An important object of study in the historiography of early modern England, popularity has been examined in relation to figures such as the Earl of Essex and the Duke of Buckingham. It has been equally accounted for as the activity of MPs who fostered the cause of patriotic and freeborn Englishmen during the absolutist reigns of the early Stuarts. Popularity has also been dealt with when addressing resistance theory and people's power in pre-societal arrangements (“popular power”) and with regard to the popular component within a mixed government (“popular sovereignty”). Far less studied is another meaning of popularity, identified with direct democracy and its practices (“popular government”). This article shows how a large portion of public debate between the 1580s and 1642 focused on what were perceived as the threats of democratic strategies pursued by various (subversive) actors in England. Besides setting forth a revised understanding of the pejorative “popular” that distinguishes it from constitutional (republican) meanings on the one hand and from elite or royal popularity seeking on the other, this article unearths usages that presented it as an anarchic empowerment of the meanest of people—neither a mere theoretical sovereignty nor a mere right to be represented by one body in a mixed regime. Considering a composite range of sources and analyzing political, social, and, above all, ecclesiastical controversies, the article explains what democratic popularity was thought to stand for, who its exponents were, and how it was attacked from a wide spectrum of perspectives.
1 See Lake, Peter, “Anti-Popery: The Structure of a Prejudice,” in Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics 1603–1642, ed. Cust, Richard and Hughes, Ann (London and New York, 1989), 72–106; Cogswell, Thomas, “The People's Love: The Duke of Buckingham and Popularity,” in Politics, Religion and Popularity in Early Stuart Britain: Essays in Honour of Conrad Russell, ed. Cogswell, Thomas, Cust, Richard, and Lake, Peter (Cambridge, 2002), 211–34; Cust, Richard, “Was There an Alternative to the Personal Rule? Charles I, the Privy Council and the Parliament of 1629,” History 90, no. 299 (July 2005): 330–52; Withington, Phil, The Politics of Commonwealth: Citizens and Freemen in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2005); Cust, Richard, “The ‘Public Man’ in Late Tudor and Early Stuart England,” in The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, ed. Lake, Peter and Pincus, Steven (Manchester, 2007), 116–43; Paul E. J. Hammer, “The Smiling Crocodile: the Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan ‘Popularity,’” in Lake and Pincus, 95–115; Cesare Cuttica, “Kentish Cousins at Odds: Filmer's Patriarcha and Thomas Scott's Defence of Freeborn Englishmen,” History of Political Thought 28, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 599–616; Lake, Peter, “‘The Monarchical Republic of Queen Elizabeth I’ (and the Fall of Archbishop Grindal) Revisited,” in The Monarchical Republic of Early Modern England: Essays in Response to Patrick Collinson, ed. McDiarmid, John F. (Aldershot, 2007), 129–47; Gajda, Alexandra, The Earl of Essex and Late Elizabethan Political Culture (Oxford, 2012); The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, ed. Kesson, Andy and Smith, Emma (Aldershot, 2013); Popular Sovereignty in Historical Perspective, ed. Bourke, Richard and Skinner, Quentin (Cambridge, 2016). See also Journal of British Studies 56, no. 4 (October 2017): 709–854, with articles by Laura Stewart, Peter Lake, and others.
2 Peter Lake, “The Politics of ‘Popularity’ and the Public Sphere: the ‘Monarchical Republic’ of Elizabeth I Defends Itself,” in Lake and Pincus, The Politics of the Public Sphere, 59–94, at 87.
3 Here democratic means the common people's participation in decision-making and the plebeian pursuit of equality; republican entails elective oligarchies and educated citizens being in charge; and populist refers to demagogic pandering to the multitudes on the part of aristocrats or to politicians strategically engaging in spin.
4 See, for example, Doty, Jeffrey S., Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, 2017).
5 See, for example, Collinson, Patrick, “Antipuritanism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, ed. Coffey, John and Lim, Paul (Cambridge, 2008), 19–33.
6 See Lake, “‘The Monarchical Republic,’” 137–39.
7 Whitgift, John, The defense of the aunsvvere to the Admonition against the replie of T.C. (London, 1574), A4r.
8 See, for example, Lake, Peter, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (London, 1988), 59.
9 Whitgift, The defense, 171.
10 Lake, Anglicans, esp. 53–64. Lake, however, did not focus on popularity as democratic experiment (see 129–35).
11 Representation constituted a form of disempowerment of the people; it symbolized their renunciation to direct agency. See, for example, Arnold, Oliver, The Third Citizen. Shakespeare's Theater and the Early Modern House of Commons (Baltimore, 2007), 4, 12, 24.
12 See, for example, Whitgift, The defense, 377.
13 See Whitgift, John, A godlie sermon preched before the Queenes Maiestie at Grenevvich the 26. of March last past by Doctor VVhitgift Deane of Lincolne (London, 1574).
14 Cosin, Richard, An ansvver to the two fyrst and principall treatises of a certaine factious libell […] (London, 1584), 87.
15 Bancroft, Richard, A sermon preached at Paules Crosse the 9. of Februarie […] (London, 1588), 3, 75.
16 Bancroft, A sermon preached at Paules Crosse, 26, 25.
17 Collinson, Patrick, Richard Bancroft and Elizabethan Anti-Puritanism (Cambridge, 2013), 17, 18.
18 Merbury, Charles, A briefe discourse of royall monarchie, as of the best common weale […] (London, 1581), 9.
19 Collinson, Patrick, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Berkeley, 1967), 142.
20 Rollison, David, A Commonwealth of the People: Popular Politics and England's Long Social Revolution, 1066–1649 (Cambridge, 2010), 12.
21 Wormald, Jenny, “Ecclesiastical Vitriol: The Kirk, the Puritans and the Future King of England,” in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, ed. Guy, John (1995; repr., Cambridge 1999), 171–91, esp. 189–90.
22 James Sharpe, “Social Strain and Social Dislocation, 1585–1603,” in Guy, Reign of Elizabeth I, 192–211, at 198.
23 A Lamentable Complaint of the Commonalty, by way of supplication to the high court of Parliament, for a learned ministery (London, 1585), A3r, A3v, A5v, D5v, D6r.
24 See Arnold, The Third Citizen, 36–37.
25 Matthew Sutcliffe, A remonstrance […] (London, 1590), 40.
26 Sutcliffe, A remonstrance, 78.
27 Sutcliffe, 90.
28 Sutcliffe, 83.
29 Sutcliffe, 82.
30 See Lake, Peter, How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage. Power and Succession in the History Plays (New Haven, 2016), 467. Lake does not deal with “popularity” in the sense studied in this article but looks at it from the populist angle.
31 Sutcliffe, A remonstrance, 92, 83.
32 Sutcliffe, 98.
33 See Head, Randolph C., Early Modern Democracy in the Grisons: Social Order and Political Language in a Swiss Mountain Canton, 1470–1620 (Cambridge, 1995).
34 John Guy, “Introduction: The 1590s: The Second Reign of Elizabeth I?,” in The Reign, 1–19, at 1.
35 Guy, “Introduction,” 11.
36 In their plan to abolish episcopacy and stage a coup against Elizabeth, the self-proclaimed messianic popular prophet William Hacket (d. 1591) and his co-conspirators had been motivated by the attempt to free Cartwright and other Presbyterians from prison. See Alexandra Walsham, s.v., “Hacket, William (d. 1591),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 20 June 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11840.
37 Munro, Ian, The Figure of the Crowd in Early Modern London: The City and Its Double (Basingstoke, 2005), 16, 23.
38 See, for example, Plumb, John H., “The Growth of the Electorate in England from 1600 to 1715,” Past and Present 45, no. 1 (November 1969): 90–116.
39 Arnold, The Third Citizen, 270n25.
40 Kyle, Chris R., introduction to Parliament, Politics and Elections, 1604–1648, ed. Kyle, Chris R. (Cambridge, 2001), 1–12, at 8.
41 James, VI and I, “Basilicon Doron,” in King James VI and I, Political Writings, ed. Sommerville, Johann P. (Cambridge, 1994), 1–61, at 26, 27 (emphases added).
42 James VI and I, “Basilicon Doron,” 25, 26.
43 James VI and I, 54.
44 Bagshaw, Christopher, A sparing discouerie of our English Iesuits, and of Fa. Parsons proceedings […] (London, 1601), A2r.
45 D'Ewes, Simonds, A Compleat Journal […] (London, 1693), 653. See also Cornwallis, William, “Of Popularitie,” in Essayes (London, 1600–01), R4r and R6v.
46 See Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, “Introduction: Towards a Definition of Print Popularity,” in The Elizabethan Top Ten, ed. Kesson and Smith, 1–15, at 3. See also Preiss, Richard, Clowning and Authorship in Early Modern Theatre (Cambridge, 2014), 7, 32–35.
47 Lake, “‘The Monarchical Republic,’” 145–47. See also Collinson, Patrick, “The Monarchical Republic of Queen Elizabeth I,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 69, no. 2 (1987), 394–424.
48 Rollison, Commonwealth, 433.
49 Peltonen, Markku, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570–1640 (Cambridge, 1995, reprinted 2004), 2, 7.
50 Goslicius, Laurentius Grimaldus, The Counsellor […] Newlie translated into English (London, 1598), e.g., 62.
51 Goslicius, The Counsellor, 21, 38. The same reasoning can be found, for example, in Barnabe Barnes, Foure bookes of offices […] (London, 1606), 64–65.
52 In 1589 the French king Henry III had been murdered by the allegedly Jesuit-influenced Jacques Clément. Significantly, this was when the Catholic League had been accused of supporting the concept of a popular state. See Cuttica, Cesare, “Tyrannicide and Political Authority in the Long Sixteenth Century,” in Routledge Companion to Sixteenth-Century Philosophy, ed. Lagerlund, Henrik and Hill, Benjamin (New York and London, 2017), 265–92, at 269.
53 William Watson, A decacordon of ten quodlibeticall questions concerning religion and state […] (1602), 333. Parsons promptly defended himself and the Jesuit Order from Watson's accusations of their disposition to “popularity.” (See, for example, Parsons, Robert, A manifestation of the great folly and bad spirit of certayne in England calling themselues secular priestes […] (Antwerp, 1602), 67, 112.)
54 Watson, A decacordon, 333.
55 Watson, 28.
56 Watson, 157–58.
57 Watson, 169.
58 Clark, William, A replie vnto a certaine libell, latelie set foorth by Fa: Parsons […] (London, 1603), 76.
59 Peltonen, Markku, Rhetoric, Politics and Popularity in Pre-Revolutionary England (Cambridge, 2013), 231.
60 Peltonen, Markku, “Political Argument,” in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, vol. 1, Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, ed. Raymond, Joad (Oxford, 2011), 252–62, 261.
61 See Sharpe, Kevin, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England (New Haven, 2009); Sharpe, Kevin, Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England, 1603–1660 (New Haven, 2010).
62 Tooker, William, Of the Fabrique of the Church […] (London, 1604), “The Epistle Dedicatorie,” A3r.
63 Tooker, Of the Fabrique of the Church, A4r.
64 See above note 58.
65 For other supporters of mixed government, see, for example, Peltonen, Classical Humanism, 93, 177–89.
66 Cooper, Thomas, An admonition to the people of England […] (London, 1589), 92–93. Cooper also referred to the Peasants’ Revolt (1381), with its dangerous calls for general equality (159–60).
67 Stoughton, William, An assertion for true and Christian church-policie […] (London, 1604), 359–64.
68 It is important to reiterate that magistracies might be organized around a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, but the overall commonweal remained kingly.
69 See John Walter, s.v., “Reynolds, John [alias Captain Pouch],” ODNB, accessed 21 June 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/67261.
70 Stirling, Brents, The Populace in Shakespeare (New York, 1965), 128.
71 Patterson, Annabel, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford, 1989), 144–45.
72 See Arnold, The Third Citizen, 34–35.
73 James VI and I, “Speech to Parliament of 31 March 1607,” in Sommerville, King James VI and I, 159–78, at 174.
74 Martin Fotherby, “The fourth Sermon, at the Court, Nouemb. 15. Anno 1607,” in Fotherby, Foure sermons […] (London, 1608), 87–108, at 97, 98.
75 Fotherby, “The fourth Sermon,” 96.
76 “Newfanglism” referred to people “with a liking for novelty”. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “newfanglist, (n.),” accessed 7 March 2017, http://accesdistant.bu.univ-paris8.fr:2174/view/Entry/126556?redirectedFrom=newfanglist.
77 Wilkes, William, A second memento for magistrates […] (London, 1608), 18.
78 Wilkes, A second memento for magistrates, 22, 19.
79 Wilkes, 29. “Passauantians” recalls the French verb passer avant (“to go forward”).
80 Wilkes, 36, 37.
81 Wilkes, 54.
82 David Como, “Radical Puritanism, c. 1558–1660,” in The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, ed. John Coffey and Paul C. H. Lim, 241–58, at 247.
83 Smyth, John, Paralleles, censures, observations […] (Middelburg, 1609), 54–55.
84 Robinson, John, A iustification of separation […] (Amsterdam, 1610), 132–33.
85 See, for example, Zaret, David, “Religion and the Rise of Liberal-Democratic Ideology in 17th-Century England,” American Sociological Review 54, no. 2 (April 1989): 163–79, at 169.
86 Robinson dismissed all speculation that he and his coreligionists conceived “any popular, or democraticall Church-government.” John Robinson, A Iust and Necessarie Apologie […] ([Amsterdam], 1625), 38. He also excluded women from all “matters truly publique and ecclesiasticall,” 39.
87 Smyth, Paralleles, 55.
88 Robinson, A iustification, 223–24.
89 See also Robinson, John, Of Religious Communion […] ([Amsterdam?] 1614), 23. Richard Tuck has posited the critical distinction between popular sovereignty and popular administration; see Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign. The Invention of Modern Democracy (Cambridge, 2016). The passages illustrated above show that this distinction was first developed in ecclesiological theory, which is particularly important given that Hobbes is one of Tuck's “democratic” theorists, and a thinker who was deeply interested in congregational elections. I thank Jeffrey Collins for his suggestions on this point.
90 See, for example, Maloy, Jason S., The Colonial American Origins of Modern Democratic Thought (Cambridge, 2008), 178.
91 Popular advice and consent were often viewed as indispensable tools to regulate decisions and actions taken by the eldership and the ministry; they were even invoked. Yet they were no endorsement of a fully democratic government at the head of which stood the demos.
92 Carier, Benjamin, A treatise […] (London, 1614), 19. “Belgian” means Dutch, whereas the Geuses are the “Gueux” or “Geuzen” (in English, “Beggars”). They were Calvinists who in the second half of the sixteenth century had opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands and had founded a republic in the north of the country. The opposite view of the Dutch was to be put forward by the well-known anti-popish polemicist Thomas Scott (1580?–1626), who praised their commonwealth government (Scott, Thomas, The Belgicke Pigsmire […] (London, 1622), 89–91).
93 Hakewill, George, An ansvvere to a treatise vvritten by Dr. Carier […] (London, 1616), 87.
94 James VI and I, “Speech in Star Chamber of 20 June 1616,” in Sommerville, King James VI and I, 204–28, at 213.
95 James VI and I, “A Speach in the Starre-Chamber,” 222 (emphasis added).
96 The same opinion had been expounded six years earlier by Lord Keeper Ellesmere (Egerton, Thomas, “Speciall Obseruacions Touching all the Sessions of the Last Parlement Anno 7 Regis and etc.” (1611), in Law and Politics in Jacobean England. The Tracts of Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, ed. Knafla, Louis A. (Cambridge, 1977), xi, 254–62, at 254).
97 Even when deploring past and present republics, the principal focus of much Stuart literature was on unveiling their being popular states.
98 Zaret, David, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England (Princeton, 2000), 79.
99 See, for example, James VI and I, My Lords and Gent: all (Report of James I's speech accepting subsidies but refusing parliamentary supervision of foreign policy), ca. 1621, MS X.d.150, fol. 1v, Folger Shakespeare Library.
100 Andrew Thrush, “The Personal Rule of James I, 1611–1620,” in Cogswell, Cust and Lake, Politics, Religion and Popularity, 84–102, at 84.
101 Cited in Sharpe, Kevin, “Introduction: Parliamentary History, 1603–1629: In or Out of Perspective?,” in Faction and Parliament: Essays on Early Stuart History, ed. Sharpe, Kevin (Oxford, 1978), 1–42, at 13.
102 Sharpe, “Introduction,” 27–28, 39.
103 Norbrook, David, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627–1660 (Cambridge, 1999), 70.
104 “A Proclamation for suppressing insolent abuses committed by base people against persons of qualitie, aswell Strangers as others, in the Streetes of the Citie and Suburbes of London, with the parts adjacent [Westminster, 8 April 1621],” in Stuart Royal Proclamations, vol. 1, Royal Proclamations of King James I 1603–1625, ed. Larkin, James F. and Hughes, Paul L. (Oxford, 1973), 508–11, at 509.
105 See Zaret, Origins, 68, 81–99.
106 Zaret, 173.
107 Curll, Walter, A Sermon preached at White-Hall on the 28. of April in 1622 (London, 1622), 21–23.
108 Willan, Robert, Conspiracie against Kings, heavens Scorne (London, 1622), 19.
109 Willan, Conspiracie against Kings, heavens Scorne, 45.
110 “A Proclamation against Seditious, Popish, and Puritanicall Bookes and Pamphlets [Nottingham, 15 August 1624],” in Larkin and Hughes, Stuart Royal Proclamations, 599–600, at 599.
111 Pattenson, Matthew, The image of bothe churches […] (Tornay, 1623), 90.
112 Pattenson, The image of bothe churches, 45.
113 Pattenson, 163, 52.
114 Pattenson, 232.
115 Brautigam, Dwight, “Prelates and Politics: Uses of ‘Puritan,’ 1625–40,” in Puritanism and Its Discontents, ed. Knoppers, Laura Lunger (London, 2003), 49–66, at 64.
116 Walter, John, Crowds and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2006), 69.
117 Hirst, Derek, England in Conflict, 1603–1660: Kingdom, Community, Commonwealth (London, 1999), 112–22, 139–40.
118 Scot, Patrick, Vox vera: or obseruations from Amsterdam […] (London, 1625), A3a.
119 Scot, Vox vera, 1.
120 Scot, 53–54.
121 Bacon, Francis, “Of Seditions and Troubles,” in Francis Bacon, The Major Works, ed. Vickers, Brian, rev. ed. (Oxford, 2002), 341–456, 366–71, at 366. Bacon viewed seditions as having social and economic causes too: as he put it, “rebellions of the belly are the worst” (367). However, Bacon lauded democracies for their lack of internecine sedition and praised Switzerland and the Low Countries for their meritocratic system in appointing counsellors (Peltonen, Classical Humanism, 266).
122 See McRae, Andrew, Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart State (Cambridge, 2004), 30. See also Bellany, Alastair, “Libels in Action: Ritual, Subversion and the English Literary Underground, 1603–42,” in The Politics of the Excluded, c. 1500–1850, ed. Harris, Tim (Basingstoke, 2001), 99–124, 111.
123 Montagu, Richard, Appello Caesarem: a jvste appeale from two uniust informers (London, 1625), 3, 44.
124 Montagu, Appello Caesarem, 72.
125 Montagu, 112.
126 See, for example, Vaughan, William, The arraignment of slander periury blasphemy … (London, 1630), 114.
127 See Malcolm, Noel, Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years’ War: An Unknown Translation by Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, 2007), 87–88.
128 Cited in Sharpe, Kevin, Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics (Cambridge, 2000), 143.
129 See, for example, Walter, Crowds, 69–70.
130 Downing, Calybute, A Discourse of the State Ecclesiasticall of this Kingdome, in Relation to the Civill […] (Oxford, 1632), 12.
131 Downing, A Discourse of the State Ecclesiasticall, 16.
132 Downing, 17.
133 Hurste, Thomas, The Descent of Authoritie […] (London, 1637), 2.
134 Hurste, The Descent of Authoritie, 23, 25.
135 Balcanquhall, Walter, A Large Declaration concerning the late tumults in Scotland … (London, 1639), 405.
136 Richard Cust, “Charles I and Popularity,” in Cogswell, Cust and Lake, Politics, Religion and Popularity, 235–58, at 257.
137 See Beard, Mary, “The Public Voice of Women,” London Review of Books 36, no. 6 (20 March 2014): 11–14, at 11.
138 Anna Bayman, “Printing, Learning and the Unlearned,” in Raymond, The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, 76–87, at 80–84.
139 Ward, Robert, Anima'dversions of vvarre […] (London, 1639), 164.
140 Ward, Anima'dversions of vvarre, 165, 166.
141 Ward, 164.
142 The Diary of John Evelyn […], ed. Bray, William (London, 1890), vol. 1, 23.
143 Cressy, David, England on Edge: Crisis and Revolution, 1640–1642 (Oxford, 2006), 116.
144 Hobbes, Thomas, De corpore politico, or, The elements of law, moral and politick […] (London, 1652) 152 and 105, respectively.
145 Hobbes, De corpore politico, 75.
146 Hobbes, 172, 173.
147 Hobbes, 164.
148 See, for example, Thompson, Anthony B., “Licensing the Press: The Career of G. R. Weckherlin during the Personal Rule of Charles I,” Historical Journal 41, no. 3 (September 1998): 653–78, at 669.
149 Zaret, Origins, 262, 265.
150 Burgess, Glenn, British Political Thought, 1500–1600: The Politics of the Post-Reformation (Basingstoke, 2009), 226.
151 Hill, Christopher, “The Many-Headed Monster in Late Tudor and Early Stuart Political Thinking,” in From the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation: Essays in Honor of Garrett Mattingly, ed. Carter, C. H. (New York, 1965), 296–324, at 311.
152 See, for example, Hirst, England, 186, 187.
153 See Aston, Thomas, A Remonstrance, against Presbitery […] (London, 1641).
154 Aston, A Remonstrance, B3v.
155 Aston, C3v, C4r.
156 Aston, C4r.
157 Mendle, Michael, Dangerous Positions: Mixed Government, the Estates of the Realm, and the Making of the “Answer to the xix propositions” (Tuscaloosa, 1985), 169–70, 182.
158 His Maiesties ansvver to the xix propositions of both Houses of Parliament (London, 1642), B1v.
159 His Maiesties ansvver to the xix propositions, B2r.
160 See above note 1.
161 John Guy, “The Elizabethan Establishment and the Ecclesiastical Polity,” in Guy, The Reign, 126–49, at 148–49.
162 This was to be so in conjunction with notions of representative democracy and popular accountability formulated by such pamphleteers as John Streater.
163 All of this explains why democracy remained a dirty word well into the nineteenth century. See, for example, Saunders, Robert, “Democracy,” in Languages of Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain, ed. Craig, David and Thompson, James (Basingstoke, 2013), 142–67, esp. 142–44.
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