Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England

By Linda Levy Peck | Go to book overview

Conclusion

It has been vigorously argued by several English historians that “everyone spoke the same language,” that the political thought of king, parliament and justices coincided and that the conflict and breakdown of government in the 1640s was over the practical operation of the constitution. 1 Johann Sommerville has argued persuasively, however, that profoundly different theories of politics coexisted in early Stuart England. Even if we accept the notion of a single political language, or what is more likely, that ideas about politics existed along a spectrum, overlapping and shading into one another, we need to explain how seventeenth-century English people were able to justify to themselves not only presenting grievances and attacking evil counsellors but purging the body politic by transforming its political institutions and killing the king. Let me suggest that the ideology of royal bounty and corruption provided such a language and justification for violent overthrow of a monarchy celebrated as free and absolute. 2

The pervasive image of the fountain, used by contemporaries to describe, on the one hand, the bounty, justice and mercy of seventeenth century monarchy and, on the other, its corruption and pollution, drew on classical writers, especially Plutarch, and humanists, such as Sir Thomas Eliot. 3 More generally, contemporary analysis of benefits was Senecan, of office Ciceronian and of patron-client relationships in general, Roman. At the same time, discussion of the body politic also transferred somatic language of health and disease from the natural body to the body politic. The way the English thought about the circulation of benefits and pollutioon structured their political and social worrld both macroscopicalty and microscopically; they applied images from the body to the body politic, to the universe, to politics, to theology, and to commerce.

Whiile the language of patronage was classical and humanist, the Protestant English continued to describe patron-client relationships in a religious vocabulary borrowed from Roman Catholicism, to emphasize the patron or broker as the intercessor with the king, much like the saints or the Virgin

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