What’s in a name?

February 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

What to call the armed conflicts of mid-17th-century England is an interesting problem–naming them is a political act that tells more about the namer than the named. That’s true now, and has been ever since the 17th century.

Here are the names I found. Did you find anything to add to the list?

The English Civil War(s)
The British Civil War(s)
The English Revolution
The Puritan Revolution
The Great Rebellion
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms
The Good Old Cause
The Interregnum (for 1649-1660)

You’ll notice there are two major variables at play in the name.

1. The nature of the conflict. Was it a war or wars, a civil war or wars, a rebellion, a revolution, a cause, a crisis? How do these differ in meaning?

2. The parameters. English? British? Three Kingdoms? Puritan? Pros and cons of each?

Note that the choice of name also suggests when the conflicts started and when they ended. For instance, historians who use the term “Wars of the Three Kingdoms” tend to see the wars starting in Scotland in 1637 and ending with the Anglo-Scott conflicts in 1651.

What reasons does Blair Worden give for choosing to call his book The English Civil Wars, 1640-1660?

The names by which the conflicts have been known have shifted over time. What did you learn about that trajectory?

What do you think our class should call the conflicts?

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