Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"Geography Is Twinned with Divinity": The Laudian Geography of Peter Heylyn

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

"Geography Is Twinned with Divinity": The Laudian Geography of Peter Heylyn

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This critical history of geography looks to the political concepts that historical actors held and analyzes the incorporation of these concepts into geography. Peter Heylyn, who politicized his geographical books Microcosmus (1621) and, still more, Cosmographie (1657), followed William Laud's characteristic brand of High Church Anglicanism, avowedly hostile both to Roman Catholicism and to Calvinist forms of Protestantism, while upholding an ideal of the Church of England as both independent and apostolic. Further, Laudians were stalwart defendants of monarchy as a divine institution. This Laudian vision of church and state informed Heylyn's geographical works, which goes against a received wisdom that they are divorced from his polemical historical, political, and theological tracts. We thus recover the politics of early modern geography as contemporaries might have understood them. Keywords: Peter Heylyn, history of geography, Laudianism, politics, theology.

Contemporary human geography in the Anglo-American world has taken to the adjective "critical" as a species of mantra. Though multifaceted, critical human geography is united in adopting a "hermeneutics of suspicion" (Scruton 1990, 242), wherein claims to geographical knowledge are examined to show their ideological foundations in various forms of identity politics: of class, race, gender, and the like.

This critical turn has also been manifested in the revival of interest in writing histories of geography over the past fifteen years. Geography's history has been seen as "X-rated" (Livingstone 1992, 1-3), because of its complicity with various oppressive political projects, notably those of empire (Hudson 1977; Harvey 1984). Replacing triumphalist histories of geography's rise to scientific respectability (Hartshorne 1939; Martin and James 1993) are critical histories of geography as the science of empire (Godlewska and Smith 1994).

Two lacunae in the approach of geography's critical historians have appeared. First, in chronological terms, geography prior to its nineteenth-century incarnation as the servant of empire has been entirely neglected (Mayhew 1998, 385-388). Where earlier historians such as Geoffrey Martin and Preston James looked at geography from the ancients to the present, critical historians have truncated geography's history, evidently uninterested in or unable to address the myriad geography books of the early modern period (Sitwell 1993). Second, critical historians of geography have assumed, contrary to the insights of historians of political thought (Pocock 1985, 1-34; Skinner 1988), that their twentieth- (and presumably twenty-first-) century political vocabularies can be applied unproblematically in past contexts.

The present essay takes issue with both of these lacunae in critical histories of geography, by looking at the politics of geography in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the early modern period. This was well before geography's era as a servant of empire. Politics in that day had its own contemporary definitions of the sphere of political discourse, and it is useful not to impose modern political categories on time and place five centuries past. The goal of the essay is to exemplify a new critical history of geography, one critical in the sense of rigor but not dismissively condemnatory.


In the period between 1600 and 1800, politics meant what we might now term "high politics," excluding the cultural and social elements that modern analyses of ideology seek to uncover. Politics referred to discussions of dynastic legitimacy, of representation, and of the Constitution. Within this political sphere, arguments relied on historical example to a far greater extent than in the present day. Britain developed a pattern of argumentation from the perceived operation of common law by precedent and from the tradition of civic humanism inspired by Greek and Roman history (Pocock 1975,1987). …

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