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ROBERT PERSONS, POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY, AND THE LATE ELIZABETHAN SUCCESSION DEBATE

  • M. J. M. INNES (a1)
Abstract

This article explores how, and why, Robert Persons's A conference about the next succession to the crowne of Ingland (1594) scandalized late Elizabethan England. By invoking the spectres of popular sovereignty and political resistance, Persons, as is well known, threatened to disrupt the succession of James VI of Scotland to Elizabeth I's throne. In doing so, however, he also undermined the very notion that the English crown passed by succession at all. After discussing Persons's political thought, this article examines the responses to it by such writers as John Hayward, Henry Constable, Peter Wentworth, and James VI himself. Their turn towards natural law as a basis for James's title was, it is argued, a direct consequence of the Conference’s argument. As well as shining long-overdue light on Hayward's political thought, the article thus argues that the reception of Persons's Conference was a significant influence on the development of English political thought in the early seventeenth century.

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University College, High Street, Oxford, ox1 4bhmatthew.innes@univ.ox.ac.uk
Footnotes
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This article has benefited from readers’ comments at every stage, and I would like to thank the following, in alphabetical order: Ellen Brewster, George Garnett, Andrew Harrap, Alison Humphreys, David Parrott, Max Shock, and the Historical Journal’s two anonymous referees. My particular thanks go to Magnus Ryan, who supervised the M.Phil. out of which this article has grown, to Paulina Kewes, for her support and encouragement, and, as always, to my parents. I have been supported by two generous grants: from Pembroke College, Cambridge; and from University College Oxford and Mr James K. Anderson.

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1 See Neale, J. E., ‘Peter Wentworth’, English Historical Review, 39 (1924), pp. 3654, 175–205, at pp. 187–95; and Kewes, Paulina, ‘The Puritan, the Jesuit and the Jacobean succession’, in Doran, Susan and Kewes, Paulina, eds., Doubtful and dangerous: the question of succession in late Elizabethan England (Manchester, 2014), pp. 56–7.

2 Doleman, R. [pseud. for Robert Persons], A conference about the next succession to the crowne of Ingland (Antwerp, 1594), preface to part i, sigs. B4v–B5r. Below, I cite the Conference by part and chapter, in the form ‘i.2’. According to its somewhat mischievous preface to the earl of Essex, the Conference was completed at the very end of December 1593. Its frame narrative was foreshadowed by Persons's Newes from Spayne and Holland (Antwerp, 1593). The Conference was only distributed in 1595, for which, and for a convincing case for Persons's authorship, see Peter Holmes, ‘The authorship and early reception of A conference about the next succession to the crown of England’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), pp. 415–29. Persons's surname is also occasionally given as ‘Parsons’ in the historiography. Throughout this article, I amend i/j and u/v in English and French, and u/v in Latin.

3 Persons, an Oxford MA and former dean of Balliol College, converted to Catholicism in the mid-1570s, joined the Society of Jesus in July 1575, and was ordained in July 1578. With Edmund Campion, he returned to England in April 1580 as a missionary and religious apologist. After Campion's capture and execution, Persons fled England. From the continent, closely associated with Cardinal William Allen, he promoted England's reconversion with his pen, and collaborated with the duke of Guise. Between 1589 and 1596, when the Conference was written, he represented the interests of the Jesuits and of the English Catholics in Spain. In 1596, he became rector of the English College at Rome, a position which he held until his death. See Victor Houliston, ‘Persons [Parsons], Robert (1546–1610)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography. On Persons's links with the Guise and the Catholic League, see Edwards, Francis, Robert Persons: the biography of an Elizabethan Jesuit (St Louis, MO, 2005), pp. 69, 72; Houliston, Victor, Catholic resistance in Elizabethan England: Robert Persons's Jesuit polemic, 1580–1610 (Aldershot, 2007), pp. 45. For Persons's time in Spain, see Edwards, Robert Persons, chs. 11–12.

4 Levine, Mortimer, Tudor dynastic problems, 1460–1571 (London, 1973), p. 120. Recent revisionism of this verdict began with Nenner, Howard, The right to be king: the succession to the crown of England, 1603–1714 (Basingstoke, 1995). On this, see Mayer, Jean-Christophe, ‘Introduction’, in Mayer, Jean-Christophe, ed., The struggle for the succession in late Elizabethan England (Montpellier, 2004), p. 10.

5 For the negotiations surrounding the succession, see Doran, Susan, ‘James VI and the English succession’, in Houlbrooke, Ralph, ed., James VI and I: ideas, authority, and government (Aldershot, 2006), pp. 2542. See also Kanemura, Rei, ‘Kingship by descent or kingship by election? The contested title of James VI and I’, Journal of British Studies, 52 (2013), pp. 317–42.

6 Blair Worden, ‘Afterword’, in Doran and Kewes, eds., Doubtful and dangerous, pp. 297–8.

7 See especially Salmon, J. H. M., ‘Catholic resistance theory, ultramontanism, and the royalism response, 1580–1620’, in Burns, J. H., ed., The Cambridge history of political thought, 1450–1700 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 218–53.

8 Peter Holmes, ‘The political thought of the Elizabethan Catholics’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1976), p. 208. See also his Resistance and compromise: the political thought of the Elizabethan Catholics (Cambridge, 1982).

9 Höpfl, Harro, Jesuit political thought: the Society of Jesus and the state, c. 1540–1630 (Cambridge, 2004), p. 234; Carrafiello, Michael, Robert Parsons and English Catholicism, 1580–1610 (Selinsgrove, PA, and London, 1998), p. 54; Houliston, Catholic resistance, p. 83.

10 Lake, Peter, ‘The king (the queen), and the Jesuit’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 14 (2004), pp. 243–60. For the earlier period, see Lake, Peter, Bad Queen Bess? (Oxford, 2016).

11 The same is true for royal succession more generally. The key text for royal succession in civil, canon, and common law remains Kantorowicz, Ernst, The king's two bodies (new edn, Princeton, NJ, 1997). For France, see Giesey, R. E., ‘The juristic basis of dynastic right to the French throne’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 51 (1961), pp. 347; and idem, Le rôle méconnu de la loi Salique: la succession royale, XIVe–XVIe siècles (Paris, 2007).

12 I use ‘king’ partly to avoid the ungainliness of ‘king or queen’ and partly because female rule was, as is mentioned, a contentious issue in France.

13 See e.g. Robert Kingdom, ‘Calvinism and resistance theory’, in Burns, ed., The Cambridge history of political thought, 1450–1700, p. 213. The distinction between tyranny by usurpation and exercise dates back to Bartolus of Sassoferrato.

14 The term ‘indefeasible hereditary succession’ is Nenner's, and refers to the way in which the heir's right of succession cannot be denied him (or her).

15 The extent, in particular, to which Persons's political thought emerged from the contemporary French political arena has not been explored as much as it might have been. For this, however, see e.g. Holmes, ‘Elizabethan Catholics’, p. 203; Lake, ‘The king (the queen), and the Jesuit’, p. 258; Höpfl, Jesuit political thought, p. 235. I hope to discuss the subject more fully in the future.

16 A manuscript Latin translation of the Conference was made in Rome for presentation to Pope Clement VIII, possibly by Persons himself. This summarized the first part cursorily, and added to the second part a chapter outlining the pope's right to intervene in the succession. On this, see Holmes, ‘Authorship and early reception’, p. 423, and idem, Resistance and compromise, pp. 152–7. He gives its shelf mark as ‘Vatican Archives, Borghese III, 103, fos. 128v ff’. Stefania Tutino analyses this manuscript version in some detail, and argues that it must be understood in terms of the politics of the Roman Curia. The political thought of Robert Persons's Conference in continental context’, Historical Journal, 52 (2009), pp. 4363. The Biblioteca Nacional de España possesses a copy at MS 6449, which has been digitized.

17 There exist two manuscript responses to Persons, one by the Scottish jurist Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton and another by the courtier Sir John Harington. Craig's was printed as The right of succession to the kingdom of England (London, 1703), while Harington's may be found in Markham, Clements R., ed., A tract on the succession to the crown, a.d. 1602 (London, 1880).

18 Wentworth, Peter, A treatise containing Mr Wentworths jugement concerning the person of the true and lawful successor, printed with A pithie exhortation (Edinburgh, 1598); [Constable, Henry], Discoverye of a counterfecte conference (Paris, 1600); Hayward, John, An answer to the first part of a certaine conference concerning succession (London, 1603); Philodikaios, [pseud.], A treatise declaring and confirming against all objections the just title and right of the most excellent and worthie Prince James the Sixt (Edinburgh, 1599); James VI and I, ‘The trew law of free monarchies’, in Sommerville, Johann, ed., King James VI and I: political writings (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 6284.

19 Filmer, Robert, ‘Patriarcha’, in Sommerville, Johann, ed., Patriarcha and other writings (Cambridge, 1991), p. 3. Although this article is not directly concerned with Filmer's political thought, its findings help to explain Filmer's comment that Hayward, ‘when [he] come[s] to the Argument drawn from the Natural Liberty and Equality of Mankind, do[es] with one consent admit it for a Truth unquestionable, not so much as once denying or opposing it’.

20 For part i’s civil law references, see i.1, sig. C1v, i.4, sig. F7r, i.4, sig. G4r, i.9, sigs. P6r–v and P7v. For the uncle against the nephew, see i.4, sig. Y2v–3r.

21 Ibid, i.1, sig. B7r.

22 Ibid., i.1. sig. C1r.

23 Ibid., i.1, sig. B7r–v.

24 Ibid., i.1, sig. C2r–v.

25 Ibid., i.1, sig. C2r.

26 Ibid., i.1, sigs. C5r–C7r.

27 Ibid., i.1, sig. B7v, i.1, sig. C2r, referring to sig. B7r.

28 Ibid., i.1, sig. B7v.

29 Biblioteca Nacional de España, MS 6449, fos. 3r–4v.

30 Persons, Conference, i.5, sig. G6v, and i.9, sig. P1r.

31 See Lake, ‘The king (the queen), and the Jesuit’, p. 251.

32 Persons, Conference, i.5, sig. G6v, and i.9, sig. P1r.

33 Ibid., i.3, sig. F3r. For other depositions, see i.3, sigs. E7r, F1r, F2v–F3r. See also Houliston, Catholic resistance, p. 85.

34 Persons, Conference, i.3, sig. D8v.

35 Ibid., i.4, sig. G1v.

36 Ibid., i.3, sig. D8r–v.

37 On Persons's use of historical example, see Houliston, Catholic resistance, p. 77.

38 Persons, Conference, i.3, sig. F4v.

39 Ibid., i.6, sig. K8v. This attacked the idea, current in England and France, that the ‘King never dies’. For England, see Kantorowicz, The king's two bodies, pp. 408–9; for France, Giesey, R. E., The royal funeral ceremony in Renaissance France (Geneva, 1960), p. 177.

40 Persons, Conference, i.9, sig. P2r; preface to part i, sig. B4r.

41 Ibid., i.9, sig. O8v.

42 Ibid., i.9, sig. P1r.

43 Ibid., i.9, sig. P1v.

44 Ibid., i.9, sigs. P2r and P3v.

45 Ibid., i.9, sig. P7v.

46 Ibid., i.9, sigs. Q1v–Q2r.

47 At the end of part ii, Persons expands on this by discussing the three religious factions and their likely conflict. Ibid., ii.10, sigs. HH3r–II1v.

48 Höpfl, Jesuit political thought, p. 236.

49 Persons, Conference, i.5, sig. K1r–v. This permits him to make the reassuring point that, ordinarily, the heir-apparent or heir-presumptive will not be rejected by the commonwealth.

50 Ibid., i.4, sig. G1v; see also i.2, sig. D7v.

51 Ibid., i.4, sig. G2r. The distinction between potestas absoluta and potestas vicaria/delegata was, in fact, alien to the tradition of medieval civil law. Canon law distinguished between papal potestas ordinaria and potestas absoluta, but that is of no relevance to Persons's point; one must take this as further evidence of Persons's shaky grasp of law. I am grateful to Magnus Ryan for his advice on this point.

52 Ibid., i.1, sig. B6r–v.

53 On Persons's ‘indifference’, see Houliston, Catholic resistance, p. 79.

54 See e.g. Clancy, Thomas, Papist pamphleteers (Chicago, IL, 1964) p. 70; and Holmes, Resistance and compromise, p. 135.

55 Persons, Conference, i.1, sig. C2r.

56 As stated above, this is not to say that Persons was entirely clear on the latter point.

57 Persons, Conference, i.1, sig. C3v.

58 Ibid., i.1, sig. C3r.

59 Ibid., i.1, sig. C4v.

60 Ibid., i.2, sig. D5v.

61 On this, see Ives, E. W., ‘Tudor dynastic problems revisited’, Historical Research, 81 (2008), pp. 255–79. See also Levine, Mortimer, ‘A parliamentary title to the crown in Tudor England’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 25 (1962), pp. 121–7; and Baker, J. H., The Oxford history of the laws of England, vi (Oxford, 2003), pp. 60–3.

62 25 Henry VIII, c. 22, and 28 Henry VIII, c. 7, in Statutes of the realm (11 vols., London, 1810–28), iii, pp. 471–4 and 655–62.

63 Ives, ‘Tudor dynastic problems’, p. 258.

64 Kewes, Paulina, ‘The 1553 succession crisis reconsidered’, Historical Research, 90 (2017), pp. 465–85, at p. 475.

65 13 Elizabeth, c. 1, in Statutes of the realm, iv, pp. 526–8. This prohibition was repeated in 1585, 27 Elizabeth, c. 1, pp. 704–5.

66 Susan Doran and Paulina Kewes, ‘The earlier Elizabethan succession question revisited’, in Doran and Kewes, eds., Doubtful and dangerous, p. 38; and Kewes's forthcoming chapter, ‘Parliament and the principle of elective succession in Elizabethan England’, in Cavill, Paul and Gajda, Alexandra, eds., Writing the history of parliament in Tudor and early Stuart England (Manchester, 2018).

67 On this point, see also Lake, ‘The king (the queen), and the Jesuit’, p. 250.

68 Persons, Conference, i.6, sig. K6r–v.

69 John Carey to Burghley, 1 Feb. 1596, in Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of border papers (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1896), ii, pp. 102–4. On the relationship between James's The true lawe, Buchanan, and Persons, see Lake, ‘The king (the queen), and the Jesuit’.

70 For Wentworth, see Kewes, ‘The Puritan, the Jesuit and the Jacobean succession’.

71 Persons, Conference, ii.5, sig. Z5r–v. The statute in question (which made an explicit exception for the king's children) was 25 Edward III, c. 1, in Statutes of the realm, i, p. 310.

72 Persons, Conference, ii.5, sig. Z7r.

73 Susan Doran, ‘Polemic and prejudice: a Scottish king for an English throne’, in Doran and Kewes, eds., Doubtful and dangerous, pp. 215–36.

74 Philodikaios, Just title and right, sig. B4r; Wentworth, True and lawful successor, p. 55.

75 [Constable], Discoverye, sigs. K3v–K4r.

76 James VI and I, ‘The trew law’, p. 63. James clearly also had in mind his old tutor George Buchanan's De iure regni apud Scotos.

77 Ibid., p. 73.

78 Wentworth, True and lawful successor, p. 50.

79 Philodikaios, Just title and right, sig. C3v.

80 See Collins, James, ‘Dynastic instability, the emergence of the French monarchical commonwealth and the coming of the rhetoric of “l’état”, 1360s to 1650s’, in von Friedeburg, Robert and Morrill, John, eds., Monarchy transformed: princes and their elites in early modern Europe (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 87126; and especially Giesey, Le rôle méconnu, passim.

81 James VI and I, ‘The trew law’, pp. 81–2.

82 As Nenner points out, the rules of common-law succession could not be applied to the crown without complication, since common law did not extend primogeniture to female heirs. In 1553, it would have divided the kingdom between Mary and Elizabeth. Nenner, The right to be king, p. 27.

83 As opposed to election. For what Hayward meant by ‘succession’, see below.

84 On the Life and raigne, see Goldberg, S. L., Hayward, ‘Sir John, “politic” historian’, Review of English Studies, 6 (1955), pp. 233–44. For Hayward's historical writing, see Lisa Richardson, ‘Sir John Hayward and early Stuart historiography’ (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge, 1999).

85 Bodin, Jean, Six livres de la république (Paris, 1576), i.9, sig. L3r; De republica libri sex (Paris, 1586), i.8, sig. G4r.

86 Hayward, Answer, ch. 4, sig. L1v.

87 Ibid., ch. 3, sig. H2r.

88 Hayward gives the speech to the bishop of Carlisle, in Life and raigne, pp. 101–6. This, in turn, strongly resembles Bodin, République, ii.5, sigs. y2v–y4r; Republica, pp. 209–13, sigs. S3r–S5r. For Hayward's admission of plagiarism, see Dowling, Margaret, ‘Sir John Hayward's troubles over his Life of Henry IV’, The Library, 11 (1930), pp. 212–24; for the link with Bodin, see Benjamin, Edward B., ‘Sir John Hayward and Tacitus’, Review of English Studies, 8 (1957), pp. 275–6, at p. 275.

89 Hayward, Answer, ch. 4, sig. L1r.

90 Bodin, République, i.9, sig. L3r. Aside from the 1577 re-edition of the 1576, this chapter was thereafter i.8 in later editions. The equivalent Latin is ‘quantumcunque sit imperium quod alteri tribuitur, minus tamen sit eo quod iure maiestatis sibi reservavit’, in Republica, i.8, p. 79, sig. G4r. The canon in question, Liber Sextus 3.4.14, detailed a dispute between one granted a benefice by a papal legate, and another granted the same benefice by the pope, and concluded that the pope reserved authority to settle the matter. Corpus iuris canonici emendatum et notis illustratum (4 vols., Rome, 1582), iv, sig. O8v.

91 Hayward, Answer, ch. 4, sig. L2r.

92 Bodin, République, i.11, sig. R3r.

93 Ibid., i.11, sig. R4r.

94 Ibid., i.11, sig. R1r.

95 Hayward, Answer, ch. 1, sig. B3v.

96 Ibid., ch. 2, sig. E4r.

97 Persons, Conference, i.2, sig. D5v.

98 Hayward, John, Lives of the III Normans (London, 1613), p. 43.

99 The term is Hayward's. What he meant by this is discussed below.

100 R. Malcolm Smuts, ‘States, monarchs, and dynastic transitions’, in Doran and Kewes, eds., Doubtful and dangerous, p. 288.

101 Persons, Conference, i.1, sig. B7r.

102 Hayward, Answer, ch. 1, sig. A3v.

103 Ibid., sig. A4r. Hayward refers to Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IaIIae, 94.2. Commission, Leonine, ed., Opera omnia (50 vols., Rome, 1882– ), vii (1892), pp. 169–70.

104 Hayward, Answer, ch. 1, sig. A4r.

105 Ibid., ch. 1, sig. B2v.

106 Ibid., ch. 1, sig. A4v.

107 Ibid., ch. 2, sig. F2r.

108 Ibid., ch. 1, sig. C3r. Hayward does not define ‘propinquitie of bloud’ in any detail.

109 Ibid.; Persons, Conference, i.1, sig. B7r.

110 Hayward, Answer, ch. 1, sig. D1r–v, citing Gratian, Decretum, i, distinction 1, canon 7: ‘Ius naturale est commune omnium nationum, eo quod ubique instinctu naturae, non constitutione aliqua habetur; ut…liberorum successio…’, Corpus iuris canonici, i, sig. A2r.

111 Hayward, Answer, ch. 8, sig. Q3v.

112 Ibid., ch. 2, sig. F4r.

113 Peter Holmes, ‘Elizabethan Catholics’, p. 195.

114 Filmer, ‘Patriarcha’, p. 3.

This article has benefited from readers’ comments at every stage, and I would like to thank the following, in alphabetical order: Ellen Brewster, George Garnett, Andrew Harrap, Alison Humphreys, David Parrott, Max Shock, and the Historical Journal’s two anonymous referees. My particular thanks go to Magnus Ryan, who supervised the M.Phil. out of which this article has grown, to Paulina Kewes, for her support and encouragement, and, as always, to my parents. I have been supported by two generous grants: from Pembroke College, Cambridge; and from University College Oxford and Mr James K. Anderson.

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