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Clarendon and the Caroline Myth of Peace

  • Raymond A. Anselment (a1)


The origins of the Civil War are apparent from the outset of the History of the Rebellion: “he who shall diligently observe the distempers and conjunctures of the time,” Clarendon contends, “will find all this bulk of misery to have proceeded, and to have been brought upon us, from the same natural causes and means which have usually attended kingdoms swoln with long plenty, pride, and excess, towards some signal mortification, and castigation of Heaven.” The relationship between prosperity and calamity is, of course, commonplace in classical as well as seventeenth-century chronicles of civil conflict, but both the sections of the History written in 1646 and those added some twenty years later insist that “the like peace and plenty and universal tranquillity for ten years was never enjoyed by any nation” (I, 84). Although he modifies his praise of this peaceful era in The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, claiming that “England enjoyed the greatest Measure of Felicity that it [and not, as he earlier said, any nation] had ever known,” this view of Caroline prosperity remains extreme. Clarendon likens the years of Charles's personal rule to a golden age. Without specifically invoking the classical tradition of the halcyon calm or the return of Astraea, his recollection of the 1630s gives central importance and new immediacy to a well-established Caroline myth of peace.

Modern historians have generally found much amiss in the decade of Charles's personal rule, and they have naturally questioned Clarendon's characterization of unrivalled happiness. Only B. H. G. Wormald's seminal study of Clarendon accepts the notion of “unparalleled prosperity,” which, it argues, “is an indisputable fact so far at least as the gentry were concerned.”



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1 Hyde, Edward, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion, ed. Macray, W. Dunn (Oxford, 1888), I, 2. Hereafter cited in the text.

2 Lucan, for example, emphasizes the relationship between peace and war in The Civil War, trans. Duff, J.D. (Cambridge, 1943), p. 15; MacGillivray, Royce surveys seventeenth-century adaptations of this tradition in “The Surfeit of Peace and Plenty,” an appendix to Restoration Historians and the English Civil War (The Hague, 1974), pp. 237–42. Firth, C.H. discusses the composition of the first books in “Clarendon‘s History of the Rebellion,” English Historical Review, XIX (1904), 2933.

3 Hyde, Edward, The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon (Oxford, 1759), I, 70.

4 The myth of the golden age found particular currency in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline courts. See, for example, Yates, Frances A., Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1975); Strong, Roy, Splendor at Court (Boston, 1973) and The Cult of Elizabeth (London, 1977); Parry, Graham, The Golden Age Restor'd (New York, 1981); and Palomo, Dolores, “The Halcyon Moment of Stillness in Royalist Poetry,” Huntington Library Quarterly, XLIV (1981), 205–21. None of these studies, however, details the following tradition.

5 Among others who consider the accuracy of Clarendon's “famous passage” see Aylmer, G. E., The King's Servants (London, 1961), p. 63; Trevor-Roper, H. R., “Clarendon and the Practice of History” in Milton and Clarendon (Los Angeles, 1965), pp. 3940; and Alexander, Michael Van Cleave, Charles I's Lord Treasurer; Sir Richard Weston, Earl of Portland (1577–1635) (Chapel Hill, 1975), p. 164.

6 Wormald, B.H.G., Clarendon; Politics, History & Religion 1640–1660 (Cambridge, 1951), p. 181.

7 Ibid., p. 182. Wormald believes that Clarendon may have formulated his positive view of the earlier years in response to the criticisms of Charles expressed in the Grand Remonstrance.

8 The phrase is Trevor-Roper's, “Clarendon and the Practice of History,” p. 23.

9 Sprigge, Joshua, Anglia Rediviva (London, 1647), p. 1, and Hutchinson, Lucy, “The Life of Mrs. Lucy Hutchinson” in Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, ed. Sutherland, James (London, 1973), p. 279. Although the attitudes expressed in the pamphlet literature of the 1640s have not been explored, some of the histories are discussed in MacGillivray, , Restoration Historians and Richardson, R.C., The Debate on the English Revolution (New York, 1977).

10 SirWarwick, Philip, Memoires Of the reigne of King Charles I (London, 1701), p. 46.

11 L'Estrange, Hamon, The Reign of King Charles (London, 1656), p. 143. None of these historians, however, would have seen Clarendon's manuscript; he might have read L'Estrange and Sanderson before he began his revision of the History, but even so his vision of Caroline peace was set down essentially in 1646. The following analysis assumes, therefore, that Clarendon responded to an earlier tradition which may have also influenced to varying degrees the other historians.

12 Sanderson, William, A Compleat History of the Life and Raigne of King Charles (London, 1658), p. 311.

13 Warwick, , Memoires Of the reigne of King Charles I, p. 64.

14 Clarendon, , History, I, 94; Lloyd, David, Memoires (London, 1668), p. 13.

15 Lloyd, , Memoires, p. 13; Warwick, , Memoires Of the reigne of King Charles I, p. 62.

16 The seventeenth-century translation of Virgil is from Cowley's, AbrahamOf Agriculture” in The English Writings of Abraham Cowley, ed. Waller, A.R. (Cambridge, 1906), II, 409.

17 Wormald's Clarendon, in particular, stresses the importance of Clarendon's commentary on the Psalms and the role of providence; Trevor-Roper recognizes the classical indebtedness in “Clarendon and the Practice of History.” The Virgilian echo, it will become apparent, plays a less obvious though important role in the History.

18 The roles the Whitehall paintings and masques played in the King's peace are discussed by Palme, Per in Triumph of Peace (Stockholm, 1956) and Orgel, Stephen and Strong, Roy in Inigo Jones (Berkeley, 1973), particularly the chapter “Platonic Politics,” I, 49–75.

19 May, Tom's praise of Elizabeth in The History of the Parliament Of England (London, 1647), pp. 14, is typical. Other nostalgic celebrations are found in Wedgwood, C. V., Oliver Cromwell and the Elizabethan Inheritance (London, 1970) and Barton, Anne, “Harking Back to Elizabeth: Ben Jonson and Caroline Nostalgia,” English Literary History, XLVIII (1981), 706–31.

20 See, for example, The Peace-Maker: Or, Great Brittaines Blessing (London, 1619); Markham, Gervase, Honour in his Perfection (London, 1624), and Williams, John, Great Britains Salomon (London, 1625).

21 May, Tom, The History of the Parliament Of England, p. 18.

22 Kenyon, J.P. takes issue with the Whig interpretation in Stuart England, (London, 1978), arguing that Charles is “one of the most complex of English Kings” and that his eleven years of personal rule are “extraordinarily difficult to assess” (pp. 362, 118). Russell, Conrad observes in Parliaments and English Politics 1621–1629 (Oxford, 1979), “In peacetime, his regime was perhaps stronger than has been thought” (p. 426); and he too takes exception to Gardiner's, S.R. influential interpretation of Charles's reign in his “Introduction” to The Origins of the English Civil War (New York, 1973), pp. 131. See also Elton, G.R., “The Unexplained Revolution” and “The Stuart Century” in Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government (Cambridge, 1974), II, 183–89, 155–63. Though Morrill, John also emphasizes this trend in scholarship, he recognizes in Reactions to the English Civil War 1642–1649 (New York, 1982) “signs of a reaction against this so-called ‘revisionist’ approach” (pp. 1, 219). Morrill cites, among others, Hexter's, J.H. and Hirst's, Derek responses in Journal of Modern History, L (1978) particularly to essays written by Conrad Russell, Paul Christianson, James Farnell and Mark Kishlansky.

23 As Kenyon, J.P. observes in Stuart England, “it is extraordinarily difficult to answer the simplest economic questions” (p. 10). Different judgments of the economic conditions of precivil war England include: Supple, B.E., Commercial Crisis and Change in England 1600–1642 (Cambridge, 1964); Wilson, Charles, England's Apprenticeship 1603–1763 (London, 1965); Stone, Lawrence, The Causes of the English Revolution 1529–1642 (London, 1972); and Coleman, Donald C., The Economy of England 1450–1750 (Oxford, 1977).

24 Support for the report in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts… Venetian, ed. Hinds, Allen B. (London, 1919), XXII, 67, and XXIII, 499, can be found in Taylor, Harland, “Trade, Neutrality, and the 'English Road,' 1630–1648,” Economic History Review, XXV (1972), 236–60; Kepler, J.S., “Fiscal Aspects of the English Carrying Trade during the Thirty Years War,” Economic History Review, XXV (1972), 261283; and Pearl, Valerie, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution (Oxford, 1961).

25 Conrad Russell explores the complex attitude towards war in Parliaments and English Politics 1621–1629.

26 See Gardiner's, Samuel R. chapter “Futile Diplomacy” in History of England (London, 1884), VII, 169219; Dietz, Frederick C., English Public Finance 1558–1641 (New York, 1932), p. 260 ff.; Jones, J.R., Britain and Europe in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1966), p. 22 ff.; Howat, G. M. D., Stuart and Cromwellian Foreign Policy (New York, 1974), p. 40 f.; and Smuts, R.M., “The Puritan Followers of Henrietta Maria in the 1630s,” English Historical Review, XCIII (1978), 2645.

27 Fanshawe, Richard, Shorter Poems and Translations, ed. Bawcutt, N.W. (Liverpool, 1964), p. 6.

28 Randol, John, Noble Blastus (London, 1633), p. 28.

29 Gouge, William, The Saints Sacrifice (London, 1632), p. 276.

30 Dahl, Folke, “Amsterdam—Cradle of English Newspapers,” The Library, Fifth Series, IV (19491950), 174.

31 Russell, John, The Two Famous Pitcht Battels of Lypsich, and Lutzen (Cambridge, 1634), p. 32.

32 Carew, Thomas, “In answer of an Elegiacall Letter upon the death of the King of Sweden from Aurelian Townsend” in The Poems of Thomas Carew, ed. Dunlap, Rhodes (1949; rpt. Oxford, 1970), p. 75.

33 Ibid., p. 77.

34 Wedgwood, C.V., Poetry andPolitics under the Stuarts (Cambridge, 1960), p. 45. See also, in particular, Zagorin, Perez, The Court and the Country (New York, 1970), p. 70; and Thomas, Peter W., “Two Cultures? Court and Country under Charles I” in The Origins of the English Civil War, pp. 175, 179.

35 Rubens, Peter Paul, The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens, trans, and ed. Magurn, Ruth Saunders (Cambridge, 1955), p. 320; Memoirs of the Mission in England of the Capuchin Friars in The Court and Times of Charles the First, ed. Birch, Thomas (London, 1848), II, 331; 1633 edition of Mercure François as quoted by Disraeli, Isaac in Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First, King of England (London, 1838), III, 31; Sir George Goring, HMC Cowper, II, 25, as quoted by Hamilton, Elizabeth, Henrietta Maria (New York, 1976), pp. 114–15.

36 Cowley, Abraham, “In commendation of the time we live under the Reign of our gracious K. Charles,” II, 64.

37 William Douglas, “Grampivs Gratvlation,” n.p., and Primrose, David, Scotlands Welcome to Her dread Soveraigne K. Charles, sig. b2r, in Scotlands Welcome to King Charles (Edinburgh, 1633).

38 Cowley, , “On his Majesties returne out of Scotland,” II, 47.

39 Wotton, Henry, “A Panegyrick To King Charles” in Reliquiae Wottonianae (London, 1672), pp. 151, 158.

40 See particularly p. 299 in Shirley, James, The Triumph of Peace, ed. Clifford Leech in A Book of Masques (Cambridge, 1967).

41 Carew, , Coelum Britannicum, p. 183.

42 CSPV, XXIII, 499; XXIV, 223; XXIV, 295–308.

43 CSPV, XXIII, 444.

44 For example, Pestell's, ThomasSong of King Locarus. 1636” in The Poems of Thomas Pestell, ed. Buchan, Hannah (Oxford, 1940), p. 43.

45 Daniel, George, “The Genius of this Great and glorious Isle” in The Poems of George Daniel, ed. Grosart, Alexander (Boston, Lincolnshire, 1878), I, 186.

46 Heywood, Thomas, Londini Status Pacatus: Or, Londons Peaceable Estate (London, 1639), sig. C3v.

47 Davenant, William, Salmacida Spolia, ed. Spencer, T.J.B. in A Book of Masques, pp. 350–52, 361.

48 Gauden, John, The Love of Truth and Peace (London, 1641), p. 38.

49 Ibid., p. 41.

50 Moore's, Horace untitled poem in Eucharistica Oxoniensia (Oxford, 1641), sig. b3r.

51 Glapthorne, Henry, “White-Hall” in The Plays and Poems of Henry Glapthorne, ed. Pearson, John (London, 1874), II, 247–48.

52 Cowley, Abraham, The Civil War, ed. Pritchard, Allan (Toronto, 1973), p. 75.

53 Hausted, Peter, Ad Populum: Or, a Lecture to the People (London, 1644), p. 4.

54 Cavendish, Margaret, Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (London, 1656), p. 92. The most memorable lament is Andrew Marvell's reaction in “Upon Non-Appleton House.” Lesser poets like Fane, Mildmay and Fletcher, R. develop the same theme in Otia Sacra (London, 1648), p. 50, and Ex Otio Negotium (London, 1656), pp. 197 and 212–13. Turner, James offers other examples in his discussion of “The Happy Estate” in The Politics of Landscape (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), pp. 85115.

55 See, in particular, the chorus at the end of Act IV in Fanshawe's translation, pp. 85–86, and Cowley, 's untitled poem in A Discourse By way of Vision, II, 343–15.

56 MacGillivray, , Restoration Historians, p. 202.

57 See Wormald, Clarendon, pp. 180–185, and particularly pp. 100–01 of Robinson, Thomas H., “Lord Clarendon's Conspiracy Theory,” Albion, XIII (1981), 96116.

58 Cary, Lucius, “Lord Falkland's Speech about Ship-Money”in Historical Collections, ed. Rushworth, John (London, 1692), III, i, 86. Falkland's use of this idea to argue against the need for ship-money levies quite obviously suggests its rhetorical attractiveness for the orator as well as the historian.


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