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English Allegiance in a British Context: Political Problems and Legal Resolutions Judith Richards Allegiance, that basis of loyalty to any government, has always been a quality more invoked than defined. This has been so not least because, in most societies, to discuss the nature of allegiance has been to bring under scrutiny the most basic political fundamentals - an enterprise fraught with subversive implications in any era. This paper explores one rare moment when, in 1608, a group of English lawyers did undertake a comprehensive definition of that most nebulous political value. What they concluded was admirably clear, and (perhaps consequentially) politically divisive in unprecedented ways in the decades of debate which preceded the mid seventeenth-century English civil wars. The argument ofthis paper is that the 1603 transition from 'natural-born' English queen to Scottish king on the English throne led to a significant, and significantly legal, redefinition of English understandings about the nature and extent of allegiance. The imperative for such a redefinition arose from the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603. H e had long held the ambition to effect a 'complete' union between his realms, but this was made widely known when a manual on kingship he wrote for his eldest son 104 Judith Richards was published. In England, the strongly hostile reaction to James's proposed union was one indicator of the successful Tudor policy for establishing a distinctive English identity. In the various sixteenth-century initiatives from the English court to unite the two crowns, the assumed pre-eminence of England had never been seriously challenged - at least by the English. During the reign of Mary Tudor, there had been much Protestant anxiety about the survival of an emerging English, increasingly Protestant, identity. In 1558 Elizabeth had been welcomed in explicitly racial, perhaps proto-nationalist terms, as being of 'no mingled blood, of Spaniard or straunger, but borne mere Englishe here amongst 2 us, and therfore most naturall unto us'. The years after 1558 saw only an increasing emphasis on the quality of Englishness in many of the quasi-official polemics directed at Elizabeth's subjects. That identity had become, over time, an increasingly important signifier of the Elizabethan Protestant hegemony, a nascent national, 'English' identity. After James's accession the hegemonic function of that identity was challenged by the new King's preferred ideology of 'Britishness'. In the first years of his reign there were many indicators of the move away from the older ideology of 'Englishness' among those seeking court favour and patronage. As one example, the purely 'English' plays by Shakespeare were replaced by ones about Macbeth, Lear and other much more international themes. Those newly preferred themes frequently carried the extra advantage of emphasising the 1 When writing to his son in 1598, and before describing 'the principall faultes that everie ranke of your people in this country is most subiect unto', James added, 'And as for England . . . I hope in that God who ever favoreth theright,before I die to bee as well acquainted with their fashions', Basilicon Down (1599) (Menston: Scolar Press, 1969) pp. 44-45. This was, as Jenny Wormald has argued, originally intended to be a very private advice from the father to his son. Jenny Wormald, '"Basilikon Doron" and "The Trewe Law ofFree Monarchies'", in The Mental World ofthe Jacobean Court, ed. Lind Levy Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 50. But there was some criticism of the work in 1599, and pirated manuscript copies were circulating so widely that by 1602 the King decided to issue a revised and authorised version. That was released in London in 1603, and before James arrived there. It gaveriseto the book-buying equivalent of a feeding frenzy, as the Londoners rushed to leam something about their new monarch. 2 A Speciall grace appointed to have been said after a banket at Yorke.... November [Aiii(v)] [n.p., n.d.]. English Allegiance in a British Context 105 political dangers inherent in a disunited or a divided kingdom. In brief, the values of being 'merely English' were no longer promoted by the English court. The political defeat of James's initial plans for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 103-121
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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