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PREFACE - Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century 
The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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These essays were written and first published on different occasions between 1956 and 1967. Most of them began as lectures or were written in tributary volumes. They were first published together, as a book bearing the title of the first essay, Religion, the Reformation and Social Change. The book was published by Messrs. Macmillan in London in 1967. An American edition was published in 1968 by Messrs. Harper and Row, under the present title, The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. The book enjoyed a modest success. A second edition, published in London in 1972, was reprinted in 1973 and 1977 and it has been translated, in whole or in part, into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. Individual essays from it have appeared in Polish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic: the subject of witchcraft evidently arouses particular interest among the tolerant Nordic peoples. A third and revised edition of the English text was published in London by Messrs. Secker and Warburg in 1984. I am naturally delighted that the Liberty Fund has now chosen to publish a new edition of this revised text in America.
It is customary for those who publish collected essays to claim that, however disparate in subject or appearance, they are coherent expressions of a single philosophy or a recurrent theme. That theme—if I may make the same claim—is the problem of a general crisis in the “early modern” period of history; a crisis which was not only political or economic but social and intellectual, and which was not confined to one country but was felt throughout Europe.
Many able historians have devoted themselves to the study of the Puritan Revolution in England, and some of them have ascribed to it a unique importance in modern history, as if it had been the beginning both of the Scientific and of the Industrial Revolution. I venture to think that this is too insular a view, and one which cannot survive a study of comparable developments in Europe. Therefore, in considering the problems raised by the Puritan Revolution, I have looked at them, where possible, in a European context; and for this reason I have placed together, in this book, essays both on European and on English (or rather British) subjects.
The first essay, which gave its title to the English edition of the book, arose from an examination of what has been called “the Tawney-Weber thesis”: the thesis that Calvinism, in some way, created the moral and intellectual force of the “new” capitalism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This thesis has become a sociological dogma in some places and is opposed (as it seems to me) on irrelevant grounds in others. It has been called in to support the theory that English Puritanism was a forward-looking “capitalist” ideology, and also the theory that capitalism had to wait for Calvinist, or at least Puritan, inspiration before it could “conquer the world.” I believe that, if the English experience is seen in its wider historical context, this view will be found to be too simple. If “sociological” historians would look at Calvinism in general—in Switzerland and Heidelberg and Scotland and Navarre and Transylvania as well as in England and Holland—and if they would look at “capitalism” in general—in medieval Italy and Flanders and Renaissance Augsburg and Liège as well as in seventeenth-century England and Holland—I think that they would be obliged to modify the exciting but simple formula which Weber based on narrow and ever-narrowing historical examples. My own modification was originally presented in a lecture delivered in 1961 in Galway, where an audience powerfully reinforced by local monks and nuns gave it an unsympathetic but, I felt, not very critical reception: but I was glad to discover, shortly afterwards, that the Swiss scholar M. Herbert Lüthy had come to conclusions very similar to mine, which he has since published in his volume Le Passé présent.1 M. Lüthy and I were both unaware of each other’s work until after publication. Because of its local origin my essay was first published in the proceedings of the Irish Conference of Historians at which it had been presented.2
The second essay, on the General Crisis of the seventeenth century, first appeared in the historical journal Past and Present in November 1959. It also excited some controversy, and the essay, together with some of the responses which it had elicited, was reprinted in an anthology of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century essays first published in that journal.3 In reprinting it here—for it is directly relevant to the central theme of this volume—I have taken the opportunity to incorporate in the essay some points which I had previously made separately, in amplification of it, in the discussion which it had provoked.
One of those who took part in that discussion was the distinguished French historian Roland Mousnier. In the course of his contribution he remarked that the general crisis of the seventeenth century was even wider than the crisis in the relation between the State and society in which I had concerned myself. It was, he suggested, “an intellectual mutation” as well as a social crisis; and he referred to the end of Aristoteleanism and the growth of belief in witchcraft as “aspects which would need to be studied if we really want to talk of the crisis of the seventeenth century.” This is the justification which I would plead for the long essay on the witch-craze which was written specially for this collection. The persecution of witches is, to some, a disgusting subject, below the dignity of history. But it is also a historical fact, of European significance, and its rise and systematic organisation precisely in the years of the Renaissance and Reformation is a problem which must be faced by anyone who is tempted to overemphasize the “modernity” of that period. We can no more overlook it, in our attempts to understand the “early modern” period, than we can overlook the phenomenon of anti-semitism in “contemporary” history. Belief in witchcraft, like antipathy to Jews (and other minorities), has a long history, but the “witch-craze”—the rationalization of such beliefs and such antipathies in a persecuting ideology—is specific to certain times, and we need to relate it to the circumstances of those times.
In England the most active phase of witch-hunting coincided with times of Puritan pressure—the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the period of the civil wars—and some very fanciful theories have been built on this coincidence. But here again we must look at the whole problem before venturing general conclusions—especially since the persecution of witches in England was trivial compared with the experience of the Continent and of Scotland. Therefore in my essay I have looked at the craze as a whole, throughout Europe, and have sought to relate its rise, frequency and decline to the general intellectual and social movements of the time, from which I believe it to be inseparable. M. Mousnier, by his juxtaposition of phrases, seemed to imply—I do not know whether this was his intention—that the growth of witchcraft coincided with the decline of Aristoteleanism. It will be seen that I hold a very different view. To me, the growth of the witch-craze is a by-product, in specific social circumstances, of that hardening of Aristoteleanism (or rather, of the pseudo-Aristoteleanism of the Schoolmen) which had begun in the later Middle Ages and was intensified both by Catholics and by Protestants after the Reformation. I see it as the underside of a cosmology, a social rationalization, which went down in the general social and intellectual revolution of the mid-seventeenth century.
The witch-craze is a haunting problem and no one can claim to have solved it. My essay on the subject, like the essay on the general crisis, provoked lively discussion and was followed by other attempts to grapple with the same subject. One work in particular seems to me of the greatest interest. Christina Larner had made a particular and detailed study of the hitherto very superficially studied subject of witch-trials in Scotland. Her book Enemies of God: The Witch-craze in Scotland (1982) is a fascinating and stimulating sociological study. Her early death, in 1983, was a great blow to scholarship, and one that Scotland, in particular, can ill afford.
If the English Revolution of the seventeenth century cannot be isolated from a general crisis in Europe, equally, I believe, it was affected by individual European thinkers. Then as now, as in the Middle Ages, Europe was indivisible. Anyone who is tempted to see the English Puritans as “the Moderns” might do well to explore the ideological International of which they felt themselves to be a part: that cosmopolitan fraternity of the persecuted Protestants of Europe—of Germany and Bohemia, of La Rochelle and Savoy—whom the Stuarts had betrayed, whom Gustavus Adolphus had intervened to save, and whom Cromwell sought to reunite under his protection. In my essay “Three Foreigners,” which is considerably enlarged since it was first published in Encounter in 1961, I have dealt with three men who belonged, by experience and ideas, to that European International and who, by wedding antiquated metaphysical notions to vulgarized Baconian ideas, became the philosophers of the English Puritan Revolution in its combination of intellectual reaction and utopian social novelty.
Those who see the Calvinists, or the Puritans, as “the Moderns” insensibly find themselves arguing that it was Calvinism, or Puritanism, which fathered modern science and led to the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The ideas of the Enlightenment, they sometimes seem to say, were the secularization of the ideas of Calvinism or “radical Protestantism.” This view is commonly expressed by Marxist historians, but it also finds favour with some Scottish writers who see it realised in their own country. But the relationship of intellectual movements to religious systems is, I believe, more complex and more variable than this. Such movements are not linear, or the property of any party or sect; and parties and sects are themselves, under their apparently continuous forms, competitive and sensitive to change. In my essay on “The Religious Origins of the Enlightenment” I express a different view. Believing, as I do, that Calvinism was one form of the general intellectual reaction which accompanied the religious struggles, I have sought to look more closely at the Calvinist societies which undoubtedly contributed to the Enlightenment, and I have suggested that, here too, advance was achieved at the expense, not by the means, of Calvinism. This essay was originally written in honour of that great scholar and patron of scholarship, to whom lovers of the eighteenth century owe so much, Dr. Theodore Besterman. But its natural relation to the other essays in this volume decided me, in the end, to publish it here and to substitute another more purely eighteenth-century essay in the volume which his friends were offering to Dr. Besterman.
The remaining essays in this volume bring us back to Great Britain. All of them were first published in tributary volumes in honour of historians from whom I have learned to enjoy the study of history. The essay on “The Fast Sermons of the Long Parliament,” originally published in honour of my Oxford tutor Sir Keith Feiling,4 describes one method whereby the leaders of the Long Parliament maintained its internal cohesion and defined, from time to time, their party line. The essay on “Oliver Cromwell and His Parliaments,” originally presented to that great anatomist, or rather vivisector, of English eighteenth-century parliaments, Sir Lewis Namier,5 suggests one reason why Cromwell was so much less successful. The essay on “Scotland and the Puritan Revolution” was written for a Scottish historian of England and of Europe, David Ogg,6 and deals with one of the many neglected episodes of Scottish history: an episode whose impact on England was, I believe, of fatal importance. All historians recognize that the split between “Presbyterians” and “Independents” was decisive in the Puritan Revolution, and many definitions of that split—political, sociological, religious—have been given. But when we look more closely and see how ragged, temporary and variable the frontier between “Presbyterians” and “Independents” was, I believe that we should recognize the limits of sociological or doctrinal interpretations and admit that there are times when political parties and political attitudes are not the direct expression of social or ideological theories or interests, but are polarized round political events, in this instance around the fatal Scottish intervention in the English civil war.
Fatal, in its consequences, to both countries: to England, because it saved the rebel Parliament from defeat only to sink it in revolution; to Scotland, because it led, within a few years, to the Cromwellian conquest of the country and the brief, because forced, parliamentary union; which nevertheless pointed the way—fifty years later, in a very different conjuncture—to the mutually beneficial and more lasting union of 1707.
That second union is the theme of the last essay in this book. The seventeenth century saw several attempts, by “modernising” new dynasties, to consolidate their accidental inheritances. The Count-Duke of Olivares sought to make Philip IV king not merely of Castile, Aragon and Portugal but the whole Iberian peninsula. The new Bourbon dynasty sought to unite its kingdoms of France and Navarre. James I of England aspired to “a more perfect union” with his ancestral kingdom of Scotland. In all three countries the attempts required force and led to civil war. Navarre was subjected; Portugal resisted and broke free; Catalonia was reconquered; Scotland, having resisted Charles I and survived Cromwell, settled in the end for a more limited union which saved its economy and gave England its prime need: security. My essay on this subject was written in honour of Jaime Vicens Vives, the Catalonian historian of Spain, and after his premature death was published in a memorial volume.7
History is a continuing and complex interaction of interests, experiments and ideas, as well as—in Gibbon’s melancholy phrase—the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. A volume of essays cannot pretend to solve the problems of a crowded century. I shall be content if I have opened a few oblique slit-windows in the dividing wall between past and present through which some of those problems can be seen anew and provoke the thought, questions and dissent which are the life of historical study.
[1. ]H. Lüthy, Le Passé présent (Monaco, 1965).
[2. ]Historical Studies IV. Papers read before the Fifth Irish Conference of Historians, ed. G. A. Hayes-McCoy (1963).
[3. ]Crisis in Europe, 1560–1660. Essays from “Past and Present,” ed. Trevor Aston (1965).
[4. ]Essays in British History, presented to Sir Keith Feiling, ed. H. R. Trevor-Roper (1964).
[5. ]Essays presented to Sir Lewis Namier, ed. Richard Pares and A. J. P. Taylor (1956).
[6. ]Historical Essays, 1600–1750, presented to David Ogg, ed. H. E. Bell and R. L. Ollard (1963).
[7. ]Homenaje a Jaime Vicens Vives (Barcelona, 1965).