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At the end of 1641, then, or in the first few months of 1642, Bramhall fled Ireland. Presumably he landed at Chester, the port where most Irish travellers in the seventeenth century entered England. Vesey implies that it was soon after landing in England that the king received him. Vesey was probably following Jeremy Taylor, who related that the fugitive bishop immediately took sanctuary at the king's headquarters at Oxford. But one must suppose that Bramhall was at least briefly in London before repairing to Oxford. For we may assume that it was not long after landing in England that he scribbled his wife the following note from the capital:
I heard great reports to terrify me from coming to London for fear of the Parliament, but find no such thing as yet but many friends in the House. The Earl of Kildare's agents arrested me at Chester and threatened me at London. I have filed a bill against them in Chancery, which I doubt not will end the matter. This has much hindered me from prosecuting the cause for supply to Londonderry.
Bramhall soon removed to his native Yorkshire and by the end of 1642 he was in contact with William Cavendish, first earl of Newcastle, the leading royalist commander in the northern theatre of the First English Civil War, 1642–6. Newcastle had been serving the king in arms on and off since the outbreak of the Bishops' Wars in 1639.
In the tumult that followed in the wake of the Ulster Rising that broke out on 23 October 1641, the anglican bishop of Derry, John Bramhall, was forced to flee for his life. Before his flight, he had been the subject of a plot. As the Roman catholic Irish laid siege to the Scots-presbyterian-dominated Londonderry, Sir Phelim O'Neill conceived a plan to bring about the bishop's destruction. While Bramhall was within, O'Neill, outside the walls of the town, would try to mislead the Scots into thinking that Bramhall was in league with him. O'Neill's trick was to fabricate a letter in which Bramhall was given orders to carry out the action that they had already agreed upon: the delivery of one of the gates. This counterfeit letter was then handed to an uninformed messenger who would, it was calculated, be seized by the Scots. Upon discovery of Bramhall's conspiracy with the Roman catholic leader, presumably the Scots would execute the unsuspecting and innocent Bramhall for betrayal. However, the plot was spoiled when the messenger aborted his mission: overcome with fear, apparently he ran off without delivering the letter. Having unknowingly escaped one danger, Bramhall was immediately exposed to another. Hated by those outside, he was not much less loathed by those within the town. Having become dominated by a recent influx of covenanters from Scotland, Londonderry was no haven for a fierce and outspoken anti-covenant, anti-presbyterian royalist anglican bishop.
Historians may know that sometime in the seventeenth century the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes debated John Bramhall, Bishop of Derry. But where and what did they debate? And why did they debate the issues they did? It is not difficult to find brief descriptions or summaries of their public debate on free-will; this book provides the first comprehensive account not only of that debate, but also of their private quarrel and hostile relations during both the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Interregnum. Hobbes and Bramhall argued about much more than ‘liberty’ and ‘necessity’ (free-will and determinism), and the following account offers a detailed historical explanation of their debating those and other issues. By situating their long and acrimonious, private and public, dispute within its contemporary context we may come to view the whole quarrel as a by-product or collateral intellectual skirmish of those rebellions and wars in the British Isles. We can also come to understand exactly what stakes they were playing for: what would a victory in the dispute mean to themselves, their friends and their audience? Although the clash of arms in their homeland was quite destructive, it was also productive of such contests of wit as the uncivil war of words between Hobbes and Bramhall that began across the Channel.
In the summer of 1645, during the First English Civil War, Hobbes and Bramhall met in Paris, at the lodgings of their mutual acquaintance, the recently retired Cavalier general, the Marquess of Newcastle.
This book was the first full account of one of the most famous quarrels of the seventeenth century, that between the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and the Anglican archbishop of Armagh, John Bramhall (1594–1663). This analytical narrative interprets that quarrel within its own immediate and complicated historical circumstances, the Civil Wars (1638–49) and Interregnum (1649–60). The personal clash of Hobbes and Bramhall is connected to the broader conflict, disorder, violence, dislocation and exile that characterised those periods. This monograph offered not only the first comprehensive narrative of their hostilities over two decades, but also an illuminating analysis of aspects of their private and public quarrel that have been neglected in previous accounts, with special attention devoted to their dispute over political and religious authority. This will be of interest to scholars of early modern British history, religious history and the history of ideas.
Hobbes offered no reply to Bramhall's ‘Vindication’ and the bishop must have been content to let that paper stand as the last word. After their engagement in Paris in the summer of 1645, Hobbes spent the next few years in France while Bramhall resided principally in the southern Netherlands. Both men had more than enough other business with which to occupy themselves. For Bramhall and the rest of the anglican clergy in exile, the ultimate task was to restore the king and themselves in England, Ireland and Scotland. Before and after the debate in Paris, Bramhall appears to have lived mostly in Brussels, with the king's resident, Sir Henry de Vic. While mainly in Brussels in the years 1644–8, Bramhall busied himself in various clerical functions for the benefit of fellow Englishmen abroad. De Vic maintained a chapel for anglican services and it was there that Bramhall must have been most active. As Vesey noted, English merchants in Antwerp travelled every month to Brussels to hear his sermons and receive the sacrament; they also provided financial support. But though in Brussels much of the time, the bishop's existence seems to have been fairly nomadic in this period. In addition to visiting Paris, where Prince Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria were now resident (since July 1646), Bramhall seems to have been running errands in the Netherlands, imperial Rhineland territory and coastal and northern France. He also made at least one trip into Spain.
A principal aim of this book has been to show that the quarrel of Hobbes and Bramhall should not be considered merely philosophical or theological. Apart from the obvious fact that it was not confined to the issue of free-will, even that philosophical–theological issue was a matter of controversy in the realm of politics. The issue of free-will, the distinctive doctrine of ‘arminianism’, was a source of discord in that sphere. There was too much baggage attached to ‘free-will’ for it to be an entirely academic question; the debate over that issue was not without serious ‘ideological’ purchase. This is not to say, however, that one cannot extract the Hobbes–Bramhall quarrel over the issue of free-will from the unique political and personal contexts upon which I have concentrated. One may also read their peculiar debate as another round of a centuries-long philosophical–theological debate on that issue. Three-and-a-half centuries later one can still find, mutatis mutandis, philosophers and theologians fighting the same war. The combat has lasted so long that one can consider the subject of free-will a perennial one – one of those ‘central problems of philosophy’, timeless inasmuch as it appears to be a ‘question that all reflective people must find pressing, regardless of historical and geographical circumstance’.
Similarly, taking a broader and long-term perspective, one may read their debate as yet another round in a decades-long fight over the theology and ecclesiology of the church of England which erupted when Henry VIII opened Pandora's box in the 1530s.
Within the first few weeks of November 1640, at the beginning of the Long Parliament, Thomas Hobbes left England for the continent. Early proceedings, particularly Pym's long catalogue of grievances on 7 November and the impeachment of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, seem to have inspired much fear in Hobbes. In a letter written several months later, dated 12 April 1641 and addressed to Lord Scudamore, Hobbes described his abrupt departure: ‘I went to your Lordship's house in St Martin's, but found no body at all there, and thereupon made account to come again a day or two after, but in the meantime I was seized so violently with a resolution of coming hither, as I departed within 3 days after, making nobody acquainted but my Lord, and one of his servants who was to send the little money I had after me by exchange and to see my trunk shipped.’ Hobbes then explained: ‘The reason I came away was that I saw words that tended to advance the prerogative of kings began to be examined in Parliament. And I knew some that had a good will to have had me troubled, and might for any thing I saw in their honesties make both the words and the witnesses. Besides I thought if I went not then, there was nevertheless a disorder coming on that would make it worse being there than here.’
An exiled bishop of a now dubious confession and profession was obviously vulnerable to the kind of insults broadcast in England and sent across the North Sea by Hobbes in 1656. In the Questions one might say that Hobbes was acting according to the sound advice: ‘Kick a man while he's down.’ But in view of the broader concern to vindicate and preserve the Caroline–Laudian anglican church of the 1630s, Bramhall might well have considered the philosopher just one among many enemies. Not that Bramhall failed to perceive – or stress – Hobbes's eccentricity; rather, he might easily have placed Hobbes in the broad anti-anglican category that contained independents, presbyterians and Roman catholics. In the few years that preceded the Restoration of 1660, Bramhall was provoked to duel not only the maverick philosopher, but all the others that would divert the would-be king, Charles II, from an allegiance to the church for which his father had died. Hobbes was merely one among an array of those who might contaminate the souls of Charles II, his siblings and royalists in exile, or in England.
By 1656, the harvest of Bramhall's Just Vindication had already come in. Richard Smith, the English Roman catholic bishop of Chalcedon, and John Sergeant, a prolific controversialist of the same confession, had both written answers to it. Smith's book had been published in 1654 as Brief Survey of the Lord of Derry his Treatise of Schism.