Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years' War: An Unknown Translation by Thomas Hobbes ; Noel Malcolm

By Noel Malcolm | Go to book overview

4
The Distribution of the Altera secretissima
instructio in England

IF little is known about the transmission and reception of the Altera secretissima instructio in England, the contents of the text itself help to explain why that is so: here was a pamphlet which, albeit with quasi-satirical intent, openly advocated sedition against the King. No English bookseller could have advertised such a work, and few could have contemplated reprinting it on English soil.1 Even without its treasonable passages, however, this would still have been a ‘hot’ work for any bookseller to handle. Since the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, a series of royal proclamations had been issued, in an attempt to suppress unwelcome commentary on the ‘arcana’ of foreign policy. The ‘Proclamation against Excesse of Lavish and Licentious Speech in Matters of State’ of December 1620, drafted by Bacon, had commanded James’s subjects ‘to take heede, how they intermeddle by Penne, or Speech, with causes of state, and secrets of Empire, either at home, or abroad’, requiring them to inform the authorities within 24 hours of hearing any such discourse. In September 1623 the ‘Proclamation against the Disorderly Printing, Uttering, and Dispersing of Bookes, Pamphlets, &c.’ (aimed mainly at publications, such as those of Scott, against the Spanish Match), complained bitterly of ‘Printing in the parts beyond the Sea’; and in August 1624 the ‘Proclamation against Seditious, Popish, and Puritanicall Bookes and Pamphlets’ decreed that any book or pamphlet about ‘Religion, Church governement, or State’, whether printed in England or imported, must henceforth be licensed

1 Under a statute of 23 Elizabeth, the publication or distribution of any book ‘to the encoraging stirring or moving of any Insurreccon or Rebellion’ was a felony punishable by mutilation and hanging: see S. A. Baron, ‘The Guises of Dissemination in Early Seventeenth-Century England: News in Manuscript and Print’, in B. Dooley and S. A. Baron, eds., The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London, 2001), pp. 41–56, here p. 46.

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