The Elements of Consensus in Jacobean England



The history of political discourse in early-seventeenth century England divides into two phases. The difficulty is in knowing where to draw the dividing-line between them. It was perhaps not until the end of the 1630s or later that changes in political debate became unmistakable, yet it is also arguable that a new mood of political reflection was making itself felt as early as the 1590s.1 Perhaps when all considerations are taken into account the best year to single out as important in marking a change remains 1625, when Charles I succeeded his father. Before that date James had managed, more or less, to keep going a stable consensual system. And though change might initially be visible only in retrospect, it seems clear that crucial to the change that did occur was the person of Charles himself. But before we can understand the nature of those changes, and their significance (if any) for the Civil War, it is necessary that we understand the structure of what went before. It must be remembered that what we are examining here is not the structure of languages or theories. We have already examined one of these structures (the language of common law), and a general survey of others is available in the work of Dr. Johann Sommerville.2 What matters here is the structure of debate, how ideas were used, not the internal logic of ideas themselves.


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© Glenn Burgess 1992

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