For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia

For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia

For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia

For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia

Synopsis

By recovering a largely forgotten English Renaissance mindset that regarded sovereignty and Providence as being fundamentally entwined, Alexander Haskell reconnects concepts historians had before treated as separate categories and argues that the first English planters in Virginia operated within a deeply providential age rather than an era of early modern entrepreneurialism. These men did not merely settle Virginia; they and their London-based sponsors saw this first successful English venture in America as an exercise in divinely inspired and approved commonwealth creation. When the realities of Virginia complicated this humanist ideal, growing disillusionment and contention marked debates over the colony.



Rather than just "selling" colonization to the realm, proponents instead needed to overcome profound and recurring doubts about whether God wanted English rule to cross the Atlantic and the process by which it was to happen. By contextualizing these debates within a late Renaissance phase in England, Haskell links increasing religious skepticism to the rise of decidedly secular conceptions of state power. Haskell offers a radical revision of accepted narratives of early modern state formation, locating it as an outcome, rather than as an antecedent, of colonial endeavor.

Excerpt

Sir Walter Ralegh published his monumental History of the World in 1614, two years after the untimely death of the young Prince Henry, heir apparent to James I, and seven years after the successful establishment of a Virginia colony at Jamestown, a fort situated along a grand river given the same sovereign-evoking name, the James. the three events were undoubtedly intertwined for Ralegh. Prince Henry was the darling of the Virginia colonizers. Embraced for his firm Protestant faith but also more broadly idealized as heaven-sent, Henry was eagerly courted by the adventurers, who wanted him to serve as the “Protector of Virginia” at a time when his father’s sovereign commitment to American colonization seemed to waver in ways that suggested sinful irresolution. Ralegh’s unsuccessful efforts to plant a Virginia colony in the 1580s did little to flag his dedication to securing the king’s sovereignty in America and had even propelled his attempt to establish a colony closer to Spanish possessions at Guiana. He had written his History for the young prince, and he cited God’s decision to remove Henry from the world as his reason for ending the work prematurely, with the founding of Rome and the Roman triumph against Perseus of Macedon, rather than proceeding with his planned second and third volumes. Moreover, the History was itself bound up in the colonizing enterprise. Although the book peers deeply into human history, beginning audaciously with Creation and devoting much of its thousand-odd pages to the ancient patriarchs and Israelites before turning to the rise of the Egyptians, Persianith explaining the world that he and his contemporaries inhabited. At a certain level, the History is little more, or less, than an extended account of sovereign dominion, the planting of colonies, the noble exertions of “captains” acting both on behalf of kings and as kings in their own right, and the framing of new “commonwealths” that promised to wrestle fallen men into obedience to their callings—all taking place under the watchful eye of . . .

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