Revolution, War, and the Military

On Friday 14 November Keele hosted a symposium, ‘Revolution, War and the Military, 1640-1820’, to mark the retirements of two History professors, Ann Hughes and Malcolm Crook. Professors Mike Braddick of Sheffield and Alan Forrest of York joined Ann and Malcolm to give papers on the theme of revolutionary events and associated warfare. The event was held in the Moser Centre and attracted visitors from across the country including former students and staff in History at Keele.
The day was introduced by Professor Charles Townshend who spoke about ‘Professing Revolution at Keele’. He had good reason to understand Ann and Malcolm’s position, having worked at Keele himself for over 30 years before retiring in 2011. Charles reflected on the historiography of revolutions in the west as having moved away from grand narratives of clashing ideologies, but also observed that the ‘end of history’ as signalled by Francis Fukuyama was belied by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Civil war battle

Ann’s paper returned to a set of sources she first used forty years ago, the parish accounts generated to chart losses to Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil Wars. These accounts list financial and material loss when soldiers required quartering or took supplies and plunder, but also recount the suffering entailed in human terms since the accounts were often glossed with information about lives lost or injuries sustained. The result was a redefinition of social and economic evidence as itself intensely political. Her research generated debate around state formation, reading financial accounts as semi-autobiographical texts, and the role of memory and forgetting in personal and national histories. Mike’s paper complemented and complimented Ann’s in that he began by crediting Ann with inspiring and shaping his own research career. Her work from the 1980s onwards had stressed the levels of partisanship expressed in the English provinces and the role of religious networks in determining patterns of participation in the conflict, for which level of engagement was a better gauge than allegiance. He then went on to focus on the career of John Lilburne and, in contrast to Pauline Gregg’s biography of him, emphasised the importance of the period 1649-1653 in understanding Lilburne’s significance. His local political manoeuvrings in this period were central to his early development of ideas about ‘rights’ (normalised much later in the Enlightenment) and set the seal on his fate as a secular political martyr.
Fr Rev battle
Malcolm and Alan followed with two papers about France in the period 1792-1814. Malcolm took issue with a recent claim that a French republic was inevitable from 1789; instead he argued forcefully that republicanism was not expressed at such an early date, and cited substantial evidence that even the majority of Jacobin clubs in early 1792 were gratified by the continued presence of Louis XVI as French head of state. The French hereditary monarchy was only substantially undermined from the summer of 1792 onwards. Quoting an incisive student verdict on events, Malcolm supported the contention that it was not the monarchy which failed but the monarch. Alan shifted the audience’s focus to the post-revolutionary wars and the composition of the French army. Volunteers were initially sought to replace noblemen, and when this failed conscription was necessary (and by 1799 ferocious). The army professionalised relatively quickly, and did not secure men’s engagement by reference to revolutionary fervour; instead loyalty was established, as in many other forces and in conflicts ancient and modern, by reference to pride, prestige, and commitment to fellow fighting men. In a trade-off between an ideologically motivated force and an efficient military, Alan argued, the latter won.
The day was concluded by a plenary discussion of some of the key themes raised by all four papers, in particular the extent and role of ‘revolutionary’ ideas in these struggles, and the benefits to scholarship of comparative work, particularly in the similarities and contracts between work on the English Revolution and wok on the French Revolution.

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