Monday, November 05, 2007

Gunpowder plot and religious politics

RHETORIC OF CONFORMITY, 1603–1625 California: Stanford University Press: Stanford

Ferrell says "Sermons, not masques, were the major organs of political self-expression at the Jacobean court". Revisionist history of the period has tended to emphasise the Calvinist consensus of the English Church that reigned in the late Elizabethan period through to the end of the reign of James I. The Jacobean Church of England has been seen as an epitome of the so-called via media, a central idea in Anglican historiography. It began, however, as a politically convenient ideology.

Royal propaganda claimed that James governed by moderation but Ferrell reveals a fascinating study of government by polemic in these court sermons. James needed to counter Calvinist opposition in Parliament to his pro-Spanish foreign policy and this was reflected in the English Church. A subtle movement began to assert that a broader doctrinal and ceremonial complexion was necessary. Best
known of these court favourites, perhaps is Lancelot Andrewes whose anti-Calvinism and liturgical obsessions were also most pronounced. Loyal obedience to the king and the issue of kneeling to receive communion could be made conveniently interchangeable. A culture of flexibility towards nonconformity
previously had prevailed but there now emerged a policy and rhetorical strategy of isolating "extremism."

James found that this policy could be effective in Scottish as well as the English Church. Both Presbyterians and moderate Puritans could be identified as dangerously seditious. The Accession Day court sermons provided the perfect
opportunity to compare the two Churches and lambaste extremists. James I's realpolitik extended to using the Gunpowder Plot as a means of shielding loyal Roman Catholics while attacking Puritans as almost more dangerous than
"papist" plotters. In summary this is a valuable study showing how anti-Puritanism developed into anti-Calvinism in the period that led up to the Civil War.