This study examines how political news was concealed, manipulated and distorted in late Jacobean England. Using a wide range of extraordinarily rich manuscript sources, it analyses how news was managed and interpreted during a period of acute political and religious conflict. It analyses how the flow of information to and from the King was managed by his secretaries of state and diplomats, and how the King prevented information about his policies from leaking in to the wider public sphere. It analyses the ‘outward shows’ James made to signal his intentions and mislead a variety of audiences, as well as they ways in which these ‘performances’ could backfire and undermine royal authority. It also examines the sceptical and often cynical reception of news, and the political significance of the rumours that circulated in court and country. It thereby contributes to a wider range of historical debates that reach across the politics and political culture of the reign and beyond. It advances new arguments about censorship, counsel, and the formation of policy; propaganda and royal image-making; political rumours and the relationship between elite and popular politics, as well as shedding new light on the nature and success of James I’s style of rule. In doing so, it aims to examine news as a source of influence and even power in Jacobean England.
The first chapter examines the circulation of information at the centre of Jaobean government. It argues that Jacobean secretaries of state and diplomats played a larger role in the formation and realisation of policy than has previously been recognised. They delayed or altered his instructions, but James encouraged such ‘excuseable disloyalty’ and welcomed the opportunity to disown unpopular policies. Towards the end of the reign, this news bureaucracy was hijacked by Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham, who used it to pressure him into war with Spain. James was not simply a dupe, however, and remained suspicious and sceptical about the news he received.
Historians have debated the nature and effectiveness of early modern censorship, but this chapter focuses attention to government secrecy. It examines James’ attempts to conceal information, even from his own councillors, but argues against the idea of a ‘crisis of counsel’ in the early 1620s. It shifts away from the traditional focus on royal image-making and propaganda to investigate how James’ concealment of his intentions allowed him to mislead a variety of audiences through ‘outward shows’, informal speeches and gestures. It also examines the sceptical reception of these ‘performances’ and the unintended consequences they had. The chapter attempts to widen our definition of propaganda, challenging the division between a ‘private’ court and ‘public’ world outside it, and assessing what these phenomena can tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of James I’s style of rule.
This chapter analyses the formation, scrutiny and interpretation of political rumours. It examines the psychological functions these rumours served in explaining otherwise inexplicable events and softening the impact of unwelcome news, also analysing the ways in which the forward momentum of events shaped the credibility of rumours. It challenges traditional divisions between popular and elite politics by demonstrating that elites engaged with rumours, spreading them, refuting them and seizing on reports that circulated more widely in order to influence the King and his policies. James himself was susceptible to rumours about assassination or foreign invasion.
This chapter investigates rumours about promotion and demotions in late Jacobean court politics, and the role of mis- and dis-information in making and breaking court careers. Success depended not only on seeking the approval of the King, but also on shaping the wider perceptions of courtiers about one’s prospects. The chapter examine the part these rumours played in shaping royal decisions about appointments, also questioning whether they were spread deliberately, as observers tended to assume, or whether the use of rumours as political weapons was exaggerated. Like chapter one, it suggests that a greater number of individuals below the grandees could influence decisions. The battle for perceptions meant that courtiers were becoming increasingly aware of, and eager to influence, wider perceptions beyond the court.
This narrative case study examines ways in which diplomatic information was suppressed and manipulated during Prince Charles’ and the Duke of Buckingham’s trip to Madrid in 1623. Historians have tended to focus on the course of the negotiations in Spain, but this chapter shifts attention to James and the battle over perceptions of the match at home. It considers James I’s extraordinary efforts to keep details of the negotiations secret from his own councillors, and his reasons for doing so, as well as the opportunities this near-monopoly over information created to present a misleadingly impression of events in Madrid. The sceptical and often cynical reaction of many of James' subjects to his behaviour show how his secretive and sometimes manipulative behaviour could backfire in ways which could potentially undermine royal authority.
This chapter examines a series of reports that circulated about the Duke of Buckingham during his illness in the summer of 1624. Early in the year, Spanish ambassadors spread reports that Buckingham planned to shut the King away in one of his hunting lodges and take the direction of affairs in to his own hands. When the Duke later fell ill, it was rumoured that he had been poisoned, had died or had become mentally unstable, and that James had imprisoned him. This chapter considers what effect these rumours had on Buckingham's political standing and the foreign policy he was trying to promote. It also examines contemporary beliefs that disgruntled Catholics were responsible for inventing and spreading these rumours, and why this sort of attribution was so plausible and appealing. In doing so, it aims to understand how the confessional divide shaped the way in which news was assessed.