William Lambarde and Tudor Centralization

  • John M. Adrian
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


As the very first county chorography, the Perambulation of Kent shares in and contributes to the general formation of local consciousness with which the previous chapter has been concerned. But Lambarde’s text is a fascinating social and political document in its own right that reflects the highly charged historical moment in which it came into being. William Lambarde completed the Perambulation of Kent in 1570, the same year the Northern Rebellion was raging. Already in the author’s lifetime, England had endured major uprisings in the North, the West Country, and in East Anglia.1 Lambarde’s Kent had also seen its fair share of recent tumult. In 1548, 1549, and 1550, Kentish commoners camped in large numbers and ‘threatened to follow their counterparts in East Anglia into armed rebellion’ over enclosure and other local grievances.2 And in 1554 a contingent of county men led by Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger marched on London to oppose the Queen’s Spanish marriage. It is little wonder then that Lambarde’s Perambulation — though primarily an antiquarian and chorographical work — exhibits a manifest concern with order. When Lambarde began writing in the 1560s, ‘the fences [in Kent] were long since back in place, but obedience could not be taken for granted.’3 Recent destabilizing events, coupled with Lambarde’s own ambitions for joining the local governing class, prove to be formative influences on the Perambulation of Kent.


Sixteenth Century Political Order Historical Narrative County Government English Nationhood 
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  1. 2.
    Patricia Hyde and Michael Zell, ‘Governing the County,’ in Early Modern Kent, 1540–1640, ed. Michael Zell (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2000), 24.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    David Loades, Tudor Government (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 131.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), Vol. XI, 518. Other contemporary definitions included ‘a walk, a journey on foot’ and a ‘[c]omprehensive relation or description.’ Lambarde himself is credited with coining a new usage: ‘[t]he action of travelling through and inspecting a territory or region.’ Nevertheless, it is clear from Lambarde’s methodology of a circular progression around the dioceses of Kent that he also has in mind this more formal definition.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Perambulation was also an important ritual for the community of the parish church, yet it still served the same practical function of checking boundaries. See ‘Beating the Bounds’ in Charles Kightly’s The Customs and Ceremonies of Britain (London: Thames & Hudson, 1986), 48–50. Survey maps were beginning to replace verbal property descriptions in the sixteenth century, but the latter were still much in use. For more on this trend, see Catherine Delano-Smith and Roger Kain, English Maps: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 114–118.Google Scholar
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    William Lambarde, A Perambulation of Kent, ed. Richard Church (Bath, UK: Adams and Dart, 1970), 308. All citations of Lambarde are from this edition. Subsequent page numbers are given in parentheses within the text.Google Scholar
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    Tristram Risdon, The Chorographical Description, or, Survey of the County of Devon (London: E. Curll, 1714), 36. This work was completed in manuscript around 1630.Google Scholar
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    Daniel King, The Vale-Royall of England. Or, The County Palatine of Chester Illustrated (London: John Streater, 1656), 2.Google Scholar
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    Richard Helgerson supports such a political reading of the genre when he connects the ‘shift in chorographical activity from the kingdom to the county’ to emergent depictions of an ‘oligarchic England’ in the early seventeenth century. ‘Nation or Estate? Ideological Conflict in the Early Modern Mapping of England,’ Cartographica 30:1 (1993): 73–74. Helgerson explores the political implications of chorography in greater detail in the third chapter of Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).Google Scholar
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    A. L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth: The Structure of Society (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 341.Google Scholar
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    Felicity Heal and Clive Holmes suggest that Tudor centralization relied heavily on voluntary compliance: ‘the balance of power in the counties remained essentially traditional and the government sought to persuade gentlemen that they had a vested interest in the promotion of good order as defined by the centre.’ The Gentry in England and Wales, 1500–1700 (London: Macmillan, 1994), 184.Google Scholar
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    For a detailed example of one local official’s response to centralization, see Peter Fleming, ‘Sir Thomas Cheyne, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, 1536–1558: Central Authority and the Defence of Local Privilege,’ in Regionalism and Revision: The Crown and its Provinces in England, 1200–1650, ed. Peter Fleming, Anthony Gross, and J. R. Lander (London: Hambledon Press, 1998), 123–144. Martin Elsky, on the other hand, depicts the complex negotiations (and greater compliance) of the Wroth family later in the century: ‘Microhistory and Cultural Geography: Ben Jonson’s “To Sir Robert Wroth” and the Absorption of Local Community in the Commonwealth,’ Renaissance Quarterly 53:2 (Summer 2000): 500–528.Google Scholar
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    That Lambarde is consciously projecting an ideal here, can be seen in the fractious reality of the JP case notebook that Lambarde kept from 1579–1587, the Ephemeris. It has been published by the Folger Shakespeare Library in William Lambarde and Local Government: His ‘Ephemeris’ and twenty-nine charges to juries and commissions, ed. Conyers Read (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
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    Ibid. The religiously motivated Northern Rebellion began this year. This event provides the rationale for the Crown’s new policy, and may also explain Lambarde’s emphasis on the socio-political impact of religious division. Catholicism also played a role in at least two other sixteenth-century rebellions: the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) and the Western Rebellion (1547–1549).Google Scholar
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    Whether or not such an emphasis on Kent’s distinctions from other counties constitutes a ‘county community’ or could potentially conflict with a larger vision of national uniformity, are questions that are outside the scope of this chapter. Much has been written on the presence of gentry county communities in early modern England. See, for instance, Alan Everitt, The Local Community and the Great Rebellion (London: Historical Association, 1969); John Morrill, Revolt of the Provinces (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1976); and Anthony Fletcher, A County Community in Peace and War: Sussex, 1600–1660 (New York: Longman, 1975). Yet other historians have raised important objections to the county community ‘school’ of thought. For instance: Clive Holmes, ‘The County Community in Stuart Historiography,’ Journal of British Studies 19:2 (1980): 54–73; and Ann Hughes, Politics, Society, and Civil War in Warwickshire, 1620–1660 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987). For an extensive treatment of this debate and fuller list of sources, see R. C. Richardson, The Debate on the English Revolution Revisited, 2nd edn. (New York: Routledge, 1988), 133–149.Google Scholar
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    Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995), 2.Google Scholar
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    William Gray, Chorographia: or, a Survey of Newcastle Upon Tine (South Shields, Durham: George Nicholson, 1892), i.Google Scholar
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    William Lambarde, Eirenarcha: or of The Office of the Justices of Peace (London: Ra. Newbery and H. Bynneman, 1582), 7. Later, he restates this approach more pithily as ‘not a uniting of minds but a restraining of hands’ (9).Google Scholar

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© John M. Adrian 2011

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