David Colclough. Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. 293pp. ISBN 0 521 84748 6.
Cyndia Susan Clegg
Clegg, Cyndia Susan. "Review of David Colclough,
Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England.." Early Modern Literary
Studies 11.3 (January, 2006):8.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-3/revcolc.htm>.
- Writing a book about the freedom of speech in early Stuart England at this
scholarly moment is a courageous task. Not only has the post-modernist critique
of essentialism revealed the degree to which such Enlightenment ideals as
freedom of speech have been constructed by dominant cultures to perpetuate
their hegemony, but revisionist histories of early Stuart England have altogether
repudiated the "Whig" narrative of English history in the seventeenth century
in which the forces of republican freedom challenge and overthrow monarchy's
repressive tyranny. Throughout Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England
David Colclough's careful historical account contextualizes debates about
free speech and the liberty of the subject in educational and political discussions
of the time, and in doing so, directly addresses both the post-modernist and
revisionist perspectives. His argument, that notions of free speech grow out
of a classical rhetorical tradition in which free speech participates in political
counsel, attends scrupulously to the ways in which free speech as a rhetorical
figure appears in seventh-century documents: manuscript commonplace books,
literary manuscripts, early printed books, and accounts of parliamentary debates.
- That Colclough's initial chapter attends first to the origins of free speech
in ancient Greece and Rome may tempt readers to think they are about to face
an old-fashioned (western) civics lesson. Instead we encounter an account
of how the Greek rhetorical principle of parrhesia ("frank speech":
Latin licentia) developed in specifically political contexts so that
by the time the Roman orators codified it, the political practice of counsel
defined the figure: "it is Frankness of Speech when, talking before those
to whom we owe reverence or fear, we yet exercise our right to speak out,
because we seem justified in reprehending them, or persons dear to them, for
some fault" (Rhetorica ad Herennium, qtd. by Colclough, 28).
- Parrhesia/licentia became known to the Renaissance in the grammar
schools where, as Colclough notes, "the teaching of classical rhetoric placed
a significant emphasis on the Ciceronian ideal of the vita activa and
on rhetoric as a socially cohesive force" (30). Among the Renaissance humanists
interested in fashioning courtiers, parrhesia/licentia became a "guiding
principle" for the conduct of political life among both continental and English
Liberty of speech is considered to be essential in virtually all
early modern treatments of counsel: if the prince does not actively encourage
frankness then his or her counsel will be worthless, and he or she will
become the object of flattery framed as counsel, rather than of constructive
Colclough uses the writings of both Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon
to illustrate how counseling the monarch in late sixteenth and early seventeenth
England adapted the figure of parrhesia to include complex framing
apologies for the act.
- Frank speech, Colclough demonstrates in the second chapter, belonged to
biblical as well as classical rhetorical traditions, especially in the New
Testament where the word parrhesia is, for example, employed by John
to describe Jesus's speech and actions. As a consequence, according to Colclough,
not only did parrhesia appear "as a Christian virtue …something to
be exercised among friends or brethren and in one's relationship with God
through prayer" but it also "defined the proper relationship of the individual
Christian to those in power" (81). In the early Christian Church, Ambrose,
bishop of Milan, employed biblical parrhesia, when he counseled Emperors
Theodosius and Valentinian, establishing a precedent that informed the godly
counsel of English monarchs, a tradition which, in England, extended from
the sermons of Hugh Latimer to the pamphlets of Thomas Scott, and included
such writers as John Foxe, John Stubbs, Philip Sidney, and John Donne. Colclough
focuses on the writings of Thomas Scott during the crisis of the 1620s over
James I's reluctance to enter war in Europe on his son-in-law's behalf. From
Colclough's perspective, "Scott was committed to a classical humanist position
that elevated the value of active citizenship" and "praised parliament as
the best origin of counsel and policy," but he drew on the religious tradition
of free speech in order to claim a right of counsel (119).
- Scott's celebration of parliament's place in assuring open communication
between the king and his subjects affords a useful entrée into a discussion
of parliamentary free speech, a problematic subject when it comes to early
Stuart Parliaments. As Colclough observes, revisionist historians' skepticism
about the "presence of revolutionary ideologies in early Stuart Parliaments,"
while healthy, has "deprived the ideas of freedom that were being propounded
in those decades of the attention they demand" (122). This chapter remedies
the problem, and does so effectively, by employing notions of the rhetoric
of counsel to frame the evidence drawn from parliamentary debates and to demonstrate
not only that the right to freedom of speech was a secure aspect of parliamentary
liberty in the early seventeenth century, but that considerable anxiety existed
about the boundaries between liberty and license. Even so, Colclough concludes
that "one of the most striking aspects of the many debates about freedom of
speech in this period is the way in which the liberties of Parliament are
increasingly identified with the liberties of the subject" (195).
- Colclough's final chapter explores the degree to which English subjects
exercised the liberty of free speech in the quasi-public world of manuscript
publication. The representative manuscript miscellanies that Colclough describes
in considerable detail responded in multiple and complex ways to political
events and became a means of "both unofficial protest and political deliberation"
(249). They "facilitated political analysis, commentary and reflections on
the art, duty, and dangers of counsel by juxtaposing texts gathered in a range
of ways from a wide variety of sources" (238), and demonstrated how deeply
the seeds of republican thought were planted in the English imagination.
- Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England makes a major contribution
to our understanding of early modern political discourse. Colclough's impeccable
scholarship and mastery of archival sources amasses a vast array of persuasive
evidence that effectively describes a culture seriously engaged in civil life
and concerned about subjects' rights. Free speech in this culture was less
an end in itself (as it becomes in a Whig narrative of the progression towards
freedom) than a means to the end of good government. In discerning how one
particular culture understood free speech, Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart
England makes a major contribution to a "discontinuous history of rights"
that, indeed as Colclough would have it, allows us to "continue to test the
decisions that we make about freedom of speech" (254). This will prove an
invaluable resource for literary scholars seeking to understand the cultural
contexts of early modern literature.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk
2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).