Cyndia Clegg

I recently finished reading Cyndia Clegg’s Press Censorship in Jacobean England (2001). It took me a while, not because of the length (it’s only about 230 pages), but because of a needed holiday break. I hope everybody’s went well. I have been busy killing locust people and playing Rock Band 2. I highly recommend both.

I would also recommend the book. Although there are some oddities with how she deals with the historiography for the period (for instance, while both excellent historians to consult, she seems to rely far too heavily on Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake), the books’ strengths are in how Clegg deals with meanings at recognizing the lack of any kind of monolithic censorship. She strongly makes the point that “in Jacobean England efforts to control the press and to suppress its products mark the points of difference—the ruptures—in the Church, state, and society” (15). It was the battleground for factional struggles as well as a place where different authorities overlapped.

She draws a moderate course between Christopher Hill and Sheila Lambert as to the strength and purpose of censorship. While she does not find it the powerful, oppressive, state-driven force of Hill, neither is it the weak, economically-driven instrument of Lambert. It was not capable of squashing all that the crown desired, nor did the crown try to suppress everything it had reason to, but James did try to expand the state’s control of the press (for instance, by hiring Francis Cottington as licenser).

Clegg’s real strength is her dissection of the meanings of different kinds of censorship. James would sometimes engage in public book burnings, but also in unannounced, “private” ones. Rarely did he think he could remove all copies of something from circulation, though when he tried, he always failed. Rather, the purpose of a public, announced burning was to voice displeasure, “to attract attention to how distant their ideas were from his own” (89). If the books affronted him personally, they were often censored privately, so as to avoid drawing further attention to them.

Clegg has some interesting examples. I think my favorite was James’s suppression of Ralegh’s The History of the World. Poor Ralegh expected the king to like it, but because Edward Peacham voiced a similar concept of divine retribution for kingly infirmities in “Balaam’s Asse” as voiced in Ralegh’s History, James suppressed the History out of fear for his own life. The example was part of Clegg’s discussion of private suppressions, and it shows well how James’s personal disposition could act itself out in censorship.

One of Clegg’s chapters discusses the confrontation between the Civil and Common Law. Here she claims to argue against both Whigs and revisionists, finding more conflict than revisionists and less ideological conflict than Whigs. I think her idea of revisionism might be a bit too caricatured here, but she does show that some of the more famous cases of civil and common law disputes were more personal than anything else. James often acted in such disputes to protect his own authority, in both common law and civil law courts.

The fifth chapter touches on printing after the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. In sum, James did try to control print ephemera in the period, but was only moderately successful. It was not Thomas Cogswell’s “evil time” nor was it just the Stationers’ Company trying to protect itself, as in Lambert. Clegg discusses James’s attempt to limit the subject matter of sermons and the appointing of Francis Cottington. Both were attempts to limit discussion of the Spanish Match. However, neither of these was more than moderately successful. Some preachers did self-censor, and Cottington did manage to control some of the presses, but many preachers and printers continued to openly criticize James’s foreign policy. Here I think she may have been unfair to Cogswell. Certainly these moves show James’s increasing interest in controlling the presses, which would certainly be frightening to many potential authors and printers, and probably encouraged more self-censorship than Clegg gives credit. Still, her discussion is quite reasonable and convincing.

Her final chapter moves on to the rise of Arminianism. She distinguishes between people of the word and people of silence, meaning Calvinists and Arminians, respectively. Part of being Arminian in England was theological silence. For Clegg, “the issue here may not be so much whether or not censorship under Charles I was or was not the repressive system Christopher Hill discovered but that the discursive practices of the Laudians and the Calvinists-cum-Puritans so diametrically opposed each other that the people of the word and the people of silence could never become reconciled” (223). This certainly places Charles’s ban on discussing predestination into a different light. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m not sure it really fits the evidence. Sounds like I need to do some more reading on Arminianism. I think I’ve got a biography of Laud sitting around somewhere. Any recommendations?

I can see now that I haven’t even mentioned her discussion of the various laws and bodies that carried about the censorship. But I’m tired now. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I appreciated the examples that she used, and I think it qualifies as a “must-read” for anyone working on print culture in the seventeenth century.

Before I finish, I will strongly recommend Anthony Milton’s “Licensing, Censorship, and Religious Orthodoxy in Early Stuart England” (1998). I might review it later. I read it a while ago and really enjoyed it. Clegg discusses it quite extensively in her final chapter, and the article really helps to illustrate both one of the more clever uses of censorship as well as the overlaps in authority inherent in early modern societies.


1 Comment

Filed under censorship, Print Culture

One response to “Cyndia Clegg

  1. gilbertmabbott

    Correction: I have already corrected the post, but I previously wrote “Steven Pincus” when I meant “Kenneth Fincham.” Sorry.

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