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Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English Gothicists embraced
both the national characters and institutions of the Continent as variants
of their own culture. Englishness they celebrated more as an isomer of a
common Gothic heritage than as a unique insular identity. Discerning
Englishmen knew that it was not character but fortune which separated
the English political experience from the normal run of things in the
modern European despotisms. Although the famous ˜peculiarities of the
English™ have some roots in the early modern period, these did not Xower
as a striking feature of the national culture until the nineteenth century.
Instead there prevailed in eighteenth-century English discourse the no-
tion that ˜post-Roman Europe was originally uniWed by sharing Germanic
freedoms™.¦¦
However, the Gothicist interpretation of a family of peoples with
crucial underlying resemblances did not usher in a crude vision of Europe
as an ethnically homogeneous monolith. The contingencies of history,
including a measure of acculturation with the diVerent autochthonous
groups encountered in the particular territories they conquered, as they
operated on the slight variations in the original manners of the peoples
who overran the Roman Empire, had resulted in a fascinating diversity of
nations. Some historians argued that original variations within the pri-
meval Gothic stock explained how the colonisation of Europe by this
powerful ethnic strain had not resulted in a dull uniformity.¦  Others
stressed that these various Gothic nations had retained many of their
primeval family characteristics, but attributed the ˜variety . . . observed in
the constitutions of those northern nations that invaded the Roman
Empire™ to the attitudes the barbarian conquerors had towards the in-
digenous peoples they encountered throughout Europe.¦À Although
scholars diVered over the nature and degree of relationships within the
family of Germanic nations, there was a general assumption that the
English libertarian heritage was part of the broadly Gothic history of
post-Roman Europe.


The European components of English Gothicism
Why was this European perspective so pronounced in seventeenth- and
eighteenth-century English antiquarian culture? There were a number of
factors which together assisted the formation of a Euro-Gothicist ident-
¦¦ J. Black, Convergence or divergence? Britain and the Continent (Houndmills, 1994), p. 146.
¦  James Ibbetson, A dissertation on the judicial customs of the Saxon and Norman age (London,
1780), p. 3.
¦À Sidney, Discourses, p. 204. For the English and European contexts of Sidney™s Gothicism,
see J. Scott, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration crisis, 1677“1683 (Cambridge, 1991),
pp. 245“6.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 217

ity. It is important to highlight the long-term inXuence of the Gothic
history (c. 550) compiled by Jordanes. This bequeathed early modern
Gothicism two vivid images of ancient Scandza as the ˜hive of races or
womb of nations™, whence the Goths poured forth under their king Berig
to begin their wanderings.¦Ã These controlling metaphors of the hive and
the womb were to shape antiquarian thought during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.¦• As a result, Gothicism became inseparable from
this image of a teeming storehouse of nations, with its overt claim that the
various Gothic nations, despite their later tribal and national subdivisions
and divergent histories, shared a common origin and homeland. In the
seventeenth century the idea of the kinship of the Gothic peoples was
reinforced by the extension of the family tree back to the sons of Japhet.
This Mosaic feature disappeared in the course of the early modern
period, but the basic notion of a family remained, albeit shortened and
secularised, within the powerful metaphor of the Gothic ˜womb of na-
tions™. The rediscovery of Tacitus in the second half of the Wfteenth
century was also of vital importance, given their wide appeal in early
modern Europe. Peter Burke has argued convincingly that ˜commenta-
ries on Tacitus were to the seventeenth century what commentaries on
Aristotle were to the later middle ages™.¦’ The Goths tended to be con-
Xated with the heroic libertarian Germans described by Tacitus in the
Germania. The centrality of this text in the elaboration of the descendant
Anglo-Saxon identity meant that English antiquarians could not disen-
gage themselves from the ancient history of Europe.
English Gothicism emerged as part of a cosmopolitan conversation
about the origins of Europe. So it is unsurprising that various foreign
scholars should play a disproportionate role in the formation of England™s
Gothic identity. It was common for clerics and gentleman-antiquarians
working on English history to have some experience of other Welds,
especially in patristics, the wider history of the church, and the classics.
English history was written by scholars with a cosmopolitan hinterland.
Camden and Sir Robert Cotton were at the centre of a web of scholarly
correspondence which traversed north-west Europe.¦“ As a consequence,
¦Ã P. Heather, The Goths (Oxford, 1996), pp. 9“12; S. Kliger, The Goths in England
(Cambridge, MA, 1952), pp. 11“13, 112; T. J. Beck, Northern antiquities in French
learning and literature (1755“1855) (New York, 1934), pp. 19, 45; F. L. Borchardt,
German antiquity in Renaissance myth (Baltimore and London, 1971), p. 191.
¦• E.g. James Thomson, Complete poetical works (ed. J. Logie Robertson, 1908: repr.
London, 1961), ˜Liberty™, pt III, pp. 354“5; pt IV, pp. 367“8; Blackstone, Commentaries,
IV, p. 403.
¦’ P. Burke, ˜A survey of the popularity of ancient historians 1450“1700™, H+T 5 (1966),
149; D. Kelley, ˜Tacitus noster: the Germania in the Renaissance and Reformation™, in
A. J. Woodman and T. J. Luce (eds.), Tacitus and the Tacitean tradition (Princeton, 1993),
pp. 154, 164; Kliger, Goths, pp. 112“13.
218 Points of contact

English political discourse was receptive to external inXuences, especially
given the importance of Latinity as a vehicle for political and historical
writings. For example, the canon of English whig political thought em-
braced, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, a number of foreign texts,
including Fran§ois Hotman™s Franco-Gallia and Juan de Mariana™s his-
tory of Spain.¦“ A wider Gothic perspective was also encouraged by an
awareness of the common feudal laws and institutions which the English
shared with the rest of Europe. Feudal jurisprudence rose to prominence
as an intellectual discipline in seventeenth-century England when it be-
gan to displace the legend of England™s immemorial law.¦” Feudalism was
virtually tantamount to the history of Gothic institutions, a form of law
common to all the kingdoms of Europe. There were widespread local
variations in the feudal law, but it reinforced the notion that there was a
basic Gothic unity underlying European diversity. Nobody disputed the
existence of English feudalism: the big question was whether it had been
imported from the Continent wholesale with the Normans, which re-
inforced the case for a Norman Conquest, or had been introduced earlier,
perhaps under the Saxons, themselves drawing on continental inXu-
ences. »
It should occasion little surprise, therefore, that various foreign schol-
ars played a disproportionate role in the formation of England™s Gothic
identity. It is signiWcant that English Gothicism should be if not of
Anglo-Dutch parentage, at least indebted to Richard Verstegan™s self-
consciously continental midwifery. Verstegan, author of the foundational
text of English Gothicism “ A restitution of decayed intelligence (1605) “ was
an English Catholic exile of Dutch ancestry who changed his name from
Rowlands to Verstegan on returning to the land of his forefathers. Later,
he removed himself to Paris. Given Verstegan™s origins and career it is
hardly surprising that he advanced a broadly European interpretation of
Gothic history, perhaps bringing some welcome coherence to his own
mongrel heritage. The Restitution was a seminal work, going through Wve

¦“ D. Woolf, The idea of history in early Stuart England (Toronto, 1990), pp. 116“19, 159,
170; K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton (Oxford, 1979), esp. ch. 3; G. Parry, The trophies of time
(Oxford, 1995), pp. 7“8. See also R. L. De Molen, ˜The library of William Camden™,
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 128 (1984), 327“409.
¦“ Sommerville, Politics and ideology, p. 78; J. H. M. Salmon, The French religious wars in
English political thought (Oxford, 1959); Fran§ois Hotman, Franco-Gallia; or an account of
the ancient free state of France, and most other parts of Europe before the loss of their liberties (ed.
Robert Molesworth, London, 1711); Juan de Mariana, The general history of Spain
(1592“1605: trans. John Stevens, London, 1699); H. T. Colbourn, The lamp of experi-
ence: whig history and the intellectual origins of the American revolution (Chapel Hill, NC,
1965), Appendix II.
¦” J. G. A. Pocock, The ancient constitution and the feudal law (1957: reissue with retrospect,
Cambridge, 1987), chs. 3, 5.  » Ibid., ch. 8; Sommerville, Politics and ideology.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 219

editions in the course of the seventeenth century. ¦ Verstegan eschewed
the narrowly insular, identifying Germany as the common womb of most
of the leading nations of western Europe: ˜many most warlike troops have
gone out of Germany, and taken possession in all the best countries of
Europe, where their oVspring even to this day remaineth™.   Verstegan
recounted the achievements of the various nations of the German stock.
The kingdoms of Spain were founded by the Goths and Vandals, the
Lombards had settled in northern Italy and there were various septen-
trional sprigs of the Germanic stem in Scandinavia. Above all, the Franks,
a subdivision of the Sicambri, had established a kingdom in France under
their leader Pharamond. The English nation “ the Saxon branch of the
ancient and noble race of Germans, supplemented by kindred Danes and
Normans “ were encouraged to take pride in their wider ancestry: ˜Thus
have we here seen the Germans leave places unto their posterity to inhabit
in, in Italy, Spain, France, and Britain, where unto this day they remain,
as the true witnesses of the great actions of their most victorious, and
noble ancestors.™ À
At this stage Holland, the University of Leiden in particular, was the
home of Gothicist scholarship. Born in Heidelberg of a French father and
Dutch mother, and brought up in Holland where his father was a profes-
sor at Leiden, Franciscus Junius (1589“1677) was to become one of the
major pioneers in Anglo-Saxon studies. In England from 1620, Junius
became librarian to the Earl of Arundel, but he also maintained contact
with a wide network of philologists across Europe. Ã Saxon studies were
later furthered by the assimilated Prussian David Wilkins (Wilke; 1685“
1745). Best known for his Concilia, Wilkins also produced an edition of
Anglo-Saxon laws. • Pierre Allix, a pastor of the French reformed church
who Xed to England after the revocation of Nantes, and later became a
canon and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, brought to his adopted
culture the Frankish Gothicism of Huguenot political thought. Allix
reminded Englishmen that the assault on France™s ancient constitution
was largely a seventeenth-century phenomenon, and informed his new
countrymen that the Frankish libertarian tradition was not yet defunct:

Parry, Trophies of time, ch. 2; Kliger, Goths, p. 115; Woolf, Idea of history, p. 202.
 ¦
Richard Verstegan, A restitution of decayed intelligence (1605: London, 1634), p. 43.
  
Ibid., p. 45.
 À
Parry, Trophies of time, p. 8; S. Brough, The Goths and the concept of Gothic in Germany from
 Ã
1500 to 1750 (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 91“2; E. N. Adams, Old English scholarship in England
from 1566 to 1800 (New Haven, 1917), pp. 70“1; D. Fairer, ˜Anglo-Saxon Studies™, in
L. S. Sutherland and L. G. Mitchell (eds.), The history of the University of Oxford, vol. V,
The eighteenth century (Oxford, 1986), p. 808.
 • D. C. Douglas, English scholars (1939: London, 1943), p. 82; F. Powicke, ˜Sir Henry
Spelman and the Concilia™, Proceedings of the British Academy 16 (1930), 367.
220 Points of contact

˜let no body imagine that the ancient idea of the government of France, is
quite eVaced out of the spirit of the nation™. ’
The ˜classic exposition™ of traditional English whig history was the
work of an exiled Savoyard Huguenot, Paul de Rapin-Thoyras (1661“
1725). “ His magnum opus was translated into English by Nicholas Tindal
(1687“1774) in Wfteen volumes between 1725 and 1731, followed by a
second edition in 1732“3, a third in 1743 and later versions which
included Tindal™s continuation. Rapin drew on the sixteenth-century
French constitutional tradition associated with Fran§ois Hotman, fusing
it with native English shibboleths. Although the exceptional longevity of
England™s Gothic liberties constituted a central element in Rapin™s story,
he did not lose sight of the wider European perspective in which the
preservation of England™s ancient constitution ought to be viewed: ˜Si on
examine les histoires des autres royaumes fondez en Europe, par les
Nations du Nord, on y trouvera de pareilles Assemblees, sous divers
´
noms, comme de Dietes, de Champs de Mars, de Cortes, et autres.™ “
`
The traditional whig shibboleths conWrmed by Rapin were later chal-
lenged by the Swiss antiquarian Jean Louis De Lolme (1740“1805) in a
major work on the English constitution. De Lolme reinforced England™s
much-vaunted libertarian identity while qualifying the wider identiWca-
tion with a Gothic Europe. The Swiss revisionist attributed the glories of
English liberty to the Norman Conquest, ˜the real foundation of the
English constitution™. By a curious irony, the despotism established at the
Conquest ˜made England free™. The excessive power of the monarchy
provoked in response a ˜regulated resistance™ and a ˜spirit of union™
between nobility and people. De Lolme acknowledged that the early
Gothic nations of Europe, including the English, had shared similar
institutional forms. However, the Saxon constitution appeared ˜to have
had little more aYnity with the present constitution, than the general
relation, common indeed to all the governments established by the north-
ern nations, that of having a king and a body of nobility™. ”
 ’ Pierre Allix, ReXections upon the opinions of some modern divines, concerning the nature of
government in general, and that of England in particular (London, 1689), p. 77; Kliger,
Goths, pp. 188“9.
 “ H. R. Trevor-Roper, ˜Our Wrst whig historian: Paul de Rapin-Thoyras™, in Trevor-Roper,
From Counter-Reformation to Glorious Revolution (London, 1992), p. 262; J. Dedieu,
Montesquieu et la tradition politique anglaise en France (Paris, 1909), pp. 84“99; D. Earl,
˜Procrustean feudalism: an interpretative dilemma in English historical narration, 1700“
1725™, HJ 19 (1976), esp. 39 n.; D. Forbes, Hume™s philosophical politics (Cambridge,
1975), pp. 233“40; P. Hicks, Neoclassical history and English culture: from Clarendon to
Hume (Houndmills, 1996), pp. 146“50; K. O™Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment: cosmo-
politan history from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 17“18. For an appreciation
of Rapin™s revisionism, see R. J. Smith, Gothic bequest, pp. 46“7.
 “ Paul de Rapin-Thoyras, Histoire d™Angleterre (10 vols., The Hague, 1724“7), I, pp. ix“x.
 ” Jean-Louis De Lolme, The constitution of England (1771: London, 1775), 8“9, 23.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 221

English scholars were also attuned to the wider currents of continental
Gothicist scholarship. In early modern Europe there were two main
schools of interpretation concerning the origins of the Goths. Scandina-
vian scholars argued for the northern origins of the Goths in Scandia.
Rival Danish and Swedish glosses on the Scandinavian interpretation of
the origin of the Goths were deployed to advance these nations™ ambitions
in the Baltic (in particular their rival claims to Scania, today the southern
area of Sweden, but, until 1658, under Danish rule), while German
antiquarians drew on Tacitus™s Germania to argue “ against Scandinavian
antiquaries “ for an alternative origin in an unconquered German terri-
tory lying to the east of the Roman Empire.À» There were also active links
between English and Scandinavian scholarly communities, with English
antiquaries taking considerable interest in many of the staple issues of
Scandinavian Gothicism, such as runes, megaliths and bardic literature.À¦
Verstegan incorporated into his Restitution the insights of Olaus Magnus
(1490“1557), one of the founding fathers of Swedish Gothicism and
author of the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555).À  The Danish
antiquarian and runologist Olaus Wormius (1588“1654) was a direct
inXuence on many English antiquaries during the early seventeenth cen-
tury, in particular Henry Spelman, and his work continued to shape the
Gothicist scholarship of the Restoration era.ÀÀ Later, in the seventeenth
century, another renowned Suecomane, Georg Stiernhielm, was to be-
come a Fellow of the Royal Society.ÀÃ The proud Gothicist argument of
Olaus Rudbeck™s Atlantica was reproduced in brief in the transactions of
the Royal Society.À• However, the debate was not conWned to the Swedes
and the Germans, for scholars in a number of other European nations
claimed descent from the Goths, and were deeply interested in questions
which related to their ultimate ancestry. For example, Huet imported the
Scandinavian hive thesis into French culture, and it remained an issue for
eighteenth-century French historians: Montesquieu subscribed to the
view that Scandinavia was the homeland of the Gothic peoples, while the
Abbe Mably supported the alternative Germanist thesis.À’
´

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