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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Christian Liddy

Liddy, Christian D. (2017). 'Sir ye be not kyng': Citizenship and Speech in Late Medieval and Early Modern England. The Historical Journal 60(3): 571-596.

Author(s) from Durham


Few would argue against the intimate relationship between citizenship and speech in early modern England. Historians of political thought and literary scholars have explored the cultural and political impact of the English Renaissance, which turned subjects into citizens and which produced a learned, humanist, and oratorical model of citizenship, centred upon the virtues of the ‘articulate citizen’. But the English Renaissance did not give birth to citizenship. There was an older, vernacular, urban-based concept of citizenship, which was grounded in social practice rather than in intellectual tradition. This citizenship was shaped by multiple, competing, and conflicting impulses: inclusive, yet exclusive; participatory, yet discriminatory; a mixture of rights and duties. Speech both exposed and amplified these different senses of citizenship: who could speak and act against authority, and were there limits on what citizens could say and do? The tensions between urban citizenship and speech persisted throughout the late middle ages and into the early modern period. Local power struggles about the nature of civic authority helped to define ideas of citizenship and of free speech.