ńňđ. 11
(âńĺăî 14)



Ascham, Bounds and Bonds, p. 11.
Perez Zagorin, A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution (1954; New
York, 1977), pp. 62–7, esp. 63, 70.
For recent examples, see Conal Condren, Thomas Hobbes (New York, 2000), pp. 116–
17; Barber, Regicide, pp. 188–90, on the ‘defactoists’; and even Burgess, ‘Usurpation,
Obligation and Obedience’.
Skinner, ‘Conquest’; the view is more nuanced in the revised version in Visions of
Politics, vol. III, pp. 290–3.
Anon. (Nathaniel Ward?), A Discolliminium, Or Reply to a Late Book called Bounds and
Bonds (1650), p. 1; Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, title page; W. S., The Constant
Man’s Character (1650), pp. 69–70; Anon., The exercitation answered (1650), esp. ch. 4;
the Augustinian colouring to this is clear in R. F., Mercurius heliconicus. Or the result of
a safe conscience (1651): all crowns began as robberies.
296 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
of conquering force. It was, rather, those refusing the Engagement who
took this stand and did so by insisting on a strong prejudicial dichotomy
between might and right; rightful rule was not ‘ambulatory’ but usurpers
might have to be accepted de facto.33 In contrast, subscribers could re-
tort that such de facto compliance actually undermined the office of rule
by a ‘lingering consumption’;34 and some argued that the distinction
between de facto and de jure exercise of rule was spurious.35 There was
always a moral obligation to God’s offices.36 We might even conclude that
modern scholars, in swallowing the refusers’ formulation of the issues,
have simply attached the right label, ‘de facto’, to the wrong people, but
the problem goes deeper.
The principal point of dispute between the subscribers and refusers
may be clarified with help of an analytic distinction between the vertical
and horizontal extension of office. The vertical (that process by which
every man might be accorded an office) has already been discussed. What
is important about the subscribers, however, was the attempt to achieve,
as it were, a horizontal extension from established rule, giving moral
sanction to any rule that could be placed under the auspices of office. As
John Rocket put it, we must obey for our soul’s sake, for we are con-
fronted with ‘Error personae, non Officii, The Person not the Power’.37
Only tyrants press a mere title, when the office is otherwise occupied.38
It was on this basis that the subscriber Joseph Caryl was adamant. The
very idea of de facto government was logically invalid: as God’s office
requires obedience, it can only be to those fulfilling it, and should they be
killed, like officers in an army, others must replace them.39

Edward Gee, An exercitation (1650), pp. 1–10; Gee, Divine Right and Original, pp.
15–18; see also A Plea; Anon., The Westminsterian Iunto’s Self-Condemnation (1649), p. 7;
J. Reynalds (?), The Humble Proposals of Several Learned Divines within the Kingdom
Concerning the Engagement (1650), pp. 2–3.
Anon., Memorandums, p. 8; see also Anon., A word of councel to the disaffected (1651),
‘who swares to future powers, doth strife increase;/ who swares to present is a friend of
peace’, p. 2.
For example, Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, ch. 4, p. 40; N. W., A Discourse
Concerning the Engagement, or The Northern Subscribers Plea (1650), refers to de jure
and de facto only with respect to keeping oaths and indicates that one amounts to the
other, p. 16.
Anon., Conscience Puzzel’d (1651), in Malcolm, Struggle for Sovereignty, vol. I, p. 448;
Malcolm, presumably following Julian Franklin, John Locke and the Theory of
Sovereignty (Cambridge, 1975), attributes this to George Lawson. This may by chance
be right, but no evidence has been offered and Franklin’s reasoning is erroneous.
Rocket, Christian Subject, p. 119.
John Dury, Disengaged Survey (1650), p. 8.
Joseph Caryl, A Logical Demonstration of the Lawfulness of Subscribing to the New
Engagement (1650), p. 3; Anon., Memorandums, p. 7.
Engagement with a free state 297
This horizontal extension made the range of office central and re-
inforced the objectification of a concept of magistracy. It was analogous
to resorting to the court of equity. When the specific obligations of any
office were contentious, its defining purpose came to the fore.40 Here the
protective function of rule was isolated, as modern scholars have re-
cognised, but less as an end in itself than as the necessary condition for
godly living. So protection and obedience were held to be morally, even
theologically complementary. God requires us to live in peace, therefore
protective office has to be continuous despite contingent occupation.
Such an insistence, sometimes isolated from its ultimately theological
rationale, was hardly unprecedented. Edward II had been warned of the
higher obligations to office per se in the Barons’ Declaration of 1307; it
had been enunciated as a principle in ‘Calvin’s Case’; it is characteristic of
Jacobean writers deemed absolutist; and at the time of the controversy, the
royalist Dr Henry Hammond insisted on a firm distinction between power
and those who exercised it. Some of us, remarked the subscriber N. W.,
have taken in this doctrine from the Schools. Others might have taken it
from King Lear: ‘A dog’s obey’d in office’.41
On no side was a moral obligation to office as such ever denied, but
whereas the subscribers traced an ultimately theological purpose for it, the
refusers could qualify, or nominally transform the moral imperatives of
obedience. They preferred locutions like submission, passive obedience, or
suffering to obedience as expressive of a full moral reciprocity. Instead, the
refusers’ alternative emphasis was on the limits of magistracy; without
understanding these, conscientious commitment was meaningless. Magis-
tracy straying beyond its bounds was morally self-destructive. They would
not accept a Rocket-like separation of personae from officii. But it was
also the subscribers’ emphasis on the divine function of rule that armed
the refusers with their most effective consequentialist riposte: allegiance to
‘de facto’ occupation of office is destabilising.42
Further differences were gathered around the fault-lines of end or
rationale versus limitation. For subscribers, the importance of telos di-
minished the relevance of violent origins; protective exercise of office
was what mattered – something very different from tyranny, widely agreed
to be protective of nothing.43 For the refusers, tyrannous origin was

J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Political Thought in the Cromwellian Interregnum’, in P. S. O’Connor
and G. A. Woods, eds., W.P. Morrell, A Tribute: Essays in Early Modern History
(Dunedin, 1973), pp. 22–3.
Hammond, A Vindication, p. 30, an argument not addressed to the issues of engagement;
N. W., A Discourse, p. 8; Anon., Memorandums, p. 8; Shakespeare, King Lear 4.6.
Gee, Exercitation, pp. 12–13, 81.
Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth; the very term usurpation is slanderous, ch. 5, p. 41.
298 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
crucial: foundational de facto force contaminated subsequent exercise of
office, so the republic was condemned.44 With the relationship between
tyranny of origin and exercise being glossed so differently, opposing
conclusions were drawn from the brassy mouth of providence. As Caryl
argued, because both sides in the Civil Wars had appealed to God, the
result was reasonably read as providential, underscoring His moral re-
quirement to obey; the Israelites had obeyed David after the death of
Saul.45 For the refusers, William Prynne retorted that English history
was full of providential punishment for rebels, and a number of those
who had taken the Engagement had suddenly died and one had committed
suicide: Caryl, take note.46 The arguments were never clinching on either
side. The shared assumption that the ruling office was God-given for
protection insufficiently overcame what was at times un dialogue
de sourds – allegiance to office opposed to allegiance to the right personae
only within their sphere. The normally complementary aspects of office,
function and limit became for a while competing doctrines, nudging
each other as they passed in the night, and having contact more with
respect to the imponderables of consequence than principle. The pro-
blem of aliud distinctio, aliud separatio when dealing with persona and
office remained irresolvable. Once the contest over the moral category of
office is revealed as common ground, the division between pragmatism
versus principle, de facto versus de jure can be seen to have distorted
genuine differences almost as much as the trivialising banality of might
versus right. In a word, there was no de facto camp of theorists but there
was, as will become evident in the following chapter, an increasingly
shared de facto idiom of accusation; de facto acquisition of office and
merely de facto submission to it countered each other across an ethical
chasm. Selective reliance on these confused echoes has helped create the
myth of an emerging ideology.

A second less sustained aspect of the argument was a further variation
on the clash of spiritual and temporal offices after 1606. Many of those
who agonised over the Engagement were ministers, displaying a clerical

Anon., An enquiry (1649); Anon., The Westminsterian Iunto’s Self-Condemnation, p. 6,
insisted on a people cozened not conquered.
Caryl, Logical Demonstration, pp. 5–6; also N. W., Discourse, p. 7. Anon., Conscience
Puzzel’d, p. 438. The centrality of providence was first emphasised by Wallace, ‘The
Engagement’, pp. 384–5, but most significantly explored by Burgess, ‘Usurpation,
Obligation and Obedience’.
William Prynne, A Brief Apologie for all Non-Subscribers (1650), pp. 2–6, 12–13.
Engagement with a free state 299
persona and exercising spiritual office in giving guidance. At what point,
however, did this become meddling in matters of state? The admonitory
Hugh Latimer might well have insisted that there should be no ‘mingle
mangle’ between the dues of God and Caesar; but who was to distinguish
mingle from mangle?47 In the Engagement controversy we find warnings
by divines, especially by the prolific John Dury, about self-discrediting
clerical interference. The civil magistrate had authority for this world;
the priest’s was just a watchman’s office over the soul, and in exceeding
their calling priests worked against Christ’s model, and caused disruption;
and please, gentlemen, some public decorum, or no one will take us
seriously.48 It was much in the idiom of Richard Sheldon’s earlier warn-
ings to Rome. There were laymen who re-enforced the point, not without
unseemly glee. There was a ‘pack of old puritans’ on both sides argued
one; Dury himself was an example of exploded credibility, concluded
another.49 ‘Clergy men’, wrote Albertus Warren (gent) always ‘neigh after
new quarrells’, seeing themselves as ‘Gods little special ones’, standing in
their pulpits, doing evil that good may come of it; but discretion is superior
to their authority, for the ‘Parsons anger is not as the breath of Gods
nostrils’.50 When Nedham also applied the conventional honorific ‘(gent)’
to his authorship of The Case for the Commonwealth, it carried this
implicitly anti-clerical force. Battle-lines may even have been drawn be-
tween the counselling offices of priest and lawyer. As one tract surmised,
ministers might not take the Engagement because lawyers would.51 Con-
versely, the author of The Plea was adamant: we have no wish to move
beyond our sphere but within it we will move freely.52 Ministers will be
discredited as ‘men of ductile spirits and prostituted consciences’, con-
demned as equivocators should they be forced to subscribe to an ensnaring
oath.53 It is not difficult to understand the variable mix of defensiveness
and hostility. Presbyterian clerics had been foremost among those lifting
their hands to Heaven in the days of The Solemn League (a point relished
by their enemies);54 and there is more than a whiff of disingenuousness in

Latimer, Fruitful Sermons, fol. 94v.
John Dury, A Case of Conscience Resolved (1649), pp. 1–2, 5–6, 10–12; J. D. (John
Dury), Just Re-Proposals to Humble Proposals (1650), pp. 18–19, 21; Anon., Consider-
ations, pp. 11–13, 25.
Anon., A Pack of Old Puritans (1650), p. 1–2; Anon., The Time Serving Proteus . . .
Uncas’d to the World (1650).
Warren, Royalist Reform’d, pp. 16–22, 26, 29–30.
Anon., A Discolliminium, p. 40; see also Warren, Royalist Reform’d, chs. 2–3.
Gee, A Plea, p. 5; see also Anon., A Brief Answer to the Late Resolves of the Commons
(1649); the Commons as constituted has no authority, p. 3, and must stop interfering
with priestly office, pp. 4–6.
Reynalds (?), Humble Proposals, pp. 4, 5, 6.
Anon., The Westminsterian Iunto’s Self-Condemnation, p. 3.
300 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
so many clerics wearing their pondering consciences on the preambles of
their pamphlets. When we get to the meat of Gee’s Exercitation, we hear
not the voice of considered moral judgement, but implacable hostility to
Cromwell, thinly disguising the desire for continued hostilities. It was a
case of what Dury considered priestly obtrusion. Conversely, the unctuous
Rocket, displaying pious humility through a prayerful prolegomenon,
unfrocks himself as an egregious Cromwellian.55
One feature of debate is that it brought abstruse nostrums down to
earth. For it was conducted not by people calmly reflecting on bloody
origins in antiquity: ‘So when they did design/ The Capitol’s first Line/
A bleeding Head where they begun,/ Did fright the Archetects to
run’.56 Rather, it was between those who had seen the heads bobbing
under the bridge. The advice was for ordinary people suddenly living
under new princes; it approached the obverse of Machiavellian casuistical
coinage.57 But what sort of persona had authority to advise? Issues of
office have moved from Christendom and the swords of kings and popes
to people in the parlour and parish church. Between them, Francis Rous’s
Lawfulness, and the anonymous Grand Case for Conscience did most to
establish the terms of debate and can now be used to flesh out the

Rous’s contribution followed hot on parliament’s Declaration and was
re-printed the following year, no doubt to encourage taking the exten-
ded Engagement. The Declaration had attempted to justify the tyranni-
cide of Charles, and implicitly accepted that re-shaping the office of rule
to avoid tyranny was itself beyond the normal compass of law. Rous’s
complementary argument was an elegantly structured casuistic exercise,
moving from theological axioms to the present situation, concluding with
a resolution to the problem of reneging on The Solemn League. He argued
that although the change in government might be believed unlawful,
‘yet it may be lawfully obeyed’.58 Lawful obedience might mean mere

Gee, Exercitation, p. 66; Rocket, Christian Subject, at length.
Marvell, ‘Ode’, lines 67–70.
Irene Coltman, Private Men and Public Causes (London, 1962), p. 199, makes this point
about Ascham; Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, refers obliquely to the newness of
many princes with reference to Machiavelli, ch. 4, p. 35; Mazzeo, ‘Cromwell as Davidic
King’, pp. 29, 42–5; but the qualification is crucial given the moral tone of debate.
The significance of Rous is made particularly clear by Skinner, ‘Conquest’, in Visions of
Politics, pp. 291–6; Francis Rous, The Lawfulnes of Obeying the Present Government
(1649), re-printed in Malcolm, Struggle for Sovereignty, vol. I, p. 396.
Engagement with a free state 301
compliance to a ‘de facto’ power, or justly required.59 It was the moral
claim that Rous set out to establish.60
All power was of God, and at Romans 13 there was an injunction to
obey the higher powers. The reliance on this had an irresistible attraction,
for it had been prominent in royalist Civil War polemic. Now it expressed
the fundamental principle of official reciprocity and intimated continuity
despite the execution of Charles. Power as office clothed persons in
authority.61 Rous relied on the familiar distinction between the acquisition
and exercise of this authority, arguing that the rule of the Emperor
Claudius, beginning in violence, was nevertheless legitimate for its exer-
cise.62 In England, until the sixteenth century, barely three monarchs in a
row came to power ‘by true lineal succession’, yet they were obeyed.63
Understandably so, for, Rous insists in a shift to consequentialism, con-
fusion is even worse than tyranny. We need always to consider, then, ‘the
maine end of Magistracie, to live a peaceable life in godlinesse and hon-
esty’.64 As he cites James VI&I, the king exists for the commonwealth not
the commonwealth for the king, so we must not destroy the end for the
means. An appeal to utilitas and the point of any form of rule thus
supports the initial theological axiom.65
Rous then turns directly to the sticking point of oaths. They are nor-
mally sacrosanct, but ‘to impossible things there is no obligation’.66 We

See also Anthony Ascham (?), A Combate between Two Seconds (1649); Anon., A briefe
resolution of that grand case of conscience (1650), pp. 5–6; Caryl, Logical Demonstration,
p. 5; the somewhat chaotic Conscience Puzzel’d shifts between these senses of lawful
within a few paragraphs, pp. 438 and 440–1.
Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, chs. 2–5; and especially Caryl, Logical
Demonstration, pp. 1–3.
The argument had been attacked by John Canne, The Golden Rule (1649), in ways that
might have forewarned Rous of what was to come. Rous, Lawfulnes, pp. 396, 399; see
also Rocket, Christian Subject, pp. 115–20; Anon., Exercitation Answered, chs. 3–4;
Anon., A word of councel: God demands obedience to the higher powers and rewards
commitment with peace, p. 2.
Rous, Lawfulnes, p. 396; see also Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, chs. 1–2 for
biblical and Roman examples of dubious acquisition.
Rous, Lawfulnes, pp. 398, 399; see also Ascham, Combate; Lewis de Moulin, The Power
of the Magistrate (1650); Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, chs. 1–2, ch. 4, pp. 37–8.
Rous, Lawfulnes, pp. 400–1; see also Rocket, Christian Subject, p. 116; Dury, Disengaged
Survey, on the text of Romans 12: 18; Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, ch. 3, pp.
30–1, ch. 5, pp. 41–2.
See also, for example, Ascham, Bounds and Bonds (1649); Anthony Ascham, Reply to a
Paper (1650), p. 50; N. W., Discourse; Dury, Considerations (1649); Nedham, Case of the
Commonwealth, Appendix, pp. 135–9; de Moulin, Power of the Magistrate, accepts this
would include the rule of the Turk, pp. 29–31.
Rous, Lawfulnes, p. 401; Dury, Disengaged Survey, p. 10; Richard Saunders, Plenary
possession (1651); John Dury, Conscience eased (1651); Ascham, Bounds and Bonds,
pp. 38–66; Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, ch. 5.
302 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
cannot keep that part of The Solemn League touching the king, but we
should keep that concerning the purity of religion and requiring obe-
dience to Charles’s heirs and successors. Obedience to Henry VII as the
successor to Richard III was a clear precedent.67 Thus, the contradictions
between The Solemn League and the Engagement are exaggerated. As a
piece of presumptive casuistry, Rous’s argument may be summarised as
an enthymeme: rule is ordained by God; whoever rules fulfils the main
end of the office, therefore we should obey; so too with oaths in micro-
cosm. We can swear only to what is possible; therefore, having sworn,
we should keep what we can. In sum, acquisition of power may be
de facto, exercise is not, so allegiance to office in exercise is a moral,
not a de facto requirement.
It was this erasure of a concept of de facto exercise that provoked the
author of The Grand Case. Obedience to the unlawful is unethical. Rous
has loosened our sense of obligation by ignoring the crucial question – by
what right can our inheritance be changed?68 Any justification in terms of
convenience is unacceptable.69 Convenience gives a thin guarantee that
soldiers will be paid.70 Having set the scene pragmatically, the author
follows the development of Rous’s case. Romans 13 has been misunder-
stood.71 Obedience to higher powers means only properly constituted
power. Of course, the law of nature allows compliance as self-defence.72
He himself would submit to the conquerors.73 A wife, however, is obliged
to obey her lawful husband; she has no duty to a murdering impostor,
although she may be forced to submit de facto.74 Moral obligation,
therefore, assumes a limit to action within an office. It follows that the
extension of the range of office leaves us with ‘the greatest inlet to tyranny
. . . and the speediest means of destroying states that could be invented: for
none should govern . . . any. . . longer than their swords . . . could bear

Rous, Lawfulnes, pp. 401–3.
Anon., The Grand Case for Conscience Stated (1649), re-printed in Malcolm, Struggle for
Sovereignty, vol. I, pp. 408–33; see also Gee, A Plea, pp. 21–39.
This would not bother Samuel Eaton, A Resolution of Conscience (1650), pp. 7, 8–48,
Samuel Eaton, The Oath of Allegiance and the National Covenant Proved to be
non-Obligatory (1650), p. 2; cf. Anon., ‘An Answer to a Paper’, in Eaton, The Oath,
pp. 10–18; Edward Gee, A vindication (1650).
Anon., Grand Case, p. 408.
See also Nathaniel Ward (?), A Religious Demurrer (1649), postscript; Gee, Exercitation;
and, at greater length, Divine Right, b3, pp. 5ff.
Anon., Grand Case, pp. 414, 409–11, 419; Anon, ‘An Answer to a Paper’, in Eaton, The
Oath, p. 17; Anon., Second part of the Religious Demurrer, pp. 2–3.
Anon., Grand Case, p. 417; see also Anon. (Robert Sanderson), A Resolution of
Conscience in Answer to a Letter Sent with Mr. Ascham’s Book, in Works, p. 3; Anon.,
Second part; Gee, A Plea, pp. 27–9; Anon., ‘An Answer to a Paper’, p. 7.
Anon., Grand Case, p. 410; Anon., ‘An Answer to a Paper’, p. 7.
Engagement with a free state 303
them up.’75 But right, the author insists, is not so easily extinguished.
The imprisoned husband, unable to fulfil connubial duty, remains a
Rous’s historical analogues are dismissed: that the Romans submitted
to emperors tells us nothing about right. Rome was never sworn ‘to a
particular government as we have been. Things in themselves indifferent
are made necessary, when by an oath engaged to.’ The legendary instabil-
ity of English monarchy existed within a sort of constitutional structure
that accommodated deviation from strict primogeniture.77 But now we
see only ‘a minor part relict’ of previous legality and the country governed
by ‘bustling Colonels’, confronting ‘committees with their arguments by
their sides’.78
As for oaths, circumstances can make keeping them impossible, a case
hardly to be pleaded by those who first destroyed their monarch. A
woman is not released from her marriage bonds by murdering her hus-
band. We were obliged to obey the entire Covenant; if we swore to all when
only part could be kept, that itself is a sin.79 And, manifestly, the obedi-
ence to the king’s heirs and successors did not encompass anyone who
should succeed.80 The implicit injunction throughout is to avoid moral
obfuscation through the misuse of the Bible to support a usurping re-
gime. Such confusion creates the illusion of a clear conscience, which
can only have the practical consequence of perpetuating instability. Rous
had urged that the scope of government must always be considered, being
a means to the ends of peace and godliness. The author responds that
‘he that destroys the means in its tendency to the end, will scarcely pre-
serve that end’. Rous’s overall emphasis on the conditions needed for a
godly life is countered by a similar insistence on the conditions necessary
for a moral commitment to those in office. He finishes his refutation
with the motto of anti-casuistic rectitude: let us not do evil that good
may come of it.81 When de facto possession displaces office held de jure,
de facto compliance is all that can be expected.

Anon., Grand Case, pp. 412, 420; Anon., Second part, p. 6; Gee, Exercitation, pp. 12–14;
see also, at length, Anon., Trayters deciphered (1650).
Anon., Grand Case, p. 420; also Anon., A Copie of a Letter (1650), p. 5.
Anon., Grand Case, p. 414; see also Anon., Second part.
Anon., Grand Case, pp. 416, 422–3; also Gee, Exercitation, p. 6; Anon., The
Westminsterian Iunto’s Self-Condemnation, pp. 2–3.
Anon., Grand Case, pp. 425, 424, 427; see also Anon., Second part; Sanderson,
Resolution; Gee, Vindication; and Anon., A Plea for Non-Subscribers to the Engagement
(1650), pp. 39–66.
Anon., Grand Case, p. 429; much the same position was adopted by Richard Vines and
Richard Baxter, see Lamont, Richard Baxter, p. 173, and n.
Anon., Grand Case, pp. 420, 433 (Romans 3: 8); cf. Anon., Conscience Puzzel’d, p. 440;
Anon., Copie of a Letter, p. 6.
304 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England

There is an unusual piquancy to Anthony Ascham’s Confusions. It
repaired the sort of case put forward by Rous, and the Commonwealth
rewarded its author with a diplomatic mission beyond its protective
reach to Spain. Ascham had presciently remarked on the ‘ticklish and
deplorable’ conditions ‘of those who live upon frontiers’.82 Almost on
arrival, he was murdered by exiled royalists who had entered his lodg-
ings as merchants.83 The Confusions is given a double relevancy to this
work by being re-printed, as a ‘seasonal’ commentary on the Revolu-
tion of 1688–9.84 Its first and second editions place it alongside Leviathan
and the Two Treatises, respectively, with each of which it has decided
Ascham’s argument provides an emphatic horizontal extension of the
office of rule. Any government is a contingent superstructure upon the
community. As he quotes Augustine, ‘what matters it under whose gov-
ernment we, who are hourly expiring, Live, if they, (who ere they be that
rule over us) command us not in Impious things?’85 Consider rather the
protective purpose of rule allowing a peaceful and godly life.86 The safety
of the people being the supreme law, they have a reciprocal duty to obey.87
Rule, then, the condition for all social goods and godly living, is a locus
of authority, and by virtue of that is to be obeyed.88 As expedience agrees
with this moral requirement, the perplexities concerning obedience are
assuaged.89 Ascham accepts that the violences in the acquisition of office
do not transmute into virtue, a point conceded to the refusers; but a firm
distinction between might and right is irrelevant in need to escape a state
of war. We do so by accepting a ‘narrower swing of Liberty’ under some
form of rule than might otherwise be enjoyed.90 Society, as it were,

Ascham, Confusions, p. 44.
Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs, 3 vols. (Vivay, 1698–9), vol. I, p. 291.
Ascham, Confusions (1649, 1689), Advertisement.
Ibid., pp. 163, 158, 134, cf. Augustine, De civitate Dei, bk. 5, ch. 17.
Ascham, Confusions, p. 125; see also pp. 21, 24–5, 107–8; Ascham, Combate, p. 13. This
hardly suggests the meaningless universe or anti-social attitudes Coltman oddly
attributes to him in Private Men, p. 208.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 115, 107, 125–6, 112; see also Ascham, Combate, p. 15;
Ascham, Bounds and Bonds, p. 24. It is misleading to say, as Coltman has, that rulers and
ruled have no shared interests and inhabit different moral universes, Private Men, p. 201,
if they are joined in reciprocal obligations.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 10, 32, 131, 136, 151–2; it makes no sense to call Ascham
‘anti-authoritarian’, Coltman, Private Men, pp. 203, 234.
Ascham, Confusions, p. 154; see also Rocket, Christian Subject, p. 115; Nedham, Case of
the Commonwealth, ch. 3.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 33, 24–5, 108, 109.
Engagement with a free state 305
converts a destructive natural liberty into the liberty of office entailed in
relationships of government. We are driven to this by the need for self-
preservation: everything inside the skin does its best to save it.91 So, too,
accepting a new rule is not an open door to instability; the people for and
on behalf of whom Ascham writes want only peace and quiet.
Unlike Rous, Ascham does not burn his fingers on the text of Romans
13. Neither does he avoid the problem of tyranny, setting down criteria to
delineate effective rule from tyrannous excess. One criterion lies in the
theological imperative to lead a godly life, interference with which is
contrary to the end of government. This informs the whole discussion.
As Ascham insists, quoting James VI&I and the oath of allegiance, obedi-
ence was never against ‘faith and salvation to soules’.92 Additionally, there
is an excursus into the notions of money and property. It contradicts the
view that the new regime was a tyranny of exercise and the sequestration
of malignants’ property was theft of the pudding. Refusers played upon
the relationship between theft and tyranny; but the attention Ascham
gives to property may also have been occasioned by the demonisation of
the Levellers as wanting to destroy all property relationships.93
The natural condition makes meum and tuum meaningless, so society
introduces variable rules of ownership and the attendant institution of
money. Subsistence property is the equivalent to life, and the function of
rule is to protect life and property in this minimal sense. Invasion of pro-
perty thus suffices as a criterion for distinguishing protective office from
tyranny.94 Surplus property is different. Only God owns all; we are as
stewards in the world and balancing our right to subsistence is our duty
to give charitably – points usually insisted upon by divines. In extremity,
the necessitous poor are effectively in a state of war and may take what
they need.95 Government, then, having duties to everyone under its pro-
tection, may alter contingent property relationships to that end. The
difference between rule and tyranny is as precarious as the line between
tax and theft. Allegiance is destroyed when the ruler attacks people and
property, inhibits a godly life, or when protection ceases. These cases

Ibid., p. 4; but see Anon. (Sanderson), A Resolution of Conscience, p. 5.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 125–6.
Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, pt. 2, ch. 4; on the anxiety over property and theft, see
J. M. Beattie, Policing and Punishment in London, 1660–1750 (Oxford, 2002 edn), ch. 1 and
pp. 277ff; Ascham, Confusions, p. 18; the anti-Engagement Copie of a Letter accepts that if
appropriation of property had been the primary intention, a more demanding oath would
have been insisted upon, p. 10.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 79, 4, 15, 22; Ascham cites Machiavelli approvingly: ‘a man will
not lament so much the losse of his publique Parent, as of his private Patrimony’, p. 74.
Ibid., pp. 47, 13–14.
306 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
make the ruler a private person. Nero virtually declared he would not
govern when he set Rome alight; a father attempting to destroy his child is
no father.96 Right, therefore, attaches only but always to the office in
exercise: the people can do an ex-ruler no wrong. Again we see an explica-
tion of the presupposition that offices are populated by personae; the
problem of obedience lies in whether we can separate or only distinguish
one from the other.
At the junction of temporal things and ‘salvation to soules’ grew the
thorny issue of oaths. For Ascham they were fundamental social ties; the
problem here was to stop them rubbing against the protective scope of
rule. He defined an oath as ‘a Religious attestation of God where we
assert or Promise that which is lawfull and in our Power, and is then at
its height when we put ourselves under Gods severe wrath if we deal
fraudulently’.97 There are, he argued, always tacit conditions, especially
to promissory oaths, the uncertainties of which have led some to believe
they should be unlawful.98 Promissory oaths cease to bind by dispen-
sation, absolution, extinction and violation, only the last of which is a
sin.99 A ‘true harmony of oaths’ requires only the utmost striving to keep
them. Should we then fail, we are freed without guilt. If one considers the
oaths among princes, they bind only insofar as they remain in power.
Oaths sworn to them are compelling insofar as they are rulers, yet even
oaths to tyrants must be kept if they obliged within the ambit of the law.
This is to say that the obligation is to the law irrespective of the tyrant.
Under all circumstances, swearing is dependent on shared language and
must be in good faith, without equivocation.100 Disapproving of casuistry
in this context, and predictably citing the tag that no evil should be done,
etc., etc., he nevertheless comes close to suggesting that in extremity
something like dissimulation is allowable. Above all, oath-keeping is
contingent upon the stability of offices and the continuity of the personae
of those involved.
It will be evident that we need to be cautious in identifying Ascham’s
argument as secular. It was not in his emphasis on self-interest, for the
selves, although occasionally physical beings, are more characteristi-
cally souls needing protection for God’s work on earth.101 There is a
suitable irony in Irene Coltman’s error in stating that Confusions ends

Ibid., pp. 47, 68, 79; see also, Anon., Conscience Puzzel’d, pp. 440–3.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 51, 38, 52.
Ibid., pp. 37, 54–7; also N. W., Discourse, p. 16.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 86–92; cf. also Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, ch. 5.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 81–2, 86, 68–70, 61, 64–6.
Ibid., cf. pp. 4, 16 with pp. 316, 45, 50, 51; Burgess, ‘Usurpation, Obligation and
Obedience’, on the unsecular nature of the debates in general.
Engagement with a free state 307
with reference to De civitate Dei.102 For the extensive quotation, some
forty pages earlier, is a culmination of a powerful Augustinian theme.
Additionally, Confusions makes persistent reference to the Bible (it ends
citing Genesis 28: 20) and accepts a providential world. Oaths are so
dangerous because they may excite God’s wrath.
There is, however, one sense in which Confusions is decidedly secular.
On the Jacobean assumption that a firm line can be drawn between
temporal and spiritual matters, Ascham undermines the authority of
the cloth to give guidance on either. His advice is a reason of state to
troubled souls and he restricts the front on which advice can be given. We
are born to two distinct worlds and our actions in this should never
endanger our place in the next. Beyond this, however, institutionalised
religion is largely a function of circumstance and internal faith removed
from the mysterious workings of worldly justice.103 We are, for example,
largely ignorant of the original rights of rule. We cannot read minds,
only conjecture from external signs. Conscience is but ingrained opinion.
It is all unnecessary perplexity to fret about such matters, and to lay
hold of what certainty there is we need no cord of clerical contrivance.
Only God obliges conscience and His injunctions to live godly lives in
neighbourly peace are plain enough.104 This effective removal of the
middle-man from all earthly transactions touching on salvation is to make
priestly authority redundant, or spurious.
More slyly, he adapts two clerical arguments about the integrity of a
church to urge acceptance of the new Commonwealth; the pervasive
grounding in understandings of office facilitates the analogies. As the
continuity of a church is found not in persons, but purity of doctrine, so
too, with temporal rule, it is continuity of office not office-holders that
matters.105 As it takes more than occasional sin to destroy a church, so it
takes more than ad hoc transgression to convert protective rule into
tyranny. Ascham’s challenge to priestly authority casts light on his refer-
ences to natural law. Priests were conventionally the mediators of divine
and, by extension, natural law, but for Ascham the natural is uncertainly
connected to the divine. It is natural law that informs us of the transcend-
ent right of self-preservation.106 Yet the human creatures under its aus-
pices, being souls, are locked in a relationship of official subordination to
God. His argument illustrates how the divine and the natural could not

Coltman, Private Men, p. 237; a possible confusion with A Discourse.
Ibid., pp. 7, 161, 196, 154.
Ibid., pp. 32, 44, 63–4, 78, 45.
Ibid., p. 137; cf. Bilson, Christian Subjection, pt. 2, p. 302.
Ascham, Confusions, pp. 148, 44, 48–50, 107.
308 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
separately exist until the soul became the individual (above, chapter 6).
Anti-clericalism was an impetus towards this transformation, but for
Ascham it is enough that he offers consolation independently of the pulpit.
If he gives advice to Everyman about how to react to new princes, he also
recommends to all the ataraxia, the state of repose that Richard Tuck has
seen as central to the Grotian response to Charron and Montaigne. Asc-
ham’s use of Grotius and his studied if conventional scepticism would
support this association.107

There is, no doubt, an irksome tidiness in concluding another chapter
with a comment on Hobbes. Yet, as the Engagement controversy has been
so important as a context for his theory of obligation, this is unavoid-
able.108 His work was seized upon by Nedham, who having cited one
royalist to show that obedience to the new government was morally
required, used De corpore politico for a greater stress on the self-interest
of submission.109
Ascham’s arguments, however, suggest a more thorough and less op-
portunistic familiarity with Hobbes. His discussion of the natural con-
dition as a state of war in which property rights are meaningless is at
one with The Elements. He gives the nominalist priority to particulars
over generals, and treats contract as the paradigm of law.110 Shared also
is a scepticism about heresy, conscience and direct knowledge of the
mind. For each writer, in entering society there is a justifiable trade-off
between natural liberty and its more restricted ‘swing’ under rule.111
Although, given all this, Hobbes is properly aligned with the subscribers’
cause, Ascham, like the refuser Edward Gee, thought otherwise. In his
longest comment on Hobbes, he took De cive to insist upon an irrevocable,
idolatrous allegiance to an established monarchy.112
This was to overlook Hobbes’s insistence that no agreement can bind
to impossibles;113 and so Hobbes’s explicit contribution to the Enga-
gement debates is principally an explication. In the ‘Review and Con-
clusion’ to Leviathan, Hobbes sided precisely with Ascham’s case. He

Tuck, Philosophy and Government, pp. 172–3.
See, for example, Quentin Skinner, ‘The Context of Hobbes’s Theory of Political
Obligation’, in Visions of Politics, vol. III: Hobbes and Civil Science, pp. 264ff.
Nedham, Case of the Commonwealth, pp. 135–9.
Ibid., pp. 22, 24, 62.
Ibid., pp. 196, 128, 163–4, 109.
Ibid., pp. 122–3, 107; see Coltman, Private Men, p. 224. Gee, Divine Origin, p. 141.
Hobbes, Elements, 1.15.18.
Engagement with a free state 309
would add as a law of nature that a man is bound ‘to protect in Warre, the
Authority, by which he is himself protected in time of Peace’. In the early
Civil War context, this had been a sentiment much approved by royalists.
Concomitantly, if a ruler can no longer function, it becomes lawful to seek
a new allegiance and this is formed at the point at which an express or
tacit consent can be given to a conqueror, or adverse party. It is held to be
but an inference from the natural laws commanding peace adumbrated in
the body of the work.114
I have already touched on Hobbes’s deflationary treatment of oaths in
the context of arguments from contract (chapter 12). It is additionally
important in aligning him with the subscribers. Oaths should not be taken
trivially.115 Yet for all its associated ceremonies, any oath is purely pro-
clamatory, ‘a forme of Speech, added to a Promise’. It ‘addes nothing to the
Obligation’. For if lawful, a covenant binds in God’s sight regardless of
any oath; if not lawful, ‘it bindeth not at all’.116 In The Elements he had
added further qualifications, that any oath increases the risk of divine
punishment should it be violated and that neither oath nor covenant
binds beyond ‘our best endeavour’. In this respect we are the interpreters
of our obligations.117 On this earlier doctrine, the value of any imposed
oath becomes close to negligible. As I have noted, no coronation oath
could be seen as a transformative contract and potentially a block for a
ruler’s head.
In the Engagement controversy this doctrine had direct relevance for
both the coronation oath and The Solemn League. Mentioning neither,
Hobbes marginalised both. In the immediate context of argument, then,
neither oath was a barrier against the honourable acceptance of new
protectors who henceforth had to be supported according to natural
law. But, a fortiori, neither was the Engagement a barrier against
returning to the Stuart fold should a future king be able to shepherd
his flock. In diminishing the significance of oaths, Hobbes reinforced a
Sandersonian ‘low’ reading of the Engagement.118 And Sanderson sounds
just like Hobbes in insisting that obligation arises from the nature of the
relationship of sovereign and subject, not from any subsequent oath. The
disadvantage for Hobbes, however, was that paving the way to an hon-
ourable peace could loosen allegiance. If oaths added nothing, support for

Hobbes, Leviathan, ‘Review & Conclusion’, pp. 484–5.
Ibid., ch. 14, p. 100; also Elements, 1.15.16.
Leviathan, ch. 14, pp. 99–100; Elements, 1.15.17.
Hobbes, Elements, 1.15.17, 18.
See also Hobbes, Considerations upon the Reputation, Loyalty, Manners and Religion of
Thomas Hobbes (1679), in English Works, ed. Sir William Molesworth (London, 1840),
vol. IV, pp. 422–4.
310 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
rulers could evaporate precisely when they relied upon such forms of
speech. So, those antagonistic to Hobbes could easily traduce him as a
self-interested de facto Cromwellian, a mere casuist. Nedham’s use of
Hobbes to give authority to the self-interested dimension of his own pro-
Commonwealth argument would not have been helpful. There was,
Hobbes remarked, no good constellation for truths such as his ‘to
be born under’.119 Nevertheless, his later denials of any sympathy for the
Commonwealth under which he thrived still need treating with caution,
for they were made in a context of Restoration antipathy to anything
smacking of qualification to monarchy.120
What Leviathan offered was the most systematic horizontal extension of
the office of rule with a concomitant diffusion of most of the issues
surrounding the sanctity of oaths. In the short term, this eased Hobbes’s
return to England; in the median, it became embarrassing when the
difference between a Sandersonian ‘high’ and ‘low’ reading of the Engage-
ment was conveniently forgotten. In the longer term, the awkward gener-
ality of his work had its implicit ties to impassioned causes erased to leave
a purer text of philosophy than he wrote. Equally, however, as the issues
of engagement were themselves but a concentration of long-standing
problems of office, the controversy does not provide a self-contained
context. Its importance for Hobbes’s doctrines of obligation has certainly
been established by Skinner and its need for supplementation has been
shown by Burgess.121 The argument here is that, abstracted from the
established preoccupations with oaths and office, its relevance has been
misread or overlooked.
When finishing Leviathan, Hobbes wrote to a friend referring to it as
‘Politique in English’.122 Two connotations of ‘politique’ lead beyond the
Engagement to a European context: to the ‘politiques’, who had resisted
Rome’s authority in France, although he was opposed to their maintain-
ing a two swords position protective of priestly authority;123 and to
politica writing. Works in this genre following Bodin’s Republique (1576)
were attempts to define the sovereign’s office, mapping social order to
help maintain peace, and every German university produced at least one
during the early seventeenth century.124 In many respects Leviathan is an

Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 491.
Hobbes, Considerations, p. 413, quoting Wallis.
Skinner’s position is adjusted, or clarified, in ‘Conquest’ in partial response to Glenn
Burgess, ‘Contexts for the Writing and Publication of Hobbes’s Leviathan’, History of
Political Thought, 11 (1988), pp. 675–702.
Cited by Richard Tuck, in Hobbes, Leviathan, ‘Introduction’, pp. ix–x.
Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 47.
Von Friedeburg, Self-Defence, pp. 101–5.
Engagement with a free state 311
eccentric example of this literature, given its elaborate metaphorical struc-
ture, rhetorical force and satiric style. It is distinctive, too, in its relative
lack of scholarly apparatus and its scant respect for the talismanic figures
of office theory, Cicero and Aristotle (though Plato is not bad for a
Greek). There may have been an irony in Hobbes’s use of the word
‘politique’ to describe his efforts, but in particular Leviathan has marked
affinities with Henning Arnisaeus’ De jure majestatis (1610) and with
James VI&I’s Trew Law. It was assimilated to the European heartland
of politica writing. If Anthony Ascham became seasonal in 1689, a laun-
dered Hobbes came back in Pufendorfian clothing through Tooke’s trans-
lation of De officio hominis (1673). In this guise, most of Hobbesian
sovereignty theory proved more comely than Leviathan.
Above all, then, Leviathan is a discourse on sovereignty, defined in
terms of reciprocal offices. The fragile achievement of social order is the
result of a transformative contract among denizens of the natural condi-
tion by which simultaneously they re-create themselves as subjects in
authorising their sovereign. As Arnisaeus had it, any sovereign state is
an order of subjection. In this way, Hobbes provided a rationalisation for
William Willymat’s and Peter Heylyn’s polemical understandings of a
purely ‘private’ person as the passive member of a relationship in office
(above, chapter 3). In doing so, Hobbes tried to curtail the capacity of the
vocabulary of office to generate the clamours of competing social
demands. The only limitations to obedience are consistent with the point
of assuming the persona of a subject in the first place.
The Hobbesian sovereign is not similarly obliged, but the issue of
obligation is reductive, hardly trapping the reverberations of official
reciprocity. The sovereign as a representative is, as I have noted above, a
responsible persona, having an end or purpose to maximise an ambience
of peace and well-being.125 And only through sovereign office can God’s
requirement to live in peace be satisfied. Hobbes’s position is that recog-
nising the true nature and necessity of sovereignty will itself contribute
to peace, a practical conclusion at one with the thrust of politica litera-
ture, with Ascham and the other subscribers. In short, with respect to the
extent of sovereignty and the available options around the time of its
dissolution and acquisition, the Engagement controversy provided
Hobbes with an adventitious opportunity for clarification. It is addition-
ally valuable in helping us to distinguish the problem of the reach and
rupture of sovereign power from the grounds of obligation to it. Again,
Hobbes is in general agreement with the subscribers in relying on a

Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 30.
312 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
variable blend of argument from honestas – what is morally required
and so should bind in conscience, according to natural and/or divine
law; and from utilitas – what self-interest and an eye to consequences
Insofar as the context is right, however, the conclusions drawn from it
have been wrong. Just as the subscribers were not de facto theorists,
neither was Hobbes. He concludes that ‘an inviolable observation’ of
the ‘mutuall Relation between Protection and Obedience’ is required both
by divine law and the interests of human nature.126 To choose one as being
the authentic voice is to ignore the scope of the argument. Hobbes’s
contemporary critics, however, had an interest in doing just that. He was
held to have no awareness of the limits that gave office definition and
meaning. This was exactly what worried refusers about what I have called
the horizontal extension of office, for to them it encompassed tyranny.
Ascham faced the issue squarely, but Hobbes’s earlier denials that there
was any tyrannous form of government must have sounded like a musket
ball in the foot. To abstract a pure secular self-interest and a de facto
allegiance was to conjure up an atheist susceptible to the most convenient
routines of condemnation, a strawman easily burnt. And, it is worth
repeating, some subscribers were willing enough to accuse their critics of
being the real de facto theorists because they could give only de facto
compliance when a moral commitment to sovereign office was required.
The Engagement controversy unleashed an indiscriminate idiom of accus-
ation, and Hobbes would become a principal victim of its success; but it
offers highly selective evidence for the secular ideological identity, for
which he might now be praised.
Finally, however, there is in Leviathan a dramatically enhanced anti-
clericalism from Hobbes’s earlier works, which, though concentrating on
Catholicism’s ‘Kingdom of Darkness’, embraces all priests as potential
threats to peace and religion. The Protestant shamanistic divines
shadowing the edges of Cromwell’s army, the Presbyterian pastors arbi-
trating conscience, had all left an intense distaste in his mouth – and he
would later have to swallow re-established bishops, men particularly
prone to slip off the yoke of subjection.127 Hostility to the cloth would
not win Hobbes a conspicuous number of friends, but it tied him roundly
to subscribers like Dury, Warren and Ascham determined to contain
troublesome priests.128 Here, I suspect, this largely overlooked aspect of
the controversy is vital in understanding a trajectory of development; after

126 127
Ibid., p. 491. Ibid., p. 374.
Champion, Pillars of Priestcraft. For some of the friends it did win him when they put
his sovereignty theory aside, pp. 134–6.
Engagement with a free state 313
1651 Hobbes never retreated from his reductive Marsilian vision of the
cleric as lacking authority in this world.
The necessary inadequacy of a context for understanding the politics of
Hobbes’s philosophy can be illustrated most succinctly from Leviathan
chapter 42. There we find the central Engagement topos, Romans 13,
Hobbes insisting like Rous that obedience is owed to the higher powers
not only out of self-interest, ‘but also for conscience sake’. This does not
chime too well with Hobbes’s more characteristic scepticism about argu-
ments from conscience, but it posits obligation as morally required. Yet
the chapter is not about obedience to a usurping civil ruler, but the
relationship between priestly and magisterial office and the effective col-
lapse of one into the other. It is not Cromwell who stands empower’d upon
the grave of Charles I, ‘to fright/ The spirits of the shady Night’ but the
ghost of Cardinal Bellarmine, still to be exorcised.129
In this we see a sort of historiographical differance. Because intellectual
contexts are constructed and shaped by the questions historians ask, the
language and materials they use, we must expect them to be unstable at
the margins. I have argued earlier that the Jesuit doctrine of equivocation
enriches our understanding of the insecurities of the Hobbesian natural
condition. James VI&I might well have recognised Hobbes’s blow to
Bellarmine as a belated prop to his own throne. As the frontispiece
of Leviathan makes manifest, sovereign power depends upon a substitu-
tion for the Jesuit’s double-handed gladiatorial grasp. Yet, if supportative
of ‘free’ sovereigns, Leviathan was a critical comment on James’s
futile attempt to separate spiritual from temporal authority in the
oath of allegiance. A Hobbesian response would be endorsed in the oath
of supremacy formulated for William and Mary, a context not for his
problems, but for the economy of his answers; there can be but one sword
to protect and cut the Gordian knot of office claims; the other hand wields
the crosier.

Marvell, ‘Ode’; Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 42, pp. 343, 341.
15 The oath of allegiance and the Revolution
of 1688–9

. . . and from the mouth of England
Add thus much more, that no Italian priest
Shall tithe or toll in our dominions . . .
So tell the Pope, all reverence set apart
To him and his usurp’d authority.
(Shakespeare, King John 3.1)

Throughout the seventeenth century, ritualised winter bonfires kept
the Gunpowder Plot bright in the minds of English Protestants, and in
1688 they were barely cooling to grey embers when James II’s reign
itself crumbled into ashes. The son of Orange, with guns and printing
press, had arrived on a Protestant wind, landing at Torbay on the an-
niversary of ‘gunpowder treason day’. As the semiotically attuned Gilbert
Burnet remarked, this was of ‘good effect on the minds of the English
nation’. William moved cautiously towards London. An Association
was formed to make his gradually swelling support more than ‘a rope
of sand’.1 By December, he was encamped at the tutti-man town of
Hungerford. There were riots in London. James’s daughter Anne fled to
her co-religionists, his wife to France. The king followed in disguise,
consigning the great seals of government to the Thames. But he was taken,
returned to London and given a perplexingly popular welcome. This
confusion of movement complicated any uncontentious account of
his fall.2
His initial flight was an ‘earthquake’ for his allies;3 his capture made it
difficult to determine how he should be treated. Had he deserted the
throne, or had his rights been usurped? These questions created immediate

Burnet, History, vol. III, pp. 310, 319.
Monod, Jacobitism, pp. 166–7.
Lord Clarendon, cited in Robert Beddard, A Kingdom without a King: The Journal of the
Provisional Government in the Revolution of 1688 (Oxford, 1988), ‘Introduction’, p. 64.

The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688–9 315
diplomatic embarrassment and a longer-term Jacobite party.4 Ejected
from London by William’s soldiers on 18 December, James left England,
against advice, five days later. However it would be read, the reign
collapsed, wrote Burnet, like a spider’s web, at a finger’s touch.5 The oath
of allegiance arguments following the crowning of his replacements
would stretch back to entangle the whole Stuart monarchy and its mid-
century rupture. The controversy rounds off the century with more than
superficial symmetry; it was a fearful, if sometimes triumphalist com-
mentary on the crises to which ruling office was prone. Discussion of
this wider context before dealing directly with the oath will help to pull
the strands of this study together.

Towards the end of Charles II’s reign, attempts to deal with the
impending James left England on the brink of re-opening the Civil Wars.6
Suspicions remained deep at the accession in 1685, for if James was a
Godly Prince in the English tradition, he was not in the English religion.
The coronation was on St George’s Day, a reassuringly symbolic af-
firmation of continuity with the Restoration. James swore a conven-
tionally general coronation oath but took neither Communion, nor the
Scottish coronation oath with its specifically Presbyterian insistence
on the ‘trew Religioun of Jesus Christ’, ‘preicheing of his haly word’,
and extirpating ‘all fals Religioun contrare to the samin’.7
The coronation itself was an ill-omened occasion. The crown slipped,
then ‘totter’d extreamly’; the throne’s canopy broke; the top of the
‘Scepter did then fall’. The celebratory fireworks exploded all at once,
which at least could be redescribed as an excess of nature’s enthusiasm
for the monarch.8 His illegitimate son died on the same day, which could
not.9 London skinners would have needed no help to decode the meaning
of an over-sized crown sliding down the royal face (above, chapter 2).
The pious hope was, no doubt, that a Catholic king would not rule
for long, meanwhile, keeping duty to his people distinct from allegiance

Burnet, History, vol. III, pp. 329, 333–4.
Beddard, Kingdom, pp. 58–65; Burnet, History, vol. III, p. 1.
Burnet, History, vol. II, pp. 202–6, 269.
Scots coronation oath (1567), in Statutes in Force (London, 1978), citied in Kelly, ‘King
and Crown’, vol. II.
Aubrey, Brief Lives, pp. 57, 58; R. Lowman, An Exact Narrative and Description of the
Wonderful and Stupendous Fire-Works in Honour of Their Majesties Coronations (1685),
pp. 1–2.
Burnet, History, vol. III, p. 20.
316 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
to the pope. Significant trust was thus placed in the very separation of
offices and personae on which James VI&I had been unconvincingly
insistent. Sceptics were doubtful; separating distinguishable offices was a
persistently uphill battle, and it was questionable whether any Catholic
could be trusted further than the pope might be thrown. The oaths of
office could hardly be sacrosanct if His Holiness could release princes
from their burdens.10
An innovator by faith alone, and perilously close to being a
Machiavellian new prince, James sent disturbingly mixed messages.
Reform of a slothful court and reassurance for the safety of his subjects’
property and established church were balanced by a perceived disregard
for law and open practice of his religion.11 The non-Catholic loyalist
aristocracy and the bishops of the Church of England had, then, a par-
ticularly fraught office of counsel. The attempt to keep James adjacent to
the straight and Reformation narrow of the Elizabethan Settlement was,
for the clerics, a necessity of their office, and any neat delineation between
temporal and spiritual spheres, counsel and subject status was comprom-
ised further. After crushing Monmouth’s Rebellion, James increasingly
placed Catholics in key positions. Even a small standing army began to
look perilous. He appeared as close as his brother had been to Louis of
France and to be emulating his cousin’s style.12
Surveying Christendom, Burnet deemed 1685 one of the great crisis
years of Protestantism (among many others).13 James’s determination
to be a Catholic king involved flexing the muscles of prerogative and
gradually shunning the Church of England, on the grounds that it
could be relied upon to practise the passive obedience it preached. So
with promises of toleration and advancement for Presbyterians, Inde-
pendents, Anabaptists and Quakers, James tried to tie obvious enemies
to his cause. By Church of England stigma these were the detritus of
the Reformation. A monarch was finally forming the alliance of king-
killers that Owen and Barclay had feared at the beginning of the century.
When James’s cunning was blessed with an heir in 1688, the prospect
of a Catholic dynasty stretched into the unforeseeable future: the
Elizabethan Settlement could well be flushed away with the Reformation
bath-water. The Church of England bishops considered it imperative

Ibid., vol. II, pp. 202–7; vol. VI, p.157; cf. the more optimistic John Evelyn, Diary, 2–8
October 1685, vol. IV, pp. 478–9.
Burnet, History, vol. III, pp. 5–13.
See, for example, James II, His Majesties Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of
Parliament (9 November 1685), pp. 3–4; Burnet, History, vol. III, p. 11.
Burnet, History, vol. III, p. 69.
The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688–9 317
to stand firm on the cusp of matters civil and spiritual and came close
to controlling James, thus subverting the justification for William’s
From the outset, there were grounds for the accusation that James’s
religion would dictate an alienation of the crown, or an exercise of rule
that was, by Rome’s overreaching, tyrannical.15 By the trial of the seven
bishops in 1688, many in the Church of England saw the king as misusing
civil power to invade spiritual authority. As parliament would resolve
the matter once he had fled, a popish prince was inconsistent with the
‘safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom’.16 From the topoi of
tyranny of origin and exercise, he was vulnerable to being called a wolf
in shepherd’s clothing.
Reluctantly, the Church of England clergy magnified the casuistic
small print in their manifestos of loyalty. Passive obedience presupposed
the ruler’s protection of true religion. In extremis, there might be defence
of religion, and at least, ‘the bare refusing to aid and assist’. With im-
peccable hindsight, Burnet claimed to have warned James not to rely on
the doctrine of passive obedience, a ‘disputable opinion’ carrying ‘dis-
tinctions and reserve’.17 Burnet records approvingly (for once) a speech
by the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1675, emphasising the necessity of obedience,
while underscoring its cessation with the alienation of the kingdom. So
too William Sherlock: the Church of England was profoundly loyal,
but loyalty to prince means loyalty to religion, and it is no true loyalty
to suffer the erosion of ‘our religion and its legal securities’.18 As one tract
would put it, there was a ‘common abuse of the term loyalty’.19 Expressed
less prejudicially, the word became highly susceptible to co-optive predi-
cation (above, chapter 4). As Goldie has aptly remarked, James relied

Mark Goldie, ‘James II and the Dissenters’ Revenge: the Commission of Enquiry of
1688’, Historical Research, 66, 159 (1993), p. 53; Burnet, History, vol. III, pp. 151–2,
97–8; Mark Goldie, ‘The Political Thought of the Anglican Revolution’, in Robert
Beddard, ed., The Revolutions of 1688 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 107–9.
Burnet, History, vol. II, pp. 27–8; 202–6; vol. III, p. 43; Lamont, ‘Richard Baxter,
Popery’, pp. 336–52.
‘Grey’s Debates’ (1688), p. 29, text in David Lewis Jones, ed., A Parliamentary History
of the Glorious Revolution (London, 1988), p. 125.
Edmund de Bohun, cited in Goldie, ‘The Political Thought of the Anglican Revolution’,
p. 117; Burnet, History, vol. II, p. 27; see also Thomas Long (?), A Resolution of Certain
queries concerning submission to the present Government (1689), pp. 6–8; and Thomas
Long (?), Reflections upon a Late Book (1689), pp. 9, 15–16.
William Sherlock, A Sermon Preached at Westminster (1685), pp. 31–2; Goldie, ‘The
Political Thought of the Anglican Revolution’, p. 113; see also Burnet, History, vol. III,
p. 7.
Anon., Important Questions of State, Law, Justice and Prudence both Civil and Religious,
in State Tracts (1705), vol. I, p. 171.
318 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
on the support of an Anglican political theology carrying the intellectual
materials to justify his overthrow.20
This political theology, however, involved an inter-denominational
understanding of priestly office with shared casuistic resources for its
protection and an immediate implication for oaths of allegiance. An
oath was invalid if it undermined true faith, or over-taxed conscience.
Only tyrants, not rulers, as Parsons and Goodman had been ecume-
nically insistent, would impose such oaths. Conversely, stated Philip
Hickeringill, Henry VIII might have broken with Rome, but the very
notion of the clergy sustained a form of popery into the present.21 Argu-
ments about religious office loomed as large as they had in 1606; and
casuistry remained the necessary and sublimated means of dealing with
To be sure, Burnet’s spider’s web consisted of more than the sticky
threads of priesthood and domestic unease; also relevant were problems
in Ireland, frictions in Dutch politics, and the hostilities between France
and William, who had abandoned a futile alliance with the Stuarts for a
working one with the disaffected Protestant aristocracy.22 There would
be no uncontested description of what it was all about. The Dutch Repub-
lic had invested heavily in William’s enterprise and with its army on
English soil, William’s arrival could be called an invasion. Yet, made easy
by collusion, it could be presented as a neighbourly intervention, so
circumventing awkward notions of conquest and helping explain the
absence of the Dutch presence in many accounts.23 Rather than a reprise
of 1066 or 1649, William’s armed arrival could be celebrated as an answer
to a Bractonian prayer – when unduly oppressed, the people may get
down upon their knees and appeal to Heaven for relief by a distant power.
He came, they saw that God conquered.
Ostensibly, William’s purpose was only to help. Coy about dynastic
ambitions, he might have been more pushed than driven to the throne.24
But, equally, in seeming to be pushed, William did not need to drive.
Kingly ambition would itself have aroused suspicions of tyranny, success
would look like conquest, oaths sworn to him would be questionable.

Goldie, ‘The Political Thought of the Anglican Revolution’, p. 111.
Philip Hickeringill, A Vindication of the Naked Truth, The Second Part (1681), p. 17.
Scott, England’s Troubles, pp. 458–9.
Jonathan Israel, ‘The Dutch Role in the Glorious Revolution’, in J. Israel, ed., The
Anglo-Dutch Moment (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 105–10, 122, 128–9; cf. Evelyn, Diary, 27
October 1688, vol. IV, p. 601 and 8 November 1688, p. 609, on the impending invasion,
with 1 November 1688, pp. 604–5, on the invitation; Thomas Comber, A Letter to a
Bishop Concerning the Present Settlement and the New Oaths (1689), pp. 18–21.
Beddard, Kingdom, ‘Introduction’, pp. 27–8.
The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688–9 319
So William’s declarations were fittingly reassuring; he sought only
the restoration of good government and the Protestant way.25 James
countered that he had intended to call a parliament. The manner of his
departure, however, abandoning seals and destroying parliamentary
writs, created the impression that he intended to create chaos.26 It made
plans for a negotiated settlement irrelevant. Seen thus, his departure was
a terminal abuse of office, not unlike the one Anthony Ascham had
attributed to Nero. A ruler who refuses to rule ceases to be a ruler. Among
all the maxims and cliches of debate, this affirmation of the nominal
identity of a persona would be pressed relentlessly.
If William initially lacked kingly ambitions, Whig pressures and James’s
scorched earth retreat enlivened his mind, by creating a vacuum that
could be advertised as a vacancy, or, to use a slippery term, an abdica-
tion.27 In place of a king an ad hoc provisional government of peers
ruled from 11 to 16 December. Once William had established an effect-
ive presence, he gathered a sympathetic elite to decide how to proceed.
On Christmas Eve it was broadly agreed that, to use the most accommo-
dating term, a ‘demise’ of the previous government had occurred, and
after long debate William was asked to call a convention and assume
government until it met.28
Albeit with no unambiguous office to settle the kingdom, Peers and
Commons met in a volatile and violently anti-Catholic city, effectively
controlled by the Dutch and heavily preached upon and encouraged
by the Church of England.29 The Convention’s work was to achieve a
settlement balancing the prerogatives of rule with the protection of the
laws and religion of the ruled. The choice was between a regency, nar-
rowly defeated in the Lords,30 a new king, or a permanent interregnum,
a commonwealth. The last option was not much canvassed beyond the
occasional pamphlet during the early, most open-ended stage of pro-
ceedings.31 A king bound by office was a virtually unchallenged propos-
ition, but a Catholic one, insufferable. This left a single person, with an

See, for example, Burnet, History, vol. III, pp. 286–8.
Beddard, Kingdom, ‘Introduction’, p. 32 states this as a fact; cf. Burnet, vol. III, pp. 326–7.
John Miller, ‘The Glorious Revolution: Contract and Abdication Reconsidered’,
Historical Journal, 25, 3 (1982), pp. 541–4; in reply to Thomas P. Slaughter, â€˜â€śAbdicate”
and “Contact” in the Glorious Revolution’, Historical Journal, 24, 2 (1981), pp. 323–37.
Beddard, Kingdom, ‘Introduction’, p. 65.
Israel, ‘The Dutch Role’, pp. 128–30; Harris, London Crowds, pp. 226–7.
‘Notes of a Noble Lord’, in Jones, Parliamentary History, p. 81.
Anon. (John Humfrey?), Good Advice Before it is Too Late (1688); Anon. (John
Wildman?), Some Remarks, in State Tracts (1705), vol. I, p. 162; discussed in
Mark Goldie, ‘The Roots of True Whiggism’, History of Political Thought, 1 (1980),
pp. 212–14.
320 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
army, and mob-handed, uninterested in regency, who had already been
asked to rule pro tem. Deciding on him seemed to some to offer the choice
of an elective monarchy (almost unthinkable) or chaos (marginally
William’s assumption of the throne, then, amounted to a final stage in
a crisis of allegiance that had been brewing for several years. Yet oaths
had been sworn; a properly crowned king was absent and another was
effectively in command. Was this a re-enactment of the conquest or
usurpation of Cromwell and the army a mere generation ago? Did
this simply explicate the limitations in swearing? Had the throne been
alienated or vacated? Had James neglected his duties? Could he be said
to have ceased to be a king by virtue of his flight, or by his action in
office? Had he ceased to be king by breaking the contract entailed in
his oath, or simply by breaking his oath? Had there been resistance to
office, a defence against tyranny, or a plain rebellion? Bypassing these
loaded possibilities it could be urged that the government had simply
dissolved. But if so, in what capacities could people act to re-establish it?
The redescriptions of who had done what to whom were the means by
which the central issues of identity in office and its implications were
addressed. Thus the presupposition of office that set the terms of debate
itself became a problem when the actors argued reflexively. Each of the
above rudimentary accounts of James and his departure was canvassed
in parliament. Each would be disputed, distinguished and run together
in what was to prove one of the most hectic periods of print since
the invention of the press. Over 2,000 titles were published in 1689, two-
thirds being related to the Revolution. For the printers, it was one of
the four golden years of the century.33

It is tempting to see the controversies following the Revolution as a
synthesis: issues of spiritual and temporal office from 1606 combined with
those of ruling function from the Engagement debates. The result, a
revolutionary consummation greatly to be wished – to wit, the beginnings
of effective and secular rule and the long triumphantly stable eighteenth
century. Certainly, if we isolate the issue of oath-taking and office, the
Allegiance controversy offered little that was not at one with these previ-
ous concentrations of dispute and the white noise of oath argument that

‘Notes of a Noble Lord’, in Jones, Parliamentary History, p. 86; Burnet, History, vol.
III, pp. 355–6, 373.
Goldie, ‘The Revolution of 1689’, p. 478.
The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688–9 321
can be heard throughout the century. Yet, if anything, it was the long
seventeenth century that would march boisterously past 1715.34 One can
almost hear men breathing ‘providence’ over recent events with an audible
sigh of relief in much the same way as that sanctifying breath of God had
dissipated the Armada and blown out the Gunpowder Plot. Assimilation
to a providential past was the surest way of making moral sense of the
Some awareness of the tenacity of old arguments can be gleaned
from the number of re-printed volumes and by the familiarity of those
arguing from 1690 onwards with the texts of earlier years.35 After a
fashion, the Revolution of 1688 walked backwards into a newer world,
redeploying the inherited and almost unchallenged vocabulary of restor-
ation, reform and conservation.36 Numerous works such as Ascham’s
Confusions and an adjusted Lawson’s Politica offered templates for analy-
sis. Of these, Hunton’s Treatise of Monarchie and Buchanan’s De jure
had only recently been burnt. Their phoenix-like rebirth indexes a striking
change of atmosphere. Locke’s Two Treatises finally saw the light of day.
If the oath of allegiance controversy of 1689 replayed the major issues
of 1606 and 1649, there were nevertheless subtle departures. Gradually
the received vocabulary of office was reconfigured, and problems per-
haps previously relatively distinct were more easily run together. Four
predictable topics illustrate the process: clerical office, consent, tyranny,
and de facto rule. They are worth highlighting before focusing on specific

With respect to 1606, James VI&I’s attempt to keep civil and spiritual
allegiance separate was abandoned, bringing into ever stronger relief
the limits of clerical office. This problem, a veritable sub-text of debate
on almost all social issues from the Reformation onwards, was apparent
during the Engagement controversy and augmented during the Res-
toration, when oaths were such prominent instruments of conformity.37
Debates in the House of Lords over the rights of bishops to vote in

Jonathan Scott, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis, 1677–83 (Cambridge, 1988),
pp. 4–17; Monod, Jacobitism, Introduction and ch. 1.
For example, Anon., Animadversions on a Discourse (1691); Peter Allix (?), An
Examination of the Scruples (1689); William Atwood, The Fundamental Constitution
(1690); Anon. (Charles Blount?), The Proceedings of the Present Parliament Justified
Scott, England’s Troubles, pp. 455ff.
Jones, Conscience and Allegiance, ch. 4; Champion, Pillars of Priestcraft, pp. 53–82.
322 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
Danby’s treason trial (1679) spilt over into heated anti-clerical protests.38
Ten years later anti-clericalism is a persistent theme in the advice from
the self-conscious laity.39 The spiritual office must needs be kept out of
civil matters. Knowing one’s office was knowing one’s place; not knowing
it easily became tyranny – as John of Salisbury had insisted long before.
It was a position endorsed by some clerics, such as John Sharp, who like
John Dury sought to retain authority by withdrawing his office to safer
ground. But whereas Dury had been a marginal ecclesiastical figure, Sharp
was central and senior.40
In the accusation of interference one can see the rationale for the
erratic pejorative expansion of the term popery to elide ecclesiological
difference. In 1606 the accusation of popery was usually denominationally
specific, but became increasingly stretched in response to Archbishop
Laud’s promotion of the cloth and the intrusions of Scottish Presby-
terianism. By the 1640s it could cover what formally might still be civil
and secular policy. In 1651 Leviathan had warned that any priest might
meddle with sovereign right, and in this lay the seeds for the development
of new cults, a proposition central to Hobbes’s Restoration works on
the intellectual history of heresy and Christianity.41 My kingdom is
not of this world, a theological axiom for most, was an ecclesiological
imperative for some. By the 1690s priestly abuse of office was more easily
and probably more often called popery than ever before. The word ‘priest-
craft’, remarked Burnet, was in fashion and all religious controversies
were seen as plots to advance clerical interest.42 In opposing the incursions
of James II upon their understanding of office, the Church of England
clerics had effectively recaptured the medieval ‘two swords’ doctrines
concerning the relationships between regnum and sacerdotium.43 These
were popish enough for a suspicious laity, and accusations of priestcraft

Burnet, History, vol. II, pp. 208–10; see, for example, Anon., That Bishops in England
May and Ought to Vote in Cases of Blood (1680); Anon., A Discourse on the Peerage and
Jurisdiction of the Lords Spiritual (1679); E. W., The Bishops Courts Dissolved (1681).
For example, Anon., Animadversions on a Discourse (1691); Anon., The Doctrine of
Passive Obedience and Jure Divino Disproved by a Layman of the Church of England
John Sharp, ‘General Directions for a Holy Life’, in Works, vol. I, pp. 226–49; Sharp,
‘The Duty of Subjection to Higher Powers’, in ibid., vol. II, pp. 34–51. But, to qualify,
Bishop Bilson had also been central and senior, and in defending Elizabeth against the
Jesuits had done his best to withdraw the clergy to safer ground with as blunt an
argument from the swords as could be managed. See Christian Subjection, pt. 2; it did
much to explain his continued popularity.
For printed works in this idiom, especially Burnet’s History of the Reformation (1679–
1714), see Champion, Pillars of Priestcraft, pp. 77–98.
Burnet, History, vol. IV, p. 378.
Goldie, ‘The Political Thought of the Anglican Revolution’, pp. 25–6.
The oath of allegiance and the Revolution of 1688–9 323
served less to denigrate religious discussion, as Burnet feared, than to stop
up priestly mouths, often with the authority of Cicero’s De officiis.44
Whilst some wished only to constrain priests in the idiom of Dury and
Sharp, an occasional voice regarded any clerical office as an invention of
the pope and the devil. This draconian reduction of office could itself
be collapsed into Hobbism.45
The position of the non-jurors, Jacobeans, or ‘florid Gentlemen of the
long robe’ was straightforward.46 Easily accused of popery, they sought
to occupy the high moral ground by dismissing alternative positions
as casuistic expediency. As they largely applied the arguments of the
Engagement refusers, positioning themselves close to the martyred Charles
I, the gist will be apparent: oaths and the hereditary principle were
sacrosanct. Swearing obedience entailed accepting royal prerogative.47
James had not deserted, but had been deposed. Swearing new oaths
violated old, a fast road to perdition. Knowing this, usurpers were rarely
so foolish as to insist on oaths; even ‘honest Cromwell’ avoided them.48
The new regime, cobbled up upon the sins of the forsworn, might have to
be accepted de facto, but never de jure.49 Even praying for William and
Mary could be tantamount to swearing allegiance to usurpers. If not
binding when inconvenient, oaths meant nothing. Thus allegiance did
not end with the ruler’s incapacity to protect – the question should be
why was he not protected when in need.50 A large part of their case
depended upon the danger of distinguishing man from office; it verged
on separation and that, as the high theory of Restoration kingship
had insisted, was a sign of treasonous intent.51 For W. Anderton (soon
to be executed for treason) the political declension was simple: there
had been a king, there has been a rebellion, there remains a king. People

Champion, Pillars of Priestcraft, pp. 175–8, 194–5.
E. W., The Bishops Courts Dissolved; Hickeringill, A Vindication, pp. 12, 17, 35; the view
had authority from Luther’s understanding of a church as a priesthood of all believers.
William Atwood, Reflections upon a Treasonable Opinion . . . Against Signing the
National Association (1696), p. 1; Roger Palmer, Lord Castlemain, identifies himself as
of the long robe in The Englishman’s Allegiance.
Anon., Reflections on our Late & Present Proceedings in England (1689), in Somers
Tracts, vol. X, p. 7; Palmer, The Englishman’s Allegiance, pp. 203, 207b; Anon (Jeremy
Collier?), Vindiciae juris regii (1689), p. 32; Dr. G. B., A Word to the Wavering (1689),
pp. 4–5.
Palmer, The Englishman’s Allegiance, p. 217, presumably taking the Engagement to have
been less than an oath.


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