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John Toland and the crisis of Christian culture, 1696–1722

This book explores the life, thought and political commitments of the free-thinker John Toland (1670–1722). Studying both his private archive and published works, it illustrates how he moved in both subversive and elite political circles in England and abroad. The book explores the connections between Toland's republican political thought and his irreligious belief about Christian doctrine, the ecclesiastical establishment and divine revelation, arguing that far from being a marginal and insignificant figure, he counted queens, princes and government ministers as his friends and political associates. In particular, Toland's intimate relationship with the Electress Sophia of Hanover saw him act as a court philosopher, but also as a powerful publicist for the Hanoverian succession. The book argues that he shaped the republican tradition after the Glorious Revolution into a practical and politically viable programme, focused not on destroying the monarchy but on reforming public religion and the Church of England. It also examines how Toland used his social intimacy with a wide circle of men and women (ranging from Prince Eugene of Savoy to Robert Harley) to distribute his ideas in private. The book explores the connections between his erudition and print culture, arguing that his intellectual project was aimed at compromising the authority of Christian ‘knowledge’ as much as the political power of the Church. Overall, it illustrates how Toland's ideas and influence impacted upon English political life between the 1690s and the 1720s.

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Imposters, legislators and civil religion

This chapter focuses on the activities of John Toland under Sophia of Hanover, his intimacy with whom Toland used as a theatre for the display of his arguments. He advanced a clear and profound defence of commonwealth principles, especially by supporting the interest of the Protestant succession against popery. The convergence of Toland's public and private discourse resulted in the publication of his Letters to Serena, which established the connections between such metaphysical speculation and more mainstream political thought. The chapter also considers Toland's characterisation of Moses as a republican legislator and an exemplary model for the conduct of contemporary politics. It suggests that Toland's work on Moses laid the foundation for practical suggestions in reforming the confessionalism of political culture, and that the veneration of the Mosaic institution was to be a prescriptive model for political and religious reform.

in Republican learning
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John Toland and print and scribal communities

exchanges. Toland’s relationship with the men of power he came to know can be best explored in the associations he had with Robert Harley, Anthony Ashley Cooper and Robert Molesworth. His liaison with women of power like Electress Sophia of Hanover will be considered at length below, but should be thought of as underpinning the legitimacy of his relations with all these other figures. Defending the legitimacy of a tolerant Protestant succession was a central plank of his political agenda. In the immediate aftermath of the fiercely contested General Election of 1705

in Republican learning
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Protestant liberties and the Hanoverian succession, 1700–14

the act that confirmed the succession of Sophia of Hanover was a republican device to exclude both popery and tyranny. The third Earl of Shaftesbury even wrote to Benjamin Furly in Holland, claiming that his ‘friends’ had been involved in the committee for the legislation.1 The subtitle of the act, ‘for the further limitation of the crown and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject’, established for many contemporaries its radical ambitions. A later commentator, echoing these points, described the act as ‘the last great statute which restrains the

in Republican learning

of works of profound erudition and scholarship. Much of this material was circulated in clandestine form amongst a circle of elite figures that included Sophia of Hanover (the successor apparent to the British Crown), Prince Eugene of Savoy (leading military strategist of the Protestant cause), and English gentlemen like Anthony Collins. Ultimately this erudition, which was also published in print form, earned Toland a significant and contentious reputation in the European ‘republic of letters’. From 1710, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Whig Party at the

in Republican learning
Libraries, friends and conversation

not simply a mediator of commonwealth commitments in England, but importantly had a network of connections with key figures in European politics, like Furly, Eugene of Savoy and Sophia of Hanover herself. Again these relationships were cast in opposition to the ‘foreign and universal tyranny’ of Louis XIV. As Shaftesbury’s lengthy correspondence with Furly establishes, his relationships were based upon a defence of liberty and free government. This devotion stayed with Shaftesbury throughout his life: as he commented after the trial of the ‘seditious priest

in Republican learning

Sophia of Hanover, Eugene of Savoy, Shaftesbury, Harley, Molesworth, Collins and Furly listening, Toland always had the hope that his ideas would prompt national policy. Projecting the same ideas to the broader public community Toland intended to provide a context for the reception of this policy. Tragically, these ‘enlightened’ ambitions dribbled into the sand with the defeat of the commonwealth party by the more pragmatic Whiggism of Robert Walpole who recognised that the social power of the Established Church was a critical component of political hegemony. Toland

in Republican learning
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Milton, Harrington and the Williamite monarchy, 1698–1714

of defending the Protestant succession. As we will see, Toland understood this republican discourse to be entirely compatible with virtuous monarchy (in the form of William III, or Sophia of Hanover), but fundamentally opposed to clericalist 96 MUP/Champion_05_Ch4 96 27/2/03, 10:20 am Rewriting the commonwealth accounts of the divinity of political authority. The sharp edge of republican thinking was to be turned against priests rather than kings. For Toland, the pursuit of respectability was not the result of conceding on true political principle, but a means

in Republican learning
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Patristic erudition and the attack on Scripture

interpretative 209 MUP/Champion_09_Ch8 209 27/2/03, 10:25 am Subversive learning authority. This was a Trojan undertaking. The virulent, and insidious quality of such apparently innocuous work was evident from its hostile reception in England between 1700 and the late 1720s. This subversive learning was also circulated amongst a variety of elite figures ranging from Sophia of Hanover, Prince Eugene of Savoy and a number of British politicians associated with the Whig administration after 1714. To acknowledge that figures who might become the sovereign, or who lay at the

in Republican learning