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Misinformation and Disinformation in Late Jacobean Court Politics

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Abstract This article explores the role of rumor in late Jacobean court politics. It argues that misinformation and disinformation were not incidental to the jostling for power and the interplay of faction that took place at court, but were instead major political forces, capable of affecting the fortunes of even the most powerful courtiers. Perception, as this article demonstrates, was everything at court, since false rumors that individual courtiers would be granted offices or would soon fall from power had a self-fulfilling potential. While contemporaries were quick to assume that rumors were spread deliberately, this paper demonstrates that such false reports were sometimes mere speculation and wishful thinking passed on as fact. False rumors made decisions about court appointments or the disgrace of ministers much more of a collective act, and much less the preserve of the king, than historians have hitherto realized.

1. FN11 A. Courtney, “Court Politics and the Kingship of James VI and I, c. 1615-c. 1621” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 2008), 1-6 contains a particularly useful discussion of this point.
2. FN22 For links between court and country, see in particular Perez Zagorin, The Court and the Country (New York, 1970); Linda Levy Peck, Court Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England (Cambridge, MA, 1990). The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, ed. Linda Levy Peck (Cambridge, 2005) is an important exception. While Conrad Russell argued that parliamentary history needed to be placed in the wider context of court and extra-parliamentary politics, he focused his attention on Parliament itself in Parliaments and English Politics, 1621-1629 (Oxford, 1979). For the links between court politics and wider political culture, see in particular Thomas Cogswell, The Blessed Revolution: English Politics and the Coming of War, 1621-1624 (Cambridge, 1989); Alastair Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603-1660 (Cambridge, 2002).
3. FN33 Neil Cuddy, “The Revival of the Entourage: the Bedchamber of James I, 1603-1625,” 173-225, and Kevin Sharpe, “The Image of Virtue: the Court and Household of Charles I, 1625-42,” 226-60 in The English Court: from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War, ed. David Starkey (Harlow, 1987). For biographies of courtiers, see Roger Lockyer, Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592-1628 (London, 1981); Linda Levy Peck, Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I (London and Boston, 1982); Menna Prestwich, Cranfield: Politics and Profits under the Early Stuarts (Oxford, 1966); Martin J. Havran, Caroline Courtier: The Life of Lord Cottington (London, 1973); Roy E. Schreiber, The First Carlisle: Sir James Hay, First Earl of Carlisle as Courtier, Diplomat and Entrepreneur, 1580-1636 (Philadelphia, 1984); Michael Alexander, Charles I’s Lord Treasurer, Sir Richard Weston, Earl of Portland (1577-1635) (Chapel Hill, NC, 1975). The aim of many of these biographies has been to rehabilitate the reputations of individuals previously seen as mere venal courtiers and to portray them as reformers.
4. FN44 F. J. Levy, “How Information Spread Amongst the Gentry, 1550-1640,” Journal of British Studies 21, no. 2 (1982): 11-34; Richard Cust, “News and Politics in Early Seventeenth Century England,” Past and Present 112 (1986): 60-90; Ian Atherton, “‘The Itch Grown a Disease’: Manuscript Transmission of News in the Seventeenth Century,” in News, Newspapers and Society in Early Modern Britain, ed. Joad Raymond (London, 1999), 36-65.
5. FN55 The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, ed. Peter Lake and Steven Pincus (Manchester, 2007); Politics, Religion and Popularity, ed. Thomas Cogswell, Richard Cust and Peter Lake (Cambridge, 2002).
6. FN66 Adam Fox, “Rumour, News and Popular Opinion in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England,” The Historical Journal 40, no. 3 (1997): 597-620 and David Cressy, Dangerous Talk: Scandalous, Seditious, and Treasonable Speech in Pre-Modern England (Oxford, 2010). See also Ethan H. Shagan, “Rumours and Popular Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII,” in The Politics of the Excluded, c. 1500-1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke, 2001), 30-66.
7. FN77 John Holles to William Knollys, Viscount Wallingford, 6 February 1625, Letters of John Holles 1587-1637, ed. P. R. Seddon, Thoroton Society Record Series (1983), 2:297.
8. FN88 Joseph Mead to Martin Stuteville, 7 April 1621, BL Harley 389, 52r.
9. FN99 Mead to Stuteville, 19 January 1622, BL Harley 389, 133r.
10. FN1010 John Holles to John Holles jnr., [4 March 1616], Letters of Holles, 118.
11. FN1111 See for instance the newsletters of Joseph Mead, BL Harley 389-90, or the news diary of Walter Yonge, BL Add. 28032, passim.
12. FN1212 John Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton, 28 July 1621, The letters of John Chamberlain, ed. N.E. McClure, (Philadelphia, 1939), 2:392.
13. FN1313 “Fortunes wheele. or Rota fortunæ in gyro,” in “Early Stuart Libels: an edition of poetry from manuscript sources,” ed. Alastair Bellany and Andrew McRae, Early Modern Literary Studies Text Series I (2005).
14. FN1414 Chamberlain to Carleton, 4 November 1620, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:325.
15. FN1515 John Neale, “The Elizabethan Political Scene,” in Essays in Elizabethan History, ed. John Neale (London, 1958), 59-84; Simon Adams, “Eliza Enthroned? The Court and its Politics,” in The Reign of Elizabeth I, ed. Chrisopher Haigh (Basingstoke, 1984), 55-6.
16. FN1616 Janet Dickinson has recently argued that even the factionalism of the 1590s has been exaggerated, see Court Politics and the Earl of Essex, 1589-1601 (London, 2012).
17. FN1717 Adams, “Eliza Enthroned?” 61-70.
18. FN1818 Richard Cust, Charles I: A Political Life (Harlow, 2005), 178-82.
19. FN1919 Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven, 1992), 178-9.
20. FN2020 Thomas Edmondes to William Trumbull, 28 January 1613, Report on the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Downshire, ed. A. B. Hinds, (London, 1940), 4:27.
21. FN2121 Mead to Stuteville, 23 June 1621, BL Harley 389, 98v.
22. FN2222 Mead to Stuteville, 30 June 1621, BL Harley 389, 100r.
23. FN2323 John Digby to Trumbull, 21 December 1621, BL Add. 72285, 73r-v; Digby to Trumbull, 4 January 1622, BL Add, 72285, 75r; Trumbull to Edward Conway, 5/15 January 1624, TNA SP 77/17, 2v.
24. FN2424 Castle to Trumbull, 11 June 1624, BL Add. 72276, 97v; John Wolley to Trumbull, 5 June 1624, BL Add. 72330, 106r.
25. FN2525 Castle to Trumbull, 8 December 1619, BL Add. 72275, 93v.
26. FN2626 Castle to Trumbull, 9 July 1624, BL Add. 72276, 109v.
27. FN2727 Castle to Trumbull, 28 May 1624, BL Add. 72276, 95r.
28. FN2828 Castle to Trumbull, 29 March 1622, BL Add. 72275, 130r.
29. FN2929 Castle to Trumbull, 28 June 1622, BL Add. 72275, 149v.
30. FN3030 Chamberlain to Carleton, 8 November 1617, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:113.
31. FN3131 Buckingham to Carleton, 2 December 1617, TNA SP 84/81, 2r; Edward Harwood to Carleton, 20 December TNA SP 14/94, 119r-20r, Harwood to Carleton, 22 December 1617, TNA SP 14/94, 110r.
32. FN3232 Francis Bacon, “Of Suitors,” in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, (New York, 1860-1900), 4:496.
33. FN3333 Holles to Thomas Lake, 6 August 1617, Letters of Holles, 188.
34. FN3434 Ibid.
35. FN3535 Holles to the Suffolk, 9 August 1617, Letters of Holles, 190.
36. FN3636 Holles to Thomas Lake, 6 August 1617, Letters of Holles, 188.
37. FN3737 Holles to the Suffolk, 9 August 1617, Letters of Holles, 190.
38. FN3838 F. M. Evans, The Principal Secretary of State: A Survey of the Office from 1558 to 1680 (Manchester, 1923), 66. Lake was indeed given a barony when he failed to secure the principal secretaryship in 1617.
39. FN3939 Castle to Trumbull, 6 June 1623, BL Add. 72276, 44r.
40. FN4040 Fulgenzio Micanzo to William Cavendish, 2 August 1623, Lettere a William Cavendish, ed. Roberto Ferrini (Rome, 1987), 248.
41. FN4141 Warren Townshend to Trumbull, 5/15 January 1618, Report on the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Downshire, ed. Geraint Dyfnallt Owen (London, 1995), 6:364.
42. FN4242 Castle to Trumbull, 12 September 1623, BL Add. 72276, 58v.
43. FN4343 Ibid.
44. FN4444 Chamberlain to Carleton, 2 May 1621, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:308.
45. FN4545 Chamberlain to Carleton, 23 November 1616, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:40.
46. FN4646 Mead to Stuteville, 15 September 1621, BL Harley 389, 118r.
47. FN4747 Castle to Trumbull, 8 December 1616, Downshire 6:63.
48. FN4848 Julia Merritt, “Power and Communication: Thomas Wentworth and Government at a Distance during the Personal Rule, 1629-1635,” in The Political World of Thomas Wentworth, ed. Julia Merritt (Cambridge, 1996), 128.
49. FN4949 John McCavitt, “Chichester, Arthur, Baron Chichester (1563–1625),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004); online edition, Jan 2008 [, accessed 10 April 2012].
50. FN5050 Chamberlain to Carleton, 24 April 1619, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:233.
51. FN5151 Ibid.
52. FN5252 Lockyer, Buckingham, 41; Courtney, “Court Politics,” 134-8.
53. FN5353 Chamberlain to Carleton, 3 January 1624, Letters of Chamberlain, 2:538.
54. FN5454 Castle to Trumbull, 26 September 1616, Downshire 6:17. The Spanish Infanta was already being referred to as “Princessa” “by way of anticipation” during negotiations in 1623. See Aston to Trumbull, 3 August 1623 (n.s.), BL Add. 72245, 123r.
55. FN5555 Thomas Locke to Trumbull, 12 July 1622, BL Add. 72299, 84r.
56. FN5656 John Finet to Trumbull, 12 November 1616, Downshire, 6:43.
57. FN5757 Castle to Trumbull, 28 June 1622, Add. 72275, 149v.
58. FN5858 Castle to Trumbull, 12 September 1623, BL Add. 72276, 58v.
59. FN5959 John Throckmorton to Trumbull, 7 July 1612, Report on the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Downshire, ed. A.B. Hinds (London, 1936), 3:325.
60. FN6060 See “voice, v.” OED Online. March 2012, Oxford University Press, accessed 14 April 2012. <>. It is worth noting that it could also refer to a single vote given in Parliament.
61. FN6161 Roger Lockyer, “Lake, Sir Thomas (bap. 1561, d. 1630),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [, accessed 14 May 2012].
62. FN6262 John Sanford to Trumbull, 22 February 1611, Downshire 3:28.
63. FN6363 Holles to Holles Jr., 7 January 1616, Letters of Holles, 1:102.
64. FN6464 George Abbot to Carleton, 3 November 1617, SP 105/95, 13r.
65. FN6565 Ibid.
66. FN6666 Henry Carey to Buckingham, 14 October 1618, The Fortescue Papers, ed. S.R. Gardiner, Camden 2nd Series, vol. 1 (1871), 56.

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Affiliations: 1: Durham University


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