Plain speaking, plainly understood
: political rhetoric in republican England, 1649-60

  • Jonathan L. M. Gibson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis offers a new interpretation of the governing strategies of the English republican state by analysing its relationship with rhetoric and plain speaking. Departing from familiar stylistic definitions of plain speaking, the thesis demonstrates that the rhetorical revolution of the Interregnum was principally concerned with the relationship which rhetorical persuasion was seen as creating between speakers and audiences. Republican orators construed this relationship in an explicitly constitutional sense. The coercive power of the fallacious rhetorician was depicted as a form of tyranny, which was capable of destroying a commonwealth but incapable of building one. In the same way, the reciprocal equality of plain speaking and plain understanding with which republicans associated themselves was itself conceived as a blueprint for the republic which they sought to bring about.

The thesis is structured thematically, with each of the five chapters exploring a different rhetorical paradigm which informed republican plain speaking. Chapter 1 deals with the classical rhetoric in which every republican politician would have been trained from adolescence, arguing that rejections of formal eloquence were not products of ignorance, but instead reflected a complex appreciation of rhetoric’s power. Chapter 2 focuses on legal rhetoric, comparing the idealised plainness associated with the English common law with the rhetorical coercion and obfuscation commonly attributed to professional lawyers. Chapter 3 analyses the ideals and praxes of parliamentary debate, revealing a common republican faith in the value of debate as a mechanism for fostering plainness, while also highlighting situations in which that mechanism broke down. Chapter 4 examines the power ascribed to sermons as vehicles for exalting and restoring plain speaking and plain understanding, with a particular attention to parliamentary sermons. Chapter 5 explores republican friendship, proposing that texts of intimate correspondence provide the most fully realised articulations of the republican utopia of plain communication.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJacqueline Rose (Supervisor), Matthew Colin Augustine (Supervisor) & Steve Murdoch (Supervisor)


  • Rhetoric
  • Plainness
  • Interregnum
  • Cromwellian politics
  • Statecraft
  • Audiences
  • Debate
  • Persuasion
  • Republican style

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • Restricted until 30 October 2027

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