hard work, responsibility, thrift; deploring indebtedness, extravagance and bankruptcy. The fluid society of the 1640s and 1650s had given these voluntary societies the chance to establish themselves side by side with traditional geographical communities. But they proved to be endlessly quarrelsome and fissiparous because of the inherently anarchical tendency of the really radical ideology. Once the shield of the Army had gone, the dissidence of dissent prevailed. Throughout the 1650s we come across Penington’s imagery of the scattered sheep.
When religious toleration came, it was not because the persecutors had become kinder and nicer, though no doubt some of them had. It was because the persecuted, even Quakers, had become more domesticated to capitalist society; and in the process had become assets too valuable to be thrown away. Quakers survived thanks to the peace principle and their adaptation to the world around them. Muggletonians survived too: they were also pacifists. Levellers, Diggers, Ranters and Fifth Monarchists did not survive. None of them formed a sect, none of them were absolute pacifists. Erbery, we recall, noted that there were losses as well as gains in the organization which the sects adopted in order to survive.
I cannot suppress a certain sympathy for Erbery’s feeling that all attempts to organize a church in the wilderness would merely mean a new apostasy. Rejection of all churches, by early Quaker dissidents and Milton as well as by Erbery, seems arrogant and anarchic. Yet if we contemplate the history of English nonconformity in the centuries after Erbery’s death, his strictures of self-righteousness and pettiness are not entirely without foundation. If one’s object is to attain worldly ends, then there is everything to be said for union among like-minded men and women. If the object is to save one’s soul, it seems less obvious. The wholly informal organization of the Muggletonians perhaps came nearest to Erbery’s ideal. They had no ministry, no organized worship, minimal discipline. But they remained a tiny, non-proselytizing group. Of the larger sects, the Quakers held out longest against organization, under the harmless name of the Society of Friends — not a church. Organization came too late or too early: it was part of their defeat. Perrot and others thought that with it came apostasy. The internal consensus of the radical congregations, based on Bible-reading, tended to exclude the illiterate. Winstanley, like the disowned John Pennyman, was buried as a Quaker; but there is no evidence that he was ever an active member of the Society. Penington became a Quaker, with disastrous consequences for his prose style. The wilderness remained a wilderness, and Erbery could see no point in pretending it was anything else.
The secularization of politics during the revolutionary decades, emphasized by Margaret Judson, Felix Raab and Olivier Lutaud, was reinforced when the crucial millenarian dates of the early 1650s and 1666 passed without event. The idea that England was the chosen nation lost all but a residual religious flavouring: the concept of progress was not so far ahead. Whether or not Oliver Cromwell saw himself as a saint ruling, he was the last who could aspire to that role in England, because the last who had an army to enforce his rule. Dr Morrill has suggested that Cromwell really did refuse the crown in 1657 because no visible Providence of God pointed in that direction. The gulf between secular supporters of the Good Old Cause and millenarians became obvious in 1659, when Neville parted company with Vane, and Wariston was shocked that the arguments for and against a Senate were discussed "without Scripture." One of the casualties of the revolutionary decades was providential history. When Providence ordained both 1649 and 1660, then Hobbist and Harringtonian theories of political obligation made better sense than arguments drawn either from divine right or from the immediate Providence of God. De facto theories bore the same relation to a providentialist interpretation of history as secular millenarianism did to the rule of the saints. The secular content of many Puritan doctrines — the calling, the work ethic, Sabbatarianism — was taken over, again with a minimum of religious content. Locke’s was a philosophy of secularized, respectable Puritanism. Winstanley and Stubbe, on the other hand, pointed the way to a radical deism.
After the restoration the saints were excluded from politics and higher education by the Clarendon Code. They settled down as a second-class people, folding themselves into sheep-pens, setting up their own educational institutions. Yet the established church remained necessary in the eyes of its defenders, perhaps even more necessary than before 1640. A church with no High Commission could not threaten the authority of the gentry, who had been badly scared by the attack on tithes and on social subordination. The doctrinal and ceremonial excesses of Laudianism were quietly dropped: preaching and Sabbath observance had episcopal approval. So there were no obstacles to the re-formation of the alliance between gentry and established church, whose power so impressed Sedgwick and Stubbe. "If there was not a minister in every parish," Robert South told the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn just before the restoration, "you would quickly find cause to increase the number of constables." Though many towns were lost to nonconformity or irreligion, the alliance of parson and squire resumed its domination of the countryside. The Clarendon Code was the work of the gentry in the House of Commons rather than of the bishops. The ecclesiastical censorship continued to do an invaluable job in the three decades after 1660.
Milton and Winstanley had denounced the role of the priesthood in deceiving the people, and the point was made by Fox and most radicals. Though sin survived the Ranters who had abolished it, and returned even in the post-restoration Quaker theology of Robert Barclay (dedicated to Charles II), anticlericalism did not die with the return of the episcopal church. Not only Stubbe and Neville, but eighteenth-century radicals like Trenchard and Thomas Gordon were still obsessed with the power of priests to instil deference into the minds of their uneducated hearers.
Finally, a difficult question. This book deals with some members of the articulate minority who supported the Cause. What of the inarticulate majority? The sad answer is, of course, that we do not know. We know in general very little about the lives of ordinary men and women in the seventeenth century. Demobilized New Model Army men in 1660 went back to their former occupations, or found new ones if they were lucky. Some would no doubt re-enlist in the army, the navy or the mercantile marine. Others emigrated — to Europe, to North America, to the West Indies. Two historians drew a thought-provoking picture of Henry Morgan’s pirate band closing in for the brutal sack of Panama in 1671 "in the faded red coats of the New Model Army." By 1660, as we have seen, few of the rank and file of this Army were likely to be ideologically motivated. Those for whom the Cause had once seemed to offer help to simple people against the rich and powerful no doubt relapsed into sullenly passive hostility to the restored government: historians are just becoming aware of the massive evidence for this hostility recorded in State Papers and local archives.
It is difficult to generalize about the effects of the great persecution of 1660–88. Dissenting clergymen lost their livings after the restoration, without compensation. A few, like Ralph Josselin, managed to hold on to their livings without abandoning too many principles too quickly. Others were maintained precariously by voluntary contributions from their former congregations, or by the patronage of a wealthy individual. Laymen who would not conform to the national church were purged from the government of corporations — and this purge was effective because it was entrusted to local gentry, who had none of the loyalty to urban independence which had often protected royalists in the 1640s and 1650s. Old scores were settled at the expense of urban supporters of Parliament. A series of penal statutes was passed against dissenters, though the rigour with which they were enforced depended on local circumstances. There is much heartening evidence of town officials and other neighbours protecting dissenters by warning them of raids, by refusing to buy distrained goods, etc. But these were exceptions to the sufferings many dissenters — especially Quakers — had to endure during the great persecution. Perhaps the arbitrariness and irrationality of the incidence of persecution was one of its main hardships. Some dissenters managed to prosper with the support of co-religionists and sympathizers: these are the decades in which the argument came to be accepted that dissenters are economically too valuable to be persecuted out of the country. But others might happen to be ruined. Here too God’s justice was sometimes difficult for human understandings to appreciate.
It was more difficult to get round the exclusion of non-Anglicans from the universities. Dissenting academies gave in many ways a better education than Oxford or Cambridge, but they lacked social cachet. Scottish or Dutch universities were the other resort for those who could afford them.
The period after 1660, we may suspect, was for many ordinary people one of unheroic passive opting out from the church they nominally adhered to: Lollards and Familists had practised it long before the defeated of the English Revolution. Durant Hotham in 1652 distinguished between Quakers, who refused to compromise, and Ranters who "would have said and done as we commanded, and yet have kept their own principle still." The Muggletonians perfected the Ranter technique for avoiding trouble, and "raised flight to a moral principle." But for the rest we just do not know. This section is intended as a reminder of this huge area of ignorance.”