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Argument and Authority in Early Modern England

Conal Condren offers a radical reappraisal of the nature of moral and
political theory in early modern England through an examination of
widespread arguments about of¬ce. The vocabulary of of¬ce-holding
and abuse was suf¬ciently supple and pervasive for us to infer a general
presupposition of of¬ce cohering the whole spectrum of social discourse,
from conceptualising the soul to understanding the responsibilities of the
philosopher, poet, parent and priest. The exploration of this vocabulary
involves a reconsideration of the nature of early modern social debate,
challenging fashionable preoccupations with emerging ideologies and
with liberalism, liberty, republicanism, a public sphere, and reason of
state theory, through which study of seventeenth-century political theory
has been organised. Indeed, the very idea of early modern political
theory is called into question. Professor Condren reconsiders the im-
portance of oath-taking, and analyses anew the three great crises of
oath-taking that punctuated English history in the seventeenth century.
Again, his conclusions challenge widely held beliefs about early modern
political argument, the process of secularisation, and the rise of de facto
theory. Argument and Authority is a major new work from a senior
scholar of early modern political thought, of interest to a wide range
of historians, philosophers and literary scholars.

C O N A L C O N D R E N is Scientia Professor in Politics and International
Relations at the University of New South Wales, Australia.
Argument and Authority in
Early Modern England
The Presupposition of Oaths and Of¬ces

Conal Condren
The University of New South Wales
cambridge university press
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521859080

© Conal Condren 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2006

isbn-13 978-0-511-16838-3 eBook (EBL)
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Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
To Averil

Preface page ix

Introduction 1

Part I: The liquid empire of office
1 An overview 15
2 Ceremonies of office: The kiss of the tutti-man 36
3 Institutionalised office: a sense of the scavenger 54
4 The vocabulary of office 80
5 Offices of the intellect: player, poet and philosopher 105
6 Soul and conscience 125

Part II: The authority and insolence of office
7 The cases of patriot and counsellor 149
8 Casuistry as the mediation of office 172
9 The case of resistance to superior power 186
10 Metaphor and political autonomy 209

Part III: ˜I, A. B.™
11 An overview of the oath in seventeenth-century argument 233
12 Coronation oaths 254
13 The oath of allegiance of 1606 269

viii Contents

14 Engagement with a free state 290
15 The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688“9 314
Epilogue 343

Bibliography 353
Index 391

a Man had as good to go to Court without his Cravat as shew himself in
Print without a Preface ¦ The Liberty of Prefacing against Prefaces, may
seem a little Unreasonable; but Common Scribblers are allow™d the
Priviledges of Common Strumpets. One of the Frankest Prostitutes that
ever I knew since I was born, had these Words the oftenest in her Mouth:
Lord! (says she) to see the Impudence of some Women!
(Roger L™Estrange, Tully™s Of¬ces in Three Books,
corrected edn, 1681, A4)

Preliminary studies have announced many of the themes found in the
following pages, and although at times they have made me think I was
adequately prepared for the larger work, this has taken an inordinate time
to complete. In the process I have felt prematurely blasted by antiquity.
But having got this far, there are occasions when I feel as buoyant as Sir
Roger L™Estrange after laying down his onerous and odious of¬ces to
translate Cicero™s. That I can make the comparison is due to many, not
least Dr Paul Spira and the Prince of Wales Hospital.
Something long-winded, obscure and purple, had there been light
enough to see it by, was passed rapidly to readers Professors Jonathan
Scott and John Spurr, who treated it with the astringent professionalism it
deserved and the constructive insight that it did not. Great thanks are
always due to those who labour to save authors from themselves and to
editors like Richard Fisher who handle them with such patience, tact and
I am grateful to the Australian Research Council for the generous
award that allowed me so much time to write and research; to the Folger
Library, and the Huntington Library where I spent time as a Francis
Bacon Fellow I owe the gratitude of any scholar privileged to work in
these peerless institutions. Thanks are also due to the Master and Fellows
of Churchill College, Cambridge for generosity and friendship over many
years, and to the Plume Library for such co-operation under pressures of
time. More personal debts have been incurred to Pat and John Gibson,
Maureen and Charles Fowler, and Professor John and Gail Pryor, Des

x Preface

Murphy, Mary Lamb and Ben Down, all of whom helped provide the
support and conditions in which I could carry out research; to Professor
Robert von Friedeburg, my gratitude for ever stimulating company,
especially when giving papers in Bielefeld, Amsterdam, London and
Rotterdam. I am indebted to all of the following for their learning and
generosity in drawing essential materials to my attention: to Professors
Tony Cousins, DeAnn De Luna, John Gillies, Jamie Lloyd, David
Saunders, John Schuster, Jonathan Scott, Barbara Shapiro and Richard
Yeo; to Drs Margaret Kelly, Margaret Rose, J. O. Ward, Eric Nelson,
Dirk Moses and John Sutton. Peter Day, the Chatsworth Archivist, and
Dr Charlotte Erwin, Caltech Archivist, gave help well beyond the call of
duty. I have bene¬ted greatly from the insights, example and companion-
ship of Glenn Burgess, Mark Goldie, Ian Maclean, Noel Malcolm, John
Pocock, Richard Serjeantson and Quentin Skinner. Much is owed to on-
going discussions with my research collaborators Professors Ian Hunter
and Stephen Gaukroger and Dr Andrew Fitzmaurice; I am even more
indebted to Dr Cathy Curtis who generously acted as a third reader with
such grace and critical aplomb. One of the great pleasures of academic life
is that these professional debts are also ones of friendship, alas making
thanks seem doubly perfunctory. My colleagues have cheerfully coped
with my erratic presence, or absence, yet have been around when I have
needed them; Aoise Stratford Lloyd has reminded me I have other things
to write; Allegra Zakis that there are things in the world beyond what I
write. My wife Averil has wonderfully born the brunt of the book I have
found most dif¬cult to complete in most trying times for us both. She too
has critically read it in several drafts, prepared the index, and like all who
have seen the bits and bristles of Mr Hume™s broom, has swept out
rubbish. What is left is mine, I should probably keep it to myself, but
while we live we do not learn.
Material towards the end of chapter 3 was ¬rst explored in Contempor-
ary Political Theory, 1, 1 (2002); a more detailed version of the argument on
patriotism appeared in Robert von Friedeburg, ed., ˜Patria™ und ˜Patrioten™
vor dem Patriotismus. P¬‚ichten, Rechte, Glauben und die Rekon¬gurierung
europaischer Gemeinwesen im 17. Jahrhundert (Wiesbaden: Wolfenbuette-
ler Forschungen, 2005); some of the argument in chapter 6 was ¬rst
developed in Philippa Kelly, ed., The Touch of the Real (Perth: UWA Press,
2002); much of the material on tyranny in chapter 9 has been adapted from
my paper in Robert von Friedeburg, ed., Murder and Monarchy: Regicide
in European History, 1300“1800 (London: Palgrave, 2004). I am grateful
for being allowed to re-work these materials.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _Introduction___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Indeed it is a strange-disposed time:
But men may construe things, after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
(Cicero, in Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 1.2)

There is now a cohesive literature on political office-holding in early-
modern Britain. Following Ernst Kantorowicz™s seminal study of kingship
has been valuable work on the village constable, on the county Lord
Lieutenant, and more broadly on the judiciary and priesthood.1 The
changing scope of socially instituted office has been recognised as crucial
to the formation of the modern state, political participation and the
outbreak of the Civil Wars.2 Historiographically, the analysis of office
has been held to be central to the reintegration of social and intellectual
history.3 Nevertheless, notions of office have been too narrowly conceived
and far less attention has been given to how people argued about offices,

Ernst Kantorowicz, The King™s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology
(Princeton, 1958); V. I. Slater, Noble Government: The Stuart Lord Lieutenancy and the
Transformation of English Politics (Athens, Ga., 1994); J. R. Kent, The Village Constable,
1580“1642 (Oxford,1986); Justin Champion, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of
England and its Enemies, 1660“1730 (Cambridge, 1992); Wilfred Prest, ˜Judicial Corruption in
Early Modern England™, Past and Present, 133 (1991), pp. 67“95; Alan Cromartie, The
Constitutionalist Revolution in Early Modern England (Cambridge, forthcoming).
Michael J. Braddick, State Formation in Early Modern England, c.1550“1700
(Cambridge, 2000); Mark Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic: Office-Holding in
Early Modern England™, in Tim Harris, ed., The Politics of the Excluded, c.1500“1850
(London, 2001), pp. 153“94; Cromartie, The Constitutionalist Revolution, chs. 1, 8; Steve
Hindle, The State and Social Change in Early Modern England, c.1550“1640 (New York,
2000); see also Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and
Social Relations in Early Modern England (New York, 1998).
Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic™, p. 154 and at length; Hindle, The State, pp. 1“37.

2 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
to what an office was taken to entail, and how and to what ends the
vocabulary of its specification was actually deployed.4
The argument here is that from the evidence of language, we may
properly conjecture what I shall call a presupposition of office broadly
characteristic of early modern England. By restricting attention to desig-
nated political offices, we decipher, as it were, without a key, and do
injustice to debate that went well beyond them. We may even beg ques-
tions if, a priori, we marginalise some forms of office talk as only deriva-
tive of core political concepts. This study, then, is intended as a change of
direction for, and an exploration of the implications of, the literature on
early modern office.
It also arises directly from my earlier work and is prefatory to a
theoretical account of metaphor, theoretical modelling and concept
formation in politics. Thus, it is one of a series and follows principally
from The Language of Politics in Seventeenth-Century England.5 That
work outlined what I took to be the main patterns of word use in politics
from which we hypothesise intentions, theories and dispositions. One
initial proposition had been that the putative subject matter of intellec-
tual and cultural history (ideas, concepts, beliefs, ideologies) is largely
what is conjectured in order to establish a narrative, or descriptive
coherence from surviving evidence. Such processes of hypothetical com-
pletion are commonly given a misleading ontological status. That is,
hypothetical completions (X ™s alleged ideas, concepts, intentions and
so forth) purporting to explain or make greater sense of what we have,
are characteristically projected as an available reality, and this is used to
redescribe surviving evidence, so pre-empting understanding. Effect-
ively, the meta-language of explanatory modelling is conflated with the
evidence itself, and the past is then easily, even inadvertently, reduced to
a series of variations on the present.6 Consider office-holding and state
formation: a modern Weberian model of the state may cast light on the
interplay of social office in pre-modern England, but if the terms of the

For notable exceptions see Stephen Gaukroger, Francis Bacon and the Transformation of
Early-Modern Philosophy (Cambridge, 2000); Knud Haakonssen, Natural Law and Moral
Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1996); Ian Hunter,
Rival Enlightenments: Civil and Metaphysical Philosophy in Early Modern Germany
(Cambridge, 2001); Robert von Friedeburg, Self-Defence and Religious Strife in Early
Modern Europe: England and Germany, 1530“1680 (Aldershot, 2002).
Conal Condren, The Language of Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1994).
See also, for example, Philippe Buc, The Dangers of Ritual: Between Early Medieval Texts
and Social Scientific Theory (Princeton, 2001), pp. 2“3, and pt. 2 at length; Francis West,
˜The Colonial History of the Norman Conquest™, History, 84 (1999), pp. 219“36.
Introduction 3
model are read into the evidence, explanatory circularity is almost as
inescapable as anachronistic description.7
The Language of Politics concentrated on the semantic residue from
seventeenth-century England, and how it has been susceptible to rough
treatment by modern scholars who, taking their own conceptual vocabu-
lary for granted, have read it into the past. In particular, the terms radical,
moderate, conservative, and their near relations left, right, centre, have
been used with a redescriptive insouciance that has anachronistically
distorted early-modern debate.8 For all the breadth of brush-stroke, it
was argued that my case was incomplete because of inadequate attention
to the conjectured principles, ideas and concepts to which I occasionally
alluded.9 The point was well made, and this study is an attempt to rectify
the imbalance. The purpose is to hypothesise a presupposition of office as
an explanans for the sort of word use I have previously described and
much more besides. It may or may not play a part in explaining state
formation, but a thorough exploration of the linguistic terrain of office
would seem to be a precondition for the success of that adjacent enterprise,
just as it is for tracing specific theories of office as responses to a changing
world. Indeed, if office-talk was as ubiquitous as I claim it was, the whole
notion of early-modern political theory needs to be reconsidered.

A comment is in order about my vocabulary of intellectual conjecture, lest
the body of the argument be mistaken for an attempt to unmask an ideol-
ogy, or write a conceptual history. A presupposition is something that in a
given context is taken for granted; it is apt to be relatively general and
constant but may be disclosed in a finite array of differing propositions.
Indeed, this adaptive capacity is a salient feature of presuppositional
Any statement takes something for granted, otherwise nothing can be
said. The vision of a philosophy without presupposition has survived from
Plato and remains an image of the philosopher™s stone,10 but especially in
the cut and thrust of everyday argument much is presupposed. Since any
presupposition is a condition for saying certain sorts of things, in a

Braddick™s reliance on Weberian modelling is taken up in chapter 10; but see also Hindle,
The State, pp. 20“4. My point, however, is not to dismiss model-building but, in advance
of a separate study, to point to the difficulties we share accepting its necessity.
Condren, The Language of Politics, ch. 5; Conal Condren ˜Radicalism Revised™ in G.
Burgess and M. Feinstein, eds., British Radicalism, 1500“1800 (Cambridge, forthcoming).
Glenn Burgess, ˜Review™, History of Political Thought, 16, 4 (1996), pp. 638“9.
E.g. Michael Oakeshott, Experience and its Modes (Cambridge, 1933, 1966).
4 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
minimal sense it is also a guarantee against saying others. Hypothesising
presuppositions, in short, is a matter of the imaginative mapping of
a common ground between interlocutors, indicating the limits and condi-
tions that enabled them to debate and differ; it may be to outline a
perspective more or less adequately shared, a habitus, to borrow Bour-
dieu™s useful term.11 To hypothesise presuppositions, then, is not to spe-
cify anything as cohesive as a doctrine, a theory, a set of ideas, concepts,
an ideology or anything that might be mistaken for an independent object
or agent. It is simply to suggest what is tacitly accepted at a given point in
order that something might be said. Effectively, a presupposition comes to
us as the contingent silence that helps structure the diversity of discourse.
If the generality and stability of presuppositions at once frame and
facilitate argument, their status is hardly immutable, for a presupposition
is a function of language use and may become a focus of debate. Even a
clarificatory statement such as ˜what I am presupposing is x™ places x on
the verge of becoming an axiom, an article of faith, or a doctrine. Under
pressure, with a breakdown of communication, or with infinite leisure and
assiduity, presuppositions can always be converted by explication; but this
may amount less to a shared articulation than a crumbling of the com-
monly held and the alienation from a habitus. In the loss of relative
constancy, what had been presuppositional may become visible, shaped
and constrained in contestation. That survival is the historian™s hard
evidence of words on paper.
Presuppositions are like the concepts or ideas into which they can be
converted in that none of them amount to an available extra-linguistic
realm to which the historian has access, a world of ideas to be discovered
in any literal sense of that slippery term. Declamations about historical
discovery can run the gamut from meaning found, to having made better
sense of, to being persuasive. There is, however, much value in R. G.
Collingwood™s specification of an idea as an answer to a question, with the
proviso that frequently the question has also to be conjectured.12 Often,
the absence of a contradictory hypothesis is enough to get the idea estab-
lished as a conclusive fact. This is not unreasonable, but from there the
idea is easily reified as part of a realm of evidence of which histories can be
written, and this is less warranted.
So too with the historical notion of a concept: it is largely a meta-
locution in language signalling a process of classification and alignment
of particulars. Seen in this fashion, the word concept is not a reference

Pierre Bourdieu, Esquisse d™une theorie de la pratique (Geneva, 1972), trans. Richard
Nice, An Outline of a Theory of Practice (New York, 1977).
R. G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (Oxford, 1939), chs. 4, 5.
Introduction 5
term for an independent entity that might be discovered or reflected in
language. It is a relic of a linguistic practice, and by its use we signal
considerable descriptive latitude with respect to the phenomena under
discussion, imposing some order on the world, or identifying the attempts
of others to do so. Additionally, we may also be making claims for robust
continuities within and across natural languages. The importance of this is
not to be gainsaid; it is in part what hypothesising presuppositions is
about, but tracing broadly stable patterns of usage in language does not
seem to me sufficient for positing a distinct ontological realm for basic
concepts (Grundbegriffe), to be located somewhere between language and
social reality, so acting, to employ Reinhart Koselleck™s metaphor, as
joints linking the linguistic and social worlds.13 This is an unfortunate
image, as the joint suggests less a separate realm than the manner in which
two extensions connect and move in concert. It is, nevertheless, exactly
this propensity to conceptual hypostatisation that takes Begriffsgeschichte
back towards its point of critical departure, the Lovejoyan history of ˜unit
ideas™ invented in the service of grand, even whiggish narratives of con-
ceptual consumation.14 And, to repeat, it is this shared treatment of
concept terms that most readily facilitates what Begriffsgeschichte wishes
to avoid: the projection of ˜present day concepts back into the past™.15
There is, in fact, a whole family of terms in historiography “ presuppos-
ition, assumption, concept, idea, belief, intention, motive “ that are, as it
were, like the spirits of an absent world, largely inferred from marks on
paper. We invoke them as a special class of causes for known effects, and
such invocations are, as the Galenic theorist of witchcraft John Cotta put
it, matters of ˜artificial conjecture™. They are voice changes made to
maintain or re-establish intelligible order;16 and they are always vulner-
able to alternative conjectures and to accusations of anachronism, over-
reading, under-reading and irrelevance. It is the lacunae in evidence that
best facilitate accommodation to the present; one way or another we have
to supplement what survives for us to ponder or plunder.17

Reinhart Koselleck, ˜Response™, in Hartmut Lehmann and Melvin Richter, eds., The
Meaning of Historical Terms and Concepts: New Studies in Begriffsgeschichte
(Washington D.C., 1996), p. 61; this is not dissimilar to words, concepts and things as
the parameters of meaning suggested by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards in The Meaning
of Meaning, in 1923.
For astute comment, see Donald R. Kelley, ˜On The Margins of Begriffsgeschichte™, in
Lehmann and Richter, The Meaning of Historical Terms and Concepts, pp. 35“40;
Hunter, Rival Enlightenments, pp. 1“2.
Kosselleck, ˜Response™, p. 67.
John Cotta, The Assured Witch (1624 edn.), pp. 21, 2, 7; cf. W. B. Gallie, Philosophy and
the Historical Understanding (London, 1964), pp. 105ff.
Conal Condren, The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts (Princeton, 1985), ch. 9.
6 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
This study, then, deals principally with the more or less shared vocabu-
lary of seventeenth-century moral discourse and the presuppositions that
may plausibly be conjectured from it. By postulating a presupposition of
office, I believe it is possible to make good sense of how the vocabulary of
social discussion was organised. To put the matter the other way around,
from an examination of the vocabulary of argument one can reasonably
hazard a fairly simple pattern of presuppositions about human moral,
social identity, widely shared over a longue duree. This book would not be
worth writing if they were our presuppositions, ˜our™ meaning modern,
usually western scholars. But they are not, and by conjecturing or project-
ing our own understandings of human identity, we, that is modern, usually
western scholars, parochialise and impoverish the past. The hypothesised
presuppositions central to this study function like Koselleck™s ˜basic con-
cepts™, without the metaphysical baggage that gives us a conceptual realm
by separating language from society, and without restricting us to that
historical minority who use their vocabulary in an acceptably abstract and
philosophical fashion. We can, likewise, recognise John Cotta™s sensitivity
to the conjectural status of many sorts of inference without believing in a
spirit world of angels, witches, demons and familiars.

To offer the most general analytic abridgement: the presupposition of
office took proper conduct to be by a persona as a function of office;
conversely, improper conduct was office abuse. In extremis, abuse
sloughed off persona, and erased, sometimes almost by definition, moral
identity and social standing.18 Superficially, this may seem suggestive of
theories of social role-play associated with writers such as Marcel Mauss
and, more recently, Erving Goffman.19 Our now rather diluted under-
standing of a persona would encourage this, especially as the word itself
was originally the Latin for a theatrical mask (from Greek, prosopon) and
later a person. Persona, however, conveyed more than the notion of a role-
playing individual, which naturally directs attention to the relationship
between inner agent and presented identity, to authenticity, dissimu-
lation and appearance. It was, rather, a manifestation, or realisation and

If thoroughly schematised, this presupposition might even be reformulated in logical
notation as a variation on Leibniz™s law of identity; see David Wiggins, Identity and
Spacio-Temporal Continuity (Oxford, 1988). Or, in Wittgensteinian terms; it is a matter of
˜seeing as™ a manifestation of one putative office or another.
Erving Goffman, The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life (New York, 1959); Erving
Goffman, Frame Analysis; An Essay on the Organisation of Experience (New York, 1983);
Braddick, State Formation, pp. 76“8.
Introduction 7
representation of a character, or type, such as a young slave, an old man, a
free woman.20 Social role theory can certainly provide insight but it is apt
to present a rather fragmented understanding of office that a physical
person qua persona embodied, and has been developed in the context of
rather different perceptions of moral identity. Indeed, so far from merely
being roles assumed, officia could be formalised as moral beings, making
even the notion of an office as a duty itself sometimes misleadingly
incomplete.21 I will touch on the modern fate of office only in the epilogue,
but will make clear the differences between office-holding and social
role-play where it seems appropriate.
The first part of the book is an attempt to elucidate the nature and
pervasiveness of an expectation of office in early-modern, especially seven-
teenth-century England.22 My discussion offers a perfunctory sort of
descriptive metaphysics. In Individuals, P. F. Strawson referred to the
relative stability of the presuppositional commonplaces which were at
once features of the least refined thinking and the ˜indispensable core of
the conceptual equipment of the most sophisticated human beings™.23 I
believe something like this applies to evocations of office in the early-
modern world. Clarification involves cutting across familiar organisa-
tional topics for early-modern intellectual history, such as the concept of
citizenship, of liberty, rule and tyranny. The discussion of such words is
intended to illuminate differing aspects of the rhetorics of office-holding.
This practice might seem initially repetitive and disparate by turns if it is
assumed that the concept or idea of citizenship, or say republicanism, and
so on, should provide the focus. It will seem less so if it is kept in mind
that the office is what matters, other familiar topics being the means to
its elucidation. Similarly, there is no systematic single discussion of a
figure like Thomas Hobbes, who persists in rounding off a number of
my chapters; what is said of his writings is tied to the aspects of office
under consideration.
The purpose, however, is not to reduce seventeenth-century argument
to some theoretical monochrome. A shared presupposition at a high level
of generality hardly prohibits its being worked into many theoretical
shapes; and the differences arising from what is shared, of comparable
doctrines and of whole types or modes of theorising, may be of more

Leonhard Schmitz, ˜Persona™, in William Smith, ed., A Dictionary of Greek and Roman
Antiquities (London, 1882), pp. 889“93.
See Haakonssen, Natural Law, pp. 40“2; Hunter, Rival Enlightenments, pp. 165“6.
The expression ˜early modern™ must be taken throughout only as a Schopenhaurian
nominal classification, a conceptually empty convenience for the period c. 1500“1800.
P. F. Strawson, Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London, 1971 edn),
p. 10.
8 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
interest than the often unexamined common ground. John Donne™s poetic
exploration of the imagery of office is a world away from, say, Pufendorf ™s
studied account of society; the solipsistic lovers in ˜The Sunne Rising™ (see
chapter 8) were hardly entia moralia. So, too, a posited presuppositional
grounding used to collapse one perspective into another risks losing
everything that might be interesting about each. Yet Donne™s poetic
commonplaces, to recall Strawson™s point, do touch on Pufendorf ™s
theory; for he played with what Pufendorf would critically examine and
affirm “ that an office provides an expectation of and the boundaries for
proper conduct.24 For the purposes of this study Pufendorf might be
considered an honorary Englishman, not because of his seminal abridge-
ment of a whole philosophy of office, but because he developed it in
constructive counterpoint to Hobbes, who in turn had reduced inherited
presuppositions of office in a way far more disruptive than Donne™s poetic
ingenuity. In fact, it may have been Hobbes™s draconian subversion of the
complex culture of official expectation that provoked Pufendorf to a
formal articulation of a theory of the human world as an intersection of
offices. He flew, like the proverbial owl of Minerva at dusk, returning to
England through translation, redaction and his own astute comments on
English affairs.25 Traversing the common ground between the crepuscular
Pufendorf and Donne of the morning sun can be treacherous in the mix of
shadows they cast; but the attempt to do so should help explain the
specific content of the vocabulary as a whole, and how it was worked
into a remarkable diversity of doctrine in England and beyond. Not all
of this doctrine was in any helpful sense ˜political™, either according to
seventeenth-century uses of that word, or our own. Indeed, the notion of
the political is variable, and an exploration of the pervasive ethos of office
will do something to account for its uncertain status and the ease by which
those whom we see as political actors could dispense with it.
Presuppositions rarely come to us in splendid isolation; we are not, as it
were, dealing with a single refracted broomstick in the water, but with a
besom barely bound. And there must remain some distorting partiality
about following one presupposition to the neglect of its closest neigh-
bours. Most crucially, a semiotic presupposition about the meaningfulness

Samuel Pufendorf, De jure naturae et gentium libri octo (1672), trans. C. H. and W. A.
Oldfather (Oxford, 1943); Hunter, Rival Enlightenments, pp. 164“6.
Andrew Tooke, The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature (1691),
translation of Samuel Pufendorf, De officio hominis (1673), ed. Ian Hunter and David
Saunders (Indianapolis, 2003); Michael J. Seidler, ˜Qualification and Standing in
Pufendorf™s Two English Revolutions™, in R. von Friedeburg, ed., Widerstandsrecht in
¨ ¨
der fruhen Neuzeit, Zeitschrift fur Historische Forschung, Beiheft 26 (Berlin, 2001),
pp. 329“52.
Introduction 9
of the world, that everything in it is a sign, shadows this study. The very
notion of a sign was accommodating, ranging from symptom to synec-
doche, effect, residue and prognostic. According to Thomas Browne, all
were the marks made by the pencil of God, a God it was also presupposed
who had to be feared.26 The conjunction of the planets might explain or
forewarn; the wart might condemn; the very black cat might be the scratch
of Satan on the soul of the witch. The flexible faith in the world as one of
signs, meaning and interconnections, from medicine and witchcraft to
religious ceremony and scientific experiment, helped shape and sustain
the ubiquity of office and evidence of its abuse.27 All things might be
˜instruments of fear and warning/Unto some monstrous state™, insinuates
Cassius, as he spins his conspiracy on a stormy night to cleanse Rome of
Caesar.28 ˜The night™, wrote Thomas Nashe, ˜is the devil™s Black Book™,
and Nashe saw inscribed on its pages forms of illness, human types, the
peculiarities of nature, dreams, terrors and spirits, in the realm where
Satan could be revealed as a tyrant and a Machiavellian, inverting or
challenging all good order glorious in the light of God™s sun.29 For Robert
Dingley, when that sun was obscured by thundering clouds we might be
hearing His voice, and to stop the ears against the din could be nothing
short of rebellion.30 Although fear of an omniscient deity and a semiotic
presupposition are not the focus of this study, so closely are they tied to
the vocabulary of office that its exploration is an intimation of them both.
This will become most obvious in part III. Oath-taking and administering
were not only the quintessence of office in action, but they also generated
controversy because of the different ways in which oaths could be signs,
and because of their portentous evocation of a most fearsome God. No
atheist could hold office, because oaths could signify nothing in the
absence of a recognised divinity.

For a fine discussion of this presupposition, see David Wootton, ˜The Fear of God in
Early Modern Political Theory™, in Historical Papers (Vancouver, 1983), pp. 58“80.
For suggestive explorations of semiotics, John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of
Difference (Cambridge, 1996); Ian Maclean, Logic, Signs and Nature in the Renaissance
(Cambridge, 2002).
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 1.3.
Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night (1594), in The Unfortunate Traveller and Other
Works, ed. J. B. Steane (Harmondsworth, 1972 edn), p. 208; also Shakespeare, King Lear
3.4, for the tyrannous night.
Robert Dingley, Vox coeli, or Philosophical, Historicall and Theological Observations of
Thunder (1658), pp. 61, 67; cf. writers like Joseph Glanvill who though seeing ˜Real™
philosophy as the enemy of such superstition nevertheless saw all the works of nature as
provable signs of God™s existence: Joseph Glanvill, Philosophia pia (1671), pp. 17“23,
48“52; cf. more extensively, Sir Robert Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso, part 2, in Works,
ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1772), vol.VI, pp. 717“96.
10 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
In the serious business of studying seventeenth-century political theory
it has been fairly routine to brush aside much of this cobweb of presuppo-
sitional entanglements, consigning some to a realm called religion, a
residue to superstition. Reading, if we bother, the warnings of Mr Dingley,
we instinctively side with the voice of Cicero on that stormy night before
the assassination of Caesar: ˜men construe things after their own fashion,
clean away from the purpose of the things themselves™. Indeed: but to
abstract a discrete political theory clean away from all such stuff is itself to
construe things after our own presuppositional fashions. In fact, much
language use such as Dingley™s fear of ˜rebellion™ against God™s meteoro-
logical messages made it difficult to maintain any clear-cut domain of the
political. This was especially where Satan was designated a tyrannical
Machiavell and God was ensconced in the office of cosmic rule. Certainly,
the political was at times variously identifiable, but it was not the autono-
mous realm the expression ˜political theory™ has led us to expect, and
which is still sometimes projected as a crucial ˜discovery™ of the early-
modern world (chapter 10). Seeing the world as a text is hardly new.31
Reading the Bible through notions of allegory, typology and figurative
correspondence was often enough a model for imposing order on the rest
of creation, and above all for facilitating the celerity of metaphorical
movement between established linguistic domains. The vocabulary of
office was made to reach from the sun to sunny King James, from the
stomach to the philosopher. The darker side of office-abuse was similarly
elastic, being stretched from the adulterer or neglectful constable, the stage
villain, contumacious counsellor and over-puissant prince, to the incon-
stant moon and the Prince of Darkness.32 By the time I reach the epilogue,
I will have come as close as I can to suggesting that in the name of
historiographical purity we might dispense with the organising notion of
early-modern political theory. It is, no doubt, a proof that purity is not

The argument is continuous but is divided into three broad parts. Part I is
a preliminary survey of the extent and form of office, but, for orientation,
chapter 1 gives an overview, though not a point by point summary,
of parts I and II. That chapter ends by drawing out some of the conse-
quences of a presupposition of office for understanding what we see as

James Franklin, ˜Natural Sciences as Textual Interpretation: The Hermeneutics of the
Natural Sign™, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 44, 4 (1984), pp. 509“20.
Robert Anton, ˜Satyr of the Moone™, in The Philosophers Satyrs (1616), pp. 69“75.
Introduction 11
seventeenth-century political theory and for a range of fashionable lines of
enquiry into it. Enough is said only to show how often unexamined
perspectives can impose an anachronistic structure on the past. Chapter 2
outlines sketchily the ceremonies and solemnities expressive of the
diversity of office, from folkloric survivals to pageants and masques, while
chapter 3 addresses the range of institutionalised social office. Taken
together, these chapters provide only a rough backdrop to the more
extensive rhetorics of office-talk. Dependent largely on extant literature,
they might be tripped over fairly lightly by those expert in social history,
but for what is made of the labours of others. The scene set, chapter 4
outlines the terms and expressions broadly constituting the ethics of office
and its abuse. It is an overview of the vocabulary of office as a whole,
encompassing the ways in which words were used to promote and to
criticise office-holders, applied, or withheld to solidify, endow or evapor-
ate official standing. Chapters 5 and 6 explore the extension of this
vocabulary away from socially instituted offices in order to map the full
range of its deployment with reference to human identity. Within this
context of use, chapter 7 deals with the complementary examples of the
rather differently contested offices of patriot and councillor. In chapter 8,
I examine the function of casuistry in mediating the tensile ethics of office.
The principal example, elaborated in chapter 9, is the case of resistance to
authority. As the enlistment of the vocabulary of office could often be
loose and now appears forced and fancifully metaphorical, part II con-
cludes by explicating some of the problems involved in dealing with
metaphors of office. Figurative use was made plausible by assumptions
about the world, by meta-assumptions about semiotic interconnection,
and in outlining these, the ground is prepared for a reconsideration of the
autonomy of politics thesis and reason of state theory.
Like social office-holding, oath-taking is beginning to attract scholarly
attention commensurate with its importance in the seventeenth century,
but it is yet to be explored within the primary context of the rhetorics
of office. Oath-taking was a vital manifestation of asserted and accepted
office, and so controversies around the notion of an oath reveal much
about the difficulties inherent in an office-driven world. Two short chap-
ters begin part III. Chapters 11 and 12 provide initial orientation by
discussing, respectively, oaths in general and coronation oaths in particu-
lar. Longer chapters are devoted to the most famous of oath-taking
controversies. Chapter 13 is on the oath of allegiance following the Gun-
powder Plot in 1605; chapter 14 concerns the Engagement required after
the establishment of a republic in 1649; chapter 15 focuses on the oath of
allegiance following the Revolution of 1688“9. Were they exhaustive,
these discussions would be intolerably repetitive, not least because the
12 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
vocabulary of office remained remarkably stable, the disputes at the end of
the century echoing much earlier stridency of debate. Rather, part III
marks the shift from a broadly synchronic mapping of the effects of a
presupposition of office to a more diachronic illustration of its workings in
argument. This allows for more attention to the development of specific
doctrines with the resources of the vocabulary; it allows also for more
illustration of the way in which, with the aid of our own presuppositions
about the world, we have attributed theories that the evidence inad-
equately supports. In this way, too, the fairly disparate patterns of illus-
tration necessary for an overview give way to the conventional
concentration on relatively cohesive bodies of evidence. The last three
chapters explore differing aspects of the intractable difficulties of office-
holding and oath-taking in a fissiparous world. Eventually, through deep
dispute and presuppositional breakdown, came change; and alterations in
the presupposition of office and its vocabulary erratically evidence the
erosion of a way of seeing things morally. I do not argue for there being
any decisive scene change appropriate to the structure of a pantomime, or
a teleological narrative driven by reified concepts emerging clearly and
late in full glory. If the ground has been convincingly prepared, the
discussion of the cases of oath controversy should not need the Mahler-
esque crescendo expected of ambitious arguments. An epilogue, however,
outlines some of the salient contrasts between what was once taken for
granted and more familiar ethical postures; it suggests reasons for a
decline in an ethos of office and revisits the consequences of this for
understanding early-modern political language and modern political and
moral enquiry.
Part I

The liquid empire of office
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _An_______ _ _ _ _overview________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes Socrates.
(Thrasymachus (eventually), Plato, Republic)

Enter Thrasymachus, blustering and abusive. Socrates had been asking for a
general definition of justice and for a good while the sophist had been trying
to obtrude himself into the discussion, palpably irritated with the display of
Socratic trickery at the expense of the flaccid Polemarchus. Bursting free of
his restraining companions, and naming his price, he defined justice as the
interest of the stronger.1 Then, having failed to defend his definition, he
appealed to the facts of life. As shepherds exploit their sheep, the strong
exploit the weak. The ruler is close to being a wolf in shepherd™s clothing and
rapacity (pleonexia) is justice or superior to it.2 Thrasymachus™ entry antici-
pated his argument. Socrates inverted the force of the analogy. Shepherds,
as shepherds, must attend to the interests of their flocks. The shepherd™s art,
like any other, is concerned with nothing other than the well-being of its
subject. Therefore, the art of ruling considers the interests of the ruled.
Pleonexia is injustice. In the Homeric and Pindaric senses of the term, the
way (dike) of the wolf is anything but human excellence.3
This may seem an unlikely place to begin a study of the notion of office-
holding in seventeenth-century England. Historically speaking, we associ-
ate the notion of office with Cicero, whose De officiis became a much
translated and cited grammar school text-book.4 And rather than the

Plato, The Republic, trans. Paul Shorey (Cambridge, Mass., 1969 edn), 366B“338C.
Ibid., 343A“344C.
Ibid., 345D; J. L. Myers, The Political Ideas of the Greeks (1927) (New York, 1968),
pp. 174“5.
Peter Mack, Elizabethan Rhetoric in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 2002), lists eleven
editions between 1573 and 1600, p. 23. Robert Whittinton™s translation appeared in 1534,
Nicholas Grimalde™s in 1556 and 1583 and others would follow in the next century. On
Whittinton see Thomas Mayer, Thomas Starkey and the Commonweal: Humanist Politics
in the Reign of Henry VIII (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 20“5.

16 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
relatively stable Ciceronian concept of officium, a sphere of duty, Plato™s
argument gathers round the more nebulous vocabulary of arche and arete.
The former term, notoriously dependent on specific contexts of discourse,
could mean anything from rule, initiation, office and causation to the end
of a rope.5 The latter connoted both practical and artistic skills, and so
encouraged the characteristic metaphorical interplay between the respon-
sibilities and capacities necessary for rule (arche), and the art of the
musician or shepherd. The unexamined life of Platonic metaphors of
excellence generates sympathy with the irritated outburst of Thrasymachus.
In that alone lies an intimation of how the world has changed.
Certainly, something conceptually close to Cicero™s officium was evident
in the philosophical writings of Greek antiquity. Cicero treated Plato and
Aristotle as an authoritative lineage and his vocabulary of the dutiful or
morally right (honestas) is elaborated with reference to the Greek
katorthoma, the absolutely proper or binding for the wise, and kathekon,
what is fitting for one™s office.6 For stoicism generally, right action was the
conduct appropriate to a persona™s realm of duty. This led, at one extreme,
to a moral confidence that the diverse demands of office could be recon-
ciled, at least for the wise, so creating a sort of deontological ethics, or a
natural law rhetoric of universalism from katorthoma. At the other, it
terminated in the relentless scepticism of Carneades (214/13“129 bc)
who was notorious for claiming that there was always a perspective from
which virtue could be seen as vice; the good was contingent on specific
interests, aims and identities, and knowledge was only probable. Cicero™s
assertion, for example, that the fundamental moral claims of sociability,
humanitatis, varied according to circumstance and duty could be de-
veloped in either direction.7 As I shall argue, ethical expectations in
early-modern England continued to move between these polarities,
affording a variety of standards by which those in office could be deemed
guilty of misconduct.
As we might expect on the precedent of Platonic metaphor, sensitivity
to office-abuse extended into the domain of intellectual activity. Plato™s
hostility to sophists had been to their irresponsible use of reason and
language, amounting to the pleonexia of rhetoric. The fate of Alcibiades
seemed to suggest that the greater the potential for the high office of
philosophy, the greater were the consequences flowing from corruption.8
Festering lilies can smell worse than weeds. When Aristotle, Cicero and

Myers, Political Ideas of the Greeks, pp. 139“42.
Cicero, De officiis, trans. W. Miller (Cambridge, Mass., 1913) 1.3.8.
Ibid., 1.59.
Ibid., 1.8.26; Plato, Republic, 491D.
An overview 17
Quintilian reaffirmed the office of the rhetor as central to citizenship,
they did so in full awareness of its susceptibility to Platonic critique. Yet,
it was necessary to find a significant place for rhetoric in a world of social
offices, for the persona always needed to be presented in discourse for a
suitable audience, thus ensuring attention to the persuasive dimension of
language. Eventually, Lucian, in the idiom of Carneades, would turn on
philosophy itself by satirising the tendencies of intellectual sects to
vanity, dogmatism and the ponderous elaboration of absurdity.9 Over
a millennium later, Erasmus, More and then Hobbes would each select-
ively endorse the point, becoming Lucianic philosophers of the abuse of
the offices of the mind.
The argument is not that Plato might nudge aside Cicero as the true
originator of a theory of office, but that both belonged to a world domin-
ated by what may broadly be called an ethics of office, suspending the arts
of contemplation and active engagement in much the same web of judge-
ment. Neither, as I have indicated (see introduction), is the point to reduce
all doctrines of office to one. Rather, despite strong theoretical differences
between Greece and Rome, obscured by the all too easy label of ˜classical™,
and despite the different uses to which Greco-Roman authors might be
put, there was a recognisably similar pattern of expectation and con-
cern.10 Sometimes the early-modern legatees of antiquity exploited differ-
ences within the classical inheritance, sometimes they imagined them and
sometimes they treated Greece and Rome as one.
It was, moreover because different patterns of moral quality and skill
helped distinguish one office from another that the ethics of office was not
exhausted by any posited global pattern of virtue. Consequently, notions
of decorum were meta-moral categories as well as aesthetic and rhetorical
ones. Cicero distinguished a number of distinct personae, which, he sug-
gested, were complementary foci of duty, to family, friends and country.
He also accepted a fourfold delineation of personae, defined respectively
by spheres of human rationality, capacity, status and chosen life. Because
the forms that office might take were not self-evident, for Cicero it was the
supervening duty of the philosopher to make other realms of duty clear.
This was a self-consciously Platonic understanding of the philosopher™s
legislative office.11 Philosophical excellence, however, was taken to be

Lucian, Bion Prasis, Philosophies for Sale, in Works, trans. A. M. Harmon (Cambridge,
Mass., 1960), vol. II, pp. 450“511.
Eric Nelson, ˜The Greek Tradition in Early-Modern Republican Thought™, Ph.D. thesis,
(Cambridge University, 2001), pp. 1“17; Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire:
Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, 1994) for a detailed account of
differences within the Greco-Roman ethical corpus.
Cicero, De officiis, 1.1.2; 1.2.4; 3.2.
18 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
consistent but not coextensive with the virtues of citizenship or paternity.
In this way, Cicero attempted to stabilise and qualify moral modality.
Philosophers would continue to find such a general presentation of their
significance persuasive.12
Many of the threads central of an ethics of office in seventeenth-century
England can be teased from Plato™s Thrasymachan debate. Here, for
example, is an early formulation of a notion of office, an official coales-
cence of arche and arete: ruling is defined by discriminate skills, qualities
of mind, character and responsibility, the over-extension of which is unjust
and tyrannous. Here also is the comforting metaphor of the ruler as
shepherd. To be a shepherd is, in Ciceronian terms, to hold an office in
the same way that to be a ruler, rhetor or citizen is to hold one.13 Plato™s
notion of excellence was not of the human being per se, let alone autono-
mous agent, the ˜Self™, but of something more specific. The Republic was
less about the ˜individual™s™ way of life than the conditions necessary for
the philosopher™s. To be sure, this was a matter of balance, but we create a
modern morality in Plato by replacing the philosopher with the individual,
especially the autonomous Kantianised one.14
Yet, the anachronism of attributing to Plato a quasi-Kantian individu-
alism nevertheless illustrates the variable scope of office. Cicero™s focus
was on a civic aristocracy and the active life of citizenship. Plato™s was
more on the just claims of a tiny aristocracy of the mind, upon the
responsibilities of contemplation. Much of the history of office is of the
interplay of opposing propensities. There is a continuity of attempts to
restrict the burdens of office to a few, leaving a residue of humanity either
as voiceless in a wilderness, or Olympian in their distance from practical
engagements. Conversely, much of this story also involves stretching the
range of office, rendering it remarkably inclusive. As I shall suggest
(chapters 4, 14), this extension can be seen as both horizontal, embracing
comparable phenomena, and vertical, or rectoral, including the hierarch-
ically ordered.15 At one extreme, the resources of office were used to insist
that everyone remained in his or her appointed station, all callings being
given by God. At another, they could be used to affirm that no one was

For the notion of philosophical persona in antiquity, Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way
of Life, ed. Arnold Davidson, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford, 1995).
A point strongly associated with Plato by Thomas Palfreyman, (1610) continuation of
William Baldwin, A Treatise of Morall Philosophie (1557), p. 59v.
Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire, pp. 353“4 on Kantian anticipations in antiquity. The
now dated discussions of Plato as a ˜totalitarian™ and more recent discussions of gender
equality and self-fulfilment are largely predicated on the notion that politics should be
about individuals and their rights.
Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis (Paris, 1625), 1.i.3, p. 35.
An overview 19
without a voice, or above office and so immune to criticism in its terms.16
There was little that might not be made into an office, either by extending
the range of established terms or by acts of metaphorical dexterity. The
shepherd of The Republic gave an inkling of what could be done.
Plato™s symbolic shepherd had a greatly enhanced resonance by the
seventeenth century. Shepherds had attended the birth of Christ, who in
turn was called a shepherd; his followers in high office proclaimed author-
ity by carrying crosiers, symbolic of the flocks that had to be fed. Chris-
tianity had developed within, and extended an ethos of office, and insofar
as this could be cast back onto the pagan philosophers, their voices carried
a vicarious weight.17 By the fifteenth century, Plato™s forms could be
angels, his Good a glimpse of God, allusions to Hades a conception of
Hell. It was, Sir John Harington later reflected, as if he and Virgil ˜had red
the ghospell™.18 Cicero was credited with a conception of God™s office, and
his differentiation of katorthoma from kathekon was analogous to the
New Testament distinction between general and particular callings; the
words calling and vocation would become common synonyms for office.
If angels were allowed to exist, they did so as office-holders under God.
The assimilation of the ancient on Christian terms had, however, also
been transformative: before God all souls were equal. Some ancients, such
as the Pythagoreans and Plato, had been credited with intimations of the
psyche™s immortality, but with Christianity this became a postulate of
theology, especially significant insofar as the soul™s equality before God
had reverberations in social life.19 Indeed, as I shall show (chapter 6),
the very relationship of soul to God was characteristically conjectured
The shepherd became a potent image of office in the western world. In
polemical and occasional literature his evocation was mechanical, even
wearisome. It was vital that the shepherd not abuse his office, neglect his
sheep, let them wander haplessly “ so that sheep might eat men, or mingle
with goats; above all, he must not turn wolf, or tyrant, and gobble
them up himself. The high charge of office was always shadowed by its
tyrannical antithesis, the good shepherd by Gyges, or his ancestor,
the villainous shepherd who stole a ring of invisibility to do untold harm

John Sharp, ˜A Discourse on the Various Callings in Life™, in Works (1754), vol. V, pp. 83,
86“7; Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentleman (1630), pp. 114“19.
Baldwin, A Treatise of Morall Philosophie, prologue, unpaginated, but see also, for
example, pp. 56v“58v.
Sir John Harington, ˜The Comment, Of Hel™, in The Sixth Book of Virgil™s Aeneid (1604),
ed. Simon Cauchi (Oxford, 1991), p. 71.
But see Baldwin and Palfreyman, Treatise (1610), arguing that the better part of ancient
philosophy was monotheistic and to Plutarch is attributed an awareness of equality of
souls before God, pp. 40“1, 52v.
20 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
with impunity.20 The imagery always carried a need for reassurance, as did
the claims of office themselves. In 1633 Thomas Heywood™s pageant for
the Lord Mayor of London included a shepherd and his sheep in St Paul™s
churchyard, and, to the side, a wolf-in-waiting. At the appointed time, the
shepherd handed his authority to the new Lord Mayor, whose office, he
proclaimed, was to care for the citizens as his flock.21 The Thrasymachan
wolf was not scripted to muscle in, but his displacement was the point of
the occasion.
My argument will thus be that an official perspective on the world was
pervasive in early modern Britain in which, despite strains, the ancients
might plausibly be presented as one authoritative voice. For Thomas
Starkey, a Platonic justice ideally lay in the (Ciceronian) ˜offyce & duty™
of each part existing in harmonious reciprocity.22 The dedication to the
1559 edition of The Mirror for Magistrates attributes Ciceronian language
to Plato. That realm is well governed in which the ambitious do not ˜beare
office™. From Plato, argued William Baldwin, ˜you may perceive . . . what
offices are . . . that there is nothing more necessary in a common weale,
than that officers be diligent . . . be forced to do their duties™. The
ambitious ˜seeke not for offices to help others, for which cause offices
are ordained, but . . . to pranke vp themselves™. Little wonder, he con-
tinued, that the Apostles require us to pray for magistrates. The necessity
of office is universal and it is superogatory to go to Greeks, Romans, Jews
or any nation to prove the point. A Ciceronian identity was, then, given to
God, ruling being ˜Gods owne office, yea his chiefe office™.23 At the
beginning of the seventeenth century, Henry Crosse similarly attributed
a Ciceronian dictum to Plato. Man was not born for himself but ˜as Plato
saith, for our friends, parents, country, and such common duties, which
are the finall endes of every mans labour™.24 It proved easy enough to
assimilate Cicero, not as an originator, but as witness to the moral uni-
verse. In De officiis, wrote Nicholas Grimalde, we have ˜the whole trade
how to live among men™.25

Plato, Republic, 359C“E; Francois Hotman, Francogallia (1573), ed. Ralph E. Giesey and
J. H. M. Salmon ( Cambridge, 1972), pp. 138“9, naming Gyges as one of the most famous
of tyrants.
Thomas Heywood, Londini euphoria (London, 1633), sig. B2v.
Thomas Starkey, Dialogue between Cardinal Pole and Thomas Lupset, ed. T. F. Mayer
(London, 1989), p. 39; Mayer, Thomas Starkey, at length.
William Baldwin in The Mirror for Magistrates (1559), ed. Lily B. Campbell (Cambridge,
1938), pp. 63“5; see also Baldwin, Treatise; Baldwin and Palfreyman, Treatise.
Henry Crosse, Vertues common-wealth (1603), sig. R3r; see Markku Peltonen, Classical
Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570“1640 (Cambridge, 1995),
p. 149.
Nicholas Grimalde, Marcus Tullius Ciceroes three Bokes of Duties (1556, 1583), epistle
An overview 21

If it was not generated by the material steady rhythms of mundane
survival, a sense of life as comprising spheres of responsibility was surely
supported by them. Hesiod™s Works and Days was a celebration of the
farmer, whose labour was virtue and whose world was a microcosm of the
arete and arche that would later constitute the Platonic justice of everyman
having his own. The farmer™s duties to the land, livestock and gods are
measured in the decorous response to the seasons. In autumn ˜remember
to hew your timber: it is the season for such work™.26 The meta-value of
appropriateness found here among the hives and olive groves would
sustain a modal morality of office. Early-modern handbooks on hus-
bandry, though less elegiac, nevertheless accept the husbandman as a
persona in office, for farming was a responsibility. The potential for this
specific application of office can be seen in Sir Matthew Hale™s Primitive
Origination of Mankind, where he stretched the responsibilities of steward-
ship to shape an understanding of the relationship between humanity and
creation. Man was but a ˜Bayliff or Farmer™ of this ˜goodly farm™, whose
care was to maintain order among plants and animals. To emphasise the
point, he shifted to another and potent exemplum of office: man is a
˜common priest™ for the rest of visible creation.27
In the ancient world seasonal repetition reinforced the ritual calendars
of religion. These infused the diurnal with the divine;28 and they circum-
scribed the roles of priest and initiate into patterns of complementary
behaviour. The ritual calendar remained important in the early-modern
world. The Catholic Church set down and carefully transmitted The
Offices of the Holy Week itemising individual masses, such as that for
the Thursday after Easter, symbolically reminding the faithful of their
obligation to thank God for the Apostles. Just so, it was part of the office
of the priest to tell them.29 So we have, as it were, prayer wheels within
wheels, an official calendar, describing the offices of belief, and with the

Hesiod, Works and Days and Homerica, trans. H. G. Evelyn-White (Cambridge, Mass.,
1936), 422.
Matthew Hale, The Primitive Origination of Mankind (1677), pp. 370, 372; for similar
imagery of religious husbandry see, for example, John Evelyn, Sylva, Or a Discourse on
Forest-Trees (1664), ˜To the Reader™, B1v, John Locke, ˜Thus I think™, in Peter King, The
Life of John Locke (1830); vol. II; Richard Baxter, The Poor Husbandman™s Advocate
(1691), on which see W. Lamont, Richard Baxter and the Millennium (London, 1979),
pp. 306“8.
Hesiod, Works and Days, 765“820.
The Office of the Holy Week According to the Missall and Roman Breviary (Paris, 1670),
p. 550; The Whole Duty of Man (1659), pp. 49“55.
22 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
Shepherd™s Calendar (1493) a latter day Hesiodic co-ordination of duties
according to seasons and faith.
By referring to the official as pervasive, I am encompassing more than
the philosophically ingrained or theoretically articulated. What seems to
have been often, even casually presupposed can be inferred from a surviv-
ing vocabulary of office through which the world was organised. That is,
we have not strictly speaking a world of offices, but a fairly cohesive
vocabulary through which the world was constructed officially. There
was little that escaped it, not even Samuel Pepys™ foot. Lavatories were
˜houses of office™, and he notes in his Diary discovering an overflow in his
cellar from Mr ˜Turner™s house of office™; John Aubrey records that he was
forced to read in the house of office to avoid his father™s displeasure, and
that the Twisse family™s house of office was haunted.30 To shape the world
with the resources of office required of them a robust flexibility. Not only
was there an abundance of specific offices, but the vocabulary could also
be extended, as Hale exercised that of the husbandman to fashion a
metaphysics, reaching to the sun giving forth its rays. The receptive earth
could be imagined in the office of a nurse, succouring all who live upon
her.31 The salient terms might variously be understood and related, but
from them were formed conflicting doctrines and concepts from the
attempts to control the vocabulary and see the world morally. This study
is intended to show that disputes over office, who might rightly claim it, or
suffer its imposition, and how its vocabularies of justification and accus-
ation might be deployed, constituted the largest part of the development of
what we now see as early-modern moral and political theory.
Expressed with sufficient generality, there is an important continuity in
the image of the shepherd from Socrates to Heywood, irrespective of
whether Heywood read The Republic, or any other piece of philosophy.
But to understand Heywood™s world requires recognition that he did not
read Immanuel Kant, Ronald Dworkin or Jurgen Habermas either. We
need to read past such eminences more than has been our wont if we are to
understand early-modernity as well as we would. We inhabit a different
moral universe but one still suggestive of an earlier ethical regime. This is
sufficiently the case for there to be no obvious terminus for this study.
Although the focus will be on seventeenth-century England, it will be
necessary occasionally to move beyond it.

Samuel Pepys, Diary, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (London, 1970, 1977
edn), vol. I, 20 October 1660, p. 269; John Aubrey, quoted in Oliver Lawson Dick, ˜The
Life and Times of John Aubrey™, in Brief Lives (Harmondsworth, 1949), pp. 25, 353.
Anon., The Gentleman™s Calling (1659, 1673 edn), pp. 3“5.
An overview 23
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the official vision of the
social world was subject to controversy and re-specification. Leibniz, for
example, mounted a relentless attack on Pufendorf™s metaphysical sum-
mation, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century reliance on a
vocabulary of office was being openly ridiculed. Within about fifty years,
Pufendorf™s work fell into disuse. Indeed, it may be that as specific official
identities, that of the lawyer and physician, achieved institutional, even
paradigmatic status, an ethics of office had clear competitors. To an
extent, natural law was naturalised, becoming a matrix of drives and
material conditions that contextualised conduct. Mandeville had indicated
what might be done. And although some formal doctrines of natural law
might still be largely doctrines of office, duty gradually ceased to be
coextensive with morality. Knud Haakonssen has traced natural law
theory from Suarez to Thomas Reid, charting a decreasing reliance on
the duties of office and an increasing insistence on rights. And it is rights
talk, he concludes, that came to ˜flourish, whatever it meant™.32
Similarly, Roy Porter has argued that eighteenth-century England saw a
decisive shift from duty to individual pleasure, with many ethical problems
becoming re-couched in terms of human psychology and happiness. These
seem plausible generalisations, but Porter™s contrast is crude. The English
Enlightenment, he argues, was a discovery of human malleability, a claim
that attributes an undifferentiated Augustinian deontology to an earlier
world. Yet, curiously, he cites Boswell as ˜trying on a whole wardrobe of
personae™, an observation better suited to showing the survival of older,
loosely worn clothes, familiar dress to anyone who still read Pufendorf.33
It would be truer to say that teleological or developmental malleability,
some faith in human perfectibility, gradually complemented, then re-
placed, a modal or official one populated by personae, a world constructed
of Pufendorf™s entia moralia.34 If this is closer to the truth, it may further
be hypothesised that the change in perspective created the illusion of
seeing individuals whole at any one time, and encouraged the eighteenth-
century intellectual preoccupation with historical change and with the

Knud Haakonssen, Natural Law, p. 341. Some natural scientists saw all such traditions of
natural law speculation as figurative and to be distinguished from God™s natural laws as
they applied to materiality; see Peter Anstey, The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (London,
2000), pp. 158“9.
Roy Porter, Enlightenment Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (Harmonds-
worth, 2000), pp. 260“3, 288“9; James Boswell, London Journal, 1762“63, ed. Frederick
A. Pottle (London, 1951), p. 39. Boswell™s recorded personae are, inter alia, poet, lover,
philosopher and client.
Pufendorf, De jure naturae et gentium, libri octo, 1.i.23. p. 21; Richard Johnson, ˜Early
Modern Natural Law and the Problem of the Sacred State™, Griffith University (Ph.D.
Thesis, 2002), pp. 226“32; Hunter, Rival Enlightenments, pp. 263“8.
24 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
singularity of the sensitive self.35 Certainly in a world of offices, identity is
conspicuously partial and rule-bound; a persona is being as and seeing as
and subject to a prior responsibility.
Irrespective of this, my argument ends roughly with the eighteenth
century. By the beginning of the nineteenth, Kantians and their antagon-
ists are providing clear ethical alternatives to the world on which I am
concentrating, while the romantics are offering a contrast to the under-
standing of creative achievement. By the beginning of the twenty-first
century, these alternatives are so much a part of our tacit knowledge of
life that they are easily taken back into an older world “ for Porter and
others Augustine becomes Kant in a cowl. Wherever the evidence is silent,
the past is easily assumed to nod in agreement with our priorities or
assumptions. With increasing distance has come, in turn, the baggage of
misplaced theoretical enquiries, while manifestations of an ethics of office
survive through shrinkage and creative fragmentation; they have become
the public adornment of prestigious professions, uneasily worn in a jost-
ling world of journalistic deontology and common-sense utilitarianism. It
is perhaps symptomatic of a general change that, in the seventeenth
century, the terms ˜officious™ and ˜officiousness™ could commend the
proper exercise of authority.36 And how far an ethics of office has been
buried in the sands of time can be gleaned from standard histories of ethics
in which it is barely visible. In its stead are wastelands strewn with broken
stones awaiting assemblage into an Osimandean image of someone like
Kant.37 ˜Look on my works and despair™ of recognising anything else.
Later writers, who might be placed in a continuous tradition of the ethics
of office as it becomes a defensive doctrine, most notably Bradley and
Weber, look eccentrically isolated as moral theorists.
This study is first of all, then, an overview of a widespread presuppos-
ition of office, an hypothesised ethical habitus and the vocabulary from
which this can be reconstructed. It is not a specific or thorough account of
any particular doctrine of office. It is more concerned with assumptions,
expectations, symbolic displays, claims and accusations and, above all,
with the resource of a shared vocabulary. As a corollary throughout, it
is the adaptive use of a vocabulary that provides the primary context

Porter, Enlightenment Britain, ch. 12.
William Cavendish, ˜Masters and Servants, Horae subsecivae™, Chatsworth MS, D3 p. 39;
A Letter from Leghorn from Aboard the Van-Herring (1679), p. 1; cf. Philip Hunton, A
Treatise of Monarchie (1643), for the pejorative ˜officious propugness™, p. 70.
Alistair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics (London, 1967); J. B. Schneewind, The
Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (Cambridge, 1998); John
Rawls, Lectures in the History of Moral Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); Robert L.
Arrington, Western Ethics: An Historical Introduction (Oxford, 1998).
An overview 25
for discussion, the specific events filtered through it, a secondary one:
secondary, because although reference and semantic relationship are bi-
conditional for meaning, the historian can only know to what written
evidence refers by understanding the interrelationships of vocabulary on
the page. Neither is the first part ordered chronologically, or with respect
to discrete areas of reasoning. Important as these are for understanding
specific meanings, the emphasis is on what was sufficiently held in common
to allow some negotiation and pragmatic transference of language be-
tween discursive domains, and on what was sufficiently shared to with-
stand the buffets of time as specific ideas, concepts and doctrines were not.

To reiterate in the most general propositional form: a presupposition of
office was the expectation that people must behave according to the
requirements of their respective offices. Moral, political and intellectual
judgement was a function of office and the agent was a persona. This may
seem hopelessly abstract and limp; but the ubiquitous presupposition was
wrapped, as it were, in a whole semantic economy, capable of infinite
pragmatic elaboration and adjustment and which, provisionally and in
advance of a fuller discussion in chapter 4, may be outlined as comprising
the following rough sectors.
First, there were the most general classifiers of office: the terms cal-
ling, vocation, trade, sphere, role, condition, profession, sometimes
power, often care, or office. These terms were by no means always syn-
onymous, but their family resemblance is striking, and office shall be
taken as the central term. That we have such an overlaid sector of the
vocabulary is indicative of the importance of the matter in hand, but
the language, as we will see, is as slippery as Mr Pepys™ cellar. What is
often important about having an office as opposed simply to fulfilling a
specific role, as I might if I happen to be giving directions, or having a
drink, is a degree of formality in demarcation, an expectation of social
continuity and the presentation of a persona. In the early-modern world,
these aspects were frequently signalled, by ceremonial rites of passage
into and out of office, of witnessed oaths cementing office-holder to the
burdens of responsibility and frequently requiring semiotic markers to
proclaim the persona. Claimed offices, such as those of poet, patriot or
philosopher, lacking these formalised signs of identity, could be difficult to
sustain, but nothing was water-tight. Any office could be controversial,
because official status carried with it not only (much emphasised) burdens
but serious advantages; its justificatory vocabulary seeped over the whole
landscape of social relationships.
26 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
If we reduce office and persona to modern notions of selves playing
roles, we do disservice to the extensive complexities involved.38 This is not
just because a persona was an embodiment of a moral economy, but also
because we create the impression of some authentic residuum of selves and
individuals left over from a limited, usually political world of office. Once
hypothesised, these are taken as being available to us as causative agents
of social role-play. From there the imposition of a modern distinction
between the public (official) and the private (non-official) becomes almost
inescapable. My concern, then, is not with a core concept of office (say
kingship or priesthood) but with explaining configurations of vocabulary
and the character of argument about and beyond institutional formality.
To encompass within the ambit of office was to offer a moral, civic and
often legal presence. In this light, it may be argued that the enlargement of
the political nation, or the democratisation of the polity, is to be dis-
covered less in the expansion of the franchise than in the rectoral extension
of office.
Second, we have the vocabulary designating the moral and functional
content of offices. Evocation of office entailed statements and presump-
tions about the status of any office-holder: the (adjectival) qualities rele-
vant to its sphere of operation. These varied in specificity but constituted
the touchstones of an ethics of office. The quality of love was central to
discussions of parenthood and friendship, not to apprenticeship, and so
proper conduct in one office could be improper elsewhere. It was part of
the office of the apprentice to sweep out the shop and to avoid language
like ˜dumb found™ and ˜oddsbodikins™ (as one would).39 Soldiers might be
permitted to curse. It is at this level of specificity that we shift from ethics
to what are now styled codes of conduct. Also entailed was an adverbial
vocabulary of action. Accommodating notions of honestas and utilitas
provided the most general criteria for proper conduct. Under their auspices
may be placed specific affirmations of duty and derivative liberty.
Delineation of any office could only be achieved in relative association
with adjacent spheres of social activity. Rationale or telos and limit to
office were each given prominence depending on circumstances; the ques-
tion of rationale was likely to be emphasised in defending actions, the
notion of limit in trying to control its personae (chapter 14). Relational
identity between offices was reinforced by widespread understandings of
the nature of definition. Whereas real definitions purported to label things
with words, nominal definitions established conceptual and linguistic

Braddick, State Formation, pp. 76“8, 83.
Anon., The Whole duty of an Apprentice (1755), pp. 36.
An overview 27
relationships and protocols for word use. These were particularly import-
ant, because the immediate subjects of moral discourse were personae,
fashioned through words, more than physical beings to which we might
simply refer. The distinction between types of definition was most clearly
worked out in medieval logic, but something approaching nominal defin-
ition also goes back to book 1 of The Republic. There it was argued that it
ceases to be just to return a knife to its rightful owner if he is transformed
into a madman; and Thrasymachus asserted that ineffective rulers are
unworthy of the name. In context, this was just fast thinking, but should
be seen against a background in which the end, telos, defined the persona.40
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in a fairly routine if oppor-
tunistic fashion, words were often understood nominally; they were taken
as having meaning in mutually defining conjunction or opposition. Ruling
therefore entailed a delineating notion of people to be ruled.41 Similarly, a
king was a proper ruler who should be obeyed. With slight extension, this
gave rise to the common maxim that the king could do no wrong; but this
did not necessarily mean that the person (physical being) holding the office
was beyond criticism.42 Those most hostile to a monarch might affirm the
maxim. They might employ it, obviously enough, in the process of
attacking counsellors as surrogate victims. This was one of the burdens
of that ambiguously buffering office (chapter 7). Less obviously, the
maxim understood nominally meant only that criticism required a con-
trasting notion to kingship. The king could do no wrong, but the tyrant
could do no right (chapter 9). This sort of meta-belief about word use
made central the question of what was to be considered part of the
vocabulary of office and it kept vibrant issues of moral re-description.
If, in contrast, we assume a more matter of fact or real understanding of
definition, or arbitrarily superimpose our own conceptual vocabulary on
the evidence when purporting simply to be describing it, we will miscon-
strue what was said. Such practice has made it easy to construct fixed
ideologies from what was more flexible, a point directly relevant to the
˜absolutism™ of James VI&I (see chapter 13). Nominal definition, then,
sustained the understanding of people as pure personae; identity in office
was predominantly a nominal identity. Pufendorf abridged a wide range

R. B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought (New York, 1973 edn), pp. 457“9: The
topos of the return of the knife remained current in later English discussions of the ethics
of office; see Cromartie, The Constitutionalist Revolution, ch. 2, quoting John Hales.
The Case of Oaths Stated, in State Tracts (1705), vol. I, p. 345.
Janelle Greenberg, The Radical Face of the Ancient Constitution: St Edward™s Laws in
Early Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, 2001), p. 192, assumes that the maxim
stopped any criticism or rebellion.
28 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
of understandings when he wrote that a moral entity should not be
confused with a physical one; that the impress of a moral (that is official)
status on a physical being does not give an indelible character.43 His
posited entia moralia supported also the almost routine belief that offices
made sense only in interrelationship. The words in a vocabulary were
more than just contingent labels.
Sometimes there were attempts to rank offices in order to avoid contra-
dictory duties, and an awareness that responsibilities might collide was
persistent throughout the period under discussion. The fear of incommen-
surable offices simultaneously held was a spur to Kant™s destruction of
office by treating ethical activity as only one universal world of duty.44
Most pertinently for this study, there is occasional appeal to love of
country as over-riding or resolving conflicting duties (chapter 7). Yet
asserted hierarchies of office were often ad hoc and it was the major
function of casuistry to negotiate the tensions, conflicts and uncertainties
of the ethics of office (below and chapter 8). Its effective occlusion from
histories of ethics is a major aspect of the warping effects of later moral
An office, however, was not simply identified in reference to its neigh-
bours; temporal continuity was vital, and imposed on the persona a duty to
the office itself. So there was a symbolic economy in ceremonies proclaim-
ing entry into office; the repetitions involved might be taken to express the
expectation of continuous identity. The advantages of construing office in
terms of continuity hardly need stressing when dealing with a monarch,
where the fiction of immortality attaching to the persona could counteract
the disruption of the death of a physical being. Thus notions of office
required sophisticated understandings of change, allowing for continuity
despite contingent physical mutation. Medieval writers such as Baldus and
Accursius, relying on distinctions of form and content had seen office as
analogous to ship repair. The ship remains the same though its decking is
renewed. The office was thus always a partially reified identity. Such
expressions of conceptual stability provided the logical assurance under-
lying Hooker™s theory of a church (chapter 13), Selden™s of the common
law and even of ˜David Hume™s Broom™.46 The principle of continuity is
also particularly crucial in comprehending the office of the aristocrat

Pufendorf, De jure, 1.i.23, p. 21.
Hunter, Rival Enlightenments, ch. 6.
Schneewind, Invention of Autonomy, mentions casuistry only on p. 395.
Kantorowicz, The King™s Two Bodies, pp. 293“5; Greenberg, The Radical Face, p. 33.
According to the anecdote, the step-sweeper at Hume™s club argued with the philosopher
that he had always used the same broom despite having replaced all its parts.

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