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Leslie™s whole point was to insist that the Glorious Revolution could not
be vindicated). In crucial respects Leslie was surely right. However, few
contemporaries would have agreed with him. Supporters of the
Revolution settlement across the Three Kingdoms found it quite easy
to live with incompatible justifications of the Glorious Revolution.47
There was, in fact, no text of British political thought (as opposed to
English, Scottish or Irish political thought) that offered a coherent
justification of the dynastic shift of 1688À1689.
This chapter has sought to raise questions and explore problems rather
than offer definitive guidelines concerning how to proceed with writing a
British history of political thought. However, a number of conclusions
have emerged in the process. The central one is that scholars have often
failed to recognize British political thought when they have encountered
it for the simple reason that they have mistaken it for something else.
Much of the English political thought of this period with which we are
familiar, for example, on closer examination turns out to be British
thought À either because, despite being articulated in English sources, it
was intended to apply at the pan-archipelagic level (Tory-Anglican
thought of the 1680s would be an important case in point here), or
because the thought involved did indeed address the Three Kingdoms but
this has been missed because the dictates of traditional historiography
have forced us to focus on the national level (note both Whig and Tory
thought during the Exclusion Crisis). The advantage of the recent
Britannic turn in seventeenth-century historiography, therefore, has been
to help us to see things we have missed and as a result to alter significantly
our understanding of key historical developments and processes. The new
British history, in short, has much to teach us. Yet this is different from
saying that we should all become British historians or that there are


[Leslie] 1692, sigs, d-dv, p. 46.
46 47
Harris 2002.
108 tim harris
particular types of British history we should aspire to practise. Much of
the political thought we have looked at in this chapter both is and is not
British political thought. Depending on the questions we ask, sometimes
the Three-Kingdoms perspective is going to come into sharp focus, at
other times the national (or local or continental) will. This is why labels
such as incorporative, confederal or perfect À even if accurately reflecting
the various ways the new British history has tended to be written to
date À are ultimately unhelpful. The time has surely come to move
forward and get beyond such compartmentalizations. Those of us who
want to write British history have to engage in many types of British
history at the same time, while also being ready to recognize that in some
(perhaps many) contexts the Three-Kingdoms dimension might not get
us very far.
part ii
British Political Thought and Literature
c h ap t e r 6

Republicanism in Sixteenth- and
Seventeenth-Century Britain
Andrew Hadfield




The study of political thought is too important to be left to political
science and history alone. Of course, it would be odd if analysis did
not start within these disciplines. However, the inability to establish
more widespread, genuinely interdisciplinary modes of study has meant
that ways of reading texts established by historians and social scientists
have been accepted as the norm and then imported back into disciplines
such as literary studies. Given that our understanding of the early-
modern period has been transformed by the realization that people did
not divide up the world and the books that represent it as we do, this is
a seriously disabling problem for those concerned to reconstruct the
past. If we are attempting to recover a world in which people read
religious tracts, literary texts, scientific treatises, legal documents and
other forms of writing alongside each other, we should recognize that
our attempts to distinguish rigidly between subjects will not always yield
fruitful results.
A case in point is the question of early-modern republicanism, a
subject that has had little impact on the analysis of literature before the
eighteenth century. This means that historical and theoretical debate
about the existence and substance of republicanism has concentrated on
the question of whether it was a language or a programme, a means of
articulating an alternative to monarchical government, or a plan of action
designed to replace hereditary monarchy.1 The former definition has
sometimes led to an over-inclusive understanding of republicanism
that risks seeing any reference to ˜virtue™ as republicanism in miniature.2

1
Pocock 1975b; Skinner 1978a.
2
Peltonen 1995. For criticism, see Worden 2002, pp. 308À14.

111
112 andrew hadfield
The latter definition has led to a concomitant tendency for a rather
straitened understanding of republicanism sprouting fully formed
after 1642, with a clear programme that opposes Puritanism and royalism
alike.3
Republicanism before the advent of the English republic is hard to
define because it consisted of a number of inter-related themes, ideas
and affiliations and there was no republican pressure group at or outside
court that could easily be identified. Nevertheless, English republicanism
might be described as a faith in the power of institutions to circumscribe
the authority of the monarch, allied to a belief that such institutions À
Parliament, the law courts, local and national government À had the
means to make individuals more virtuous and so better able to govern.4
Of course, it is often difficult to separate republicanism from a native
˜commonwealth™ tradition which had similar aims, but did not always
place as much emphasis on the institutions as on the limiting of the
monarch™s prerogative.5 Republicanism can be further distinguished in
terms of the images, symbols and types of precedent that were cited
to make a case.
We need to remember that republicanism was as much a literary as
a political phenomenon, originating principally in the historical and
poetic works surviving from the Roman Republic À Livy, Polybius,
Ovid, Cicero, Lucan, and so on À studied by all boys at grammar school.
It makes little sense to study the history of republicanism without
examining the history of the representations of the rape of Lucrece, the
banishment of the Tarquins and the protracted civil wars which ended
the republic, and which included the deaths of Julius Caesar, Mark
Antony and Cicero. Republicanism as a tradition was a fund of images,
stories and motifs. The history of republicanism in England, I would
suggest, makes little sense if we study it solely in terms of the definitions
provided by historians and social scientists.
It would, therefore, be an eccentric reading of English or British
political history and culture to see no republicanism before James
Harrington outlined the property-owning oligarchy of Oceana in 1656,
or Algernon Sidney was executed in 1683 in the wake of the Rye House
Plot, leaving behind his voluminous manuscripts on the liberties
afforded a people who accepted the principles of mixed government.6


3 4 5
Worden 1981. Collinson 2003, chs. 1À2. Worden 2002.
6
Harrington 1992; Pocock 1987a; Sidney 1996a; Sidney 1996b; Worden 1985; Scott 1988.
Republicanism in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Britain 113
Harrington and Sidney made it clear that they looked back for inspiration
to a corpus of monarchomach writers, principally George Buchanan; to
well-known biblical writings on regicide (many of which were cited by
writers such as Buchanan); the history of the Roman Republic; and the
example of Venice, the key republican city-state that also formed the
basis for the utopia of Oceana.7 It would be reductive to claim that there
was no political transformation between the late sixteenth century and
the middle of the seventeenth, or that political thinkers did not read,
reconsider, and often transform earlier texts. But there is a remarkable
continuity in the points of reference that define a republican tradition,
agreed on by its critics as well as its supporters.
Even the hostile to republicanism appear to have recognized its central
role within the English political imagination. To take one example: Fulke
Greville (1554À1628), the close friend of Sir Philip Sidney, Algernon™s
great-uncle, may have been a radical thinker in his youth, but he
developed into a stern critic of republican thought.8 Much of Greville™s
work remained in manuscript until after his death À the publication
of Mustapha (1609) was without his consent À and he destroyed his
play, Antony and Cleopatra, because it reflected rather too closely on the
rebellion of the Earl of Essex, with whom Greville had been associated
in the 1590s.9 It is evident that his two surviving plays, Mustapha
(c. 1594À1596) and Alaham (c. 1598À1600), neither of which were
performed publicly, provide extensive discussions of resistance theory
based on his reading of the monarchomach treatise, Vindiciae Contra
Tyrannos, one of Sir Philip Sidney™s favourite political works.10 Greville,
certainly when he revised his plays in the early 1600s, had little sympathy
for armed rebellion.11 He was, nevertheless, a keen student of Machiavelli,
and had great faith in the value of parliaments.12
The plays are concerted attacks on the vices of overbearing rulers, but
argue the case that anarchy is worse than tyranny. People need security
and order, ideally under the law, and the worst ruler is a weak one, such as
Alaham, who is more interested in his comforts and assisting his friends
and allies than enforcing the law properly. Both plays stress the need for
kings to heed wise counsel so that they realize when something untoward
happens, an argument for the constitutional importance of parliament.

7
Sidney 1996a, pp. 56, 112, 185, 187, and passim; Harrington 1992, pp. 8, 34, 218, and passim;
compare Nelson 2004, ch. 3.
8 9 10
Rees 1971, p. 42. Rebholz 1971, pp. 131À2. Greville 1939, vol. 2.
11 12
Greville 1939, i, p. 4; Perry 1997, p. 106. Greville 1939, i, pp. 14, 17.
114 andrew hadfield
Greville also places emphasis on the need for true religion to play its part
in good government, and favours the security of a hereditary rather than
an elective kingship.13
There are many assumptions here in common with a number of
political arguments made in the 1590s. In that decade there was a wide-
spread fear that after the death of Elizabeth the process of hereditary
monarchy, designed to preserve the nation™s stability, might instead
lead to the destruction of all that had been achieved under the Tudors,
with the crown passing to an unsuitable candidate.14 Greville values the
need for counsel, for monarchs to obey the law, reason as the key
principle of government, the fear that tyranny will erode the people™s
liberty and the concomitant fear of rebellion if a monarch treats subjects
too harshly, the hope that religious differences can be either solved or
placed to one side, and so on, all affirming a belief in the familiar
principle of the ˜mixed™ constitution.15 Nevertheless, the central political
fear has changed from the need for subjects to force the hands of their
rulers in order to ensure proper justice and liberty, to the need for
rulers to behave well and be attentive to their kingdoms. As Greville™s
intellectual progress demonstrates, the concept of the ˜mixed™ constitution
was inherently ambiguous. It could be used to argue that the people
had the right to remind the monarch of his or her duties to them, as
they shared power; or, more conservatively, that the monarch held
power alone, but needed to listen to the advice of elected assemblies when
he or she felt it was necessary.16
Greville™s political opinions are meticulously laid out in his poetry,
most obviously in ˜A Treatise of Monarchy™. This long poem argues
that hereditary monarchy is the best form of government.17 It was prob-
ably completed in the early 1600s, but was started in the 1590s.18
Nevertheless, Greville™s political anatomy and history is evidently
touched by republican thought, as he uses the word ˜republic™ to describe
states in stanzas 1, 14, 276, 325, and elsewhere. Greville charts the
political progress of monarchy from its inception to its frequent
degeneration into tyranny, warning his readers that ˜thrones are not
indefinite™, that ˜pow™re bounded is with wrong and right™ (40) and it is


13 14 15
Perry 1997, pp. 106À11. Hadfield 2005, pt. 1. Sharpe 2000, chs. 1À2.
16
Hadfield 2003, ch. 5.
17
Greville 1965. Subsequent references to this edition in parentheses in the text.
18
Rebholz 1971, pp. 146À7.
Republicanism in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Britain 115
the duty of the good counsellor to ˜lymitt the excesses of a Crowne™ (45).
The story of the end of the republic is told, yet again, with only
a slight twist:
Caesar was slaine by those that objects were
Of grace, and engines of his tiranny.
Brutus and Cassius worke shall wittnes beare,
Even to the comfort of posterity,
That prowd aspirers never had good end,
Nor yet excess of might a constant frend (70).
Caesar is cast as a tyrant. But Brutus and Cassius are seen as equally
ambitious and self-serving, tyrants who never got to rule, unlike Caligula
and Nero (74). It is tempting to speculate how this verse read in the
first version of the poem, assuming that Greville revised it. Whatever
the genesis of the poem, it is clear that Greville felt the need to make
use of the history of the Roman Republic as a central reference point
for his readers. This would seem to indicate that it was difficult for
any political writer from the 1590s onwards to ignore or summarily
dismiss arguments for a republic. A contrary case could not be assumed
but had to be argued. By a deft sleight of hand, in the verse cited
above Greville transforms the story of the end of the republic into one
of the end of constitutional monarchy, Caesar, Brutus and Cassius all
being cast as enemies of the middle way. It is a neat manoeuvre, which
testifies to the prominent role of the history of the republic in English
political life.
Greville supported contemporary republics that opposed the might of
Spain:
The pride of such inferiors did constraine
The Swisse against the Austrians cantonise;
Soe were the Belgians likewise forc™t againe
A new Republique finely to devise;
In which that Monarch [i.e., the King of Spain™s representative,
the Duke of Alva] was compeld to treat
As with states equall free, not equall great (102).
The republics established here enable their citizens to stop tyrants
whose desire is to ˜Abridge our freedome, to lord over us™ (100), and, in
section 6 of the poem (192À238), Catholicism and tyranny are shown
to have an identical agenda. The reference to Spain indicates that this
verse was written in the 1590s when Spain™s power was at its height
and most Protestant European states devoted their foreign policy to
116 andrew hadfield
halting Iberian imperial ambitions, and suggests that the poem may have
been less obviously celebratory of monarchy in earlier forms.19
However, in the later stages of the poem, Greville weighs in against
republicanism, as he compares monarchy favourably with alternative
systems of government (aristocracy, in stanzas 580À609; democracy, in
stanzas 610À640). The republic is seen as an unstable political form,
veering from tyranny to popular rule, and the history of Athens is no less
chaotic. Caesar was not without his faults, but ˜he that brought back

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