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Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs


Mark Goldie


Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2016

Paperback Reissue (First Edition, 2007). xxxvii+424 p. ISBN 978-1783271108. £25


Reviewed by Rémy Duthille

Université Bordeaux Montaigne



Mark Goldie’s Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs is a paperback edition of the first volume of The Entring Book of Roger Morrice, published in seven volumes by the Boydell Press in 2007-2009. It represents the extensive introduction to an extensive editorial achievement, the transcription and publication of three manuscript registers held at the Dr Williams’s Library in London. Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs can be read independently from the Entring Book. As Mark Goldie states, while the first three chapters analyse the Entring Book and Morrice’s life, the subsequent stand-alone chapters broaden the focus to wider political, religious, and historiographical developments of the Restoration and Williamite periods.

Morrice’s Entring Book chronicles a wealth of events of various nature from 1677 to 1691. It is the longest (about a million-words long) and fullest record of English political and religious life in that period. It also provides details on much else, but this ‘omnium gatherum of day-to-day reportage’ [20] is no haphazard heaping of information, but filtered through a Presbyterian, or ‘Puritan Whig’ prism. Women ‘are rarely mentioned except when they marry, give birth, or die.’ [31] If some areas are underreported, the book is packed with gossip and information on events, small and large, pertaining to the Puritan Whigs but also national life. It reports rumours and, literally, hearsay in a period when the rapid spread of print had not superseded aurality [118-119].

The Entring Book reveals much about the period but almost nothing about its author. Roger Morrice (1628-1702) was a self-effacing, tantalisingly elusive person. Goldie painstakingly pieces together fragments of his life from clues scattered in the entering book and reconstructs the social milieus he frequented, such as the Staffordshire Moorlands of his childhood. Along with hundreds of other clergymen Morrice was ejected under the Act of Uniformity in 1662. He became chaplain to Denzil Holles and later Sir John Maynard, two pillars of the Presbyterian élite and parliamentarians that protected ejected clergy and provided political and social clout to the community. Morrice was typical of those ejected ministers who served aristocratic or gentry patrons as electoral agents, secretaries, and go-betweens in marriage and business negotiations. Morris acquired some financial ease (but ‘[t]he source of Morrice’s money is a mystery’ [71]) and even political influence, which peaked under the reign of James II. He was favourable to the king’s policy of indulgence and instrumental in dissuading James from requiring Dissenting ministers to read the Declaration of Indulgence from their pulpits [52]. The entries become less precise after the Glorious Revolution, a sign, for Goldie, of the marginalisation of Dissent in national life after 1689.

Although ‘Morrice frustrates us by his invisibility’ [77] and the reasons for writing his journal are unclear, Goldie extracts from this source an enormous amount of information which, when pieced together and confronted with current historiography, both reveals a sweeping panorama and contributes to solve specific problems. At several points Goldie notes how Morrice’s entering book may confirm the relevance of historiographical tendencies or provide correctives. The scope of the entering book suggests that accounts of the Glorious Revolution should start earlier than the Exclusion Crisis and discuss reactions to Charles’s policies (rather than just fears of possible persecution by a Catholic ruler); historians should also examine the aftermath of the Revolution and the painstaking establishment of the Williamite régime in the early 1690s [2]. For Goldie, Morrice’s interest for developments in Scotland and Ireland validates the ‘Three Kingdom’ approach [28]. Goldie recuses approaches in terms of the ‘long eighteenth century’ or the ‘first age of party’. In chapter 4, Goldie convincingly claims that the Entring Book reveals the continuity of ‘Puritan Whig politics’ from 1660 until 1689 at least, because the same people were involved as in the heyday of Puritanism in the 1640s, and the Puritan religious and political convictions continued to shape behaviour, and the very conception of politics as a godly calling, a struggle for a ‘further reformation’ [148-149]. Goldie brilliantly dissects ‘Puritan Whig’ politics, showing that the Whigs did not spring out of the Exclusion Crisis but that their stamp of monarchism was inherited from the parliamentarians of the 1630s and 1640s. In short, ‘Puritans became Whigs’ [190]. Chapter 5 traces the unravelling of Puritan whiggism as a political ideology and as a social basis after 1689. As ejected ministers and their supporters died out, the Dissenting aristocracy and gentry returned to the Anglican fold, nonconformity shrunk into a narrower, more urban and socially inferior base. Morrice took part in several developments attending this decline in Puritan whiggism; he was connected to Harley, whose surprising political journey from Puritan Whig in 1689 to hardline Tory Prime Minister from 1710 to 1714 Goldie delineates briefly but precisely; he also took part in the movement of the reformation of manners. Of particular interest is the explanation of an apparent anomaly, the cordial relations between Morrice the Puritan and the deist freethinker John Toland. The paradox is explained in terms of Toland’s relations with Dissenters, his earlier protectors, which left indelible traces on him [212-217]. 

Chapter 6, ‘Middle-Way Religion’ charts the religious sea change from strict Calvinism to Arminianism, and the fading hopes of ‘comprehension’ in a period of transition ‘poised between Puritanism and Enlightenment’ [268]. Goldie also traces out Morrice’s theology, which is essentially that of John Baxter. After 1662 the Presbyterians felt closer to, and had much more in common with, the Church than with Baptists and Quakers. Goldie evokes the practices of partial conformity that blurred the distinction between church and chapel and encouraged legislative attempts at comprehension. The 1689 Toleration Act paradoxically spelled the end of this dream, ruling out any broadening of the Church of England. In this respect, the Glorious Revolution was a disappointment for the Puritan Whigs. Morrice’s entering book, as always, registers mutations and reveals changing linguistic use, the word ‘denomination’ cropping up as the boundaries hardened and the Presbyterians became a sect. Throughout this chapter (and elsewhere) Goldie helps the reader by explaining concepts in a very pedagogical way and by defining all the hard theological words.

Chapter 7 departs further from the Entring Book. It is based on the bulk of Morrice’s papers for a projected ‘politico-ecclesiastical’ history of the Puritans that Morrice embarked on in the 1690s. Goldie brings out Morrice’s historical insights, which included ‘occasional passages of acute historical judgement’ [286]. Though Morrice’s project did not come to fruition, his papers were read by historians of Dissent in the eighteenth century. This enables Goldie to trace the destiny of the manuscripts after Morrice’s death, and to ‘make connections between the Morrice familiar to Tudor historians and the Morrice known to Restoration historians’ [272]. Goldie passes astute judgments on current historians and on Morrice himself, whose history bears the mark of ‘Whig history’ in its very beginnings. This historiographical dimension is the object of the ‘epilogue’, which recalls the history of the edition of the Entring Book and the use made by historians of the source until today.

Mark Goldie’s monograph is extremely well-researched and in dialogue with past and present historiography. It contains several useful appendices (genealogical tables, maps) and an extensive updated bibliography. Goldie adopts a methodical and pedagogical approach, without any of the ponderous boredom that the terms might evoke. Roger Morrice and the Puritan Whigs will be of immense interest to specialists of the period and it is accessible to others, thanks to the deft narrative of events in chapter 1, to definitions and elucidations in context, and to historiographical excursus (p.277-279 on the historiography of Puritanism, for example). Overall this is a very well-crafted monograph, which contains profound insights on the nature of political and religious shifts in late-Stuart England, and a sense of the intricacy of individual trajectories, group identities, and social practices. This reviewer is left with one regret: a digital edition was promised for 2016 [311, 401], but is not advertised on the website of the publisher, Boydell & Brewer. Hopefully this will come out and allow readers to read the Entring Book for themselves.


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