chapter  5
34 Pages

Politics and the Electorate in the 1620s

WithRichard Cust

Mark Kishlansky's general thesis – that the conduct of elections can be treated as a paradigm of the processes which transformed political assumptions during the seventeenth century – is very persuasive. The key to understanding what the local gentry and freeholders thought about politics is provided by investigating the various meanings attached to the word 'country'. J. H. Plumb and Derek Hirst stressed that from the 1580s onwards there was considerable growth in the size of the electorate, as a result of inflation – which devalued the 40s-freehold qualification – and the adoption of a broad freeman franchise in many larger towns. In the process 'politics' was emerging as a separate sphere in public life. Time and again in the correspondence of the gentry, the reports of local gossip and rumour and the public addresses delivered before local audiences, 'country' was used to sum up everything which people held most dear.