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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Counsel and the Commonweal: Secrecy, Privacy, and Political Accountability

1st December 2015, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Jacqueline Rose, University of St Andrews

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Openness and Secrecy seminar series for 2015/16. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To book your place click here

Abstract: The importance of good counsel was commonly recognised throughout the medieval and early modern eras. It was agreed that kings required advice in order to rule for the common good; counsel prevented them from degenerating into tyrants who governed for their own or their favourites’ private sectional benefit. Arguments for good counsel often appear to be commonplaces of an unchanging political discourse stretching from (at least) the late thirteenth to the late seventeenth centuries. However, as this paper will show, there were a number of inescapable tensions within counsel, one of which was between the practical need for secrecy and discretion and the desire for inclusive, representative counsel which could be held to account. This was manifested in periodic calls for parliament to appoint the king’s advisers and for a clear record of the counsel which they gave to the monarch. Yet such ideas disrupted the smooth and natural flows of informal counsel and they dangerously impinged on royal sovereignty. Arguably the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw growing emphasis on the necessity of secrecy and privacy as humanist discourse emphasised more and more the arcana imperii under the influence of ‘reason of state’. This paper uses conciliar institutions, oaths, and practices, as well as arguments about advice-giving, to examine whether such a narrative is correct or whether such demands had always been present within counsel. It then outlines the extent to which there was a move away from privy counsel to a more public arena of political discussion in the mid to late seventeenth century.

Dr Jacqueline Rose is Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews. She researches and teaches extensively in early modern British political, religious, and intellectual history. Her book Godly Kingship in Restoration England: The Politics of the Royal Supremacy, 1660-1688, published by Cambridge University Press in 2011, won the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize. She is currently editing a volume of essays entitled The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286-1707 and writing a monograph on Kingship and Counsel in Early Modern England. For more information about Jacqueline and her work, see and

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