John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

“CHURCH-QUAKES”: POST-PARLIAMENTARY FAULTLINES

Y THE BEGINNING of the summer of 1624, Buckingham had withstood an assault by the Spanish ambassadors during his illness, people were rejoicing in the anti-Spanish turn of English foreign policy, and war with Spain seemed imminent. Parliament had been prorogued until 22 November. The possibility of a marital and military alliance with France to restore the Palatinate and the expectation that more co-operation between king and people would ensue was expressed in sermons and pamphlets by openly warlike and anti-popish rhetoric. Donne's friend James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, had been sent to France to promote the French match, and Buckingham, attended by George Abbot, was about to return to court after an extended illness. John Knight, whose infamous sermon advocating resistance to tyrannical kings had precipitated the Directions, was named chaplain by the Earl of Southampton to his regiment (although he died in prison). Jesuits and recusants were once more officially out of favour, due to the proclamation against Jesuits (6 May) and the Petition on Religion (23 April), which had passed earlier in the parliamentary session. 1

The situation was ripe for renewed anti-popery, as well as for increased anti- puritanism. Preachers and magistrates were charged to exercise the anti-papist sanctions already confirmed by parliament. Others used the opportunity to challenge separatist threats to order in the church, to condemn controversy, and to provoke anti-puritan sentiments. As the mood shifted from qualified optimism to frustration at setbacks in the patriots' program, preachers hoping to consolidate gains and maintain the momentum for reform stepped up their confessional campaigns. The dominant discourse continued to advocate separation from Romish Babylon, but some preachers, notably Donne, Hall, and Ussher, imagined a communion within the English church that enlarged the boundaries of that institution.

One preacher, Lancelot Andrewes, ended the year with a bitterly sarcastic Christmas sermon calling for a return to the “law” of the gospel rather than the pleasing fictions of preaching, while John Donne aimed at a much more inclusive and tolerant interpretation of God's merciful signs. While not engaging in controversy, Andrewes's whole approach was controversial, whereas Donne continued

____________________
1
Despite these official policies, hammered out through difficult parliamentary negotiations, Castle wrote to Trumbull on 18 June that the king had ordered the bishops to use “an easie hand” towards priests and Jesuits, and that judges had been charged to use mildness towards recusants (BL Add. MS 72276, fo. 101v. [Castle Correspondence]).

-234-

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