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The “Boast of Antiquity”: Pulpit Politics Across the Atlantic Archipelago during the Revolution of 1688

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2014


John Locke and many others noted the vibrant political commentary emanating from the pulpit during the Glorious Revolution. Preachers from the full confessional spectrum in England, and especially in Scotland, Ireland, and the colonies, used occasional or state sermons to explain contemporary upheavals from the perspective of God's law, Natural law, and Civil law. Most surprising is the latter, clerical reference to civil history and ancient origins, which preachers used to answer contemporary questions of conquest and allegiance. Clergy revisited the origins and constitutional roots of the Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Scots, and Irish, and deployed histories of legendary kings and imaginary conquests to explain and justify the revolutionary events of 1688–1692. Sermons of this revolutionary era focused as much on civil as on sacred history, and sought their true origins in antiquity and the mists of myth. Episcopalian preachers, whether Church of Ireland, Scottish Episcopalian, or Church of England, seem to have been especially inspired by thanksgiving or fast days memorialized in the liturgical calendar to ponder the meaning of a deep historical narrative. Scots, Irish, and Massachusetts clergy claimed their respective immemorialism, as much as the English did theirs. But, as they re-stated competing Britannic constitutions and origin myths explicitly, they exposed imperial rifts and contradictions within the seemingly united claim of antiquity. By the beginning of the next reign and century, state sermons depended more upon reason and less upon a historicized mythic antiquity.

Copyright © American Society of Church History 2014 

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27 For example, see notes in Jephson, Michael, A Sermon Preached at St. Patrick's Church Dublin, On the 23th [sic] of October 1690 (Dublin, 1690)Google Scholar; and Tenison, A Sermon Preach'd to the Protestants of Ireland.

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29 For example, Williamson, David, A Sermon Preached in the High Church of Edinburgh, June 9th 1695 (Edinburgh, 1695)Google Scholar, [2].

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32 David L. Wykes, “Williams, Daniel (c.1643–1716),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,; Williams, Daniel, The Protestants Deliverance from the Irish Rebellion Begun October 23. 1641. Being a Thanksgiving-Sermon, Preached the 23d of October, 1689 (London, 1690)Google Scholar, A2.

33 See Claydon, “The Sermon, the ‘public sphere,’” 223.

34 Burnet, Gilbert, A Sermon Preached before the House of Commons, On the 31st of January, 1688 (London and Boston, 1689)Google Scholar; Walker, A Sermon Being an Incouragement for Protestants, or a Happy Prospect of Glorious Success . . .: Occasionally on the Protestants Victory over the French and Irish Papists Before London-Derry (London and Edinburgh, 1689)Google Scholar; Harris, “In Search of a British History of Political Thought,” 102. For sermons as political thought, see Key, Newton E., “The Political Culture and Political Rhetoric of County Feasts and Feast Sermons, 1654–1714,” Journal of British Studies 33, no. 3 (1994): esp. 241–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Goldie, “The Revolution of 1689 and the Structure of Political Argument,” 485, in categorizing English political pamphlets, lists many pamphlets under more than one category.

36 What follows is an analysis of sermons listed in Key, “Bibliography of Occasional or State Sermons . . .1685–1711”; compared with Letsome, Sampson, The Preacher's Assistant, in Two Parts (London, 1753)Google Scholar, part I, “the Texts Of all the Sermons . . . Preached upon, and published Since the Restoration.”

37 For all sermons preached and printed 1689–1694, delivered before Irish auditories, there are 16 sermons, with 4 based on Psalms and 5 New Testament passages; 9 before Scots, with 3 based on Psalms and 2 New Testament; 9 before Bostonians, with none based on Psalms and 2 New Testament. For a sample of sermons delivered before English auditories and printed 1689–1692, there are 49 sermons, with 14 based on Psalms and 15 on New Testament.

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40 Tony Claydon, “The Sermon Culture of the Glorious Revolution: Williamite Preaching and Jacobite Anti-Preaching, 1685–1702,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, 481–487; [Gilbert Burnet,]A Sermon Preached before the House of Peers in the Abbey of Westminster, On the 5th. of November, 1689 (London, 1689), 2Google Scholar; Patrick, Simon, A Sermon Preached At St. Paul's Covent Garden On the Day of Thanksgiving Jan. XXXI. 1688 (London, 1689)Google Scholar, 1, quoted in Johnston, “Preaching, National Salvation”; Matthijs Wieldraaijer, Good Government and Providential Delivery: Legitimations of the 1672 and 1688 Orangist Revolutions in Dutch Sermons,” Dutch Crossing 34, no. 1 (2010): 4258CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 50. See also, Burnet, Gilbert, A Sermon Preached before the House of Commons, On the 31st of January, 1688. Being the Thanksgiving-day For the Deliverance of this Kingdom from Popery and Arbitrary Power, By His Highness the Prince of Orange's Means (London, 1689)Google Scholar, 3, 30.

41 Ashe, George, A Sermon Preached in Trinity-College Chappell Before the University of Dublin, January the 9th. 1693/4 ([Dublin?], 1694), 6Google Scholar; Tillotson, John, A Sermon Preached at Lincolns-Inn-Chappel, On the 31th of January, 1688 (London, 1689)Google Scholar, 2, 18–19.

42 Mather, Cotton, The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated. Praises Bespoke for the God of Heaven In a Thanksgiving Sermon; Delivered on Decemb. 19. 1689 (Boston, 1690)Google Scholar, t.p.; Wetenhall, Sermon Preached Octob. 23, 1692, 15; Connolly, S. J., “The Glorious Revolution in Irish Protestant political thinking,” in Political Ideas in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, ed. Connolly (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), 32Google Scholar.

43 Richard Tenison, A Sermon Preach'd to the Protestants of Ireland in the city of London, 25. See also, The Speech Of the Right Reverend Anthony [Dopping] Bishop of Meath, when the Clergy waited on His Majesty at His Camp nigh Dublin, July 7, 1690 (repr. Edinburgh, 1690), 2; Stearne, John, King David's Case Apply'd to King James and King William; in a Sermon Preach'd at Christ-Church, Dublin, on the Fifth of November, 1691 (Dublin, 1691)Google Scholar, 4.

44 Sherlock, The Case of the Allegiance, 10.

45 Harris, Tim, “Incompatible Revolutions?: The Established Church and the Revolutions of 1688–1689 in Ireland, England and Scotland,” in The Stuart kingdoms in the Seventeenth Century: Awkward Neighbours, ed. Macinnes, Allan I. and Ohlmeyer, Jane H. (Dublin: Four Courts, 2002)Google Scholar, 219, 223; Jackson, Clare, Restoration Scotland, 1660–1690: Royalist Politics, Religion and Ideas (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2003), 201Google Scholar; McGuire, J. I., “The Church of Ireland and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688,” in Studies in Irish History presented to R. D. Edwards, ed. Cosgrove, A. and McCartney, D. (Dublin: University College, 1979), 143Google Scholar; Harris, “In Search of a British History of Political Thought,” 102.

46 Claridge, Richard, Looking-Glass for Religious Princes: or, the Character and Work of Josiah, Delivered in a Sermon upon 2 Kings XXIII. XXV (London, 1691), 3Google Scholar.

47 Sherlock, The Case of the Allegiance, 23. Emphasis added.

48 See Goldie, Mark, “Edmund Bohun and Ius Gentium in the Revolution Debate, 1689–1693,” Historical Journal 20, no. 3 (1977): 569586CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Jackson, Clare, “Revolution Principles, Ius Naturae and Ius Gentium in early Enlightenment Scotland: the contribution of Sir Francis Grant, Lord Cullen (c. 1660–1726),” in Early Modern Natural Law Theories: Contexts and Strategies in the Early Enlightenment), ed. Hochstrasser, Tim and Schröder, Peter (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003), 107140CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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50 Bohun, quoted in Goldie, “Edmund Bohun and Ius Gentium,” 576.

51 Tenison, A Sermon Preach'd to the Protestants of Ireland in the city of London, 14.

52 Finglas, John, A Sermon Preached in the Cathedrall Church of St. Patrick's Dublin, on the 5th of November, 1690 before the Right Honourable the Lords Justices of Ireland (Dublin, 1690), 3Google Scholar.

53 Compare [Burnet,], GilbertA Sermon Preached before the King & Queen at White-Hall, on Christmas-Day, 1689 (London, 1690), 21Google Scholar; with Vesey, John, A sermon Preached Before His Excellency the Ld. Lieutenant and the Two Houses of Parliament, in Christ's-Church, Dublin . . . : On Sunday, October 16. 1692 (London, 1692), 45Google Scholar; or Webster, A Sermon Preached . . .the 2d of Octob. 1694, 3.

54 For example, [Burnet,] A Sermon Preached . . .on Christmas-Day, 1689, 22 (on Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny); [Gilbert Burnet,]A Sermon Preached before the King and Queen, at White-Hall, On the 19th Day of October, 1690, 2nd ed. (London, 1690), 1113Google Scholar (Augustus, Dioclesian, Maximian, Constantine); [Simon Patrick,]A Sermon Preached before the King and Queen at White-Hall April XVI. 1690 (London, 1690)Google Scholar, 26 (Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians).

55 Patrick, Simon, A Sermon Preached At St. Paul's Covent Garden On the Day of Thanksgiving Jan. XXXI. 1688 (London, 1689), 35Google Scholar; Tillotson, John, A Sermon Preached at Lincolns-Inn-Chappel, On the 31th of January, 1688. Being the Day Appointed for A Publick Thanksgiving to Almighty God For having made His Highness The Prince of Orange The Glorious Instrument of the Great Deliverance of This Kingdom from Popery & Arbitrary Power (London, 1689), 18Google Scholar.

56 Spalding, John, A Sermon Preached before His Grace, George Earl of Melvil, Their Majesties High Commissioner, and The Nobility, Barons, and Burrows, Members of the High Court of Parliament. In the Parliament-House, upon Sunday, May 11. 1690 (Edinburgh, 1690), 18Google Scholar. See also, Mackqueen[e], The magistrat's dignity, duty, & danger set forth in a sermon preached in the High Church of Edinburgh, on the anniversary day of the election of the magistrats [about April 5, 1689] (London, 1693)Google Scholar, 14, 17; Meldrum, A Sermon concerning Zeal for Religion, Consistent with Moderation. Preached at Edenburgh On Sunday the 27th of April, 1690 (Edinburgh, 1690), 89Google Scholar.

57 Mather, The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated, t.p.; Nora, P., “Between history and memory: Les lieux de mémoire,” Representations 26 (1989): 725CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 Williamson, David, A Sermon Preached before his Grace the King's Commissioner, And the Three Estates of Parliament, June the 15th. 1690 (Edinburgh, 1690), 13Google Scholar. See also Jephson, A Sermon Preached at St. Patrick's Church Dublin, 8; Stearne, John, A Sermon To bring to Remembrance God's Wonderful Mercies at the Boyn; Preach'd On the Second Day of July, 1699, At St. Nicholas within, Dublin (Dublin, 1699), 10Google Scholar.

59 A True Discovery Of the Private League between the late King James and the King of France To Destroy all the Protestants of Europe (London, [June 10] 1689), broadside; An Account of the Pretended Prince of Wales, and Other Grievanses [sic], That occasioned the Nobilities Inviting and the Prince of Orange's Coming into England (London, 1688), 5Google Scholar; Knights, Mark, “Faults on Both Sides: The Conspiracies of Party Politics under the Later Stuarts,” in Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Europe, ed. Coward, Barry and Swann, Julian (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2004), 153172Google Scholar. Sermons reciting the history of the Design include: Burnet (January 31 and November 5, 1689), William Lloyd (November 5, 1689), Wilson (June 18, 1690), Freeman (November 5, 1690), and Fleetwood (November 5, 1691). Tillotson (January 31, 1689) connected this design to the history of threats to the ancient constitution.

60 [Lloyd,] A Sermon Preached before Their Majesties At Whitehall, On the Fifth day of November, 1689 (London, 1689), 22–23; Gilbert Burnet, A Sermon Preached before the House of Commons, 14–15; Claydon, Tony, Europe and the Making of England, 1660–1760 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 74Google Scholar.

61 [Leslie,] Remarks on Some Late Sermons, 3, 5, 14. Employment based on ODNB and title-page information. Those who became the Williamite episcopacy are analyzed in Pincus, Steve, 1688: The First Modern Revolution (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 403442Google Scholar.

62 My sample of forty-one English sermons includes the three sermons Goldie, “The Revolution of 1689,” lists among the pamphlets of the allegiance controversy. There are no printed sermons from Welsh clergy in this period, except those of the English-born bishop of St. Asaph, William Lloyd, who may be considered an English court preacher. Stephen K. Roberts, “The Sermon in Early Modern Wales: Context and Content,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, 303–323.

63 Quote is from Carswell, Francis, England's Restoration parallel'd in Judah's: or, the Primitive Judge and Counsellor. In a Sermon before the Honourable Judge at Abington Assizes, for the County of Berks, Aug. 6. 1689 (London, 1689), 29Google Scholar, which does adumbrate specific continental crises over the entire seventeenth century.

64 Patrick, S[i]mon, A Sermon Preached At St. Paul's Covent-Garden, On the First Sunday in Lent; Being A Second Part of the Sermon Preached before the Prince of Orange (London, 1689), 17Google Scholar. Other sermons refer briefly to solely one event of England's history in the past century: Wake (June 5, 1689, history of papal schisms), Patrick (April 16, 1690, the Civil Wars), Burnet (November 26, 1691, 1588 repeated in 1688), and Sherlock (January 30, 1692, Charles I and 1649).

65 [Lloyd,]A Sermon Preached before the King & Queen at White-Hall, March the Twelfth, 1689/90. Being The Fast-Day (London, 1690), 1213Google Scholar, 19.

66 [Tillotson,]A Sermon Preached at Lincolns-Inn-Chappel, On the 31th of January, 1688 (London, 1689), 1819Google Scholar; Tillotson's May 29, 1693 sermon, in The Works Of the Most Reverend Dr. John Tillotson, 3rd ed. (London, 1722)Google Scholar, 1:214, quoted in Pincus, 1688, 417.

67 Sherlock, A Sermon Preach'd before the Honourable House of Commons, 12–13, 19.

68 Canaries, James, A Sermon Preacht at Selkirk Upon the 29th of May, 1685 (Edinburgh, 1685)Google Scholar, 15, 6.

69 Mackqueene, Gods Interest in the King set forth in a sermon, 8–9, 29.

70 Printed in The Addres [sic] of the University of St. Andrews, 19–20.

71 The Addres [sic] of the University of St. Andrews, 18.

72 Canaries, James, A Sermon Preached at Edinburgh, In the East-Church of St. Giles, upon the 30th of January, 1689 (Edinburgh, 1689), 5051Google Scholar.

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