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Was Dryden a "Cryptopapist in 1681? DAVID HALEY Those familiar with the Exclusion Crisis of 1677-1681 will know that the query in my title refers to politics no less than to religion. "Cryptopapist" was a name the parliamentary opposition, just beginning to be known as Whigs, bestowed on their enemies who, they believed, were masquerading as Church of England Protestants while secretly collaborating with a court devoted to the cause of popery. In his sensational Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (1677), Andrew Marvell put forth the hypothesis that a group of evil counselors about the king were in league with the duke of York to bring in a totalitarian regime based on Roman Catholicism and subservient either to the pope or to the hegemony of King Louis XIV. "There has now for divers years," wrote Marvell, "a design been carried on to change the lawful government of England into an absolute tyranny, and to convert the established Protestant religion into downright Popery." Marvell and the so-called "country" party—MPs who not only opposed the "court" party but also appealed to the patriotic nation— held that King Charles was unable to curb his power-hungry bishops, and they believed, moreover, that he was being hoodwinked by Danby, his chief minister. Danby was a cryptopapist because he bribed the MPs with French gold; Anglican bishops were cryptopapists because they refused to tolerate the vocally anti-Catholic Dissenters.1 277 278 / HALEY Modern readers who take for granted the liberal axiom that church and state are forever separate cannot easily imagine the fervor with which a proto-Whig like Marvell defended Protestant liberty against the alleged encroachments of popery. Popery was not an ideology, a mind-set limited to a social class. Popery signaled a universal principle of servitude. By this principle, those who subscribed to popish tenets were subverting the nation's political and intellectual heritage, and the Catholic priesthood was actually banned. To be labeled a cryptopapist was tantamount to being called traitor. John Dryden—who, as playwright for a coterie audience, had till now shunned partisan politics—stumbled unawares into the fray at the end of 1679. To his honor, the Poet Laureate found himself branded a cryptopapist. His subsequent conversion six years later has led attentive readers, both past and present, to conclude that Dryden was sympathetic with Catholicism as early as 1682—the year he wrote his purportedly Anglican profession of faith, Religio Laid. My object in this essay is to sort out the tangled strands of politics and religion in the thoughts of a fifty-year-old poet experiencing what was evidently a major intellectual crisis. In the spring of 1681, after imprisoned papists had endured thirty months of judicial tenor and after four parliaments had tried and failed to bar James from succeeding to the throne, King Charles at last went on the offensive. He successfully routed the Whigs by dissolving parliament (he would never call another) and he simultaneously cracked down on political dissent by reinforcing the penal laws against all nonconformists. Those included the Catholics, who were politically dependent on Tories, as well as the Dissenters, who sided with the Whig opposition. Proceeding with cynical prudence, the king allowed Edward Coleman, formerly the duke of York's secretary, to be executed along with seventeen more Catholic subjects who were probably guiltless of conspiracy. Charles saved the throne for his Catholic brother, whose hereditary rights were respected by the Tories— the Anglican churchmen and Cavaliers—even though most of them feared the duke's openly avowed popery. The king's brilliant strategy brought about a "second restoration" of the Stuarts. The four remaining years of Charles's reign, sometimes called the Tory revenge, were also the years in which the authority of the Church of England reached its high-water mark. The king, by squelching the political and religious opposition, postponed for another seven years the cataclysm in church and state that Whiggish historians would later dub the Glorious Revolution.2 It was at the moment of Charles's political triumph that Dryden chose to make his official debut as Tory satirist, a novel role for the poet who...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 277-296
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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