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This article seeks to revise existing interpretations of the political writings composed by the early Stuart MP, Sir John Eliot (1592–1632), while imprisoned in the Tower of London between 1629 and 1632. In particular, it challenges the common understanding of Eliot as an absolutist writer. This characterization is shown to be based on a misreading of his principal treatise, The monarchie of man, and the problematic assumption that De jure – a translation he undertook of the continental absolutist, Arnisaeus – should be taken to epitomize Eliot's own views. The article also refutes the notion that The monarchie of man is an uncontroversial text that ignores contemporary political context. It is argued that the treatise can, in fact, only be read in relation to the constitutional crisis of the late 1620s: Eliot's work is presented as a subversive attack on Charles I's tyrannical pretensions, which supplies a remedy in the form of a Ciceronian insistence on active virtue. These findings in turn have implications for how we understand the political thought and culture of early Stuart England more generally.

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St Anne's College, 56 Woodstock Road, Oxford, ox2
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I would like to thank Richard Serjeantson, who supervised the M.Phil. on which this article is based, for his guidance and support. I am also very grateful to Grant Tapsell and the anonymous referees of this journal for their insightful comments on earlier drafts. This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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1 Echard, Laurence, The history of England (London, 1720), p. 424.

2 The biographer Forster, John epitomizes this position in his Sir John Eliot: a biography, 1592–1632 (2 vols., London, 1874). See also Alexander Grosart, introduction to Eliot, Sir John, De jure maiestatis; or, political treatise of government (1628–30) and The letter-book of Sir John Eliot, ed. Grosart, Alexander (2 vols., London, 1882), i, pp. xiiixxiii.

3 See, for example, Conrad Russell, ‘Eliot, Sir John (1592–1632)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (ODNB), For the revisionist interpretation of the early Stuart period more generally, see Russell, Conrad, Parliaments and English politics, 1621–1629 (Oxford, 1979); Sharpe, Kevin; The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven, CT, 1992); Burgess, Glenn, The politics of the ancient constitution (Basingstoke, 1992).

4 For recent scholarship on this subject, see ‘Prison writings in early modern England’, special issue, William H. Sherman and William J. Sheils, eds., Huntington Library Quarterly, 72 (2009).

5 Sir Eliot, John, An apology for Socrates and Negotium posterorum, ed. Grosart, Alexander (2 vols., London, 1881).

6 Salmon, J. H., The French religious wars in English political thought (Oxford, 1959), pp. 62–3.

7 See, for example, Sommerville, Johann P., Politics and ideology in England, 1603–1640 (London, 1986); Cust, Richard, The Forced Loan and English politics, 1626–1628 (Oxford, 1987); Cogswell, Thomas, The blessed revolution: English politics and the coming of war, 1621–1624 (Cambridge, 1989).

8 Millstone, Noah, Manuscript circulation and the invention of politics in early Stuart England (Cambridge, 2016).

9 See also McIlwain, Charles, Constitutionalism and the changing world (Cambridge, 1939), pp. 78–9; Burgess, Glenn, Absolute monarchy and the Stuart constitution (New Haven, CT, 1996), p. 5.

10 Judson, Margaret, The crisis of the constitution (New Brunswick, NJ, 1949), p. 298.

11 Russell, ‘Eliot, Sir John’.

12 See Cope, Esther, Politics without parliaments, 1629–1640 (London, 1987), especially ch. 1.

13 Tuck, Richard, Philosophy and government, 1572–1651 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 3164; Shagan, Ethan, The rule of moderation: violence, religion and the politics of restraint in early modern England (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 3045.

14 Eliot to John Hampden, 25 May 1630, in Letter-book, ii, p. 112; Hampden to Eliot, 4 Apr. 1631, in ibid., ii, pp. 158–9.

15 Richard James to Eliot, 15 Jan. 1632, in Letter-book, ii, pp. 215–16; Eliot to Sir Oliver Luke, 24 Jan. 1632, in ibid., ii, p. 218.

16 Cornwall Record Office (CRO), EL/656.

17 British Library (BL), Harley MS 2228.

18 Wright, Cyril Ernest, Fontes Harleiani (London, 1972), p. 193.

19 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 18r.

20 Ibid., fo. 12r.

21 James to Eliot, 15 Jan. 1632, Letter-book, ii, p. 215.

22 Ibid.; Hulme, Harold, The life of Sir John Eliot, 1592 to 1632: struggle for parliamentary freedom (London, 1957), pp. 360–1.

23 For Eliot's friendship with Cotton, and the activities of the Cotton Circle in general, see Sharpe, Kevin, Sir Robert Cotton (1586–1631): history and politics in early modern England (Oxford, 1979), especially pp. 177–8 and 196–222; and Millstone, Manuscript circulation, pp. 197–237.

24 Millstone, Noah, ‘Evil counsel: the Propositions to bridle the impertinency of parliament and the critique of Caroline government in the late 1620s’, Journal of British Studies, 50 (2011), pp. 813–39. On Starkey, see Beal, Peter, In praise of scribes (Oxford, 1998), pp. 8694.

25 Cust, Forced Loan, p. 169.

26 E.g. BL, Add. MS 29492, fo. 61v; Millstone, ‘Evil counsel’, p. 834.

27 BL Harley MS 2228, fo. 3r.

28 Ibid., fo. 9r.

29 Ibid., fo. 16v.

30 Ibid., fos. 16v–17r.

31 Ibid., fo. 32r. For a summary of the idea of parliament as a ‘great council’, see Smith, David L., The Stuart parliaments, 1603–1689 (London, 1999), pp. 43–8.

32 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 18r.

33 Ibid., fos. 18v, 21v.

34 The arguments upon the writ of habeas corpus…whereunto is annexed, the petition of Sir Iohn Elliot Knight, in behalf of the liberty of the subject (London, 1649), p. 92.

35 Quoted in Salmon, French religious wars, p. 62.

36 Commons debates 1628, ed. Mary Frear Keeler, Maija Jansson Cole, and William B. Bidwell (4 vols., New Haven, CT, 1978), iii, pp. 502–3.

37 For the most comprehensive recent account of ancient constitutionalist thought in the period, see Cromartie, Alan, The constitutionalist revolution: an essay on the history of England, 1450–1642 (Cambridge, 2006).

38 See, for example, Todd, Margo, ‘Anti-Calvinists and the republican threat in early Stuart Cambridge’, in Knoppers, Laura L., ed., Puritanism and its discontents (Newark, NJ, 2002), pp. 85105; Cogswell, The blessed revolution, p. 21.

39 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 18r.

40 For contrasting discussions of Sibthorpe and Manwaring, see, on the one hand, Burgess, Politics of the ancient constitution, pp. 173–7; on the other, Sommerville, Politics and ideology, pp. 127–31; Cust, Forced Loan, pp. 62–5; and Holmes, Clive, ‘Parliament, liberty, taxation, and property’, in Hexter, J. H., ed., Parliament and liberty from the reign of Elizabeth to the English Civil War (Stanford, CA, 1992), pp. 122–54, at pp. 127–9.

41 Sibthorpe, Robert, Apostolike obedience: shewing the duty of subiects to pay tribute and taxes to their princes (London, 1627), p. 3.

42 Manwaring, Roger, Religion and allegiance (London, 1627), pp. 9, 11; Sibthorpe, Apostolike obedience, p. 8.

43 For this and Abbot's other objections, see Rusworth, John, Historical collections of private passages of state (London, 1659), pp. 443–4.

44 Commons debates 1628, iv, 102.

45 BL, Harley MS 2228, fos. 18v–19r.

46 Hinton, R. W. K., ‘English constitutional doctrines from the fifteenth century to the seventeenth: i. English constitutional theories from Sir John Fortescue to Sir John Eliot’, English Historical Review, 75 (1960), pp. 410–25.

47 Sharpe, Kevin, Politics and ideas in early Stuart England (London, 1989), p. 93.

48 Ball, J. N., ‘Sir John Eliot and parliament, 1624–1629’, in Sharpe, Kevin, ed., Faction and parliament (Oxford, 1978), pp. 173208, at p. 174.

49 Ibid., p. 207.

50 Ibid., p. 174.

51 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 37v.

52 Ibid., fos. 27v–28r.

53 Burgess, Politics of the ancient constitution, p. 146.

54 Cromartie, Alan, ‘The constitutionalist revolution: the transformation of political culture in early Stuart England’, Past and Present, 163 (1999), pp. 76120, at p. 96.

55 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 23r.

56 Ibid., fo. 21v.

57 Bodin, Jean, On sovereignty: four chapters from the six books of the commonwealth, ed. Franklin, Julian (Cambridge, 1992), p. 14.

58 For the reception and varying interpretations of Bosin in this period, see Salmon, J. H., ‘The legacy of Jean Bodin: absolutist, populism, or constitutionalism?’, History of Political Thought, 17 (1996), pp. 500–22.

59 Salmon, French religious wars, pp. 62–3.

60 Hulme, Life, p. 374; Forster, Sir John Eliot, ii, pp. 289–93.

61 Hulme, Life, p. 375.

62 CRO, EL/655/5, fos. 60v, 8r.

63 Ibid., fo. 94r.

64 Ibid., fo. 10v.

65 Burgess, Absolute monarchy, p. 5.

66 Russell, ‘Eliot, Sir John’.

67 Hulme, Life, pp. 354–8.

68 A copy of De jure made some time in the eighteenth century can be found in CRO, EL/729. Although the identity of the transcriber and the precise date are unclear, the round hand suggests a date closer to 1750 than 1700.

69 Grosart, De jure, i, p. xiv.

70 CRO, EL/655/5. See, for example, the facsimile reproduced in the front matter of De jure, i, by Grosart. He notes that the facsimile ‘will give the Reader some idea of the difficulty and toil in making our transcript for the press; and perhaps excuse any inadvertent misreadings’, p. 1n.

71 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 18v.

72 Eliot's access to books during his imprisonment was by no means unique: see Freeman, Thomas S., ‘The rise of prison literature’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 72 (2009), pp. 133–46, at p. 141.

73 James to Eliot, Sept. 1629, Letter-book, ii, pp. 66–7.

74 von Friedeburg, Robert, Self-defence and religious strife in early modern Europe: England and Germany, 1530–1680 (Aldershot, 2002), p. 192.

75 BL, Harley MS 2228, fos. 24v–25r.

76 Ibid., fo. 94r.

77 Salmon, French religious wars, p. 83.

78 Locke, John, Political writings, ed. Wotton, David (Harmondsworth, 1993), p. 384.

79 ‘I have sinned only against you’; CRO, EL/655/5, fo. 8r.

80 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 19r.

81 For a fuller discussion of this passage in early modern political thought, see Sommerville, Johann P., ‘English and European political ideas in the early seventeenth century: revisionism and the case of absolutism’, Journal of British Studies, 35 (1996), pp. 168–94.

82 Cf. ibid., p. 178.

83 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 19r.

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid. The quotation is from Pliny's Panegyric in praise of Trajan.

86 CRO, EL/655/5, fo. 10v.

87 On Rutherford, and Lex, rex in particular, see Coffey, John, Politics, religion and the British revolutions: the mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge, 1997), especially pp. 146–87.

88 Rutherford, Samuel, Lex, rex: the law and the prince (London, 1644), p. 410.

89 Ibid., title page.

90 Ibid., pp. 396–7.

91 Von Friedeburg, Self-defence, p. 192.

92 Rose, Jacqueline, ed., The politics of counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707 (Oxford, 2016).

93 Millstone, Manuscript circulation, p. 199.

94 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 16v.

95 Ibid., fo. 34r.

96 The arguments upon the writ of habeas corpus, p. 91.

97 On this episode, see Cogswell, Thomas, ‘John Felton, popular political culture, and the assassination of the duke of Buckingham’, Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp. 357–85.

98 James, Richard, The poems, ed. Grosart, Alexander (London, 1880), pp. 197–9. See also Tom Beaumont James, ‘James, Richard’, ODNB.

99 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 28v.

100 Ibid., fo. 20v.

101 On Darnell's Case, see Kishlansky, Mark, ‘Tyranny denied: Charles I, Attorney General Heath, and the Five Knights’ Case’, Historical Journal, 42 (1999), pp. 5383.

102 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 27r.

103 Ibid., fos. 34v–35r.

104 Holmes, ‘Liberty, taxation, and property’, p. 144.

105 BL, Harley MS 2228, fos. 35r, 36r.

106 Butler, Martin, ‘Romans in Britain: The Roman actor and the early Stuart classical play’, in Douglas, Howard, ed., Philip Massinger: a critical reassessment (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 139–70; Hunneyball, Paul, ‘Eliot, John (1592–1632)’, in Thrush, Andrew and Ferris, John P., eds., The House of Commons, 1604–1629 (6 vols., Cambridge, 2010), iv, pp. 182200, at p. 192.

107 BL, Harley MS 2228, fo. 33r.

108 Ibid., fo. 19r.

109 Ball, ‘Sir John Eliot’, p. 174. This view is echoed by others. Hulme finds it curious that, ‘without a break of any kind Sir John Eliot turns from politics to ethics, the second part of Monarchy of man’; Life, p. 370. Paul Hunneyball describes the work as ‘an ethical study’: ‘Eliot, John’, p. 199.

110 Tuck, Philosophy and government, pp. 65–119.

111 Cicero, De officiis, trans. Walter Miller (Cambridge, MA, 1913), p. 57.

112 Ibid., p. 159.

113 Ibid., fo. 93r.

114 See Tenney, Mary F., ‘Tacitus in the politics of early Stuart England’, Classical Journal, 37 (1941), pp. 151–63; Salmon, J. H., ‘Stoicism and Roman example: Seneca and Tacitus in Jacobean England’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 50 (1989), pp. 199225; and Seaward, Paul, ‘Clarendon, Tacitism, and the civil wars of Europe’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 65 (2005), pp. 289311.

115 BL, Harley MS 2228, fos. 36v–37r.

116 Ibid., fos. 46r–v.

117 Ibid., fo. 50v.

118 Ibid., fos. 92v, 93v.

119 Stacey, Peter, Roman monarchy and the Renaissance prince (Cambridge, 2007), p. 24.

120 See Bellany, Alastair, ‘“The brightnes of that noble lieutenants action”: an intellectual ponders Buckingham's assassination’, English Historical Review, 118 (2003), pp. 1242–63.

121 The arguments upon the writ of habeas corpus, p. 92. This, of course, was an entirely conventional mode of argumentation in seventeenth-century England. See Adamson, John, ‘The baronial context of the English Civil Wars’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 40 (1990), pp. 93120.

122 Cope, Politics without parliament.

123 See, for example, Burgess, Absolute monarchy, pp. 1–2, 47–8.

124 E.g. Cromartie, The constitutionalist revolution.

I would like to thank Richard Serjeantson, who supervised the M.Phil. on which this article is based, for his guidance and support. I am also very grateful to Grant Tapsell and the anonymous referees of this journal for their insightful comments on earlier drafts. This research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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