Problems and Implications



Tidying up loose ends can be an untidy business. In consequence this will be an untidy chapter. It is required to perform three separate tasks which together will both flesh out our portrait of English ancient constitutionalism and lay a foundation for the second part of this book (which places the theory of the ancient constitution into the background of early-seventeenth century English political discourse). The first of the three tasks will involve a consideration of the historiographical debates surrounding the nature of ancient constitutionalist thought. Of these there are two: the question of its insularity; and the question of its relationship with the idea of conquest. For both of these matters the findings of the previous chapter have clear implications. The second of our tasks will be to determine the political implications of English ancient constitutionalism. What sort of political theory could be raised upon the foundations that it provided? Did it have a ‘radical face’, as some historians have argued? Our third and final task — the most difficult of them all — will be to examine the chronology of the theory of the ancient constitution. What were its origins and sources? When did it begin? When did it end? We shall then discover that the theory, in its ‘classic phase’, lasted only from the reign of James I (though it had deep Tudor roots) to the Civil War (though it had also a lengthy aftermath).


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© Glenn Burgess 1992

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