A fresh, exciting, “readable and informative” history (The New York Times) of seventeenth-century England, a time of revolution when society was on fire and simultaneously forging the modern world. • “Recapture[s] a lost moment when a radically democratic commonwealth seemed possible.”—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“[Healy] makes a convincing argument that the turbulent era qualifies as truly ‘revolutionary,’ not simply because of its cascading political upheavals, but in terms of far-reaching changes within society.... Wryly humorous and occasionally bawdy”— The Wall Street Journal
The seventeenth century was a revolutionary age for the English. It started as they suddenly found themselves ruled by a Scotsman, and it ended in the shadow of an invasion by the Dutch. Under James I, England suffered terrorism and witch panics. Under his son Charles, state and society collapsed into civil war, to be followed by an army coup and regicide. For a short time—for the only time in history—England was a republic. There were bitter struggles over faith and Parliament asserted itself like never before. There were no boundaries to politics. In fiery, plague-ridden London, in coffee shops and alehouses, new ideas were forged that were angry, populist, and almost impossible for monarchs to control.
But the story of this century is less well known than it should be. Myths have grown around key figures. People may know about the Gunpowder Plot and the Great Fire of London, but the Civil War is a half-remembered mystery to many. And yet the seventeenth century has never seemed more relevant. The British constitution is once again being bent and contorted, and there is a clash of ideologies reminiscent of when Roundhead fought Cavalier.
The Blazing World is the story of this strange, twisting, fascinating century. It shows a society in sparkling detail. It was a new world of wealth, creativity, and daring curiosity, but also of greed, pugnacious arrogance, and colonial violence.
About the Author
JONATHAN HEALEY is a historian of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and author of The First Century of Welfare: Poverty and Poor Relief in Lancashire, 1620–1730. He is associate professor in social history at Oxford University, where he earned his doctorate in 2008. He lives in Oxford.
“The point of Jonathan Healey’s new book, The Blazing World, is to acknowledge all the complexities of the [civil wars] but still to see it as a real revolution of political thought—to recapture a lost moment when a radically democratic commonwealth seemed possible. . . . [Healey] writes with pace and fire and an unusually sharp sense of character and humor. . . . With the eclectic, wide-angle vision of the new social history, Healey shows that ideas and attitudes, rhetoric and revelations, rising from the ground up, can drive social transformation.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“Jonathan Healey’s The Blazing World makes a convincing argument that the turbulent era qualifies as truly ‘revolutionary,’ not simply because of its cascading political upheavals, but in terms of far-reaching changes within society. The author, a professor at Oxford University, delivers a clearsighted narrative of 17th-century England, deftly integrating original and insightful analysis of underlying social phenomena and expressing his enthusiasm in brisk, wryly humorous and occasionally bawdy prose.” —Stephen Brumwell, The Wall Street Journal
“Healey’s book is refreshing for its energetic writing, engaging wit and sound foundation in recent historical scholarship. . . . Rather than advancing a new interpretation, Healey captures the vitality and turbulence of 17th-century England in an effective retelling, with many more players than the typical cast of kings and queens. . . . While narrating this tempestuous past, Healey has an eye on the present. He regards key stages in the political and intellectual history of revolutionary England as ‘steps on a longer journey’ toward modern democracy. . . . This readable and informative overview evokes a lost world which, for better or worse, ‘was blazing a path toward our own.’” —David Cressy, The New York Times
“A sparkling account of a period that is crucial for any understanding of the history of the UK, Europe and the world beyond.” —Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
“The Blazing World tells the story of that crucible era when Englishmen began to think. About God and government, how to limit the monarchy and how ‘the poorest he’ (if not the poorest she) might share in some kind of democracy. Jonathan Healey explains Revolutionary England with great insight and wit, and an objectivity usually lacking in histories written with an inclination towards one side or the other. The book helps us to understand how and why, 400 years ago, Englishmen came to develop political and religious beliefs for which they were prepared to die and would eventually amalgamate in a way which set Britain (and, ideologically) America on a path to greatness.” —Geoffrey Robertson KC, author of The Tyrannicide Brief
“Healey, a professor of social history at Oxford, offers an ambitious narrative stuffed with engaging detail about the social and political developments that led to the overthrow of the Stuart monarchy, restoration, and shift to a constitutional monarchy following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. . . . In addition to his keen attention to the lives of ordinary citizens, the author includes portraits of many of the important thinkers and visionaries of the time. . . . ‘The political world we live in today, with regular parliaments and elections, ideologically defined parties [and] a vibrant press . . . was born in the seventeenth century,’ writes Healey. ‘For this . . . the story told here remains fascinating and vital to this day.’ Most readers will agree. An educative history and fresh civics lesson for a new generation.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A colourful history of the Stuart age. . . . This lively and mischievous book guides us through a dangerous revolutionary century. . . . There’s a reticence about taking on such a complex and turbulent period, but the rewards, as The Blazing World manifestly demonstrates, are very great. . . . This is a wonderful book, exhaustively researched, vigorously argued and teeming with the furious joy of 17th-century life.” —Jessie Childs, The Times
“The tempo never slackens in this erudite book.” —The Economist “The English Civil War that beheaded King Charles I in 1649 and the Glorious Revolution that kicked his son James II out of England in 1688 were epochal events that birthed religious freedom and democratic accountability, according to this sweeping study. . . . Healey’s elegant narrative provides a sure guide through the century’s labyrinthine political intrigues while analyzing deeper social dynamics that he crystallizes in dramatic scenes of hierarchies being suddenly upended. . . . The result is a bracing history of a time and place that created the modern world.” —Publishers Weekly
“[A] lively, compelling and combative study of the most dramatic and consequential century in English history. . . . The Blazing World offers a thrilling panorama of the period, from perspectives high and low, told with a winning combination of impish wit, sound judgment, and serious scholarship. . . . It will delight those new to its extraordinary age, and fire up its grizzled veterans.” —Paul Lay, Telegraph
“One of the many virtues of Jonathan Healey’s exciting new history of England during its most revolutionary period is the skilful way in which he thoroughly dissects the often obscure points of contention while never losing sight of the need to keep the narrative flowing. A rich and compelling account of one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in all our history.” —Simon Griffith, Mail on Sunday
“An admirably even-handed account. . . . For those new to the subject, Healey’s retelling is exemplary.” —Jerry Brotton, Financial Times
“[An] engaging narrative of seventeenth-century Britain. The nature of political legitimacy, the threats of populist frenzy, the longing for transparent representative structures and the debates over their limits, the power of media and the manipulation of images in political life: as Healey indicates, these are not remote issues. He enables us to see the deep continuities in the period, and to understand how the arguments that dominated the seventeenth century have had a profound and formative effect on Britain’s democracy today.” —Rowan Williams, New Statesman
“A zesty and gripping account of England’s ‘century of revolution.’” —Edward Vallance, Literary Review
“The Blazing World, offering a new history of revolutionary England in the seventeenth century, illustrates how uneasily any new king settles upon the throne. . . . Healey has done extraordinary work in synthesising those academic books on the subject. . . . Courageous and frequently engrossing. . . . By tackling an enormous range of history with vim and intelligence, Healey has provided all of us with a lot to talk about.” —Diane Purkiss, Prospect
“Jonathan Healey’s book is an impressive achievement. It focuses on the English political crises, setting them in an up-to-date social, intellectual and cultural context. Healey’s spare but engaging narrative is brought to life at every stage with individual experiences. The reader is in safe hands, guided by a historian who is on top of the best work on many areas of seventeenth-century life, and who has made his own distinctive contribution to our understanding of seventeenth-century society.” —Michael Braddick, Times Literary Supplement
“Charts th[e] extraordinary course from the Tudors to the Hanoverians. . . . Healey channels the inquiring spirit which came to define this revolutionary age, creating his own survey as rich and wide-ranging as the pioneering work of the seventeenth-century characters he so admires.” —Miranda Malins, The Critic
“Teems with details . . . The strength of the narrative is its determination to range nationwide, as metropolitan affairs affected the lives of ordinary folk in the shires; this is history told from the bottom up. Dr Healey deals with the major historical events with assurance and forensic insight . . . A triumph of exposition, illuminating a blazing time of revolution in which was forged a new world order.” —Timothy Mowl, Country Life
“Capturing a century such as this in one breath is not for the faint-hearted. . . . An unapologetic narrative history that draws the focus from the Tudors and onto the fascinating Stuart age can only help to freshen the air of current historical discourse. In this sense, Healey’s book is blazing trails.” —Nadine Akkerman, History Today
“Healey’s prose is precise but colloquial. He presents complex arguments, but delivers them in a laid back, often jocular manner. . . . He tackles big subjects—religious dissent, the legal system—but hitches them to piquant stories about individuals previously unknown to history. . . . Events were tumultuous, but Healey persuasively shows us that thoughts were as thrilling and sometimes as wild. . . . Compendious and lucid, The Blazing World is an engaging addition to the historical literature on period.” —Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Spectator
“In his wide-ranging new history of revolutionary England, Jonathan Healey has given us a masterly account of a period that urgently needs to be reclaimed and recognised for its importance and interest. . . . Perhaps the greatest strength of Jonathan Healey’s book is how much it reveals of the lives and interests of those whom their contemporaries were pleased to describe as ‘the middling sort’. During the seventeenth century their voices were being raised—and heard—more vociferously and eloquently as the years went by. He is also very good on the role of women in society. . . . Painstakingly researched and elegantly written, The Blazing World is that rare achievement—a window into the past that is at once profoundly different and yet startlingly familiar.” —Dr Linda Porter, Writing Desk
“Vast yet intimate, scholarly yet accessible, this is narrative history at its best. Jonathan Healey’s The Blazing World blazes indeed: a huge achievement.” —Miranda Malins, novelist, author of The Puritan Princess “The 17th century was the most dramatic and consequential in British history, the period during which the modern world was formed, and Jonathan Healey is as assured a guide to its twists and turns, its tragedies and triumphs as one could wish for. The Blazing World is a triumph of scholarship and concision.” —Paul Lay, historian, author of Providence Lost
“Here a familiar and very important story is told with exceptional clarity and vigour, and plenty of very unfamiliar anecdotes and characters, drawn from all over the nation and all of Stuart society” —Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Britain and The Making of Oliver Cromwell “An erudite but readable history of a remarkable century. Contemporary voices, unearthed from the archive, convey the texture of the times and bring events to life.” —Dr. Margarette Lincoln, Visiting Researcher at the University of Portsmouth and Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum