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The Meanings of “Malignancy”: The Language of Enmity and the Construction of the Parliamentarian Cause in the English Revolution

  • Thomas Leng


This article deconstructs a character that was ubiquitous within parliamentarian pamphlet literature in the English civil war: the “malignant,” whose “party” had been identified in the Grand Remonstrance of December 1641 as conspiring to destroy parliament and the true religion. Thereafter, the existence of this party became central to parliamentarian justifications of the war effort and to the activities of radical extra-parliamentary activists. The malignant thus became bound up in contests within the parliamentarian coalition, something reflected by the issuing of new remonstrances by London's Presbyterians, Levellers, and the New Model Army, each of which hinged on the identification of a new enemy. Despite these efforts, the specter of the malignant continued to haunt parliamentarian discourse after the regicide, although its meaning became increasingly ambiguous, symptomatic of the challenges facing the post-regicidal regimes as they sought to transcend the ideological parameters of the civil war in the name of “settlement.”



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1 Cavendish, William, An Answer of the Right Honourable the Earle of Newcastle His Excellency (Oxford and Shrewsbury, 1643), 4.

2 Smith, Nigel, Literature and Revolution in England, 1640–1660 (New Haven and London, 1994); Norbrook, David, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627–1660 (Cambridge, 1999); Braddick, Michael J., “The English Revolution and its Legacies,” in The English Revolution c.1590–1720: Politics, Religion and Communities, ed. Tyacke, Nicholas (Manchester, 2007), 2742.

3 Braddick, Michael J., “History, Liberty, Reformation and the Cause: Parliamentarian Military and Ideological Escalation in 1643,” in The Experience of Revolution in Stuart Britain and Ireland, eds. Braddick, Michael J. and Smith, David L. (Cambridge, 2011), 120–21.

4 Raleigh, Donald J., “Languages of Power: How the Saratov Bolsheviks Imagined Their Enemies,” Slavic Review 57, no. 2 (1998): 320–49; Mayer, Arno J., The Furies. Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions (Princeton and Oxford, 2000); Conspiracy in the French Revolution, ed. Campbell, Peter R., Kaiser, Thomas E., and Linton, Marisa (Manchester, 2007).

5 Furet, François, Interpreting the French Revolution, trans. Forster, Elborg (Cambridge, 1981), 54.

6 Ibid., 5.

7 Ibid., 54, 27, 55.

8 Barker, Rodney, Making Enemies (Basingstoke, 2007).

9 Buck-Morss, Susan, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2000), 9.

10 Sharpe, Kevin, Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England 1603–1660 (New Haven and London, 2010), 281.

11 Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Europe: From the Waldensians to the French Revolution, ed. Coward, Barry and Swann, Julian (Aldershot, 2004).

12 Clark, Stuart, “Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft,” Past and Present 87 (1980): 98127.

13 Of course John Morrill, who coined the term, did not present his thesis in such simplistic terms as this: The Religious Context of the English Civil War,” in The Nature of the English Revolution (Harlow, 1993), 4568. See also England's Wars of Religion, Revisited, ed. Prior, Charles W. A. and Burgess, Glenn (Farnham, 2011).

14 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), 91.

15 Lake, Peter, “Anti-Puritanism: The Structure of a Prejudice,” in Religious Politics in Post-Reformation England: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tyacke, ed. Fincham, Kenneth and Lake, Peter (Woodbridge, 2006), 84.

16 Wilson, Thomas, A Christian dictionarie (London, 1612), 133.

17 Bruce, John, ed., Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series of the Reign of Charles I, 1633–34 (1863), 573 (hereafter CSPD); CSPD, Charles I, 1638–9, 586; Peacey, Jason, “The Paranoid Prelate: Archbishop Laud and the Puritan Plot,” in Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory, ed. Coward, and Swann, , 113–34.

18 A Table Alphabeticall, conteyning and teaching the true writing, and understanding of hard usuall English words (London, 1604), unpaginated; Cockeram, Henry, The English dictionarie: or, An interpreter of hard English vvords (London, 1623), unpaginated; Nixon, Anthony, The dignitie of man both in the perfections of his soule and bodie (London, 1612), 108.

19 Sharpe, Kevin, Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics (Cambridge, 2000), 117–18; Halliday, Paul, Dismembering the Body Politic: Partisan Politics in England's Towns, 1650–1730 (Cambridge, 2003), 34.

20 de Groot, Jerome, Royalist Identities (Basingstoke, 2004).

21 For the Grand Remonstrance, see Fletcher, Anthony, The Outbreak of the English Civil War (London, 1981), 8187, 145–51; Smith, David L., “From Petition to Remonstrance,” in The Theatrical City: Culture, Theatre and Politics in London, 1576–1649, ed. Smith, David L., Strier, Richard, and Bevington, David (Cambridge, 1995), 209–23; Richard Strier, “From Diagnosis to Operation,” in ibid., 224–43; Adamson, John, The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I (London, 2007), 433–36. Conrad Russell implies that a 1626 speech by Pym marks the point when he began to believe in a “popish and malignant party” corrupting the court, but it is unclear whether this is a direct quote from that particular speech; in any case, even if the phrase was in circulation before the Grand Remonstrance, it seems clear from the evidence presented below that this was the point when it entered into widespread public usage. Russell, Conrad, “The Parliamentary Career of John Pym, 1621–9,” in The English Commonwealth, ed. Clark, Peter, Smith, A. G. R., and Tyacke, N. (Leicester, 1979), 161.

22 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 (Aldershot, 2007), 131–32.

23 Mendle, Michael, “Parliamentary Sovereignty: A Very English Absolutism,” in Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain, ed. Phillipson, Nicholas and Skinner, Quentin (Cambridge, 1993), 97119.

24 Orr, D. Alan, Treason and the State: Law, Politics, and Ideology in the English Civil War (Cambridge, 2002), 57.

25 Gardiner, Samuel, ed., The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1625–1660, (3rd edition, London, 1906), 83.

26 Ibid., 109.

27 Quester, Michael, “Practical Antipapistry during the Reign of Elizabeth I,” The Journal of British Studies 36, no. 4 (1997): 371–96.

28 Cust, Richard, “‘Patriots’ and ‘Popular’ Spirits: Narratives of Conflict in Early Stuart Politics,” in English Revolution, ed. Tyacke, 5154.

29 Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, 155.

30 Lake, Peter, “‘The Monarchical Republic of Elizabeth I’ Revisited (by its Victims) as a Conspiracy,” in Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory, ed. Coward, and Swann, , 106.

31 Mendle, “Parliamentary Sovereignty,” 113.

32 Adamson, Noble Revolt, 373–405.

33 Gary Rivett, “‘Make use of both things present and past’: Thomas May's Histories of Parliament, Printed Public Discourse and the Politics of the Recent Past, 1640–1650” (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2010).

34 A Remonstrance of The State of The Kingdom (London, 1641), 3.

35 Ibid., 4.

36 The term “malignant parties” appears in the petition accompanying the Remonstrance that was not included in the first printed edition and is presented as synonymous with an already mentioned “corrupt and ill-affected party.” Gardiner, ed., Constitutional Documents, 203. The printed edition does not make the coupling of “malignant” with “partie” until p. 11 (item 69 of the original, numbered remonstrance), when Strafford and Laud are singled out as the party's heads, but both terms had been used several times before then.

37 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional Documents, 203.

38 Remonstrance of the State of the Kingdom, 4.

39 Ibid., 5.

40 Lake, “Anti-Puritanism,” 81.

41 Remonstrance of the State of the Kingdom, 15.

42 Ibid., 15–18.

43 Peacey, Jason, “Perception of Parliament: Factions and ‘The Public’,” in The English Civil War, ed. Adamson, John (Basingstoke, 2009), 93.

44 Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, 204.

45 Strier, “From Diagnosis to Operation,” 233. See also Fletcher, Outbreak, 145.

46 See Halliday, Dismembering the Body Politic, 6.

47 CSPD, Charles I, 1641–43, 272; Fletcher, Outbreak, 208.

48 Quoted in Fletcher, Outbreak, 150.

49 Adamson, Noble Revolt, 468–77.

50 Thomas Smith to Sir John Pennington, 29 Dec. 1641, The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), SP 16/484, fol. 102r.

51 Thomas Smith to Sir John Pennington, 8 Feb. 1642, TNA, PRO SP 16/489, fol. 14r.

52 This reasoning is suggested by A Medicine for Malignancy: Or, Parliament Pill, serving to purge out the Malignant humours of men dis-affected to the Republick (London, 1644), 2124.

53 The full title is An Exact Collection of Remonstrances, Declarations, Votes, Orders, Ordinances, Proclamations, Petitions, Messages, Answers, and other Remarkable Passages betweene the Kings most Excellent Majesty, and his High Court of Parliament beginning at his Majesties return from Scotland, being in December 1641, and continued until March the 21, 1643 (London, 1643).

54 Journal of the House of Commons (hereafter referred to as CJ), vol. 2, 1640–1643 (London, 1802), 407.

55 Ibid., 559.

56 Ibid., 403. For other examples, see ibid., 563, 802, 867.

57 CSPD, 1641–3, 411. See also Fletcher, Outbreak, 152-53. For freedom of speech, see Peltonen, Markku, Rhetoric, Politics and Popularity in Pre-Revolutionary England (Cambridge, 2013), 137–39.

58 The Declaration or Remonstrance of The Lords and Commons, in Parliament assembled (London, 1642).

59 His Majesties Answer, To a Book, intituled, The Declaration, or Remonstrance of the Lords and Commons, The 19 of May 1642 (Cambridge, 1642), 13.

60 Ibid., 5.

61 Ibid., 6. For parliament's representational claims, see Skinner, Quentin, “Hobbes on Representation,” European Journal of Philosophy 13, no. 2 (2005): 165.

62 His Majesties declaration to all his loving subjects upon occasion of the late ordinance and declaration of the Lords and Commons for the assessing of all such who have not contributed sufficiently for raising money, plate & …, (Oxford, 1642), 6.

63 For royalist attitudes to language, see Sharpe, Images Wars, 293, 305, 307.

64 Cavendish, Answer of the Right Honourable the Earle of Newcastle, 4.

65 Cust, “‘Patriots’ and ‘Popular’ Spirits,” 48.

66 A Remonstrance of the State of the Kingdom, 18. See Strier, “From Diagnosis to Operation,” 240.

67 For the idea of a “reformation of the state,” see Adamson, Noble Revolt, 414.

68 Peacey, Jason, Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution (Cambridge, 2013), part three.

69 A New Remonstrance Wherein is declared who are the malignant party of this Kingdome, and Enemies to the high Court of Parliament With the particular Causes why they are Enemies to the Parliament (London, 1642), unpaginated.

70 The Lively Character of the Malignant Partie (1642), 2, 4, 7.

71 Ibid., 2.

72 The Parliaments Kalender of Black Saints (London, 1642); The Devills White Boys: or, a mixture of malicious Malignants (London, 1644).

73 For this context, see Braddick, “History, Liberty, Reformation and the Cause”; Wootton, David, “From Rebellion to Revolution: The Crisis of the Winter of 1642/3 and the Origins of Civil War Radicalism,” English Historical Review 105, no. 416 (1990): 654–69.

74 For the category of well-affected and its antonyms, ill-affected and disaffected, see Weil, Rachel, “Thinking about Allegiance in the English Civil War,” History Workshop Journal 61, no. 1 (2006): 183–91; Thomas Leng, “‘Citizens at the Door’: Mobilising Against the Enemy in Civil War London,” Journal of Historical Sociology, forthcoming.

75 Vallance, Edward, Revolutionary England and the National Covenant: State Oaths, Protestantism and the Political Nation, 1553–1682 (Woodbridge, 2005), 9597.

76 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional Documents, 269.

77 Woodward, Hezekiah, Three Kingdoms Made One, by entring Covenant with one God (London, 1643), prefatory address.

78 Ibid., 12–13.

79 The Un-Deceiver (London, 1643), 1. See also Neutrality is Malignancy (1648).

80 CJ, 3:280. Boran, Elizabethanne, “Malignancy and the Reform of the University of Oxford in the Mid-Seventeenth Century,” History of Universities 17 (2002): 1946; Green, Ian, “The Persecution of ‘Scandalous’ and ‘Malignant’ Parish Clergy During the English Civil War,” English Historical Review 94, no. 372 (1979): 507–31.

81 Woodward, Hezekiah, A Good Souldier Maintaining his Militia (London, 1644), 9.

82 Milton, John, Areopagitica; a speech of Mr. John Milton for the liberty of unlicens'd printing, to the Parlament of England (London, 1644), 31.

83 Medicine for Malignancy, sig. A2v.

84 Ibid., 29.

85 Ibid., 33.

86 Ibid., 34, 62.

87 Britannicus His Pill to Cure Malignancy (London, 1644).

88 Woodward, Good Souldier, 19; Woodward, Three Kingdoms, 16; Vallance, Revolutionary England, 88–90.

89 Cavendish, Answer of the Right Honourable the Earle of Newcastle, 4.

90 Bastwick, John, A declaration demonstrating and infallibly proving that all malignants whether they be prelates, popish-cavaleers, with all other ill-affected persons, are enemies to God and the King (London, 1643).

91 Bastwick, John, The utter routing of the whole army of all the Independents and Sectaries (London, 1646), 656.

92 Ibid., 656–57.

93 Herod and Pilate reconciled. A New Dialogue betwixt a Malignant and an Independent (1647).

94 Hughes, Ann, Gangraena and the Struggle for the English Revolution (Oxford, 2004).

95 To the Right Honorable the Lords Assembled in High Court of Parliament: The Humble Remonstrance and Petition of the Lord Major, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, in Common Councell Assembled (London, 1646), 4.

96 Ibid., 5–6.

97 The Interest of England Maintained: The Honour of the Parliament vindicated (London, 1646), 12.

98 [Jones, John], Plain English: or, The Sectaries Anatomized (London, 1646), 13.

99 Interest of England, 8.

100 [Overton, Richard and Walwyn, William?], A Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens, and other Free-born People of England, To their owne House of Commons (London, 1646).

101 Ibid., 4.

102 Ibid., 5.

103 Ibid., 8.

104 Ibid., 10.

105 Ibid., 3, 19.

106 Ibid., 19.

107 de Baecque, Antoine, The Body Politic: Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France 1770–1800, trans. Mandell, Charlotte (Stanford, 1993), 218. See also Peacey, Jason, “The People of the Agreements: The Levellers, Civil War Radicalism and Political Participation,” in The Agreements of the People, The Levellers and the Constitutional Crisis of the English Revolution, ed. Baker, Philip and Vernon, Elliot (Basingstoke, 2012), 6162.

108 Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens, 19.

109 Ibid., 6.

110 The potentially authoritarian implications of such an attitude have been noted by Ian Gentles: The Agreements of the People and their political contexts, 1647–1649,” in The Putney Debates of 1647, ed. Mendle, Michael (Cambridge, 2001), 162. See Vallance, Revolutionary England, 148.

111 Compare with Hobbes: “the Multitude naturally is not One, but Many.” Skinner, “Hobbes on Representation,” 170.

112 A Declaration of some Proceedings of Lt. Col. John Lilburn, and his associates (London, 1648), 16.

113 For the context of its writing, see Gentles, Ian, “The New Model Army and the Constitutional Crisis of the Late 1640s,” in Agreements of the People, ed. Baker, and Vernon, , 153–55.

114 A Remonstrance of His Excellency Sir Thomas Lord Fairfax, Lord Generall of the Parliaments Forces. And of the Generall Councell of Officers held at St Albans the 16. of November, 1648 (London, 1648), 13.

115 Ibid., 14.

116 Ibid., 11.

117 Ibid., 4.

118 Ibid., 9.

119 Ibid., 9, 11.

120 Ibid., 9.

121 Lake, “Anti-Puritanism,” 90–91.

122 Peacey, Jason, Politicians and Pamphleteers. Propaganda During the English Civil Wars and Interregnum (Aldershot, 2004); Print and Public Politics.

123 Council of State to Sir Hardress Waller, 30 Oct. 1649, TNA, PRO SP 25/94, fol. 509r. For examples of continued concern with malignancy, see CSPD, Interregnum, 1650, 145, 185.

124 Birch, T., ed., A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, 7 vols. (London, 1742), 2:180, 344, 434, 740.

125 CSPD, Interregnum, 1650, 484.

126 Council of State to Sir William Constable, 1 May 1649, TNA, PRO SP 25/94, fol. 125r.

127 Petition and remonstrance of “divers godly and well-affected persons” in Hereford to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, 22 Aug. 1654, TNA, PRO SP 18/74, fol. 237r.

128 Gardiner, ed., Constitutional Documents, 410.

129 A Remonstrance of His Excellency Thomas Lord Fairfax, 64.

130 Firth, C.H. and Rait, R.S., eds., Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 3 vols. (London, 1911), 2:566.

131 James Powell to Thurloe, Feb. 24, 1654, Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, ed. Birch, 3:169.

132 Firth and Rait, Acts and Ordinances, 2:325.

133 Parallels here can be seen with the persistence of the enemy in Soviet ideology despite de-Stalinisation: Dobson, Miriam, Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag returnees, crime, and the fate of reform after Stalin (Ithaca, 2009).

134 Forde, Thomas, Virtus rediviva (London, 1660), 25.

135 [Clement Walker], The History of Independency (1648), A2v.

136 [Joseph Jane], Eikon aklastos (1651), 105.

137 His Majesties most gracious speech, together with the Lord Chancellours, to the tvvo Houses of Parliament, on Thursday the 13. of September, 1660 (London, 1660), 9.

138 Thanks to Rachel Weil for communication on this point. One much later usage of the term was, tellingly, by Lord George Gordon. Haydon, Colin, “Popery at St. James's: The Conspiracy Theses of William Payne, Thomas Hollis, and Lord George Gordon,” in Conspiracy and Conspiracy Theory, ed. Coward, and Swann, , 186.

139 Knights, Mark, Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture (Oxford, 2005), 6. For the debate on the timing of the “rise of party,” see the special issue of Albion 25, no. 4 (1993), “Order and Authority: Creating Party in Restoration England.” See also Kishlansky, Mark, “The Emergence of Adversary Politics in the Long Parliament,” Journal of Modern History 49, no. 4 (Dec., 1977): 617–40.

140 Ibid., 242–44, 291–95; Weil, Rachel, “Mathew Smith Versus the ‘Great Men’: Plot Talk, the Public Sphere and the Problem of Credibility in the 1690s,” in Politics of the Public Sphere, ed. Lake, and Pincus, , 232–51.

141 Ibid., 24.

142 Halliday, Dismembering the Body Politic, 15. See also Miller, John, Cities Divided. Politics and Religion in English Provincial Towns, 1660–1722 (Oxford, 2007); Sharpe, Remapping Early Modern England, 121–22.

143 Fuller, Thomas, The Church-History of Britain (London, 1655), book 11, 175–76.

The Meanings of “Malignancy”: The Language of Enmity and the Construction of the Parliamentarian Cause in the English Revolution

  • Thomas Leng


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