CVHF 2023: Day 2

English and European revolution in Wiltshire, with Nazis and Beer.
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CVHF 2023: Day 2

The Blazing World: A New History Of Revolutionary England – Jonathan Healey

Revolutionary Spring: Fighting For A New World 1848 – 1849Christopher Clark With Tom Holland

Living In The Third Reich – Julia Boyd & Martin Davidson

Middling sorts

Intemperate political language, a polarised society, fake news  – sound familiar?  Dr Jonathan Healey has written a galloping narrative history of the tumultuous 17 Century, and wants us all to share in his enthusiasm for this ‘remarkable, fascinating’ period.

He’s on a mission to tell the familiar story of the English revolution from the perspective of the ‘middling sort’, the wealthy peasants, or yeomen, whose increased wealth enabled them to invest in nice houses, education and books.

The big questions the middling folk confronted was what kind of political society did they want?  And what does sovereignty mean anyway?

Large groups of people took part in these debates, and it wasn’t restricted to the political elites.  This for many was the world turned upside down in which ‘mechanic preaching’ meant women (gasp) and cobblers (shocking) got stuck in.

Was the English revolution a failure?  Even though the monarchy was restored we can now boast our own republican tradition and the nature of the relationship between people and government was changed forever.


Christopher Clark was introduced on stage by Tom Holland as a best-selling celebrity in Germany where his books on the Great War and Prussia have earned him much kudos.  His Revolutionary Spring: Fighting For A New World 1848 – 1849 is a magisterial survey of the many revolutions that convulsed Europe, so rapidly and simultaneously that he cannot even identify a linear chain reaction.  So rapidly did the ‘cascade of tumults’ occur that the “narrative bursts its banks, and the historian despairs”.

We’re lucky Clark persevered with 1848 and all that, his tutor at school described the period as “complicated and a failure – the worst combination”.  It almost put him off for life.

The revolutions took many forms.  Some were pure ‘cosplay’ (dressing up), others such as the Sicily seemed to happen by pure accident as participants talked themselves into accidental revolts.

Tom Holland has his own celebrity status these days thanks to his brilliant podcast, and he doesn’t disappoint as an interviewer.  Holland and Clark had an entertaining discussion about why Britain alone avoided conflict and revolution, in spite of the presence of well organised Chartists.  One of the reasons may have been that we were the most intensely policed society in Europe.


The middling sort got a look in again with Julia Boyd & Martin Davidson discussing what it was like to live in the Third Reich.  Specifically, what role did ordinary middle ranks play in the horrors of the regime, what level of guilt do they shoulder, how were ordinary people persuaded to take part, turn a blind eye or get stuck in?

Davidson’s perspective comes from his maternal grandfather, an SS officer about whom he has written in The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather’s Secret Past.  Davidson offered insights into the psychology of alibis, and the conflicted state of knowing what you’re not supposed to know.

Julia Boyd has studied an entire German village, Oberstdorf in Bavaria in A Village in the Third Reich.  The conservative tendency in this rural part of Germany disapproved of the decadence of Weimar Berlin, but at the same time the mayor and others clearly voted with their feet when it came to enforcing atrocities.

There’s no easy or palatable way to excuse or explain the horrors of the Holocaust, brainwashing impressionable minds may come close. “We thought we were saving western civilisation” one of the defendants at the Nuremburg Trials claimed.


The clouds gathered, the rain stayed away for now, and the beer tent beckoned.  This year the card machines work smoothly and efficiently, the beer is fresh and just the right temperature, and even the music is good, lively and not too loud.

Justin Doherty is Editor at Large for Aspects of History. Head to the CVHF site here.