"The Most Vile and Barbarous Nation of All the World": Giles Fletcher the Elder's the Tartars or, Ten Tribes (Ca. 1610)*
Cogley, Richard W., Renaissance Quarterly
A year or so before his death in 1611, Giles Fletcher the Elder--civil lawyer, parliamentarian, diplomat, minor poet, and historian (1)--wrote a brief work which argued that the Tartars of central and northeastern Asia were the ten lost tribes of Israel. (2) Fletcher was by no means the first western European to advance this argument. In the Middle Ages, for instance, the English Benedictine Matthew Paris (d. 1259) publicized the idea in his Chronica Majora, and in the sixteenth century the French humanists Gilbertus Genebrardus (1537-97) and Guillaume Postel (1510-81) advocated it as well. (3) Nevertheless, Fletcher's tract may have been the first endorsement of the Israelites-as-Tartars theory composed in English; more importantly, it was almost certainly the first statement written in England in any language that incorporated into the theory the additional provisions that the Tartars would become Christians and then return to Palestine, where, in partnership with the repatriated and converted Jews, they would inaugurate the millennium in Jerusalem.
Fletcher's work remained in manuscript until 1677, when the Puritan minister Samuel Lee (1625-91) published it in London as The Tartars Or, Ten Tribes. Lee printed Fletcher's book, along with his own recently completed Dissertation Concerning the Place and State of the Dispersed Tribes of Israel, in a volume he entitled Israel Redux. Then in 1749 William Whiston (1667-1752), the celebrated mathematician and theologian who succeeded Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) as Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, published a second edition of The Tartars under the title A Discourse concerning the Tartars, proving (in all Probability) that they are the Israelites, or Ten Tribes. (4)
Fletcher's fascination with the Tartars almost certainly began during a brief period of residence in Moscow from the fall of 1588 through the summer of 1589, when he served as an ambassador from Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) to the Russian court. (He also held diplomatic posts in Scotland, in several cities of the Hanseatic League, and in the United Provinces.) Fletcher's time in Russia familiarized him with the history of the Golden Horde, the Mongol-Turkish confederation which controlled southern and central Russia, as well as Kazakhstan, from the mid-thirteenth century until the late fourteenth century, when it began to slowly disintegrate through external pressure from the Timurids under Tamerlane or Timur the Lame (d. 1405) and then through internal secessionist movements under Muscovite leadership. Remnants of the Golden Horde, generally known as Tatars (and sometimes, rather misleadingly, as Cossacks) today, continued to live in Russia and neighboring regions after the confederation's collapse, and hence were part of the Russian world that Fletcher encountered during his stay in Moscow. (5) As we shall see in part 3, Fletcher and many others in Tudor-Stuart England (1485-1714) viewed the Mongols, the Turks, the Tatars, and the Timurids simply as Tartars.
Fletcher's residence in Moscow led to one prose publication before he drafted The Tartars. Shortly after his return to London in 1589, he wrote Of the Russe Common Wealth, one of the few sixteenth-century English-language histories of Russia, and a source consulted by many later authors, including Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?-1618), Ben Jonson (1572-1637), John Milton (1608-74), and possibly William Shakespeare (1564-1616). (6) Of the Russe Common Wealth was published in London in 1591, but was promptly suppressed by the English government because the merchants of the Russia Company thought that Fletcher's many comments about the tsar's tyranny and debauchery might jeopardize trading relations. (7) The book was later reprinted in less provocative versions in the 1598 edition of Richard Hakluyt the Younger's The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation and also in Samuel Purchas's Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625); it was then republished in full form in 1643, 1656, 1657, and 1675 as The History of Russia, or the Government of the Emperour of Muscovia.
Fletcher included in Of the Russe Common Wealth a lengthy chapter about the Tartars. Here he claimed that they were the ancient Scythians, whose reputation for cultural barbarism had long been a platitude in Western thought. This equation of the Tartars with the Scythians remained intact in The Tartars. In both works Fletcher cited only one supporting authority for the claim, Laonicus Chalcondyles, a fifteenth-century Byzantine historian of the Ottoman Empire. (8) Even this single reference was probably one more than Fletcher needed to prove the point to his readers, for the equation of the Tartars with the Scythians was a commonplace in Tudor-Stuart England. It was only in The Tartars, however, that Fletcher advanced the additional claims that the ten lost tribes of Israel had become the Scythians or Tartars, and that they and the Jews would establish the Christian millennial kingdom. He cited no source for the first claim; he attributed the second one to the Bedfordshire clergyman Thomas Brightman (1562-1607).
Except for these references to Chalcondyles and to Brightman, Fletcher's discussions of the Tartars in Of the Russe Common Wealth and The Tartars contain no secondary citations. The absence of documentation was noted forty years ago by Lloyd E. Berry, one of the few modern scholars who have written about Fletcher's interpretation of the Tartars. (9) Berry suggested that Fletcher had learned about the Tartars through conversations with Russians in Latin or perhaps in Russian (a language he knew, but not well), and also through talks with Sir Jerome Horsey (fl. 1573-1627), the Russia Company's longtime agent in Moscow and a historian of Russia in his own right. (10)
The question of Fletcher's sources probably perplexed Berry more than it should have. Despite his then-current reputation as an authority on the subject, Fletcher's comments about the Tartars were as crude and unsophisticated as those of English writers who had never ventured near Tartary or conversed with Russians about the region and its people. Fletcher interpreted the Tartars through two clumsily imposed categories, the biblical, lost-Israelite one and the classical, Scythian one. Each category had as its premise a pervasive cultural barbarism: acquired in the case of the lost tribes, who supposedly had degenerated from Mosaic observance into incivility and idolatry in the centuries after their disappearance from the Bible, and innate in the case of the Scythians, who had epitomized benighted barbarism in Western sources at least since the time of Herodotus.
The justification for a study of The Tartars thus cannot rest on an analysis of the text's intellectual merits, but only on an investigation of the context in which the work was written and in which it found a home. The first two parts of the essay discuss Thomas Brightman's eschatology, which gave to the lost tribes an importance in English Protestantism which they had previously lacked. (11) This discussion is followed by an examination of stereotypical Tudor-Stuart views about the Scythian or Tartar peoples. Parts 4 and 5 show how and why Fletcher combined the Israelites-as-Tartars thesis with the eschatology of Brightman, who did not identify the lost tribes as the Tartars, and who had no reason to do so. The concluding section of the essay places The Tartars within the framework of the larger debate in seventeenth-century England about the lost tribes of Israel.
1. BRIGHTMAN'S ESCHATOLOGY
Thomas Brightman originated a form of Anglo-American eschatology that has been called Judeocentrism because it assigned the role of inaugurating the millennial kingdom to the Christianized and repatriated Jews and Israelites. (12) Brightman's first and major Judeocentric work, completed around 1600, was a commentary on the Book of Revelation. In the remaining years before his death in 1607, he wrote like-minded commentaries on the last portion of the Book of Daniel and on the entire Book of Canticles (the Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon), a collection of love poetry which he transformed into an account of sacred history from the time of King David through the Second Coming of Jesus. None of these works was published during Brightman's lifetime. The commentary on Revelation first appeared, in the original Latin, in Frankfurt in 1609; the other two were initially printed, again in Latin, in Basel in 1614. Latin or English editions of the three expositions were later published in Amsterdam and Leiden, where there were important communities of English expatriates in the first half of the seventeenth century, and in several other continental cities as well. Brightman's commentaries were not printed in England until 1644, when they appeared in translation in an edition of his collected works.
As Brightman envisioned it, the sequence of events leading to the birth of the millennium in Jerusalem would commence with the battle of Armageddon, a protracted international conflict in which the European Protestants would vanquish the Roman Catholics, and the newly converted Jews and lost tribes would defeat the Ottoman Empire. Following their victory over the Ottomans, the two branches of Jacob's posterity would return to Palestine and establish in Jerusalem the millennial order, which Brightman defined primarily as the restoration of the apostolic church in all its pristine splendor. Then would come the expansion of the millennial kingdom throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. Catholics and Muslims who survived Armageddon, as well as pagans from the four corners of the earth, would share in this kingdom--provided they accepted Christianity, a prospect Brightman did not take for granted in the case of all individuals, even the Jews and the Israelites. After the millennium came to an end, Satan would gather the armies of Gog and Magog for one final (and in this case brief) battle against the righteous. Following the inevitable defeat of Satan and his minions, the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Last Judgment would bring the course of earthly events to an end. (13)
A second major spokesman for Judeocentrism appeared in England in the late 1620s. This was Joseph Mede (1586-1638), a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, and the author of Clavis Apocalyptica (Cambridge, 1627; expanded edition Cambridge, 1632). Mede was familiar with Brightman's commentary on Revelation; however, he steered an independent course through biblical prophecy, and insisted (truthfully, it seems) that he owed no formative debt to the older man. Although he diverged from Brightman on many secondary points, he agreed with him about the three central Judeocentric claims: the mass conversion of the Jews and the Israelites, the repatriation of both groups following the battle of Armageddon, and the birth in Jerusalem of the millennial kingdom. (14) Mede then defended these three claims at length in other works and also in his correspondence, becoming in the process a far better spokesman for Judeocentrism than Brightman ever was. Many of Mede's later Judeocentric writings, including his letters, were not published in England (or anywhere else) until the 1640s and 1650s. A complete edition of his works appeared in London in 1663-64 and on several subsequent occasions.
For reasons difficult to explain here in an historically integrated manner, Judeocentrism became a standard, although controversial, form of English Protestant eschatology once the complete works of Brightman and Mede were published in London in the mid-seventeenth century. (15) Over the course of the next hundred or so years, Judeocentrism was adopted by numerous persons in England and America, including Samuel Lee and William Whiston; the English clergymen Thomas Goodwin (1600-80), Nathanael [sic] Homes (1599-1678), and Edmund Hall (1620?-87); the London lawyer Sir Henry Finch (1558-1625); John Dury (1596-1680), the Scottish-born champion of Protestant ecumenism who spent large portions of his adult life in England; Sir Isaac Newton, whose deep fascination with biblical prophecy strongly shaped Whiston's overall outlook; and the New England Puritan ministers John Cotton (1584-1652), Increase Mather (1637-1723), Cotton Mather (1663-1728) until the last few years of his life, and Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). (16) Judeocentrism, in fact, remained part of the Anglo-American Protestant world through the mid-nineteenth century, when it evolved into dispensationalist premillennialism, the form of eschatology that fortifies the Christian right in contemporary America. (17)
The rise of Judeocentrism gave Brightman's foundational views an intellectual pedigree that they lacked at the time he was writing. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, his eschatology represented a radical break not only with sixteenth-century English Protestant opinion, whether Anglican or Puritan, but also with continental Protestantism, both Lutheran and Reformed. Brightman, for his part, was acutely aware of his eschatological heterodoxy. In other respects a member of the mainstream himself, he apologized to his readers for advancing "new found and strange opinions" that went "against the content of all writers" in the confessional Protestant tradition. (18)
Brightman's major innovation concerned the millennium. With certain minor qualifications, he was the first English Protestant to advocate in print the doctrine of a coming millennial kingdom on earth, a perspective which specialists in the forms of Christian eschatology generally call millenarianism or millennialism. (19) Earlier opinion in England, in line with the views of Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-64), and all other reputable continental Protestants, denied that the millennium was future or terrestrial or both, a negative eschatological position known as amillennialism. Sixteenth-century Protestants who stood in the mainstream either assigned the millennium to a past historical era which predated the alleged contamination of apostolic Christianity by Roman Catholicism, or viewed the millennium as the entire span of time between the Incarnation and the Second Coming, or else saw it as a purely spiritual condition existing in heaven or perhaps in the souls of living believers. (20) These amillennial …
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Publication information: Article title: "The Most Vile and Barbarous Nation of All the World": Giles Fletcher the Elder's the Tartars or, Ten Tribes (Ca. 1610)*. Contributors: Cogley, Richard W. - Author. Journal title: Renaissance Quarterly. Volume: 58. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2005. Page number: 781+. © 1999 Renaissance Society of America. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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