Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century England

Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century England

By Angela McShane

Jounral of British Studies, Vol. 48 (2009)

Introduction: For the governors of early modern England, an awareness of “how the people stood affected to the present State” was necessarily an issue of constant concern. That affection was judged in relation to a Christian Humanist concept of love, which combined the virtuous, physical, and reciprocal passions of caritas, eros, and anteros. Indeed, love was explicitly and consistently reiterated as being fundamental to the bonding of the disparate and largely volunteer-governed state. Conceptualizing the bonds of loyalty in this way entailed upon both governors and governed a communitarian idea of citizenship. It was, however, religiously exclusive. While Protestants (preferably Anglicans) had a monopoly on the virtue of love, other religious and national groups, especially papists, Jews, and Turks, were seen as necessarily motivated by the vicious passions of lust and envy and could neither be loyal nor deserving of loyalty. As philosopher R. E. Ewin argued, loyalty is not itself a virtue: it is a vehicle through which virtues, such as love, can operate and by which the benefits of virtue — for example, feelings of joy or satisfaction — can accrue.

While scholarship on the political contract has relied largely upon secular, rationalized discussions of works by Hobbes and Locke, recent work by Victoria Kahn has recast the nature of the seventeenth-century political contract by tracing the “role of the passions in motivating contractual obligation.” In her comparative analysis of political theorists, romance narratives, and conduct literature, Kahn highlights the importance of consent in all contractual relations, whether in the domestic or the broader political sphere, and argues that there was a broadly perceived need to elicit the passion of love. Evoking this mutual response marked the fulfilment of personal or political contractual relations and served to transform “passions into rights.”

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