chapter  12
28 Pages

England’s Exodus: The Civil War as a War of Deliverance

In a series of recent publications, Quentin Skinner has argued that ‘from the parliamentary perspective, the civil war began as a war of national liberation from servitude’.1 Skinner suggests that early Stuart Englishmen deployed a concept of liberty that had its roots in ancient Rome. For the Romans, slaves were persons subject to the arbitrary will of another; a free citizen and a free state, by contrast, were not under the dominion of others, but capable of acting in their own right. On this view, people could be deprived of their freedom not merely by direct interference or violation of personal liberties and property rights, but also by any prerogative or discretionary powers which made the freedom of subjects dependent on the good will of the king. In 1642, the Parliamentarians argued that if the crown could veto legislation, this would reduce Parliament and the freeborn people it represented to a state of complete dependence on the will of the king. As Skinner puts it: ‘If there was any one slogan under which the two Houses nally took up arms, it was that the people of England never, never, never shall be slaves’.2