King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

Pamphlets and passive obedience

Title page of pamphletTitle page of pamphletThe author of the pamphlet featured here, Edmund Bohun (1645-99) was a press licenser and writer whose works give an insight into religious debates and tensions at the time of the Glorious Revolution. In the build-up to the English Civil War earlier in the century, pamphlets became an increasingly popular medium for disseminating political arguments and this work is part of that tradition.

Bohun was present when William and his forces entered London and wrote one of the first accounts of events, in which he was largely supportive of the new reign of William and Mary. As he had previously had both High Church Tory and Jacobite acquaintances, this support ensured his unpopularity with many of his former friends, who held religious and doctrinal opposition to the new joint monarchs.

The pamphlet reproduced here, couched in the discursive, periphrastic language of the late 17th century that sought to offend none, but at a time of heightened tension, often did, is published anonymously ‘by a lay gentleman of the Church of England’ and calls for ‘non-resistance or passive obedience’. Oddly, the title then seems to offer a disclaimer that it has nothing to do with the ‘controversies now depending between the Williamites and Jacobites’ – the most pressing political situation of the time. The argument is one of acceptance of the new monarchs, citing the Christian tradition of non-resistance to quieten the arguments and fears of those who believed the divine right of James II to rule had been usurped – and who might be considering challenging the new rulers.

The Bill of Rights, one of the most important constitutional documents in British law, was published in the same year as this pamphlet, the first of William and Mary’s reign. As well as excluding Catholics from the English throne and enshrining the right of Protestants to bear arms to defend their kingdom, it laid important and longstanding stipulations that shaped the laws of the future. Some of the most notable of these were the stipulation that the King had to consult parliament regarding the suspension of laws, the enshrinement of the right to freedom of speech and the outlawing of cruel and unusual punishment.

In this exhibition

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