Revolutionary England - A Day of Talks

Join us for a day of fascinating talks about Revolutionary England - you won't want to miss it!

Welcome to Revolutionary England - A Day of Talks! Join us for a day full of fascinating discussions about the history of England during the 17th century.

Get ready to immerse yourself in the stories and events that shaped England into the country it is today. Whether you're a history buff or just looking for a fun day out, this event is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the past.

Mark your calendars for Saturday 27 July and head over to Southwark Cathedral for a day you won't forget.

This event is in-person only and won't be streamed or recorded, doors will open at 10am for a 10.30am start and will be held in the Cathedral library. Publications written by our speakers will be available to purchase on the day.

Our Speakers

10.30am: The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England - Dr Jonathan Healey

The seventeenth century began as the English suddenly found themselves ruled by a Scotsman, and ended in the shadow of an invasion by the Dutch. Under James I, the country 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 no boundaries to politics. In the coffee shops and alehouses of plague-ridden London, new ideas were forged that were angry, populist and almost impossible for monarchs to control.

Despite the radical changes that transformed England, few today understand the story of this revolutionary age. Leaders like Oliver Cromwell, Charles II, and William of Orange have been reduced to caricatures, while major turning points like the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution have become shrouded in myth and misunderstanding. Yet the seventeenth century has never been more relevant. The British constitution is once again being contested, and we face a culture war reminiscent of when the Roundheads fought the Cavaliers.

From raw politics to religious divisions, civil wars to witch trials, plague to press freedoms, The Blazing World is the story of a strange but fascinating century, told in sparkling detail. Drawing on vast archives, Jonathan Healey refreshes our understanding of public figures while simultaneously taking us into the lives of ordinary people to illuminate a revolutionary society that forged a new world.

Jonathan Healey is a historian of sixteenth and seventeenth century England with an interest in how everyday life influences the big issues of the age. He teaches and researches at Oxford University.

11.45am: Dr Miranda Malins: Oliver Cromwell: Reluctant Revolutionary?

Oliver Cromwell occupies a unique position in British history. The only non-royal to rule England, he rose from tenant farmer and minor MP to become head of state and a global figure through the extraordinary events of the Civil Wars of the 1640s. He more than anyone else held together the shifting succession of coalitions that won the war for Parliament, abolished the monarchy and then attempted a series of constitutional experiments in search of lasting settlement. For five years, from 1653-1658, Cromwell presided over the Commonwealth ruling England, Scotland and Ireland as Lord Protector. Operating under the nations’ only written constitutions, he governed the republic as a king in all but name.

Oliver Cromwell himself embodied the deep confusions and contradictions of this revolutionary period. Socially conservative yet religiously radical, a regicide yet at heart a monarchist, Cromwell reached across political divides to attract allies and enemies on all sides. His Protectorate was attacked as too republican for royalists but too monarchical for republicans. Yet his regime achieved remarkable peace and stability while he lived; the return of the Stuart monarchy becoming less – not more – likely with each passing year. A giant in his own lifetime, the debate around Cromwell’s reputation has raged ever since his death, with each age casting him as hero or villain to reflect their own times. Today he languishes largely in caricature: the dour, Puritan killjoy who cancelled Christmas.

It is time now, with the seventeenth century and England’s republican era in particular more relevant than ever, to strip away these narratives to recover the real Oliver Cromwell. Who was he and what did he want to achieve? How did he rise from obscurity to the throne? And what is his legacy today?

Miranda Malins is an author and historian specialising in the history of Oliver Cromwell, his family and the Civil Wars and Interregnum period. She co-hosts the podcast ‘1666 And All That’ on the seventeenth century and is a trustee of the Cromwell Association. She has published two historical novels, The Puritan Princess and The Rebel Daughter, and is currently writing a narrative history of the Cromwell family, The House of Cromwell.

12.45pm - Lunch break

2.00pm: Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 - Professor Clare Jackson

A ground-breaking portrait of the most turbulent century in English history.

Among foreign observers, seventeenth-century England was known as 'Devil-Land': a diabolical country of fallen angels, torn apart by seditious rebellion, religious extremism and royal collapse. Clare Jackson's dazzling, original account of English history's most turbulent and radical era tells the story of a nation in a state of near continual crisis.

As an unmarried heretic with no heir, Elizabeth I was regarded with horror by Catholic Europe, while her Stuart successors, James I and Charles I, were seen as impecunious and incompetent. The traumatic civil wars, regicide and a republican Commonwealth were followed by the floundering, foreign-leaning rule of Charles II and his brother, James II, before William of Orange invaded England with a Dutch army and a new order was imposed.

Devil-Land reveals England as, in many ways, a 'failed state': endemically unstable and rocked by devastating events from the Gunpowder Plot to the Great Fire of London. Catastrophe nevertheless bred creativity, and Jackson makes brilliant use of eyewitness accounts - many penned by stupefied foreigners - to dramatize her great story. Starting on the eve of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and concluding with a not-so 'Glorious Revolution' a hundred years later, Devil-Land is a spectacular reinterpretation of England's vexed and enthralling past.

Clare Jackson is Professor of Early Modern History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Trinity Hall. She is the author of Devil-Land. England Under Siege 1588-1688 which won the Wolfson History Prize in 2022 and she has also presented a number of highly successful programmes on the Stuart dynasty for the BBC.

3.15pm: Culpeper: The Medical and Political Revolutionary - Dr Benjamin Woolley

Benjamin Woolley tells the story of Nicholas Culpeper – legendary rebel, radical, Puritan, and author of the great Herbal. This is a powerful history of medicine’s first freedom fighter set in London during Britain’s age of revolution.

In the mid-seventeenth century, England was visited by the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a civil war which saw levels of slaughter not matched until the Somme, famine in a succession of failed harvests that reduced peasants to 'anatomies', epidemics to rival the Black Death in their enormity, and infant mortality rates that left childless even women who had borne eight or nine children. In the midst of these terrible times came Nicholas Culpeper's Herbal – one of the most popular and enduring books ever published.

Culpeper was a virtual outcast from birth. Rebelling against a tyrannical grandfather and the prospect of a life in the church, he abandoned his university education after a doomed attempt at elopement. Disinherited, he went to London, Milton's 'city of refuge, the mansion-house of liberty'. There he was to find his vocation in instigating revolution.

London's medical regime was then in the grip of the College of Physicians, a powerful body personified in the 'immortal' William Harvey, anatomist, royal physician and discoverer of the circulation of the blood. Working in the underground world of religious sects, secret printing presses and unlicensed apothecary shops, Culpeper challenged this stronghold at the time it was reaching the very pinnacle of its power – and in the process helped spark the revolution that toppled a monarchy.

In a spellbinding narrative of impulse, romance and heroism, Benjamin Wooley vividly recreates these momentous struggles and the roots of today's hopes and fears about the power of medical science, professional institution and government. The Herbalist tells the story of a medical rebel who took on the authorities and paid the price.

Benjamin Woolley is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He is the author of the bestselling The Queen’s Conjuror: The Life and Magic of Dr John Dee, Virtual Worlds which was shortlisted for the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, The Bride of Science, examined the life of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter. The Herbalist: Nicholas Culpeper and the Fight for Medical Freedom ,The King's Assassin: The Fatal Affair of George Villiers and James I now a major TV series, Mary & George, starring Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine.

He has written and presented documentaries for the BBC on subjects ranging from the fight for liberty during the English Civil War to the end of the Space Age. He has won the Arts Journalist of the Year award and an Emmy for his commentary for Discovery'’s Three Minutes to Impact.