"Dreams of a New Order: Early English Presbyterian Sacred and Secular Political Theory" - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne Access content directly
Conference Papers Year : 2017

"Dreams of a New Order: Early English Presbyterian Sacred and Secular Political Theory"


Although it would be a dubious claim to call it forgotten or overlooked, the first puritan (presbyterian) attempt to refashion the Church of England to conform to their dreams of Genevan-style church discipline in the late sixteenth century has not been fully granted the status it deserves in the history of puritanism and beyond. Ecclesiology, except for its on-and-off connection with resistance theory during the early modern period, and a few well-known cases such as late-medieval conciliarism, has seldom been treated on the same footing as secular political theory, and also tends to be studied separately from the ‘proper’ tradition of political thought. The case of early English presbyterianism shows that failing to integrate the political theory of the church into the wider history of political thought does little justice to both. In spite of their ultimate failure to achieve the thorough reformation they longed for in Elizabethan England (unlike their Scottish brothers of the calvinist international), or perhaps because of it, English presbyterians and their intellectual leaders such as Thomas Cartwright and Walter Travers left a fascinating legacy of political ideas, arguments and blueprints for a new political and social order. The lengthy Admonition controversy between Cartwright and Whitgift, once stripped of the accretions and the bad faith endemic in sixteenth-century religious polemical writings, thus remains arguably one of the most extraordinary pieces of political theory produced during the period, not least because it contains a full-blown and candid examination of the exact nature of the English polity and “monarchical republic”. While they claimed that consistorial discipline had been divinely instituted, Cartwright and Travers also drew on the full array of secular political lore, ancient, medieval and early modern, to make their case against the tyranny of episcopal rule and against the archiepiscopal structure of the Elizabethan church. Although the claim made by Michael Winship (and others) that early presbyterianism within the larger frame of puritanism had contributed to ‘republican’ theory and practice needs qualification, it is clear that the assault on bishops was premised on a deep distrust of personal rule which had both classical and Christian roots, and that it entailed a vision of a fully energised (if properly disciplined) body politic of the church, which echoed other strands, bright and dark, in the making of political modernity.
No file

Dates and versions

hal-03981197 , version 1 (09-02-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03981197 , version 1


Cyril Selzner. "Dreams of a New Order: Early English Presbyterian Sacred and Secular Political Theory". The Rethinking of Religious Belief in the Making of Modernity, 2017 ISIH Conference, International Society for Intellectual History (ISIH), American University in Bulgaria, Diego Lucci, Michael Hunter, James A.T. Lancaster, May 2017, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. ⟨hal-03981197⟩


12 View
0 Download


Gmail Facebook X LinkedIn More