Richard Cosin and the rehabilitation of the clerical estate in late Elizabethan England
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The royal supremacy established by Henry VIII was never fully defined or resolved. Was it an imperial kingship or a mixed polity - the king-in-parliament? Professor G.R Elton's theory of parliamentary supremacy has been accepted for many years, but more recently this theory has come under attack from Professors Peter Lake, John Guy, and Patrick Collinson. They have shown that it was not strictly the case that either the royal supremacy or the ecclesiastical polity of the Tudors was a settled issue; there was a tension and an uncertainty that underlay both the Henrician break with Rome in 1534 and the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, yet this tension was not brought to surface of Tudor political debate until the latter part of Elizabeth I's reign. What brought the issue to the fore was the controversy between the puritans who opposed Archbishop John Whitgift's subscription campaign and the 'conformists' who sided with Whitgift's demand for order and congruity in the young Church of England. Part of this controversy was carried out in a literary battle between one of Whitgift's proteges, civil lawyer and high commissioner Richard Cosin, and puritan common lawyer James Morice. The debate focused on the legality of the High Commission's use of the ex officio oath and eventually came to hinge on the question of Elizabeth's authority to empower that commission to exact the oath by virtue of her letters patent. If the ex officio oath was strictly against the statutes and common laws of the realm, was the queen authorised to direct the commission to exact the oath anyway - over and above the law? To answer yes, as Cosin did, was to declare that the queen's royal supremacy was imperial and that her ecclesiastical polity was essentially theocratic. To answer no, as did Morice, was to assert that there were certain things that the queen could not do - namely that she was not empowered to direct the High Commission to contravene statute law, even in the name of ordering and reforming the church. Cosin's legal arguments for the imperial supremacy of the monarch were powerful, but his writings were steeped in a form of political rhetoric that was quickly coming into fashion in the late sixteenth century: the 'language of state'. The language of state was essentially an abandonment of the classical-humanist vocabulary of 'counseling the prince' for the sake of 'virtuous government' in pursuit of a 'happy republic'. This new political language used by Cosin and other conformists justified itself on the premise that the state was so thoroughly endangered by sedition and instability that an urgent corrective was needed: not wise or virtuous counsel but strict obedience to the laws that preserved civil and religious authority. With the threat of presbyterianism at the doorstep of the English Church, Cosin - protected and encouraged by the powerful Whitgift - was free to employ both his legal and his rhetorical skills in an effort to reinvigorate the English clergy by enhancing their jurisdictional status over the laity. By the time James VI and I began his systematic revitalisation of the clerical estate in 1604, the vocabulary that would justify it had already been created. The influence of Cosin demonstrably permeated the early years of the Stuart Church suggesting that Cosin might provide a link between the vague uncertainties of the Elizabethan Settlement and the stark realities of the Caroline Church.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy