. 2
( 14)


An overview 29
having a responsibility to a continuing lineage and its reputation (chapter
3). Ironically, such burdens could prove disruptive. The degree to which
there might be change in an office without erosion of nominal identity was
always potentially problematic. It tied the positive rhetorics of office-
holding to those of traditionality, helping to consign notions of innovation
to the rhetorics of accusation and suspicion.
So far I have outlined only the sorts of terms and phrases to be
appropriated in sustaining or promoting a persona in office; but a negative
register was just as important as a positive. Again, this was partly a matter
of semantics and nominal definition. Without a conception and language
of the bad, it was not formally possible to articulate the good. Pragmatics
also required a vocabulary of denigration to assist in the protection of
one™s own. The qualities fitting to status in office were balanced by vices of
various kinds, by vocabularies of motive which explained culpable action,
and by denigrating descriptors of conduct. The most important members
of this group were words such as tyranny, neglect, alienate, engross,
oppress, enslave, misrule. As this was a general vocabulary parallel to that
of official approbation, it was decidedly redescriptive of any office, and
the result was a highly flexible repertoire of accusation. Liberty became
licence, prerogative an arbitrary power, subjection slavery. Carneades cast
a long shadow, as Montaigne™s Essays illustrate.47 The recourse to the
negative register of office suggests shared perspectives are breaking down,
and that presuppositions are being forced into the open and becoming
doctrinally consolidated. The use of a register which others might just as
easily employ, however, is not necessarily to forge a doctrine, and take
ownership of a set of concepts. In mistaking register for theory, we can fall
victim to what C. S. Lewis valuably called the ˜dangerous sense™ of words,
inventing what did not exist.48
So, to summarise this provisional account: an office was an identifiable
and discriminate constellation of responsibilities and subordinate rights,
or liberties asserted to be necessary for their fulfilment, manifested in a
persona and regarded as in some way socially necessary or acceptable. It
was given shape over time, in relation to adjacent offices, and by the
patterns of its negation; it affirmed a social being analogous to human
corporeal identity of flesh, fluids, bones and humours, seen over time, in
space and subject to pathology.

See especially Michel de Montaigne, ˜Apology for Raymond Sebond™ (1575“ 80), trans.
Donald M. Frame, in The Complete Essays (Stanford, 1992 edn), pp. 318“457.
C. S. Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge, 1976 edn), pp. 13“15.
30 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England

This broad understanding, I believe, provides a common feature of the
diversity of early-modern political argument. It may also enhance aware-
ness of the way in which modern disciplinary boundaries can impose
misleading perspectives on early-modern exuberance.49 Tracing expres-
sions of office across the often artificial constraints imposed by notions of
literature or philosophy will reinforce the point. Modal distinctions can, as
I have noted, be crucial, but frequently our own are not; and, across the
board, a recovery of the rhetorics of office compromises them.
I have already touched on the close relationship between presuppos-
itions of office and the recognised ethos of traditionality of the early-
modern world. When the common lawyer wrote of rationality and the
immemorial, affirmations about tradition and office were entwined. From
the mysteries of the law came the shape and authority of the persona of the
lawyer whose duty was above all to the law. As a corollary, to attack one
was to undermine the other.50 The presumptive sway of tradition, how-
ever, could have a more asymmetrical relationship with office. The au-
thority attached to a tradition might be because of faith in some pristine
point of origination. And although the cachet of office was enhanced by
temporal continuity, its survival a tribute to previous transmitting perso-
nae, that authority could always be expressed irrespective of tradition.
The office could be taken as answering to a timeless theological impera-
tive, a legal Reason, to a social necessity, or to future benefit. As I have
noted, an office could always be given an abstract identity independent of
contingent temporal mutations.
In contrast to the evocation of tradition, proper behaviour was hardly
expressed beyond the confines of office. Acting beyond one™s sphere was a
form of pleonexia; the rim of office was the edge of tyranny. But because
the rhetorics of office were adaptable to differing forms of activity, there
were prodigious opportunities for conflict in the name of office. There
were two principal ways of ameliorating this systemic difficulty. One was
to rely on a predominantly modal casuistry, to assert that what was
forbidden one persona was allowed, or required of, another. The other

See, for example, Michael McKeon, ˜Politics of Discourses and the Rise of the Aesthetic
in Seventeenth-Century England™, in Kevin Sharpe and Stephen N. Zwicker, eds., Politics
of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England (Los Angeles,
1987); see also below, chapter 10.
John Warr, The Corruption and Deficiency of the Laws of England (1649), in A Spark in
the Ashes: The Pamphlets of John Warr, ed. Stephen Sedley and Lawrence Kaplan
(London, 1992), pp. 89“110.
An overview 31
was to resolve potential conflict a priori by a hierarchical organisation of
duties. This more presumptive mode of casuistry had the advantage of
reducing mitigation to a relatively simple form. The distinction between
presumptive and modal casuistry will be taken up in chapter 8. As one
might expect, however, there was no single stable relationship in such
patterns of official reciprocity, nor a rigid typology of casuistry. The
relational notions of ruler and ruled could be elaborated in terms of
complementary offices spun out from the truisms of nominal definition.
But the similarly relational terms parent and child (also a relationship of
ruling) could be discussed under the auspices of the simple office of
parenting.51 The child™s duty to obey was inseparable from having a
parent. Regardless of how such terms were related, the very recognition
of a delineating office was an acceptance of potential moral difficulties,
often incapable of theoretical resolution. The parent had authority until
the child was rational and adult, but retained an office thereafter, and it
was most likely to be problematic in fulfilling the duty of arranging a
marriage. On the one hand, the child was obliged to submit to parental
decisions; on the other, it could not marry without love, lest it perjure itself
before God in the marriage sacrament.52
Acceptance of the obligations of office made arguments decorous or
even literal, where now they might seem strained or metaphorical; con-
versely, the priority given to relationships in office minimised the concep-
tual significance of distinctions we now see as important. In order to
explicate this point, it will be necessary to differentiate autochthonous
from analytic patterns of figurative transfer (chapter 10). How the world is
intellectually divided has changed and it is no longer obvious, as it seemed
to Plato™s Socrates and Thrasymachus, that the ruler is a shepherd. Hus-
bands are not kings. But if all such socially contingent classifications are
taken to be forms of office, implicit grounds for comparison lubricate the
metaphorical imagination, or perhaps render non-figurative what we
designate metaphorical. Metaphor is a creature of classificatory specificity
and, lacking the requisite categories, we lose the means for identifying
figurative transference. In the contentious case of the parent, child and the
arranged marriage, it is not difficult to detect a sufficient closeness to
rulers and ruled for talk of rebellion and tyranny to rumble around a
neighbourhood. Insofar as we recognise familial and political relation-
ships to be different, we might well take the notion of parental tyranny to

Anon., The Office of Christian Parents (1616), p. 1, B1; p. 229.
Hugh Latimer, Fruitful Sermons (1635 edn), fol. 302v; William Gouge, Domesticall Duties
(1622), pp. 562“5; William Ames, Cases of Conscience and the Resolution thereof (1639),
ch. 35, pp. 200“1; Anon., The Office of Christian Parents, pp. 194, 207.
32 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
be metaphorical; but if both the familial and the political are sub-sets of
the official to which the tyrannous most properly pertains, then it is not so
obvious that we are dealing with a metaphor. The time-honoured hom-
ologies between social function and physical attribute have lost much of
their power and intimate interconnection. We draw a sufficiently clear
distinction between them for a head of state to be understood as merely a
figure of speech; but in a world in which corporeal and social identity
could be related in a symmetrical and semiotic fashion, the physical could
stand for the official. Further, we may talk of affairs of the heart, evoking
a moribund yet still recognisable metaphor, but, in the seventeenth cen-
tury, the heart had an interstitial status between corporeal and non-
corporeal identity, a figure for the spiritual or emotional and a literal
locus of the passions. The wedding ring, it was noted in The Gentleman™s
Magazine, was traditionally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand
because it was believed to carry a nerve directly to the heart.53 Changes in
our knowledge of human physiology, cell and gene structure are far less
likely to have an impact on concepts of society than theories of anatomy
and corporeal reality had on seventeenth-century political discourse, for
each discursive domain now has a degree of conceptual insulation it lacked
three hundred years ago.
Analyses of motivation and the psychology of human agency were vital
explananda for the censure of office. Such failings as pride and greed led to
neglecting the proper scope, or transgressing the limits of any office, and
they were seen as arising from specific kinds of disposition generated by
the physical humours. Thus in a causative as well as an homologous way,
the world of offices was related to corporeal identity. The vocabulary of
motives sought to explain four sorts of social impropriety: improper
occupation, iniquitous exercise, neglect (or alienation) and over-extension
of office. This last process of moving beyond one™s sphere was a matter of
oppressing and reducing others to slavery. Where one form of organised
rule might be favoured over another, it was because it was held to satisfy
the requirements of the office of rule itself and keep at bay iniquity,
turpitude and the ever present threat of tyranny.

The explication of all these features of an office-driven world has negative
consequences for some fashionable and closely related lines of enquiry
into early-modern England. As it is not my purpose to discuss modern

A Selection from the Gentleman™s Magazine (1811, 2nd edn), vol. I (from September
1795), p. 445.
An overview 33
theories extensively, it may be helpful to list something of what is at
stake. Over the last generation or so there has been a preoccupation,
especially in literary studies, with the emergence of the modern sense of
the ˜Self™, with individualism and with self-fashioning, modern subjectiv-
ity, and autobiography. The lineage of this topos is an uneven blend of
Marxist, Burckhardtian and liberal theory, sometimes processed through
Foucauldian notions of power, and sometimes by mistaking Kant™s exam-
ination of the postulates of the noumenal for features of phenomenal
existence. It will, I think, become apparent that a proper attention to the
presuppositions of office renders the whole enterprise of self-searching
Notions of ˜self-fashioning™ and individualism have a partial genesis in
the study of the origins and limitations of liberalism. This is such a firmly
entrenched sub-genre of academia at the nexus of political theory, literary
analysis and history that it is fairly standard to call Hobbes and Locke
liberals, or attach them unreflectively to a liberal lineage when they are not
even under discussion. Liberalism seems most plausible in the early-
modern world if notions of office lay unnoticed or under-explored. If
these are supplemented by the implantation of our own liberal vocabulary,
we have not so much evidence of liberalism™s continuity as a linguistic fait
accompli.55 I hope that the cumulative effect of the attention to office and
the configurations of its language will render liberalism a spurious pres-
ence in the seventeenth century. As a corollary, the predominantly liberal
notion of human beings as bearers of subjective rights has led to the
assiduous search for the origin of a concept of natural law in which such
individuals are suspended. If we can find such a theory, and the older the
better, of course it commends the writer as modern. We get only fleeting
glimpses of such theories in seventeenth-century England, their signifi-
cance distorted by overlooking that rights were attached not to individuals
qua moral agents with needs, but to personae tied to duties. Even Grotius,
who comes close to being a theorist of subjective rights, uses the notion of
a rights-bearing person as a cipher for the diversity of rights and duties
that are found in official personae.56 Tracing subjective rights back to the
Middle Ages sounds plausible if natural law is isolated from divine and the

The formative text is Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, From More to
Shakespeare (Chicago, 1980), a work more subtle than much in its idiom.
See, for example, Vickie Sullivan, Machiavelli, Hobbes and the Formation of a Liberal
Republicanism in England (Cambridge, 2004), and the extensive literature on which she
draws, pp. 1“27. Liberalism is seen as a fixture of the political landscape, p. 10; it is its
early modern marriage with republicanism that needs explaining.
Grotius, De jure belli, 1.i.4“5.
34 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
human soul is seen as synonymous with the individual.57 But as natural
law was subsumed by divine and the soul was largely conceived in terms of
relationships of office (chapter 6), the plausibility diminishes; the liberal
rights-bearer assumes the shape of a myth.
Related to all of these lines of enquiry is the frequent imposition or
casual acceptance of modern distinctions between public and private.
Feminist history and political theory have, for example, made much of
this and of women being restricted to the private (domestic) sphere.
Mapping patterns of disadvantage through the use of dichotomies be-
tween public and private is now being recognised as theoretically prob-
lematic.58 It has also been historically misleading. In the early-modern
world, notions of public and private were of diminished and negotiable
significance, and they were often used rather differently, sufficiently for
the modern binary oppositions to have become distorting global projec-
tions. As John Caputo has written in a different context, in making firm
distinctions we can invent what we think we are only clarifying.59 In the
present case, this is not least because, when unpacked, whatever was
private could, no less than the public, be discussed in terms of office, or
could signal argument about office-abuse (chapter 3). It may be that
rather than that handy abstraction liberalism arising from a dichotomy
between public and private, it is the other way round. Of recent interest
also has been the search for the origins of the Habermasian ˜public sphere™,
itself according to Jurgen Habermas a liberal bourgeois phenomenon
which he located in the early eighteenth century as a concomitant, or
derivative, of early capitalism.60 These origins have gradually been pushed
back to the early sixteenth century, but, as I shall conclude in chapter 3,
the putative discoveries of this sphere have confused a theoretical model
with the evidence, so distorting the past as much as divesting the model of
its meaning. The combined effect of putting to one side these customary
genealogical categories of analysis that are held to have early-modern
origins, is to render problematic what we might take for granted about

Brian Tierney, ˜The Origins of Natural Rights Language: Texts and Contexts 1150“1250™,
History of Political Thought, 4 (1983), pp. 429“41; Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural
Rights (Atlanta, 1997); Annabelle Brett, Liberty, Right and Nature (Cambridge, 1997).
See, for example, Raia Prokhovnik, Rational Woman (London, 1999); Diana Coole,
˜Cartographic Convulsions: Public and Private Reconsidered™, Political Theory, 28, 3
(2000), pp. 337“54; C. Armstrong and J. Squires, ˜Beyond the Public/Private Dichotomy:
Relational Space and Sexual Inequalities™, Contemporary Political Theory, 1 (2002),
pp. 261“83.
John Caputo, On Religion (London, 2000), p. 46.
Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a
Category of Bourgeois Society, trans T. Burger and F. Lawrence (Cambridge, 1992).
An overview 35
the political itself, and the apparent discovery of its autonomy in early
modernity (chapter 10).
The centrepiece, as it were, of the political turbulence of seventeenth-
century England was the execution of a monarch for the most dramatic
form of office-abuse and the formal establishment of a republic or com-
monwealth. This was a revolutionary moment. And fear of the violent
precedent it might become informed society deep into the eighteenth
century. The monarchy was never quite the same again. The immediate
republican past made the restored Charles II a new prince. Because of his
Catholicism James II was new, fresher than Mary I. Dutch William was
new and so was German George. Even at the end of the eighteenth
century, the violent formation of a French Republic did much to bring
the fear of English Civil War and king-killing back into the present. So,
unlike the preoccupations with the public sphere and the modern, liberal
self, an interest in the related questions of the revolutionary character of
the Civil Wars and what republicanism might have meant, can all be
historically valid. But as the Cromwellian Commonwealth did not last
long and people might well suffer if accused of republicanism late in the
century, it is all too easy to construct a narrative rather like a Foxean
martyrology, pouring the blood of new victims into the old bottles labelled
Marxian Revolution, Liberal constitutionalism and Protestant Reforma-
tion. Such apologetic trajectories of social time and ideological lineage will
be resisted here. Instead, what will, I believe, become clear, is that the
nature of English republicanism needs recasting, because much of the
evidence for it arises from an unhelpful way of discussing a common
feature of all early-modern societies, and much from mistaking register
of office-talk for ideology (chapters 3, 7). It is to the disparate evidence of
office that I shall now turn.
2 Ceremonies of of¬ce: The kiss of
the tutti-man

Ceremony keeps up all things.
(John Selden, Table Talk, 1686)

This chapter sketches something of the habitus of office beyond institu-
tional form, for the ritualistic or ceremonial was a dimension of activity
integral to society.1 ˜Seremoney™, insisted William Cavendish, ˜though itt
is nothing in itt Selfe, yett it doth Every thing.™ All artificial relationships
of hierarchy were expressed and affirmed through it: ˜“what is parents &
Children, masters & Servants, officers in all kindes, in the Comon wealth,
without Seremoney, And order, nothing at all“™.2 As Selden remarked
succinctly, it was ˜like a penny glass to a rich spirit . . . without it the spirit
[is] lost™.3 But the glass is an unreliable mirror, or model for any separate
social structure.4 This too contemporaries would have appreciated. As

Where possible, I am using the terms ritual and ceremony as interchangeable, though
ritual can nowadays be taken to refer to the general character of ceremonial occasions
and to specific actions within ceremonies. In the seventeenth century the semantic
relationships were rather different. Ceremony was often preferred as a general term to the
frequently pejorative ritual. This negativity, however, sometimes rubbed off onto the
ceremonial. Much depended on the modes of discourse in which the words were found
and specifically on religious affiliations. See Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic™, p.
156, on the ceremonial as a principal dimension of political participation; Buc, The
Dangers of Ritual, at length, on the problem of a ˜hazy laundrey list™ of practices
consolidated by anthropological modelling, p. 5, too broad to be useful, too fashionable
to be given up, p. 161. In many cases Buc™s ˜solemnities™, is a better word, p. 9.
William Cavendish, ˜Advice™ (1660), Clarendon MS 109, Bodleian Library, Oxford,
fol. 20.
Albertus Warren, The Royalist Reform™d (1650), p. 26; John Selden, Table Talk (1686) in
James Thornton, ed., Table Talk from Ben Jonson to Leigh Hunt (London, 1934), p. 29.
Edwin Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 5“6 for the qualified
distinction between mirroring and modelling. See Tim Harris, London Crowds in the
Reign of Charles II: Propaganda and Politics from the Restoration to the Exclusion Crisis

Ceremonies of office 37
Richard Stuart reflected, ceremony was like a ˜dumb shew™; it is the moral
that commends it, not the act, but ˜the end of it™.5 Therein lay the problem:
the semiotic presupposition that so sensitised people to symbolic intercon-
nection made it difficult to limit hermeneutic possibility. Reading the ˜end™
of it could be re-encoding to a different point, and so the whole field of the
ceremonial could be, as Hobbes wrote of metaphor, equivocal and subject
to contention.
And so it remains. Much valuable scholarship has been concentrated
on the ˜end™ or function of the ceremonial within a broader political sys-
tem. For some the ˜end™ was hegemonic containment, for others the oppor-
tunity for resistance to that control. Analyses of carnival in early-modern
Europe have often moved in this second direction.6 Given the variously
exploitable character of social rituals, however, global accounts of their
social function are likely to be dangerous, and looking for a set of specific-
ally political functions may be a matter of pouring new wine into the old
penny glass and investing its ˜politics™ with anachronistic content.7 Even
when this is not the case, the identification of the distinctly political can be
arbitrary, but political or not, wherever we find surviving evidence of ritual
and ceremony, we are likely to find expectations of office, affirmed or

Throughout early-modern England rituals paced and organised the flow
of existence. They often helped palliate wayward contingency even when
riding in its most apocalyptic forms. They punctuated and gave structure
to the turning points of single lives, to the agricultural year, and consti-
tuted the religious calendar.8 Prior to the Reformation a complex litur-
gical calendar was made to coincide with the seasons; thus the productive
processes of the year were associated with clerical office. This may or may

(Cambridge, 1987), pp. 15“18; at greater length, Tim Harris, ˜Problematising Popular
Culture™, in Tim Harris, ed., Popular Culture in England, c.1500“1850 (Basingstoke,
1995); Peter Burke, ˜Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century London™, in Barry Reay,
ed., Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1985), pp. 31“2; Buc, The
Dangers of Ritual, pp. 7“11.
Richard Stuart, Three Sermons Preached by the Reverend and Learned Dr. Richard Stuart
(1656), p. 112.
Cf. Clifford Geertz, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton,
1980), with the literature discussed in Muir, Ritual, ch. 3.
Buc, The Dangers of Ritual, pp. 8“11.
Muir, Ritual, p. 16; for a detailed study, David Cressy, Bonfires and Bells: National
Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London, 1979).
38 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
not have functioned to reinforce the authority of the church.9 It did,
however, depict those involved in seasonal activities as souls in a cosmic
order that priests themselves might help mediate. After the Reformation,
the integration of liturgical and seasonal calendars became controversial,
augmenting the vulnerability of the Catholic Church; the signs of popery
and the abuse of priestly office could be found almost everywhere. And,
because one calendar could symbolise the other, England would prove
slow in adopting Gregorian reforms; acceptance could signify compliance
to Rome.10 Nevertheless, throughout England rituals remained, some-
times co-opted and decisively changed.11 Edwin Muir gives the beauti-
ful anecdote from the history of the vehemently Protestant Emmanuel
College. Founded in 1584 upon the ruins of a Dominican priory, the
dining hall was on the site of the priory chapel, so the daily breaking of
bread ritualistically erased the idolatrous ceremonies of the Eucharist.12
Later, Marvell would fashion images of perpetual reformation through
a house built on a place of papal corruption, so making explicit the
meanings of symbolic refounding and reaffirmation in the ceremonies of
everyday life.13
Numerous rituals were woven like the ribbons worked around the
maypole: from sowing seed to cutting the corn, from birth to the dance
of death. Ritual performance was a social participation that gave a ration-
ale to the world because it assigned roles; and the acceptance of a role was
tacit consent to a world, as one understood it.14 And, as an office consoli-
dates role-play into an on-going moral entity, we may expect an intim-
ation of office to permeate the ceremonial. As tradition is an idiom of
change, the choreography of ritual might be improvised or contested,
precisely because people understood its importance as symbolic assertion,
a negotiable norm by which to measure any deviating steps.
Older customs, like ancient philosophers, survived by dancing to the
tunes of Christianity. ˜The Heathens had . . . their Saturnalia, and we our
Carnevals . . . They their Procession of Priapus; wee our fetching in,
erection, and dancing about May-poles; and Dancing is one kind of

Muir, Ritual, p. 58.
Anon., The Julian and Gregorian Year (1700), pp. 15, 17.
Cressy, Bonfires, for example, pp. xi“xii, 45“53.
Muir, Ritual, p. 176; but see Sarah Bendall, Christopher Brooke and Patrick Collinson, A
History of Emmanuel College Cambridge (Woodbridge, 1999), pp. 7“10, 43. Muir™s
conjunction of locations is not specifically supported.
A. D. Cousins, ˜Marvell™s “Upon Appleton House, to My Lord Fairfax” and the
Regaining of Paradise™, in Conal Condren and A.D. Cousins, eds., The Political Identity
of Andrew Marvell (Aldershot, 1990), pp. 53“84.
David Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor
and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997), pp. 475“82.
Ceremonies of office 39
Worship™. Then again, ˜Wee never reade of any Christians that went
dancing into Heaven; though we read of sundry wicked ones who have
gone dancing downe to Hell.™15 Because so much ritual activity expressed
or reaffirmed a particular religious identity, it is little wonder that the
rhythms of performance were often disrupted as an expression of social
unease and denominational controversy.16 The very word ritual was a
prejudicial Reformation coinage for Catholic rites believed inimical to
Christian liberty;17 but gradually its range was expanded, both to say
something serious about social practice and to index spreading contro-
versy. Theologically, ritual was poised on the edge of those things con-
sidered necessary for salvation, and so subject to the most sedulous
defence, and those belonging to the uncertain realm of adiaphora: uncer-
tain, because it could be argued with equal vigour that things indifferent to
salvation should be left alone, or controlled in the interests of peace.18 To
move from the ritualised affirmations of salvational necessity to those of
adiaphora could be to leap from frying pan to fire.
Crucial to understanding ritual as an aspect of expectations of office is
the notion of rites of passage, concerning birth, marriage and death. In
1908 Arnold van Gennep identified three stages in them: separation,
transition and incorporation. The stages were held to be significant be-
cause the specific meanings of actions were dependent upon their immedi-
ate ceremonial contexts. David Cressy has suggested that van Gennep™s
analysis simply closes down historical discussion; but the problem is
different.19 Gennep™s structural schema led to a fragmented view of rela-
tionships in office. The stage of incorporation was incorporation as, and
might better be called, an assumption of office. This, in turn, might be less
a separation from a group than an enrichment of identity within it. In
becoming a priest a man was not separated from his church but assumed
an augmented status. This office was of pivotal importance as clerics
mediated the transformation of so many personae into office, and the
Reformation made rites of passage into the priesthood inherently contro-
versial as semiotic encapsulations of theology. For the Lutheran, the

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge, 1991), ch. 45, p. 457;
Morgan Godwyn, The Negroe™s and Indians Advocate (1680), p. 33; cf. William Prynne,
Histrio-mastix (1633), pp. 244, 232.
Cressy, Birth, pp. 475“82.
George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded onto the
Church of Scotland (1637), ch. 1; Buc, The Dangers of Ritual, pp. 164“72.
For the contrary implications of adiaphora, see John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,
ed. Philip Abrams (Cambridge, 1967).
Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. M. B. Vizidom and G. L. Caffee
(Chicago, 1960); cf. Muir, Ritual, pp. 19“20; Cressy, Birth, pp. 97“8.
40 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
change merely proclaimed the duties of an office within an ecclesia in
which all believers had a priestly aspect. For many others, not necessarily
Catholic, the passage into office was through God™s grace a radical and
mystical transformation.
At this point, a distinction can be drawn between transformative as-
sumption of and affirmative performance in office. A marriage was a rite
of official passage for bride and groom, one in which the bride, to allude to
van Gennep, was separated from her parents and assumed a new office
after a liminary ceremony of transition. Yet, it was also a performance in
office for parents and priest. A recognised assumption of was thus de-
pendent upon performance in office. The rites surrounding child-birth
were always transformative rites of passage for the baby, from unborn
soul to child, but with the first child the status of the woman was also
altered. Around a single event like birth might be woven subsidiary rituals
of child-bed preparation, and there could be an evocation of previous
ceremonies. Churching, especially after the birth of the first-born, was a
reaffirmation, even in a way a completion, of the marriage sacrament. If
one turns attention from transformation to performance, birth rites of
passage might generate tension between the official mediators, minister
and midwife.20 Each had an interest of office, a property in the proceed-
ings, but although midwives formally were licensed by the church, expert-
ise and field of operation to the virtual exclusion of men meant that their
office was neither clearly subordinate, nor uniformly controlled. That the
occasional midwife was a man did not noticeably increase clerical author-
ity. The detailed oath of midwifery, one of the longest recorded in The
Booke of Oathes, made clear that the midwife™s was an office of specific
responsibilities and of enabling rights. She was obliged inter alia to help all
women in birth regardless of wealth, not to falsify parentage, connive at
abortion, or at the death of a child, to forbear the use of charms and
witchcraft, to ensure proper burial of the dead and baptism of the quick.21
She had also to report on any deviant behaviour of any others within
the ˜roome™, or office of the midwife. It was this office that provided also
the terms of her protection when conduct was questioned. Elizabeth
Gaynsford insisted that it was ˜by the authoritie of my office then beying
a midwyfe™ that she had baptised a child.22 I shall return to the distinction
between the affirmative and the transformative when dealing with the
specific issue of oath-taking (chapters 11, 12) for the oath itself was

Cressy, Birth, pp. 63“70.
The Booke of Oathes (1649), p. 288.
˜The Deposition of Elizabeth Gainsford™, October 1543, cited in A Selection from the
Gentleman™s Magazine, December 1795, vol. I, p. 385.
Ceremonies of office 41
characteristically a ritualised act, had a performative dimension and was a
sign of what more broadly was taking place.
The mysteries of child-birth were, then, overseen by an officer, at once
accountable, yet of independent authority; birth itself was informed by
official expectations but not by invariant ritual, or one simple narrative of
meaning. Thus the sacrament of baptism became controversial, for it
encoded contentious theological claims about the office of the priest, or,
in emergency, the midwife, and about the meaning of belonging to a
church. Only gradually did the role of the godparents diminish, and
probably not much during the period under discussion. Usually in early
modern England, their place was central in baptism, for, enlisted in the
cosmic fight against evil, their responsibility was to guide a soul, an office
that might potentially conflict with parental duty.23
Similarly, marriage was preceded to a large extent by differing patterns
of courtship to which a considerable literature was devoted dealing with
the symbolism and significance of the discrete stages and the strategies for
moving through them. These might even be reduced to a set of learnable
cribs and aids to seduction.24 Then, formally status was transformed by
sacrament and service; but official expectations could be disrupted by the
conflict of action in the name of office. Parents might claim a duty to force
or prohibit a union, children might elope, priests might decline to officiate.
Some might marry without the exchange of rings. As Cressy points out,
during the seventeenth century, the symbolism of the ring also increasingly
became a focus for hostility to the vestiges of popery.25 For George
Gillespie, this as well as clerical robes were ˜reliques of Romes whoorish
bravery™ and signs of conformity to Antichrist.26 William Prynne, in
curiously ameliorating vein, considered the ring a matter of theological
indifference, to be ˜omitted, or left arbitrary to all™.27 But predominantly it
remained a symbol of union before God. To question it was indirectly to
subvert the Book of Common Prayer, which after 1662 could itself be
defended almost as Holy writ, for the office of the Church of England
priest depended much upon it. For the rich, marital disaster might end
with another formal rite of official passage, annulment, ejactation or
divorce. These terminations could be effected through a diversity of local
customs such as the return of the wedding ring. For the poor there was

Muir, Ritual, p. 21.
Alexander Nicholes, A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving (1615); N. H., The Ladies
Dictionary (1694); Edward Phillips, The Mysteries of Love and Eloquence (1658, 1685).
Cressy, Birth, pp. 342“7.
Gillespie, A Dispute, p.107; pt 2.3, p.15; Cressy, Birth, p. 345.
William Prynne, A Short, Sober pacific examination of some exhorbitancies in Ceremonial
Apurtinences to the Common Prayer (1661), p. 7.
42 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
occasionally the option of sale and always the drift into illicit and officially
ambiguous relationships.28
The termination of life was just as pregnant with symbolic connotations
of office, for, as I shall show, the central focus of death was the soul,
depicted as being in an official relationship with God (below, Chapter 6).
When dissolution was expected, the preparations could be highly ritual-
ised with death-beds as the central props for an ars moriendi, the stage for
a contest between Heaven and Hell.29 It was, according to Roy Porter,
only during the eighteenth century that death-bed ceremonial gradually
dissipated. Wills were more likely to be reduced to their prosaic functions
of property transfer, omitting the conventionalised theological prolegom-
ena characteristic of the previous century.30 Yet, as with baptism, because
the service of the dead continued to be informed by official expectations, it
was intermittently subject to controversy. First, masses for the dead
became tainted within a Protestant environment, then surplices were
gathered with the skirts of popery, and even the priest™s meeting the
funeral procession became contentious.31 Little of this was, one presumes,
the result of an indifference to human feelings, but arose from changing
beliefs about what rituals meant and how they squared with the require-
ments of the priestly office. The more rules and regulations concerning
ceremonies in general, reflected Edmund Hickeringill, the more there was
likely to be discord.32 In short, at all recognised stages of life, official
expectations proffered hope of order and meaning, often to be dashed in
the dissonances of symbolic possibility.
This was true of the solemnities of punishment and execution. So often
formally public, executions were performed ceremoniously, often before
teeming witnesses, playing their part in creating an almost dramatic
ambience. The gruesome relics of this work “ London Bridge, for example,
with a tiara of boiled heads, the twisting cadavers over the river at Exe-
cution Dock “ were proclamations of the duties of the sword of justice.
They were the droppings of the vigilant. To interfere was itself a serious
felony, and could be read as a symbolic rejection of authoritative office.
In 1633 the culmination of the notorious Clun murders was not the
execution of the young Enock ap Evan for murdering his mother and
brother, but the removal of his body from the gibbet to give it some show

Muir, Ritual, p. 42; the practice lasted “ Thomas Hardy™s The Mayor of Casterbridge
begins with such a sale.
Jeremy Taylor, Rules for Holy Dying (1651), ch. 4, pp. 178“83; Muir, Ritual, pp. 45“6.
Porter Enlightenment Britain, p. 211.
Cressy, Birth, pp. 396“407; see also Prynne, A Short . . . Examination, sect. 4, pp. 30ff;
appendix on symbolism of the colours of vestments, pp. 113“36.
Edmund Hickeringill, The Naked Truth, The First Part (1680), pp. 8“10.
Ceremonies of office 43
of decent burial in a saw-pit. The justices were assiduous in winkling out
the culprit, even if they decided not to string her up as well. Enock™s sister,
they concluded, had suffered enough. This acquiescence in a suspension of
the law was in turn taken as a sign of a puritan conspiracy involving Enock
and the justices who originally had him hanged.33 Lesser punishments
were still weighty with emblematic significance: a necklace of dice for the
fraud in the pillory, a whetstone for the liar.34 Those who walked at large
with cropped ears, or spoke with pierced tongue, advertised a whole
semiotics of justice.

& the next day, being st. George™s, he went by water to Westminster Abby.: when
his Majestie was entered, the Dean & Prebends brought all the Regalia . . . Then
came the Peres in their Robes & Coronets &c in their hands, til his Majestie was
placed in a throne elevated before the Altar . . . then rose up the King & put off his
robes & upper garments . . . [that the] Bishop might commodiously anoint him . . .
Then was a Coyf put on & the Colobium, Syndon or Dalmatic, & over this a
Supertunic of Cloth of Gold, with buskins & sandals of the same, Spurrs, The
Sword . . . Then the A:B: placed the Crowne Imperial on the Altar, prayed over it, &
set it on his Majesties Head, at which all the Peres put on their Coronets.35

Among the most significant rites of official passage were coronations,
municipal elections and ecclesiastical investitures. These were woven
around talismanic and sacred robes and baubles, above all the crown
and Confessor™s throne at coronations. They were performances at once
proclaiming the importance of an office and the new office-holder, but it
would be unduly reductive to see them only as displays of power. To begin
with, they were reassurances of official continuity, drawing on a stock of
symbolic associations and of necessity involving a circle of witnesses
additional to the central actors. Witness and actor established a relation-
ship of reciprocal responsibility and the prescribed actions furnished a
primitive statement of what was entailed. Between being placed on the
throne and being anointed, Charles had been presented on every side to
the people by the Bishop of London, ˜asking if they would have him for
their king and do him homage™.36 Witnesses, in short, were the sanctioning

Peter Studely, The Looking-Glasse of Schism (1635); Barbara Coulton, ˜Rivalry and
Religion: The Borough of Shrewsbury in the Early Stuart Period™, Midland History, 28
(2003), pp. 38“41.
Peter Ackroyd, London, The Biography (London, 2000), p. 290.
John Evelyn, Diary, ed. E. S. de Beer, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1955), vol. III, 24 April 1661,
pp. 282“3.
44 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
rim of the action, a sign of limit, framing the performance like the
Hungerford tutti-men exchanging oranges for kisses as they marched
around the town on its Hocktide or Easter election days, or ˜the commons™
and ˜their clarkes in their surplices™ summoned for the Tynwald Day
proclamations of law in the Isle of Man.37 As I will discuss more fully
(chapters 11, 12), the solemnities were frequently explicated and cemented
with an oath calling on God as the omnipotent witness. If the ceremony
publicly affirmed the new status and proclaimed a transfer of rights to the
office-holders, it also encapsulated the criteria for judging conduct. The
witnesses and the communities they stood for were thus forewarned and
Many rites of office made play with circles, for from antiquity the circle
had symbolised a form of perfection, something completed, and was a
token of a distinct identity. The wedding ring was an unending shape
commonly taken as a sign of the undying nature of mutual commitment.38
The circle, however, not only idealised the virtues of the office-holders,
but like the studied repetition of ritual, the continuity of office itself: hence
the coronets carried, then worn, in response to the crowning of the king,
and the mayoral circlet chain of office. But, as the chain additionally
suggests, a circle was associated strongly with constraint and limit, of
being tied to a given responsibility and a distinct end; it suggests a telos,
then, in a double sense of the term, of purpose and completion.39 There
followed the necessity of finding and proclaiming office-holders who were
fit because they knew the burdens of their sphere and understood the
consequences of neglect or excess.
For centuries in various parts of England there were Ascension Day
rituals of beating bounds or circuits of jurisdiction.40 The common office
of schoolmaster was often circumscribed through what Keith Thomas has
called ˜collusive rituals™. In Tideswell, Derbyshire, for example, the chil-
dren went around the village and then barred the master from the school-
house. He could assume his office only by exercising it to give a holiday.41
This reciprocity of official bounds and fit conduct seems most explicit in
the London Skinners™ Company ceremony for a newly elected master. The
crown of office, like Cinderella™s slipper, was first tried on others before

Hugh Pilhens, The Story of Hungerford (Newbury, 1983), pp. 19“22; Christina Hole,
English Custom and Usage (London, 1943“4), p. 121.
Onians, Origins, pp. 426“66, esp. 444, 449, 454“9; Cressy, Birth, p. 342.
Onians, Origins, pp. 457“9, cites Aeschylus as using telos to refer to office; Myers,
Political Ideas of the Greeks, pp. 159“63.
Burke, ˜Popular Culture™, p. 36.
Keith Thomas, cited in Coulton, ˜Rivalry and Religion™, p. 30; Hole, English Custom,
p. 39.
Ceremonies of office 45
being placed on the master™s head, which alone it was proclaimed to fit.
Matthew Griffith emphasised this notion of fitness in decoding the sym-
bolism of the wedding ring as an expression of the match between husband
and wife.42 The sense of boundary describing any office could also exhi-
bit a heavy-handed awareness of transgression. At St Mary™s parish,
Leicester, during bound-beating, newly appointed officials were, apparently,
inverted, inserted in a hole and beaten with a shovel.43

A little more needs to be said about ceremonial affirmations of office:
performances in which office-holders were endorsed in their daily work.
Here, however, the movement creating narrative meaning is not of some-
one assuming a new persona, but often literally, a progress, or procession
of an office in action. We are still familiar with gaudy crocodiles of judges,
or gowned academics processing before their business is properly begun.
Nowadays, however, there is often a museum-like quality for the curious
onlookers, most of whom are more innocent bystanders than ceremonial
witnesses, while the processions themselves may have been streamlined.
Judges arriving for the assizes are no longer attended by pikemen and
greeted with bells, music and Latin orations, ˜awful solemnities™, as one
seventeenth-century observer put it, designed to impress upon all the
majesty of the law.44 In Elizabethan England, the status of parliament
was framed by such events, and the speeches commencing proceedings
were ritualistic affirmations of an office and its shared values.45 Even
charitable work could take such a stylised form. John Stow recalls the
regular, usually Friday, processions of London citizens and their wives to
Houndsditch to place coins at the windows of the needy. In such alms-
giving passeggiate, they affirmed standing by conduct befitting responsi-
bility and the specific office of alms-giving.46
The pageantry of royal progresses associated with Elizabeth I is a
similar example: although spectacular progresses were patinated with
custom.47 In announcing her presence and power, they were reassurances

Cressy, Birth, p. 342.
Hole, English Custom, p. 59.
Cited in Braddick, State Formation, p. 38.
Mack, Elizabethan Rhetoric, pp. 215“52; Elizabeth I: Collected Works, ed. Leah S.
Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose (Chicago, 2000), pp. 159, 105, 107, 108, 167,
181, 328“30, 346, 351.
Stow, A Survay of London (1603 edn), p. 129; Ackroyd, London, p.118; ˜Of Alms-Deeds™,
in Certain Sermons, pp. 241“5.
Frances Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1993
edn), p. 109.
46 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
about the protective reach of office. Elizabeth™s status was underlined
by the pomp with which she and her entourage would pause before the
city, town, or palace gates and then formally be received.48 On such
occasions, her studied acts of charity were symbolic of her wider
care.49 At Woodstock in 1575 Sir Henry Lee greeted her with chivalric
tilts and a poetic hermit with shepherd™s crook who conducted her to an
arcadian banquet.50 In George Peele™s Lord Mayoral pageant of 1591,
Elizabeth was the shepherdess thwarting the monkish figures of supersti-
tion and ignorance. The assurance of the protective nature of true rule is
clear: ˜Feed on my flock among the gladsome green™ (the stress is crucial).
Yet more sheep: Elizabeth, ˜whose heart is purely fixed on the law,/The
holy law . . .™ thus stands, or rather sits safe among her flock, swathed
in Platonic and New Testament affirmations of office.51 An account of an
extended reception at Cambridge in 1564“5 had also played out the
reassuring continuity of responsibility. Elizabeth participated in prelimin-
ary processions and receptions with the exchange of gifts, gloves and sugar
loaves looming large; and then the event culminated with an oration by
the queen decoding the significance by linking herself with her predeces-
sors and expressing her sensitivity to the need to succour learning, but no
firm funding promises. All this was to confirm an official space for the
university itself.52
Expectation of continuity of conduct is most elaborately illustrated by
the London pageants.53 John Stow records commemorations of Edward
I™s victories over the Scots, with fishmongers moving through the streets
with golden sturgeon and silver salmon accompanied by five and forty
knights.54 Often these affairs were sufficiently elaborate and didactic to
operate as subsidiary rites of official passage, celebrating the election of a
new Lord Mayor. They were frequently scripted by playwrights. Dekker
and Heywood drew on eclectic patterns of imagery that presumably
sought to reach a diversity of audience.55 As the participants progressed
from one significant point to another, there were tableaux and mottoes,
speeches and poetry to decode the action. Such pageants had something of

David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558“1642 (London, 1971), pp. 3“5; on
civic entries, see also Muir, Ritual, 239“46.
Christopher Haigh, Elizabeth (New York, 1998), pp. 151“2.
Yates, Astraea, pp. 94“8.
George Peele, Descenus Astraeae, in Works, ed. A. H. Bullen (London, 1888), vol. I,
pp. 363, 366; Yates, Astraea, pp. 60“1.
A Selection from the Gentleman™s Magazine, vol. I, pp. 75“92; see also Mack, Elizabethan
Rhetoric, pp. 48“9; Elizabeth I, ˜Oration™, in Works (August 1564), pp. 87“9.
See, at length, Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry.
Stow, Survay, p. 96.
Burke, ˜Popular Culture™, pp. 44“5.
Ceremonies of office 47
the civic mystery play about them. They were, as Bergeron has argued,
emblems writ large.56 The themes all concerned the mayoral office, its
responsibilities, the rights and virtues necessary for its exercise and its
surrounding dangers. The symbolism of the shepherd was one size that
fitted all, mayors no less than monarchs, and citizens were sheep to be
protected in the little fold of London from the ever lurking wolves.57 In
1619 Thomas Middleton made more obvious play with the parallels
of office by comparing the mayor with a loving spouse. Dekker and
Middleton both used the decorous imagery of maritime adventuring.
The mayoralty was like a great voyage of state with all its challenges,
dangers and its need for dedication, vigilance, foresight and resilience,
imperatives familiar from the world of the Italian republics and which
Halifax would later associate with the art of trimming in the tiny boat of
Little processions were replicated with local variation throughout the
land. At Lichfield the sheriff in the company of mounted witnesses rode
annually around the ancient boundary marks of the city, pausing at each
to accept the limit and integrity of his sphere.59 And, aside from all civic
pageants, there were, for example, funereal and bridal processions, helping
frame transformative rites of passage. More occasionally, processions
ending in acts of lavish hospitality might announce the return of a local
patron, signalling the resumption of the liberality that was a proclaimed
virtue of aristocracy. The end of the journey in one sense expressed the end
of the office in another. Gradually such performances were scaled down or
abandoned, but they survived into the eighteenth century.60
Processions hardly exhausted the symbolic organisation of social space.
Within the courtly world, the Tudor progress was superseded by the more
intimate Stuart masque: ˜come shepherds all let™s sing and play™.61 This
was a form of theatre that makes sense best as allegorical comment on the
importance of office and its necessary virtues, often with the centrality

Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, pp. 274“99.
Heywood, Londini euphoria (1633), sig. B2v; Yates, Astraea, pp. 60“1.
Thomas Dekker, Dramatic Works, ed. F. Bowers (Cambridge, 1953“61), vol. III, pp.
233“4; see also, on Middleton, Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, p. 297; on analogous
symbolism in the Italian republics, Quentin Skinner, ˜Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the
Portrayal of Virtuous Government™, in Visions of Politics, vol.II : Renaissance Virtues
(Cambridge, 2002), pp. 39“92.
Hole, English Custom, p. 119.
Cressy, Birth, pp. 367“9; David Underdown, Start of Play: Cricket and Culture in
Eighteenth-Century England (London, 2000), pp. 50“1.
John Blow (?), An Opera Performed Before The King (17 April 1664), p. 1; for the shift
from pageant to masque, Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, p. 5.
48 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
of the monarch reinforced by his being both a pivotal participant, even a
deus ex machina, in the minimal action, and having uniquely privileged
perspective from the audience.62 In the masque, those expectations were
Platonically idealised (consider James VI&I as Pan), and so were potential
points of vulnerability but for the barrier made of complicit courtly
witnesses and performers. This ritual of the static abstraction, inciden-
tally, helps explain some of the uses of the masque motif in revenge
tragedy. It could provide the strongest counterpoint for a world just as
extremely defined by almost systematic office-abuse. Whether the coun-
terpoint was subversive and ironic, as Darryll Grantly has rather simplis-
tically argued, or reinforcing and condemnatory of the lurid world of
corruption and revenge, or not necessarily either, is, however, hardly
something that can be neatly read from dramatic structure.63
Some distance from court masques were ˜rough music™, ˜skimmingtons™
and flitching ceremonies; yet they were all alike in reinforcing expectations
of good conduct in office. In some parts of England a flitch of bacon was
given to any man, then later any couple, who could plausibly deny ever
having repented marriage. By the eighteenth century, the claims were
formally investigated and could take the form of mock divorce court
proceedings with juries of spinsters and bachelors having fun at the
expense of, or perhaps with, the married couple.64 The flitch ceremonies
were the counterpoint to ˜skimmington™ and rough music, forms of ritual-
ised public abuse of those held to have deviated from moral, especially
sexual norms. Being treated to rough music took a number of localised
forms. Stow refers to a man carried by four others being led by bagpipe,
drum and shawm. In 1748 a man in Billingshurst, Sussex, was treated to
rough music by the village women, then put in a blanket and ducked. In
Oxfordshire, the threat of rough music survived into the late nineteenth

See Kevin Sharpe, ˜The Court Masque™, in Criticism and Compliment (Cambridge, 1987);
and especially for changes in the masque form, Stephen Orgel, The Jonsonian Masque
(Cambridge, Mass., 1965), pp. 18“33, 66.
Darryll Grantley, ˜Masques and Murderers: Dramatic Method and Ideology in Revenge
Tragedy and the Court Masque™, in Clive Bloom, ed., Jacobean Poetry and Prose:
Rhetoric, Representation and the Popular Imagination (London, 1988), pp. 194“212;
cf. Inga-Stina Ewbank, ˜ “Those Pretty Devices”: A Study of Masques in Plays™, in A
Book of Masques (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 412“33, for the diversity of masque motifs in
Elizabethan and Jacobean plays.
Hole, English Custom, pp. 64“5.
Stow, Survay, cited in Burke, ˜Popular Culture™, p. 35; Underdown, Start of Play, p. 25;
Laura Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford (London, 1975 edn), p. 140.
Ceremonies of office 49

Such ceremonies as ˜flitching™, skimmingtons and rough music provide a
context for antitheses of official stability associated with periods of mis-
rule, now so strongly associated with Bakhtin™s concept of the carnival-
esque. Bakhtin drew on his reading of Rabelais and was correct to claim
that prescribed periods of carnival not only inverted order but also became
wild and uproarious. But, beyond that, the models of social relation-
ships he attributed to the early modern world are more immediately an
abstraction from the experience of Soviet Russia, from which perhaps his
historico-literary analyses were something of an allegorical projection.66
Bakhtin™s is a world of simple binary oppositions, of oppressed masses
and oppressing elites forming a regime to which resistance can only be
made by utopian contradiction and the escapist laughter that reaffirms
the authenticity and independence of a prior popular culture that is sui
It is probable, however, that medieval and early modern carnival was a
vestige of the entanglements of Christian and pagan rites of office, in part
an adaptive residue of the Roman Saturnalian festivals in which, after
harvest, the whole of Roman society participated. What Hobbes noted as
parallels were precedents, partially gathered within the church rather
than being completely exorcised by it. It is relevant here also that the
earliest examples and accounts of carnivalesque reversals seem to come
from what might be taken to be the oppressing elites themselves.67 Legal
fraternities exhibited a very precise understanding of the complexity of
exclusive social convention and the protocols of office in the process of
parody. And masques too might have their accompanying anti-masques,
with ˜fools, satyrs, baboons, wildmen, antics, beasts, spirits, witches . . .
and the like™.68 At the same time, any straightforward ˜trickle-down™
effect might be as much a function of inadequate evidence as genuine
precedent. In a society that was so ritually ordered, an intricate awareness
of social convention was likely to have been pervasive. Irrespective of
origins, carnival, like the games and festivities of which Underdown has
written, could express belonging as much as alienation. What specific
functions were fulfilled is secondary to the fact that carnival required a

Aaron Guervich, ˜Bahktin and his Theory of Carnival™, in Jan Bremmer and Herman
Roodenburg, eds., A Cultural History of Humour from Antiquity to the Present Day
(Cambridge and Oxford, 1997), pp. 54“60.
Noel Malcolm, The Origins of English Nonsense (London, 1997), pp. 117“19.
Francis Bacon, ˜Of Masques and Triumphs™, in Essays, in Works, ed. Basil Montague
(London, 1825), vol. I, p. 130.
50 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
clear understanding of order, for it was in all cases a familiar world of
offices that was represented through distortion. And the line between
inversion of and induction into office could be thin. London journeymen
assumed their status through a ceremonial dubbing with a broadsword,
and a baptism with ale.69
Insofar as one can generalise, it is misleading to see carnival and order
as dichotomous expressions of resistance and authority. They were rather
aspects of an uneven gradation of social life. In times that some might
celebrate as uniquely blessed by ˜White peace™ there was still black vio-
lence;70 and even in civil war there would be outbreaks of quietude.
Formalised rites might variously blend these contrasting threads in coun-
terpoint to some evocation of office. The Kidderminster Kellums, for
example, involved a period of mock lawlessness immediately prior to the
election of the new bailiff, and as late as 1790 people of every status in the
town embarked upon the soft-core anarchism of apple and cabbage stalk
Carnival and carnival-like events were identified, then, principally with
reference to some posited office. As the bounds were beaten on Ascension
Day, so London apprentices beat the brothels on Shrove Tuesday.72
Demonstrations and riots might even have their allotted days. The highly
disruptive pope-burnings from 1679 to 1681 were staged on the date of
Elizabeth I™s succession, 17 November, and had a ritualistic quality.
Organised by the Whigs and written by the playwright Elkanah Settle,
they were given an unmistakable justificatory narrative telling of the
dangers of religion abused and interference with religion reformed. Dem-
onstration walked in the protective dress of pageant.73 The Tories, no less
noisy in their anti-Catholicism, fought back in kind with bonfires, effigies
and processions on the verge of loyalist riot. Indeed, Keith Wrightson has
remarked generally on how orderly, even ritualised, riots might be.74 The
trick, it seems, was to draw attention to abuse in a way that displayed
respect for office.

Underdown, Start of Play, pp. 22ff; Burke, ˜Popular Culture,™ p. 35.
Sir Richard Fanshawe, ˜Now War is All the World about™ (1630), stanza 10, in Poems and
Translations of Sir Richard Fanshawe, ed. Peter Dudson (Oxford, 1997), vol. I, pp. 55“9.
Gentleman™s Magazine, vols. LX“LXII (1790), p. 1191; Hole, English Custom, p. 133.
Burke, ˜Popular Culture™, p. 36.
Settle would shortly write enthusiastically for James II: see E. Settle, A Poem Upon the
Coronation of His Most Sacred Majesty King James II (1685).
Burke, ˜Popular Culture™, pp. 47“8; Harris, London Crowds, pp. 164“72; Paul Kleber
Monod, Jacobitism and the English People, 1688-1788 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 164“73;
Cressy, Bonfires, pp. 171“89, especially on the attempts to appropriate festive
commemorations, such as 5 November, 30 January, 17 November; Keith Wrightson,
English Society (London, 1993), pp. 177“9.
Ceremonies of office 51
But, further, the structure of rule-following that defined a sphere of
office always carried its own potential for creative reversal irrespective of
the social world of which it was a part. To take the extreme case, the
depiction of witches™ covens might be generated by nothing more than the
inversion of the solemnities of piety; the familiarity with office could be
sufficient to stimulate the imaginative nightmare of abuse without any
reference point in the reality of witches. It is also in the broad interplay of
office and its negative projections that one may place the institution of the
court jester. A badge of authority for a prince, the jester was allowed
remarkable licence to behave, dress and speak as other subjects could not.
Other reversals of official relationships could verge on the mechanical.
The Lawless Courts of Rayleigh then Rochford met before a tree not a
judge, at night not day, and used coal not ink and quill for signing
documents.75 The belief that certain qualities and achievements are re-
quired of a persona in office might also be inverted. Fortune could replace
capacity at specific points in the ritual calendar: Twelfth Night, Whitsun
and May Day.76 Most familiar is the baking of a Twelfth Night plumcake
with a bean or pea in it. Whoever got the appropriate slice became king or
queen by virtue of that fortune alone. In the election of the mock mayor of
Penryn, journeymen tailors chose the wittiest of their number, in formal
contrast (presumably) to the conventional view that gravitas and rectitude
were the appropriate qualities for the office.77 The election of May
monarchs reversed principles of seniority, capacity and experience; only
the young and beautiful were chosen. This principle seems to have been
operative in the ecclesiastical business of electing boy bishops on St
Nicholas™ Day, a pre-Reformation rite involving indecorous and lewd
behaviour, the bishop™s clothes worn backwards and processing with the
Bible upside down.78
In all such parodic play there are serious difficulties in reading off social
relationships beyond the texts, unless we equate textual parody with social
satire, a move made easier if we assume (quite a lot really) a binary
oppositional world and notice only the reference functions of language.
In a way directly analogous to the relationships between masque and
murder in revenge tragedy, the counterpoint of contrasting images is
certainly a play with expectations of office, each mirror-like facet explic-
able in terms of the other. Social meanings, however, are likely to be
more specific, contingent and variable, far more to do with the diversely
exploitable pragmatics of symbolism than the more structured semantics

75 76
Hole, English Custom, pp. 132“3. Muir, Ritual, pp. 93“4.
77 78
Hole, English Custom, pp. 30, 83. Muir, Ritual, pp. 95“6.
52 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
of textual relationships, or the stylised gestures required by a ritual per-
formance. Parodic language is not necessarily reflective of anything
beyond the lineaments of the target text and it allows considerable exploit-
ative possibility.79 To put the matter a trifle extremely, it was precisely this
hermeneutic condition of denotational latitude that enabled Bakhtin to
read the USSR into sixteenth-century France.
As a corollary, for contemporaries, symbols like metaphors were not
easy to control. Ceremony might rule everything, as Cavendish had it, but
what it might be made to convey might not be quite his cup of tea. When
Charles II was crowned, was the Bishop of London really asking for
consent to his rule? The question was literally rhetorical within the context
of the coronation, but at another time, in another place, even at another
point in the ceremony, it could feed a theory of authority derived from
popular and conditional consent. The coronation could be ˜A strange
beginning “ borrowed majesty™.80 So from the crux of the coronation oath,
suggestive of election and contract, to reading the symbolism of the bean
in the pudding. Such events might sometimes have expressed scepticism
about the efficacy of virtue in a naughty world, or the capacity of those
actually holding office. Yet, authority by lot is unlikely to be romanticised
where the acquisition of agricultural skills and herbal knowledge are
matters of life and death. It takes a casual attitude to inference to conclude
that the institution of the Penryn mock mayor was a sign of a popular
ideology in combat with its hegemonic oppressors.81 It is perhaps, only an
intellectual living under someone like Stalin who might understandably
mistake such systematic inversions for a desired utopia.
Ritual and ceremony, then, are much like metaphors in that questions
of the political function and role are matters of pragmatics and semiotics,
of the diversity of narrative potential rather than fixed meaning and
function. This potential, political or otherwise, stemmed from a shared
grounding in some understanding of office, whether it be affirmed, dis-
puted, disappointed or turned upside-down. Yet, inferential cautions
aside, it is plausible to perceive a broadly political dimension to so many
of the solemnities of office. It may indeed be misconstrued by the impos-
ition of modern categories that give a fresh content to the ˜political™, of
ideology, power, of resistance and Gramscian hegemony. Nevertheless,
it remains striking how much official ceremony concerned rule. This,
however, is to be expected by the very notion of an office, entailing
relationships of authority, responsibility and duty that could be easily

See, at length, Margaret Rose, Parody: Meta-Fiction (London, 1979).
Shakespeare, King John 1.1.
Contra, Muir, Ritual, pp. 230“1.
Ceremonies of office 53
adapted to cover much beyond any reasonable use of the term political “
to the relationships of the poet to nature, or insentient organ to a natural
body. More immediately, the involvement of all levels of society in rela-
tionships of office was an engagement in ruling as well as being ruled.
Collusive ritual gives England just a whiff of the Aristotelian polity. Like
the kiss of the Hungerford tutti-man at Hocktide, the institutions of
society implicated even those at the margins.
3 Institutionalised office: a sense of
the scavenger

[An officer] is a person of double capacity public and private, and that
may be one reason, why he is said to deal doubly with all men that have
to do with him. He is but a pimp to his place.
(Samuel Butler, Characters 1667“9)

As I have noted, a concept of political office is now being used to explain
institutional change and state formation in early modern England (above,
introduction). The purpose here is not to present an alternative theory. It
is, rather, principally to outline the scope of institutionalised office to
complement what I have said of the ceremonial.1 Together, these chapters
provide a background to my discussion of the unexplored reach of the
vocabulary of office. In outlining this background, however, I shall touch
on specific offices such as citizenship and more general notions such as
republicanism. This should help avoid the impression that I am positing a
social, ceremonial reality on which sits some intellectual superstructure.
More significantly, surveying social organisation will also require consid-
eration of the separation, derived from modern theoretical modelling, of a
private realm from the ˜public sphere™ of offices, strongly associated with
an emerging state. Neither social organisation nor its language supports
such conceptions.
Office was a matter of belonging, of formal relational identity through
responsibility; it gave a voice in the commonwealth and it was hardly
possible to sustain any other. No man, wrote Edmund de Bohun, is
without office, no aspect of life without rule.2 An awareness of degree
was inescapable and easily taken as part of a natural order: ˜The heavens

Oath-taking and administering were usually good indications of what counted as an
instituted office; see chapter 11.
Edmund de Bohun, The Justice of the Peace, His Calling: A Moral Essay (1684), A2r“v.

Institutionalised office 55
themselves, the planets, and this centre,/ Observe degree, priority, and
place,/ Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,/ Office, and custom, in
all line of order™.3 Such an integration of the human into the natural,
however, was not necessarily an indication of complaisance. Ulysses™s
speech on degree was in the context of its absence in the Greek camp
before Troy, where ˜The speciality of rule hath been neglected™.4 Through-
out the early modern world all the intricacies of status were known to be
contingent and fragile. And neither was this hierarchy singular. Any
postulation of a solitary chain of being was a triumph of theoretical
elegance over experience.
Despite an initially bewildering diversity of hierarchy,5 early modern
England is most easily seen as comprising two overlapping orders of
office. ˜There bee two mayne partes of Every Body Poleticke Espetially
amongeste Christians, vid: the state Civill, & The state Ecleseasticall.™6 The
secular dimension of rule was concerned with temporal order, but with
strong spiritual associations. The church claimed a spiritual responsibility
but with decidedly temporal implications, and its bishops were agents of
royal authority. As William Cavendish advised, ˜Bishopps they should bee
Chosen wise men for Government, rather then Schoole Devines™.7
Under the auspices of church and state the country was divided into
different units, from parish and village to diocese and county: these were
interlaced with legal systems, livery companies and guilds, all overseen by
a monarch with a small court, a few paid officials and an irregularly
meeting parliament. Despite the willingness of seventeenth-century writers
to talk in terms of church and state, the closer one looks, the more tumbled
together these abstractions appear.8 Aliud distinctio, aliud separatio, as the
haunting aphorism had it, a point to be explored more fully in chapter 13.
All units of communal belonging were configurations of office involving
some mix of care for bodies, or the husbanding of souls. ˜Commonweales,
Cities, yae small Townes, do they not assemble together to choose officers,
& to establish orders by common consent?™9 In Maldon, Essex, stands a
monument to these conceptually distinguishable spheres of office. The
Plume Library is an incongruous amalgam of a rebuilt stone and flint

Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida 1.3.
Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town
(Middletown, Conn., 1963), p. xviii.
Cavendish, ˜Advice™, fol. 10.
Ibid., fol. 14.
Braddick, State Formation, pt. 4, ch. 7.
George Pettie, The ciuile conuersation (1586), trans. of Stefano Guazzo, De optimo
Senatore, fols. 15 r“v; see Peltonen, Classical Humanism, p. 57.
56 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
church tower keyed into a two-storey red-brick edifice for books and
grammar school teaching. It was designed by Thomas Plume as a standing
lesson, a studied iconography of the mutual dependence of the responsi-
bilities of church and state, learning, education and government, framed
by that natural symbol of another world, a graveyard.10

At this point, however, it may be useful to give a more prosaic impression
of institutionalised office-holding. There were around 10,000 parishes in
seventeenth-century England. A parish was defined by its church and
minister, the vestry, its members and the church wardens. The evidence
of wardens™ and vestry activity is variable.11 There was the business of
applying the Elizabethan Poor Laws, demanding the organisation of work
for the indigent, distribution of aid and coping with vagrancy, for ˜aliens™,
˜strangers™ and ˜foreigners™ were always a potential strain on resources.
Beyond this, however, the evidence of wardens™ work is uneven, from little
more than the purchase of candles, at one extreme, to responsibility for an
extensive teaching library at another.12 The situation in late sixteenth-
century London was particularly demanding, and, from 1598, an add-
itional overseer™s office was created, apparently occupied by higher status
parishioners.13 According to Hindle, the vestry became important as the
basic unit of government only during the seventeenth century, and fell
more into the hands of yeomen after 1660 when the aristocracy gradually
withdrew from such a local level of office-holding.14
Some vestries were relatively open, others highly selective; a few had
control over the presentation of ecclesiastical livings, the occasional
parish was exempt from episcopal control.15 If all this suggests a sort of
political structure within the church, a parish would also have a constable,
the common symbol of secular governance and its erratic reach.16 He
was ˜a viceroy in the street . . . never so much in his majesty as in his

W. J. Petchey, The Intentions of Thomas Plume (Maldon, 1985), p. 12.
Hindle, The State, pp. 207“15.
Powell, Puritan Village, pp. 14“15; Conal Condren, ˜More Parish Library, Salop™
(Appendix with F. Carleton), Library History, 7, 5 (1987), pp. 144, 149.
Ian Archer, The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London (Cambridge,
1991), p. 98.
Hindle, The State, p. 208.
Archer, Pursuit of Stability, pp. 70“1; Coulton, ˜Rivalry and Religion™, pp. 35, 39.
Michael Dalton, Country Justice (1635), ch. 16, and p. 3; Thomas Hobbes, ˜Questions
relative to Hereditary Right. Mr Hobbes™, Hobbes MS D5, Chatsworth; John Locke,
Two Treatises of Government (1690), ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge, 1963), 2, para. 202;
see also Hindle, The State, pp. 167“9, 182“3.
Institutionalised office 57
nightwatch™.17 He regulated inns, checked weights and measures, issued
warrants and inflicted minor punishment. No one was more susceptible to
accusations of office-abuse because no one was obliged to touch his
fellows in so many ways “ ˜a secular prince of darkness™ a small officer,
˜most imperious and arrogant™.18 And, having little reliable support, he
was just as easily accused of neglect. The constable might be ˜very careful
in his office but if he stay up after midnight you shall take him napping™.
He was an obvious target for stage amusement: ˜I cannot see how sleeping
should offend™.19
But virtually all touched their fellows in some way. To walk along a
street was to sniff the office of the scavenger and his rakers. There was,
then, a great immediacy in Locke™s remark that to use the highways was to
give a tacit consent to a polity, for use was an engagement with the
network of offices comprising it.20 Since David Hume™s dismissal of
Locke™s point, we have lost touch with the world that gave it an emotional
plausibility, for we more naturally see the highways and the superadding
agency of the regime, the state, as discrete entities; using one does not
entail even recognition of the other.21 Yet, any firm bifurcation between
society and a political regime, between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as
Tonnies later formulated it, creates too calibrated an image of Locke™s
world. Paid officers of court totalled probably only around 1,200 out of a
population approaching four million by 1700. Government without bur-
eaucracy or police, and with little or no standing army, must give an
alienating inflection to the term ˜regime™, and we need to be cautious in
the way in which we call it a state, especially if the modern state is the
outcome of its intricate processes of participation.22 Ipso facto, the more
centralised government turned to legislation, the more the dispersed com-
munity was involved.23 Existing offices had their burdens increased and
there was need to have their duties, rights and relationships codified.24

John Earle, ˜A Constable™, in Micro-cosmography, or a Piece of the World Discovered
Samuel Butler, Characters (c. 1667“9), ed. Charles W. Daves (Cleveland, 1970), p. 261.
Earle, ˜A Constable™; Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing 3.3.
Locke, Two Treatises, 2, para. 119; Dalton, Country Justice, p. 69.
David Hume, ˜Of the Original Contract™ (1741“2), in Political Essays, ed. Knud
Haakonssen (Cambridge, 1994), esp. pp. 192“4.
Cf. Hindle, The State, pp. 2“36.
Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic™ pp. 154, 176; also Patrick Collinson, ˜De
republica Anglorum: Or History with the Politics Put Back™, in Elizabethan Essays
(London, 1994), p. 19; Andrew Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America: An Intellectual
History of English Colonisation, 1500“1625 (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 14“15.
A central theme of Braddick, State Formation; see also de Bohun, The Justice of the
Peace, A3r.
58 Argument and Authority in Early Modern England
Whatever the ˜regime™ was, then, it had to be highly participatory, a
tensile, variable fusion of trust and conflict.25 Goldie estimates that during
the seventeenth century there would have been around 50,000 parish
officials at any one time.26 Additionally there were the office-holders of
towns and boroughs. Among London officers, Archer mentions bridge-
masters and chamberlains and clerks of the market, not to be confused
with clerksitters, pleaders, garbellers, cotton measurers, market overseers
and remembrancers, recorders and solicitors, scavengers, town clerks,
under-sheriffs, the much put-upon sheriffs, aldermen, their deputies and
councillors, all under that particular head of state, the Lord Mayor. Such
offices were distinct from those of the livery companies who elected the
mayor and whose responsibilities ranged from charity to the control of
trade and apprenticeship. Within England, London was unusually Ven-
etian in the intricacy of government. According to Archer, in a rich ward
like Cornhill a third of householders might have office in a given year.27
On Valerie Pearl™s estimates, one in ten householders held office across the
city annually during the mid-century although Civil War circumstances
might have been distorting.28
In relative contrast, Hungerford elected around thirty principal officers
at its Hocktide ceremonies, and early seventeenth-century Sudbury (popu-
lation c. 3,000) had 110 burgesses and thirty subsidiary office-holders,
dividing some forty functions between them.29 In the Shropshire hamlet of
Mainstone, even the poorest cottagers had a voice in the vestry. On the
other side of Wenlock Edge at Highley, cottagers were also occasionally
church officers.30 The most significant offices were restricted and correl-
ated carefully to wealth and status. Complaints about this might indicate
mobility, or frictions in the business of office-holding.31 Yet, if an office
was necessary someone had to fill it and necessity could be particularly
pressing in small communities.32
So, too, from the early Reformation to the Civil Wars, clerical shortages
could make for ecumenical flexibility. In the 1640s and 50s, a Church of
England man might become an Independent and then a Presbyterian; he

Hindle, The State, pp. 23“4, 66“93; Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation, pp. 95“118,
123“47, 199“204.
Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic™, p. 161.
Archer, Pursuit of Stability, p. 64.
Valerie Pearl, cited in Goldie, ˜The Unacknowledged Republic™, p. 162.
Pilhens, The Story of Hungerford, p. 22; Powell, Puritan Village, pp. 42“6.


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