Part Three


Chapter Seven


No kingdom lackes her owne diseases.


His skull was so hard and so strong that the surgeon had to struggle to break it open with a chisel and a saw. He found a swollen brain packed tightly inside the thin film of cells that enveloped its surface. The white matter filled the membrane, spilling out onto the table under the surgeon’s hands. He prized out the dead man’s heart, and the onlookers saw that it was unusually large. They found that his lungs and gallbladder were black. One kidney was sound, but the other had dwindled to such a tiny size that the surgeon had to rummage for it in the dead man’s bowels. When at last he located it, he picked out two small kidney stones.

Although the departed had passed away three months short of his fifty-ninth birthday, he was already senile in body. Gravely weakened by arthritis, he suffered from kidney disease, and possibly he had endured a series of small strokes. It seems that a larger stroke killed him, after eight days of fever. Only his liver remained entirely normal. This the royal doctors expected, since the case notes record the feel of the organ—“naturally good, big, bloody and strong”—when tested by hand during the king’s lifetime. Despite his many years of heavy drinking, the postmortem revealed no sign of fatty liver or cirrhosis. The tissue was as fresh and healthy as a young man’s.

They removed his vital organs and his viscera, for separate burial in a casket. Then they embalmed the cadaver and placed it inside a sheath of lead. They encased the lead box in an oak coffin, filled with spices, its surface wrapped in purple velvet studded with gilded nails and hinges. On Monday, April 4, 1625, eight days after the death of the king at his country home in Hertfordshire, the cortege set off for Whitehall Palace. Drawn by six black horses, the hearse traveled through pouring rain some sixteen miles southward, past London to the river Thames. At last, that evening, the coffin arrived in the royal apartments, where the monarch would lie in state.2

The dead sovereign was the first King James. Whenever the Mayflower drama is replayed, he always appears somewhere on the stage, as the villain or sometimes the comic accessory, and rightly so. If James had never lived, men and women would still have migrated to America, but their precise motives and the pattern of events might have taken a very different shape. For that reason, we have to delve into the king’s character, to find what lay behind his antipathies, including his hatred of the Puritans. In doing so, we reenact the intense curiosity felt by the people of his age.

Throughout his lifetime, since his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, last saw him when he was ten months old, the body of the king was the object of the piercing gaze of strangers, for what it might reveal about the destiny of the state. Because monarchy obliged the king to display himself to his subjects, James always dined in semipublic, in front of those admitted to the royal apartments. His love of hunting on horseback meant that he was often seen in the open air too.

Privacy of a kind existed in the bedchamber, which James said should not “be throng & common,” but instead a place where the king could meditate and speak discreetly. And yet even here he would not be alone. “Kings’ actions (even in the secretest places) are as the actions of those that are set upon the stages, or on the tops of houses,” James told Parliament in 1610, and this was literally true.3 In the bedchamber, Stuart kings had about them a half-dozen gentlemen-in-waiting.

So, over the course of his reign, first as king of Scotland and then after 1603 as king of England too, many thousands of people saw James. Often they wrote down their observations. For this reason, and because so many portraits survive—at least fifteen oil paintings, besides medals, busts, and the like—we can re-create a remarkably reliable picture of his appearance and his mannerisms. He also bequeathed to posterity an archive of evidence about his long feud with Puritans and Brownists. Because King James wrote copiously in four languages, much of it comes from his own pen.

James published two books containing attacks on the likes of Robert Browne. In the second, titled A Meditation upon the Lord’s Prayer, and dated 1619, James gave a pithy account of their origins. He wrote with a lucidity that modern historians would do well to emulate. “Our Puritans are the founders and fathers of the Brownists: the latter onely boldly putting into practise what the former doe teach,” he pretty accurately said, and he threw in for good measure an insult or two aimed at what he called “these innumerable sects of new Heresies, that now swarme in Amsterdam.”

Much earlier, in his manual of kingship called the Basilikon Doron, James piled up an even larger heap of abuse of Brownists and Puritans alike. Rash, brainsick, and heady, vain, proud, and pharisaical, ungrateful, fanatical, seditious, and conceited, they were “very pestes in the Churche & common-weale,” said the king. And, in case readers failed to take the point, his editor inserted an extra little caption, calling Puritans “an evill sorte.”4

Why did James hate nonconformity so much, and why did he feel compelled to venture into print? Queen Elizabeth, that mistress of delegation, never stooped to verbal combat with Separatists: for her, a couple of public hangings every ten years did the trick quite well enough. What made James behave so differently, with less physical violence, but with so much more emotion?

He acted as he did because he wished to defend the hygiene of the realm. Aptly enough for a king who spent his later years in almost constant physical pain, James tended to speak about his kingdoms in the language of the body and medicine, in terms of anatomy, well-being, and morbidity. In doing so, he did more than merely repeat medieval clichés that compared the realm and its people, the body politic, to a frame of human flesh and blood.

Men and women at the time used figurative language so freely and with such verve that it was impossible to say where metaphors finished and reality began. They did not think in terms of rigid lines of demarcation between soul, mind, and body, or between matters that were personal and those that were political. Nor did they slice up their experience into segregated zones, as we do. They did not insist on sharp boundaries between fields of knowledge, each one with its academic police ready to handcuff those who dare to cross their borders. In the eyes of Jacobeans, God had created everything, and so everything was connected to everything else. For them, an educated man or woman was a person who tried to see things as a whole.

So it was with King James. He never used one metaphor where five would do. “What God hath conjoined, let no Man separate,” he said in 1604, as he urged his first Parliament to unify England and Scotland by force of law. “I am the Husband, and all the whole Isle is my lawful wife: I am the head, and it is my body: I am the shepherd, and it is my flock, I hope therefore, no man will be so unreasonable, as to think … that I, being the Head, should have a divided and monstrous body.” In the eyes of King James, a Christian king performed the role of a bridegroom, a father, and a pastor; he was God’s lieutenant on earth, he was the origin of justice, and he was the source of wealth and well-being.

From the heart of the kingdom, the sovereign pumped the blood of mercy through the arteries of the state. That being so, he also served as the doctor of the nation. James called the monarch “the proper Phisician” of his kingdom, with a duty to cure it from sickness, and this he meant entirely literally. He used the phrase not in some work of learned theory but in his most famous and practical text, A Counter-blaste to Tobacco of 1604, his fierce attack on the practice of smoking.

A king and a philosopher, a monarch but also a human being, James experienced dominion as an alternating condition of power and fragility. “I am a Man of Flesh and Blood, and have my Passions and Affections as other men,” he said in 1607, and this was an understatement.5 Often succumbing like a Shakespearean hero to waves of emotion emitted from an obscure source, James felt the troubles of his realm in his skeleton, his nerves, and his intestines. His views about health and medicine formed a seamless whole with his wider doctrine of government, and with the ideas that caused him to loathe religious nonconformists.

King James thought of Puritans as a disease, which at its worst took the form of the Brownists. But before we venture into the depths of his mind, there is a story of surfaces to be told swiftly. It concerns events that took place between the Puritan crusade to the Netherlands, and the execution of Henry Barrow in 1593, and then, a decade later, the purge of nonconformists overseen by King James.


Barrow the Separatist went to his death in a season of defeat for the Puritan cause. Another change in political fortunes had occurred, with the decline of the party at court who sympathized with Puritanism. Leicester and Walsingham died, in 1588 and in 1590. Davison languished in disgrace. The Puritan clergy lost their most powerful defenders. They also faced a determined foe in the form of John Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury, with at his side the implacable Richard Bancroft.

Soon after the defeat of the Armada in 1588, an underground Puritan printing press began running off anonymous pamphlets. They were filled with abuse against the bishops of the Church of England, penned by someone who called himself Martin Marprelate. Amusing for the first few pages, until the polemic begins to pall, The Marprelate Tracts denounced the bishops as swinish rabble, sauceboxes, petty popes, and lying dogs, men guilty of corruption and embezzlement. The author called for a much deeper reformation, of the kind that Puritans in Parliament had long been looking for. He also gave Whitgift and Bancroft the opportunity they needed to embark on an all-out attack on Puritans within the Church.

Neither man was a bloodless bureaucrat. Both were evangelical Christians. A man renowned for his charity, Whitgift had been a defiant Protestant during the reign of Mary Tudor. He became a convinced Calvinist, making his name with lectures intended to prove that the pope was the Antichrist. And far from being a careerist, Bancroft had a reputation for being blunt and combative. Often passed over for promotion, he did not become a bishop until the late age of fifty-three. However, both men had come to believe that Christianity depended on an efficient, disciplined, well-financed hierarchy, with the bishops as commanding officers. Their attitudes hardened and became authoritarian. The Marprelate affair made them all the more convinced that they were right.

As the leading mainstream Puritan, Thomas Cartwright tried to distance himself from Marprelate, but to no avail. Bancroft’s hunt for the author soon turned up embarrassing evidence against Cartwright and his friends, men known as “forward preachers.” Bancroft was able to show that they were building in secret a parallel church of their own, a presbyterian club of clergymen and supporters among the landed gentry. When the time was right, they would step out of the shadows and remake the Church of England as a presbyterian assembly. It would be run by preachers and lay elders, with not a trace of old Catholic ritual, not a bishop in sight, and very little role for the queen. This, said Bancroft, was sedition of a revolutionary kind.6

In 1590, the Church authorities jailed Cartwright and eight other forward preachers and stripped them of their posts as parish clergy. Their lawyers mounted an excellent defense, tying the prosecution in legal knots, and in due course they were released, after three unpleasant years in prison but without the trials reaching a conclusion.

Even so, the affair dealt a body blow to the Puritan movement. And when Parliament met in 1593, Archbishop Whitgift got what he wanted, a new statute aimed directly at the most radical Puritans and Brownists. For the first time, the law entirely banned private religious gatherings—“unlawful assemblies, conventicles or meetings under pretence of any exercise of religion”—and imposed penalties of banishment or prison.

Despite this, the forward preachers left trailing behind them a mass of loose ends. Many years later, they resurfaced and made fresh connections. Puritan books were still read, and Puritans survived in the universities and elsewhere, despite a hostile climate. They often met bafflement, irritation, or anger among their neighbors, people who liked a little Catholic ritual and preferred a lenient religion that did not demand endless devotion. The strongholds of the Puritans were quite few and far between. But although they had a narrow base, they put down deep roots. In places, we find a critical mass of Puritan ministers and supportive local gentlemen, yeoman farmers, and town tradesmen. They were the kinds of people who later supported the New England project, or even made the trip themselves.7

Elizabeth died, and King James came south in 1603 to claim the throne. That summer, the survivors among the forward preachers began a campaign to persuade the king to take the Church down a Puritan path. Their manifesto was called “the Millenary Petition.” It listed more than thirty changes that they wished to see. Some came from the old Puritan agenda, such as calls for an end to the sign of the cross in baptism or to bowing at the name of Jesus. Others were economic, intended to increase the incomes of the parish clergy by ending practices such as the leasing out of tithes, the kind of thing that had caused so much trouble at Sturton. The petition also contained one particular demand that neither James I nor the archbishop could possibly accept.

The petitioners wanted to ease the burden of “subscription,” the rules which required that clergymen swore that the Book of Common Prayer was entirely the Word of God. If this change were made, it would remove the most powerful weapon in the armory of discipline. Bancroft had become the bishop of London, he was Whitgift’s most likely successor, and he had his own project of an entirely contrary kind. He wanted a much tougher set of rules to impose moral and religious discipline, and he intended to enforce it with subscription.

However, the king did not simply reject the petition out of hand. A man who usually relished the exchange of ideas, he convened a debate, which took place at Hampton Court Palace in January 1604. At this event, James exploded with the infamous outburst in which he issued threats against the Puritans who attended, pledging that he would “harry them out of the land.” This was an incident so notorious in Pilgrim history that in 1921, during American celebrations of the Mayflower’s tercentenary, an actor dressed up as King James repeated the same words, accompanied by bagpipes, to an audience including President Harding. Time and again, writers about the Pilgrims have quoted or misquoted James, uncritically and without asking what he meant, and without examining the quality of the source.8

The sentence appears in a semiofficial account of the event, approved by Bancroft, and written by a clergyman called William Barlow. He and Bancroft intended to mock and belittle the Puritans, making them out to be pedants, with the conference portrayed as a total defeat for the Puritan cause. Barlow reports James’s exact words as follows: “If this bee all, quoth he, that they have to say, I shall make them conforme themselves, or I will harrie them out of the land, or else do worse.”9 The most revealing clause is the first—“if this bee all”—because Barlow wished to suggest that the Puritans were trivial, and their complaints petty.

Barlow says that James became exasperated by the leading Puritan spokesman, a wordy academic who wished to make minor amendments to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. This, says Barlow, seemed “very idle and frivolous” to the king and his bored privy councillors. They relieved the tedium by laughing over an old joke to the effect that “a Puritane is a Protestant frayed out of his wits.” The king’s threat to harry them out of the land was apparently something similar. It seems to have been a heavy-handed effort in sarcasm from an irritated monarch who had endured two full days of circuitous pomposity. If so, it was entirely in character for James.

As it happens, the conference was not an annihilating defeat for Puritanism. Most famously, it led to James’s authorized translation of the Bible. It also gave rise to a list of small reforms, such as a pledge to make the ecclesiastical courts fairer and not to excommunicate people for trivial offenses. Measures like these helped to cool the heat of controversy, and so, after the purge of Puritans ended, in about 1608, England enjoyed a decade of relative calm in matters of religion.

However, in the immediate aftermath of Hampton Court, these elements of compromise paled by comparison with Bancroft’s energetic attack on dissenters. Whitgift died soon after the conference, leaving Bancroft to carry on the campaign against all those who disturbed peace and good order. First, he pressed ahead with inspections of every aspect of cathedral and parish life, covering drunkenness and fornication, as well as signs of religious laxity. At the same time, in 1604, the king issued two proclamations against nonconformity. He insisted that everybody follow the Book of Common Prayer to the letter.

This allowed Bancroft to use the tool of subscription. He gave clergymen a deadline of November 30 to sign up to full acceptance of the prayer book, or face dismissal. Meanwhile, Bancroft had prepared another weapon: a new, steel-plated set of canons, laws, and regulations for the Church, intended to seal off every loophole through which a Puritan might creep. For example, they imposed new duties on parish churchwardens to report offenses such as private conventicles or unlicensed preachers. This made it far harder for villagers to turn a blind eye to each other’s nonconformity.

These new rules were not simply a matter of sterile coercion. Since Bancroft was an evangelical himself, he wished to repair the shaky morals of the parish clergy and to see sermons preached every Sunday and in every parish. If he could carry out these reforms, he would make pious men and women far less likely to look for Puritan alternatives. So, for example, his canons included strict rules barring clergymen from taverns and from gambling, together with a requirement for every church to have a pulpit. And splendid new pulpits did indeed appear. Within a few miles of Scrooby, for example, churches in the villages of Tickhill and North Wheatley possess sturdy Jacobean examples. Erected in 1608, they remain in excellent condition today.

However, Bancroft’s canons contained a flaw. Because Puritan sympathizers might oppose them, the king never submitted the canons to Parliament for approval. They became law only by way of his personal decree. For this reason, uncertainties lingered about their legality, and opened the way for protests by the same lawyers who defended Cartwright. Even within the Church, men had their reservations.

In the north, in the archdiocese of York, doubts expressed by high-ranking opponents meant that not until March 1606 did the canons come into force. This delay allowed Brewster and his allies to carry on their activities far longer than they could have done in the south. They were able to build a far wider movement than would otherwise have been possible.10

By the time Bancroft became archbishop of Canterbury, in December 1604, the deadline had passed for clergymen to subscribe. Within the next five years, mostly during the first twelve months, he achieved the dismissal from their parishes of about eighty ministers who resolutely refused. In a sense, this was a trivial number, less than 1 percent of the parish clergy at the time; but, again, the numbers matter less than the commitment of the small minority involved. The victims of the purge included four Puritans living near Scrooby, associates of William Brewster. Among them was the white-bearded Richard Clifton. What’s more, Bancroft swept up within his net the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, seeking to rid them of nonconformity as well. In due course, two Cambridge men, John Robinson and John Smyth, led the Separatists of the Quadrilateral out of the Church of England.

Before that, we have to return to King James, and look more deeply for the secret of his animosity toward the Puritans. His beliefs about religion and the Church carried an intense emotional charge. To appreciate why this was so, we begin with the suffering man, and not with his disemboweled carcass under a surgeon’s knife.


Ill health obsessed the king and his leading subjects. In the opening months of 1605, at the height of the great purge of Puritans, and as Shakespeare began to plan the writing of King Lear, we find one eminent man after another beset by bodily afflictions. In January, the bishop of Winchester complained about his sciatica and his flatulence, while Lord Cobham had the gout. The insomniac Lord Zouche tossed and turned with measles and a heavy cold, while Sir Bevis Bulmer caught a burning fever. William Brewster’s boss was Sir John Stanhope, head of the Royal Mail, and in March he suffered from colic and cramps. The Earl of Dorset consulted his doctors about some unspecified illness. They gave him “physic and fomentations” intended to open his pores and make him sweat.11

During these months disease was rife, though as so often its exact type cannot be established. Although London was free from plague, an epidemic struck the western port of Bristol, and in the Pilgrim country the town of Worksop suffered ten months of contagion. Only six miles from Scrooby, in Worksop that year fifty-three people died, forty-nine from something tersely called “infec” in the parish register, compared with sixteen deaths in a normal year. As was the custom, the JPs placed a levy on the other parishes nearby to raise money for the town. We can be sure that the Pilgrims were well aware of the calamity.12

Men and women lived with death leaning over their shoulders, but the king’s health always gave most cause for alarm: very much so, in 1605. Of course, he had two sons, Prince Henry and Prince Charles. But they were only eleven and four years old, while his daughter Elizabeth was not yet nine. If a minor succeeded to the throne, the king’s death would plunge the realm back into the uncertainties that dogged the closing years of the old queen’s reign. Later that same year, the Gunpowder Plot came close to ending his life, by blowing him up as he opened a new session of Parliament. But even without that notorious conspiracy by Roman Catholics his survival was never certain. With his passion for the chase, James always ran the risk of a fatal accident—while on his way south, two years before, he broke his leg in a fall—and in 1605 he suffered from a series of heavy colds. His courtiers nervously watched his habit of heavy drinking in the open, while he was perspiring after many hours in the saddle.

At this point King James was only thirty-nine. As the years went by, allusions to his worsening health came to feature ever more often in the eyewitness accounts that survive. If we exclude mocking comments made by opponents, we come up with a comprehensive portrait of James in middle age. He was a man of medium height, broad shouldered, but with a slender body and spindly legs. He had a sparse light brown beard the same color as his hair. He was apt to walk about in circles, something first noticed when he was in his teens. Later in life he did so while leaning for support on a good-looking young man. James was inclined to cough and splutter because of mucus and catarrh, and to gobble his food because he lacked teeth. Prone to stomach upsets, he broke wind frequently, from both orifices. He also suffered woefully from diarrhea, blamed by his doctor on excessive drinking.

Like the king’s physical health, his turbulent feelings were also on display. They were documented in 1623 in notes made by his principal physician, the French doctor Theodore Turquet de Mayerne. He recorded the king’s chronic stomach upsets and the pain he suffered when he threw up his food, pain so severe that apparently it covered his face with red spots. Mayerne also commented on his attacks of anxiety and depression, after a death in the family or a political setback.

In 1610, the king endured a disappointing session of Parliament, when the Commons blocked plans for reform of the royal finances. After dissolving the assembly, James collapsed in early 1611, vomiting twice a day and suffering more than a week of diarrhea, with unusually watery, bilious feces. Most alarming of all were symptoms of mental distress: chest pains, palpitations, and “moestitia,” meaning “grief” or “sadness.” He suffered even worse agonies after the death of the queen in 1619. A multitude of ailments struck him simultaneously. As always, he suffered from runny bowels, and severe melancholy, but also from inflamed kidneys, an acute bout of arthritis, a rash of small white ulcers on the back of his throat, and, ominously, an intermittent pulse.

After editing James’s letters, a modern scholar described him as “one of the most complicated neurotics ever to sit on either the English or the Scottish throne.”13 By middle age he would have presented an insoluble riddle for a psychoanalyst. By then, James had endured painful illness in his childhood—he could not walk until he was six—and a host of attempted coups, bereavements, and conspiracies. His mother Mary was beheaded. His father was murdered, strangled while his house was destroyed by an explosion, and of course James I came close to dying in a similar way in 1605. His opposite numbers in France, Henry III and Henry IV, both fell to the assassin’s dagger. And as it happens, the second of these murders occurred in 1610, not long before James’s collapse the following year.

Was he a coward? That was his reputation. Referring to the autopsy, a diarist mentioned the inflated size of James’s heart to explain why the king was “soe extraordinarie fearefull.” Famously, James wore a quilted doublet to hinder an attacker’s knife. People took these traits as signs of a yellow streak, but that was unfair. Hunting on horseback is not a pastime for the timid. Few men had better reasons than James I for succumbing to occasional attacks of panic. But who could say precisely which of his fears were neurotic phobias and which had some objective basis? Nobody could define the boundary where rationality ended and chronic anxiety or depression began.

Almost inevitably, a man so insecure might waste his energy in a futile quest for emotional support—and this James did, time and again. He might turn to alcohol or ceaseless physical activity, such as hunting. This was habitual for James. He might look for comfort from younger men, as favorites or lovers: he leaned on them in more ways than one. Or perhaps he might take refuge in fantasy and cast himself in the role of a philosopher king, dreaming of an imaginary empire of perfection where everyone obeyed his wise instructions. This James did too, as we shall see.

For James I, Separatists and people like them came to symbolize the poison of disorder and discontent that threatened to contaminate his ideal monarchy. In this there lay an element of paranoia, and if we reach that conclusion, we have the authority of Shakespeare. From Lear and Othello to The Winter’s Tale, he provided a commentary on the character of powerful but frightened men, and the devastating effect of their anxieties. His audience cannot have failed to see that Shakespeare was exploring in heightened form the daily plight of their sovereign.

In an age when monarchy was personal, the inner life of the king had implications of the most far-reaching kind. And when King James wrote about Puritans and Brownists, we find him using language that mingles theology, political calculation, and obsessional neurosis. We see it most clearly when he uses the terminology of medicine.


In his case notes, Mayerne said that King James laughed at doctors. Even so, this unhealthy man took care to choose as his physicians the medical luminaries of the era. King James favored not only Mayerne himself, a star who treated Cardinal Richelieu for gonorrhea, but also William Harvey, the man who first described the circulation of the blood. Most frequently of all, James selected men who had new things to say about the nature of disease, linking it to poor hygiene, to contamination, or to defective chemistry inside the body.

The king’s interest in public health was entirely genuine. When the City of London chose a lord mayor, the new incumbent came before the king to be praised or chastised; and in the early 1620s, the mayors found themselves being berated by His Majesty for the City’s failure to clean up the open sewer known as the Thames. As king of Scotland, the young James employed as his court physician a man who blamed the plague on polluted drinking water. And in 1618, James sponsored Britain’s first official compendium of drugs and elixirs, a project that embodied his concern for the well-being of his subjects. Like Bancroft’s canons, it was intended to promote uniformity and to serve as the guarantor of health and good order.

Mayerne, Harvey, and the London College of Physicians prepared the book, which came to be known as the London Pharmacopoeia. Appropriately, it included a formula for distilling Scotch whiskey, but it was a serious work that went through many editions, often revised and updated. “Desirous in all things, to provide for the common good of our subjects,” the king decreed that he would do away with “all falshood, differences, varieties and incertainties in the making or composing of Medicines.” For that reason, he gave the book the force of law, with a proclamation that made it a crime to concoct potions that deviated from a list of standard recipes.14

When he spoke in this way about the common good, King James drew on new theories, ideas that were absurd and even bizarre, but capable of developing along a scientific path. Chemical medicine, as they were known, originated with the Swiss metallurgist known as Paracelsus. He died in 1541, but by the end of the century his system of thought had deeply influenced the medical establishment in England. During the reign of James I, it came close to being accepted as official orthodoxy. Most of the king’s favored doctors were Paracelsians. Among them was Mayerne, trained in Paris by a French Paracelsian by the name of Joseph Du Chesne. In 1605, Du Chesne’s principal book appeared in London in translation. Of course it was nonsense, an esoteric farrago of garbled theology, alchemy, and magic, but it contained the seeds of progress. It also had affinities with the king’s own attitudes and emotional commitments.

Du Chesne said that sickness arose from chemical dysfunction, a toxic chain of cause and effect open to investigation in the laboratory. Following Paracelsus, he believed that the material world arose as the product of three essences—salt, sulfur, and mercury—mixed and compounded by heat and by alchemy. Du Chesne explained that salt was dry and solid, mercury was moist and fluid, and between the two was sulfur, sweet and clammy. Combined together, in food, wine, and sperm, they created a human being.

The liver absorbed food and drink, and from the salt within them it synthesized a hot white juice. This became blood and flowed up through the veins to the heart, as if the body were a system of tubes, glass vessels, and retorts, heated by a flame. The heart cooled and purified the blood, added sulfur, and then transmitted it to the brain. Like a distiller making cognac, the brain slowly heated and refined the blood and added mercury. With the process complete, the liquid became rich arterial blood, ready to flow outward to refresh each limb.

Odd though they were, Du Chesne’s theories possessed a degree of logic. Since the body was a chemical machine, of course it gave rise to waste products, just as men found ashes or sediment when they smelted copper or brewed beer. Among the dregs of human biology, said Du Chesne, were saliva, urine, and sweat. Left within the system to decay, these congealed to form what Du Chesne called “superfluous humours,” noxious excrements liable to violate the balance of body and mind: in the kidney, they produced the stones that inflicted so much pain on King James. Trapped in the liver, the humors would accumulate and rise up to infect the brain, causing “long madness, burning frenzies, setled melanchollies … and many such like.” As for the second cause of disease, that was obvious: poison, or lethal waste matter implanted from outside.15

What did all this have to do with politics? Not much, we might think, but Du Chesne and Mayerne would have disagreed. So would King James. Both Mayerne and Du Chesne were intensely political, and served as physicians to Henry of Navarre, the Huguenot leader and later the king of France. French royal doctors saw commentary on public affairs as part of their profession, and they applied the doctrines of medicine to the exercise of power. Observation first, to identify the symptoms; next, the application of theory to decide the cause; and then the choice of therapy: that was how a doctor went about his job. The king should follow the same procedure to eradicate the maladies that afflicted his people.16

For Du Chesne, the body functioned best when its internal functions bubbled freely away, without interference, following their natural course. So too in the language of King James the realm prospered when the balm of his wisdom flowed outward like pure spring water, circulating from one end of his kingdom to the other, without interruption by the disobedient. When James condemned tobacco smoking, he did so using ideas of the same kind. Tobacco, said the king, contaminated the natural fluids of the human body, and smokers harmed not only themselves but the nation. “Sucked up by the nose, and imprisoned in … braines,” smoke left an oily deposit in the lungs, which poisoned the mind and made men lethargic. By purchasing the weed from foreigners, they undermined the economy of the realm. By inflicting a smelly torment upon their wives, they endangered the holy institution of the family.

For King James, Puritanism resembled the addiction to nicotine. Like the superfluous humors described by Joseph Du Chesne, the Puritans were sediments, dregs, or dross, by-products of an alembic malfunction in the organs of the body politic. Willful Puritans upset the king because they followed their private, individual inclination, rather than accepting the established wisdom of the community, sanctioned by statesmen and embodied in the Church. Puritans behaved, in other words, like tobacco smokers, devoted to their own obsession regardless of the cost that fell upon themselves and others.

This idea, that Puritans were diseased, came to have wide currency. It was expressed in pungent form in one of the most popular books of the period. The Anatomy of Melancholy appeared in 1621, and its author, Robert Burton, devoted a chapter to the victims of spiritual malaise. According to Burton, the Brownists were “a company of blockheads,” men and women who “will take upon themselves to define how many shall be saved, and who damned in a parish.” Incited by the devil, their outlandish ideas were symptoms of mental illness, the fever of religious melancholy. To bring it about, Satan used the infirmities of the body: Burton claimed that brain sickness arose from a distempered liver.17

Sick and deluded, a Puritan became an agent of infection, giving rise to quarrels and division: or so it seemed to King James as well. Left free to do their worst, they would deface the body politic and shatter the hard-won unity of the realm. Although Tudor kings and queens had valued peace and uniformity, for James they became an obsession that he experienced with an almost physical intensity. Here was a monarch who had come to understand the perils of discord during his period north of the border, when Scotland stumbled from one plot and one civil war to another until the young James engineered a degree of stability.

In the opening years of his reign in England, James tried to complete a great scheme of unification to make his authority seamless in every corner of the British Isles. Because Puritans endangered the fulfillment of such a project, he wanted them gone, and they were not the only ones. As Jacobean exiles, the Pilgrims had many equivalents: as we shall see, refugees took their leave of Donegal and Edinburgh as well as Scrooby.


When King James crossed over the frontier on his way south after the death of Elizabeth, he entered political territory of a kind that was almost entirely new. Three hundred years before, Edward I had briefly created an English empire by conquering Wales and Scotland, but it failed to survive for more than a decade. In 1603, James believed that God had given him a duty to re-create a unified Britain, beneath one monarch, and not merely in name alone. Unification had to be thorough, and deep, so that the king could promote common standards of civility, sobriety, and God-fearing obedience, rolled out into each enclave of his domain. This was what James had in mind when he told Parliament that he wished to see England and Scotland become “a perfect Union of Lawes and persons.”18

Unification seemed to be a practical necessity. Border thieves and raiders passed back and forth between England and Scotland, evading extradition. Until the two countries were united, it would be impossible to put a stop to their activities. In Ireland, meanwhile, 1603 marked the end of the Nine Years’ War between the English and the Earl of Tyrone, the leader of Catholic resistance, but in English eyes the country remained unpacified and alien. It seemed likely to rebel again as soon as the moment presented itself. At home on the mainland, the king’s peace varied in quality from one place to another, depending on the energy and talent of the JPs in each county.

James acted with vigor to put a stop to social evils and to make the rule of law uniform across his kingdoms. In the north, he convened a new border commission, and it began to track down and string up the outlaws of the region. In England the king issued a host of proclamations, thirty-two in the first nine months of his reign, and more than eighty in the first five years. Among them were measures for dealing firmly with such enemies to good order as highwaymen, pirates, drunkards, unlicensed alehouse keepers, and speculators who endangered London by building ramshackle, fire-prone dwellings. As Bancroft pursued the Puritans, the king ordered the JPs to redouble their efforts against all forms of offenders, and often they did so with alacrity. In the Quadrilateral, in April 1604, the JPs at Retford prosecuted thirty individuals for brewing without a license, including five from Scrooby.

Of course the Gunpowder Plot against King James made the process of coercion more urgent. On both sides of the Irish Sea, dissident Catholics seemed to pose the greatest danger to the Crown. And so the king’s lord deputy in Dublin began a policy of intense persecution of the old religion. Legalized theft of territory, executions of priests, the beating to death of Roman Catholics on the doorsteps of their churches: all of these took place. And in Ireland, the quest for uniformity led to a famous incident in Donegal that oddly resembled the case of the fleeing Pilgrims.

Forgotten by everyone else, but never by the Irish, it came to be known as the Flight of the Earls. It involved the two great Gaelic magnates of the north: the old rebel Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone; and Rory O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell. Goaded by the authorities, and possibly hoping to find military support from Spain, in 1607 the earls boarded a ship at Lough Swilly and set off for exile in Rome. They left Ulster to the mercy of English colonists. This was only one of many episodes of exodus, enforced or voluntary, or somewhere in between.

In Scotland, James had already used the tactic of ejection many times against rebellious nobles or Calvinist troublemakers in the Church. The years after 1603 witnessed a new array of banishments or occasions when people fled because the Crown left them no alternative. In 1609, for example, the king and the Scottish parliament banned lawless “Egyptians” and ordered the Gypsies to quit the kingdom or be hanged. They dealt in much the same way with the Graemes, an extended Anglo-Scottish clan of border raiders. More than seventy Graemes suffered deportation to the Netherlands, where they were supposed to serve with English regiments. They deserted and came home, and so the Crown arrested fifty families of Graemes: men, pregnant women, and children. They marched them to a distant harbor and shipped them out to Roscommon in the west of Ireland.

The same year, in Edinburgh, the authorities jailed six ministers for illegally convening the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. They packed the six men off to France and to Holland, where one of them lived close to the Pilgrims in Leiden as minister of the city’s Scottish congregation. Many English Roman Catholics were compelled to leave as well.19

Like the painful stones within his kidney, men and women such as these irritated King James, and so they had to go: earls, Catholics, Gypsies, Graemes, and Presbyterians alike. Again, this was a consequence of his doctrine of sovereignty, and it found a parallel in the medical theories that fascinated the king.

Because Du Chesne, Mayerne, and the chemical doctors pictured disease as the product of superfluities, waste matter retained within the body, or poison coming from outside, they favored medicines designed to expel them from the patient. Enemas and laxatives figured high on their list of recommended drugs. When the king’s son Henry fell ill in 1612, Mayerne diagnosed his fever as the result of eating too many melons, grapes, and oysters. He gave the boy a purge made of senna and rhubarb, then opened his veins and bled him. Prince Henry died soon afterward, but Mayerne’s prestige survived. So did the concept of purgation.20

For James, the language of ill health supplied a rationale for banishment and exile. If the king was the doctor of his realm then, said James, he too should search out the “peccant humours” responsible for disorder and do his best to cast them away. If the kingdom succumbed to contagion, then the remedy was for the monarch “to purge it of all those diseases, by Medicines meet for the same.” The consequence was rejection for all those who clouded his vision of perfect uniformity. Among them were the Scrooby Pilgrims and many others: a battalion of Cordelias forced out by their King Lear.

For William Brewster and his friends, events came to a head in the Quadrilateral in 1607. A new archbishop of York arrived, a man devoted to the service of King James. He encountered the evangelists Smyth and Robinson and the Puritan network to which Brewster belonged, and again the consequence was exile. Into the story came another Separatist. This was Thomas Helwys, the forgotten leader of the Pilgrim flight from England.

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