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Brian C. Lockey, Early Modern Catholics, Royalists and Cosmopolitans
by Alison Shell

Lockey, Brian C.  Catholics, Royalists and Cosmopolitans: English Transnationalism and the Christian Commonwealth. Transculturalisms, 1400-1700. Ashgate, 2015. 388 pp. ISBN: 978-1409418719. $96.00 cloth.

The term “transnationalism” has recently been crossing borders in academia. Coined in the 1920s to describe non-governmental contacts across state boundaries, it has proved a versatile means of describing relationships between organizations and individuals based in different countries. Brian Lockey’s ambitious monograph covers the evolution of this idea during the Elizabethan and Stuart period, focusing on religious politics and adopting a loosely chronological structure. Part I discusses, among much else, England’s post-Reformation debates on papal supremacy; the relationship between border-crossing and translation among English Catholics and crypto-Catholics; Sidney and Spenser’s interest in international ideals of justice; and the life of the privateer Thomas Stukeley, remembered as defying simple notions of loyalty to England in his defence of Christendom. Part II moves to the period of the Civil War and Restoration, covering such topics as the vision of a cosmopolitan republic discernible from Milton’s prose tracts; the royalist reinvention of the Christian commonwealth, with a focus on Sir Richard Fanshawe’s translation of Camoens’ epic poem Os Lusiadas; and Behn’s later imaginative engagement with the place of the English monarchy in Europe. 

As several emphases within this summary indicate, students of Early Modern English Catholicism have found the notion of transnationalism particularly useful, for good reason: Catholics in this era often had no option but to look abroad, whether it was to follow a monastic vocation, to educate their children, to find a printing press or simply to practise their faith. These practical considerations were reinforced by earlier ideals of Western Christendom, in which papal rule necessarily transcended the idea of a nation-state. One of Brian Lockey’s aims in his book is, indeed, to show how “English identity exists in relation to an older but still persistent transnational or ‘cosmopolitan’ identity inherent in the familiar notion of Christendom” (189). 

One post-Reformation appropriation of this medieval idea will be familiar to readers of The Spenser Review. The Faerie Queene makes great imaginative play with the idea of crusading against pope and Turk, in the service of what Shankar Raman has called a “militant Protestant identity, with England as its standard bearer.”[1] But this position has faultlines and ambiguities, as Lockey points out in an absorbing discussion of Book V, where Britomart topples the despotic rule of Radegund. Spenser here invokes “that part of Justice, which is Equity” (The Faerie Queene V.vii.3), generally understood as a recourse to general principles of justice, for the purpose of correcting or augmenting local laws. But his gambit is problematic: because such notions could justify cross-border intervention to depose unjust monarchs, they gave intellectual support to Catholics seeking to undermine Elizabeth’s rule. As Lockey points out, Spenser’s model “bears a striking resemblance” (180) to the argument that popes could authorize the deposition of sovereigns, influentially adumbrated in Cardinal William Allen’s Defence of English Catholics (1584).

The idea that rulers should not be subject to church leaders was a central tenet of Protestantism, and many of Britain’s Catholics held similar opinions. But it is not surprising that Jesuit literature should contain imaginative explorations of the opposing position, given that the Jesuits’ vow of obedience to the Pope epitomized transnationalism. For instance, the plot of Edmund Campion’s Latin drama Ambrosia—rapidly emerging as an important text within the nascent canon of post-Reformation British Catholic literature—revolves round the occasion when St Ambrose, bishop of Milan, reproved the emperor Theodosius for ordering a massacre: a rebuke that was humbly accepted. The play makes a telling analogue to Campion’s famous critique of the Elizabethan church, Rationes decem, where Theodosius is evoked as an exemplary monarch whose behaviour should instruct Elizabeth. As Lockey puts it, “Campion presents himself as speaking from the perspective of a vast array of like-minded monarchs from the Continent and beyond,” (pp.52-3) and the tract is audaciously signed off: “Valete. Cosmopoli 1581 (Farewell. At Cosmopolis, city of all the world, 1581).”

Yet one did not have to be Catholic to evoke notions of universal citizenship. John Dee, both a magus and an Anglican, introduced the idea of cosmopolitanism to the English language in his General and Rare Memorials Pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation (1577) when he proclaimed himself  “Cosmopolites: A Citizen, and Member, of the whole and only one Mysticall City Universall.” His self-definition occurs in what might seem a surprisingly practical context—advising Elizabeth about England’s naval defences—which in turn points to how such ideas could be compatible with nationalism; one is reminded that Dee was among the earliest Englishmen to project a British empire. (p.53). In his discussion of Dee’s Memorials, as throughout his study, Lockey demonstrates the necessary relationship between transnationalism and theories of nationhood. The latter topic, as explored in Early Modern literature, has been an important focus of scholarly endeavor since the days of new historicism, a trend epitomized by Richard Helgerson’s Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England.[2] The present book would not have been possible without Helgerson and his ilk, yet Lockey moves their concerns into a different gear, not least through his sustained engagement with Latin sources. Too many scholars of cultural exchange shun the lingua franca of Early Modern Europe; in his refusal to be content with transnationalism lite, Lockey’s work recalls Peter Davidson’s pioneering The Universal Baroque (2007).[3]

This is a long book and at times a dense one, but it is wonderfully nuanced and never repetitive. More than that, it is resonant in ways which—given the long gestation of academic monographs – its author could hardly have predicted. At a time when most British and American academics find themselves at odds with the nationalistic discourse of their respective countries, ideals of transnational engagement have never seemed more topical or more appealing. One can applaud Lockey’s work for its timeliness, while simultaneously wishing that were not the case.


Alison Shell
University College London

[1] Shankar Raman, Renaissance Literature and Postcolonial Studies, Edinburgh UP, 2011, p. 81.

[2] Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England, U of Chicago P, 1992.

[3] Peter Davidson, The Universal Baroque, Manchester UP, 2007. 


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    Although the emphasis of my review will fall primarily on the value of Hadfield’s Life for reading Spenser’s literary art

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    English identity exists in relation to an older but still persistent transnational or ‘cosmopolitan’ identity inherent in the familiar notion of Christendom” (189).

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Cite as:

Alison Shell, " Brian C. Lockey, Early Modern Catholics, Royalists and Cosmopolitans," Spenser Review 47.3.45 (Fall 2017). Accessed May 23rd, 2024.
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