Ideas of Counsel Under Henry VIII

(a) Kingship and ‘Counsel’

The theory of ‘counsel’ was shaped in relation to the aspirations of monarchy. Francis Bacon signalled this point in his essay, Of Counsel, where he remarked of ancient history, that it ‘set forth in figure both the incorporation and inseparable conjunction of counsel with kings … whereby they intend that Sovereignty is married to Counsel’.1 The essence of monarchy was the concept of the sovereign ruler. Kings lay at the centre of their polities. Their power was instituted by God, and they ruled ‘by the grace of God’. They were bound to honour the laws, but this did not mean that they were subject to them, since they were themselves the authority by which the laws were enacted, repealed, and enforced. Their ‘will’, as signified by the customary formula for the royal assent in Parliament to legislation (le roi le vault), was the prerequisite for public acts of judgement and, by extension, for all legitimate acts of government.2 Under normal conditions, rulers could not be resisted by their subjects, since they were the guardians of the laws and it was only by their authority that public policy could be made. This does not mean that kings were licensed to act irresponsibly. Although accountable to God alone, their obligation was to rule for the benefit of the community. Justice, in its broadest sense, was the purpose of royal government. The king was meant to be an image of virtue and a living embodiment of the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. He governed for the public weal, providing the single will necessary for the formulation of common policy. His duties were to keep the peace and defend the realm, to maintain the law and administer justice impartially, and to uphold the church, especially against heresy. These obligations were enshrined in the coronation oath. The idioms were those of virtue and good government: the king was expected to ‘love especially and principally the common profit of the people’.3

Originally, the word ‘sovereignty’ was French and there was no direct English equivalent, but the term entered the English vernacular after the break with Rome and was used colloquially by the 1560s. The concept had been appropriated in fourteenth-century France by the civil lawyers to counteract the claims of the papacy. Whereas the pope claimed the ‘plenitude of power’ and the right to interfere in the temporal affairs of kingdoms ‘by reason of sin’, the civil lawyers held that the king was ‘emperor’ in his realm (rex in regno suo est imperator), that he recognized no superior save God in ‘temporal’ matters, that the clergy’s jurisdiction was confined to ‘spiritual’ affairs, and that the king might tax his clergy. As these lawyers concluded, the pope had no authority to legislate within the kingdom, because the prerequisite for legislation was dominion, and the pope had no dominion over the king’s subjects.4

Applied in this way, the theory of ‘empire’ was the precursor of a modern theory of sovereignty. Both Henry VIII and Francis I claimed to be ‘emperors’ within their realms, even if it was only Henry VIII who ultimately broke with Rome. The argument of Charles Du Moulin, whose Commentaries on the Customs of Paris began to appear in 1539, that the king was ‘the source of all justice, holding all jurisdictions and enjoying full imperium‘ and that secular and ecclesiastical lords were equally subject to his authority ‘for the exercise of their jurisdictions and lordships’ was generically close to the theory which underpinned the Henrician Act of Appeals. ‘Imperial’ theory at this date lacked many of the resonances that it later acquired. There was not yet a definite association with the subjugation of overseas provinces or colonies, although Henry VIII, like Edward I, initiated a vigorous policy of centralization within the British archipelago and pursued an aggressive diplomacy, claiming suzerainty over Scotland and asserting ‘tous et quelzconques droitz et souveraineté’ over his possessions in France.5 The crux was that the powers of emperors were ‘whole’ and ‘entire’. Kings who were ‘emperors’ recognized no superior within their realms. All rights, jurisdictions, preeminences, and feudal privileges were derived from the ‘imperial’ crown.

This theory of ‘empire’ was extended conceptually by Henry VIII. When Henry sought recognition of his title as ‘supreme head of the Church of England’, the nature of his demands showed that he claimed magisterial as well as jurisdictional authority. Like King David and King Solomon in Israel and the Emperors Constantine and Justinian in Rome, the regal prototypes most commonly adumbrated as the models for the royal supremacy, Henry VIII claimed the right to legislate for both clergy and laity, and in ‘spiritual’ as well as in ‘temporal’ affairs. He claimed the right to validate the texts of Bible translations, to define the nature and number of the sacraments, and to approve doctrinal formularies for the Church of England. He confiscated the property of the monasteries and religious houses in the name of the ‘imperial’ crown, and sought to regulate every aspect of the church’s external life.

If, however, kings were to rule virtuously and effectively, they needed advice and information. This is where ‘counsel’ entered into the equation and why it was so important. The king’s ‘natural’ counsellors were the nobility, defined broadly as the temporal and spiritual lords and other leading landowners and office-holders: their attendance in Court, Council, or Parliament had symbolic and practical significance. It was symbolic, because the king’s authority was most visible when he wore his crown or purple robes on days of ‘estate’, or took part in solemn processions or religious festivals surrounded by his counsellors. It was practical, because no temporal jurisdiction exceeded that of the king counselled.6 An ‘ideal’ royal judgement or decision was one which was made by the ‘will’ of the king and with the ‘advice and consent’ of his counsellors. In addition to the nobility, leading clergy, and officials, the late-medieval King’s Council included the judges, king’s serjeants, and other prominent lawyers and bureaucrats, since these were the professionals and other experts who assisted the king especially in fiscal and revenue management, in the exploitation of the crown lands, and in the administration of justice.

In 1483, Bishop Russell, Lord Chancellor, noted in a draft of a parliamentary speech, ‘What is the belly or where is the womb of this great public body of England but that and there where the king is himself, his Court and his Council?’7 Whether expressed in Court, Council, or Parliament, it was ‘counselling’ that made the exercise of royal power legitimate. Theorists continually emphasized this point. If a mistake was made by the ruler, or a political crisis or factional conflict erupted, it was invariably interpreted as a failure of ‘counsel’. This had been true during the Wars of the Roses, when it had indeed substantially been the case that the failure of a series of conciliar ‘solutions’ to the problem of Henry VI’s incapacity had sparked the civil wars. It would also be true at key moments in the Tudor period: for example, during Henry VIII’s first divorce campaign, during the Pilgrimage of Grace, during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, and during the debates over the Protestant succession and the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots, under Elizabeth I.

(b) The humanist-classical tradition

In the humanist-classical tradition, counsel was linked directly to virtue, since it was the dictates of virtue that impelled the ruler to act according to the common good. Stereotyped metaphors were invoked to describe the process. By curbing human passions and mitigating misjudgements, ‘counsel’ was the ‘arbiter’ between order and chaos. It was the ‘bridle’ that would stop the king from falling if he would only use it properly. It was ‘physic’ or medicine for his soul. It was the ‘female’ and ‘conjugal’ counterpart of the ‘imperial’ male, since a married woman shared in the administration of her husband’s household and mitigated his imperium just as ‘equity’ tempered the rigour of the common law.

In his peroration to The Book Named the Governor, an educational handbook dedicated to Henry VIII in 1531, Sir Thomas Elyot wrote: ‘The end of all doctrine and study is good counsel … wherein virtue may be found, being (as it were) his proper mansion or palace, where her power only appeareth concerning governance’.8 There were two considerations: (1) rulers should be properly advised and thus ‘no good counsellor’ should ‘be omitted or passed over’; and (2) ‘the general and universal estate of the public weal would be preferred in consultation before any particular commodity.’ Elyot’s handbook went through numerous editions and reprints until the 1580s, and was one of the most widely circulated texts of Tudor political thought.

In humanist-classical theory, a ruler’s obligation to seek counsel was strictly moral: ‘counselling’ was a duty and not a right. As Henry VIII answered the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537 and Charles I replied to the authors of the Nineteen Propositions in 1642, the king was free to choose his own councillors and could not be bound by their advice. If the king’s will could be voted down by his advisers, his regality would be no more than that of the doge of Venice. Worse still, the government of the realm would fall into confusion, since the single ‘will’ that was essential for the formulation of public policy would be absent.

Yet the king should listen affably to his councillors, because the spirit of ‘counsel’ was that of amicitia or ‘friendship’. Closely linked in humanist-classical literature to constancy, mutual loyalty, and a concern for justice, amicitia in practice covered everything from genuine friendships to courtesies between rivals, but the crux was that it warranted ‘liberty of speech’. The councillor tendered his honest opinion, which the ruler should receive in a spirit of ‘likeness and equality’. In the words of one of the most cherished passages from Book III of Aristotle’s Politics, the king’s intimates:

must be friends of the monarch and of his government; if not his friends, they will not do what he wants; but friendship implies likeness and equality; and, therefore, if he thinks that his friends ought to rule, he must think that those who are equal to himself and like himself ought to rule equally with himself.9

It was on such grounds that Theopompus of Sparta was acclaimed and Alexander the Great condemned. Elyot highlighted both instances in The Book Named the Governor. Theopompus, when asked ‘how a realm might be best and most surely kept’, had replied: ‘If the prince give to his friends liberty to speak to him things that be just, and neglecteth not the wrongs that his subjects sustaineth.’ Alexander, by contrast, had rejected the principles of ‘affability’. In consequence, he ‘fell into a hateful grudge among his own people’ and ‘waxed to be terrible in manners’, forbidding ‘his friends and discreet servants to use their accustomed liberty in speech.’

Where, if he had retained the same affability that was in him in the beginning of his conquest, and had not put to silence his counsellors which before used to speak to him frankly, he might have escaped all violent death, and by similitude, have enjoyed the whole monarchy of all the world.10

That quasi-republican implications were embedded in this argument is clear.11 Aristotle, himself Alexander’s former tutor, had constructed his discussion of the king’s ‘friends’ in The Politics in order to undermine the legitimacy of monarchy based solely on the king’s will. He affirmed, rather, ‘kingship according to law’, which was preferable on the grounds that ‘he who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast; for desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers’.12 Humanist-classical literature depicted passion as a disease, which is why the ‘counsel’ of ‘friends’ was seen as ‘physic’ for the ruler’s soul. In the minds of the humanists, the principal defect of monarchy could be averted if government were to be undertaken by ‘a body of persons who are both good men and good citizens’. Aristotle had held that kings are supported by their friends: ‘they make colleagues of those who are the friends of themselves and their governments.’13 The ‘friends’ of the ruler were his ‘eyes and ears and hands and feet’.14 They helped him to rule, and thereby secured his power; but, in the process, they limited his capacity for tyranny. Conciliar or ‘collegial’ government was the safeguard against despotism. Monarchy rested on a paradox. As Aristotle put it: ‘royalty is preserved by the limitation of its powers.’ The more the functions of kings were restricted, ‘the longer their power will last unimpaired’.15 In providing these ‘restrictions’, the counsellor’s role was critical.

Conciliarism was the key to the humanists’ view of politics. The problem of government was reducible to one of ‘good counsel’, because it was ‘counselling’ and conciliar institutions which effectively guided the ruler and bridled his inclinations to cruelty and vice. The ruler’s sovereignty was limited by the ‘advice’ of the Council. Elyot understood the implications of this argument, not least because he had served as clerk of the King’s Council under Cardinal Wolsey and later as an ambassador to Spain. He opposed Henry VIII’s divorce, which he saw as a blatant instance of a ruler pursuing a policy contrary to the public good through the ‘tyranny of his own heady judgement’.16 As he noted in his final chapter, ‘consultation’ was ‘the last part of moral sapience, and the beginning of sapience politic’.17 It was exactly the place to draw breath. It was impossible in Henry VIII’s reign to publish more explicitly on politics. Thomas More had almost overstepped the mark in 1533, when he had suggested that Henry VIII and the increasingly tyrannical Emperor Tiberius were not unlike.18 In the Renaissance, the genre which today might be called ‘How to Succeed in Politics in Ten Easy Lessons’ was deemed subversive and potentially seditious. This is one reason why Machiavelli was considered to be degenerate. Rulers modelled themselves on the Roman emperors. To print or openly discuss an agenda for the conduct of politics in an ‘imperial’ state was to pierce the veil of sovereignty, which was lèse-majesté. Elyot promised a second volume on the subject of ‘sapience politic’, but this was a book that never appeared — in the politics of the 1530s it could scarcely have been attempted — and the reader was instead offered The Image of Governance in 1541, less an original work than an example of the genre called a cento: a work composed of ‘most worthy’ quotations concerning the life of the Emperor Alexander Severus, whom the humanists admired because of his support of aristocracy — it was possible to depict his reign in terms of a reconstitution of senatorial influence — and because he had allowed his council to include elected members.19

It was conventional to debate the proposition ‘that a commonwealth is better and more assured, where the prince is evil, than where the prince’s counsellors are evil.’ An instinct pervaded the humanist-classical tradition which linked ‘good counsel’ to a preference for the Aristotelian or Polybian ‘mixed polity’. According to this theory, tentatively mooted by Aristotle and most completely elaborated by the Greek historian, Polybius, who wrote a history of Rome from 264 B.C. to 146 B.C. in forty books, the best form of government was a synthesis or ‘mixture’ of monarchy, aristocracy, and popular constitutionalism. This raised a number of further issues, in particular, the appropriate balance between the ‘aristocratic’ and ‘popular’ elements, whether birth or education more pertinently defined true ‘nobility’, and the criteria upon which counsellors should be selected. Opinions diverged, but it was agreed that, if birth was of varying significance, the most important qualification was a liberal education, since this would ensure a commitment to the intellectual and moral virtues contained in the humanist agenda, and upon which the preservation of civic life was held to depend.

The principal agent of civic life in this tradition was the bonus civis or vir civilis, the ‘active citizen’ of the Italian city republics and the political equivalent of the ‘virtuous man’. Such a man had to be capable of instructing his fellow citizens in the values of civic humanism, and to have acquired the virtues prescribed by Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian in classical literature, especially those of reason, wisdom, and prudence.20 Such a man was the hero of Cicero’s De officiis and of Book I of More’s Utopia: the man who ‘knows how to plead in the law courts for justice and to deliberate in the councils and public assemblies of the res publica in such a way as to promote policies at once advantageous and honourable’.21 Again, according to Elyot, the most important criteria for those who wished to qualify as counsellors was that they should speak the truth and eschew flattery.

If, however, the role of the counsellor was to speak the truth and promote honourable and advantageous policies, the crux was the issue of persuasion, since it was agreed by classical and humanist authors alike that reason or argument alone was insufficient to induce rulers or multitudes to introduce new policies or change their existing ones. ‘Eloquence’, as Cicero had maintained, ‘is indispensable if men are to persuade others to accept the truths that reason finds out’. In this respect, the politics of counsel, particularly in monarchies, was also a politics of eloquence. The counsellor requires reason and wisdom to discover the truth, but only eloquence can persuade others to accept it.22 This is why George Cavendish introduced Cardinal Wolsey to posterity with the observation, ‘He had a special gift of natural eloquence with a filed tongue to pronounce the same, that he was able with the same to persuade and allure all men to his purpose’.23 Or in the purple prose of Sir Thomas Hoby’s translation of Castiglione, the courtier unable to mould language ‘like wax after his own mind’ would fail. The ‘greatness and gorgeousness of an Oration’ was that ‘at the first shew’ of the words, their dignity and brightness would appear like ‘tables of painting placed in their good and natural light’.24

Aristotle’s Rhetoric had fused the connection between ‘counselling’ and eloquence. The text had been printed in Latin translations in 1472 and 1545. The Latin version was studied intensively in Oxford in the 1520s, and early drafts of Jacob Sturm’s definitive edition of 1570 circulated in Cambridge in the early 1550s in the circles of Roger Ascham and Sir Thomas Smith. In the passages on politics and political speech, Aristotle defined rhetoric as ‘a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics.’ The role of ‘counsel’ was to offer honourable and practical advice on such topics as ways and means, peace and war, national defence, food supply, and legislation. ‘Counsel’ was premissed on the quest for happiness; the aims of eloquence were goodness and utility. What is striking is that Aristotle incorporated into the Rhetoric a summary of the typology of the cardinal virtues he had expounded in his Ethics. This was followed by an assertion that eloquence was enhanced by a knowledge of the four sorts of governments: monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. Whereupon ensued a five-hundred word summary of the gist of the Politics. And this summary rammed home the two most fundamental points. First, that there are two forms of monarchy: ‘kingship, which is limited by prescribed conditions, and “tyranny”, which is not limited by anything’; and, second, that ‘rhetorical persuasion is effected not only by demonstrative but also by ethical argument’.25

Aristotle stood behind the writings of Cicero and Quintilian on eloquence. For most Tudor humanists, Quintilian was the supreme authority, not merely on rhetoric, but also on the wider issues related to the purposes of a liberal education. Elyot remarked that one way to master the art of rhetoric would be simply to read Quintilian.26 In the humanist-classical tradition, not only the arguments of orators, but even the skills of oratory, were held to be imbued with ethical values that were the prerequisites of ‘counsel’ and the fruits of the liberal education of which rhetoric was an integral component. The medium was as important as the message! The mindset that underpins this is different to our own, but it is the key to the conceptualization of ‘counselling’ in the Renaissance. And it is why concepts of ‘counsel’ are the background to the topic of the Privy Council. The expectation was that privy councillors would not simply parrot the ruler’s agenda, but would engage in public policy-making for the benefit of the community even at risk to themselves. ‘Counselling’ was loaded with ethical assumptions, which included the instinct towards quasi-republicanism and the ‘mixed’ polity that I have described. In the reign of Henry VIII, these assumptions were latent, although they were widely prevalent in the humanist literature of the 1530s. Under Elizabeth I, by contrast, they became overt, and at several points in the 1560s, 1570s, and 1580s sparked tense exchanges between the queen and her Privy Council (see chapter 7).27

The crux was Aristotle’s emphasis on ‘collegial’ government as a safeguard. For William Cecil and those Elizabethan privy councillors educated according to the model commended by Elyot — and almost all of them were! — the values of ‘counsel’ were the norms against which the decisions (or indecision!) of an ‘imperial’ monarchy could be evaluated. ‘Counsel’ in this sense was less an agenda for action than a framework within which politics and government could be comprehended and discussed. In Elizabeth’s reign, however, it could, and sometimes did, become part of the political agenda itself, in view of the queen’s refusal to settle the succession and her reluctance to advance the Protestant cause in the British Isles and Europe.

(c) Ecclesiastical conciliarism

If the ‘humanist-classical’ tradition is more familiar to students of the Renaissance, equally important is the tradition of ecclesiastical conciliarism. Since the late eleventh century the popes had centralized the Catholic church and stressed its institutional priorities. Pope Gregory VII and Pope Innocent III blazed the trail whereby the papacy’s authority was enlarged. Canon law proclaimed the ‘liberty’ of the church from secular interference and the pope’s right to intervene in secular affairs ‘by reason of sin’. The inference was that the pope’s authority was equivalent to that of Christ. It was increasingly argued that ecclesiastical power was derived from the pope as St Peter’s successor: the ‘descending’ thesis of authority and hierarchy in the church was asserted.

By the late thirteenth century, canon law affirmed the pope’s role as the church’s superior legislator, the primacy of the priesthood, and the unitary spiritual aspirations of church and state to the point where temporal rulers were claimed as papal subjects. The rationale was Innocent III’s doctrine of the ‘plenitude of power’, which held that the pope’s authority was so universal that nothing could be determined in the church without it. The culmination was Boniface VIII’s bull Unam sanctam (1302), which codified this monarchic theory and concluded: ‘We declare, we affirm, we define and pronounce that for every human creature it is absolutely necessary for salvation to be subject to the Roman pontiff’.28

We have already seen that in France these claims were rebutted by the civil lawyers. In addition, the papal ‘plenitude of power’ was attacked by conciliarists who held that the church was a community of believers entitled to secure their own good government. The politics of the Great Schism (1378-1415) underpinned their claims. It was argued: (1) that papal law was subordinate to divine law, and that divine law was expressed by the Bible and the decrees of church councils; (2) that the clergy possessed the potestas ordinis (i.e. the power of consecration) but not the potestas jurisdictionis (i.e. power over worldly affairs); (3) that the General Council of the church was superior to the pope; (4) that the pope was an ‘officer’ of the church charged with specific duties and responsible to the whole Christian people (including the laity) through their representative General Council; (5) that the pope was as prone to error as any Christian; (6) that the pope could be deposed by the General Council.29 These arguments formed the basis of a ‘populist’ or ‘ascending’ thesis of government in the church.

The leading exponents of conciliarism were Jean Gerson (1363-1429), chancellor of the University of Paris, Juan de Segovia (1393-1458), who emerged after 1437 as the leading theorist of the Council of Basle, and Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64), in whose writings were developed the most systematic constitutional theology of the church and a general theory of politics. These writers drew on the earlier works of Marsiglio of Padua (c.1275-1343) and William of Ockham (c.1285-1349), which disputed the pope’s claim to a ‘plenitude of power’ and expressed radical, and at times even heterodox, opinions concerning representation, the rights of the laity, and the relationship of the secular community to clerical and papal power.

The crux was the argument that, in an emergency, the General Council had the right to assemble itself without papal convocation, and that the Council’s authority overrode that of the pope on matters of fundamental principle. From there, the conciliarists evolved complex theories of representation, culminating in the thesis that the political community, including its ruler, was most fully realized in a national representative assembly such as Parliament. Again, based on the writings of Aristotle and Polybius, it was argued that the church had a ‘mixed’ constitution that combined the elements of monarchy in the pope, aristocracy in the cardinals, and popular constitutionalism in the General Council. In Scotland, where the crown was weaker and conciliarism stronger than in England, John Mair laid the foundations later cemented by John Knox and George Buchanan when he argued that the authority of rulers derived from the consent of the community, and that the community might withdraw their consent if the ruler abused his power. These were ‘populist’ ideas which Mair had learned from Gerson at the University of Paris.30

The degree to which Henry VIII drew upon, and publicized, the intellectual resources of conciliarism during his first divorce campaign has only recently been appreciated.31 Perhaps the most important catalyst to the debate of kingship and government during the Tudor period sprang from the attacks on papal power triggered by the king’s divorce propaganda. The debate was revitalized after 1534 by a series of defences and critiques of the royal supremacy, which, in turn, spilled over into the controversies over minority and female monarchy under Edward VI and Mary, when conciliarism and the critiques of papal monarchy and of the ‘imperial’ supremacy underwent subtle — or not so subtle — transformations, to be seized upon by Calvinist theologians and English Protestant exiles in order to construct a theory of resistance to ‘unlawful’ or ‘tyrannical’ rule.32 In constructing a resistance theory, the Marian Protestant exiles regarded ecclesiastical conciliarism as the closest historical precedent for what they were trying to do.

In response to the pope’s refusal to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order that he might marry Anne Boleyn, the king had claimed that the pope was no better than another human legislator who had exceeded his authority, that he was inferior to the General Council, and that he could be deposed by the Council. What Henry did not anticipate was that similar, if not almost identical, arguments would be adopted by the critics of the royal supremacy and used to rebut the theory of ‘imperial’ kingship.33 It was suggested by the critics of the supremacy that Henry VIII had acquired no new powers by virtue of his title of supreme head of the Church of England, and that royal authority was no greater than it had been before; that the ‘king-in-Parliament’ and not the king alone was the legitimate authority for legislation and all other acts of government in church and state; and that the Word of God should properly be interpreted by Parliament and not by Henry VIII as supreme head.34

The leading exponents of this type of conciliarism were Christopher St German and Thomas Starkey.35 St German’s intellectual mentor was Gerson, and in a parliamentary draft of 1531, he aimed to subordinate the functions of the King’s Council to those of Parliament in an attempt to restrict the king to a form of conciliar régime that was limited by the ‘consent of the realm’ in Parliament. His model was a parliamentary council of thirty-two.36 Called the Great Standing Council, its members were to be chosen by Henry VIII but ‘authorized’ by Parliament, and its functions were to advise the king and implement a series of religious and socio-economic reforms from the time the sitting Parliament was dissolved until the conclusion of the ensuing one.

Starkey’s A Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset, begun about 1529 and completed between 1532 and c.1535, was longer and more explicit. It invoked Venetian secular conciliarism, ecclesiastical conciliarism, and notions of representation in Parliament to define the limits of monarchy. Starkey argued that, in an emergency, a Council of Fourteen could summon Parliament automatically, and he endowed this Council with the ‘authority of the whole parliament’ when Parliament was not in session. The Council’s function was to ‘represent the whole body of the people … to see unto the liberty of the whole body of the rea[l]m, and to resist all tyranny which by any manner may grow upon the whole commonalty’. Its membership was to comprise four of the ‘greatest and ancient lords of the temporalty’, two bishops, four judges, and ‘four of the most wise citizens of London’, and it would ensure that the king his Privy Council did ‘nothing again[st] the ordinance of his laws and good policy’. It should have power ‘to call the great parliament whensoever to them it should seem necessary for the reformation of the whole state of the commonalty’ and should also ‘pass all acts of leagues, confederation, peace and war’. The Fourteen were even to ‘elect and choose’ the members of the Privy Council, since ‘this may in no case be committed to the arbitrament of the prince — to choose his own counsel — for that were all one and to commit all to his affects, liberty and rule.37

In the context of the thesis of ‘imperial’ kingship, the writings of Starkey and St German were tantamount to a counter-theory. The norms of ‘counsel’ that Starkey, in particular, derived from conciliarism were predicated on the assumption that the sovereignty of the ruler could be overridden in an emergency and that the legitimacy of public acts of government rested primarily upon the ‘consent’ of the governed in Parliament and hardly at all upon the ruler’s will. As during Henry VI’s incapacity, it was possible to argue that the ruler was an ‘officer’ charged with the defence of the realm and the provision of justice. In particular, ecclesiastical conciliarism addressed the loophole in the theory of ‘counsel’: the issue of whether rulers must actually act upon their counsellors’ advice. In humanist-classical theory, the ruler was free to accept or reject his counsellors’ advice and there was no idiomatic connection between ‘counselling’ and representation in Parliament. According to the logic of ecclesiastical conciliarism, by contrast, if the ruler refused to act in the interests of the public good and to follow the advice of ‘good counsellors’, an ‘accommodation’ could be forced upon him in Parliament. It was Parliament, and not the Privy Council, in this frame of reference that was the most binding forum for public policy-making and ‘consultation’.38 Moreover, when Calvinist eschatology entered into the equation, it was but a short step to a full-fledged theory of resistance to rulers.


  1. [Bacon] (1996), p. 380.
  2. Watts (1996), pp. 16-21.
  3. Watts (1996), p. 24.
  4. Ullmann (1979), pp. 188-90, 202-3; Ullmann (1965), pp. 155-8.
  5. Nicholson (1988), pp. 19-30; Mayer (1995), p. 14.
  6. Watts (1996), pp. 16-17, 25-8.
  7. Harriss (1994), p. 15.
  8. Elyot (1962), p. 238.
  9. Aristotle (1996), pp. 61-91, 139-50.
  10. Elyot (1962), pp. 106-11.
  11. Collinson (1987), pp. 394-424; Peltonen (1995), pp. 54-118.
  12. Aristotle (1996), pp. 87-8.
  13. Aristotle (1996), p. 89.
  14. Aristotle (1996), p. 89.
  15. Aristotle (1996), p. 145.
  16. Conrad (1992), p. 93.
  17. Elyot (1962), p. 241.
  18. More (1973- ), II, p. lxxxix. Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar Augustus (42 B.C.-37 A.D.), Roman emperor (14-37 A.D.). He succeeded his father-in-law, Augustus, after a brilliant military career. He became increasingly tyrannical.
  19. [Elyot] (1967), pp. 203-426.
  20. Skinner (1996), pp. 19-110.
  21. Skinner (1996), pp. 66-87.
  22. Skinner (1996), pp. 93-110.
  23. [Two Early Tudor Lives] (1962), p. 14.
  24. Castiglione (1928), p. 56.
  25. Aristotle (1926), pp. 33-47.
  26. Skinner (1996), pp. 19-110.
  27. Collinson (1987), pp. 394-424; Alford (1997), pp. 233-52.
  28. Lewis (1974), II, pp. 626-7; Ullmann (1965), pp. 114-15.
  29. Ullmann (1965), pp. 200-28; Lewis (1974), II, pp. 453-615; Black (1992), pp. 169-83.
  30. Mason (1990), pp. 182-222.
  31. Murphy (1995), pp. 135-58; [Divorce Tracts] (1988), pp. i-xliv; Nicholson (1988), pp. 19-30; Guy (1986b), pp. 151-78.
  32. Guy (1997b), pp. 89-94; Bowler (1987), pp. 124-43; Kingdon (1991), pp. 193-218; Jordan (1987), pp. 421-51.
  33. Guy (1997b), pp. 80-9.
  34. Guy (1987b), pp. 397-404.
  35. Guy (1980b), pp. 681-7; Guy (1985c), pp. 25-33, 127-35; Guy (1987a), pp. xlvii-lxvii; Guy (1987b), pp. 393-417; Mayer (1988), pp. 207-27; Mayer (1989), pp. 77-105; Mayer (1992), pp. 50-74.
  36. Guy (1985c), pp. 25-33, 127-35.
  37. [Starkey] (1948), pp. 155-6, 164-7.
  38. Guy (1995a), pp. 298-305.