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past, 1730“1735™, H+T 6 (1967), 33“56; D. Forbes, Hume™s philosophical politics (Cam-
bridge, 1975), esp. pp. 217“18, 246“9, for modern whigs; J. Brewer, Party ideology and
popular politics at the accession of George III (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 259“60.
82 The three kingdoms

feature more prominently in moralistic disquisitions upon the historic
English character.¦”
Caste was another absent factor in English political culture. The way in
which the Norman discontinuities of 1066 were aligned with the English
these royale militated against the emergence of a political cult of Anglo-
`
Norman sang. Brady, who celebrated the Norman Conquest, and noted
that the Norman military caste had monopolised attendance at the curia
regis, wrote to establish the historical fact of monarchical conquest and
the subordinate place of parliament in the English constitution, not to
assert the privileges of the Norman race. » The English aristocracy, des-
pite their individual dynastic pretensions, did not advance a corporate
Norman identity, even in response to those radicals who complained of
an alien yoke of ˜Normanism and Francism™. Despite these anti-Norman
complaints, Normanism as such had no place in English political argu-
ment. In general there were no corporate identities distinct from a con-
sensual English nationhood. However, the notion that the English nation
was in part descended from the Normans proved useful. After all, even if
William the Norman had indeed conquered the Saxons, surely his Nor-
man companions-in-arms had not forfeited their liberties in conquest,
nor had their Norman“English descendants? The ecclesiastical historian
Humphrey Hody (1659“1707) saw a means of escape here from the
illiberal consequences of a Norman Conquest. If William had indeed
been a conqueror, he asked, ˜what is that to us who are descended not
only from those that are supposed to have been conquered but also from
their conquerors; and are the heirs and inheritors of all their rights and
liberties™? ¦ However, it was generally agreed that from an early stage the
Norman barons had decided to limit their monarchs and, through inter-
marriage and cultural assimilation, had blended into the English nation.  
Thus, although the Normans had their uses, it was the Britons and “ more
commonly “ the Anglo-Saxons who were spoken of as ˜our ancestors™.



¦” W. H. Greenleaf, Order, empiricism and politics: two traditions of English political thought
1500“1700 (London, 1964), pp. 188“9; Kliger, Goths, pp. 84“5. See below, ch. 8.
 » Brady, A full answer to all the particulars contained in a book, entituled ˜Argumentum
antinormanicum™, in Brady, Old English history. Brady™s Normanism was thus quite unlike
the Frankish caste identity advanced by Boulainvilliers, for which see below, chs. 7, 9.
 ¦ Quoted in D. C. Douglas, English scholars (1939: London, 1943), p. 150.
   Cf. the perspectives of a Huguenot, an Anglo-Scot and an Irishman, all of whom
contributed enormously to eighteenth-century English identity: Paul de Rapin-Thoyras,
Dissertation sur les whigs et les torys (trans. Mr Ozell, London, 1717), pp. 4“5; James
Thomson, Complete poetical works (ed. J. Logie Robertson, 1908: repr. London, 1961),
˜Liberty™, pt IV, p. 379; Edmund Burke, ˜An essay towards an abridgement of the English
history™, in Burke, Works (16 vols., London, 1803“27), X, p. 526.
Whose ancient constitution? 83

From immemorialism to Saxonism
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English constitutional-
ism became more decidedly ethnocentric and exclusively Saxonist, until
by the nineteenth century there was a racialist tinge to the celebration of
the nation™s Teutonic origins (though, it should be stressed, institutional
continuity never lost its overriding importance in English political dis-
course). During this period the ancient British component of the nation™s
history was signiWcantly downgraded. However, the chequered fate of the
Britons “ who still received lip-service even from committed Gothicists “
is indicative of a major ambiguity in English conceptions of nationhood.
Seventeenth-century Englishmen inherited a myth of an immemorial
constitution. The ideas of Sir John Fortescue (c. 1395“c. 1477), put
forward in De laudibus legum Angliae (a treatise probably composed
during the 1460s, and which appeared in English translation in 1567),
exerted considerable inXuence upon the shape of early modern English
history. Fortescue argued that the laws of England had remained substan-
tially unaltered since the days of the ancient Britons, despite the subse-
quent invasions of Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. À This thesis
recurred in the doctrine of legal immemorialism put forward by Chief
Justice Sir Edward Coke (1552“1634). Coke, and fellow juridically
minded antiquaries such as George Saltern and Sir John Doddridge
(1555“1628), traced the common law and parliamentary institutions of
the English back beyond the Saxon era to the ancient British conventus
and the laws of Dunwallo Molmutius, articulating the strong version of
immemorialism which relied upon the legendary history of British origins
concocted by GeoVrey of Monmouth. Ã On the other hand, this was only
a mild prototype of the ˜whiggish™ political myth with which immemorial-
ism later came to be associated. Unlike later generations of antiquaries,
the immemorialist Cokeans of the early seventeenth century did not
consider the continuity of British law and custom to have been violated by
the conquests of Romans, Saxons, Danes or Normans. •
Nevertheless, even in this early seventeenth-century heyday
 À J. P. Sommerville, Politics and ideology in England 1603“1640 (London, 1986), p. 88.
 Ã Edward Coke, The Wrst part of the institutes of the laws of England (1628: London, 1670),
p. 110; Coke, The fourth part of the institutes (1644: London, 1797), p. 2; Coke, The third
part of the reports (London, 1738 edn), pp. vii“xii; John Doddridge, ˜Of the antiquity etc.
of the high court of parliament in England™, in Thomas Hearne (ed.), A collection of curious
discourses (2 vols., London, 1773 edn), I, pp. 281“9; George Saltern, Of the antient lawes of
Great Britaine (London, 1605). See also the summary of Fortescue by Chief Justice
Popham (1531?“1607), quoted in Burgess, Politics of the ancient constitution, p. 6.
 • J. P. Sommerville, ˜History and theory: the Norman conquest in early Stuart political
thought™, Political Studies 34 (1986), 253; C. Hill, Intellectual origins of the English revol-
ution (Oxford, 1965), p. 257. See e.g. Doddridge, ˜Of the antiquity of parliament™, I,
pp. 287“9.
84 The three kingdoms

immemorialism was already beginning to fray. GeoVrey of Monmouth™s
origin myth, which had made a decisive contribution to English identity
since the twelfth century, had come under critical assault in the early
sixteenth century in the work of the Italian humanist scholar, Polydore
Vergil (1470?“1555?), whose version found ready acceptance in some
quarters, but not in others. ’ The demise of the Galfridian legends did not
signal a complete collapse of conWdence in the ancient British past. The
Britons™ appeal did not depend entirely upon the fate of Galfridian
history; they continued to enjoy a respectable historical standing inde-
pendent of GeoVrey™s fevered imagination. If anything, the rise of anti-
Galfridian criticism purged the history of the ancient Britons of obvious
implausibilities.
By the early seventeenth century a more sceptical breed of historian
was less inclined to rehearse the Cokean line, yet such scrupulosity did
not necessarily entail a total abandonment of an ancient British constitu-
tion. Few antiquaries went as far as William Hakewill (1574“1655), who
repudiated the history of legal continuity: ˜the laws of the Britons were
utterly extinct by the Romans; their laws again by the Saxons; and lastly,
theirs by the Danes and Normans much altered™. “ Nor, on the other
hand, did many scholars endorse the full-blown immemorialism of For-
tescue or Coke. More commonly, Stuart commentators came to identify
the Saxons as the founders of the common law. “
Growing antiquarian caution did not eliminate an appreciation of the
pre-Saxon roots of English laws and liberties. There was, after all, the
reliable authority of Caesar and Tacitus who described the libertarian
manners and representative institutions of the Gauls and Germans,
peoples assumed to be closely related to the Britons. ” While Saltern™s
claim that King Arthur had presided over an ancient British parliament
might not stand up to scholarly scrutiny, circumstantial evidence did
support the likely existence of an ancient British concilium, or alternatively
no single centralised monarchy among the Britons.À»
British antiquity continued to cast a powerful spell, even on hardened
scholars. The rich antiquarian corpus of John Selden (1584“1654), the
most accomplished and cosmopolitan English jurist of the early seven-
teenth century, presents a curiously mixed message. Selden based his
approach to historical criticism upon ˜synchronism™, the search for re-
liable primary source material from the era in question, or, where none
was found, from proximate evidence. Although Wrmly opposed to the

 ’ T. D. Kendrick, British antiquity (London, 1950), ch. 7.
 “ William Hakewill, ˜The antiquity of the laws of this island™, in Hearne, Curious discourses,
I, p. 2.  “ Sommerville, Politics and ideology, p. 91.  ” Kliger, Goths, pp. 112“13.
À» Saltern, Antient lawes, pp. 29“30; Kliger, Goths, pp. 123“4; Woolf, Idea of history, p. 95.
Whose ancient constitution? 85

Cokean legend, the sceptical Selden discerned none the less a basic
pattern of mixed government in English history which predated the
Saxons, though without diminishing the mutability of laws and creative
dimension of governance. Despite his strong doubts about the incredible
historical speciWcs of the British past, Selden reckoned that over the long
run ˜the fundamental shape of sovereignty had lasted™. Moreover, while
Selden noted the enormous changes wrought in English law by the
Normans, he recognised that there was still a measure of continuity from
the Saxon era, and even earlier. Indeed, Selden™s Analecton Anglo-
Britannicon consciously echoed the title and argument of Fran§ois Hot-
man™s Franco-Gallia: just as the lost liberties of the Gauls conquered by
the Romans had been recovered and extended by the Franks, so in
England the adventus Saxonum had restored ancient British liberties.
Nowhere was Selden™s ambivalence more pronounced than in the histori-
cal notes which he contributed to his friend Michael Drayton™s Poly-
Olbion (1613). Here Selden™s scholarly apparatus deconstructs the le-
gendary matter of Britain celebrated in Drayton™s poetry.À¦
The signiWcance of the British past was also under threat from another
quarter. From the late sixteenth century onwards the most concrete
evidence for historic English liberties appeared to come from the reign of
Edward the Confessor. Consider the canonical documents of ancient
constitutionalism, as listed by Janelle Greenberg. These comprised the
laws of Edward the Confessor, the Modus tenendi parliamentum, the Mirror
of justices, the medieval legal treatises Bracton and Fleta, and the work of
Fortescue. In 1568 William Lambarde (1536“1601) published Ar-
chaionomia, sive de priscis Anglorum legibus, compiled with the help of a
medieval lawbook Leges Edwardi Confessoris. Lambarde™s collection in-
cluded not only the “ apocryphal “ laws of the Confessor, but also later
conWrmations of the Confessor™s laws by William I and Henry I. Wil-
liam™s acceptance of the Confessor™s laws was reported in Ingulph, the
false Croyland chronicler, and even Selden did not question it. The
signiWcance of King John™s signing of Magna Carta (1215) for antiquaries
was primarily as a restatement of the Confessor™s laws, further conWrmed
by the coronation oath of Edward II; indeed the solemn compacts of
William I and Henry I were described as ˜Magna Cartas™. The Modus,

À¦ P. Christianson, ˜Young John Selden and the ancient constitution, ca. 1610“1618™,
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 128 (1984), 271“315; R. Tuck, ˜˜˜The
ancient law of freedom™™: John Selden and the civil war™, in J. Morrill (ed.), Reactions to the
English civil war (Houndmills, 1982), pp. 139“40; Tuck, Philosophy and government
1572“1651 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 208“9; Tuck, Natural rights theories (1979: Cam-
bridge, 1981, pbk edn), p. 83; Woolf, Idea of history, ch. 7; Burgess, Politics of the ancient
constitution, pp. 37“8, 63“5, 233; Kendrick, British antiquity, p. 109; G. Parry, The trophies
of time (Oxford, 1995), ch. 4.
86 The three kingdoms

which was probably composed around 1320 by a chancery clerk, pur-
ported to be a guide to Anglo-Saxon parliaments in the era of Edmund
Ironside. The Mirror, a tract composed in the 1290s, circulated in manu-
script in the second half of the sixteenth century before being published
Wrst in Latin (1642), then English (1646). The Mirror included a descrip-
tion of parliament in the reign of King Arthur, but focused on the fact that
Anglo-Saxon kings had not been above the law.À  Although there were
gaps even in this spurious record “ most obviously the fact that there were
no extant parliament rolls from the Saxon era “ these could be plausibly
explained. Although these materials were used by Coke to construct his
version of the ancient constitution, in the long run they would contribute
to the decline of immemorialism. Henceforth, the Anglo-Saxon past had
an institutional concreteness, however bogus, which was lacking in a
remote ancient British past. Corinne Weston has argued that the very
abundance of this medieval material is by itself ˜almost enough to explain
why the common law cult of the Confessor™s laws became the core of the
Stuart doctrine of the ancient constitution™.ÀÀ Furthermore, the impor-
tance of the Confessor™s laws would grow in the course of the seventeenth
century as the main scene of antiquarian debate shifted forward to the era
surrounding the Norman Conquest. Although James I™s discouragement
of the reviving Society of Antiquaries in 1614 epitomises the growing
politicisation of constitutional history in the early seventeenth century,
the Norman Conquest had not yet become a deWning axis of political
debate.ÀÃ Indeed, as Daniel Woolf notes, Coke found the Roman con-
quest more troubling to his thesis of the immemorial continuity of Eng-
land™s laws than the later Norman invasion.À•
Some historians were also beginning to distinguish carefully between
the roles played the Britons and the Saxons in shaping English nation-
hood. Over the course of his long scholarly career, William Camden
(1551“1623) came to recognise that England was essentially a Saxon
creation.À’ Then, in 1605, there appeared the Wrst authentically Saxonist
À  J. Greenberg, ˜The Confessor™s laws and the radical face of the ancient constitution™,
EHR 104 (1989), 611“37; H. ButterWeld, The Englishman and his history (Cambridge,
1944), p. 41; Smith, Gothic bequest, p. 3 n.; H. MacDougall, Racial myth in English history
(Montreal and Hanover, NH, 1982), pp. 57“8; C. Brooke, A history of Gonville and Caius
College (Woodbridge, 1985), p. 144; Burgess, Politics of the ancient constitution, p. 76;
M. Keen, England in the later middle ages (London, 1973), pp. 82“4. For the continuing
inXuence of the Confessor™s laws into the late seventeenth century, see H. T. Dickinson,
Liberty and property (London, 1977), pp. 62“4, 73.
ÀÀ C. Weston, ˜England: ancient constitution and common law™, in J. H. Burns and
M. Goldie (eds.), The Cambridge history of political thought 1450“1700 (Cambridge, 1991),
p. 382 n.
ÀÃ K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton (Oxford, 1979), pp. 23, 36; Sommerville, Politics and
ideology, pp. 49, 67“9; Sommerville, ˜History and theory™, 249“61.
À• Woolf, Idea of history, p. 28. À’ Parry, Trophies of time, p. 37.
Whose ancient constitution? 87

history, Richard Verstegan™s A restitution of decayed intelligence, which as
well as being explicitly ethnocentric, also involved a radical departure in
ethnic classiWcation. The Wrst scholar to argue clearly against the error of
associating English identity with the achievements of the ancient Britons,
Verstegan saw himself as an outspoken revisionist. His point of departure
was the observation that ˜divers of our English writers have been as
laborious, and serious in their discourses of the antiquity of the Britons as
if they properly pertained unto Englishmen, which in no wise they do or
can do, for that their oVsprings, and descents are wholly diVerent™.
Against this careless ˜lack of distinction between the two nations™, Verste-
gan established the ancient Germanic nations as ˜our own true ancestors™.
Although sceptical of the notion that Verstegan™s work ignited a ˜Saxon
craze™, Daniel Woolf, a leading expert on seventeenth-century historiog-
raphy, none the less describes the Restitution, further editions of which
appeared in 1628, 1634, 1653 and 1673, as ˜a signiWcant departure from
the adulation of the British and their Trojan ancestors™.À“
Of the two major components of Verstegan™s message “ a glorious
Saxon descent and the real diVerences between the Britons and the
Saxons “ the Wrst made more impact than the second. As we have already
noted, the loose association of Gothicism with the libertarian, democratic
and martial manners of the barbarian peoples of ancient Europe made it
possible for some commentators to provide shelter for the pre-Gothic
Germans and freedom-loving Celts described by Tacitus under the broad
Gothic umbrella. English Gothicists were torn between a strictly ethnic
deWnition of Englishness, which implied the Saxon beginnings of the
˜English™ constitution in customs transplanted from the woods of Ger-
many, and a territorial identity in which the same broad contours of the
institutions of ˜England™ could be discerned in the British past long before
the arrival of Germanic customs. These tensions remained quite marked
throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even as a dominant
Gothicism supplanted immemorialism.À“
Consider one of the most inXuential of seventeenth-century ˜Saxonist™
treatises, Nathaniel Bacon™s An historicall discourse of the uniformity of the

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