John Donne and Conformity in Crisis in the Late Jacobean Pulpit

By Jeanne Shami | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

“IF THE FOUNDATIONS BE DESTROYED”: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

HE CRISIS of censorship that had been alleviated by public debate of religious and political issues in parliament resurfaced late in 1624 when negotiations for the French match threatened to delay the second session of parliament indefinitely. In the final weeks of December 1624, King James once again issued proclamations ordering relaxation of penal laws against recusants in anticipation of the marriage between Charles and Henriette Marie of France. This was not the first time James had done so. But, after the outburst of popular relief at the failure of the Spanish match a year before, the penal laws had been tightened up again and attacks on Catholicism had crept back into sermons. In July, Chamberlain had predicted that the French match “is like to stick at the old stumbling blocke of toleration” (II, 571), but by 9 October he reported that “Our papists begin to hold up their heads again” (II, 581—2). The uncertainty resulting from James's new efforts to appease Catholics worried many who felt that this laxity would hinder continued reform in the Church. This fear of idolatry was compounded by the fear of sedition. Penal laws had acted for some time to identify and suppress potential threats to national religious and political security. Now, the security provided by these laws was being compromised for what many saw as political concessions that would drive England even closer to idolatry. For most churchmen, the French match was only marginally preferable to the Spanish match, primarily because the French demanded fewer concessions for Catholics, and because the possibility of enlisting France in an anti-Habsburg alliance was politically desirable in England.

By early 1625, puritans rather than papists were being targeted for official censorship. Stuteville reported to Mead on 21 January that Thomas Gataker “is yet in the Fleet, ” apparently for a reference in an epistle he had prefixed to Elton's catechism. 1 Perhaps Gataker's commendation of the “plentiful light to the latter times” afforded by Elton, compared to “that which former ages have had, ” did not sit well with the authorities who were about to burn his books at Paul's Cross for their puritan content. 2 In addition, Stuteville reports the suspension of two lecturers. 3 In February, Elton's book on the commandments, as well as one by

____________________
1
Birch, II, 491. In his Discours Apologetical, Gataker recalls that in this preface “others far greater than myself, even the archbishop himself, were aimed at” (p. 53).
2
Gataker, Discours Apologetical, p. 53.
3
Birch, II, 491. Mr. Rowles was suspended for refusing to subscribe, and Mr. Denison for maintaining the point of the lawfulness of private communions advanced in Mr. Elton's posthumous book.

-256-

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