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The Venetian Connection in early seventeenth-century England



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Two high-profile events called attention to the threat the Papacy posed to temporal authority in early seventeenth-century England: first the Gunpowder Plot (1605), in which Catholics attempted to blow up the English Parliament, including the king, and then, shortly afterwards, the Venetian Interdict controversy (1606–7), a dispute over papal objections to the autonomy of Venetian laws. The English Ambassador to Venice, Sir Henry Wotton (1568–1639), and his chaplain, William Bedell (1571–1642), saw these twin crises as an opportunity to further the cause of ‘Reformation’ in both countries. They cultivated close links with the leaders of the Venetian anti-papal party, including the celebrated theologian Paolo Sarpi and his close associate Fulgenzio Micanzio. These connections developed into a broader network which spread from London via Geneva and Paris.

This dissertation draws on printed and manuscript sources (including a number of new finds) to trace the strength and influence of this network in greater detail than any previous account. Drawing on a variety of intellectual traditions – including Roman Law, Reformed theology and Gallican polemic – the Anglo-Venetian network it identifies developed a distinctive view of politics, rooted in the absolute rule of a secular sovereign and a deep-seated fear of universal papal monarchy. Its members made a substantial contribution to European debate and remained influential at the English court into the 1620s. In contrast to the accounts offered by David Wootton and Vittorio Frajese, which emphasise Paolo Sarpi’s heterodox religious views, this thesis argues that Bedell, Sarpi and Micanzio developed a shared project for religious reform, which emphasised conformity to a strong state Church and hostility to what they perceived as Jesuit and Arminian innovations.

The network’s activities had lasting implications for political debate in England, Venice and Europe, furnishing later writers on Church-State relations and civil religion with valuable intellectual resources. The final section of the thesis accordingly offers some more speculative comments on the Venetian Connection’s legacy down to the eighteenth century.





Serjeantson, Richard


Venice, England, History, Seventeenth Century, Religion, Political Thought


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1964211)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1964211)
AHRC-Peterhouse DTP studentship (fully funded)