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Serpent-Salve, 1643: the Royalism of John Bramhall

  • John Sanderson (a1)


John Bramhall is perhaps best known today for his attempt to catch Hobbes's Leviathan: critical analysis of the work of the philosopher of Malmesbury was, however, but one field of literary endeavour for Bramhall. As befitted an Anglican bishop he also exchanged doctrinal buffets with both puritans and papists, and ardently embraced the royalist cause during the period of the Great Rebellion, suffering arraignment and exile in consequence. His most notable publication in this last connexion was The Serpent-Salve; or a Remedy for the biting of an Asp, which was published in 1643 with the aim of restoring to Englishmen that proper sense of the allegiance of a subject which some of them had so irrationally cast away, thereby plunging themselves (along with their fellow subjects) into what Bramhall called a ‘bottomless gulf of mischief'. An account of his royalism can thus appropriately centre itself upon this document while drawing also upon his other writings (in particular his Fair Warning to Take Heed of the Scottish Discipline of 1649) for additional illustrative material.



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page 1 note 1 For biographical details, see Simpson, W. J. Sparrow, Archbishop Bramhall, London 1927.

page 1 note 2 Works (Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology), iii. 304.

page 1 note 3 Throughout Serpent-Salve, Parker is referred to as ‘the Observer'. For an account of Parker's political thought at this juncture, see M. A. Judson ‘Henry Parker and the Theory of Parliamentary Sovereignty’ in Essays in History and Political Theory in Honour of C. H. Mcllwain, Harvard 1936.

page 2 note 1 Observations upon some of His Majesty's late Answers and Expresses, 2nd ed., 1642, 20.

page 2 note 2 Ibid., 3.

page 2 note 3 The Case of Shipmoney Briefly Discoursed (1640), 29.

page 2 note 4 Observations, 9.

page 2 note 5 Ibid., 3.

page 2 note 6 Ibid., 5.

page 2 note 7 Ibid., 16.

page 3 note 1 Ibid., 34.

page 3 note 2 See his essay ‘The Nobles, the People and the Constitution’ in T., Aston (ed.), Crisis in Europe, 1560–1660, London 1965.

page 3 note 3 For ‘ascending’ and ‘descending’ theories of politics, see Ullmann, W.Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages, London 1961, 1929.

page 3 note 4 Works, v. 139. This passage comes from Bramhall's speech in the Irish Parliament of May 1661 and is a slightly expanded version of a similar passage in Serpent-Salve (Ibid., iii. 319–20).

page 5 note 1 Works, iii. 326. He subsequently made the same point against Hobbes. As a traditionalist and legitimist, Bramhall found Hobbes's theory of government far too rationalistic; ‘T. H. takes a pride in removing all ancient landmarks, between prince and subject, father and child, husband and wife, master and servant, man and man. Nilus after a great overflowing doth not leave such a great confusion after it as he doth; nor a hog in a garden of herbs. I wish he would have turned probationer a while, and made trial of his new form of government first in his own house, before he had gone about to obtrude it upon the commonwealth': The Catching of Leviathan, Works, iv. 575.

page 5 note 2 See his Order, Empiricism and Politics, Oxford 1964, chapters 2–5. For Bramhall's acceptance of the ‘two-sphere’ universe, see his Coronation Day Sermon (Works, v. 126–7).

page 5 note 3 See e.g., F. Oakley ‘On the Road from Constance to 1688: the Political Thought of John Major and George Buchanan’, Journal of British Studies, i. (1962).

page 5 note 4 Works, iii. 316.

page 6 note 1 Ibid., 347.

page 6 note 2 Ibid., 355.

page 6 note 3 Ibid., v. 106.

page 6 note 4 Ibid., iii. 425.

page 6 note 5 Ibid., 381–2.

page 7 note 1 Ibid., 334.

page 7 note 2 ‘The Trew Law of Free Monarchies’ in The Political Works of James I, ed. McIlwain, , New York 1965, 70.

page 7 note 3 He was thus able to take Hobbes to task for his suggestion that the individual, being concerned only with self-preservation, could properly make his peace with a usurper or conqueror in the event of the defeat of the legitimate ruler: ‘Where these principles prevail, adieu honour, and honesty, and fidelity; all must give place to selfinterest'. It was intolerable, Bramhall held, ‘for a man to desert his sovereign upon the first prevalence of an enemy …or the first appearance of a sword that is more able to protect us for the present': Works, iv. 558. Hobbes, it appeared, took his sovereign for better, but not for worse.

page 8 note 1 See also SkinnerQ,. Q,.‘History and Ideology in the English Revolution’, Historical Journal, viii (1965); Hill, C., ‘The Norman Yoke’, in his collection of essays Puritanism and Revolution, London 1958; and Pocock, J. G. A., The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law, Cambridge 1957, especially chapters 2, 3, 7.

page 8 note 2 Works, iii. 319.

page 8 note 3 Ibid., v. 560, 562.

page 8 note 4 Ibid., iii. 314.

page 9 note 1 Ibid., 380.

page 9 note 2 Ibid., 378.

page 9 note 3 Op. cit., 34.

page 9 note 4 Works, iii. 430.

page 9 note 5 Ibid., 381.

page 10 note 1 Ibid., 338.

page 10 note 2 See Ibid., 321.

page 10 note 3 Ibid., 366.

page 10 note 4 Ibid., 299.

page 10 note 5 Ibid., 380.

page 10 note 6 Ibid., 403–4.

page 10 note 7 Ibid., 297.

page 11 note 1 Ibid., 323.

page 11 note 2 Ibid., 401.

page 11 note 3 Ibid.

page 11 note 4 Ibid., v. 138.

page 11 note 5 Ibid., iii. 392.

page 11 note 6 Clarendon, A Brief View and Survey of the ‘Leviathan’ (1676), 319–20.

page 12 note 1 Works, v. 134.

page 12 note 2 Ibid., iii. 529.

page 12 note 3 Ibid., v. 120.

page 12 note 4 Ibid., 279, 280.

page 13 note 1 Robert Baillie's reply to the Fair Warning, A Review of Dr. Bramble…his Fair Warning Against the Scots Discipline (1649) must have confirmed Bramhall in most of his criticisms. A Review represents Bramhall as an apologist of naked absolutism, a member of that prelatical faction which had brought about, directly or indirectly, the calamities which had afflicted the three kingdoms in the last dozen years. In a lengthy pamphlet, perhaps the most significant passage in our context concerns Bramhall's fear of a twoheaded commonwealth: Baillie does not deny that the institution of Presbyterianism may produce ‘contrary commands’, but for him such a situation simply reflects a depraved civil authority: ‘Christ's ministers must publish all the commands of their Sovereign Lord, whereunto no command of any temporal Prince needs or ought to be contrary; but if it fall out to be so, it is not the Presbytery [which is the cause], but the Holy Scriptures, which command rather to obey God than man’ (56). Thus, the resistance of the Covenanters and their allies to their misled prince was perfectly justified, though Baillie pleads that ‘no mortal eye could have foreseen’ (Preface) that the ultimate outcome would be the seizure of power by the Sectaries and the execution of Charles: a plea which Bramhall may well have regarded as the ultimate in political naivety.

page 13 note 2 Works, iii. 241.

page 13 note 3 Ibid., 268.

page 13 note 4 Ibid., 264.

page 13 note 5 Ibid., iv. 596.

page 14 note 1 Ibid., 548.

page 14 note 2 Ibid., v. 141, 120.

page 14 note 3 Op. cit., 56.

Serpent-Salve, 1643: the Royalism of John Bramhall

  • John Sanderson (a1)


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