Tudor Monarchy and Its Critiques

1. From the Wars of the Roses to the death of Henry VIII

The most spectacular assets of the monarchy were the person and image of the ruler. The king was at the centre of the polity. Power was concentrated around him. As Bishop Russell declared in a parliamentary speech of 1483, ‘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 counsel?’1 Furthermore, the king’s power was ‘whole’ and ‘entire’. (The term ‘sovereignty’ is found by the 1530s, and was used colloquially by the 1560s.) It was by royal authority that laws were enacted and repealed, and by which taxation was sought, though not granted, since, by 1400, it was received wisdom that taxation was granted by the Commons in Parliament alone, the Lords merely ‘assenting’ to what they had agreed. Henry VII was the most obvious exemplar of this style of kingship. Probably the last ruler to do so, he thought nothing of interrupting lawsuits by writ of privy seal, or of ordering on his ‘mere mocion’ that individuals should make contributions to his war chest or that an error on the engrossed text of a statute be summarily corrected on the rolls of Parliament.

It was universally held that monarchy was instituted by God. The king ruled ‘by the grace of God’, but did so for the benefit of the community. Justice, in its broadest sense, was the purpose of his government. The king governed for the common good, providing the single will necessary for the formulation of common policy. His duties were threefold: 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 rhetoric was that of virtue and good government; the king was a living embodiment of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. He was the fountain of honour and justice. He was valiant in war, the champion of the tiltyard, and was also the protector – Henry VIII by 1531 said the ‘sole protector’ – of the English church and clergy.

Late-medieval regality was discussed in language borrowed from Roman law: the king’s prerogative was ‘ordinary’ and ‘absolute’.2 By his ‘ordinary’ prerogative he enforced juridically the privileges and ‘preeminences’ which he enjoyed as a superior feudal lord. He might also issue pardons or mitigate the effect of statutes for the benefit of individuals. These powers were integral to the common law. They helped to define what the king was king and lord over, and it was in this mode that lawyers spoke of the king’s prerogative ‘by the order of the common law’.3

The king’s ‘absolute’ prerogative was his emergency power. In time of war or revolt he could suspend the law, billet troops on householders, and levy taxation without parliamentary consent. In case of fire he might override the statutes which protected freehold property in order to demolish burning buildings. Furthermore, he was the sole judge of cases of necessity. The judges held in 1292 that ‘for the common utility [the king] is in many cases by his prerogative above the laws and customs usually recognized in his realm’.4  And rulers from Henry IV to James VI and I asserted the obligation of the Commons to grant taxation in cases of ‘evident and urgent necessity’.5 Sir John Fortescue, the most ‘constitutionalist’ of all late-fifteenth century theorists of monarchy, himself conceded that the dominion of the king of England was regale as well as politicum. In his ‘politic’ role the king might not tax his subjects nor change the laws ‘without the grant or assent of his whole realm expressed in Parliament’, but when confronted by war or emergency he was untrammelled by such restrictions.6 By the time of the debates on the Petition of Right (1628) stereotyped versions of Fortescue’s theory had been annexed by common lawyers and parliamentarians to justify a thesis of limited or ‘constitutional’ monarchy. But Fortescue’s writings did not establish such a paradigm. What Fortescue in fact erected was the model of a self-limiting, self-regulating king who chose by way of concession, or as a matter of honour and duty, not to exceed the bounds of reason or to act contrary to the public good. The dissonance between this interpretation and the model of ‘imperial’ kingship as propounded by Henry VIII in the Acts of Appeals and Supremacy is less strident than is conventionally imagined.

The king’s ‘natural’ counsellors were the nobility (defined broadly as the temporal and spiritual lords and other leading landowners and officials): their attendance at Court had symbolic and practical importance. Symbolic, because the king’s authority was most visible when he wore his crown or purple robes, or took part in processions or solemn religious festivals, or sat enthroned in majesty on days of ‘estate’. Practical, because no temporal jurisdiction exceeded that of the king counselled.7 This protocol was crucial. As Dr Watts explains, ‘The personal will of the king was an essential prescription for public acts of judgement and so, by analogy, for all legitimate acts of government’.8 This did not mean that the king could act irresponsibly, since the king’s power was circumscribed by law and counsel. St Thomas Aquinas, the doyen of scholastic political theorists, had defined a tyrant as a ruler who ruled his realm for his own profit rather than for the good of the community. Or as the English ambassadors to France were instructed to put the point in 1439, ‘God made not his people … for the princes, but he made the princes for his service and for the wele (i.e. welfare) … of his people, that is to say to rule them in tranquillity namely by the means of due [ad]ministration of justice.’9 Less conventionally, Sir Thomas More, in The History of King Richard III, compiled between the years 1513 and 1519, described a tyrant as a ruler who subverted the law, subverted the church, and pursued a policy of excessive taxation.

Whether expressed in Court, Council or Parliament, it was counsel that made the exercise of royal power legitimate. Renaissance theorists continually emphasized this point. In the humanist-classical tradition, counsel was linked directly to virtue, since it was the dictates of virtue that impelled the king to act according to the common good. In The Book Named the Governor, dedicated to Henry VIII in 1531, Sir Thomas Elyot concluded: ‘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’.10 The pith was that rulers should be suitably advised. Since ‘one mortal man cannot have knowledge of all things done in a realm or large dominion, and at one time discuss all controversies, reform all transgressions, and exploit all consultations … it is expedient and also needful that under the capital governor be sundry mean authorities, as it were aiding him in the distribution of justice in sundry parts of a huge multitude’.11 Just as it was obligatory in the Roman world for a magistrate to take legal counsel before pronouncing judgement, and for a landowner to seek the advice of his neighbours before manumitting a slave, so the king of England had a duty to ‘govern with the better advice, and consequently with a more perfect governance.’

A loophole in the theory of counsel was, of course, the issue of whether rulers must actually act upon their counsellors’ advice. In this respect, it was but a short step from conciliar theory to a full-fledged theory of resistance. For this reason, ‘counselling’ was usually held to be a duty and not a right.12 As Henry VIII reminded the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, the king was free to choose his own councillors and could not be bound by their advice. Yet, in the Renaissance tradition, it was incumbent on him to listen affably because the spirit of ‘good 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 counsellor tendered his honest opinion, which the ruler received in a spirit of ‘likeness and equality’. For Elyot, as for almost every other humanist, the golden source was Aristotle’s Politics, which held that 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 him.’13

Elyot (still addressing Henry VIII!) highlighted the case of Alexander the Great, who ‘fell into a hateful grudge among his own people’ when he eschewed affability and ‘waxed to be terrible in manners’, forbidding ‘his friends and discreet servants to use their accustomed liberty in speech.’ (Plain speaking was Elyot’s speciality! A later dialogue contained a thinly-veiled comparison between Henry VIII and the tyrant, Dionysius II of Syracuse, ‘a man of quick and subtle wit’, who ‘was wonderful sensual, unstable, and wandering in sundry affections’. He delighted in ‘voluptuous pleasures’ and ‘gathering of great treasure’, and often ‘resolved into a beastly rage and vengeable cruelty’.)14  Elyot cherished Aristotle, because the latter had crafted Book III of the Politics to subvert the legitimacy of monarchy based solely on the sovereign’s will. In Elyot’s opinion, the defect of monarchy could be averted if government were to be undertaken by the king’s ‘friends’: a body of persons who are both good men and good citizens.15 Aristotle had concluded that kings are maintained and secured by their ‘friends’. The reverse was true of tyranny, where the tyrant relied on the principle, ‘All men want my overthrow, but my friends have most power to effect it’. The ‘friends’ of the ruler were his ‘eyes and ears and hands and feet’. They helped him to rule, but they also secured his power. Elyot exploited this conceit to the full, and it reappears in the Rainbow portrait of Elizabeth I at Hatfield House, where the ears and eyes that adorn the queen’s gown represent her privy councillors and servants who watch and listen, but do not pronounce. They are her ‘friends’, but in an explicit allusion to Aristotle they are also her ‘colleagues’ if not her equals and peers. They support, but also limit, her power. At one level, the Rainbow portrait depicts Elizabeth in royal majesty, but at another it is an icon of limited monarchy.16

Inscribed in humanist-classical literature and iconography was a strand which directly linked ‘good counsel’ (ultimately) to republicanism, or at least to a preference for constitutional or ‘limited’ monarchy. The intellectual avant-garde of Tudor England were the king’s subjects, but inside every humanist was a citizen struggling to get out. The image of citizenship which they advocated centred on the bonus civis or vir civilis: the ‘active citizen’ of the Roman republic who was the political equivalent of the ‘virtuous man’; one 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.’17 Such a man was the hero of Cicero’s De officiis and the model for the fictional ‘Morus’ in Book I of Utopia. In the monarchies of the Renaissance, of course, a republican model required adaptation, hence it became the mission of the humanists to remould the ‘active citizen’ to match the models of service, benefits and the cursus honorum prevailing at the royal Court. The ‘active citizen’ was to be redefined and represented as a ‘counsellor’ of the ruler.

Considered comparatively, the aims of the Renaissance monarchies were remarkably consistent.18 They centred on dynastic security, territorial centralization, increased revenues to finance the costs of warfare and building projects, the subordination of the nobility and higher clergy to the crown, control of local ‘franchises’ and feudal privileges, and the augmentation of regal power. In particular, rulers proclaimed their territorial ‘sovereignty’. They adumbrated this principle by invoking the language of ’empire’. Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, the civil lawyers in France had maintained 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 purely ‘spiritual’ affairs, and that the king might tax his clergy. The pope had no authority to legislate for the kingdom, because the prerequisite for legislation was dominion, and the pope had no dominion over the king’s subjects.19 From there it was but a short step to the thesis that rulers possessed secular and ecclesiastical imperium (literally, ‘command’). Both Francis I and Henry VIII, though in admittedly different ways, arrived at this position. Their power was likened to that exercised by the Old Testament kings of Israel: David, Solomon, or (in the case of Henry VIII) Hezekiah; or that wielded by Constantine and Justinian in the later Roman empire. Biblical and historical prototypes provided the necessary conceptual models. Commercial printers, notably in France, England and Scotland, had already discovered an almost insatiable market for vernacular histories: the rediscovery of the ‘ancient histories and chronicles’ and ‘laws’ and ‘constitutions’ of the kingdom was followed by a plethora of publishing projects whereby the precedents and examples of ‘imperial’ kingship in action could be illustrated and disseminated.

The crux is Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the comprehensive theory of monarchy that was announced by the Acts of Appeals and Supremacy. The catalyst was the king’s first divorce campaign of 1527-33, when Henry VIII annexed the language of ‘imperial’ kingship in order to break with Rome and declare his supremacy over the English church. Henry’s political theology was proclaimed in the preamble to the Act of Appeals (1533):

Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic, compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of spiritualty and temporalty, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience; [the king] being also institute and furnished by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God with plenary, whole and entire power, preeminence, authority, prerogative and jurisdiction ….

Henry VIII defined his prerogative in terms of his imperium. He argued, first, that the kings of England from the second century AD had enjoyed secular imperium and spiritual supremacy over their kingdom and national church; and, second, that the English church was an autonomous province of the Catholic church independent from Rome and the papacy. The Act of Supremacy proclaimed the king’s new style in 1534. However, the role of Parliament should not be misinterpreted. In the mind of Henry VIII the royal supremacy was never equivalent to a doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. It was modelled on the prototypes of ancient Israel and the later (Christian) Roman empire: the Crown assumed full responsibility for the doctrine and ordering of the church. Henry’s favourite kings were David and Solomon, and he could quote verbatim from the Old Testament and the Code and Institutes of Justinian. The annotations in his personal psalter suggest that, by the 1540s, Henry actually perceived himself as David, and that he increasingly read the Psalms as a commentary on his own divine mission and regality.20 Nor was Elizabeth I’s position significantly different. Despite the purposeful ambiguity of the settlement of 1559, Elizabeth consistently held her royal supremacy to be magisterial. She might delegate the exercise of her authority to royal or statutory commissioners, but imperium was vested in the monarch alone. For Elizabeth, as much as for Henry VIII or indeed the early Stuarts, the supreme governor was ‘authorised’ immediately by God; disobedience to the monarch was ultimately disobedience to God.21

In a striking sense, Henry VIII had reinvented the theocratic model of kingship. His imperium was ordained by God and embraced both ‘temporal’ and ‘spiritual’ government. The kings of England were invested with an ‘imperial’ sovereignty, part of which had been ‘lent’ to the priesthood by previous English monarchs. Moreover, royal imperium was antecedent to the jurisdiction of the clergy and was inalienable. Despite its partial ‘loan’ to the clergy, it could be resumed by the king at will. By exercising his imperium the king could redefine the duties of ‘his’ clergy, summon church councils within his dominions, revise canon law, dissolve the monasteries and even expound the articles of faith. In particular, he could require Convocation to rule on his matrimonial affairs, and then invite Parliament to reinforce their (favourable!) verdict by statute and common law.

The neatest defence of royal imperium was culled from the leges Anglorum, an interpolation of the ‘Laws of Edward the Confessor’. The crucial extract concerned Lucius I, the mythical ruler of Britain who was converted to Christianity in AD 187 and wrote to Pope Eleutherius asking him to transmit the Roman law. In reply Eleutherius explained that Lucius did not need the Roman law, because he already had the Old and New Testaments from which he might himself ‘take a law’ for his kingdom. In a passage which became a Tudor battle-cry, Eleutherius recognized Lucius to be ‘vicar of God’ in his kingdom; he was the superior legislator who ‘gave’ the law and exercised imperium over church and state.

From here it was a short step to Ulpian’s thesis that the king was above the law as the prerogative of his imperium. His ‘absolute’ prerogative was no longer to be confined to war or emergency, as Fortescue’s theory had required. This line of argument reached its apogee under the early Stuarts, when James VI and I maintained that, salus populi (i.e. to promote the public good), he might at his discretion invoke the absolute prerogative for reasons of state. The gist can be found in the notes of Henry VIII’s advisers upon the most important legal treatise of the Middle Ages, Bracton’s On the Laws and Customs of England. Whereas Bracton had stated that the king of England was ‘under God and the law, because the law makes the king’, Henry VIII claimed that the king was ‘under God but not the law, because the king makes the law’.22 The question thereafter became: What was the extent of the mystical ‘absolute’ power enjoyed by the Tudor monarchy in church and state?  Could the ruler’s imperium be circumscribed by custom and the common law?

As to ecclesiastical affairs, the royal supremacy was essentially caesaropapist: Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Gardiner, from their very different perspectives, concurred that the king had the final authority over rites and ceremonies.23 Henry VIII, meanwhile, affirmed his right to define the articles of faith. He even (briefly) claimed the ‘cure of souls’ until rebuffed by an outraged episcopate.24 If I may cite iconographical evidence again, by far the most compelling image of the Henrician royal supremacy is Holbein’s watercolour (c.1535) depicting Solomon’s reception of the Queen of Sheba.25 The figure of Solomon is a portrait of Henry VIII. The Queen of Sheba was a traditional emblem of the Church, and the ensemble illustrates Henry VIII as supreme head receiving the homage of the Church of England. Furthermore, the backcloth behind the throne bears an inscription based on verses from the Old Testament (I Kings 10:9; II Chronicles 9:7-8), intimating that Henry VIII is appointed directly by, and is accountable only to, God. (To cement this point, in a place where the text of Holbein’s inscription differed from the text of the Vulgate edition of the Bible as it was traditionally cited before the Council of Trent, a word has been bracketed in order to remove any ambiguity that might imply that Henry VIII had been ‘elected’ or ‘acclaimed’ king by popular consent.)26

The thesis of ‘imperial’ kingship was ‘rediscovered’ between 1529 and 1531 by a research team that included Cranmer, Edward Foxe, and Nicholas de Burgo. It was a quintessentially humanist project, but it sparked off a volley of critiques. These were the issues: Was the king’s imperium the harbinger of tyranny? To what extent had there been a failure or narrowing of counsel? Had the king’s regal power been augmented by the Act of Supremacy? Through what machinery should the king’s government of the ecclesiastical polity be exercised?

Elyot composed The Book Named the Governor synchronously with the Pardon of the Clergy (1531) and the first insinuation of the thesis of the royal supremacy. He feared the rise at Court of an exclusive cabinet council which spoke only for the anticlerical, anti-papal caucus planning Henry VIII’s first divorce.27 He was the earliest commentator to observe the shift towards a select Privy Council in the 1530s, and he sought to mitigate this development by annexing its intellectual context. This led him to reinterpret the role of the king’s ‘friends’, whom he cast not as the instruments of private tyranny but as the agents of a strong state. His historical grasp was assured: he knew that in the Roman imperial world the emperor’s ‘friends’ (or amici principis) had chiefly been drawn from the governors who had served the emperor in the localities, and who numbered among his counsellors when they were resident at Court.28 He also believed – with Thomas Starkey and (later) Sir Philip Sidney – that a monarchy limited by a strong nobility would insure the state against tyranny. Hence Elyot conceptualized the amici in terms of the hereditary nobility and landed élites, who served the Crown at Court, in Parliament and in the localities. While this contrasted sharply with the ideas of Richard Moryson whose emphasis on ‘true nobility’ was tantamount to a defence of meritocracy, Elyot’s reading is immediately explicable. For his motive was to recreate the mechanism of ‘good counsel’ whereby the exclusivity of the break with Rome might be averted and traditional links be restored between the Crown and its grass-roots. What ultimately underpinned The Book Named the Governor was the axiom that rulers should promote the ‘best’ and most ‘experienced’ counsellors and that no ‘good’ (in this sense ‘noble’) counsellor should ‘be omitted or passed over’.29 For Elyot, the problem of government itself 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.30

Conciliarism, in short, lay at the core of Elyot’s political creed. And the same is true of Starkey, whose eclectic masterpiece, A Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset,31 was begun about 1529 and completed between 1532 and c.1535. In this remarkable critique, Starkey invoked at once (Venetian) secular and ecclesiastical conciliarism and the English baronial tradition against the thesis of ‘imperial’ kingship. He had studied at Oxford and Padua, and served as Reginald Pole’s secretary in the 1520s. He had seen at first hand Florentine refugees and Venetian patricians blending their traditions of civic humanism into a ‘myth of Venice’, and was attracted to their viewpoint because it retained the princely office of doge but relied on the Consiglio maggiore as the guarantor of liberty and equality and of government by the ottimati.32 Starkey was particularly enamoured of the Venetian Council of Ten – essentially the republic’s inner executive committee – which (in fact) comprised seventeen: ten elected councillors, plus the doge and six of his ‘privy’ councillors.

In his Dialogue Starkey stressed the limits of monarchy more strongly than any of his contemporaries. More than any other writer, he fused the idioms of civic humanism and aristocratic republicanism with those of the baronial tradition in order to construct a thesis of ‘limited’ monarchy.33 His points of departure were Ciceronian civic duty, and public authority as enshrined in Parliament. Since, however, Parliament was an intermittent institution, Starkey endowed a Venetian-style Council of Fourteen with the ‘authority of the whole parliament’ when Parliament was not in session. The function of this Council 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’.34 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 and his own (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 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.’35 By imposing such severe restraints of ‘counsel’ on the king’s exercise of imperium, Starkey effectively remodelled the English constitution in the image of that of Venice.36

Starkey’s Dialogue was unpublished; indeed the politics of the 1530s made publication in England unthinkable. In comparison, the humanist whose criticism Henry VIII truly feared, Thomas More, virtually courted publicity. While it is conventionally held that More kept silent on political subjects after his resignation as lord chancellor, in fact he adopted rhetorical strategies of dissimulation that enabled him not only to continue publishing on ‘hot topics’, but also to voice his opinions, if obliquely.37 More delighted in irony. Like Machiavelli and Guicciardini, he was conversant with the writings of Tacitus, the most sceptical and disenchanted of the Roman historians.38 Machiavelli had cited Tacitus with genuine approval. Again, Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano had not excluded a talent for dissimulation from its image of the courtly ideal. Within limits that was conventional, and Tacitus was neither a model for Castiglione nor even Machiavelli. Until the 1560s the humanists used Tacitus chiefly as a quarry for Roman imperial history.39 But, when, in 1533, More openly suggested that Henry VIII and Tiberius were not unlike, his analogy was fraught with implications.40 Furthermore, in his account of the reign of Nero, Tacitus had described how the emperor had divorced Octavia in order to marry Poppaea: the circumstances, if not identical, resembled those surrounding the divorce of Catherine of Aragon.41 There can be no doubt that when More finally mounted the scaffold, he believed Henry VIII to be a tyrant. There is a moving echo here with one of More’s Latin Epigrams, written around the year 1515 and published in 1518, one of a sequence that discussed monarchy, tyranny and republicanism: ‘sola mors tyrannicida est’; death alone is the remedy for tyranny; but whose death? – the tyrant’s or the victim’s? On that issue, More did indeed remain silent.42

We have a record of More’s analogy concerning monarchy and the royal supremacy to Richard Rich in the Tower in June 1535: ‘A king may be made by Parliament and a king deprived by Parliament, to which act any [of his] subjects being of the Parliament may give his consent … but to the case [in question, (i.e. the royal supremacy)] a subject cannot be bound because he cannot give his consent … [in] Parliament, saying further that although the king were accepted [as supreme head] in England, yet most Utter [i.e., foreign] parts do not affirm the same’. When finally indicted under the Acts of Supremacy and Treason, More denied that Parliament had the power to legislate for the ecclesiastical polity. In the last resort, he died as much to protect the Catholic church from Parliament as the king. The reason was that the most influential critique of the break with Rome had come from the pen of the common lawyer, Christopher St German, who went into print to argue that it was not the ‘vicar of God’ but the ‘king-in-Parliament’ which was the ‘high sovereign over the people’.43 In a reading proleptic of Book VIII of Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, St German argued that all law, whether secular or ecclesiastical, was properly made by king, Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, ‘for the Parliament so gathered together representeth the estate of all the people within this realm, that is to say of the whole catholic church thereof’.44 St German conceded that both church and state were directly subject to the king’s authority. But, to counter Henry VIII’s theocratic claims, he invoked Fortescue’s concept of dominium politicum et regale in order to argue that the king of England should govern both state and church in a parliamentary way. According to St German, the legitimacy of government rested upon the consent of the governed. Henry VIII was to exercise his ‘imperial’ authority in Parliament. In particular, St German withheld from the ruler the prerogative to interpret the canonical texts of scripture as supreme head of the church and thus to expound divine law. He argued that Parliament should itself perform this fundamental task since ‘the whole catholic church’ came together in Parliament.45

St German’s counter-thesis was anchored in his unshakable conviction that sovereignty lay in the ‘king-in-Parliament’, and not the king alone. And since his Doctor and Student together with A Little Treatise called the New Additions became set texts at the inns of court, his interpretation of the ‘king-in-Parliament’ set a benchmark for lawyers and constitutional theorists for several centuries. His political creed mirrored that of Thomas Cromwell, at least as Cromwell’s position has been described by Sir Geoffrey Elton in a classic article.46 A difference, however, is that St German was more ‘populist’ in outlook than Cromwell; he was, in fact, another conciliarist. In a programme of 1531 for religious and constitutional renewal, St German advocated a strictly parliamentary version of the sort of council which was also to be favoured by Starkey. 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 to implement a series of sweeping reforms from the time the current Parliament was dissolved until the conclusion of the ensuing one.47 The relationship between the ‘great standing council’ and the king’s privy council was not expressly defined in this draft. In a number of specified matters the ‘great standing council’ was to ‘make ordinance’ as seemed to it ‘expedient’, but in general its agenda was to be defined by statute, so that it might diagnose and redress grievances upon lines laid down in Parliament.

Such idealistic critiques as those of Elyot, Starkey and St German were not likely to become reality. True, the Acts of Appeals and Supremacy raised issues of immense significance. Of these, the quasi-sacerdotal nature of the royal supremacy was perhaps the most important. The fact is, however, that these issues were smothered or sidestepped in the 1530s, eclipsed by the pace of change and by the preoccupation of the political élite with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace. The touchstone was the issue of obedience: only a few were prepared to cross the line into outright resistance.48 In fact, a majority of the élite in church and state had all along been papal minimalists, while conservative bishops such as Stephen Gardiner positively (if reluctantly at first) endorsed the royal supremacy until Henry VIII’s death on the grounds that the king was more likely to be a successful bulwark against Protestantism than the pope.49

The effect of the reign of Henry VIII was thus to create a latent ambiguity, or binary opposition, within the theory of monarchy. On the one hand, ‘official’ pronouncements maintained that the king was endowed with secular and ecclesiastical imperium. On the other, the ‘unofficial’ exponents of conciliarism and common-law doctrine stressed the role of councils, counsellors and representative institutions if ‘limited’ or ‘constitutional’ government were to be preserved. The extent of this contradiction should not be exaggerated. The most accomplished Henrician defence of ‘imperial’ kingship, Gardiner’s De vera obedientia (1535), successfully incorporated both positions. Gardiner argued that the royal supremacy was ordained by God, but the people had consented to it by their free votes in Parliament.50 This may be compared to someone who fits two locks, each by a different manufacturer, to his front door. The locks have incompatible mechanisms and different keys, but when used in combination they double the level of security! Apologists from Gardiner to Lord Chancellor Hatton, addressing Parliament in 1589, took this prudent line. Yet the Acts of Appeals and Supremacy created tensions in the body politic. While the novelty of Henry VIII’s theory of kingship can be overstated, the doctrine of the royal supremacy was far more controversial. Furthermore, the Dissolution heightened this tension. For the original purpose of the Dissolution was to provide a permanent landed endowment for the ‘imperial’ Crown. Hence theocratic kingship was to be underpinned by what Fortescue had called a ‘refoundation of the Crown’, so that the king would live perpetually of his own, and parliamentary taxation would only be required in case of war. Henry VIII’s war expenditure finally emasculated this plan, but the antithesis remained. ‘Imperial’ kingship, of which the royal supremacy was a fundamental and intrinsic dimension, could hereafter be cast in opposition to humanist ideals of classical and civic republicanism, and to the common law.

2. Minority and female monarchy, 1547-1603

In the history of the Tudor monarchy, the death of Henry VIII was a watershed. Looking back on the previous half century from the perspective of the reign of James I, Francis Bacon commented on the ‘strangest variety’ of reigns: that of ‘a child; the offer of an usurpation … the reign of a lady married to a foreign Prince; and the reign of a lady solitary and unmarried.’51 Until recently, the acephalous nature of (especially) Elizabeth’s rule was scarcely observed, but since 1990 there has been a spate of works on the topic.52 As Carol Levin puts the point, ‘if a queen were confidently to demonstrate the attributes of power, she would not be acting in a womanly manner; yet womanly behaviour will ill-fit a queen for the rigours of rule…. Everyone expected she would marry and solve the problem of being a woman ruler by turning the governance over to her husband.’53

James I well understood the resonances. When he was absent from London and Queen Anne of Denmark attended the Privy Council on his behalf, he jibed at Robert Cecil: ‘Ye and your fellows there are so proud now, that you have got the guiding again of a feminine court in the old fashion that I know not how to deal with ye’.54 He was probably alluding to the other principal abberation of the Elizabethan Court: the fact that ritual courtship and pretended affection were the prerequisites to preferment. As Bacon also recalled, Elizabeth ‘allowed herself to be wooed and courted, and even to have love made to her’, observing that these ‘dalliances detracted but little from her fame and nothing at all from her majesty’. In this remark he put his finger on the essence of Elizabethan politics: first that to succeed at Court politicians had to pretend to be in love with the queen; secondly that the conduct of the ‘game’ of courtship was Elizabeth’s most effective tool of policy.55 For the dithering, prevarication, and generally dismissive behaviour which was understood to be archetypical of the conventional ‘mistress’ provided Elizabeth with her weapons of political manipulation and manoeuvre. In order to beat her male courtiers at their own game, she changed the rules and capitalized on the power granted to her by virtue of her gender.

The rule of women or minors was a subject that provoked extreme reactions of fascination, adoration or loathing in the sixteenth century. The rule of a (male) minor was the easier topic to handle. There the precedents were comparatively straightforward: government would be exercised by a Council of Regency until the king was declared ‘of age’: in addition, a Protector of the Realm or a Governor of the King’s Person might be named to pronounce (or perform administratively) the king’s will in consultation with the Regency Council. Such a framework automatically elevated the role of the Council in politics, and tended to stimulate factionalism at Court as leading councillors competed to assume the offices of Protector or Governor (the two might be combined or held independently). Of course, the precedents of conciliar rule during the incapacity of Henry VI were not auspicious: in 1455-6, for example, the duke of York’s efforts to assert himself and his policies irrespective of the costs to the Crown threatened both the conventions of the monarchy and the interests of his fellow nobles and councillors.56 In the case of the duke of Somerset’s protectorate (1547-9), the key was not only that the duke arrogated the style of Protector to himself in defiance of Henry VIII’s last will and testament, but in addition he pursued an ill-conceived and financially catastrophic policy in Scotland, where he attempted to conquer and (effectively) subordinate that kingdom to the authority of the English Crown by an enforced dynastic marriage between Edward VI and the infant Mary, the future queen of Scots. More than any Tudor politician except Elizabeth’s last favourite, the second earl of Essex, Somerset equated his ambition with the public good.57 His overthrow by the duke of Northumberland, following a Court putsch begun in October 1549, was highly reminiscent of the events of 1455-6.

Northumberland’s coup illustrated precisely how personal Tudor monarchy remained at the death of Henry VIII. In order to capture Edward VI’s government, Northumberland had virtually to make the boy-king a hostage: by controlling all access to the prince, he was thereby able to manipulate such tools of administration as the signet and dry stamp, and was able to order almost any action in Edward’s name. Politics became a struggle waged at Court for possession of the king’s body, ‘with both sides scrambling to position themselves and their clients in the royal apartments, next to the king’s bedchamber, as close as possible to the king himself.’58 Maintaining control of the king required a monopoly of access to the privy chamber. In view of Elyot’s opinion that the defect of monarchy could be averted if government were to be undertaken by the king’s ‘friends’, it is a supreme irony that Professor Hoak discovered, when reconstructing these events, that Northumberland achieved his purpose at the crucial moment by procuring, as an eye-witness later put it, ‘great frendes abowte the king’.59

Debate on the monarchy in the 1550s was further underpinned by the issue of religion. In Edward VI’s reign the royal supremacy became a Trojan Horse for Protestantism. Since, however, the king was only nine years old at his accession, a new regal prototype was required – David and Solomon were also less suitable in the new doctrinal context – and the model selected was that of Josiah, one of the kings of Judah whom the continental reformers especially revered for his attacks on idolatry. Josiah had succeeded to the throne at the age of eight, after his father, who had ‘walked not in the way of the Lord’, had been assassinated. He had purged Judah and Jerusalem from the ‘carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baal in his presence’ (II Kings, 22-23).60 Again, it had been in Josiah’s reign that ‘the book of the law’ had been rediscovered by the high priest of the temple at Jerusalem, which presented a model for the Edwardian régime’s championing of the vernacular Bible and Prayer Book.61 In the context of Somerset’s usurpation of the Protectorate in 1547 and Northumberland’s subsequent coup, the image of King Josiah made it relatively straightforward for the king’s councillors to justify a programme of ‘fast reformation from above’ while maintaining intact the legal authority of the ‘imperial’ royal supremacy.62

Again, the polemical debate of Mary’s monarchy had less to do with the controversy concerning the pace of change in the parishes and local communities than with gender politics and the Calvinist theory of resistance.63 It is now better understood that, beyond the circles of the evangelical avant-garde and the relatively narrow confines of London, the South-East, East Anglia, and the Midlands across to Gloucestershire, it was scarcely Mary’s traditional Catholic devotion or even her campaign of persecution that stimulated intransigence and revolt.64 It was, rather, her Spanish marriage, her steadfast commitment to the papacy, and (especially) her resolve to restore to the church, if and when possible, the ex-religious and chantry lands sold by the Crown to the laity under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

Mary longed to preside over a ‘consensus’ government – one from which radical Protestants and Northumberland’s close adherents alone were excluded – but the reality is that she had to dictate to her Privy Council each of the three major policies of the reign: her marriage to King Philip, the reunion with Rome, and the declaration of war with France. It is true that accounts of conciliar factions in Mary’s reign have been exaggerated. The débâcle of April 1554, for example, was the result of an artless attempt by Lord Chancellor Gardiner to ‘bounce’ the Council into supporting the reunion with Rome and the reenactment of the heresy laws when it had previously resolved that no contentious religious measures should be laid before Parliament in that session.65 Yet, despite her marriage, which was celebrated in July 1554, and Parliament’s endorsement of the reunion with Rome the following November, Mary was assailed by objections to her rule on the grounds of religion and gender. In particular, a number of radical Protestant exiles who had fallen under Calvin’s influence invoked resistance theory against Mary, whom they identified with Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, who had fostered the worship of Baal and tried to destroy the prophets of Israel (I Kings 18:4-13). She had been killed by Jehu (II Kings 9:29-37) and her carcass was consumed by dogs.66

Christopher Goodman’s How Superior Powers O[u]ght to be Obey[e]d of their Subjects was archetypical of the genre. Predicated on the principle that ‘we must obey God rather than men’ – precisely the slogan that Henry VIII had unleashed against the pope in his first divorce campaign! – the book based its attack on Mary’s alleged tyranny. Goodman derived all political power from God, regarded the obedience of a subject to temporal power as dependent on an obligation to honour divine law (interpreted in a Protestant way), and argued that a ruler could be deposed by her subjects (and he did not distinguish here between ordinary private persons and magistrates) if she violated either divine or positive law. Mary was unfit to rule: she was a woman and ‘a bastard by birth’ (and thus barred by the laws of inheritance from rule), and a ‘traytor to God’. She had abolished ‘that religion which was preached under kinge Edwarde … so that now both by Gods Lawe and mans, she oght to be punished with death, as an open idolatres in the sight of God, and a cruel murtherer of his saints before men, and merciles traytoresse to her owne native countrie’.67

Again, John Ponet held that monarchy was subordinate to law. In A Short Treatise of Politike Power he, too, remodelled arguments directly borrowed from those used by Henry VIII against the pope. Anything done contrary to scripture (and thus divine law) was not lawful, but rather the product of ‘cruel tyranny’. Men ‘ought to have more respect to their country than to their prince: to the commonwealth than to any one person’. As he continued: commonwealths are antecedent to rulers; commonwealths and realms may live when the head is cut off, and ‘may put on a new head’. In a chapter entitled, ‘Whether it be lawful to depose an evil governor, and kill a tyrant’, Ponet justified tyrannicide and the deposition of rulers at length. As much by historical and biblical allusion as by outright assertion, he upheld the opinion that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire: much more the evil tree that bringeth forth evil fruit’. He stopped short of direct action by private persons: ‘Forasmuch as all things in every christian commonwealth ought to be done decently and according to order and charity, I think it cannot be maintained by God’s word that any private man may kill’. But this may have been a rhetorical device, since the crucial exception was in cases where the magistracy had failed: ‘where execution of just punishment upon tyrants, idolaters, and traiterous governors is either by the whole state utterly neglected, or the prince with the nobility and council conspire the subversion or alteration of their country and people’. It is highly likely that this exception, from Ponet’s vivid description, was applicable to the Marian polity.68

It was left to the atavistic John Knox to construct a critique that was the classic of misogyny.69 Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women was a sensational diatribe that castigated women’s rule. ‘To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrarious to His revealed will and approved order, and finally it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.’70 And again, ‘How abominable before God is the empire or rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard’. Knox openly incited the subjects of women rulers to acts of resistance: to ‘repress her inordinate pride and tyranny to the uttermost of their power’. Furthermore, the ‘nobility and estates by whose blindness a woman is promoted’ had a duty to ‘retreat that which unadvisedly and by ignorance they have pronounced’. ‘Without further delay’, they should ‘remove from authority all such persons as by usurpation, violence or tyranny do possess the same’. A woman ruler was a ‘monster in nature’! If any man feared to violate an oath which he had taken to her, he should be persuaded that oaths rooted in ‘ignorance’ were a sin; ‘so is the obstinate purpose to keep the same nothing but plain rebellion against God’.71 Knox’s polemic was published in 1559: its intended targets were the Catholic régimes of Mary Tudor in England and Mary of Guise in Scotland. It is hardly surprising that Elizabeth I was incensed when the work appeared without any modification or retraction shortly after her accession. But Knox was unmoved: he merely shelved his proposed sequel, which was to have been entitled The Second Blast of the Trumpet!

Stereotypes of gender were indeed so deeply etched into the collective psychology of early-modern society that Mary’s death and the coronation of a (seemingly!) English Deborah72 served only to refocus the anxiety that female monarchy instilled, especially once it was appreciated that Elizabeth had resolved to ‘live and die a virgin’. John Aylmer’s An harborowe for faithfull and trewe subiectes was written and published in 1559. Intended as a riposte to Knox, the tract was, to all intents and purposes, an apology for Elizabeth’s fitness to rule. In this respect, the scale of the ‘public relations’ problem that the Elizabethan Privy Council inherited should not be underestimated. In 1559, England had a monarch who (in the eyes of the Catholic powers) was a bastard, a heretic, a woman, unmarried, and challenged as to her title and right of succession to the English throne by Mary, queen of Scotland and Dowager Queen of France.73

As a former Marian exile, Aylmer was the ideal author to confute Knox. He had been a tutor to Lady Jane Grey and had sat out Mary’s reign in Strasburg and Zurich. As he maintained, ‘it is not in England so dangerous a matter to have a woman ruler as men take it to be. For first it is not she that ruleth but the laws, the executors whereof be her judges, appointed by her, her justices of the peace and such other officers’. He continued: ‘she maketh no statutes or laws but [in] the honourable court of Parliament …. What may she do alone wherein is peril?’74 Or as Professor Collinson puts the point: Aylmer argued ‘very much along the lines that the government of a woman was tolerable because in England it would not be so much her government as government in her name and on her behalf …. One might as well justify the government of Mrs. Thatcher on the grounds that her cabinet can be trusted to keep her in order’ (see below, chapter 4).

The analogy is superb. For ‘the cabinet’ in the Elizabethan context was the Privy Council. It was certain that under a woman ruler, and especially an unmarried one, the Privy Council would assert its authority as the élite executive board because the inherent social assumption was that the business of government was properly conducted by men. Under Elizabeth, the Privy Council effectively ran the country. It assumed corporate responsibility for the management of finance, something that Henry VII and Henry VIII had handled personally. It enforced the religious settlement of 1559. It managed national defence and fortifications. And it enforced law and order and regulated trade and the economy. For example, it issued proclamations, regulated the poor laws, fixed prices and wages in London, and advised justices of the peace on wages elsewhere; it regulated internal trade; and it controlled vagrancy and organized ‘watches’ for Jesuits and seminary priests. There were 19 privy councillors in 1559; 19 in 1586; 11 in 1597; and 13 in 1601. They worked harder as the reign progressed: in the 1560s they met three or four times per week, but by the 1590s they were assembling almost every day, sometimes in both mornings and afternoons.75

Yet politics was a different matter. The crucial political issues of Elizabeth’s reign were her marriage, the succession to the throne, foreign policy (especially in Scotland, France and the Netherlands), and the alteration of the religious settlement of 1559. Whenever these topics were ventilated, Elizabeth attempted to forbid or limit discussion or declined to take her privy councillors’ advice when it was offered. She even redefined these topics as ‘matters of state’; they became arcana imperii – the Tacitean phrase for the ‘secrets’ or ‘mysteries of state’: the issues which, if discussed without the sanction of the ruler, pierced the veil of ‘imperial’ sovereignty. They were the issues that Elizabeth consistently reserved for her own decision – or more often indecision – by invoking ‘humanist-classical’ idioms to argue that she needed to be further ‘advised’ on matters touching her Crown and state, thereby turning recognition of the need for ‘counsel’ into the excuse for rejecting her councillors’ advice.76 The ensuing process of ‘consultation’ could last for months, years or (in the case of the decision to intervene in the Netherlands) decades!

This behaviour created considerable frustration in the Privy Council. ‘Our part is to counsel’, Cecil reminded his fellow councillor, Sir Ralph Sadler, on the eve of the Northern Rising; but, except in routine administrative affairs, the privy council’s advice usually went unheeded.77 Lobbying the queen on the Council’s behalf in favour of intervention in Scotland in support of the Lords of the Congregation in December 1559, Cecil remarked: ‘and as our duties be to give you our advice and counsel, which although we [ac]knowledge ourselves to be unable so well to do as it in such a great case is requisite, yet for the discharge of our duty and upon our sure hope that your Majesty will accept in good part our good wills and endeavours, meaning herein to discharge our consciences as we be bound both by oath and otherwise …’.78  This was a polite statement of frustration. A less tactful version was that of Sir Francis Knollys, who told Elizabeth ten years later that it was not possible for the queen’s ‘most faithful counsellors’ to govern her state well unless she could find it in herself to ‘resolutely follow their opinions in weighty affairs’. As Knollys pressed the point: ‘A general in the field seeing an enterprise to be taken’ could select some of his captains to consider the feasibility of the plan. What was the point if the general then acted ‘contrary to their opinions’!79 And by 1578, the earl of Leicester was complaining that ‘our conference with her Majesty about affairs is both seldom and slender’.

The most dramatic clashes between Elizabeth and her Privy Council occurred over the decision to intervene in Scotland in support of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation in 1559-60; over the queen’s marriage and the succession in 1563 and 1566; over Mary, queen of Scots and the succession in 1572, 1584-5 and 1586-7; and over the intervention in the Netherlands in 1585. Particularly in relation to the (linked) issues of the marriage, the succession, and the fate of Mary, queen of Scots, these clashes centred on disputes between the queen and her Privy Council that the Council believed it might win if their campaign were transferred into the wider forum of Parliament. This tactic, in reality, achieved little, although the Council managed to get the death sentence on the fourth duke of Norfolk put into effect in 1572 in the wake of the Ridolfi plot. Still, this was the Privy Council’s strategy: there is no better insight into it than Cecil’s letter to Walsingham after the Babington plot, when Elizabeth was refusing to sign the death warrant for the queen of Scots: ‘We stick upon Parliament, which her Majesty mislikes to have, but we all persist, to make the burden better borne and the world abroad better satisfied’.80 Finally persuaded to summon Parliament, Elizabeth was petitioned to execute Mary, but her response was delphic: ‘If I should say, I would not do what you request, it might peradventure be more than I thought; and to say I would do it, might perhaps breed peril of that you labour to preserve’.81 She herself called this an ‘answer answerless’.

In respect of these clashes, the existence of differences between Elizabeth and Cecil has always been recognized. But they have usually been explained away as disagreements over timing or as clashes over the choice of prospective husbands for either Elizabeth or Mary Stuart, rather than as fundamental differences of political conviction. Again, there has been a major investment by historians since the 1980s in the argument pioneered by Professor Michael Graves and Sir Geoffrey Elton, which has linked the parliamentary clashes of the reign to ‘orchestrated debates’, especially in the 1560s.82 According to this view, Cecil and other privy councillors arranged for ‘planted’ speeches to be delivered in the House of Commons by ‘men of business’ or ordinary members in favour of their position, especially on the queen’s marriage and the succession. On this basis, these clashes have been explained away as tactical attempts to ‘bounce’ the queen into decisions she refused to take: their political significance has been minimised as a result. If these clashes were purely tactical exercises, they marked points of tension in the Elizabethan political system, but did not necessarily represent clashes of ideology or belief in the way that Sir John Neale had argued in Elizabeth I and her Parliaments.83

It is not clear how much longer this interpretation will survive. Although Neale’s thesis of ‘government’ versus ‘opposition’ and the ‘puritan choir’ in the parliamentary history of the reign has been discredited, it is likely that the new and more sophisticated understanding of the Elizabethan Parliaments that has emerged from the research of Graves and Elton, and that of Dr Alford on the conciliar politics of the 1560s and the Parliaments of 1563 and 1566,84 will, if anything, make the history of the Elizabethan Parliaments more, rather than less political. For it is increasingly being argued that Elizabeth and Cecil possessed divergent political creeds, and that the resulting tension created a fissure at the very heart of the Elizabethan establishment.85

In the first place, Cecil repeatedly wished to intervene in Scotland between 1559 and 1566 in the interests of a Protestant British settlement, and he did finally persuade Elizabeth to intervene in March 1560. Cecil clearly wished to remove the threat of Mary, queen of Scots, by contriving her deposition, even during her personal rule in Scotland. Cecil’s correspondence with his agents and with Mary’s opponents shows that he sought not only to establish responsible conciliar government in Scotland, but also that he could happily brook regicide if this was the only way to defeat the forces of international Catholic conspiracy (as he saw them) which sought to use Mary as an instrument for the removal of the Protestant Elizabeth. This contrasts with Elizabeth’s own view that monarchy, in Scotland as elsewhere, was a divine institution, and that ‘absolute princes ought not to be accountable for their actions to any other than to God alone’.86

Secondly, the work of Dr Alford has established that in 1563, and especially 1566, there is no convincing evidence that speeches were ‘planted’ in Parliament by Cecil and the Privy Council.87 On the contrary, this argument was constructed by Graves and Elton largely on the basis of reasoned conjecture in order to explain away what otherwise could only be explained (at the time) in terms of the ideological opposition of a ‘choir’ comprised of members who wished to force the queen to settle the succession or to modify the religious settlement of 1559 on Calvinist lines. (Elizabeth refused to do both these things.) What we have in 1563 and 1566 is evidence of spontaneous speeches by those who were within and without Cecil’s conciliar orbit; but, far more significantly, there is evidence of Cecil himself ignoring the queen’s express instructions, delivered verbally and in writing, to refrain from pursuing the issue of her marriage and the succession in Parliament. Cecil was instructed that he was not on any account to allow the grant of taxation imminent in 1566 to be linked to the issue of the succession or to Elizabeth’s promise of 1563 to marry. He was to stop abusing (as Elizabeth saw it) her ‘private answers to the realm’. Yet Cecil ignored the queen’s commands, and indeed covered reams of paper with pro and contra arguments and with drafts and redrafts of civil theses in defence of his case for political action.

What we discover in these and related documents is the evidence of Cecil’s internal debate or ‘self-fashioning’ on the limits of his duty as a councillor and minister. Was he to be the personal servant of the ruler, as Wolsey and Cromwell had been in the reign of Henry VIII, in which case it seemed likely that nothing would ever be done to settle the issue of the succession or to deal with the threat of Mary? Or did he have wider responsibilities as the ‘public servant of the state’, defined in a humanist-classical, or quasi-republican sense, in which case his defiance of Elizabeth might be justified? (Probably this line of argument could only have been attempted under a female ruler.)

Cecil’s private and public agenda was the ‘preservation of the state of this Realm’, by which he meant, of course, the preservation of the Protestant state of the realm. If the queen refused to act, then the Privy Council would have to ‘protect’ and ‘preserve’ the Protestant state at the expense of the queen’s instructions. Or more specifically: if the heir presumptive to the English throne was to be the Catholic, Mary, queen of Scots, then Cecil and the Privy Council intended to infringe the Crown’s sovereignty and to subvert the rules of succession if the worst happened. Faced with Catholic conspiracy and Mary’s claim to the throne, the élite of the Privy Council sought to limit the powers of the monarchy should Elizabeth die or be assassinated. Not only were their initiatives predicated on a view of England as a ‘mixed polity’ not dissimilar to that expressed by Ponet in A Short Treatise of Politike Power; Cecil’s contingency plans, up to and including those of 1584-5, also provided that, in the event of Elizabeth’s death, the Privy Council and Parliament should not fail to act despite the lapse of their authority. His contingency (or ‘interregnum’) drafts for the succession envisaged a ‘Council of State’, ‘Great Council’ or ‘Grand Council’ which would form a provisional government in the absence of a ruler and which would adjudicate the claims of candidates for the succession in conjunction with Parliament.88 Not only was this aristocratic republicanism par excellence, one wonders how, if at all, the Privy Council’s schemes differ from the initial stages of the Revolution of 1688 when a committee of peers and privy councillors formed themselves into a provisional government in the absence of the king.89 These plans only became redundant after Mary’s execution at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, when the succession of her son became (at least theoretically) assured.

Until the execution of Mary or thereabouts, the Privy Council’s political creed may broadly be summarized thus: (1) sovereignty lay in the ‘queen-in-Parliament’ in the terms that had been defined by St German in the reign of Henry VIII;90 (2) the prerogative of the ruler was limited by the advice of the Privy Council; and (3) the assent of the whole realm in Parliament was required to effect significant political or religious change and in particular to resolve the issue of the succession to the throne.

If, however, this was Cecil’s political creed until 1587,91 it is important that we recognize the corollary, which is that for almost thirty years he and Elizabeth subscribed to discordant political philosophies despite their enduring political relationship. As Professor Collinson has remarked, historians have conventionally treated Elizabeth and Cecil ‘as if they were the front and rear legs of a pantomime horse’ (see below, chapter 4). The reality is likely to have been entirely different. The dichotomy centres on the issue of ‘counsel’. Was the ‘sovereignty’ of the ruler to be limited by the advice of the Privy Council? Like Henry VIII, Elizabeth believed that her imperium was ordained by God alone, her prerogative unlimited by her counsellors’ advice. She saw herself as the head of the body politic, but had no sense of the duties of the head to the body when the body tried to counsel it.

The full implications of this dissonance did not become apparent until the spectacular collision between Elizabeth and the Privy Council over the despatch of the warrant for the execution of the queen of Scots. The warrant’s delivery was authorised by the Privy Council, who acted out of a sense of utter frustration at Elizabeth’s reluctance to put the death sentence pronounced against Mary into effect. The letter that the Council attached to the execution warrant justified their action as taken ‘for [the queen’s] special service tending to the safety of her royal person and universal quietness of her whole Realm’.92 But, in this matter, the Council acted not only clandestinely, but in defiance of Elizabeth’s most recently expressed instructions, a blatant act of republicanism for which she sought to hang her secretary, William Davison, by royal prerogative (i.e. summarily and without trial) for allowing the warrant to leave his possession. For three months, Cecil feared that her wrath would usurp the rule of law, and relations between the queen and Council took four months to return to anything approaching normality.

It has also been suggested (albeit at present tentatively) that this same dissonance had been alive, if submerged beneath the waters, since the enactment of the religious settlement of 1559. Professor Collinson has urged that a ‘distinct possibility’ should not be overlooked that the queen who (notionally) made the settlement ‘was manipulated and constrained, if not inside the Parliament [as Neale had erroneously supposed] then outside it, in her own court and household’.93  I have myself independently argued that the inexperienced Elizabeth was probably outmanoeuvred in 1559, when Cecil seized the opportunity to move further down the Protestant road than the queen had intended or preferred. The argument rests on work in progress, but if such an interpretation of the 1559 settlement can be sustained, it would, in turn, become possible to argue that the Elizabethan régime had, all along, been established on false premisses from the queen’s point of view.94

This is surely the crux. In what Professor Collinson has called the ‘acephalous’ conditions of Elizabeth’s reign, the binary opposition which was latent in the theory of monarchy since the reign of Henry VIII (see below, chapter 4) was played out: the tension between Elizabeth’s view of her ‘imperial’ monarchy – the idea that sovereignty was vested in her alone – and the conviction of Cecil and the Privy Council that sovereignty lay in the ‘queen-in-Parliament’ if the Protestant state was to be preserved, and most especially when the ruler declined to be counselled. It has already been noted that it was intrinsic to the tradition of the English monarchy that the supreme authority in the body politic was not the king alone, but the king counselled. As the author of Fleta, a standard legal and constitutional treatise of the late-thirteenth century, had written of Parliament and legislation: ‘In his parliaments the king in council holds his court’.95

Again, the ideas of the sovereignty of the ‘queen-in-Parliament’ and the ‘mixed polity’ were commonly linked in and after Mary’s reign. They also made for strange bedfellows. As part of his defence of Elizabeth’s rule in 1559, Aylmer had set the notion of ‘mixed polity’ in a parliamentary context. ‘The regiment of England’, he observed, ‘is not a mere monarchie, as some for lacke of consideration thinke, nor a meere oligarchie, nor democracie, but a rule mixte of all these … thimage whereof, and not the image but the thinge in deede, is to be sene in the parliament house, wherin you shall find these three estates’. This was almost identical to the line taken by the presbyterian leader, Thomas Cartwright, whom Aylmer, as bishop of London, later imprisoned. In the course of the Admonition Controversy, Cartwright claimed that the Elizabethan (secular) polity was a ‘mixed estate’: it was a state in which monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy were admixed and conjoined in the forms of queen, Privy Council and Parliament.96 The queen, according to Cartwright, was not ‘imperial’ in the sense understood by Henry VIII. She shared her sovereignty with the Privy Council and Parliament. This, of course, was as much political heresy in Elizabeth’s eyes as presbyterianism was doctrinal heresy. The irony is that, until 1587, it was a heresy which Cecil too embraced. In this respect, the most powerful and subversive critique of the monarchy of Elizabeth I – at least until the execution of the queen of Scots – did not derive from puritanism or the literature of political exclusion: it emanated from the very heart of the régime!

All this changed in 1587. In terms of practical politics, Mary Stuart’s execution was a watershed as significant as the death of Henry VIII. James VI of Scotland became the heir (presumptive) to the English throne: he was male, Protestant and available. No longer was it necessary for the Privy Council to embrace quasi-republican ideas. As a result, there was a swing to the right. The atmosphere became claustrophobic and authoritarian: it has even been argued that the period between 1587 and 1603 was so fundamentally different from what had gone before that it should be called Elizabeth’s ‘second’ reign.97 This drift to authoritarianism was underpinned partly by the anxiety engendered by the war with Spain and the rebellion in Ireland, partly by irrational fears of religious nonconformity and recusancy, and partly by the economic turmoil that was the result of a succession of bad harvests, rising prices and outbreaks of plague and influenza. In the 1590s, privy councillors and magistrates became obsessed with issues of state security, the subversiveness of religious nonconformity, and the threat of ‘popularity’ and social revolt. Moreover, the changed emphasis was mirrored at Court, where the deaths of several of the ‘first’ generation of Elizabethan privy councillors – including Leicester, Walsingham and Mildmay – and the ambition of the earl of Essex, fused with the poverty of the Crown and the competition for patronage to usher in a phase of unusually intense factionalism, self-interest and instability which – in 1601 – sparked Essex’s attempted coup.

It was in this mood of fin de siècle that the thesis of divine right monarchy was finally reasserted. As in Mary’s reign, the pace was forced by religion. When Cartwright had propounded his ideal of a ‘mixed estate’, he had touched a nerve which the conformist establishment could not ignore. Even if the Elizabethan régime was to all intents and purposes a ‘mixed polity’ until 1587, the link with religious ‘popularity’, once Cartwright had made the connection, made it lèse-majesté to declare this fact in print or to claim that there were things the queen could not do without Parliament. In a very real sense, it was the threat of presbyterianism in the 1570s and 1580s which caused the régime belatedly to recognise the true implications of the undercurrents that swirled beneath the (superficially) calmer waters of Elizabethan political thought.

In reply to Cartwright, John (later Archbishop) Whitgift countered that the ‘government of this kingdom is a right and true monarchy’, and in that monarchy the queen’s authority over church and state was derived directly from God.98 This set the tone for subsequent refutations of presbyterianism, which took the line that the rule of a godly prince, accountable only to God, was the model for human government. In both England and Scotland, in fact, it was the deployment of this argument against the threat of ‘popularity’ in religion which paved the way for the rehabilitation of the thesis of ‘imperial’ kingship. In Scotland, James VI personally took the lead. In England, the circle of Richard Bancroft, Richard Cosin, John Bridges and Thomas Bilson formed the vanguard. Moreover, these publicists increasingly aimed at a double target, since the view that England was a ‘mixed polity’ was also propagated by Catholics eager to frustrate James’s succession to the English throne. The Jesuit, Robert Parsons, held that the ruler’s prerogative was strictly limited by law and, following Bellarmine, that whereas the pope derived his powers directly from God, kings drew theirs from the people.99

The climax was reached in Cawdrey’s Case (1591), a cause célèbre concerning Elizabeth’s right to delegate the exercise of her ecclesiastical supremacy to commissioners appointed by letters patent.100 Cawdrey’s Case was the Roe v. Wade of Elizabethan constitutional law. The question was: Could the queen legally empower the commissioners? The questions behind the question were: What was the extent of the queen’s ‘imperial’ prerogative by the common law of England? And in particular: Could the queen’s ‘imperial’ prerogative override statute and common law?101 The common-law judges ruled that ‘by the ancient laws of this realm this kingdom of England is an absolute empire and monarchy’. And again, ‘the kingly head of this politic body is instituted and furnished with plenary and entire power, prerogative, and jurisdiction to render justice and right to every part and member of this body, of what estate, degree, or calling soever, in all causes ecclesiastical or temporal, otherwise he should not be a head of the whole body’.102 This was the language of Henry VIII’s Act of Appeals: at a stroke the judges had reaffirmed and revitalised the theory of ‘imperial’ monarchy. Their decision meant that they had judged Elizabeth’s imperium to be theocratic. They acknowledged that Parliament had enacted the legislation whereby the settlement of 1559 had been erected, but held that Parliament was merely the instrument whereby the ruler’s prerogative was set forth. Even if Parliament had never met, Elizabeth was imbued with an ‘imperial’ sovereignty which she could exercise in person in the church or delegate to whomsoever she chose.

Driven by envy and frustrated ambition when his bid to dominate Elizabeth’s counsels failed, the second earl of Essex dared to challenge this exalted view of monarchy. At exactly the moment when Essex’s feud with Robert Cecil had reached its climax and Essex was excluded from Elizabeth’s presence, he was advised that obedience to the sovereign was ‘a duty not imposed upon you by nature and policy only, but by religious and sacred bonds: wherein the divine majesty of Almighty God hath by the rule of Christianity obliged you’.103 To this Essex replied that obedience could not be demanded beyond the bounds of honour. He repudiated unconditional religious obligation with the almost Shakespearean line: ‘What, cannot princes err? Cannot subjects receive wrong? Is an earthly power infinite?’104 By such words Essex handed a sword to his enemies, since they could be made to appear that he had denied the divine authority of kingship and the quasi-sacerdotal role of Elizabeth as supreme governor of the church, which became the basis of a charge of atheism.105

This shift in tone is reflected in the literature of the 1590s, when writers became fascinated by the themes of kingship, authority, and the acquisition and retention of power, particularly in relation to humanist-classical definitions of ‘virtue’ in both civic and military aspects. (Shakespeare’s Richard II and Coriolanus are but two compelling examples.) The role of ‘counsel’ and ‘counselling’ in monarchies and republics, and the endemic problems of corruption and dissimulation, were put under the microscope in an effort to explain how ‘vice’, ‘flattery’ and ‘ambition’ had come to supersede the traditional values of ‘wisdom’, ‘service’ and respublica. Political commentary acquired thickly Tacitean overtones which stressed how the Roman emperors and their counsellors had corrupted one another.106 No longer was Tacitus read simply as a source of Roman imperial history. He became the model for those writers who thought the past too complex and recalcitrant to be reduced to straightforward moral lessons. Tacitus had given the ‘secrets’ or ‘mysteries of state’ a distinctive edge by arguing that Tiberius’s greatest attribute was his ability to dissimulate. In the hands of Tacitean authors, the idealistic bias that had characterised the writings of such humanists as Elyot and Thomas Starkey in the reign of Henry VIII was dethroned in favour of a cynical and sceptical outlook which intimated that rulers and counsellors attained their ends by the autonomous exercise of politic will, and did so with morally ambiguous results.

Yet the Tacitean slant of late-Elizabethan political literature is only one of many elements which contributed to what has been called the ‘classicisation’ of politics in the late-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: the process, begun by the humanists, and reinforced by Henry VIII’s choice of prototypes of ‘imperial’ kingship, whereby politics and government were conceptualised in language and images borrowed from classical antiquity. In turn, this process underpinned the incorporation into English political thought of the classical prototype of the ‘state’: the notion that in England there was a ‘state’ and ‘government’ as well as a queen.107 The ‘state’ in this sense became a supreme and impersonal form of political authority within a ‘body politic’ empowered to act in defence of the public good.108 This notion, which was partly indebted to Bodin, as well as to the translations of continental republican treatises that began to be printed in England in the 1590s,109 went considerably further than Starkey’s Dialogue between Pole and Lupset with its view of ‘limited’ monarchy. It became possible to say that rulers themselves had a duty to consider ‘the weal and advancement of the state which they serve’. It became possible to conceptualise the ‘state’, the ‘interests of the state’, and (especially under the influence of Italian and French political thought) ‘reason of state’ in contexts which (certainly in the eyes of conviction-Protestants) meant more than the person or ‘private interests’ of the ruler. Opinions diverged on the issue of whether sovereignty could be shared. But, following Bodin, it became possible to distinguish the ‘state’ from its citizens and to envisage the ‘state’ as a locus of political power which remains distinct from, and superior to, both its citizens and their magistrates.110

Ambiguity is never the best note upon which to conclude an argument. But deep ambiguity was the overriding legacy of the Tudors to the early Stuarts in 1603. One element was the thesis of ‘imperial’ kingship which had underpinned the claims of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to secular and ecclesiastical imperium. By the time of Cawdrey’s Case, this view of the monarchy and royal supremacy had been rehabilitated, and in the hands of the Lambeth circle of conformist apologists formed the basis of a revitalized and exalted ‘divine right’ interpretation of monarchy and (increasingly after 1589) episcopacy. The competing element was St German’s counter-thesis of the ‘king-in-Parliament’. This was commonly linked in and after Mary’s reign to the idea of the ‘mixed polity’, forming an amalgam that acquired strong conciliar (and republican) overtones in the ‘acephalous’ conditions of the reign of Elizabeth I. Yet, if these overtones became audible, they were quickly smothered after 1587 once the succession to the throne was assured. Again, this element, when set into the humanist contexts of classical antiquity and the debate on the nature of sovereignty provided the eventual rationale for a thesis of the ‘state’ in something recognisably approaching the modern sense.

Of course, no single Tudor text or document could fully encapsulate all these strands. A comprehensive work of synthesis was improbable for two reasons. First, such a work, if it were to have been written, would have had to acknowledge the potential that existed for ideological conflict between the sovereign acts of an ‘imperial’ monarchy and the welfare of the community, the ‘state’, or the ‘public’. Professor Sacks has convincingly argued that, while two such differing world pictures did exist by the 1590s, conflict between them was averted by resort to humanist-classical rituals of accommodation as long as Elizabeth I was alive (see below, chapter 5). Secondly, a gap in the literature may not have been so apparent to contemporaries, since copies of the French and Latin editions of Bodin’s Six livres de la république streamed into England, as did copies of his earlier treatise of 1566, the Methodus, or Method for the Easy Comprehension of History. It was said at Cambridge in 1579 that ‘you cannot step into a scholar’s study but (ten to one) you shall lightly find open either Bodin De Republica … or some other like French or Italian politic discourses.’111 It is a marvellous glimpse into the hidden world of reading in the Elizabethan period, one which, if true, reinforces my belief that Tudor political culture was also a distinctively Renaissance and humanist-classical culture which can only be properly comprehended and contextualised on such terms. But at that point we have returned to methodology, and the wheel has turned full circle.

 

END NOTES

1. S. B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, 1936), p. 174. I am indebted inter alia to G. L. Harris, ‘The King and his Subjects’, in R. Horrox (ed.), Fifteenth Century Attitudes (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 13-28; Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, pp. 16-80; and Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State, pp. 11-70.

2. The terms ‘ordinaria’, ‘ordinatia’ and ‘regula’ were variously used to signify the exercise of authority by kings and popes according to rules of positive law. But the theocratic ruler was also above the law as the prerogative of his imperium. In this sphere he ruled dei gratia and was legibus solutus. W. Ullmann, Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages (2nd edn.; London, 1966); F. Oakley, ‘Jacobean Political Theology: The Absolute and Ordinary Powers of the King’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 29 (1968), 323-46; Janelle R. Greenberg, Tudor and Stuart Theories of Kingship: the Dispensing Power and the Royal Discretionary Authority in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (University Microfilms, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Ph.D., 1970), pp. 37-42.

3. W. Staunford, An exposicion of the kinges prerogative collected out of the great abridgement of justice Fitzherbert and other olde writers of the lawes of Englande (London, 1567).

4. Ullmann, Principles of Government and Politics, p. 184, n. 2.

5. For relevant discussion, see G. O. Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament of England (London, 1988); Sayles, The King’s Parliament of England (New York, 1974); H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (London, 1981); E. B. Fryde and E. Miller (eds.), Historical Studies of the English Parliament (2 vols.; Cambridge, 1970); G. L. Harris, King, Parliament and Public Finance in Medieval England to 1369 (Oxford, 1975); J. D. Alsop, ‘The Theory and Practice of Tudor Taxation’, English Historical Review, 97 (1982), 1-30; Alsop, ‘Innovation in Tudor Taxation’, ibid., 99 (1984), 83-93; M. J. Braddick, The Nerves of State: Taxation and the Financing of the English State, 1558-1714 (Manchester, 1996).

6. De laudibus legum anglie, (ed.) S. B. Chrimes (Cambridge, 1949), passim.

7. As Bacon’s essay, Of Counsel, later put the point: ancient history ‘set forth in figure both the incorporation and inseparable conjunction of counsel with kings … whereby they intend that Sovereignty is married to Counsel’. (A married woman shared in the administration of her husband’s household and mitigated his authority just as equity tempered the rigour of the common law.) B. Vickers (ed.), Francis Bacon: A Critical Edition of the Major Works (Oxford, 1996), p. 380.

8. Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, pp. 16-17. See also, Guy, ‘The Rhetoric of Counsel in Early-Modern England’, in Hoak (ed.), Tudor Political Culture, pp. 293-4.

9. Harris, ‘The King and his Subjects’, p. 13.

10. The Book Named the Governor, (ed.) S. E. Lehmberg (London, 1962, repr. 1975), p. 238.

11. Ibid., p. 13.

12. Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, p. 27; Guy, ‘The Rhetoric of Counsel in Early-Modern England’, in Hoak (ed.), Tudor Political Culture, pp. 293-310, where these complex issues are explored at greater length.

13. Aristotle, The Politics, (ed.) S. Everson (Cambridge, 1988), esp. pp. 51-81, 133-40.

14. Elyot, Of the knowledeg [sic] whiche maketh a wise man (London, 1533).

15. For a more detailed survey of Elyot, see F. W. Conrad, ‘The Problem of Counsel Reconsidered: the Case of Sir Thomas Elyot’, in P. A. Fideler and T. F. Mayer (eds.), Political Thought and the Tudor Commonwealth (London, 1992), pp. 75-107.

16. See also, T. E. Hartley, Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I, Vol I: 1558-1581 (Leicester, 1981), pp. 129-30.

17. Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, pp. 66-74.

18. Roy Porter and M. Teich, The Renaissance in National Context (Cambridge, 1992); Roger Doucet, Les institutions de la France au XVIe siècle (2 vols.; Paris, 1948); Doucet, Étude sur le gouvernement de François Ier dans ses rapports avec le Parlement de Paris (2 vols.; Paris, 1921-6); R. J. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron: the Reign of Francis I (Cambridge, 1994); Knecht, ‘The Court of Francis I’, European Studies Review, 8 (1978), 1-22; G. Jacqueton, ‘Le Trésor de l’Épargne sous François I, 1523-47’, Revue Historique, 55 (1894), 1-43, and 56 (1894), 1-38; J. Russell Major, ‘The Crown and the Aristocracy in Renaissance France’, American Historical Review, 69 (1964), 631-45; Russell Major, Representative Institutions in Renaissance France, 1421-1559 (Madison, 1960), pp. 126-47; Russell Major, Representative Government in Early Modern France (New Haven, 1980), pp. 1-204; John Headley, The Emperor and his Chancellor: A Study of the Imperial Chancellery of Gattinara (Cambridge, 1983); F. A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1975).

19. John Guy, ‘The Henrician Age’, in J. G. A. Pocock (ed.), The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800 (Cambridge, 1993), 22-38.

20. MacCulloch (ed.), The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety, p. 180.

21. See, for example, James E. Hampson, ‘Richard Cosin and the Revitalisation of the Clerical Estate in late Elizabethan England’, unpublished St Andrews Ph.D. dissertation (1997).

22. British Library, Cotton MS. Cleopatra E.VI, fo. 28v.

23. Memorials of Thomas Cranmer (ed.) J. Strype (2 vols.; Oxford, 1840), I, 43; P. Janelle (ed.), Obedience in Church and State (Cambridge, 1930), pp. lxi-lxii, 116-18, 130-2; D. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer (London, 1996); G. Redworth, In Defence of the Church Catholic (Oxford, 1990).

24. J. J. Scarisbrick, ‘The Pardon of the Clergy, 1531’, Cambridge Historical Journal, 12 (1956), 22-39; John Guy, ‘Henry VIII and the Praemunire Manoeuvres of 1530-31’, English Historical Review, 97 (1982), 481-503.

25. The watercolour is in the Royal Collection.

26. Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII (Queen’s Gallery; London, 1978), pp. 129-30.

27. Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, pp. 138-40; Guy, Tudor England, pp. 116-64. I have drawn here and elsewhere on some material from my essay on ‘The Henrician Age’ in Pocock (ed.), The Varieties of British Political Thought.

28. J. A. Crook, Consilium Principis: Imperial Councils and Counsellors from Augustus to Diocletian (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 21-30.

29. Book Named The Governor, pp. 236-41, esp. 238.

30. For discussion of counselling as a ‘bridle’ upon royal power in Valois France, see Guy, ‘The French King’s Council, 1483-1526’, in Griffiths and Sherborne (eds.), Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages, pp. 274-94.

31. K. Burton (ed.), A Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset (London, 1948); T. F. Mayer (ed.), A Dialogue between Pole and Lupset (Camden Society, 4th series, 37; London, 1989).

32. T. F. Mayer, Thomas Starkey and the Commonweal: Humanist Politics and Religion in the Reign of Henry VIII (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 44-5, 132-3.

33. For resonant echoes, see Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, pp. 121-47; Guy, ‘The Politics of Counsel in Early Modern England’, in Hoak (ed.), Tudor Political Culture, pp. 297-9.

34. Burton (ed.), Dialogue between Pole and Lupset, pp. 155-6, 164-7.

35. Ibid.

36. See also, Mayer, Thomas Starkey and the Commonweal, p. 132.

37. John Guy, Ralph Keen, Clarence H. Miller and R. McGugan (eds.), The Complete Works of St Thomas More, Vol. X: The Debellation of Salem and Bizance (New Haven, 1987 [1988]), introduction, pp. xvii-xciv; Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, pp. 95-120.

38. R. S. Sylvester (ed.), The Complete Works of St Thomas More, Vol. II: The History of King Richard III (New Haven, 1963; repr. 1974), pp. lxxxiii-xcviii.

39. J. H. M. Salmon, Renaissance and Revolt: Essays in the Intellectual and Social History of Early Modern France (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 27-53.

40. Sylvester (ed.), Complete Works of St Thomas More, Vol. II: The History of King Richard III, p. lxxxix. More also used Suetonius as a source for the history of the Roman empire.

41. A complete Latin edition of the relevant books of Tacitus was published in 1533, and copies were circulating in London and Cambridge; B. Rhenanus (ed.), Annalium, siue Historiae Augustae, libri sedecim (Basel, 1533).

42. Clarence H. Miller, L. Bradner, C. A. Lynch, and R. P. Oliver (eds.), The Complete Works of St Thomas More, III, ii: Latin Poems (New Haven, 1984), pp. 144-5.

43. There is now a large, and important, literature on this topic. See especially, St German’s Doctor and Student (ed.) T. F. T. Plucknett and J. L. Barton (Selden Society; London,, 1974), pp. 317-40; John Guy, Christopher St German on Chancery and Statute (Selden Society, Supplementary Series, vol. 6; London, 1985); Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, 95-120, 179-98; Guy, Keen, Miller and McGugan (eds.), Complete Works of St Thomas More, Vol. X The Debellation of Salem and Bizance, pp. xxix-xlvi, 395-417; G. R. Elton, ‘Lex terrae victrix: The Triumph of Parliamentary Law in the Sixteenth Century, in D. M. Dean and N. L. Jones (eds.), The Parliaments of Elizabethan England (Oxford, 1990), pp. 15-36.

44. St German, An Answer to a Letter (London, 1535), sigs. G5v-G6v; Fox and Guy, Reassessing the Henrician Age, pp. 199-220.

45. An Answer to a Letter, sigs. G3-G6v.

46. Elton, Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government, II, pp. 215-35.

47. Guy, Christopher St German on Chancery and Statute, pp. 127-35.

48. For a recent discussion of (especially) the theological implications of the Henrician crisis of obedience, see Richard Rex, ‘The Crisis of Obedience: God’s Word and Henry’s Reformation’, Historical Journal, 39 (1996), 863-94.

49. Glyn Redworth, ‘Whatever happened to the English Reformation?’, History Today, 37 (Oct. 1987), 29-36.

50. Janelle (ed.), Obedience in Church and State, pp. 68-92.

51. J. Spedding et al., (ed.), The Life and Letters of Francis Bacon (7 vols.; London, 1861-74), III, p. 250.

52. See especially, Carol Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Philadelphia, 1994); Helen Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (London, 1995); Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: the Competition of Representation (New York, 1993); Susan Doran, Monarchy and Matrimony: the Courtships of Elizabeth I (London, 1996); Susan Bassnett, Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective (New York, 1988).

53. Levin, Heart and Stomach of a King, p. 3.

54. N. Cuddy, ‘The King’s Chambers: the Bedchamber of James I in Administration and Politics, 1603-1625’, unpublished Oxford D.Phil. dissertation (1987), p. 196. I am grateful to my research student, John Cramsie, for tracking down this and the previous reference.

55. Catherine Bates, The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge, 1992), p. 45.

56. Watts, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, pp. 321-3.

57. Guy, Tudor England, pp. 199-226.

58. D. E. Hoak, ‘The King’s Privy Chamber, 1547-1553’, in D. J. Guth and J. W. McKenna (eds.), Tudor Rule and Revolution (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 87-108; Hoak, ‘Rehabilitating the Duke of Northumberland’ in J. Loach and R. Tittler (eds.), The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540-1560 (London, 1980), pp. 29-51.

59. Ibid.

60. Aston, The King’s Bedpost, pp. 26-7.

61. It was also useful, as John Hooper noted in a book published in Zurich in 1547, that Josiah’s grandfather, King Manasseh, had died at the age of fifty-five – the same age as Henry VIII at his death – ‘before he could conveniently  restore the book of the law and the true word of God unto the people’. See Aston, The King’s Bedpost, p. 31.

62. For the speed at which the Edwardian reforms were implemented locally, see Ronald Hutton, ‘The Local Impact of the Tudor Reformations’, in C. Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation Revised, pp. 114-38.

63. Robert M. Kingdon, ‘Calvinism and Resistance Theory, 1550-1580’, in J. H. Burns and M. Goldie (eds.), The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 193-218; D. M. Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor (2nd edn.; London, 1991), pp. 262-303; J. Loach, ‘Pamphlets and Politics, 1553-8’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 48 (1975), 31-44; Loach, ‘The Marian Establishment and the Printing Press, English Historical Review, 100 (1986), 138-51.

64. E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (London, 1992); C. Haigh, English Reformations (Oxford, 1993); Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation Revised (Cambridge, 1987); D. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer (London, 1996); R. H. Pogson, ‘Reginald Pole and the Priorities of Government in Mary Tudor’s Church’, Historical Journal, 18 (1975), 3-20; Pogson, ‘Revival and Reform in Mary Tudor’s Church: A Question of Money’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 25 (1974), 249-65; J. Loach, Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor (Oxford, 1986); J. Loach and R. Tittler (eds.), The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540-1560 (London, 1980).

65. Loach, Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor, p. 93.

66. Constance Jordan, ‘Women’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought’, Renaissance Quarterly, 40 (1987), 421-51.

67. Ibid.

68. A short Treatise of Politike Pouuer, and of the true Obedience which subiectes owe to kynges and other civile Gouernours, with an Exhortacion to all true naturall Englishe men (Strasburg, 1556). For a slightly different emphasis, see Kingdon, ‘Calvinism and Resistance Theory, 1550-1580’, in Burns and Goldie (eds.), The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700, pp. 194-6.

69. Jordan, ‘Women’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought’, 421-51.

70. John Knox, On Rebellion, (ed.) R. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), p. 8.

71. Ibid., pp. 43-4.

72. Deborah was a prophetess and the ‘judge and restorer’ of Israel who defeated the Canaanites and delivered the people of Israel (Judges 4-5). The coronation pageants of Elizabeth I hailed the queen as Deborah, and urged her to reconstitute concord and the ‘true [Protestant] faith’. A. F. Pollard (ed.), Tudor Tracts, 1532-1588 (London, 1903), pp. 367-92.

73. W. T. MacCaffrey, The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime: Elizabethan Politics, 1558-72 (London, 1969); S. Alford, ‘The British Succession Crisis of the 1560s’, unpublished St Andrews Ph.D. dissertation (1996).

74. Elton, Tudor Constitution (2nd edn.), p. 16.

75. Guy, Tudor England, pp. 309-19.

76. See the interesting, if not entirely satisfactory, article by Mary T. Crane, ”Video et Taceo’: Elizabeth I and the Rhetoric of Counsel’, Studies in English Literature, 28 (1988), 1-15.

77. Guy. Tudor England, p. 309.

78. Public Record Office, SP 12/7, fo. 185r-v. I owe this reference and the succeeding one to Dr Stephen Alford.

79. Public Record Office, SP 12/49, fo. 57v.

80. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments, II, p. 104.

81. Ibid, II, p. 129.

82. M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Management of the Elizabethan House of Commons: The Council’s ‘Men of Business”, Parliamentary History, 2 (1983), 11-38; Graves, ‘Thomas Norton the Parliament Man: An Elizabethan M.P., 1559-1581’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), 17-35; Graves, Elizabethan Parliaments, 1559-1601 (London, 1987); Graves, The Tudor Parliaments: Crown, Lords and Commons, 1485-1603 (London, 1985); Graves, Thomas Norton: the Parliament Man (Oxford, 1994); G. R. Elton, The Parliament of England, 1559-1581 (Cambridge, 1986).

83. J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments (2 vols.; London, 1953-7; repr. 1969).

84. Stephen Alford, ‘William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis of the 1560s’, unpublished St Andrews PhD dissertation (1996).

85. For the initial statement of this argument, see John Guy, ‘Introduction. The 1590s: the Second Reign of Elizabeth I?’, in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, pp. 1-19. I have incorporated some rewritten passages from this introduction in the remainder of the present essay.

86. Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. V.b.142, fo. 26.

87. Stephen Alford, ‘William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis of the 1560s’, unpublished St Andrews Ph.D. dissertation (1996).

88. See especially PRO, SP 12/28/20 (fos. 68-9); SP 12/176/22, SP 12/176/28, SP 12/176/29, SP12/176/30; Henry E. Huntington Library, Ellesmere MS. 1192, annotated and corrected by Cecil. See also, P. Collinson, ‘The Elizabethan Exclusion Crisis’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 84 (1995), pp. 51-92.

89. R. Beddard, A Kingdom without a King: The Journal of the Provisional Government in the Revolution of 1688 (Oxford, 1988).

90. See also, Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (ed.) M. Dewar (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 78-9; Hartley, Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I, I, pp. 129-39; Aylmer on the queen and Parliament in Elton, Tudor Constitution (2nd edn.), p. 16.

91. For Cecil’s views after 1587, see Guy, introduction to The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade.

92. Sotheby’s sale of 16 December 1996, lot 40 (purchased by Lambeth Palace Library).

93. Collinson, Elizabethan Essays, p. 109.

94. John Guy, ‘The Religious Settlement of 1559 and the First Elizabethan Polity’ (forthcoming), a revised version of a plenary lecture to the International Colloquium on Reformation History, University of St Andrews, 1 April 1996.

95. H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (London, 1981), no. 26, pp. 1-49.

96. See Cartwrights’s controversy with Whitgift in J. Ayre (ed.), The Works of John Whitgift (3 vols.; Cambridge, 1851-3), I, p. 390; III, pp. 196-7; Peter Lake, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (London, 1988), pp. 55-6.

97. See my introduction to The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, pp. 1-19.

98. Ayre (ed.), Works of John Whitgift, I, 393, 467; III, 196-7; Lake, Anglicans and Puritans?, pp. 62-4.

99. J. H. M. Salmon, ‘Catholic Resistance Theory, Ultramontanism, and the Royalist Response, 1580-1620’ in Burns and Goldie (eds.), Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450-1700, pp. 219-53.

100. Guy, ‘The Elizabethan Establishment and the Ecclesiastical Polity’, in Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, pp. 126-49; Hampson, ‘John Cosin and the Revitalisation of the Clerical Estate in Late-Elizabethan England’.

101. Guy, ‘The Elizabethan Establishment and the Ecclesiastical Polity’, in Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, pp. 126-49.

102. Elton, The Tudor Constitution (2nd edn.), pp. 221-32; J. R. Tanner, Tudor Constitutional Documents (Cambridge, 1940), pp. 361-2, 372-3.

103. Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. V.a.321, fos. 1-2v.

104. M. E. James, Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 445-6.

105. Guy, Tudor England, pp. 437-52; P. E. J. Hammer, ‘Patronage and Court, Faction and the Earl of Essex’, in Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, pp. 65-86.

106. J. H. M. Salmon, ‘Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England’, in Linda Levy Peck (ed.), The Mental World of the Jacobean Court (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 169-88; Salmon, Renaissance and Revolt, pp. 27-53; Fritz Levy, ‘Hayward, Daniel, and the Beginnings of Politic History in England’, Huntington Library Quarterly 50 (1987), 1-34.

107. Whereas the term ‘state’ possessed little political meaning in 1500 beyond the ‘state or condition’ of the prince or the kingdom, by the 1590s it was used to signify the ‘state’ in something recognisably closer to the modern sense. In the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, contemporaries had spoken of ‘country’, ‘people’, ‘commonwealth’, ‘polity’, ‘kingdom’, and ‘realm’. By the 1590s, they spoke of the ‘queen and state’, ‘her Majesty and the state’, ‘our English state and government’, ‘arguments of state’, ‘pillars of the state’, the ‘profit of the state’, the ‘public interest’ and so on. See John Nichols (ed.), The Progresses, and Public Processions, of Queen Elizabeth (3 vols.; London, 1788-1805); database search of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, s.v. ‘state’. The term the ‘public interest’ was first used by Richard Cosin; see J. E. Hampson, ‘John Cosin and the Revitalisation of the Clerical Estate in Late-Elizabethan England’, unpublished University of St Andrews Ph.D. dissertation (1997).

108. Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (2 vols.; Cambridge, 1978), II, pp. 349-58.

109. M. Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640 (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 102-118.

110. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, II, p. 356.

111. Citation from the letterbook of Gabriel Harvey, see P. L. Ward (ed.), William Lambarde’s Notes (London, 1977), pp. 19-20.

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