John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6


HE FIRST half of 1623 was dominated by one event: the departure of Prince Charles and Buckingham for Spain in February in disguise and the prolonged negotiations for a match with the Spanish Infanta. Every other matter both domestic and foreign paled in comparison to interest in this event and its real and imagined repercussions. Even concern for Elizabeth and her family on the continent was enmeshed in the details of this proposed alliance, Charles having promised his sister that he would not marry with Spain without restoring Frederick's hereditary lands in the Palatinate (in retrospect, a hopeless promise). Fears for the prince's personal safety and honour in Madrid, and for his spiritual constancy in the heart of Catholic Spain, promoted rumours of his conversion to Catholicism, rumours fanned by reported concessions to English Catholics in negotiations with the Infanta's brother, Philip of Spain. Some toleration of popery and further relaxation of the penal laws against recusants were only two of the unpalatable consequences of this journey.

The Directions warned preachers against meddling with these and other matters of state, but conditions of censorship reached a critical stage following the prince's departure for Spain in early February, as James took pre-emptive measures to prevent public commentary on the event. The secretive way in which this journey was executed suited James's ends better than a foreign policy initiative undertaken after broad public consultation. This was one event that James did not want brought into the public sphere. Simonds D'Ewes's diary for this crucial period records a steady diet of sermons, however, and suggests the range of topics permitted, despite these censorship initiatives. Where the Directions, and Donne's defence of them, had encouraged preachers to focus on the creed, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Lord's Prayer, D'Ewes records a sermon by Dr. White on “that parte of the creed conceived of the virgin Marye, preached 12 January 1622/3. Donne had preached to reassure his audience that the Directions were not intended to prevent controversial preaching, and this choice of subject confirms that claim. The point of the sermon was abstruse enough: “hee shewed that the three persons did ioine in the conceiving of him and hee onlye took it upon him, like as if three virgins ... should all ioine in the working of some curious garment, and then one putt it on.” 1 In response to this further tightening of regulations, a number of incidents involving preachers occurred, suggesting, more than

D'Ewes, Diary, p. 113.


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