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The professional news-writer known as John Flower (fl. 1630)
wrote his reports in a particular style. For example, in relating the
exploits of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Flower dwelt on
the king’s talent for misdirection. In mid-December 1631 Flower
wrote that ‘whereas the rumor ran strongelie’ that the Swedes
were besieging the city of Mainz, according to the most recent
reports Gustavus ‘did but make a shew thereof’ and was instead
on his way to besiege Oppenheim. This, too, proved false, and the
next week Flower revised himself again: ‘the newes’ of Adolphus’
assault on Oppenheim were ‘since controuled’; ‘now’, Flower
continued, ‘it is Credibly reported, that he did but make a shew
of doeing so, and turned againe another waie to M[ain]z, w[hi]ch
he hath taken’.1
Gustavus’ apparent cunning is partly an artefact of Flower’s
exposition. Flower took a reported event, that the king of
Sweden’s army appeared to change direction, and inferred an
explanation: namely, that the king of Sweden had a secret plan
and was putting on ‘a shew’ to deceive his adversaries. One might
imagine many alternative explanations, including indecision or
the encounter of unexpected obstacles or opportunities. But
Flower preferred to explain events with reference to the actors’
hidden intentions.
Flower’s contemporaries would have had no trouble in iden-
tifying his analytic style. Flower was a ‘politic’ (also spelled ‘poli-
tique’ or ‘politick’), a virtuoso in an emergent field of knowledge
and discourse about the meaning of events. Though originally the
English noun ‘politic’ referred to a prudent, Machiavellian actor,
by the early seventeenth century it had also come to mean an

* Versions of this article were presented to the Sheffield Early Modern Discussion
Group and the Yale British Studies Colloquium, and I am grateful to the participants
for their comments. I am also grateful to András Kiséry and Peter Lake for extensive
discussion, and to Philippe Buc, David Como, Paula Findlen, Nick Popper, Emma
Rothschild and Corey Tazzara for commenting on earlier drafts.
John Flower to Viscount Scudamore, 17 Dec. 1631: The National Archives,
London, Public Record Office (hereafter TNA), C 115/105/8139; Flower to
Scudamore, 24 Dec. 1631: TNA, C 115/105/8140.

Past and Present, no. 223 (May 2014) ß The Past and Present Society, Oxford, 2014
doi:10.1093/pastj/gtu003 Advance Access published on 28 March 2014

observer who interpreted the world as if it were populated by

prudent, Machiavellian actors. Learning to see the world through
politic eyes, like a ‘statist’, or ‘statesman’, became a major theme
of discourse in early Stuart England.
While this form of political thinking has a Europe-wide history
throughout the Renaissance, it played a particularly important
role in early Stuart England. The nature of early Stuart politics
(consensual or oppositional, governed by religion or law) has
always been controversial, but the recent turn towards ‘public’
politics and the ‘public sphere’ has renewed interest in how or-
dinary people thought about politics. As Thomas Cogswell has
argued, the development of widespread ‘political awareness’ in
the decades before the Civil War is one of the major stories of the
early Stuart era.2 Yet historians have been unable to agree on
what, exactly, people were becoming aware of. Rather than any
particular opinion, attitude or even ideology like resistance theory
or republicanism, this article argues that what spread may have
been the politic style itself: a way of seeing grounded in suspicion,
the prevalence of deceit and the conviction that things were not as
they seemed. Though originally developed as a technique of dom-
ination and restricted to the kingdom’s governors, a range of evi-
dence — print, manuscript, reading notes, news diaries and
correspondence — suggests that between 1590 and 1640 the pol-
itic style became more common. In Francis Bacon’s phrase, this
was how the ‘vulgar’ became ‘states men’.3
Thomas Cogswell, ‘Underground Verse and the Transformation of Early Stuart
Political Culture’, in Susan D. Amussen and Mark A. Kishlansky (eds.), Political
Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Modern England: Essays Presented to David
Underdown (Manchester, 1995), 278. See also Richard Cust, ‘News and Politics in
Early Seventeenth-Century England’, Past and Present, no. 112 (Aug. 1986); Pauline
Croft, ‘The Reputation of Robert Cecil: Libels, Political Opinion and Popular
Awareness in the Early Seventeenth Century’, Transactions of the Royal Historical
Society, 6th ser., i (1991); Alastair Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early
Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603–1660 (Cambridge,
2002); Peter Lake and Steven Pincus (eds.), The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early
Modern England (Manchester, 2007); Phil Withington, ‘Public Discourse, Corporate
Citizenship, and State Formation in Early Modern England’, American Historical
Review, cxii (2007); Alastair Bellany, ‘The Murder of John Lambe: Crowd
Violence, Court Scandal and Popular Politics in Early Seventeenth-Century
England’, Past and Present, no. 200 (Aug. 2008).
The phrase appears in a letter to the marquess of Buckingham concerning a proc-
lamation to forbid lavish speech on matters of state: Bacon to Buckingham, 19 Oct.
1620: Lambeth Palace Library, London, MS 936/132 (copy), quoted in The Letters
and the Life of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, 7 vols. (London, 1861–74), vii, 129.
See also Brendan Dooley, A Social History of Skepticism: Experience and Doubt in Early
(cont. on p. 79)
‘Seeing like a statesman’ does not mean seeing like a modern
state. Scholars working on the ‘political gaze’ have tended to
follow Weber and Foucault in imagining it as rationalizing or
taxonomic. Similarly, those working on politics and ‘reason of
state’ have tended to follow Friedrich Meinecke, who explicitly
claimed that politics was a transhistorical category and that
‘reason of state’ was an essentially accurate description of it.
This article suggests instead that there could be historically spe-
cific forms of the ‘political gaze’ and historically specific forms of
the political.4
The metaphor comparing politic thinking to a form of vision
was itself developed in the early seventeenth century. This was,
after all, the age of new devices for improving vision, from the
camera obscura and the lunettes d’approche to Galileo’s telescope.5
Traiano Boccalini (d. 1613), parts of whose Ragguagli di Parnasso
were printed in English in 1626 as The New-Found Politicke,
described civil wisdom as ‘a kinde of spectacles (certi occhiali )’
that ‘so refine and sharpen their sight’ as to allow wearers to ‘see
and prie into the most hidden and secret thoughts of others, yea

(n. 3 cont.)
Modern Culture (Baltimore, 1999); Jacob Soll, Publishing The Prince: History, Reading,
and the Birth of Political Criticism (Ann Arbor, 2005).
Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright
Mills, paperback edn (New York, 1958), ch. 8; Michel Foucault, The Order of Things:
An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York, 1970); James C. Scott, Seeing Like a
State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven,
1998); Randolph Head, ‘Knowing Like a State: The Transformation of Political
Knowledge in Swiss Archives, 1450–1770’, Journal of Modern History, lxxv (2003);
Barbara Duden and Ivan Illich, ‘Die skopische Vergangenheit Europas und die Ethik
der Opsis: Plädoyer für eine Geschichte des Blickes und Blickens’, Historische
Anthropologie, iii (1995); Joan-Pau Rubiés, ‘Instructions for Travellers: Teaching the
Eye to See’, History and Anthropology, ix (1996); Hans Erich Bödeker, ‘On the Origins
of the ‘‘Statistical Gaze’’: Modes of Perception, Forms of Knowledge and Ways of
Writing in the Early Social Sciences’, in Peter Becker and William Clark (eds.), Little
Tools of Knowledge: Historical Essays on Academic and Bureaucratic Practices (Ann Arbor,
2001); Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavellism: The Doctrine of Raison d’État and its Place in
Modern History, trans. Douglas Scott (New Brunswick, 1998). It is surprising how
often historians still claim that ‘Machiavellism’, or ‘reason of state’, was more ‘realis-
tic’ than other ways of representing the political. For example, Anglo has recently
noted Machiavelli’s ‘attempt to face up to the sordid realities of political life’:
Sydney Anglo, Machiavelli: The First Century. Studies in Enthusiasm, Hostility, and
Irrelevance (Oxford, 2005), 446.
Albert Van Helden, ‘The Invention of the Telescope’, Transactions of the American
Philosophical Society, new ser., lxvii (1977); Stuart Clark, Vanities of the Eye: Vision in
Early Modern European Culture (Oxford, 2007); Vincent Ilardi, Renaissance Vision from
Spectacles to Telescopes (Philadelphia, 2007).

even into the centre of their hearts’.6 As Boccalini suggested,

what this form of knowledge offered was not doctrines about
law or authority but instead a set of observational and interpretive
techniques, a way of seeing the world.
‘Way of seeing the world’ is vague. More precisely, we are deal-
ing here with an interpretive framework, a way of ordering the
world of experience and rendering it meaningful, of posing and
answering the question: What is it that is going on here?7 Positing
this construct allows us to focus on what contemporary actors
themselves found puzzling and how they resolved those puzzles.
Early modern observers often confronted events that had no clear
or obvious meaning. In these cases, what can be reconstructed,
through diaries, correspondence and notes, are not static struc-
tures of meaning but rather strategies for discovering or con-
structing meaning. It is useful to think of these strategies
broadly as interpretive practices or techniques.

Traiano Boccalini, The New-Found Politicke: Disclosing the Secret Natures and
Dispositions As Well of Private Persons as of Statesmen and Courtiers; wherein the
Governments, Greatnesse, and Power of the Most Notable Kingdoms and Common-wealths
of the World Are Discovered and Censured, ed. William Vaughan (London, 1626, STC
3185), 29 (sig. E3r ); Traiano Boccalini, Ragguagli di Parnaso: e Pietra del paragone
politico, ed. Giuseppe Rua, 2 vols. (Bari, 1910–12), ii, 247–8. On Boccalini, see
Meinecke, Machiavellism, 71–89; Kenneth C. Schellhase, Tacitus in Renaissance
Political Thought (Chicago, 1976), 145–9; Maurizio Viroli, From Politics to Reason of
State: The Acquisition and Transformation of the Language of Politics, 1250–1600
(Cambridge, 1992), 257–67; Richard Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 1572–1651
(Cambridge, 1993), 97–104. Giovanni Botero called prudence the ‘eye of the ruler’
(‘La Prudenza serve al Prencipe d’occhio’): Della ragione di stato, libri dieci (Milan,
1598), 51 (sig. D2r ). More evocatively, Adam Theveneau compared prudence to an
eye (œil) which allowed one to ‘penetrate through all, to discover all things, and to lift
the veil from the ambushes of men’ (‘qui pentre par tout, descouvre toutes choses, &
tire le voile des embusches des hommes’): Les Morales de Me A. Theveneau, advocat en
parlement: où est traité de l’Institution du ieune Prince. Des vertus qui luy sont requises quand
il est Prince . . . avec un discours de la vanité du siècle d’aujourd’huy (Paris, 1607), 320, 322
(sigs. V6r, X1v ). See also Jacob Soll, ‘Healing the Body Politic: French Royal Doctors,
History, and the Birth of a Nation, 1560–1634’, Renaissance Quarterly, lv (2002),
1278; Clark, Vanities of the Eye, 11–13.
My analytic vocabulary has been cobbled together from pieces of Erving Goffman,
Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Boston, 1986); Karl
Mannheim, Conservatism: A Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge, ed. David
Kettler, Volker Meja and Nico Stehr (London, 1986); Ian Hacking, Historical
Ontology (Cambridge, Mass., 2002). See also Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid
Style in American Politics’, in Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American
Politics and Other Essays (Chicago, 1979); Peter Burke, ‘Tacitism’, in T. A. Dorey
(ed.), Tacitus (London, 1969), esp. 166; Noah Millstone, ‘Plot’s Commonwealth:
The Circulation of Manuscripts and the Practice of Politics in Early Stuart
England, 1614–1640’ (Stanford Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 2011), ch. 1.
The use of civil wisdom as an interpretive technique has not
received sustained attention from historians of ideas. With im-
portant exceptions, studies of ‘Machiavellism’, ‘Tacitism’ or
‘reason of state’ have largely been based on printed treatises
and almost as largely preoccupied with the ethical status of pol-
itical conduct.8 These materials and topics are important, but
they do not exhaust the subject. ‘Reason of state’ was first and
foremost a sort of technical reasoning developed and used by the
agents of republics, principalities and kingdoms. Reason of state
taught ambassadors how to assess foreign courts, and privy coun-
cillors how to advise their prince. Evidence for these practices
survives not only in printed treatises, but also in the voluminous
records left behind by people working in the field.9 These records
— correspondence, memoranda and analyses prepared for in-
ternal regime use — suggest that one of the key problems that
‘reason of state’ promised to solve was analytic and interpretive:
how to make coherent sense from the messy world of rumour and
news. By focusing on the sociology of a particular form of political
knowledge, this article makes a first pass at a new way of under-
standing the classic problem of ‘reason of state’ or ‘Tacitism’: not
primarily as a legitimizing language, but as a form of technical
reasoning, and particularly as an interpretive framework or way of
seeing the world; and recovered not mainly from the formal trea-
tises of ‘high’ political thought, but from working texts like
diaries, memoranda and letters.
The literature on this topic is vast. Particularly useful are Meinecke,
Machiavellism; George L. Mosse, The Holy Pretence: A Study in Christianity and
Reason of State from William Perkins to John Winthrop (Oxford, 1957); Burke,
‘Tacitism’; Schellhase, Tacitus in Renaissance Political Thought; J. A. Fernández-
Santamaria, Reason of State and Statecraft in Spanish Political Thought, 1595–1640
(Lanham, 1983); Robert Bireley, The Counter-Reformation Prince: Anti-
Machiavellianism or Catholic Statecraft in Early Modern Europe (Chapel Hill, 1990);
Peter Burke, ‘Tacitism, Scepticism, and Reason of State’, in J. H. Burns with Mark
Goldie (eds.), The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450–1700 (Cambridge,
1991); Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State; Tuck, Philosophy and Government; Yves
Charles Zarka (ed.), Raison et déraison d’état: théoriciens et théories de la raison d’État aux
XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1994); Artemio Enzo Baldini (ed.), La ragion di stato: dopo
Meinecke e Croce. Dibattito su recenti pubblicazioni (Genoa, 2001).
Felix Gilbert, ‘Florentine Political Assumptions in the Period of Savonarola and
Soderini’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, xx (1957); Viroli, From
Politics to Reason of State, 132–45; Filippo de Vivo, Information and Communication
in Venice: Rethinking Early Modern Politics (Oxford, 2007); Jacob Soll, The Information
Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor, 2009);
Nicholas Popper, Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the
Late Renaissance (Chicago, 2012), esp. 19–22, 239–47.

As Boccalini’s description suggests, the key insight of the politic

interpretive framework was to take dissimulation seriously.
Secrecy and dissimulation created significant distance between
what people said and what they meant, between what appeared to
be happening and what was really happening. This distance was
not incidental, but was based ultimately on the inscrutability of
human intentions. For observers, widespread dissimulation
made it impossible to take events at face value and made discover-
ing the meaning of political events and utterances deeply prob-
lematic.10 Information was problematic not only because it was
partial or unreliable, but because it was cooked: manufactured by
actors specifically to make the truth more difficult to discern. For
anyone who hoped to work out what was going on in the world,
dissimulation and fraud were thus the paradigmatic, even consti-
tutive, analytic problems.
The task of politic interpretation was to pierce the veil of
misdirection that cloaked human conduct. Because of the distor-
tion caused by deceit, simple inference was useless. Instead,
politic sophisticates learned a series of hermeneutic techniques,
including the application of historical parallels and the discov-
ery of secret documents, to unveil the true, hidden causes
behind events. This fundamental commitment to hidden inten-
tionality and interpretive technique contributed significantly
to the oft-observed ‘paranoid’ character of early modern
political discourse.11
The late Tudor and early Stuart English could not be said to
have invented this style of thinking, but they showed early and
active interest in it. Politic reasoning was initially developed as an
instrument of power and control, a cognitive technology for
princes and the rulers of states.12 Between the end of Elizabeth’s
reign and the fall of the Stuart regime, however, extensive and
unusual new sources point to the emergence of a vogue for
Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Dis/simulations: Jules-César Vanini, François La Mothe Le
Vayer, Gabriel Naudé, Louis Machon et Torquato Accetto. Religion, morale et politique au
XVIIe siècle (Paris, 2002); Jon R. Snyder, Dissimulation and the Culture of Secrecy in
Early Modern Europe (Berkeley, 2009), esp. 107–37.
Hofstadter, ‘Paranoid Style in American Politics’; Barry Coward and Julian
Swann (eds.), Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Europe: From the
Waldensians to the French Revolution (Aldershot, 2004).
The role of politic thinking in governing practice has not been properly studied,
but see the comments in Popper, Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical
Culture of the Late Renaissance, 19–22, 36–7, 56–65, 239–47.
acquiring the rudiments of politic thinking among people further
from the seat of power.13 Urban tradesmen, provincial ministers
and small landowners devoured instructional literature, written
and printed pamphlets, news, rumour and politic conversation.
Politic discourse became the subject of continuous remark: in
conversation, epistles, manuscripts, print and even the commer-
cial stage. Adept observers instructed eager students in the rudi-
ments of analysis; students aped the pose and style of their
teachers; and men were admired as virtuosi for producing the
most sophisticated analysis or mocked as idiots for their pre-
tended sophistication. This cacophony produced a rich variety
of surviving materials.
For example, in the summer of 1627 the rector of Santon
Downham in Suffolk fell to arguing with his neighbours about
matters of state.14 The disagreement turned on the meaning of
recent events. The rector, John Rous, preferred a benign con-
struction. ‘I tould the[m]’, he recorded, ‘I would alwaies speake
the best of that our king & State did & thinke the best too till I had
good groundes’. By contrast, his neighbours ‘fell upon ould dis-
contents’. This, Rous noted, was a tendency ‘I had seene often
before’: people were ‘disposed to speake the worst of State busi-
nesses, & to nourish discontente, as if there were a false carriage in

Mary F. Tenney, ‘Tacitus in the Politics of Early Stuart England’, Classical
Journal, xxxvii (1941); Edwin B. Benjamin, ‘Bacon and Tacitus’, Classical Philology,
lx (1965); F. J. Levy, Tudor Historical Thought (San Marino, Calif., 1967); Alan T.
Bradford, ‘Stuart Absolutism and the ‘‘Utility’’ of Tacitus’, Huntington Library
Quarterly, xlvi (1983); J. H. M. Salmon, ‘Stoicism and Roman Example: Seneca
and Tacitus in Jacobean England’, Journal of the History of Ideas, l (1989); Tuck,
Philosophy and Government, 40–65; Malcolm Smuts, ‘Court-Centred Politics and
the Uses of Roman Historians, c.1590–1630’, in Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake
(eds.), Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England (Stanford, 1993); Kevin Sharpe,
Reading Revolutions: The Politics of Reading in Early Modern England (New Haven,
2000); G. Baldwin, ‘Reason of State and English Parliaments, 1610–1642’, History
of Political Thought, xxv (2004); Ronald Mellor, ‘Tacitus, Academic Politics, and
Regicide in the Reign of Charles I: The Tragedy of Dr Isaac Dorislaus’,
International Journal of the Classical Tradition, xi (2004); Paul Seaward, ‘Clarendon,
Tacitism, and the Civil Wars of Europe’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxviii (2005);
Noel Malcolm, Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years’ War: An Unknown
Translation by Thomas Hobbes (Oxford, 2007), esp. ch. 6; Paulina Kewes, ‘Henry
Savile’s Tacitus and the Politics of Roman History in Late Elizabethan England’,
Huntington Library Quarterly, lxxiv (2011).
Rous’s diaries are British Library, London (hereafter BL), Add. MSS 28640,
22959. The second of these was printed in Diary of John Rous: Incumbent of Santon
Downham, Suffolk, from 1625, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (Camden Society, 1st
ser., lxvi, London, 1856); ‘Rous, John’, Oxford DNB.

all these things’.15 Yet, Rous reflected later, perhaps his neigh-
bours were right. ‘To have alwaies the best conceite & opinion of
mens actions’, Rous wrote, ‘is truly helde in matters of state
amongst wise Statesmen very dangerous’.16 Once reserved for
central regime officials and worldly sophisticates like Flower,
the observational and analytic techniques of ‘Statesmen’ came
to be the common discourse of provincial elites, university stu-
dents and the patrons of London taverns.
Beyond the confines of early Stuart history, this article has two
broader goals. First, I would suggest that the politic interpretive
frame offers a way to approach a historicized, distinctly early
modern form of the political. Both historians and scholars of pol-
itics often treat ‘politics’ as a transparent, transhistorical category.
Specific structures, institutions and ideas might change, but the
domain of human life referred to by ‘politics’ and described by
political history remains unproblematic. Efforts to expand the
concept of ‘politics’ into new places, like the parish or the village,
have similarly relied on analytically broad and historically non-
specific versions of the ‘political’ (for example, labelling as ‘pol-
itics’ anything to do with power).17 By contrast, this article claims
that the politic gaze was used to constitute and prefigure the
domain of politics: structuring it in predictable ways, directing
attention to certain observations, and, to a certain extent,
making its objects political: one could thus have a politic inter-
pretation not only of state affairs, but also of family life or of
interactions with one’s neighbours.18 The particular structure
Rous, diary: BL, Add. MS 22959, fo. 9v. Cf. Thomas Cogswell, ‘The Politics of
Propaganda: Charles I and the People in the 1620s’, Journal of British Studies, xxix
(1990), 187–8.
Rous, diary: BL, Add. MS 22959, fo. 27v.
Patrick Collinson, ‘De Republica Anglorum: or, History with the Politics Put
Back’, in Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Essays (London, 1994); Keith Wrightson,
‘The Politics of the Parish in Early Modern England’, in Paul Griffiths, Adam Fox
and Steve Hindle (eds.), The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England
(Basingstoke, 1996).
Bödeker, ‘On the Origins of the ‘‘Statistical Gaze’’ ’, 178–9. The epistle to the
reader of John Hayward’s Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII (1599), which Levy
considered a paradigmatic ‘politic’ history, explained that such histories were ‘lively
patterns, both for private directions and for affayres of state’. This is elided in the title
of a recent article. I.H. [John Hayward], The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King
Henrie the IIII: Extending to the End of the First Yeare of his Raigne (London, 1599, STC
12995), sig. A3r; Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, 258–68; Alzada J. Tipton, ‘ ‘‘Lively
Patterns . . . for Affayres of State’’: Sir John Hayward’s The Life and Reigne of King
Henrie IIII and the Earl of Essex’, Sixteenth Century Journal, xxxiii (2002).
of politic analysis is also historically grounded: in its deep
commitment to the difference between being and seeming,
politic analysis bore strong family resemblances to other late
Renaissance intellectual trends, including humanist textual
criticism, Neoplatonist philosophy and providentialism.19 In
highlighting these aspects of politic thinking, this article contrib-
utes to a growing debate on distinctly early modern forms of
the political.20
Second, by focusing on modes of analysis and (relatively)
humble observers, this article tries to move past traditional
accounts of political thought that treat formal treatises as the
paradigmatic form of discourse and legitimization as the paradig-
matic speech act.21 At their most ambitious, intellectual histor-
ians have promised to provide a history, not of intellectuals, but of
intellection; of the ways people perceive the world and discover or
construct meaning.22 In embracing speech acts beyond legitim-
ization and formal rhetoric, and sites of political thinking beyond
the treatise or pamphlet, this article supports efforts to extend
intellectual history from intellectuals to the intellective dimension
of human activity and to treat texts like memoranda, correspond-
ence and reading notes as serious sites for ‘thinking about pol-
itics’, if not precisely for ‘political thought’.

Anthony Grafton, Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of
Science, 1450–1800 (Cambridge, Mass., 1991); Anthony Grafton, What Was History?
The Art of History in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2007); Charles B. Schmitt,
Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler and Jill Kraye (eds.), The Cambridge History of
Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge, 1988); Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early
Modern England (Oxford, 1999).
See, for example, Giora Sternberg, ‘Epistolary Ceremonial: Corresponding
Status at the Time of Louis XIV’, Past and Present, no. 204 (Aug. 2009); William J.
Bulman, ‘The Practice of Politics: The English Civil War and the ‘‘Resolution’’ of
Henrietta Maria and Charles I’, Past and Present, no. 206 (Feb. 2010); Popper, Walter
Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance; Vera
Keller, ‘Mining Tacitus: Secrets of Empire, Nature and Art in the Reason of State’,
British Journal for the History of Science, xlv (2012). I thank Koji Yamamoto for bringing
the last article to my attention.
The focus on legitimization initially served as a defence against the objection that
ideas did not matter at all: Quentin Skinner, ‘Some Problems in the Analysis of
Political Thought and Action’, Political Theory, ii (1974), esp. 292–9; James Tully
(ed.), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and his Critics (Princeton, 1988); J. G.
A. Pocock, ‘The Concept of a Language and the Métier d’Historien: Some
Considerations on Practice’, in Anthony Pagden (ed.), The Languages of Political
Theory in Early-Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1987).
Keith Michael Baker, Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political
Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1990), 12–13.

This article proceeds in four sections. The first offers a short

history of politic analysis. The aim of this section is not exhaustive
genealogy, but rather to see how and why the politic interpretive
frame came to be seen as persuasive and useful, and what alter-
native ways of apprehending politics were available. The second
section looks at how central regime actors (in this case, diplomats
and agents in the service of James VI and I between 1615 and
1625) used politic analysis to make sense of the world around
them. Looking at concrete examples of interpretation — analysis
in action — helps to clarify what problems politic interpretation
was intended to solve and how it went about solving them.
Diplomatic agents tasked with discovering what was going on in
foreign parts were required to process a huge volume of untrust-
worthy, even deliberately misleading, information. Imputing
secrecy, intentionality and ‘interests’ to the actors they studied
was a valuable heuristic. The interpretive role of hidden inten-
tions also helps to explain why diplomats privileged ‘secret docu-
ments’, as though they could reveal the ‘real’ in a way no
conjecture could.
The third section concentrates on politic education. How did
people learn to think in these ways? What books did they read, and
how did they read them? What was the role of conversation? Using
letters of advice, notes of reading and speech, and popular politic
texts, I try to work out how early moderns thought they could
learn the techniques of politic analysis. This section also explores
the mechanics of a second interpretive technique, historical par-
allels, which worked mainly as a form of emplotment. Observers
who used historical parallels to explicate their present and predict
their future were asking, Which story are we in? The fourth sec-
tion examines the evidence for the diffusion of politic analytic
practices beyond the Stuart regime elite. Printed and written
propaganda used politic tropes to mobilize their audiences.
Annotations, diaries and correspondence suggest that those
tropes were widely learned. To cope with the uncertainty of
events, observers even outside central regimes began to build
politic stories of their own time.

Much of the basic structure of politic analysis was ancient. The
notion that visible reality is false and conceals a hidden truth was
the central conceit of the Neoplatonist and neo-Pythagorean
mystery cults that characterized late Hellenistic civilization.
As Philippe Buc argues, the distinction between letter and spirit
very quickly became a critical part of early Christian thought and
inflected the depiction of piety and impiety in medieval chron-
icles. The turn towards lay piety in Western Christendom brought
a new fascination with conscience and confession, putting insin-
cerity and fraud at the heart of the late medieval confrontation
with heresy. These themes were applied in a less overtly spiritual
context in fifteenth-century humanist satires advocating a con-
templative life, like Leon Battista Alberti’s Momo (1447), whose
title character mocked Vulcan for neglecting to install a window
into the human heart.23
According to Maurizio Viroli, the normative language of medi-
eval and early Renaissance politics remained ultimately Aristotel-
ian and chivalric, resting on a discourse of personal virtue. But
practice in Quattrocento Italy may have begun to shift: internal
memoranda and correspondence, from Medici-controlled Flor-
ence, Sforza-ruled Milan and Soderini’s Florentine republic,
point to the emergence of what Viroli recognizes as a new style
of discourse about the political. Instead of using accusations of
fraud to stigmatize the conduct of bad actors, these materials
reflect the elaboration of secrecy and dissimulation into some-
thing like a robust approach to rule and governing. The first pub-
lished works that modelled the new representation of politics as a
positive programme were written by men of moderate learning
but extensive experience in the affairs of their governments, and,
more specifically, in the discourse and practice of late fifteenth-
and early sixteenth-century Italy.24

William Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and
Early Modern Culture (Princeton, 1994), 16–24; Philippe Buc, The Dangers of Ritual:
Between Early Medieval Texts and Social Scientific Theory (Princeton, 2001), esp. 21–8,
33–4, 44, 166–71, etc.; John H. Arnold, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the
Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (Philadelphia, 2001), esp. 21–2, 49, 63–5,
73; Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State, 99–100. Cf. Quentin Skinner, The
Foundations of Modern Political Thought, paperback edn, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 2010),
i, 248–54.
Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State, 31–84, 132–5, 267; Skinner, Foundations of
Modern Political Thought, i, 88–101, 228–36; Gilbert, ‘Florentine Political
Assumptions in the Period of Savonarola and Soderini’; J. G. A. Pocock, The
Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican
Tradition (Princeton, 1975), 91–5; Joël Blanchard, Commynes l’Européen: l’invention
(cont. on p. 88)

Outside Italy, the Reformation drove new interest in the

problem of insincerity. In England and France, the tangled web
of religious division, unsettled dynastic politics and foreign inter-
ference created enormous and ultimately ineluctable problems of
suspect loyalty and treachery. Between the 1560 and 1580s,
‘politique’ became a term for those who feigned religion for tem-
poral, worldly reasons, helping to make the political the opposite
of sincerely intended religion.25 In both kingdoms, religious
division highlighted the difference between outward behaviour,
which could be made to conform to forms of worship and alle-
giance, and the interior conscience, which was impossible for the
authorities to access.26 Because consciences were invisible, her-
etics and traitors could be hiding in plain sight.
By the last quarter of the sixteenth century, the politic inter-
pretive apparatus became an object of fascination for Europe’s
intellectual avant-garde. This was the age of Tacitus, whose his-
tories were appropriated by Justus Lipsius and a legion of imita-
tors to construct commentaries on European affairs and princely
government; of the ars apodemica, a project for methodical travel
pioneered by humanists like Theodor Zwinger and Hugo Plotius;
and of the enormously popular works of Giovanni Botero,
which tried to reconcile ragion di stato with godly ambitions and
divine law.27

(n. 24 cont.)
du politique (Geneva, 1996), 17, 72–131; Schellhase, Tacitus in Renaissance Political
Thought, 124.
Arlette Jouanna et al., Histoire et dictionnaire des guerres de religion (Paris, 1998),
1210–13 (s.v. ‘Politiques’); Nicolai Rubinstein, ‘The History of the Word Politicus in
Early-Modern Europe’, in Pagden (ed.), Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern
Europe; Bireley, Counter-Reformation Prince; Viroli, From Politics to Reason of State.
Arthur J. Slavin, ‘Cromwell, Cranmer and Lord Lisle: A Study in the Politics of
Reform’, Albion, ix (1977); Perez Zagorin, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution,
and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), esp. 13, ch. 7; Peter
Lake and Michael Questier (eds.), Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church,
c.1560–1660 (Woodbridge, 2000); Peter Lake, ‘ ‘‘The Monarchical Republic of
Elizabeth I’’ Revisited (by its Victims) as a Conspiracy’, in Coward and Swann
(eds.), Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Europe; Denis Crouzet,
Le Haut Cœur de Catherine de Médicis: une raison politique aux temps de la Saint-
Barthélemy (Paris, 2005); Stefania Tutino, ‘Nothing but the Truth? Hermeneutics
and Morality in the Doctrines of Equivocation and Mental Reservation in Early
Modern Europe’, Renaissance Quarterly, lxiv (2011).
On this reading, treatises are relatively late entrants, producing what Gauchet
called a second-order discourse: Marcel Gauchet, ‘l’État au miroir de la raison d’état:
la France et la Chrétienté’, in Zarka (ed.), Raison et déraison d’état, 193; see also Andre
Wakefield, The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice
(cont. on p. 89)
Even at the apogee of learned interest, however, the politic
frame never drove out other ways of understanding and repre-
senting human conduct. As a counterpoint, it is useful to consider
briefly the nearly simultaneous development of neo-chivalry and
court ceremony. Ceremony has been the better-studied phenom-
enon: scholars have reconstructed pageants, tilts, royal iconog-
raphy and courtly protocol, in both theory and practice and with
meticulous detail. Ceremony was a critical site for communica-
tion and negotiation among actors and constituted an extremely
important aspect of courtly, diplomatic and legal life.28 It is curi-
ous to think of the ceremonial and politic systems of representa-
tion as contemporary accounts of the same affairs, sometimes
employed by the same people on different days.
Politic discourse has little to say about ceremony and chivalry,
but that little is not good. Machiavelli scandalized his readers by
insisting that the appearance or show of virtue was sometimes
more important than real virtue — a theme that was gradually
accepted even by Lipsius and Botero.29 Indeed, the notion that
courtly displays of virtue were simply shows and not real pervaded
politic discourse. In his reports, the diplomat Sir Henry Wotton
(who referred to himself on occasion as a ‘politique’ and was
perhaps the model for Ben Jonson’s clown Sir Politick Would-
Be) contrasted diplomatic ‘ceremony’ with the ‘substance’ of ne-
gotiations and used ceremonioso as the antonym of reale.30 In a

(n. 27 cont.)
(Chicago, 2009). On Tacitism, see nn. 8 and 13 above. On travel, see Justin Stagl,
A History of Curiosity: The Theory of Travel, 1550–1800 (Chur, 1995), esp. 49–128;
Rubiés, ‘Instructions for Travellers’. On Botero, see esp. Romain Descendre, L’État du
monde: Giovanni Botero entre raison d’état et géopolitique (Geneva, 2009).
Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450–1650 (Woodbridge,
1984); William Roosen, ‘Early Modern Diplomatic Ceremonial: A Systems
Approach’, Journal of Modern History, lii (1980); Richard C. Trexler, Public Life in
Renaissance Florence (Ithaca, 1991); Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice
(Princeton, 1981); Edward Muir, ‘The Eye of the Procession: Ritual Ways of Seeing in
the Renaissance’, in Nicholas Howe (ed.), Ceremonial Culture in Pre-Modern Europe
(Notre Dame, 2007); Brendan Kane, The Politics and Culture of Honour in Britain and
Ireland, 1541–1641 (Cambridge, 2010), esp. 4–16, 29.
Bireley, Counter-Reformation Prince, 224–5.
The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ed. Logan Pearsall Smith, 2 vols. (Oxford,
1907). For Wotton referring to himself as a ‘politique’, see Wotton to Winwood,
18 Nov. 1614: ibid., ii, 60. For opposing ceremonioso and reale, see Wotton to
Salisbury, 8/18 Sept.1609: ibid., i, 473. For opposing ‘ceremony’ and ‘substance’,
see Wotton to Carleton, 11 Oct. 1618: ibid., ii, 158; Wotton to James, 5 Mar. 1619:
ibid., ii, 165. Francesco Guicciardini posed a similar opposition between ‘substances’
(sustanze, sic) and ‘ceremonies’ (cerimonie): ‘Ricordi politici e civili’, in Francesco
(cont. on p. 90)

dispatch written in 1612, Wotton narrated his reception in Savoy

as ‘full of circumstances of great respect’ and ‘pomp’, but then
apologized for offering ‘nothing but visible matter’ and promised
to give a better account of ‘the more substantial part of my
employment’ in his next dispatch.31 For sophisticates like
Wotton, ceremonies were shows, not substance, and their main
use was to mislead the credulous. In ceremonies, the prince was
always pious, virtuous, just and mild; his court, gallant and sure;
his officers, wise; and his people, loving. Men and women were
placed in their proper order and rank, by honour. For politic
observers, such pageants were vain precisely because they were
not real.32
Indeed, it was precisely the appeal of politic reasoning that
it promised a more satisfying account of the ‘real’ than other
approaches. To create a ‘reality effect’, politic discourse con-
structed observed reality as false and offered a solution that
‘explained’ the truth.33 Politic reasoning heightened its claim to
represent the real by opposing itself to an imagined alternative:
unsophisticated readers who simply took events at face value (and
who would, for example, accept ceremonial representations un-
critically). The Ricordi of Francesco Guicciardini make regular
reference to these naı̈fs, the imprudenti.34 Being politic was thus a
sort of pose or attitude: ironic, sophisticated and superior to the
imagined cretins who failed to grasp the rudiments of analysis.35

(n. 30 cont.)
Guicciardini, Opere inedite, ed. Giuseppe Canestrini, 10 vols. (Florence, 1857–67), i,
96; Francesco Guicciardini, Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi), trans. Mario Domandi
(Philadelphia, 1972), 48 (C.26); Sharpe, Reading Revolutions, 222.
Wotton to the earl of Salisbury, 9 May 1612: Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton,
ed. Smith, ii, 6.
Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, mocked Queen Anne for being interested in
‘very little besides ceremonies and customs of courts and suchlike insignificant trifles’:
quoted in R. O. Bucholz, ‘ ‘‘Nothing but Ceremony’’: Queen Anne and the Limitations
of Royal Ritual’, Journal of British Studies, xxx (1991), 290. There is an obvious parallel
to Reformed attacks on Roman Catholic ceremonies. Critics often accused the
Catholic clergy of using the ‘show’ of ceremonies to manipulate the simple: Buc,
Dangers of Ritual, 164–76; Clark, Vanities of the Eye, ch. 5.
Roland Barthes, ‘The Reality Effect’, in Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language,
trans. Richard Howard, paperback edn (Berkeley, 1989); Hayden White, Tropics of
Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, paperback edn (Baltimore, 1985), 2–6; Viroli,
From Politics to Reason of State, 4.
Guicciardini, ‘Ricordi politici e civili’, in Guiccardini, Opere inedite, ed.
Canestrini, i, 92, 100; Guicciardini, Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi), 44 (C.19), 51
Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 38, 43.
The politic style had a more complex relationship to providen-
tialism, which represented events as the unfolding of a divine
plan.36 By the mid sixteenth century, followers of Machiavelli,
termed politiques in France or politı́cos in Spain, were criticized for
putting worldly interest above divine law. But their mistake was
not only ethical or moral. It also led to hermeneutic errors. For
Thomas Jackson, ‘speculative politicians’ and ‘politic discour-
sers’ were wasting their time:
The observation which many of them gather from the inspection of times
present or past, is of as little use for future ages, as an almanack of this year
is for the years following. Sooner may modern scholars prove extraordin-
ary husbandmen by observing Virgil’s calendar of the rising and setting of
the stars, or other rules of that ancient husbandry which he describes, than
pragmatical wits become wise statesmen by reading Tacitus, Livy, or
others, better acquainted with the mysteries of state, or princely secrets,
than with God’s providence.
Indeed, it was the ‘ignorance’ of the ‘essential subordination’ of
human intentions to ‘God’s irresistible providence’ that led even
‘the wisest amongst state wizards’ to ‘err’, and that ‘grossly’. For
Jackson, the success or failure of actions had little or nothing to do
with human intentions. God could, and often did, frustrate the
powerful and rescue the weak, ‘defeating cunning Plots’ and ‘ac-
complishing extraordinary Matters by Means ordinary’, the
better to remind onlookers of the insufficiency of their knowledge
and power.37
But there were structural similarities between providential and
politic analysis as well as differences. In his Advancement of
Learning (1605), Francis Bacon drew a series of explicit analogies
between politics and providence. ‘All governments’, Bacon ex-
plained, were ‘obscure and invisible’, just like ‘the government of
God over the world’. From the perspective of a man on earth, the
government of God ‘seemeth to participate of much irregularity
On providence, see Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in
Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (repr. London, 1991),
ch. 4; Blair Worden, ‘Providence and Politics in Cromwellian England’, Past and
Present, no. 109 (Nov. 1985); Alexandra Walsham, ‘ ‘‘The Fatall Vesper’’:
Providentialism and Anti-Popery in Late Jacobean London’, Past and Present, no.
144 (Aug. 1994); Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England.
Thomas Jackson, A Treatise of the Divine Essence and Attributes (1628), in The
Works of Thomas Jackson, D.D., ed. Barnabas Olney, new edn, 12 vols. (Oxford, 1844),
v, 502, 484, 389–90 and passim; Anne Jacobson Schutte, ‘An Early Stuart Critique of
Machiavelli as Historiographer: Thomas Jackson and the Discorsi’, Albion, xv (1983).
For politı́cos, see Fernández-Santamaria, Reason of State and Statecraft in Spanish
Political Thought, 18–20, 44–5.

and confusion’; but what seems to us ‘dark and shady . . . is in the

view of God as crystal’. Similarly, while to an ordinary subject
events might seem irregular and confused, to ‘princes and states’
their subjects seem relatively ‘clear and transparent’.38 Thus,
God himself is a politic prince, hiding his will from the world
and working behind a façade of contingency. Bacon extended
this analogy in discussing causes. The study of causes, Bacon
asserted, confirmed ‘divine providence’:
For as in civil actions he is the greater and deeper politique, that can make
other men the instruments of his will and ends and yet never acquaint
them with his purpose, so as they shall do it and yet not know what they
do, than he that imparteth his meaning to those he employeth; so is the
wisdom of God more admirable . . . than if he had communicated
to particular creatures and motions the character and impressions of
his providence.39
As his actions were hidden and his purposes veiled, God was the
model prudent actor. And as with any other Machiavellian actor,
it was sometimes possible to interpret divine action. To facilitate
this, Bacon advocated the preparation of a ‘History of
Providence’ that would demonstrate the ‘excellent correspond-
ence which is between God’s revealed will and his secret will’.40
Just as civil histories allowed people to understand the hidden
currents of human affairs, so providential histories unfolded
divine actions, allowing people to read the will of God.
God’s providence also played a major role in Philippe de
Commynes’s Mémoires (1524),41 a favourite of early Stuart politic
readers. For Commynes, God raised and cast down kingdoms by
either opening or closing the prince’s ear to wise counsel. In
‘waighty affaires’, Commynes concluded, ‘God disposeth the
hearts of Kings and great Princes, which he holdeth in his
hands, and directeth them into those waies that best serve for
the executing of his determinations’. God controlled the world
through human intentions, either permitting princes to follow
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, in The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron
of Verulam, Viscount of St Alban, and Lord High Chancellor of England, ed. James
Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Denon Heath, 15 vols. (London, 1857–
1905), iii, 474.
Ibid., iii, 359.
Ibid., iii, 341.
The Mémoires was published in 1552 under the title Les Mémoires de Messire
Philippe de Comines, chevalier, seigneur d’Argenton: sur les principaux faicts, et gestes de
Louis onzième et de Charles huictième, son fils, roys de France. Earlier versions were pub-
lished under different titles.
wise courses or dooming them to follow bad ones. Indeed,
Commynes insisted, ‘the greatest plague that God can lay upon
a realm, is to give them an unwise Prince’. When his counsellors
pressed Charles, duke of Burgundy, to retreat from the disastrous
siege at Nancy, ‘God would not give him grace to follow this wise
advice . . . so that he tooke the worst course, and by the advise of
certaine hairebrained fooles determined to hazard the battell’.
Similarly, when Louis XI erred in his attempt to seize the lands
of Burgundy after Charles’s death, Commynes wrote that God
‘did not . . . permit him to take the wisest course’.42 Commynes
maintained a role for divine action even as he gave up nothing to
Tacitus in the celebration and examination of fraud. This was part
of what made him so widely revered in England.43
A more radical critique of the politic style can be glimpsed in
the version of politics proposed by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes
regarded prudence as a distinctly inferior form of knowledge. It
is possible to read the Leviathan (1651) as Hobbes’s attempt to
construct a politics without fraud, arguing that rulers could
obtain firmer obedience from subjects through consent and
public recognition of the community of interest between the gov-
ernors and governed. Publicity and force become the central
dynamics of political life. Fraud survived primarily as ‘Pious
Fraud’, that is, as the problem of priestcraft. In Hobbes’s concep-
tion, fraud is an attribute of religion, not politics.44 This ac-
count of the political became enormously influential in later
Philippe de Commynes, The Historie of Philip de Commines Knight, Lord of
Argenton, trans. Thomas Danett (London, 1614, STC 5604), 163 (sig. P4r ),
54 (sig. F3v ), 155 (sig. O6r ), 162 (sig. P3v ).
Even as he downgraded Tacitus for neglecting the role of ‘heavenly providence in
the actions of men’, the early Stuart historian Edmund Bolton commended
Commynes as one ‘of those verie fewe Worthies, who respecting aswell the superior,
as the inferior Efficients of operations in the world, come near to accomplish the most
difficult dutie of good Historians’: Edmund Bolton, ‘Hypercritica: or, A Rule of
Judgment for Writing or Reading our Histories’, Bodleian Library, Oxford (hereafter
Bodleian Lib.), MS Wood F.9, 2–3. Commynes was also commended by Jackson as ‘a
man no way inferior to Machiavel in politic wit’ but with appropriate respect for
‘Divine Providence’: Jackson, A Treatise of the Divine Essence and Attributes, v, 483.
See n. 93 below.
Hobbes often compared prudence with a superstitious attitude towards causes:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck, revised edn (Cambridge, 1996), 22,
28, 37, 52–3, 78, 81, 87, 180. For the need to instruct the public in their true interest in
obedience, see ibid., 231–4, 254. For pious fraud, see ibid., 266, 291, 297, 304–5, 473–
82; Malcolm, Reason of State, Propaganda and the Thirty Years’ War. I thank Richard
Tuck for discussion on this point. Cf. Micheline Triomphe, ‘Hobbes et la raison
d’état’, in Zarka (ed.), Raison et déraison d’état.

centuries: so influential, indeed, that it has become difficult to

recover what problems politic reasoning was meant to solve.

Early Stuart diplomats were expected to discover what was going
on in Europe. Unfortunately, even for such privileged men, news
reports were deeply, even proverbially, unreliable.45 Reports were
frequently contradicted by later reports, only to be reconfirmed
and recontradicted, all without apology or embarrassment. In
1622 the Stuart agent Jean Beaulieu reported ‘twoe different
tales I have lately heard’ about the impending Spanish marriage
treaty. ‘Th’one’, Beaulieu wrote, ‘that the Infanta had nowe ac-
cepted of the Princes pictures; th’other contrarewise that she
desired her brother if he had no other match in Christendom
for her, rather to make her a nunne’.46 Contradiction did not
diminish Beaulieu’s credibility: reports were simply uncertain.
However, the central difficulty facing agents was not the unre-
liability of individual reports, which was fundamentally ineluct-
able, but their opacity. Even if a report were true, its meaning was
not always self-evident. In early 1621 the diplomat Sir Dudley
Carleton learned that the duke of Savoy was increasing the size of
his army, a report that could have been true or false. The report,
however, prompted a larger question: what was the duke up to?
His public declarations were no firm guide, for, as Carleton
wrote, the ‘pretence he makes to some is a continued Jealosie of
the Spaniards . . . to others, a purpose to assist the Austrians in
Germany; Sometimes they speake of an enterprise uppon Bearne,
Cust, ‘News and Politics in Early Seventeenth-Century England’; Joad
Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641–1649 (Oxford,
1996); Dooley, Social History of Skepticism; Brendan Dooley and Sabrina A. Baron
(eds.), The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe (London, 2001); Bellany,
Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England; Mario Infelise, ‘Roman Avvisi:
Information and Politics in the Seventeenth Century’, in Ginavittorio Signorotto
and Maria Antonietta Visceglia (eds.), Court and Politics in Papal Rome, 1492–1700
(Cambridge, 2002); David Randall, ‘Joseph Mead, Novellante: News, Sociability, and
Credibility in Early Stuart England’, Journal of British Studies, xlv (2006); de Vivo,
Information and Communication in Venice, 80–4, 89–106 and passim; David Randall,
Credibility in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Military News (London, 2008).
Jean Beaulieu to William Trumbull, 25 July 1622: BL, Add. MS 72254, fo. 130v;
Maurice Lee Jr, ‘The Jacobean Diplomatic Service’, American Historical Review, lxxii
(1967); Vivienne Larminie, ‘The Jacobean Diplomatic Fraternity and the Protestant
Cause: Sir Isaac Wake and the View from Savoy’, English Historical Review, cxxi
and then uppon Geneva’.47 Even given perfect knowledge of the
size of the duke’s army and his public declarations, Carleton
wrote, ‘no man can dive into the depth of his desseigns’.
Carleton’s colleague Sir Isaac Wake, stationed in Turin itself,
was no better informed: to ‘Conjecture of the Intentions of this
Prince’, Wake wrote, ‘is a Prerogative that God hath reserved
himselfe’. Indeed, Wake continued, ‘the Duke of Savoy doth
carry himselfe like Janus, w[i]th twoe faces, of w[hi]ch he doth
shew the one in publique unto all men and discover the other in
private unto a fewe’.48 The duke, they believed, was strategically
manufacturing multiple and conflicting announcements to baffle
observers and conceal his true aims.
This was not because the duke of Savoy was particularly mys-
terious.49 Among diplomats like Carleton and Wake it was widely
held that political actors did not speak their mind, but rather
practised, to greater or lesser degrees, the arts of prudence.
Each foreign prince was thought to be capable of dissembling,
or, as contemporaries often put it, ‘juggling’; that is, performing.50
Their actions or statements were not simple signs with self-evident
meanings, but, rather, misleading hints of their invisible inten-
tions. Reporting events was therefore not enough; reports had to
be interpreted. The agents themselves resorted to the language of
textual hermeneutics: Carleton and the former diplomatic secre-
tary John Castle were fond of saying that it was necessary to
‘glosse’ or ‘comment upon’ the ‘text’,51 while the secretary of
state Sir George Calvert preferred to ‘read the riddle’.52
Dudley Carleton to William Trumbull, 22 Feb. 1620/1: BL, Add. MS 72271,
fo. 75r.
Isaac Wake to Robert Naunton, 16/26 Oct. 1621: BL, Add. MS 18642, fos.
Though the duchy of Savoy faced a particularly treacherous situation, and
the duke had employed Botero himself as his children’s tutor: Larminie,
‘Jacobean Diplomatic Fraternity and the Protestant Cause’, 1308–12.
For example, [John Williams], ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’: BL, Add. MS 18651,
fo. 8r; Peter Moreton to William Moreton, 20 Dec. 1632: BL, Add. MS 33936, fo. 41r;
Report to Sir John Coke, 10 Jan. 1628/9: BL, Add. MS 64924, fo. 41r. On the cat-
egory of ‘juggling’, see Clark, Vanities of the Eye, ch. 3.
Carleton to Trumbull, 1 May 1616, 20 May 1617: BL, Add. MS 72270, fos. 12r,
66r; Castle to Trumbull, 8 Dec. 1616: BL, Add. MS 72275, fo. 17v; Castle to
Trumbull, 11 June 1624: BL, Add. MS 72276, fo. 99r.
Calvert to Salisbury, 12 Apr. 1623: Hatfield House, MS 130, fo. 76v. See also
Sharpe, Reading Revolutions, 183–4. In 1538 Miles Coverdale referred to events of
unclear significance as ‘dark places of the text’: quoted in Slavin, ‘Cromwell, Cranmer
and Lord Lisle’, 336.

Given the prevailing levels of deception, interpretation often

required ignoring an actor’s statements and focusing elsewhere.
One important technique was to identify an actor’s ‘interest’.53
Whatever an actor claimed to be doing, it might be presumed that
they would act to further their desires. In this sense, ‘interests’
were not well-defined, rational foundations for action and gov-
ernment, but instead rough heuristics for interpreting and pre-
dicting behaviour. For example, a memorandum written in 1615
analysing whether Spanish armies would quit the city of Wesel in
accordance with treaty obligations concluded that they probably
would not, since possession of Wesel would allow the king of
Spain easy access to Emden, ‘indubitably one of his principall
m[ar]kes’. Since possession of Wesel would aid the Spanish in
maturing their secret design against Emden, the memorandum
reasoned, the Spanish king was probably using ‘artificiall delaies’
to prolong negotiations for the surrender of Wesel.54 Through
dragging out the negotiations, the Spaniards would win time for
their garrison to dig in, making removal by force difficult. This
tactic was characteristic of Spain; according to the memoran-
dum’s author, that monarchy had employed the same approach
in drawing out the treaty of Xanten.55 In other words, if a par-
ticular tactical pattern had been used before, it might be possible
to recognize again. In Carleton’s words, one could ‘looke back to
what is past, consider what they see before theyr eyes, and there-
uppon frame’ a ‘Judgment of the future’.56 This approach
used historical parallels not only from antiquity, but from
Marchamont Nedham, Interest Will Not Lie, or, A View of England’s True Interest
. . . In Refutation of a Treasonable Pamphlet, Entituled, The Interest of England Stated
(London, 1659); Arthur Weststeijn, Commercial Republicanism in the Dutch Golden Age:
The Political Thought of Johan and Pieter de la Court (Leiden, 2012), 172–5; J. A. W.
Gunn, ‘ ‘‘Interest Will Not Lie’’: A Seventeenth-Century Political Maxim’, Journal of
the History of Ideas, xxix (1968).
‘The Question: Whether it bee P[ro]bable uppon the Whole Case that the
Spaniard will Render the Towne of Wesell’: Huntington Library, San Marino,
California (hereafter HL), EL 1599.
The notion that Spain was committed to ‘winning of time’ was a constant refrain.
In 1617, to explain the Spanish request for Lord Digby to be an ordinary rather than an
extraordinary ambassador, Francis Cottington explained that ‘5winning of time4 is
theyre cheefest ayme’: Cottington to Winwood, 3 Mar. 1616/17: Northamptonshire
Record Office, Northampton, MS Montagu, vol. 43, quoted in Report on the
Manuscripts of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry: Preserved at Montagu House,
Whitehall, 3 vols. (1899–1926), i, 183. Angle brackets indicate the use of cipher,
Carleton to Trumbull, 20/30 June 1622: BL, Add. MS 72273, fo. 31r.
recent events; and not as moral exemplars, but to recognize pat-
terned sequences.
Alongside strategic assessments and tactical recognition,
observers occasionally used a less conjectural interpretive aid:
the secret document stolen from a foreign court or intercepted
in transit. Secret documents had enormous explanatory power
because they appeared to reveal directly an otherwise hidden
design. According to one professional decipherer, a person
writing ‘in Cifre’ would be ‘made boulde and confident’ by the
‘care, Art, and secrecye’ of the cipher, and would unwisely impart
their ‘whole hart’ in their writings. Decoding such materials
would therefore reveal ‘the most materiall truthes and fals-
hoods’.57 Because they straddled the divide between the hidden
and the revealed, ‘secret documents’ had a privileged status.
Unlike public actions or statements, intercepted or stolen secret
material was taken to be transparent.58 Secret dispatches that
supported a regime’s public statements could reinforce faith in
those statements, while contrary documents could throw negoti-
ations into turmoil.
A series of intercepted ‘secret documents’ rocked the world of
British diplomacy in the early 1620s. The situation, in brief, was
this: during the early years of what would become the Thirty Years
War, the lands of Frederick V, elector palatine, were occupied by
imperial, Bavarian and Spanish forces. Frederick was King
James’s son-in-law, and James hoped to win back his grandchil-
dren’s patrimony through diplomacy. It was suspected, however,
that the emperor would transfer Frederick’s hereditary title of
imperial elector to the duke of Bavaria in reward for his aid against
Frederick. The emperor had promised British envoys that no
such plan was in operation. Nevertheless, in late 1621 a series
of letters from the emperor to his agents in Madrid were inter-
cepted, revealing the emperor’s duplicity. British diplomats and
agents across Europe accorded the letters a privileged status.
‘5By theese letters4’, Lord John Digby wrote in cipher, ‘it5evi-
dently appears4’ that the emperor ‘5alwais4’ had ‘5an intent4’
to transfer the electorate to the duke of Bavaria notwithstanding
his assurances to the contrary.59
Petition from a decipherer, c.1630s: BL, Add. MS 69885, fo. 37r.
Cf. Bulman, ‘Practice of Politics’, 45.
Angle brackets indicate the use of cipher, as indicated in n. 55 above. John Digby
to Walter Aston, 23 Dec. 1621: BL, Add. MS 36445, fo. 319v. See also [Ludwig
(cont. on p. 98)

A second letter, intercepted in February 1622 and allegedly

from the emperor’s secretary, again discussed the secret agenda
of the imperial–Bavarian entente, this time describing the ‘urgent
Causes and reasons’ why the emperor’s ‘Intencon’ to confer the
electorate on Bavaria ‘could not be hitherto published’. The plan,
the secretary insisted, had to remain secret until ‘a Cessation of
both sides frome Armes’ was obtained.60 Announcing the em-
peror’s plan would hinder the truce; but once the truce was
secured, the emperor’s secret ‘Intencon’ could be fulfilled. This
letter reframed the truce not as a concession, but instead as part of
the larger Habsburg plot to effect their designs. The incident
prompted Sir Dudley Carleton to expound the mechanics of
the interpretive system: ‘The substance that we have in owr
hands by intercepted letters’, Carleton explained, allowed the
British ‘toccar con la mano [to reach out and touch] the secret
dessignes and inward thoughts of owr Ennemies’.61
Yet questions lingered: the emperor and the duke of Bavaria
were clearly aligned against the Palatines, but was Spain impli-
cated as well? The next secret document, intercepted by Sir Isaac
Wake in June 1622, addressed exactly this point. These were ap-
parently letters from a cardinal at Rome to a Capuchin in Spain
suggesting that the emperor had obtained the king of Spain’s con-
sent to transferring the electorate, ‘expressed [in] these formall
wordes Habemus votum Regis Hispain[iae] pro translatione elec-
toratus [We have the agreement of the king of Spain for translating
the electorate]’.62 This text appeared directly to contradict the
king of Spain’s assurances that he would co-operate with Britain
to have Frederick’s lands and titles restored, and to confirm that
Spain was misleading James. Wake sent the intercepted letter
back to England via an extraordinary messenger ‘w[i]t[h] great

(n. 59 cont.)
Camerarius], Cancellaria Hispanica: adjecta sunt ACTA publica, Hoc est: scripta et epis-
tolae authenticae, a quibus partim infelicis belli in Germania, partim proscriptionis in
Electorem Palatinum scopus praecipuus apparet: item flores Scioppiani, ex Classico belli
sacri ([Amsterdam], 1622), title page and sig. Q2v; ‘The Passages and Occurrences
w[hi]ch Happened from the First Acceptation of the Crowne of Bohemia by the
Palsgrave’: BL, Stowe MS 283, fo. 29v; Robert Zaller, ‘ ‘‘Interest of State’’: James I
and the Palatinate’, Albion, vi (1974); Malcolm, Reason of State, Propaganda and the
Thirty Years’ War.
Letter from the emperor’s secretary, Feb. 1622: HL, EL 6904.
Carleton to Trumbull, 9 Feb. 1621/2: BL, Add. MS 72272, fo. 10r.
Wake to Sir George Calvert, 25 June 1622: BL, Add. MS 48166, 200r.
speede’, where the secretary of state George Calvert found it to
‘discover playnely yt there is ill dealing’ and dispatched a copy to
Lord Digby in Spain.63 The letters, Wake acknowledged, con-
tained ‘very playne language’ that would not be acceptable to
everyone in the British service. ‘I could hartily wish that my intel-
ligence were as false as it hath been supposed to be in some
places’, Wake continued, ‘but although Cassandra was audita &
non credita [heard and not believed], hir prophecyes were con-
firmed by events’.64
The letters were not, in fact, believed by everyone, and Lord
Digby raised an important concern. According to Digby, the
latest letter was not a genuine secret document at all but instead
a ‘Counterfait thing’, ‘an imposture’ or ‘meere forgerie’ manu-
factured ‘to rayse mistrust’.65 ‘Of late’, Digby explained to
Calvert, it had become ‘an ordinarie practise’ among the resident
diplomats to ‘fayne’ secret internal documents from the Spanish
court. These forged documents were then ‘cunningly con-
veyghed’ into the ‘hands’ of other diplomats ‘w[i]t[h] pretention
yt they have bin stolen from the ministers & secretaries of state’.
Digby himself had lately been offered ‘a paper by one who
pretended to have stolen yt from ye studie of Don Balthazar de
Çuinga, where he sayd his secretaries did imploye him to copie
out papers’. Suspicious of this supposed thief, Digby ‘caused
him to be locked up in a low darke roome’, where the poor
fellow eventually ‘confessed’ that he was in the employ of the
French ambassador, ‘& that the pap[er]s he brought were meerely
forged to be given unto me’.66 In other words, the use of secret
documents had become such a well-known practice among dip-
lomats that there had developed a parallel practice of introducing
forged secret documents into circulation in an attempt to raise
false suspicions.
This was, in some ways, a recursive nightmare. The statements
and actions of princes could not be treated as transparent, and
had to be deciphered and interpreted; the surest guides to this
interpretation were secret documents. But since there was no
straightforward and legitimate way to acquire a secret document,
Calvert to Digby, 9 July 1622: BL, Add. MS 48166, fo. 149r.
Wake to Trumbull, 18 July 1622: BL, Add. MS 72322, fo. 31r.
Digby to Trumbull, 26 Aug. 1622: BL, Add. MS 72285, fo. 81v; Digby to
Calvert, 8 Aug. 1622: BL, Add. MS 48166, fos. 74r–75r.
Digby to Calvert, 8 Aug. 1622: BL, Add. MS 48166, fos. 74r–75r.

its own authenticity would always remain questionable, and often

rightly so. The politic interpretive method was thus endlessly
iterative. A layer of action or discourse could be treated as
problematic and deceptive, and a deeper level of intention
revealed; then that layer could be treated as problematic, reveal-
ing deeper intentions. There was nowhere obvious for the inter-
pretive project to stop.67 This flexibility was a source of both
weakness and strength.

For men like Digby, Carleton and Wake, the politic interpretive
frame was not an inborn disposition of the mind: rather, it was a
skill that could be learned and developed through education. The
best education was experience: observing negotiations, listening
to wise counsellors debate, making errors and learning from
them. Experience of this kind was normally reserved for young
princes. The tutors of the young Louis XIII tried vainly to interest
their charge in Tacitus, while the earl of Salisbury arranged for
James I’s teenage heir to attend Privy Council meetings to
‘mould’ his ‘Mind’, and forwarded him the ‘last dispatch from
Ho[l]land, ye reading wherof will evry day prove more proper for
ye Prince of Bretany, then Aristotle or Cicero’.68 Very few chil-
dren were accorded this sort of education from the cradle. In this
section I shall discuss three different modes of politic education:
conversation, travel and reading.
One of the main ways to develop the capacity for politic analysis
was to spend time with someone who already knew how to do it.
Robert Johnson, whose Essays pressing the points of ‘civil
wisdom’ went through four editions between 1601 and 1638,
urged his readers ‘to endeavour to understand al occurences’
and ‘to confer concerning the news of the world with men
Grafton, What Was History?, 58.
Earl of Salisbury to Adam Newton, n.d.: BL, Harley MS 7002, fos. 87r, 95r.
Similar advice about reading less Aristotle and more relazioni can be found in the
‘Instrut[tione] per . . . Cardinal Mont’Alto’ (1587), in Tesoro politico: cioè, relationi,
instruttioni . . . di ambasciatori (‘Cologne’, 1598), 673; Simone Testa, ‘Travellers’
Accounts, Historians and Ambassadors in the Sixteenth Century’, in Jane Conroy
(ed.), Cross-Cultural Travel: Papers from the Royal Irish Academy Symposium on Literature
and Travel, National University of Ireland, Galway, November 2002 (New York, 2003),
34. For Louis XIII, see Soll, ‘Healing the Body Politic’, 1271–7. See also Soll,
Information Master, 84–93.
expert’. By ‘men expert’ Johnson meant those ‘of a deepe insight’
who were ‘not carried away with appara[n]ces’ but could look
beyond them to ‘spy . . . covert designes’ and ‘intentions’.69
Similar advice abounds, and it seems likely that many of the
groups identified as reading circles might also, or might better,
be thought of as talking circles. Such conversations have left some
traces. John Rous recorded conversations with his neighbours on
matters of state over the course of years. William Drake, a
Bedfordshire landowner, discussed prudence, foreign affairs
and the works of Guicciardini, Machiavelli and Tommaso
Campanella with a circle of friends including the Middle
Temple attorney Charles Potts and Potts’s brother-in-law, a
man named Sadler.70
Learning to produce sophisticated, politic discourse was also
thought to be one of the main fruits of foreign travel. The meth-
odical instructions for travel known as the ars apodemica were
mainly composed by German humanists, but English translations
appeared rapidly: Hieronymus Turlerus’ De peregrinatione (1574)
was printed in English as The Traveiler of Ierome Turler (1575);
Albertus Meierus’ Methodus describendi regiones (1587) waited
only slightly longer to be printed as Certaine Briefe, and Speciall
Instructions (1589); and of three hundred printed epistles of
Lipsius, the only one to be printed in English before 1640 was
the twenty-second, appearing in 1592 as A Direction for
Travailers.71 Travel methods composed by Englishmen were, if
anything, more preoccupied with politic observations than their
continental counterparts. Thomas Palmer emphasized that ‘the
very point which every Travailer ought to lay his witts about’ was
Robert Johnson, Essaies: or, Rather Imperfect Offers (London, 1613, STC 14697),
sig. D1r; Benjamin, ‘Bacon and Tacitus’, 103; Andrew Fitzmaurice, ‘American
Corruption’, in John F. McDiarmid (ed.), The Monarchical Republic of Early Modern
England: Essays in Response to Patrick Collinson (Aldershot, 2007), esp. 222–3, 229;
Andrew Fitzmaurice, ‘The Commercial Ideology of Colonization in Jacobean
England: Robert Johnson, Giovanni Botero, and the Pursuit of Greatness’, William
and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., lxiv (2007).
Drake notes: University College London (hereafter UCL), Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 2r;
HL, HM 55603, fos. *3r–*4r, *7v, *10r. See also Sharpe, Reading Revolutions, 123 and
W. H. Greenleaf, Order, Empiricism and Politics: Two Traditions of English Political
Thought, 1500–1700 (Oxford, 1964), 172, 174–5; Grafton, What Was History?, 118–
22, 200; Stagl, History of Curiosity; Rubiés, ‘Instructions for Travellers’, 163–70;
Popper, Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late
Renaissance, 66–8, 174–7.

to acquire ‘the utensils, and materialls of States men’. A man who

did not travel — in Palmer’s phrase, a ‘home States man’ — relied
entirely on ‘other mens eyes’; first-hand observation produced
better results. Palmer listed leading questions to help travellers
to analyse a state’s government, estimate the ‘populousnesse or
scarcitie of people’, judge the strength of urban and coastal for-
tifications, and generally to collect ‘plentie of matter to plot poli-
cies upon’, making travellers into ‘good States-men’.72 Another
letter of advice (attributed to Sir Philip Sidney) reminded readers
that travel was intended to furnish the traveller with ‘knowledge of
such things as may bee serviceable for your Country & calling’.
These serviceable ‘things’, Sidney explained, were not customs or
languages but instead matters like
legues betwixt Prince and Prince; the Topographicall description of each
Country, how the one lyes by scituation to hurt or helpe the other, how
they are to Sea, well harbored or not, how stored with shippes, how with
Revenue, how with fortification & Garrisons, how the people, warlike
trained or kept under, with many other such warlike considerations.73
Sidney’s advice helped travellers to distinguish between rele-
vant information — leagues, fortifications, revenues — and irrele-
vant information, such as differing customs.
A number of schemes promised to help travellers to conduct
this sort of survey. Palmer’s Essay included lists of questions and
topics for enquiry, arranged into Ramist tables. The Pollitick
Survey of a Kingdome, composed between 1606 and 1612, pro-
mised to teach an aspiring ‘statest’ how to make himself ‘inwardly
acquainted with forraigne Countrys’ to make him capable of
being ‘a Councellor in his owne’. A proper survey should include
information about a kingdom’s size, geographical situation, rela-
tionship with neighbours; the quantity and quality of the prince’s
Thomas Palmer, An Essay of the Meanes How to Make our Travailes, into Forraine
Countries, the More Profitable and Honourable (London, 1606, STC 19156), 52–3, 81,
Printed in Robert, late earl of Essex, Sir Philip Sidney and Secretary Davison,
Profitable Instructions: Describing What Speciall Observations Are to be Taken by Travellers
in All Nations, States and Countries, Pleasant and Profitable (London, 1633, STC 6789),
78–85; see also Paul E. J. Hammer, ‘Letters of Travel Advice from the Earl of Essex to
the Earl of Rutland: Some Comments’, Philological Quarterly, lxxiv (1995). Compare
Sir Arthur Capell’s ‘Resons Agaynst the Travellinge of my Grandchyld Arthur Capell
into the Parts Beyond the Seas’ (c.1624). The first reason is ‘his caleinge is to be a
countery gentillman, wherein ther is lyttell or no use of forrane experiencs’; among the
others is that, if young Capell stays at home, ‘he maye be a good staye and helpe to his
owld and weake grandfather’. Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, Hertford,
MS 8641.
subjects; his revenues and fiscal resources; his expenses; and even
the ‘quallities’ of the prince’s ‘mind’: his dispositions towards
‘trust’ or ‘distrust’, ‘abilitie of witt’ and inclinations towards con-
quest or peace.74 Examples of such surveys were widely available.
Handwritten copies of Italian relazioni circulated throughout
Europe, while the Thesoro politico, which went through fifteen
Italian, Latin and French printed editions between 1589 and
1618, offered readers a trove of relazioni, accounts of papal con-
claves and diplomatic instructions; through perusing the contents
diligently, a later edition promised, readers could attain a ‘perfect
understanding of reason of state’.75 English-language surveys
were drawn up by diplomats and travellers: Robert Dallington’s
View of Fraunce and Survey of the Great Dukes State of Tuscany were
printed in 1604 and 1605, respectively, while Sir Charles
Cornwallis’s State of Spain (1607) and Sir George Carew’s
Description of France (1609) circulated widely in manuscript.76
Although Palmer praised the judgement of the traveller over the
judgement of the ‘home States man’, he conceded that it was
possible to learn a great deal merely through reading. Relevant
materials included prudence manuals, which circulated widely in
both handwriting and print. One of the most remarkable was a set
of ‘notable and excellent Instructions’ attributed to Cardinal

The Pollitick Survey of a Kingdome: Bodleian Lib., MS Rawlinson C878, fos. 10r–
18r. The tract is dedicated to James’s Scottish favourite the earl of Dunbar, so it seems
to date from the period between the earl’s creation in 1605 and his death in 1611. A
similar tract can be found in Bodleian Lib., MS Tanner 103, fos. 1r–2r. See also
Donald E. Queller, ‘How to Succeed as an Ambassador: A Sixteenth Century
Venetian Document’, in Joseph R. Strayer and Donald E. Queller (eds.), Post
Scripta: Essays on Medieval Law and the Emergence of the European State in Honor of
Gaines Post (Rome, 1972).
perfetta intelligenza della Ragion di Stato: Thesoro politico (Frankfurt, 1612),
sig.)?(4r; Simone Testa, ‘Per una interpretazione del Thesoro politico (1589)’, Nuovo
Rivista Storica, lxxxv (2001). I thank Nina Lamal for directing me to this article. See
also de Vivo, Information and Communication in Venice, 58–70.
Robert Dallington, The View of Fraunce (London, 1604, STC 6202); Robert
Dallington, A Survey of the Great Dukes State of Tuscany (London, 1605, STC
6201). Copies of Cornwallis’s survey of Spain include Bodleian Lib., MS
Rawlinson C929, fos. 1r–18v; BL, Add. MSS 4149, fos. 133r–152v; 39853, fos.
150r–161v; Harley MS 295, fos. 240r–248v; Hertfordshire Archives and Local
Studies, Hertford, MS VIII.B.139 (notes); Cornwall Record Office, Truro, Eliot
MS 655/6, fos. 128r–155v; University of London Special Collections, Senate
House, London, MS 305, fos. 1r–21v. Copies of Carew’s survey of France include
Beinecke Library, New Haven, Osborn fb20; BL, Add. MS 48062, fos. 60r–133v; HL,
HM 41951; Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, 44M69/G2/12; Sheffield
Archives, Sheffield, WWM/MS/5; St John’s College, Cambridge, MS L.18.

Niccolò Caetani di Sermonetta (d. 1585) and supposedly written

for the use of his young cousin Don Pedro, sent to serve the prince
of Parma in the wars in the Netherlands in the 1580s.
‘Sermonetta’ advised his cousin to write newsletters, to collect
maxims concerning the tools of statecraft and warfare, and to
practise the three arts of dissimulation: by silence, by speech
and by deed.77 A set of regulae politiae drawn up by John
Ramsey (fl. 1601–33) seem never to have matured beyond draft
form; but in them Ramsey imagined advising ‘a younge Statist’ in
politic conduct.78
Many readers approached the Essays of Francis Bacon with
similar purposes. First published in 1597, Bacon’s Essays went
through eleven English editions before 1640.79 Dissembling and
cunning were hugely important themes. In his Advancement of
Learning, Bacon made politic observation a branch of knowledge.
A large section of the work’s second book was devoted to giving a
‘description of a Politic man’, whose ‘precepts’ could be counted
among the bonae artes.80 For proper understanding, Bacon con-
cluded, one had to ‘procure good informations of particulars
touching persons, their natures, their desires and ends, their
customs and fashions, their helps and advantages’. Such obser-
vations ‘touching persons and actions are as the minor propos-
itions in every active syllogism’. Unfortunately, the relevant
information was concealed, often intentionally, by cunning men
who shielded their conduct and aims in misdirection. It was, how-
ever, ‘possible’ to pierce this veil, and Bacon outlined ‘instruc-
tions’ for ‘obtaining’ the requisite information: to be alert to
changes in ‘countenance’ and fashion and to words uttered

HL, HM 41952, fos. 1r–21v. Other written copies include Bodleian Lib., MS
Bodley 966, 421–9; BL, Harley MS 1877, fos. 33r–37r; Society of Antiquaries,
London, MS 258, fos. 22r–42v. Printed as Instructions for Young Gentlemen: or, The
Instructions of Cardinall Sermonetta to his Cousen Petro Caetano, at his First Going into
Flanders to the Duke of Parma, to Serve Philip King of Spaine (Oxford, 1633, STC
11514). Reading notes from this text survive in the papers of Justinian Pagitt and
William Drake: BL, Harley MS 1026, fos. 63r–64v (Pagitt); UCL, Ogden MS 7/7,
fos. 41r–42v (Drake).
‘Regulae politiae generales’; Bodleian Lib., MS Douce 280, fos. 77r–79v.
Francis Bacon, Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral, in Works of Francis Bacon, ed.
Spedding, Ellis and Heath, vol. vi; Tuck, Philosophy and Government, 108–15; Keller,
‘Mining Tacitus’, 198–200.
Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis and
Heath, iii, 471.
thoughtlessly or in passion, to mistrust deeds as well as words, and
to explore people’s natures and ends.81
Most authors insisted, however — and it was an oft-repeated
commonplace — that one of the best ways to acquire civil wisdom
was to read history. This assessment of the importance and use of
history was echoed endlessly.82 It also reappeared in actual letters
of advice. Upon discovering that his kinsman James Milles had a
taste for study, the minor crown official John Castle decided to
give him the fruit of his experience. ‘If yow will give me any
creditt’, John Castle wrote, ‘apply your studdyes to go over the
course of Histories, which shall more inhable your judgement in
one day then all that other thorny learning in a weeke’. Castle
served as a diplomatic secretary early in King James’s reign and
was well regarded as a politic observer by agents and privy coun-
cillors throughout the early Stuart era.83 It is therefore important
that he insisted that this course of study represented ‘the paths,
wherein my selfe have walked with much satisfaction’.
To explain history’s use, Castle pointed out that ‘old men’ were
treated almost as ‘Oracles’ based on the common ‘opinion’ that,
in the course of their long lives, they had ‘observed much; and out
of that observation and collection are able to make (as out of
premisses) a judicious syllogisme of the occurrences to come’.
But, Castle continued,
if collections of Contingents within the compasse of fowerscore or a hun-
dred yeares have power to give so great strength and vivacity to the under-
standing and judgement of a man, and to make him grave and venerable,
What great effects then can not History yeald a diligent and observing
Ibid., iii, 456–9.
According to one anonymous author, history served as a substitute for experience
(‘knowledge wytheowt experyence’), giving students ‘a p[er]fectnis and an excellencye
in a shorter space’. Through reading, men would become ‘in younge age . . . prudente
councelloures, and in small experience pollitique Capytaynes’. Fragment, Alnwick
Castle, Alnwick, MS 8, fo. 4r. Robert Johnson agreed: ‘by opening to us the plots,
which gave the life to all the actions’, he urged, history ‘teacheth more then 20 men
living, successively, can learne by practise’: Johnson, Essaies, sig. D2r. For more ex-
amples, see Greenleaf, Order, Empiricism and Politics, 98–103, 173–4; Mark Morford,
‘Tacitean Prudentia and the Doctrines of Justus Lipsius’, in T. J. Luce and A. J.
Woodman (eds.), Tacitus and the Tacitean Tradition (Princeton, 1993), esp. 133–8;
Popper, Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late
Renaissance; Millstone, ‘Plot’s Commonwealth’, ch. 1.
Castle’s correspondence with the Brussels agent William Trumbull between
1616 and 1625 is preserved in BL, Add. MSS 72275, 72276; his correspondence
with the earl of Bridgewater between 1639 and 1640 is in HL, EL 7807–7863.
Castle to Milles, c.1615: BL, Cotton MS Titus B VII, fos. 463r–464r.

Castle’s assessment repays careful reading. Based on ‘observa-

tion[s]’, a careful reasoner could make some sort of conjecture ‘of
the occurrences to come’; that is, could predict the course of
events. Like Bacon, Castle likened this sort of reasoning to
formal logic: the observations themselves were like ‘premisses’,
and the reasoning towards likely conclusion was like a ‘syllo-
gisme’.85 Under such a rubric, the use of history was clear.
Much as travel provided ‘observations’ to ‘plot upon’, history
provided larger ‘collections of Contingents’ out of which to
form ‘observations’: an expanded repertoire of tactical patterns,
of possible causes and consequences to amplify judgement.
It was, however, necessary to have the right histories.86 The
works Castle had in mind allowed students to read about
the Counsells and secrett deliberations of the greatest princes such as were
handled in their Cabinetts and Councell Chambers, the Resolutions of
peace and ware, negotiations of publike ministers, the acts and occurrents
of private men, the chayne of causes, knitting one thing with an other, the
Judgements and mercies of God, &cs.87
Causes, counsels, secret deliberations, negotiations: these
were things one could not access in one’s own time; that is, pre-
cisely what the politic interpretive framework took to be most
obscure in the present. Good history removed the veil that
hung over past events.
Not all sorts of history did this. Johnson warned that romantic
histories, which concentrated on setting forth ‘vertue . . . in her
best ornaments’, ‘fail’ to help ‘manage . . . civil actions’. The
A similar argument was advanced by Johnson. The way ‘to foresee the successe’
of any action was ‘conjecture’, a vague form of deliberation that was normally ‘obscure
& incertaine’. Experience, however, could provide a guide. For the experienced man,
‘by comparing things passed, presupposeth out of the same causes, the same effects’.
Johnson, Essaies, sig. C8v. Johnson’s comments on observation and the similitudo
temporum are verbally close to the travel instructions attributed to the second earl of
Essex. For Essex, the ‘use of Observation’ proceeds by ‘noting the coherence of causes,
effects, counsels, and successes, with the proportion and likenesse betweene Nature
and Nature, Fortune and Fortune, Action and Action, State and State, Time past and
Time present’: Profitable Instructions, 64–5 (sigs. E8v–F1r). For Johnson, ‘by this ob-
servation of noting causes and effects, counsels and successes, likenesse between
nature and nature, action and action, fortune and fortune, is obtained that wisdome,
which teacheth us to deliberate’: Johnson, Essaies, sig. D1v. On the similitudo temporum,
see Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, 115; Grafton, What Was History?, 205.
Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, ch. 7; Stuart Clarke, ‘Bacon’s Henry VII: A Case-
Study in the Science of Man’, History and Theory, xiii (1974); F. J. Levy, ‘Hayward,
Daniel, and the Beginnings of Politic History in England’, Huntington Library
Quarterly, l (1987), esp. 8–9.
Castle to Milles, c.1615: BL, Cotton MS Titus B VII, fo. 463v.
better kinds of history were ‘like labyrinths, relating cunning &
deceitful friendships, how rage is suppressed with silence, treason
disguised in innocence’. While these histories were less useful as
spurs to virtue and less delightful, they were ‘of most use in
instructing the minde to the like accidents’.88 In the Advancement
of Learning, Bacon likewise distinguished between ‘memorials’, the
‘first or rough drafts of history’, which were merely sequential,
‘a continuance of the naked events and actions, without the mo-
tives or designs, the counsels, the speeches, the pretexts, the oc-
casions, and other passages of action’; overly comprehensive
‘History of the Times’ that were concerned ‘rather’ to ‘set
for[th] the pomp of business than the true and inward resorts
thereof’; and interior histories that represented ‘the events them-
selves together with the counsels’. When mixed with ‘politic dis-
course’, these last became a sort of ‘Ruminated History’, and
were more or less ‘books of policy’.89
These distinctions were repeated in private correspondence.
Christopher Wandesford recommended as the ‘best, and most
usefull’ histories those ‘w[hi]ch doe not onely narratively give
yow the times’, but rather ‘togeather w[i]th the storie deliver
yow the concurrancie of actions: observaccons and reasons, cau-
seinge such Events, moveinge such alteracons as they mention’.
Bad histories pointed out only the ‘visible Mutations’ and ‘appar-
ent acts by the outward hand’, while good histories also revealed
‘the inward agitations of the workes within’.90 They opened the
door to what was ordinarily hidden in present action.
Readers interested in cultivating politic observational tech-
niques obsessively read and reread the historical works thought
to be most useful for that purpose. Much scholarship has focused
Johnson, Essaies, sig. D2r–v.
Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis and
Heath, iii, 333–9. Francesco Dal Pozzo (d. 1490), Tacitus’ fifteenth-century editor,
praised Tacitus for faithfully explicating the true causes of events (de eventu vero omnes
causas explicat), and Girolamo Canini (d. 1626) praised him for representing ‘not only
outward actions . . . but also the most secret of thoughts’: both quoted in Burke,
‘Tacitism’, 154. François Baudouin similarly preferred history that laid bare the
causes of events (non solum eventa, sed et causas eorum, et cum consiliis facta describat):
quoted in Grafton, What Was History?, 71–2. See also Greenleaf, Order, Empiricism and
Politics, 216–19.
Wandesford’s advice: Sheffield Archives, Sheffield, WWM/MS/4, fos. 11r–v;
printed as Christopher Wandesford, A Book of Instructions . . . Written by Sir Christr.
Wandesforde . . . to his Son and Heir George Wandesforde, in Order to the Regulating the
Conduct of his Whole Life, ed. Thomas Comber (Cambridge, 1777).

on the reception of Tacitus and so-called ‘Tacitism’, but classical

historians in general, and Tacitus in particular, were not out-
standing favourites. Those interested in politic reading drew on
an eclectic range of source material.91 Castle, for example, put
particular emphasis on modern works. ‘For yor use’, he told
Milles, ‘putt your paynes upon the french, Spanish, Turkish,
and low-Countryes storyes, which’, Castle observed, had been
‘excellently translated’.92 The aspiring politic William Drake
listed prudent princes alongside the historical works in which
they could be found: ‘One may see Tyberius acting his part in
the 6 first bookes of Tacitus and Suetonius’, he wrote, ‘Paule the
3d in the Trent Councell’, ‘Lues 11th in Comines’, ‘Leo 10th in
Guicchardine’ and ‘Henry the 7th in Lord Bacon’.93 In Drake’s
list, Tacitus and Suetonius were joined by modern writers like
Sarpi, Commynes, Guicciardini and Bacon.
The Mémoires of Philippe de Commynes (1447–1511) were
certainly one of the most widely read and revered politic histories
in early Stuart England.94 Strangely, despite his massive presence
in notebooks and commonplace books and his regular citation in
political tracts and sermons, scholars of early Stuart political
thinking almost never mention him. Written in the 1490s and
first printed in 1524, Commynes’s Mémoires was a narrative of
late fifteenth-century French politics written from his own per-
spective as a courtier and royal adviser. He drew on his experience
to depict numerous scenes of counsel. In each, he described the
Bireley, Counter-Reformation Prince, 32; Harro Höpfl, ‘History and Exemplarity
in the Work of Lipsius’, in Erik de Bom et al. (eds.), (Un)masking the Realities of Power:
Justus Lipsius and the Dynamics of Political Writing in Early Modern Europe (Leiden,
Castle to Milles, c.1615: BL, Cotton MS Titus B VII, fo. 463v.
Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 147r.
William J. Bouwsma, ‘The Politics of Commynes’, Journal of Modern History,
xxiii (1951); Blanchard, Commynes l’Européen. For example, the notes of Edmund
Pudsey, c.1600–16 (Bodleian Lib., MS Eng. poet. d. 3, fos. 68r–69r ); of Peter
Manwood and John May, c.1617–21 (BL, Harley MS 1759, fo. 24r ); of Thomas
Scott of Canterbury, c.1626 (Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, U951/Z16,
fos. 98r–105v ); of Edward Hyde, c.1630s (Bodleian Lib., MS Clarendon 127, fos.
64r–71r ); and of John Fitz-James, c.1640–2 (Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, MS 555).
Commynes was also listed among books to read by William Drake (HL, HM
55603, inside flyleaf; see also n. 92 above); and by John Ramsey in his ‘Methodus
historijs legendis’ (Bodleian Lib., MS Douce 280, fos. 83r–84v ). Dallington com-
mended him as one of the French authors ‘I most approove’, noting it as a ‘great
pitie’ that the Mémoires were ‘written in no better French’: Dallington, View of
Fraunce, sig. V4r. Bolton and Jackson both praised Commynes (over Tacitus and
Machiavelli, respectively). See n. 42 above.
problem under discussion, various solutions suggested by the
prince’s counsellors, the prince’s ultimate decision and whether
Commynes thought the decision was right or wrong.95 These
scenes fulfilled, or possibly inspired, the dictum that politic his-
tories should reveal the ‘counsels’ behind actions. At the time,
these discussions were secret, but Commynes’s status allowed
him access to the inside story.
In a larger sense, the division between inside and outside was
the governing conceit of the whole work. The world of the
Mémoires was full of treachery, falsehood and peril. Actors con-
stantly sought to veil their actions with disinformation and false
reports. In its Elizabethan translation, actors continually ‘prac-
tise’ against each other, ‘temporize’ and ‘dissemble’ their true
intentions.96 For Commynes, actors were either suspicious,
sophisticated purveyors of deception, or naı̈fs and gulls. He
scorned the mutinous burgesses of Ghent as ‘beasts’, meaning
not that they were violent, but that they were ‘unacquainted with
those subtle practises’ so familiar to Commynes’s hero Louis XI
of France.97
The Mémoires modelled two actors with contrasting qualities.
Charles the Bold, last duke of Burgundy, was portrayed as a miles
gloriosus figure of limited acuity, harbouring a vain desire for glory.
He was bold, le Téméraire, ‘fearless’; as was Commynes himself
when he was ‘yoong and knew not what perill ment’. This roman-
tic bravery was not commendable, but rather a mark that
Commynes was ‘lacking experience’.98 In mocking the cult of
bravery and glory, Commynes specifically rejected the discourse
of virtue and chivalry that dominated French, and especially
Burgundian, political culture. As Blanchard notes, Commynes
simply ignored tournaments, which were a major feature of
Burgundian neo-chivalric culture and a focus for other histories
written by his contemporaries.99 By contrast, Louis XI was so
haunted by fear and dread that his actions and self-presentations

For example, Commynes, Historie of Philip de Commines, 7 (sig. B4r ), 9 (sig. B5r ),
15 (sig. C2r ), 18 (sig. C3v ), 25–6 (sig. D1r–v ), 155 (sig. O6r ), etc.
For example, ibid., 23 (sig. C6r ), 38 (sig. E1v ), 130 (sig. M5v ) (mentions of
‘practice’), 140 (sig. N4v ), 143 (sig. N6r ) (mentions of ‘temporising’), 41 (sig.
E3r ), 122 (sig. M1v ), 144 (sig. N6v ) (mentions of ‘dissembling’).
Ibid., 171–5 (sigs. Q2r–Q4r ).
Ibid., 157 (sig. P1r ), 12 (sig. B6v ).
Blanchard, Commynes l’Européen, 277–8.

were calculated, limited and subtle.100 Louis prudently avoided

battle, scorning the neo-chivalric glory pursued by Charles of
Burgundy. Commynes valorized Louis’s fear, continually insist-
ing that it was a virtue: ‘It is no shame to be suspicious’,
Commynes wrote, whereas it was ‘great shame . . . to be deceived’.
If they were in their right wits, all ‘great Princes’ would be ‘much
more suspicious than other men, because of the doubts and
reports that are daily brought unto them’.101 Fear and suspicion
are the proper attitudes to take towards a disordered, disoriented
world. This sort of anxiety was also the key habit of mind of
Bacon’s politic prince Henry VII, beside whom, Bacon wrote,
‘there was not a more suspicious man’.102
Commynes’s English translator Thomas Danett came from a
Marian exile family and was educated in Switzerland, Strasbourg
and Italy.103 Upon Elizabeth’s accession, the young Danett re-
turned to England and served the Elizabethan regime in a series of
minor capacities, executing missions abroad in the 1560s and
1570s, and working as one of the Privy Council’s ‘men of busi-
ness’ in the crucial 1572 Parliament.104 Danett finished a manu-
script translation of the Mémoires sometime before 1565 and
presented it to Sir William Cecil and the earl of Leicester. In his
dedication Danett explained what had drawn him to Commynes:
unlike other ‘Historiographers’, Commynes ‘entrethe into
Princes privie chambers, yea into ye secrets of their harts, and
disclosethe all their hid[d]en thoughts. He openeth all theire de-
vises & practises both good and badde’.105 At the time, Danett felt
that ‘bookes of this nature, treating of Princes secrets were unfit to
be published to the vulgare sort’; by 1596, however, he had found
that ‘would I nould I to the presse the booke must go’ and agreed
to revise his translation for print.106

For the importance of peur in Commynes’s thought, see ibid., 175–6, 186–7.
Commynes, Historie of Philip de Commines, 83 (sig. H6r ), 18 (sig. C3v ).
Bacon, ‘Of Suspicion’ (1625), in Essays, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis
and Heath, vi, 454.
‘Danett, Thomas’, Oxford DNB; Kennetth R. Bartlett, ‘The English Exile
Community in Italy and the Political Opposition to Queen Mary I’, Albion, xiii (1981).
M. A. R. Graves, ‘The Management of the Elizabethan House of Commons:
The Council’s ‘‘Men-of-Business’’ ’, Parliamentary History, ii (1983).
Danett’s translation, presented to the earl of Leicester: BL, Add. MS 21579,
fo. 5r. I thank Nick Popper for drawing my attention to this volume.
Commynes, Historie of Philip de Commines, sig. A2r.
The point of reading historians like Commynes, as one letter of
advice reminded, was not for simple delight but to become able
‘to judge all occurrences’.107 Events were confusing as they
occurred, and proper politic technique would enable an observer
to make sense of them: to understand what had happened and
what was happening now, and to make predictions for the future.
Predicting the future played a large role in both claims about, and
the use of, politic reasoning.108 Bacon reflected that while ‘the
Astronomer hath his predictions’ regarding the motions of the
heavens, and the ‘Physician hath his’ of the progress of disease,
so, too, ‘the Politique hath his predictions’.109 Castle amplified
the predictive power to the order of a logical syllogism: the ‘col-
lections of Contingents’ make old men ‘Oracles’, that is, able to
predict ‘occurrences to come’. This faculty, Castle insisted, was
essential: ‘Beleeve me’, he told Milles,
if it be any thing that perfects mans wisedome in this life, under God it is a
happy and a dexterous comparing of tymes and actions together and the
orders of circumstances and persons, from which the applying under-
standing is able to drawe into use a good likely conclusion.110
In other words, the past formed a huge repertoire of plans,
actions and consequences, varying in circumstances, duration
and persons. By comparing situations, the perplexing order of
events in time could be reduced to a revealed narrative
order.111 Not only would the appropriate parallel explicate
events; the narrative order supplied by the example would also
allow the observer to hazard a guess towards the future. Events
were thus explained by being located along the trajectory of a
narrative. Essentially, this is a form of emplotment.112

Directions for travellers: Lambeth Palace Library, London, MS 936/218.
Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, 145.
Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis and
Heath, iii, 380.
Castle to Milles, c.1615: BL, Cotton MS Titus B VII, fo. 463v.
Nancy S. Struever, ‘Pasquier’s Recherches de la France: The Exemplarity of his
Medieval Sources’, History and Theory, xxvii (1988); Pocock, Machiavellian
Moment, 79, 163.
Pocock, Machiavellian Moment, 84; Salmon, ‘Stoicism and Roman Example’,
201; White, Tropics of Discourse. Cf. J. P. Sommerville, Royalists and Patriots: Politics and
Ideology in England, 1603–1640, 2nd edn (London, 1999), 52–3; Greenleaf, Order,
Empiricism and Politics, 14–26. This process arguably points to another affinity
between politic reasoning and providentialism, which taught observers to search for
typologies. I thank Nick Popper for his suggestion on this point.

The analytic force behind this technique is visible in the medi-

tative notebooks of the Canterbury puritan Thomas Scott
(c.1566–1635).113 Despite his preference for biblical passages,
Scott was also a careful reader of Commynes and, over several
days in 1626, developed a complex parallel between Ludovic
Sforza’s usurpation of the duchy of Milan and the duke of
Buckingham’s conduct in England. If Buckingham were ‘our
Lodovic’ Sforza, the foolish duke Gian Galeazzo Sforza (‘duke
onely in name & title’ and ‘as it were nose-led by a Lodovic Sforce’)
was obviously King Charles, who, like the duke, had no ‘friend,
but his young wife’, Isabella. In Scott’s parallel the young duchess
was not Charles’s actual young wife, Henrietta Maria, but instead
‘the house of ye Commons; A Ladie of great courage and wisdome,
saith Commines, that would gladly uphould, and Increase her hus-
bands authority (the Common wealth, the kings safety & honor,
true Religion) yf shee could Butt (saith Commines) her husband
lacked witt’.114 Scott used parenthesis to reanchor Commynes’s
narrative in his own present. If the witless King Charles (that is,
the duke) continued to ignore the House of Commons (his young
wife), Buckingham (Sforza) would manage to seize the crown. In
his private notebooks, Scott was not even slightly coy, disputing
and levelling accusations against the highest. Scott used historical
parallels not to disguise direct political statements in historical
garb, but for the analytic power they offered.

Thomas Scott was no diplomat. He was a landowner in Kent and
a figure of moderate consequence in the urban politics of
Canterbury. But Scott’s interest in contemporary events and at-
tempt to explicate them was not uncommon for men of his class.
This is significant. As we have seen, politic knowledge had a
strong social dimension. It was part of the cognitive technology
of reason of state, an arcanum imperii, and was supposed to be
heavily restricted. A sophisticated, mistrustful subject population

Peter Clark, ‘Thomas Scott and the Growth of Urban Opposition to the Early
Stuart Regime’, Historical Journal, xxi (1978); ‘Scott, Thomas’, Oxford DNB; Andrew
Thrush, ‘Scott, Thomas’, in Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris (eds.), History of
Parliament: The House of Commons, 1604–1629, 6 vols. (London, 2010); Richard
Cust, The Forced Loan and English Politics, 1626–1628 (Oxford, 1987), 175–85.
Scott notes: Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, U951/Z16, fos. 101r–104v.
might prove more difficult to govern. Writers like Palmer and
Danett made very clear that their works were not intended for
the ‘vulgare sort’, but rather for ‘noble gentlemen’ who might
actually aspire to become high officials or agents.115 But substan-
tial evidence from the early seventeenth century suggests a diffu-
sion or even vulgarization of this form of political knowledge.
Among Italian writers, social diffusion became something of a
trope: whereas Botero announced in 1589 that he had encoun-
tered ragion di stato among French courtiers, by the early seven-
teenth century writers like Lodovico Zuccolo and Boccalini wrote
that not only courtiers and learned men but also barbers, artisans,
fishmongers and porters were speaking of reason of state.116
Our sources do not permit quite so expansive a conclusion.
Nevertheless, new sources do emerge in the early seventeenth
century that show something of what Zuccolo and Boccalini
observed. Scott was neither a high regime insider nor a poor ar-
tisan: he was an office-holder, sometimes a local magistrate, who
was both governor and subject. It is precisely among people like
Scott that we find substantial surviving evidence of a heightened
vogue for politic education during the first decades of the seven-
teenth century.117
Growing interest in the politic interpretive frame is attested by
the persistent reappearance of key politic texts in readers’ notes.
The best studied belonged to the Bedfordshire gentleman
William Drake.118 Drake longed to acquire the ‘habit’ of ‘pru-
dence’, and became an assiduous student of politic texts. He took
careful notes from the parts of Bacon’s Advancement of Learning
dedicated to fraud, ‘serpentine wisedom’ and ‘matters of policy’;
from ‘the choisest bookes in travile’; and from the ‘Instructions of
Cardinall Sermoneta’.119 Following standard advice on the topic,
See n. 105 above; Palmer, An Essay of the Meanes How to Make our Travailes, into
Forraine Countries, the More Profitable and Honourable, sig. A1r.
Rodolfo de Mattei, Il problema della ‘ragion di stato’ nell’età della Controriforma
(Milan, 1979), 24–5; Gauchet, ‘L’État au miroir de la raison d’état’, 195–6; de Vivo,
Information and Communication in Venice, esp. 142–56.
Richard Cust, ‘Reading for Magistracy: The Mental World of Sir John
Newdigate’, in McDiarmid (ed.), Monarchical Republic of Early Modern England;
Mark Goldie, ‘The Unacknowledged Republic: Officeholding in Early Modern
England’, in Tim Harris (ed.), The Politics of the Excluded, c.1500–1850
(Basingstoke, 2001).
Sharpe, Reading Revolutions, is a study of Drake’s reading habits.
Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MSS 7/13, fo. 1v; 7/8, fos. 18v–27r; 7/7, fos. 10r–26v,
113v, 41r–42r.

Drake found histories particularly useful. Guicciardini, Polybius,

Tacitus, Machiavelli and Commynes constituted Drake’s canon
and he returned to them repeatedly. Like Castle, Drake had no
overriding preference for classics; if anything, his preference was
‘specially’ for histories ‘of these latter tymes’.120 The classics re-
mained useful, but modern histories gave more direct insight into
the dynastic and religious struggles that characterized Drake’s
own age.
As a result of this concentrated programme, Drake found ‘the
world . . . to be but a Theator of Fiction and disguise’. This meta-
phor, that the world was a ‘theatre of fiction’, was Drake’s favour-
ite and most striking image. It was an adaptation from Petronius’
fragment universus mundus exercet histrioniam (‘the whole world
practises the art of acting’), which also served as the motto of the
Globe Theatre, and Drake repeated it often. ‘The world is
become a theater of fictions’, ran one typical example, ‘where
nothing apeares but what is personate and disguised’.121 But
Drake’s was not a world of random events, chaos and contingen-
cies ruled by fortune; it had a real, though hidden, order. For
Drake, the purpose of politic learning was to decipher the code
of phenomena, discover the patterns of events and predict their
ultimate trajectory.
Drake’s notes are particularly complete, but his preoccupations
were not unusual. John Fitz-James’s notebook extracted material
on politic conduct from Robert Dallington’s View of Fraunce and
Aphorisms, Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent and Com-
mynes’s Mémoires. From Dallington’s View of Fraunce, Fitz-James
learned that Louis XI taught his son ‘noe Latin forsooth, but only
this sentence: Qui nescit dissimulare nescit vivere’. Fitz-James
extracted a slightly different version of the same proverb (‘Qui
nescit simulare (dicere solebat olim rex Ludovicus 11th Carolo
8vo) nescit regnare’) from a letter of Bishop Jewel appended to
Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent.122 The saying appeared
Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 115v. See also UCL, Ogden MSS 7/7,
fos. 89v–90r, 113r–v; 7/23, fos. 23r–v; HL, HM 55603, inside flyleaf. ‘Reade much
Guicchard Plybius Tacitus Machi Comines and note them with my owne hand’:
UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 148r.
Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/8, fos. 52r, 186r–v. See also UCL, Ogden MS
7/8, 52r, 73v, 161r, 177v; Sharpe, Reading Revolutions, 99–100.
Fitz-James notes: Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, MS 555, 32, 55. Dallington trans-
lates this as ‘He that knowes not how to dissemble, knowes not how to raigne’:
Dallington, View of Fraunce, sig. I3r. In the English translation of Sarpi it appears
(cont. on p. 115)
regularly in politic texts and notes: Drake attributed the saying to
Louis XI and matched it to Tacitus’ description of Tiberius.123 In
the Observations Political and Civil, T.B. attributed the same
saying to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.124 Sir Edmund
Unton inscribed ‘Macchavelli Maxima Qui nescit dissimulare
nescit vivere’ into his 1537 copy of Machiavelli’s Istorie Fioren-
tine.125 The link between knowledge, power and dissimulation
captured by this sentence represents the kernel of wisdom that
relatively ordinary readers consistently extracted from these
high texts.
Similar observations abound. Edmund Pudsey’s notes, taken
between 1600 and 1616, include extracts from Guicciardini,
Bacon, Johnson, Commynes and Machiavelli (and, famously,
Shakespeare). From Fulbecke’s Bridge of Roman Histories,
which attempted to link Livy to Tacitus, Pudsey learned that
‘the Causes of things are so misticall & secret, beeing the most
remote object to w[hi]ch one may aspyre, that wee may easilye bee
deceived by disgysed & pretensed reasons’.126 In his notebook of
‘Maxims & Sentences belonging to state & policy’, the
Cambridge don William Sancroft listed 348 sententiae drawn
out of Bacon, Sarpi, Tacitus and Dallington.127 In the mid
1630s the lawyer Edward Hyde took extensive notes on Bacon’s

(n. 122 cont.)

this way: ‘Lewis the eleventh was wont to say to Charles the eighth, that Hee that knowes
not how to make shewes of what he meanes not, kens not Kings-craft’: [Paolo Sarpi,] The
Historie of the Councel of Trent, trans. Nathanael Brent (London, 1629, STC 21762),
847 (sig. Cccc2r ), 867 (sig. Eeee4r ). See also Adrianna Bakos, ‘ ‘‘Qui nescit dissim-
ulare, nescit regnare’’: Louis XI and Raison d’État during the Reign of Louis XIII’,
Journal of the History of Ideas, lii (1991).
Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 63v.
T.B., ‘Observations Political and Civil’: BL, Add. MS 27320, fo. 30v. At least six
other manuscript copies survive. On the Observations, see Anglo, Machiavelli, 667–70;
Millstone, ‘Plot’s Commonwealth’, 70 n. 85.
John Nichols (ed.), The Unton Inventories, relating to Wadley and Faringdon, Co.
Berks: In the Years 1596 and 1620 from the Originals in the Possession of Earl Ferrers
(London, 1841), p. xxxviii; Anglo, Machiavelli, 21.
Pudsey’s notebook: Bodleian Lib., MS Eng. poet. d. 3, fo. 10v; William
Fulbecke, An Abridgement: or rather, A Bridge of Roman Histories, to Passe the Neerest
Way from Titus Livius to Cornelius Tacitus (London, 1608, STC 11413.3). On Pudsey,
see Fred Schurink, ‘Manuscript Commonplace Books, Literature, and Reading in
Early Modern England’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxxiii (2010).
Sancroft’s notes: Bodleian Lib., MS Sancroft 55, fos. 38r–50v, including 41r
(Tacitus and Bacon’s Advancement of Learning), 41v, 46r (Bacon’s Henry VII), 47v
(Sarpi’s History), 49v (Dallington’s View of Fraunce), etc.

Advancement of Learning and Commynes’s Mémoires.128 Other,

anonymous notebooks dating from the early Stuart era are also
replete with extracts from politic authors.129
The availability of these texts varied. Anyone with a grammar
school education would have seen at least some relevant classical
texts. But many texts were translated into English during the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth century, provoking very little in
the way of humanist griping for purity of language; anyway, most
modern authors wrote in vernacular.130 Geoffrey Fenton’s trans-
lation of Francesco Guicciardini’s Historie was first printed in
1579 and reprinted in 1599 and 1618, while parts left out of
the Historie were printed in 1595 as Two Discourses of Master
Frances Guicciardin. In addition to travel accounts of France
and Tuscany, Robert Dallington produced a volume of
Aphorismes Civill and Militarie (1613), in which each aphorism
was ‘exemplified’ with an episode from Guicciardini; this went
through a second edition in 1629. Danett’s translation of
Commynes’s Mémoires appeared in folio in 1596, 1601 and
1614. Translations of Tacitus’ Annales and Histories by Richard
Grenewey and Sir Henry Savile went through six editions
between 1596 and 1640. Of Machiavelli’s works only the
Florentine Historie and the Arte of Warre were directly available
in printed English editions until the 1630s, though The Prince
and the Discourses were readily consumed by the learned in
French, Italian and Latin, and English translations circulated in
manuscript. Parts of Traiano Boccalini’s extensive work were
printed in English in 1622 as Newes from Pernassus and in 1626
as The New-Found Politicke. Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council
of Trent, probably the most influential politic history composed
Hyde’s notes: Bodleian Lib., MS Clarendon 127, fos. 58r–62v (Bacon’s
Advancement of Learning); 64r–71r (Commynes’s Mémoires). On the dates of these
notes, see Seaward, ‘Clarendon, Tacitism, and the Civil Wars of Europe’, 291.
The Queen’s College, Oxford, MS 438, fos. 98v–96r, 93v–89v (octavo common-
place book dating from the 1620s: notes from Guicciardini’s History); Bodleian Lib.,
MS Eng. misc. d. 28 (notebook including extracts from Johnson’s Essays, Stubbes’s
Discovery of a Gaping Gulf, etc.); BL, Harley MS 6055 (notebook of Lord Haughton,
including Botero’s Universal Relations); Wellcome Library, London, MS 571 (notes of
John Moulton, c.1620).
J. H. M. Salmon, The French Religious Wars in English Political Thought (Oxford,
1959); Felix Raab, The English Face of Machiavelli (London, 1964); Benjamin, ‘Bacon
and Tacitus’; Bradford, ‘Stuart Absolutism and the ‘‘Utility’’ of Tacitus’; Kewes,
‘Henry Savile’s Tacitus and the Politics of Roman History in Late Elizabethan
England’, 518–20.
in the early seventeenth century, was commissioned by James I
and first printed in England; an English translation appeared
in 1633.131 Further, a range of English histories were
produced during the late Elizabethan and early Stuart period,
by Samuel Daniel, Sir John Heywood, Sir Robert Cotton and
William Camden.132
Some of these texts, particularly the histories of Tacitus,
Commynes, Guicciardini, Bacon and Sarpi, were printed in pres-
tigious and expensive folio editions. Between 1620 and 1626 the
wealthy Jervoise family paid 5s. 6d. for a copy of Bacon’s History of
the Reign of Henry VII, 7s. for a copy of the Savile–Greneway
edition of Tacitus in English and 14s. for Sarpi’s History of the
Council of Trent.133 These are astronomical sums, equal to many
weeks’ or even months’ wages for most workers. Other works,
however, were printed in much cheaper formats. Edmund
Dacres’s translations of Machiavelli’s Discourses and The Prince
both appeared in duodecimo format, as did the printed edition of
the Instructions of Cardinal Sermonetta, at least one edition of
Johnson’s Essays (1638) and two editions of Bacon’s Essays
(1597 and 1598). Politic octavos and quartos included the
Devereux and Sidney travel letters printed as the Profitable
Instructions, Bacon’s Advancement of Learning, Dallington’s
Survey of Tuscany and View of Fraunce, and Boccalini’s New-
Found Politicke.134 These could be much cheaper. Sometime in
1618 or 1619 the student William Freke bought a copy of Bacon’s
A. W. Pollard et al. (eds.), A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England,
Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475–1640, 2nd edn, revised
and enlarged, 3 vols. (London, 1976–91), i, 137–8 (Boccalini’s New-Found Politicke),
251 (Commynes), 279 (Dallington), 544 (Guicciardini); ii, 130–1 (Machiavelli),
304–5 (Sarpi), 317 (Boccalini’s News from Pernassus), 383 (Tacitus); Jeannette
Fellheimer, ‘Geoffrey Fenton’s Historie of Guicciardin and Holinshed’s Chronicles of
1587’, Modern Language Quarterly, vi (1945); Anglo, Machiavelli, 636–7; Kewes,
‘Henry Savile’s Tacitus and the Politics of Roman History in Late Elizabethan
England’; Napoleone Orsini, ‘Elizabethan Manuscript Translations of Machiavelli’s
Prince’, Journal of the Warburg Institute, i (1937).
Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, ch. 7.
Jervoise, account books, Oct. 1620 (Sarpi), 30 May 1623 (Bacon), 7 Feb. 1625/
6 (Tacitus): Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, 44M69/E6/71 and 73. Johnson
inferred that Bacon’s Henry VII probably sold for 4s. 6d. unbound, while Corpus
Christi College, Oxford, paid 7s. for a bound copy: Francis R. Johnson, ‘Notes on
English Retail Book-Prices, 1550–1640’, The Library, 5th ser., v (1950), 96.
Pollard et al. (eds.), Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, i, 53–4
(Bacon’s Essays and Advancement of Learning), 137–8 (Boccalini), 279 (Dallington),
304 (Profitable Instructions), 510 (Instructions for Young Gentlemen); ii, 30 (Johnson).

Esssays for 9d.; and Sir Robert Cotton’s illicitly printed Short View
of the Long Reign of Henry III sold for between 6d. and 12d.135
These are three to four times more expensive than the penny
godlies, romances and murder pamphlets that have been classed
as ‘cheap print’.136 Politic works may not have had the reach of
‘cheap print’, but they were also not in principle confined to the
regime elite, to the wealthy or even to the educated. And this
neglects what was probably the main forum for the depiction
and transmission of politic tropes, the commercial stage.137
Pamphlet literature, written and printed, also helped observers
to apply politic tropes to the figures of their own times. This took
two main generic forms. First, most early Stuart propaganda took
the form of a politic analysis, purporting to reveal the hidden
connections between events to tell the secret true story of con-
temporary politics. The Elizabethan Jesuit libel known as
Leicester’s Commonwealth was read and copied throughout the
early Stuart era by readers of all religious and political persua-
sions, even though by the early Stuart period the events it
described were no longer exactly contemporary.138 Parliamen-
tary speeches often adopted the same structure. The duke of
Buckingham’s Relation to the 1624 Parliament discovered the
villainous tricks of the Spanish government; this Relation was re-
peated a number of times and constructed into a text, sometimes

Freke’s accounts, 1618–19: Bodleian Lib., MS Eng. misc. c. 338, 3. Prices for
Cotton’s Henry III come from Humphrey Dyson’s catalogue: All Souls College,
Oxford, MS 117, 167v; and from the copy of the pamphlet in Durham University
Library, Cosin R.4.39.
Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its
Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1981), esp. 48–9; Tessa Watt,
Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambridge, 1991), esp. 260–2, 297–306;
Peter Lake with Michael Questier, The Antichrist’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and
Players in Post-Reformation England (New Haven, 2002), ch. 1.
I thank András Kiséry and Peter Lake for discussion on this point. See, for
example, Ian W. Archer, ‘Discourses of History in Elizabethan and Early Stuart
London’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxviii (2005), 224.
Examples of written copies dating from the early Stuart period include BL,
Harley MS 405, fos. 1*v–35v (dated 1615 on 1*v ); BL, Lansdowne MS 265, fos.
1 –97 (dated 1616 on 1r); St John’s College, Cambridge, MS S.46, fos. 1r–111v (a
r r

note inside the flyleaf says the volume was purchased, ‘unwritten’, in 1617); Beinecke
Lib., New Haven, Osborn Shelves HEY, box 6, Heyworth MS 7 (quarto copy marked
‘Anno Domi 1620’ and ‘Ex libris Rbti Sctgri 1630’); Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire,
MS 186 (‘written in the yeare 1630’); John Rylands Library, Manchester, Eng. MS
875, fos. 88r–200v (‘finis 1 Sept 1633’); Leicester’s Commonwealth, ed. D. C. Peck
(Athens, Ohio, 1985), 225–6.
titled The Spanish Labyrinth, that circulated widely in handwrit-
ing. Parliamentary attacks on Buckingham between 1626 and
1628 offered narrations of the duke’s own villainous tricks. In
preparing a remonstrance for the end of the 1626 session, the
Commons committee decided to convert a series of discrete com-
plaints into a coherent ‘narrative’ unfolding Buckingham’s mis-
government as a single, unified plot. In response to such attacks,
the Caroline regime itself began to explain, and indeed to under-
stand, their struggles with parliament as the result of a conspiracy
of ‘popular’ demagogues.139
Second, other pamphlets presented themselves as ‘secret docu-
ments’ whose content revealed the ‘real’ intentions of supposedly
upright actors. Secret instructions, projects for arbitrary govern-
ment, intercepted letters from Jesuit conspirators, all showed
readers how to directly perceive the secret plans of their ene-
mies.140 In such a discursive space, polemicists rarely argued
from principle, or even argued with each other at all. The primary
political speech act was the accusation of bad faith.
Some of the most unsettling of these texts survive in so many
contemporary copies that their significance is unquestionable.
One of the most spectacular manuscript tracts of the era, the
Letter from a Jesuit to the Father Rector in Brussels, survives in
nearly forty contemporary examples.141 Supposedly discovered
Thomas H. Robinson, ‘Lord Clarendon’s Conspiracy Theory’, Albion, xiii
(1981); Thomas Cogswell, The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of
War, 1621–1624 (Cambridge, 1989); Richard Cust, ‘Charles I and Popularity’, in
Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust and Peter Lake (eds.), Politics, Religion and
Popularity in Early Stuart Britain: Essays in Honour of Conrad Russell (Cambridge,
2002); Seaward, ‘Clarendon, Tacitism, and the Civil Wars of Europe’, 306–11;
Millstone, ‘Plot’s Commonwealth’, esp. chs. 5, 8, 9.
Noah Millstone, ‘Evil Counsel: The Propositions to Bridle the Impertinency of
Parliament and the Critique of Caroline Government in the Late 1620s’, Journal of
British Studies, l (2011).
Copies include Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, MS 540A, 105–12; Beinecke Lib.,
New Haven, Osborn b8, 51–61; Osborn fb165, 27–33; Bodleian Lib., MS Ashmole
826, fos. 209r–10v; MS Barlow 54, fos. 12r–13r; MS Clarendon 4, fos. 113r–14v; MS
Eng. hist. c. 272, fos. 115r–22v; MSS Rawlinson C 807, 116–27; D 356, 18–24; MS
Tanner 82, fos. 210r–214r; BL, Add. MSS 4108, fos. 95v–98r; 28011, fos. 21v–23r;
30926, fos. 10r–14r; 33469, fos. 33r–34v (fragment); 35331, fo. 14r–v (abstract);
44848, fos. 153v–155r; MS Hargrave 225, fos. 56r–65r; MSS Harley 286, fos. 298r–
302v; 1323, fos. 37r–42r; 3786, fos. 28r–30v; 4289, fos. 239v–240r; 4761, fos. 92r–97r;
4931, fos. 143r–4v; 6799, fos. 299r–300v; MSS Lansdowne 494, fos. 40r–43v; 495, fos.
1r–6v; MS Sloane 152, fos. 23r–4v; Cambridge University Library, MS Gg.1.29, fos.
83v–85v; MS Mm.5.1, fos. 124r–126v; Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC,
MS V.b.277, fos. 110r–113v; Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, Hertford, MS
(cont. on p. 120)

in a Jesuit college in Clerkenwell, the Letter claimed to be a secret

document describing the progress of the Jesuits’ evil plans to des-
troy the kingdom. These supposed plans were grandly ambitious.
First, the Jesuits had arranged to set the Parliament and the duke
of Buckingham on a collision course, hoping ultimately to destroy
them both. Secondly, the Jesuits had ‘fortified our faction’ with
‘Arminians and Projectors’, strategically placed around the king
and duke to keep out others’ counsel and to persuade them to act
against their interest. The Jesuit faction planned to show the king
how to ‘raise a vast revenue and not be behoulding to his subjects’
by introducing an ‘imposicon or excise’, which would raise ‘a
masse of moneys’. The mass of money would be necessary, for
the excise would need to be ‘settle[d]’ by ‘a mercenary armie of
2000 horse and 20,000 foote’.142 The ensuing disorder would
leave the country open to conquest by Spain, who would finally
restore the seized monastic lands to the Church, and the people to
the Roman Catholic religion.
The Letter presented itself as internal and secret, a privileged
communiqué from the normally invisible world of schemes and
intentions. It seemed to verify a Protestant subject’s worst fears
and suspicions. But secret documents were tricky objects. One
anonymous collector found the piece unbelievable and most
likely ‘fictitious’ since Jesuits were ‘to[o] well experienced in af-
fairs of this nature, to write a thing that may tend so much to their
owne disadvantage’. In other words, Jesuits were too prudent to
give away their plans in such an obvious manner. The letter’s true
author, the collector decided, must have been ‘some factious dis-
contented p[er]son’, possibly a ‘Puritan . . . that under color of
taxing & traducing the Jesuits endeavoreth . . . through their sides

(n. 141 cont.)

VIII.B.148; HL, HM 36836, 90–102; Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass., fMS
Eng. 1080, fos. 37r–40v; Northamptonshire Record Office, Northampton, FH 2381,
item 4; Inner Temple Library, London, Petyt MS 538/18, fos. 404v–406v;
Parliamentary Archives, Westminster, HL/PO/RO/1/37, pp. 21–8; Society of
Antiquaries, London, MS 26, fos. 48r–50v; TNA, SP 16/99/22 and 23. Printed in
John Gough Nichols (ed.), ‘The Discovery of the Jesuits’ College at Clerkenwell in
March 1627–8, and a Letter Found in their House (as Asserted) Directed to the Father
Rector at Bruxelles’, in The Camden Miscellany, Volume the Second (Camden Society,
old ser., lv, London, 1853).
Letter from a Jesuit to the Father Rector: BL, Harley MS 286, fos. 299v–300v, 301r,
to wound the King, Counsell Parliament & generally the State &
whole gov[er]m[en]t of the kingdome’.143
In one way, this reader was correct: the Letter was a fake,
planted by a man named John Maynard, an opponent of every-
thing it contained. Maynard was not, however, a ‘factious discon-
tented p[er]son’; he was an ally of the duke of Buckingham,
attempting to exonerate his patron.144 Knowing this fact, how-
ever, did not necessarily change the frame of interpretation.
Another reader, who knew very well that the piece allegedly
‘found amongst the preists papers’ was actually written by ‘Jack
Maynard’ at Buckingham’s direction, interpreted the Letter as
evidence of Buckingham’s secret plot to distract the gullible
from his own underhand activities.145 For those who accepted
the tract’s premiss, the letter was evidence of a Jesuit plot; for
others, it was evidence of a ducal plot, or a puritan plot. When
you have an analytic hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Collectors often copied tracts like the Letter into diaries along-
side rumours and events. Modern scholars have used the news
diaries of men like John Rous, the Dorchester burgess William
Whiteway or the Devon gentleman Walter Yonge as evidence for
rumour and news reception, but have rarely explained the nature
of these sources.146 What is a ‘news diary’ anyway? Why did diar-
ists keep them? A clue can be found in a manual of prudence, the
Instructions attributed to Cardinal Sermonetta. The Instructions
specifically advised readers ‘to keep a Diarie’ and in it ‘to write
such things in, as happen from day to day’. This practice would
allow the diarist to observe ‘not only the Successes, but also the
manner and causes of them’.147 Cognizant of this advice, William
Draft annotations on the Letter from a Jesuit to the Father Rector: BL, Harley MS
6799, fos. 299r, 300v.
Maynard to Buckingham: TNA, SP 16/108/71; attributed to Maynard by
Simonds D’Ewes: BL, Harley MS 286, 298r. Hyde’s copy is endorsed: ‘This was
counterfeited by a freind of ye lord Dukes purposly to get him of’: Bodleian Lib.,
MS Clarendon 4, fo. 114r. See also John Gough Nichols, ‘Supplementary Note to
‘‘The Discovery of the Jesuits’ College at Clerkenwell in March 1627–8’’ ’, in The
Camden Miscellany, Volume the Fourth (Camden Society, old ser., lxxiii, London,
Anonymous treatise, summer 1628: Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, MS 13, fo. 76v.
Cust, ‘News and Politics in Early Seventeenth-Century England’.
Instructions for Young Gentlemen, sigs. B10v–B11r. William Drake noted this pas-
sage as especially important: UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fo. 41r. Bacon also recommended
that it would be useful ‘to keep diaries of that which passeth continually’: Bacon,
Advancement of Learning, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis and Heath, iii, 339.

Drake heard that one famous pamphleteer had kept ‘a Kynd of

Cronologie’ wherein he had written downe ‘at such a tyme the
king made such a speech such a tyme wrot such a letter to his
subjects or abroade such a tyme set forth such a proclamation
such a tyme such a man was preferred and the grounds’. To thus
‘strictly observe the motion of the English State step by step’ was,
Drake concluded, ‘an excellent course to informe judgment’.148
By having a record of events, the diarist would be able to pick out
patterns in their ebb and flow, and would thus gain special forms
of insight into the English polity.
The surviving notes of William Whiteway suggest that his diary
was conceived explicitly for the construction of a secret history.149
In his diary, Whiteway recorded events of (what seemed to him)
wide significance alongside local occurrences, personal events,
anecdotes, rumours attributed and unattributed, and poems.
By itself, such a diary would be useful and interesting.
However, a second notebook deepens our understanding of
Whiteway’s project. This second diary contains extracts from
Guicciardini, Procopius’ recently rediscovered Secret History,
and a number of libellous poems about Buckingham.150 It also
contains a list of ‘Materialls for the History of the Raignes of
K[ing] J[ames] & K[ing] C[harles]’. This list is primarily com-
posed of printed histories by Stowe, Camden and Buchanan; the
‘workes’ of King James; the news journal Mercurius Gallobelgicus;
works by the famous historian Jacques-August de Thou; and a
series of non-specific references to ‘Pamphlets’ and ‘Papers’.151
This list was compiled sometime before Whiteway’s death in
1635. Whiteway’s diary, and very probably other news diaries
kept by contemporaries, were devices meant to help construct

The pamphleteer in question was Thomas Scott, no relation to Thomas Scott of
Canterbury: Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/29, fos. 131v–132r. On the pamphlet-
eer, see P. G. Lake, ‘Constitutional Consensus and Puritan Opposition in the 1620s:
Thomas Scott and the Spanish Match’, Historical Journal, xxv (1982).
William Whiteway of Dorchester: His Diary, 1618 to 1635 (Dorset Record Society,
xii, Dorchester, 1991). Cf. Colclough’s assertion that ‘the collection of material was,
in fact, motivated in part by a desire to participate in civic culture and to make’ a ‘claim
for a right to free speech’: David Colclough, Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England
(Cambridge, 2005), 199.
Whiteway, diary: Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.11.73, fos. 39r–v
(Guicciardini), 42r (Procopius), 67v–69r (poems on Buckingham).
Ibid., fo. 2r (‘Materialls’). For a similar project in Venice a century or so earlier,
see Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, 25.
the present as historical, and thus to reveal the order of causes and
effects hidden beneath the illusion of contingency.
The most striking example of this sort of interpretive practice
comes from the news diary of Walter Yonge. At the end of May
1628 Yonge recorded the disconcerting rumour that ‘there are
1000 German horse sente for and are shortly expected to come
into Englande for what intente yt cannot bee conceaved’. Here, a
report was problematic not simply because Yonge did not know if
it were true, but because, even if it were true, he was not sure what
it meant, or what hidden intentions underwrote it. ‘But’, Yonge
wrote cryptically in the margin, ‘see . . . pag[e] 21’.152 On that
page Yonge had transcribed something that offered to explain this
particular occurrence: a summary of the Letter from a Jesuit to the
Father Rector. Yonge now saw that the Jesuit scheme had specif-
ically involved persuading Charles to bring in German mercen-
aries to enforce new taxation.153 A confusing occurrence, the
importation of German cavalry into England, was thus explained
by a written pamphlet as part of an evil Jesuit plot to introduce
Spanish monarchy and papal tyranny.

Political thinking is a wider subject than historians often perceive.
It is not only a matter of legitimation, or how concepts and lan-
guages fit together; it is not something that takes place primarily in
the carefully composed works of learned men. Intellection is a
critical part of every enterprise because human action requires
perception, apprehension and imagination. This, as Marx
observed, is what distinguishes the worst of architects from the
best of bees. Reconstructing intellective practices from this per-
spective requires paying close attention to language, to the pur-
poses behind different sorts of texts, to their varied audiences,
and to how people combined and recombined these facts along-
side others to produce meaning.
The roots of the politic style lay in regime practices developed
to master a complex world and support the ambitions of growing
states. Its salience was heightened by Europe’s long Reformation,
which posed intense questions of conformity, conscience and
Yonge diary: BL, Add. MS 35331, fo. 19v (p. 32).
Ibid., fo. 14r–v (pp. 21–2).

allegiance. The politic style’s Reformation context and clear affi-

nities with providentialism makes it difficult to think of politic
reasoning as particularly ‘secular’. On this reading, perhaps
early modern ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ can be thought of as sibling
concepts: related but not synonymous, structurally similar but
also mutually defining.
Interpretation was necessary because early moderns found pol-
itics baffling. This was at least partly because so much of what was
thought to be important about politics was hidden from public
view, in the privy councils and the hearts of princes. To fill in the
gaps, early moderns manufactured stories about what had hap-
pened, what was happening and what would probably happen
next. These stories were interpretive devices and worked by
explaining what seemingly heterogeneous things had to do with
each other. But similar lacunae haunted every human interaction,
from business transactions to parish elections to courtship and
inheritance. Francis Bacon argued that ‘sentences politic’ gave
‘an universal insight into the affairs of the world’ and were there-
fore essential ‘even in private causes’; they were, in short, ‘instruc-
tions for life’. Accordingly, William Drake hoped politic acumen
would help him to speculate in London real estate; Justinian
Pagitt drew on the lessons of Cardinal Sermonetta to navigate
conflicts with his mother (who he decided was ‘alltogather for
her owne ends’); and Thomas Scott struggled against a group
of local office-holders who, he concluded, had organized them-
selves into a ‘faction’ he dubbed ‘the Kentish knott’.154 The
promise of the politic style was not that initiates would all
become royal counsellors, but that they would become better
able to confront uncertainty in their own lives.
However, the politic interpretive frame was never the only way
of representing human conduct, and it was not dominant for long.
There may have been a sociological logic to this development. By
the late sixteenth century, the discourses and practices of chivalry
and ceremony that were so important for early Renaissance elites
had become somewhat more common: urban tradesmen held
elaborate ceremonial commemorations while their apprentices

Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Works of Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis and
Heath, iii, 453, 448; Drake notes: UCL, Ogden MS 7/7, fos. 127v–128r; Pagitt
notes: BL, Harley MS 1026, fos. 78v–82r; Scott notes: Centre for Kentish Studies,
Maidstone, U951/Z16, fos. 10r–13v.
read chivalric romances. Perhaps elite interest in politic analysis
was driven by a desire to distinguish themselves from an increas-
ingly plebeian honour culture, allowing them to construct less
elite groups as naı̈fs. Correspondingly, just as evidence from read-
ing notes and news diaries shows politic analysis becoming a
common language for ‘low’ political thinking, ‘high’ political
thinking moved on: to Hobbesian rationalism, to highly technical
political arithmetic, and so on.155 Such developments go beyond
the scope of this article and all that can be offered is suggestions.
Certainly the forms of political thinking that emerged in the later
seventeenth century retained an interest in hiddenness. However,
what they took to be hidden changed: impersonal forces rather
than human intention became their main object of enquiry. In any
case, although it retained substantial purchase in political com-
munication and governing practice, by around 1650 politic
analysis was no longer cutting-edge.156 Meanwhile, conspiracy
theories and ‘secret histories’ continued to form an important
part of popular political discourse in much of western Europe
throughout the eighteenth century.157
In the first decades of the seventeenth century, however, the
social transformation of the politic style was deeply troubling to
regime elites. In perhaps the most intriguing episode of

On the ‘low’ reception of ceremony and chivalry, see Archer, ‘Discourses of
History in Elizabethan and Early Stuart London’; Spufford, Small Books and
Pleasant Histories, 225–44. On Statistik, see Bödeker, ‘On the Origins of the
‘‘Statistical Gaze’’ ’; Michel Senellart, ‘Machiavélisme et Staats-Raison au XVIIe
siècle d’après l’Universal-Lexikon de Zedler’, Revue de Synthèse, 6th ser., cxxx
(2009). On the concept of distinction, see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social
Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, Mass., 1984);
Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London, 1978).
I thank Carl Wennerlind for discussion on this point. See also Reinhart
Koselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society
(Oxford, 1988).
Jacob Soll, ‘Amelot de La Houssaye (1634–1706) Annotates Tacitus’, Journal of
the History of Ideas, lxi (2000); Jacob Soll, ‘Empirical History and the Transformation
of Political Criticism in France from Bodin to Bayle’, Journal of the History of Ideas, lxiv
(2003), esp. 306–7; Soll, Publishing The Prince; Rachel Weil, ‘Matthew Smith versus
the ‘‘Great Men’’: Plot Talk, the Public Sphere and the Problem of Credibility in the
1690s’, in Lake and Pincus (eds.), Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England;
Eve Tavor Bannet, ‘ ‘‘Secret History’’: or, Talebearing Inside and Outside the
Secretorie’, Huntington Library Quarterly, lxviii (2005); François Furet, Interpreting
the French Revolution, trans. Elborg Forster (Cambridge, 1981), 53–7; Bernard Bailyn,
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1967).

Boccalini’s New-Found Politicke, Tacitus was arrested for, as sev-

eral princes complained, having ‘framed a kinde of spectacles’
that opened the ‘secret thoughts of others’. Unfortunately,
these spectacles had since found their way onto ‘the noses of
silly and simple people’. As a result, the formerly ‘simple’
people were no longer naı̈fs and beasts vulnerable to all
Machiavellian tricks. Instead, they too could see ‘the most
hidden and secret thoughts of others’. This, the princes com-
plained, was disastrous, for their government rested on ‘trickes
and artifices (necessary for to rule and raigne)’. As their advocate
It was full well known to all the best understanders of State-matters, that
for the peace and tranquillitie of kingdoms, Princes are often compelled to
commit actions not greatly to be commended, which (to maintaine them-
selves in the peoples opinion, to be honest and upright Princes, in which
conceit, hee that reigneth must necessarily labour, and endevour to keepe
himselfe) they were wont to shadow and blanch over with the specious and
precious pretexts of an holy and undefiled intention, and of an honest,
hearty, and affectionate zeale towards the common good. All which tricks,
devices, and artifices, they can no longer put in practise or make use of, if
the true sense or meaning of their designes shall at any time come to the
knowledge of the vulgar.
Thanks to Tacitus’ ‘Diabolicall spectacles’ that ‘subtilize and
sharpen the sight of the vulgar people’, the princes were deprived
of their ability ‘to cast dust in their subjects eyes’.158
Boccalini’s account is critical. What happens when the secret
cognitive technology of ruling elites becomes available to subject
populations? Renaissance rulers were surprisingly conscious of
the extent to which their power rested on propaganda, manipu-
lation and even outright fraud. The papers of Francis Bacon and
other officials display an almost obsessive concern with how
regime acts would be perceived and how those perceptions
could be controlled. Politic reasoning had developed as a tech-
nology of domination, a way for governors to gain advantage by
concealing their own intentions while discovering the intentions
of others. But if the techniques of analysis were to become

Boccalini, New-Found Politicke, 29–31 (sigs. E3r–E4r ); Carlo Ginzburg, ‘High
and Low: The Theme of Forbidden Knowledge in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries’, Past and Present, no. 73 (Nov. 1976). Lipsius ‘repeatedly warned that
Tacitus was not to be read by inexperienced or unsophisticated people’: Morford,
‘Tacitean Prudentia and the Doctrines of Justus Lipsius’, 151.
common, if the ‘vulgar’ were to become ‘States men’, the arts of
Renaissance government might cease to function properly.159
Perhaps the technology of order and the technology of subversion
were the same techniques, in different hands.

Harvard University Noah Millstone

Gauchet, ‘L’État au miroir de la raison d’état’.
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