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.
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
AnthonyAscham is one. Ascham does attract a certain amount of scholarly
Platonists, like Peter Sterry, became mentors of
pre-eminent republican writers Milton and Henry Vane Jr., 10 while we may
assume that the Chancellor Benjamin Whichcote was well acquainted with
the Fellow of King’s College AnthonyAscham. Thus it was not
chance if Platonic themes (such as the search for truth through
friendship and love, and the relation between heart and mind) abundantly
recurred in Milton
Tudor and Stuart England:
Literary and Political Influences from Elizabeth I to the
Restoration (Farnham, 2013), pp. 145–60; M. Barducci,
‘Machiavelli nella cultura politica inglese, 1649–1652:
AnthonyAscham e Marchamont Nedham’, in A. Arienzo and G.
Borrelli (eds), Anglo-American Faces of Machiavelli: Machiavelli e
machiavellismi nella cultura anglo
of De Jure in the 1640s is drawn from M. Barducci,
‘Hugo Grotius and the English Republic: the writings of
AnthonyAscham, 1648–1650’, Grotiana , 32 ( 2011 ), pp.
Scott, Commonwealth Principles , p.
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.
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.