"Bastard children of tyranny": The Ancient Constitution and Fulke Greville's A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney *.
This problem, however, can be largely solved by understanding that the Ancient Constitution -- meaning the unwritten English common law traditions dating "from time our of mind as man," as Edward Coke (1552-1634) often put it, (7) concerning the division of powers between the monarch and the people -- figures as Greville's abiding concern throughout the Dedication. (8) First, Greville departs from the standard view of Sidney in the early seventeenth century as a primarily literary figure by interpreting his late friend through the prism of the Ancient Constitution, and he views Elizabeth and Essex the same way. Furthermore, Greville's attempt to define all three as avatars of the Ancient Constitution directly results from the controversies surrounding James' increasing absolutism. The essay's conclusion will consider why in 1652 such a text would recommend itself to a publisher (or a father-son team of publishers) with a distinctly Royalist bent.
To understand the magnitude of Greville's intervention in Sidney's posthumous reputation, we first need to survey briefly the development of Sidney's image until Greville's time. In the years immediately following his death, Sidney's reputation rested on literary production and military success, what Dominic Baker-Smith calls Sidney's "Scipionic resolution of conflicting talents." (9) In a commemorative volume published by Cambridge University in 1587, King James VI of Scotland, for example, calls on both gods and Muses to mourn the loss of this soldier-poet because Sidney combined the virtues of both: (10)
Thou mighty Mars the Lord of souldiers brave, And thou Minerve, that dois in wit excell, And thou Apollo, that dois knowledge have, Of every art that from Parnassus fell With all you Sisters that thaireon do dwell, Lament for him, who duelie serv'd you all Whome in you widely all your arts did mell.
George Whetstone adopted a similar position, arguing that to "revive" Sidney in verse requires the efforts of both "Mars and the Muses." (11) In 1593, Sir Walter Raleigh called Sidney "the Scipio, Cicero, and Petrarch of our time," while in 1596, Charles Fitz-geffrey bewailed the death of "England's Mars and Muse." (12)
Yet as the century drew to a close, the political contexts surrounding Sidney's death inevitably started to fade while the Arcadia and Astrophit and Stella began enjoying their phenomenal success. Consequently, the Scipionic resolution started dissolving. References to Sidney combining the martial and the poetic dwindled, and Sidney's reputation veered toward privileging the Muses. (13) Edmund Spenser's 1595 pastoral elegy; Astrophel, for example, elides all mention of Sidney's career by transforming him into a shepherd who finds his death not in the fight against Spain, but in hunting a boar. (14) In 1598, Francis Meres places a totally depoliticized Sidney alongside "Spenser, Daniel, Drayron, Warner, Shakespeare, Marlowe, arid Chapman," all writers who have "mightily enriched" the English language. Dudley Digges, in 1604, defends poetry because he honors "the noble adorner of that practise Sir Philip Sidney," and in 1614, Richard Carey exclaimed "will you have all in all for Prose and verse? Take the miracl e of our age, Sir Philip Sidney." (15) As Andrea McRea notes, by the late 1590s "Sidney was on the way to being remembered less as a courtier devoted to serving the state at home and the Protestant cause abroad than the influential and popular poet he was to become." (16) By the early 1600s, the transformation from a military-literary figure to a nearly exclusively literary one was complete.
Fulke Greville, however, adopts a totally different approach in A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney. Rather than attempting to re-fuse Mars and the Muses, Greville uses the Dedication to wrest Sidney's image away from the aesthetic and toward the almost purely political. In fact, Sidney's literary remains interest Greville only insofar as they illustrate what he takes to be Sidney's political agenda (which, as we shall see, is really his agenda). Consequently, while Greville interprets Sidney's "Arcadian Romances" (8) as a warning to bad princes that they "seldom fail to become fit sacrifices for home-born discontentments" (9), (17) he ignores both the Apology and Astrophil and Stella, despite the two editions of the former and the terrific popularity of the latter. While Greville may have avoided discussing these texts because of his partial distrust of fictions (for example, he consistently uses "poetical" as an insult), (18) the primary reason for their absence in the Dedication is that they are less amenabl e to the kind of political interpretation Greville accords the Arcadia. (19) Yet Greville's project in the Dedication is much more specific than constructing Sidney as a general exemplum of moral political behavior; rather, he transforms Sidney into a representative of the Ancient Constitution, just as later in this text he constructs Elizabeth as the ideal monarch precisely because of her refusal to overstep the traditional limitations on royal power. (20)
While the Ancient Constitution has been well known to historians since at least J.G.A. Pocock's seminal The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal law, (21) it has been noted only fitfully by literary critics, who for the most part regard absolutism as the dominant, if not the only, political language of Tudor-Stuart England. (22) The absolutist paradigm, however, insufficiently recognizes that from at least the tenth century onward, claims of royal prerogative were balanced -- in both theory and practice -- by the recognition that the "king-in-parliament," not the king alone, rules England.23 Even further, English legal authorities consistently reiterated that the law reigned over both the king and parliament. To quote Coke's paraphrase of Bracton: "The King is under no man; but only God and the law, for the law makes the King: Therefore let the King attribute that to the law, [that] which from the law he bath received, to witt power and dominion." (24) Obedience to the crown was not unconditional, but dependen t upon the monarch respecting the people's liberties and the rule of law. In the event of the monarch breaking this unwritten yet widely recognized contract, as the 1327 Parliament recognized, tradition allowed for the parliament (who represents the people) to "fitly sacrifice," in Greville's phrase, the monarch.25 So did Greville's contemporary, the common law lawyer and antiquarian John Selden, who in answer to the question, "What law is there to take upp Armes against the prince in Case bee breakes his Covenant?," replied, "Though there bee no written law for it yet there is Custome which is the best Law of the Kingdome; for in England they have allwayes done it." (26)
The underlying principles of the Ancient Constitution received their fullest articulation in Sir John Fortescue's highly influential and very popular De Laudibus Legum Angliae. (27) In this work, Fortescue contrasts royal rule, which he overtly associates with civic law and France, with political rule, which is distinctly English, the fundamental difference being the amount or power allotted to the monarch: (28)
For the king of England is not able to change the laws of his kingdom at pleasure, for he rules his people with a government not only royal but also political. If he were to rule over them with a power only royal, he could be able to change the laws of the realm, and also impose on them tallages and other burdens without consulting them; this is the sort of dominion which the civil laws indicate when they state that "what pleased the prince has the force of law." But it is far otherwise with the king ruling his people politically, because he himself is not able to change the laws without the assent of his subjects nor to burden an unwilling people with strange impositions, so that, ruled by laws that they themselves desire, they freely enjoy their goods, and are despoiled neither by their own king nor any other. (17)
Consequently, Fortescue says, England enjoys wealth and happiness.
France, on the other hand, is a mess. Because the French, according to Fortescue, observe the maxim that "what pleases the prince has the force of law" (51), the people are "oppressed by exactions" and "live in no little misery" (50). Should someone be lucky enough to accrue any wealth, "he is at once assessed for the king's subsidy more than his neighbors, so that he is soon leveled to their poverty" (51). This state of affairs, Fortescue writes, applies to the "common folk," but the nobles are hardly better off, for they are subject to the worst forms of judicial abuse:
But if any one of them is accused of crime, even by his enemies, he is not always called before an ordinary judge. But it often appears that he is examined in the prince's chamber or other private place, indeed sometimes only by the messengers, and as soon as he is adjudged to be guilty, on the information of others and according to the king's conscience, he is thrust into a sack without any form of trial, and is thrown by the ministers of the provosts of the marshals into the river at night and drowned. (51)
In Chapter XVII, Fortescue makes two assertions that would significantly influence the subsequent theory of the Ancient Constitution. First, he claims that "the realm has been continuously regulated by the same customs as it is now" (26), and from this statement Coke would develop his theory of legal immemorality: i.e., the common law has its origins, hence its authority, in "time out of mind of man." More important, however, is Fortescue's second claim: that English laws are the best laws around. If they were not, Fortescue argues, some of England's conquerors "would have changed [these customs] for the sake of justice, or by the impulse of caprice, and totally abolished them, especially the Romans, who judged almost the whole of the rest of the world by their laws" (26). Therefore, Fortescue concludes, English customary law is not only "rooted in antiquity," but "there is no gainsaying nor legitimate doubt...that the customs of the English are not only good but the best" (27).
By the early seventeenth century, Fortescue's belief that the antiquity of English laws proved their superiority to all other forms of law had developed into a form of nationalism, that is to say, the common law was not only supposedly immemorial, but distinctly English. Whereas Fortescue might have argued that any nation could adopt English laws if its people so chose, some later writers would deny this possibility. At the beginning of the preface to his second volume of reports (1602), Coke seems to be elaborating on Fortescue: "next to thy dutie and pietie to God," Coke urges the reader to "yeeld due reverence and obedyence to the Common Lawes of England: for of all Lawes (I speake of humaine) these are most equall and most certaine, of greatest antiquitie, and least delaie, and most beneficiall and easie to be observed." (29) These laws are the reason for England's superiority to all other nations: "If the beautie of other Countries be faded and wasted wyth bloudie warres, thank God for the admirable peac e wherein this Realme hath long flourished under the due administration of these Lawes." (30) The laws, however wonderful, are not coterminus with England. But by the fifth volume of reports (1605), the laws have been transformed into something integral to the nation itself: (31)
There is no subject of this Realme, but being truly instructed by good and playne evidence of his auntient and undoubted patrimony and byrth-right ... but will consult with learned and faythful Councellors for the recovery of the same: The auntient & excellent Lawes of England are the birth-right and the most auntient and best inheritance that the subjects of this realm have, for by them he injoyeth not onely his inheritance and goods in peace & quietnes, but his life and his most deare Country in safety.
It would not be exaggerating to say that in Coke's view, the common law is England, and England is the common law.
While Coke's theories of immemorality and legal insularity were highly controversial, even mocked, at the time, (32) his sense of the imbrication of law (however conceived) and England ran very deep. In his 1610 speech against impositions, the M.P. William Hakewill stated that the common law "is the work of time, which hath so adopted and accommodated this law to this kingdom as a garment fitted to the body or a glove to the hand or rather as the skin to the hand, which groweth with it." (33) Sir John Davies, the Attorney-General for Ireland in 1612, equally asserts that: (34)
(English law is] so framed and fitted to the nature and disposition of this people, as we may properly say it is connatural to the Nation, so as it cannot possibly be ruled by any other Law. This Law therefore doth demonstrate the strength of wit and reason and self-sufficiency which hath been always in the People of this Land, which have made their own Laws our of their wisedome and experience (like a silk-worm that formeth all her web out of her self onely) not begging or borrowing a form of a Commonweal, either from Rome or from Greece, as all other Nations of Europe have done; but having sufficient provision of law & justice within the Land, have no need Justitiam & judicium ab alienigenis emendicare, as King John wrote most nobly to Pope Innocent the Third.
Greville shapes his account of Sidney and Elizabeth according to exactly these principles, in particular the contrast of English liberties with French absolutism. Contemporary critics and historians agree that while the overt purpose of Sidney's first diplomatic mission was, as Greville puts it, to "condole the death of Maximilian and congratulate the succession of Rudolph to the Empire" (25), Sidney's assignment included covertly investigating the stare of religious opinion on the Continent along with exploring the possibility of forming a Protestant League to combat the incursions and imperial ambitions of Catholic Spain. Greville substantiates this assessment, but adds an additional purpose. According to Greville, "to improve the journey and make it a real service to his sovereign," Sidney managed to have "one article to be added to his instructions," specifically, "to salute such German princes as were interested in the cause of our religion or their own native liberty" (25). In addition to counterbalanci ng Catholicism and Spanish imperialism, the Protestant league's purpose now includes protecting these states from the imposition of an absolute tyranny. Greville has Sidney arguing to Elizabeth that:
[a] uniform bond of conscience for the protection ... of religion and liberty would prove a more solid union, and symbolize far better against their tyrannies, than any factious combination in policy, league of state, or other traffic of civil or martial humours possibly could do. (26-27)
Greville thus transforms the fight against Spain, indeed, against Catholicism in general, from protecting the Protestant religion against Spanish expansionism into a league for the preservation of native liberty against tyranny which, in Greville's mind, is the same as absolutism. (35)
By itself, Greville's treatment of the Protestant League would mean relatively little, since the connection between liberty and religion was common among the French Protestants and the Dutch. However, the politics of Greville's text, and the degree to which he uses his portrait of Sidney as a vehicle for his polemic, become crystal clear in his treatment of Sidney's objections to Elizabeth's proposed marriage to Alencon or, as he puts it, the "public and specious proposition of marriage between the late famous Queen and the Duke of Anjou" (28). Greville's treatment of Sidney's views of the Queen's proposed marriage is particularly revealing, and particularly damaging to his credibility as a source for Sidney's biography, because of the manifest differences between Sidney's actual objections and the objections Greville puts into his mouth.
In Sidney's letter to the queen "Touching Her Marriage With Monsieur" (1579), he condemns the proposed marriage because of the danger it would pose to the state and to the Queen's person by Anjou's personality, religion, and nationality. Not only is he "the son of the Jezebel of our age," but both he and his followers are dangerously unstable:
Now for the agent party, which is Monsieur: whether he be not apt to work upon the disadvantages of your estate, is to be judged by his will and his power. His will, to be as full of light ambition as is possible, besides the French disposition and his own education; his inconstant attempts against his brother; his thrusting himself into the Low Country matters; his sometimes seeking the King of Spain's daughter, sometimes your Majesty; are evident testimonies he is carried away with every wind of hope, taught to love greatness any way gotten, and having for the motioners and ministers of his mind only such young men as have shown they think evil contentment a sufficient ground for any rebellion; whose age gives them to have seen none other commonwealth, but in faction; and divers of which have defiled their hands in odious murders. With such fancies and favourites, is it to be hoped for that he will be contained, within the limits of your conditions.? (36)
Sidney's point is that Anjou does not want Elizabeth's hand so much as he desires the conquest of England, and therefore, his interests and Elizabeth's will forever be opposed:
Monsieur's desires and yours, how they should meet in public matters I think no oracle can tell: for as the geometricians say that parallels, because they maintain diverse lines, can never join, so truly, who have in the beginning contrary principles, to bring forth one doctrine, must be some miracle. He of the Romish religion, and if he be a man, must needs have that man-like disposition to desire that all men be of his mind: you the erector and defender of the contrary, and the only sun that dazzleth their eyes; he French, and desiring to make France great: your Majesty English; and desiring nothing less than that France should grow great. (37)
In sum, Sidney writes, "as long as he is but Monsieur in might and a Papist in profession, neither can nor will greatly stead you. And if he grow king, his defence will be like Ajax' shield, which weighted down rather than defended those that bore it." (38)
But when Greville retells this incident, he adds a new concern: the threat of foreign absolutism to native English liberties and to the principles of mixed monarchy. Even though, as both Worden and Debora Shuger have pointed out, Sidney most certainly had republican tendencies and no sympathy at all for absolutism, (39) for whatever reason the Letter reveals no such concerns on his part. In Greville's text, however, absolutism's threat to English liberties figures as the main issue. Consequently, Greville puts into Sidney's mouth a list of eleven reasons (and two sub-reasons) for why the marriage is a bad idea. At first, Greville's Sidney seems preoccupied with religion, with outlining how Anjou "endeavoured to steal change of religion into her kingdom" (31). The first three reasons describe how Anjou casts theological aspersions on Protestantism, but starting with the fifth, Greville (through Sidney) moves the debate to the issue of French versus English laws, and it becomes very clear very quickly that Grev ille's primary concern is the foreign assault upon England's legal and political heritage.
Following Coke and Davies, Greville sees the Ancient Constitution as the embodiment of Englishness, and so, Greville charges, Anjou will seek to impose Catholicism:
[b]y a public decrying of our ancient customs and statutes, and from that ground giving proclamations a royal vigour in moulding of pleas, pulpits and parliaments -- after the pattern of their own and some other foreign nations -- which in our government is a confusion almost as fatal as the confusion of tongues. (31-32)
Greville next has Sidney charge Anjou with plotting to use the absolute monarch's power to tax and, echoing Fortescue, Sidney worries that this approach to raising money would cause England's fall into the same poverty afflicting France:
By employing no instruments among the people but such as devise to shear them with taxes, ransom them with fines, draw in bondage under colour of obedience, and (like Frenchified Empsons and Dudleys) bring the English people to the poverty of the French peasants only to fill up a Danaus' sieve of prodigality and thereby to secure the old age of tyranny from that which is never old, I mean danger of popular inundations. (32)
Following Selden, Greville clearly approves of popular rebellion in this instance.
The seventh and eighth reasons illustrate even more explicitly the danger Anjou poses to English identity and to the Ancient Constitution (which are, in fact, inseparable). Anjou intends, Greville charges, in words that seem to echo both Coke and Fortescue, "To lift monarchy above her ancient legal circles by banishing all her free spirits and faithful patriots with a kind of shadowed ostracism till the ideas of native freedom should be utterly forgotten" (32; my emphasis), and then, "when he had thus metamorphosed our moderate form of monarchy into a precipitate absoluteness" (32; emphasis added), he would break off England's previous defensive ties with other Protestant countries, forcing Elizabeth to allow Catholicism to thrive in England. Anjou and Catholicism, in other words, constitute something more than a threat to Protestantism per se. In Greville's analysis, the threat is legal as much as religious, since Anjou intends to destroy "The auntient & excellent Lawes of England," which, as Coke says, "are the birth-right and the most aunrient and best inheritance that the subjects of this realm have." (40) And by attacking the Ancient Constitution, England's ancient legal circles and its "moderate" form of government, Anjou aims at Englishness itself.
The Ancient Constitution also lies at the heart of "Sidney's" urging Elizabeth to pursue a hawkish policy toward France and Spain. (41) Just as Sidney objects to Anjou because he threatens England's legal structures, so does he argue that Elizabeth ought to be more aggressive in pursuing cities in France so that she could export England's constitutional traditions. While he does not urge Elizabeth "to carry war into the bowels" (55) of France, he allows for the possibility that the luminosity of her Protestant virtue might cause "Rochelle, Brest, Bordeaux or any other place upon that continent distressed for religion into her absolute protection" (56). Therefore, Sidney advises the queen and her council to investigate how to take advantage of the social unrest naturally caused by absolutism's overshadowing the people's rights and liberties:
In which religious design, to encourage the Queen, he advised us to examine if the divisions naturally rising among their unlimited French grandees grown up per saltum with their kings above laws, parliaments and people's freedom would not in all probability cast up some light dust into their superiors' eyes as tributes to their common idol, disorder; and so, perchance, either by treaty, or sight of the first army, stir up Bouillon and Rohan for religion, other royalets with hope to make safe their subaltern governments, even through the ruins of that over-soaring sovereignty. (56-57)
Furthermore, Sidney argues that "the taking or surprise of Calais, Rochelle, Bordeaux or some such other" would not only do the reluctant French a favor (it would "prove beneficial to the French king and crown against their wills" ), it would clearly demonstrate, to use Fortescue's terms, the inherent superiority of political over royal rule:
[Conquering these cities would clearly show] in Mars his true glass, how that once well-formed monarchy had by little and little let fall her ancient and reverend pillars -- I mean parliaments, laws and customs -- into the narrowness of proclamations or imperial mandates, by which bastard children of tyranny she hath transformed her gentry into peasants, her peasants into slaves, magistracy into sale-works, and crown revenue into impositions. (58)
As one might expect, Greville has the Ancient Constitution govern domestic as well as foreign affairs, as demonstrated by how it shapes the narrative of Sidney's clash with the Earl of Oxford over who had the better right to the tennis court. While this incident is well known, (42) the originality of the terms in which Sidney defends himself before Elizabeth have not been sufficiently recognized. After Elizabeth squelches the duel between Sidney and the Earl of Oxford by laying "before him the difference in degree between earls and gentlemen," (40) Sidney responds by reminding Elizabeth of the terms of her rule:
Whereunto Sir Philip, with such reverence as became him, replied: first, that place never intended for privilege to wrong, witness herself, who how sovereign soever she were by throne, birth, education and nature, yet was she content to cast her own affections into the same moulds her subjects did, and govern all her rights by their laws. (41)
This is an extraordinary statement. While it is commonplace for both political theorists in this period to state that good princes ought to govern by law, nobody asserted that the law belonged to one or the other. Greville, however, does not have Elizabeth swear that she will govern by law, but by "their" laws, meaning that the law belongs to the subjects. Greville thus divides the subjects' law and the monarch's prerogatives into two categories, thus separating the monarch from the nation. Why he would do so is dealt with below, but for the moment, it is important to note how in Greville's account Elizabeth accepts that her "rights" are not supreme, but controlled, as Bracton and Coke both said, by the laws of the land. As such, Greville's report of Sidney's speech glances at the importance of the coronation oath, under which the monarch swears to observe the laws of the land, and which was taken to mean that the law is above the monarch. (43) At the conclusion of his narrative of this event, Greville has Si dney make an equally extraordinary statement that once more indicates the centrality of the Ancient Constitution to Greville's Dedication. In Greville's telling, Sidney asserts that he reserved the right -- granted by the Ancient Constitution -- to challenge his monarch, so long as he does so respectfully: "Yet with princes there is a latitude for subjects to reserve native and legal freedom by paying humble tribute in manner, thought not in matter, to them" (41).
Now, while this period witnessed considerable debate over the question of a courtier's obligation to tell his lord unpleasant truths, (44) no-one grounded the necessity of speaking truth to power in a "native and legal freedom." The privilege of free speech in Parliament, on the other hand, most certainly was justified as a "native and legal freedom," and while the claim for this right first arose in the early sixteenth century, it was fully articulated (if not entirely established) by about halfway through Elizabeth's reign. (45) One finds its classic expression in Peter Wentworth's speech, on 8 February 1576, attacking the Queen's religious policies and lack of action toward Mary, Queen of Scots. It begins with an argument for "the libertye of free speech" that directly anticipates Sidney's words: (46)
For free speech and conscience in this place [i.e., the House of Commons] are granted by a speciall law as that without the which the prince and state cannot be preserved or mayntayned. So though I would wish every man that feareth God, regardeth the prince's honor or esteemeth his owne creditt to feare at all tymes hereafter to pronounce any such horrible or terrible speech soe much to the prince's dishonour.
Yet in Greville's text, Sidney does not speak as a member of the House, but as a courtier. Therefore, no such privilege should apply. But Greville in effect broadens the parliamentary privilege of free speech (with appropriate reservations) so that it governs all relations between monarch and subject. In other words, just as Greville casts Sidney's opposition to the Anjou marriage in terms of the threat posed by French absolutism to English liberties and its "moderate" form of monarchy, he uses the tennis court incident to reinforce how England's "native and legal" traditions govern the relations between the queen and all her subjects.
In fact, Greville praises the late queen's reign as a golden age of the Ancient Constitution. In Calvin's Case (1608), which determined the question of whether a Scotsman born after 1603 could claim land in England by inheritance (the answer is yes), Coke wrote that between a sovereign and a subject there is "duplex et reciprocum ligamen," a double and reciprocal bond, (47) and that is exactly how Greville describes Elizabeth's reign: "Neither did she, by any curious search after evidence to enlarge her prerogatives royal, teach her subjects in Parliament, the like self-affectations, to make as curious inquisition among their records to color any encroaching upon the sacred circles of monarchy" (103). Nor (in another echo of Fortescue) does she give "her yeomanry ... cause to suspect that she had any intent, with extraordinary taxes out of the course of parliaments, insensibly to impoverish and make boors or slaves of them" (114).
As Glenn Burgess puts it, "the essential political characteristic of the ancient constitution was balance," (48) and it is precisely this balance that -- in Greville's telling -- Elizabeth so carefully maintains:
In which map, as in a true perspective glass, this provident princess, seeing both her own part and her people's so equally, nay advantageously, already divided and disposed, she thought it both wisdom and justice to leave them balanced and distinguished as she found them; concluding that the least change of parallels or meridian lines newly drawn upon any ancient globes of monarchal government in absence of parliaments would, like the service of God in an unknown language, prove profaned or misunderstood, and consequently register such a map of writing and blotting, of irregular raising and depressing...as must multiply atheism in human duties, cast trouble upon her estate for want of reverence at home, and provoke this heavy censure through all the world. (115-16)
The result is mutual allowance of each other's desires and prerogatives. Parliament respects "the legal and royal state of monarchical government" (115), and Elizabeth respects the "time-authorised assemblies" (a phrase that recalls both Coke's and Fortescue's insistence upon how the antiquity of English law demonstrates its excellence) of the Houses of Parliament (104). Both monarch and people, as Greville says, are "equally possessors" of the realm (118).
Greville's organizing this text around the Ancient Constitution also leads to his contradictory portrayal of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1567-1601), the Queen's once favorite who tried to lead a revolt and was executed for treason. On the one hand, Greville claims that Elizabeth protected the Ancient Constitution from Essex's depredations: "For even in the height of Essex his credit with her, how far was she from permitting him...to shuffle pulpits, parliaments, laws and other fundamental establishments of her kingdoms into any glorious appearances of will or power" (105). But since Greville's overarching goal is to emphasize the primacy of law over monarchic privilege, and since "the forensic rhetorical tradition...encouraged the summoning to court of all possible witnesses, the marshaling of all possible arguments, no matter how they might quarrel or clash in the vestibule afterwards," (49) when he turns to Essex, Greville transforms him from a potential threat to into yet another defender of England's "time authorised" liberties:
Neither did he, like the French favorites of that time, serve his own humours or necessities by selling seats of justice, nobility or order of honours till they become colliers pour toute bete, to the disparagement of creating power, and discouraging of the subject's hope or industry in attaining to advancement or profit; but suffered England to stand alone in her ancient degrees of freedoms and integrities, and so reserved that absolute power of creation sacred in his sovereign without any mercenary stain or allay. (96)
In sum, Greville not only insists that England's "freedoms and integrities," its "moderate form of monarchy" as well as its "parliaments, laws and customs" date from "time out of mind of man," to use Coke's phrase, but he also praises his subjects precisely to the degree that they observe and protect the Ancient Constitution.
Why would Greville rewrite history in this way? What interest could the events of Sidney's life, the late queen's proposed marriage to a French aristocrat, or the character of Essex hold for Greville's intended audience? The answer lies in the fact that Greville begins writing the Dedication in 1610, just as the tension between James and the House of Commons concerning the delicate balance between royal prerogative and the subject's liberties began to spiral upward. Despite his assertion that he wrote this memoir of his friend "so long since departed" (4) mainly because it gives him pleasure ("I do ingenuously confess that it delights me to keep company with him even after his death, esteeming his actions, words and conversation the daintiest treasure my mind could then lay up, or can at this day impart with our posterity" )," the Dedication arises from and intervenes in (or would have intervened in, had he published it) the constitutional crisis sparked by the problem of impositions and James' reliance o n royal proclamations. (50)
James made no secret of his absolutist conception of kingship. While still king of Scotland, he published The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598, reprinted in 1603 upon his accession), in which he declared that "kings were the authors and makers of the laws, and not the laws of the king." (51) The Scots monarchy was unusually impotent, so James could say what he liked and no-one particularly cared. (52) But once he ascended to the English throne, James actually had the power to transform his theory into practice, and the crisis (which would ultimately lead to the English Revolution) started with a small, dried grape.
In 1603, partly as a result of the failure of the Levant company and a subsequent shortfall in the crowns revenues, James levied an imposition on currants, and in 1606, a merchant, John Bate, sued on the ground that no such duty could be legally demanded without the consent of the House. In November 1606, just before the House met, the judges of the Exchequer decided Bate's Case, as the matter came to be known, in James' favor. But rather than settling the issue, the decision only exacerbated the controversy since Chief Law Baron Fleming couched his opinion as a confirmation of absolutism. Fleming distinguished between two forms of royal authority: "The king's power is double, ordinary and absolute, and they have several lawes and ends." "Ordinary power," in Fleming's view, governs the monarch's actions when the law concerns a particular individual, and these laws cannot be changed without the consent of the Commons. But in matters concerning "the general benefit of the people," not only does the monarch poss ess an "absolute power," but the determination of what lies within this rubric not only "varieth with time," but "according to the wisdome of the king." (53) Moreover, Fleming asserted the monarch's right to impose without any questioning of his judgment: "And whereas, it is said, that if the king may impose, he may impose any quantitie what he pleases, true it is, that this is to be referred to the wisdom of the king, who guideth all under God by his wisdome, and this not to be disputed by a subject." (54)
Armed with this decision in his favor, in 1608 James authorized the collection of impositions on many commodities. But when the House of Commons met in 1610, they vehemently protested James' acts as a direct threat to the Ancient Constitution. On May 23, the House sent a petition to the king stating that "the general Conceit" of the judgment in Bate's Case could be "extended much further, even to the utter Ruin of the ancient liberty of this Kingdom (my emphasis)." (55) James tried to shut down the debate, delivering a message to the Speaker "to this effect, that we should not entertain into our consideration any disputation touching the prerogative of the king in the case of impositions" (56) because the judges had already ruled, but that only poured more fuel onto the fire, since the Commons rejected the King's attempt at curtailing the liberty to debate what it pleased. (57)
The speeches concerning this matter reiterate how the common law lawyers of the House feared that the principle established in Bate's Case threatened the fundamental liberties of the nation. James Whitelocke warned the House that if the Commons allowed the king to tax in this manner, "the ancient frame of the commonwealth [would be] much altered," because this decision challenges the key elements of the Ancient Constitution:
One is that we are masters of our own and can have nothing taken from us without consents; another that laws cannot be made without our consents, and the edict of a prince is not a law; the third is that the parliament is the storehouse of our liberties. All these are in danger to be lost by this power.... We know not how this may stretch. (58)
Hakewill, in his great speech on this matter, also regarded the matter of impositions as a direct threat to the "ancient frame of the commonwealth": (59)
Seeing also in this kingdom of England, the laws of the kingdom are the inheritance not only of the king, but also of the subjects, of which the king ought not to disseise them or disinherit them. Therefore it followeth consequently and necessarily, that the king cannot alter the property of the lands or goods of any of his free subjects without their consent, for that is to disseise or disinherit them of the fruit and benefit of the law, which is all one as to disinherit them of the law itself. And this appeareth yet more plainly in the great Charter of the liberties of England, that the law is not only to protect us against the absolute power and prerogative of the king in life and member, but also in lands and goods.... [The] king can no more impose without assent of parliament than he can alter laws without assent of parliament; but as laws are made and altered only in parliament, so all new impositions, taxes, and charges upon the people are to be set only in parliament.
To be clear, no one objected to the King raising money. Instead, the opposition was directed at James' theory of kingship, which was widely perceived as threatening the fundamental liberties of the English subject. In the parliament of 1614, for instance, Sir Edwin Sandys noted that while "other princes have imposed," they "never claymed right to doe it," (60) meaning, they did not try to elevate their acts into a constitutional principle. (61)
James' increasing use of royal proclamations alarmed the House for the same reasons. (62) Alongside the bitter debates over the extent of the king's prerogatives, the House of Commons complained about the frequency and breadth of James' proclamations, which had led, as the preamble to the Petition of Temporal Grievances states, to the perception that "their common and ancient right and liberty to be much declined and infringed in these late years." (63) While previous monarchs used this extra-Parliamentary device to make law, James issued proclamations far more frequently than Elizabeth, and, like his insistence upon his right to create impositions, James' reliance upon them to make law was perceived as a threat to the Ancient Constitution: (64)
Amongst many other points of happiness and freedom which your Majesty's subjects of this kingdom have enjoyed under your royal progenitors, kings and queens of this realm, there is none which they have accounted more dear and precious than this, to be guided and governed by the certain rule of the law, which giveth both to the head and members that which of right belongeth to them and not by any uncertain or arbitrary form of government... Out of this root hath grown that indubitable right of the people of this kingdom not to be made subject to any punishments that shall extend to their lives, lands, bodies or goods, other than such as are ordained by the common laws of this land, or the statutes made by their common consent in parliament. Nevertheless, it is apparent both that proclamations have been made of late years much more frequent than heretofore, and that they are extended not only to the liberty, but also to the goods, inheritances, and livlihood of men .... By reason whereof there is a general fear conceived and spread amongst your Majesty's people, that proclamations will by degrees grow up and increase to the strength and nature of laws, whereby not only that ancient happiness and freedom will be much blemished, if not quite taken away, which their ancestors have so long enjoyed, but the same may also bring a new form of arbitrary government upon this realm.
James reacted to this firestorm of criticism in his usual duplicitous (65) fashion. While at times he reassured the House that he respected their liberties and that he never intended to overgo the traditional bounds of monarchic authority, (66) yet he would then reignite their fears by asserting, as firmly and as unambiguously as possible, his absolutist conception of kingship. In his speech to Parliament on March 21, 1610, for example, he contradicted his reassurances in the Cowell affair that he had "no power to make laws by himself by flatly claiming that "the state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth," that "Kings are justly called gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth.., they make and unmake their subjects, they have power of raising and casting down, of life and death; judges over all their subjects, and in all cases, and yet accountable to none but God only." While he allowed that he bound himself "by a double oath to the observation of the fundamental l aws of his kingdom," yet he left the punishment of transgressing "these limits" to God alone, and worse, declared that it is "sedition in subjects to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power." (67)
As a result of these pressures on England's constitutional traditions, between 1610 and 1614 "claims of the uniqueness and antiquity of English law were being pressed with particular intensity," (68) as Richard Helgerson notes, and to this list we should add the parallel claim for the primacy of lex over rex. Greville's Dedication wholly participates in these developments.
We noted earlier the oddity of Sidney praising Elizabeth because "she [was] content to cast her own affections into the same moulds her subjects did, and govern all her rights by their laws" (41), the phrases "her rights" and "their laws" implying that the subjects' laws are distinct from Elizabeth's rights. In terms of the late queen, such a statement makes no sense at all, since neither Elizabeth nor anyone else in her reign claimed that the monarch and the people are not governed by the same set of laws. The statement is doubly strange, as her lack of response in the narrative strongly suggests that she accepts Sidney's characterization as valid. But Greville's narrative makes eminent sense if we understand Elizabeth's governing "all her rights by their laws" as rebutting James' assertion, at the conclusion of his 1610 speech to Parliament, that laws of England belonged not to the nation, but to him: "I shall ever be willing to make the reason appear of all my doings, and rule my actions according to my la ws" (emphasis added) . (69)
An important incident in 1607, which Greville likely heard about, centered on precisely this issue. During an imbroglio over whether the common law courts enjoyed precedence over ecclesiastical courts, Bishop Richard Bancroft appealed a ruling he did not like to James on the ground that since judges are the king's delegates, James could take whatever cases he felt like out of their hands to dispose them as he pleased. Coke responded that the king could do no such thing, and he answered James' assertion that "the law was founded on reason, and that he and others had reason as well as the judges" with a double reminder of the king's foreign origin and his ignorance of English law: (70)
[While] true it was that God had endowed His Majesty with excellent science and great endowments of nature; but His Majesty was not learned in the laws of his realm of England; and causes which concern the life, or inheritance, or goods, or fortunes of his subjects are not to be decided by natural reason, but by the artificial reason and judgment of law, which law requires long study and experience before that a man can attain to the cognizance of it; and that the law was the golden mete-wand and means to try the causes of the subjects; and which protected His Majesty in safety and peace.
While Coke allows that England belongs to James, the king's ignorance of English legal customs, his not being "learned in the laws of his realm," results as much from his Scots origins as his lack of legal education. And as Coke implies with his lesson, the nature of English law fundamentally differs from Scots law. James answered Coke thus: "Then . . . I shall be under the law, which is treason to affirm." Coke, in Gardiner's words, "replied by quoting the well-known maxim of Bracton, that the King ought not to be under any man, but under God and the law." (71) A reminder of James' foreign origins also cropped up in the 1610 debates over imposition. Nicolas Fuller, M.P., a man much less diplomatic than Coke, answered the Chancellor of the Exchequer's defense of James' imposition of a tax on sea-coal by stating that "Though the King were in truth very wise yet is he a stranger to this government. . . . The King speaks of France and Spain what they may do, I pray let us be true to the King and true to ourselve s and let him know what by the laws of England he may do." (72) James' assertion in his Whitehall speech that the laws are "my" laws must have rankled both Coke and Parliament.
We are now in a much better position to understand not only why Greville separates the monarch's rights from "their" -- meaning the English people's -- laws, but also why Greville alters Sidney's actual reasons for opposing the Anjou match. As we have seen, in the Dedication Sidney opposes Elizabeth's proposed marriage mainly on the grounds that the Duke will impose French absolutism on English liberties through "public decrying of our ancient customs and statutes, and from that ground giving proclamations a royal vigour in moulding of pleas, pulpits and parliaments" (31), and worse, he would "lift monarchy above her ancient legal circles' and ultimately metamorphose our moderate form of monarchy into a precipitate absoluteness" (32). But the actual target of this warning about a clear and present danger to the Ancient Constitution is not Anjou, but another foreigner - the present king of England and Scotland, James VI/I. At the time Greville wrote and revised the Dedication, it was James who was seeking to l ift the English monarchy above its "ancient legal circles," reducing "parliaments, laws and customs into the narrowness of proclamations," and generally refusing to govern his rights by "their" laws. To put the matter another way, Greville's treatment of Sidney, Elizabeth and Anjou constitutes political allegory of a "foreign" James trying to impose absolutism on England, with the French Anjou a figure for the Scots James, and the English Sidney's opposition to the match refiguring and endorsing Coke, Fortescue, and the House's arguments against the king's enlarging royal prerogative at the expense of the English subject's liberties. (73)
The portraits of Elizabeth and Essex also serve as pointed negative comparisons showing how James, a "stranger" to England and English laws, as Sandys says, refuses to maintain England's "native and legal freedom." When Greville praises this "home-born princess of ours," the implied comparison is with the present prince, who is not "home-born," just as when he praises Elizabeth for favoring "these two honourable houses [of parliament, which are] the only judicious, faithful and industrious favorites of unencroaching monarchs" (114), the implied contrast is again with James, who is anything but an "unencroaching" monarch and who most certainly did not favor the "two honourable houses." Similarly, when Greville praises Elizabeth for her aversion to "printing any new lines of taxes, impositions, proclamations or mandates -- without parliaments -- upon ... her humble subjects" (115), for not bringing "home mandates instead of laws" or waiving "our freedoms in parliaments with new-christened impositions" (122-23), Greville is not so much praising Elizabeth's actual relations with Parliament as directly alluding to Bate's Case and to the howls of protest in the House against James' creating impositions without parliamentary consent. (74) Greville even turns Elizabeth's treatment of Essex into an endorsement of Bracton's maxim, repeated by Coke and explicitly repudiated by James, that the monarch is subject to the law. Had Elizabeth allowed Essex to thrive, Greville writes, she would have threatened:
no less than a loss of native liberties descended upon her people by the same prescription of time and right by which the crown had descended upon herself and her ancestors, with a probably consequence of many more sharp-pointed tyrannies over them and their freedoms than their happily deceased parents ever tasted or dreamt of. (106)
Elizabeth wisely avoids this danger, but the implication is that James potentially will bring down upon England precisely the "sharp-pointed tyrannies" she prevented. (75)
Yet for all the precision of his attack on James, for all the heated defense of English liberties in the face of foreign threats, Greville chose to not publish the Dedication. The reason is obvious. On 1 October 1614, Greville returned to court as Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer and Privy Councillor, and seeing into print his life of Sidney as well as such poems as A Treatise of Monarchy would be impolitic, to say the least. True, Greville did not entirely abandon the principles established in the Dedication, but neither did he fully embrace them. In his speech to the Privy Council on 28 September 1615 concerning whether or not James should compromise on the matter of impositions in order to secure funding for the crown, he actually defended the King's legal right to impose taxes without Parliament's consent, but on other matters, he deferred to the opinions of Lord Chief Justice Edward Coke. While Rebholz claims that Greville "remained loyal to the attitudes he had defined in Monarchy," (76) Greville's characterization of seeking the advice of Parliament as "It was a pleasing thing and popular to ask a multitude's advice" (77) has an entirely different ring than including Parliament among the "ancient and reverend pillars" (58) of the English polity. Having finally achieved his ambition to return to political life, Greville was not about to endanger his return to favor by seeing into print his denunciation of James' absolutist practices and defense of English liberties. One therefore imagines Greville, perhaps regretfully, perhaps without even giving the matter a second's thought, shoving the manuscript into a desk drawer, where it remained for thirty-eight years.
But having answered one set of questions, we are faced with another series: why did Henry Seile and/or his son publish the Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney in 1652? What made them think that it would be a profitable venture? Why did the as-yet unidentified "PB." dedicate the work to the Countess of Sunderland? And what were the political resonances of the work at the time of its publication?
The decision by the Seiles could not have been made casually, as there is no obvious reason why a biography of this eminent Elizabethan would seem like a profitable venture at this time. Despite P. B.'s description of Sidney in the dedication as "our nation's wonder," and his (or her) assertion of Sidney's "large spread fame" (176), none of Sidney's works had been republished for a number of years. (78) Moreover, both Henry Seile and his son usually published books with a distinctly Royalist bent. (79) For example, Seile the elder published, in addition to various theological works, two editions of the Articles of the Treaty with Scotland (1641) and His Majesty's Message to the Lords and Commons (1642). His son published Smectymnuus-Mastix, or Short Animadiversions upon Smectymnuus (1651); Hamon L'Estrange, The Reign of King Charles (1655); a catalogue of the royal library (1659); (80) and, upon the Restoration, To the King's Most Excellent Majesty: The Most Humble and joyful Congratulatory Address of Divers. .. of the Clergy in... Surrey (1660). While the index of publishers in the revised edition of Wing states that Greville's Life could have been published by either Seile, their collective back-list argues that neither seems a likely candidate for publishing a book directly criticizing the late Charles, let alone one supporting the ideological justification of Charles' trial and execution.
Then there is the dedication of Greville's text by the as-yet unidentified "PB." to Dorothy Spencer, Countess of Sunderland (1617-84). At first glance nothing appears strange about P. B.'s choice of potential patron. As the eldest child of Robert Sidney and sister of Algernon, (81) presumably she would be interested in a life of her illustrious uncle. Yet the politics of her life are quite different from those of her relatives. In 1639, Dorothy married Henry, Lord Spencer, whom Charles I created Earl of Sunderland in 1643, and who died fighting for the king at the battle of Newbury. (82) The letters Sunderland wrote to Dorothy, through their loving tone and the casual yet detailed manner in which he discusses the ins and outs of the king's situation, strongly suggest that Sunderland considered his wife an intellectual equal, and that she shared her husband's perspectives on the Civil War. (83) The countess, in sum, would not be the ideal recipient for a text that praised Sidney's Arcadia for reminding bad pri nces that they "seldom fail to become fit sacrifices for home-born discontentments" (9), whose politics, in other words, are more parliamentarian than royalist.
The answer to these problems lies in how circumstances altered the interpretation, or more accurately, the interpretations, of the Ancient Constitution, and consequently, of its heroes. When Greville wrote and revised this text between 1610 and 1614, he used it as vehicle for registering his discontent with James' absolutism, and he unambiguously situates his text in the controversy in Parliament over impositions and royal proclamations. To cite the Ancient Constitution in 1610 or so, meant aligning oneself with Parliament and against the monarch's expansionist policies.
But by 1652, the situation had partly reversed itself. Throughout the 1640s and beyond, the charge that Parliament regularly violated the fundamental laws of the nation was made explicitly, frequently, and vehemently. A royalist pamphleteer, James Howell, in a public letter to the Earl of Pembroke, tried to convince the Earl to abandon his support of Parliament by assuring him that they no longer enjoyed the people's confidence: they "begin to grow extream weary of their Physitians, they find the remedy to be far worse then their former disease." (84) In fact, the accusations against Parliament (anticipating the refrain of Pete Townshend's "Won't Get Fooled Again": "Here comes the new boss / Same as the old boss") replicated exactly those hurled against the king.
Just as Charles was denounced for practicing arbitrary imprisonment, so was Parliament. Protesting against the arbitrary actions of the Somerset county committee, the Presbyterian M.P., Sir John Maynard incredulously asked: (85)
Was it possible 5 years since... that the Parliament would have deviated so far from the rules of law and justice... as to examine any man upon interrogatories against himself in a criminal case? Would any have believed., that this Parliament that hath deemed the Star-Chamber and the Council Tables names worthy to be a curse... because of their cruelty in censuring men for refusing to answer interrogatories, that this Parliament should urgently press Sir Jo. Maynard to answer interrogatories against himself?
Just as the House accused both Charles and James of fiscal policies that defied the Ancient Constitution (such as the imposition on currants and ship-money), Charles returned the favor in a royal proclamation issued on 16 December 1642, in which he declared the "pretended Ordinance, for setting the Receipt of Tonnage and Poundage" not just illegal, but a device that threatens "to overthrow the Laws of the Land [which are] the fences of the Subjects property." (86) Charles may not have much credibility in this matter, but many others thought the same, as a mock petition to Parliament from April, 1648 asks: "Did enforced Loan, privy seals and monopolies grind the subject, and have not enforced assessments, and free-quarter grated them as small?" (87) And if Charles and James were charged with insufficiently respecting parliamentary privilege, so was the Parliament of the 1640s, especially in light of the army's forcible exclusion of eleven Presbyterian members. This act, as Robert Ashton points out, begged comp arison with "Charles I's action against the five members in January 1642," (88) as well as Pride's Purge in 1648, which William Prynne would say violated "the very principal, essential, fundamental Privilege of Parliament," the right to vote according to conscience. (89) A year later, Prynne would issue another pamphlet, A Brief Memento to the Present Unparliamentary Juncto. (90) The title itself explicitly denies the legitimacy of the Rump, and Prynne reminds his readers that they "now meet and sit under the armed force and violence of a mutinous Army, who have leavyed Warre against the House to dissolve them, imprison'd many of your Members, forcibly secluded more, and driven away almost all from the Houses"; they are not a legal English Parliament, but rather "a Conventicle, or Juncto," and therefore nothing they "vote, order, or ordain" has any legitimacy. (91)
Finally, Royalist critics charged Parliament with violating England's fundamental laws and Magna Carta. In his Mystery of the Two Junto's, Clement Walker complains about how Parliament's judges have gone beyond their authority by sequestering men "unjustly," confiscating their goods "under pretence," and levying taxes in order "to secure Country Committees, Sequestrators, and others (not Prerogative but Legislative) Thieves, contrary to Magna Charta." (92) So did Howell: (93)
[Some say that] they are no more Parliament, then a Pye-Powder Court at Bartholomew-faire, there being all the essential parts of a true Parliament wanting in this, as fairnesse of elections, freedome of Speech, fulnesse of Members, nor have they any Head at all; Besides, they have broken all the fundamentall rules and privildges of Parliament, and dishonoured that high Court more then any thing else: They have ravish'd Magna Charta, which they are sworne to maintain, taken away our birth-rights, and transgressed all the Laws of heaven and earth.
The Royalist judge, David Jenkins, makes exactly the same claim. In his Remonstrance to the Lords and Commons of the Two Houses of Parliament (1647), he protested his imprisonment by asking for "the benefit of Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and other good laws of this land, which ordain that 'all mens tryalls should be by the established laws, and not otherwise' -- These are the very words of the Petition of Right," (94)
When, therefore, Greville praises Elizabeth for perceiving that "the least change of parallels or meridian lines newly drawn upon any ancient globes of monarchal government in absence of parliaments would, like the service of God in an unknown language, prove profaned or misunderstood." (115), the reader in 1652 is much likelier to connect this passage with Charles I's accusations that Parliament is now fomenting political novelties that threaten to undermine the "ancient globes of monarchal government." For example, he warned the inhabitants of Nottinghamshire at Newark in 1642 that "when Laws shall be altered by any other Authority than that by which they were made, your Foundations are destroyed." (95) Similarly, when Greville's Sidney prophesizes that Anjou will destroy the Ancient Constitution through decrying "our ancient customs and statutes, and from that ground giving proclamations a royal vigour in moulding of pleas, pulpits and parliaments" (31-32), the dominant referent in 1652 would not be James, but Parliament's suspension of law courts and their use of parliamentary ordinance as a vehicle for making law, a process as much an affront to the Ancient Constitution as James' reliance upon royal proclamations. David Jenkins, for example, maintained that "An ordinance of both houses is no law of the land," (96) and a petition to Parliament from Kent in 1648 requested that the country be governed "according to the Fundamental Constitution... [,] by the known and established Laws of the Kingdom and not otherwise." (97) Finally, when Greville's Sidney worries about Anjou raising the English monarchy above its "ancient legal circles" or reducing "parliaments, laws and customs into the narrowness of proclamations," the passage echoes Clement Walker asking his reader "Whether our Laws, Liberties and Properties are not now as liable to an invasion from the Legislative power, as formerly from the Prerogative, since Parliament's 'Little finger is heavier than the loins of the King."' (98)
In 1652, therefore, a book idealizing a popular earlier monarch and one of her glittering courtiers would likely be interpreted as a defense of England's monarchy in general and the late Charles in particular. The implied contrast would not be with a monarch attempting to impose absolutism, but with a Parliament trying to rule without a king, or even worse, with a small group trying to rule England without king or parliament. The facts, in other words, have remained the same: both Philip Sidney and Elizabeth continued to enjoy the same sterling reputation, the same, "canonical" status, in both 1610-14 and 1652. But the king's execution and the subsequent republican experiment completely changed the interpretation of these facts, allowing the Seiles to appropriate their cultural capital for the Royalist cause.
This reversal provides a fascinating example of how a shift in the "horizon of interpretation," meaning the range of interpretations made possible by one's historical situation, (99) alters the reception of a text. Assuming for a moment that someone read Greville's Life at the time of its composition, the historical circumstances were such that a pro-Royalist, pro-absolutist reading would be impossible. Nor would a publisher imagine that dedicating the book to a staunch exponent of absolutism would yield the desired result -- patronage. But in 1652, the "horizons" circumscribing this text had, in effect, moved 180 degrees and so, in place of echoing the controversies over Bate's Case and the royal prerogative, the Lift resonates with the rising complaints about parliament and Cromwell as well as the equally growing tide of nostalgia for Charles. Therefore, it is entirely plausible for "P.B." to dedicate this work to a Royalist widow, and a text originally conceived as an attack on the first Stuart monarch for his absolutist policies now seems to endorse his equally absolutist son.
Both the text of Greville's Dedication and its publishing history demonstrate the fluidity of reputation in the seventeenth century. In Greville's hands, Sir Philip Sidney's importance shifts from the literary to the political, and he becomes a vehicle for dissent, which in this case means registering disagreement with the Crown. (100) Concomitantly, Greville's portrait of Elizabeth as respecting the "time-authorised" authority of Parliament, which in turn respects the equally "time-authorised" authority of the Crown, contrasts with James' refusal to do the same. Yet Greville's Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney not only demonstrates that Sidney's and Elizabeth's reputations shifted along with England's political fortunes, but that the same point -- the construction of these two as exemplifying the Ancient Constitution -- can have opposing political valences depending on who is in power. Finally, Greville's text demonstrates the necessary centrality of the Ancient Constitution to literary studies. Without doubt, many in this period argued that "To be English is to be a subject of the English king," as two eminent critics recently put it," (101) and statements endorsing absolutism abound. Yet more political vocabularies circulated than are dreamt of in this philosophy, and Fulke Greville's Dedication provides but one example of how paying attention to the Ancient Constitution provides a better foundation for understanding the relations between literature and politics in seventeenth-century culture.
* I am grateful to Cynthia Bowers, Roger Kuin, Sandra Sherman, Paul J. Voss and Germaine Warkentin for their essential help in writing this essay. I also happily acknowledge my debt to Constance Jordan for gently urging me some years ago to read Pocock's The Ancient Constitution and the Fuedal Law. Her suggestion changed everything.
(1.) Charles Larson, for example, asserts that "The Life is marred by a lack of control in conception and structure, with the consequence that a certain formlessness becomes one of its most noticeable characteristics" (98); Christopher Martin proposes Greville's self-concern as "something that in fact helps unify a text which from any other perspective badly wants continuity" (20); and Warren H. Wooden stares that "the popularity of Greville's Life of Sidney has always co-existed with the caveats and qualifications of literary critics," who have dismissed the work as "a rambling tribute" and "a feeble biographical effort" (109).
(2.) The standard edition (to which I refer and cite parenthetically) is A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, in Greville, 1986. The editor of this edition, John Gouws, however, has chosen in a different title from the editio princeps of 1652: The Life of Sir Philip Sidney. The title Gouws prefers, "A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney," appears only in the Trinity College MS, and he chose to use the latter because "[n]ot only does this [title] reflect Greville's explicit statement of his intention in the very first period of the work, but it has the advantage of not creating any false expectations about the work itself. It may also reasonably be assumed char a scribe would be under less pressure to invent a title than a stationer would" (xiii). Gouws' reasoning seems a bit strained, especially in light of recent work on scribal publication, e.g., Marotti, and Woudhuysen. For another critique of Gouws' choice of title, see Ho, 46-47, n. 3. When discussing the text itself, I will adopt the title Gouws prefers. Howe ver, when discussing 1652 edition, I will employ the original title.
(3.) Adriana McCrea, for example, writes that the text is "quite obscure when it comes to defining its specific subject" (300); Larsen calls it a "various mixture of fact, preaching, and literary criticism" (98); and Joan Rees, with laudable frankness, admits that she cannot fathom the purpose of the sections on Elizabeth and Essex: "What purpose did Greville intend these analyses of a thirty-year-old situation to serve? They may perhaps show Sidney as a political analyst and statesman working out a line of policy: but chapter IX, with its reliance on many imponderables, could scarcely have much appeal to a practical politician at any time" (75).
(4.) E.g., Rebholz, 208. Rees also calls these sections "digressions" and "diversions" (67).
(5.) See Rebholz, 210-11, 331-36, and Greville, 1986, "Textual Introduction," l-liii.
(6.) While some readers have labored mightily to find coherence, generally they have done so by concentrating on only one part of Greville's text: the first eighteen chapters that constitutes his memoir of Sidney, leaving the rest unexplained. See, for example, Ho, Candido, 3-12; and Wooden.
(7.) Coke defines "time out of mind of man" thus: "that is whereof no man then knew the contrarie, either out of his owne memorie, or by any Record or other proof" (1602, sig. C4v).
(8.) Some years ago, MacLean argued that Greville's political philosophy is grounded in Continental resistance theory, in particular Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Oght to be Obeyd (1558), Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (1579), and George Buchanan, De Jure Regni apud Scotos (1579). However, Protestant and Catholic (see Salmon) resistance theory grounded the right to resist on Biblical grounds, and therefore applied equally well to all nations, all peoples. Buchanan, for example, regards Scotland as specific example of a pan-European political experience: "As if all the Nations in Europe did not only see, but feele also how much mischief hath the immoderat power, and unbridled Tyranny of the pope of Rome brought upon humane affairs" (sig. C4). Similarly, the author or authors of the Vindiciae grounds the discussion in the covenant between God and his people (146-61). Greville, on the other hand, consistently particularizes his argument by consistently framing it in terms of England's "native legal" tradit ions.
(9.) Baker-Smith, 97.
(10.) Academiae Cantabrigiensis, sig. kr. Despite the letter of the signature, James' poem and the rest of the Scots elegies are in the front of the volume, and there are two sets of the "K" and "L" signature pages. The first precedes the title page and does not include page numbers; the second can be found between pages 72-83. On the politics of James' elegy see Herman, 2002 and 2001. I have silently modernized the usage of i/j and u/v in all quotes from early sources.
(11.) Whetstone, sig. B2v. In a fascinating example of misattribution (and further evidence that Spenser successfully occluded his authorship), Whetstone thinks that Sidney wrote The Shepheardes Calender: "The Shepheards notes, that have so sweete a sounde, / With Lawrel bowghes, his realme, long since, have Crownd," and so does the marginal note, which reads: The last shephards calenders the reputed worke of S. Phil. Sydny a work of deepe learning, judgment & witte disguised in Shep.R" (sig. B3v).
(12.) Sir Francis Drake, His Honorable Lifes Commendation, Quoted in McCrea, 304.
(13.) Immediately after Sidney's death, Greville wrote Waslsingham that he wanted to publish a collection of Sidney's religious writings, but "this intention to build Sidney's image in the model of a Protestant hero never came off -- none of these religious works reached print" (Skretkowicz, 13-16). Skretkowicz also notes that while Mary Sidney used her position as editor and literary executor to "build a literary monument" to her late brother, Greville tried to use his botched edition of the Arcadia (1590) to "establish Sidney's reputation on the basis of his epic and religious writings alone" (120).
(14.) One might see in Spenser's figuring Sidney as an Adonis figure a complex, dark allegory conflating sexual danger and polities, one that perhaps glances at Sidney's reputation for being too hot-headed for his own good. When Elizabeth recalled Lord Mountjoy -- who had gone to fight in Brittany without first asking permission -- she is reported to have said: "Serve me so (quoth she) once more and I will lay you fast enough for running; you will never leave it till you are knocked over the head as that inconsiderate [meaning rash, nor considering the consequences] fellow Sidney was" (quoted in Buxton, 47).
(15.) Quoted in Sidney: The Critical Heritage, 172.
(16.) McCrea, 303-04.
(17.) Worden notes that Greville, "the only one of [Sidney's] contemporaries to refer more than fleetingly to Sidney's purpose, gave priority to the political component of the work" (3).
(18.) Greville has Sidney wondering if Anjou's intentions "would prove poetical or real" (Greville, 1986, 28), and in his own voice Greville dismisses Anjou's claims to England as "certain poetical titles of his own devised long ago" (30). One can feel the sneer in these phrases. On antipoetic sentiment in this period, see Herman, 1996.
(19.) See Worden, 355-69. However, in the last chapter of the Dedication, Greville returns to the Arcadia and describes its purpose as supplying "moral images and examples, as directing threads, to guide very man through the confused labyrinth of his own desires and life" (1986, 134).
(20.) Pask's description of this text as an "elaboration of absolutist ideology" (66) thus seems to me exactly wrong.
(21.) See, for example, Peltonen; Sommerville, 1986; Sommerville, 1989, Burgess, and Greenberg.
(22.) E.g., "The monarch was unquestionably the single most powerful unifying force in the English state ... The intense national self-consciousness of the younger Elizabethans arose under the aegis of Tudor absolutism....[Spenser et al.] pushed claims that subverted the absolute claim of the crown" (Helgerson, 9); Pask (see above, n. 20); and Matz, who considers the rise of humanism as an example of "the intellectual-bureaucrat [becoming] more crucial to the absolutist state" (21). Nor is this characterization limited to those influenced by New Historicism. McDonald, for example, unqualifiedly states that "England was an absolutist state in Shakespeare's day and would remain so until the middle of the seventeenth century" (298). Constance Jordan, on the other hand, one of the very few literary critics fully to note the importance of the Ancient Constitution (and who duly enlightened me), writes: Absolutism, in the sense of a theory sustaining an institution of government in which the authority and power of t he head of stare were limitless, was a concept essentially alien to the English experience of monarchy. In England the useful fiction of an ancient constitution guaranteeing the liberties of the subject... informed arguments against the claim of any officeholder, even a monarch, that presumed he (or she) was above positive law" (4). On the importance of the Ancient Constitution to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English historiography, see Patterson, and Herman, 2000. However, both Jordan's argument are Herman's are anticipated by Hamilton, 9-12.
(23.) On England as a mixed monarchy, see Fink; John Guy, 1993, especially 17-19; Hanson,. 240-52; and Eccleshall, 1978.
(24.) Coke, 1604, sig. B5r.
(25.) According to Maitland, the 1327 parliament clearly "conceived that it had fill power to depose a worthless king" (190).
(26.) Quoted in Burgess, 95-96.
(27.) According to Pollard and Redgrave and Wing, editions of Fortescue's text appeared in 1543, 1567, 1573, 1599, 1620, 1660, and 1672. Coke cites Fortescue (and praises him as "a man of excellent learning and authority") in his preface to 1602, sig. D.iiv, and at the stair of his preface to 1607, where he calls him "that most reverend and honourable Judge" (sig. iii). Coke's copy of Fortescue is number 401 in his library; see Hassel, ed., 34. On Selden's annotations to Fortescue, see Burgess, 6-7.
(28.) All references are to the 1997 translation and cited parenthetically.
(29.) Coke, 1602, sig. [paragraph]iiiir.
(30.) Ibid., sig. [paragraph]iiiir
(31.) Coke, 1605, sig. Aiiiiir-v.
(32.) See Helgerson, 81. Coke's notions of English legal insularity, however, were not expressed in ignorance of the civil law, as he not only includes a substantial number of books on civil law in the catalogue of his library (they are divided into folio, quarto, and octavo volumes; Hassall, ed., 38-42), but begins this section with a quote from "Dr. Cowell in his institutions of the Lawes of England" on the importance of civil law to understanding English legal developments (38).
(33.) Proceedings in Parliament, 2:180.
(34.) Quoted in Pocock, 33-34. Pocock also notes a document by, of all people, Archbishop Laud, recognizing that the law and the nation are, as Davies puts it, "connatural." See Pocock, 54.
(35.) In a fascinating choice of words, Greville describes reviving the Protestant league as "the first prize which did enfranchise this mater-spirit into the mysteries and affairs of state" (1986, 27; my emphasis). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "enfranchise" means "to admit to freedom," sometimes personal freedom (def.I.1-2), sometimes political freedom (def.II.4-6).
(36.) Sidney, 49.
(37.) Ibid., 52.
(38.) Ibid., 56.
(39.) See Warden, 281-96, and Shuger.
(40.) Goke, 1605, sig. Aiiiiir-v.
(41.) Greville added this long section (1652, 55-63) when he revised the Life.
(42.) See in particular Quilligan.
(43.) See McIlwain, 74, and Guy, 1992, 68.
(44.) See Strier, 104-11.
(45.) On the history of this liberty, see Neale, l970a. See also Colclough's interesting analysis of free speech in light of classical rhetoric.
(46.) Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I 1:425, 429. Significantly, Went worth also cites the passage in Bracton asserting the law's superiority to the monarch. In Wentworth's paraphrase, "The king ought not to be under man but under God and under the law, because the law maketh him a king" (429), which, Wentworth continues, he has heard "learned men in this place sundry times affirm" (Ibid.) Wentworth, however, got into trouble for this speech, in which he severely criticized Elizabeth for suppressing "Godly" preachers and not suppressing Mary, Queen of Scots. He was stopped before its end, and a committee from the House interrogated him. The record of his examination makes for exciting reading, as Wentworth not only consistently defends his tight to flee speech -- e.g., "For I am now no private person; I am a publicque and a councellor to the whole state in that place, where it is lawfull for me to speake my minde freely and nor you (as counsellors) to call me to accompt for any thing that I doe speake in the House" (Ibid., 435) -- but equally consistently brings the examiners around to his point of view. His rhetorical skills were for naught, though. Elizabeth had him committed to the Tower, and she released him only days before the session ended. For his life and career, see Neale, 1970b, 246-95. For an instance of a later Jacobean parliament arguing with the king over the extent of parliamentary liberties, see Thompson.
(47.) Quoted in Burgess, 5.
(48.) Ibid. (emphasis is in the original).
(49.) Prescott, 133.
(50.) Rebholz suggests that Greville's text reveals his "growing bitterness towards James and Cecil as his retirement dragged on" (333), but I think that the text's politics are much more sharply focussed and result from more than just frustrated ambition.
(51.) James VI/I, 62.
(52.) At his first meeting with Walsingham in 1583, Elizabeth's secretary rebuked James for his absolutist opinions. According to David H. Willson, Walsingham "told James that his power was insignificant, that he was too young to judge affairs of Stare, that he should rejoice in such as friend as Elizabeth, and [most interestingly] that young kings who sought to be absolute were apt to lose their thrones" (51).
(53.) "The Great Case," 389.
(54.) Ibid., 391. Sir Francis Bacon, on the other hand, adopted a more muted, although not more conciliatory approach. In his argument to the House, he proposed "that the king by the fundamental laws of this kingdom hath a power to impose upon merchandise and commodities both native and foreign" (395).
(55.) Quoted in Sommerville, 1986, 153.
(56.) Proceedings in Parliament 1610, 2:82.
(57.) E.g., on 22 May, 1610, Sir Herbert Croft argued "that we should make an humble petition, not a petition of grace but a petition of right, shewing how in all parliaments we had freely disputed of anything concerning ourselves, and therefore that his Majesty would enlarge that restraint which he laid upon us by message and by speech" (Proceedings in Parliament, 2:110).
(58.) Ibid., 2:109.
(59.) Ibid., 2, 189-90. Hakewill's speech would be printed in 1644 as The Liberty of the Subject: Against the Pretended Power of Impositions.
(60.) Quoted in Judson, 228.
(61.) Sandys returned to the matter in 1621, when he complained "that it is not value that accrueth to the king yearly by impositions that is so much stood upon as that the king doth take to his sole authority to impose" (quoted in Ibid.; my emphasis). Sandys' championing the rights of Parliament also earned him the enmity of the King, who had him briefly imprisoned after the House recessed in June, 1621 and accused of "attempting to frustrate the king's wishes over the adjournment, with trespassing on the foreign policy preserves of the monarch and with conferring with members of the house of lords" (Thompson, 780).
(62.) The power to make proclamations having the force of statutes was granted by parliament in 1539, but the act granting Henry VIII this power was repealed in the first year of Edward VI's rule. All told, as Maitland writes, the history of the monarch's power to issue proclamations serves to underscore the superiority of parliament: "you will at once see the importance of its enactment and its repeal; they seem distinctly to confirm the doctrine that the king is not supreme, king and parliament are supreme; statute is distinctly above ordinance or proclamation; statute may give to the king a subordinate legislative power, and what one statute has given another statute may take away" (253). Elizabeth resumed making proclamations that have the force of law, and James more than followed her example, but nor without significant protests from the House of Commons (Maitland, 257).
(63.) Proceedings in Parliament, 2:257.
(64.) Ibid., 2:258-59. In order to ascertain his legal ground, James had the Lord Chancellor ask Coke about the legitimacy of royal proclamations. Despite pressure to render a judgment immediately, Coke was allowed to confer with his "brethren the judges." The memorandum Coke put together (and published in State Trails as "The Case of Proclamations") could hardly have pleased the king, since he begins by establishing that "the king by his proclamation or other ways, cannot change any part of the common law, or statute law, or the customs of the realm" (State Trials, 2:275). Nonetheless, Coke also admitted the limitations of the judges when he writes "But we do find divers precedents of proclamations which are utterly against law and reason, and for that void" (State Trials, 2;726), since while they may be "void" in Coke's eyes, they were valid and enforced when promulgated.
(65.) On James' habit of "double diplomacy," see Willson, 39. In 1583, Elizabeth grew so exasperated with him that she exclaimed: "That false Scotch urchin! What can be expected from the double dealing of such an urchin as this?" (Ibid.).
(66.) Responding to the controversy in the House over the absolutism of Cowell's law dictionary, The Interpreter, Salisbury reported that the king repudiated the book's elevation of the king above parliament, that "the law did set the crown upon his head," "that he was a King by the Common Law of the land," finally, that he "had no power to make laws of himself, or to exact any subsidies de jure without the consent of his three estates" (quoted in Gardiner, 2:67). On this controversy, see Summerville, 1986, 121-26.
(67.) James VI/I, 1986, 107-09.
(68.) Helgerson, 67.
(69.) James VI/I, 1986, 109.
(70.) Quoted in Gardiner, 2:38-39.
(71.) Gardiner, 2:39. See n. 24 for Coke's citation of this maxim of Bracton's in the fourth volume of his reports.
(72.) Proceedings in Parliament, 2:109.
(73.) See Gouws' commentary in Greville, 1986, 235-36. During roughly the same period that Greville wrote and revised the Dedication, he also revised his earlier closet-drama, Mustapha "to make it a warning against incipient tyranny in England" (Rebholz, 201).
(74.) "The fact that Greville added this passage (Greville, 1652, 114-17) when he revised the Life further strengthens the case for these lines alluding to contemporary events. As Rebholz noted, while the original version focused on Sidney, the revised text of the Life broadens its scope to include Elizabeth "and a more severe judgement of French government," that is to say, a more severe judgment of French absolutism, which any contemporary reader would have immediately recognized as a more severe judgement of James' absolutism (332).
(75.) Greville's polemic animates the revision of other works as well. In particular, it transformed the choruses from the first version of Mustapha into the lengthy (and truth be told, tedious) A Treatise of Monarchy. While space does not allow a full treatment of this matter, it should be noted that throughout this text, Greville clearly emphasizes his adherence to the principles of the Ancient Constitution. For example, he mocks those who aim "Ideas of Authority / More absolute then God himself requires" and notes that "lawes and custome doe prescribe how farr / Either the Kinge, or subject out to draw / These mutuall tyes of dutie, love or fear" (Greville, 1965, 29.4-5, 33.3-5).
(76.) Rebholz, 244.
(77.) Quoted in Ibid.
(78.) The Arcadia was last published in 1638 (STC 22550), and there are no separate editions of the Apology or the Astrophil since the 1590s. However, the Arcadia would be republished again (the tenth edition) in 1655 (Wing S3768) and once more in 1662 (Wing S3769), suggesting that Greville's Life may have sparked a small Sidney revival.
(79.) They were not exclusively Royalist in orientation. Henry Seile the Elder did publish several works by the king's opponents in 1641: Rudyerd's Five Speeches (1641) and Two Speeches in Parliament; Oliver St. John, The Speech Concerning Ship Money (1641), and A Speech Spoken by Sir Thomas Wroth (1641). Taken as a whole, however, it seems that their list is more sympathetic to the king's cause than not.
(80.) The full title of this work demonstrates that it was not intended as an innocent contribution to bibliographical studies: Bibliotheca Regia, or, The Royal Library: Containing a Collection of Such of the Papers of His Late Majesty King Charles, the Second Monarch of Great Britain, as Have Escaped the Wrack and Ruines of These Times (1659).
(81.) On Robert's political philosophy, see Warden, 265; on Algernon, see Scott, and on the politics of the Sidney family generally, see Warkentin, 339-42.
(82.) As Dorothy Sidney's biographer, Julia Cartwright, puts it, "Never was a family more divided than that of the Sidneys, when the war broke out. While Dorothy's husband and his uncle Southampton declared for the King, both her brothers, Philip Lord Lisle and Algernon Sidney... took up arms for the Parliament" (82). Politics, however, did not trump family sentiment, as Robert Sidney wrote a truly moving letter to his daughter upon her husband's death, which is reproduced in Collins, 2:671-72.
(83.) The letters are reproduced in Ibid., 2:667-71, and in Cartwright, 89-97. The Countess was also a favorite addressee of Edmund Waller, who (during his Royalist phase) called her "Sacharissa" (Ibid., 30-38). I am very grateful to Germaine Warkentin for providing these references.
(84.) Howell, sig. B3v.
(85.) The Lawes Subversion: or Sir John Maynard's Case Truly Stated, 6, quoted in Ashton, 90.
(86.) Charles I," 2:832.
(87.) Quoted in Ashton, 193.
(88.) Ibid., 190.
(89.) Prynne, 1809, in Somers Tracts, 6:547. Prynne also raises the slippery slope argument, claiming that if parliamentary privilege is "once denied or made criminal (as now), and that to the major, [it] will utterly subvert the very name, essence and being of all future parliaments" (Ibid.).
(90.) The fact that Prynne and Walker (see below, n. 97) would use the term "juncto" is itself indicative of the collapsed distinction between Parliament and Charles. According to the OED, the term was first applied to Charles' cabinet council, and then to "the Independent and Presbyterian factions of the same period [and] to the Rump Parliament under Cromwell."
(91.) Drunne, 1649, sig. B2-B3r.
(92.) Walker, sig. Br-B2v.
(93.) Howell, sig. B3r-v.
(94.) Jenkins, 5:96. Burgess takes a more skeptical view of this matter: "The irony... was that in the 1640s Charles himself, and his supporters -- above all David Jenkins -- were able to pose as friends of the ancient constitution and critics of parliamentary illegalities" (Burgess, 230-31).
(95.) Quoted in Ashton, 185.
(96.) Jenkins in Somers Tracts, 5:96.
(97.) Quoted in Ashton, 188.
(98.) Walker, sig. C3r.
(99.) I am adapting Hans-George Gadamer's discussion of "horizon" and hermeneutics, 267-74.
(100.) The shape-shifting of Sidney's literally ambivalent reputation continues to this day, as evidenced by the call numbers assigned to his biographies. Even though Roger Howell's Sir Philip Sidney: The Shepherd Knight (1968) and Katherine Duncan-Jones' Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (1991) cover roughly the same material and give roughly equal treatment to Sidney's political and literary sides, the Library of Congress put the former in the history aisles (DA358.S5 H68 1968) and the latter in the literature section (PR2343.D84 1991). One can also see in the assigning of different call numbers an instance of the normalization of historicism within literary studies. In 1968, when Howell published his book, the New Criticism dominated American English departments, and this, perhaps, led the Library of Congress to separate Sidney's biography from more purely literary studies. But by 1991, the New Criticism had been displaced by more historically informed approaches, and so, placing a biography within the PR s ection makes greater sense.
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|Author:||Herman, Peter C.|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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