Making Consensus Work



It is a striking feature of the ‘Jacobean consensus’ that it co-existed with sharp disagreements over political policy and action, and with a range of seemingly quite different theoretical approaches to politics. To explain this situation we need to answer two questions:
  1. 1.

    How could ‘consensus’ exist in a world in possession of the variety of languages and theoretical traditions examined in Chapter 5?

  2. 2.

    If there was indeed ideological ‘consensus’ of some sort in the Jacobean period, then why was this also a period one in which at least some level of political conflict was evident? How did consensus survive, or even generate, conflict?



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  1. 1.
    I have adopted this term from Conal Condren, George Lawson’s Politica and the English Revolution (Cambridge, 1989), where the notion of duplexity is used to demonstrate the ambiguity of Lawson’s views on resistance: men, as subjects, must obey; men, as citizens, might be able to resist — see pp. 108–16, 71–4. Condren also uses the concept of duplexity to analyse further terms in Lawson’s political vocabulary — e.g. real sovereignty/personal sovereignty, rebellion/resistance, community/polity.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The crucial modem introduction to this theme is Francis Oakley, ‘Jacobean Political Theology: The Absolute and Ordinary Powers of the King’, Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 29 (1968), pp. 323–46. Also Oakley, ‘The “Hidden” and “Revealed” Wills of James I: More Jacobean Theology’, Studia Gratiana vol. 41 (1972), pp. 365–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    G. W. Prothero (ed.), Select Statues and other Constitutional Documents Illustrative of the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I (Oxford, 4th ed., 1913), p. 341; State Trials vol. II, col. 389.Google Scholar
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    J. P. Cooper (ed.), Wentworth Papers 1597–1628 (London, Camden 4th Series, vol. 12, 1973), p. 74. Also Maija Jansson, Proceedings in Parliament 1614 (House of Commons) (Philadelphia, 1988), pp. 146–7, 156.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    S. R. Gardiner, History of England from the Accession of James I to the Outbreak of the Civil War (London, 4th ed., 1895), vol. II, p. 6. Gardiner also saw 1610 as the beginning of a struggle between the king and commons that continued to 1689 (ibid., p. 110).Google Scholar
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    S. R. Gardiner (ed.), Parliamentary Debates in 1610 (London, Camden First Series, vol. 81, 1862), p. 41.Google Scholar
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    Gardiner, Parliamentary Debates in 1610 p. 72. There is a much fuller version of Hedley’s speech in E. R. Foster (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament 1610 (New Haven, 2 vols, 1966), vol. II, pp. 170–97. This reveals Hedley’s awareness of the fact that the king possessed absolute powers outside of the law, but that these could not be used against the property rights of his subjects. The crucial step in the argument was the conclusion that ports, and thus impositions, lay within the jurisdiction of the common law and not outside it. See esp. pp. 183, 185, 188–9, 191, 194–5, 197. Hedley condemned the idea ‘of an absolute power of the king and an unlimited or transcendent prerogative’ only in the sense of a general power above law, not in the sense of some absolute prerogatives outside the law. The whole is a classic example of common law argumentation.Google Scholar
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    J. P. Sommerville, Politics and Ideology in England 1603–1640 (London, 1986), pp. 37–8, also 162–3.Google Scholar
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    Sir John Davies, The Question concerning Impositions, Tonnage, Poundage, Prizage, Customs, &c. (London, 1656), p. 148.Google Scholar
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    John Moore to Sir Ralph Winwood, quoted in Wallace Notestein, The House of Commons 1604–1610 (New Haven. 1971). p. 282.Google Scholar
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    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (ed. Peter Laslett), (Cambridge, 2nd ed., 1970), II, para. 200, pp. 417–8. N.B. Laslett’s comment on the passage, which indictes that Locke used the passage from James I because it was still current in the debates of the Exclusion crisis period.Google Scholar
  16. 34.
    James I, ‘A Speach to the Lords and Commons of the Parliament at White-hall, on Wednesday the XXI. of March. Anno 1609 [1610]’, in C. H. McIlwain (ed.), The Political Works of James I (Cambridge, Mass., 1918), pp. 306–7.Google Scholar
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  19. 36.
    There is an excellent account in Sommerville, Politics and Ideology pp. 121–7. Also S. B. Chrimes, ‘The Constitutional Ideas of Dr. John Cowell’, English Historical Review vol. 64 (1949), pp. 461–487 Notestein, House of Commons 1604–1610 pp. 293–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John Cowell, The Interpreter: or Booke Containing the Signification of Words (Cambridge, 1607), sigs Rrr 1-Rrr IV, Pp4V-Qqlv, Ddd3-Eeel, Aaa3-Aaa4. Key extracts reprinted in Chrimes, ‘Constitutional Ideas of Dr. John Cowell’, pp. 483–87. 41. Cowell, The Interpreter sig. Qql.Google Scholar
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    Useful here is the careful examination of the seventeenth century usages of the term ‘absolute’ in James Daly, ‘The Idea of Absolute Monarchy in Seventeenth-Century England’, Historical Journal vol. 21 (1978), pp. 227–50. Daly demonstrates that before the 1640s the English monarchy was considered absolute in the sense of being irresistible and possessing unrestrained power in certain spheres, but not in the sense of having a general power to break the law. All were careful to avoid portraying the absolute monarchy of England in terms that would make it an arbitrary monarchy.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Thomas Fuller, The Church History of Britain (ed. J. S. Brewer), (Oxford, 1845), vol. V, p. 556.Google Scholar
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    Forsett, Comparative Discourse of the Bodies Natural and Politique (London, 1606), p. 20.Google Scholar
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    Frank Smith Fussner, ‘William Camden’s “Discourse Concerning the Prerogative of the Crown”’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 101 (1957), p. 206.Google Scholar
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    Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, ‘A Coppie of a Wrytten Discourse by the Lord Chauncellor Elsemore concerning the Royall Prerogative (c.1604)’, in L. Knafla, Law and Politics in Jacobean England: The Tracts of Lord Chancellor Ellesmere (Cambridge, 1977), p. 197.Google Scholar
  27. 77.
    Fully discussed, especially with regard to medieval political thought, in Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, NJ, 1957). There is material on early modern England on pp. 7–41 which clearly demonstrates the use of this language in sixteenth and seventeenth century writings.Google Scholar
  28. 78.
    Sir John Fortescue, De Laudibus Legum Anglie (ed. S. B. Chrimes), (Cambridge, 1949), pp. 24–33Google Scholar
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    C. H. McIlwain, Constitutionalism Ancient and Modern (Ithaca, NY, 1947), p. 88.Google Scholar
  32. 82.
    Contrast his earlier interpretation in C. H. McIlwain, The Growth of Political Thought in the West: From the Greeks to the End of the Middle Ages (London, 1932), pp. 354–63.Google Scholar
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    See particularly, Brian Tierney, ‘Bracton on Government’, Speculum vol. 38 (1963), pp. 295–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Most generally, J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ, 1975), pp. 19–30.Google Scholar
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    W. S. Holdsworth, ‘The Prerogative in the Sixteenth Century’, Columbia Law Review vol. 21 (1921), pp. 554–71, esp. pp. 556–7. See also the largely identical account in W. S. Holdsworth, A History of English Law (London, 16 vols, 1903–66), vol. IV, pp. 190ff. (Holdsworth thought the absolute/ordinary distinction derived from discussions of the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor (pp. 557, 561) and on this needs to be corrected by the works of Oakley cited above, esp. ‘Jacobean Political Theology’, pp. 326–28, et seq.).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 87.
    For uses of Fortescue see Caroline J. Skeel, ‘The Influence or the Writings of Sir John Fortescue’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 3 rd series, vol. 10 (1916), pp. 77–114 for the king’s two bodies, Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies pp. 7–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  40. 100.
    Sir William Staunford, An Expocision of the Kinges Prerogative (London, 1567), fol. 5Google Scholar
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  42. 101.
    Cf. Franklin Le Van Baumer, The Early Tudor Theory of Kingship (New Haven, 1940), pp. 184–5; and chpt. V passim. At times Baumer seems to confuse the issue (particularly, perhaps, with his occasional remarks on the political implications of divine-right theory), but he is surely right to insist that though the king had certain discretionary rights he did not have a general power outside and above the law.Google Scholar
  43. 103.
    A full bibliography on these themes would be enormous. Perhaps the easiest (though not always the most reliable) way of getting a sense of the role these themes have played in recent historiography is through summaries of them by their critics. For example, the editors’ introduction to R. Cust & A. Hughes (eds), Conflict in Early Stuart England (London, 1989)Google Scholar
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    I have stressed this factor more heavily in Burgess, ‘Common Law and Political Theory in Early Stuart England’, Political Science vol. 40 (1988), pp. 4–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Thomas Cogswell, ‘The Politics of Propaganda: Charles I and the People in the 1620s,’ Journal of British Studies vol. 29 (1990), p. 190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For an overview of this material see Richard Cust, ‘News and Politics in Early Seventeenth-Century England’, Past and Present no. 112 (1986), pp. 60–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The practical political effect of puritanism was the result, in large part, of Apocalyptic anti-Catholicism. One scholar has in fact suggested that puritanism was really just anti-Catholicism by another name [Michael Finlayson, Historians, Puritanism and the English Revolution: The Religious Factor in English Politics before and after the Interregnum (Toronto, 1983), esp. chpt. 4], a claim that is probably just a bit too simple. Finlayson’s detailed argumentation remains rewarding even where it is not convincing.Google Scholar
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    Cust & Hughes, Conflict in Early Stuart England pp. 21ff.; K. Sharpe, Politics and Ideas in Early Stuart England (London, 1989), pp. 30–1.Google Scholar
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    This, of course, is a dramatic oversimplification of Whig historiography. Even the most extreme of Whig historians was capable of expressing some doubts about the simple equation of the Puritans and the Parliamentary opposition: see Williams M. Mitchell, The Rise of the Revolutionary Party in the English House of Commons 1603–1629 (New York, 1957; reprinted Westport, CT, 1975), p. xi.Google Scholar
  52. 110.
    The key to this was ‘anti-popery’: the best introduction to the subject, and an up-to-date source of further references is Peter Lake, ‘Anti-popery: the Structure of a Prejudice’ in Cust & Hughes, Conflict in Early Stuart England chpt. 3. The basic position that is being put forward here is also much indebted to the argument of William Lamont, Godly Rule: Politics and Religion 1603–60 (London, 1969). I remain convinced that the history of English political conflict throughout the period 1603–1660 is best written, not in the terms of anti-authoritarianism, but in terms of the search for an authority that would faithfully serve God’s purposes. See also my review article, ‘Revisionism, Politics and Political Ideas in Early Stuart England’, Historical Journal vol. 34 (1991), pp. 465–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    A thesis most closely identified with C. Russell, Parliaments and English Politics 1621–1629 (Oxford, 1979), esp. pp. 70–84.Google Scholar
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    See e.g. P. Lake ‘Constitutional Consensus and Puritan Opposition in the 1620s: Thomas Scott and the Spanish Match’, Historical Journal vol. 25 (1982), pp. 805–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  57. L. J. Reeve, Charles I and the Road to Personal Rule (Cambridge, 1989).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Cf. some apposite remarks in Conrad Russell, ‘The Foreign Policy Debate in the House of Commons in 1621’, Russell, Unrevolutionary England, 1603–1642 (London, 1990), chpt. 3.Google Scholar
  59. 114.
    A Jacobean example, difficult to discuss in detail since the sermon has not survived, is the preaching of Samuel Harsnett, Bishop of Chichester in 1610. It raised some fears in the Commons (see Foster (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament 1610 vol. II, p. 328). According to Abbot, writing in 1627 in the midst of the furore over his refusal to license Sibthorpe’s sermon for publication, it was Harsnett’s sermon that provided the immediate occasion for James I’s 21 March speech: J. Rushworth, Historical Collections (London, 8 vols, 1659–1721), vol. I, p. 442; State Trials vol. II, col. 1463. James commented very interestingly on the sermon in 1610, McIlwain (ed.), Political Works of James I p. 308.Google Scholar
  60. 119.
    Isaac Bargrave, A Sermon Preached Before King Charles, March 27, 1627. Being the Anniversary of his Majesties Inauguration (London, 1627), pp. 5, 16–17.Google Scholar
  61. 121.
    Robert Sibthorpe, Apostolike Obedience (London, 1627), p. 16.Google Scholar
  62. 123.
    Roger Manwaring, Religion and Alegiance: in two Sermons preached before the Kings Majestie (Londan, 1627), first sermon, pp. 17–18.Google Scholar
  63. 128.
    For the basics see DNB; and Harry F. Snapp, ‘The Impeachment of Roger Maynwaring’, Huntington Library Quarterly vol. 30 (1966/67), pp. 217–232. Also useful is H. Schwartz, ‘Arminianism and the English Parliament, 1624–1629’, Journal of British Studies vol. 12 (1973), esp. pp. 59–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    J. F. Larkin (ed.), Stuart Royal Proclamations: Volume II Royal Proclamations of King Charles I 1625–1646 (Oxford, 1983), pp. 197–8.Google Scholar

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© Glenn Burgess 1992

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