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The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton.

Annabel Patterson, ed. The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton.

Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1998. 108 pp. n.p. ISBN: 0-9697512-8-1.

Stephen Alford. The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569.

Cambridge: Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History, 1998. xii + 271 pp. $59.95.

ISBN: 0-521-62218-2.

The issue of dynastic succession affected Tudor polity from 1502, when Henry VII's heir, Arthur, died, until the death of Elizabeth in 1603. The upheaval following the death of Edward VI in 1554 demonstrated its impact on the process of governance and the development of a governmental polity. Two recent books argue that treason law was used to resolve these issues in succession-inspired political rebellions during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth. Inadvertently, its use encouraged political allegiance to the commonwealth rather than to the monarch.

Annabel Patterson's edition of the 1554 trial of Nicholas Throckmorton provides an opportunity to examine the contemporary transcript of a state trial for high treason, and to consider how treason was appropriated by later political theorists to justify the overthrow of monarchs deemed unfit to rule. Stephen Alford's monograph argues that an imperialist Elizabethan polity and the means to try and convict a reigning monarch were the result of how William Cecil and his colleagues dealt with threats to the English succession between 1558 and 1569. In both instances, the use of treason law as a political instrument presaged its capability of being applied equally to monarch or subject.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was charged in April 1554 with high treason as a co-conspirator in Wyatt's Rebellion, a "rebellion" triggered by the marriage between Queen Mary with Philip II of Spain. Although Throckmorton and Sir James Croftes were arraigned and sent to prison for treason, only the trial of the former was reported in detail. Patterson suggests that Throckmorton's acquittal, which resulted in heavy fines and imprisonment for the jury as well as a conviction for Croftes, was the cause. As neither Throckmorton nor Croftes were executed for their alleged offense, it has been argued that both prosecutions were attempts by Mary and her Privy Councillors to incriminate Elizabeth and her adherents of treason.

The text of the trial is excerpted from the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's The Chronicle of England, Scotland and Ireland. Patterson's introduction helps place the trial into its historical and literary context. However, this edition raises many questions -- about the source for the text, its content, and its significance for contemporaries. Is such a text typical of a legal genre or has it been altered by the "reporters"? Who precisely are the participants in the trial? While such a source encourages close reading and analysis, the detailed annotation necessary to do so is lacking. For example, would the personal connections among many of the jurors elucidate why they acquitted Throckmorton? Did the fact that Throckmorton was close kin to several of the Privy Council commissioners affect the outcome? Was the kinship between the conspirator Wyatt and Brooke and Cecil, two of the patrons of the Chronicle itself, significant?

The curious reader must consult Patterson's account of it in her informative volume Reading Holinshed's Chronicles (1994). In it, Patterson clarifies why Raphael Holinshed included such a lengthy transcription of the trial in a four volume, multi-author, chronicle of the three separate political entities, England, Scotland, and Ireland. She proposes that Holinshed and his colleagues provided the "evidence" useful to Cecil and others for the establishment of a Protestant nation supported by an active collaboration among crown, nobles, gentry and the merchant/professional class. Throckmorton's trial illustrated the potential of English justice to protect its citizens from a foreign-influenced monarch.

Stephen Alford's study, The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569, supports Patterson's interpretation of Holinshed's Chronicles. He argues that Cecil's response to the succession crisis, culminating in the Northern Rebellion of 1569, resulted in an openly imperialist polity designed to control any external intervention. His meticulous examination of the process by which Cecil forged a political partnership between crown, privy councillors, judicial officials, and parliament makes it clear that the imperialist outcome, like the use of treason laws for regicide, was unintended. To Alford, insecure dynastic succession not only affected the religious and cultural landscape of the British Isles, but internal and international political protocols as well. Alford argues that understanding, anticipating and manipulating the events surrounding Mary Queen of Scot's accession under French influence, her marriage to Lord Darnley, the possibility that her son might succeed Elizabeth, and the support for Mary among the northern Earls, which resulted in the Northern Rebellion, forced Cecil and his colleagues to bring Scotland firmly under English control.

Among Cecil's agents abroad, both in Scotland and France, were two victims of Marian succession fallout, Nicholas Throckmorton and James Croftes. After almost four years in prison, they knew first-hand the dangers of an insecure succession policy Considered in conjunction with Patterson's edition of the "trial" and her monograph on the Chronicles, the role of Throckmorton and Croftes in Cecil's policies raises several questions that suggest that this study might have profited from being situated more broadly within the context of succession-related political rebellion during the period. For example, what was the effect of imprisonment on them and other members of Cecil's team? Did it strengthen their resolve to establish a British polity?

Alford's close analysis of this specific eleven-year period reflects its origins as a doctoral dissertation. His thesis that succession concerns and the Northern Rebellion inspired Cecil to strengthen internal political structures against external threats through religious practice, the person of the Queen, the role of the monarchy, and the maintenance of peace, requires placing the polity of the whole reign of Elizabeth within the context of Tudor succession issues from 1502 on. The presence of Throckmorton among Cecil's cohort in Scotland suggests that this reading of the Northern Rebellion should be evaluated in conjunction with Wyatt's Rebellion of fifteen years earlier. Patterson and Alford's conclusion that the use of treason law could be used to both support and alter the succession to a monarchy is most convincing when viewed in the context of both the Tudor and Stuart eras. Even with these caveats, both volumes are a valuable resource for both scholars and teachers of the period.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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