Saturday, June 11, 2011

Conrad Russell remembered in the London Review of Books

The latest issue of the London Review of Books carries a review of a book by Conrad Russell, who died in 2004.

King James VI and I and His English Parliaments is an expanded version of the Trevelyan Lectures Conrad gave at Cambridge in 1995, edited and brought to the press by Richard Cust and Andrew Thrush.

Unfortunately, Colin Kidd's review is not one of those freely available on the LRB website. But I am a subscriber so I can give you a few extracts:
"A chain-smoker in an ill-fitting suit, who carried his voluminous notes around in supermarket carrier bags, the 5th Earl Russell defied most conventional stereotypes of the aristocrat."

"He was never one to stand his ground in the face of persuasive evidence, even when presented by the most junior colleagues or postgraduates, and was constantly redefining his position in the light of the work of other historians."

"Russell’s arrival in the House of Lords after the death of his half-brother in 1987 changed the focus of his commitments. Henceforth, he combined teaching at King’s College London, to which he moved in 1990, with his duties in the Lords, and students were happy to make the detour to the Palace of Westminster for tutorials when parliamentary business was pressing. As the Liberal Democrat spokesman on social security, he brought historical depth to his portfolio, tracing the English commitment to welfare back beyond Beveridge to the Elizabethan Poor Law."

"The book confirms that Russell, who had more regard to historical accuracy than to his own reputation, remained to the end open-minded, daring and imaginative. He was never restricted to revisionism as doctrine, and throughout the latter half of his career he changed his mind in significant ways while still conserving the broad message of his earlier anti-Whig interpretation of history."

"Seventeenth-century Englishmen, indebted to a unitary conception of the state, could not find a way to accommodate the ‘inconvenient fact of Scottish sovereignty’. The second Anglo-Scottish Union in 1707 provided a workable compromise. Nevertheless, the English remained oblivious – some of them wilfully so – of the fact that post-1707 Britain was a new state born of an international treaty between sovereign kingdoms. The blinkers were still on when Russell was writing in the late 1990s, and, devolution notwithstanding, it still seems fair to conclude, as he did then, that ‘Britain has not yet risen to the intellectual challenge of 1603'."
It is hard to believe that it is seven years since Conrad died, yet already a world in which a student could wander into the Palace of Westminster for a tutorial seems like a lost Eden.

1 comment:

dreamingspire said...

In my recent experience of being invited occasionally to meetings hosted by a peer (no, I'm not boasting - he just happens to be a Director of a not-for-profit company that occasionally invites me along, and, like Russell, he finds it convenient to met us there, as he may have to rush off when he is needed elsewhere in the Palace), getting in to the Palace is not difficult as long as arrangements are made beforehand and said Noble Lord escorts you from the entrance.