How I got to The English Republican Exiles in Europe

The cover image shows a coaching inn in Augsburg.

The cover image has been selected, the proofs are done, and my new book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe During the Restoration is finally going to press – due out, the content manager tells me, in about five to six weeks’ time.

This book has been a long time in the making, and it has been a labour of love. I have been wanting to write this book ever since I finished my PhD some 15 years ago – mainly because I was surprised at the time that such a volume did not yet exist.

When doing research on the English republican Henry Neville (1619-1694), it proved rather difficult to find out anything about his period of Italian exile during the 1660s. The time between the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the publication of his Plato Redivivus in 1681 had been neglected by scholars mainly interested in his relationship to the more prominent thinker James Harrington and his neo-Harringtonian political thought.

But republican minds do not suddenly stop thinking in 1660 only to re-start some twenty years later. Surely, what happened in between must have been of some significance, I thought, and the exiles project was born.

Lack of interest in the exile period?

Unsurprisingly, it turned out, the narrative was not dissimilar for other republican thinkers, even though they were slightly better known and hence better explored. The prime example was Algernon Sidney (1623-1683), the republican firebrand executed for treason in the aftermath of the Rye House Plot in 1683, to whom Jonathan Scott devoted a two-volume intellectual biography.

While Scott did trace Sidney’s moves beyond 1660 and through to 1683, other historians of seventeenth-century political thought did not, partly because they focused on his published writings. This meant primarily his posthumously published Discourses (1698), while Sidney’s Court Maxims, which capture the spirit of his exile thought, were not widely known until they were published in a study edition in 1996.

The Court Maxims, of course, were discovered in Warwick Castle in the 1970s by Blair Worden, the same historian who has also introduced scholars of the seventeenth century to another important text, namely Edmund Ludlow’s ‘A Voyce from the Watch Tower’ – the original manuscript on which the republican’s famous Memoirs are based.

P1000423.JPG – Version 2
Edmund Ludlow once lived in this house in Vevey.

Only part of Ludlow’s manuscript has emerged so far. But it was enough for Worden to demonstrate that the published Memoirs of 1698-99 and Charles Firth’s modern edition of 1894 differed significantly from Ludlow’s original text, which had been stripped almost completely of its religious content and streamlined to fit a secularising and modernising Whig narrative of English republicanism. The ‘Voyce’ meanwhile also contains a lot of additional material on the regicide’s life in exile, first in Geneva and later in Lausanne and Vevey in the Pays de Vaud.

A comparison of those three republican thinkers, Neville, Sidney and Ludlow, in exile gives us an insight in the evolution of the ‘good old cause’ after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, when English republicans turned from being the country’s governing faction to becoming a persecuted and fragmented opposition that mainly existed underground and abroad. It reveals strong continuities in English republican thought from the 1640s through to the 1680s, while it also shows three very different personal responses to the return of monarchical rule and to the persecution by the authorities in England and by their agents abroad.

The suddenness with which the Restoration happened is nicely captured by the reaction of Sidney who was abroad in Copenhagen on an embassy for the Commonwealth to negotiate a peace between Sweden and Denmark about access to the Baltic when he was informed about the turn of events in England. Yet, his first reaction was not to panic and flee, but to await instructions from the new King. It had not fully registered with him what the restoration of the Stuarts meant, and what it meant for him.

Working with the monarchy or not?

Sidney seems to have assumed that he was entitled to a government role on the basis of this social position, no matter who ruled the country; and it needed a strong reminder by his father, the earl of Leicester, that it might be better to stay abroad for a while and travel until the dust of the Restoration had settled. Leicester had clearly seen the writing on the wall. For the new government soon started rounding up regicides and had them executed for treason.

Sidney meanwhile spent several years in Italy, apparently collecting himself, before he decided it was time to act and gather supporters across Europe to invade England from abroad in the mid-1660s. The main republican base for his undertaking was the exile community in the United Provinces, notably in Rotterdam, where Sidney may have stayed with the Quaker merchant Benjamin Furley.

The English republicans in the Netherlands tried to revive their contacts in the Dutch government, picking up where they had left off when they were still in power. They also tried and failed to win the support of Ludlow, who by now was an exile in Switzerland. Alas, neither the Dutch pensionary Johan de Witt nor the French King Louis XIV, to whom Sidney subsequently turned for help seem to have had faith in the success of an exile plot to overturn the English government, and the scheme began to crumble long before Sidney took his final chance.

This was after the foiled Northern Rising of 1663, in the wake of which Neville was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower for suspected plotting. Neville was lucky to have a royalist brother and a family connection to Sir Richard Fanshawe, who both interceded on his behalf.

IMG_1460.JPG – Version 2
Both Neville and Sidney may have stayed here in Frascati.

The republican was released from the Tower on condition that he would withdraw to Italy, where he was instructed by the Lord Chancellor Clarendon to watch any machinations of the Irish at the Holy See. Closely monitored by the authorities himself, Neville knew better than to engage in any plotting while abroad and kept his distance from his countrymen, including other exiles like Ludlow.

Nevertheless, he revealed what he thought of the restored monarchy in his correspondence and his Restoration satire The Isle of Pines, which aptly described a society of English savages marooned on a remote island while their erstwhile Dutch allies gained dominance over the seas.

All three exiles felt lost and abandoned but also defiant in their new situation. While both Sidney and Neville at times toyed with the idea of reconciling with the Restoration monarchy and at different times professed their loyalty  to the new government, their private conversations and writings showed that they had not abandoned their republican principles, their desire for popular sovereignty and the rule of law, and most of all the cause of religious liberty for protestant dissenters.

As a regicide, Ludlow (1617-1692) meanwhile remained the most obstinate opponent of monarchy. His manuscript memoir is full of contempt for ‘Charles Stuart’ and his claims to government as the ‘usurper’ of God’s throne. Yet, Ludlow continued to resist any temptation to join Sidney and the plotters in the Netherlands to rise up in arms against the English king. His life was threatened by various assassination attempts until well into the 1670s if not beyond.

Only Sidney and Neville permanently returned to England to become prominent voices in the debates about the succession during the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81. Ludlow tried and failed to return to public life in his home country after the Glorious Revolution. But even then the country had not forgiven the regicide and he returned to his exile in Vevey, where he died only several years later.



By thehistorywoman

Historian & journalist.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: