‘But when this island shall be made Britain’
Hume, Bacon, Britain and Britishness
in The subject of Britain, 1603–25
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This chapter examines print and manuscript tracts and treatises on Anglo-Scottish union, especially the writings of Francis Bacon and David Hume of Godscroft. These texts offer fertile evidence of both English and Scottish subjects thinking through, articulating and redefining a British, indeed British-Irish, polity. This chapter breaks new ground by exploring connections between Bacon’s political, philosophical and scientific writings within the context of a proposed union; in doing so it captures the boldness and vibrancy of Jacobean responses to the dominant political topic. Bacon’s political writings on union, so often dismissed by scholars as the product of a sycophant, emerge from this chapter as a laboratory for thought about early modern notions of collective identities and cultural hybridity. Concluding this chapter with Bacon's writing on the Ulster plantation – with a cursory glance at Jonson’s Irish Masque – I warn against a too-optimistic recovery of his and others’ seemingly progressive political ideas. Like many of his fellow Jacobeans, including Hume and Robert Pont, Bacon’s views on the native Irish (as well as non-Lowland Scots) are underpinned by deep ethnic and racial prejudices.

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