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About this book

Focusing on the interaction of religion and politics, this is a comprehensive chronological survey of the political thought of post-Reformation Britain which examines the work of a wide range of thinkers.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Humanism and Political Thought before the Reformation, 1500–30

Prologue: Humanism and Political Thought before the Reformation, 1500–30

Abstract
‘Such is the unity of history that anyone who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web.’ These are the words of Frederick William Maitland, one of the greatest of English historians. The web being torn in this first chapter is that which connects early modern English and Scottish political thought to the past, to the political thinking and the culture of medieval Latin Christendom, and of the Greek and Roman worlds before that. The Reformation exploded in a European world discovering new ways of relating to its heritage, especially the classical heritage, and this humanist movement had begun to transform English political thought in the early sixteenth century. Humanism had an impact in Scotland, too, but less obviously on Scottish political thought. This prologue will explore the impact of humanism on early Tudor political thought, and more importantly look at some of the discontinuities — and continuities — between humanist and Reformation political thought. The first two chapters of the book will then examine the political ideas of the English and Scottish Reformations.
Glenn Burgess

Political Thought and Confessional Polities, 1530–1640

Frontmatter

1. Royal Supremacy and the Obedience of Subjects: the Political Thought of the English Reformation, 1530–53

Abstract
The Reformation focused attention on a very different set of problems from those that had occupied early humanists. It is not that an interest in ‘commonwealth’ issues disappeared, and many protestant writers, especially from the 1550s onwards, were interested, in their own fashion, in the same question that Thomas More had enigmatically considered — what is the best state of a commonwealth? But in the immediate aftermath of the Reformation other matters were more pressing. The Scottish case will be considered in the next chapter; here we will consider the ways in which the English Reformation compelled attention to defending the royal supremacy, and its claims on the obedience of subjects. By the end of Henry VIII’s reign ambiguities had become apparent in the notion of the royal supremacy itself, while in the brief reign of Edward VI, English evangelicals developed the theme of commonwealth into a new protestant vision of the Godly society.
Glenn Burgess

2. Resistance and Commonwealth: the Political Thought of Marian England (1553–8) and the Scottish Reformation (1560–80)

Abstract
Stressing royal supremacy and obedience to the monarch served English protestants well until 1553. During these years, it seemed to most that the purposes of God would be better served if they worked with their monarch rather than in opposition to him. The accession of a Catholic monarch in 1553 changed that. Furthermore, the situation was very different in Scotland. Protestants remained aware of the dangers of becoming linked with political disobedience — a sin they were generally inclined to associate with Catholics — but Scottish Protestantism could, in the end, only be firmly established against the wishes of temporal rulers. The actions needed to bring this about needed justification. The political thinking of the Marian exiles and the Scottish reformers should not be seen simply as circumstantial or opportunistic — the result simply of contingencies. Their theories of resistance were attempts to justify actions independent of the crown without justifying rebellion on a scale that would reduce the world to anarchy, and their political arguments were often tightly integrated with their views of God’s purposes, his relationship to his human creation, and the nature of the churches that furthered his purposes on earth. Nonetheless, it is also true that political theories were not precisely dictated by theological and ecclesiological premises. There remained a looseness of fit, and circumstances inevitably shaped the ways in which political conclusions might be drawn from religious presuppositions.
Glenn Burgess

3. Lawful Conformity and its Critics: Political Thought in Elizabethan England, 1558–1603

Abstract
The death of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I on 17 November 1558 immediately transformed the situation within which English political writers worked. After the brief aberration of the Marian years, the Protestant cause was once again on the side of the monarch — and vice versa. From 1558 through until the Civil War there developed a persistent polemical tendency to associate English Protestantism with loyalty, obedience and monarchy; and to associate Catholicism with disobedience, resistance, even republicanism. Conformist Elizabethan writers developed a complex picture of the English polity as a law-governed, orderly political community, unified by an absolute loyalty to a limited monarch. By far the most sophisticated expression of such a view was to be found in Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, publication of which began in 1594. In Hooker this emphasis on law was extended even to the queen’s supremacy over the church, which came to be seen as something normally exercised through legal channels, like her civil authority.
Glenn Burgess

4. Peaceful Politics? Jacobean and Caroline Britain, 1590–1640

Abstract
The reigns of James VI & I after his accession to the English throne in 1603 witnessed the greatest stability that Britain saw between the Henrician reformation and the early eighteenth century, making all the more startling the speed with which Charles I was able to bring about the destruction of political order across the British kingdoms, and in Ireland too, from 1638. The intellectual foundations for this stability were, however, complex. A shared acknowledgement that the British polities were made peaceful by the conformity of all — kings and subjects — to lawful and regular government, and to a church established by law, was certainly a major ingredient, but this position could mask (or accommodate) considerable divergence over the precise interpretation of what lawful government in church and state might mean, and how kings might be constrained to follow it. Where was authority located in a polity governed by law? And — just as pressing — to what extent did stability require England and Scotland to become one polity (possibly ruled by one code of law) after 1603?
Glenn Burgess

Political Thought and Religious Revolution, 1640–60

Frontmatter

5. Resistance and Royalism in the British Monarchies

Abstract
The advent of rebellion in Scotland in 1638, and in Ireland in 1641, and then Civil War in England from 1642 together produced a massive outpouring of political writing. The pamphleteering that effectively initiated the ‘pamphlet wars’ of the early 1640s was that of the Scottish covenanters, who flooded England with pamphlets justifying their actions against the king’s ecclesiastical policies.1 The results were spectacular: the average annual output of the London presses in the period 1588–1639 was 459 items; in the decade 1630–9 the average was 624; but the output in 1640 was 848 items, rising to 2,042 in 1641 and 4,038 in 1642: 1642 was to be the peak year for publication output in the whole period 1640–60.2 This massive growth in printed pamphlets and other materials has led some historians to argue that the period of the British and English Revolutions witnessed the birth of a ‘public sphere’: ‘the invention of public opinion’, and the foundations of a democratic culture, were the result not of ideas and doctrines favouring new political forms, but of changes to ‘communicative practice’ to which printing was central.3 This interpretation is challengeable, not least because the output of the presses was as much ‘propaganda’ as ‘public opinion’, and did as much to manipulate and constrain as to liberate public opinion.4 Whatever view one takes on this matter, it is clear that politicians felt the need on an unprecedented scale to ‘talk to the people’, to persuade, even if they felt less need to listen to them; it is also clear that Parliamentarians and Covenanters did this with less unease than Royalists, who were more fearful of the consequences of addressing the people.5 This chapter is an examination of political ideas, not print culture, but the printing context helps us to understand why the 1640s were unlike any earlier period for creativity in forms of writing and for rapid intellectual innovation, and cultural transformation.6
Glenn Burgess

6. Religion, ‘Radicalism’ and the English Revolution

Abstract
For many historians the most remarkable feature of the English Revolution was the emergence of political ‘radicalism’, a phenomenon that has attracted considerable attention since the late nineteenth century. It was the subject of one of the finest and most exciting works of scholarship written about the period, Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down (1972). During the 1640s, while Independents and Presbyterians argued over the process of reaching settlement with the king, and the army leaders seized control of events from their one-time Parliamentary masters, the presses continued to produce a flood of extraordinary demands and schemes for political, social and religious change. This radical pamphleteering was part of an enormous increase in the output of the printing presses, which, as we have seen, peaked in 1642; it then fell back to climb to another peak in 1648–9.1 For many, these were years in which millenarian expectation of the world’s transformation, and the advent of Christ’s rule on earth was at its height. Arguably, this phenomenon constituted an English Revolution, a revolution religious in its driving force, and ultimately disappointed in its hopes.2
Glenn Burgess

7. Thomas Hobbes

Abstract
Born in 1588, Thomas Hobbes had reached the age of 52 before completing the first version of his mature political theory in 1640. That work, The Elements of Law, was prompted by the crisis in the affairs of Charles I that resulted in the calling of the Short Parliament, and so, like all of Hobbes’s political writings, it was both an attempt to produce a systematic science of politics and a response to his immediate political environment. It was the work of a man who had behind him many decades of sustained reflection. Sadly the contents of that reflection are now largely beyond our recovery,1 though it may be that some of his assumptions about the nature of people and politics were grounded in an early acquaintance with Tacitist ‘reason of state’ ideas.2 Hobbes’s best known political work, Leviathan, appeared in 1651 (revised for its Latin translation of 1668). Though the structure of Hobbes’s political thinking remained largely unaltered between 1640 and 1651, many of its details (some of them crucially important) were considerably revised. The revisions are important, for they reflect more than a process of intellectual ‘tidying-up’ and refinement: they show Hobbes’s continuing response to and engagement with the course of English political history during the years of Civil War and beyond.
Glenn Burgess

8. Republicanism and the English Commonwealth: Political Thought during the Interregnum

Abstract
Republicanism arose in the English Revolution because it seemed to some people, at least, to offer ways of healing and settling a nation in which the ancient constitution had been destroyed. In particular, it could come to terms with a situation in which monarchy no longer seemed a viable institution, being more damaging to the nation than beneficial. As a mode of settling the nation, republicanism could be very wary of Godly enthusiasm and zealotry. If it is true that ‘almost all republican writing was overtly religiously engaged’,1 then engagement took a variety of forms, and in the case of James Harrington, for example, it was an engagement hostile to the political ideals of radical religion. Political stability required that enthusiasm be contained.
Glenn Burgess

Epilogue: Ending Wars of Religion?

Abstract
In 1660 the Stuart monarchy was restored, seemingly with enthusiasm, seemingly to a position little different from that of Charles I immediately before the Civil War. Only twenty-eight years later, however, another Stuart king lost the throne, in good part because of his Catholicism, this time to a Dutch invader rather than an English conqueror. In England the events of the Glorious Revolution were seemingly both peaceful and restrained, but they were less so in Scotland (and even less so in Ireland). The Scots went on in the early eighteenth century to challenge the so-called Revolution Settlement of 1688-9, provoking their neighbours into the policies that culminated in the 1707 union of England and Scotland. England did not again face religious war, though in Scotland the Jacobite cause remained alive, to bring about violence in 1715 and 1745. Indeed, if we accept the peacefulness of the Glorious Revolution within England itself, England did not suffer significant religious or political violence after 1660.
Glenn Burgess
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