Defending the English Revolution in the German Lands

A German translation of Marchamont Nedham’s True state of the case of the Commonwealth (1654).

In his study of the contemporary reception of the English Revolution in the German-speaking lands of continental Europe, Günter Berghaus stresses that a large majority of pamphlets published on the subject in German were biased towards the Stuart monarchy.

This is little surprising given that the majority of territories were ruled by princes who were understandably unnerved by the recent regicide of Charles I, the overturning of the old order, and the establishment of republican rule. 

Needless to say, John Milton’s Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (1651), written in Latin to justify the regicide to a wider European audience, and similarly seditious works were soon banned in the Holy Roman Empire. Apparently only few German-language pieces offering a parliamentary or republican perspective of recent events in England escaped the censors. 

However, there are at least two notable German translations of well-known English pamphlets in defence of the regicide and of the Protectorate which were circulating in the Empire regardless.

Both are associated with political figures who participated in the events surrounding the English Revolution, and both were published in the cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy which had separated from the Empire in 1648.

The first is a translation of Marchamont Nedham’s A true state of the case of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1654) published by Johann Kaspar Suter in Schaffhausen in 1657 as Gründliche Beschreibung der neuen Regiments-Verfassung in dem gemeinen Wesen Engelland, Schott- und Irrland. The second is Der hingerichteten Richtern Rechtfertigung (1663) based on The Speeches and Prayers (1660) ascribed to the regicides executed soon after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in England.

The Gründliche Beschreibung is dedicated by Suter to Joannis Pellius, or John Pell, the mathematician and then envoy of the Protectorate to the Swiss Confederacy. Suter’s preface reveals that the English pamphlet had been passed to the translator by Pell himself and that its translation into the ‘common language’ was intended to counter the widespread suspicions against and defamation of the new English government.

By thehistorywoman

Historian & journalist.

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