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Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition

The first annual Christopher Hill Memorial Lecture was given on November 3rd 2018 in Newark and 27th March 2019 in London by Professor Justin Champion, and titled "Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition". In this, the text of the lecture, Champion defends Christopher Hill's Marxist method against its revisionist detractors and seeks to extend Hill's reading of Andew Marvell, particularly his reflections on Marvell's topical satires in verse and prose of the Restoration.

Justin Champion 7 May 2019

Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition

In 2014, a special issue of the journal Prose Studies was published which aimed to interrogate the legacy of Christopher Hill’s World Turned Upside Down, and in particular to ‘consider damaging flaws in the conceptualization of the book and in its underlying methodology’.[1] The premise of that assault was based on Hill’s primary historical crime: that he was an avowed Marxist. Combined with that was a second complaint, (according to the charge sheet) that he constructed histories on the basis of printed sources alone, rather than the golden standard of archival research. In the revisionist account of Hill’s work these two aspects of criticism have tended to be collapsed into one complaint: that his scholarship was shoddy, and bent to his deeper Marxist commitments at the expense of empirical fact. Here, I will challenge both the accuracy and coherence of these uncharitable and hostile charges.

I will then move on to make a brief case-study of the resistance the poet Andrew Marvell offered in critique of the ‘quintessence of arbitrary malice’ of the persecution of dissenting communities, by the Anglican Cavalier state, after 1660, to explore how Hill’s methodological position on the relationship between individual agency and collective action is still historically productive. In effect, I intend to sketch out a possible direction Hill might have developed in a study of Andrew Marvell’s post-1660 career. At first look this might not have been a promising enquiry, given Hill’s description of Marvell as one of the defeated in The Experience of defeat (1984). But his other earlier writings led me to think about whether there might be more to be said about Marvell’s involvement with the dissenting community, and how his verse satires and prose, may have offered resistance to the oppression of the Restoration state.[2] Put simply, I want to speculate about how would Christopher Hill have composed a social and intellectual account of Marvell after the Restoration?

I hope to explore how adopting Christopher Hill’s approach to historical research (which involved integrating ideas with community actions), can illuminate how Marvell turned to prose, verse and parliamentary action to defend liberty and freedom after 1660. Hill’s writings on Marvell noted that he was an efficient and well regarded state servant in the 1650s, receiving a commendation from Milton to John Bradshaw as of ‘singular desert for the state to make use of’. As for his literary production, despite on first sight bearing ‘little relation to the age in which he lived’, Hill noted Marvell’s increased activity after 1660, when ‘the poet became a pamphleteer as soon as he saw some of the returned Cavaliers trying to set the clock back to before 1640, trying to interfere with liberty of thought’. The insight that Marvell engaged his ‘polished and sophisticated wit’ against the prelacy of persecuting Churchmen, could no doubt have been developed into a deeper study.[3] Elsewhere Hill noted Marvell’s restoration commitment to keeping Milton alive, ‘as well as trying to shield dissenters from persecution and his country from becoming a French puppet state’.[4] This account was directed at literary critics who preferred Marvell’s metaphysical verse to the topical satires in verse and prose of the Restoration: Hill on the contrary pointed to the way in which Marvell deployed his wit in favour of toleration and against the tyranny of ‘popery’.

Yet Hill not only described Marvell as one of the defeated, retreating from an active millenarianism, to more considered political mode informed by neo-Harringtonianism. Hill insisted he, like Milton, ought to be remembered as a fighter for liberty, and as evidence that literary effort might change the world.[5] There is a brief glimpse of this moment of Marvellian resistance in November 1670 when he threw caution aside and stood up in the House of Commons to be a singular outspoken voice in defence of two dissenting citizens of London: the haberdasher John Jekyll and linen-draper James Hayes. Both men, members of nonconformist congregations, had coordinated resistance to the persecution of the established Church, embodied in the Conventicle Act (1670). Hayes and Jekyll organised a mass demonstration to hinder the attempt by the magisterial elites of London to snatch the Presbyterian minister Thomas Watson whilst he was preaching at an illegal conventicle in May: his themes had been in defence of Holy Violence, and Heaven taken by storm. The pair were arrested on 28 May under warrants to ‘to search for and secure dangerous and suspected persons’. They sued for habeas corpus, though refused to find securities for a bond of £5000 binding them to good behaviour and to abstain from attending illegal conventicles. They also had the lord mayor of London Sir Samuel Sterling (or Starling) arrested for making a false arrest. When their case was eventually heard before the House of Commons in late November, Marvell, spoke out in their defence in the crisis of order that became known as the ‘battle for London’. [6]

A deeper study – taking Hill’s methods of embedding ideas in social and material circumstances, would establish how Marvell’s experience of persecution amongst a community of dissenters, who were prepared to defend themselves with violent resistance ­– Marvell, stood up, a lone voice in Parliament, to protect those acts of urban insubordination in the spring of 1670. Defending dissenting preachers, the rights of conscience, and the independence of juries from political interference, put Marvell at loggerheads, not necessarily with Charles II, but certainly with churchmen who aimed to turn established legal instruments against non-conformist communities.

As indicated above, as well as speculating about how Hill might have explored the Restoration career of Andrew Marvell, my main purpose is to offer a clear rebuttal of the offensive and uncharitable assault.

Yet, rather than some vulgar Marxist determinist, if Hill’s conceptual commitments are examined it is possible to regard him as an historian of ideas, one with a materialist bent. We could then see him as a fellow traveller of Quentin Skinner, who has elegantly defended the proposition that the history of ideas as an approach allows historians to investigate and recover intention and meaning from past texts. Significant in that enterprise is the ambition of understanding the social context, and material circumstances of the production of ideas and their circulation. The core commitment has been to treat the articulation, circulation and reception of ideas as acts and interventions. Printed texts thus harbour political objectives just as much as the more arcane machinations of cultural elites.

But first, let’s turn to some brief reflections on the way Hill handled ideas in his three significant books Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution, and The World Turned Upside Down. Alongside those broader historical landscapes, Hill also offered profound studies of significant literary figures such as John Milton and John Bunyan. These works collectively ought to prompt discussion about what type of Marxism Hill subscribed too. His historical writing allowed space to consider the role of ideas, assessments of the individuals who produced them, and the consequent agency or outcomes of those moments of intellectual intervention. Hill did not employ the deterministic treatment of ideas as mere epiphenomena of economic infrastructure or class affiliation so frequently evident in the hostile caricature of his work. Much of the crude assault on the value of Hill’s history has been shaped by the distinct lack of conceptual engagement with the published evidence of his Marxist methodology. The best way to remedy this occlusion is to examine those under-read contributions by the man himself.[7]

The first contribution was published in 1948 in The Modern Quarterly, and was the most theoretical (although Hill would have disowned that word). In it, Hill considered how best to approach the history of ideas and human culture as a Marxist historian. Hill was reluctant to make pronouncements from the lofty prospects of theory, insisting that there ought to be a unity of theory and practice in the matter of composing history: historians like him, he wrote, ‘convey their historical theories by writing history and not by writing about the writing of history’ [p.52]. For Hill a commitment to ‘Marxism’ was a ‘technique of analysis, a method of approach, not a dogma’. This account was echoed by fellow Communist Party Historian Eric Hobsbawm in his own reflections on Marxism and history.[8] 

Hill had outlined this in his early reflection upon Pleckhanov’s thinking written in a rebuttal of an anti-materialist paper by Patrick Gardiner, published in an ephemeral magazine called University: a Journal of inquiry by Graduates and undergraduates, published in the summer of 1951 during the Festival of Britain.[9] The journal was an interesting attempt to bridge the gap between what would be called today ‘public intellectuals’ and the wider public (including university students). Figures such as the philosophers Anthony Flew and Iris Murdoch, offered discussions of the welfare state, the claims of religious belief, a reflection of ‘the Human Crisis’, and two contributions on the state of modern Roman Catholicism.  The intellectually ecumenical journal, was published by Basil Blackwell, and its editors drawn from academics based at Magdalen College, Oxford, and Trinity College, Cambridge. It was edited by David Edwards, then an undergraduate, but later a fellow of All Souls, and then an Anglican Bishop.

Hill’s response to Gardiner was urbane but definitive. Gardiner’s paper was ‘not a very profound criticism’, because based on a source he had misread: Plekhanov’s, The development of the monist review of History. Gardiner claimed Plekhanov was ‘a crude environmentalist, who denies the role of human intelligence in history’. [Hill, p. 110]. Plekhanov’s work composed in 1895, had been originally published in London, translated by Andrew Rothstein, by Lawrence and Wishart, 1947. Hill, as a rigorous historian returned to the source and suggested that he would correct Gardiner’s ‘misquoted and misapprehended’, claims by correctly citing Plekhanov’s text.

In Hill’s defence and representation of Plekhanov’s arguments it is possible to see the seeds of his own revision of the dominant account of Marx’s and Engels’ historical determinism. As Hill explained, Plekhanov had intended to refute the two interpretative extremes which claimed that all change was either shaped by ‘bright ideas’, or determined by historical circumstance. Hill, channelling the original text insists that the core question in need of explanation was why a ‘bright idea’ occurred ‘precisely when it does’. Human reason, man and intellect ought not to be regarded as isolated abstractions, but made by ‘men in society facing given problems set by the environment’, a category which included social and cultural relationships as well as material conditions. The tools, physical and cultural, were invented by humans and used by social groups. Again as Hill explained in lucid prose (adapted from the original Russian text): this social environment was ‘distinctively human’: ‘Man in historical times is not a Robinson Crusoe on a desert island: he inherits not on the techniques, roads, factories, but also the ideas, the social organisation, the “psychology” or “human nature”, in fact, which have been evolved in past centuries of struggle with nature’. [p.110]

Plekhanov argued that man’s interaction with nature, had itself resulted in changes to human nature. The ‘mutual relations of ideas, feelings, beliefs’ were reflections of the changes between men and men, and society and circumstance: this resulted in evolving a series of changes in individual ‘State of Minds’. Gardiner had omitted the ‘social’ in this process of material determinism. Hill ‘begged ‘the fair minded reader to study Plekhanov’s very subtle and complex argument as a whole’ [p. 111]. Marxism did not claim that ‘historical change takes place independently of human thought’, but was ‘a result of the pooled activities of society’. Rejecting the popular account of a relentless grinding determinism of the Marxist historical narrative, paraphrasing Plekhanov again, Hill insisted that while human reason was the product of history, it was not bound by a necessity because ‘it strives to transform that reality’. The development of knowledge and ‘human consciousness’ was ‘the greatest and most noble task of the thinking personality’. In these reflections, it is possible to see the conceptual undergirding of Hill’s historical investigation of the interplay between material structures, political institutions and individual agency found in works like The intellectual origins of the English Revolution, or the closer focus of The World Turned Upside Down, and then the individual studies of Milton, Bunyan and Winstanley.[10]

Hill argued that the most profitable interpretation of Marx’s ideas allowed for something he called a ‘spirit of the age’, which was shaped by the productive forces of a society and its collective struggles with patterns of need and power. He agreed that the ‘economy’ was a powerful component in the ‘production of life’, but the struggle for life also cultivated formidable cultural ideas which in their turn mobilised interaction and, ultimately, change. [pp.112-113]. Human culture, the collective archive of many minds, was capable of comprehending how the world worked, and by consequence might ‘leap from the realm of necessity, to the realm of freedom’. [pp.113-114]. The challenges humans faced, individually and as communities, – poverty, unemployment, war, slavery, crisis – reads like a list of suggestions for historical investigations Hill was to undertake through the course of his life.[11]

The fact that Hill was channelling the latest meditations on Marxist interpretation in the late 1940s has not been connected to his developing appreciation of how to recover the history of early modern British history. There have been examinations of his role in the CPGB History group and some disapproval of his continuing support for the Soviet Union after 1956, but little of this inquiry has explored his theoretical perspectives on how Marxist philosophy informed his historical writing. A little like the critique of the crude determinism of Plekhanov by Patrick Gardiner, many post-war historians of the early modern age have been content to dismiss Hill’s work as shaped by an ill-informed and suspect ‘Marxism’, as if this was an analytical claim rather than a lazy term of abuse. As Raphael Samuel discussed in his account of the British Marxist historians from the 1880s-1950s, much of the conceptual thinking and practical historical writing grew out of the so-called ‘battle of ideas’ which prefigured the Cold War.[12] Hill had announced his Marxist commitments in his wartime essay on The English Revolution, (1940), which offended many contemporary historians by its confident use of Marxist vocabulary – notably the ‘bourgeoisie’, ‘feudalism’ and ‘class conflict’. Hill himself commented in a revised version of 1955 that it was ‘a first approximation, with all its crudities and oversimplifications’.[13]

Marx was referred to three times: to justify Hill’s use of ‘feudal’ and two citations from Capital to comment on the proto-industrialisation of the countryside which turned agricultural labourers into fodder for new enterprises. Even in miniature, Hill attempted to relate economic circumstances to the development of ideological affinities and transformative political action. The ‘ideas’ of the English Revolution, ‘The freedom of intellectual speculation in late seventeenth- and eighteenth century England enormously influenced the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789’. His approval of the world of ideas were not simply epiphenomenal but rooted in social circumstances: after all, ‘The causes of the civil war must be sought in society, not in individuals’. Ideas also created an ideological legacy or heritage. This included religious words: ‘But the fact that men spoke and wrote in religious language should not prevent us realising that there is a social content behind what are apparently purely theological ideas. Each class created and sought to impose the religious outlook best suited to its own needs and interests. But the real clash is between these class interests: behind the parson stood the squire’. Hill also connected religious vocabulary to political interests: ‘The “Presbyterians” were afraid of the flood of radical democracy to which a frank appeal to the people against the King might expose them. Cromwell himself was alleged to have said, “There would never be a good time in England till we have done with Lords.” Certainly many of his troops were thinking so. The Independent and Sectarian congregations were the way in which ordinary people organised themselves in those days to escape from the propaganda of the established Church and discuss the things they wanted to discuss in their own way. The Presbyterian Edwards gave as one of the “heresies” of the Sectaries the view that “by natural birth all men are equally and alike born to like property, liberty and freedom.” These were the small people, whose intellectual vision was not restricted by anxieties for their own property. They were invaluable for their enthusiasm, courage and morale in the army; but they came to produce what their paymasters regarded as dangerous social ideas’.[14] These ideas born in revolution would provide a legacy for the ferment and disruption of the eighteenth century radical moments: as Hill wrote, ‘The freedom of intellectual speculation in late seventeenth- and eighteenth century England enormously influenced the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789’.

So even in the slender essay of 1940 it is possible to show how Hill, adapting and amplifying Marxist conceptual terminology, produced an historical analysis and narrative that combined perspectives on rural communities, radical political movements such as the Levellers, the religious contribution of Anglican, Presbyterians and sectarian experiments of individuals like Winstanley. As a bold prospectus for a career in academic and popular historical writing, has there ever been a more exceptional prophecy? Hill’s intellectual disposition toward the tasks of recovering the past were rooted in a deep reading of Marxist writings, whether by Plekhanov, Stalin or Marx and Engels themselves. In a series of early papers he explored such ideas, and applied them to the ‘problems’ of English society and its history. These conceptual turns can be examined in a collection of short, and much under-read, papers. In ‘The English Revolution and the state’, published in 1949 in Modern Quarterly, Hill addressed the impact of the revolutionary decades on the function and ideology of the State. A primary transformation was identified as being in contemporary understandings of the nature and power of the state apparatus: the revolutionary decades ‘put political thought onto a new basis’. Especially evident in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, it had ‘dethroned arbitrary authority’. Acknowledging that Hobbes had ‘no intention of setting men free … for he saw some men would have dangerous thoughts’. The destruction of the divine authority of kings and priests meant ‘it was difficult to stop men arguing about what was rational and useful’, [p.116].The revolutionary moment established that political government was a ‘product of human reason’ and thus politics might be conducted as ‘a rational science’. The trial of the King in the name of the people was ‘a landmark in Human history’ – it marked ‘a liberation from the tyranny of centuries – not merely the tyranny of kings, but the more powerful tyranny of superstition’ [p.117].[15]

For Hill, as his later studies established, religious belief and political authority were intertwined: historical analysis unravelling of one form, produced consequences for the other. Hill’s interest in the nexus between religious dissidence, or heterodoxy, and new forms of political authority persists in his work from the broad investigations into puritanism, society and revolution, to close focussed studies on Winstanley, Milton and Bunyan.[16] He extended this interest in the history of ideas, and the rupture of the English revolution in a Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution which explored the yeast like qualities of radical ideas from the revolutionary decades into the Restoration and after. Ideas articulated in the revolutionary decades provided a canvas for the defence of Liberty in the UK and the US in the eighteenth century. Hill understood that the moment of revolution in the two decades of the mid-century created a seedbed of intellectual ferment that cultivated ideas of freedom, liberty and citizenship for later periods. Ideas then, whilst the product of historical circumstances, might form an agency beyond those material contexts. [pp. 124-25, 127]. It was, and is, simply incorrect to suggest that Hill devalued the agency of ‘politics and ideology’ in shaping the world.[17]

Further evidence of Hill’s attention to the work of Marx and Engels in the late 1940s can be seen in another paper where he considered their account of the English revolution.[18] Hill turned to contemporary texts – those of Harrington and Hobbes – to explore the social and ideological dimensions of the period. His intention was to refute the Victorian Whig interpretations which placed Parliament at the core of historical change rather than a social dimension. He opposed S.R. Gardiner’s invention of a ‘Puritan Revolution’ because it elevated religious ideas above that of ‘class interests’. Hill’s call was for a ‘redintegration’ in understandings of the Revolution: by this he meant to examine the period as a unity of historical circumstance and social and ideological components, rather than focus on partial aspects. That might only be done by turning to Marx’s and Engels’ works, rather than ‘the idealist fantasies of the lately orthodox schools of thought’. [p. 133]. Gardiner’s dominant ‘puritan revolution’ was an ‘ideological empyrean above class’ [p. 134]: deploying a materialist account allowed a recovery of the revolution in social and ideological relations. This revolution according to Marx and Engels saw a victory of the bourgeoisie over feudalism, ‘of enlightenment over superstition [and] … of bourgeois right over medieval privileges’. According to his sources, Hill approved of the idea that the English Revolution saw a transformation of the monarchy from an absolute to a bourgeois form. The period also saw a radical rejection of a constitutional monarchy in the form of Leveller republicanism [p.143], which also addressed the problem of social justice. [p. 144]

For Hill, reading Marx and Engels, the English Revolution had harnessed popular violence and resistance to the interests of a predominantly urban mercantile elite, but the question of social inequality was evident too and, because of the claims of Levellers, Diggers and others, was perceived as a threat to order. Hill provided a neat comment from contemporary Thomas Burton’s diary, ‘All government is built upon propriety, else the poor must rule it’ [p.146]. Hill’s reading of the impact of Protestant ideology was subtle, insisting that the ideology of anti-popery ‘obscured social issues’, especially in Ireland. Following Marx and Engel, Hill laid the groundwork of a criticism of imperial rule by invoking Engels’ assertion that ‘No people oppressing other peoples can be free’. [p.149]. Reviewing the exchanges between Marx and the French thinker Guizot, Hill offered an analysis of Protestant culture which legitimised under a ‘halo of divine consecration’ a nation-state which sought to ‘exploit the whole world’. [p. 151-152] For Hill, the Restoration, and then the coup d’etat of 1688, exemplified the victory of mercantile and aristocratic elites, in countryside and cities, against the claims of equality and liberty, which ‘Levellers and sectaries [had] extracted extreme democratic consequences the ideas of Puritanism and from their recollections of German Anabaptists a century earlier. It was fear of democracy, among other causes, that led to the restoration compromise’. [p.154] Hill revisited these broad narratives in an important, but again understudied contribution to a collection of essays titled Three British Revolutions, 1641, 1688, 1776 (1980), published forty years after his initial essay and edited by the distinguished historian of ideas John Pocock.

Hill suffered much abuse in the 1980s, as did Hobsbawm and others, for the crimes of the Soviet Union. A Marxist was by default a fellow traveller. Hill, author of a study of Lenin, was not shy in his admiration for the events of 1917, and he had spent time in Russia and was fluent in the language. Hill, unlike many in the CPGB was not uncritical of Stalin, in particular taking issue with the latter’s account of Marxism which was evident in an (unremarked upon) article from Modern Quarterly titled ‘Stalin and the science of history’. Hill built his discussion in this article on an account of H.G. Wells’ dialogue with Stalin in 1934 about ‘the role of intellectuals in revolutionary movements’. Hill explained that ideas had an educative function in manifesting the injustices and social contradictions of material conditions: ‘ideological forms’ were how ‘men became conscious of this conflict and fight it out’. Ideological actions were both a cause and battleground for resistance. Although shaped in some measure by historical circumstances, ideas ought not to be underplayed. New accounts of social values, political authority, and legitimations of popular resistance were significant: as Hill explained, such ideas, ‘force their way through, become the possession of the masses, mobilise and organise them against the moribund forces of society’, [pp.199-200].

The role of new social ideas of power, and the function of political institutions was ‘tremendous’, the events of 1917 were both the product of, and produced, a ‘revolution in the minds, a revolution in ideology’ of the people [p.202, 205]. Hill distinguished between ‘a dogmatic Marxism and creative Marxism’, intending to reinforce an account of popular agency, which extended beyond political elites. This was the conceptual undergirding of his writings on the English Revolution, teasing out the articulation, exchange and contestation of ideas drawn from the different experiences of the military, the marginal and the heterodox. Hill understood that ideas, especially in a religious idiom, were powerful. The Church, initially an international organisation had grown dependent on Crown and Parliament, and acted as ‘a monopoly opinion forming body’, noting that even Charles I understood that ‘People are governed by the Pulpit more than by the sword in times of peace’.[19]

The account of Hill as an unthinking determinist, discounting the agency of individuals, communities and ideas in the name of historical materialism, is simply untenable. Hill was a Marxist, but one that did not ‘devalue politics and ideology’, as Hobsbawm noted in his account of the Historian’s group [p. 38]. Arguably, Hill was engaging with a perennial issue in the conceptual history of Western Marxism, which persisted even into the work of Louis Althusser’s On ideology, where in an chapter on ‘Ideology and the state’, he employs similar qualifications on the relationship between ideology and material circumstances, and the relative autonomy of public discourses and beliefs.[20]

The debate about the relationship between base and superstructure continues, made subtler first by the influence of Gramsci, and then, Foucault. The parallel experience of Eric Hobsbawm suggests that Hill confronted a common problem of explaining how moments of disruption and rupture might be the result not simply of economic contexts, but deliberate acts of human resistance.[21] Like Hobsbawm, Hill was willing to entertain the role of contingent ideas in making change: revolutionary moments were determined not by the clockwork of material conditions but by the unpredictable impact of individuals, ideas and communities. The productive forces of classical Marxist theory were primary, but not exclusive, influences on the course of history. Hill was not a determinist, but in his historical writings paid attention to contingent factors such as the impact of ideas articulated in public. Thus, Hill’s emphasis on the function of popular print whether in the form of literature, sermons, political theory or the cheapest broadsides, was because he regarded such ‘text’ as the historical sediment of ideological conviction, and as Quentin Skinner has elegantly established, such utterances were political acts in themselves. While historians may be left with the dry husks of those ideological performances (that is, the printed text), their job has been to reconstruct the circumstances and contexts while produced them and gave them meaning and power. As Hill’s studies of the ideas of men like Milton, Winstanley, Bunyan and even lawyer Edward Coke shows, recovering the meaning and significance of such ideas required placing them in the broad world in which such authors and texts were born and received. Ideas, crystallised in printed texts, were the products of authors, printers, booksellers and readers: as such they were attempts to engage with and transform the world as it was. Such texts and ideas were crafted by actors trying to do something, at particular points in history, to communicate with audiences and communities for acts of defence or resistance. In a refutation of the ‘no-archives’ arguments of the revisionists, Hill recognised, as did the powerful example of Quentin Skinner’s philosophical and historical writing establishes, ideas were important because they were both actions in themselves and lead to political interventions and actions.[22] Just as religious ideas, institutions and conflicts were ultimately questions of power, it was also the case that ‘the civil war did not create democratic theories: it unleashed them’.[23]

This was an aspect that later revisionists simply failed to grasp because of their visceral opposition to contemporary Marxist political theory. Categorising Hill as an apologist for what has become known as the ‘Hard left’ made it easy to taint the profound achievements of his historical writings. As Hill expressed in simple language, his account was underpinned by the belief that ‘our ideas are reflections of this material world’; or in another turn of phrase, he insisted on the ‘social origins of human thinking, of ideology’. For Hill the distribution of wealth or ‘power’ shaped institutions, laws, and culture – this was not a determinist commitment.[24] Indeed Hill confronted the charge before it was proffered. Whilst he argued that economic foundations underpinned political and ideological superstructures – this was an ultimate determination. That is, that the characteristics of relations of economic production, reflected ‘modes of thought’ – in his own words he noted that the language of ‘ultimately’ was to be carefully considered. Ideas might be effective in ‘bringing about transformation in society’. Resistance and counter-resistance between material context, and modes of thinking or ideology could act as drivers of change, unshackled from precise determination by material forces. Perceptions of injustice, or criticisms of dominant practices or institutions might result in ‘activities of those persons who have become fully conscious of the need for such change’ [p.53]. The degree of effectiveness of such transformative/revolutionary ideas depended upon their fit to circumstance and potential opportunity: of fundamental importance were the clarity of the expression of such ideas, and ‘on the extent to which they were spread amongst the masses’, [p.54].

The power of ideas lay not in their resonance with economic structures but in their congruency to the tasks of political circumstances, or what Hill termed, citing Engels, ‘the various elements of the superstructure’ by which he meant, forms of law, political discourses, constitutions which had been absorbed into the minds of various communities and then articulated as commitments acting ‘on the course of history’. What matters then ‘is not ideas in themselves, but ideas which reflect and are adapted to the needs of real historical forces’. In a more poetic mode he insisted that ‘the word must become flesh, the theory must be transformed into practice by men’. [p.55]. Men would be judged at the bar of history, ‘by what they do, not by what they say or believe’. Interestingly, for our discussion on the relationship between Marvell and the dissenting tradition, Hill cited the example of how dissenting Protestants in the early modern period often turned to accounts of the primitive Church to authorise their demands. [p.54]

Hill also reflected upon the business of the changing nature of historical sources: the primary contribution of literary materials (chronicles, memoirs, letters, and newspapers) had been enlarged by documentary archives public records, parish registers, charters, inscriptions, alongside material evidence in the form of tools, buildings, machines and objects. This was in danger of leading to an ‘idolatry of “documents”’ which overwhelmed ideas by claims to ‘official’ status: even in 1948, Hill expressed a scepticism about an over-reliance on the authenticity of manuscript archives providing a ‘scientific’ account of the past. [pp.57-58] Too often, he lamented such historical writing was ‘written only too obviously without any view to being read’. Hill’s plea was for ideas, or culture to be taken seriously and not pinned onto proper archival history ‘like the tail onto a donkey’. Ideas, culture, institutions, material production were to be considered part of one whole, not chopped into fragments. Importantly this meant that ‘if history is thus one, the historian himself must have a vision of society and the social process as a whole: he must have a philosophy’. The good historian, ought to take a lesson from the Marxist approach and recognise that human history was made by ‘the interrelation and interaction of countless facets of mans’ activity’. Hill recognised that when sieved through the minds ‘of bourgeois academic historians’, Marxist ideas were subjected to selection: some ignored the issues of class conflict, others suppressed an interest in popular agency and dialectic, while in the hands of Soviet historians who emphasised the determinacy of economic matters, their histories became a dull account of how economic changes produced inevitable political alteration.[25] Citing Engels again, Hill insisted the significant point was that ‘men make their history themselves’.

Hill evidently understood the potential dangers of being overloaded with archival material, citing Tawney’s view that historians needed strong boots rather than ‘more documents’: the danger of (what later Derrida would call) archival fever was that historical writing became ‘enmeshed in a web of detail, so weighted down by dry-as-dust documents, that they fail to see the real men and women whose lives made up history’. These charges, made seven decade ago are suitable rebuttals of the accusations of revisionists who condemned Hill’s scholarship for inattention to their preferred sources. History could not be reduced to the ‘play of the contingent and the unforeseen’, but ought to be capable of extracting the ‘sufferings and aspirations’ of communities and individuals who had precipitated events in the past. Neither a ‘great man history’, nor a narrative of ‘impersonal economic forces’, was Hill’s preference, but instead he argued the role of the historian was to recover the complex relationship between individual and society, or between necessity and freedom or statistics and poetry. Historians are not spectators in this pageant, ‘we have out parts in the action’, [pp.61-62]. Hill’s plea was for academics to avoid the ‘arid, barren, determinist’ brand of scientific history in favour of the recovery of popular agency and resistance, which was the instrument of social and political change. In a bold and optimistic statement, Hill insisted that the ‘history of mankind is the history of the growth of freedom of moral judgement’. Echoing Engel’s opinion that although men made history themselves, that process had been shaped by antagonistic and conflicting perceptions rather than a collective ambition. For Hill the historical project was to study and learn from examining these conflicts, moments and crises: thus History was not a film to be run before a passive audience, but a ‘laboratory in which experiments are carried out, theories tested, scientific knowledge amassed’. [p.64]. We study it, concluded Hill, ‘in order to fit ourselves for action’.

The evidence of Hill’s historical writing supports this humanist Marxism which understood that there was a fundamental interaction between social relations and cultural production: ideas and their circulation and reception, were a means for recovering the agency of past communities, as well as individuals. Hill had a capacious ability to configure his historical writing to blend and connect wider perspectives as well as the significant contributions of exceptional individuals. In effect Hill developed what might be now called a ‘social history of ideas’, which escaped from the brutal determinism of Marxist theory as expressed in Louis Althusser’s reflections on the role of ‘ideological state apparatus'. Fundamental to Hill’s recovery of the nature, function and legacy of ideas was to anchor his study in a material context: who wrote, when, for whom, and how did the ideas circulate? In print, in scribal form, orally? As explored in the studies of Milton and Bunyan, reconstructing the dimensions of when and where ideas were articulated was a fundamental dimension of his enquiry: thus the churchyard, the bookshop, the coffeehouse, and alehouse, rather than the university or aristocratic parlour were the focus of his attention. Hill had broken free of the classic determinist account of Marxism to develop ‘a sociology of culture and ideas which remained materialist’.[26]

Mary Fulbrook noted these dimensions of Hill’s handling of ideas plotting their analysis on a spine of what Hill called the ‘struggle for freedom’, produced by the collision of three competing and inter-dependent cultures – what we could call orthodox establishment, a protestant opposition and a radical third way.[27] These cultural forms overlapped with three social milieux, the gentry elites, the middling sorts, and the labouring poor. The premise for Hill’s investigation was that ‘a great revolution cannot take place without ideas’[28]. Ideas built communities of common interests, they enabled the conduct of resistance, and they created the conditions for new consequence. According to circumstances, ideas impelled people to collective actions, in resisting or defending their interests and values. Hill’s insights encompassed a recognition that ideas were not simply the instruments of resistance, but that in the form of traditions of discourse, and rhetorical deployment they legitimated dominant forms of power. Individual shared social circumstance bound people into groups with agency, armed with ideas that offered useful instruments for changing circumstances.

This understanding of the role and function of ideas was ‘culturalist’ in the sense that they were born from social experience rather than direct manifestations of material modes of production. Again as Fulbrook explicates, this understanding suggested that ideas formed ‘independent, partially autonomous intellectual traditions’. Historical study of the relationship between the brokers of ideas, their circumstance and the consequences allowed an authentic process of agency to be recovered. Reading Milton’s prose, a Ranter pamphlet, or Marvell’s Restoration satires offered windows onto the worlds of dissent, in a variety of forms. It was Hill’s achievement to have ensured that all subsequent historians are bound to examine the function of religious ideas and cultural institutions as the primary idiom of political thought. Hill had left vulgar determinism far behind, in acknowledging that ideas acted as semi-autonomous discourses which interacted with circumstance and context: his late study of the role of the Bible across the early modern period is ample and brilliant testimony to that approach.[29]

Hill also made his commitment to a deep history of ideas in a pithy contribution made in 1972 titled ‘Partial Historians and total History’, delivered in company with Peter Burke and others.[30] Hill summarised his view by insisting that there was an urgent need to be sensitive to connections when understanding ideas in the past: he offered a bold statement ‘All history should be cultural history, and the best is’. For Hill exploring ideas involved establishing the set of contexts that both produced them, and enabled them to operate in an effective way. This allowed Hill to examine a full range of ideas expressed in attitudes, propaganda, dreams and emblems or symbols.

Peter Burke expanded on this perspective considering the type of history that might be written, as ‘a history of the beliefs, artefacts and values of a social group, and of the place of those beliefs, artefacts and values in its way of life’. Here both historians wrote against the grain of the dominant antipathy towards conceptual history, what might be described as a mindless archivally derived empiricism. A survey of Hill’s works establishes that he applied a variety of strategies to achieve this thick history of ideas: he was sensitive to the varieties of sub-cultures within dominant discourses, and how subaltern groups attempted to appropriate and subvert the legitimacy of those hegemonic shibboleths: both the World Turned Upside Down (1972) and The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (1992) give ample evidence of his subtle and nuanced readings of the different and contested mobilisation of scripture, doctrinal statements and practices of interpretation. Hill was sensitive to the questions of audience and reception, as well as that of censorship and writing in conditions of persecution, which were explored in great detail in the studies of Milton and Bunyan.

The materialist dimension was explored in close attention paid to the history of print production and circulation: who composed, typeset, bound, sold and distributed pamphlets, tracts and broadsheets, were core elements in establishing the social experience that generated ideas. From this approach Hill was capable of remarking upon the structural configurations of relations between traditional ideas, and those which, through contestation, were altered and in some cases neutralised. In order to appreciate this dimension of Hill’s ambitions, we too need to be sensitive to the power and authority of culture and ideas. Whether one believes that there was a Ranter movement or simply a cleavage of heterodox readers of scripture, it ought to be impossible to ignore the significance of their articulation of a counter-Calvinist theology, both in itself and in the profound moral panic their ideas provoked. The point is that Hill gave the Ranters, and the other sects, their place on the pages of history.

Hill regarded himself as able to appreciate the wider function of textual ideas, by placing them in precise and deep historical context, rather than adopting the internalist critical rules of aesthetic appreciation. Ideas were not epiphenomenal to society, but dynamic, disruptive acts of resistance. In order to appreciate Milton, Bunyan and Marvell’s interventions and power it was necessary to root their works in particular times and places. Literature was topical: great poetry was intimately connected to political circumstance and change. Investigating the conditions of publication, distribution and the dangers of censorship were primary concerns. Although he acknowledged that some literature was better than others, he was also concerned to broaden the canon of texts by the addition of ballads, plays, pamphlets, newspapers and scribal works. Such works should sit alongside the so-called state papers of magistrates and politicians. By achieving a dialectic between such sources, Hill aimed to recover the agency of crowds, rioters and those who challenged in particular the authority and oppression of the Church. Hill’s achievement in his study of Milton was to produce what Quentin Skinner called a ‘magisterial as well as exhilarating piece of scholarship’, which connected the imaginative mind of Milton with the social being. Whilst Hill was sensitive to the literary qualities of Milton’s verse, he presented him as ‘always a politician’ in permanent dialogue with a cast of plebeian radical thinkers. Milton’s dauntless service in defence of the new commonwealth, took him into conversations with a heterodox underground of Socinians, millenarians and heretical thinkers.[31] The existence of De doctrina, exposes to view the accumulation of heterodox accounts of the godhead, the nature of the Fall and the function of church institutions. In the WTUD Hill took the opportunity to disclose the variety of counter-orthodox opinions liberated by the fall of Church discipline after the 1640s. He also established how these views grew out of mainstream Protestant traditions – the millenarianism of John Foxe mutated into the violence of the Fifth Monarchists for example. Or how the theological mortalism of early Reformation thinkers was reconfigured as the soul sleeping doctrine of Richard Overton. These deviations from theological orthodoxy proffered challenges to the distribution of religious authority and power: they enfranchised the liberties of individuals to believe as their untutored consciences saw fit without tutelage to priests, or the threat of incarceration, punishment or even death.

Religious ideas were instruments of resistance to the tyranny of persecution and conformity. In the conditions of the English Revolution, as The World Turned Upside Down confirms, unhindered by a disciplinary Church, heterodox theological expression was rampant, although matched by a persisting traditional piety. After the Restoration, the conditions of free religious expression were brutally restrained by the re-imposition of legal persecution of all forms of dissent, in the name of the Church of England. Hill invited his readers and fellow historians to think a bit harder about the nature of religion in the early modern period: his analysis went beyond the commonplace assertion that religion was an instrument of hegemony, or a mean for the expression of the laments of the oppressed. One of the few historians to recognise Hill’s distinctive contribution to a consideration of the relationship between revolution and religion, is Bruce Lincoln who noted that to ask the question ‘what roles has religion played in revolutionary upheavals’ is to pose a more straightforward question ‘what roles have ideas played in history’. Lincoln recognised, in Hill’s work, a cognate mind to his own: indeed he invited Hill to contribute to an important collection of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural essays under the title of Religion, Rebellion, Revolution. Hill’s essay ‘Popular Religion and the English Revolution’ developed a materialist account of religious ideas which in challenging the assumption that the Godly elect were the ruling elites – as Milton put it once ‘All the Lord’s people are become prophets’ there were demonstrable threats to the traditional order in politics, economics and the doctrine and practice of religious institutions. A combination of liberty of conscience, and a democracy of salvation resulted in a powerful critique of the dominant oligarchical rule of kings, priest and aristocrats. Lincoln’s understanding of religion as a cultural and material resource over which different groups contested, meshes with Hill’s historical accounts of a ‘war for freedom’ in the English Revolution and after. The power of religious figures, and the hegemony of doctrine and ritual fundamental to the ancien regime was first challenged, contaminated and then disjointed by the solvent of ideas of religious freedom, and autonomy. It was a short step from condemning the tyranny of popery to laying claims to sapere aude (to dare to believe). Perhaps the great historical rupture that Hill delineated, was not that of a transition from feudalism to capitalism by the instrument of a bourgeois revolution, but the invention of the intellectual weapons for the preliminary dismantling of the confessional state. The defence of conscience fundamental to Puritan resistance evolved into a bolder defence of rights of toleration and freethought: the works of Marvell and his friends forged in the crucible of persecution and struggle, acted as ideological resources on both sides of the Atlantic for eighteenth century attacks on priestcraft and the confessional state.[32]

Figures like Marvell and other dissident writers operated in what Margot Heinemann called an ‘enemy climate’[33] after 1660, when not only were their lives, liberties and estates subjected to disciplinary regulation, but the conditions of publishing were scrutinised by the obnoxious Roger L’Estrange, and the Secretary of State, Williamson. Hill regarded these circumstances as defined by what he memorable termed the ‘experience of defeat’. Milton retreated from public view protected by friends and patrons, nonconformist ministers were expelled from their livings, Quakers imprisoned in their thousands, and booksellers, printers and authors hunted down by informers and press messenger. As Hill’s account of Bunyan establishes, persistent resistance was commonly met with brutal imprisonment, punishment, and death. Hill did devote some time to reflecting upon the experience of Andrew Marvell, sometime co-worker with Milton, and author of the incendiary Account of the growth of Popery and Arbitrary Power, which rekindled commonwealth polemic against the fatal combination of priestcraft and tyranny. Hill’s account expressed some doubts in regard of Marvell’s continued support for the ‘Good old cause’, especially given his defence of Charles II’s attempt at creating religious freedom through the instrument of Royal prerogative. Adopting a Hillean approach to examining the production of Marvell’s ideas, set within the context of his intimacy with radical non-conformist activists in Parliament, in urban parishes across the south, midlands and even in Chester and Hull, and in 1670 on the streets of London. By 1670, Marvell’s parliamentary career had been focused on resistance to measures of Anglican persecution such as removing the medieval writ de heretico comburendo, and opposing the renewal of the vicious Conventicle Acts of 1664, and 1670, which turned dissenting families into nests of sedition subject to imprisonment, distraint of goods, and to the whims of informers.

Marvell composed both verse and prose satires to provoke, and legitimise, resistance to these measure of persecution, attacking in particular prelatical interference into politics: the irony here was that Charles II, under guidance from former commonwealthsmen like Shaftesbury, Anglesey and others, attempted to counter Anglican persecutions with measures of indulgence and freedom. As Hill did with Milton, it would be possible to illuminate and explore the many circumstances, friendships and political crises, which prompted Marvell’s work. For many like Marvell – counter-intuitive as it may seem to us – Royal prerogative aimed to defeat the persecutory ambitions of the Anglican royalists in the Cavalier Parliament. Marvell, using the underground press, (indeed at times the same printer, Nathaniel Ponder, as Bunyan) composed assaults upon the latent popery of Bishops, and their encouragement of tyrannous policies – drawing from his relationships with men like Anglesey, Harley and perhaps Shaftesbury, Marvell defended liberty of thought, the rights of parish pluralism, and if necessary that of resistance in defence of religious conscience.

Evidence for Marvell’s involvement in the metropolitan world of nonconformity is established by his correspondence as an MP, as well as the many major studies of his prose and verse works. The longest recorded account of his public role in the Commons occurred in November 1670, and was a direct reaction to the deteriorating condition of the dissenting communities in London suffering under the new conventicle act.[34] The Commons gathered on Monday, November 21, to discuss the ‘business of Jekell and Hayes’, which was to be undertaken by examination of Sir Samuel Starling, the Anglican Mayor of London, who had accused the two aldermen of attempting to suborn and deflect him from the proper execution of anti-conventicle legislation. Anxious about the various rumours of conspiratorial politics in the City, the Lord Lieutenants prepared for the defence of London. However, as the testimony of Starling suggests, the City was flooded with potentially rebellious dissenting citizens. The Mayor had received, ‘intelligence that thousands of all sects and sorts were flocking to London, to oppose the Act’. Starling had commanded a doubling of the watch and placed ‘Constables [to] set strong guards at the avenues of the Conventicles’. This surveillance had proved initially to be ‘too weak the first Sunday’. By strengthening the guard more potential protesters were taken, some were Londoners, the rest ‘of several other counties’. Starling made every effort to reinforce the guards again, mainly because he had news that the ejected minister from St Stephen’s Walbrook, Thomas Watson was to preach on the text, ‘that they should resist to blood, manfully’.

Watson had a reputation for powerful rhetoric, as well as republican associations. Marvell reported the affair to friends in Hull.[35] Such men were under surveillance, for example, in April 1670, William Fuller, Bishop of Lincoln, reported the findings of his own initiative at monitoring dissenting activity to Lord Arlington. His servant had been sent to a large house in a place called Fisher’s Folly in Bishopsgate, nearby to Bedlam hospital, to seek out Watson. This place offered a choice of Presbyterian, Quaker and Independent conventicles, ‘but the door being shut’ he had to move on to another in nearby Moorfields. Here, it was reported, that the preacher ‘prayed that the King’s evil counsellors might be converted or destroyed, the land covered with blood, and the Lord’ people defended against their enemies’. Arlington endorsed the letter as displaying the ‘insolencies of the fanatics’, and Fuller commented, ‘the trumpet sounded thus before the late rebellion’.[36]

The following Sunday (May, 2nd 1670), the civic officials intervened, and a constable called him down while he was preaching. Apprehension was hindered by crowd intervention, ‘the people standing arm in arm’ although Watson promised to appear voluntarily before the Lord Mayor’. One supported civic officer, Jekyll intervened on behalf of Watson informing the Lord Mayor, ‘that Watson's words were understood wrong, and that he was an honest man’. The subsequent debate in the Commons challenged how Watson’s words had been received. Sterling insisted that Watson had ‘used a seditious expression, and the common people do not distinguish (vulgus non distinguit) the intention and application of the words’. Evidence from Watson’s printed sermons, and parochial reputation, suggest that Marvell mingled with dissenting clergymen who were capable of encouraging public resistance from the pulpit.

This was however no minor scuffle. Magistrates had just cause to be anxious. Amongst the crowd there were some experienced men: intelligence suggested that former Major-General Boutler, accompanied by the captor of Charles I, Cornet Joyce: ‘and others were there’ amongst the crowd. As Henry Coventry noted in the Commons such men were dangerous: Joyce in particular, ‘that took away one King, may take away another’. This crowd itself was not trivial. Gathered were the attenders at ’eight great Meeting-houses’ which accounted for ‘no less than 12000 people at them, besides boys’. The armed soldiers were stopped from clearing the pulpits by the force of numbers. The soldiers, and eventually militia, ‘were much vilified’. Clearly, as the civic testimony commented, the example of Venner’s rising was at the forefront of their mind: even so, ‘the soldiers were abused in the streets, and brick-bats thrown at them’. The Mayor feared for his life and even of a ‘design to assault him in his house (which occasioned him to get forty musketeers)’. The civic fear was that the demonstration would escalate ‘to make some insurrections’. The soldiers had been attacked with stones and other missiles; some had lost their weapons.

The Lieutenancy, hoping to bring order, sent for Hayes and Jekell, with the intention of binding them over for good behaviour, and thus neutralise their involvement in fomenting street actions. Both men refused to be bound to the good behaviour, claiming that they had just conscientious cause to attend worship since, ‘it was an obligation upon them to go to those meetings’. The London dissenting community were much affected by the military action and suppression of their meeting houses which ‘terrised them much’. The civic magistracy was also shocked at the manifestation of what Watson justified as ‘Holy violence’. As the discussion in the Commons progressed it was evident that many MPs intended to support the Major’s actions to preserve the King’s order in the face of such resistance. If Sterling had acted out of malice this support might not have been offered, but Jekell, Hayes and Watson had ‘peccant’ reputations, and the mayor had acted under an emergency and necessity. The trio were ‘known Conventiclers, and stirrers up of sedition’, who might legally be bound over for good behaviour in such circumstances.

The work of Christopher Hill, as one of his most stubborn critics commented, ‘broke down so many barriers in the way seventeenth-century history was done: above all the interpenetration of religious, constitutional, social and scientific ideas; the social context of religious radicalism; the importance of 'literary' sources as historical documents; the vitality of the English revolutionary decades’.[37] Hill frequently understated his objectives as being, ‘to raise some questions which call for further investigation’, but in an environment in the 1980s where many mainstream historians retreated into high political narrative, and the archives of the political elites, Hill was a beacon for historians who saw it as their social responsibility to give the marginal, oppressed and lost voices of the English Revolution a platform and audience.[38] One of the still repeated accusations was that Hill did not undertake archival research: Morrill made an unsubstantiated claim that Hill had never entered the Public Record office in his life [p.236] as if that was the only mine where historical truth might be found.

Would he have found any relevant documents for recovering the thoughts, ideas and intentions of Gerard Winstanley, Abiezer Coppe or even John Milton, in the state papers? This would have been entirely the wrong place to look. Occasionally the state censors confiscated clandestine publications or scribal satires, as well as offering accounts of collective anxieties regarding the potential for resistance and violence. Parliamentary papers, and the governmental archives, were concerned with surveillance and policy rather than capturing the voices of the lower orders, unless they had the misfortune to be subject to discipline or punishment. However, literary scholars treading in the ample footsteps of Harold Love have unearthed archives of scribal verse and prose sources whereby political, courtly and civic satires were circulated amongst literate urban communities, copying texts into commonplace books and miscellanies. Even recording subversive graffiti placed in the heart of Whitehall. Despite the occasional piece of ribald and demotic balladry, most of that archive was composed by, and for, a cultural elite.[39] While Love’s work has enabled a perspective on clandestine satire after 1660s, Stephen Bardle, and others like Peter Lake and David Como, have recovered the contested parish ecologies which saw ideas circulate in oral, print and scribal form despite the dangers of censorship or betrayal.[40] Even Conrad Russell, hardly a militant Marxist, noted this problem of archival defficiency: ‘Yet even something so immense as the Thomason Tracts must be read in context, and it is very hard to know how to do this. The great dearth of archives (extending even to private estate documents) deprives us for the years 1642 to 1660 of much of the material we are used to relying on for the previous and subsequent periods. When this fact is set beside the fact that the censorship deprives us of any equivalent printed material for the years before and after the Thomason Tracts, we have a real risk that the Tracts may upstage the rest of the evidence, or perhaps, more subtly, but no less dangerously, a risk that, in trying to prevent them from upstaging the rest of the evidence, we may not give them the importance they deserve’.[41]

Christopher Hill’s historical ambitions were to engage with the complexities of the relationships between people, power and historical change. He sought to understand how historical structures whether economic, political or religious presented populations with challenging problems: recovering the many perspectives on those problems and their sometime conflicted resolutions was at the core of his enquiries. In exploring the past as a complex ecology of agency, structures, crises and traditions, Hill was always concerned to allow as many voices as possible to be heard. Even those who experienced defeat after 1649, had a place in his accounts: whilst it is a platitude to claim that history is always written by the victors, Hill countered this trend with an insistence that all articulations of protest, aspiration and legitimacy were valuable dimension of the past. Like Raymond Williams, Hill was sensitive to what has been regarded as cultural materialism. Sometimes those voices of the oppressed and marginal were only preserved in the public archives of print and graphic representation. For Hill, paying appropriate and respectful attention to the recovery of such ideas as political acts and interventions was the very business of being an historian. Contemporary historians have benefited from these injunctions in ways they may not be aware of since retrieving such historical meanings have become a standard by which many conduct their research.[42]


Select Bibliography: Christopher Hill: Some writings on materialism, agency, and ideas in history [43]

‘Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum’, The Economic History Review, 8:2 (1938), pp. 159-167.

‘Thomas Hobbes and English Political Thought’, in W. Sellars (ed.), Philosophy for the future. The Quest of modern materialism, (1949), pp. 13-32, revised as ‘Thomas Hobbes and the Revolution in Political Thought’, in Puritanism and Revolution, (1958), pp. 267-288.

*‘The materialist conception of History’, University: a Journal of inquiry by Graduates and undergraduates, 1: 3 (Summer 1951), pp.110-114.

The English Revolution, 1640. Three essays, (1940, reprinted 1949), The English Revolution published separately 1955.

‘The English Civil war interpreted by Marx and Engels’, Science and Society 12:1 (1948), pp. 130-156.

*‘The English Revolution and the State’, The Modern Quarterly 4 (1949), pp.110-128.

*‘Marxism and History’, The Modern Quarterly 3 (1948), pp.52-64.

*‘Stalin and the science of history’, The Modern Quarterly 8, (1953), pp.198-212.

*‘Partial Historians and Total History’, Times Literary Supplement, November 24th 1972 p. 1431.

‘The Bourgeois revolution’, in J.G.A. Pocock (ed.), Three British Revolutions 1641, 1689, 1776 (1980), pp. 109-139.

[book-strip index="1" style="display"]

[1] See the essays in a special issue, ‘Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down, revisited’, Prose Studies, 36:3 (2014), in particular, John Morrill, ‘Which World Turned Upside Down?’, pp. 231-242., [Braddick, p. 175] but set out to do so without any serious engagement with Hill’s conceptual and methodological commitments. The exception is Rachel Foxley’s contribution, ‘The Logic of Ideas in Christopher Hill’s English Revolution’, Prose Studies, 36:3 (2014), pp. 199–208, which, especially at pp. 199-202, engaged with the problem of agency and change, although refers to the commentaries of Kaye and Maclachlan, rather than Hill’s own writing. See also H.J. Kaye, The British Marxist Historians, (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1984), A. Maclachlan, The Rise and Fall of Revolutionary England, (Macmillan, 1996), especially, p.103, which pays cursory attention to Hill’s writings in the Modern Quarterly,  in an otherwise useful chapter on Marxist history in the Cold War era.

[2] For an interesting review see C. Russell, ‘Losers’ in LRB Vol. 6:18 · 4th October 1984, pp. 20-22.

[3] Hill, ‘Society and Andrew Marvell’, in Puritanism and Revolution (1968), pp.324-350, at p.324, 349-50.

[4] Hill, ‘John Milton and Andrew Marvell’, in Collected Essays 1: writing and revolution in C17th England (1985), pp. 157-187.

[5] Hill, ‘John Milton and Andrew Marvell’, pp. 157, 168-169, 180.

[6] Henry Muddiman writing to Thomas Bond, Hereford, noted that ‘Alderman Hayes and one Jekell, two eminent sticklers among the conventiclers, having been committed to the Counter, moved the King's Bench for an habeas corpus, and afterwards for an alias habeas, since which they have been removed to Newgate by a fresh warrant’, TNA SP 29/276 f.123, June 9th 1670.See TNA SP 29/276 f.79, ‘Journal of warrants and orders issued to the Militia of London, and of other proceedings taken under the Act against conventicles, from 11 May to 4 June 1670’, which records ‘a general order to all commissioned officers, to be diligent in attending to and discharging their duty. On 16, 25 and 3 May the lord mayor was given warrants ‘authorising him to raise companies or regiments of the trained bands, for preservation of the peace’. The best account is Gary De Krey, ‘The First Restoration Crisis: Conscience and Coercion in London, 1667-73.’, Albion, 25:4 (1993), 565–580.

[7] ‘Marxism and History’, The Modern Quarterly 3 (1948), pp.52-64; and ‘Partial Historians and Total History’, essay in TLS, November 24th 1972 p. 1431, special issue on the growing historical approach known eventually as the ‘History of Ideas’: this special issue of the TLS also included essays by Peter Burke and Arnaldo Momigliano: Hill was not out of kilter with the most distinguished historians of his age.

[8] note that the latter also recognised Hill as defending the agency of individuals and communities, within the broader context of material structures. [On History, (Abacus, 1998) p.242].

[9] P. Gardiner, ‘The materialist conception of History’, University, 1: 3 Summer (1951), pp. 105-109. Hill’s reply was at pp.110-114.

[10] See Milton and the English Revolution (1977); A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628–1688 (1988); The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (1972).

[11] See for example, Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century (1958); Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (1964); Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England (1974, rev. ed. 1991); A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England (1990); Liberty Against The Law: Some Seventeenth-Century Controversies (1996).

[12] R. Samuel, ‘British Marxist Historians, 1880-1950: Part One’, 65, 70, see also E. Hobsbawm, "'The Historians Group' of the Communist Party", in M. Cornforth (ed.),  Rebels and Their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton, ( Lawrence and Wishart, 1978), pp. 21-48. See also for wider context, A. Bonfanti, ‘Eric Hobsbawm: An Intellectual History of a Dialectical Materialist, 1946-56’, (unpublished MPhil, University of St Andrews, 2016).

[13] See prefatory note in Hill, The English Revolution 1640. Three Essays (1940, reprinted, 1941, 1943, and 1949).

[14] There is a useful online edition of the 1640 essay, transcribed by Anthony Blunden, at which can be searched for these extracts and vocabularies.

[15] See also Hill’s very astute essay, ‘Thomas Hobbes and the Revolution in Political Thought’, first published in R.W. Sellars et al (eds.), Philosophy for the future (Macmillan, 1949), pp.13-32, revised in Puritanism and Revolution (1958), pp.267-288. Hill gave an account of ‘the Hobbesian revolution’ [p.269], which also emphasised the break with priestcraft [p. 275-76] and ‘ghost’ ideas. As much modern writing on Hobbes has explored his Erastianism was a political mode exposing the false authority conjured by the ‘feare of power invisible’. Hill also explored, Hobbes the biblical critic [p.278] and [p. 279] his account of private religious freedom, ‘it is not the noblest strain in which to plead liberty of conscience, but it has proved perhaps the most acceptable political argument; and it is one for which the author of Leviathan has received insufficient credit’. [p.281] Hill was also the first to recognise the conceptual intimacy between Hobbes and Rousseau: ‘Rousseau had only to insist that sovereignty must and could lie in the people alone, in order to convert Hobbes’s political philosophy into a revolutionary creed that would overthrow the thrones of Europe’.

[16] See his edition of Winstanley 'The Law of Freedom' and other Writings (1973).

[17] See E. Hobsbawm, ‘The Historians’ Group of the Communist Party’, in M. Cornforth (ed.) Rebels and their Causes (1978), pp. 21-48, at 26-27, 38. See also William H. Shaw, ‘Plekhanov on the Role of the Individual in History’, Studies in Soviet Thought, 35:3 (1988), pp. 247-265.

[18] See C. Hill, ‘The English Civil war interpreted by Marx and Engels’, Science and Society 12:1 (1948), pp. 130-156.

[19] Hill, ‘English Revolution and the State’, pp. 111, 114, 115.

[20] See L. Althusser, On ideology, pp. 8-11, on ‘infrastructure and superstructure’, pp. 22-24. See S.B. Smith, ‘Consideration on Marx’s base and superstructure’, Social Science Quarterly, 65: 4 (1984), pp. 940-954. See also P. Anderson Arguments within English Marxism (Verso, 1980), ‘Agency’, pp. 16-58, which fails to mention Hill’s arguments.

[21] See A. Bonfanti, ‘Eric Hobsbawm: an intellectual history of dialectical materialism, 1946-56’, (University of St Andrews, MLitt, 2016), pp.20-21.

[22] See the collected essays in Q. Skinner, Visions of Politics. Volume 1. Regarding Method, (Cambridge, 2002).

[23] Hill, ‘Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum’, The Economic History Review, 8:2 (1938), pp. 159-167, at pp.160, 162

[24] Hill, ‘Marxism and History’, The Modern Quarterly 3 (1948), pp.52-64, at p.56. Subsequent citations will be found in [] in the main text.

[25] see his comments on Luther and the discovery of Silver mines; and Calvin and the  discovery of Potosi, p.59

[26] Kaye, The British Marxist Historians pp.115, 117.

[27] See M. Fulbrook ‘Christopher Hill and Historical Sociology’, in G. Eley, W. Hunt, (eds.) Reviving the English Revolution: reflections and elaborations on the work of Christopher Hill (Verso, 1988), pp. 31-52.

[28] Origins, pp.1, 3

[29] Fulbrook, ‘Christopher Hill and Historical Sociology’, pp.31, 34, 36-7, 38, 39, 43, 44, 46

[30] ‘Partial Historians and Total History’, Times Literary Supplement, November 24th 1972 p. 1431.

[31] Q. Skinner ‘Milton, Satan, and Subversion’ review of Hill’s Milton and the English revolution, New York Review of Books, March 23rd, 1978.

[32] J. G. A. Pocock, “Post-Puritan England and the Problem of the Enlightenment,” Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment, ed. P. Zagorin, (Berkeley, 1980), pp. 91–111.

[33] Heinemann, ‘How the words got on the page’, in Reviving the English Revolution,  p.81

[34] The full record is at 'Debates in 1670: November (16th-30th)', in Grey's Debates of the House of Commons: Volume 1, ed. Anchitell Grey (London, 1769), pp. 289-313.

[35] Dec. 7. Hull. Chas. Whittington to Williamson. ‘Hull is free from any disturbance, Hayes and Jekyll’s business having much discouraged the Nonconformists, who had hopes that the House would have been favourable towards them. [S.P. Dom., Car. II. 281, No. 8.]

[36] CSPD, volume 10, April 25 1670, SP 29/275 f. 15, William Fuller, Bishop of Lincoln, to Lord Arlington,

[37] J. Morrill, ‘Christopher Hill’s Revolution’, History, 74: 241 (June 1989), pp. 243-252 at p. 243, to be contrasted with John Morrill ‘ Which World Turned Upside Down?’, Prose Studies, 36:3, (2014), pp.231-242,

[38] M. Kishlansky, ‘Rolodex Man’ LRB Vol. 18 No. 21 · 31 October 1996 pp. 23-24.

[39] H. Love, English Clandestine Satire 1660-1702, (2004, Oxford). Access to the literary infrastructure of this research is accessible at which includes a detailed and potentially reusable index to the miscellaneous collections. Love also provided an overview and introduction to using such sources in his editorial for the microfilm collection of the material at .

[40] S. Bardle, The Literary Underground in the 1660s: Andrew Marvell, George Wither, Ralph Wallis, and the World of Restoration Satire and Pamphleteering (Oxford, 2012); D. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in pre-Civil-War England, (Stanford, 2004); P. Lake, The boxmaker's revenge 'Orthodoxy', 'Heterodoxy' and the politics of the parish in early Stuart London (Manchester, 2004).

[41] C. Russell, ‘Losers’ reviewing Hill’s Experience of Defeat, in LRB 6 No. 18 4th October (1984) pp. 20-22

[42] See R. Williams Marxism and literature, (Oxford University Press, 1977); for a discussion of the relevance of William to the practices of History, see R. Samuel, ‘“Philosophy Teaching by Example”: Past and Present in Raymond Williams’, History Workshop Journal, 27 (1989), pp. 141-53.

[43] Those items marked with an * are less easily accessible.

The Experience of Defeat
The Restoration, which re-established Charles II as king of England in 1660, marked the end of “God’s cause”—a struggle for liberty and republican freedom. While most accounts of this period concen...
Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England
In the centuries following the Reformation, Antichrist—the biblical Beast, whose coming was to precede the end of the world and the coming of Christ’s kingdom—was an intensely real figure. The deba...
Liberty against the Law
In this, the last book published during his lifetime, renowned historian of the English Revolution Christopher Hill uses the literary culture of the seventeenth century to explore the immense socia...
Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England
In order to understand the English Revolution and Civil War we need to understand Puritanism. In this classic work of social history, Professor Hill shows Puritanism as a living faith, one that ...
Reformation to Industrial Revolution
In 1530 England was a backward economy, yet by 1780 she possessed a world empire and was just about to become the first industrialized power in the world. This book deals with the intervening 250 ...
A Turbulent, Seditious and Factious People
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the most important works of English literature. Translated into more than 200 languages, it once rivalled the Bible in popularity in the English-speaking ...
Milton and the English Revolution
In this remarkable book Christopher Hill used the learning gathered in a lifetime’s study of seventeenth-century England to carry out a major reassessment of Milton as man, politician, poet, and re...

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