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Political Science 119
Rebellious Subjects: Power and Authority in Revolutionary Britain
Winter 2000


"The Word of the Lord came expressly to me, saying, write, write, write."
Abiezer Coppe, A Fiery Flying Roll (1649)


Course Description

Seventeenth-century English men and women were raised to be loyal subjects, deferential to their superiors and respectful of law and order. Yet twice they rebelled against their lawful king: in 1649 they cut off his head, and in 1688 they chased him from the throne. In the first instance they inaugurated England’s sole (and short-lived) experiment with republican government; in the second they preserved the crown but permanently limited its powers. The justifications they gave for these actions were momentous, and touched off debates that continue to haunt us. What is meant, morally and politically, by the claim that legitimate governments are based on the consent of the governed? What is the place of private property in a just society? How do religious beliefs contribute to, or detract from, social order? What is meant by "the rule of law"? This course seeks to explore these and related questions through a careful examination of texts written during England’s age of revolution. We begin with Shakespeare’s Henry V, and end with Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. In between we will read popular pamphlets (the Levellers), transcripts of trials (The Tryal of King Charles), tragic poems (Milton’s Samson Agonistes), and political utopias (Harrington’s Commonwealth of Oceana).

This is a discussion course. It is essential that you complete all assigned texts before each session. Writing assignments have been designed to facilitate our collective engagement with the readings.


  1.  Regular attendance of and participation in seminar. You will be evaluated on the basis of your preparedness and willingness to participate, and not on how many "right" answers you provide. (25% of grade)

  2. A four-page (1,200 word) paper on Shakespeare’s Henry V, due 20 January. (15% of grade)

  3. Two five-page (1,500 word) papers. The first must be written during weeks 3 – 6, and the second must be written during weeks 7 – 10. You will be asked to sign up for specific dates during the first class session. Papers will be due at the start of class. Copies should be given to each member of the seminar. In addition, each "author" should be prepared to present a brief (five- to ten-minute) oral summary of his or her paper. (30% of grade for each paper)

Course Materials

This course draws on an array of historical and contemporary documents. Many are available in multiple formats. I have indicated locations for each text as follows:

[pdf] = pdf file available on password-protected web site
[web] = link to electronic text on Internet
[book] = in one of the books listed below

Books may be purchased or borrowed from the library. Many can be found in local bookstores; all are available from Amazon.com. (Many editions of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Locke are available; all are acceptable.)

William Shakespeare, Henry V, ed. Mowat and Werstine (New Folger Library)
Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, ed. Hibbard (Norton)
The English Levellers, ed. Sharp (Cambridge University Press)
James Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana, ed. Pocock (Cambridge University Press)
David Wootton, Divine Right and Democracy (Penguin)
John Locke, Political Writings, ed. David Wootton (Mentor)
Mark Kishlansky, A Monarchy Transformed. Britain 1603-1714 (Penguin)

Additional Information

  1. My office is in SSB 373. My phone number is 534-2951; my email address is ahouston@ucsd.edu. My office hours for Winter 1999 are on Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:30 to 12:30; I am also available by appointment.

  2. There are many provocative and engaging books on early-modern English political thought. If you would like suggestions for further readings, please do not hesitate to ask.

Reading Assignments and Course Schedule

1. Introduction (13 January)

Laurence Olivier, Henry V (video clip)

Monty Python, The Holy Grail (video clip)


2. Sovereigns and Subjects (20 January)

William Shakespeare, Henry V [web] [book]

Kishlansky, pp. 6-33 [book]


3. Power and Authority (27 January)

An Homily against Disobedience and Wylful Rebellion (1570) [Wootton]

James VI and I, The Trew Law of Free Monarchy (1598) [Wootton]

James VI and I, A Speech to the Lords and Commons of the Parliament at White-Hall (1610) [Wootton]

Judgements in Bates’ Case (1606) [pdf]

Sir John Davies, Le Primer Report (1615) [Wootton]

Kishlansky, pp. 34-64


4. Puritanism (3 February)

Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair [book] [web]

Patrick Collinson, "The Theatre Constructs Puritanism" [pdf]

Peter Lake, "Anti-Popery: The Structure of a Prejudice" [pdf]


5. Toleration (10 February)

John Milton, Areopagitica (1644) [web]

William Walwyn, The Compassionate Samaritane (1644) [Wootton]

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644) [Wootton]

Conrad Russell, "The Arguments for Religious Unity in England, 1530-1650" [pdf]

Patrick Collinson, "The Cohabitation of the Faithful with the Unfaithful" [pdf]

Kishlansky, pp. 113-57


6. The Consent of the Governed (17 February)

Richard Overton and William Walwyn, A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens (1646) [book]

Richard Overton, An Arrow against all Tyrants (1646) [book]

An Agreement of the People (1647) [book]

The Putney Debates (1647) [book]

William Walwyn, A Manifestation (1649) [book]

An Agreement of the Free People of England (1649) [book]

Kishlansky, pp. 158-86


7. Revolution (24 February)

The Charge of the Commons of England, Against Charls Stuart, King of England (1649) [pdf]

King Charls His Tryal (1649) [pdf]

King Charls His Speech Made upon the Scaffold (1649) [pdf]

An Act for Abolishing the Kingly Office (1649) [Wootton]

John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates [web] [pdf]

William Allen, Killing Noe Murder (1657) [Wootton]

Kishlansky, pp. 187-212


8. Republicanism (2 March)

James Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1657), pp. 3068, 135-47, 149-66 [book] [web]


9. The Experience of Defeat (9 March)

John Milton, Samson Agonistes (1671) [web] [pdf]

Victoria Kahn, "Political Theology and Reason of State in Samson Agonistes" [pdf]

Blair Worden, "Milton, Samson Agonistes, and the Restoration" [pdf]

Kishlansky, pp. 213-39


10. Revolution Principles (16 March)

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government [book] [web]

Kishlansky, pp. 240-62


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Alan Craig Houston  /  Department of Political Science  /  Last Modified 16 December 2003