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Just as French antiquarian culture constituted a secondary theatre of
the scholarly conXict between Suecomanes and Germanists, so English
historians took sides in the battle raging between these two main schools

À» K. Skovgaard-Petersen, ˜The literary feud between Denmark and Sweden in the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries and the development of Danish historical scholarship™,
in J. Brink and W. Gentrup (eds.), Renaissance culture in context (Aldershot, 1993);
Brough, Goths.
À¦ E. Seaton, Literary relations of England and Scandinavia in the seventeenth century (Oxford,
1935). À  Ibid., p. 206. ÀÀ Ibid., p. 137; Parry, Trophies of time, pp. 8, 284.
ÀÃ Seaton, Literary relations, p. 189. À• Ibid., p. 191; Beck, Northern antiquities, p. 51 n.
À’ Beck, Northern antiquities, pp. 22, 49, 78.
222 Points of contact

of European Gothicists. Robert Sheringham championed the insights of
Suecomane Gothicism; his De Anglorum origine was ˜saturated with the
Uppsala spirit™.À“ James Tyrrell found the case advanced by Grotius and
reiterated by Sheringham to be more compelling than the Germanist
theories of Cluverius and Verstegan.À“ On the other hand, Edward Stil-
lingXeet was critical of Rudbeck™s Gothicist fantasy.À” The issue rumbled
on in English historiography well into the eighteenth century. Thomas
Gray believed that the question was still ˜undecided™ whether the Goths
had emerged from Scandinavia, were the descendants of Thracian Getae
or had been ˜a great colony of Scythians or Tartars™.û There were further
echoes in English Gothicist discourse of the question debated by a num-
ber of prominent continental historians about whether the Getae had
been a Germanic people or had become identiWed with the Goths only as
a consequence of spurious etymologising.æ
Philological concerns were central to this body of discourse. From the
origins of English Saxonist philology in the English Reformation, its
practitioners were keenly aware of the patriotic signiWcance of their
discipline, and of its repercussions on some of the most controversial
issues in English political culture.à Nevertheless, by the early seventeenth
century there was a powerful European orientation to what had become
less of an English and more of a septentrional discipline. Nowell, Camden
and Verstegan all identiWed the origins of the English tongue in a broader
family of Germanic tongues.ÃÀ Linguistics were neither narrowly Anglo-
Saxon nor insular. Late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English
Saxonists were not preoccupied with the patriotic signiWcance of their
discipline to the exclusion of wider concerns. In his English historical
library, which is largely a source manual and critical bibliography for the
historian of England, William Nicolson urged the necessity of a cosmo-
politan perspective for the student of Gothic antiquities: ˜Our Saxon
antiquary ought also to be skilled in the writings of those learned Ger-
mans, who have made collections of their old laws; or have written such
glossaries, or other grammatical discourses, as may bring him acquainted
with the many dialects of our ancestors and kinsmen in that part of the
world.™Ãà Elizabeth Elstob pronounced ˜the ancient Francick™ to be ˜the

À“ Ibid., p. 49; Seaton, Literary relations, p. 208.
À“ James Tyrrell, The general history of England (3 vols., London, 1697“1704), I, pt III,
pp. 121“3. À” Seaton, Literary relations, p. 209.
û Thomas Gray, ˜Gothi™, in Gray, Works (ed. T. J. Mathias, 2 vols., London, 1814), II,
pp. 104“5.
æ Robert Sheringham, De Anglorum gentis origine disceptatio (Cambridge, 1670), ch. 9;
Kliger, Goths, pp. 10“19. à See above, ch. 5, n. 39.
ÃÀ Pocock, Ancient constitution, p. 96.
ÃÃ William Nicolson, The English historical library (3 vols., London, 1696“9), I, p. 128.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 223

mother of the present German, and of near alliance with the Anglo-
Saxon, all of them confessing their original from the Goths™.Õ
Philology interlocked with constitutional history. The gradual dis-
placement of the immemorial common law as the basis of English identity
with a more intensely Gothicist heritage was related to the discovery of
broader English aYnities with the legal and political institutions of the
Continent. Feudal jurisprudence, which focused on Gothic legal institu-
tions, had, from the early seventeenth century, helped to undermine the
insular immemorialism of the English common law mind, and, by 1610,
Selden was studying English feudal tenures in the light of continental
history.Ã’ Moreover, according to John Pocock, Henry Spelman ˜ap-
proached the English past as part of the history of Europe™,Ó his feudal-
ism pointing royalists in the direction of a non-insular interpretation of
English constitutional history.Ó However, in the second half of the seven-
teenth century it was the Wercest opponents of absolute monarchy who
were to adopt a European perspective, as republicans and defenders of
England™s traditional mixed constitutionalism painted a vivid and
frightening picture of Europe™s eroding Gothic liberties.Ô


The Commonwealth tradition
One of the most inXuential strains of late seventeenth-century Gothicism,
the republican or commonwealth tradition of real whiggery, was linked to
a historical sociology which stressed the role of a range of dynamic
processes acting upon and transforming Europe™s Gothic polities. As
Caroline Robbins has shown, the Gothicism of the commonwealthmen
was not wholly backward-looking, but an integral part of a sophisticated
understanding of social and political change in early modern Europe.
However, underlying this approach was an anxiety to control change in
the hope of retaining traditional liberties and mixed constitutions. The
commonwealthmen were aiming not so much to put the historical pro-
cess into reverse gear as to ˜observe and learn by it how best to circumvent
the situations which over-ambitious monarch or indolent subject might
create™.•» In a sense the republican tradition validated the ethnic unity of
Europe by emphasising the very recent changes which had thrown up a
huge gulf between the constitutional liberties of the English and the
Õ Elizabeth Elstob, The rudiments of grammar for the English“Saxon tongue (1715: facsimile,
Menston, 1968), ˜Dedication™.
Ò Pocock, Ancient constitution, p. 286. Ó Ibid., p. 95. Ó Ibid., ch. 5.
Ô B. Worden, ˜English republicanism™, in J. H. Burns and M. Goldie (eds.), The Cambridge
history of political thought 1450“1700 (Cambridge, 1991), p. 470.
•» Caroline Robbins, ˜Introduction™, in Two English republican tracts (Cambridge, 1969),
pp. 55“6.
224 Points of contact

despotic yoke under which the peoples of the continental monarchies
now suVered. Although there were those chauvinistic English writers who
expressed such diVerences in terms of long-standing national characteris-
tics, the more sophisticated sociological explanation advanced by the
commonwealthmen was to enjoy a wide currency within the political and
cultural elite.•¦
In his utopian masterpiece Oceana (1656) James Harrington analysed
the collapse of Europe™s mixed Gothic polities into monarchies and
republics: ˜Where are the estates, or the power of the people, in France?
Blown up. Where is that of the people in Aragon, and the rest of the
Spanish kingdoms? Blown up. On the other side, where is the king of
Spain™s power in Holland? Blown up.™•  The solution to this crisis,
Harrington suggested, was the construction of new institutions to secure
civil and political stability. Stressing the opportunities as well as the risks
presented by the decline of Gothic government, Harrington saw that the
subversion of the traditional English polity in the Civil Wars oVered the
chance to remodel government and society in such a way as to overcome
the Xaws of the former Gothic system. Harrington was, indeed, a critic of
feudalism, his views most pronounced in various remarks discussing the
overbearing nobility of Marpesia (Scotland). The instability of the medi-
eval era had arisen from a ˜wrestling match™ between monarchs and
magnates, and now seventeenth-century England was reaping the whirl-
wind of a declining feudalism. Harrington drew attention both to the
measures taken by Henry VII and Henry VIII against bastard-feudal
retainers and to the redistribution of land among the gentry on the
dissolution of the monasteries. Nevertheless, the republican machinery
outlined by Harrington would enable England to transcend the diYcul-
ties created by a post-Gothic mismatch between the distribution of politi-
cal power and the possession of land.•À
The major intellects of the late seventeenth-century commonwealth
tradition were receptive to the sociological and historical underpinnings
of Harrington™s analysis, but not to his basic prescription. The events of
the Restoration and the apparently inexorable march of late Stuart gov-
ernment towards the familiar European destination of absolute monarchy
•¦ J. G. A. Pocock, ˜Machiavelli, Harrington and English political ideologies in the eight-
eenth century™, in Pocock, Politics, language and time (1971: Chicago, 1989).
•  James Harrington, The commonwealth of Oceana (and A system of politics; ed.
J. G. A. Pocock, Cambridge, 1992), p. 144. For the common Gothic origins of Europe™s
feudal institutions (including those the ˜Teutons™ (Saxons) brought to Oceana (Eng-
land)), see pp. 46“51.
•À J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian moment (Princeton, 1975), p. 388; Worden, ˜English
republicanism™, pp. 451“4; Worden, ˜James Harrington and The commonwealth of
Oceana, 1656™, in D. Wootton (ed.), Republicanism, liberty and commercial society, 1649“
1776 (Stanford, 1994).
Mapping a Gothic Europe 225

prompted a reformulation of the Harringtonian tradition. The neo-Har-
ringtonians saw the threat to the Gothic system, but wished to maintain
the medieval structures of the English constitution.•Ã This mode of politi-
cal analysis did reinforce a sense of English distinctiveness, though the
latter did not degenerate into an ethnocentric or hubristic triumphalism.
Quite the reverse. Several of the leading neo-Harringtonians, including
Sidney and Molesworth, were widely travelled Wgures. Sidney had served
on a diplomatic mission to Denmark in 1659 and had spent much of his
life in exile.•• Molesworth™s classic An account of Denmark as it was in the
year 1692 was the product of missions to that land in 1689“90 and 1692.•’
The cosmopolitan Molesworth confessed himself inspired by ˜a sincere
desire of instructing the only possessors of true liberty in the world, what
right they have to that liberty, of how great a value it is, what misery
follows the loss of it, and how easily, if care be taken in time, it may be
preserved™.•“ The neo-Harringtonian interpretation of history drew upon
a pan-European domino theory, and there was considerable anxiety that
the Gothic constitutions of the British Isles would be the next to fall. It
was not so much as a badge of honour as grounds for paranoia that it was
˜in England only that the ancient, generous, manly government of Europe
survives, and continues in its original lustre and perfection™.•“
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688“9 had secured English liberties
from Stuart despotism, there was a strain of national triumphalism.
However, even within the broad ranks of whiggery a potent countercur-
rent of Gothicist republicanism called into question the diVerences be-
tween England and the Continent. Throughout the 1690s a mood of
anxiety predominated in the circles of the commonwealth whigs, over-
whelming any complacent drift into self-congratulation. The achieve-
ment of 1689 was seen as a holding operation, which had checked in the
British dominions the seemingly remorseless trend across Europe to-
wards the subversion of parliaments, ˜formerly so common, but lost
within this last age in all kingdoms but those of Poland, Great Britain and
Ireland™.•” Molesworth had little truck with the complacent trumpeting of
the glories of England™s recent Revolution, ˜the eVecting of which may be
•Ã Pocock, Machiavellian moment, p. 416; Worden, ˜Republicanism and the Restoration,
1660“1683™, in Wootton, Republicanism, liberty and commercial society, esp. pp. 141“3;
A. C. Houston, Algernon Sidney and the republican heritage in England and America
(Princeton, 1991), ch. 5.
•• J. Scott, Algernon Sidney and the English republic, 1623“1677 (Cambridge, 1988), ch. 8.
•’ Dictionary of national biography.
•“ Molesworth, ˜Preface™, in Hotman, Franco-Gallia, p. ii.
•“ Thomas Rymer, A general draught and prospect of government in Europe (London, 1681),
p. 66.
•” Robert Molesworth, An account of Denmark as it was in the year 1692 (London, 1694),
p. 43. See Worden, ˜Republicanism and the Restoration™, p. 175.
226 Points of contact

called a piece of good luck, and that™s the best can be said of it™.’» At the
heart of this inXuential branch of whig culture was the fear that the
English were not so very diVerent from their continental cousins. The
inexorable rise since the Renaissance of the new monarchies was not the
product of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, but of deeper social and
institutional forces. After all, Protestant nations such as Denmark had
succumbed to absolutism. There was no particular reason why, if the
Lutheran and Gothic Danes had failed to withstand these trends, the
English would escape unscathed. English liberties were perceived to be
precarious precisely because the English were of the same ethnic stock as
the enslaved nations of Europe. There were calls for the renovation of the
English polity, the regeneration of the Saxon spirit, before England lapsed
into a Williamite despotism. The anti-Williamite ˜real whigs™ Walter
Moyle (1672“1721) and John Trenchard (1662“1723) argued during the
standing army debate of the late 1690s that English exceptionalism had to
be carefully deWned.’¦ There was no assumption of English superiority
over those unfortunate Gothic nations on the Continent which had lost
their traditional mixed institutions. Indeed, English liberties were com-
monly linked to the wider fate of the European balance of power, or the
˜liberties of Europe™.’ 
Why had England so far escaped the common fate, when ˜most nations
in Europe [were] overrun with oppression and slavery™? Was it something
in the English character? Or the peculiar virtues of England™s ancient
constitution? Moyle and Trenchard concluded that it was ˜more owing to
the accident of our situation, than to our wisdom, integrity or courage™
that the English constitution survived the general crisis.’À They advanced
an explanation of this ˜situation™ very pertinent to England™s current
predicament: ˜And if we enquire how these unhappy nations have lost
that precious jewel liberty, and we as yet preserved it, we shall Wnd their
miseries and our unhappiness proceed from this, that their necessities or
indiscretion have permitted a standing army to be kept among them.™’Ã
Thus far England had avoided such an impasse, but it was looming, for,
as Moyle and Trenchard argued, it was part of the common European
decline of the feudal militia. Peter Paxton, a London doctor and poly-
math (d. 1711), took a similar line, but added that it was dynastic unions
which had Wrst allowed princes to build up standing armies and eventual-
’» Molesworth, Account of Denmark, ˜Preface™.
’¦ [Walter Moyle and John Trenchard], An argument, shewing, that a standing army is
inconsistent with a free government, and absolutely destructive to the constitution of the English
monarchy (London, 1697).
’  E.g. Charles Davenant, Essays upon I. the ballance of power II. the right of making war, peace
and alliances III. universal monarchy (London, 1701), esp. I.
’À [Moyle and Trenchard], Standing army, p. 3. ’Ã Ibid., p. 4.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 227

ly to destabilise the ˜liberties of Europe™. Europe had formerly been a
collection of weak Gothic principalities ˜so constituted as beWtted them to
defend themselves, but not to ruin and oppress their neighbours; for the
legislature and force were so admirably laid, and equally divided between
the prince and people, that the Wrst had authority enough to rule and
assemble the last, for the preservation of themselves, but had not sover-
eignty enough to sport away their lives at his pleasure, for the conquering
and enslaving others™.’• The threat to English freedoms and European
liberties came both from the rise of domestic absolutisms and also from
the wider phenomenon in an unsettled states system of aspirations to
universal dominion.


The eighteenth-century mainstream
In time this pan-European vision became an established feature of Eng-
lish political culture. At Wrst a central plank of oppositional whiggism, it
came to feature in establishment whiggism and in tory ideology of the
early Hanoverian era. By the middle of the eighteenth century the English
radical tradition was beginning to be more Anglocentric and assertively
Anglo-Saxonist, and a narrowly parochial sense of the Gothic heritage
was conWned to these circles. On the other hand, the Euro-Gothicist
perspective, devoid of its neo-Harringtonian gloss, helped shape the
ideology of modern court whiggism. Through the cosmopolitan inXuence
of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Eurocentric story of the rise and
transformation of feudal institutions became one of the dominant refrains
in British political culture.
Eighteenth-century English political culture resounded to the legend of
Europe™s shared Gothic origins. According to Squire the ˜northern re-

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