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Antoine Roullet
, 
Olivier Spina
, 
Nathalie Szczech

II. Tensions et résiliences : dynamiques des communautés

Rhetorics of Metropolitan Incorporation

The Dialogue Between City and Crown in Elizabethan London

Ian Wallace Archer

Texte intégral

  • 1 I. W. Archer, «Conspicuous Consumption Revisited».

1This paper is concerned with aspects of political communication between the city of London and the crown in the reign of Elizabeth I. It deals with what it is fashionable to call «discourse», the language that informed the exchanges between the parties. These exchanges took place in a variety of contexts, some highly ritualised like royal entries, or the lord mayor’s oath taking; others much less formalised like the delegations of aldermen that shuttled between the court and the city and whose deliberations are not recoverable. It is worth remembering that transactions between city and crown would be inflected by a much greater range of «off-the-record» exchanges. Privy councillors and members of the city elite were enmeshed in complex relations of debt and credit, but these had a strong face-to-face element, in some cases reinforced by councillors’ residence in the heart of the commercial city or by ties of marriage and kinship1. Nevertheless the formalised exchanges were more than empty rituals: as we shall see, they could be used to set agendas for governance and they could be sites for contest about priorities.

  • 2 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».
  • 3 N. Z. Davies, Fiction in the Archives.
  • 4 C. A. Holmes, «Drainers and Fenmen». See also G. Hudson, «War Widows»; J. Walter, «Public Transcrip (...)
  • 5 P. Lake and S. Pincus, The Politics of the Public Sphere; N. Mears, Queenship and Political Discour (...)
  • 6 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».

2Looking at the language, which informs those exchanges and the different understandings the different participants had of elements of the dialogue enables us to identify themes and interpretations, which could in turn be manipulated by other elements within the city. For London was not a monolithic political entity. It was comprised of a variety of competing political units in its dense structure of overlapping communities, companies, wards, and parishes, all sites, as Phil Withington has reminded us, for intense political discussions2. I am interested in the ways in which these local actors appropriated and reworked elements of the languages that informed the transactions between city and crown to pursue their own agendas. My main source for this lies in the petitions that they drew up to protest against elements of government policy or to secure benefit for themselves. Although many historians have looked at petitions there has been surprisingly little discussion of the language that they use. Natalie Zemon Davies made a crucial intervention in her revelation of the way in which litigants shaped their narratives to their understanding of what they thought the judges wanted to hear, but there have been relatively few applications of the insight to petitioning in other contexts3. Clive Holmes’ discussion of the changing language used by petitioners against fenland drainage schemes over the course of the seventeenth century shows the potential of the approach as languages shifted to reflect the changing priorities of the nation’s governors4. In the period I am studying petitioning was by scribal rather than printed means: although a public (in the sense of the hundreds or thousands of the queen’s subjects who might be affected) was often invoked, the petitions did not enjoy a wide circulation. So, readers will be relieved to learn, this paper will not be making any claims about the «public sphere», the meaning of which has fragmented to the point of virtual incomprehensibility, as different historians have each redefined the term5. I am not denying that the discussions of the public sphere have yielded some crucial insights, and among them is Phil Withington’s emphasis on the vitality of political discussion within corporate urban structures, which this paper wholeheartedly endorses6. But I think we need to pay much more attention to the terms in which contemporaries framed their arguments, and as will become evident I am a little more sceptical about the popular potency of the classical republican elements of the discourse which have been stressed in the recent literature.

  • 7 R. M. Smuts, «Public ceremony and royal charisma»; L. Manley, Literature and Culture, pp. 212-293; (...)

3The royal entries, which preceded coronations, linked the city of London and the royal court, a rhetorical and visual articulation of the special relationship between city and crown. The enormous and magnificently apparelled royal entourage processed through the city streets between the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster, linking the two centres of royal power, while traversing the centre of the kingdom’s commercial power. The streets were lined with the wealthiest members of the guilds, dressed according to their rank and weighed down with chains, and the buildings were hung with rich cloths and tapestries7. The pageants, speeches and performances, which punctuated the procession, descanted on the virtues of royal rule. In the heart of Cheapside the monarch was greeted by the lord mayor and aldermen in their scarlet robes, and the recorder offered a purse containing 1,000 marks as the city’s free gift, and made an oration pledging the city’s loyalty. In 1559, Recorder Ranulph Cholmley declared the city’s

  • 8 G. Warkentin (ed.), The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage, pp. 86-87.

gladness and goodwill towards the Queen’s Majesty, desiring her grace to continue their good and gracious Queen and not to esteem the value of the gift but the mind of the givers8.

4Elizabeth acknowledged her debt with the words:

  • 9 Ibid.

I thank my lord mayor, his brethren and you all. And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and queen, be you ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever queen was to her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust there shall lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all, I will not spare, if need be, to spend my blood. God thank you all9.

5Elizabeth had obviously mastered the arts of public relations at the outset of her reign.

  • 10 Ibid.

If a man should say well, he could not better term the city of London that time than a stage wherein was showed the wonderful spectacle of a noble hearted princess towards her most loving people10.

  • 11 A. Hunt, Drama of Coronation, pp. 159-172.
  • 12 G. Warkentin (ed.), The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage, p. 119; D. Loades, «Hilles, Richard»; M. G. Ferg (...)
  • 13 A. Hunt, Drama of Coronation, pp. 168-169.

6But all may not have been quite as harmonious as it first seems. We owe our understanding of the performances of January 1559 to the account written by Richard Mulcaster at the city’s (not the queen’s behest) and not published by the royal printer. Mulcaster’s was in many ways an over-determined text; for the first time in the published descriptions of pageants, he was not only describing what the various pageants involved, but also prescribing for readers what their meaning was11. Who in any case had devised the agenda? The aldermen had entrusted the pageant programme to four key citizens. It is hard to believe that these men devised their programme independently of the court, but at a time when the form of the country’s religious settlement hung in the balance the ideological affinities of the men chosen for the task are significant. Among them was Richard Grafton, chronicler, printer, and hospital governor who had been in trouble with Mary’s government for his outspoken religious views, and still more remarkably, Richard Hilles, merchant taylor, an early and well educated evangelical who from the safety of continental exile in the 1540s had no hesitation in denouncing his anointed king as a tyrant when writing to the Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger12. Some elements of the 1559 programme may not have been welcome to the queen. Not only was she being nudged in a particular direction in the reform of religion, but she was also represented in the final pageant as a monarch without the closed imperial crown, rather as a monarch ruling with the support of parliament, the first time that parliament had figured in a royal entry. Elizabeth’s was to be a properly counselled protestant monarchy13.

  • 14 S. Logan, «Making History»; T. Heywood, England’s Elizabeth, p. 114.

7It is also striking that the ways that the event was remembered suggests that for all Mulcaster’s attempts to fix its meaning, people might understand what had happened rather differently. A classic instance is Thomas Heywood’s England’s Elizabeth of 1631 where it was claimed that when Elizabeth responded to the recorder’s gift of gold, she pledged that «as for the privileges and charters of your city, I will in discharge of my oath and affection see them safely and exactly maintained»14. That was perhaps what the city wanted her to say, and it was the underlying message of the ritualised exchanges between city and queen, but it was not explicit in the original accounts. Heywood, author of several lord mayor’s shows, was reworking the episode to give it a more civic emphasis, underscoring the reciprocal nature of the relationship: London’s financial resources might be put at the disposal of a protestant monarchy provided that the city was secured in its historic privileges.

8London was uneasily placed between dependency on the monarchy and a profound sense of its own autonomy. Contemporaries celebrated the independence of its governing structures, drawing favourable comparisons with continental rivals. As the author of a tract on the city’s orphanage customs put it in 1584, London was governed not by

  • 15 A Breefe Discourse, pp. 15-16.

cruel viceroys as is Naples or Milan, neither by proud podesta as be most cities in Italy, nor by insolent lieutenants or presidents as are sundry cities in France […] but by a man of trade or a mere merchant who notwithstanding during the time of his magistracy carrieth himself with honourable magnificence in his port and ensigns of state15.

  • 16 Calendar of State Papers (Venice), t. X, p. 503; t. XIV, pp. 58-59.

9Foreigners agreed. To the Venetian ambassador London was «a republic of themselves»16. Thomas Wilson, surveying the state of England in 1600 generalised the phenomenon, remarking that every city in England

  • 17 J. Thirsk and J. P. Cooper (ed.), Seventeenth Century Economic Documents, p. 753.

by reason of the great privileges they enjoy [was] a little commonwealth among themselves, no other officer of the queen nor other having authority to intermeddle amongst them17.

  • 18 P. Collinson, «The Monarchical Republic»; J. F. McDiarmid, The Monarchical Republic.
  • 19 Ph. Withington, The Politics of Commonwealth; Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse»; M. Peltonen, Clas (...)

10It has become fashionable to identify the republican strains in the political discourse of Elizabethan England. Patrick Collinson has argued that the particular circumstances of the polity, ruled by a woman with no clearly designated successor, forced its citizen subjects to drive the conventional mixed monarchy arguments in potentially subversive directions as they grappled with the prospect of an acephalous monarchy in the event of the queen’s death18. Markku Peltonen and Phil Withington have argued that the citizens of England’s urban communities articulated a humanist political vocabulary to extol the virtues of the civic community. Cities were proper commonwealths in their own right, established to maintain peace and tranquillity and to uphold liberty. Civic communities fostered virtue through legal systems administered by magistrates committed to the common good19. We can certainly identify these sentiments in London texts, notably Richard Robinson’s abridged translation of Francesco Patrizzi’s treatise, which he dedicated to the former lord mayor, Sir William Allen in 1576, «as a pledge of the faithful zeal I bear to this famous city of London». Entitled A moral method of civil policy, it articulated some quite powerful democratic sentiments.

  • 20 R. Robinson, A Moral Method of Civil Policy.

That state of commonwealth wherein fear doth govern differeth very little at all from the state of tyranny […]. I am one of that number which account that to be the best commonwealth which is intermixed with all kinds of people. That is counted the best commonwealth wherein not every man that listeth or the more part do bear authority, at the beck and check of will, but that commonwealth wherein law only shall bear sway for equality of justice amongst citizens maketh a stable and firm society20.

11But other strands in civic discourse stressed London’s subject status. The author of the Apology for London (possibly the lawyer James Dalton), appended to Stow’s Survey published in 1598, argued that

  • 21 J. Stow, A Survey of London, t. II, p. 206.

it is besides the purpose to dispute whether the estate of the government here be a democracy or aristocracy, for whatsoever it be, being considered in itself, certain it is that in respect of the whole realm, London is but a citizen, a subject and no free estate, an obedientiary, and no place endowed with any distinct or absolute power, for it is governed by the same law that the rest of the realm is, both in causes criminal and civil, a few customs only excepted which are to be adjudged or forejudged by the common law21.

  • 22 Ibid., pp. 198 and 206.
  • 23 Ibid., pp. 206 and 214-217.

12The Apology in fact moves uneasily between competing versions of London’s relationship to the crown. London is a «subject and no free estate» but it is also «a continual bridle against tyranny»22. The tract is keen to celebrate London’s loyalty to the crown, but gets tied in knots in dealing with some embarrassing historical facts: London’s dissidence under Henry III, her role in the downfall of Edward II, a conflicted relationship with Richard II, support within the walls for rebel incursions in 1381 and 1450, popular rioting in Evil May Day in 1517, and the defection of the city’s troops to the rebel Sir Thomas Wyatt as recently as 1554. The conclusion however remains that of the loyal city: «as London hath adhered to some rebellions, so it hath resisted many, and was never the author of any one»23.

  • 24 D. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry; G. K. Paster, «The Idea of London in Masque and Pageant»; L. (...)

13The city’s rituals of governance offered a variety of occasions throughout the year on which authority figures might pronounce on the nature of authority and the responsibilities of rulers. Historians and literary critics have in recent years explored the articulation of the governing ethos in the pageants, which accompanied the lord mayor’s oath taking on the festival of St Simon and Jude (29 October) each year. They have shown how the pageants set out an ideal of governance rooted in the civic community: the mayor’s status as a fellow merchant, the product of structures of civic order shared by his fellow citizens, his commitment to justice, charity, and civic order were common themes24. Less well covered in the literature are the events at Westminster on the same day. The pageants were mounted in the city only after the mayor’s return from Westminster where he swore his oath at the Exchequer in the presence of leading privy councillors. The lord mayor-elect was presented by the recorder in a speech, which combined acknowledgement of the queen’s virtues and her care for the city with praise for the incoming mayor and reflections on the qualities needed for successful rule. Another occasion for similar exchanges was presented by the knighting of the lord mayor, which generally took place mid-way through his term of office.

  • 25 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Frankland-Russell-Astley, p. 2.

14The recorder rang the changes on the conventions of Elizabethan flattery. It was from the queen, explained Recorder John Croke in 1596 that the lord mayor was to receive «his light, his life»25. In May 1601, when presenting William Rider to the queen, he waxed lyrical about the benefits of Elizabeth’s rule to the city:

  • 26 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

You have been pleased to lift up [London] above all the cities of your kingdoms and to make of it the treasure house of your princely bounties and favours, clothing us in purple and scarlet heaping honours upon our heads, supplying to our wants out of your own treasure, pouring bounties upon us, remitting towards the relief of our poor of your own just tributes unto us, vouchsafing to esteem of this your city as the signet of your right hand26.

15Elizabeth was being exhorted to virtue through praise: she gave exiguous amounts to the city for the support of its poor. Other standard themes were Elizabeth’s defence of true religion, her guarding the realm against threats from overseas, and her careful regard for the city’s privileges, all points on which Elizabeth’s performance could of course be questioned.

  • 27 Ibid.

16The qualities needed in the office of lord mayor were also central to the speeches. «The strongest walls of a city are the religion and integrity of the governor and virtue and honest disposition of the citizens», declared Croke at the presentation of Nicholas Moseley in 1599. The magistrate must «keep both his life and his profession in all holiness and integrity, for it is an holy profession to be a magistrate»27. Crucial to successful magistracy was respect for the rule of law:

  • 28 Ibid.

The prescript of the law and not the fancy of his own brain must be the rule of his government […]. To every city and commonwealth laws and magistrates are the same that the sun is to the world or health into the body, for the laws or magistrates wanting to a city or commonwealth, there is nothing but darkness and confusion […] laws being the strength and sinews of every city and commonwealth, and magistrates the life and soul of the law28.

17Crucially the magistrate must be committed to the common good. At the knighting of Stephen Slany in 1596 Croke explained that

  • 29 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Frankland-Russell-Astley, p. 2.

he doth not defraud judgement or justice or neglect to be helpful to the fatherless and distressed or give just cause to make sad the heart of the widow […] he doth not lay aside the care of the poor […] or prefer privatum commodum before bonum publicum29.

18It is easy to dismiss these apparently innocuous performances as part of the currency of conventional exchanges between sovereigns and subjects, but they were in fact rather more tense and charged occasions than might at first appear. The recorder was not afraid to invoke the city’s self-governing status, although always within the framework of loyalty. The fact that a citizen is always chosen lord mayor, Croke explained,

  • 30 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

is an encouragement to the one to govern well and provocation to the other to obey well, the band of love and society knitting both together, banishing discord, the poison of all commonweals30.

  • 31 The National Archives, London (TNA), SP 12/103/62.

19But this kind of rhetoric might well have been a goad to the queen and her councillors who saw the city as anything but orderly and its magistracy as anything but virtuous. It is easy to forget that the man being presented to the councillors would have been well known to them as a canny businessman, probably guilty of sharp practice on the road to the plutocracy. What did courtiers make of exhortations to pursue the common good by men who in other contexts they dismissed as «greedy gripes»31?

  • 32 London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Repertory 20, fos 136vo-7vo.
  • 33 R. Wilbraham, The Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham, p. 5.

20The tensions between the city’s self-presentation and the crown’s view of the capital was laid bare in what might be called the crown’s right of reply, for the recorder’s speech was usually followed by one from a councillor who would set out the crown’s agenda for the following year. In 1580, for example, the queen communicated her wishes through Lord Treasurer Burghley who told the lord mayor to enforce the recent royal proclamation against new buildings in the capital (a measure designed to limit its excessive growth), to provide hospitals and take other necessary measures against the plague, to sort out the problems of the Thames conservancy, and to take vigorous measures against fugitives from overseas. The court of aldermen had all these issues at the top of its agenda at the first meeting of the new mayoralty32. In 1593, amidst heightened concerns for public order, Lord Keeper Puckering called for the enforcement of antiplague measures, action against recusants and vagrants, and warned against allowing apprentices access to weapons33.

21These were opportunities for councillors to warn the city about its failings, and to reveal the glint of steel beneath the velvet glove. In 1602, Lord Treasurer Buckhurst called for better provisions to secure the city’s grain supply and complained about the failure to set up hospitals (he was thinking of the city’s support for houses of correction in Middlesex and Surrey). He advised the lord mayor to warn his colleagues

  • 34 J. Manningham, Diary of John Manningham, pp. 72-73.

to amend their neglect by diligence while their fault sleeps in the bosom of her Majesty’s clemency […] Howsoever he knows the city in his private person, yet it is duty in regard of his place to call them to account for it34.

  • 35 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

22Sometimes the crown’s agents could not resist a sideswipe at the city’s pretensions. In April 1593 the recorder had reminded everyone that «King John 16 of his reign incorporated the city of London and endowed them with manifold liberties»35. Puckering replying for the crown adopted a distinctly menacing tone.

  • 36 R. Wilbraham, The Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham, p. 5.

Where you advance your city before others tamquam inter viburna cupressi her Majesty taketh not your charters to bind her prerogative but that by abuses the same are to be resumed36.

23What the crown had once given, it could now take away.

  • 37 R. C. L. Sgroi, The Language of Economic Debate.

24Public order and obedience, loyalty and deference, the provision of justice and the rule of law, the pursuit of the common good —such were the themes which recur through these formalised exchanges between city and crown. Behind the decorous dialogue lay the potential for conflict because all these concepts were subject to varying interpretations. There was a shared and understood language in these events, but there was room for considerable negotiation between the parties. The city’s view of what the rule of law entailed might be at odds with the royal prerogative; the aldermen’s interpretation of what the pursuit of order entailed might clash with the crown’s own priorities and policies; the «common good» was a site for contested interpretation among groups within the city as well as between the city and the crown, and increasingly so as it came into conflict with notions of the «public good» and the interest of the state37.

  • 38 V. Pearl, «Change and Stability»; S. Rappaport, Worlds within Worlds; I. W. Archer, The Pursuit of (...)
  • 39 Ph. Withington, The Politics of Commonwealth, pp. 124-155.
  • 40 D. Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order, pp. 72-75 and 135.
  • 41 E. Goldring, «Authorship of Kenilworth Letter».
  • 42 P. Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships; P. Lake, The Boxmaker’s Revenge.
  • 43 I. W. Archer, «Popular Politics».

25In the remaining part of this paper I want to look at the ways in which citizen groups used this language to pursue their own agendas. London offered an environment for the development of a precocious political culture. Its governmental structures, though frequently labelled oligarchic by historians, had some markedly participatory elements. The common council with around 212 members was the largest representative body in England outside the house of commons; the electorate for parliamentary elections was 2,500 strong; the dense network of local government offices meant that office holding was common among its citizens38. In the livery company courts, parish vestries, and on the hospital boards middling Londoners deliberated together on matters of concern to their commonwealth in what Phil Withington has described as «structured conversations»39. Londoners were the best educated people in England. Signature literacy levels for males were more than twice as high as in the rest of the country, and women too were way above the norm, probably four times as literate in London as elsewhere40. The availability of a grammar school education to many of the sons of citizens meant that exposure to the classical texts and all their potential for subversive thinking was available to a wider social group than we conventionally think of41. London was the centre of the law courts and legal training, and as we shall see, Londoners availed themselves of the legal expertise in their midst, mediating their conflicts though the law, and in the process imbibing some of the law’s anti-hierarchical principles. The city enjoyed a vibrant religious culture with an extraordinary variety of sermons available from many of the leading preachers of the day42. Its interpenetration with the royal court, and its merchants’ access to foreign news (sometimes ahead of the government) meant that its populace was unusually well informed, and more informed than the government would have wished43.

  • 44 J. Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects; F. Heal and C. Holmes, «The Economic patronage».

26There has been a great deal of interest in political discourse in recent years, but it has tended to rely on discursive texts of political theory usually produced by lawyers from which wider political attitudes are inferred. It is less clear that ordinary citizens used Ciceronian languages, although it should be conceded that some may have had exposure to this vocabulary through the grammar school curriculum. But the humanist discourses and classical learning probably fertilised an existing language of the common good that was embedded in the late medieval polity, and which owed a great deal to a basic respect for the law as a guarantee of the common good. It is not clear how much was really new. If we are concerned with the political language of tradesmen it seems more fruitful to look at texts, which we know circulated among them rather than upon the more discursive texts. For while citizenship in urban communities was in part about the political rights that the freedom entailed, but it was also about economic privileges, and much of the political agitation in which Londoners engaged was about protecting the economic privileges of the city freedom. We can see this clearly in the petitions in which tradesmen articulated their economic concerns to government; large numbers survive in Burghley’s papers, often in response to proposals for grants of patents of monopoly44.

  • 45 Ch. W. Brooks, Law, Politics and Society.

27There are serious problems of mediation in using these materials. Although they were drawn up in the name of hundreds, sometimes thousands of the queen’s subjects, they did not speak the language of the streets; petitions were drawn up by brokers, probably in many cases the lawyers who were employed to advise them. But the language of lawyers was not necessarily remote from the concerns of ordinary Londoners. The consistent emphasis on respect for the rule of the law reminds us of Chris Brooks’ insight that a key to understanding popular political culture lies in its relationship to legal discourses45. Londoners were deeply implicated in the administration of the law through their service on inquests and juries; they were key participants in the explosion of litigation in Elizabeth’s reign; their personal and business lives were regulated by legal instruments such as apprenticeship indentures, marriage contracts, and countless bonds to secure obligations. Lawyers were everywhere staffing key posts in the civic bureaucracy and acting as retained counsel to both the city authorities and increasingly to the trade guilds. Conflicts within the city, such as those between citizens and strangers were mediated through the law. As Brooks has also argued, legal discourses could inform a critically minded public.

  • 46 Id., «Professions, Ideology, and the Middling Sort», pp. 124-125.

Legal thought had little time for paternalism, deference or a hierarchical society unified by the great chain of being […] the law enshrined not just franchises and special privileges but liberties and indeed freedoms which were inheritable by all the freemen of England. There was also a well documented line in professional discourse which was openly hostile to abuses of power by the economically or socially overmighty46.

  • 47 TNA, SP 12/69/27; British Library (BL), Lansdowne, MS 38/1; D. H. Sacks, «The Countervailing of Ben (...)
  • 48 BL, Lansdowne, MS 44/29.
  • 49 Ibid., MS 71/26.

28For the citizens, respect for the rule of law meant respect for the previous statutes and their chartered rights supposedly granted by the crown. Magna Carta was frequently cited in support of the claims that «every man may use and occupy whatsoever trade he listeth», and that «it is against the law that a man should be restrained from free merchandise»47. Such sentiments were fertilised by powerful strains of commonwealth rhetoric against monopolising tendencies. It was wrong claimed leather workers, to bring «to one man’s hands the making […] of divers sorts of leather which divers artificers […] freely make by law without restraint»48. It would be wrong «to make all occupations let out to farm and every man’s labour at lease’49.

  • 50 Ibid., MSS 63/5, 73/17 and 84/21.
  • 51 Ibid., MS 152, fo 142vo.

29Citizen groups would also regularly invoke the need to respect the poor. It was common to claim the hurt that would be done to hundreds or thousands of her Majesty’s subjects if the crown persisted in a particular course of action were followed: «idle persons would perish and miscarry for want of work» (if the import of pins were not restrained); leather workers would be forced «to put away their servants» (if the terms of a leather sealing patent were enforced), «for lack of sale and utterance [armourers] shall not be able to keep and maintain numbers of apprentices and servants» (if the crown did not offer them more contracts)50. This rhetoric played on the conventional argument that magistrates had obligations to support the poor, but sometimes the argument was given a constitutionalist twist. «It has always been the opinion of the parliament house that to set the most on work is the greatest benefit to the commonwealth»51.

30Still more interesting is the way in which the city played the public order card. The magistrates were keen to stress their diligence in the maintenance of order and their willingness to take a hard line against malefactors.

  • 52 Ibid., MS 30/19; TNA, SP 12/49/25 and SP 12/80/9.

My whole care and desire is to perform that duty which my place requireth as well in preventing and punishing this and other disorders as in all things committed to my charge52.

  • 53 Ibid., SP 12/58/14.

31But the city fathers also had a habit of invoking the spectre of disorder to protest against policies of which they disapproved. In 1569 they used the privy council’s prejudices against the assembly of large crowds to argue against one of its pet projects, the training of soldiers53. They played on the council’s public order anxieties in its war against the theatres where the council’s support was always undermined by its sympathy for the players. Plays, the lord mayor declared in 1595, were

  • 54 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 98.

the chief cause […] of […] disorders and lewd demeanours which should appear of late in young people of all degrees, as the late stirs and mutinous attempts [show]54.

32In these cases the city was simply reminding the crown of the potential for disorder in large assemblies, an uncontroversial point, but one they selectively deployed.

33These were perhaps uncontroversial rhetorical moves but sometimes the City wavered on the dangerous line between expressing a fear of the potential for disorder and appearing to condone it. This was the case when the City argued that if the crown persisted in a course of action of which it disapproved disorder would ensue.

  • 55 BL, Lansdowne, MSS 26/68; 71/44; LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 96.

[The] general exclamation […], secret whispering among the meanest sort, […] the clamour of the people very apt to raise ill reports» are all mentioned in connection with protests against patents55.

  • 56 TNA, SP 12/201/31 and 12/201/32; J. D. Gould, «The Crisis in the Export Trade».

34Sometimes the aldermen could be very blunt as in their protest against the liberalisation of cloth sales with the opening of the Blackwell Hall cloth market to strangers during the cloth export crisis of 1586-1587. Not only did they argue that the measure was against the liberties of the city and the Merchant Adventurers, but they also suggested that it would encourage anti-alien feeling. The council was warned of the «inconveniences which might follow to the great hazard and disturbance of the common peace». Just in case they did get the point, the aldermen reminded them «what griefs have been conceived and libelled of late against the strangers inhabiting among us»56. Here is the threat of disorder being used as a negotiating tactic to dissuade the crown from a course of action unpopular in the city. There is a thin line that separates warnings of disorder from active encouragement of disorder.

  • 57 J. Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects, pp. 51-77.
  • 58 D. H. Sacks, «The Countervailing of Benefits», pp. 273-277; J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parlia (...)
  • 59 I. W. Archer, «The London Lobbies», pp. 31-34.

35Thus appeals to the law, the liberty of the subject, the commonwealth, and public order all carried subversive freight. During the difficult last decade of Elizabeth’s reign relations between city and crown deteriorated. A key element of this was the proliferation of monopolies and licences in what has been called their «scandalous phase» culminating in serious protests in the parliaments of 1597-1598 and 160157. The grants often conflicted with established chartered rights, cut across statutory provisions, and appeared to contravene Magna Carta clause 29, by depriving a man of the free exercise of his trade58. Because they were usually associated with licensing fees or composition payments, monopolies could easily be made to look like a form of non-parliamentary taxation. They therefore generated an extraordinary amount of legal dispute. A brief examination of the controversies generated by one such grant will demonstrate the ways in which the themes we have been looking at could be assembled in a potentially threatening way. In 1592, the courtier Sir Edward Darcy obtained a patent for the searching and sealing of leather. It was bitterly contested by a whole range of leather workers backed by the city fathers who insisted that the patent must be tried by law59.

36The Leather sellers’ Company’s arguments against Darcy’s patent mediated between the posture of humble petitioning and a defiant appeal to the law against the prerogative.

  • 60 BL, Lansdowne, MS 74/42.

We have done nothing but only most meekly kneeling upon our knees and holding up our joint hands [and] with all humility prayed that his claim and our defence might […] to the ordinary trial of the laws of the land (which is the chiefest inheritance that every mean subject is born unto and the surest anchor hold by which the greatest subject in the realm doth enjoy all), be referred60.

  • 61 Ibid.

37They put their self-professedly loyalist stance in opposition to Darcy’s «insatiable humour» in refusing to go to trial by law. They stood on the terms of their charter granted by Richard II and confirmed by parliament, and on their oaths as freemen to be obedient to the lord mayor and ministers of the city, to preserve its liberties and franchises; to allow Darcy’s agents to search and seal their goods would therefore be to risk the sin of perjury. Their concern for the commonwealth is contrasted to Darcy’s self-enrichment by «unnecessary taxing of the commons and of the poorer sort whose chief wearing leather is». The fees required by Darcy were equivalent to eight subsidies (a preposterous claim), and in an extraordinary appropriation of the monarchical voice, they quoted from the words of Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII which they had read in Hall’s Chronicles, «that his mind was never to ask anything of his commons that might sound to his dishonour or to the breach of his laws»61. It was a clever mix of appeals to law, history, and the commonweal.

  • 62 I. W. Archer, «The London Lobbies», pp. 33-34; S. Wright, «Nicholas Fuller».
  • 63 Ch. W. Brooks, Law, Politics and Society, pp. 385-391.

38How far was this an authentic city voice? It was probably drafted by Nicholas Fuller, the leading puritan lawyer, and a regular source of legal advice for the opponents of the patentees, so these were perhaps discourses his clients had not themselves mastered62. On the other hand, as has been stressed, we should not assume a uniformly low level of educational attainment among London’s middling groups, and to appeal to their charters, oaths, and rights enshrined in Magna Carta was to draw on elements of a shared civic and legal consciousness. As Brooks has recently pointed out appeals to liberties of the subject were most frequently made in the context of the rights of tradesmen, and we should not ignore the possibility that the libertarian rhetoric was in fact shaped by popular concerns rather than being imported by the lawyers63.

  • 64 P. Griffiths, «Secrecy and Authority».
  • 65 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».
  • 66 BL, Lansdowne, MS 73/17.

39These were certainly not abstruse discussions being conducted behind the closed doors of the comfortable parlours in which company rulers deliberated64. They were matters for public discussion, examples of the way in which the corporate structures of metropolitan life fostered engagement in the political process65. In February 1593, the lord mayor explained that he was forwarding a petition from the leather workers to prevent multitudes from besieging the court66. Writing to the privy council in January 1595, the lord mayor and aldermen reminded them of the «grief and murmur of the people throughout the whole land against this patent», and pointed out the risks of ignoring these concerns in times of dearth

  • 67 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 83.

when so great numbers of people are grieved already and exasperate enough by their own misery and great want of food whereby they may the more easily be incited to some public disorder67.

40The council was warned of

  • 68 Ibid.

the great grief of the commons touching this and other like patents […] supposed by them to draw wholly from the commonwealth and private purse of your poorer subjects, the same not tending towards the relief of public necessity nor to the enlargement if your highness’ treasury […] but towards the benefit of some few private persons68.

41Here is another powerful play of the common good arguments, linking the concerns of the crown with those of its poorer subjects, but also carrying an implicit threat of popular violence.

  • 69 I. W. Archer, The Pursuit of Stability, pp. 1-14; J. Walter, «A “Rising of the People”?»; J. A. Guy(...)
  • 70 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 83.

42There was a shift in rhetorical registers in the 1590s. This was in part because the context had changed. When petitioners invoked the spectre of disorder they did so against the background of a very real deterioration in the condition of public order in the capital where rioting in 1595 was sufficiently serious to result in the declaration of martial law69. It is also clear that the deferential languages conventionally adopted in petitions for redress were being subject to increasing strain as Londoners came to perceive a tension between their liberties and the royal prerogative. Petitioners might continue to acknowledge the prerogative as «a most holy and necessary thing to reform the abuses that spring up daily within this your realm, and to supply the defects of your highness» laws, which without the assistance of your royal authority would want their edge and due execution’, but they expected the prerogative to be tempered with «gracious clemency» and princely moderation’, and what they understood by that in practice was that controversial patents should be withdrawn70. Embedded within the deferential languages of loyalty and obedience was a demand that the crown back down, and this in turn was backed by an implicit threat of disorder if it did not comply.

Notes

1 I. W. Archer, «Conspicuous Consumption Revisited».

2 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».

3 N. Z. Davies, Fiction in the Archives.

4 C. A. Holmes, «Drainers and Fenmen». See also G. Hudson, «War Widows»; J. Walter, «Public Transcripts» for other suggestive approaches.

5 P. Lake and S. Pincus, The Politics of the Public Sphere; N. Mears, Queenship and Political Discourse.

6 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».

7 R. M. Smuts, «Public ceremony and royal charisma»; L. Manley, Literature and Culture, pp. 212-293; I. W. Archer, «City and court connected»; A. Hunt, Drama of Coronation, pp. 146- 172; D. Hoak, «A Tudor Deborah?»; Id., «The Coronations».

8 G. Warkentin (ed.), The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage, pp. 86-87.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 A. Hunt, Drama of Coronation, pp. 159-172.

12 G. Warkentin (ed.), The Queen’s Majesty’s Passage, p. 119; D. Loades, «Hilles, Richard»; M. G. Ferguson, «Grafton, Richard»; H. Robinson (ed.), Original Letters, t. I, pp. 200-205.

13 A. Hunt, Drama of Coronation, pp. 168-169.

14 S. Logan, «Making History»; T. Heywood, England’s Elizabeth, p. 114.

15 A Breefe Discourse, pp. 15-16.

16 Calendar of State Papers (Venice), t. X, p. 503; t. XIV, pp. 58-59.

17 J. Thirsk and J. P. Cooper (ed.), Seventeenth Century Economic Documents, p. 753.

18 P. Collinson, «The Monarchical Republic»; J. F. McDiarmid, The Monarchical Republic.

19 Ph. Withington, The Politics of Commonwealth; Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse»; M. Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism.

20 R. Robinson, A Moral Method of Civil Policy.

21 J. Stow, A Survey of London, t. II, p. 206.

22 Ibid., pp. 198 and 206.

23 Ibid., pp. 206 and 214-217.

24 D. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry; G. K. Paster, «The Idea of London in Masque and Pageant»; L. manley, Literature and Culture, pp. 258-293; J. Knowles, «The Spectacle of the Realm»; T. Hill, Anthony Munday and Civic Culture, pp. 147-175; T. Hill, «Monarchs and Mayors». Dr Hill is writing a major new study of the shows.

25 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Frankland-Russell-Astley, p. 2.

26 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Frankland-Russell-Astley, p. 2.

30 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

31 The National Archives, London (TNA), SP 12/103/62.

32 London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), Repertory 20, fos 136vo-7vo.

33 R. Wilbraham, The Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham, p. 5.

34 J. Manningham, Diary of John Manningham, pp. 72-73.

35 Buckinghamshire Record Office, D 138/22/1.

36 R. Wilbraham, The Journal of Sir Roger Wilbraham, p. 5.

37 R. C. L. Sgroi, The Language of Economic Debate.

38 V. Pearl, «Change and Stability»; S. Rappaport, Worlds within Worlds; I. W. Archer, The Pursuit of Stability, chap. ii-iv.

39 Ph. Withington, The Politics of Commonwealth, pp. 124-155.

40 D. Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order, pp. 72-75 and 135.

41 E. Goldring, «Authorship of Kenilworth Letter».

42 P. Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships; P. Lake, The Boxmaker’s Revenge.

43 I. W. Archer, «Popular Politics».

44 J. Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects; F. Heal and C. Holmes, «The Economic patronage».

45 Ch. W. Brooks, Law, Politics and Society.

46 Id., «Professions, Ideology, and the Middling Sort», pp. 124-125.

47 TNA, SP 12/69/27; British Library (BL), Lansdowne, MS 38/1; D. H. Sacks, «The Countervailing of Benefits».

48 BL, Lansdowne, MS 44/29.

49 Ibid., MS 71/26.

50 Ibid., MSS 63/5, 73/17 and 84/21.

51 Ibid., MS 152, fo 142vo.

52 Ibid., MS 30/19; TNA, SP 12/49/25 and SP 12/80/9.

53 Ibid., SP 12/58/14.

54 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 98.

55 BL, Lansdowne, MSS 26/68; 71/44; LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 96.

56 TNA, SP 12/201/31 and 12/201/32; J. D. Gould, «The Crisis in the Export Trade».

57 J. Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects, pp. 51-77.

58 D. H. Sacks, «The Countervailing of Benefits», pp. 273-277; J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments, pp. 369-423.

59 I. W. Archer, «The London Lobbies», pp. 31-34.

60 BL, Lansdowne, MS 74/42.

61 Ibid.

62 I. W. Archer, «The London Lobbies», pp. 33-34; S. Wright, «Nicholas Fuller».

63 Ch. W. Brooks, Law, Politics and Society, pp. 385-391.

64 P. Griffiths, «Secrecy and Authority».

65 Ph. Withington, «Public Discourse».

66 BL, Lansdowne, MS 73/17.

67 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 83.

68 Ibid.

69 I. W. Archer, The Pursuit of Stability, pp. 1-14; J. Walter, «A “Rising of the People”?»; J. A. Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I.

70 LMA, Remembrancia, t. II, no 83.

Auteur

University of Oxford

© Casa de Velázquez, 2011

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