John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

“THE LOVESICK SPOUSE”: PARLIAMENT, PATRIOTS, AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE

PREACHING TO PARLIAMENT

THE FIRST half of 1624 was dominated by the parliamentary session that began in February and was prorogued in late May. Popular expectation that the Catholic upsurgence would be halted, the Spanish hold on James broken, and war with Spain declared was shadowed by the failure of the 1621 parliament over these very issues of domestic and foreign policy. The mood of elation and relief expressed at Charles's return and the temporary collapse of the Spanish marriage negotiations in October, then, was tempered by deep-seated uncertainty about James's trustworthiness, and parliamentary reluctance to subsidize on faith a foreign policy that was not openly anti-Spanish. The situation was further complicated because there were, in effect, two heads of state promoting divergent policies: James, who preferred diplomatic solutions to foreign disputes and refused alliances formed along confessional lines; and a “patriot” coalition, committed to a breach of the Spanish treaties, alliance with the Dutch, and open war against Catholics at home and Spaniards abroad. 1

A manuscript sermon by John Stoughton on Canticles 5:8 illustrates how sermons could contribute to engaged political debate on “emergent occasions.” Little is known of the textual transmission of Stoughton's The Lovesick Spouse, and Maclure can provide only the general date “ante 1640.” 2 However, a manuscript of the full sermon in the Bodleian Library dates it in 1623 (i.e. between 25 March 1623 and 24 March 1623/4) and internal evidence suggests that it was delivered at Paul's Cross after the Christmas season of 1623, and probably in February or March of 1624 while parliament was in session. 3 While the precise dating of this manuscript is uncertain,

____________________
1
My discussion of these months follows Cogswell's analysis in Blessed Revolution. See also Simon Adams.
2
Maclure, p. 253.
3
The evidence for this conclusion is based on two passages in the sermon. Stoughton approaches the end of his sermon with references to the stability of the church founded upon the rock of Christ. In the printed version, Stoughton gives two examples of the outward signs by which this confidence can be manifested. The 1623 manuscript contains an additional example: the instruction to write “Immanuel ouer or gates in golden letters; god wth us” (fo. 90r), an example that would have been conventional to a sermon preached during the Christmas season. This addition helps to explain a second passage in which Stoughton employs a topical analogy to rouse his congregation from their security, and to remind them of the sufferings of their continental co-religionists. He asks whether it were not “wisdom for us, that are but of the lower house [i.e. the Commons], to grant a Subsidie

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