the quadripartite method

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), with commentary

John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance
William Howard Sherman, 1995

{187} Thus far I have silently passed over the extraordinary nature of Dee's imperial claims. What he urged on the queen was sovereignty over a considerable portion of the Northern Hemisphere; a "title Royall to all the Coasts, and Ilands beginning at or about Terra Florida, and so alongst, or neere vnto Atlantis, goinge Northerly: and then to all the most Northen Ilands great and small, And so compassing about Groenland, Eastward and Northen Boundes of the Duke of Moscovie his dominions…" In order to convince the queen and her council — and (potentially) the international community — of the validity of this "great British maritime empire in the high latitudes," Dee needed more than the patriotic rhetoric that flowed so easily from his pen. He needed to deploy an elaborate set of persuasive techniques, entailing several categories of proof.

The first and foremost of these was historical — that is, the force of precedent. I have already described the broad range of "records" that informed and constituted Dee's argument. But he gave two of Elizabeth's predecessors special weight: Arthur and Madoc. In the early modern "Battle over the British History" (which T.D. Kendrick has vividly reconstructed) Dee must be placed in the camp of the supporters. He admits at the outset of Limites that his precedents "depend cheiflie vppon our kinge Arthur" (26). He proudly cites the pro-Arthurian texts of John Leland, John Price, John Major, and (most important of all) Geoffrey of Monmouth, and refutes skeptics such as Polydore Vergil. He was fully aware of the problems that accompanied Arthurian history and expressed his desire to separate the truth from the fiction: "I my selfe ame assured, that some ignorant or negligent copiers of Written Bookes, and some overbould writters of ther coniectures, or Opinions… and other fonde fainers, vaine flatteringe paynters (as concerninge ye wonderous Actes, and prowesses, of the Brytish King Arthure,) haue by sundrie… meanes, both confounded the truth, with vntruthes: and also, haue made the truth yt selfe to be doubted of, or the les regarded, for the aboundance of their fables, glosinges, vntruhtes, and Impossibilities, incerted in the true historie, of King Arthure…" (27). There could be no illusion, however, that an objective truth could be located: due to the nature of the sources, the truth of Arthurian history was necessarily relative, and was determined by each scholar's needs and inclinations. Dee's argument, like that of his successors Selden, Boroughs, and Prynne, was "for the most part drawn from scattered passages or even phrases… to which a strained and improbably significance was assigned." This is by no means grounds for dismissing or ridiculing the efforts of these men. Their stance required, in contrast to the relatively simple task of "purging the preposterous legends," "real learning, ingenious arguments, and an intense and emotional patriotism."

The same was true of the legend of Madoc, the Welsh prince who allegedly discovered America in 1170. In this case Dee was the principal propagator. He "snatched what had been a marginal… story and thrust it into the centre of Elizabethan enterprise." In Dee's 1576-78 manuscripts Madoc became the linchpin of claims for North America. Not long after, the material he had gathered found its way from "confidential parchment" to "public print," via Sir George Peckham. In 1582 Peckham drafted a remarkable proposal to settle English Catholics in America. For historical ammunition against the Spanish — whose territorial ambition, Peckham feared, would outweigh their religious sympathy — he turned to Dee, consulting him in July and learning of the Madoc myth. This project was not realized, but in the next year he published an account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's voyages, in Chapter 3 of which he discussed England's "lawfull tytle" to North America. Dee's influence is readily apparent in Peckham's argument that "no other Nation can truelie by any Chronicles they can finde, make prescription of time for themselves, before the time of this Prince Madocke." Insofar as it rested on the search for precedents (in Peckham's delightful phrase, on "making prescription of time"), the early modern imperial contest was a Battle of the Books; and Dee was for a time commander in chief of the Cambro-Britannic forces.

The second category of proof, which is closely linked to the first, was legal. While the precedents in Limites did not have the legal force of those in Dee's THALATTOKRATIA BRETTANIKI (which invoked the international law of territorial waters), they were presented within a legalistic framework. The "Brief Remembrance" employs what Dee calls a "quadripartite method," which examines "1. The Clayme in perticuler; 2. The reasons of ye Clayme; 3. The Credit of the Reason; and 4. The Value of ye Credit by force of Lawe" (13). Dee's discourse is not as methodical as this suggests, and it never quite reaches the fourth point. But some of his sources are explicitly legal, such as the volume Priscis Anglorum Legibus, or the De Nobilitate of Felix Maleolus (whom Dee calls a "very Ingenious, discreet, and zealous Doctor of Lawe" [41]).

Questions of sovereignty were intrinscially bound up with legal considerations and Dee would not have ventured into them without some knowledge of legal conventions. One did not, however, have to be a lawyer to make such arguments. Thomas Digges also produced "Arguments proouinge the Queens Maties propertye in the sea landes, and salt shores thereof." Digges's interests and qualifications were almost identical to Dee's. He does not seem to have had official legal training — though late in life he complained that he was so occupied with "lawe-brables" that he had to set aside his mathematical studies.

The final, and perhaps the most important, category of proof was cartographic. Maps were not simply neutral representations or particular areas. They were "part of the visual language by which specific interests, doctrines, and even world views were communicated."

- - -

"…The single little black circle on the left hand side of your Majesty’s throne represents Cambalu, the capital of Cathay. But by a wonderful fortune… the City of Heaven (that is, of course, Quinsay) happens to be located at the middle joint of the index finger which encloses the hilt of your sword. And there are other things, extremely noteworthy, which, as if by Divine will, adorn the surroundings of your imperial seat. For under your Crown (the most glorious in the whole world), {192} in the middle of it, is concealed an island; once known as Chryse, but now commonly called Japan… Thirdly, at the right side of your Majesty, the coast of Atlantis is pleased to have its place – almost opposite Quinsay. But about the feet of your supreme highness lies the Straight of Anian, which your British subjects, voyaging in the Northern Seas both to the east & the west, were the first to sail through, to the honour of yourself & to the benefit of the common weal. And if those things are true which we have hitherto heard reported, those 4 places which I have named have thus their own geographical symmetry. But concerning these things & others related to them (which are known hitherto to have lain hidden under the shadows of your wings) before the next septenium [?] many wonderful Arcana will be revealed by you, if it pleases, our august & blessed Brytannic Empress, Almighty God willing."

This was a bold, graphic, and (to my knowledge) unique way to persuade the queen of her imperial opportunities; and it conveys a vivid sense of Dee at work as an imperial conjurer. Once again, he offers his patron advanced and aggressive geographical scholarship, and enhances it with the rhetoric of revelation: secrets are shared and imperial arcana are disclosed.

Dee was not the only Elizabethan to mobilize cartographic rhetoric in the service of maritime imperialism. In the famous "Armada portrait" Elizabeth's hand rests on a globe, while over her shoulder Spanish ships crash and burn. In the equally famous "Ditchley portrait" the queen stands on a map of England, protecting and in some way embodying her realm. In a Dutch engraving from 1598 she is represented as a map of Europe, holding a sword over the Spanish Armada. But no one went as far as Dee in combining geographical exploration, geometrical symmetry, divine will, and the royal person to justify England's nascent maritime empire.


In 1597, his seventieth year, Dee had little cause for contentment. His aspirations — both for himself and for his nation — had not been realized, and his years of hard work had failed to purchase him a comfortable retirement. His heyday as England's maritime adviser was long gone and, indeed, his whole mode of life was altered — mostly for the worse. His disastrous appointment as warden of Christ's College, Manchester, meant that his hours were spent grappling with the administrative and financial difficulties of a college that (as he put it) was "allmost, become No College, in any respect." He seems to have ended up very far from the court culture that had nurtured his career as a freelance scholarly adviser.

Yet, a document survives that suggests this was not entirely the case. Sometime in the early autumn of 1597, Sir Edward Dyer — now elevated to chancellor of the Order of the Garter — wrote to Dee. His letter is no longer extant; but its message can be extrapolated from the text that Dee wrote in response on 8 September 1597. It is entitled THALATTOKRATIA BRETTANIKI; Miscelanea quaedam extemporanea; De imperij Brytanici Iurisdictione, in Mari [THE BRITISH SEA-SOVEREIGNTY; or an Extemporaneous Miscellany on the Sea-Jurisdiction of the British Empire]. Dee's treatise, which is written in epistolary form, begins with a direct address to Dyer: "I thank yor Wurship highly, that you still, contynue yor true love & good will toward me: and allso remayne firmly perswaded of my constant redines, to do any thing of service, or pleasure, unto yor Wurship, that doth, or shall lye in my power, to performe" (95r). Dee thus foregrounded the service relationship that bound him to the court and stressed the continuity of his relationship with Dyer.

What he "performed" for Dyer in the text that follows took him (and takes us) full circle, back to his activities in the years 1576 to 1583: it was a consideration "of her Ma.ties Title Royall and Sea Soveraigntie in St Georges Chanell; and in all the Brytish Ocean" (95r). He began, in fact, by revisiting "the Rhapsodicall Treatise of the Brytish Monarchie" that he had written twenty-one years earlier — Memorials. Instead of writing an entirely new account, Dee (in his accustomed role as reader's guide) asked Dyer to look again at his original discussion: "There, in the 20th page of that boke, (against the figure, 9, in the margent) begynneth matter, inducing the consideration of her Ma.ties Royall Sealimits… And herevppon, in the 21[st] page, both in the Text, and allso in the Margent, is pregnant matter conteyned… Then, peradventure, the Consequences of the matter, will lead you on, to read the 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and vnto the middle of the 27 page… Afterward, you may passe ouer, to the 37 page: and there (in the 15th lyne, from the ende of that page) you may begin againe, to read… and so you may hold on, till you haue attentifely, red ouer the 38[th] page, wholy; and so much of the 39th, as will bring you, to the Conclusion of that extraordinarie discourse: (almost abowte the middest of that page,) ending with this worde, Opportunitie… Returning againe, to yor present purpose; Yt will not be impertinent to your Consideration, to proceed consequently, in reading of the 54th, 55, 56, and 57 pages… Yet, a little more, your paynes takinge, will gete you some more matter, here & there, till you comme to the end of the boke. The Marginall Notes, sometimes, are of great moment" (fol. 95r–v). This was a remarkably precise "directed reading" (the term is Dee's) through the pertinent material in the earlier text.

It amounted to a collection of passages from the civil law pertaining to the considerations "De Confinio in Mari statuendo (95r) and "De acquiendo rerum Dominio (96r). Dee hoped that this would provide a sound legal basis for the ensuing claims, and he cited a long list of Roman lawyers as authorities. But what Dee had to offer was not an exercise in civil law. Having referred Dyer to the requisite legal sources he went on to outline his peculiar perspective on the questions at hand: "it were good, that some expert Mathematicien, or Mechanicien (somwhat skillfull in Iure gentium et Ciuili, and in the true Idea of Iustice, and of aequum and Bonum,) wold, viua voce, explane vnto you, and allso practically demonstrate some of those lawes, and lawyers intents…" (95r). Dee's combination of mathematics and law may have invited problems of both credibility and marketability; but it granted him a certain intellectual license and opened for him certain rhetorical avenues. The resulting text utilized (as had Dee's previous writings on the subject) a unique package of historical, legal and cartographical proofs that enabled him to appropriate the civil law on territorial waters in a way that furthered the imperial claims of the English crown.

As in his other writings on the subject, and — indeed — in most early modern geopolitical texts, Dee's focus is not on the centers of state power but on the boundaries or limits. Accordingly, it is often on these fuzzy edges and disputed margins that we can find the most interesting scholarly and political negotiations. Dee's claims for English sea sovereignty rested on a distinction between Limits Absolute and Limits Respective.

•    •    •    •

"Studied for Action": How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy (PDF)
Lisa Jardine; Anthony Grafton

All historians of early modern culture now acknowledge that early modern readers did not passively receive but rather actively reinterpreted their texts, and so do we. But we intend to take that notion of activity in a strong sense: not just the energy which must be acknowledged as accompanying the intervention of the scholar/reader with his text, nor the cerebral effort involved in making the text the reader’s own, but reading as intended to give rise to something else. We argue that scholarly reading (the kind of reading we are concerned with here) was always goal-orientated — an active, rather than a passive pursuit. It was conducted under conditions of strenuous attentiveness; it employed job-related equipment (both machinery and techniques) designed for efficient absorption and processing of the matter read; it was normally carried out in the company of a colleague or student; and was a public performance, rather than a private meditation, in its aims and character.3

Above all, as we shall see, this “activity of reading” characteristically envisaged some other outcome of reading beyond accumulation of information; and that envisaged outcome then shaped the relationship between reader and text. In consequence, a single text could give rise to a variety of goal-directed readings, depending on the initial brief.4 Inevitably this has consequences for specific readings of given texts by a reader briefed (by himself or others) in particular ways, which mean that the modern historian cannot afford to prejudge what will constitute its focus or central theme. Indeed, we would argue that, if we use our own understanding of the salient features of the text of Livy (say) to identify the points of crucial importance to an Elizabethan reader, we are very likely to miss or to confuse the methods and objects at which reading was directed.

3 See, for example, a suggestive passage in Henry Wotton’s commonplace-book: “In reading of history, a soldier should draw the platform of battles he meets with, plant the squadrons and order the whole frame as he finds it written, so he shall print it firmly in his mind and apt his mind for actions. A politique should find the characters of personages and apply them to some of the Court he lives in, which will likewise confirm his memory and give scope and matter for conjecture and invention. A friend to confer readings together most necessary”: L. P. Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1907), ii, p. 494.

4 A fine example of this is the reading which John Dee offered Sir Edward Dyer, in 1597, of Dee’s own General and Rare Memorials Pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation of twenty years earlier (1577). Dyer had written requesting Dee’s advice on “Her Ma.ties Title Royall and Sea Soveraigntie in St Georges Chanell; and in all the Brytish Ocean; any man[er] of way next envyroninge, or next adioyning vnto, England, Ireland and Scotland, or any of the lesser Iles to them apperteyning”: British Lib., London (hereafter Brit. Lib.), Harleian MS. 249, fos. 95-105, at fo. 95. What Dee gives Dyer is a route through General and Rare Memorials which will yield a “reading” which answers his question, and he does this with great textual precision: “In the 20th page of that boke, (against the figure, 9 in the margent) begynneth matter, inducing the consideration of her Ma.ties Royall Sealimits, and her peculiar Iurisdiction, in all the Seas, next, vnto her Maties kingdomes, dominions and Territories. {Note this worde, NEXT for it will haue diuerse vses in the Consideration, De Confinio in Mari statuendo, vt in Terra} And here vppon, in the 21 page, both in the Text, and allso in the Margent, is pregnant matter conteyned: and the same confirmed by the lawes Ciuile: and the great Ciuilien doctors ludgm[en]t, there alledged” etc. (ibid.). William Sherman is currently working in the Cambridge University English Faculty on this and other of Dee’s manuscript writings, in the context of Dee’s own role as a political facilitator (or “intelligencer”, as Sherman prefers to term him). This work will form part of our collaborative book, Reading in the Renaissance.

•    •    •    •

Tudor Historical Thought
F. J. Levy


Ideally, a book intending to explore the changes in historical thinking from the time of Caxton to that of Bacon [+][+][+][+][+] should progress in strict chronological order. But more than one face of historiography altered, and the alterations did not all occur simultaneously. Perhaps, then, a division by subject matter would be more appropriate; that approach takes one into the danger of writing several books bound up in one cover. The inevitable result is a compromise.

The late medieval chronicle may be seen as a compilation, loosely organized, whose author had no firm grasp of the essential differences between past and present, who thought of the events of a hundred years before his own time as occurring in a context identical to the world in which he himself lived. Because history writing had to be didactic, and because the lessons were those of personal morality and of the workings of Providence, it was difficult to decide what was relevant and what was not, and the result was that most medieval chronicles worked on the principle of including as much as possible. Nor did these didactic motives encourage either accuracy or the criticism of sources. What mattered was whether the lesson was clear.

This was the structure that was to be altered. The importation of Italian humanism introduced first, and most important, the concept of anachronism. The past was different from the present. But the Italians found a new purpose for the historian as well. Personal morality was still to be taught, but civic humanism emphasized the active role of the individual in his society, and that might be encouraged as well. The ideal inhabitant of Tudor England was not the monk but the citizen. Because society was important, and because society was identified with the state, history writing was centered on the personality of the monarch, and this meant that the rather formless narrative of the medieval chroniclers was hammered into a new, more organized, form.

The same ideas entered England by another route as well. The concept of anachronism was one of the most important ideas underlying the Reformation. No longer did men think of the church as a continuous organism: instead, they contrasted the church now with the church then, and were displeased with the comparison. At the same time, the humanists had forged weapons of source criticism that enabled the ecclesiastical historians to sort out the pure from the spurious and permitted them to build up a much clearer picture of what the ancient church was like. And because Reformation controversies were bitter, the church historians found it necessary to publish the original documents from which their revised portrait of the development of the church was drawn.

There was still more to be gained from the humanists. Vitally interested as they were in the history of the classic past, they soon found that narrative was not the only way to investigate their chosen subject. Instead, they became antiquaries and posed questions about institutions: about ancient coinage, the Roman Senate, of the various Roman provinces. England, too, had been part of the Roman Empire and thus had a place in the classical world. To discover what that place had been required the use of new sources of information, some of them narrative, but many material. Where were the Roman roads? What inscriptions had survived the ages, and what did they mean? What could be done with coins? And once these questions had been asked (and, perhaps, answered) about the Romans, there was no reason why a similar series of questions could not be asked about the history of post-Roman England.

The chroniclers had not been idle while these changes were taking place, and although the changes were absorbed slowly, they were absorbed. The organization of chronicles altered; the chroniclers became more conscious of the problems involved in selecting their materials. At the same time, they has much more material to contend with than had their predecessors. The humanists, the church historians, and the antiquaries had left an enormous legacy of new information that had to be fitted in.

And the new idea of the active citizen required that history be popularized and supplied to classes of men previously untouched by scholarly developments. Supplying such information to the citizenry was one of the self-imposed duties of a humanist historian; and the growing realization that education was important, together with the patriotism engendered by the Reformation and the struggle with Spain, meant it would be taken in by those for whom it was intended. But popularization, in some of its forms, raised new problems. The inclusiveness that persisted in the chronicles could not survive stage presentation, and the playwrights (together with the poets, who had similar difficulties) learned how to sort out the essential from the irrelevant.

The radical condensation carried out by the playwrights and poets was based, however, on a method of selection which was literary rather than historical. The importation of the histories of Machiavelli and Guicciardini supplied a more historical method. An increase of interest in the subject of the state had been evident throughout the century; now men took the inevitable next step and focused their attention on politics. Politic historians no longer asked how men should act so as to pass the tests of moral behavior; instead, they asked what would work in a secular, political society. The new question meant a narrowing of focus; that is, it provided a means for selecting some of the materials of history as more important than others. It could be carried too far, to the point of mere political aphorism. But taken together with the new sources and the new means of analyzing them, the politic method could be made to yield histories very different from those written a century before.

•    •    •    •

The First Part of King Henry the Fourth
Act II. Scene IV.
Eastcheap. A Room in the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Fal. What, art thou mad? art thou mad? is not the truth the truth?

Prince. Why, how couldst thou know these men in Kendal-green, when it was so dark thou couldst not see thy hand? come, tell us your reason: what sayest thou to this?

Poins. Come, your reason, Jack, your reason.

Fal. What, upon compulsion? ’Zounds! an I were at the strappado, or all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion! if reasons were as plenty as blackberries I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I.

Prince. I’ll be no longer guilty of this sin: this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh;—

Fal. ’Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O! for breath to utter what is like thee; you tailor’s yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing-tuck;—

Prince. Well, breathe awhile, and then to it again; and when thou hast tired thyself in base comparisons, hear me speak but this.