In 1500 fewer than three million people spoke English; today English speakers number at least a billion worldwide. This book asks how and why a small island people became the nucleus of an empire 'on which the sun never set'. David Rollison argues that the 'English explosion' was the outcome of a long social revolution with roots deep in the medieval past. A succession of crises from the Norman Conquest to the English Revolution were causal links and chains of collective memory in a unique, vernacular, populist movement. The keyword of this long revolution, 'commonwealth', has been largely invisible in traditional constitutional history. This panoramic synthesis of political, intellectual, social, cultural, religious, economic, literary and linguistic movements offers a 'new constitutional history' in which state institutions and power elites were subordinate and answerable to a greater community that the early modern English called 'commonwealth' and we call 'society'.
David Rollison is an independent scholar and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Local Origins of Modern Society: Gloucestershire 1500-1800 (1992).
Preface: points of departure; Introduction: an uncommon tradition; Part I. The Emergent Commonalty: 1. What came before: antecedent structures and emergent themes; 2. The formation of a constitutional landscape, c. 1159-1327; 3. The power of a common language; Part II. Accumulating a Tradition: Popular Resistance and Rebellion, 1327-1549: 4. Discords, quarrels and factions of the commonalty: an ensemble of popular demands, 1328-81; 5. The spectre of commonalty: popular rebellion and the commonweal, 1381-1549; Part III. The English Explosion: 6. How trade became an affair of state: the politics of industry, 1381-1640; 7. Touching the wires: industry and empire; Part IV. The Empowered Community: 8. 'The first pace that is sick': the revolution of politics in Shakespeare's Coriolanus; 9. 'Boiling hot with questions': the English Revolution and the parting of the ways.