The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE ANGLICIZATION OF THE REPUBLIC
A) Mixed Constitution, Saint and Citizen

[I]

ON 21 JUNE 1642, WITH ABOUT TWO MONTHS to go before the formal beginnings of civil war, two of Charles I's advisers—Viscount Falkland and Sir John Colepeper—drafted, and persuaded him to issue, a document in which the king, not parliament, took the step of declaring England a mixed government rather than a condescending monarchy. His Majesty's Answer to the Nineteen Propositions of Both Houses of Parliament, as has been emphatically and correctly asserted blb yCorinne C. Weston,1 is a crucial document in English political thought, and among other things one of a series of keys which opened the door to Machiavellian analysis. In essence, it asserts that the government of England is vested in three estates, the king, the lords, and the commons, and that the health and the very survival of the system depend upon maintenance of the balance between them. This drastic departure from the thesis of descending authority was both constitutionally incorrect and a disastrous tactical error in royalist polemic; but it was, in a very short time, so widely accepted and so diversely employed as to present us with a clear case of paradigmatic innovation—here, we must believe, was a new formulation of a kind for which many men had been searching for many reasons.

The crucial fact is that the crisis making civil war imminent in June 1642 could no longer be seen as arising from the collision of authority with custom, or prerogative with privilege, but from a far more disruptive series of rifts in what all could now perceive as the nerve center of English government—the conjoined authority of king and parliament. The House of Commons, having forced through much legislation against the king's wishes, were now close to claiming the right to issue ordinances without his consent; they were demanding that con-

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1
See above, ch. X, n. 38. The question of authorship is discussed on pp. 26–27, following Clarendon, who stressed Colepeper's role rather than Falkland's. It may be remarked, however, that Falkland was an intellectual—and a friend of Clarendon's, who disapproved of the document—and that Colepeper was not.

-361-

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