Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


English Republican Exiles – the European Side of the Story

Gaby Mahlberg

The idea for the The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration evolved from my realisation some 15 years ago now that there was comparatively little literature either on the fortunes of English Civil War and Interregnum republicanism after 1660 or on the exile experience of English republicans. The reasons for that did not seem immediately obvious. After all, there was a plethora of works on almost any other aspect of early modern English republicanism, and the amount of literature on the subject was steadily growing.

However, much of that literature was either focused on England and/ or the British Isles, or, if it was facing outward, it was looking across the Atlantic and at the legacy of English republican ideas in the American colonies. Europe, in contrast, rarely featured in the many works I had been reading for my PhD thesis on ‘Henry Neville and English Republicanism in the Seventeenth Century’. Neville himself had been an exile in Italy between 1664 and 1667, but few scholars aside from Anna Maria Crinò and Caroline Robbins (in the 1950s and 60s) had taken much interest in his time spent part in Rome and part in Tuscany or pondered over what business an English puritan republican might have had either at the centre of Catholicism or at the court of the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando II.

Other republicans too escaped abroad at the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, such as the regicide Edmund Ludlow, who spent more than 30 years in Switzerland following his dramatic flight across the Channel via France first to Geneva and later to Lausanne and Vevey in the Pays de Vaud. However, his published Memoirs from his exile days were read primarily in the context of the Standing Army Debate of William III’s reign rather than for his experience of life in hiding, constantly on the lookout for assassins and agents of the English monarchy who hoped to gain from his death. A small part of Ludlow’s long-lost manuscript, ‘A Voyce from the Watch Tower’, has already been edited by Blair Worden, but a full critical edition would be most welcome.

Some material on Algernon Sidney’s exile in Rome, Montpellier and Nérac, moreover had been made available in Jonathan Scott’s two-volume intellectual biography of the republican, and I was wondering if more could still be found. After all, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67) Sidney attempted a plot against the English government from abroad with the help of foreign troops – a plot that might have been related to the activities of a wider republican underground that had been forming in England and on the Continent since the Restoration of the Stuarts.

This underground movement was also thought to have been behind the Yorkshire Plot of 1663, in the wake of which Neville had been arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. Ludlow thought that Neville’s arrest was at least in part intended to stop him from communicating with him, his old ally, which might explain why there was no known contact between the two men afterwards, while Sidney attempted in vain to draw Ludlow into his scheme to restore republican government in England.

My book tracks down the three exiles and some of their allies on the Continent. It traces their movements, contacts and lived experience alongside their political ideas. I wanted to explore how these republican ideas and principles might have evolved through the exiles’ interactions with different environments and individuals abroad.

My research shows that English republicans in Continental European exile tapped into a number of different networks, mainly of reformed Protestants who provided practical help as well as intellectual stimulation in difficult times. Most prominent among those were French Huguenots connecting English republicans via the French Church in London to contacts in France and Switzerland, while exile and expat networks that had been established in the Netherlands also played a major role.

Somewhat more surprising to find were the republicans’ Catholic connections in Italy. However, these connections too make sense if we consider that Rome was both an important political and cultural centre as well as an international information hub where travellers of all countries crossed paths, and if we do not focus on what divided English puritans and Catholics, but what joined them: being persecuted religious minorities in a country with an established Church. As such, they were joined by their common desire to achieve liberty of conscience from the new government. In the early years of the Restoration negotiations at Rome about the future religious settlement of England were therefore of great interest to both religious factions – not least because Charles II was considered a crypto-Catholic and might have been open to an approach that would have granted more freedom to all religions. What was going on inside England was therefore connected to goings-on on the Continent in a multiplicity of ways, and focusing on England alone would mean telling only one part of the story. My book is thus also meant as a contribution to a ‘European turn’ in intellectual and cultural history, acknowledging that a well-contextualised history in most cases will have transnational or rather – to avoid the anachronism – transterritorial or transcultural elements to it. It offers new primary source material while also suggesting avenues to establish new connections between different fields of history.

The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration By Gaby Mahlberg
The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration By Gaby Mahlberg

About The Author

Gaby Mahlberg

Gaby Mahlberg is Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Warwick and the author of Henry Neville and English Republican Culture in the Seventeenth Century (2009). With Di...

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