May 6, 2015

Revolutions

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Available from iTunes and on its blog, Revolutions Podcast.

Some time ago I finished the excellent and long-running history podcast “The History of Rome” (detailed in blog posts here and here). Now Mike Duncan is back with another extended podcast series, this time on various revolutions. After 83 episodes, the series has covered the English Revolution, the American Revolution and is currently working through the French Revolution. Apparently the Haitian Revolution will also be detailed in future, but after that it is uncertain how much farther it will go. As before, this series is well produced and Mike is an excellent and interesting speaker. Each episode is around 25 minutes in length (audio only) telling the history in chronological order. Occasional supplemental episodes detail side stories or biographies not directly related to the current episode, but germane to the revolution as a whole.

So far I have listened to the 20 episodes on the English Revolution (not counting the introduction on what defines a revolution). Knowing the major events did not detract from the intriguing story. In 1642 Charles I called a parliament to raise taxes to suppress a Scottish rebellion over his attempts to enforce changes in religious dogma. At the time parliament consisted solely of members of the English aristocracy and held legal responsibility for creating and raising taxes. Safe to say the parliamentary session did not go well. One of the Kings supporter’s Stafford was executed after guilt by a Bill of Attainder (where parliament declares you guilty without a trial, it still exists in the UK, but hasn’t been used sine 1782!). It ended with the King attempting and failing to arrest 5 parliamentarians. Then both sides (King and parliament) started raising armies. Mike suggests the war’s length was extended by infighting on each side and the inexperience of their soldiers (at least until the rise of a professional parliamentary army). Eventually the King was captured, and after some more fighting, executed. Britain became a republic under Oliver Cromwell, but differences over what that meant continued until his death, with a much weaker monarchy restored soon afterwards under Charles II.

The very legalistic nature of the conflict greatly surprised me. The action took place as much in parliament as it did on the battlefield. Each side took pains to justify their actions under existing or newly created laws, albeit sometime only by greatly stretching their meaning. The conflict often involved forcibly removing the unsupportive or adding supportive members to parliament so that a particular law could be passed. Once the King was captured there also seems to have been great effort involved by nearly all sides in trying to keep him the King, but with great disagreement under what conditions. After a short second war when Charles I attempted to take advantage of the disunity by having the Scottish invade (unfortunately for him, unsuccessfully). The army purged parliament of all those opposing it (essentialy a coup), allowing a successful treason trial against the King.

The revolution is also notable in that certain radical views became relatively commonplace for a while. The Levellers believed in religious tolerance, universal male suffrage (rather than just for the wealthy) and legal equality for all. While their views were unthinkable at the start of the war, by the end they nearly managed to write the English Constitution (which was ultimately never written). I have a feeling they will come up again in the podcasts on the American Revolution. There were also the Diggers a group who took the Leveller manifesto and extended it to economic equality – becoming something like Christian communists.

Very entertaining. This series is highly recommended.


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