By Barry Coward
Lecture given at University College London, 2005
Introduction: Attempting to give a little talk of only 40 minutes or so on such a big subject as London in the English Civil War could easily get out of hand and that would never do. So to prevent that, I’ve searched for a theme that I can use to hold this little talk together. The theme I’ve decided to use is a major historical problem about London and the English Civil War. Why did London not collapse into an anarchy of disorder, why did the capital not fall apart under the impact of the Civil War, why did the capital’s social, economic, political, religious and governmental structures survive the massive stresses and divisions brought about by the war, as they clearly did?
I hope that you’ll see why this is a major historical problem after about 35 minutes of this 40-minutes talk, because most of what I have to say in what follows shows how London was subjected to pressures by the Civil War that could easily have rent apart its social, economic and political order, in the process shattering its internal stability. In my first 35 minutes I’ll look at, first, the general character of London on the eve of the Civil War that potentially made it a very unstable, volatile place anyway. And then, secondly, and in more detail, I’ll look at how the Civil War brought in its wake massive economic problems, political divisions, religious controversies and a ferment of ideas that shook the stability of the capital. And, then, having done that, I hope I’ll be left with 5 minutes or so at the end to float some suggested reasons why the impact of the Civil War, severe as it might seem to have been, only in fact shook the stability of London and did not destroy it.