The Puritan Revolution of mid-seventeenth-century England produced an explosion of new and important political thinking. In addition to most famous thinkers, Thomas Hobbes, Sir Robert Filmer and the Levellers, there are other important figures who have been relatively neglected, of whom Anthony Ascham is one. This book is the first full-scale study of Ascham's political thought. Ascham's works were intended to convince lay Presbyterians and royalists to adhere to the policy of national pacification implemented from 1648 by the Independent 'party' within Parliament. From 1648 to 1650 Ascham's propaganda primarily dealt with the issue of the validity of oaths, and insisted on the reciprocal relation between obedience and protection. The first part of Ascham's Discourse focused on 'what things, and how farre a man may lawfully conform to the power and commands of those who hold a kingdome divided by civill warre'. Ascham adopted a twofold line of argument: in the first, he sought to demonstrate that war was consistent with natural law and scripture. Secondly, not all types of war were consistent with the Christian religion and the natural law of self-preservation, only the defensive war. Ascham's natural law theory, which he drew from Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes and John Selden, had therefore both civil and religious implications. Ascham proposed a synthesis between Grotius and Niccolò Machiavelli, underlining the priority of state order over political participation, and justifying war as a means of accessing power only to confirm the necessity of re-establishing order.
The Puritan Revolution of mid-seventeenth-century England produced an explosion of new and important political thinking. But while due attention has been given to the most famous thinkers, Thomas Hobbes, Sir Robert Filmer and the Levellers, there are other important figures who have been relatively neglected, of whom Anthony Ascham is one. Ascham represents a case in point of the interaction between politics, propaganda and political thought in the context of the English Civil Wars. Ascham, initially designated by the Council of State as 'agent' of the Republic to the Merchant Company of Hamburg, became eventually 'official Agent' to Madrid. The investigation of Ascham's work has been generally linked to the Engagement controversy. Ascham's reputation as a de facto theorist, which undeniably points out some distinctive features of his work, underestimates the complexity of his political thought. This chapter also presents the outline of the book.
In Reformed countries, both civil laws made by and oaths of allegiance sworn to lawful authorities were binding in conscience, so that the nature of political choices taken by persons would affect their soul. According to Anthony Ascham, with the king vanquished, former oaths and covenants had lost their validity, so that obedience to the Parliament and Republic was not sinful. When Ascham engaged in the writing of Discourse, on the eve of the Second Civil War, a final agreement between Charles I and Parliament still seemed distant. In the Discourse Ascham remarked that juridical casuistry foresaw a series of circumstances in which it was lawful for the subjects to sever the bound of allegiance with their sovereign. These were the cases in which princes violated the clauses of a bargain made with the subjects both 'explicitly', through a compact, or 'implicitly', by conforming to the customs of the kingdom.
In his Preface to the Discourse, Anthony Ascham advised his readers that his argument in support of Parliament's rule differed from the terms of the political debate of the early stages of the Civil Wars. Against those who raised the issue of conscience to refuse loyalty to Parliament's authority, Ascham replied that to obey a magistrate who ensured protection was consistent with natural law and God's will, and therefore did not prejudice the salvation of conscience. Natural law, although distinguished from God's law, was in harmony with it, as God expressly gifted human beings with a natural right of self-preservation. From 1648, Ascham differed from the preceding radical and philo-parliamentarian interpretations of natural law theory, in that he stressed the necessity to obey the present government and, accordingly, to renounce the right of self-defence.
Parliamentarians shared the idea that the natural right of self-preservation was better secured through the safeguard of state's order. However, Presbyterian writers put an emphasis on the people's consent, regarding it as duty toward God-derived authority, while they were reluctant to ground civil power on individuals promising to retain their natural rights. Despite his frequent attempts to reassure Presbyterians that the new government would achieve the religious clauses of the Covenant, in a few passages touching religion, Anthony Ascham displayed his favour towards a moderately tolerant national church. Notwithstanding his task to sponsor the governmental attempts at reconciliation with Presbyterians and royalists, Ascham displayed the Erastian and anti-clerical stances of many Independents when he traced a sharp dividing line between the prerogative of divines and civil authorities.
Anthony Ascham in the first part of the Discourse said that, according to jus belli, 'possession' was the prerequisite for rightful obedience. In the second part, he went to speak 'to subjects obeying an usurper power, after an obligation of Allegiance to another Power'. In The Bounds and Bonds Ascham replied to the Presbyterian opponents of the republican government saying that 'things are considerable only so far as they may reach the ends for which they are'. His response drew mainly on Hugo Grotius's De Jure, and expressly on his treatment of the sovereign rights deriving from victorious war grounded in the law of nations. Ascham's political argument in support of the politics implemented by his patrons in the Parliament, and, after Pride's Purge, in the Rump, was mainly drawn from Grotius. The Machiavelli on which Ascham drew (like in most of his sources) was arguably that of The Prince.
Romans 13 was a key text of Calvinist political theory. Anthony Ascham's use of Romans 13 was intended both to convince Presbyterians about the need to settle the country, and to counterbalance the potentially disruptive implications of the radical Independents' use of natural law theory. Both the Second Demurrer and the author of the Grand Case of Conscience had pointed to the contradiction deriving from Ascham's and Francis Rous's interpretation of Romans 13. Patriarchalist political theory was inherently contrary to natural law theory. However, consistent with his previous attempt to combine a providentialist vision of parliamentary government based on Romans 13 with Grotian natural law, was Ascham's attempt to bring together political patriarchalism and contractualism. The concept of absolute and indivisible sovereignty that Robert Filmer attached to his argument for patriarchal authority and to his criticism of mixed government was drawn from Bodin.
Anthony Ascham was favourable to monarchy, although kings as individuals might not be worthy of the throne. To distance himself from the Machiavellian implications of reason of state, especially those concerning the justification of internal conflict and political change that appealed to his republican allies, Ascham pointed to Hugo Grotius's insistence on the traditional concept of 'equity. Ascham's support of parliamentary 'usurpation' has to be understood in the broader context of the parliamentary uses of the concept of tyranny during the Civil Wars. Charges of tyranny were thrown at Charles I's personal rule in the 1640s, and paved the way for his trial and execution in 1649. Ascham's defence of Parliament's 'usurpation', was also a consequence of his having shifted the focus of attention from the origins to the ends of government, in order to ask for obedience.
After 1649, parliamentary authors have usually been distinguished as either 'de facto theorists' or 'commonwealthsmen'. De facto theory incorporated languages and ideas which are difficult to fit into current definitions of 'republicanism'. Nonetheless, the writings of Anthony Ascham, Francis Rous or John Dury were intended to support the rule of Parliament, and after January 1649 that meant the rule of republican government. The same combination of distinctive features and similarities between Ascham's and John Milton's writings could be found in Marchamont Nedham's The Case of the Commonwealth of England Stated the case of John Hall. From Rous to Hall, a surprisingly rich and varied range of ideas and values were used to support adhesion to the rule of Parliament and the Republic. These ideas were not inherently linked to a singular form of polity.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in this book. The book presents a picture of Anthony Ascham as an 'anti-radical' parliamentarian who used ideas of natural right to argue for obedience to authority rather than to challenge it, prioritising order over liberty and representation. It highlights the complicated mixture of political languages which was used in propaganda for the Parliament and the Commonwealth. The book describes the relations between Independents and Presbyterians in Parliament between 1648 and 1649, reconstructing in detail their several attempts at political and religious reconciliation. It approaches the study of the English receptions of Hugo Grotius's works from an interdisciplinary perspective in order to understand how the English engaged with all of Grotius's works on state and church, international law, natural rights and religion.