Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England

By Linda Levy Peck | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Corruption and political ideology

In a trial held by the Crown in Star Chamber in 1619 corruption was defined as the use of “monies designed for the public service for private ends” and “monies taken corruptly for rewards and gratuities and private gain from public service.” 1 This was the definition put forward explicitly by the prosecution and accepted implicitly by the defendants. Contemporary evidence contradicts those historians who have argued that a sense of public and private existed only sketchily in the early modern period. 2 Within the English polity, structured by personal relationships, existed a rhetoric which emphasized service to the public and commonwealth. Accusations of corruption usually thought the hallmark of “country” ideology were levied by the Crown against its own officials. “Court” and “country” shared elements of a common language on corruption. This shared discourse drew on indigenous tradition as well as classical sources, especially Cicero. Law, administration, religion and politics had separate if similar “scripts” about corruption. 3

The language of corruption was a staple of English political discourse. Corruption had figured as a legal and political issue in England at least from the late Anglo-Saxon period and recurred periodically. Complaints escalated in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, spilling over into sermons, Star Chamber and administrative investigations and parliamentary impeachments. It became a matter of such intense focus in the first three decades of the seventeenth century that corruption occupied a central place in contemporary political ideology.

Scholars have tended to separate the concept of corruption as specific venal practices from corruption as the sense of the moral decay of the

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