Hugh Trevor-Roper is one of the few persons to whom that most hackneyed of academic adjectives, distinguished, properly applies. The sweep of his learning is magisterial; his judgments are broadly based and forcefully argued; and he is, unlike many of his more narrowly specialized colleagues, invariably a pleasure to read. The Last Days of Hitler was undoubtedly his most widely read book, but he has written as well on the psychology of treason, on art plunder and patronage, about an eccentric English fantasist in China, on medieval history, and repeatedly on the political and religious history of the English seventeenth century. Picking up one of his books is like settling into a Rolls-Royce—one experiences the mighty motor purring up front, the smooth ride—the pleasurable sense of intellectual transportation deluxe. As the variety of his interests attests, he has written more often short, concentrated studies than long narrations; but he brings to even modest topics the wide perspective and common sense that he is fond of tracing back to Erasmus.

Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans is the third collection of his historical essays, and especially welcome because it returns Trevor-Roper to the seventeenth century, where he first made his reputation with a book on Archbishop Laud (1940). The five essays contained in the book under review have not previously seen print; they deal with English topics, though all seen within a continental setting. The subjects are: Nicholas Hill, the Atomist; Laudianism and political power; James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh; the Great Tew circle; and Milton in politics. They concentrate, that is, on the first half of the seventeenth century. Except for Nicholas Hill, who is admittedly a marginal figure, the subjects largely concern the period leading up to and culminating in the great Civil War of 1642.

The least familiar material, and the most interesting revaluation, is, I think, the study of Archbishop Ussher. His is a sad, and also funny, story, of a man immensely, almost universally, respected in his own time, and only a little less so with the passage of years, yet even after centuries still a memorable figure. The mighty folio Annals of the World—in which, as a mere by-blow, he determined the moment of creation as 6 PM on Sunday, October 23, in the year 4004 BC—carried great authority as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. Not so well known are the extraordinary religious prepossessions—regarding the coming of Antichrist, the essential Protestantism of the medieval Irish, and the soon-to-be-anticipated millennium—that guided the archbishop’s gigantic research projects.

The story of these projects, pursued unwaveringly across a long lifetime, despite difficulties and discouragements, until their culmination in a huge pile of unreadable, unpublishable rubbish, is the tragicomedy of Archbishop Ussher. As a figure in the practical affairs of his own time—despite the fact that everyone had good words for him—he was again ineffectual. For fourteen years, until early 1640, the hostility of the powerful William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, kept him penned up in his Irish see, where his own inclinations kept him bent over ancient books and manuscripts. He had, when he emerged, fine words for an Elizabethan compromise of which, in his antiquity, he seemed almost the embodiment; but how it could be made to work in the real world of 1640, he had not the foggiest idea. Death overtook him in 1656, before the Restoration inflicted on him the ultimate bewilderment; and he was retired at once to the upper shelf reserved for deceased Irish saints and sages. His bust has remained there ever since, until Trevor-Roper took him down, dusted him thoroughly, and gave him a hard, appraising look. Whether better or worse for the old gentleman’s dignity, it is good to have him back in the world of the living.

Least weighty of Trevor-Roper’s five essays is, I think, the study of Milton and politics. It is tough, comic, and at two points suggests vital relations between Milton and Stephen Marshall, the great Puritan preacher known sometimes for his bellowings as “the Geneva bull.” But Milton the politician isn’t worth the powder to blow him out of the water. Trevor-Roper has his fun with Milton’s extreme enthusiasms and hatreds—all, as he sensibly points out, intensified in his egotistic isolation by those ancient Calvinist bugbears, popery and the phantom of Antichrist. There’s nothing new about the story of Milton’s delusions and disillusions. But when Trevor-Roper lays his hands, with some donnish distaste, on the poetry, the limitations of his point of view become apparent. That Lycidas is spoiled as an elegy by the intervention of Saint Peter was a jejune detraction when Dr. Johnson expressed it first; after two hundred years of refutation, there’s the less reason to take it seriously.

As for the notion about Milton’s being embodied as Satan in Paradise Lost, one can maintain that “the spirit and the sentiments which he ascribes to the ruined archangel are precisely those which he had expressed in his own person” only by ignoring the last nine books of the poem—as Trevor-Roper does. The poem’s prime structural principle is balance, and anyone who will take the trouble to read Books IX and X will need no further arguments against vulgar Satanism. But of course Milton sets Trevor-Roper’s teeth on edge for social and religious as well as poetic reasons. One can only be grateful that he has not written on such further representatives of the radical Protestant tradition as Blake and Yeats.


The longest and most interesting essay in this new collection deals with the most remote and unfamiliar subject, and therefore requires a word of preliminary explanation. The Great Tew group was an informal assembly of men who gathered, in the years just before the civil war, at the estate of Lucius Lord Falkland near Oxford. They included theologians and poets, a future prime minister and a future archbishop, humanists and wits, the cream of a superior intellectual crop. Great Tew and its master Falkland have been described repeatedly, generally in words adapted from the nostalgic account penned years later by Edward Hyde, after he had become Earl of Clarendon. The scene is remembered as a kind of long-running intellectual garden party, an open symposium of the freest and most liberal minds in England. Such a concentration of sweetness and light is a rare thing in that world of harsh power politics with which a historian generally has to deal; and it’s not surprising that much lyrical ink has been spilled on Great Tew. (Among those who write about it, not excluding even Trevor-Roper, the thought is almost tangible that if they themselves had been present, what a striking addition to the company they would have made.)

Gentlemanly rationalists are very congenial to Trevor-Roper; and while he has taken his turn at re-creating the idyll, he also tries to give it a new and practical dimension. His argument is that after the civil war broke out (the King raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642), even though Great Tew disbanded—its members defeated, disarmed, and dispersed, its leaders dead within a couple of years—an informal network of survivors remained who were not without influence on the English Church after it was restored by Charles II. This is an important and intriguing argument, and may even—as limited by the pressure of a number of other circumstances—contain a fair measure of truth; but it calls for some qualifications and questionings.

The social leader of Great Tew was, naturally, Lord Falkland; but he was a young man (born around 1610), and apart from his personal charm and sponsorship of the gatherings at Great Tew, we don’t know very much about his thinking, for the simple reason that he wrote very little of it down. Quite different is the man who was at the intellectual center of Great Tew, William Chillingworth. About eight years older than Falkland, and the son of an Oxford citizen, he had an intricate intellectual history of his own, and a tangled social one. Chillingworth wrote the only major book to come out of the Great Tew conversazioni; it is a long, complex, and (for addicts of intellectual swordplay) fascinating book called The Religion of Protestants: A Safe Way to Salvation.

Its central tenet was, however, clear and simple: Chillingworth maintained that the Bible contains everything that a Christian man is bound to believe upon pain of damnation by God or of discipline by man. Two close corollaries are that, though the saving truth may not be the same for all men, it is nonetheless saving proof for the individual believer. Consequently, disputes over saving proof are vain. And here at once we confront a central question. How did a church like that of William Laud, strict and authoritarian in its episcopal discipline (capable of cutting off the ears of Puritan protesters, of lashing its critics through the public streets, of harrying hundreds of devout Christian believers out of the land)—how could such a church not only endure the libertarian Great Tew group, but encourage the publication of Chillingworth’s book, which asserted that universal toleration should be, and actually was, the safe way to salvation that the English Church exemplified? How could Laud and his agents do such a thing? Above all, why should they?

Like most people who have written about Great Tew, Trevor-Roper is so delighted with the good manners and intellectual elegance of these super-Oxonians that he does not look very closely at the practical values that William Laud recognized in them. Yet one clue should have alerted him. When Chillingworth’s book was published, Laud, who had been the young man’s godfather, was much concerned that it be recognized as the authentic doctrine of the English Church—and that for two reasons. First, Chillingworth, though born and raised in the Church of England, had been converted to Rome in 1630, had spent some months in the Catholic seminary at Douai, and had returned to the English Church only after considerable persuasive effort by Laud, in 1631. Second, the Roman Catholic author whom Chillingworth undertook to refute had published in 1636 a statement that Chillingworth’s book (which was yet to appear) would be based on principles to which Protestants as a whole dared not subscribe. He accused Chillingworth of being a Socinian.1 In order to establish the validity of Chillingworth’s book, Laud caused it to be read over and given official imprimaturs (highly unusual in a Protestant country) by three Anglican divines. One of these, the most important, was Dr. John Prideaux, regius professor of divinity at Oxford.


Trevor-Roper is well acquainted with Dr. Prideaux and must surely have been struck by the oddity of his name appearing on a page of imprimaturs endorsing the orthodoxy of Chillingworth’s book. For many years Prideaux had been a pillar of the high Calvinist establishment, a thorn in Laud’s side, a determined opponent of everything set forth in Chillingworth’s book, as well as of that “Arminianism” which he and his fellow Calvinists considered a first step toward utter infidelity. He was a close ally of Archbishop Ussher with whom he had grown old in unbending opposition to everything that Chillingworth’s book advocated. And in fact Ussher, in an English sermon preached in 1640, denounced as “cursed and desperate doctrine” a set of ideas clearly to be found in Chillingworth’s book. More striking yet, Dr. Prideaux on July 10, 1637 (just three months before his imprimatur approving of Chillingworth’s book) delivered a Latin lecture on the authority of the Church in matters of faith and religion, in which he directly and categorically attacked the central positions taken by Chillingworth.2

I will not try to explain here how Dr. Prideaux was able to denounce in July doctrines that in October of the same year he would publicly declare to be perfectly consonant with the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England. Laud was a master of pressure tactics, and in Dr. Prideaux he had a very vulnerable victim. But if this is so, then we should look very sharply at the vaunted high-mindedness and universal tolerance of the Great Tew group. The subtlest and most eloquent of their leaders, William Chillingworth, was an agent, it would appear, and in his very advocacy of toleration an agent of Archbishop Laud. He was an accomplice of the persecutor, not a critic. The rule against theological controversy laid down in royal declarations of 1626 and 1628 was, in effect, a rule against Puritan propaganda as vociferated from a thousand pulpits; it left untouched Laud and his Arminians, who emphasized ceremony. Chillingworth’s formula that no controverted doctrine is fundamental does not prohibit controversy; it just declares in advance that it is useless.

The Religion of Protestants, though ostensibly directed against Catholic positions, includes a large, perhaps a major, element of anti-Puritan polemic. Thomas Hobbes saw this clearly enough when he said that Chillingworth “was like a lusty fighting fellow that did drive his enemies before him but would often give his own party smart back-blows.” In fact, if we look for a moment at the record of Chillingworth’s life (it is lamentably incomplete, but on this score rich enough), we shall find him continuously, consistently active as spy, propagandist, informer, and intriguer against the Puritan cause or anything associated with it. From Oxford he sent secret reports to Laud on subversive words spoken in the college buttery; in his last days, using backstairs authority derived from the queen and her advisers, he directed the unsuccessful defense of Arundel castle. If Laud wanted Dr. Prideaux’s name on the imprimatur to Chillingworth’s book, it is inconceivable they did not all three know that that imprimatur would serve to bewilder and divide the ranks of the hierarchy’s most immediate and dangerous enemies.

What this means, in short, is that some of the Great Tew people were apostles of toleration only in the most limited sense of the word. They wanted to tolerate the major dissenting group of the nation, the Puritans, on the generous condition of their ceasing to be Puritans. Their verbal toleration was an engine in the hands of their consistent partisanship.

Some of the Great Tew group, there seems no doubt, were sincere irenicists; for some the offer of general toleration was a political device; for still others, toleration was a shield under which they sought temporary protection for themselves. They are too various to be lumped in a group, too many to be described individually at this time. But Jeremy Taylor provides an interesting example of the third class. Born in 1613, he was too young to be a proper member of the Great Tew club; he was also a consistent ecclesiastical authoritarian until 1647, when, abruptly shifting ground, he swallowed the entire Great Tew position of universal toleration. His The Liberty of Prophesying displays its position in its title; “prophesying,” in seventeenth-century dialect, means interpretation of the Scriptures, and the new Jeremy Taylor spoke out bravely for the right of every individual conscience to interpret Scripture with absolute immunity from any sort of pressure or persecution.

A viewer lightly brushed with cynicism might have pointed out that these libertarian ideas surfaced only when Taylor, no longer himself in a position to persecute, had his eye on the possibility that someone might shortly be persecuting him. And that cynicism would have been fully justified in 1661 when Bishop Jeremy Taylor, newly granted authority over three episcopal dioceses in Ireland, abruptly dismissed from their functions thirty-six Presbyterian preachers for exercising their liberty of prophesying—expelled them, with their families, under circumstances of unusual brutality and callousness. It is not surprising that the new bishop, once embarked on his second career of persecution, took some pains to round up and destroy all the copies he could find of The Liberty of Prophesying.

This is one of the stories that Trevor-Roper does not tell. Stories like this are admittedly exceptional, but this one illustrates how under varying immediate circumstances the idea of toleration can come to mean more, less, or nothing at all. Of major importance in the total picture are surely the pacific temper and Erastian principles of two of Charles II’s closest and most powerful advisers: the Earl of Clarendon and Gilbert Sheldon, the archbishop of Canterbury, who restrained the most rabid royalists from their grossest schemes of revenge after the Restoration. The principle of toleration as an idea in itself certainly entered their minds, and with the posthumous blessings of Great Tew. But toleration, though it may be an idea, is also a clutter of behavior patterns—bargains and stand-offs, tacit understandings, avoidances, states of inertia, as well as indifference and selfishness. One of the great forces at work in—or, rather, tacitly understood by—English society after 1660 was Erastianism.3 It is nothing so formal as an idea, but rather an attitude that any church government is all right, and probably not much worse than any other, so long as it’s weak. Erastianism was the avowed principle of wise John Selden in the early years of the century, and the unavowed principle of many others. The unanimity with which the ecclesiastical courts of High Commission and Star Chamber were abolished owed as much to Erastian sentiment as to anti-episcopal feeling. The very notion of a church discipline lost most of its force when there existed de facto several different religious communities. And the more church discipline shrank in its extent and its severity, the more common people were likely to find they did not need it.

Mutual toleration—a virtue no less admirable than tepid—sprang not only from charitable sentiments, but also from some of the muckier elements of human nature. A long vacation from tithepaying appealed to the selfishness and sloth latent in every man. During the wars, Church lands had been plundered or bought cheap; getting them back was like pulling teeth or else impossible. Some forms of religious toleration sprang from and were not clearly distinguishable from religious indifference. Imperceptibly, anticlericalism changed its form from expressed resentment of proud prelates to scorn for ragged parsons. As early as 1670 Dr. Eachard is found laying out in a frank, tough tract (from which Jonathan Swift would later crib a lot of his original wit for the Tale of a Tub) the grounds and occasions of the contempt of the clergy. Eachard does not try to establish the fact of clerical weakness; he does not have to. He goes straight to the causes—so many schemes and prophecies failed, so many divine laws laid down and ignored, so many pretensions exploded, so much learning discarded as obsolete, so much fawning and jostling for position, leading to such gross poverty and loss of dignity. An order that its own members saw in this light was in no position to persecute anyone. “Toleration” was sometimes just a euphemism for weakness.

Even lower down the scale of conscious ideas but still making powerfully for toleration were a set of attitudes implicit in the class system. Men of Puritan background—Pepys is the quickest shorthand example—had few of the genteel graces; they might never be considered for such a paltry honor as a knighthood, but…. They went to the office every day, they knew accounting procedures, they understood the filing system, they could teach themselves shorthand; “My Lord” could not do without them. Upperclass laziness, then, made for toleration, as did sloth, greed, indifference, and contempt of the clergy. In this greasy stew of motivation the surviving strains of Great Tew idealism played their part, and a relatively creditable part it was. But neither in its inception nor in its concluding phases was it such a simon-pure idealist strain as conservative intellectual historians try to make it.

I have written at such length about the Great Tew story partly because it is central to Trevor-Roper’s book, but partly out of a certain parti pris that had best be frankly stated. Forty-four years ago I caused to be printed a doctoral dissertation for the Columbia University Department of English, some of the main points of which have been outlined above. My dealings with the department had not been congenial. I worked for three different directors, one of whom told me that my study could not make a satisfactory dissertation. In the end, I wrote it on my own and submitted it to Columbia only after it had won the approval of a respected authority at another university. It was printed, not published, because I had already entered the army, and could not so much as read proof. Some of the marks of that turbulent genesis are clearly on it; there is much in the tone that I now regret, much on the outskirts of the argument that I would now rephrase. But the core position remains, so far as I know, unchallenged—and also, so far as I know, unrecognized. The book bore the title Liberal Anglicanism, 1636–1647; it was printed by the Acorn Press of Ridgefield, Connecticut, and appeared under my then name, Robert Martin Krapp.

I should add a few words more about “Socinianism,” which enjoyed an increasing vogue through the middle seventeenth century, until it became so common, and joined so closely with deism, that the name itself faded away. Though since the seventeenth century the doctrine has been identified with disbelief in the Trinity, it lays too much weight on the individual conscience to define specific tenets. Basically, Socinians questioned the authority of a church, whether speaking through bishops, presbyters, a synod, or a council, to determine the religious ideas or behavior of an individual conscience. Chillingworth—who was certainly a Socinian in the essentials—effectively distinguished between the church as a dangerous guide to the believer and the Scripture as a safe rule. The Bible, he said, is the religion of Protestants; each man interprets it for himself, and where interpretations disagree they can either be resolved by reason or else left unresolved without spiritual danger to either party. As a lifelong unbeliever with a lifelong interest in polemical theology, I find this a splendid arrangement, but recognize that it eliminates all need for clergymen and (more important) for a church. That Archbishop Laud should have pressured Dr. Prideaux into declaring this magnificent petitio principii to be the true doctrine of the English Church is a measure of the hierarchy’s desperation in the last years before the war broke out.

Three satellite books—two biographies and a specially close study of a limited field—come along as foils to Trevor-Roper’s book of essays. Charles Carlton’s biography of Archbishop Laud treads in the footsteps of Trevor-Roper’s 1940 study, and seems embarrassed by its proximity. I do not know what he means by saying that Trevor-Roper’s book is “a brilliant biography which blinds nearly as much as it illuminates,” or in what respect his own effort proposes to reverse the process. The most striking feature of Carlton’s study is his persistent dislike for his subject, amounting almost to scorn. One of Laud’s truly impressive achievements in the realm of ideas was his controversial book describing a conference he had with a Jesuit passing under the name of Fisher. Laud’s work in this confrontation is meticulous, exact, and sinuous thinking; by contrast, I’ve always considered Chillingworth a flashy but easy opponent.

Carlton, however, in addition to not understanding the shape of the argument, complains of Laud’s arguments as pedantic—as if one should object that a brain surgeon was obsessed with petty details. In the end, it doesn’t matter much because Carlton concludes that Laud’s “main intellectual weapons [were] pointed in the wrong direction”—a typically highhanded and slapdash verdict. Our biographer is much more at home interpreting Laud’s dreams and assessing his various “insecurities.” It is critical analysis at the level of Dr. Joyce Brothers, and a scholar who wants to begin to understand Laud will have to resign himself to being blinded by Trevor-Roper’s 1940 brilliance.

Richard Ollard, who has written a number of biographical studies of seventeenth-century figures, adds to them with a group portrait, Clarendon and His Friends. Edward Hyde provides a rich subject, and Ollard offers a persuasive apology for him. The biographer writes fluent, explanatory, readily readable prose, with only a tinge here and there of the oleaginous. On one occasion Ollard carries intoxication with the Great Tew mystique to the delirious point of saying that “everyone, friend or enemy, is agreed that Chillingworth was incapable of hypocrisy.” But once out of that honey pot, he settles down to a steady, business-like account of Hyde’s work in Parliament, in the royal councils during the steadily deteriorating campaigns, and over the long, hard years of exile.

On the whole (discounting a few human exceptions) he makes a strong case for the principled and honorable behavior of Edward Hyde in the face of endless temptations to opportunism and trickery, amid the defections of less steady friends, despite the ingratitude and duplicity of his royal masters. When it would have been easy to sell the Church of England down the river, Hyde refused to do so. (Scots Presbyterians or Catholic dragoons would have supplied an army for Charles, in return for recognition as the national church. The Queen’s advisers aspired to broker the deal; though they included a number of Catholics, they would have dealt with the Presbyterians just as readily as with Louis XIV: any deal was all right as long as it dished the Church of England and settled impatient royalists back on their estates.) But Hyde resisted and the remnants of the English Church supported him. Not the least fascinating of Ollard’s pages are devoted to the necessarily obscure networks of clerical-royalist intelligence agents that flourished sub rosa throughout Cromwell’s protectorate.

Throughout this dark period of exile, poverty, and near despair, it seems clear that the memory of Falkland and Great Tew glowed in Hyde’s mind as not only a part of the happiest period of his life but an ideal controlling his thought. And yet, as the realities of a return to power loomed closer for him, as Ollard puts it: “Freedom of discussion among the learned at Great Tew was one thing. Dissemination of subversive notions in a capital which was changing its government every six weeks was another.” The two crucial terms here are “the learned,” which could be a nice euphemism for “nobs” or “toffs,” and “subversive notions,” which would have to include those of a reverent, intractable rough diamond like George Fox the Quaker. Even Ollard is a bit scandalized by the phrase Clarendon used to express his deepest detestation: “Dirty people of no name.”

Nicholas Tyacke has written in Anti-Calvinists a cogent, compressed account of the rise of English Arminianism (c. 1590–1640). Since Arminian ideas were central both to Laud’s thinking and to his policies, Tyacke’s book thus covers pretty much the same material as Trevor-Roper’s essay “Laudianism and Political Power.” The movement Tyacke describes is hard to label properly. “Arminianism” took its name from the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (Anglice James Herman), whose greatest influence, particularly in England, was felt only after his death in 1609. The core of Arminius’s position was denial of predestination, as espoused by Calvinists, in both its general and its particular forms. He did not think divine grace was confined to those few souls whom God had elected arbitrarily, without regard for their present, future, or potential merits; and he did not think any Christian man could be so positively assured of his predestined election as to be beyond the possibility of lapsing.

These were unbearable positions for Calvinists, especially those of Holland, and they harried Arminius into an untimely grave; then they continued to badger Arminians or suspected Arminians wherever they could be found. Naturally, a good many people who agreed in their hearts with Arminius avoided assuming the name. Just as naturally, the outcry raised against Arminians and the efforts to extirpate them spread their reputation and heightened interest in them, long after Arminius was dead. The crisis came in 1619, when Maurice Prince of Orange, himself a committed Calvinist, summoned a national synod to meet at Dort to settle the controversies between Calvinists and Arminians. In response to his invitation, the English Church sent a number of observers, most of them committed Calvinists. After being allowed a farcical token hearing, the Arminians were dismissed and categorically condemned in absentia. At least one English observer, John Hales, was so revolted by the gross unfairness of the hearings that on the spot he “said good-night to John Calvin.” But generally the spread of Arminian ideas, which is the theme of Tyacke’s book, remained silent and gradual for the next ten years.

How the creed, or attitude, spread slowly, first in the universities, then through the subtle but strong influence of Richard Neile, bishop of Durham; how it attracted the loyalty of Laud and his followers, then of King Charles himself; how it emerged into the light of day, bringing with it the trappings of ceremonialism; and how it was welded by the powerful wills of Laud and Strafford into the authoritarian system known as “Thorough”—these are the episodes of Tyacke’s book. It is a carefully concentrated book, rich in detail, and ingenious in tracking down people on the fringe of the movement. One would have welcomed, now and then, a glance at the Church in matters other than doctrinal ones. For example, the period in question was one of economic reconstruction, rebuilding, and consolidation. Roland Usher long ago in 1910 and Christopher Hill more recently in 1956 wrote important books on the topic. As a major element in the “beauty of holiness” ideal, this movement within the Church—doomed to defeat, like all the programs of the Arminians (but what did the Calvinists have to celebrate when the tumult and the shouting died down?)—could well have entered Tyacke’s book. On the other hand, one sympathizes with the author’s desire to keep the limits of his study strict. It is a crisp, lucid, informative study, multum in parvo.

This Issue

April 14, 1988