17th century english writers Essay

This essay has a total of 2829 words and 11 pages.

17th century english writers

Matt Mclellan


The Pen Is Mightier Than The King

The 17th century saw a king's head roll and an English Caesar sit the throne, in the midst
of all of this a new class was rising. England in the 17th century was rife with change,
there was much work to be done before the industrial revolution could fully grip the
nation. For hundreds of years the monarch had dominated the political landscape, now that
was changing radically. Although their remained a Monarch in power for most of this period
they had seen their powers limited to the point of reducing them to the status of
figurehead. As farming techniques and technology had improved, the population in England
had increased steadily and the use of this new technology created a new class in
society.(1) This merchant class was on the rise due in large part to the captured markets
in North America and the West Indies which had made many a merchant richer than their
aristocratic brethren.

The British Parliament had seen its power expand over the last hundred years and would
continue that trend in the 17th century finding itself with the power to behead even the
king.(1) As Parliament flexed their new found muscle the king was forced to find the
funding for his political intrigues among the new merchant class. In addition to this new
found monetary prowess the middle classes had been exposed to a rich variety of
philosophers who espoused the right of the people to rule themselves.(1) Revolution in the
New World and in parts of Europe increasingly made the lower classes aware of their right
to self-governance. The parliament a representative of the people showed its power in the
17th century by enacting the "Glorious Revolution" and crippling the English monarchy for
the rest of time.(1) Indeed in the next century the French Revolution would show that not
only a government body had the power to remove royalty, the common people could also spill
royal blood.

As a result of this change in the class structure Monarchs and parliament where forced to
recognize the power of the common people and they would from then on need to seek the
peoples favor. The danger of an uprising was quite real and could not be controled by
marshal means, as there was no standing police force or army.(1) In addition leaders of
the time where selected by birth and not by political prowess and as such many of them
lacked the eloquence to persuade the people. Because of this they where forced to find an
emissary to express their ideas to the people and many of the individuals chosen logically
were talented writers of the age.

The wealth of the new merchant class allowed many of them to better educate their
children, and so the middle class author came into prominence.(1) The ruling class would
use these authors to curry the peoples favor for their often conflicting agendas. Writers
in 17th century England soon found that their abilities and viewpoints were a powerful
political tool. They used the support of the government in power to expose themselves to
their audience and to expand their trade for future generations.

Early 17th century authors where faced with a more than difficult task to succeed in their
career and indeed even to survive. At that time writing, even if you where a masterful
author was not much of a career, finding funds to survive on was quite difficult and often
not possible using your writing talents alone.(1) In order to really earn any money from
your scribbling you had to reach the readers that your work was intended for. This was not
so easy in a time before mass communication, and without some form of significant exposure
you were condemned to forever wallow in obscurity. In addition the law of the time was not
friendly to authors as there was still no allowance for freedom of the press. A government
branch was still designated for the censoring of writers material, and if your particular
beliefs did not agree with the person or persons currently in power they would simply not
see the light of day.(3)

The most influential of these early 17th century authors was John Milton. He lived from
1608 to 1674 and was raised in a strongly puritan household. Educated at Cambridge he
attended there for eight years and developed a strong background in writing as well as the
classical languages.(1) He emerged as an important figure in Cromwell's republican
government. Milton was an important factor in keeping the somewhat unpopular Cromwell in
power until his death in 1658. Cromwell was seen as a threat both at home and abroad and
was accused of trying to assume dictator like powers in the English government.

In January 1641 the puritans in Parliament introduced a law abolishing the office of
Bishop in the English church.(1) The Bishop at that time was Joseph Hall, an intelligent
man of some writing ability. Upon hearing of the law being pushed through Parliament he
wrote a letter which was circulated not only among the ruling class but to the people
defending the office of Bishop. The puritans in Parliament turned to Milton to write a
convincing response to this attack on their plans. Milton wrote two responses both harshly
critical of both the man Joseph Hall and the office of Bishop. The law was passed and Hall
found himself without a job.

An even more important act to clear with the English people was the beheading of the
previous English king Charles I. In 1649 Milton wrote a pamphlet which was widely
circulated defending the peoples write to remove a king who did not have the consent of
the people.(1) The pamphlet quieted many outraged people at least in London and the
surrounding territory and seemed to add some form of validity to Cromwell and Parliament
making it look less like a power grab and more like the only natural answer to a
politically unpopular king. After this pamphlet had succeeded in its intended purpose
Milton found himself installed in Cromwell's republican government.

In April of 1649 Milton was asked to respond to several recently published pamphlets
attacking the validity of the republican government. John Lilburne was prominent among
those professing the view that the English people were no better off under the strict
Puritan rule than under Charles I.(1) Milton responded with several pamphlets which
staunchly defended the government under Cromwell.

Perhaps more dangerous to Cromwell than the unrest among his own citizens was the growing
unease among the other rulers of Europe, who did not like the precedent that the execution
of Charles had set.(1) These rulers where none to happy to have their subjects exposed to
a successful rebellion against an established monarch and even less thrilled that the
subsequent government installed had lasted with some success. In addition to these
powerful enemies throughout Europe Charles II the son of the recently removed king hired
an influential writer, Claude Saumaise to attack the actions of the rebellious Parliament
and Cromwell in removing the king. Milton was directed to respond to these attacks and did
so with brilliant success, thoroughly embarrassing Saumaise and easing the minds of many
of the rulers of nearby European powers.(1)



As Milton was writing these political responses his position in Cromwell's government
allowed him a level of publicity that he could have only achieved with great difficulty
outside of government. Milton was allowed to write several controversial pamphlets while
in the employ of the government including one on the merits of divorce. He also advocated
a free press in England, although this law did not directly affect Milton as he published
his pamphlets without subjecting them to the scrutiny of the government it would have
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